Nokia Promises EDGEy 2003
Rene Svendsen-Tune (no, he didn't sing us a song!), senior VP for marketing and sales at Nokia's IP Mobility Networks division, told Unstrung at Nokia's Mobile Internet Conference in Munich that "EDGE terminals for European frequencies [900 MHz and 1,800 MHz] will be available in the second half of 2003," though he would not elaborate on volumes.
He also declined to name any of the operators that have allegedly taken delivery of EDGE (enhanced data for GSM evolution) equipment, but noted that operators that do not have a UMTS license are likely to be a key target market.
"EDGE is an obvious next step for those operators that do not have a 3G license. We are convinced that those GSM operators that do not have 3G spectrum will go down that route. We also believe that most GSM operators will leverage their [2G] spectrum to deploy EDGE at some stage, but there is not a strong momentum in Europe just now."
EDGE is an enhancement to the GSM and TDMA wireless communications systems that increases data throughput up to 384 kbit/s. EDGE uses the same basic network structure as existing 2G technologies. Nokia has already made some loose announcements about its EDGE position and plans (see Nokia Gets EDGEy). For those operators without a 3G license, EDGE would at least offer an opportunity for higher data rates than will be possible with GPRS, while, in many cases, not having to replace base stations. Both Nokia and LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICD) have built upgrade opportunities into their GSM network equipment for years, and they market EDGE technology as a simple and cheap upgrade. In addition, as part of the GSM evolution cycle (GSM-GPRS-EDGE-Wideband-CDMA), it would allow these 3G-less carriers: applications continuity; enhancements enabled by increased data rates; and the possibility of device support from existing GSM vendors.
Executives at Ericsson, Nokia's main GSM infrastructure rival, agree that EDGE will be deployed first by the 3G-less operators, and ultimately by most GSM carriers. "Why wouldn't an operator want to triple the IP capacity offered by GPRS?" said Mikael Halén, the Swedish vendor's director of W-CDMA marketing during a recent telephone interview with Unstrung. "GSM operators want to preserve the investment they have already made in their networks."
Which all sounds rather promising for the takeup of EDGE, seeing as how no additional (expensive) licenses or spectrum are required. Nokia's Svendsen-Tune is wise to this and, without prompting, proclaims W-CDMA as the ultimate capability for GSM operators and startup greenfield carriers alike. Wideband-CDMA increases data rates in GSM systems by using the CDMA air interface instead of TDMA; it is part of the universal mobile telecommunications specification (UMTS).
"W-CDMA still allows the most cost-effective solution and the best use of available capacity," he proclaims, knowing of course that the 3G license conditions require network infrastructure above and beyond the capabilities of EDGE. Knowing that they need to pump their cash and effort into UMTS/W-CDMA to meet their regulatory requirements, European operators with 3G licenses have no plans at present to deploy EDGE, according to IDC senior research analyst Paolo Pescatore.
While Europe looks at present to be less of an opportunity, the market is already developing in North America, while Asia is showing signs of interest, says Svendsen-Tune. "There is clear progression in the U.S. where WCDMA frequencies [2.5 GHz] are not available yet. AT&T Wireless Services Inc. [NYSE: AWE], Cingular Wireless, and T-Mobile USA have all announced plans and begun work on their networks. EDGE terminals for North America's GSM frequencies [850 MHz and 1,900 MHz] will be available in the first half of 2003," he says, which indicates a slight slip in timescales for handset delivery, as Nokia executives said during the company's recent financial statements that they would be available before the end of 2002.
Asia is less developed, but some operators should deploy EDGE in 2003, says the Nokia man, but that this would be outside the territories already well developed in high-capacity network systems (i.e., Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan).
On more general matters, Svendsen-Tune says Nokia is delivering WLAN equipment and systems to mobile operators for WLAN/WAN integration on all continents -- though you can count the number of customers at present on the fingers of "several hands" -- and that this is its own manufactured equipment based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)'s 802.11 standards. Its channel via systems partner IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is very important here, he says.
In the W-CDMA network equipment market, "Nokia has said we will take 35 percent of the market, and we are already very close to that." How close? "More than 30 percent, measured in actual sales booked."
He also claims that Nokia has a "very strong market position in GSM networks in China," but declines to say what that equates to in market share, simply stating that Nokia has a global share of the GSM equipment market "in the high 20s percent."
— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung