Home >Companies >Telecom firms bet on 3G wingles to get more high-speed data users

Mumbai: Wireless operators offering 3G services in various circles are looking to net more high-speed data users with 3G ‘wingles’—tiny USB-powered devices offering download speeds of up to 21.6 Mbps, which can connect up to ten devices simultaneously through Wi-Fi.

The wingles can be plugged into any USB-based charger, such as a laptop, smartphone charger or the USB port on a car stereo. Unlike earlier dongles which could connect a single device to the Internet at a slower speed, the new high-speed wingles offering connectivity to more devices are set to charge up the stagnant dongle market.

Last week alone, three telecom companies launched such wingles, including Idea Cellular Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd and Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd.

Tata DoCoMo, the CDMA arm of Tata Teleservices Ltd, had started the wingle rush last November, offering speeds of 9.3-21.6 Mbps in select circles, connecting up to five devices simultaneously.

Idea Cellular’s ‘Smart Wifi’ 3G dongle offers speeds of up to 21.6 Mbps, an inbuilt Wi-Fi antenna to convert the device into a Wi-Fi hotspot, and the ability to connect up to 10 devices simultaneously.

At its launch, Sashi Shankar, chief marketing officer, Idea Cellular, said: “The device caters to the need for reliable, high-speed, and convenient Internet access for business professionals in semi-urban pockets of the country. It also strengthens our 3G devices portfolio which will help us gain 3G market share in the country."

Airtel also launched its 3G-powered Huawei Wi-Fi dongle for Mumbai and Andhra Pradesh. The device offers download speeds of up to 21.6 Mbps and allows customers to create a Wi-Fi hotspot by connecting up to five devices.

Similarly, MTS, the mobile telecom service brand of the Sistema Shyam TeleServices Group, launched the M-Blaze Power 3G Wi-Fi dongle, offering speeds of up to 9.8 Mbps, that can connect up to six devices, while also providing storage of up to 32GB.

Rohan Dhamija, partner and head of India and South Asia for global telecoms, media and technology (TMT) research firm, Analysys Mason, said: “Given limited 3G penetration, telecom companies are looking at maximum monetization from existing 3G circles. One of the ways to do this is by offering 3G Wi-Fi dongles, given the fact that high-speed Wi-Fi broadband is becoming increasingly popular. It is also an alternative to high-end ‘tetherable’ smartphones that can convert into Wi-Fi hotspots."

Several smartphones today offer the option of creating a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot, through ‘tethering’ and by using applications like FoxFi, Barnacle and Tether-X. However, industry experts claim this is a battery-guzzler, eating up close to 50% of battery power in just an hour. Connectivity to devices is also limited with download speeds decreasing with every additional device connected.

Analysys Mason pegs the dongle market in India at 21 million subscribers in fiscal 2014, three times the 7.1 million seen in fiscal 2011. The number is expected to rise further to 35 million subscribers by fiscal 2018.

Kunal Bajaj, an independent telecom consultant, reasons that people are increasingly accessing Internet on smartphones and tablets, rather than personal computers and laptops, and this has led to the rise of 3G Wi-Fi dongles. Unlike traditional plug-and-play dongles that connect to a laptop, these dongles can be turned into Wi-Fi hotspots, connecting multiple smart devices simultaneously at a fixed speed.

As per data available with Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the number of broadband subscribers increased from 61.74 million at the end of April 2014 to 65.33 million at the end of May, showing a monthly growth rate of 5.82%. In April, broadband usage grew only 1.45% over March numbers.

Out of this total base, the number of wired broadband users in May grew 0.25% from 14.91 million in April to 14.95 million in May, while the number of mobile broadband users (mobile phones and dongles) grew 7.66% from 46.42 million to 49.97 million (as compared to a mere 1.78% change in the March-April period).

These figures reflect that mobile data volumes, primarily led by 3G, are growing rapidly for telecom operators. Telecom companies are thus seen to be trying a multi-pronged approach to tap 3G subscribers with attractive data bundling plans, social media plans—and 3G Wi-Fi dongles.

Industry experts believe this could also be a way for telecom companies to make up for lost 3G revenues during the ban on 3G inter-circle roaming preventing companies from sharing high-speed 3G networks, that was initiated by the Department of Telecom (DoT) two years ago and was only lifted at the end of April.

“This is also an advantage for feature phone users, whose handsets cannot be turned into Wi-Fi hotspots through tethering. Besides, corporates can use this to connect their personal devices in the office. For CDMA (code division multiple access) telecom companies like MTS, 3G Wi-Fi dongles also provide a chance to tap into GSM (global system for mobile communications) and Wi-Fi broadband market, beyond the spectrum of CDMA users," Bajaj said.

Tata DoCoMo agrees that wingles are the only way forward for subscribers who today have to juggle between multiple data plans, technologies, operators and devices.

Gurinder Singh Sandhu, head of marketing for Tata Docomo concluded: “We firmly believe that the future of the telecom category is data and that too not just providing access but a whole new world of services riding on the data networks. Hence, the future of telecom will be driven by our ability to deliver solutions that help consumers enjoy endless conversations in an affordable manner."

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