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More on mobile technologies

A. VISHNUA. VISHNU

This column tries to clarify some of the issues that readers have raised about last fortnight's edition of `Insite,' which dealt with the maze of mobile technologies.


LAST FORTNIGHT'S edition of this column, which dealt with the maze of mobile technologies attracted a huge email response from readers. They sought clarifications on a number of points about the competing technologies of GSM and CDMA. Clearly, this is a subject that affects many readers who are trying to make sense of the flood of announcements made by mobile service providers, both government and private. This column will therefore try and clarify some of the issues that readers have raised.

Why are CDMA phones used only for limited roaming? If CDMA is such a hot technology, why can it not provide global roaming?

Limiting CDMA phones in India to limited roaming within towns, using the Wireless in Local Loop technology (WiLL) is a purely administrative limitation and not a technology issue. The Indian government wants to make best use of the available spectrum of frequencies so that it can reach the maximum number of citizens with telephone facilities. Since Global Services Mobile GSM is the most widely used technology worldwide, it encouraged early mobile providers to use this system.

It conceived WiLL as a janata service for those who were happy with a local service. To these limited mobility providers, Reliance, Tata, as well as the government departments, BSNL/ MTNL it allotted CDMA technologies.

However, it requires only an administrative nod for these CDMA players to offer wider services. In fact, canny players like Reliance are probably banking on being able to provide global roaming features at a later date when permitted.

Are the CDMA mobile handsets of Tata Indicom and Reliance Infocomm interchangeable?

All limited mobility providers whether Tata, Reliance or BSNL use the same CDMA technology and all such sets will be interchangeable. If you don't like the service from one provider, you can switch to another using the same handset. Since the world market for CDMA handsets is still rather small, these sets are a wee bit costlier, so agencies tend to absorb part of the cost or offer the handsets on instalment basis. Again, this is a temporary phenomenon. Five years from now, nobody knows which will be the dominant technology.

Why is CDMA technology preferred for multimedia applications?

CDMA phones currently use a wider band than what was allotted to GSM. Hence, applications, which are bandwidth-hungry, like video or music can be more easily handled by CDMA. The current generation of GSM is called 2G. Faster versions like 2.5G or 3G (for 3rd generation) will overcome the bandwidth problems and offer multimedia capability as good as CDMA.

However, 3G requires the service providers to invest a lot more money and most people want mobile phones for making voice calls, nothing more. So, 3G has been very slow in coming.

What about SMS? Do I need a GSM phone for text messaging?

Currently yes, because SMS was a proprietary tool created for GSM. But, the CDMA guys are not sitting around sucking their thumbs. Messaging via CDMA is not a question of if but when.

(vishnua@hotmail.com)

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