Will Wireless Networks really be open? What does that mean?

This year’s CTIA show occurred just one month before the 25th anniversary of the first commercial cellular call. At the opening keynote session, Steve Largent, President and CEO of CTIA, made a few opening remarks and then moderated a panel of several wireless executives. Steve, a former All Pro NFL receiver, glibly rifled off the following statistics from CTIA’s Wireless Industry Survey: $15B wireless data revenues in the US during the last six months (20% of carrier revenues vs only 10% two years ago), US has overtaken Europe in 3G subscribers, 75M text messages sent each month (a 160% year over year growth rate as of June). Steve also noted that the mobile content business is robust and growing rapidly. It’s likely that user-generated mobile content (text, photos, videos and audio) will far surpass user-generated content on PCs.

Mr. Largent predicted that going forward, wireless broadband would experience rapid change, higher speeds, and much more choice for consumers. Capabilities such as GPS, video, MP3, photo sharing, location based services (including the ability to get directions to a desired store or restaurant) would be forthcoming.

During the panel session, wireless industry executives indicated that walled gardens were a thing of the past and that wireless networks are opening up. It appeared that some operators would focus on opening the network to devices (Verizon Wireless), while others will likely focus more on applications (Sprint and T-Mobile). AT&T Wireless did not participate in this panel, but was represented in a Mobile Web 2.0 session.

"Open Networks" is the ability to run an application on all mobile networks (from different providers) without any modification to the software resident in the client device. This is the rationale for the Android platform and Open Mobile Alliance.

There’s also the concept of "Open Applications," which is the ability to publish your application or service without interference from anyone, including the wireless network operator. Example: Google Android (vs. control by Apple over the Apple Store).

Sprint Nextel

CEO Dan Hesse’s vision of open echoed what Kevin Packingham, Sprint’s Sr. Vice President previously said. Sprint believes that customers want the same accessibility to the Internet from their mobile device that they get from their notebook or desktop PC. But to date, wireless network operators have offered customers their own approved applications running on devices they sell and control. Yet customers ultimately want a choice. Sprint is working hard to help customers get easier access to the mobile Web through personalization and customization.


strategy is a bit less clear. During the keynote, CEO Robert Dotson talked about how important it is to have open devices and open applications. He touted the fact that the company uses GSM-based technology so many consumers can already use third-party devices on the T-Mobile network by putting a T-Mobile SIM card in the device. He also expounded how the carrier hopes to "unleash innovation" through its new developer program and the importance of supporting open source operating systems.

Verizon Wireless

is initially focusing on opening its network to devices. While applications are a big part of the open equation and will likely result in big business for the operator, Verizon believes the key is to first act as a catalyst for the device makers by making it easier for them to get their devices certified and operating on the network. To understand Verizon’s strategy, one needs to broaden the concept of a mobile "device" to think beyond handsets and PC cards. Thermostats, heating and cooling, home appliances, medical devices, airline sensors are all new potential wireless network devices. "Start thinking what it would be like if every thermostat was connected to the network," said Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam. "What if the airline industry put sensors on engines in aircraft to predict failures before they happen? This will impact the way people live and manage their lives."

Sue Marek of Fierce Wireless interviewed Verizon Wireless’ Vice President of Open Development Anthony Lewis, who is charged with developing Verizon’s "open device and application" initiative.  Lewis talked about Verizon’s progress on open networks and why this wireless carrier’s approach is different from its competitors.  Please see:


It seems that operators are finally talking about open networks and open applications. But is it just talk or are they really going to make it happen?  For sure, there is a lot more work to be done to turn the theories and visions into reality.  It would be nice if U.S. wireless networks would become as open as European GSM networks are today.  If it does happen, a much bigger market for wireless data (=non-voice) applications would emerge.  That would surely result in more innovation for developers and more choice for users.  A likely outcome then would be for mobile applications and services to eventually dominate the wireless operator revenue stream, with all participants sharing the revenue in an equitable manner.


For CTIA session video clips and photos, please visit:


For a roundup of SPRINT’s views on open networks, please see:


In an opposing point of view:  Skype official calls out carriers on "open" networks

In a strongly-worded letter to the FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Skype official complained that the major U.S. wireless carriers were all talk when it came to "open" networks, and that if the Commission wanted to live up to its stated goal of making open networks more accessible, it would affirm that this policy covers wireless networks.




IPTV Middleware – A New Player in Town

The announcement of Ericsson as a middleware provider is interesting, as their solution supports Internet Multimedia Subsystem and is from a player that is big enough to make a difference in this space, especially as it relates to delivering video across multiple devices. This approach promises increased blurring between applications (e.g. caller ID on TV, control of TV via mobile devices, etc.). This offering may have the big carriers rethinking their previous IPTV strategies.  Click here to read Lightreading’s take.    


AT&T-iPhone Voice Monopoly Bypassed

By opening up the iPhone to 3rd party applications, Apple may have inadvertently created new competition for its infrastructure partner, AT&T. Frequent Viodi View sponsor, 8×8, Inc’s Packet8 MobileTalk application is now available for the iPhone.  Not yet available in the Apple App Store, the software to enable the service (it also works on other smart phones) may be obtained directly at the Packet8 web site.     

I haven’t had a chance to review the service first hand yet, but  the documentation suggests the MobileTalk application automatically redirects international calls to the Packet8 VoIP network. Packet8’s international calling rates are much lower than those of AT&T. Of course, the caller still has to pay the minimum $69.99 per month for the privilege of using the iPhone.

IEEE ComSoc-SCV Workshop: Location Based Technologies and Services

Summary of Location Based Technologies and Services Workshop

[June 19, 2008, Crown Plaza Hotel, San Francisco International Airport] 

Alan J. Weissberger
IEEE ComSoc- SCV Secretary and Program Chair
Yankee Group tele-briefing report on Location Based Services and Technologies:

Speaker Remarks
1. Dave Reid, Director of Business Development, SiRF Technology Inc. http://sirf.com/
The world is on the go (which implies that mobile telecom services and devices will grow rapidly). SiRF believes that location awareness brings convenience to our lives. SiRF is predominantly a (fabless) semiconductor company- with the largest market share of discrete GPS chips and related intellectual property. SiRF powered mobile devices include personal navigation devices (PNDs), handheld GPS receivers, smart phones, feature phones, personal media players (PMPs), and in-dash car navigation systems. 
There are many types of Location Based Services (LBS’s) being deployed and being considered by network operators: navigation, social networking, location based advertising, mobile commerce, transportation, child locator, pet tracker, etc. New mobile broadband networks, like WiMAX, will be location enabled; so will new devices, including Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) and even location aware watches. Applications and content are intersecting and this will lead to innovative new mobile services with location awareness. Enterprise customers have led applications in location for a long time, but the consumer market for LBS could now be poised for faster growth.
Verizon Navigator (offered by VZ Wireless) is the most popular LBS and most successful navigation service in the world (5M subs). VZ Navigator offers audible turn-by-turn directions for $10 per month.
LBS’s (mostly navigation) will continue to command a pricing premium over other wireless add-on services, e.g. music, ring tone, games.   In the future, LBS will be a key revenue generator for network operators. Nokia announced they would have location awareness in all their devices (Nokia uses TI processors). 
Location Based Technologies: While GPS is only one of several location-based technologies (others include cell site location, broadcast TV signals, WiFi AP locations, RF signatures- see graphic below), its accuracy is better than the others. Assisted GPS may be used to enhance performance when signal propagation conditions are poor (e.g. when surrounded by tall buildings or when the satellite signals are weakened by being indoors or under trees). In pure GPS location tracking, it typically takes 30 or 40 seconds for a GPS device to compute a location if it does not have recent ephemeris data for the GPS satellite network. Otherwise, locations are computed once a second or faster. 
Sky Hook Wireless (http://www.skyhookwireless.com/) creates a database of WiFi Access Points (APs) as the basis of its WiFi Positioning System. It uses the native IEEE 802.11 radio (already on mobile devices) to deliver accurate positioning worldwide.
Dave Reid was kind enough to provide this chart of Location Tracking Technologies:
 Location Tracking Technologies
RSSI = Received Signal Strength Indicator
TDOA = Time Difference of Arrival
Cell ID will assume location is in the midpoint of the cell (this could be inaccurate if person is at the cell edge or on the border of adjacent cell?)
SiRF has proposed a LBS Systems Architecture. They have an ecosystem in place to develop, test and market location based applications. SiRF provides end- to- end solutions and has engaged in partnerships with various companies.

2. Jon Metzler, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Rosum Corp. http://www.rosum.com/
Location determination capability is becoming a "table stakes" requirement for device makers and semiconductor companies. LBS’s should be considered as a utility – like electricity that can be turned on and off. 
Rosum is the first and only company to harness over the air, broadcast TV signals for position location. The key advantage of this approach is that TV frequencies were designed to penetrate walls, ceilings and trees, in order to deliver a good video signal indoors. The company was founded by original GPS architects to deliver always-on location awareness where GPS fails – indoors and in urban canyons. Rosum is a provider of location, timing and frequency calibration solutions for Mobile TV Device and Home Telecommunications markets. In particular:
  • Mobile TV Devices: cell phones, notebook PCs, and PND/PMPs equipped with TV tuners
  • Home Telecommunications: femto cells for the home, and E911 (E112) for Wireless and VoIP subscribers
  • Among recent milestones for the company:
    • Rosum Announces Successful DVB-H Positioning Trial with UK’s National Grid Wireless (6/25/08)
    • 2Wire Selects Rosum TV+GPS Location and Timing Solution for E911/ Home Telecom products using femtocells (3/31/08)
  • Rosum Signs Collaboration Agreement with Intel – Will Enable TV-Location on Mobile Devices (10/07)
But why use Broadcast TV signals for position location? 
The TV signals offer high power (1 MW ERP typical), low frequency (50-750 MHz), frequency diversity (wide 6 to 8 MHz channels, multiple channels per tower), and horizontal signals (less attenuation from roofs and walls). Moreover, the terrestrial TV infrastructure is highly correlated with population density and broadband penetration in the U.S.   In a one on one test of TV Positioning vs. GPS based location tracking, GPS failed at three of six indoor locations in the SF Bay Area.
Editors Note: GPS vendors, such as SiRF and others, would likely question those test results.  However, Rosum uses third party testing in order to address concerns of competing technology vendors.
The best of both worlds might be a hybrid approach – where GPS and TV based positioning are combined in one device. In that case, GPS would be used outdoors, while TV positioning would be used indoors and in canyons (where GPS often fails).
The location technology and device market is consolidating, with many mergers and acquisition of key players, e.g. Nokia acquiring mapmaker Navteq. Other market themes of note:
  • Online mapping arms race between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo
  • Combination Personal Navigation Device / Portable Media Players (PND / PMPs)
  • Convergence of PNDs and Communications devices (i.e., cell phones) 
Two popular hand held devices with LBS and positioning technology:
  • Blackberry with Google Maps and GPS positioning
  • Apple iPOD Touch with Google Maps and 802.11x (WiFi) based positioning
What Comes Next for LBS’s?
  • Connected (not silo’d) use of location information with two categories foreseen:
    • Groups: self-chosen affiliations, such as Social Networks
    • Swarms: (anonymous) use of location for ITS enhancements
  • Resolution of privacy issues (TBD)
  • Growth in new LBS’s such as: Social Networks, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Connected Navigation, and Local Search/ Advertising (Google and Yahoo)
 Panel Session
The author chaired a panel session with the two speakers. It consisted of a few pre-planned questions for discussion, audience Q and A, and a wrap up question about the nature of future devices for LBS’s (cell phones, iPODs, other gadgets, or Mobile Internet Devices=MIDs). The panelists agreed that the big software companies (including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Oracle) all had LBS initiatives underway. They also believed that the smart phone (cell phone + Internet + LB technology) would dominate the LBS market, especially over non-voice capable MIDs.
Jon later amended his panel session remarks regarding MIDs: "If you define MIDs as including devices with integrated WiFi, such as the mylo or iPod Touch, then yes, I believe that market will develop. With that said the overall cell phone market will still remain much larger."
The author thanked the panelists and the audience (35 attendees) for their participation in this very enlightening and informative workshop. We also thanked IEEE SECON for sponsoring the workshop in conjunction with their annual conference.

Addendum: Critical issues for mobile network operators
At a VoiceCon- Spring 2008 panel on LBS’s, the critical issues for mobile network operators were identified:
  • Security and privacy-authentication, authorization, encryption, etc.
  • Application integrity – to prevent apps from harming network or users
  • Power dissipation and utilization
  • Flexibility and customizability
  • Integration of new value added services (e.g. location)
  • Billing: What to charge for a new service? Flat rate vs. Usage based (metered)
Postscript: Location Based Social Networking from Verizon Wireless
On June 26, 2008, Verizon Wireless announced that its location based social networking service- known as loopt – is now available to its subscribers. The original announcement this past March anticipated an April launch for the service, but according to Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson, “technical issues, pricing issues and running the application through some traps before launch,” caused the delay. Regarding security and privacy, Nelson said: "We’ve strengthened the privacy capabilities even further. We will be pinging customers on a regular basis to let them know their loopt account is active and that they can be tracked."
Loopt’s CEO Sam Altman had previously stated that privacy had been one of the biggest issues facing the uptake of location-based mobile social networking and that solving them is a key step toward achieving inter-carrier LBS services.   Evidently privacy is no longer a problem- at least not for Verizon Wireless.