CENTRIM research community meeting: reflections

This week’s CENTRIM research community meeting (twinkle session) covered a broad range of issues.

Amongst other things, we discussed past and present perceptions of bureacracy and policy, and the ways in which innovation is sometimes ‘stamped out’.

During the meeting I thought of Ofcom, which is currently perceived to be both a help and a hindrance.

Ofcom, the helper:

Ofcom today announced that “micro power” FM transmitters such a the Griffin Technologies iTrip or Belkin TuneCast can legally be used from 8 December. … Ofcom changed the regulations in line with the European Commission Decision…

It all stems from wartime activity when spies used to have illegal transmitters to send information out of the UK (or receivers to get instructions etc)…

According to the BBC,

…strong consumer demand for the devices led Ofcom to rethink the legislation … The new amendments will also reflect a European standard on the low-power transmitters.

Was Ofcom reactive/proactive to the EC decision, or to consumer demand? I wonder.

Ofcom, the hindrance:

The European Commission says British regulator Ofcom is having a negative effect on mobile rates in the UK. The EC and national regulators are meant to be working together to bring down mobile costs.

I’ll take this opportunity to name and shame two Internet service providers who have demonstrated, to me, extraordinarily poor customer service: ntl and Pipex. The Register reported:

…when it comes to overall customer satisfaction, NTL came bottom of the pile…

I don’t doubt it. Another Register article echoes my experience/sentiments.

With lousy ISPs in mind, I’m pleased that Ofcom have at least publicly disdained the behaviour of certain wholesale providers:

1.15 … Ofcom made it clear to both Tiscali and Netservices that it did not consider it appropriate for wholesale providers to restrict customers’ choice of a new supplier. However, these wholesale providers did not change their course of action, and Ofcom was unable to take formal action to remedy the situation due to the voluntary nature of the MAC process.

1.24 As a result, Ofcom is now proposing to introduce new regulation, in the form of a new General Condition, which will require broadband providers to make sure that customers can obtain broadband service and switch suppliers with minimal disruption.

Personally, I like to think that Ofcom are doing their best, subject to constraints.

Back to our CENTRIM research community meeting…

During the break-out session I began thinking about VOIP, and video over IP, in the context of customer service and outsourcing (to overseas) of helpdesks and the like. I thought, how nice it might be to see the face of the person from whom you’re seeking support.

Last month, I sought support for a colleague’s Windows Mobile 5 handset, Vodafone network. Vodafone’s web support left much to be desired and I imagined being asked to telephone either Vodafone or Microsoft for advice on (ahem) features. I’m sure you know the routine.

Frankly, telephone-based support for a handset is a dumb idea. Reality check: a handset is first and foremost, something that you hold to your ear. You can’t hold it to your ear and listen to advice whilst holding it away from your ear to observe and handle it. OK, you might add a separate earpiece to the handset, but that’s missing the point:

  • you should never have to resort to spoken support for something that will necessarily be out of earshot.

Whilst griping about handsets, poor customer service and non-interoperability between Microsoft products (zero sense of community between Windows Mobile and Entourage, but that’s another story) my thoughts turned to OpenMoko:

the World’s First Integrated Open Source Mobile Communications Platform

and to the FIC Neo1973 smartphone.

(To those of you who shrink from the idea of an open platform, please take note: the Neo1973 will also run Windows Mobile.)

Somewhere in the midst of everything above, I found references to John Naughton. He’s the author of Our changing media ecosystem in Communications – The next decade at Ofcom’s web site, but it’s probably this Guardian Unlimited article that led me to learn more about his work.

Back to the CENTRIM research community meeting…

During the meting I found myself at Naughton tells it like it is by Professor Marc Eisenstadt. This reminded me of the many superb things that I see coming from the OU. In particular, I am repeatedly impressed by KMi Stadium and other works of the KMI (Knowledge Media Institute, one of three groups comprised within the Center for Research in Computing).

In the introduction to John’s inaugural lecture, I heard a reference to something that reminded me of the wind-up laptop. John is a founding partner of Ndiyo:

a project set up to foster an approach to networked computing that is simple, affordable, open, less environmentally damaging and less dependent on intensive technical support than current networking technology.

Take a look at this networked computing terminal:

1280×1024 at 24-bit pixel depth

It’s about 70mm square – quite a bit smaller smaller than a floppy (remember those?)

Wow.

A distinction:

…the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) approach focusses on providing mobile devices for children, whereas Ndiyo is focussed on rethinking networked computing to make it:

  • affordable
  • supportable and
  • environmentally sustainable

in developing countries, for both children and adults alike.

Rewind, to the November 2005 launch of that prototype $100 wind-up laptop, when I first learnt about mesh networking. Fast-forward, to Autumn 2006:

LocustWorld Mesh projects are given extensive references in a report for the World Bank

wireless mesh provides universal access to internet and voice over IP with low cost, rapid installation and high performance services.

The LocustWorld motto Bio-diverse Networking Unleashed! may raise an eyebrow, but the concept of mesh networking — for the benefit of the community — is very appealing to me.

Here’s an article about mesh mapping. From what I can gather, something like this will soon be publicly available as an overlay for Google Earth.

SnSfeeed is:

a Sussex, Norfolk. Devon & Essex based group of enthusiasts working together to bring Community Wireless Networking to towns and villages across the UK.

At home:

  • I’m veering towards mesh networking with piertopier.net or SnSfeeed.

In the meantime:

  • my neighbours occasionally enjoy my fourfruitflavours open access Wi-Fi network.

How is this different from traditional wireless networking?

A frequently asked question at piertopier.net distinguishes between wireless networking as most people know it (at the mercy of Internet service providers) and mesh networking as it should be (for the benefit of the community, which includes you).

This, in a roundabout way, leads me to the subject of open access Wi-Fi for Freeman Centre business lounge. Whilst we’re not yet in a position to start mesh networking (do The Right Thing) in and around the Centre, we’re taking steps in the right direction.

Watch this space…

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