A California lawmaker wants to make sure American technology is used in the wake of an American victory in Iraq, but his effort to control cellular technology in the Middle East nation is being called ill-advised and self-serving by critics.
Late last month, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., proposed a bill to Congress, H.R. 1441, that would require the use of CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology in lieu of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology for any federally funded efforts to build a cell phone network in post-war Iraq.
In a letter to government officials, including the Department of Defense, Issa argued that GSM is not American enough and, furthermore, too French. He boosted his point by referring to the technology as “Groupe Speciale Mobile,” its original but dated name.
“We have learned that planners at the Department of Defense … are currently envisioning using federal appropriations to deploy a European-based wireless technology known as GSM (Groupe Speciale Mobile),” Issa wrote. “If European GSM technology is deployed in Iraq, much of the equipment used to build the cell phone system would be manufactured in France, Germany, and elsewhere.”
H.R. 1441 has only one sponsor.
Qualcomm Inc., located in Issas hometown of San Diego, owns the majority of the patents for CDMA and therefore receives the majority of royalties for CDMA deployments. Qualcomm is not in Issas district, but the company gave $5,500 to the congressmans last political campaign.
“What would you expect the representative from that area to do?” said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. “They probably dropped a few bucks in his kitty for doing this.”
Qualcomm declined to comment on the proposed legislation, referring questions to Issas office. Issas office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
GSM, on the other hand, shares patents among several companies in several countries. The technology was born in Europe. In the early 1980s, Scandinavian and Dutch operators proposed a pan-European public cellular system in the 900MHz range, which would allow for seamless roaming and prevent a cellular Tower of Babel in Europe. Meanwhile, the United States was deploying myriad wireless networks, a reason, industry experts say, why Europe tends to be ahead of the United States in wireless innovation.
“GSM was misrepresented in [Issas] letter,” said Chris Pearson, executive vice president of 3G Americas LLC, a Bellevue, Wash., consortium of vendors and network operators focused on global convergence of wireless networks. “[GSM] is global in nature and should not be considered a European technology.”
Critics also question the timing of Issas proposal, with the war ongoing. “Its saddening to see politics of this nature at a time like this,” Pearson said.
That said, many carriers in the United States have adopted GSM, which runs in several frequency bands, and are upgrading their networks to General Packet Radio Service, which is based on GSM. They use equipment from France (Alcatel S.A.), Germany (Siemens AG), Sweden (Ericsson AB), Finland (Nokia Corp.) and the United States (Motorola Inc.), to name a few.
Motorola, based in Schaumburg, Ill., is a major provider of both CDMA and GSM infrastructure equipment. The company has GSM contracts with several countries, including Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
Most of the cell phone networks surrounding Iraq use GSM technology, which is why Motorola officials recommend using GSM instead of CDMA.
“If were looking for a solution on how to deploy a network in a country thats already surrounded by GSM, its fairly clear that GSM is the easiest solution,” said Norm Sandler, director of global strategic issues at Motorola, based in Washington; he said Motorola has had several discussions with the U.S. government in the past two weeks regarding a network in Iraq.
“Were in a good position to say from experience that neither one can be characterized as U.S. or European. But [in] terms of a possible technology solution in Iraq, in terms of putting in some kind of network to assist relief operations, there is clearly a logistical advantage at present for GSM,” Sandler said.
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