Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Searching for Mobile Search Answers

EMPOWERING A MOBILE WORKFORCE

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Aug. 16, 2005
Regulatory changes, an expanding pool of users and fierce price competition make the decade-old battle between DSL and cable modems hotter than ever.
Also in this Issue
Good Time to Buy a Low-End Laptop
Tracking Truckers
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Fight for Bandwidth
 
Top Insights

America's Network: Those who feel the Federal Communications Commission's reclassification of DSL as an information service — it previously was regulated as a telecommunication service — is arcane mumbo jumbo that won't affect them are wrong. Now, after a year's transition, the phone companies won't have to lease capacity to third-party broadband providers. This will likely change the options available to DSL users. The result could be higher prices (because of less competition) or better infrastructure (due to the freeing of telco capital formerly spent on hosting competitors). IT departments must consider the effect of these changes.
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ADDITIONAL READING:
PCWorld.com: Laptop prices are coming down. That's the bottom line. The other news is that shoppers who want to take advantage still need to show up at the store with a good amount of money, since the final price is only achieved through rebates. The prices may be the result of vendor and distributor back-to-school sales, but could be permanent, or even drop lower, during the second half of the year, which is when most laptops are sold. The article gives the prices for several units Current Analysis recently found. The Toshiba A85-S1072 was found at Best Buy for $449, the Acer AS3502WLCi was seen at CompUSA for $499, and Dell's Inspiron 1200 was priced at $499 at the Web site.
 
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Mobilemag.com: Companies are racing to take advantage of a natural market: mobile search. In addition to the normal tasks for which people want access to search engines, people on the move often need information about the area through which they are traveling. A pilot program by Nokia, the biggest cell phone company, is running in the UK, Finland and Sweden. The trial will enable users of Nokia 6680, 6681 and 6630 smartphones to link to local search engines from Eniro, Fonecta, Medio Systems, Yahoo!, Yell.com and map provider NAVTEQ. The piece provides no details on the length of the trial or when it may be exported to the United States.
 
ADDITIONAL READING:
Technology Review.com: This is a succinct overview of mesh networks. The author rightly points out that new technologies initially are overhyped but, once they are deployed, seek the appropriate level of use and popularity. In other words, limitations become apparent once they are used in the real world. That will be the story with mesh networks. Meshes are characterized by the lack of a central hub through which all data flows. Thus, they are easily set up and torn down, flexible, pervasive and self-healing. The author also does a good job of highlighting the immaturity of meshes. One problem is that they rely on wireless communications, which can be a problem for voice and other demanding applications. At this point, there are no standards for mesh networking at the higher speeds necessary if meshes are to cut into traditional approaches' share of the networking pie.

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InfoWorld: All electronic communications start with chips, which are grouped together into transistors. In general, wireless networking requires transistors that operate at very high frequencies. IBM claims that it has developed a chip process that will lead to cheaper mobile devices and make possible high-frequency applications such as automobile radar and high-bandwidth personal area networks (PANs). IBM and other companies make most of their chips out of silicon germanium. However, this material can leak electricity at high frequencies, which causes the chips to overheat. To date, chip makers have employed expensive gallium arsenide to operate at higher frequencies. Big Blue's claim is that it has found a way to make cheaper silicon germanium-based transistors that can operate at the higher frequency levels. The story explains this well at a high level, but doesn't say precisely how IBM has extended silicon germanium or which vendors plan to buy the new chips from IBM.

internetnews.com: In a move that may change the way hotspots are operated, Lumin Innovative Products has launched its first solar-powered Wi-Fi network. The Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colo., is using four LightWave AP-1000 units from the company. The AP-1000 comes in single- or dual-panel modes; Pearl Street is using duals. The network cost about $10,000 to deploy but there is virtually no upkeep cost for the system, which has an expected lifespan of 25 to 30 years. The article says that solar panel operations are misunderstood. They don't need a constant stream of direct sunlight to charge. Indeed, today's solar equipment is so sensitive that a charge is taken from moonlight. The device needs the equivalent of five hours of direct sunlight to give its battery a three-day charge. Though the first implementation is in an urban setting, solar-powered access points may have more significance in rural areas simply because bringing electricity to APs in the middle of nowhere is tricky.

Techworld: Companies are putting their wireless networks to some innovative uses. For instance, TransAlta, a power company in Canada, is deploying WLANs for use by workers with Symbol handhelds to remotely repair databases, ordering systems and workflow applications. The piece describes the evolution of wireless at Columbus Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. It takes a look at how Westar Energy, a Wichita, Kan.-based company, is making do with a relatively skimpy 2.4 kbps radio system. The final example is Northrop Grumman, which is using mobility in three shipyards.

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3 QUESTIONS:
Tracking Truckers

With Ananth Rani, vice president of products and services, Xora Inc.

Question: What does Xora do?
Rani: Broadly speaking, [we offer] location-based workforce management solutions. We have horizontal products like GPS Time Track and then the vertical solutions like DOT [Department of Transportation] Logs. A lot of the players in this space tend to be very horizontally based. But just tracking people doesn't give you enough ROI. So we think the real value is taking the tracking piece and building applications that businesses can use to generate an immediate return on investment.

Question: Can you describe the DOT Log product?
Rani: The Department of Transportation has regulations that say that anyone driving a commercial motor vehicle over 100 miles has to fill out a report on how long they've been on duty and how long they've been driving. They can be pulled over by an inspector demanding these records or they can be demanded at one of the weigh stations. They can only do 11 hours on duty and driving on a given day. Currently, there are about 4.2 million truck drivers who come under these regulations. Twelve percent of these trucks have black box truck-mounted solutions from companies like Qualcomm. The rest of them use paper logs. We've taken that whole application and built it into GPS cell phones. So it's an application that runs on the phone. That makes it very affordable. Ninety-two percent of the truck drivers carry cell phones. We can now track where the driver is, how fast he is going, tell if he is violating any of these DOT regulations. It also gives alerts on the phone if the guy is approaching his limits. If he has an 11-hour limit, we warn him. You can configure it to be one hour before, a half-hour before.

Question: You need a waiver to offer the full version of the product, don't you?
Rani: The federal government has a regulation that any of these onboard DOT log type of things have to be connected to the engine in order to track movement and speed. We claim that because it is GPS and cell phone, we can detect movement and don't need to be connected to the engine. That is the exemption we are awaiting. It will probably take another 90 days at least. There is precedence. Another company got an exemption last year. [DOT Logs] will be rolled out nationwide. It's available now; companies can see enough benefits with all the other areas like dispatch and tracking efficiency that they don't mind maintaining the paper logs and punching it in on the phone.

 
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By the Numbers

More than $21 billion
Home networking revenue in 2009. Revenue from the category was less than $9 billion in 2004.
Source: In-Stat/MDR

70 percent
Cell phone penetration in the U.S., according to Merrill Lynch. Western Europe and developed markets in Asia Pacific are 98 percent and 80 percent penetrated, respectively.

1 in 7
UK handsets that prove faulty within the first year, according to Which? magazine. The majority of problems occur in the first six months.
Source: 3G Newsroom

Breaking Headlines

USA Today: The move of mainstream companies into VoIP-based services is increasing. Last week, AOL acquired Wildseed, which will become part of the new AOL Wireless Group. Wildseed customizes and personalizes phone software. Thus, it will let AOL control the user interface between the subscriber's cell phone and its applications. The release says that the move will enable wider distribution of AOL instant messaging, digital photography and music. The piece doesn't say it overtly, but the company no doubt will use the Wildseed technology to offer services that will be useful to mobile workforces. The move will help AOL compete in the IP phone sector with Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.

Unstrung: Code division multiple access (CDMA) pioneer Qualcomm and Connexion by Boeing have agreed to test and demonstrate wireless communications aboard a Boeing 737-400 aircraft, which has been christened Connexion One. The companies have demonstrated the feasibility of simultaneously using CDMA and the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) while in the air. The tests used UTStarcom infrastructure and integration, the release says. In the test, a CDMA2000/GSM picocell is connected to the terrestrial network by a link provided from Connexion. Passengers were able to use Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW)-based 3D games and business, information and communications applications.

vnunet.com: Though the company has denied the rumors, this would be such a significant deal that IT planners should keep it in the back of their minds. The UK's Sunday Business paper reported that Cisco is interested in acquiring Nokia. The cell phone leader's shares rose on the news. Cisco declined to comment, and Nokia called the report "pure fabrication." The Sunday Business report said that Cisco was interested in the intelligent wireless applications Nokia owns.

Emerging Trends

networkingpipeline: This qualifies as a back-to-school story, since late August has arrived. Wireless technology is increasingly finding a home in primary educational and university settings. The piece spends some time describing why wireless is a good thing for the educational sector. It improves safety, is embraced by students and can improve administration and management. The more interesting element explains why educational use of WLANs is growing. The bottom line is that security is better and prices lower. The four big names in educational wireless are 3Com, Proxim (recently acquired by Terabeam), Symbol Technologies and Cisco. A point missed in the piece is that use of wireless in schools adds to the chances that the students will become mobile users for life.

Red Herring: Cell phone vendors, who generally reported disappointing results in 2005's Q2, may face further pressures as their margins shrink due to inefficient multimode phone designs. Increasingly, customers and carriers are asking for phones that support some combination of CDMA, GSM, General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Enhanced Data GSM Environment (EDGE) services. This can increase the number of components from 350 to 400 (for 2 or 2.5G) to almost 500. This leads to increased raw material, supply chain and manufacturing costs. It also makes building the phone more complicated, tends to make the device bigger and shortens battery life. A lot of the extra components are due to the need to install separate radio frequency transceivers and amplifiers for each mode. In the future, designs will allow one transceiver and amplifier to support all modes offered by the phone.

EDN: This piece reports on a technical issue that could affect emerging devices. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are complementary technologies included in many wireless devices. The problem is that they use the same frequency. If designers are not careful, the platforms can interfere with each other. IT departments and buyers must make sure that the vendors from whom they buy are aware of the issue and have designed their gear to avoid conflicts. The article says that a feature of Bluetooth, adaptive frequency hopping (AFH), neutralizes the problem beyond two meters. AFH is not effective closer in, however. There are ways to prevent near-proximity conflicts. The best, the piece says, are systems in which the media access control layers for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi communicate and arbitrate spectrum assignments.

IT Business Edge: Empowering a Mobile Workforce
Issue 33, Vol. 3
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About the Editor

Since late 2001 Carl Weinschenk has been a freelance information technology and telecommunications writer. His work has appeared online and in print at mobilepipeline, America's Network and a variety of other publications and sites. He is a contributing editor to Communications Technology magazine. Previously, Weinschenk held staff editing and writing positions at InternetWeek, tele.com, Cable World and Cable Marketing magazines. You can reach him at mobile@itbusinessedge.com.