When GSM was defined (and became widespread), the "american standard" was not CDMA. It was AMPS (in fact, I think the US still have functioning AMPS networks). GSM is clearly superior to AMPS, and that's why many countries (including Japan and most of Europe) adopted it. CDMA was standardised a few years later and its advantages weren't really enough to offset the fact that GSM was already available in many countries (and mobility is a major part of mobile phones)
The difference between GSM and AMPS is much bigger than the difference between PAL and NTSC; it's more like moving from black-and-white to colour TV.
The difference between GSM and CDMA, on the other hand, is more similar to the difference between PAL and PAL Plus (a 16:9 format with slightly better resolution that never really took off, and whose advantage over normal 16:9 PAL was simply to save you having to press a button on the remote to switch from 4:3 to 16:9). It doesn't offer any tangible new features and it forces you to replace all your infrastructure.
With HDTV on the horizon, no-one in their right mind will waste money "upgrading" from PAL to PAL Plus. In fact, given the price difference and the (lack of) extra features, most people who are buying for the first time are also likely to prefer "plain" PAL.
While TV emission and reception are usually limited to a single country (i.e., if you go to a different country, you don't take your TV, so who cares if they use NTSC or PAL or whatever), a fundamental "feature" of a mobile phone is the ability to use it anywhere you go. If you're picking a standard that has to interface with the countries around you, then you have to weigh its technical merits against the problems you'll have trying to make it compatible with the systems used in those countries.
It doesn't make any sense to say something is "better" without considering its practical implementation. Is an airplane "better" than a car? Well, it's faster, carries more people, and probahly has much more advanced electronics. But when you consider the cost and the needs of most people, things aren't quite as simple. How many people find themselves bumping into GSM's limitations? And of those, how many would not bump into CDMA's?
The fact that (TDMA-based) GSM is being used so successfully in Europe - where there is a ludicrous concentration of cell phones - shows that its "technical disadvantages" compared to CDMA are not particularly relevant. On the other hand, its lower price (both the handsets and the infrastructure) and existing network coverage give it a very real advantage over CDMA-based solutions.
In other words, GSM may be (on paper) an inferior standard (which is natural, since it's older), but it is still (in practical terms) a better solution. If we were talking about a standard for the next 20 years, GSM would probably start showing its age... but so would CDMA. But chances are that neither GSM nor CDMA (in their current form) will be in use 5 years from now.
Anyway, in my original post I was mainly referring to video standards (I work in video), hence the rant about NTSC, and the title ("Force them to use NTSC too [since that will also benefit the american economy]").
Data is going to be important, but it won't be based on either CDMA or GSM in their present form. Unless you're talking about CDMA2000 or 3GSM, but I really don't think those are the standards being proposed for Iraq.
In other words, in the future (in 5 years or so), both GSM and CDMA (in their current forms) will become obsolete. During that period, is there any (real, practical) advantage to using CDMA? I don't think so. It's more expensive and it's not supported in most of the world. So what if it "makes better use of the airwaves"? There's plenty of free spectrum. It's like trying to sell a new type of candle by saying "it makes better use of the oxygen". People will buy it if it's cheaper or if it gives them more light, but they won't pay more for a "technical advantage" that has no practical effects.
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