The country has more than 3 million EVDO data card users. RCom is the biggest player in the space with more than half the market share. Despite success, CDMA operators are secretive about subscriber figures.
According to research done by Telecom Yatra, CDMA operators are adding around 2.5 lakh data card subscribers per month. Also, the absence of 3G data cards has proved to be a big factor in success story of CDMA data cards.
Amongst the CDMA operators, Reliance is the biggest player in the data card business with about 55 per cent market share, and Tata Indicom is the second with close to 35 per cent share.
On the other hand, MTS - the new operator in the space is a distant third with 2.5 lakh subscribers.
Public sector operators BSNL and MTNL, who also have CDMA networks, are only marginal players. BSNL has upped the ante and hopes to capture a bigger market share in this lucrative market.
In terms of net additions per month, both Reliance and Tata are in close competition. Both are adding one lakh customers a month with an additional 50,000 being added by MTS and the public sector operators.
In the vendor space, Chinese equipment manufacturers have captured almost the entire dongle market in India. ZTE has 43 per cent market share while Huawei has close to 55 per cent. Together they have been able to push more than 5 million dongles to operators.
The dongles business is very lucrative for CDMA operators - while their average revenue per user (ARPU) hovers at around Rs 111; ARPU for data cards is more than Rs 700.
Given the importance of the business each operator has already chalked out plans for expanding their EVDO network. RCom plans to expand its Netconnect (Its wireless internet brand) service to 600 towns and cities from the current 69 cities. MTS is also planning to take its MBLaze service to more than 100 cities. Right now it is available in 84 cities; while Tata Photon plus is available in 76 cities.
Operators are also thinking of upgrading to next generation EVDO Rev B platform which will enable them to offer speeds up to 14.3 Mbps. However, none of them have committed a time period for this upgrade.
So far, CDMA operators have had no competition from GSM operators in data connectivity from. But with the launch of 3G in the offing they will soon have to face the onslaught of HSPA data cards. Though HSPA data cards will offer similar speeds, being a GSM product can help their brand.
Kunal Bajaj, director, Analysis Mason, had a different perspective, "I don't think CDMA camp will face any threat from GSM camp in this space. It will in fact help in expanding the market. Moreover, 3G operators will also have to carry voice in this limited bandwidth available to them, so they will not be very keen on pure play dongle business, I think they will use 3G to provide better value added services".
Despite being successful, CDMA operators other than MTS refused to share the number of dongles sold by them. The probable reason for this could be the criticism from GSM operators that CDMA operators are getting unfair advantage as they are able to offer 3G services (EVDO is a 3G standard) without paying for it, While GSM operators have to pay a huge spectrum fee.
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