Qualcomm pulls out all the stops for ITC veto case

Qualcomm may very well have some powerful allies when it comes to the company's effort to persuade the president to veto the International Trade Commission's ruling, which banned the import of new cell phones made with Qualcomm 1xEV-DO and WCDMA chipsets. The ITC says those chipsets infringe upon patents held by Broadcom.

Public-safety entities, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the National Emergency Numbering Association (NENA), have warned that the ban poses a problem for the country's 911 system. Qualcomm's newly banned 3G chipsets solve a critical flaw found in older handsets powered by Qualcomm chips.

The flaw, known as voice blanking, sometimes occurs when the transmission of location coordinates from the mobile phone to the 911 center disrupts the voice channel between the caller and the 911 dispatcher. This can result in the caller and the call taker hearing nothing but silence as the mobile phone's position is transmitted to the public safety answering point (PSAP). Because the location process can take about 5 to 10 seconds after the voice call is delivered to 911, callers frequently believe they have lost connection with the PSAP and hang up. When they call back, they experience the same problem.

It's certainly not a problem Qualcomm would like to highlight under normal circumstances, but these days the chipmaker is finding that the situation could be a powerful motivator for the president. White House vetoes of ITC orders are rare, with the last such presidential veto of an ITC decision coming more than 20 years ago. The White House has 60 days from June 7 to act on the request for a veto.

APCO and NENA have more arguments too. They say the ITC ruling prevents mobile phones with increased processing speeds that can more accurately locate wireless 911 calls from reaching consumers. Moreover, the order impacts the ability of first responders to effectively receive and share information in the field to provide an effective emergency response given the fact that more public-safety agencies are relying on commercial technology.

Public safety also has a big stake in the 1xEV-DO network game. Local governments in Washington, D.C. have joined to deploy the country's first public-safety broadband network using commercial EV-DO technology in the 700 MHz band. The Regional Wireless Broadband Network (RWBN) will provide first responders in the National Capital Region--which consists of Washington; Alexandria, VA; Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland--with high-speed wireless connectivity. The effort is also laying the groundwork for national public-safety broadband interoperability and roaming capability onto commercial 3G networks.

You can bet Qualcomm is pulling out as many compelling arguments it can around this issue. "In the name of public safety" is a tactic that is used all too frequently in politics and telecom. And in this day and age, it's usually effective. -Lynnette