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India's 4G hopes firmly tied to china, says Professor Arogyaswami Paulraj

Unless China puts its might behind TD-LTE, India may be in trouble, Professor Arogyaswami Paulraj told ET.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Apr 04, 2012, 08.27 AM IST
Two years ago, telecom industry was keenly watching debate between competing broadband internet technologies WiMAX and LTE. More importantly telecom network equipment and mobile handset makers wanted to know which side of the fence, India, the fastest growing telecom market, would fall.

When Reliance Industries, the only operator with pan-India licence and spectrum to launch broadband wireless services nationwide hinted at using LTE, it was interpreted as the last nail on the WiMAX coffin. Now Professor Arogyaswami Paulraj, inventor of MIMO, a critical wireless communication technology, says a new debate is catching fire - between two flavours of Long Term Evolution (LTE): TD-LTE versus FDD-LTE. By choosing TD-LTE, Indian operators may have got themselves into trouble because equipment and device manufacturers are currently aligned with FDD-LTE.

Nations such as the US, Japan and some in European have chosen FDD-LTE for their broadband roll out. Professor Arogyaswami, now teaching at Stanford University, is a seasoned observer and participant in the wireless telecommunication scene. The first company he founded was acquired by Intel for $70 million while the second was acquired by Broadcom for about $320 million. Unless China puts its might behind TD-LTE, India may be in trouble, the technology expert told ET. Excerpts:

Do you think dust has settled down on WiMAX Vs LTE debate?

The success of a technology is also about how many companies build devices around that technology. India may be in trouble because we are the only country doing TD-LTE. Only major one like the US and Japan have used FD-LTE technology. Now everybody is waiting for China. But they have invested in a home-grown technology TD-SCDMA and they want to have some traction for that.

The government's thinking is probably that they don't want Chinese companies to adopt a foreign technology until their own technology has a reasonable user base. They will do it only on the basis of national interest. China has expressed its intent to roll out TD-LTE, the question is when.

So unless there are TD-LTE roll outs in several other countries, India is at the mercy of China?

India is a big market no doubt. But, we have never really been a technology leader. We have not driven any technology standards. We have always been a follower. Unlike China Mobile, which has a huge R&D department, our mobile operators depend on others for technology.

China also has have manufacturing firms like Huawei and ZTE, so they can drive technologies. If at some point Indian operators realise that TD-LTE is losing ground, they may drop it and move to a different technology. So if I'm a telecom manufacturing company, I will be taking a huge risk if I put my money behind TD-LTE thinking I have the entire Indian market.

I will look for a leader. That way there is a guarantee that if the leader is committed, then I am safe. India does not instill that confidence in equipment and device manufacturers, at least not enough to take significant business risks.

So if the 700MHz spectrum is auctioned, can companies who get that, use FDD-LTE for roll out?

That is a possibility and if that does happen, then they will have a competitive advantage over the firms that now own the 23MHz spectrum and is contemplating the use of TD-LTE for roll out.

What would you advice any Indian operators looking to launch 4G?

We could have started with WiMAX, a technology that was more mature. Price points would have been much lower and once you have built up a larger user base, upgrade to a better technology. India could have driven WiMAX. But, it is too late for that, I wouldn't put money on WiMAX now.(laughs).

But given the spectrum shortage we have, TD-LTE is good from a technology perspective, so we can't abandon it. We are where we are. We can wake up and tell the Chinese to start allocating their spectrum and start rolling out TD-LTE and that way there will be more momentum towards for this technology. Unfortunately, that looks like the only option at this point of time.

Can local manufacturing save us? When it comes to technology, we depend on others, be it phones, cars, airplanes. Maybe 20 years ago, China was behind us, but now they are light years ahead of India. We are in a pathetic state. In Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I couldn't find a single Indian company.

Out of some 4,500 stalls, about 2,000 were Chinese, about 1,000 US and then there were Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong but not a single Indian vendor. That tells you a lot about the state of affairs here. And yet, we produce some of the best brains that design these devices that go into them. When are we going to wake up?

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