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Technology neutrality the way ahead for 3G licensing in India
Timely access to spectrum is essential for India to keep pace with mobile broadband developments worldwide

3G industry association the UMTS Forum (www.umts-forum.org) congratulates India’s Ministry of Communications & IT for having publicly presented and clarified on 12 December at India Telecoms 2008 the details of licensing and other conditions for the 3G & BWA auctions that are expected to take place by end January 2009. At present India has over 325 million mobile subscribers, projected to increase to 650 million by end 2012. The UMTS Forum applauds Honourable Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who put India on the global 3G map on 11 December when he launched 3G services on the state-owned MTNL network in Delhi, initiating the country’s first video call and viewing live television on a 3G-enabled handset.

The UMTS Forum has urged India’s national administration to carry out and complete the 3G and BWA auctions in a time bound manner in order to encourage the commercial success of mobile broadband systems built on 3GPP cellular standards. The UMTS Forum believes that by maintaining technology neutrality in its 3G and BWA spectrum auction process, India’s government can assure fair competition and a level playing field for operators that will ultimately benefit end-users of mobile broadband services.

Speaking at India Telecom 2008 in Delhi, and also addressing a CEO’s Roundtable chaired by Mr Thiru A. Raja, Minister of Communications & IT, and by Mr Siddhartha Behura, Secretary of Department of Telecommunications, UMTS Forum Chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaimé called for 3G/IMT spectrum at 2 GHz to be urgently released to India's mobile operators: “Ensuring timely availability of spectrum, with fair licensing conditions, will let India keep pace with 3G/3G+ developments in the rest of the world.

“3G/UMTS, 3G/CDMA2000 and mobile WiMAX have all been recognised as IMT standards, following a decision of the ITU Radio Assembly in October 2007”, added Bienaimé . “If both 3G and BWA are to be permitted to offer data and voice services in India, there should not be any distinction between the two in terms of reserve price and eligibility criteria at auction.”

Bienaimé stressed that spectrum at 2 GHz for 3G/IMT plus additional frequencies at 450 MHz and 800MHz should be released simultaneously. He also cautioned against India’s stated intention to allocate frequencies in the 2.6 GHz band to only TDD/BWA, since paired spectrum at 2.6 GHz will be crucial for the success of LTE (3GPP Long Term Evolution) - the next step after WCDMA & HSPA in the GSM/UMTS family evolution.

“To adequately support India’s future mobile broadband subscribers, it’s essential that sufficient spectrum is reserved for 3GPP systems, spanning HSPA+ and LTE”, stated Bienaimé. Alongside frequencies in the 2.6 GHz “extension band” that are needed to meet future capacity needs, the UMTS Forum has indicated that Indian operators will need timely access to the lower bands. These include ‘digital dividend’ frequencies in the 700 MHz region, plus refarmed 2G spectrum at 900 MHz to address the coverage needs of India’s largely rural population.

India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has allocated a block of frequencies for 3G to the country’s two state-owned mobile operators, ahead of private players. MTNL has deployed the first 3G/UMTS network in Delhi and the National Capital Region. Public sector operators MTNL & BSNL both intend to launch 3G+/HSPA services nationwide by mid 2009. Private operators have also announced plans to launch 3G+/HSPA in the first half of next year, depending on the outcome of India’s imminent 3G auction.