Reliance Communications, the telecom service from Anil Ambani Group, has started the process of moving its CDMA subscribers in four remaining circles — Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Rajasthan — to its GSM network.
Once moved to the GSM network, these subscribers will be able to use RCom’s 4G network when it becomes operational.
Customers in these circles have started getting SMS messages urging them to ‘upgrade’ to 4G by calling 1299.
However, it should be noted that ‘upgrade to 4G’ does not work at one go and the process involves quite a bit of waiting.
First, Reliance Communications has to move its subscribers from CDMA to GSM, then shut down the CDMA network, then create a new 4G network using the same spectrum, fine tune and finally move the original subscribers to the new 4G network.
Going by the experience in places like Mumbai and Delhi, this involves service disruptions stretching for days together.
However, in these four states, RCom has the option of keeping its CDMA services running by relying on MTS’ spectrum. RCom is in the process of integrating MTS’ operations in India after having acquired the company.
Eventually, it is known, RCom is likely to shut down MTS’ CDMA service and divert its 3.75 MHz spectrum to its LTE network to increase the capacity of the latter. However, to avoid a breakdown in communications as seen in some places, the company could do this in a two-step process.
According to local sources, RCom has already switched off its own CDMA network and is using MTS’ CDMA infrastructure to support its users as well.
PAN INDIA RELIANCE 4G
With the introduction of 4G services to these four circles, Reliance Communications will have set the ball rolling to migrate its users to LTE in all its 21 CDMA licensing areas.
What remains to be seen is how successful the company is at retaining voice customers after the switch to the new network.
Voice accounts for about 70% of RCom’s service revenues in India and retaining voice customers is crucial to the company’s financial health.
However, CDMA voice customers will remain with the company only if it is able to ensure that the new GSM+4G network also has a comparable network coverage.
As of now, RCom’s GSM coverage is not comparable to its CDMA coverage.
The company is trying to fix the problem in two ways. First, it is expanding its 2G and 3G network. Second, it will eventually start offering voice on its 4G service (though initially voice is being offered only through 2G and 3G.)
The crucial question for the company, and its customers, is how fast it is able to put these plans into action.