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Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications04 May 2009 at 13:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

It is coming – but very slowly of course, thanks to the oligopolistic structure of most mobile telecommunications markets. Bombastic new entrants such as Proxad in France may pretend that their vision of future low cost flat fee mobile data offerings will be the second coming, cutting the household bill by half in three years, but once they’ll have joined the spectrum license holder’s club there will be no incentive for them to be more aggressive than what is necessary for them to grab their share of the market. They pretend that their new hotness is a technological advantage that will be the support for their claim of costs reduction, but they forget to mention that the only reason why the old and busted competition has not pushed that technology forward is that they control the market with no need for such bother. The large incumbents have immense resources – financial, technical, human and organizational. They can be terribly powerful when they realize that they are under threat : the steamroller may take a good while to get started but you don’t want to get in the way when it begins to roll at his stately speed.

So is the new entrant the trigger ? Actually, not : the new entrant’s marketing department has just done his homework and read the signs correctly. Early adopters have from the dawn of times been clamoring for simple low cost and preferably flat fee mobile data offerings, but as usual the visionaries don’t hold much weight on a mass market – changing the game takes a large mainstream actor with his own agenda. And as surprising as it may be, that interloper is Apple. As users we may spurn Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field and the technically banal Disneyland world of Apple, but the marketing magic is awe inspiring to say the least. On the basis of it, Apple managed to get the mobile operators to produce deals that were completely unheard of on that market, including the revenue sharing arrangements that lasted until last year and the still strong absolute control of the platform by Apple. As a result of all that hype, the Iphone led the charge in mass usage of mobile data access.

Of course, mobile data access had already been possible for ages and the competitors are catching up fast on Apple’s lead in mobile user experience. But credit goes to Apple for giving the masses the taste for mobile data. Last September, “the Australian Mobile Internet Insight found that during the average iPhone browsing session, users consumed 2.07 MB compared to 0.30 MB for other mobile users – that is six times more ! “The report also found that the average page size for iPhone browsing is more than double the mobile average, which the report attributes to iPhone users browsing desktop versions of websites“.Last month, AT&T announced that its expectation of a tenfold usage in data traffic is driven by the Iphone. Net Applications’ February results show the iPhone generating two third of mobile web accesses. Meanwhile, AdMob Mobile Metrics report credits the Iphone with a 52% share of the traffic. Google claims that it had seen 50 times more searches on Apple’s Iphone than on any other system on the market. I have heard a European mobile operator’s executive mention Japanese studies reporting that Iphone users generate ten time the data traffic of other users. Apple’s share of the handset market will certainly remain minor, but as with any catalyzer, a small quantity changes everything.

So we have a mass market hungry for cheap data and new entrants hoping to build their market share on that. They may eventually disrupt the market somewhat, but the incumbents won’t be caught napping : IP RAN, Ethernet backhaul, IP core networks and the IMS architecture are all in the pipeline. The incumbents fully expect the new market pressure on price, and they expect to be ready to take it on. Cost of the megabit transfered can currently comfortably be counted in cents with just the fingers on your two hands, and the operator’s ambition is to cut that at least in three over the course of three years. Can you believe that mobile operators are actually shaping up to be able to compete on the price of bulk data ? You better do, but don’t hold your breath and expect mobile network operators going at each other’s throat with with generous offerings of abundant data transfer capacity while your bill plummets – the price war will play in slow motion if the history of the mobile telecommunications market is anything to learn from.

Meanwhile, SMS still costs from four to 42 times more than fetching data from Hubble space telescope

Identity management and Jabber and Knowledge management and Military and Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications and Social networking and Technology and The Web23 Oct 2008 at 14:42 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I have become a user of Brightkite, a service that provides situational awareness in the geographical context. Once its relationship to user location information sources such as Fire Eagle improve, it may become a very nice tool, especially in mobile use cases where location reporting may be partly automated.

But even if they add technical value in the growing world of geographically aware applications, theses services are actually not innovative at the functional level. For example, in the ham radio universe, APRS is already a great system for real time tactical digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area – which includes among other things the position of the participating stations. And there is also TCAS, which interrogates surrounding aircrafts about their positions, and AIS which broadcasts ship positions and enables the entertaining Vessel Traffic Services such as the one provided by MarineTraffic. All these radio based systems broadcast in the clear and are not satisfying the privacy requirements of a personal eventing service. But that problem has also been solved by the Blue Force Tracker which even though it is still a work in progress has already changed how a chaotic battlefield is perceived by its participants.

“Where am I, and where are my friends ?” is not only the soldier’s critical information – it is also an important component of our social lives, witness the thriving landscape of geosocial networking. Geographic location is a fundamental enabler : we are physically embodied and the perimeter of location based services actually encompasses anything concerning our physical presence. So we can’t let physical location services escape our control. Fire Eagle may be practical for now, but we need to make geographical information part of the basic infrastructure under our control and available on a standardized, open and decentralized basis. The good news is that much thoughts have already been invested into that problem.

Physical location is part of our presence, and as you may have guessed by now, this means XMPP comes to the rescue ! We have XEP-0080 РUser Location, an XMPP extension which is currently a XMPP Foundation Draft Standard (implementations are encouraged and the protocol is appropriate for deployment in production systems, but some changes to the protocol are possible before it becomes a Final Standard Рas good as a draft standard RFC and therefore good enough for early adopter use). It is meant to be communicated and transported by means of Publish-Subscribe or the subset thereof specified in Personal Eventing via Pubsub. It may also be provided as an extension of plain vanilla <presence/> but that is quite a crude way to do it compared to the Publish-Subscribe goodness.

The rest of the work is left to the XMPP client. Of course, the client can show them on a map, just as Brightkite currently does. But I can also easily imagine an instant messaging contact list on my PDA where one of the contact groups is “contacts near me”. I would love to have Psi do that…

Mobile computing11 Feb 2008 at 17:32 by Jean-Marc Liotier

On my Palm Treo 680 with Notes 1.3.2 on Palm OS 5.2H, I have a document that causes a crash reboot when the Notes application opens it. I reproduced the problem every time, in various system states, with or without a GSM session active. I could not obtain the same behavior with any other document. the document in question is small (about 25 lines) and contains only low ASCII and tabs – a sort of tab separated data table. The crash behavior started after I added a line on top of the file. A two-way hotsync made the problem disappear with no loss of data.

I am yet unable to imagine a probable cause for the whole thing, but I find very worrying that the content of a text file can cause a Palm to misbehave in such a way. And no, I can’t show you the document – or then I would have to kill you.

Brain dump and Knowledge management and Mobile computing and The Web10 Oct 2007 at 15:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Someone asked : what is the mobile Web ? Here is my take :

The mobile Web is not just about overcoming the connectivity, ergonomics and device constraints that make access more difficult than on the desktop that the Web originated on. Focusing on these issues is merely playing catch-up with the “normal” Web.

The value that the mobile Web brings is context sensitivity. The mobile Web is about being there, in contact with the physical world away from a desktop. So bring on location sensitive services, search by photo similarity using the on board camera, search by sound similarity using the on board microphone, augmented reality (for navigation, social life or technical help), QR code readers and barcode readers using the camera, RFID readers, permanent presence management including location and activity…

Shoehorning complex applications on a handheld device is hopeless. On the other hand, the handheld device is the one you being with you, so when time comes to interact with the environment anywhere there is just no other choice. Linking the physical world to the virtual one, that is the mobile Web.

When the physical world merges with the data, wonderful things happen !

Consumption and Mobile computing26 Sep 2007 at 16:41 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I mistakenly believed that the Com One Bluetooth Oneboard would probably be compatible with the Treo 680. Testing it with the latest drivers proved me wrong : no communication between the Treo and the Keyboard was ever achieved, and exiting the driver’s control panel reliably triggered a reboot.

Apparently, the iGo Stowaway is also incompatible with the Treo 680. Some further research showed that although there are plenty of Bluetooth keyboards available for the Treo 650, but none of them is sold as compatible with the Treo 680 in spite of how similar the two phones are. I would guess that the Bluetooth stacks differ enough to be a problem.

Even if there are significant hurdles that hamper porting Bluetooth keyboard drivers to the Treo 680, I am very surprised that the manufacturers have dropped the ball in such way. I would guess that the consumers are not the only ones losing patience with Palm, and that the vendors are now starting to abandon ship.

Anyway, I’ll probably have to buy another infrared keyboard to replace the Think Outside infrared keyboard I killed by over-use…

Email and Mobile computing09 Dec 2006 at 1:30 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Versamail, the default mail application on my Treo 650 is good for casually checking a handful of new messages in the inbox but it comes short for about anything else. For searching accross my 5 GB of mail in a hundred folders and accessing them accross a wet string, Mutt is by far the best remote solution.

Although twenty-four years younger than Vi, Mutt was apparently also designed to thrive in an environment made of appaling latency, tiny bitrates and screens with an even lower definition than the Treo‘s screen. GPRS really feels like my first 2400 baud modem, so to me a command line with Lbdb, Mairix, Mutt and Vim definitely seems to be the perfect match for GPRS on the Treo.

Mobile computing07 Dec 2006 at 14:10 by Jean-Marc Liotier

A few weeks ago I established a SSH session from my Treo with Pssh through Orange France‘s GPRS network ! SSH on Orange France‘s GPRS network used to be stupidly forbidden for no apparent reason, neither technical nor commercial, but someone apparently wised up.

Mobile SSH is just grand ! A few years ago with a laptop I used 9600 bps CSD from an Erisson SH888 accross an IrCOMM infrared link. But the burden of a laptop is gone and SSH is now truly available on the go.

As far as I have searched, Pssh is the only free and functionnal SSH client on the Palm Platform. For command line work the Treo‘s keyboard comes very handy. And Pssh has a few workarounds to deal with the differences between the Treo‘s keyboard and the standard PC keyboard that most command line software normally expects.

Pssh‘s inability to go to the background without losing its connection is annoying. But apart from that it does the job just fine by giving me mobile access to the wonderful world of the Unix command line – and that means that I can now potentially do almost anything anywhere. Isn’t that sweet ?

Brain dump and Mobile computing13 Jun 2006 at 13:54 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Mobile phones let the user define a collection of behavior profiles adapting sound, lighting and interface to suit different contexts. But my experience shows that continuously switching to new profiles when changing activities is quite clumsy. As a result I have reverted to using just two basic profiles for which my Treo 650 provides a physical switch : “silent” and “loud”. But what I really wish is a device that adapts the telephone ring volume to the level of ambient noise.

As usual when I find myself believing I just created a new concept it only takes a short search to find that I am far from the first to have thought about it. US Patent 6993349 from 2001 describes a “smart ringer” that does exactly what I want :

“A telephone monitors ambient noise, and alters the characteristics of the audible ring to distinguish the sound of the ringing telephone from the ambient noise. Such characteristics include the decibel level, the sound frequency, and the rhythmic pattern or the ringing sound”.

Such concept is also valid for the output of the telephone conversation itself or for other context-dependant settings of the man-machine interface. There too I’m quite late on the ball – for example the “Proceedings for the stakeholders forum on communications enhancement” from 2001 put it quite well :

“The levels of ambient light and noise provide simple but important contextual information. Ambient noise level sensed via microphone can be used to adjust output volume (louder room/car/outdoor setting). Low-tech noise level detection systems have been incorporated into cars (i.e. when the car speeds up the radio volume increases gradually with the speed, takes into account engine and road noise). Ambient lighting levels sensed via a photocell can be used to adjust display brightness and contrast”.

I did now know that cars did that… Maybe it is because I only use a car thrice a month and own a 1992’s Citroen ZX Reflex… Now the real question is : why don’t my phones do that ?

Consumption and Mobile computing24 May 2006 at 18:09 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Rough handling and repeated falls took their toll on my Treo 650 : the antenna’s root broke and two screws went AWOL. I thought that naturally the manufacturer would sell spare parts but I was wrong : no amount of begging to Palm‘s dreadful telephone support people could convince them to part with some of their apparently precious stock of spares at any price. Same thing with Orange who distributes the Treo 650. The only solution they propose is to send the device into the black hole of their customer support operation and get it repaired at a ludicruous price. This is of course unacceptable.

Happily I found an alternative source : PerformancePDA sells Treo 650 parts at reasonnable prices ! I do not know where they get them from – maybe they disassemble broken devices to get around Palm‘s horrendous spare parts policy. Anyway order fulfillment by PerformancePDA has been fast with no problem. After tightening the minuscule TORX screws my Treo 650 is back in perfect shape. Having it inoperant for a while made me realize how much I depend on it for efficient daily operation…

Email and Mobile computing and Systems27 Feb 2006 at 21:18 by Jean-Marc Liotier

As many have said before, Jabber is to instant messaging what SMTP is to email:

Today most people understand instant messaging almost entirely in terms provided by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo. As with on-line services and operating systems, closed IM systems became familiar to the general public long before the open ones. In terms of architecture and control, AOL’s, Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s instant messaging systems are as closed and non-interoperable as Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL were back in the [early] nineties.

In other words, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo all want to keep private something that should be no less public than mail and web services. All of those companies’ IM systems use the Internet and offer free clients, but they offer no internet service anybody can build on.

This quote dates back from 2001… After all these years I at last consider the Jabber ecosystem to reach both reasonnable usability and critical mass. I believe we can thank Google for tipping the scale. So what’s next ?

I have said it privately since 2002 : the buddy list will become the center of user interaction with the mobile “phone”. Presence management holds every synchronous media together. Through presence management, messaging has moved from the periphery of the desktop toward its core. It changes the environment in which other services interoperate. For example it makes the answering machine obsolete : no one is going to knowingly initiate a call when there is on one on the other end. And the buddy list is where convergence happens : any communication can be initiated from there, not just what the operator deems reasonnable to provide.

As usual the operators are busy fighting rear-guard action, but they cannot keep the customer from craving the ideal of the Stupid Network. GPRS and UMTS enable innovation at the edge and that is the end of the walled gardens. Of course capital expenditure and spectrum scarcity still provide them with a fairly entrenched position, but we are now firmly in Internet land and there is no going back.

So as we all have been thinking all along, the open protocol takes over the closed ones. It takes time, but it is inexorable. The mobile networks are next and they know it… But that does not mean they can avoid it.

Mobile network operators will not like it but instant messaging is going to be priced at bulk data prices, not anywhere near the EUR 1000 a MB that they can get away with for SMS. Earlier attempts to sell services instead of selling raw data have met mixed responses – it will only get worse and I do not believe this to be only my wishful thinking.

Jabber and Mobile computing and Systems27 Feb 2006 at 15:41 by Jean-Marc Liotier

It has been a few days since I have begin using Chatopus as a Jabber client on my Treo 650. Overall I am very pleased. Chatopus is very simple and quite polished. It works as advertised with no effort and no undue feature creep.

The only major functionnality that I miss in Chatopus is background operation during an SSL secured connexion. It works fine with a cleartext Jabber connexion, but not with SSL. According to the author, Tony Yat-Tung Cheung it “is an issue with Palm OS’ built-in SSL library. Unfortunately, PalmSource is no longer updating the Palm OS Garnet“.

I also found a few minor annoyances. The first one is that the roster can only display at any one time the contacts from one categories or all catefories together, but not a choice of selected categories. Although that Palm OS UI convention is normally simple and practical this is not the first time I find it annoying… This illustrate the fact that UI conventions are guidelines that sometime can be overriden by specific needs. But by sticking to the convention Chatopus does a good job of remaining simple and easy to use.

Chatopus also lacks a custom status in addition to the standard standard Presence Type (Available, Away etc.). For exemple, when the Exodus Jabber client sets the “Extended Away” Presence Type it transmits the standard “xa” flag and an additional customizable and more informative status details such as “Extended away as a result of idle”. It would be nice if Chatopus transmitted this too in addition to the standard Presence Type.

Last minor gripe : if for some reason the GPRS link goes down Chatopus does not reconnect and restart it. Maybe this should be a user-configurable option.

Overall Chatopus makes the mobile use of Jabber a breeze. On my Treo 650 it now has its own button so that my roster is only a keypress away… That tells something about how useful I find it !

Mobile computing and Systems22 Dec 2005 at 21:14 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Slugishness and random soft resets… The banes of the Treo 650… I first attributed the problem to Palm OS being a bit out of its depth on such a complex device. But the randomness was too high – I could not correlate the problem with any specific application nor could my favorite inside source at Orange nor apparently any of the people involved with debugging the Treo there. It had to be a hardware problem.

With time and aggravation came the insight that all these problems might be correlated to SIM accesses. My engineering friend at Orange suggested using a piece of paper stuck in the tray to hold the SIM steadier. It did improve the situation somewhat. Later I found that during a sluggishness event, pushing hard on the tray sometimes instantly gets the system back to normal speed.

So it definitely looks like the system barfing on SIM access problems. These problems should not take place and they are caused by a bad SIM tray design. But the operating system should handle them more gracefuly, for example with a “SIM not available” dialog.

Meanwhile I have found another solution that seems to support the SIM access hypothesis : Cingular Wireless proposes a Treo 650 SIM Tray Replacement that works somewhat like the piece of paper jammed in the original tray. So get that and meanwhile remember to push hard on the tray when sluggishness occurs. I am now looking for a way to get that new SIM tray in Europe…

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