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Tech support, meet life support

unplug me - plug me back in

Hey, it works for all my electronics…

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The UN’s latest telecom numbers: 3 billion people on the ‘net in 2014, and 2.3 billion of them get it on their mobiles

3 billion on the net most on mobile broadband
The United Nations’ news center points to a paper by their International Telecommunications Union that says that by the end of 2014, the internet will have:

  • Nearly 3 billion users,
  • Two-thirds of whom — nearly 2 billion — from the developing world, and
  • And most internet users — 2.3 billion of them — will be accessing it via mobile broadband. That 5 times the number from 2008, a mere six years beforehand.

This chart, taken from the ITU’s report, The World in 2014: ICT Facts and Figures [1.7MB PDF], shows the rate of mobile broadband adoption for the past six years and a projection for the end of this one:

mobile broadband subscriptions 2007 - 2014

Click the photo to see the source.

Mobile broadband should used by 84% of the developed world by the end of the year, if the current 11.5% growth rate holds. That growth rate is more than double in the developing world, who should hit 21% penetration by December 31st, 2014.

The average person in the developed world has 1.21 mobile subscriptions. Here are the regions with the highest subscription rates:

regions w most mobile subscriptions 2014

Click the photo to see the source.

Here’s a look at the worldwide mobile subscription numbers over the past 8 years, plus a look forward to the end of this one. We’ll hit the 7 billion subscription mark by the end of the year, and the lion’s share of those numbers will come from the developing world:

mobile subscriptions worldwide

Click the photo to see the source.

For the full story, including numbers on fixed (or “wireline”, as we like to say at GSG) broadband, see the ITU’s report, The World in 2014: ICT Facts and Figures.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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Old tech of the day: Optical disk cartridge and friends

Optical disk cartridge propped up on an office chair, dwarfing the 3.5 inch floppy disks surrounding it

Back in the early 1990s, processor speeds where measured in dual-digit megahertz, RAM was measured in single-digit megabytes, and hard drives were just beginning to creep from the two- to three-digit megabyte capacity. During that time, commercially-available storage in the gigabyte range looked like the big disk, pictured above among the more common 3.5 inch floppy disks for size comparison.

It’s an optical disk cartridge with 2.62 GB capacity. The plastic case isn’t much more than a jumbo-sized version of a 3.5 inch floppy, and the disk medium is the close cousin of CD and DVD R/W technology. If you’d like to get your hands on one, it can be yours for $50 on eBay.

To give you a better idea of its size, here’s how you’d carry it around:

Guy holding an optical disk cartridge in his arm like a book

And while it looks like a floppy disk, it’s never going to fit in that A: drive:

Trying to insert an optical disk cartridge into a tower PC, but the thing's twice the PC's width.

These ODCs, as they were called for short, didn’t see much use outside enterprise computing. Instead, these smaller, cheaper backup storage devices rose and for a while were the hottest peripherals to have:

Zip drive

…and if you really needed more storage space (I did, as I was developing interactive CD-ROMs at the time), you had one of these:

Jaz drive

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Old tech of the day: the cassette tape drive

cassette drive

In case you don’t recognize it, it’s a Commodore cassette tape drive, which they called the “Datasette”, which was cheaper than a diskette drive.

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Mobile roundup: The Apple/Samsung smartphone war, switching from deskphones, wireless carriers by the numbers, and smartphone material tradeoffs

In Apple and Samsung’s battle for the mobile market, truth is stranger than fiction

the great smartphone war

Click the photo to read the Vanity Fair article.

Vanity Fair’s Kurt Eichenwald, whom you probably remember from his August 2012 article on Microsoft’s wane in market share and influence under Steve Ballmer, has written a new article titled The Great Smartphone War. In the battle to own the hardware market for the next frontier in computing and communications, the stakes are high, the competition is fierce, the lawsuits are plenty, and sometimes, the story turns weird.

Eichewald’s earlier article showed Microsoft in a very unflattering light, but it seems like a mild rebuke compared to the way Samsung looks in The Great Smartphone War. He paints a picture of a company formerly known for producing second-rate electronics rising to power through tactics such as price-fixing, bribery, patent violations, using countersuits as delaying tactics while they quietly took the market, creating near-faithful duplicates of competitors’ innovations, and in one case, eating evidence before letting Apple’s legal team come into an office to take depositions.

Are headsets the new deskphones?

headsets in deskphones out 2

Click the photo to read the article.

In What…No Deskphones? Barbara A. Grothe, the CEO of an independent IT and technology consultancy, writes about her recent experiences deplying Microsoft Lync as the primary voice communication tool at a couple of client offices. The only deskphones deployed were “a few hallway phones and conference star phones with full duplex speakerphones built in”; all other phone calls made or taken at employee desks were done via Lync running on their computers and wireless headsets. The CIOs at the client firms saw that between employees working outside the office and seeing employees using their own mobile phones at their desks, why bother spending money on deskphones?

Grothe’s consultancy didn’t simply give the employees unopened boxes of headsets and leave them on their own to figure them out. Instead, they made sure that each employee received a fully-charged headset, installed their corresponding dongles and software on their computers, and showed each employee how to use the headset during the installation process. They also made sure that the C-level executives were the first to try the Lync/headset combo; “If the CIO and President of this company can conduct business without a deskphone,” writes Grothe, “then the employee felt motivated to follow suit.”

The use of wireless headsets allowed employees to answer incoming calls even when they were up to 30 feet away from their desks. With this convenience came one issue: unlike deskphones, where you can simply pick up the handset and dial, you have to be logged into your machine first in order to place a call using this setup.

Wireless carrier stats: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Tracfone, and Verizon

wireless carriers by the numbers

Click the photo to read the article.

Jackdaw Research’s blog, Beyond Devices, maintains a running tally titled US Wireless Numbers that tracks the following figures released by the major wireless carriers as they report their quarterly results:

  • Subscribers: AT&T has the most, followed in descending order by Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, then Tracfone. AT&T also has the largest proportion of wholesale and connected customers.
  • Wireless revenue: Verizon makes the most — over $20 billion a quarter — followed in descending order by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Tracfone.
  • Operating margins: Verizon’s is the highest (nearly 40%), followed by AT&T and Tracfone. Sprint and T-Mobile have had the lowest operating margins over the past couple of years, with T-Mobile having recently traded places with Sprint and currently having the lowest (running about slightly below 0%).
  • EBITDA margins: That’s Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization, and from highest to lowest, it’s Verizon at about 45%, followed by AT&T (40%), Sprint (20%), T-Mobile, and Tracfone (both about 15%).
  • Capital intensity: This refers to wireless capital expenditures as a fraction of wireless revenues. Here, the Big Four are within about 8% of each other, all between 10% and 20%, with AT&T spending the largest proportion of their wireless revenue on wireless infrastructure, followed by T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint.
  • Net adds: Who’s been adding the most customers lately? It’s T-Mobile, followed by Tracfone, AT&T, Verizon, then Sprint. Sprint is the only carrier who’s been showing a net loss of customers.
  • ARPU: Average Revenue Per User is tricky to report. Verizon doesn’t report ARPU anymore; they report Average Revenue Per Account. T-Mobile reports Average Billings Per User. Changes in the way the carriers are subsidizing handsets will also change how other carriers report their average revenue numbers.
  • Churn: The churn rates of the Big Four are within 1.5% of each other. Sprint has the most at just above 2%, followed by T-Mobile around 1.5%, and AT&T and Verizon are tied at about 1%.
  • Smartphone sales: Even though the data is patchy and incomplete, it’s still obvious that we’re now in the smartphone age. For all Big Four carriers, 90% or more of postpaid sales were for smartphones.

They’ll be updating this page regularly, so visit it each quarter.

Plastic, metal and glass: the upsides and downsides of materials used to build mobile devices

what mobiles are made of

Click the photo to read the article.

AnandTech is my go-to site for solid, detailed, analyses of mobile hardware and software, and here’s one reason: their recent article, Discussion on Material Choices in Mobile, analyzes the pros and cons of plastic, metal, and glass, the materials used to build smartphone bodies.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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The leap in memory technology from 2005 to 2014

microsd 2005 - 2014

Photo posted by History in Pictures, found via Frank Michlick. Click the photo to see its source.

One of the more interesting products to be announced at the recent Mobile World Congress this year wasn’t a mobile phone, but an accessory: SanDisk’s 128 GB (gigabytes, where a gigabyte is about 1 billion bytes) SDXC card. A mere nine years ago (two years prior to when the entire mobile industry was redefined by the iPhone), 128 MB (megabytes, where a megabyte is about 1 million bytes, one thousandth of a gigabyte) was the bleeding edge for MicroSD-sized memory cards.

Here’s another way to think of this leap in memory technologies:

128 mb sd vs dvd

dvd vs 128 gb sdxc

As of this writing (May 2, 2014), the SanDisk Ultra 128 GB MicroSD card sells at Best Buy for $200. Popping it your SD card-capable mobile device (most Androids and Windows Phone devices) will give it the storage capacity of the current starter model MacBook Air.

That’s a lot of apps, music, video, and who knows what other kinds of data once some smart app developers imagine what’s possible on a mobile device once you give it the drive space formerly reserved for desktop and laptop systems.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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Wireless carrier roundup: AT&T gets into in-flight wifi, Verizon’s secret cave, Sprint and T-Mobile’s network improvements

AT&T gets into the in-flight wifi business

at&t wifi

AT&T announced on Monday that they’re joining forces with Honeywell International to provide high-speed, in-flight wifi in the U.S.. The service would give fliers access to AT&T’s 4G and LTE service from their airline seats.

Michael Small, CEO of Gogo, who in six years has managed to capture half the market, says he isn’t worried. “An entrant to the U.S. market at this state is too little, too late,” he said. “We believe airlines are going to be making a lot of decisions about connectivity this year and next,” a time frame during which AT&T will be getting their service set up while Gogo is already in operation.

gogo wifi on us carriers

Gogo may have a significant share of the wifi on US flights, but theirs is an expensive business. The company has been posting increasing losses over the past two years — $96 million in 2012, and $146 million in 2013. Deep-pocketed rivals with other sources of revenue like AT&T — and Panasonic, who bought in-flight entertainment provider LiveTV in March for almost twice as much as Gogo’s 2012 and 2013 losses —  could simply choose to play the waiting game and let Gogo spend itself out of existence…or into acquisition.

The market seems to think that AT&T, despite being the new kid on the block in this particular market, are poised to succeed. Here’s a CNNMoney report on that sentiment:

Other reports on AT&T’s entry into the in-flight wifi business:

Verizon has a secret cave full of backup equipment in case of a crisis or natural disaster

verizonSixty feet below the ground, in an undisclosed location — but presumably within driving distance of the studios of Kansas City’s FOX 4 News studios — is Verizon’s cave of recovery equipment. The cave is climate-controlled and protected from the elements, and the gear allows Verizon to restore service in hours when the region’s tornadoes or other natural disasters destroy a cellular tower, cut a fiber line, or disrupt power.

Tony LaRose, head of operations for the facility says “We really got concerned after the Joplin tornado went through about all this equipment just being out in a parking lot. We started looking around thinking how can we make that equipment more secure? This cave location was a perfect solution.”

Network improvements at Sprint and T-Mobile

network improvements 2

While T-Mobile have been making headlines by competing very fiercely on price and eliminating overage fees, the cellular market isn’t an overly price-sensitive market, especially when factors such as the network weigh heavily when customers choose a carrier. Network speed is usually a selling point, and as we reported in an earlier article, the crowdsourced wireless analytics group OpenSignal declared that T-Mobile had the fastest LTE network in March, boasting average speeds of 11.5 Mbps (megabits per second).

Speed isn’t the only issue with cellular data, however. If you’ve ever had full signal strength and a fast connection only to lose it because you walked a couple dozen paces in the wrong direction, you know that stability is also important. Most current LTE systems use what’s called 2×2 MIMO antenna technology. MIMO is short for “Multiple In, Multiple Out”, and the 2×2 means that the connection in your phone is established by 2 antennas at the cellular tower, and 2 in your phone. This year, starting in Chicago, Dallas, and San Antonio, T-Mobile plans to deploy 4×2 MIMO systems, which doubles the antennas at the tower that establish the connection with your phone and ensures a better, more stable connection.

T-Mobile have also just closed a deal to acquire access to the very desirable 700 MHz spectrum from Verizon. This frequency band, which is lower than the 1700 – 2100 MHz range in which T-Mobile currently operates, doesn’t carrier as much data as higher frequencies, but travels farther and penetrates barriers such as buildings and thick vegetation. This new frequency band will be used to improve coverage in “nine of the top 10 and 21 of the top 30 metro areas in the country” including Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C..

Sprint is also deploying improvements to its network in the form of Sprint Spark, a technology that uses three different radio frequency ranges and supercharges data transmission speeds to 50 to 60 Mbps, which is about ten times as fast as the average U.S. data speed (according to OpenSignal, the average data transmission speed on U.S. LTE networks is 6.5 Mbps). Spark will appear in 100 U.S. cities over the next three years.

For more reports on Sprint and T-Mobile’s network improvements:

this article also appears in the GSG blog