Why I Hate Radio (mobile – wifi – et al): A Rant

I’m fed up with how things are with radio – at least with amateur radio (which I enjoy thoroughly) you can do something about these problems.

Sitting here in the local library and using their wireless, my system is re-negotiating about once a minute (there it goes!) which means that any web pages stall or die half-way through, and Firefox may lock up entirely until the network either returns or fails outright.

Another (larger) library nearby provides the same service without the constant reconnection to a new wireless access point – although that library has poor reception in various areas; better take that laptop on a ride through the library to get the best reception. Some sections of that library have no reception at all (like the children’s section).

Yet another (but very small) library has excellent wireless – presumably because they have only one access point which blankets the entire library (I said it was small).

None of this talk of wifi talks about the speed: 11Mb/s is a theoretical maximum for 802.11b which was surpassed in the 1980s by 10BaseT (which is now obsolete).

Mobile phone response is no better. From my house, I can see the phone tower – though it is not overhead, but a half-mile away or so. Even so, I can’t get a connection, every phone call is a mash of incomprehensible clips, and the cellular internet comes and goes (but mostly goes, dropping off or not allowing connections at all).

This cellular reception is from a company that provides blanket service across the upper midwestern United States.

When will wifi and mobile phone carriers provide strong, constant access without dead spots, and with reasonable speeds?

AirVenture 2008 (Oshkosh, Wisconsin)

For part of last week, I was at AirVenture 2008 – the largest gathering of flyers and aviation buffs in the world. For this week, little Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin becomes the busiest airport in the world.

Past conventions have featured the Harrier jumpjet, the Osprey, the Warthog, the Wright Flyer, many airshow teams, the Concorde, the Raptor, and many, many other aircraft. Every aviation related company makes an appearance, including such diverse companies as Piper, Cessna, the Air National Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Border Patrol, Flying Magazine, the Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association, and much, much, much more.

Aviation luminaries also make an appearance, including those such as Burt Rutan, Patty Wagstaff, Buzz Aldrin, and many more.

One interesting thing for a systems administrator to see is how companies utilize computing, as well as how they handle such a large number of users.

At Airventure, the first thing I noticed was that wifi was unusable at the camping site nearby – because the captive portal was overwhelmed by the number of people using it (and not logging out). Part of a system administrator’s job is to predict utilization and to be prepared for it – and to be able to “scale” or handle a large influx of users without hiccups. How would you respond? How would you have prevented it?

The second thing of interest was in aircraft avionics – that is, the pilots array of dials and guages. The talk (old to aviators) is of the “glass panel”, or an LCD display which replaces multiple dials and guages. When I asked someone who was with Avionics Magazine about the use of open source and of operating systems such as Linux and/or Windows Embedded, it turns out that none of these products can be used in avionics as they are not certified for avionics. Interesting indeed.

Marvell 8335 Chipset: The State of the Union

Previously I mentioned the Marvell Libertas 8335 wireless chipset. In researching further the Marvell chipsets, it turns out that some of the Marvell drivers (though not the 8335) even have problems with Windows Vista.

The Ubuntu Linux community seems to have some nice documentation on using the Marvell 8335 chipset (the Linux driver is called mrv8k), including specific instructions for the TRENDnet TEW-421PC. The blog My Favorite Ubuntu has some nice instructions specifically about using the PM150NXT08 Wireless Adapter by NEXXT with Ubuntu Edgy.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project stirred up some serious controversy when the project went with the Marvell Libertas chipset, resulting in a very unhappy letter from Theo deRaadt. The Jem Report has an article that explains most all sides fairly well. In short, using the Marvell chipset required signing of an NDA, which means that the information thus learned cannot be used by the open source community to build or enhance drivers for this chipset.

It turns out also that the drivers for (some?) Marvell products require the use of proprietary firmware; thus, even with an open source driver the system still requires proprietary products to operate.

However, in spite of the fact that Marvell is the bane of the open source platform, it turns out that it seems to be the darling of the commercial builders. When Netgear chose the Marvell platform, Marvell released a press release about the fact and generally seemed to strut shamelessly. The press release was widely reported; here is the report as seen in the EETimes.

The Linley Group (who?) went so far as to state (in 2006) that Marvell’s chipsets were the best 802.11g chipsets in the market. This, of course, comes from Marvell (as reported by the Wireless Broadband Exchange Magazine here). If you want to see more awards and press releases ad nauseum from Marvell, check out their web site.

My current recommendation about the Marvell chipsets and those products designed around them: avoid them and go with the (perhaps older) better supported chipsets from other companies.

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