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‘Regrettable and unnecessary hurdles’ are delaying 3G launches for Indian consumers, says UMTS Forum

The UMTS Forum has warned that unnecessary regulatory hurdles are threatening the progress of 3G mobile broadband in India. UMTSF Chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaimé has urged that the entire 2.1 GHz frequency band – currently used by India’s military – should be opened up quickly to allow consumers to benefit from 3G mobile broadband services.

The UMTS Forum has warned that unnecessary regulatory hurdles are threatening the progress of 3G mobile broadband in India.

The UMTS Forum congratulates India for having crossed the milestone of 500m mobile customers (end November 2009), which represents the fastest mobile market growth in the world, as underlined by Dr. Manmohan Singh, Honourable Prime Minister of India, in his Special Address at the closure of India Telecoms 2009 in Delhi.

However to benefit consumers and business users, the UMTS Forum recommends that India’s Department of Telecommunications should respect the planned agenda indicated in its Revised Information Memorandum related to 3G & Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum, with the auction scheduled to start mid-January 2010.

Speaking at the CEOs Roundtable of India Telecom 2009 (chaired by Mr. Sachin Pilot, Minister of State for Communications & IT) UMTS Forum Chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaimé has urged that the entire 2.1 GHz frequency band – currently used by India’s military – should be opened up quickly to allow consumers to benefit from 3G mobile broadband services, especially as there is a severe spectrum shortage in Delhi and Mumbai. Clearing these frequencies would allow Indian operators to deploy 3G/UMTS networks in the same ‘core bands’ already used for mobile broadband in many other world regions.

“It’s crucial that India’s next 3G auctions are not delayed further”, urged Bienaimé. “Regrettable and perhaps unnecessary regulatory hurdles have been delaying the launch of UMTS in India for way too long.”

“Around 600m consumers outside India are already enjoying the benefits provided by 3G mobile broadband – from internet access and entertainment to education and healthcare”, continued Bienaimé. “There are currently almost 470m 3G/UMTS subscribers worldwide, including 175m+ HSPA subscribers. It is estimated that delays to the 3G licensing process have already resulted in losses of billions of Euros to India’s economy. There are currently around 380m GSM subscribers in a total of 500m Indian mobile customers. Through the evolutionary path mapped out by 3GPP, these subscribers have the potential to benefit from 3G/UMTS and HSPA and ultimately all Indian mobile subscribers will benefit from high-speed LTE technology.”

Emphasizing on the recent consultation paper on “Overall spectrum management and review of license terms and conditions” issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the UMTS Forum states that there should be no more distinction between 3G and BWA. Indeed, following the ITU Radio Assembly’s decision in October 2007, 3G/UMTS, 3G/CDMA2000 and WiMAX Mobile 802.16e are all recognized as IMT standards (IMT-2000 & Evolution). Therefore the UMTS Forum recommends that India stops enforcing the unnecessary and damaging distinction between 3G and BWA, and recognizes that 3G/UMTS is delivering BWA across the world today.

“By recognising that 3G/UMTS is already delivering BWA services globally, India can seize a huge socio-economic opportunity that it has been denying to itself for too long”, noted Bienaimé. The UMTS Forum Chairman also urged that India should reserve the 2.3 GHz band mainly for TD-LTE deployments, rather than being adopted too early for other technologies:

“As is already the case in China, India can also prepare itself for tomorrow’s opportunities while also acknowledging technology neutrality by allowing TD-LTE in the 2.3GHz band.”

The UMTS Forum has also reinforced its message that India can streamline its 3G licensing process by keeping upfront costs to operators at a realistic level.

In addition, the UMTS Forum has urged India to adopt the fully-harmonised plan already laid out by CEPT for use of the 2.6GHz band for IMT mobile systems. “Failure to align with CEPT’s recommendations would be another serious obstacle to the long-term success of mobile broadband in India”, stressed Bienaimé. “The need to create frequency-specific terminals for the Indian market will lead to further delays and increased equipment costs for operators and end users. The last thing that India needs is to isolate itself still further from other countries that already have a realistic, forward looking vision for exploiting the benefits of mobile broadband.”

At last in view of increasing mobile coverage, particularly for rural areas, the UMTS Forum has also urged India to join the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) in its on-going efforts to harmonise the 698-806 MHz band by the end of 2010. By aligning with this regional initiative to harmonise so-called Digital Dividend frequencies in Region 3, India’s cellular market can capitalise on immense economies of scale that will drive down the costs of network equipment and end-user devices.