We Are De-risking 3G for Operators

Why does a firm that controls 3G tech globally want mobile phone spectrum in India? Qualcomm's Kanwalinder Singh answers

Published: Apr 7, 2010
We Are De-risking 3G for Operators
Image: Dinesh Krishnan
Kanwalinder Singh, President, Qualcomm India and South Asia and senior vice president Qualcomm Inc.

Kanwalinder Singh
Age: 48 years
Designation: President, Qualcomm — India and South Asia and senior vice president Qualcomm Inc.
Education: Completed a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, USA  
Career: Chief Technical Officer with Lucent Technologies India. Held technical and managerial positions in Bell Laboratories
Interests: Golf, hiking and bicycling

Q. Why is Qualcomm bidding for mobile broadband spectrum?
Qualcomm has a history of making investments to accelerate technologies pioneered by it. Many years back we got into the business of manufacturing and handsets to similarly accelerate the adoption of CDMA. Once the rest of the ecosystem came up around that, we exited by selling that business to Ericsson and Kyocera. In 2003 we acquired 700 Mhz spectrum in the US to accelerate adoption of MediaFLO, a mobile TV technology pioneered by us. Today AT&T and Verizon run those networks. And we’ve publicly stated that our subsidiary FLO TV will be spun out at a separate time. In 2007 we acquired spectrum in the UK also, to accelerate the spread of mobile TV.
But our core mission and vision remain being a technology provider to the wireless ecosystem.

Q. By bidding for and holding spectrum, will you not end up competing with your mobile operator customers?
You have to see our decision in the context of 3G. This is about the future of 3G. The fundamental three questions we get when we speak to operators are: Is my 3G investment protected? Which of the multiple options in technology in the future do I choose? And who is going to take charge for developing the ecosystem?

We’re answering all these three questions by de-risking them for operators, and they have been very welcoming about this. We will, of course, stay true to our mission that once we introduce operational partners from the pool of Indian 3G operators, then Qualcomm will exit that role and provide 3G+LTE technology to them.

Q. Who might your partners in this venture be?
I can’t give you any information that is too specific, but can tell you that in the first phase the partners are likely to be operator-neutral, and obviously, in the second phase the partners will be operators.

Q. So are you saying you could turn over your network to multiple Indian operators later on?
It can be multiple. It’s a venture, right? So multiple operators can get in and share a common network.

Q. Will you wait till you rope in operator partners before building TD-LTE (a new variant of 3.5G mobile wireless broadband technology LTE) infrastructure across Indian cities? Till then, will you do only pilot trials?
We will comply with all rollout criteria, which are quite relaxed in fact. They expect rollout over a five year period after spectrum being allocated. We expect to have deployment much in advance of that. I’m not saying we will not do anything more than pilots and trials, but that we’ll do everything necessary to get the network ready for launch. That’s what anybody would do if they were to get the spectrum.

But as 3G networks start congesting over time, as broadband takes off, there will be a need for a BWA (broadband wireless) network to provide a service. Then of course there is a competitive angle to ensure that our technologies are getting there as fast as possible.

Q.You plan to use TD-LTE technology. Are there any implementations of this around the world currently?
On TD-LTE the big name is China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, which has decided to go in for it. And if we are successful in our goal we will get it up in India too. There’s word that Indonesia might go the TD-LTE way. In the US there have been statements by Clearwire that they want to migrate from their current Wimax to TD-LTE deployment, but that’s a developing story.

Q. Why are you choosing TD-LTE for India when in almost all other countries, except China, you promote FDD-LTE (the default flavour of LTE all over the world)?
We’ve been proponents of FDD-LTE because many other countries are doing work in what is called the “digital dividend band” — the 700 Mhz spectrum which was used for analog TV in the past. But recently time division (TD) bands are coming up for auction. For instance in China, China Mobile already owns that spectrum. The India auctions were also TD spectrum. Clearwire too has made public statements about turning to TD-LTE.

So it’s not sudden, and not just about India, but gradually building up. Though some people in the Wimax community are surprised and find it sudden.

Q. Then how you do know about TD-LTE’s performance in the field, especially in a massive country like India?
All these technologies, as they get standardised, go through a lot of performance simulations and trials. Given that 3G, LTE and OFDMA are fairly mature technologies — Qualcomm has a very large portfolio of OFDMA (a wireless data transmission technology that is the bedrock for 3.5G formats like LTE and Wimax) patents — we’re fairly confident of TD-LTE defined standards being true on the field too.

Q. We understand most of the patents on TD-LTE rest with the Chinese government. What was Qualcomm’s role in its development?
I
don’t know if that’s an accurate statement. OFDMA patents are independent of the radio mode and we are the leading holders of OFDMA patents. So I would say that OFDMA is a worldwide technology. It’s incorrect to say it’s a Chinese technology.

Q. How does TD-LTE compare against Wimax for Indian conditions?
Comparing Wimax to TD-LTE is like comparing apples to oranges, so let’s first compare Wimax to 3G.

Tata Communications, one of the proponents of Wimax in India with over 1400 Wimax base stations across 140 cities, only have 50,000 fixed Wimax subscribers. BSNL has been trying to do some stuff in both urban and rural areas but hasn’t even started in that regard.

Compare that to mobile broadband — BSNL’s 3G service is going from 300 to 700 towns and EV-DO (a standard for high speed wireless broadband for CDMA phones) services from CDMA operators going from 30 to 100 cities. The coverage is orders of magnitude more than Wimax. Its 2 million mobile 3G subscribers vs. 50,000 fixed Wimax ones. USB dongle prices today have reached Rs. 2300, a good marker of market success. Wimax hasn’t even come close because of a lack of affordable devices and a lack of coverage.

I’d say Wimax won’t even start before 3G takes off, because its ecosystem does not offer interoperability with other networks. That’s the main reason why Wimax has lost critical mass worldwide. If anybody in India does Wimax over 2.3 Mhz spectrum, they would strand both their investments and customers.

 

(This story appears in the 16 April, 2010 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Sibi John

    Hopes that Qualcomm will change the entire rules of the 3G game

    on Apr 12, 2010
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