CDMA Picking Up Pace In Race Of The Standards

New Delhi: | Updated: Dec 25 2002, 05:30am hrs
Now that both GSM (global system for mobile communications) and CDMA (code division multiple access) standards are prevailing in various markets across the world and are evolving simultaneously too, with each camp having its own set of mighty companies promoting either of the two standards, the cellular market is witnessing a battle of standards. Lets take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of the standards.

Industry experts say GSM is accepted as a matured open standard technology with the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) having around 669 vendors/operator members compared to around 110 members in the CDMA Developers Group (CDG).

In the words of Nokia Networks India director for strategy Sanjay Bhasin, There are four key areas where GSM scores over CDMA which includes standardised service environment, global roaming, economies of scale and the fact that its a moving technology.

A standardised environment with open specifications offers smooth interoperability to GSM-based operators, Mr Bhasin explains. But CDMA-backers too have their defenses ready. Says Qualcomm Indias director for technical marketing Rishi Dhingra, The International Telecom Union has endorsed CDMA as an open standard and around 110 companies with the likes of Lucent, Nortel Motorola, Samsung, LG are members of the CDG.

With around 460 GSM networks in the world across more than 165 countries, global roaming is much easier when you are on the GSM network, Nokias Mr Bhasin adds. On the other hand, CDMA is a relatively new technology, argues Qualcomms Mr Dhingra. But that fact is also taken as a weak point by analysts who say that GSM is a mature technology.

As for economies of scale, since there are 750 million GSM users in the world and 82 per cent of new subscribers worldwide are riding on GSM, operators on a GSM network get access to a much wider network, explains Mr Bhasin. He is also of the opinion that GSM is an efficient and moving technology, with companies like Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens, etc putting in a lot of research and development efforts as a result operators get continuous product enhancements.

About economies of scale, Mr Dhingra points out that CDMA has much higher levels of capacity. To cater to a certain number of subscribers, around 1/4 of cell sites are required if CDMA technology is being used, Mr Dhingra says. This implies lower capex and thus, lower opex.

Commworks chief executive officer Vijay Yadav is feels both the technologies can coexist. Countries like the USA, China, Hong Kong, Singapore have both the network standards in their countries.

Interoperability between these two networks, be it for voice or enhanced data services, will not be a problem , says Mr Yadav. Though, as of now, this definitely is an issue. CDMA will work in parts of Asia, US, etc, but not in European destinations.

As far as migration to 3G is concerned, CDMA does have an advantage as players dont need to migrate to another spectrum, says Mr Yadav. Almost all the countries offering high speed data or 3G services run on the CDMA networks.

Out of over 26 million 3G CDMA reported subscribers as of Nov 30 2002, says Mr Dhingra, all run on CDMA 1X networks with the exception of NTT DoCoMo in Japan which runs on WCDMA. Thus over 98 per cent of 3G subscribers run on CDMA. In October 2000, South Korea launched the worlds first commercial IMT-2000 3G network using CDMA2000 1X and on January 28, 2002 it launched the worlds first commercial CDMA2000 1xEV-DO service. In October 2001, Japans NTT DoCoMo also launched commercial 3G service based WCDMA.

According to an Ovum Research document, in terms of providing services, both technologies are more or less at the same position. GSM/WCDMAs strength lies in the size of the subscriber base, standardisation and dominant position. But CDMA has been catching up and the CDMA market has been growing at an average growth rate of 56 per cent during the last three years compared to GSMs 45 per cent during the same time.

However, GSMs market share in the global mobile market stands at 69 per cent compared to CDMAs 14 per cent. So, who will emerge on top Wait and watch.