Sprint pushes its wireless network for smart grid

Not all cellular network traffic comes from our cell phones and gadgets; a growing amount will come from machines using these networks to communicate, including the utilities that provide you with power and water. Spring announced a host of new smart grid partnerships on Thursday.

Today in Mobile

Chetan Sharma’s latest report was released this morning, and as always it’s teeming with all sorts of data about the mobile industry. My former colleague Matt Kapko notes that U.S. consumption of mobile data enjoyed a particularly high spike, and Fierce Wireless examines how smartphones and tablets are driving that usage. Perhaps the most important storyline, though, is the fact that AT&T has been far out front of the competition when it comes the nascent market of connected devices. Those revenues will be key as we enter the “Internet of Things” era, and AT&T is very well positioned to continue to lead the pack.

Today in Mobile

A lot of attention is being paid to whether AT&T is actually the largest mobile carrier in the U.S. now (it isn’t), but I’m more interested in the news that the operator added two million non-phone connections in the fourth quarter. That figure includes laptops, tablets and netbooks, but it also includes the M2M kind of connections that are the heart of the growing Internet of Things era. Perhaps more than any other U.S. carrier, AT&T has gotten out front of that space and is playing a leading role by forging alliances with manufacturers and service providers from other (read: non-mobile) industries. That vision should serve the carrier very well as M2M begins to take off and 4G networks come online.

Today in Cleantech

Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is dead — long live Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). That’s one way to frame the news from CNET that, in the coming weeks, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority is going to hand out for distribution the last blocks of the roughly 4.3 billion addresses available under IPv4. That seemed like enough back in the late 70’s when Vint Cerf decided to use 32-bit addresses for the Internet. But beyond improved functionality and security features, IPv6 also uses 128-bit addresses, which should make the supply pretty much inexhaustible. So what does this mean for green technology? Well, the smart grid is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating an “internet of things” that will commune with each other via IP — and companies that are relying on IP for their smart grid plans had better be up to speed on IPv6. Indeed, would-be smart grid giant Cisco and smart grid networking upstart Silver Spring Networks have been touting the virtues of IPv6 for years now.

Why Carriers Should Care About Customer Care

It didn’t take Nostradamus to forecast customer-service snags as Google moves into the very different — and very complicated — world of handset retailing. But last week’s stumbles illustrate just how crucial customer care is in an age when nearly all of us depend heavily on being connected at any time, any place. And they underscore the huge opportunity that exists for carriers to leverage their experience in dealing directly with consumers.

How Human Users Are Holding Twitter Back

Twitter is poised to make an evolutionary leap over the next year or so that, if all goes well, could dwarf the company’s impact thus far. The tenfold increase in frequency it’s offering to developers who access its feed — what some call the full “fire hose” of information — will bestow a vast array of apps with the unmitigated power of the real-time web. And its increasing use of location-based information adds another game-changing dimension. These two developments will amplify Twitter’s abilities to the point that, before long, the gating factor on its value will be the people tweeting. At that point, Twitter will make another evolutionary leap in usefulness when it is taken over by non-human users.

Human users of Twitter 1.0 have already proven themselves to be overly passive, poor contributors. A Sysomos analysis last summer pointed out that 75 percent of tweets were created by just 5 percent of accounts and that about 24 percent of all tweets were made by automated “bots.” (Those bots, by the way, represented about a third of that 5 percent of users doing most of the work.) As Twitter flows increasingly through sophisticated third-party apps — applications that are richer and more valuable the more information they consume — only bots will be able to keep up with those apps’ insatiable demand for data.

For example, Twitter’s potential in mapping earthquakes was demonstrated last week during a 4.1 quake in the San Francisco Bay Area that saw 296 quake-related tweets per minute. A system that’s dependent on the independent actions of lots of Twitter users may be well-fed by tech-savvy Bay Area residents. What about tornado alleys in Nebraska or hurricane paths in Alabama where Twitter use isn’t as high? The National Weather Service is hoping to use tweets to track developing storms, but that effort would be greatly limited where fewer people use Twitter and even fewer may opt to tweet about the weather rapidly enough to be useful. A network of tweeting weather vanes and windmills, on the other hand, could be more reliable and informative.

Commercial use of Twitterbots could also explode. Companies already use Twitter to find unhappy customers. But what if the products themselves could tweet whenever they were in use? What if each product tweeted when it broke or when there was an outage? Or when a customer pressed a “dissatisfied” button?

Large companies may prefer to use their own internal systems rather than Twitter for this kind of machine-to-machine communication. But there are at least two reasons to tweet like this: One, it cost-effectively offloads the expense and operational complexity of maintaining a large-scale communications system. And using Twitter allows for the possibility of mashing up machine-sent data with the human kind in interesting, perhaps unpredictable, ways. For instance, going back to the National Weather Service example, mashing up the data from scores of tweeting weather vanes with human-tweeted reports of funnel-cloud sightings could provide a richer, more intelligent, storm chronicler. App makers could also mash up data from seemingly unrelated spheres — perhaps tracking the development of storms together with the flow of evacuees in tweeting cars, for example.

And, of course, the escalation of non-human tweeting — machines tweeting in response to trends in other machine tweets, creating secondary and tertiary trends — may be the real storm brewing.

Question of the week

What machine-to-machine app will transform Twitter?