SEOUL-It was only fitting that the future of Code Division Multiple Access technology was discussed in South Korea at the 2nd CDMA International Conference.
Since SK Telecom launched the country’s first CDMA system in January 1996, South Korea now has five CDMA operators and about 4 million CDMA subscribers-more than 80 percent of the worldwide CDMA customers.
“In the early ’90s, there had been a lot of skepticism about the prospects of whether we could succeed in developing and implementing a commercial CDMA system by ourselves because we did not have any prior experiences, nor was there any commercial precedence of CDMA in spite of the technological advantages and possibilities of CDMA technology,” said Sung-Deuk Park, vice minister of Korea’s Ministry of Information and Communication. “But with the joint efforts from the research institute (Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute), manufacturers and the government, we have managed to have the commercial CDMA mobile system, and to initiate CDMA service for the first time in the world from January 1996. Now there are more than 4 million subscribers enjoying the good quality of CDMA cellular and PCS services in Korea.”
Korea is attracting industry players from all over the world, say carriers here. Representatives from the United States, Japan, China, Brazil, India, Spain, Israel, Vietnam and Thailand already have visited Korea to learn CDMA deployment and operation technologies. The country is expecting more industry experts from several nations in the future.
CDMA technology also is beginning to gain footholds in key countries, including Brazil, where NEC Corp. has constructed an Interim Standard-95 system for Telebahia, the national local operator in Central Brazil. Japanese regulatory authorities and operators have given the formal go-ahead for CDMA service deployment, and China is set to launch the service in up to 20 cities next year.
With experience in hand, Korea has gained momentum to focus on third-generation technology, and is seriously considering two wideband CDMA standards for IMT-2000 requirements. One solution is based on the IS-95 or cdmaOne standard. The other is similar to a solution chosen by NTT DoCoMo in Japan, which uses a different coding and modulation from IS-95. In January, the Korea Radio Promotion Association established the IMT-2000 Development Council as a consortium of manufacturers, service providers, a research institute and a government organization to expedite development of CDMA technology. So far, 97 companies are participating in the effort.
“We think CDMA technology will establish the basic standard for its worldwide use by including-not only IS-95 standard-but WCDMA technology. We are planning to introduce a wideband CDMA scheme for our third-generation mobile system in Korea, by cooperations with the most advanced organizations in Japan, U.S. and Europe,” said KRPA Chairman Young Hwan Kim.
SK Telecom, which has gained nearly 2.7 million CDMA customers, already is taking steps toward WCDMA deployment. The company is working with DoCoMo in Japan to develop a system based on DoCoMo’s WCDMA specifications and IS-95 for backward compatibility. DoCoMo, the largest cellular operator in Japan, announced earlier this year its intention to develop its own version of WCDMA, bypassing Qualcomm Inc.’s intellectual property rights to IS-95 technology. With the input from large manufacturers like Nokia Corp. and L.M. Ericsson, which advocate this version of WCDMA, DoCoMo expects a test system by 1998.
SK Telecom President Dr. Jung Uck Seo announced that SK Telecom and DoCoMo jointly plan to develop commercial systems by 2000 and start a test service between Korea and Japan in 2001. The goal will be to offer CDMA-based regular IMT-2000 services in both countries by 2002 in time for the World Cup.
In August, SK Telecom developed and tested a prototype WCDMA system-just the third in the world to date, said Seo. As a result, the carrier has acquired rights to 128 kbps WCDMA wireless technology.
“A test demonstration in September has already verified wireless video telephony and wireless Internet access,” said Seo.
While conference leaders agreed that a new market for high-capacity and high-bit-rate data such as video telephony and multimedia applications will emerge around 2000, they acknowledged that the road to that point will be difficult. Some of the issues faced in the second-generation debate are resurfacing.
“There is a big barrier for this third-generation mobile system, and once again, we need to handle the capacity issue inherent to broadband service,” said Seo. “From the multimedia perspective, the capacity issue goes beyond the simple numbers game-the number of subscribers. The key to what is going on is that demand for broadband mobile capacity requires enormous capacity additions and financial investments to current and even planned systems.”
Several WCDMA proposals are on the table for IMT-2000 consideration. One, of course, is an evolution from existing IS-95 systems to a WCDMA system that provides backward compatibility. Another main proposal is DoCoMo’s system, which Japan Telecom also has adopted. Nokia and Ericsson also are backing a WCDMA technology for migration from Global System for Mobile communications networks. This proposal has gained significant interest from European operators.
“It is a very critical time for a universal wireless system to be successfully developed if all of us can keep an open mind and compromise on issues,” said Dr. William Lee, vice president and chief scientist for AirTouch Communications Inc., a U.S. cellular operator and part owner of Korea’s other cellular operator, Shinsegi Telecom Inc.
In order to work with the International Telecommunications Union, carriers and manufacturers must find a common ground, said Lee. But reaching it will be difficult due to political and technical issues, whether or not carriers need or want backward compatibility, the time frame in which IMT-2000 is developed and intellectual property rights issues, he said.
Shinsegi President Tae-Ki Chung voiced concern about the IMT-2000 initiative veering off its original course to develop next-generation technology as a worldwide system standardization and compatibility with all systems worldwide. Members of the mobile telecommunications industry have introduced the “IMT-2000 family concept,” which is intended to develop IMT-2000 on a regional basis. “This means that there will be at least two or three IMT-2000 systems, which may have interoperability problems,” said Chung.