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What is delaying launch of 4G services India

MUMBAI: The deployment of the fourth generation long-term evolution (LTE) technology in India will realistically start only by mid-2015 or 2016 as issues related to coverage and the price of handsets will take time to get sorted out, a top official at Huawei Telecommunications said. 

"Coverage issues no matter how hard you try cannot be resolved in the 2300 Mhz band, unless you fiberise (lay optic fibre extensively)," Sameer Rawal, director strategy and marketing, Huawei Telecommunications, told ET. Handsets which support this band, or any LTE band for that matter, are very expensive currently, he said. 

Huawei is one of India's largest LTE equipment supplier in the 2300 Mhz band. In 2010, India had auctioned spectrum in the 2300 Mhz band to be used for 4G LTE. However, the band has limitations in terms of signal strength, which means a lot more telecom towers have to be put up and the operator has to lay a network of optical fibre to boost coverage. 

The inefficiency of the bandwidth is a key reason why Mukesh Ambani-Reliance Jio Infocomm, a unit of Reliance IndustriesBSE -0.46 %, hasn't started its 4G services so far despite getting pan-India 4G airwaves in the 2010 auctions. Bharti AirtelBSE 0.85 % has launched such services in four cities but has failed to attract much interest due to the technical limitations which affect quality. 

The two companies apart from Idea CellularBSE -1.78 % and Vodafone India bought airwaves in the 1800 Mhz band in the auctions concluded February with the intention of offering 4G services since the LTE ecosystem around this band is far more developed globally than in the 2300 Mhz band. 

Some expect Reliance Jio to launch its 4G services as early as September, though there are skeptics who say that the timeline is too ambitious. Bharti Airtel is the only company in India that has introduced voice services on 4G data in Pune and Bangalore, but it adopts the circuit-switch-fall-back (CSFB) technology where data runs on LTE but voice calls are carried on 3G or 2G networks. 

Most operators are either quickly laying optical fibre cable or tying up with rivals to use their network or a combination of both. 

Meanwhile, US-based Spirent Communications, a maker of network testing gear, said that leading Indian telcos have bought technology to plan and test virtual LTE networks in anticipation of a full scale deployment. 

"We expect a very significant growth in India this year", said HS Bhaskar, director, India. 

The operators who have bought the technology include Airtel, Reliance Jio and Idea Cellular, while Vodafone India has made enquiries, according to an industry official who didn't want to be named. 

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