3G Video Calls are now in the Wild

It’s incredible but true: For two years I knew nobody but myself who was using 3G Video Telephony in a real network. But yesterday, I finally saw the first 3G video call "in the wild" between three persons unknown to me.

It was interesting to watch the person casually holding the phone while wandering through the supermarket, joking with the person on the other side, showing him some stuff he discovered and showing his girlfriend who was with him what was going on at the other side. It was good to see the practicality of the whole setup. They didn’t use a headset but used the hands-free mode of their Sony Ericsson V800. The audio quality must have been o.k. since they had no problem communicating.

I am more convinced than ever now that once 3G phones become more widespread and a critical mass is reached mobile video telephony will become a mass market application. 3G coverage is now widely in place in most countries in Europe and video telephony has a major advantage over many other advanced services: It is as easy to use as voice telephony!

24 Aug. 2006 – Update: While in Verona the other day, I’ve seen another peroson engaged in a video call. Once again no headset was used. The person, a man in his best years was hardly in the age group that is known to try out freaky new things. So it looks like video telephony is slowly entering the mass market of the ‘non geeks’, too.

How to share your 3G connection

In an earlier post I was speculating how disruptive a Nokia N80 or other WLAN enabled phone could be as WLAN access point which lets several people share the same UMTS Internet connection. We are not quite there yet but there are other ways to share your 3G connection. The easiest but still somewhat complicated one is to use the Internet connection sharing functionality of Windows XP. Here’s a short description of how to do it:

Settings for the computer with the 3G connection:

To use the Internet sharing feature, the 3G ‘modem’ has to appear in the Windows Network settings as either a dial up modem or a network card. This is shown in figure 1. Sorry for the figures being in German but I think the icons in the windows should give you an idea where to look for the settings on your PC. Right click on the icon that represents the 3G connection and select ‘Properties’. In my particular case shown in figure 1, the phone is connected via Bluetooth. Phones being connected by a cable and PCMCIA cards (*) work fine as well as long as the connection appears as a dial up modem or network card to Windows. Next, click on the last tab of the dialog box and check the box which says that this connection will be shared with other users.

Next, select the network adapter to which the other computers are connected that want to share the connection. In my case, the other users are connected via the Ethernet port. Once you click on the ‘OK’ button the following will happen: Windows configures a fixed IP address (usually for the network card to which the other users are connected (**). This is shown in figure 2. Do not change this setting as otherwise the connection sharing will not work anymore.

Settings on the other computers:

Here, some manual settings are required as well. Go the ‘Windows Network Settings’ and select the network adapter which connects this computer to the one that shares its Internet connection. In my case this is the ‘LAN network adapter’ as shown in figure 3 (***). Go to the TCP/IP setting and set the following values: IP address: Set this to an address in the same subnet as the sharing computer (e.g. Standard Gateway and DNS Server: Set these IP addresses to the IP address of the sharing computer (e.g.

That’s it! Once the computers are connected with each other and the 3G connection is established all participants can use the single Internet connection. Enjoy!

And here’s the fine print 😉

(*) Personally, I don’t have experience with certain software, e.g. from Vodafone, which is supposed to make your life easier and integrate the connection management in their own graphical user interface. Therefore, feedback on this would be appreciated.

(**) If you sometimes use the fixed line LAN connection for other purposes, you have to deactivate the Internet sharing on your modem connection again and reset the IP settings of the LAN connection for automatic IP and DNS address retrieval.

(***) It should also be possible to be able to share an Internet connection via the Wireless LAN network adapter. In this case however, the WLAN network adapter needs to be configured for ‘Ad-hoc connections’ or a Wireless LAN access point has to be used. In both cases it is important to remember not to change the static IP address of the adapter (usually that Windows has configured when the Internet connection sharing was first activated.

3G Roaming – Pleasure with Pitfalls

Thanks to an international 3G subscription I have long ago given up searching for Wifi hotspots at the locations I travel to. Instead, as the Sprint guys put it, the 3G network is following me wherever I go. I see it the other way round. Wherever I go, the network is already there. While I have always managed so far to find good 3G or EDGE connectivity, there are some pitfalls which I wouldn’t have thought existed anymore three years after the commercial launch of the first UMTS networks. Here are some strange but true examples:

France: For a month or two now, Orange, the mobile operator that allows me to roam to its 3G network, seems to have a new software version running on their UMTS network in Paris. Since then, my almost brand new Nokia N70 behaves strangely and has trouble establishing a dedicated bearer during a packet session after some time of inactivity. This results in very long delays in the order of 10 seconds or more when I click on a link after some time of network inactivity. The only remedy is to trick the network into letting me have a dedicated channel continuously by constantly sending pings to a host on the network. While this helps for notebook use, I can’t use this trick while web browsing via the mobile phone. So I prefer using Organe’s EDGE network by forcing the mobile into GSM only mode. In other parts of the country things work flawlessly. This is probably due to the fact that Orange uses different UMTS access vendors in different parts of the country: Alcatel in Paris, Nortel and Nokia in other parts of the country. Well done, Orange!

Germany: Here, I have a greater choice of UMTS roaming partners: T-Mobile, E-Plus and O2. The first two work flawlessly with my Nokia N70. O2 also works well if the mobile can find the UMTS network. Sometimes, however, the mobile just refuses to see the network, especially after the mobile has lost coverage for some time like for example if I have parked the car in an underground garage. Switching the phone on or off does not change anything. Even a manual network search, which shows that the 3G network is available, does not force the mobile back into O2’s UMTS network. The only action that helps sometimes is to go back to the place where the phone has no GSM or UMTS coverage of O2’s network for a minute. It’s a repeatable phenomenon and I’ve only seen it in Germany and only with O2. Also, I have to restart the phone much more often than in other networks, about once per day, as after some time I can’t connect to the Internet anymore.

Austria: Again, I have several roaming partners for UMTS: T-Mobile, A1 and One. In the A1 network I have detected the strangest problem yet. With both my Nokia N70 and my somewhat older Sony Ericsson V800 I have problems to send data from the notebook to the network. An analysis with Wireshark, a network tracing tool, revealed that the network has problems with large IP packets in uplink direction. At first I thought it was a specific mobile problem in combination with the network components used in the A1 network. However, as two completely different phones have the same problem it seems to be a general network issue. What helps is to reduce the Maximum Transfer Size (MTU) of the notebook for dial up connections. After changing the MTU size to 480 bytes as described in this Microsoft bulletin, things worked a lot better. But quite frankly, I prefer using ONE’s network where things work as they should. Just in case I ever end up in a part of Austria where ONE’s network is not available, I still have my MTU jocker ready.

All of this is very strange as both of my UMTS phones are widely used in these countries. But I think it shows that 3G interoperability is still not where it should be. Nevertheless, things are not as bad as they might seem after describing these three cases for the following reasons: Even in the countries described above I have found at least one network in which things work flawlessly with my mobiles. In addition, here’s a list of countries where I didn’t encounter problems, at least not in the networks I used: Switzerland (GPRS and EDGE), Spain, Italy, Belgium (EDGE), The Netherlands, U.K. and Portugal.

CoComments Big Brother Plugin

CoComment is a great tool to keep track of comments left by you and others on blogs. Lately, they have added a Firefox plugin which makes the service even more comfortable to use. Unfortunately, however, the plugin raises a serious privacy issue about which CoComment does not inform its users about.

I’ve tried to get in contact with them to get a statement but got no response. O.k. so let’s discuss it in the blogsphere. While the plugin’s functionality is doubtlessly interesting, it contacts the CoComment server after each and every download of a web page. Part of the message sent to CoComment is the visited URL. In effect, CoComment is thus aware of each and every move a user takes on the Web. Cookies pale in comparison to this! What is so unacceptable to me is that CoComment does not inform users about this to let them choose if this is acceptable to them or not.

For my part I’ve uninstalled the plugin again and have reverted back to their bookmarklet. It offers less functionality but preserves my privacy except of course of keeping track of my comments, which is what it’s supposed to do.

Centrino WLAN vulnerabilities – Getting your virus with a malformed packet

Maybe it’s because we are used to getting patches to our PC every month or so now that the following story has not seen wide spread attention so far: Intel admits Centrino chipset driver issues: These allow attackers to send malformed wireless lan frames to insert and execute malicious code (read viruses).

This is scary for two reasons:

Firstly, no user interaction is required. This means that a user doesn’t even have to browse to a malicious webpage to get infected. It’s enough to have your WLAN card activated. Airports and conferences might become nice playgrounds for past time hackers and self replicating viri once an exploit for this hits the net.

Secondly, the fixes have to be installed manually. There is no auto update functionality like for example for Microsoft Windows patches which are downloaded and installed by the operating system once available. I’ve downloaded and installed the patch for a notebook with a Centrino 2200BG card. A 129 MB (MEGABYTE!) download. Incredible! At least it installed o.k. and the driver was updated. Then I downloaded the patch for another notebook which has a Centrino 2100 chipset. A refreshingly short 13 MB download… When executing the file it installed an update for the helper program but failed to update the driver for the chipset. The program showed no sign that the driver, where the real problem sits, was not updated. Perfect, the average user will never notice that… So I manually installed the driver update from the hardware settings. To make the day perfect, many notebook vendors have chosen to write their own wireless lan configuration utilities that interface with the driver in some way. Of course they could be broken if you install the driver. Take a look at F-Secure’s blog. Once an exploit for this hits the wild, it’s going to be big.

Speculation: Could the same scenario happen in the cellular world, too? In theory I could imagine this happening in the cellular world as well. Imagine that somebody finds a bug in the IP stack of mobile devices or in the mobile browser that could be exploited in the same way. Downloading fixes on such devices is still a procedure most device manufacturers have yet to come to terms with. For the moment, though, I think such a scenario is unlikely. Unlike in the PC world with a dominance of Windows and Intel Centrino chipsets the mobile space is much more diverse which would prevent or at least slow down such a scenario. Nokia with their Series 60 phones might have a good approach to this. No buffer overflows possible as per OS design and software and patches can be pushed to a device Over the Air (OTA) starting with S60 3rd edition.

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.

Fon (almost) made a smart move in Germany

Today I read a post on Teltarif, a German website, that FON has partnered with a German DSL reseller to offer bundles for prospective Foneros. For those of you who haven’t heard of FON before, they are attempting to build the largest Wifi Hotspot network in the world with the help of private enthusiasts.

I like the idea of bundling FON with a DSL offer, as I think becoming a Fonero must be as easy as possible in order to be successful. At closer inspection, however, the bundle falls short of the "Buy our product and we will deliver a box which you just have to plug into your phone socket at home to become a hotspot". Instead, the offer only bundles a FON account, a Fon Wifi access point and a DSL data subscription provided by Interroute Germany.

What’s missing is the DSL line subscription and a DSL modem which you have to get separately. Apart from being too complicated for the average user who’s thinking about becoming a Fonero because he lives downtown or near a hotel, the hardware lineup is also not reflecting todays DSL landscape. While it was common to have a separate DSL modem and a separate Wifi router a couple of years ago, integrated Wifi routers + DSL modems are the norm these days.

Great first step FON, but now it’s time to put your software on an integrated Wifi router / DSL modem and find a reseller who is willing to do the final step and sell both the DSL data subscription and the DSL line in one package.

Upload Times For Mobile Video Podcasts

If you have seen my previous entry you might have noticed that I am starting to expand my web activities from blogging to podcasting. The next step could be mobile video (pod)casts as my Nokia N70 has excellent video capabilities. With a resolution of approx. 352×288 pixels, mobile video capabilities have advanced far advanced beyond the first stamp size videos of doubtful resolution and quality.

The downside, however, is the amount of data that is generated. A movie of 30 seconds generates around 2 MB of data. With 1 GB flash cards available for less than 30 Euros today, storage space is no issue. For mobile video-casting on the other hand, 2 MB data transfers require quite some time. Here’s a list of upload times for a number of different wireless technologies. Upload times are calculated for a 2 MB video file which is put on a blog or other web site via eMail. eMails tend to increase attachments by at least 50% due to the coding used for attachments which is why the times below are calculated for a total transfer volume of 3 MB:

  • GPRS: 19 minutes, based on an uplink speed of 25 kbit/s (2 timeslots)
  • EDGE: 5.5 minutes, based on an uplink speed of 90 kbit/s (2 timeslots, good uplink quality)
  • UMTS: 7 minutes, based on an uplink speed of of 64 kbit/s
  • UMTS: 3.5 minutes, based on an uplink speed of 128 kbit/s
  • HSDPA: 1.5 minutes, based on an uplink speed of 384 kbit/s (only few networks and mobiles support this uplink speed category today)
  • HSUPA: 45 seconds, based on an uplink speed of 800 kbit/s (no networks support this today but coming soon)

Quite obviously, mobile videocasting only makes sense with EDGE or UMTS, as GPRS is just too slow. What astounds me most is the huge difference in upload times between the oldest technology (GPRS) with 19 minutes and the latest technology (HSUPA) with just 45 seconds. Less than a decade is between these technologies. GPRS was introduced five years ago in 2001. HSUPA is not quite here yet, but expect it late next year or early 2008. Just 7 years between 19 minutes and less than one. Makes me wonder where we will be in 2015…