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Spillikins #110. Catastrophe in Japan and Early Warning Systems
Last week Stephen Elop came to Russia for the first time. He met with journalists and partners. His speeches were triumphant. He did not say anything apart from the fact that Russia remains a priority market. While talking with Nokia employees Stephen Elop did not touch a single issue of real importance for the staff members. Look at pictures from the carnival in Germany, because we should expect firings in the company, which will be accompanied by chaotic scenes.
Once again we had a problem of defects in Nokia phones I could not ignore due to mass character of this event. We will start with a natural disaster in Japan though. The sheer force of devastation, loss of life and damage to nuclear stations overshadowed the technical side of this tragic event, but people had a minute to save their lives.
On behalf of Mobile-Review.com I would like to express our support to Japanese readers. They are not numerous, but these several thousands of monthly visitors are as important for us as everybody else. Our thoughts are with you. I hope that the worst is already in the past.
A natural catastrophe in Japan showed the fragile character of technology. In Hollywood movies heroes can use phones even during a global meltdown, but in real life it works the other way round. Cellular networks crumble down as soon as they are targeted by a calamity. The tsunami struck many empty towns and villages where people have been already evacuated, but the cellular networks were impacted quite hard.
Japanese authorities take earthquakes seriously and everybody knows how to behave when the disaster strikes. People are trained how to behave inside transportation vehicles or in the open field. Many cities have simulators, which show what happens inside buildings during quakes. School classes cover all dangers of earthquakes and their consequences. Tourists can notice flash lights in hotel rooms to be used during power cutoffs. An evacuation plan can be taken with you when it is time to escape a falling building. When everything is covered by dust and fumes it is easy to get lost even in simple and straight corridors. People in Japan know it and take measures.
After the earthquake three leading Japanese cellular companies (NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Softbank) claimed their networks suffered a lot, especially in coastal areas. In some places cellular communications were down due to infrastructure collapse and power cutoffs. In large cities networks suffered from excessive workload. They could not handle all calls, SMS and online access requests to read news and check mail. Cellular communication is an extremely fragile element of modern technology.
In Japan Internet access is available in every house or cafe. Usually it is not wireless and landline communication was largely left intact. Those who had power could use Skype, mail and other tools. All Japanese carriers started dedicated web pages for announcements. People could leave message even when the mobile phones did not function. The messages could be read by anyone who entered the phone number of the message's author. There was no privacy, but it does not help in days of catastrophes.
By the Saturday evening mobile communication was restored in all large cities. In places where power supply is still interrupted base stations are powered by diesel generators. In zones hit by earthquake and tsunami mobile stations were installed. They help rescue workers and provide communication for the worst affected areas. Any phone can be registered in the network irrespective of the carrier.
Despite the massive calamity Japanese carriers are trying to solve the issue. The country became cut off from the rest of the world. Phone calls were impossible to make on Friday and the first part of Saturday. At the same time people had access to the Internet, which is clear from numerous entries on forums. Witnesses described their impressions from the disaster. I am not sure that in other countries governments and carriers are ready to act effectively in a similar situation. Surely, Japan has the world 3rd economy, but the key element is readiness to fight with deadly consequences of earthquakes. It is difficult to prepare for catastrophes, but Japanese people did not show any signs of panic.
By Saturday the mobile phone networks in Japan were up and running.
Japanese TV stations covered the events live and the same applied to a nuclear plant explosion. Instant dissemination of news prevents rumors and panic.
We offer our condolences to the families of the deceased, but all governments and mobile carriers must study the examples from Japan to locate the most vulnerable networks. May be software tools should be used to limit access to the Internet and additional services during calamities for the sake of voice calls and messages.
Outside of Japan not many people know about early warning systems in this country. It includes numerous sensors and meteorological stations scattered all around Japan. The system involves the national TV network NHK, which works quite effectively. The system gave a signal before the earthquake struck. It automatically calculated the power of the quake (initially 8.1) and it took 8.7 seconds to project areas hit by the calamity. The majority of places had around one minute to warn the inhabitants. Watch how the TV stations handled the crises. The presenter reads out names of areas to be severely hit. There was no data about the power of the earthquake, but it was already announced. These minutes can save many lives for people to leave danger zones or protect themselves. On the video you can see areas where the quake had to strike.
This video shows the warning system on a PC. It even shows the amount of time left before the calamity. A camera man was making shots of everything happening around, which is difficult to watch as you do not know what will happen in the end.
Last year earthquake on Haiti left 200,000 dead. The power was less severe at 7, while in Japan it reached 8.7. Less dangerous quake turned out to be so devastating as it was not expected. Buildings and people were not ready for that. Panic kills more people than natural disasters.
In 2007 the system of early warning was joined by mobile carriers. Automatically phones send a message about the imminent calamity (earthquake, tsunami, etc). The same happened this time. For example, in Tokyo a minute before the hit all connection was broken, but millions of phones got a message that the earthquake will happen in a minute. All companies received similar messages to stop assembly lines and take other measures. The subway came to a halt and passengers were informed about the coming earthquake.
Japan spent around 1 billion dollars from 1995 to 2007 to implement the early warning system. All 3G phones and above must have an inbuilt warning system and the scheme was already up and running in 2007. It was its first test as Japan never experienced such a power strike before. It is too early to assess the performance, but the number of casualties in Japan is much lower than could be expected during the catastrophe of such a magnitude. It is one more example how technology can truly save lives.
In many places the risk of earthquakes is minimal, but a similar system is essential to inform about natural or manmade disasters. We cannot tell the future, but if everybody has a mobile phone we can create a system similar to that of Japan. This approach works well as we can see from this Japanese example. Information vacuum during disaster is as dangerous as a calamity itself.
This story started in February, but I did not pay much attention to it. Who buys phones with defects, which will be surely out of order in summer? Only risky people who have no information about this danger can purchase the abovementioned models. I have mentioned the reasons for defects in a separate article. I suggested waiting until February or March hoping that Nokia would deal with the issue. In fact Nokia added another defect to these models.
At the beginning of February people started complaining on web forums that screens in Nokia N8/C7 do not convey the grey color properly. Instead of grey you can see violet. Nokia did not acknowledge the defect and its representatives claimed that colors may vary based on screen settings. The number of complaints was on the rise though. More people called Nokia service centers. The picture from this resource shows the difference in colors quite vividly. I cannot say that the left picture is normal.
You can test your handset with the help of a special table here. Download the file into your phone and see what colors are displayed. If you see only grey color everything is fine. The violet color signals the defect.
In real life the problem can be seen not only in the wallpapers. The screen cannot display half tones. If you take a picture in the evening half tones will be replaced by bluish color or artefacts. On the video the picture will look muddy, especially if you watch shots taken at night or indoors with bad lighting. In fact the screen does not show the picture properly.
Reasons for defects. As we know displays are shipped by Samsung. Unfortunately, all components in Nokia products now have the same part number even if produced by different manufacturers. A screen for Nokia N8 made by different companies will still have the same number. While studying the issue I came across the fact that the screens were not replaced. These are still the same screens from Samsung. Nokia did not turn to Samsung with claims about the defects in these screens.
On March 9 Nokia service centers received a bulletin describing the problem and suggesting to replace screens in defected models. There was no official confirmation of defects in Nokia N8/C7, but the Finnish company still offered people to turn to service centers
The service bulletin (and we have a copy at our disposal) does not mention the reasons of the defect, but only suggests to replace screens altogether. I had a minor discussion with engineers connected with matrices design and it helped me to get a clue. The explanation is simple and clarifies why Nokia did not contact Samsung regarding the replacement of defected screens. Engineers think the following:
"Phone manufacturers may purchase screens with the system logic including a controller with drivers also created by the company responsible for screens. Some companies buy only matrices without drivers. Nokia followed another route. They purchased matrices with the system logic, but created drivers independently with the Samsung examples as a benchmark. Incorrect color reproduction was caused by the microcircuit with drivers. It is a part of the screen and cannot be replaced without changing the screen. Color issue was caused by the screen calibration. It is impossible to explain why first shipments of the models were free from this defect, but it was triggered by the driver change. May be the drivers were altered for ClearBlack screens with additional polarizing layer. These screens require special calibration, but why this driver was found in different screens is unclear".
It is an extraordinary situation. A purely software error requires changing the screen in the service center. Which phones can suffer from the defect? It applies to handsets manufactured between the end of December and today. As the service bulletin appeared only on March 9 we cannot expect that the necessary changes have already been made before that date.
What can I add? Unfortunately, the high quality of Nokia phones is already a thing of the past and defects can be found everywhere. Symbian^3 products are a prime example. Mass defects of Nokia N8/C7 started from the very beginning. Now come the screens. In summer first models with normal screens will stop functioning. Service centers will be struggling to cope with all issues. It is bad news for consumers. Anyone to play Russian roulette?
Nokia understands the situation, which lead to unprecedented discounts. For example, Nokia C7 went on sale in Germany for €450, but it is now offered for €300 (SIM-free). Nokia also pays the difference to partners and subsidies the model.
As you remember the white iPhone 4 never hit the shelves. Whether it was caused by antenna problems or the materials turned out not to be good enough. You never know. In summer the next incarnation of the iPhone will go on sale and on the web we can already see pictures, which are supposed to be close to the final version. As if the accessories manufacturer received a prototype to prepare cases for it. This explanation for the leak seems not very probable as before Apple never showed its products to others before the launch. Accessories are usually ready within days after the official announcement. I think we should still remain skeptical. This picture may be true to life or be masterminded by an unknown Apple fan.
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Published 16 March 2011
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