Data War: is CDMA Player MTS Losing the Game?

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CDMA is dying in India – post MNP thousands of customers moved out from CDMA networks (mostly Reliance and Tata Docomo) and joined GSM networks. Country’s only pure-play CDMA operator MTS India, the telecom service brand of Sistema Shyam Teleservices is the sole savior of CDMA in the country. But are they taking right moves to make CDMA popular?

MTS India

Probably they are not, so main 7 concerns I find MTS should look after with the company’s main focus on data (voice enabled data centric strategy).

#1 3G Data Tariffs Are Falling

When Reliance cuts down 3G tariff, many said it's just marketing gimmick. Yes it is. But when BSNL starts offering 3G at 2G rates Reliance can not revert back to earlier tariff, even other 3G players have to follow this rule in coming days.

GSM rules in India and with 3G tariff falling MTS, being the sole CMDA player is at a great threat.

#2 3G Networks Are Expanding Fast

CDMA has the advantage of wide coverage, thanks to 800MHz compared to 3G's 2100MHz. But 3G players are expanding their networks in a wide basis. Idea has quite good coverage that is even more than CDMA players in certain circles.

MTS has EVDO Rev A 3.1Mbps BTS in most places, and only in Rajasthan they launched 9.8Mbps EVDO Rev B services in 5 cities. While GSM players have 7.2Mbps BTS in most places and maximum speed they are offering 21 Mbps at some places. And most importantly Mblaze Ultra services (9.8Mbps) are limited to dongles only.

#3 EVDO/HSD Data Plans Are Confusing

MTS has messed in HSD data plan offerings in a big way. At first they are offering unified plans in West Bengal and Kolkata – depending upon your device you can get HSD or 1x data. But later they stopped accessing HSD network and those packs are now only for 1x data. Funny and most irritating part is MTS does not allow activating HSD on the customers who are not buying MTS smartphones; using other smartphones.

There are several high speed data packs from MTS, some plans are from some selected MTag phones and even customer care cannot confirm if a new pack is launched for a specific smartphone.

Already different tariffs are there for MTS data packs: 1X, smartphones, HSD Packs for prepaid, Mblaze. Ensuing Rev.B will also add a new data pack structure. These all create much confusion.

There is no logic in their data offerings - STV191 offers 1 GB HSD data, STV 195 offers 1.5GB HSD data + 100 mins Local+STD callings; STV 193 offers 600 HSD MB data; STV391 offers 1GB HSD data + 1x unlimited (as offered in Kolkata, as per MTS India’s website). There should be unified data packs for smartphones and dongles, if not at least universal data plans for all HSD customers.

They need to allow mobile users to use affordable 1x n evdo packs in their mobile without changing the default tariffs. In fact, there shouldn’t be any restriction in changeover between 2G and 3G. While simple recharges for 2G or 3G can change tariff structure in GSM, it is highly restricted in MTS.

#4 Scope of Using Imported Smartphones Are Limited 

MTS does not allow imported RUIM-less smartphones, no programming (MEID registration not possible) can be done, no micro/mini OMH RUIM card are provided so far. Reliance and Tata, other two CDMA operators in India offers easy route to use imported RUIM-less smartphones on their networks.

You can use MTS if the imported CDMA handset supports OMH RUIM cards, if it has a micro/mini RUIM slot, you have to cut your RUIM to fit in the slot.

#5 Mtag Smartphones Are Not that Catchy

MTS have their own smartphone series under MTag. There are several MTag smartphones but they are not well-equipped to catch the young generation who are mostly using smartphones. MTag phones are shipped with outdated Android version, slower processors and older hardwares and most importantly they are from litte-known companies.

These phones are often over-priced compared to other handsets available in the market, both CDMA and GSM.

With MTS’s flagship product loosing importance after GSM 3G’s tariff revisions, it is their need of the hour to concentrate more on mobile internet. To make themselves competitive against other operators and also Reliance Jio’s 4G, MTS should have a long-term plan, should go for a joint venture with good handset manufacturers like Samsung to have handsets of all ranges, single RUIM and double, with and without data.

#6 Investment on Rolling out Rev B Phase II – Logical Step?

MTS is keen to roll out Rev B phase II service in phased manner to other circles apart from Rajasthan, while the company gets the 3rd carrier channel of 1.25MHz band from Govt of India. But at the same time MTS has plans to roll out LTE on the same spectrum, and that would be LTE-FDD which has more mature ecosystem than TD-LTE. Rev B-II will be limited to dongles and dongles are getting outdated these days (discussed later).

I doubt how many customers opt for Rev B services, be it Tata Docomo Photon Max or MTS Mblaze Ultra. I believe the number is very small. Customers are getting similar speed on 3G/HSPA by paying less.

No one will opt costly Rev.B because while Vodafone and Airtel HSPA are giving more speed with same tariff of Mblaze Rev.A. The ensuing Rev.B launch may create more confusion among existing Mblaze subscribers who will need to buy new modems which will cost them extra. If MTS replaces the old modems with new Rev.B ones free of cost, then there is a chance of gaining over the GSM players.

At this stage I don’t see any logic on spending on Rev B-II roll out, rather they should expand their existing Rev A networks to many new places to beat the mobile broadband coverage by 3G operators. And they should start trials for LTE on their spectrum and should consider buying 1800MHz spectrum in coming days for LTE/4G services as FDD-LTE over 1800MHz is the most popular ecosystem for 4G across the globe.

#7 Dongles Are Outdated these days

These days all Android smartphones and other smartphones can be doubled as WiFi routers to create WiFi Hotspot to share internet from smartphone to WiFi enabled laptops, netbooks, and tablets. So carrying another device is not needed.

Dongles are getting outdated and therefore there is meaning to roll out Rev B-II networks. Otherwise MTS should look for bringing Rev B-II supported smartphones, but these phones will be costlier than 42Mbps DC-HSPA supported GSM smartphones.

Voice Mishap – Voice of MTS Customers (of West Bengal)

As I made the story on SSTL’s data strategy, I talked with my friends as well as Telecomtalk readers of my circle (Kolkata and WB). They informed me that MTS is losing its shine on voice front also. Network expansion is halted even after high customer load and having break-even in West Bengal. In district towns GSM operators offer 3G with quite good speed while HSD/EVDO services from MTS is deteriorating day by day.

MTS customers also complain of improperly informed customer care services of MTS. They also said often one text message is triggered many times over the network, and no proper sms acknowledge is delivered.

Special Thanks to Avishek Ghosh & Sougata Dhar Chowdhury


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