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The Indian Cell Phone Surfer

India today is living in times of a spectrum crunch. Yet that doesn't in any way stop India from logging on to the web on their cell phone or innovating and launching new applications, writes Puneet Mehrotra.
Hindustan Times | By Puneet Mehrotra, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 05, 2007 04:47 PM IST

Indians are an innovative lot. They use washing machines to churn lassi and generator engines to run automobiles (juggad). Way up in the hills they use chinni (sugar) instead of cement to build houses and insulate it with lambs wool. It all works and India moves. Look at the case of spectrum. India today is living in times of a spectrum crunch. Yet that doesn't in any way stop India from logging on to the web on their cell phone. Nor does it stop India from innovating and launching new applications and content. If that seems like an exaggeration consider the following statistic. Out of every 11 people logging on to the Web across the world through mobile phones 1 is turning out to be an Indian. Across the globe Indians account for 9% of the total number of mobile Web users, the number has grown considerably from 4% a year ago. All this from a nation suffering from an acute spectrum crunch and worth mentioning without 3G and others wireless broadband technologies.

The Grand Technology Choice

GPRS - Avoid it

Currently the cell phone surfer has a choice between GPRS and CDMA. Connecting the internet on GPRS is like participating in Formula One in an auto rickshaw with speeds ranging between 4 to 48 kpbs. Worth mentioning is that 48 kpbs is the theoretical speed in the same way as all of us do have the potential of becoming the world's richest man. In other words if you have a GPRS phone don't waste money in a GPRS connection. It isn't worth the time or the effort unless you have an extra reservoir of patience. The major operators offering this are Hutch, Airtel and others.

EDGE - Go for it

Luckily if your handset is EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) enabled you will be able to get faster and better connectivity than GPRS or HSCSD (High Speed Circuit Switched Data). EDGE increases the speed of each timeslot to 48 kbps and allows the use of up to 8 timeslots, giving a maximum data transfer rate of 384 kbps. In places where an EDGE network is not available, GPRS will automatically be used instead. EDGE offers the best that can be achieved with a 2.5G network, and will eventually be replaced by 3G.

Now EDGE definitely works far better than GPRS. The 384 kpbs speed is theoretical but it does achieve around 80 kpbs if your are lucky. Normally the speed hovers between 10 kpbs to 40 kpbs. EDGE definitely makes surfing achievable. Do not expect blistering speed downloads as the promotion of EDGE had initially promised with Live TV, Multiplayer Games etc. All that will not work. But you can expect decent surfing speed for checking your emails etc. The operators offering this are Hutch, Airtel and others.

CDMA - The best of the lot

Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) is perhaps the best of the lot. CDMA, the technology per se has advantages when it comes to data transmission. Theoretically CDMA networks have more capacity and are generally better for data transmission. They also make efficient use of transmission because it allows greater frequency reuse, as well as increasing battery life.

With an optimal speed of 153 kpbs data in a CDMA enabled network it's the best option for surfing. Under normal circumstances in a metro your cell phone should manage a speed of around 100 kpbs though it all depends on the connectivity of the particular location. So if you are not at a well connected location you can also expect much lesser speeds. The operators offering CDMA in India are Reliance, Tata Indicom, MTNL, BSNL and others.

3G - The Bright Future

3G stands for third-generation wireless technology and networks. 3G is based on an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) initiative for a single global wireless standard called International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000). This concept of a single standard evolved into a family of five 3G wireless standards. Of those five, the most widely accepted are CDMA2000, WCDMA (UMTS) and TD-SCDMA.

3G high-speed wireless networks, such as CDMA2000 and WCDMA offer the most optimized wireless experience to consumers with larger voice capacities and an enhanced data experience. The two variants of the 3G standard - CDMA2000 1xEV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized or Evolution-Data only) and WCDMA both networks provide wireless subscribers with the most ubiquitous and data-optimized products and services available to the global wireless mark.

On a 3G enabled phone speeds of 180 to 300 kbps could be easily achievable under real conditions though 384 kpbs is the figure that is claimed.

In other words 3G would mean an era of blistering downloads, live TV, shared multimedia games and much more. Perhaps even a parallel mobile entertainment economy.

The Content Providers

Innovation is the word when it comes to cell phone downloads. The spectrum crunch not withstanding the mobile entertainment market has been growing in India. Startups like Webaroo, IndiaGames, Mauj, Phoneytunes, Hungama are innovating and delivering content.

Just last week Airtel launched Airtel Messenger. Airtel mobile customers now have the advantage of having the same experience as a desktop chat service. The users can send and receive messages in real-time via their mobile without the need to be attached to a computer. Last month Webaroo launched a Mobile Blog service called smsgupshup. From Nike (Nike Store Locator) to Bollywood they all see the cell phone as the new generation marketing tool.

The Last Word

Surfing the web on a cell phone in India has its own set of joys and agony. The ability to be able to send an email or browse through a worksheet or a presentation cuddled in bed or on the move is simply great. The agony being when connectivity decides to play hide and seek which is the case most often. Yet the innovative stubborn Indian doesn't give up. We use whatever we get and make the best use of it.

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist at and edits you can email him on

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