MTS India Preps Move to 4G

Sistema Shyam TeleServices, India's only pure-play CDMA operator, is all set to make the transition from 2G CDMA to 4G.

"It's rational thinking at work, given that going forward the mobile ecosystem is set to be driven by 4G LTE technologies, while R&D interests and investments in CDMA are faced with stagnation," says Deepak Kumar, the founder of analyst firm BusinessandMarket.net. "While LTE in itself has got better spectral efficiencies and can deliver a wider bouquet of services than other existing mobile technologies, MTS India's 800MHz holdings could make the benefits even more attractive."

One problem for Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd. , which trades under the MTS India brand, has been India's relatively small CDMA ecosystem. At first, CDMA players -- including Tata Teleservices Ltd. and Reliance Communications Ltd. , besides MTS -- had the advantage of being able to provide superior data services to their GSM rivals, which put them in a strong position in the data card business. But with the launch of 3G services, the CDMA players have lost that lead. The cancellation of licenses owned by MTS India (along with those of other greenfield operators) has further added to its woes. (See Going Gets Tough for India's Smaller Telcos.)

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But the migration to 4G raises a few questions. For one thing, it remains unclear whether MTS will deploy voice over LTE (VoLTE), allowing it to run voice communications over its 4G network, or continue to rely on CDMA for these traditional services, using circuit-switched fallback (CSFB) technology.

There could even be an option of doing away with voice services entirely. As a CDMA player, MTS generates a significant proportion of its revenues from data services -- more than 51% at the end of March, according to its financial results -- and might have limited interest in defending its voice business in future. Indeed, with over-the-top players like WhatsApp and Viber intruding on this space, MTS may feel a data-only focus makes strategic sense in the long run.

"The pace of growth in data revenues will continue to be much higher than voice growth," said MTS in its 2013/14 annual report. "The reason for this is MTS India's focus on the data business, existing coverage and deployment of Rev B technology [a CDMA standard supporting higher-speed data offerings], reliable service, product offerings and time-to-market advantages."

In keeping with its prioritization of data, MTS has also begun offering WiFi hotspots at railway stations through a partnership with Railtel Corporation of India Ltd. . It is currently offering WiFi services at six railway stations in Agra, Varanasi, Secunderabad, Howrah (Kolkata), Mumbai CST and Ahmedabad.

Once rules about spectrum sharing have been finalized, MTS is also considering whether to share its network with other service providers.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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