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Veteran tech political reporter Declan McCullagh determines Internet Safety Act would apply to everyone who runs a Wi-Fi network: The law imposes unheralded requirements for keeping records on who accesses a given network, something that governments want to track criminals (often citing child-pornography downloaders) regardless of the cost to individuals and businesses in dollars, sense, time, and privacy. Odd how the Republicans back this so strongly; it's the law-and-order thing. But Dems are behind a similar version of the bill.
The act would requires two years worth of data being stored for anyone providing "an electronic communication service or remote computing service." McCullagh's analysis is that this applies to basically every kind of network everywhere run for any purpose by anyone.
That sweeps in not just public Wi-Fi access points, but password-protected ones too, and applies to individuals, small businesses, large corporations, libraries, schools, universities, and even government agencies. Voice over IP services may be covered too.
It's unclear what this could possibly mean for home users and casual network operators like cafes. I'm sure larger firms, like Wayport (now an AT&T division), already had data-retention policies and have had to work with law enforcement in the past. But what would I, with my home network, have to do?
Some home Wi-Fi routers do keep internal logs by default, and would record the MAC addresses and timestamps of when access occurred. How about, however, if yours doesn't? Or it keeps one month of data and then dumps it?
I don't think this law's scope was well thought out, clearly, and one hopes that ISPs, consumer groups, and Wi-Fi gateway makers band together to force some sense into it.
Because we didn't have enough on our minds on election day, the FCC met and made three relatively massive decisions: Let's start with white spaces. I have been avoiding posting too much about the topic, because it's mindbendingly boring to the average reader or businessperson who is more interested in technology or developments when they happen, not when they're discussed ad nauseum. The gist of the white spaces proposal is that computer industry giants want television channels that are unused in specific markets to provide assurance of a lack of interference among adjacent channels.
Microsoft, Google, Intel, HP, and many others covet the space to use for high-speed wireless networking for broadband and wireless LANs. Over short distances, rates rival 802.11n Wi-Fi speeds; over longer distances, speeds will likely be closer to 10 Mbps. The expectation is that the frequencies, way down in the 54 to 698 MHz range, would have enormously superior propagation characteristics when coupled with higher power limits than Wi-Fi's 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz deployments. With adaptive scanning required to avoid stepping on licensed users, the white spaces technology would likely be much more resilient than Wi-Fi, too, as well as having a larger span of channels on which to choose to operate.
The National Association of Broadcasters, representing owners of TV stations and networks, protested that regardless of how well designed devices were to avoid interfering with TV signals, it was inevitable that they would. Dolly Parton surprisingly entered the fray--nearly a la Wi-Fi patron Hedy Lamarr--on behalf of the wireless microphone industry, which has a licensed low-power use for theater and performance.
The FCC voted 5-0 to move forward. Manufacturers would still be going through tightly controlled FCC certification and testing for their devices, and one imagines the NAB will be watching very closely as well.
The FCC also voted 5-0 to approve a WiMax merger/spinoff that allows Sprint Nextel to reorganize its Xohm broadband operation into a new firm that would be merged with Clearwire's assets and be named Clearwire. The new operation already has billions lined up from Google, Intel, and cable operators to invest. The Justice Department already gave its general go-ahead, too.
This move sets the stage for a real battle among all broadband providers: it will force AT&T and Verizon to move quite aggressively to use the new 700 MHz bandwidth they acquired (and plan to deploy GSM-based LTE over, even though LTE is still officially in the lab, not in production); and for wireline provides like AT&T and Verizon, as well as Comcast, Cablevision, Qwest, and all the rest, to rethink pricing, speed, and services that Clearwire enters. If WiMax pans out as a viable third or even fourth pipe into the home, other broadband options in the same markets will be cheaper and faster.
Finally, in the least-interesting part of the news, the FCC voted to approve, with Dems partially dissenting--procedural thing, it appears--to allow Alltel to be acquired by Verizon to create the biggest U.S. cell carrier. Alltel was the largest of the smaller carriers, as it were, providing service in areas that the major carriers often overlooked. The Alltel acquisition is partially an infrastructure play that reduces Verizon's roaming costs while expanding its customer base.
The nearly finished IEEE 802.11y could make Wi-Fi more practical over longer distances: Wi-Fi is a compromise. In the unlicensed bands in which it operates, it has to deal with interference from noise sources and other networks, while using very low power, and trying not to make a pest of itself. It's done very well. In the 2.4 GHz band and parts of 5 GHz, the maximum power from the radio is 1 watt (W), and the effective power (EIRP) is 4 W on an omnidirectional antenna. (You can push far more power if you narrow the antenna's beam. And parts of the 5 GHz band restrict radio power below 1 W. I wrote a long rundown of 5 GHz issues back in Jan-2007.)
But there's this lovely new segment of lightly licensed spectrum in the U.S., the 3.65 GHz band. It's a non-exclusive licensed band available only in parts of the country that don't have pre-existing ground-to-satellite or radar uses that overlap. This omits most of the eastern seaboard and most major cities; Seattle is one exception.
The licensing mechanism allows any number of operators to obtain inexpensive licenses, and register the base stations they use by location. If interference arises among base stations, operators are required to work out the problems themselves. I wrote extensively about this band and its rules on 9-May-2008 in profiling Azulstar, formerly a metro-scale Wi-Fi firm, but now a big proponent of WiMax in 3.65 GHz. I also went over the rules for the band on 11-June-2007 when the FCC announced the arrangement.
Several firms offer base station and customer premises equipment for this band now, so close to the 3.5 GHz band more commonly exclusively licensed in Europe and elsewhere. WiMax equipment is available because the 3.65 GHz band can be used with WiMax without any modifications to that protocol, although limited to just 25 MHz of the 50 MHz that the FCC set aside.
Equipment that conforms to a more stringent set of rules about contention and other factors can use the whole 50 MHz, and that's where 802.11y comes in. It's an extension of Wi-Fi to cope with the specific needs--and to open Wi-Fi technology up to 20 W EIRP, a vastly higher power output. This could allow connections over 5 km, the group says.
The Wikipedia entry on 802.11y, clearly written by someone involved with the specification, notes that three specific additions are needed: a tweak to support the way in which the FCC wants contention among competing devices to work; a method for an access point to tell a station (a connecting radio) that it's about to switch its channel or its channel's bandwidth, and the station should do likewise; and a mechanism to handle a base station allowing or revoking permission to use the spectrum without uniquely identifying the user's system or broadcasting its precise GPS-based location.
The standard is near completion and initial approval. I don't have any knowledge about whether any mainstream Wi-Fi equipment makers or metro-scale equipment makers are looking into building 802.11y into their gear.
The fact is that this could be a great technology for the mostly sub-metropolitan markets that 3.65 GHz is available in, although it has the same pain as WiMax: all new gear on the towers and all new adapters for customers.
Russian regulator requires registration: The folks at the Rossvyazokhrankultura (Russian Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Protection Service) have decided that every device with Wi-Fi inside requires registration for use by an individual user without a transferrable license, according to The Other Russia, which picked the story up from Russian-language site Fontanka.ru.
While Wi-Fi wasn't as broadly unlicensed in Russia as it is in most other industrialized nations, a state regulator exempted indoor use in certain bands from registration. The Mass Media agency apparently believes that it has the authority to compel this, although there's some doubt by observers as to whether it really falls in their purview.
Setting up a home Wi-Fi network or a hotspot would require what sounds like vast amounts of paperwork, akin to putting a cell tower.
Even the losers win in this auction: The gag order from the FCC over the bidding and results of the 700 MHz spectrum auction were lifted yesterday, and everyone is jabbering. Verizon and AT&T have announced they'll build LTE (Long Term Evolution) cell data networks, a GSM standard, in the 700 MHz band. AT&T says their network will come online starting in 2012; Verizon, 2010.
Google posted on their own blog and told the New York Times that they were happy enough losing, even though they bid to win...sort of. They raised their own bids a few times to keep interest from other players, but were relieved when another bidder topped them. That turned out to be Verizon Wireless. Google managed to get a few types of openness encoded into the band, and they think (rightly so) that it made a difference. An economist notes in the Times article that Google now only has to spend "$1 million a year on a law firm to ensure Verizon lives up to the openness requirements."
AT&T didn't bid on the C Block that Google was discussing, a set of licenses that provide national coverage in a few easy pieces. Rather, they focused on acquiring 700 MHz spectrum before the auction from Aloha Partners (from the previous 700 MHz auction), and spending billions on smaller licenses all over the country that they can pin together. Those licenses are unencumbered by open device, application, and service provisions, so AT&T thinks they got the better deal. A good summary is at Phone Mag.
Verizon for its part said it was pleased with its national-scope licenses. Despite AT&T acquiring lots of spectrum, it's going to be far easier for Verizon to use these nationally defined bands, with consistent performance across all their networks.
The FCC's auction for prime 700 MHz territory nationwide is over: The auction took in nearly $20b before discounts for small businesses and other credits, but the FCC didn't disclose the winners. 1,099 licenses were at stake, with the 6 C Block licenses ($4.74b winning bid) were the ones most watched. The others shouldn't be ignored, even though taken one at a time, most of them are quite limited in geographic coverage. With that spectrum, regional operators will be able to build interesting networks that could compete with national players.
The big failure in the auction was the D Block, a national chunk of shared public/private spectrum that a winning bidder would operate in a manner that gave priority to emergency uses. The minimum bid was far from met: $1.4b was the reserve price, and bids never topped $500m. Rules for the block will have to be redesigned and rebid.
A state rep in Utah tries to find common ground in keeping kids from viewing online porn and businesses that say they'll shut up shop: The bill would have required an attempt by anyone running a public Wi-Fi network to verify a user's age, and then prevent them from viewing obscene material if they're not an adult or can't verify their age. A penalty of $1,000 per incident would be imposed. That's probably an unconstitutional restraint right there, but a local free wireless operator, Xmission, said it would cost them $5,000 per month to verify ages, and would instead shut down its public service.
The legislator pushing the bill is "backing off the age verification provision," but suggests filtering should be required. Which is also silly. Filtering doesn't really work; it either blocks everything, or it's too porous.
The anti-pornography group The CP80 Foundation that was pushing for the bill thinks that it shouldn't take much effort on a business's part--obviously, they haven't done the math on this--and that homeowners should be regulated as well. Aren't these Republicans? What's with all the regulation?
The FCC has received a "provisional" winning bid for the national "C Block" licenses in the 700 MHz auction underway: The C Block, a national set of about 20 MHz of prime frequency real estate, has received a bid crossing the minimum $4.6 reserve price: $4,713,823,000 to be precise. The overall auction now stands at $13.7b after 18 rounds. This pretty much ensures that the open access, open device rules so fought over and then acquiesced to by major carriers will be enforced, and it's likely to push more openness into existing U.S. cell markets.
I'm trying to wrap my head around the series of announcements and developments this last week that will change the face of cell service, and notably wireless broadband in the U.S.: In short succession, you have:
Yes, it's Google, Google, Google all over. While Google's Android platform might not take off, it's pretty clear that the disruptive influence of Google combined with the WiMax direction chosen by Sprint Nextel are reforming the future of the industry. But WiMax might get left out of the dance.
You see, with Forsee out of Sprint and Zander out of Motorola, you have two major firms that were committed to WiMax looking for leaders who will come in and not continue doing precisely what lead to their predecessors being forced out. Which means WiMax will be on the chopping block. Motorola could write down its Clearwire investment and spin off its Expedience division bought from that company, while refocusing on 3G and 4G cell. Sprint could decide to deploy something entirely different in 2.5 GHz, even if that delayed network buildout, rather than investing billions in something that they're now not clear they want to move on.
On the consumer side, things are brighter. It's likely that by 2009, we will see substantial competition among devices--think about the diversity of digital cameras available in sizes, formats, and features--where we might pick a device first and then choose a carrier. Android could be part of that mix, but the FCC's pressure combined with market changes seem to be leading to cell networks in which you won't have the same kind of lock-in and commitment--it'll be more like Europe is but with greater competition reducing the cost of devices.
This openness could, in turn, supplant some of Wi-Fi's forward momentum as the de facto wireless technology to build into portable devices. Wi-Fi is a best effort technology, which means that it's not reliable. It's a contention medium and there's no company offering ubiquitous coverage--aggregators offer national and international subscriptions, but that's not the same thing. If the cost of making and certifying devices to use on a cellular network drops precipitously, and volume of chips sold would be one of those factors, it wouldn't be weird to buy a really good camera that has a 3G or 4G cell chip installed that you could use on a pay-as-you-go basis or as an add-on to an existing cell account you might have.
None of the cell carriers is particularly eager to allow more competition as that reduces margin, increases customer churn, and makes their returns more dependent on their short-term actions as people migrate around. But the fact that so many carriers are now promoting actions that will make life harder on them and their shareholders means clearly that the momentum is there for this change to sink in.
Google could sit back and do nothing, and they've already forced change. Sprint can't sit back and do nothing--but there's speculation Google might simply purchase them to pursue its goals. I doubt it, but Sprint will be a very different company within a year.
The company that said its First Amendment rights were being challenged by FCC auction rules that required open access now bows to inevitable: Verizon Wireless said today that it would allow devices, software, and services to be used on its network by the end of 2008 as a new "choice"--read, "new billing plan"--a remarkable turnabout from its position during the 700 MHz C Block auction filings process. The company had complained the FCC adding the requirement that the national C Block licenses allow any legitimate device, program, or service to operate was unfair and illegal.
Of course, cellular operators have extensive and expensive certification programs for devices and programs, and typically control the services themselves, even if third parties offer them; the services run through the carriers' systems. What Verizon's press release states is that the company will release an open set of technical standards and allow any device meeting the "mininum technical standard" to work on the network. This should dramatically reduce costs, but I wait to hear from the community of firms that currently develop certified cell network devices.
This change could affect the bidding in the C Block auction in early 2008. It was assumed that Verizon would stay out of the auction to keep the price down, and bolster its legal position for future appeals or lawsuits. AT&T was likely to get in, as it had earlier agreed that the basic outline of requirements was fine. With Verizon's change, this seems to signal that they'll be part of the bidding, which makes the outcome of the auction more likely to reach the minimum the FCC has set for both C Block ($4.6b) and the entire auction ($10b).
The British spectrum regulator has set preliminary rules for in-flight mobile device use (voice and data) with picocells onboard, but sets 2008 as first deployment: Ofcom says that mobile devices may be used at an airline's discretion at altitudes of 3,000m (10,000 ft) or higher. On-board picocells would be required. The initial process will include only 2G services, which has been expected all along, so GSM voice calls and GPRS data using 1800 MHz only. 3G would come later, if 2G tests out fine, as it uses other frequency ranges. Ofcom is looking for feedback by Nov. 30.
Although Ofcom represents just the UK, they are working with other EU member states to create a regime that would common across the entire set of territories. Such a decision is expected by late 2007 or early 2008, Ofcom notes in the executive summary of its request for comments.
Prague forced to scale back on free Wi-Fi network? Time magazine reports on the spread of Wi-Fi and wireless data in Europe, and notes that the EC told Prague in May to "tone down its proposed $16 million free wi-fi [sic] initiative by stripping out full Internet access" and offering just public services. The EU Competition Commissioner said that broadband is the province of private firms unless there's a "well-defined market failure."
Verizon plays spoilsport: The FCC staff extensively refuted Verizon's various contentions regarding its intention to set any device/any service rules for a swath of national 700 MHz spectrum. Many of Verizon's arguments appeared prima facie specious to me, not a regulatory or constitutional expert; Verizon didn't like it, and sued today. The company argues that requiring a firm to allow any device and access any service oversteps the FCC's authority. It seems unlikely to be upheld, given the tendency for courts to allow the FCC to act fairly broadly within their statutory powers, even when that includes limiting competition by allowing massive consolidation of media ownership.
The national 700 MHz licenses in the so-called C Block are the last great hope for anything marginally like real, unfettered broadband wireless access that's not already tied up by large telecoms, as with 2.3 GHz and 2.5 GHz licenses, among other bands. I wrote extensively about the FCC Second Order and Report that set the terms for the upcoming auctions back on Aug. 16.
Forgive me for taking a week to read the FCC's order governing the licenses for the 700 MHz band they'll auction off a few months hence: The FCC put out its press release two weeks ago about how the terms by which licenses would be auctioned and usage of them regulated for a bunch of "beach-front" spectrum--frequencies ideally suited to reach into homes with less power and less equipment than needed by most currently allotted bands. The most significant of the licenses are a set of six (the Upper 700 C Block in the auction terms) that span the country and offer now 22 MHz (split into up and down pieces) that could deliver 50 Mbps per cell based on the current roadmap for cell and related wireless standards.
The commission just released its Order and Report last Friday, however, which weighs in at 312 pages, 1204 footnotes (excluding commissioners' statements) and 567 numbered items in the main body. My interest weighs largely in the area of how the commission defined the form of open devices and open applications that were requested by Google, Skype, other Internet firms, and a number of public interest groups, among other parties. Google's desire to have a non-discriminatory resale requirement for the C Block that would allow any provider to offer access for sale, paying reasonable wholesale rates. That wasn't agreed to. But open applications and open devices could still change the market.
My concern was partly due to the press release's loose language, which conflated handsets and devices. An open handset requirement might mean you could use any phone you wanted on a 700 MHz network provider's network. (It's most likely a single provider will buy all six licenses, providing national coverage.) But an open device requirement means that the plethora of equipment available for Wi-Fi could find its way in some form to 700 MHz C Block. Right now, getting permission and certification for any device to use a cell network requires a lot of time and money. The folks at SmartSynch, makers of wireless utility meters, said it costs them $150,000 to get cellular certification. The same device in Wi-Fi form costs $10,000. The difference are all the layers of additional approval, at the end of which, the carrier still has to agree to allow your device on the network.
The discussion in the report and order start on page 75 (that's III. A. 2. a. (iii), item 189, to be precise). For a Republican-controlled FCC, the report and order sounds awfully jaded. The commissioners and staff have apparently experienced enough nonsense from carriers control of their networks first hand to sound a little pissy. In item 198, for instance, "Although wireless broadband services have great promise, we have become increasingly concerned that certain practices in the wireless industry may constrain consumer access to wireless broadband networks and limit the services and functionalities provided to consumers by these networks." Fair enough, but then: "wireless handsets with Wi-Fi capabilities have been largely unavailable in the United States for reasons that appear unrelated to reasonable network management or technological necessity."
Further, the FCC notes that while competition among carriers is robust, covert behavior with imperfect knowledge leads to an imbalance: "while it is easy for consumers to differentiate among providers by price, most consumers are unaware when carriers block or degrade applications and of the implications of such actions, thus making it difficult for providers to differentiate themselves on this score." Hey, they're starting to sound mad. "there is evidence that wireless service providers nevertheless block or degrade consumer-chosen hardware and applications without an appropriate justification."
The FCC also wants equipment makers--there's the business interest--to have more ability to sell their goods. "By fostering greater balance between device manufacturers and wireless service providers in this respect, we intend to spur the development of innovative products and services." Very Wi-Fi of them; Wi-Fi is mentioned several times as a combination of light regulatory touch and successful innovation. They also note (item 205) that even though the rules would apply just to a single 700 MHZ band license, that the experiment, if successful, would promote operators to adopt these rules in other bands.
In 206, the FCC defines what it means: "Accordingly, consistent with the broadband principles set out above, we will require only C Block licensees to allow customers, device manufacturers, third-party application developers, and others to use or develop the devices and applications of their choosing in C Block networks, so long as they meet all applicable regulatory requirements and comply with reasonable conditions related to management of the wireless network (i.e., do not cause harm to the network). Specifically, a C Block licensee may not block, degrade, or interfere with the ability of end users to download and utilize applications of their choosing on the licensee's C Block network, subject to reasonable network management. We anticipate that wireless service providers will address this requirement by developing reasonable standards, including through participation in standards setting organizations, as discussed below."
After a long discussion of the FCC's right to make these rules--interesting reading that covers the first amendment, commercial speech, and other matters--the FCC gets into particulars in item 222. Wireless providers won't be able to turn off features on handsets. Meaning, if they sell you a phone and it has Wi-Fi built in, the Wi-Fi has to work. They also note a list of things that must be allowed: "We also prohibit standards that block Wi-Fi access, MP3 playback ringtone capability, or other services that compete with wireless service providers' own offerings. Standards for third-party applications or devices that are more stringent than those used by the provider itself would likewise be prohibited."
In terms of bandwidth, the FCC offers some key protections: "In addition, C Block licensees cannot exclude applications or devices solely on the basis that such applications or devices would unreasonably increase bandwidth demands. We anticipate that demand can be adequately managed through feasible facility improvements or technology-neutral capacity pricing that does not discriminate against subscribers using third-party devices or applications."
In short, carriers can't define harm arbitrarily, and the FCC elsewhere describes enforcement action for behavior contrary to its rules. This means that, for instance, if Verizon wants to charge a flat rate for downloads from its own music service but charge by the megabyte at a disproportionate rate for all other downloads, they would likely be in violation. Better, the companies whose services would be affected would most likely be multi-billion-dollar firms who would pursue immediate injunctions. On the last go round of regulatory action against incumbent violators of access rules, the damaged firms were startups struggling with technology and limited budgets. Now we have Google, Intel, Apple, Real Networks, the record labels, the film studios, and many others.
In item 223, the commission says that providers can still use their same certification standards, which could keep costs high. But the processes have to be more limited than those that are currently in place, as the process must be limited to just "reasonable network management" standards being tested.
So that's that. The costs will be higher to get 700 MHz devices made and certified, but almost certainly not as high as for other cellular bands. Further, the operator gets to control the process, and if Google were (unlikely as it seems now) to win the auction for the C Block, they could choose to have extremely minimal certification processes beyond the FCC's own requirements. What these rules do ensure is that a device maker has predictable access to spectrum, and that customers can access services designed to work specifically with devices, and that pricing for such access has to be in line with what an operator charges customers for its own comparable services.
Now we just wait for the auction, which must occur no later than January 2008. The spectrum itself will likely not be unencumbered until as long as the digital television transition deadline of Feb. 17, 2009, when analog TV dies.
The Bush Administration declined to use its veto to overturn a trade ruling that will prohibit the import of cell phones and devices that use Qualcomm third-generation (3G) chipsets: The ruling, in which Broadcom's claims of patent violation were found to have merit, prohibits the importation of any model of device that wasn't already being imported before June 7.
Verizon sidestepped the matter by agreeing on a fee schedule with Broadcom, that included Verizon withdrawing its support for Qualcomm's lobbying and legal efforts. Verizon will pay Broadcom $6 per phone with the infringing chips, up to $40m per quarter and up to $200m overall. A drop in the bucket if they have advanced phones that their competitors don't, such as the new Blackberry with Wi-Fi that AT&T planned to introduce this month. I do not know if that Blackberry model would be covered under the ban, but it's possible. (GSM 3G chips have a number of suppliers, as opposed to Qualcomm's control of CDMA, a standard they invented.)
Qualcomm has another tool, however; it immediately announced that it would ask a federal court for an injunction now that the US Trade Representative, to whom Pres. Bush had delegated this particular veto power, has opted against intervening. A previous attempt at an injunction was turned down by the Federal District Court on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction until that decision had been made.
BusinessWeek asked my thoughts about the FCC's choices over rules in an upcoming auction for wireless licenses: I wrote this essay out the of the frustration of hearing regulators' choosing a set of rules for one chunk of the 700 MHz spectrum called "regulation" when it didn't suit the party's interest and a "lack of regulation" when it did. Google et al proposed that we have a single broad enough national spectrum (in this case, six licenses that together cover the U.S.) that had a requirement for openness. Open access for any legal device, any legal purpose, and any reseller. Instead, we have a carrier-forged policy that will ensure that it's just business mostly as usual.
The dancing rabbits reference is shorthand for the vast array of devices we have in the Wi-Fi junk band that's supposedly unusable spectrum in the eyes of cell carriers. The Nabaztag is a very weird use of Wi-Fi, but it shows how innovation isn't restricted by mere sanity.
OnAir's in-flight cellular GSM satellite-backed system received approval from the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA): However, EASA approves airworthiness--the idea that a certified item won't cause interference with the avionics or mechanical systems of a plane. That's just one of many remaining hurdles before OnAir's service is activated an Air France A318 as early as September.
In an interview a few weeks ago with OnAir chief commercial officer Graham Lake, he explained that in addition to certification of the GSM picocell system, the satellite connection to Inmarsat also required certification. Then each spectrum regulator over which planes equipped with such gear might fly must also provide approval--that's 34 countries in Europe alone. The firm had 12 of 34 approvals needed as of last month; they expect to be approved in almost all European nations by the end of 2007.
OnAir has been working for years to provide in-flight mobile data and mobile calling using Inmarsat's fourth-generation satellite system. Inmarsat's satellite launches were severely delayed, the first of them by a year, and the delivery, rollout, and certification of airliner equipment has lagged as well. OnAir uses an onboard picocell system to allow GSM-based phones and handhelds to use GSM and GPRS for voice and data. Each airline will choose what combination of service they need. Wireless carriers will set the ultimate price for voice calls, expected to be about US$2.50 per minute.
The Air France launch will start with just SMS (text messaging) and GPRS-based data. SMS messages will cost about 50 cents (U.S.) each, while GPRS pricing is still being sorted out. It's possible due to routes and timing that RyanAir would have the first picocell-operating plane in the air. Air France is using a single Airbus plane equipped for its trial; RyanAir is having its entire fleet of Boeing's retrofitted.
Update: The International Herald Tribune gets two elements of the story wrong. First, they lead with the notion that EASA's approval opens the door to mobile phone on planes. Per my notes above, it does not. There's still spectrum regulation to be nailed down, and certification for the satellite kit, which OnAir said had not yet happened when I spoke to them a few weeks ago.
Second, while Wi-Fi may be a future option for OnAir, it's not in the near future. It would be ruinously expensive to offer Wi-Fi-based Internet access over Inmarsat's system with the current pricing, and OnAir's Lake told me the firm had not sought Wi-Fi certification in their current system design.
The U.S. has ridiculous standards by which they count a broadband user: It's pretty absurd, but 200 Kbps in a single direction qualifies as a broadband line in our country. Now, that's just how the methodology is defined, and the methodology can be changed. There's now proposed legislation that would require 2 Mbps as the baseline for service to be counted as broadband, and revamp how counting in an area is performed. Right now, a single user in a Zip code tract--a tract that doesn't mesh with the USPS's Zip codes, according to some researchers--with broadband service means the entire Zip code region is counted as broadband-capable. The bill would also require the NTIA, our spectrum agency, to offer the information in searchable form.
The head of the cable industry association said that the industry was addressing concerns over broadband, noting that Comcast recently demonstrated 100 Mbps cable service. That's garbage, of course; the issue is about universal availability of broadband, not the speed in limited areas. By pretending that 200 Kbps is broadband, companies and lobbyists are allowed to talk about broadband generically, when better-than-dial-up is what's in place.
Outline of Advanced Wireless Spectrum auction rules due today: The FCC will draw a picture of how they plan to sell off the last great hunk of spectrum from the digital television transition--the 700 MHz band. At issue is how much of the band will be allotted to public safety purposes, and whether proposals to allow mixed use on those public-safety pieces would be allowed. In the mixed-use scenario, a private operator would build out the network, and first responders would have priority access over commercial users. Outside of local or national emergencies, the band would function like any other commercial network. Ostensibly, the operator would have provisions to shunt commercial traffic to other bands, too.
Update: The meeting was delayed from 10.30 Eastern until the evening while procedural issues were settled. Ultimately, the FCC decided to seek more public opinion on how to proceed.
Broadband Reports notes that they weren't alerted it was "citywide Wi-Fi is over-hyped" week: I didn't get the memo, either, but it appears to be a week in which much is written about networks that fail to live up to their expected potential. BR runs through stories already posted here, but there's another one: MetroFi's Foster City network has achieved 60 percent citywide coverage after six months, rather than a promised 95 percent. The problem here isn't equipment or intent, but rather that MetroFi hasn't obtained attachment rights in neighborhoods where light poles aren't owned by the city. They're working on it.
I keep telling you, loyal readers, that utility poles are to citywide wireless networks what printing presses are to books. If you can't get access to the printing press, you've got limited distribution options. If you can't attach to utility poles, other real-estate options are expensive and hard to obtain. Another point of evidence: Carol Ellison writes at MuniWireless.com that AT&T told a Georgia town that it has to become a CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier) to have access to utility poles AT&T maintains. It's rather unclear whether a CLEC requirement is necessary, and a recent FCC ruling doesn't carry clarity for me.