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Proposed Standard Promises to Enhance Network Operations

Two major standards organizations are working on a proposed specification that promises to enhance current and next-generation converged, broadband, and IP networks and services. Agere Systems' application service resiliency(ASR) technology would help telecommunications carriers provide new prioritized, revenue-generating services for select traffic flows while reducing operational costs.

Graphic:

Figure    Two organizations are standardizing Agere Systems' application service resiliency technology, designed to maintain application-service continuity regardless of failures in current and next-generation converged, broadband, and IP networks. ASR would help mission-critical and delay-sensitive services and enable telecommunication carriers to offer prioritized, revenue-generating services for select traffic flows. Customers would tag high-priority traffic, and the ASR algorithm would then multicast the data along two paths. Because there are two flows, a system could use one if network problems interrupt transmission of the other.

The International Telecommunication Union's Next Generation Networks Focus Group and the American National Standards Institute's T1S1 and T1A1 groups are working on standardizing ASR for converged voice, video, and data networks.

ASR is designed to maintain application-service continuity regardless of failures in the communications network such as fiber cuts, unplugged equipment line cards, and remote-network failures, according to Chris Hamilton, Agere's director of strategic marketing.

Carriers could offer such reliability levels on specific traffic flows designated by customers, rather than having to provide them for all traffic on a network as has been the case in the past. Providers typically have had to spend money to run two networks: one that provides reliability for high-priority traffic and another for other traffic.

ASR would eliminate this expense, Hamilton explained. The technology would also let carriers make money by charging for service guarantees on important transmissions. High reliability is important for mission-critical and delay-sensitive services such as Internet telephony, streaming video, and e-commerce applications.

Network processors running Agere's unbreakable access algorithms—developed with firms such as British Telecommunications, Fujitsu, and Marconi—would implement ASR.

Customers would tag traffic—for example, within an IPv4 or IPv6 header—for service reliability. The ASR algorithm would then multicast the same set of data along two paths, telling routers, switches, and other networked devices along the way that the traffic is high priority, Hamilton explained. Because there are two flows, a system could use one if network problems interrupt transmission of the other.

The processor running the algorithm includes related vital functions such as traffic classification and management for IP applications and services.

In the past, IP networks used rerouting mechanisms to deal with network failures. However, this approach requires using multiple routers to recalculate proper traffic paths, a process that takes several seconds, which is too long for real-time, mission-critical services.

Mark Seery, IP infrastructure program director with RHK, a market research firm, said ASR is an example of using packet-based technology to improve network services. However, he added, implementing this new approach could be expensive at first, and "it's not clear to me whether this is a burning problem that needs to be solved today."

Agere is working with AT&T, Cisco Systems, and Nortel Networks to refine ASR for standardization. The specification is scheduled to go to ITU study groups this summer and, after standardization—slated for later this year—to the ANSI, Hamilton explained.

Casinos Bet on RFID Technology

In an effort to improve marketing and stem fraud, casinos around the world are starting to use a high-tech innovation in a low-tech piece of equipment: betting chips that contain radio-frequency identification technology.

Graphic:

Figure    Casinos around the world are beginning to use radio-frequency identification technology within betting chips to improve marketing and prevent fraud. The RFID chips could track whether individual gamblers are betting enough money to qualify for perquisites, gather data for analysis to determine whether players are cheating or violating card-counting policies, or spot possible employee improprieties.

RFID uses electromagnetic or electrostatic coupling in radio frequencies to send signals that identify a host object to another system. An RFID system has an antenna, a transceiver, and a transponder that contains the radio circuitry and the host system's identifying information. The transponder sends the antenna the identifying signals for transmission to a processing device.

RFID has been touted as a replacement for the bar code technology used to identify store merchandise. Casinos, though, are using RFID to identify chips and monitor gambling activity. For example, casinos can give RFID chips to gamblers and then keep track of how much they bet. The casino could then reward large-scale gamblers with freebies to keep them coming back, noted Russel McMeekin, president and CEO of RFID chip vendor Progressive Gaming International.

RFID systems could also gather data, analyze game activity, and use statistical models to alert management of a player's winning streak that could be due to cheating or card counting, a legal practice that casinos don't permit because, they say, it gives gamblers an unfair advantage.

The Wynn Las Vegas hotel, scheduled to open in the near future, will use RFID equipment to tell the casino's computer systems if someone is using counterfeit chips or tries to alter a chip's redemption value, explained David Sisk, the casino's senior vice president and chief financial officer.

The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is installing RFID readers and computers at game tables, with antennas located at each gaming seat, said Bart Pestrichello, the facility's vice president of casino operations.

The technology could register the wagers when the dealer closes all betting, thereby catching players who try to surreptitiously add chips if they have a good hand or remove chips if they have a bad hand.

The system could also record activity at a table for bookkeeping purposes and to detect whether dealers consistently can't reconcile the chips they have with what should be on hand, a possible sign of theft.

In addition to chips, casinos typically also must buy equipment such as RFID readers, computers, and networking gear. The Wynn says it is spending about $750,000 on the technology.

Manufacturers of RFID equipment for casinos are trying to make the technology faster. Currently, an RFID-equipped game table requires seven seconds to read 100 chips, which is too slow for fast-moving games such as baccarat, pai-gow poker, or roulette.

This fall, McMeekin noted, Progressive Gaming expects to have equipment that can read chips within 0.7 seconds. "That will satisfy any application," he said.

Using Technology to Save Drowning Victims

A pair of companies has developed a computer-vision-based drowning-detection system that has already saved five lives.

Vision IQ and Poseidon Technologies have developed the Poseidon system. "This is not designed to replace lifeguards but rather to assist them in recognizing a person in trouble," explained Joshua L. Brener, principal and founder of the Water Solutions marketing firm, which is in charge of US marketing for Poseidon Technologies.

According to Brener, lifeguards have difficulty seeing everything that happens in a large pool, particularly under water. According to Brener, 500 people drown in lifeguard-protected pools every year in the US alone.

Poseidon uses computer vision to recognize texture, volume, and movement within a pool. The system consists of a network of cameras that are under water in areas at least seven feet deep and overhead in shallower sections. The system does not work in water less than two feet deep. A typical pool could have four to six overhead cameras and three or four digital cameras under water.

The cameras survey the pool and gather information that they feed into a PC, to which they have been hardwired. Two algorithms examine the camera output. One recognizes volume and can distinguish the difference between, for example, a shadow and a body. The other distinguishes textures and can thus recognize the difference between a towel and a body.

If the system recognizes something with the volume and texture of a person at the pool's bottom moving at less than two-tenths of a meter per 10 seconds—the maximum speed of a typical drowning victim, according to Vision IQ—it transmits a visible and audible alarm to lifeguards.

This enables a fast response, explained Brener, who said this is important because "a person in a moderately warm pool could live for only a few minutes before oxygen deprivation to the brain causes damage."

Poseidon has an added function that alerts lifeguards if the pool needs to be cleaned so that the visualization system can "see" properly.

The system can also record rescues, as well as activities such as fights and assaults. Said Brener, "The video can see a person go to the bottom, see the alarm, see how long the rescue took, and watch the lifeguard's technique. The video is time-tagged so there is a record of what happened."

Poseidon is installing 50 systems in the US and 90 in Europe, mostly in indoor swimming pools.

Cell Phone Technology Detects Gases, Odors, Even Bad Breath

A European research team is developing sensor technology so small, it could fit inside a cell phone and detect a variety of gases, including those that indicate the presence of hazardous substances or even bad breath.

Siemens' Corporate Technology Department is working on two principal gas-sensing technologies, according to Maximilian Fleischer, the department's senior principal engineer and project manager for gas sensors.

"One is the use of very small ceramic chips," he explained. "They are suspended in the surrounding air by thin wires and heated—like the glowing wire of a small bulb—to several hundred degrees Celsius." The chips carry semiconducting metal oxides that, when heated, interact with the surrounding air and indicate the presence of a target gas by measuring a change in electrical resistance.

The other gas-sensing approach uses a chip with field-effect-transistor transducers with receptor materials sensitive to gases. When the materials react to the presence of a gas, they create a small electrical voltage that activates a warning to the user. "By using a multitude of sensitive spots equipped with different sensing materials, these chips can detect and distinguish several different gases at once," Fleischer noted. He said the technologies could have a variety of applications, such as detecting natural gas leaks or ozone levels too high for safe jogging.

Fleischer said Siemens is still researching both gas-sensing approaches. "Initial tests have shown that various types of sensors are suitable for employment in mobile phones. The decision as to whether to sell mobile phones with gas sensors will not be made until there has been further progress in the research."

This would be part of a growing trend in which cell phones are used for functions in addition to making and receiving calls.

About the Authors

News Briefs written by Linda Dailey Paulson, a freelance technology writer based in Ventura, California. Contact her at ldpaulson@yahoo.com.
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