US lawmaker pushes mobile phone interests in Iraq

The US war in Iraq could claim an unexpected victim: GSM technology developed in Europe.

          The US war in Iraq could claim an unexpected victim: GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology developed in Europe.

          Angered over the anti-war positions of France and Germany, Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, has sent letters to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and various legislators asking them to support rival CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology, pioneered by Qualcomm, for a new Iraqi cellphone system. Qualcomm is based in San Diego.

          "We have learned that planners at the Department of Defense and USAID are currently envisioning using federal appropriations to deploy a European-based wireless technology known as GSM ... for this new Iraqi cellphone system," Issa wrote in a letter to Rumsfeld, published on the lawmaker's website.

          In the letter, Issa expresses concern that if GSM technology were chosen, much of the equipment could come from manufacturers in France and Germany, as well as Finland and Sweden. That means the US government would be handing over taxpayers' money to companies in some countries that have decided not to support US war efforts.

          Issa could not immediately be reached for comment.

          Politics aside, the choice of a cellphone technology should be based on what's best for users in Iraq, according to Jason Chapman, a mobile infrastructure analyst at the London office of Gartner. "And that's GSM technology," he says.

          GSM has a huge footprint in the Middle East and Africa, in addition to Europe and Asia, so that makes roaming much easier for Iraqis traveling to other countries or visitors from GSM countries coming to Iraq, he says.

          Price is another issue. "GSM infrastructure equipment is cheaper because it's a bigger market and there are more companies providing equipment," Chapman says.

          And that applies not only to infrastructure.

          "There are plenty of inexpensive low-function GSM handsets and there is also a market for refurbished handsets that have been returned to operators," he says.

          "This all adds up to savings for users, and that would be important to Iraqis."

          Only one US company, Motorola, manufactures GSM infrastructure and handsets, compared to several in Europe, including France's Alcatel, Germany's Siemens, Finland's Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson.

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