Wireless In Local Loop

Wireless In Local Loop (WILL) is a
technology for the emerging markets that promises to bridge the gap between the telephone
densities of these nations with the developed countries. And it is not surprising that
China, India, Russia, and Brazil–in that order–are considered to be the biggest
markets for the technology.

According to a study by the leading
telecom market research firm, The Strategis Group, 13 percent of the WILL subscribers in
the world by the year 2000 will be in India. That is about 3.7 million lines which
translates to a market size of $1.1 billion, at a per line price of $300. Though the
figure seems too small today, the price is expected to fall to that level.

Of course, in three of the four Cs that determine the quality of a
WILL technology, CDMA scores. It is a cost-effective technology for a new operator who is
building up his network from scratch.

According to DoT’s perspective plans,
about 9.9 million lines will be added in the three years from 1997 to 2000. Assuming that
30 percent of these lines will be provided through WILL technology, the total number of
WILL-based lines comes out to be 2.7 million. At a price of $300 per line, the total
market size comes out to be $810 million. The difference between the two figures is
largely due to the delays that have marred the Indian telecom industry since 1996, when
the Strategis study was published.

But a few developments have taken place
since then and they will have their impact felt on the WILL market. The most important of
them is the opening up of the Internet services market for private ISPs. This will lead to
an increase in the percentage on high-speed access lines for data.

The present WILL technologies, towering
claims notwithstanding, are still not suitable for high-speed data traffic. The 3G
wireless technologies are still sometime away. Many private operators, who have
predominantly gone for WILL (more than 95 percent of total lines in the first year) and
have plans to continue with more than 85 percent of total lines as wireless in the third
and fourth year, will reconsider their decisions.

The lack of good access network of DoT
will provide a good opportunity for the fibre and DSL technologies coming sooner than
expected. This will affect the WILL market. The WILL lines as a percentage of total lines
in the private networks may drop to about 70-75 percent in the third year from the earlier
estimated 85-90 percent. That might bring the market size to about $700-750 million by the
year 2000.

The Technology Choice

There are two distinct markets for WILL.
The DoT market and the private operators market. Both have different needs.

There are two distinct markets for WILL. The DoT market and the
private operators market. Both have different needs. DoT needs both macro as well as micro
cellular technologies.

For DoT, the need is to hook as many
subscribers, expand the network to remote areas, and provide a telephone on demand. On the
other hand, a new operator has to roll out its network really fast with a minimum total
cost. And it has no existing infrastructure to support its plans. The entire network needs
to be built from scratch.

DoT needs both the
technologies–macro- as well as micro-cellular technologies. Macro-cellular
technologies to build coverage and ensure telephone on demand in rural/suburban areas and
micro cellular technologies to support the users in dense traffic regions in urban areas.
No wonder, DoT is planning to go for both.

DoT’s purchase is tender-driven with
reservations for indigenous systems. Pricing, hence, will be extremely important. This
segment will see all kinds of technologies and players. The possibility of opportunistic
alliances cannot be ruled out. All the companies have plans to try their hands in this
segment. This will make it highly competitive and the price may fall to below $500 per

The other market is that of the private
basic service providers. So far, six operators have signed the licence and are in
different phases of their project implementation. Out of which four have finalized their
choice of WILL technology. While three have gone for CDMA, only one has gone for TDMA.
Hughes Ispat in Maharashtra has gone for Hughes’ own TDMA-based system. Two other
operators have also virtually decided to go for CDMA, though vendors are yet to be
finalized. So far, no supplier has bagged more than one order.

DoT Trials
Dassault Et  CT2   1,000   1995   Calcutta
Dassault Et  CT2   1,000   1995   Vijayawada
Qualcomm  CDMA   1,000   1995   New Delhi
Nokia  DCS 1800  –   1998   Chennai
Ericsson  DECT   30   1997   New Delhi
Ericsson  IS-136   1,000   1998   Bangalore
ITI-Tadiran  Proprietary   –   1996   New Delhi
IIT Madras  CorDECT   100   1997   Chennai
Lucent  CDMA/Airloop   20   1996   New Delhi
Siemens  DECT   240   1997   Noida
SAT/Precision  CT2   –   1996   Noida
Hughes  IS-136   –   1997   Pune
Shyam Telecom  CorDECT   1,000   1998   New Delhi
Crompton Greaves  CorDECT   1,000   1998   New Delhi

The new operators have requirements that are very different from those
of DoT. The priority before them is to build the network fast, have as much coverage as
possible, and at a minimum cost. Micro-cellular technologies like DECT and PHS, whatever
the equipment suppliers say, are preferred only when you have some existing

Otherwise, connecting the base stations become costly and
time-consuming. However, it is wrong to dismiss these technologies completely for private
operators. In the next two-three years, these operators will have to tackle high-traffic
generating business customers in certain areas. A solution like DECT may come in handy at
that time.

Why Is CDMA Winning?

The CDMA group will tell you it is clearly a superior technology. The
TDMA camp will give the reason as heavy lobbying by the American companies. Both are right
or wrong, depending upon the way you look at it.

Of course, in three of the four Cs that determine the quality of a WILL
technology, CDMA scores. CDMA is cost-effective for a new operator who is building up his
network from scratch. CDMA, of course, scores in the capacity front and the coverage is
also much better compared to the other competing technologies.

WILLs Of The
Private Operators
Tata Teleservices  Andhra Pradesh  CDMA  Lucent
Bharti Telenet  Madhya Pradesh  CDMA  Motorola
Telelink Networks  Rajasthan  CDMA  Qualcomm
Hughes Ispat  Maharashtra  TDMA  Hughes Network Systems
Essar Commvision  Punjab   CDMA   
Reliance Telecom  Gujarat  CDMA  

But another important reason why CDMA is succeeding is the number of
companies promoting it. The user has a choice. All the major North American companies
Lucent, Motorola, Nortel, and Qualcomm are solidly behind CDMA.

What will further consolidate CDMA’s position is that the
migration to 3G technologies will be much smoother in case of CDMA networks as
CDMA—in different versions—is clearly emerging as the third generation digital
wireless standard—whether it is CDMA 2000, WCDMA, or B-CDMA.

With a crucial CDMA patent in Qualcomm’s hand and the differences
between Qualcomm’s stand and ETSI’s stand, the future of WCDMA at the time of
writing is uncertain. This will also help CDMA.

The Forecast

  • The average cost of WILL equipment will drop to $300 per line by the
    year 2001.

  • IS-95 CDMA will continue to be the technology of choice.

  • CorDECT will be used by DoT and a few operators.

  • While American and European companies will dominate in the
    infrastructure equipment market, Asians will give them a tough challenge in the handsets

  • The 3G technologies will make their appearance in India soon after
    they are unveiled. Only those 3G technologies that provide a smooth migration path from
    the existing technologies will succeed.

  • The private operators will reconsider their decision to continue with
    WILL for three-four years, particularly in markets like Gujarat, Maharashtra, and the
    southern states as demand for Internet access in cities will see fibre and DSL sooner than

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