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Put Wireless Reliability In Perspective, CTIA Says

New York – Wireless service has reliability problems, but put them in perspective, CTIA president Tom Wheeler said during a recent conference.

The industry is spending tons of money to overcome the problems, even though the problems are caused in large part by the government’s inadequate allocation of wireless-phone spectrum, he noted.

Wheeler put reliability complaints into the industry’s perspective during the Wireless Connectivity Summit sponsored by Kagan World Media. There, he said quality of service issues arise because of the industry’s success in getting consumers to turn increasingly to wireless phones as an alternative to landline service.

Wheeler underscored wireless growth by noting that 20 years after the commercial launch of the first wired telephone service, ‘only 1/2% of the population could afford it.’ That compares to 45% wireless penetration in 20 years.

Wheeler also pointed out that in 1891, 15 years after the launch of phone services, party lines were developed to deal with capacity constraints, ‘In 1992, they were still offering party lines,’ he noted.

He also cautioned people to remember that ‘it’s radio.’

In large part to build capacity, carriers have spent $100 billion in capital investment since the industry’s inception, and half of that has been spent since 1995, he said.

Despite the expanded capacity, quality of service issues persist because ‘other governments have made about twice the spectrum available for wireless’ than the U.S. has, Wheeler said.

To cope, U.S. carriers have ‘squeezed more productivity out of the spectrum than any other country on a per-capita basis’ through such techniques as cell splitting. Nonetheless, he claimed, ‘We can’t fool the pipes forever.’ Adding capacity is also running into resistance from people objecting to the erection of antennas in their neighborhoods.

‘Government is constraining the amount of spectrum and constraining the productivity of existing spectrum,’ he lamented.

Government deregulation of the wireless industry in 1993 and a growing number of competitors have turned wireless from an ancillary service to an alternative to landline phones, he said. As an ancillary service, it was ‘your father’s car phone,’ he said. As an alternative service to landline, ‘It’s everyone’s other line and increasingly the principle line.’

A USA Today/Gallup poll recently found that 18% of Americans say their principal phone is a wireless phone. For 6.4 million people in 2001, a wireless phone is their only phone, up from 648,000 in 1998.

‘The typical American uses more minutes and pays less for them than anywhere in the world,’ he noted.

Wireless Internet access, like wireless voice, will turn into an alternative service from an ancillary service, he predicted. Wireless data ‘isn’t just another on ramp to the Internet,’ he contended. ‘Having information come to you transforms the nature of that information and its productivity.’ He pointed to location-based information services as an example. Wireless data also enhances enterprise and vertical-market productivity, he said.

Data speeds won’t hold back wireless data, he said, because 59% of Internet users access the net with 56K modems while another 29% user lower-speed modems. Initial 2.5 and 3G services feature data rates approaching 56K. Future services will be even faster.