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3G's floundering, but, hey, 4G is here

4G meets the need for speed, but at what price? Airtel is pricing a 6GB package at Rs 999 (plus taxes) in Kolkata and a 18GB package at Rs 1,999 (plus taxes). At the speed it offers, those prices are rather crazy.

Kushan Mitra | April 10, 2012 | Updated 23:23 IST

Kushan MitraIn 1995, the very first mobile phone call was placed on the Modi Telstra network in Kolkata with the then-telecom minister Sukh Ram on one end of the call. Seventeen years later, the current Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal was on hand in Kolkata as the first 'official' 4G connection was made on the Airtel network.

A little bit of historical perspective here.

Modi Telstra was eventually acquired by Airtel and former telecom minister Sukh Ram was convicted of corruption in a Delhi trial court.

While Sibal will want to avoid the fate of his predecessor, Airtel will hope to become a major player in 4G. Airtel only holds four licenses to offer Broadband Wireless Services in India, but if more spectrum becomes available, they might acquire more licenses.

The big question everyone is asking is when Reliance Infocomm, which is owned by the Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Industries, the only operator who has an all-India license to offer BWA, will start services?

Speculation predicts an August-September launch.

However, the only winner right now is a technology being called TD-LTE (short for Time Division Long Term Evolution). Without going into the details of the technology, suffice it to say that this technology offers blazing fast data speeds upto 100 megabits per second, or in simple terms you can download a DVD worth of data in five minutes.

However, one thing that must be kept in mind is that India has auctioned 4G spectrum (BWA and 4G are being used interchangably, and for practical purposes they are one and the same) in the 2,300 megahertz band, unlike the United States where 4G spectrum is in the 700 and 2100 megahertz spectrum.

So, this means a 4G iPad from the US will not work on Indian 4G networks (but will work on 3G networks) although Apple might well come out with an Indian 4G specific model when the new iPad is launched later this year.

But the main issue with 4G in India is pricing.

Airtel is pricing a 6GB package at Rs 999 (plus taxes) in Kolkata and a 18GB package at Rs 1,999 (plus taxes). At the speeds TD-LTE offers, those prices are rather crazy.

Sure, Airtel has to make back its investments but considering I get 75GB of data from the same company's wired broadband service at Rs 1599, the pricing is plain stupid.

Now, can Mukesh Ambani change the price paradigm in data again? That remains to be seen.

But with next to no LTE-capable devices available, LTE will only be accessible to those who buy USB dongles or a rather unique router that recieves a LTE signal and converts into WiFI. But those cost Rs 7,000 plus from Airtel.

So, all in just like the first mobile phone call, 4G is horribly expensive to begin with. Maybe in 15 years time as we discuss 6G or 7G, we can laugh about the initial pricing.

But right now, I would steer clear of 4G unless speed is your thing.

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