JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2006 (Vol. 8, No. 1) pp. 11-15
1520-9202/06/$31.00 © 2006 IEEE
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
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Adjustments to Standard Delay WiMax Certification
According to InfoWorld, a set of clarifications to the standard for fixed WiMax released last November has held up the certification of the first official WiMax products. The industry group, WiMax Forum, will provide an update on product certification at the Wireless Communications Association (WCA) International Symposium and Business Expo in late January in San Jose, California. Though it's possible some certifications will be announced then, the group can't commit to it, said Jeff Orr, WiMax Forum's director of marketing.
WiMax is intended to be a standards-based form of wireless broadband in which products from different vendors are interoperable, potentially boosting competition and driving down prices through high-volume production. The first generation of WiMax products are based on the IEEE 802.16-2004, which the IEEE ratified in 2004. This standard defines a system for broadband to a home or office. Products are expected later this year. A later form of WiMax will allow for mobile telephone use.
Last year, the WiMax Forum said that it expected to certify at least three products as interoperable by the end of 2005. By November, working with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, it had already defined the tests to be run at Cetecom, a networking test facility in Spain. But a routine package of clarifications to the IEEE standard, called a corrigendum, forced the group to create additional tests and make other changes to the process, Orr said. By the time those changes had been made and the group was ready to start actual certification testing of products, the year had run out. The testing began in the first week of this year.
In December, a WiMax Forum official said the group hoped to announce the first certifications at the WCA conference in late January, but even that may have been overly aggressive. "At this moment in time, certification of specific products has not been completed, but we see certification as imminent," Orr said in an interview with InfoWorld. He defended the time-consuming changes, saying they were unavoidable. "If we had opted not to do it now, we would be doing it in the future," he said.
The first wave of certifications will cover only the basic standard, leaving additional features for security and guaranteed quality of service for later tests. Nevertheless, 30 companies have submitted products for testing in the first wave, Orr said. When the WiMax Forum announces its first certifications, they won't necessarily include 30 products, he said. Only three products are needed to establish interoperability under the group's rules.
Interoperability should not be a big concern to the first users of WiMax anyway, according to Manish Gupta, vice president of marketing and alliances at WiMax vendor Aperto Networks. Those users will probably subscribe to carrier services through a device with an outdoor antenna, which will be supplied and installed by the carrier. But later user devices are likely to be sold at retail outlets, so buyers will have to make sure they will work with a given carrier network, he said.
Planning and carrying out testing for even the basic features of a wireless standard entails many delays, and it's never easy to predict a completion date, according to people in the group and elsewhere who have grappled with the process.
With any technology, the first interoperability tests are the hardest nut to crack, according to WiMax analyst Monica Paolini of Sensa Fili Consulting.
Conformance with a standard is relatively easy to test because it only involves one standard and one product, she said. Interoperability testing involves at least three products, which may have been built to meet the standard, but in different ways, Paolini said. If the products can't talk to each other at first, that can require compromise among vendors. After they work out which approach should prevail, the vendors must change some products before they can complete testing.
It's a live process, and nobody really knows ahead of time what will come out of it and how to resolve any problems that may appear," Paolini said. That was true even in the case of technologies such as Wi-Fi, where so many products have now been signed off that certification seems like a slam dunk, she said.
Changes in the midst of interoperability testing typically involve small changes to software or firmware, according to Gupta of Aperto. A vendor that needed to make bigger changes—for example, changing 500 lines of code—would be pushed on to the next round of testing, he said.
"It's not an extensive, unlimited number of changes that can be made," Gupta said. "The turnaround time for this needs to be 20 or 24 hours, normally." However, the lab and other vendors have to wait for that work to be finished, further delaying approvals.
Later WiMax certifications should go faster because of the knowledge gained the first time around, Paolini said. In addition, test equipment vendors are working to automate tests that are now done manually, according to WiMax Forum's Orr.
Two Vendors Claim 'First' Pre-Standard 802.11n Chipsets
According to InformationWeek, Marvel and Broadcom both say they're ready to ship chipsets designed to increase bandwidth and make other improvements over 802.11g. In the wake of significant progress last month toward ratification of the next-generation Wi-Fi standard, these two vendors claimed to be the first to market with chipsets that support the pending specification.
An IEEE working group approved a draft specification for 802.11n last month, which will provide, at the very least, Ethernet-like speeds and a host of other improvements to the current 802.11g Wi-Fi standard. Final ratification of the standard could come later this year.
After approval of the draft specification, both Broadcom and Marvel claimed they were ready to ship Wi-Fi chipsets that adhered to the pending standard. Those chips, in turn, will enable WLAN equipment and consumer electronics vendors to offer prestandard routers, access points, adapters, and devices with embedded Wi-Fi connectivity.
Neither Marvel or Broadcom speculated about when equipment using their chipsets might appear in the marketplace, however.
Marvel said it aims its 88W836x chipsets at cell phones and consumer devices, and that the chipset will provide wireless speeds between 300 and 600 Mbps and will support Ethernet speeds as high as 1 Gbps. In addition, like Broadcom, the company also offers chipsets aimed at WLAN equipment.
Like Marvel, Broadcom said it has developed reference designs to help equipment vendors more quickly develop products using the chipsets.
The draft specification is often referred to as a "technical foundation" for the new standard, although specifics can change between now and final ratification. Most equipment vendors, however, enable users of pre-standard equipment to upgrade to the fully-ratified and certified standard.
CIOs Under Pressure to Grow Businesses
A survey released late last December by Gartner Inc. indicated that CIOs intend to move past security and cost-cutting efforts this year and concentrate more on making systems more externally focused to help businesses grow. The worldwide poll of 1,400 CIOs found that business expectations for IT have changed dramatically, and the shift is toward making systems more externally focused. CIOs intend this shift in focus to help businesses grow customer relationships, improve competitiveness, and increase overall efficiency Gartner said.
The study also found a "modest budget increase" expected for the third consecutive year. CIOs expected an average rise of 2.7 percent this year, compared with 2.5 percent last year. CIOs at companies planning to grow faster than the market expect to increase spending by 4.8 percent.
"That's huge," Gartner analyst Mark McDonald said of the latter number. "After years of IT doesn't matter, it must matter because people who are trying to grow are investing in it."
In a May 2003 article entitled "IT Doesn't Matter" in the Harvard Business Review, Nicholas G. Carr argued that IT would eventually become a commodity and no longer a differentiator for businesses, much like having electricity is no longer a competitive advantage, since every business has it.
CIOs on average listed, in order, the top five business priorities for IT this year as business process improvement, which also topped the list last year; controlling enterprise operating costs; attracting and growing customer relationships; improving competitive advantage; and improving competitiveness. The top five technology priorities were business intelligence applications, security technologies, mobile workforce enablement, collaboration technologies, and customer sales and service. Although security as a business concern fell to seventh place this year from second last year, it did not mean that security was no longer an issue, Gartner said. Rather, the focus will shift to maintaining secure systems.
"In general, CIOs and IT organizations have proven that they can manage that type of traditional work well," McDonald said. "Now they're showing that they're good business managers, so companies are expecting more."
Overall, the survey found that IT spending on security-related tools remained healthy at a projected average increase of 4.5 percent this year.
Among the critical challenges that CIOs listed for this year was building business skills into IT organizations. Needed skills included such management disciplines as relationship and sourcing, process design, and information design.
In addition, in growing IT's contribution to the business, CIOs told Gartner they would need to change the conversation with business managers from "what IT can do for me" to "how we will solve the problem together." The survey can be purchased on Gartner's Web site ( http://www.gartner.com) for $95.
Cisco to Enter Consumer Electronics
According to the Financial Times, Cisco Systems plans to enter the mainstream consumer electronics market as part of its plan to expand beyond computer networking equipment.
Cisco will battle Sony, Samsung Electronics, and others by selling products including radios, phones, and home theater systems, sold mostly through its Linksys home networks division. The paper cited comments from Charles Giancarlo, Cisco's chief development officer and the president of Linksys.
However, offering other networked electronics gear that can download content and distribute it around the home would only build on a strategy already under way.
In July of last year, for example, it paid $61 million to buy Kiss Technology, a Danish company that makes DVD players and other products that can connect to Wi-Fi and Ethernet networks. Linksys launched a product from that acquisition at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, the DP-600 DVD player, which it plans to ship by the end of March.
Other Linksys products announced at CES included the Wireless-G Music Bridge, for transferring audio from a PC to a stereo or other speaker system elsewhere in the house.
Linksys could use technology from its Kiss acquisition to make other networked consumer devices, Giancarlo told the Financial Times. Cisco apparently hopes that, in a world where consumer electronics gear is increasingly linked together to share content, its networking expertise will help it to compete with the established consumer electronics giants.
"Consumer electronics companies have been able to compete on a stand-alone device, but the dynamics of the market are changing," Giancarlo said. "The Internet and new networking requirements are enough of a disrupter for us to enter a new market."
Cisco's close relationship with content providers such as Yahoo Inc. could also boost its consumer efforts, according to Giancarlo. The Sonys of the world, meanwhile, will be relying on their established brands, innovation, and customer loyalty to maintain their positions.
Also significant to Cisco's consumer plans is its proposed acquisition of TV set-top-box maker Scientific-Atlanta Inc. for $6.9 billion, announced last November. Cisco sees future TV services being delivered over IP networks, a technology that underlies much of its business. It wants to offer service providers an end-to-end menu of products for delivering IP TV and bundled voice, video, and data services.
"As consumers demand more sophisticated information and entertainment services in their home, tightly coupled applications, devices, and networks will be essential," Cisco President and Chief Executive Officer John Chambers said when the company announced the Scientific-Atlanta deal.
Only around 4 percent of Cisco's revenue comes from sales to consumers today, but the consumer group has the potential for the fastest growth, Chambers said in an interview with Network World magazine.
Research company In-Stat is also bullish. It estimates that consumers worldwide will spend $16.1 billion on networked home entertainment products by 2009, more than a fourfold increase over the $3.9 billion spent last year.
China Overtakes US as Supplier of IT Goods
After almost a decade of explosive growth in its electronic sector, China has overtaken the US as the world's biggest supplier of IT goods, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Data in the report, released late last year, show that China's exports of information and communication technology—including laptop computers, mobile phones, and digital cameras—increased by more than 46 percent to $180 billion in 2004 from a year earlier, easily outstripping for the first time US exports of $149 billion, which grew 12 percent from 2003.
The figures compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, also reveal that China has come close to matching the US in the overall value of its trade in information and communications technology products.
The value of China's combined exports and imports of such goods soared to $329 billion in 2004 from $35 billion in 1996. Over the same period, the value of American information technology trade expanded at a slower rate, to $375 billion from $220 billion.
To some industry experts, the report is more evidence that China has made progress in its long-term plan to upgrade the capacity of its manufacturing as it strives to become a major economic power. "It confirms that the Chinese economy is really moving up the value chain from simple manufactured goods like textiles, shoes, and plastics to very sophisticated electronics," said Arthur Kobler, a business consultant in Hong Kong and former president of AT&T in China.
The most spectacular demonstration of China's ambition to become a consumer electronics heavyweight came in May of last year when Lenovo, the Chinese computer maker, paid $1.75 billion to buy IBM's PC unit. Also, analysts widely interpret China's efforts to impose its own technology industry standards across a range of consumer products, including mobile phones, digital photography, and wireless networks, as a strategy to dominate the global market for IT goods.
"Without trade barriers, China's information technology industry would have grown much faster," said Li Hui, head of China research for Investment Bank CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. It is non-Chinese companies that have driven much of the growth, with heavy investment from global giants like Intel, Nokia, Motorola, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems.
Figures from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce show that companies that had received overseas investment accounted for almost 90 percent of 2004 exports of high technology products. And non-Chinese companies are increasing their research and development in China in a bid to generate real innovation. "Now, R&D facilities are integral to their global manufacturing," said Kobler.
Leading integrated circuit manufacturers, however, have avoided setting up fabrication facilities in China to protect their chip designs and manufacturing technology.
But Li, the CLSA research chief, said, "Most [Chinese] equipment makers are getting close to cutting-edge technology."
Recently, China has unveiled a supercomputer capable of 11 trillion calculations per second, making it among the fastest anywhere in the world. Also, Tsinghua University has produced a microprocessor that matches Intel's Pentium II.
IBM Messaging Tools to Connect with Major IM Offerings
Users of Lotus and Domino products will be able to connect with IM (instant messaging) tools from Yahoo, AOL, and Google, and make Internet voice calls using technology from Siemens later this year, according to InformationWeek. In an announcement made late last month, IBM said that many of its commercial e-mail and collaboration applications will be able to connect with popular instant messaging products from major Internet vendors.
In an effort to maintain the relevancy of its pricey enterprise desktop software in a computing world that is becoming increasingly open, mobile, and ad hoc, IBM says it's working to let users of its Lotus and Domino products connect with IM tools from Yahoo, AOL, and Google. The connections will occur through a secure, real-time gateway based on the Session Initiation Protocol. IBM says the technology will be available sometime in 2006.
IBM foresees that, for example, members of a corporate marketing department could conduct instant polls with thousands of IM-using customers around the world without compromising the security of their corporate network. IBM also plans to make its Lotus Sametime IM tools available to Linux users and users of Apple's Tiger operating system with an eye to broadening that tools appeal.
IBM is also looking to cash in on the growing use of voice-based Internet communications in a bid to keep up with eBay's Skype and other VoIP (voice-over Internet Protocol) providers. The company says it's teaming with Siemens to offer Internet voice calls launched directly from Lotus and Domino software. The applications will include Siemen's HiPath software-based switching technology to enable the calls. Beyond classic calling features, IBM also plans to offer speech-enabled access to calendars, directories, and conference services in future versions of the software.
Record Bad Year for Tech Security
According to USA Today, 2005 saw the most computer security breaches ever, subjecting millions of US citizens to potential identity fraud.
Over 130 million intrusions exposed more than 55 million people in the US to a growing variety of fraud as personal data, like Social Security and credit card numbers, were left unprotected, according to the paper.
The US Treasury Department says that cybercrime has now outgrown illegal drug sales in annual proceeds, netting an estimated $105 billion in 2004. At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security's 2005 research budget for cybersecurity programs was cut 7 percent to $16 million.
In the end, it is difficult to gauge the true number of security failures because many companies are unaware they've been hacked.