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Volume 7, Issue 814:  Monday, July 11, 2005

  • "U.S. Losing Lead in Science and Engineering--Study"
    Reuters (07/08/05)

    The United States is in danger of losing its more than five-decade-long global dominance of science and engineering as the percentage of American science and engineering graduates starts lagging behind that of Europe and developing countries, according to a study written by Richard Freeman of the National Bureau of Economic Research. His report estimates that science and engineering accounted for 17 percent of U.S. university bachelor degrees in 2000, compared with a world average of 27 percent and a Chinese average of 52 percent. Meanwhile, European Union universities awarded 40 percent more science and engineering doctorates than the United States in 2001, and that figure is expected to climb to almost 100 percent by the end of the current decade. Freeman's study says U.S. students are being discouraged from entering the fields of science and engineering by fewer career opportunities and lower comparative wages. Despite accounting for just 5 percent of the world's population, America uses nearly one-third of science of engineering researchers, publishes 35 percent of science and engineering research papers, and is responsible for 40 percent of R&D spending.
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  • "Industry Looks Into Cloudy Future for Authentication"
    eWeek (07/08/05); Roberts, Paul F.

    It is hoped that the Email Authentication Implementation Summit in New York will revive waning interest in adopting email sender authentication technology in order to bring spam and email viruses under control. Enterprise adoption of email sender authentication in the past year has been timid for the most part, according to Microsoft, while email experts say the sheer number of proprietary and open-source options is intimidating. Examples include the open-source Sender Policy Framework (SPF), which complicates email address counterfeiting; however, Microsoft's Craig Spiezle says only about one-fourth of the email that reaches in-boxes at the MSN Hotmail service originates from Internet domains that boast published SPF records. The Microsoft-supported Sender ID Framework (SIDF) performs a function similar to SPF, while Yahoo! and Cisco Systems offer technologies that let senders affix digital signatures to messages so that recipients can confirm email content and origin. Authentication proponents contend that many issues about different authentication technologies have been addressed; SIDF is a hybrid of SPF and Microsoft's Caller ID technology, while Yahoo! and Cisco announced in June that their rival digital signature technologies will be integrated. "These standards are interoperable, and a technology like SPF is easy to implement," says Louis Mastria with the Direct Marketing Association. Advocates claim deploying authentication is essential as the threat of phishing increases, concurrent with the consolidation of authentication standards.
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  • "Will RFID-Guided Robots Rule the World?"
    CNet (07/08/05); Gilbert, Alorie

    From factories to playgrounds, researchers are envisioning an ever-increasing array of applications for radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies: Secom has developed a robot that monitors children at play and sends a warning to a control center if a child wanders off or a stranger approaches. Other uses for robots endowed with sensory perception include monitoring factories and aiding with the care of the elderly or disabled, with potential applications in almost any other arena, including libraries, prisons, retail stores, and airports. A central impediment to the universal adoption of this technology is that any device with an RFID reader will only be able to detect another object if it carries an RFID tag as well. RFID tags, which require no power to transmit their unique serial number through a radio antenna and a microchip, are expected to emerge as a $2.8 billion market by 2009, compared to the $300 million in revenue posted worldwide in 2004. In the meantime, the cost of an individual tag prohibits wide-scale consumer applications, as tags currently run from 15 cents up to $100. As a result, much of the RFID activity appears in warehouses and factories, where companies such as Wal-Mart have sunk large investments in RFID technology to streamline shipping and production. Robotics remains on the distant horizon, however, as its technology has yet to catch up with its potential; insufficient advances in indoor location tracking and other expensive complexities so far inherent in free-wheeling robots have kept robotics effectively out of the commercial sphere. "Robotics is something I've always been fascinated by; it's got huge promise," said HP's Vijaykumar Pradhan. "But robots are not the solution to every problem. A simpler solution is the preferred one."
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  • "Robot Lends 'a Seeing Eye' for Blind Shoppers"
    USA Today (07/11/05) P. 7D; Burrell, Ashley

    Using a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Utah State University computer science professor Vladimir Kulyukin and visually impaired colleague Sachin Pavithran have built a prototype Robotic Guide (RG), a device designed to help blind people gain some measure of autonomy by helping them navigate through grocery store aisles, malls, and other places. The RG consists of an off-the-shelf motorized base with rechargeable batteries and a microcontroller that allows the unit to take directions from an attached laptop equipped with a speech synthesis engine; a Braille store directory and numeric keypad so the user can tell the guide what items to search for; and a shopping basket with a handle that the user can hold onto. A laser range finder is used to maneuver around objects, while a radio frequency identification (RFID) antenna finds items by communicating with RFID tags on store shelves. "When the robot reaches a destination--say, the Cheerios cereal shelf in the cereal aisle--the speech-synthesis engine generates an appropriate message telling the user that the Cheerios cereal boxes are on the shelf to his/her right," says Kulyukin. However, the product is not without shortcomings: Users must be familiar with Braille to employ the device, which also cannot access individual items. The developers are attempting to solve the first problem with a speech interface, and the second with the addition of a bar code reader. Although Paul Schroeder with the American Foundation for the Blind finds much to admire in the project, he warns that technology's potential is not always realized in real life. Kulyukin admits that the RG is not ready for commercialization or mass production.
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  • "Academia Seeks to Join Global Elite"
    Financial Times (07/08/05) P. 11; Cookson, Clive

    As the Asian position in the global IT marketplace strengthens, its academic institutions have failed to keep pace. In particular, Indian and Chinese firms are looking to hire graduates from European and North American universities, who typically have worked in more advanced labs, have had more exposure to the latest research, and enjoyed greater opportunities to partner with the industry than their Asian counterparts; as a result, many Asians looking to enter IT seek their education abroad, as foreign-educated graduates command higher salaries when they return home. In India, academics recognize the student base as being of exceptional quality, and tout the difficulty and competitiveness of the entrance exams into India's seven Institutes of Technology. The problem lies with inconsistencies among the faculty, which Indian universities are seeking to overcome by increased training. China feels a similar strain, and has recently overturned a law prohibiting foreign universities from establishing satellite campuses within that country. Neither China nor India keep track of the flow of students into and out of their countries, which can be an impediment to understanding the magnitude of the problem. Some data from the West indicate that the outflow of Asian students may have peaked a two or three years ago, a trend largely aided by new restrictions in the U.S. that have made attaining a visa more difficult. Still, as foreign attendance in other Western schools has declined, there is some evidence that Asian institutions are improving their stature.
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  • "Legislation to Elevate Cybersecurity Post May Die in Senate"
    National Journal's Technology Daily (07/07/05); Wodele, Greta; Barrett, Randy

    Due to debates over Bush's nominees and other legislative work taking precedence, legislation promoting the Homeland Security Department's cybersecurity division director to the assistant secretary level for increased cybersecurity importance will likely not receive a vote in the Senate again this year. The House overwhelmingly approved the provision in May, but a similar bill in the Senate has stalled. Cybersecurity is too important to maintain its current level, asserts a summary of the legislation written by the House Homeland Security Committee. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office reports that over the last three years, the Homeland Security Department has failed to address 13 cybersecurity responsibilities and has not yet named a new director of the cybersecurity division after former director Amit Yoran resigned last year; acting director Andy Purdy is leading the division temporarily. Cyber Security Industry Alliance executive director Paul Kurtz says, "This can come up and bite us in a number of ways...A deputy secretary will not do." Industry analysts say the government is too preoccupied with physical security issues and has not done enough to prevent against cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, which is mostly privately owned.
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  • "Irish Researchers in Third World IT Initiative"
    Silicon Republic (07/08/05); Kennedy, John

    Researchers in Europe are studying how to improve the usability of new technology in indigenous communities in India. The goal is to make it easier for someone who has no concept of a touch screen interface to use kiosks that software engineers in India have developed, for example, with the focus being on enhancing the presentation of information. The Information Systems, Organizations and Learning Research Center (ISOL) at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland is overseeing a Usability Research Unit, which is part of a research and development project funded through the EU-India program. "Recent evidence gathered by ISOL and other international research groups suggests that systems development methodologies, as taught in many higher education institutes, bear little resemblance to the actual ways in which these technologies are developed and implemented in commercial organizations," says ISOL Center leader Dr. Larry Stapleton. "This research theme seeks to understand how technologies like IT are actually developed in practice: what works and what does not work, and what barriers exist to the effective development and implementation of advanced systems."
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  • "Views From the Smartest People in Sun's Orbit"
    ZDNet (06/30/05); Farber, Dan

    The future of Google, biotech, programming models, and other technologies was the subject of a JavaOne panel consisting of some of Sun Microsystems' biggest brains. Sun Fellow Guy Steele discussed his Fortress language project, which is designed to more tightly integrate mathematical and programming notation; he also noted that he is busy devising an architecture for language designers, building rich and sophisticated code libraries, and then delivering a streamlined programming scheme for developers as well as non-developers. The panel briefly touched on biotech, with Sun chief researcher John Gage predicting major changes as a result of bio code hacking. Former Sun Fellow Bill Joy said Moore's Law has about a decade's worth of life left to it, and projected that biological notions such as the catalysis and interaction of proteins will be applied to electronics. Institute for the Future director Paul Saffo cautioned that forecasting is not an exact science, but concurred with Sun Fellow James Gosling and Applied Minds CTO Danny Hillis that the network edge is becoming the epicenter of significant electronic as well as physical breakthroughs. "If you are in a conversation and you don't know something, you go do Google to search...it's augmenting in a clumsy way," professed Hillis. "We will get more intimate--when you want a question answered, just think of it and some process will go out on [the] Net and [an] answer will appear to you." Saffo said indexing the physical world will be necessary if Google is to sustain its expansion and its flow of revenue, and he cited robotics as a key industry for the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.
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  • "Broadband's Power-Line Push"
    CNet (07/11/05); Reardon, Marguerite

    Google, Hearst, and Goldman Sachs' recently announced investment in Germantown, Md.-based Current Communications Group is generating renewed interest in broadband over power lines (BPL), a technology that might make electric companies viable as providers of high-speed Internet access. Technical problems and radio interference issues have severely crippled BPL's potential in the past, but industry observers wonder if the investment, valued to be around $100 million, signals the technology's readiness for deployment. Many technical problems have been resolved, and over 50 U.S. utilities are considering BPL implementation. Duke Power's Bob Gerardi says BPL's tendency to interfere with emergency radios and HAM radios has been inflated, and he notes that the latest technology can eliminate disruption by adjusting power levels. Critics such as Jupiter Research analyst Joe Laszlo think wireless technologies such as WiMax offer significantly more potential than BPL. Other analysts believe phone and cable companies are too far ahead in terms of mind share and subscribers for BPL to capture a substantial portion of the market. Jupiter estimates that 89 percent of American households had access to either DSL or cable modem service last year, while nearly 60 percent had dual access; the firm expects 76 percent to have dual access by 2009. "The big problem for power companies is not the technology, but the timing," says Strategy Analytics' Jim Penhune.
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  • "Mind the Semantic Gap"
    University of Southampton (ECS) (07/06/05); Millard, David E.; Gibbins, Nicholas M.; Michaelides, Danius T.

    University of Southampton researchers note that a tension in hypertext system design exists between machine-manipulable formalized knowledge representations and less highly structured hypertext representations created and read by people, and their primary area of concern is the formality of the semantics encoded within the hypertext structures and content. To that end, the authors outline a hypertext systems model that summarizes this formality and facilitates semantic analysis and comparison. Meaning resides in both text and link structures, which are integrated into a single semantic unit when read as hypertext; however, meaning may vary for each individual reader and each reading's context. A degree of mediation is required in hypertext systems where there is a large discrepancy between the level of reading and the level of authoring, so that readers are able to understand the authored material. The researchers present a vector-based model of semantic formalization in a hypertext system, and from it confirm the existence of at least two vectors: One that represents the difference in the formality of the representation of semantics between authors and system, and one that encapsulates the difference between system and readers. Of the paradigms observed through characterization of various hypertext systems via the model, the "translation to hypertext" paradigm appears to present the most difficulty, as it introduces harm in formality and makes it difficult for authors to tweak the grammar they share with readers. The "translation from hypertext" paradigm, on the other hand, may seem to reduce the harmfulness of formality, but still presents problems for authors who want to incorporate ambiguity into their writing.
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  • "ICANN's Man in Europe Bows Out"
    Register (UK) (07/05/05); McCarthy, Kieren

    Upon his departure from ICANN, former ICANN vice president for Europe Paul Verhoef predicts that the World Summit on the Information Society later this year will make general pronouncements about Internet governance that cast ICANN in a favorable light. In his role as the first ICANN staff member located outside of California, Verhoef has helped the organization establish its first international office and move toward a more global focus. In the past, ICANN has largely been criticized as too U.S.-centric. Verhoef describes ICANN as "an entirely new model where governments and private sector and civil society work together, where none of the three has a defined supremacy or primary role, but where there is a genuine attempt between the three sides to decide what is the best way forward." One of the areas in which Verhoef sees progress being made is ICANN's representative body for country-code domains; he predicts that a forthcoming change in bylaws will prompt most European domains to join the ccNSO. Verhoef is leaving ICANN to head the European Commission's Galileo satellite network. Verhoef also dismisses accusations that ICANN has not been open in its processes, explaining that it is mostly an issue in which people are unaware of the processes.
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  • "Love That 'Legacy'"
    Computerworld (07/04/05) P. 27; Anthes, Gary H.

    Defined variously as obsolete and reliable, and referred to with both admiration and scorn as Cobol or mainframe code, legacy systems still occupy an important position in today's programming landscape. Despite poor documentation and the melting pot effect that has come from many people having tinkered with the language over the years, legacy programs are the bread and butter of many IT operations. Tower Records has held onto its Cobol-based point-of-sale software system that was written in the mid 1980s: Tower's programmers have updated the code several times, effectively rewriting much of it to fit their needs; they also produced their own user manuals, removed lines of code that applied specifically to other retailers, and converted large, unwieldy chunks of code into smaller, more digestible programs. The Ship Systems division of Northrup Grumman has roughly 7 million lines of Cobol and Fortran code, and Northrup Grumman CIO Jan Rideout believes that mainframe code offers the reliability and security that newer, untested programs cannot promise. Her programming staff enjoys a low turnover, and new hires are taught Cobol right away. "Once people get over the it's-my-father's-Cobol thing, the young kids can be a little open-minded and get into these older systems and see that there are some interesting aspects to them," said Rideout. Despite the ease with which incremental changes to old code can be implemented, Ship Systems is moving away from mainframe code in favor of a commercial software package. As many developers are reluctant to give any attention to maintaining or updating Cobol systems, some IT executives are looking to offshore labor to squeeze more life out of old languages.
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  • "Head of the Class: The Future of Open Source in the Enterprise"
    Network World (07/04/05) Vol. 22, No. 26, P. 28; Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

    CollabNet CTO and leading figure of the open source movement Brian Behlendorf recalls in an interview that his interest in open source was first sparked when he realized that software innovation comes about through a collaborative network of people. He says the bottom-up approach for open source projects is in part a reaction to the push in software engineering to "add a degree of rigor and science;" open source's collaborative approach nets results that are "always better than the sum of the parts." Behlendorf believes a shift is taking place in the usage of open source software within the enterprise sector, in that people have begun to employ the software without concealing it from their bosses, and for more visible functions; he anticipates open source's movement to the application server. Behlendorf says IT customers must tackle the challenge of evaluating the maturity of open source software projects, and have more visibility into the projects' level of activity, if enterprises are to embrace open source more broadly. He attributes the expanding interest in open source among corporate users to the software's low cost, while its flexibility and the sense of security it promotes are also key factors. Behlendorf reports that the open source community is very adept at constructing small components, but significantly less proficient at combining them, although he perceives this apparent weakness as a business opportunity that companies are exploiting. Looking ahead, Behlendorf expects more organizations to adopt Linux desktops for data entry, customer support, and other low-demand applications, while Open Source Java will make a big splash in the next several years.
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  • "Conquest of Space"
    eWeek (07/04/05) Vol. 22, No. 26, P. 40; Taft, Darryl

    Grid computing offers a myriad of possibilities for businesses and researchers, but the term can mean different things to different users. Grid speeds and capacities increase when systems are linked, and both grow as the grid expands. The San Diego Supercomputer Center's (SDSC) largest project, the TeraGrid, is powered by an IBM eServer Blue Gene system that can reach a top speed of 7.7 teraflops. Eight hundred physical computers support the system's activities, which was upgraded in May to offer 1.1 petabytes of online disk storage space, roughly equivalent to nine times the amount of textual information in the Library of Congress. National Science Foundation grants and bandwidth increases have helped programs such as SDSC bring supercomputing into the realm of possibility for the scientific community. SDSC partnered with IBM, Intel, Sun, Oracle, and others to develop the TeraGrid, which began with clusters of eServer Linux systems dispersed at partner sites around the country. TeraGrid has a current storage capacity of 600 terabytes. Linkage among the clusters was established through a 40 Gbps Qwest network that can process 13.6 teraflops. Due to a scarcity of tools and middleware systems, open-source initiatives allowed for the creation of clustering tools such as SDSC's Rocks kit. Now that the grid is in place, experts are looking for applications. Papadopoulos sees its future in the Web: "From a technical point of view, the main grid infrastructure is just making this transition to a Web services-based infrastructure, which means that there's Web services plus some other things." Still, there is room for improvement. While mindful of the impressive evolution of grid computing, SDSC director Francine Berman still believes that "there are real challenges in terms of security, in terms of programming environments for grids, [and] in terms of policy when you cross different administrative domains or national boundaries."
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  • "Steal This Software"
    IEEE Spectrum (06/05) Vol. 42, No. 6; Hood, Marlowe

    China is one of the world's fastest-growing technology markets, but an entrenched culture of intellectual property theft is proving to be a difficult issue, not only for foreign software firms but also for the Chinese government. With improved bandwidth, the Internet has usurped disc-based piracy in China as Chinese users can easily find open-access FTP servers with illegal copies of major software releases hosted by entities such as Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Chinese consumers point out that purchasing legitimate copies of the software would be prohibitively expensive and that China has traditionally viewed imitation as an "elegant offense." Although 22 percent of software in the United States is illegally copied and 36 percent stolen in western Europe, China's piracy rate is an astounding 92 percent of all installed software. Observers say the Chinese national government subtly supports piracy of foreign vendors' products as a sort of industrial subsidy, while corrupt local government officials utilize stolen intellectual property for financial gain. In an investigation last year, Sony found some 50,000 PlayStation 2 consoles per day were being assembled in a Shenzhen prison, for example. But the national government is also realizing that adhering to intellectual property laws is important for local business; foreign firms may lose some of their overall sales to piracy in China, but local Chinese firms lose nearly all of their sales when their products are pirated, notes Founder Technology Group chief legal counsel Lun Yu, whose firm is the largest Chinese software firm. And China has recently taken a somewhat harder line with intellectual property thieves by changing laws and successfully prosecuting a handful of small-time purveyors of illegal goods.
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  • "Lose the File Cabinets"
    Federal Computer Week (06/27/05) Vol. 19, No. 21, P. 51; Sternstein, Aliya

    The new PDF Archival (PDF/A) standard, recently approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), is the result of an effort to manage and archive the preponderance of documents Enron and other fallen companies left in the wake of their collapse. The standard was developed with the help of industry, academia, federal agencies, and others, by Adobe and the U.S. Court's Association for Image Management's working group. NISO says the standard will be available from ISO in about a month. PDF/A's features make its documents completely independent, as they prohibit outside links and JavaScript, and require fonts to be embedded, all with long-term preservation in mind. "There's no encryption allowed, so that if Adobe doesn't exist in 200 years, someone can still open the document," said Adobe's Diana Helander. PDF/A also stipulates that its documents contain metadata, facilitating their easy location. Stephen Levenson, chairman of the standard's working group, says, "Standardization really gets down to consistency and cost-containment." PDF/A's low cost route to preservation may also make it appealing to government agencies, including the National Archives and Records Administration for its Electronic Records Archives program. Consultant Charles Dollar says PDF/A's flexibility makes it suitable for other electronic archives. He says, "There's a great deal of work that needs to be done upstream. Use of PDF/A would help mitigate some of these problems."
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  • "High-Performance Mesh Networking Makes Its Mark on M2M"
    Sensors (06/05) Vol. 22, No. 6, P. 14; Rotondo, Rick

    Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication via mobile broadband mesh networking has great potential as the next major wireless revolution. M2M communications systems facilitate the provision of critical data for real-time process control applications by sensors, streamlining the workload for plant technicians and operators. Each sensor node in a wireless mesh network can transmit and receive its own data and can also relay messages to nearby nodes, and wireless meshes can automatically route transmissions around obstacles, node malfunctions, and interference. In addition, mesh networks can be deployed and engineered more easily than sensor networks that depend on point-to-point and centralized radio; they also combine high bandwidth with high power efficiency, and can support end-to-end broadband data rates beyond sensors. Some mesh networks are also capable of self-configuration and self-repair. Higher-powered, broadband mesh solutions are targeted at bandwidth-heavy applications with a central emphasis on coverage, reliability, and performance. Such applications include real-time video monitoring and perimeter security monitoring. Successful deployments of wide-area M2M mesh sensor networks in traditional industrial environments such as wastewater reclamation plants and more rugged settings such as mines are helping mesh networking build momentum in other applications, and the Wireless Research Group predicts the global M2M communications market will be worth $31 billion by 2008.
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  • "What Lies Ahead for Cellular Technology?"
    Computer (06/05) Vol. 38, No. 6, P. 14; Lawton, George

    As wireless companies gird themselves for the transition from third-generation (3G) cellular service to 4G, some carriers are investigating new technologies, but most are upgrading existing wireless technology to avoid infrastructure overhauls, a decision that only serves to maintain incompatibility between cellular products. Analyst Andy Fuertes says many services will be drawn to 4G because carriers will want to switch to an all-IP system that delivers numerous IP-based applications, such as gaming, wireless Internet telephony, and videoconferencing. Next-generation wireless technologies fall into four categories: Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) based on time-division multiplexing; code-division multiple access (CDMA); WiMax/WiBro; and IEEE 802.20. Of all the GSM-based wireless services, 3.5G High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) offers a 14.4 Mbps theoretical download rate and a 1 Mbps actual download rate, though HSDPA does not support two-way high-speed communications. All CDMA wireless services run at the 800 MHz or 1.9 GHz frequencies, and vendors have supported the EV-DO component of the CDMA2000 IxEV technology; EV-DO is well aligned for Internet telephony because the latest revision cuts maximum transmission latency from 300 to 50 milliseconds. WiMax promises global 4G networks before 2010, and IEEE 802.16e will merge WiMax with WiBro to deliver mobile phone and PDA deployments in the 2007 to 2008 time frame. IEEE 802.20 could support voice, multimedia, and data transmission at optimal data rates of 6 Mbps downstream and 1.5 Mbps upstream. Fuertes says it is reasonable to think that 4G systems may ultimately be based on a batch of network technologies, while advocates do not expect the commercial implementation of 4G before the end of the current decade.
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