About the authors
Russell Shaw Russell Shaw is a specialist in mobile computing, telephony, networking and covers these fields regularly for numerous print and online publications. Russ writes the popular IP Telephony blog on ZDNet and contributes regularly to The Industry Standard blog as well. Author of seven books, Russ' latest book is Wireless Networking Made Easy.
John Yunker John Yunker is president of Byte Level Research. He closely tracks emerging wireless technologies and their impact on consumers and carriers alike. Over the years he has written a number of major reports on technologies such as Wi-Fi, WiMAX and cellular technologies.
About this blog
Unwired studies emerging wireless technologies and how they complement and conflict with one another. Technologies covered include: Wi-Fi, WiMAX, Ultra-Wideband, Zigbee, EV-DO, UMTS, HSDPA and whatever else comes along.
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline


Comcast-branded cell phone and services? Could happen

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Posted by Russell Shaw

A new article on the website of the Hollywood Reporter indicates that Comcast- the largest broadband Internet service provider in North America- is seeking a toe-hold in the wireless world.

Maybe not just a toe hold. Maybe more than that.

Comcast's goal, contributing editor Diane Mermigas described Comcast senior executives as saying, would be "to offer itscable TV subscribers the ability to check their Comcast email, voice mail,on-demand video selections and conduct personalized product and service searches on a branded Comcast phone."

Mermigas- who I worked with directly for years and for whom I have the highest professional and professional respect- says that in terms of infrastructure, a major Comcast wireless effort could play out in one of several ways.

These might include Comcast re-selling Sprint or T-Mobile wireless service. I could see this working this way: you buy a Comcast-branded cell phone, as well as minutes from Comcast- but actually you are buying Comcast minutes out of a giant pool of minutes they've purchased from say, Sprint PCS. Not so far-fetched: Qwest Wireless is a Sprint PCS reseller. And DirecTV also has a similar re-seller relationship with Verizon.

The other major scenario Mermigas proposes is that a wireless phone provider and Comcast would strike up a deal allowing for "personalized services across multiple media platforms."

Either scenario sounds plausible -even not to the exclusion of the other.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Convergence

June 12, 2005

Wireless Gadgets Worth Forgetting

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Posted by Russell Shaw

The July issue of Mobile magazine has a list of the Top 100 Forgotten Gadgets.

These are gizmos that either failed to catch on for any combination of several reasons: because they didn't have enough marketing or distribution money behind them, because they got outraced by better solutions - or because they like didn't work.

Here's a summary listing culled from the Top 40 listed Gadgets with functionality (or lack thereof) relevant to what we talk about here. If any evoke special memories, be sure to post a comment:

7- Cobra Dynascan Cordless Phone;

8- Texas Instruments TI-81 Graphing Calculator;

10- Timex Sinclair ZX-81 (a primitive portable computer);

19- palmOne Treo 600 (yea, I was wondering about that one as well, but I guess the 600 made the list because it was soon superseded by the popular 650);

35- HP 200Lx PDA. 1996 vintage, and ugly.

If you're wondering what was #1, I'll only provide limited information. According to Mobile magazine, the cited device was developed in the late 1800s to "treat female hysteria."

Got it, right?

Wanna know more, read the article.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Picture

Airborne Wi-Fi? Count Me In!!

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Posted by Russell Shaw

Would you pay $29.95 for Wi-Fi Internet access for the entire length of your flight? What about $9.95 an hour?

USA Today reports that United Airlines is already working with Verizon Airfone to test the service. Apparently, it has been demonstrated to the Federal Aviation Administration's approval that yes, this type of technology won't jumble pilot-to-ground communications.

Technically, the service could work. Marketing-wise, I think it is a smash. The USA Today piece says that 38% of frequent business travelers who responded to a Forrester Research survey said that they would use the service even if it were priced at $25 a flight.

The next time you fly, note the number of business travelers working with their stored email files and PowerPoint presentations. I think this is a ready made market. Count me in.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Wi-Fi

SMS The Sidewalk? RU Sirius?

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Posted by Russell Shaw

This morning, I read an Associated Press piece about a service called Grafedia.

Here's how it works. Advertisers put up a teaser message on, say, a sidewalk or telephone pole. The message is either an e-mail address or the address of a Web page, both mappable to

With your cell phone in your hand you walk by the advert, and then send a text message to the address listed on the message.

Then, depending on the ad, a bigger ad display will open. Or, perhaps, you'll see a history of the building or neighborhood open up within the display you've just SMS'd.

I was bopping around this morning thinking "kewel," at least up until I told this story to someone who approaches technology from a far more practical mindset than I sometimes do.

"Let me get this straight," the X-chromosomal unit says to me. "I've seen enough ads today already. So when I see this ad on the sidewalk, I am supposed to stop walking, get out my cell phone, and send a text message to the sidewalk so that I can see another ad?

Case closed.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cellular

"Hang Up And Drive?" Here's a More Reasonable Proposal

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Posted by Russell Shaw

Several weeks ago, a woman here in my home town of Portland, Oregon drove off a bridge while yacking on her cell phone. It was a hands-free handset, by the way.

Fortunately, she survived with mere cuts and scratches on her face. She was more than lucky. Instead of the admonition "Hang Up And Drive," "Hang Up Or Dive" would have been a more relevant caution.

Then, last week, someone nearly sideswiped me while executing a left turn through an intersection on a busy, two-lane street. She was talking on her cell phone as well.

I'm the last person to knock communications technology. I've had a cell since the 1980s, and while I might be happy to see you, that is a cell phone in my pocket.

Still, maybe I'm old fashioned enough to adhere to the notion that when driving, you use your cell in an emergency. Such as calling in a police report of a knife fight on the street that you are driving on, or helping a fellow motorist in distress. Or, if necessary, return the day care center's call.

While driving, you do not use your cell phone to ask what you should pick up at the supermarket, what DVDs you should pick up. Nor do you call your Realtor, your broker, your hairdresser. Pull to the side of the road for that.

Which naturally leads to a discussion about whether local governments should ban cell phone use while driving.

I'm not a reflexive Libertarian, but I would say no. For every near-miss, there's got to be many multiples of successfully executed talking-while-driving conversations. So to me, the issue is whether government should regulate behavior that is more risky than normal - or whether your own common sense should prevail.

Here's how I would parse this issue. Don't outlaw cell phone driving. Instead, sell cell-phone-while-driving permits to individual motorists, and then use the proceeds to support E911 services. Those permit-holders who would abuse the privilege and either cause accidents or get arrested for other moving violations would lose their permits.

And of course, see their insurance rates rise as well.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cellular

June 6, 2005

Signals in the Sagebrush: Rural People-Trackers Use New GPS Solution

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Posted by Russell Shaw

(This is an update of an original post about Pocket Tracker, a tracking solution that uses GPS technology to find missing people in rural areas. Thanks to Pocket Tracker co-founder Tony Barrett for taking the time to get back to us with some necessary clarifications, as well as some interesting additional information).

There we were this weekend, pitching an RV in the rugged Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon.

These are mountains where outlaws used to flee, and never got found. Sometimes, that still happens. Except, in my part of the world, those outlaws are more likely to be meth dealers rather than cattle rustlers.

Other times, the good people get lost. And that's where Pocket Tracker comes in.

Union County - a mountains-and-sagebrush expanse of some 2,039 square miles - has a search and rescue group that looks for about 50 missing persons a year. It's now testing the Pocket Tracker, a carry-along unit that consists of a GPS and radio transmitter, connected to a HAM radio frequency.

Search teams use the device to map and coordinate their locations, marking areas already searched and which ought to be combed next. Pocket Tracker is set to work on either 144.390 MHz or 144.340 MHz.

Pocket Tracker was co-invented by retired HP engineer Jim Hall, as well as Tony Barrett, a former HP engineer who owns the HiValue Radio company in Boise, Idaho (about 150 miles as the vulture flies from Union County).

Pocket Tracker also contains additional equipment besides the GPS and the radio- a TinyTrak3 GPS encoder. The tracking system used by Union County SAR also works with two county-owned digi-peaters that were donated by an area resident. Union County got a $4,528 grant last year for 10 complete PocketTracker setups.

Now, they are being tested. This is no lab test - unless your "lab" is wide open spaces, don't fence me in, Marlboro Country.

Literally. Barrett told me that unless a horse turns a certain way, a signal can even work from within a saddlebag. "A PocketTracker was tested on a horse during an endurance ride last summer. It was mounted directly behind the rider near the horse's spine and worked well," Barrett says.

Barrett adds that when he skis with the Pocket Tracker and its antenna completely inside his coat pocket it works just fine. He notes that his own favorable experiences are corroborated by numerous positive feedback on the Web.

The next series of tests will take place next month, in the desolate Starkey region of Union County. In addition to assessing device functionality, the role of that test, as well as others, will in part be to specify the best locations for signal repeaters.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: GPS

June 4, 2005

Apple Putting Intel Inside

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Posted by John Yunker

According to CNET News, Apple will be announcing a migration to Intel chips on Monday.

And it looks like they'll be starting with the low-end computers first, gradually working their way up to the high-end Macs.

So it looks like this move was all about the chips and not about WiMAX, as I speculated. Now that doesn't mean that we won't see Intel's wireless strategy change over the next few years. For instance, will Centrino be used in the Mac Minis? If so, where does this leave Apple's Airport gear?

As for WiMAX, I guess we'll see how this IntelApple marriage progresses. I still think something is going to happen along these lines.

PS: Here is the Reuters article.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Home Networking | Wi-Fi | WiMAX & Fixed Wireless

Is KIX The World's Largest Free-Wi-Fi Airport?

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Posted by John Yunker

At first I thought it was a mistake. I was at Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka, Japan waiting for my flight earlier this week when I opened up my laptop to check for Wi-Fi. Normally, what I want to know is how much they're going to squeeze me for per hour. Is it $7.95 or $9.95 or do they skip the hourly rate entirely and just hit me up for a 12-hour block?

But then something very strange happened -- I got free Wi-Fi. And it wasn't a mistake. This was free, airport-sponsored Wi-Fi. I checked email, woke my poor wife using Skype -- I just had myself a little party.

Kansai offers free Wi-Fi: Power outlets, however, are scarce.

It appears that for the past two years KIX has been giving away free Wi-Fi. I've heard of a number of small regional airports offering free Wi-Fi as an incentive to lure traffic, but never an airport of this size.

So, is Kansai the world's largest airport to offer free Wi-Fi? Any users out there know of a larger airport offering free Wi-Fi?

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Wi-Fi

June 3, 2005

Intel + Apple = WiMAX, Part II

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Posted by John Yunker

About a week ago I wrote a blog about the possibility of Apple embracing WiMAX. That blog was followed soon after by a MacObserver story.

Needless to say, I've gotten an earful from readers -- some good, some bad, and some a little bit ugly. I should have known that any article that combined lightning-rod topics like Apple and WiMAX would attract attention.

So I wanted to summarize the comments received and make a few corrections. Here goes...

Comment: Apple launched Airport in 1999, not 1997. Apple launched it at the Boston Macworld show, alongside Apple's launching of the iBook.
-> I stand corrected. For a handy Apple timeline check out this site.

Comment: It should be noted that Apple does use Intel chips in its xRAID product.
-> This was one of several comments I received that noted that Apple is already using Intel chips. Some folks also stressed that porting the Mac OS over to Intel would not be a major production, while others said the exact opposite. I'd love to get more input on this as I am no expert.

Regardless, I still cannot help but think that the wireless folks within Apple aren't at least a little intrigued by the business potential of WiMAX. Intel bet big on Wi-Fi a few years back and certainly did well as a result; any potential partner and OEM is taking Intel's WiMAX gamble very seriously.

Comment: WiMax would not be affordable for an everyday technology. Heck, Alvarion, one of the largest players in the game does not hardly sell anything less than $1000, with the exception of their low-end access units.
-> Alvarion has been selling proprietary fixed wireless gear in low quantities, hence the relatively high costs. WiMAX gear, produced in large quantities by multiple vendors, will be affordable. And Intel isn't going to be the only player making WiMAX silicon. Everyone currently producing Wi-Fi components is either already investing in WiMAX or keeping a very close eye on it. Wi-Fi wasn't particularly cheap in 1999 either.

Comment: Just because WiMAX is a "new" technology, does not mean Apple will adopt it, especially if it is the wrong tool for the job.
-> Agreed. But my point here is that there are new "jobs" that wireless technology will be expected to perform in the years ahead and WiMAX might be a very good fit for those jobs. Not all jobs. I don't believe Wi-Fi is threatened in the least by WiMAX.

Finally, a number of people made it clear that WiMAX is a "last mile" technology and not a "last hundred feet" technology. While I agree that this is how WiMAX is being positioned, it is by no means the only way that WiMAX may ultimately be used. Wi-Fi certainly wasn't originally envisioned as a technology for unwiring city blocks via a mix of mesh and MIMO technologies. I think we're going to see all kinds of unintended applications emerge from WiMAX.

Anyway, that's it for me. Keep those comments coming...

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Home Networking | Wi-Fi | WiMAX & Fixed Wireless

The Earth Is Not Scalable: the 168-Hour Roadblock

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Posted by Russell Shaw

Last night I was thinking about how our ability to work and communicate on the go has compressed the time it takes for us to perform various tasks. To put it another way, we can get more done in a shorter period of time.

I know I'm getting into "well,duh" territory here, but hear me out. When it comes to task-related time management, we will - if not are, already - get to a point of diminishing returns.

What do I mean? Well, in technology, one way of quantifying "diminishing returns" is by positing that particular point when specific functions and applications reach a confluence with immutable laws of physics and as a result can advance no more.

Think of portable devices. They are getting smaller, but our thumbs are not. And, eventually, chip size and capacity will hit the wall, too. And there's a case to be made that nothing can be made to travel faster than the speed of light.

When it comes to using mobile devices for time management efficiencies, there's an immutable law in our path.

On this planet, we only get 168 hours a week. It was 168 hours before humans walked the earth, 168 hours when we lived in caves, 168 hours when we first built fire, the wheel, the semiconductor. And, until we establish colonies on asteroids and outer planets, this paradigm is not going to change.

Eventually, the ability of our mobile devices to help us do more is going to hit the wall. Why? Simple. The Earth, our Earth, is stuck at 168 hours. To put it another way, our planet is not scalable.

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Look Out, Cell Phone Viruses: Here Comes McAfee

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Posted by Russell Shaw

Anti-virus digital crusader McAfee has formed a partnership with mobile phone feature management solutions provider Bitfone to enable security protection for mobile phones over the air.

Bitfone's solutions are found in phones made and sold by such venerable names as Motorola, LGE, SK Telecom, Sony Ericsson, QUALCOMM and UTStarcom.

Here's how this thing will work. Bitfone will add an embedded McAfee scanning engine to its device management solution. With this added functionality in place, you'll have a mobile client-server set-up that will let cell phone operators prevent, detect and if necessary, recover from viruses, spyware, worms and auto-dialers that attack their networks.

Both on the mobile sys-admin and individual phone-diagnostic level, the McAfee component will be loaded for action. It will enable the Bitfone platform to perform remote diagnostics, scheduled updates to virus definition files, and even purge and reset an individual subscriber's handset that may have eluded the safety net.

As cellular networks get faster, viruses will propogate. Or, attempt to. That's why this solution will take off.

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Handsets Will Be Tomorrow's Laptop

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Posted by Russell Shaw

The other night, I watched Charlie Rose, an intellectual rarity of a television personality, interview palmOne CEO Ed Colligan.

U.S.-based Rose and Colligan talked about the feature set of palmOne's new LifeDrive, as well as the somewhat older but still spiffy Treo 650.

Although Colligan was obviously on the "Charlie Rose Show" to score points with the daily production's well-educated viewership, he did make a point that the mainstream media, technical press and even bloggers don't make often enough.

His point: handsets are becoming robust and feature-rich to the point that they are not only augmenting laptops. They are replacing laptops.

Think about it. Today's full-bore PDAs have functional (if smaller) QWERTY keyboards, can do email, have the ability to run spreadsheet applications, and, of course, are phones as well. In just a few years, they've come a long way from simple hand-held organizers that you had to synch up to your PC. Heck, now devices such as the Treo, the Nokia 9110 and the BlackBerry are PCs.

What we're waiting on now is for 3G networks to arrive in force. Colligan told Rose this may take place next year. I say that given the massive investment, it will be more like two. But when this happens - in simultaneous time with steadily improving processors - we as a mobile society will get to the point where more and more of us will realize that we have all the computer power we need right on our handset.

And if that happens, we'll go for the $350 handset before the $1700 notebook.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Convergence