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What is NFC? What is the smartphone mobile payments technology known as Near Field Communications? March 6, 2011

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Mobile Software Applications, Telecommunications, Wireless Applications.
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It has been several years now that I have been reading and hearing about mobile phone toting consumers being able to purchase soft drinks from vending machines through the use of SMS texts to the vending machine.

The possibilities of a mobile digital wallet, a North American equivalent of European Smartcards and mobile SMS payments systems, to be used as a payments service for smartphones, certainly include the hypothetical future displacement of the cash register as the payment method of choice for consumers on the go.

NFC, or Near Field Communication, may perhaps have such a potential.

Since the middle of December, in and around Portland, Oregon, Google has been handing out hundreds of NFC kits to local businesses as part of an NFC trial they are calling “Hotpot”.

The Google Hotpot kits include special NFC-capable window decals. NFC is a low power technology that beams and receives wireless information from up to four inches away. When consumers with NFC-equipped telephones such as the latest models of Android operating system cellular phones, scan a NFC-equiped window decal, they will be presented with information on their mobile device such as business hours, reviews, and more.

The hope is that the increasingly mobile consumer will willingly engage with local merchants using this new technology, allowing merchants to interact with the generations of consumers growing up with texting and mobile smartphones in their pockets.

2011 is really shaping up to be the year of NFC, with Google considering building an NFC-based payment service in the U.S. that could make its debut later this year. The technology would let customers pay for items by passing their smartphone over a small reader. A single NFC chip would be able to hold a consumer’s bank account information, gift cards, loyalty cards, and coupons, say the two people, who requested anonymity because the plans aren’t public. Google’s NFC scheme includes an advertising component that would allow merchants to beam a coupon or other reward to customers while they are shopping.

Of course, advanced smartphone owners can already complete mobile transactions by downloading payment applications. Paypal’s iPhone iOS application, for example, lets PayPal users transmit funds to other PayPal account holders. But NFC technology could potentially streamline such transactions. Users of advanced smartphones equipped with NFC technology don’t need to launch an application; they simply wave or tap their smartphone against a small reader device and enter a PIN number on it to authenticate their purchases.

A Google NFC network offering would encounter stiff competition from the start from the likes of companies such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, the three of whom in November 2010 formed a joint commercial venture called ISIS that plans to launch an NFC-based payments service by 2012. Visa is also field testing several mobile payment technologies, including NFC, and plans a commercial rollout later this year. It is rumored that PayPal, a division of eBay, may test an NFC service in the second half of 2011 as well.

Silicon Valley is hard at work on NFC technology too, with Apple having filed a patent for a process to transmit money between cellular telephones using NFC. Apple recently hired NFC expert Benjamin Vigier away from mFoundry, a startup that helps banks build mobile payments applications. If the next iPhone does come equipped with an NFC chip, then perhaps Apple will process mobile payments through Apple’s iTunes store.

The increased competition and jockeying for position in the NFC space is undoubtedly due to the high stakes involved, as the prize for whoever wins the NFC race is a dominant position in a small but fast-growing market that could displace the cash register in time. A leading market research firm, IE Market Research, estimates that by 2014, NFC-based payment systems will account for a third of the $1.13 trillion in worldwide mobile transactions.

In mid-December, Google, whose former CEO, Eric Schmidt, has said that NFC will “eventually replace credit cards”, in December 2010 bought Zetawire, a Canadian startup with several NFC patents to its name, including a novel method for diners to split up and pay a restaurant bill using their smartphones. If Google does decide to launch an NFC payments network, they would have the built-in advantage of its very large and rapidly expanding installed user base of Android smartphone owners. Every single day, around 300,000 people activate Android telephones, and they accounted for more than 25 percent of the new smartphones shipped in the third quarter of 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The latest version of Google’s smartphone operating system, Android, capable of reading NFC tags is dubbed Gingerbread. Later this year, software updates to Android will let Android smartphones transmit information using NFC as well. In December 2010, Google introduced its Nexus S smartphone, based on Android Gingerbread and carrying an NFC chip onboard. In January 2011, Starbucks announced that customers would be able to start using a bar-code application on their smartphones to purchase coffee in some 6,800 of its stores.

There are obstacles to widespread consumer adoption, however. For an NFC-based payments network to really work, Google needs to convince not just Android smartphone owners but also local merchants who must install NFC readers to process mobile payments. Hotpot, which Google has been promoting heavily, introduces merchants to the NFC technology. NFC is already in heavy use in parts of Asia and Europe.

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I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurshipecommercetelecommunications andsoftware development, I’m a Technical PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of TwitterMiners.com & Tshirtnow.net.

Verizon to open new Waltham, Massachusetts 4G & FiOS Innovation & Research Center April 19, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in events, Fiber Optics, Mobile Software Applications, Telecommunications, Wireless Applications.
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Verizon Communications Inc. says it plans to start building a new research center in Waltham, Massachusetts focused around 4G wireless Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. Verizon Wireless currently is piloting an LTE network deployment in parts of Boston. The new Verizon Waltham Technology Innovation Center will eventually house more than 300 scientists and researchers, officials said, most of whom are already working for Verizon in two exisitng buildings at that location.

In addition to its LTE research, the new Waltham campus will house researchers working on other Verizon offerings. LTE is the major focus of that building, but there will also be other Verizon work going on, including the further development of FiOS.

The campus at 117 West St. in Waltham will include three buildings once the new one is finished. In addition to the research space, it will house offices, as well as an executive briefing center.

As of August 2009, Verizon had 10 LTE 4G cell sites running around Greater Boston in its pilot deployment. LTE wireless service is expected to provide up to 10 times the speed – or about 8 megabits per second – of current 3G services. In March, Verizon announced that in its pilot deployments it was seeing average speeds of between 5Mbps and 12Mbps on a download in real world use, with peaks as high as 50Mbps.

Littleton’s Movik, a developer of software to speed delivery of content to mobile devices, has raised $8.5 Million in a Series B round of equity financing. December 16, 2009

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Littleton’s Movik, a developer of software to speed delivery of content to mobile devices, has announced it has raised $8.5 Million in a Series B round of equity financing led by Highland Capital Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners.

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Boston’s Roam Data, cell phone payment processing software maker, raises $6.5 Million in a Series B round of equity financing December 1, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Mobile Software Applications, Software, Startups, Venture Capital, Wireless Applications.
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Boston’s Roam Data, a developer of cell phone payment processing software that allows merchants to process payments over cell phones, has raised $6.5 Million in a Series B round of equity financing led by Ingenico Ventures (a unit of payment solutions provider Ingenico SAS) and George Wallner (founder and former CEO of Hypercom).

BitWave Semiconductor of Lowell, MA raises $1.33 Million from a group of undisclosed investors November 18, 2009

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BitWave Semiconductor, the programmable transceiver company based in Lowell, MA raises $1.33 Million from a group of undisclosed investors.

Westford, MA based wireless video technology company Aylus Networks Inc raises $5.7 Million in a Series C round of equity financing November 17, 2009

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Westford, MA based wireless video technology company Aylus Networks Inc raises $5.7 Million in a Series C round of equity financing from a number of undisclosed institutional investors.

Skyhook Wireless, based in Boston, makes chips that improve the performance of Google Maps on Nokia smartphones November 13, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Hardware, Microprocessors, Mobile Software Applications, Software, Telecommunications, Wireless Applications.
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Boston-based Skyhook Wireless is expected to announce next week that it’s releasing an application for Nokia smartphones that will give owners a far faster and more accurate fix on their locations. Skyhook’s $2.99 Maps Booster works on any Symbian S60 handset and will be available starting next week through Nokia’s new and much-heralded Ovi app store; it replaces the Symbian operating system’s built-in location-finding platform with Skyhook’s software, which then feeds location data directly to other location-aware apps such as Google Maps. The company says it created the program because Nokia phones are notorious for their slow performance in GPS mode. “With such high price tags, we think all features of Nokia smartphones should work perfectly,” Kate Imbach, Skyhook’s director of marketing and developer programs, said in a statement. “Maps Booster, finally, will make the location on any Nokia S60 device work just as well as location on the iPhone.”

Get ready for high definition cellular and landline telephone calls November 3, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Fiber Optics, Telecommunications, VUI Voice User Interface.
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For over forty years, the quality of telephone calls has changed very little. The shift in the 1990’s from analog to digital cellular technology promised crisper quality, but the results never panned out. Struggling with 30% annual increases in cellular traffic, cellular telephone companies used the improved technology to add capacity, not improved quality.

Today the demand for cellular minutes is nearing its zenith, with mature growth levels of only 3% in the past year. Now the relentless advance of digital technology advances in cellular communications can be used for purposes other than simply packing more telephone calls into the cellular airwaves.

To this point in time, the big U.S. carriers plan to use their growing capability to provide all sorts of data services, but eventually, the cost of better sounding voice calls will be too cheap to ignore. Today’s carriers convert telephone calls into 6,000 digital bits per second, a tight squeeze and the major reason telephone calls sound so poor today. In the tiny European country of Moldova, French wireless carrier Orange has now deployed the world’s first high definition cellular telephone network, which uses double the number of bits per second. The highs and lows of the human voice are not so badly mangled using the high definition cellular telephone system.

In the U.S., chipmaker Broadcom is working on new equipment that will allow even better-sounding telephone calls. 32,000 digital bits per second will produce voice quality that is virtually indistinguishable from face-to-face conversation. The technology portends a clear audible improvement over not just ordinary cellular telephones but also landline telephones, which chop off high frequencies, especially above 3 kHz, the frequency range in which much human speech falls into.

Another big problem with cellular telephone calls is the annoying apparent lag that occurs between the moment when one caller speaks and the time his voice reaches the other person’s ear. Many people assume that’s an inherent drawback of cellular telephones, but it is not. Wireless digital cellular signals fly through the air at the speed of light just as they do in optical fiber – the delays come from slow software and circuitous routing. The new Long Term Evolution (LTE) gear set for deployment next year should cut that lag by at least 75%, so much that most human ears won’t notice it anymore.

Landline telephones stand to gain from the same quality advances as well. Orange has already installed 500,000 high definition landline telephones in Europe that use voice over internet technology (VOIP). When this style of telephone connection first hit the scene, it was roundly criticized for its poor sound quality relative to traditional landline telephones, but Orange and other carriers, some of whom are in the U.S. like Vonage, have shown that better technology can close that quality gap and then some. Both cellular telephone and Internet landline telephone calls may soon sound terrific as a result.

How cellular service is provided in emergencies and for special events: COWs and COLTs May 19, 2009

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Frequently, natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes and hurricanes can destroy cellular infrastructure such as cell sites and switches. Fortunately, portable cellular equipment can be deployed to not only enable the continuation of normal cellular service but also provide extra cellular capacity in the case of a special event, such as conventions, major sporting events, and festivals. There are two main ways to provide this extra capacity or infrastructure replacement on demand: COWs and COLTs. A COW is a Cell site On Wheels, and a COLT is a Cell site on a Light Truck. The difference between the two is that a COW consists of cellular equipment on a flat-bed trailer that requires a hook-up to a truck tractor, whereas a COLT is able to be driven to a particular location for immediate deployment.

Both COWs and COLTs have their own batteries or generators, so they can operate independently of the availability of a local electrical supply.  Usually they have either one or two cellular towers that are used to communicate back to the local switch. Many of these portable cellular sites also have a small office and emergency supplies. COLTs are used more often in the event of a natural disaster, as their independent operation (no need to hook up to a truck tractor, smaller size and higher mobility) can be a boon to rapidly restoring cellular service for emregency crews and workers.

Extra cellular capacity is often required in the case of a major sporting event like the Olympics or during large political conventions. In such instances, repeaters make spectrum available inside buildings from nearby “donor” cell sites. Repeaters within radio range of the “donor” cell site are located at the convention hall or sporting event building to provide more capacity for cell users. This repeater can then redirect and extend cellular signals from the nearby donor cellular site into the convention hall or building.

What is the difference between Cellular and PCS? May 17, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Definitions, Fiber Optics, Mobile Software Applications, Telecommunications, Uncategorized, VUI Voice User Interface, Wireless Applications.
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Cellular is dual-classified as being inclusive of both analog and digital networks. Cellular networks began with analog infrastructures, and over time migrated this infrastructure to digital. In a cellular network, depending upon your location throughout the world, the operation frequencies are 800MHz to 900MHz band. Cellular infrastructure is generally based on a macrocell architecture. Macrocells involve a coverage area with a diameter of around 8 miles, and because of this large coverage area, cellular operates at high power levels, in a range of .6 to 3 watts.

PCS is a more recent technology, and has been all digital since inception. As with cellular, depending upon where you are located in the world, the frequency band of operation is in the 1.8GHz to 2GHz band. Instead of cellular macrocells, PCS uses two different infrastructures, both microcell and picocell. As these names imply, the coverage areas of these architectures are smaller than macrocells, around 1 mile in diameter. As a result, PCS uses much lower power levels – 100 milliwatts.

So the key differences between PCS and cellular are the frequencies in which they operate, coverage areas of their different cell architectures, and the power levels each uses to transmit signals. They work essentially the same way, use the same types of network elements, and perform the same functions.

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