Tag Archives: mobile broadband

Tired of 5G hype? Refresh yourself with 6G speculation

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Samsung 6g

While AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile squabble over each other’s claims of 5G dominance and their theories of 5G Evolution, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on how nothing changes in the mobile business. They had the same fights over 4G and they will do it all over again when 6G arrives.

Yes, 6G.

Expect to hear more about it in the not too distant future. 6G is undefined now, but there’s an assumption that it will be developed over the next 10 years, and that it will be something like total immersion in a sea of data.

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel talked about 6G at the Mobile World Congress show in Los Angeles a couple of years ago – the first time I heard someone try to define it. She described it as continual network densification. Samsung calls it “hyper-connectivity involving humans and everything”.

5G technology is all about network densification at the city block and factory floor level. 6G will be about densifying networks at a personal level.

6G development is likely to take the diverse development path that 4G took, rather than the internationally coordinated standards setting process that led to 5G. It’ll be developed by bits and pieces over the next ten years, and then eventually bundled into a package with a 6G label on it. As with other technologies, initial attempts might be for military applications. Technology that allows troops, equipment and weapons to be continually and comprehensively linked to AI-class analysis, command and control would be a game changer.

It’s not simple connectivity, of any generation, that’ll make the difference. Superiority – military or economic – will be gained or lost on the basis of the applications, data and devices that use it. 5G’s potential has barely been tapped and there’s a lot of work that has to be done before it runs out of steam.

But, ya know, 5G is so 2020.

Phone service is phone service and emergency obligations apply regardless of technology, CPUC decides

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Telephone companies have to follow disaster readiness and response rules laid down by the California Public Utilities Commission, regardless of the technology they use. That’s the CPUC’s opinion anyway. In a sharply written unanimous decision published yesterday, commissioners rejected challenges to telephone (but not broadband) emergency response obligations that they imposed on incumbent telcos, cable companies, mobile carriers and VoIP providers alike last year.

The regulatory logic that underpin those obligations also formed the basis for the CPUC’s initial response to the covid–19 emergency and the disaster resiliency standards for communications services that it recently adopted. The same cast of characters are fighting those edicts using similar arguments, so yesterday’s decision is both a good indication of how the commission will respond and how it will defend itself when the fight moves to federal courts, as it surely must.

AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, Frontier Communications and their lobbying front organisations claimed, among other things, that the CPUC’s disaster relief requirements were preempted by federal law because when phone service is delivered via 21st century voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology instead of 19th century copper wires and exchanges it magically transmogrifies from a telecommunications service to an information service.

Not true, the commission said. First of all, a federal court has already determined that telephone service is defined by the service provided and not by the technology used…

As the Court’s analysis demonstrates, the phrase “to facilitate communication by telephone” encompasses services beyond traditional landline service if the service facilitates “two-way communication by speaking as well as by listening,” regardless of the “[t]he exact form or shape of the transmitter and the receiver or the medium over which the communication can be effected.” Wireless service and VoIP service both facilitate two-way communication by speaking as well as by listening.

Second, while generally upholding the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality rules, a federal appeals court in the District of Columbia said last year that there’s no blanket preemption of state regulation of information services…

The [D.C. appeals court]…presents a more reasoned analysis, which preserves state authority over consumer protection matters that the FCC has either no authority to preempt or where no actual conflict exists. [It] supports the Commission’s consumer protection efforts in the Decision. Therefore [the telco and cable company] preemption argument fails.

Similarly, the CPUC rejected arguments made by AT&T and the mobile industry’s lobbying mouthpiece that the FCC reigns supreme over any wireless service. The decision said emergency response requirements have nothing to do with market entry or the price of service, which the CPUC cannot regulate per federal law, but are instead “‘other terms and conditions’ of wireless service”, which the same law firmly places under state jurisdiction.

The best way for cities to prepare for 5G is to get 4G right

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Burlingame poles

There are differences between 4G and 5G facilities, but not necessarily meaningful ones from a policy perspective. For most people, the two will look the same, except the 5G facility might be smaller and is likelier to look more integrated, without so many obvious components and visible wires, although there will be no shortage of exceptions. Mostly it’s because 5G technology is newer and they’ve had more time to work on it. In theory (there aren’t a lot of actual small 5G installations to go by yet) 5G facilities should be smaller than 4G, and easier to integrate into a street light or utility pole. But that might not be obvious. As a general rule, a 5G facility should fit within whatever specs a city has set for 4G facilities.

One difference that might matter is cities will start seeing permit applications for locations where 4G wouldn’t have been installed. That’s because 5G facilities are designed to be deployed more densely, and in many cases physically closer to customers.

Another difference is that cities will get a lot more permit requests for 5G installations, once work actually begins, also because they’re installing more per square mile. There have already been cases where a carrier submitted dozens of applications at once. That’s something that planning and/or public works staff have to think about – there are shot clocks with deemed approved teeth established by the California legislature – 90 days for new equipment on existing sites and 150 days for new sites.

So far, the mobile companies, carriers and infrastructure companies, haven’t gone to war over that, but it’s only a matter of time before they do.

A third issue will be fiber. For the most part, 5G cell sites need to be connected directly to fiber cables, and that means trenching and adding wires to utility poles, which also means more permit applications. It’s not a question of something particularly new, it’s going to be a problem of sheer numbers.

That’s assuming that carriers want to build out to a community at all. The relationship between low community income levels and lack of telecommunications service and infrastructure is well established. A 5G permit onslaught might be a problem, but it’s a bigger problem for a community if it doesn’t come at all.

Ad watchdog says some T-Mobile 5G claims are bogus, some aren’t

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile billboard 2 las vegas 6jan2020

T-Mobile’s ads about the wonderfulness of its 5G network and the limitations of Verizon’s went too far, according to an independent watchdog. The national advertising division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau, which has been acting as a mobile broadband advertising referee lately, said that T-Mobile supported its claim that its 5G service is faster than its competitors and covers more ground, but was misleading about metrics and its ability to project 5G service into places where even 4g is troublesome…

NAD noted that the challenged claims also convey a message about metrics other than speed. There was no evidence comparing 5G to 4G on metrics like reliability and metrics that “will change our lives in really big ways,” therefore NAD recommended that T-Mobile modify its claims to more clearly state the metrics like speed for which 5G is superior to 4G.

Further, NAD determined that the challenged advertising reasonably conveys the message that T-Mobile’s 5G typically delivers service in the physical locations shown in the advertising, such as basements and elevators, where cellular customers are accustomed to potentially experiencing a coverage gap. While it was undisputed that T-Mobile’s low band signal can penetrate walls, there was no evidence of the extent to which it does so, or whether it delivers coverage in locations that have traditionally challenged cellular service.

T-Mobile is putting 5G service on its low band 600 MHz spectrum, which has more range than the mid-band frequencies typically used for 4G service, and far greater range than the millimeter wave bands that are the focus of Verizon’s 5G deployments. The trade off is capacity. Mid-band frequencies deliver more digital bandwidth and millimeter wave bands far more.

Although NAD doesn’t have any enforcement power, it has a history of turning over disputes to regulatory agencies that do if a company doesn’t cooperate. So far, mobile carriers have sorta done so, albeit after taking advantage of the opportunity to appeal adverse findings. Which T-Mobile says it will do.

As California burns, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile fight emergency obligations

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Woolsey fire crew 625

Mobile carriers beat back a legislative attempt to impose disaster readiness obligations on them last week, and challenged “resiliency” rules approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in July.

Senate bill 431, authored by Mike McGuire (D – Sonoma), died in the assembly appropriations committee last week. No reason was given, but the primary opposition came from the lobbying front organisation used by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, with cable industry lobbyists close behind. The bill would have directed the CPUC to require 72-hour power backup capability at cell sites, where feasible. It also included relatively trivial back up power obligations for wireline companies, which were the remnants of tougher rules that displeased telco and cable lobbyists.

Although specific statutory authority is always useful to state agencies, the CPUC didn’t wait for it. Under its new resiliency rules, wireless companies – mobile carriers particularly, but perhaps also others – have to maintain 72 hours of backup power and provide customers with “the ability to receive emergency alerts and notification” during disasters and power cuts, including ”basic Internet browsing".

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and their lobbyists appealed that decision last week, asking the CPUC to reconsider it. They claim, as they have all along, that mandatory state disaster readiness rules are “preempted by federal law”…

Congress gave the FCC – not this Commission – jurisdiction over decisions about how, where, and for what duration wireless services are provided. The Decision impinges on the FCC’s exclusive domain.

That exclusive domain includes pretty much everything having to do with mobile networks, the carriers argue. They also claim that because broadband is an “information” service, per the FCC’s network neutrality ruling, the CPUC has no authority over it, either. That’s very much in dispute, though – the California legislature took the position that since it’s not a “telecommunications” service, it’s in their domain and not the FCC’s.

That question is now in the hands of a federal judge in Sacramento. The CPUC’s authority to impose emergency preparedness requirements on telecoms companies is also likely to be decided by in a federal court. There’s little chance that the CPUC will grant the mobile industry’s “application for rehearing”, but filing it is the first procedural step on the path to a legal challenge.

CPUC reaffirms T-Mobile/Sprint approval, but wrangling over California jobs continues

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile store la 23oct2019

The conditions imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission when it approved T-Mobile’s takeover of Sprint will stand, at least for now. The CPUC decided earlier this month to reject a request to re-do its decision made by opponents of the deal. Tweaks were made to the April decision that approved the merger, but those amount to yes, we meant what we said.

Requests for rehearing are often made but rarely granted. It’s a procedural box that needs to be ticked before a CPUC decision can be challenged in court, either by T-Mobile or its opponents.

T-Mobile is also asking for changes to the CPUC’s conditions, but it’s using a different process – a petition for modification of the decision. Among other things, it wants to remove a requirement to add 1,000 new jobs while keeping the combined T-Mobile/Sprint workforce in California more or less intact.

Although T-Mobile “voluntarily committed” to keep its post-merger California headcount the same as the pre-merger total, that included a plan to hire 1,000 people for a new call center in Fresno County. So 1,000 people elsewhere in California would lose their jobs. Or move to Fresno to take presumably lower paying positions.

In its objection, the Communications Workers of America, the primary telecoms union in California, said that data scraped from T-Mobile’s website shows the bloodletting is already underway

From April 2020 to July 2020, in California, T-Mobile closed 16% of Sprint retail locations, 6% percent of T-Mobile branded stores and 2% of Metro stores. 6% of Boost stores were also closed during this period.

Industry sources back up that assertion.

T-Mobile didn’t dispute those numbers in its response, instead repeating its argument that the CPUC doesn’t have the authority to tell it to hire more people.

Modification petitions usually come to the same end as rehearing requests: technical tweaks might be made, but the substance of the CPUC’s original decision will stand. Whether the CPUC can enforce the decision is still an open question, though. I don’t doubt it’ll try, but given T-Mobile’s defiance, federal courts will provide the final answer.

Links to arguments, exhibits and other paperwork filed at the CPUC and elsewhere are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary. Take it for what it’s worth.

It’s not just about 911. Twitter is emergency communication too, CPUC decides

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

In emergencies, broadband service is as important for connecting people to lifesaving information as telephone service is for reaching 911 centers. That’s effectively what the California Public Utilities Commission decided yesterday when it unanimously approved disaster preparedness requirements for wireless companies.

Those new rules require wireless companies to make sure their networks stay up for at least 72 hours after electric service goes down. The capabilities they have to maintain for their customers include “the ability to receive emergency alerts and notification”, which isn’t limited to reverse 911 calls, and “basic internet browsing during a disaster or commercial power outage”.

That’s because social media and other real time communication delivered via the Internet are integral to communications during an emergency, such as the wildfires that have swept through California in the past few years, commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves explained…

We’re not just talking about the ability to call 911. We’re talking about the ability to receive those alerts. Just as we sit here, I received an alert from the governor’s new order and how it implicates Sacramento County, on covid. Having all the social media networks that are used for providing customers and Californians this information – as you know, during many of the events, Twitter was used as a main source of information – so, a basic necessity for that Internet data service is such a key component. And it’s something that we’re going to, I’m sure, have to monitor to ensure that is provided to all Californians during these disasters and emergency times.

Where the rules go from here is an open question. Mobile carriers claim that the CPUC has no authority to impose network management requirements, because federal law gives that job to the Federal Communications Commission. The CPUC’s response is that states have broad authority when public safety is involved, and there’s nothing in federal law that preempts that power just because wireless telecommunications are involved.

The plain language of the new back up power and network resiliency requirements is not limited to mobile carriers, although the context of the decision is. Whether wireless Internet service providers – WISPs – will also have to comply, and what the corresponding obligations for wireline companies will be are also questions left for later.

Nothing guaranteed in disasters warning added to wireless resiliency plan as CPUC preps to vote

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

“There are certain disasters where it will be impossible to maintain wireless service, including during extended commercial power outages”, according to a draft decision set for a vote tomorrow by the California Public Utilities Commission. The revised version of emergency preparedness rules for “facilities-based wireless providers” proposed by CPUC president Marybel Batjer was posted on Monday, after reviewing dozens of comments submitted by a wide range of companies, industry lobbyists, consumer groups and others.

The original version of Batjer’s proposed decision obligated mobile carriers and, arguably, any other company offering wireless telecoms services to install back up generators, unless “objectively impossible”, at most facilities, and maintain a basic level of service during disasters, including “access to Internet browsing for emergency notices”. It still does that, but it now acknowledges that 100% coverage, 100% of the time regardless of circumstances isn’t going to happen in the real world.

The revision also requires wireless providers to “identify the basis” for claiming that it’s impossible to install back up power at a particular location, and “discuss actions being taken” to “mitigate service loss”.

Otherwise, the revised draft mostly polishes up some of the language in the first draft, and adds some additional case law support for its conclusions, particularly the fundamental finding that the CPUC has the authority to do what it proposes to do.

The response from telecommunications companies can be summed up as you can’t do that to us. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and the Sacramento lobbying front organisation for the cable industry, among others, argued in comments submitted earlier this month that the CPUC doesn’t have authority to impose network management obligations on wireless carriers, or wireline companies, such as cable operators, that it doesn’t otherwise regulate.

“The Commission does not have jurisdiction to mandate the provision of interstate, information services such as internet browsing”, Verizon wrote in its comments. AT&T claimed that “the proposed decision regulates in a field that is exclusively federal”. T-Mobile and the lobbyists deployed by Comcast, Charter Communications and other cable operators sang the same song.

The Wireless Industry Association (WIA), a lobbying organisation for tower owners, construction companies and others who provide infrastructure rather than the service that rides on it, didn’t get the clarification it requested. Pointing out, as I did, that it uses mobile carriers as examples but doesn’t explicitly limit its definition of wireless providers to them, the WIA asked the CPUC to “clarify” that back up power requirements only apply to “macro cell sites”.

No dice. The revised draft passed up the opportunity to narrow the scope of its disaster readiness requirements. It can still be read as applying to wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), at least under certain circumstances, and maybe always.

FCC limits on cell site expansion permits challenged by California cities

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

West sac cell site

California cities are pushing back against the tighter limits on wireless infrastructure permit reviews that the Federal Communications Commission approved in a party line vote earlier this month. Three cities in Los Angeles County – Glendora, Rancho Palos Verde and Torrance – and the California and Oregon leagues of cities filed a challenge to the FCC’s ruling with the San Francisco-based ninth circuit federal appeals court.

The FCC ruling said cities, or other local agencies, can’t delay starting a 60-day federal shot clock and can’t add aesthetic requirements when granting permit for expansions or other additions to cell sites and towers, or other wireless facilities, so long as the changes are within certain limits. In other words, when the work falls under what are usually called the “6409” rules, after the section federal law involved. The FCC said that the 60-day shot clock begins as soon as a wireless company takes the first step in a permit process, whether or not they’ve filed a formal application. If the shot clock expires, the permit is “deemed granted”.

The cities and associations filing the petition for review argued, as might be expected, that the FCC exceeded its authority…

The Commission’s new rules and significant changes to its existing rules unlawfully preempt local and state government authority promulgated without response to the arguments advanced by Petitioners in the record…

Petitioners seek review of the Ruling on the grounds that the Ruling is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.

The cities’ filed on Monday. I haven’t seen any other appeals from any other parts of the U.S. Assuming that’s the case, it’ll be handled by the ninth circuit, which is also considering a similar, but much larger, challenge to the FCC’s 2018 preemption of local ownership of city street light poles.

That case was heard in February, by three ninth circuit judges. There’s no particular timeline for a decision, but they’ve been working on it long enough that it could come at any time. Expect a similar journey of a couple of years for this latest appeal.

T-Mobile asks CPUC for permission to employ fewer people in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Sprint store

T-Mobile wants the California Public Utilities Commission to dial back some of the obligations it imposed when it approved the Sprint merger in April. A “petition for modification” of the CPUC’s decision asks for three changes:

  • Strike the order to add 1,000 new jobs in California. As it has consistently argued, T-Mobile says the CPUC doesn’t have that authority. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is offering hundreds of former Sprint employees the, um, opportunity to “consider a career change”.
  • Push back a deadline for “providing average speeds of 300 Mbps to 93% of California” by two years, to 2026. T-Mobile seems to think there was a misunderstanding. It says the clock on its voluntary commitment to reach that service level started running when the merger closed, not when it was first proposed in 2018.
  • Trust the Federal Communications Commission and the California Emerging Technology Fund, which is now on T-Mobile’s payroll to the tune of $7 million a year, to verify 5G coverage and speed promises. As it stands, T-Mobile has to prove its claims using the CPUC’s independent Calspeed testing program.

The modification request won’t have much, if any, of a direct effect on the CPUC’s decision allowing the Sprint merger and the long list of conditions it attached. The request for extra time to meet the 300 Mbps download benchmark might get some consideration, but T-Mobile’s appeal doesn’t say anything new about the requirements to add 1,000 jobs in California and to do speed testing the CPUC’s way.

The deal’s opponents will respond, of course, and the commission will take up T-Mobile’s petition and opponents pending request for a rehearing eventually. Minor tweaks aside, both are likely to be rejected. At that point, the CPUC’s lengthy – two years and counting – process will be complete, which clears the path to court challenges, at the state and federal level. That’s where the real action will happen.