Spectrum Wirless Crunch

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FCC commissioner Julius Genachowski’s comments on the spectrum wireless crunch were interesting to me, if in part because Canada seems to be about 5 years behind the US in recent spectrum auctions. While we in Canada are currently preparing for a likely 2012 auction in the 700 MHz band, the US is starting to increase discussions of even more allotment as part of their National Broadband Plan, identifying 500 MHz by 2020 as necessary to meet connectivity demand.

It’ll be interesting to see how Industry Canada determines to set up our next auction rules and whether they plan to hold any aside for new market entrants, current small market share providers or retain any portion as unlicensed for innovation generation.

Application sent, fingers crossed

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Last week, I sent off my application to the Communication and Culture Program, offered jointly through Ryerson and York Universities. If accepted, I’m looking to start part time studies in September for an MA. The opportunity to study with a lot of smart and interesting researchers would be really exciting and I hope to be accepted.

I started this blog specifically as a resource to help record and share my own self-directed studies in telecommunications policy. It has been useful to help focus my thoughts and my research question, though I’m looking to accelerate the pace this year as I try to strengthen my foundational knowledge in the field.

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Self-testing mobile data speeds

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As a result of thinking about how Internet (fixed line and mobile) usage is impacting Canadian and global society, I’ve been starting to look a lot closer at the services I’ve personally been using and how they rank against international standards.

With the whole 3G/”4G” network question around mobile data speeds, I wondered how my current provider stacked up. I’m in Canada on the Fido network using an iPhone 3G. According to the 3G Mobile Internet FAQ on Fido’s site,

Just how fast is it?
3G high-speed is the latest evolution of GSM, the dominant world-wide standard for mobile wireless communications. It provides downlink speeds 8 to 10 times faster than Fido’s EDGE network. Maximum peak speeds are as high as 3.6mbps with our current line of phones.

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WiFi and community development

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Just finished reading ‘Building WiFi Networks for Communities’, [PDF] an article by Catherine Middleton and Barbara Crow. It was useful in looking at alternative models for offering mobile Internet connectivity for local communities, especially for reviewing efforts this past summer by my own municipality of New Westminster to provide WiFi hotspots.

The Fredericton eZone model is an interesting build out from municipal infrastructure.  Middleton and Crow state, “What makes this situation unique is that the municipality owns and manages the network and that these three [city employees] continue to play a key role in advocating and developing the Wi-Fi network.” It makes me curious about my hometown’s efforts with Q-Net, a dark-fibre network built to drive improved broadband Internet.

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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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