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Fixing a Failed Mobile Business Solution: Case Study

As discussed in Ten ways mobile business solutions succeed and fail, integrating mobility into an enterprise’s communication network can be a tricky affair. Many businesses hand out smartphones to their employees, and expect wonderful benefits to just automatically roll in. A more thought-out strategy usually yields better results.

Recently, I heard a case study in which an enterprise had a mobile strategy that not only wasn’t working, but also was negatively impacting their bottom line. How they successfully transformed their communication network from a minus to a plus says a lot about the use of mobile devices in enterprise solutions.

 

The problem

A well-established Oil & Gas company had been using paper forms to collect and tabulate field data. This meant that:

  • Paper forms had to be filled out by hand in the field under less than ideal conditions.
  • The forms had to be transported by vehicle to the main office, often hours away.
  • Information in the form had to be reentered into a digital format at the office.

Transportation of forms and copying data took a great deal of time and man-hours. In fact, Canvas, a cloud-based software service and mobile app platform, estimates that for each individual paper-based form used, the company suffered an additional expense of $50,000 per year in costs associated with printing, shipping, data entry, filing, storage and mandatory destruction.

There were other problems besides. Customers were unable to receive critical information in real-time. Managers had to delay crucial decisions. Important photographs sometimes became separated from reports. Paper reports were lost, damaged, or even stolen while in transit or in the field.

The company decided to use smartphones to collect field data electronically. By transitioning away from paper forms, it was hoped that the company could save time and money.

Unfortunately, when remote workers initially used their smartphones, the results were less than ideal. Not all oil rigs and remote locations have Wi-Fi-and cellular coverage. This led field workers to believe that they could not completely end their reliance on paper forms.

The company’s original mobile strategy was to communicate data through text messages. Text messages were often copied from paper forms which were then sent to the main office, where the text messages were reentered into a database. This copying and recopying significantly increased the chances of error. Furthermore, the words in the texts were often abbreviated or misspelled, which made the data entry even more challenging.

The biggest single problem was that every text was sent as a group message. When workers returned from the field, they would have to scroll through hundreds of texts to find the one they wanted. Reports to clients and internal stakeholders were delayed by hours or even days.

 

The solution

Canvas worked with this Oil & Gas company to implement a successful mobile strategy.  Their solution featured digital forms that worked both off-line and on-line. This allowed workers to fill out forms on their smartphones while in the field, no matter what the coverage was. No more paper forms.

Migrating paper forms to the cloud (and local platforms) turned out to have a number of significant advantages, other than the obvious one of saving man-hours. Quality improved, because the forms used drop-down menus with fully written, correctly spelled words, rather than the previously utilized shortened text messages. Standardizing the data made analysis and sharing much easier. Clients were informed of the status of field locations in real time. People within the company got a searchable database which was linked to inventory control, catalogs, and other information management systems. In addition, time/GPS stamped photos and electronic signatures were easily linked to the forms.

Canvas specializes in this sort of form migration. They offered their client a choice of using user-friendly, web-based, build-your-own-app solutions, or simply buying one of the thousands of readymade apps that populate their store. They shepherded their client through the process in a matter of just a few weeks. What I found most remarkable is that they were able to implement this solution with virtually no IT support.

Fixing a poorly conceived solution is often harder than implementing an appropriate one in the first place. The fact that Canvas was able to do so in a short period of time with comparatively little resources speaks well of the flexibility and efficiency of their migration services.

 Any cloud-based solution that is used in a challenging environment works better on a rugged, reliable platform. AMREL and Canvas have teamed up to offer new, innovative solutions for business’ information management needs. Use our lightweight fully rugged tablets for remote evaluations, inspections, data collection, reporting, dispatching, invoicing and estimation. To watch a video about Canvas solutions, click here.

To learn how an AMREL Rugged Tablet/Canvas cloud-based solution can help your enterprise, contact Linda Talcott at (800) 882-6735 or lindat@amrel.com.

 

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Game of Phones: Will Apple sue the FBI?

Does the FBI have to tell Apple how it cracked the iPhone? The answer is not straightforward, and is illustrative of the many problems surrounding encryption.

 

The many discontents of encryption

Encryption is a very important security measure and it is also a real pain. For one thing, once encrypted, devices have a shorter battery life, and transmit data at a slower speed. In order to encrypt a device, valuable real estate can be taken up by the security hardware. At AMREL, we are familiar with this challenge, because our customization services are often asked to add Trusted Platform Modules (TPM) to our computer platforms.

In addition, high-security encrypted devices create bizarre unforeseen consequences. Soldiers are sometimes ordered to use systems for which that they are not cleared. Repairmen often lack clearance, so a broken encrypted device must be disposed rather than fixed.

 

Apple vs. FBI

In the latest round of “Game of Phones,” another unforeseen consequence appears possible. After months of applying legal pressure to Apple, is it the FBI who will ironically be forced to yield up their secrets? Will they be forced to tell Apple how they did their hack?

How did the FBI crack the iPhone in the first place?  Rumors have been circulating that the Israeli company Cellebrite Mobile Synchronization cracked the iPhone used in the San Bernardino terrorist shootings. That the FBI had to use an outside contractor to crack the iPhone is plausible. For one thing, there is a reason that the phrases “FBI” and “leading-edge technological capabilities” rarely appear together.

That an Israeli company did the hack is also believable, for that country has earned a reputation for expertise in encryption. Israel has developed these skills because its computer networks are under constant attacks. In addition, it has the highest number of programmers per capita of any country in the world. There is even a highly developed ancient tradition of cryptology and secret codes within Jewish mysticism.

Still any rumor in the Middle East has to be greeted with skepticism. I have met hackers who have valued reputation over the risk of legal retribution by falsely claiming exploits. The Cellebrite rumor appears to have some credibility. Around the time of the hack, it is a matter of official record that the FBI paid over $200,000 to this company.  A lot of people seem to believe this rumor, because the shares of its parent company, Japan’s Sun Corporation, have risen 40% since March 2.

 

Our lips are sealed

The fact that it is likely that a private corporation was the one to hack the iPhone is significant in the issue of who tells what to whom. Supposedly, the government is bound to inform companies of vulnerabilities in their encrypted systems, as determined by something called the “Vulnerabilities Equities Process” (VEP).

The VEP was developed in a thoroughly transparent process and actively shared with the public by the administration. Just kidding. Everything about the VEP is opaque. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) had to sue under the Freedom Information Act to get a highly redacted version of the VEP, which can be viewed here.  The EFF is not impressed with this document. Judging by information about government actions as revealed by the Snowden leaks, the EFF has dubbed the VEP as “…so much vaporware.”

 

The weird world of administrative law

Or is it? Just how meaningful is the VEP?  IF Apple could persuade a court that according to VEP, the government has to reveal the vulnerabilities of their encryption, would the administration have to follow their own rules? The VEP belongs to that surreal realm of “administrative law.”  Congress didn’t pass it. By and large, it’s not determined by court rulings or precedent. It’s just something that a bunch of administrative agencies made up.

I called a lawyer who has more than fifty years of experience of using the law to annoy the government. I asked, “Do government agencies have to follow their own made-up rules?” Her answer was a definitive, absolute, unqualified “Maybe.” In addition, she said that whatever decision is made by the courts, it will be “political.”

 

“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”

It is extremely unlikely a court will determine if the VEP applies or not. The fact that a private party (Cellebrite) probably hacked the iPhone is significant, because the VEP does not apply to private parties. The VEP only applies to vulnerabilities discovered directly by government agencies themselves.

Furthermore, according to the Washington Post, “FBI Director James B. Comey has said that the solution works only on iPhone 5Cs running the iOS 9 operating system — what he calls a ‘narrow slice’ of phones. Apple said last week that it would not sue the government to gain access to the solution.”

So after months of the FBI pressuring Apple to hack its own iPhone, it withdraws from the case, and says never mind. After months of declaring that the iPhone hack will endanger all iPhones, Apple has similarly dismissed its efforts to force the FBI to reveal its secrets. Some have suggested that the “narrow slice” description is accurate and Apple is not truly worried about the security of its future platforms.

The one thing that is clear from all this brouhaha is that our legal structure is completely inadequate for dealing with issues raised by new technologies. In the original court case, the FBI sued Apple on the basis of a law written in 1789.

In the meantime, I have a sinking feeling that the privacy of the average user was not a great concern in this latest round of legal wrangling. As Elliot Hannon wrote in Slate, “We’re all digital piñatas really.”

 

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Ten Ways Mobile Business Solutions Succeed and Fail

When offices first went digital, a large number of businesses failed to successfully integrate computers. One story that I heard more than once was “We bought computers six months ago. Now they sit on the shelf in a closet where they are a very expensive way of gathering dust.”

Something like this is currently happening with mobile solutions. An estimated 100 million workers use mobile devices for business purposes. However, a surprisingly large number of mobile business solutions have failed. Here, at AMREL, we hear a lot about them, because we have reputation for technical support, i.e. we get many calls about problems affecting other companies solutions, because the end users are so frustrated with the original supplier that they try contacting us.

Before you buy a mobile communication solution, here are a few of things to look for:

1) Lack of user buy in. This is probably the number one cause of failure, and many of the examples given here are really just a variation of this problem. The end-user (field personnel, maintenance worker, salesman, warfighter, warehouse worker, etc.) simply doesn’t want to use the shiny, new mobile device. Pen and pencil worked fine all this time. Why should he invest energy in making a change?

Before one deploys a communication solution, survey the end user. What are their needs? Their challenges? After the system is rolled out, survey them again and again. Are they having problems with the new solution? What changes do they recommend? Be prepared for a lot of tweaking even after the system is deployed. Remember: You don’t get decide when you are done with the solution deployment. It may never end.

2) Overlooking back-end and software functionality. This was much more of a problem in the past than it is now. The older generation viewed software as an afterthought, while hardware was the “real” heart of the solution.

Still this problem shows up even today. Is the application user-friendly? Does it enable the end-user to perform their most important tasks? Has the app been optimized for mobile devices? Is the back-end scalable so you can adjust it for future needs? Is the back-end off the shelf or specifically made for your enterprise? If it is unique, does that mean you’re locked into support by one vendor? These are questions that businesses have learned to ask the hard way.

3) End-to-end solutions. This is an example of a “back-end” problem mentioned above. End-to-end solutions can be great, but let me tell you an example in which they weren’t.

A big city police department needed a new in-vehicle solution. They replaced their mobile computers with a cheaper brand, which only worked with the manufacturer’s proprietary software. The department thought they were getting a great deal, because the initial price was lower than anything else on the market.

The software was a disaster. Officers didn’t get emergency messages quickly or sometimes not at all. The entire system (in-vehicle computers and software) was replaced in a year.

Several years ago, I attended a seminar in which large Public Safety departments described how they were going to meet FirstNet requirements. Several participants railed against end-to-end solutions. I don’t agree; some end-to-end systems work well. But I can’t say that I was surprised by the vehemence that was expressed.

4) End user literally can’t see the information on the screen. The screen is washed out by the sun or is too small to accurately display the information needed for the task. Seems obvious, but businesses have been known to overlook this.

5) No keyboard. Tablets work fine for checklists, but what about the comments section, which can be a critical part of a worker’s responsibilities? One company failed to get productivity gains for field personnel, because all waited to get back to the office before inputting data. Since they were going to sit down at their desktops anyway, why split the work of data entry into two tasks? Of course, you can always buy a tablet with a QWERTY keyboard, such as AMREL’s ROCKY DT10.

6) Politics and brand loyalty. Buy an iPad if it fits your enterprise’s needs. Don’t buy it to look cool. The Los Angeles Unified School District paid a very expensive price for this lesson.

7) Access to databases. Another version of the “back-end” problem. Some workers will not use their mobile devices if they can’t access databases, such as product catalog, CRM, and order entry systems. Lack of access prevented them from completing their tasks, so just like the field workers above, they waited until getting back to the office to input data. Don’t assume you know what info they need. Ask them.

8) Workers are scared to use mobile devices, because they are expensive. Some companies are especially punitive toward workers who damage their mobile devices, so they simply leave them in the box and never use them. Give your staff peace of mind, save money in the long run, and buy rugged computers.

9) Can’t physically carry the device. Supervisors assumed that warehouse workers would always have a free hand to use a mobile device. Turned out they were wrong. When strapped to belts, the devices always got in the way, and workers needed two hands for most tasks. Hate to sound repetitive, but, again, ask the end user.

10) Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). There are advantages and disadvantages to this popular policy. Read about it here.

The above is not meant to be complete, but rather a collection of anecdotes that we have heard over the years. Do you have your own mobile story? Send it to editor@amrel.com.

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5 mobile mistakes made by businesses

More and more enterprises are adopting mobile solutions. Mobile devices boost employee satisfaction, enhance productivity, increase efficiency, and improve communication.

They also cause headaches. BIG headaches.  In order to have a smile on your face, instead of pain in your head, take a quick look at some common business mobile mistakes that you want to avoid.

 

Bring Your Own Problem

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is very popular. Employees like doing work on their own devices, and not having to learn a new operating system. Employers like the fact that employees are paying for their own business equipment.

In fact, BYOD is a big success, except when it isn’t.  Some common problems enterprises run into are:

  • Support for cross-platform applications. Listen carefully, and you will hear the sound of IT support personnel all around the world pulling out their hair as they try to ensure that the latest program upgrade is compatible on Windows, Windows CE, Android, and Apple platforms. One of the big drawbacks of BYOD is that IT guys must become overnight experts on everything.
  • Information “walking away.” So you fired that one problem employee who made life miserable for everyone. Good for you! Did you notice that he walked off with a ton of proprietary information in his personal mobile phone? Didn’t you install a remote wipe function? Oops.
  • Industry specific problems. If you work in the medical field, you have to ensure all devices meet rigorous HIPPA standards. If you are working in the Defense industry, everything has to be encrypted. Making sure all your employees’ personal devices meet your specific industry requirements and work together with each other is not impossible. But it’s no fun either.

This is by far not a conclusive list. For a more details on the joys and tribulations of BYOD, see BYOD Pros & Cons [INFOGRAPHIC].

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Cheap is expensive

You decide BYOD is not for you. The next step is to buy the right mobile device for your staff. Of course, you want to save money, so you buy the cheapest decent mobile device you can find.

Turns out that the initial cost of a purchase is a minor part of the Total Cost of Ownership.  A study by VDC Research raised some eyebrows when they reported that for mobile computers, the expenses of repair, replacement, missing data, and lost productivity were far larger than the initial cost.

They recommended investing in “rugged” computers, which often have a higher purchase price than their commercial counterparts. These durable devices have been hardened to withstand shock, temperature extremes, dust, water, and other severe environmental factors. Popular with military and police, these tough computers are also being adopted by businesses in order to save money in the long term.

 

Don’t forget the connectors

Considering the myriad of details that one must evaluate during a mobile device purchase, it’s easy to overlook something a prosaic as connectors. However, humble connectors can have a surprising impact, especially when you are dealing with legacy or heterogeneous equipment. Field technicians may need to download information from remote sensors. Repairmen might require a mobile device that can interact with a testing machine. Warehouse workers may need a mobile platform that can directly connect to the company’s mainframe. All these tasks may necessitate specific kinds of connectors, or even customized ones. Be sure to check out the connectors before you purchase.

 

Ask for the moon

“What I really need is a mobile device that has an RFID reader, a Point of Sale device, and a fingerprint sensor. Of course, such a thing does not exist, and I can’t afford to build one from scratch.”

No matter how ridiculous you think your request is, ask. If you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you are not an expert in this field. You do not know what is possible, and there is a chance that a professional will know of a solution that would have never have occurred to you.

 

Think big. Buy small.

When you are dealing with a challenging purchase, there is a temptation to rely on the big well-known brands. The problem is that the larger a company, the less agile it is.

For example, you want the value of a Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) product, but you have specific needs that cannot be met by the standard offerings. Customization is expensive, and often requires unreasonably large orders.  Wouldn’t be great if you got the best of both COTS and customization?

There is such a thing and it is called “Customized COTS,” which has been embraced by some of the smaller mobile device manufacturers. Due to their smaller size, they are able to deliver products that have the value of COTS and the advantages of customization even for low value orders, often with minimal Non Recurring Engineering (NRE) fees.  Seek and you will find them.

Of course, there are many other considerations one must weigh before buying mobile devices for your enterprise.  If you have any questions please consult the experts at AMREL.  Call (800) 882–673, email cdinfo@amrel.com, or visit computers.amrel.com.

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Windows 10 is here. Resistance is futile. [VIDEO]

Should you upgrade to Windows 10?  You should if:

  1. You don’t have enough anxiety in your life. Nothing like learning a new operating system to  raise dangerously low levels of stress.
  2. You really, really hate Windows 8. Microsoft set out to fix the mistakes of its earlier OS (The Start menu is back! Yay!).  This is why Windows 10’s unofficial slogan is “Now, 67% less annoying than Windows 8!”
  3. You absolutely, positively must play Xbox games on your laptop. There is an export feature that allows you to do this, and evidently it’s pretty cool.
  4. You have too much privacy and want to received personalized ads. Sure you can opt out of Microsoft’s snooping, but as Alec Meer of the gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun notes: “….  despite chest-thumping, we’re-all-chums-here talk about how ‘real transparency starts with straightforward terms and policies that people can clearly understand.’ There is no world in which 45 pages of policy documents and opt-out settings split across 13 different Settings screens and an external website constitutes ‘real transparency.’”

The consensus seems to be that Windows 10 is here to stay, possibly for a long time.  So, if you are a PC user, you will be using Windows 10. Before you upgrade, you  may want to wait for awhile until some of the bugs shake out.

For a more comprehensive review with considerably less snark, watch the video below.

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WIN-T sees the light of day

After more than a decade of hit-and-miss and one-step-forward/two-steps-backward development, the CS-13 (Capability Set 13)  is finally being deployed with combat troops.

CS-13 includes:

  • Nett Warrior (squad leader networking)
  • Win-T (Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2)
  • BFT 2 (Blue Force Tracking 2)
  • Company Command Post
  • Tactical radios such as AN/PRC-117G and Rifleman Radio
  • Combat smart phones

Even allowing for the usual mess of confusing acronyms, these communication programs have been exceptionally difficult to track. In response to rapidly changing technology, end-user feedback, as well as new requirements, they have undergone constant transformation. Nett Warrior alone has gone through more changes than a nervous teenage girl preparing for a date.

Strategy page has a detailed look at this complex and multilayered communications initiative. Their article is reprinted in full below:

After two years of testing the U.S. Army is putting its new communications system; Win-T (Win-T Increment 2) into service with combat troops. This comes after lots of development and testing. Back in 2013 four combat brigades were equipped with CS-13 (Capability Set 13), which includes Win-T, for testing under realistic conditions. That resulted in several changes to the hardware and software and final approval of the system. Now units headed for combat are being equipped. The first two units to receive Win-T are Stryker brigades in Texas and Washington State.

CS-13 consists of several different technologies the army has been developing since the 1990s. Some of these items have already been in combat. CS-13 includes Nett Warrior (an effort to get networking down to the squad leader), Win-T (Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2, a battlefield Internet), BFT 2 (Blue Force Tracking 2 for tracking troop location in real time), Company Command Post (giving company commanders more data), and tactical radios like AN/PRC-117G, Rifleman Radio, and combat smart phones. CS 13 is the result of over a decade of effort to create better battlefield communications, including a combat version of the Internet. The final selection took between 2011 and 2013 as 115 systems were tested by troops and those found wanting (most of them) dropped.

WIN-T was designed to allow troops to simultaneously exchange text, data, video, and voice data using a new generation of radios. Personal computers and smart phones (including both off-the-shelf and “ruggedized” military models) can hook into WIN-T and use the future improved communications and networking. In effect it is wi-fi for a combat zone that provides Internet-like capabilities to troops who are under fire.

One of the new devices that have been in action the longest have gone through several generations of upgrades. Thus JBC-P (Joint-Battle Command Platform) is the latest version of BFT and has several improvements. The most welcome improvement was much faster (almost instantaneous) updates of information. The satellite signals are now encrypted and work no matter the weather, temperature of distance. While every vehicle is equipped with one of these devices, Individual troops on the ground now have a smartphone type BFT device that allows them to chat and quickly shows on the display the location of nearby JBC-P users and has a zoom capability similar to Google Earth. Troops can quickly update enemy locations, bombs or otherwise dangerous areas. These smartphones are typically worn on the forearm for easy use in combat. The purpose of all these improvements is to enable troops arriving (by land or air) in an area where contact with the enemy is expected to immediately go into action knowing where everyone (on foot or in vehicles) is and where they are moving to.

Company Command Post gives a company commander the ability to quickly send and receive (and sort out) text, voice, and data with his troops (three platoons consisting of nine squads and special teams of snipers and machine-guns). This provides company commanders, using a laptop and other gear that can be carried while on foot, the same kind of command post capabilities previously restricted to battalion, brigade, and larger headquarters.

The key radios in CS 13 are the AN/PRC-117G, the AN/PRC-154, and the combat smart phone. AN/PRC-117G is a 5.45 kg (12 pound) radio that can be carried or installed in vehicles. About a third of its weight is the battery. It has a maximum output of 20 watts and handles FM, UHF, and VHF signals, including satellite based communications. On the ground max range is 20 kilometers (depending on hills and the antenna used). The U.S. has been using the AN/PRC-117 since the late 1990s, as an interim radio, and found it a solid piece of equipment. The AN/PRC-117 is based on a commercial design (the Falcon series) that several foreign armed forces and many civilian operations use. The AN/PRC-117 has been regularly upgraded in that time (going from version A to the current G). AN/PRC-154 (or RR for Rifleman Radio) are lightweight (1 kg/2.2 pound) voice/data radios for individual infantrymen. RR includes GPS and a battery good for over ten hours of use. The RR has been undergoing tests since 2010. For most of 2012, U.S. Army Rangers have been using them in Afghanistan. By itself, the two watt RR has a range of up to two kilometers. But it can also automatically form a mesh network, where all RRs within range of each other can pass on voice or data information. During the field tests this was done to a range of up to 50 kilometers. The RR can also make use of an aerostat, UAV, or aircraft overhead carrying a RR to act as a communications booster (to other RRs or other networks). The mesh network enables troops to sometimes eliminate carrying a longer range (and heavier) AN/PRC-117 for the platoon leader. The combat smart phone is a ruggedized Android smart phone, equipped to handle military communications via the mesh network.

CS-13 provides capabilities that, before September 11, 2001, where not expected until the 2020s. But because of all the American troops seeing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were opportunities to try out new equipment under combat conditions, and this accelerated the development process.

 

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The Lies of Net Neutrality: An Opinion Piece

Even by contemporary political standards, the debate about Net Neutrality has been clouded by an extraordinary amount of dishonesty. While legitimate arguments can be made in both sides, some common assertions are simply untrue. Furthermore, the people who are saying these deceitful things are often high-level bureaucrats or CEOs of internet companies who presumably should know better.

What is Net Neutrality?

The “default setting” of the internet is “neutral.” In theory, an end-user’s ability to download a PDF of his child’s school cafeteria menu is similar to that of downloading an ebook from Amazon. The end-user’s access is the same, in theory, no matter what the size of the website.

Internet Service Providers (ISP) sell internet access (bandwidth) to end-users, as well as to website owners. ISPs don’t like Net Neutrality and want to charge large content producers (such as Netflix) premium rates for higher-speed access to the their customers. This would create a “Fast Lane” model, in which the end user would experience slower downloads from smaller, less prosperous websites.

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It is no surprise that ISPs hate Net Neutrality, while content producers are in favor of it.

net neutrality table

As you might imagine, when billionaires fight, lawyers get rich. After attempts to enforce Net Neutrality were overturned by court cases, the FCC adopted several historic regulations governing ISP behavior, including:

  • No blocking of legal content
  • No throttling of Internet traffic on the basis of content
  • No paid prioritization of content

The FCC clarified that these rules prevent ISPs from “unreasonably interfering with or unreasonably disadvantaging” the ability of end-users and content providers to connect with each other. Furthermore the rationalization of “reasonable network management” must “primarily be used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management–and not commercial–purpose.” In other words, ISPs can’t use corporate doublespeak to justify arbitrary bills on end-users, or throttling access to websites.

Although previous court rulings had overturned Net Neutrality policies, these new FCC regulations essentially maintain the status quo. Historically, the internet has grown and thrived in “neutral” conditions.

In the wake of the FCC rulings, the media has been deluged with a torrent of fraudulent information. Take the quiz below and see if you can spot which quotes or talking points are false.

1. “We are for net neutrality, but some services should be prioritized over others.” Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Hoettges, New York Times

I thought I start off with an easy one. Hint: the above statement is like saying “I am for equal pay for equal work, but no woman should be paid as much as a man.”

2. “The Internet is not broken. There is no problem for the government to solve….The evidence of these continuing threats? There is none; it’s all anecdote, hypothesis, and hysteria.” Commissioner Ajit Pai, FCC Commissioner, fcc.gov

“Net Neutrality is unnecessary. It’s designed to solve problems that haven’t happened.” Talking Point.

 Let’s look at some “nonexistent” problems that have been reported by CNN:

  • Verizon blocked Google Wallet and PayPal phone applications. Presumably, it won’t block its own tap-to-pay product, Softcard.
  •  AT&T, Sprint,T-Mobile, and Verizon blocked or charged extra for tethering apps that make your mobile device a hotspot. Using Net neutrality reasoning, the FCC blocked these blocks.
  •  AT&T blocked FaceTime on Apple devices and Google Hangouts on Android devices.
  • Comcast throttled BitTorrent, legal as well as illegal content.

As FCC Commissioner Clyburn said, “This is more than a theoretical exercise. Providers here in the United States have, in fact, blocked applications on mobile devices, which not only hampers free expression, it also restricts…innovation by allowing companies, not the consumer to pick winners and losers.”

Bizarrely, anti-Net Neutrality FCC Commissioner Pai cites some of the above examples as “proof” that problems didn’t happened. He dismisses them as examples that are “picayune and stale.” I suspect that if he personally had been charged $20 a month for tethering a device, he would discover that one man’s “picayune” is another man’s “crime against humanity.”

 3. “The Obama Administration needs to get beyond its 1930s rotary-telephone mindset and embrace the future,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, NPR.

“The FCC’s pro-Net Neutrality decision is based on 1934 law that was designed for outmoded technology.” Talking point pushed by ISPs.

In the first place, laws written for one technology are constantly being applied to newer ones. For example, the President couldn’t kick Rush Limbaugh off the air on the basis that “Freedom of the press” doesn’t apply to radio and television. Personally, I would love for Mitch McConnell to declare before the National Rifle Association that the Second Amendment was written for muskets and front-loading rifles, so it couldn’t possibly apply to modern weapons. Heck, I would pay money to see that speech.

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However, the main problem with this talking point is that it is has a false premise.  The FCC Net Neutrally rulings weren’t just based on the 1934 law, but also the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and a 2010 court ruling, both of which specifically permit the recent FCC actions.

So, the people pushing this particular talking point are either lying or just plain stupid.  Hint: they’re not stupid.

 4) “Net neutrality has not been necessary to date. I don’t see any reason why it’s suddenly become important, when the Internet has functioned quite well for the past 15 years without it…Government attempts to regulate technology have been extraordinarily counterproductive in the past.” Peter Thiel, PayPal founder and Facebook  Wikipedia

“The Internet is not broken, and it got here without government regulation and probably in part because of lack of government regulation.” Max Levchin, PayPal co-founder. Wikipedia

“The Internet has thrived in the absence of net neutrality rules, thank you very much.”  Robert M. McDowell, a former FCC commissioner turned telecom lawyer in Washington, D.C. Wikipedia

The government created the Internet (Thank you DARPA). The Internet has always been regulated. If not for the early government oversight, we would have a byzantine patchwork of private internets that would be unable to communicate with each other. Furthermore, the FCC Net Neutrality rulings are not an attempt to impose new conditions, but are measures design to preserve the environment under which the Internet has prospered.

I’m not sure if the above quotes count as actual lies. People have very emotional beliefs about government regulations that cause them to say all sorts of strange things. Sort of like those folks who are fearful that the “Government is trying to take over Social Security!”

 5.“Net neutrality does not eliminate the Fast Lane. Lack of competition among the ISPs is the real problem.” Talking point.

Although this statement has been made to criticize the recent FCC rulings, it is actually true.

Fast Lanes currently exist. High end content and hosting providers add “nodes” to the “Backbone” of the Internet, i.e. they build hardware solutions to deliver their large volume of content. These types of Fast Lanes benefit everybody, because they increase the overall carrying capacity of the Internet. Net Neutrality bans the type of Fast Lane solutions in which the flow of content is artificially restricted.

Lack of competitions among ISPs is a real problem. For a more complete explanation of Fast Lanes and ISPs, see the excellent article by Robert McMillan in Wired.

6. “Net Neutrality advocates do not understand the Internet.” Talking point.

Among the people who testified in front of the FCC in favor of the Net Neutrality was Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Are we to assume that the man who designed the World Wide Web doesn’t understand the Internet? Another high profile supporter of Net Neutrality is Google.  They also do not understand the Internet?

What is especially annoying about this talking point (aside from the fact that it usually delivered in an arrogant, condescending manner) is that the more you know about the Internet, the more likely you are to be in favor of Net Neutrality.

The web designers, software engineers, IT guys, and all rest of the intellectual workers who support the Internet are a politically diverse bunch. However, they are united in their support of Net Neutrality.  It’s easy to see why.  Many have dreams of sitting in their garage or a dorm room, and building the next Facebook or Google. Without Net Neutrality, those dreams are ash.

7. “The recent FCC rulings open the door to taxing the Internet.” Talking Point.

This talking point is true. The FCC swears it won’t use this ruling to implement taxes, but more than a few people are suspicious of this promise.

This is a legitimate criticism of the ruling (unless you are in favor of taxing the Internet, but that’s another issue). Unlike most of the criticisms presented in this article, it actually informs the listener, rather than confuse them.

This is why I have deliberately chosen to use the inflammatory description of the other anti-Net Neutrality arguments as “lies.” These talking points are designed to deceive.

As has been pointed out by observers, ISPs often use very different arguments when addressing stockholders than the FCC. While they loudly complain of the economic hardship posed by these regulations, their stockholder letters are full of cheery optimism.

Even though I am in favor of Net Neutrality, I do think there are legitimate arguments to be made against it. Unfortunately, its opponents have chosen the route of propaganda, rather than education.

 8) Finally one last example:

“US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) this week filed legislation she calls the ‘Internet Freedom Act’ to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s new network neutrality rules.” Arstechnica.

Is the “Internet Freedom Act” an accurate name? What do you think?

 This post is the opinion solely of the author and does not reflect the positions of AMREL or its other employees. Comments can be mailed to editor@amrel.com (comments may be used in future postings).

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BYOD Pros & Cons [INFOGRAPHIC]

For years, “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) has been a dependable staple of top tech trend lists.  Originally started by employees demanding to use their own devices for business purposes, companies realized that they could boost productivity and decrease costs by adopting BYOD.

Should your enterprise adopt BYOD? Below is a summary of the pros and cons.

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Employees are happy to pay employers’ costs

To a certain extent, BYOD is part of a larger trend of employers shifting costs to employees. Some cost-conscious companies have declared long-time workers to be independent contractors. Workers are not only stripped of benefits, but also forced to pay for their own equipment.

The irony is that BYOD is often demanded by employees. The increased cost to them is usually negligible (they have personal smartphones anyway), and they are saved the hassle of dealing with a separate business device.

The first response by enterprises to BYOD is often negative. IT hates the nightmare of supporting apps for multi-platform use. More importantly, employers worry about securing proprietary information on the employees’ personal devices, which is by far the number one objection to BYOD.

A pretty good example of this is the military. When soldiers started bringing their own devices into theater (even into combat), the military was initially appalled.  How could they possibly keep information secure on consumer devices?

While the security issue is still not resolved, the military is actively exploring BYOD.  For one thing, they see it as a way of leveraging the leading edge of consumer technology.

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Work better by checking your personal email

Probably the single biggest benefit of BYOD is increased employee productivity.  Given the flexibility of choosing their own device, applications, and service plans, workers have been extremely innovative in increasing their efficiency. Another reason for increased productivity is that employees are more likely to work on business activities during their personal time if they can do so on their own devices. Counter-intuitively, according to an exhaustive international study by Cisco, performing personal tasks during business hours also increases employee productivity. Think about that the next time the boss yells at you for playing Clash of Clans.

BYOD = Mobility

It is no coincidence that BYOD emerged as smartphones and tablets conquered the world. Smartphones is the overwhelming device of choice for BYOD with tablets rapidly gaining ground.

Some enterprises have seen BYOD as an efficient way to “go mobile.” No longer anchored to the office, employees can work from home or on the road. Switching work activities from desktop to smartphones is also considered beneficial, because “smartphones are the wave of the future,” i.e. all the cool kids are doing it.

Indeed, mobile phone use is so closely tied to BYOD that their benefits have become blurred. People touting BYOD talk about the wonderfulness of networking employees as well as the importance of sharing and distributing information. When the negatives are discussed, increased use of corporate Wi-Fi is sometimes mentioned, a phenomena that would happen with business-issued smartphones as well.

Your mileage may vary

By any standard, BYOD has been successful. According to Cisco’s study, “….69 percent of IT decision makers (up to 88 percent in some countries) feel that BYOD is a positive development for their organization.”

You may read BYOD enthusiasts citing costs benefits of BYOD. Cisco’s report states that companies can save up to “$1,650 per mobile employee.” The problem with these claims is that benefits are far from uniform.

For one thing, local culture plays a big factor. I wasn’t surprise to learn, for example, that workers using BYOD in Germany had negligible productivity gains. This is just anecdotal evidence, but an inventive acquaintance of mine went nuts working in Germany. He performed every task efficiently, under budget, and before deadline, but his employers hated him.  In the US, employers tell workers to perform task X and will often let them decide how to do it. In fact, they will encourage them to come up with new ideas. In Germany, my friend was told to “perform task X by completing the following steps…” Despite the fact that he successfully did his job, his original approach upset his superiors.  If you live in a culture (or work in a company) that doesn’t value employee innovation, you are unlikely to benefit from BYOD.

Everybody is a winner! (Except for those who lose)

Some supporters will spout various numerous financial benefits of BYOD (“20 to 30% savings!”) without mentioning that these high numbers apply only to the small minority of companies that employ “comprehensive BYOD.” “Comprehensive BYOD” is a term used by Cisco to describe systematic preparation for enterprise-wide integration of BYOD. Unfortunately, it is far more common for enterprises to have a poorly thought-out ad hoc approach for BYOD adoption. See insert below for Cisco’s list of “comprehensive BYOD” capabilities.

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BYOD 2

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Some of the items in the above list illustrate a serious drawback to BYOD. If an enterprise adopts the “comprehensive BYOD” approach, employees may object to the loss of privacy. It is one thing to have monitoring software on a company desktop, but it is another to concede even partial control of your personal smartphone to an employer.

In conversation on a social website, a BYOD supporter claimed that some of these problems can be avoided through cloud applications. Say you’re a company with a highly prized list of clients. Your salesmen want access to this list on their personal smartphones.  Fine you say, as long as you can remote wipe the data on their phones. After all, you don’t want them quitting and taking the list to a competitor.

However, your salesmen are uncomfortable with their employer having any kind of control whatsoever over their personal devices. A solution is posting the list on the cloud (many Customer Relationship Management apps are cloud-based anyway). This solution doesn’t completely eliminate the problem of “data walking out the door,” but it does allow salesman to access to sensitive information, without feeling that their boss is snooping around their phone.

Look before you BYOD

Before adopting BYOD, you need to examine your specific situation. If you operate in a medical environment, how will you address the rather-strict rules on patient privacy? If you want your students to use their own devices for homework, what precautions do you need to curtail cheating? The benefits of BYOD are real, but as with any innovation, you should think carefully before adopting.

 

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The Big African Mobile Phone Market

Many of you probably know that Asia is the largest mobile market in the world. Did you know that Africa is the second largest? According to a posting in Quora.com,

“Digital technology is fast becoming a part of everyday life in Sub-Saharan Africa: by the end of 2014 it is forecast that there will be over 635 million subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa (over 950 million inhabitants). This is predicted to rise to around 930 million by the end of 2019.”

“The mobile phone is a leading communication device in the Sub-Saharan consumer market. Mobile users in the region have shown a preference for using their device for a variety of activities that are normally performed on laptops or desktops. Mobile banking is one such example where digital services, via the mobile phone, have moved beyond urban centers to peripheral surroundings and beyond, with significant uptake and usage in rural areas.”

africa mobile

 

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For more charts, information and lots of photos of Africans using their mobile phones, click here.

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Counter IED training & Mobile Devices

C-IED & Mobile devicesWhen I researched this article about Counter Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) training, I couldn’t help thinking about communities near Tijuana in which the the homes are built out of discarded garage doors.  Garage doors aren’t the first thing anyone thinks of when building a house, but the people near the border didn’t have building materials.  So, they looked around and found what was available: discarded garage doors.

Similarly, the military has a problem: training.  As the land wars wind down in Asia (sort of), training domestically becomes more important.  Simultaneously, training budgets are being squeezed. Future operational goals are unpredictable, so training for diverse scenarios is necessary. Live training is expensive, so more has to be done with less.  Rapid technological change means rapid change in doctrine and tactics. It is important that feedback from ongoing missions be incorporated as soon as possible into training.

Just like the folks in Tijuana, the military looked around for available materials to solve their problems.  What they found were mobile devices.  Just like garage doors are not normally associated as the basic building materials for houses, nobody in boot camp ever told a soldier that their best friend is their smart phone.

So far, mobile devices have proven to be a pretty good fit. Mobile devices are excellent platforms for virtual programs, videos, interactive simulation systems, and smart books. Familiarity with specialized military apps allows the soldier to seamlessly transition to operations in which mobile devices are used as lightweight, mobile repositories for doctrinal manuals, as well as maintenance & technical manuals. They can even be used for educational games (in the past soldiers learned to identify soviet aircraft from specially designed playing cards).

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Their single most important quality of mobile devices is that they are dynamic.  No more paper manuals or books that are outdated by the time they are printed. Mobile devices can be updated instantly.

The embrace of mobile devices for training reflects a subtle, but meaningful change. The old model of attending a class where a teacher pours knowledge into a soldier’s empty heads is fading.  Instead, the soldier is trained to learn.  He is given personal responsibility for his education and he is expected to be disciplined about continuously improving his skill sets. He will carry this self-motivated attitude into the field, where he will need to constantly refresh his knowledge. The 24/7, anywhere, anytime nature of mobile devices fits this outlook perfectly.

The old formula to deal with the ever increasing burden of training soldiers was “train the trainer.” The new model may be described as “equip the learner.”

These trends are reflected in counter IED training. Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is tasked with countering the “number one killer of Soldiers on the current battlefields worldwide.”  As they state on their training webpage, “Because the IED threat is constantly changing, the counter-IED fight is dynamic, and maintaining effectiveness remains an enduring requirement of training solution development.”  Just like the rest of the military, JIEDDO has embraced mobile devices as a solution for the need of continuous training.

For the purposes of C-IED training, JIEDDO’s Instructional Technology Development Team (ITDT) developed what it describes as “Digital Learning Content products.”  It is telling that these “products” support several types of learning: institutional, operational, and self-development.  Just offering these options conveys an important message; a warfighter’s training never ceases.

Through its Joint Center of Excellence, (JCOE), JIEDDO has a small team of personnel located in Afghanistan conducting an exhaustive lessons-learned program.   Brigade and regimental combat team staffs are debriefed at 90-day, mid-tour, and post-deployment milestones.  Training is updated with relevant information.

Let’s formulate a hypothetical example in which updated information could be critical. The enemy favors planting IEDs on roads a military vehicle has previously used. Currently, warfighters use a map application on their mobile devices to avoid routes that have been already traveled.  Suppose the enemy wises up to this tactic? Considering the flexibility and ingenuity they have shown in the past, this is certainly possible. A sudden switch in tactics could make the most-used road the safest one. Thanks to mobile devices, a warfighter can be informed of this life-saving information in real time.

In keeping with the military’s aversion to committing to any specific hardware, these Digital Learning Content products are available on multiple platforms. The Digital Learning Content products described above were deliberately designed to function within a “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)” environment.

However, as the distinction between training and deployment becomes blurred, the military cannot ignore basic hardware issues.  If mobile devices are used for field training (and communication, situational awareness, and other purposes), how secure is it?  Is the information on it secure if a soldier is captured with his mobile device?   Is a password log-in good enough protection?   Is there a software solution that can thoroughly wipe the hard drive if the wrong key combination is pressed?   Or does it require a physical anti-tamper device that melts the whole thing down?  If it does have wireless and/or Bluetooth, how do you make it hack/virus/malware proof?

The military has focused on creating applications, specifically to avoid committing to one hardware device. Obviously, this is completely impractical for devices carried in theater.  Logistics for heterogeneous platforms would be a nightmare.

Which brings us to the critical issue of ruggedness. Commercial mobile devices, such as smartphones, are notoriously fragile. Obviously, fully rugged devices are needed in theater. If training is designed to seamlessly blend from stateside to areas of operations, doesn’t it make sense to use the same mobile device? Rugged mobile devices for domestic training would decrease the amount of downtime due to equipment failure and breakage.

JIEDDO has made significant progress in incorporating mobile devices into their training, and adjusting their doctrine to meet contemporary needs.  Still, more needs to be done.

For more information on rugged mobile devices, contact Rob Culver, AMREL’s Director of Business Development – DoD Programs. He can be reached at (603) 325 3376 or robertc@amrel.com.