3.75G Vs 4G – The Telco War in Sri Lanka is On!

So, the war has just begun and you are warned here to be vigilant! Because, your safety, as one of our ‘great’ presidents said once; ‘is your own responsibility’.

Of course I’m talking about the war among Sri Lankan Telcos to becoming the technology leader in the industry, and the ‘safety’ I’m talking about, is your rights and ‘dignity’ as consumers.

It was quite certain for a long time now, the ‘big two’ were preparing for a revolution in the industry. Top executives from both Dialog and Mobitel hinted that they are evaluating the possibilities of upgrading their 3G and 3.5G networks into 4G, and the “Future Today” event organized by Dialog a few months ago, hinted the market that they are up to something ‘big’.

But Sri Lanka woke up last morning to hear a different story altogether. Etisalat; who used to be positioned as a ‘slow mover’ in launching new technologies, throughout their company history under many brand names, announced that they beat the ‘big two’ to introduce a technology named 3.75G to their customers. This may well be the second time they introduced a new technology to Sri Lanka, after their pioneering effort of starting a cellular telephony system in Sri Lanka for the first time, back in the 90’s by their first brand name "Celltel".

Once the news broke on their Facebook page, it took les than 24 hours for ‘big two’ to respond. Mobitel were the first to retaliate with their announcement of testing 4G in Sri Lanka, under the supervision of director general of TRCSL. Dialog’s response, up to now is a change of their website with a flash banner (linking to nowhere as of the time of writing this) with the tagline “4G. Your Future Today”.

Earlier today, I asked several questions on Etisalat Facebook page to get some clarifications about the 3.75G technology. They were claiming, they can support up to 21Mbps with this new upgrade, and I asked them is this a guaranteed speed, and whether the TRCSL endorsed these speed tests? To my disappointment, Etisalat never gave clear answers for any of my questions. There were no proper definitions given, to explain what 3.75G is, and how it is different from 3G or 3.5G. They vaguely said, the speed can vary due to many reasons. No response given to me about my questions regarding TRCSL endorsements. They were simply saying “We always give you the best available technology”.

Up to now, not in any single piece of communications released by Etisalat regarding their 3.75G launch, they talk about what they exactly mean by 3.75G. Not even in this press article.They always refer to it as "super fast 3.75G internet connectivity", but the explanation of how 3.75G is different from 3G is nowhere mentioned. 

I did my own research, and only to find out that 3.75G is nothing else than the HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) protocol, which is already being used by Mobitel and Dialog in their networks. According to many online sources I referred, HSPA is an evolutionary stage of WCDMA technology which was originally dubbed as 3G. Original WCDMA protocol used HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) as an evolutionary technology to increase the data downlink speed. Industry pundits dubbed the introduction of HSDPA as the 3.5G. Technology today, as we all know it keeps on changing and it took not many years for them to figure out an extended version of HSDPA to increase the data uplink speed as well (High Speed Uplink Packet Access). When HSDPA is combined with HSUPA, you get everything in a one package called HSPA, which industry pundits dubbed as 3.75G. Now as far as I know, through out past several months, both Mobitel and Dialog has been using HSPA technology in their networks (these companies can correct me, if I’m wrong about this), so literally they were already on 3.75G. However, neither of these two companies made it a marketing point to claim “we have 3.75G” which I believe, Etisalat took the advantage of. In final analysis, what Etisalat launched today, was actually not ‘new’ to Sri Lanka. They were as always ‘late’.

Now, above is the technical reality of this whole 3.75G saga, but how about the marketing reality? Because, from the marketing point of view, reality exists in the consumer’s mind, not in technical explanations like above.

From a marketing point of view, Etisalat has already done the damage to the ‘big two’, as every claim now onwards the ‘big two’ will make about 4G, will fall into the category of “market reactions”.

The important fact from the point of view of the consumer is, you have to be vigilant about what is being told in advertising and what actually is the truth. In a test carried out by TRCSL, it was revealed that the internet download speeds advertised by operators are never practically available for the consumers. When Etisalat say “up to 21Mbps”, they mean the shared bandwidth of the network. This won’t guarantee, the actual speed you are getting. According to my experience, normally when an operator promise 36Mbps, I get something like 1Mbps in reality. I think, TRCSL should intervene more strongly about the advertising of broadband products. Like the consumers affairs authority made it mandatory to publish the prices of every product being advertised to the consumers, regulations must be introduced, all these download speeds are tested and approved by TRCSL. And also, there should be regulations to make it mandatory to advertise both the network capacity speed (up to 21Mbps) plus the average speed a user is actually getting.

All in all, as I predicted in a ‘tweet con’ with few technology enthusiasts in Sri Lanka, early this year; 2011 is going to be the ‘year of broadband wars’ in Sri Lanka. My only wish is, the consumer should get benefited from the rivalry among operators, and the country should be benefited at large, by increase the internet penetration levels and broadband speed levels around the island.

I’m not an engineer or a techy person. What I wrote above, regarding mobile communication technologies, are based on personal research I’ve done on the internet, and with some inputs from discussions I had with few people in the industry. If there are anything incorrect mentioned, please kindly correct it in the comments section.This post will be tweeted to all three companies named here, so they hold all the rights and responsibility of voicing on behalf of them in the comments section.

Originally posted on www.amisampath.com Like this blog? Get email updates when I post next time, or subscribe to the feed on a reader. Follow me on Twitter @Amisampath 


  1. I totally agree with the idea that TRCSL should regulate the the Internet speeds. I was watching the tweets yesterday and it simply looks like companies are competing in marketing without delivering any value to the user. Hopefully this war will result in better service and speed for customers

  2. Both Mobitel and Dialog has announced they are capable of LTE 4G. Stands for Long Term Evolution

  3. Interesting and read worthy article I found - http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2011/05/05/f-4g-speedtest.html

  4. Hi, very interesting article. So as it stands not, ETISALAT has commercially launched 3.75G, although their actual coverage seems to be far far from whats mentioned in their map.

    Dialog is testing 4G in Colombo 1-4, and Mobitel,
    have they covered any part of Colombo with 4G or have they just tested it and are waiting for a commercial launch ?

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  6. Hi, Amith,
    Yes, Broadband always works on sharing basis with attached users. It is one of the basic conditions that came with 3G. But, Etisalat has demonstrated the possible speeds at their press release which was 37.6Mbps. The maximum speed that reached was 38.7Mbps with ordinary radio conditions. Some of the photos and videos were uploaded to facebook,
    Ref: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1949395345289&comments&notif_t=like

  7. I think this would be useful.

    "In terms of future network upgrading, only a single baseband processing board is needed to be added or replaced, with the remaining components being realized through software upgrades. "
    It seems mobitel will cover the island in the near future.

  8. Sorry i want to add another thing mobitel has only ZTE BTSs in part of the country. So they may have to try Huawei 4G (Wimax v2)for their Huawei BTSs.

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