Post-war telecom in Iraq: CDMA or GSM?

'U.S.-developed CDMA technology is widely recognized as technically superior to European GSM.'

'Rep. Darrell Issa

One day after learning that the Defense Department wants to use the European Global System for Mobile Communications wireless protocol to build a cellular system in postwar Iraq, Rep. Darrell Issa launched a pre-emptive strike in the House.

The California Republican introduced HR 1441, which would mandate Code Division Multiple Access technology for rebuilding Iraq's communications.

'U.S.-developed CDMA technology is widely recognized as technically superior to European GSM,' the lawmaker said in a March 27 letter to the Agency for International Development, which will release a request for proposals for postwar reconstruction, possibly this week.

'The advantage of GSM is compatibility with a much larger part of the world,' said Charles Golvin, a telecommunications analyst with Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

British analysts at Ovum Holdings Ltd. said GSM is the dominant cellular technology in Iraq's neighboring countries.

AID spokesman Alfonso Aguilar said he was surprised that Issa made the reconstruction requirements a public issue. 'The discussion on this issue has been classified,' Aguilar said. 'When it comes to technology, AID is completely neutral. A decision on which technology to use will be made by the appropriate agency.'

Directed funding

If Issa's bill passes, that agency would be Congress. HR 1441 would give preference to American companies for any Iraq reconstruction work and would require the use of CDMA.

In his letter to AID, Issa said reconstruction money should go to U.S. manufacturers and patent holders rather than to Europeans.

CDMA was commercially developed and introduced in 1995 by Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego, in Issa's district. CDMA is the dominant cellular technology in North America, much of Latin America and in some Pacific countries, such as South Korea.

It is more efficient for voice and data transmission, putting more bits into each hertz of bandwidth. 'That is the primary benefit of CDMA,' Golvin said. 'In addition, the cost of evolving the network to the next stage of technology is slightly lower.'

The International Telecommunications Union has specified CDMA as the standard for third-generation wireless systems. But 3G networks are a long way off.

The U.S. military uses GSM in Europe, and Afghanistan also uses it. There are about 200 million CDMA users in the world, most in North and South America. GSM has about 800 million subscribers, about 70 percent of the world market, and is expected to grow to 1 billion users in 2004.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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