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CDMA Has 99 Percent Of 3G Market

Proponents of one 3G technology movement claimed victory in the mobile world Tuesday against its competitor, stating code-division multiple access (CDMA) devices have a 99 percent market share worldwide.

That number would be even more impressive if the CDMA devices of today truly used 3G technology.

The CDMA Development Group said there were more than 15 million subscribers using the technology today, with 1.8 million new users signing up every month. The competition, on the other hand, the universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS), is lagging at around a couple hundred thousand users, primarily in Asia and in parts of Europe.

To the casual reader, the numbers seem confusing; after all, isn't Europe considered the 3G mecca of the world after spearheading the global system for mobile communications (GSM) movement with spectrum auctions and deployment? And GSM has more than 127 million users today, or about 71 percent of the market.

So, which one is correct? David Chamberlain, Probe Research director of research for wireless networks, said GSM's 2G popularity overseas has no correlation with 3G.

"The fact is, even though GSM is so popular, their version of 3G -- UMTS or (wideband CDMA) WCDMA -- doesn't really work and is not working and is not loading commercial customers," he said.

Equal blame for the confusion rests between media pundits and marketing departments alike. The fact is, no carrier has been able to meet the definition of 3G -- providing advanced data and voice services at 2 Mbps to consumers and business people on the move -- and likely won't this year or next.

The confusion starts with the carriers marketing today's mobile services. Commercial mobile communications fall under two standard protocols for wireless handset communication, CDMA and time-division multiple access (TDMA). From these two standards, advanced phone technologies have emerged -- GSM and CDMA2000.

Both are evolution in process from 2G to 3G. They are as follows:

  • CDMA > CDMA2000 1XRTT > CDMA 1X-EV DO(data only)/DV (data and voice)
  • TDMA > GSM > GPRS > Enhanced Data GSM Environment (EDGE) > UMTS or WCDMA.

Today's primary technologies -- marketed as 3G -- are CDMA2000 1XRTT and EDGE. Both can be considered "tweeners" at best. While offering some enhanced data services, like e-mail and some downloading, both are essentially jacked up voice technologies delivering anywhere between 40-60 Kbps data speeds; considered by many 2.5G or 2.75G offerings, since they don't fall under 3G's 2 Mbps definition.

In the U.S., CDMA2000 1X carriers include Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS . Cingular Wireless plans to launch an GPRS/EDGE service in 2004 and AT&T Wireless uses GPRS.

Chamberlain said technology barriers in GPRS/EDGE make it unlikely the technology will migrate to UMTS on a commercial basis anytime soon. The reason it has taken gotten such a toehold in the first place, he said, was the European Commission's insistence on the technology when it sold the spectrum to European carriers to ensure compatibility.

"It isn't like in the U.S., where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said, 'here's your spectrum, go and do whatever you want,' he said. "They said 'here is your spectrum, now go put a UMTS system on it.'

"(European regulators) don't let the market decide things like that, which is basically what gave GSM such a huge leap in the market," he continued, "because every country was doing the same thing, and regulators said 'you will install GSM.' "

CDMA2000 1X doesn't pass the scrutiny test, either, when it comes to 3G. The CDG touted Japan's KDDI record growth of 1.67 million customers in five months and the carrier's goal of 10,000 new subscribers every day. The group also praised South Korea's 38 percent market share in the country.

"Korea and KDDI (may) have loaded CDMA2000 in the millions, but they're in handsets, which may or may not have advanced data functions," Chamberlain said. "We look at Sprint, and they have their picture phones and Verizon's got their Audiovox with video streaming; in Korea and Japan, that's just not the case. They may have some of the advanced data services that could fall under 3G, but not much."