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Industry preps for new cell standard

Companies are expected to begin testing equipment using a standard that is supposed to at least double the number of calls a network can handle and increase its speed.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
3 min read
The alphabet soup that is cellular telephone standards now has a new entrant for the biggest tongue twister: CDMA2000 1xEV-DV.

In the next few weeks, a number of equipment vendors and wireless carriers are expected to begin testing equipment using the standard, which was approved by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in May, said Nokia Soren Peterson, senior vice president for CDMA business unit.

The standard is supposed to at least double the number of calls at a time and create a wireless Web network capable of broadband speeds of 3 to 5 megabits per second. The standard was proposed 18 months ago by Nokia, Motorola, Sprint and Texas Instruments.

But don't expect manufacturers to begin selling 1xEV-DV products until 2004 at the earliest, said Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak. Chipmaker Qualcomm, which owns most of the patents needed to make silicon using this new standard, doesn't see products debuting until even later, like 2005.

"That's where we think things are at this point, given how long it takes to rollout something commercially," said Anil Kripalani, Qualcomm senior vice president of global technology marketing.

The new standard is debuting at a time when the telecommunications industry is in a free fall. Most of the talk isn't about the need for faster telephone networks, but on whether the top six cellular carriers will merge into the top three, or about accounting irregularities threatening the future of WorldCom. While a new standard at this time might seem secondary to the more immediate concerns, the industry is beginning what most consider an 18-month process to design, then debut the equipment.

CDMA2000 1xEV-DV will likely debut to a limited audience. It is generally for carriers using Qualcomm's Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), versions of which are in about 15 percent to 20 percent of the world's telephone networks. CDMA2000 1xEV-DO is at least six times faster than the speediest CDMA cellular networks of Verizon Wireless.

CDMA carrier Verizon Wireless hasn't announced yet what it intends do with 1XEV-DV, or whether it intends to use the standard. However, in the past it has been willing to try new cellular equipment based on similar standards.

A Sprint PCS spokeswoman said Monday the carrier is now "looking at moving from" their present telephone network to one using 1xEV-DV, but said a date has yet to be set.

Carriers are likely to be extremely cautious, given that the main benefit of these networks is they give even more zip to companies' existing wireless data services offerings, such as e-mail or access to an office mainframe. But the so-called "data market" hasn't taken off yet, even though the Federal Communications Commission said that there were about 10 million people using the wireless Web in 2001, a four-fold increase from 2000.

"Sometimes a technology is way in advance of the market," said IDC wireless analyst Shiv Bakhshi. "The carriers will have to figure out if John and Josephine Smith really need it. Are they willing to put dollars on the countertop for it?"

"It data does takeoff, and everybody and their grandma will be using their phone for data, then of course you'll find a compelling reason to upgrade to 1xEV-DV," he added. "But if data only rise in steps, then you don't have to spend a billion dollars upgrading a network."

Peterson disagrees, seeing the influx this year of color phones armed with digital cameras helping fuel an explosion in use of the wireless Web, especially to send wireless e-mails with photos attached.

"The analysts have had quite a frugal attitude," he said. "But it will happen.

Two other standards groups have already given the nod to CDMA2000 1xEV-DV. In June, the Third Generation Partnership Project 2, and the Telecommunications Industry Association published the standard. Vendors are most likely, however, to follow the lead of the ITU.