Week in review: Making wireless waves

Telephone customers in the United States will soon be able to transfer their landline number to a cell phone when signing up for new services.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
5 min read
Telephone customers in the United States will soon be able to transfer their landline number to a cell phone when signing up for new services.

An order by the Federal Communications Commission, which takes effect Nov. 24, requires landline phone companies to make way for the "porting" of phone numbers in the nation's largest 100 markets. Similar rules affecting customers who switch between cell phone providers also are set to take effect at that time.

On the cellular front, analysts and industry insiders expect a large impact from a mandate that eliminates what phone customers call the "annoyance tax" of having to make sure every family member, friend or business contact is informed of a number change. The greatest number of defections will be wireless dialers switching to other wireless carriers.

The new rule could spur a sizable transition across U.S. households, according to a new study. Nearly 50 percent of American residential consumers would consider swapping their traditional landline services for wireless plans if they were allowed to keep their existing phone numbers, and if the prices were right, a survey found.

Earlier research has found that less than 5 percent of consumers would drop their landline phones completely and use only a cell phone.

The FCC is also increasing the radio spectrum available for wireless networking services. The move will add 255 megahertz of spectrum in the 5GHz range--an increase of 80 percent--for devices that use unlicensed radio frequencies.

The use of unlicensed spectrum means that consumers and manufacturers don't have to pay for airtime in those radio bands, making wireless networking an inexpensive means of sending and receiving data.

Advertising battleground
British TV regulators banned an ad for Apple Computer's Power Mac G5, saying its claim to the title "world's fastest personal computer" is not fully supported. While reviewers initially gave the ad the OK, the Independent Television Commission decided to take action after receiving eight complaints from viewers.

The agency concluded that "there was insufficient evidence to support the claim 'world's fastest, most powerful personal computer.'" The performance claims for the G5 have already been a point of contention, as benchmarks often are, with some defending and others criticizing Apple's methods.

Another ad battle heated up across the Atlantic, as three influential advertising groups pushed Congress to pass a federal spam law before the holidays, cautioning that without it, unwanted e-mail will hamper e-commerce. An open letter urged Congress to pass a federal antispam law to bring consistency to the fragmented antispam laws already on the books in 37 states, and to pave the way for legitimate companies to continue communicating via e-mail with their customers.

The trade groups' joint endeavor to lobby Congress signals new urgency among marketers to avert a spam crisis. Unwanted e-mail has become an epidemic, making up more than 50 percent of incoming e-mail in some cases.

The advertising sector received good news in a report that the U.S. online advertising sector experienced solid growth over the first half of 2003, with ads linked to keyword searches leading the expansion. On whole, Internet advertising revenue for the first half of 2003 was $3.29 billion, a 10.5 percent increase over the $2.97 billion in revenue recorded over first half of 2002.

Meanwhile, in a rare sign of trouble for the booming search-marketing business, Google is fending off complaints from angry customers who say recent changes to the company's advertising program are costing them sales. And a debate over drug ads online goes to the heart of "pay per click" advertising programs search engines such as Google and Overture Services sponsor.

Corporate classrooms
Is the tech industry a savior or danger to education? Partnerships between technology companies and schools increasingly involve everything from company-sponsored labs to multimillion-dollar equipment donations. But rather than provoking protests over academic independence, as they have in previous years, the arrangements are now accepted openly by many teachers and administrators desperate for resources.

The partnerships are growing, even in the absence of proof that computers measurably improve learning among younger students. And the trend is likely to continue, as companies receive tax breaks, marketing exposure and lucrative contracts stemming from these relationships. CNET News.com takes an in-depth look at the issues in a three-day special report.

Coming attractions
Software giant Microsoft and start-up VMware are bringing closer to mainstream use a technology for running multiple instances of an operating system on a single Intel-based computer. The technology, called virtualization, is a layer of software that isolates programs from the hardware on which they run.

Microsoft, which has finished development of a new version of Virtual PC for Windows, hopes to use the idea to support customers that have newer computers which must run older programs. VMware has also released a software development kit, which enables companies such as IBM or HP to more easily integrate the VMware software into their utility computing technology.

Microsoft also appears ready to make a move into the chip business. According to sources, the company will more actively participate in the design of the brains for the next version of its Xbox gaming console, tentatively called Xbox Next. The move potentially gives the company a toehold in a completely new market.

For the original Xbox, Intel and Nvidia sold chips to Microsoft that were largely identical to semiconductors the two chipmakers have also sold to the general PC market. With Xbox Next, Microsoft is licensing graphics technology from ATI Technologies, processor technology from IBM and chipset technology from Silicon Integrated Systems. Microsoft will then work with these companies to fashion customized chips, sources said.

Also of note
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has agreed to re-examine the Eolas patent for a browser plug-in, a development likely to bring cheer to Microsoft and software patent foes alike...Mobile phone giant Nokia is investigating whether hackers managed to disable security that protects its N-Gage cell phone games...An independent software developer has created a program called MyTunes that lets users of Apple's iTunes for Windows grab song files from other people on a computer network.