January 8, 2007

Telecom Trends

Filed under: India, policy, reforms, telecom — Prateek @ 15:48

Telecom is a red-hot field with fierce competition. It is also a basic necessity nowadays. There are three aspects to it:

  1. Voice Communication
  2. Data communication
  3. Cable-TV broadcast

Recently there has been a push towards connecting even the villages with telephones and Internet. TRAI and government are talking about private participation in this regard. Also, BSNL gets special favour from TRAI (in terms of extra funds) for providing telephony services in villages. But always there is a push towards wireline networks. Though I do not mean that wireline is redundant, it is difficult to deploy. The operator needs to lay cable to far-off places and in the end, there will only be a handful of subscribers in villages. This is not financially viable for private operators, so they do not even attempt to service those regions.

I feel that preference should be given to wireless networks for telecom services in villages. 2G (GSM/CDMA) has been in market for quite long and is now available for very low rates. There is even scope of getting the equipment in ‘second-hand’ because cities are gearing up for 3G deployments. There is no digging involved and a single tower can cater to the needs of several square kilometers of area. Maintenance is also easier in wireless because there is no danger of snapped cables, rain-water in connectors. Handsets have also drastically reduced in prices. I sincerely feel that 2G cellular systems are better options for providing voice telephony to villages; both in terms of price and maintainability.

Ditto for internet services. Already we can find waiting list for DSL connections in most cities. There is no capacity. Policymakers should speed up deployment of WiMAX which can serve an area of more than 50 sq.km. from a single tower. The bandwidth will also be an order of magnitude higher than the current maximum bandwidth. Already the rate of mobile adoption is more than that of landline phones. Similar revolution needs to happen in broadband. We just need to take the right steps.

I am closely associated with wireless industry. I personally feel that 3G cellular technology is a waste of time and money. It seems to be too-little-to-late. It took so long to reach the field that its successors have now come up. 3G technologies like UMTS/WCDMA/CDMA2000 provide very little data bandwidth as compared to WiMAX, and for voice, GSM has got extremely high penetration and good QoS. It is also extremely costly, not just at the network side, but also on handset side. The 3G handsets will cost at-least 10 times as compared to current 2G handsets. Moreover, the small screens of mobiles will provide inadequate experience to the user. Even if a person receives 13 Mbps with HSDPA, what is the use-case? Unless other side also has 3G service, videoconferencing is not possible, moreover, there is not enough content available to even serve a GPRS subscriber. Small phones will also have less multimedia processing power. I suggest, have a good laptop for processing the huge amount of data pouring in from WiMAX and if you want to talk, use VoIP. Or, if needed, can keep a GSM phone, cheap and light-weight.

Do not forcibly impose policies to align with operator’s and equipment manufacturer’s agenda. Stuff like: barring VoIP through internet services, 2Mbps bandwidth only to data-quantity limited plans and delaying WiMAX to allow 3G to spread are examples of conservative and silly policies. With DTH and CAS, policy-makers are already doing the right things. They just need to be a little more open-minded and let the market and technology decide who wins. The ball is rolling, don’t stop it.

In the end, I would also try to point out that there is a great dearth of stuff that can be done on content side. Good that broadband speeds are now faster than 256 kbps, but there is little that can be done on local front. I mean, people mostly work on media serviced from US. There is only a very small set of Indian websites which get regular users. Most government departments are offline, and if they are on the Net, rarely have 2-way communication. Doesn’t help the business too! Leave out internet banking and ticketing, there is hardly stuff to do for the common man.


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