Saturday, September 29, 2007

Know Your Presidential Candidates

Although the purpose of this blog is discuss communications industry issues, I am going to deviate this one article to the presidential election. Americans should have as many facts as possible so they can choose a candidate that they feel will be best for the job. Too often we rely on sound bites provided by the media to form our opinions instead of taking the time to research the candidates. As the government increasingly permeates every facet of our lives, we should devote sufficient time to choosing the candidates that we will feel will reflect our beliefs and mores. People spend more time choosing a cell phone and carrier than they to a presidential candidate. No wonder why the presidential race has turned into a popularity contest and we have one of the lowest voter turnouts than most other democracies. Our government is not truly representative since less than half of Americans vote. Enough lecturing for the evening.

Minnesota Public Radio created a quiz that scores answers against presidential candidates stances on many of the vital issues of the day. It is far from scientific, but it is a good way to see how your beliefs and opinions stack up against the candidates. Some of the questions are worded to narrowly for me which I knew would skew my results. I was still surprised at the outcome. The candidate I thought was closest to me ranked forth. I had no idea that the three above him had views closer to me. The quiz prompted me to look deeper at a few candidates and their positions. The result of my research changed my candidate choice for the primary.

Take the quiz below and spend some time researching the candidates. You may be as surprised as I was at the result. You owe it to a country that has given you so much.

Quiz: Select a Candidate 2008

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why Don't You Have an OpenID?

OpenID logo The OpenID initiative took a big step forward this week at the Digital ID World Conference in San Francisco when France Telecom's Orange announced that it will adopt the OpenID standard for user authentication.  Orange will provide an OpenID for all of its 40 million subscribers, and they are the first major telecom service provider to implement OpenID.  Above and beyond significantly adding to the 200 million of current OpenID users, every Orange subscriber that uses their OpenID will have their identity validated by Orange as a result of their business relationship.  Merchants, financial institutions, and government entities that require an authenticated identity can rely on OpenID from Orange to authenticate and verify their customers for access to information and transactions.

For those of you unfamiliar with OpenID, probably most of you, OpenID was created to provide a single login mechanism for all of those web sites you login to use.  If you are like me, you have almost a hundred different accounts on various web sites.  You create a user ID and most likely use the same password for all of them.  That is not very secure, but are you going to generate and remember a 12 character password like 8D[xr#pm5UW>a for each web site?  I didn't think so.  OpenID users can create different personas to use when registering with web sites.  Who wants to take the time to fill out those darn registration forms just to occasionally read an article?  Besides I don't like giving out my personal information all over the place.  I have an OpenID persona with minimal information that I am willing to provide sites like the Washington Post. 

Users can obtain an OpenID from several different identity providers so there is not a dependence on a single company to store all of your identity information like Microsoft with Passport.  If you don't like your provider, just terminate your account and move to a different provider.  You can even use the delegate feature to create OpenID URL that does not change if you change identity providers.  For instance I use as my OpenID instead of  That way if I change providers, I don't have to update sites where I may share my OpenID.

Companies like and are just two of many OpenID providers.  Larger companies like VeriSign, Yahoo!, and Microsoft support OpenID.  Microsoft has incorporated OpenID support into its CardSpace initiative.  CardSpace's goal is to authenticate a user's identity and information to CardSpace enabled web sites and applications.  A site supporting CardSpace will pop up the CardSpace application so the user can select an identity.  The application will send a token and information to the requesting web site or application.  Once OpenID enabled, CardSpace will provide the same function to OpenID enabled web sites.

I would like to see financial institutions and Internet service providers be identity providers.  That way a user's identity can be verified and validated for important applications.  Users can still remain anonymous when they want by creating another OpenID account.  For instance I could use my validated Chase OpenID to purchase books from Amazon or music from iTunes or select a different persona with limited information while reading articles on USA Today.  I can create an entirely new OpenID from myOpenID if I want to be completely anonymous on MySpace.

OpenID has many other interesting features relating to social networking.  For instance I can share one of my OpenID personas with work colleagues so they can see the publications I read or subscribe.  Technorati, Plaxo and Basecamp are the two sites I use most frequently that support OpenID.  I go in and out of Basecamp several times a day and I only have to authenticate with them once in the morning if I haven't already logged into another OpenID site.  Now if only Google, Sprint, Chase, E*Trade, Comcast, Pandora, and other sites I use would utilize it.  Expect to see greater adoption over the rest of the year as more people buy, trade, seek healthcare, and live over the Internet.  Identity will increasingly be in the spotlight as it was this week at the Digital ID World conference.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

When Net Neutrality Goes Away

David Isenberg posted a rather humorous picture on his blog portraying a possible pricing plan of a tiered Internet. Although I find the graphic humorous, it is inaccurate. More over it creates more FUD about Net Neutrality.

Click on the link and have a chuckle, as I did, remembering that access to any and every non-malicious web site should be a basic tenant of every Internet service. It does not preclude the ability to prioritize real-time and near real-time traffic for the delivery of voice, audio, and video services that can provide true competition to out-of-band competing services provided by the incumbent suppliers.

Supporting municipal open access broadband networks is another way to guarantee Net Neutrality.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sprint's Airave: A VoIP Alternative

Being on the bleeding edge is not all that it is cracked up to be. Monday I wrote about Sprint's Airave femtocell where they provide unlimited calling to and from the same CDMA phone as long as callers are in range of the cell. My personal attraction to the device was to cover the poor reception that I receive around my home. The Sprint Customer Retention department suggested solving the problem by roaming since Verizon's coverage is much better. Although their remedy would have solved my voice reception problems, I would still have limited to no EV-DO access. My response back to the representative was, "Why would I maintain an account with Sprint for a crippled service when I could switch to Verizon and have it all?" They were dumbfounded, and I gave up.

Installation of Sprint's Airave

A picture of my fully functional Airave taken by my Sprint phone and posted directly to my blog through the femtocell.

Moments later Sprint's Technical Support group (Tier 1) called back and was appalled at Customer Retention's suggestion to roam on the Verizon network. "What kind of retention plan is that?" the technician muttered. She recommended picking up an Airave at my local Sprint retail outlet. A few hours later, I drove to the Longmont Sprint store to pick up a free Airave adapter. The store manager and a salesman struggled for 30 minutes to just scan the ESN and add the service to my account. Finally they gave up and just handed me the box with the instructions to dial *2.

I thought I would activate the product during my drive to Denver Wednesday evening. Of course the activation representative had no clue about the Airave, so they transferred me to EMBARQ's customer service line. Fortunately, I knew how to reach the only group in Sprint currently supporting Airave from my previous adventures with them. After almost an hour on the phone with an advanced technician, she admitted that she could not activate the device. She escalated a trouble ticket to the project manager that would get back to me within 53 hours. Does anyone know why they always say 53 hours?

Finally Friday, after many calls and hours spent with Sprint, my Airave was should start working around 3 P.M. I waited...and waited...and waited for the 4 blue lights to illuminate. I was about to put the device back in its box when shortly after 5 P.M. the GPS light turned blue followed by the System light turning blue. They stayed illuminated for a few minutes before reverting to their typical red state. I powered down my phone and powered it up again. The lights all turned blue and I could actually make calls through it. Valhalla!

For the next hour, I wandered around the house making calls, receiving calls, and testing the 1xRTT data service. I must say that the device works as advertised. My calls are clear and steady as I roam through half of my house. I can send and receive text messages plus roam the web. Sprint calls directed through the Airave remain of toll quality even when I load down my Internet connection. I wish I could say the same for my VoIP service. Funny too since the Airave is at the end of a chain of devices from cable modem, ATA, router, then Airave. My biggest complaint is that the signal falls off quicker than my Wi-Fi router. Sprint advertises an approximate coverage area of 5,000 square feet that equates to a 40 feet radius around the Airave in free space. Forty feet reaches just to the edge of our living room; not enough to cover the whole house unless I can figure a way to install it in the middle of my house. The supervisor that activated my device and set up my account informed me that they are considering increasing power levels to increase coverage.

After a few days playing with Airave, it really has the potential of replacing land lines especially for twentysomethings that have never purchased a POTS line. It offers the simplicity of a single number per person on a single device, and the cost is comparable to most VoIP or digital phone services. Families will benefit because they can each be on their phone simultaneously. No more shouting, "I'm on the phone," or purchasing multiple lines. Around our house we are always looking for the cordless phone that is ringing in the sofa cushions. E911 is supported through the built-in GPS receiver. The only reason I see why I should keep my VoIP service is the inexpensive international calling and slightly higher voice quality . I will be curious to note how our calling patterns shift over the next couple of months. Kudos to Sprint for embracing this technology instead of resisting it.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Sprint Releases AIRAVE to Enhance In-Home Coverage

Sprint announced today that it is releasing AIRAVE to select customers in the Denver and Indianapolis markets.  The device is intended to replace a customer's landline by offering unlimited incoming, outgoing, and long distance calls with enhanced coverage inside the home.  Sprint customers can use the same CDMA phone that they currently use on the Sprint network.  The AIRAVE is a femtocell that utilizes customers' broadband service to communicate with the Sprint network. 

image The Samsung manufactured device covers approximately 5,000 square feet overlaying coverage of the CDMA network.  Up to three Sprint subscribers can use the AIRAVE simultaneously as long as they are registered with the device.  If users are within the reach of the device, calls are initiated and received through it without utilizing any of the subscriber's plan minutes.  A subscriber can initiate a call on the femtocell then continue it outside its range on the Sprint network.  They will be charged for the time on the Sprint Nationwide network.  If they originate the call outside the femtocell, then come within range, they will have to re-establish the call to stop being charged for it. 

The AIRAVE is available in Sprint stores today (my local store had 8 of them) for $49.99.  A single line costs $15 per month for unlimited calling, and $30 per month for a family plan.  AIRAVE does not work with the iDEN system or EV-DO as far as I can tell.  AIRAVE is only available in Denver and Indianapolis for the moment with Nashville later this year.  Nationwide rollout is planned for 2008.

AIRAVE is Sprint's answer to T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home without requiring a new phone.  T-Mobile utilizes Wi-Fi for its in home wireless coverage while Sprint relies on the CDMA standard which is superior because customers can keep their same devices.  Both systems require a broadband connection.

Every six months Sprint adjusts my local cell site to move a minor null away from U.S. 36 west of my house.  Sprint ends up moving the null to our development preventing adequate coverage in my neighborhood (outside buildings).  They do not really have a choice since the antennas are fixed to a building.  The phone registers with the HLR, but calls go to voicemail.  I open trouble tickets and eventually service is restored.  Sprint's coverage maps show great coverage in my neighborhood if you think that receiving voicemail notifications qualifies as great coverage. 

AIRAVE would be an answer to my voice service problems if only Sprint would waive the charges for the device and service.  So far they refuse to do anything about it.  I hoped that they would at least offer to split the bill with me.  What I really want is a repeater to boost voice and data signals.  Too bad I cannot find anyone in Sprint that knows that they offer one for such situations.  My next step is to call customer retention to see if they can help live up to their advertising that they have coverage in my neighborhood.  I am going to call customer retention tomorrow to see if they will offer an AIRAVE to augment their poor coverage in my neighborhood.

Time will tell if AIRAVE will actually accelerate the replacement of the landline.  At $30 per month, it is a cost-effective replacement to a landline with unlimited long distance.  The femtocell will certainly boost the performance and use of cell phones in home and probably reduce calls to customer service complaining about coverage.  Hopefully a future version will support EV-DO.  This service may actually reduce churn from the Sprint network.


Additional articles:  Engadget, Phone Scoop, Washington Post

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Save the Cradle of Radio Astronomy

Several weeks ago I wrote about the passing of an era with closing of the Bell Labs' Holmdel facility. While I highlighted the innovation and invention that I was exposed, I failed to mention many of the historically significant events that occurred in and around the facility. One of those events was the birth of radio astronomy.

The striking mirrored glass building with its cooling pond and transistor shaped water tower sits on 472 acres of land required at the time to meet occupancy density requirements. The land was put to good use beyond the soccer field and baseball diamonds. In 1931, before the land was developed, Karl Guthe Jansky set up the world's first radio telescope to measure and characterize the noise from space that may interfere with microwave communications signals that transported long-distance phone calls. The spot where Jansky set up the antennas is considered to be the cradle of radio astronomy. The exact site is commemorated with a sculpture and plaque. His pioneering work let to the discovery of quasars, pulsars, and black holes, as well as the formulation of the big bang theory (at a site just up the street).

Now that the building and land have been sold to a real estate developer, the fate of the Jansky Memorial remains unknown. The developer plans to demolish the building and erect office buildings and homes. Holmdel is a very upscale township in Monmouth county were office space and homes are sold at a premium. I am sure that the developers plan on developing that land to its fullest potential. The developer and current owner of the property realizes the significance of the site and Jansky Monument, but there are no guarantees what may happen to it once the property is developed and sold.

Three former Bell Labs astrophysics researchers are trying to preserve the site and have it designated a historical landmark. Their web site, Save the Cradle of Radio Astronomy, is devoted to the task of obtaining that historical designation. For more information on Jansky or the effort to preserve the monument read the excellent article in "The Institute" of the IEEE that Willie D. Jones wrote. If you are interested in preserving this historical landmark, visit the site to see what you can do.

Engadget Story Link

Friday, September 14, 2007

TerraNet Wireless P2P Is Disruptive

From the land of Skype, Kazaa, and other innovations come another potential market disrupting technology:  peer-to-peer wireless networks.  TerraNet in Lund, Sweden built a system for free local wireless calls, free texting, and long distance VoIP calls.  The disruptive part is that the system does not rely on relaying each call through a carrier's base station.  They utilize a peer-to-peer protocol over a wireless medium to communicate directly with another phone up to two kilometers away.  We use to call these systems walkie-talkies. 


The difference with the TerraNet system is that they can use other phones as relay stations to reach their destination without going through a base station.  Each call can travel up to 7 hops to reach its destination giving a maximum reach of about 20 kilometers.  If there is a TerraNet USB dongle within that 20 km diameter, callers can make phone calls to phones on the PSTN.  The dongle plugs into a computer or router that has Internet access creating a self-organizing mesh network with wireline connectivity.

The fact that users do not rely on a carrier's radio access network is a disruptive concept that traditional carriers will likely have a hard time embracing.  Traditional wireless carriers typically have every call or datagram travel through one of their base stations so they can charge for the service.  Peer-to-peer calls would be free, but that is not different than the plans that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile offer now for calling phones on their network.  My plan with Sprint includes unlimited calling to other Sprint users.

I recently took a road trip in two cars with my family.  My wife and I brought our cell phones and two-way radios to handle our drive through that wireless wasteland in western Nebraska.  We made extensive use of the two-way radios the whole trip because of the reliability and convenience.  We had a range of about 2 km just like the TerraNet system.  With wireless peer-to-peer built into our cell phones, we would have not needed the walkie-talkies especially with at PTT feature.  If there were other users in range maybe we could have reached the PSTN on occasion; thereby, generating revenue for Sprint.  I see great value to traditional and non-traditional wireless carriers with this technology.

The benefit to a traditional wireless carrier is increased coverage in areas with marginal signal strength.  The big 4 wireless carriers all show excellent coverage at my home, but the reality is marginal coverage at best. I frequently miss and drop calls while receiving text messages and voicemail notifications.  I always return them by land line because I cannot rely on sufficient call quality or even a connection.  Just think if I could leverage the better coverage of other nearby Sprint customers.  My cell phone would almost always work at home.  If they allowed me to install a dongle in my home network, then I would always have excellent coverage.  T-Mobile is already doing this for their customers.

Bidders in the 700 MHz C-block of spectrum could differentiate their service with this technology and get a deployment boost.  First it would allow them to quickly increase coverage without a massive radio access network deployment.  They could offer customers a phone and USB dongle to augment their radio access network.  Secondly they could reduce the cost of operating the network by relying on customer's Internet connections for completing calls to the PSTN or distant users.  Finally, Apple could include the technology in their iPhones to share chat sessions, music and video between other iPhones without relying on Wi-Fi connectivity.  My guess is that integrating iChat with iTunes would go over better than Zune's implementation.  Imagine distributing movies to Apple TV users by copying pieces from your neighbors' boxes.  Multi-player role playing games can be organized into teams from only point-to-point connections.  The applications are endless.

TerraNet has not announced any partners or customers yet, so their traction remains to be seen.  As long as wireless carriers are open-minded about the peer-to-peer aspect of the technology, this company has an extremely bright future.  In Europe and other places where handsets are unlocked, TerraNet does not need to rely on the carriers just the handset manufacturers.  In the U.S. market, carrier acceptance is a must.  There is still the opportunity to work with bidders of the 700 MHz spectrum to provide a truly disruptive wireless service.  Let's see who has the vision.

TelecomTV article

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ITU-T Recommendations Free On-Line

The International Telecommunications Union Telecommunications Standardization Sector (ITU-T) has decided to offer over 3,000 of its standards for free in PDF version only.  The ITU came to its senses when it realized that they can better serve their mission when they offer the standards to people for free instead of charging moderate fees.  Beginning in January of this year, they allowed web site visitors to download standards free of charge.  Over 300,000 standards were downloaded during the first three quarters of this year compared to 500 purchased last year.  I guess that they realized that selling standards is not a money making proposition.  It is better to make them freely available to anyone who wants them so they can be widely implemented; otherwise, they are not of much value to the industry.

Let's hope that other standards organizations catch on to this move and begin providing their standards free on-line.  With the exception of IEEE, Telcordia and CableLabs, most standards organizations worldwide are supported by governments, and the standards are created and edited by industry volunteers.  The cost of providing free on-line copies is negligible.  If the purpose of a standard is to promote multi-vendor interoperability and safety, shouldn't they be widely available?  The ITU has made a great step in promoting the use of their standards globally and spurring innovation.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Is Apple Going to Become a Wireless Carrier?

imageRumors were abound all day about the possibility of Apple bidding on the 700 MHz C block spectrum that the FCC will auction off on January 16th of next year. Articles appeared in BusinessWeek, Wired, C|Net, and TelecomTV about a possible bid by Apple. Up to now, all of the rumors and discussion have been about Google bidding on this spectrum. Google's successful play to have some of the spectrum open to any device or application opens up the rumor mill beyond the usual suspects of carriers. With the launch of the iPhone and complaints about the AT&T network it was only time before Apple was identified as having ambitions in acquiring this chunk of coveted spectrum. Although the rumor is plausible, does it have any legs to it or is it just hopeful speculation?

Apple can certainly afford the minimum bid of $4.6 billion required to participate, but does it make business sense for them? The short answer is yes and no. The obvious application is to use this spectrum for access to the iTunes Store to sell music, TV programs, and movies without sharing revenue with wireless carriers. Also, Apple can retain control over the complete user experience which is why the iPod has been so successful. Breaking the connection to the PC will allow the Apple to create an iPod Touch and iPhone that can access content over-the-air without depending on cutting in another carrier to use their network. Even iTV could benefit from access at 700 MHz.

What does not make sense is for them to get into the business of operating a voice network. Creating a voice network is an expensive proposition beyond building a radio access network. Voice services are best left to the ones that already have a network.

Remember that the C block is a 22 MHz slice of spectrum that is to be open to devices and applications. This means that Apple could invite a selection of voice and application providers to resell their services over the network. Apple could partner with a carrier like T-Mobile or Sprint to provide voice service in this or another frequency block. Sprint is very comfortable selling capacity to MVNO, and they could certainly use a boost.

Another option would be for Apple to partner with Google to provide a collection of applications. Google could provide Internet and voice services to the iPhone while Apple retains control of the entertainment services. Apple could even create a version of iTunes to run on the Google phone. I am sure that Eric Schmidt and Steve Jobs have had discussions on the topic since Schmidt sits on Apple's board.

The wildest option would be for Apple to work with eBay to provide Skype's voice service over this network. Skype has the user base and network to deliver a quality voice service.

image The most likely scenario appears to be a consortium with Apple, Google, and eBay to bid on the spectrum block with an experienced network operator not already in the business; maybe DirectTV or Echo Star. The satellite provider will not only run the network but offer services to their customers over it. Skype/eBay can sell voice services to the other partners while Apple sells devices, music, and video and Google sells ads through all outlets. It is much easier to share the cost of this multibillion dollar network across four or more partners than go it alone.

I am sure that in the months to come that many more rumors will surface as the bidding gets closer. I like the idea of these companies getting together to create new and exciting mobility opportunities. Their success could open even more spectrum to innovators.

Note to Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt: Feel free to call me if you need leadership with this venture.