RCom, Reliance Jio joint 4G network up in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka

rcom-4gReliance Communications, which has diverted its CDMA spectrum to launch its upcoming 4G service, and its partner Reliance Jio have managed to get their new joint network up and running in southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the last one week.

The two have created a joint 4G network on the 850 MHz band, popularly known as band 5.

Reliance Jio users are now able to access this band in southern states, indicating that Reliance Communications — owned by Anil Ambani — will soon be able to launch its 4G services in these states.

Meanwhile, the areas where RCom has officially launched its LTE services has reached 8 this week, with the addition of UP West, Delhi, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to the list published on its website.

Tariffs remain more or less the same in these new circles compared to the those in the first states where the company launched its LTE services.

RCom started switching off its CDMA networks around two months ago, but managed to get its 4G services up and running only around ten days ago. The delay has caused much consternation among users.

The last four states to undergo the migration — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Rajasthan — have been spared most of the problems due to the presence of MTS — an arm of RCom — in these places. As a result, RCom CDMA subscribers have been roaming on MTS’ CDMA networks for the last 40 days or so. (MTS subscribers will also soon be moved to RCom’s 4G network in the coming weeks.)

Users in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Rajasthan have been waiting anxiously to try out RCom’s new LTE service. Most of them bought new SIMs around two weeks ago.

With band 5 going live in these states, Reliance Communications will be able to launch its 4G services in these places in another two weeks, completing its national upgrade and roll-out by the end of July.

SPEED: POSSIBLE BOTTLENECKS

Though initial impressions from band 5 LTE has been positive, RCom and Jio could face issues related to congestion in some circles where they have only 5 MHz of spectrum in band 5.

In some circles like Mumbai, the two have 5 MHz each, or 10 MHz in total. But in others like Kerala, the 850 MHz band has been constructed with a total of 5 MHz only.

This results in lower data speeds compared to other bands.

Compared to bandwidth of 30-50 Mbps on band 40 (operated by Jio and Airtel), band 5 is likely to offer practical speeds of only 2-8 Mbps in areas where only one carrier (5 MHz) is in use.

Moreover, band 5 has the best propagation characteristics. This means that its signal will be the strongest among the three bands on which Jio is present.

Since handsets are currently tuned to latch on to the strongest signal, many of Jio’s subscribers automatically end up on band 5, especially in rural areas where signal strength for the other two bands — 3 and 40 — can be noticeably different. Worse, at present there is no way for a user to move back to other bands.

And things could get worse now that RCom’s CDMA upgrade customers are also ready to join the party on band 5. Effective bandwidths (speeds) could see a further downward trend.

It may, however, be possible for the companies to switch their subscribers to bands 3 and 40 by using software — either at the network level or at the SIM level.

RCom, meanwhile, will continue to add more spectrum to its LTE network. In addition to adding MTS’ 3.75 MHz to its band 5 service, RCom is also likely to create a new band 3 4G network using spectrum from Aircel — another company it’s merging with — in the next 2-3 months. RCom and Aircel are expected to announce their merger any day now.
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