It was hardly a surprise to hear on Tuesday morning that Cingular Wireless will be converting its network to the global system for mobile communication standard. "Its the most well-known secret in corporate America," said Stephen Carter, president and CEO of Cingular.
Cingular has been expected to make the move since AT&T Wireless, the only other major operator using the Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) standard, announced its decision to migrate to GSM last November.
Cingular said it will also introduce the data upgrade to Global Packet Radio Service and, ultimately, an Enhanced Data GSM Evolution (EDGE) network that will deliver 470-kilobit-per-second speeds.
The migration wont be easy, however. Much of Cingulars spectrum is in the 850-megahertz band, for which GSM equipment hasnt been built before. Cingular will eventually introduce handsets that can operate on GSM and TDMA networks in the 850-MHz spectrum, as well as GSM and TDMA in the 1,900-MHz band. Such handsets will allow customers to continue to use networks throughout Cingulars territory, regardless of the state of the upgrade in the market.
The 850-MHz spectrum has some advantages. "We like the propagation qualities that 850-MHz offers," said Bill Clift, chief technology officer of Cingular. Radios tuned to lower frequencies have a greater range than those that use higher spectrum, so the network requires fewer base stations to cover a market.
Groups supporting the Code Division Multiple Access air interface, employed by Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless, had hoped that some TDMA operators might migrate to CDMA instead of GSM. But with nearly 70 percent of the worldwide market employing GSM standards, the choice became clear to Cingular. "We saw the economics clearly tipping toward EDGE," Clift said.