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."

Need to scan something? Just use your cameraphone

We've been hearing about the possibilities here in the U.S. to scan barcodes for products with our cellphone cameras to get detailed product information as well as competitive prices -- nothing is here yet though.

That does not mean other parts of the world aren't rapidly adopting this technology, however, as Philippines mobile carrier Smart Communications soon will begin offering advanced mobile services using Nextcode's ConnexTo platform.

This platform allows sophisticated barcode scanning-based services to be offered to subscribers by providing software that enables camera phones to read codes and tools - -talk about mobile commerce.

Wireless industry doesn't want Gov't messing in public-safety spectrum

Public safety advocates want to use the 700MHz radio spectrum to re-tool that portion of the airwaves so that public safety agencies can can uninterrupted and crucial voice and data communications when needed.

Just don't tell many wireless industry players that, many of whom want the new Democratic-led Congress to oppose any effort to dilute that pool of radio spectrum.

Jeff Connaughton, executive director of the High Tech DTV Coalition, said that "The American public wants Congress to work in a bi-partisan manner to ensure that the most innovative communications technologies are made available as early and widely as possible."

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?

Can your cellphone check you in at the airport?

With cellphones stating to become the "swiss army knife" of electronic gadgets, there are two Japanese airline carriers -- Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways -- that are starting to use alternative methods for checking in passengers.

Japan Airlines introduced a check-in system called "Touch and Go" at four airports in Japan in 2005. The technology used at the airports in Japan is similar to what is employed on many urban transportation and rail systems -- but could it be a standard in then near future?

What would be needed to be able and add a small sensor in each cellphone that would allow for "ticketless" and "check-in-less" passengers into most airports? With security challenges worldwide, this would have an incredibly tough battle and I don't see it happening -- outside of Japan, that is.

Visa entering contactless payment arena, finally

Visa -- like rival Mastercard -- is getting into the contactless payments arena by accepting payments, coupons and working with other mobile commerce related items.

Visa's offerings -- which comes at the right time -- "is designed to foster collaboration between the financial services and mobile telecommunications sectors," according to the company.

With mobility being injected into just about every part of commerce these days from smartphones to laptop purchases, it's great to see -- finally -- the two largest credit card companies getting into the action. After all, it is 2007.

Bank of America tests contactless payment 'fobs'

The largest consumer bank in the U.S. will test contactless cards, as Bank of America has decided to test consumer interest by partnering with Oberthur Card Systems.

The new contactless payment fobs will be part of a trial to test radio frequency contactless payment companion devices. My guess is that contactless payment options will become a mainstay of banking services in a few years -- if not sooner.

MasterCard tests Paypass wireless service

Instead of an electronic pikepass-type of pass for turnpikes in several states, how about just using your credit card as you whizz by the tollgates?

Well, MasterCard is testing its PayPass contactless technology at selected exit lanes and service plazas on the Ohio Turnpike in a trial of just this kind of scenario.

This would, I think, allow anyone with the right kind of MasterCard use the turnpike without stopping to throw change in the bucket like now.

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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!

Cingular about to test mobile payment system in NYC

Cingular Wireless -- the largest wireless carrier in the U.S. -- will be conducting a trial of a "contactless payment" system in New York City.

This initial test, which will run from 3 to 6 months, will involve pre-selected Cingular Wireless customers who also are Citi MasterCard cardholders. Additionally, just Nokia handsets will be featured in the trial.

The trial's participants will use these near-field communications (NFC)-enabled mobile phones to conduct credit card transactions with MasterCard PayPass payment functionality.

TWR's Top 5

As we recover from our over-indulgence on Thanksgiving Day and our battle to find a parking spot on Black Friday, here are five tasty Wireless Report morsels that will be sure to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

  1. Industry heavyweights to develop chips that will enhance mobile wallet concept
    NXP Semiconductors, formerly known as Philips Semiconductors, and Sony Corporation have agreed to work together to manufacture and market a contactless IC platform that will eventually allow users to leverage applications such as making payments direct from their cellphones.
  2. No cellphones for bus drivers
    The nation traffic safety board has said that federal and state governments should ban cell phones from motor coach and school bus drivers while those vehicles are in operation. This comes as a "duh" suggestion, as *all* drivers, personal and professional, should not be using a wireless phone while driving in my opinion.
  3. Large Ohio county to spend big bucks on wireless 911 system
    Ohio's Cuyahoga County, which includes the city of Cleveland, says it will be investing nearly $3 million on a wireless 911 system. The money to pay for the system will come from a 32-cent state surcharge on cellphone bills.
  4. More consolidation to possibly come to European telecom and wireless market
    There are quite a few large telecom conglomerates in Europe these days, and the entire market may be ripe for consolidation soon, stated chief executives of two of Europe's leading telecom companies this past week.
  5. Cellular service coming to Big Dig tunnels
    If you find yourself driving in Boston next summer, you'll be able to talk on your cellphones while passing under any of the Big Dig tunnels.

Sony pushing mobile payments using near-field wireless

In a rare type of partnership, Sony Corp. and NXP Semiconductors announced a joint venture to develop a secure chip that uses near-field communications for financial transactions. Instead of using wireless networks like 3G networks or WiMAX, the partnership has a goal to produce a chip that can process different protocols and operating systems for contactless payments.

When I head the term "near-field communications", that rings my bell -- this is such a hugely underserved marketplace that I'm glad to see this move by an industry heavyweight like Sony.

The two companies will include their own platforms for contactless payments in addition to creating a universal platform. In rare form for Sony -- which just loves proprietary (and useless) solutions to what it thinks are customer problems, a manager at partner NXP said that "This joint venture signals the evolution of interoperable mobile services, regardless of technology platform or geography".

Industry heavyweights to develop chips that will enhance mobile wallet concept

NXP Semiconductors, formerly known as Philips Semiconductors, and Sony Corporation have agreed to work together to manufacture and market a contactless IC platform that will eventually allow users to leverage applications such as making payments direct from their cellphones.

The companies said they will be looking to produce a chip that embeds their respective MIFARE and FeliCa contactless technologies which will offer providers the opportunity to roll out new services to their customers, and gives them the flexibility to access (and pay) for their services from just about anywhere.

The mobile wallet concept has gained popularity in the Asia-Pacific market as well as parts of Europe, but has not really caught on yet in the North American sector. Time will tell if these two industry giants can come out with something within the next year that will push the mobile wallet envelope with wireless providers in this country.

(Thanks Kelly!)

Dallas gets new citywide public-safety wireless infrastructure

Dallas, Texas has received a partnership with CoCo Communications Corp., who said that the large Southwestern city is poised to become the nation's first city to have fully interoperable communications among municipal public-safety agencies without replacing existing networks.

That's a biggie -- you can't really replace public-safety networks, as zero downtime is the only acceptable solution. Only a real-time upgrade of something so critical as the public-safety communications system is really allowed, and CoCo has provided just that here for the city of Dallas.

The CoCo public safety communications system sits on top of an existing wireless network infrastructure and provides seamless encrypted communications among first responders operating on different frequencies.

Wireless system designed for emergencies being tested

In order to enhance communications between first responders and civilian agencies during a serious emergency, the Joint Task Force-Civil Support and Joint Forces Command (JTF-CS) are currently testing a system known as Wireless for the Warfighter (W4W) that allows for the establishment of wireless extensions for computer and phone lines in minutes.

The W4W can be used to set up networks on the fly and can accommodate up to 500 people. Project leaders say the system, which is based on the 802.11 standard, cuts down the time needed to set up a communications network during emergencies. Eventually, it will leverage higher wireless networking standards, including WiMax, 802.16d, and 802.16e standards, further increasing its mobility.

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