Math equation

Bigger bandwidth with just algebra

I’m sure many of us, at one point or another during our mathematics education, thought, “What good can this possibly do me in the real world?” I know I did. I considered taking a class in multivariable calculus one semester, but then decided it was beyond what I’d ever need as a basic computer science major. In fact, probably all of the calculus I’d taken up to that point wasn’t necessary for my eventual career path, but I actually had considered it fun at times. Yeah, I’m a nerd, so sue me.

Apparently researchers at universities all over the world, led by the Research Laboratory of Electronics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are trying to prove just how practical an application of mathematics can be. They have been concentrating on relieving a bottleneck that exists in every data network – what to do with lost information packets.

And they are using algebra to do it, according to MIT Technology Review. A typical wireless network can drop about 2 percent to 3 percent of its packets on average. In an environment such as a fast-moving train, the drop rate can go higher. But even a 2 percent rate is a bigger problem than it sounds. That’s because when a packet is dropped, the sending and receiving stations have to start a conversation about what was dropped and how to recover it. Usually the receiver ends up asking the sender to re-send the package. That extra traffic can result in quite a drag on transfer times.

The process prompted MIT scientists to come up with what they termed “coded TCP.” Instead of information packets, the sending station sends algebraic equations that describe the information. So if one packet goes missing, the receiver has a good chance of being able to reassemble the data without having to bother the sender for another copy.

In lab studies, researchers produced a 1,500 percent increase in bandwidth using this method. Whether this level of benefit will come out in full-scale development remains to be seen. Several companies have licensed the basic technology, Technology Review reported, though non-disclosure agreements have kept the details private.

But with an already tight spectrum that is getting more crowded by the year as public-sector agencies and other organizations add to their wireless, mobile networks, every little bit will help. And this algebraic approach could turn out to add more than a little bit.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Oct 31, 2012 at 9:39 AM0 comments


jailbreak icon

Will Apple app development move outside its control?

Anyone who has developed apps for iOS knows that Apple likes to keep a tight rein on what an app can and can’t do. Unfortunately, some developers want to do more, so they are “bending the rules” by using a workaround to make the iPhone do more than its default settings allow, MIT Technology Review reports

For instance, the app Snappli compresses data to try to save users some of the precious bandwidth of their data plan. This involves intercepting data traffic and sending it to a remote server for analysis, which generally isn’t possible in the iPhone’s default setup. So in order to run the app, and the others like it, a “configuration profile” needs to be installed to change the iPhone to allow the app to do its job.

Although this tool historically has been used only by network administrators who have to manage a bunch of iPhones remotely, it is being used more often by app developers who want their apps to do things beyond what the iPhone usually allows.

Right now, for a couple of reasons this method of app implementation has only limited impact on the market. Generally only one of these apps can be run at a time unless two of them change the exact same settings. Also, requiring a user to essentially install twice can cut into the adoption rate.

But it does speak to the fact that iOS app developers need to use workarounds for some of their programs, which is something that Apple will have to address at some point. Apple’s tight control over iPhone and iPad apps helps ensure that they come from a trusted provider and can lessen security concerns, something that public-sector agencies adopting iPhones, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, appreciate. If the future of iPad apps is outside that control, agencies should take note.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Oct 30, 2012 at 9:39 AM1 comments


4th generation ipad

Too soon for a 4th generation iPad? Maybe not

Apple has announced the release of a “fourth generation” model of the iPad, available for pre-order on Oct. 26 and arriving in the Apple Stores on Nov. 2. Yes, you read that correctly.

Are they serious? Each of the last two new iPad models came out a whole year after its predecessor, like clockwork. And now this new one is coming out just seven months after the third generation iPad. What could possibly have motivated Apple to cut the lifecycle of its product by nearly half? Well, for one, the company apparently made improvements in the A6X processor that resides in the third-generation model. But that probably could have waited out the year.

The answer is the connector. When Apple made the iPhone 5, the engineers redesigned the connector. They called the new connector Lightning, and it actually does have decent throughput improvements. But it isn’t compatible with older versions, which meant that new iPhone owners were running around with a connector that didn’t work with their older, 30-pin-port iPad. So, in the interest of connector standardization, Apple put out the next iPad five months early.

Of course, the early boost in revenue doesn’t hurt, I’m sure. And, because they’ve done away with version numbers for the iPad, whenever a new version is launched, the company erases all mention of the earlier model from its website. For instance, according to Apple, the new iPad always had a Lightning connector. Go ahead and see for yourself.  

Posted by Greg Crowe on Oct 25, 2012 at 9:39 AM0 comments