3G Americas Focuses On UMTS Vision

3G Americas, a coalition of North American digital wireless phone carriers
and vendors, announced Thursday its support of the Universal Mobile
Telecommunications System (UMTS) Forum’s vision for a worldwide
interoperability standard.

Not a moment too soon: unlike the rest of the world, much of the 3G
deployment throughout North America is based on code-division multiple
access (CDMA) technology, a technology incompatible with Europe’s network.

Most of Asia and Europe have based its 3G technology on the global system
for mobile communications (GSM), making the promise of an
international digital wireless phone network a lot harder to achieve.

The largely U.S.-sponsored 3G Americas hopes to rectify the situation with
its letter of understanding to the UMTS Forum, which draws on the support
of the other to promote GSM and, ultimately, UMTS support in North America.

UMTS is linked with IMT-2000, an International Telecommunications Union
(ITU) standard for 3G communications, and is the next step up the
evolutionary ladder for GSM, general packet radio service (GPRS) and
time-division multiple access (TDMA) technologies.

Dr. Bernd Eylert, UMTS Forum chairman, said the agreement penned Thursday
will help spur the overall development and migration from today’s
mainly-2.5G wireless phone networks to 3G.

“By working with 3G Americas we will strengthen the global promotion of 3G
by providing a combined voice to educate the market over a wide
geographical area,” he said. “We will work together to discuss and develop
3G strategies that are of particular interest to both organizations and
that are mutually beneficial but will continue to work independently of
each other as well.”

Despite their status as the second- and third-largest digital wireless
phone carriers using the GSM and GPRS platforms, Cingular Wireless and AT&T
Wireless are the only two carriers in the U.S. focused on
the technology. Most people recognize the term CDMA2000 1x, when it’s
linked with carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS , and
commonly refer to it as 3G.

On a global scale, GSM is the most popular of 3G technologies. According
to a Strategis Group study last year, there are
450 million GSM-based phone subscribers in the world compared to a paltry
(in comparison) 82 million CDMA-based wireless phones.

Use of CDMA2000 1x is going to keep North America out of the worldwide loop
when wireless phone cells start coming together. That’s bad for business
travelers on both sides of the ocean: North American travelers using their
CDMA-based 3G phone will be unable to use Europe’s GSM-based networks, and
vice versa for European travelers to North America. (Caveat: CDMA is
compatible in Asia, however.)

For carriers, that means no lucrative international roaming fees to charge
its customers. According to research firm Cahner’s Instat, that’s going to
keep companies like Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS out of the expected $29
billion in revenues global roaming is expected to bring in 2005.

“Global roaming capability is becoming more important as international
travel becomes more prevalent,” said Instat Analyst Ray Jodoin.

This is where 3G Americas comes in, its officials said. Convergence and
interoperability are the most important issues for the coalition, a top
official said, and working with UMTS Forum will accomplish that goal.

“We share similar aims and objectives including improved industry
confidence and visibility in migration to 3G,” said Chris Pearson, 3G
Americas executive vice president. “Though 3G Americas is focused on the
GSM evolution in North, Central and South America – global interoperability
is essential for providing a successful third generation deployment.”

AT&T Wireless and Ericsson are two members of the 3G
Americas group, and both are firmly committed to 3g via GSM in North
America. Officials at the two companies announced Wednesday the launch of
a trial
3G UMTS system
in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2002, a project
expansion from the first UMTS voice called made by the two in February.

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