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: Im very hopeful that the political and
technical differences can be worked through because theres 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.
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. Its 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 its 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, its 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.
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 its 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.
CDMAS: Although its particularly appropriate for the developing world, could there be a market in places like the US?
Dr Jacobs: Were seeing quite a bit of interest. Its driven partly by the fact that theres been a tremendous demand for additional lines because of first fax machines and now Internet access. So theres 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 well see a growing market here in the US.
CDMAS: How important has the FCCs 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. Im 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 didnt 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 its been such a fast rolllout?
Dr Jacobs: Very glitch-free.