Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TS-2000 Remote Control w/ Audio

One of the fun but also useful capabilities to have in your shack is the ability to run your rig remotely. I decided to do this for my Kenwood TS-2000 since it's basically a radio wrapped around a computer and has a zillion interface options. Kenwood makes ARCP-2000, a remote display program which frankly isn't worth the $250 they ask for it. Ham Radio Deluxe (aka HRD) is a great program; it's feature-rich, highly configurable, and best of all free. You can run it over a screen-scraper like VNC, Remote Desktop, or even X-Windows. A better solution is to use the HRD remote access system; this essentially allows you to tunnel serial data to your rig and control it via a remote instance of HRD.

Two challenges exist here; publishing the HRD server over the Internet without open router firewall ports, and creating a high-quality and stable audio path.

Dealing with the server question first; I absolutely do not recommend opening holes in your firewall. There are a lot of solutions available which eliminate that need. I use Hamachi which has an additional benefit in that the clients are coordinated via a central server so a static DNS is not required. I simply point my remote HRD instance at the private IP assigned to my home system by Hamachi and I'm connected.

Getting quality audio across the Internet used to be a challenge, but after using Skype this year for business I think it's ready for prime time. I created a separate Skype client ID intended only for receiving inbound calls from me when I'm remote. I set Skype to auto-answer, and point the audio paths to my rig's sound interface.

Detailed diagram of my setup is available here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Public Speaking: Wireless Connections 2007

It's been a busy time over the last few months. I attended the Texas Wireless Summit in Austin, then WCA shared a booth at CTIA with some other groups; WIPConnector, WINBC, and the Austin Wireless Alliance. Made a big push to produce our 700 MHz analyst panel event, and to complete a report due for one of my clients. Then I headed off to Banff in Alberta for Wireless Connections 2007. I was invited to speak at the conference, and it was a great show. Loved the location; the Fairmont Banff Springs. I spoke about the cultural aspects of living and working in the Silicon Valley. I think the talk went well based on feedback from attendees. I'm looking forward to seeing a few of the Alberta folks down here in the Valley on Nov 27th at our Mobile OS panel event.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Moronic DIY Electricians

After the CHA250B antenna install I was doing some cleanup work on the roof. Went to ground the mast and noticed a bit of a tingle on my hands when I was holding the mast and touched the ground wire. I put my trusty Fluke multimeter on there and was amazed to find about 74 VAC on the mast! No current to speak of, which accounts for the fact that I didn't get zapped off the roof, but enough to feel it when barely touching the ground wire.

I headed back inside to do some testing. Poking around my shack, I discovered that some of the AC outlets had reversed hot/neutral wiring!! The only thing that saved me from destroying my gear (or myself) is that thankfully I'd never used a correct outlet and an incorrect outlet at the same time for anything that was connected. (e.g. computer on one and rig on the other.)

I'm annoyed beyond belief that the previous owner of my house did this. The real kicker is that he was also a ham. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because this isn't the first electrical oddity I've found in this house. Apparently Mr. Fixit fancied himself quite the handyman. I'm not going to name names here, but he's the moron that after 5 years still hasn't updated his license address in the FCC database.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

New Antenna!!

My wife spent the day visiting a friend, and took the girls with her, which left me about 12 blissful hours on a weekend to do whatever I wanted to do. I'd be intending to install a new HF antenna for some time, so this was the best and obvious time to do this.

I put out a call asking my amateur radio friends to come by and help. Bojan agreed, which was great. He's a bright guy, very creative when it comes to technology. If you're ever looking for someone who can turn ideas into reality, give him a call.

The antenna I chose was a Comet CHA250B. This particular antenna is unique in that despite being vertically-polarized it has no ground radials, and it will also tune all bands from 80m to 6m. The coax feeds into a large black cylinder which acts as a matching network. This particular antenna has been alternately praised and vilified on review sites like eHam. People are either giving it a 0/5 or a 5/5. There doesn't seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to this; although it's interesting to note that people giving it a 0/5 tend to compare it to a dipole which might be unfair.

For me, I was willing to try it out. Considering that my comparison point was my aforementioned $2 "Speaker-wire Special" I suppose anything would seem better. The real challenge in the antenna install was not so much the outside work, it was deciding how to get the coax up to the roof from my shack. Doing so entailed slithering around in my attic, which is a complete mess after a roof replacement earlier this year. There were also a few setbacks, such as a broken lag bolt and a too-small bracket on another antenna (my HDTV antenna) which is now needs to be adapted to the new larger mast.

In the end we got the Comet installed, and two extra runs of coax. I fudged up a temporary VHF/UHF antenna (until I can get a replacement lag bolt and the new mast installed) by slapping a magnetic mount down onto a metal attic vent. I may also sell the VHF/UHF antenna I had on Craigslist and get something else because it's a 6m/2m/75cm tribander and the Comet now covers 6m.

As expected the Comet performs better than the homebrew. I'm getting signals where there were no signals before, I don't have RF-in-the-shack problems like I did before, and the antenna is clearly quieter (lower noise floor) than the homebrew. It tunes a lot of bands, so all in all I'm happy with it. I'm not quiet sure why some people have panned it so hard on eHam. I suspect that it may have to do with unfair comparisons to dipoles, but also it might be the install makes a difference. The Comet's instructions call for it to be installed 32 feet off the ground. Perhaps if it's not installed at that height the matching network doesn't work?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

JT65A-HF, we hardly knew ye...

A while back I wrote about JT65A, the amateur radio weak signal digital mode being used on HF bands. My best contact was just before Field Day 2007 when I logged ZS6WN in South Africa; over 10,500 miles using 50 watts and an antenna made of speaker wire at the bottom of the sunspot cycle. It was a very interesting and powerful mode. And yet I haven't heard anyone on the bands in over a month. Which leaves me to ponder; why?

WSJT (the software for JT65A) was originally written for weak signal paths such as Earth-Moon-Earth. As with most weak signal modes, a trade-off is made where the amount of information transmitted is intentionally limited in order to pull weak signals up out of the noise floor. In JT65A, the total transmission cycle was one minute (actually, about 48 seconds plus 12 seconds for the recipient to react and respond) and in this minute only 13 ASCII characters could be sent. Not exactly a rag-chewing mode. So once I'd worked a station and logged them, I was basically done. I'd see someone calling CQ, note that I'd already logged them, and so wouldn't respond. And once I'd worked ZS6WN in South Africa, working non-DX contacts was (to be blunt) boring.

So my theory on the premature demise of JT65A on HF is this; everyone worked everyone and once they were done there was no point in continuing. Radio amateurs like to rag-chew, talk about stuff, brag about their rigs and such. Hard to do at 13 characters per minute. And without a conversation, it's hard to make friends. Sure, you could always get to know folks by hanging out in the Ping Jockey web chat, and there's certainly a core group of people who do just that, but if you're going to chat in a chat room then why bother with a radio? So I think JT65A on HF has turned into the one-hit-wonder of amateur radio.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Echolink Follies

One of the developments we're seeing in amateur radio over recent years is the proliferation of VOIP and digital voice technologies. Examples of this are things like D-Star, IRLP, and EchoLink. The latter is sometimes a contentious technology, in that some amateurs don't consider it "real" radio because the audio/control interface is PC-based. Once while on a visit to San Diego I was having a pleasant conversation with a local repeater operator which turned very sour at the mere mention of the word "EchoLink" as he went into a tirade about the evils of the system. Normally hams reserve this sort of loathing for CB radio and BPL companies, so I was a bit surprised.

Since then I've encountered a few more instances of "EchoLink Enmity". My personal opinion is that there's little difference between controlling a radio/repeater with EchoLink versus using Ham Radio Deluxe plus Skype to control a rig remotely. The question of whether EchoLink users are higher or lower on the amateur food-chain is best left to the philosophers. I will concede however that there's an annoying element to EchoLink, but it's the fault of the developers and not so much the users themselves.

Allow me to explain: Most if not all EchoLink users are unaware that when they connect to a repeater or simplex link the server software by default transmits an announcement over the air which says "Connecting to EchoLink [callsign] -- Connected". Since a lot of EchoLink users are looking for QSOs (amateur-speak for conversations) they tend to hop from repeater to repeater looking for traffic. If a repeater's quiet, they tend to silently disconnect and go looking elsewhere. And again the server software by default transmits an announcement which says "[callsign] -- Disconnected". To the locals on the repeater, this can seem a bit rude. If the EchoLink user was looking for a QSO, then why didn't he transmit and ask if anyone was interested/available to chat? So throughout the day you hear a lot of Connect-Disconnect, Connect-Disconnect...over and over again. After a while, you might start to think that maybe EchoLink users really are bozos.

However I think the users are largely not to blame for this. The connection announcements are not played back to the EchoLink client's inbound audio, so users don't know about them unless they're listening to the repeater in question. Most EchoLink users connect to remote repeaters or links in other parts of the country or even around the world, so they often don't ever hear what goes out over the radio. I once sent a detailed email to the EchoLink developer team explaining all this. I was told that a repeater/link admin can turn off the announcements, but they're on by default. Most admins clearly don't bother to turn announcements off, and the users are unaware of them. I suggested to the EchoLink developers that they might want to add a note to the EchoLink FAQ/guide explaining all this, but they didn't. And so EchoLink users will continue to unwittingly annoy repeater users, and apparently the developers think this is OK. I don't understand this, but whatever. Therefore, here are my How Not To Be An EchoLink Bozo tips:

  • Be aware that every time you connect/disconnect, your callsign is transmitted over the air.
  • Knowing the preceding it should be no surprise why when I further suggest: Don't repeatedly connect/disconnect to the same repeater. It is amazingly annoying to the locals when you do.
  • Try saying hello if it's quiet. You may be surprised at how many locals are listening and willing to come back and chat with you.
  • Be careful about "calling CQ" on a repeater. CQ is traditionally used for simplex contacts, and a repeater is not a simplex system. Some people won't care, but others will think that you're a bozo. If the EchoLink node ends in "-R" it's a repeater and I advise against calling CQ. If the node ends in "-L" (a link node) then CQ is probably OK.
  • Don't ask for a QSL card because you made a contact over EchoLink. People will think you're a bozo. For that matter; I will think you're a bozo. QSL cards are for commemorating simplex contacts. Would you send a QSL card to someone you chatted with over Skype?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Amateur Radio: A funny thing happened on the way to the contest today...

Just a quick note on a funny story; at least one of those ones that radio amateurs find funny.

Most amateurs have stories about RF (especially in the HF bands) causing trouble around the house. Usually just simple TV interference, harmless stuff. One guy I knew said his digital bedside clock would reset itself when he transmitted on certain frequencies. Another said his stereo would turn on by itself. I've heard my external hard drive park its heads during transmit, and in general USB hardware doesn't seem to like RF.

I've been dealing with some "RF in the shack" lately; because until I can get my heavy coax run back up to the roof I'm operating on a somewhat hacked setup. Specifically; at anything below 20 meters I get feedback paths into my audio, and one night I got "bit" by one of the screws on my radio's casing. (Caused by signals inducing currents into the radio itself.) Typical symptom of a grounding problem, and expected considering my current setup. I decided to try out an artifical ground; which is essentially like an antenna tuner between the station and ground. It provides a tuned circuit that electrically lengthens or shortens the ground, and it can even be used to make a random wire stretched along the floor act like a ground.

So as I fiddled with the artificial ground settings on one band I keyed up and as I did I heard my sprinklers come on. Maybe my wife's working in the garden, or...? I key up again, same thing. Apparently I was kicking out enough power to activate the driver transistors in my sprinkler controller and this is what caused them to turn on.


Friday, July 20, 2007

How to not be evil

Today's buzz is Google's Ex Parte FCC filing in which Eric Schmidt tells Chairman Martin that they have committed $4.6 billion to purchase spectrum in a future Upper 700 MHz auction - provided that the FCC structures the new service in such a way that license holders will have to offer at least 1/3rd of their spectrum to other companies on a wholesale market. The interesting thing about this is that the FCC's "auction reserve" has been said to be...$4.6 billion.

I think it's great that Google is trying to leverage their financial strength in order to ensure that wireless broadband remains somewhat open, and help prevent yet another telco monopoly from developing. The 1982 court-mandated breakup of the Bell system (the Greene Decision and subsequent Modified Final Judgement) opened the doors to increased competition and (some would argue) allowed technologies such as DSL to develop which would not have done so under the oligarchy of Ma Bell. To a large extent, today's cellular providers are no different than the wired telcos; largely run by a bunch of visionless business school graduates who are unresponsive to the needs of a market hungry for cutting-edge technologies. In a very real sense, the driving force behind wide-area broadband technologies such as WiMax exists because of the cellular carriers have consistently failed to meet those needs.

The carriers are of course not stupid, just short-sighted. Their initial response to alternatives was to be indifferent; then arrogant, and finally now they've become patronizing and suggested that the FCC should not allow "distractions" from smaller players (i.e. anyone who isn't a cellular carrier) and let them do what they will with the Upper 700 MHz spectrum. "Don't you worry your pretty little head about all this wireless stuff, young lady. This is man's work. Run along and play with your dolls now."

Allowing any one company or group to monopolize all or even a majority of the Upper 700 MHz would be a mistake of biblical proportions, and would result in the exact same kind of anti-competitive market and visionless wireless technology offerings the cellular carriers have today. The Upper 700 MHz spectrum is fertile soil in which entirely new markets can be grown and nurtured; wireless broadband, additional spectrum to relieve the crowding in 900/2400/5200 MHz ISM bands, and with any luck a nationwide interoperable emergency communications system which we desperately need and do not have today.

This isn't to say that if Google bought the Upper 700 MHz whole band that they would do the right thing either. Their mantra "Don't Be Evil" is simply that; a mantra. That and $3 will get you a latte at Starbucks, and I've always wondered when (not if) Google would devolve into a typical big company mentality. A few quarters with shortfalls in earnings ought to do the trick. But in the meantime, I think what they're doing is great and applaud them for their willingness to put their money where their mouth is.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

How not to build a transceiver

Primarily due to its flexibility, one of the most popular mobile rigs for amateur radio is the Kenwood TM-742A and associated models such as the 942, 741, etc. The TM-742A is a tri-band rig which can accept up to three band modules out of an available five; 10m, 6m, 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm. Interesting trivia; the MSRP in 1994 was $660. Today, clean TM-742A rigs can and do go for over $750 and rising as replacement parts and band modules become harder to find.

Every rig has its quirks, and a quirk of the TM-742A is that the 2m module is prone to failure. The 2m power amplifier is a Toshiba S-AV17 which is a set of power transistors and associated components soldered onto a beryllium ceramic substrate. Symptom of the failure is that the rig will transmit enough power to be heard on other close-by (within a few tens of feet) rigs but makes no power at the antenna. Most people just pony up the $65 and replace the S-AV17. Others have discovered that the failure lies in a microscopic crack in the ceramic that breaks one of the microstrip filter traces. The fix for this is to remove the S-AV17, pry off the plastic cover, and run a rapid thermal recovery soldering iron (like a Metcal or Hakko) over the crack area. A standard resistive heater iron will not work; because the ceramic module is designed to absorb lots of heat so the trace won't get hot enough to flow. It takes 15 minutes to disassemble the rig and 15 seconds to solder it. Thanks to Kevin W3KKC for his webpage discussing the problem and walking through the repair process; complete with photos.

(Disclaimer: beryllium is nasty stuff. You don't want to inhale it. If you're not comfortable doing this; don't have the right equipment; etc blah insert dire warnings here then pay the $65 and don't try to repair the amplifier!)

Interestingly enough, and relevant to the title of this post, is to examine why the module fails. The reason for the failure is excess heat. The stock configuration for the band modules is to have the 2m in the middle, which means that the 2m power amplifier is buried about as deep in the rig as it can be. At 50W the 2m module is also capable of the highest power output, so therefore it gets hotter than the other modules. The ceramic cracks and you get a dead S-AV17. I would accept this explanation readily enough except that every 2m module I've disassembled has had the same problem; the S-AV17 is mounted dry. Not one has used any form of thermal grease to promote conductivity into the heatsink and transceiver structural frame. This would be like a high-speed CPU being installed onto a motherboard without thermal grease; the CPU is essentially guaranteed to fail from thermal overload. This is (or more accurately was) a blatantly stupid move on Kenwood's part that has cost radio amateurs thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars in unnecessary repairs, replacements parts, shipping costs and downtime. Can you demand a recall of a 14 year old product?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bluetooth Headset Quest 2007

My wife was kind enough to assist me in my quest for the perfect Bluetooth headset by giving me an Aliph Jawbone for Father's Day. I spent some time wearing it and came to the conclusion that the ear fit wasn't optimal. Maybe I just have weirdly-shaped ears? A quick Google search revealed that no; I'm not the only person having trouble.

It also revealed a very simple and elegant hack; replace the stock ear bits with Jabra Eargels such as those for the BT250. I happened to have a spare set of Jabra Eargels (for my backup wired headset, ironically) which did in fact fit and it presses the headset hard enough against my skin (essential so that the "jawbone" pickup microphone works) so I was able to do away with the sproingy behind-the-ear wire loop in the process. I actually shook my head hard (like a dog after a bath) and the thing stayed put without the ear loop. Added bonuses; the incoming audio is much louder since I can rotate the Eargel to align with my ear, and I can slam the thing into my ear within one ring versus time wasted fiddling with the ear loop.

Remains to be seen how it works in daily operation. I'm already missing the audio feedback tones I got with the Plantronics 645. For example when you dial a call with the P645 it gives you a tone sequence to tell you the call is connected, disconnected, etc. The Jawbone is just basically an audio conduit. You get tones for things like volume up, power on/off, Noise Shield on/off, etc but no tones for call processing status. On the other hand; I can already tell the Jawbone's range is better; which isn't hard to do given the unbearably short range of the P645. I once had the P645 go out of range on me while the phone was on my belt.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

101 Essential Freelancing Resources

Recent article over at FreelanceSwitch listed a huge pile of tools and resources for freelancers. Having gone independent myself as of January 2007, I found this article interesting and shared it with a few other freelancers. It's been universally well-received, so figured I'd just post it here so everyone could benefit.

101 Essential Freelancing Resources

Note: Reader contributions have driven the count up to 126 resources, from what I understand. And the article has been translated into a few other languages; sounds destined to be a classic!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Amateur Radio: 5,200 miles on 50 watts and a $2 antenna

Lately I have been getting prepared for the annual ARRL Field Day, which is an annual operating exercise and public showcase event for the amateur radio world. Amateurs all over North America will set up in campgrounds, parking lots, and fields and attempt to make as many contacts as possible using various "modes"; everything from Morse Code and "phone" (what normal people would call voice, talking into a microphone) to exotic digital setups which use computers connected to radios. My club (the Northern California Cactus Radio Association) will operate as K6SRA from a campground in Henry Coe State Park, near Morgan Hill CA.

I'll be running the digital station this year, and plan to use (in addition to the usual PSK31 and RTTY setup) a very new mode called JT65A-HF. JT65A isn't new to amateur radio as it's been used for a while for "moon bounce"; and yes, I mean literally for bouncing signals off the moon. Earlier in 2006, a few people decided to transmit JT65A signals over the HF bands; primarily 20 meters (14.076 MHz) and 40 meters (7.076 MHz). In only a few months this new mode has exploded in popularity, primarily due to the very high sensitivity afforded by a Reed-Solomon forward error-correction algorithm implemented this mode. It's mathematically provable that JT65A signals can be detected with 100% certainty even if the received signal is -22 dB under the noise floor.

In preparing for working JT65A-HF on Field Day I've been learning to use an application called WSJT which is used mostly by the moon bounce and meteor-scatter folks but now also HF enthusiasts. I've made some amazing contacts this way; just tonight I logged a contact with a guy in Australia using only 50 watts of power and a homemade antenna I built with $2 worth of parts I had lying around my garage. This is the equivalent of someone being able to see a 50 watt light bulb from space at a distance four times that of the International Space Station, or of someone talking from San Jose CA to San Diego CA on a CB radio. I expect we'll be seeing a lot more of JT65A in the HF bands, especially as radio amateurs suffer through the poor radio propogation conditions created by the current solar minima.

Update (15 June 2007) : I just beat my Australia record with a solid contact to ZS6WN in South Africa. 10,526 miles, same power, same antenna!

Update (24 Sept 2007) : WA3LTB has created a video demo of WSJT and posted it to YouTube.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Interesting articles about upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auctions over at Spectrum Matters, where Nick accurately notes that this is an insanely important change that nobody really knows about. There have been a few under-the-fold articles in the San Jose Mercury News, but mostly these just talked about the impact to next-gen systems like WiMax. The real and underreported story here is that some of this spectrum will get set aside for a nationwide interoperable emergency communications system, and with any luck we'll see this system deployed sometime between now and when my newborn daughter graduates college. The issue is important enough that the Wireless Communications Alliance has created the Emergency Communications Leadership and Innovation Center dealing specifically with this topic.

For the uninitiated, the issue at hand is this. In the past few years we've seen examples of disasters (Sept 11th, Katrina, Florida) which have overwhelmed the communication capabilities of the local emergency response infrastructure. Well-meaning people from around the world sent teams into these areas in a desire to help, only to find that they could not communicate with other groups or even the locals. People like Brian Steckler from the Naval Postgraduate School had to create ad-hoc "hastily-formed networks" to replace some of the missing infrastructure, and amateur radio operators acted as relays between agencies whose radios could not interoperate.

These problems occurred after disasters which "only" claimed a few thousand lives. What if we have a disaster (tsunami, pandemic flu, meteor strike, terrorist attack, etc) which claims tend of thousands of lives or even (God-forbid) millions? How will the responding agencies communicate? So the government (in a rare display of forward thinking and long-term strategy) has decided that once analog TV is shut down some of that spectrum will go to this nationwide interoperability system. Of course, not everything thinks this is a great idea.

Is it real? Will it survive a possible party shift in the White House come 2008? Will we see it in our lifetimes? Time will tell.

Monday, May 14, 2007

How not to do business

The amateur or "ham" radio world is filled with an interesting cast of characters, to say the least. It's no surprise then that the companies who sell amateur radio equipment are themselves somewhat odd, which makes doing business with them often a challenge.

As with all companies, the leadership and more specifically the founders lay the foundation on which the company will build itself. Because amateur radio is not mainstream technology (although it often serves as a model for later commercial developments) there is little commercial development and so most companies are started by radio amateurs who have a unique idea and want to sell it. However, being a technical genius and knowing how to build a company are two separate things.

When I worked in sales we had various customer profiles each with a corresponding strategy. This is much like the way Best Buy profiles their customers. Nearly every amateur radio company I've ever encountered (with the exception of the main radio manufacturers; Kenwood, Yausu, Icom, etc) would have fallen into the category named "Fred In The Shed". "Freds" as we termed them were technically gifted but often financially inept. They run their businesses as an extension of their hobbies, and either don't bother to develop a corporate "face" or in many cases deliberately eschew the entire concept. Websites are poorly done, manuals horribly written, eCommerce infrastructure is weak, etc. In short; Fred is more concerned about being smart than being successful.

Fred also tends to run a very lean operations, and while he might offer a lot of different products he doesn't stock inventory. It's this more than anything that annoys the living daylights out of me. I can honestly say that every single item I've ever ordered from an amateur radio equipment company has been backordered. Fred and his folks don't tell you this up front, because then every item on their entire website would have to say "Backordered". What they do is take your order, then later (if you're lucky) they tell you it's backordered. What this really means is that they're hoping to gather enough orders to justify an order to their assembly house, presuming that their assembly house isn't the kitchen table at Fred's house. It's one thing to do this if you're up front with your customers, but the duplicitous bait & switch thing really annoys me.

Complaints about Fred's lack of alacrity have always fallen on deaf ears. Fred isn't concerned about losing my business because there just aren't a whole lot of people out there who are building what he's selling. In his mind I'm already a bozo because I'm not building the whatever-it-is myself.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Public speaking: IITBHF -- The Future of Mobile Computing

I've been invited to be the moderator of a panel at the IIT Bombay Heritage Fund event "The Future of Mobile Computing". Panelists will be from Greylock, Beceem, Mobio, and Norwest Venture.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Public speaking: MIT CNC -- The Future of Portable Communication

I was invited to be a panelist at the MIT Club of Northern California's Entrepreneurship series "What’s In Your Pocket? The Future of Portable Communication" event. Other panelists were from OQO, Digital Chocolate, NVIDIA, and HP Labs. Julie Ask from JupiterKagen moderated.

My fellow panelist Susie Wee from HP Labs wrote about the event in her blog. She quoted me as expressing some reservations about the viability of WiMAX in the face of a nearly ubiquitous Wi-Fi install base. This is essentially correct, however WiMAX being a somewhat diaphonous term it's important to make distinctions on what use-model I was referring to.

I personally believe that Mobile WiMAX (IEEE 802.16e) will never happen due primarily to the nearly universal attach rate of Wi-Fi to mobile consumer devices, which severely drives down the potential for widespread adoption of Mobile WiMAX. It's estimated that by late 2009 it will be essentially impossible to purchase a laptop without 802.11, and that most will be 802.11n. This trend likely holds true for handheld devices (PDAs, SmartPhones, etc) if for no other reason than chip manufacturers will simply stop building non-11n parts at some point.

The essential question is; If the installed base technology is viable, and a network exists, then why change? Novarum has done extensive real-world use model system testing, and subsequent analyses in their "Wireless Broadband Rankings" and "Metro Wi-Fi Rankings" show that actual throughput of many municipal Wi-Fi deployments is approximately the promised performance of as-yet-undeployed WiMAX systems. 3G & LTE deployments from cellular carriers are increasing footprints daily and coming up the throughput curve. So why change, and why will anyone invest capital in spectrum, equipment, siting, and deployment of a Mobile WiMAX system that in the end will only be as good as what's already available?

The logistical and financial challenges of deploying wide-area wireless networks are rather severe and (most fortunately for those people trying to get investors to drink the WiMAX Kool-Aid) not well understood by more than the relative handful of people who've actually done such work. Those who don't understand history (anyone remember Metricom's Ricochet network?) are doomed to repeat it.

I believe that Mobile WiMAX might find a niche in non-stationary backhaul i.e. broadband on commuter trains, etc but I don't believe it will ever be the "last yard" connection for mobile devices. Fixed WiMAX has a better chance, especially in rural areas of the US which aren't served easily by broadband. Fixed WiMAX also stands a strong chance of succeeding in developing regions outside the United States.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Reluctant Webmaster

I've been spending the last few days educating myself on the nuances of website management, on account of being recently elected to Vice President at the Wireless Communications Alliance. The WCA has a "working board" which means I'm doing all this myself. Google AdSense, Google Analytics, XML sitemap generation, etc... I recently swapped out our old DreamWeaver/FrontPage site for a Drupal CMS site, and that's really made all this a LOT easier. If you haven't used a CMS system before and you do site development, especially for dynamic sites which have constantly updating content, I really suggest you consider switching. Drupal is Open Source, widely used, and very powerful. Once you get through the initial setup it's amazingly easy to add features. When I wanted Google Analytics I went and fetched the Drupal module for this and was done in two minutes. Google AdSense setup was also very easy with the Drupal module.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Daylight savings, time wasting

I just got done spending a couple of hours downloading and installing updates to keep my PocketPC's calendar from going nuts when the new daylight savings rule kicks in next week. What a pain. Anyone old enough to have lived through the first DST modification fiasco during the 70's is having flashbacks this week. I recall walking to school in the dark, myself. I understand the reason for doing this, but wonder just how much money we'll save versus how much we'll waste dealing with the technology adjustments. My way cool Yes Zulu watch, which used to auto-adjust for DST changes, doesn't anymore. For $200, I can get new watch guts to fix it. How many hours of electricity savings will I need to offset this?

Friday, January 5, 2007


Decided to move the Witman Zone, Part II over to BlogSpot because, at the risk of being rude, Yahoo's blogging system sucks. I've had "Entry for January 29, 2006" showing up as my most recent post for almost a year now, even though that post's title was changed and the post itself deleted. Odd behavior, and the folks at Yahoo don't seem to give a rip about fixing it.

Besides, with the recent changes in my career I think it's time for a fresh start. Still working on closure of the new gig. Consulting in the meantime, doing some work around the house, just enjoying not being where I was.