News | March 24, 1999

ITU OKs Multiple Standard Approach

By: Robert Keenan, Managing Editor

According to reports, the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has agreed to adopt a multiple standards approach for third-generation (3G) wireless services.

The multiple standards approach is a big change for the ITU during the development of the IMT-2000 specification. Over the past few years, the Geneva-based standards body has spent all of its efforts developing a single standard for 3G wireless services.

These attempts met up with many walls in the wireless industry. In particular, the standards body faced dueling wideband CDMA (W-CDMA) proposals and continual pushes by the Universal Wireless Communications Consortium (UWCC) and North American GSM Alliance for the acceptance of multiple standards.

Despite these walls, the ITU has stood strong on its position for a single 3G standard over the past few months. Now, it seem that the ITU has given up and moved toward a multiple standards approach

A little too late
Timing may have been one of the biggest factors that held back the adoption of a single standard. The initial ITU proposal for a single 3G standard occurred several years ago. A lot has changed since then. In particular, Larry Swasey, senior wireless analyst at Allied Business Intelligence (Oyster Bay, NY) says there is a lot more infrastructure in place in the wireless industry. Replacing this infrastructure with 3G products would have been a large, expensive task for wireless carriers.

According to Swasey, by selecting a multiple standard approach, vendors now have the option to provide complete 3G systems or upgrades to existing systems. Swasey says, these upgrades will be a much more cost-effective approach to implementing 3G services for carriers.

"A single standard was a good vision." Swasey says. But, in practice, he says it was not a practical approach.

Another benefit to the multiple standard approach, according to Chris Pearson, vice president of marketing for Redmond, WA-based UWCC, is competition. By turning to a multiple standard approach, Pearson says competition will determine the best standard and will lead to better applications, pricing and better deployment.

One Problem
Acceptance of multiple standards does provide some problems for the wireless industry. The most prevalent problem is providing wireless coverage that allows a person to use the same wireless phone anywhere throughout the world.

Swasey says this is an issue that can, and is, being addressed by handset manufacturers. The only issue now, according to Swasey, is developing multimode handsets that provide the form factor wireless subscribers are looking for.