Tech Tuesday

Protecting GPS, and What is iCloud?

Controversy reins in battle over GPS signal; and Apple launches a service that could benefit many.

The controversy has been brewing since January when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved an operating permit for a company called LightSquared to move forward with a network of 40,000 base stations to bring high-speed cellular communication to a wider area. Trouble is, the frequency the company wants to use would pretty much block your access to the GPS satellite correction signal. Not a small problem.

I've covered this in my machinery blog that runs on your favorite Farm Progress state site, but this deserves attention across the country. And the Association of Equipment Manufacturers have been hard at it pushing out all the information they can to tell the story. The Save Our GPS group is also turning up the heat on lawmakers and bureaucrats.

I won't belabor the point, FCC approved LightSquared's original permit based on that company's own data saying they wouldn't interfere with GPS. Turns out, in fact, that their signal is strong enough to block your access to that lower-power satellite signal. There are experts that say a filtering system could be implemented, but right now the bigger concern is that anyone using GPS might have trouble if this were implemented.

In the last two weeks there has been some "action" on this topic. First, LightSquared was scheduled to deliver a new report on the interference issue, but that release date has been pushed back a couple weeks. Second, the company issued a release on its own ideas for using different parts of the frequency spectrum to avoid the trouble - but that has raised even more questions.

There's action on a lot of fronts because this issue impacts big cellular phone companies aiming to expand on the new service; GPS service providers worried their tools won't work; and farmers, who count on these tools for enhanced efficiency and productivity. You can visit that Save Our GPS website for more information, and check out what LightSquared has to say as well.

There's been enough noise and ruckus over this now, thanks to industry participants, that LightSquared will have little choice but to find a different way to provide its service; however the final solution could take time. For now your GPS signal is safe.

What is this Cloud?

Early in June, Apple rolled out the iCloud and it's big news. You would have a free space - up to 5 gigabytes - for photos, music you purchased and applications you bought. And they would be backed up in the cloud.

What is unique is that the iCloud, when launched, will be automatic. Have iTunes on your computer? Your purchased music will be saved/stored in iCloud. Purchase apps for your phone? You can retrieve them from iCloud. And as with iTunes originally, it's not even clear how this will be used in the future, but chances are good you'll find it valuable as it grows.

We've covered the cloud concept here in the past, and this latest news will push the idea further. The Apple system will work both with its own computer operating system and with Windows machines (everyone uses iTunes after all). And chances are pretty good that while 5 gig is free, there will be higher-level, more-memory choices for a fee down the road - once you're hooked you'll want more space.

It's not a bad idea. Services like Carbonite have offered off-site, cloud-like backup systems for the past few years. And we recommend them for farmers because lightning, tornadoes and floods are a part of farming (rarely for sure, but still an issue) and having your farm information backed up off-site is a great idea.

But eventually we all may be working in the cloud - when high-speed Web access is more universally available. Google already offers word processing and spreadsheet tools online - they're far from being as good as Word or Excel, but give them time. And your files are available from any computer with a browser. Want to know more, visit Google and click on "more" then scroll down to "even more" to find these tools online.

I already use Google calendar as my universal calendar - I can enter an appointment on my phone, which is backed up on the Web which is then available to my iPad. And I can add information across those platforms in any way I choose. This kind of advanced functionality is available through this "cloud" concept.

We'll cover that more in the future, offering specific examples you can use on your farm, but rest assured, the cloud is going to be everywhere.

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