WASHINGTON-The State Department, amid a flurry of high-level lobbying and an unsuccessful last-minute move to withdraw U.S. support for the European-based mobile phone technology used by carriers here and abroad, will forward four standards for third-generation wireless technology to the International Telecommunication Union this week.
The spotlight now shifts to the ITU, the Geneva-based global telecom body, which will inherit a politically explosive standards issue with billions of dollars riding on the outcome.
Many believe ITU will approve a family of 3G wireless standards that does not include a wideband cdmaOne solution in a high mobility environment. That outcome could spark a trade fight between the United States and the European Union and possibly a nasty patent-infringement lawsuit.
3G wireless technology promises global roaming, high-speed data and multimedia functionalities far more sophisticated than anything available today.
Gerald Petterson of Lucent Technologies Inc., chairman of a U.S. wireless standards-setting committee, drew harsh criticism last week after allegedly attempting to quash a 3G technology selection during a meeting in Seattle.
That technology-wideband Code Division Multiple Access-is based on Global System for Mobile communications and is strongly supported by Sweden’s L.M. Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia Corp. and their U.S. affiliates.
Petterson’s proposal was rejected.
“We can only assume that this type of unsanctioned action at such a late date can only be motivated by commercial interests and, as such, represents a flagrant misuse of the [committee] process,” said John Giere, vice president of government relations for Ericsson.
A spokesman for Lucent declined comment but said the company will have more to say this week.
The four 3G technologies being forwarded June 30 to the ITU are CDMA, Time Division Multiple Access, Global System for Mobile communications and wireless multimedia and messaging services, or WIMS.
Three of the four technologies (TDMA excluded) are variations of CDMA technology.
The big fight is between W-CDMA, which is backed by Ericsson, Nokia and U.S. carriers that deploy GSM technology, and wideband cdmaOne, a wireless technology developed by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. popular in the United States and other countries.
Qualcomm supports converging the two CDMA technologies to enable backward compatibility by carriers here and overseas. If the CDMA technologies are not merged and the EU moves forward with W-CMDA, Qualcomm said it may sue to protect its intellectual property rights.
Ericsson, Nokia and GSM carriers oppose harmonization, saying it would degrade the resulting technology.
Besides the Petterson episode, there were mixed signals last week that the State Department, Commerce Department and the Federal Communications Commission may have considered dropping W-CDMA from U.S. 3G recommendations, ostensibly out of fear that including it might hurt American firms in future trade by encouraging the ITU to settle on a European-based 3G standard.
Much of last week’s sound and fury was sparked by a news report in which Edward Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, accused Qualcomm and Motorola Inc. of trying to persuade U.S. policy makers to scratch W-CDMA from the package of proposals going to the ITU.
CCIA declined to return calls for comment.
Motorola and Qualcomm officials in Washington vehemently denied the charges.
“Qualcomm has not done anything to block any standard on its own or in concert with any other company or organization,” said Kevin Kelly, senior vice president for external affairs for Qualcomm.
Congress, meanwhile, weighed in on the 3G issue.
House Science subcommittee Chairwoman Connie Morella (R-Md.), Rep. James Barcia (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), in a June 17 letter to FCC Chairman Bill Kennard, said that “with the significant investment in the U.S. by developers, manufacturers and service providers of wireless telecommunications technologies, we believe the FCC should work diligently to ensure that these investments are not rendered worthless through the international standard-setting process.”
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) urged policy makers to recommend to the ITU “a final decision that emphasizes convergence of technologies where possible, interoperability of systems and maximum choice to consumers.”
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) was enlisted by Ericsson, which has facilities in Lynchburg, Va., and in other states, to support W-CDMA technology.