Sprint(ing) Forward to 800 MHz LTE

The FCC has granted Sprint’s request to allow it to deploy LTE services in its 800 MHz band assignments.

This is a big deal, both for Sprint and for LTE deployment as the de facto 4G-ish standard.

The FCC’s decision (found HERE) allows Sprint to re-purpose its Nextel 800 MHz spectrum (the old iDEN band) and bond it with Sprint’s 1900 MHz spectrum to create a ‘super LTE’ channel (my term, not theirs).  Mathematically, this is represented by the complex formula:

zoom(800,000,000hz) x zoom(1,900,000,000hz) = ZOOM(WOW)MBs

Okay, maybe that’s not a legit math formula, but you get the idea.  Bonding two high speed data bands is better than having two stand-alone high speed data bands.

This is a huge deal for Sprint as it continues to decommission its old Nextel iDEN services and sites as it deploys its Network Vision project.  Network Vision is Sprint’s ‘one-box-does-all’ base station solution that allows it to communicate on multiple bands and using multiple signal protocols for both itself, and for electronic collocators it will charge to deploy on its upgrade cell sites.

For the LTE community, the Commission’s decision signals its intent to relax the existing technical rules that current prevent deployment of 4G-ish services in the cellular and ESMR bands.  AT&T and Verizon will likely be even happier than Sprint by the ruling as it will give those firms a legal path forward to phase ultimately out cellular on 860 MHz and bond LTE with their other band assignments, especially 700 MHz.

(Bonding 700 MHz and 800 MHz services makes a lot of technical sense as the signal propagation of those two bands is similar, where the propagation of bonding 800 MHz to 1,900 MHz are dissimilar.)

For LTE-supporters, the Commission’s ruling is a much clearer path forward for dominance of that communications scheme given that the Commission’s door-opening will make LTE and LTE band-bonding even more important.


Wireless Siting Professionals: A Vanishing Breed?

I’ve been talking with a number of my friends who are in the wireless siting business as contractors. These are the people, mostly independent contractors, who show up at the planning counter to file siting projects representing the wireless carriers. They perform important functions in the wireless permitting process. I have great respect for the work they do, and the way the do their work with the grace and skill that comes from experience and professionalism. Their work starts long before a wireless project ever hit the planning counter.

Some years ago…say 10…it was common for these siting professionals to have the opportunity to develop significant experience doing what they do. They had that chance because of what’s called “Pay Points.” In days gone by, these professionals were not paid on an hourly basis, but rather at the time some event along the process happened, hence the name.

Once the siting professional received the project package (generally the search ring, a blank lease, and other carrier parameters), they’d go out and spot potential properties, research land records, find willing owners, get lease options signed, attend the A&E meetings, and submit the project to the local government for approval. Then they’d stay with the project through the government planning phase, and attend the hearings representing the carrier client. Each major events was a pay point, and each pay point was the incentive to get the work done and stick with the project.

Because there was fairly significant money involved (I’ve been told $10,000 to $15,000 per project was not uncommon), the professionals could afford to stick with the projects that didn’t ultimately pan out because they got the earlier pay points, and had other projects generating different pay points.

But, alas, lots of people got into the siting business, and then the squeeze on pay point amounts came down from the carriers and their master contractors. Essentially, the siting professional were offered more work with fewer dollars. The result is that a core of professionals remain in the siting business today, but they are also looking for every way to cut costs. Some of these professionals have shut down their physical offices and main telephone numbers turning to become virtual firms (read: working from home with cell phones and computers).

One of the more undesirable results of the squeeze today is that lots of much less experienced people are entering the siting business. It shows.

My staff and I see and deal with the greenhorns when we’re negotiating leases on behalf of our wireless landlord clients, and when we’re dealing with project packages tendered for our review through our government planning agency clients. The quality of the work product coming in is declining, as is the fundamental understanding of the processes. All of this leads to longer negotiations and increased review times. It also leads to more of the real professionals leaving the business to find more profitable lines of work in other areas of project management.

Now comes Section 6409. Generally the siting professionals are very excited about the passage of Section 6409, but some (including yours truly) think there’s a fairly significant cloud surrounding a thin silver lining. I suspect Sec. 6409 is going to turn into a real cloud burst casting off even more rain on the quality people in the business of wireless siting.

As 6409 seems to grant broad collocation (really, Co-Siting) authority to the wireless firms, and the approvals appear to occur in some or many cases by right, I expect the large master contractors who work directly for the carriers (i.e., Bechtel, ALU, Ericsson, B&V, etc.) to look to shave their subcontractors costs even more to benefit their own bottom lines. My gut says the master contractors will assign the Sec. 6409 work to in-house employees for the engineering work, and low level permit runners who are paid a relatively modest hourly fee for their work to file the projects with the local governments.

In major markets like Southern California, this will be a huge and increasing amount of the main siting work. Since the Verizon and AT&T LTE projects and the Sprint Network Vision work will apparently fall under Sec. 6409, there goes that slice of the pie from the mouths of the core of professionals.

And since Sec. 6409 will drive carriers to less desirable sites (that term depends on who’s uttering it…but I digress) but with must faster expected approval times, I think that new siting will slow down for a while as carriers look to do their capacity upgrades at the new low hanging 6409 sites.

As I said at the top of this story, I have many friends who are truly professionals in the wireless siting business. Sadly, I expect that a significant number of them will not be in that line of work come a year from now. I hope I’m wrong, but money talks louder than respect for professionalism and experience.


Lost the Edge?

Edge Wireless has been absorbed by AT&T Wireless when it purchased the outstanding 64% of the stock of the firm.

Edge was formed in 1999 by Wayne Perry (a member of the Board of Directors  and a former Vice Chairman of of AT&T Wireless), Cal Cannon and Donnie Castleman (alums execs of McCaw Cellular).

Edge had a roaming agreement with Cingular (later AT&T Wireless).  Lately, the large wireless carriers have been triggering buy-out provisions in the roaming agreements.  Whether that’s the case here is unknown, but I rather suspect it.

Here’s AT&T’s PR puff regarding the completion of the transaction:

AT&T Completes Acquisition of Edge Wireless to Enhance Wireless Coverage

Transition to Begin in the Second Quarter; Customer Benefits Will Include Improved Network Coverage and Access to Innovative Products and Services

San Antonio, Texas, April 18, 2008

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) today announced that the company has completed, through a subsidiary, the acquisition of Edge Wireless. Edge is a provider of wireless communications services in Oregon, northern California, Idaho and Wyoming.

The addition of Edge’s wireless network will allow AT&T to deliver broader wireless coverage to customers in the Northwest, including Edge’s existing subscribers. Edge customers will also gain access to AT&T’s portfolio of products and services, as well as to the nation’s largest voice and data network, which covers more than 290 million people.

The two companies have a long-standing relationship as roaming partners, and AT&T expects a smooth customer transition. AT&T will immediately begin to implement a carefully planned process to integrate the AT&T and Edge Wireless networks, combine product portfolios and merge customer care initiatives.

The acquisition of Edge Wireless follows review and approval by the Federal Communications Commission.


Florida Attorney General Helps AT&T Wireless Define “Free”

It seems like AT&T Wireless (Cingular) had a strange notion about the definition of the word, “free” as it applies to certain downloadable content such as ringtones and SMS messages. Lucky that the Florida Attorney General could figure it out for AT&T for a settlement of $2.5 Million, which certainly isn’t free!

From the Florida Attorney General’s website:

February 29, 2008

Media Contact: Sandi Copes
Phone: (850) 245-0150

McCollum Retrieves Millions For Florida AT&T Wireless Customers Billed for “Free” Ringtones

~ National model for advertising integrity obtained through CyberFraud Task Force settlement ~

TALLAHASSEE, FL – In a significant step toward protecting consumers throughout the nation from unauthorized charges on cell phone bills, Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that AT&T Mobility will be the first wireless company in the nation to police representations made in internet advertising for cell phone content to ensure fair and full disclosure. The company will also make full restitution to Florida consumers who were unknowingly billed for “free” cell phone content. The cooperative agreement reached by the Attorney General’s CyberFraud Task Force with AT&T Mobility will establish a new model for the advertising and billing of cell phone content. Additionally, AT&T Mobility will pay $2.5 million to the Attorney General’s Office to fund the efforts of the task force as it continues to press for similar reform across the industry and will contribute an additional $500,000 toward consumer education on safe internet use.

“Consumers should never be billed for services they thought were free of charge,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum. “Today’s agreement establishes a precedent for wireless companies accepting responsibility for the way cell phone content is advertised on the internet and the manner in which charges are passed along to consumers. AT&T should be commended for being the first wireless company in the industry to offer this reform.”

Complaints received by the Attorney General’s CyberFraud Task Force led to an investigation which showed that thousands of Florida AT&T Mobility consumers had received charges on their cell phone bills for certain third party services that they did not authorize. Often, these charges were for ringtones or other services which were advertised as “free,” but resulted in customers unwittingly being signed up for costly monthly subscriptions for third-party content, including horoscopes, wallpaper and other cell phone-related content. Examples of the bill charges often appear under the following indiscernible names:

– “Direct Bill Charges””
– “3rd Party Downloadable Content”
– “Premium SMS Messages”
– “Premium Text Messages”
– “M-Qube”
– “M-blox”

Investigators further determined that these third-party content offers often target teens who frequently respond to these advertisements because they think the services are “free,” and download them to their cell phones, not knowing their parents will later be charged. These misleading practices are common in the industry and wireless companies often receive a percentage of the charges paid by consumers. Attorney General McCollum also announced today that he has directed the CyberFraud Task Force to initiate investigations into Verizon, Sprint/Nextel, Alltel and T-Mobile in an effort to ensure that all Floridians will be protected from being similarly charged without their knowledge.

“This settlement comes at a time when the digital consumer is faced with new deceptive internet scams on a daily basis,” said Brad Ashwell, legislative advocate for the Florida Public Interest Research Group. “It’s encouraging to see a corporation of AT&T’s magnitude taking responsibility for unfair charges and it is encouraging that the funds from this settlement will ensure that the Attorney General’s CyberFraud Task force continues protecting consumers in the virtual marketplace.”

Under the agreement announced today, AT&T Mobility has agreed to adopt and enforce strict standards for internet advertising developed by the CyberFraud Task Force. The company, through its contracts with all content providers and advertisers, will now require those entities to clearly and conspicuously disclose the true cost of ringtones and other content in all online advertising to potential customers. For example, a “free” ringtone offer that results in a monthly subscription at a cost of $9.99 per month to the customer must now clearly state, “Free ringtone with paid monthly subscription of $9.99/month,” and any such charges must be separately set out in the consumer’s AT&T Mobility monthly bill. This will ensure that parents have timely notice of any unauthorized charges so they may cancel such subscriptions if they wish. Moreover, AT&T Mobility will continue to offer parents the option of blocking downloaded content from their children’s cell phones and will make this service available free of charge if third-party charges have already been billed without the parents’ knowledge.

The agreement with AT&T Mobility, formerly known as Cingular Wireless, allows customers to seek refunds even if they are no longer AT&T or Cingular customers. The company has also agreed to enhance its customer complaint resolution process and, upon request, will terminate a customer’s enrollment in any recurring membership program and will issue full credits and refunds without referring the customer to a third party for such resolution. The task force intends to use the AT&T Mobility agreement as a model as it continues its investigation of the industry.

Here is a link to the signed settlement agreement: CLICK HERE


Yes, the world really is getting FLATTER.

T-Mobile has jumped on the $99.99 flat-rate bandwagon.

Following Verizon’s and AT&T’s lead, T-Mobile has said:

BELLEVUE, Wash., Feb. 19, 2007 – T-Mobile USA, Inc., announces today that it will offer consumers a plan that includes unlimited nationwide wireless calling and unlimited nationwide messaging for $99.99 per month. This offer will be available beginning Thursday, Feb. 21, and will be a great value for new and existing T-Mobile customers.

“T-Mobile is passionate about helping people stick together with those who matter most, and providing them with the best value is one way we help our customers do that,” said Jeff Hopper, vice president, Marketing, T-Mobile USA. “This offering empowers people to communicate as much as they like on their own terms – whether it’s voice, text messaging, picture messaging or IM.”
With this new plan, domestic roaming and long distance charges are included. Unlimited messaging includes text messages (SMS), picture messages (MMS) and instant messages (IM).

T-Mobile also offers its popular myFaves plans — affordable unlimited calling plans suited for a majority of its customers — beginning at just $39.99 per month.More information and qualifying details will soon be available at www.t-mobile.com.

More pressure on MetroPCS, Cricket, etc.


Apple iPhone Field Test Mode

Apple iPhone in Field Test Mode
You know you want it.

You know you need it.

Yeah, it’s the secret FIELD TEST menu buried deep inside your Apple iPhone. Once you reach the menu by ‘dialing’ the code *3001#12345#* and then pressing the send button, you find yourself facing the top level menu of the test mode.

The photo to the left is that top “Field Test” menu screen.

Beneath this menu is a series of screens that provide detailed information about the cell site you’re connected to; the cell system; the current call; and lots more.

Go, ahead, enter the digits. Have fun!