Friday, January 28, 2011

Breaking Down The G's

Martin Sauter has a nice post over at WirelessMoves titled The G Is Dead, Long Live the G!. In the post he discusses how "G" is being misused to death. Here's a quote from Martin:

In almost every report the acronym "4G" is used for just about everything that is faster than a crawling few kbit/s. 4G is HSPA, 4G is LTE, 4G is this, 4G is that. Well, 4G isn't any of it. And quite frankly I am a bit tired and nerved because just like "open" and "free" it has lost any meaning in the mobile world.

It is confusing but it looks like we'll be stuck with all these G's for a while. How do we sort it all out? One of the comments by Alexander D. on Martin's post breaks down the wireless G's. Here it is:
1G: Analog
2G: Digital technologies that originated as purely circuit-switched ones, later expanded to packet-switched (within the constraints of the old tech)
3G: Both circuit-switched and packet-switched from the ground up
4G: Purely packet-switched
 Short and concise. I'm using it! Very nice.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Some Countries Broadband Has Become A Legal Right

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has a new snapshot report out with some interesting information. Here's some details:
On Competition
During the first decade of the 21st century, new information and communication technologies (ICTs) came within reach of most of the world’s people for the first time in human history – a success story facilitated by the introduction of competition and the creation of independent regulators across the globe.

  • By 2010, competition was available in over 90% of countries in mobile and Internet services.
  • There are now 157 independent regulatory authorities worldwide – up from 106 at the beginning of the decade.
  • The number of mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide grew from under 1 billion to over 5 billion over the course of the decade.
  • The number of Internet users worldwide grew from under 400 million to over two billion from 2000 to 2010.
  • The following services have seen the strongest growth in competition over the past 10 years:
    • International gateways – competition now available in 78% of countries, up from just 38% in the year 2000;
    • Basic voice services – competition now available in two-thirds of countries worldwide, up from under 40% in the year 2000;
    • Leased lines – competition now available in three-quarters of the world’s countries, up from under 50% in the year 2000;
On Privatization
  • Twenty years ago, in 1991, just 37 countries’ main fixed-line operators were privatized. Today, 126 countries’ incumbent operators are partly or fully in the hands of private sector owners.
  • Substantial differences remain between regions: 86% of European incumbents have been fully- or partially-privatized; in the CIS the figure is just 50%.
  • With many markets already privatized, privatization activity has slowed down over the past few years, especially in the aftermath of the economic downturn, with fewer interested investors and lower investment funds available.

On Making Broadband a National Policy Priority
  • By 2010, some 82 countries around the world – from Afghanistan to the United States, Australia to Malawi, and Chile to Slovenia – had adopted or planned to adopt a national broadband strategy.
  • National broadband policies and plans are clearly focusing on the benefits of building nationwide broadband infrastructure to provide public services online – including e-health, e-education and e-government.
  • Over 40 countries1 (the U.S. is one) now include broadband in their universal service / universal access definitions – and in some countries broadband access has become a legal right.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Simulation and Modeling in Technology Education (SMTE) Project

This is a temporary demo video for the Knowledge and Skills Builder level 2C - the "Thermal Conductivity (K Value) Challenge" in the Survival Master game for STEM learning.

Thermal conductivityk, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heatHeat transfer across materials of high thermal conductivity occurs at a higher rate than across materials of low thermal conductivity. Correspondingly materials of high thermal conductivity are widely used in heat sink applications and materials of low thermal conductivity are used as thermal insulation. Thermal conductivity of materials is temperature dependent. 
You can follow along via the project website at

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baseband Hacking Using Fake Cell Towers

In my last post I wrote about femtocells and femotozone services. Femtocells are little mini-antennas that can be place in a home, business, hotel, etc that connect using a broadband connection (DSL, Cable, Fiber, etc). They are great when it comes to filling in areas of poor cell reception.

Baseband hacking is described in an IDG News Service report along with a LinuxInsider report. Basically, the attack involves setting up a fake cell tower. There’s a couple of ways to do this - you can spend around $2000 and build your own cell tower or you can purchase a femtocell from one of the providers (AT&T, Verizon, etc) for $150-$200.

How can devices like femtocells be used by hackers? This is from a post over at ReadWriteWeb titled Baseband Hacking: A New Frontier for Smartphone Break-ins:

Security researcher Ralf-Philipp Weinmann says he has found a new way to hack into mobile devices - by using a baseband hack that takes advantage of bugs found in the firmware on mobile phone chipsets sold by Qualcomm and Infineon Technologies. Weinmann will demonstrate the hack on both an iPhone and an Android device at this week's Black Hat conference in Washington D.C.

To perform the attack according to Weinmann, a hacker sets up a rogue base transceiver station which is used to send malicious code over the air to the target devices. The code exploits vulnerabilities found in the GSM/3GPP stacks on the phones' baseband processors. Weinmann goes on to say industry bodies like the GSM Association and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute have not considered the possibility of attacks like this.

What’s really interesting about this is the attack exploits bugs in chip firmware which is something most hackers do not have a lot of experience with. What’s firmware? Here’s a quick definition from Wikipedia:

In electronics and computing, firmware is a term often used to denote the fixed, usually rather small, programs and/or data structures that internally control various electronic devices.

The Wikipedia definition goes on:

The term firmware was originally coined in order to contrast to higher level software which could be changed without replacing a hardware component, and firmware is typically involved with very basic low-level operations without which a device would be completely non-functional.

Most hacks to this point have been software based and not firmware because it is typically much easier to hack using software. Here’s more from the ReadWriteWeb post:

According to Sophos security consultant Graham Cluley, "if someone wanted to spy on your mobile phone conversations it would be easier to trick the user into installing an app that spied on them or gain physical access to the mobile to install some spyware code," he said. "I would be surprised if anyone went to all of the effort that this researcher suggests."

Interesting stuff.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Femtozone Services

I’ve written and Mike Q and I have podcast in the past about femtocells and how they are being used to enhance indoor cellular coverage. If you haven’t heard of them - they are basically small cellular base stations that can be put in homes or businesses. Femtocells connect using a broadband connection (DSL, Cable, Fiber, etc) in the home or business and are great in areas of poor cell reception. 

I’m not sure why they are not used more in the U.S. When I get stuck in a hotel or business where cellular coverage is poor I often find myself mumbling “This place could sure use some femtos”.

Lately I’ve been picking up some chatter about “femtozone services” and just read an interesting study from ABI Research titled Consumer Femtozone Services. According to ABI, femtozone services use key attributes such as location and presence to trigger innovative applications residing on the mobile device, or in the access point, the core gateway, or the cloud.

Here’s a few examples of how femtozone services can be used from that ABI study:

A young person arrives at the family home, and the femtocell there registers the presence of his or her mobile phone and sends out an SMS notification to the parents. Such systems are already in use in Japan. Other kinds of femtozone applications can turn on lights or activate security systems, while still others can be used to sync content between mobile phones and other devices in the home such as TVs, laptops and media players. Via the mobile network, they can even allow remote access to digital content stored at home.

ABI goes on to forecast:

About 2.3 million femtozone subscribers in 2012, providing revenue of more than $100 million. These numbers rise sharply to 2015, when 45% of femtocell users will subscribe to femtozone services. Femtozone services will see initial adoption in the Asia-Pacific region, but ultimately the North American market will be by far the largest.

ABI Practice director Aditya Kaul says, “Femtozone services will be bundled with femtocell subscriptions and will also be available individually, increasing the perceived value of having a femtocell in the home. Eventually, mobile apps available from Apple or Google App stores may be designed to work via a femtocell. The femtozone services market is expected to reach almost $2 billion in revenue by 2015, but operators need to act fast, as the popularity of Wi-Fi/GPS-based over the top applications could pose a hindrance.”

Be sure to check out ABI Research’s Consumer Femtozone Services study. For more information, follow this link.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Students Hacking Campus Networks

I teach a telecommunications course to Verizon technicians one morning a semester. On the last day of class in December we were finishing up the final exam and some group presentations. During a break one of the Verizon students went out in the hall to make a phone call and noticed what looked like a guy sitting outside the door trying to hack into the classroom wireless network. He came in and told me so I went out (with a couple of Verizon guys following me) and took a look - sure enough - the guy was sitting outside the door running BackTrack, trying to hack the Verizon classroom wireless access point password.

I asked him what he was doing and he was honest, telling me what he was up to. The odd thing was his attitude - I think he thought I would be impressed. I told him it was against campus policy and could get him kicked out of the college. I also said if he did not stop I would call campus police. And, I told him he was hacking into an access point that was part of a corporate (Verizon) sponsored program and may be breaking the law. He packed up and left quickly.

So - what could happen to students that do this kind of stuff? This is from the Information Technology Resources Unacceptable Uses section of our College Student Handbook:

The following uses of STCC’s Information Technology Resources are unacceptable uses. This list of unacceptable uses is not exhaustive. It is unacceptable to use STCC Information Technology Resources (I’ve only selected a couple that apply in this case):

  • to gain, or attempt to gain, unauthorized access to any computer or network;
  • to intercept communications intended for other persons;
Here’s a piece from the User Responsibilities section of the handbook:

Users must comply with all applicable College policies and procedures and state and federal law. The use of STCC Information Technology Resources is a privilege, not a right, and failure to observe this policy may subject individuals to disciplinary action, including, but not limited to, loss of access rights, expulsion from the College and/or termination of employment. Further, failure to observe this policy may result in violation of civil and/or criminal laws.

Technically, if he was a student, it looks like he could have been kicked out of the college. Was he also breaking any laws? The National Conference of State Legislatures has a section of their website with Computer Hacking and Unauthorized Access Laws listed. Here’s a piece from their site:

"Unauthorized access" entails approaching, trespassing within, communicating with, storing data in, retrieving data from, or otherwise intercepting and changing computer resources without consent. These laws relate to either or both, or any other actions that interfere with computers, systems, programs or networks.

In Massachusetts, Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 266, § 33A states:

Whoever, with intent to defraud, obtains, or attempts to obtain, or aids or abets another in obtaining, any commercial computer service by false representation, false statement, unauthorized charging to the account of another, by installing or tampering with any facilities or equipment or by any other means, shall be punished by imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or by a fine of not more than three thousand dollars, or both. As used in this section, the words “commercial computer service” shall mean the use of computers, computer systems, computer programs or computer networks, or the access to or copying of the data, where such use, access or copying is offered by the proprietor or operator of the computer, system, program, network or data to others on a subscription or other basis for monetary consideration.

So many of us are using tools like BackTrack in our classes. It is critical we let our students know this stuff, if used the wrong way, can get them in a lot of trouble.

I think the guy trying to hack the Verizon classroom network learned a lesson. Three Verizon students ended up following him out of the building (without me knowing), not saying a word. They said when he got out the door he was sprinting across the campus.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Will I Ever Buy Mechanical Storage Again In An End-Device?

I recently ordered an 11 inch MacBook Air. The machine uses flash memory for storage - there is no mechanical hard drive which makes it a lot thinner, lighter and quicker. It also makes the battery last longer. The optical drive (also mechanical) is also missing. If I need one of those I can purchase an external drive or share a drive on another machine.

This configuration certainly has me thinking. I remember buying a 10MB hard drive before I got married in 1985 for over $1000, figuring I would have enough storage to last me through the end of the millennium. So much for that theory - I think I upgraded to a 20MB drive the following year.

I’m now pretty sure my mechanical drive purchases in end-devices (laptops, tablets, etc) are over though and think this theory will hold, much like my move away from desktop machines. I gave up on desktop computers a few years ago and now run off a primary notebook that I attach to a mouse, keyboard and large monitor in my office. Very nice. I will likely continue to purchase external mechanical hard drives for backups for the next couple of years.

As far as optical computer disks go - I rarely use them and can’t remember the last time I purchased one. Apple just launched their Mac App Store and we’re going to see an explosion of all kinds of App stores, Software As A Service (SAAS), etc this year. This is likely the way I’ll be purchasing my Apps. It's the way I prefer to purchase them actually.

Blue-ray movie discs are a different story of course - at least for the time being.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

ATETV Blog Post - Fourth Generation (4G) Technologies

Thanks ATETV.ORG for allowing me to post over on your blog! Here's my post that went up on Thursday:


ATETV adviser Gordon Snyder oversees the Telecommunications Technology program at Springfield Technical Community College, which concentrates on the numerous technologies that deliver information — in the form of voice, data, video or a combination of these.

Today, federal deregulation, growing security requirements, and rapidly changing developments in the areas of fiber optics, ATM, DSL, LAN/WAN technology, Cisco networking, and wireless technology, have all helped to make telecommunications and network technicians highly sought after in the marketplace.

In this week’s blog, Gordon brings us up to speed on some of the latest developments in wireless technology.

I’d like to thank the folks at ATE TV this week for the re-airing of episode #34 to coincide with our Winter 2011 ICT Educator Conference and for allowing me to post here on the ATETV blog. The episode covers why internships are important to employers and employees, the future of Information and Communication Technologies, and Biotechnology career options.

These days, most of us are carrying some sort of mobile device with the expectation of continuous connectivity and availability. With all of the advertising we’re seeing lately from providers like Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless and Sprint I thought it would be interesting to write a little bit about 4G wireless technologies.

4G is short for fourth generation and is a successor to third generation (3G) wireless technologies. 4G includes both LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), and sets peak mobile download speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for fixed services. An example of a fixed service would be an antenna used for wireless access on top of your house.

You may be wondering – if both are considered 4G technologies and both offer the same bandwidths, what’s the differences between LTE technology used by providers like Verizon and AT&T and WiMAX used by other companies like Sprint? Is one technology better than the other? Why would one company decide on LTE while another decides on WiMAX to deliver next generation services? If they are very similar – what makes them different?

Here’s some quick answers taken from a few of my recent blog posts:

LTE is the 4G technology of choice of the larger mobile carriers like Verizon Wireless (launched LTE last month) and AT&T Wireless (scheduled to start LTE rollout this year). These carriers already have LTE spectrum and the money to buy more spectrum. They will also tell you that LTE more easily supports backward compatibility with earlier cellular technologies. LTE uses Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) spectrum.

WiMAX is the choice of carriers with Time Division Duplex (TDD) spectrum (launched by Sprint in 2008) and also makes sense for for green-field situations where backward compatibility is not needed.

So, LTE uses FDD spectrum and WiMAX uses TDD spectrum – what’s the difference? Here’s a quick explanation from

Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) and Time Division Duplex (TDD) are the two most prevalent duplexing schemes used in broadband wireless networks. TDD is the more efficient scheme, however, since it does not waste bandwidth. FDD, which historically has been used in voice-only applications, supports two-way radio communication by using two distinct radio channels. Alternatively, TDD uses a single frequency to transmit signals in both the downstream and upstream directions.

Basically, FDD (LTE) uses two channels and TDD (WiMAX) uses one channel for two-way communications.

Which technology will dominate? It looks like LTE in the United States but….. there are already issues with expensive and crowded spectrum. There’s also a lot more TDD spectrum available than FDD spectrum and TDD spectrum is cheaper.

Now, if LTE is preferred by the larger carriers in the United States and spectrum is in short supply, wouldn’t it make sense to try and develop a version of LTE that could use TDD spectrum? That’s what an emerging technology called TD-LTE does – it uses TDD spectrum for LTE transmission. Does it work? It sure looks like it. Last July, Ericsson and China Mobile demonstrated an end-to-end TD-LTE solution that achieved a single user peak downlink rate of 110Mbps and on Friday (December 31, 2010) China Mobile announced it had finally received approval from regulators and will start large-scale testing of domestically developed TD-LTE technology. This is going to be really interesting to watch!

Want to find out more? Watch (and search) places like and Gordon’s Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Blog (my blog!) for more on emerging information and communications technologies like 4G along with the different kinds of great technical career opportunities community colleges can provide.


Here's episode #34 that I refer to.

Excellent! Thanks everyone at ATETV.ORG!!

Monday, January 3, 2011

FCC Net Neutrality Order Rules - Not Looking Like It's Going To Happen

In my last post I took a look at the first basic rule of Transparency in the 194 page Net Neutrality Report and Order document approved by the FCC on 12/21/10 and released on 12/23/10. Today let’s take a quick look at the second basic rule, No blocking, and the third rule, No unreasonable discrimination.

Starting with the No blocking rule, here’s a quote from page 88 of the report:

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.

This rule actually looks pretty good fo the consumer and the content provider but not so good for the ISPs like Verizon and Comcast. Here’s some detail from Stacey Higginbotham over at hin her review titled Who Wins and Loses Under the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules.
  • ISPs can’t block lawful content, but won’t be put in a position to judge what is lawful or not.
  • ISPs are not allowed to degrade content to the point where it can’t go through. For example, Comcast always maintained it didn’t block P2P files; it merely slowed the transmission of those files. However, that had the same effect as blocking P2P files, a distinction the FCC won’t tolerate.
  • The rules also seek to prohibit the blocking of devices from wired networks by creating ungainly and expensive certification procedures such as Comcast was recently accused to be doing with Zoom Telephonics.
Higginbotham says this is good for consumers on fixed broadband networks, good for service providers in general, and bad for ISPs interested in overtly blocking competitive content.

Let’s look at the No unreasonable discrimination rule next, starting with another quote from page 88 of the report.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. Reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination.

This is where the FCC condones usage-based pricing. There is also some crossover with the transparancy rule. Here’s more from the Higginbotham piece on the unreasonable discrimination rule.
  • Thanks to ISPs telling end users how they manage their networks, consumers can ensure that discrimination isn’t unreasonable. End users can also discriminate, for example, blocking porn from their homes.
  • This is also where the FCC condones usage-based pricing, although it assures us it will keep a watchful eye out for anti-consumer packages. In general, the FCC will scrutinize discrimination that harms end users, harms a competitive service to one an ISP provides or stifles free expression, such as slowing traffic from a website the ISP doesn’t agree with.
  • It also calls out paid prioritization, by which a content provider pays an ISP more money in order to deliver its content faster as problematic.
Higginbotham says this rule is not great for consumers or web service and device providers, because they will have to go to the FCC and prove the ISP is being unreasonable when problems occur. Not every consumer or company has the resources for such a fight.

I’ve read all 194 pages (more than once!) and found the document to be unclear, confusing and at times contradictory. I’m not an attorney but it looks like I’m not the only one having problems understanding it. Consumers, providers, and ISPs are all claiming victory which likely means they are almost as confused as me. They all appear to be interpreting to their advantage. This kind of confusion typically leads to legal issues and that is the last thing we need when we’re trying to catch up with the rest of the world.

There’s also 85 new Republicans (along with 9 new Democrats) coming to take control of Congress in a couple of days on January 5. In a December 21 press conference, incoming House Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich) said that his committee is planning multiple hearings to beat back regulations the FCC approved. Other Republicans are backing him up including chairman of the Communications subcommittee Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and incoming vice chairwoman of the trade subcommittee Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) who has also said she will reintroduce legislation to block the rules.

It's not looking like this is going to happen.