Tag Archives: wireless opportunities

Not much difference between airline passengers and a bag of potatoes

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This is your captain speaking.

Good news from Boeing, just in time for the holiday flying madness. With the growing popularity of on-board WiFi, engineers there needed to figure out how it propagates in an airline cabin.

There’s no mathematical model for predicting what happens to WiFi signals when you have a few hundred people packed together inside of a metal tube. So they came up with a testing protocol.

Boeing is proud of the fact that it only requires about ten hours to complete the series of tests. That’s a lot faster than the two weeks they thought it would take. But it’s still a lot longer than they thought real people would want to spend sitting on a plane going nowhere (they should pass that amazing conclusion on to Delta). So they improvised…

The team determined that potatoes were ideal stand-ins for passengers, given their similar physical interactions with electronic signal properties. Much of the testing was conducted on the grounded airplane with the seats filled with 20,000 pounds of potato sacks.

Judging from the video of the test, the potatoes were as helpful as the average frequent flier and no less attractive.

The testing should help airlines and regulators better deal with the twenty-first century. Right now, you’re required to power down any device that has an on-off switch before take off, even if you do spend the next several hours sitting on the ground like a sack of spuds with nothing to read except the airline magazine, assuming it’s still in the seat pocket and the pages aren’t stuck together.

Would you like fries with that?

Opportunity to leave consumers to their own devices

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We’re in a world where it’s increasingly assumed that you’re carrying a screen all the time – tablet, smart phone or laptop. Maybe you’ll even have Apple’s long rumored iWatch on your wrist.

Westjet, a Canadian bargain airline, is thinking about ripping out the entertainment systems from its planes, saving 500 kg in weight and who knows how much in upkeep, and replacing it with a WiFi-based system that streams video to passengers’ BYOD of choice.

Whether or not that particular gambit works, we’ll be seeing more and more media business models – large and small – built on that assumption.

Direct media distribution is already at that point. There’s very little current audio or video or text content that can’t be accessed on the device of your choosing, and producers routinely create snackable content for mobile consumption.

Indirect media is making the same transition. There’s already electronic distribution of interactive restaurant menus, airline boarding passes and product brochures. Even rental car keys.

Individually, this stuff is neither new nor remarkable. But it’s still a relative novelty that coexists with printed paper, theater screens and public address systems. It won’t for very much longer, though, as the default choice for incidental information delivery moves from paper and loudspeakers to wearable screens and ubiquitous ear buds.

The major obstacle – call it a market gap opportunity – is the unpredictability of customers’ gear. Marketers are obsessive about controlling their message and product managers have to negotiate trade offs between the richness of an experience and the number of potential customers they can reach.

Enable consistent content and quality of service regardless of the point of delivery and you’ve enabled a new world.

Live from the Oulu wireless technology conference in San Jose

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Real time Tweets from the Discover Oulu wireless technology conference in San Jose on 18 November 2008…

  • At Oulu wireless conference in San Jose, per Purnima Kochikar, Nokia biz dev: Indian mobile users buying 10 rupee (25 cent) prepay cards. Devices are status symbols in developing world, services aren’t. People will buy smartphone but not service, just to put the phone on a table at a meeting. 11:20 AM Nov 18th.
  • 1,000 radios per person in near term. Interesting prediction from expert panel. Means power & spectrum challenges. Opportunities too. 11:34 AM Nov 18th.
  • Green is The Word. ICT accounts for 2% of global carbon, panel says will grow to 6%, more than air travel. What is ICT offsetting? 11:38 AM Nov 18th.
  • Craig Barrett, Intel chair, speaking to Oulu conference. Saying nice things about Finland. 12:57 PM Nov 18th.
  • Barret speaking without script or TelePrompTer, very engaging. Interesting speaker, so far focusing on historical perspective. 1:05 PM Nov 18th.
  • Barrett thinks we have at least 15 years to go on Moore’s Law. Sees complementary trend in telecom with bandwidth doubling every 18 months. 1:09 PM Nov 18th.
  • Barrett: bringing advanced telecom technology to developing world is key to future growth. 1:21 PM Nov 18th.
  • Sriram Viswanathan, Intel Capital, doing live WiMAX demo. Don’t doubt Intel is betting big on WiMAX. 1:24 PM Nov 18th.
  • Craig Barrett: “People over 40 sometimes stand in the way of technology because they’re overly worried about security, while people under 30 couldn’t care less.” 1:35 PM Nov 18th.
  • Barrett echoing prediction about a thousand – maybe thousands- of radios per person. 1:37 PM Nov 18th.
  • Barrett: telemedicine & advanced ICT key to delivering health care to developing world. Kiva.org can provide supporting financial tools. 1:45 PM Nov 18th.
  • Barrett: disruptive technologies include WiMAX in telecom, 3D graphics for entertainment, OLPC type devices for global education. 1:58 PM Nov 18th.
  • Barrett: been through 11 recessions, you can’t save your way out of a recession, you have to invest. 2:02 PM Nov 18th.

Redefining municipal wireless

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Municipal wireless was declared dead at the Wireless Communications Association’s recent symposium in San Jose, but the picture that emerged from three days of discussion, debate and presentations at the European Wireless and Digital Cities Congress in Barcelona this week was more comprehensive and nuanced. And optimistic.

The difference lies how you define municipal wireless. Older, more familiar models are certainly dead. No one expects a private company to invest in building a city-wide WiFi network to provide public Internet access, whether free or for a price. Cities are moving away from building general purpose wireless broadband systems, of any sort, and are increasingly cautious even when considering specialized networks, such as those dedicated to public safety applications.

Big ticket municipally funded wireless infrastructure projects in the developed world are dead for all practical purposes. It’s a big planet, and if you look hard enough you can probably find an exception or two. More than that in the developing world, where needs, resources and governing assumptions are different. But cities in the U.S. and Europe won’t be spending their own money to build ubiquitous wireless broadband pipes. Private capital won’t be available, either.

National governments might still fund some projects, particularly specialized ones focused on public safety and security or development projects for rural or other underdeveloped locales. Gradually though, even that kind of funding will no longer be allocated to basic broadband infrastructure.

Going forward, the emphasis will be on developing, deploying and supporting network-agnostic applications. In some cases applications will be initially developed to ride on a particular network, because that’s the network that happens to be available. Even then, extending applications to other systems will just be a matter of creating interfaces. Municipal wireless applications will not be captive to a given technology or network operator.

Bedforshire Police, in Britain, is giving Blackberries to its police officers, so they can run specialized applications such as crime and identity database access or computerized dispatch in the field. About half of the impressive list of applications are browser based and could be accessed by just about any recent mobile device. The other half make use of the Blackberry operating system and network protocols, but could be adapted for use on other devices or networks with appropriate front end software.

In the U.S., Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, in Oregon, is using several overlapping networks, both commercial and in-house legacy systems, to tie field units into a comprehensive information system. Having multiple layers allows them to cover a very large geographical area with redundant access, and prevents a single network operator or equipment vendor from monopolizing their budget. The applications are all network-agnostic, the field equipment is cheap and commercially available, and the relatively low cost of switching wireless broadband providers keeps the market competitive.

Municipalities and other local agencies will still be buying public safety radio systems, and those systems will provide an increasing level of digital bandwidth. Cities will also fill in network gaps where necessary or saturate relatively small areas that have a critical (and budgeted) need. But those systems will be one element in a diversified network strategy and, except for the most critical and specialized applications, will be dumb pipes. Those systems will not be bespoke, vertically integrated packages that quickly turn into legacy technology.

The creativity and funding will be focused on building the applications, generating and managing the data that feeds those applications, and developing management and operational strategies that maximize the benefit of this abundance of information. Right now, much of that work is being done on a city by city basis, but the next step – and the next opportunity – will be to create robust, high level applications that can be carried via any standard network protocol and accessed by any mobile device.

Going forward, municipal wireless will be vibrant and alive, and will mean something very different from the dead and dying concepts of the past five years. The truly municipal elements will be applications and data. The wireless part, indeed pipes of any sort, will be a commodity, to be purchased as a service for the most part and only built in limited circumstances for specific needs.

The future of wireless internet service

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Forget trying to build a wireless Internet business with any idea of serving people in their homes or businesses. In general, wireless technologies don’t work as well as the hard-wired options. Wireless Internet service will succeed where wireless technology holds an advantage.

Wireless broadband technology has three advantages over landlines:

  1. It is ubiquitous.
  2. It can be rapidly deployed for a far lower initial capital outlay.
  3. It excels at delivering the same bit stream to many people at the same time.

Future success will come where business plans maximize one or more of these advantages, and three opportunities stand out:

  • Rural and other underserved areas. Once the demand for broadband service in rural areas catches up with that found in urban and suburban regions, 4G or similar technologies will be an excellent way to address that market. However, over the long run, business plans will have to provide for at least a partial transition to wired facilities, otherwise wireless companies will see their best customers cherry picked by landline players eager to take a free ride on the money invested to build this market. Without a transition to landline service, this opportunity is only good for the near to medium term. One source of assistance (or danger!) is the potential for government subsidies. It’s nice to have someone help with the bills, but the market-distorting effects can be substantial and dangerous.
  • Broadcasting. Take one signal and deliver it, maybe even sell it, to thousands and even millions of people at once. Sounds a lot like television. Unfortunately for entrepreneurs, this opportunity is largely spoken for – by television stations. They’re slowly learning how to maximize the value of their digital bandwidth. One growing market segment is mobile viewers. Expect to see mobile telecom and media companies save their own bandwidth by integrating broadcast signals into devices and service offerings. It was a nice idea while it lasted, though.
  • Mobile Internet and the Internet of Things. A coke machine and a commuter have some things in common. Both can be hard, if not impossible, to reach with wired Internet service (although I expect some kind of a data over powerline solution will eventually take care of the coke machine). And both lean towards relatively thin stream applications – credit card transactions for the coke machine, and email and simple web-based activities for the commuter (assuming the bulk of mobile rich media needs are handled by broadcast delivery and on-board storage). The mobile user, in particular, will be a long term growth opportunity as small form factor devices multiply and the range of applications and services grows.

Try to launch a wireless broadband business that goes head to head with the landline players or isn’t fundamentally built around exploiting the inherent advantages of wireless technology, and you’re swimming against the tide. And the tide won’t change, ever. But build it on the competitive advantages that wireless does enjoy, and you still have a shot at a winnable business case.