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A Direct Path to 3G

And possibly even to market leadership. The advantages of the CDMA2000 evolutionary path extend well beyond what it can offer cdmaOne operators. It is an internet-, data- and spectrum-friendly, IMT-2000-compliant standard every operator can use.
By Perry LaForge, executive director,
CDMA Development Group

In this highly competitive wireless world, those network operators able to fulfill the increasing voice and data needs of their subscribers and business customers-and do it quickly and cost-efficiently-can gain a leadership position in the market. This is particularly important as operators move to offering advanced services as a basis for differentiation. However, reaching this goal requires carriers to operate networks that can optimally manage their spectrum and equipment resources. Technology plays a significant role in this regard. When it comes to third generation (3G) networks, the CDMA2000 evolutionary path provides unmatched flexibility and efficiency. And its benefits are for all to share.

3G standardization
There are several 3G technology options from which carriers can choose. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU)-working with industry groups worldwide-several years ago implemented what it called the International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) program for 3G standardization. In late 1999, the ITU selected five IMT-2000 terrestrial radio interfaces as approved 3G standards: 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).

CDMA2000 offers more benefits to operators than the other standards. In addition, operators which adopt CDMA2000 have a direct path to 3G. There are no '2.5G' or interim technology platforms to overlay and no new need to acquire new spectrum. CDMA2000 1X is a true 3G standard approved by the ITU. Not only that but it is already in commercial service in Korea, delivering data speeds in excess of the 144kbit/s 3G standard set by the ITU.

Fortunately, CDMA2000 is a standard that every operator can use. The CDMA2000 evolutionary path can be deployed by any carrier-not just those that have chosen cdmaOne as their second generation standard. From a standards perspective, a significant output of the ITU IMT-2000 program was to ensure CDMA2000 could operate on GSM-based core networks. In addition, the network standard on which UWC-136/EDGE is based is the same as that for CDMA2000 (ANSI-41). This is an important and significant point for operators to consider as they plan the move to 3G. This path enables operators to get to market quicker, with a lower risk technology, and not be required to clear new spectrum, or acquire 3G spectrum, to be 3G-ready.

In fact, as well as benefiting cdmaOne operators, CDMA2000 offers a 3G opportunity for TDMA carriers. All around the world, carriers using the TDMA IS-136 standard are seriously examining their 3G migration options. GSM and cdmaOne operators have, for the most part, made a commitment to CDMA for 3G. TDMA operators must consider different 3G options: Do I stay on a path to EDGE? Do I go from EDGE to WCDMA, or even directly to WCDMA? Do I go to CDMA2000? The decision has significant financial implications, and must be made with a thorough understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

Circuitous routes
The EDGE and WCDMA routes are somewhat circuitous in that the carriers need to first build GPRS overlays on their existing circuit-switched networks in order to provide subscribers basic packet data. Taking the EDGE path, the technology is then upgraded to enable 3G services. Alternatively (or as a follow-on step), these carriers can migrate to WCDMA. Another downside of this approach is that these TDMA carriers are constrained by the issues WCDMA is facing in Europe-technology issues and operator debt from 3G licensing is placing uncertainly on the timing of WCDMA deployments. It is also important to note that NTT DoCoMo, which planned to deploy WCDMA in May 2001, will delay commercial deployment until October.

A more schedule- and cost-efficient choice for these operators is CDMA2000, which can move them directly to 3G in a shorter timeframe. TDMA carriers use the ANSI-41 core network standard, the same core network standard as cdmaOne. Any ANSI-41 network, whether TDMA or cdmaOne, is able to roll out CDMA2000 as an immediate 3G path. Although using the same core network standard as cdmaOne provides benefits, it is by no means necessary. For example, US operator Nextel Communications, which operates a TDMA-based Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN) system primarily for business users, is preparing to bypass GPRS and launch CDMA2000 services in the U.S. Choosing this 3G standard will enable the carrier to increase voice and data capacity on existing spectrum.

Equal opportunity
CDMA2000 can indeed be called an 'equal opportunity' standard because even GSM carriers can benefit. As mentioned previously, the IMT-2000 standard, allows GSM operators to deploy CDMA2000 on the GSM Mobile Access Protocol (MAP) core network. The IS-833 standard defines how the CDMA2000 can interface with the GSM-MAP environment. This will enable CDMA2000 to be used in GSM-MAP and give GSM carriers the ability to launch 3G services without having to wait for WCDMA.

By taking advantage of these capabilities today, all carriers can rapidly deploy 3G without interim steps. By including several enhancements to their networks, these carriers can offer 3G with CDMA2000 1X and later move to CDMA-DS (WCDMA) or continue further along the CDMA2000 evolutionary path.

The benefits of CDMA2000 extend well beyond its evolutionary advantages and into the world of wireless internet. Subscriber access to the high-speed wireless internet over packet data networks is a key driver for next generation services. The rapid acceleration in the use of the internet is fueling widespread consumer demand for fast connection and access to content and m-commerce services. Wireless carriers will also provide the unique benefits of mobile access, with smaller form factors, enhanced displays and multimedia capabilities, 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 now receive over the 'wired web'.

Offering high-speed services over an internet protocol-standard network can become quite expensive when the network does not natively support packet data. To gain this capability, operators must add packet data equipment to existing networks. However, cdmaOne operators already offer systems based on IP standards. Operators buy off-the-shelf, low-cost routers and IP gateways from a wide range of manufacturers. To migrate to CDMA2000, operators only need to add channel cards and software enhancements to base station controllers and base transceiver stations. Carriers reduce their infrastructure costs while ensuring interoperability. There is no need for so-called 'forklift' changes.

By leveraging the capabilities of existing cdmaOne technology and system architecture, CDMA2000 maximizes network flexibility and lets carriers retain their investment. Instead of introducing 3G services in the entire coverage area (especially where it is not necessary or cost-effective to do so), CDMA2000 operators can initially target densely populated areas and business districts requiring more capacity and increased data rates.

High-speed access
Those wireless operators that choose the CDMA2000 path to 3G gain important benefits. First, it provides very high speed access, with CDMA2000 1X delivering 307kbit/s and a typical speed of 144kbit/s, all in only 1.25MHz of spectrum. These speeds put wireless operators in a strong competitive position against dial-up 56kbit/s modem service, and even Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services.

Second, CDMA2000 1X provides operators with six times the voice capacity of current TDMA or GSM systems. This will provide a significant market advantage over competitors whose networks must set aside part of their spectrum capacity for increased data use (thereby impacting voice service). CDMA2000 is an integrated voice and data platform. Third, 3G services on CDMA2000 are achievable within the same spectrum bands in which a carrier currently operates, or in new (e.g. IMT) bands if the operator so chooses. Spectrum is a scarce (and expensive) resource, and CDMA2000 provides a means to most effectively use this resource, operating in cellular and personal communications services frequencies-450MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1700MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz-as well as the 2100MHz IMT band. CDMA2000 1X delivers 3G capabilities while occupying the same amount of bandwidth (1.25MHz per carrier) as a 2G CDMA network.

Commercial deployment
Finally, CDMA2000 is a 3G standard that is commercially deployed. Before GSM/GPRS services become available on a large scale, true 3G networks will already be operational in Asia and the Americas. Carriers in nearly a dozen nations are currently testing or deploying own commercial networks this year. In Korea, SK Telecom has had its 3G system operational since October 2000, and LG Telecom launched earlier this year. Korea's KT Freetel also plans to commercially launch its CDMA2000 1X 3G network in the next couple of months.

In addition, handsets are already available for the 3G service, including phones and PCMCIA cards from SK Teletech, Samsung, and LG. Many other devices will be introduced in the near future, including phones, personal digital assistants, smart phones, laptops and tablets.

So CDMA2000 is first to market. But it can go even further and help operators to lead the market. CDMA2000 is a flexible evolutionary path that eliminates the need to build complex overlays or new networks operating on high-priced spectrum. So that all CDMA2000 carriers receive the same benefits of higher data throughput and increased voice capacity, 3G evolutionary standards have been developed by the Third Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2). Born out of the ITU's IMT-2000 initiative, the 3GPP2 is a collaborative standards-setting project composed of international carriers and vendors.

For many carriers the CDMA2000 path begins with cdmaOne, currently serving more than 80 million customers around the world. cdmaOne IS-95A networks provide toll-quality voice and packet data speeds up to 14.4kbit/s, higher than other 2G systems. In addition, cdmaOne IS-95B networks have been deployed in Asia for over two years and offer data rates of at 64kbit/s-the same rate that many GSM/GPRS carriers plan to offer beginning just this year. In September 1999, KT Freetel became the first carrier to launch a cdmaOne IS-95B network. KDDI in Japan deployed its own IS-95B network in January 2000.

Voice and data share the same resources in cdmaOne, so voice capacity does not shrink during times of higher data consumption. In addition, cdmaOne ensures more reliable in-building penetration, increased privacy and better security. With over-the-air activation, subscribers can add new services to their devices without having to visit the carrier or an authorized dealer for provisioning.

CDMA2000 1X is the next phase in the evolution of cdmaOne and brings 3G to the world. Beyond this is an evolution to higher data rates and spectrum efficiency, operating in the same 1.25MHz channel. CDMA2000 1xEV will offer speeds up to 2.4Mbit/s. To remain competitive, 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 subscribers. However, reduced network upgrades and superior spectrum efficiency on existing frequencies give CDMA2000 carriers the cost advantage that will enable them to keep 3G services affordable for their customers.

Customers gain many other important benefits from CDMA2000. Through the improved management of power resources, CDMA2000 1X doubles handset standby time and significantly extends battery life. In addition, end-user devices are backward- and forward-compatible. If a subscriber does not wish to take advantage of 3G services, his or her existing cdmaOne device will operate on CDMA2000 1X networks.

Choosing a 3G technology standard is an important decision to make. Those carriers who have not yet decided or are reconsidering their 3G choice should remember these facts: GPRS begins an expensive and long route to 3G. True 3G data rates will not arrive for these carriers until several years from now.

Direct path
CDMA2000 is a direct path to 3G and is available to TDMA-based and GSM-based carriers now CDMA2000 provides higher data rates, spectrum efficiency reduced network costs, increased voice capacity, network flexibility and subscriber benefits sooner, not later. With these and other points taken into consideration, CDMA2000 becomes the sensible, flexible and cost-efficient 3G standard for all carriers which aim to become leaders in the market.

Perry LaForge is executive director of the CDMA Development Group. CDG is an international industry association of 110 companies, including the world's leading manufacturers and operators of digital cellular and PCS communications systems.

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