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Guest Column

Global View Of CDMA History For TDMA Operators

Perry M. LaForge
Executive Director
CDMA Development Group

3G is real. The world's first commercial third-generation networks are up-and-running in Korea. All landmark systems are based on CDMA.

Via the ITU-accepted third-generation standard, CDMA2000, Korea is rolling out key capabilities and services that include:

· 154 kbps data rates

· Nearly twice the channel capacity, creating more room for data traffic and additional voice subscribers

· doubled increase in handset standby time

· streaming video, videoconferencing, video mail, and MP3 file transfers

· text data services such as m-commerce, location information, education, mobile banking and real-time stock status and trading

· advanced packet data technology for enhanced network efficiency

For cellular carrier SK Telecom, upgrading to CDMA2000 was economical and fast. No need to invest in new licenses or extensive infrastructure. All advanced services require only 1.25 MHz of spectrum.

Korea’s ability to deploy 3G technology so quickly is due to the country’s foresight in selecting CDMA as its air interface nearly a decade ago. Beyond the technology’s intrinsic advantages, CDMA technical development always has been based on the same philosophy as its 2G predecessor, cdmaOne™: to optimize and expand capacity in as little spectrum as possible, to enable the most advanced services, to preserve carrier investment in existing networks and to make upgrades simple.

The good news is that the flexibility and capacity of CDMA2000 is by no means limited to current CDMA operators; GSM and TDMA operators can upgrade to CDMA2000 as well. CDMA2000 uses the same network standard as TDMA, making the transition to CDMA2000 a very viable and logical one. With the harmonization of the IMT-2000 CDMA standard, CDMA2000 can be deployed on the GSM MAP network, providing a migration path for GSM operators.

Since its birth in the late 1980s, CDMA has continuously led the industry in innovation. Today, CDMA is the accepted standard for 3G networks, whether CDMA2000 or W-CDMA. Yet a dozen years ago, the concept of basing an air interface on code-division, rather than traditional time-division technology, was revolutionary. To gain industry acceptance, CDMA Development Group (CDG) members worked hard on many fronts, recognizing that education, marketing, and standards development are as important as technological excellence.

In the beginning

The first analog cellular systems were deployed in the early 1980s, and were the beginning of this new and exciting wireless age. By 1988, carriers realized that analog technology could not provide the capacity they would surely need as urbanites continued to embrace wireless enthusiastically. It was equally clear that the digital interface IS-54, or U.S. TDMA, could not satisfy projected capacity needs.

In their search for additional capacity, executives within the operator community heard about a digital satellite technology that might show promise for more efficient use of spectrum. Instead of GSM and TDMA’s time-division-based technology, this code-division-based system encodes multiple conversations per assigned 1.25 MHz frequency. Researched in numerous countries for almost 10 years, the technology was being used for fleet-tracking by a little-known San Diego, U.S. company called QUALCOMM Inc.

The technology showed promise, but additional funds were needed for commercial development. The next step was a trial with QUALCOMM to demonstrate its potential to other carriers, followed by field trials to prove feasibility. U.S. carriers NYNEX and Ameritech came on board to develop the first experimental CDMA system. Successful tests and mini-trials were held in New York, San Diego and other parts of the United States.

Momentum began to build. Motorola and AT&T (now Lucent) came on board, bringing resources for another stage of development and testing. By about 1990, enough documentation had been assembled to begin writing a specification.

The next step was to earn Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) support. CTIA’s imprimatur was key for CDMA to reach the next level: consideration by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), which was then was in the process of standardizing IS-54.

The group conducted additional CDMA demonstrations to showcase the technology’s performance. To educate the CTIA Technology Committee, carriers and manufacturers formed the Wideband Spread Spectrum Subcommittee, and held six months of open forums on CDMA in Chicago around 1991. CTIA was convinced.

Soon after, TR45.5, the TIA's first standards group on CDMA, was created. By 1993, IS-95A, the first CDMA standard, was complete.

The group of CDMA proponents was expanding incrementally. Nortel and Nokia expressed interest. With infrastructure manufacturers AT&T and Motorola, and carriers including PacTel, NYNEX, Ameritech, U.S. West and GTE, an informal group was formed that met regularly to refine specifications and further test the technology.

A major piece of a successful wireless operation was still missing: handsets in quantity. One of the critical moments in bringing CDMA to market occurred with Korean manufacturers’ acceptance of PacTel's handset order. Manufacturer interest kicked off vast opportunity in Korea, which led to Korean operators choosing CDMA — and later, to the world's first commercial 3G systems.

Group members met with almost 40 Asian handset vendors, some of whom became early CDMA developers. In Japan, too, a groundswell of support began as handset manufacturers saw CDMA as an opportunity both domestically and beyond. CDMA had become a global technology.

Real systems demonstrate effectiveness The stakes were increasing and it grew clear that a focused, formal group was needed. In August 1994, the CDMA Development Group was formed with 17 founding carrier and manufacturer members. "To qualify for membership," the announcement stated, "companies must demonstrate a substantial commitment to the development and/or deployment of CDMA cellular or PCS systems, and contribute significant technical and business resources to support the CDG's work." The CDG's activities blend education, promoting CDMA domestically and internationally, and evolving the technology and standards. The CDG has grown to 119 members.

Then, as now, the CDG was a carrier-driven organization. To best serve the wireless industry, the CDG relies on operators, who know the customer best and are on the ground deploying the technology.

By the mid-1990s, operators were discovering that IS-54 implementations did not meet expectations. While IS-54 was being reworked, GSM was taking off in Europe. In September 1995, only seven years after being a glint in one very smart operator’s eye, Hutchison Telephone Co. Ltd. in Hong Kong deployed the world's first CDMA network. Korea’s SK Telecom soon followed.

As CDMA began entering the marketplace, another round of education began. Misinformation had surfaced regarding CDMA’s capabilities and it was critical to explain the realities of CDMA’s efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and ease of implementation. CDG members worked to ensure that operators understood CDMA’s demonstrated ability to increase system capacity and that the future was designed so that upgrades would be inexpensive and simple, allowing CDMA operators to offer advanced features and services very quickly.

This period was a critical juncture for CDMA’s fate. PCS spectrum was on the block in the United States and if a major PCS licensee did not choose CDMA, the technology’s global prospects for gaining a foothold would be greatly diminished.

CDMA already was the obvious winner for capacity — which was the main reason carriers were looking to digital systems — but great voice quality was also a major requirement. With little time before the auctions, CDG members decided to give CDMA unquestionably the best voice quality by improving the codec, which compresses speech information into a digital signal. Developed in record time, the new codec helped such major operators as Sprint Spectrum and PrimeCo Personal Communications to settle on CDMA. PrimeCo launched the first U.S. PCS network in October 1996, just six months after Bell Atlantic Mobile deployed its CDMA cellular system. As PCS operators began launching CDMA very aggressively in their PCS bands, subscribers began accepting nothing less than CDMA voice quality. Cellular operators who were testing CDMA realized they needed to convert their 800 MHz systems to the digital interface quickly or lose subscribers.

With the U.S. on its way, the CDG then focused on international markets. In Asia, where all three air interfaces were jockeying for position, Korea already was an active CDMA proponent and there was enthusiasm among the Japanese. The Japanese carriers’ (DDI Cellular Group and IDO Corp.) acceptance of CDMA as their major license indicated that U.S. TDMA might have difficulties breaking into Asian markets. Australia sealed TDMA's fate by choosing CDMA, ensuring that the Asia-Pacific region would be shared by GSM and CDMA.

Today, Asia/Pacific is home to more than 33 million CDMA subscribers. In 1999, Japan and Korea launched data services using 64 kbps packet data. Japan's KDDI will deploy a CDMA2000 1X network this fall. Australia, New Zealand and China plan to initiate CDMA2000 1X systems before year-end.

China is a recent addition to CDMA’s global deployment plans. China Unicom has committed to CDMA networks covering 250 cities and 40 million people by 2003. Last October, a CDMA-GSM subscriber identity module (SIM) card and compatible phones were announced for use by China Unicom, and introduced to the global market. With wireless subscribership numbering about 10 million and overall teledensity remaining around 10 percent, CDMA is helping to leapfrog current wireline technology and increase both voice and data penetration.

In Europe, CDMA's presence is growing. There are currently a number of fixed wireless systems in Europe. In addition, the message is getting out that GSM operators who don’t win 3G licenses still can provide subscribers with the most advanced services via CDMA2000 1X.

The CDG also is addressing NMT450 analog carriers. Last year, the NMT450 Forum approved CDMA2000 1X for standardization, giving these operators the opportunity to be first to market with 3G.

Latin America is CDMA's fastest-growing market. In December 1996, Telefonica del Peru launched the region's first CDMA network. By 1998, subscribership had reached 300,000 — and vaulted to 10 million by last year.

As user numbers burgeon, Latin America’s operators are implementing plans for 3G. Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil plan CDMA2000 1X trials this year, with some of the region’s operators going commercial by 2002.

Latin America also has been at the forefront of the CDMA community’s global roaming capabilities. In a recent milestone announcement, Sprint PCS and Pegaso PCS declared their plan for cross-border roaming between the U.S. and Mexico.

Equal-Opportunity 3G

When third-generation development began in the mid-1990s, CDMA was in an enviable position, thanks to the vision of the technology’s original designers. Packet data was built into IS-95. A variety of cdmaOne handsets and base stations are packet-capable and networks use standard Internet protocol (IP)-based equipment. Operators can deploy at rates of up to 64 kbps with IS-95B.

From the beginning, CDMA2000’s developers applied the same long-term thinking as IS-95 received. Again, capacity was a top priority. The result is an ITU-approved standard in which faster data speeds and advanced services are supported by the single 1.25 (1X) channel structure.

In addition, CDMA2000 1X incorporates standard IP components already in place and requires only relatively inexpensive channel card changes and software enhancements to base station controllers and base transceiver stations. Systems are backward-compatible and are planned to preserve operators’ investments every step of the way. And unlike GSM and TDMA technologies, CDMA requires no expensive 2.5-generation interim networks that must be replaced by new 3G systems. New CDMA2000 1X handsets have a chipset enabling seamless roaming from network to network and between 2G and 3G systems.

Understanding the vision on which CDMA is based helps to explain why CDMA2000 is designed to be easily implemented by any carrier in the world. Flexibility, after all, has been critical to CDMA’s design from the beginning. CDMA2000 operates on all bands, which enables the maximum flexibility for operators worldwide.

Which means that fundamentally, 3G CDMA is about the services enabled, not the spectrum on which the system is deployed. CDMA2000 can be implemented by both TDMA and GSM carriers. TDMA and CDMA share the ANSI-41 standard for their network backbone. Any wireless operator using ANSI-41 as its network standard can deploy CDMA's 3G (CDMA2000) system. Particularly for Latin America's TDMA operators, there's great incentive to choose CDMA2000. In Europe, the prospect of not winning a license for additional spectrum has seemed life-threatening to GSM service providers needing to upgrade to 3G. With the flexibility and spectrum-efficiency of CDMA2000 technology, these GSM operators can easily deploy CDMA 3G without new licenses. Beyond the networks already commercial in Korea, this year additional CDMA2000 systems are expected to come online in the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Japan, China, and Malaysia.

Over 500 individuals are working within CDG subcommittees on second- and third-generation CDMA matters. CDG members were key participants in the 3G harmonization meetings held around the world to develop a compatibility standard between the two major IMT-2000 3G technologies, CDMA2000 and W-CDMA.

And the innovation continues. In June 2000, the CDG announced CDMA2000 1X EV (for "evolved"). CDMA2000 1X EV Phase 1 provides data rates of 2.2 Mbps, while CDMA2000 1X EV Phase 2 will add integrated voice and data to those high transmission speeds. Infrastructure suppliers like Lucent, Ericsson and Nortel Networks are supporting CDMA2000 1X EV, as are handset manufacturers such as Ericsson, Nokia, NeoPoint, Samsung, Sanyo and others.

Reaching more than 71 million subscribers in only six years, CDMA continues to fulfill its technological promises. After 12 years of hard work by committed CDG members, the youngest of the digital air interfaces has clearly gained industry acceptance. CDMA has been selected as the global standard for all future systems. Operators who had the vision to base their businesses on CDMA have found themselves evolving faster than their competitors, offering their subscribers the most advanced services, and retaining leadership in their markets.



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