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Quality Time on the Internet

By: Jimmy McGibney

Imagine the Waterford to Dublin train is free all the time. Four trains a day, five carriages on each train, but no ticket office, no booking system, and no restriction on the number of passengers that can get on the train. It’s easy to manage for Iarnroid Eireann as there’s no longer a need for conductors and ticket desks. It works well at certain quiet times, like Sunday mornings. Even at busier times, the train is quite comfortable on certain sections of the route, like the Waterford to Thomastown segment and maybe even on to Kilkenny, but gets congested and uncomfortable after that. One day, however, there’s a big match in Croke Park, and the normally quiet Sunday morning train is packed for the entire journey. Even on “normal” days, it’s impossible to predict in advance how busy the train is going to be as a few school tours could triple the number of people travelling.
The situation described above is very similar to today’s Internet. People do generally have to pay to get on the Internet, but this is like paying for the petrol or bus fare to get you to the train station. After paying for access (generally your phone call to a local Internet service provider), everything else is free – it doesn’t matter if you’re emailing your friend up the street or someone in Japan, nor how big the email is.
The traffic on the Internet, just like on the train, is unpredictable. Sometimes it’s quiet and you experience fast response times, and other times it’s congested and you’re thinking of the other interpretation of the WWW acronym – the World Wide Wait! Delays, errors and so on, may not be so serious if you’re sending email or even surfing the web. However, if you’re trying to use the Internet for real-time activities, like listening to music or having a telephone conversation, congestion can make it extremely difficult. The service provided by the Internet, often called “best-effort”, tries to do what you require as efficiently as possible, but provides no guarantees.
So how do we address this problem? Part of the solution is quality of service, and work is ongoing in the Internet technology community on techniques to provide this. From the point of view of the communications industry, there is a major incentive for providing services with quality guarantees – users might be willing to pay for these services. People are used to getting Internet services for free, as it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to pay for so-called “best effort” services – you’re probably not going to pay for transferring a file from A to B if you’re not fairly certain that it’s going to get there in reasonable time.
Let’s look again at our train analogy. One way to improve the passenger’s experience is to provide different classes of service. Of course if it’s still free or if all tickets cost the same, everyone will try to travel first class and we’re no further on – so the solution is to charge more for first class. Having a first class ticket does not guarantee a seat, but at least there is a better ratio of seats to typical demand, and thus a better chance of getting one. An alternative approach to improving quality is to allow passengers to make a seat reservation, again at a cost. Now the passenger traveling from Dublin to Waterford knows that they’re assured of a seat for the full journey, as does the passenger who gets on at Kildare. People are still allowed to buy (possibly cheaper) tickets without a reservation but they have no guarantees. On quiet days, it doesn’t make much difference but the day lots of school tours take place they feel they’re getting good value for money.
These two approaches, known as prioritisation and resource reservation, are precisely those being taken by the Internet standards community for managing data traffic so that users will be able to have a consistent experience of service quality, no matter when they connect. The TSSG at WIT are very active in this community, through several research projects.
Quality guarantees for the Internet are on the way. The only problem is that it’ll probably cost us. Hopefully we’ll get value for money!

The Mobile Worker (Part 2)

By: Catherine Skerritt

‘Flexible working’ is a broad term that describes all working practices that fall outside the traditional models of work.
Flexible working practices have resulted from advances in technology development particularly in telecommunications and computer applications. Communications technologies have freed companies and employees from work at a fixed time and place. FlexWork is a project funded by the European Commission as part of the research and development programme called the ‘Information Society Technologies’. FlexWork is managed by the Telecommunications and Systems Software Group (TSSG) a research arm of Waterford Institute of Technology. The FlexWork project hopes to promote the adoption of flexible working by companies so that they can become more efficient and profitable organisations and help the regional economy to grow more quickly.
Keeping in touch on the move
Almost all mobile phones in Europe make use of a technology called GSM. GSM was designed to provide good quality mobile voice services and to offer good security. A benefit for the international traveller is that the same system is used throughout Europe and in many other countries around the world. A complication is that not all GSM networks use the same radio frequencies and you really need a ‘dual-band’ phone if you travel extensively.
Most GSM networks also offer an extremely useful voice mail facility, so that people can leave messages for you if your phone is busy, switched off, or out of range of a transmitter. Any GSM phone can also send text messages to any other GSM phone. This has now encouraged many network operators to develop simple text-based information services giving, for example, traffic information and weather reports.
Seeing the popularity of text messaging, the industry developed a Wireless Applications Protocol (WAP) to deliver more sophisticated information services to the display screens of GSM phones. The idea was the users could surf cut-downs versions of Internet WEB pages using their mobile phones. WAP based services were launched in 2000 and are gaining in their popularity.
It has always been possible to use a modem to connect a GSM phone to a laptop computer and access the Internet, but the connection is very slow. The 3rd Generation mobile networks that are being planned around Europe are expected to make mobile data communication a practical reality.
In the mean time, operators are introducing a number of interim solutions, sometimes known as 2.5G. One such is HSCSD (high Speed Circuit Switched Data), which is a relatively inefficient (i.e. inexpensive) way of using the network for data and has not been widely offered in Europe.
For more advice on how to use the technologies available to you, visit the FlexWork website at www.flexwork.eu.com.

NOMAD

NOMAD: Next generation wireless software services: Modelling and Developing usable applications.

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The Mobile Worker (Part 1)

By: Catherine Skerritt
‘Flexible working’ is a broad term that describes all working practices that fall outside the traditional models of work.
Flexible working practices have resulted from advances in technology particularly in telecommunications and computer applications. Communications technologies have freed companies and employees from work at a fixed time and place. FlexWork is a project funded by the European Commission as part of the ‘Information Society Technologies’ research and development programme and is managed by the TSSG here at Waterford Institute of Technology. The FlexWork project hopes to promote the adoption of flexible working by companies so that they can become more efficient and profitable organisations and help the regional economy to grow more quickly.
Mobile computing allows you to take many of the facilities you have in the office out on the road with you. When used with your mobile phone, mobile computers let you work almost anywhere. Mobile computers come in two main types – portable (or laptop) PCs and personal digital assistants (or palmtops). A laptop PC is typically about the size of an A4 folder and can range in thickness from about 2 – 5 cm. They work off batteries for a few hours, or a mains supply and normally contain all of the features of a normal PC. Laptop PCs do not have quite the same power as normal desktop PCs, in terms of processor power or storage capacity, but are by no means underpowered. The cost of a laptop PC is generally about 50% more than the cost of an equivalent desktop PC. Laptop PCs run the normal operating systems and applications that are available on desktop PCs. A laptop PC gives workers the freedom to carry out almost all of their tasks in any location. They can also connect to their company’s network for file sharing by using a modem or via a mobile phone. Secure communications with a company’s network can be set up by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) over the Internet from a laptop (or PDA) to the company’s network.
For some purposes, even a laptop PC is too bulky. A smaller class of mobile computer, known as the PDA (or Personal Digital Assistant) is becoming increasingly popular. These are also known as handhelds, palm-tops or pocket PCs. They come in two main forms – tablets; where a stylus is used for input; or clamshells, which opens to reveal a small keyboard and a screen. Typical examples of tablet PDAs are those made by Palm and by Compaq, whereas the clamshell PDAs are typified by those produced by Psion.
PDAs often run “cut-down” versions of the applications found on normal PCs and can thus carry out many of the functions of a conventional PC. The tablet PDAs do not have keyboards and are therefore less suited for typing in large amounts of material. A PDA is small enough to fit into a pocket and is often used to carry around contact details, send and receive emails and to make working notes while away from the office. PDAs are designed to synchronise the information they hold with a master copy held on a PC wherever they are connected to it. Some come with a special cradle which remains connected to the PC and automatically carries out this synchronisation whenever the PDAs is out in the cradle. Add-ons are also available for PDAs and laptops that are especially suited to mobile use.
For more advice on how to use the technologies available to you, visit the FlexWork website at www.flexwork.eu.com.
(Part 2 of this article to follow)

M-Zones – Smart Spaces for an intelligent world

By: Rob O’Connor
Whenever I mention that I work with TSSG to people around Waterford, I usually get a standard response – “Yeah, I’ve heard of the TSSG, but what do you actually do?” Rather than going into technical (and boring!) details, I just tell them about one of our projects. Explaining something by example is generally the best way of illustrating a concept, so usually they go away with some idea of what goes on out here. In accordance with that methodology, in this article I will attempt to give a broad overview of Smart Space technology and the M-Zones project that is running here at the TSSG.
“It is 7am and Eoin’s personal digital assistant (PDA) broadcasts instructions to Eoin’s smart pyjama to wake him without making any noise so as to not to wake up his wife. After being woken, Eoin gets up and makes his way to the bathroom. While Eoin gets ready, his PDA broadcasts messages to the coffee machine and the toaster in order to have his breakfast ready when he comes down to the kitchen. After getting dressed, Eoin goes down to the kitchen to find coffee and toast ready. In the meantime, his PDA has wirelessly downloaded the latest business e-mail and compiled today’s appointments and to-do list ready for viewing on the kitchen’s Skypad. After breakfast, he gets into his car to drive to work. Eoin’s car scans the traffic reports to see if there are any delays on his usual route to the office. The car informs Eoin of an accident up ahead and suggests an alternate route to save time”
Ubiquitous Computing; Pervasive Computing; Smart Spaces – these are all terms used to describe the strongly emerging trend in Information Technology towards highly dynamic, heterogeneous, computing environments. The basic premise behind Smart Spaces is that areas exist that have knowledge or information about their environment and surroundings and can deliver dynamic services based on a contextual understanding. As computing power increases, hardware size decreases and programming techniques become more accessible, the potential for truly mobile computing is growing. Within Smart Spaces everything has the possibility of being a computer, as can be seen from the short scenario outlining Eoin’s day. Pervasive Computing is about creating such technologies and infrastructures and developing the devices and services that will deliver this ubiquitous computing experience.
M-Zones is a Higher Education Authority (HEA) funded project running at the TSSG here in WIT, in conjunction with Trinity College Dublin and Cork Institute of Technology, to undertake research into management infrastructures that enable collaboration and management between and within Smart Spaces. Across the globe, there are numerous research centres developing technologies that implement Smart Space ideologies. With many prototype environments being deployed across various test locations, one aspect of pervasive computing is now identified as being of critical importance – how will all these systems work together? This is where M-Zones comes in. The goals of the project are:
* To develop technology that aids in the management of people, devices and smart space infrastructures
* To develop management and control systems for integrating multiple smart spaces
With these objectives realised, users will be able to migrate seamlessly between smart spaces. People will be able to move from their smart home, to their smart office, to the smart shop and have a range of services available to them, without requiring any technical effort on their part. As Pervasive Computing moves to the forefront of cutting edge technologies, the M-Zones project is establishing itself as a world leader in Smart Space Management Technology. For more information regarding the M-Zones project, please visit www.m-zones.org. For information on other TSSG projects, visit www.tssg.org/projects.htm

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