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October 10th, 2011, Vol:1

Editor's Words

By Sridhar Pai, ceo, Tonse Telecom

October 10, 2011

Mastering the art of messing broadband

One of Maslow's psychology theories of learning states the now famous 'unconscious competence' – actually the last of the four stages of learning. Essentially this theory discusses the progress of learning from a state of conscious incompetence (where one is acutely aware about ones lack of skills and knowledge in some area) to the last stage where the learning is so advanced that the skill becomes second nature. A good example is driving – where you progress from sitting behind the wheel for the first time to unconscious competence – where you could almost be dictating notes while cruising on the freeway.

In India, unfortunately the entire policy making machinery for broadband and the ministry appears to have breached all limits and now even unconsciously totally competent about exactly the mis-steps to take to derail any possible progress in broadband. Firstly as the long arm of law is spreading its web deeper and wider unearthing the 2G scam, a general sense of paranoia has engulfed most of the sector. Most BWA licensees are taking the wait and watch approach generally pointing to RIL as a reprieve but clearly an excuse not wanting to make a decision in trying times.


As more skeletons tumble in the aftermath of the scams, BSNL inundated with repercussions of its own follies offers to surrender its BWA spectrum. Firstly BSNL was ways ahead of competition having been awarded BWA / 3G spectrum a clear two years ahead of auction. Having first shot itself in the foot with fixed WiMAX spectrum aligning with the now almost extinct Soma Networks, it messed up the franchise route further by signing up a controversial set of 5 players as distributors. Eventually the franchise arrangement was scrapped and BSNL picked another set of unknown players – not one of which has made any progress in promoting broadband. And then in a bid to fix it, BSNL planned to ask all its franchisees to consider setting up LTE networks instead.

Unless you learn from the past, history is bound to repeat – no wonder therefore that with mounting losses in all its divisions including fixed, cellular, broadband and other services, BSNL came up with an offer to surrender its BWA spectrum last week. Essentially BSNL is seeking to get a refund of the Rs. 83.13Bil it paid for BWA spectrum. Since nothing has really changed or likely to change in BSNL, handing over spectrum back and collecting the moneys is bound to help BSNL coast along for some more time till the money burns out. Then it will be back again in its unenviable position of ramping up massive losses and thus a permanent hand-out has to be marked in the government budget to keep it alive.

To make matters worse, instead of taking a hard and deep look at BSNL's woes and finding a permanent solution, the DoT is now finding faults with other BWA winners beginning with Qualcomm. Qualcomm's master stroke in killing a competing technology with one strike for a small fee of USD1.1bil and dismantling the last potential bastions of WiMAX in the world is certainly commendable; it made no mistake in bidding for a BWA license by following the rules of the game and paying the necessary fee. The DoT should have figured out before allocating the license if Qualcomm's subsidiaries were created before or after the bidding and if it was indeed compliant or not. If not, DoT should have waved a red flag and disqualified the bidder. If you come around after 16 months and question the validity and threaten that the bidders forfeits the amount is tantamount to children breaking rules in street side cricket when they discover their team is likely to lose the game.


While Indian telecom ministry has won global praise for being a progressive, forward-thinking model for telecom privatization thus far, when it comes to broadband, it now shows all signs of a hopelessly backward, clueless, protectionist government that is scrambling for cover without rhyme or reason. Delayed NTP, M&A norms have caused a drag on the system and with impending Europe-driven recession, things are likely to get worse before they get better. While operators huddle for a long winter, the vendor community is cringing on what appears to be another year of never-ending sales calls, PoC, trials and delayed commercial launches. In the meanwhile broadband penetration continues to crawl...

Tonse Finding:
A key M&A is likely to come through in the Wi-Fi Offload space as a top Wi-Fi AP / Carrier class solution developer will acquire IP / assets of a Off-load gateway solution business. The combined solution will be an excellent fit for the fast growing cellular operator market where mobile data-offload solution seems to be a major draw.

Sridhar Pai runs Tonse Telecom, a Bengaluru-based telecom research and consulting house that is a research partner to Light Reading India.

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About Tonse Telecom

Tonse Telecom is a research, consulting and advisory services organization focusing on the India telecom sector. Tonse Telecom enables telecom equipment vendors, ISVs, infrastructure developers and investors for success in the Indian telecom marketplace.

Tonse Telecom has onboard, a team of reputed senior industry executives and consultants who provide advisory services on specific projects. Tonse covers a broad spectrum of telecom technologies that include Wi-Fi /BWA / WiMAX, IMS, FMC and Triple Play, VoIP, Mobile VAS, End-device Applications and Mobile Content.

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