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Cat is Reading Constant Touch

Constant Touch
by John Agar

If you know someone who is new to the mobile industry buy them this book. They will love you for it.
Constant Touch is the story of the mobile phone; how the major players came to be. It’s coloured with how both the Thatcher years and unification of GSM contributed to the success of the mobile.
It was published in 2003 however the historical anecdotes, like Ernie Wise making the first call on Vodafone don’t date. I read it when it first came out, dipped into it again for this review and was hooked. I re-read the whole book.

 

 
 
 

The knowledge

27/4/08

I like recipe books.  I’ll read them in bed or by the pool just for fun. I have a groaning bookshelf in my kitchen. Perhaps my love of these means I don’t have any trouble with technical manuals. But have you ever tried to look up something in an ETSI spec? All cross references and revision histories, worse than the plot of a Russian novel.

Phones work with one another because of the wise old men of the mobile industry who wrote these specs. They’ve lived with the documents, developed and brought GSM, and now WCDMA, into the world. These people don’t have any problem looking stuff up because they know the work by heart. Come into it cold to find the rules for flash messaging, or what the *# codes are and you’ll spend days reading twisty little passages that all look the same.
On top of this is the lore around how standards are implemented. What can safely be ignored and what will break a particular mobile network if it’s not obeyed to the letter.

The experts trip around the world like migrating swallows, attending conferences, catching the bugs in the systems and updating the standards. The passages become that little bit more twisty.

What we have is a precise, detailed standard which thousands of people use to build and test phones to. Most only understand the tiny fraction which impacts their work. Only the few standards setters view the bigger picture and it’s these we rely upon to set the future and keep it coherent.

That’s the problem: a handful of people who were in at the start nearly thirty years ago. Back then they were in their twenties, thirties and forties. Today they are, well you do the maths; some are approaching retirement age. More will over coming years. Of course they will be replaced with new, younger engineers but they will have to learn the documentation, the rationale and the lore. Assuming they are as brilliant as the founding fathers they will absorb the ethos and progress it, but this will take time and  some mistakes. We’ll see mobile standards significantly slowed down unless we worry about it now and ensure smooth succession. 

Perhaps the new kids can do something about making the documentation more readable, but even then I rather doubt it will replace Jamie Oliver or Sophie Kinsella in bed with me.


Links

Motorola has moved it’s 3G business from TI to Qualcomm and Nokia is saying that customers for replacement phones are looking for something cheaper and less sophisticated. It’s no wonder that Texas Instruments is playing safe in its forecasts.

Plenty of people still think that this is the year of Linux – I’m not one of them – and one of the many standards is LiMo. The talking shop for operators who think they know how to make a phone has announced a new document: the first specification

Over 1700 applications submitted for the Android challenge. It just goes to show what happens if you have a good SDK.

Lots of cool stuff leaked from T-Mobile. Including a great new cameraphone from Samsung.

Richard Branson, as well as recruiting 30 people for a one way mission to Mars at CTIA, said that Virgin Mobile is ready to weather the storm in the US. It’s now looking to tighten its belt.

Why do some of the coolest mobile companies fail to make it? NXP, the chip company which was to Philips what Infineon was to Siemens or Freescale to Motorola has great video tech and yet has done nothing. Yet rumours of it’s death are overblown.

Getting people to pay for games is hard enough but $2.99 to receive advertising? It’s not lie, it’s a Burger King Whopper


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