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Issue dated - 11th August 2003


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LMDS promises to make converged services a reality

Growth in the wireless space has been phenomenal, especially in wireless communications. But this has also brought about a spate of disparate technological developments. For the many operators venturing into this space, the local multipoint distribution system (LMDS) is one among the new solutions that can provide the ability to deliver converged services in a cost-effective manner, says Stanley Glancy

LMDS offers a single operator the opportunity to provide numerous services, right from basic telephony to cellular services, on a single platform, which effectively reduces the total cost of the access network, says Vinay Patil

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) pegs the total number of cellular subscribers in India at more than 15 million, as of June 2003óa jump of almost 90 percent from the previous year. This is without taking into account the burgeoning CDMA mobile subscriber base. With players like Tata Indicom soon to join the fray these figures are expected to touch the 50 million mark in less than five years. With a population of more than a billion, and growing by the day, the Indian market promises cellular operators vast vistas of opportunities.

But will the current infrastructure be able to handle rapidly growing volumes? Can operators add more cells in a cost-effective way, and also ensure that networks do not get congested? What about critical factors like time-to-market? How do you connect areas where laying a landline or optical fibre cable is not feasible? These are issues that are bound to hound operators if the current growth rates in the cellular space are anything to go by. But local multipoint distribution systems (LMDS), a broadband wireless access technology, being aggressively promoted in India by companies like Hughes Network Systems (HNS), promises to be a panacea to most of these problems.

The technology has already found market acceptance in the West. Even countries in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, have issued LMDS licenses to cellular operators and also basic service providers. India is not far behind in the race. Hughes Tele.com (now a part of Tata Teleservices) has already deployed LMDS in Mumbai and is looking at deploying the technology in other states where it has a presence. Tata Teleservices has deployed the technology in the Tamil Nadu circle. Essar Telecom has already entered into a deal with Motorola India to deploy the technology for offering ISP services in close to 52 cities in the country. HNS is in talks with telecom majors like MTNL, BSNL, Hutch and other service providers for offerings its solutions in all the metros and other cities with a high population density.

LMDS explained

Cellular operators across the country currently depend on point-to-point (PTP) systems, which are limited in the number of applications that the technology can support. LMDS is a wireless technology that uses a point-to-multipoint (PMP) architecture. Unlike PTP where microwave transmission equipment has to be installed at both ends to connect two points, PMP architecture comprises a central base station that can communicate with multiple points or remote terminals. A single set of equipment is installed at the base station, which is then shared by many other points, thus saving on cost of equipment. One base station can support a capacity of more than half a gigabit. Typically, the technology operates in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz frequency, standards that have been put in place by the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI).

The technology also brings the dream of converged services one step closer. A single LMDS platform can be deployed to support multiple applications. The architecture can support TDM (time division multiplexed), ATM and IP traffic on a variety of CPE and network interfaces. Says Vinay Patil, senior marketing director for Hughes Network Systems, "The LMDS platform can support numerous applications. The technology offers a single operator the opportunity to provide numerous services, right from basic telephony to cellular services, on a single platform. This effectively reduces the total cost of the access network." An operator can leverage the LMDS platform to offer GSM, CDMA, 3G cell site, WiFi sites, basic services such as telephone, fax and ISP, and also broadband services.


Regulatory issues might pose a hurdle for operators desirous of offering converged services. But that shouldnít stop the operator from earning revenue from the network. For instance, a cellular service provider can invest in LMDS to spruce up the existing infrastructure and at the same time offer the platform to another player who can redeploy it to offer some other service such as WiFi.

This also offers the advantage of quick time-to-market. Being a wireless technology the rigmarole of laying cables and wires for connectivity, which is not only expensive but also time consuming, is completely done away with.

Talking of costs, another key advantage offered by the technology is that compared to the existing PTP architecture the cost declines as the number of cells deployed goes up because only one microwave transmitter is required at the base station. According to Patil, for up to three cells the cost remains the same for a PTP and LMDS network. But if an operator deploys more than three cells in an area
the cost of infrastructure declines.

Broadband service providers can also avail of the technology to increase the footprint of a fibre network. Fibre has several disadvantagesóit canít go everywhere, it can get cut and also, it is very expensive. LMDS provides the same capacity as optic fibre technology. But the enhanced footprint of more than 4 km allows an operator to offer broadband services to a much wider area. Also, as it takes little time to deploy, time-to-market is shorter and collection of revenue is that much faster.


The technology is not without its limitations. Similar to other microwave applications LMDS cells are affected by rain fade. Signals can get distorted by raindrop scattering and also by absorption of the waves. And being a wireless technology, line-of-sight is a major issue. Thick walls, especially the stone walls of Gothic structures in cities like Mumbai, can block signals. Even hills and thick trees can block, reflect or distort the signals. But progress in technology should soon find a way around these hurdles.

Scene in India

Though the Indian telecom sector has been thrown open to the private sector, certain restrictions have been placed on players. Currently, regulatory issues pose a major challenge. But Patil is bullish about the prospects for the technology in India. He expects all government restrictions, with regards to the services that can be provided by a service provider, to be done away with in the next 2-3 years.

This will enable even a basic telephone operator to provide all services. MTNL already offers the entire bouquet, right from basic services like telephone, fax and ISP to GSM and CDMA. With the reach and the network the company has in place the day is not far off when it will offer broadband and other related services. Other players are bound to follow this trend. Most operators are rampantly expanding their networks. Says Patil, "Every month six lakh subscribers are being added to the existing list. Subscriptions of cell users are expected to cross 50 million in five years. Reliance and Tata are rolling out CDMA. Not many companies are taking E1 services but if offered they would. In a few years the current cell sites wonít be able to handle the growing volumes. Hence the potential for the technology is huge."

From an operatorís point of view, tariffs are coming down, so he also has to lower cost of equipment to maintain profit margins. Sharing resources can also help reduce cost. Technology is no longer a barrier. Every day sees more and more developments on this front. But thatís not to say that the going will be smooth. Like any new technology, education of the market is a big challenge. Patilís aim at this point of time is to get people familiar with the technology. The telecom meltdown in the not too distant past didnít help matters. But a change in perception has been witnessed over the past year. The market seems to be accepting the technology as a revenue centre and not as an added cost. With cellular subscriptions on the rise and more and more giants joining the fray, operators will have to consider technologies such as LMDS, which hold the promise of reduced costs and better services.

LMDS PMP architecture expands the fibre footprint
Comparing PTP and PMP architectures
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