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The cdmaOne To Watch

It looks as though there may be trouble ahead for would-be WCDMA operators as they struggle to roll out and pay for the next generation of mobile technologies. Meanwhile, the cdmaOne operator community seems to be enjoying a relatively smooth transition to 3G. But is it all as problem-free as it looks?
By Tammy Parker

As the GPRS roll-out across Europe falters, UMTS and other 3G licensees wrestle with expensive roll-out plans, and Japan's planned WCDMA networks face ongoing delays, cdmaOne operators are launching upgrades that will provide 144kbit/s data speeds and planning for innovative vocoder advancements.

Meanwhile, subscriber numbers edge ever closer to the 100 million mark. cdmaOne operators gained 30.3 million subscribers, for 61 per cent growth, in the year ending December 2000, according to the CDMA Development Group (CDG). And by the end of last year, 80.4 million people were using cdmaOne services. Perhaps more importantly, data is making huge strides in the cdmaOne community, with some 30 percent of all cdmaOne subscribers in the world today using mobile data/mobile internet services, according to Ericsson.

Despite such gains, some feel that the roaming dominance of GSM-related entities is setting up WCDMA as a de facto worldwide 3G standard-provided the networks can ever get off the ground. And many vendors and operators involved with cdmaOne/CDMA2000 are also involved with GSM/WCDMA, confusing messages from the different technology camps.

It's no secret that in South Korea-a stalwart supporter of cdmaOne-operators Korea Telecom and SK Telecom have decided to deploy WCDMA in their 3G spectrum in order to align themselves with other operators worldwide. The South Korean government has decided that the third Korean license must be awarded to a company willing to operate a CDMA2000 network because it does not want to see the vast cdmaOne experience of that country's vendors go to waste when 3G comes along.

Upgrade
On the other hand, South Korean operators are also leading the way to cdmaOne's 1XRTT upgrade, which promises data speeds of 144kbit/s to start with as well as doubled voice capacity. SK Telecom went commercial with 1X in October 2000 and had 45,000 subscribers by March 2001. KT Freetel has delayed its official commercial launch until early summer 2001.

Meanwhile in Japan, a little pressure from the US government and Qualcomm kept KDDI Group on the cdmaOne path. Executives within the CDG feel confident that cdmaOne will also find a home in China and received a boost after China Unicom awarded a number of telecoms equipment suppliers $1.5 billion worth of contracts for infrastructure for a planned nationwide CDMA network. In Brazil meanwhile, Telesp Celular announced that country's first-ever market trial of 1X, with plans to deploy service in major metropolitan areas by the end of 2001.

North American cdmaOne operators appear to be firmly on the cdmaOne evolutionary path, particularly since they still have only their existing cellular and PCS frequencies within which to work. US 3G spectrum auctions, planned for mid-2002, could bring about different technology affiliations, but it's far too early to speculate since frequency availability, auction rules and related spectrum caps are still being debated by regulators. In the meantime, vendors such as Ericsson are actively pushing TDMA operators to jump to cdmaOne in order to gain capacity and high-speed data functionality within the 2G spectrum they already own.

Despite years of semantics regarding technology harmonization, such a thing is far from certain in the near-term. What is clear is vendors that have honed their skills in cdmaOne will increasingly take their experience to the WCDMA marketplace if they can't succeed in swinging that camp over to their way of thinking.

For instance, Qualcomm announced a single-mode WCDMA chipset that should be ready to ship later this year. Tim Eckersley, vice president of customer operations for Nokia Networks America, alleges that this move shows companies like Qualcomm are "hedging their bets" as they see the world going WCDMA.

However, Perry LaForge, CDG executive director says such a statement goes too far. "Europe has an industrial policy," he says, and companies that want to compete in that arena have so far had to develop products under those rules. Qualcomm's development of chipsets for WCDMA is not an abandonment of the cdmaOne path, but shows the company, like other cdmaOne vendors, is willing to market products that suit European edicts, LaForge comments.

Evolutionary path
Many feel the cdmaOne evolutionary path is more straightforward and seamless than its GSM counterpart. However, even cdmaOne faces some forks in the road and technology debates that must be put straight for the protocol to move forward.

Most agree that 1X is on its way to becoming a success story. Mark Kelley, chief technical officer at US operator Leap Wireless, calls 1X "the world's best-kept secret," noting that it offers the smoothest evolution to 3G operators with no network 'forklifts' involved. It also provides 3G data speeds in existing 1.25MHz spectrum. "I just don't understand why anybody would buy a lot more clean spectrum so they can put in a 5MHz-wide technology," he muses.

Mark Davis, marketing director at Repeater Technologies in California observes that large, capacity-constrained markets present a case for 1X solely on the doubled voice capacity it makes possible. Data, even at 144kbit/s, is a value-added feature in this case. This contrasts drastically with GSM data technologies such as GPRS that will actually eat into voice capacity, with higher speeds demanding more timeslots dedicated to data.

1X was designed to be backward-compatible with existing handsets. However, certain interpretations of the original IS-95 specification appear to have strayed, meaning some legacy handsets could have problems working with 1X. Nokia's implementation of the IS-95A spec in its chipsets means that Nokia's phones will not recognize the new 1X sync channel. A solution to this problem was expected by the end of May, according to LaForge. Further, software in legacy cdmaOne handsets using Motorola IS-95 chipsets could also create minor problems with IS-2000, Rev. A, which will add advanced features to the network when it is introduced in late 2002 or early 2003. Because Rev. A is still being validated, it is anticipated that a solution for that problem could be implemented in the standard, if necessary.

Peter Skarzynski, senior vice president, marketing and sales for wireless terminals, at Samsung Telecommunications America, says the standards committees and other industry groups will likely work out these kinks quickly, but adds: "You don't want to see consumers being handicapped as we bring new technologies out." He further notes that, as of April 2001, "Samsung is the only company in the world shipping a 1X handset commercially". The company's 1X handset and infrastructure experience so far proves that 1X supports new 1X devices as well as legacy handsets that have closely followed the IS-95 specs.

There are also ongoing debates surrounding 1X enhancements. 1X EV-DO, also called 1X-EV Phase One, provides data delivery at 2.4Mbit/s. That enhancement is built primarily upon Qualcomm's High Data Rate technology. 1X EV-DV, or 1X-EV Phase Two, is supposed to take cdmaOne even further, with promises of data speeds ranging from 3Mbit/s to 5Mbit/s. EV-DV would also put voice and data on a single channel, unlike EV-DO, which requires a dedicated data channel only.

EV-DV
As many as eight proposals have been submitted to standards committee 3GPP2 for the design of EV-DV. The CDG loosely set an October 2001 deadline for agreement on EV-DV's components but creating a solid consensus is taking time, especially since the four remaining camps are at odds with each other's approaches.

By the second quarter of 2001, the camps broke down like this: Lucent and its cooperating partners LG, LSI, Qualcomm and Samsung; Nokia, Motorola, Philips Semiconductors and Texas Instruments with their 1Xtreme proposal; Nortel Networks with a proposal that uses EV-DO as its foundation; and LinkAir Communications, which is promoting its Large Area Synchronized-CDMA (LAS-CDMA) approach.

Though Qualcomm has joined forces with Lucent on EV-DV, Qualcomm executives question the need for EV-DV at all. "1X and 1X EV-DO are stellar technologies. I say this unabashedly. They literally have proven themselves," says Anil Kripalani, senior vice president, global technology marketing, at Qualcomm. He emphasizes that the 1X EV-DO technology was widely tested before becoming standardized and is ready for market. He particularly feels proposals like 1Xtreme were put forth as a way to slow adoption of a Qualcomm-originated technology. "HDR and DO were making extraordinary progress, so some proposal had to be put out to stop it," he says.

Speed requirements
Kripalani says EV-DV spec requirements for speed have trickled down to little more than the speeds EV-DO can offer, prompting him to ask: "So why would you want to come out with a standard that just barely beats the previous one?"

But the 1Xtreme camp alleges Qualcomm, et al, are holding back to make the most of EV-DO. Kripalani says this allegation is inaccurate and asks why Qualcomm has been singled out for creating EV-DV stumbling blocks when LinkAir "did the most significant amount of effort in putting out a proposal that people took seriously".

Operators such as KT Freetel, KDDI, Sprint PCS and Verizon have tested and/or committed to EV-DO. Yet George Vardakis, senior director, wireless systems marketing and sales, for Samsung Telecommunications America, believes there are still issues regarding getting EV-DO onto the streets. "In terms of actually getting product (chipsets) out of Qualcomm, there are still discussions on when it's going to be available and that sort of thing," says Vardakis.

Impressive claims have been made for 1Xtreme. According to its proponents, the technology is supposed to generate packet data rates of up to 5.2Mbit/s, with data throughput of 1.2Mbit/s on a 1.25MHz CDMA channel. Unlike other EV approaches that use a 16 quad amplitude modulation (QAM) scheme, 1Xtreme uses 64 QAM, which is key to the higher speeds, though may be less easy to build out. Furthermore, the 1Xtreme camp filed a 1000-page document listing 1Xtreme's specs with 3GPP2 in autumn 2000, whereas others, in particular the Lucent group, have yet to offer similar details.

Meanwhile, infrastructure vendors are looking beyond mere air interfaces to offer a variety of IP-based core networking platforms-one reason for Ericsson's relative reticence concerning the various ongoing standards battles. Explains Gwenn Larsson, Ericsson's director, strategic marketing, for CDMA systems: "We're more focused on all-IP for CDMA2000 and WCDMA."

New introductions
Launch kinks and standards debates aside, the cdmaOne market is primed for a host of new handset introductions in coming months. Skarzynski notes that Samsung is targeting new handsets at three broad categories: connectivity, productivity and entertainment.

In terms of connectivity, the company hopes to be first to market with Global Positioning by Satellite (GPS) devices using Qualcomm's SnapTrack technology. For productivity, Samsung will introduce the SPH-I300, a PDA phone marketed as a "wireless digital assistant", this summer, which is a bit of a marketing reversal from Kyocera Wireless' QCP-6035 smartphone with PDA capabilities. Like the Kyocera model, Samsung's new phone uses the Palm operating system. "This will be launched first in the United States because there is a very large community of PDA or Palm users out there," says Skarzynski.

As for entertainment, Samsung continues to market its Uproar device that integrates a wireless phone and MP3 player. In addition, Samsung plans to unveil the world's first 1X-capable video-on-demand handset, the SCH-X200, during Q4 2001 in South Korea. Beyond that, Samsung, like its competitors, expects to refresh its full product line with 1X capabilities as that market develops.

With so much focus on data developments, it's easy to forget that the cdmaOne camp is also making advances in voice compression. The first cdmaOne vocoders were 8kilobit versions, but 13kilobit versions were introduced for higher quality though they impacted network capacity. Then came Enhanced Variable Rate Coding (EVRC), which let operators choose between the two vocoder versions depending on the capacity needed in a given area.

EVRC has been essential for companies such as Leap Wireless, which offers 'all you can eat' flat-rate pricing, requiring lots of capacity. That type of business plan led Leap to use EVRC equipment throughout its markets. "We're convinced we're getting the most capacity on average of anyone simply by virtue of the fact that we have all EVRC," says Kelley.

The next step is the Selectable Mode Vocoder. Global standards body 3GPP2 recently released the SMV algorithm for implementation. The SMV operational mode can be controlled on a static or dynamic basis, allowing carriers service efficiencies at peak load times. The SMV algorithm can continually choose optimal encoding rates based on input speech characteristics to ensure that sound quality remains high.

Rule of thumb
Davis says the vocoder rule of thumb is that when you go from 13kilobit to 8kilobit, there's a 40 percent capacity increase. Using the 13k vocoder as the baseline, the addition of 1X with EVRC provides about a 350 percent increase in capacity. Adding in SMV, available in 2002, is expected to provide another 50 percent increase. And, given such advances, if high-speed data and overall capacity increases are something to shout about in a 3G world, it appears as though the cdmaOne community is well on its way to making itself heard.

This article first appeared in CDMA World Focus June 2001 published by Informa Telecoms. For more information see www.telecoms.com

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