Andy M also asks what I think about the construction of a wireless communications system in Iraq after the war. If you haven’t heard, here’s a brief summary: According to reports, the defense department was planning to build a GSM cellular system in Iraq after the war. GSM is a standard that is used throughout the world, but it was initially developped for use in Europe. Well, California Congressman Darrell Issa caught wind of this and introduced a bill that would require the system constructed in Iraq to be based on “American” CDMA technology. Here’s a story on the subject.
I understand the logic behind this measure: The French and Germans wouldn’t support us in this war so now we’ll show them by shutting them out of the rebuilding Iraq. In addition, Congressman Issa states that CDMA technology is superior to GSM.
Although debateable, I agree with the Congressman’s assessment of the technology. CDMA is commonly held to be superior technology. Nevertheless, I think his measure is completely misguided.
Although Qualcomm, the main holder of intellectual property related to CDMA, is an American company, the argument that using CDMA instead of GSM “supports America” is completely off-base. Two of the top six manufacturers of GSM network equipment are U.S. companies — Lucent and Motorola — while a number of manufacturers of CDMA equipment are European — Alcatel and Nokia spring to mind.
In addition, while CDMA may be technically superior, GSM tends to be much more interoperable because it is deployed more widely. GSM countries include Iran, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and even Afghanistan. To force Iraq to adopt a different system, preventing roaming even throughout the Middle East, would be a great disservice to the Iraqi people. Ultimately, it’s not technical superiority that matters here; it’s usability.
The DoD has already demonstrated that it will tend to prefer American companies in the rebuilding of Iraq. Whatever. In choosing GSM for Iraq, though, the DoD was definitely making the right decision. The bigger issue here: Doesn’t Congress have more important things to worry about than what kind of cell phones the Iraqi people get?