LACK OF FCC LEADERSHIP THREATENS E-911Judging by a November conference on E-911 implementation, any hope for rapid nationwide deployment hinges mainly on leadership from the FCC.
CTIA President & CEO Tom Wheeler joined 163 public-safety officials, carriers and vendors in calling for the FCC to help settle unresolved issues that threaten to derail E-911 implementation and scuttle the productive coalition between the wireless industry and the public-safety community. Among his concerns:
1. Black holes that result when zoning boards focus on land use rather than public safety. Wheeler said the FCC must issue a policy statement despite concerns about pre-empting municipal powers.
"The only thing a policy statement pre-empts is a lack of leadership awareness," Wheeler said. "I'm talking about a strong statement, not a on-the-one-hand-yet-on-the-other waffle."
2. Misappropriation of taxes intended to subsidize public-safety upgrades for E-911. When the $1.25 that each Chicago wireless subscriber pays each month is diverted to the city's general coffers, Wheeler said, the result is "a tax in safety clothing."
3. The need for liability protections on par with those enjoyed by landline carriers. The FCC's requirement that carriers be able to locate a caller at least 67% of the time "recognizes that 100% accuracy is impossible," Wheeler said. "But tell that to the attorney for someone who, unfortunately, fell within the wrong third." An FCC decision on liability-limiting informational tariffs is expected by early 1999.
4. Abandoning the strongest signal/adequate signal proposal, promoted by what Wheeler called "a shadowy interest group from California." Several speakers agreed that the proposal has distracted the FCC's attention from more important issues.
5. The lack of a single, national number for emergency calls.
"In suburban Chicago, a 911 call from a wireless phone is required to be sent to a recorded message that informs the caller to dial another number," Wheeler said.
But any sign of FCC leadership wasn't found in a brief, videotaped speech by outgoing Wireless Telecommunications Bureau chief Dan Phythyon, who mainly praised the industry and public safety for their progress and teamwork.
Frustrations over cost recovery are starting to strain that teamwork, however. National Emergency Number Association (NENA) counsel Jim Hobson told carriers that cost recovery alone shouldn't derail E-911.
"The ball is in your hands," Hobson said. "You can always choose to fund it yourself."
Although NENA isn't backing away from public funding for E-911, several public-safety officials emphasized the importance of value-added services to defray implementation costs.
"It's a business case, and it always will be," said John Melcher, Greater Harris County (Texas) 911 Emergency Network director of information systems.
Creating a business case begins with choosing a location technology, but none of the 19 carriers at the conference, sponsored by Bellcore, CTIA and NENA, appeared ready to make a choice in early 1999. So far, the promise alone of new revenue streams and differentiating enhanced services isn't enough to convince carriers to beat -- or, some hinted, even meet -- the October 2001 Phase II deadline.
INDUSTRIES ADDRESS EMCAlthough some hospitals have decried wireless units as disruptive to medical equipment -- even banning them from medical areas -- others have uncovered potential benefits, including remote access to patient and hospital records, remote monitoring and in-building communications services.
Although interference can occur between wireless devices and medical equipment, research by the University of Oklahoma's Center for the Study of Wireless Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC), found that the frequency and magnitude is much less severe than initially suspected. The center also indicated that medical devices also are to blame for some interference problems.
"Any electronic device is a radiator of RF, so two electronic devices like (medical equipment) sitting next to each other certainly can interact," said Hank Grant, EMC Center director.
Proper shielding and distance between devices remain keys to safe interoperability. The EMC Center measured the distance and severity of interaction between wireless devices and pacemakers, defibrillators and hearing aids and presented its data at a recent EMC Forum. In worst-case conditions, interference with pacemakers occurred in only 1.4% of tests at 2.5 inches separation, compared with 5% in 1996. At 3 inches separation, that figure fell to 0.07%. Implantable cardioverter defibrillators experienced greater interaction at 9.5%, although the poor performance of TDMA-11Hz phones (25% interaction) skewed this rate upward. Grant said the center plans to test the effect of medical devices on each other in the future.
The EMC Center also developed a prototype software program to evaluate management policies and the placement of equipment in hospitals. Antenna design changes by Starkey Laboratories and new shielding techniques by hearing aid manufacturers also have reduced interference levels. But Grant and other organizers said improvements must continue.
"The solution is not to ban (wireless devices)," Grant said. "There are a lot of new wireless devices that can actually make advances in medicine and in health care and improve productivity. We just have to work to make sure that they are compatible around each other."
ROAMING CENTER PROVIDES GSM LINKGSM carriers can offer subscribers a link to home when they roam via the GSM International Roaming Center.
The center -- a collaborative venture between Omnipoint, BellSouth Mobility and Canada's Microcell Telecommunications -- helps GSM subscribers overcome common difficulties encountered when roaming overseas, including foreign coverage areas and rate plans, manual network selection, international dialing options and whether an existing phone is equipped to operate on a different frequency.
"There is quite a bit more that the overseas traveler needs to know when roaming overseas, and the center (offers) that specialized information to make the experience easier for our customers -- both inbound and outbound," said Pamela Papner, BellSouth director of strategic services.
The center also offers carriers information about the functionality and technical specifications of the North American GSM networks. Organizers said this should promote communications between carriers and overcome challenges encountered in roaming agreements.
"No two GSM carriers operate the same -- they don't use all of the features exactly the same," said Ellen Webner, Omnipoint spokesperson. "This helps carriers to straighten all of that out so that customers can use the (services and features) they are used to when traveling to another country."
Roger Wood, Omnipoint director of international and Internet operations, said the center is the latest in a series of steps planned to address the emerging high-end international roaming market segment. The carrier also implemented a program that allows subscribers to rent multiband phones for use in other countries.
Omnipoint, the lead partner in the venture, will route calls to its call centers in Bethlehem, PA, and Fort Lauderdale, FL. Technical questions will be fielded by staff members at the Wayne, NJ, facility. GSM carriers can access the service at 1-877-CALL-GSM (North America) or 1-610-317-7726 (overseas).
BUSINESSES DICTATE CARRIER STRATEGYBusinesses are finding they can flex their corporate muscles when shopping for wireless services. Many are turning to more formal requests for proposals (RFP) and standardized bidding. Such formality may force carriers to rethink traditional marketing, selling and service strategies to secure high-end subscribers.
"Corporations are becoming larger, and more employees are using wireless services, so they are trying to use their size to leverage a more favorable price for wireless services," said Becky Diercks, Cahners In-Stat Group's Telecom and Wireless Research Services director.
More than one-third of corporations already have contracts with carriers for wireless services and equipment -- a figure Diercks said should increase to more than 40% in 1999. Companies also spend up to 22% of their telecom budgets on wireless needs.
Deloitte Consulting's Steven Martin predicted businesses would become more wireless-savvy. Many boast telecom departments that specifically search for the most beneficial solutions to their wireless and wireline needs. A Deloitte Consulting survey of wireless users found that more than 80% of businesses prefer to procure wireless services through a competitive RFP process by the telecom manager or CFO.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) found it made sense to develop an RFP process.
"The RFP process helps us leverage the Hewlett-Packard size and name and take a more centralized approach," said John McCreadie, HP spokesperson.
Carriers realize the appeal and value these additional services have for business clients and are rethinking the strategies normally employed to secure corporate contracts. An RFP or formalized bidding approach often compels them to provide an optimal rate, consolidated billing, user-specific account information and other perks, Martin said.
MobileComm is one example. It promised IBM a dedicated customer-service help desk, on-site technical support, training programs, special customer-specific reports outlining usage patterns and volume discounts on paging products and services. In return, IBM selected the paging carrier as the preferred provider for more than 110,000 United States employees. MobileComm also has reached similar agreements with Coca-Cola, General Motors, HP and Vista United/Disney.
"There is a lot of volume associated with these customers because they are large and use a wide variety of paging services," said Steven Gross, MobileComm executive vice president of marketing and sales.
"If IBM is stepping forward and making MobileComm its preferred paging provider, others might decide that the same decision would be right for their company," Gross said.
LAWSUITS TARGET ADSTwo carriers that use nickel- and dime-a-minute promotions to entice customers are being challenged in court. Two lawsuits filed in California charge PacBell and Sprint with false and deceptive advertising and unfair business practices. If the courts find that reasonable deception exists, the carriers either must cease the advertisements or make good on their claims.
The two carriers base the advertising on the optimal price in various service plans -- such as $50 for 500 minutes -- or a dime per minute. But Michael Linfield, one of two California attorneys who filed the lawsuits, said that unless subscribers use all of the minutes available and comply with other program restrictions, the cost actually is much more.
"Both the PacBell and Sprint advertisements here in California are blatantly deceptive," Linfield said. "I will bet there is not one Sprint customer who actually makes exactly 500 minutes of calls -- no more, no less. PacBell is similar; they say it is less than 5 cents a minute for their calls ... but it isn't."
Officials from Sprint and PacBell said that the advertisements remain accurate.
"We advertise it as calling for as little as 10 cents a minute, and if you use all of your minutes it is 10 cents a minute," said Tom Murphy, Sprint PCS spokesperson.
Sprint and PacBell officials would not confirm the intent to fight the charges in court, but Murphy said that as popular as "bucket" plans have become, such a move would be a likely prospect. Neither carrier indicated any plans to change its advertising campaigns.
IN OTHER NEWS ... * Powertel expanded its PCS service in southern Indiana and Kentucky -- including metropolitan areas of Bowling Green, Frankfort, Lexington and Louisville. Powertel customers who subscribe to a plan exceeding $50 also receive free long-distance access on calls made from its service area.
* Bell Atlantic Mobile will begin phased introduction of high-speed wireless data capabilities over its existing cdmaOne network this year. Lucent will supply the cdma2000 3G enhancements.
* Lucent acquired the remaining 80% of WaveAccess for approximately $50 million in cash. The acquisition provides Lucent with packet radio technology for licensed spectrum wireless Internet access and metropolitan area networks.
* Sprint PCS and affiliate Southwest PCS purchased $36 million worth of base station and switching equipment from Nortel Networks to expand its network in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Much of the initial expansion will take place along highway corridors between Dallas and Oklahoma City.
* Iridium launched its global paging and messaging network two weeks after its satellite phone service went on-line. Subscribers can receive alphanumeric messages up to 200 characters in length and numeric messages up to 20 digits.
* PCS ONE launched its "All In One Rate" plan, a single pricing plan that eliminates roaming and long-distance charges on all calls made from its regional network.
The number of cell sites has more than tripled since 1995. This growth is expected to continue, but future numbers may not be as obvious or as easy to enumerate. According to a CTIA study, cell sites have surged from 19,844 in 1995 to nearly 70,000 in 1998, an increase of more than 350%.
However, co-location is likely to blur the count of new cell sites, according to Bob Roche, CTIA assistant vice president of policy and research. He also said that smaller and less-obtrusive cell sites -- such as antennas located on top of buildings and water towers -- will proliferate. Carriers will expand their footprints while sidestepping the negative public reaction commonly generated by tower construction.
"I think you will see more cell sites as the PCS companies continue to build out their systems," Roche said. "But the majority of them -- anywhere from a 3:1 or a 4:1 ratio -- will be smaller antennas."
Digital cellular carriers are lowering prices to compete with PCS carriers. A Yankee Group study indicated that PCS carriers dropped average pricing 37.5% in 1996 and 16.7% in 1997 and also boasted higher average minutes of use and higher subscriber totals. Comparative discounts by digital cellular carriers lagged with declines of 3.2% in 1996 and 9.7% in 1997. Last year digital cellular carriers turned the tables, however, decreasing the average per-minute costs by 33% at the 250 minutes of use level and 34% at the 500 minutes of use level in 1998, compared with PCS discounts of only 19% and 25%.
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