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India Excludes ISPs From WiMax Auction
The recent DoT decision effectively excluding ISP bids for WiMax spectrum brings back memories of India’s past fantastic flights. The fantasy this time around is the cellular operator’s commitment to nationwide deploying 2.5GHz spectrum for wireless broadband over WiMax and not hoarding it or sneaking it for 3G use should – if the DoT succeeds – both.
This is yet another kick in the teeth for Indian ISPs as the nation still has a chastity belt around VoIP prohibiting interconnection with public landline and mobile networks. Now punch-drunk ISPs are barricaded from WiMax in what can only be a complete escape from logic.
If the DoT really wants to have a ubiquitous, functional, no-frills truly ‘wireless broadband’ mobile service that allows the country to retain some of the browning on the ‘India Shining’ plaque at the door, then the guy delivering it is that without direct interest in the inherited air interfaces generating mobility.
In other words, keep the cellular establishment away from WiMax, because they’ll do everything with it, but deliver truly wireless, ubiquitous, no-frills mobile broadband service that cannibalizes existing revenue and kills those hot 3G dreams.
In fairness our landline and cellular friends (same difference) would use WiMax for backhaul meaning it’s a great way to connect base stations to the mothership while clients continue to connect to those stations base through existing cellular air interface investments. They would also use WiMax to provide fixed wireless local loops (WLL) to homes in another area which they consider relatively unattractive compared to the cellular mother lode. Do you remember how Reliance introduced cellular to the public under the guise of WLL? It was cellular mobility that Reliance coveted, not the boring old fixed wireless local loops. And it’s the much-vaunted mobility of WiMax that the cellular establishment wants to keep out of reach of ISPs and away from the user.
Keeping things real, I would probably do the same with cellular shoes. Internet is synonymous with freebies, income from long distance and landline telephony goes the same with the only telecommunications real estate that brings money inside the mobile phone. You put an eight-lane WiMax broadband highway into the cell phone and there you have it, that walled garden.
No one is asking the cellular establishment to be denied spectrum for wireless broadband. Let them keep their existing 3.5 GHz tunes admirably suited to WLL, but don’t waste 2.5 GHz or 2.3 Ghz that God gave to spawn mobility on wireless broadband footprints. Entrust this mission to the ISPs.
Globally, the cellular establishment goes to incredible lengths to protect legacy investments and avoid air interfaces that lend themselves more naturally to Internet access. No reason to think their Indian chapter will do anything but procrastinate like this until the legacy costs are fully amortized and beyond. Consumers must pay for cellular airtime until the institution’s books stop requiring tithing. Until that happens, no video, YouTube or VoIP access will be effectively allowed on your mobile phone.
3G is the cellular establishment’s answer to broadband and they have already spent US$150 billion worldwide on licensing and similar changes when rolling out. Why would the Indian cellular establishment go with anything else? Especially since tried and tested equipment is available today to make 2G and 3G networks transparent. WiMax is a totally different technology and while roaming is possible, it calls for a completely different perspective to deliver what is essentially a very data-centric service – something the cellular operator is not yet familiar with. comfortable, unlike the FAI for whom it’s very bread and butter. A glance at the curses voiced against WiMax mobility by the august cellular lobby suggests that their love for any technology other than 3G may not be complete.
Therefore, any spectrum available for true wireless broadband above 2.5 GHz or 700 MHz is least likely to be used by the cellular establishment to rapidly spawn mobile access over non-cellular technologies such as WiMax. The sensible solution would be to have the cellular operator focus on proper 3G deployment, while larger ISPs are required to provide national WiMax.
Of course, the DoT doesn’t see it that way and mocks a lobby whose massive investment in legacy networks ensures it will continue the negative trends by claiming that not only will more and more Indians move more and more time on the Internet, but we’ll do it on higher bandwidth and wireless connectivity.
Doing the math, higher bandwidth translates to at least 3-5 Mbps of ubiquitous wireless speeds to the mobile handset if we are to move beyond SMS or Blackberry messaging and into the realm of real mobile Internet access to our mail servers, for YouTube, Videoblogs, interactive games and movies.
Given that the fastest cellular 3G speeds available to a cell phone today and forever are around the very expensive 500-700kbps, that means we have a situation.
Almost everyone I see on the street in Indian metros is flaunting state-of-the-art cell phones and so I suspect there are enough such phones to make my point. That is, when was the last time you used this WiFi feature? It’s a safe bet that the wireless broadband highway in your mobile phone sits idle while you pay the mobile provider to check email on Blackberry and download music files. When it comes to easy online access to YouTube or interactive TV and games, forget about it because 3G or no 3G, cellular technology has no answer. The cellular establishment circumscribed the user and we are all guilty of allowing this to happen.
The reason why you don’t use the WiFi feature of the mobile phone is that it is intentionally unfriendly but mainly because you are addicted to cell service due to its billion dollar mobility feature and that is where you and your phone lock automatically. If true ubiquitous mobile wireless broadband ever happened, you’d happily use it instead of buying expensive airtime on bloated cellular air interfaces ill-suited for data downloads and stop going without band-aids like BlackBerry.
Why is all this so important for a still largely poor country like India? Because India is now at the same level as China when it comes to internet usage. That’s the good news. The sad thing is that most Indians still use dial-up access and we are not even close to being close to China in terms of broadband penetration. Given a proven penchant for mobile and video, however, India is fertile ground for massive growth in mobile broadband Internet access. The DoT’s decision favoring the side opposing precisely this possibility does not help to generate a critical mass to complete with our giant friend hovering over the Himalayas. The defense today is economic growth where more chunks of 2.5 GHz spectrum need to be deployed, not the speed of South Block.
Earlier this year, Malaysian regulator MCMC barred the Malaysian cellular establishment from bidding for wireless broadband. He had good reason for his decision because cellular carriers have absolutely nothing to show for past wireless broadband commitments.
Further insistent, Google has eyed the US cellular juggernaut on behalf of ISPs in the current race to the 2008 FCC auction for nationwide 700 MHz chunks. In early August of this year, the FCC Chairman announced the ground rules for the slugfest, and while he didn’t fully agree to Google’s petition, enough was ceded to guarantee a “third pipe” giving ISPs a fighting chance to deliver true ubiquitous wireless broadband mobility in the face of a recalcitrant cellular network. lobby. Here is the point. In America, arguments have been made about whether a spectrum owner – Telco or ISP, it doesn’t matter – should allow all devices to connect unhindered and whether the owner should be obliged to offer spectrum wholesale to other suppliers. Much to the chagrin of cellular establishments, the FCC is also working with wireless broadband proponents to test devices that would access white (i.e., unused) space in the TV broadcast spectrum. Rather than engage the industry at such sophisticated levels, the DoT forces Indian ISPs to waste time fighting just to be allowed into the auction room.
what we see is that while regulators elsewhere have reason to suspect the good faith of the cellular establishment, the DoT appears to be wide-eyed in faith and of touching monogamous intent.
The DoT may not realize (who am I kidding?), but its decision helps ensure that much-needed new technology doesn’t prevent the cellular establishment from milking its networks in place almost in perpetuity.
The preponderance of benefits enjoyed by incumbents means that a regulatory or policy-making body like the DoT fails even if it simply remains scrupulously neutral. Whether it’s the EU, North America, Australia, Malaysia or India for that matter in the past, we only see definitive change happening through decisions that give newcomers a real advantage. and ISPs. In all honesty, TRAI’s forward thinking on regulatory issues is matched only by its inability to stand up to the DoT. So, with the ball in the DoT’s court when seen failing even neutrality to the point of openly favoring the incumbents, the casualness attempted can’t really hide the disgust.
If, however, the DoT chose to listen, a drastic departure from legacy could do wonders for users as well as the industry. This includes the cellular establishment whose own long-term interests are poorly served by their current approach. Inviting ISPs to bid on an equal footing benefits everyone. One can only hope that the DoT does the best for the Indian consumer and for this wonderful technology that allows us so much magic on the ether.
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