Tuesday, July 6, 2010

4G Applications: notes from the WiMAX Developer's Symposium at Stanford (part 2)

In Part 1 of my report from the WiMAX Developer's Symposium at Stanford, I reviewed the opening presentations from Clearwire and Sprint, the two companies that are currently rolling out a nationwide WiMAX network in the U.S. In this post I will review some of the presentations from the Applications Showcase, where  entrepreneurs (and some established companies) described how they could take advantage of the increased capacity and speed of a 4G network.  I found that a number of the presentations were not particularly 4G-oriented, so I will highlight a few of the applications that in my opinion best-fit the theme.

It should be no surprise that video applications are generally expected to drive demand for 4G wireless services. I predicted as much in my report on The Emerging 4G Wireless Landscape in the U.S., in which I showed how the higher capacity required to meet consumer demand was creating a disruptive event in the industry... one that Sprint/Clearwire was well positioned to exploit over the next two years.

The WiMAX Applications Showcase at Stanford demonstrated how the use of mobile video in non-consumer market segments also presents many new opportunities. In recent years the wireless industry has increased their focus on mobile health (or telemedicine), which was the topic of this presentation on Crisis Telediagnosis - Emergency Response.

The idea in this presentation was to build an application that can link first responders on emergency calls with a network of remote medical specialists, to aid in "on the spot" triage.  The first responder would use text tags transmitted via SMS to a server to describe a patient's condition, so that an appropriate physician could be notified. The physician would then log into the system to access a live video feed to continue the diagnosis with their own eyes.

I'm far from a medical expert, but I'm skeptical on how much value a physician can add to a trained paramedic in such instances. In a true emergency time is of the essence, and I am guessing that video would not necessarily be as valuable as a live streaming data feed from wireless medical instrumentation. Also, liability and insurance issues being what they are, I suspect this would only be practical between emergency teams affiliated with local hospitals.

Embedding diagnostic medical instruments in mobile devices is an actively growing field. Industry collaborations such as the West  Wireless Health Institute, which includes Qualcomm, GE and Cisco amongst its sponsors, are working on developing new innovations in this area.

4G Video Surveillance
This presentation of using video over WiMAX comes not from a startup or a student project, but from the Moog Videolarm company that has been in business since 1976. The company, which is headquartered in Atlanta, has installed 200 of their Liberty Series 3G/4G cameras in a city-wide network there. I have to say that it felt a little creepy to be watching unsuspecting pedestrians on the streets of Atlanta while sitting in an auditorium at Stanford - 2500 miles away.

The Liberty Dome provides a built-in modem for the Sprint-Clearwire network, enabling (secure) IP connections for H264-compression cameras. (We were told that the streaming video we were watching was only accessible with a password for that IP address).

Besides the obvious privacy concerns, the point that struck me was that the cameras use an upload stream that consumes 500Kbps of data 24-7. I wished that the scene in Atlanta had included some citizen walking into the scene with a new HTC EVO 4G smartphone, to see what effect it would have. The Clear WiMAX service is currently capped at a maximum of 1Mbps in the upload direction, and in my experience with the service in Las Vegas, each camera is equivalent to the average data rate that I achieved.

In the earlier presentation from Sprint, the theoretical capacity of each WiMAX tower was spec'ed at 420Mbps. This assumes the (unrealistic) availability of the entire 150MHz of spectrum at an individual base station. So let's divide by 5, since Clearwire uses 3X10Mhz deployments currently. That gives us a maximum capacity of 84Mbps per tower. Now divide that by 3, to get a capacity per sector of 28Mbps.

Finally, divide by 4 because the TDD spectrum is allocated in a 3:1 download:upload ratio. The result, by my calculations, is an upload capacity in an individual sector of only 7Mbps.

Forget privacy for the moment. The question then is: How many surveillance cameras per sector? And.. what effect do they have on the consumer experience?

Geogad - using social media for travel guides
Geogad is described as "Your own personal mobile tour guide". The name Geogad is explained as:
A combination of two words, geo, which means Earth or world, and gad, which means to roam or wander.
Geogad allows users to build a customized tour of their destination by downloading audio-video recordings that describe a desired set of stops. The videos I sampled were slide shows, but one can imagine more rich content in the future as befits a 4G application. The tour can be run on a smartphone, and Geogad has released an Android application for this purpose.

The tours can be from amateur travelers or professionals, and that's where the social aspect comes in. Users can also upload their own favorite tour stops to share with other users. It's sort of like a multimedia version of FourSquare or Yelp, but the idea of mixing & matching a set of tour stops is a novel one. Geogad was awarded one of the awards for best app at the Symposium.

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