FCC chair paints a picture of wireless devices as open as PCs
The end of the cellular walled garden
Comment The chairman of the US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Kevin Martin came out this week and told a US newspaper just what he has in mind for the 700 MHz spectrum auction in late 2008, talking about an open network which lets any wireless device connect to it, and which places no limits on the services that can be offered across it.
In other words, he wants a pure mobile web, where customers can download any broadband application and have no restrictions on the content that is served.
It sounds to us like a flat rate, open IP architecture where devices will need only the most cursory adherence to the air interface, but where applications are pure IP, and most services are delivered over the web. In fact, it sounds like the halcyon days of the Personal Computer, where just about anyone could write an application.
If the chairman gets his way, this will spark the end of the cellular walled garden, and offer a form of wireless network neutrality at least in this spectrum. The likely winner of such a bid would be an OFDM network, which is perhaps best suited for IP packet delivery of all the wireless protocols, and that suggests WiMAX now, though LTE could possibly be defined enough by the time of the auction.
He gave a passing nod to the idea that no downloadable software should be illegal, or should be able to harm the network, but apart from that hinted that there would be no restrictions allowed by the operator on applications – a far cry from the issues surrounding the recently-launched iPhone.
This would not only create a challenge for bidders, and give the whip hand to device makers and software suppliers, but in giving way to a period of wireless innovation along the lines of the first days of the internet, it would put huge competitive pressure on existing services which are not regulated in this way, to follow suit.
In Europe we have already seen what one rogue player (for instance 3 Group) can do when it offers flat rate broadband, forcing other, larger players to follow in its footsteps or lose customers. Much the same would happen here.
Martin described the auction as providing the elusive "third pipe" to the home and said he was concerned that overseas network customers were benefiting from greater innovation and thought it was time the US public got the same treatment, and specifically referred to the idea of US operators stripping Wi-Fi out of handsets that were designed work with it, and locking phones so they only work with one network - a criticism that has been levied at the Apple iPhone as hackers this week have tried to find the code that ties it to the AT&T network, so "gray" imports of iPhones can be sold all over the world.
Copyright © 2007, Faultline
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The FCC has a problem with some US patents that grant rights of transmission
What the FCC is struggling with is that there are several US telecoms patents that have been granted that, as a part of their claims, have been granted the right to transmit over any network. They have to pay a royalty to the patent holder as they do not have a license to grant their own license to transmit in those circumstances. They are thus trying to get around the patents by trying to make the auction a sale of an open system. The inventor will still have a right to a royalty on the license sale proceeds and he will still end up being paid for his rights. The wheels of justice move ever so slow, but they will get there in the end.
For the record, this is a part of my recent submission to the FCC
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington DC 20554 Thursday June 7th, 2007
Electronic Submission via the FCC ECFS comment filing system
Comment On Google Proposals Regarding Service Rules for 700MHz Band
Spectrum WT Docket No. 06-150; WT Docket No. 06-169; PS Docket No. 06-229; WT Docket No. 96-86
First of all I remind you of my letter to Michael K. Powell dated October 26, 2001 on the letterhead of GPNS Corporation under the CC Docket No. 94-102 in which we stated:
“but we also have been granted Patent rights by another branch of Government that impinges upon the workings of the FCC. We enjoy “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling…”
We ask if there has been adequate consideration of the matter of the grant of licenses.
1. Whether for transmission between a portable wireless transmitter and a base
2. Or, for example, location and monitoring Services.
Have potential licensees, (in particular where it must have been known from the outset, that there would be conflict with the already granted US patent rights that give us now our intellectual property base), been kept informed that our right to grant a license might well impinge upon the license being sold by the FCC?
Has consideration been given to the need to recompense us for the royalty income that will entail from the grant of such licenses?”
The FCC never did answer the questions raised, and considering the potentially very substantial sums of money involved; perhaps this is an appropriate moment to do so before the next auction being mooted of the 700 MHz spectrum?
The patents in question, 5,712,679 6,181,373 and 6,469,735
Force is the midwife of history
Either the public interest must force the private, or the private will force its interest on the public and violate it. Forget "We, the People", go "We, the Public"!
Finally some good news
Overly restrictive service providers have long hampered innovation in favor of profits. History shows that in the US, if it wasn't for outside intervention, AT&T may have prevented internet from coming to life or at least postponed it's arrival by a couple decades. Someone had to step in on the behalf of consumers to give them choices and allow them to use services as they saw fit.
Today we have the same issues in the wireless domain. True, there are at least a few more brands "competing" today. However they are all mutually content with the status quo of charging a fee for everything under the sun no matter how trivial the service may be. My plain vanilla cingular plan charges $0.10 per text message sent and received (even spam of which I get one or two per month). That's $2000 per megabyte assuming a 50 byte packet, no wonder they don't want to free up the pipes to developers!!
Innovation in the wireless sector would finally flourish if it were allowed (or rather forced) to open up.