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September 23, 1997


MTNL begins testing its WLL mobile phone service

Management soothsayers have long asserted that upward mobility gets progressively cheaper. It's a dictum that the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited now appears determined to prove with its wireless in local loop service.

As a result, grateful inhabitants of the capital are all set to receive most of the benefits of cellular phones, at considerably lower rates.

The state-owned telecom PSU's WLL service has the trappings of being a big hit, in spite of MTNL's tepid marketing efforts. A 'pilot' - MTNLese for an experimental venture - project, the service is based on equipment and knowhow from the San Diego-based $2 billion (Rs 72 billion) Qualcomm Inc.

Centred around two 5-km radius cellsites in Delhi, the MTNL WLL service has bagged over 450 subscribers to date. Notched up within some four months on a system capacity of 1,000 users, the number has surprised telecom analysts. Remarks a telecom expert with one of the Big Six consultants: 'The deposit is Rs 25,000, the per month rental is Rs 1,000. The response (to the service) beats me.'

What's the catch? Mobility at low cost. Consider this: the wireless service - which uses radio frequencies to 'wire' up a subscriber's telephone to a telephone exchange - enables a user to make or receive calls anywhere within the range of the service's nerve-centre; a radio tower and the base transreceiver station.

Technically, the range for the Qualcomm system in Delhi is 5 km for mobile handset users and up to 30 km for fixed telephone sets. However, much to their delight, users found that they can receive calls even on the outskirts of Delhi.

A local chartered accountant, for instance, discovered that he could make calls from Ghaziabad, east of Delhi. A drive to Faridabad and Noida later, he was pleasantly surprised that he was wired anywhere in the city - almost like the cellular service.

Range is not all. The charges of the WLL service are also low. The service is charged at local call rates. That is, three minutes of talktime come at Rs 1.40. In comparison, a cellular call costs an average of Rs 6-7 per minute, implying about Rs 20 for a three minute conversation. Neat, the cost-conscious chartered accountant would say.

Better still, the fixed WLL telephone handset comes at a deposit of Rs 5,000 and a normal monthly rental of Rs 380 for a bi-monthly billing cycle.

'Quite as few customers move around with this telephone in their cars,' says a source associated with WLL trials in Delhi. Although the reception on such phones is not very good in moving vehicles, it is being used as a phone to receive and make calls in static positions.

In the minds of the customer, the service is almost the same as cellular, minus the fringe services of the GSM (global system for mobile communications, a digital cellular standard) like voice-mail, short messaging service, caller line indentification etc.

MNTL and Qualcomm have, in effect, benchmarketed the WLL service as an alternative to the usual public switched telephone network (PSTN) phone.

The WLL handset is about the same size as a mobile phone and its cost is absorbed in the refundable deposit, unlike a cellular operator which sells the instrument to the subscriber.


- Compiled from the Indian media

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