Apr. 16 – Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile phone company, is in advanced talks with Chinese OEMs to bring “mifi” devices to India. The devices will assist Indian mobile users in accessing the 4G network from their 3G smartphones on the move.
“We’ve tested some Chinese mifi devices at the last Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona and are talking to several OEMs to work out a bulk procurement deal. These portable devices can facilitate mobile access from either a 3G phone or a tablet while on the move,” Mittal said.
4G phones are at least a year away from being rolled out in India, and Bharti sees the mifi as an ideal intermediary device to put in the hands of its 8 million-plus 3G users to ring in massification of data usage. India is the world’s fastest growing telecommunications market.
Mifis are tiny, battery-operated, wireless devices about half the size of a cellphone, and help a user hook on to a 4G network through the wifi feature in their 3G phone. At present, a mobile user can plug on to Airtel’s 4G network with a 3G phone using a device known as an indoor customer premise equipment (or CPE), but this would be confined to a mid-sized room. A mifi device, on the other hand, gives the user mobility.
Since a mifi device can also provide 4G connectivity from a tablet, it is likely to be positioned as a mass-market tool by Bharti to pry open the relatively untapped tablet market, which can complement its small-screen 3G offerings.
Last week, Bharti Airtel became the first telecommunication company to launch 4G services in the country from Kolkata, and the latest talks come after its chairman Sunil Mittal said the company’s 4G operations won’t remain confined to just four circles — Kolkata, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab – where it won airwaves in the 2010 auctions. Bharti is slated to bid in the second round of 4G auctions later this year as it is eying the 700 MHz band which is known to be three times more efficient than the 2,300 MHz band auctioned some two years ago.