WHAT'S NEWS (EN, Jan. 1993)

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A review of the latest happenings in electronics.

Personal communications services spectrum allocated

In September the FCC allocated 22 MHz of bandwidth in three chunks for use by "emerging technologies," clearing the way for personal communications services (PCS)--the so called "poor man's cellular phone "--to come into its own. Voice and data services based on a PCS microcell network, as well as other "future mobile services," are to have use of the frequencies between 1.85 and 1.99 GHz, 2.11 and 2.15 GHz, and 2.16 and 2.2 GHz.

Now that the bandwidth is available, the next challenge for PCS suppliers is to clarify their positions in relation to the cellular phones and paging services already in use. To accomplish that objective, Stamford, CT-based GTE Corp. is carrying out a PCS experiment.

Also in question are the rights of "incumbent users" of the three designated bands. According to the latest FCC figures, approximately 24,000 licensees already maintain about 29,000 microwave links, with channels ranging in width from 800 kHz to 10 MHz. Those licensees, who are now using the bands for public and private microwave communications, are up in arms.

As a compromise, the FCC has set up a minimum transition period of three years, during which current users and PCS providers are to negotiate relocation terms on their own. At the end of the transition period, current users would retain equal claims to the spectrum, with the exception of cases in which there is radio interference between operations. If a PCS provider needs the frequencies, he is expected to work out a voluntary relocation settlement with the incumbent user. If they are unable to reach a relocation agreement, the PCS provider can ask the FCC for an involuntary relocation (state and local government agencies are exempt)-at a cost. The PCS provider must pay all relocation expenses, build the new facilities, and test them to ensure that they are compatible with the old frequencies. According to FCC commissioner Sherrie Marshall, "Making new users pay to move existing users provides an incentive to share." Electronic traffic management Dover Electronics ( Binghamton, NY) and AT /Comm ( Marblehead, MA) are working together to develop radio-frequency identification systems for use in the transportation industry.

The first product, expected to be available in the fourth quarter of 1992, is a system for non-stop electronic toll collection. The patented technology allows motorists to drive through toll gates without stopping, easing traffic jams and reducing fuel consumption and auto emissions. The system, which has been tested at speeds in excess of 90 mph, is based on two-way radio-communications techniques known as "read write." The system is to compete with "read-only" toll-collection processes, in which vehicles have either bar-code tags or radio reflective tags that are read as the vehicle passes a toll. That process is troublesome to advocates of personal privacy because it requires toll agencies to maintain accounts and travel records for all of their once-anonymous patrons.

Read write refers to a non-stop toll-collection process that provides intelligence in the transponder. Not only can the device be read as it passes through a toll gate, but information can also be written onto the transponder. For example, the entry point of a turnpike could be entered so that the proper toll could be calculated upon exit.

In the AT /Comm microprocessor-based read-write system, prepaid toll accounts are maintained in the transponder, eliminating the costs involved in centralized accounting.

Like a postage meter, the transponder is electronically charged with a value, and that value is reduced each time the car passes through a toll lane.

An LCD readout and an audible alarm on the device give the motorist real-time information on his or her account. That way the knows when to "refill" his account.

The "smart transponder" is also a platform for other Intelligent Vehicle Highway System (IVHS) applications, such as incident warnings, automated parking, commercial vehicle access control at airports, and other traffic management uses.

HDTV cooperative agreement

Four major participants in the development of high-definition television (HDTV) have signed an agreement to share the risks and rewards for their respective approaches. AT &T, General Instruments Corp., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Zenith Electronics Corp. agreed to share in future royalty income if any of their entries are selected by the Federal Communications Commission as the HDTV standard.

All of the participants are developing digital systems that are being evaluated on technical merit by the FCC. Under the agreement, the parties have promised to work with each other to enhance the system selected by the FCC. To maintain competitiveness, none of the team's concepts will be merged or enhanced prior to the FCC decision. The GI /MIT and Zenith / AT &T teams will continue to promote their respective systems until that decision is made.


Also see: VIDEO NEWS

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