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Time To Take Stock.....

Movers and shakers in the cdmaOne world gathered recently in Berlin and Los Angeles to consider progress and plan strategies for the future. Meanwhile a new annual awards ceremony accords recognition to past achievers in the cdmaOne industry.

Like a proud parent with a wallet full of family photos, the CDMA Development Group (CDG) eagerly touted the global achievements of cdmaOne and discussed initiatives for future success at two very different venues recently.

In October, a small meeting of less than 70 attendees in Berlin let the CDG make its case for cdmaOne expansion into new markets and harmonization with Europe's Wideband CDMA initiative for third generation technologies. One month later, the organization rounded off the year with a gathering of several hundred attendees at the CDMA Americas Congress in Los Angeles, where it touted cdmaOne victories across North and South America while again making its case for harmonization.

The contrasting size of the two meetings reflected the fact that cdmaOne has essentially been shut out of Western Europe by politicians and regulators but has thrived in openly competitive wireless markets across the Americas. Nonetheless, numerous informative sessions and considerable audience participation characterized the second annual European Regional Congress in Berlin. "I'm quite pleased with the attendees we got," says Dawn Brodman, CDG marketing director. The show attracted carrier representatives from countries such as Israel, Egypt, the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia.

Interest in cdmaOne as a wireless local loop (WLL) strategy is building steam across Eastern Europe in particular. The CDG announced in Berlin that nine cdmaOne WLL contracts have been signed in Russia, Poland and the Ukraine. Around the world, more than 60 such systems were scheduled for deployment by the end of 1998.

Scaling barriers

The Berlin event featured a presentation from the first European cdmaOne operation, Russia's P-Com network. General director, Michael Soussov, notes that the Moscow network operator has had to overcome numerous regulatory hurdles to survive, including a licensing framework that imposes strict limitations on WLL networks such as P-Com's providing mobile services.

The company has also had to build a dual-frequency network. In Moscow, Soussov says, the cdmaOne network uses the 879-882 MHz and 834-837 MHz bands. In areas outside Moscow, however, it must use the 873-876 and 828-831 MHz bands.

Nonetheless, by October the P-Com network covered 40 per cent of Moscow and nearby suburban areas and was on track to provide 80 per cent coverage by the end of 1998. The full network will be able to support 35,000 subscribers, Soussov says.

Also in Berlin, Brodman introduced attendees to cdmaConnect, a CDG initiative designed to encourage global cdmaOne roaming by allowing the CDG to act as a go-between for operator negotiations. The organization has created a bundled solution for operators and is working with London-based CIBERNET on billing settlement and with Florida-based GTE Telecommunications Services (GTE TSI) on clearing house and fraud roaming services.

The discussion was especially pertinent to the Berlin conference since international roaming on the GSM standard is so important in that area of the world. Brodman noted that inter-standard roaming with GSM and Japan's PDC networks is available through the cdmaConnect program. Customers can retain their own phone number even though they have to change phones for roaming on non-cdmaOne networks.

Roaming issue

International roaming has not been a huge issue for cdmaOne operators, which have been preoccupied with building out their networks and attracting initial customers. However, international roaming will become more important as markets mature. Brodman notes that revenue streams are not the driving consideration in global roaming. Instead, the ability to roam across countries is important because it can provide competitive market differentiation, attract top-tier customers and help carriers service business accounts.

International roaming was also addressed at the Los Angeles show, held in late November. According to Brian O'Shaughnessy, vice president of technology development at Canada's Bell Mobility, north-south roaming between the United States and Canada is actually more important than east-west roaming across Canada. O'Shaughnessy, who is also the new CDG president, notes that there are really very few technological impediments to international roaming, saying, "It just takes the will to get there."

A presentation prepared by David Gaus, director of roaming facilitation solutions for GTE TSI, suggested that cdmaOne operators look at prepaid wireless roaming as a way to gain additional revenue and retain customers. Such a program could attract customers fearful of exorbitant roaming costs which they can't afford. Prepaid roaming can also leverage carriers' post-paid international roaming structures by offering the same routing, administration, roaming validation and call delivery services.

Of course, standard prepaid services also attracted significant attention at the Los Angeles event. According to Peter Whalen, director of business development for Systems/Link, the US wireless prepaid market is expected to total $10 billion in 1998, up from only $1.2 billion in 1996. That's because rivals in the tightly competitive wireless market are increasingly turning to prepaid as a way to attract customers with credit risks or those who need to control their accounts, including corporate customers, students and retirees.

Operator benefits stemming from prepaid include increased cash flow, reduced bad debt and fraud, increased operational efficiencies, reduced cost of acquisition and a growing customer base, according to Whalen.

Unifying message

Also at the Americas Congress, the CDG held its first ever pre-show summit for international press and analysts in which the cdmaOne community made its case for harmonization of CDMA-based third generation standards.

After a day of technological comparisons and discussions of the advantages of an evolutionary 3G approach versus a revolutionary one, Ted Hoffman, vice president of technology development at Bell Atlantic Mobile, offered what may be the most elementary reasoning behind a harmonization move that could help unify global wireless networking.

"If we don't get this thing together now when we're so close, it's not going to happen in the fourth generation or fifth generation," he says. "We're so close now, and we're never going to get closer."

Speaking during the conference itself, Peter Pappas, assistant chief of the international bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, lent support to harmonization. He noted that 31 December 1998 would be a red-letter day ­ the time limit for intellectual property rights to be claimed by the International Telecommunication Union as part of its IMT-2000 selection process. Qualcomm has repeatedly stated that it will not sign over any IPR rights to the W-CDMA camp unless a converged standard is created. In the light of that, said Pappas, if the W-CDMA community has not worked out its IPR situation with Qualcomm by the end of December, "there is some question whether W-CDMA can go forward."

Furthermore, a move in the European Parliament to sign its member countries to support UTRA, a W-CDMA standard for 3G, could be at odds with the ITU's IMT-2000 processes, according to Pappas. He said that the FCC supports the ITU process, which should reveal in coming months whether there are any chances for harmonization.

Similarly, Bill Bold, Qualcomm's vice president of government affairs, says that if a converged standard were to emerge from the ITU process, the European Parliament's move to unify on W-CDMA would conflict with the ITU standard. "Governments shouldn't pre-empt initiatives with government policy to frustrate an outcome that would satisfy the most players," he says.

While the future appeared to be on the minds of everyone in Los Angeles, cdmaOne carriers still managed to take some time to pat themselves on the back for the past two years of successful network deployments. According to Andrew Sukawaty, chief executive officer of Sprint PCS, his company has licenses to serve "every square inch of ground in the United States". Sprint and its affiliate partners are building out furiously to cover those market areas.

Attractive pricing

Sukawaty claims that cdmaOne will be the lowest-cost technology per minute of use. Such low costs are allowing cdmaOne operators to offer attractive pricing plans, generating more use of the wireless network and considerably higher revenues than first anticipated by analysts. He pointed out that analysts predicted cdmaOne-based PCS operators like Sprint PCS might generate $35-$40 average revenue per user each month. However, the average monthly bill has actually been $57.

Sukawaty also took a jab at his GSM competitors in the United States, saying GSM is "in trouble" because the technology has not yet achieved a marketable national footprint. "There will not be a coherent national GSM footprint for three to five years," he predicts. That issue is critical, according to Sukawaty, because US business users are increasingly demanding extensive coverage from their wireless operators. Only 16 per cent of businesses demanded broad coverage in 1995, but that number has since increased to 54 per cent.

"The North American continent is moving toward a uniform CDMA system," continues Sukawaty. He adds that cdmaOne dominance in the United States and Canada is prompting Latin American operators to join the cdmaOne parade.

Sukawaty's statement echoed a CDG press release issued during the Americas Congress which noted that cdmaOne is capitalizing on its success in North America to enter leading Central and South American markets. Significant contracts have been awarded by Telesp Cellular in Sao Paolo, Brazil and Leap Wireless affiliates in Mexico and Chile. With such momentum assuring the ongoing market growth of cdmaOne, Sukawaty says: "We're starting to get to critical mass. We're not the upstart technology we once were."

Inaugural awards honor achievers in cdmaOne market

The CDG marked the 1998 Americas Congress with the unveiling of the First Annual CDMA Industry Achievement Awards. The ceremony, held at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying and hosted by CDG executive director Perry LaForge, focused on the year's cdmaOne success stories. "We are proud to recognize the cdmaOne achievements of key wireless industry leaders," said LaForge. "Their contributions to the CDG have led to the commercialization and globalization of cdmaOne, resulting in phenomenal success for cdmaOne operators, manufacturers and subscribers worldwide."

Award winners included F. Craig Farrill of AirTouch Communications, who was honored as past president and co-founder of the CDG. Qualcomm won the award for Subscriber Product Innovation. The company has shipped more than seven million cdmaOne phones since its inception, with shipments doubling from 1997 to 1998. It was also the first to introduce the pdQ CDMA digital smartphone. Samsung took the Infrastructure Product Innovation Award for its PicoBTS technology, which provides cellular and PCS operators with a small and high-capacity platform that allows for maximum deployment flexibility.

The Overall Subscriber Growth Award went to SK Telecom, which launched the world's first commercial CDMA service in January 1996. The company is one of the world's largest service operators with 5.5 million customers ­ 4.7 million digital and 800,000 analog. The Wireless Local Loop Subscriber Growth Award was won by Centennial Communications. The company's wireless telephone subscription base grew by 52.9 per cent from 1997 to 1998, with Puerto Rico accounting for 43.3 per cent of that growth.
The award for Innovative Solutions Through Teamwork went to Repeater Technologies and Nortel Networks, which have worked together to standardize CDMA repeater products and to accelerate the deployment of cdmaOne in suburban and rural areas. The Exceptional cdmaOne Branding Award was won by DDI and IDO for their service launch in Japan. They have introduced the cdmaOne brand in consumer advertising using Titanic actor Leonardo DiCaprio to promote the technology.

Awards for Technical Achievement were made to Dr. William Lee of AirTouch Communications and Dr. Andrew Viterbi of Qualcomm. Dr. Lee has been heavily involved with setting standards in the digital cellular area and promoting CDMA for cellular systems, which he helped introduce in Korea. Under Dr. Viterbi's leadership, Qualcomm has received international recognition for innovative technology in wireless telephone systems and CDMA products.

Finally, the award for International Leadership went to Lucent Technologies. The company is recognized globally for its scientific discoveries and technological innovation, and its work to market cdmaOne outside its Americas and Asia-Pacific headquarters regions.