October 30, Kathmandu. Nepal Telecom has now started using mobile services (Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM-GMM)) in the range of ’97’ numbers. After the range of 98 was ‘occupied’, the telco has started giving GSM number in the range of 97.
Telecom was only using Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) in the range of 97. Telecom, which is preparing to discontinue CDMA technology, has been encouraging customers to switch from CDMA to GSM since last July. Now the distribution of GSM’s new SIM has also started by keeping it in the range of 97K.
Managing Director of Telecom Dilliram Adhikari says that 97 range is being used in GSM as per the permission given by Nepal Telecommunication Authority.
As per the numbering plan, GSM number is being distributed based on 976 now. Telecom was distributing numbers in GS in three ranges of 984, 985, 986.
At present, there are about 320,000 CDM users in Nepal. Telecom now plans to take them to GSM and distribute numbers to new users from a new range.
The CDMA phone was once a reliable means of communication in rural areas. Those who could not afford to buy mobile phones and SIM cards relied on CDMA phones for business purposes.
Now Nepal Telecom has come to the conclusion that this technology will not be continued. Telecom’s managing director says GSM plans to replace CDMA technology within a year.
Telecom is working on technology conversion in the towers. “Because of the changes in technology, CDMA cannot be sustained,” the official said.
CDM’s contribution is high
CDMA has a great contribution to make in providing telecommunication services in the rural areas of Nepal. According to the managing director of CDMA, the past of CDMA is ‘bright’ even though technology is not supporting it now.
According to Aryal, director of Nepal Telecommunication Authority, UTL, which started providing services in CDMA technology, has to stop the service now.
When the telco started testing CDMA technology in 2005/06, telephone technology had not yet reached most of the villages. The service has become widespread and popular since 2011 after the telco increased its investment in CDMA technology, which started as a small project.
The CDMA service had options to talk from a large set, such as a telephone, or a device like a mobile. Initially licensed on fixed line (basic telephone), the telco later started offering limited mobility services on CDMA.
At that time, CDMA phones were kept from tea to grocery stores in places where landline phones were not available. It provided business services in rural areas. There was a large number of people earning money from CDMA by raising money on a per minute basis.
CDMA phones were not an option in government offices, cooperatives, clubs and organizations in rural areas. CDMA had spread the knowledge that wireless phones can also be used in rural areas.
Former Managing Director of Nepal Telecom Buddhi Acharya says that CDMA technology has revolutionized the communication in rural areas.
However, at that time I had to walk for hours to reach the district headquarters to talk for a few minutes with my loved ones in foreign cities or cities of Nepal. “It was amazing to have a CDMA in the village at that time,” says Acharya.
He recalls that CDMA facilitated the exchange of personal and institutional information and messages in remote rural areas.
The fact that the number of CDMA phone users of Nepal Telecom has reached 1.5 million shows its importance and popularity. At that time, CDMA users were all ‘dedicated’. Now is not the time to use a number like that.
CDMA technology phones were also a bit expensive. Whoever bought it, used to have fun. Many in the villages also bought and used this phone to sell services to others.
It was only natural that CDMA should be overshadowed by new technologies. Currently, the number of CDMA users has dropped to 900,000. Telecom has also decided to ‘phase out’ it.
In 2010, the telco opted for GSM for cities and CDMA technology for rural areas, as it planned to expand wireless telephone services.
According to Acharya, former managing director of the telco, GSM was not an option as there was a lot of phone pressure in urban areas. GSM was chosen in the city as the density of phones in the city would also be higher and the BTS tower of GSM would cover a smaller area.
CDMA was effective in terms of tower network coverage. A single CDMA tower would give good coverage in an area of 10-12 kilometers. CDMA technology was expanded in rural areas to reduce phone pressure and improve network coverage.
“When we expanded CDMA, it was now called the age of GSM, but due to the geographical location of the country, it was challenging to extend GSM to villages,” says Acharya.
CDMA became effective in providing services in the hills and corners. The CDMA towers could easily pick up the GSM network to Kholsakhalsi.
The CDMA technology was promoted by Telecom under the ‘Sky’ brand. You could also get e-video (data service) from CDMA. In rural areas, dial-up internet through CDMA is also very popular.
In the phase-out phase
While CDMA was gaining popularity, private service provider company ‘Mero Mobile’ (now Ncell) started GSM service. Placed BTS in rural areas.
After that, the uphill journey of CDMA came to a halt. Telecom was also forced to take GSM service to rural areas despite the high cost. After that, both the GSM and CDMA technologies of the telecom started operating. GSM technology was preferred.
GSM did not have the hassle of ‘set fix’ with a number like CDMA. Since SIM can be inserted in any set, many people prefer it. Apart from that, people’s attention was drawn to the GSM technologies including the ability to save numbers while making phone calls.
As the global GSM phone market is booming, CDMA is becoming increasingly neglected in Nepal as well. According to a telecom engineer, CDMA technology developed in the US had less ‘feasibility’ for security. That made it even more troublesome than GSM. With the advent of advanced technology, people have lost interest in CDMA. The engineer says, “All telecommunications companies resorted to GSM because the equipment company had to pay intellectual property fees to the United States.”
Due to the emphasis on security, there was no major upgrade in this technology. CDMA technology, which supports up to 2.5G, has been overshadowed by the advent of 3G. Production of CDMA devices also began to decline. This set of technology is not available in the market.
In 2015, Nepal Telecom also set a target of displacing CDMA technology within five years. After that, not only service expansion stopped, but also additional investment stopped.
As the technology was outdated, maintenance of the towers became cumbersome without equipment and software. The manufacturing company of this technology almost stopped production as there was no market. That is why Nepal Telecom is in the process of converting its customers to GSM.
Former managing director of Telecom, Acharya Yuga, says that the technology demanded must be adopted. “CDMA has never made a loss to Telecom. Its service in rural areas has been unparalleled,” he says.