January 14, 2004

Setting Up a Wireless Network at CTDATA, Talking About it on Operation Gadget

Dave Aiello wrote, "I'm setting up my first wireless network for the office here in East Windsor. This is a big step for CTDATA, because it's been a long time since we implemented a new piece of network infrastructure."

"Unlike previous research efforts, I won't be documenting the results here. This is because that information would be of interest to readers of our new website, Operation Gadget. Here are the articles on Operation Gadget that talk about installing the wireless network:"

"I'll post links to related stories as they are published."

April 11, 2003

T-Mobile SMS Messaging Had a 40 Hour Service Impairment

Dave Aiello wrote, "On Wednesday afternoon, I was in Allentown, PA, when my mobile phone inexplicably stopped receiving SMS messages. This is a real problem because I have built a database application that I communicate with via SMS. As a result of the SMS network problems, I had to stop my work and return to my office in East Windsor, NJ, some 90 miles away."

"You'd think that T-Mobile, my mobile phone carrier, would have a good explanation for why this happened. All they could tell me when I called them was:"

  1. There is a problem with text message reception.
  2. We have no more details.
  3. We don't have an ETA for restoration.
  4. You can't determine the status of our text messaging service without calling us on the phone.

"This problem persisted until 8:00am Eastern Time this morning. That's over 40 hours from the time I first noticed it."

"Hey T-Mobile, this is unacceptable. You and your competitors advertise this service relentlessly. But when there is a problem, you treat text messaging as a non-essential feature. It's as if everyone is sending How RU? messages to their girlfriends."

"I sent a letter to Tim Wong, T-Mobile USA's Executive Vice President for Engineering and Technical Operations, telling him that the response to this outage was not acceptable, and that professional users of SMS need to be able to determine if there is a network problem without calling consumer-oriented Customer Care. We'll see if I get a response."

March 24, 2003

API for Danger HipTop Reportedly Has Onerous Legal Restrictions Attached

Boing Boing reports that Danger has relaxed restrictions in the Terms of Service for the API for its Hiptop mobile device. However, those terms of service are, according to Cory Doctorow, overly restrictive:

People have said that the restrictions are necessary to keep apps from sucking too much bandwidth or to prevent malware from being installed on users' devices -- but these are the same risks borne by ISPs that allow anyone to connect any PC, with any software, to their network. What's more, it discounts the possibility that apps could be developed that reduce the bandwidth sucked by a device.... Likewise, it discounts the possibility that users can distinguish between good and malicious software, say, by installing software released or recommended by people they trust.

U.S. Government Testing Bioterror Alert System Using PDAs

On Saturday, reported that the U.S. Government is testing a PDA-based bioterror alert system that would allow rapid communication with large numbers of doctors and other health care workers. The system, being implemented by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, will reportedly use ePocrates to deliver these alerts.

ePocrates is a very popular Palm OS-based application that provides drug and procedure reference information. It is primarily used by doctors to refresh their memories on uses of various prescription druge. It includes things like drug monographs, alternative medicines, formularies, and a Doc Alert feature which provides recently updated information on ailments and the drugs needed to treat them.

The AHRQ alert system is expected to piggy back on ePocrates' Doc Alert feature.

March 18, 2003

Mossberg: Centrino May Be Inferior to Other WiFi Radios Already In Use

In last week's Personal Technology column in The Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg reviewed three Pentium M-based laptops. One of the most interesting aspects of the article is Mossberg's analysis of the Centrino WiFi chipset. He says:

You might conclude that Centrino laptops do Wi-Fi better than other laptops, or that the Pentium M or Centrino chips are needed for wireless networking. But none of this is true.

The Pentium M has no special capability for wireless networking. And the Intel-produced Wi-Fi radio chip included in the Centrino bundle is actually regarded by some computer makers as inferior to other brands of radios they were already using. Not only that, but the Intel radio used in Centrino machines doesn't support the new, faster type of Wi-Fi networks called G or A.

Mossberg goes on to explain that some Pentium M-based laptops will be labeled Centrino laptops, while others with similar WiFi capabilities will not. The Centrino designation is solely based on the presence or absence of the Intel WiFi chipset.

Imagine the confusion that could occur if Intel really spends money on making consumers aware of the Centrino brand, and Intel tries to make Centrino synonymous with WiFi.

David Weiss Spent a Week with a Treo 300

David Weiss spent a week with the Handspring Treo 300 and wrote about it on O'Reilly's Wireless Devcenter. This is an interesting article because it includes screen shots of the full color Palm OS user interface as it appears on the Treo screen. From a pure prose perspective, the essay is quite similar to many Treo first impression articles.

February 24, 2003

NY Times Compares Tungsten W, Blackberry 6710

On Thursday, David Pogue compared the Palm Tungsten W and the RIM Blackberry 6710 in The New York Times. This article is interesting because it cited strong features in each unit, but didn't attempt to pick a winner in a head-to-head comparison. This is good because it is becoming more and more difficult to match up the latest integrated mobile devices as different approaches prove to be successful.

February 21, 2003

Danger to Release Color Version of HipTop in Europe

Guy Kewney reports that Danger is rolling out a color version of its HipTop mobile device in Europe. It will be interesting to see how well this device sells through to end users.

One of the more interesting revelations in this article is that Danger CEO Hank Nothhaft says, "{The design of the HipTop} grew out of the WebTV project, which the founders of Danger sold to Microsoft, and then moved on to do this."

On a related note, there's a pretty nice review of the U.S. version of the HipTop (called the T-Mobile Sidekick) over on It's got some excellent pictures of the device and a detailed description of a user's experience.

January 15, 2003

Analyst Suggests that RIM Should Buy Handspring

Earlier this week, Unstrung reported that Seamus McAteer of the Zelos Group suggested that Research in Motion should acquire Handspring in order to strengthen its presence in the mobile phone-based messaging market. According to the article:

Handspring has both GPRS and CDMA 1xRTT variants of its Treo device. Most of the BlackBerry devices that RIM has sold actually run over pager networks. The company has recently introduced GPRS and iDEN variants of its devices.

{Seamus McAteer said,} "With Handspring, there's a brand there, and it gives RIM a CDMA channel and a relationship with Sprint PCS."

Although RIM has a GSM/GPRS device of its own, McAteer estimated that they had only sold 10,000 such devices.

Keynote: U.S. Mobile Phone Networks Lose 7.5 Percent of SMS Messages

Keynote Systems, a company that analyzes Internet service performance, has come out with its first study of the reliability of Short Message Service messages that are sent and received via mobile telephones. This study attempts to measure the performance of U.S. mobile phone carriers. According to a press release, 7.5 percent of all messages generated for the study never reached their intended destination. This is an astoundingly high percentage, but not outside the realm of possibility in our experience.

CTDATA sends and receives thousands of SMS messages on a monthly basis. We have built an internal application that uses SMS as its primary transport mechanism. We have active users on AT&T Wireless, Cingular, and T-Mobile.

We urge SMS users to read the study and contact their provider if network performance is unacceptable. We will be in touch with T-Mobile about their spotty performance tomorrow.

December 20, 2002

T-Mobile Provides Concrete Stats on Treo Communicator Use

Dave Aiello wrote, "I've been using a Handspring Treo 180 for about eight months now. To give you an idea of how much I use it, I will reveal a few aggregate statistics from my November bill:"

  • 666 minutes voice use
  • 633 text messages (SMS)
  • 5.53 megabytes of GPRS data access

"Of course the statistic that stands out from this bill is the 633 SMS messages. There probably aren't too many people in the USA that send or receive over 500 SMS messages a month. It sure helps when you have a keyboard on your phone."

December 11, 2002

Bell Canada Using Novel Approach to Public WiFi Deployment

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that Bell Canada is deploying wireless access points of the same form factor as pay telephones. As a result, they are able to remove one payphone from a bank of payphones at a train station or airport terminal and insert a WiFi access point with a DSL connection to the Internet.

This is a solution that is brilliant in its simplicity. Let's hope that they have an equally brilliant idea of how to get travellers to pay for the use of these services.

December 2, 2002

Lawyers Try to Create "Vicarious Liability" When Employees Using Mobile Devices Get Into Accidents

A report in Tuesday's New York Times says that lawyers are attempting to construct new theories of negligence in order to sue companies whose employees are involved in motor vehicle accidents while using mobile communication devices. There will be no end to such legal inventiveness until our legal system is resturctured. But, the article is interesting in that it is yet another indication that lots of people are getting distracted while using their gadgets, and getting into accidents as a result.

We feel that safety precautions need to be followed while using mobile phones and other mobile devices while operating a vehicle. Since most peoples' primary mobile devices are still telephones used for voice calls, best practice indicates that people should use headsets. However, for email and internet access devices, this admonition is useless.

There are few excuses for looking at a website or texting while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. That type of device interaction is much more distracting than participating in voice calls.

September 2, 2002

U.S. Mobile Phone Users Are Laggards in Text Messaging

Dave Aiello wrote, "The New York Times ran an article in its Labor Day edition that said American mobile phone users are still not adopting text messaging services for their mobile phones. These services often go by the acronym SMS. SMS messages are short text messgaes of 160 or fewer characters, generally sent from one mobile phone to another, in lieu of a voice call."

"Text messaging has been the rage of Europe and Asia for several years. There are a lot of reasons cited for this. Chief among them is the fact that text messaging was and is far cheaper than making voice calls in those areas. Another factor is that mobile phone services in those areas all supported SMS from the outset, while SMS was not an integral part of many of the mobile phone technologies deployed in the United States. The article glosses over some of these historical facts."

"The article also talks about data-centric phones that are in the market or about to ship, and consumer-oriented services that I would characterize as trivial. Neither of these developments is likely to catapult text messaging into the mainstream." Read on for more....

Continue reading "U.S. Mobile Phone Users Are Laggards in Text Messaging" »

August 26, 2002

Lincoln Stein Calls for More Internet Encryption Due to Increased Wireless Use

Lincoln Stein wrote an article in New Architect Magazine that discusses the information he was able to intercept while connected to a WiFi network at LaGuardia Airport in New York. He discussed this to illustrate the fact that wireless networks are often easy to tap into and yield a wealth of unencrypted information to anyone:

...I decided to do a little security research. I popped up my favorite network sniffing tool, the tcpdump application that's found on all Unix systems. A few seconds later, I was listening in on all of the wireless traffic in the Admiral's Club network....One {user} was actively reading his email using POP. I intercepted his incoming and outgoing messages, and because POP sends passwords in the clear, I also captured his login username and password. The second user wasn't using the Web actively, but his laptop was checking his office every five minutes for new mail. I soon had his login information as well.

The third user was browsing the Web. I could see the address and content of each of the Web pages he accessed, along with all of his cookies and the contents of the online forms he submitted. Occasionally, he connected to a secure site using SSL, and then all I saw was encrypted gibberish. Well, at least someone was doing their job.

It's hard to imagine a better illustration of why more encrypted internet services need to be deployed. If the people who were accessing their email in this situation happen to work at companies where single sign on security systems exist, their unencrypted passwords might be the gateway to dozens and dozens of web-accessible applications. This is just what people involved in corporate espionage are looking for.

August 22, 2002

John Patrick on Why WiFi Will Be Ubiquitous

John Patrick, a recently retired Vice President at IBM, wrote an article for CNET about the inevitability of ubiquitous WiFi connectivity in the United States. His article, called Wi-Fi and free lunches says, "The advent of Wi-Fi is about to change all of our lives in a major--and positive--way. I'll go further: Wi-Fi is one of those grassroots phenomena that will soon become as ubiquitous as the PC itself."

Patrick apparently got the idea for writing this article when he stopped in a sandwich shop somewhere in New England and found that there was an open WiFi network there, running at 1.2 megabits per second.

August 12, 2002

Danger Hiptop to Be Released by T-Mobile / VoiceStream

In last week's Personal Technology column in The Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg reviews the T-Mobile Sidekick, a new mobile Internet / mobile phone device designed by Danger, Inc.. This is a mobile device that emphasizes Internet connectivity over telephony. As such, it's focus is different that The Handspring Treo.

The T-Mobile Sidekick is also aimed at consumers. Mossberg says, "With consumers in mind, the monthly fee for the Sidekick will be just $39.99 for unlimited data usage over a high-speed, always-on GPRS network. That's all the Web surfing, e-mail, and instant messaging you want."

The product is expected to be available in October. It will be interesting to see how it is promoted and what the market reaction will be. T-Mobile may be the smallest nationwide mobile telephone carrier, but it's nothing if not aggressive in bringing new devices on to its network.

August 10, 2002

T-Mobile / VoiceStream to Ship Pocket PC Phone Edition

In an August 1 article in The Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg wrote about the latest wireless internet device to be released for the T-Mobile Network in the United States. The T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition is a $549 device designed by Microsoft and built by a contract manufacturer for T-Mobile. This is an unusual arrangement in that most other mobile phone devices that operate on T-Mobile are manufactured by third party companies.

Mossberg does not like this device as much as he says he likes The Handspring Treo, however:

I've been testing this gadget for several weeks and it does work, but it has serious flaws as both a phone and an e-mail device. I regard it as an interesting first step in creating a communicator based on Microsoft's Pocket PC platform, but a more radical redesign will be needed before it can accomplish all its tasks well.

This is another in a seemingly endless series of frank assessments of mobile technology devices from Walter Mossberg, and we salute him for having the integrity to call them as he sees them.

July 29, 2002

T-Mobile May be Merged Out of Existence Before It Launches

Martin O'Donnell pointed out this article that appeared Saturday in The New York Times that says VoiceStream, aka T-Mobile, may sell itself to Cingular or AT&T Wireless before too long. This is the result of the restructuring of Deutsche Telekom taking place in Germany at this writing.

Among the jucier quotes in this article, a Morningstar analyst said, "VoiceStream is gone.... Without question, you cannot be the sixth player. It's bad enough being third, fourth, or fifth." Also, "Nobody got rid of {ex-Telekom CEO Ronn} Sommer to just leave things the way they were."

July 26, 2002

Telefonica is First European Telecom To Scale Back Cellular Telephone Operations

In an article called Telecom Giants Are Retrenching in Europe as Finances Wither, The New York Times reports that Telefonica has frozen its cellular operations in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. The company plans to retrench so that it can focus on its core operations in Spain and Latin America.

Telefonica's operations in Germany are a joint venture with Finnish cellular equipment company Sonera that is called Group 3G. The New York Times says that these companies have agreed to abandon that venture entirely.

This development may prove to be the beginning of a massive consolidation of mobile phone services throughout Europe and North America. The article points out asset sales that France Telecom and BT Group PLC, a company that used to be called British Telecom.

July 19, 2002

VoiceStream Rebranding Itself as T-Mobile

Martin O'Donnell pointed out that VoiceStream has begun to rebrand itself as T-Mobile in the United States. T-Mobile is the brand name that Deutsche Telekom uses for mobile communications worldwide.

Telekom chose California and Nevada as the first markets in which to perform the name change. This is easy for them because VoiceStream has not been present in those markets up to now. The company says that it will phase in the name T-Mobile on a market-by-market basis in July and August.

CTDATA buys some mobile telephone services from VoiceStream. We have noticed that the names VoiceStream and T-Mobile have appeared jointly on bills in the Northeast U.S. for the past couple of months. No indication of any marketing offensive yet, however.

June 17, 2002

Phone Functions of Treo 180 Touted by Stewart Alsop in Fortune was on a hiatus of sorts last week. During that time, Stewart Alsop published a column in Fortune that says the greatest feature of the Handspring Treo 180 is that it works so well as a plain old cellular telephone.

Its "telephoneness" is precisely what makes the Treo great. The Treo is a telephone that just happens to have a full, but tiny, keyboard built in. The best use of that keyboard is to look up phone numbers; I have more than 4,000 people in my contact list, and I can call any one in fewer than five key clicks on that keyboard. Who needs speed dial?

The article goes on to compare the Treo to the RIM Blackberry 5810: "...the new BlackBerry is an e-mail device that happens to have a telephone built in. In fact, the only way that you can make and receive a phone call is with the ear bud that comes with the product. If you lose your ear bud, the device doesn't have a microphone and receiver, and you can't make and receive phone calls! I've lost the ear bud for my Treo, but I can still use it as a flip-phone."

June 4, 2002

Earpiece on Treo 180 Fails After 3 Months of Use

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last Thursday, I discovered that the Handspring Treo 180 I've been using since since early March was no longer working properly. Although the mobile phone components themselves were largely working, the speaker contained in the earpiece was not working at all. This meant that the Treo was unusable as a phone unless I had the headset plugged in and the earbud connected to my ear."

"I didn't do anything unusual to the Treo, like drop it or get it wet. Without going into more detail, it appears that the switch that determines whether the screen cover/earpiece is flipped open had failed."

"After talking to Handspring Technical Support on the phone twice, I was offered a working, advance-ship unit delivered in 1 to 2 working days for a $25 fee. This seemed like a reasonable warranty policy to me, so I went for it. I received the new unit today, and it is working well."

May 29, 2002

New GPRS Blackberry Devices Face Several Obstacles to Wide Deployment

Martin O'Donnell pointed out this CNET article that reports on the deteriorating outlook for the new RIM Blackberry mobile phone and Internet devices. These devices are designed for GPRS networks, the high speed data service that piggyback on GSM cellular networks.

According to the article, the Blackberries are hindered by the delayed deployment of GPRS services by the major mobile phone carriers in the United States. But also, and perhaps more ominously, there are serious issues with the price of GPRS service itself. The article says: "...carriers are still figuring out how to price data services for their new networks, which adds uncertainty for customers who have grown accustomed to the original BlackBerry and its $40 monthly fee for unlimited e-mail use." So far, no major cellular provider has offered a flat rate data service for devices like the Blackberry.

May 23, 2002

Wall Street Journal Reviews TreoMail Version 1.0

In his Personal Technology column, Wall Street Journal reporter Walter Mossberg reviews the first production release of TreoMail, an application that delivers copies of email messages from an existing email account to a Treo so that the Treo user can take action on the email while on the road. CTDATA has used TreoMail throughout the beta test program, and we found TreoMail Beta 2 particularly useful.

The most interesting aspect of Mossberg's review is the fact that he seems to have missed or ignored the SMS notification feature that alerts a Treo user that messages are waiting to be delivered to the device. This feature was not available to VoiceStream customers until the Beta 2 release, but is now available to Treo users on all Treo-compatible mobile networks in the United States.

Mossberg also suggests that "...heavy e-mail users may want to wait to buy a Treo until this summer, when Sprint's version will come out. It will work on Sprint's forthcoming high-speed network, providing a nearly always-on experience for downloading e-mail, much like the BlackBerry does, eliminating the need to constantly place calls to get e-mail." This makes us wonder what happened to GPRS support in the current (GSM) version of the Treo? And, although he ultimately expresses satisfaction with TreoMail, how could Walter Mossberg have missed the SMS notification feature in the TreoMail software, when it is so important to the application's current usability?

May 21, 2002

When Businesses Install WiFi Networks for Customers, Nearby Competitors May Benefit as Well

Martin O'Donnell pointed out this interesting article from The Seattle Times that explains how Tully's Coffee "borrows" wireless Internet access service from Starbucks. It is able to do this because it has "pursued a real-estate strategy of opening stores close to Starbucks outlets" and WiFi service leaks from those locations to the immediate surroundings including, in some cases, Tully's Coffee bars.

This is one of the better illustrations we've seen of the unintended consequences of installing public access WiFi networks for use by a business' customers.

May 10, 2002

Economist: Are Wireless Email Devices Merely Niche Products?

In light of the fact that only 32,000 Blackberry mobile devices were sold in the first quarter of 2002, The Economist asks whether email devices such as the Blackberry are niche products or the proverbial Killer App for wireless Internet access?

Martin O'Donnell quoted the following passage when he pointed out this article: "So far, {Research in Motion} has had most success in specific vertical markets, such as financial services, where the ability to respond quickly to events is worth paying for. For consumers, the {RIM} BlackBerry's main benefit-- integration with a corporate e-mail system-- does not apply." This point is very important because RIM's middleware only works with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, two email systems that are generally used by very large companies.

This article discusses Good Technologies GoodLink product and G100 wireless device. It also briefly mentions competing products and services from Palm and Handspring.

Good Technologies Releases Handheld to Compete with RIM Blackberries

Martin O'Donnell pointed out that Sunnyvale, CA-based Good Technologies is challenging Research in Motion with a handheld device that competes with the Blackberry Model 957 and a software system that competes with RIM's messaging middleware used to route email from Exchange and Lotus Notes mail systems into these wireless devices.

Not much information has been available about the Good Technology products before this week. At this point, it is difficult to say how Good intends to differentiate itself from Research in Motion. We are reading everything we can get our hands on, and we will report our findings as soon as we can.

May 9, 2002

NY Times Reviews Blackberry 5810

David Pogue wrote a review of the RIM Blackberry 5810 for the New York Times that was published today. In it, he suggests that the PDA/mobile phone hybrid is well designed for its target audience, but too expensive for the vast majority of mobile phone users who would like wireless internet access. Pogue makes a number of good points about subtleties of the product, and does his best to compare the 5810 to the Handspring Treo 180, its most obvious competitor.

May 8, 2002

Handspring Offers Discount on Treo for Owners of Other PDAs

Yesterday, CNET reported that Handspring is offering a $100 discount on the Treo 180 and 180g to owners of other PDAs. In a way, this discount is comical because it comes about a month after a $50 price increase had been instituted for units that were purchased without a service contract. Supposedly, the increase was only going to affect American customers who already had service contracts with Cingular and VoiceStream, but, it seems that Handspring became unsatisfied with the sales rate.

The most recent article says that Handspring has sold about 47,000 Treo units. That seems like a good rate of sales to us, considering the issues that people might have with the product, such as the fact that it can only be used on a GSM-compatible mobile phone network.

April 29, 2002

TreoMail Beta 2 Makes Application Usable for VoiceStream Users

Earlier today, Handspring announced the availability of TreoMail 1.0 Beta 2. We have downloaded the new version, updated a Treo, and compared the functionality of Beta 2 to Beta 1. We agree that the functionality and stability of this application has improved significantly.

Chief among the improvements is the addition of SMS notification for newly-received email messages. In Beta 1, SMS alerts were only available to TreoMail users who used Cingular as their mobile phone carrier. Now, this feature is available to users of the VoiceStream system. The SMS message alert feature is critical as long as the Treo 180 does not support GPRS.

There are five other major improvements to the TreoMail service. They are enumerated in an email sent to all TreoMail beta testers. Read on for the complete text of the email.

Continue reading "TreoMail Beta 2 Makes Application Usable for VoiceStream Users" »

Research In Motion Faces Big Name, Well Funded Competitors

Martin O'Donnell pointed out that today's New York Times contains an article about Research in Motion and how it continues to lose money in spite of owning the wireless email franchise in North America with its Blackberry devices. The article says that revenue has fallen recently as companies explore alternative devices and wireless data networks.

RIM is no different from any other technology company in that they paid dearly for the excess inventories built up by their customers from 1998 to 2001. Now they face a technology transition (Mobitex to GPRS) at the same time as their sales begin to climb out of a hole. The advantage that RIM has is that they already have middleware in place in many large companies' messaging infrastructures that works with their mobile devices. As such, all they will have to do is an upgrade cycle to stay in place as a network service.

Companies like Palm and Handspring on the other hand, face the gauntlet of initial acceptance testing. This can be quite a harrowing experience for field engineers who are working with corporate IT people to test a completely new product or service. Perhaps this is why they have chosen to partner with companies like Visto to enable enterprise email mobility as a service, rather than as the function of a piece of middleware.

April 26, 2002

NTT Deploying WLAN in Tokyo

NetworkWorld Fusion reports that NTT Communicatiions will deploy a public WLAN in Tokyo beginning in May. The initial deployment is expected to include about 200 sites. This decision is the result of a successful trial in 20 locations spread throughout the city.

According to the article, monthly service will cost about $12.30 including ISP charges. If a U.S. carrier deployed a WLAN service at a similar price, it would probably do well in places like Manhattan and Chicago.

April 24, 2002

Nokia and IBM to Collaborate on Public Wireless LANs

Infoworld reports that IBM and Nokia announced a plan to collaborate on product offerings for the Public Wireless LAN market. Public WLANs are envisioned for meeting and waiting areas in public places where people currently use laptops. Examples are restaurants, conference centers, airport terminals, and hotels.

It is important to note that IBM and Nokia have not actually announced any product or service offerings. They announced their intent to collaborate on such offerings in the future. But, these two companies have the resources and global reach to make it easy for existing mobile communications companies to work with them to implement a turnkey WLAN network. This might be a good option for some wireless carriers, most of which have not yet deployed a WLAN infrastructure.

April 10, 2002

Mossberg Solution Compares Treo with Kyocera, Samsung, and RIM Competitors

In the first edition of The Mossberg Solution, Walt Mossberg compares the Handspring Treo 180 with its closest integrated PDA / mobile phone competitors. The competitors he names are the Kyocera Smartphone, the Samsung I300, and the Research in Motion Blackberry 5810. This is a good overview article, although it has less details about hands-on experience with each one than might be expected in a head-to-head comparison in a computer magazine.

March 20, 2002

Carriers Thinking of Uniting Cellular Data Networks with Public Wireless LANs

CommsDesign reports that several mobile phone carriers are talking about integrating wireless LAN technology with their cellular data networks. One example of this is VoiceStream who recently acquired MobileStar, primarily for its contracts and its hardware assets. But, other firms including Telenor and Telia are experimenting with the same concept in Scandinavia.

March 19, 2002

Palm Advocates Use of Bluetooth Through Partnership with Sony Ericsson

CNET also reported on the announcement of a strategic alliance between Palm and Sony Ericsson to advance the use of Bluetooth personal networking technology as a means of making stand-alone mobile phones and PDAs work together.

Bluetooth is a wireless networking technology meant to provide seemless connectivity between a small number of devices operating within 30 feet of each other. Sony Ericsson is a joint venture between Sony and Ericsson to produce mobile phones that provide multimedia capabilities.

This announcement is interesting because it shows a radically different approach to how PDAs should connect to the Internet. If you have never seen a Bluetooth-enabled phone providing Internet connectivity to a PDA or laptop, you probably cannot imagine the possibilities that widespread Bluetooth deployment would provide to people on-the-go. This would not satisfy people who are interested in carrying a single device, but Bluetooth is probably something people would nevertheless want in their mobile devices if they knew of its capabilities.

Handspring and Sprint Announce Pact to Bring CDMA Treos to Market

CNET reports that Handspring and Sprint have announced an agreement to produce and market a CDMA-based Treo handheld communicator. According to the article, Handspring President Ed Colligan said, "There is some exclusivity for a period of time...and there was some compensation from Sprint, but this is a strategic announcement."

To us, this is a surprising development, because a relationship with Verizon arguably could have been more productive to bring the CDMA-based version to market. Verizon Wireless also uses CDMA technology, and seems to have a stronger network infrastructure in the Northeastern United States. On the other hand, Sprint has demonstrated its ability to connect with customers in its recent advertising campaigns, and strong promotion of the Handspring devices might change the demand for the product substantially.

March 18, 2002

Handspring Announces Beta Program for Treo Mail

CNET reports that Handspring has announced a service called Treo Mail and is beginning a beta test program immediately. According to the Handspring Web Site, "Treo Mail delivers email from your existing email account to your Treo communicator so you can access your important messages from wherever you are. Treo Mail comes in two editions: Corporate Edition for use with email accounts located behind a corporate firewall or Internet Edition for use with POP3 email accounts...."

This service apparently does not enable GPRS. At this stage, Treo Mail is simply a way to integrate a Treo more tightly with traditional email services provided on corporate Intranets or via ISPs. An ISP account and a data call using the device's wireless modem is still required to make connection with the Treo Mail service.

March 8, 2002

Small UI Shortcomings in Treo 180 Already Addressed by Third Party Palm Apps

Dave Aiello wrote, "In the first week of using a Treo 180, I identified a couple of user interface problems that I found annoying or potentially embarassing. To my surprise, I also found that these problems are already addressed by software available at PalmGear. Read on for more details...."

Continue reading "Small UI Shortcomings in Treo 180 Already Addressed by Third Party Palm Apps" »

March 5, 2002

Now Using a Treo 180

Dave Aiello wrote, "Believe it or not, I received my Treo 180 yesterday, got it registered on VoiceStream, got the Internet access configured with my ISP, and wrote this story using the Handspring Blazer browser. Setting up the Treo was time-consuming but straight forward. The hardest part of the process was figuring out how to key the less than and greater than signs to compose the HTML tags in this story. More on my experience with the Treo later."

March 4, 2002

RIM Announces Integrated Mobile Phone, Email, Organizer

Reuters is reporting that Research in Motion has announced a voice-enabled version of its BlackBerry e-mail device, placing it in competition with the Handspring Treo 180 and a number of other forthcoming integrated phone/messaging devices. The new device, called the BlackBerry 5810, looks exactly like the BlackBerry 957 which has the Personal Information Manager form factor. The major difference is that the new device adds an earbud-sized headset and a GSM SIM card.

The article suggests that Handspring is positioning the Treo 180 as a consumer device, while the Blackberry is aimed squarely at business. It's hard to justify statements like this, in our view, unless they are trying to say that Blackberry infrastructure (for email filtering and forwarding) may already exist in large North American corporations, while corresponding software will not exist for the Handspring device at the moment. On the other hand, the Handspring device is more of a pure GSM/GPRS device than the Blackberry, so the infrastructure to support it may already be deployed in Europe and Asia.

February 18, 2002

Handspring Treo 180/180g Now Shipping

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last week while I was away, Handspring announced the nationwide shipment of the Treo 180 and Treo 180g personal communication devices. These are the handheld gadgets that combine a GSM cellular telephone, a Palm OS personal organizer, and an integrated keyboard similar in size and shape to the ones on the face of the RIM Blackberry e-mail pagers."

"I have been having increasing performance problems with my Nokia 8860 mobile phone, and have been looking for a hybrid device so that I can reduce the number of small electronic devices that I need to carry on a daily basis. For those reasons, I decided to throw caution to the wind, buy a Treo, and sign up for a year of GSM service with VoiceStream. Supposedly, I will get the Treo in one to three weeks. Read on for a little bit of the risk analysis that I did before making this purchase decision...."

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February 6, 2002

Palm Announces Palm OS 5.0

Yesterday, Palm announced some of the details of the next version of its operating system in the Palm OS 5 Preview. The new version focuses on improvements in security, multimedia support, and wireless connectivity.

This announcement has been much anticipated and will be carefully scrutinized. Hopefully, the designers have done their homework, and the Palm platform will remain competitive with Windows CE. We certainly believe that it will be easier to create mobile Internet access devices under Palm OS 5 than it has been under Palm OS 3.5 and 4.0.

February 4, 2002

SF Chronicle: Verizon Wireless' Express Network "Not that Great"

Henry Norr writes about the Verizon Express Network in today's San Francisco Chronicle. The Express Network is the first widely-deployed 3G mobile data network in the United States, currently operating in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Northeastern United States, and the Greater Salt Lake City Area.

Norr points out that the service will not be confused with broadband, regularly producing throughput of "only" 30 to 35 kbps in the San Francisco Bay area. But, then he relates the comments of a Verizon engineer: "...Ricochet is gone, and {an} 802.11b network works only within a radius of about 150 feet {of the base station}. The Verizon network is up and running today, and it encompasses most of the Bay Area from Gilroy to Petaluma."

In the East, the network basically works along the coast from Norfolk, VA, to Hartford, CT, and inland for a distance of 75-100 miles. It also works in the Providence-Boston-Nashua metroplex and the Portland, ME metro area. See the service maps at

We believe that the Verizon Express Network is a significant step forward in wireless networking capability, and we will continue to seek out reviews and first-hand accounts of user experiences. We are trying to determine if this technology is good enough to make us choose to purchase devices compatible with Verizon's CDMA network instead of the GSM networks deployed or under construction from VoiceStream, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular.

mlife Turns Out to Be AT&T Wireless

Over the past couple of weeks, many people have commented on the mystery surrounding the What is mlife? advertising campaign. We suspected that the meaning of the campaign would be revealed during the SuperBowl, which came to pass. It turns out that mlife is a new branding effort for AT&T Wireless Services.

We had searched the web for mlife about a week ago, but very little information had been available at that time. It turns out that real information about the ad campaign started appearing on the web on Friday and Saturday. The first article we saw that explained the bulk of the campaign appeared on on Friday. An even more definitive story came from Bloomberg News on Saturday, which was published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

We would have expected that mlife was the AT&T Wireless brand name for GSM wireless services, particularly given the mention of Short Message Services (SMS) in the ad that followed the revelation of the relationship between mlife and AT&T Wireless. But, this idea was debunked in a conference call on Friday by John Zeglis, AT&T Wireless chairman and chief executive officer. Zeglis said, "With this new brand campaign, we are making a bold break from our industry's obsession with plans, prices, promotions, and patter about esoteric technology issues."

January 31, 2002

Palm i705: a Vast Improvement Over Palm VII, But Not Enough to Ditch Your Blackberry

Earlier this week Palm introduced a new personal digital assistant called the Palm i705. This is the second device offered by Palm which provides a form of wireless Internet access, and is definitely a vast improvement over the previous model, the Palm VII. However, we do not believe that this PDA will make people forget about the Blackberry line of wireless communication devices from Research in Motion.

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal agrees with us. In his latest Personal Technology column, Mossberg says that the i705 lacks the convenience of the RIM Blackberry. According to his review, "...the only reason to buy the i705 is for wireless e-mail, and here the unit is flawed. It does, as promised, collect your e-mail automatically. But the device lacks a built-in keyboard, which I regard as crucial to composing e-mail. Most people aren't fast enough or accurate enough at Palm's on-screen handwriting system, called Graffiti, to write a lot of e-mails with it, yet this is the method Palm relies upon. Palm does offer an optional clip-on keyboard, but it costs $60, balloons the size of the i705, and is cumbersome to carry around."

January 28, 2002

Verizon Announces High Speed Wireless Network reports that Verizon announced the immediate availability of a high speed wireless data network in most cities on the East Coast between Norfolk, VA and Boston. Verizon's Express Network is the first third generation (3G) wireless network to be deployed in the United States.

According to Verizon, the new service will cost $30 per month for time-limited use, and the subscriber must also participate in a standard mobile phone calling plan costing $35 or more per month. Average download speeds are expected to be 40 to 60 kbps, although Verizon claims that the network is burstable to 144k.

January 24, 2002

Gillmor Gives Tips on Preparing Companies for Mobile Network Usage

Dan Gillmor steps out of his usual publication to write an article in Computerworld called Eight Ways to Get Ready for Mobile Usage. This article has some good advice, including thinking about WiFi security now, not later, and think about how your Web site's information will look on small screens.

These are things that are worth thinking about today, even if your budget is limited to maintaining the services you already have. When spending picks up again, WiFi is going to be everywhere. Get ready.

January 17, 2002

Mercury-News Columnist Says Handspring Treo is "a Dud"

Mike Landberg in the San Jose Mercury-News is one of the first columnists in a major publication to report that he really dislikes the Handspring Treo 180. He writes, "Handspring's much-touted new Treo 180 'communicator' at $399 -- the latest attempt to merge a personal digital assistant with a mobile phone -- turns out to be yet another kludge that's too much of a PDA to be a good phone and too much of a phone to be a good PDA."

In a way, it's good to see this device get a bad review. Any portable device combining telephony, email, and Internet access is bound to have some design compromises built into it. Most of the other reviews we've seen have had an almost-too-good-to-be-true quality.

January 16, 2002

U.S. Release of Handspring Treo Delayed Until March reports that Handspring has delayed the U.S. introduction of the Treo 180 until March. Handspring CEO Donna Dubinsky cited unspecified parts shortages for the delay, although assembly of the devices has begun at a Solectron plant in Mexico.

Perhaps a better explanation for the delay may be found later in the article: "Handspring said more than 20 wireless carriers worldwide have been testing the Treo on their networks. Dubinsky also told CNET that the company is launching in Europe first because carriers there are moving more quickly to work with the Treo." Yesterday, we speculated that delayed shipment in the United States was the result of a lack of carrier buy-in. Sounds like we were right.

Actually, this development may be a blessing for American gadget freaks. If Handspring really does ship the Treo in Europe first, we will find out whether the product works well without having to buy it and commit to a service contract with a GSM-based carrier.

January 15, 2002

Why Hasn't Handspring Released Treo 180 Yet?

About two weeks ago, David Pogue said that Handspring would ship the Treo 180 on January 14. That date has come and gone, so we began asking our friends who are generally in the know: Why didn't Handspring ship when Pogue said they would?

One thing that is clear in surveying other news cites: David Pogue did not name January 14 because of a Handspring press release. A couple of other sites pointed out that Pogue went out on a limb with this prediction.

Then, there's the idea that carrier support in the United States is not yet in place. reports that Handspring has not announced a carrier deal although they intend to ship finished product in January. Carrier support is probably necessary in order to permit the Treo to be sold at the lower price that was to be available to customers who signed service contracts.

FWIW, PalmInfoCenter contradicts the article, saying, "According to Handspring, it has already lined up an impressive collection of wireless service providers. In the U.S., this includes Cingular and VoiceStream. They also have agreements with companies in Canada. However, none of these have officially been announced."

Mobile Phone Billing Systems Not Designed to Support Data Services reports that European mobile communications companies have found that their billing systems do not make it easy to bill customers for data services such as the new GPRS extension to GSM. This could prove to be an obstacle to flexibly priced, value-added mobile data services in the forseeable future.

Among the problems cited in the article:

  • operators can only typically charge for the time that people are connected, the number of SMS messages they send, or the number of data bytes downloaded
  • operators generally cannot charge for SMS messages received
  • value-added services delivered through SMS, therefore, cannot be tariffed on a per-message basis.

Among the services that the article claims are being held back as a result of this are a Microsoft Hotmail to SMS gateway and a wide range of location-based services. Amazingly, the article also says, "billing for new mobile data services was already recognized as a stumbling block well over a year ago by analysts and industry players."

January 8, 2002

Computerworld Provides Further Details on Boingo Wireless

Computerworld reports on the progress Boingo Wireless is making toward a debut. Sprint PCS Group has made an investment. Their access software is in public beta right now. The final version is expected to be released in February. More information on Boingo may be found in the article we published on December 20.

January 4, 2002

NY Times: Treo 180 Will Ship January 14

In yesterday's New York Times, David Pogue reported that the Treo 180 will be available from Handspring on January 14. This piece of information was contained in an article that reviewed the Motorola V220 (unfavorably) and the Treo 180 (favorably). Handspring itself has not announced a firm date for Treo 180 availability.

The article also points out that Handspring plans CDMA versions of Treo devices, at some point in the future. This would allow much wider use of Treo's in the Northeastern U.S., because Verizon operates its wireless network on the CDMA standard. Currently, the only mobile carrier in the Northeast using the GSM standard (on which the forthcoming Treo 180 is based) is Voicestream.

December 20, 2001

Boingo Wireless to Integrate Public WiFi Networks

802.11b Networking News reports that a new company has been launched to integrate public WiFi networks in the United States. Boingo Wireless founded by Earthlink founder Sky Dayton, will offer a software layer that will integrate independently-owned wireless networks being built by independent businesses with which Boingo hopes to partner. In effect, Boingo will provide a roaming service for WiFi networks.

Boingo's software will provide single user login, WEP key management, WiFi network profile management, preferred network priority, VPN (virtual private network) service to Boingo's public servers, quality of service (QoS) tracking, and connection logging. These are most of the services that would be necessary to establish a nationwide wireless internet service based on the 802.11b protocol, provided the physical infrastructure is built.

December 4, 2001

Treo 180, Fusion of Palm-based PDA and Mobile Phone, Opens to Raves

Last week, The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC published separate reviews of the Handspring Treo 180. This is the latest device promising integration between mobile telephony, PDA functionality, and electronic mail.

Walt Mossberg hailed the Treo 180 in his Personal Technology last Thursday. He said, "...the Treo is a true breakthrough. Unlike other combo devices, which were either phones with Palms jammed into them or Palms with phone features added, the Treo is a true hybrid." This is high praise, coming from a columnist who is fairly unique because he focuses relentlessly on usability of new technology products and is quite critical of products that are not ready for the market.

Continue reading "Treo 180, Fusion of Palm-based PDA and Mobile Phone, Opens to Raves" »

August 24, 2001

SourceForge Project Recovers Wireless Networks' Master Password

Two weeks ago, we pointed out reports that researchers at AT&T Labs had written code to break the WEP protocol, the encryption technology implemented on 802.11b or WiFi wireless networks. The researchers described their achievement in some detail, but did not publish their code.

Earlier this week came news of the fact that two developers from a small security consulting firm started a SourceForge project called AirSnort. Reportedly, this project has already produced a fairly reliable means of guessing the WEP master password for a network through passive monitoring of encrypted traffic.

No doubt this will give network administrators fits as they try to secure networks that already contain wireless access points. CTDATA has planned to implement an 802.11b network at its Lawrenceville, NJ office, but we will have to consider the limitations of the WEP security model as we do. Perhaps, we will have to install a VPN and require that all 802.11b network traffic pass through it before accessing resources on our wired network.

August 9, 2001

Rice University Intern at AT&T Labs Breaks WEP Protocol

EE Times reports that Adam Stubblefield, a 20 year old intern from Rice University, successfully broke the WEP protocol while doing research at AT&T Labs in Florham Park, NJ. WEP, the Wired Equivalent Protocol, is considered the strongest form of encryption available on 802.11b wireless local area networks. Stubblefield reportedly recovered the 128-bit WEP key by implementing an attack specified in a previously published research paper.

According to EE Times, the exploit was accomplished with off-the-shelf hardware and code that was written and tested in less than a week. Not bad for an undergraduate on an internship.

June 18, 2001

Could WiFi Make 3G Deployment Moot?

Technology Review, a magazine produced by MIT, is running an article on its Web Site about public access deployments of 802.11b Wireless Ethernet Services. These so-called WiFi networks include those created by installing Apple AirPort and Agere Orinoco Wireless Access Points.

We really like this technology and hope it succeeds. We are going to attempt to deploy a private WiFi network at our new office in Central New Jersey within the next month. It will be very interesting to see how carriers deploy WiFi in public, despite the fact that it was not designed to be a component of public networks.

June 13, 2001

Wireless Phone Industry Scraps WAP

If the events in the Web business over the last few months weren't shocking enough, the mobile phone industry delivered this bombshell earlier today: they are abandoning WAP. A new protocol called The Mobile Services Initiative (or M-Services) will take its place.

According to the Reuters article, "M-Services... aims to introduce an open software and hardware standard within mobile Internet in a bid to avoid the fiasco which surrounded the first attempt at mobile Internet... WAP...."

It's hard to know whether to praise this development or condemn it. On one hand, the industry ought to be praised for taking WAP outside and shooting it. No Web developer who evaluated the protocol objectively liked it. On the other hand, where does this leave the consumers who upgraded to WAP-enabled phones who did not end up using that function? Also, the providers and businesses who invested in WAP-specific resources or projects are probably going to end up high and dry.

June 5, 2001

WSJ Documents the Debacle of 3G Mobile Phone Technology

Any self-respecting Weblog should be pointing to this Wall Street Journal article today. Reporter Almar Latour tells the story of the European and Hong Kong-based wireless carriers who overbid for 3G licenses. In the process, they ruined their balance sheets, squandered their technological advantage over their American competitors, and created a major crisis for the entire telecom gear industry. Many European national governments share blame for this, because they set the auction system up with the specific intent of creating a bidding frenzy.

From the first glimpse of technologies like CDPD and WAP, we believed that Internet content delivery on mobile phones (as we know them today) was fatally flawed. Usability experts like Jakob Nielsen have also provided ample evidence confirming our view.

We still believe that the most usable wearable Internet access tool is a Blackberry pager from Research in Motion. Now that BT Cellnet has rolled out Blackberries on it GPRS service, these devices are expanding outside North America and jumping into the "2.5G" market at the same time.

November 29, 2000

NewsForge is the Latest Site to Criticize WAP

Jack Bryar wrote an original piece for NewsForge that reviews the current state of the Wireless Access Protocol (also known as WAP). The article is not as critical of the underlying technology as it is of the applications that have been built up to now.

From the outset, we have questioned the entire premise of WAP, so long as the devices used to access it look like mobile telephones. If you have a tiny display with no color or contrast, and no practical data entry device, who's going to use it? We prefer the form factor and usability of the Research In Motion Blackberry pagers.

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October 6, 2000

CNET Provides Radiation Statistics on Popular Mobile Phones

We stumbled across a promotion on CNET for a report that they published on mobile telephone radiation emissions. Some of our favorite phones, including the Nokia 8860 and the Ericsson T28 have among the highest radiation statistics.

This made us curious to find out what the radiation statistics meant. After all, why are the most feature-ladened, newer models apparently discharging more radiation than some of the old models we discarded because they were big and heavy?

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September 21, 2000

New York Times Reports on "Email You Can't Outrun"

Martin O'Donnell points out a New York Times article on the Blackberry pagers -- further evidence of their fanatical adoption by knowledge workers across the nation.

"Members of the BlackBerry cult won't ask how you are in their electronic
communiqués. Nor are they very likely to give you their full attention when
you are in their physical presence, since the messages flashing on their
pager-size screens demand a quick glance, and perhaps a response. But they
will return your e-mail almost immediately, no matter where they are."

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Another Pundit Chooses Blackberry over WAP Phones

Stewart Alsop, venture capitalist and columnist for Fortune, has joined a lengthening list of contrarian pundits by finding the Blackberry paging and PDA platform superior to WAP based mobile phones.

In his latest Fortune column, Alsop compares WAP phones on the Sprint PCS and Verizon networks with Blackberry on the basis of what each device can productively do today. He says, "In the six months
that I used a Sprint wireless data phone,
I did not get one piece of important info
via phone that I didn't already have from
another source... Instead of buying... {the}
Sprint phone, I should have bought a
Blackberry from Research in Motion. One
after another of my techie friends has
bought this thing and become consumed
with its utility and design...."

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September 20, 2000

Jakob Nielsen Picks Some Early Winners in Mobile Internet Access

In the latest Alertbox, Jakob Nielsen reports on his experiences at the DEMOmobile2000 Conference in Pasadena. Nielsen claims that the current crop of WAP devices has terrible usability. He prefers Palm devices and Blackberry pagers and PDAs.

Nielsen says, "Informal discussions with conference attendees showed that Blackberry is taking off as the
best and most loved product for mobile connectivity."

Continue reading "Jakob Nielsen Picks Some Early Winners in Mobile Internet Access" »

August 23, 2000

Wireless Developer Network Reviews RIM 957 Pager

Wireless Developer Network has just published a good review of the Research in Motion Blackberry 957 Pager / Personal Digital Assistant. CTDATA is quite interested in the 957 because we use both Blackberry 950 pagers and Palm PDAs. Therefore, the 957 represents an opportunity to converge two handheld devices into one.

The big question about the new Blackberry is whether it works well enough to justify giving up our Palm devices. Some of us use third party applications that only run on the Palm platform, so we could not totally give up the Palm platform. For others, wireless e-mail is much more important than the large library of third party apps that the Palm platform provides.

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