The upcoming chairwoman of the GSM MoU Association is confident that Global System for Mobile communications technology will figure prominently in the U.S. personal communications services market.
Gretel Holcomb Hoffman is currently the group’s deputy chair, but is scheduled to assume the top job on March 7, a position each person holds for one year. The current chairman is Mike Short of Cellnet in the United Kingdom.
Hoffman is a resident of Charlotte, N.C., and the director of technology for BellSouth Personal Communications Inc., the PCS arm of BellSouth Corp. She previously worked in BellSouth Europe as GSM technical director of business development, and also served as the GSM implementation director for the Sonofon network (Dansk MobilTelefon) of Denmark.
As chair, Hoffman will promote GSM as a technology capable of creating a global footprint. The organization is incorporated in Switzerland and maintains an administrative office in Dublin. The GSM MoU Association began in 1982 when the European Conference of Post and Telecommunications Administrations established a group that would develop a common standard for a pan-European cellular network. One major decision of the group was to adopt a digital rather than an analog system, and by 1986 a narrowband Time Division Multiple Access system was selected.
A year later, 13 network operators from European countries signed a memorandum of understanding, signaling their support for digital equipment-a sign that manufacturers were seeking. Network deployment, originally slated for 1991, was commercially available in 1992.
There are now 156 members (service providers and government regulators) in the GSM MoU from 86 countries, including the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and the Middle East. Worldwide, GSM technology covers 25 billion pops.
“GSM has 51 percent of the U.S. market with just the A- and B-block licenses awarded. That’s 128 million pops. You can compete today with a system that’s been commercially available for three years and has a million customers. When you ask for facts about GSM, you can get them,” Hoffman said.
At first glance, GSM’s hold on the U.S. market isn’t obvious. It wasn’t selected by mammoth operators like AT&T Wireless Services Inc., which will use Time Division Multiple Access, or PCS PrimeCo L.P., which chose Code Division Multiple Access. The third large U.S. operator, Sprint Telecommunications Venture, has expressed an interest in CDMA, although it is still in negotiations.
However, PCS licensees with a variety of holdings have selected GSM-Western Wireless, Pacific Bell Mobile Services, BellSouth Personal Communications Inc., American Personal Communications Inc., American Portable Telecommunications, Omnipoint Corp., Poka Lambro Telephone and Powertel PCS Partners Inc.
Hoffman has identified three areas of concentration for the association next year: new regions of growth (North/South America), more customer growth (existing systems) and growth of GSM standards (new technologies).
North and South America are new areas where GSM is being established. U.S. operators that have chosen GSM are banding together with the plan of creating a united footprint, particularly for roaming; a GSM brand name may be created, Hoffman said.
“We’re going to have a nationwide footprint, but we want one global standard. Why don’t we want travelers from Asia to bring their phones here and spend their money?” Hoffman said.
Customer growth on new and existing systems is expected to be most profound next year in the Pacific region. “Taiwan added 100,000 customers to their network in 30 days. That’s where we’ll see subscriber growth,” she said.
Growth of GSM standards will come through new technologies, such as a standard that provides the fastest way to send data, or the next-generation vocoder that best competes with landline voice quality.
“GSM non-proprietary wireless local loop isn’t out yet, but the characteristics of that standard will allow us to compete in a landline environment. We have to keep the standard ahead of the pack,” Hoffman said.
The association also is interested in incorporating satellite telecommunication operators into the GSM global systems, particularly for roaming.