Wireless Systems Design

Will EDGE Have A Fairy-Tale Ending?

For the last couple of years, it seems like EDGE has been playing the role of Cinderella to stepsisters CDMA and 3G/UMTS. I'm loath to describe these technologies as "ugly," as beauty is in the eye of the patent holder. Today, however, network operators are adopting this once unfashionable Wireless-CDMA (W-CDMA) sibling on a worldwide scale.

In the enduring Cinderella fairy tale, a beautiful girl is oppressed by her ugly stepsisters. This story also serves as a popular British pantomime, in which men curiously pull on fishnet tights and women dress as boys. The audience is then treated to copious amounts of thigh-slapping and risqué jokes, proving that there's definitely sin in Sinbad. I guess the similarity between EDGE and Cinderella doesn't truly extend to all of the principle characters.

The relative public obscurity of EDGE has provided some advantages. It's been saved from the hype that's often attracted by every new technology. That hype is typically characterized by over-enthusiastic claims of performance, over-ambitious delivery dates, and over-excited media. Now that the technology has been developed, though, it's time for it to step out from the shadows.

A few industry leaders are demonstrating that EDGE's underlying technology works. Such displays make it easy to fall into complacency. But there's a world of difference between a technology working in a lab and it being mature and stable enough to launch commercial products.

Interoperability testing should be the focus of attention. The teams that are developing EDGE need to be creating test cases for type approval. The GSM Association of North America published its Phase I requirements. Although tempered with realism, these requirements constitute a collation of the demands of the North American operators.

During the development of any new mobile technology, an interdependency exists between all of the players. The companies that develop mobile terminals need test equipment and infrastructure. Test-equipment manufacturers depend on infrastructure and mobiles. Infrastructure vendors require mobile and test equipment. And the network operators want it all up and running as soon as possible.

With this strong common interest and need to collaborate, cooperation should occur naturally. Yet several issues make it more difficult. Many infrastructure vendors make mobiles, so they are wary about assisting competitors. In addition, all participants are protective of their timescales and product specifications.

The closest thing to a neutral participant is the network operator or its representative bodies. As the final customer for the infrastructure and a volume buyer of mobiles, they have a vested interest in seeing interoperability proceed. In the latter phases of technology deployment, they can effectively push through testing.

In the early days, however, it is far more important that mobile, test-equipment, and infrastructure engineers work together. They should avoid working through a third party, such as an operator. On both sides, the engineers need full and free access to test terminals, infrastructure, and operator labs.

According to indications from current EDGE testing, able participants are scarce. Those who have been developing the technology over the last two years are well advanced in testing. Compared to the laggards, most of these technological leaders have had to invest significantly more time and effort in testing.

As expressed earlier, the operators are pivotal to enabling cooperation between technology providers. They act as both mediators and specifiers of requirements. Their actions prime the pumps of the whole industry by placing orders with technology providers, component manufacturers, and software vendors.

Of course, the technology has to work in order to hit the operators' launch dates. The specification and type approval of the functionality also must be clearly defined. The EDGE Task Force has identified the priority test cases. These cases need validation and publication by the accreditation bodies—the PTCRB and the GCF.

Bluetooth, WAP, and 3G have all been subjected to unrealistic expectations that overshadowed sound technology. EDGE participants should be wary of subjecting their technology to the same hype. Have the courage to publish achievable data rates, list supportable services, and even admit that there are some services for which EDGE is not ideal. We should concentrate on "services not technology," rather than confuse the consumer with a sea of acronyms and technologies. Initially, EDGE will support the same services as GPRS but over three times faster. If the services are the same, how will we differentiate the product without talking about the technology?

At the end of every pantomime, virtue is rewarded, true love conquers evil, and everyone lives happily ever after. For EDGE, the last few scenes have yet to be played. No doubt there will be the odd twist and turn in the plot. The outcome, however, seems assured. EDGE is a real technology. It is undergoing testing and has mobiles in development. It has certainly come a long way from being the poor relation to two ugly sisters.

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