Nortel dodges third generation standards dogfight

Nortel Networks is moving to wade carefully around the so-called next generation wireless debate, yesterday predicting 1999 will see the end of bitter industry dispute over CDMA.

Richard Lowe, vice president and general manager of Nortel's wireless solutions division, said that Nortel is committed to developing both GSM (global systems for mobile communications) and CDMA (code division multiple access) technologies, despite the International Telecommunications Union's (ITU's) insistence on one global standard and Nortel's own heavy emphasis on CDMA.

"I think we're going to start to see the end of this," he said of the debate.

Central to industry concerns is the dispute between CDMA inventors Qualcom and Ericsson, which continues to push GSM.

Lowe said Nortel recently established agreements with both Ericsson and Qualcomm as part of its plan to help carriers upgrade existing GSM and CDMA networks.

CDMA technology offers carriers the promise of simplified and more flexible wireless networks with the ability to introduce new features and integrated voice and data applications.

More importantly, it promises to form the technology foundation for 'next generation' capabilities, giving users secure high-speed access to wireless networks.

Lowe said once the CDMA debate subsides, the industry can look to developing applications such as single network-enabled devices incorporating handheld computers, mobile phones and pagers.

While conceding Nortel Networks is a late starter in the CDMA technology race, he said recent customer wins, including Los-Angeles-based Airtouch and Telstra in Australia, speak of growing market acceptance of the company's CDMA efforts.

Mark Buford, Nortel's senior manager, market communications, claimed that despite a huge company push to develop CDMA, the company will remain committed to the other wireless technologies such as GSM and TDMA. "We have customers that are evolving every one of these three networks," he said.

Nortel Networks commits around $US2.5 billion to wireless network research and development each year.

Meanwhile, Lowe said the company is close to legally formalising the name change from Northern Telecom to Nortel Networks at the annual general meeting in August, 1999.

Andrew Lark, Nortel's vice president of global communications, said the formal name change is a significant move for the company, as it reinforces the company's "right hand turn" to focus on the evolution of carrier and enterprise networks to unified voice and data environments.

Aside from growing market demand for reliable integrated voice and data networks, company executives here commented on Nortel's moves to counter the rise of arch-enemy Cisco.

"Nortel's caught a great disease -- it's called Cisco-phobia," Lark said.

He is confident, however, Nortel will counter Cisco and other competitors, such as Lucent, with technologies and people from its recent string of acquisitions.

In addition, the company is counting on the help of a bulging marketing budget and renewed commitment to integrating its various product lines.

Mark Jones is visiting Canada and North America as a guest of Nortel Networks

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