Lack of spectrum blamed for WiMax delay in India

Adoption of WiMax in India has been slowed as the government still has not released sufficient wireless spectrum, an Intel executive said Wednesday in Bangalore.

Worldwide WiMax deployments have tended to standardize around the 3 to 3.6GHz, 2.3 to 2.4GHz and 2.5 to 2.7GHz frequency bands, Lil Mohan, Intel India's managing director for broadband wireless in emerging markets, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on wireless technology. If India releases spectrum is these bands, it will enable local service providers to take advantage of standard WiMax silicon and equipment designed for these frequencies, he added.

India had 2.1 million broadband connections as of Dec. 31 for a population of more than 1 billion people. One reason for the slow progress was that service providers had focused on wired broadband connections, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in Delhi said in its recommendations last year on spectrum allocation. Wireless broadband was the most appropriate technology for providing broadband connectivity, particularly in rural and remote areas, TRAI said.

Some of the frequency bands used worldwide for WiMax are already in use in India, including by the country's space program. TRAI recommended that government should release spectrum in some of these frequency bands for wireless broadband, but the government has not yet adopted a policy for doing so. The ministry of communications has so far released about 12MHz of spectrum in the 3.3 to 3.4GHz band to seven incumbent ISPs for city-level deployments, according to TRAI.

Optical fiber cannot be the solution for the last mile of broadband connectivity, said Sean Maloney, Intel's executive vice president and general manager of its sales and marketing group, earlier in his keynote at the conference. Even if the cost of optical fiber technology is driven lower, laying fiber for broadband connections is still expensive. Copper connections for DSL are not widely in place in countries such as India where wired telecom penetration is low, and the emergence of cell phones has removed the requirement to run copper, he added.

Intel's advice to global regulatory agencies is that WiMax will need a lot of spectrum, because a lot of people will want to connect to the Internet, Maloney said. "Network decisions live with you for a very long time, and when you are looking at spectrum for WiMax, you are making decisions that you need to live with for 10, 20, or 30 years,” he added.

Intel expects that the market for Wi-Fi equipment will be larger than for WiMax, Maloney said. Wi-Fi will continue to be popular as a LAN technology. Intel's intention is that over the next two to three years the two technologies will merge, with Wi-Fi chips supporting WiMax, and WiMax chips supporting Wi-Fi, he added.

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