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Your top five laptop accessories

Mar. 9, 2012


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The letters 'PC' might be an abbreviation for personal computer, but there's something a lot more personal about the relationship between an individual and his or her laptop.

After all, when you leave your house or go on a trip, it's your laptop that you take with you. With this in mind, it's good to build up a stash of accessories that will help you keep your laptop in good working order wherever you need it.

  • The most obvious accessory you will need is a laptop bag or cover. Large retailers should stock a good selection to matchup with the models they offer. For example, laptops at Misco can usually be paired with a suitable bag. Styles have now gone way past laptop and notebook satchels, with backpacks or even wheeled bags with hard shell covers available for heavier models.

  • While a lot of trains now offer both Wi-Fi and access to power sockets, and it's also possible to get in-car chargers for laptops; it also pays to carry an extra battery if you're on the move. If you find yourself away from home and in desperate need of completing some work or requiring internet access, you'll be thankful for it.

  • Port replicators aren't essential but they will improve ease of use on the move. Plug in all your wires for your laptop or notebook and keep tidy in your laptop bag and you'll have far less hassle when you want to set everything up.

  • Additionally, a USB hub is handy if you have one of the older model notebooks that only have one or more USB ports. Don't forget your USB stick either!

  • Theft insurance is probably more of a must-have than an optional accessory, but it's often overlooked. If your laptop belongs to your employer there's even a greater chance that you may also be liable for the first few hundred pounds towards the replacement cost should you lose it or have it stolen, so it's best to check where you stand.
  • Overall, just like any other electronic device, laptop accessories are important and they will maximize the usefullness of your computer for many years to come, and they will also simplify your life at the same time.

    In other high tech news

    If you think that 4G and LTE is the best thing since sliced bread and it's in the process of solving every communication needs we have today, think again! Yes, LTE is good, but it can be a lot better. In fact, get ready for this: the wireless industry is already starting to think 5G (5th generation) wireless technology. Rapidly increasing smartphone and tablet sales mean that wireless networks today are getting clogged up fast with cellular data traffic. For the time being, 4G technology can help relieve a bit of the congestion, but it's not enough-- not by a long shot.

    Modern mobile networks today are able to push a lot more data and voice communications into our airwaves than older technologies can. And the push is now on for 5G.

    Case in point: Wireless Industry News reported less than an hour ago that the shiny new iPad that Apple announced yesterday with all its usual fanfare and noise will only work in the U.S. and Canada. Why is that? The 'new' iPad is Apple's first implementation of LTE (long-term evolution), the new standard that is considered to be 4G, but despite conforming to that standard it can use either Verizon or AT&T networks, but not both-- and it won't be able to use LTE connectivity anywhere else in the world either.

    Unlike 3G, which resides in the same band internationally, or 2G, which runs in a handful of a few bands, LTE is heavily fragmented with more than 32 different recognized standard bands. For example, in the U.S., LTE has been deployed by AT&T and Verizon in the 700 MHz band, but the two wireless carriers are still far enough apart to require different hardware in the new iPad.

    But soon, even 4G's efficiencies won't be enough. By 2020, wireless industry analysts say that the amount of cellular traffic created by smartphones and tablets will be dwarfed by the data generated from the world of connected devices. Shoes, watches, appliances, cars, thermostats and door locks will all be on wireless networks. 5G networks that is.

    And that's a huge issue for wireless carriers, which are hitting a point of diminishing returns on their network efficiency improvements. They're already butting up against the sheer limits of physics as they try to add capacity to their existing 4G and LTE networks.

    Worse, any further improvements will be incremental, at best. Take "LTE-Advanced" for example. It's the next big post-4G upgrade in the pipeline, and it's theoretically capable of speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, about ten times that of current 4G networks.

    But in real-world situations, LTE-Advanced will only deliver speeds of up to 15 megabits per second -- just slightly faster than the 12 megabits per second that 4G networks currently offer.

    So what can 5G offer that 4G can't? "For one thing, 5G won't be about more speed, necessarily," says Tod Sizer, head of wireless research at Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs in Massachussets. "5G may be faster, but it will be more about meeting the expectation of service quality and, most importantly, standardization."

    Some are already saying that if 5G were available today, the new iPad that Apple launched yesterday would work anywhere in the world, which isn't the case at all today.

    Each generation of network technology has enabled a new set of features-- 2G was about voice, 3G was about data and 4G is all about video. 5G, Sizer predicts, will be about intelligent networks that are fully compatible and that can handle billions of connected devices while remaining fast, stable and, most of all, reliable. Think of the internet today-- it's always 'on' no matter where you go and no matter what you're using to access it. It will be the same with 5G.

    But that could prove to be a bit tricky if the near future proves as connected as industry leaders forecast. At last week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the wireless industry's largest annual gathering, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt painted a picture of a not-too-distant future in which robots will travel to meetings for us and send back high-definition video over the network.

    AT&T, Qualcomm, Sony and Intel all demonstrated a "connected home" where even our clothing transmits wireless signals! It will be up to 5G network technology to know how to prioritize all the things trying to communicate together. The network will have to know that it can wait until its congestion dies down to send your command to your thermostat to raise the temperature by 2 degrees when you get home, but your phone call needs to go through just the same, except that there could be other calls that take priority over yours.

    But make no mistake-- 5G doesn't even exist for now, nor is it anywhere near close to any compatibility to any other mobile device. Worse, the standards-setting International Telecommuication Union hasn't even created a definition for 5G as you're reading this.

    Now let's go back to today's existing technology-- 4G is still in its own infancy and still has a lot of issues-- compatibility with existing smartphones and tablets being one of its biggest. Existing networks haven't come close to reaching the theoretical maximum speeds that the technology offers, and their deployment is very limited at best.

    The U.S.' most extensive 4G network, run by Verizon Wireless, now covers over 200 million people, but they're still not rushing to upgrade. Verizon has sold less than 6 million 4G-capable devices so far.

    For their part, AT&T and Sprint both said they had nothing to share about intelligent network technology or anything branded as 5G. Surprising you say? No, not at all.

    But with the rapid pace of change in the wireless industry, current 4G technology alone will be inadequate in just five years from now, says Bell Labs' Sizer.

    "The trend for the telecom industry today is now headed towards machines that connect to the network," he says. Think of M2M. "Networks will have to understand each application, each machine and know what standardization, reliability and quality means for it to work."

    In other mobile news

    One of the main new features in Apple's 3rd version of the iPad is 4G LTE mobile networking. However, new users planning to buy it should note that the new device will only be able to achieve 4G connection in the United States and Canada for the foreseeable future. And even in the U.S. users won't be able to change networks with the new iPad, since there are critical differences in AT&T's network when compared to Verizon Wireless.

    This new tablet is Apple's first implementation of LTE (long-term evolution), the new standard that is considered to be 4G, but despite conforming to that standard it can use either Verizon or AT&T networks, but not both-- and it won't be able to use LTE connectivity anywhere else in the world either.

    Unlike 3G, which resides in the same band internationally, or 2G, which runs in a handful of a few bands, LTE is heavily fragmented with more than 32 different recognized standard bands.

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    For example, in the U.S., LTE has been deployed by AT&T and Verizon in the 700 MHz band, but the two wireless carriers are still far enough apart to require different hardware in the new iPad.

    Additionally, it's worth noting that the terms 2G, 3G and 4G have no legal definition per se, so anyone is free to call their mobile handsets anything they like. In the U.S., it's common to claim HSPA+ as 4G and even the older iPhone 4S firmware displays a 4G logo when connected to such a network.

    In Europe, that is considered that to be 3G, with 4G being LTE. The real LTE, that is. The International Telecoms Union used to say that "4G" had to be over 100 Mb/sec, but has relaxed that rule in the face of overwhelming misuse of the term. If all of this sounds confusing to you it's because it is.

    And here's another one for you: AT&T actually runs two LTE networks in the U.S. One in the 2.1 GHz block generally used for 3G networking, and the other in what's known as "Class 17, 700 MHz". The latter refers to the bands AT&T acquired at FCC auctions in 2008 which vary across the U.S. but run in non-contiguous slots between 704 MHz and 787 MHz.

    In the case of Verizon Wireless, the company runs a single LTE network in what's known as "Class 13, 700 MHz", between 746 MHz and 787 MHz. So when it comes to LTE, AT&T's network isn't the same at all as Verizon's, and that's where it all differs, and that's why new buyers of the iPad that was unveiled yesterday need to know.

    But make no mistake-- network operators in the United States have been busy lobbying the FCC in the past two years to require that all 700 MHz LTE devices support all bands, but without any success so far. And the lobbying is continuing.

    So when a user buys the 'new' iPad with 4G connectivity, he or she has to decide will it be an iPad which works on Verizon, or an iPad which works on AT&T, and if you're hoping to get an iPad which works outside the U.S. or Canada, then you're out of luck, well at least with this iteration of the iPad. It is hoped that the iPad 4 (or whatever Apple will call it) won't have these LTE connectivity issues anymore.

    So what are users in Europe being offered with the new iPad? It would appear that they could be getting the AT&T variant, which makes sense as it can at least use the 2.1 GHz channel and still get on an older 3G connection. It can theoretically also use that same 700 MHz Class 17 iteration.

    The United Kingdom is currently transitioning from analog to all-digital TV signals. The most common digital solution being taken up is terrestrial Freeview, so it isn't going away for a long time.

    And in Germany, Vodafone has an operational LTE network, but it's at 800 MHz so can't be used by the new iPad either, which is going to take some explaining to the disappointed German residents.

    When the U.K. does get LTE it will be at 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz, just like in Germany, but neither of those is being used for LTE in the U.S. For now, 800 MHz is harmonized across Europe, and 2.6 GHz is implemented around the globe, so we can expect to see support for both bands coming to the iPad eventually, but not until the iPad 4 (or 5) is out.

    So what people need to understand clearly for now is if you're buying the new iPad now to use outside the U.S. or Canada, the 4G 'LTE' part of the device won't be working. At least for a while.

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    Source: Misko.co.uk.

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