CDMA Handsets: The All-Korean Affair



Forget MTNL’s ugly and bulky looking Garuda WLL mobile handsets that
became a talk in Mumbai and Delhi a few years ago when they were launched.
People were concerned about the advantages it offered rather than its looks
which made it so successful that MTNL ran out of capacity and had to stop taking
any fresh applications for new handsets. There is a huge expectation in the
market for WLL services. This has become more interesting as CDMA handsets have
shed the age-old image of ugliness and have acquired a new, sleeker look, and
are equipped with all features, including data capabilities, which were
perceived to be only GSM’s forte. Companies are also working on developing
slim folder-type handsets. Vendors are also developing tri-mode and dual-band
handsets and even the ones that support Bluetooth. One of the key advantages of
CDMA is that the handset used for IS-95 service can be used in the CDMA 2000
networks as well, unlike GSM networks where handsets need to be changed with
every intermediary technology on path to 3G.

Korean Battle Enters India
Korean triumvirates Samsung, LG, and Hyundai, have gained the first mover
advantage and have launched phones that have helped shed the negative perception
about CDMA phones. The three players are busy chalking out strategy for the CDMA
market in India. More launches are in the offing in the coming months. Some
non-Korean vendors are also planning to come out with CDMA handsets very soon.

Hyundai: Working on Strategy
On Hyundai’s strategy on the CDMA front, K Srinivas, manager telecom,
Hyundai Curitel says, “It is too early to chalk out a strategy, but we are
one of the earliest players in the market and we look forward to be a part of
the growing market for CDMA handsets.” On the future of CDMA in India, he
says, “Once Reliance starts its services, the picture will become
clearer.” He feels that fixed wireless handsets for PCOs is going to be a
major driver for CDMA in the country due to its ease of deployment. As regards
to open market availability, Srinivas feels it would encourage the flourishing
of the gray market.”

LG: Opposed to Open Market Sales
The LG terminal division of LG Electronics has a liaison office in India.
The major success of its operation was an order of $100 million from Reliance
for the supply of CDMA handsets. LG is also supplying fixed wireless terminals
to BSNL for its rural telephony rollout, and to MTNL for its rollout in the TNF
areas. The company has about 25 CDMA phone models for the global market. On the
question of LG’s plans and expectations from the Indian market, KK Kushwaha,
LG’s vice-president, CDMA terminal, says “Our expectations are that the
CDMA market in India will grow very rapidly. This will happen due to low rentals
and low tariffs as announced by TRAI. LG is considering India as one of the most
important markets for CDMA terminals.” Regarding alliance with operators,
Kushwaha says, “LG will cooperate with major operators to make an effort to
promote CDMA, by providing and developing new models taking into consideration
the requirement of operators and their customers. The end goal is always to
satisfy the customer’s customer. And we are going to focus on CDMA 3G1x models
which will be superior to GSM.” On the issue of pricing of handsets, he
says, “LG will provide competitive products in the Indian market and set up
a fully dedicated service 

CDMA Handsets: Feature-rich

No SIM card required 

High spectral efficiency 

Data speed up to 144 kbps 

Short messaging services

Call forwarding

Call waiting

Call conferencing 

Caller line identification

Increased talk time and standby time

network across the country in order to provide better
after-sales services to the end-user. At present, we are not looking at
establishing the distribution network, but if the market conditions require, we
will change according to the market needs.” On the question of selling
handsets in the open market, he commented that LG would never promote the gray
market for CDMA terminals. Kushwaha says, “With the 3G 1x CDMA
infrastructure now being made available, we hope there won’t be any gray
market for 3G1x phones.” On the issue of perception of CDMA handsets being
bulky and ugly, Kushwaha says that it used to look ugly earlier due to the
specification that battery should support talk time of four hours, which
warranted a thick extended battery, making the phone bulky and awkward looking.
Models that provide two-and-half hour talk time are as sleek and smart as GSM
phones.” On the issues of call drops and quality of voice on the CDMA
network, Kushwaha says, “For the call drops and quality of voice, it is not
the handset but the quality of network and congestion on the network that plays
the main role.”

Samsung: Focussed on private operators 
Samsung, which claims to be the number 1 CDMA handset player in India, in
terms of market share, is also bullish about the way the market is growing. The
company’s clear strategy is to focus on the private basic operators, not
state-owned operators like BSNL and MTNL. According to Shashin Devsare,
“Samsung’s products bring value for money to the operators and
subscribers and we do not want to be perceived as the manufactures of only cheap
phones”. He says Samsung 

“We
do not have any imme diate plans but if the market grows and we
see the potential, we are open to the idea of manufacturing
here”

Shashin Devsare
 
senior
manager (telecom) Samsung India

would participate in the government tenders only
if quality product is one of the important specification apart from price.
Devsare says, “Samsung will want to remain as price competitive as
possible, without compromising on quality.” He supports open market
availability of CDMA phones as this would give consumer the choice. On the
strategy vis-à-vis GSM and CDMA, Devsare says, “We have competencies to be
present on both the fronts.” On the question of manufacturing Samsung
handsets in the country, he says, “We do not have immediate plans but if
the market grows and we see the potential, we are open to the idea of
manufacturing here.”

“We
have a complete range of CDMA handsets, but we are evaluating the
options and trying to understand the market”

Shudhin
Mathur

general manager, Sony Ericsson

Other Vendors: Still way behind
Most non-Korean GSM vendors have been slow to react and have preferred not
to launch any models in India. According to Mohit Kapoor, country manager,
mobile phone division (South-West Asia), Alcatel, “We are studying the
situation and would think of entering the market at an appropriate time.”
Alcatel, in fact, does not have a CDMA model at present. Nokia is toying with
the idea of launching some CDMA handsets later this year. According to Sudhin
Mathur, general manager, Sony Ericsson, “We have a complete range of CDMA
handsets, but we are evaluating the options and trying to understand the
market.”

Sudesh Prasad

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