The wireless giant appeared to downplay the significance of their big announcement Thursday, choosing instead to play up the deals they've forged with Scandinavian and North American technology companies to move their mobile phone network from TDMA to GSM. The fact remains, however, that AT&T Wireless' decision to adopt the mobile phone standard licensed in over 150 countries worldwide for the next generation of their sprawling US digital network is huge, in part because it's effectively an admission that TDMA didn't have a viable future.
For digital photojournalists in North America, the GSM switch is important because it should help end the confusion that arises when selecting a carrier and handset by, over time, effectively eliminating TDMA as an option. Since TDMA does not currently support digital data transmission and has zero interoperability with networks in Europe and Asia, its marginalization as a player in the sea of digital protocols that have proliferated in North America will almost certainly be beneficial in the long run. The move to GSM means photographers with the right AT&T Wireless handset will be able to take that handset with them overseas and use it to make voice calls and transmit pictures, an option open only to VoiceStream, Fido and a handful of smaller North American GSM carriers now. AT&T Wireless press releases make it clear that they intend to have a GSM network up and running in 2001.
Equally important, they've announced their intention to quickly support GPRS packet data, a GSM data transmission protocol that is several times faster than current mobile phone data options. All in all, the shift to GSM by AT&T Wireless should be a good thing.
A similar scenario will play out in Canada. Rogers Wireless, the dominant TDMA carrier in the country, has announced a similar shift to GSM on a similarly aggressive timeline. Says a Rogers press release:
The company will augment its existing network by overlaying a GSM (Global System for Mobile) network with integrated GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) packet data capability throughout its nationwide digital coverage area. The Company will launch "always on" GPRS wireless packet data service along with GSM digital voice service with a variety of integrated handsets by July 1, 2001, and expand this coverage to more than 83% of Canada's population by year-end 2001.
The gradual shift away from TDMA to GSM will no doubt wreak havoc on some AT&T Wireless and Rogers Wireless customers, customers whose handsets will need to be replaced before they can talk and file pictures across the new network. Having said that, to take advantage of GPRS, even for current GSM carrier customers, will mean a new handset or other piece of transmitting hardware anyway.
AT&T Wireless also announced that the leading wireless carrier in Japan, DoCoMo, will invest 9.8 billion dollars in the company.
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