Sunday, December 29, 2002

It's very interesting to see a huge conglomerate like Reliance of India launching a new CDMA2000 (initially 1x) network (link via slashdot, and see also this follow up comment), one of the main aims of which appears to be to offer Wireless Local Loop (WLL) to people without fixed line services. This is a 3G technology, folks. While European operators are busy fighting over their own government mandated 3G standard that doesn't really work yet, a large portion of India could well have 3G coverage by mid 2003. As my long term readers know, I have strong opinions on this subject, as does Steven Den Beste . I have also previously written about technology hastening development in the third world. Plus it seems that developing countries are questioning the point of paying the Microsoft tax to use modern technology. Why adopt the developed world's baggage if you don't have to? Also, perhaps somebody could nominate Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman for the Nobel peace prize.
This is enormously impressive stuff.

Update: Okay, we have some details on the structure of the Indian market and how competition is evolving here. It seems Reliance has a WLL licence and is not allowed to offer full mobility to its customers. (Essentially we have a situation where you have a mobile phone in your local area, but for regulatory reasons you are not allowed to use it elsewhere). Because of this, it has paid rather less for its spectrum than have GSM operators. The GSM operators claim that they will keep their customers because they can offer greater mobility and also SMS messages. Plus they are sowing as much fear, uncertainty and doubt as possible, and are stalling on things like interconnection agreements with existing cellular networks, although the law requires that they have such agreements.

Two observations here: Firstly, Reliance have chosen a technical standard that can provide full mobile phone service. In fact it is a 3G standard, significantly superior to GSM. If this system gets a lot of customers, as seems likely, then consumer pressure to allow these phones to be used to their full capabilities will be overwhelming. Secondly, there is no reason whatsoever why GSM operators should have a monopoly on SMS. CDMA also supports SMS, and interoperability with GSM SMS is no problem at all. (Australia has a mixture of CDMA and GSM networks, and SMS interoperability works fine). It seems that the GSM operators are trying to defend their situation through regulatory interia and obstruction. In the long term, that isn't going to work.

Finally, I love this

Not surprisingly, the cellular operators are incensed by this idea. They point out that all the players are either offering GSM or WiLL services. Says a senior mobile company executive: “There is already so much competition that there is no logic in having more players. All this means is that WiLL operators will be able to take full mobile licences at dirt cheap rates.”

There is so much competition in fact that allowing more competition would be bad. Who knows, it might even mean lower prices for consumers and a reduction in profits for the existing oligopolistic operators. Indeed, that would be a catastrophe. Yes, there is far too much competition.

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