3G Debuts With 1X
By Perry M. LaForge
CDMA is preparing to take a giant step along its development path with the introduction of the world's first third generation (3G) services later this year using IMT-2000 CDMA Multi-Carrier 1X technology (1X). This technology has been called many names in its development history - CDMA2000 phase 1, 1XRTT, 3G CDMA 1X - but regardless of the naming convention applied, it is the same set of advanced capabilities that promise to introduce the world to 3G in commercial form.
Only five years after cdmaOne made its commercial debut, the technology is poised to move well ahead of its rivals GSM and TDMA with 1X. Meanwhile, GSM and TDMA operators look to interim 2.5G solutions just to get packet data at faster speeds than the current 9.6/14.4 KBPS of their 2G network. CDMA 1X meets the ITU specification for 3G vehicular data speeds to 144 KBPS without ignoring CDMA's position as the premier solution for voice communications. Unlike 2.5G solutions like GPRS, 1X brings a doubling of capacity and longer battery life. All of this capability is available to operators in an existing 1.25 MHz channel, a unique feature of 1X when compared to other alternatives for 3G.
Since its launch in Hong Kong in late September 1995, CDMA has maintained a position of technological superiority. Right from the start, data rates exceeded those available on other digital platforms and have jumped to 64 KBPS in some CDMA markets. One of the inherent advantages of CDMA is its incorporation of Internet Protocol (IP) in its original design. Packet data is also a long-standing capability with CDMA technology.
Today cdmaOne support of packet data services is evident in a major commercial deployment. In January 2000, DDI and IDO of Japan launched packet data service on their combined cdmaOne network. Since that launch, customers sign up for their 'EZ' microbrowser service at a rate of 45,000 per week. By combining the market-leading technology capabilities of cdmaOne packet data with WAP-based accessibility to web content, DDI and IDO are offering a glimpse of things to come with 3G.
High-speed Wireless Data Applications Beyond the Web
With all of these advantages it is no wonder that CDMA is the basis for next generation systems. Taking center stage right now, however, is 1X with noticeable activity in North America and Asia as operators prepare to bring this breakthrough technology to market this year.
On March 30th, Nortel Networks and Bell Mobility completed a series of 3G wireless calls, including a packet data session, using 1X on a trial network in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean. Brian O'Shaughnessy, vice president, technology development with Bell Mobility, commented on the importance of early 3G availability and how it translates to meeting customer needs. "This is an aggressive first step to rolling out true, enhanced Wireless Internet services to CDMA subscribers, and it allows Bell Mobility to stay ahead of the technology curve and lead in our marketplace."
One day before the Canadian demonstration, Sprint PCS, together with Samsung and Qualcomm, made the first voice call by an operator in North America using 1X. "Sprint PCS is eager to bring the benefits of third generation technology to our customers," said Andy Sukawaty, president of Sprint PCS. "Faster data speeds, more network capacity and increased battery life are the major attributes expected with 3G CDMA 1X technology." This demonstration was part of the first phase of the trial the group is conducting. During the second phase, which is expected later this year, the trio will demonstrate increased data rates, increased data capacity, and longer battery life. In addition, during the second phase of the trial Samsung and Qualcomm will illustrate the effect of mixing data and voice users in one cell at the same RF frequency.
Verizon Wireless, the newly formed company of the U.S. wireless businesses of Bell Atlantic Mobile, Vodafone AirTouch and PrimeCo PCS, wasted no time in making its plans for 1X known. Starting in June, Verizon will implement 1X as part of a pilot test bed. Commenting on the technology's capabilities at a demonstration by Lucent and Qualcomm of the first live, over-the-air data transmission using 1X, Bill Stone, executive director, network planning for Verizon, forecast a near-term introduction of 1X. "This demonstration is proof that CDMA provides the most cost-efficient, graceful evolution to 3G services, exceeding all other competing digital standards. We look forward to conducting field trials this summer with Lucent, device manufacturers and content providers. Our plan is to make these data access speeds available to customers sometime next year."
In Korea, SK Telecom is bypassing the trial phase for 1X in favor of an early commercial service. The company recently presented an overview of its deployment plans to a gathering of executives from Asian operators, noting that October 2000 is the company's target date for launch. This milestone would make SK Telecom the world's first operator to offer 3G services using any technology platform. SK Telecom is not alone in its endeavors to offer early-to-market 3G services in the highly competitive Korean market. KT Freetel intends to have 1X commercial in 2001 and LG Telecom is also working on its 3G deployment plans with the establishment of a lab for CDMA multi-carrier technology.
The fact that 1X will be first to market is not a coincidence or result of good luck. There are two key factors enabling this rapid implementation of 3G with 1X. First is the ease with which an operator can upgrade to 1X. Instead of a costly network overhaul, operators need only replace circuit cards and upgrade software. There is no need for new base stations. Because backward compatibility is a hallmark of the evolutionary path 1X takes from cdmaOne, operators can build out 1X as needed in targeted segments of the network while ensuring continued access to service throughout the network and while roaming. Subscribers on both the new 1X service and the existing cdmaOne system will experience seamless service. John Marione, vice president with Lucent Technologies, commented on the compatibility and cost advantages 1X offers. "An important element of this new technology is that it is fully compatible with today's existing cdmaOne infrastructure and handsets. This is key because 3G 1XRTT will be a cost-effective way for operators to be ready for the next generation of wireless communication since it preserves current investments."
Mr. Marione's statement applies not only to investments in hardware, but also to the very significant asset operators have - spectrum. 1X allows for in-band evolution, which will continue with 3X, the second phase of the IMT-2000 CDMA Multi-Carrier standard. Clearing spectrum is not a requirement as it is with IMT-2000 CDMA Direct Spread (aka W-CDMA). 1X and 3X can be overlaid on the existing network. 1X operates in a single 1.25 MHz channel and 3X operates across multiple 1.25 MHz channels. Recently an article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Europe's Telecom Firms Launch Bid for Share of New Wireless Licenses" made the following point: "Wireless' explosive growth - and its vast promise - has made radio spectrum a precious asset." This statement underscores an understanding the CDMA community has been well aware of in the definition of its 3G growth path. This recognition of the value of spectrum and desire to preserve the investments already made directed the requirement for 1X/3X to operate in cellular and PCS spectrum bands.
Too often observers of the industry, and to an extent industry players, confuse 3G as an issue of spectrum band rather than capability and service offering. The Wall Street Journal article quoted John Jensen, an analyst at Chase Manhattan Corporation. "If you lose a 3G license, you're out of the game for ten years. If France Telecom, say, doesn't get a license, its market cap will fall 10%." This bold statement by Mr. Jensen reflects the idea that 3G can only be realized with new spectrum in a designated "3G" band. The regulatory environment in some countries and regions, of course, adds to the perpetuation of the view that 3G equals a particular band. The CDMA Development Group (CDG) urges global regulators to allow deployment of 3G in whatever spectrum band a particular standard supports. This approach avoids penalizing operators who don't win the auctions or "beauty contests" for new spectrum. As long as there are no artificial barriers, such as regulatory constraints, an operator does not have to suffer the financial consequences Mr. Jensen foretells. 1X/3X gives them a 3G option. They will be able to offer all the advanced services at the same data speed as those deploying in so called "3G" spectrum. The operators who choose to deploy 1X in their current spectrum can actually have a market advantage by being first to deploy 3G.
Never a group to be satisfied with the best technology the market has to offer, the CDMA community is already hard at work defining continued evolution for 1X. Realizing the benefits 1X is poised to deliver based on the evolutionary model, operators are anxious to take this approach further. The CDG board of directors recently defined requirements for standards to deliver much higher data speeds and to further enhance voice capacity in years to come - all in 1.25 MHz of spectrum. Known in the CDG as 1X EV, this set of requirements will be placed on the same fast track through the standards process that 1X took to bring cutting edge solutions to market at a rapid pace.
Compatibility with 2G systems and spectrum, along with combining voice and data enhancements in a single solution, make 1X/1XEV/3X a financial winner as well as a technological winner. RCR interviewed a number of analysts for an article in October 1999 entitled "AT&T Explores 1XRTT Technology." The article stated "1XRTT technology is compelling to many analysts because it offers voice capacity and higher data speeds." The article did state that the industry is uncertain yet as to what the exact cost of upgrading to any of the available options will be, but it recognized that 1X would be better positioned than the alternatives. "Analysts interviewed for this article, however, agreed 1XRTT technology's economics are more favorable than GPRS and EDGE, primarily because of 1XRTT technology's voice capacity advantage and because the data market is still unproven."
Looking at what the analysts interviewed had to say, they weighed in heavily for 1X. "The challenge is the capacity issue," said Tim Luke, global wireless equipment analyst with Lehman Brothers. "The cost perspective and performance is positive for 1X and CDMA operators. That is why we are so bullish on CDMA." Luke went on to say that it may make sense for non-CDMA carriers to look at 1X. Jon Dorfman, consultant with The Strategis Group was quoted as saying, "I'm a firm believer that CDMA makes a more viable business case going forward than GSM. The primary reason is that CDMA gives you huge voice capacity as opposed to GSM EDGE. When CDMA carriers upgrade, they can do it just for voice reasons. They see it as getting data for free. On the GSM path, it's much more of a commitment to data." In addition to acknowledging the capacity advantage of 1X, Dorfman commented on the backward compatibility that 1X ensures and is absent with GPRS and EDGE. "Interoperability is huge because CDMA carriers like Sprint can roll it out and only upgrade."
The message is clear from operators, vendors and analysts: 1X is a 3G solution that offers a viable, cost-effective growth path for near-term introduction of much anticipated 3G services. 1X is 3G and it is just around the corner.