CDMA2000s Chicken-Egg Problem

Qualcomm is shipping its next-generation CDMA2000 1X chip sets, but carriers that plan to sell handsets based on the wireless technology said most products are not ready for it.

Qualcomm Inc. is shipping its next-generation CDMA2000 1X chip sets, but carriers that plan to sell handsets based on the wireless technology said most products are not ready for it.

This technology gap, which has network providers waiting for handset makers and vice versa, continues to slow deployment of third-generation wireless services, especially in North America. "Significant portions of the network are rip-roaring and ready to go," said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, in Bedminster, N.J. "But there are no devices available. Devices must pass our rigorous quality testing and be available before we can launch a product."

Industry officials acknowledged there is no standard method for testing CDMA2000 phones.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group, has upgraded 20 percent of its network to CDMA2000 and expects commercial deployments of 3G services to begin at midyear. Last month, the company announced that several wireless hardware makers and application service providers were testing products on the new system, dubbed the Express Network.

Access is limited to modem cards, however, as phones are not yet ready, Nelson said.

While they support the new technology, handset manufacturers are waiting for networks that will support large numbers of 3G users. "If it isnt the phone, its the network, and if it isnt the network, its the phone," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "Its always something."

Several companies have committed to Qualcomms technology, which is based on CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). With the support of Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS, CDMA is dominant, especially in North America, and carriers and equipment manufacturers depend on Qualcomm.

Those who have committed to Qualcomms newest MSM5105 Mobile StationModem chip set include GTRAN Wireless Inc., Kyocera Corp., Novatel Wireless Inc., Samsung Electronics America Inc., Sanyo North America Corp. and Sierra Wireless Inc., said Qualcomm officials in San Diego. While most have CDMA products such as modems shipping in Asia, few have handsets tested and approved by carriers for use in the United States.

Verizon officials said the company is taking a long time to find CDMA2000 handsets that are worthy of commercial deployment. Sources close to Verizon said the company hopes to have approved at least one CDMA2000 handset by the end of the quarter.

"In general, any new products that come into the market will go through testing," said Jim Takach, director of advanced programs for the CDMA Development Group, a Costa Mesa, Calif., consortium that supports the technology. "Who runs the test depends on the stage of development."

Equipment and network delays aside, Don Schrock, president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, a division of Qualcomm, said CDMA2000 1X offerings will ultimately offer network operators up to twice the voice capacity of 2G technology and will enable data rates of up to 153K bps.

Handsets based on the CDMA2000 1X chip sets will include always-on connections, speeds of up to 153K bps, talk times of 2.5 to 3.8 hours and standby times of 230 to 350 hours, said Qualcomm officials.

Verizon Wireless has predicted more modest speeds of 40K bps to 60K bps for its Express Network, which, as the company pointed out, is still faster than most dial-up connections.

Other carriers, including Sprint PCS Group, expect to roll out high-speed networks by midyear as well. Initial road maps for 3G had included plans for commercial deployments last year.

Also slowing the technology is the ongoing issue of spectrum availability. Several carriers, including Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless Services Inc., have been meeting to resolve a dispute over wireless licenses owned by bankrupt carrier NextWave Telecom Inc.

Sources close to the situation said that the carriers now are trying to get congressional approval for a settlement in which the carriers will pay NextWave to give up its claim to the airwaves.