Nov 15, 2018

Megapixels and megabits per second; Myths and Misunderstandings

Go into a high street electronics retailer and look at the digital cameras. Nice aren't they.

Chances are you’ll see a shiny collection of desirable gadgetry made in brushed aluminium and steel. Each with a little plastic tag beside it. And I’ll wager that each and every one will tell you how many Megapixels the camera has. Megapixels seems to be the most important, sometimes the single metric determining the quality - and price - of a digital camera.

Or so it is in the high street retailers.

Because the high street retailers are selling largely to the amateur public. Everything is simplified and presented in boiled-down terms. A simple metric. The higher the number, the better the device. And the higher the price.

More or less.

Of course anyone who knows even a little about digital cameras knows that the resolution of the camera is only one variable which contributes to the quality of the photos it produces. A professional photographer pays attention to the lenses, the sensitivity of the sensor, the data compression quality, and many other things.

Choose a poor quality camera with a lot of megapixels and it’ll give you lots of poor quality pixels.
This is the difference between choosing something with the understanding and criteria of an amateur versus that of a professional.

Goodmill Systems are in the professional, critical broadband business. We don’t promote our solutions by citing one single-easy-to-understand-but-too-simplistic metric.

Like megabits per second, for example.

Megabits per second - the speed or throughput of a connection - does not alone assure you of good connectivity or good service delivery. Assuring adequate service delivery when it really matters, to professional users is the combination and balancing (and yes sometimes even the trade-offs) of many different variables which together determine the behavior and characteristics of the end to end connection. Getting it right and making sure that critical connections are always on when they need to be on requires a detailed understanding of mobile networking, well engineered hardware and software, and a configuration all matched for the actual case.

There is no out-of-the-box, plug-n-play solution which produces an optimal setup for everyone. Anything plug-n-play will be, by definition, sub-optimal for many use cases. I would assert that anyone who claims otherwise just doesn't understand the problem well, or hasn't thought about it enough.

Throughput, expressed typically in Megabits-per-second (Mbps), like a camera Megapixels, is only one metric associated with a broadband connection. And it’s not the most important. Not for professional critical users.

A professional user who knows her business, knows her networks, knows her users and knows the services which they need, also knows the characteristics which define those services. As long as the connection to the vehicle is fast enough then the bandwidth ceases to be the most important metric of the system. Moreover, even if there isn’t enough bandwidth the telecom professional knows how to prioritize her traffic. She understands what is important, what is critical, what is really critical, and what is absolutely-cannot-do-without-critical. This is the business of running a professionally delivered telecom service. The connectivity solution needs to support those categorizations and take them into account when bandwidth is lacking, which it surely sometimes will be.

As said already, Goodmill Systems is in the professional, critical broadband business. Our understanding of professional, critical communications has shaped our solution and the way we deliver it to our customers. Of course we don’t ignore megabits per second as a metric; but it’s not the sole, single metric by which we measure how good our system is. We understand that for professional users availability, security and resilience are equally if not more important. And a singular emphasis on squeezing every bit per second out of the system is for amateurs.

Is you have professional mobile broadband needs, look us up at Goodmill Systems. With us you're Always Online.

Ged Robinsson
Region Director
Goodmill Systems Ltd.

Sep 12, 2018

EU’s Security - Industrial Complex

This text has previously been published in Finnish in the paper edition of Kaleva on the 13th of August 2018.

EU’s military strength is more than a matter of defense budgets. This was stated by Risto Murto of Varma in his article in Kaleva 27th of July. Especially Murto highlighted the need for a military-industrial complex, if EU wants to be a peer military might with the US. However, Murto didn’t spell out why such a complex would be needed to create strength.

One could think that a local industry enables larger investment, as the money spent doesn’t directly drain outside of the local economy. On the other hand, if the similar argument was made about bananas, we’d be sure to remember the principle of comparative advantage.

Additionally, Murto writes about the share of public investments going to the defense sector. According to him, in the US the share of military research spending of the total public research investments is 60%. Where as in the EU, the share is only 5-10%. As military applications of technology are often secret and other innovations are protected by IPR, this can be seen as an area, where a local military-industrial complex in fact does produce military strength. An innovation unknown to the enemy can potentially increase military capabilities significantly. Good examples include steel and radar, as well as the extreme example of nuclear weapons.

The article closes on a thought that the emergence of a military-industrial complex in the EU is very unlikely, because Europeans are considered unwilling to make it happen. Two reasons can be identified behind the unwillingness. First, the article also discusses the fractured nature of the EU. States find it hard to come to an agreement on, for example, joint equipment purchases or mergers of companies within the industry. I believe this to be true, for it is unlikely that a comparable complex would’ve emerged in the US, if the federal government wouldn’t have been able to engage in pork-barreling over the states. For example, it has been presented that the F-35 program couldn’t be stopped due to employment effects even if it would be considered a failure. The second reason is the ethos of the citizens. A large portion of Europeans won’t find investments into defense desirable even in the current prevalent security status. The effect is most profound with Germany as the economic powerhouse of the EU, which might still carry historical reasons.

If EU and Germany would however want to develop their military-industrial complex, the recent changes in how wars are fought open up better possibilities than before. While a moment ago, the holistic security paradigm meant mainly channeling military expenditures to other causes, now, an increasing amount of threats and cures for them are simultaneously applicable in both civilian and military contexts. Good examples include police and border guard equipment, cyber and information environment protection and security and electronic surveillance and positioning solutions.

The need of governments to enhance security and citizens’ reluctance to traditional arms procurement could possible be mended by investing in the creation of a security-industrial complex somewhat akin to the military-industrial one. This would mean an increase in public investment to products of local companies such as described above and especially to the development of these products.

To be distinct from the current innovation policy the new model should put front and center the user organizations of the EU member states – in essence the security authorities. EU and Finland could learn from the US DARPA organization and require the extensive use of a culture of experimentation instead of application processes. The activities should, in contrast to DARPA, include user organization besides the ministry of defense. In addition, public procurement and innovation subsidies of larger companies could be directed to support the same viewpoint. Especially effective and growth inducing results would be achieved by directing the investments towards start-up companies’ products, either directly or by encouraging the existing established security sector companies to include smaller ones in their deliveries.

For purposes of the generation of the complex, most fruitful would be, if the start-ups, that have gotten their operations started by the co-operation, would be acquired by EU defense sector companies. New business and innovations would be created simultaneously as the competitiveness of the acquirers would improve by increased scale and ability to differentiate. Even though this wouldn’t realize the synergies between competing companies, the speed up in innovation leading to the differentiation in offerings, would be a more natural way to open EU level joint procurement than traditional horse-trading negotiations. The road is long, but a security-industrial complex can not be built in a day.

Topias Uotila
Member of the Board
Goodmill Systems Ltd.

Apr 17, 2018

Being 'Always Online' has changed the public safety vehicle use forever

High data rate and high availability broadband services give a tremendous advantage to all public safety operators in the field. This is a direct response from users that have used the technology for years already. Applications demand more bandwidth all the time. In the future, online streaming video will be the killer application.

Additionally, all the intelligence cannot remain confined to a vehicle’s computer. This means that safe and high availability access to central databases is a must. A managed multichannel routing solution is the future proof answer to these needs that requires no huge upfront investments. One can start easily with multiple commercial operators. The links can also be easily upgraded to new dedicated networks when they emerge. A wonderful benefit of novel and flexible multichannel systems is that they can use any available network technologies both now and in the future.

Network congestion problems are solved by dynamic prioritization. This can be and needs to be done in both dedicated and commercial networks. An important not to remember is that dedicated frequencies themselves don’t provide for high availability and non-congestion.

From a monetary point of view the multi-network approach is rock solid. The system pays for itself in a few months and in some cases, weeks. Routers that can take full advantage of multiple networks are the crucial element in creating this Blue Ocean for public safety operations. The incumbents that have so far sold the digital PMR networks are naturally interested in continuing their old business model. But with novel alternatives it’s possible to minimize network investments, and the main business will switch to other players. This has already happened in Scandinavia and will likely be repeated in other parts of the world. I hope for the taxpayers’ sake that the modern approaches get the foothold they deserve.

If you want to hear and see more, please visit Goodmill Systems at the Berlin Critical Communications World exhibition. Goodmill Systems is again part of the solution Finnish authorities are showcasing in the event. Our broadband solution is in the center of the systems that are presented by our customers from public safety and security organizations. You can see how the product is used in real life and discuss directly with the users.

Juhani Lehtonen, VP, Goodmill Systems, +358 50 572 5542

Feb 2, 2018

Can Public Safety be a Competitive Marketplace?

Traditionally Public Safety Communication networks have been closed, proprietary networks, but that’s all about to change. Today, Public Safety networks are rapidly being integrated within the commercial communications grid.  For anyone who has watched this space over the last few decades that amounts to a seachange for how Public Safety fits into the larger business ecosystem. Will this bring a about a new wave of innovative players that weren’t there before? Will public safety communications one day become a thriving, competitive marketplace?
This past week I had the opportunity to  meet and reconnect with scores of public safety stakeholders from coast to coast in the US, many of them involved in the FirstNet initiative that is being delivered on AT&T’s existing LTE network and touted quite correctly as the world’s most advanced Public Safety Communications Network. This model for public-private partnership in public safety communications (or, as I like to call them PPPPSCs…;) may be new on a global stage, but it’s already proving its worth in driving down costs, fostering innovation and playing host to new and advanced technologies arriving from all sectors.
For our part, and as one the innovators on the network side, we can see the advantages of the PPPPSC model first hand, but also how much work remains to be done. Certainly coverage must be built out and expanded, and certain components of the network need to be made more robust. That said, this way of using commercial networks, and with such features a pre-emption and local control, (FirstNet’s term for Network Slicing) amoung others, will ensure every bit of the reliability of a proprietary network like TETRA and so much more.
On the application development side, Public Safety is a new, untapped opportunity and one with some difference, but nonetheless promising revenue potential. While the number of public safety operatives caps out at 75 million worldwide, with forecasted revenues of some $80 Billion by 2026 the math begins to emerge. Think lower volume, (and much) higher margin, not to mention great bragging rights about working with government.
The time is now
Today we see many use cases in which Public Safety organizations are using consumer apps or worse, some custom designed code to serve a specific need. It’s no surprise that in just as many cases agencies are choosing not to use apps that would serve them well in the field but for security concerns. The most recent foible over FitBit foisting sensitive data to the world at large is but a case in point. Last week the news was abuzz about the health device/app providing the precise locations of likely military or government personnel in places like Syria and Afghanistan and….well, you get the picture.
Still there are a good number of perfectly serviceable consumer technologies that provide immediate benefits for Public Safety including Push-to-Talk, and One-to-Many communications that are available on consumer phones and work just fine on any LTE network. And with this example alone, in a market where there are multiple, interoperable Push-to-Talk vendors, we are already seeing its competitive potential.
Taking the “public safety as competitive market place” concept one step further up the food chain, if we can have multiple, overlapping application and device vendors, then why not have two or more public safety networks? Again, it seems that we’re already there in the US, as AT&T rival Verizon is planning to launch their own Public Safety network to compete with FirstNet. Technically this is no Herculean task as they are using exactly the same LTE technology as AT&T that supports the very same applications and devices, and this only drives more opportunities for competition. Certainly from a cost perspective, two providers is better than just one. Between the two networks however, there is some concern around app interoperability.
From the outset, the main the argument for FirstNet was that because police forces and fire departments used different communication methods, there was a baked in risk, and precisely the one that had tragic consequences during the 911 attacks, as communications failure between first responders lead directly to the deaths of 128 firefighters in the second tower.  Note: This horrific event is the starting point of our recently published case study on FirstNet.
So to the questions – could this happen again if there were two LTE public safety networks? The answer, fortunately, is no. This is because LTE networks are IP-based which means that compatibility is managed at the application level. Just as there are no interoperability issues between, say WhatsApp and Skype calls on differing networks, Public Safety communications applications would behave the very same way on AT&T’s network as they would on Verizon’s with zero interoperability issues. This strengthens the case for two networks, but weakens the case for multiple apps, as for example, there are issues if you want to call a WhatsApp contact from Skype.
Certainly, from a Public Safety community point of view, the more networks the better. This is mostly to help insure better, more redundant coverage, particularly in the case of outages. Remember that in the 911 case, the breakdown in communication was due to melted repeaters on a single, dedcasted network. Multiple, interoperable networks would have helped avert that problem. With two networks you can reach over 99% availability according to our partner, Goodmill Systems who provide hybrid network hopping for public safety. In this case more is more and will all be even delivered at an even lower cost.