Archive for the 'Telecomm' Category

I’m at a Loss

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Cellular (mobile) phone companies are evil, there’s no doubt about that. Particularly here in the U.S., where service is often abysmal and the companies make every effort to nickel-and-dime you to death.

So I can understand not wanting to give them one more hot cent than you absolutely must, but still I’m confused by this:

Derek C. F. Pegritz, an English composition instructor at Waynesburg College in western Pennsylvania, wants to switch cellphone carriers because of dropped calls, but he isn’t sure how he’ll do it.

“I’m shelling out $90 a month for a phone that basically sits there and collects dust,” he said.

But getting out of his contract will cost him $170. Mr. Pegritz has tried to explore other ways to be released from the remaining year of his contract, but the best he hopes for is a compromise by Cellular One. “I’m looking forward to that about as much as I’m looking forward to getting several teeth pulled next week,” he said.
NYT: Getting Out of a 2-Year Cellphone Contract Alive

If your phone “basically sits there and collects dust”, you’re getting $0/month of value from it. If you’re shelling out $90/month for service and have a “remaining year” left on your contract, you need to pay 12×90 = $1,080 for the next year.

In what scenario is it smart to just let the phone collect dust? If your service sucks, yes, by all means call the company and complain and try to get a break. But if not, pay the damn $170 to save nine hundred dollars in monthly fees!

Now There’s an Idea

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Me, in 2005:

What if your phone connected directly to your voice mailbox, using your screen to provide the information normally read to you? With a voice mail menu, you could see call information merged with your in-phone phonebook. Rather than hearing “Your callback number is 3..1..2..” you could see a list:

=Thursday 2:12p
Mom, Work  -  42s
=Wednesday 11:12a
Neff Cell - 1m12s

You could scroll up and down, highlight any message and choose “play” or “delete”. No need to navigate through voice-prompts and touchtones. See at a glance what it takes RoboGirl precious seconds to read out.

Apple iPhone, coming in 2007:
iPhone, shown on the voicemail menu

Visual Voicemail
An industry first, Visual Voicemail allows you to go directly to any of your messages without listening to the prior messages. So you can quickly select the messages that are most important to you.

Needless to say, I so want one.

The Negroponte Switch

Thursday, December 12th, 2002

In his book Being Digital, MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte predicts that those signals traditionally carried over wires (e.g., telephone) would switch with those carried over the air (e.g., television.)

This makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. Obviously television is not something you watch on the move, so why does it need to be wireless? It might make sense if we lacked infrastructure, but that’s hardly the case in the US. If one wanted to shut down the TV transmitters, it could be done with an easy transition: the cable industry is now so well developed that one source I consulted had coax “passing” 97% of American homes. (As is, about 60% of households get cable and another 18% have a DBS system.)

At the same time, the cellular market is becoming even bigger each year. Consider the case of Taiwan, which this year became the country with the highest cellular phone penetration. Its usage rate? 100.7% (That compares to 57.7% landline penetration.)

Some people look at those figures and conclude Negroponte is wrong, and all will be wireless in the future. They point to the fact that many developing economies, notably those in Africa, skip the wires altogether in favor of quickly bringing a wireless system online.

Maybe, but I am still profoundly suspicious of wireless infrastructure. I’ve never found a cellular phone that is as reliable as a wired phone, never mind the significant difference in quality. I’ve never seen a fast wireless Internet connection (though my father’s, at ~512Kbps, isn’t bad.) I still have eavesdropping concerns.

I’m unshaken in my belief that only fiber to the home will be able to quench what I expect to be a voracious need for greater bandwidth in the future. Wireless certainly has its place as a mobile technology, but the industry is going to have to do a lot better to sell me on it as a primary communications mode.

Update [13:20]: Interesting. The FCC examines giving some TV spectrum over to wireless. Is this the first step?

A Broad Spectrum (of Opinions)

Wednesday, December 11th, 2002

Consider for a moment all the devices you use that get some sort of wireless signal: cellular phone, cordless phone, TV, radio, etc. Each of these devices uses a specific swath of the electromagnetic spectrum (e.g., cordless phones operate in the 2.4GHz range.)

Now imagine that all of the special towers for each one (TV towers, radio towers, cell towers…) were replaced, and we just had “Internet towers.” I might use my wireless internet device to listen to the radio on the move, you might use yours to carry on a conversation. Rather than have several different antennas for different functions, we would work to increase speed across a broad range of frequencies.

How would such a system be controlled? By what entities? What would it cost? Could it really be better than the auctioning model (which we’ve seen with wireless phones) whereby we sell the rights to use frequencies to the highest bidder?

I think these are some of the more fascinating questions we face when we look at how we’ll use networks in the future. It’s interesting to me to see the Property or Commons debate continue to play out. My personal hope is that wireless becomes less important than everyone thinks it will be, and sophisticated fiber networks will do most of the data hauling. We’ll see.

[Also, in case you’re curious: I’m up this early because, yes, I had a paper due. Of course I didn’t start until half 4.]