Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wireless data coverage is uneven

We discuss evolving cellular data generations. Today's third generation equipment provides for speeds of up to 2 mbps, but, as shown in this figure, download speed varies considerably from one city or neighborhood to another. The download speed to your iPhone 3G might be as low as 400 kbps or as high as 1,600 kbps.

The plot was generated by ARCchart, a wireless market research firm, and described by Brough Turner in a blog post. ARCchart monitored over two million performance tests using iPhone, Blackberry and Android phones, then filtered them to focus on major cities. This graph is based on 648,374 downloads from major cities in 103 nations between August 2008 and June 2009.

(Gizmodo performed a more limited test of Sprint, AT&T and Verizon 3G networks in eight US cities and also found considerable variance in download speed).

Of course, in some places there is no GSM coverage. Consider the coverage by AT&T, the GSM provider supporting the Apple iPhone in the US -- there is no coverage in the light-colored regions:

This map was taken from AT&T's coverage viewer in early September 2009, and coverage has continued expanding since then.

However, AT&T states that the maps are only an approximation, not a guarantee, of their coverage, which may be effected by terrain, weather, foliage, buildings and other construction, signal strength, customer equipment and other factors. There are many anecdotal reports of inability to use an iPhone in parts of San Francisco and the bay area.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Network neutrality is a global issue

We talk about the Internet being designed as an end-to-end network in which network operators only make fast connections between computers -- the network does not provide services or differentiate between one person's packets and another's. This approach is generally favored by companies like Google and Skype, which offer Internet application services, and opposed by Internet service providers like Verizon and AT&T, which must deliver those services, and, in some cases, compete with them.

The US FCC recently endorsed the vision of an open, neutral Internet, and The Washington Post has published a story about Skype's lobbyists in Washington, who were quite happy with the FCC action. Skype is lobbying for neutral networks in every nation, not only the US. They feel the example set by the US FCC will have an impact on regulators in many other nations.

The US is among the world leaders in this policy, a nice place to be for a change.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

FCC Chairman calls for network neutrality

One of President Obama's campaign promises was to support network neutrality. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has now called for new rules guaranteeing network neutrality.

Mr. Genachowski outlined his proposal in a talk at the Brookings Institute. After discussing the importance of the Internet to our economy and society, he reiterated four current FCC Internet governance rules:

  • Consumers should not be limited in the content they choose to view online, as long as it's legal.
  • Users should be able to run any application they want as long as they don't exceed service plan limitations or harm the provider's network.
  • Consumers should be permitted to connect products they buy to their Internet connection, as long as the devices operate within the service plan and do not harm the network or enable theft of service.
  • Customers should be able to easily review their options when buying Internet service plans and learn how those plans protect against spyware and other invasions of privacy
and he added two new network neutrality rules he would like to enact:
  • Internet service providers (ISPs) would be prohibited from selectively blocking or slowing Web content or applications.
  • ISPs would be required to make their network management practices clear and available to consumers.
The network neutrality provisions are opposed by many ISPs like the telephone and cable TV companies and supported by content providers like Google. You can read an argument against network neutrality here.

You can watch a video or read a transcript of Mr. Genachowski's talk and a panel discussion following it here. If you are in a hurry, you can check out this short coverage from National Public Radio. Last, but not least, you can see announcements and give feedback to the FCC here.

Do you support the call for network neutrality? Do you think it should apply to mobile ISPs?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Is technological progress slowing?

We have seen exponential progress in electronic, communication and storage technology during the last 60 years. As a result, computers and networks are now used by billions of people for a great number of applications. This "information revolution" has had an impact on our individual lives, organizations and society.

No doubt, computers and the Internet are a big deal, but Alfred Normann argues that they have not changed our lives as much as earlier inventions -- that he has not seen as much technological innovation as his parents and grandparents did. As we see in his illustration, shown below, a host of important inventions occurred during the 50 years between the Civil War and World War I and many others occurred during his grandmother's life. He feels that technological progress measured in terms of impact on our lives has slowed, not accelerated.

Ray kurzweil would disagree with Normann. He argues that accelerating improvement in information technology facilitates an accelerating accumulation of knowledge, which is leading rapidly toward an understanding of our own biology and intelligence. Kurzweil foresees radical medical breakthroughs, leading to the possibility of immortality, and machines that surpass human intelligence and continue to improve without us.

How does the impact of the Internet on individuals, organizations and society compare to the impact of inventions like the automobile, radio, television, antibiotics, electric lights, telephones, and nuclear weapons?

Will today's exploding knowledge of genetics and biology lead to a longer life for you and your children? Can you think of examples of things computers do today that would have been considered "intelligent" 50 years ago?