Tag Archives: wireless

Planning for the Wireless Future

A recent article in my local paper showcased a new solar powered phone charger and wi-fi hotspot built into a park bench. Apparently these are coming to cities such as Boston and New York, but they are already in a park in my own town. This got me thinking about the ubiquity of wireless connections and the expectations that there should be access almost everywhere. Vehicles are becoming personal internet access points, and I suspect that I could even turn my bicycle into a hot spot. With this expectation of widespread and growing wireless access, how is a network architect supposed to plan for the future? In this post I hope to synthesize best practices of corporate and campus planners to help you plan your own infrastructure.

 Greenfield or Incremental?

Unless you are moving into a brand new building you don’t have the luxury of the greenfield approach, or starting from scratch. The folks at Cisco and other network component providers recommend developing a master plan and then tackling the project in stages. A wireless network consists of routers and switches in the back end and access points at the front end. If you have not been performing periodic upgrades then the entire infrastructure may need to be replaced.

When replacing the system components, look to the future in terms of technology and capacity. There is still a lot of equipment running on the old 802.11b/g standard but 802.11n is a better solution. Even better is 802.11ac but there are not many current devices that can access this standard, although they are coming fast. When developing a plan, look out at least five years to estimate the wireless devices that will be accessing your network. Don’t forget about bring your own devices (BYOD) and Internet of Things (IoT) introducing devices that we may not even have thought of yet.

Appetite for Bandwidth

A December 2015 Educause survey found that 61% of undergraduates in a typical college or university are trying to connect at least two wireless devices to the network at the same time. Some are trying to connect up to four devices at once. University of Oregon enrolled 23,634 students for fall 2016 so using the average of two devices, that is over 47,000 devices potentially hitting the network. That is a lot of access points and switches that need to be working right. Particularly for colleges, but also for businesses, it is important to have the right mix of access, speed, and reliability.

In the article mentioned above, Michael Spande, director of Enterprise Services at Bethel University, says “People pick their colleges based on factors like how good the wireless network is. They share their experiences online, and we can either look good or have a big black eye.” Quality wireless access has become a competitive differentiator.

Refresh, Refresh, Refresh

Whether you are managing a university, corporate, or hospital network, it is important to keep refreshing the hardware and software to ensure high performance. It is hard to predict what the future will hold, so network architects need to be part seers and part engineers. Just like PCs, the technology changes so quickly that a planned refresh cycle is critical to keep up with demand and with newer devices trying to access the network. Some recommend replacing one-quarter of the components every year while others stretch that out to a five-to-six-year refresh cycle. It depends a lot on demand and requirements of the devices accessing the network.

Thoughts

I remember when we installed the first wireless access points, they truly were a novelty. We targeted conference rooms because all of the offices were already hard-wired so wi-fi in those areas would have been redundant. Times have changed and wireless access is the future. Whether sitting on a park bench or in a restaurant, or playing golf on the front nine, our “always on” society is quickly adjusting to internet access anytime, anywhere. Are you ready?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Tech Matters in Emerging Economies

Emerging nations often have the advantage in infrastructure deployments and upgrades because they have no legacy infrastructure to replace: they can just start from scratch. Legacy infrastructure can stifle innovation because of real and perceived barriers. In researching this subject, I questioned how much technology can help emerging countries that may struggle to house and feed their citizens and/or refugees from nearby countries. I would like to spotlight the work of Nethope, which aims to expand tech to lift nations from poverty and provide opportunities for growth through innovation.

How Much Tech?

In 1989 my wife and I toured Egypt and we traveled through a small village with basic concrete houses. We watched as the residents made their way to fields in the morning to harvest the crops. In the evening they returned to homes that had no electricity, modern lighting, or communications. They filtered water from the nearby Nile. This was their daily routine. I compared that with my role at the time as a computer administrator and realized the absurdity of my work in contrast to this simple everyday life. They had no use for the work that I did, which would not help move that cart to and from the field and would probably not increase their harvest or enhance their lives. My skills and knowledge were useless to them.

Should we concentrate on bringing technology to impoverished nations and villages? How would technology benefit people whose lives revolve around providing basic needs? Can it help in providing clean water, basic health care, communications and education? Which problems are we trying to solve through innovation? These are questions I no longer assume I know how to answer.

Nethope

Nethope is a non-profit organization dedicated to matching tech firms and individuals with non-governmental organizations to apply innovation to solve problems in emerging nations. Much of their focus is on wireless connectivity and building alternative energy sources to power the infrastructure. They have provided portable cellular hot spots for Syrian refugees to connect them with family members back home and with aid organizations. It also might enable young people to continue their studies, although sporadically, through online education programs.

A similar project established internet connectivity in a refugee camp in Kenya. Refugees flooded there to escape famine, drought, and conflict. This camp has become the fourth largest population center in Kenya and is a temporary home for thousands. As in the Syrian refugee crisis, it is hoped that the youth in particular will be able to continue their education through remote courses. In another area of Kenya, wi-fi hotspots were established with unused television whitespace. This might give villagers an opportunity to improve their lives through education and expanded business opportunities.

Coordination

One of the services provided by Nethope is technology coordination between many non-governmental aid organizations. Each organization tries to aid in various ways and sometimes they end up stepping over each other, particularly in areas such as technology infrastructure. Nethope and their partners provide expertise and coordination, whether it be a temporary crisis or an ongoing project. This approach allows the other aid organizations to focus on their strengths providing for basic necessities.

Thoughts

Has technology become a basic necessity or is it still a luxury? In an emergency, where does it fall on the list of priorities? I live near an earthquake fault and try to be prepared for a potential disaster. On the one hand, I can’t eat my smartphone, but on the other hand it would come in handy should my house suddenly become an island. I applaud the efforts of Nethope and other organizations that share their expertise with those in need. It is good to provide basic necessities and basic communications. I wish them well on their quest.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Data in the Dirt: Technology in Farming Redux

Agronomist working in a wheat field.Last year I blogged on unique uses of technology in farming. Spring is in the air here in the Pacific Northwest, so I want to revisit that thread and highlight a technology and company born right here at the University of Oregon. This company is researching the interaction between plants and fertilizers, particularly nitrogen. They have developed a technology and device that will allow a farmer or grower to monitor the nitrogen level of the soil, thus preventing excess fertilization and runoff.

SupraSensor Technologies

SupraSensor Technologies was formed in 2012 from the graduate work of Calden Carroll in partnership with his professors, Darren Johnson and Mike Haley. They discovered that the interaction between plant cells and their nitrogen level could be measured. Nitrogen fertilizer is water soluble and excess nitrogen runs off and mixes with the water table. In some areas of the country, there are large algal blooms that were fed by runoff. Algal blooms change water pH and oxygen levels, which harm fish and other organisms, and some species of algae are toxic, even deadly, to people and animals.

Field Nutrient Sensors

Carroll and other researchers did not stop at identifying this molecular interaction. They developed a device called a Field Nutrient Sensor™ (FNS™), which measures the nitrogen level in the soil, just below root level. This information is collected wirelessly so that a farmer can determine precisely where to fertilize and when to stop. It is estimated that 30 percent of all fertilizer runs off, so this device would reduce the use of chemicals, thus saving money for the farmer and promoting a sustainable and healthier farm. Collecting the data wirelessly is much less labor intensive and yields more accurate and timely data.

Farming Meets Information Technology

SupraSensor Technologies has test sensors in the field right now and is seeking funding for commercialization. It has secured seed funding from the National Science Foundation and through state and national grants. The ability to collect this important data means that farms will now need information technology experts to not only help with the data collection and wireless networking but also with data analytics to create a coherent picture of the health of the farm, the plants, and the soil. Information technology is emerging from the computer room and finding its way to the farm, the manufacturing floor, the research site, and wherever data is being turned into solutions for a better world.

Thoughts

There are many opportunities developing for IT professionals and it is an exciting time to be involved in tackling real world problems like healthy farms and sustainable ecosystems. Do you know of other technology and research breakthroughs that you would like me to highlight? Let me know if have you cool things that need to be shared.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

All Things Health

Male hand holding stethoscope emerges from a laptop screen.I have blogged in the past on the Internet of Things (IoT) and also on health and technology. Today’s post is about the intersection of those two areas. It is about how the Internet of Things can keep us potentially safe and healthy.

Tracking Your Health

With the introduction of the Apple Watch yesterday, Apple also introduced ResearchKit, a follow on to HealthKit that was introduced last year. This allows you to participate in research studies through your iPhone. Hardware on the iPhone such as voice recorders or motion sensors can help you track steps taken or voice patterns that may detect the onset of Parkinson’s disease. This data can then be shared, with your permission, with researchers so they get a much larger global sampling for their studies. Of course, the data is also available to you as well so that you can monitor and be an advocate for your own health. Perhaps, you are not getting as much exercise as you need or perhaps there are early warning signs of a chronic disease that you need to pay attention to. It would be great to have a device that would detect the early signs of a stroke and alert you and others to the possibility—early detection and intervention is critical in this case.

Smart Health

In a recent article by Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, she highlights some devices in the intersection of Internet of Things and health monitoring. Among the devices she mentions are these:

  • Scales that monitor not only your weight but also your body composition. This is a great way to closely track your health day to day and over a long period.
  • Beds that monitor your heart rate, respiration rate, motion, and “bed presence” or how long you have been in bed can help you track your health through nonintrusive means. These measures can give you early warning signs of health issues.
  • Toilets that can monitor your weight, BMI, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. This is important to help you understand when you are becoming pre-diabetic and need to change your diet or exercise routine.
  • Motion monitors such as FitBit or the new Apple Watch which remind us through a chime or haptic feedback when we have been sitting too long or have not completed our 10,000 steps for the day yet.
  • Smart lamps designed to change light intensity depending on the time of day and also monitor your sleep (or lack thereof) and remind you when it is time to retire by a friendly blink. These are connected to your home network and can be controlled through your smartphone.

Thoughts

Where some see opportunity and peace of mind, others see intrusiveness and privacy issues. We can now monitor very detailed health information and share that with our doctor or in the case of ResearchKit, researchers trying to develop a breakthrough to eradicate, or at least control common health issues. A blessing for some, a potential health information breach for others. I think that, by combining health monitoring and the Internet of Things, we can enjoy unobtrusive devices that let us be in charge of our own wellness and health. Let me know what you think. Do you use health monitoring devices? Do they work for you? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Impact of Technology in Football

I recently wrote a blog post about technology in sports, but I want to focus this post on technology in football and how it benefits the game and, more specifically, the players. With the college football playoff coming up, followed by the Super Bowl, this is a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on technology contributions.

Making College Football Safer

In a recent USA Today article, the author highlights the use of a product by Axon Sports that helps train elite college athletes by converting a team’s playbook into a visual simulation, complete with potential responses from opposing teams. This cognitive training is available for any position except place kicker and punt return. The application uses a tablet-like board to train the player to quickly assess an unfolding situation and react faster and smarter. The benefit of this technology is that a player can repetitively practice several plays without ever having to suit up. This helps a player play smarter while also reducing the risk of injury or concussion. It may be no surprise that the University of Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota were among the earliest adopters of this training.

How Fast are They Running?

A recent Boston Globe article spotlights sensor technology worn by almost all NFL players. The sensors emit a signal (at twenty-five times per second) to track and record a player’s speed and distance over time. The sensors use RFID technology to transmit the data points to in-stadium receivers so they can be viewed by announcers and broadcasters almost in real time. This technology is still fairly experimental, but the idea is that the additional data will improve the football viewing experience by allowing fans to do their own analysis and comparisons. When I am watching football data analysis is the furthest thing from my mind, but maybe I am unique that way. I do see how this technology could help players maximize their speed or change their training to increase performance.

What is the Impact?

Helmet impact sensors are, in my opinion, one of the best developments in football. These sensors are still in their infancy but are commercially available for professional and college teams as well as high school and younger players. The sensors record the impact of a collision and assess whether the impact is enough to sideline a player for monitoring, which will hopefully prevent a concussion or future brain injuries. Equipment maker Riddell markets its Speedflex system, which senses and broadcasts impact forces to coaches and trainers who can then make an assessment based on statistics AND qualitative observations. If this can help prevent head injuries in players, I think it is better than any application to enhance viewing that we can develop. This is an excellent use of technology for performance and safety.

Thoughts

You now know about some of the cool technology that can enhance our viewing experience or protect players from injuries. Do you have any ideas for new technologies that would make the game better for you, your favorite player, or the future player sitting next to you? Let me know your thoughts.
Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.