Sunday, August 05, 2007

CDMA- the future of communication


Written by Rebecca Wanjiku

Considering just how good the news seems, it is astounding just how poorly the messengers are telling it. The drastic discounts and improved product that Telkom Kenya has put on the market may well represent a revolution.

If this was Celtel or Telkom's prettier cousin Safaricom, Nairobi and the countryside would have been swooning in a deluge of colours and a cacophony of promotions, but this is Telkom Kenya even in 2007.

The most noise we have heard about the new service has been from the company's competitors, and specifically Celtel who are feeling increasingly like the third wheel in the love fest that is Kenya's mobile phone industry. With a market estimated at 9 million subscribers, 2.2 million of whose are Celtel's, the colossal profits should be a sufficient palliative even as Celtel await the adjudication of the Communications Commission (CCK). Celtel's complaint has been that the national fixed line operator does not have the unified licence that would allow it to operate both fixed lines and mobile networks. It also complains about Telkom's exemption from the 10% excise duty and the fact that it did not suffer the Ksh. 55 million that Celtel did on entry into the market. Telkom counters that it does indeed have such licences, being as it was in the market long before the invention of Celtel and Safaricom, but also that its service is not mobile but merely a fixed service with portable handsets.

As the CCK mulls over the issue, Director Waweru has in the past made statements that would seem to confirm Telkom's self-assessment, Celtel - who are bringing their world headquarters to Nairobi from the Netherlands and Safaricom- East Africa's fattest fat cat, would do well to consider just how lucky they are that Telkom Kenya are such poor marketers.

Telkom's CDMA technology ,which allows its subscribers to make landline calls as though they were cell phone calls, gets as cheap as 5/- a minute for inter-network calls) on some tarrifs, a world of difference from the 8/- which is Safaricom's cheapest per minute rate. This 5/- rate is for preferrred numbers, with other calls from a Telkom wireless number to another going at 5/50 a minute. SMS is dispensed at 2/50 again a big difference from the 3/50 t0 5/- range that dominates the market. For those with eager thumbs, this is a godsend as the 2/50 is only available in Safaricom's Saasa tarrif at off-peak hours. Telkom even have a tarrif, the aptly named Furaha that allows you to call any network, anytime, at a flat rate of 14/-. In addition, and this is perhaps what is fuelling the rage at the mobile phone operators, the Telkom charges do not depend on geographical proximity as is the case with ordinary landlines. Whether a call is connected between Mandera and Isebania, or Lodwar and Vanga the charges remain constant.

The new Telkom service, built on CDMA technology is key to a future where fixed line companies will see their copper-networks rendered obsolete by advances in technology. Further, the CDMA technologies are vital to a future where consumers will use their phones for more than just phone calls and text messages. In this exciting new world, with intensive internet browsing, games, music and movie downloads, streaming and other bandwidth hungry services in high demand, CDMA will finally triumph over the GSM technology that both Celtel and Safaricom are built on. So it is not just It is not just low prices that come with Telkom. The CDMA network is superior for data transfer with nominal maximum download speeds of about 2 MB. The normal speeds are somewhere in the region of 700 Kbps which is still much higher than you can hope to achieve on a GSM phone. CDMA consistently provides better capacity for voice and data communications than other commercial mobile technologies, allowing more subscribers to connect at any given time, and it is the common platform on which 3G technologies - which allow the use of data, video and voice at the same time-are built.

The technology which is the basis of the networks in South Korea and Japan's advanced status, is described as a "spread spectrum" technology, allowing many users to occupy the same time and frequency allocations in a given band/space. It assigns unique codes to each communication to differentiate it from others in the same spectrum, or as a smart one on Wikipedia put it

As a trivial comparison imagine a cocktail party, where couples are talking to each other in a single room. The room represents the available bandwidth. In GSM, a speaker takes turns talking to a listener. The speaker talks for a short time and then stops to let another pair talk. There is never more than one speaker talking in the room, no one has to worry about two conversations mixing. In CDMA, any speaker can talk at any time; however each uses a different language. Each listener can only understand the language of their partner. As more and more couples talk, the background noise (representing the noise floor) gets louder, but because of the difference in languages, conversations do not mix.

The future then is bright for the Kenyan consumer. In the ensuing price wars, we cn fantasise about improved services and maybe even free talktime, free sms and other such services. The religious can also seek intercessionary aid on the matter of cell phone prices. The CDMA handsets are currently retailing for as little as Ksh 4,000 although these are really rudimentary, lacking many of the little conveniences that GSM phones had made us accsutomed to.

As regards tarrifs, already, if you are brave enough, Celtel's Mambo 6 service allows you to speak for as little as 6/- between 11.00pm and 5.00am. On its Uhuru Umoja tarrif, you can go for a 16/- flat rate. On Safaricom's Super Taifa, after an initial two minutes charged at 20/- each, one can enjoy a pleasing 10/- per minute flat rateBoth mobile phone providers are also keen to boost up their GSM, and have launched EDGE services especially with a view to boosting GPRS speeds.

Outside Kenya? You can now get far more minutes on your calls home if the other end is a Telkom wireless one. The minutes on your calling card will double or even triple, and you needn't wait for the evening to call the house anymore.

3 comments:

home to find it said...

This is a great article!
Im digging it.

Anonymous said...

Awasome!As an IT guy, I was really fascinated with your indepth analysis of CDMA technology.

Rebecca,this is the way to go, we need many unemployed graduates(from colleges and universities)to embrace these new technologies and start up their own firms -- which will certainly contribute grossly to the Kenyan economy in the long run.

Keep it up

Maroa

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