CDMA Growing In Europe
By Carlo Longino, Tue Jun 14 17:15:00 GMT 2005

While CDMA has come into favor in some countries in Eastern Europe, it looks to be spreading to some well-established mobile markets as well.

CDMA technology in the 450-megahertz band has been picking up momentum over the last couple years as operators in emerging markets are drawn to it by the relatively small number of base stations it requires to cover an area as compared to higher frequencies. In the Nordic countries, this was the band used by some of the first mobile telephony networks, which used the analog Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) system, that have since been shut down. Now, in Finland, two groups have submitted tenders to use CDMA in the old NMT spectrum, while over in Sweden, 3 and Vodafone are looking to CDMA450 as a way to meet regulatory coverage requirements more cheaply than with UMTS.

Both countries feature vast rural areas, and in the case of Sweden, a stipulation attached to the 3G licenses the government awarded was that 98% of the population must be covered. Vodafone and 3's parent, Hutchison Whampoa, are already working on a shared UMTS network outside the country's major cities. A Hutchison spokesman says building the network would cost the companies more than $260 million, adding that a single CDMA450 base station can cover the same area as 15 UMTS base stations. Piggybacking on the CDMA network being built by a company called Nordisk Mobiltelefon would cost between $2.5 million and $5.5 million.

The major drawback, of course, is a lack of interoperability with the operators' existing UMTS networks. The Swedish regulator says that there must be no drop-off in services between the two networks, which could require some work. But a bigger problem might be a lack of dual-mode handsets, meaning for users wanting the full functionality of both networks, they'd need two handsets. But there's also the strong possibility that users in these rural areas may not care.

Several other Western European countries will soon distribute licenses for the 450 band, giving CDMA the potential to establish other footholds around the continent. But it's not unopposed -- the remaining 5 groups competing for the Finnish license are looking to use Flarion's Flash-OFDM technology. A win by one of these groups would give Flarion some important traction in the market, where it's announced plenty of trials, but is yet to score a customer win for a widespread mass-market deployment.