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Amazon spaffs MYSTERY private Wi-Fi waves all over Apple's orchard

Web bazaar taunts Cupertino with secret radio tests

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Amazon has been testing its own radio network, seeing if Globalstar's private Wi-Fi technology fits the Amazon business model, and if customers would pay for better wireless networking.

The news comes from the usual "people with knowledge" who've been talking to Bloomberg about Amazon building a test network in Apple's home town of Cupertino. But given Amazon's aspiration and Globalstar's desperation it's not greatly surprising.

Globalstar is in the satellite phone business, a niche market at best, so it has been lobbying US regulator the FCC for permission to use its satellite radio spectrum on the ground. That spectrum includes the top half of Wi-Fi band 14 (starting at 2.4835GHz), which Americans aren't permitted to use.

Globalstar would like to open up band 14 to US users of Wi-Fi, but only those who've paid a licence to Globalstar. Band 14 would operate as a private wireless data network, clear of congestion and guaranteeing speed by excluding anyone who couldn't afford a licence.

The company hopes its promise of 20,000 free hotspots for schools and colleges will sway the FCC's mind, but it also needs paying customers which is where Amazon comes in.

The Amazon Kindle Fire will happily use band 14. The model sold in Japan works in that frequency range just fine; tweaking existing hardware should be easy enough, perhaps with just a downloaded update. Amazon could then promise owners better connectivity as a value add, assuming it could convince some hotspot providers to switch on the top band too.

Globalstar will ask for some serious cash, so expect negotiations to be long and fraught. And that's assuming the FCC decides to approve the scheme at all. But the idea that Amazon techies are walking around their Cupertino research site enjoying their very own Wi-Fi band is entirely believable, and if they're not then perhaps they should be. ®

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