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"3G is not going to take off for the next two or three years"

UK-based UbiNetics, a PA Group Company, a world leader in next generation communication technology, recently opened its third product development center in Bangalore. Bjorn Krylander, chief operation officer, UbiNetics, U.K, spoke with Network Magazine and delineated the R&D focus of the center and its roadmap for the Indian market

What factors are prompting the move from 2G (GSM) to 2.5G (GPRS) and eventually to 3G?
Though there is a lot of talk about 3G, the shift has to be a gradual one. 3G is not going to take off for the next two or three years. Hence, the evolution from 2G to 2.5G should be given more focus, because the need to have data available on the move is more in theory than in practice on 2G products. To be truly able to use mobile data applications while on the move, 2.5G is imperative.

These applications are available on GSM as well. But that doesn't really work, as it's too complex with circuit switched. E-mail, messaging of various kinds, browsing and so forth, will be available only on 2.5G and when you further move up to 3G, you get the capability to do this with high speeds of up to 384kbps data.

However, with 3G, 384kbps is going to be expensive because 3G's efficiency is less than 25 percent higher than for GSM-GPRS. This means that the cost of the end user is higher at the end of the day. You need to install quite a bit of equipment to get 3G going and the best saving eventually—when the silicon is taken out of the equation—is about 20-25 percent higher.

So applications such as online video conferencing or watching television online while sitting in your car are not going to happen. What you could do though is get snippets of entertainment, at least, in the foreseeable future.

What products do you have for the Indian mobile data communication market?
The UniNetics GA 100 is an accessory for a PDA. The GA 100 turns you Palm handheld into a complete mobile phone and data terminal to use on any GSM network worldwide. It is a dual band GSM phone that uses the palm handheld as the user interface and data storage device. All you need to do is plug in your SIM card, load the software supplied and then connect to your chosen GSM network.

Besides, the GC201 enables the user to send and receive e-mails, faxes and SMS messages, as well as browse the Internet. These are compatible with products from vendors like Compaq, HP, and Cisco. They work effectively with every product that takes a standard PCMCIA card. At this point in time we are selling this product in Europe through distributors. The market for these kind of devices will not be ripe until integrated devices come in. We'll have global distributors who will also sell these products in India in the latter half of this year.

We also see great potential in the Asian, particularly Southeast Asian markets namely Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

Could you tell us about your test mobiles?
We have a strong competency in test mobiles, which are B2B products. TM 100, which is the first product we shipped to our customers, enables network operators to test their base stations. It tests Layers 1, 2 and 3 in the protocol stacks. Layer 1 is where we have been most successful.

We further plan to develop it into a test mobile for the network operators. We have a new product called TM 200, aimed at network infrastructure testing. This will enable network operators to put them into fleet of cars that will drive around and constantly measure the interference levels and the noise levels in the network to determine the quality of the network.

While the market for TM 100 is in the range of 200-250 units, it is sold to network infrastructure manufacturers in Europe, America, Australia and Japan. It is possible that these manufacturers would have shipped this product to their development centers located elsewhere. The market for TM 200 is in the range of 50,000 units.

TM 200 is equally important in India to test drive the networks for quality conscious operators who feel exposed on competitive grounds for providing good network quality. TM 200 does a solid job of mapping network quality continuously by measuring how traffic patterns move and by plotting on the network how congestion moves over time.

What will be the focus of your Bangalore development center?
The development center in Bangalore, which will work on the core technology platform for 3G, has been set up with an investment of Pound 3 million. The company will invest Pound 6 million in India and market its range of 3G devices in the domestic market by 2002.

The center will focus on providing solutions to the emerging global mobile Internet market valued at $400 million. It will develop products in the 3G wireless space involving GSM, GPRS, UMTS and core IP solutions, which will interface between GPRS and GPS technologies and develop the second generation module for embedded product development. We are now developing the cell stimulator for UMTS technology that will be ready for launch by the end of 2002.

We've realized that TM 200 has a lot of sophisticated and novel technology that we can sell as software rather than as a product/hardware box.

In Bangalore, we are working on developing a component of the UMTS protocol stacks.

What is your approximation about the Indian mobile data communication market?
It has been very difficult for us to penetrate the Indian market, as I think it is for any manufacturer in the mobile wireless domain. The Indian market is characterized by very low dynamics. The people here look out for the cheapest available product and do not differentiate products based on quality.

For Indian consumers, there is little status and emotional value attached to mobile communication devices. In countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, for instance, people must possess the latest model. This is a marketer's dream. India is tougher, as people don't value the newness of the products. Hence, the market is difficult to assess. More often than not, we end up competing on price, which makes it difficult to communicate effectively with end users and create a market where you don't get squeezed by the distribution channels to give price concessions.

Shubha Murthy can be reached at shubha_m24@hotmail.com
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