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A recent judicial review may set back the ‘third generation’ (3G) mobile market’s introduction, say David Jabbari and Jo StannardThe architecture of the ‘third generation’ (3G) market is taking shape as the key technical barriers to the market start to fall away. A technology that can offer bandwidth increases of up to 2Mbit/s for mobile users has to be seen as far more than another false dawn for the virtual office.The package is formidable, including video conferencing, internet and e-mail access, voice services and scheduling. And this all comes in one small device, usable globally without the need to connect to the Internet or intranets through a separate mobile phone. The large UK mobile operators and BT are now actively trialling Universal Mobile Telecommunications Services (UMTS), which, despite its name, may become a Europe-only standard.The risk of a complicated patent dispute concerning the wideband code division multiple access (W-CDMA) technology that underlies 3G has been averted. This was the result of the recent accord between US manufacturer Qualcomm, which claimed to own patents relating to the essential operation of W-CDMA, and Ericsson of Sweden, which had been in dispute with Qualcomm on this issue.The two companies agreed to drop the lawsuits against each other to “jointly support a single world-wide CDMA standard with three optional modes for the next generation of wireless communication” and to cross-license their respective patent portfolios.Also, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) met in Brazil in March and agreed a way of proceeding with the standardisation of 3G by use of a single flexible standard (or ‘IMT-2000′ in the language of the ITU). This standard provides a choice of multiple-access methods to meet the different mobile operational environments around the world.It did look as if the last part of the legal jigsaw had also fallen into place with the announcement earlier this year by telecommunications minister Michael Wills that there would be a period of national ‘roaming’ onto second generation (2G) networks by new entrants to the UMTS market. Roaming allows one operator’s customers to make use of another operator’s network. A new draft roaming condition for insertion into mobile operators’ licences was also produced and circulated. But this has been thrown into confusion by the recent High Court judgment in R v The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry ex parte Mercury Personal Communications (One2One), in which the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) imposition of licence changes without any right of appeal by the mobile operators was successfully judicially reviewed. The Government has said that it will appeal. But at the same time David Edmonds, the director general of Oftel, is attempting to secure the voluntary agreement of the operators to the changes so that the schedule for auctioning the new 3G licences early next year is not disrupted.

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