Promoting Competition in Broadband Wireless Networking
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Holmes Report

Promoting Competition in Broadband Wireless Networking

Through aggressive tech policy media relations and government outreach programs that focused on Proxim’s consumer benefit messages, Alexander Ogilvy helped ensure a favorable FCC spread spectrum decision.

Paul Holmes

  Proxim, Inc., a wireless broadband networking company, faced uncertain market survival as an increasingly heated battle raged over federal regulatory restrictions of the 2.4 GHz band, an unlicensed radio frequency. Through aggressive tech policy media relations and government outreach programs that focused on Proxim’s consumer benefit messages, Alexander Ogilvy helped ensure a favorable FCC spread spectrum decision.  This ruling was a coup for the makers of frequency-hopping devices who could now operate without a standards handicap in the home wireless marketplace and provide consumers with faster and more secure wireless communications that also lacked interference. Alexander Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide successfully implemented an award-worthy public relations campaign that positioned Proxim as the wireless networking authority and spectrum policy leader, cast Proxim's executives as wireless industry visionaries, and leveraged relationships with telecommunications media to produce a favorable FCC ruling.  In addition, Alexander Ogilvy then leveraged the positive ruling by disseminating Proxim’s pro-consumer and pro-competition messages to audiences outside Washington – thereby advancing Proxim’s business goals and improving their bottom-line. 
With more than 15 years in designing and building wireless broadband networking solutions, Proxim maintained leading market share in the emerging home connectivity market – a market expected to grow 107 percent yearly through 2002.  However, an unfavorable FCC ruling impacting Proxim would not only have reduced demand for Proxim’s products and services, but would have adversely affected the potential of future business.
Competitors such as Lucent, Cisco, other Fortune 500 companies and startup telecommunications companies were also moving into the wireless solutions space, further challenging Proxim’s position at the helm of the consumer home office market. Inter-industry collaboration had also emerged, creating myriad standards competing to enable wireless home or local networking.
Proxim’s immediate regulatory challenge, presented to Alexander Ogilvy PR’s Tech Policy Communications (TPC) team, pitted two wireless industry groups against one another in a battle for consumer adoption of their particular standard. The Home Radio Frequency Working Group (HomeRF) –Intel, Siemens, Motorola, Compaq and Proxim, among others – supported frequency-hopping technology that suffered beneath the weight of bandwidth restrictions. The competing industry group, the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), pushed for direct-sequence systems - a technology that dominated the enterprise market because its frequency-hopping competitors were handicapped by regulation.  WECA members, including Cisco, 3Com, Apple, Lucent and others, supported the competing 802.11b standard.
Proxim turned to Alexander Ogilvy PR in March 2000 to implement a comprehensive public relations program that included an intensely targeted tech policy media relations and government outreach plan. The measurable objectives were to:
  • Position Proxim as the leader in the area of wireless networking policy with policymakers, the policy media and the industry.
  • Develop sophisticated messaging and build brand awareness with targeted consumer and corporate markets.
  • Educate consumers about the wireless experience and position the Proxim product line as an essential part of tomorrow’s high-tech lifestyle.
  • Integrate tech policy initiatives and monitor Federal, State and International movements pertaining to the adoption of wireless standards.
  • Minimize the chance of legislation or regulation that would harm Proxim.
Press coverage portrayed existing wireless devices as impractical alternatives for the small office/home office (SOHO) demographic, which demanded low-cost, high-speed home network solutions. While Proxim had been mentioned in significant press articles in the previous six to 12 months, the company had not been featured or prominently positioned. In fact, Proxim’s products were labeled as more expensive, slower and more unreliable than other networking options. The FCC decision was imperative to opening up frequency-hopping technology to allow the development of high-speed, cost-effective wireless devices.
As the FCC ruling became imminent, a great opportunity existed to educate and brief press, analysts and policymakers about this highly technical decision. Yet the complexities of the pending decision appeared dead to the media, with even the business press uninterested in the outcome. To combat this apathy, Alexander Ogilvy PR began a multi-phase plan of public relations initiatives that would:
Focus on educating major media outlets before and at the time of the FCC decision.
Gain media interest by positioning this complex ruling as an issue critical to the future of home networking for the average consumer.
Prior to the FCC spread spectrum ruling, Alexander Ogilvy PR and the TPC team laid the critical groundwork for subsequent media relations by:
  • Creating messaging for Proxim executives that linked revised FCC rules to consumer benefits, such as decreased interference, increased availability of multimedia services, and increased freedom to have home/office broadband capabilities.
  • Arranging key policy-specific briefings for Proxim’s CEO, David King and General Manager, Kurt Bauer.
  • Arranging press and analyst tours where Proxim’s executives met face-to-face with Peter Lewis at The New York Times, Wylie Wong of CNET, Jonathan Cox of Bloomberg and more.
  • Providing as competitive intelligence while working with Proxim’s executives and lobbyist.
  • Performing legislative and regulatory outreach to educate and encourage policy support through the benefits of high-speed frequency-hopping.
  • Building relationships with FCC Commissioners and staff, as well as other branches of the Senate and House that later allowed Alexander Ogilvy PR to receive advance notice of the FCC decision.
  • Distributing a timely media advisory and press release to leverage an executive conference call with approximately 100 media and analyst participants.
  • Following up with quick outreach to high-level policy media contacts and analysts, including a predetermined group familiar with wireless policy issues and the coming FCC ruling.
As the FCC’s decision had fallen months behind the anticipated April ruling date, the 802.11b opposition took advantage of the opportunity and filed repeated claims and petitions with the FCC, confusing and frustrating Commissioners and further complicating the situation. The Alexander Ogilvy PR team worked to help Proxim remain above the noise and tactics of the opposition by continuing its education campaign.
On August 31, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission ruled favorably on a decision that expanded five-fold the bandwidth of frequency-hopping systems operating on the 2.4-gigahertz band of the radio spectrum. The eased restrictions allowed frequency-hopping networking devices to operate on a minimum of 15 non-overlapping channels, permitting bandwidths up from 1 MHz to 5 MHz wide. The higher data speeds available on wider bandwidths now allowed frequency-hopping systems to function at the same speed as direct-sequence networking devices.
The resulting coverage appeared in more than 55 stories in 49 print, broadcast and online outlets before and after the FCC decision. Stories appeared across Proxim’s target audiences, including all major global wire news services, top print dailies, business press, trade publications and online news outlets. The ruling was overwhelmingly characterized in the media as a win for Proxim, a win for HomeRF and a win for frequency-hopping developers in the wireless market. Additionally, Proxim dominated most of the coverage – mentioned along with or above better-known competitors such as Motorola, Siemans and Compaq – which in turn led to greater media momentum regarding further product rollouts and announcements.
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