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A World Apart - Or Together?

Africa and Asia. They’re about ten hours apart by plane but only a couple of years ago they could have been two separate planets as far as cdmaOne™ was concerned.

In the early days of the CDMA rollout in Asia, mobile systems had already made modest inroads into the African market — but cdmaOne was not among them. However, unlike Europe, Africa had no mandated system and, unlike some other markets, no one system had made sufficient inroads, outside South Africa, to push out competition. This remains the case.

Thus it was that proponents of a technology with no influence on Africa a few years ago were sufficiently confident to exhibit their wares at the 1998 Africa Telecom exhibition. The four years since the event was held in Cairo have been the formative years of cdmaOne and the fact that in Johannesburg, for the first time, Qualcomm had a stand, while Samsung, Lucent and others promoted their cdmaOne wares to visitors from the region and beyond proves how far the standard has come. Nor was any of this theoretical. Qualcomm has followed the example it set in Russia and elsewhere by supplying a fixed wireless network to support the PSTN in Nigeria. Zambia, meanwhile, has its own cdmaOne mobile network — Africa’s first — and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is to follow with another fixed wireless service.

And there are other CDMA-related solutions to offer Africa. Globalstar’s proposed satellite service, which utilises CDMA technology, will offer true global roaming that even the most feted terrestrial system cannot. So too will Globalstar’s rivals, as our special report indicates, all of them offering cdmaOne as part of their multi-mode handset portfolio.

But this truth should not blind us to the fact that most cdmaOne users are now, and for a long time will continue to be, using terrestrial systems. The aim of full international roaming still needs to be pursued by the industry; operators need to chase agreements and manufacturers to find solutions.

The next stop for the cdmaOne industry is its own big event: the World Congress in Singapore. After last year’s quite reasonable emphasis on achievement, a harder look must, and will, be taken at this year’s topics. Customer needs, high-speed data applications, the role of the Internet, the third generation and interoperability with other air interfaces will be among them.

Another will be progress on roaming. Africa Telecom proved that cdmaOne could no longer be described as a technology centered around big markets like Asia. Africa and Asia, however, should now be not just a statement of achievement but a challenge: that roaming across both continents will be on offer to cdmaOne customers in the not-too-distant future.

Vaughan O’Grady
Editor