Entries Tagged as 'Cellular'

BART overstepped boundaries in San Francisco Cell Service Incident

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) logo Apparently SF BART had shut down cell service for about three hours in the San Francisco area at a few stations where some activists were going to protest.   While I do believe this has some serious free speech implications since they’re trying to pull a whole minority report type of scenario which is against current law, I have to say that from a telecommunications standpoint, they pulled a major flaw by calling it a safety issue.   As a telecommunications professional, I have spent years of time facing countless hours trying to maintain the cellular infrastructure.  One of the biggest risks we face in telecom is the one where someone can’t make a 911 call.   That means that people’s lives could indirectly be effected by our work which is why we must be careful.

In shutting down cell service to “prevent” something from happening, the problem then becomes an issue when someone does indeed get hurt and there’s no communications inward or outward.   You can’t rely on BART officers there with their CBs since they can’t be there while maintaining lines or what not against a protest.   So from an emergency situation where someone’s life is dictated by the minutes of time that could effect life and death, cellular service is critical for response.   In this case, I believe that BART made an egregious error and whomever made that decision didn’t think about the consequences that it might follow.  On top of all of this?  BART themselves pulled the plug on the base stations and notifying the carriers after the fact (another mistake and a hard one).  Meaning, the carriers had no idea and probably saw the sites go down in the NOCs and were scrambling to get them back up.

BART said that they were well within their legal rights to turn off cell stations, but I beg to differ.  If this were the case, then all base stations are endangered by the tower leasing areas.  Of which I know for a fact, the leasing contracts do state that they can’t just willy nilly turn off power or otherwise to the leased areas since the carriers are the ones that maintain those agreements with the utilities and not BART.

Nice job, BART.   You not only wasted a lot of telecom professionals time with your crazy logic, but you didn’t go down the right legal roads to at least create a foundation that your logic could stand on.   And thus, BART’s going to get their “you know what” handed to them by all sorts of legal experts.  Do I foresee a resignation?   Maybe, but at the very least, someone is going to take the fall for this one.

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Why SMS is Here to Stay

It’s amusing when I read about apps that try to out-do SMS.   Take for example, Facebook with their latest app.  Or iMessage.

Guess what, as a person that’s been watching technology trends for the better half of two decades, I can say for certain that SMS is sticking around.  Why?   SMS is a complete cellular protocol whereas any app by a social media company is driven by their only their users.  Even iMessage is completely driven by iPhones alone and not cellular in general.  This is one of the reasons why it’ll fail.  It doesn’t help when your friends use different technologies across different systems.   And SMS is built into a cell phone already whereas you can’t say the same for apps.   Take a look at how widespread Twitter is and why it’s constrained to the character limitations.   SMS designed and driven. Sounds too simple?  That’s because it is just that simple.  Standards and protocols rule industries.

So until iMessage/Facebook design a protocol that drives cellular in general?  I’ll wait until I see some new-fangled technology drive SMS out of its place.   Until then?  Everyone is limited to their 140 characters.

Why You Never Write About Laws You Break

Transportation Security Administration, an age...

Image via Wikipedia

Would I be surprised that Jordan Crook got put on a no-fly list for breaking laws?  Probably not.

The one thing I learned a long time ago in journalism type ventures is that you never take anything that you’re currently doing and throw it out to the world thinking that the masses can protect you.  If you’re still doing it, then you don’t go about broadcasting how you’re breaking the law, neener neener, because bad things befall those that taunt the law in that fashion.

Basically, the article itself is about how there is still the law on portable devices creating the possible interference with navigations and other devices on a plane and how some people (like Ms. Crook) think that there isn’t such an issue.  Having been in the wireless industry for over a decade and knowing the ins and outs of RF, I am one of those that find it absolutely amusing when it comes to the justification of how GPS and other navigation equipment gets “effected” by wireless or portable electronics.   Sorry, but it’s basic physics.   If your equipment isn’t effected usually, then it’s not an issue of EM or wireless since those signals always exist.  It’s the same reasoning behind people that think cell phones can set off detonators on a construction site.  If that was the case, then it would have went off long ago due to base station coverage and I don’t see airports setting up no cell coverage zones like it is at a NSA listening station.

No, all of that is fine and dandy.  But if you’re actually looking to travel still for whatever reason, you don’t go around telling people the laws you break on planes.  In my opinion, the travel industry is already inundated with a bunch of movie-scenario security laws and in doing silly things like “proving a point”, that just proves that there needs to be regulations in place to prevent people from using technologies in the air.  On top of that, most laws are enforced by people that don’t actually understand what they’re enforcing.  Just look at the random TSA cases of seizures of books (when the law claimed books of matches were banned) and other types of amusing stories.  Government never claimed to be efficient.

So, if the next time you fly and get detained by TSA, Ms. Crook, I’d probably go and take a look at what you’ve written.   Maybe it wasn’t such a wise choice after all.

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Why AT&T’s Acquisition of T-Mobile is Bad For the Economy

AT&T Mobile Tower Truck

I have yet to see people talk about this, so I suppose I will.  This is my personal opinion of the matter and having been in the telecommunications industry (specifically cellular) for the past decade, I would think that this should bear at least some weight.

The entire thing reeks.  

Sorry AT&T, but there isn’t anything of this that’s good for anyone else except the T-Mobile board and investors.   AT&T first has higher pricing, so T-Mobile customers get to enjoy that luxury that’s coming soon. We won’t talk about the service record that the former actually puts out but everyone has read the reviews.   On top of that, AT&T does have a LTE strategy but contrary to belief, T-Mobile does too.  This will be a huge issue of merging the management and corporate culture in which I would assume that T-Mobile will lose out in the end.  If so, this will end poorly just like the Sprint-Nextel merger where Nextel’s management basically left to start new ventures.  I’ll let the stock price talk about where Sprint has gone with their strategy.

Worst of all though, in these times, this acquisition is entirely terrible for the economy.   In a time that people are looking for good news, this isn’t one.  I don’t care how they spin the marketing piece, one thing is for certain:


Yes, that’s a fact.  In telecom, your job is always a project away from getting cut.  When jobs are duplicated, then there’s even a higher likelihood of this happening.   On top of this, not only will the actual carriers (AT&T) be cutting down the merging workforces, but there will also be a duplication of services and providers such as Alcatel-Lucent, Sony Eriksson, Nokia Siemens, Huawei, Motorola, and whomever else AT&T has dealings with.  So just as trickle-down economics effects everyone from top to bottom, this will be the same with an acquisition.

Don’t be conned by a two year migration period either.   The Verizon and Alltel acquisition is taking all of five years at least.   At the end, I would be curious as far as who will be left from the merger.  The line above will still hold true.

As a T-Mobile customer, I think the only thing you can do is voice your displeasure of this merger.   While I am not a customer, I do have many colleagues that do work at T-Mobile and I’m left wondering what they’re thinking about in terms of the future of their employment.   As a government person, I implore you to push off on this.  In good economic times, the American people can take a large scale hit across their faces.  But with places still having unemployment rates at even 12% (and there’s discrepancy on how that’s determined), I have to wonder if you really represent the American people when we’re suffering through one of the worst times in history and employment is scarce.  More so for those in telecom where I know people that have been out of work for over three years now because of how specialized our work tends to be.

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Why Picocells Won’t Take Off As Planned

cellular antenna in Ein Iron, Israel

So apparently the new fangled thing for cellular is going towards picocells. These are the small cellular cells that allow backhauls from home broadband. It really isn’t that new in cellular but its becoming a hot topic with the tech journalists.

And let me tell you why it won’t take off.

To get good coverage, you still have to put picocells on higher physical footprints. So they would still exist on higher towers, buildings, etc. albeit not as noticeable although when was the last time a person noticed cellular antennas within a city? This still doesn’t help commutable ground such as highways into rural areas and so forth since the traffic follows freeways and thus you need multiple targets instead of towers to handoff traffic. That becomes a space nightmare.

The technology is very sound. It takes traffic off of the precious spectrum and uses broadband instead of packet backhaul. But in doing this, the carriers are not giving back to the consumers. Like solar panels, if you generate more than you use, some states allow credit for energy provision. Given that picocells allow more use of the spectrum for “mobile” applications instead of stationary use, this would be the obvious choice to take. On top of all of this, you won’t hear about a carrier reducing rates. Not for that. Last I checked, AT&T even had you pay for it even though your benefit didn’t outweigh theirs. And they want to push this to all their consumers? Ick.

On top of this, there is the entire security aspect of this. If your backhaul is becoming multiple points in the network where it’s public, it becomes a major concern on someone actually taking over the network, or snooping on the network. Currently, your cellular traffic runs through a private network that is tied into switches that route the calls elsewhere. The moment you start dividing up traffic so that that it can be accessed elsewhere for backhaul, there also creates a middle-man area where a vulnerable point exists. This makes it difficult to convert a current network into one that supports both private and public backhauls without allowing infiltration points.

It’s a huge hassle in re-designing current infrastructure as an overall network design and would only be good in either developing markets or as a supplementary market. Having worked in telecommunications infrastructure for the last decade, I have to say that it would be a great shift in thinking to actually have anyone plan this far ahead with this type of technology. And if we did roll it out? There would be hell to pay without addressing the issues mentioned.

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Error -18 Fix for Android

I’m not definite that this is the end all be all solution for this, but with the new Market push came some issues that happened on my Droid.

It didn’t happen all right at once, so I assume it was some new SDK updates.  In any case, several of my apps wouldn’t update and would give a “general error -18” whenever they did try to update.

Annoyed, I went to the web for an answer but couldn’t find one.  People ran into the issue but no one had a solution.  Which baffled me.   Then I woke up from a tiring night of work and it hit me.  All the apps that were having an issue were on my SD card.

Could it be as simple as that?  So I moved the apps back onto the phone, hit update and voila!  No error.

So the error happens when the app is partially on the SD card.  To work around it, you have to move it back onto the phone and update.

Definitely something that Google needs to fix on Android but it’s good to finally have all my apps updated.

Why CDMA iPhone Will Be So Much Better

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

I always have to laugh when I read garbage printed about telecommunications when people don’t actually talk to those inside the industry first. Such as this TechCrunch article that basically talks about how Verizon’s network is slower, older, and would suffer the same capacity issues that AT&T did and that there wouldn’t be any other differences outside of the CDMA vs GSM.

Alas, my poor deluded journalist, you are so incorrect. There is a huge difference due to protocol and company culture. And you would know this if you were speaking to people within the telecommunications infrastructure industry (just as I have been working in it for the better half of a decade).

Let’s talk about the corporate culture for a second. Hypothetically, if Apple had chosen Sprint for their network, then I would say that they would have the same issues as AT&T has had with their iPhone coverage. Sprint in the past is known to overload their networks with other products. Boost was one of the first, but there are many others that also use the same network but branded under a different name. But Verizon has had management that has always been a stickler for building out for capacity. They keep building out their networks regardless of economy and the last I’ve heard, they’re perfectly capable of handling any sort of traffic that iPhone sales would generate without even blinking an eye.

While I have never worked on any of the Vegas markets myself, I do know that for events most carriers bring in mobile base station units to help accommodate the traffic for conventions, ball games, and the like. If AT&T couldn’t handle the traffic at CES, there’s a reason for it but I doubt that Verizon would be in the same boat there.

Second, you don’t need more cell sites to gain capacity. Capacity is driven by what we call in the industry: carriers. Each carrier can carry so much capacity and depending on the cell site, you can install so many carriers. It depends on the spectrum and how tall the tower itself is, and if you’re using that tower with other providers. But overall, capacity really is less about physical footprints.

Will data carriers be overloaded? Perhaps. I leave that in the capable hands of the Verizon capacity planners, which I would say have been working on this issue for the better part of a year or two. Will CDMA iPhones experience similar data problems as current GSM ones? Perhaps. I doubt it. If they do experience difficulties, they’ll be different due to the way the protocols handle data.

Now here’s the big, huge difference that CDMA will win over GSM. GSM (circa 1981) is older than CDMA (circa 1993). In my many years of on performance of cellular networks, two major problems plague GSM carriers that do not happen no where near as often on CDMA carriers. The first is ghosting. This is where you’ll be talking to someone and suddenly you’ll hear someone else’s conversation. At times you’ll basically be swapped, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. I’m not saying that it happens on AT&T itself, but that’s something that drives GSM consumers mad. The other is one of the channels dropping off. In CDMA, if you drop a call, you usually drop the entire call itself. Both forward and reverse channels disconnect. However, the competition has a tendency of dropping either channel while keeping the call up which basically provides you a call where one person can talk but can’t hear, or vice versa. That goes away when you switch to a CDMA iPhone.

Now the last part is: what phone do I carry? I personally carry a Droid. Are there GSM carriers I like? Sure. But I can’t stand buying into a network I do dislike just for the iPhone. It’s like driving a Mercedes that has had its engine replaced with a Yugo. It just won’t do. And now that Verizon is going to carry the iPhone, I have a feeling that it’s just about the time to make the switch.

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1984 Here We Come


I’ve always wondered whether or not federal law enforcement management ever think about what they say before saying it.   Currently, they want to put a backdoor in every piece of software so that if given a warrant, the government can go in and snoop on sensitive cyber-information.  And their reasoning is based on the fact that CALEA has worked with telecommunications so why can’t it be done elsewhere, predominantly software.

As a telecommunications professional of over a decade of experience and having been in the security industry for a major part of my life, I have to say that they fail to actually understand how CALEA is implemented.  While it is a government mandated security act that telecommunications and internet providers have had to deal with, it’s also got something that most software doesn’t.  A physical footprint.   To actually use a CALEA backdoor, you physically have to go to a 24/7 manned switch, that has hardware to jack into to basically “eavesdrop”.   It’s more complicated than that, but that’s pretty much how it works.

However, with software, if there is a backdoor and it’s known by hackers, then hackers will try everything in their power to break in through that area.  You know how in linux, they say never to use the root user?  That’s the same principle.   Don’t give it out, don’t acknowledge, because once people know that it exists, it becomes a security risk.

And if you’re in security, you should understand the risk assessment value and how ease of use is predominantly inversely proportional to security.  Always has been, and for the most part, always will be.  On top of all of this, there is another method that people will use to get around all of this.   Bouncers and darknets.   If this law is passed, they actually make their lives a lot more difficult as enforcement since most people don’t just think about using darknets or even understand how bouncers work.  If a wiretap is in place in all areas though, then it forces the underground to come up with new ways of communications without fear of someone looking over their shoulder.  And is that what law enforcement wants?  That doesn’t sound “easier” by any means of the imagination.

At least not to me.

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FAA Still Denies Cell Phones in Air

Cell Phones Everywhere
Image by Scott Ableman via Flickr

The FAA is still denying that cell phones are safe in the air.   While it’s true that cell phones do generate electromagnetic signals, it’s also true that the signal of the EM field dramatically drops off as you get farther away from the user.  Most do not generate any substantial field outside of the “personal space” of the cell phone user.   If you don’t believe this, go buy a EM reader and give it a shot.   It’s rather interesting on the non-linear drop.

On top of this, it was shown on Mythbusters (episode 49) a while back that cell phones do not interfere with the navigational equipment of a plane unless the plane has unshielded wiring.  And believe me, if you’re running faulty wiring, the least of your worries will be coming from mobile devices.

I will agree that banning cell phone use on a plane for sake of safety is a cop out play when in reality, the only thing that cell phones are in the air would probably be the annoyance factor.   Due to the background noise of the plane, people that talk loudly already would just raise their voices.   And the last thing most passengers want to to is to be locked in a confined space with a bunch of shouting business people that are trying to conduct business.

Fortunately, I have a solution for this.   If someone has enough change to spare that they’re willing to sign an agreement before the flight takes off to have a decibel monitor on them, and their credit card on file, then if their voice ever goes above a certain level, they’re automatically fined.  This fine is then distributed to both the flight crew, airline, and passengers on board guided by the fact that since everyone will be annoyed, you might as well be compensated for the annoyance.

This would either prevent people from calling as much on flights, or keep their voices down of which they should be doing anyways.   While policing the airwaves at thirty thousand feet isn’t something fun, use the right reasoning.   I mean, let’s be honest.   If people can use cell phones when they “touch down” on the landing, then it would also be safe to say that those EM transmissions would not effect other instruments.  Or else every time you land, you’d see a blip in your flight instruments that would be visible to the naked eye.

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How Does TSA Take to “Paperless Boarding Passes”?

Boarding pass
Image by Simon Aughton via Flickr

Interestingly enough, there’s this new fun little thing that the TSA is pushing which really shows that they’re actually with the times.   While most people still use the paper boarding passes, you can now have it sent to your phone.   What it does, is that it actually sends you an image of a QR code I believe, of which is then scanned at the TSA checkpoint.   They use one of the red bar code scanners so it doesn’t really get effected as much by the reflective screens on smart phones.

What’s neat about this technology isn’t just because it’s “green” since there’s no paper, but the fact that the government is finally getting on board the technology train WHILE it’s going.   Not like ten years behind.  Usually you don’t see things like that except in military and advanced research labs.   I find that absolutely fascinating.

While I had the opportunity to use it more recently, I was hesitant mainly because I didn’t want to hassle with it if there were airports that had screeners that were not trained to actually deal with the passes.  Even if the airlines are pushing it, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are untrained staff out there.  So I decided to observe and see for myself.

It happened that there was one lady in front of me at Newark that used this system.  It was actually very quick and easy and definitely put my mind at ease that perhaps this is the next thing I’ll adopt while I travel.  Nothing like getting rid of the abundance of boarding passes that one has to carry these days along with all of the advertisements and the weather and what not.  In all honesty, while it seemed like a pretty good idea, I usually am annoyed that they print all my boarding passes on separate pages with a bunch of junk on them.   Just print them all on one page!

I’m actually pretty happy that so far my observation of the paperless boarding pass has been a great experience.

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