Mon, 04 Sep 2000

Indonesia in no hurry over 3G spectrum: Official

By Christiani Tumelap

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia still needs more time to introduce the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), although some developed countries are now rushing toward the use of the so called 3G, or third-generation wireless spectrum.

Post and Telecommunications Director General Sasmito Dirdjo said there was no need to make a leap to 3G because the country's cellular market, although growing rapidly in terms of users, had absorbed only the facade of the current 2G technology.

"No need to rush. Maybe in the future, say in 2004, do we make the decision on when to adopt 3G," he told The Jakarta Post over the weekend.

The third generation of cellular technology will provide cell- phone users with high-speed access to the Internet and other broadband multimedia contents.

He said he did not agree with some cell-phone makers' perception that introducing the 3G wireless technology in less developed cellular markets like Indonesia would speed up the growth in the country's cellular market.

"We can't stop technology. But, global telecoms companies will avoid investing such expensive technology in a nascent and undeveloped mobile internet market, because it offers them no good return," he said.

Sasmito said Indonesia would not force itself to follow other countries, which are now in the process of offering licenses to local or worldwide operators either through auctions or beauty contests.

He said it would be premature for the government to figure how many 3G licenses would be issued and how to distribute them.

Germany and Britain made headlines recently with their auctions for 3G licenses, which had earned them huge proceeds of US$46 billion and $34 billion respectively.

Norway and Sweden have followed suit. And the U.S. is also getting in on the act, preparing for an auction that is expected to raise between $45 billion and $56 billion.

Japan, however, will actually lead the global 3G hype with its rolling out of the world's first commercial 3G operation in May next year. It has already awarded 3G network licenses to its three incumbent operators for free.

Korea is expected to launch its 3G commercial service next year and Singapore at the end of 2002.

An executive of the Indonesian Association of Cellular Telecommunications Operators, Rudiantara, said Indonesia would be very unrealistic if it pushed itself toward the 3G wireless spectrum while most of its current 2.9 million cell-phone users are still in the early stages of learning about 2G technology.

"We're still far from 3G," he said.

He said Indonesia was currently at the stage of 2G+ after the introduction of wireless application protocol (WAP) technology and WAP phones late last year.

WAP enables cell-phone users to browse simple and condensed data accessed from the Internet through their phones.

Despite the immense marketing gimmicks for WAP launched by major mobile-phone makers, only a few users here who have bought WAP-enabled phones really utilized and subscribed to WAP services provided by local operators.

Rudiantara estimated that out of the country's 2.9 million cell-phone users, only 5,000 to 7,000 at the most used and subscribed to the service.

"In the end, all the gimmicks only benefit mobile-phone makers. They sold huge numbers of WAP phones, but only a small number really use the features," he said, adding that Singapore had also seen slow growth in the use of WAP service despite the impulsive sales of the phones.

He attributed the slow growth of WAP use here to the fact that Indonesia was lacking in broadband cellular network, which was necessary to enable the high speed transmission of data and voice.

He said the limited bandwidth for cellular network has resulted in customers preferring to browse the Internet through their PCs, which offer 24 kilobytes speed, rather than their WAP phones, which were only capable of transmitting voice and simple data at 9.6 kilobytes per second.

The hesitation to use WAP features is also due to the fact that there are hardly any local Internet content providers offering WAP-compliant contents.

Indonesia is about a step up to 2.5G, the more advanced version of the second-generation technology, in line with the initial introduction of General Packet Radio Switch (GPRS).

GPRS efficiently handles any data rate up to 115 kilobytes per second, making it suitable for all types of transmission from low-speed short messages to the higher speeds needed for browsing complex web pages with high graphic content. It also allows users to receive voice calls simultaneously with data calls.

The first GPRS phones are scheduled to enter the market at the end of this year.

The number of cell-phone users in Indonesia is expected to reach 3.2 million this year, up from 2.05 million recorded in 1999.