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Top Telecom Trends, 2011

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VoicenData Bureau
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The past year has been an exciting one for the telecom industry. With the slow but sure emergence from the plague of recession, operators decided to quickly enforce corrective telecom practices to up their falling revenues.

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Tata DoCoMo being the first private player to have started 3G services, it remains to be seen how 3G will catch up with enterprise and retail customers next year, when all other successful 3G operators are likely to start services as well. Vendors have also decided to make hay when the sun shines-bringing in cheap 3G handsets.

And of course there is BWA and MNP-BWA, which was a step taken by the government to significantly increase broadband penetration to all corners of the country, especially rural areas, slated to come in by the first half of 2011, will throw up some changes in the current broadband usage patterns. The far-reaching effects that MNP will have on operators' ARPUs are to be seen in 2011, and also the stiff competition for lower-priced services that will emerge as a result of this.

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Tracking all these changes and more, we present to you the likely trends that are set to take the Indian telecom industry by storm in the new year.

3G: According to Anuj Kapoor, country head, Telcordia, “3G mobile broadband for enterprise and retail customers will reach capacity in 2011, and by the second-half of 2011 we are likely to see LTE as well, which will compete directly with 3G. This will also lead to a highly competitive market for cross-bundling of voice and data packages, instead of separate plans for each, and there will be higher use of a service creation environment for quick responsiveness to the market.

Mobile advertising as a mode of subsidizing the service and as an added revenue stream will witness a boost, and mobile payments will also increase, with higher speeds and restrictions on online payments being removed. Besides, other applications like GPS and social networking will also pick up, with high-speed broadband.” However, competitive pricing of 3G services will be a key to its uptake, and sachet pricing for various apps will be ideal.

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MNP: Natesh Mani, president, consumer infrastructure services, Sify Technologies, “Dynamics like MNP will kick in and will further challenge the life cycle of the consumers. Operators will have to focus on better segmentation of market and retention of existing base. Managing consumer experience and brand preference will be key.”

BWA, WiMax, Wi-Fi and LTE: According to Sanjay Nayak, CEO & MD, Tejas Networks, “The average bandwidth consumed by a mobile broadband device is expected to grow by 10-15 times in the next few years.” With 20 MHz of spectrum in the hands of 6 players, it is yet to be decided whether the first broadband rollouts will be for WiMax or LTE. While Ericsson and NSN both feel that TD-LTE is gaining popularity as the technology of choice, others argue that India still doesn't have an affordable LTE standard that matches with the rest of the world, and, for now, will roll out WiMax. According to Vaibhav Mehta, VP, Elitecore, “WiMax will offer high bandwidth and speeds to encompass a new generation of wireless services such as Mobile VoIP, Multimedia-based Mobile services (Presence,IM) and multiple air interface support. Location based services will integrate with wireless networks including WiFi and WiMax to provide integrated applications usable in outdoor or dense urban environments. According to JS Sarma, chairman, Trai, “Trai has already floated a pre-consultation paper on 'IMT-Advanced (4G) mobile wireless broadband services', which shall be analyzed by shareholders shortly.”

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Rural Mobile Penetration: With over 200 mn rural subscribers, as of June 2010, having a 26.4% teledensity, it is clear that the masses are catching up with the mobile mania, and operators are quick to cash in on this with special low-priced schemes, crop and weather alerts, m-wallet and m-banking, e-learning through video on mobile, telemedicine, e-government and multi-lingual applications. Remarks Nayak, “Multiple government initiatives such as Rural Broadband, National Knowledge Network and USO Fund are expected to close this gap by building high-capacity information highways with nationwide coverage. The network will be future-proofed to support a full basket of applications to bridge the urban-rural divide.” Trai is also working on a National Broadband Plan and will give its recommendations to the government soon.

Cloud, Wireless and all-IP Network: According to NSN, Solutions delivered through cloud technology may eliminate operator's need to invest in its own IT infrastructure, personnel or premises in certain scenarios.” With data center virtualization being routed through the cloud, a lot of traffic due to the data explosion can be plugged. Whether it is moving from a private to a public cloud, sharing data centers with other operators or becoming a virtual cloud SP leasing out services as an additional form of revenue, the cloud trend is fast catching up in the telecom space. According to John Samuel, president India, Verizon Business, “Building for peak capacity is yesterday's way to manage IT resources. Today's smart CIO uses only those resources required to power his or her business.” Wireless and fiber will thus be the technology of choice, going forward.

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The shift from IPv4 to IPv6 is also something to look out for.

Infrastructure Sharing and Consolidation: In a recent interview, Dr JS Sarma, chairman, Trai said, “Looking at the scarcity of spectrum, some form of operator consolidation will be required in the long term to preserve sustainability.” While M&As have ruled 2009-10, tower and infrastructure sharing has also caught up, in an effort to reduce capex and opex, while maintaining quality. Says Kapoor, “Operator consolidation is expected for those operators who haven't started services yet, but this will depend on the regulatory environment.” Agreeing with him, Syed Safawi, CEO, wireless business, RCom says, “2011 will be a year of consolidation since the lock-in period of 3 years for the new operators will be over in Jan 2011, and thus this allows the promoters to sell their stakes.”

An MVNO-based business model for operators who did not win 3G spectrum, or leasing out of 3G spectrum by successful 3G operators may also be seen. M&As with global investors in the Indian market are set to increase, with further liberalization of government policy.

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Smart Grid and Green Technology: With ICT contributing to 2% of the world's total carbon emissions, there is an increased pressure on the industry to adopt green IT practices. While the USO fund in rural areas is being used to promote solar and wind energy, carbon credits or direct subsidies by the government to operators could serve as a further incentive to greening their operations. According to NSN, “86% of a mobile operator's total energy consumption typically occurs in the network infrastructure. Improved energy efficiency and renewable energy are competitive factors because they help communication SPs meet 3 objectives: expanding into areas with no grid or an unreliable grid supply, reducing operating costs, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions to meet climate change targets.”

Adds Nayak, “Operators are deploying multi-functional equipments called Packet Optical Transport Platforms (POTP) that integrate traditional stand-alone network elements into a single device to realize significant power savings. Advanced features such as optical bypass of transit IP traffic, video multicasting, sub-wavelength grooming and lambda switching are incorporated to realize energy efficient networks.”

Convergence and M2M: While FMC hasn't really caught up in India due to regulatory policies, this is set to get a boost in the new year, with the uptake of high-speed unified communications, broadband and video technology, making it possible to link one's office to one's home and use a mobile like a mini-office. According to NSN, “Outsourcing complex operations to expert vendors is the most effective route to the highest network quality, to improve operational efficiency, to expand network coverage cost-effectively, and to enhance customer experience.” Talking about how M2M applications will see a boost, Samuel says, “By 2014, it's estimated that more than 8 bn devices will be connected to the global Internet. Mobile devices with an IP address will be discoverable no matter where they are located at a given point in time. M2M will help to enable a smart-grid evolution.”

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Growth of Smart Devices and Local MNCs: “India is becoming a regional hub, with expertise going from local to global, like in the case of Bharti's acquisition of Zain,” says Kapoor.The local-global trend can also be seen in the increase of local services being outsourced, and many companies calling themselves local MNCs today. Talking about the growth of smart devices and its usage, Mani says, “Consumers will show higher adoption of smartphones and smartphone applications. App stores by device manufacturers and by operators will be brand differentiators. With tablet PCs like Dell and Samsung Galaxy Tab giving the iPad a run for its money, smartphones will also continue to have increased usage with 3G and emerging technology.

Security: A hot topic in recent times, the government has now agreed to set up a dedicated security lab with experts to determine whether telecom equipment that are imported adhere to local security norms. However, it has also been suggested that operators look at scalable security technology at the time of buying equipment and keep frequent checks on their networks to prevent unlawful hacking. But there are other security concerns as well. Says Kapoor, “There will have to be more restrictions from operators for over-the-top players to restrict blocking of direct revenue channel from third party to consumer.” According to NSN, “Integrated security-as-a-service into a service operator's OSS/BSS platforms will allow the operators secure, centralized, and continuously updated platforms to protect fixed Internet access.” Remarks Samuel, “Once an afterthought, security today must be factored in at every step of the way when deploying new technologies and protecting existing ones, whether it's premises equipment, in the cloud solutions or end-user devices.”

VAS: Adding value and reducing the effect of falling ARPUs and stiff competition, VAS has been taken to a new level and will keep on progressing with newer applications and apps stores, and with the coming in of 3G, especially. Explains Safawi, “New Age VAS at a broad level is all about open systems, open networks, democratic framework for partners and consumers and availability of the best products based on the consumer's usage. In the new age VAS regime, the services will be provided under the verticals of access, video, applications and gaming. It is likely that mobile phone would become the center of commercial transactions and an infotainment gadget.” MVAS-that would include m-commerce, m-banking, m-trading (in the near future), m-wallet, location-based offers and mobile TV at attractive prices are the most talked about trends in the industry today.

Says Samuel, “Smarter, more portable devices combined with fourth-generation wireless networks and an increased demand for workforce mobility and advanced mobile enterprise application platforms will make business apps more attractive and popular. More powerful devices, backed by huge libraries of applications and large developer communities will help businesses capitalize on LTE-based mobile broadband that offer mobile computing experiences we can only begin to imagine.”

Beryl M

berylm@cybermedia.co.in

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