Monthly Archives: February 2012

Video: Next dual-core ARM chips faster than today’s quad-cores

Well, that dual-core Galaxy Tab 7.7 with the amazing display is looking a wee bit outdated today. I’m being facetious, but that was my first thought after I saw this video demonstration from Texas Instruments . In it, the company shows a reference device running on its forthcoming 800 MHz dual-core OMAP 5 chip compared to a similar device running a 1.3 GHz quad-core chip currently available today.

You can see the difference as you watch both devices run through repeated page loads in the browser; the OMAP 5 is roughly twice as fast for this common task. There are several reasons for this. First, the OMAP 5 is built on the next-gen ARM Cortex-A15 architecture while most of today’s chips use Cortex-A9.

Om first got a look at ARM’s A15 plans back in 2010, and it showed a portable powerhouse: lots of horsepower in an energy-efficient package that’s perfect for mobile multimedia, augmented reality, and many other tasks we’ll want in future phones. Another difference is TI’s 28 nanometer process for the OMAP 5 chip, moving bits shorter distances and leaking less energy.

One test doesn’t show a victor in the chip wars, but this is a promising start to the next round of mobile chip advances. And I think ARM’s director of marketing, Nandan Nayampally, explained the A15 best when Om got a look at the plans:

“Even with a lot of bandwidth, we are still going to need processing power in the devices. Think of this chip as a heavyweight boxer with the stamina of a long distance runner.”

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Geoloqi helps location-based services take flight

For all the talk of check-ins, geofences and the mythical Starbucks coupon pushed out to passing pedestrians, consumers have been slow to take up location-based services. One of the problems is that adding real-time location-awareness has been a hard task for many developers and pulling it off elegantly, with respect paid to battery usage, has been tough to pull off. Now, a Portland, Ore., startup said it’s ready to take location-based services to the next level with a new developer SDK that makes incorporating location services into apps easy.

Geoloqi launched its location platform today, offering developers and business customers a complete stack of geolocation tools, including geo-fencing, messaging, security and analytics. The start-up created by Amber Case and Aaron Perecki is designed to help developers enable persistent background location tracking that can incorporate location information from cellular networks, GPS and Wi-Fi. And it does it in a way that’s very battery efficient, attacking one of the key shortcomings of other location tools.

Geoloqi offers a cross platform SDK for iOS and Android that can be ported to Windows and other devices and can work on any carrier network. Developers can enable geofencing, automatic check-ins and location-based messaging, which is one of the most promising opportunities for marketers to target consumers. There’s also rich analytics for tracking users, dwell time, visitors and geofencing.

Case told me Geoloqi is trying to bridge the first and second generations of location based services and enable a lot more developers and customers to add location services. She said some location service providers didn’t have the entire solution and that left developers either struggling with incomplete systems or forced to build out their own location features.

“I don’t think an off-the-shelf developer has the ability to do this; they have a limited time frame,” said Case. “What we found is everyone who contacted us, they want these features, they just don’t want to build it.”

Case said one of the biggest selling points is the intelligent way Geoloqi handles background location tracking. For example, instead of pinging servers constantly, Geoloqi understands when a person is nowhere near a geofence and can ramp down GPS to conserve battery life.

Geoloqi got some earlier attention with its mobile app of the same name that originally enabled automatic check-ins, location sharing and location-based reminders. But the app was meant as more of a showcase to the real work Geoloqi was doing behind the scenes. It quickly got noticed by companies and government agencies, who were anxious to add some of Geoloqi’s features. Case said thousands have already signed up for the SDK with the biggest customers enterprise and government developers with other mobile developers making up 20-30 percent.

Geoloqi and other location competitors like Walkbase, which I wrote about last month, show how location-based services may be poised to turn a corner. If developers can start reliably adding location features that are light on the battery, secure and private, we might see the dawn of what’s been called the age of persistant location. Companies like Urban Airship, with its purchase of SimpleGeo, Placecast, Xtify and others have been helping push this reality forward, but now we’re seeing even more tools to help bring location-based services to life.

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Qualcomm chips bring faster Wi-Fi to mobile devices

UpdatedQualcomm announced chips that can take advantage of a the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, allowing connected devices to stream high-definition video and other data at speeds at least three times faster than today. A single chip can use fifth generation Wi-Fi, or 5G Wi-Fi, while adding support for Bluetooth and FM radio waves; the first combo chip to do so, according to the company.

Qualcomm’s new WCN3680 chip is the standalone solution, providing data rates up to 433 Mbps on a supported 802.11ac network; this new 5G  802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity is backwards compatible with current 802.11n networks. But the company is also integrating support for 5G 802.11ac Wi-Fi in its dual- and quad-core Snapdragon chips that power smartphones and tablets. The chips are sampling now and should appear in products by the end of this year, said Craig H. Barratt, president of Qualcomm Atheros, in an interview.

This development underscores the need for fast, reliable connections on portable devices as high-definition video consumption continues to migrate down from large screened TVs to handheld gadgets. Indeed, with more video content available online and only 47 percent of all Smart TVs actually connected to the web, mobile devices could become the set-top box.

I made that very prediction in January of last year when I experienced HD video playback from a phone to TV. And we later saw another implementation with the addition of AirPlay in Apple iOS devices.

But there are many other reasons we need faster, more efficient Wi-Fi networks and chips. We’re moving more bits through the air by collaborating on documents, remotely accessing PCs and playing video games through cloud services. And those are just the connected activities we’re using today. As new use cases for fast connections appear in the future, 5G 802.11ac Wi-Fi in our devices will let us keep watching, playing and working online.

Update: Clarified to include the use of industry standard wireless protocols.

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The dirty secret inside Verizon’s cable spectrum buy

Several companies and nonprofit organizations filed their opposition to Verizon’s planned $4 billion buy of spectrum owned by the cable companies on Wednesday. But this isn’t an industry fight. This is a fight that should involve everyone from consumers to the Internet companies whose businesses rest on access to the wireline and wireless pipes affected by this deal. I’ve already explained the big picture problems with the deal, but it’s time to dig deeper so folks really understand what’s at stake.

Competition: it’s already bad, but it could get worse.

This deal reduces the amount of both wireless and wireline competition: As I’ve explained in previous posts, the loss of the cable companies’ spectrum marks the loss of the last real likelihood for another entrant into the wireless market dominates by ATT and Verizon. It will also prevent smaller, spectrum-hungry operators from buying the airwaves (which is T-Mobile’s biggest argument against the deal). Additionally, the exclusivity agreements on the wireline side could preclude the cable companies from signing up to use wireless from a smaller, hungrier player offering a new channel and maybe some cash that T-Mobile, Clearwire or another provider could have sorely used.

On the wireline side, it signals that the speeds of FiOS aren’t going to increase further, and takes out Verizon as a potential competitor with an over-the-top video service that changes the way ISPs have to sell their triple play. Now everything fast, and even pay-TV related, will continue to rest in the hands of cable companies. And there’s another big issue we’re not talking about yet. But we should.

Meet JOE. He’s a problem

The marketing agreements create a shadow joint-operating entity (JOE) between Verizon and the cable companies. This JOE is worrisome to those of us who realize that getting Verizon in a room once a month with the executives at the nation’s largest cable companies could lead to agreements about technology, deployment strategies and RD that will be controlled by the large ISPs. The fear is that this organization will be able to slowly stifle new innovations for Internet services or even devices attached to wireline networks by creating technologies and standards that are only available to the JOE participants. Perhaps others might be able to license those technologies, but there’s no guarantee of that, or that the JOE would do so for a fair and reasonable amount.

A suggestion would be to have the Department of Justice, which is reviewing the deal, impose conditions on how the JOE is supposed to license any IP it comes up with. Because ISPs move packets and have a box inside people’s homes, there are plenty of ways to shut someone out of a network using patents and hard tech, as ISPs and cable providers well know. So if I were Boxee, Roku, Amazon, Google, Apple and other big and small names in the connected home and content environment, I’d start pressing the FCC, DoJ and the participants themselves for answers on the JOE.

What’s the FCC to do?

I can’t imagine that the FCC can stop the sale of spectrum, or even that it should. But as the Department of Justice and the FCC review the deal, the secret marketing agreements between the companies deserve a lot of scrutiny. People who have seen the documents can’t comment on them, but they admit that they are bad from a consumer and competition point of view.

If the deal were really about spectrum, the price paid for the airwaves would have been much higher. Four billion dollars for 20-30 megahertz covering most of the nation isn’t all that much as airwaves go. Clearly there is value for both Verizon and the cable companies locked away in these secret agreements. The government should just strike the agreements altogether, but that’s a hard argument to make when they aren’t public. But attorneys for carriers, big Internet companies and others should make sure they file to see the documents so they can weigh in. This isn’t just a telecom issue, it has the potential to be an Internet issue — much like network neutrality.

Barring the wholesale spiking of the agreements, the DoJ and FCC should impose conditions such as dictating the terms under which the parties involved could license their patents, eliminating the exclusivity agreements that could hurt Sprint or smaller wireless operators further and ensuring that data roaming could occur on the new spectrum. Because at the current price, this deal is about a lot more than the spectrum, and unfortunately the only people who can see the whole deal can’t tell consumers and watchdogs about it. Once again, Verizon is an evil genius.

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Box boosts Android clients, continues Windows Phone snub

Updated: Box is enhancing the Android clients for its cloud-based storage service in a plan that makes Android first among equals in smartphone and tablet OSes.

Box, formerly known as Box.net, is one of several companies — including fan-favorite Dropbox as well as Microsoft, and Google — competing to store your digital paraphernalia — Word documents, presentations, photographs, whatever — in the cloud and make it accessible from your devices of choice.

A big part of the update is the facelift Box gave virtually all Android clients. “We worked closely with Google to build a modern interface using Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich principles. That Android 4 UI will run cross all Android clients,” said Matthew Self, VP of platform engineering for Box. (Ice Cream Sandwich is Google’s name for the latest Android smartphone OS.)

Given the number of Android flavors in the field — every carrier has its own — and different versions of each, that single UI claim is no small feat. Self estimates there are easily hundreds of device-Android combinations out there.

Also new to Android: Users will be able to upload multiple files in batch mode and in background and can invite collaborators to work on  a document from their device. And, they can comment on these documents from their phones, Self said.

While Box supports a wide variety of non-Android devices–including Apple  iPhones and iPads, RIM’s Blackberry and Blackberry Playbook, even HP’s defunct TouchPad — Android appears to be the favorite.

“Android has eclipsed iPhone on the phone side and it’s growing fast in tablets.  There are a lot of Android phones coming into the enterprise,” Self said. He cited Gartner numbers showing Android with 50 percent of the smartphone market, Apple iOS with 25 percent and Microsoft with just 2 percent — a number he does not think will improve much.

That explains why Box offers no native Windows Phone support at all, although an HTML5 browser-based client runs on most devices. Self discounted the ability of Microsoft to gain significant market share in smartphones even though the new Windows Phone Mango OS has been well reviewed.

Update: A Box spokesman wrote in to clarify the company’s position on Windows. He said:

At Box, we want to make it dead simple for our users to share and collaborate on business content from any device. We’ve invested aggressively in building amazing experiences on iOS and Android because those are the platforms our customers are using, but we’re always tracking adoption and demand, and will support Windows when we see it get traction in the organizations we serve.

With the updated Android clients comes support for four new languages — French, Italian, German, and Spanish– so Box is no longer an English-only experience.  The company will show off its new offerings next week at the Global World Congress in Barcelona.

It’s becoming clear that Box is banking on Android at the expense of Windows Phone and even Apple’s popular devices. The fact that Microsoft’s SkyDrive and  Apple’s iCloud cloud storage services could be considered Box competitors might be a motivating factor.

Still, given RIM’s Blackberry woes, the continued fragmentation of the Android market and the worry that Google’s acquisition of Motorola is causing rival handset makers –all of which could help Microsoft’s smartphone efforts– this looks like a risky move.

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Want to see 2012′s mobile future? Look at 2011

What will 2012 bring to our mobile world where tablets are trying to take the place of PCs and we’re carrying small computers in our pockets? We’ve already made more than a dozen mobile predictions for the coming year, but ofttimes, a good predictor of the future is a glimpse at the past. ComScore has done just that with its 2012 Mobile Future in Focus report, published on Thursday.

The free PDF document is available here as a download, and I’ve spent some time gleaning insight from the data points to see how we arrived at today in the mobile space. I recommend the read, but if 49 pages is too much to digest, here are some of the salient themes and informational bits.

  • Smartphone adoption is high in the U.S (42 percent) and EU5 (44 percent), which comprises France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. This device is driving a rise in mobile media consumption, but it’s not the only factor: 3G/4G networks and a growing number of Wi-Fi hotspots have helped some areas push beyond 50 percent penetration for mobile online activities. That helps explain why we’ll see faster Wi-Fi networks and easier ways to connect to them begin to rollout this year
  • Google Android devices leapfrogged sales of Symbian in three of the five EU regions that comScore reported on. This is hardly a surprise, given that Nokia, which has been the top-selling handset maker for years, abandoned the platform in February of 2011 in favor of Windows Phone. But it sets the stage in 2012 to watch and see how Nokia-built phones running on Microsoft’s mobile operating system fare in these particular regions.
  • Mobile activities devoted to health were the fastest growing category in 2011, as shown below. The smartphone is well suited for health tracking, but 2012 is likely to see this category expand in hardware options as well. New Bluetooth 4.0 profiles are specifically available for such health tracking, and we’ll see a rise in connected gadgets for this purpose.

  • QR codes and barcodes grew their audience in 2011 as mobile device owners sought real-time product reviews and other information. ComScore notes that last year, 1 in 5 consumers scanned product codes in a store and 1 in 8 compared prices while shopping at a physical retailer.
  • Apple’s iPhone still holds a minority of handset sales, but the company’s “killer app” may be iOS itself. The iPhone, iPad and iPod touch accounted for 60.1 percent of all connected device traffic by the end of 2011. Bringing iOS features into the next version of OS X ought to give Apple continued momentum for both the desktop and mobile markets in 2012.
  • Tablet sales may be small when compared to traditional PCs and smartphones, but in the U.S., 15 percent of mobile users supplemented their phone with a tablet. Considering the consumer tablet market really didn’t start in earnest until April 2010, that’s a relatively quick take-up rate for a companion device. It’s for this reason I recently suggested on GigaOm Pro (subscription required) that the PC you buy in three years may not be a PC after all.
  • Wi-Fi partners well with tablets, accounting for 92.3 percent of tablet connections in the U.S. during the month of December last year. That’s considerably higher than the 40.3 percent of all mobile Internet connections during the same time period. I questioned the inclusion of 3G radios in tablets last March, suggesting that for most people, Wi-Fi would be a far more attractive alternative as consumers don’t want a data plan for every connected device. That trend is likely to continue in 2012, or will be supplemented by mobile broadband radios in tablets with no-contract data plans.

There’s plenty more valuable data in the comScore report, so again, the free download is worth it. Although it’s a look back at mobile from last year, it also provides the clues to figure out what’s going to happen in 2012 and beyond.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bitterjug.

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T-Mobile pounds the first nail in 2G’s coffin

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray

T-Mobile isn’t just launching a sizable LTE network in 2013, it’s becoming the Grim Reaper for 2G technology as we know it. In an analyst conference call on Thursday, T-Mobile unveiled a plan to radically reshape its networks, shutting down the majority of its 2G GSM capacity so it can focus almost entirely on 4G. As a result T-Mobile will get a bigger, badder mobile broadband network and, to boot, will almost certainly land the iPhone.

With this new network configuration, T-Mobile is pulling a technological coup. Though it is spectrum-poorest operator of the Big 4, it will wind up with a higher-capacity LTE network than Sprint and one with comparable capacity to ATT, while still being able to milk a massive HSPA+ network for years to come. In the process, T-Mobile is calling into question the so-called spectrum crisis. While other operators are desperately searching for new airwaves, T-Mobile found its future growth spectrum sitting right under its nose. Consumer groups and regulators are almost certainly going to ask why ATT and Verizon Wireless don’t do the same.

The network numbers T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray revealed at the call were surprising: 90 percent of the carrier’s data traffic and 50 percent of its voice traffic are running over T-Mobile’s HSPA+ networks. That means its GSM networks are languishing even though they occupy half of T-Mobile’s average 54 MHz of spectrum per market. T-Mobile’s answer is to shut them down, clearing the way for LTE and more HSPA+.

T-Mobile plans to sunset between two-thirds and three-quarters of its GSM channels in the PCS bands leaving, only a modicum of 2G bandwidth left for older phones that don’t sport 3G or 4G radios and to support basic data services for its machine-to-machine communications business. All of that capacity would then be turned over to HSPA+, creating a mobile broadband network on PCS almost as large as the one it currently runs on its advanced wireless service (AWS) frequencies. Moving HSPA+ to PCS opens up many doors for T-Mobile, most notably the ability to support any iPhone Apple makes for the U.S. market.

But T-Mobile won’t shut down HSPA+ at AWS completely. It will turn off some of that capacity and combine the remnant airwaves with the AWS licenses it took from ATT as a consolation prize for their merger’s failure. It would then use that capacity to build a 10MHz-by-10MHz LTE network over 50 percent of its mobile broadband footprint. That would give it the same capacity as Verizon’s LTE network today and double that of the LTE network Sprint plans to launch this summer. In the remaining half of its network T-Mobile can only support a 5MHz-by-5MHz carrier, which would make its capacity configuration similar to ATT’s. But keep in mind, T-Mobile has a fraction of the customers of Ma Bell and Verizon – it can make 5×5 go a long way.

Ray and CEO Phillip Humm said T-Mobile USA is still on the hunt for more spectrum, and ideally it would like to lock down more AWS airwaves to create a massive 20MHz-by-20MHz LTE network. That seems unlikely considering that its competitors are quickly scooping up what unused airwaves remain in the market, but T-Mobile is also challenging those deals.

Though Humm and Ray didn’t discuss it in the call, there’s always the possibility of repeating its network cannibalization feat at a later date to capture even more mobile broadband capacity. As more voice traffic moves to HSPA+, and more data traffic moves to LTE, T-Mobile could shut down its GSM network almost entirely and continue the HSPA’s shift down to PCS, which would in turn clear more AWS airwaves for LTE.

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PRO: Defining the mobile wallet: what it is, why it matters

Defining the mobile wallet: what it is, why it matters

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Source: Flickr user 401K

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What’s in a name? For the mobile wallet, it’s way more than payments.

The upcoming showdown between Google Wallet and soon-to-be competitor Isis is just one of many interesting story lines that will take hold this year as companies ratchet up their mobile wallet offerings. But with all the new products from a variety of players comes a potentially confusing year as the term “mobile wallet” gets thrown around repeatedly. What exactly is the “mobile wallet”? Here are some important definitions for those looking to make a move in the space.

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Motorola prepares to hail new Google overlords

Dennis Woodside GoogleGoogle is still waiting for the Chinese government to approve its purchase of Motorola Mobility, but it’s starting to line up new leaders for the company once the deal goes through, according to a report. And it sounds like Sanjay Jha, who brought Motorola back from the brink but was unable to create a breakout hit after the initial Droid, will be on the outside looking in.

Bloomberg reported Thursday that Jha will be replaced by Dennis Woodside, currently the president of Google Americas and a Google veteran. Woodside, who had already been named to lead the integration process for the $12.5 billion merger alongside Jha, will apparently get top billing if and when Chinese regulators approve the deal.

Blending Motorola, a storied Midwestern phone manufacturer, with Google, about as California as a massive Internet company can get, is going to be tricky. Google has pledged to operate Motorola as a standalone unit in order to calm the fears of Android partners that Google will treat Motorola differently than the rest of the Android world. Naming a longtime Googler to head the new operation, however, will raise a few eyebrows.

As for Jha, he was unable to completely fix the mobile devices mess left behind by former Motorola CEO Ed Zander while working amidst the chaos of Motorola’s separation into two separate companies. Motorola Mobility is at least in the game when it comes to the smartphone market thanks to Jha’s aggressive embrace of Android, but it is losing ground to rivals like Samsung and HTC and especially struggled over the second half of 2011.

He did, however, return a ton of value to Motorola Mobility’s shareholders by orchestrating the Google deal. After losing a pivotal auction for mobile patents formerly held by bankrupt Nortel, Google was desperate to find any patents it could get and wound up paying a huge premium for the business.

Google declined to comment on Woodside’s future role, reiterating that the deal has yet to close while the Chinese government decides whether or not to intervene. U.S. and European regulators have already approved the deal.

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The next generation of Wi-Fi hotspots is coming

The Wi-Fi Alliance on Wednesday revealed its plans to begin certifying devices under its new Passport initiative, which ensures mobile phones – among other things – can log into Wi-Fi networks seamlessly. Now it’s the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s turn to pick up where its partner left off, integrating those devices and the access points into the mobile operator’s network.

The WBA has closed out trials of its Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) standard with some of the world’s biggest operators, including ATT, China Mobile, BT, NTT DoCoMo and Orange. Encouraged by the results, the WBA on Thursday said that the technology is now ready for commercial launch and expects the first NGH deployments over the next 12 months.

The Wi-Fi Alliance aims to negotiate the tricky connection between phone and access point without messing around with log-ins and registration pages as part of its Hotspot 2.0 and Passport initiatives. If a device is authorized to use a particular hotspot operator’s network it simply connects.

From there NGH takes over, extending that handshake between phone and hotspot to the operator’s back end systems where the connection can be treated like a regular cellular link. A Wi-Fi access point becomes just another cell on the operator’s network: data sessions and even voice calls can be passed from the cellular to Wi-Fi, operator services like mobile wallet or media streaming subscriptions can be maintained and the carrier can track data usage and even bill for Wi-Fi consumption (though many wouldn’t consider that positive).

Here’s what WBA Chair Chris Bruce had to say about the trials recent completion in the WBA’s statement:

“The complementary relationship between Wi-Fi and mobile networks is finally becoming a reality. Next Generation Hotspots allow smartphones and tablets to automatically roam from the cellular network on to Wi-Fi hotspots thereby augmenting the coverage and capacity of both. Fixed and mobile operators alike are leading a Wi-Fi hotspot renaissance in a renewed effort to sate the seemingly unquenchable desire for ubiquitous broadband connectivity. What has made this trial so unique is that the key players from both the mobile operator community and the Wi-Fi ecosystem have actively come together and supported each other for this industry-wide program. The future is a great broadband experience that operates over all sorts of different technologies.”

One of the biggest benefits of NGH will be its support for complex roaming arrangements. No operator is going to build Wi-Fi hotspots in every cranny of the world, so they will need to partner heavily to either share capacity or buy it from third parties. NGH will be able to negotiate those multi-leveled agreements, allowing devices to not only connect to multiple networks seamlessly but also prioritize which networks they connect to.

Expect to hear much more about Hotspot 2.0 and NGH next week when Mobile World Congress ramps up. As I wrote last week, Wi-Fi has become a huge theme at the show and threatens to overshadow LTE and HSPA as its dominant network technology discussed. All of the key operator players will be in Barcelona as will its major industry backers, Cisco System, Ericsson (which just became an NGH fan by virtue of its BelAir Networks acquisition), Google, Intel, Ruckus Wireless, Aruba Networks and Accuris Networks.

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