A new $1 billion coming to public-safety communicatons

In a sign that public-safety communications are needing agreements across parties and are needed a fast upgrade of sorts, members of the U.S. Congress appear to be trying to get part of this show on the road.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye and Congressman Ted Stevens said this week that the "Interoperable Emergency Communications Act" is designed to give $1 billion worth of public-safety radio interoperability grants by September 30th of this year.

Said Inouye, "Every day we hear about potential threats against our nation, and it will not be long until we are again in the midst of hurricane season ... the Congress must act quickly to give our first responders the tools they need to effectively do their jobs."

How does handset-based GPS navigation stack up?

I've been intrigued about some newer java midlets (Garmin and TeleNav, for example) that allow wireless customers with java-enabled handsets to use real-time GPS navigation on their cellphone screens.

I am curious to see if these applications work well or are any threat to standalone GPS navigation units -- the ones by Garmin, Magellan and TomTom, for example.

Any users of GPS-based mobile navigation cellphones that care to chime in on usability?

Merry Christmas to one and all!

We're taking a bit of a break to be with our loved ones over the holiday, and we hope you are too. A very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, and we'd like to pass along a heartfelt "Thank You" for your readership. We'll be back posting again tomorrow once we can burn off some of the egg nog!

TWR's Top 5

As the holiday shopping season hits its fever pitch, here are our Top 5 stories from the past week that will help to bring a little sanity to your weekend. Enjoy!

  1. U.S. wireless users losing interest in buying ringtones, study says
    In a study that should send shivers up the spines or wireless carrier CFOs everywhere, a new study from M:Metrics says that U.S. wireless users are bored with ringtone buying over their cellphones, even as Italian teens are leading their U.S. and Western European counterparts in consuming user-generated content and social networking applications.
  2. Smartphones find greater acceptance in Europe than U.S. (for now)
    Although we are seeing more smartphones enter the American marketplace, the devices have long been accepted by European consumers and it will take a while before the U.S. catches up.
  3. High prices for mobile content hurting consumer adoption
    In something I have preached for over a year, there is finally a study that says the high prices of mobile content is actually hurting consumer adoption. Data prices for mobile content like phone wallpapers, ringtones and downloadable music selections is still way too high. For some reasons, the carriers think they'll recoup their investments with higher content prices. Wrong.
  4. Wireless 911 systems must be enhanced NOW!
    Officials in Napa, California are planning to take steps to enhance its 911 dispatch center so that emergency calls from cellphones will go straight to responders.
  5. Cell Broadcast testing is underway for emergency use
    CellCast held a test last month that had the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) probably quite interested. In the test, CellCast tested the *Cell Broadcast* feature that lets an operator or authorized agency send out a text message to every phone on a cell, in an area or on the entire network at once.

Montana county's E911 system to soon incorporate capability to locate those who call from their cellphones

After a three-month testing period, officials in Liberty County, Montana say their new Enhanced 911 (E911) system is working well.

It was essential for the system to work since the area is very rural and if someone is in a dire situation and unable to communicate, emergency personnel can still be dispatched to the location since the E911 system has information including any health problems the caller may have. Of course, that information must be provided by the public, but it certainly is advisable for folks to make any essential data about themselves to emergency services as soon as possible.

The county also is looking to expand the service to be able to locate people who are calling 911 from a cellphone. The network is being equipped with the capability of seeing the GPS coordinates from the caller on a map which, of course, will go a long way toward locating the caller and assisting them.

Location assistance or Mobile TV -- what do customers prefer?

If you're a mobile customer -- and who isn't these days -- would you prefer to have location-based assistance (like directions or navigation) or mobile television service? If you had only one you could choose, most likely it would be location-based applications, based on a new study by In-Stat.

The research company found that out of 1,000 early adopters of newer wireless features, only 15 percent had an interest in mobile television, where 53 percent had an interest in directions and mobile navigation services.

Carriers -- are you listening?

Nextlink Wireless comes to three new cities

Nextlink Wireless, the backhaul company that delivers on the back end of the wireless broadband Internet market, has entered the Chicago, Houston and Atlanta markets, bringing its total to nine cities that have been launched this year.

Although Nextlink isn't really a household name in the wireless consumer industry, it's a very important link for many carriers. Nextlink's technology is designed to replace the parts of the backhaul network that are copper-based using point-to-point and point-to-multipoint solutions that work through line-of-sight connections of up to seven miles. That's nice since digging up roads and the ground all over the place is so 1990-ish.

TWR's Top 5

It's been another busy week here at The Wireless Report. Here are five stories that we believe will keep your eyes on the wireless prize. Enjoy!

  1. The Wireless Report Podcast -- May 17, 2006
    We are pleased to bring you the third installment of The Wireless Report podcast. We'll be talking about the looming merger between AT&T and Bellsouth (and what's going to happen to the Cingular brand), the appropriateness of WiFi access in U.S. national parks -- and who's against this -- and finally, we'll be dissecting the different mobile strategies between Yahoo! and Google.
  2. The problem with current wireless phone battery technology
    I've lightly touched on this subject a few times, but the gist is this: unless some new breakthrough comes along in battery density technology, the future of the multimedia-centric phone is going to have issues -- with fast-dead batteries, that is. As phone inevitably become more complex and pack in all kinds of multimedia features -- high-rez cameras, music players, video players, streaming television and video, games, etc. -- the batteries that feed all this will start to poop out only after a few hours.
  3. U.S. Senate considers legislation to require wireless communications in coal mines
    The United States Senate is moving closer to passing legislation to improve safety inside coal mines, including requiring mining companies to have two-way wireless communications and tracking systems in place within three years.
  4. The over-the-air mobile firmware update standard -- the market needs this
    This story talks about a new FOTA (firmware over-the-air) standard being developed that would help mobile handset manufacturers release and push firmware upgrades to the millions of handsets they sell every quarter. Although this will be insignificant to the regular press, this new initiative is sorely needed in the mobile handset marketplace.
  5. NYC's Central Park seeking wireless network contractor
    Later this summer, a contractor will be chosen to develop and deploy a wireless network in New York City's Central Park that will be launched in summer 2007. Eventually, the plan will be to offer WiFi access to users in other large parks in the NYC metropolitan area, including those in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens.

Wireless gambling about to take off in Las Vegas

So, you want to get your poker or hold 'em game on with a handheld wireless unit? You're about to be in luck, as these wireless gambling devices are soon to infiltrate restaurants and other venues where physical casino betting is impossible to have available. I mean, the Vegas casinos need to grow their revenue, right? How better than to make handheld gambling fit into every possible supervised public area in Sin City.

The regulations are new, the technology is new and the audience will soon be developing (most likely, males in their 20s and 30s), so watch out the next time you visit the city in the middle of the desert. You'll be able to order a NY strip steak and potatoes while playing Blackjack on the menu, or at least close to the menu.

Wireless network initiative aims to serve as a communications lifeline in Cape Cod

Up in Cape Cod, the OpenCape initiative is a multi-organizational project with a goal of building a redundant wireless broadband network that will serve as a communications lifeline in the event of an emergency situation such as a hurricane.

As was pointed out in the latest edition of the Cape Cod Technology Council's e-newsletter, this network will feature the necessary built-in wireless backups and multiple routing options crucial to this region in the event of an emergency, especially if traditional landline communication infrastructures are knocked out of commission.

In any event, it's a very smart and forward-looking initiative and the Council and OpenCape folks will be meeting in June to strategize and plot out a roadmap of deployment. This is certainly an initiative worth watching.

Clearwire moves into the VoIP space

Clearwire, the wireless broadband internet provider founded by cellular mogul Craig McCaw, has announced its entry into the Voice-over-IP market with a $30 per month offering, very similar to what Vonage offers. The fact that a wireless broadband company with deep pockets and savvy management is telling to the industry I think.

It seems every other day, there is a stab at killing the local access telephone market still used by tens of millions across the U.S. - but the landline operators are seeing dwindling subscribers every year as customers move to an all-wireless (cellular) solution or take up VoIP solutions over their broadband internet hookup. So, for today, here's yet another one. What are we going to do with all those flimsy copper wires leading into every home? If $13 per month DSL is any indicator, they will be in use for quite a while.

Mobile Phone Data Places Murder Suspect Near Crime Scene

For CSI fans out there, this story may be interesting. It seems that a murder suspect from the recent NYC case involving 24-year old Imette St. Guillen made a cellular call a little too close to where he supposedly performed his dastardly crime, and this assisted the authorities to place him at the scene and to also follow his movements as he moved farther away from the scene.

Mobile technology can greatly assist standard forensic processing in helping find a perpetrator, and this new break proves it I think. With GPS and triangulation being used to track and place cellphones and usage from any carrier, we're all too wired these days. So far, we don't have WiFi transmitters strapped to our person or satellite dishes mounted to our heads.

[via TechDirt]

Wireless Communications Systems Being Developed for Miners

The recent mining disasters where sixteen miners have perished has resulted in a call by state governments, including West virginia and Pennsylvania, for a wireless communications system whereby rescuers can quickly locate the positions of the victims and get them out of the danger zone.

Companies such as Ekahu Inc. are coming up with solutions that are designed to track the exact location of miners which are based on existing systems already used in large healthcare facilities. Systems such as these still need to be reviewed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, but hopefully these approvals will be put on the fast track so that the chances of these tragedies happening again can be minimized.

Proposed Mining Legislation Calls For Wireless Technology to be Required

After the death of two more miners in West Virginia this week, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III has taken immediate action by requesting that all coal companies within the state cease all production activities until safety procedures could be reviewed. In addition, the governor is calling for the state legislature to pass legislation that would include a requirement that all miners wear wireless devices so they can be located and rescued much more quickly in case of an emergency.

It's a terrible shame that these recent tragedies had to happen before thought was given to leverage something like wireless technology to help rescue miners in the event of an emergency. It seems that mining companies should realize it's now 2006 and not 1946 and that just a few dollars of investment into wireless radios or something else could help save lives.

Mine Company Head NOW Says Miners Should Carry Wireless Communications Devices

This is certainly a case of 20/20 hindsight, but the head of the company that owns the Sago Mine in West Virginia where 12 trapped miners died last week now says that if the men had wireless communications devices, they would have been able to immediately send out an alert for rescue. When the mine exploded, the wired phone that was the only means of communication to the outside was destroyed. He now says that all of his company's miners will be required to carry wireless radios.

Obviously, this is an extreme case of second-guessing, but wouldn't you think in 2006 that supplying workers, especially those who toil in extremely hazardous situations (like coal mining), with the most up-to-date communications devices would be a standard operating procedure?

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