hundred dollar bills

Creative Commons photo by “2bgr8″. Click to see the original.

With wireless carriers fighting tooth-and-nail for each other’s business, the growing usage of mobile data, and new technologies and service driving increased mobile usage, wireless has become a dynamic cost center. It’s also an extraordinarily difficult expense for businesses to control.

Vendor rate plans change with the wind, users are constantly adding or changing phones and device accessories, and what was initially an optimal plan for an individual or group of employees may no longer fit when usage patterns change. What’s more, errors are notoriously rampant in wireless billing, and even when rectified, they have a way of creeping back into invoices.

The majority of wireless expense management companies take a cut-and-dried approach to cost reduction. This generally involves a single invoice audit and optimization of a company’s wireless service plans, features and usage. When all goes smoothly, this process may produce an immediate savings of 10% – 15% of the company’s total spend. After that, the expense management firm bids their client “adieu” and pats itself on the back for a job well done.

dirty dishes

Public domain photo by “Mysid”. Click to see the original.

Just as it would be nice if you could wash the dishes only once, it would be great if wireless expense reduction could be addressed with a single invoice audit. As with the dishes, the reality is that cost reduction is something best done on a continual basis, while making adjustments as your situation changes. Up-front savings are nice, but the real payoff comes from an ongoing audit and optimization process that’s tightly synchronized with the evolution of your business.

Our president, Dan Hughes, has written a white paper that provides an overview of audit and optimization “best practices” that have proven to drive significant and long-term wireless expense reduction. Download and read it, and if your audit firm or wireless expense management firm isn’t following these practices, you’re undoubtedly missing out on the substantial savings that can come from analyzing your wireless spending.

download pdf

Download our white paper [2.1MB PDF] to learn about the audit checks, optimizations, and implementations that we perfom to help our customers maximize their telecom dollar.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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DOT likely to ban in-flight phone calls

mobile phone on flight

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will likely rule to ban in-flight mobile phone calls. Regulators are focused on the disruptions caused by voice calls and not on texting or data usage. Airlines say that the DOT is overstepping its authority, and would rather that the final decision be left up to them.

In case you were wondering, Delta and JetBlue have gone on the record saying that they won’t allow in-flight calls, and public opinion is generally against them:

public opinion on in-flight calls

Click the graph to see the data source.

Using your unlimited data plan in an unlimited fashion? Carriers don’t like that.

wireless data

Adapted from Intel Free Press’ Creative Commons photo. Click to see the original.

Last week, Tom Wheeler, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) chairman sent a letter to Verizon about their proposed “network optimization” plan asking why only certain customers are targeted for throttling — that is, the slowing down of data connectivity — when accessing “particular cell sites experiencing unusually high demand”. The targeted customers are heavy data users with who have unlimited data plans — in other words, people who use a lot of mobile data and accordingly purchased a plan that meets their needs. ReadWrite reports that he accused the carrier of using “network management” as a money grab:

Reasonable network management concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams. It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its network management on distinctions among its customers’ data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology.

Verizon’s response has been to call Wheeler’s letter “incorrect” and “surprising”, and to point out that the FCC hasn’t made any complaints about similar practices from the other carriers. As ReadWrite puts it, “It’s a polished and professional way of saying, Everyone else is doing it too, so what gives?

Why is this the case? The chart below, which we published in an earlier article, explains it quite simply:

more than half is from data

Click the graph to see it at full size.

In the pre-smartphone era, when the primary use for a mobile phone was talking, voice was metered and data (mostly for texting) as unlimited. Over the past few years, now that “mobile phone” means “smartphone” and data usage has skyrocketed, the carriers have been adjusting their business models accordingly, giving away voice and metering data:

The message from the carriers is clear: If you have an unlimited plan and you’re using it for what you think is its intended purpose, prepare to be throttled.

Comcast sweetens their internet service offering for low-income customers after complaints

comcast internet essentials

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which offers home internet service to low-income households at $10/month, was a concession made to help them secure the approval of their purchase of NBCUniversal in 2011. It sounds nice, but as the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) has complained that signing up for the service is deliberately long, often taking two to three months.

In response, Comcast have announced that it will offer “up to six months” of free internet and amnesty to people who are late paying their bills. Chances are that they’re doing this in light of their recent embarrassment with that cancellation call recording that went viral and needing to gain approval for merging with Time Warner.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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Internet protocol joke of the day

by Joey deVilla on August 5, 2014

i don't always tell udp jokes

Thanks to Joe Smith for pointing me to the original, which I spruced up.

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stealth mode activated

Seriously, the right to be forgotten is a silly, unenforceable concept.

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legal books

Creative Commons image by Thomas Eagle. Click the photo to see the source.

A preeminent U.S. law firm with over 1,000 employees and an inventory of over 2,000 mobile devices was facing a number of costly problems:

  • Hundreds of zero-use devices that were still being paid for
  • Unchecked fees arising from overages
  • Mixing of personal and business mobile expenses leading to accounting woes
  • Skyrocketing mobile costs that weren’t being measured or managed

The firm needed to bring their wireless devices and spending under control, and did so with GSG’s help. Using GSGCloud, we were able to perform an audit of their mobile assets, services, and costs, and set into motion a plan to bring them under control.

download pdf

Download our case study [1.1MB PDF] to find out how we brought them an annualized savings of $511,000 and complete visibility into their wireless spending and allocation of costs.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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evil monkey pointing at swift code

What happens when you mark operator overload definitions as private?

swift kickWhile I was translating the code in the RayWenderlich.com article Sprite Kit Tutorial for Beginners from its original Objective-C to Swift, I got to the point where he provides some routines to do vector math on CGPoints. These are “standalone” utility functions and aren’t methods inside any class.

The first three functions are for vector arithmetic:

  • Adding two vectors together: (x1, y1) + (x2, y2) = (x1 + x2, y1 + y2)
  • Subtracting on vector from another: (x1, y1) - (x2, y2) = (x1 - x2, y1 - y2)
  • Multiplying a vector by a scalar: (x, y) * k = (k * x, k * y)

Here’s his original code, written in Objective-C:

// Objective-C

static inline CGPoint rwAdd(CGPoint a, CGPoint b) {
    return CGPointMake(a.x + b.x, a.y + b.y);
}
 
static inline CGPoint rwSub(CGPoint a, CGPoint b) {
    return CGPointMake(a.x - b.x, a.y - b.y);
}

static inline CGPoint rwMult(CGPoint a, float b) {
    return CGPointMake(a.x * b, a.y * b);
}

I’ve always found methods like add(firstThing, secondThing) a little clunky-looking; I’d much rather write it as firstThing + secondThing. Since Swift supports operator overloading (Objective-C doesn’t), I decided to implemented the rwAdd(), rwSub(), and rwMult() functions as overloads of the +, -, and * operators. Here’s my equivalent Swift code:

// Swift

// Vector addition
private func + (left: CGPoint, right: CGPoint) -> CGPoint {
  return CGPoint(x: left.x + right.x, y: left.y + right.y)
}

// Vector subtraction
private func - (left: CGPoint, right: CGPoint) -> CGPoint {
  return CGPoint(x: left.x - right.x, y: left.y - right.y)
}

// Vector * scalar
private func * (point: CGPoint, factor: CGFloat) -> CGPoint {
  return CGPoint(x: point.x * factor, y:point.y * factor)
}

Note that I added a private access modifier to each of the functions above. As I pointed out in my last Swift article, Swift’s access modifiers are based on files and modules, not the class hierarchy. In Swift, any entity marked private is visible and accessible within its own file, and invisible and inaccessible from outside its own file. I wanted to see what would happen to operator overloads.

Here’s what I found:

Operator overloads marked private are available within the file where they’re defined, and are not available outside that file. Outside the file where the private operator overloads were defined, any attempt to use them results in an error.

A little testing confirmed that I could add and subtract CGPoints and multiply them by scalars using the + operation from inside the same file, but couldn’t do so from inside in other files.

What happens when you mark extensions as private?

The next couple of functions that were in Sprite Kit Tutorial for Beginners were for getting and normalizing the length of a vector. Here’s the original Objective-C code:

// Objective-C

static inline float rwLength(CGPoint a) {
    return sqrtf(a.x * a.x + a.y * a.y);
}
 
// Makes a vector have a length of 1
static inline CGPoint rwNormalize(CGPoint a) {
    float length = rwLength(a);
    return CGPointMake(a.x / length, a.y / length);
}

Swift supports the addition of functionality to types by means of extensions. I thought that implementing these functions as computed properties of CGPoint in an extension would make for more elegant code — I’d rather write vector.length and vector.normalized than rwLength(vector) and rwNormalize(vector). Here’s what I wrote:

// Swift

private extension CGPoint {
  // Get the length (a.k.a. magnitude) of the vector
  var length: CGFloat { return sqrt(self.x * self.x + self.y * self.y) }
  
  // Normalize the vector (preserve its direction, but change its magnitude to 1)
  var normalized: CGPoint { return CGPoint(x: self.x / self.length, y: self.y / self.length) }
}

Note that I marked the entire extension as private. How would that affect their visibility inside and outside the file where the extension was defined?

The members of extensions marked private are available within the file where they’re defined, and are not available outside that file. Outside the file where the private extension members were defined, any attempt to use them results in an error, and auto-complete wouldn’t even list them.

Once again, testing confirmed that I could normalize and get the length of vectors represented by CGPoints from inside the same file, but couldn’t do so from inside in other files.

What happens when you mark “monkeypatches” as private?

Marking overrides and extensions as private led me to wonder what would happen if I marked a “monkeypatch” as private.

Monkeypatching is a term that’s used in the Python and Ruby developer communities, and it means dynamically replacing an existing class method with one of your own. It’s takes some effort to do in Objective-C (thanks to Joe Smith for the heads-up!), but it’s quite simple to do in Swift — and not just to methods, but properties as well. Here’s a quick example, in which I redefine the String class property utf16Count, which returns the number of UTF-16 characters in a string (it maps to NSString‘s length method):

extension String {
  var utf16Count: Int { return 5 }
}

With this extension, I’ve monkeypatched utf16Count so that it always returns 5, no matter what the number of UTF-16 characters in the string is.

Monkeypatching is powerful, and it’s sometimes useful, but as smarter people than I have pointed out, it can create more problems than it solves. As Jeff Atwood asked in Coding Horror, “Can you imagine debugging code where the String class had subtly different behaviors from the Stringyou’ve learned to use?”

That’s what got me thinking: what if private could be used to limit the scope of a monkeypatch, to limit the applicability of my warped verstion of utf16Count to a single file? Is such a thing possible? To answer these questions, I created this extension to String in one file:

// File: ViewController.swift

private extension String {
  var utf16Count: Int { return 5 }  // already defined in String
  var someNumber: Int { return 10 } // a new addition to String
}

This extension provides two things:

  • A monkeypatch for String‘s already-existent utf16Count property so that it always returns the value 5
  • A new property for String called someNumber, which always returns the value 10

In the same file where I defined my extension to String, I wrote this code:

// File: ViewController.swift

let testString = "This is a test"
println("UTF-16 count inside: \(testString.utf16Count)")
    
doOutsideCount()

And in another file, I defined the doOutsideCount method:

// File: SomeOtherFile.swift

func doOutsideCount() {
  let testString = "This is a test"
  println("UTF-16 count outside: \(testString.utf16Count)")
}

If making the extension private limited my redefinition of utf16Count to the file where I redefined it, the output of doOutsideCount() would be “UTF-16 count outside: 14″, since there are 14 UTF-16 characters in testString. I noticed that while typing in the code in this file, utf16Count was available to me in auto-complete.

Here’s the output that appeared on the console when I ran the app:

UTF-16 count inside: 5
UTF-16 count outside: 5

It appears that monkeypatching (redefining an existing member) in an extension marked private does not limit the monkeypatch to the file where the monkeypatch was defined. You can’t use private to limit the scope of a monkeypatch to a single file.

I changed the code in both files to try calling on someNumber, a method that didn’t already exist in String:

// File: ViewController.swift

func doOutsideCount() {
  let testString = "This is a test"
  println("someNumber inside: \(testString.someNumber)")
}

// File: SomeOtherFile.swift

func doOutsideCount() {
  let testString = "This is a test"
  println("someNumber inside: \(testString.someNumber)")
}

This wouldn’t even compile. Calling on the someNumber property of String outside of the file where I defined the private extension raises an error: 'String' does not have a member named 'SomeNumber'.

My conclusion from this little bit of experimenting is also this article’s title:

You can use Swift’s private access modifier to limit the reach of overrides and extensions, but not monkeypatches.

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Americans can unlock their phones again…legally!

by Joey deVilla on August 1, 2014

it's legal again

It’s official: President Obama will sign the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which brings back an important exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that lets customers and authorized third parties modify a phone’s firmware and thus removing restrictions that most carriers put on their phones. The White House blog explains how this change was brought about in greater detail, but for those of you who’d rather not get into all the legal stuff, here’s the practical upshot:

You can now unlock your phone (or hire a service to do it for you) so that you can switch carriers, all without getting fined or sued.

Have a happy Friday!

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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