The phone set

The phone setThis year’s GSM World Congress had GSM data capabilities and the UMTS third generation mobile standard as its major themes. Roy Rubenstein donned his Valentino jacket and flew to Cannes
Cannes recently held the dubious honour of boasting the greatest concentration of mobile phones anywhere in the world.
The reason? The GSM World Congress was taking place, attracting all the major mobile phone silicon vendors, operators, equipment makers and software developers.
And if further evidence were needed as to how indispensable mobiles phones have become, it was the sight of an attendee exiting a toilet cubicle talking into a phone.
Two themes dominated this year’s event: expanding GSMdata capabilities (GSM Phase 2+) and the UMTS third generation mobile standard.
Adding data services to voice is the next push for GSM. Such a development is seen as key in promoting the services and content that will form the basis of third generation services once they begin in Europe after 2002.
The first significant GSM Phase 2+ development is general packet radio service (GPRS). This is a multi-slot packet scheme which allows users to send and receive data at up to 115kbit/s.
“GPRS is very important for the whole industry enabling new types of services,” explained Olli Oittinen of Nokia’s Radio Access Systems group.
Colly Myers, CEO of Symbian, the developer of operating systems for wireless devices, agrees: “GPRSwill open up tremendous opportunities for wireless information devices.” GPRS is also the main focus of the likes of Texas Instruments and Lucent Technologies who have silicon designs ready (See Electronics Weekly, March 3, p5). Commercial GPRS services are expected next year.
Beyond GPRS, the EDGE (enhanced data for GSM evolution) standard is under way. EDGE will enable data rates up to 384kbit/s – the starting rate of UMTS. Implementing EDGEwill require a fresh radio design due to the use of different modulation and channel schemes. However, EDGEhandsets will be GSM‘backward compatible’.
Both Nokia and Ericsson are pursuing EDGE with deployment expected in early 2001. The standard is already being spoken of as an attractive alternative for mobile phone operators who fail to win UMTS licences.
So why is UMTS receiving such attention when GSMis more than likely to meet Europe’s immediate data requirements?
The answer can be found in the Far East. Japan is finding it increasingly difficult to meet mobile phone user demand – an extra one million users a month – due to a chronic capacity shortage problem.
The promise of new spectrum, and with W-CDMAbetter utilisation of the spectrum available, means that the rush is on for third generation services.
For US and European equipment makers and silicon vendors alike Japan represents an large market opportunity. Moreover, if they ignore it now the Japanese will be handed a lead in third generation technology.
The result is furious activity on several fronts. “We are betting on the future of wireless in many ways,” said Oittinen. The company’s development efforts for UMTS basestations alone represents “an enormous R&D investment”, he said, while this year Nokia is investing far more in GSM than ever before.
Determining the need for European third generation services, especially when GSM is becoming serious, about data is less clear. For Oittinen, UMTS is when the vision of Internet-based services over mobile comes true. The capacity demands this will require are immense, he said. However, Oittinen foresees that the only business case for mobile operators is building a W-CDMA service over existing GSM. This would initially be introduced only in the largest cities due to the “prohibitive expense”. Users will probably not even know when their handsets switch from GPRS to UMTS for more efficient downloading of data.
For Lucent and TI, when UMTS will be needed in Europe is less clear. Phase 2+ will extend the life of GSM, and as a result “UMTS may be a little later than thought”, is the view of the president of Lucent Technologies’ microelectronics group, Europe, John Hughes. While for Edgar Auslander, TI’s worldwide strategic marketing director, “the question is will people need UMTS right away?”
The most confident voice for UMTS is from industry body UMTS Forum. It has no doubt that with the predicted growth in mobile phone usage and the advent of data services, capacity overload is Europe’s fate just as is it in Japan now.
Indeed, the UMTS Forum is already warning that the whole economic benefit of untethered wireless communications is under threat due to governments allocating insufficient radio spectrum for third generation services.

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