TD-SCDMA gets the last laugh

John C. Tanner
15 Oct 2009
00:00

Last month's LTE conference in Hong Kong offered plenty of updates from cellcos on their plans for LTE, but little in the way of new topics to talk about - with two exceptions. One was the concept of LTE as ADSL substitute and possibly FTTH challenger (see this month's "First Mile: LTE to take on FTTH in Japan").

The second was TD-LTE. Which is astounding.

I say this because TDD has always been the stepchild of the 3G world. It had two standards under IMT-2000 and gave cellcos that acquired unpaired spectrum during 3G license auctions something to do with it - like, say, offer fixed-line broadband substitution in unserved areas much like Wimax is doing now. Only they didn't, of course. Cellcos were focused on FDD-based W-CDMA, and despite the efforts of a handful of companies like IPWireless and InterDigital, TD-CDMA (the UMTS version of TDD) never caught on.

Delay tactics

China's version, TD-SCDMA, generated even less love. TD-SCDMA carried too much political baggage that became increasingly noticeable as China's MII continuously put off issuing 3G licenses in an apparent plan to wait until TD-SCDMA was ready for commercial prime time - and, more importantly able to compete against W-CDMA and EV-DO.

Almost a full decade after the ITU approved it for IMT-2000, TD-SCDMA went live in 2008 (in extremely limited quantities), and China Mobile has already slashed its end-of-2009 subscriber target by 70%. Meanwhile, critics have piled on China for obstinately backing a technology that would only serve to isolate it in a 3G world, as no one in the world was ever going to seriously adopt TD-SCDMA.

Oh how they laughed.

They're not laughing now.

Well, all right, they're laughing a little. But they're paying a lot closer attention to its possibilities, especially now that TD-SCDMA is primed to evolve into a global standard: TD-LTE.

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