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#TBT: Parsing PCS auction bids; Pondering in-building wireless; Paging protocols: FLEX vs POCSAG … this week in 1996

Editor’s Note: RCR Wireless News goes all in for “Throwback Thursdays,” tapping into our archives to resuscitate the top headlines from the past. Fire up the time machine, put on the sepia-tinted shades, set the date for #TBT and enjoy the memories!

Parsing PCS auction bids
WASHINGTON-While it may not be an auctionwide pattern, bidders on the largest basic trading areas (ranked by pop) in the D-, E- and F-block personal communications services auction tend to be the heavy financial hitters, even if some of the prices being offered do not reflect this. At the end of Round 61, the three New York City BTA licenses were held by OPCSE-Galloway Consortium (with Omnipoint as a partner), AT&T Wireless PCS Inc. and Northcoast Operating Co. Inc. (backed by the Dolan family). High bidders for Los Angeles were AT&T Wireless, Rivgam Communicators L.L.C. (Mario Gabelli and Robert Dolan) and AerForce Communications. Two Chicago licenses currently are held by SprintCom Inc. and NextWave Power Partners Inc. holds the third. San Francisco’s D and F markets are NextWave’s and the E market is Rivgam’s. Philadelphia is held by Comcast PCS Communications Inc., Rivgam and NextWave. BellSouth Wireless Inc., the third largest bidder in terms of total dollar amount, has no holds on licenses in the top six markets. Net revenues continue to inch toward $2 billion, with $1.79 billion pledged by the end of Round 61. … Read more

Attacking the indoor telecom market, ’96-style
AT&T Wireless Services Inc. is pushing its PBX-connected, digital microcellular in-building wireless system, saying it sees a 40 percent compounded annual growth rate for the business market. “There are about 86 million business telephones in use in the United States,” said Jerry Kaufman, an analyst with Alexander Resources of Scottsdale, Ariz. “That’s the target for this business-converting just about everybody using a wired desk set to a wireless business telephone system.” Meanwhile, Motorola Inc. has stopped promoting its INReach in-building wireless product, which connects to the private branch exchange. “We think there’s a huge in-building market, but believe the way to go is from the outside in,” said Marty Singer, vice president and general manager for Motorola’s wireless access division. “We work with operators to put microcells outside of buildings, and do variable billing. We are trying to penetrate in-building from the outside,” Singer said. Lucent Technologies Inc. likewise has backed off from its 800 MHz in-building product, saying customers are more interested in systems that operate in unlicensed spectrum, possibly to avoid cellular airtime charges. … Read more

Telecom Act of ’96 used to foil a site ban
A U.S. District Court judge has ruled Gwinnett County, Ga., violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by denying BellSouth Mobility Inc. a permit to construct a monopole cellular tower. In a 17-page opinion, Judge G. Ernest Tidwell of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, said the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners’ denial of the permit was not supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record as required under the act. The board was ordered to grant a tall structure permit to BellSouth. BellSouth submitted an application in February to erect a monopole tower in a commercially zoned area, according to court documents. BellSouth described the structure as a “197-foot monopole together with a 326-square-foot unmanned, single-story, prefabricated concrete switch gear building.” The structures were to be enclosed by an 8-foot chain link fence with barbed wire on the top. Scott McLaren, who along with Peter Degnan represented BellSouth in the lawsuit, said the county has a permit ordinance that allows the board to deny an application if the proposed structure is inconsistent with the aesthetic value of the surrounding property and if the structure could potentially interfere with or endanger the public. … Read more

American Pager stumbles, asks for investor patience
NEW YORK-Executives of American Paging Inc., Minneapolis, withstood a verbal beating from securities analysts last week after the company announced disappointing third quarter operating results. “Paging is an area where we haven’t done our job. We overlooked some things. It is possible to hit potholes you don’t foresee,” said Murray L. Swanson, chief financial officer of Telephone and Data Systems Inc., Chicago, the firm’s parent company. “We ask a little bit of patience with us. We realize our performance and our credibility are at stake.” American Paging announced its service revenue dropped 1.4 percent to $23.8 million compared with the third quarter of 1995, although it increased by 1.2 percent higher than the $23.5 million earned in the second quarter of this year. The company posted an operating cash flow loss of $4.4 million for the quarter and an operating loss of $16.7 million, which includes $1.7 million in interest payments for purchase of a narrowband personal communications services license. Customer units in service increased by 1.5 percent to 788,300 when compared with the third quarter last year, but declined by 1.9 percent, or 15,200 units, compared with the second quarter of this year. Backlogs due to the high volume of used pagers returned to a new, centralized customer care center caused shortages of pagers in service, according to Terry Sullivan, who was appointed chief executive officer in September. … Read more

Paging throwdown: FLEX vs. POCSAG
FLEX has been adopted en masse in the paging industry, at least in principle. In reality, the majority of U.S. one-way paging customers are POCSAG customers and carriers are in no hurry to eliminate the protocol. FLEX, designed by Motorola Inc., offers increased capacity and speed, greater flexibility, improved data integrity, lower cost per user of any paging protocol and contributes to improved battery life, says the company. About 100 operators worldwide have adopted FLEX. The technology has been licensed to a dozen pager manufacturers, an equal number of network infrastructure suppliers, three chipset designers and about 20 test equipment companies. The FLEX protocol offers a graceful migration path and co-exists easily with POCSAG, said Motorola. Operators need only upgrade rather than replace existing paging terminals and control equipment. Nonetheless, for most U.S. carriers, the benefits of FLEX do not yet outweigh the relative inefficiencies of POCSAG (Post Office Code Standardization Advisory Group). “I think POCSAG is dying a natural death. No one’s trying to kill it,” said PageMart Inc. spokeswoman Catarina Wylie. … Read more

Nextel vs. the DoJ
WASHINGTON-Nextel Communications Inc.’s proposed $159 million buyout of Pittencrieff Communications Inc.-a deal that could give one firm half of the 2.2 million dispatch customers and access to most of the U.S. population-could become a key antitrust test case in the new wireless regime of regulatory and technological convergence. Nextel said it plans shortly to file for antitrust approval with the Federal Trade Commission, which will coordinate with the Justice Department which agency reviews the acquisition. Nextel is the largest dispatch radio company in the nation; Pittencrieff is ranked second. “It would depend entirely on how they define the market,” said Robert Litan, a former Justice Department antitrust official who now heads economic studies at the Brookings Institution. “If it is really specialized (the market), it could be problematic,” he said. Steve Virostek, a wireless analyst at Economic and Management Consultants International Inc., said a Nextel-Pittencrieff combination would not necessarily push other dispatch firms out of the market. He said mom-and-pop specialized mobile radio operators, for example, could benefit if Nextel customers refuse to convert from analog to digital equipment and decide instead to switch to another service provider. … Read more

MCI buys retail kiosks in Sams Clubs
With its purchase of 355 kiosks in Sam’s Club stores nationwide, MCI Communications Corp. has hands-on access to the consumer customer it seeks. Before obtaining entrance into Sam’s, MCI’s retail presence as a wireless reseller consisted of 37 storefronts. The stores originally belonged to Nationwide Cellular Service Inc., which was acquired by MCI in September of 1995. The stores will continue to operate as sites for MCI’s cellular and paging sales. There are 11 stores in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, 10 stores in Chicago, four in the Washington, D.C., area, six in Southern California, five in Boston and one in Philadelphia. In addition to the storefronts, MCI also has been selling cellular and paging directly to customers who call for service. Sales have been prompted by either long-distance bill stuffers or national advertising of the MCI One package. MCI has offered wireless to business customers through its networkMCI campaign. Now, MCI has purchased all the communications centers at Sam’s from CellStar Corp. of Dallas, a phone distributor. … Read more

Check out the RCR Wireless News Archives for more stories from the past.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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