Thursday, April 8, 2010

3G services in India

I have been waiting like most Indians, for the launch of 3G services in India. The 3G spectrum auction has been delayed by almost a year but as per this  Economic Times article, it appears that tomorrow is D-Day. 9 of India's major cell phone operators are in the bidding fray. The 3G auction will be followed by an auction of WBA (Wireless Broadband) spectrum.

MTNL already provides 3G 'Jadoo' services in Delhi and Mumbai .While the basic service is cheap, the data rates are prohibitive (1 GB p/m at Rs. 450, and 2 GB p/m at Rs. 750 on MTNL Mumbai) Slight concessions and some free talktime is however offered for Video Calls. You can see the Mumbai MTNL 3G tariffs here.

BSNL has been rapidly expanding 3G service across the country, down to district headquarter towns (within the corporation limits)

What can we expect from 3G services in India?


1. Late 2010 launch : Although the 3G auction will take place tomorrow, according to DOT regulations, commercial launch of 3G can be started only post September 1st, 2010. According to this NDTV Profit article, Airtel has announced that they will launch 3G services in India by October 2010, in time for Diwali. We should see similar release dates from other operators
2. Cheap Handset availability : The good news - If you recently purchased any high-end phone, you are already 3G enabled. Otherwise, low-cost 3G phones like the Nokia 2730 Classic are available under Rs. 6000, and more will surely be launched. Effectively, if 3G takes off, the mobile phone could become the internet access device for 545 million + people in India.
3.  How much speed? : 3G allows download speeds of upto 384 kB/s and upload speed of 64 kB/s. Whereas HSDPA (3.5 G) offers speeds upto 3 Mbps. While you could purchase a phone which supports HSDPA in addition to 3G, we do not know if HSDPA coverage will be offered across India. We will have to wait and see what is finally delivered to the customer.
(You can read about the difference between 3G and HSDPA from this thread on the Tech Arena Forums and on Wisegeek.)

If we do not get HSDPA then the choice for high speed data access, will remain the CDMA-based EVDO technology (Reliance Net Connect Plus or Tata Photon in India). DNA reports that the CDMA lobby has been demanding auction of EVDO spectrum along with 3G.

So, in short, there is nothing to make a fuss about just yet. The auction is a long awaited and much-postponed step, but we have a long time to go still before you can use that HTC Smart phone or IPhone 3GS to its full potential in India.