Fifteen AT&T Markets Get a Digital Life

Carl Weinschenk

Most people no doubt agree that this week was better than last. The best news is that it’s finally Friday. Here, then, are some of the IT and telecom stories that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Fleet Management for the Rest of Us

ZDNet’s Heather Clancy makes a good point at the beginning of this case study about fleet management: Most of the publicity tends to be generated by big companies, such as cable operators and telcos.

This, of course, sets up a case study of a small company. United Worldwide is a 12-vehicle private car service in Boston that uses Fleetmatics. Clancy describes how they are using the system:

The Fleetmatics technology, which is aimed at businesses with 10 to 12 vehicles to manage, includes a small black box about the size of two decks of playing cards that is installed under the dashboard of the car, van or truck, said Todd Ewing, director of product marketing for Fleetmatics Group.

The interesting issue is the difference in the use of such systems by SMBs and big enterprises. A hint near the end of the piece says that Fleetmatics’ SMB platform is offered as a service and that much of the overhead is included in a monthly per-vehicle fee. Whether this is unique to smaller companies and if the actual technology is tweaked for the small fry are not directly discussed, however.

Better Managing the Airwaves

The air in front of you, behind you and above you is crowded with any number of wireless signals. (Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman – considered to be one of the most brilliant scientists since Einstein – eloquently explains.)

In the case of telecom and IT, the signals are from a number of networks. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ZigBee are prominent among them. Traditionally, as Stephen Lawson at InfoWorld reports, they bump into each other. The interference hurts performance.

Lawson reports that two academicians – Kang Shin and Xinyu Zhang – who are at the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively – have developed a system called GapSense. The story describes how the system uses energy pulses to manage traffic.

Lawson presents a clear picture of the new technology, which is ready for implementation:


To get all these different devices to coordinate their use of spectrum, Shin and Zhang devised a totally new communication method. GapSense uses a series of energy pulses separated by gaps. The length of the gaps between pulses can be used to distinguish different types of messages, such as instructions to back off on transmissions until the coast is clear. The signals can be sent at the start of a communication or between packets.

Lawson adds that the improvements will be significant enough for users to notice.

Getting On with Your (Digital) Life

During the past half-decade, telecommunications and IT coverage have been dominated by stories about things such as IPv6 and LTE. There also, of course, has been much coverage of what those technologies will enable. The two types of stories probably are about equal. Get ready for the balance to swing more firmly toward the services that will be offered. These offerings are becoming more common and, simply, make for sexier stories.

This week, as CNET and other sites report, AT&T announced that its Digital Life service, which originally was announced last year, will roll out in 15 markets. The list is in the story.

That news is important in and of itself. It also gives a glimpse of the kind of creativity that could become common during the next few years. Consider the list of services to which oversight will be offered: the entire home via cameras, the use of energy, the movement of doors, the presence of water (presumably where it is not supposed to be) and control of that water. These services are a great example of the innovative ways that service providers can monetize the powerful platforms.

Motorola Mobility’s Pyric Victory

The world of patents makes things like designing better modulation schemes and increasing LTE bandwidth seem like child’s play. It is a particularly important issue today as more intellectual  property ends up in open source software – where ownership rules are cloudy -- and the need for interoperability grows.

Ina Fried at All Things D reports that a Seattle U.S. District Court judge, in a “highly anticipated” ruling, pegged the amount of money Microsoft owes Motorola Mobility in a patent case to be a paltry (at least to them) $1.8 million. The case involved the patents relating to H.264 video standard (which is a key component of MPEG-4) and 802.11. Motorola, the story said, had asked for more than $4 billion.

The award of anything close to the higher amount would have spelled trouble for the industry. Much of the technology transfer considered second nature today would have been put into question. Whether or not Microsoft appeals the ruling remains to be seen.

Augmented Reality Meets Robotics

And, finally, IBM and the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre are working together to marry robotics and augmented reality as a way to support remote field engineers.

It’s a story that would have benefitted from some pictures to supplement Darryl Taft’s report. In any case, he does a good job of explaining things. Currently, remote personnel get help from experts not on the scene by displaying a workspace in the field via a handheld device or camera mounted on a helmet. The system uses GPS and QR codes to find and identify the asset upon which work must be done. That seems to be relatively common. The innovation is what happens if the job isn’t easily accomplished:

If assistance is needed, a remote expert is able to view the on-site engineer’s workspace and support them with real-time video and audio links using a camera and a small projector mounted at the end of a remotely controlled robotic arm. The expert, from his management console, is also able to project a pointer and valuable information such as free-hand sketches, assembly instructions and CAD images directly onto the workspace or a nearby wall.

Such innovation quickly will become standard – and won’t be limited to remote industrial or commercial environments.



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