CDMA technology, once hailed as the best for mobile services, is on its last legs in India, as it struggles with myriad issues, ranging from dearth of equipment and handsets to becoming obsolete. Given these challenges, industry watchers expect the technology to be phased out in a year.
The total number of CDMA users in the country stood at 12.59 million on March 31, 2017, a drastic fall from its peak of 114 million in June 2011. In May, India’s telecom subscriber base crossed 1.2 billion, most of them utilising GSM services.
Of the few CDMA players, Tata Teleservices Ltd (TTSL) has a user base of 6.9 million (March 2017), followed by Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd (which provides services under the MTS brand) with 4.91 million subscribers, and State-owned BSNL with 0.78 million.
“CDMA technology will cease to exist within a year. However, more than the timelines, the reasons behind its closure are important,” Ashok Sud, Secretary-General of the Association of Unified Service Providers of India (AUSPI), the CDMA operator body, told BusinessLine.
“In India, CDMA handsets and equipment are not easily available and vendors have also stopped supplying these. Further, technological advances such as the emergence of 4G and 5G, which are newer and better technologies, have also added to its woes,” Sud added.
Reliance Communications (formerly Reliance Infocomm) was an early adopter of CDMA, with the operator launching commercial services in May 2003. However, over the last year, the company migrated its 24 million CDMA users to 4G LTE, freeing the 850 MHz band for 4G LTE services.
“The CDMA user base has been waning due to lack of handset choices as compared with GSM; lack of options for handset interchangeability — as the handsets are locked with the operator — and concerns of coverage while on roaming,” said Harsh Jagnani, Sector Head and Vice-President, Corporate Sector Ratings, at ICRA.
Most CDMA deployments were on the 850 MHz band, resulting in better voice quality and fewer call drops. GSM services use different frequencies (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), affecting voice quality. GSM is used mostly across Europe, Asia and West Asia, while CDMA is available only in a few Asian countries and the US.