By Jeffrey A. Schlesinger, UBS
If voice services become standard, data and information could be selling points of the future. In fact cdmaOnes robustness and bandwidth could mean that, for future investors, its real benefit could be data rather than voice.
For the best part of a decade, the CDMA/TDMA battle has centered around which of these air-interface techniques is best suited for high-mobility voice communications. Wireless technologists will likely declare at the end of the day a truce (in the form of third generation mobile standards) and conclude that there are only marginal differences between the current implementations of these technologies, at least as they pertain to mobile voice communication. For fixed-based wireless services, CDMA is likely to prove more spectrally efficient and cost-effective than current high-mobility implementations of TDMA.
During this lengthy debate, perhaps the experts lost sight of the fact that society was undergoing a fundamental shift in how it was choosing to communicate information. With the rapid development of the Internet, e-mail, and corporate Intranets, society has become increasingly dependent on data, as opposed to voice, as a means of communicating information. As data becomes more and more a part of our daily lives, mobile communications traffic will also migrate from voice to data. In fact, some industry pundits believe that data traffic will account for almost 30% of network traffic by the end of the decade.
The wideband channel structure of IS-95 CDMA relative to TDMA-based systems like GSM, PDC, and IS-136 is better suited for delivering faster and more efficient mobile data communications.
Aside from the obvious difference in air-interface technique and channel size, todays CDMA systems are architecturally different in other ways. Many of the IS-95 CDMA systems being constructed today incorporate network backbones that utilize packet-based technologies, such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Frame Relay, for transmission of voice traffic between base stations and mobile switches and base station controllers (by comparison, todays TDMA systems utilize circuit-switched technologies to connect base stations and mobile switches and controllers).
ATM/Frame Relay backbone architectures give these systems truly broadband capability, which, as air-interface technology continues to evolve will be able to support high-speed data applications (database query, broadcast data, file transfer and Internet access) and ultimately video telephony. Today, Lucent and Nortel offer packet-based backbone architectures for their CDMA product offerings.
In terms of additional network hardware to support CDMA data services, carriers only have to add Interworking Function equipment to their voice networks. Interworking Function hardware is essentially a modem pool that sits behind the switch and converts the data information from CDMA packets to the public network format. Today, only a limited number of North American CDMA systems can support packet data transmission with speeds up to 14.4 kpbs. This service offering should be widely available by the end of 1997. Faster data communications is on the horizon, as a new CDMA standard for high-speed data services (64 kbps ISDN B channel service plus a D channel for signaling) has recently been approved. This new standard will allow seamless connectivity to both ISDN and High Speed Asynchronous Circuit Switched Data applications. It should be noted that many of these high-speed applications will require end-user devices be stationary probably a good idea given the trouble some people have with just talking and driving. High-speed CDMA network services should be available late in 1998 or 1999.
Services supporting this packet standard are expected
to be available in 1998. GPRS is expected to provide peak data rates
of 115 kbps, and is based on data networking standards such as TCP/IP
and X.25. Even so, current implementations of GSM are architecturally
more limited in terms of data transmission capacity due to the 200 KHz
channel structure relative to IS-95 CDMAs 1.25 MHz channels, everything
else being equal.
Initially, data applications will focus primarily on specific vertical market solutions, such as field service and field sales. However, over time, wireless data applications will migrate to the general business user and ultimately the mass market.
For this to occur new information appliances will need to be developed. These devices will likely fall into two categories: communication-centric and computing-centric. Communication-centric devices will provide seamless voice and data communications connectivity supporting data applications such as e-mail, WWW access and fax.
Computing-centric devices will be more processing intensive and provide mobile functionality and connectivity to traditional fixed-based computing applications. Either way, computing, networking, telecommunications and Internet content industry groups will have to forge alliances to bring these next-generation devices and applications to market.
The usual suspects such as Intel, Sun, Oracle, and of course Microsoft will almost certainly be a part of the emerging mobile data market. New entrants such as Unwired Planet (mobile access to traditional web sites) and Geoworks (mobile device operating systems and information content services) are also likely play an important role in the development of this market.
New distribution channels will emerge, utilizing system integrators and VARs. In addition, third-party wireless data gateways will be particularly important when dealing with corporate network security and firewall issues. Companies capable of providing these integration and/or gateway services are now emerging (i.e. Wireless Telecom).
All proposed third generation radio mobile systems incorporate radio access systems based on CDMA. The only difference between these systems and presnt-day cdmaOne is that these systems incorporate radio access techniques that utilize significantly wider CDMA radio channels (5 MHz to 15 MHz). As a result, these systems will be capable of significantly faster data communications (380 kbps+) than any of todays mobile systems, whether they be CDMA or TDMA.
Such third generation mobile networks will be capable of providing the
communications bandwidth necessary to seamlessly and cost-effectively
extend enterprise networks and Internet-based applications
to the mass market. Only then will we truly have ubiquitous
any time, any format, anywhere communications.