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The CDMA-GSM war escalates

Telecom tangles are back. And unlike in the past, the old GSM versus CDMA joust is not being fought by operator associations but by the protagonists themselves.

india Updated: May 05, 2006 03:00 IST

Telecom tangles are back. And unlike in the past, the old GSM versus CDMA joust is not being fought by operator associations but by the protagonists themselves.

With Tata Sons boss Ratan Tata opening a new front by writing to the DoT Secretary and then the Prime Minister on why there should be a national spectrum policy, the GSM lobby fired its salvo rebutting everything that he wrote. But this week, a fresh twist to the tale has occurred with Hutch Essar MD, the normally low-profile Asim Ghosh, joining issues. In a strongly-worded missive to Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran, Ghosh, referring to the Hindustan Times reports, says, “I feel compelled to write to clarify dangerous misconceptions stemming from seductive, but totally specious analogies. It is not my intention to revisit the controversy behind the original plea of CDMA fixed licence operators effecting an entry into mobile services under the guise of march of technology, other than to recall some facts — that a critical contention at the time, documented on affidavit in court submissions, was that CDMA had a 5:1 spectral capability vis-a-vis GSM. It is thus surprising for CDMA operators now to turn around and demand equal spectrum.” It is clear that the old CDMA bogey is back.

Ghosh writes that analogies of jet planes and turboprops might have a populist appeal, but they mask the fact that the government does not specify the type of aircraft to be purchased by airlines, nor allocates separate air lanes for different operators.

He says that by contrast, the government effectively specifies the technology for each mobile licence through the allotment of the band for that licence. “The government is therefore obliged to be equitable in its spectrum allotment policy so as to ensure fairplay between different technologies,” he writes.

Ghosh then decides to go into attack mode. He argues, “Another dangerous misconception being advanced is that it is not as if the price is different between GSM and CDMA operators. It is the same. Spectrum is acquired separately by the operators, it is bundled along with the licence. Additional spectrum is made available only after existing allotments have been fully utilised.”

Ghosh then goes onto demolish Tata’s contention on the need for higher spectrum, “Given the CDMA claims of a five times higher capacity, actually a 2:1 allocation to CDMA operators results in a very lavish grant of spectrum in favour of CDMA.”

Finally, the killer application: “WPC guidelines, in specifying a 2:1 ratio, have been less than fair to GSM operators like us, and we have accepted it only as a judgement of Solomon. I am surprised that the beneficiaries are asking for more, and yet again obfuscating facts to gain regulatory arbitrage.” At the heart of the matter remains the DoT order dated March 29, 2006 which details allotment guidelines between the GSM and CDMA in a 2:1 ratio. Ghosh’s argument stems from the fact that spectrum was never made available to purchase and hoard as a commodity.