Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mobile Web Servers

I've expected a lot of good things from Nokia's decision to open up to software developers. They've been putting more and more stuff in open source, up to and including chunks of the Series 60 OS itself, and have provided a lot of tools, APIs, etc, not to mention a version of Python for S60. The latest is a Linux web server that runs on a Symbian S60 device.

It's almost painfully cool - hey! Linux! On a phone! A phone that's a web server! - but I have some misgivings about its fitness for (as they say) purpose. There are good reasons, after all, why one doesn't usually serve web pages from a desktop computer. Specifically, the nature of a web server is essentially a big hard drive with just enough intelligence to dish out pages, with high reliability, and as close in network topology to the requesting party as possible.

This last is the killer. Even consumer DSL or cable service usually don't offer sufficient uplink speed to serve much - you need either to fork out £lots for an E-1 line, or else share a big connection with others. Which is as good as saying "just pay for hosting". Now, even on the latest HSDPA cellular links, the uplink is 384Kbits/s when available, and zero when you go under a bridge. Even full HSPA won't really cut it, with uplinks in the 1Mbit/s class. If the speeds some of the TDD crowd - 2.9Mbits up, 5 down - materialise, that might be enough, with the caveat that it can't be relied upon due to the nature of any mobile radio.

What you really want is a good WiMAX link like the ones Urban WiMAX Ltd are marketing in London as a wireless E-1 and higher service. But they are using fixed outdoor aerials.

But - in essence - why would you want to serve web pages from a mobile device anyway? These are the days of Web 2.0, after all, service-oriented architecture and AJAX. All that good stuff. Take this, for example. YouTube, the video-sharing site, is offering a mobile-optimised uploader - now, uploading video on GPRS will be purgatorial, on vanilla UMTS or even HSDPA tiresome, but on HSPA or beyond, probably faster than consumer ADSL service. And it only needs uploading over the bottleneck of the radio access network once.

(Note: a version of this appeared earlier at

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