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Interview with Dr Lakshminath Dondeti, Director, Engineering, Technical Standards, Qualcomm India

December 09, 2013

Interview with Dr Lakshminath Dondeti, D...
US-based Qualcomm has been engaged in developing a conducive ecosystem for technologies like 3G, EVDO, HSPA and long term evolution (LTE). In an interview with tele.net, Dr Lakshminath Dondeti, director, engineering, technical standards, Qualcomm India, talks about the company’s focus on 3G and LTE, its initiatives to drive mobile broadband growth and future plans.

 

Excerpts…

What is the current status of 3G services in India? What strategies need to be adopted to drive their growth?

The Indian telecom market has witnessed high growth due to the increasing adoption of voice services. Going forward, 3G services are expected to drive sector growth.

Globally, telecom companies provide 3G services in the 2100 MHz band. As a result, the ecosystem for this spectrum band is well developed and several affordable 3G devices are available in the market today. This is driving the growth of 3G services globally.

In India, however, the 3G segment is yet to achieve its full potential. For higher service uptake, operators will need to educate users about the technology’s benefits and provide an improved mobile experience. 3G services are expected to enable customers to utilise their smartphones to the fullest.

The following steps can be taken to increase 3G service uptake:

Increasing spectrum availability in the 2100 MHz band: Indian telecom operators are providing 3G services in the 2100 MHz band. Considering the limited availability of spectrum in this band, there is a need for more airwaves. This will not only help operators expand their 3G footprint but also address various regulatory challenges.

Utilising spectrum in the 900 MHz band for providing 3G services: In Europe, several operators utilise the universal mobile telecommunication system (UMTS) 900 to enhance network coverage and capacity. The 900 MHz band ensures increased coverage in terms of in-building penetration and facilitates services in both rural and urban areas. The country has a developed UMTS ecosystem and 90 per cent of 3G devices support the 900 MHz band. Consequently, operators would not face ecosystem-related challenges in providing 3G services using the 900 MHz band.

Carrier aggregation of the 900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands:  At present, an Indian operator establishes about 100,000 base transceiver stations (BTSs) that utilise the 900/1800 MHz band and only 20,000-30,000 BTSs for the 2100 MHz band. Considering the network reach offered by the 2100 MHz band, operators will need to deploy more BTSs to ensure seamless 3G connectivity. Further, in-building penetration of the 2100 MHz band is not as efficient as that of the 900 MHz band.

Aggregation of the 900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands through dual-carrier HSPA+ technology will provide higher capacity and coverage to meet the growing data demand. This will also enable operators to offer speeds of up to 42 Mbps and provide trunking gains. Also, as none of the operators has two blocks of 5 MHz spectrum in the 2100 MHz band or the 900 MHz band, they will need to deploy the technology across both bands. Globally, synergies for the 900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands will help in achieving economies of scale for dual-carrier HSPA+ networks.

Typically, the 900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands will work separately for existing handsets. However, when users are willing to pay more for an enhanced experience, they may use dual band dual carrier-capable (DBDC) handsets, which will utilise the two bands simultaneously, thus resulting in higher throughput. Chipsets supporting DBDC are under development and devices with such functionalities are expected to be launched in late 2013 or early 2014.

Deployment of small cells to offload data traffic: Operators are finding it increasingly difficult to deploy additional towers to expand their 3G footprint. An increase in network capacity and coverage can be ensured through the deployment of small cells. However, no operator holds more than 5 MHz of spectrum in the 2100 MHz band and, therefore, will have to accommodate these small cells in the existing spectrum bandwidth. Also, they will have to ensure that the integration of small cells does not disrupt their macro network.

Where does India stand in terms of 4G ecosystem readiness? What is the future of this technology in the country?

Historically, Indian operators have been entirely dependent on the open market system for mobile devices. In contrast, in developed markets, several operators follow a strategy of procuring devices. Procurement allows operators to specify original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to develop devices that can be linked to their networks.

In the case of the 900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands, devices are already available in the global market prior to network launches in India. However, new technologies such as DBDC are being considered in India and other countries simultaneously. Consequently, Indian operators are required to guide the OEMs in launching devices that meet their specific requirements.

The Indian telecom market currently has 700 million active 2G users, of which 30 million-100 million are in the high-ARPU category. This subscriber base is comparable to that in the developed markets, including the European countries, Australia, South Korea and Canada, which are aggressively pursuing device procurement. Similarly, Indian operators can drive LTE ecosystem development.

LTE offers significant opportunities for hotspot deployment. For instance, in Mumbai, Delhi and Tier I and Tier II cities, operators that hold spectrum only in the 2100 MHz band are expected to run out of capacity due to the demand for increased bandwidth. Therefore, they will need to offload capacity to other networks. In this regard, the 2300 MHz band can provide 20 MHz of additional spectrum. Further, time division duplex (TDD) technology will allow efficient spectrum usage by offloading data to LTE networks.

At present, LTE operators worldwide provide voice services on the 3G and 2G circuit-switched networks. While high definition (HD) voice services are associated with the VoLTE network, operators such as Bharti Airtel have started offering these services on their 3G networks in Africa. This shows the potential of 3G networks.

Further, the wideband codec for voice services on circuit-switched networks already exists. A 3G network can also complement the LTE network. In this case, a user’s device would be connected to a 3G network for making a voice call. This will ensure higher data throughput and lower latencies on the LTE network.

However, there are several challenges in the deployment of LTE technology. Deployment of VoLTE in the near term will be challenging as LTE networks are at an early stage of development. Further, the voice service optimisation is a time consuming process. In order to ensure uninterrupted coverage for voice calls, VoLTE will have to be deployed in conjunction with single radio voice call continuity (SRVCC), which implies that a call will be transferred to a circuit-switched network, when the user roams out of the LTE coverage area.

Another challenge is making an end-to-end VoLTE call. To ensure efficiency, both the calling and receiving parties should subscribe to VoLTE. However, it is difficult to ensure the ubiquitous presence of VoLTE as all subscribers will not shift to LTE networks immediately. Therefore, getting VoLTE to function in an end-to-end scenario is still some time away. In the meantime, operators should focus on the circuit-switched fallback (CSFB) functionality. Airtel has already adopted CSFB to provide voice call services to LTE users in Pune and plans to extend the service to other circles. Also, HD voice services are not linked to VoLTE and can be provided through 3G networks.

Is the 700 MHz band more efficient than the 2300 MHz band?

The 2300 MHz band is considered as efficient as the 700 MHz band, but the latter has better propagation characteristics, which reduces the capex and opex. There will be 1000x growth in data usage across the world. With a huge demand for data services and bandwidth, no quantum of spectrum will be sufficient and telecom operators would need to acquire more bandwidth.

The 700 MHz band is more fragmented than it is considered to be. For instance, Verizon and AT&T operate at different frequencies in the 700 MHz band. As a result, Verizon’s devices will not operate on AT&T’s network and vice versa. Several global operators favour the 700 MHz band for deploying LTE networks and have suggested that the respective regulatory bodies adopt it. Trials on this band are being conducted, but the ecosystem will take time to mature. Nevertheless, operators will have to increase the procurement of specific devices in order to provide incentives to OEMs to develop them.

What are some of the challenges faced by Qualcomm in India? How do you plan to address them?

There are challenges with regard to the open-market nature of the business and regulatory uncertainty. We are trying to address them through initiatives such as the Qualcomm Reference Design (QRD) programme.

What technology trends are expected in the Indian telecom market?

Carrier aggregation of the 900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands through DBDC technology will have a major impact on the Indian market. Further, LTE networks will exist along with 3G networks, and technologies such as CSFB, VoLTE, SRVCC and small cells will gain traction.

Going forward, what are your plans for the Indian market?

Qualcomm will facilitate the development of a device ecosystem through the QRD. Also, the company has been conducting several trials and demonstrations for DBDC and small cell technology, while those for LTE mobility, fallback from LTE to 3G and CSFB on 3G network have been completed.

What are Qualcomm’s new products and solutions to support 3G and LTE technologies?

Qualcomm has developed first-generation chipsets that support the 2300 MHz band. The company has also built second- and third-generation chipsets and is guiding OEMs to develop devices equipped with such chipsets.

 

 
 

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