Apple SIM and more flexible data plans

(c) 2014, Apple (from their website)The new US and UK iPad Air 2 and Mini iPad 3’s now come with a new, programable SIM (see wikipedia SIM article for more info) card for their cellular data services. This is a first in the industry and signals a new movement to more flexible cellular data plans.

Currently, the iPad 2 Apple SIM card supports AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in the US (what no Verizon?) and EE in the UK. With this new flexibility one can switch iPad data carriers anytime, seemingly right on the phone without having to get up from your chair at all. You no longer need to go into a cellular vendor’s store and get a new SIM card and insert the new SIM card into your iPad Air 2.

It seems not many cellular carriers are be signed up to the new programmable SIM cards. But with the new Apple SIM’s ability to switch data carriers in an instant, can the other data carriers hold out for long.

What’s a little unclear to me is how the new Apple SIM doesn’t show support for Verizon but the iPad 2 Air literature does show support for Verizon data services. After talking with Apple iPad sales there is an actual SIM card slot in the new iPads that holds the new Apple SIM card and if you want to use Verizon you would need to get a SIM card from them and swap out the Apple SIM card for the Verizon SIM card and insert it into the iPad Air 2.

Having never bought a cellular option for my iPad’s this is all a little new to me. But it seems that when you purchase a new iPad Air 2 wifi + cellular, the list pricing is without any data plan already. So you are free to go to whatever compatible carrier you want right out of the box. With the new Apple SIM the compatible US carriers are AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. If you want a Verizon data plan you have to buy a Verizon iPad.

For AT&T, it appears that you can use  their Dataconnect cellular data service for tablets on a month by month basis. I assume the same is true for  T-Mobile who makes a point of not having any service contract even for phones.  Not so sure about Sprint but if AT&T offer it can Sprint be far behind.

I have had a few chats with the cellular service providers and I would say they are not all up to speed on the new Apple SIM capabilities but hopefully they will get there over time.

Now if Apple could somehow do the same for cable data plans or cable TV providers, they really could change the world – Apple TV anyone?


Token ring road traffic control and congestion management

Read an article the other day in Wired, A system to cut traffic that just might work, about two MIT students doing research to help Singapore better manage traffic congestion. They have come up with a sort of token ring network for traffic.

In their approach every car when it enters a “congestion zone” is suppplied an electronic token and when that car leaves the zone it retires it’s token (sound familiar). When the zone is too congested, no new tokens are handed out and cars are re-routed around the zone using GPS provided directions.

It seems a bit hokey but using tokens to control congestion is an old technology and works just fine. The problem with applying tokens to controlling road congestion is that it’s not so easy to re-route someone around a zone if you have to go into it for work or entertainment.

Traffic congestion management today

Most congestion management schemes use congestion toll pricing with transponder and radio transmitters/receivers at entry points into congestion zones. In this fashion metropolitan areas can raise and lower toll pricing on traffic that enters the zone as an incentive to reduce traffic. But this requires special purpose transponders in every car and radio towers at every entry and exit point which fixes the congestion zone boundaries and has a high initial fixed costs.

Singapore’s congestion approach is similar with transponders and radio readers at select entry and exit point locations around the city.

Traffic management via tokens

What the MIT researchers have done is to use a broader WiFi type of radio transmitter in their car transponders with a wider range and use cell tower-like receivers around a metro area to triangulate where a car is and when it’s in a congestion zone and to transfer this information to a central repository.

One advantage to the MIT solution is that the congestion zones are no longer fixed, but can become whatever boundary a city administrator wants to create on a map of the city. This way, different zones could be attempted as experiments whenever it made sense to do so.  Sort of like having a completely configurable congestion zone which can be turned on and off based on the requirements of the moment. And the zones don’t even have to be a polygon at all, any closed form, that could be drawn on a map could represent a new zone.   And of course you could have multiple layers of zones. All this could be almost instantly configurable and trial-able on a whim, like a software defined traffic management (SDTM).

I suppose one problem with using SDTM for toll pricing is that people would need to know ahead of time the cost of traveling through a zone. Maybe that’s why the token approach is better because without a token, you are directed to stop or on another route, outside or around the zone. In one waye tokens could be used as sort of a sophisticated onramp stop signal, that only allows passage when a token frees up.

Maybe token’s should be retired not just when you leave a zone but when you stop moving  or when the engine is turned off as well, that way as cars are parked, their tokens could be freed up for other cars.

How you get people to go along with the token management is another question. As the system is tracking cars automatically, one could automatically fine drivers for violating the token scheme.


Thank goodness my commute days are long gone.  I get the feeling it’s going to become a lot more interesting driving to work in the future.


Photo Credits: World Class Traffic Jam by JosieShowaa

Bringing Internet to rural Africa using TV

Read an article the other day from BBC, named TV white space connecting rural Africa about how radio spectrum designed for TV is being used to bring Internet access to rural Africa.

The group promoting TV for Internet connectivity is the 4Afrika Initiative from Microsoft.  Their stated intent is to engage in the economic development of Africa to improve its global competitiveness.

Why TV?

Apparently, the TV spectrum has a number of attributes that make it very useful to provide Internet connectivity.  In the article they talked about 400mhz as being very resilient that propagates well around natural obstructions, through walls and goes long distances.

Although these days, Africa has plenty of undersea cables connecting it to the rest of the world, getting fiber connectivity to rural Africa has been too costly to date.  So if the last mile (or in the case of rural Africa, 100km) problem can be solved then Internet access can be available to all communities.

But the main problem is that this spectrum is usually licensed to TV stations. On the other hand, Africa probably has plenty of TV spectrum not currently being used for active broadcasting, especially across rural Africa.  As such, using this “white space” in TV signals to provide Internet access is a great alternative use of the spectrum.

With a solar powered base station libraries, schools, healthcare centers, government offices, etc., in rural Africa can now be connected to the Internet.  Presently many of these rural Africa locations have no electricity and no telephone lines whatsoever.

Providing internet access to such locations will enable e-learning, more informed access to agricultural markets as well as a plethora of advanced communications technologies currently absent from their villages.

Why Microsoft?

Microsoft has been actively engaged in Africa for over 20 years now.  And more  storage vendors have started listing Africa as a blossoming market for their gear, where they are all engaged in upgrading IT and telecommunications infrastructure. Microsoft has an interesting graphic on their involvement in Africa over the past two decades (see 4Africa Infographic).

We have discussed the emergence of mobile and cloud as a leap-frog technologies propelling Africa and especially Kenya into the information economy, (please see Mobile health (mHealth) takes off in Kenya and Is cloud a leabfrog technology posts). But Internet access is even broader than the just mobile or cloud and is certainly complementary (and for cloud, a necessary infrastructure) for both these technologies.

Africa, welcome to the Information Economy…


Photo Credits: DIY antenna (bottlenet) by robin.elaine

New wireless technology augmenting data center cabling

1906 Patent for Wireless Telegraphy by Wesley Fryer (cc) (from Flickr)
1906 Patent for Wireless Telegraphy by Wesley Fryer (cc) (from Flickr)

I read a report today in Technology Review about how Bouncing data would speed up data centers, which talked about using wireless technology and special ceiling tiles to create dedicated data links between servers.  The wireless signal was in the 60Ghz range and would yield something on the order of couple of Gb per second.

The cable mess

Wireless could solve a problem evident to anyone that has looked under data center floor tiles today – cabling.  Underneath our data centers today there is a spaghetti-like labyrinth of cables connecting servers to switches to storage and back again.  The amount of cables underneath some data centers is so deep and impenetrable that some shops don’t even try to extract old cables when replacing equipment just leaving them in place and layering on new ones as the need arises.

Bouncing data around a data center

The nice thing about the new wireless technology is that you can easily set up a link between two servers (or servers and switches) by just properly positioning antenna and ceiling tiles, without needing any cables.  However, in order to increase bandwidth and reduce interference the signal has to be narrowly focused which makes the technology point-to-point, requiring line of sight between the end points.   But with signal bouncing ceiling tiles, a “line-of-sight” pathway could readily be created around the data center.

This could easily be accomplished by different shaped ceiling tiles such as pyramids, flat panels, or other geometric configurations that would guide the radio signal to the correct transceiver.

I see it all now, the data center of the future would have its ceiling studded with geometrical figures protruding below the tiles, providing wave guides for wireless data paths, routing the signals around obstacles to its final destination.

Probably other questions remain.

  • It appears the technology can only support 4 channels per stream.  Which means it might not scale up to much beyond current speeds.
  • Electromagnetic radiation is something most IT equipment tries to eliminate rather than transmit.  Having something generate and receive radio waves in a data center may require different equipment regulations and having those types of signals bouncing around a data center may make proper shielding more of a concern..
  • Signaling interference is a real problem which might make routing these signals even more of a problem than routing cables.  Which is why I believe they need  some sort of multi-directional wireless switching equipment might help.

In the report, there wasn’t any discussion as to the energy costs of the wireless technology and that may be another issue to consider. However, any reduction in cabling can only help IT labor costs which are a major factor in today’s data center economics.


It’s just in investigation stages now but Intel, IBM and others are certainly thinking about how wireless technology could help the data centers of tomorrow reduce costs, clutter and cables.

All this gives a whole new meaning to top of rack switching.