India Getting Ready For 3G Wireless Broadband

[qi:___3g] Coming soon in India – world’s fastest growing mobile market – 3G services by the dozen. And what that means is a looming free-for-all in a market where competition is already fierce, prices super low, profits even lower and consumer is the ultimate winner.

Indian Department of Telecommunications (DOT) is getting all set to introduce about a dozen 3G licenses in some of the more densely populated regions including the South Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu (including Chennai), Karnataka, and Kerala. The information comes to us from our friends at Packetology, a Telecom research firm focused on the Indian market.

Other states getting 3G will include North Indian state of Haryana (right next door to Delhi and home to many outsourcing outfits), while ten licenses will be up for grabs in Kolkata (Calcutta) and Madhya Pradesh. In other large markets such as Mumbai (Bombay) and Delhi, the number of licenses available be far fewer because the available spectrum is in limited quantities. Delhi will have only four licenses while Bombay can accommodate upto eight licenses.

According to initial DOT 3G policy, each carrier was going to get 5 MHz of spectrum and only 25 MHz of total spectrum was available. However, more spectrum has become available, hence the boost in the number of players who can bid for the spectrum.

The availability of such a huge amount of spectrum and licenses makes India one of the few unique places to have aggressive and highly competitive 3G market from get go. Most countries have between 2-to-5 players. UK has five, US has four, Brazil has four and most Asian countries have two or three. With this kind of liberal licensing of spectrum, and the existing 2G operations in place, some regions might get over a dozen operators offering phone services.

Thanks to fierce competition in the 2G services, India continues to be one of the fastest growing mobile markets – about 300 million at last count – mostly because prices are seriously low. Still, the presence of such a high number of players makes you wonder if there will be anyone who will be able to make money. The looming WWF style competition is going to keep large US and European carriers out of the market, though there has been news that AT&T and Verizon are very keen on entering the Indian market.

The new 3G players in India will be looking to build their networks very cheaply in order to compete and offer ultra low prices to end consumers. This would mean despite a huge buildout, companies like Siemens, Nokia, Nortel, Alcatel-Lucent and others should forget about making any real profits. The Chinese vendors – Huawei and ZTE – can mop-up, because they are willing to sell at a loss in their bid to gain market share. Infonetics Research, a Campbell, Calif.-based market research firm recently said that China and India are two major drivers of telecom equipment sales.

So who wins in this? Qualcomm & Nokia! The spread of 3G technologies brings a lot of royalty money into Qualcomm’s coffers. Similarly, Nokia is the strongest mobile brand in India and has a 3G portfolio of phones to match.

The big question that looms large in my mind: by introducing so many players in the market, is DOT killing the golden goose? In other words if there are too many players – dozen odd – and no one is making money, it would (and could) lead to a situation where they start shutting down. It could in the end the competition would decline and might result in an increase in prices. 

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