Wireless Industry’s CDMA True Believers Chart CDMA’s Future for CDMA crowd

11/20/08Follow @bvbigelow

The phrase “preaching to the choir” came to mind as I listened to the speakers today at the 3G CDMA North America Regional Conference, which is being held this year in downtown San Diego at the U.S. Grant Hotel.

Seated in the audience around me were representatives of wireless carriers, equipment makers and device venders that have all based their products on CDMA, the digital wireless technology also known as Code Division Multiple Access. Many listened while scrolling casually through the electronic messages on their presumably CDMA-based gadgets, their faces illuminated by the light from their hand held devices.

The conference, organized by CDG, the CDMA Development Group, has always been a CDMA family affair—focused exclusively on the proprietary digital wireless technology developed by San Diego-based Qualcomm.

James Person, CDG’s chief operating officer, kicked off the conference by announcing there are now 475 million worldwide subscribers to the CDMA family of technologies. While that number has been growing, it represents about 18 percent of the global market because most of the world uses rival wireless technologies based on GSM, or the Global System for Mobile Communications. In North America, there are about 140 million CDMA-based subscribers, who account for 51 percent of the wireless market—with most of those customers using CDMA-based networks operated by Verizon Wireless and Sprint.

Considering how competitive the U.S. market has been over the past 20 years, it seemed like Person was over-reaching—or perhaps just talking to the CDMA faithful—when he said, “In North America we are the dominant technology, and we think it will continue that way.”

Such comments reflect a confidence in the future of CDMA technology that is frequently expressed by CDMA insiders. They also say that it’s easier for CDMA-based networks to make the transition to next-generation technologies such as EV-DO (Evolution-Data Only)—which also provides superior bandwidth for data-intensive applications, such as Web-browsing and online gaming.

It’s reminiscent of arguments that Sony’s Betamax videotape format was technically superior to JVC’s VHS standard, and we all know how that ended.

The key to CDMA’s future only became clear to me after presentations by executives for Sprint and Verizon Wireless, who laid out their efforts to create “open ecosystems” for encouraging other “third party” developers to invent new CDMA-based products and services.

“Rather than us defining where we want our customers to go, our customers now have the choice to decide where they want to go in an open ecosystem,” said Kevin Packingham, Sprint’s senior vice president for product and technology development. By enabling third parties to develop new applications for Sprint’s wireless customers, Packingham said, “I don’t need to create a new messaging portal for our customers. All I need to do is make it possible for our customers to plug into their own messaging system.”

Since Sprint launched its strategy in 2001, Packingham says the carrier has registered more than 135,000 software developers and certified more than 200 wireless devices for use on its networks.
Verizon started a similar effort a year ago under Tony Lewis, Verizon’s vice president for open development, who proclaimed yesterday, “My job is to fuel innovation, to get out there with the partners.”

It seems like a smart approach, although it could take years to play out. It’s also hard to tell if it’s really going to work when everyone in the audience is nodding their head in approval.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.