Battle of the spectrums

In the old days, when General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. spoke, people listened, especially people in the government. They still do. We have all seen reports about delays on stricter emissions requirements and pushing back the deadline for increasing gas mileage attributed to the success of the automobile lobby.

But when it comes to the world of high-tech, GM and Ford may have met their match.

Here’s some quick background to bring you up to speed: XM Satellite Radio Inc. (of which General Motors is a major investor) and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. (backed by Ford Motor) are rolling out a subscription-based cable radio service for the auto industry. For US$10 per month, or a bit more for Sirius, subscribers get about 100 channels, each targeted to a different genre of music with sports, news, and talk channels offered as well. I’ve written about this before. If you want to know more, go to and

Here’s where it gets interesting. Both services use satellites to transmit on the licensed 2.3.x GHz bandwidth. Wi-Fi transmits on the 2.4.x GHz unlicensed band.

Sirius and XM Radio have petitioned the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to enforce an out-of-band provision in Part 15.247 of the rules, which says companies can operate on an unlicensed spectrum only if they are willing to accept interference from a higher-priority band (that’s satellite radio) and that those companies (Wi-Fi carriers) can’t cause interference to the higher band.

Interference, or “collisions” as they are called (but maybe not in a car) might come from a PDA or cell phone with Wi-Fi capabilities. There is also an unusual proposal floating around to install Wi-Fi hot spots along the highway that send out bursts of data as you drive by. They, too, could cause interference.

Craig Mathias, an analyst at FarPoint Group, in Ashland, Wash., says there’s no reason to believe that a properly functioning Wi-Fi device will interfere, but nevertheless it appears the satellite radio folks want to shut Wi-Fi carriers down.

Mathias compares it to a person in a parking lot wanting the spaces on either side of his or her vehicle open for fear that it’ll get a ding.

GM and Ford vs. Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. Who do you want to put your money on?

To make matters worse for Sirius and XM Radio, hot spots are getting hotter. Last week, Joltage Network unveiled its plan to franchise its Wi-Fi hot spot service to every mom and pop store in the country. The franchisee supplies the computer, the broadband connection, and the access point, and Joltage gives them the software and handles all the billing, splitting the take if store charges its customers for the service.

Joltage CEO Michael Chaplo says prices will start at US$1.99 per hour or US$24.99 per month for unlimited service.

Now, I wonder what happens if the local McDonald’s has Wi-Fi at its drive up and you’re listening to satellite radio. All I know is, if I don’t get my fries, I’m writing my congressperson!

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