Tata's Next Move: A WiMax Breakthrough in India
Tata Communications unveils an ambitious plan to become a global leader in wireless broadband by launching the world's largest commercial network.
The Tata logo on a car in Mumbai, India.
Of course WiMax is not new. Most everyone in the industry has been talking about it for years. Intel Chairman Craig Barrett has been propagating its virtues in pilot projects across the world, including India and Africa.
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Sprint will be rolling out a WiMax network in Washington next month, and in other US cities next year. Until now the most advanced use of WiMax has been in Japan and Korea, where Japanese carrier KDDI and Korea Telecom offer extensive WiMax networks. However the Japanese and Korean services are not available nationwide -- KDDI will have its major rollout only in 2009 -- and most people use them as supplements to the wired services.
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Tata Communications has been working on setting this up for a couple of years, and successfully completed field trials last December. It has used the technology from Telsima, a Sunnyvale, California maker of WiMax base-stations and the leading WiMax tech provider in the world. For now, the technology will be restricted to fixed wireless, but Tata plans to make it mobile by midyear. The company has invested about $100 million in the project (64 million), which will increase to $500 million over the next four years as it begins to near its goal of having 50 million subscribers in India.
Global tech analysts are will be watching carefully. Though WiMax is prevalent in Korea, the Korean service is a slightly different version, says Bertrand Bidaud, a communications analyst with Gartner in Singapore. It's a Korea-specific pre-WiMax technology called WiBRO.
Temple Service via WiMax
But also important is the ordinary Indian retail customer who can watch movies via WiMax and enjoy Tata's other unique offerings. For instance, users can take in an early morning worship service at the famous Balaji temple in South India. The temple permitted Tata to install cameras so that Hindu devotees from around the world could watch the proceedings in the temple around the clock. To get connected initially, users will simply have to go to a store, buy a router, install it, and then they become instantly connected. It will be as easy as buying apples, Tata executives promise.
The Tata rollout is a chance for India to become cutting-edge in mobile Internet services, say WiMax boosters. For India, which "always used last year's fashion to dress itself up," says Sharma, it is a chance to launch a brand new. fourth-generation technology that the world can follow. "India is becoming the knowledge center of the world; it should take the lead in this," he adds.
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