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The New Wireless Wars 87

An anonymous reader writes "BusinessWeek has a story on the coming wireless wars. It's a look at how the upcoming government auction of wireless spectrum will open the door to a new crop of competitors. The new players, from Google and Microsoft to Intel and Craig McCaw's Clearwire, will compete in new wireless voice services and in wireless broadband. Look out Cingular, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint-Nextel."
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The New Wireless Wars

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  • Community networks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <aussie_bob&hotmail,com> on Monday May 15, 2006 @08:45PM (#15339534) Journal
    What I'd like to see is peer-to-peer community networks which use each device as a node. That would free us from this centralised manipulation of the market.

    There are already fairly successful attempts to provide this with existing wifi hardware - http://www.e3.com.au/ [e3.com.au], for example. How hard would it be to design devices that would set themselves up in a self-managed mesh network which requires no centre?

    • How can we trust everyone on our node to not browse our packets? At least with one of the major providers, we know that only their partners, suppliers, and, of course the NSA, would be listening in to every byte. Most of our traffic still is unencrypted and I doubt that many of us really want to trust each of our neighbors with our email. Also, this might be a problem for the gov't sniffers since they would have a harder time associating an IP with a location. Oh, well.
      • Also, this might be a problem for the gov't sniffers since they would have a harder time associating an IP with a location.

        Can't tell if you're serious, but that's the idea.
        • I've been told that people can't tell when I'm joking or or serious. Maybe I should get a job for the WH/PR.

          Actually, it shouldn't be too hard to track all IP packets through various onion-routers (or somesuch) if the listeners have access to each and every end-point. My guess is that the "listeners" have forced all providers (ISPs, router/switch manufacuterers, etc.) to give them provisions to tie in to the circuits.

          Much has been made about the logging of call logs such as originating/destination numbe

          • I think the key here is mobility. Wireless provides the ability to reduce the dependance on fixed, corporate run ISPs. It has the potential to bring about a true peer to peer internet. The server-client model we use is little more than TV with a really fancy remote, and has proven to be not so robust after all. But then, that's not what the article is about. It makes a lot of noise about competition from small companies buying up spectrum. Well, for one thing, this is an auction. Most small companies will g
      • How can we trust everyone on our node to not browse our packets?... Most of our traffic still is unencrypted ...

        We can't, of course, but you implicitly answered the question yourself: Encrypt everything. It's as simple as that. And nothing else works. A packet can always be read by every machine that sees it. On a wireless network, that means every machine within range. All you can do is make the packet's contents incomprehensible via encryption.

        Of course, you can't encrypt the packet headers; if you do,
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "What I'd like to see is peer-to-peer community networks which use each device as a node. That would free us from this centralised manipulation of the market."

      You-->---vast geographic wasteland--->---some large metropolitain city.
            |               |                |
      Hope--         Shark--      More hope--
    • by E IS mC(Square) ( 721736 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @10:22PM (#15339857) Journal
      >>How hard would it be to design devices that would set themselves up in a self-managed mesh network which requires no centre?

      You might want to check this out : http://www.kk.org/outofcontrol/contents.php [kk.org] - esp chap#2. He talks about sefl-managed 'entities' without any central control.

      Its a good read - esp in the light of web2.0 and social networking. So apt.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Mark my words -- it will be criminalized. There is no way government is going to pass up the opportunity to rule over the most popular and effective communication network ever to exist. Control requires a centralized infrastructure, and that is exactly why government will make decentralized networks illegal. The scapegoats will be terrorism, child porn, drugs -- the usual.

      I agree however -- a decentralized network of super hi-speed wireless (we're talking about the future) nodes is the obvious holy grail of
      • Control requires a centralized infrastructure, and that is exactly why government will make decentralized networks illegal.

        That's the way its working out here. It looks like freenets will never have legal common carrier status. As a result, each node will be liable for the content of the traffic passing through it. If someone downloads a bomb recipe, the owner of each node the recipe passes through will have participated in an act of terrorism, and will be liable to prosecution.

        That's why ad-hoc network

    • There are fundamental problems with self-managed 'grid' networks.

      Basically, if you're all using the same frequency space (802.11*), then the overall random noise from the distant nodes - those far enough away that collision avoidance can't work, because you can't recieve their distinct signal, overrides local ones.

      An example - consider a plane with a distribution of transmitters. Inside a certain radius, you can beat this a bit by doing the collision avoidance thing, but as you go outwards the signal fro

    • How hard would it be to design devices that would set themselves up in a self-managed mesh network which requires no centre?

      Such a network existed at MIT 25 years ago, in the form of the ChaosNet, a home-grown "mesh" network in today's terminology. Others have done it, too. The Negroponte gang are planning to do it with their "$100 laptop".

      It's easy to understand why the commercial folks would prefer a centrally-controlled, heirarchical network. And note that the non-heirarchical system seem to be non-comm
  • Google (of course) (Score:5, Interesting)

    by electrosoccertux ( 874415 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @08:50PM (#15339552)
    This could be the last ingredient Google needs to build their network. They've got the backbone, the fibre communications. Buy up a large enough chunk of the spectrum and they could give everyone 100Mbps wifi through a $10 software PCMCIA/PCI card. I, for one, welcome our new wireless overlords.
    • The problem with this, of course, is that it cost an incredible amount of money to put up wireless APs to cover any good size piece of land...and because you want to get the most amount of users per AP, it only makes sense to deploy your network in heavily populated areas, which is exactly the kinds of areas that already have cable and DSL available. Just take what it cost Google just to do SF -- 15 million-plus -- and it doesn't take long to figure that even Google isn't going to cover much ground before g
      • Yeah, but the benefit of the frequencies that are being sold off is that they work at much longer ranges than the current wireless. I am thinking that the cost in implimenting might drop a bit if you only need, say a fifth or a tenth as many base stations to cover the same amout of area.
        • by Nutt ( 106868 )
          I am not an RF engineer but from what I see on the bandplan on the FCCs site the frequencies range from 1710 to 1755 Mhz for mobile units and from 2110 to 2155 MHz for the base stations. I think most cell phones operate in bands around 900 and 1900 MHz so the range increase from switching frequencies would probably be minimal. Not to mention that the amount of bandwidth, the method of modulation/encoding, and the environment (urban/rural) is the usually limiting factor in being able to serve more consumer
      • Wi-Max (Score:2, Insightful)

        by LiquidEdge ( 774076 )
        802.16 will work in all of the frequencies that are up for grabs. When one antenna can give a 25 mile radius, the AP problem gets a lot smaller. Add to that the fact that Intel is going to start shipping WiMax chips, Centrino style, sometime in 2007, you've got yourself a market.
  • Uh-oh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JPribe ( 946570 )
    OMGz!!! Choices for the consumer! But will prices or real product selection improve? Ha. I'll still be using my cell as a dial-up modem for at least 5 more years.
  • Within four to five years, this auction's winners could have these wireless networks up and running, competing directly with entrenched carriers like Cingular, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel (S) and T-Mobile... wake me up when this "news" might actually have an effect on my life...
  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @08:52PM (#15339565) Journal
    Just spent a year at the major telco in Australia. Hype or not, they are running hot and scared about the erosion of their potential copper ISP margins by public and small private wireless networks. Very scared, to the point of restructuring top to bottom at a cost of billions. I don't know if it will do us any good, but I overheard the term "buggy whip" a lot.

    Personally I'd not be surprised to see a lot of telcos trying very hard to find a way to buy up whatever bandwidth they can, by proxy or sponsored small company.

    If they do, then's the time to cry "Foul" and sic the ombudsmen on them. Could end up another California Red Car Line if you don't (buy up and blow up -- Jim Fisk of Fisk Tires bought the Red Car Line -- go figure).

  • Pervasive, inexpensive wireless + VoIP = R.I.P. Traditional Telcos
  • yay. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by syncrotic ( 828809 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @08:54PM (#15339577)
    Wow, more pay per megabyte, pay per message, pay per minute radio services - I can hardly wait. Or maybe they'll have unlimited-as-long-as-you-don't-use-it service for $80/month.

    How about allocating some spectrum in this crucial range - low enough in frequency to go through walls and remain reliable in the rain, but high enough to transmit useful amounts of information - to unlicensed wireless networking? Looking at the multi-billion dollar industry that's developed around squeezing every last bit of bandwidth out of the 2.4GHz band, one could argue that unlicensed sprectrum is actually more valuable to the nation's economy than more cellular bandwidth.
    • one could argue that unlicensed sprectrum is actually more valuable to the nation's economy than more cellular bandwidth.

      That depends on how you state the argument. There isn't a Linksys, Dlink or Cisco store in either of my nearest large malls, but even the tinyiest mini-mall has at least one cellular provider. Even the stores that sell both Wifi and cell phones, as much or more space is given to the cell phones. And that's to say nothing of the expensive towers that have to be set up every several mile
      • That's not the point.
        First off, the importance to the economy isn't represented by the amount of shelfspace used to attract teenagers to upgrade their phones once a year.

        Second, it's about potential and value to free competition. Which industry has had a surge of innovative products, brought prices drastically down, advanced technolology to levels that we could only dream of not so long ago, and which has been raking billions by ripping off customers?

        It's not that surprising that more importance is given to
    • squeezing every last bit of bandwidth out of the 2.4GHz band
      I do not deny my ignorance, but why is there a need for more bandwidth? Could multiple carriers not use the same frequency but have different IP ranges (or the IP equivalent for the cell phone industry)?
      • I do not deny my ignorance, but why is there a need for more bandwidth? Could multiple carriers not use the same frequency but have different IP ranges (or the IP equivalent for the cell phone industry)?

        Not really; the problem isn't address space, but that you can only have so much data over a certain range of frequencies. Think about it like this: The IP address is your house's address, and the bandwidth is the road leading up to your house. If there are 200 cars trying to get through that road at t

  • by Taimat ( 944976 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @08:56PM (#15339590)
    I wonder what type of turnout it will be when the UHF/VHF Bands go to auction. Even though the transition to all digital was to be completed this year. Completing the Transition to Digital Television [cbo.gov] ... It doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon. We need to get away from 2.4ghz - way to crowded. Local ISPs are running freq. hoping on the full band, with illegal boosting ( >1watt) and claim otherwise when we complain about too much noise on a particular channel. Give me more freq!
  • by Darth Liberus ( 874275 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @09:09PM (#15339628)
    Because certainly Cingular, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint/Nextel won't be buying any of these new frequencies ;)
  • One can hope... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fossa ( 212602 ) <pat7@gmx.GAUSSnet minus math_god> on Monday May 15, 2006 @09:11PM (#15339633) Journal
    Look out Cingular, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint-Nextel

    I certainly hope so. I went to great pains to buy an unlocked phone to switch back and forth between the two nation-wide GSM carriers... Cingular and T-Mobile. Here's hoping for improved service through competition. I only know what people tell me about Europe, but I assume the system of "buy a phone, buy or recharge a SIM card" is superior to the "sign a two year contract" here in the US

    • Re:One can hope... (Score:5, Informative)

      by karmatic ( 776420 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @09:46PM (#15339753)
      Oh, you can already do it, if you are willing to spend some time, efford, and/or money.

      I bought a T-Mobile MDA yesterday (without a contract). I'm a cingular user.

      A few minutes on xda-developers, and I had a utility to remove the SIM lock, and the CID (bootloader) lock. Flashed the cingular firmware on it, and I was good to go.

      I also unlocked my cingular treos (one I got from ebay), and flashed them with a customized version of the generic GSM firmware. No annoying carrier customizations, and I had a rock-solid, unlocked phone.

      T-Mobile and Cingular don't lock their SIMs, so you are free to use any compatible phone you can get. Their phones can almost all be unlocked, and if you don't take the $150 subsidy in exchange for the phone, they will give you the unlock code. T-Mobile will give you the code on a subsidized phone after 3 months; I had no problem getting Cingular to give me unlock codes the day after activation (that was a business acct, FWIW).

      You want beligerant, try Verizon. I had terminated the contract (and paid the fee to cover the subsidy) with Sprint, and had a free CDMA phone, which supported E911 and all other required technology. I flashed it with the stock Verizon firmware. It had Verizon firmware, settings, the works. They still wouldn't take it. Verizon will not take phones they didn't sell.

      Sprint had no problem activating a ex-verizon phone for me, however. Go figure.
      • I had no problem getting Cingular to give me unlock codes the day after activation (that was a business acct, FWIW).

        If true, you are possibly the first person anywhere Cingular has unlocked a phone for. I have never read anything anywhere about Cingular that has shown a willingness to unlock a phone. In fact, everything, and I do really mean everything, I have ever read about Cingular has stated that they will not under any circumstances unlock a phone. I'm curious to know if:
        1) This represnts a ch
        • We were a (relativly) new company, so they made us put a $250 deposit just to open a line of service. That may have helped.

          Anyhow, the process I went through was this:
          Went into store, showed copy of flight itenary (to Europe).
          Cingular store rep called tech support, which placed in a request for escalation.
          I got an email from Cingular with the code.

          Since I really do have nothing in particular to hide, I've even included a copy of the email I received, headers and all.

          Yes, it's an HTML email. Yes, it looks
        • I think it's just because he did it for business purposes, as a business. I went through a fun process of trying to get a phone unlocked as well; my SIM card is AT&T, but my bills are now Cingular. However, the phone saw my SIM as a foreign SIM and demanded an unlock code before I could use any aspect of it. I tried calling Cingular for it, Motorola for it, even conference called Motorola and Cingular representatives, but it yielded nothing.

          The issue could have been remedied by either giving me the unlo
      • Verizon will not take phones they didn't sell.

        Well, they may not have taken YOUR phone but they certainly do take phones they didn't sell. I have a Motorola V60c here that was origionally an Altel phone and I didn't have any trouble activating it on Verizon via their web site. I didn't change the firmware either.

        • How long ago was this? It wasn't too long ago you could do that. They now block those via the websites, under the pretense that they don't know if it's e911 compatible, and complies with all regulations.
          • That was about a year ago so it's possible things have changed. Also, if you ever have to deal with them in person there is a huge variation in the ability/willingness of their reps. to do things. If you don't like the answer they give you ask someone else.
  • by martyb ( 196687 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @09:36PM (#15339721)
    Here are some links with details from the FCC on Auction 66 aka Advanced Wireless Services (AWS-1):

    Auction 66 Summary Page [fcc.gov]

    Auction 66 Fact Sheet [fcc.gov] (Lots of details on this page if you scroll down).

    NOTE: These are not virgin frequencies; some relocation of existing users' bandwith is required in order to free up these frequencies. See the Fact Sheet for details.

  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @09:49PM (#15339769)
    The bits per hertz problem throttles each and every kind of two-way wireless.

    When multiple concurrent instances occur of those ugly, low-frame rate videos with the tiny rasters and 256-bit color, it's going to clog the backhaul. OFDM currently carries the best bit/hertz rate, and you can't make dense enough cells to support what copper or fiber carries.

    You can get close, until the public uptake causes backhaul arterial sclerosis. Then you get the same problem you have today with EVDO, EDGE, and all of the other schemes--> unacceptable quality and carriers that have a telco mentality.

    More spectrum != better quality, because the network backend hasn't been developed yet that meets future demands. These are all short-term plays with doomed future when they fail or have glaring delivery problems that can't be solved because of the bits/hertz problem. Until a miracle occurs in encoding capabilities, the front end fails; and if the front end works, then the backend infrastructure fails.

    And organizations will go willy-nilly to the FCC and pay untold amounts of $$ to get spectra robbed from other services. And their stockholders will pray that it makes a return on the investment. And, like other schemes in the US, there will be bitter disappointment when people learn just how low speed these wireless 'broadband' connections actually are.

    Until both the encoding schemes mature, and there's a re-investment in network backhaul, buying spectra isn't the answer, only a new set of problems.
  • Careful, don't go warning your wireless providers "Cingular, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint-Nextel" Its about time they give up some of their market.

    This especially goes for www.rogers.com in Canada. They have a bit of the monopoly of cel phones, cable services, telephone services, internet services. They charge out the ass and find a way to make you pay for everything.

    Internet on a cel phone by default is 5 cents per KB for example. And it doesn't get much cheaper than that with Rogers.

    A couple months ago, t
    • Rogers cable sucks! Here is a company that can't get past its own name. Everything Rogers touches is converted to a Rogers version. They recently bought Toronto's Skydome stadium, now it is Rogers Center, with GIANT logos all over it. They buy radio stations and convert them to Rogers stations. This company has never given good service on any level - Rogers plain old sucks.
  • Competition in telcommunication! Here comes the cliche' ROFL

    An auction that won't go to a massive telco? I've got some fairies for you to meet and a beautiful bridge in Brooklyn that is for sale too.

    "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! It's not over until WE say it's over. Who's with me? C'mon!" Let's go buy some spectrum!
  • by LinuxLuver ( 775817 ) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @12:27AM (#15340281)
    In my experience over the past 20 years, auctioning spectrum typically results in expensive spectrum you can't afford to actually use because the purchaser paid too much for it and the consequence pricing is prohibitive. Maybe a lottery....but please.....no more auctions.
  • one word XMAX (the future of wireless).
    please, check out these links:
    http://www.techworld.com/mobility/news/index.cfm?N ewsID=4722 [techworld.com]
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/11/09/xmax/ [theregister.co.uk]
    http://www.codingheaven.net/ [codingheaven.net]
  • The beauty of 2.4 Ghz spectrum has been the incredible innovation by companies taking advantage of this "free" spectrum. In my dreams, here's what I'd like to see...

    A somewhat non-evil company buys spectrum. Next, they license that spectrum to all comers subject to non-discriminatory, one time fees and reasonable rules. E.g., for every wireless transmitter sold by "Belkin" and transmitting at X watts, "Belkin" would pay a 'tax' of $Z. If Belkin wants to sell a 2X watt device, they'd pay $5Z. If Belkin

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