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Qualcomm finally mixes network cocktail

The wireless developer says it's set to launch the first trial of equipment that lets cell phone carriers committed to GSM networks switch over to Qualcomm's rival CDMA-based technology.

Equipment that lets wireless carriers using GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks convert to Qualcomm's rival technology is set for its first trial, a company executive said Friday.

Sanjay Jha, a Qualcomm senior vice president,

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said the trial will test the operation of the technology, known as GSM1x, and not whether there is a market for it. The tests will involve a few hundred customers and begins early next year.

GSM1x was created as a way for GSM carriers to add Qualcomm's 1x cell phone technology to their networks. Short for CDMA20001xrtt, 1x is built on the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standard and promises to double voice calling capacity and create a wireless Web with download speeds of 40kbps to 60kbps (kilobits per second).

The trial is designed to demonstrate the benefits of the hybrid network gear to wireless carriers. "What we want to do is say 'Hey, there are other ways of reaching (your) plans,'" Jha said.

The GSM and 1x phone standards are usually incompatible. GSM carriers building new wireless networks are usually limited to equipment using the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) standards.

So far, most of the United States' top six wireless carriers have been building so-called third-generation, or 3G, wireless networks, in hopes that its faster download speeds will generate extra revenue through wireless Web subscriptions, game downloads or corporate e-mail capabilities. Wireless carriers are trying to find new sources of revenue as the price of a cell phone call continues to drop because of competition.

GSM1x was introduced last year when many GSM carriers, especially European carriers, were struggling with the technical and financial challenges of building 3G wireless Web networks.

Although some carriers--most notably U.K.-based BT and U.S. companies AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless and T-Mobile--have managed to launch hybrid GSM/GPRS networks, there still seems to be a market for the GSM1x melding of GSM and CDMA. However, many other GSM carriers have either abandoned network construction plans or announced delays.

The major sticking point to the adoption GSM1x has more to do with the dominance of GSM than it does with the technology involved, said Gartner Dataquest analyst Brian Prohm. About 75 percent of the world's telephone networks use GSM, while only about 20 percent use CDMA.

Those carriers that adopted GSM1x would be isolated from lucrative roaming contracts with other GSM carriers, Prohm said.

A source said it's likely the wireless carrier involved in the test is based in Asia and a customer of Korean telephone equipment maker Hyundai Syscomm, which announced in June the development of GSM1x products. Jha, however, did not identify the carrier.