GSM phone jammers and detectors

March 2, 2007

In an earlier post – The mobile or cell phone appears normal, but… I mentioned the subject of mobile or cell phones that could be used for spying on their owners. In a similar vein many people have not heard about another category of illegal electronic device called GSM blockers or jammers.

Although there are actually are times when it can be quite entertaining to listen into other people’s phone calls, most experiences can be really annoying. One humorous example of the former is a recent case is mention by Peter Cochrane on where he listened into the conversation from a guy who had visited one those ranches in Texas where the main activities are not concerned with rodeo riding… Peter has a great web site for those interested in a contrarian view of the technology and telecommunications world – in the late 1990s, Peter used to be BT’s Chief Technologist.

Anyway, getting back to the subject of the unconscious misuse of mobile or cell phones, we all come across examples of this on a regular basis and is a popular subject for blogs. I have collected numerous examples for quite some time and I’ll put a list up as a future post. In fact, there are even several books about the subject – this is one of the most entertaining: The Jerk with the Cell Phone: A Survival Guide for the Rest of Us by Barbara Pachter and Susan F. Magee:

In The Jerk with the Cell Phone discover the smartest – and funniest – ways to deal with cell phone jerks without becoming a jerk yourself. Included are the world’s most unbelievable but true cell phone horror stories, revenge testimonials, and cartoons highlighting just how brainless we’ve all become about the technology we all love to hate but can’t live without.

The above book talks about personal intervention when someone starts talking loudly of a phone in an inappropriate place and I have certainly done this on several occasions on a train. However, there are electronic solutions to the problem although I would certainly not condone their use as their use as they are illegal in the United Kingdom as in many other counties. I’m talking about GSM phone blockers or jammers.

Like spy phones, these little devices are available if you know where to go. First stop is eBay of course! Here is one that can be shipped to you from the far east. However, I would warn you that there could be consequences if you were caught importing one into the UK…

One outlet in the UK is Global Gadget who sell a wide variety of jammers, but their home page says:

We sell all types of cell phone jammers to suit all needs. From the small handheld personal mini jammers to the mega power Y2000 model. Whatever your requirement is, we have a unit to deal with your problem. Whether it is to restore some peace and quiet or to stop the unauthorised use of the mobile phones in restricted areas including anti terrorism measures, then we have a cell phone jammer to provide the solution.

Please note that we do not sell jammers to UK customers due to Ofcom regulations. Also, we do not sell jammers to any end users in EU countries due to lack of CE approval of the jammer products.

One model covers 800/900/1800/1900/3G networks.

Another interesting and more legitimate gadget is the cell phone detector.

“This pocket sized device is ideal for use for detecting people using mobile phones in use in offices, prisons or hospitals etc, anywhere that people are not supposed to be using phones or are to be discouraged. This model is super sensitive and will detect cellular phones up to 40 feet away, once detected the sensitivity can be adjusted to home in on the signal, making this device particularly suitable for use in prisons and other establishments with concealed rooms.”

The dark side of mobile or cell phone usage is an interesting area to delve into occasionally!

Mobile apps: Java just doesn’t cut the mustard?

January 30, 2007

When I attended Library House’s MediaTech 2.006 conference in December 2006, I bumped into an old colleague of mine Francis Charig. Francis is CEO of the Tao Group (pronounced ‘dow group’) based in Reading, UK. I think I first met Francis, back in the mid 1990s when they were moving to enter the mobile middleware market. The company was formed in 1992 with Francis as Chairman and Chris Hinsley as the Director of Technology. Their original product was a software development platform that enabled games programmers to develop games that were portable across a number of operating systems.
Over the years this has morphed into intent, a modular software development platform for the creation of rich multimedia services on mobile phones. intent enables applications developers to write binary, portable, native and Java services without the “behavioral inconsistencies that have plagued the rest of the industry.”

In my chat with Francis, we were talking about today’s complexities of developing applications that are able to run on a multiplicity of phones. I mentioned to him that with an application I was developing I was avoiding the use of phone based software (J2EE et al) like the plague because it was so challenging, if not impossible, to develop a portable application. Fortunately, my application is a very simple text based application and the best way to deliver this service is through the phone’s browser. Taking that path, portability is ensured with minimum support costs.

The conversation then moved the conversation on to Java and I exclaimed “I thought so”!

However, it might be best to directly quote from Francis’ paper:

“Many expected Java to be the solution [to multimedia application development on mobile phones]. But now the market has broadly woken up to Java’s true capabilities with the gaming community shouting, “I told you so.”

In its defense, Java wasn’t designed for the delivery of the typical consumer services we want to use today based around powerful multimedia. The only way to deliver rich media on Java, even to a fairly rudimentary level has been to tie each implementation so closely with the underlying hardware that the portability of the platform has been all but eliminated, and the variation in platform has been such that there are huge inconsistencies in running the same application across multiple devices. To illustrate the fragmentation around Java, in the mobile games world the requirement to run across so many handsets has meant that publishers have had to maintain literally hundreds of different SKUs of just of a single Java game, and with significant behavioural differences between handsets.

Java was not designed with 21st century market requirements in mind. It was planned with certain objectives and those objectives, by and large, were fulfilled and fulfilled to a high standard. What it was not designed to do was enable services such as the more advanced 3D mapping applications or competitive casual or console gaming. Java is abstracted too far away from the hardware that powers the device to provide an efficient platform and the ubiquity that the market craves.

Consequently, we have seen application developers move in 2006 to writing in high-level languages that output native codes such as C and C++. This is a return to non-portable platforms with rich media APIs tied to specific hardware/software combinations… Our industry has moved from a Java to post-Java market, where Java still exists as an important part of the platform but not the entire platform itself… ‘Write once, run once’. But native code is required to meet consumer expectations. It’s quite a dichotomy.”

This is really quite profound in its consequences and, as Francis says, presents quite a dilemma to advanced mobile service developers.

Maybe I’ll stick to browser-based WML, XHTML or even AJAX solutions for the moment or just give Francis a call!

MobileMonday theme, Bubble 2.0?

January 17, 2007

Along with a colleague, I attended the London chapter meeting of mobilemonday whose raisin d’etre is to be a community of mobile professionals.

They describe themselves with the following words:

“The open community promotes the mobile industry and fosters cooperation and networking among people in the industry and their companies by providing opportunities for personal and virtual contacts.”

If you click through to the London site you can sign up to their newsletter and see the proposed subjects of future meetings.

Tom Hume (thanks for the link Sam) has provided a content thread of the event so I’ll not duplicate that here.

The subject of the panel was concerned with whether we were experiencing a bubble 2.0 along similar lines to bubble 1.0. Although the discussion was erudite, due to the quality of the panel members, I can’t say I gained a lot of additional insight to the chosen theme.

We should not forget that it was a mobile oriented event and not one looking at Internet-based Web 2.0 stuff, so listening to the discussion with a mobile filter switched on, I had the most curious feeling of deja vu throughout the evening. Having sat through many such events and vendor presentations on the subject of WAP services during the late 1990s it struck me that there is a view that not much has changed in the intervening years.

One of the aspects of bubble 1.0 that was not mentioned, was that were back then oodles of start-ups trying to force fit services onto an embryonic Internet infrastructure that could not support them from a performance perspective at the time. The service concepts were fine but they were just a decade too early! Two examples of this are video telephony and ASP services (services hosted in the network rather than running on your local PC).

Nearly all of these ventures were doomed from the start because performance and reliability of the extant IP networks turned out to be marginal at best (this was one of the contributing factors to the subsequent market crash, along with much too money being invested in these non-workable concepts). With Internet services, all that is pretty much behind us now that we have such a high penetration of broadband in homes. Perhaps if, like Snow White, those entrepreneurs had gone to sleep for a decade and woken up in 2006 they would now be in a position to really deliver all those innovative services of yesteryear!

It strikes me, if we can put 3 / 3.5G to one side for the moment, that in this sense we are replicating bubble 1.0 again. It could be conjectured that this is where we are again with today’s mobile data and content services with many good ideas being stifled by:

  • the poor level of mobile network infrastructure performance.
  • the severely limited capabilities of the mobile phone itself – principally screen size.

Today, mobile service evangelists are busily developing sensible content-based services but take up is constrained because of poor user experience. This leads to poor revenue which is compounded by the perceived need to make services free with a contribution to cost derived from advertising.

Overall, it was an enjoyable and useful evening and it’s always pleasing to see how buoyant the UK really is with entrepreneurial energy.

Maybe today’s mobile entrepreneurs should go to sleep and wake up ten years from now to find that much neeeded mobile infrastructure that could deliver a user experience that would be second to none?

Let’s hope that bubble 2.0 is different from bubble 1.0 and this is not required!

That Book! Mobile Web 2.0!

January 15, 2007

I’m an avid reader of books and feel completely lost if I’m not reading one (sad, but I’m Radio 4 listener as well!). I’ve just started The Long March, by Sun Shuyen which talks about the fledgling Chinese Communist Party’s 10,000 mile march around China fleeing Chaing Kaishek’s army.

The myths arising from that march formed the basis of Mao Tse Tung’s barbaric domination of China for so many years. However, this is supposed to be a technology blog…

I also read many technical books – not deeply technical ones I might say, but certainly ones that make me think about what’s happening in the market and could potentially change the way I think about things. I suppose I have to say that I more than more often than not just skim them, highlighting and /or scribbling in the margin at those points that seem significant or more often those I disagree with. I’m sure all this knowledge will prove to be useful one day :>).However, I did actually read one book from cover to cover.

A book I recently bought from Amazon was Mobile Web 2.0 by Ajit Jaoker and Tony Fish. Both of these guys are well known on the conference circuit and Ajit runs a well known blog called OpenGardens, a term that derives from a juxtaposition of the term walled garden services that block access to the open Internet . Walled garden serives allow their customers to access the content and services they choose to provide. This used to be the case in the early days of the Internet world with companies such as Compuserve and AOL, but this is all long in the past – or is it?

Well actually, no it isn’t in the world of mobile phone service providers, however, I digress.

The book’s strap-line is “The innovator’s guide to developing and marketing next generation wireless/mobile applications” and it certainly represents a tour de force at 324 pages in thickness.

The authors state in the introduction that:“this book looks at mobile applications in an unconventional manner” and it certainly succeed. To quote:

“If you see mobile applications as purely as an extension of the web, you are going to struggle with this book” and…

“If you see mobile applications as merely an access technology within a standalone industry… Put the book back on the shelf and move on”. (This is more difficult when the book’s been bought from Amazon!) and…

“If you see that mobile applications and the web are symbiotic with distinct and unique values that need to learn and grow together; you are not going to put this down”.

I guiltily have to admit that after participating as a marketeer for many years in the growth of the PC and Internet markets, the first two statements sum up my views perfectly! I guess that makes me a 100% Luddite that should be relegated to Web 1.0 history. Oh well.

In spite of this, I do have to recommend the reading of this book as it does contain some real nuggets. for those trying to get to grips with mobile content services. A one sentence review, would say that the book takes all the definitions and jargon that provide the essence of Web 2.0 philosophy and extends (stretches?) them to encompass data and content services as accessed (whoops sorry!) via a mobile phone.

This post is not meant to be a proper review of the book , so I’ll just point to one or two of the point I highlighted while reading.

Early on there is a one-page section called A word of caution:

“The Telecoms environment and its slow moving, complex decision-making processes perplex most developers. Hence, a word of caution is needed. When we first discussed the idea of OpenGardens with a well-known Telecoms industry veteran, he said that the book should come with a ‘Health warning’. Keep away! Too many have gone down this path with visions of gold rush ‘Ia Klondike’ but have died a snowy death. Here is a brutally frank paraphrased view point, coming from a Telecoms industry insider:”

I won’t go through the advice listed here as you should really buy the book, but I most certainly agree with the sentiments. I give this sort of advice to so many start-ups who believe they can use either a fixed or a mobile operator as a channel or they will become a key prospect. Not a good in general. I will post more on this subject at some time.

On page 75 there is an interesting section entitled Significance of the mobile device – Maslow revisited that includes the sentence :

“This relationship is unique [between people and their mobile phones] i.e. one does not feel the same emotional empathy with their PC as they do with their mobile device”.

This is a key thread that permeates much of thebook. Wow, I have to say I wish I felt that way (a luddite again). I have MUCH more empathy with my PC than my phone. I guess that is because I’m not 16 and am one of the Web 1.0 folks who will not be able to adapt to this new world.! Mind you I swear just as much at Windows crashing as I do at my total inability to find my around the arcane menu structure on my mobile phone!

Do other people who have always worked in the mobile world share this view I wonder?

In a later section it says The mobile phone network is the computer:

“Back in the 1970s, Bill Gates articulated his vision of ‘a computer on every desk, and every one running Microsoft software’. By the late 90s, that vision was largely complete. Another profound vision was articulated by Sun Microsystems58 co-founder John Gage in 1984. It concerned a different model called ‘distributed computing’ and it said: ‘The network is the computer’. By the late 1990s, that vision was also almost realised, especially with the rise of the Internet….” Sun still use this strap line as I saw it at an exhibition before Christmas).

“What if we could extrapolate the ideas of a ‘computer’ and a ‘network’ to a higher level in the stack and especially to a ‘Network of mobile phones’?

Finishing with:

“Thus, in a mobile 2.0 context, we could say ‘The mobile phone network is is the computer. Of course, when we say ‘phone network’ we do not mean the ‘Mobile [capitalisation again?] operator network. Rather we mean an open, Web driven application…”

These comments raised all sorts of interesting emotions and reactions when I read them, which I guess, is what the authors intended. But the thought that a mobile phone could be on a higher level does make me blink somewhat !

As this is only meant to be a short post, I will stop here. The book is a highly entertaining and thought provoking book and I commend Ajit and Tony on their efforts, even though I found parts hard to swallow without shouting out aloud!

Go buy it and I look forward to their next one.

The mobile or cell phone appears normal, but…

January 13, 2007

WARNING! Using surveillance devices, intercepting and/or recording audio conversations, without the consent of all the
parties involved might be illegal in your country. Check local laws before or purchasing and/or using any of our products

Well, that’s the warning on the web site of SpyPhones. As it seems prices do not include 19% dutch [sic] tax, I assume its a Netherlands company.

There was quite a kerfuffle last night on the BBC regional news last night about spy software on mobile phones. So I thought I would take a look at what was going on and I have to admit to being a little surprised.

Their About page says…

We already have experience with spyphones for 5 years. We have tested all availableSpyphones from the first bug phone till the latest Spyphone Interceptors. We are [sic] Manufacturer and distributor of Spyphones and we make most of the modifications ourselves. We deliver worldwide within one week…

They are Symbian based cellular phones whit [sic] modified software programmed on it. With this software you are able to turn the phone in a Spy phone, call and audio recorder, Security device and be able to send encrypted SMS messages.

These GSM Spyphones look and operate like a normal phone…

But when you call the phone from one special number programmed in the phone the spy phone will be turned into a sophisticated bugging device, allowing you to hear what is going on in the vicinity of the phone. The spy phone works like a normal mobile phone and so shows nothing suspicious or unusual to the user.

When a key is touched the Spyphone automatically breaks the connection to prevent suspicioun [sic]. The phone appears normal and in standby mode.

It couldn’t be easier it seems…

However when you call the phone using the phone’s special number, it automatically answers without letting the owner being aware that you are connected to their phone. It allows you listen discreetly to what is going on up to 5 meters away from the phone.When anyone is calling or recieving a phonecall with the phone, you will get an SMS message wich tells you what the phone is doing. Then you can call to the phone and listen to the conversationrom anywhere in the world with no range limitations, just dial in and listen….

Since all modifications to the phones are made very carefully, neither Spy-phone user nor a technician of any skill can find out it is a special spyphone.

Their usage is quite clear I think, but they clearly enumerate some ideas:

* Keeping track of your partner.
* See if you can trust your business partner.
* Listen in sales talks of your employees.
* Protecting your children
* To reveal secrets.

It does make sense for us all to be careful about what phones are in our vicinity when having an important discussion. You never know who might be listening!