Reliance Industries set to launch 'MiFi' devices to bring 4G closer to masses [India Business] [Times of India]
(Times of India Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) NEW DELHI: Reliance Industries (RIL) will launch 'MiFi' devices that will allow smartphone and tablet users to access highspeed internet on the go from their existing devices and enable speedy adoption of its services when it kicks off its much-awaited fourth generation (4G) offerings in mid-2013, said company executives.
The company is expected to first roll out 4G services in Delhi and Mumbai. Company officials and vendors confirmed that the task of laying fibre optic cable networks has begun in these cities.
It has also entered into contracts with Ericsson and Samsung for building networks, with Microsoft for providing security solutions and with IBM for IT integration.
The RIL-owned Infotel Broadband had in 2010 won the licence to offer 4G services nationally and their launch is being tracked eagerly as the company is expected to shake up the telecom market in the same way it did a decade ago when it rolled out its low-cost voice services.
Analysts expect the company to offer very high-speed internet services at cheap rates, substantially reducing the costs of accessing data while significantly increasing the speed of data download and delivery.
But with a growing number of consumers accessing the net through smartphones and tablets, for 4G to quickly become a mass service, it will need to ride on these devices.
At present, there is only one smartphone available in the market that runs on the 2,300 MHz band, the frequency on which 4G services will be offered in the country. MiFi, a tiny, battery-operated, wireless device, could bridge this shortage of handsets by converting 4G signals into WiFi.
Reliance Industries set to launch 'MiFi' devices to bring 4G closer to masses
RIL Plans WiFi Networks
Almost all smartphones, tablets and laptops are either WiFi enabled or can be linked wirelessly to the internet on this technology platform.This device will help consumers to connect to RIL's 4G service through WiFi on the go, enabling the company to position this as a mass-market service. It will also allow voice customers of existing phone companies to access RIL's 4G services without having to buy new handsets.
This is also set to be first large-scale deployment of MiFi globally for providing access to voice and data services.
Existing regulations does not allow 4G operators to provide voice call facilities, but the new telecom policy, which is slated to come into effect from 2013, states that companies can offer all forms of communication services after migrating to an Unified Licence.
Infotel Broadband had recently sought the telecom department's approval for testing voice calls in the 2,300 MHz fourth generation band. The company had also demanded that it be allocated number series to test the newly developed Voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology.
To complement its MiFi device strategy, RIL is also planning to build large scale WiFi networks in Mumbai and Delhi, executives aware of the company's plans said. It is learnt that Swedish gear maker Ericsson has bagged the deal to build about 30,000 WiFi hotspots across Delhi and Mumbai. RIL is targeting commercial buildings, offices and malls with this strategy, said an industry executive.
A hotspot is any location that offers wireless internet access, where anyone with a smartphone, tablet or a laptop can avail high-speed data services.
Last year, Ericsson had launched what it termed 'Network Integrated WiFi Solution', a facility that enables any smartphone to connect to WiFi services offered by a mobile phone company seamlessly. The Swedish technology major said this solution recognises each smartphone user individually allowing telcos to offer subscription-based WiFI services.
RIL declined to comment on detailed queries on several issues, including its MiFi strategy and technology partners, as it remains tightlipped about its 4G foray. ET spoke to company executives, vendors, and industry executives to piece together details.
The project is spearheaded by Manoj Modi, a close aide of RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani. The company has also formed a core team, most of whose members were part of its first telecom foray nearly a decade ago, to execute the project.
Mathew Oomen, who held several key positions in Reliance Infocomm and Flag Telecom before moving on to become the chief technology officer at US-based Sprint-Nextel, is the operational head of the 4G venture. Oomen is working with Kiran Thomas, an assistant vice-president at RIL, who had earlier looked after the group's retail business.
RIL executives said work has already started in Delhi and Mumbai of laying optic fibre cables, which carry data and voice signals to the towers. This project has been outsourced to Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd from which it had acquired pan-India permits for high-speed data services in 2010. It is learnt that the Mahendra Nahata's HFCL has tied up with two technology partners - Alcatel Lucent and Infinera - for the optic fibre contract.
"If RIL is looking at 100,000 km of fibre over the next three years, it will be $5-billion initiative, half of which will be for digging, trenching and laying the equipment, while the rest will be for the fibre. The fibre work in the metros will be done by Alcatel Lucent and that for long distance connecting cities will be provided by Infinera. It will connect all key commercial and residential blocks in Delhi and Mumbai," an executive with direct knowledge of the development added.
Several industry executives said RIL has chosen to lay its own optic fibre cables in Delhi and Mumbai because it wants its offering in two cities to be similar to that of Google's 'Fibre to Home' project. This will also put RIL in direct competition with MTNL and Bharti Airtel, the leading wired broadband providers in Delhi and Mumbai.
Executives with two vendors confirmed that Samsung has bagged the contract to build the 4G mobile network, including providing the equipment for RAN (Radio Access Network), core and access layer, on towers that would be provided by Infotel Broadband itself.
It is learnt that RIL has also tied up with Microsoft for providing security solutions for its 4G offerings. With multiple technology vendors, a large number of IBM employees have already begun working out of RIL's offices to integrate the hardware and software systems, an industry executive said.
RIL-subsidiary Rancore Technlogies has been responsible for network trials. Rancore's 300-strong research team has been coordinating with Jyotindra Thacker (the brother-in-law of Manoj Modi), the group's IT and systems head.
Last month, the company poached Sumit Chowdhury, who was vice-president and partner at IBM, to be its chief information officer and oversee the technology and product platforms. Earlier, Chowdhury had worked with Reliance Communications. Former OnMobile CEO Aravind Rao recently joined RIL's 4G team as its innovation head.
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