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Government Cellphones

Obama Asks FCC To Make Carriers Unlock All Mobile Devices 378

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-to-regulate dept.
New submitter globaljustin writes "According to a Washington Post report: 'Several months after calling for legislation to unlock cellphones, the White House filed a petition (PDF) with the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday asking that all wireless carriers be required to unlock all mobile devices so that users can easily switch between carriers. ... the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said that allowing unlocked devices would increase competition and consumer choice, while also putting the burden of changing networks on companies rather than consumers.' This move should be met with universal acclaim from cell phone users, right?"
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Obama Asks FCC To Make Carriers Unlock All Mobile Devices

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  • Topology (Score:5, Informative)

    by eedwardsjr (1327857) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:15AM (#44882327)
    There is still the whole GSM vs CDMA issue.
    • You guys still have CDMA?
      • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:20AM (#44882357) Homepage Journal

        well, at least it isn't SOPA. We told them to STFU about SOPA so we wouldn't be SOL.

      • Re: Topology (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:25AM (#44882395)

        We have four major carriers. Two carriers are on CDMA and two are on GSM. The two GSM carriers use different frequency bands for 3G, which means you need a phone with a pentaband 3G radio to be able to freely switch between those two. LTE is even more complicated.

        Basically, this would have been a great suggestion ten years ago, but now the carriers have used technical measures to make the whole "carrier locking" thing moot.

        • I don't think this is true anymore since T-moble refarmed it's spectrum to support the iPhone. Now T-moble and ATT are largely 3G compatible in many areas.
          • Re: Topology (Score:5, Informative)

            by davros74 (194914) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @10:05AM (#44883307) Homepage

            T-Mobile did not refarm its spectrum to support the new iPhone. They worked with Apple to get a special version of the A1428 iPhone 5 to support AWS band 4 (1700/2100)MHz, which allows the phone to work on their data network. ATT is not using 1700/2100MHz for their data network.

            Now, to relieve congestion on their 4G networks, T-Mobile is moving their EDGE networks over to HSPA+ on 1900MHz to provide additional 3G bandwidth on a predominantly only 2G frequency. This is only happening in major cities, such as Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis, etc. If you're like me (in eastern Iowa), this "network evolution" doesn't mean crap for me. Now, as a pure side-effect, providing HSPA+ on 1900MHz allows 3G to also work on earlier iPhone models, such as the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. That was NOT the primary intent.

            So the situation still is - if you want fully featured data services, you must know the frequencies and waveforms your carrier uses and make sure they are compatible. For me, with an iPhone 4S (unsupported on iWireless, a T-Mobile subsidiary), I get EDGE speeds here, but when I viist larger cities operated by T-Mobile, I get 3G. For the iPhone 5, well, there are no less than FOUR versions today (and it was more complicated before the T-Mobile iPhone rollout in early 2013), but as of now, there's the CDMA/Verizon version, there's the international GSM version (which does not work on AWS 1700/2100MHz), the ATT GSM version (which does not work on 1700/2100MHz) and the "Unlocked/T-Mobile" GSM version, which does work with AWS 1700/2100MHz. Clear as mud, right?

            Even if the phones were unlocked and everyone could switch carriers, until you get the cell phone manufacturers to start making "world" phones again for data, it's still pretty much locked down (such as the ATT vs Tmobile vs Verizon/Sprint iPhone5 issue described above). At least for VOICE, yes, any GSM phone works just about anywhere in the world, but we let the companies make a mess out of "standards" for 3G/4G/LTE data.

            • by emag (4640)

              Kinda makes me glad I have an unlocked Nexus 4... Sure, it doesn't have LTE, but...

              * Unlocked GSM/UMTS/HSPA+
              * GSM/EDGE/GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
              * 3G (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz)
              * HSPA+ 42

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by justthisdude (779510)
          There are many smaller cell service providers besides the big 4. They buy time on the major networks in bulk and resell it at discounted prices. A list of the alternatives for A&TT includes Airvoice, Black Wireless, Fuzion Mobile, H20 Wireless, Straight Talk ( list from the Mr. Money Moustache blog). With my phone unlocked I can get the same service from the same towers for $40 from Airvoice that A&TT charges me $87/month. I am at the end of my ATT contract and I am seriously considering bu
      • by SpzToid (869795)

        Yes. We also have an FTC, however they sold out awhile ago. Some people can only dream of SIM. Some people don't even know what economic freedom is made possible by SIM standardization.

      • by Bengie (1121981)
        What do you mean "still". CDMA emits a magnitude less radio waves, has longer range, has better penetration of walls/etc, can do soft hand-offs, has no logical limitation of range, gets better signal strength when lots of towers are in the same area, has no issues with frequency planning.

        It is better than GSM is almost every way, other than cost and market penetration.

        You guys are still on fiber optics?! We use copper! It's so much better!
      • Re: Topology (Score:5, Informative)

        by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @04:23PM (#44887471)

        You guys still have CDMA?

        Not only does the U.S. still have CDMA, most of the rest of the world does too. CDMA won the standards war. The only part of GSM which uses its original TDMA is the voice comms. Most GSM carriers have adopted CDMA or WCDMA for 3G and 3.5G data service (including HSDPA/+).

        TDMA sucks because it allocates a timeslice to each phone regardless of whether or not that phone actually transmits during the timeslice. The way CDMA works, every phone can transmit simultaneously and the bandwidth per phone decreases proportionally to the increasing noise floor. i.e. it scales automatically with number of phones transmitting, instead of scaling with the number of phones connected to the tower like TDMA. If it weren't for CDMA, 3G data speeds on GSM would've been limited to about 150 kbps.

        That's also the reason GSM phones can do voice and data simultaneously. They have a TDMA radio for voice, and a separate CDMA radio for data. CDMA phones typically have only one CDMA radio, so they can only do either voice or data, not both simultaneously.

        CDMA is finally being supplanted by OFDMA (what most implementations of LTE use) because processors have finally become powerful enough to decode the OFDMA signals without draining your battery in 30 minutes. Conceptually, OFDMA is very similar to CDMA, except it operates in the frequency domain instead of code domain. In CDMA each phone is assigned an orthogonal set of codes (e.g. Three phones could be assigned codes AB, BC, and CD. If the phones 1 and 2 transmit simultaneously, the signal the tower sees is ABC, and it knows phones 1 and 2 transmitted while 3 did not. In this simple example, instead of losing 1/3rd of your bandwidth because phone 3 didn't transmit like would happen in TDMA, you only lose 1/4 the bandwidth. The more complex the codes, the less bandwidth you lose). In OFDMA each phone is assigned an orthogonal set of frequencies.

    • to expand on this we have

      Verizon: CDMA with LTE overlay a "sim" card is used for LTE Only. Carrier provided phones mostly do not have CDMA/GSM radios

      Sprint: CDMA with a slightly different LTE overlay i think you can pay an arm and a leg to get a CDMA/GSM/Iden phone (Iden is what Nextel used to use)

      ATT: GSM with LTE (i think) this is the current version of the Bell System (cellular)

      T-Mobile: GSM with LTE on different bands

      a legion of smaller local and or "prepay" carriers (some of whom may be linked to or ru

  • by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:19AM (#44882341)
    Now we can CHANGE carriers.
    • by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:23AM (#44882383)

      Now we can CHANGE carriers.

      Maybe...

      Presumably you're still locked into some contract that went along with getting that shiny new phone.

  • by RCGodward (1235102) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:21AM (#44882359)
    Let's look at some potential headlines:

    Obama Bans Cell Phone Subsidies
    Apple stock plummets as iPhone is no longer affordable
    Is this the beginning of a national cell plan?
    Antichrist makes power play in mobile sector

    Had to throw in one from FauxNews. Anyway, there's lots people could complain about here. Some of it might even be reasonable.
    • by Xest (935314) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:31AM (#44882433)

      If it's anything like the UK it'll do nothing to subsidies as you're still contracted to 12 to 24 months or whatever, the difference is that when that time is up (or even before hand if you fancy paying for a contract you no longer use or have the option to buy out) you can now go to another carrier without needing a new phone for their network.

      This is how it works in the UK. We still have contracts that subsidise handsets that you can be tied into, the carrier just can't prevent you using your device on another network afterwards or even at the same time if you're so inclined.

      • by asylumx (881307) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:56AM (#44882607)
        OR... you could buy the phone WITHOUT the subsidy and choose your carrier right away.
        • by Xest (935314)

          That's what I do and go for contracts that are much shorter term than is typical with a subsidised phone because it gives me far more flexibility and much lower per-monthly costs as I'm just paying for my contract without any phone costs bundled in.

          But not everyone has the cash upfront to buy a £600 smartphone outright yet are happy to pay for one over the period of say 24 months instead and then still be able to use it even if they want to change carrier afterwards.

          In fact, without subsidies th

          • by goose-incarnated (1145029) <lelanthran.gmail@com> on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @09:42AM (#44883055) Homepage Journal

            In fact, without subsidies the smartphone market would be tiny compared to the size it is now as the vast majority of the general public would not be willing to pay for a phone if they saw the full cost of the device upfront and had to pay it in one big chunk.

            They're really essential for the health of the smartphone industry as much as I'm not a fan of them.

            You americans crack me up, you really do :) I expect that the actual evidence of healthier cellphone markets existing in places with unlocked phones is not enough to convince you? The fact that places where the consumer isn't locked into a network actually benefit the consumer have better service and lower costs?

            Okay, how about this - you really think that all service providers foot the upfront costs of the phone? Hell, no! They do what every business does when the business wants to sell on credit - they find a bank that grants a personal loan to the consumer who wants to buy on credit. The business then receives their money upfront from the bank while the bank then receives the monthly dues from the consumer, who thinks that he's paying the business.

            Of course the consumer doesn't see any of this - the business hands the consumer forms to fill in; those forms are the application for a personal loan for the amount that is being purchased. The filled in forms then go to the bank, which approves the loan and releases the money to the business, who then releases the item to the consumer. Payments made each month go to the bank, even if via the business.

            A variation is when the business offers these loans themselves ("BUY ON STORE CREDIT"), and then turn around and sell these loans (for cash) to a bank. You've seen something similar in the housing market which eventually resulted in bank bailouts.

            Trust me, even with the lack of subsidies, the consumers are still going to get the phones they wanted anyway, albeit at a smaller monthly payment than the "subsidy" would cost. Instead of buying a $500 phone over 24 months and paying a total of $1500, they'll be buying a $500 phone over 24 months and paying less than $700.

          • by Patch86 (1465427) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @01:56PM (#44885773)

            I did the maths for my last phone purchase (an HTC One X for my wife), as I do whenever I make a purchase like that. I don't have the figures available to me right now, but the amount extra you pay over the course of a contract was more than if I'd just purchased it on my credit card and paid it back over the same time frame. And credit cards aren't exactly the cheapest loans available...

            If people could see how much they were paying on their loan-by-any-other-name, they might be inclined to get the money from a different source even if they can't afford to pay it outright. That's not to say that the carrier-contract model couldn't still be available for those that still wanted to take it up.

            Plus, it might inspire carriers to lower their interest rates a little if they were open to more transparent competition.

        • Best choice I made was buying a Nexus 4 and rooting it. Awesome phone, low cost, no carrier contract, no Google tie-in.
      • by Sockatume (732728)

        Of course, a side effect of that is that it's possible to get a contract that's not subsidising a phone sale, usually for a pittance. From what I hear the US doesn't have those: you can get a contract with no phone, but you'll pay the same. T-Mo seem to be an exception?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      It still baffles me how anyone, right, left, or indifferent, could ever trust what comes out of a politician's mouth or their mouth pieces. So the nonsense of FauxNews or the Communist News Network, are all in cahoots to sell you soda and a side of fear.

  • by mrsam (12205)

    Although my phone is unlocked, if it weren't, and it got unlocked, my choice of a wireless carrier will increase by exactly one carrier. As Benny Hill would've said: biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig ...deal.

    I'm just curious if anyone in the administration actually knows that US wireless companies use different, incompatible technologies. A phone that works on one carrier would, at most, have a chance of working on only one other carrier, and would, most likely, lack the abil

    • by ByteSlicer (735276) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:36AM (#44882469)

      Although my phone is unlocked, if it weren't, and it got unlocked, my choice of a wireless carrier will increase by exactly one carrier.

      A 100% increase, that's huge!

    • by dorre (1731288)
      At least, if people had to pay for phones directly (instead of indirectly trough outrageous monthly fees), they would probably be more likely to spend money on a phone compatible with most standard networks, meaning they dont have spend more money if they change network.

      This would mean that networks using "non-compatible" equipment would be in a worse position as people would hesitate more to drop money on phone only compatible with one network, driving developement towards more standardized networks and
    • by hodet (620484)

      A friend of mine always buys an unlocked phone because he travels frequently to the US. It allows him to swap SIM cards so he doesn't get killed on roaming charges. There are advantages for some to have unlocked phones. For you maybe not so much. For him he would not mind a contract with a subsidized phone if he could swap the SIM card.

    • I'm just curious if anyone in the administration actually knows that US wireless companies use different, incompatible technologies.

      Under the current system regardless of any technical limitations of you using your phone on different carriers, the wireless companies can prevent you doing so merely if they wish. The administration cannot wave a wand and magically change the hardware on your phone. Nor can they release you from a contract you signed. They can force the carriers from locking your phone to their network. So the administration can do something within their control and they are proposing that change.

      A phone that works on one carrier would, at most, have a chance of working on only one other carrier, and would, most likely, lack the ability to take advantage of the additional carrier's full spectrum, resulting in degraded service.

      Also, you are aware th

    • by Enigmafan (263737)

      I'm just curious if anyone in the administration actually knows that US wireless companies use different, incompatible technologies. A phone that works on one carrier would, at most, have a chance of working on only one other carrier, and would, most likely, lack the ability to take advantage of the additional carrier's full spectrum, resulting in degraded service.

      Yes they do know. If the phone companies hadn't been ready now, they would have waited until they were and then made the announcement. The administration looks good, pro consumer, where in reality you're still locked in.

  • Verizon's smartphones are already unlocked... ATT will unlock as soon as we've paid for the devices in full.
    I'm probably over-generalizing.... A mandate like this is going to prompt them to find a way to screw us over. Remember what happened with the portable numbers? We all ended up with a $1.75 "regulatory recovery fee" on our bills for quite a while.

    • Re:Not "ours" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @09:07AM (#44882717)

      having worked for a phone company, in the very department that handles number portability, I can tell you that moving your number around is a huge pain in the ass for the phone company. And no, it's not because their systems are in the dark ages. It's because the PSC gives out number blocks in groups of 10,000. (think 555-555-0000 through 9999) and they ONLY give you so many. Now imagine your blocks of numbers filled with people that don't even have services with you... so now you have maybe 5 numbers in use in a block of numbers... and a major hospital gets built and needs 10,000 phone numbers. You go to the PSC and ask for more numbers, and they say "No, you already have 100k numbers in that area and you are only using 45% of them. Use the other numbers!" But the hospital needs them consecutive and many of those blocks are contaminated with non-customers. There are entire departments dedicated to dealing with these sorts of issues,

  • by Da w00t (1789) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @08:28AM (#44882411) Homepage
    http://www.techdirt.com/blog/wireless/articles/20130311/01344922277/government-might-want-to-legalize-phone-unlocking-unfortunately-it-signed-away-that-right.shtml [techdirt.com]

    The interesting part is treaties can (and do) override what the US federal government can do. :/
  • Just make unlocking phones legal under all circumstances. We already know the 'unintended consequences' of that. Making unlocking always legal gives us a market based approach versus a legislative approach and if done correctly (yea right) the law could be made simpler not more complex then current law.

    • by Faw (33935)

      Why not just sell all phones unlocked, end of story. What keeps you on a carrier is the contract, not the phone being locked to said carrier.

      • I have no problem with that, but FORCING them to do that is not necessary if unlocking on ones own (including using exploits) is legal. People will gravitate to both unlocking friendly carriers and phones that are readily unlock-able. Customers have a choice of a subsidized phone or not and can decide depending on their circumstances what is best for them.

        While I would not call them friendly, AT&T has unlocked every phone I have asked them to in the past four years after 1 year of contract is done.

    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      Not just this, but force the carriers to blacklist ESN/MEIDs that are reported stolen through the appropriate channels.
      • I agree, but that is a separate issue. I want an effective USA carrier blacklist as well, but unless you get every carrier in the world involved stolen phones will gravitate to where they can be used.

  • If this goes ahead, carriers will not "unlock" phones. Rather, carriers will not "lock" phones. There is a difference between inherent restrictions and artificial restrictions.

  • I'm wondering what the /. community would do differently on this issue...if you were president, in charge of the FCC & whatnot, what would your policy be on this issue?

  • by zazzel (98233) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @09:13AM (#44882755)

    I wonder what the fuss is about. When you're agreeing on a cell phone + contract, the contract has a subsidy in it. So, Obama is actually forcing a seperation of both parts. I still think companies should be able to lock the phone for the initial 2-year duration of the contract. If you don't want that, buy your phone somewhere else and get a bare contract, like I've been doing for years, or PAYG.

    I usually buy my phones whenever I want a new one, where it's cheapest. Then I go and find a contract where the guy selling it hands me part of his commission, or I use PAYG. I'm usually better off than with a contract+phone.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Pi1grim (1956208)

      This might come as a surprise, but in Europe we have unlocked subsidized phones. You are effectively locked in by the contract, no need to add overhead and inconvenience by locking down the phone. The company still gets the money in full, providing a long-term hidden loan bundled with service, exactly as planned. And users get to use local SIM cards when going abroad, without paying the extortionist roaming fees.
      Locking down hardware is nothing more than an attempt at cash-grab by imposing extra inconvenien

  • I think that he actually thinks unlock means the NSA can spy on it
  • Are the companies that sell subsidized prepaid phones that are network locked and the users who buy and use those prepaid phones.

  • by lexman098 (1983842) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @09:25AM (#44882893)
    I think the more important issue is preventing a carrier from forcing a data plan on you even if your phone *is* branded to their network.
  • by Somebody Is Using My (985418) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @09:29AM (#44882927) Homepage

    There's is a part of me that wants the FCC to treat Obama's petition the way he responds to all those citizen petitions on WhiteHouse.gov [whitehouse.gov]... which is to say, the FCC ignores him completely or else responds with a watered down statement that says nothing.

    Except I sort of like the idea of the FCC enforcing an unlocked-phone/BYOD policy for the carriers...

    Hmmm, petty and pointless dreams of third-party revenge vs. naive hopes of an unlikely outcome brought to pass. Choices, choices!

  • ...not to carp, doesn't the president have a few more IMPORTANT things on his plate right now?

    Or is this just tossing technological bread and circuses to the masses, in the hopes we won't notice all the other stuff that's going wrong?

  • Shoulda just told the NSA.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @10:09AM (#44883343) Homepage Journal
    1) Install WIFI nodes covering the entire USA
    2) Sell wireless SIP phones that connect to a massive VOIP server.
    3) Profit.

    Even if you only had service within city limits, you'd already be much more reliable than any cellular carrier I've ever tried. My android phone can run a SIP client and I've been kicking around the idea of just dropping the cellular contract and rolling my own solution with an asterisk server on a cloud service and a local wifi provider.

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