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Europe versus US wireless war looms

The sound of rattling sabres is becoming positively deafening

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The prospects of a US versus Europe standards war over third generation (3G) mobile phone systems have grown stronger, after an apparent clash between EU and US officials. Yesterday EU commissioner Martin Bangemann released the text of a letter defending EU policy, which was sent to a number of US officials, including secretary of state Madeleine Albright, trade rep Charlene Barshevsky, commerce secretary William Daley and FCC chairman William Kennard. The EU and the US have been shadow-boxing over 3G for some time now. At the beginning of last year ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) started speccing out UMTS as the European standard, the general European idea being to repeat the success of GSM. This was defined by ETSI, and having a single basic standard meant digital wireless services rolled out across Europe fast. US policy is however 'let the market decide,' and from a US perspective the European approach can be seen as being the opposite of this. Encouraged by Qualcomm, which is currently trying to leverage a good position for itself in UMTS and IMT-2000, the proposed global standard, the US officials in December expressed concern at the prospect of Europe adopting a "single, mandatory standard." Bangemann's response is that ETSI standards are set by the industry, and the EU isn't going to intervene in this process. Which might be interpreted by the more bellicose US interest groups as get lost. Meanwhile the battle between Ericsson and Qualcomm over W-CDMA rages on. The ITU issued an ultimatum threatening to bar CDMA from consideration for IMT-2000 if intellectual property squabbles weren't settled by the end of last year. Qualcomm however continues to place stringent conditions on the licensing of its IP, and although Ericsson's demands are somewhat less extreme, it's still imposing conditions too. Largely concerning sharing IP with Qualcomm, we understand. Although technically the pair, plus the whole CDMA circus, ought now to be out of the running for IMT-2000, it would appear that they've got some kind of extension - but that doesn't mean the quarrels are anywhere near resolution. ®

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