Special report from our Indian correspondent
India is becoming one of the key mobile phone markets worldwide in terms of year-on-year growth, and with the imminent arrival of 4G networks in the country, that will be even more the case more so from next year  on. The Indian government is currently auctioning 4G licenses, and it is estimated that by the end of 2013 a total of 13 cities will be covered by 4G networks. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs] awarded with the licenses will offer services on the TD-LTE (time division–long term evolution) standard over LTE band 40 (2300 MHz). The number of TD-LTE ready handsets available to Indian consumers is, however, surprisingly low.
Bharti Airtel is one such carrier which has already begun the 4G network rollout in two cities, Kolkata and Bangalore, and is in talks with Chinese manufacturer Huawei to help them build the necessary network infrastructure to rollout 4G services in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
Airtel is biggest carrier in the country in terms of subscribers and revenue, and currently boasts a subscriber base of over 200 million.
Airtel has already shelled out over $500 million to acquire 4G licenses in eight telecom circles (zones). Airtel’s 4G network uses LTE band 40, and has a frequency of 2300 MHz. It has also acquired a 49 per cent stake in Qualcomm’s wireless broadband entities in key cities.
While LTE enabled mobile handsets like the HTC One and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 are already available for sale in the country, they will not be able to make use of this network as they do not have the provision of this specific LTE band.
Although these devices do support a lot of LTE bands to ensure that they can connect to these networks in most territories, the TD-LTE standard uses a different frequency.
Currently, the only device that works with Airtel’s 4G network is Huawei’s Ascend P1 LTE, which became available last year .
Airtel has mentioned that it has been using the device for testing to ensure reliable connectivity across the cities it is launching 4G services in. More devices are set to follow once the 4G services become easily accessible.
In fact, Reliance, yet another major carrier in India, is said to be working with Samsung to offer entry-level 4G handsets for as low as $100.
Considering the proliferation of devices in the budget segment in India, this move makes a lot of sense for both the Reliance and Samsung.
Reliance has also mentioned that it intends to introduce affordable 4G schemes in the country.
Other carriers that are set to start offering 4G services include Vodafone and Videocon. Vodafone has struck a deal worth $200 million with Nokia (formerly Nokia Siemens Networks) to construct a 4G network infrastructure.
Videocon has stated in an interview that it intends to roll out 4G services by December, and has also announced that it would start selling 4G devices by next year.
Furthermore, it was revealed last week that China Mobile, the world’s largest telecom, has struck a deal with Indian carriers worth $7 billion to buy infrastructure that is necessary to establish a similar TD-LTE network in China.
China Mobile is also credited with leading the Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI), which includes carriers like Airtel, Vodafone, ClearWire and SoftBank. This initiative is undertaken to bring more devices to the TD-LTE standard.
As the gradual roll out of 4G LTE networks in India has started, we hope that we will see launch of a lot more 4G LTE compatible devices like Sony Xperia Z1 by next year .