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Out Of The Lab And Into The Loop

By Irwin Jacobs

Qualcomm introduced the wireless industry to the technology that is today called cdmaOne. Now there is no shortage of players in a market that the company helped to create. Dr Irwin Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer, Qualcomm Inc. discusses handset development, wireless local loop and the rollout of cdmaOne in the US, and suggests ways of overcoming industry differences on wideband CDMA

CDMAS: You recently stated, referring to rival plans for wideband CDMA: "We are committed to overcoming any political or technical differences between the two". How do you feel this objective can best be accomplished?

Dr Jacobs: I’m very hopeful that the political and technical differences can be worked through because there’s a lot of motivation to get to a world-wide standard or a world-wide family of standards. First of all I believe one should focus on what is needed in this next generation as opposed to what we currently have available. We currently have systems — GSM with the GSM air interface, the CDMA air interface, IS-41 — that do a good job of supporting voice and low to moderate data rate services. So a significant amount of capability is present in existing systems. As we look ahead, new systems need to be able to support high data rate packet services almost entirely aimed, I believe, at the Internet. So one way to try to move toward general acceptance would be to focus first of all on supporting a high data rate packet service for the Internet as opposed to trying to work out compromises between IS-41, GSM etc which could become more complicated.
Secondly, it appears that many companies, regulatory bodies and countries are generally accepting the use of spread spectrum CDMA to provide these additional services, typically in a bandwidth of approximately 5 MHz. The fact that there’s a large amount of agreement on the air interface being direct sequence spread spectrum narrows down the field quite a bit . Then one comes to the issue of obtaining agreement on individual features and parameters in working through the use of spread spectrum CDMA. There, as one looks at each one of these individual issues, it’s clear from our point of view that if one is clearly technically superior to another, that’s the path to follow. If, however, there’s no great technical advantage one way or another, then it can pay to use a parameter that’s most compatible — in the case of CDMA with IS-95 CDMA or cdmaOne. For example, having a chip rate that is a multiple of the basic chip rate doesn’t affect performance one way or the other but it does allow the possibilities of additional compatibility. Those are two approaches that may help in arriving at some general agreement world-wide.

CDMAS: What are you feelings about the branding exercise that developed cdmaOne? Is that going to be an effective move forward for the IS-95 standard?

Dr Jacobs:I believe so. It’s always difficult to get agreement on a name and a branding and then get a large number of different companies to utilise it but the CDMA Development Group seems to have done a good job working with the membership and getting agreement to use this. So although it’s a little early I believe it will be effective.

CDMAS: Do you feel enough is being done by operators to speed the process of cross-country (in the US) and international roaming?

Dr Jacobs::International roaming is very important. The IS-41 system which still supports probably the a majority of its subscribers on analog has had in the earlier forms various problems with people pirating information, cloning phones and pirating time and so, I believe, operators have been somewhat hesitant to press ahead with significant roaming. However, of course, across the US which has a fairly large population base, one can roam with zero problems on IS-41. With CDMA coming in and also with US-TDMA which uses IS-41, there are better authentication capabilities and coverage of control information. As a result, for those phones, the spoofing problems and piracy problems are much fewer. I think as the operators recognise this and recognise the importance of international roaming, they will put more and more emphasis on it. I myself would like to see it move much more quickly.

CDMAS: Qualcomm has long been almost alone in the handset market. Now that many other manufacturers are supplying CDMA handsets, what areas of differentiation are you studying - both technical and marketing?

Dr Jacobs:We do welcome the arrival of other subscriber manufacturers. Of course we have licensed a large number and have supported them with software and so forth because, with a rapidly growing marketplace world-wide, it’s absolutely necessary to have a number of substantial players. However, Qualcomm —both with Sony in our joint venture Qualcomm Personal Electronics and also manufacturing our own phones — originally looked on the subscriber business as essential from a strategic point of view. People pointed out that other technologies had been delayed perhaps up to a year by lack of subscriber equipment. So strategically it was important for us to get into that business and make sure the phones were available. And that was successful; essentially, there were no hang-ups in launch of services in CDMA because of shortage of subscriber equipment.
However, given the lead that we’ve had we’ve also decided that it’s a very good business to remain in. We’re possibly the one company that only focuses on CDMA and its capabilities and as a result of that we can further exploit those capabilities. So for example in our whole line of phones, we’re including the mini-browser from Unwired Planet, TCP-IP suite and we’re working to have the CDMA infrastructures to support these packet services.
I believe that subscribers will like these new capabilities and that newer phones with larger displays that will in effect take over the jobs of many portable computers will also be a very good high-level area. So we are pressing ahead to provide not only the basic telephone but also to provide both a high level phone and a range of services for phone users, many of which will be supported over the Internet.

CDMAS: What do you feel the prospects are for the wireless local loop market?

Dr Jacobs: I believe the mobile market is going to continue to grow rapidly but that wireless local loop could be an even larger market in that so many people throughout the world do not have basic telephone services. Also as you go about providing those services it’s important to be able to do that at a reasonable capital investment, to do it rapidly and to have reasonable maintenance costs, often in very difficult areas. Wireless is really the best way to go about that. CDMA in particular supports wireless local loop very effectively.

CDMAS: Is wireless local loop regarded as a useful way to introduce CDMA into an area or is it an important market in its own right?

Dr Jacobs: Well of course having people become familiar with CDMA is an advantage . In many of the markets, however, the wireless local loop is regulated, controlled and priced differently than the mobile market and so they are initially different markets, although the technology is very similar.
Within the wireless local loop there’s also of course the capability for what in effect are extended cordless phones: phones that have mobility in a limited range. I believe that many of the wireless local loop operators will provide not only the fixed desktop phone that we’re all use to but also possibly phones that are used for more limited roaming controlled by the network and priced as if it were a cordless type of operation.

CDMAS: Although it’s particularly appropriate for the developing world, could there be a market in places like the US?

Dr Jacobs: We’re seeing quite a bit of interest. It’s driven partly by the fact that there’s been a tremendous demand for additional lines because of first fax machines and now Internet access. So there’s a need to provide additional facilities in many locations. One can do that by adding more copper, and of course there are a whole set of other alternative delivery systems for the Internet. However, for voice, wireless is ideal, and it does provide this limited mobility as well, so I believe we’ll see a growing market here in the US.

CDMAS: How important has the FCC’s technology-neutral approach been to the spread of CDMA in the US?

Dr Jacobs: That occurred even before we had looked at the use of CDMA for terrestrial applications. Right at the beginning of Qualcomm we originally thought about the use of CDMA for mobile satellite applications and put it aside while we developed our OmniTracs but came back to it in late ‘88 to look at it. I think by then the FCC had a ruling that as long as the AMPS service was maintained that operators would have quite a bit of flexibility in which technology to adopt. That was a necessary requirement for being able to launch CDMA. Once we had convinced ourselves in February of 89 that CDMA was very promising, the first thing I did was a trip back to Washington. I stopped in at the FCC to talk with them to see whether this going to be possible and did get a positive indication.

CDMAS: Did you expect the choice of CDMA to be so widespread in the US?

Dr Jacobs:At that time it was a complete unknown. We had to do demonstrations that showed that the technology did indeed work and solved a number of problems that people raised with CDMA. We had brought this concept to the industry just after the bitter battle in the US between FDMA and TDMA that resulted in the selection of TDMA as a digital standard. So it was a difficult period. But I always had a great deal of confidence after our first demonstration program in November 89 that the CDMA technology did work very well and that if we could indeed get it to the marketplace that there would be a large take-up. I’m pleased that that has occurred. It certainly took longer than I anticipated, part of which was almost two years getting into and going through the standards process all of which I believe was worthwhile. In a sense we were lucky that operators didn’t fully commit themselves to TDMA in the time period before CDMA was commercially available.

CDMAS: The highly competitive nature of the US PCS market has meant many networks have been built at impressive speed. What has been learned during the build-out process

Dr Jacobs: Well we had over the years a considerable amount of testing with many companies and many operators involved so we had a lot of advance knowledge. One of the arguments that had been used against CDMA was that it would be late to market and that therefore one should go with a different technology but the CDMA networks have rolled out across the US very rapidly. I believe they have not had an issue with late to market and are growing now very quickly. The cellular operators tended to move more slowly converting their high-end customers but not really pressing too rapidly until the PCS operators began to move into operation. Now, with a significant competitor out there we see the cellular operators moving very rapidly to add digital, CDMA subscribers.

CDMAS: And PCS has been relatively glitch-free considering it’s been such a fast rolllout?

Dr Jacobs: Very glitch-free.