Friday, October 3, 2008

fall 2008 - celly status

I've waited a while for new cell service. For several years I've run a Motorola V3 on Cingular -> SBC -> ATT service. In other words, I've used a basic second generation (2G) cellphone with 2G service. When I selected a 2G provider several years ago, I selected the GSM (ATT) version of 2G over the CDMA (eg. Metro PCS/Verizon) version of 2G because GSM is prevalent in Europe. When visiting Europe, I use my Motorola V3 relatively cheaply by purchasing a European plan with a SIM and swapping out my US SIM. Further, in the US, GSM phones hold about 75% of the market share.


Last year, the iPhone debuted, the first interesting third generation (3G) device, at least in my opinion. I've since watched the developments around 3G data/voice with the idea of jumping-in at the right moment. The types of service are somewhat complex and I made a little chart (click to enlarge) for this blog entry, simplifying what I understood about these services:

I assume like most people, the reason I'm migrating to 3G is web and phone access in a single device. Until the iPhone, a person needed a (bulky) laptop for that level of service. I considered an iPhone when they first appeared last year but the iPhone seemed too outrageously priced for the product and services package. More recently, I noticed Sprint "Wi-Max" (CDMA-2000 service) was scheduled for availability in August of 2008 on Nokia phones. That was interesting but, upon researching further, WCDMA devices look like a better choice than Wi-Max devices. WCDMA succeeds GSM (see chart above) and accordingly are backwards-compatible with GSM. That plays a role when traveling to Europe where cell phone service exists at different stages of development in different regions. Having a phone that is backwards-compatibile with European (2G GSM) networks makes it possible to travel there with less phone hassles. I set my mind to finding WCDMA service.

3G drawbacks

As seen in the chart above, there are two versions of 3G, WCDMA (formerly GSM) and CDMA-2000 (formerly CDMA). If I understand correctly, geo-locating in the CDMA branch used GPS from the start. GSM users, on the other hand, turned-off their phone to have locational privacy, and had to be triangulated via cell towers when their phones were turned-on. Stated otherwise, it's beneficial for security agencies if the public migrates to CDMA. Luckily for them, the data transfer requirements of 3G require the transmission style of CDMA. Accordingly, as GSM providers attempt to provide 3G on previous GSM networks, GSM phones will have to morph into a version of CDMA phones for 3G availability. This means a degree of privacy reduction for GSM users. Secondly, although CDMA has a single advantage - it can manage more users - battery life suffers for managing this transmission methodology. Finally, Qualcomm holds the patents for both forms of 3G (WCDMA and CDMA-2000). Qualcomm is an American company, and we may assume their chips integrate CALEA backdoors or other monitoring options. Any backdoor is subject to exploits and so can be considered a privacy drop. All told, our initial 3G phones would appear to suggest decreased privacy in at least two ways, and decreased battery life.


TMobile, the American wing of Deutsche Telekom, is of interest to me as a 3G provider. They currently sell both 2G GSM and 3G WCDMA service in the US, and are rolling out WCDMA in more and more cities. In the Bay Area, TMobile already (10/2008) has 3G, The phone which interests me, the G1 phone, uses a SIM and is backwards-compatible to 2G GSM networks. According to one or two sites I've seen, the price is $199 via a pre-order that arrives Fed Ex by Nov 10. It requires a 2 year contract that appears to be $89 a month for 3G voice and data service. If that's correct, it's a significant improvement over iPhone prices plus G1 software (Android OS) is supposedly open-source in cooperation with Google. Pre-order link:

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