No Falling Sky

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-03-12

The most appropriate response the press could have given to the Chicken Little-esque comments made by Qualcomm Chairman and Chief Executive Irwin Jacobs about when wideband Code Division Multiple Access networks will roll out? In a word: Puleeeze!

In an interview with The Financial Times, and later during the companys annual meeting, Jacobs warned that wideband Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA) will be delayed for two or three years. A flurry of prophetic wire-service stories followed, suggesting further setbacks for the third-generation wireless network standard backed by the global system for mobile communications (GSM) community.

His comments couldnt have been more self-serving. Credited with commercializing CDMA technology, Jacobs favors cdma2000 over W-CDMA — even though Qualcomm receives patent fees when either air interface is used. Hes a die-hard cdma2000 supporter; no wonder he wants to make W-CDMA look like its falling behind.

Conveniently, Jacobs failed to mention that NTT DoCoMo, the worldwide leader in mobile wireless data services, says it will roll out W-CDMA at the end of May. Instead, he pointed to an operator in Korea planning to launch cdma2000 commercially next year.

But Qualcomm does a good job of provoking its competitors with bold, blanket statements. Late last year, for example, it publicly praised AT&T Wireless plan to migrate to GSM and W-CDMA. AT&T, which had chosen the competing standard, didnt take the gesture kindly.

With AT&T in the other camp, the CDMA crowd might be feeling threatened. Two weeks ago, the GSM Association announced that GSM subscribers swelled to 440 million worldwide last year, compared with 81 million CDMA subscribers.

Thats not to say that CDMA is dying. Both standards will have strong footholds in different regions of the world. And to be fair, Jacobs certainly isnt alone in talking down the competing standard. Members of the GSM world are also guilty of slamming their CDMA competitors.

But the air interface standards war has been dying, so why open this can of worms again? Instead of making each other look bad and confusing the market, wireless leaders should bury the hatchet. Users dont much care — or know — which technology runs their cell phones. Industry leaders could spend their time much better by encouraging developers worldwide to create services that can run on these next-gen networks, whenever they arrive.

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