North American mobile users made CDMA the number one cellular standard for the first time this year. Even though the patent squabble against Qualcomm remains unresolved, and a ban prevents importing Qualcomm-chipset CDMA phones, over half of all North American mobile devices use the complex shared-frequency system that squeezes more users onto less bandwidth, as per last week’s report in Cellular News. And that’ll cost you, and me, and all mobile users in North America.

The 2003 U.S. mandate to carriers then offering analog service requiring them to continue operating analog service expires in February. Without that, analog’s better audio, higher power, and longer range would prompt consumers to stay with analog. CDPD data over analog, while never exceeding 19.2kbps, was also reliable.

GSM, the world open standard for digital cellular, holds a little more than three-eights of this market, with Motorola’s proprietary IDEN system (sold mostly by Sprint’s Nextel, rated dead last in quality) shrinking by a percent to serve only one-twelfth of users. Waning analog and TDMA systems serve the remaining three percent, but since the report deadline closed, Rogers, Canada’s largest carrier, went all-GSM and shut down analog and TDMA service.

What’s the result? North Americans continue to pay more, due to Qualcomm royalties, which is reported to be $6 to manufacturers. That cost is marked up every step of the way through distribution until the user pays. CDMA phones also don’t work on GSM systems, which not only inconveniences travelers to overseas, but it locks Sprint and Verizon customers from ever changing to GSM carriers (ATT, T-Mobile, et al.), effectively cutting competition between carriers.

Only North America has this schizoid system of so many different ‘standards’ for digital voice, and we pay for it dearly. Are you annoyed by being locked out of cellular provider because of your phone’s design?


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