Verizon Wireless has launched their 3G CDMA femtocell. Unfortunately they’ve gone down a proprietary route, choosing Samsung as sole supplier. Why not choose the same standard as Sprint, who have pioneered the new 3G CDMA standard?
The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from
Andrew Tanenbaum is credited with coining the phrase above and we can certainly point to examples where standards have been difficult to agree. As a result these include many options or alternatives, adding complexity, cost and confusion. LTE is slightly in danger of shaping up that way too, given the wide choice of frequencies and bandwidths it supports.
The benefit of common standards are many fold including:
- enabling competition between suppliers, which encourages lower costs and better features/performance
- enabling an eco-system of vendors, who can each provide component parts
- encouraging common skills and expertise amongst staff
- enabling the solution to scale quickly
- encouraging the benefits of scale, low cost and wide choice.
Standards are perhaps one reason why the cellular phone industry has been so successful. Its participants have widely adopted and promoted the common standards that have enabled worldwide interoperability that have allowed the industry to grow substantially.
CDMA isn’t a major part of the industry anymore
Perhaps surprisingly, the once pioneering technology that Verizon use - CDMA - is now a relatively small part of the mobile phone industry. It has less than 10% market share worldwide – although still a major force in the USA, Japan and Korea. That still accounts for over 400 million users of which over 90 million are Verizon customers and some 50 million are Sprint.
This puts CDMA network operators at a disadvantage. Their technology is more expensive, range of handsets/devices more limited and cost of operation higher.
So why not band together and agree on common standards?
Verizon have chosen to adopt a proprietary 3G CDMA femtocell solution from Samsung. The unit retails at the same $250 price as their 2G model, but supports up to 6 concurrent voice calls, high speed EV-DO data and is compatible with all Verizon CDMA phones. It can be used in open access mode (so any Verizon customer can use it) or restricted to a list of up to 50 phone numbers.
Samsung already provide the 2G CDMA femtocell solution, also using proprietary technology (There is no 2G CDMA femtocell standard). This appears to have been extended to support the higher capacity and faster 3G service.
Perhaps Verizon don’t see large scale potential?
After all, they aren’t promoting or marketing this technology strongly. I haven’t seen anyone from Verizon presenting at conferences or actively writing about their solution.
Although it does come with some marketing literature, and there is a webpage for it on Verizon’s website.
Perhaps this is because Verizon’s primary marketing message is that they have America's Largest and Most Reliable Wireless Network. This would make it difficult (but not impossible) to simultaneously promote femtocells which solve poor coverage problems.
Arguably this is exactly what Vodafone UK have done to their advantage – their advertising claims to be the only network which can deliver coverage anywhere. Perhaps Verizon should take some guidance from their UK cousins (Vodafone own 45% of Verizon Wireless but don’t actively participate in management of the business).
Not too late to change their mind
Sprint have made it very clear they would be happy to have a wider range of 3G CDMA femtocell suppliers, but on the basis that it uses the 3G CDMA femtocell standard.
With over 350,000 femtocells now deployed in the USA (according to a recent Informa report), Verizon may change their marketing stance at some point in the future. Who knows, they may also reconsider their non-standards technical strategy too.