Issa: U.S. companies should come first in Iraq rebuilding

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has introduced legislation that would mandate that the Army use American-based cell phone technology when building out a cellular phone infrastructure for Iraq, the congressman announced March 27.

The legislation, H.R. 1441, also calls for any other post-war rebuilding contracts to be given preference to American companies.

"If U.S. taxpayers are going to be gifting billions of dollars in technology and infrastructure to the Iraqi people, we ought to make sure ... that those expenditures also benefit the American people and the American economy," Issa said.

The bill calls for the Army to use the Code Division Multiple Access standard to build a wireless cellular phone network. CDMA is used by most U.S. wireless phone carriers.

The Army presently plans to use the Global System for Mobile Communications, GSM, standard, according to Issa's office. Issa was responding to a directive that the Army issued earlier this week to start planning for developing a cellular phone network for the country. According to Issa's office, Iraq doesn't have a cell phone network that can be used by most Iraqi citizens.

However, other parties question using a CDMA network over a GSM one. Deploying a GSM network would facilitate interoperability with cell phone networks nearby. GSM is used in every other country in the Middle East and in Europe.

"GSM is the dominant technology in Iraq's neighboring countries of Turkey, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Building a GSM network in Iraq is a better solution for future roaming capability and device interoperability, very important in integrating Iraq economically into the region," said a statement issued by analyst and consulting firm Ovum of Wakefield, Mass.

"The suggestion that CDMA technology be deployed in Iraq post war is completely at odds with the rest of the region and the majority of the world. It would add to the country's isolation and arguably be at odds with the overall war effort," GSM Association Chief Executive Officer Rob Conway said in a statement. According to the association, GSM phones are used by almost a billion people Ñ including those using U.S. systems -- across 193 countries.

Issa's concern is that by using a system developed in Europe, European patent holders will receive royalties, whereas a CDMA system would generate license fees for the U.S. patent holders that developed that standard, Dale Neugebauer, Issa's chief of staff, told Washington Technology.

John Delaney, principal analyst for Ovum, said even though the patent holders of GSM standards are mostly European, much of the equipment is made in the United States, particularly by Motorola Inc., Schaumburg, Ill.

Delaney also noted that Issa represents the 49th district of California, home to CDMA product vendor Qualcomm Inc., San Diego. CDMA owns much of the technology that is used in CDMA handsets.

"Qualcomm gets a royalty on every CDMA chipset being made," Delaney said.

Issa and other lawmakers also submitted a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Wendy Chamberlain, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, that voiced their objection to use the foreign cell phone standard.

"Because of ill-considered planning, the U.S. government will soon hand U.S. taxpayer dollars over to French, German and other European cell phone equipment companies," Issa said.

The points out the technical superiority of the CDMA standard over the GSM one, noting that CDMA cell phones allow the use of global positioning satellite coordinates.

"If U.S. relief workers in Iraq are equipped with CDMA cell phones with GPS, they will be immediately locatable in case of terrorist attack or kidnapping," the letter said.

The Department of Defense has not published a reply to the letter, according to Ovum.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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