Tuesday 24 September 2013

Is CDMA a Dying Breed?

There are reports that Telus is considering decommissioning their CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network within the next two years.  Telus, Bell and Tbaytel currently operate or share CDMA networks in the Algoma District although any new Bell sites constructed since the activation of the Desbarats site in Dec 2010 have not included CDMA capabilities.

The reasons espoused include a diminishing customer base as users switch to smartphones and data,  lack of new handsets with improved capabilities and the chance to reuse the freed up spectrum for HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) and LTE (Long Term Evolution) expansion

Bell and Telus jointly built and converted their primary networks to HSPA in time for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 and subsequently have been rolling out LTE upgrades. 

In general terms, the new sophisticated smartphones are not amenable to CDMA although there are smartphone model available that will operate in both CDMA and HSPA modes. They are just not available in Canada at this time.

This is one of the features that Verizon would have brought to Canada as they still operate the biggest CDMA network in North America and have CDMA/HSPA/LTE tri-mode phones – for a price. Verizon has indicated they will operate their CDMA network until at least 2021 but like everything in the mobile phone business it is likely subject to change on short notice.

CDMA is often the technology of choice for users who want just voice and limited texting capable in their phones.  Various reports indicate there are about 1Million plus users of CDMA phones in Canada. Many experts consider CDMA the Sony Beta of the industry in that the better technology but lost out in the end.

The carriers need to be careful if they do not want to anger their customer base as they did with their last major network decommissioning when they shut down the analogue networks. At least one western regional carrier is getting their customers ready for an adjustment by offering free exchange of CDMA phones for HSPA to LTE phones. 

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