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Beware of the Neul Cloud!

Apparently Neul is the Welsh word for cloud. Neul is currently a cloud full of rain with its customers being caught in a negative downpour.

We are one such customer who bought some of the early Neul basestations. They were part of Neul’s TVWS broadband offering. Neul set out originally to focus on M2M, then stepped into the broadband space, before returning completely to M2M only. As customer and purchaser of the BB equipment we were alerted to this change of direction but did not expect to find that our purchases would no longer work past the end of next month. In other words we own scrap metal.

The Neul BB basestation is essentially controlled via the cloud. It cannot function without contacting a service that controls operations. And that service is simply being switched off. Gone. Dead.

The ease of accessing spectrum via unlicensed TV bands has been undermined by the central control exerted over the devices. If ever there was an example to show the regulator that it is easy to ‘centrally switch off devices’, then this actually is it. If ever there is a warning that we need to be vigilant about ‘ease of management’ offerings, then this is it.

Neul was at the forefront of the drive to use TVWS.  It was a front runner in pushing the idea that it is possible to offer services on shared spectrum and to do so in an effective manner. There has been an enormous amount of good will towards Neul in the spectrum sharing community.  We have worked with some great people there. And while I very much hope the M2M products succeed, I feel that goodwill is being squandered.

CTVR Showcase 2013 – Lighting up the Light House

The CTVR Showcase was held in the Light House Cinema in Dublin this September. The video below captures the event.

Spectrum Wars @ CTVR Showcase 2013

We are having a technology showcase next week and there is much work ongoing in bringing it all together. We are having it in a Cinema and will have over 50 Exhibits (listed below) showcase all of the wireless and optical work of CTVR. Anyone interested is welcome. You can register here.

I just want to write about one of the fun exhibits (fun but serious) Spectrum Wars designed by Paul Sutton. It allows  two teams of two (receiver and transmitter in each team) to play against each other in an effort to be the first to get the most data through. An incumbent moves across the available spectrum. The participants must avoid this and must find free space to transmit in. They can change their bandwidth to adjust to the space available and of course as it is a game they can block each other!!! It is great fun. It is all (including graphics) written in Iris – our open-source software radio platform. But the opening shot of the game is the most fun – the rules appear to the theme and in the style of Star Wars  – bad video of it here.


Integrated photonic chips for high speed Internet communications  / Long Reach Passive Optical Networks: An Energy- and Cost-Efficient Architecture for Future Broadband Connectivity / Data Transmission using optical comb source in radio over fibre scenario / Long Reach PONs Rural Urban ultra high speed broadband coverage of Ireland (network planning) / Interaction between LR-PON and Upper-layer Protocols/ Clock recovery of super channels / Network Dimensioning / Cooperative Code-sharing for UMTS Femtocells / Augmenting Performance of LTE Handover on LR-PON Backhauls, Through The Use Of Caching / Optical and Wireless Integrated Architectures: a paradigm shift / Patterns in spectrum activity and modern art / How small can a cell be? / Cellular Traffic Dynamics / Multiuser-MIMO Load Balancing Optimisation / Virtual Network Embedding: bridging the wired and wireless networks /Ephemeral Virtual Wireless Network  /Network Resource Sharing / Digital Pre-distortion for RF Power Amplifiers / Uplink Signal Detection for OFDMA-based Systems / Multiple Access Interference Reduction using cancellation carriers / Enabling Systematic Approach to Spectrum Sharing using an Enhanced Form of Carrier Aggregation / Adaptive Compression Techniques for Cloud Gaming / Filterless Blocker Cancellation for RF Receivers / FP7 FORGE project: Forging Online Education through FIRE /Spectrum Wars /Receiver-driven handover between independent networks / Antennas for Emerging Terminal Systems /Converging paths toward capacity and coverage increases in future cellular networks / Fast, wideband detection technique for network discovery and control channel setup / Opportunistic Sensor Data Collection Through Smartphones / Network repair for disaster response /Improved understanding of wireless communication via simulation / Explaining Wireless Networking and Optimisation Research / Techniques for Efficient Delivery of Scalable Video / How Cool are you? / Ambient intelligence Using Machine Communications and Whitespace Spectrum /Impressions of Cellular Networks / Open BTS: the mobile commons/  What CTVR does for its researchers /Modelling Telecommunications problems using Numberjack /Combinatory approaches to optimisation / Postcards from the Near Future /Engineering Fictions /Horizon 2020 / FP7 DISCUS / CTVR Spinouts / Overview of FAME by TSSG/WIT

Postcards from the Near Future

I just got a postcard delivered (It is 11am here). The purpose of the postcard is to thank me for having attended  a workshop later this afternoon (3-5pm). Yes it is a postcard from the future, or more precisely from the near future. Here is a picture of the back and the front.



This is the brainchild of two people in CTVR, Jessica Foley and Seamus McGetterick – two wonderfully creative people.  Here is an explanation.



Out of Africa – Hope for TV White Space?

I attended a TV White Space event in Senegal in Africa last week. It was hosted by Google and Microsoft and others with the aim of  promoting TV White Space usage there. What was immediately noticeable was the energy and the very keen interest in the potential of TV white space. There was a strong ‘can do’ attitude prevailing. There was also a really interesting mix of technologists, regulators and public interest activist groups. I think the latter added very much to the gathering and made it different from other TVWS events I have gone to in Europe and the USA.  And significantly contributed to the can do attitude.

Over the course of the event a number of TV White Space Trials were described.  There seems to be a substantial one currently in Cape Town in South Africa with others ongoing in Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi among other places.

The Cape Town trial currently is focused on providing connectivity to schools in the Tygerberg area of Cape Town. It seems ten schools are connected to some kind of white space back bone. They are using Carlson Wireless radios. The main basestation consisting of three sectors is over 6 km from the schools that are being served. By the way they still have Analogue TV in South Africa but the digital receivers are turned on even if no one is yet receiving. Despite this there are white spaces to be found. No surprise there.

In Kenya a guy called Pete Henderson from Indigo Telecom  is behind the main moves there. This video gives a good sense of what is happening.  They are using equipment from Adaptrum.  In his talk Pete said they have identified 30 thousand sites at which they could potentially install TVWS basestations. He speaks in terms of connecting villages to the Internet Cloud which is a nice way of putting things.

I was most impressed by the Malawi trials. These trials are run by the University of Malawi with involvement with a group of people from ICTP in Trieste in Italy (Marco Zennaro and Ermanno Pietrosemoli).  ICTP is a very interesting organisation under UNESECO and it provides scientists from developing countries with the continuing education and skills.  Chomora Mikeka from the University of Malawi described the Malawi trials. They made use of cheap sensors developed by the ICTP team to identify white spaces and they simply switched their equipment to the available frequencies. In one slide Chomora showed a non-technical person working away with the sensors and simply configuring the system. Ok everything is supposed to be automatic but what I loved about this is that they just got out there and did it. There is no database yet, no anything and they are not letting that hold them back.

It could be the case that Africa may offer the only hope for TV White Spaces. Vanu Bose gave a talk to this effect at the Wireless Spectrum Research and Development (WSRD) Workshop IV on Promoting Economic Efficiency in Spectrum Use: the economic and policy R&D Agenda in Cambridge in Boston recently.  Despite moves elsewhere on the TV white space front, they are under threat. We have the looming incentive auctions in the USA. And there are rumblings about some kind of converged broadband and broadcasting architecture for the TV bands in Europe in preparation for WRC2015. This would effectively, share the TV bands between the big boys – the mobile operators and the broadcasters.

So we  are in great need of a champion and perhaps Africa can be that Champion.

I would add two more points.

I think Africa being a champion would be great BUT this should not be a way for those in the developed world to avoid TVWS.  I have a feeling the Africa story may suit some mobile operators – i.e. Africa is far enough away and their dominance in the world in general will not be eroded  if TVWS gains traction there.

Secondly the overwhelming feeling I came away with from the event is that the equipment is so not there yet. This does relate to the fact that large investment in the development of the radios cannot be made unless a market for the radios is obvious. I do not blame the start-ups for this at all. I admire the risks they take in fact. However I think the prototypes that exist are so limited by the rules that in particular the FCC and to a lesser extent Ofcom have taken that they are not really able to showcase the full glory of the TVWS. Again I understand how these radios need to be built in  a way that makes them likely to be certified by the regulators BUT our understanding of what is possible is purely seen through the lense of set of rules from one country. For example all the radios are single channel radios – hence there is no sense of the kind of bandwidths that might be possible using multiple channels that are plentiful in rural areas for example.

In summary, it is crucial we use the TVWS in as open and easy a way as possible. Not because they are magic and provide a solution to everything. They don’t in fact. They are just part of the wider picture. We need to occupy this space because we need frequencies which are not controlled by a small and ever  more powerful group consisting of the mobile operators. We need to balance the forces of communication.

Open Iris

We recently open-sourced our software/cognitive radio platform Iris.  Paul Sutton has taken a lead on this and formed a company called SRS which is the vehicle he is using for open sourcing the platform. Paul has just started a blog on Iris which begins with some of the basics and will build up to more complex details. It looks like it will be really useful for anyone using Iris.


Hedy Lamarr and Frequency Hopping

The national radio broadcaster here in Ireland, RTE, has a series called Drama On One which is just beginning the What Is Life season of plays inspired the world of science.  It seems the season marks the 70th anniversary, this year, of the ‘What Is Life” lecture series in Dublin by Erwin Schrödinger, physicist and Nobel Laureate. Together with Tim Forde from CTVR, I have been involved in first of the plays which is to go out on air on the 7th of April –  What Next for Hedy Lamarr by Joe O’Byrne ( podcast at\dramaonone).

When I say involved, I of course do not mean in a starring role.  A companion piece has been created for the play in which Tim and I discuss Frequency Hopping and other radio related things.

I had always known that Hedy Lamarr was involved in the invention of  Frequency Hopping but I think did not realise until I looked into it a bit further how brilliant she really was. She seemed to really get that a mix of art and technology and working across the boundaries of different disciplines offers great possibilities.  It was together with Georg Antheil that she patented her idea. He was an avant-garde composer. They both worked at creating a radio system for  guiding torpedoes that could not be jammed by the enemy – a secret communication system – as it is entitled in the patent. They seem to have worked through their ideas and come to solutions through their understanding of music and the mechanics of systems such as the pianola. The story goes that the patent was not taken up and that spread spectrum was `rediscovered’ by a company called Sylvania at a later stage. However it is a remarkable story and a remarkable invention.

I am including here a diagram I cam across some time ago by Suresh Goyal and Rich Howard from Bell Labs which I always felt did a great job at explaining a CDMA variant of spread spectrum. The frequency hopping variant is very much self-explanatory.


World Radio Day, John Cage & Cognitive Radio

Apparently today is World Radio Day. I had actually never heard of it. The official website is here.  It seems UNESCO passed a resolution to create World Radio Day and it is actually the second World Radio Day  in fact. And there is to be a World Radio Day prize issued on the 13th of February every year starting from this year. Though it is not really clear what the prize is for! I was wondering if I could apply for the prize – because we here in CTVR just love radio!!!

My initial excitement around the idea of celebrating radio was somewhat dampened though when I read on  to find that WRD seems to be about Radio Broadcasting in the most traditional sense only? ?? I would rush to add that listening to the radio is one of my favourite activities. But it seems such a pity that, from the limited material on the website in any case, that radio would not be celebrated in all its glory (all its forms and the legal and illegal aspects).

The timing of this day though coincided nicely with an event we had here last night as part of the Engineering Fictions writing workshop that is currently being run here by Jessica Foley.  People meet to write and the writing is seeded by some topic that is connected to Engineering in a strong or  not so strong way. Last night I seeded the session  through talking about Cognitive Radio and the composer John Cage. Let me explain —

When I wrote a book on Cognitive Radio I ended the book with a few sentences that speculated on the future. They went as follows:

“How ‘cognitive’ the next generation radios will be, remains to be seen.  During a discussion in our research group about our aims for our research, one of the team suggested that we should aim for a radio that is so cognitive it gets bored. Whatever the level of academic folly in this, cognitive radio is never boring. ”

So this is where the jump to John Cage came in.  John Cage was a very famous composer. Among his huge body of work are four pieces composed for radio – i.e. in which radio is the instrument. In 1951 he composed Imaginary Landscape No. 4. The piece is  is scored for twelve radios. Two per­form­ers  play each radio – one dial­s the fre­quency, the other changes the vol­ume and tone.  The piece of course is very indeterminate as what you hear when one of the operators dials a specific frequency from the score depends on what station, if any, is on that frequency and what is actually playing at the time. There are three other pieces for radio namely,  Speech (1955), Radio Music(1956), and Music Walk (1958). The score of Radio Music is shown below –  it includes a list of frequencies that are to be selected, dashes indicating silence and the total time for the piece is 6 minutes.

Anyway, in my head I imagined our cognitive radios getting bored and deciding to collectively perform a John Cage piece for their own amusement and subsequently possibly composing something themselves as they get braver.

One of the intriguing things about the John Cage pieces is that the frequencies selected by Cage are ones that are in the AM radio bands. In many places around the world, AM radio is being turned off. So if you look at some of the performances of the pieces such as the one here in NYC, the performers will have mapped the frequencies to those in a different band. In the example here they use the FM band knowing that they are more likely to hit active radio stations. There of course is also an argument to be made that the Cage pieces can no longer be played once AM radio turns off for good.

This discussion led us all to ponder not just on the algorithmic framework that Cage created but also on the ‘lost’ radio stations – and pine for some form of ‘radio archaeology’ to unearth them.  

I think all of these topics and many more make for good thoughts on World Radio Day!



Ok there is no real reason for this post. We just got some giant CTVR letters today which I am sure we will put to great use?! The picture below is taken in the CTVR seminar room.

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The Sharing Economy and the Telecommunications World

I gave a keynote at the WinnForum in Washington D.C. this week.  Part of my talk was focused on the sharing economy.  As most people know Aviz recently bought  Zipcar and this has been heralded as a huge step forward in the bedding down of the sharing economy. I thought it might be useful to look at the mobile communications sector from a broad sharing economy perspective rather than just start with the typical topic of ‘spectrum sharing’ and to look at how we can feed this into experimental work. As one of my colleagues fondly told me recently – my slides without me are totally useless (because they are all image and no words)  – I thought I might write a few words to explain them. The useless slides are here  btw. The comments below talk through each of the slides.

I used some material from the 2010 Latitude & Shareable study on the sharing economy to frame the talk as well as material from Rachel Botsman’s very well know book on collaborative consumption – What’s Mine is Yours.  The Latitude study is carried out, from my understanding at least, from the perspective on an end user and attempts to understand the users motivation for sharing. It does not focus on the telecoms world. It talks about technology, community, environmental concerns and recession as drivers of the sharing economy as well as looking at some of the different structures of the sharing process (e.g. life-cycle structure , community structure etc.). Rachel Botsman captures  lots of these themes in her book and talks about the move from hyper consumption to collaborative consumption. The opportunities being all around items which we use infrequently or for which the burden of ownership is too high. Read more…