What once looked to be a quiet CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment show this week is now taking place amid a growing buzz about U.S. regulatory issues, with several appearances by U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski shaping up as the centerpiece.
Since Genachowski took office in June, the FCC has launched inquiries into mobile competition and the use of wireless spectrum; probed Apple, Google and AT&T about their interactions regarding the Google Voice application; and moved to both strengthen net neutrality rules and extend them to the wireless arena. Meanwhile, CTIA, the main mobile trade group in the U.S., last week asked the FCC to help make 800 MHz of spectrum available for mobile services in the next six years.
[ The FCC recently called for formal Net neutrality rules and probed the rejection of Google Voice from the iPhone App Store. | Keep up on the day's tech news headlines with InfoWorld's Today's Headlines: First Look newsletter. ]
Genachowski will give an opening-day keynote address at the San Diego conference on Wednesday, and later will take questions from press. On Thursday, he will moderate more than three hours of field hearings in San Diego on emerging mobile applications and possible shortages of wireless spectrum. The two sessions will also include FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker and feature panel discussions with industry representatives, academics and activists.
As mobile phones have become more like handheld, Internet-connected computers, carriers' domination of the mobile world has been gradually giving way to a more open model. There are growing expectations that applications consumers want, such as Google Voice, should be made available on phones in the same way third-party Internet applications are accessible over home broadband. The FCC's proposed net neutrality rules would prohibit carriers from selectively blocking or slowing Web content or applications.
The CTIA and some major carriers have voiced concern about net neutrality rules being applied to mobile, saying they might prevent carriers from differentiating their services. But AT&T and Verizon Wireless have made other moves in the direction of openness, most recently when AT&T on Tuesday reversed its former position and said it would allow VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) applications on the iPhone. Also on Tuesday, Verizon and Google announced that they will work on Android-based devices, applications and services.
Late on Tuesday, the FCC chief applauded AT&T's announcement.
"I commend AT&T's decision to open its network to VoIP," Genachowski said in a statement. "Opening wireless services to greater consumer choice will drive investment and innovation in the mobile marketplace."