Verizon LTE: New Network, Obsolete Installation

January 25, 2011

I recently got a chance to try out Verizon Wireless’  new LTE network using an LG VL600 USB modem lent to me by the carrier. The modem, though bulkier than its 3G equivalents worked fine and the network, admittedly lightly loaded, was terrific, routinely producing downloads of 10 megabits per second or more even though I had only two or three bars of coverage.

LG VL-600

Photo: Verizon Wireless

The installation procedure was another matter, and makes you wonder just what the folks at Verizon were thinking. Every USB modem that I have used for the past couple of years has contained its own software. Plug it into a laptop port, the operating system recognizes it as an external storage device, and you run the setup program (or it runs itself if you are rash enough to leave Windows autorun enabled.)

The VL600, however, requires that you install software from a CD before plugging in the modem. The problem, of course, is that many laptops, especially the highly mobile units for which the LTE option is most attractive, no longer include optical drives. You either have to find that USB DVD drive that you can’t remember when you last used, or, as I did, copy the install files from a desktop to a network drive and run setup from the network.

Verizon should either include the software on the modem or give users an easy URL to download the setup code from the web. The install CD is dead, and it’s long past time to bury it.

Verizon should also move quickly to add Mac support for its LTE modems. The VL600 would be a wonderful addition to my 13″ MacBook Air, and in general, MacBook owners are likely to be an enthusiastic audience for the LTE service. but there’s no software for it. Some users have reported luck in getting Macs to work with Verizon’s other LTE modem, the Pantech ULM920. But no such luck with the LG.


Bluetooth Headsets Get Smart With Sensors

January 20, 2011

Once upon a time, not very long ago, you could stick a Bluetooth headset in your ear and, if you performed the correct magical incantation on your mobile phone, the sound from a call would be wirelessly transferred straight into your head. Headsets have not only gotten a lot easier to use, but they are becoming a lot smarter. The latest trick: Incorporating sensor* technology.

I tried out two new very different headsets that use sensors* to automate key functions, the Jawbone Era from Aliph and the Plantronics  Voyager Pro UC (Version 2.) The Era is the latest in a series of stylish jawbone headsets. For the Era, Aliph partnered with MotionX, the latest brainchild of industry legend Philippe Kahn, to replace buttons with gestures.

To pair the $129 Era with a phone (or a computer, tablet, or other Bluetooth-equipped device), you just turn it on and give it a four shakes. Exactly what you do next depends on the other device, but that’s it for the headset. To answer a call, you tap the headset a couple of times. A couple more taps terminates the call. Read the rest of this entry »

Jeopardy vs. Chess: Why Watson Means More Than Deep Blue

January 14, 2011

An IBM computer named Watson today took on Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a three-part match. We’re not supposed to know the results until the program air in February, but if a practice run on Jan. 13 is any indication, Watson should beat its human competitors handily.

The Watson challenge is a bit of a stunt, reminiscent of a 1997 challenge in which IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat world champion Garry Kasparov in a chess match. But in many ways, Watson is far more important–to IBM’s business and to the future of computing–than was Deep Blue.

Deep Blue was a purpose-built computer that was extremely good at one thing: playing chess, or more precisely, analyzing chess positions. It was really, really fast, but it wasn’t particularly subtle. It used its hardware, which included specialized “chess chips,” to work out the consequences of a move to greater depth than any human player could imagine. In the end, the project helped rekindle IBM’s long-dormant interest in supercomputers, but Deep Blue itself led nowhere because all it could do was play chess. Read the rest of this entry »

Verizon iPhone vs. AT&T iPhone: You Pay Your Money and Take Your Choice

January 11, 2011

Now that the Verizon Wireless iPhone is finally a reality, what’s the real difference between the AT&T and Verizon versions?

The basic hardware is identical, save for the CDMA/EV-DO radio in the Verizon version and the GSM/EDGE/3G radio in AT&T’s. Hardware pricing is the same, too, starting at $199 for the 16 GB model, with a two-year contract.

Network differences produce two big distinctions: On AT&T, you can get data–load a Web page, check email, Twitter, or look at a map–while in a voice call. On Verizon, you can’t. The other significant difference is that the Verizon model allows the phone to be used as a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, a much superior technology to the tethered modem offered on AT&T. For example, you can reach the internet with a Wi-Fi only iPad using a hot spot, but not through a tethered modem. But this is a feature AT&T can match in a heartbeat.

The bigger difference, for folks who travel extensively, is that Verizon’s CDMA iPhone will work in the U.S. and Canada, but not in much of the rest of the world. The AT&T version is a true world phone, though roaming charges can be steep.

Verizon Wireless didn’t provide data pricing for the iPhone, but let’s do a comparison based on the assumption that it will be priced the same as service  for an Android phone. On AT&T, unlimited voice service is $70 a month and unlimited messaging is $20. Data costs $25 a month for 2 GB with overage billed at $10 per gigabyte in increments of 1 GB. Tethering adds $20 a month. There’s also a 200 MB per month plan for light users at $15.

Verizon’s unlimited voice costs the same $70 a month. There’s no simple unlimited messaging plan, but you can get 5,000 messages per month plus unlimited messages to other Verizon phones for $20.  Unlimited  data costs $30 a month. Mobile hot spot services adds $20 a month for 2 GB.

The bottom line: At either AT&T or Verizon, unlimited voice a (more or less) unlimited messaging costs $90 a month. Without tethering or hot spot service, you’ll pay $25 for 2 gigabytes and $35 for 3 GB at AT&T; at Verizon, you’ll pay $30 for any amount.

Tethering/hot spot is where things get complicated. At AT&T you pay $20 a month for the right to tether and the data  usage is charged against your allowance. At Verizon, you pay $20 for hot spot service and usage is charged against a separate allowance.

In either case, you’ll have to pay additional charges is you want to use your phone to connect to a Microsoft Exchange mail service.

Enough Already: The Military After DADT

December 22, 2010

This is way out of my usual area. But a can’t read any more non-sense about the alleged problems the U.S. military faces in implementing the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. There’s nothing to implement. Just stop treating gay men and women as different and move on.

The latest writing to annoy me was this post by the normally sensible conservative Matt Lewis at Politics Daily. He posits an eventual clash between gay rights and the religious liberty of military chaplains. Now, if there is one problem that chaplains have figured out to deal with, it is how a chaplain can minister to a soldier, sailor, or airman whose religious beliefs are different. Given the religious diversity of the armed forces and the small number of chaplains, it happens all the time and while there have been some problems, particularly complaints in recent years about some evangelical Protestant chaplains proselytizing (for example), the system mostly works.

But, Lewis writes, “will Army chaplains be required to perform marriage for same-sex couples? Will chaplains be allowed to preach against homosexuality from the pulpit — or counsel against homosexual conduct? While these are sure to be questions the military must grapple with, one can also imagine this issue eventually making its way into the civilian world.”

The first question gives the game away, and the answer, had Lewis troubled to do a little research, in “no,” regardless of the status of  same-sex marriage under federal law. This is not a new issue because many denominations have rules limiting who can be married, even if the partners are of different sexes. For example, nearly all Orthodox and Conservative rabbis and most Reform rabbis will not marry a couple unless both members are Jews. (Logic would dictate that the same rule applies to same-sex marriages, by the way.)  And under current military rules, Jewish chaplains are free to maintain these requirements for service members. For example, a memorandum for chaplains at Fort Leavenworth states, unambiguously if ungrammatically,  chaplains “maintains their ecclesiastical standards as to accepting or declining to officiate a requested wedding.”

The one serious issue that will arise after repeal of DADT regards the provision of benefits to the same-sex spouses of military personnel. But that is a question independent of DADT and will have to be resolved  as art of a broader question about same-sex couples and benefits. Sooner or later, and most likely sooner, the courts are going to rule that, notwithstanding the Defense of Marriage Act, the constitution requires the federal government to recognize any marriage under state law–it’s a two-fer of full faith and credit and equal protection–and that will be that.


Why Microsoft’s Tablet Efforts Are Doomed

December 15, 2010

With iPad sales soaring off the charts, the tablet market is one that Microsoft cannot afford to ignore. But it may also be one in which it cannot bring itself to compete successfully. The result could be big problems for the future.

Steve Ballmer at CES

Ballmer shows off HP slate at CES 2010 Photo: Microsoft

According to the New York Times‘ Nick Bilton, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will show off new Windows 7 slates at his Consumer Electronics Show keynote in early January. Even those with short memories may recall that Ballmer made a splash last year by featuring a Windows slate. That turned out to be the Hewlett-Packard Slate 500, which went from being a potential consumer blockbuster to a limited edition corporate product because of the severe deficiencies of Windows as tablet software. (Disclosure: I was a consultant to HP on the project.)

Will Samsung or Dell, Microsoft’s rumored partners, be able to do better than HP. It strikes me as very unlikely, because the real problem isn’t the hardware. And to the extent that hardware is an issue, it is because of the choices  than Windows forces upon manufacturers. Read the rest of this entry »

Comcast, Level 3, and the Future of the Net

November 30, 2010

How a spat between Comcast and internet backbone carrier Level 3 Communications is resolved will tell use a lot about how the economics of the internet will work in the future and perhaps whether, or how, the internet is regulated. What the noise dispute is not about is network neutrality, at least as the term has been used for the past couple of years.

The background is fairly simple. Until now, Comcast and Level 3 have handled traffic between their networks under a peering arrangement. That’s where each carrier agrees to handle the other’s traffic without any money changing hands. Peering works fine as long as the traffic each network seds to the other is roughly equal. But the nature of the net is changing. A study last year by Arbor Networks, Merit Network, and the University of Michigan found: “Today, the majority of internet traffic by volume flows directly between large content providers, datacenter/[content delivery networks] and consumer networks.” In other words, from backbone networks like Level 3’s to end-user delivery networks like Comcast’s. Read the rest of this entry »

If Net Regulation Is Bad, Why Push for It?

November 15, 2010

Tim Wu makes an extremely interesting, and telling, point in his provocative Wall Street Journal essay, “In the Grip of the New Monopolists.” He writes:

“Today, Verizon and AT&T’s dominance of wireless phone service can be credited in part to de facto assistance from the U.S., and consequently their niche is probably the safest in the entire industry. Monopolies may be a natural development, but the most enduring ones are usually state-sponsored. All the more so since no one has ever conceived a better way of scotching competitors than to make them comply with complex federal regulation.”

Although I disagree with a great deal of Wu’s argument–as Adam Thierer points out, his piece depends heavily on a Humpty Dumpty-like redefinition of “monopoly”– this point is right on. I have been arguing for some time that the main beneficiaries of reclassifying internet services under Title II of the Communications Act would be the incumbents, particularly Verizon and AT&T. These are companies that have spent decades dealing with the intricacies of Title II common carrier regulation and they understand the rules better than anyone else, probably including the Federal Communications Commission. And understanding the rules is the first step to using them to promote your own interests.

This, of course, raises the question of  why Wu and his ideological soulmates are so anxious to see complex regulations imposed in the name of network neutrality. Unlike others of a more libertarian bent, I support regulatory intervention to remedy market failures. But no one has established market failure as a grounds for reclassification; if you look closely at advocates arguments, they are limited exclusively to bad things that might happen in the future. (There’s a better argument for market failure in the case of broadband availability and pricing, but that’s a different issue.)

AT&T and Verizon are vociferously opposed to reclassification, but the fact is that it is a briar patch for them. Fortunately, the election results have pushed the issue to the back burner. We shouldn’t do the incumbent carriers the favor of throwing them in.

Jambox: Little Box, Big Sound

November 4, 2010

Aliph, the company that brings you those clever Jawbone Bluetooth headsets, is putting the audio technology it has developed in making active noise-reducing earpieces into an impressive portable Bluetooth speaker it calls the Jambox.

JamboxThe Jambox is a little rectangular prism, about 6″ wide, 2″ high, and 1.5″ deep (151x57x40 mm)  and weighing 12 oz. (328 g). But it puts out sound, especially the bass, that makes you think is coming from a much larger speaker.

Setting it up is very easy. When you turn it on, it annou8ncers the state of its battery charge automatically goes into Bluetooth pairing mode, waiting for a connection. Turn on pairing on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or any other device capable of the A2DP stereo Bluetooth profile and the Jambox will connect. If you want to play audio from a non-Bluetooth device, the Jambox comes equipped with a standard 3.5 mm stereo input jack.

The rated battery life is about eight hours. Charging is through a  micro USB port and while a charger is included, most any standard USB charger should work.

The Jambox comes in blue, black, gray, and red. It’s available now for preorder from Aliph for $199 and will go on sale at Apple Stores and Best Buy on Nov. 16.

More Net Neutrality Silliness

October 29, 2010

A group called the Progressive Change Campaign Committee seems to think–or wants us to think that it thinks–that network neutrality is an issue that can somehow change the dynamics of next Tuesday’s election. It’s trumpeting the fact that that 95 Democratic candidates for the House and Senate have signed it’s net neutrality pledge. “Once again, progressives are working together with bold Democratic challengers to show Democratic Party leaders what it looks like to go on offense,” PCCC co-founder Adam Green wrote in a Huffington Post article.

There’s one big problem. The brief pledge is almost entirely free of substance:

“I believe in protecting Net Neutrality – the First Amendment of the Internet. The open Internet is a vital engine for free speech, economic opportunity, and civic participation in the 21st century. I stand with millions of working families and small businesses against any attempt by big corporations to control the Internet and eliminate the Internet’s level playing field. In Congress, I’ll fight to protect Net Neutrality for the entire Internet – wired and wireless – and make sure big corporations aren’t allowed to take control of free speech online. Mark me down as a 21st century Internet champion!”

What’s that mean? Nothing, really. Net neutrality is a complex, difficult issue. Failing to include even a rudimentary definition of what it means by the term belies PCCC’s claim of boldness. In fact, without the gratuitous anti-business rhetoric, they probably could have signed up 450 candidates.

Unfortunately, this is typical of what has happened to the net neutrality debate. It’s become a slogan rather than a serious discussion of policy. Fortunately, in the real world, the internet seems to be chugging along just fine with the prospective violations of neutrality still looking more like a scary Halloween mask than an imminent threat.