Who stole my mobile broadband?

Earlier this month OFCOM – the UK’s regulatory body, published a set of maps showing coverage for the five UK networks with a 3G license.  If you’re one of those people who believe the network’s claims about almost universal coverage, they will come as quite a shock.  Rather than a ruddy red glow of national coverage, they make the operators look more akin to a teenager in the first flushes of acne.

They come as a worrying dose of reality given the promises of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report.  Whilst 3 can claim to have something approaching the start of coverage (and I’d stress that it’s only the start of coverage), the efforts of the other four, and in particular O2 is nothing less than shameful.

There are a couple of things that make this even more concerning.  The first is that the results are essentially theoretical, based on an agreed propagation model; OFCOM has yet to validate them on a large scale by checking actual reception.  The report mentions that where a comparison was made with test drive data it resulted in an 8dB correction, but they don’t mention in which direction, or whether it is reflected in the maps.  The second concern is that this is presumably the coverage for voice.  If we look at mobile data, we know two things:  a much better link budget is required to achieve decent data rates as edge effects drastically limit the effective size of the cell when multiple handsets are using it (See my earlier post and Moray Rumney’s excellent article).  If these are applied to the coverage maps, the prospect for national mobile broadband looks like a pipedream.

The question is whether publication of this data will shame the networks into improving their coverage.

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Energy Harvesting – The lights may be going out for ZigBee…

Every farmer knows that if they want a good harvest they need to take care where they sow their seed.  One of the first principles they’ll learn is to sow the seeds on their own land, not their neighbours.  So I was somewhat shocked to see the recent announcement from the ZigBee Alliance about their new Energy Harvesting profile, dubbed ZigBee Green Power.  In their press release they talk about a feature set to establish a global, standard technology for self-powered devices operating through energy harvesting techniques.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that as a goal.  Energy harvesting’s a fascinating area of technology, which has only recently emerged from research into reality, as better generating technology is devised, along with lower power radios.  It’s taken around twenty five years to come to fruition, during which companies and researchers have been actively patenting their ideas and techniques.  Those patents don’t just cover the energy harvesting devices, they cover all of the parts of the chain – generating the power, converting it to a form that can be used, storing it, connecting to a radio and transmitting information.  They also cover the applications, such as wireless light switches.

Hence my amazement at the naivety of the ZigBee Green Power press release.  Whether or not ZigBee can come up with a specification that is able to run on a few tens of microJoules of power is irrelevant – I’m sure they can as they’ve bright people working in the specification group.  What is far more important is whether or not it will be legal for anyone to ship a device that is based on it, as it will almost certainly infringe the Intellectual Property of the main stakeholders.  So the press release looks like either an ill thought out, opportunistic attempt to regain some momentum, or a worrying piece of evidence that the ZigBee Alliance has lost the plot…

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Where’s the Apps Store on the wired Internet?

Everyone in the mobile industry wants to emulate Apple’s success with their Apps Store by having one of their own.  They also want to believe that they’re offering mobile Internet.  But if they were to spend just a few moments looking around they might question the sanity of either view.

There’s no doubt about the success of the Apps store.  Customers with iPhones appear to be deliriously happy to pay to put shortcut icons onto their phones.  But does it make sense?  Or is the industry just repeating the self delusion it first perpetrated when it declared that WAP was mobile Internet? 

There are some fundamental differences between mobile and wired internet, not least of which is, if the Apps Store concept is so good, why doesn’t it exist on the wired internet? Could it be because the mobile and wired internet really aren’t the same thing? The mobile industry does not want to talk about that, as it undermines the whole concept of the mobile internet. So let’s talk about it…

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Peer-to-peer vs Femtocells. Let the topology war begin.

Two of the new wireless technologies that have come to the fore this year are high speed peer to peer connectivity and femtocells.  Although they may not appear to have any obvious connection, I would argue that they do.  Moreover that connection is so strong that they will end up fighting a technology war between themselves for a key customer application.  That’s because they both have a major impact on the way that users transfer data between their personal devices.  Today these two technologies are barely aware of each other – they’re both too busy gazing at their respective technical navels and ignoring the user requirements.  Within twelve months, when they understand the real use cases they’re enabling, they may well be at each other’s throats.

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Continua Health Alliance takes the bigamous route – Bluetooth and ZigBee.

After months of debate, the Continua Health Alliance finally announced its choice of wireless technology for low power medical devices.  Bluetooth low energy and ZigBee have been the key antagonists in this process and today Continua decided to make it a threesome and share its bed with both partners.

Both brides proudly announced the forthcoming nuptials, Bluetooth claiming that it had been chosen as the Health Device Standard, and ZigBee pronouncing that it has been selected for the next generation standard.

Whilst most people outside the specification groups will dismiss this as irrelevant, it does have some important implications, as it presents medical device manufacturers with a dilemma – which of these two wireless standards do they choose?  We’re at a point in time where we’re about to witness a new phenomenon of internet connected, consumer medical devices, which will open up the possibility of a new era of personal healthcare.  If manufacturers become confused about which of two incompatible standards to use, they’ll delay their products, with a resulting delay in availability and implementation.  It’s important that doesn’t happen.

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Bluetooth is winning the Medical and Fitness Market

Everyone knows that Bluetooth is in their phone and their headset.  What few realise is how many other products rely on it for their connectivity.  Over the past few years I’ve been working with manufacturers and organisations to integrate wireless into their products, particularly in the area of healthcare and fitness.  Having spoken about the current state of play at a recent conference, it struck me that most of Bluetooth’s success in this area is invisible.  The reality is very different, as the recent statement from the Bluetooth SIG acknowledges – Bluetooth is present in over 20 million health and fitness devices.  Market leaders like Philips, Nonin, Polar, Nintendo and Medtronics have chosen it.  That’s not a arbitrary choice, but one that they’ve made for good technical reasons.  To explain why, I’ve written a report about Bluetooth and the health ecosystem it is enabling.  In it I cover the reasons it has achieved its current success and how it is poised to become the standard for all consumer health and fitness products.  I also cover the changing health demographics to illustrate the reason we need it.  To find out why, download the report –

Download “A Bluetooth Ecosystem for Health and Fitness”

bluetooth-the-wireless-ecosystem-for-health-fitness-and-assisted-living.pdf – Downloaded 7061 times – 382.90 KB .

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