My wife lost her iPhone the other day, so I had to set her up with an old Pantech we had from a few years ago, we’re not talking 10 years, just about 2-3 years. This Pantech, in its day, was one of the sought after phones in that it had a fold out keyboard and had the ability to roam the Internet on a whopping 3G connection. Remember the old way of texting, when you actually had to transverse the cumbersome little keyboard with it’s little tiny buttons? You would have thought I’d just asked my wife to live in the 14th century or something. It wasn’t “real texting” as she put it, and “I don’t have my apps anymore, how do you expect me to function without my apps? I have things I have to get done!” It was like disconnecting her from everyone and forcing her to use this thing called a phone – which by the way was our primary source of communication only 5-6 years ago. She stored everything on that phone. She never needed to remember anyone’s phone number, all she did was look up his or her name and hit redial on a previous call. This got me to thinking; so what kind of impact will handsets have on FirstNet?
There are a few things we need to understand about the handset market before we consider its impact on the Public Safety Broadband Network. The handset market of yesterday, and today, is all about smart phones. They have many features and apps galore. We have apps that let us see how many apps you can actually buy in order to develop more apps. Yes, you will be assimilated. The point is that the handset market today is all about the applications and the accessiblility of information. Although for Public Safety, the mindset we have today is that it’s all about access to information and the idea that the handset has to be secure. But is that true?
If we can adapt a high-level encryption algorithm over a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) tunneling protocol that spans the open Internet so that my wife can access, through her smart phone, into my bank account, then why do I need to encrypt the handset? My wife’s handset isn’t encrypted. The smart phones are getting better everyday, but it’s not necessarily the handset that is expanding, it’s more the apps and the infrastructure that supports them. The smart phones are just adapting to the amount of data that can be delivered.
The infrastructure of LTE, which FirstNet will deploy as well, is the piping infrastructure to make the magic happen. The personal touch and flavor of how you connect is in the handset, but it’s the apps that truly deliver what we need. This is what the wireline fiber optic explosion was missing back in the early 2000’s. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon of application developers, along with the neat and cool internet companies, all boasting of such ingenuity and hipness that formed the bubble of the telecom space; the only thing is that the infrastructure, or the piping, wasn’t there to connect all the users with those applications being developed. This is why LTE is so significant. Nothing compares to wireless now, even the big carriers have ceased deploying fiber to the home due to the fact that LTE can deliver the same, or better, last mile experience. In essence, LTE now eliminates the bottle neck at the handset level with large data connections, enough data to allow my wife to securely interface with my bank account so she can buy a new purse... that’s not fair…buy more food for our five kids.
As anyone can find out for him, or herself, all the handset manufacturers are creating more and more technology at a cheaper price. Two years ago you would have paid $150 for a 3G dongle for your laptop, today you can pay $10 for a LTE dongle. What does that mean for FirstNet? First off, it means that the subscriber model won’t work for FirstNet… not alone anyway. Secondly, if the handset isn’t where all the encryption is being handled, then why do we have to hear so much about the hardened and secure handsets costing thousands? I can understand the ruggedness, but securing the handset with expensive chipsets and algorithms? What does that provide us except a higher cost? My vision of where this is going is essentially cheap throw-away-phones (or TAPs, I’m trademarking that title) for Public Safety that is ruggedized. Leave the encryption and safety features of the applications in the connection, not in the handset itself. Why take a $10 dongle and make it into a $1000 dongle just for the sake of feeling that your handset will not be stolen, especially when within a month, or two, I will be able to get the same dongle for free? If the carriers insist on consolidating and converging into the “services cloud” rather than the connection space, why wouldn’t they give away a $10 dongle? If you buy my “new services” at $50 a month and you buy 3 different services from me through my apps, then I will provide you a free dongle.
We must realize that this is a good thing for FirstNet, but FirstNet (the organization) needs to realize that handsets, and month-to-month subscriber based modeling, is not the way to go on this one. Plus, if the carriers are moving away from owning their own assets of infrastructure because of shrinking ARPUs (Average Rate Per User), then shouldn’t we use it as a lesson learned? In the Public Private Partnership model I am promoting, the option is there for the State to provide it’s First Responders with free handsets, making it pretty hard for a subscriber based model to compete.
In the end where’d my wife’s phone go? Oh, it’s with…
Just some guy and a blog…