tablet and smartphone

A recent report from the Pew Research Center says that 68% of American adults have smartphones and 45% have tablets. With some groups, the ownership rate is even higher — among American adults, the smartphone ownership figure jumps up to nearly 90% for those under 30 or who live in households earning $75,000 or more per year.

smartphone ownership

The ownership rate for smartphones has doubled since 2011, and the rate for tablets has grown by 15 times since 2010. Over the same period, the ownership rates for some electronic products — desktop/laptop computers, and console/portable gaming devices — have remained flat.

personal electronics ownership rates

Other once-hot categories of personal electronics, such as digital cameras and MP3 players, have seen their ownership rates decline thanks to smartphones and tablets usurping their roles. Consider the photo below, taken from a 1980s Sony advertisement. Every device that appears in it, other than the speakers and headphones, has been usurped by smartphones and tablets:

80s tech replaced by smartphone

Some other observations based on the survey’s results:

  • There’s been a slight drop in the rate of desktop/laptop computers in the under-30 set. In 2010, the ownership rate among adults under 30 was 88%; in 2015, that figure is 78%.
  • The smartphone ownership rate for the under-30 set is almost the same as their desktop/laptop computer ownership rate for 2010. In 2015, 86% of adults between the ages of 18 and 30 owned a smartphone.
  • After smartphones, computers are the next most popular personal electronic devices. 73% of American adults own a desktop or laptop computer, which is about the same rate of ownership in 2004 (when 71% of American adults owned one), but down from the 2012 high of 80%.
  • If you consider the category of cellular phones, which includes smartphones and so-called “feature phones”, the ownership rate is 92%. This is a leap from just over a decade ago, when Pew’s survey reported that 65% of American adults owned a cellular phone.

To find out more about the survey results, you can download Pew’s full report [823KB PDF] free of charge.

this article also appears in the GSG blog


dark mobile

Tomorrow — Tuesday, September 29th — at 1:00 p.m. eastern (10:00 a.m. Pacific), GSG and Enterprise Mobile will host a webinar titled The Secrets Nobody Tells You About Dark Mobile. It’s free to attend, and you can register here.

In this webinar, GSG’s Platform Evangelist Joey deVilla will talk about that area of an organization’s mobile telecom environment that goes, unobserved, unknown, or unmanaged — the terra incognita that we call “Dark Mobile”. We look at the negative effects it has on a company’s…

  • spending,
  • management,
  • security, and
  • efficiency

Join us in this quick webinar (it’ll be about half an hour) as we look at the four kinds of Dark Mobile and how we can shed some light into this crucial area of your IT environment.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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dark mobile

On Tuesday, September 29th at 1:00 p.m. eastern (10:00 a.m. Pacific), GSG and Enterprise Mobile will host a webinar titled The Secrets Nobody Tells You About Dark Mobile. It’s free to attend, and you can register here.

In this webinar, Enterprise Mobile’s VP Sales Jay Gordon and GSG’s Platform Evangelist Joey deVilla will talk about that area of an organization’s mobile telecom environment that goes, unobserved, unknown, or unmanaged — the terra incognita that we call “Dark Mobile”. We look at the negative effects it has on a company’s…

  • spending,
  • management,
  • security, and
  • efficiency

Join us in this quick webinar (it’ll be about half an hour) as we look at the four kinds of Dark Mobile and how we can shed some light into this crucial area of your IT environment.

this article also appears in the GSG blog


How GPS works, and how to make the most of it

by Joey deVilla on August 10, 2015

smartphone gps and map

One of the most common uses for smartphones is finding out where you are. According to a Pew report from September 2013, nearly three-quarters of adult smartphone users use their smartphones to get directions or other information based on their location.

At the heart of this functionality is GPS, the Global Positioning System, which is built into every smartphone and those tablets that are equipped to access cellular networks. Chances are that you’ve make some use of it, and we thought you might want to know how it works. In this article, we’ll explain GPS in layperson-friendly terms, and also give you some practical and not-so-practical tips on how to get the most out of it.

GPS constellations

The earth is surrounded by GPS satellites organized into a constellation. The basic design of the GPS system calls for a constellation divided into 6 different orbital planes, with 4 satellites per orbital plane, for a total of 24 satellites arranged the pattern shown below:


This arrangement ensures that no matter where you are on the planet, there will be at least four satellites in the sky above you.

We rely on the GPS system so much that there are more than 24 satellites in orbit; the additional ones provide additional accuracy and can be used as backup in case some satellites fail. At the time of this writing, there are 32 satellites in the GPS constellation, 31 of which are usable. You can find out how many GPS satellites are in the constellation at the moment by visiting the United States Naval Observatory’s Current GPS Constellation page and the constellation’s status with the Daily GPS Constellation Status page.

The GPS system is based on time (and math you learned in grade school)

The GPS system relies on time to measure distances. GPS satellites have onboard atomic clocks, which are the most accurate known time-keeping devices. Atomic clocks use the radiation emissions of a cesium isotope as a “pendulum” that “swings” about 9.2 billion times a second, providing nanosecond (billionth of a second, or 10-9 seconds) accuracy. A nanosecond happens so quickly that during its span, even light can’t get very far: just a little over 9 feet (a little under 3 meters).

With such a precise clock, you can use radio transmissions to measure distances using the grade school math formula distance = speed × time:

gps 01

With the distances between itself and a small number of GPS satellites, your smartphone can quickly figure out your location.

How your smartphone uses its distance from GPS satellites to figure out your location

We’re going to keep the explanations simple, and won’t bog you down with a lot of math. We’ll do this by treating space as having only two dimensions rather than three.

If you know the distance between yourself and a single satellite — let’s call it x — you know that you’re somewhere on a circle of radius x with the satellite in the middle. That narrows down your possible location somewhat, but it’s not enough to figure out where you are:

gps 02

If you add another satellite to the mix and can get the distance between you and it — let’s call that distance y — you know that you’re also somewhere on a circle with a radius of y with that second satellite in the middle. Since you’re also on the circle of radius x, you must therefore be in one of the two places where both circles intersect. That narrows down the possibilities for your location considerably:

gps 03

With a third satellite, you can perform trilateration, which narrows down your location to a single spot:

gps 04

In case you were wondering, trilateration finds a location through the use of three distances. The term you’re probably more familiar with, triangulation, finds a location through the use of three angles.

Often, a fourth satellite is involved, and it serves two purposes:

  • It’s needed to act as a reference for when the GPS signal arrived at your smartphone. Remember, in order to determine the distance between your smartphone and a satellite, you need to know the precise time when the signal arrived at your smartphone. Unfortunately, the clock on your smartphone isn’t anywhere as accurate as an atomic clock, so the GPS receiver in your smartphone uses the time broadcast from a fourth satellite as a reference clock to determine when the signals from the other three reached it.
  • It increases location accuracy. Remember, in the diagrams above, we treated the earth as two-dimensional — that is, a flat surface — and required three distances to determine our location. In real three-dimensional space, we need four distances, which requires four satellites. However, with a little mathematical trickery that we won’t get into here, a GPS can get an approximate position with only three satellites.

Practical considerations

GPS alone doesn’t cost anything (unless you’re a U.S. taxpayer)

oh yes its freeYou may have noticed the cellular and internet networking aren’t mentioned in our explanation of how GPS works. Plain old GPS relies solely on the continuous, one-way signals broadcast by satellites and doesn’t need any cellular or internet data. Your smartphone doesn’t even send a request to a satellite to find its location, but simply listens to GPS’ always-on, always-available signals, in the same way you’d look for street signs and landmarks to get your bearings. As a result, using GPS by itself on your smartphone doesn’t eat into your data allotment or cost you any money…unless you’re a U.S. taxpayer.

The GPS system was developed by the United States Air Force, who’ve maintained it for the past 20 years and provide it for free to everyone worldwide. If you pay taxes in the U.S., you’re footing the bill for GPS, and lost people everywhere thank you.

Maps use your data plan unless you use offline maps

mapsThe location data that you get from GPS — your latitude and longitude — are meaningless by themselves to most people. Usually, this data is paired with contextual information, such as a map from Google Maps, or a database of nearby locations from apps like Yelp, Starbucks, or GasBuddy. This contextual information comes from the internet, and if you’re getting it through your cellular connection rather than wifi, it’s using your allotted data, and you’re paying for it.

If you use your smartphone as your navigation system and you’re driving long distances, your smartphone will download new map data as needed. If you’re on a limited plan, watch for this — this could be a big consumer of data.

If you use GPS often and are worried that your map use is eating into your data allotment, or if you’re using GPS while roaming, you should consider using offline maps. These are maps that are stored on your device, which means that it doesn’t have to use the internet to get them. As a result, you’re only using GPS to navigate, and not using any cellular data. Here are a couple of offline map options:

  • The Google Maps app (free, available on the iOS App Store and Google Play) allows you to download and save maps for areas as large as 31 miles by 31 miles (50 km by 50 km). Here are the iOS instructions, and here are the Android instructions.
  • MAPS.ME (free for the “lite” version) runs on iOS, Android, and BlackBerry. There’s a “lite” version that provides the basics for getting around, and a paid “pro” version that lets you search and bookmark locations.
  • Galileo (free, available on the iOS App Store) is a good choice for iPhone and iPad users looking for a free offline map app.
  • If you want a more full-featured map app, you should consider looking at paid apps. Wired recently reviewed a few of them: Sygic, Navmii, CoPilot, and Navigon.

GPS works better with cellular and wifi networking turned on

skyscrapers and trees from the ground

Since GPS uses radio waves from satellites to measure distances, it works best when the straight-line path between your device and the satellite isn’t impeded. Getting clear line-of-sight to the satellites above isn’t always possible in urban or tree-lined areas, and it’s impossible when you’re indoors. Luckily, there’s WPS (Wifi Positioning System), which is used to augment GPS by making use of the known locations of wifi base stations.

WPS works by using one or more databases containing the locations of wifi base stations based on their “fingerprints”, which are based on their SSIDs (their “names”) and MAC addresses (the unique identifier attached to every networked device) and their signal strength. These databases contain information on up to hundreds of millions of wifi base stations gathered from various sources. Quite often, these sources are everyone’s smartphones, which continually scan for wifi base stations and transmit their “fingerprints” and locations back to Apple, Google, or Microsoft, depending on your phone’s operating system. The keepers of these databases assure us that they’re protecting our privacy by anonymizing the data (take this statement with an appropriately-sized grain of salt).

There’s also aGPS — assisted GPS — which uses cellular networking to help your smartphone get the necessary information to more quickly acquire the satellite signals.

If you turn on cellular and wifi networking  on your phone, it works in combination with GPS to provide you more accurate location information in more places, even in places where satellite signals aren’t as accessible. Wifi-only devices, such iPads without cellular data capability, use WPS to determine their location.

GPS is a power hog

usb car adapterListening for an extended time to a handful of radio signals from satellites in space transmitting at a very slow rate — 50 bits (three characters on a web page) per second — eats battery power. Since your smartphone has to listen for these signals for extended periods, using GPS causes it to override its very clever and aggressive power-management system, which normally keeps power consumption to a minimum. Mapping applications, which are often used in conjunction with GPS, are processor-intensive, which increases the power drain.

When you’re using GPS on your phone while unplugged, use it sparingly. If you’re using GPS on your phone on a long drive, plug it in. You should keep a spare USB charging cable in your car, and if it doesn’t have a USB charging port, you should also keep a cigarette lighter USB power adapter (pictured above and to the right) handy.

Not-so-practical (but fun) considerations

On newer smartphones and operating systems, GPS stays on even in airplane mode

airplane modeIf you’re using iOS 8.3 or later (you can check by going to Settings → General → About and then look for Version) or a number of newer Android phones (including Samsung Galaxy S4 or later), the GPS remains on even in “Airplane Mode”.

This is probably due to the fact that GPS is a receive-only technology; it doesn’t send out signals and therefore is less likely to interfere with the airplane’s electronics and navigation systems. Now that a number of flights have wifi, it’s now possible to see a map showing your current location in mid-flight. If you zoom in closely enough, you can see how quickly you’re zipping over city streets, which is an oddly mesmerizing experience.

GPS, Interstellar, and Einstein can turn you into a science genius

And finally, here’s an interesting fact concerning GPS that will give you some serious science cred at your social gathering. Let’s take a little detour by way of this scene from the 2014 film Interstellar:

interstellar - millers planet

In the scene pictured above, a team of astronauts led by Matthew McConaughey lands on a water-covered planet orbiting giant black hole. The black hole’s gravity is so strong that it slows down time in its general vicinity: for every hour they spend on the planet, seven years pass for outside observers.

The idea of gravity slowing down time wasn’t something dreamed up by the film’s authors. Instead, it was dreamed up by Albert Einstein, when he came up with the Theory of Relativity. We’ll simply summarize Einstein’s greatest work with these two practical consequences:

gps 05

While the effects of gravity on the GPS system aren’t anywhere as dramatic as in Interstellar, they’re still important enough to be accounted for.

GPS satellites orbit the earth at an altitude of 12,500 miles (20,000 km), which means that the force of gravity on them is much lower. While in orbit, they move at 8,700 mph (14,000 km/h). Both these factors have measurable effects on time:

gps 06a

Since the GPS system relies on precise timekeeping, it introduces a time correction to account for the different speeds at which time moves on earth and on the satellites. The fact that this correction is needed is a practical, everyday application of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the seemingly sci-fi concept of warping time.

this article also appears in the GSG blog


Big internet numbers

by Joey deVilla on August 2, 2015

Still the biggest slice of the IT budget pie


Click the infographic to see it at full size.

Communications services will remain the largest part of the global IT budget, according to Gartner’s 2Q 2015 Worldwide IT spending forecast. They predict that it will account for $1.5 trillion, or 43% of the total $3.5 trillion expected to be spent on IT this year. Compared to the other segments, communications services’ share is:

  • 40% larger than the next-largest segment, IT services
  • More than twice the amount spent on devices, including mobile devices
  • Over four times the share taken by enterprise software
  • More than ten times the spend for data centers

Gartner reports that global IT spending in 2015 will be 5.5% lower than in 2014. Their analysts say it’s due to the rising U.S. dollar, and if you look at the figures in “constant currency” terms — that is, if you account for the fluctuations in exchange rates — the market is expected to grow by 2.5%. Changes in the value of the US dollar relative to other currencies affect all manner of spending worldwide, and IT is no exception. Vendors who place a high priority on protecting their margins adjust their pricing in in response to currency fluctuations, which in turn affects IT purchase decisions worldwide.

Gartner’s report also points out that of the five IT spending segments, communications is experiencing the strongest decline. They attribute this to price erosion and an increasingly competitive market.

Wired broadband: Speeding up steadily


Click the infographic to see it at full size.

If you’re reading this article, the odds are pretty good that you’re doing so with the aid of wireline broadband. Even if you’re reading this with your mobile device, you may be doing so through one of the 50 million publicly-accessible wifi hotspots worldwide, or through your office or home wifi access point (of which there are hundreds of millions —161 million wifi base stations were shipped in 2013).

According to Akamai’s Q1 2015 State of the Internet report, wireline broadband speeds in the U.S. have tripled since 2009. In 2009, the average speed was 4.2 Mbps (megabits per second), and as of the first quarter of 2015, if reports that your connection is faster than 11.9 Mbps, you’re doing better than the present average.

On average, wireline broadband is three times faster than cellular broadband, whose average speed in the U.S. is 4.0 Mbps. In other words, average cellular broadband speed today is the same as 2009’s average wired broadband speed. That makes for yet another dimension where 2015’s mobile devices have specs similar to 2009’s middle-of-the-road laptops.

In case you were wondering what these speeds mean in practical terms, the table below should help put things into perspective:

(in Mbps)
Email a picture
(1.5 MB, or
12 million bits)
Download a song or long PowerPoint presentation
(8 MB, or 64 million bits)
Download an ebook or short video
(20 MB, or 160 million bits)
Download a 720p TV 30-minute TV episode
(500 MB, or 4 billion bits)
20 less than 1 second <4 seconds 8 seconds 3.5 minutes
10 2 seconds 7 seconds 16 seconds 7 minutes
5 3 seconds 14 seconds 32 seconds 13 minutes
1 12 seconds 64 seconds 160 seconds 1 hour

On the edge of the zettabyte era


Click the infographic to see it at full size.

The faster the internet becomes, whether in wireline or wireless form, the more data we’ll send and receive. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology 2014 – 2019 report, global internet traffic has grown by over five times in the past five years. The next five years should continued growth at a slightly slower pace — about three times.

This growth has led us to the point that the total amount of data sent over the net this year can be measured in hundreds of exabytes, where an exabyte is 1 quintillion (1018) bytes. Next year, that amount will cross over into the next “illion”: in 2016, it’s expected that 1.3 zettabytes (where a zettabyte is a thousand quintillion, or 1021 bytes) will be transmitted over the net. We’ve included the infographic above to help you get a better grasp of the size of these numbers.

You can be certain that network carriers are planning for this growth, and you should be doing the same.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

this article also appears on the enterprise mobile blog


Mobile data at US airports and on major US airlines

by Joey deVilla on July 7, 2015

airplane takeoff

If you’re a reader of this blog, it’s quite likely that when you go to the airport, as soon as you’ve cleared security and found a perch at your departure gate or on your flight, you typically take out a mobile device and go online. You’re not the only one: look around on any plane or any airport lounge, and you’ll easily see dozens of people staring at glowing rectangles in their hands. Air travel consists largely of sitting and waiting, whether on the ground and in the air, and these days, much of that sitting and waiting is made a little less tedious by going online.

Mobile data performance in America’s busiest airports

departure lounge

Creative Commons photo by Phillip Capper. Click the photo to see the source.

The mobile networks performance research firm RootMetrics regularly posts their “RootScore” reports of mobile data performance by the major US carriers in various locations across the country, including airports. Their latest report on mobile data performance at the 50 busiest airports in the nation appears in their 2nd Half 2014 US Airport Mobile Network Performance Review, published in March. It shows how individual carriers’ networks perform at airports, in terms of online access for web sites and apps (which is one matter) and the completion of tasks (a completely different matter).

Yes, many airports do offer free or paid wifi service, but it’s often spotty, overloaded, and slow. There are many times when it’s better to go online using your own mobile data — especially if you have an all-you-can-eat plan — and that’s why this information is so useful.

The infographic below shows a quick summary of the RootMetrics report on airports, but we recommend that you read their writeup for the full story:

mobile data at us airports

Click the infographic to see it at full size.

Wifi offerings on US airlines

in-flight wifi light

While on the ground, you have the option of using your own mobile data plan or going with airport wifi. In the air, where you can’t use your cellular connection but are now allowed to use wifi (which will eventually change the meaning of “airplane mode”), you have to go with whatever wifi service the airline offers.

More recently, Fortune published the article The crazy economics of inflight wi-fi, where they astutely observe that many of the normal rules don’t apply. Paying more doesn’t necessarily get you better bandwidth, and that’s because the various airlines’ wifi services have different business models (most are treating it as a profit center, a handful as a differentiator) and technology (varying satellite technologies, as well as ground-based cellular services specifically set up for air travel). Another factor is that you’re sharing bandwidth with anyone else on the plane who’s using it. If you’re on a flight full of Poindexters doing business while en route, prepare for sluggish connectivity; if you’re on a red eye where everyone’s asleep and you’re on a deadline and pumped full of espresso or Red Bull, that bandwidth might be all yours.

As with the previous story, we’ve made a nice summary infographic for you, but it’s worth it to read the full article:

in-flight wifi on us airlines

Click the infographic to see it at full size.

What do all these bandwidth numbers mean, anyway?


Simply put, “bandwidth” refers to the speed at which data is transmitted in a network, and these days it’s typically measured in Mbps, short for megabits per second. If you recall, all computer information boils to down to ones and zeroes — binary digits, or bits for short — and a megabit is about one million of those bits. The chart below should make numbers and rates of bits more meaningful:

(in Mbps)
Email a picture
(1.5 MB, or 12 million megabits)
Download a song or long PowerPoint presentation
(8 MB, or 64 million megabits)
Download an ebook or short video
(20 MB, or 160 million megabits)
20+ less than 1 second <4 seconds 8 seconds
10 2 seconds 7 seconds 16 seconds
5 3 seconds 14 seconds 32 seconds
1 12 seconds 64 seconds 160 seconds

this article also appears in the GSG blog


Mobile roundup: BYOD, FYOD, and SYOD

by Joey deVilla on June 17, 2015

BYOD: Four big benefits


Entrepreneur cites a couple of studies from last year that say:

  • Most companies have some kind of program allowing employees to use their personal mobile devices for work, and…
  • More than a third of the mobile devices in today’s workplaces are employees’ personal devices.

They point to four reasons why BYOD — that’s short for “Bring Your Own Device” — boost productivity. If your organization already has a BYOD program, you’ve prObably already internalized these, and if not, you may want to think about them:

  1. BYOD gives employees the freedom to choose where and how they work. This sort of freedom is so valuable to a significant number of people; 20% of respondents to a Flexjobs survey of 1,500 people looking for work showed that they’d take a pay cut for flexible work options.
  2. BYOD instills a greater sense of ownership. Letting people use personal devices helps them extend that sense of ownership to their work. The end result is often motivated, engaged employees who “go the extra mile”.
  3. BYOD is a way to attract and retain creative talent. Allowing the use of personal devices is a signal to employees that you trust their judgement on a number of dimensions: their personal choice of technology, their preferred way to work, and to work outside the constraints of the office. It says “we don’t think of you as a corporate drone, but as an intelligent, capable human being,” which is a powerful statement in a world that seems to be increasingly commoditized.
  4. BYOD can reduce your operating expenses. A well-crafted BYOD plan can cut the cost of purchasing, managing, and maintaining a fleet of mobile devices, and reduce your IT team’s workload.

The trick is to make sure that you’ve thought out your organization’s approach to BYOD. A key part of this process is coming up with a set of policies on appropriate use of BYOD devices for work, and educating your users about these policies and how to use their personal mobile devices effectively and securely.

FYOD: Fix your own device! (or: Supporting increasingly self-reliant users)


FierceCIO points to a recent study that features two seemingly contradictory observations about employees and their relationship with their companies’ IT departments:

  • They’re generally satisfied with their companies’ IT departments and the service they’re getting from them.
  • They’re also more self-reliant than ever and are willing to take care of their own IT issues, despite the fact that IT departments of all sizes are quick to respond to requests for help.

In fact, going to IT for help with a technical issue isn’t the first thing most employees with tech troubles do. The vast majority prefer to take matters into their own hands:

The practical lesson that you should take from this data is that if you want happy, productive people with a minimum of downtime from tech issues, you should provide them with IT resources that enable them to help themselves, especially for issues that can be handled without IT department intervention. Simple “how-to” guides for common tech problems posted on an internal company site — perhaps even contributed to and edited by your employees themselves, and edited and enhanced by your IT department — are often all you need to help maximize uptime and free your IT team to work on the issues that can’t be dealt with by end users.

SYOD: Smuggle Your Own Device


The downside of the growing tendency towards IT self-reliance is something that we like to call “SYOD”, short for “smuggle your own device”. That’s when employees use personal devices for work, accessing corporate online resources without the knowledge or approval of IT departments. Ernst and Young have pointed out that SYOD often arises in the absence of any BYOD program, and in 2013, research firm Ovum reported that:

  • Nearly 70% of employees who own a smartphone or tablet use it to access corporate data.
  • Of those employees:
    • A little more than 15% access that data without the IT department’s knowledge.
    • Almost 21% access that data in defiance of an anti-BYOD policy.

If SYOD is happening at your organization, it means that there are needs that aren’t being met, and that people are being self-reliant, actively helping themselves and looking for solutions. This as an opportunity to help them, and perhaps even to recast IT as an enabler rather than a barrier.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

this article also appears on the enterprise mobile blog