Top telecom companies Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, China Mobile, KT Corp and Softbank have joined forces to further develop and converge 4G high-speed broadband technologies and work towards developing the 5G ecosystem, as mobile data growth takes centre-stage for their growth.
The five global telecom giants backed a five-year strategic plan, termed GTI 2.0, to push the global development and deployment of TD-LTE - a 4G technology using the 2300 Mhz band which is used by Reliance Jio Infocomm and Airtel in India but which lags in global deployment behind the more popular FD-LTE technology which uses the 1800 Mhz band.
The plan also involves working towards convergence between the two technologies, besides fostering a cross-industry synergistic 5G ecosystem.
"We have led the roll-out of TD-LTE in India and are confident that it will emerge as the preferred standard for evolving mobile technologies," Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel, said in a statement. "We look forward to collaborating with the consortium partners towards developing technology ecosystem for the future and help build a digitally inclusive world."
Jio and Airtel were among the initial global adopters of the TD-LTE technology, mainly as 2300 Mhz was the only 4G airwave to be auctioned back in 2010. But technical challenges around in-building coverage, poor voice quality and an underdeveloped handset ecosystem meant both couldn't commercially deploy services for a long time.
Both have since also bought 1800 Mhz to add to their 4G bandwidth pool.
Airtel is deploying on a combination of both technologies, while Jio is expected to mainly launch their services on TD-LTE when it commercially launches in a few months. Their launches have coincided with a wider deployment of the technology by China Mobile and consequent improvement in handsets.
Still, "FD-LTE technology has been the preferred technology, as against TD-LTE globally, and in India up tol now due to ecosystem development and sub-1Ghz band presence. However, TDD LTE technology will get a major boost as carrier aggregation standards continue to come in to play, especially around TD-FD convergence," Rohan Dhamija, partner and head for India and south Asia at telecom consulting firm Analysys Mason, told The Economic Times.
India's top operators have already considering the deployment of carrier aggregation technologies which will help in clubbing together fragmented spectrum bands to virtually create larger airwave blocks, thereby offering faster and more stable 4G services for users, a key competitive tool. CA will help in the convergence of the 4G technologies. Airtel in fact has adopted CA for its 4G services in Kerala.
"FD-TD convergence is a key goal for the (GTI 2.0) platform," Dhamija added.
Founded in 2011, GTI - with 122 operator members and 103 industrial partners - has been working on constructing a robust ecosystem of TD-LTE, speeding up the commercialization of TD-LTE and promoting the convergence of the two.
Vittorio Colao, chief executive officer of Vodafone Group, said that it is important for the industry to continue developing 4G and to work together to develop the standards for 5G technology ahead of its expected commercial introduction from 2020 onwards.
Dhamija said Vodafone Group becoming a part of GTI 2.0 is an interesting development, given the telco wasn't a big supporter of TD LTE standard. "TD-FD convergence evolution could be a key factor in Vodafone coming on board," he noted.
By the end of December 2015, there were 76 TD-LTE commercial networks in 43 countries, and 91 TD-LTE networks in progress, with a total of 1.4 million TD-LTE base stations serving 470 million subscribers globally.
Masayoshi Son, chairman of Softbank Group, expects that GTI 2.0 will continue to promote the evolution of technology to meet the requirements of 1 million times growth of mobile data traffic in next 30 years.
Shang Bing, chairman of China Mobile said that the telco will work closely with partners to further promote TD-LTE evolution, global deployment and propel 5G development and joint innovation to embrace the new era of 'Everything Connected'."