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Bell Planning to Interfere With GPS?

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Wednesday September 24, 2008
Several readers have pointed to a blog posting at Wellington Financial that reports that Bell is planning to interfere with the GPS signal of late-model Blackberry units.  Users will reportedly experience long delays in establishing a GPS connection when using free mapping applications like Google Maps.  Bell offers a competing GPS mapping service that comes with a monthly fee.
Comments (13)add comment

a guest said:

...
"This is all but guaranteed when you rig the system such that no other application (free or otherwise) has equal access to the freely-available GPS signals floating through the air."

:/

Isn't this anti-competitive when one removes equal access?
September 24, 2008

mobiGeek said:

Proof?
Is there any evidence that this memo actually exists? The blog post simply mentions that "mobile-related blogs" are talking about it, but does not link to any of those.

I'm certainly no fan of Bell (nor am I a customer any longer), but it does no one any good to start a blogcott without any real proof of wrongdoing (or intent thereof).
September 24, 2008

confirmed said:

...
Actually is was "confirmed" by a Bell World employee here (BryceS):
[ link ]
September 24, 2008

a guest said:

...
Essentially what bell did (is doing) was "rig the system such that no other application (free or otherwise) has equal access to the freely-available GPS signals".

This includes Googles app.

Someone should contact Goolge and ask them what they think of their app being given un-equal access in favor of Bells own pay-for app.

Googles reply to the CRTC in the Bell throttling case already states this:
[ link ]
"This proceeding offers the Commission an opportunity to start to draw a line against telecom
measures that are not technologically and competitively neutral protecting consumers,
competition and innovation."

I would be very interested in how Google replies to this.





September 24, 2008

James said:

Don\'t they already do this?
My 2 year old Bell/Aliant Samsung A920 has a GPS receiver that's blocked from external applications. I can't use it in Google Maps. They've been blocking features out for ages, I'm surprised that it's only getting attention now.
September 24, 2008

a guest said:

...
the news is hitting A LOT of sites now.
September 24, 2008

Lorne said:

...
Not likely. Almost every product in Canada and the US has "must not cause willful interference on it". If anyone intentionally degrades the 1.2 & 1.6GHz GPS signals they will be dealt with quickly.

Perhaps you mean bell is planning to block Google and Blackberrys web servers? Technically possible but unlikely.
September 24, 2008

Chris S said:

Know the technology!
This makes more sense if you know the technology.

[ link ]
[ link ]

There are essentially four location technologies - cell sector locate, ALFT (cell tower locate + GPS), pure GPS (sat only), and A-GPS (GPS assisted by the tower).

That rapid sync time may actually be because the carrier has deployed assisted GPS, and your phone is benefitting from it. If that is the case here, then Bell can be seen as only delivering a service (GPS assist) to those who pay for it. If your phone operates on pure GPS, particularly in a city, that 2-10 minutes may be a typical lock time. A-GPS provides a lot of info that would normally have to come from a satellite link, and would take significant time. It can also perform some of the GPS calculation needed.

The accuracy part is harder to decode, but if you look at "cell tower location" it makes more sense. If a carrier does not give you A-GPS, but does give you ALFT, then your location precision will degrade somewhat. If you get only cell sector locate, then your precision will degrade even further - down to around the 2km point.

The further catch is that many phones that do A-GPS are unable to do pure GPS -- they are "assisted GPS only". They can only do GPS when in range of tower assistance. This means that when these phones are cut off from A-GPS -- either out of range or blocked -- they can no longer use any GPS-related ranging. If they can fall back to cell sector locates, they would get 2km ranges. That sounds like what is happening here.

But -- if you research the Blackberry 8830, you will find that it has an autonomous GPS. That is - it can run fully independent, without any communication.

[ link ]

THIS is perhaps what Bell has done. They have made A-GPS a separate service, AND they have blocked full GPS in the phone software.

I see several issues with this.

1) Bell is being as transparent as mud. If they wish to charge for the separate service of "GPS assist" then I think they should be able to. Extra gear, extra traffic. Sell it as "Bell-enhanced GPS - fastER location data".

2) However, to simultaneously block the alternatives is getting to be a bit much. This is even more annoying when you realize that most people would NOT have a "full GPS" phone, and would have to use the A-GPS anyway. Only your high-end device customers -- who are already paying a premium for their device! -- would be able to run without A-GPS, and even some of them might choose to buy it anyway for the rapid downtown GPS lock it enables.

3) There are significant issues with A-GPS when you deploy it without telling the customer. Customers who are out of range of cell services will get no location info. As can be seen from the discussion here, GPS is seen to be "everywhere and free". If you're not actually providing GPS, you better be really certain you tell your customers what you ARE providing.

4) This isn't all Bell's doing. Customers don't always do the research they should. I know it is hard to do detailed research on devices - but this is why it is essential! I did the research, and my phone has full GPS. I knew what I wanted, and I found it, and I paid for it.

5) Cases like this are a clear example of why the carriers should be obliged to clearly support customer-provided devices. Carriers would be more likely to charge for the services they offer, and less likely to manipulate the marketplace by tweaking devices from the manufacturer.

But this was likely not a big priority for Industry Canada to insist on in the recent spectrum auction -- possibly because nobody but me in this country submitted comments suggesting just that to Industry Canada.
September 24, 2008

Nemo said:

Rule of Law?
Hi,

I unlocked my Virgin(Bell network) 6275i, but the GPS is pants. Takes about 4 minutes to get a fix manually. It never occurred to me that this was an added "FEATURE". They have done it before so obviously they can do it again.

Sadly only a nerd gets to use the actual hardware that they paid for. My 6275i is more computer than my 2000$ 486 laptop from ten years ago. If only they wouldn't cripple them into uselessness. I use the GPS occasionally and my daughter likes to watch videos on it. It records good quality home movies if you dump the included codec and use the latest DivX.

Am I breaking the law by using the potential of the device I own?

That would make me think the "law" is to protect corporate interests, not provide fairness and social order. Laws without a moral base are meaningless. Perhaps the future of the law is to be an inconvenience to be circumvented, not an impartial moral authority.
September 24, 2008

Chris S said:

Nokia 6275i -
Looks like the Nokia 6275i only supports full GPS or AFLT. It's quite possible you're not missing anything by not having the A-GPS - which might be part of the reason Bell no longer carries the phone. They went full on A-GPS, and they won't keep selling devices that can't support it. A cold GPS (no previous fix) can reasonably take 4 minutes to get a first fix, and I wouldn't guarantee that a cellphone GPS holds its settings between uses.

That said - if you can find software to use the onboard GPS and read from stored onboard maps, then you have a standalone mapping GPS in your phone.

If you check the rules on spectrum, you will find that carriers don't have a monopoly on the spectrum they licence. Hence, they aren't leveraging a monopoly in one area (spectrum) to get a market advantage in another area (spectrum-using devices).

But from where you sit, I bet it sure *feels* like a monopoly.

September 24, 2008

Jeff said:

Re: Bell Canada
Wow, if this really starts to happen, I for one, will be reconsidering using Bell as my corporate carrier and make recommendations as the network admin that we look elsewhere for cellphone service and let the current contracts expire.
September 25, 2008

Scott David Allison said:

not using ANY BELL Services
Know this, bell is the meanist nastiest of the bunch

go ahead google f*** bell vs f*** rogers
10 times as more hits.

Oddly try phoning them up on an account issue and have all this info:
your account #
your full name
your full address with postal code
a password for the account
( and refuse to give them the phone number for the account)
See how stupid a system it really is.

A phone company with all the above nfo can't get your information HAHAHAHAHA
September 25, 2008

John Moore said:

Confirmed this is occuring
Bell Canada's policy has been confirmed. See attached recent reply to a complaint I raised:



[INDENT]Thank you for your recent email.

My name is Alyssa and for your reference, my employee identification is
6025948.

Upon full review of your email, I wish to thank you for taking the time
to contact us with your feedback. Please be assured that I have read
all your comments with great care, and that I completely understand your
concerns regarding the functionality of third party applications on your
Blackberry, specifically GPS navigation.

I wish to inform you that many reasons exist for which companies like
Bell Mobility decide to make one choice rather than another. These may
be financial, technical, regarding compatibility issues, exclusivity
rights or a combination thereof. These decisions are negotiated between
Bell Mobility and its business partners, the details of which belong to
our internal business community and are therefore private. I sincerely
regret the inconvenience this limitation may cause.

Unfortunately, I will be unable to restore the access of third party GPS
software/features on your Blackberry device. Please note that your
Terms of Service stipulates that Bell Mobility maintains the right to
make such changes to our services and products, in addition to
increasing fees to features, or charging additional fees.

We will not increase your basic monthly voice plan charge or
out-of-bundle airtime charge during any Committed Service Period, as
long as you remain qualified to receive your chosen plan and Services
throughout the Committed Service Period.

For your reference, I have included a URL to your Terms of Service,
available on our website:

http://www.bell.ca/support/PrsCSrvWls_Bill_ServiceAgreement.page

If you have any other questions or concerns, please reply to this email
and we will be happy to assist you.

I wish to take this opportunity to inform you that it is possible for
you to access your account via Internet. To do so, simply visit our Web
site at www.bell.ca and click on "Register" in order to link your
account.

I appreciate that you took the time to provide us with this valuable
information. I thank you, Mr. Moore, for your patience, your
understanding, and for choosing Bell as your wireless communications
provider. I hope to have addressed your points and welcome your
response if you require further clarification.

Kind regards,

Alyssa
Bell Mobility - Online Client Care [/INDENT]
January 03, 2009

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