How AT&T Moved to GSM (and on to EDGE)


I'm on a tear tonight... This article in Wireless Review is really, really informative and worth a read. It's quite lengthy and talks about how AT&T decided and eventually moved to GSM/GPRS over the past couple of years. It took them 21 months and cost $2.5 billion, but now it's just a "software upgrade" away from having EDGE rolled out nationally. It's quite astounding.

You have to remember how out of it I am. When I came to Spain in early 2000, the U.S. didn't really have GSM coverage. Now there's AT&T, T-Mobile and Cingular (and maybe more) but back then it seemed like we were going to remain CDMA all the way to 3G. I think it was actually late last year sometime when I realized that there was GSM in the U.S. now from major carriers and I was astounded. How did it happen so fast? Well, this story talks about how that move went, even in the post-bubble downturn.

Having seen the benefits of GSM living here in Europe, its obvious to me that AT&T did the right thing. It must not have been easy in 2000 to make that call, but the story talks about the cost savings from choosing the global standard, both from an integration and equipment point of view. And now they have a clear path to the future with UMTS/WCDMA, which everyone else in the world will be doing as well (I'm not sure if the article said that or not, but I'm saying it.) And because GSM is so popular, AT&T gets to reap the benefits of having better phones to choose from as well - when the Nokia 3650 was launched in the Spring, AT&T was able to sell it at the same time as everyone else in the world. No more waiting for U.S. specific models. That sort of thing is going to take years to come to the CDMA camp - which in the U.S. has yet to come out with one phone equipped with Bluetooth.

This article is just really interesting if you look at it as a blueprint for moving to 3G. The carriers are going to have to make a similar level of effort to get to WCDMA/CDMA2000 on both sides GSM and CDMA. It's going to be interesting to see at the end who has a better time of it. The CDMA guys because it's essentially an upgrade to CDMA2000, or the WCDMA guys because they benefit from scale (since soooo many more operators are going that way.) I think the demand is finally building up for wireless data services now that WiFi and GPRS have given us all a taste of what it's like to be always on, so at least there's a demand there to drive this all... it should be interesting. In the same amount of time it took AT&T to get to GSM, we could be all watching video on the bus via our 3G handsets.

Cool beans.


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