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Legislation Regarding Cell Phone Jamming in Prisons Has Industry Concerned

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2009 – The legalization of cellular telephone jamming technology in prisons was discussed Wednesday before the Senate Commerce Committee in response to Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s S. 251 introduced earlier this year.

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By Alex Tcherkassky, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2009 – The legalization of cellular telephone jamming technology in prisons was discussed Wednesday before the Senate Commerce Committee in response to Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s S. 251 introduced earlier this year.

Cell phone jamming technology is currently illegal under the Communications Act. Hutchison, the ranking Republican member on the panel, seeks to change that.

Among the witnesses was Texas State Senator John Whitmire. Whitmire received death threats after a death row inmate’s mother and sister were arrested for smuggling a cell phone to an inmate.

Inspector General John Moriarty of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice also supports S. 251.

Moriarty said that criminals are getting more and more creative when it comes to getting phones to prisoners. Add to that the financial motivators – a sting operation found a prisoner willing to pay $400 for a phone versus only $50 for heroin – and, he said, cell phones will continue to make their way into prisons.

He said jamming was “a very valuable tool that we need to put in our tool kit.”

Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard agreed, saying that as cell phone technology advances “we need to fight technology with technology.”

The cell phone industry was represented by wireless association CTIA President Steve Largent, and Richard Mirgon from the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

Both expressed concern that jamming technology is ineffective and that it cannot effectively stop cell phone transmissions without adversely affecting legitimate use outside of the targeted prison. They were also concerned that jammers could interfere with public safety channels and first responders.

Specifically, Largent said that jammer technology being used at urban and suburban facilities where commercial areas and major transportation routes are directly adjacent to the prison. He supported this claim with aerial photos of a dozen prison facilities. Additionally, he said, jamming technology used in South America and India led to the unintentional interruption of the service of 200,000 customers.

Largent said that cell detection and limited access technology would be more effective solutions and that while CTIA supports the spirit of Bill 251 it cannot support the use of jamming technology. Mirgon said that if jamming technology is legalized, it must be exhaustively tested to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with public safety or wireless 911 services.

While S. 251 does not call for an outright legalization of jamming technology, it allows for prisons to apply for a waiver from the ban and provides for Federal Communications Commission testing and certification of jamming technology.

Wireless

NTIA Launching $1.5B Innovation Fund to Explore Alternative Wireless Equipment

A comment period on the new fund will run through January 23.

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Photo of NTIA head Alan Davidson

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2022 – The federal government plans to leverage funding from the Chips and Science Act to put toward diversifying the country’s supply of equipment for its cellular networks, according to reporting from Axios and confirmed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The news site reports that $1.5 billion from the $280-billion research and manufacturing legislation will go toward domestic alternatives to current wireless equipment, the bulk of which is supplied by foreign companies including Finland’s Nokia, Sweden’s Ericsson, and China’s Huawei. A rip-and-replace fund has been set up to remove Huawei’s equipment from existing networks due to national security concerns.

The Innovation Fund program will be launched by the NTIA, Alan Davidson, head of the Commerce agency, said on Twitter. There will be a public comment period lasting until January 2023, Axios reports.

“The highly consolidated global market for wireless equipment creates serious risks for both consumers and U.S. companies,” Davidson told Axios.

The money could bolster the open radio access network industry, Axios reports, which advocates for equipment standards that are interoperable with each other, instead of the industry relying on proprietary technologies from a handful of dominant suppliers.

The Federal Communications Commissions has already been leaning favorably toward ORAN technologies. Last year, the commission launched its first inquiry into the technology.

“If we can unlock the [radio access network] and diversify the equipment in this part of our networks, we may be able to increase security, reduce our exposure to any single foreign vendor, [and] lower costs,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel after the announcement of the inquiry.

Huawei, one of the world’s largest suppliers of telecommunications equipment, is popular globally because it is less expensive than its large competitors.

A report released in October by Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology said that, due to the low cost of Chinese equipment, public schools and local governments will purchase from the third-party entities that are unknowingly selling the prohibited equipment, leaving government agencies and community anchor institutions vulnerable to security breaches.

At least six state governments had their networks breached by a state-sponsored Chinese hacking group between May 2021 and February 2022, the report said.

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Satellite

LEO Technology Could Connect the Unconnected, Although Capacity Questions Remain

Unlike geostationary satellites, LEOs offer a connection that can support real-time communication.

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Screenshot of Internet Society Director of Online Content Dan York

WASHINGTON, December 2, 2022 — Low earth orbit satellites have the potential to provide life-changing connectivity for rural and underserved users if they can overcome issues of affordability and sustainability, according to Dan York, director of online content for the Internet Society.

Speaking at a Friday event hosted by the Gigabit Libraries Network, York explained that LEO technology can help to not only connect the two billion people worldwide who are unserved but also improve connectivity for the underserved.

Traditional geostationary satellites can provide some connectivity, but the high latency prevents uses like video calling or online gaming. LEOs offer a low-latency, high-speed connection that supports real-time communication.

In addition to being an interim solution while fiber buildout takes place, LEOs can provide redundancy during disasters and other outages, said Don Means, director of the Gigabit Libraries Network.

York agreed, noting that LEO satellites played an important role in providing connectivity during the aftermath of Hurricane Ian or during wildfires in California.

“Starlink makes it super easy because they can bring one of their trailers into a location, put up a Starlink antenna on the top, bring that connectivity down and then they can share it locally with Wi-Fi access points or cellular access points so people can be able to get that kind of connectivity — first responders, but also people in that local community.”

LEO satellites can provide connectivity even for certain locations that lack a ground station by using inter-satellite lasers, York added.

There are three primary LEO system components. Satellite constellations are made up of hundreds or thousands of satellites, launched into orbit and arranged into “shells” at various altitudes.

User terminals facilitate the transmission and receipt of data to and from the satellites. The antennas are “electronically steerable,” meaning that they can track multiple satellites without physically moving.

The final LEO system component is ground stations, also known as gateways, which are the large antennas and facilities that connect the satellites to the internet.

Advances in rocket technology are driving an increase in LEO satellites, York said. For example, SpaceX is reusing rockets, making launches less expensive. The relatively smaller size of LEO satellites means that they can be mass produced using assembly lines.

However, affordability is still a barrier to widespread adoption, York said. Another challenge is competition with mobile telecom companies for spectrum allocation. ISOC recently released a study discussing these issues and making recommendations for their resolution.

There is also still some uncertainty about the capacity of these connections, York said, pointing to anecdotal reports as well as an Ookla study showing that Starlink’s capacity had decreased in certain areas.

“How much of that is growing pains while Starlink continues to build out the rest of its constellation, versus how much of it might be inherent limitations within the systems?” he asked. “We don’t know. I think we probably won’t know until more of these systems get up and are launched.”

Despite these questions, York was optimistic about the promise of LEO technology: “I think there’s great potential that these systems, as they come online, can truly offer us ways to connect the unconnected.”

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Spectrum

Interference Concerns with FCC Raised Over Wi-Fi in 6 GigaHertz Band

Southern Linc raised concerns about potential interference issues with the agency’s opening the band for unlicensed use.

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Illustration by Jose Ruiz from PC Mag

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2022 – Wireless service provider Southern Linc raised concerns with the Federal Communications Commission on November 9 about potential interference issues with the agency’s opening of the 6 GigaHertz (GHz) band for unlicensed use.

The concerns, laid out in a post-meeting letter to the FCC, explained that the agency’s decision to open up the band traditionally used by services including broadcasting to unlicensed use was based on measurements taken in 2018. Since then, wireless data points have multiplied, rendering these measurements outdated and unreflective of the current Wi-Fi environment, Southern Linc representatives argued.

Southern Linc urged the collection of data on current Wi-Fi operations to successfully develop and implement automated frequency coordination systems. A thoroughly tested automatic frequency control system could provide for effective shared use of the 6 GHz band and reduce harmful interference, the company said.

Earlier this month, the FCC approved the testing of 13 proposed automated frequency coordination database systems from various technology companies to ensure interference issues are limited. During testing, each company will make the automated frequency coordination system available for a specific period for the public to test the system’s functionality.

Southern Linc also recommended a proposal made by trade associations to engage in next-generation Wi-Fi, dubbed “6E” for its capability to use the 6 GHz band. To date, the University of Michigan has a campus-wide Wi-Fi 6E system, the largest currently operating network of unlicensed 6 GHz devices.

In April 2020, the FCC adopted its 6 GHz Order, freeing up 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (from 5.925–7.125 GHz) for unlicensed use, including for Wi-Fi connectivity. The order, supported unanimously by the FCC commissioners, was expected to improve Wi-Fi reliability and speed.

A few months later, in response to a challenge from AT&T, the D.C. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the FCC order stating that the “petitioners have failed to provide a basis for questioning the commission’s conclusion that the order will protect against a significant risk of harmful interference.”

In December 2021, the National Spectrum Management Association echoed concerns about harmful interference, alleging the FCC decision was made without proper testing.

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