Attending the recent conference sponsored by the Universal Wireless Communications Consortium, which supports the Time Division Multiple Access technology used by operators such as AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless, was like sitting death watch for the standard. But not a tear was shed.
As in past years, this UWCC conference lacked substance. I suspect that, like me, at least a few other attendees went just to witness the demise of a standard and a big announcement from Cingular that didnt happen.
I expected Cingular to reveal plans to follow in the footsteps of AT&T Wireless and convert to the global system for mobile communication most used in Europe and from there, move on to third-generation standards. I wasnt alone. "We trust that in the future Cingular will join," said Robert Conway, CEO of the GSM Association. But Cingular remained mum, only saying it intends to implement Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution (EDGE).
TDMAs heyday is clearly past. Only two operators, AT&T Wireless and Cingular, spoke at the conference, though many Latin American operators use TDMA.
Such is the fate of a technology abandoned by its marquee supporter. Before AT&T Wireless said it would migrate to GSM, it and most other TDMA players planned to move to EDGE as their final third-generation networks. EDGE offers 384 kilobit-per-second data rates, which means it officially qualifies as 3G but falls short of other next-generation networks.
Some believe that AT&T Wireless got a great deal on GSM gear, because it claims that it can implement 3G via GSM — which includes installing GSM, General Packet Radio Service, EDGE and the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System — for the same price as the move from TDMA to EDGE. By moving away from TDMA, AT&T Wireless can benefit from worldwide economies of scale in infrastructure and handsets.
If Cingular doesnt choose GSM it will head down an expensive route. It may be one of a few operators hoping to migrate from TDMA to EDGE without the GSM step, making gear expensive and limiting the variety of handsets.