According to Sunday's China Daily, yesterday marked the beginning of the annual Spring Festival peak travel season when hordes of college students and migrant workers traditionally travel home to visit their families. The paper says that in addition to the 2.85 billion road trips expected to take place over the next 40 days, 34 million Chinese will travel by air and nearly 6 million passengers per day are expected to take rail journeys.  A Reuters story describes it as the "... biggest movement of humanity in the world."

In the past, people wishing to travel by train during the Spring Festival usually had to queue for hours at train stations in extremely long lines. A Business Insider article sums it up thusly:

"Historically, the only way to buy a train ticket in China has been to wait in line at a train station or ticket agent office. With tickets available only 10 days in advance, and demand running high, many travelers can find themselves waiting in line overnight in the cold, sometimes for multiple days, in order to secure a ticket. Complicating matters are much-hated scalpers, who snap up tickets ahead of the crowds and resell them at inflated prices."

This year, however, the Chinese Rail Ministry decided to set up a website as well as a phone reservation system that let passengers purchase tickets up to 12 days in advance. Furthermore, says the Business Insider, purchasers had to give their real names—a move meant to reduce the likelihood of ticket scalping.

According to the Chinese Daily, the Rail Ministry website received over 1 billion hits during the first week of 2012. Over 100 million people also are said to have registered on the site.

Unfortunately, news reports (including one from Reuters) bore the bad news that the Rail Ministry's website crashed just minutes after it was launched last week. And when it did come back online (only intermittently), website visitors found themselves subject to long wait times before they could purchase their tickets. In some cases, the Business Insider article reported, many would-be rail passengers were charged for tickets that were not issued or found out after a lengthy wait that the tickets for a particular day were already sold out.

The Rail Ministry is reportedly working on increasing the website's bandwidth, and will be issuing refunds to those who were mistakenly charged, according to this AFPreport.

The new Chinese Rail Ministry website wasn't the only one that experienced glitches last week. Numerous computer problems forced the shutdown of the London Olympics and Paralympics' resale ticketing system, run by Ticketmaster. The resale system was set up as a link between Olympic event ticket holders wishing to sell their unwanted tickets back at face value and sports fans seeking to purchase the t.

The resale site was also set up to reduce ticket touting. (The fine for selling London Olympic tickets above face value is £20 000.) 

Unfortunately, both ticket sellers and buyers had problems soon after the web site launched Friday, reports a Financial Times of Londonarticle. A UKPAarticle said that:

"People trying to buy tickets were able to click on to apparently available tickets, but after several minutes were told these were not available. However, hours later, the web site showed the same tickets still apparently available."

According to the London Daily Mail, sellers saw their tickets taken but never put up for resale .

The London Olympic organizing committee was very unhappy about the situation, stating that:

"We have temporarily suspended the ticketing website while Ticketmaster investigates ticket resale issues that some customers have been experiencing. This website will reopen once Ticketmaster has resolved these issues. You will also be able to purchase Olympic Football and Paralympic tickets from this time."

The London Olympic organizing committee also admitted last week that the sale of 10 000 more tickets to the synchronized swimming events than actually existed was due to "human error." To smooth things over, says the Sydney Morning Herald, Olympic organizers are said to have contacted roughly 3000 of those holding the oversold synchronized swimming tickets with an offer to exchange the tickets for those giving admittance to other events for which the purchasers had also indicated a preference.

The London Olympics ticket system and ticket allocation scheme have been heavily criticized since they were introduced last Spring.

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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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