Roaming, 3G spectrum allocation top issues for GSM Congress

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NEW YORK-The GSM Congress convened its plenary meeting in Santiago, Chile, April 25 amid anticipation that the number of Global System for Mobile communications customers worldwide will reach 300 million by early May.

With growth at a rate of about 10 million users per month this year, the Dublin, Ireland-based organization projects a total of 380 million GSM users by year-end, 500 billion by mid-2001 and 1 billion by 2005.

Today, GSM accounts for 55 percent of all wireless subscribers and two-thirds of all digital wireless subscribers. GSM customers include 94 million people using prepaid plans and comprising 76 percent of the worldwide total of 123 million prepaid accounts.

While it basks in the glow cast by the successful dissemination of its chosen wireless technology, the GSM Congress and its 420 members in 144 countries are working to meet several key challenges, said Michael Stocks during a conference call to open the meeting.

Stocks is outgoing chairman of the Congress and chairman of GSM carrier MAN Tty. Ltv., South Africa. James Healy, president of Cook Inlet VoiceStream PCS, takes over as Congress chairman today.

“International roaming is a critical area of our association’s activities because it is a vital service and an important business,” Stocks said.

In February, GSM customers placed 540 million roaming calls. Current trends point toward projections of 750 million monthly by mid-year, he said.

At a meeting in Chicago in late March, the GSM Congress convened the first meeting of the new GSM Global Roaming Forum.

“We recently established the forum to share information and work together with operators and suppliers to develop interoperability with other technologies (in order) to extend roaming beyond the 142 countries with GSM networks,” Stocks said.

Chile, for example, already has interstandard roaming with Brazil and Argentina, he noted.

However, Brazil poses a big hurdle for GSM as a wireless denizen. By the end of April, Anatel, the Brazilian telecommunications regulatory agency, was expected to choose either the 1800 MHz or 1900 MHz frequency band for new personal communications services licenses it plans to auction later this year.

“If Brazil goes with 1.8 (GHz), that will leave open 1.9 for third-generation wireless,” Healy said.

“I hope Brazil’s decision facilitates making GSM available because GSM was developed by a whole group of operators, whereas the other RF technologies are driven by particular vendors.”

Making sure adequate spectrum is allocated for advanced terrestrial mobile wireless applications also is high on the list of GSM Congress concerns. The World Radiocommunication Conference, to be held May 8 to June 2 in Istanbul, Turkey, will be an important meeting for dealing with this critical issue, Stocks said.

General Packet Radio Service, which some GSM carriers are preparing to introduce this year, “will provide more bandwidth for fast, effective Internet access and is a most significant step in evolving the GSM standard on a 3G migration path,” he said.

The roaming forum also is at work to assure that GPRS roaming becomes available at the same time as individual network operators offer this service, Stocks added.

The Global Certification Forum, established April 1, is the other top priority item for the group. A partnership between handset makers and wireless carriers, the forum is charged with developing “one set of commonly agreed-upon tests to assure terminals [function]and interoperate with networks properly,” Stocks said.

“This global scheme will mean no more individual trials on each different network and will allow manufacturers to bring phones to market faster.”

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