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Guest Column

The 3G Evolution At High Speed

Columnist:
Perry M. LaForge
Executive Director
CDMA Development Group

The third generation (3G) of wireless technology has arrived. 3G customers will enjoy high-speed access to the Web and multimedia services in places where desktop computers linked to the Internet cannot reach. 3G also offers tremendous revenue opportunities for operators.

The rapid acceleration in the use of Internet bandwidth is fueling widespread consumer demand for fast connection to Web sites as well as practical personal applications. Wireless carriers will also provide the unique benefits of small device form factor, mobile access and location-based services that wireline carriers cannot offer. To remain competitive and satisfy customer expectations, 3G operators must create a wireless Internet experience in a mobile environment that comes close to what subscribers currently receive over the “wired Web.”

To transform this goal into a reality, the universally recognized International Telecommunication Union-working with industry organizations worldwide-implemented the International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 program to develop standards for 3G. In late 1999, the ITU approved five IMT-2000 terrestrial radio interfaces: CDMA-Multi-Carrier (CDMA2000 1X and 3X), CDMA-Direct Spread (wideband CDMA), CDMA-Time Division Duplex (UTRA-TDD and TD-SCDMA), TDMA-Single Carrier (UWC-136/EDGE) and FDMA/TDMA (DECT). There are different paths to 3G. However, the course that operators choose will result in either expediting their market launches or prolonging deployment for several years. A carrier’s 3G technology selection can raise serious questions about its ability to compete if the technology does not increase the capacity for voice services, if existing bands cannot be used to deploy 3G spectrum, or if handsets are not backward- and forward-compatible.

The 3G race is well under way, and there is little time left for carriers to gain a competitive advantage. They need to launch their advanced networks as soon as technologically possible. But a technology that can break through spectrum, infrastructure, device and cost barriers to deliver voice and high-speed data is available today: CDMA2000.

The CDMA2000 Story

For the GSM community, the 3G path is filled with interim or so-called “2.5-generation” hurdles. Later this year, many carriers plan to launch general packet radio service (GPRS) from a network overlay. A year or two later, some will introduce the next step, enhanced data rates for GSM evolution (EDGE), which will provide somewhat higher data speeds. However, many other carriers have chosen to bypass EDGE as an unnecessary step. Carriers will finally enter 3G in 2004 or later, when they launch W-CDMA services on newly purchased spectrum.

But 3G is real, here and now with CDMA2000. Its first evolutionary phase, CDMA2000 1X, is a true 3G technology officially sanctioned by the ITU. Contrary to misconception, CDMA2000 1X is not an interim solution. It is not 2.5G but a full 3G platform. CDMA2000 1X offers in excess of the 144 kbps data speeds specified in the ITU standard for 3G.

Before 2.5G becomes available in Europe and elsewhere, 3G networks-built efficiently and economically with CDMA2000 1X technology-will be preparing for launch. Carriers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan and other nations are either testing or launching their own commercial networks this year. For many of these carriers, full-scale 3G availability will occur as soon as the middle of next year.

Commercial CDMA2000 1X 3G networks have already been deployed in Korea. SK Telecom has had its commercial 3G operational since October 2000, making the ITU’s IMT-2000 vision a reality. Korea’s KT Freetel (which already offers a 64 kbps cdmaOne IS-95B network) and LG Telecom also plan their own 3G commercial launches this year using CDMA2000 1X.

SK Telecom has realized data rates of more than 150 kbps, which exceeds the 144 kbps standard set by the ITU. In addition, handsets are already available for the service, including the SK Teletech IM-2300 and the Samsung CDMA2000 phone. Many other CDMA2000 devices will be introduced in the near future: phones, personal digital assistants, Web phones, laptops, tablets and PCMCIA cards.

The CDMA2000 Advantage

CDMA2000 1X technology benefits wireless operators in many ways. First, it generates a maximum data rate of 307 kilobits per second and a typical speed of 144 kbps. CDMA2000 1X offers speeds much higher than the data rate of dial-up modems and even outpaces ISDN. Second, CDMA2000 1X supplies twice the voice capacity of current cdmaOne networks and six times the capacity of GSM or TDMA systems. In other words, the increase in CDMA2000 1X data capacity does not come at the expense of voice services.

Third, CDMA2000 1X has a definite cost-savings advantage over other 3G technologies. By leveraging the capabilities of existing cdmaOne technology, CDMA2000 1X maximizes network flexibility and lets carriers retain their investment. Instead of introducing 3G in the entire coverage area (especially where it is not necessary or cost-effective to do so), CDMA2000 1X can initially target densely populated areas and business districts that require more capacity and increased data rates.

All of these benefits are achievable within the same spectrum bands in which a cdmaOne carrier currently operates, as well as the IMT bands. Understanding that spectrum is a scarce (and expensive) resource, carriers using CDMA2000 1X will be able to launch 3G in their existing bands. In addition, CDMA2000 1X is an integrated voice and data platform. Carriers do not need to set aside channels in order to make room for 3G network enhancements. CDMA2000 1X is band-neutral and not limited to 2100 MHz IMT spectrum. The increase in network capacity lets CDMA2000 operate in cellular and PCS frequencies-450 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1700 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz-as well as the IMT band. In addition, CDMA2000 delivers 3G while occupying the same amount of bandwidth (1.25 MHz per carrier) as a 2G network.

There are more advantages to CDMA2000 1X-beginning with cdmaOne, which uses off-the-shelf, low-cost routers, an IP gateway and packet switching. Because packet data is already built into the cdmaOne standard, carriers do not need to add packet overlays and backbone for an existing circuit-switched network. With a choice of standard routers from a wide range of manufacturers, carriers reduce their infrastructure costs while ensuring interoperability.

Expensive equipment upgrades are not required in a migration to CDMA2000 1X. Operators only add channel cards and software enhancements to base station controllers and base transceiver stations. There is no need for so-called “forklift” changes.

To maintain the bottom line, carriers must recoup their 3G investment as quickly as possible. In most cases, the cost of additional spectrum and higher-priced infrastructure must be passed along to the subscribers. According to a recent study by the Gartner Group Inc. in London, only 24 percent of businesses said they were prepared to pay a rate increase for 3G. However, lower network outlays and superior spectrum efficiency on existing frequencies give CDMA2000 1X carriers the cost advantage to keep 3G services affordable.

Besides low-cost 3G services, customers gain other important benefits. Through improved management of power resources, CDMA2000 1X doubles handset standby time and significantly extends battery life. Also, end-user devices are backward- and forward-compatible. To work on a 3G network, CDMA2000 devices will need new chipsets but can use existing designs and software applications. However, unless a subscriber wishes to take advantage of the cutting-edge 3G data capabilities (including music downloads, video and image transfer), a cdmaOne device will operate on CDMA2000 1X networks and all future upgrades.

The CDMA2000 Evolutionary Path

CDMA2000 is a logical and phased-in evolutionary path that bypasses the need for complex overlays or networks built from scratch from high-priced spectrum. So that all CDMA2000 carriers present the same benefits of higher data throughput and increased voice capacity, standards for 3G evolution have been developed by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP2).

It all starts with cdmaOne, which serves more than 80 million subscribers worldwide. cdmaOne IS-95A technology provides toll-quality voice and data speeds up to 14.4 kbps. In addition, cdmaOne IS-95B networks operate at 64 kbps-the same rate that many 2.5G carriers will offer. In September 1999, KT Freetel became the first carrier to launch an cdmaOne IS-95B network. KDDI in Japan deployed its IS-95B network in January 2000.

Voice and data share the same resources in cdmaOne, so voice capacity does not suffer during periods of higher data consumption. cdmaOne ensures better in-building penetration, longer battery life, increased privacy and better security. With over-the-air activation, subscribers can add new services without the intervention of a third party (such as an authorized dealer).

CDMA2000 1X is the next phase and brings 3G to the world. Beyond CDMA2000 1X is an evolution to higher data rates and spectrum efficiency, operating in the same 1.25 MHz channel as CDMA2000 1X. The next phase is 1xEV, which will produce data rates as high as 2.4 Mbps. 1xEV networks are currently in trials around the world. Subsequent technology upgrades to 1xEV are designed to offer higher speeds-to 3 Mbps and then 5 Mbps. Each of these seamless, evolutionary advances will be compatible with existing networks.

Within a few years, carriers will be able to offer additional multimedia services and even higher speeds. The increased voice and data capabilities will be possible through use of three 1.25 MHz channels, which many cdmaOne operators already hold as excess capacity. This further evolution will also improve quality of service for multimedia applications.

Reaching Out to the World

The CDMA2000 evolution to 3G is not limited to current cdmaOne service providers. It is available to all wireless operators, regardless of which digital technology they have chosen. TDMA-based carriers already use the same core network standard (ANSI-41) as cdmaOne. Hence, any ANSI-41 network will be able to roll out CDMA2000 1X as an immediate 3G path. For example, Nextel Communications, which operates a TDMA-based iDEN network, is planning to launch CDMA2000 1X services in the United States.

For the GSM community, the 3G migration path using CDMA2000 is equally feasible. When completing its IMT-2000 standards, ITU included the capability for GSM carriers to deploy CDMA-MC on the GSM Mobile Access Protocol core network. The IS-833 standard defines how the CDMA2000 can operate in the GSM MAP environment. This will enable CDMA2000 1X technology to be used in GSM-MAP and give GSM carriers the ability to launch 3G services as soon as possible.

By taking advantage of these standards today, TDMA and GSM carriers can realize 3G in a timely, cost-effective manner and without expensive interim steps. By including several enhancements to their networks, these carriers can offer 3G with CDMA2000 1X and later move to CDMA-DS (W-CDMA) or continue on to CDMA2000 3X.

The Race Is On

Subscribers in Europe and around the world want high-speed mobile access to the Web and their favorite Internet applications. 3G wireless networks will meet these demands. Unfortunately, many customers will wait several years before their carriers can launch 3G. At the same time, other subscribers will already be enjoying the benefits of high-speed data and superior-quality voice services over CDMA2000 networks. CDMA2000 is an option for 3G evolution that carriers must seriously consider. As fierce competition from high-speed data services looms on the horizon, CDMA2000 will reduce time-to-market, increase network flexibility, satisfy future voice and data needs, and cut infrastructure upgrade costs.

The 3G race is on. Who will take the lead?


(4/25/2001)

 


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