AT&T Wireless Adds Windows Phone 7 Series

The pool deepens for a phone network already drowning in data

2 min read
AT&T Wireless Adds Windows Phone 7 Series

Microsoft is a distant third when it comes to mobile phone operating systems, but the company has a legendary marketing ability to hang tough and emerge on top. So the long-awaited announcement of Windows Mobile 7 (or “Windows Phone 7 Series,” as Microsoft now styles it) was picked over by the trade press like a leftover turkey carcass on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

It didn’t take long for the vultures to notice that Microsoft named AT&T its “premier partner” in the United States (Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone are others around the world)—nor for them to start circling the two partners with questions.

As PC World's Tony Bradley pointed out, no one really knows what a premier partnership consists of. Does it matter? Let the griping begin. AT&T already can’t handle the volume of data that iPhones are generating, and beginning in April, iPad data will only swamp it further. And now AT&T is going to take on a new data-heavy collection of smartphones from Microsoft?

Speaking as a a founding iPhone user from its initial release in June 2007, I can say that each and every complaint about AT&T is borne out by my own experience. Neither the quality of the phone nor the data connection seems related to the number of bars, and calls are dropped repeatedly and at random—it’s rare for me to complete any but the shortest conversations without redialing. And that's as true of my shiny 3GS as it was of the original phone.

I can’t count the number of people who’ve told me they’re getting an iPhone—as soon as it becomes available on their current carrier, which is inevitably Verizon.

In the 10 years or so (pre-iPhone) that Verizon was my carrier, I never experienced a dropped call that seemed random. Sure, there were occasional dead spots—the New York State Thruway a few minutes north of the Harriman toll plaza, for example—but calls were (forgive the term) reliably dropped there, and never in other frequently-travelled places. And sure, once in a while I couldn’t make a call, but whenever the carrier opened a connection, it stayed up for the duration of the call, no matter how long.

Verizon seems to have such confidence in its network that it is now allowing Skype calls on a large fraction of its smartphones.

That is, the carrier is letting subscribers use the 3G data network to make voice-over-IP calls, which cuts down on the number of minutes a user needs and loads the data network with those calls instead. That’s right: fewer billable minutes, more unbilled data. Other than a better user experience for its customers, there’s absolutely nothing good about this from Verizon’s point of view.

True, the carrier is making the best of some upcoming rule changes at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, but it says a lot that Verizon is just going ahead with the change early, and doing so in the most open and user-friendly way, while AT&T fights the rule change tooth and nail.

I don’t miss Verizon’s chaotic billing practices (the ones that are so bad they’ve inspired a Website called Verizonpathetic.com), but I do miss being able to call Customer Service late at night and on Sunday, yet another way in which AT&T's user experience falls short. Most of all, I miss Verizon’s rock-solid network.
 

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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