CEPT, the Conference on European Posts & Telecommunications, will decide which of the current eight proposed second generation cellular radio systems should be adopted as standard for Europe by next month. We must get a pan-European standard up and running by 1991, which makes a narrowband rather than a broadband system necessary, or we have blown it, was the plea from Plessey Telecommunications director Professor William Gosling at a European conference on cellular radio and mobile communications in London this week. The narrowband solution goes against the broadband system proposed by a French consortium – and France is seen as the focal point of activity for the second generation system by virtue of its geographical access to the rest of Europe. CEPT set up a commission, the Groupe Speciale Mobile, GSM, to co-ordinate specification of the pan-European system in 1982, and it will meet in Madeira during the third week of this month to draw up a broad outline of the system to be adopted. The choice could be a mixture of systems proposed by the eight consortia and it will include specifications for a radio access system, and the voice coder-decoder chip. Optimisation and network definition will be drawn up by September 1987 and a stable system will be designed by December 1987, enabling public telecoms authorities to invest in equipment test beds. System auditing and final specification, driven by VLSI requirements, will be ready by mid 1988, with the initial stages of implementation taking place in 1990. Plessey’s Professor Gosling says that a narrowband solution is necessary because it presents fewer technical hurdles and is the only hope for meeting a 1991 deadline. It is crucial that Europe meets that deadline if it is to succeed in fending off competition from Japan and the US, avoiding the current situation, where the price of car phones in Europe is on average five times greater that in the US because the main EEC markets of the UK, Germany, Italy and France have each invested in different and incompatible mobile radio systems. The UK has relatively low prices, but at a penalty: virtually all of the equipment is imported from the US and Japan, losing both potential local manufacturing opportunities and exports. The significance of second generation digital cellular radio is that it gives Europe a second chance, by bringing a technically superior solution to mobile telephones.
The narrowband method is also a way, according to Gosling, of piggybacking existing analogue systems during the transition phase to digital. Competitive field trials of systems proposed by eight different companies or consortia, none of them British, ran in Paris at the end of 1986. Within a common overall time division multiple access approach, there were two broadband and six narrowband contenders. Conclusions were that both work in an urban environment with performance and grade of service very close. But the best product in the world is no good if it is too late, said Gosling. We have to go for the lowest risk alternative. Gosling points to two proposals, tried by Plessey with the Department of Trade & Industry, both narrowband, from Ericsson and from Matra with Bosch. They present fewer problems and are, therefore, the only hope for meeting the 1991 deadline.