Last time I was in Las Vegas it was for MIX 10 and Windows Phone 7 (back when it included ‘series’ at the end). This time, the reason is CES 2011 with AnandTech and a whole bunch more mobile devices.
I thought it was interesting last time I came that most casino floors in Las Vegas had shockingly poor or non-existant UMTS (3G) coverage on AT&T. I guess I didn’t find it too shocking, since coverage inside buildings in a dense urban environment is probably the most challenging for mobile networks, but it seemed to be a consistent problem. After getting frustrated about 6 hours into my stay, I decided to switch entirely to EDGE for the duration just because of how annoying being constantly handed between GSM/EDGE and UMTS is when you’re trying to do things. For whatever reason, back then I didn’t think to pull up field test on the iPhone 3GS I was currently carrying to see what bands were assigned to which network technology.
Now that I’m back, I decided to check. Thankfully, Apple has restored most if not all of the Field Test data products in iOS 4.2.1, a huge step forward from 4.1 just allowing signal strength in dBm at top left, and a far cry from 4.0 which shipped with no field test whatsoever. To save potential readers some googling, to get here, enter *3001#12345#* from the dialer and hit call – if it hasn’t been removed yet, you’ll get dumped into Field Test on iOS.
In EDGE and tapping on GSM RR Info, it’s immediately obvious why I saw that behavior last time I was here:
ARFCN dictates what channel inside what band we’re on, and 142 just happens to lie inside the GSM 850 band. It’s a number basically used to refer to the FDD pair of frequencies the phone is currently using. You can calculate exactly what frequency downlink and uplink are on with a little math and some reference guide (there’s a good table here), but basically with an ARFCN of 142 we know immediately that GSM/EDGE is on AT&T’s 850 MHz spectrum. Between 128 and 251 is that GSM850 spectrum.
Now, what about UMTS/3G? Enabling 3G (look at how weak that signal is…) and going into UMTS RR info, I saw the following:
Looking at the fields “Downlink Frequency” and “Uplink Frequency” we can see the device’s UARFCN channel numbers. It’s the same thing, but U for UMTS. Again, with a reference aide (read: wikipedia) we can see that UMTS/3G is working in the PCS 1900 MHz band.
Remember that higher frequencies are less effective at propagating through buildings. It’s pretty obvious now why getting good 3G coverage on AT&T is a challenge deep inside a casino in Las Vegas. There’s nothing inherently wrong with putting GSM/EDGE on 850 and UMTS on 1900, it’s just interesting in practice how immediately obvious the difference is walking around. Propagation is a challenge in dense urban environments with lots of people moving around to begin with, I’m sure this doesn’t help in Las Vegas. AT&T promised to put all of its 3G (UMTS) network on the 850 MHz band (wherever it’s licensed to use it) by the end of 2010, but sadly that hasn’t happened quite yet, at least in this market. I’ll keep checking, but thus far it’s been solidly in 1900 PCS. Oh well.
Earlier today, I was reading yet another Digg article on Arizona’s immigration bill. For the large part, most of the articles and comments I’ve been reading have accused Arizonans of either being gun-toting crazies or racist white elites. I’m sure (read: certain) there’s some demographic of the state that probably is, but the entire state people? What a way to typecast.
Anyhow, something about what I was reading there finally compelled me to write a bit, and what started small quickly ballooned to a huge comment I left on the post. I’m reproducing it below:
Epic Long Post:
It’s time we settle this illegal immigration dispute once and for all, honestly. I’m a native Arizonan, and I can honestly attest to how completely out of hand this situation is getting, and how completely misunderstood and misconstrued the current state of affairs are down here.
First of all, the majority of Arizonans support this legislation. Now, before you write us all off as being racially insensitive bigots and crazies, ask yourself what the rational reasons could be for passing such a sweeping piece of legislation. I’m shocked at the fact that this discussion is almost entirely centered around racial profiling (do you not show your ID for everything else already? Being pulled over? Getting on a plane? Buying something?) and the economy (albeit very superficially). The problem has gotten so immense that it literally has effects on almost every major issue.
To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about the bill, I just think it’s time this issue gets the serious attention it’s been sorely lacking for the greater part of two decades now. If nothing else, Brewer should be applauded for finally getting the border states in the limelight and *some* debate going, even if it’s entirely misplaced.
So just bear with me, put aside your misconceptions about the issue (because odds are, you don’t live here, you don’t follow the issue, and you’re probably not aware of the scope of the problem), and think.
1. The environmental aspect is being completely downplayed. This is something that has even the most liberal of the liberals supporting drastic immigration reform down here in the Sonoran Desert; the long and short of it is that Mexicans and drug traffickers are literally shitting all over the desert. The sheer volume of people crossing through these corridors in the desert, and the trash they bring with them, is absolutely stunning.
Don’t believe me? Look: http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/trashing-arizona/Content?oid=1168857 Some of the locations in here are barely a 10 minute drive from where I sit now. Talk to me about the environment, and then look at the kind of mess being left out there. I don’t care what the solution is, this kind of dumping/shedding of stuff/massive ecological disaster cannot continue. It can’t. It’s literally devastating.
2. Drug trafficking. Has anyone even talked about this? It isn’t just about arresting working Mexican families, it’s about combating the completely out of control drug trafficking problem going on in our backyards. In fact, I’d say that probably the main catalyst has to deal with security rather than economical drain – in fact, there’s no arguing the fact that the Mexicans living here are probably helping us out with their labor and efforts, rather than draining the local economy.
In case you haven’t been following, the drug cartels are now nearly out of control in Mexico, in fact, it’s a problem that’s of more immediate concern to us down here (in terms of security) than terrorism. In fact, screw terrorism, I’m more worried about my family being shot or killed in the crossfire of this ongoing drug battle than some terrorist setting a bomb off. Read about how insane this is: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123518102536038463.html
“The U.S. Justice Department considers the Mexican drug cartels as the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_Drug_War You better believe it. People are being killed in Juarez, Nogales, everywhere. This is literally next door, folks! Not a continent away! Full scale political unrest! Talk about a threat to national security.
3. The murder of Rob Krentz has galvanized support for serious, strong, kid-gloves-off reform in the state. If you aren’t familiar, this super high profile incident involved the murder of a well liked, peaceful Arizona rancher on his own property some weeks ago. http://azstarnet.com/news/local/crime/article_db544bc6-3b5b-11df-843b-001cc4c03286.html It’s now been found that marijuana was found on the site, and there’s definite drug trafficking ties as the ranch lies one of the numerous well-known migration and trafficking corridors that dominate southern Arizona.
I think when the history books are written, this guy’s shooting will be a real inflection point you can point to as leading to this kind of legislation. The sentiment for structured amnesty or some other kind of reform almost completely disappeared after a few similar incidents. Violent, often fatal crime near the border is literally making it a physical hazard to be down here.
Want more proof? Look no further than the concealed carry legislation that also just passed. It isn’t that we’re all a bunch of friggin psychos, it’s that we’re honest-to-god scared of being shot in our homes or out in the desert. I know I sure as hell wouldn’t go walking around out there when even the border patrol is worried about some parts of the desert even just an hour away.
4. Sure the economy has something to do with it, absolutely. Hell, our economy is worse off than California’s by percentage and by capita: http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2008/02/25/daily29.html
The major public universities in the state are struggling for dollars to keep classes going, mandatory furloughs everywhere, and we’re paying for the rest in fees and still not going to break even. Hell yes, the economy has something to do with the perception that illegals are partly responsible. (however true or untrue that actually may be, since personally I’d wager Mexican migrant labor probably has a net positive effect on the local economy; let’s be honest, profiling them as lazy people really *is* racism)
So there are a few good arguments I don’t really feel have been emphasized enough online, anywhere. Sit around and discuss the finer points of constitutional law and whether this is “racial profiling,” honestly, that debate has already been beaten and played out enough already.
Meanwhile, the problems down here are getting worse, and worse, and worse, and the very real drug war raging in the desert just continues to get scarier. I think this will be a very interesting and potentially huge states rights issue. In the meantime, some of the points I touched on (I hope) are good food for thought if you think that Arizona suddenly just decided to “go insane” or “lose our collective shit.”
I promise you, it isn’t the case.
A few months ago, I made a post about what changes I would love to see in iPhone OS 4.0 when it rolled around, if it ever rolled around. Flash forward to today, where iPhone OS 4.0 is an officially announced, almost ready for release platform update. In the spirit of conclusion, let’s see how much I wanted that actually made it into the update:
1 – Google Voice Integration: No Go
This still remains a no-show. Apple and Google relations have only continued to sour, despite the Steve-Eric coffee shop
PR stunt meeting that was hugely popularized a few weeks ago. In fact, because Apple has repeatedly demonstrated no motivation to popularize any Google services anymore, it’ll likely never happen. This is yet another unfortunate artifact of the ongoing Google and Apple divorce process, and it just ends up stifling innovation. Apple and Google both give end-user focused experience an awful lot of lip service, up to the point where they have to integrate with other competitors offerings.
Google Voice is just one such example, but there are others. Mail on the iPhone still lacks support for Google’s unique organizational methods, and for the same token, Google refuses to this day to make their own iPhone OS gmail client. It works both ways, and both are equally guilty.
Back to that lip service I was talking about, you can really see just how far that philosophy goes from both companies actions – they still speak louder than words. As an end user, I don’t care about corporate bickering or what the political reasons are for Google not making a Gmail app for the iPhone, or Apple not integrating Google Voice – I just want the best experience.
2 – Google Latitude: Maybe
I’m not sure how to mark this one down. On one hand, there is indeed multitasking present in the operating system, as well as the ability to have certain applications periodically get location through location services. Thus, it’s finally possible for some enterprising third party developer to make their own google latitude updater, or for Google themselves to do it. We’ll probably see the former much earlier than the latter for the reasons I mentioned in part 1.
Of course, the software to do continual scheduled Google latitude position updating already exists through the Cydia store. It’s called Longitude, and it work fabulously. I’m relatively puzzled by Apple’s claims that getting a full GPS fix requires too much battery, since I already run Longitude on a 15 minute update interval and have experienced negligible battery degradation. In fact, even with updating set on a 10 minute schedule, there was no perceptable difference in battery life.
I really have to wonder whether location services through Skyhook without using AGPS (eg only WiFi triliteration augmented with cellular positioning data) will be accurate enough for services like Foursquare. Time will tell, and arguably GPS won’t solve everything since users that are already inside those locations can’t get a GPS fix anyways.
3 – Better Gmail Integration: Sort of
So the Mail application is getting a definite overhaul in this new revision of iPhone OS – more than one exchange account, faster switching between each inbox, unified inbox, and support for threaded conversations. These are long overdue features that the competition has had almost forever. WebOS has had it, BlackBerry is famous for it, Android has it alongside even a Gmail-specific version, and even Windows Mobile had multiple exchange account and fast switching integration.
So it’s nice to see everything finally getting revamped. Apple’s interface still is minimalist though; there’s no font settings or style options to be found.
4 – Notification Overhaul: Nope
This is probably the most sorely lacking area, and simultaneously the most inexplicably neglected. Every single other mobile platform has better notifications than iPhone OS. Every one of them, even old and exiled Windows Mobile. In fact, during the Stevenote today Apple showed off some local application notifications (from applications running in the background) that still resulted in annoying centered blue bubbles – and touted them as being a good thing!
I don’t know what more there is to say here other than that with a more robust multitasking framework needs to come a better notification framework. The two go hand in hand completely: if you lack the screen real estate to show more than one thing at a time, but can still run it on the hardware, get information to the user effectively. That shouldn’t still equate to pausing and interrupting the current interaction with a gigantic blue popup that needs to be dismissed before interaction can continue.
5- Background apps done right: Yes
Apple needed to nail this one, and they did. There’s no arguing that the multitasking framework they’ve demoed is the way things should be. I’ve argued a few times with developers that the best way to deliver multitasking without sacrificing performance is to open APIs for the most common use scenarios. Apple enumerated all of them: music in the background, task completion, location-specific scenarios (turn by turn GPS, Google Latitude, e.t.c.), and a few others. This is effectively what I’ve heard described as a secondary “lite” binary running the core services in the background, using fewer resources and a few background specific APIs the OS can manage. That way, the background experience is consistent across use scenarios.
I think that this will work really well in the long run. In fact, Apple really did have little choice but to adapt a scheme employing lite binaries; they’re limited to 256 MB of RAM on the 3GS and iPad. Steve Jobs gets it – giving the user a task manager might appeal in the short term for how much control it offers, but it’s just too much. If the user is honestly expected to micromanage application launches and closes, they’ll eventually forget and nuke the battery. It just happens.
6- Better App organization: Yes
Thank goodness this is finally being addressed. I’ve almost reached the 180 application limit for the iPhone 3.x’s page specific interaction schema, and getting to applications on pages at the very end is as frustrating as it is time consuming. Finally getting some high level organization in the picture, even if it isn’t forward thinking, revolutionary, or something new, still is valuable.
7- Better power management: Nope
Definite no, in fact, we’ll probably never see this, at least on the iPhone OS. This particular platform is all about lowest common denominator usability – it’s simultaneously what makes the platform so alluring and magical, and the subject of so much griping. You can’t build something a baby can use, and then expect them to understand how to manage their power.
At the same time however, the option should be there for those of us that are knowledgeable about it. I realize I’m asking too much, but it’d be amazingly cool to see hardware reports on projected battery longevity, current draw from individual hardware components, and a trend of power use.
Conclusions: 4/7 ~ 57% Nailed
So Apple implemented 4 out of the 7 things I outlined, if we’re pretty generous about our criteria. You know, on the whole, 57% isn’t bad, but it simultaneously isn’t a slam dunk on my part.
In fact, that’s what makes this industry so interesting. Unlike the desktop, we haven’t yet settled on a paradigm user interaction model – each major platform is actively innovating and evolving, and it’s happening rapidly. Even in the last two years, we’ve seen Android go from being an iPhone OS wannabe to a seriously polished, worthy competitor. We’ve seen that cross carrier availability is hugely important for success (people just don’t want to switch, and they’ll convince themselves that their network is best). We’ve seen that none of the platforms have it all worked out. Apple’s iPhone OS platform is too closed, while Android’s might be just too open (a-la Windows Mobile). It’s a rapidly evolving market out there folks; I’m enjoying scrutinizing every bit of it.
In case you missed it early, early this morning, my AT&T 3G MicroCell review is up and live at AnandTech here.
I played around with the product all last week and finally think I know all there is to be gleaned about it - undoubtedly in time the handover performance (which is pretty abysmal) will improve. It’s something that I talk about a lot in the article itself, but exists across all the major femtocells, and T-Mobile’s implementation of UMA. From a technical standpoint, the problem seems to be that the phone almost treats the femtocell like a roaming tower – implicitly disabling soft handovers to the public network. It’s handled this way most likely for a billing segmentation reason, but that’s unclear.
I learned in the comments that there are enterprise picocells, although I’m not sure what kind of carrier interaction is required for installation. I’d really like to investigate those for something future. Whatever the case, if you’re interested definitely give it a read!
I’ve been working on it for a while now, but I’m excited that my first AnandTech story is now up and live on the AT website here: http://anandtech.com/gadgets/showdoc.aspx?i=3749
It’s an analysis piece on Windows Phone 7 Series, and I expect more to develop as MIX10 creeps closer. There’s a lot more coming, and I’m definitely excited to write more reviews and posts. Just wanted to make note of it here.
I’ll definitely keep writing here as well!
Yesterday, just about everyone’s minds were on the iPad. Love it or hate it, what a ride that hype machine was, and what a launch too. But for me, my musings (or rather those of my roommate) were rudely interrupted by the loud boom of a car crashing through the retaining wall surrounding my house.
Apparently, an inebriated woman was proceeding northbound on Euclid in a white Infiniti when she struck a midsize black Mercedes SUV, and flew up, into, and through the cinder block wall surrounding my house. The force must have been pretty awesome, since the size of the hole is sizable. Definitely a lot of momentum (and resulting few meganewtons of force) went into that smash, since there’s shattered cinder block in my yard now.
They managed to destroy a lot of cactus, blocks, and the sign on the corner in the process. I’d like to point out the irony of an infinity with license plate ‘finiti’, crashing through my wall on Euclid (as in, the fabled “father of geometry”). ::shrug::
I know nothing about the occupants’ statuses or health, but hope they’re fairing ok. Lesson learned? Don’t drink and drive, kids.
Something that’s bugged me for a long time is how crude and arbitrary signal bars on mobile phones are. With a few limited exceptions, virtually every phone has the exact same design: four or five bars in ascending order by height, which correspond roughly to the perceived signal strength of the radio stack.
Or does it? Let me just start by saying this is an absolutely horrible way to present a quality metric, and I’m shocked that years later it still is essentially the de-facto standard. Let me convince you.
It isn’t 1990 anymore…
Let’s start from the beginning. The signal bar analogy is a throwback to times when screens were expensive, physically small, monochromatic if not 8 shades of grey, and anything over 100×100 pixels was outrageously lavish. Displaying the actual RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) number would’ve been difficult and confusing for consumers, varying between 8 already difficult to distinguish shades of grey would have been hard to distinguish, and making one bar breathe in size could have sacrificed too much screen real estate.
It made sense in that context to abstract the signal quality visualization into something that was both simple, and readable. Thus, the “bars” metaphor was born.
Since then, there have been few if any deviations away from that design. In fact, the only major departure thus far has been Nokia, which has steadfastly adhered to a visualization that makes sense:
Namely, their display metaphor is vertically ascending bars that mirror call quality/strength. This makes sense, because it’s an optimal balance between screen use and communicating the quality in an easy to understand fashion. Moreover, they have 8 levels of signal, 0-7 bars showing. Nokia should be applauded for largely adhering to this vertical format. (In fact, you could argue that the reason nobody has adopted a similar metaphor is because Nokia has patented it, but I haven’t searched around)
It’s 2010, and the granularity of the quality metric on most phones is arbitrarily limited to 4 or 5 levels at best.
Thus, an optimal design balances understandability with level of detail. On one hand, you could arguably simply display the RSSI in dB, or on the other hand sacrifice all information reporting and simply report something boolean, “Can Call” Yes/No.
Personally, I’m waiting for something that either leverages color (by sweeping through a variety of colors corresponding to signal strength) or utilizes every pixel of length for displaying the signal strength in a much more analogue way.
Green and red are obvious choices for color, given their nearly universal meaning for OK and OH NOES, respectively. Something that literally takes advantage of every pixel by breathing around instead of arbitrarily limiting itself to just 4 or 5 levels also wouldn’t be hard to understand.
Fundamentally, however, the bars still have completely arbitrary meaning. What constitutes maximum “bars” on one network and device has a totally different meaning on another device or carrier. Even worse, comparing the same visual indicator across devices on the same network can often be misleading. For example, the past few months I’ve made a habit of switching between the actual RSSI and the resulting visualization, and I’ve noticed that the iPhone seems to have a very optimistic reporting algorithm.
There’s an important distinction to be made between the way signal is reported for WCDMA versus GSM as well:
First off one needs to understand that WCDMA (3G) is not the same thing as GSM (2G) and the bars or even the signal strength can not be compared in the same way, you are not comparing apples to apples. The RSCP values or the signal strength in WCDMA is not the most important value when dealing to the quality of the call from a radio point of view, it’s actually the signal quality (or the parameter Ec/No) that needs also to be taken into account. Source
That said, the cutoff for 4 bars on WCDMA seems to be relatively low, around -100 dB or lower. 3 bars seems around -103 dB, 2 bars around -107 dB, and 1 bar anything there and below. Even then, I’ve noticed that the iPhone seems to run a weighted average, preferring to gradually decrease the report instead of allowing for sharp declines, as is most usually the case.
Use dB if you’re not averse to math
What you’re reading isn’t really dBm, dBmV, or anything really physical, but rather a quality metric that also happens to be reported in dB. For whatever reason, most people are averse to understanding dB, however, the most important thing to remember is that 3 dB corresponds to a factor of 2. Thus, a change of -3 dB means that your signal has halved in power/quality.
The notation dBm is refrrenced to 1 mW. Strictly speaking, to convert to dBm given a signal in mW:
Likewise, to convert a signal from dBm back to mW:
But even directly considering the received power strength or the quality metric from SNR isn’t the full picture.
In fact, most of the time, complaints that center around iPhones failing to make calls properly stem from overloaded signaling channels used to setup calls, or situations where even though the phone is in a completely acceptable signal area, the node is too overloaded. So, as an end user, you’re left without the quality metrics you need to completely judge whether you should or should not be able to make a data/voice transaction. Thus, the signal quality metric isn’t entirely a function of client-tower proximity, but rather node congestion.
Carriers have a lot to gain from making sure their users are properly informed about network conditions; both so they can make educated decisions about what to expect in their locale, as well as to properly diagnose what’s going on when the worst happens. Worse, perhaps, carriers have even more to gain from misreporting or misrepresenting signal as being better than reality. Arguably, the cutoffs I’ve seen on my iPhone 3GS are overly optimistic and compressed into ~13 dB. From my perspective, as soon as you’re below about -105 dB, connection quality is going to suffer on WCDMA, however, that shows up as a misleading 3-4 bars.
What we need is simple:
- Transparency and standardization of reporting – Standardize a certain visualization that is uniform across technology and devices. Choose something that makes sense, so customers can compare hardware in the same area and diagnose issues.
- Advanced modes – For those of us that can read and understand the meaning of dB and real quality metrics from the hardware, give the opportunity to display it. Hell, perhaps you’ll even encourage some people to delve deeper and become RF engineers in the future. It’s annoying to have to launch a Field Trial application every time we want to know why something is the way it is.
- Leverage recent advances in displays - Limiting display granularity to 4 or 5 levels doesn’t make sense anymore; we aren’t constrained by tiny monochromatic screens.
- Tower load reporting - Be honest with subscribers and have the tower report some sort of quality metric/received SNR of its own so we know which path of the link is messed up. If a node is congested, tell the user. Again, people are more likely to be happy if they’re at least made aware of the link quality rather than left in the dark.
Well, it’s the new year (and on that note, I’d like to wish you a belated Happy New Year). With it, I’ve decided to finally overhaul my old, semi-static brianklug.org site and get it moving with a blog, as many of my esteemed peers have suggested.
I owe my friends a lot of credit for the concept, the idea (especially the tagline), and support. I’ll keep this going with a myriad things:
- Documents, notes, sheets that have been created by me for classes, perhaps a few things typeset in
- Projects and how-to’s that I’ve been working on
- Reviews of some of the gadgets that I use
- Observations and other things
Now that I’ve got everything setup, (including comment verification with reCAPTCHA and akismet, SEO with Google Analytics for WordPress, Google XML Sitemap generator, plus enhancements from the Mystique theme, and LaTeX parsing from the amazing WP-LaTeX plugin), here we go!