T-Mobile And The Asus eeePC

At the CeBIT kick-off press conference today, T-Mobile Germany and Asus announced an interesting cooperation: T-Mobile will start selling the eeePC in Germany and Austria with access to their Wifi and 3G networks. The 3G offer will include an HSPA USB stick. I’ve just recently bought an eeePC myself and time will tell how often it will be preferred over taking a full notebook with me. But I think chances are fairly high since it nicely fits into a bag and weighs almost nothing compared to the notebook.

For those who prefer using their mobile phone as a 3G "modem" for the eeePC (like me) instead of being locked to a single operator, here’s a link that explains how to do this as well. I tried with an N95, a Nokia 6680 and a Motorola V3xx and they all worked fine.

Vodafone Websessions with SFR in France

Spring is one of the best times of the year to be at the Côte d’Azur in France. While the weather and landscape is great, France is really missing attractive prices for Internet access over 3G. Not really affordable for post-paid customers, nothing is available for pre-paid customers at all. A good opportunity to use my Vodafone Germany prepaid SIM card for Internet access via the WebSessions roaming offer.

Downlink Speeds

Vodafone’s partner network in France is SFR and according to their web page, they’ve got HSDPA deployed in some parts of the network. Accordingly my speed expectations where high. And indeed, when I activated the 3G connection my data card showed that HSDPA is available in the network. Speed tests performed over several days revealed however, that the downlink speed is artificially limited to around 45 kBytes/s. The limitation is certainly not the air interface as the signal strength was good and speeds I measured in Germany and Italy were much higher.

It’s hard to tell from a users point of view exactly where the bottleneck is. It could be that Voda’s Home Location Register (HLR) in Germany and SFRs SGSN in France can not exchange the QoS profile correctly which subsequently leads to the throttling of my connection. It could also be that there is a limitation on the IP link used for forwarding my packets between the SFR network and the Vodafone Germany network. It’s also possible that the SFR SGSN or the Vodafone GGSN is unilaterally limiting my speed. In practice this means that HSDPA does not give me a great advantage in the SFR network over a 3G UMTS device as the speeds are the same. Due to this I was not sure if the connection was HSDPA at all. Subsequent tests described below showed, however, that the data card really got an HSDPA and not UMTS bearer.

Uplink Speeds

After getting a 384 kbit/s uplink bearer in Italy and Germany I was also disappointed about the ‘meager’ uplink speed of only 128 kbit/s in the SFR network. It’s likely that this is no interoperability or throttling problem but a general network limitation of the SFR radio network. Either they haven’t activated the higher bearer option or it’s not yet available in the current software version of their radio network. Whichever it is they should consider upgrading or switching on the option as the difference is remarkable.

Round Trip Delay Times

One of the indicators that the data card got an HSDPA bearer and not a UMTS bearers were the round trip delay times. With the data card I got a round trip time of about 170 ms. HSDPA usually delivers a round trip time to an external host of around 120 ms (100 ms to the first hop). The additional delay is most likely due to international roaming which means that my data is tunneled from SFR into Vodafone Germany’s network before entering the Internet via Vodafone’s GGSN. With a Nokia N93 3G ‘only’ terminal I got round trip times of around 380 ms. I am not quite sure why there are an additional 200 ms of dealy as UMTS is usually only around 50 ms slower.

Radio Ressource Management

On the positive side I noted that the HSDPA radio resource management was more advanced than what I experienced in the TIM network in Italy and the Vodafone network in Germany. While the HSDPA bearer is active, the above mentioned round trip times to an external host of about 170 ms can be observed. In Cell_FACH state, which TIM and Voda’s network in Germany might not support yet, round trip delay time s were around 360 ms. This reduced activity state was only entered after around 45 seconds. After about 60 seconds the connection is put into Idle, Cell_PCH or URA_PCH state from which it takes around 800 ms to get back into active state. This is a lot quicker then the 2 seconds observed in Vodafone’s network in Germany and TIM’s network in Italy.

Skype, VoIP and IPSec

I tried Skype and my companies VoIP client over both HSDPA and UMTS and got crystal clear connections. Also, my IPSec tunnel worked fine between the notebook and my company. Very well!

Wifi competition

Except for the artificially throttled speed, my experiences in the SFR network with the HSDPA card were very positive. I should also note, however, that some Wifi operators such as Orange have moved forward a bit as well and are now offering 10 hours online for 15 euros. The 10 hours can be distributed over 30 days. For 15 euros, one can stay online for several days if the connection is only used for a couple of hours a day. For me a Vodafone 24h WebSession for 15 Euros is still better because I am online for more than 10 hours a day. Also, I need access at different locations throughout the day which is difficult with Wifi hotspots. People with less online time and stationary use, however, might find a 10h over 30 days for the same price more attractive. Also, they are not limited to 50MB of traffic per WebSession Vodafone intends to introduce in September.

P.S. For more articles on this topic, click on the HSDPA link next to the date below

A Nokia N80 as WLAN Access Point – A Double Blow for Mobile Operators?

Every now and then I go and check which search phrases lead people to my site. Today I stumbled over "Nokia N80 as WLAN access point". Google was nice enough to lead the searcher to an earlier post of mine about the N80 WLAN and SIP capabilities. The person looking for this was probably a bit disappointed as the blog entry did not touch this particular idea. But it looks like nobody else has had it so far, either. I think it’s a pretty cool concept. When traveling in a group, your Nokia N80, E60 or other N- or E-Series phone put in the middle of the table could give Internet access for the notebooks of all people traveling with you.

Linksys has dome something similar with their WRT54G3G Wifi router which has a slot for a 3G card. In the office or at home, the access point serves all local wlan subscribers and offers Internet access via the 3G card. However, it needs a power socket and is bulky, so not the ideal device to set up an instant hotspot for a mobile work group. This is clearly something an N80 or similar device could bring into the game. So come on Nokia, how about putting some Access Point capabilities in your phones?

Opportunity or double blow for mobile operators? Some people will argue that operators might not have been happy in the first place about Nokia putting Wireless LAN capabilities into their phones. They might see this as a way to drive usage and thus revenue out of their networks. Putting access point capabilities into a phone on the other hand drives usage back into the network, but not necessarily additional revenue. But let’s look at it from a different point of view: Many people do not use 3G so far for various reasons. Now just imagine what would happen if you invite your co-workers to use your "3G-Wifi Access point" while they travel with you. Sure, they’d happily accept and see how convenient it is not to have to search for the next wifi hotspot but to have Internet access right when and where you need it. Next time they travel on their own, they might want a 3G card, a 3G phone or a "3G-Wifi Access point" with a subscription of their own. An ideal 3G marketing tool?

Update: Still no S60 solution for this but the story continues here.

No Wireless Killer Applications without a Killer Environment

For quite
some time now everybody in wireless has been trying to find „the“ killer application.
It is hoped that such an application will bring the breakthrough for the
wireless Internet to be as successful as the PC based fixed line Internet we
know today. While reading a book on the history of the Google, I realized that
it took much more than just applications for the big breakthrough of Google and
the Internet in general. In my opinion, even the early Internet offered an
ideal environment for both creators and consumers which in the end triggered its
own mass market success. The same is needed for the wireless Internet. However,
the worlds of the fixed and the wireless Internet could not be more different.
Here’s why:

1. The
Creator Side:
The Internet as we know it today was shaped by creative people,
many of them being students at universities all over the world. Students have
two advantages over people working for companies. First, they are not pressured
by quarterly results and business plans but they can use their time to
investigate and develop whatever comes to their mind and whatever they find
interesting. Second, no business model crosses their mind when being creative.
Many of today’s big Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo and Excite started
off like this. This is not happening for the mobile Internet for a simple
reason: At Universities, access to the Internet has always been free for
students as it is part of the universities’ infrastructures. The mobile
Internet, however, is not freely available to students and academics in most
cases. Hence, not many of them go mobile.

2. The User
Going back 10 to 15 years in time, services that form the core of today’s
Internet such as the world wide web, FTP, HTTP and eMail were used by academics
and students for their research. Search engines such as Google, Excite,
Altavista and others were created mainly to serve this clientele. On the
wireless side however, students and researchers are not the users as the infrastructure
is not provided to them for their work. In effect, this means that a vital part
of the user base is missing. As a consequence, an important part of the feedback
loop is missing that inspires creators to expand and develop new services.

3. The
Service Side:
The Internet became a big success as most services were free for
people at schools and universities to try them and use them over a long period
of time. Services such as search, eMail and web browsing were free, as was the
use of the network. This inspired people to try them. Over time, they became accustomed
to using these services and started to appreciate the added value they brought
to both their professional and private lifes. Again, the way things happen in
the mobile Internet is quite different. While many services are also free, such
as the mobile portals and services of Yahoo, Google, Shozu and others, access to the network
is not. Therefore, potential users are not even tempted to try out these
services as from their point of view, they can’t use the services for free and
in most cases have no idea what it would cost them if they tried.

4. The
Over the past two decades, the personal computer became an integral
tool for students and researchers for both offline applications such as word
processing and calculus tools, as well as for online Internet applications. In
the middle of the 1990’s, computers became cheap enough for home use. At the
same time, people started to see the value of being connected and of being
online and thus they also became willing to spend money for Internet access at
home. Thus, an Internet connection became a logical extension for a PC at home.
At this point the Internet left its free islands, i.e. the Universities, and
became an everyday tool in people’s homes as well. Yet again, things are very
different in the mobile Internet. Here, the mobile phone is the equivalent to
the PC at home. The advantage for the mobile domain is that most people already
have a personal mobile phone which is data capable. On the other hand, the
Internet is not a „natural“ extension of the main use case of a mobile phone,
i.e. voice telephony. Instead, it creates a new range of possibilities which
are not directly linked with the initial purpose of the device. While the
transformation from offline PC usage to online usage was a natural process,
moving from the use of a mobile phone for voice telephony to using it as a
device for Internet data services is a rupture in the evolution which seems to
be hard to overcome.

So where
does that leave us?
It is obvious that even in its early days the Internet was
not free. Somebody had to pay for the computers and the local infrastructure,
and somebody had to pay the telecom companies to build and operate the wide
area networks. Universities are either funded by nations or by tuition fees if
operated privately. While it was accepted that Internet connections are a vital
resource for research and academia, the wireless Internet is still seen as a
luxury good. I whished this attitude would change to create a similar ‘creator –
user feedback loop
‘ to kick start the wireless Internet in a similar way as what
has happened for the fixed line world.  

So where
to take the money from?
Well, I guess it’s already been spent on other things.
Just imagine: Five years ago the German government alone got 50 billion euros
as a result of the 3G frequency auctions. Paid in cash!!! Only 10 percent of
that, 5 billion, spread over 10 years would mean that there would be 500
million euros in Germany
alone each year that could be invested in research and development of wireless
technologies, services and applications. That’s 1000 euros for 500.000 students
to buy hardware and network access every year. I am not even sure if there are
that many students in Germany who’d want to benefit from this. Staggering numbers, just imagine what the
number would be when you count all the license fees paid in Europe and over the world. So what happened to the money? It was used to reduce
the huge budget deficit instead of being partially reinvested into the future.
Well done, German government and others, that’s how we keep our technical

Some Thoughts on Mobile GeoTagging

Experimenting with my newly acquired Bluetooth GPS receiver, Python and S60 phone to come up with a tracking and network measurement software, some further thoughts have sprung up about what could be done with the location data. Once the GPS device is embedded in the phone it’s easy to store the exact location as part of the ‘exif’ data of pictures taken with the built in camera. It’s already got a name: GeoTagging.  Here are some ideas what I would like to do with it:

Automatically geotag my pictures I upload to Flickr from the mobile phone via Shozu: Flickr could then be enhanced to detect the geo location in the picture and offer a link directly below a picture to a mapping site such as Google Maps / Google Earth or the Yahoo equivalent. The user clicks on the link and a map of the location where the picture was taken pops up. The photo site could also go through its database to see if other users have taken pictures in the surroundings and show provide a link on the map to those pictures.

Enrich my private picture archive with location information: How about adding some geo functionality in Nokia’s Lifeblog!? The software could detect the geoinformation in a picture and open up my locally installed Google Earth and show me the location. Beyond that the user could create ‘location sets’ of let’s say all pictures taken during a vacation or a trip. Lifeblog could then open Google Earth to show which route I was taken and provide a link back to my pictures at every location a picture was taken.

Enhanced eMail program that detects geotags in pictures: Let’s say I want to show a friend where I am. So I take a picture which has an embedded geotag and use my mobile phone’s eMail client to send the picture. When he receives the picture the eMail program or external picture viewer should detect the geotag and again offer me a link to either my locally installed mapping software (e.g. Google Earth) or a web link to an online service to see where the picture was taken.

The beauty of these solutions is the ease of use for both creator and consumer of the picture. No user interaction is required to geotag the picture as the phone automatically puts the GPS coordinates into the picture. Once programs and websites support geotags there’s also no complicated user interaction required to use the information. Just click on a link or a button and ‘voila’, a map pops up to bring you closer to the image.

So Yahoo, Flicker, Shozu, Nokia and all others, it’s time for some products 🙂

A True World Band GSM and UMTS Data Card

In an ideal world, the same radio frequencies would be used for wireless systems worldwide and a device bought on one continent would just work as well on another. Unfortunately, this is not quite the reality.

Countries in Europe, Asia and Africa use the 900 and 1800 MHz band for GSM while UMTS uses the 2100 MHz band. Consequently phones sold in these regions usually support these frequencies. Most phones also support GSM on 1900 MHz which is used in North America but lack the ability for GSM 850 and UMTS 1900 MHz which are also essential for this part of the world. So people visiting North America are always handicapped as in-house and rural coverage is sometimes a problem due to the missing 850 MHz band. UMTS does not work at all…

For people living in North America the situation is vice versa when they travel. Their phones support the 850 MHz band for GSM and the 1900 MHz for GSM and UMTS. These phones usually also support the 1800 MHz band which is one of the frequencies used for GSM in the rest of the world. However 900 MHz GSM and 2100 MHz UMTS is missing…

But hope is on the horizon. Sierra Wireless will launch a Quad Band GSM – Dual Band UMTS data card soon which will support GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850,900,1800 and 1900 as well as UMTS in both the 2100 MHz and 1900 MHz bands. Thus, such worries will be a thing of the past. Let’s hope the technology ends up in mobile phones soon. Nokia for example should have a great interest in this if they want to improve their position in the North America market. Even one of their latest flagship mobile, the N80 does not support both UMTS bands. There’s one for the world market with 2100 MHz UMTS support and another verison with 1900 MHz support for North America. Time to change this!

The question remains why mobile phone manufacturers are so reluctant to produce ‘world band’ phones!? Is the extra hardware cost so much higher than the overhead of producing  and maintaining different hardware and software versions?

A side note: The story is about to be continued. UMTS for the 900 MHz and is already specified and it seems only a matter of time before some countries will start using it. Also, I wonder when UMTS will make it’s appearance in the 850 MHz band.

S60, Python, a GPS receiver, and Google Earth

Now that most work for the book is done, I have some time to experiment. I recently started to take a closer look at Python for the S60 mobile phone OS and what you can do with it. As I am pretty much into wireless networks, I wanted to have an application that tracks the network coverage where I go for later analysis. I am also quite interested in location based services and a firm believer that these services will only really take off once the GPS receiver is built into the phone. Combining these two interests with a little bit of programming and a recently bought Nokia LD-3W Bluetooth GPS receiver resulted in the following little quality time project:

The Python script I am currently working on queries the GPS receiver, measures the network signal quality and outputs the information in Google Earth format for visualization on the PC. The script is not quite finished yet but the  basic functionality of logging location and signal quality and visualize the data in Google Earth already works. The picture on the left (click to enlarge) shows a result of a 20 minutes test drive. While the line is green, network reception is good. Blue indicates average and red symbolizes a weak signal. Should you be one of the five people on this planet who does similar things and are interested in the source, let me know.

Mobile Monday Paris May 2006 – Pictures and Thoughts

Another Mobile Monday Paris took place last night at the Zen Factory in Paris close to the Place de la République. Again a fabulous event, lots of good discussions with people coming to the event and very interesting presentations. For pictures of the event, see my Flickr picture set of the evening.

First speaker of the evening was Stephane Delbecque of Yahoo France presenting Yahoo’s Connected Life vision. Focus of the presentation was Yahoo’s partnering with the Fifa to bring the football world championship to mobile phones all around the world.

Next, Didier Lesteven of Medialive presented their product which protects digital content on the way from the content provider to the consumer. This is done by their product by stripping out 1% of a media flow which is then protected and sent to the consumer in a secure way.

Afterward Philippe Coup-Jambet of Mobitype gave an overview of their moblogging platform that lets you create your own blog from your mobile phone and also acts as a mobile RSS aggregator. The product is currently in a first trial phase with the public launch expected this summer. The service will be free and is funded by ads which are put into the generated pages. I specifically liked the options of having the top 24h hour posts in one menu as that is missing in my current mobile RSS software.

Presentation number four was by Vincent Berge of the PACA Mobile Center, a new parisian institution in Marseilles that offers a platform for Java developers to test their products on a multitude of different phones.

And finally, Catherine Ramus made sure the evening was not only about technology in itself but also about combining technology with art and her presentation was about how to use 2D bar codes in a museum to get video stream art right on your mobile phone.

Great presentations, thanks very much to the presenters, I really enjoyed the evening! The presentations might end up on the official Mobile Monday France website in a couple of days and you can check them out here.

The Mobile Internet’s 5th birthday

T39j Only 5 years ago, the Internet started to get mobile for me with the launch of the first GPRS networks in Germany and the advent of the first GPRS capable phones. What a different world it was compared to today.

I must have been one of the first GPRS users of the network because at this time and phones and networks were in a shaky beta phase at best. The Ericsson T-39 (first picture on the left) was my first GPRS phone. Equipped with a tiny monochrome display, it could bundle two timeslots to give me a blazing download speed of 25 kbit/s. For web browsing I used a Palm III, also with a monochrome display and one of the first embedded web browsers available at the time. Again, pretty much a beta experience but I loved it.

Yesterday, 5 years later, I was sitting in one of Paris’ best cafés, enjoying good company, an ice cream and discussing mobile lifestyle: Instead of bringing a magazine with me to browse through, my Nokia N70 is always with me ready to take pictures, videos and to connect me to people and the Internet. Here I was, reading the latest news using the Opera browser on the phone, when my eMail client informs me of a new eMail of my publisher in which he informs me that the shipping date for my next book will be July 14th. Great! A little while later, I uploaded some pictures in the background to Flickr which I took in the afternoon while reading some interesting blog entries in the mobile RSS reader at the same time. On the network side, UMTS is much more stable than GPRS was only 5 years ago and data rates have improved from the 25 kbit/s of 5 years ago to 384 kbit/s today.

So what are we in for in 5 years from now? Network speeds will certainly be beyond 8 MBit/s in downlink and 2-3 MBit/s in uplink direction. Prices for mobile data will (hopefully) be at a level to attract the general audience and in combination with the increased bandwidth and services such as video up- and download, LDA applications using the Internet connection and built in GPS receivers will make the application landscape even richer.