What will 3G mean for you

Gear up for 3G life. A far more meaningful retailing, socialising, banking, blogging, movie watching and more will come your way via3G mobile services.

The mobile value-added services (MVAS) players are going all out to offer content, which, to say the least, will change social habits forever.

So, be it your favourite Saas Bahu serial last night or Sachin swinging his bat, you can catch it all up while on way to office. Or, you could make a video call to your boss to tell him you are caught in the traffic jam (some things just may not change!).

Be it TV, matrimony, classifieds or job interviews, most Web content may be ported to the mobile phone, once 3G kicks in by mid-2009. The $2-billion MVAS sector is now gearing up for just that.

The 3G bonanza, which will offer very high-speed mobile wireless services (@384 kbps while in a moving car to 2 mbps while walking or stationary) is all set to kick off a new ecosystem in mobile advertising, mobile TV and mobile content.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has launched the state-run Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd's (MTNL) third generation (3G) mobile service 'Jaadu' in Delhi.

While MTNL has rolled out its 3G services only in Delhi, BSNL will launch its services in Chennai next month.

Here's looking into what 3G will mean for you as a consumer.

What exactly is 3G
3G is short for third-generation mobile telephony services.

3G phones work in higher bandwidths of 15-20 MHz. Currently mobile phones work on 2G or 2.5G, and use 30-200 KHz bandwidth.

Bandwidth is a measure of the width of a range of frequencies used while transferring data from one point to another and is measured in hertz.

2G Vs 3G services
3G represents the next step in the evolution of mobile telephony, offering markedly greater capacity and efficiency than the current 2G systems.

While 2G is focused on voice, 3G supports high-speed data of at least 144 kbps enabling broadband internet access on the mobile, and "triple play" features like mobile TV and converged communication services.

Similarly, 3G will allow operators to enhance their capacities for voice traffic as well. Currently, key operators are facing severe 2G spectrum crunch in top 20-30 cities which is hampering their future growth. As the government has indicated that it has limited spectrum left for 2G services.

Also, while 3G is good for data services, it is also three times more efficient than current technologies in packing in subscribers.

What can you do with 3G
3G services will give mobile users high-quality voice transmission and access to high-end data applications on their mobile phones, including broadband Internet access, interactive gaming and download movies, video clips and music. The can also enjoy other multimedia features such as video conferencing, mobile TV etc.

For example, a user will be able to download a 3-minute song in approximately 15 seconds with 3G. This compares to 8 minutes usually required in existing mobile technologies.

This will help mobile players to offer high-end value-added services like movie downloads, mobileTV, etc to prop up their ARPUs (average realisation per user). Presently, Indian mobile operators generate only 7-10 per cent of their revenue from non-voice services, primarily dominated by SMSes.

How much will it cost
All impressed? But then as they say good things don't come cheap. In many countries, subscribers saw a 50 per cent jump in their monthly phone bills when they switched from the normal 2G to 3G services.

MTNL is not charging extra for the service introduced today as it wants its customers to get a feel of 3G's capabilities. Eventually, there will be a commercial tariff plan announced, and the registration will start after the commercial launch -- a couple of months from now.

According to analysts, for 3G the cell towers need to be closer to each other, needing additional infrastructure cover. So, the early adopters are likely to be paying a high premium to use the service. Though in the long run too, the 3G service is not likely to get much cheaper. They suggest that data plans may start at Rs 599 (limited data) and go up to Rs 2,000 for unlimited data plans.

Not only this, many consumers will need to upgrade their handsets to avail 3G services. The starting price for a 3G-enabled handset is about Rs 6,000, compared to an entry-level phone of Rs 700.

3G mobiles, pricing...
According to analysts, one of the key hurdles in switching to 3G services for users can be the initial cost of upgrading to a superior handset. Presently, about 15-20 per cent of the mobile phones in India are 3G-ready.

However, now with 3G services only six months away, mobile phone makers are reportedly ready to offer handsets for as less as Rs 3500. Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies is said to be in talks with Indian GSM operators to introduce a 3G entry-level phone between $80-100.

Other mobile manufacturers like LG and Motorola too foresee a fall in 3G handset prices.

Motorola currently has three 3G models priced between Rs 14,000-19,000

WiMax threat
Though presently, there seems to be a scramble for 3G services, the service faces a big threat in another technology called WiMax. The evolving technology offers data download speeds 10-30 times faster than 3G.

Also, while WiMax can provide similar services such as 3G, the technology still has to establish itself as a global standard. Globally, only a few operator have deployed WiMax giving higher economies of scale to 3G technologies. However, WiMax enjoys strong backing from companies like Intel, Motorola and Nortel. .

So, though as a consumer, you may choose between the two, telcos would probably want to offer both. .

The telecom minster A Raja said that government will also auction WiMax services. The reserve price for these services has been set at 25 per cent of that of 3G. Initially, about three licences would be offered, which will be doubled later depending on the vacation of the spectrum by Defence.