In September the city of Dallas hosted the Personal Communications Showcase '97, a PCS industry exposition where more than 600 vendors and 25,000 attendees gathered to display and examine the newest offerings in this rapidly growing market. The three-day trade show gave a number of companies the oppportunity to announce new products and services.
Finland-based Nokia announced the availability of the 9000i Communicator, a 1900 MHz version of their combination wireless handset and personal digital assistant, from selected GSM operators in North America beginning October 14. The Communicator has been available in Europe since August of 1996.
The 13.9 ounce Communicator is first a fully-featured 1900 MHz GSM telephone with all the features PCS subscribers have come to expect, including Caller-ID and short messaging. Opening the unit lengthwise reveals a compact QWERTY keyboard and a liquid crystal graphics display. A call in progress will automatically be switched to the integrated speakerphone, freeing the user to take notes or perform other computer operations. Powered by an Intel 386 microprocessor and sporting a total of eight megabytes of storage, the Communicator is also a miniature computer that includes a variety of application software running under the GEOS 3.0 operating system. GEOS, created by California-based Geoworks, is licensed to a number of manufacturers and provides a platform for third-party developers to create new and useful programs for mobile computing devices.
Using the Communicator's built-in software, the user can send and receive faxes and electronic mail, as well as browse the World Wide Web with a functional web browser. Customized preference settings can instruct the browser to skip downloading graphics images to speed up loading. Sites of interest can be stored in a "hot list" of pages for later review off-line.
Personal organizer software, an integrated calendar, and a contact database are also included. An infrared port and a serial port allow external printers, digital cameras, or other devices to interface with the Communicator.
Several equipment manufacturers have increased their marketing efforts in the wireless handset arena. OKI Telecom exhibited the Splash Phone, a water-resistant cellular telephone specially constructed to be weather- and spill-proof, as well as two CDMA-capable units. Samsung launched their Wireless Systems Group and introduced several new products, including a wallet-sized CDMA phone. Sony showed off new CDMA handsets produced independently of Qualcomm, with whom they had partnered to produce several phones under the Qualcomm Personal Electronics banner.
Progress in paging continues as Motorola announced a number of new products, including a combination watch/pager and a two-way data device intended for remote telemetry applications.
Teaming with Timex, Motorola has created Beepwear, a compact, nationwide alphanumeric pager watch. The lightweight, water-resistant watch offers standard timekeeping functions including a stopwatch and Indiglo night lighting, as well as the capability of receiving word and/or numeric pages over standard 900 MHz FLEX paging networks. The unit can also be detached from the wristband and be carried in a pocket or worn around the neck on a cord. Beepwear is scheduled for test marketing in Southern California during the fourth quarter of 1997 with a nationwide rollout in the first quarter of 1998. The units will be sold at retail electronics store with an initial price of $129.
Motorola is touting their Creatalink two-way data transceiver as a less expensive alternative for remote data collection and telemetry. Transmitting in the 901-902 MHz band and receiving in the 940-941 MHz band (Narrowband PCS), these sub-$200 paperback-book-sized units utilize existing ReFLEX paging networks to send and receive data from remote locations.
PAGERS WITH KEYBOARDS
Research In Motion, based in Canada, introduced a handheld, two-way device that allows the user to send and receive messages over packet radio networks such as Ardis and RAM Mobile Data (see PCS Front Line, August 1997). The Inter@ctive pager weighs in at 8 ounces and is roughly the size and thickness of four packs of playing cards stacked together. A QWERTY keyboard and flip-up display provide wireless access to paging messages, electronic mail and the Internet. The user can receive messages, respond to those messages, and initiate customized messages. An Intel microprocessor and a software development kit (SDK) allow programmers to use industry-standard development tools to create additional applications.
Motorola announced that a similar product, the PageWriter 2000, will be offered through nationwide paging service provider SkyTel beginning fourth quarter 1997. The unit incorporates a tiny QWERTY keyboard to allow the user to create and send alphanumeric messages as well as receive pages and electronic mail. The unit can access information over the Internet as well as function as an address book and supports third-party applications.
MORE AUCTION WOES
The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that as little as $3 billion and no more than $5 billion will be collected from the $10 billion in bids offered in the PCS C-block auction held last year. Citing poor capital markets and falling wireless stock prices, several C-block bidders have threatened to file for bankruptcy and claim to be unable to make scheduled license payments.
The FCC had collected more than $1 billion prior to their March 31 payment freeze, and is now considering a number of options to deal with the problem, including doing nothing. The FCC could reclaim licenses from defaulters, keeping their downpayments but releasing them from further obligation, and allowing them to enter the new auction. Alternatively, the FCC could allow bidders to return a portion of their license for re-auction and get a proportional reduction in their debt. Bidders would give up that portion of their downpayment and would not be allowed to enter the new auction where the spectrum is resold. The FCC may offer other incentives for bidders to surrender licenses, and may allow bidders to select the option they wish to exercise.
The budget agreement worked out between the White House and Congress anticipates $24.3 billion in revenues from future FCC auctions, including large amounts from the sale of television broadcast licenses. The loss of C-block revenue may increase the deficit for a particular year depending on when it is accounted for, and the entire issue is further complicated by the fact that three of the FCC Commissioners, including Chairman Reed Hunt, are scheduled to leave office soon.
The FCC is proposing to reallocate UHF television channels 60 through 69 for use by public safety agencies and fixed, mobile, and broadcasting services. The relatively unused channels, each six MHz wide and residing between 746 and 806 MHz, would be replaced by two bands of 12 MHz and two bands of 18 MHz.
The FCC sites a report from the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Commitee (PSWAC) which found that "currently allocated public safety spectrum is insufficient to support current voice and data needs of the public safety community...and is inadequate to meet future needs..." and recommended an additional 24 or 25 MHz of new spectrum be set aside specifically for public safety use.
The Fixed, Mobile, and Broadcast frequencies would presumably be auctioned off for use by a variety of services and technologies, including cellular telephone, wireless local loop, and multimedia applications.
Table 1: Proposed FCC reallocation of UHF television channels.
Five more IRIDIUM satellites were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on August 20 using a Boeing Delta II rocket. This was the first launch for Boeing Space Systems, a company formed by the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas earlier in the month. Seven more satellites reached orbit September 13 aboard a Proton rocket after launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, bringing the total number of IRIDIUM space vehicles now in orbit to 29. Inside word is that IRIDIUM has undergone tests of their direct satellite-to-pager service and found good coverage, and in many cases acceptable signal penetration even inside buildings.
That's all for this month. You can find more information and links on the PCS Front Line web page at http://www.grove.net/~dan, and you can always send electronic mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next month, happy monitoring!
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Updated May 1, 2003