LinkAir Communications, a developer of wireless technology, has completed its first outdoor call using a new, third-generation (3G) technology it hopes will become the de facto telecommunications standard for delivering high-speed internet applications to mobile phones.

Beijing-based LinkAir, which is backed by heavyweight venture capitalists such as the Carlyle Group, claims its technology reduces interference between cells, enhances capacity and delivers data at speeds many times faster than 3G networks currently under development.

The technology, called LAS-CDMA (large area synchronized code division multiple access) uses a new coding technology to expand voice coverage and data speeds over existing 2G networks 20-fold to more than 5 megabits per second. That's more than double the 2 megabit speed of current 3G technology. The company calls its technology 3.5G and hopes to set the standard for 4G as well.

"Over the years the biggest barrier to significantly increasing wireless capacity, quality and coverage has been interference," says William C.Y. Lee, LinkAir's chairman. "We were able to prove that LAS-CDMA, through its use of a revolutionary, brand new coding technology and spreading spectrum technology, does establish interference-free windows."

Global battle

The development comes amid a global battle to establish standards for 3G. A common standard is needed so that networks can talk to each other and enable customers to make and receive calls from the same handset anywhere in the world. The two main 3G standards that have emerged are cdma2000, backed by Motorola and Qualcomm of the US, and W-CDMA (wideband CDMA) backed by NTT DoCoMo of Japan and most European vendors.

LinkAir says its own technology is compatible with all existing technologies and is designed to enhance them. Scientists from the Chinese government recently tested the technology and validated the claims made for it by its developers. That means it can begin to work with equipment manufacturers to incorporate LAS-CDMA as a boost as the world gradually rolls out 2.5G (a halfway house technology between 2G and 3G) and 3G networks.

China itself is forecast to become the world's biggest mobile phone market and the standards it decides on will be a determining factor in its ability to compete once it enters the World Trade Organization. Right now it is keeping its options open. Most of China runs on 2G GSM networks, but the government is also allowing the development of CDMA networks. If LinkAir's technology proves successful, it could blur the distinctions between all existing standards.

"China's carriers have already deployed 2.5G solutions to offer enhanced wireless data services and are thinking very seriously about investment in third generation solutions," says Elizabeth Harr-Bricksin, director of international wireless at the Strategis Group, a telecom consultancy with operations in the UK, US and Singapore. "Because China's wireless market embodies such a diverse set of demographics and economics, and therefore end-user needs, solutions such as LAS-CDMA that addresss capacity as well as data needs will be critical to the success of 3G in China."

LinkAir, which employs 70 scientists at its Beijing headquarters, boasts an impressive management. Its chairman, Lee, was prominent in the development of CDMA and oversaw the development of the first commercial CDMA network, in Los Angeles in 1995. CEO Zheng developed the LAS-CDMA technology. His aim now is to distribute it to handset makers, base station manufacturers and operators around the world.