Qualcomm Claims GSM1x Trial

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)
GSM Operator Subscribers in millions (June '02)
China Mobile 123m
Vodafone Group 119m
T-Mobile 56m
China Unicom 52m
Orange 41m
AT&T Wireless 27m
Telecom Italia Mobile 27m
Singtel 24m
Cingular 22m
Telefonica Moviles 19m
mmO2 18m
Turkcell 14m
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.
Source: EMC database

"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
spc_myles_telos 12/4/2012 | 9:22:38 PM
re: Qualcomm Claims GSM1x Trial Looking for a few discussion/talking points from operator side guys... with strategic planning experience..etc...

GSM1X... how does that fit in from a RF planning perspective... can an operator afford such a deployment? Even with the potential advantages that 1X brings on the data/ip side? vs. gprs...

What bands would the operator need to be? 1900MHz? or they would own a bunch of cross band licenses...

need to understand some of the planning motivations/considerations...

From a vendor perspective, Qualcomm's got a GSM1X site forming gradually over time...

Handsets and infrastructure... will be interesting to see who wants to tackle this stuff for real...

Similarly... GSM850MHz has somewhat same/different connotations... RF planning not req'd. but a new set of handsets...

What if someone in their crazy mindset wanted to do.. GSM850MHz1X?

standardsarefun 12/4/2012 | 9:19:55 PM
re: Qualcomm Claims GSM1x Trial >>>What if someone in their crazy mindset wanted to do.. GSM850MHz1X?

Why bother? At 850 MHz the only networks around are running ANSI41 cores and so there is no advantage (I don't see any advantage for networks with GSM MAP + GPRS cores either but that's another story...)

P.S. Imagine the poor guy who tries to propose this in either 3GPP or 3GPP2 (and as far as I can see you would need new specifications coming from both bodies)
spc_myles_telos 12/4/2012 | 9:19:54 PM
re: Qualcomm Claims GSM1x Trial Some may claim that there are potential benefits in letting your roamers go abroad... or rather your subscribers...

If you deployed CDMA... i guess you could take advantage of GSM 1X phones... CDMA on the home network, and your users can still roam using GSM elsewhere...?
lrmobile_castro 12/4/2012 | 9:19:51 PM
re: Qualcomm Claims GSM1x Trial Is it just me or is this really a long shot?

Why not do EDGE? Would installation of 1X on GSM have any impact on the existing warranties on those boxes? You really only need that extra capacity in the urban areas anyway where the cells are small enough to provide solid EDGE coverage.

I like the idea that carriers have another choice to GPRS/EDGE or W-CDMA because that will speed up the GSM/UMTS club but is gsm 1x really realistic?
standardsarefun 12/4/2012 | 9:19:32 PM
re: Qualcomm Claims GSM1x Trial myles_telos writes:
>>>If you deployed CDMA... i guess you could take advantage of GSM 1X phones... CDMA on the home network, and your users can still roam using GSM elsewhere...?

I am afraid not. Dualmode cdma/gsm1x phones will not work in GSM networks since both only "do" cdma. To roam onto a GSM network you will need a real GSM mode (GSM radio plus GSM signalling).
standardsarefun 12/4/2012 | 9:19:32 PM
re: Qualcomm Claims GSM1x Trial IMHO, I think you missed the point when you talk about "warranties". The issue is a "little bit bigger than that".

This GSM1X idea is about installing a completely new radio and core network (based on cdma2000 plus a full blown MSC that they call a "MSN"). That means new antenna, new racks at cell site, new controllers, new transmission gear, new interfaces to test in the core not to mention the small problem of new standards (but that, as my handle suggests, is the fun part)
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