November 8, 2002
Qualcomm chairman and CEO Dr Irwin Jacobs says one of the world's top five GSM operators is to trial its GSM1x technology, an overlay system that allows GSM carriers to deploy CDMA2000 1x radio access systems without having to upgrade their core networks.During the presentation of the company's fourth-quarter and full-year financial results on Thursday (see Qualcomm Posts Q4 Profit), Jacobs said that "work and marketing continues on GSM1x, which provides GSM operators with a proven alternative path to 3G. In a significant step forward, we have just signed an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with one of the top five GSM carriers in the world to conduct a GSM1x trial to demo the advantages and flexibility that this solution offers GSM carriers to deploy 3G. We expect this trial to occur in 2003 and hope to be able to announce more about this deal in the near future."
Unfortunately, the "near future" does not include today, when Qualcomm -- the focus of our latest Unstrung Investor column (see Qualcomm: In Need of a Revamp) -- clammed up about the potential trial.
Stating that the carrier involved is a top five GSM operator certainly narrows things down, and points quite heavily towards a Chinese carrier, particularly China Unicom Ltd., which is examining ways to migrate its GSM subscribers to CDMA. Unicom, which has a GSM network and a CDMA network, has found that average revenue per user (ARPU) figures are higher among its CDMA users (see China Unicom Moves on CDMA).
But as Qualcomm is keeping mum about the carrier's identity, let's look at those in the frame and extend the list to the top 12 while we're about it.
Table 1: Top 12 GSM Operators By Subscribers (June 2002)
Subscribers in millions (June '02)
Telecom Italia Mobile
Note: These are carriers that operate GSM networks and have GSM customers, but these numbers represent the entire customer base, and not just GSM subscribers.
"There is some speculation as to which carrier it might be, but we are not adding anything," says Qualcomm spokesman Richard Tinkler. "And we can't put anyone forward to talk about it, as we are not saying anything more." What, nothing? "Nothing. Other than…" Go on! "GSM1x allows GSM operators…" (interesting explanation followed, but it's easier to read about it on Qualcomm's site by clicking here).
Although speculating, Shiv Putcha, a wireless analyst at the Yankee Group's wireless/mobile Asia/Pacific group, says that it would make sense for the carrier in question to be China Unicom. "Unicom is committed to CDMA, and it has a nationwide GSM network [that could be used for GSM1x]. I can't see Unicom investing in upgrading its GSM network to GPRS. From a cost perspective this would be a good call, as Unicom is sourcing a lot of CDMA handsets and has taken over the distribution of its CDMA handsets itself recently."
Qualcomm's tidbit on GSM1x came as Jacobs boasted of CDMA's growing user base in the wireless world. He said the company believes 85 million CDMA handsets will be sold in 2002, and Qualcomm reckons this will grow to between 100 million and 105 million during the 2003 calendar year. At the end of October 2002, Jacobs said there were 24 million CDMA2000 1x subscribers globally, with the technology deployed by 20 operators in 11 countries.He also said that 40 companies had licenses from Qualcomm related to the development of equipment for one of the proposed 3G standards in China, TD-SCDMA (see the 3G section in Mobile Wireless Air Interface Technologies). Qualcomm is deriving "the same royalties from these companies as we do for any other" CDMA-based equipment developments.
As for the company's financial results, analysts at Lehman Brothers described them as "impressive… comfortably beating expectations." For the fourth quarter it recorded a net profit of $190.3 million, compared with a loss of $75.1 million a year ago. It has no debt and $2.8 billion in the bank. Its share price was $35 as this article was published, down from an opening price on Friday of just over $36.— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
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