Some U.S. GSM and TDMA operators are irked at Qualcomm Inc. and its lobbying efforts within the U.S. government to frame the third-generation issue as a trade issue with Europe.

They say that while Qualcomm is urging the State Department to take action against Europe over its refusal to consider cdmaOne technology, Qualcomm also is trying to convince the U.S. government to back W-cdmaOne technology.

As a result, the GSM North American Alliance early last week sent a letter to the European Commission urging it to ask member governments to allow operators to choose the technology they prefer for third-generation wireless services rather than mandate any single technology as a requirement for licensing.

“I wouldn’t expect Europe to change, but we thought it was important for the record to state our views,” said Don Warkentin, chairman of the alliance and chief executive officer of PCS operator Aerial Communications Inc. “We want to make a clear statement that the North American GSM community is supporting W-CDMA technology and supporting the freedom of operators to choose technology. That has been a running battle for us to preserve policy to allow carriers to choose technology.”

Qualcomm, which recently hired high-powered lobbyist Simon Lazarus, and the CDMA Development Group “are spending large amounts of money to deny the technology that we want and position this as a trade war,” said Warkentin. “The American trade issue tactic is what Qualcomm is using to try and get its standard adopted as a single standard to benefit (Qualcomm) financially.”

Qualcomm’s Vice President for Development Mark Epstein said the company is pushing for one global CDMA standard, but is not trying to deny U.S. carriers the freedom to choose a technology. Qualcomm has said it wants a standard that converges W-CDMA, a proposal chosen by standards bodies around the world, and W-cdmaOne, and it won’t grant intellectual property rights it claims to have to CDMA technology unless convergence is achieved. Convergence, says Qualcomm, allows for economies of scale, protects existing infrastructure investments and can support GSM and IS-41 networks equally without prejudice. GSM operators say convergence degrades W-CDMA technology.

“We supported the approval by the U.S. government of all four standards that were sent to the ITU,” said Epstein. “We just believe that Europe should abide by the agreements they signed up to. We want the U.S. to be sure Europe is not violating bilateral trade agreements.”

Qualcomm, the CDG and other vendors say they have tried to get Europe’s standards body to consider cdmaOne technology, but say their efforts have been shelved. cdmaOne backers claim the United States in turn has embraced European-centric second-generation GSM technology. Europe recently submitted a W-CDMA proposal to the International Telecommunication Union, which is in charge of worldwide standards setting.

Time Division Multiple Access cellular operator BellSouth Cellular Corp. believes it has an important role to play in the 3G debate to ensure TDMA survives as well.

“Technology should be something carriers should decide on,” said Joaquin Carbonell, vice president and general counsel of BellSouth Cellular. “There has been a significant amount of debate over whether TDMA is a U.S.-based technology. It is. It’s the most viable technology for us to migrate to the next generation of cellular use.”

Keith Radousky, director of engineering with BellSouth Cellular, said cdmaOne backers have tried to claim TDMA is a European technology in their quest “to convince the State Department not to support UWC-136 and support W-cdmaOne.”

“We’re not asking for people to accept our technology. We want the government to stay the course on freedom of governments to choose,” said Warkentin. “We were very successful last month in having four different technologies sent to the ITU. The game isn’t over until [the ITU decides on standards] later this year. We need to fend off whatever attempts have been made to create a U.S. position.”

At any rate, all U.S. mobile phone operators are interested in the 3G debate because they want to protect their investments in current infrastructure. The ITU has until March to come up with a family of standards. The ITU abandoned the idea of creating one global standard months ago after realizing parties were deeply divided on the issue.

“We hope the ITU will stick with a family of standards concept,” said BellSouth’s Carbonell. “We’re in the opinion that all standards should go forward.”

Keith Paglusch, vice president of engineering and operations with Sprint PCS, said CDMA operators are united behind achieving a converged CDMA standard that allows for backward compatibility.

“There is not any technical boundary that cannot be overcome. It’s an economic issue. And some parties are not willing to move off of their investments.”


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