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a nation, which got initiated to mobile telephony just about

four years back, is it too early to talk about a wireless

society? The pessimist will call it crazy, while the realistic

observer may call it too optimistic. But then, things change

very fast these days. Technologies have shown that they can

change entire economies. Especially, two hottest technologies–wireless

communications and the Internet.


Cell Phone

Catches up


usage has grown tremendously after the government privatized it

in late 1998. According to Internet Service Providers

Association of India (ISPAI), the Indian Internet subscriber

base at present is about 1.1 million and it is the fastest

growing industry today.

But what about the

cellular industry, which is still thick in the licence muddle?

Just have a look at the current figures emerging from the

Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). An estimated two

million mobile subscribers growing currently at about a lakh per

month are impressive figures given the difficult financial and

operational constraints undergone by the operators. This speed

of growth is now almost as good as the number of PCs being sold

in the country. And there! One can hear the optimistic Indian

mobile operator honcho saying, "The day is not far when a

mobile phone will be more common than the PC in India."

Today, the PC just cannot compete with the economy and mobility

that a mobile phone offers.


But does not the PC have

much more power, storage space, and functionalities! Not

anymore! New technologies have leveled up the two a little bit.

Smarter chips designed for small devices like the phone have

increased the processing and storing power of the cell phone. A

new protocol, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), has done

wonders by introducing a new facet–Internet access–to the

world of mobile telephony. New communication technologies like

General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) and Universal Mobile

Telephone Services (UMTS) will further boost up the

functionality of the mobile phone by enabling seamless and

faster communication of pictures, data, and video. Added to

this, the SIM card is likely to become the smart "mobile

money" when mobile fund transfers happen through smart card


A major revolution is

raging across the world today. The Wireless Internet is being

talked of as the new Internet. And WAP is now regarded as the

next step in the value-chain of the development of Internet. The

WAP forum, which initially began with four members a few

years  back, now has as many as 200 members including all

the big names of the telephony, IT, electronics, and content


It Is Happening Everywhere

It Is

Happening Everywhere



is an ongoing rush to enable wireless access to Internet content

in the major economic hubs of the world. Japan led the way about

a year back. NTT DoCoMo’s iMode service pioneered the wireless

data revolution. This country, where IDC projects 41 million

mobile wireless Internet subscribers by 2003 as compared to 63

million wireline Internet users, is likely to be the first

wireless society in the world. Europe is also moving fast. The

Nordic countries have the highest mobile penetrations in the

world. Kids there are known to live on the mobile. Mobile

Internet is seen as the revolution, which could swing the

Internet pendulum from the US towards Europe. European countries

are involved in a frenzied deployment of wireless data

technologies. The Americas, though found slumbering for once on

the wireless data front, are now moving in fast to gain the lost

momentum. IT giants like Microsoft, IBM, HP, Intel, Sun, and

Oracle all see major stakes to be gained on this front. And

telco wireless operator Sprint is in the process of

leading this charge with a national wireless Internet rollout.

China, our own neighbour,

is seen as the market of the future. Already having about 50

million mobile phone subscribers, this country is adding 2

million mobile users per month. IDC projects that by 2003, China

will have 400 million users, the largest subscriber base in the

world. Out of these 400 million, almost 100 million would be

using mobile Internet.

What about




where do these changes leave us? Can we dream big and achieve

big? Though the wireline phone system in India has been there

for more than a century, not much technology advancements were

achieved till communications got deregulated about five years

back. Indians then came face to face for the first time with new

communications technologies like cellular telephony, paging,

radio trunking, e-mail, Internet, and so on. India thus became a

huge land of opportunity and got a big chance to leapfrog. India

does not have much to boast about in terms of telephone network

and usage. But it does not have to worry about legacy networks

or technologies when it comes to introducing new communication


The government goofed up

The government goofed

up several times in the process of deregulation: 

issuing costly licences,

delaying the creation of a regulator, operating draconian

interconnection rules, dragging the issue of corporatization of

DoT, and so on. Even today when the world is undergoing sea

change in how governments tackle communications and Internet

issues, the Indian government is naïve enough to still continue

with its policy of making its future wealth creators (private

companies) bear the burden of licence fees and monopolistic

regulations over their operations. One simply cannot talk of a

digital world where top executives of telecom service operators

have to spend more than 80 percent of their time tackling the

government. Good bye wireless society, if the present mindset of

our government continues.


However, the top echelons

of the government do understand the urgent need of a much more

available and reliable communications infrastructure. As the

wireline networks get revamped, the government needs to push the

wireless and multimedia industries by promoting technologies

such as WAP.

On the technology and

market side, the future looks more positive. Indians have good

software skills, and these inherent talent can be used in the

wireless Internet scenario as well, apart from the IT scene.

Indian start-ups are actually developing wireless solutions that

are being implemented globally. It may sound pompous, but it

will not be a surprise if one finds "made in India"

solutions running the value-added services, of say, Vodafone,

Deutsche Telekom, or RadioLinja. The government made a smart

decision to choose GSM as the technology for mobile cellular

services. The mobile operators of India have put up GSM networks

in almost every part of the country, save a few remote states.

And now, with technology advancements in cellular telephony

happening mostly around GSM, Indian operators are in a better

position when it comes to migrating to future technologies.

The market for wireless

Internet services is small now. But it is growing rapidly. It

could be right to say that the majority of the mobile

subscribers are from the metros and high-income group of our

society. But this trend is now changing as mobile telephony

makes inroads into lower strata of society and the "B"

class cities. On the other hand, it is feared that the fast

growth of Internet usage might be curbed by our low PC

penetration. Here the mobile phone could become the alternate

device for Internet access, thus pushing up the usage of