Let’s Talk About It
By Tammy Parker
Peace hasn’t entirely broken out in the CDMA harmonization debate but constructive discussion now appears to be the order of the day. Meanwhile, New Zealand follows the Australian trend with its first cdmaOne network.
Even as harmonization efforts for third-generation CDMA-based networks continue, operators and vendors are shifting their focuses to enabling real-world data applications and building the all-encompassing networks of the future—networks that will enable integrated voice and data services.
"CDMA has a very bright future indeed," says Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDMA Development Group. Speaking during the CDMA World Congress, held June 15-17 in Hong Kong, LaForge observed: "The world is going to CDMA: We’re just starting from different points."
However, the question remains: How close together can next-generation CDMA solutions be brought before widespread commercial deployments begin? A compromise solution forged in the spring of 1999 calls for a converged CDMA standard that relies on two radio access modes called FDD Direct Sequence for WCDMA technology and FDD Multi-Carrier for CDMA2000 technology. Another mode, called TDD, correlates with a European-backed technology called TDMA/CDMA that is envisioned as providing high-speed, local-area, fixed services. All three modes would support adaptable connections to core networks such as GSM MAP and IS-41 for cdmaOne and AMPS.
However, it is often assumed that wide-area operators in GSM strongholds will lean toward adopting FDD Direct Sequence while those with a predilection toward cdmaOne will use FDD Multi-Carrier technology.
Driving standardization is the International Telecommunication Union, whose International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) project is setting the framework for wireless 3G networks. Speaking at the CDMA World Congress, Fabio Leite, counsellor in the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, noted that the ITU recently endorsed a document on modular harmonization drafted by the Operators Harmonization Group. That document provides "a crucial influence in the weeks to come," Leite says.
Both the 3G Partnership Project 2 (PP2)—a North American 3G technology group developing IS-41 solutions—and 3G PP1—a European group working on GSM-based solutions—have endorsed the tri-mode approach. The sibling 3G groups have elected to continue working on the separate modes they represent rather than merging, fearing that while such collaboration might eliminate duplicate work, it could also slow standardization. Final IMT-2000 specs are slated for decision in Helsinki at an ITU meeting that will close Nov. 5.
Richard Lowe, vice president and general manager, CDMA Wireless Solutions, at Nortel Networks, says the OHG agreement shows there is still considerable work to be done on harmonization. The industry, he notes, is working to reduce the number of variants in the various 3G solutions, adding: "Most of our efforts internally are dedicated toward economies of scale."
Chip rates, pilot channel schemes and base station synchronization remain issues, however. The cdmaOne community’s use of the U.S. government’s Global Positioning System for synchronization has been an especially sore point.
Anil Kripalani, vice president of international planning and administration at Qualcomm, replies: "It’s a little bit disingenuous to say GPS is an issue." GPS provides a reference point for synchronization, but the process can be accomplished using a different reference point, such as another government’s satellite system. He claims the asynchronous model for WCDMA was only developed "because somebody wanted to be different."
Qualcomm still supports the development of a single CDMA 3G solution that combines all of the best parts of CDMA2000 and WCDMA into one technology. "We’re not agnostic to the degree where we say ‘whatever’," he notes.
Qualcomm executives have previously indicated a willingness to participate in the WCDMA market, but 3G solutions for cdmaOne are coming first. The company will have prototype 1xRTT chips available in 1999’s fourth quarter, and production volumes should be ready in early 2000. Qualcomm expects to release its first 1xRTT phones later that year.
Mark Epstein, senior vice president of development at Qualcomm, believes harmonization could be achieved if the ITU were willing to extend its IMT-2000 deadlines. By being a slave to the dates, he claims, the organization is eliminating the opportunity to build 3G networks with a single CDMA solution.
On the flip side, Bo Hedfors, president of Motorola’s Network Solutions Sector, states: "Harmonization is desired for economic reasons" but also asserts it is essential to maintain the standardization time schedule in order to satisfy market demands. Mike Butcher, president and CEO for Lucent Technologies Global Services Provider in Asia/Pacific, concurs. He says market requirements require vendors to move ahead commercially "in a timeframe that is not compatible with the efforts toward harmonization."
Some, such as Qualcomm’s Epstein feel the influence of China, still a sleeping giant with regards to 3G wireless, will eventually bring together the dueling CDMA modes. Operator China United Telecommunications (China Unicom), which launched its cdmaOne network in 1998, is already pushing for GSM/CDMA dual-mode handsets and integration of a user identity module, akin to the GSM SIM card, for cdmaOne terminals.
Meanwhile, operators and vendors are moving past the air interface debates to concentrate on actually building their new networks and developing value-added services. Dave Murashige, vice president, CDMA Marketing and Product Line Management, Nortel Networks, says today’s data services "are a testing ground for the future." He notes that early SMS applications are showing ways wireless networks can be used for data but says those rudimentary applications over narrow pipes won’t be sufficient in the future.
Keith Paglusch, senior vice president of technical services and network operations for U.S. operator Sprint PCS, says networks upgraded to 3G must offer radically new features and capabilities beyond the status quo. "We want the PCS phone to be the center of one’s universe from a communications perspective," he says.
Sprint is planning to test 1xRTT, considered Phase I of CDMA2000, in early 2000. The operator is currently conducting lab tests of the network upgrade. Paglusch notes that separate agreements Sprint PCS recently signed to license Phone.com’s WAP-compatible UP.Link Server Suite for wireless data services and to bring Web Content and other services to Sprint PCS subscribers via Internet company Yahoo! are "precursors" to the 1xRTT launch.
Paglusch states Sprint’s data strategy is founded on the concept that the wireless phone is essentially a modem. That modem, in turn, should be capable of receiving "push" content, such as news updates that are delivered to customers on a regular basis, and accessing "pull" content, which might be anything customers want to retrieve via the Internet or a corporate intranet.
However, revenue streams are also likely from other applications. For instance, remote telemetry promises to be lucrative. Hedfors notes that such monitor and control functions are especially nice because they can often be done off-peak and don’t significantly impact network capacity. Hedfors also envisions potential revenue streams from advertising, if operators can learn to advertise what subscribers want to see.
Regardless of the applications being envisioned, however, pundits agree that the entire network architecture will need to change in order to accommodate future uses. The bottom line, Hedfors asserts, is that "the new revenue sources will come from being a network of networks."
Lucent’s Butcher agrees, saying the telecom industry will migrate to the PC industry model in which manufacturers will offer open systems that allow the use of software upgrades for new services. Future networks will be "a complex mosaic of multimedia environments," Butcher says. He adds that network vendors will need to integrate all technologies such as circuit and packet, wireless and wireline, broadband and narrowband into single platforms.
Similarly, Nortel’s Lowe feels future networks will operate "independently of the access technology." Lowe says vendors must begin to focus on the total network as opposed to its components.
Hedfors is keen on using Internet Protocol (IP) transport in 3G networks. Adopting this approach, he says, will guarantee lower-cost infrastructure; faster provisioning of new features; easy integration of network elements; simplified harmonization of standards; and creation of new services.
Murashige of Nortel notes an internal Nortel initiative involves using IP to reduce the current 37 cent-per-megabit price point to four cents per megabit over the next five years. This will greatly reduce the cost of network ownership, he adds. And by unifying voice and data traffic on a single network, Murashige says, "this allows the maximum reduction in cost."
The IP approach also will allow operators to create personal Web portals, which Hedfors says are necessary to enable many value-added services being envisioned. These portals should be highly customized and specialized plus designed for wireless use. Wireless Web portals "will help us retain ownership of the customer and reduce churn," Hedfors says.
In line with that vision, Motorola has instigated key partnerships with Alcatel, Cisco Systems, and Sun Microsystems. The Sun agreement, announced the week prior to the CDG World Congress, is a non-exclusive, 10-year strategic technology pact through which Sun and Motorola will work on IP-based infrastructure equipment for wireless networks.
Yet there will be a significant transition window on the way to IP. Woody Richey, vice president and general manager of the Network Solutions Systems Division at Motorola’s Networks Solutions Sector, observes that mobile switching centers (MSCs) still must accommodate legacy systems and services. However, by integrating MSCs with new service gateways and IP technologies, carriers can cap their MSC expenditures. The key, Richey says, is to "pay as you grow" rather than "buying big iron and amortizing that over several years."
Brian Bolliger, director of market strategy for Lucent Technologies’ Wireless Network Group, believes MSCs will be around "for quite some time," in part because there is no reliable backup for IP networks. He notes, however, that data servers can augment a network by allowing less and less reliance on an MSC. "Coexistence is the issue," he says, noting there won’t be a single path to 3G.
By Tammy Parker
The best answer across the board?
Aside from making pitches for a single CDMA-based 3G standard, session panelists during an interactive Internet broadcast sponsored by the CDMA Development Group July 16 touted 1xRTT—the initial stage of cdmaOne’s 3G solution—as the best near-term answer for expanded wireless information services, even on non-cdmaOne networks.
Some operators in South Korea and Japan are currently upgrading to the IS-95B standard that allows for high-speed packet switched data at 115 kilobits per second and a sustained bit rate of 64kbit/s. However, 1xRTT promises real data speeds of 144kbit/s, a sustained bit rate of 307kbit/s and twice the airlink capacity.
"I think everyone is going to want to get to 1xRTT as quickly as possible because of the doubling of capacity. But in the interim, one can get significant advantages from 95-B," says Irwin Jacobs, Qualcomm chairman and chief executive officer.
Jacobs, citing the evolutionary benefits of cdmaOne technology, notes that GSM and TDMA operators are "looking at making some fairly significant changes, for example, to introduce an EDGE technology that supports higher data rates." However, Jacobs indicates that all wireless operators updating their networks on the way to 3G should consider cdmaOne and 1xRTT technology since most are likely considering some type of CDMA, be it W-CDMA or CDMA2000, for their full-fledged 3G networks. ‘1x’ in its data capabilities, in its coverage carrier, in its capacity, in its flexibility"offers many, many distinct advantages over a movement instead to EDGE. It (1xRTT) will be available sooner, and it’ll be available with great capability," Jacobs claims.
Dave Poticny, vice president of Global Wireless Strategies for Lucent Technologies, agrees, noting that while governments are drawing up plans for licensing 3G operators in Europe and other locations, the future is not clear regarding the upgrade paths for current, second-generation licensees. That, he says, offers an opportunity for second-generation operators to examine a variety of technologies and evolutionary paths as they add higher data rates and capacities.
By Tammy Parker
Cellular switch for Kiwis
Telecom New Zealand has announced that it will deploy a cdmaOne network, spending around US$110 million. The company had previously chosen the TDMA standard as its path to providing a more feature-rich service. But despite TDMA technology being deployed in the early 90s Telecom had a mere 12,000 digital customers earlier this year. In contrast Telecom has over 660,000 analog customers.
In the year to 30 June, Telecom recorded strong growth in its cellular business. But the past year has seen some significant changes in their operating environment. Firstly there was the acquisition of their moribund GSM competitor by Vodafone accompanied by an aggressive marketing plan that has targeted the 20-35 age group, mirroring the successful approach of Vodafone in Australia. The result is that Vodafone New Zealand has almost doubled its subscriber base adding more than 120,000 new customers in the ten months since its acquisition of the BellSouth property.
But of more significance was the strong swing towards CDMA in Australia with three new networks under construction. Many observers believe that Telecom’s recent investment in the operator of one of these, AAPT, could now lead to the creation of a trans-Tasman CDMA straddle that would offset the advantage that Vodafone currently holds.
Telecom watched the Telstra decision closely and came up with a similar rationale for going CDMA. It believes that a cdmaOne network will have intrinsically better quality, be cheaper to build and over the long term have much lower operational costs. Telecom has stated that a cdmaOne network will have two to three times the capacity of DAMPS, it will need fewer sites to meet the AMPS coverage footprint and they believe it will also have better in-building coverage. The company also considers that CDMA will provide a better upgrade path for supporting high speed mobile data.
"This decision follows extensive international research on the best options available, which enabled us to see the technology mature and also to observe the deployment of CDMA on a global basis," said Telecom’s Network Group general manager David Bedford.
"Virtually all cellular technology paths lead to CDMA including GSM. Our existing digital network provides a high quality voice service, but we need to ensure that in the future our cellular network meets all the requirements of our customers, including the need for high speed, quality mobile data."
The decision was strongly endorsed by the CDMA Development Group with executive director Perry La Forge stating that it was further evidence of CDMA’s appeal in Asia Pacific.
The decision has also been viewed favourably by financial analysts. "This is confirmation of an inevitable decision to move to newer technology," Bloomberg reported John Norling of National Funds Management as saying. Norling’s company has around NZ$850 million of Telecom’s stock and he believes it will have no effect on his valuation of Telecom other than to provide the company with more flexibility in using its networks.
Telecom has confirmed this view rejecting suggestions that the decision would mean the abandonment of their TDMA network. "Telecom will continue to support and invest in our existing TDMA and analogue networks in cooperation with our current supplier Ericsson," said Bedford. "This is an important relationship which we intend to retain."
However Ericsson is not in the running for the supply of the CDMA. Lucent, Motorola and Nortel, which are, have been involved for some time in Telecom’s ‘Digital Transition Project’ but the focus has now shifted from the technical capabilities of their products to the best commercial offer. Telecom wants the supplier to enter into a ‘risk-sharing’ relationship rather than a straightforward best price. Under this arrangement capital payments to the vendors would depend on the volumes of traffic carried by the new network. According to Telecom this would have the effect of smoothing the capital expenditure profile over time and provide an incentive for the supplier to build a quality network.
By Maurie Dobbin
Third generation trials
Nortel Networks completed a series of mobile to mobile WCDMA videoconference calls in early September. The calls were completed on pocket-size terminals supplied by Matsushita Communication which are representative of what the first generation of 3G devices will look like.
"These are real mobile video terminals that would be instantly recognized by end users as actual consumer devices. They feature built-in cameras that can be rotated as well as color video screens that are approximately half the size of an ordinary business card," said Ken Blakeslee, vice president of business development, Carrier and Wireless Solutions, Nortel Networks.
The video calls were completed on a live WCDMA network. Applications demonstrated to date include streaming video from the Internet at 64kbit/s using PCMCIA equipped laptops and point-to-point fixed video conferencing at 384kbit/s, both using WCDMA equipment supplied by Panasonic. Nortel Networks will be showcasing these devices at ITU Telecom ’99 in Geneva.
DSP Communications has unveiled its first chip and system software solution for the CDMA2000 third generation standard. Field trials of the DSPC D6011 chip are scheduled to begin in early 2000 with commercial production following the trials.
"The introduction of our first CDMA2000 chip illustrates our commitment to delivering an alternative CDMA2000 solution, including chip and system software," said Paul Washkewicz, general manager, CDMA Business Unit at DSPC. "DSPC’s goal is to keep handset manufacturers and operators on the leading edge of CDMA2000 deployment."