June 2011

Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications29 Jun 2011 at 15:13 by Jean-Marc Liotier

With UMTS now potentially available on all the frequency bands traditionally allocated to GSM, why are we still operating GSM there while UMTS offers nothing but improvements over it and all contemporary handsets support it. The question is particularly pressing since data traffic has for quite a while accounted for more than 90% of network usage in volume and grows faster than backhaul can be deployed and cells made smaller while spectral efficiency has become awfully close to theoretical optima. GSM data modes such as GPRS and its incremental improvements have their purpose well, but they are hacks shoehorning data into a TDM voice world – nothing like the native capabilities of UMTS. Of course, modern marketing knows the value of nostalgia as an advertising vector, but I suspect that the market of users who insist on GSM for nostalgia’s sake may not be sufficient to justify its cost.

Some manufacturers nowadays offer unified RAN infrastructure that supports both UMTS and GSM on a single piece of equipment – and many antennas are now multiband, but there is still an awful amount of specific equipment with the associated duplicated costs… And then there is the effort of maintaining the software for two entirely independent systems, each with its own bugs, quirks and yearly upgrades attempting to squeeze more throughput out of a slice of spectrum that is not going to expand – a single large operator typically has dozens of people whose workload could be cut in half overnight. I for one would love to spend more time on GIS software for the fiber optics infrastructure and less dealing with the Jurassic park.

So what are we waiting for ? Don’t we understand that frequencies are too precious to be wasted on obsolete protocols ? Let’s recycle ! Let GSM retire ! Taiwan’s ministry of transportation and communications is already working on it

Knowledge management and Politics and Technology28 Jun 2011 at 22:51 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. Share, remix, reuse - just do it for fun, for profit and for the public good… Once the data is liberated, good things will follow ! Alas, some Cassandra beg to differ.

Can the output of a process based entirely on publicly available data be considered unfit for public availability ? As Marek Mahut explains in “The danger of transparency: A lesson from Slovakia“, the answer is ‘yes’ according to a court in Bratislava who ordered immediate censorship of some information produced by an application whose input is entirely composed of publicly available data.

As a French citizen, I’m not surprised – for more than thirty years, our law has recognized how the merging of data sources is a danger to privacy.

I was prepared to translate the relevant section of the original French text of “Act N°78-17 of 6 January 1978 on data processing, data files and individual liberties” for you… But in its great benevolence, my government has kindly provided an official translation – so I’ll use that… Here is the relevant extract :

Chapter IV, Section 2 : Authorisation
Article 25
I. – The following may be carried out after authorisation by the “Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés” , with the exception of those mentioned in Articles 26 (State security and criminal offences processing) and 27 (public processing NIR, i.e. social security number – State biometrics –census – e-government online services):
5° automatic processing whose purpose is:
- the combination of files of one or several legal entities who manage a public service and whose purposes relate to different public interests;
- the combination of other entities’ files of which the main purposes are different.

Short version : if you want to join data from two isolated sources, you need to ask and receive authorization first, on a case-by-case basis.

That law only applies to personal data, which it defines (Chapter I, Article 2) as ‘any information relating to a natural person who is or can be identified, directly or indirectly’. That last word opens a big can of worms : data de-anonymization techniques have shown that with sufficient detail, anonymous data can be linked to individuals. With that knowledge, one may consider that the whole Open Data movement falls in the shadow of that law.

To my knowledge this question has not yet been brought before a court, so there is therefore no case law to guide us… But it is only a matter of time – watch this space !