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3G arrives in jerky take-off

For Niraj Kumar, a public sector executive, office starts the moment he sits in his car, thanks to 3G data card provided by his company. Manoj Gairola reports.

india Updated: Mar 19, 2011 00:17 IST
Manoj Gairola

For Niraj Kumar, a public sector executive, office starts the moment he sits in his car, thanks to 3G data card provided by his company.

He is one of the few who are ushering in the latest episode in India's telecom revolution - the much-awaited third-generation telephony - which has finally taken off.

"The speed is as good as that of a fixed line broadband connection," said Kumar of his 3G service, which, thanks to high-speed, high-bandwidth data transfers, enable video, audio and interactive work from a handset at an efficiency significantly above the old 2G or 2.5G links.

But the revolution has only just begun and is yet to spread.

Kumar lives and works out of the New Delhi area and has little reason to complain but there are others for whom the network is yet to grow up.

Vodafone, for instance, is blitzing the country with television ads during the cricket World Cup for its 3G services, but is yet to really roll out the service or come up with monthly packages crucial to drive the game. But its rivals have.

Airtel launched its services in the first week of January. "We have about 1.7 million subscribers of 3G services," said Atul Bindal, president - mobile services of Bharti Airtel. "The first to move to 3G services were those customers who were already using 3G handsets and the users of various data services."

Industry executives said between 8 to 10% of the users have 3G phones and the biggest differentiator is the video call, though jerky.

"There is frequent blurring of video and call drops when I make a video call to my friend when I am in my car," said Vinay Tyagi, a private sector executive working in Ghaziabad. " The quality is better when calls are made when one is not moving."

"For video calls, it is necessary that both the parties should have Video phones. It is now picking up," said Prashant Gokarn, 3G Head, Reliance Communications (RCom).

Handset prices are expected to fall when the subscriber base increases.

Though a 3G handset starts from Rs 4,000, a good one with power-packed features starts at Rs 10,000.

Mobile TV services with 100 to 120 channels are now available on 3G.

For young users like Ankit Nauriyal, downloading movie or YouTube clips from the Internet is a key 3G feature.

"A 50 MB clip takes only 8-10 minutes to download," said Nauriyal. That is equivalent to about 10 songs in audio content.

Bindal said in Europe nearly a third of revenues for operators come from data-based services compared with India where it is less than 13%.

With mobile TV and video calls taking off, 3G could help Indian telecom service firms get more business, going beyond vanilla voice calls.