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"StingRay" FOIA Release Shows Continuing FCC FOIA Problems

This week the website of TheBlot Magazine reported that “(a)fter a six-month investigation, TheBlot Magazine obtained a heavily redacted copy of a top-secret manual detailing StingRay and KingFish surveillance gear.” What is StingRay? ACLU describes it:

“Stingrays, also known as ‘cell site simulators’ or ‘IMSI catchers,’ are invasive cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information. When used to track a suspect's cell phone, they also gather information about the phones of countless bystanders who happen to be nearby.”

The magazine reports that “ A heavily redacted copy of a 2010 user manual covering both StingRay and KingFish devices was delivered by the FCC last week”. When they say “ heavily redacted copy” they weren’t kidding! Here is a sample of what was released:


But lest we be seen as too critical of FCC here, let’s first report 2 positive aspects of what has happened:

  • The magazine actually got the release directly from FCC. This is a real improvement. We previously described a FOIA request to FCC for documents Motorola had submitted to FCC explaining why multiple units of hardware they made had caused interference to NOAA weather radars. In that case, FCC apparently allowed (requested?) Motorola to redact the documents any way they wanted and just send us whatever they thought was appropriate. We received the redacted copy directly from Motorola! In the present case, Harris Corp may have controlled all the redactions, but at least FCC wrote a cover letter and sent it to the magazine.

FCC Discovers and Starts Complying with 2007 FOIA Amendment
  • FCC now finally recognizes the requirement of Section 12 of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 that “the exemption under which the deletion is made, shall be indicated at the place in the record where such deletion is made.” As can be seen in examples of previous FCC FOIA releases below, including even one by the FCC Inspector General, this statutory provision has been consistently ignored by FCC previously. (Perhaps Harris Corp.’s lawyers read the FOIA legislation better than FCC staff or Motorola staff in previous cases?)
At left is a document released by the FCC IG after a FOIA request in July 2014, 7 years after the FOIA amendment requiring that redacted material be marked with an exemption number. DOJ has clear guidance on this issue, yet FCC has consistently ignored it until now. It is troublesome that FCC’s Inspector General blindly followed the general FCC practice in this area. Thus it is no surprise that the FCC IG has never reviewed FCC’s FOIA practice for compliance with the law as the NRC IG has. (As we have written previously, the FCC IG’s historical near total lack of interest in FCC policies and practices seriously affects its credibility at a time when it is reportedly investigating FCC’s procedures in adopting net neutrality rules. There is a real likelihood that the office will find no fault in the present case and no one will believe it.)

Ignoring Obama/DOJ FOIA Guidance - See, FCC Really is Independent!
In the recent Net Neutrality issue there has been consistent recurring accusations that FCC takes secret orders from the Obama White House. Such accusations have even been echoed by the 2 Republican commissioners. Well, this excessive fealty to the Obama White House may be disproven by FCC consistent and ongoing dismissal of the concepts in President Obama’s publicly stated FOIA policy: On his first full day in office, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government calling for unprecedented openness and transparency in government and declaring information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. Here is an excerpt:

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

This memorandum is not binding on FCC as an independent agency, and it is pretty clear that it has been almost completely ignored. So much for FCC’s alleged total fealty to the Obama White House!

Consistent Excessive Redactions

There have been a few recent cases where documents requested under FOIA were released by FCC and then released with fewer redactions. This allows a direct view of when FCC was redacting and whether it was justified. (By contrast, the document released by the FCC IG shown above has never been released in a less redacted form so one can only guess at whether the redactions were actually legitimate. However, we have previously speculated that this document was over redacted in some places and under redacted in others.)

Below is a Motorola submission to FCC in conjunction with the enforcement action concerning interference from Motorola equipment to NOAA weather radars. This was released, actually mailed by Motorola to your blogger after a FOIA request to FCC. Following it is a less redacted version after your blogger appealed to the full Commission and waited a year:

Motoredact812 Moto-less-redact-10-12
(Click on above images to expand the document)

Another pair of releases comes in the enforcement action concerning Google’s Spy-Fi operation and its legality. The top document is the document with redactions by Google that FCC nodded at when it released the document. After a public outcry, Google released the lower document with minimal redactions. Now that we can see what redactions FCC authorized/condoned in the upper document, were those redactions consistent with the law? Was it consistent with President Obama’s nonbinding guidance to FCC (but binding on Executive Branch agencies)?


A suggestion to readers: Compare the first redaction in the above 2 cases with the 2nd version. You can see the exact words that FCC redacted (or condoned the submitting party’s redaction) and see if you can find any plausible justification in the FOIA legislation for such redaction? If you happen to agree with your blogger that these redactions have no plausible justification, please communicate such to FCC leadership.

If CIA Has an Online Reading Room of Prior FOIA Releases, Why Not FCC?

While FCC claims to have a “Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room” that allegedly includes “Records disclosed in response to a FOIA request that ‘the agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records”, past FOIA releases are not readily available. FCC does not post previous FOIA requests and resulting releases except in very rare cases. Try to find the StingRay release on the FCC website, for example! (Although we must admit that in one case FCC released to us a document someone else had FOIA’s in only 3 days after we requested it! By contrast, CIA, NSA, FBI, and NRC do post previously released documents regardless of whether they are embarrassing to the agencies.

Remaining StingRay Issue: Who Authorized Its Use per § 301 or § 305?

While it appears that FCC made a minimal/slight attempt to comply with the FOIA request that asked for the StingRay information, there is another key spectrum policy issue here that has been unanswered dealing with StingRay: Who authorized its use under § 301 of the Communications Act? Use by a state or local law enforcement agency requires some sort of § 301 authorization. There are 2 obvious possibilities:

  • FCC has been giving licenses to state/local law enforcement organizations under waivers
  • State/local law enforcement agencies have been leasing spectrum from cellular carriers
Both of these alternatives should leave a paper trail, but none is apparent at present. Interested parties may wish to see if such a paper trail can be found. In any case, I urge the 8th Floor to decide for themselves who authorized this action and were the details proper.

What about StingRay use by federal agencies, e.g. FBI or DEA? Such use could have been authorized by NTIA pursuant to § 305 and § 902 of the Communications Act. NTIA is not known for transparency. But since StingRay almost certainly transmits in cellular bands (note that even this was redacted in the manual provided in response to the FOIA request), NTIA authorization would have required coordination with FCC pursuant to an interagency agreement. (The basic terms of this agreement have been in place since 1940 and have been strictly adhered to by both agencies.) So if anyone wants an exercise in frustration, feel free to FOIA FCC on correspondence with NTIA on permitting its use by federal agencies.

Maybe it is also time for an independent review of FCC FOIA practices?

UPDATE - Wild Inconsistency of FCC Redactions

After thinking about this for a while, your blogger wondered about the complete redaction of any quantitative data such as frequency and power in the redacted material that FCC finally released. How could this data be exempt from FOIA? So we took the FCC ID of the FOIA request, NK73092523, and went to the FCC “Authorization Search” page.

It was amusing to note that all the routine application documents were listed but virtually all were granted confidentiality and none had links available. Even 6 documents that were not granted confidentiality were missing:
  • “Revised ID Label”
  • “Final Request for Confidentiality of Harris Corporation”
  • “Revised RF Exposure 850MHz”
  • “Revised RF Exposure 1900MHz”
  • “Revised Test Report 1 of 2”
  • “Revised Test Report 2 of 2”
However, from the titles of the 3rd and 4th document above, it is clear this initial StingRay covers 850 and 1900 MHz bands.

But even more surprising was the official FCC equipment authorization grant which at the time of this writing can be access with this link. (Don’t be surprised if it disappears quickly.) The grant is shown above right and clicking on it will yield a larger image. It clearly shows the bands in which StingRay operates and the powers and modulations - all information redacted from the document FCC delivered for the FOIA request!

Why the wild inconsistency? There are hints throughout this issue that FBI is involved. Matthew Keys, the journalist behind the FOIA request, provided us with this statement:

“During the FOIA process, I was told that an outside agency was assisting the FCC in its fulfillment of the requested documents. Specifically, the outside agency was helping the FCC determine what information should be made public and what information should be redacted. To date, the FCC has refused to tell me the name of the outside agency.”

Note the grant contains a cryptic condition: “State and local law enforcement agencies must advance coordinate with the FBI the acquisition and use of the equipment authorized under this authorization.” In posted e-mail correspondence with FCC on the FOIA request, a delay due to an “outside agency” is mentioned. Also mentioned is an NDA between FBI and a local police department -- although it is hard to see how that was germane to the FOIA issue.

-So perhaps FBI, not Harris, actually redacted the document.
-Perhaps this explains the long processing of the FOIA request?
-This might explain why the redacted paragraphs are marked properly even though FCC had perviously ignored that requirement in FOIA releases. FBI may comply more with the letter of the FOIA legislation than FCC does.
-Perhaps FBI was more stubborn than FCC and demanded near total redaction even though the basic technical data was already public and the law and Obama Administration policy (binding on FBI but not FCC) did not allow such extreme redaction?
-Perhaps FBI did not know the information was already public in the grant?
-Perhaps FBI was so pig headed and arrogant in demanding total redaction that FCC didn’t bother to tell them about this contradiction? The world wonders.

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
- Sir Walter Scott,
Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.

But this inconsistency is not unlike the FOIA release of the IG “porno” report: In that report parts were over redacted and parts were under redacted allowing identification of groups that were under suspicion for porno access from FCC computers. Further indication of long term basic FOIA problems at FCC.

UPDATE - 4/11/15

UK’s The Guardian has now also written about StingRay. They go into detail about the NDA’s between FBI and local police, presumably of no concern to FCC although FCC conditioned equipment authorization on user agreement with FBI in each case.

They also found a total of 5 different StingRay models with FCC equipment authorization and show the FCC grants with the frequencies and powers listed. The same information that was redacted in the StingRay manual FOIA!


The Mysterious @JohnnyInterfere
A Covert Action Lobby Effort by NAB?

On 2/25/15 a new Twitter account, @JohnnyInterfere appeared with its first Tweet, an innocuous “Just set up my new Blu-Ray player!” Several more innocuous tweets appeared including ones about pancakes and Girl Scout cookies. Then on the eve of SXSW Wi-Fi became a recurring issue.

Yesterday the focus became the issue of whether TV white space was an interference threat to OTA DTV. There was a link to a Re/code blog post entitled “FCC’s hot mess of a database may not bode well for future airwaves sharing”, one your blogger had retweeted as soon as it appeared. It seemed odd that Re/code had been so interested in the quirks of the TVWS databases, but maybe it was a tip off from industry.

But then things got stranger. An article onThe Hill’s website on net neutrality, bound to get attention in the telecom policy community, was plastered with ads about “Johnny Interference” and @JohnnyInterfere:
Nearly simultaneously “Johnny”’s twitter page started getting multiple tweets about how “Super Wi-Fi”/TV white space (TVWS) systems would cause interference to TV broadcasters. This is particularly ironic because the database-driven TVWS rules were adopted by FCC in response to NAB’s concerns that FCC’s original cognitive radio/listen-before-talk (CR/LBT) proposal who cause interference. Indeed, NAB was so concerned that they lobbied against any objective testing of a CR/LBT prototype during the long FCC testing process. (MSS client Adaptrum, Inc submitted a prototype for FCC testing that was capable of operating in a fully automatic CR/LBT mode but was never tested in that mode. The TV signal detector was tested and the transmuter was tested, but they were never tested together.)

CR/LBT systems would not be subject to the database issues that Re/code and “Johnny” are now concerned about. (While CR/LBT systems can detect TV signals at levels much lower than a TV set can receive using cyclostationary detector technology, a point NAB has never acknowledged, they probably could not have detected wireless microphone signals adequately given the chaos of wireless mic that lacks a standard band plan, high frequency stability, and a well defined modulation as well as being on any possible TV channel. FCC adoption of CR/LBT for TVWS would have forced some discipline and probably more efficient technology on wireless mic users - most of which were operating illegally at the time.)

Just prior to the appearance of “Johnny”, NAB launch a surprisingly aggressive commenting campaign against Adaptrum’s, a small Silicon Valley firm, request for a waiver of TVWS tower height limits in an obscure area in northeast Maine that lacks much broadband coverage and totally lacks any UHF TV signals.

We note that former long term FCC stafferJane Mago recently retired as NAB General Counsel and EVP/Legal Affairs and was replaced by another FCC alum, Rick Kaplan, who was not at FCC as long as the well respected Ms. Mago. It is interesting to note that when he first arrived at NAB, it was proudly announced that “(w)hile with the FCC, Kaplan had a reputation as a consensus-builder and a leading voice on spectrum policy, championing causes such as spectral efficiency and spectrum sharing”.

Shortly after Comm. Baker took over CTIA, the 2 most confrontational CTIA staffers left the organization and CTIA’s spectrum advocacy has become less shrill and confrontational. Has NAB now assumed the mantle of CTIA’s former confrontational approach? Is NAB now behind the well funded “covert action”/“false flag” operation @JohnnyInterfere? What happened to Mr. Kaplan’s former interests in being a “consensus-builder” and “championing causes such as spectral efficiency and spectrum sharing”.

In any case, if NAB would sit back for a second, they might realize that the decimation proposed of the FCC’s spectrum enforcement staff is a much greater threat to all broadcasters - not just TV broadcasters - than problems with the TVWS database that can be addressed in a less confrontational approach than anonymous ads in the Hill and mysterious Twitter pages.

So let’s work out database issues in a less confrontational forum and all collaborate on the issue of saving spectrum enforcement at a reasonable level.

UPDATE 3/19/15

Blogs and tweets get answers sometimes! Shortly after this was posted, the following tweet from Mr. Kaplan appeared:


A phone message left by NAB’s Patrick McFadden on the Johnny Interference issue said “there is no mystery or anything covert about it. It's an education campaign that we've launched.”

Note that our above blogpost clearly said “MSS client Adaptrum” and that by Googling both “Marcus” and “Adaptrum” that the long standing relationship between Adaptrum and MSS is very clear and well documented. The NAB staff is also well aware of the MSS/Adaptrum connection going back to the FCC Lab tests of TVWS technology. Googling NAB and “JohnnyInterfere” or “Johnny Interference” results in no such connection. The @JohnnyInterfere Twitter page has no mention of NAB and the multiple ads in The Hill also have no mention. Was the new campaign “covert”? Readers can decide for themselves.

This “education campaign” ’s connection with NAB was only revealed in the public domain after our tweets and blog post.


Major Spectrum Enforcement Cutback Planned at FCC:
Most Industry Silent


Word leaked out last week about a major cutback in FCC spectrum enforcement that is being implemented. This cutout results from a $745,603 study FCC commissioned from Oceaneast Associates, an SBA Certified Small Disadvantaged Business and 8a Program participant. The contract was award without competition to the firm which describes itself as “management and IT consulting firm”. We have filed a FOIA request for the report (Tracking FCC-2015-000358) and will make it available here as soon as it is obtained.

While the study has not been made public, it has apparently been provided to at least one member of Congress and this is likely FOIA-able although, as previously mentioned here, FCC’s FOIA practices are less transparent than CIA’s.

Here is some information that has leaked out about the report and FCC’s plans:

  • Some 160 stakeholders, including current and former EB/field staff, trade associations, government agencies, FCC advisory committees, and others, were interviewed by the consultant over a period of months - although reportedly NAB only hear about this a few days ago.

  • Report concluded field staff had little consensus on their mission, except that resolving public safety interference was always Job #1. Probably true as a result of 2 decades of poor leadership, inadequate funding, and discouragement of initiative to solve problems. Actually, one way to be ready to solve public safety problems quickly is to use idle periods to solve other interference problems to improve skills and try new approaches - but that has been discouraged.

  • Office closures and overall staff reductions will be balanced by increased field travel budgets, increased use of pre-positioned fixed equipment in locations where there is no field office, and establishment of a new quick-response “Tiger Team” based at Columbia. Remaining offices after cutback: NYC, Columbia MD, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, LA and SF. 33 agents remaining - a 50% cut

  • Increased field travel funding would be about $200k annually (Is this realistic considering the need for travel to Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and USVI, not to mention Guam?)

FCC’s jurisdiction extends beyond the Beltway!
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

  • Report found that the field is ill-equipped to monitor, identify, or locate problems related to many current or emerging RF technologies - again not a surprise considering low funding for 2 decades. Mobile DF is “becoming increasingly irrelevant” - perhaps, but works for most sources of deliberate and accidental interference.

  • Procedurally, an order started circulating on the 8th floor on March 9 that would authorize an internal re-organization. The Hill has a period when they can veto such a change, but does not have to fact either way and in the past never has. Union requirements specify 30- and 120-day time periods to reach agreement on the necessary terms of the reorganization and on personnel changes. Buy-outs, early retirement offers, and possibly RIFs. The earliest this reorganization could occur is Fall 2015.

But here are some other concerns of your blogger:

  • With the increased emphasis on sharing of federal spectrum by FCC licensees and new unlicensed technology, will the “powers that be” in federal spectrum management, NTIA or IRAC depending on your viewpoint, really be receptive to more sharing in view of FCC decreased resources to identify and resolve quickly any problems? What is the real impact of this bias against sharing?

  • Will other federal agencies that have turned to FCC for timely interference help end up spending more for internal spectrum staffing and equipment than the money saved at FCC? Will they be as effective without the name and legal power of FCC to press compliance by people who cause interference by accident or intentionally?

  • Fewer people in the field in fewer cities also decreases resource to monitor actual spectrum use in order to provide input to the policy process at FCC. While in the past many incumbents did not want such information, most recent studies, including PCAST, have surged more use of spectrum use observations in the policy process.

So far few in the regulatee community have spoke out on this issue. NAB has allegedly issued a “press statement”, but it is nowhere to be found on its voluminous website. The NAB statement is reported to have been:

"This is a potentially troubling development, particularly as the FCC begins encouraging spectrum sharing among different types of communications services. Having a robust interference enforcement presence in FCC field offices is critical to ensuring that consumers receive the services that they expect."

NAB’s endless tweets from @AirWharton have not mentioned the issue to the faithful to date. The broadcasting industry’s key mouthpiece, Broadcasting & Cable, has only mentioned the issue in passing.

CTIA is reported to be deliberating the issue this week. APCP and UTC have been silent although they should know better. Only ARRL, not always the most influential group at FCC, has issued a clear statement of concern.

We urge spectrum users to consider these issues and make their viewpoints heard at FCC on the 8th Floor and at congressional committees.

vox populi, vox dei


As if on queue, a few hours after this was posted NAB’s above mentioned PR man,@AirWharton, tweeted:


The link in the tweet is to http://recode.net/2015/03/17/fccs-hot-mess-of-a-database-may-not-bode-well-for-future-airwaves-sharing/, a blog post about apparent inconsistencies/errors in theFCC’s TV whitespace database that allows unlicensed sharing to TV broadcast spectrum where there are no actual TV signals present. Rather than just snipping at FCC policy, perhaps Mr. Wharton and his colleagues should ask their members whether they feel good about the pending decimation of FCC spectrum enforcement resources?

While the FCC enforcement employees involved will be affected by the change, so will a lot of other spectrum users, both federal and nonfederal, who depend on enforcement of rules and deterrence of illegal spectrum activities.

UPDATE 2 - 3/18/15

Perhaps the above update worked, perhaps something was already in progress but NAB has now ended its near silence on this issue. In an article today in Broadcasting & Cable, the key trade magazine and mouthpiece of the industry, NAB’s Dennis Wharton is quoted:

“This is a potentially troubling development, particularly as the FCC begins encouraging spectrum sharing among different types of communications services," said Dennis Wharton in response to both stories. "Having a robust interference enforcement presence in FCC field offices is critical to ensuring that consumers receive the services that they expect.”

NAB has interference concerns about the way the FCC is setting up the incentive auction repacking framework in which TV stations and wireless companies may be close neighbors on the same of adjacent channels. In addition, the FCC and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration are teaming up on a "Model City" program to test advanced spectrum sharing among different services. The administration has made it clear that advanced spectrum sharing is one way to free up more spectrum from government use. In fact, they just announced an April 15-16 joint workshop on establishing that "Model City."

Thanks to NAB for speaking out. Let’s hope CTIA, APCO, and UTC also recognize that they also have self interests here. Maybe even TIA and CEA too?


Japan's Abe’s robot panel aims to give drone industry an edge

Check out today’s Japan Times:

AbePrime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during the party's annual convention in Tokyo on Sunday. The Robot Revolution Realization Committee, an advisory panel appointed by Abe, will review existing radio and civil aeronautics laws and set up industry-run best practices for drones. | BLOOMBERG

Abe’s robot panel aims to give drone industry an edge

The Abe administration is looking to fast-track industry-friendly regulation to give Japan’s drone sector an edge over the United States.

The Robot Revolution Realization Committee, an advisory panel appointed by Abe, will review existing radio and civil aeronautics laws and set up industry-run best practices for drones.Another panel is asking companies for ideas on how to open up new special economic zones in Tokyo and other big cities to drones on a test basis

.We want to keep an eye on the world’s drone market, starting with the United States, and consider Japan’s way of doing things,” said Tamotsu Nomakuchi, who heads the robot panel. “It’s not about copying other markets, but learning about them and creating something better.”

Note the proposed synergy of aeronautical regulations and spectrum regulations.

While FCC’s and NTIA’s silence on drone spectrum drones on, Japan Inc. is trying to get its act together for economic growth! Hey, isn’t NTIA part of the
Commerce Department?

While inside sources mention ongoing discussions between FAA and FCC on drone issues, there is no public acknowledgment that such discussions have even occurred.

This issue is not just providing spectrum for drone use, it also involved deciding which spectrum is
inappropriate for drone use. This may well include both cellular and Wi-Fi spectrum for various reasons such as limiting the impact of drone use at high altitudes on terrestrial users.

While the Commission and its staff are paralyzed over the “NN issue”, this important issue is getting no visible attention.

Maybe the specter of Japanese initiative might strike fear in some circles now and spur the FCC to end its inaction.

Title III called and is demanding some attention now!

Spectrum Policy and Wireless Innovation

From 2/15 issue of

It is often said these days that “technology moves at Internet speed”. One thing that differentiates wireless technology that is the subject of this publication from most other technologies in the field of interest of the IEEE global community is that it is regulated much more than other electrotechnologies. For example if one makes a breakthrough in semiconductor device technology or in computer display technology, one can develop the breakthrough in secrecy until it is time to market the technology. Such technologies need no a priori government approvals, except perhaps for routine approvals related to safety issues or unintentional RF emissions.

This point was made clear to the author in a 1981 article in IEEE Spectrum shortly after he started working on spectrum policy issues:

Pressed by a competitor who was selling (foreign) manufactured sewing machines for the home at lower cost, the Singer Sewing Products Group counter attacked. For four years, designers and development engineers worked in secret at the Singer headquarters in Elizabeth, NJ putting together a sewing machine that would, in one stroke, make existing machines on the market obsolete. What they were aiming for was the world's first electronic sewing machine. … The radical design would enable Singer to eliminate approximately 350 precision- made mechanical parts found in comparable machines on the market. … Success was instantaneous. The original marketing estimate of 300 machines per week jumped to 500 just prior … introduction. In less than a month after its introduction, the estimate was raised to 2000 machines per week.

The article even describes how Singer was able to ensure marketing surprise by using other divisions of the parent firm in the development and to purchase the needed parts to hide the interest of the sewing machine division. Is such market surprise possible in the wireless technology area?

The Apple iPhone is actually an example of “disruptive innovation” in wireless products that was able to achieve marketing surprise comparable to the Singer case. Apple was able to achieve this by an innovative combination of nonspectrum technology e.g. processing, display, and memory, with wireless physical layer technologies that were already approved and or the market. While the initial iPhone needed the routine approvals that Wi-Fi devices, Bluetooth devices, and ordinary cellphones require for inband powers, out-of-band emissions, and RF safety, these were routine approvals posing little risk and could be obtained at the last moment before marketing. No spectrum policy issues necessitated early disclosure of the iPhone’s innovative characteristics.

Unfortunately such marketing surprise is not possible for many wireless technology innovations. The basic pattern for spectrum policy was set after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. At that time the highest frequency possible for commercial use was less than 1 MHz and radiotelegraphy was the only practical modulation. By 1934 when the US FCC was created, the highest frequency in routine use in the US was 2.5 MHz and its first annual report mentioned “possibility” of VHF use “above 30 megacycles”. In the modulation area, amplitude modulation was then a new alternative to radiotelegraphy.

Given these beginnings and the slow pace of technical innovation in the early days it made sense for the international and national regulators to specific uses for bands and allowed modulations and powers to control potential interference. ITU also adopted a definition of “harmful interference” that made sense with the technologies of the era, although it has some ambiguities with the case of newer technologies and bands with propagation characteristics not anticipated when the definition was drafted .

The ITU has tried to become more reactive by having more frequent world radio conference, for example the 3½ year time gap between WRC-12 and WRC-15. National regulators have tried to minimize regulatory delays of new wireless technologies by increasing the focus of regulations from prescriptive use of specific technology to increasing the focus of regulations to preventing interference to other users. However, this is difficult to do with a regulatory legacy this is a century old as regulators are governmental bodies that do not move at “Internet speed”, but rather time constants that are associated with due process issues according to the form of government in each country. In addition, in some parts of the world there are regional bodies such as CEPT’s European Communications Committee and the European Commission’s Radio Spectrum Policy Group that have a supernational role in spectrum policy.

This is the 150th anniversary of the initial publication of James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory that is summarized in the ubiquitous – at least among the readers of this publication – Maxwell’s Equations. It is important to remember that spectrum policy issues are just as important and just as real for new wireless technologies as Maxwell’s Equations are if you are interested in practical actual use of the technologies as opposed to just publishing a theoretical article in a prestigious IEEE publication. However, there is a key difference: Maxwell’s Equations present key physical limits, for example, information can not be transmitter faster than the speed of light. While the constraints of spectrum policy are just as real, they are not physical limits and they evolve just as all governmental policies around the world evolve with time. Thus it is important for wireless technology innovators to be familiar with both current spectrum regulations as well as the national and international processes involved with modifying them to deal with innovative technologies in both current bands and bands that are not presently used.

While many evolving technologies face regulatory dilemmas with respect to their timely implementation in practical use, early identification of such issues in the research and development cycle can lead to early engagement in the spectrum policy arena to minimize delays due to policies that were developed in a different era and which may have become anachronistic.

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau famously said “war is too important to be left to generals”. For the wireless technology community, spectrum policy is too important to be left to regulatory specialists. Readers can help themselves and help the whole wireless technology community by understanding national and international spectrum policy issues related to their research and engaging in deliberations in their own country, including national inputs to ITU-R activities.


"keitai strap" Aftermarket Endangered by Smartphones

keitai straps on sale in Japan based on popular food items
keitai straps in store
We have previously written about the ubiquitous keitai straps in Japan. (keitai denwa means mobile phone in Japanese) To quote Wikipedia these are

“A phone strap, cell phone strap, or mobile phone strap, was originally a string or loop to help the user hold their cell phone, which was invented and became popular in Japan where they are known as "keitai straps" (携帯ストラップ) in Japanese. Phone straps have now become a cultural phenomenon beyond their basic utilities, and they may be decorated or themed with famous characters such as animation heroes or Hello Kitty. Phone straps may also have additions to add additional functions such as detecting ghosts, carrying medicine pills or mobile gardening”.

Your blogger recently returned from 2 weeks in Japan and was fascinated by keitai straps being sold everywhere as souvenirs and large numbers in stores that sell cell phones. The Japan-focused blog Tofugu has an interesting post that suggests that the custom of using keitai straps is an evolution of the old Japan use of netsuke to hang small containers hung by a cord from the sashes of the robe/kimono. Keitai straps are attached to cell phones though a pair of holes that have been ubiquitous on cell phones although not noticed by many Americans. Some phones have a single hole with an internal post that the strap is looped around. (See this YouTube video.)

But smartphones usually don’t have the hole(s) for the attachment of straps, endangering both a Japanese and Korean cultural fixture and a large industry in those countries. Fortunately, there are ways to modify smartphone cases - also available in Asia in a mind boggling variety. This YouTube video shows one approach:

Some smartphone cases sold in Japan come with a hole just for a keitai strap while others have holes intended for other purposes than can be used without too much difficulty.

We urge the cellphone industry to be more attentive to the needs of the keitai strap-using community and to include mounting provisions in future models.