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Aircel Cellular GSM Telecommunications Network, India

Key Data

In mid-1998, Ericsson won a contract to supply the largest GSM mobile phone network in India. At this point India already had 41 mobile phone networks, indicating the fragmentation of the industry in such a large country. The contract was let by Aircel Cellular (formerly Srinivas Cellcom Ltd.), and will provide coverage for 250 towns and cities in Tamil Nadu state, serving a population of half a million. The first services were rolled out at the end of 1998 in the Coimbatore area, but the operator had difficulty in meeting its license conditions due to delays in approval. It won an extension to March 1999, and finally met its conditions by February 1999. The network was completed by the end of 1999, and competes with BPL Cellular Ltd.

As with most industries in India, the development of cellular communications has been fraught with controversy. The Indian government's 1994 telecom policy liberalised fixed line services and allotted licenses to private operators to run cellular services. Four years later, most operators have registered insignificant growth both in number and in value. Altogether, the number of cellular subscribers in India stands at around 1.2 million, and recent data suggests a decline of about 10% in this subscriber base. Increased charges for monthly line rental were blamed for this, and at present many Indian operators are finding it difficult to promote cellular use.

Further problems have been caused by the cost of the license fees. The Department of Telecommunication (DoT) has already revoked the licenses of two of the mobile phone operators - Koshika and Aircell Digilink - for failing to pay their license fees. Estimates suggest that license fees and interconnection costs account for about 60% of the roll-out costs for a mobile network in India, leaving many companies in trouble following the lack of subscriber growth.


Aircel Cellular's network is made up of four major parts:

  • The mobile station
  • The base station subsystem
  • The network subsystem
  • The microwave backbone

The mobile station consists of the mobile equipment, i.e. the handset, and a smart card called the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM). The SIM provides personal mobility, so that the user can have access to subscribed services irrespective of a specific terminal. Various international manufacturers will be supplying the mobile station.

The base station subsystem is composed of two parts, the base transceiver station and the base station controller. These communicate across a standardized "Abis" interface, allowing operation between components made by different suppliers.

The base transceiver station houses the radio transceivers that define a cell and handles the radio-link protocols with the mobile station. The base station controller manages the radio resources for one or more base transceiver stations. It is the connection between the mobile station and the mobile services switching center. The base station controller and the base stations are Ericsson AXE technology.

The network subsystem is based upon Ericsson's AXE mobile switching centre. The switch connects the mobile signal to the fixed networks and provides all the functionality needed to handle a mobile subscriber, such as registration, authentication, location updating, handovers and call routing to a roaming subscriber.

In addition, Ericsson also supplied MINI-LINK microwave access solutions and high-capacity backbone transport solutions. This backbone provides Aircel Cellular with point-to-point high-bandwidth communication services from 2 up to 17x2Mbps, operating within the 7 to 38GHz bands.