When a standard isn’t a standard

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When I first came across this article about the roast of AT&T in a commercial for T-Mobile’s launch of the an HSPA+ “4G” network, it made me consider differences between the American and Canadian telecom industries.

The Wall Street Journal says that T-Mobile and Sprint are creating confusion with the use of 4G as a marketing term for the upgrades to their current 3G networks. According to the Journal, “T-Mobile defends its decision to brand its network as 4G, claiming it is faster—downloading data at five to eight megabits a second versus three to six megabits a second for Sprint and Clearwire.” 5-8 Mbps is supposed to be 4G?

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Questions about spectrum governance

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With the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction, I’m looking to start doing more of a critical reading on governance issues and how that impacts policy. I picked up Toward an Evolutionary Regime for Spectrum Governance – Licensing or Unrestricted Entry? [PDF] from the library. The work is put out by American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and The Brookings Institution, co-authered by William J. Baumol and Dorothy Robyn.

The text has Baumol and Robyn evaluating governance models for spectrum, comparing a market-based approach with an unlicensed commons regime. They offer pros and cons to each model and suggest a modified market approach brings the most amount of gain while minimizing negative outcomes. While the book is specifically examining the FCC, I found overall the book was helpful in thinking about the underlying models of governance that inform the Canadian policy debates that are taking place in my feed reader around ICT development.

Being economists, Baumol and Robyn present their argument largely as theoretical models with selected references to major policies to demonstrate points. Coming from a political scientist framework, I find the models to be too clean and they don’t take into account enough pragmatism. I also find some of the examples they use tend to be a bit disingenuous, employing a straw man quality.

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Not so shocking – states and companies cripple mobile devices for their own interests

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ReadWriteWeb steered me towards this article on Ogle Earth, “Beware: Chinese iPhone 4 comes with a crippled Maps app”. Apparently Apple’s latest version of the iPhone uses China’s censored dataset for location information. Problems arise in two areas, political and practical.

In the political realm, disputed borders are shown to confirm to official Chinese claims. The article notes how previous versions of the iPhone would display areas like the region of Arunachal Pradesh (claimed by both India and China, administered by India) as Chinese lands using normal Internet-access within China but as internationally disputed when using VPN technology.

A commenter notes the crippled Maps dataset results in challenges when traveling abroad, with local streets in Toronto only listed in Chinese. That’s going to make it challenging to get directions for international travelers — though maybe not as much of an issue for Chinese consumers not really looking to travel.

While some might use this as an example of the detraction of closed operating systems like iOS, I must admit that I’m not really all that impressed by the “open-source” fanboys of Android. There seem to be an increasing number of reports that once the carriers get a hold of the operating system, they cripple it and add carrier-specific bloatware that can be challenging, if not impossible, to remove. That’s not exactly any better then Apple’s curated experience.

The VHS-Beta debate of 4G infrastructure

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I’ve had this article by Michelle Sklar sitting in a tab for a couple weeks trying to think of some commentary. Mostly because of an article I tweeted regarding Intel closing down its WiMax office.

To be fair to Sklar, she wrote about the two standards two weeks before the Intel announcement, although I read her article after (note to self: stay on top of all my feeds!). It seems like LTE really is on track to be the dominant standard for 4G technology but how will this impact long term technical development? Will reduced network management costs be a result of one dominant technology or does this open the industry to rent-seeking activities?

The fact that many of global telecoms equipment companies — Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, etc — are backing LTE suggests there should be some competition driving down infrastructure costs. And as the Financial Times article notes, WiMax has enough of an installed base that it’s unlikely to disappear altogether — especially if new Beceem processors allow mobile devices to seamlessly switch between networks.

Security concerns with Chinese telecom companies

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This post by Andy Greenberg over at Forbes got me thinking about the intersection of legitimate security concerns and trade protectionism in the globalized nature of ICT equipment and networks. Greenberg is commenting on a Washington Post story of US Senator’s investigating a proposed sale of telecommunications networking gear sale by Shenzhen, China-based Huawei to Sprint Nextel.

Concerns about Huawei include a range of topics, “everything from close ties to Iran to IP theft, but focus on the relationship between Huawei and China’s People’s Liberation Army. Huawei chief executive Ren Zhengfei is a former Chinese military officer, and his company is often said to receive preferential treatment from the Communist Party- run government.”

Yet the movement from government/military is very common within Western countries. Mike McConnell, a retired US Navy vice admiral served as Director of the NSA in the 90s before retiring from service the first time. After a decade as Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, he returned to government service as Director of National Intelligence in the George W. Bush Administration before returning to Booz Allen.

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Progressive Canadian Telecom Policy Views

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Finally finished reading ‘For Sale to the Highest Bidder: Telecom Policy in Canada’, put out by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. I had come across it last fall while starting to do some investigation into spectrum issues in Canada.

My main interest was the chapter ‘Spectrum Matters: Clearing and Reclaiming the Spectrum Commons’ by Graham Langford. Sadly, this chapter was very topical when written in 2007/early 2008 but not so much after the 2008 spectrum auction in Canada.

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Comparative analysis can provide interesting insights of relationships between governments, regulators, consumers and industry.

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Wired.com’s article on the punk rock scene developing in China has me thinking of Irene Wu’s book, ‘From Iron Fist to Invisible Hand: The Uneven Path of Telecommunications Reform in China‘.

One of the things that really struck me during my reading was her observation of small players that launched telecommunication services illegally to meet consumer demand. For instance, Internet cafes started offering cheap VOIP for people looking to make long distance calls using their Internet connection. Local officials would look the other way, as prices were falling and customers were able to access services with virtually no waiting period. Eventually the regulator would legalize the technology but generally penalize the company, forcing the incumbent to roll-out the alternative technology.

Something about the whole thing just felt so punk rock when compared to more mature telecom markets, like Canada’s. Although reading this article from IT World Canada on a Mobile Monday Toronto event seemed to say others in Canada may also possess a little bit of punk spirit.

Asking questions after a talk by Globalive chairman Anthony Lacavera, “One person in the audience went so far as to ask Lacavera why, with spectrum licences in hand and a network partly up, he didn’t just defy the CRTC and start selling phones.”