Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, Apr 11, 2002
Info-Tech - Telecommunications
Limited mobility: WiLL it work?
MUCH has been happening with Wireless in Local Loop. The Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has rejected the petition of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and permitted basic telecom service providers to offer limited mobility using the WiLL technique. However, from the start, this concept has had various difficulties.
Local loop consists of the connections between the terminal equipment at the subscriber's premises and the switch. Simply speaking, local loop connects the telephone and the telephone exchange.
Earlier, local loop consisted of overhead lines, which have since been improved to underground multi-pair cables and then a hybrid of optical fibre and copper cable and so on. Laying cables is a costly and long-term solution to connectivity. This is not suitable if a faster growth rate of telecom services is required. Wireless systems were developed to provide connections to subscribers almost immediately. This system used the Wireless in Local Loop and thus its name. The first controversy about WiLL erupted when a team of engineers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, developed a WiLL in collaboration with Midas Communications (formed by IIT alumni) and Analogue Devices, US. It was called corDECT and had a 5 km range with a frequency of 40-50 MHzs. There were some objections initially because these frequencies had been allotted to Defence. This system was designed for Indian conditions and needed no air-conditioning, consumed less power and more.
The technology was transferred to four manufacturing agencies ECIL, Hyderabad, Shyam Telecom, Crompton Greeves and Westel Wireless Ltd. The system was further improved and evaluated by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in the 1990s. Some systems were also exported.
In a strategic alliance with Indian Telephone Industries, Qualcomm Inc, US, offered the IS 95, which had a range of 25 km. The system was similar to the cellular mobile phone and operated in those frequency bands. IIT's corDECT claimed to be cheaper if level playing field conditions for duties were introduced. It would have been ideal in hybrid local loops, that is, loops consisting of a high capacity media such as optical fibre between the exchange and a central point (often referred to as curb) and WiLL, connecting individual subscribers to that central point.
Initially, DoT drew up Generic Requirements (GRs), visualising a hybrid local loop. A lower range corDECT was evaluated by the Telecom Engineering Centre of DoT based on an order for 1,000 lines. GRs underwent a change. The new GRs called for a longer range and frequency band of cellular telephones, obviously favouring the Qualcomm system. Qualcomm not only had the advantage of being closer to the new GR, but the Americans had the financial muscle to offer their equipment on liberal commercial terms. The private basic service providers were not bound to follow the DoT's GRs for their purchases since GRs are basically for DoT. These operators were, however, free to use WiLL in their network as per the agreement with DoT and were allotted frequencies for such operations. However, the seed of conflict was sown considering that WiLL is not directional and does not focus its transmission and reception in the direction of the subscriber alone. An individual holding a suitable instrument will be able to communicate from any direction or place as long as he is within the WiLL equipment's range. There will be no problem to the communication if this user moved about in this range. This technically provided basic telephone subscribers what was termed limited mobility.
Two technological developments took place. First, the hand-held equipment of WiLL became small and presentable. Second, it became possible to shift the call from WiLL equipment in one area to that in the adjoining area if the subscriber moved around. This process is similar to that followed by cellular mobile phones.
The mobility provided by WiLL and cellular mobile phones could thus become comparable.
The basic telephone service providers were given easier licence terms since they were basically authorised to provide the fixed telephone service only. They paid a lower entry fee and could retain a larger portion of the revenue for long distance calls routed through their networks. Thus, these operators could offer cheaper mobile communications. This hurts the interests of cellular mobile telephone operators since their territory was invaded. Their appeal to the Government to restrain the basic telephone operators from providing limited mobility was rejected. And the COAI petitioned the TDSAT in January 2001.
The complaint was recently dismissed by TDSAT and the basic telephone operators have been cleared to continue to provide limited mobile service based on the WiLL. This will help the MTNL, which launched this service in Delhi and Mumbai. BSNL plans to roll out this service in 19 circles shortly. Tatas (40,000 subscribers in Andhra Pradesh), Himachal Futuristic, Hughes and Shyam Telecom (Punjab, Maharashtra and Rajasthan respectively) will benefit from this decision too. Reliance, with Qualcomm as a partner, proposes to offer the service in 18 circles for which it has licences.
The decision of TDSAT vindicates the principle of benefits of technology being made available to the consumer. The Government has made some adjustment on putting the cellular and limited mobility operators at par over long-distance call revenues. The playing field may be further levelled between the two parties by equating the entry fee and other commercial terms. After all, the COAI has been made to accept the plan of introducing additional operators in the operators' territories. Limited mobility could be considered an addition. All this perhaps could have been avoided had the corDECT WiLL system developed by IIT been adopted.
(The author is a former Group Captain, Indian Air Force.)
Send this article to Friends by E-Mail
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | Home |
Copyright © 2002, The
Hindu Business Line. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of
The Hindu Business Line