Can AT&T’s Network Handle the iPhone’s VoIP Traffic?

AT&T’s recent decision to allow iPhone-based internet voice applications (VoIP) on its network begs the question, can the network handle it? In September, the New York Times reported that the increase in data usage related to the iPhone 3GS release has severely impacted AT&T’s service. Customers complain of “dropped calls, spotty service, delayed text and voice messages and glacial download speeds as AT&T’s cellular network strains to meet the demand.” At the same time, AT&T has yet to support tethering on the iPhone as it performs “fine tuning to our systems and networks so that we do deliver a great experience” (Ironically, AT&T does support tethering, or using one’s phone to access the internet by computer, on other devices, for $60 per month). Considering that AT&T also recently began supporting picture messaging (MMS) on the iPhone, how will AT&T’s network respond to the added stress of voice applications?

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AT&T Takes Aim at Google Voice

It was only a matter of time until AT&T jumped into the fight over Google Voice. As The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, AT&T sent a letter to the FCC on Friday alleging that because Google Voice does not connect calls to certain numbers, Google’s service violates FCC regulations governing phone carriers. The AT&T letter also accuses Google of violating the FCC’s “net neutrality” rules by blocking certain calls. AT&T’s arguments, however, are flawed for multiple reasons.

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Trade Commission to Investigate Flash-Memory Patent Infringement

Dow Jones Newswires reported yesterday that the U.S. Trade Commission is opening an investigation into potential patent infringement in the flash-memory market. According to the report, Pennsylvania-based BTG International, Inc. claims that Samsung Electronics infringed on its patents in the design of its flash-memory chips. If BTG’s claims are found to be true, Apple, Research in Motion (maker of the BlackBerry), Dell, Sony, and Lenovo (purchaser of IBM’s personal-computing line) could all find themselves paying royalties to BTG.

The core of BTG’s complaint, according to the Newswires report, is that it Samsung is infringing on its “patented methods by which flash memory can store multiple pieces of information per cell without becoming larger or more expensive.”

Given the lengthy nature of patent infringement disputes, this move is unlikely to have an immediate impact on either Samsung, BTG, or the companies using the allegedly-infringing devices. If, however, BTG’s claims are found to be true, Samsung and its customers may be forced to pay substantial royalties to BTG some time down the road. Samsung and its customers may be well-advised to take a page from Echostar’s book and redesign or replace the chips before the dispute ends up in court. Such a move would not necessarily end the litigation, but it could limit the monetary impact a finding in BTG’s favor might have.

Apple Tablet Confirmed, Sort Of

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article about Steve Jobs’ return to Apple following a leave of absence for a liver transplant. The article, “Jobs, Back at Apple, Focuses on New Tablet,” confirms the rumor that has been circulating on the internet for some time now: Apple is preparing a tablet computer. From all the mockups I’ve seen, it looks like an oversized iPhone running a full version of Mac OS X. Now that Apple has confirmed the tablet’s existence in a way, the rumors about its features and capabilities will really begin to fly. I, for one, am interested in an Apple tablet if for no other reason than Apple tends to take an already-existing idea and make it kick-ass. I’ve never before been interested in a tablet computer, but Apple is sure to give existing iterations of the concept a run for their money.

Google Voice Invite Contest

Interested in Google Voice? As it happens, I have an additional invitation.

For a chance to win the GV invite, head to https://disparate.info/2009/07/29/google-voice/ and leave a comment on that post. Then browse around disparate.info and comment on a second post.

You have until the end of today’s Red Sox-Yankees game to leave two comments (4:10pm EDT start time, but as with every Sox-Yankees matchup, the end time is a mystery). A winner will be randomly selected from those who qualify.

What!? Facebook Users Sue Over Privacy Concerns

In what seems completely ridiculous to me, five Facebook users have sued the company in a California court, alleging violations of privacy. The plaintiffs claim their private information was harvested by Facebook without receiving compensation for the information. This suit baffles me for two reasons. First, users sign up and provide their personal information of their own volition, after agreeing to Facebook’s terms of service and privacy policy. How then did Facebook “harvest” the information if the users provided it? Second, what “compensation” did the plaintiffs expect? The site’s purpose is to connect people, not pay them for private information. If its purpose was the later, why would anyone join?

I can only hope that the judge has enough common sense to dismiss this frivolous lawsuit.

Google Voice Invites for Military Personnel

Google announced yesterday that it is giving priority to Google Voice invitation requests from members of the military with a .mil email address. According to the post on Google’s official blog, invitation requests made with a .mil address should be answered within a day. This is quite the gesture from Google, and a positive sign that Google Voice is scaling well as the invites continue to roll out.

If you’re a member of the military with a .mil email address and you’d like an invite to Google Voice, go to http://www.google.com/militaryinvite/.

‘1984’ Comes to Life in UK Surveillance Plan

In an attempt to improve the lives of children in 20,000 “problem” households, the UK government plans to install surveillance cameras in the homes to provide 24-hour monitoring by the government. The program is focused on ensuring children are attending school, eating well, and sleeping enough. Parents will also be monitored for substance abuse problems, and support will be provided. To enforce the program, the British government has created a private guard to perform home checks and ensure that families are abiding by their “behavior contracts.”

The plan, dubbed the Family Intervention Project, is expected to cost £400 million (just shy of $678 million today) and is being put forth by the UK’s Children’s Secretary. In response, the opposition party has blamed the moral decay this program is intended to correct on the ruling party, and said the program is “too little, too late.”

What amazes me most about the program is that 2,000 families are already participating. Given the already-pervasive use of camera surveillance throughout Great Britain, I suppose this announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is strange how much this plan mirrors the telescreens of Orwell’s 1984 though.

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Radar-enabled ‘Adaptive’ Cruise Control Coming to Ford

When was the last time somebody got excited about a new Ford Taurus? Exactly.

My question was not posed with malice, but more out of musing. I had this thought after coming across an article on Wired.com about “adaptive” cruise control. Having never heard of adaptive cruise control before, my interest was piqued.

Last month, Wired.com’s Gregory Mone took a ride in a 2010 Ford Taurus with a few members of Ford’s engineering team. After 60,000 miles testing the system, Ford is working out the last few bugs before releasing production models of the system, first in the new Taurus. Eventually, every Ford vehicle will include this system.

“Adaptive” cruise control uses radar, much like aircraft and submarines, to identify objects around the vehicle. Based on that information, the system will adjust the vehicle’s speed while cruise control is engaged. On the day Wired’s reporter rode in the 2010 Taurus, the vehicle had been traveling south on the New Jersey Turnpike for nearly an hour without the driver touching either the brake or gas pedal. For the driver, it became simply a matter of signaling and steering. The system can also help drivers avoid collisions, whether or not cruise control is in use.

If the system senses a crash, it warns the passengers, tightens seatbelts, and improves brake response. This feature is already available in some form on certain Volvo models, which is understandable considering Ford owns the Volvo car brand (for now).

As someone who spends a substantial amount of time on highways in the ever-congested Northeast, the system could certainly be useful if it works as well as described. Even better, if the technology became available in a wide variety of vehicles, congestion and accidents could be significantly reduced if drivers can trust the system. With many vehicles adjusting their speed in controlled manners, the knee-jerk reaction to “slam on the brakes” can be eliminated because vehicles are no longer abruptly changing their speeds. Bottlenecks for no apparent reason can be reduced because one driver’s action will not have as large a ripple effect as otherwise might be the case. But, again, the technology is new, untested on a massive scale, and available only on one vehicle from Ford. Until Ford adds the system to more of its product line and more customers test it in everyday situations, its potential to improve driver safety is just a dream.