CDMA Technology
Members Sign-In
Spreading the Word

By Harriet S. Meyers

One of the key challenges manufacturers and operators face is to sell CDMA as the technology of choice. The message must be that it is all about making life simpler and more productive. What marketing approaches are they creating to convince their target audiences?

The acronym CDMA triggers a wide variety of reactions. Service providers may think of quality, capacity or deployment costs. To operators in developing countries, wireless local loop (WLL) may come to mind. Members of the financial community might consider growth potential. And consumers may just grab 40 winks instead.

The one thing these groups have in common is that they’re each being targeted with messages about CDMA that ultimately have the same goal — to increase the deployment of CDMA in communications systems throughout the world.

At least some, if not all, of these messages must be having the desired effect: the CDMA Development Group (CDG) reports that only 18 months after the first commercial launch of a CDMA network in the United States, carriers have signed up some 7.8 million subscribers worldwide, 1.5 million of whom are located in North America.

The marketing of CDMA officially began when 17 companies involved in developing the products and services necessary to bring the technology to market formed the CDG. While initiating liaisons with other industry organizations, the CDG emphasized the importance of defining a consistent set of technical requirements and developing a set of open standards.

In 1997, the CDG initiated a much more aggressive approach to marketing the CDMA-related products and services across the world. The organization and its members issued press releases, expanded the CDG Web site and sponsored international conferences. At the June conference in Singapore, the CDG announced the creation of a new universal term for IS-95-based CDMA specifications — cdmaOne.

"As we travelled around the world, we saw confusion as to what CDMA was all about. We realized that we needed a common designator," explains Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDG.

"We also wanted a common name which would make it clear that you could roam from one system to another if these systems utilized cdmaOne. That is especially important in areas like Europe, where people frequently travel from one country to another."

Another factor in the decision to create a brand name was the roll-out of WLL applications. "We want to be sure these applications are based on the same standard," says LaForge.

"In addition, as we address advanced systems issues we need to make sure there is no confusing cdmaOne with other proprietary approaches."

The branding exercise itself was carried out by members of the CDG. "In the logo, the word ‘One’ acknowledges two pertinent industry issues." LaForge spells out two scenarios. "First, cdmaOne is the only true worldwide standard for CDMA. Second, by using this name, the industry is embracing a family of standards and products that are all based on IS-95 technology," he says.

"Initially, the brand is most useful to the manufacturers," he adds. "A common brand name also helps explain our technology in the press. Ultimately, I think the brand is powerful enough to be used by the operators with the end user."

"Branding CDMA was a conscious decision to create a sense of community around the technology," says Crispin Vicars, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group, a Boston-based consulting firm. "It creates a sense of purpose and shows that the technology can fulfill multiple operator needs. The CDG has done a pretty good job of focusing on the overall technology and on its development in the future." Branding, according to LaForge, is just one small piece of the CDG’s plan to penetrate the marketplace. "We want to make sure we help the market evolve in developing areas such as Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, and we want to be at the forefront of the WLL explosion."

In order to meet these objectives, the CDG will host delegations from other countries and have operators who have successfully deployed CDMA share their experience. They will conduct trials and give other operators hands-on experience, provide answers to questions and concerns, sponsor additional formal conferences, and plan to open a CDG office in Asia later this year.
In a press release announcing an agreement in the UK, Qualcomm Inc. states that, "CDMA offers higher voice quality with longer talk and standby times and greater wireless access to millions of subscribers."

Lucent Technologies, in a release about its plans to build a digital wireless network using CDMA technology in Mexico declares, "CDMA offers increased call capacity, as compared to analog cellular, and maximizes network efficiency."

Motorola, on announcing its contract to supply WLL service in Kuwait, said that CDMA is "easily integrated into the landline network and deployed within weeks of equipment delivery, far more quickly than traditional landline installations".

In a December 1997 press release, Qualcomm also offered the "world’s smallest CDMA base stations". And in its announcement on an agreement with the Bangladesh Rural Telecom Authority, the company talked about the advantage that CDMA technology "will reliably keep communications open during monsoon season".

Obviously, the marketing messages from the manufacturers vary as do the needs and locations of the operators. In North America, features such as quality and capacity are emphasized, along with low deployment costs. In many other areas of the globe, the major message is CDMA’s suitability for the wireless local loop. This is understandable — some experts say that by the year 2000, WLL will be growing even faster than the mobile market. "Our primary vehicle for marketing to operators to promote the technology and equipment is one-on-one sales," says Michelle French, Qualcomm spokesperson. "We also organize technology forums where we can educate operators on the advantages of CDMA over other technologies."

Another of Qualcomm’s marketing tools is the complex analysis model it offers to operators. An independent consulting agency completes the model, for example, on CDMA service in Indonesia. "Our major marketing messages for operators," says French, "is that CDMA offers faster deployment, requires fewer cell sites and less equipment, therefore costs less to operate and finance, and provides exceptional voice quality."
In the U.S., according to French, deregulation means that PCS operators can now provide WLL if they choose, so CDMA is being marketed for this purpose. "Overseas, the urgent need in many areas is to provide basic telephone services, and the wireless option now competes with wireline as far as pricing," she adds. "So in these cases our message emphasizes the low cost and quick deployment of CDMA systems since you don’t have to lay cable or hook up a line to each individual house."

When targeting the financial community, manufacturers and operators agree that it is a necessity to specifically spell out CDMA and its particular advantages. "The financial community is keenly aware of the different technologies and how they stack up," says Tom Murphy, director of media relations for Sprint PCS.

"I think the branding is very important for the investment community," says the Yankee Group’s Vicars. "It shows them that the technology is a viable player globally and that there is a cohesive community supporting it."
"When you talk to the investment community, the branding is a significant advantage," agrees Michael F. Murphy, director of telecommunications consulting for Abt Associates Inc. "CDMA is a very sophisticated technology, and in the long run I think it will be the technology of choice."
Competition for end users is heating up in many markets. Service providers are not only racing to sign up consumers for the basic service but are focusing on getting customers to take on additional services. How do they differentiate one service or service provider from another? Is technology the answer? Do consumers want or need to know about CDMA or spread spectrum technology? The consensus from several service providers and industry consultants is that they do not.

"One of GTE’s goals for customer care is to be an easy company to do business with," explains Susan Asher, manager of media relations for GTE Wireless. "This doesn’t mean we should throw acronyms at our customers. Yes, we want to explain the technology on an application basis. We’re explaining to customers what digital means to them. But customers don’t necessarily want the burden of knowing what the acronym means.
GTE Wireless supports the efforts of the CDG and we play an advocate role," Asher adds. "We do believe the brand is usable for companies that want to go into the technology."

Tom Murphy at Sprint PCS says: "We’re definitely not trying to familiarize consumers with the CDMA-specific name. We’re communicating the attributes of the technology — simplicity, clarity and voice quality — but we want these attributes to be associated with our own brand name."

The exception, according to Murphy, is in the case of the savvy business customer who’s considering a large-volume purchase and wants to know more: "In this case, yes, we’d discuss the technology and its attributes."
"Where the brand does make a difference is with the more sophisticated consumer, the ones I call ‘power users,’ " says Abt’s Michael Murphy. "These people tend to be highly mobile and usually have more money. They gravitate towards the technology that offers them more features and the best quality, and they may want to understand the differences between the technologies. These users are very important to consider."

Bell Atlantic Mobile has chosen to advertise its digital service under the brand name DigitalChoice. "We may use ‘CDMA’ when we announce new service in the trade press," says Nancy Stark, spokesperson for Bell Atlantic Mobile. "With consumers, we focus on our brand name and the features such as our footprint, clarity, battery life and the handset."

In a customer brochure, for instance, Bell Atlantic Mobile says, "Digital technology is not all the same. Bell Atlantic Mobile uses only today’s most advanced technology in its DigitalChoice service. In fact, research conducted concludes that our digital service provides the clearest voice quality of any wireless technology."

As time goes on and more consumers use wireless services, will interest in the technology increase and marketing messages change?
"To the general consumer, the term ‘digital’ carries a great deal of weight. But people do not distinguish between various technologies," comments Michael Murphy. "The bottom line is geographic coverage and quality — that’s what drives consumers to a particular technology. Selection is based on service. However, the technology distinction may become increasingly important in the future."

"When we decided to brand CDMA, we had no illusions that operators would necessarily publicize the brand name to their customer base," says LaForge. "I do maintain, however, that as competition heats up between operators we will see them crystallize the roundabout terms they use today and talk more about the specific technology and its advantages."

For now, CDMA is not likely to be something you’ll hear your mother or brother-in-law discussing over dinner. As Mark Feighner, president of GTE Wireless says in a recent editorial, "If the customer glazes over every time we throw out a high-tech term, we’ve lost sight of what this business is all about — making life simpler and more productive.

"While it’s true that good marketing is simply finding what customers want and giving it to them, we still need to give it to them in terms they understand."