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ACM Bangalore Chapter was started in 2006 and today it is said to be the most active chapters in India. They conduct a regular monthly TechTalk and I was invited to be the speaker at this month’s event. I was given the liberty to choose the topic. I decided to talk about various aspects of security in wireless cellular systems.

Although I had planned for a 90-minute talk, it stretched an hour more. The audience was more curious than I had expected. The questions were intelligent. The session was quite interactive and it suited well the size of the group. About 50 attended this talk.

I do not intend to write about what I spoke. Slides of my talk be seen on ACM Bangalore’s website. I would like to touch upon some of the interesting questions that the audience posed.

Question#1 – How can a 3G phone with a GSM SIM work on a 3G network?

We must remember that ultimately everything hinges on the security context, which can be either GSM or UMTS. In either case, the same security context should be enabled on the AuC. So if GSM SIM is used, the security context on the AuC ought to be GSM, say a R98- AuC. Triplets are generated and passed on to the VLR or SGSN. Since VLR/SGSN are R99+ and they use UTRAN RAN, VLR/SGSN will have standardized conversion functions (c4 and c5) to convert Kc to CK and IK. CK and IK are then used within UTRAN RAN for securing the air interface.
Question#2 – Does number portability mean that data within an AuC is compromised?

Not really. Number portability does not mean sensitive data from old AuC are transferred to the new AuC. The new operator will issue a new USIM which will have a new IMSI. Number portability only means that MSISDN is kept the same for others to call the mobile. The translation between MSISDN and IMSI is done at a national level register. Such a translation will identify the Home PLMN and the HLR that’s needs to be contacted for an incoming call.

That’s the theory and that’s how it should be done. It will be interesting to know how operators in India do this.
Question#3 – If I am roaming, is the AuC of the visited PLMN involved in AKA?

We know that algorithms in the SIM and AuC are proprietory and kept secret by the operator. So if I am roaming to another PLMN, will that be compromised? The answer is no. Even when roaming, the visited PLMN will contact the HLR of the Home PLMN. It is the HLR which then works with the AuC to perform AKA for the subscriber. Conclusion is that even in the case of roaming, AKA is performed only by the AuC of the Home PLMN. No other AuC is involved.

Question#4 – Why do we have Counter Check Procedure in RRC when we will anyway be unable to decrypt encrypted data if counters are not synchronized?

This procedure was introduced to prevent “man-in-the-middle” attacks. The procedure is invoked to check that all counters are synchronized. It is true that if the receiver is unable to decrypt an already encrypted message, we can probably say that the counters have gone out of synchronization. However, such a case may arise for radio bearers transmitting data. What about those bearers which are idle? Also, RLC-UM and RLC-AM will not know if data has been corrupted or bogus. Only the application can determine that. This procedure facilitates the check of counters on all radio bearers. This gives the network more information. It may close the RRC connection or it may decide to inform MM to start a new AKA.

Question#5 – When changing ciphering key in UMTS, how is the transition from old to new keys managed?

There are activation times within the Security Mode procedure at RRC. Security Mode Command contains RLC SN (RLC UM and AM) and CFN (RLC TM) when the change will be activated on the DL. For the UL, UE send back in the Security Mode Complete the RLC SN at which the change will be made. In addition to this, RLC transmission is suspended on all bearers with exception of the SRB on which the procedure is executed. This is a precaution that takes into account a slow response in receiving Security Mode Complete. Even when RLC entities are suspended they are commanded to suspend only after a certain number of PDUs.

Question#6 – What’s the use of FRESH as an input to f9 integrity algorithm in UMTS?

Changing FRESH gives additional protection without requiring a new AKA for key refreshment. This may happen for instance after SRNS Relocation. However, I have no insights into actual network implementations in this regard.

Question#7 – At which layer do ciphering and integrity happen?

GSM – ciphering happens at PHY in MS and BTS.

GPRS – ciphering happens at LLC in MS and SGSN.

UMTS – ciphering happens at RLC (for UM and AM) and MAC (RLC-TM) in UE and RNC. Integrity happens at RRC in UE and RNC.

Question#8 – When we enter a new location area and Location Updating Procedure is initiated, will it also involve AKA?

Not necessarily. If the CKSN/KSI sent in the Location Updating Request is a valid value and network decides that current keys can continue to be used, no new AKA will be started. For this to be possible, the new VLR must be able to contact the old VLR to retrieve the security context of the mobile.

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Earlier today I attended the Wireless Test World 2008 at the Le Meridien, Bangalore, a day-long seminar presented by Agilent Technologies. My particular interest was in learning about the test solutions they had in place for WiMAX and LTE standards. The former is fairly mature in both its flavours – Fixed and Mobile. The latter is not only new but also incomplete.

Lots of items in LTE standardization are still for further study (FFS). As can be expected, Agilent’s solution for LTE is an initial offering to test early PHY layer implementations. A full-fledged solution that incorporates a validated Conformance Test suite for full stack testing is still sometime away. Core standards are getting ready right now. We can expect the first test specifications later this year. Something concrete can be expected on this front from Agilent at about the same time since they are involved closely in the standardization process. Building upon their existing partnership with Anite for the conformance of GSM/UMTS implementations, LTE conformance solution from Agilent will take a similar route.

The interest on the day was greater for WiMAX, arguably because more companies in India are working on it than on LTE. The immediate future may be more promising for WiMAX, but LTE stands an equal chance from 2011 and beyond.

The seminar was primarily presentations about established and emerging technologies, and the test capabilities Agilent offers for these. There was sufficient time in between to look at Agilent’s test solutions and see live demonstrations of their equipment. The keynote address by Mr Bhaktha Keshavachar was about the challenges faced in integrating wireless connectivity into mobile devices. In particular, the future is about bringing different radio standards into the laptop. WiFi and Bluetooth are already standard on almost all laptops. We expect the same with GPS, 3G, WiMAX and LTE in the coming years. Well, some of these models are already out in the market. We are not talking about external plugin modules but about MiniCards fully integrated into the laptop. Apparently, MiniCard are standardized and they have an extremely small form factor. Key challenges are the co-existence of multiple radio standards on the same device (interference), platform noise, high peak currents, overheating, inter-working, system performance, battery life… let’s be assured that there may challenges that we may not yet be aware of.

When it comes to WiMAX, Agilent has an impressive line-up of equipment to meet all needs of a WiMAX programme – R&D, Design Verification, Pre-Conformance, Conformance, Manufacturing, Network Deployment, Service Assurance. An OFDM signal analyzer was available as early as 2004 and a signal generator in 2005. A one-box solution was available in 2007 which today has Wave 2 and MIMO functionalities.

Agilent WiMAX Test Equipment

Agilent WiMAX Test Equipment

There are many hardware models with accompanying software packages which are sold as licensed options. These support standard WiMAX test requirements – signal generation, signal analysis, modulation analysis, constellation diagrams, power measurements, peak-to-average metrics, spectral flatness, ACLR measurement, CCDF measurement, SEM measurement. This includes support for OFDM, OFDMA and MIMO.

Small companies with limited budget would have to make choices. The availability of similar equipment under different model numbers can make it difficult to choose the right one. The best option is to talk to the sales team and get as much information as possible. It’s about knowing if a particular choice meets one’s requirement. It’s also about knowing if we are buying more than what we really need.

Based on my understanding, I have put together a subset of WiMAX test equipment from Agilent. This covers only equipment specific to WiMAX. Of course, there are lots of complementary equipment that can be used for any radio standard – power supplies, logic analyzers, oscilloscopes, battery drain analysis equipment and others.

Model Number

Name

Remarks

N5181A MXG

Vector signal generator

  • Upto 6GHz.

N5182A MXG

Vector signal generator

  • Upto 6GHz.

  • Has capability to be used with N7615B.

E4438C ESG

Vector signal generator

  • Has capability to be used with N7615B.

E8267D PSG

Vector signal generator

  • Has capability to be used with N7615B.

N7615B

Signal Studio for 802.16 WiMAX

  • Software that can be used with vector signal generators.

  • Enables application specific signal generation without having to spend time in signal creation.

N9010A EXA

Signal Analyzer

  • Option 507 enables operation upto 7 GHz. Higher options are available.

  • Better value for money than MXA series.

  • Sophisticated user interface with colour coding of channels.

  • Provides enhanced spectrum analysis.

  • Provides support for measurement applications as optional extra – N9075A is for WiMAX.

  • Generally comes with 89600 series vector signal analysis software. Examples are 89601A and 89601X.

N9020A MXA

Signal Analyzer

  • Higher specs of N9010A. For example, has WiFi testing capability which its EXA counterpart doesn’t have.
89601M

Vector signal analysis measurement application

  • Can be used with N9010A EXA.

89601X

VXA signal analyzer measurement application

  • Can be used with N9010A EXA.

N9075A

WiMAX measurement application

  • Can be used with signal analyzers N9010A and N9020A.

  • Enables WiMAX specific signal analysis.

N8300A

Wireless Networking Test Set

  • One box solution with signal generator and analyzer.

  • Only for Mobile WiMAX.

  • Generally preferred over E6651A for manufacturing.

  • Used with N6301A.

N6301A

WiMAX measurement application

  • Used for WiMAX transmitter testing.

  • Used with N8300A.

E6651A

Mobile WiMAX Test Set

  • One box solution with signal generator and analyzer.

  • Only for Mobile WiMAX.

  • For R&D, pre-conformance and conformance testing.

  • For conformance testing, used with N6430A.

  • Used for Radiated Performance Test (RPT) by ETS-Lindgren.

N6430A

WiMAX IEEE 802.16-2004/Cor2 D3 PCT

  • For Protocol Conformance Test (PCT).

  • Based on E6651A.

  • In partnership with Anite supplied software.

  • TTCN-3 runtime environment and interfaces from Testing Technologies.

N6422C

WiMAX Wireless Test Manager

  • Software with ready-to-use tests.

  • Simplifies automated testing but not as formal as TTCN-3 based testing.

  • Can be used for pre-conformance testing.

  • Can be used with E6651A.

  • Can be used with E4438C ESG or N5182A MXG with N7615A/B license.

Note: It’s easy to find information about WiMAX on Agilent’s website. Go to URL http://www.agilent.com/find/wimax

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If you have been looking for an update of last month’s Mobile Monday Bangalore on this blog site and didn’t manage to find it, it’s because I was absent at the event. I had a family function to attend on the same day. So I was more than keen to attend yesterday’s event. Better still, it was at the Indiranagar Sangeet Sabha which is a spacious venue with good arrangements; and it is only ten minutes walk from my office.

The first piece of important information was that Forum Nokia is the first sponsor of Mobile Monday Bangalore on a long-term basis, starting from this month’s event. The more interesting aspect is that the first sponsorship money went towards providing Qualcomm a platform to present BREW to the MoMo community.

BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) is an application development framework that provides developers a rich set of API for quick and easy development of mobile applications. For end users, the user experience is enhanced. When these two are met, the man-in-the-middle (the operator) stands to benefit as well. In fact, BREW enables operators to reach subscribers with a richer set of applications. The end result is a win-win situation for everyone.

What is the problem today? Rakesh Godhwani of Qualcomm pointed out that the network is ready, devices are ready but content is lagging far behind. With networks getting upgraded to HSPA and CDMA2000 EV-DO, bandwidth appears to be available. With handsets able to operate to full capability in such networks, the only thing that’s missing are the applications. In my opinion, this is a rather simplified view if not biased, but it is partially correct and the argument holds water.

Take the example of BSNL’s recent launch of CDMA2000 EV-DO. Someone announced that this service has been launched in a couple of circles in Kerala, not as handsets but as data cards. I don’t know much about EV-DO but I would expect it to exist with the same hype as HSPA where guaranteed high bandwidth to individual users is rare if it happens at all. It’s a shared bandwidth under non-ideal channel conditions only occasionally close to the base station. So what if applications are not available? Is the market ready? Are subscribers willing to pay? Is the pricing attractive? What’s the predicted change in consumption patterns of mobile subscribers? Are these subscribers changing on a social level when it comes to tele-interaction?

But the importance of applications cannot be underestimated. If not more important, applications are just as important as a subscriber’s choice of an operator or a handset. For VAS, what we are seeing is a fragmentation of device, technology and networks. It is perhaps only applications that have the ability to give subscribers a seamless experience across these diverse environments. The onus is therefore on the developer to develop applications that can work in more than one environment. A case in point is the fragmentation of the PC market between Windows and Linux. The choice there is obvious for developers but in the world of mobiles there is no obvious choice. Developers would have to consider Symbian, Linux, Windows Mobile, J2ME, BREW, Maemo or Android without being dismissive of any of them.

As for BREW, the case is strong. As of November 2006, BREW was being used by 69 global operators, by 45 device manufacturers and in 31 countries. Every CDMA mobile deployed in India supports BREW. CDMA taking up almost 30% of the Indian market, the outreach for developers for their application is no small number. The additional advantage is that price negotiation and revenue sharing is done between Qualcomm and the developer without involvement of the operator who is free to charge his premium to the end user. Having said that, other business models are also possible. Lucrative, yes. It also means that Qualcomm has to make the decision of pick-and-chose. Only applications that are unique and have a promise for the market will get a chance. It is something like writing a fiction novel. Publishers look for market value in conjunction with individuality of writing.

How does one entice the subscriber? Give a free trial for two weeks. Once he gets used to it, chances are he will buy it once his trail starts to expire. Getting new and exciting applications is one thing and using it is another. A successful application must be easy to download and install. The user interface must be elegant and intuitive. It must be attractive and useful. All these are challenges on a device that is so much smaller than a laptop monitor. In India, we are still a long way from getting there. Only 10% of revenue is from VAS, much of which comes from SMS-based services. This is where companies like Mango Technologies make a difference with solutions targetted towards low-end handsets and the cautious spender.

BREW doesn’t come on its own just for developers. There is an entire platform built around it for service delivery, billing, subscription and so forth. One such framework is uiOne whose software framework is captured in Figure 1 [1]. This enables easier rollout and maintenance of services on the carrier network.

Figure 1: uiOne Software Framework
uiOne Software Framework

Following Rakesh’s informal and interactive presentation, there was a short demo of an LBS application running of BREW. It was shown on a Motorola phone from Tata. My user experience was good but nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps this is because I prefer to explore the environment on my own rather than let someone else tell me where the nearest restaurant is. In this demo, assisted-GPS was used which enables locating the subscriber indoors even without good satellite reception. This is because the access network sends satellite information to the mobile for location computation. In addition, Qualcomm employs many proprietory fallback mechanisms to locate a mobile. Once of these is called Advanced Follow Link Triangulation; there are six others. LBS is one of the promising applications but we are yet to see the “killer” LBS application. Point to note: developers are to tie up with map and GIS data providers on their own and Qualcomm is not involved in this at the moment. In fact, developing and deploying an LBS application is a challenge because it involves so many parties – operators, government (for privacy), map providers, developers, OEMs, chipset makers.

The philosophy of Qualcomm is of three parameters – innovation, partnership and execution. R&D spending is 20% profits. The end subscriber is kept in view but their main business is to license their technology to OEMs and operators. Thus, they say that Qualcomm has a high number of engineers (who innovate) and lawyers (who protect the licenses). Idea generation is an important activity in the company. Once a promising idea comes to the fore everyone brings it to fruition by taking it from being an idea towards making it a product.

The meeting ended with a short presentation by Forum Nokia. They talked about Symbian and its many components. They talked about Maemo, Widsets and FlashLite, about which I will write separately. This presentation, seen within the context of Qualcomm’s, highlighted that diversity in all aspects of the mobile world is here to stay. If we cannot agree, let us compete.

References:

  1. Personalizing Information Delivery with uiOne™, deliveryOne™, and the BREW Express™ Signature Solution; Qualcomm, 80-D7262-1 Rev. C, March 7, 2007.

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MoDeMo Bangalore, 16-Dec-07

On a cold but bright Sunday morning when the world preferred to stay in bed a little longer than usual, a bunch of mobile enthusiasts gathered at the office of ThoughtWorks in Bangalore. People as far Shimla and Cochin came for this open meeting that was free, productive and executed with minimal fuss. Having it on a Sunday was a departure from the usual MoMo meets of Mondays. Apparently, MoMo Bangalore has been receiving lots of requests for demonstrations. The best way to clear the backlog was to organize all of them together in this one-day event. It was focused on demonstrations rather than presentations; on audience interaction rather than news feeds; on real working products rather than market presumptions per se. Appropriately, it was named MoDeMo.

As many as 25 demonstrations were pre-registered and my guess is that we must have had about 20. I was personally present at 17 of them while I occasionally took time to chat with some of the speakers and gathered valuable insights into their products. I also met some others who had nothing to demo but had many interesting things to discuss. The agenda was well planned and you may view it at Vinu’s blog. In this post, I shall cover the gist of each demonstration in addition to offering my own thoughts.

1. Mobile Adult Literacy, Aditya Mishra, TCS

  • It takes about 400 hours to train an adult to read. This is too long a period to be effective. People lose interest. TCS has cut this training time to 40 hours. The approach is to teach based on context rather than start with alphabets on their own.
  • Software loaded on a mobile is the”teacher”. Interface is simple. People learn by listening to words that are read out by the software. They begin to recognize words that appear on the screen and associate them with the sounds.
  • About 93,000 have been made literate by this means. The success rate is higher in South India than in North India.
  • All learning is self-initiated. There are no classrooms.
  • More information is at TCS website.

2. MyDuniya – Integrating the Mobile and the Web World, Keshav Ganapathy

  • MyDuniya attempts to bring web services to the mobile. In other words, users no longer need to carry their PC and search for WiFi hotspots to get on to the web.
  • Services are both push and pull.
  • People can register to the site by SMS. A password will be returned by SMS. Subsequently, one can login, send e-mails, save notes and retrieve notes. For example, a user to push directions to a meeting venue to all participants via SMS. Likewise, the same directions could be stored on the server and retrieved by participants when they require it.
  • Personally, I found it difficult to appreciate the services because the demo was not well structured.

3. OnMobile, Prasad Murthy

  • OnMobile offers a number of VAS to operators.
  • There is not much else I remember of this demo because I was outside the room for quite sometime.

4. iPhone and 3rd Party Applications, Siddharth

  • One of the coolest demos that had everyone engaged.
  • Siddharth demonstrated a number of third-party applications on a “hacked” iPhone. His passing comment was that many of these applications are far better than those supplied by Apple.
  • A couple of games were demonstrated on the iPhone. One of them was a Labyrinth game that uses motion sensor technology. Tilting the phone moves the game’s ball down a slope. The chip that does this motion sensing is from STMicroelectronics.
  • Hacking an iPhone is an art on its own and those who have done it are “amazing”.

5. Mobile Mandi Bhav, Parul Awasthy, TCS

  • This is an mCommerce solution for farmers that enables them to get the best price for their products.
  • Current prices at nearby mandis can be retrieved by farmers for their specific commodity. The data comes NCDEX. Mobile location technology is used to locate nearest mandis.
  • Voice prompts read out the prices in regional languages, a feature through which the product reaches out to even illiterate farmers.
  • Technology is currently on CDMA but not on GSM. The application exists for both J2ME and BREW. A special phone (kisan phone) from Qualcomm is being used for current deployments.
  • My viewpoint: a good thing for farmers but we need to examine the greater social impact. A lot of people make their livelihood as middlemen. Their margins will decrease. There will be some farmers who have this technology and others who don’t. Middlemen will exploit this to their advantage. Technology is one thing but acceptance and effective application is another.

6. MOSH, Prakash & Bala, Nokia

  • Mobilize and share. Create, upload and share content.
  • MOSH is in beta version. There are about a million users at the moment.
  • A GPRS connection is required. A MOSH client needs to be on the phone.
  • An example of sharing content was demonstrated. By sharing, an SMS is sent to the recipient who can then follow the link to get more details and download content if interested.
  • MOSH attempts to create a community for mobile users the way communities exist on the Web.
  • Forum Nokia works with developer community in developing applications. They provide business support as well. As an example, a promising application may be pre-installed on phones or downloaded and installed for free trials.

7. Enterprise Tracking with Mobile LBS, Deepak Srinivas, Mobiance

  • I know the guys at Mobiance very well. They are focused and believe in their value proposition.
  • The demo was well-structured and smoothly executed. The location of a mobile (carried by one of their staff) was tracked. This was displayed on a map. The results were accurate but the display was a little slow. The previous locations of the mobile had been recorded at regular intervals and this was shown at the demo.
  • More details on their LBS products/services are at their website and in November’s MoMo event.

8. OpenGL based Games, Selvan

  • Selvan started with the intention of developing games but did not find any suitable game engine. So his current focus is on developing the engine.
  • From the little I understood, the development is on Google’s Android platform. Application is developed using Java and cross-compiled to Google class file.
  • Android SDK comes with OpenGL ES 1.0 specification for graphics. Selvan’s current activity is to develop the gaming engine based on this specification.
  • The demo was a basic “snake” game on an emulator. Nothing impressive but it was a good proof of concept, a stepping stone for developing more powerful games.
  • One question that bothered some was – how do we write applications that are portable across platforms? With BREW, J2ME, Windows Mobile, Android, iPhone, Symbian … it’s an important question. Someone mentioned OpenC and Java OpenGL. Rajeswari from Nokia commented that OpenC facilitates easy porting of applications. For example, the work was minimal in adapting an application written for Symbian to work on Linux.

9. Online Video on Nokia Phones, Rajeswari, Nokia

  • I remember more of what she said than what was demonstrated. The reason probably is that the mobile screen was not properly projected on the wall. Even if the phone played video at good frame rate without jitter/delay, it was difficult to judge anything from the projection.
  • The idea is to be able to play YouTube (and the like) videos on the phone. H.263 video codec is supported and support for H.264 is coming up shortly.
  • iPhone supports any video based on RTSP. Flash is not supported.
  • Frankly, I was not able to appreciate this demo which is why I remember so little of it. There is nothing innovative or revolutionary here.

10. Opera Mini Browser, Navjot & Sagar

  • I enjoyed this demo. It was really a demo; no silly talk and nonsense. Part of the reason was that participants asked questions.
  • Next time you need to visit a website, there is no need to get to a cyber cafe. Install JVM on your phone, install OperaMini (which is free) and start browsing.
  • I was always wary of scrolling huge web pages on a small mobile screen. OperaMini scales the page to fit the screen. Clicking on an area or specific link, zooms the page to the right level. The best part I thought was that users don’t need to scroll across (side to side) since pages are re-formatted to the width of the screen. Mind you, this is not a condensed version. There is no loss of information; just reformatting to make it user-friendly.
  • Users need to open an account on the server. Bookmarks between your desktop and mobile are automatically synchronized. Reformatting is done by the proxy server. SSL from the mobile terminates at the proxy and this was of concern to some.
  • OperaMini is based on Java and J2ME. It is the most downloaded Java application. Opera Mobile is a lot more powerful but it is not free.
  • It was shown that downloads were shrunk in sizes for faster downloads and reduced costs. OperaMini caches data but generally only on phones that have sufficient capability to do so. Flash is not built-in. It is a plug-in.

11. Zook.in – Mobile Social Search, Sameer Shishodia, Ziva Software

  • Two problems to be solved: small form factor, immediate result. The first is easy to understand. Search results have to be terse and to the point. The second implies that results from online search engines are far from perfect. Users often have to filter information manually and/or initiate a modified query.
  • Results are answers, not links to where the answers reside.
  • The search model is interactive. Instead of merely presenting users reams of information, users are given some choices/questions. This is to lead users to refine their search queries. This leads to establishing the context of search to yield more relevant results.
  • Zook recognizes that not all information is digitized. Local communities know things that are often untapped. If answers don’t match, the community is invited to answer questions. This is a search engine with true interactivity.
  • With mobile search, there is always an element of localization (LBS). Search results are biased to current location.

12. SMS Gupshup – Mobile Social Messaging Platform, Tathagata, Webaroo

  • It is truly remarkable how much mileage people can get out of SMS, a really basic technology. Again, there is nothing revolutionary here but the idea has a business case. SMS Gupshup is blogging from the mobile using just SMS.
  • Current model is one publisher, multiple readers. Readers subscribe to a blog via SMS. Posts are delivered to them via SMS. Comments are posted on the website but not broadcasted to the subscribers.
  • The model is flexible. It can be used for delivering group SMS rather than mobile blogging.
  • About a million users as of today. About 2-2.5 lakhs of SMS are going out per day. The speaker quoted an example of a successful blog: Sinleng News.
  • CDMA phones can’t handle SMS segmentation/concatenation. Anything more than 140 characters is delivered as multiple SMS messages.
  • My viewpoint: we are living in a strange dichotomy. On one hand, people want to communicate, be recognized within virtual communities and express themselves freely. On the other hand, people have to be brief in what they say because an SMS is only 140 characters! So while we have advanced technologies offering high bandwidth, the best we can do for the mass market is SMS because nothing else has a business case at this point in time.

13. Mobile Map Application that does not require GPRS, Vishnu

  • While Mobiance delivers map data over GPRS, Vishnu’s approach avoids GPRS by having map data stored on the phone. Of course, the downside is that it works only so long as you are within the area covered by the map. But this may be sufficient for most users who roam only occasionally.
  • For example, a user in Bangalore may preload Bangalore map data on his phone. This may be all he needs if he rarely leaves Bangalore. The great advantage is that GPRS charges are not incurred which at the moment is prohibitive.
  • Map rendering is done on the phone. It’s a J2ME application. While Google maps are raster data, this one uses vector data which is superior.
  • The engine is about 270 kB. The map for Bangalore is about 700 kB. This has been highly compressed from its original size of a few MB.

14. Mobile Visa Money Transfer, Naveen Thangiah, mChek

  • mChek eliminates the plastic in favour of a virtual debit/credit card stored on the phone. This can be used for online or across the counter just as a normal card.
  • There are security procedures as would be expected. This includes a user generated PIN. mChek performs necessary procedures with the banks and delivers the virtual card to the user’s phone.
  • Naveen himself uses it for paying bills and booking airline tickets. mChek has partnered with three banks as of today.
  • GPRS is not used. SMS and USSD sessions are used. The application itself is based on Java.
  • The demo included transfer of some money to one of the participants. Money transfer takes about 48 hours.

15. Mobitop – a Mobile Application Platform, Lalit, Mobisy

  • I was just about getting bored with applications that attempt to bring web services to the mobile when this demo woke me up for being different. Their idea is to use Javascript to access phone features.
  • For example, m.facebook does not allow access to phone contacts. This would be a desirable feature for users of m.facebook.
  • Mobitop does not use native APIs (Symbian for example). Instead it uses web technologies (Javascript and CSS). Thus the product brings value by adding something more than what’s possible with only applications written for the platform.
  • The demo showed loading of the Mobitop platform on a phone and display phone contacts in a customized manner. We should note that the platform needs to be loaded only once. Applications can be written using APIs exposed by the platform. It is claimed that writing applications is extremely easy.

16. Mango Application Framework, Sunil Maheswari, Mango Technologies

  • Sunil strongly believes that in Indian market, growth would come from low-end segments for whom GPRS is cost prohibitive. He quoted that GPRS connection is used by less than 5% of Indian subscribers.
  • The idea of this framework (about 150 kB) is to deliver applications to enhance user experience on a low-end handset. It would not be possible to match the look and feel of smart phones but the bold attempt is to get as close as possible.
  • The demo showed a simple game with reasonably good graphics.
  • The company has won Nasscom’s innovation award in startup category. Customers are OEMs, ODMs, operators and chipset vendors.

17. SMS Social Networking in Babalife , Sean Blagsvedt Company, Babalife

  • Okay, this is yet another social networking service trying to do from the mobile what used to be from the PC.
  • All interaction is done via SMS. While MOSH is graphic intensive and uses GPRS, Babalife is textual and purely SMS. Each is targetting a different segment of the market. Which one has a greater profit margin and growth potential? For the moment, it appears that they may complement rather than compete.
  • SMS Gupshup is blogging using SMS. The user is free to write in anyway he wishes. There is no format. From the brief demo that was presented, I think Babalife is a lot more intelligent. It presents users options along with organization of data. Although every SMS is an independent message, it maintains a logical view of a session in which interactivity can be achieved. I may be wrong in my interpretation but such an interactivity can add value to the service. There is only so much we can get from SMS.
  • If there is to be value in using SMS, there ought to be intelligence behind the scenes. If SMS is used for its traditional intent, it is a service for the user. With all the different applications showcased in today’s demos it is clear that for data applications using SMS, SMS is nothing more than bit pipe. It will remain so for some time to come but only if GPRS remains expensive in relation to SMS. At the end of the day, if all these services increase SMS traffic on a mass scale, operators may be forced to change their plans and increase SMS pricing. After all, it is a market of supply and demand. This price may be passed on to end consumers for SMS delivery or to service/content providers/partners who use their SMS gateways.

18. instablogs, Ankit Maheshwari, Citizen Media Pvt. Ltd

  • I had an informal chat with Ankit. He was full of enthusiasm about his product that it was impossible to resist the temptation to know more.
  • The idea of instablogs is to present news in brief to readers, just the gist leaving out detailed opinions and analysis. It is then left to readers to supply their own perspectives. The voice of the common man is given prominence.
  • While there are many sites that solicit comments from readers, here readers take centrestage. While comments at sites are often difficult to navigate or filter, instablogs makes a clear separation between those who agree and those who don’t.
  • When a news happens, the local perspective of the news is just as important as the global perspective. So while people in Delhi may have an opinion on President’s rule in Karnataka, the view of Bangaloreans is just as important. instablogs provides the framework for all views to be heard on an equal footing.
  • News items are gathered from established and reliable sources. Items are displayed not as links but directly on instablogs for easy navigation and contribution of comments.
  • Comments are filtered so that obscenity and abuse is eliminated. Overall, instablogs aims at the intelligent public.

During the day I met others from Proteans, Stoke, Mobme Wireless, Fone Arena, Evolvus and Microsoft Research. The day ended with a riveting discussion of what could be in store for the Indian mobile industry in the coming year. Mobile advertising was certainly touched upon, on which I will be posting something soon. I left this discussion early to attend a call. Overall, it was a Sunday well-spent – a good lunch, a free T-shirt and lots of knowledge gathered from experts. My summary of the demos is in Table 1. This is of course an opinion based on what I have understood. You may differ. Feel free to add your comments.

Table 1: Spectrum of Innovative Activities in Indian Mobile Industry
MoDeMo Table

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Yesterday at MoMo Bangalore’s November event, it was yet another session of sensible arguments, discussions and insights which I have come to believe characterize every MoMo event. In this community, ideas are shared openly. Suggestions are welcomed and analyzed. In a world in which knowledge is power, the people of MoMo community realize there is a greater power in sharing knowledge. Yesterday’s session had a high level of interactivity and this in part must be credited to Deepak Srinivasan, the CEO of Mobiance Technologies, who opened the floor for Q&A from the outset of his presentation.

Mobiance is in the business of mobile Location Based Services (LBS). Unlike the usual method of using GPS for delivering LBS, Mobiance has adopted a different approach based on a patent pending technology. The technology involves locating the mobile using cell triangulation. In other words, a mobile’s location can be identified by it’s distance from at least three base stations. This is done using Timing Advance. I believe (the discussions did not get into details of the technology), no extra signalling needs to be generated on the air interface for this purpose because such data is usually readily available with the network. All signalling is at SS7 level between Mobiance system and MSC, BSS and OMC. Data from the signalling network is filtered and processed intelligently to keep Mobiance generated traffic to a minimum.

Coming from an engineering background, I know that none of this sounds difficult. In fact, there is nothing to be solved here. GSM as a standard has evolved over a few decades. It has solved the problems of mobility management to a large extent. The value that Mobiance brings is in applying the fundamentals effectively for services that matter and marketing them at the right level. For example, Mobiance claims that their method of using timing advance brings greater accuracy. In Metros, an accuracy of 150-200 m is possible; 250 m in other cities that include Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad; 2.5-3 km in rural areas and highways. The latency of locating a mobile is only 3 seconds. Locations can be updated once a minute or once in fifteen minutes or even once in an hour. This flexibility is in-built into their platform that allows configurability to administer QoS policies. Some solutions may require only a location displayed as a text; others may require the location displayed on a map that delineate taluk boundaries. Such flexibility of solution delivery exists with Mobiance. The technology does not need changes to base stations or mobiles. Even a low-end handset can get services enabled by this technology.

What are the services that can be deployed on this platform? Most of us will be familiar with services for consumers. These are generally services available in the vicinity – ATMs, restaurants, theatres, internet cafes. Then there are navigation services that tell drivers/pedestrians how to get from point A to point B. For enterprises, LBS can be used to deliver fleet management systems or verifying if their distribution network is working as planned.

The company was started in October 2004. In March 2007, they signed a contract with Airtel. In July 2007, their Enterprise LBS solution was launched. The challenge for Mobiance is to bring in more services, use more accurate maps and GIS data, partner with more cellular operators and continue to build on the partnerships that they currently have. As I listened to the presentation with interest, I can attribute their success to these key factors:

  1. Local solutions for local needs: India has many languages. People communicate differently. Directions are given differently – “next to”, “opposite to”. Any LBS enabled service should consider the cultural environment in which it is deployed.
  2. A model of effective partnership: Mobiance has recognized that solutions that work in a Western context may not work in India where partnerships are important. While in the West one may license Navteq maps, in an Indian context what is needed is a strong ecosystem of providers, partners and users in which everyone benefits and progresses in tandem. Thus Mobiance partners with device vendors, cellular operators, GIS (Geographic Information System) and map providers, and the like.
  3. Do what you do best: Mobiance has created the platform for LBS. This platform can be used by partners in developing services. Mobiance is not into creating these services. They concentrate on getting the platform right leaving the creation of services to others. Their platform API is currently based on XML-RPC.
  4. Initial focus: one common reason why startups fail is that they try to do too many things from the start. While the host of services that LBS can enable is many, Mobiance is focusing only on its enterprise solutions (fleet management, verification, awareness). A success in these can lead to more services in various other segments.

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Mobile Monday is a global community with various chapters all over the world. What does this community do? This is what they say of themselves:

Mobile Monday is a global community of mobile industry visionaries, developers and influentials fostering cooperation and cross-border business development through virtual and live networking events to share ideas, best practices and trends from global markets.

As often is the case, Bangalore is not far behind in whatever happens at world stage. A group of enthusiasts have combined forces to start the Bangalore chapter of Mobile Monday. This happened in June 2006. Their meetings are fairly informal and full of ideas, discussions and business networking.

As I understand, they meet on the fourth Monday of each month at various venues. I attended the October meet. A roundup of this meeting is on their website. My own review of the meeting follows. The meeting started with a presentation by Vanu India Pvt Ltd, a global startup expanding in India. This was followed by a demo of QuillPad by Tachyon Technologies, a small Indian startup.

Presentation by Vanu India Pvt Ltd

Vanu India Pvt Ltd is a sister company of Vanu Inc., a global startup founded in 1998 and focusing on Software Defined Radio (SDR). SDR is a technology in which some or all of physical layer processing is done in portable software rather than custom-built hardware. This enables base stations and access points to activate different access mechanisms from the same platform with ease of mainenance and operability. The interesting aspect of this software is that it runs on a general purpose processor rather than a DSP. This makes Vanu’s approach disruptive to existing market norms. Vanu’s advantage is that as processors get better and faster, the same implementation can be ported with little difficulty to leverage on the latest advancements.

Figure 1

Waveform-Device-Vanu

This can be better understood by referring to Figure 1. The top flow is a traditional model. The bottom flow is what Vanu is following. Traditionally, it used to be the case that the average lifespan of a device is much longer than the waveform model. This was only because implementations in software used to be easier to change. This is no longer true as software modules are large and complex. Software these days is doing a lot of what hardware used to do, particularly in the domain of SDR. This means that if a new device is released much of that software has to be rewritten to take advantage of the advances in the device. The cost of developing new software or updating old software is quite high. Why not write a portable software that needs no update?

For this approach to work, General Purpose Processors (GPP) need to keep pace with advancements in DSPs. Only then, Vanu’s approach will have a competitive advantage.

SDR is presently not practical on a mobile but Vanu sees this as a goal for the future. Current technology requires that the RF frontend be duplicated for different access standards. The business case for Vanu is also not obvious at present but there is much promise in an evolving market where multiple standards will continue to exist and interwork.

The many insightful questions that were asked during the presentation underlined the uncertainty that’s present in an evolving market. Only those who innovate boldly and find an apt business case will succeed. Vanu appears to be doing just that, although there are sufficient challenges to keep them busy.

Demo by Tachyon Technologies

Representation of Indian languages in the digital domain has made much progress in the last decade or so. We now have unicode representations. We have many types of fonts. We have websites purely in Indian languages. However, methods of input have failed to catch up with these advances. Or rather, what we have today are sorely inadequate to fulfill the expectations of users. Anyone who has attempted to type Indian characters will know the difficulty of the exercise. The challenge is greater if we attempt to do this from a mobile keypad.

Tachyon aims to make such input a lot easier and intuitive. The ordinary way of Indian language input is to transliterate Roman characters to Indian characters using predefined rules. Because there are many more alphabets in Indian languages than in English, the methods of input are often non-intuitive and sometimes involve special keyboard characters. Tachyon has taken a different approach of using a trained data set of common patterns that occur in words. This enables users to type more naturally. The language interpreter takes on the job of finding the right word based on context. If there are multiple options, the most likely one will be suggested. It is also easy to navigate across the options. This make Tachyon’s input tool, the QuillPad, a more user-friendly tool than Google’s Indic Transliteration. Tachyon has taken the competition head-on. They appear to be in the lead.

The demo at the meeting was on a Nokia handset loaded with QuillPad software. Before coming to this meeting, I tried the online QuillPad for Tamil. The product is by no means done and dusted. It needs improvements. For example, try typing “Thekkady”. It makes the same mistakes as Google. Hopefully, Tachyon will win the race.

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I attended this event recently. It was a whole-day event at Le Meridien, Bangalore. Registration was free. Apparently, ARM has been organising this every year for the last 2-3 years. This year it was held in three places in India: Bangalore, Hyderabad and Noida. It had no direct relevance to me because I am more into telecom software which is not what ARM does. Nonetheless, I found it extremely useful because the divide between software and hardware is not B&W these days. Things done in software could be done better in hardware. Things done in DSP could be done better in the MCU. Some factors influencing such decisions include the processing power, parallelism, multiple core architecture and others which are shaping the future generation of ARM processors.

Briefly, ARM operates in four key market segments: embedded, enterprise, home and mobile. Across these, there are four verticals: Processor IP, Physical IP, System Design, Media Processing and Services. This was enlightening for me as I learnt that ARM does a lot more than what I had previously known. They are not just an IP provider for RTL but provide a whole ecosystem of IP and services to realize System-on-Chip (SoC) quickly. They provide system IP around the ARM core. They provide software IP in terms of libraries. They provide a whole suite of integrated tools to reduce the time to market.

Just as importantly, they have initiated and manage the ARM connected community. Just like open communities on the Web, developers share knowledge, problems and solutions. Technical symposiums as this are regularly organized across the globe. ARM presence in India started in 1996 and it has grown substantially in the last three years. In the next 4-5 years, ARM intends to grow to over 1400 employees in India and 50% of their R&D will be done from India.

In the mobile space, there is plenty of growth potential for ARM. ARM processor architecture is one of the main components in many mobile systems. As an example, Nokia N95 uses two ARM processors: ARM1136 and ARM9. This phone is deemed to be one of the best selling phones in Europe and ARM sees it as the first great success story for ARM11. The market for smart phones is expected to triple by 2010. Another example: Apple’s iPod Nano uses Dual ARM7TDMI processor.

For long ARM7TDMI has been popular. Although ARM9 has been around for sometime now, only recently it has overtaken ARM7 in terms of number of licenses. ARM11 is just taking off; it is likely to be the chosen core for multimedia processing. The next generation of processors are already out – the Cortex family. Figure 1 illustrates these.

Figure 1
ARM Families

What this means is that processors and their platforms are trend setters. Every new generation of processors spawns a new generation of interfaces, tools, operating systems, applications, and user expectations. If today we were still using Intel 8086, the evolution of Windows OS might have been quite different. If ARM’s best processor core were still ARM7TDMI, Nokia N95 would have designed very differently with different power consumption and real-time performance. Being ahead of the race, processors define what’s possible. Everything around it tries to “upgrade itself”.

The next thing I found interesting was Thumb-2. I remember the time when engineers needed to decide what code should be compiled to Thumb and what else to ARM instruction set. What these engineers were attempting to do was to get a balance between code density and performance. This trade-off was linear. Thumb-2 breaks this linearity. It achieves a performance comparable to ARM and a code density comparable to Thumb. It is difficult to explain how this has been achieved without going into the instructions themselves. Hopefully, I will make a separate post. Briefly, Thumb-2 uses Thumb’s 16-bit instructions and extends to 32-bit Thumb-2 instructions. Figure 2 is a summary of what has been described.

Figure 2
Thumb-2 performance vs code density

There were lots more stuff at the Symposium. Some briefs are below:

  • Long ago I used ARMulator to do some profiling. RealView is infinitely better.
  • The future will see multiple wireless standards implemented on a single chip. For example, WiFi, WiMax, Bluetooth could all be on the same SoC. My own take on this is that software radio is a formidable competitor.
  • ARM was thought unsuitable for Internet browsing. ARM was benchmarked against Intel. A presentation slide showed comparable performance.
  • For MCU, 32-bit architectures are set to grow rapidly in the coming years.
  • In ARM, 30% of their turnover goes into R&D.
  • For microcontrollers, Cortex-M3 is likely to take over from ARM7TDMI.
  • AMBA4 is currently in design stage.

Relevant stuff (which you could search online & which I need to research):

  • Movial: open source stack to enable applications on mobile platforms
  • SOI Industry Consortium
  • ARM forum
  • Mali Graphics Processor and OpenGLES
  • NXP Software: founded by Philips: has access to Philips’ patents: claims that its software has been included in more than 250 million phones: they gave excellent review for ARM’s RealView profiler
  • AAPCS
  • EEMBC: a non-standard guideline for benchmarking processors
  • CELF
  • LiPS: Linux for mobiles

Two ways in which you can contribute on the above items:

  1. You may add your comments to this post.
  2. If you want to write a detailed article, you can post your views here on Mobile & Wireless. I will add you to my blog either as an author (you write the complete article) or as a contributor (we collaborate on the article). You will need to be registered within WordPress.com

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