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A Perspective on 3G

By Perry LaForge
April 1998

Discussion of third generation (3G) systems has reached a fevered pitch in recent months. Going by the amount of press coverage the topic’s received, you’d think carriers around the world were planning to roll out these systems over the next few months. Unfortunately, perception has outstripped reality.

There is little doubt that wireless high speed data capability is interesting to the operator community. The driving application is high speed Internet access. It is unclear how big the wireless Internet market actually is or when the market will come into being, but we all expect it to emerge. But carriers, once burned by the pundits’ predictions that the 1990s would see an explosive growth of wireless data, are viewing the demand for 3G services with caution.

Independent of whether they support GSM, cdmaOne or TDMA, carriers are concerned about the level of investment and risk they must bear in migrating to 3G. Nonetheless, the definition of 3G proposals proceeds at a blistering pace, driven largely by manufacturers. The voice of the customer — whether it be the carrier or the end-using subscriber — has been relegated to background noise.

Why the fuss?
Why then is the 3G issue on the front of every wireless journal? First, this is a case of the "CDMA haves" competing with the "CDMA have-nots." CDMA is the selected approach for 3G systems, as evidenced by the proposals in ETSI, ARIB and the TIA. Those few vendors that chose not to pursue cdmaOne for today’s systems are scrambling to add CDMA to their portfolios and reposition their companies for the future.
Hidden beneath the surface of the 3G debate is the issue of intellectual property rights (IPR). IPR is imbedded in all of the wireless products we use on a daily basis. Many analysts agree that the only reason wideband CDMA is different from the wideband cdmaOne proposal is to avoid IS-95 IPR. Ironically, many analysts also believe that wideband CDMA utilizes IS-95 IPR. Unfortunately, in an effort to shift IPR from one manufacturer to another, vendors are missing the chance to create a single worldwide CDMA standard.

WIDEBAND cdmaOne
The 3G debate has been healthy in that it has focused the cdmaOne industry on reviewing what is required to provide 3G services. GSM and cdmaOne providers alike say they want to minimize the infrastructure cost of migrating to 3G.

To meet the needs of both operators and subscribers, the CDG launched the Advanced Systems Initiative to chart the growth path for cdmaOne systems. The goal of the Initiative is to develop a worldwide standard that meets IMT-2000 requirements and the critical needs of our carrier members.
We have worked aggressively to integrate wireless carriers into the development process to achieve a customer-oriented focus to our efforts. Their input resulted in the adoption of two paramount goals: development of a mechanism for graceful migration to Wideband cdmaOne; and preservation of a carrier’s investments in existing cdmaOne systems.

Wideband cdmaOne will use a CDMA air-interface based on the existing IS-95 standard to provide wireline quality voice service and high-speed data services, ranging from 144kbit/s for mobile users to 2Mbit/s for stationary ones.

It is important to note that wideband cdmaOne is supported as a core proposal for IMT-2000 in the TR45.5 subcommittee of the TIA. Moreover, support for wideband cdmaOne is not limited to North America. Major wireless carriers in Japan support wideband cdmaOne. Korean carriers and manufacturers have also contributed to the development of wideband cdmaOne. In addition, the CDG fully embraces the "Family of Systems" concept put forward by the ITU and works with the ITU and other standards bodies worldwide to reach convergence on a 3G standard.

Evolution to 3G
It is clear is that cdmaOne operators have a tremendous opportunity to provide 3G-like services with today’s existing cdmaOne technology. We have just begun to scratch the surface of cdmaOne’s capabilities. Advanced services require the capacity, robustness and flexibility that only cdmaOne provides today.

The first step is to provide high-speed information services (especially high-speed Internet access) in a mobile environment. CDG and its members have already completed specification of the 64kbit/s data rate service. The commercial deployment of this service is beginning this year. The 64kbit/s data capability will provide high speed Internet access in a mobile environment, a capability that cannot be matched by other, narrowband digital technologies.

But we believe that mobile data rates up to 114 kbit/s and fixed peak rates beyond 1.5Mbit/s are within reach before the end of the decade using today’s cdmaOne. We will provide these capabilities without degrading the system’s voice transmission capabilities or requiring additional spectrum. This will have tremendous implications for the majority of operators that are spectrum constrained. A doubling of capacity and a 1.5Mbit/s data rate capability, all within a 1.25MHz channel structure — sounds appealing? It is and it’s the future of today’s cdmaOne.

Perry LaForge is Executive Director of the CDG.