Yes, it has been a very long time, since Reliance Jio Infocomm (RJI) got the licenses for BWA roll out, but the company has come a long way since then and is now set to launch its limited 4G LTE services by December 2014.Though it has made a lot of headway in terms of BWA but there are some teething problems which need to be rectified so that the company can go for a full-fledged launch by the first half of 2015.
To initiate its launch, RJI will do a selective launch on the same day in Jamnagar, New Delhi, and Mumbai and later do a full fledged launch in the first half of 2014. Reliance will be selective in terms of service offerings too, and also with respect to geographical coverage in Jamnagar, Delhi, and Mumbai. Later on, the company will deploy more services and also increase city coverage in all these cities.
The company would later launch services in state capital as RJI has to provide required street level coverage in at least 90% of metro service area within 5 years of the effective date.
In category A, B, and C service areas, the company hasto ensure that at least 50% of the rural SDCAs are covered within 5 years of the effective date. Coverage of a rural SDCA means that at least 90% of the area bounded by the municipal/local body limits should get street level coverage as per BWA (broadband wireless access) licence.
For IT requirements, RJI has opted for multiple vendors for different modules to make integration easy. The company has deployed around 150 people from IBM for IT integration and all of them are working on different modules. Initially, the company is looking at deploying prepaid solutions only and later on launch post paid solutions.
The company is also betting a lot on churning customers from other service providers so that the focus is on deploying SIP based Mobile Number Portability (MNP) from Syniverse. All this will help in strengthening Reliance’s business model. Initially, there is a lot of focus on MNP as this will help them get data card subscribers from other service providers into their network.
On VoLTE (voice over LTE) front, the biggest drawback is that the technology has not been proven for a large-scale deployment. According to experts, the maturity cycle in multi-vendor Inter Operability Test (IOT) for VoLTE is in the early stages so it will take time to mature. One has to also check its ability to seamlessly move between devices and also move between IP bearers.So from a lab stage to get a full telco quality service would not be easy. One has to also see whether VoLTE is scalable to cater to more than 10 mn users and later scale to 50-100 mn users and also provide telco quality service.
Some of the modules have still not been finalized. For interconnect billing, the company is in active consultation with Subex or CSG. For content partnership, the company has still not finalized vendor for multi- party settlement as in the case of broadband services there will be an increased role of multi-party content. For content partnership, the company is in active discussions with Info nova GmbH, an Austrian company which focuses on solutions in the areas of multi and cross-industry partnering and monetization solutions (aggregation and multi-tenant BSS), media, and convergent services, content management systems and portals, middle ware, and OSS solutions.
The company has also tied up with MobiTV, a cloud basedTV everywhere solution and media platform that allows seamless time-shift and place-shift media consumption across multiple screens. One has to experience the performance of Mobile TV on the LTE platform as user experience is not satisfactory in 3G environment.
With bandwidth acting as a major obstacle, the quality of viewing in 3G environment was a major stumbling block. Even the subscriber numbers are not encouraging for 3G platform. The company has still not selected LIMS (lawful interception and monitoring solution) equipment, which will be mandatory requirement to give a head start to BWA services. The company is still in the test phase of LIMS.
With LTE focusing on voice, data, and video, monitoring calls and data session would not be an easy task for security agencies. Network Sharing: Slowly Gaining Momentum Initially, RJI thought of deploying its own fiber and towers but with time running out, the company had no other option but to lean on Anil Ambani’s telecom infrastructure.
Not only this, the company also had problems in terms of site acquisition both in Delhi and Mumbai considering radiation issues and site availability in prime locations. All this has led to network sharing agreement between the 2 brothers.
To start with the company has recently signed a definitive agreement with Reliance Communications (RCom) for approximately `1,200 crore as one time indefeasible right to use (IRU) fees for sharing RCom’s nation-wide inter-city fiber optic network infrastructure. This infrastructure will help them in wireless backhaul and not for FTTH (fiber-to the-home) deployment.
On the backbone front, RCom has alarge inter-city long distance network withover 190,000 route kilometers of ductedfiber optic cables. Under the terms of the agreement, Reliance Jio Infocomm willutilize multiple fiber pairs across RCom’s120,000 kilometres inter-city fiber opticnetwork to provide a robust and futureproofbackbone for rolling out its stateof-the-art 4G services. As per the agreement, RCom will in turn have reciprocal access to optic fiber infrastructure to be built by RJI in the future.
The agreement also talks about joint working arrangements to be put in place immediately for upgradation of optic fiber network, to ensure seamless delivery of next generation services. This is the first in an intended comprehensive frame work of business co-operation between RJI and RCom.
For optimal utilization of the existing and future infrastructure of both companies on reciprocal basis, the 2 can share intra-city fiber, towers, andrelated assets at a later stage. The agreement for tower sharing is still pending and it is expected that it will be signed by July-October, 2013, time-frame. Presently, RJI can also use Reliance Infratel58,000+ towers for loading their eNodeBsites as presently it has a tenancy ratio of 1.74. All this will affect its geographical coverage in New Delhi and Mumbai.
In future, RJI can also sign sharing agreements with RCom on cable ducts,metro OFC network, international bandwidth, entertainment network and sales, and distribution network. RCom has an asset of over 25, 000 route kilometers of ducted fiber optic cables installed in the leading cities in India.
Simultaneously,the company also has metro fiber optic networks in 44 cities in India, with close to 1,134,000 buildings connected. On international bandwidth front, the company can leverage Reliance Globalcom, as the company serves over 2,100 enterprises, 200 carriers, and 2.5mn retail customers in 163 countries.
The company also owns the world’s largest private undersea cable system spanning 65,000 km with a robust global service delivery platform connecting key markets like India, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the US. RJI also has a strong focus on entertainment and games as these things have great demand in India.
The company can also leverage on Reliance Entertainment network as the company focuses on internet and new media, film entertainment(film production, distribution, and exhibition),and broadcast channel featuring locally relevant content around humor, bollywood, movies, and music. RCom also has around 900 retail outlets (Reliance Web World and Reliance Outlet) in 90 odd cities and this can be handy for RJI for demo set up, customer query, service activation, and bill payment for broadband services.
Setting up a completely new retail network will be more time-consuming and will not be ready in the given time-frame. The earlier these agreements are signed it will help in faster deployment of services giving RJI an increased reach and also lot of savings in the long-run. This will also help in longer trial run before the much-awaited BWA launch in the country.
Device Agreements: Still Not Finalized The core of BWA services is mobile handsets and as per industry sources, RJI has still not signed agreements for handsets with either Samsung or LG which are at the forefront of VoLTE.
It is certain that RJI’s 4G cannot take off unless and until the company signs agreement with Samsung and LG for LTE handsets or smartphones. RJI has also still not signed agreement for devices be it set-top box, Mi-Fi, home gateway, outdoor unit, tablet, and others.
In Barcelona, both LG and Samsung demonstrated VoLTE but mobile handsets need to be tested in the commercial environment which would not be easy as presently both the companies are focusing on launching VoLTE for the Korean market as there is a lot of requirement for LTE handsets in these markets.
Both the vendors also need to make VoLTE phones which are scalable and also time tested. This will only happen when RJI can expect to give orders to the tune of minimum 8-10 mn for 2 to 3 years. One can expect to see several VoLTE handsets in 2013 with features like: video conferencing, presence-enhanced address book, and instant messaging.
When the handset has native VoLTE, it’s also accessible via the phone’s native dialer. All these features will be handy whenever these handsets are launched in the Indian market. VoLTE capable devices will very much depend on rollout and inter working of IMS networks on a global basis.
RJI need to stitch device agreement at the earliest so that consumers can avail a complete bouquet of handsets be it in low-end, mid-end, and high-end at a reasonable cost. This will also help in popularizing broadband services as entertainment will be the prime driver followed by games.
The company can also look at education and health applications at a later stage which would be useful for both urban and rural consumers. The company is also looking at manufacturing some of the CPEs (customer premise equipment) under RJI brand name which will help in lowering their cost in the Indian market so that these equipment can appeal to a larger audience.
The company is looking at starting services in 3 cities and later on ramp up services in state capitals. The company is betting a lot on its group companies and subsidiaries for providing support and providing an improved broadband service delivery whenever it launches the services. Presently, RJI is recruiting people at all levels be it senior, mid level, and low level. Some of the senior level people being recruited are still in the process of joining.
Though the company has started working on branding front but we do not see a lot of people recruited in marketing and sales. Presently, the company is in a project phase so there are people from the vendor community but later on, the company have to deploy a lot many people in operation and maintenance for day-to-day operations.
With TD-LTE service deployment happening on a large scale in Asia Pacific region, getting quality talent on technology side would not be easy. Once people are being recruited, training would be a big challenge as RJI do not have much time left in 2013 for the actual launch of services.
So, in a nutshell, we expect selective launch of broadband services in Delhi, Mumbai, and Jamnagar. And to speed up things, the company should take note of the above issues and improve on the timelines so that there is no further delay.
If there is any gap in that, the company will also have to pay a huge penalty if it do not meet its service obligation of 90% coverage in metro areas and in category A, B, and C circles.