Mobiles to offer video on Demand


Spectacular 3G show
Mobiles to offer videos on demand
by N. Sharma

Saif with his set
Saif with his set —PTI

What is this 3G over which the telecommunication companies have sweated for over 34 days, gone through 183 tortuous rounds of auction and committed to pay Rs 67,719 crore? What do the winning players that are Bharati with 13 circles at a bid value of Rs. 12,295.46 crores; Vodafone with nine circles at a bid value of Rs 11617.86 crore; Reliance Comm. with 13 circles at a bid value of Rs 8,585.04 crore ; TATA with nine circles at a bid value of Rs 5864.29 crores ; IDEA with 11 circles at a bid value of Rs 5768.59 crore; AIRCEL with 13 circles at a bid value of Rs 6499.46 crore; and STEL with three circles at a bid value of Rs 337.76 crore see in 3G? What really is at stake? How relevant it is to the common man?

To some of the questions answers are not difficult to find but to some others answers can be given only by the bidders who no doubt must heave a sigh of relief at the end of the bidding.

The respite would be momentary as it immediately starts building tremendous pressures for financial closures as the deadlines for payments approach faster than the bidding itself. The bid values suggest compulsions beyond the business case in the short term impacting the valuations.

Vodafone downgrading its Indian business by over 2 billion US$ is a strong pointer. Each telcom company will certainly have its own strategy beyond merely the service portfolio and tariffs. Holding on to the leadership position may be another compulsion. The silver lining is of course the long licence period and the history of the Indian telecom wherein the sector governance has earned the reputation of ensuring a fair amount of responsive attitude to the sector needs for growth.

In very simple terms the first-generation mobile was just a voice service ie capability to talk while on the move. It was indeed a great invention, which broke the shackles of fixed-line connectivity.

The 2nd generation or 2G level of mobile service is usually identified as the Global System for Mobile or GSM. The 2G added data capability. So you had voice and data. Data permitted you to send short messages on the mobile which we all know as the SMS. It is very popular with the young who have thrown away all rules of the English language to speed up messages and responses and brought in a language of their own for communicating.

Going a bit further we had 2.5G usually associated with the General Packet Radio Service or GPRS, which permitted you higher speeds enabling the Multimedia Message Service, known as the MMS. You could send pictures and clips. This brought in the MMS scandals as the kids have a moral code of their own and growing permissive attitude. This makes one wonder if, apart from the cyber laws, we need to bring in moral filtering, and if so, do we have technology back-up to develop the necessary capabilities, and most of all, who is responsible for overseeing?

The 3rd generation mobile or 3G is usually identified as the Universal Mobile Telecommunication Service or the UMTS . This will add video capabilities to the mobile system. This opens up the doors for Video chats, TV channels, videos on demand and a host of other entertainment options, including high-speed gaming while on the move.

This will also narrow the gap between capabilities on the desktop office computers and the mobile handheld devices. This could be the beginning of an era of mobile office in real sense granted that download speeds available will be high enough to permit negligible delay in the downloading of files.

Underlying the generations of the mobile technology is the evolution from analogue to digital and core network technologies as well as necessary affordable handheld devices to provide functions, including camera. The enabling path has been the bandwidth connecting the subscriber to the network over the air.

Band width is actually the chunk of spectrum with lower and upper frequency limits in a specific band of frequencies earmarked for the mobile services. For instance, in the 900 Mhz band, which has frequencies available from 902 Mhz to 927 Mhz, typically a service provider allocated 4.4 Mhz would have carriers in the range 902 Mhz to 906.4 Mhz.

This band width, which came bundled with the licence in initial 2G licences, has been at the centre of a storm over its allocations for quite some time now leading to a whopping Rs 67,000 crore bonanza for the exchequer. We have to wait and see the impact of 3G spectrum valuations on the 2G spectrum.

The optimal use of this costly and limited asset is essential for economic operations on the one hand and on the other higher availability of spectrum permits flexibility in network design, bringing down the overall network costs. The equitable distribution of this resource is, therefore, of great importance.

As they say, history repeats itself. We have to see what happens. The fees paid will put a pressure on the tariffs which will limit the growth. Will we have killer applications justifying network capabilities? One can expect that apart from the corporate applications, there will be a growing pressure to develop applications and content relevant to the younger generation and the common man .

As we begin to grapple with the 3G onslaught, 4G is already on the horizon promising higher capabilities. Do we address it or leave it alone for the moment is a question the players will have to address sooner than later.

The writer is a former Chairman of MTNL

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