Congressman criticised for GSM quote

The US congressman who doesn't want post-war Iraq's mobile phone system to be based on GSM because it is an 'outdated French standard' has been criticised by the GSM community
Written by Tony Hallett, Contributor

The GSM community has responded to a southern California congressman who has called for the adoption of CDMA mobile technology in post-war Iraq, to ensure the rebuilding efforts don't benefit European vendors at the expense of US industry.

Congressman Darrell Issa recently wrote a letter to US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the US Agency for International Development, urging them not to back the building of a cellular phone system in Iraq based on GSM.

Rob Conway, GSM Association's chief executive, said in a statement: "Congressman Issa's intervention that GSM is an 'outdated French standard' is as ill-timed as it is misinformed. At the moment our first priority must be to offer our support and sympathies to the people putting their lives on the line to liberate Iraq."

"The right time to debate the technology will be when the real conflict is over."

The congressman's comments have been criticised on the Web and by many within the industry, for two main reasons. First, he has chosen to concentrate on the French and European connotations of GSM.

Though GSM is the most prevalent cellular phone standard around the world -- and ubiquitous in Europe -- Issa chose to refer to it as 'Groupe Speciale Mobile' rather than the more up to date moniker 'Global System for Mobile Communications'.

At a time when some in the US have relabelled French fries as 'Freedom Fries' and suggested a boycott of French wine -- because of the country's opposition to the current conflict in Iraq -- the choice of language is significant.

However, the GSM Association has pointed out GSM equipment is also widely sold by US vendors such as Lucent, Motorola and Nortel.

Second, Congressman Issa represents the 49th District of California, north of San Diego -- an area that is home to Qualcomm, the US vendor that owns most of the patents to CDMA, the mobile standard that is GSM's main rival.

Qualcomm is also a contributor to Issa's political coffers, though the company -- in common with much of US big business -- has in the past made donations to a number of candidates, notably backing Democrat campaigns such as ex-President Bill Clinton's.

Qualcomm declined to comment for this story.

Some experts believe Issa's claims are not just insensitive and poorly timed but also in vain. Consultancy Ovum has written that Iraq, to aid roaming and international development, is likely to fall in line with the standard used in countries around it such as Turkey, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- and that standard is GSM.

At the moment, there are only a few people with mobile phones in Iraq -- mostly in the ruling elite -- because of UN sanctions.

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