India entering a wireless broadband revolution: GSMA

The GSM Association, which represents GSM operators and equipment companies worldwide, predicted that India will have 367 million (36.7 crore) mobile broadband connections by 2016.

India currently has a total of around 20-30 million broadband connections, including about 13 million DSL connections. The exact number of broadband connections in India is not known, as 3G connections, when used with a computer, also qualify as broadband (mobile broadband.)

GSMA estimates around 10 million (1 crore) HSPA 3.5G connections in the country at present, though it is not clear if all of them double as broadband access points.

India is on the cusp of a boom in broadband connections with the expected launch of 4G networks in the second half of the year. Bharti Airtel has already hired Nokia Siemens Networks to set up a state-of-the-art TD-LTE network in Maharashtra, to be ready by the end of the year.

Infotel, which has no broadband customers yet, is set to emerge as India’s biggest broadband provider in a little more than a year from now. The company is the only one that has India-wide spectrum for rolling out 4G broadband services, and is expected to reveal its ambitious plans in a few months.

India has one of the lowest penetration of broadband services anywhere in the world due to a traditionally weak land-line market. India has only around 32 million landphone connections, despite having a population of more than 1300 million.

Only about a third of the land-line connections are used for accessing broadband, leading to a DSL penetration level of less than 1%.

It is all set to change, with the advent of mobile broadband.

The HSPA-based connections alone are expected to grow to 100 million (10 crore) by 2014, GSMA said. “This will make India the largest HSPA market worldwide within the next two years, surpassing China, Japan and the US in the process,” it added.

HSPA currently provides an on-the-ground speed of about 2 Mbps in India, while LTE and Wimax are expected to take it to about 10-20 Mbps.

With an average retail price of US$500, the cost of an LTE smartphone is four times the average monthly GDP per capita in India, and at an average of US$200, the retail price of an LTE USB dongle is twice an Indian’s monthly income on average4. As LTE networks proliferate worldwide and more devices become available, costs will come down.

Bharti Airtel is keen on the government releasing further 4G spectrum this year, allowing it to complete its pan-India spectrum coverage and roll-out nationwide 4G services. The government too has indicated that further 4G spectrum auction will happen later this year.