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4G Breathes New Life Into Old PC

December 22, 2010 1 comment

At the test in Starbucks, the Verizon 4G wireless modem tested just great on reasonably up-to-date compters.  Verizon rolled out is fourth generation wireless broadband service to some 40 locations last month.  Speed test pages downloaded way faster than with a 3G cellular modem.

But, I wondered, would 4G show any difference on a sort of crappy old PC? About a year ago I bought a refurbished ThinkPad with a 40G hard disk and I-don’t-know what processor. And, of course, Windows XP. This one is old enough that it’s an IBM, not a Lenovo. I keep it around as a computer-of-last-resort if the other assorted machines around the house fail. Safari is the machine’s only saving grace. I simply can’t tolerate the crawling pace of Internet Explorer.

The VZ Access software supplied by Verizon installed with no problem. And it found the modem just fine. You never know with old PCs. The 4G modem is supplied by LG. It plugs into a USB port. With a somewhat ungainly design, it’s better to use the supplied USB extension cord.

The 4G reception inside of my house was adequate (the Washington, D.C. area is one of Verizon’s initial locations). Two of four bars lit up.

But, what do you know, web pages downloaded with surprising crispness, obviously faster than the 802.11n WiFi that is running in my house. The Thinkpad’s WiFi card is only 802.11g anyhow.  More surprising, pages loaded seemingly as fast as a wired Ethernet connection to my FIOS service. A test at bandwithplace.com showed the reality of 8.81 megabits per second download and 2 megabits per second upload. Not wire speed, but an order of magnitude faster than 3G wireless.

So in my estimation, the investment in a 4G broadband data plan is worth it even on a relatively slow machine.

Is Centcom a WikiLeaks culprit?

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The WikiLeaks fiasco might be called the mother of data exfiltraton. And as is often the case in the sloppy aftermath of disasters like this, not one looks particularly good. Certainly not the federal government.

Julian Assange, the purported founder of WiliLeaks, looks like the sort of creep who torments small animals. The private first class suspected of being the source of at least some of the material posted on WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, could end up spending a very, very long time in military prison if he is found to be in fact the source of even some of the leaks. We’ll never know his motivation.

But what about keepers of the Central Command servers who were apparently unaware of what was going on?

Centcom is “criminally negligent” in the view of former federal honcho Richard Clarke. He said so at a conference put on today by CyberSecurity Seminars at Georgetown University. Clarke said he was “appalled” that Centcom didn’t seem to be running any of several software packages commercially available that alert network administrators to mass downloading or attempts at such, or other anomalous behavior.

“The people really responsible are the people who set up this network,” Clarke said.

Criminally negligent is a harsh way of describing the organization’s culpability. Regardless of whether the negligence is criminal, Centcom and the State Department and wherever else the WikiLeaks data came from have plenty of company. Corporate exfiltration is becoming a way of life, including in the military-industrial complex. The topic is discussed regularly in vertical industry forums and in cross-industry corporate function interest groups.

The whole WikiLeaks story isn’t out. I suspect Assange and his cohorts are fronts — and fall guys — for some large group, perhaps a rival nation, that is trying to harm the United States. Satisfying as it might be to zap WikiLeak servers, and it wouldn’t be hard to do, the pleasure would be fleeting. Because servers, to determined groups like WikiLeads will keep reproducing the material on other servers ad nauseum. As Clarke out it, forget about trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube.

From a technology standpoint, no federal agency can control the behavior of a WikiLeaks. But it can invest in the readily available technologies that tag data electronically and subject it to rules limiting its opening, sharing downloading, forwarding, copying or printing. An agency can install any number of products that comb log files for behavior worth looking further at. And it can sharply restrict what gets classified in the first place. Much of what it in WikiLeaks is boring or inconsequential in the first place.

U.S. 4G battle is joined

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment

The battle of the wireless coverage maps is about to go up a notch. Verizon Sunday night switched on its long term evolution (LTE) wireless 4G service. The company is promising 7 megabits to 12 megabits per second downlinks and 3 megabits to 5 megabits uploads — that is, up to 10 times faster than its 3G network. Those are roughly the speeds promised by Sprint, which until now has had the 4G broadband wirelesss market to itself in the U.S. Verizon’s service will be available in 38 cities and 60 airports initially, including the Washington D.C. area and its three major airports.

Bernie McGonagle, Verizon Wireless’s associate director of federal government data solutions, said the service should be available on the GSA Networx contract and other vehicles shortly, but that it had to be up and running before the company could add 4G to existing purchasing vehicles.

The service is available via two USB modems. McGonagle said Verizon will offer 4G smart phones by mid-2011.

For the technically-minded, the services uses frequency division multiplexing, a way of using bandwidth efficiently that’s analogous to wave division multiplexing in optical networks. McGonagle said use of multiple input-multiple output antennas both at the tower and device ends helps maintain signal continuity at long distances from the nearest tower and faster throughput at closer distances. Verizon’s implementation will use a 2 x 2 antenna setup initially. He added that lower latency in 4G transmissions will noticeably improve the display of video and audio content on portable devices.

McGonagle said Verizon is also adding megabit Ethernet to its towers so the terrestrial backbone itself will be less of a bottleneck. Plus, a set of services called IP multimedia subsystem is maintains sessions as locations and transport protocols change.

Verizon’s 4G service will also use the 700 MHz spectrum formerly used for television broadcasting. The company obtained the spectrum, known as Upper C Block,  in an FCC auction in 2008. Google had entered the fray, using its clout to have open access rules attached to the sale, but it is unclear at this point how that will translate into services to users.

For now, both modems available from Verizon — one a Pantech and one an LG — receive both 4G and 3G network data. They will be priced at $99 retail. Plans are not cheap, at $50 per month for a 5 gigabyte limit and $80 for 10 gigabytes, and $10 per gigabyte it you exceed your plan.