3G in the Meeting Room

Here's a post for those of you who are regularly in meeting rooms with conference call equipment: I've been doing this for years but these days I am often in a meeting room with conference equipment that is particularly susceptible to the typical GSM interference that all of you have probably heard already when you were close to a radio set in the car or at home. No matter where I put the phone, sooner or later there's some interference heard from new e-mails coming in, etc.

But there's a simple solution for that: Just put your phone into 3G mode and there's no more interference. That's because when transferring data over a 3G link the uplink is not switched-on or -off all the time like in GSM but remains active. As it's the power up/down that can be heard in a receiver that is close by, that pretty much solves the issue. Also, the transmission power is spread over a 5 MHz channel instead of only a 200 kHz channel.

So instead of only switching to silent mode when going into a meeting, I'll also switch to 3G from now on. And for those who are wondering why I use 2G for my mobile instead of having both networks enabled and allow the mobile to choose automatically: My N95 for which I haven't yet found a worthy successor still has a chipset that uses significantly more power in 3G mode. And in addition, browsing the net on my way to and from work with OperaMini is much smoother when no 3G/2G fallbacks occur when the train goes through a 2G only area.

The Baby and the Mobile

Another mobile Internet story today taken from real life: A friend of mine has recently become a father and has since then discovered the power of mobile web browsing. It looks like his son really enjoys being carried around and seems to be quite persuasive to get what he wants. So during endless hours carrying his newborn son around, my friend now really understands the power of mobile (slight grin on my face). With one hand free, browsing the web using Opera Mini and replying to my e-mails seems to make his "walks" in the early and late hours of the day a bit more enjoyable and interesting.

3 Like Home Not Abandoned in Austria!

After 3 UK has re-introduced roaming charges this summer, it is refreshing to see that 3 Austria still sticks to the 3 Like Home program, i.e. there are no roaming charges for voice and data in other 3 networks. I recently tested this in Italy with an Austrian 3 SIM card for a week and except for a few PDP context activation failures (roaming link down for a couple of minutes every now and then?) things worked well and I was charged the same rate as in Austria. Well done, 3 Austria, it's really great not having to change SIM cards at every border!

Mobile Ticketing – Paper or Plastic – Some Thoughts

Thalys rail is pretty innovative when it comes to onboard Internet in their trains and ticketing. In addition to the standard tickets than can be bought at the railway station or via the Internet and then sent to you, they also offer print-out tickets via the web, they offer using the Paris metro card (Navigo) as a ticket and they also have a completely ticket-less offer in combination with a mobile phone for trip details and last minute updates. Lots of options to choose from.

It might be surprising but so far I haven't touched the ticket-less option yet, I still much prefer something to print out and to take it with me. It's mainly habitual I guess, but there are quite a number of other reasons for that as well:

  • I don't have to register.
  • I usually order my tickets a long time in advance, like for example 6 weeks. A lot can happen in 6 weeks.
  • I usually don't travel alone so buying one ticket for the mobile phone and one on paper makes things difficult.
  • I like having a piece of paper I can use to look up times, train numbers, etc. again.
  • Should I loose the ticket, I can just print it out again. That's much simpler than figuring out what to do should I loose my metro card or, heaven forbid, my mobile phone.

But I guess one of these days I will register and give it a try because there is one important advantage of going ticket-less with Thayls: Their print-out tickets can't be exchanged or returned so the sale is final.  In other words, not all tickets can be printed out. I am not quite sure, but it seems the ticket-less tickets can be modified just like the plain old ones. Well, we shall see.

One way or another, mobile and virtual tickets haven't quite arrived here yet.

Mobile & Personal vs. PC & Shared

Observation of the Day: Yes, Tomi Ahonen is right when he says that one of the big advantages of mobile devices is that they are a personal device vs. PCs which are often shared between several persons. That doesn't only have an impact on applications and marketeers who want to target their ads to a specific group, the context in which Tomi used the statement, but also influences the behavior of person to person communication.

I have several friends, non-techies, families, etc. who share a single PC so when they go online in Skype or some other VoIP program on the PC, you never really know who will answer your call or who will read that IM. Yes, a PC can be used with several accounts but it seems most people do not use the feature. On the mobile, on the other hand, rarely someone else than the owner picks up or reads the IM or SMS.

An interesting difference.

Orange in the Metro

Over the past year I have noticed that the Orange 2G and 3G network was getting slower and slower in the Paris metro, especially during rush hour. At some point it was almost unusable, with Opera Mini page load times exceeding 15 seconds. The strange thing was that it affected both the 2G and 3G network, so it's difficult to tell if this was due to an overload on the air interface or some other bottleneck in the system. Whatever it was, however, it has improved a lot lately. Opera Mini pages are now loading very quickly again and the e-mail client retrieves incoming messages in a flash. What ever you have done, dear Orange, it has worked. Or is it just that all the "Blackberries" are on vacation at the moment? Let's hope not…

Apartment Hunting, The Internet and Mobile Technology

Looking for an apartment is a tough job as you can probably imagine, especially if you are looking far away from your home town. Here are some reflections from an Internet and mobility point of view from such an undertaking.


No idea how apartment hunting worked in the days before the Internet and mobile phones, but I am sure the experience must have been tough. The non wireless part of the search from a technology point of view is of course the Internet and good web portals with apartment offers. For Germany, Immobilienscout24 is a good place to start. From there, I assembled a list of apartments I wanted to see and contacted the real-estate agents for appointments a couple of days before traveling to my new hometown. Already here, mobile technology helped a lot as most agents are not really sitting around in their office waiting for their desk phones to ring.


Once on the ground, the mobile phone on my end came into the game. Most agents called me a day or a couple of hours before the meeting to make sure I hadn't lost interest. I big time saver for them. A big time saver on my end was Nokia maps on my N95 as navigating through an unknown city is much easier that way. When new to a town, for example, it's often confusing when one should get out of the bus or tram unless of course there is some mobile GPS help in your phone and you can see the destination in the maps application and your location relative to it in real time.

Netbook Help

After having seen some apartments and getting a first feeling for the city and the different neighborhoods,  I decided that some parts of town I hadn't considered so far would also be a good place to live.  The netbook I recently bought and a wireless Internet connection were quite helpful while still out and about to find some more interesting places to see. This worked well and the mobile phone was very useful to contact agents and arrange for a meeting immediately or the next day.  That saved a lot of time as well as it's not necessary to wait until you are back home in the evening. Instead, it can be done between two appointments.

Remove all the technology invented in the past 20 years from this experience and it would have looked entirely different.

The Future

I can't remember exactly where I've seen it before but I can imagine that augmented reality could help to make the process even smoother in the future. Hold your GPS and compass enabled camera phone into the direction of a street you think would be nice to live in and your location and direction will be sent to a server on the net (just like my apartment search portal I used manually). The server then queries the database, returns the available apartments close by that fit my preferences and the phone shows them as an overlay to the image I see on the screen. Yes, I can well imagine that and it would have been great to have it as I often thought that a street looked particularly nice and that it would be great to find something here. Well, still in the future today, but I wonder if 20 years from now people will wonder how they could have ever found an apartment without this technology!?

3G Sticks Everywhere These Days

This is probably not big news to most but I just realized recently when walking through a German city how many people sit in cafes and restaurants with a notebook and a 3G USB dongle these days. I could swear it was still much different last year. Most people I saw were (still) using notebooks instead of the smaller netbooks, so I guess that trend is not yet as pronounced. I didn't talk to the people I saw so I don't know if they are using prepaid daily, hourly or monthly options or if they have a postpaid contract. Both are available in Germany. Also, it would be interesting if the connectivity is provided by the company they work for or if they are paying themselves. Would be quite interesting to find out.

Wi-Fi Sharing – The French Way

There is an interesting development in France concerning Wi-Fi sharing that I haven't seen anywhere else so far:

Fixed line network operators are now offering to their customers to share their DSL Internet connection over Wi-Fi with others in a number of ways:

  • FON is officially endorsed by SFR. They have upgraded the software of their customer based and operator managed DSL/Wi-Fi routers for the purpose.
  • SFR and Free now allow subscriber the use of DSL/Wi-Fi routers of other subscribers unless a customer specifically disables it.

While it is nice to be able to use someone else's Wi-Fi while being out and about there are two issues which are not addressed by this:

  • I am aware of FON for a number of years now but I have never seen one when I needed access. The number of FON hotspots might be impressive, but the range of the Wi-Fi signal is just too limited.
  • I imagine the same applies to the Wi-Fi sharing for French subscribers. As there is no way to ensure that one will find a suitable hotspot one can use for free the usability in practice is quite limited.

On the other hand, many locals might prefer such a kind of nomadity over 3G at the moment, as prices for 3G Internet access are still very high compared to other countries in Europe. With a bit of luck, though, that won't last forever. And once we have a situation like in Austria and other countries, where 50 euros buy you an unlocked 3G USB stick and a reasonable amount of data, I can't imagine that many people will go through the hassle of looking out for a suitable Wi-fi hotspot when it's much easier to just get connected over 3G.

This shows a bit of a dilemma with a future off-loading 3G traffic to Wi-Fi hotspots which might be a good thing in case we get a situation where cellular networks become too crowded: Today, users need to figure out themselves if there is a Wi-Fi hotspot close by and then use it instead of 3G. No way the majority will do that unless there is a severe price pressure or the 3G network is so loaded that the speed is not acceptable anymore.

So what is needed to make this work is an automatic means for a device to automatically use the network operator supplied Wi-Fi when found and to change back to 3G, seamlessly of course, when the user moves on. Not an easy task. In that regard, Femtos might be a better solution as they give extra capacity with a similar range without the hassle of installing software for network switching on mobile devices.

So in the end I think it's likely that we'll see a triumvirate with Wi-Fi and Femtos at home, Femtos in public hotspots, Wi-Fi in public hotspots for locals and travelers without a 3G subscription and 3G cellular for the general coverage.

Underdog Innovation: Sprint, WiMAX, Kindle and the Palm Pre

When reflecting a bit on innovation in the carrier space today, I noticed that Sprint in the US, despite all it's financial turmoils and customers leaving in the millions is not only innovating in the "me, too" fashion but is also going ways others are not going. Here are my examples:

The Amazon Kindle, so far only available on Sprint's EV-Do 3G network is a unique differentiator. Maybe not for the carrier to subscriber relationship but for attracting similar applications and companies they can work with in the future.

The Palm Pre has received lots of good marks already before its launch and I wonder what made Palm select Sprint and not one of the other carriers to launch their new device with. Maybe because AT&T's got the iPhone, T-Mobile the GPhone and so on, so Sprint is probably much more interested in pushing the device.

And WiMAX, not to be forgotten, even if it has been / is in the process of being spawned off to a different company. While long term success with that move is not certain, one positive effect it has had on the industry as a whole is that the other camps had to hurry up with their next generation wireless network plans. I wonder, if Verizon would be as pushy with LTE as they are today if there were no WiMAX from Sprint?

By going those different ways they might or might not be able to pull themselves out of the decline at some point, that remains to be seen. In any case, however, their moves are pushing others forward. Also, some of their ideas might at some point also jump over to other networks. In other words, competition at work.