FCC's Powell: Don't Fear the Data

The government's top communications regulator tells a major industry gathering that wireless data is more than just an add-on service.

ATLANTA -- The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission told the wireless industry to be a part of the future with improved data transmission services or risk "being run over by someone who is leading it."

During a keynote discussion at the launch of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association's trade show, CTIA Wireless 2004, Powell said the future of convergence is the industry's to lead, or lose.

"Data isn't an incremental add-on, data is the end-game," Powell said, speaking to the chief lobbying organization for major cellular industry carriers and wireless industry players.

He urged industry leaders not to look to the government to solve every problem they encounter. The comment comes at a time when the chairman is implementing a light regulatory touch with emerging communications protocols such as Voice over Internet Protocol .

If the wild popularity of another data transmission protocol, Wi-Fi , took the cellular industry's own 3G plans by surprise, the lesson is not to fear a potentially disruptive technology, he said. Although a nascent technology, VoIP is already forcing traditional wireline phone providers to adopt new strategies at the same time cellular phone service is eroding their revenue base.

"We're about to go through major rip and replacement in the communications world," Powell said of VoIP deployments on top of high-speed Internet networks. To think of VoIP as just another voice service is missing the point, he added. "The truth is, a bit is a bit."

Powell doesn't think many in the industry have actually squared that thinking about voice applications in the digital realm. "It is a killer app. It is going to be a competitive revolution for the wireline [providers], but for wireless guys as well."

The key challenge for the industry is to stop seeing voice as a kind of end in itself, but in context to other applications.

Powell was speaking at his seventh CTIA show, and arrives this year as the commission is drafting new regulations for emerging wireless and voice and data as well as forming regulations for the emerging VoIP industry.

During a Q&A-style chat with Steve Largent, the CEO and president of CTIA, Powell repeated his policy of taking a light approach to regulating emerging communications, especially VoIP.

That's consistent with the FCC's hands-off message in recent months as voice increasingly converges with data. One exception may be requirements for emergency services that need to be a part of the portable IP-enabled applications.

"Voice over IP is one of the most disruptive technologies to come along in a long time," Powell said. "It would be short-sighted for the industry to look at it as another phone service. The sky's the limit."

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