Oct 182010

Is history repeating itself? Just as Apple took the early lead in PC’s only to be overtaken by IBM and a horde of loosely aligned competitors, so also is Apple’s flagship iPhone increasingly challenged by a variety of manufacturers offering not only Android phones but also phones powered by Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7. Part of the battle is being fought in “IP-space” over who owns the patents for key aspects of smartphone technology. With Motorola now seeking to invalidate Apple’s patents, keeping track of who is suing whom in the telecommunications industry was becoming increasingly difficult. Now, the folks at InformationIsBeautiful.Net make that difficult job much easier with the following info-graphic:

Info-graphic of major legal actions in the telecommunications industry. Source: InformationIsBeautiful.net. Hat Tip: Steven J. Crowley.

As fast as the industry moves these days, you’ll want to check back with InformationIsBeautiful.net frequently for updates!

With Motorola now seeking to invalidate Apple’s patents, keep track of who’s suing whom in the telecommunications industry was becoming increasingly difficult. Now, the folks at InformationIsBeautiful.Net make that difficult job much easier with the following info-graphic:
Sep 282010

Periodically, I like to pass on interesting items that don’t warrant stand-alone posts. Here’s today’s list:

  • ThingMagic continues their series on 100 innovative uses of RFID technology in 100 days at http://rfid.thingmagic.com/
  • Where, Inc., a location-based ad network, buys Local Ginger. More from the NYT. The Location-Based Services (LBS) market is really taking off.
  • Alereon reports the ultra-wideband (UWB) Imation LINK Wireless Audio/Video Extender is sold out at Amazon.
  • Nokia let bureaucracy kill an early touch-screen smart phone for fear it might be an expensive flop, according to reporting by the NYT.
  • Here’s an interesting story from TechCrunch about possible collusion between Silicon Valley “Angel” investors trying to keep start-up valuations down and agree not to break ranks by offering more entrepreneur-friendly financing terms to start-ups. Disturbing if true.
  • Michael Marcus reports on “The FCC’s Secretive Flip-Flop on Cell Phones and SAR Data.” The FCC is no longer recommending consumers should prefer phones with lower Specific Absorbtion Rate (SAR).  I explained in “SAR Labels for Cell Phones?,” my view that San Fransisco’s regulations requiring Specific Absorbed Radiation (SAR) measurements be posted for cell phones are misleading. Advice to minimize SAR assumes somehow more safety is achieved at lower SAR levels when complete safety already exists at the maximum limit. So, I think the FCC made a good call to abandon bad advice. Hat Tip: Steven Crowley.
  • Finally, great customer service stories are worth sharing. In that spirit, here’s the Czarina’s tale of University Kia in Huntsville, AL accepting responsibility for extended rental car expenses due to a part snafu from their warehouse.  Thanks!
Sep 232010

Here are some updates:

Sep 222010

Some Georgia Tech and University of Washington researchers have developed a scheme to use home wiring as an antenna for low power sensors operating at 27MHz.

Patel’s team has devised a way to use copper electrical wiring as a giant antenna to receive wireless signals at a set frequency. A low-power sensor placed within 10 to 15 feet of electrical wiring can use the antenna to send data to a single base station plugged in anywhere in the home.

The device is called Sensor Nodes Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure, or SNUPI. It originated when Patel and co-author Erich Stuntebeck were doctoral students at Georgia Tech and worked with thesis adviser Gregory Abowd to develop a method using electrical wiring to receive wireless signals in a home. They discovered that home wiring is a remarkably efficient antenna at 27 megahertz. Since then, Patel’s team at the UW has built the actual sensors and refined this method. Other co-authors are UW’s Gabe Cohn, Jagdish Pandey and Brian Otis.


Sep 162010

A few quick updates, while I recover from Wireless Wednesday on Twitter:

Sep 142010

I recently ran across a fantastic introduction to antenna engineering as a profession. Peter Massey compiled his Antenna Engineer’s Guide with an eye to helping students evaluate on antenna engineering as a career choice. Why chose antenna engineering as a career? Here’s Dr. Massey’s analysis:

  • Interesting varied work. In many positions the antenna engineer is involved with almost everything to do with antenna development, from initial designs, through development and test, to manufacture. The work can be a mix of hands on practical construction and measurement, and of computer aided design and theory.
  • Pay. As antenna engineering is a specialist technical discipline, antenna engineers tend to be moderately well paid, with salaries similar to those of many professional electronics engineers.
  • Job security. In the writer’s experience, because the work is specialised, job security is slightly better than that of many other electronics engineers. And in the event that one is made redundant, the skills scarcity means that is it easy to find work. However as there are relatively few antenna engineer positions, changing jobs usually means moving home or living away from home during the working week.

The guide also discusses the types of antenna engineering, educational requirements, skills required, and typical career paths. As is often the case in the engineering profession, career advancement usually requires moving into a more consulting, management, or administrative role. Another section discusses publishing technical work, comparing and contrasting journal papers to conference presentations, books, internet publication, and patents. Dr. Massey also shares useful tips on organizing conference presentations.

One of the best sections of the Antenna Engineer’s Guide details trends and fashions in antenna engineering, including the latest: UWB antennas, metamaterials, and fractal antennas, along with cogent commentary.

Having worked in a small company environment for most of my career, I had not fully appreciated the difficulty in securing permission to publish from typical large commercial or government employers. Fortunately, Dr. Massey compiled his Antenna Engineer’s Guide during a period between employment when he was not bound by such provisions.   Additional information and resources from Dr. Massey are available at Peter’s Antennas. I gratefully acknowledge Dr. Massey’s permission to share his material, and I commend it to your attention.

Sep 102010

Technology writer Robert X. Cringely visited RTLS start-up Q-Track Corporation as part of Cringely's 2010 (Not In Silicon Valley) Start-Up Tour. From left to right, Q-Track CEO, Jerry Gabig; Bob Cringely; Q-Track VP Engineering, Bob DePierre; and Q-Track CTO, Hans ("ÆtherCzar") Schantz.

Earlier this summer, noted technology writer Robert X. Cringely embarked on a cross-country tour to visit promising start-up companies  with exciting stories.  The project, sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, aims to help America rediscover entrepreneurship. Cringely’s tour will be the basis of a television series to air on a major cable network next spring. Over 400 startup companies were nominated, and only 24 will be featured. Now, 10,000 miles later, the Cringely 2010 (Not in Silicon Valley) Startup Tour is nearing an end. Yesterday, Cringely and his film crew were in Huntsville, Alabama, visiting the Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) startup where I work, The Q-Track Corporation (Facebook).

Not having heard anything since we filled out Cringely’s questionnaire in June, I had assumed that Q-Track did not make the cut. Then on Tuesday – out of the blue – came an e-mail requesting a visit on Thursday. This actually worked out well: just enough time to rearrange the schedule, but not enough to get seriously stressed and over-prepare for the occasion. The visit included a couple hours of interviews with Q-Track’s founders as well as a tour of our facilities and a demonstration of Q-Track’s Near-Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER®) technology in action.

With the tour running longer than originally intended, Cringely only spent an afternoon with us. And regrettably, Mrs. Cringely had to abandon the tour to get their children back in time for school to start, so we did not get the opportunity to admire or sample her muffins. But one great benefit of being near the end of Cringely’s tour was that Cringely was full of fascinating anecdotes of the other exciting startups he’s visited.  It’s an honor to be included among such illustrious companies. I look forward to watching Cringely’s show, learning more about the novel technologies, and seeing the stories of how they came to fruition.

Sep 082010

On August 11, 2010, a major wireless milestone passed largely unnoticed: the end of a tumultuous twelve year regulatory process to authorize ultra-wideband (or “UWB”) wireless systems. The FCC ordered ET Docket No. 98-153 “TERMINATED.” By dismissing the last outstanding Petitions for Reconsideration, the FCC has finally and firmly secured the future of UWB technology, originally authorized in 2002.

After years of lobbying by the nascent UWB industry, the FCC began this Docket in 1998 with the aim of establishing rules to govern the operation of UWB wireless devices under Part 15 rules.  UWB proponents sought permission to operate systems at relatively “low” frequencies, below 4GHz:

“Thus, if precision range resolution is required within and around buildings and foliage, it is necessary to use lower frequency signals, below 4GHz, to penetrate various materials.” [Paul Withington, Comments of Time Domain Corporation, In the Matter of Revision of Part 15 of the FCC’s Rules Regarding Ultra-Wideband Transmission Systems, ET Docket 98-153, December 7, 1998, p. 15]

In the face of strong opposition from GPS (1.575 GHz), cellular (1.7-2.2 GHz), and other incumbent spectrum users, the FCC pushed UWB up to the 3.1 – 10.6 GHz band, initially authorizing UWB in 2002. As a general rule, implementing RF electronics is more difficult at higher frequencies. By relegating UWB to a much higher frequency band, commercial deployment of UWB systems was substantially delayed. Further,  the initial report and order did not end opposition to UWB technology.  A great article by Mitchell Lazarus in CommLawBlog details the regulatory and standards saga.

Despite the hurdles and delays posed by the regulatory process, there are a variety of UWB real-time location systems vendors including Ubisense, Zebra Enterprise Solutions (which acquired UWB pioneer MSSI), Time Domain Corporation, and Æther Wire and Location, Inc.

High data rate communications systems based on UWB have been slower to enter the market. Consultant Steven J. Crowley notes that other technologies, less encumbered by regulatory and standards hurdles are moving into the high data rate arena once claimed by UWB, including IEEE 802.11n-2009 (up to 600Mb/s) and Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) with data rates up to 3 Gbps. Nevertheless – after having kept an awfully low profile in recent months – UWB wireless company Alereon (Facebook, Twitter) recently announced that their UWB “NoWire(TM)” technology will be used in Imation’s Wireless Video/Audio Extender.

“The wireless link between the PC and HDTV operates at speeds up to 220 Mbps via ultra wideband wireless technology, leaving the WIFI radio in the PC free to connect to the internet at full speed to stream video files from web sites such as Hulu, Netflix and YouTube.”

Alereon chips will also power Toshiba’s Wireless Dynadock W20. With UWB wireless communications products like these beginning to hit the market, we should soon be seeing how well UWB communications devices can compete against more conventional RF systems.

Previously on ÆtherCzar:

Sep 042010

The CTIA – a wireless industry trade group – has compiled an interesting collection of Fifty Wireless Facts, including:

8. At the end of 2009, the average revenue per minute in the U.S. was $0.04. Across Europe’s developed countries, the average revenue per minute was $0.16. As a result, the average wireless consumer in Europe used just 160 minutes a month compared to over 824 minutes a month for the U.S.

17. More than 630 different handsets and devices are manufactured by more than 32 companies for the U.S. market.

31. 22 states and the District of Columbia (Washington, Nebraska, Florida, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, Maryland, Utah, South Dakota, Tennessee, Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, California, Kentucky, Colorado and New Mexico) each have over 15% in wireless taxes, fees and surcharges.

45. In 2010, consumers are expected to spend $6.2 billion in mobile app stores worldwide to download more than 8 billion apps – 8 out of 10 of which will be free.

Sep 022010

Music labels and broadcast stations have long argued about the royalties radio stations pay to the music labels for playing their songs on the air. Now they’ve reached an agreement, and one of the key terms is a proposed mandate to force cell phone manufacturers to embed an FM radio in every cell phone.

Writing in the Washington Examiner, David Freddoso said:

Anyway, the big broadcasters get what they want. The artists get what they want. The only guy not represented at this table seems to be the guy who’s going to have to pay more in the future for a heavier, bulkier cell phone.

Naturally, the cell phone manufacturers aren’t happy with the idea of third parties mandating what extra capabilities they put into their phones. The National Association of Broadcasters pushed back with a long argument why the idea was sound public policy.

One valid point made by the NAB is that cellular providers have been dragging their feet with respect to implementing emergency notification services. But the broadcast industry’s record on that score is not without blemishes. In an era of automated stations and centralized programming, broadcast stations do not always respond well to local emergencies. A few months ago, ÆtherCzar recounted the experience of residents in Minot, ND in 2002. A train derailment that released clouds of toxic anhydrous ammonia gas. Due to various failures in the Emergency Alert System (EAS), and the fact that the phone lines were jammed by residents desperate for information, local stations had no clue what was going on and were unable to keep the public informed.

Perhaps sensing blood in the water, now there is lobbying to require cell phones to include TV tuners also. Matthew Lassar writing at Ars Technica has a great piece on why this is a bad idea citing the 1960’s era UHF tuner mandate.

Additional details in: Information Week, Ars Technica.