Bharti Airtel becomes India’s first mobile operator to launch 4G (but initially dongle-only)

Bharti Airtel becomes India’s first mobile operator to launch 4G (but initially dongle-only)

India’s 4G mobile broadband revolution has begun after Bharti Airtel became the first operator to introduce 4G services, as its unveiled its next-generation network in Kolkota today.

Due to the low number of compatible handsets, Airtel’s network is for initially for dongles and available in Kolkota only, as CEO Sanjay Kapoor said would be the case last month. Airtel did reveal, however, that it has plans to expand to Pune, Chandigarh and Bangalore soon, according to IBN.

Kapoor heralded the launch as a first step to bringing fundamental change to India:

The impending launch of 4G in the country will provide ultra high speed data access, driving fundamental changes in society at large. We look forward to the launch of 4G technology in India.

Indeed, 4G technology is seen as a key factor that will help improve Internet connectivity in India and realise its Web potential in the long-term.

Currently, fixed-line Internet access reaches less than ten percent of the country’s 1.2 billion population, meaning that India has only recently passed 100 million Web users. Infrastructure is one of the chief challenges for fixed-line access in many rural areas but, for those people affected, wireless technology provides new possibilities for connectivity.

While Airtel has become the first mobile operator to introduce 4G, it is technically not the country’s first 4G launch as Augere Wireless began a service to dongles-only in February.

However, the launch does mark the beginning of Airtel’s plans the network, which saw it reportedly bring in Chinese telecom firm ZTE last year to handle the infrastructure behind the service.

Bharti’s rival Reliance has been more muted on its 4G plans, which are expected to see a mid-2012 launch. The firm was said to have trialled services from Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson and Huawei last year, but it remains to be seen if Airtel’s rollout will hasten Reliance’s own 4G launch.

India’s mobile users are still getting familiar with 3G mobile technology, which arrived in 2010, so news that 4G is on its way is likely to be well received by many. However, it will be some time before large numbers of Indians are using 4G as the launch is initially in just one city and not on mobiles. Issues remain over mobile operator capacity and 3G-compatible smartphone ownership is low, let alone 4G-devices.

Read next: Kuwait hands out 7 year jail sentence in yet another Twitter-related arrest