Wireless Roundup: FCC ponders new spectrum;

Most carriers live by the maxim “You can never have enough spectrum.” Now the FCC has adopted a variant: “You can never sell enough spectrum”. Flush from the $19.6 billion 700 MHz auction, the FCC is now examining what other parts of the electromagnetic rainbow it can tap for commercial wireless use. The two prime candidates are new Advanced Wireless Service licenses and, of course, the highly controversial ‘white spaces’ between broadcast channels.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has scheduled a vote over whether to auction off another 25 MHz of the upper AWS band, but not for the traditional voice and data services of the original AWS sale. Instead, Martin is proposing the winner of said auction would begin an immediate and aggressive roll-out of a nationwide broadband network AND offer service gratis to the end customer. It sounds very similar to the now defunct plans of several muni-Wi-Fi providers, except this would require the operator to actually buy the airwaves it uses. It may sound far-fetched but the FCC has already gotten proposals from at least one company to offer just such a service. M2Z apparently thought enough of the free business model that it took the FCC to court when it rejected its request for the license.

Google founder Larry Page was in Washington this week lobbying the FCC, Congress and anyone else that would listen about the virtues of white space between the 700 MHz spectrum–how it would be an optimal place to shove a new broadband network. The FCC doesn’t appear to be anywhere near a decision on what to do with these nooks between television broadcast channels. It does, however, have the National Association of Broadcasters breathing down its neck to kill such a proposal, while Google pushes for the opposite. Meanwhile it continues to test white space devices, all of which seem to work in the lab, but not necessarily outside of it.

Nokia’s quest to gain greater market share in the U.S. got a welcome boost this week. T-Mobile announced it would launch four new Nokia feature phones this month. Avian securities estimated Nokia has 18% of T-Mobile’s “shelf space”, but that percentage would start inching up in June. T-Mobile is the smallest Tier I operator in the U.S. so Nokifying it handset portfolio won’t have a tremendous impact, but with new CDMA handsets emerging and its support for the new AWS bands, Nokia may see its market share percentages inch up a few points. NPD had Nokia with a No. 4 market share at 8% in Q1, still far behind No. 3 LG Electronics at 17%.

The Cricket EZ phone made the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall list this week because of problems establishing audio connections with 911 systems. Leap Wireless, Cricket’s umbrella company, reported the problem to regulators earlier this year and voluntarily recalled the devices. Leap officials said that it started notifying its customers by phone and text about six weeks ago, asking them to come to Cricket store for a firmware upgrade. About 190,000 phones are on the network, the majority of which have been fixed, Leap said.

Ontela’s networked camera phone platform is gaining some momentum among U.S. operators–at least the smaller ones. Cincinnati Bell this week launched Ontela’s photo upload application, which uses the cellular data network to automatically transfer photos snapped with a cameraphone to online photo storage sites or a customer’s PC. Alltel launched the same service in April.

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