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Mind the Gap - Or Not

I still hear that there's a big gap between the US and Europe in wireless. Traditionally, this has been true. Take GSM, for example. This all-digital cellular system was designed in Europe back in the late '80s and early '90s to be a pan-European replacement for all (count 'em -eight!) of the incompatible analog systems that had proliferated throughout the continent and the UK to that point. GSM has been wildly and widely successful since then - it's in almost 200 countries and there are about 1.2 billion users worldwide. OK, you can argue that GSM is obsolete and that CDMA - invented in the US - is more spectrally efficient, but a large installed base mitigates just about everything else when talking of products and services, high-tech or not. Besides, GSM is moving towards CDMA with UMTS. While the full replacement will take decades, this is one case where US technology clearly rules. Of course, we were late with digital and don't have a single digital cellular system, and many find this confusing. The counterargument is that the market, and not government officials or government-sponsored standards bodies, should decide. One's opinion on this, of course, depends upon one's politics.

Anyway, the US's leadership in CDMA led to the thought that perhaps the US isn't behind Europe at all in wireless, and the evidence supporting this began to mount. We have a variant of GSM available from Cingular, and triple- and quad-mode phones even allow roaming on a global basis. The next set of throughput enhancements for GSM, HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) are available today from Cingular, although the really fast stuff isn't available anywhere yet. Yesterday at CeBIT I saw Samsung's "Calypso" prototype, and HSDPA handset that can do 3.6 Mbps. In theory, HSDPA could reach 14.4 Mbps! I think it will do so in Europe and the US at roughly the same time, a few years from now.

We have ultra-wideband spectrum rules in places (and wireless UWB and USB were being shown here), but the rules for Europe won't be set until late this year or early next. WiMAX is evolving at the same rate in both geographies. Wi-Fi is everywhere.

So - is Europe ahead? Nope. No gap here, not any more.

BTW - my search for advanced battery technologies proved fruitless, even among the many battery firms from mainland China, that bastion of battery manufacturing. None of them had even heard of lithium-air technology. Oh well.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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