Tuesday, January 04, 2011

CDMA In India – Past, Present And Future

In midst of the controversy of 2G spectrum scam and excitement of 3G and MNP, India’s telecom watchdog TRAI released active user’s base of all telecom operators based upon Visitor Location Register (VLR).

This heats up the old arch rivalry between GSM and CDMA operators on spectrum issue. Though this study is not good enough to comment on, as TRAI did not specify any time period for VLR, but it shows Airtel, Vodafone and Idea has more than 75% active subscribers in their network compared to Reliance has 66% and Tata Teleservices (TTSL) has 45% – below than 70% of total active subscribers, based on September 2010 data

Following this, COAI – the lobby of GSM operators (mostly Airtel, Idea and Vodafone) hit back AUSPI (union of CDMA operators, face of TTSL and RCom) saying as they have more active customers and thus need of spectrum for them is logical and they do not hold extra spectrum as TTSL accused them. Note that existing policy gives a maximum of 15 MHz of airwaves per circle to GSM players; while the limit for CDMA players is 7.5 MHz.

Recently TDSAT rejects TTSL’s appeal for taking back extra airwaves from GSM players.CDMA had helped mobiles to reach masses of India via Reliance India Mobile, but now CDMA is not first choice of India, as it is said. But fact is it also could be GSM, if Mukhesh Ambani led Reliance Infocomm chose it.

CDMA got mass acceptance due to operator’s marketing strategy in a GSM-predominant market. At the same time CDMA gave them some advantages also like efficient spectrum use, greater coverage area, superior voice quality and security than GSM. Reliance Infocomm pioneered in pushing mobiles to masses, the whole thing turns better when lifetime prepaid validity comes, multi SIM handsets launched and new operators bring rock bottom tariff.



CDMA Mobilitiy Road Map in India
  • December 2002: Reliance Infocomm started its CDMA mobile services with brand name of Reliance India Mobile with the tagline of ‘Karlo duniya Mutthi Mein’. [Here one must know the catch, government allowed CDMA to be used as WLL (Wireless in local loop), but Reliance went ahead and later fined for this violation of rule.]
  • January 2005: Tata Teleservices started its CDMA services with brand name of Tata Indicom.
  • January 2006: ‘One Nation-One Rupee’ tariff plan introduced by Reliance Infocomm.
  • September 2007 : HFCL launched PING Mobile in Punjab and Chandigarh with per second billing.
  • October 2007: DOT allows CDMA players to enter GSM mobile service using Dual Technology platform.
  • February 2008: Licenses issued to New Telecom Service Providers, only Sistema-Shyam choose CDMA.
  • October 2008: Reliance rolls out GSM services with pan India approach. (Note Smart GSM services in eastern circles are owned by Reliance subsidiary)
  • November 2008: Tata DOCOMO arises out of the Tata Group’s strategic alliance with Japanese telecom major NTT DOCOMO.
  • March 2009: Sistema Shyam started pan India rollout with brand name of MTS.
  • June 2009: Tata Tele starts GSM operation under brand name of Tata Docomo
  • March, 2010: RCOM reaches 100 million subscriber marks including GSM and CDMA subscribers.

When Reliance and TTSL both entered GSM market, both said they will continue to focus on their CDMA business. But as we can see both CDMA major saw a way better response on GSM segment. Also when new 2G licenses were issues in 2008, only SSTL chose CDMA.

Check out current status of Reliance and Tata Teleservices (GSM and CDMA): (Note: Oct ’08 Reliance GSM rolled out, June ’09 Tata GSM/Tata Docomo rolled out) -


CDMA is loosing the ground – Why?
  1. Handset Issue:
CDMA is a patented technology and every manufacturer make cdma phones have to pay Qualcomm. As a result a cdma phone is priced more than a GSM phone with similar features. Also cdma handset market is small and options are limited. CDMA got a blow when leading phone makers Nokia and Sony Ericsson stopped making cdma phones. CDMA handset market is led by Samsung, LG, ZTE, Huawei. Also mediocre battery backup (because of continuous nature of transmission) makes these handsets not a good choice for most consumers.

Though introduction of open market handsets (OMH) by Samsung & others is now changing the situation. You can use non-OMH RUIM (equivalent to SIM of GSM), but data sevices and operator’s portal can not used unless you get OMH RUIM. It has some drawbacks – you may not get it all places and it does not come free of cost, compared to you can use a GSM SIM to any device (mobile/modem/laptop/tablet) which has a SIM slot.

Same thing applies when EVDO/1X data cards come in talk. No private CDMA operators (Reliance, Tata and MTS) sell RUIM for using on customer’s own EVDO data card. They sell network-locked data cards. Only BSNL sells CDMA RUIM cards for voice and data. But BSNL CDMA services are not commercially available all over the country. Also there are also limited options for CDMA data cards.


     2. SIM-Advantage of GSM:

The success of Reliance was based on bundled handset offer. Both Reliance and Tata Indicom sold thousands of Motorola C131, an early cdma b/w handset. Till date most cdma phones are sold with network locked, even if it is RUIM enabled. 

With worldwide availability of GSM networks (virtually everywhere), global roaming is easier if you are on GSM.

   3. Internet on Mobile:

Broadband penetration in India is poor, most Indians get into internet for 1st time via mobile. GPRS/EDGE enabled GSM networks and wide range of GPRS/EDGE supported handsets favors the situation to GSM. With limited handsets, most of which do not support 1X connectivity CDMA could not be a mass adaptation!

Also like GSM operators have GPRS pack (2GB at around Rs 100), CDMA operators do not offer 1X Data packs. Recently Tata Indicom has come up with 1X data packs. CDMA lost this game because of limited handsets with data support and operators’ lack of interest to be into the ring.

Interestingly CDMA players, who are never keen to capture data market on mobile, launched high speed internet via USB dongle (EVDO) for using with computers to capture wireless internet market first. Before 3G comes, EVDO data cards (speed 2.4 – 3.1Mbit/s) were the only option for high speed wireless internet.
No Long SMS and USSD: Those who are high SMS users are generally staying away from CDMA, because network does not support any SMS longer than 160 characters – SMS is delivered in parts, it is really painful to forward the long SMS to others. USSD code which offers real time connection on GSM is not supported on CDMA, it is done by SMS if operators really like to do it!

    4. 3G and MNP: 

These are main factors which will control the telecom growth in 2011, and both of them can erode the growth of CDMA. With Mobile Number Portability (MNP) it is expected more and more users will move to GSM while retaining their numbers. At the same time GSM players 3G offerings also lure the customers to enter into GSM space leaving CDMA. Better handsets and same SIM for mobile and data card – it will hike up GSM operators’ growth. Also CDMA players can not offer video calls on their current EVDO network. These 3G and MNP will have a very negative effect on CDMA’s growth. 
Though LTE is the common upgrade path for GSM and CDMA, CDMA to LTE path is more complex than UMTS/HSPA to LTE upgrade.

Currently there are 6 operators offering CDMA mobile services - 
  • Reliance Communications (mobile, high speed internet, fixed wireless)
  • Tata Teleservices – brand name Tata Indicom(in Delhi)/Tata Docomo/Virgin Mobile (mobile, high speed internet, fixed wireless)
  • Sistema-Shyam Teleservices – brand name MTS India (mobile, high speed internet, fixed wireless)
  • BSNL CDMA (mobile, high speed internet, fixed wireless)
  • MTNL under brand name of Garuda (mobile, fixed wireless, 1X data services) – available in Mumbai and Delhi.
  • Quadrant Televentures Ltd (formerly HFCL Infotel Ltd) under brand name of Ping Mobile (mobile, fixed wireless) – in Punjab circle only.
**All CDMA operators in India is using 800MHz spectrum**

Advantages of CDMA in the context of Indian scenario:

Though technically CDMA has more benefits than GSM, we are talking about the points which are very relevant in the context of Indian scenario.

It can accommodate more users per MHz of bandwidth – efficient use of spectrum; it is ideal for a spectrum-starved country like India. CDMA has no built-in limit to the number of concurrent users. It is able to produce a reasonable call with lower signal (cell phone reception) levels – beneficial to rural users situated far from cells. CDMA also offers better coverage area – better for rural penetration. CDMA offers superior voice quality compared to GSM. CDMA has a well-defined path to higher data rates and increased cellular communications security. Also 3G from GSM players using 2100Mhz spectrum requires around 3 times more BTS covering same area compared to 800Mhz CDMA spectrum used for offering EVDO service.

Both CDMA and GSM have their merits and limitations, but as India is a predominant market of GSM operators, users base of CDMA is decaying.

What could be the future roadmap for CDMA in India:
With MNP kicks in pan India, voice users will shift from CDMA to GSM. With less voice users, the momentum must be given to data.

If the operator have 5 MHz, i.e. 4 carriers of 1.25MHz they can upgrade to EVDO Rev B by multi carrier mode, allotting one/two carrier for voice and the rest three/two for data. 2X EVDO Rev.B can give upto 6.2 Mbps and on 3X EVDO Rev. B can give upto 9.3Mbps. Globally there are three commercial EVDO Rev B network is available (Smart Telecom of Indonesia, PTCL in Pakistan and China Telecom of China). In India Tata Tele already tested for 2X Rev B with ZTE. And MTS plans for hardware upgrade its network to support maximum 4.9Mbit/s per carrier, so with 3 carriers it can offer upto 14.7Mbit/s!

CDMA players are offering 3.1Mbps download speed with EVDO Rev A on their 2G 800Mhz spectrum, this is almost similar to GSM operators 3G offering – 3.6Mbps. CDMA players did not have to pay some thousand crore rupees for getting 3G spectrum, still the dual mode operators (Reliance and Tata) who are offering both 3G and EVDO data services are priced almost similarly to cut down competition between their 3G and EVDO services. For TTSL and RCOM may ignore EVDO upgrade path because they already spent thousand crores for HSPA network to offer 3G services on GSM.

BSNL, the PSU operator is probably priced the most reasonably for EVDO and 3G services. BSNL offers 3G at a price double of EVDO – BSNL EVDO unlimited comes at Rs 750 and 3G(UMTS/HSPA) unlimited data comes at Rs 1499.

But for newcomer MTS, spectrum as per license is not given due to severe spectrum crunch! Spectrum issues has to be resolved soon and 800MHz airwave should be on sale to save CDMA operators.

As there is a little chance of auction of CDMA 3G spectrum at 2.xGHz band private operators can choose a roadmap which is shown in the following figure:

Brief Technical details of CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access] :

CDMA2000 family (next to CDMAone/IS95 which was for only voice)

  • 1xRTT or just 1X - Core CDMA2000 wireless air interface standard, supports packet data speed upto 153kbps (DL & UL)
  • 1X Enhancements - 1.5 x increases in the voice capacity, supports packet data speed upto 153kbps (DL & UL) – NOT Commercially successful.
  • 1X Advanced - Up to 4x increase in the voice capacity of today’s networks, Frees-up spectrum for high revenue earning EV-DO data services, Up to 70% increase in coverage with same capacity as today, supports packet data speed upto 307kbps (DL & UL)
  • 1x-EVDO or EV (Evolution Data Only) -  
  1. EV-DO Rev 0: Upto 2.4Mbit/s downlink, 153kbps uplink. On realtime use downlink is average of 800 kbps i.e. less than 1 Mbit/s
  2. EV-DO Rev A (DOrA): Upto 3.1Mbit/s downlink and upto 1.8Mbit/s uplink using single carrier of 1.25MHz. Supports VoIP and video telephony.
  3. EV-DO Rev B (DOrB): It is the multi carrier upgrade of Rev A. With multicarrier Rev B can support upto 9.3Mbps using 3 carriers of total 5MHz. With H/W upgrade Rev B can deliver upto 4.9Mbps downlink per carrier (DorB Phase II). Uplink upto 5.4Mbps. With EV-DO Rev B as allowing the combination of up to 15 1.25 MHz radio channels in 20 MHz – significantly boosting peak theoretical rates to 73.5 Mbps. (DO Advanced)
  4. DOrC: also known as Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB)/CDMA 4G. Qualcomm discontinued it in November, 2008. As a result Long Term Evolution(LTE) will be natural upgradation pathway for CDMA operators, though it is more complex than migrating from UMTS-HSPA to LTE.
  5. EVDV- Evolution Data and Voice Qualcomm stopped developing EVDV chipsets in 2005. Recently Verizon has taken initiative to roll out Voice over Rev A (VoRA) to offer Apple iPhone CDMA on its network. 

Notes:

  1. CDMA spectrum is allocated carrier wise. Each carrier is of 1.25 MHz. Initially operator is given 2 carriers i.e 2.5 MHz and then one carrier to be added depending on increase in subscriber base. (Hence it’ll be 2.5 then 3.75 then 5 and so on) As per current allocation methodology, each CDMA operator is contractually permitted to receive till 5 MHz without any additional charge and can have maximum 7.5MHz in a circle area.
  2. UMTS is also a CDMA-based 3G technology (WCDMA) that represents an evolutionary step forward for the 2G GSM networks. The 1x technologies operate in the 1.25 MHz radio channels, compared to the 5 MHz channels used by UMTS, resulting in lower theoretical peak rates, but similar average throughputs for high level of network loading.
  3. CDMA450 represents a family of CDMA2000 technologies that operate across the 410-470 MHz band.
  4. GSM Evolution: 2G(WAP/GPRS) > 2.75G (EDGE) & EDGE Evolution > 3G UMTS/WCDMA > HSPA > HSPA+ > LTE


This story was first published on Telecomtalk.info on December 29, 2010. This version is a revised one.
Info credit: Qualcomm, CDG.org, Wikipedia and many other websites
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