>3G, 4G, XG…Huh?

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There is a huge need for speed on our networks—as we demand the latest and greatest download streaming of books, movies, games, and more.

The network generation (or mobile telephony) standards have evolved to soon to be 4th generation (or 4G).

While 3G standards require network speeds for voice and data of at least 200 kbit/s, the 4G-performance hurdle jumps (500x) to 100 mbit/s.

The chart from Wikipedia shows the various standards and how they have evolved over time.

What are interesting to me are two things:

1) Network carriers that are competing for your business are already boasting 4G deliveries even though they do not meet the standards set out by The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the U.N. According to Computerworld (22 November 2010), the 100 mbit/s standard is “about 10 times the performance that any carrier…can offer today.” Moreover, technologies such as LTE-Advanced and WiMax 2 that are expected to be 4G complaint aren’t “expected to go live commercially until 2014 or 2015.”

2) While the carriers are touting their various breakthrough standards, most people really have no clue what they are talking about. According to the Wall Street Journal (4 November 2010) on a survey by Yankee Group that “of more than 1,200 consumers found 57% had either never heard of 3G or didn’t understand the term. [And] With 4G, the ranks of the confused jump to 68%.”

Some lessons learned:

In the first case, we need to keep in mind the principle of caveat emptor (or let the buyer beware) when it comes to what the Wall Street Journal is calling the “increased rhetoric underscoring the high-stakes games played by the carriers as they jockey for position.”

In the second, vendors and technologists should understand that they are losing the consumer when they talk “techno-geek.” Instead, all need to use plain language when communicating, and simplify the technical jargon.

The comic in Computerworld (22 November 2010) summarized it well with pictures of all the various GGGG… technologies and the people next it to it saying, “At this point the labels are ahead of the technology.” Of course, I would add that the labels are also ahead of most people’s ability to understand the geek-speak. And we need to fix the communications of both.

>You’ve Got An Alert

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You’re all probably familiar with the capability of signing up for alerts to your computer or mobile device (phone, blackberry, pager, PDA, etc.).

By signing up, you can get notifications about severe weather (such as tornados or earthquacks), transportation troubles (such as street closures or metro incidents), utility disruptions (water, telephone, or power), government and school closings, Amber alerts, or breaking news and information on major crisis (such as homeland security or other emergency situations).

Unfortunately, not everyone bothers to sign up for these. Perhaps, they don’t want to bother registering for another site, giving and maintaining their personal contact information, or maybe they just prefer to rely on major news sources like CNN or social networking sites like Twitter for getting the word out.

The problem is that in a real crisis situation where time is of the essence and every minute and second counts—envision that tornado swooping in or that ticking time bomb about to go off—we need to let people know no matter what they are doing—ASAP!

According to GovTech (October 2010), the California Emergency Management Agency is planning to deploy a new system called Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) to “deliver warnings and safety information via text alerts to wireless phones in specified areas without requiring individuals to subscribe to the service.”

A pilot is scheduled to begin in San Diego in the fall.

With CMAS, emergency information can be targeted to an area affected and transmitted to everyone in the receiving area without them having to do anything. Just like your televisions receiving the emerging alerts (which is great if you happen to be watching), now your mobile devices will get them too.

I remember hearing the stories from my father about World War II how the German Luftwaffe (air force) would blitz (i.e. carpet bomb) London and other Ally cities, and the sirens would go off, blaring to give the people the chance to take cover and save their lives.

Well, thank G-d, we don’t often hear any air raid sirens like that anymore, and with CMAS having the potential to someday grow into a full national network of wireless emergency alerts, we may never have to hear sirens like that again.

(Photo: Courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory Emergency Management Center; http://communication.howstuffworks.com/how-emergency-notifications-work1.htm)

>Seeing things Differently with Augmented Reality

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One of the most exciting emerging technologies out there is Augmented Reality (AR). While the term has been around since approximately 1990, the technology is only really beginning to take off now for consumer uses.

In augmented reality, you layer computer-generated information over real world physical environment. This computer generated imagery is seen through special eye wear such as contacts, glasses, monocles, or perhaps even projected as a 3-D image display in front off you.

With the overlay of computer information, important context can be added to everyday content that you are sensing. This takes place when names and other information are layered over people, places, and things to give them meaning and greater value to us.

Augmented reality is really a form of mashups, where information is combined (i.e. content aggregration) from multiple sources to create a higher order of information with enhanced end-user value.

In AR, multiple layers of information can be available and users can switch between them easily at the press of a button, swipe of a screen, or even a verbal command.

Fast Company, November 2009, provides some modern day examples of how this AR technology is being used:

Yelp’s iPhone App—“Let’s viewers point there phone down a street and get Yelp star ratings for merchants.”

Trulia for Android—“The real-estate search site user Layar’s Reality Browser to overlay listings on top of a Google phone’s camera view. Scan a neighborhood’s available properties and even connect to realtors.”

TAT’s Augmented ID— “Point your Android phone at a long-lost acquaintance for his Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube activity.”

Michael Zollner, an AR researcher, puts it this way: “We have a vast amount of data on the Web, but today we see it on a flat screen. It’s only a small step to see all of it superimposed on our lives.”

Maarteen Lens-FitzGerald, a cofounder of Layar, said: “As the technology improves, AR apps will be able to recognize faces and physical objects [i.e. facial and object recognition] and render detailed 3-D animation sequences.”

According to Fast Company, it will be like having “Terminator eyes,” that see everything, but with all the information about it in real time running over or alongside the image.

AR has been in use for fighter pilots and museum exhibits and trade shows for a number of years, but with the explosive growth of the data available on the Internet, mobile communication devices, and wireless technology, we now have a much greater capability to superimpose data on everything, everywhere.

The need to “get online” and “look things up” will soon be supplanted by the real time linkage of information and imagery. We will soon be walking around in a combined real and virtual reality, rather than coming home from the real world and sitting down at a computer to enter a virtual world. The demarcation will disappear to a great extent.

Augmented reality will bring us to a new level of efficiency and effectiveness in using information to act faster, smarter, and more decisively in all our daily activities personally and professionally and in matters of commerce and war.

With AR, we will never see things the same way again!

>The Microgrid Versus The Cloud

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It’s strange how the older you get, the more you come to realize that life is not black and white. However, when it comes to technology, I once held out hope that the way to the future was clear.

Then things started to get all gray again.

First, I read a few a few weeks ago about the trends with wired and wireless technologies. On one hand, phones have been going from wired to wireless (many are even giving up their landlines all together). Yet on the other hand, television has been going the other way—from wireless (antennas) to wired (cable).

Okay, I thought this was an aberration; generally speaking technology advances—maybe with some thrashing about—but altogether in a specific direction that we can get clearly define and get our arms around.

Well, then I read another article—this one in Fast Company, July/August 2009, about the micogrid. Here’s what this is all about:

“The microgrid is simple. Imagine you could go to Home Depot and pick out a wind or solar appliance that’s as easy to install as a washer/dryer. It makes all the electricity your home needs and pays for itself in just a few years. Your home still connects to the existing wires and power plants, but is a two-way connection. You’re just as likely to be uploading power to the grid as downloading from it. You power supply communicates with the rest of the system via a two-way digital smart meter, and you can view your energy use and generation in real time.”

Is this fantasy or reality for our energy markets?

Reality. “From the perspective of both our venture capital group and some senior people within GE Energy, distributed generation is going to happen in a big way.” IBM researchers agree—“IBM’s vision is achieving true distributed energy on a massive scale.”

And indeed we see this beginning to happen in the energy industry with our own eyes as “going green” environmentalism, and alternate energy has become important to all of us.

The result is that in the energy markets, let’s summarize, we are going from centralized power generation to a distributed model. Yet—there is another trend in the works on the information technology side of the house and that is—in cloud computing, where we are moving from distributed applications, platforms, storage, and so forth (in each organization) to a more centralized model where these are provisioned by service providers such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and IBM—to name a just a few. So in the energy markets, we will often be pushing energy back to the grid, while in information technology, we will be receiving metered services from the cloud.

The takeaway for me is that progress can be defined in many technological ways at one time. It’s not black or white. It’s not wired or wireless. It’s not distributed or centralized services. Rather, it’s whatever meets the needs of the particular problem at hand. Each must be analyzed on its own merits and solved accordingly.

>We Need A Grand Vision—Let It Be Smart!

>We can build systems that are stand-alone and require lots of hands-on monitoring, care, and feeding or we can create systems that are smart—they are self-monitoring providing on-going feedback, and often self-healing and they help ensure higher levels of productivity and up-time.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 17 February 2009, smart technology is about making systems that are “intelligent and improve productivity in the long run…they [makes use of] the latest advances in sensors, wireless communications and computing power, all tied together by the Internet.”

As we pour hundreds of billions of dollars of recovery funds into fixing our aging national infrastructure for roads, bridges, and the energy grid—let’s NOT just fix the potholes and reinforce the concrete girders and have more of the same. RATHER, let’s use the opportunity to leap forward and build a “smarter,” more cost–effective, and modernized infrastructure that takes us, as nation, to the next playing-level in the global competitive marketplace.”

Smart transportation—the “best way to fight congestion is intelligent transportation systems, such as roadside sensors to measure traffic and synchronize traffic lights to control the flow of vehicles…real time information about road conditions, traffic jams and other events.” Next up is predictive technology to tell where jams happen before they actually occur and “roadways that control vehicles and make ‘driving’ unnecessary.”

Smart grid—this would provide for “advanced electronic meters that send a steady stream of information back to the utility” to determine power outages or damage and reroute power around trouble areas. It also provides for consumer portals that show energy consumption of major appliances, calculate energy bills under different usage scenarios and allow consumers to moderate usage patterns. Additionally, a smart grid would be able to load balance energy from different sources to compensate for peaks and valleys in usage of alternative energy sources like solar and wind.

Smart bridges—this will provide “continuous electronic monitoring of bridges structures using a network of sensors at critical points.” And there are 600,000 bridges in the U.S. As with other smart technologies, it can help predict problems before they occur or are “apparent to a human inspector…this can make the difference between a major disaster, a costly retrofit or a minor retrofit.”

Smart technology can be applied to just about everything we do. IBM for example, talks about Smart Planet and applying sensors to our networks to monitor computer and electronic systems across the spectrum of human activity.

Building this next level of intelligence into our systems is good for human safety, a green environment, productivity, and cost-efficiency.

In the absence of recovery spending on a grand vision such as a cure for cancer or colonization of Mars, at the VERY least, when it comes to our national infrastructure, let’s spend with a vision of creating something better—“Smarter”–for tomorrow than what we have today.

>Scraping the Landlines and The Total CIO

>It’s long overdue. It’s time to get rid of the landline telephones from the office (and also from our homes, if you still have them). Wireless phones are more than capable of doing the job and just think you already probably have at least one for business and one for personal use—so redundancy is built in!

Getting rid of the office phones will save the enterprise money, reduce a maintenance burden (like for office moves) and remove some extra telejunk clutter from your desk. More room for the wireless handheld charger. 🙂

USA Today, 20 December 2008 reports that according to Forrester Research “Estimated 25% of businesses are phasing out desk phones in effort to save more money.”

Additionally, “more than 8% of employees nationwide who travel frequently have only cellphones.”

Robert Rosenberg, president of The Insight Research Corp., stated: U.S. businesses are lagging behind Europe and Asia in going wireless, because major cellular carriers…are also earning money by providing landlines to businesses—an $81.4 billion industry in 2008.”

“In Washington, D.C., the City Administrator’s office launched a pilot program in October in which 30 employees with government-issued cellphones gave up their desk phones, said deputy mayor Dan Tangherlini. Because the government has issued more than 11,000 cellphones to employees, the program could multiply into significant savings.”

A study by the National Center for Health Statistics between January and June found that more than 16% of families “have substituted a wireless telephone for a land line.”

So what’s stopping organizations from getting rid of the traditional telephones?

The usual culprits: resistance to change, fear of making a mistake, not wanting to give up something we already have—“old habits die hard” and people don’t like to let go of their little treasures—even a bulky old deskphone (with the annoying cord that keeps getting twisted).

Things are near and dear to people and they clutch on to them with their last breath—in their personal lives (think of all the attics, garages, and basements full of items people can’t let go off—yard sale anyone?) and in the professional lives (things equate to stature, tenure, turf—a bigger rice bowl sound familiar?).

Usually the best way to get rid of something is to replace it with something better, so the Total CIO needs to tie the rollout of new handheld devices with people turning in their old devices–land lines, pagers, and even older cell phones (the added benefit is more room and less weight pulling on your belt).

By the way, we need to do the same thing with new applications systems that we roll out. When the new one is fully operational than the old systems need to be retired. Now how often does that typically happen?

Folks, times are tough, global competition is not going away, and we are wasting too much money and time maintaining legacy stuff we no longer need. We need to let go of the old and progress with the new and improved.