Tracing 50 Years of Korea’s Electronics Industry Development

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CDMA comes into commercial use
Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

CDMA comes into commercial use

The ninth installment in a twelve-part series - Ed.
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Bahk Hang-gu, chairman and CEO of Soam Systel, Inc.

Today, many people assume that Korea is number one in the IT business. Thus, it is likely that many scholars, professors, business leaders, and the media like to take a crack at what is behind Korea's success in becoming a powerful IT country. Korea IT Times had an interview with Bahk Hang-gu, chairman and CEO of Soam Systel, who is one of the central leaders to invent and introduce CDMA in Korea. Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) is a form of a digital wireless technology and is mainly referred as a "spread spectrum" technology. It puts various signals into a single channel; however, instead, it places a code onto each signal and let the users choose a signal that corresponds to their codes. CDMA technology was first modified and adjusted to be commercialized by Qualcomm, a wireless telecommunications Research and Development Company headquartered in America, and it was first commercialized in Korea.

Bahk Hang-gu worked for  Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), acting as a leader who endeavored to put forward and commercialize CDMA in Korea. This way Korean mobile industry was able to find a breakthrough that put in line with other advanced countries that already utilize CDMA technology. Bahk spoke with Korea IT Times on the development of CDMA, narrating it by going down the timeline from the first introduction of CDMA to its transformation into W-CDMA.

In 1989, a major task fell on ETRI's shoulders to tackle the development of the mobile communications technology. Thus, starting from 1989, researchers in ETRI simply strived to understand the depth of this new technology for three years until 1991. Ultimately, in 1992, they developed their original digital technology and this is known as TDMA and GSM. In the meantime, Bahk was working on the development of the TDX and ATM switching system for ETRI. Also at that time, Qualcomm demonstrated its first CDMA technology in New York and the person who went after this technology to bring in its knowledge was Professor Lee Won-oong at Incheon University. He was working for ETRI then and was the first to make a deal with Qualcomm to get hold of CDMA. In the past, companies that already had TDMA and GSM technologies were hesitant about collaborating with ETRI or any other organizations to commercialize this technology. In other words, there was no way to obtain the technology or even learn it. But then, by the end of 1992, Professor Lee visited Qualcomm's demonstration and succeeded in closing a contract with Qualcomm, finally obtaining their technology.

This official ETRI and Qualcomm's deal was the Joint Development Agreement (JDA). The detail of this joint agreement entails that Qualcomm provides radio technology in return for ETRI's transfer of network technology. However, there were many arguments around whether the 'joint' agreement is working equally between the two groups. Ironically, the network technology is more expensive but since CDMA had more value, ETRI had to give US$17 million to Qualcomm. Under this condition, the agreement moved forward, but in an asymmetric fashion. More specifically, 20 ETRI employees went over to Qualcomm for one year to learn its CDMA technology, which could be transferred to Korea. On the other hand, Qualcomm did not ask for ETRI's network technology nor made an effort to learn it.

Network technology is comprised of mobile switching center (MSC), base station controller (BSC), base station subsystem (BTS), home location register (HLR), visitor location register (VLR), and interwork facility (IWF). All these systems complete and make up the network technology. Simply put, Qualcomm manages the wireless technology whereas ETRI deals with the wired technology.

In 1993, ETRI workers finished CDMA training, but a lack of insufficient team members hindered them from effectively transferring this technology to ETRI. This is why Bahk was chosen to take charge of the mobile communication research division from January of 1994. Basically Bahk's duty at this time was to merge CDMA and network technologies; fortunately, "our research and development expedited since we already took on the CDMA technology. Thus, in April of 1994 we invented 'Air Call' that is a mobile terminal that weighs 800 grams and works after 160 inter-processor communications (IPC) in the system of making a single call. This fruitful product conveys that we have fully adopted Qualcomm's CDMA and our own network technology" said Bahk during his interview. The Air Call went under a commercial test in 1995 and passed the test. Then in January to April of 1996, Korean Mobile Telecommunications (KMT) and ShinSegi Telecom, which are now merged as today's SK Telecom, have opened to commercial service in such consecutive orders.

Soon Korea's major telecommunications giants took the initiative in commercializing and opening the service from the government. Such a turning that it passed the leadership from government to corporation further accelerated the spreading of mobile communications service in Korea. In other words, the government passed on the system to the three main telecommunications conglomerates, Samsung, LG, and Hyundai and provided the terminals and handed over the business rights to Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Maxon. From then on, Samsung, LG, and Hyundai were fairly occupied in making sure that the system's delivery is on track and the three main companies mentioned above plus Maxon were hectic at trying to minimize the size of the terminal. At last their efforts have come to fruition where the 800 grams terminal slimmed down to 150 grams only after two years of struggle. In the meantime, ETRI started their new research on developing 3rd generation technology.

ETRI worked in concert with the three main conglomerates to develop 3rd generational technology. Among the three, Hyundai lacked the switching technology so Hyundai offered Bahk to work with Hyundai to develop what they need in order to compete with its counterparts. Therefore, he took the position of Hyundai's vice president by the end of 1997, and actively started business that pertains to the system and terminals. In due course, Hyundai stood shoulder to shoulder with Samsung and LG, in which it turned over KRW1.2 trillion annually. In the past, Hyundai had an annual turnover of KRW200 billion.

3rd Generation is a family of standards for mobile telecommunications, which includes W-CDMA, CDMA2000, and TDS-CDMA (Time Division Sync). Services include wide-area wireless voice telephone, video calls, and wireless data, all in a mobile environment. Compared to 2G and 2.5G services, 3G allows simultaneous use of voice and data services and higher data rates. Thus, 3G networks enable network operators to offer users a wider range of more advanced services while achieving greater network capacity through improved spectral efficiency. Voice coder is the new technology that compresses the voice into 8 kbps; in contrast MPEC compresses video images into 1.2 Mbps. Along these lines, it generated the 'video phone call' between the years of 2001 and 2002. Major CDMA chips used for cell phone are, MSM1000 (Mobile Station MODEM), MSM 3000 of 2.5 generation, and MSM 5000 of 3rd generation. And they are the ones invented by Qualcomm and W-CDMA is what is widely known and used today, where it began commercialization in 2003.

Now, Bahk supplies 2.5 generation network technology to SKT and KT telecommunications at his own company, Soam Systel, ever since 1997 when working for Hyundai. He has not made it far with W-CDMA because it is too expensive and time-consuming without the proper equipment and technological man power.

Nonetheless, W-CDMA is already baked into the cake. For the future, W-CDMA will branch out to Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology and 4th generation that will accelerate the previous speed by 50 times. Currently 4th generation is on its way to being commercialized. "I cannot say it is imminent, but ETRI and Samsung have begun developing 4th generation and Samsung held a demonstration in Jeju. Samsung's main assignment is to shrink the size of the 4th generation terminal without losing its chief systems. Once W-CDMA gets standardized it is only a matter of time that users do not need to worry about roaming wherever they go, find hot spots to get online or going over their limits of data storage" said Bahk delivering his final comment during the interview.

Full Series Schedule
For those interested in past or future issues of this series, here isthe full schedule of the series:

July 2009: an overview
August 2009: The electronics industry is born
September 2009: Electronics industry gains momentum
October 2009: Color TV production opens a new vista
November 2009: Radios, cassettesand electronic watches change lifestyle
December 2009: The personal computer arrives
January 2010: TDX1 introduced into the local network
February 2010: TFT LCD allows determination of film thickness
March 2010: CDMA comes into commercial use
April 2010: U-technologies (part 1)
June 2010: U-technologies (part 2)
July/August 2010 : WiMAX opens

September 2010 : Era of IPTV

 

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