Strategy of the new kid on the block - Tata Communications

Tata Group subsidiary Tata Communications is looking for a managed-services company, possibly one located in the United States. It is also putting a minority interest in its tower operation up for sale, with an asking price rumored to be as high as $6 billion. And, as frosting on the cake, it has expanded its global virtual private network (VPN) service to China.

According to reports of Telecomweb, Tata Communications wants to buy small- and mid-size managed-services outfits with annual revenues in the range of $50 million and $200 million. It's said to be looking for companies in the United States, the U.K., and Asia as well as in India itself. Tata Communications is the new kid on the block or rather a 5,000-pound gorilla in the global telecom marketplace - born just last month as the unified global brand for VSNL, VSNL International, Teleglobe (the former Bell Canada subsidiary VSNL bought for $239 million , Tata Indicom Enterprise Business Unit and CIPRIS. The combination created the Number One global international wholesale voice operator and the Number One provider of international long-distance, enterprise-data and Internet services in India.

What Tata's looking for next really is more technology than a book of business. At $50 million to $200 million in revenues as a criterion, it would be picking up companies that aren't of global scale and probably don't have the resources to go global by themselves. Tata's plan would be to integrate the technology it gets from such companies, eventually putting together a global powerhouse that could challenge such market leaders as AT&T, BT and France Telecom's Orange Business Services. Tata's goal is said to be a 6-percent- to-7-percent market share within three years, in what it estimates will be a $50 billion cross-border global market in which managed services will play a role.

Meanwhile, within India itself, Tata is attempting to monetize part of its huge cellular-tower infrastructure it set up as a separate company called Wireless Tata Telecom Infrastructure Ltd. It currently owns 13,500 towers, with a growth plan to add about 3,000 per year for the foreseeable future; it's now negotiating to sell a minority stake of between 26 percent and 49 percent in the tower operation. Tata says it's received indications of interest from 30 potential bidders, and the company currently is in negotiations with half of that group, with hopes of cutting a deal by the end of May. Potential investors were understood to include international investment entities as well as local Indian investors. Analysts are guessing as high as $6 billion if a full 49-percent stake is sold.

In a final piece of Tata news, the company says it's expanding its Global VPN service to China through a network-to-network interface (NNI) agreement with China Enterprise Netcom Corporation Limited (China Entercom/CEC). China Entercom is a value-added telecommunication services and integrated IT solutions provider, and a subsidiary of China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC).

Under the NNI, Tata Communications and China Entercom have interconnected their respective Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) infrastructures, giving Tata Communications' multi-national corporate customers VPN connectivity to 347 cities throughout China. The Tata VPN service so far has reached 120 cities in India and 19 major business centers across North America, Asia and Europe. It runs over Tata's IP network, which touches 195 countries.

Tata Communications' agreement with China Entercom allows them to serve many global and India MNC customers who require a single scalable and reliable global VPN with deep reach into both India and China, and broad reach around the world. China and India are the engines driving the globalizing information economy, and it is critical for MNC's to establish reliable infrastructure in these markets.

WIMAX or LTE - Future tensed

WiMAX and Long-Term Evolution (LTE) are set to push the takeup of 4G services worldwide, with the total number of 4G subscribers w expected to exceed 90 million in 2013. As per says ABI Research, at the end of 4Q07, there were nearly 3.4 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, with 2.7 billion on GSM/EDGE/GPRS networks. Worldwide WCDMA subscriber numbers hit 180 million in 4Q07. ABI Research expects migration to HSPA+ to begin in early 2010, and migration to LTE will start by the middle of the same year. ABI Research forecast the total number of WCDMA subscribers (including HSPA) to approach 720 million in 2013. Some operators may not be ready to move on to LTE, as the peak data rates of 100 Mbps downlink and 50 Mbps uplink are achievable only with a 20- megahertz spectrum band. That is a luxury that most operators may not have, and many may be content with the capabilities of HSPA+ or settle for suboptimal LTE data rates with whatever they have at the time.

While the long-term roadmap for CDMA2000, especially in relation to UMB, looks more uncertain, CDMA operators are taking advantage of current upgrade possibilities. As such, many carriers have upgraded portions of their networks to EV-DO Rev A during 2007 while new CDMA entrants start with Rev A. ABI Research expects the total number of CDMA2000 subscribers (including 1x and various versions of EV-DO) to approach 800 million by the end of 2013

What will drive WiMAX growth?

Sprint's so-far-challenged mobile WiMAX buildout and rumors of a potential investment by Intel in that network are signs suggesting DSL/cable replacement and not mobility will continue to propel WiMAX forward in the short term.
Last fall, Intel took a minority stake in Nexcom Bulgaria, a competitive telecom operator that's in the process of rolling out that country's first 802.16-based nationwide wireless broadband network using WiMAX Forum-certified hardware. A vendor paying substantial sums for deployment of its own technology at this stage of product development is a concern. The lack of substantial mobile WiMAX network deployments without the Intel investment is troubling. Fixed WiMAX markets will remain a key to vendors. Currently WiMAX revenues are experiencing brisk growth due to employment of the technology as a cable/DSL replacement, adding fixed WiMAX subscribers will nearly double annually during these next years and will account for more than 60 percent of WiMAX subscribers by year end 2013 as well as a multibillion-dollar equipment market.

Major carriers are poised next year to deploy HSPA+ which is an update to existing WCDMA platforms and which will also outperform WiMAX Wave 2 networks. In a few more years operators will also be able to deploy UMB and LTE which both offer substantial improvements over 802.16e.

WiMAX vendors are by no means out of the mobile race. The upcoming 802.16m specification will offer the WiMAX community another great shot at mobile wireless in the 2010-2012 timeframe when most operators will be looking ahead.

Is WIMAX wading through troubled waters?

Motorola is positioning itself to offer an out to any carrier that opts for a network based on IEEE 802.16e (WiMAX) as its 4G offering and later decides it made the wrong choice and should have waited for the rival Long Term Evolution (LTE).

It's also been disclosed that Alltel is on the verge of ditching CDMA, eschewing WiMAX and joining the LTE crowd, and it's apparently working hand-in-hand with Motorola's LTE effort, leaving Sprint even further isolated in its choice of WiMAX.

In a little-noticed statement, Motorola said it's readying a wireless broadband platform that supports both WiMAX and LTE evolved Node-B (LTE/eNodeB) - the first such piece of hardware hinted at by anyone in the industry. The move will let carriers that take the WiMAX plunge to move to LTE (LTE advocates would say "upgrade to LTE") at some point in the future at a massively reduced capex.

Motorola didn't mention the name of any carriers it's targeting. However, in the United States, the only cellular carrier committed to what it calls WiMAX is Sprint, with its troubled Xohm program. Motorola is a key Sprint Xohm supplier with its IEEE 802.16e-based hardware (none of which has yet been certified as meeting WiMAX Forum specifications).

Motorola's WiMAX-to-LTE release was both buried in the pile of announcements Motorola has planned for next week's huge CTIA Wireless 2008 show in Las Vegas and vastly overshadowed by the company's announcement of its decision to split itself asunder, creating two separate public owned entities, in a desperate attempt to salvage its cellular handset business. The WiMAX/LTE hardware comes from the half of Motorola that's been making money hand over fist and growing at a healthy clip, and thus appears destined to survive no matter what the fate of the money-losing handset unit.

In related news, Motorola says it's demonstrated the first successful packet-switched network handoff between CDMA EV-DO Rev-A and LTE. The demo encompassed both VoIP calls and streaming video. Motorola, which is going to hold live demonstrations of the handoff next week, says laptops and mobile devices are equipped with dual radio transceivers that support both CDMA/EV-DO Rev-A and LTE and are active during the packet handoffs. As a device loses LTE connectivity, it automatically switches to EV-DO to help ensure consistent streaming without dropping IP packets. The process is then reversed, and devices switch back to LTE when LTE connectivity is restored.

Motorola's target market is obvious: every CDMA carrier in the world, starting with Verizon, which already has disclosed plans to migrate from CDMA to LTE Motorola is taking part in LTE trials set for later this year by Verizon and Vodafone, which owns 40 percent of Verizon Wireless. It now also appears Alltel is close to making the same decision.

At this point, Motorola's CDMA-to-LTE (and back again) technology is just at the demonstration stage, and it didn't give any timetable for having product ready for market, hardly a surprise because initial LTE deployments aren't expected until sometime late next year.

In other Motorola LTE action, the company joined the LTE/System Architecture Evolution (SAE) Trial Initiative (LSTI). Motorola's success in getting a foot in the door at Verizon/Vodafone was said to be a major factor in that decision. The LSTI is a global, collaborative technology trial initiative focused on accelerating the availability of commercial and interoperable next generation LTE mobile broadband systems. It was formally launched in May 2007 by Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Orange, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, Nortel, T-Mobile and Vodafone. Since its inception, LSTI has expanded to include China Mobile, Huawei, LG Electronics, NTT DoCoMo, NXP, Samsung, Signalion, Telecom Italia, Qualcomm, ZTE, Rohde and Schwarz, and now Motorola.

WIMAX struggling to get foothold!!

Buzz Broadband, which a year ago became one of the first carriers in the world to offer service using WiMAX Forum-certified hardware, says WiMAX has "failed miserably." Consequently, the Australian carrier has pulled the plug on its network.
Buzz CEO Garth Freeman shocked the audience at a WiMAX conference during a presentation in which he blasted the technology as being incapable of delivering the service promised and "mired in opportunistic hype." Despite those promises, he reportedly said, non-line-of-sight (NLOS) performance was "non-existent" beyond just two kilometers from the base station, indoor performance decayed at just 400 meters and latency rates reached as high as 1,000 milliseconds - making WiMAX unusable for VoIP. Because Buzz's business plan depends heavily on VoIP sales, that's a critical issue.

Freeman, saying his company has ditched its WiMAX gear and is replacing it with other wireless technologies -- TD-CDMA and wireless DOCSIS -- added that most WiMAX deployments were still in trials, that the technology is mainly being looked at by start-up carriers and that it's supported by what he termed "second-tier vendors."
Needless to say, the remarks have gotten Airspan, which supplied Buzz with its gear, more than slightly upset. Airspan too has something to say - Among the charges is that Buzz opted for Airspan's "Micro" base station, which has a known shorter range, rather than shelling out for the more expensive "Macro" base stations. Also being brought into question is the adequacy of Buzz's own backhaul network, both in terms of quality of service (QoS) and capacity to carry such traffic as VoIP. That would put the blame for poor VoIP on the backhaul system, rather than on WiMAX.

Other WiMAX supporters also are chiming in with a range of theories, starting with one everyone knows: that "fixed WiMAX" using 3.5 GHz spectrum (which is what Buzz was using) doesn't have good NLOS performance. Rather, the argument goes, 2.5 GHz "mobile WiMAX" solves that problem. Mobile WiMAX is the trade name for the technology most people expect Sprint will use for its Xohm wireless broadband project.

In another development that gave a blow to WIMAX reputation, bankrupt Canadian WiMAX pioneer SR Telecom is being sold at a blue light special bargain price of just $6 million, in a deal that will leave current shareholders in the publicly traded company with zero value for their equity - not that its worth much now at less than a penny a share.

SR Telecom is one of only 13 companies in the world that actually has certified WiMAX products - despite the marketing claims of dozens of other companies. But that hasn't helped the Canadian wireless broadband pioneer, which bet its future on WiMAX and now has lost.

But presently NSN has an EDGE

Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) has taken the wraps off a planned upgrade it says will double the data download bandwidth of EDGE technology handsets this year, leading to quadruple speed in the near-distant future. The size of wireless broadband bandwidth is a sore point, with users looking for ever-bigger pipes to handle emerging applications. Nokia Siemens' move keeps the EDGE technology viable for what could be years into the future, perhaps in some places forestalling 3G and filling in until the GSM market evolves into the massively faster Long Term Evolution (LTE).

A Nokia Siemens announcement now, even though it won't be ready to deliver the EDGE upgrade until the third quarter, also is thought to be a pre-emptive move to blunt Ericsson's recently disclosed plans to introduce similar capabilities by 2009. Ericsson would dearly love to steal away as much of market-leading Nokia Siemens' customer base as it can; NSN claims a GSM/EDGE installed base of 260 operator networks in 117 countries, with a total of more than 1.5 billion subscribers.

NSN says its speed upgrade is a "Dual Carrier EDGE" solution that offers double data speeds of as much as 592 Kb/s to existing EDGE-capable GSM networks. The upgrade is to software and firmware, with no hardware trade-outs needed. It's believed most current EDGE-capable handsets, including notably the iPhone, can be upgraded to the new speed, although it's not clear whether older model phones will be capable.

The jump to 592 Kb/s will be followed by what NSN called "the next substantial step, the so-called EGPRS 2," which will offer downlink speeds of as much as 1.2 Mb/s and will double uplink speed to up to 473 Kb/s, thus quadrupling the capabilities of those currently offered by EDGE networks.

By 2015, NSN expect to live in a broadband IP world with five billion people 'always on' and, therefore, NSN is committed to protecting customer investments and continue to implement leading EDGE technology. Dual-carrier software upgrade is an easy and extremely cost-efficient step to bring broadband user experience to GSM/EDGE networks.

China finally going 3G

China finally has given permission to start commercial trials of 3G cellular technology but, at this point, only of the country's home-grown Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access (TD-SCDMA). China has been promising some sort of 3G service in time for the international event of summer olympics, and the country's (and the world's) largest carrier, China Mobile, has now built TD-SCDMA networks in eight cities, including the five Olympic venues. Interestingly, the Chinese have not yet formally issued frequency spectrum allocations for 3G, but that's apparently going to be little more than a formality. Under its commercial trial license, China Mobile reveals, it's built a network with a capacity of some eight million users.

The launch of 3G in China has been an international political hot potato for years now, with other countries charging that the Chinese have been dragging their feet on 3G in order to give TD-SCDMA time to be developed. That's allegedly to prevent the use of other 3G standards - WCDMA and CDMA2000 - even though, technically, they have been made legal in China by a reportedly reluctant government caving in to international pressure. Still, reports are that there's major pressure on China Mobile, China Unicom and other carriers to "choose" TD-SCDMA, a situation that would thus favor Chinese manufacturers in what has emerged as the world's biggest single cellphone market. Carriers reportedly served 565 million mobile phone users by the end of last month, estimated at about a 43-percent penetration rate of the total available market.

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