Slam, Bam, UMTS Ma'm

by Sunil Kumar    Sep 09, 2005

The times they are-a-changin’. From the time Thomas Alva Edison experimented with ‘vibrator management’ oscillating electromagnetic waves to the current mobile scenario, technology has indeed come a long way. Although it cannot be a panacea for the world’s ills, including hunger, famine, and bridge the digital divide, mobile technology can permeate the enterprise domain and has the capability to bring about a virtual revolution.

With half the world caught in a time warp and the other half living in technological nirvana, CXOtoday attempts to dissect Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) technology and its relevance in the Indian scenario.

In a roundtable discussion on UMTS technology, Lucent Technologies India discussed their roadmap for the future. In 1999, Lucent Technologies, Ericsson, and NEC announced that they have been chosen by NTT DoCoMo to supply W-CDMA equipment for NTT DoCoMo’s next-generation wireless commercial network in Japan. This was the first W-CDMA 3G infrastructure deal that was announced.

The UMTS Forum was established at the inaugural meeting, held in Zurich, Switzerland. Since 1996, the planned “European” W-CDMA standard has been known as the UMTS.

According to Lucent, it remains a global player in the deployment of commercial 3G networks, with more than 120,000 spread-spectrum base stations deployed worldwide. The company has been in India since 1988 and has a large embedded, nationwide base, covering many technologies over wireline and wireless networks. Also it is an advisor for India’s communication service providers such as Reliance Infocomm, Tata Teleservices, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited.

Tracing the history of global wireless standards evolution from 2G, Lucent elucidated in brief the challenges facing India in adopting 3G technology. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) - the standards body for UMTS technology - specifies three unique core infrastructure options: Release 99, Release 4, and Release 5 (R99, R4, and R5).

The R99 and R4 recommendations specify Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) as the preferred transport for voice and data services. R5 includes IP and ATM as design options for the UTRAN and core infrastructure. For the near future, controlling the risks and costs associated with the UMTS R99 to R5 evolution will be key to ensuring customer satisfaction and profitability.

Lucent’s perspective for UMTS in India today is that India Inc. is in the league of developed markets offering the latest and most advanced services. UMTS would provide rich multimedia services with the added benefit of mobility, taking your office or entertainment with you while on the move. Also, VoIP services in the future would mean enabling cheap voice services since India is a price-sensitive market. Lucent’s main contention is that the technology is still evolving and the true flavor of UMTS is in high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA), apart from the fact that the technology is yet to prove itself with latency and Qos issues.

Moreover, economies of scale have yet to be established as there are only 50 plus networks with 20m subscribers worldwide. Lucent maintains that UMTS is content based and data centric. Speaking in terms of ROI for CIOs, Abhay Savargaonkar, chief marketing officer, Lucent Technologies Hindustan (Pvt) Ltd, said, “It would depend on the regulatory framework. Eight months would be more or less the time-frame, which we expect a typical CIO to benefit considering penetration pricing geared towards the Indian market and average revenue per unit (ARPU) in India in comparison to the overall APAC region.”

“We expect the home segment to benefit considering video streaming and killer applications, which would be possible considering the inherent potential of this technology. We expect the technology to be feasible by 2007,” he added.

Giving a brief on the interrelation between UMTS technology with HSDPA technology, Lucent elaborated that it is a cost-efficient upgrade to current UMTS systems and promises to deliver performance comparable to today’s wireless LAN services, but with the added benefit of mobility and ubiquitous coverage.

HSDPA is a technology upgrade to current UMTS networks that delivers superior speed, capacity and efficiency improvements. HSDPA is a key feature of the 3GPP’s Release 5 specification that was approved in 1999. Although the theoretical maximum data transfer speed of HSDPA is 10-14 Mbps, the technology will deliver a 2-3 Mbps downlink on average.

So what about the Gunga-Dins in the 600,000 plus villages of India? Can this technology be of use to the general Indian masses and can Prof. Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen bank experiment in Bangladesh be replicated in India?

Said Savargaonkar, “It would depend on the regulatory bodies in India and the government to eventually make technology viable and available to the masses of India.”

According to Informa Telecoms & Media, WCIS, March 2005 figures current user figures for UMTS mobile technology is 22.4 million users or 1.25% of the worldwide market. Also with 4G deployments already having been done in Korea and the next Olympics in Beijing planned to be 4G, India has to bridge the mobile chasm and reach where every cellphone has gone before.

Tags: UMTS