Airtel launched India’s first 4G LTE services in Kolkata yesterday. Airtel delivers the service using TDD technology, making it one of the few operators globally to launch a TD-LTE network. The majority of commercial LTE launches are still based on FDD technology, which begs the question: What impact will TDD have on the LTE landscape? Will TD-LTE get support from equipment manufacturers, or will it suffer a fate similar to that of WiMAX? What does it mean for operators? I believe that TDD will affect the entire mobile ecosystem. Here’s how:

  • Price parity between paired and unpaired spectra. Both paired and unpaired spectra will be viewed as media that deliver wireless service irrespective of the underlying technology; this will drive price parity between the spectra. The dichotomy between the FDD spectrum (used primarily for coverage) and the TDD spectrum (mainly for capacity) will disappear as technological advancements make it possible to achieve similar capacity and coverage on both spectra. Consequently, the “spectrum crunch” may diminish, as any spectrum will be satisfactory for the deployment of mobile broadband services.
  • TD-LTE will catalyze the convergence of different LTE network variants. Before WiMAX was introduced, equipment, chipset, and terminal vendors were primarily working on FDD products. Even after WiMAX was launched, its inherent limitations — such as no backward compatibility with GSM and HSPA networks — kept vendors from completely supporting it. So vendors primarily worked on FDD or TDD products in isolation — but TD-LTE technology will catalyze the convergence of the different LTE network variants. As such, the unification of and interoperability between TD-LTE and FDD-LTE networks (dual-mode) offer network equipment vendors a unique opportunity to innovate and create product- and specialization-based competitive differentiators rather than the conventional differentiation based on cost.
  • Service providers will be driven to further differentiate themselves with service quality and portfolio offerings. Unlike WiMAX service providers, which have limited ecosystem support, TD-LTE and FDD-LTE will create a single pool of service providers that have access to the same vendor ecosystem. This is analogous to an open source mobile OS system like Android, where all handset manufacturers (Android service providers) have access to the same ecosystem of vendors (infrastructure, application, and software developers). Therefore, service providers will have to distinguish themselves based on their service quality and portfolio of offerings.

I have recently written a report (soon to be published) on the TD-LTE market in Asia Pacific, in which I describe why APAC is crucial for the development of the TD-LTE standard. The report also provides subscriber and direct service revenue forecasts from 2012 to 2018, broken out by key markets, including China, Japan, India, and the rest of the region. We estimate that India will have nearly 32 million TD-LTE subscribers by 2017. I will update this post with the link to my report once it’s available. So keep checking back!

Well, my report is now live. You can access it here. Happy to hear your comments/feedback.