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Cool 3G has miles to go

In sum, what we see now is only a teaser of what can be. There are miles to go in delivering true 3G content. Maybe the new year will set new trends. For public and private players alike, a lot of work looms ahead. Manoj Gairola reports. The world on your handset

india Updated: Oct 01, 2010 22:47 IST
Manoj Gairola

It looks like a delectable dream at first sight. But then, you wake up with a sudden start.

Welcome to the strange new world of 3G –third generation –wireless telephony, rich in promise but yet to show its might.

First the good news.

One feels as if the whole world is in one’s pocket. You can watch TV News, see live matches on TV, download movies, and play online games with the tiny, high-powered handset.

The reason: data download speeds of up to 2 Mbps theoretically make it possible to do so many things when you are mobile. It is as if you have just moved on from bullock cart to high-speed car. It is much higher than the 256 kbps broadband speed that is available to most of the customers of fixed-line services.

No wonder, Vikas Jain, a Delhi-based 28 year-old employee of Nokia is an avid user of 3G services. He uses it for Internet browsing, movie downloads and online games.

"We download latest movies from YouTube. A 50 MB clip takes only 8-10 minutes to download," said Jain.

But a full movie is about 20 times as big. It may not be that convenient.

The most interesting service in 3G is the video phone call. This allows users to see each other while talking. For a layman, this is what mainly differentiates 3G from 2G.

The quality of voice and video was very good when this reporter used it sitting in a room or when roaming in a small area. However, the video blurred and sometimes video calls dropped completely when it was used in a moving car.

This was true for services of both Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) – the only ones to have launched 3G services so far. Private players are expected to launch next year.

The video quality blurred in almost all the 3G services – Mobile TV, online games - when this reporter roamed in the NCR and in Western UP. In some places where signal was not present or was weak – a common problem in Indian networks.

"This is the problem all over the world, however, it is more in India. The reason is that 3G services require more number of cell sites. Generally, 3G networks are overlayed over 2G networks," said R. S. P. Sinha, former Chairman of MTNL.

In some cases, a service provider may have to add up to 80 per cent more cell sites for 3G services.

Both MTNL and BSNL were first movers. However, the first mover may not always get advantage. There are three elements of success of 3G services –content, handset prices and network. Out of this only network is in total control of an operator. Handset prices are expected to fall when the subscriber base increases.

Similarly, handset prices will fall when subscribers increase. Currently, BSNL has about 17 lakh 3G subscribers. This is slated to increase manifold when three private players enter the field. Though, a 3G handset starts from Rs 4,000, a good 3G handset with all the features would cost at least Rs 10,000.

Currently, there are more than 100 TV channels available on 3G services. However, popular channels like Star Plus, Sony and Zee are not there.

Similarly, only 2,000 movies are available for download and some of the latest movies are not there. Similarly, one can play one-player online games now. Multiplayer games will be available from the end of this year.

In sum, what we see now is only a teaser of what can be. There are miles to go in delivering true 3G content. Maybe the new year will set new trends. For public and private players alike, a lot of work looms ahead.