Microsoft: Define ‘tablets’ before subjecting them to WEA requirements

Microsoft Surface Pro 3(Microsoft)
Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Image: Microsoft

Microsoft was glad to hear that the FCC modified some of its original Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) proposals by establishing reasonable timelines. In most cases, this would allow industry and the public safety community to develop, test and implement new WEA features, but Microsoft is not happy with some of the commission’s proposals, including how wireless emergency alerts might extend to tablets.

For starters, the company said the Commission needs to define which mobile devices would even be considered a tablet and thus subject to WEA requirements, the company told the commission in a filing (PDF) last week. Although the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) referenced the iPad, it’s not the only device in the marketplace, and Microsoft said it may be difficult to define a tablet by any singular feature.

For example, a definition that focuses on touch-screen capabilities would be over-inclusive, capturing most new devices running the Windows 10 operating system, including desktops. In addition, Microsoft offers a number of devices that operate as hybrids. The Surface Book allows the display to detach from the keyboard, and the Surface Pro often is used in conjunction with an attachable keyboard.

Several other Windows products, including the Lenovo ThinkPad, permit the display to be folded backwards, causing the display screen to become the source of input rather than the keyboard, yet the two remain physically attached. “If the Commission modifies its definitions to include tablets, defining tablets would help manufacturers and CMS providers to determine whether a particular device model could be covered for WEA purposes,” the company wrote.

Microsoft also suggested that the “awkward fit” of tablets into the WEA structure may suggest that they are not appropriate for inclusion and warned the commission to be mindful of the potential for creating customer confusion. If tablets were required to support wireless emergency alerts, consumers would be expected to know which types of devices constituted “tablets,” whether a device purchased somewhere other than a service provider possessed WEA capability even without point-of-sale information, which models offered wireless emergency alerts (such as those with LTE connectivity) and, among those, whether alerts would be unavailable when only a private Wi-Fi network is available.

“The best intentions of expanding WEA availability may create consumer expectations for tablets that are not satisfied throughout the marketplace,” Microsoft said.

As for how much time vendors get to comply if tablets end up being included for WEA capabilities, Microsoft said such changes would require modifications to operating systems, hardware changes, including the potential for modem modifications, and the development of new customer instruction materials. Accordingly, the commission needs to give manufacturers a timeframe that is reasonable—and significantly more than the four months referenced in the FNPRM.

In its FNPRM released in September, the FCC said it wanted to hear from stakeholders on how “mobile devices” should be defined, noting that emergency managers agree that WEA should be made available to the public “by all available means,” including on tablets. On the other hand, CTIA has suggested that while 4G-LTE tablets can be WEA capable, Wi-Fi-only tablets cannot, and the commission said it wanted to gather input on the technical characteristics needed in a device to allow it to receive WEA messages, among other things.