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cell phone safety

Sprint Drive First:
Kudos to Sprint for New Safety App

While most of the cellular industry is in a severe state of denial about their role in distracted driving, other than obeying state laws where they exist, Sprint has taken a more positive action with Sprint Drive First. Here is a description:

Shortly after the car exceeds 10 mph – determined using GPS and cell tower triangulation – the mobile phone will be locked. If the driver is using the phone when Sprint Drive First engages, the call will end and the phone lock screen will appear. Anyone texting the driver will receive an automated message indicating the person they texted is driving. The message is customizable by the account holder.

A locked device displays a home screen with exit and emergency 911 buttons to override the app. Sprint Drive First can be overridden if the user is a passenger in a car, on a bus or train, but the parent or account holder can choose to receive notifications when the service is overridden.

Parents have a choice of programming up to five phone numbers to ring through when the phone is locked as well as allowing functionality of three apps, such as navigation, music or weather.

When the application no longer detects movement it unlocks and full device functionality resumes. Sprint Drive First takes into account stop-and-go traffic, so the driver needs to be sitting idle for a few minutes before it will unlock


Cell Industry Finally Acts on Smartphone Theft Prevention

CTIA announced yesterday:

Each device manufacturer and operating system signatory of Part I of this "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" agrees that new models of smartphones first manufactured after July 2015 for retail sale in the United States will offer, at no cost to consumers, a baseline anti-theft tool that is preloaded or downloadable on wireless smartphones that provides the connected capability to:

- Remote wipe the authorized user's data (i.e., erase personal info that is added after purchase such as contacts, photos, emails, etc.) that is on the smartphone in the event it is lost or stolen.
- Render the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (e.g., locking the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications, and if available, emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user (e.g., "phone home").
- Prevent reactivation without authorized user's permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible (e.g., locking the smartphone as in 2 above).
- Reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user and restore user data on the smartphone to the extent feasible (e.g., restored from the cloud).

In addition to this baseline anti-theft tool, consumers may use other technological solutions, if available for their smartphones.

The issue of often violent, sometimes deadly, smartphone thefts has been an active topic in the media and in this blog. Until recently public comments from CTIA focused on the the issue of protecting information on your smartphone by passwords and remote erasing, and paid scant attention to the fact that smartphone were generally stolen for their resale value not their information. This this week’s announcement is a great step forward for the cellular industry paying attention to the “unintended consequences” of their remarkable growth in recent years. Communications technology should enhance life, not threaten it.

CNET reported that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon have concerns about the new CTIA announcement:

"While CTIA's decision to respond to our call for action by announcing a new voluntary commitment to make theft-deterrent features available on smartphones is a welcome step forward, it falls short of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft. We strongly urge CTIA and its members to make their antitheft features enabled by default on all devices, rather than relying on consumers to opt-in."

(Note to CTIA: CNET is owned by CBS so you might want to boycott them because they agree with San Francisco on this issue.)

But this announce is a good step forward to improving the safety of smartphone users. Even if not all users opt-in, “herd immunity” would apply if the vast majority of users activate the feature. However since there are indications the the electronic serial numbers of many cell phone models are presently changeable as an “undocumented feature”, this will only apply if the new system is robust in the face of tinkering by overseas nerds who stand to make >$100/stolen phone if they can reactivate the phone for sale in their country.

State AGs to cellphone makers: Install technology to curb thefts

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NBC Today Show’s Jeff Rossen did a segment this morning on a move by 31 state attorneys general to send letters to “leading cellphone makers Samsung, Motorola and Microsoft demanding the companies ‘take all steps necessary to put consumer safety and security ahead of corporate profits…’ “

The 29 states and two territories signing the A.G.'s letter are Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont.

Microsoft has already said:

“Windows Phone has built in capabilities enabling users to find, lock and even remotely delete data from a lost or stolen phone. We agree this is an industry-wide issue and are working closely with the CTIA and other organizations to address.”

Rossen gave Apple good grades for a feature built in to their latest operating system to “brick” phones although he complained it was somewhat hard to find.

CTIA does have information on links to suppliers of antitheft software. Their main page of information on the topic, Before It's Gone: Steps to Deter Smartphone Thefts & Protect Personal Info, has the statement “CTIA and its members remind you that your personal safety, not your smartphone, should always be your number one priority.” However CTIA carefully avoids the issue of violent smartphone thefts that seem to have motivated the AGs action and appears to focus on protecting the information on the smartphones through remote wiping. The issue of “bricking” phone to make theft unattractive and hence decrease violence.

This is typical of a cellphone industry trend to minimize the unintended consequences of their products, be they
  • RF safety concerns or
  • use of cell phones in prisons or
  • anonymous cellphone use by criminals
  • or the “uglification” of communities with cell towers that were designed with no attention to their environment
as the industry demands more spectrum. The cellular industry provides many real benefits to society and more cellular spectrum is needed, but why can’t the industry also think more about its role in our society?

Video from CTIA website - Note being mugged is not given as one of the “stages of losing a cellphone” and the woman that lost the phone does not appear to have any injuries - unfortunately not always the case!

Other coverage:
NY Daily News
Mass AG
Village Voice


On December 30, 2013 FCC Commissioner Pai tweeted:

A gun-toting mugger in Central Park was so disappointed by his victim’s cheap flip phone that he handed it back." http://nypost.com/2013/12/29/central-park-mugger-rejects-flip-phone/ …

This is one of the realities that the cellular industry is trying to ignore: If you make use of smartphones in urban areas dangerous because they are too valuable to thieves since they can’t be “bricked” readily, urban users may go back to “flip phones” and “feature phones” and avoid the highly profitable but possibly dangerous smart phones.

Thus bricking phones quickly and effectively is really in everybody’s interest!

NBC's Today on Stolen Smart Phones - Again

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As the cellular industry starts the 3rd and last day of CTIA 2013™ in Las Vegas accompanied by all 3 remaining FCC commissioners - who came despite the sequester although no other FCC staff came, the NBC Today show risked joining the City and County of San Francisco on the CTIA boycott list. In the segment shown above, for the second time in a little over 2 months a Today segment by Jeff Rossen highlighted violent thefts of smart phones.

This is another unintended consequence of today’s ubiquitous cell phone use. All new technologies have unintended consequences. While the cell phone industry strives to make positive contributions to our society, economy, and environment it consistently turns a near blind eye to such unintended consequences preferring “solutions” that have little or no impact on industry operations regardless of whether they actually impact the problem at hand. While I can understand a little this tendency of industry, I really don’t understand why FCC tolerates it consistently. Perhaps the new leadership will take a new look?

One real problem that prevents reliable “bricking” of stolen phones is the fact that the IMEI or “serial number” can be changed in many models. As was discussed here earlier, some privacy advocates may favor this, but consumers are ignorant of this design detail that may threaten their life. Making all smart phones reliably “brickable” would enhance public safety. Why doesn’t the cellular industry insist to its suppliers that it be done? If some people really want phones with changeable serial numbers, they should be clearly labeled as such if allowed on the market.

Below is a YouTube “film festival” of violent cell phone thefts so you can see what we are talking about. If you need more, YouTube has plenty!

(This one below is from Brussels, not US)


4 Major Cellular Carriers Unite to Deter Texting While Driving

FierceWireless announced today “AT&T recruits Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile to curb texting while driving”. AT&T started the It Can Wait website in 2012 to deter texting and driving, especially by teenagers. Sprint, T-Mo, and VZW have now joined the capping which will kick off in full on May 20. (Sprint had previously cooperated since 2010 with Oprah’s No Phone Zone website on discouraging texting use while driving.)

In addition, FierceWireless reports:

In conjunction with It Can Wait, smartphone manufacturers Pantech, HTC and Samsung will preload the AT&T DriveMode safety app on Android devices sold to AT&T subscribers. DriveMode automatically replies to incoming texts, notifying the sender that the message recipient is driving and unable to respond. The app automatically turns on when the user is in a vehicle moving at speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour, and it automatically shuts off once the vehicle falls to speeds below 25 miles per hour for five minutes.

Our congratulations to the 4 major carriers for joining together now in this valuable effort.

NTSB Chair Hersman
But to put this in perspective, we reported here in December 2011 a much broader recommendation from NTSB. Here is a statement from that time from NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman:

"According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents. It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.

No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”

Note that this last sentence is simplified on the above industry website to just “No text is worth the risk”. The CTIA website says “The wireless industry defers to consumers and what they choose to support on driving legislation, whether that’s hands-free regulations or bans on talking on their mobile devices while driving.” Thus there still is a major gap between NTSB and the wireless industry, but the recent move is a positive step forward.

NY Times: "Cellphone Thefts Grow, but the Industry Looks the Other Way"

NYT theft article

The cellular industry does may things very well. It provides high speed reliable service in many parts of our country. It provides amber alert service to help protect children. It helps those suffering from spousal abuse get cell phones for their protection. But the industry also turns a blind eye to the societal problems that are the unintentional consequences of its service. Last year’s New Year’s Resolution post compiled several of these issues. None have shown noticeable improvement.

As in many things, problems not attended to often get worse. The item at the top is an article from the front page of the May 2 New York Times with the title “Cellphone Thefts Grow, but the Industry Looks the Other Way”. One wonders if CTIA and its members will now boycott advertising in theTimes as they have boycotted San Francisco?

The article starts:

When a teenage boy snatched the iPhone out of Rose Cha’s hand at a bus stop in the Bronx in March, she reported the theft to her carrier and to the police — just as she had done two other times when she was the victim of cellphone theft. Again, the police said they could not help her.

Commenting on a record 1,829 cellphones were taken in robberies last year in Washington DC, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier was quoted as saying, “The carriers are not innocent in this whole game. They are making profit off this.” We guess she was not very moved by CTIA’s John Walls, Vice President, Public Affairs who made this YouTube video last year to show how concerned the industry was about this issue after CTIA felt the Today Show misrepresented their position:

March 2012 Today Show segment on cell phone thefts:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

CTIA response to Today segment the same day:

While CTIA statements on cellphone theft usually focus on protecting private information on the phone, the large number of thefts raises concerns about violence and contribution to growing crime rates. According to the Times,

In San Francisco last year, nearly half of all robberies involved a cellphone, up from 36 percent the year before; in Washington, cellphones were taken in 42 percent of robberies, a record. In New York, theft of iPhones and iPads last year accounted for 14 percent of all crimes.

Some compare the epidemic of phone theft to car theft, which was a rampant problem more than a decade ago until auto manufacturers improved antitheft technology.

The Times article point out that one complexity that limits owner from making stolen phones nonfunctional by remote controls that the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity of many phones can be hacked, making the stolen phone impossible to identify. On this issue, the cell phone industry is not the only party at fault. Some privacy advocates view this ability to change identity as a good thing. The article states:

Some industry experts say consumers should have the right to modify their phones’ identification features to avoid being tracked.

The right to change the identification is a “pro-privacy measure,” said Seth Schoen, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology-oriented civil liberties group in San Francisco.

While your blogger often agrees with EFF on issues, in this case they have oversimplified the problem. Freedom from being mugged for your smart phone is as important as freedom of your children to go to school without fear of a gunman killing their classmates.

If some people want to change their IMSEIs from time to time for privacy reasons, no doubt a niche market, perhaps such phone should be available and clearly identified as such. Buyers more concerned about muggings - we suspect a much greater portion of the market - could then buy phones with permanent IMSEIs just as we regularly buy cars with permanent VINs. (It would probably be convenient for some to have cars where you can change the license plates by remote control as in James Bond movies but I am not aware of any jurisdiction that allows that.)

In any case, it looks like FCC will have to make a policy decision whether some or all IMSEIs should be permanent as intended. The industry may not be interested in such a proceeding at FCC, but the public safety demands that all options be considered in an open and transparent process.


Observations on Cell Phone Carrier Policies Overseas

Your blogger has been traveling overseas recently and has made some observations on how the cell phone industry in other countries deal with issues of the impact of cell phones on social issues.

Having recently rented a cellphone in Japan and bought GSM SIM cards in France and UK for my cheap unblocked cellphone reserved for overseas use, one thing all 3 transactions had in common: personal identification was required.

The US is the outlier in the industrialized countries in allowing purchase and use of cellphones in general without any identification, a topic of recurring discussion here. While there are major societal reasons against imposing a strict identification requirement on all cellphone sales in the US at the moment, the unrestricted sale of bagfuls of prepaid cellphones at Walmart and other large retailers should raise some real questions. Anonymous prepaid cellphones are widely used in criminal acts as the communications media of choice and are feeding the contraband prison cellphone use problem.

While I sincerely hope that the US never has a cellphone-activated IED terrorist incident, the unrestricted availability of anonymous cellphones is a real risk factor.

We have previously written about the Japanese “manner mode”, an easy consistent way to silence all cell phones in Japan - by comparison there is no consistent way to silence all US market cell phones and the root cause of the Marimba/Mahler incident was that the user thought he had silenced the phone but had not realized that silencing all alarm modes was an extra step.

While discussing “manner mode” with a Japanese friend, he mentioned that Japanese cell phones also have “drive mode”. Curious, I Googled for an English manual for a Japanese cell phone and found one from KDDI, a major Japanese cellular carrier:

KDDI man
Note the following points that you would never hear from a US carrier:

  • Do not use the cell phone while driving
  • Be considerate of where you use the cell phone and how loudly you talk.
  • Do not make calls in theaters, museums, libraries, and other similar places. Turn off power or turn on manner mode not to disturb others around you by ring tones.
  • Do not use the cell phone on a street where you might interrupt the flow of pedestrians.
  • Move to area where you will not inconvenience others on trains or in hotel lobbies.
  • Refrain from talking in a loud voice.
  • Turn off your cell phone or put it in Drive Mode while driving,
(“Drive Mode”, as the manual excerpt above explains, is a parallel to “Manner Mode” in cell phones sold in Japan. It is a simple consistent way to have all incoming calls answered with a message saying the called person is driving and ask the caller to leave a message. As far as I know it is a feature unavailable in US market cell phones. However, it might be accidentally included in some as a Google search reveals that some US cell phones have Manner Mode as an “undocumented feature” that can be very frustrating if you don’t understand it and know how to turn it on and off.)

While not all readers would agree with all the suggestions in the KDDI manual, I hope many will agree that the US cell phone industry should try some of these ideas to reduce the social friction from today’s cell phone use.

Late in my travels I visited France where I purchased a SIM card from SFR - a major carrier for my minimalist GSM unblocked phone (purchased in Singapore several years ago for about $20). I received with the SIM card a copy of “Mon Mobile et Ma Santé” (My cellphone and my health), a flyer from la Fédération Française des Télécoms, the French trade association of both wireless and wireline carriers, effectively the CTIA counterpart. The content of the brochure is basically the text of the FFT cellphone/health web page. Included is the following text:

Il est conseillé aux femmes enceintes d’éloigner le téléphone du ventre et aux adolescents de l’éloigner du bas ventre.

Without formal qualifications as a French translator (and open to feedback on this topic), let me translate this as

It is advisable for pregnant women to keep mobile phones away from the abdomen and teens away from the lower abdomen.

The brochure also advises costumers to use the cellphone to preferably in areas of good reception since the cell phone reduces transmit power automatically in such places and thus reduces your exposure to radiation. It adds that that is places where the reception is 4-5 bars the phone’s transmissions are weakest and so is your exposure to RF.

The FFT website, but not the brochure they publish, advises

L’utilisateur peut aussi choisir un modèle de téléphone mobile à faible DAS, ce qui lui permet de réduire le niveau maximal de son exposition aux ondes radio.”

Which I translate as

The user can also select a phone model low SAR, which reduces the maximum level of exposure to radio waves.

Readers may recall that this point is in contention in the ongoing CTIA/San Francisco litigation and is a point strongly disputed by the US cell phone industry.

I hope readers in the US market will find these observations of foreign cellphone markets thought provoking and starting asking questions about whether US carriers should adopt some of the policies in use in other countries.


CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Cellphone Safety

CNN recently posted the above video of Dr. Sanjay Gupta talking about cell phone safety. For those who have been on Mars, Dr. Gupta has an unusual resume: He is “is a member of the staff and faculty at the Emory University School of Medicine. He is associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital and regularly performs surgery at Emory University and Grady hospitals.” He also won “multiple emmies” and was named one of the Sexiest Men of 2003 by People magazine. It was widely reported that the Obama Administration offered him the post of US Surgeon General.

Is this video a perfect discussion of cell phone safety?
No. First it talks about people spending hours each day on cell phones that are held next to their head. There are clear indications that voice cell phone use is decreasing as broadband use builds up. You just don’t hold a cellphone next to your head while surfing the web, checking e-mail, or watching video. Next as cell phone networks are building out and become denser, the distance to the closest cell site is decreasing and the typical cellphone actual transmit power is decreasing also.

However, the cellphone industry isn’t doing a great job either other than telling you that cellphones “meet all federal standards”. Didn’t they notice that nearly half the electorate doesn’t trust the federal government? They certainly don’t trust EPA that had a major hand in drafting FCC cell phone standards, so why - by implication - should they trust the cellphone industry’s endorsement of these standards and their safety?

Since CTIA is
boycotting San Francisco over its “hostility” to the industry, I hope they are consistent and ban both CNN viewing in their offices and carrier advertising on CNN in response to this video OR we could improve the quality of the dialogue from both sides on this issue of key public interest.

Kudos to AT&T for its New "It Can Wait" Campaign on Texting While Driving

  • AT&T produced video

Randall L. Stephenson, the chairman and chief executive of AT&T, spoke last Wednesday morning at a conference in New York to hundreds of major investors, including Fortune 500 executives. The topic was the state of the telecom businesses, but he began with a request on a different topic: Please don’t text and drive. (NYTimes)

AT&T now has a website ItCanWait.com with videos about texting and driving and the danger as well as information on pledging not to text. Check it out!

39 states now ban texting while driving.

CTIA’s position is confusing due to a web mixup. If you search for consumer information on their website on tips for safety and driving, you get caught in a loop between this URL and this other URL. (When CTIA fixes this I will post updated information.)

On the advocacy part of the CTIA website one finds this statement:

CTIA-The Wireless Association® and the wireless industry believe that when it comes to using your wireless device behind the wheel, it’s important to remember safety always comes first and should be every driver’s top priority. While mobile devices are important safety tools, there’s an appropriate time and an inappropriate time to use them.

The wireless industry defers to consumers and the driving legislation they support – whether that’s hands-free regulations or bans on talking on their mobile devices while driving.

At the same time, we believe text-messaging while driving is incompatible with safe driving, and we support state and local statutes that ban this activity while driving.

We also agree with proposals that restrict or limit cellular use by inexperienced or novice drivers. Just as many states have graduated drivers' laws, such as restricting the number of passengers or nighttime hours of driving, the industry believes restricting a young driver's use of wireless while becoming better-skilled at the primary driving tasks makes sense.

The NY Times reports that David D. Teater, senior director of the National Safety Council, said he was pleased to see telecommunications companies, including AT&T, no longer lobbying against laws aimed at curbing driver distraction caused by electronic devices. “We’d love their support on the legislative side,” he said of AT&T’s position. “But the fact they’re not opposing us is good.”

On Sept. 30, AT&T will offer a free, revised version of its DriveMode app for Android and BlackBerry phones that will automatically disable texting when the phone is traveling more than 25 miles an hour.

While all the carriers discourage texting and driving to some degree and some discourage teenage use of cellphones when driving, they are notably silent on the general issue of cellphone voice use while driving. I recall a decade ago Chmn. Hundt urged the cellphone industry and the auto industry to collaborate on a standard for hands free cell use in cars - not much came of it. Of course, now it is not certain if hands free cellphone use is actually any safer than handset use.

Communications technology should enhance life, not threaten it.

Some Possible New Year's Resolutions for the Cellular Industry


As we approach the New Year, here are some constructive suggestions for the cellular industry to think about as New Year’s resolutions. Long time readers will recognize that many have been discussed before in other contexts. Let me state first that I am a long time admirer of the cellular industry, its dynamic growth, and its general record of technical innovation. The cellular industry has also done much to improve public safety through its support for E-911, Amber Alerts, and programs to provide cell phones for domestic violence victims. But this industry has several blind spots as it has accumulated political power and FCC influence comparable to the power formerly held by entities such as the pre-divestiture AT&T, NAB, or the pre-1990 Motorola. sic transit gloria mundi

The purpose of this post is to point out constructively some of these blind spots that appear not to be in basic conflict with the fundamental goals of the industry in the hope that they may reconsider their positions in at least some of these areas. I note that while the main cellular players once were in strong opposition to the bidirectional amplifier/BDA issues now in Docket 10-4, they have moderated their position and appear to be working with responsible BDA manufacturers on technical standards for BDAs that control interference. I hope that similar reexamination is possible in the areas below:

1. Wireless technology innovation. The focus of the cellular industry is that innovation is good, but that the key to innovation is more licensed spectrum for their industry. They are happy with the current level of regulation so everyone should be also. This is clear from CTIA’s comments and reply comments in the Wireless Innovation NOI. They see no need to expedite deliberations of new technology, saying “Simply put, even for good ideas with broad appeal, resolution unfortunately can take a long time notwithstanding the desire of parties to speed the process along”. The fact that the endless drawn out FCC spectrum deliberations stifle capital formation for technical innovators is no concern for mainstream CMRS players with positive cash flow.

But Qualcomm was once a startup in an era when it got its key regulatory decision in 2 years after formation. The CDMA technology that this startup pioneered supplies a major fraction of the 2G market (VZW and Sprint) and is the core of all world’s 3G systems. But this type of disruptive wireless innovation os getting to be impossible due to regulatory stagnation but for the cellular industry and for other spectrum users that compete for cross elastic spectrum. Sadly, the cellular industry is firm with the status quo here.

Wa - harmony (Japanese)

2. Social harmony and cell phone use. Does the cellular industry ever wonder why the public rose up in force against the Docket 04-435 proposals to allow cellphones in airplanes or why there is a market for (presently) illegal cell phone jammers? The reason is that there is a lot of obnoxious cellphone use in this country! Airplanes are one of the few places without it and the public outcry was to preserve that. There is an interesting essay by Don Norman that was prepared for a 2005 Motorola Research Visionary Board meeting entitled “Minimizing the annoyance of the mobile phone: The Annoyance, Irritation, and Frustration of The Mobile Phone -- A Design Challenge” that starts off with the quote “Nearly one in three (30%) adults say the cell phone is the invention they most hate but cannot live without”.

What is the industry doing about this? Are they trying to increase sidetone levels so people don’t shout when using cell phones? Are they trying to make it easier to switch the ringer to a vibrate only/ “manners mode” as in Japan where all carriers have voluntarily agreed that a press of the “#” key toggles the unit to and from vibrate only mode? Are they researching ways for theaters and restaurants where people really want a semblance of quiet to use Bluetooth or a similar link to switch phones automatically to vibrate only? Kudos to Motorola for inviting Dr. Norman to talk on this issue. How much of this type of dialogue is going on now in the industry?


Suggested reading for cellular industry managers: “Wild Night at Philharmonic After Phone Interruption” describing a January 10 incident “in one of the quietest parts of the final movement of a gorgeous New York Philharmonic performance of Mahler's Ninth”.

3. Cell phones use in vehicles.
Technology should improve life, not threaten it. In September 2011 NTSB recommended a ban on cell phone use in commercial vehicles (trucks and buses) after investigation of a Kentucky crash that killed 11 people. The industry was silent except for an e-mail message to your blogger saying “The wireless industry … does not oppose legislation that restricts the use of wireless communication by drivers." (This quote was never printed or posted anywhere else as far as can be determined.)

Then in December 2011 NTSB recommended to “ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers”. This time CTIA was no longer silent, saying “ As far as talking on wireless devices while driving, we defer to state and local lawmakers and their constituents as to what they believe are the most appropriate laws where they live.” This is not leadership, this is non opposition. If I was involved in a product or service that resulted in death on a regular basis as an unintended byproduct I would be a lot more concerned. Especially since talking in cars is not the main use of cell phones.

The NTSB recommendations are not perfect. For example they do not deal with new technology since all NTSB can do is investigate past accidents. Why doesn’t the industry do something more proactive like start a standards committee, or encourage DOT to start one, that can certify which technologies are safe enough for use in vehicles?

(But kudos to Sprint for breaking with the crowd and being a cosponsor of Oprah’s Oprah’s No Phone Zone website and its “No Phone Zone Pledge”.)

RF safety. Most of the cellular industry thinks that the public should be happy with their statements that cellphones meet FCC standards and are therefore safe. A decade ago, the industry fought FCC over the proposal to stop hiding SAR ratings for cell phone models in an obscure unmanageable database. As a previous blog post here has as a headline, “CTIA: Maybe Your RF Safety PR Strategy Isn't Working?” The past year has seen CTIA boycott San Francisco and got to court (with an initial partial victory) over a local ordinance requiring point of sale disclosure of SAR data. (The same data that Verizon Wireless openly discloses on their website for models they sell.)

Perhaps the industry does not want you to know about the secret of OETB65C. Stalin once said, “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” So the SAR standards for cellphones in Sections 2.1091 and 2.1093 were subject to a notice and comment rulemaking that made 1.6 W/kg the SAR limit. But how is that really determined? In practice through the procedures of OETB65C which gives the manufacturers a lot of leeway as to what spacing from the simulated body they can use for measurements in the body, even if they do not provide a holder that would implement that distance and even if they don’t warn users not to put the device in their pocket. Both Time magazine and your blogger have written about this issue, but there seems denial at both FCC and industry on the issue.

There is no proof that cell phone radiation is dangerous. Indeed, some of the brain cancer claims made as clearly outrageous. (Considering there is no proof that cell phone radiation causes any pathology, why the focus on brain cancer - except that it is a very scary diagnosis.) But the web site of CTIA’s French counterpart is a lot more pragmatic than US industry sites on the risks and unknowns as well as the fact that some users may want to take extra precautions. The Swiss counterpart of EPA also has a site with pragmatic and practical information lacking in industry and government sites in the US.

5. Base stations and their environments. One of the issues driving the need for more CMRS spectrum is the difficulty of building base stations, particularly in suburban areas. Cellular capacity is a function of 3 factors: technology (e.g. 3G vs. 4G), infrastructure (number and nature of base stations, and amount of spectrum. Limits on one factor press demand on the others. For 2 decades industry has pressed Congress and FCC to limit the ability of local governments to control base station deployments with limited success. The reason is simple for the limited progress; as Tip O’Neill said famously, “All politics is local”. As long as base station designs “look like they are designed by engineers” with no regards for their surroundings in most cases, the neighbors will object.

This month’s IEEE Spectrum reports on a UK design contest for power pylons sponsored by a major electric utility, a national government agency, and the architect’s professional society, which resulted in several novel designs including the one above. Why can’t the US cellular industry help sponsor a similar contest for bold new ideas in base station design? The cost would be small compared to what they are spending on they lobbying war with the broadcasters as present.


6. “Spectrum scoring” or “How to count to 500”. The cellular industry originally demanded 800 MHz of new spectrum for CMRS although they are now accepting of the 500MHz NBP goal. But what spectrum counts towards the 500 MHz goal? Does every single Hertz have to be only in spectrum that meets standards developed in Europe to be manufactured in China? There are many types of wireless innovation other than making iPhone and iPad clones. Some of them involve using spectrum more efficiently. The focus on meeting international standards means that only innovators who want to plow through the complex international standards process can get market access in the US. Actions like PacTel’s decision to go with CDMA in the 1980s apparently is beyond consideration now.

While your blogger has no views against giving more spectrum to CMRS, many of us think the 500 MHz goal is impossible under the conditions for “counting” that the cellular industry has implicitly set with factors like nationwide 24/7 1000 ms/s access and in 3GPP specified bands. Although LTE systems can use unpaired spectrum, most of the spectrum on their wish list appears to be paired and symmetric. If FCC and NTIA come up with spectrum that doesn’t that meets all these criteria, does it “count”?

7. Provide communications for niche applications that otherwise contend for spectrum with CMRS. After the success of the iPhone, the CMRS focus seems to be on “killer apps”/knock out new products. Niche markets are of little or now interest unless they can be served with apps on standard hardware. Who needs little $100M markets. This is understandable from the MBA viewpoint.

But here is another viewpoint: Some niche markets compete for spectrum at FCC that is the same or comparable spectrum to what the cellular industry seeks. For example the medical community is clearly seeking more spectrum for short range applications. It is clear to many of us, even some in FCC, that the existing use of wireless microphones in UHF TV band “white space” is not sustainable in the long term except perhaps for uses involving only a few microphones like small churches and conference rooms - not theaters and major concerts. This is because of cellular industry pressure for UHF incentives auctions that will eventually tie up the same spectrum.

In the past, there was no alternative for the CMRS industry to serve these and other wireless niches. However, with the spectrum leasing provisions of Subpart X of Part 1 and today’s femtocell technology it is possible for cellular carriers to lease short range spectrum to users with other than standards cellular modulations/physical layers and without connection to the public network. A good example is the Qualcomm FlashLinq™ technology that will allow users to connect directly to each other with non standards modulations on spectrum leased from and under the control of a CMRS carrier. Maybe the specifics of FlashLinq™ are not perfect for the CMRS community, but it clearly shows the feasibility of new types of spectrum use in CMRS spectrum. Even if it is not a billion dollar market, its ability to “soak up” other spectrum uses that would otherwise compete for spectrum might make it attractive to openminded CMRS firms.

8. Unrestrained use of anonymous prepaid cell phones. Prepaid cell phones are a growing market and have many legitimate uses. One writer reports that “in 2009, in excess of 80 percent of new cell phone subscription growth came from prepaid service plans.” But nearly all the cell phones used illicitly in prisons and a major fraction of those used in crimes are prepaid “throw aways”.

Until recently, the largest prepaid operator, TracFone, allowed users to activate a phone bought anonymously andskip” the step to report name and address. However, the option of buying with cash bagfuls of prepaid phones at Walmart, activating them over the web with a false name and address, and selling them for criminal use is still quite real. Isn’t it odd that we more concerned about over-the-counter sales of Sudafed and Plan B than we are about bagfuls of anonymous cellphones?

Many countries require some identification before prepaid phones can be activated. This is a complex issue both because of the size of the market and the appeal of prepaid phones to market sectors who need them for legitimate economic and safety-related reasons but, as we know from the voter ID controversy, may lack or be unwilling to identify themselves in the standard ways. While I sincerely hope we never have a cellphone-related IED attack in this country, such an event would force a PATRIOT Act-like knee jerk reaction that could be more draconian that a deliberate process now to address the situation.


For those of you who wonder about the temerity of an industry outsider raising such questions about the cellular industry, let me point out the Verizon $2 “payment fee“/“convenience charge” kerfuffle that started just as this blog was first posted and ended a day later. Clearly, VZW, the largest cellular carrier in the US was out of touch with its customers on this issue and had to beat a hasty retreat. Perhaps the industry is also out of touch on the above issues?


On 1/7/12 CNN posted an article by bestselling author Bob Greene entitled “Is 2012 the year to hang up the phone?”

Story highlights:

There is growing chorus of officials, employers urging less cell phone useHe says NTSB warns against use in cars; bosses pushing back on personal calls at workHe says cell-phone distractions even affect surgeons and nurses; cut productivityIt may be impossible to take people's freedom of cell use away from them

So your blogger is not the only one seeing cell phone use backlash. Perhaps if the industry was more sensitive to the concerns listed above it might be in their own interest?


Today Show: "Why won’t wireless companies help stop cell phone thefts?"

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tens of thousands of cell phones are stolen in
the U.S. every year — many of them violently.

Readers may recall that in the past few months I have published posts entitled “Is the Cellular Industry Tone Deaf” and “Some Possible New Year's Resolutions for the Cellular Industry”. While one might think I was hostile to the cellular industry, actually I am a great admirer of them in many ways. They have achieved tremendous technical efficiency improvements since the initiation of cell phone service in the early 1980s and they have had tremendous positive impact on our society. CTIA’s website has a “Wireless Safety” section that rightfully says,

“Your wireless device is a fantastic safety tool, and can help save your life as well as the lives of others. This section focuses on CTIA and wireless industry initiatives, such as Wireless AMBER Alerts and Text2Help that allow you to help others in trouble through your wireless device.”

But on some issues related to interactions with the public the industry is really “tone deaf”. So it is not surprising that today when the headlines are dominated by the Romney aide “Etch-a-Sketch” comment that the Today Show, one of America’s most popular news programs, has a segment on “Why won’t wireless companies help stop cell phone thefts?” Here is a quote from the Today website:

“Police say it is an epidemic across the country and only getting worse: Tens of thousands of smartphones stolen every year. And yes, it gets violent: Many victims are beaten, bruised and hospitalized. Authorities say there’s an easy fix, a way to stop these criminals in their tracks right now. But, they say, the wireless companies are blocking it — to protect their profits.”

The NBC reporter, Jeff Rossen, states that in several countries, including UK and Australia, technologies and policies are in place to “brick” permanently any stolen cell phone so that it has no resale value. Here is the Today web site summary of what was said
Walls on Today

“But the technology already exists. They’ve been doing it in the U.K. for a decade, and in Australia, too, where authorities say it’s working; smartphone robberies are down. The industry’s response: Let’s wait: It won’t work here until every country joins in. “Let's make sure we get, for example, Mexican service providers, Central American, South America, African, Chinese,” (CTIA’s John) Walls said.”

“Why not start with the U.S.?” Rossen asked. “Why not take the first step here?”

“Because I think the larger problem, the bigger problem is overseas,” Walls said.

But police say Americans will keep getting beaten and robbed as long as the wireless industry continues to drag its feet. (Emphasis added.)

I know there is sometimes little good will between the cellular industry and the TV broadcasting industry due to spectrum issues like incentive auctions, so this is a small chance that NBC’s news operation was tainted by this antipathy. This would be rare, but one must admit the possibility.

Meanwhile, here is a YouTube video giving a similar consumer viewpoint:

CTIA actually has had something on their website about “lost or stolen phones”. “In response to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), CTIA-The Wireless Association® President and CEO Steve Largent issued” a statement in August 2011 that deal with what consumers can do to protect the personal information in their phones. It does not deal with discouraging the theft of phones or assaults on smart phone users and lists nothing the industry is actually doing. Indeed it urges “Congress to not impose unnecessary regulations on the wireless industry that would cause unintended consequences.”

This is actually an area where FCC is speaking more about the issue than the industry. In a speech to the GSMA Mobile World Congress (the global forum for GSM-based and GSM-related systems) in February, Chmn. Genachowski said

Another area of challenge: stolen phones. There has been a sharp increase in the U.S. in thefts of mobile devices, particularly smartphones and tablets, endangering the safety of millions—both physical safety and the safety of the sensitive personal information stored on the device.

I commend the GSMA for establishing a database of phones that have been reported stolen so that those devices can’t be reactivated by someone else. I understand this has helped deter theft in European countries where carriers have signed up.

In the U.S., law enforcement officials are concerned that adequate systems don’t now exist to deter smartphone theft. This is a serious consumer issue, and we are taking it seriously

This afternoon, CTIA released the following YouTube video:

Mr. Walls this time assured viewers that “The industry is aggressively pursuing a technical solution that will render a stolen device useless. We’d like to make sure that happens in the U.S. and overseas markets… I want to remind you that the industry is very, very interested in developing these technical solutions.” He also reminds people they should use passwords. So is the US cellular industry waiting to enhance the safety of US smart phone users until it gets consensus with “Mexican service providers, Central American, South America, African, Chinese” as he said in the Today interview? Why do UK and Australia already have such protection?

I reiterate my view that the cellular industry needs to be more sensitive to consumer issues and not spend all its resources on political games within the Beltway.