US cellcos fight to cope with inauguration, but minds on longer term issues
Published: 20 January, 2009
On the day of the inauguration of US president Barack Obama, many of the wires across the Atlantic are dominated by speculation over whether the cellphone networks around Washington DC will cope with the unprecedented numbers of people expected to converge on the federal capital. But more weighty mobile operator decisions await the president once the fervor of his first day in office is over, including the increasingly thorny issue of digital TV transition.
Cellcos are deploying additional capacity around Washington and issuing instructions to consumers, with warnings to use the phone lightly, despite the natural desire to take cameraphone pictures or send video messages from the historic occasion. The carriers' organization, the CTIA, issued a statement saying operators were deploying 'cells on wheels' and 'cells on light trucks' to boost capacity temporarily, plus adding more backhaul links - all of this a welcome showcase for supporters of portable and emergency base station technology, such as Vanu.
Tomorrow will be back to business as usual for the mobile carriers, and the most pressing issues will be the proposed delay in transition of broadcasters out of the 700MHz spectrum, and possible schemes to help cellcos through the downturn. Digital TV transition was scheduled to occur on February 17, but a postponement of a few months looks increasingly likely - as the Obama interim team has already suggested - to deal with problems over upgrades from analog TV services. The first transition took place in Hawaii last week. Delay in national transition looks more likely, because Verizon Wireless is now supporting this. The carrier acquired a national 700MHz license last year and had previously opposed a postponement of transition because it wants to start testing LTE networks soon in its new frequencies.
In a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said that, since the Obama team had promised that a delay would "not be open ended", the carrier now agreed "that a one-time delay from February 17 to June 12, as reflected in Senator Rockefeller's draft bill, is appropriate." He added: "Any further delay would harm the nation's economy and broadband future." AT&T Mobility had been prepared to support a delay of no longer than 90 days, since its plans for its own 700MHz spectrum are less near term.
However, public safety interests are still arguing that their 700MHz licenses should be exempted from a delay, a position with which Verizon concurred.
Over at Sprint Nextel, the operator is lobbying for a share of the bail-out funds being extended to a broadening range of US industries. It has proposed using $2bn of the proposed bail-out fund, which could top $800bn, to create a new National Emergency Response Team for mobile communications. Sprint said the funding could support the deployment of this system within a year, and its operation over five years. The plan includes at least 100 satellite-based cells and 100,000 phones at 40 centers to support emergency response.