Sunday, 22 May 2005

5barsFellow IT-management type Alex Scoble posed a wireless question in the comments from a random post yesterday (one that pictured my trusty Blackberry 7290), which led to a short series of comments of back-and-forth on wireless voice/data coverage. After thinking about it some more, I realized that I'm asked this type of question often, so I figure I'll harvest some of the comments content and create a new post here. After all, it's all about the conversation, and besides now I'll have a link to email to people, heh...

The in-building wireless coverage problem can be the scourge of many an IT manager. In-building dead-spot complaints have been known to pressure many IT pros to dump otherwise good carriers to go with another one that may offer good service at their micro-location, but which doesn't meet the business' other, broader needs. Not to mention the fact that the cost of simply changing carriers can be quite expensive.

If you have an in-building wireless overage problem, don't automatically assume changing carriers is the best or only way to solve it. Instead, exercise your two key options: Call your carrier and tell them you need them to provide you with a solution, and/or think about finding one yourself.

One of our teams recently finished a three-month review of many of the mobile providers available here. First of all, it's important to know that each carrier emphasizes a slightly different market. While T-Mobile's pricing was attractive, honestly their coverage was lacking outside the metro areas, which was a problem for our specific needs. Their people are great, and where it works it works well, but the remote coverage was our concern. Nextel was similar to T-Mobile in that regard. Verizon and Cingular have the broader coverage fairly well nailed down compared to their competition (especially when it comes to worldwide coverage, which we care about), but they, too have frustrating coverage gaps and spots. We looked at the other carriers, as well. In short, they all have their good and not-so-good points, and each caters to a somewhat different set of business needs. Most importantly, it's important to note that no carrier is perfect, especially in-building. You will always have one employee (probably a justifiably important one) that can't make calls unless they (literally) walk down to the corner from their home and press their phone to the stop sign pole. That's just the nature of wireless service in the US right now, and hey - it's a big country.

Also keep in mind that the phones you buy can make a difference. quad- and tri-band phones allow you to roam off network when the carrier's network is not available, and typically help to allow good worldwide coverage. Make sure you research those kinds of needs closely. Also realize that if your carrier's network is available, it won't matter how many other bands and providers are available if the phone is "locked" or set to use only the preferred networks - so while you are evaluating, ask questions about this and play with the phone's software switches for network preferences.

So anyhow, from experience I always recommend choosing a carrier based on what they can do for you in the macro sense: Do they provide the level of coverage needed in the areas where you move and travel to do business? Is the price right? Get test devices for a couple weeks and do a real-world evaluation with real people - you'll find that coverage maps and sales people don't tell you everything you need to know. After you've weighed the options and chosen a carrier, you're often best off to look to specialized technology to provide good coverage in places like offices buildings and exec homes. And you might be surprised how low the costs can be.

For example, check out http://www.spotwave.com/ - I have had one of their SpotCell devices, which are quite good, for a couple years now, and I know they've made refinements and improvements since then. The SpotCell package uses a directional collector antenna to gather the signal, and a donor antenna to provide wireless coverage to the location where it's installed. It's pretty cool an can solve some serious dead-spot problems. I originally got one through AT&T Wireless (now Cingular) to solve a residential problem and was able to move it to another location for a while to solve a problem there. I actually need to call them and ask about an update for it for my area, and I can tell you from past experience that they are quite willing to provide excellent customer service when you contact them. If you're looking to outfit a smaller office or someone's home (under 5,000 sq. ft.), it may be worth the small-ish investment, since these devices start out at about $1000. Larger office buildings might need more than one coverage device, and the SpotWave people can quickly help figure that out. I also have another brand of wireless extension kit similar to the SpotWave technology (I'll have to climb up and look at it to see what brand it is), but it's not nearly as friendly or intuitive to set up. The SpotCell is so simple to make work, even a five year old could do it (well, except for the antenna mounting part I guess).

I am also told on fairly good authority that there are some IP-based in-building devices coming to the market that act as a mini/micro indoor-coverage site - you can just plug them into your Internet connection and they'll "talk" back to the wireless carrier via VPN or similar method. I know T-Mobile is working on them now and will probably announce something before too long. But the carriers are staying pretty tight-lipped about announcing availability right now for some reason, probably because they know they have to do it right the first time and support needs to be solid, which means fuzzy launch dates until it happens. That will be an interesting space to watch.



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Mobile | Tech
Sunday, 22 May 2005 09:15:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Hahahah, okay as long as we're at it, this is a pretty funny flash short film, from the Organic Trade Association:

Storewars

(Note - I saw the real movie tonight and it was pretty okay I thought... Rory's review is pretty close to what I thought, although I guess my expectations weren't quite as high as his, and I enjoyed it despite the weaknesses.)



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Geek Out | Humor | Random Stuff
Saturday, 21 May 2005 23:29:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 21 May 2005

Challenge Darth Vader to 20-questions in "The Sith Sense" and watch him read your mind:

Vader3

The force is strong with this one. Of course, he's got some help...

Vader2

Burger King's at it again - well done.

(thanks Chris)



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Geek Out | Humor | Random Stuff
Saturday, 21 May 2005 22:56:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Obscure trivia time... Let's see if anyone knows what this means (see image):

Z

I don't expect anyone (except for maybe two people) to know what it means when it's stuck on the phone (it's an inside kinda thing), but surely someone (besides those two) must know what the figure means when it's used for it's real purpose...



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Random Stuff
Saturday, 21 May 2005 13:43:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Ok, this is completely random, I know, but people need to know about this stuff, and I am willing to provide a little free advertising when I see something worthwhile.

If you own a cat (my cat saga is long and complicated), you know all about the woes of litter boxes, scooping, smell, smell, smell and - well - smell.

Tired of crappy cat litter products (forgive the pun), I spent a few extra bucks on a four-pound bag of Fresh Step Crystals cat litter a few weeks ago, hoping to find something that would be easier to deal with in terms of cleaning and - yes - the smell.

This stuff is incredible (well, on the kitty-litter scale that is). I will never buy clay cat litter again. Ever.

Between the fact that it locks in the cat box odors like nothing else, and the fact that this four-pound bag can last up to a month (I didn't believe it at first, but wow...), I am completely sold. Clay doesn't compare.

What else is great about it?

  • No dust. Zero. Nada.
  • No smell. Seriously, this is the most incredible part.
  • A lot less litter scattered out of the box and onto the floor.
  • Easy to scoop - forget that super-clumping clay litter stuff, this is the better way to go.

Read about it here. Buy it anywhere cat crap products are sold.

By the way - my clean-freak, obsessive-compulsive cat was a little weirded out by the new litter at first, so I mixed a little clay in with it, and she took to it right away. Just a hint in case your cat freaks out on the new stuff - it will get used to it after a couple visits.



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Random Stuff
Saturday, 21 May 2005 10:06:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Indy_tabletEngadget has a great little article about an Indy 500 racing team's use of OneNote on Tablet PCs in the race pits and planning stages. It's pretty cool what they're doing with technology in auto racing these days. Go check it out.

"... Robertson said they are now recording a driver’s spoken comments about how the car is handling as a Windows Media Audio file and can do a voice overlay within a OneNote document along with a track diagram to show where the car went fast or slow. Such OneNote documents can be instant messaged to engineers back at the garages and stored for future use ...

... He said OneNote is useful in creating reports and presentations that combine computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, data from the on-board data logging systems, and engineering notes with information gathered from various sources, such as photos of necessary parts from catalogues, on the Internet."

[Read the story at Engadget]



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Office 2003 | OneNote | Tablet PC | Tech
Saturday, 21 May 2005 09:28:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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