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CleanAir and the Volcanic Cloud

May 3, 2010 - 2 Comments


What a week!  With much excitement we announced the latest additions to our 802.11n Access Point Portfolio on Tuesday (among other things).  But the biggest news is our integrated spectrum intelligence technology we call CleanAir – read our press release here – which also won the 2010 Best of Interop Award for Wireless and Mobility.

Judging from press coverage and the excitement that surrounded our demos at Interop of this groundbreaking technology, gives our marketing team a great sense of accomplishment, which has come at a price. Over the past couple of months, and while the team was pulling late hours to prepare for the launch one of my key stakeholders, my wife, was probably one of the few people not excited about this launch.

Questions like “When are you coming home?” dominated our day-time phone conversations, followed by confused night-time talks that sounded like “Clean Air…what?, when I tried to explain to her what the product does.  But I don’t blame her, any time she uses the microwave oven in our house, or talks on the cordless phone she is not on her MacBook Pro surfing the Internet.  Miraculously though, she works on her laptop consistently next to the wireless video baby monitor without noticeable interference.  

So the concept, of interference, was pretty much unknown to her, or fell in the rather large troubleshooting category of “internet is slow!” – could have been the neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks.

Then it happened.  The volcano in Iceland erupted, sending massive clouds towards the East covering the greater part of Europe.  Flights started getting grounded, which resulted in billions of dollars in losses from halted economic activity across many countries.  I used this event to try to simplify what interference means and how our new system resolves this problem.

I said, “When you download a video online it comes in different pieces (packets) because it is too large to be transmitted all at once. When the air is clean, meaning there is no interference, then all these pieces of information arrive at their destination (your laptop) and you get to have a great experience. However when you introduce interference in the air some pieces of information will not make it all the way to the laptop and your video quality will be lousy.”

“Now think of our house as the globe. Our Linksys router is sitting upstairs at the office, let’s call that the United States.  When you are at the office (in the USA) you have a perfect Internet browsing experience. But then you decide to go downstairs in the kitchen, which we will call Europe.  The kitchen has several sources of interference such as the microwave oven, or the cordless phone, or our neibhbor’s Wi-Fi signal since they are on the other side of the wall.  This interference is equivalent to the volcanic ash that is preventing planes leaving the USA to reach Europe. As a result all these planes (think of them as your video pieces) never reach their destination (I would have made an “Oceanic 815” reference there but my wife never was a “Lost” fan).  When that happens you have a terrible experience.  If this were a business you would experience great losses because people would be sitting at an airport not able to get to their work. And you would have to send crews on location to resolve the problem.” 

That was about the point where my volcanic ash analogy started breaking down.  Unlike wireless interference, you can’t send a crew to remove ash from the airspace around Europe. If only our RF engineers could figure out a way to do that as well…

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  1. Good analogy to explain radio interference to less experienced people.

  2. Oh man hilarious references. Great analogies though to Clean Air. It makes much more sense to me with the analogies.