Femtocell Opinion, comment and reviews

Femtocells enable seamless personal data sharing and security

Are femtocells the cost effective enabler for a seamless, secure personal data environment - an always on, always updated, immediately accessible nirvana to manage the growing sets of electronic data we own?

One of today’s small annoyances is the need to share and update data between different devices.

Typical issues include contact list and diary, so you can contact anyone you know from an updated and accurate phone/email address. There are many examples of individuals losing their entire family photograph collection due to theft or hard-drive failure in their laptop. Old email addresses are often used because these are not kept updated across personal, workplace and social networking sites.

Cameraphones have now matured to become much more common than dedicated cameras, and of sufficient quality where they replace these in many situations. Email and phone have now become the primary means of communication, so that these applications replace the written address book and diary. Personal data might also include music, podcasts and other news feeds updated automatically. Pictures taken on the phone need to be uploaded to a reliable, backed up store and shared with friends under access control.

Let’s consider each of these in turn:

Synchronisation of contact information and calendar.

This, combined with efficient mobile email access, was what originally drove the success of the RIM Blackberry and has been emulated by Windows Mobile. Most phones support a synchronisation application via a docking stations or a simple USB cable. Frankly, it would be much easier if the data was automatically and seamlessly synchronised when online. There are a few competing services which offer synchronisation between multiple PCs, and even allow access to your contact list/diary via a WAP page on the phone. But I have yet to see a mainstream solution that addresses this. The requirement is fairly simple – when a contact address/email is updated, this information is replicated on other devices including mobile phone, other computers and social/business networking sites. There is no individual “master”, the data can be updated on any device and is copied across to other applications. Updates don’t need to be instantaneous, but need to happen as a background process without user intervention unless exceptions (conflicting updates in different applications).

Social networking sites could be used to export/store your address book and automatically sync with your PC/mobile. This allows anyone to update the central systems with their new details, and for it to be “pushed” to all your friends. Such specialist systems like Plaxo are very effective. However, I’ve found Plaxo to be fairly poor at Linux support (although the new version 3.0 provides an open SyncML API for the open source developers to write a driver for).

There are a few problems with this:

  • Not everyone is happy to release/share their address book with commercial businesses, whatever their customer privacy policy.
  • You may have multiple address books (eg personal, business, hobby etc), which may be stored in different places and need separate and independent sync.
  • Corporate IT policies may prevent installation of plug-ins which support data synchronisation with external systems for security reasons.

Synchronisation of podcasts to the phone.

Many people use iPods or similar MP3 players to listen to their own choice of podcasts and music. The growing capacity of mobile phones allows them to function as MP3 players and save the need to carry an additional gadget is extremely attractive. If podcasts and news feeds were automatically refreshed and updated at minimal cost without the need to “dock” the device or startup a PC, then this would be a considerable benefit. Selection and choice of podcasts is arguably easier when using a full screen PC or web application such as iTunes. Downloading of podcasts is obviously easier if automatically happens in the background without need for user intervention.

Upload of photos.

Few people do this from the phone itself, partly due to an expectation of high cost, partly due to the hassle, and partly because they want to manipulate/print the photos using their PC. Again, docking the phone is normally required with photos loaded into a PC, sometimes manipulated. Wouldn’t it be nice if your photo collection was just automatically uploaded (synchronised) with a central store, which is secure, backed up, and provides simple tools to edit, share and obtain hard copies. There are many photo sharing sites, such as Flickr, Kodak, although these require knowledge and time to manually transfer and upload pictures. Some of the larger photo print (originally film development and print) companies have extensive sites allowing manipulation and a wide range of print/production options using your own images – see www.bonusprint.com for an example.

Summary

If data connectivity is provided at zero marginal cost for use within the home via femtocells, and a range of free to use applications is available to take advantage of this connectivity, then the scene is set to enable the scenarios above. Optionally, at additional cost, consumers may then step up to using data connectivity when away from home/offices and attain a more seamless connected world.

The experience for the end user promises to become less hassle in the longer term, where data is always available without the need to worry about data loss, backups or being out of date. It can also be easily shared in a controlled manner without the need to always send copies of the complete information, only links to external servers.

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