Wireless Technologies and Your Government

In this edition of Networking UPDATE: Mobile & Wireless Edition, I want to talk briefly about how governments regulate the development and use of wireless technologies. Regulation varies from country to country and can both benefit and hamper your use of mobile devices. Government departments around the world control the use of wireless frequencies. This control encompasses licensing the spectrum for use by particular entities (operators, military, and public), certifying devices, and enforcing other regulations such as mandating support for Local Number Portability (LNP) and Location-Based Services (LBS). Government regulations highly control some markets; for example, in Europe, most governments have mandated the use of the digital cell phone technology Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), resulting in the widespread use of that standard. The benefit to European users is that GSM is the standard for operator services. By contrast, in the United States, the lack of a mandate has resulted in the proliferation of several wireless and paging technologies, including GSM, Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), and iDEN. Users have more functionality options, but adoption of these technologies has slowed. In the United States, the FCC regulates the telecommunications industry and the use of wireless technologies. The FCC must certify every device that uses wireless technology, and this certification varies depending on the wireless-transmission type and signal strengths used. The FCC controls the use of wireless frequencies; some frequencies are licensed to specific wireless operators (such as those who use the 1900MHz range for personal communication services--PCS--phone service), and some frequencies are open for everyone's use (such as the 2.4GHz range that Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cordless phones use). In many countries, wireless operators have to implement LNP to permit users to keep their mobile phone number after changing wireless operators. US operators have been slow to implement this functionality. The FCC has mandated that carriers provide this functionality, but compliance has been delayed several times because of the high cost of implementing the LNP infrastructure, as well as operator resistance. Some operators believe that if they offer the functionality, they might lose subscribers who suddenly find that switching to a different operator is easier than before. LBS is rarely mandated, but the services it provides might be. As I've discussed in previous Mobile & Wireless Perspectives columns, the FCC has mandated that operators use LBS to locate subscribers in their network for the purpose of 911 emergencies. This regulation, which is part of the E911 bill, will permit locating 911 callers and quicker dispatch of emergency personnel. Compliance with the full E911 Phase 2 regulations has also been delayed, again because of the cost and complexity of implementing the infrastructure to support the features. As you can see, governments play a significant role in the use of wireless technologies. In my next Networking UPDATE: Mobile & Wireless Edition column on July 16, I'll look at some new mobile technologies that Microsoft will announce soon.

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