CDMA ON SHOW: WHAT THE REGULATORS AND OPERATORS HAD TO SAY

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The technical trials were primarily staged to persuade ICASA, the South African telecoms regulator, to permit shared access to the 800MHz spectrum between television broadcasters and telecoms operators. It has been speculated that the long awaited Second National Operator (SNO) will be deploying CDMA technology on a WLL platform to compete with Telkom. The fact that the collection of players hosting the ‘CDMA Experience’ consisted of Transtel, one of the participants of the SNO, certainly indicates that they support the wireless solution. It is also common knowledge that TATA, who is the largest shareholder of the SNO with 26 % and more significantly, will have operational control, uses CDMA technology in India, although whether they will use it in South Africa they have yet to declare. However, like Transtel, they too had a number of representatives attend the demonstration to see how CDMA2000 could be implemented in South Africa, suggesting they are considering extending their CDMA operations here. TATA were not available to comment but Angus Hay said that “the SNO will be applying for a ‘fixed mobile license’, which will help them cross the whole market using a tactical approach from an operator’s point of view.” This could indeed explain why ICASA is taking into account a relaxation of their regulations in regards to the 800MHz spectrum, coincidently at the same time the SNO are drawing up their business plan.

During the inauguration speech on the opening day of the trials, Councillor Zolisa Masiza of ICASA announced that their aims are to lower costs and provide universal access in South Africa. Being committed to these aims and to remain as flexible as possible and encourage investment, “we are [thus] here to assess and test the CDMA technology applications,” he said. Adding on this later he said that they are “looking at the core principles of lowering costs and penetrating under-serviced areas and looking at how these can be enhanced. This CDMA technology addresses these key issues.” He also went on to say that they are “looking into this technology because consumer needs have changed and user needs will always drive the market. That is why we have to be flexible.” In other words, by allowing telecom operators access to the 800MHz spectrum, ICASA will bring investment to the sector, most notably in the form of the SNO, which will help tackle the problems of not only under-serviced communities but the current high costs. With the liberalisation of the market costs will undoubtedly be driven down if the SNO decide to implement this cost-effective technology. This competition has given rise to rumours that the incumbent Telkom are also looking into CDMA2000 capabilities, although they were not present at the trials.

In light of the present situation in South Africa, Qualcomm’s first priority after the trials is the setting up of their South African office. This suggests that Qualcomm are confident that ICASA will agree to open up the 800MHz spectrum for CDMA2000 solutions to be deployed, although Sachin Bhatmuley says that “Qualcomm will be deploying CDMA in other parts of Africa so need a presence on the continent.” Dr. O’Neill added that “the trials are critical” as Qualcomm are targeting other parts of Africa as well as South Africa. Representatives from Botswana’s incumbent were certainly impressed with the live demonstration. “We are definitely looking at this technology and how we can benefit from it,” said Malik Melamu, the Commercial General Manager at Botswana Telecommunications Corporation. “We will be testing CDMA2000 but it will depend on discussions with the rest of our colleagues and the regulatory committee as to when testing will start. But we are definitely interested.”

Another operator already testing the technology and who were also present at the trials was TDM, the incumbent carrier in Mozambique. “We are testing CDMA2000 because we have vast waiting lists in which we cannot provide network access to candidates. Copper is expensive and by the time it is installed, say in a month, the potential subscriber will be gone,” said TDM’s Chief Executive Officer, Salvador Adriano. “CDMA provides a jump and is cheaper in terms of coverage so we can reach many outskirts.” He went on to say that they didn’t have commercial figures for the trial phase as of yet but “with the data available, the cost per subscriber will be cheaper.” Also, and more importantly, “the regulators will need to issue a license and open up the 800MHz spectrum,” he added.

Currently, the largest CDMA cellular operator in Africa is Movicel of Angola with around 250, 000 subscribers to date. As the second mobile operator in the country they trail behind GSM operator, Unitel, but feel they can attract more subscribers with their progressive services. “Today, we are the advanced option in Angola offering quality services and features,” said Movicel’s Chief Technology Officer, José Luis de Lara. “We are a mobile ISP as well as providing cellular voice.” Movicel representatives attended the CDMA trials to view the latest CDMA offerings. “We are implementing 3G already in Angola using CDMA2000 1x technology but we hope to implement CDMA2000 1xEV-DO by the end of the year,” said de Lara.

Also in attendance were officials from the Nigerian Communications Commission. Utilising the 800MHz and 1900MHz spectrums, Nigeria has the second largest CDMA operations in Africa, behind Algeria, as competition has driven most Private Telecom Operators (PTOs) into network upgrades that were predominately, the conversion to CDMA latest technology. “We regulate services, we do not regulate technology. Because we do not regulate technology, most of the PTOs use CDMA technology, especially the 2000 1x standards, said Mr. S. A. Bello, Director of Engineering at the NCC. Realising that the Nigerian market is shifting from the traditional voice only service to high-speed, broadband wireless data, operators have had no choice but to upgrade their facilities to be in line with the trend – a trend that ICASA are beginning to notice in South Africa. “Even Nitel, the Nigerian incumbent, is changing to CDMA because of its advantages. These are that it is easier to maintain CDMA and easier to roll-out,” said Mr. Bello.

As CDMA and GSM are technologies, licenses to implement them are not needed. Licenses are awarded on the basis of set-up so whether the operator will be mobile or fixed wireless. Mr. Bello said that “in Nigeria, CDMA is used on a fixed wireless platform for now but from next year when GSM exclusivity is over, operators will be able to use CDMA on a mobile platform.” He added that “the cost of a mobile license in 2000 was USD285 million, which was decided through an auction. If a new mobile operator came along, a new mobile license again will be determined by auction so the cost may be lower or it may be higher.” In respect to CDMA deployment, Bello believes that it “should definitely be encouraged as it makes better use of the spectrum.” Within Nigeria already, existing CDMA operators and manufacturers are promoting their technology to the masses. Rainbownet, a privately-owned Nigerian telecommunications company, recently announced a slash in the price of its newly introduced CDMA phones to N12, 000 per set. Although still relatively expensive to non-CDMA phones, Nigeria is one of the countries in Africa leading the change to CDMA technology. Bello concluded that the NCC is at these trials because “Nigeria already deploys CDMA technology but we are looking at ways to improve on this.”

Dr. Tom O’Neill believes CDMA is appropriate for Africa because “the spectral efficiency of this technology will not only provide the availability of services to people who could not afford telephony but that it also facilitates the ability to move data quickly as all versions of CDMA decreases the loading time of downloading data. The approximate transfer time for a three minute MP3 song file is less than three minutes using CDMA2000 1x, which is 153kbps. With CDMA2000 1xEV-DO the downloading time is reduced to eleven seconds, which is 2.4Mbps. When compared with GSM and GPRS downloading times, which are 41 and nearly nine minutes respectively, the data rate is significantly faster.” In addition, he believes that the latter of the two features (the ability to transfer data quickly) will not just appeal to a niche market in affluent societies like South Africa but that 3G technology can provide the solution to bringing internet access, via wireless devices, to millions of the world’s poorest people. The efficiency and flexibility of 3G offers Africa a compelling wireless solution that can be deployed quickly and provide the continent with widespread access to the internet. As demonstrated at the technical trials, 3G CDMA also enables specific applications that can satisfy the specific needs of African subscribers, like health, security, education and entertainment. The following two case studies look at two African based businesses and examine how CDMA technology can improve the application of their services.