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Probe Research studies GSM vs. CDMA in 3G battle

CEDAR KNOLLS, N.J.-The whole world is watching to see which standard-GSM or CDMA-will succeed as the 3G battle revs up in the United States, said Probe Research Inc., but the seemingly inevitable deployment of third-generation wireless networks is hitting a brick wall in some areas and rushing headlong in others.

“The difference between the winners and losers appears to be the technology chosen by the carriers,” said David Chamberlain, research director. “Even as carrier after carrier is announcing delays in deploying the UMTS/W-CDMA standard supported by European standards bodies, rival CDMA carriers in the U.S., Korea and Japan are loading millions of commercial subscribers and making millions of Won and Yen on data services.”

The two opposing camps are now facing off in the global 3G battlefield: One, based in Europe, is committed to GSM, a migration path consisting of 2.5G GPRS (and possibly 2.75G EDGE) then to 3G UMTS, also called Wideband-CDMA. The other, nominally centered in the United States, is using CDMA with a migration path of 1xRTT and then 1xEV in either data only (DO) or data plus voice (DV) versions.

Chamberlain suggested that both technologies ultimately fulfill International Telecommunication Union requirements for 3G that include 384 kilobits per second for pedestrian users, 144 kbps for mobile users and 2.4 Megabits per second for users with stationary equipment. CDMA, however, has a much easier migration path.

“The little secret amongst friends is that the path from GSM to W-CDMA is not evolutionary but will require replacement of the radio access network and, in many cases, additional spectrum,” said Chamberlain. “Some, but not all, of the GPRS data communication infrastructure may be reused, but the radio access network-base station radios and the very expensive mobile terminals-must be replaced in the transition between GSM/GPRS/EDGE and W-CDMA.”

At this point, even the most biased onlookers may soon have to admit that CDMA may have taken the 3G lead on a global scale, not just in the United States, said Probe.

Probe’s comments were reinforced by recent tests conducted by RBC Dain Rauscher Inc. that found 1xRTT data throughputs are generally greater than those of GPRS.

RBC tested Sprint PCS’ 1x service against T-Mobile’s GPRS service in several U.S. cities. In Dallas, Sprint’s network achieved data speeds up to 89 kbps, while the T-Mobile network speeds reached only 33 kbps.

Probe surmised that CDMA, at least in the United States, has captured the technological lead in regard to advanced wireless data networks. Brash upstart Qualcomm Inc., however, is hardly a favorite of European carriers and regulators, reducing the effectiveness of the company’s message there.

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