Editorial/Scanning . . .
Oh boy! Maps and TV! Ever been riding in a car with someone who reads maps while driving? That habit unnerves some passengers, yet some drivers seem to have to look at the map for themselves to understand the route to their destination. Pull over and stop to look at the map? No way! Let the passenger read the map and give directions? Un-uh.
How about the driver who watches television while behind the wheel? That hasn’t been much of a problem-yet. In several states, in fact, it has been illegal to place any “TV-type receiving equipment” in automobiles, including Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. Until now. Thanks to the advance of technology.
Wireless communications networks now can relay vehicle navigation information for display on small monitors (about 7 inches wide) to assist the driver in finding the way. These devices allow drivers to send emergency distress signals, receive directions, check their current location on a map and track mileage information on trips. With the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association leading the way, the nine states that restricted TV-type receivers in automobiles have amended their laws to permit the use of vehicle navigation devices. We like maps. We like TV, too. With a vehicle navigation device in our car, we get to watch maps on TV. What could be better? We may have to give up taking passengers, though. They’re just too nervous. (You know who you are.)
Phone cops Cooperating with federal authorities and taking self-protection against cellular fraud to a new level, NewVector technicians in Santa Fe, NM, helped U.S. Secret Service agents to arrest three suspects on Jan. 9. The Secret Service has primary jurisdiction over cellular fraud crimes.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of long-distance calls were initiated during a six-week period on cellular phones illegally programmed with identification numbers that would have caused unknowing, legitimate subscribers to be billed for the calls. About 95% of the fraudulent charges were identified before they reached NewVector customers’ bills. Programming cellular phones to steal service, a process known as “cloning,” involves entering stolen phone numbers and electronic serial numbers into other handsets. Once a phone has been cloned, unlimited calls can be placed that are billed to the original account. Cloned phones often are used in “call sell” operations in which thieves sell calls to individual users for a flat fee.
Fraud analysts with US West Cellular, which does business as NewVector, detected an unusually high number of international calls on several cellular phone numbers in Phoenix. The technicians tracked the phones as they moved from Phoenix to Tucson, AZ, to Albuquerque, NM, and then to Santa Fe, NM. Using radio direction-finding equipment, the technicians pinpointed the source of the fraudulent calls to a motel. Private investigators hired by the cellular company kept the motel under surveillance until federal agents could obtain warrants to search the motel rooms and make the arrests.
Support from the Secret Service and the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in New Mexico was considered by US West Cellular as critical to the successful apprehension of the suspects. “If they had not acted when they did, it’s possible the suspects would have left town in a matter of hours,” said company spokesperson Lisa Bowerstock. As unfortunate as it is that cellular technology allows phone numbers and electronic serial numbers to be stolen, at least network traffic analysis methods have been developed to detect fraud, and the venerable techniques of radio direction-finding help system operators to find the thieves.
What’s a fair price? Cellular fraud costs the industry an estimated $3 billion per year. Some consumer groups suggest that “price- gouging” by system operators costs the public twice that much per year. They claim that because only two operators serve each market, providers can keep prices higher than they should, and consumerists consider it to be gouging. Cellular companies say they charge what is necessary to recover capital construction costs. Critics claim these costs were recovered during the first 18 months of operation in most metropolitan areas. Whether the 18 months estimate is true or not, are capital costs still being recovered 10 years after most systems were built?
The next defense, first heard about 1989, was the need to bank money to convert analog systems to digital. Few systems have converted, and maybe only a few more conversions are likely. Less-expensive technologies are available to increase capacity, and estimates of capacity requirements have been reduced in the face of potential competition from personal communications service (PCS) system operators. Competition may succeed in bringing down cellular service prices where regulation and protest have failed.
Blizzard of ’96 The east coast froze in early January’s Blizzard of ’96. Here’s a quick check of what’s still frozen at the FCC in Washington, DC: 220MHz SMR applications. 800MHz SMR applications. 900MHz SMR applications. 800MHz General Category applications. 800MHz interservice sharing applications.
Last fall, the FCC processed 40,000 SMR applications filed before the freeze and found that 6,500 could be granted. Petitions filed in connection with the process are preventing licenses from being issued. If and when the licenses are issued, an estimated 12,000 new channels may be built, representing healthy business for equipment manufacturers. Some of the freezes (moratoriums on accepting new applications) will never be lifted, with the current application process to be replaced by an auction process. In the near future, new business may be focused on business and industrial communications systems below 800MHz, opportunities in spectrum refarming and new public safety system construction. Don Bishop