Sunday, December 30, 2007

My 2008 Top 12 Prediction List

2007 was a busy year and things do not look like they will slow down in 2008. Here's my personal top 12 predictions for the year in no particular order:

  1. Apple announces new 3G iPhone at MacWorld. 3G service will be switchable to conserve battery. New iPhone will also have at least internal storage with SD Card slot.
  2. First generation Google Phone will be OK but just OK as the bugs get worked out. However.......... just wait for the second generation!
  3. Patriots go undefeated and win Super Bowl - how can I resist this one?!
  4. Verizon northern states (Maine, Vermont and New Hamshire) sale to Fairpoint Communications is halted by one of the 3 states.
  5. Google wins 700 MHz spectrum auction. First Google "telephone" trucks appear on Bay area highways.
  6. Celtics win NBA championship - this one is a stretch!
  7. Verizon offers 100 Mbps symmetrical data service to FiOS customers
  8. Google Docs, Spreadsheet and Presenter webware become available offline.
  9. Microsoft goes on buying and marketing spree in an effort to keep up with Google's webware applications.
  10. Red Sox win American League pennant but are upset in the World Series.
  11. Comcast launches DOCSIS 3.0 100 Mbps data service to compete with Verizon's 100 Mbps FiOS service.
  12. Video and image search will go mainstream..... watch for my video podcast interview with Atalasoft President Bill Bither coming soon - it's been shot and is being edited now!
As much as I love hockey I'll skip the Bruins this year....... Looking at these 12 - minus the Sox, Patriots and the Celtics - the web has become the development platform of choice with high bandwidth access and availability required on any connected device......... You ain't developin' if it won't run in a web browser!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I'm not sure how much I'll be posting this week - lots of relatives and eating and driving and visiting and eating and more eating!

I'm also not sure how you all celebrate but I just can't resist posting my all-time personal favorite holiday song :)



Thank you everyone for reading the past year and Happy Holidays!!!

Gordon

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Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Broadband the AT&T and Qwest Way linked here.
Listen directly in your web browser by clicking here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.
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Friday, December 21, 2007

Vermont Public Service Board Denies FairPoint Communications’ Planned Purchase of Verizon Landline

The Vermont Public Service Board has denied Fairpoint Communications planned purchase of Verizon landlines in the state. The $2.7 billion deal also involves the purchase of Maine and New Hampshire land lines. If one state kills the deal it is dead for all three states.

Here's a piece from the Burlington Free Press:

The Board found that FairPoint had not demonstrated that it would be financially sound as it seeks to operate the newly-acquired territories in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire — a service territory that has five times the number of access lines as FairPoint presently has. However, the Board also explained that except for the financial risks associated with the transaction, it could approve the merger, subject to a series of conditions.

The Board did say that it was open to FairPoint submitting revisions that addressed its financial concerns.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

FCC 700 MHz Auction Update

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a list of 96 accepted and 170 incomplete applications for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction. Google is by far the biggest name on the accepted list. Both AT&T and Verizon currently have a status of Incomplete but are expected to bid. Also currently on the incomplete list are cable company Cox Communications, cell phone technology company Qualcomm and oil company Chevron.

Google is probably the most interesting bidder - a couple of years ago I wrote about Google purchasing $100M of dark fiber here. At the time I was speculating on the company setting up a free national WiFi network.

Recently, I also wrote about the Google Phone.......

Let's think about this...... fiber, WiFi, phones....... Many think, if Google wins the auction, they will sub network construction out to a company experienced in building out wireless networks - examples would be a Verizon or AT&T. I'm have second thoughts and am wondering if we will be seeing telco service trucks driving around with ladders on the roof and a Google decal on the side.

All applications must be completed by January fourth to participate in the auction. A mock auction will be held on January 22 and the real auction held on January 24. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Qwest's FTTN Broadband Plan

I've spent some time blogging and podcasting Verizon's fiber to the premise (FTTP), AT&T's fiber to the node (FTTN) and Cable's DOCSIS 3.0 plans but have not had a chance to discuss what Qwest's plans are for network upgrades and higher bandwidth broadband delivery. Qwest is based in Denver and provides services to 14 states in the western part of the U.S.

Yesterday, Broadband Reports posted an interesting summary of a conference call with new (he started in August) Qwest CEO Ed Mueller. Here's a summary from the Broadband Reports post:

Qwest will spend $300 million over the next two years to bring 20Mbps VDSL to around 1.5 million customers.
- $70-100 million will be spent on FTTN this year and another $200 million next year.

Qwest hopes to see a FTTN/VDSL penetration rate of 40% by 2010.
Upgrades are going to cost the company around $175 per home. Qwest will focus on portions of around twenty un-mentioned markets.

The Denver Post also published an article yesterday outlining the call and indicated the company will not focus on IP video delivery, stating "the $300 million fiber-to-the-node project is not intended as a deployment of IPTV." Qwest currently has a video agreement with DirectTV and it looks like that agreement will stay in place.

The Post article gave a little more detail on deployment, stating the rollout "will focus on 20 markets with the project, 10 of its largest and 10 others." Also according to the article, Qwest has started to upgrade their network in Denver and Colorado Springs.

Second generation VDSL (Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line), referred to as VDSL2, provides up to 100Mbps over standard copper telephone wires.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Closing the Digital Divide: Vermont's e-State Initiative

On a recent trip to Vermont, while scanning FM radio somewhere near Bellows Falls, I came across an interview with Lieutenant Governor, Brian Dubie. In the interview he described an integrated mobile satellite and terrestrial communications pilot project Vermont is involved with in partnership with TerreStar Networks. This partnership is in response to Vermont Governor Jim Douglas' e-State Initiative to provide universal cellular and broadband coverage everywhere and anywhere within Vermont’s borders.

If you've been to Vermont you know it is rural - basically lots of mountains with homes and businesses spread out across the state. Cell service is poor in many areas along with broadband availability.

The TerreStar Networks project will be an interesting pilot that should provide broadband speeds to even the most rural areas of Vermont. Here's a piece from the company website:

The company's first satellite, TerreStar-I, currently under construction by Space Systems/Loral, will be the world's largest and most powerful commercial satellite ever deployed. With an antenna almost 60 feet across, and up to 500 dynamically-configurable spot beams, TerreStar-I will surpass current satellites in terms of signal sensitivity and the number of spot beams it can generate.

The satellite's powerful antenna will enable TerreStar to deliver services over a broad range of commercially available consumer-style wireless devices utilizing existing commercial chip technology including cell phones, PDAs, laptops and legacy devices such as Land Mobile Radios (LMRs)-effectively outdating bulky and cumbersome satellite phones.

The system will be fourth-generation wireless (4G) all Internet Protocol (IP) based and use two 10-Mhz blocks of contiguous spectrum in the 2 GHz band. TerreStar Networks says the spectrum footprint will cover almost 330 million people across the United States and Canada. TerreStar Networks currently has a Launch on Demand contract with Arianespace that commenced last month (November 2007). The contract includes two additional launch options which TerreStar Networks could use to cover other parts of the world.

According to Brian Dubie, the Vermont pilot project will not require state funds and, once in place, the network will be available for all voice and data service providers currently operating in Vermont, as well as new providers.

If all proceeds on schedule, Vermonters could have access by late 2008 or early 2009.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Going Green: Happy 60th Birthday to the Transistor

On December 16, 1947, William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain demonstrated the "transistor effect" at Bell Labs, launching us into the modern solid-state electronics, semiconductor and computer world. The three would go on to win the 1956 Noble Prize in Physics for their invention.

Prior to transistors, computers were made with thousands of vacuum tubes and were huge energy consuming devices. According to Nobleprize.org: In the late 1940's, big computers were built with over 10,000 vacuum tubes and occupied over 93 square meters of space. Transistors replaced these vacuum tubes which leaked, burned out and consumed huge amounts of power.

Over the years, engineers and scientists have figured out how to make electronic devices smaller, lighter and less power hungry using transistors. They've been around for a long time and we tend to forget or take for granted their significance - transistors are the building blocks for "green" (and all other) electronics based technologies. Happy Birthday!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Curt Schilling: Red Sox Pitcher, Roll Playing Game Developer and Academic Challenger

Red Sox pitcher and 38 Pitches blogger Curt Schilling has launched a gaming company in Maynard, Massachusetts called 38 Studios. If you are not a baseball fan - 38 is Curt's uniform number.

The company was started last year and currently has 45 employees. Schilling has funded the company to this point with his own money but in January will announce a second round of funding from "strategic partners" (perhaps with some Red Sox teammates?)

He's brought in some big names from the animation and fantasy business - here's a piece from the 38 Studios website:

38 Studios' first products will feature the artistic vision of world-renowned comic book and toy creator Todd McFarlane (www.spawn.com ) and best-selling fantasy author R. A. Salvatore (www.rasalvatore.com ). To bring this epic world to life, 38 Studios employs skilled and dedicated artists, programmers, designers, writers, and others drawn from the world’s most successful game and entertainment companies, all of whom join 38 Studios with the common goal of creating a most unique entertainment company.

Yesterday, 38 Studios announced an interesting game challenge where teams of 2-3 students from New England area colleges will submit ready to play games they've developed. The development platform/game engine is at the discretion of the team and each submission must include the participant created game source code.

According to the 38 Studios contest website, teams will be judged on the following criteria: degree of overall finished product; originality; visual polish; stability; length of quality game play; and expanded market vision and product strategy.

New England Cable News has a great video interview of Curt describing 38 Studios and the contest linked here.

The first place team wins $3,000, second place $2,000 and third place $1,000.

An exciting opportunity for New England students, the deadline for submissions is February 18, 2008 and winners will be announced on or before April 21, 2008. If interested, be sure to go to the 38 Studios website and download the complete set of contest rules. Go Sox!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Going Green: Vampire Devices and Zigbee

The xchange magazine article titled Telecom's 40 Shades of Green that I referenced on Wednesday includes a small section on "vampire devices". Vampire devices (also referred to as parasitic devices) do not have off switches and include products like DVD players, recorders and game systems. Have you ever walked around your house at night, counted the number of LEDs glowing in the dark and thought about the amount of power they were sucking up? Wouldn't it be great if you could turn some of them off and save a little power? It may not be just a "little power" - the U.S. Department of Energy estimates 5% of all electricity used in the U.S. is consumed by devices in standby mode and predicts this will increase to 20% by 2010!

One technology that has some energy saving potential is Zigbee. Zigbee is a Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN) technology based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers(IEEE) 802.15 specification. Zigbee operates at 868 MHz, 902-928 MHz, and 2.4 GHz and allows devices to communicate up to around 50 meters away at up to 250 Kbps. Zigbee was designed to maximize power - battery powered devices using Zigbee can sleep for hours or days. According to the Zigbee Alliance, ZigBee is the only wireless standards-based technology:

- that addresses the unique needs of remote monitoring & control, and sensory network applications.
- that enables broad-based deployment of wireless networks with low cost, low power solutions.

- that provides the ability to run for years on inexpensive primary batteries for a typical monitoring application.

The ZigBee 1.0 specification was ratified in December 2004 and we are starting to see Zigbee products come to market. Greenswitch, a wireless energy control system company, has a good video clip from Ed Begley, Jr's show Living with Ed posted here. In the clip Ed describes how the Greenswitch's Zigbee system can be used to control light switches, wall sockets, air conditioning, heating, etc systems. You'll also find 6 short videos on the Greenswitch site describing a step by step home Zigbee system installation.

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Update, 12/18/07:
Mike Q sent along a link to a great Vampire Energy diagram that estimates how much energy is being comsumed by common devices when they are in standby mode. Here's the link: http://awesome.goodmagazine.com/transparency/008/trans008vampireenergy.html

Thanks Mike!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

w00t: Merriam-Webster's 2007 Word of the Year

Merriam-Webster has announced w00t (spelled w-zero-zero-t) as the word of the year for 2007. Selection is based on visitor votes to the Merriam-Webster web site. With a mix of letters and numbers - is w00t really a word? Here's Merriam-Websters definition:

w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"


According to Merriam-Webster, the word is part of what gamers refer to as l33t ("leet," or "elite") speak. Check out this link on the Merriam-Webster site to read the full press release and see the top ten vote getters. I can't wait to show this one to my retired english teacher mom!

Going Green: Metcalfe's Law and the Enernet

Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com and now with Polaris Venture Partners is interviewed by Tara Seals in the December 2007 issue of xchange magazine in an excellent article titled Telecom's 40 Shades of Green. In the article Metcalfe describes what he calls the Enernet, a standardized, networked web for the distribution of energy, much as the Internet distributes information.

Seals refers to Metcalfe’s Law in the article, which Metcalfe first used to describe Ethernet systems, and discusses how it applies to alternative energy systems using sources like solar, wind or bio-fuel. Here's a quote from the article describing Metcalfe's law:

Metcalfe’s Law says that the value of a telecom network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system; the more distributed users there are on the system, the greater the value of the network and of those endpoints themselves. In other words, it describes a blueprint for an explosion of growth, and explains many networking phenomena we have today, from the Web to social networking. Standards+Metcalfe’s Law = efficient, sustainable, viral, organic networking growth.

Solis Energy is mentioned early in the article - you've probably seen Solis or Solis-like solar generators driving along highways or along airport runways. The companies Solar Power Plant (SPP) series are designed for low wattage telecommunications devices like wireless access points, cameras and security systems. Equipment can be powered directly by 12, 24 or 48 volts DC, by Power over Ethernet (POE) or inverter supplied AC. The company claims, with the right product selection, continuous power for 7 days without sunlight. There are also Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) modules for Solis SPPs that allow status monitoring of temperature, battery, load and photo-voltaic power.

On a much larger scale, Google has installed the largest corporate panel solar panel installation in the U.S. at the Mountain View, CA Googleplex. To date. 9,212 solar panels have been installed on eight buildings and two carports. The system installation company, EI Solutions, has a great fly-over video linked here. Additional panels will be installed to complete the 1,600 kilowatt project. Google has a site up on the web (linked here) that charts energy production for the project.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A New England Beaver Meets a Retired Cable Splice

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In the next few blog entries, I’m going to be focusing on green technologies. I know it is stretch but could not resist kicking off the series by writing about “nature’s engineer”.
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Our home in Western Massachusetts is surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods and there’s lots of wildlife around including deer, fox, wild turkey, coyotes, black bear and beavers. We try and get out in the woods as much as possible and especially look forward to the winter because the ponds, brooks and swampy areas freeze over, allowing us to walk on the ice and explore places we cannot get to when it is warmer. It’s been cold recently and there is a good 4 inches of ice – more than enough to support the weight of an adult.

We were particularly interested in checking out a beaver pond that we discovered about a year and a half ago. The beavers have built a pretty good size dam and lodge and it’s always fun to walk over the ice, getting a close-up look at their work. Yesterday my daughter and I got right up next to the lodge and got some great pictures. The first picture here is of the lodge and the second is a picture of a hole next to the lodge that they use (it’s thinly frozen over) to get in and out of the water through the ice. The lodge entry is under water so this is also their way in out out of their home. In the second picture you can also see mud they’ve recently dragged up off the bottom to patch and seal the lodge.

Here’s a couple of pictures of trees they’ve cut. The first is the stump of a tree they dropped across our road in August. The second is the stump of a tree they cut within the last week.

In September we first noticed what looked like a cable-splice pedestal box but could not get close to it because it was on a little island in the middle of the flooded area. Yesterday, the ice allowed us to walk to the box and finally get a close up look - here’s a picture. You can see the box is bent and twisted with the cover broken off. I’m guessing the combination of high water and ice last winter twisted and broke the pedestal open – I don’t think the beavers busted it open.

I also don’t believe this cable is active – about 10 years ago Comcast installed a piece of fiber that feeds the coaxial connections to the homes on our road. It’s still interesting to see the kind of damage beaver can cause - I just hope they don’t know where the fiber splices are!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

New York Times on Free Speech in China

On December 2, the New York Times published an editorial titled Yahoo Betrays Free Speech. The piece discussed how Yahoo helped the Chinese government find the identities of two Chinese journalists who both received ten years in jail for "disseminating pro-democracy writings".

Here's a quote from the editorial:

Yahoo’s collaboration is appalling, and Yahoo is not the only American company helping the Chinese government repress its people. Microsoft shut down a blogger at Beijing’s request. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft censor searches in China. Cisco Systems provided hardware used by Beijing to censor and monitor the Internet.

You may have seen the following YouTube piece on the Yahoo settlement (or something similar) last month:



I encourage you to read the New York Times editorial and watch the video clip - good classroom material for discussion from political, legal, business/financial and even technological (how do they do that?) perspectives.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

One Laptop Per Child Update: Birmingham, Alabama

On Wednesday, Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford announced the city would be the first in the United States to provide OLPC computers to students in the public schools. 15,000 laptops will be purchased and distributed on April 15, 2008 to all city students in grades 1-8.

Here's a quote from the Birmingham News:

"Our students will have access to global thinking now," said Birmingham schools Superintendent Stan Mims. "It becomes a tipping point in the digital divide."

If one should become lost, stolen, etc the school system will have the ability to remotely disable the machine.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Going Green and Disco Music Flashback

I'm working on a "Green" ICT blog series for next week. In the series I'll write about different IT and communications technologies that are reducing energy consumption and pollution. My research has brought back a lot of memories dating back, in some cases, to over 30 years ago. Here's a quick historical outline from my perspective:

Early to Mid-1970's - I was in high school in 1973 when the OPEC oil embargo started (for younger reader's reference - 1973 is just about when disco music became popular). I remember my parents turning down the thermostat (along with the radio) and waiting in line for hours to buy gasoline....... It wasn't all bad news though - it was an exciting time with lots of work being done in the area of energy conservation, alternative fuels, etc. New technologies were in rapid development and moved quickly into production. There was a major push towards fossil fuel alternatives like solar and and renewable fuel technologies. Many community colleges in the country were starting solar technology associate degree programs. Business, industry, education, government....... we were all engaged and focused on moving away from our dependence on foreign oil.

Fast forward a bit to to 1977 - The oil embargo had ended in the spring of 1974, disco was peaking (remember Saturday Night Fever?) and alternative energy businesses and technologies were still hot. Some close friends built an amazing home with a huge thermal mass, solar hot water panels and even a small photovoltaic array. The house was positioned to take maximum advantage of the winter New England sun (at the sacrifice of curb appeal) and was not built with an oil, gas or electric heating system.

The 1980's - Things had changed a bit since the late 1970's. Disco was dead, oil was relatively cheap and solar technology in particular, once so promising and exciting, had fallen off most of our radar screens..... As a result, many college solar technology degree programs were suspended due to lack of interest.

The 1990's and early 2000's - Things like energy conservation and pollution were not part of mainstream discussion and oil (for the most part) was still cheap and available. Low gas mileage SUV's (I admit I still have and drive one) became the rage..... My solar house friends considered "trading up" to a larger, less energy efficient home but decided to stay put. Disco was still dead.

Today
- With the price of oil things have changed. On my way in to work today I listened to a broadcast on some new local construction. The woman designing the development was talking about orienting houses to take advantage of the sun and installing solar hot water systems..... she even mentioned photovoltaic arrays...... Wow - solar is back - can disco be far behind?:)

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UPDATE: December 8, 2007
Bruce, a reader from Massachusetts, sent along a picture of his beautiful super energy-efficient geodesic dome home. I've added his message and picture below (picture is clickable for a larger view).
Thanks Bruce!

Hello Gordon: Enjoyed reading your latest blog on "A Going Green and Disco Music". You mention how your friends built a house to maximize solar gain etc., it reminds me on how my wife and I build our house, inspired by Buckminster Fuller, a geodesic dome. Check it out.
Since I'm 50 I can remember first hand what the oil embargo's were like. There's a lot of us "greenies" out there!
Bruce F.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Open WiFi Access Point Concerns

Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed, in a 409 to 2 vote, the Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act of 2007

If you currently have an open WiFi access point at home, own a business that provides open access, work at a college offering open wireless access, work at a library, etc you should be aware of this Bill. Here's the Bill Summary from the Library of Congress website:

Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act of 2007 or the SAFE Act of 2007 - Amends the federal criminal code to expand the reporting requirements of electronic communication and remote computing service providers (service providers) with respect to violations of child sexual exploitation and pornography laws. Requires such service providers, in reporting violations of such laws to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Center) to provide:

(1) information on the Internet identity of a suspected sex offender, including the electronic mail address, website address, uniform resource locator, or other identifying information;

(2) the time child pornography was uploaded or discovered;

(3) geographic location information for the offender; and

(4) images of such child pornography.

Requires the Center to forward each report which it receives from a service provider to a designated law enforcement agency.
Requires service providers to preserve images of child pornography for evidentiary purposes.
Authorizes the Center to provide images of child pornography reported to its CyberTipline to service providers to enable such providers to stop further transmissions of of pornographic images.
Grants service providers and the Center immunity from civil claims or criminal charges for complying the requirements of this Act, except for certain intentional or reckless misconduct.

If somebody you know or don't know uses your open network to do something illegal you could be responsible. And..... it's not just WiFi providers that need to be concerned - email account providers, Website hosts, etc will also need to comply.

Initial fines could go as high as $150,000 with additional fines up to $300,000 for repeat offenders. The Bill now goes to the Senate.

The Kindle and The Sony: A Couple of Electronic Book Readers

[Here's a recent piece I wrote for my monthly technology column in La Prensa, a Western Massachusetts Latino newspaper. To read previous La Prensa technology columns go here.]

Amazon recently released a product called the Kindle, a 10.3 ounce electronic reader with a 6 inch grey-scale screen. The Kindle allows users to connect wirelessly and shop the Amazon Kindle store electronically – a computer is not required. According to Amazon, more than 90,000 books are available including 100 of the 112 current New York Times Best Sellers with most selling for $9.99 each. Newspapers are also available including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post along with top magazines including TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes. Monthly subscriptions to newspapers cost between $5.99 to $14.99 per month and magazines typically cost from $1.25 to $3.49 per month.

The Kindle uses a cell phone data network and works just about everywhere your cell phone works. There are no monthly wireless bills – wireless charges are included in the cost of the content being downloaded. Users can also email documents and pictures to a Kindle. A Kindle is not cheap at $399 for the device.

Sony also has a product called the Sony Reader. The Sony Reader is a one-half inch thick e-book reader that weighs around 8 ounces. It holds about 80 books worth of content and has a rechargeable battery that lasts approximately 7,500 page turns. It has 64MB of internal memory and an additional memory card slot. The screen is very pleasant on the eyes, using a technology called e Ink® from E Ink Corporation. E Ink uses micro-capsules instead of the glowing LCD cells on computer screens that appear as black or white depending on the charge associated with page content. The Kindle uses the same E Ink screen technology. According to Sony: "The result is a reading experience that’s similar to paper - high contrast, high resolution, viewable in direct sunlight and at a nearly 180-degree angle, and requiring no power to maintain the image."

The Sony Reader requires a computer for book purchases and transferring files (via USB cable) to the Reader. The Sony Reader also displays documents, blogs, newsfeeds, and JPEG file pictures (like the Kindle - just black and white) and plays unsecured MP3 and AAC audio files through an external audio jack. Books are primarily purchased by users using Sony’s ebooks website. The Sony Reader is currently selling for around $300 on Amazon.

Back in September I wrote here about the weight of my two daughters book bags and the Sony Reader. In the September post I calculate both of my daughters Book Bag to Weight Ratio (BBWR).

I see great potential for ebook products, especially in our classrooms. If you also have children (or grandchildren or know children) in school you likely have concerns about the weight of books they are carrying around every day in their bookbags. An electronic reader like the Amazon or Sony products could be a perfect solution. However, I don’t think we’ll see widespread use in our classrooms until the price drops and a color screen is included.

UPDATE (12/6/07, 12:30PM): A buddy, John W., wrote to me this morning. Go to eBay and do a search on Kindle - check out those prices!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Helicopter Parent at 30,000 Feet

According to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the world record for helicopter altitude is 12,442 meters (approximately 40,820 feet) set by Jean Boulet in AĆ©rodrome d'Istres, France on June 21, 2002. Boulet used a SA 315 Lama helicopter to set the record. The SA 315 is a specialized helicopter designed to fly at high altitudes - most helicopters max out below 20,000 feet.

What do helicopters have to do with parents? Helicopter parents are a little different and don't seem to be affected much by altitude. They're defined by many as parents who constantly hover over their children, stepping in whenever there is a problem at school or sports, music, etc. Speaking from experience - the ability to be constantly connected with our children (computers, cell phones, text messaging, email, etc) has made it extremely tempting for us parents to "hover" and our children to (perhaps) overly rely and depend on us parents.

What does 30,000 feet have to do with all this? A couple of weeks ago on a flight I sat next to an interesting guy right around my age. He had a Tablet PC, a scientific calculator and what looked like photocopied pages from a textbook. Being the nosey person I am I would steal a peek at his screen every once in a while as he flipped through the photocopied pages, wrote and erased equations on the Tablet PC and punched away on the calculator. I figured he was kind of old to be taking a course and thought he might be a teacher or professor. Then I realized he was erasing way too much to be faculty and seemed to be pretty frustrated with operating the calculator. His penmanship was beautiful - another tip he was likely not faculty or a student! :)

What did I do? Being curious - I saw my opening and made my move when I recognized the Snell's Law equation on the Tablet PC. Breaking the ice, I asked him if he was taking a course and was amazed at his response. He told me he was an "extremely successful" architect and he was helping his son out by doing his college physics homework. The kid was an undergraduate at a well know university, majoring in pre-med. He told me physics was a "useless" course that his son was required to take for his major. He also told me the kid needed to get a good grade in the class to get into medical school. Much of the work was homework/take-home type assignments and, again (he kept saying it), he was "just helping his kid out".

What exactly was he doing? He was hand writing the solutions on the Tablet PC using the electronic ink feature in Word. Saving the hand written assignments as Word documents, he would email them to his son who would then rewrite (he claimed) the assignments and pass them in to his professor.

He did not ask what kind of work I do and I did not offer. I did tell him I thought that what he was doing was cheating, not fair to the other students in the class, etc. He could not have cared less about my opinion.

How was he doing? I could see that all three of the problems he had completed were wrong - his answers made no sense. From what I could tell (those calculator symbols are small when you are trying to sneak a peek) he had the calculator in radian mode when it should have been in degree mode. I could see his blood pressure rising as he struggled with the calculator.

I did not say a word but would have loved to see the look on his face when Dad got his grade for that assignment back.

Monday, December 3, 2007

One Laptop Per Child - Holiday Giving

Back in September I wrote an update on the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC), the brainchild of MIT Media Lab founder and Chairman Emeritus Nicholas Negroponte (who now also serves as chairman of OLPC).

One of the fundamental concepts of the OLPC project is to get computers into as many students hands as possible and let them tinker with them in an effort to stimulate and enhance creativity, like the educational toys many of us have bought for our children. The initial target cost for the laptops was $100 which was not acheivable - the current XO model runs for around $200 and uses a child friendly version of the Linux based open source operating system, built in low-power wireless networking, a display that can easily be seen in the day, a speaker and microphone and a pull cord for hand recharging. You may recall earlier prototypes had a hand crank for recharging. The first ones are being made by Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese computer manufacturer.

Since November 12th, OLPC has been offering a Give One Get One program in the United States and Canada. According to the OLPC website:

"For a donation of $399, one XO laptop will be sent to empower a child in a developing nation and one will be sent to the child in your life in recognition of your contribution. $200 of your donation is tax-deductible (your $399 donation minus the fair market value of the XO laptop you will be receiving)."

If you do donate between now and December 31, your donated laptop will go to a child in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia or Rwanda in early 2008 and you will get your XO around the same time. Here's a 30 second video of actor Masi Oka (from the NBC show Heroes) describing the program:



You also may donate laptops via OLPC's Simply Give and Give Many options.

T Mobile has stepped up, offering one year of complimentary HotSpot access to all U.S. donors who participate in the Give One Get One program.

I've asked Santa for an XO - I cannot think of a better gift for this holiday season.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Google Launches Cell Phone Map Location Application

Yesterday Google launched a new beta application called Google Maps with My Location (My Location). According to Google, the downloaded application runs on most web-enabled mobile phones. Once installed, My Location determines exactly where you are located using GPS if you have a GPS enabled phone. If you don't have a GPS enabled phone, My Location uses cell tower triangulation to indicate your location with 1000 meters.

Here's a bit of a bonus - remember - GPS services are not available indoors but cell phone services are. This means, using cell phone signal triangulation, My Location can find your location when you are indoors!

My Location is still in Beta and, according to the Google My Location site, "is available for most web-enabled mobile phones, including Java, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Nokia/Symbian devices."

Here's a YouTube video demonstrating how the service works:



It will be interesting to see if Apple incorporates My Location into the iPhone Google Map application.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

AT&T Wireless Upgrades and the Second Generation iPhone

A small article in the Springfield, MA Saturday Republican paper caught my eye. AT&T has been quietly updating their cell phone towers to 3G in Massachusetts along with 220 other metropolitan areas in other parts of the country. Just last week the company updated 30 towers in the Western part of the state with plans to do the New Bedford area next. Both Boston and the Worcester area have also been upgraded.

3G technologies provide approximately 144 Kilo-bits per second (Kbps) to around 2.4 Mega-bits per second (Mbps) to mobile devices like cell phones and non-mobile devices like computers. For AT&T, 3G is a significant upgrade from the current EDGE network which, according to PCWorld, averages around 109 Kbps.

EDGE is commonly referred to as "2.75G" (between 2nd and 3rd generation) and has been the source of a lot of discussion with regards to the iPhone. Many questioned Apple's decision to go with AT&T/EDGE and have debated why Apple did not go with a 3G option for the iPhone. Steve Jobs has always said the decision to go with EDGE instead of 3G was based on battery life. Here's a quote from Steve jobs in a piece from MacNN:

"The 3G chipsets that are available to semiconductors work reasonably well except for power. They are real power hogs," .... "So as you know, the handset battery life used to be 5-6 hours for GSM, but when we got to 3G they got cut in half. Most 3G phones have battery lives of 2-3 hours [of talk time]."

There have been rumors (see Mathew Millers post at The Mobile Gadgeteer here ) going around since the current iPhone was announced in January that the next generation iPhone would be 3G capable. People have also been questioning whether the current iPhone has both an EDGE radio and a 3G radio built in, which would allow current iPhones to software update to the faster 3G network as the network becomes available.These rumors have pretty much died out after people have taken iPhones apart and have not been able to find an upgradeable radio.

Some complain about EDGE network performance with the iPhone but this has not been an issue with me personally. Perhaps it is because of the places I find myself at - I may be unique - I find myself on a WiFi network probably 90% of the time with the iPhone. The 10% of the time I'm not on a WiFi connection I'm usually checking email, looking up directions on a map or searching for a phone number on the web. On these occasions the EDGE network performance/bandwidth has been fine for me.

Is this 3G build-out by AT&T in (at least partial) preparation for a 3G enabled second generation iPhone? Partial is the key word here but i would say yes - it's time to move to 3G. I'm excited to see what Apple comes out with for the second generation iPhone and it will be interesting to see (if it is 3G enabled) how the battery life issue is dealt with. My bet right now would be on a multi-mode EDGE/3G/WiFi second generation iPhone that would operate on all three types of wireless networks. Time will tell!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wireless Everywhere - Wireless Grids

A startup in Syracuse, NY called Wireless Grids is close to a trial on a very interesting project on the campus of Syracuse University. Here's a description of the project from Wireless Grid's website:

The project is researching issues associated with nomadic ad-hoc resource sharing, which is a effort to bind together developments in Grid, P2P Computing and Webservices along with ad-hoc and wireless networking. The ultimate vision of the grid is that of an adaptive network offering secure, inexpensive, and coordinated real-time access to dynamic, heterogeneous resources, potentially trversing geographc, politica and cultural boundaries but still able to maintain the desirable characteristics of a simple distributed system such as stability, transparency, scalability and flexibility.

Academic partners include Boston University, ETH Zurich, MIT, Northeastern University, Syracuse University and Tufts University. Business partners include Nokia, Cisco Systems, Fractal Antennas and Novell. The project has also been partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

The project concept is extremely appealing - here's a couple of quotes from an excellent article in the November 19 issue of Business Week:

The concept is that everyone should easily be able to access all of their own content, whether it is stored on a phone, a computer, or a personal video recorder. And users should be able to swap content among devices regardless of where those devices are located in the world. Even more radically, Wireless Grids says users should have the power to specify individuals with whom they'd like to share—and to decide who gets access to what. For this purpose, Wireless Grids says it has built in security measures that are all but hacker-proof.

Any device that can link to the Internet can download Wireless Grids' software, which will work across all types of networks or computer operating systems. Once the software is loaded, a menu pops up asking which things you'd like to share. The initial version allows users to share software files as well as computers, speakers, printers, cameras, and screens. Users click on an icon and select which files and devices they want to make available. The other parties can be located anywhere, as long as their devices also have the software loaded.

Cell phones, laptops, TiVo, televisions....... any device that can connect to the Internet will be able to share content with other attached devices after Wireless Grids software is installed on the device. The trial is scheduled to be launched in January with 40 students in a dorm on the Syracuse campus. It's pretty much a given these students will be posting on places like YouTube - it will be fun to watch the progress and see the kinds of creative applications these students come up with for this technology.

I can imagine all kinds of applications - sharing video with a student in one of my classes cell phone to cell phone, my daughter's cell phone communicating with my TV while I'm watching a football game telling me where she is with the car, my kids looking in real-time at video on a big screen TV in Massachusetts that I'm shooting using a WiFi video camera in California .....

Security and privacy certainly will be a challenge..... watch the Wireless Grids Project Blog and Wiki linked from the project website for trial progress and updates.

Friday, November 23, 2007

U.S. Presidential Candidates on Innovation, Science and Engineering Education

The November 15, 2007 issue of Business Week published an interesting special report titled Proposed Presidential Innovation. Here's a quote from the report:

Where do the leading Presidential candidates stand on the issue of innovation? The creation of new things that have value in the marketplace has always been a major force for generating wealth and power. But the rise of Asia is changing the geography of innovation, shifting it East, away from the U.S. and Europe.

Business Week asked selected candidates to define the word innovation and then asked them what their plans were to stimulate innovation in four areas (science and engineering education, green energy, the military and research and development) and asked for details on how the candidates would develop better methods to measure innovation. I've included the interviewed candidates responses to their definition of innovation and views on science and engineering education below, as quoted in the Business Week report. I've listed the interviewed candidates in alphabetical order and have left off their political party affiliations.

Hillary Clinton
Innovation: “Innovation...will be key to creating new jobs and rebuilding middle class prosperity.”

Science and Engineering Education: "Triple the number of National Science Foundation fellowships and increase the size of each by 33%; provide government financial support to encourage women and minorities to study math, science, and engineering."

John Edwards
Innovation: “Innovation means taking impossible tasks and turning them into reality.

Science and Engineering Education
: "Invest more in teacher pay and training; expand math and science education; strengthen high school curricula; expand the number and size of National Science Foundation fellowships."

Rudy Giuliani
Innovation: “America can meet its challenges through innovation...low taxes stimulate growth [and] spark innovation...”

Science and Engineering Education: "Establish federal school voucher programs; provide choice within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; give educational opportunities to military families; expand charter schools."

John McCain
Innovation: “Innovation is fueled by risk capital, skilled workers, incentives for entrepreneurs, a light regulatory framework, and open access to markets”

Science and Engineering Education
: "Provide incentives for summer mentoring programs for high school and college math, science, technology, and engineering students; train science and math teachers."

Barack Obama
Innovation: “Innovation is the creation of something that improves the way we live our lives.”

Science and Engineering Education: "Increase science and engineering grads and minorities and women in science and technology; expand public school offerings in science, technology, engineering, and math."

Bill Richardson
Innovation: “The American Dream is a belief that we can make tomorrow better. Innovation powers that dream.”

Science and Engineering Education: "Create 250 math, science, and innovation academies countrywide for grades 7-12; fund 100,000 new math and science teachers."

Mitt Romney
Innovation: “Innovation and transformation have been at the heart of America’s success from the very beginning.”

Science and Engineering Education: "Focus on fields such as math and science so the workers of the future can remain competitive in the new global marketplace."

Fred Thompson
Innovation: “What we need is another spike in American creativity and innovation.”

Science and Engineering Education
: "Review federal programs for cost-effectiveness, reduce federal mandates, and return education money to states; encourage students and teachers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math."

Note: Other candidates, including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who is moving in the Iowa Caucus polls, were not included in the report.

To read the entire excellent report including the candidates views on green energy, the military and research and development, follow this link.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

FCC Awards First Piece of 700 MHz Spectrum

On November 19, theFederal Communications Commission awarded a 10 MHz piece of the 700 MHz spectrum to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). PSST is a non-profit that was setup, according to PRNewswire, by the "national public safety leadership to oversee the creation of a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety."

More 700 MHz spectrum will go up for auction starting on January 28th next year. Here's more from PRNewswire:

According to the FCC's Second Report & Order on the 700 MHz band, 10 MHz of the spectrum now held by the PSST will be combined with an adjacent 10 MHz of spectrum to be licensed to the commercial winner of the upper 700 MHz D Block auction. The 700 MHz auction is set to begin on January 24, 2008. Together, these spectrum assets will be used to create one shared nationwide wireless broadband network, which will provide commercial service for consumers, while maintaining a nationwide network for public safety, including priority access during emergencies.

GovernmentExecutive.com also had some good information on how this public safety piece of the spectrum will be used:

The new broadband network will herald a new era for public safety communications, supporting applications not readily available to first responders today, such as live, streaming video from the scene of a fire, said Alan Caldwell, senior adviser for government relations for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He added that the broadband network also will allow first responders in a remote command post to access building drawings and diagrams and augment radio channels with VoIP phone calls over the network.

The network also could support telemetry channels, which monitor firefighters' vital signs and allow ambulance crews to transmit ultrasound images to clinicians at a remote hospital, where doctors can use the technology to determine whether a patient should be taken to a trauma center. "This could make mobile tele-medicine a reality," said Kevin McGinnis, PSST vice chairman and a program adviser to the National Association of State Emergency Medical Services Officials, which is part of the consortium of public safety organizations that make up the PSST.

It will be interesting to see who wins auctioned spectrum next year. We'll know more about who will be bidding in a couple of weeks - the FCC has set an application filing deadline of 6 PM on December 3, 2007.

You can download the
PSST License (FCC-07-199) pdf here and watch FCC auction news here.

Tera-bits Per Second Over Fiber

Tech.co.uk has reported that Tohoku University researchers in Japan have enabled Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) over fiber to move information at rates of hundreds of tera-bits per second. Here's a few quotes from the Tech.co.uk press release:

At the heart of the development is a technique already used in some digital TV tuners and wireless data connections called quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM). One glance at the Wikipedia explanation shows that it's no easy science, but the basics of QAM in this scenario require a stable wavelength for data transmission.

As the radio spectrum provides this, QAM-based methods work fine for some wireless protocols, however the nature of the optical spectrum means this has not been the case for fibre-optic cables ... until now.

The university team has solved the stability problem using a special laser that makes it feasible to pipe data down a glass fibre using the QAM method at blistering speeds. Although we shouldn't expect to be choosing from internet connections rated in Tbit/s anytime soon, the development could one day make us look back on ADSL as fondly as we now do our 56K modems.

Analog modems have used a form of QAM for years to move information from device to device across the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) or voice network. QAM is also used by cable modems and ADSL modems to modulate (convert digital signals to analog) and demodulate (convert analog signals back to digital) communications signals.

Let's try to get a basic understanding of how QAM works - without any math! Computing devices (computers, PDA's, laptops, etc) use digital signals (1's and 0's) to process, store and manipulate information. Sending this information over long distances though typically involves a conversion or modulation of digital signals to analog signals on the sending device and a conversion or demodulation of analog signals to digital signals on the receiving device. QAM has been the method of choice for transmitting signals this way for years.

QAM combines amplitude modulation (think height of a sine wave) and phase shift (think of a sine wave moving along the x-axis relative to a zero degree reference) and allows multiple bits (combinations of binary 1's and 0's) to be transmitted for each cycle of a sine wave. I like to use the term multiple bits per cycle when I describe QAM.

QAM is categorized by the number of bits that can be transmitted in one sine wave cycle. To get a simple understanding let's take a look at 16-QAM. 16-QAM is considered rectangular QAM - the square root of 16 is 4 and this indicates that each cycle of a 16-QAM waveform can represent a 4 bit binary (1 and 0) pattern. Using the same method we can calculate 64-QAM represents an 8 bit binary (1 and 0) pattern because the square root of 64 is 8. 256-QAM can represent a 16 bit binary (1 and 0) pattern because the square root of 256 is 16, etc.

QAM signals are susceptible to instability and noise but it appears the Tohoku University researchers have figured out a way to stabilize optical signals and use QAM methods for tera-bit level data transmission. I have not been able to find any detail on the stabilization methods being used at this time.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Email Interoperability: IMAP

If you have not switched from Post Offfice Protocol (POP) to Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) - you should! What's IMAP? According to IMAP.org, it's "a method of accessing electronic mail or bulletin board messages that are kept on a (possibly shared) mail server. In other words, it permits a "client" email program to access remote message stores as if they were local. For example, email stored on an IMAP server can be manipulated from a desktop computer at home, a workstation at the office, and a notebook computer while traveling, without the need to transfer messages or files back and forth between these computers."

How am I using it? I find myself relying on my gmail account as my primary account and, in a typical day, I'm accessing the account from multiple devices. Let's look at a typical day - last Friday (Nov 16), I decided I'd log access to my gmail account. Here's my list:

6:00 AM - Up early at home, check gmail account using home computer and Firefox web browser.

7:00 AM - Eating breakfast (Cheerios), get email notification on iPhone, read and reply to message from student using iPhone.

8:30 AM - In meeting with Regional Technology Enterprise Council, monitoring (reading, replying and moving email to separate folders) using MacBook running Entourage.

10:30 AM - Using desktop computer in office, monitoring (reading, replying and moving email to separate folders) using gmail in Firefox web browser.

11:30 AM - Using a Verizon NextStep notebook computer running XP to prepare for a class. While preparing I access gmail on the notebook using Internet Explorer 7.

Rest of day - a combination of email monitoring, replying, etc using multiple devices. I do find myself using the iPhone more and more.

So let's count - last Friday I accessed my gmail account using 5 different devices in numerous locations running 3 different operating systems...... Does this sound familiar?

Let's get back to IMAP - late last month Google added IMAP support to gmail and it has made my life a lot easier. As we all move from device to device answering email, deleting and moving messages around it can get very confusing if you are not using IMAP. How is IMAP different than POP? Here's more from IMAP.org:

IMAP's ability to access messages (both new and saved) from more than one computer has become extremely important as reliance on electronic messaging and use of multiple computers increase, but this functionality cannot be taken for granted: the widely used Post Office Protocol (POP) works best when one has only a single computer, since it was designed to support "offline" message access, wherein messages are downloaded and then deleted from the mail server. This mode of access is not compatible with access from multiple computers since it tends to sprinkle messages across all of the computers used for mail access. Thus, unless all of those machines share a common file system, the offline mode of access that POP was designed to support effectively ties the user to one computer for message storage and manipulation.

Post Office Protocol (POP) was great when I was using primarily one computer but got very confusing as I moved from device to device as I do now. With IMAP I can do things like create, delete, and rename mailboxes, reply to, move and delete individual messages on one device and automatically see the results of those changes on all devices and applications I use to access my gmail account.

Setup for various email clients is simple and well documented - just search on your particular application. For example, if using Outlook do a search on "Outlook IMAP Configuration" and you'll find the procedure. To give you an idea of how easy it is - here's a PC Mechanic video titled How-to: Set up IMAP Gmail with Outlook Express / Thunderbird:



If you give IMAP a try - you won't go back to POP.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Verizon Demonstrates 100 Gbps FiOS TV Connection Between Tampa and Miami

In a press release today Verizon announced they have completed a 100 Gbps optical communications test between Tampa and Miami, FL. The two cities are 312 miles apart. Here's a couple of quotes from the press release:

Verizon has successfully concluded the industry's first field test of 100 gigabits per second (Gbps) optical transmission, on a live, in-service 312-mile (504 kilometer) network route between Tampa, Fla., and Miami.

The test, which utilized a live video feed from Verizon's national FiOS TV network as the "payload," was successfully completed Friday (Nov. 16). The 100 Gbps transmission was conducted on a Verizon Business ultra long-haul optical system carrying other live traffic at 10 Gbps. The test demonstrated that by deploying advanced electronics, an existing network system can easily and quickly be upgraded to 100Gbps.

The test was done using existing fiber that had been installed for 10 Gbps service. Here's a couple more quotes from the press release:

Unlike other trials that used 10 separate 10 Gbps wavelengths to carry 100 Gbps, the Verizon test utilized a 100 Gbps signal on a single wavelength, demonstrating Verizon's drive to promote "true" 100 Gbps in a serial fashion on just one transmission wavelength.

Like the equipment in the company's 40 Gbps trial in June 2004, the 100 Gbps equipment used in the field trial was implemented with a "plug and play" approach. This is a key objective for future commercial implementation, and means the technology was used without any changes to the fiber, amplifiers and other embedded equipment.

Amazing bandwidth obtained using existing fiber - the trial only swapped electronics using, according to the press release, Alcatel-Lucent's 1625 LambdaXtreme Transport system.

Interoperability - The Next Killer App?

Last month I was invited to attend a Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) New England Roundtable Event at a Comcast facility in Enfield, Connecticut. Interactive roundtable sessions were led by New England Multiple System Operator (MSO) Leaders on the next wave of changes for the Cable Telecommunications Industry. These interactive sessions were held on new business markets, new technologies. cross-platform content strategies and new products. One of the sessions I attended was on Pivot, a collaborative wireless product that connects Sprint with Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Advanced/Newhouse Communications.

Pivot integrates a customers mobile phone, home phone, broadband and digital cable services into one interoperable technology and billing package commonly being referred to now as a "quadruple play". At the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) I.T. conference last March, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts discussed "killer apps" for products like Pivot. These apps include interoperability, wireless email and place shifted television. Here's a quote from Roberts at the conference:

"Over time [the killer app is] going to be interoperability. Can I take my email and get it on another device? I've been watching my on-demand shows, I've stopped watching at home, I want to finish the last five minutes. Place won't matter." Roberts continued: "There'll be a relationship with the company that will manage my data, my television, my phone, my address books, and my voice mails. The seamless nature of that is what mobility brings.

Robert's comments are right on the mark in my opinion.

Pivot also allows unlimited calling between your cable home service and mobile phones and you can do things like program your DVR using your cell phone. Here's a 45 second commercial you may have seen if you live in Pivot territory:


I was impressed with the first generation Pivot phones and applications I saw at the CTAM meeting last month. I walked away asking myself - Is it cable? Is it wireless? My answer - it's both - it's interoperable!

You can get more info at mypivot.com

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Uber-Bandwidth: Verizon Testing 400Mbps Service

Last month I wrote about Verizon's 20 Mbps symmetrical FiOS service - if you haven't had a chance to read that entry follow this link - there is a good description of asymmetrical and symmetrical services along with a quick video at the end demonstrating the differences between the two types of services.

A few days ago Gizmodo posted an interesting piece titled Next Up for Verizon FiOS: Invading Manhattan, Japan-Like Uber-Bandwidth. Gizmodo describes a Pennsylvania trial Verizon is running - in the trial they are seeing peak rates of 400Mbps downstream and sustained rates of 200Mbps upstream. Incredible bandwidth that, according to Gizmodo, is enough to make even the most hardened Tokyo resident jealous with their measly 100Mbps downstream fiber service. Yes - this is incredible bandwidth and we can only imagine the voice, video, data, entertainment and communications possibilities.

Let's back up a bit and take a look at the way Verizon is delivering services using the FiOS Fiber to the Home (FTTH) system. Verizon currently uses the Broadband Passive Optical Network (BPON) standard, which has limits of 622 Mbps downstream and 155 Mbps upstream for each Optical Line Terminal (OLT). OLT's are also referred to as service provider endpoints and one Verizon OLT will connect 32 homes with fiber.

Verizon is also currently using BPON OLTs to service their 20 Mbps symmetrical service which may or may not be a problem. Let's do some math:

Downstream Bandwidth
32 homes at 20 Mbps/home downstream require: (32 homes)*(20 Mbps/home) = 640 Mbps

Upstream Bandwidth
32 homes at 20 Mbps/home upstream require: (32 homes)*(20 Mbps/home) = 640 Mbps

You may think a fully loaded (32 home) BPON OLT running symmetrical 20 Mbps service does not provide enough bandwidth and you may or may not be right. It comes close in the downstream direction (622 Mbps available and 640 Mbps required) but is not even close in the upstream direction (155 Mbps available and 640 Mbps required). It turns out this may or not be that big of a deal - for now. Telephone company traffic engineers have always calculated voice switch connections using units called Erlangs. Erlangs are dimensionless units used as a statistical measure of the volume of telecommunications traffic. Brian Whitton, Verizon's Executive Director of Broadband Access Technologies is quoted in the Gizmodo piece on this topic as follows:

Of course 32 households couldn't run 20/20 full blast all at once but simultaneous peak usage on that scale is such a remote possibility it's not really an issue. Yet.

I always like to describe Erlangs and switch connection calculations using an example - have you ever got a fast busy signal when you tried to make a call? Perhaps on Mother's Day around 11 AM - a time when many of us are calling our Moms! The fast busy means there are no voice switch connections available. Why? Because the voice switch has has been configured more lines coming in to it than available connections. Most times and days of the year this is not a problem because we are not all trying to use the phone at the same time - it's only when call volume goes way up that we typically have problems - days like Mother's Day!

Right now Verizon is calculating that BPON will be ok for 20 Mbps symmetrical service - the chances of all 32 homes on a BPON OLT all purchasing 20 Mbps symmetrical service are slim and it's even more slim that everyone subscribing to a 20 Mbps symmetrical service will all be requiring maximum bandwidth at exactly the same time - today.

So how is Verizon delivering 400 Mbps downstream and 200 Mbps upstream? BPON only supports 622 Mbps downstream and 155 Mbps upstream - there is not enough upstream bandwidth for one customer with BPON and two customers at 400 Mbps is not possible. The answer is Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology - an evolution of the BPON standard that supports higher bandwidths. GPON provides a maximum of 2.48 Gbps downstream and 1.244 Gbps upstream - enough, using the statistical methods described above, for Verizon to be seeing peak rates of 400Mbps down and sustained rates of 200Mbps in the Pennsylvania trial.

The Gizmodo piece continues:

"Virtually" every network hub built after January will be GPON-based, says Verizon. It has the network set up for easy upgrading, so to bump current hubs to GPON, technicians just have to swap out the boxes on each end of the fiber cable they've already laid. Not too much of a hassle, in other words. As each current hub hits its bandwidth limit, it too will be updated to super-fast GPON.

For those of us that can get it [ I can't :( ] we are just seeing the beginning of these Uber-Bandwidths!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Booting Your PC in 5-10 Seconds

Phoenix Technologies Ltd. is developing a product called HyperSpace, which according to an article last week at EE Times, is a basic application environment for mobile systems intended to be a kind of complement to Windows. Here’s more from the EE Times piece:

HyperSpace aims to provide access to simplified versions of applications at times when Windows is not available because the system is booting, in a deep sleep mode or stalled. It will include a simplified Web browser, media player and e-mail client as well as systems management and security utilities.

While Windows can take as long as 45 seconds to boot, the HyperSpace environment should be ready in as little as 5-10 seconds. "No matter what Windows is doing you can access programs in HyperSpace," said Gaurav Banga, chief technology officer and senior vice president of engineering at Phoenix.

HyperSpace will include basic applications like a web browser, media player, email client and some management and security applications.

These quick launch, Linux based products have been quietly sneaking up on us. Recently Insyde Software launched a product called FlashMate that runs a a flash module made by Silicon Storage Technology, Inc (SST). SST has a great technology brief, press release and presentation on FlashMate linked here. Here’s a of piece from the SST press release:

FlashMate technology utilizes a fully integrated hardware, firmware and software architecture to provide alternative hybrid-drive functionality to notebooks and total access to hard disk drive content even while the CPU is off. By managing the peripherals, FlashMate enables a wide range of new applications while the main system is either in pre-boot, standby, hibernate or completely shut down. FlashMate technology provides benefits beyond that of a hybrid-drive by giving users the ability to instantly access the content on the hard disk drive without having to power on the notebook for listening to MP3 files, viewing digital pictures, accessing email and more.

FlashMate uses a hard drive with a flash drive data cache. Caching is an excellent way to minimize hard drive access and save wear and tear on the drive and also reduce the power used to access the drive. Flashmate also gives users access to data on the hard drive and applications retrieved off USB devices.

Splashtop is a similar product that allows you to boot your machine in seconds and access web based content. Spashtop is currently only available on Asus P5E3 Deluxe / WiFi AP motherboards. These boards are sold by most of the major computer retailers. You can get an idea of how these applications work by watching this 2 minute and 39 second video from Splashtop.

I’ve got in the habit of hibernating my Windows machines because they just seem to take an incredible amount of time to boot. I also find myself using web-based applications like Skype and Google Docs frequently - a 5-10 second boot time to these types of applications is very appealing.