The fuss with 3G
For the last few days the newspapers and social medias are going on and on about 3G. That’s because government just auctioned out the spectrum for 3G to the private operators from the 2100 band. All the GSM operators are now preparing to launch 3G in the shortest possible time. Most of them have already trained their manpower, equipped themselves with necessary hardware and software upgrades and is the last stage of commercial deployment. But as users, are we aware about 3G, its benefits and limitations? Here in today’s issue of ‘Bytes’ we take a closer look in 3G from a user’s point of view.
What is 3G?
Well, no matter however you try to google about 3G, all you are going to get is some weird definition saying 3G is third generation wireless data service plus some technical gibberish. Indeed it is true. 3G is third generation wireless service. What it means is that the service that we use now is second generation (2G). Down side of 2G is that it has much slower speed. Hence it can support audio only. But 3G generally has ten to twenty times’ higher speed than 2G. Hence it opens scope for video call, group video chat and high speed data service. It was first launched nearly thirteen years back in Japan (yup, we were still using those Nokia’s to light fire back then). In Bangladesh, 3G was first launched on trial basis at August 14, 2008 by Ericsson. That demonstration, called Alokito Bangladesh, was the first step towards 3G. With green signal from the government, it took BTRC more than 3 years to formulate guidelines, develop expert manpower and appoint consultant to guide the whole tedious process. And after jumping all those hurdles, finally the day came: 12th October, 2012. PM’s maiden video call via state owned Teletalk marked the commercial launch of 3G operation in Bangladesh.
For the geeks who want to know: the most popular form of 2G in Bangladesh is GSM and CDMA. When it comes to 3G, the most basic forms are UMTS, W-CDMA, EV-DO etc. Mehedi Zaman, an engineer of Huawei who was involved with the implementation of 3G in Teletalk and now working for Airtel’s 3G project, shares: “In Bangladesh most operators are deploying 3.5G. It comes in the following forms: HSDPA, HSPA+, Dual carrier HSDPA etc and has higher uplink and downlink speed than ‘Just 3G’; resulting phenomenal surfing experience.”
What to expect
Since it is a new service in Bangladesh, many are not totally aware of what to expect from it. The good news is most of the rumors that were floating in ether is true. You are definitely getting high speed mobile broadband and video call for sure. Not only that, it also opens a varied scope of value added service (VAS) one can subscribe to. Internet TV and internet radio are most common of all. More over other services like video caller ring back tune, video messages etc might be there too. But truly speaking, VAS totally depends on the creativity of the operators. So now comes the question what might be the speed. Yes, I know this is the most anticipated part of 3G service. Ahmm…. Well it totally depends on how your operator is planning to market its data packages. Teletalk, the state owned lone provider of 3G, has data packets of various speed slabs i.e. 256Kbps, 512 kbps and so on up to 4Mbps. Just to let you know no major operators in the world practice this approach. No speed limit- that’s what generally operators go for. The speed does vary but only depending on the devices that you are using, network strength that you are getting, weather you are in etc. Grameenphone, the market shark, is probably going to follow this approach. At least that is what it indicates from the recently uploaded FAQ in their webpage. A top level employee of Robi, requesting anonymity, said that Robi plans to launch 3.5G from the very beginning – enabling the subscribers to enjoy a 7.2 Mbps speed. Pretty good, right? Since all the operators plan to launch 3G+ technology, we can expect speed no below than 0.2Mbps (The primitive forms of 3G) and as high as 14.4 Mbps. And be sure, if you are using 1 GB of mobile internet package in your smartphones then you’re doomed. With all these speed (and provided you’re a YouTube fanatic like me) your 1GB is not going to last a week. Khaled Hafiz, a businessman and a 3G user of Mohakhali says: “Back then I had leftovers from my 1GB limit. Not anymore. Each month I now subscriber 2GB of 1 Mbps speed.” Moreover all the operators are going to have separate internet packs just for 2G (existing network). So you can choose whatever service you want.
Now comes the part about video calling. Saying your boss you are sick when in fact you are ‘chillin’ with your friends is getting a lot tougher, my dear. With the video calling feature, your handset can transmit live footage via the front camera of you phone to the other end. Depending on the network conditions the quality of the streaming might vary from perfect to grainy. But jokes aside, it is ‘the’ most premium feature in a 3G network. Thus get ready to be charged for it. And FYI you don’t need to buy any internet package to originate a video call, so data are saved for now. When you see 3G or 3.5G or even H popping up beside the network sign of your mobile’s screen, only then you are good to go for a video call. And same applies for the other end. Lastly come services like internet TVs, radios, online games. Unfortunately this totally depends on the operator and your smartphones OS. Depending on these two, you may have access to live streaming of sports broadcasts, radio channels, multiplayer online games and TV programs. The sole 3G operator in BD currently has an internet TV service with many channels. They are categorized as Live TV and IPTV. Local channels where free at first now but now they charge 25p/min. Other channels require daily, weekly or monthly subscription for a nominal fee. Moreover this service does not require any internet package either.
What not to expect
Back there we went on and on about what to expect. Now let’s have a look on what’s not going to drop on your lap. For starters, this service is pricey. How pricey? Browsing through the offerings of Teletalk and other South Asian operators, we can say is that video calls may be three to five times of a local call that you are paying now. In case of data packages, price is not that proportional. In fact what we noticed that generally after launch of 3G data services, the price of 2G data packages goes down. We estimate that 1GB price of internet should be around BDT. 250-300/-.
Handsets limitation is the most frustrating part of 3G. Stats show that only 10% handsets are 3G ready in Bangladesh. Even if one has 3G it does not mean s/he is going to get the glare of full speed.. Just know this; any device that does not support up to 21.2 Mbps is not going feel the full-fledged fury of 3G. Besides handset, coverage is going to be an issue too. If you are not residing in the capital or anywhere near the capital, then you have to wait for a while. Initially all the operators are going to launch 3G in parts of Dhaka and adjacent areas only. But thanks to a BTRC directive for 3G, all the divisional cities are going to get 3G access within 9 months of the auction.
Another concern that you might not see it coming: call congestion. Our GSM networks are nearly clogged now. And the growing number of 3G handsets in the market is going to make video calling a tad bit hard. BTRC has also expressed their concern regarding this issue, especially since none of the operators have purchased 15 MHz frequency. Though the top executives of the operators have dismissed this issue, we are still not so assured.
3G for mass (since Teletalk covers only a tiny fraction of the total subscriber base) is really going to be interesting. All of you who were clenching their fists for the tide of high speed, waiting days are almost over.
Just hang on for a couple more months!