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June 8, 2007

Entrepreneurs ask for open access wireless networks

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:17 PM

A group of 15 wireless entrepreneurs, including current or former executives from companies such as Virgin Mobile USA and Palm, asked the FCC to open up airwaves coming up for auction instead of selling them to specific companies. Such a move, they said, would help spur innovation.

In a letter, the group argued that the problem today in wireless is that innovation takes too long. If an entrepreneur builds an application or a new device, it can take months to years to get a carrier's approval to implement it.

They wrote in the letter:

"We are writing as members of the Wireless Founders Coalition for Innovation, which is a group of seasoned wireless industry entrepreneurs who have founded wireless companies that now generate billions of dollars of revenue and have created thousands of jobs. We have brought innovation to the wireless industry by creating new business models, launching new services, and addressing pressing consumer needs that were previously ignored by the large wireless carriers."

The letter follows a proposal by Frontline Wireless, which is urging the FCC to ensure that the 700 MHz spectrum (to be auctioned soon) becomes a "wholesale, open access network that meets critical needs of consumers and first responders."

Frontline calls it the "last, best chance for a competitive wireless broadband future in the U.S."

I've heard very little discussion locally on the matter, and I wonder how entrepreneurs here feel about having to sell their work to the carriers, which own the networks, vs. providing applications on an open network?

I wonder whether it's not commonly discussed issue because of the culture here. Most of the wireless industry in Washington stems from McCaw Cellular Communications, AT&T Wireless, VoiceStream, Nextel Partners, T-Mobile USA and Western Wireless -- all wireless carriers that owned and operated their own networks.

So the question is, are the wireless entrepreneurs here more effective at dealing with the carriers because that is where they came from? Or would they be blindsided by an open access network if it ever comes about because they couldn't dream of carriers relinquishing their power?

Not surprisingly, none of the 15 entrepreneurs and executives who signed the letter to the FCC are local.

For more information, see a Wall Street Journal story here, the coalition's Web site here, and a Frontline press release here.

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
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Angel Gonzalez
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Kristi Heim
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