Industry to FCC: Give Us Spectrum

The U.S. isn't going to make spectrum allocation easy any time soon, and in international markets, the focus for wireless services is still on the consumer market with multimedia messaging services.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association President and CEO Tom Wheeler Tuesday tried to persuade the federal government that American wireless carriers need more spectrum, and several times suggested to international carriers that the corporate enterprise will be a driving force in the adoption of wireless data services.

But the keynote speakers at the second day of the CTIA Wireless 2002 trade show here had different messages – The United States isnt going to make spectrum allocation easy any time soon, and in international markets, the focus for wireless services is still on the consumer market with multimedia messaging services.

Wheeler opened the show by trying to show an anti-terrorism application on the industrys newest Pocket PC device, a wireless handheld that will run on the Verizon Wireless network, but the demo didnt work.

"This is the new Thera Pocket PC from Audiovox Corp.," Wheeler said. "... and it just went dead on me."

He explained that the demonstration was supposed to show how security officials could wirelessly look up criminals on a database and compare their pictures with the faces of the people they were screening in person.

Wheeler used this example to segue into a conversation with Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell. His point to Powell was more or less that the CTIA has been instrumental in pushing initiatives that will increase safety: the e911 inititiative wherein carriers must provide the ability to locate a cell phone in an emergency; the priority access initiative in which emergency officials will have first dibs at available spectrum during an emergency so that their calls are guaranteed to get through.

That said, Wheeler insisted that the industry cannot support government initiatives and support consumer need at the same time unless the FCC allocates more spectrum for consumer use.

"The federal government is saying that we want part of your capacity in important times," Wheeler said. "That is going to impact consumers. And the federal government has the ability to fix that right now by adding new spectrum. ... This is another reason why we need free wireless spectrum now."

Powell said its not that easy.

"Thats a bit of a deceptively simple idea," he told the audience. "Tom just crossed four jurisdictions in five branches of government with that suggestion. Its just messy. Theres nothing clean about this. It is an infantrymans crawl to try to [allocate] more spectrum.

"It is my job to be a persistent pusher and an urger to keep that going," Powell said, but he did not elaborate on how that would happen or whether the spectrum auction process would ever change. The problem of governing spectrum has gotten even more difficult lately, he said. "There is sort of this odd hodge-podge in spectrum allocation. ... Increasingly they are competing for the same swath of real estate for different uses."

In a jab to Wheelers Audiovox device, he added, "If you ever get that little PDA thing to work, and Im sure you will eventually, youre going to want it to work quickly."

George Shaginaw, president and CEO of Cibernet, also joined Wheeler on stage and echoed Powells sentiment that the number of wireless service companies makes the industry confusing. Cibernet is working on a mobile exchange protocol that will streamline wireless billing systems, he said.

In the latter part of the keynote session, Wheeler spoke to the top guns at several international carriers, all of whom said that consumers are their main focus and that they expect multimedia messaging to be the next big thing in next generation data services.

NTT DoCoMo President Keiji Tachikawa said that there are 31 million subscribers on the Japanese wireless service and that the company plans to deploy next generation iMode services throughout the world in 2002 and 2003. Video and photo messaging will be the key applications, he said.

He added that iMode service will likely begin to appear in the United States in 2003 through a relationship with AT&T Wireless Services, although "Im not sure exactly when." AT&T Wireless CTO Rod Nelson said earlier this week that the company had definite plans for iMode services, but that the service would not be called "iMode." Mauro Sentinelli, director general of Telecom Italia Mobile, also said that MMS will be the future of wireless data services. "I believe the post office needs to start worrying about this," he said, expecting MMS to replace postcards.

He also talked about the success in Italy of mobile advertising, a concept that many Americans have balked at because of privacy and nuisance issues.

TIM did an advertising trial in which the company offered free SMS services to customers who were willing to receive advertisements via SMS, and the client (the SMART car) saw increased business, he said. Korea has a similar story. Yon Kyung Lee, president and CEO of KTF, said that the company has seen an increase in revenue since launching services that use Qualcomm Inc.s BREW platform. BREW is technology, similar to Java, that enables the wireless download of applications via the Web. Qualcomm also owns all licensing rights to CDMA (code division multiple access) technology, upon which KTF runs its networks. KTF launched the first CDMA services in January 1996 and continues to lead the way in next-generation CDMA deployment.

Wheeler asked whether enterprise customers were the reason BREW was so popular, because they would be able to download business applications on the fly. But Lee said that consumers were still the main market for KTF.

And like TIM, KTF is experimenting with mobile commerce in an Opt-in manner, albeit with a different approach. The company offers customers a small discount if they agree to replace their ring tones with advertisements. For example, instead of ringing, a phone might say, "Hyundai, Hyundai."

The customers lined up for the chance to have their phones spout advertisements, Lee said. "We couldnt keep up with demand."

More CTIA coverage:

  • AT&T Wireless Bulks Up GSM Network
  • Lucent, Verizon Wireless Team on Data Service
  • New Products at CTIA Wireless
  • Commentary: A More Manageable Wireless Environment