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Hands-on entertainment: LG Electronics this year hosted a private concert by Jane’s Addiction to promote the new Thrill 3D phone.
Many have complained that AT&T offers troublesome service, but finding any mobile service provider that isn’t a mix of evil and incompetent seems to be quite impossible. Worldwide, mobile networks developed very differently in the three major mobile phone markets of Europe, the US, and Japan. 2G Mobile networks: A digital version of AMPS helped boost call quality and expand service capacity by using the radio spectrum more efficiently.
My first mobile phone was a Motorola “digital personal communicator” from CellularOne in 1994. As mobile phones began to rapidly grow in popularity, the FCC began to open up new radio bands.
My 2000 Motorola StarTAC from Verizon Wireless featured dual band service and could pretend to access the Internet. By the late 90s, mobile networks in the US were getting built out in a variety of incompatible standards, with TDMA, iDEN, and CDMA networks all vying to attract customers.
The European Community prevented a similar proliferation of incompatible mobile standards from splintering service and handset markets across its various countries by starting work its own TDMA system called GSM. GSM was spun off into an independent standards body and is now represented by a trade organization called the GSMA.
European mobile phone hardware giants Nokia and Ericsson back the GSM standard, while Qualcomm has worked to push its CDMA technology in the US, Asia, and in Central and South America. In 2003, California Congressman Darrell Issa famously tried to advance Qualcomm’s interests by pushing a bill that would have rebuilt Iraq using CDMA, making it an incompatible island in a Middle Eastern sea of GSM users. Issa represented specific American financial interests by associating GSM with France at the height of Freedom Fry hysteria, but even Motorola advised that Iraq would be best rebuilt using GSM. Issa didn’t succeed with his bill, but the war between Qualcomm’s CDMA and GSM over mobile networks continues throughout the world, with reinforcements being delivered on each side at regular intervals. In the US, mobile providers began choosing between the two main network families about a decade after AT&T was split up, just as the first generation of mobile systems began needing a replacement.


According Verizon Wireless executive Jim Gerace, Apple wanted a cut of Verizon’s monthly service fees, veto power over how and where iPhones could be sold, and control of the customer service relationship for iPhone users. As the largest GSM provider in the US, Cingular desperately needed a fancy phone to lure in new subscribers. Verizon and Sprint were regularly gaining exclusive access to the most anticipated phones; Sprint got the first Treo 650, and Verizon signed up the LG Chocolate, for example.
A quick look at Canada’s cell phone industry and how our different mobile providers compare.
That activity is fueled in part by the growing number of Chinese, Korean and other Asian imports looking to build their brands in the U.S. Originally, all US mobile service was supplied by Advanced Mobile Phone Service, a subsidiary of AT&T, which at the time held a monopoly in providing all American phone service.
After the breakup, the FCC created a competitive mobile market by licensing two blocks of frequencies to carriers across the US, one typically to the local Baby Bell phone company and the other to an independent carrier.
This D-AMPS system ushered in the second generation of digital mobile phones in the US, and was commonly referred to by the name of its radio modulation technology, TDMA. The new digital cell phones could handle both, allowing them to fall back to using analog AMPS when roaming out of the digital service coverage area. Equipped with the super slim battery, I couldn’t imagine how mobile phones could ever possibly get any slimmer than this one. Users then had to make sure their phone supported the bands used by their carrier in their coverage area. Despite using the same TDMA radio technology, the system was completely incompatible with AMPS, relegating iDEN phones to only work with iDEN providers. It was better at charging access fees than actually providing any useful access to information however. Like iDEN, it was also incompatible with AMPS in the US, despite using a similar radio technology. It quickly became the standard in Europe, and subsequently spread across much of the world.


Despite sharing CDMA radio technology, W-CDMA is not related to or compatible with Qualcomm’s CDMA2000, just as the various 2G TDMA systems shared little in common. After buying Nextel, Sprint announced plans to actively migrate its acquired users away from iDEN, a plan that will reduce the variety of incompatible networks in place in the US.
In 2004, Cingular purchased AT&T Wireless, which was then the third largest US carrier and the other large US GSM provider after Cingular.
Instead, Cingular bought up everything, making it the largest US mobile provider, and the only large GSM provider. Owning the US GSM phone market meant Cingular needed unique phones to garner consumer attention in the market. That left AT&T desperate for a hot GSM phone, because most GSM phones are targeted at the European market, and either don’t work well or at all in the US.
Mobile users could jump between the A and B carrier, using their phone across different networks even when roaming into territories served by other companies. All of the Baby Bells sold AMPS phone service, making it the ubiquitous US mobile phone service into the early 90s. Competition also opened up new and incompatible mobile networks beyond AMPS, each of which offered various advantages. The iDEN standard became popular in niche markets for its unique walki-talki functionality, which other mobile systems lack. Sprint referred to it as Digital PCS, and it is frequently called CDMA to distinguish it from the TDMA system used in mobile networks supporting D-AMPS and iDEN. Paired with a Palm Pilot, it was a fearsome combination of wired utility, although syncing data between them using IntelliSync and serial cables on a PC was a bit maddening.



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