CDMA versus GSM: Odd Man Out?
- By Bob Egan

Would you buy a mobile phone that works worldwide, even if it was more expensive than other phones? The CDMA Development Group is posing that question in a poll on its Web site (


I find that to be a curious question.


In its initial form, CDMA has been very successful in North America and in some areas of Asia and Latin America, amassing some 188 million subscribers. Even so, I remind myself that TDMA once enjoyed similar success–but it’s now on its deathbed.


CDMA operators have catapulted themselves to the forefront when it comes to delivering high data speeds and a road map for converged services. Meanwhile, although GSM has been running dead last when it comes to innovation over the past few years, it leads the pack in terms of sheer number of worldwide users: 78 percent to CDMA’s 12 percent. That market share is tough to ignore, even for CDMA’s biggest cheerleader, Qualcomm, which recognizes the importance of UMTS’ W-CDMA for to its future earnings.


But where does that leave Bell Mobility, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless? Do they suffer the same fate as AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless in the late 1990s, begging vendors to figure out some way to innovate with a technology that was clearly headed for the scrap heap? Or can CDMA operators avoid TDMA’s marginalization into oblivion? Will the short-term leadership positions of Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless give way to the global weight that Cingular Wireless will soon be able to throw around, thanks to its acquisition of AT&T Wireless and a steady shift from TDMA to GSM?


Or does the problem go away with a new phone…or two…or three?

Bob Egan, a 25-year industry veteran, is president of
Mobile Competency ( He can be reached at .



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