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Home > Business > Special

Surf Reliance, talk Hutch

Sunil Jain | March 24, 2006

Anyone who's used a CDMA mobile, even the existing generation of them, knows they're far superior to anything the GSM lot have to offer including the EDGE-enabled ones -- the GSM lot say once they move to a 3G platform, the data experience will be the same, but since there are no 3G platforms available in the country, that's a claim you can't test at the moment.

But since there are a lot more GSM phones, and providers in the world than there are CDMA ones, most would hesitate at the idea of using a CDMA phone, especially if you travel a lot.

There's a solution to the problem now, fortunately. It's called the WorldMode Phone, a phone that allows you to use either CDMA or GSM platforms, so you can literally surf Reliance/Tata and talk Hutch/Airtel!

While the first such phone I saw was some months ago when the Reliance Infocomm people got some CDMA bigwig to clear the air on the spectral efficiency of the two mobile platforms, I saw another a few weeks ago at a mobile phone exhibition in the capital where the Tatas were discussing the possibility of launching it in India soon.

There were also CDMA phones that had chips in them -- so you could seamlessly change your CDMA mobile and simply change the chip much the same way you do today with GSM mobile handsets.

This is the CDMA group's first genuine attempt to capture what you could call the High Call Worth Individual, the mobile phone equivalent of what bankers call High Net Worth Individuals. So far, very few well-heeled types have ever wanted to use CDMA phones since they could never travel with them.

Indeed, the CDMA Group's website acknowledges precisely this when it says, "For CDMA2000 subscribers, WorldMode creates a world without boundaries. It means greater convenience for users who will no longer need to carry multiple handsets. It means one consolidated bill. It means increased productivity. It means a true sense of freedom It means high-revenue subscribers."

Lots more on the cards

A host of WorldMode phones are already on the market from companies such as Motorola, LG and Samsung. Hitachi, Sanyo and Toshiba are in the process of coming out with their phones. And among the operators who are already offering such WorldMode phone services are China Unicom, Pelephone, Sprint Nextel, Telus Mobility, Verizon Wireless and VIVO.

In India, the Tatas are looking at it, as is Reliance. WorldMode phones today operate in GSM/CDMA2000 mode in the 800/900/1800/1900 MHz bands. Chipsets with enhanced functionality, which will allow CDMA20000 subscribers to use data services on GSM/GPRS and WCDMA network and will operate in 800/900/1800/1900/ 21000 MHz, are on their way.

This particular handset I used, the Samsung SCH-A790 was commercially launched in May 2004 with Sprint-Nextel and Verizon Wireless offering it in the US. The phone is a CDMA device that allows you to insert a GSM chip. I tried using this phone, a Verizon one, and was able to switch it to a GSM network in India and then use it.

There was a problem switching from the Verizon network to the Reliance CDMA one in India - so I could surf the Net to get to feel the real speed - but I've been assured this is more a problem with the connectivity agreements between the companies and is a temporary phenomenon. Another few months, or less, it is said, the interface will be seamless.

The phone, a flip one, weighs just 119 grams, offers camera capabilities from 1 to 5 megapixel, and has the usual other features in this genre. While the prices of such phones appear high right now, manufacturers say once the volumes go up, the prices will fall. You can expect the prices of such phones to be similar to other high-end phones, that is, anywhere between Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000.

More likely, the phones will come bundled with the service offer, as they do in most other countries, in which case, the pricing will be even more attractive. Verizon offers the Samsung A795 for $349.99 if you opt for a two-year plan, and $399.99 for a one-year plan.

It offers a Motorola A840 WorldPhone for $499 for a one-year contract. LG's VX-8100 which is also offered by Verizon in the US has a 1.3 megapixel camera, can save up to 15 video clips of 15 seconds each, or 100 still pictures, has a self-timer and allows speed dialing for 99 numbers, has dual speakers, and the facility to store 200 voice memos.

The phone operates on the BREW platform and that also allows operators to allow users to change their menus on the air, and do things like accessing their phone and calendar databases online as well.

The Kyocera KX5, which is just 48 mm x 99mm x 22 mm slides out to reveal the keypad, weighs a mere 110 grams, has a 16 MB on-board storage which is then expandable up to 512 MB. It can support seven types of music formats from MP3 to AAC and MP4. The Kyocera KX2 weighs a bit more (115 grams) and is offered in India by Reliance Infocomm.

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