CDMA & GSM players have equal chance

Updated: May 23 2005, 06:27am hrs
Both camps of cellular operators, GSM and CDMA, accused the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) of favouring the other party on spectrum. During the 18 months of consultation process, some GSM operators alleged that TRAI would favour Reliance Infocomm (CDMA operator with the largest subscriber base). The issue was further complicated by the unsolicited offer of Mr Ratan Tata (head of CDMA operator Tata Teleservices) to pay an entry fee of Rs 15,000 million for nationwide 3G spectrum, plus an additional share of revenues.

It is important to note that the government is not bound to accept any of TRAIs recommendations at all. Indeed, there are indications that the government may reject several of them. The Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Dayanidhi Maran, stated that TRAI had exceeded its terms of reference. The Department of Telecommunications is of the view that most of TRAIs principal recommendations are already incorporated in its National Frequency Allocation Plan of 2002.

Mr Marans statement that DoTs Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing was fully equipped to handle all spectrum issues efficiently and impartially is significant. Mr Maran also rejected Mr Ratan Tatas offer outright, stating that an entry fee for providing 3G services would drive up tariffs for consumers.

Whereas TRAI proposed to allocate additional spectrum according to the number of subscribers an operator has, DoT wants to allocate it according to the amount of traffic that an operator handles. TRAIs recommendation would have benefited Bharti, which has the largest subscriber base, whereas DoTs proposal will be beneficial to BSNL, which carries the maximum traffic. At first sight, TRAIs recommendations appear to favour the GSM camp.

TRAI, very correctly, has ensured that its recommendations are in consonance with both the International Telecommunications Unions IMT2000 core 2GHz band for 3G services as well as the NFAP-2002.

TRAI rightly withstood pressure from the US manufacturers of CDMA equipment and rejected the US PCS 1900 MHz band proposal, mainly on the ground that existing Indian defence users could not vacate the 1900 MHz band. The main grouse of the GSM camp is that TRAI recommended that CDMA operators be allotted additional spectrum in the 800 MHz band within one month. GSM operators allege that this would allow CDMA operators to offer video streaming, mobile TV, and high-speed internet access on mobile handsets via the EVDO route within one month.

TRAI gave the defence services time until Dec 2006 to vacate the 1800 MHz band. CDMA operators countered that GSM operators like Hutch were already offering 3G services such as EDGE in the 1,800 MHz and 900 MHz bands. Butboth CDMA and GSM operators have equal opportunity to deploy IMT-2000 technologies in their existing bands as well as in the 2.1 GHz band in the near future.

The writer is a telecom analyst