CDMA Pushed on Postwar Iraq

A coalition is afoot in the U.S. Congress to replace European with American cell phone technology in Iraq as soon as the conflict is over and the country rebuilds.

Congressman Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) Wednesday introduced a bill based on a letter to the Pentagon, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other lawmakers demanding that the Department of Defense and USAID show favor to CDMA technology made by San Diego-based QUALCOMM .

Iraq needs a mobile-phone service. According to the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union’s 2001 survey, Iraq, North Korea and Afghanistan were the last three major countries without a major mobile infrastructure.

The current reconstruction plan involves using U.S. funds to install a European-based wireless technology known as GSM for a new Iraqi cell phone system. Issa’s bill (HR 1441) would give preference to American companies, including QUALCOMM.

“If European GSM technology is deployed in Iraq, much of the equipment used to build the cell phone system would be manufactured in France, Germany, and elsewhere in western and northern Europe. Furthermore, royalties paid on the technology would flow to French and European sources, not U.S. patent holders,” Issa said in his letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and USAID Administrator, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain.

While QUALCOMM’s roots are deeply embedded in U.S. military, the wireless giant is taking a neutral stance to the issue.

“QUALCOMM is supportive of the effort to promote the deployment of CDMA in post-conflict Iraq. CDMA offers significant voice and data advantages over GSM, and is the basis for the next generation of wireless communications. Deploying CDMA will provide the most advanced wireless services, including position location capabilities, to those individuals working to rebuild Iraq,” QUALCOMM spokesperson Christine Trimble issued in a statement.

Politics aside, a massive CDMA launch may cause problems for the region now, but not in the future. If CDMA were the dominant technology in Iraq today, customers traveling to a nearby country that has only a GSM network wouldn’t be able to use a CDMA phone there.

Down the road, the lines will be less rigid. While the two technologies can co-exist, they are not compatible — yet. 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.

“From a purely technological there neither has an advantage. As you move towards 3G, the lines disappear,” said Jupitermedia Senior Analyst Joe Laszlo. “It depends on what you prioritize. CDMA does use the radio spectrum better and has a marginal advantage in terms of cost of equipment, but GSM is more widely available.”

There are combinations of the two technologies. QUALCOMM, for example, is currently testing a hybrid CDMA/GSM technology in China called GSM1x.

GSM and CDMA platforms have historically been broken down along geographic lines. GSM is used all over Europe, plus many countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, and North America, while the United States is firmly rooted in CDMA and TDMA technology. Asia and Latin America have gotten a blitz of CDMA technology courtesy QUALCOMM, but neither country has established a de facto standard.

CDMA carriers include Verizon, Sprint PCS and QUALCOMM with an estimated number of 67 million users.

GSM holds upwards of 60 percent of the mobile phone market. Backers of the GSM standard include Nokia and Ericsson. The standard uses 900 MHz and 1800 MHz in Europe. In North America, GSM uses the 1900 MHz.

Issa’s other motivation for standing behind CDMA is that some of its cell phones include an internal global positioning system (GPS) feature that allows the precision location of callers in times of emergency. The congressman claims European GSM cell phones do not have integrated GPS.

“If U.S. relief workers in Iraq are equipped with CDMA cell phones with GPS, they will be immediately locatable in case of terrorist attack or kidnapping. Finally, because U.S. CDMA systems are compliant with the U.S. Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, this system provides all necessary access for law enforcement in post-conflict Iraq,” Issa said in his letter.

The bill is expected to be referred to the House International Relations and the House Armed Services committees for debate this week.

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