Tuesday, July 27, 2010

US allows DMCA exemption for unlocking phones

This comment deserves it own quick post.

The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a prime example of legislation that was either extremely poorly thought out, designed to solely served the purpose of a particular industry group to the determent of the people (who elected the legislators), or both.

The US news is abuzz this morning that the Library of Congress added exemptions for unlocking cell phones, including jailbreaking an iPhone and rooting an Android, as well as circumventing of the DVD CSS encryption by certain people like film students et al. From Wired.com:
  • allow the unlocking of mobile phones to change carriers.
  • allow the cracking of video game digital rights management controls to probe security flaws.
  • allow the breaking of DVD encryption by professors, students and documentary makers so the clips can be used for education and commentary.
  • allow the blind to circumvent locks on e-books to enable read-aloud features.
  • allow the bypassing of broken or irreplaceable dongles.
What does this have to do with Japan? A lot.

The US was used as an example in the SIM locking debate. Now that the US government has expressly added DMCA exemptions to cover unlocking and jailbreaking, this will only make unlocking in Japan more likely.

In a recent conversation with some people in the Japanese cell industry, I was reminded how government guidelines in Japan actually work: while it may be a voluntary guideline, everyone is expected to comply. Of course there will be debate and concessions, though.


  1. From what I have read, the exception does not enforce or encourage rooting/jailbreaking, it only says that there is no legal liability for doing it. While it does set a strong mood and give progressive companies (like Docomo, apparently) a flag to rally behind, some of the more obstinate ones (softbank, natch) could focus on the fact it only prevents companies from taking customers to court--and therefore not really connected to company policy on unlocking. That is, assuming they actually think of a logical argument to defend their actions instead of spewing out FUD like they usually do.

    On a somewhat related note, does anybody have any information on LTE rollouts in terms of frequencies? In particular, is there a push for a global standard set of frequencies like UMTS 2100, or will carriers be allowed to use different frequencies (I have read of 700mhz and 800mhz bandied about) to wall their cellphones in? Since Japan's 4g rollout is coming relatively soon, I would say its an important distinction to consider when talking about cellphone unlocking.

  2. I agree with your assessment that it does not encourage unlocking. It does fix a problem in the US - and Japan is never known to follow the lead of the US ;-)

    The DMCA is a vague, over-reaching piece of sh!t that allows just as much abuse by copyright holders as it enforces copyright law.

    Just google DMCA takedown abuse to see what I mean.

    In fact, it wasn't even designed to cover cell phone unlocking. As crafty lawyers have exploited the DMCA's flaws, exemptions must be created to keep them in check. Finally, it is not a federal crime to bypass security on a cell phone. That's the other thing about the DMCA, it criminalizes circumventing security, regardless if you then violate copyrights - just the circumvention is a crime.
    I'm not sure about other countries, but softbank and docomo will both be using 2100. Docomo will also use 1500. Softbank will use 1500 as well, but I am not sure if that will only be for DC-HSDPA. Check out this:

  3. Here's a link to what Apple had to say about this.

  4. Hmm, doing some more research:
    Verizon and ATT are looking at least at 700 as their band
    (source: http://www.rcrwireless.com/article/20090824/WIRELESS/908249995/alcatel-lucent-gains-lte-700-mhz-certification) Though that is a little low for areas with high population density so maybe there's another band up for grabs.

    Europe's frequencies will probably be 800mhz for rural, 2.6ghz for urban
    (source: http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1562918/alcatel-lucent-completes-800mhz-live-lte)

    So, assuming Verizon or ATT doesn't suddenly decide 2000 is a nice round number, it looks like international LTE compatibility will be far from perfect. An EU phone will probably have these frequencies:
    LTE 800, 2600
    3g 2100
    +some 2g

    For AU:
    LTE 800, 1500
    CDMA2000 @ 800 (which, I believe is incompatible with everything under the sun)

    LTE 1500, 2100
    3g 800 (band VI), 1700, 2100

    LTE 2100
    DC-HSDPA 1500
    3g 1500, 2100

    LTE 1700
    DC-HSDPA 1700
    3g 1700 (band IX, incompatible with other bands)

    I did a bit more reading on LTE and its relation to DC-HSDPA, and it seems that LTE is focused on having a high level of compatibility. Whether that translates to users' modems being able to connect to 3g without having 3g hardware, or whether that is only talking about things on the carriers' side of the fence, I don't know. But looking at how the frequencies line up seems to suggest the former (but that's assuming this isn't just the cell companies cannibalizing their own spectrum because the government isn't handing any more out). Since HSDPA and its ilk are all under the same family as LTE, it seems reasonable to assume that an LTE modem would be compatible with DC-HSDPA. DC-HSDPA looks like an upgrade to current 3g technology, mostly benefiting the carriers (better efficiency, freq allocation, etc).

    With that in mind, looking at the above information, it looks like European phones with LTE won't be much of an upgrade over 3g. It will be interesting to see if an LTE modem tuned to the 800 band would be able to connect with Docomo's 800 Band VI, though. Maybe then international phone users will finally be able to use their imported phones on the train :)

    Either way, don't let the large number of frequencies bother you; even though Softbank and Docomo have numerous 3g bands available to them, Japan is very heavily covered in 2100--so much so you probably will never leave the coverage zone unless you enjoy mountain climbing. So it's very likely 2100 will be the go-to frequency for LTE as well. It would be a bit of a pity if no other countries adopt 2100 as the LTE band, though...

  5. Thanks for the looking into that.

    It already is a problem today with 3G, though it is possible for one handset/modem/whatever to support multiple frequencies, like the iPhone for example, which has 3G frequencies of 850, 900, 1900, and 2100. This covers perfectly AT&T with the 850 and 1900, Docomo, Softbank with 2100, but leaves out US T-Mobile and Emobile due to the lack of 1700.

  6. The worlds first LTE-networks operating in Stockholm and Oslo are running on the 2600 frequency with lower frequencies to be added later. Since 2600 seems to become the most commonly used frequency in Europe, as Brian already pointed out, it would seem rather likely that Japanese manufacturers include support for it in coming LTE-handsets just like they do with European 3G frequencies in current 3G-handsets does it not? Especially the Swedish-Japanese tieup SonyEricsson would seem highly likely to make sure at least their smartphones work in both markets. Remains to bee seen what freqs the rest of Asia (most importantly Korea considering the amount of handsets coming out of Samsung and LG) will wind up using.