CDMA Internet Dongles: The Future looking bleak!


In the present scenario, internet in India is in a dismal state. Especially, if we consider the condition of countries like Japan or even in Europe. Now, I do not see, in the near future conditions improving all of a sudden, but with the advent of 3G and 4G, good internet speeds are within our grasps at least. Broadband too has improved its speed along with the times.

The adoption of portable internet (if I may use the term) in India has been far greater than broadband though. CDMA dongles especially have found a lot of followers. In the era of GPRS, these gave high speed internet on the go and almost every company that provided internet was giving it, be it BSNL’s EVDO, Tata Photon Plus, Reliance Netconnect or MTS Mblaze. These are all CDMA internet services that have served India well over the past few years.

cdma dongles

With 3G though, the fastest speed that can be provided on the go changed. While these dongles can give upto 3.1 Mbps speeds, 3G offers speeds of 3.6 Mbps and above. Also, Android added functionality called tethering (aka portable hotspot) which ensured that this 3G can be used by a person in the laptop while the phone is using 3G. I have myself used the 3G of my phone to use internet on my laptop on numerous occasions.

As the prices have fallen, 3G has become competitive enough with CDMA. For 4 GB of data for example, in airtel, I have to pay Rs.750. In Tata Photon Plus, for Rs. 850 one gets 5 GB.

I do not know about other areas but in my experience I have found that 3G services overall provide better speeds than CDMA in most of the areas I have tested. Thus, the charm of a CDMA connection fades. Even the companies have started providing 3G dongles. Also, one advantage of 3G over CDMA that I found was that because of tethering, more than one connection can be served by the 3G connection. This is in my knowledge not possible in CDMA connection. Even where possible (like making ad-hoc in Windows), it is shabby at best.

Additionally, today there are 3G routers available that can be used just by inserting the 3G sim-cards. I know of many small start-up companies who are utilizing this setup to get internet connection. It is probably the fastest way to get high-speed internet connection at your home or small office.

Recently, Airtel launched a shared data plan scheme which will ensure that families utilize the same plan which might push even the family members not using 3G jump the ships. The fear of expanding bills will after all be controlled by their more tech friendly family members.

Also, people who own tablets might use this as it will ensure that they do not have to pay twice for the two devices. These are just the uses that come to my mind. The point is that with such services coming along with better speeds, I see that soon, people will start forgetting the CDMA connections.

And now, we have 4G sniffing the air. It is nowhere near adoption but when it comes CDMA will only be a past.

  1. Kunal Prakash says

    First thing, thanks for giving so much attention to details. i appreciate that.

    Second, I am not against CDMA but am giving you what CDMA is in India right now. In US, Verizon uses CDMA technology for internet and is one of the biggest (and considered best) network. I know CDMA is a good technology. Its implementation in India is what I am mentioning. The telecom companies are placing their bets on 3G. You can not ignore that.

    As for the speed, I am not saying that 3G in India gives the speeds that are theoretically possible but they are currently the best mobile speeds out their in India.
    And to be honest, numbers are good but they do not beat user experience. And this you must agree with me, whatever be the reason, 3G experience is better than CDMA. And the final victory of network will be based on users and users alone. This has been shown time and again whenever there has been a technological clash, it is not the technology that is better that wins but which wins the heart of the users. Be it VHS over Betamax or Windows over Linux or Android over iOS.

    1. Manas Ganguly says

      @Kunal – No offense meant to you. And yes – I am not in direct support of CDMA as a long term option.

      The point i drive is that CDMA has limited scope because of very different factors than what you mention. It is a closed propreitary technology, there are multiplier effects of the eco-system, there is an economy of scale, there is spectrum availabilities, business cases/ CAPEX/OPEX and the realization per unit data/voice.To me these are root issues and what you have described(speeds, user experience, technology clash) are outliers and effects.

      The analysis you presented was only based on outliers and effects – not on the root causes.

      1. Kunal Prakash says

        Hey, Not offended at all mate. You are right, the reason why the service is like this is important. I was focusing on what will happen because the service is like this.

  2. Manas Ganguly says

    Hi Kunal

    The content is rather amateurish – and here are my pointers for more meaningful content:

    1. Internet in India is not in Dismal state. India is top 5 in terms of Internet penetration absolute numbers and has registered a 41% CAGR on penetration growth. You must have to qualify “dismal” by the speeds in connection.
    2. Good internet speed is a function of TELCO CAPEX and roll outs are contingent on Spectrum availability and pricing. You don’t seem to consider that is important.
    3. What is claimed as speed is one thing – Data thru put per unit is another. So 28Mbps 3G is claimed, but network clogging and inefficient roll outs limit data thru puts at 200kbps (which donot qualify as mobile broadband by the way)
    4. Mobile tethering is technology agnostic. It is device dependent. CDMA is compatible with tethering. Try any EVDO Android phone and you will stand corrected.
    5. I am not sure if you know this – but wave propagation characteristics @ CDMA make it a better data propagation medium than GSM/3G
    6. From a Telco perspective, EVDO is a OPEX light medium because of the fact that EVDO operates in 800-850MHz spectrum. In terms of technology and in terms of OPEX, EVDO is a better “data only” medium.
    7. Billing services such as family Plans is a not a technology capability – it is OSS/BSS system capability and it is only time before all operators have that.
    8. If you were writing about 3G, you ought to have mentioned the 3G – you ought to have touched upon the GSM eco-system which is one of the strongest factors for GSM/3G.
    9. On an ending note – may I suggest that you should study the technology evolution charts for GSM and CDMA and the characteristics of every consequent technology cycle.

    These are top of the mind reflections on your musings. A little more rigor in what you write and how you write it will help.

    1. Arun Prabhudesai says

      @Manas Thanks for your insightful comment. I do not understand some of the technical words / acronyms / abbreviations you mentioned, but you points are well considered. In defense of @kunal, I would still say that I agree with him. Let me bring out some points…

      State of Internet is dismal in India, it is a fact. I am talking about speed, I am talking about infrastructure, I am talking about penetration. Even though, in absolute numbers, India ranks among the top countries (due mobile internet.. see this the penetration considering our population is extremely low. less than 8% I would say..

      Yes, Telco Capex are important, but the point here is from the end-user perspective only… The bottom line that Kunal wanted to mention was that with 3G smartphones becoming a norm, tethering would be a viable option rather than going in for a separate CDMA dongle.

      Whatever said and done, CDMA is a older technology than 3G. And with 4G around the corner, will Telecom operators still stick to CDMA…

      Talking about spectrum, the Government dropped the prices of CDMA spectrum by half and still there are no takers..

      Although, Kunal needed to put little bit research in his article, I think the point he is trying to make is very valid…

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