Archive for April, 2008

My favorite 802.11n graph: draft size over time

Monday, April 21st, 2008

My reason for braving the “snowstorm” at Heathrow was to be at the JANET(UK) Networkshop conference. The organizers asked me to present an overview of current wireless standards in development. JANET(UK) is also a founding member of the OpenSEA Alliance, and has arranged for some UK universities to test the supplicant as we develop it.

I impressed (in the older sense of drafting somebody into service) Mark Tysom of JANET(UK) into taking pictures while I spoke. He captured me in front of my favorite slide in the talk, which shows the size of the 802.11n draft over time:

Several interesting vital statistics on the 802.11n draft can be found in this 802.11 working group presentation made by Bruce Kraemer, the long-time chair of TGn who has recently been elected the chair of the entire 802.11 working group.

The venue for my talk was the plenary session, which was held at The Barony Hall at the University of Strathclyde. The Barony Hall was previously a church, and is a wonderful venue for large audiences. As a speaker, it can be slightly intimidating, though!

(Thanks for taking photos, Mark!)

Heathrow Airport, April 6: “Snowstorm”!

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Earlier this month, I was speaking at the JANET(UK) Networkshop 36 conference. Unfortunately, getting there involved the new Heathrow airport, a slight snowstorm, and Terminal 5. After having lived through it, I’m not sure whether the “snowstorm” or Terminal 5 was worse.

When we landed, snow had halted most of the ground activities at Heathrow. Our captain said that it was as bad as he had ever seen the snow, and he noted that Heathrow does not have a lot of snow handling equipment. As a result, nothing was moving and our plane had to sit for a while.

We are not talking about a huge amount of snow. Chris Hessing, the chair of the Open1X Project, was traveling with me. Chris is from Utah. I think he put it best when he said, “If the grass is poking up through the snow, it doesn’t count.” Here’s a view out the airplane window:

Heathrow Control Tower near Terminal 3

It was cold out. Here’s the tail of a Jet Airways plane. On the dark blue tail, you can clearly see the internal frame melting the snow along the structural elements.

Jet Airways plane with snow

Nevertheless, everything had ground to a halt because of the snow. Several hours later, most airlines other than British Airways had recovered. BA blamed the snow, cancelled lots of flights, and blamed the weather. To deal with the crowd of people who needed to be rebooked, BA called in extra service staff. For example, here’s one of the major service desks at Terminal 5, dealing effectively with the wave of cancellations that occurred at 11 am:

BA employees working hard to rebook passengers!

I did try to speak to the person at the desk, and he told me that my problem could only be handled landside. BA computers cannot automatically rebook passengers on to the next flight, which meant that huge crowds were going landside to get rebooked, waiting in lines, going back through security, and getting cancelled again. By the end of the day, anecdotal evidence suggested that their lines were best measured in hours, with estimates as high as six hours.

The whole experience was awful. I did finally talk BA into a hotel room for the night after the second cancellation of the day. They had resumed operations the next morning, and I was on an early flight to Glasgow. However, in line for security, I overheard other passengers talking about how the computer system for luggage handling had crashed again.

I wrote more about my experience on FlyerTalk in this thread

To answer the most frequently asked question, my luggage arrived without any problems. Although T5 has been notorious for lost luggage, I did not have any problem. My best guess is that I checked in for my flight in San Francisco with American Airlines, so entering my baggage record into BA’s computers didn’t need to use the T5 luggage system.

On Wednesday, I read that the problems at BA had actually made Heathrow better for other passengers. With fewer BA jets trying to get on to the runways, the other airlines had an easier time getting out on schedule.

The bottom line is that if you want me to go somewhere in Europe, you had better have a plan that doesn’t involve British Airways. I was quite glad to hear that American is expanding code share services with both Iberia and SN Brussels, which should allow me to avoid Heathrow in the future.

Wi-Fi Rail about to sign a deal with BART

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Via Glenn Fleishman, I found this Sacramento Bee article describing a imminent deal between BART and Wi-Fi rail. (I tried the Wi-Fi Rail service, but wasn’t impressed.)

The article has two points worth noting. First, the initial trial will expand from the four downtown San Francisco stations to the big underground areas:

If a deal is struck, Lee says WiFi Rail will install the system on BART’s most heavily traveled underground routes – in Oakland, San Francisco and the Transbay Tube – within 120 days. Coverage for BART’s entire 103-mile system would follow.

The underground core of the BART system runs from the four downtown SF stations, the Transbay Tube, and the Oakland Wye (roughly West Oakland north to 19th Street and west to Lake Merritt).

The article then quotes Wi-Fi Rail’s corporate counsel as adding 45 minutes to a workday:

“Take a BART rider who gets on at Walnut Creek and spends 45 minutes going to downtown San Francisco” and back, says [Gilles] Attia [Wi-Fi Rail’s corporate lawyer]. By plugging in, “he’s added 1 1/2 hours to his work day.”

Mr. Attia works in Sacramento, so he may not have first-hand experience with BART. Assuming that I’ve got the bounds of the expanded Wi-Fi Rail deployment right, it’s not that big. Lake Merritt to Civic Center (on my commute) is 16 minutes. 19th Street/Oakland to Civic Center is 18 minutes. 19th Street/Oakland to Lake Merritt is only 5 minutes.

Since my initial report on the unreliability of Wi-Fi Rail a year ago, I haven’t found that the service in train cars has improved. Service is faster and more robust on the platform, but I still find the service on the train spotty.