Interesting tid bit

CommsDesign – IEEE 802.16 spec could disrupt wireless landscape

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The IEEE Standards Authority on Wednesday (Jan. 29) approved the 802.16a specification for wireless metropolitan-area networks (MANs) in the 2- to 11-GHz range, giving a seal of approval to technology that one executive said could enable a disruptive change in communications.

Sounds intriguing – as in: WiFi has some competition for its more inappropriate applications.

Spectrum logjam lifted

From the New York Times, Pentagon and Companies in Agreement on Spectrum:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 — Technology companies and the Pentagon have reached an agreement to unlock a swath of spectrum for the next generation of wireless devices, officials said today.

The companies said this would lift the popularity of high-speed wireless Internet service, a bright spot in an otherwise moribund industry.

For the military, the agreement wards off an emerging threat to their radar systems by setting detailed technical mechanisms to deal with interference.

This is good. It occurs to me that some of the spectrum below 3GHz could be legalized for WiFi without interference with other uses owing to differences in modulation. It’s a question worth looking into because lower frequencies carry high-speed data further and faster than the 5Ghz band.

Fostering innovation

MIT Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte’s article Creating a Culture of Ideas may be one of the most fanciful things ever written on the subject of invention. It’s a paean to diversity:

One of the basics of a good system of innovation is diversity. In some ways, the stronger the culture (national, institutional, generational, or other), the less likely it is to harbor innovative thinking. Common and deep-seated beliefs, widespread norms, and behavior and performance standards are enemies of new ideas. Any society that prides itself on being harmonious and homogeneous is very unlikely to catalyze idiosyncratic thinking. Suppression of innovation need not be overt. It can be simply a matter of people’s walking around in tacit agreement and full comfort with the status quo.

As nice as all of that sounds, it’s about as far wrong on a factual basis as it could possibly be, considering that the nations that have produced the greatest technical innovation, and this is measurable by patents, have been those, like Japan, that do in fact pride themselves on the harmony, homogeneity, and order of their societies.

Innovation is much more a consequence of coherence in the culture of ideas than of diversity, and more often than not simply carrying the technical status quo one step further in the direction it’s already heading.

Access to information, more than anything, is the key in my book. To test these theories, conduct a thought experiment on the Manhattan Project: what were the respective roles of expertise and diversity, communication and teamwork, and could you have accomplished the same thing with a panel of ordinary citizens of diverse backgrounds.

I don’t think you could.

Software-defined radio

Intel made a presentation of reconfigurable radio architecture to a forum in the Valley:

The processors are not bused, but rather are connected through a mesh that emphasizes nearest-neighbor relationships. This both offers a natural implementation for data flow organizations and reduces the power and signal integrity issues that come with long interconnect lines.

The mesh of processors is terminated on two sides by an array of I/O engines, with one array serving as an input device and the other serving as output. In front of the input processors resides a switchable array of analog front-ends — and, presumably, antennas — allowing the entire system to hop gracefully between frequency bands. Different analog front-ends provide different pre-filtering and signal capture/conversion. Behind the output array lives a collection of various media-access controller (MAC) devices.

Very cool. Expensive and complicated, but cool.

End of the Bloggies

Michele, editor of a small victory, has withdrawn from the rigged and tainted Bloggie Awards:

There’s significant evidence that the voting is rigged. Judges themselves have stepped forward to say they got together with other judges to decide on who in their circle should win. One judge said that she didn’t bother to read the blogs she didn’t know and just voted for the ones she read regularly.

I am withdrawing my name from the ballots. They can give my place to someone else, or just leave it blank. I don’t care.

I’m totally impressed, and feel like she qualifies for the Lifetime Achievement Award in Integrity. If the others who were nominated who weren’t part of the circle jerk will kindly follow Michele’s lead, we can uncover the bad guys from who’s left.

The most glaring example of the unsavory nature of this competition can be seen by looking at the Lifetime Achievement Award. In the entire history of the blog, there have been exactly two people who qualify for this kind of recognition, Evan Williams (the Blogger guy) and Dave Winer, the longest running blogger, the original quality blogware producer, and the architect of the XML/RPC standard. Evan was awarded his sometime in the past, but Dave (whose contribution is actually greater than Evan’s) didn’t even make the finals, against such do-nothings as Rebecca Blood and Matt Haughey. Give me a break.

And any blog award that can’t find a nomination for Instapundit is ridiculous on its face.

I don’t say this because either of these guys is my buddy; I’ve never met them, and I trash both of them on a regular basis. But facts are facts.

Jhai PC

This is interesting: Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka

Felsenstein got to work. He’s built the solution. It’s a bicycle-powered, ruggedised luggable, with a localised version of Linux and constructed from cheapo commodity parts. It’s got an aerial, too: it uses WiFi to connect to a central Internet hub in the market town.

Using it, villages that currently have no electricity, telephone or decent roads can monitor the prices of crops, negotiate group purchases with other villages, and make business deals without spending days away from the farm. And with email and built-in VoIP, the families will be able to make direct contact for the first time with the Laotian Diaspora – the relatives who left the war-torn zone to earn money in the capital and beyond.

It’s an incredible project. The New York Times named it one of its best ideas of 2002. And Felsenstein, using his old-style Silicon Valley wiles, has brought the cost of full five village system to just $25,000.

OK, I’ve got two questions: how do Laotians in remote villages learn to read and write English (necessary for use of the Web), and who fixes the damn things when they break (or need tech support)? From what I know about Felsenstein (strictly a big picture, techtopian guy), I’d bet these details aren’t covered, and if they aren’t we’re looking at a flash in the pan.

Assimilating WiFi

Symbol unveiled a new wireless LAN access point and switch combo that’s the way of the future (Symbol wireless switch to centralize control of WLANs)

SYMBOL TECHNOLOGIES UNVEILED this week an intelligent wireless LAN switch that may herald a change in how IEEE 802.11x networks are configured and managed.

The Mobius Wireless System, which Symbol claims is the first of its kind, includes the Axon Wireless Switch and Access Ports, rather than Access Points.

The Symbol access ports will use power over Ethernet and contain only an omnidirectional antenna and a radio chip, according to Ray Martino, vice president of network products at Symbol in Holtsville, N.Y.

“There’s not much more in a port than you find in a NIC card,” Martino said.

The Linux-based switch will support IEEE 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g and comes in a 1-U rack-mount design.

Management features include class of service, quality of service, and switched Virtual LAN support.

The two key elements are dumb and cheap access points that are little more than antennas, and a smart box running Linux that does all the hard stuff, including authentication, encryption, and routing. Symbol won’t do well with this product because customers want to buy their switches from companies like Cisco and Juniper who know how to build them.

WiFi News says this is a dominant trend:

Several other companies have similar solutions with a different mix of options, including Cisco, Proxim, and Sputnik. Look for more comprehensive information in a few weeks.

Oddly, their low-cost competitors don’t see the value of this approach, or of WiFi itself in many cases. They’ll lose.

Soft WiFi

Yahoo! News – Tech Titans Guarding Wi-Fi Secrets reports on second-generation WiFi access points:

Intel is taking a different approach with its “soft AP” — or soft access point — initiative. It is aiming to split an access point between Windows and a chip for 802.11 cards geared to real-time processing.

Compaq has offered a soft AP for a while, and it’s no big trick; Intel’s just has a slightly beefed-up chipset behind it, making every PC its own Access Point, and consequently building a denser mesh. That was the idea behind DCF all along. Good boys, Intel.

Wireless data summary

— The Economist does a nice survey of some emerging Wireless Data technologies, picking up where WiFi leaves off:

IT IS more than a century since Guglielmo Marconi pioneered wireless data transmission. Yet, if the current pace of innovation in the field is anything to go by, wireless technology is still in its infancy.

Inventing the 802.11 MAC protocol was the best thing I’ve done so far. One of the interesting enhancements is the use of multiple antennas, allowing data to go farther and faster:

So instead of one omni-directional antenna, many base-stations now use three-directional antennas pointing in different directions, each of which covers a 120? sector.

Multiple antennas is a trivial enhancement, most useful for base stations because in that application, and only there, increased power-consumption isn’t an issue, as it would be in laptops, for example.

Mesh networks – where every base station is not only a local access point, but a router, are a significant innovation, directly competing with DSL and cable modems for a fraction of the cost:

For providing fixed-wireless access, the mesh approach is technically superior to the traditional ?point-to-multipoint? radio approach in a number of ways. For one thing, it requires much less power. Rather than using high power to get around obstacles, mesh networks offer multiple paths from one node to another; with systems typically being self-configuring so that, like the Internet, traffic is sent by the quickest route. Also like the Internet, mesh networks are robust and can be scaled up easily.

And then we have ad-hoc networks and Ultra-Wide Bandwidth networks filling out the puzzle:

UWB marks a radical departure from existing wireless technologies because, rather than transmitting and receiving on a particular radio frequency, it involves transmitting very short pulses on a wide range of frequencies simultaneously at low power. Such pulses, which are typically less than a billionth of a second long, pass unnoticed by conventional radio receivers, but can be detected by a UWB receiver.

UWB is intriguing because it can coexist in licensed spectrum with traditional analog services, thus enabling more efficient use of bandwidth than either 802.11a or b. There’s a lot more growth in the wireless pipeline than the meager efforts underway at chip companies today, most of which are simply imitative.

Link courtesy of Letters from Exile.

Why blogs will win

— Implicit in the shrill anti-blog essays from Alex Beam and others in the Media Establishment is the sense that journalism is losing mindshare to blogs and other forms of new media. This isn’t just because blogs, the web, and high-tech are so all-fired wonderful. No, the backstory is the decline of journalism under MBA control, as Kathleen Parker explains in her column at Opinion

Thanks in part to human resources personnel — those well-meaning, misguided individuals who view writers and editors as cogs in a well-oiled machine — newsrooms have lost their souls.

Parker writes from her home in South Carolina, so for her the newsroom is already a thing of the past. So don’t get the big-head, bloggers, it’s not so much that we’re winning as that the other side has given-up and is in full retreat. And what are they afraid of? Fun, mostly.