Smart phones for multiple networks? FCC mulls changes.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering new rules that would make smart phones and tablets interoperable across different networks.

For users, it would mean being able to switch from one carrier to another without buying a new phone. For enterprises, it could affect how they manage mobile devices.

But it all depends on whether the rules are adopted in the first place, and whether any technical hurdles can be ironed out.

The FCC voted March 21 to consider two proposals that would have a significant impact on wireless communications. One proposal would call for interoperability in the 700-MHz band used by AT&T, Verizon and others by asking vendors to make their products work with each other or, if that doesn’t get results, requiring them to do so. The other would allow Dish to use satellite communications for a mobile broadband network.

The 700-MHz band is separated into blocks in which carriers own licenses for their bandwidths. Some smaller service providers within the band have complained that a lack of interoperability is hurting broadband deployment, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in announcing the proposal.

A potential obstacle to interoperability would be interference with other blocks within the 700-MHz band and whether that interference can be mitigated, Genachowski said.

Pressure to open up the 700-MHz band has come from regional and rural carriers, who contend that Verizon and AT&T have been trying to get manufacturers to make their products compatible only with the spectrum they license, Bloomberg reported.

AT&T and Verizon have maintained that interference would be a real problem if products were made interoperable.

FCC is seeking public comments on the proposal but has not issued a timetable for taking action.

In the satellite proposal, FCC will consider opening up 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2-GHz satellite band, which would allow Dish, and perhaps other networks, to use it for terrestrial cell service.

Dish’s plans are similar to those of LightSquared, which ran into trouble with its proposed network because its signals interfered with Global Positioning System signals. Dish would operate in an area far enough away from GPS signals that it is not expected to cause problems.

LightSquared’s plans for a nationwide 4G LTE took a hit Feb. 14, when the FCC agreed with claims that it interfered with GPS signals, which are used by emergency crews, airports and others. The company’s proposed network operates in the L Band, at 1525 MHz to 1559 MHz, adjacent to the bands used by GPS and the Global Navigation Satellite System.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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