Posts Tagged ‘Nokia’

Assorted mayors of London, complete with chains of office, paid a visit to the BBC this week expecting a talk from the news website’s editor.

Unfortunately he was unavoidably detained so I was press-ganged to talk about emerging platforms and how I thought the future would unfold.

My spiel about iPTV, mobiles, augmented reality, near-field communication, and the moneyless society seemed to go well, but I have to admit I was a bit flummoxed when one of the worshipful company asked where the power would come from to keep the connected society running.

The question was based, I believe, on this old Sunday Times story which asserts that a couple of Google searches generates as much CO2 as making a cuppa.

The Harvard researcher on whose work the report was based doesn’t accept the Times’ conclusion and the truth is that Google is well along the path of making itself carbon neutral

But in the wider context the questioner had a point – power-hungry devices in the hands of billions of people are bound to have an impact and there’s no ready answer to the question. The carbon footprint of a technology depends on what’s in and what’s out when you assess its impact.

It’s easy to see how making a call or sending a message rather than travelling to a face-to-face meeting might bring a big CO2 saving over existing technologies, and when multiplied across the billions of daily interactions the potential benefit is huge.

The carbon cost of manufacturing and distributing hardware and its ability to be recycled also has to be taken into account, especially with blisteringly fast turnover in device evolution and obsolescence.

Harder to measure is the impact of mobiles in enabling so many more connections and interactions between people then were ever possible in the past. Big thoughts and banalities are just 1s and 0s in the digital world. How do you cost a connected world?

At a pragmatic level, energy consumption and device efficiency is being tackled in multiple ways.

In the macro world memristor’s hold the prospect of chips that run 10 times faster than conventional models using a tenth of the power. There are solar chargers, hydrogen fuel cells and even ways of harvesting kinetic energy to trickle life back into a battery.

This Yoyo charger and this bike dynamo from Nokia show some of the solutions coming to the market, but I bet Harold Wilson never imagined his “white heat of technology” vision needing pedal power to keep the conversation flowing.

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Commentator Tomi Ahonen’s mobile industry statistics guide is always compelling reading, in fact many of the numbers have found their way into Marc Settle’s excellent BBC College of Journalism course.

There’s one number in the blizzard of information that’s especially interesting – that, according to Nokia, the average person looks at their phone 150 times per day. That’s a glance every six and a half minutes.

I’m guessing much of that activity is associated with SMS or other forms of instant messaging, but part of it will be to monitor Facebook’s news feed or Twitter’s continuous stream of what Google’s Eric Schmidt calls “newness”.

It’s why I’ve bored for England over the past couple of years about the need to present the flow of news from the BBC as a chronology as well as an editorially weighted, sifted and sorted set of headlines.

There’s drama in minute-by-minute information flux and no reason not to do both if suitable filters can be added.

We already offer agency-style running updates for set-piece live event pages, but all of life is a live event and this kind of treatment should be our normal operating procedure.

The dip in, dip out behaviour seen in mobile use patterns needs a different news mix and a different metric to measure engagement.

When web stats are talked about it’s rare for anyone to mention that up to half of unique users only visit a site once a week, that dwell times are scant and fewer than half a dozen pages are looked at.

With all the resources at our disposal and with the development of the BBC’s internal Quickfire breaking news tool we could lead the way in a different kind of news delivery.

Mobile base station

Image via Wikipedia

As mobile devices gobble up ever more data, workarounds to help networks cope with choke-points in capacity are starting to emerge.

Now talking deep-tech on cell tower capacity and backhaul capability passeth all understanding as far as I’m concerned; it’s also about as much fun as discussing the tappet settings on your car.

Be that as it may, it’s important – especially if you’ve ever bitched about reception blackspots and poor connectivity – so bear with me while I try to explain.

Alcatel-Lucent has unveiled a new mobile base station called lightRadio which it says represents a breakthrough in infrastructure thinking. Suppress the yawn and try to stay with me.

This base station is tiny. It’s a squashed down cube that fits in the palm of the hand. And while it’s not much to look at, it’s a miracle of engineering for which there are 900 patents, granted or applied for.

So what’s so marvellous about it? It shrinks base station and cell towers to something discrete which can be fitted on the side of buildings. It cuts energy consumption making it cheaper and greener. And it promises big savings in ownership costs for network operators.

So, rather than building more masts and towers with all the associated costs and permission problems, this should make it easier for telecom companies to integrate and extend their networks.

It’s not a panacea – core networks still need to be scaled up in the face of Cisco’s predicted 26-fold increase in bandwidth demand by 2015 – but it should bring a better quality of service.

Separately, Nokia is unveiling Smart WLAN at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, an automatic system to seamlessly switch traffic between cellular broadband and wifi to extend capacity.

It’s something likely to be especially valuable in hotspot areas like conventions, sporting arenas or commuter routes which experience big tides of traffic.

And at the end of last month O2 revealed plans to double its wifi hotspots and to make sign-on much simpler.

UK Chief Executive Ronan Dunne said in a blog post: “O2 wifi will address the many shortcomings in the way most wifi hotspots work.

“You won’t need to buy a coffee to use it and it won’t matter what simcard is in your phone. You’ll only ever need to sign in once and then our network will remember you, wherever you go.”

Business Development Director Tim Sefton reckons only 20% of people who have access to free public wifi on O2 tariffs actively use it despite the majority of devices being wifi enabled.

“We know that wifi as a technology has great potential and can be a very fast service, however customers are discouraged by barriers which include complexity in activation, uncertainty of where wifi is free and the variable quality of the current experience.”

O2 is increasing investment in its mobile network by 25% in the year ahead as tablets and portable devices stoke demand.

In the fight to keep existing customers and to win new business the battleground for mobile operators is increasingly becoming focused on quality of service.

Getting investment and build cycles in sync with consumer expectations, while keeping an eye on competitors is a complex juggling act, and for those who get it wrong the consequences will be very damaging.