Motorola to Expand GPRS Network in India

Motorola India Ltd. is negotiating with a few local cellular operators to use a new global technology that allows faster and permanent Internet access via mobile phones, a senior company official has said.

“Our market research indicates that the demand for mobile data services in India will initially be limited to the larger metros,” said Pramod Saxena, executive director and general manager of Motorola’s South Asia Network Solutions Division.

“We are in talks with Orange for the Bombay, New Delhi and Calcutta circles and Spice Telecom for Punjab and Karnataka to install GPRS on their existing cellular networks,” Saxena told Reuters in an e-mail interview.

A Steppingstone to 3G

GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service technology, is a steppingstone to third-generation mobile networks that allows higher data transmission rates.

Motorola has already rolled out GPRS to BPL Mobile, one of the two cellular operators in India’s financial capital, Bombay.

“We are optimistic of more orders from other cellular operators in the near future,” Saxena said.

Motorola India is a 100 percent subsidiary of Motorola Inc. of the United States, the world’s No. 2 mobile phone maker.

GPRS features “always-on” capability, which is expected to make wireless Internet access faster and easier. Mobile phone carriers in Asia and Europe are in the early stages of rolling out GPRS.

Globally, second-generation phones using industry standard WAP, or Wireless Application Protocol, have not been popular because of the relatively long time they take to connect.

“GPRS will allow WAP-enabled Internet services in a packet environment at higher speed to make the services more cost effective,” Saxena said.

GPRS users will be charged only when data is downloaded — not while it is displayed on a user’s handset.

Motorola’s rivals Sweden’s Ericsson (LMEb.ST) and Finnish Nokia are in the process of launching GPRS phones.

Cellular Subscribers Grow Strongly

GPRS is being launched in India just as the domestic cellular subscriber market grows rapidly.

“The wave of mobility finally seems to be sweeping across the nation. After a dismal start and over projected growth figures, the numbers are finally rolling in,” Saxena said.

He said India had more than doubled its cellular subscriber base to nearly 2.9 million by November, from a year ago.

“Looking ahead, we believe cellular subscriptions are going to grow faster and we could see around three million more subscribers being added in 2001.”

India’s cellular subscriber base was, however, just about 10 percent of the basic subscriber base of around 27 million and a fraction of China’s 70 million subscribers, Saxena said.

GPRS is not expected to boost cellular subscriptions soon because of the high initial costs involved.

“That is because we expect most operators to offer this as a value added service to high-end customers. However as more applications are used on GPRS, the usage will increase and costs will come down,” Saxena said.