So how come my Phone has been to places I have not?

Following on from my last post which described my consolidated.db location database:

I have never been to Cancun

My guess? Wifi-positioning.

When we were on the cruise last year (on the Independence of the Seas) and connected to the WiFi on board, every time we launched maps, it would show us a location somewhere near Florida/the Caribbean. I think that’s where the WiFi access point had last been surveyed by whatever lookup was being used. So while connected, we must be where the database said we were.

As access points are now more mobile (there were hundreds of them in the WWDC keynote hall last summer), WiFi positioning is likely going to be quite accurate but have a few outliers like this as you are triangulating on a WiFi access point which was surveyed (by chance) in a different place. Normally there will be enough access points to correct for this error but not on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean.

Likewise, if your phone has connected to a very weak signal on a distant, elevated cell tower, it may use that for positioning rather than more local sources. It does happen, just infrequently.

Plus – this only records position when you ask it to record position. On my iPhone, that’s a constant thing. On others, it may only get accessed when launching maps. And, of course, you can turn Location Services off.

Skype on iPhone: a complete arse

  • Can’t use over 3G. This is a complete arse. I get an excellent 3G connection most places I go to, I never use over my minutes and therefore I’m hardly going to abuse it. So, Apple, O2, what the fuck?
  • Lack of Push Notification. It would be lovely if Skype would implement this so that when someone contacts me on Skype, it tells me and gives me the option of answering. As an outgoing-only solution, it’s a complete arse.
  • Lack of multitasking. Why is this a problem? Two words: Incoming call. When someone calls my mobile number, the frontmost application quits. This is okay if it’s music or a game I’m playing but it’s a complete arse when I’m mid-Skype. Also means you can’t do anything else when in a call.

A workaround for some of this?

  1. First of all, get a MiFi (a 3G router). I have one from Three (3) and it means we have WiFi everywhere. Three don’t give a damn about you using Skype over their network.
  2. Consider an iPod touch (or put on Airplane mode and then switch WiFi on). This will remove the annoyance of an incoming call.
  3. Leave Skype running. Constantly. This may mean getting a second iPhone. Or alternatively just use your bloody computer.

The Last Mile

Last week there was a public debate on “Monetising Kelvin” held out at the Northern Ireland Science Park. The event was sponsored by MATRIX and Hibernia Atlantic.

Project Kelvin is a joint €30 million initiative between DETI and DCENR and is partly funded through the EC INTERREG IVA programme. The new cable will link Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Coleraine, Londonderry, Omagh, Portadown and Strabane to Europe and North America. In addition, the cable will also provide links to Letterkenny, Castleblayney, Dundalk, Drogheda and Monaghan. This build marks another key milestone in Hibernia Atlantic’s history, as the communications company is the first to deploy a cable from North America to this region. This build is also notable for Northern Ireland and global companies alike, as it offers a new wealth of capacity and the ability to directly and securely connect to Canada, US, UK and mainland Europe.

This proposal adds high speed connectivity to the existing Northern Ireland Saturn Ring (NISR):

Locations on the Saturn Ring are already possessing high speed connections but if you’re not in a building sitting on a Point of Presence (POP) then you’re kinda buggered anyway. The cost for laying a 2 Mbit leased line from a very close POP is currently around £6K and a 10 Mbit line can be had for around £8.5K. The further you are away from a POP, the higher the cost.

The problem that Kelvin isn’t resolving is the Last Mile.

This refers to the fact that you can drag a high speed cable three thousand miles across the Atlantic ocean but when it gets here, you’re stuck on a slow upload link. But, I hear you protest, we have 50 Mbit internet links in Belfast? Download yes – which is fine if you want to have a nation of consumers but rubbish if, for example, you want to upload digital content (home-grown movies for example) to content delivery servers in the USA. In essence, if Kelvin doesn’t usher in a new heap of wireless connectivity, it’s not actually as much use. Unless, of course, you own one of the POPs and have a heap of office space to rent out.

So, what’s the solution for getting the data out there?

A few years ago, a group of cheeky folk mobbed around Belfast with iBooks and Windows CE handheld and large Omni and Backfire antennae and played with the idea of setting up an intra-Belfast wireless network. that group folded – people went off and did their own thing – but the concept itself is still valuable. Why don’t we have a wireless delivery system for bandwidth from a local POP? How much does it really cost to buy an access port on the POP and then feed that out to folk who need it?

I guess this is another vote for “who is looking after the little guy?”

Muni WiFi: escape the Dialup Dark Ages

A few years ago I approached Belfast City Council with the idea of my company putting a large chunk of cash into a Meraki WIFI mesh which would then provide free WiFi to Cathedral Quarter. Cathedral Quarter was and still is plagued by having historic cobbled streets which prevent the laying of new lines – but for my business it was an opportunity. If Belfast City Council would pay for two or three ADSL lines in some buildings, we would sink a heap of capital into the network hardware and handle all of the installations. What would we get out of it? A bit of advertising to the Creative Centre of Belfast. That’s all we wanted. The response we got back was that the area already had BTOpenZone, which, if you investigate is notable for it’s absence in the area.

Undeterred I believe that Belfast needs a free-to-access Municipal Wi-Fi network.

There are providers around but the cost and subscription burden of many providers (and lack of basic interoperability, never mind poor user interfaces for mobile travellers) makes the current WiFi subscription set up to be a very unsatisfactory experience for the average traveller.

Belfast allegedly attracted 800,000 people for the Tall Ships event recently.

“Around 800,000 people crowded to the city’s docks for the biggest event ever staged on the island of Ireland. This included 100,000 holiday-makers who visited the city especially for the event – and 250,000 people believed to have watched the magnificent Parade of Sail out of Belfast Lough.”

(Doing the maths: This means there were 200,000 per day. Which means 10,000 per hour or so during the four days the Tall Ships were here. I call bullshit but hey).

Either way – there were thousands of people present and over 1000 crew from those ships. Would a free WiFi service have been useful to them? Of course. Last time I travelled to the US, I had to pay nearly £1000 in data and voice roaming charges and my next trip will likely be as bad if not worse. It is essential to the Tourism economy in Northern Ireland that we have a tourist-friendly environment. Rather than the tourist not using voice or data services (or worse, spending hundreds of pounds on roaming data paid to their home carrier), we should be providing that service free of charge and permitting them to use Skype or other voice services to call home. We need to build Northern Ireland as a progressive traveller-friendly destination.

Recently in the news, San Francisco is pioneering with Solar-Powered WiFi bus stops.


By 2013, San Francisco is planning to construct 360 new Muni bus stops that’ll further the causes of both solar power and blanketed Wi-Fi at the same time.

and Toyota created a bit of a news story with their new Prius advertising campaign:


Toyota planted five 18-foot tall “solar flowers” in Boston’s Prudential Plaza and provided free Wi-Fi and electricity that was “partially powered” by the solar panels attached to the petals and stem.

Think of where the roaming charges go. This money is not being used to build the Northern Ireland economy, they’re not being used to upgrade our infrastructure, build our schools or assist local business. The money goes somewhere else.

So, lets unwire Belfast. Let’s break the stranglehold on communications held by the mobile carriers where they can charge £6 per megabyte downloaded or uploaded which, frankly, drags us back to the dialup dark ages.

Sling, Skype, now Qik – no mojo on iPhone

Qik for iPhone has arrived. (iTunes link)

Engadget says: The good news is that Qik for iPhone 3GS is now available, and it’s completely gratis to download. The bad news is that it probably won’t do exactly what you want it to. You see, those on Symbian S60 have grown used to a Qik that can actually stream live video to the internet, whereas this app is currently just a “capture and upload” piece. Moreover, it only works via WiFi, so if you’re not near a hotspot once your video is done, you’ll have to wait until you wander back over to one before it automatically begins uploading.

Why is Apple doing this?

It’s very simple. It’s because of this graph from Flickr.


Now, that’s for Flickr. For still images. The Carriers are TERRIFIED that people like you and I will start to do the same with our videos. Our videos which can be many, many megabytes in size, heading up to Qik for immediate streaming down again to dozens or even hundreds of users.

This is exactly why Sling was also ‘disabled’ and limited to WiFi and it’s why Skype has had it’s mojo removed as well – it’s the carriers. They’re as afraid of losing revenue (for voice minutes) as they are about their networks falling over as their hollow promises are realised.

This is why we need rree, muni WiFi everywhere.

CoWorkingBelfast has a home at last…

I was very happy to see Andy post this on Twitter just a few minutes ago as we’d been sitting on it for so long, working out numbers and trying to figure out how to pay for things.

The Good: The rent and rates are affordable and the room itself is great for the purposes. The café below is also not bad and the food seems pretty healthy. The room itself is very nice, has heaps of natural light and is in a popular part of the city. I think the atmosphere in the room will be very enjoyable for dynamic, ‘agile’ companies. It’s not going to suit everyone – and that’s fine – CoWorking isn’t meant for everyone.

The Bad: We’re realistic. This is a temporary home – it’s going to take us a couple of years to build to the point where we have enough people and momentum to take CWB to the ‘next level’. The vision for CoWorkingBelfast has always been ‘an entire building’ so we’ll start here and see where we go. There’s no parking though – which is a pain and an expense but that’s going to bite you anywhere in the city. You should be using public transport anyway.

The Ugly: We’ve still got a heap of paperwork to do and we could do with a reasonable solicitor to help us through some of the muddle. Nightmare. Anyone got much experience with non-profits and want me to owe them a favour?

Disconnected Conferences..

On his blog, Evert waxes about how conferences tend to have poor wifi:

What’s needed is for someone knowledgeable to carry out a site survey and to use the results of this to work out a radio-plan. Take in consideration all possible sources of interference, the network load (i.e. amount of bandwidth needed) and make sure that you implement correct channel management and you should be OK. Coverage area and number of users can just be plugged into this matrix as it is scaleable.

Hm, hold on there. WiFi connectivity was spotty at OCC BBQ and wasn’t that you I saw in a suit pottering around with WiFi access points at the Digital Island Meetup/BizSpark Launch in November? I couldn’t get connected to WiFi there either. It’s not kosher to throw stones and I’m not throwing stones here – I’ve previously documented my own experiences with WiFi at events.

The problem is, in my opinion, shitty equipment. Whether it’s the oft-documented Free Public WiFi misfeature (Thanks, Microsoft) or the fact that some people don’t turn off their torrent applications when they connect to public wifi – I’ve seen it happen. All WiFi equipment is made by the lowest bidder. It’s all turd. And it’s worse when Windows creates ad-hoc networks at random without permission. That’s just arsehole behaviour.

The problem is… WiFi is shit.

Firstly it’s entirely based on collision detection. And it’s on a shared medium. So every time you add a new user on there it’s going to decrease the chance you can get any data. We hated this when it was a wire and we hate it when it’s wireless. But it’s a standard. So what are you going to do.

People should not expect massive data rates. They don’t need massive data rates. You need less than a megabit a second for decent WiFi. Anything faster than that and you’re just pissing into the wind. Use a damn wire already.

BT and The Cloud part company

The Register writes about todays announcement:

“It’s disappointing for BT Openzone customers that they will no longer be able to benefit from the convenience of our hotspots – we are disappointed that BT could not reach acceptable commercial terms, though we are certain everyone will understand that our service partners, O2, Orange, AT&T, iPass and many others are happy to do business with The Cloud.”

The thing is, selling WiFi like this was never going to be a good business model. For my money I’d rather back community focussed efforts like FON or support grassroots efforts which will pull apart the dependency on third parties selling WiFi for more than pennies an hour.

We can’t consider muni-Wifi in Northern Ireland because public-funded money should not be used to compete against private companies (except in cases where the privately owned service proposition is really bad) but that’s not to say there shouldn’t be alternatives out there.

I’ve got my hands full at the moment with Digital Circle, Infurious and the other things on my plate. I’ll have to return to at a later date. There’s more shakeouts to happen as 3G dongles take a bite out of commercial WiFi, mark my words.

Data Plans…

From Gruber:

Rogers Announces iPhone Rates in Canada
And — surprise, surprise — they suck. Stingy data limits and no unlimited data plan at any price.

Rogers is being stupid here, but not for the reasons that you may think.

Though I’ve had an Unlimited data plan for nearly a year, the thing that it brings is not peace of mind due to knowing I can download as much as I like, but peace of mind regarding not having to account for it. I don’t want itemised data. Rogers offers 4 data plans – 400 MB, 750 MB, 1 GB and 2 GB. Some people might think these are low but consider this…

I’ve had my iPhone since October 2007 – eight months – and anyone who knows me would know that I’d be a heavy user of my iPhone. I may have Wifi 90% of the time at weekends but only for maybe 40% of the time during the week. And I’ve only managed to use a gigabyte. So chill out. I mean, think about how long you’d have to have your iPhone downloading in order to get a gigabyte of data (presumably this is going to be quicker under 3G – rumours say speeds will be 1.4 Mbps)

Caps will also deter tethering – using your phone as a modem for your desktop computer – which isn’t really an issue on the iPhone anyway (and we’re pretty assured Apple will block any apps which enable it). They’ll deter using a bittorrent client. They’ll deter any sort of persistent data flow – which is probably a good thing.

Just as O2 is providing free access to all Cloud and BTOpenZone Wifi hotspots, all of the Canadian packages include unlimited access to Rogers and Fido Wi-Fi hotspots. Use them!

Now if Apple could do something about the cost of roaming…