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Before We Move On.....

By Vaughan O'Grady

cdmaOne is breaking out. Over the past 12 months, its early markets of Korea and the US have been joined by numerous others as mobile and WLL applications have been rolled out or introduced in Japan, Eastern Europe, Latin America and India. More recently, it's been announced that Australia will soon have its very first cdmaOne mobile system to replace the AMPS network which is to be phased out shortly. Meanwhile the technology approaches another milestone as subscriber numbers edge towards 20 million.

It's a pleasing performance in a by no means economically robust period, notably in Asia where markets are battling with the effects of recession. It is, however, not clear that the growth of wireless telecommunications has been badly affected by the economic downturn, even in Asia. However, if the prospects of an upturn in 1999 are confirmed, the already impressive growth of cdmaOne in Asia could shift into even higher gear, notably in Japan where the promise of financial stability would give a major boost to the two networks there.

Even if an Asian recovery takes much longer, however, we can look forward to a period of accelerating growth in US and Canadian markets as rollouts become more and more advanced and universal cdmaOne coverage is finally guaranteed-the major hurdle in attracting the prize of nearly 50 million subscribers still using analog services. Not far from these markets, the groundwork done in Latin America is beginning to pay off, but the region, especially the gargantuan Brazilian market, offers possibilities for CDMA technology barely hinted at so far.

The coming year is also when the telecoms industry showpiece takes place: the ITU's Telecom '99. At the last such show, four years ago, few companies saw any promise in CDMA technology. By next October, the Palexpo in Geneva will have a highly visible contingent of companies both specializing in, or including in their portfolio, cdmaOne products and services.

Of course there will be problems and challenges next year: encouraging consumer interest in data services; the still tricky questions of 3G evolution and harmonisation; arguments over health issues; environmental debates; the relatively novel experience of churn for the US market as it finally leaves behind the days of wireless duopolies; the threat of subscriber fraud; even consolidation in some markets. But these are the problems and challenges that come with success, the problems a fast-moving technology has to face when it moves into the mass market.

It's important to watch out for the stumbling blocks on the road to success. Having said that, the cdmaOne industry should at least take a moment to congratulate itself on its growth in 1998-before moving on to the serious business of facing the challenges of 1999.