Verizon Wireless, in a press release yesterday, questioned the appropriateness of auctioning off additional wireless spectrum in a manner that might “tip the balance” in the favor of Google or “any company or segment of the high-tech industry.”
In mentioning the term “Google Block,” a new “open access” approach to wireless spectrum management is invoked, in which one company manages a network that is open to other users as well, somewhat similar to the Internet, and without the current control over devices and features available for use, or potentially even for the testing of networks and device firmware for compatibility. In particular, Verizon questions the ability to meet federal mandates such as CALEA and E911.
If the situation is unavoidable, they continue, the spectrum assigned to this use “should be minimal, in order to ensure that the true value of this national resource is not diminished.” Millions of dollars are spent acquiring access to spectrum in the bands used by wireless phone companies, with the spectrum frequently considered a company’s major asset.
Verizon notes that market forces and supply and demand should be the governing factors in spectrum allocation, which they indicate will take place for this new block (700 MHz) in early 2008. They note that the wireless industry has used current spectrum allocations in increasingly innovative ways, providing a broad range of choices for American consumers, which “would be the casualty of policies that mandate that all companies do the same thing the same way.”
Verizon notes that their video and music services are examples of such innovation, and that Apple’s iPhone, which they say operates in a “walled garden” environment on “a competitor’s second generation network,” is one of the factors that is provoking the calls for open access. Comparisons were not drawn with GSM, an international standard which the competitor mentioned uses allowing subscribers to travel to most countries overseas and use US-compatible equipment, and with which Verizon has not been compatible.
Drawbacks to open access, which they note is not prohibited for system operators, they see as issues of network management – testing, monitoring and other management functions. In particular, they note, public safety features such as E911 might be compromised if the network is not properly managed.
There is an ongoing debate on the subject, heightened because of the involvement of Google and the success in other areas of open access and open standards in the Internet market. Verizon has pursued control over patented technology that resulted limitations on companies such as Vonage. The proliferation of Internet telephony and VOIP usage has raised questions about the confusion between the “open source” world and the world of proprietary technologies developed sometimes at great expense, and the reliability and availability of emergency services on open systems-based voice networks, where currently there is not parity with traditional wired voice networks, providing a competitive disadvantage that some companies such as Verizon may fear could expand.