US-EU wireless trade war: TDMA group joins in

And ETSI responds with a haughty snort...

The sabre-rattling between the US and Europe over third generation (3G) broadband wireless standards has been getting louder over the last few days, with the TDMA mob climbing on board the US FCC bandwagon late last week. TDMA, which is a kind of cousin of GSM, has tended to be neglected during the long-running arguments over 3G, but it's actually the number two world standard, as its trade body, the Universal Wireless Communications Consortium (UWCC), frequently points out. The latest salvoe from the UWCC offers support for a menacing letter from US secretary of commerce William Daly and trade rep Charlene Barshefsky to EU commissioner Karel van Miert. This letter "reiterated their support for the International Telecommunications Union third generation selection process for multiple 3G standards," and "clearly affirmed that the US would oppose European Union member state licensing procedures that limit approved 3G wireless systems the opportunity to fairly compete in the marketplace." Gripping stuff, no? No. But it gets more interesting when you grasp what it means. Europe is already fairly well advanced in the definition of a 3G standard for Europe, UTRA. Europe intends to follow the GSM precedent by having a single standard validated for Europe. The FCC take on this is that one standard in Europe will shut US competition out, and Brussels will be hauled up in front of the World Trade Organisation if it goes ahead. The standard being defined globally is the ITU's IMT-2000, but although this is where the FCC is currently getting its ammunition, it's positively misleading to categorise the ITU as being ranged against Europe. At the moment the ITU has, in response to pressure, endorsed a multi-technology solution for 3G globally, and made hopeful noises about multi-standard handsets. But here's what the ITU said about the adoption of this policy: "Several countries… urged the group to agree on a single IMT-2000 standard, ideally based on one technology. That view was endorsed by many operators. Several others [our italics] however stressed the need for operational flexibility to meet the varying situations around the world. "The flexible approach represented the only option on which consensus could be achieved and work could proceed." So it would appear that an intransigent minority succeeded in derailing a single standard. And while the FCC and UWCC are attempting to co-opt the ITU as a supporter for the US policy of chucking the standards out there and letting the market decide, the ITU actually favours the reverse: "The meeting nonetheless agreed to strongly encourage the various operators fora in their efforts to achieve a minimum set of radio interfaces." While this interesting little battle has been gathering pace, ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, has been coming under fire from the US Congress subcommitte on technology. ETSI has salvoed back to chairwoman Constance Morella, complaining about "misrepresentations of ETSI," and restating the European position on standards (i.e. the one diametrically opposed to the US position). The body stresses its independence from the EU, and gives its take on IMT-2000, describing it as a "family concept" where the ITU would "work on network interface specifications needed for global roaming, while regional standards bodies will work on specifications internal to a specific family member system." That is, 'bog off, congress - Europe's nothing to do with you.' There's some more dumb insolence to follow: "Europe in its construction of the single market has a strong requirement for harmonisation. Standards are a useful means for achieving this harmonisation… GSM has brought about a pan-European service with roaming extended to different countries and this has led not only to an end of the fragmented and incompatible systems but also to an increased level of competition… as well as cheaper communications." So there, and the war continues to loom. ®

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