4G could mean end of CDMA

CDMA's main subscriber base appears to be in Asia, but its growth may not last for long as the world prepares to upgrade to its competing standard, LTE.

COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--Although CDMA appears to be showing substantial subscriber growth rates, its lifespan may be cut short as the world moves toward 4G.

According to James Person, COO of the CDMA Development Group (CDG), the CDMA network is strong and growing.

"CDMA is alive and healthy," Person proclaimed during a presentation at this week's imbX show.

Person said the CDMA network has 451 million subscribers spread over 109 countries. However, half of those belong to Asia, which has 231 million subscribers. This figure is almost twice that of the United States', Person added.

CDMA's performance in the region is due in large part to the lower price points of entry level devices, which have shown positive take-up in Asia's emerging markets, said Person.

The CDG announced earlier this year that CDMA increased its customer base by almost 17 percent over the past year.

Person said CDMA2000 networks are coping well with the competition from HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) networks, with CDMA's 3G EV-DO standard providing competitive access speeds.

However, CDMA's growth trajectory may taper off as countries approach 4G.

CDMA's next revision toward 4G, EV-DO Rev. C, is also known as UMB (ultra mobile broadband).

Although UMB has a similar performance to LTE and will be ready sooner, Person said the CDMA standard has a "time limit" due to lack of take-up on operators' parts.

Australia's Telstra shut off its CDMA network two months ago, in a plan to replace it with an HSDPA network, dubbed Next G.

Verizon Wireless in the United States also announced last year, it would go with LTE and not UMB.

"LTE will be the winner. It's better for the industry if we have fewer [standards] choices," conceded Person.

He said the mobile industry has so many competing standards and access protocols such as WiMax and LTE that "the next generation will have to move toward multi-mode devices" which incorporate as many standards as possible, "which is why fewer choices are good" in keeping things consolidated.

Alvarion's Asia-Pacific managing director, Udi Shaked, said in his presentation that "the debate is not about which standard is better...but about ensuring network openness" to fuel a more robust ecosystem.

"Vendors and devices need to be interoperable...openness means richer applications and more devices," said Shaked.

Idris Vasi, Ordyn senior vice president said at a panel discussion later that Asia's emerging markets will soon catch up and pose a great demand for connectivity and high quality devices.

Vasi said phones in Asia are regarded as central to connectivity and Internet access. He said: "In the United States, the mobile phone is a 'third screen'; In Asia, it's the first for people. So expectations are higher."