New Delhi: Indian firms planning phone networks using both GSM and CDMA wireless technology standards can reduce spending on wireless network equipment by half by using a software-driven radio solution, the inventor of the new technology says. The technology is being tested by India’s biggest phone firm by revenues, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) in a little known Tamil Nadu village.

Being tested: A file picture of telecom towers. The new technology, claims its developer, can do away with the need for different radio infrastructure for CDMA, GSM phone networks. It’s being tested in Tamil Nadu.

Now, Vanu Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm, has created what it calls “software-defined radio" solution that it says can do away with the need for different radio infrastructure for different needs. Founded by Vanu Bose, son of Amar Bose, the founder of audio systems firm Bose Corp., the company is in talks with some telecom service providers in India. At least three Indian firms—BSNL, Reliance Communications Ltd or RCom and Tata Teleservices Ltd—plan to move away from just CDMA-based services to a GSM offering or vice versa in India taking advantage of recent regulatory changes.

Vanu’s pitch: A software-based radio can tune automatically to any frequency, without having to put different radio transmitters for different technologies, very similar to an operating system of a computer that can run different applications such as word processing or an excel worksheet.

“Companies using software defined radio can save almost 50% in their capital expenditure, and at least 30% more on operational expenditure, which involves maintaining remote sites by regular physical checks," said Bose, founder and president of the company in a telephone interview. “We are already in discussions with several companies who are now looking at offering services on both GSM and CDMA," he added, declining to name them.

Executives at both RCom and Tata Teleservices declined comment on whether their companies were planning to use the Vanu solution on their proposed GSM networks. Operators seeking to enter the GSM segment will have to invest in separate radio hardware for GSM technology, despite having thousands of telecom towers that support the CDMA-based signals.

“We are looking at the solution, it could be helpful, especially in terms of expanding in the rural and remote areas apart from offering services on both GSM and CDMA technology," confirmed a senior BSNL executive, who did not wish to be identified. BSNL, which runs a large GSM network in the country, is planning to expand its CDMA-based network.

International Business Machines Corp., or IBM, which already counts Indian telecom firms such as Bharti Airtel Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd as its customers, is using Vanu’s solutions on the BSNL telephone exchange in Velalkondom in south India. And, in a few weeks, IBM India will be launching a lab in New Delhi to demonstrate the benefits of a software-defined radio solution. “Vanu’s software solution will sit on top of (computer) servers from IBM, with the entire design being done by the Centre for Development of Telematics, or CDoT," said Vivek Gupta, a director in charge of communications business at IBM India.

Vanu’s software-based radio solution is being deployed across 200 villages in Alaska by Anchorage, Alaska-based General Communication Inc., which selected the software product because it wanted to make an entry into the CDMA services market, in addition to GSM-based phone service its offers. “In the Indian context, the solution is even more relevant because when you are expanding in the rural areas, a software-based solution will help an operator track operations remotely, saving cost and time," said Bose.

But, phone firms would rather buy a more comprehensive solution, according to a rival. One “that combines (emerging) technologies such as LTE, UMTS and WiMax, apart from GSM and CDMA," said A. Sethuraman, chief marketing officer, South Asia at Alcatel Lucent in a December interview. “At Bell Labs, we are talking about a software defined base station, which will support all these technologies.

Long Term Evolution, or LTE, Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, or UMTS and WiMax are so-called next generation telecom technologies that allow faster downloads and access of video and data files on mobile handsets.

Malovika Roy in Bangalore contributed to this story.