CTIA 2003: The Year That CDMA Roared

By eweek  |  Posted 2003-03-17

CTIA 2003: The Year That CDMA Roared

Before this years CTIA, CDMA was like that annoying rich kid you grew up with. In his backyard, he had the best playground in the neighborhood, but none of the cool kids would play with him.

Indeed, while most experts believe CDMA to be technologically superior to the rival GSM network that dominates Europe and is generally best for globetrotters, most of the compelling advanced data handsets either available in the US or soon headed this way have debuted on GSM. Among them: the Nokia 9000 series, the RIM Blackberry 6200, the Palm Tungsten W, the Handspring Treo, the Sony Ericsson P800, the first Pocket PC, Phone Edition, and the Danger-designed T-Mobile Sidekick.

Of these, only the Treo, the Blackberry, and the Pocket PC have yet to make the jump to CDMA. (Other manufacturers, however, have released Palm OS-based handsets first, and only, on CDMA.)

African elephants have been gestated in the amount of time it took for the Windows-powered Smartphone to come to market, but when it did, it arrived on GSM. And while Bluetooth on a handset has appeared less often than blue moons, the only real mainstream phone to support it to date – the Sony Ericsson T68, used GSM.

About the only major cell phone manufacturer that didnt visibly recoil from CDMA was Motorola. Despite signs of a recent resurgence, though, it has missed a golden opportunity to bring real end-user breakthroughs to this data-enabled network.

Thats because, judging by the flurry of announcements leading up to and coming out of CTIA 2003, it looks other companies are working to ensure that this will be the Year of CDMA. Among the highlights:

  • GSM stalwarts Nokia and Sony Ericsson have released new lineups of handsets that support CDMA Among the highlights are the first US CDMA handsets to support Bluetooth. Among them is a CDMA version of the T68.
  • Kyocera Wireless, which inherited Qualcomms handset business, has released new series of handsets aimed at the fast-growing youth segment. Recently, that has meant supporting the entry level designed for virtual mobile network operator Virgin Mobile. Among Kyoceras new offerings, though, go way beyond that with support for Qualcomms BREW language and the Kurv, which uses Wildseeds Smart Skin technology.
  • While some Pocket PC developers have developed their own solutions for integrating voice into a Pocket PC device, Microsoft has officially brought a "Phone Edition" Pocket PC to market. Spring PCS will carry devices by Hitachi and Samsung.
  • Providing a true showcase for CDMAs scalable network and high speed, Verizon Wireless has announced it will rll out a high-speed 1x EvDO high-speed data network in Washington and San Diego. Despite the carriers claims, its unlikely that the performance, much less the price/performance ratio, will rival W-Fi, but it should certainly blow past the best that the GSM/GPRS camp can offer currently.

The Feast From the


Much of this bonanza for CDMA users within the US is courtesy two companies far outside its borders. South Korean electronics giants Samsung and LG, better known to most Americans for their entertainment products, had been aggressively growing market share to the point that GSM loyalists such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson had to wake up and smell the café americano. With Samsung now playing in both camps, so must they.

Samsung and LG began by mimicking popular if by now dated designs by the likes of Motorola, but the other message that seems to be coming outof this years show is that its not enough for a handset to be all style and no substance. Cuustomers are starting to become aware that phones can do more than just hold the contents of a major metropolitan phne directory in their memory, and are expecting to be excited by whats inside.

The GSM camp isnt without its own bragging rights this year. Microsoft and TI, fresh from their collaboration on SPOT watches, are showing off a versatile reference design that incorporates GPRS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth into one device called WANDA. Perhaps the main reason why the GSM camp is a little light on the goods at CTIA is that it got to strut its stuff on its home turf at CeBIT last week. Samsung, Panasonic, Motorola and others showed new models aimed at the European, i.e., GSM user, including the showstopping GPRS watch phone with Bluetooth and an OLED display.

Such a breakthrough certainly wont come cheap, but most US cellular customers wont be able to use it at any price because it wont work on their cell phone network. Until now, CDMA has been a technology decision that appealed to visionary carriers which, through the aggressive acquisition strategy of Verizon Wireless, has resulted in strong network coverage.

However, with two of the more innovative handset makers getting into the field, the networks first Bluetooth-enabled handset opening the door for many laptops and handhelds, and the USs largest carrier about to unleash a high-speed version of its laptop data product, CDMAs technical benefits may for the first time reach beyond the telecom engineer.

Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin is a senior analyst at eMarketer. He has researched wireless communications since 1994 and has been covering technology since 1989.

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