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The uplink capacity and coverage of CDMA cellular systems with the conventional single user detection receiver are interference limited. In this work, we show that serial interference cancellation (SIC) is a competent and flexible receiver structure to enhance the uplink of power-controlled WCDMA cellular systems with a remarkable tradeoff between performance and complexity. We show that there are two general methodologies to design SIC receivers in practice, either single stage SIC or multistage SIC. Depending on the number of stages, we derive the optimal power setting strategy which guarantees that all users achieve a fixed target SIR at the receiver. The calculated results allow for analytic comparison of both methodologies which is also validated via link level simulations based on the UMTS standard. Finally, we present and analyze enhanced channel estimation algorithms that take advantage of the serial processing in SIC.