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The Next Big Market?

An assessment of opportunities in Africa for cdmaOne, plus a round-up of some of the major contracts and agreements of the past two months.

Had you been at the ITU’s Africa Telecom show in Cairo in 1994, cdmaOne would have been conspicuous by its absence. Hardly surprising given that the biggest markets for the technology were only established a year or two later.

Four years on, the latest Africa Telecom, in Johannesburg in May, was a very different story. Companies like Globalstar, Samsung, Lucent, NEC, Nortel and Motorola — all attendees at the Cairo event — are now offering cdmaOne networking solutions as part of their portfolio. For one company, however, this was the first visit to the show. Qualcomm’s Charles A. Oshunremi, vice president, Africa, was there to promote the company’s activities in that continent. This includes a significant contract in Nigeria.

There will be, he said, "a fixed access network going into the deployment stage in Nigeria soon, especially in the metropolitan city of Lagos, providing alternative wireless access technology for delivery of residential business services based on cdmaOne technology. We’ve set up a company which is privately licensed by the Nigerian Communications Commission for operation in the 1.9 GHz frequency band."

Front runner

This fits in with the popular assumption that fixed wireless access generally is going to be the front-runner in sub-Saharan Africa, where fixed networks are often inadequate and markets for mobile may not be as profitable. Oshunremi backs up this impression with a description of another planned contract: "We are in the process of deploying a significant CDMA WLL network in the Congo as well; that activity should begin in the next couple of months. We have an agreement with Mauritius Telecom and we will be deploying CDMA there as well."

He does not, however, agree that WLL is the only useful strategy in Africa. As he points out: "We are actively discussing with several other African countries mobile and fixed applications in both the PCS 1900 frequency band and the 800 frequency band." In fact, as for selling CDMA in an African environment, he is open-minded: "We would position cdmaOne to address specific requirements that telephone operators may have in Africa, be it fixed access or be it mobility. Our customers’ requirements will be the driver for us."

The advantage of rival technology GSM for roaming in certain markets is accepted, but he does not believe it can offer genuine global roaming, pointing to Qualcomm’s partnership with Globalstar as a possible solution. "We are the contractor for the Globalstar gateway systems as well as the Globalstar handsets, and it is our ambition that our subscribers worldwide will be able to benefit from this global mobility using Globalstar."

It isn’t necessarily going to be an easy ride in Africa. Oshunremi, like others, is, however, clear about the limitations of the market: "One clear task in Africa — not necessarily an impossible task, but yet a task — is the issue of finance." Not all African countries have banking systems well developed enough to support very costly infrastructure projects such as telecommunications, he suggests.

Deployment is a different issue: "I don’t believe there are any more particularly unique tasks in Africa than you would find in other places with the exception of the infrastructure in Africa being largely poor, both in telecommunications and roads... In a few cases there are extreme conditions like severe lightning — for example in South Africa. One needs to be cognizant of that."

This is an interesting point because, for many companies, South Africa remains an important target market. Already operating two GSM networks, it seems the hunger for wireless there has not abated. A third network is due to be licensed later this year. Whatever technology it uses, the combination of South Africa’s relative wealth by the continent’s standards, and a perceived social obligation to bring communications to poorer or more isolated areas could offer other opportunities — notably in fixed access. It certainly seems that, as Charles Oshunremi says, "these are exciting times in Africa."

AirTouch and MediaOne $6 Bn merger

AirTouch Communications Inc. and MediaOne Group, formerly US WEST Media Group, have completed merging MediaOne Group’s U.S. cellular and PCS interests into AirTouch. The merger became effective in April. MediaOne Group’s international wireless interests are not included in the transaction.

This acquisition increases AirTouch’s U.S. cellular and PCS proportionate customer base by 56 per cent, to 6.9 million, making the company the second largest wireless provider in the United States based on fourth quarter 1997 proportionate customers.

The transaction increases the company’s ownership in PrimeCo from approximately 25 to 50 per cent. AirTouch’s cellular and PCS footprint now covers cities in 25 states, reaching a total of 145 million people — over half the U.S. population.

Wireless first for China
Motorola, Inc.’s Cellular Infrastructure Group (CIG) has won a commercial contract to expand the CDMA digital wireless local loop system in Shanghai, China’s largest metropolitan city. The system expansion, which uses Motorola CIG’s WLL fixed wireless network technology, represents China’s first large-scale 1.9 GHz CDMA WLL commercial contract.
Motorola CIG installed the Shanghai system for trial in 1996. This expansion contract marks the formal commercialization of the digital system. The CDMA WLL system, operating at 1.9 GHz, covers all of urban Shanghai. It is targeted at residents on the city’s telephone waiting list, small and home office users and business subscribers.

Under the contract with Shanghai Posts & Telecommunications Administration (Shanghai PTA), Motorola CIG will deploy additional fixed wireless terminals (FWTs) and SC™4852 base stations for the expansion of the CDMA WLL system. Full deployment is scheduled for completion by the end of June, increasing the overall capacity of the system to 10,000 subscribers.

Japan: CDMA is on its way
DDI’s Kansai Cellular Telephone Co. Ltd., Kyushu Cellular Telephone Co. Ltd. and Okinawa Cellular Telephone Co. are to become Japan’s first CDMA-based cellular operators. All three companies are affiliated with DDI.

Network launches or new service are scheduled for July 14. In addition, DDI’s five remaining cellular subsidiaries and IDO have recently submitted applications to provide cdmaOne services to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.

Based on current deployment forecasts, Japan will enjoy nationwide cdmaOne coverage by April 1999. PDC, the existing system, is being replaced because of its inability to keep up with strong demand.

Cross-border co-operation

GTE Wireless and Baja Celular of Tiajuana, Mexico have partnered to use digital networks that allow both American and Mexican cell sites to serve calls simultaneously without signal interference, says GTE. Both carriers contracted with Motorola Inc. to provide the networks for the two compatible systems. The partnership is said to represent the first-ever CDMA hand-off between cell sites across international borders. "If the strongest signal is achieved using a cell site in Tiajuana, the network automatically recognizes and utilizes that signal in a seamless process," explained Lindsey Burroughs, San Diego area president for GTE Wireless. Calls will be billed based on where they originated, without roaming fees.

Dominican deal

Compania Dominicana de Telefonos (CODETEL), the Dominican Republic’s largest telephone company, has announced plans to invest approximately $40 million over the next five years in digital PCS. CODETEL, a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S.-based GTE Corp., selected Lucent Technologies to build its PCS network based on CDMA technology.
CODETEL has the broadest geographical coverage as well as the most extensive portfolio in the Dominican Republic’s telecommunications market, providing local, long distance, cellular, paging, data services, off-shore data entry and Internet access. Lucent will design and provide CODETEL’s PCS network.

The first phase of CODETEL’s network build-out will include the capital city of Santo Domingo, Santiago and the corridor linking these two metropolitan areas. Service is expected to begin this summer.
The second phase is scheduled to be completed by year’s end when service will extend along the south coast highway to the resort city of La Romana/Casa de Campo. Over the next five years, CODETEL will expand the PCS network to provide coverage in all the country’s major commercial and tourism markets, as well as the main highways.

Supplying the next generation

Lucent Technologies and Motorola are among suppliers for third generation CDMA equipment for a trial to be conducted as a joint venture by Japan’s DDI Corporation and IDO Corporation.

In Tokyo, the two Japanese wireless companies announced they will conduct a trial designed to evaluate, research and develop a wireless transmission method that is an evolutionary step from the IS-95 cdmaOne standard technology. The two cellular operators said the trial system will be based in the country’s Kanto region. DDI and IDO will operate under an experimental licence in the 2 GHz frequency band, which is part of the proposed IMT-2000 frequency band reserved for worldwide wireless use.
DDI and IDO are undertaking the project as part of an effort to evaluate next-generation services that are compatible with IS-95 systems and consistent with the goals of the International Telecommunication Union.
Following the establishment of the joint laboratory, field experiments will begin in the spring of 1999 and continue until the end of 2000.

NEC wins Brazilian bid

NEC has landed an order for a CDMA-format cellular phone system from Telebahia, a regional phone company in eastern Brazil.

The order is worth about 5 billion yen (about $38.16 million) for parent NEC and about 25 billion yen (about $191 million) for the NEC Group, including NEC Brazil, based in Sao Paulo. The order includes the configuration of a network comprising base stations, control units and exchanges. Initially, the system will cover about 25,000 subscribers on the 1.25 MHz band. Telebahia will then switch the current 25,000 analog subscribers over to digital.

NEC do Brasil also signed two large contracts in April 1998 to deploy CDMA digital cellular mobile systems in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
On April 9, NEC do Brasil and the Brazilian telecommunications operator TELERJ Cellular signed a contract to deploy an IS-95-based digital cellular mobile system with a capacity of 650,000 lines.

On April 14, NEC do Brasil and the Brazilian telecommunications operator TELESP Cellular signed another contract to deploy a CDMA digital cellular mobile system with a capacity of one million lines.

Thailand announces first CDMA service

The Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT) has officially launched its CDMA mobile telecommunications service. CAT has partnered with Lucent Technologies Inc. to establish the CDMA network, the first of its kind in Thailand.

CAT is the owner of Thailand’s international gateway and other telecommunications infrastructure, including both submarine cables and satellite networks.

Covering an extensive part of Thailand’s central region, the 800 MHz CDMA network will initially serve a maximum capacity of 150,000 mobile subscribers; much of the coverage focuses on the greater Bangkok Metropolitan area.

Sixty-nine CDMA cells have been installed in an overlay pattern with existing analog cells to allow interoperability with dual-mode handsets. At the heart of the network are two collocated mobile switching centers, the core of which is a Lucent 5ESS-2000 switch.