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Switching gears, CDMA community embraces LTE: Vendors react in wake of Qualcomm’s dismissal of UMB

The decision by Qualcomm Inc. to stop development of its Ultra Mobile Broadband technology does not mean CDMA is off to the scrap heap.
With 3G networks still evolving and being deployed in emerging markets, the technology will have a long shelf life even though an evolution path for the technology to 4G may now be dead.
“In some markets, 4G will be important, but in most markets, 4G is not even being talked about,” said Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDMA Development Group. “We will continue to promote 3G with CDMA, and we will be the leader in working with 4G technology.”
According to the latest figures from the CDG, the family of CDMA technology is now being used by 475 million subscribers worldwide.
Earlier this month, Qualcomm said it was ending research and development of UMB, which is also known as CDMA2000 1x EV-DO Revision C, to focus on the Long Term Evolution standard. LTE has received strong support from various carriers and vendors as their choice for moving forward with 4G. The other 4G technology to emerge is WiMAX.
Support for UMB, Qualcomm’s path to 4G, never came from vendors and carriers. Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA Inc. and some small carriers have said they will deploy 4G networks using the LTE standard. Sprint Nextel Corp. and Clearwire Corp. are planning to go with WiMAX.
LaForge said he was not surprised or disappointed with Qualcomm’s decision to pull the plug on UMB.
“It didn’t make sense to push UMB,” he said.
From CDMA to LTE
Peter Jarich, an analyst with Current Analysis, said Qualcomm’s decision to drop UMB in favor of LTE wasn’t surprising.
“Qualcomm can see the direction LTE is going,” he said. “It made logical sense for them. It is not that UMB does not work as a technology. There was just no support for it. This is a public statement what the position is for Qualcomm as it moves forward.”
Jarich said CDMA operators like Verizon Wireless will provide a path to 4G for other CDMA operators to follow.
“CDMA will live on for awhile,” he said. “It is not going away anytime soon. This sets a migration pattern for CDMA operators when they do want to go to 4G.”
LaForge agrees. He said the CDG can continue to promote the technology, and operators that use it will have a path to 4G.
“For us it really does not matter,” LaForge said in regard to what 4G technology is used. “We are working with the carriers. The reality is that the CDMA operators that want to do 4G are going to be the ones that are using 4G technology.
“If you are a carrier and looking to use CDMA for 3G there is nothing that would preclude that carrier from then going to LTE.”
Equipment suppliers position for LTE
Various infrastructure vendors are also jockeying for position in the 4G buildout of LTE or WiMAX. Alcatel-Lucent has been a strong player in CDMA; last year, the corporation signed a three year deal with Verizon Wireless that was worth a reported $6 billion. Part of the deal includes an increase in coverage and capacity to the carrier’s BroadbandAccess network, which is based on CDMA2000 1x EV-DO Revision A technology.
Kurt Steinert, Alcatel-Lucent senior manager for media relations, said in an e-mail that the company did not see significant operator interest in UMB.
“Alcatel-Lucent is a strong supporter of LTE and WiMAX as next-generation wireless evolution paths, and have developed strong offerings to support both technologies,” Steinert said. “We have seen substantial operator commitments to both LTE and WiMAX.”
Steinert agrees that CDMA/EV-DO network operators have a clear evolution path to LTE. He said the CDMA operators have been among the earliest to make a commitment to LTE as their next-generation wireless network.
“As importantly, Alcatel-Lucent is fully engaged in efforts to support the transition to LTE for CDMA/EV-DO network operators,” according to Steinert’s e-mail.
The company is expecting additional commitments to LTE from both CDMA/EV-DO and GSM/UMTS operators.
According to the CDG, CDMA technology is experiencing continued growth in both developed and emerging markets. During the third quarter, the CDMA2000 subscriber base increased by 13 million subscribers and now exceeds 463 million. CDMA2000 1x EV-DO increased 5 million and now is up to 105 million users.
“CDMA continues to grow at a consistent and healthy pace around the world, particularly in emerging markets that are seeing the value proposition that CDMA2000 services provide,” LaForge said in a statement announcing the figures during the 2008 3G CDMA North America Regional Conference that was recently held in San Diego.

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