Can you spell CDMA20001xEV-DO?

A next-generation wireless technology with a tongue-twister name has won the right to call itself 3G
Written by Ben Charny, Contributor

The International Telecommunication Union, a body representing carriers on five continents, this week said CDMA20001xEV-DO meets its standards for third-generation, or 3G, technology.

3G networks allow telephone carriers to offer a high-speed, always-on service for mobile phones capable of surfing the Web.

Carriers that want to build a 3G network must first choose between CDMA and its chief rival GSM. Then the carriers work on a "migration path" from their old systems to new phone networks. For CDMA, carriers can go through three different permutations of networks.

Two of these portions of the CDMA system have already received the blessing of the ITU. This week, the ITU gave its blessing to the third level, CDMA20001xEV-DO. Decisions made by the ITU are generally followed by most of the world's telephone service operators.

Meanwhile, only portions of the 3G networks based on the rival standard GSM have received approvals by the ITU. Handset makers Nokia and Ericsson are some of the chief backers of the GSM technology. They did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

Analysts are split on the impact of the ITU's designation. Some say it is a clear win for Qualcomm, which creates the chips that power the CDMA network and handsets and can now approach carriers saying that every phase of the CDMA third-generation network has the blessing of an august international body.

But others believe the ITU's designation may only end up giving Qualcomm and others bragging rights in a battle they are losing. By most estimates, about 15 percent of the world's phone networks are based on CDMA. About 60 percent to 65 percent of the world's phone networks use GSM.

"CDMA has a very small market share and it is fighting tooth and nail to increase it, but it is losing the perception war," said IDC wireless analyst Shiv Bakhshi.

Tole Hart, with market analysts Gartner Dataquest, called the decision a minor win for Qualcomm and others helping to develop CDMA, but it probably won't do much to dig CDMA out of its second-place market share position.

"They can be more definitive as to what they classify as 3G," he said. "But I don't think it'll affect GSM."

Perry LaForge, who heads a developers group for those working on CDMA technology, said the market share numbers will certainly change by year's end. A total of 17 different carriers have announced plans to build next-generation phone networks based on CDMA, he said. They include Verizon Communications, which plans on launching its network by early next year.

Meanwhile, third-generation networks based on the GSM standard are still on the drawing board, delayed by bugs or unavailable handsets, LaForge said.

"We're finding that CDMA is rolling out very rapidly," LaForge said. "The Koreans are pushing forward very hard now on CDMA2000."

CDMA is also taking hold in China, LaForge said. China Unicom, one of the nation's largest wireless carriers, announced Wednesday it is conducting a trial of a CDMA network in 10 cities.

"That's the largest market in the world," LaForge said.

See the Mobile Technology News Section for full coverage.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the Telecoms forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.

Editorial standards