Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hive active heating architecture

I often get asked why Hive Active Heating requires three pieces of hardware:

  • Hub – connects into your broadband router via ethernet
  • Boiler module – wired into your boiler and replaces your programmer/scheduler
  • Wireless thermostat – a battery operated thermostat

The Hive Active Heating thermostat is a wireless battery operated one, which means that standard wifi isn’t an appropriate radio technology because it consumes too much power and battery life would be reduced to hours or days unless we made compromises on how long the device goes into sleep mode. We therefore chose Zigbee a low power radio protocol that enables a very long battery life, typically many months and years. Zigbee is also designed to provide mesh network support where multiple devices can talk to each other and use each other as relays to extend range and reduce battery consumption (smaller hops means less power consumption). Unfortunately standard broadband routers from your ISP only support wifi and not Zigbee. The hub provided with Hive Active Heating talks Zigbee to the thermostat and/or the boiler module and then “translates” this into traffic (IP) that can be sent via the broadband router to the cloud servers. If there were no hub to do the zigbee to IP translation we’d be forced to use wifi and that means you’d have to provide mains power to the thermostat that need to talk to the internet.

People often prefer wireless thermostats because it avoids the need for rewiring the house and ruining the decor. It also allows you to place the thermostat where it would be difficult to run wires.

The hub also has the ability to provide “intelligence” to control multiple devices in the home which means each of the end point devices don’t need as much intelligence and can be operated in synch. For example, you could set rules to turn the heating on when you come home and turn the lights on and all that control logic could live in the hub. It leaves options for the future ;-).

Smart TVs ain’t that smart….

I’ve personally felt for a while that the TV apps were unlikely to get mass adoption for a number of reasons:

1. The UX/UI is appalling – There are not many experiences I can say are worse than Samsung’s attempt at apps

2. The remote control is too restrictive and clumsy to navigate a complex app that needs a keyboard

3. Tablets, PCs and mobile devices allow you to do many of things you need and more than a 1/3 of viewers have one of these devices beside them when watching TV.

4. Failure to develop compelling apps – because of the reasons above. Also unclear what you’d want to do on the TV rather than your pc

5. Shared experience – when you have 2 or more people family members sitting in front of the TV they hardly want you playing with an app.

6. Strong props and platforms from the likes of Sky – Do I use the BBC iPlayer on my TV or my sky box? Well my sky box lets me record the iplayer programmes and I don’t need to leave the Sky ecosystem……..game over.

 

The art of focus

One of the biggest challenges I see in corporate life is learning to say “no” to things and not spreading yourself too thinly across multiple projects. There are lots of ambitious people in corporate life and we all love a challenge so we continually add more and more to the work stack until we find we’ve spread ourselves across so many projects that you have to wonder how much time and effort is spent on any single project. This is what leads to mediocre results at best or complete failure  at worst.

The one thing we all need to learn to do is focus; learning the art of focus is easier said that done. I often say to people who work to me that we need less width (quantity of projects) and more depth on the projects we choose to work on and then go on to do the exact opposite myself!

A large company works through a process of consensus and agreement. That’s what makes the wheels go around in these large systems of effort. When you’re producing a product or new service in a competitive environment you need that product to be good enough for the job in hand, but even good enough can require a huge amount of time and effort. This means that often consensus and agreement leads to compromise and that leads to be a product or service that is often not good enough for the market. This is where senior managers and execs have to have their hands firmly in the day to day tasks to ensure that only appropriate compromises are made and inappropriate compromises are challenged and avoided. Junior members of the team are often not empowered or able to make the necessary challenges to avoid inappropriate compromise in a large company and this is why it falls to senior managers to ensure this doesn’t happen. Many senior managers however don’t have the necessary information or in-depth understanding  of projects to challenge poor decisions at the working level because they’re busy working on a zillion other projects.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately there is no easy answer. Individual leaders have to master the discipline of focusing on a few things and being bold enough to say no to the others. They have to continually assess whether they’re spending enough time on the projects with their team and if those projects are delivering the necessary quality. Keep asking yourself whether the output will succeed in the competitive environment.

What is 4G

What is 4G?

4G is a term used by people to apply to a lot of different technologies. It stands for 4th generation of wireless cellular standards. The definition of 4G from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU-R) is the ability to deliver:

  • Up to 100Mbps in the downlink (from base station to mobile device) in high mobility conditions such as vehicle and trains
  • 1Gbps in the downlink (from base station to mobile device) in stationary or low mobility conditions such as walking

To give you a feel of what this means, if you are using fixed broadband at home using ADSL then you’re getting on average 5 – 8 Mbps. If you’re one of the lucky ones with cable then you’re probably getting closer to 20Mbps. So it’s quite a challenge to meet these speeds on a wireless system. By the way, regardless of the hype you hear wireless systems in a majority of cases will never be faster or cheaper than fixed systems in countries where there is extensive existing fixed line infrastructure – spectrum is a scarce resource and has to be shared where as fixed line capacity is more abundant and more easily able to offer the higher data rates.

None of the systems deployed today or to be deployed in the next two years meet the criteria for a true 4G system. However, the Long Term Evolution standard (LTE) at least meets the 100Mbps with LTE Advanced being planned to meet both criteria. Let’s just walk through what LTE is and some history on cellular technologies.

The operators around the world at the moment are operating a number of flavours of cellular technologies but by and the large the most popular standards are GSM and UMTS. GSM is a 2nd generation technology that was initially designed for voice but then modified to accommodate data. It’s still the most commonly deployed technology globally. UMTS is a 3rd generation technology that was designed to be backwardly compatible with the 2G GSM standard and allow a much higher data speed than 2G. They key thing is that it was designed for data as well as voice or so the theory goes. Basic UMTS offers speeds of up to 384kbps from the base station to the device (download speed) and up to 64kbps from the device to the base station (upload speed). The 3G UMTS standard was then beefed up with HSPA to provide faster data speeds. There are two parts to HSPA, HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) and HSUPA (high speed uplink packet access). HSDPA allows in theory up to 14.4Mbps and HSUPA up to 5.76Mbps. There have been further evolutions of HSPA that allow HSDPA speeds of 84.4Mbps and HSDPA speeds of 23Mbps, though these haven’t been deployed at least on an significant level. In practise with basic HSPA most users don’t get more than 1Mbps and very few will see speeds 2Mbps or more, but this is adequate for most tasks such as email and browsing.

The new standard LTE in the strictest sense is more like 3.9G as it doesn’t quite meet the ITU-R’s definition above of 4G where a data rate of 1Gbps is required. Later variants of LTE called LTE-Advanced (yes I know the naming conventions show a lack of imagination 🙂 ) do achieve the 1Gbps requirement.

Without getting into the technical intricacies of the technology LTE gives the customer some real benefits. The two most important enhancements with LTE are higher speeds and lower latency. The benefits of higher speeds are obvious, but what’s less obvious is the latency benefit. Lower latency means that response times are much faster and things will feel snappier and you’re more likely to achieve the higher speeds as well. In theory LTE allows 100Mbps in the downlink and 50Mbps in the uplink, but in reality customers are unlikely to experience more than 5-10Mbps in the downlink and 1-5Mbps in the uplink if for no other reason than the need to share capacity amongst multiple users. At a push assuming enough spectrum is available to the operator a speed of 20Mbps might be feasible. LTE offers a definite improvement in speed and better customer experience. The table below summarises the different data speeds for each of the technologies discussed.

Technology

Data speed (uplink/downlink)

GSM EGPRS

59.2kbps/236.8kbps

UMTS

64kbps/384kbps

UMTS HSPA

5.7Mbps/14.4Mbps

UMTS HSPA+

22Mbps/84Mbps

LTE

50Mbps/100Mbps

LTE Advanced

500Mbps/1Gbps

What’s going to be interesting is what anyone will do after LTE-A because we’re fast approaching some the theoretical limits of what radio systems, at least for cellular applications, can do with the current network topologies. To increase speeds further much smaller cells sizes (i.e the coverage radius from a single network transmitter mast) will be required and this is where microcell, picocell and femto technologies will see increased deployment if the economics work.

4G deployments globally

2010 saw the first LTE deployment though most of these were nothing more than early PR shouts intended to show the operator as being a “leader”. Operators who deployed LTE in 2010 were:

  • NTT DoCoMo in Japan
  • MetroPCS in nine USA cities
  • TeliaSonera in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland
  • Verizon in 38 USA cities
  • Vodafone in Germany

Expect to see more deployments through 2011 with critical mass during 2012 and 2013. At the moment the devices that support LTE are quite limited and are mainly data modems and data devices. In many countries operators will need additional spectrum to deploy LTE.

Data limits

I’m also expecting that in the next 2-3 years timeframe more operators will have implemented traffic shaping/policing with some strict usage allowances. Traffic shaping means that operators can manage the load on their networks to try and reduce the peak-average traffic ratio. Shaping and policing will manage traffic more intelligently by giving some traffic types higher priority than others, for example email can be sent with a lower priority compared to web browsing because users won’t really notice it. This shouldn’t necessarily be viewed negatively if it helps operators keep data costs down for customers and its certainly not something that contravenes net neutrality as long as operators don’t bias against against similar types of traffic due to a commercial relationship with one or more of the traffic/content providers.

The other trend that’s emerged over the past 12 months has been the reduced number of “unlimited” data tariffs from operators. AT&T and Telefonica O2 have both introduced caps on the total Megabytes of data customers can have per month and it likely more operators will follow suit. The era of “unlimited” data is fast coming to an end. This won’t affect most users as they never exceed the caps, but a small minority of customers who consume a disproportionate amount of resources will certainly feel the pinch. Unlimited data bundles were introduced when the operators’ 3G networks were empty, but as demand and usage grew so these networks filled up. The challenge for most operators is that the investment for capacity to continue the rate of growth seen over the past 12-18months is unsustainable when one looks at the revenue that hasn’t grown as quickly as the total traffic. The operators have received a lot of negative publicity about being greedy over data charges but this isn’t the case. The revenues for operators have not kept up with the levels of traffic growth for data as they did for voice and this means that operators margins are declining steeply. This is a major challenge when one recognises networks are a capital intensive business. Building network capacity requires huge investment and if the revenue and profit isn’t there then there is no incentive or ability to invest.

One of the other things we can expect to see in the future is a tiering of the services provided similar to the model some fixed line ISPs have. The tiering could be based on:

  • Higher levels of quality of service the more you pay
  • High tier users getting priority for resources over lower tier users
  • QoS for real time services such as video

Operators need to think long and hard about how they manage data pricing going forward. Bill shock for data has to be avoided but knowing how much data you’ve consumed, even for technical people, is very difficult to gauge. It will be worthwhile for operators to invest in real time or near real time data usage dashboards for customers so that they can see how much data they’ve consumed at any given point in time. It’s a challenge having real time data metrics, but I believe its an investment worth considering. There’s an interesting article on the topic that can be found at http://www.telecoms.com/24006/keeping-it-real-time/.

4G the operator saviour?

There is an expectation amongst some operators they’ll be able to charge a premium for LTE, but in my opinion I don’t think this is likely. I heard the same thing when 3G was introduced, but I acknowledge the difference now is that demand for data has been established whereas back in 2003 mobile data was non-existent. I’m not convinced there are enough people with enough disposable income who value mobile data enough to want to pay more for LTE services than their paying for 3G services today. Verizon’s 4G pricing on its website is comparable to the 3G services it offers and this has probably set the price point for the USA market. People do indeed value mobility but there is a limit to what they’ll pay or can afford for that privilege. Conversely operators can’t significantly reduce prices for LTE more than 3G services because large components of their cost base are fixed regardless of the improvement in capacity LTE provides. Yes LTE provides more capacity but it doesn’t offset the site rents, transmission backhaul and other fixed costs, at least not with the deployment models employed today. I hate to say it but I think LTE is a necessary investment just to keep up with the competition in the market. Most markets will see at least one operator who’ll price LTE data comparable to 3G UMTS data and once that happens it becomes difficult for the other operators in that market to charge a premium for LTE.

However, the biggest challenge for operators remains as to whether its profitable enough just being a data pipe given the sorts of margins operators have been used to until now. Most operator initiatives for value added services that run over their pipes have had limited, if any, success at all, at least to date. But that’s another conversation for another post. As Booz&co stated in a 2011 Telecommunications perspective:

“The winners in the race for growth will be the operators that can successfully
manage the five ingredients of innovation: a consistent ideation process; the
ability to consistently nurture new ideas at every stage in the innovation life
cycle; a culture of innovation; fresh talent from outside the telecom industry; and
an entrepreneurial leadership style that brings all of these elements together

http://www.sophiekayani.co.uk/whitlockdisney2010/

What I want for Christmas

Dear Santa

Could you let me have the following pressies for Christmas please?

1. Identity management from device to device – I’d like to be able to walk up to ANY device I use and be able to login and have the same set-up and everything else as my main machine, wherever appropriate. There will be a range of devices I might use, so the set up needs to be smart not to try and replicate my entire desktop on my smartphone for example. And I’m not part of a large corporate with a Windows domain set-up so roaming profiles aren’t there to do it so help me out here. The technologies are there now so let me have it now please!!!!

2. I want my documents in the cloud – but still feel like they’re on my local machine – easier said than done. Yes Microsoft you’re really getting there with Skydrive but you know what, it’s not quite the finished article. My office applications hang while documents are being uploaded/downloaded….and I know I should be on an Gigabit ethernet at home but my ISP just hasn’t got round to putting fibre to my house…yet. O and while you’re at it do you think you could Apple-ize it so my mum and dad can use it too without calling me up?

3. A slightly more polished Office 2010 – I love Office 2010. Microsoft you really made some great improvements on what was already a good product. But why o why does Outlook and the other office apps still hang every now and then?! It mostly recovers, but sometimes I have to kill the app and start again….Surely after all these years of Office and with Windows 7 its not too much to ask that it doesn’t hang? Don’t force me over the dark side i.e a Mac machine 🙂 The Apple Fanboys are circling and trying to tempt me………

4. Stop people talking about the Cloud just because its the latest fad – Santa why do all the providers who really do hosting now call it the Cloud? Why is every hosted app now in the Cloud? Why has the entire industry moved to talking about anything not being local to the machine being in the Cloud? Did I miss something while I was sleeping? Was there a mass migration to the Cloud that I wasn’t around for??! It wasn’t the cloud before so why has it become the cloud now? Maybe because………

Take 1:
Small business “We have a fantastic hosting business that we’d like you to invest in…..”
Investor “O really? Isn’t hosting so yesterday? …Let me see your biz plan…..I think you’re valued at 5 pence…”

Take 2:
Small business “We’re a fantastic provider of Cloud services”
Investor “O really! GREAT. I think you’re valued at £50m….If its got cloud in the title then I don’t need to see your biz plan….. Let’s get it on…..!!”

O and if hear another evangelist tell that the Cloud is going to cure famine and prevent the spread of Aids please give me the strength not to punch them :-).

5. Stop people fawning over companies – Yes Apple is cool, yes Google is great and yes I love Facebook too……..but let’s get real…..At the end of the day they’re companies that provide goods and services like anyone else does. Just because they do it well and they’re big doesn’t mean people have to talk about them with more affection than their wife/child/mother/sibling. We don’t have to worship them! I’m just waiting for that cult to spring forth…………don’t say I didn’t warn you…..actually the cults might already be here 🙂

6. Let me have the apps I paid for forever more – I buy an app and so I assume its mine. Please o please let me take across to any device or any service provider I choose. Why is there so much in-operability in this world?

7. Can I have instantly on for my devices – 20 minutes of boot up time just doesn’t cut it any more. When I hit on I want instant on…..I want it now! I know if I wait a few more years it’ll come for all devices but can’t I have it now please? I know the iPad’s fast but I’m just not ready to move to a dumber device just yet. I can only have so many cups of tea in the day waiting for the machine to boot up:-)

8. Stop advertisers brainwashing my kids about the latest gizmo – Do you know how hard it is to say “no” to a six year old?! And if I say “no” I don’t want to feel like a criminally negligent parent! The life expectancy of my 6 year olds toys seems to be diminishing daily. Now I’m not from the era where kids only had a hoop and a stick to play with, but things seemed to hold my attention a lot longer than they do with kids nowadays.

9. Stop useless updates on….. – Look I’m not interested that someone has woken up, yawned and scratched their left ear. Putting it on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t make it any-more interesting. Why don’t I just stop following or unfriend these people? Well simple, because they are the same people who also produce good quality stuff!……..These tools are great, but boy are they bad in the wrong hands………Some things are best left unsaid.

10. A semantic web – It’s getting to be the wild west out there with regards to data! We need to turn that data into information to make it useful. Please bring some structure and meaning to the web to make it more accessible. I  don’t mind if it’s RDF (or RDFa), OWL, RIF or some other variant, but its high time we did something.

11. No closed internet – I don’t care how popular Facebook is. Sorry you can’t close off the web. You may not want Google indexing your data but you know what…..Its search that empowered the users of the internet and Google made one of the biggest contributions to that so don’t close the door to them and others. Remember its your customers’ data not yours.

Okay I’m not done yet…..but just so you can start here’s my list….

Yours sincerely,

Kass