CTIA 2003: The Year That CDMA Roared

CDMA advocates have griped that, while their network boasted an elegant upgrade path, the GSM camp got the most advanced handsets. But Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin sees that changing soon, if this year's CTIA announcements bear fruit.

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.