EDGE-A Stepping Stone towards 3G Technologies in Pakistan


It is widely expected that wireless data technology will be the next big thing. Pundits anticipate 100-200 % per annum growth in mobile communication and agree that wireless data services will be the key element of the organizations of the future. The enormous success of short messaging (SMS) in many countries proves that people appreciate the benefits of non-voice services.
Another excessive usage of feature like short messaging countries proves that people acknowledge the benefits of non-voice services as well. Enhanced Data Rate for Global Evolution (EDGE) is a technology that adds up the facility and capability to handle services for the third generation of mobile telephony in Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM). In simpler terms, the technology enhances the data capacity of General packet Radio Service (GPRS) three folds resulting in much faster data transfer. Hence, allowing the operators to triples the data rate for each user
Pakistan is the sixth largest populous country in the world - approximately 175 million. There are currently five mobile operators in the country. Mobile penetration at the end of 2010 was about 58.9% with a subscriber base of more than 100 million, while fixed line penetration reached 3.5% in 2010 from 2.4% in 2002. It is estimated that fixed line penetration is expected to further decrease to 2.8% by 2013, as a direct consequence of increasing use of mobile phones. Interestingly, despite this phenomenal growth rate many geographic areas in Pakistan are still without telephone coverage. Inherently, due to high mobile penetration, high growth rate within the mobile internet segment is expected. At the moment people are more concern with the text-enabled facility like SMS. Although the introduction of GPRS gave a new concept and new boost to Cellular networks but still, most consumers are not that concerned with using Internet through their mobiles. One opinion is that it is still more costly, while others argue that GPRS could not grasp the interest of users, compared to traditional mode of internet usage.If we look at the statistics, Mobilink holds the top slot with 32.64 percent of subscribers, while Telenor is at 2nd position with 24.14 percent of mobile users, Ufone is 3rd with 19.55 percent, 16.98 percent of customers base is with Warid while 6.69 percent are Zong users.
Looking at the overall scenario, the infrastructure investments Pakistan has made in the telecom space, fiber, cellular and wireless broadband, are quite incredible. Interestingly, another important aspect is of subcribers having more than one connection of different operators.  It is estimated that 23 percent share of the overall reported subscriber base use multiple SIM'S and comparing with other countries, we have the highest trend in terms of percentage among the South Asian countries. Pakistan is followed by Philippine and Sir Lanka with 19 and 16 percent of the cellular phone users having more than one SIM Thailand, Bangladaesh and India have stood at 13 percent, 10 percent and 9 percent respectively in the trend at BOP level.
Lirneasia, a research centre of IT and Telecom, stated in one of its report that multiple SIM (Subscribers Identity Module) cards ownership has been witnessing a significant trend among Pakistani customers categorised under low income group or Bottom of Pyramid (BOP) as far as utilisation of telephony services is concerned. The finding, reflected the number of mobile phone users carrying multiple SIMs cards have been estimated to increase more than 22.8 million. This trend of using multiple connections has also divided the overall revenue growth and Average Revenue per User (ARPU) of cellular operators as well.
Analyzing the technological enhancements in data capability over the core GPRS / GSM network, Edge will provide both networks with the installation of Enhanced Data for Global (GSM) Evolution technology. This component of the two systems will be installed after the initial roll-outs and will allow the subscribers to have the use of advanced mobile services such as downloading video and music clips, full multimedia messaging, high-speed color Internet access and email on the move.
A key component of the Ufone expansion is  Nortel Networks BTS 12000, designed to deliver additional capacity within a GSM/GPRS network while positioning operators to drive lower costs and to offer advanced wireless services based on third generation (3G) EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution) technology. The expansion includes Nortel Networks Passport Packet Voice Gateway (PVG).
Nortel Networks has upgraded Ufone's existing wireless systems and supplied new GSM/GPRS core network and radio access equipment, including Mobile Switching Center, Home Location Register and advance Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), for migration of TDM voice trunking to a packet-based infrastructure.
As highlighted previously, the need to reduce business risk and make the best use of existing resources is of paramount importance within today's business environment.
GSM based networks have become the standard within the cellular landscape. As EDGE is a GSM based technology and provides an enhancement for GPRS at a little additional cost, it is considered the best way in which to capitalize on existing resources.
Radio Access Network:
In most cases, GPRS enabled base stations and BSC's can be simply upgraded to EDGE  using relatively low-cost software's and hardware upgrades, this will pro-long the life cycle of the deployed RAN elements.
Core Network:
For GPRS enhancement, there is very little modification to be completed within a GPRS enabled core network, thus enhancing the sunken core network investment.
Antenna Sites:
There is no requirement for additional antenna sites, when deploying EDGE. Assuming high quality linear amplifiers with high RF output power is used within the BTS; the coverage pattern will be the same as the existing GPRS deployment, so it will protect the existing site investment.
Spectrum Utilization:
EDGE triples the GPRS data capacity, whilst using the existing GSM spectrum and offers up to three times the GPRS data rate to the end user. EDGE is spectrally the most efficient radio technology for data applications requiring up to 100Kb/s throughput (compared to CDMA and WCDMA), and only WCDMA is spectrally better for higher throughputs.
GPRS enabled applications and services will generally not require any additional investment to become EDGE compatible. This is also valid for known WCDMA applications.
Although the financial benefits of EDGE can be apportioned to individual network elements as outlined above, one of the main business drivers is that EDGE forms an essential part of the overall GSM evolution towards a seamless multi-radio GSM/ GPRS/EDGE/WCDMA network. As mentioned previously GSM is the main standard for cellular communications worldwide and the business benefits of deploying an industry standard technology can be seen in nearly every aspect of a network deployment, from end-user devices, to applications to hardware.
Operators can also experience the advantages of EDGE in following ways.
Migration to wireless multimedia services.The operators can increase data revenues by offering attractive new types applications to end-users.
Improved customer satisfaction:
Increased data capacity and higher data throughput will decrease response times for all data services, thus keeping end users satisfied and connected.
Early deployment of 3G type applications:
EDGE networks emerged in the year 2001 and have been successfully implemented in many countries, but local telecom sector has still to integrate it in their infrastructure.
Quick network implementation:
EDGE will not require any new network elements and EDGE capability can be introduced gradually into the network.
Improved quality of service:
Increased data capacity and higher data throughput will eventually satisfy the customers' need for QoS.
Personal multimedia services:
Attractive new types of applications and terminals can be integrated in the existing telecom infrastructure by implementing Edge technology.
Potentially lower price per bit:
Lower cost of data capacity for high-speed data applications gives the operator flexibility in pricing.
It seems the three access technologies i.e. CDMA, UMTS and GSM are in a tug of war, as the debate continues, EDGE seems to be nudging ahead globally. It provides an ideal solution for GSM carriers to add data capacity using limited spectrum. Keeping in view the fact that GSM supports more subscribers today, than any other access technology (roughly 65 to 70% of the global subscriber market), and that GSM/GPRS operators are scrambling to add capacity to support user growth and launch next generation data services, the increased capacity and throughput offered by EDGE becomes very compelling, specially in a market where wireless carriers must squeeze the most out of capital outlays - past and future, it is no real surprise that we are going to see a renewed wave of interest in EDGE from our GSM customers.
Today, the position of EDGE as an evolution of GSM is clear. Initially, promoted as an alternative to WCDMA and generally a niche technology, EDGE is now regarded as a key enabler for GSM/EDGE and WCDMA operators alike. Being able to drive business value from existing GSM infrastructure and spectrum is one of the main advantages, and along-with the ability of EDGE to reduce CAPEX, time-to-market and time-to-revenue, with regards the delivery of global high-speed data services, EDGE is a must technology.
The cellular companies working in Pakistan did not have the license for the EDGE till 2004. Norwegian based telecom operator, Telenor, won the license for covering GSM, GPRS and EDGE technology and Telenor was the first operator to introduce Edge in Pakistan. In Phase 1, Nokia signed a deal for three years to operate the GSM/GPRS and EDGE network to cover the central and Northern Punjab regions. NSN also signed a deal to build a GSM / GPRS / EDGE network to cover the southern areas of Pakistan, centered around Islamabad. Despite a comprehensive launch and a strong marketing strategy by Telenor, Edge has not caught on with the Pakistani cell users.
It is possible that in near future more awareness is created and users develop interest in this technology. Although, the use of GPRS is growing and is becoming an important source of revenue for cellular companies, integration of Edge by other telecom service providers will provide more efficient mode of date transfer and internet usage, while also minimizing the cost of up gradation and deployment.