by March 1, 2008 0 comments

Two conferences were held in Bangalore recently-CII’s COMTEL 2008 on telecom
and the second annual Mobility and Wireless World conference organized by MAIT.
While the MAIT conference took as its starting point Telecom Regulatory
Authority’s (TRAI) recent recommendations on broadband growth, COMTEL focused at
breaking barriers and bridging the divide. Both conferences brought out a few
interesting points on technologies in mobile telephony. Here’s an overview.

Action on broadband
The government’s target of increasing the number of Internet connections in
the country to 40 million by 2010 (of which half would be broadband connections)
was perceived as too modest a target. If India is to be a member of what is
being called the ‘transaction economy,’ then must more attention needs to be
paid to harness the largely copper connectivity fueling the nation’s 40 million
landline telephones. TRAI has made a strong plea to unleash the potential of
these landlines to carry Internet traffic by ‘unbundling’ the local loop. This
would mean creating mini clusters from the last mile loops to distribute smaller
but stronger networks based on WLL, carrying with them, higher data capabilities
and ranges.

Internet over Cable TV Networks
The unused bandwidth in the TV cable connections offered by 60,000 cable
operators countrywide was also a resource waiting to be harnessed. It was
technically feasible to use the current ‘download-only’ links of direct-to-home
(DTH) satellite TV infrastructure to carry Internet traffic after adding an
alternative uplink path.

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WiMAX for rural areas
While optical fibre was still the best bet for long haul wired Net access,
WiMAX was emerging as the hidden power to bridge the rural divide. The
government’s recent decision to open the 2.5 GHz band for wireless broadband and
2.1 GHz band for 3G mobile is being seen as a catalyst for high-speed Internet
services. With regard to DTH, WiMAX would not be a participant, but coaxial
cables and the more common fibre optic cables are slated as the next obvious
choice for carrying higher Internet speeds to the domestic user.

Developments in Rural Telecom
National Knowledge Commission Chairman Sam Pitroda told COMTEL conference
that rural telecom connectivity was central to the commission’s roadmap for
distance learning and virtual classrooms. Having known the baggage of legacy
systems, India was seen to have an incredible opportunity for global leadership
in wireless broadband.

3G vs WiMAX
By 2009, laptop sales are expected to exceed desktops for the first time-a
key inflexion point as significant as the overtaking of landlines by mobile
phones in 2004. For their connectivity, would these laptops use 3G technologies
like High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) provided by cellular players or will they
harness WiMAX plugins fuelled by new broadband providers?
The champions of WiMAX tout superior speeds (16 Mbps) against HSPA’s 4 Mbps. But
going by past experience, victory doesn’t always go to the swiftest system but
to one that is best marketed. The HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access),
currently supports downlink speeds of 1.8, 3.6, 7.2, and 14.4 Mbps and though it
provides improved downlink performance with Adaptive Modulation and Coding (AMC),
it lacks a few vital features that CDMA networks currently hold-variable
spreading factor and real-time power control. This in turn translates to power
modulations depending on congestion and range, which is expected to be a
deciding factor for Indian rural markets.

The providers of India’s 250 million cellular connections are not about to
roll over and leave the field open for yet to emerge WiMAX operators. As the
Indian govt finally gets its 3G and broadband act together, the field is still
wide open. But only a foolish punter would declare a winner at this point. For
all you know, it might be a win-win situation for all.

Vishnu Anand

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