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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The need for global low-speed data access

I bought one of the original iPads last year after they had been out a couple of months. I already had an iPhone and didn't intend to take this new addition out of my house, so I opted for the WiFi-only model.

I'm beginning to think that was a mistake. This is not because I need to use it on the go, because I still only use it at home. Instead, my uneasiness comes from the ability to brick it remotely.

I paid for MobileMe and then moved to iCloud, and it works great, but it only applies when my devices are on a network. Obviously a cell phone will almost always be online, but my poor little iPad doesn't have that option.

So, if it walks away and never hears one of my predefined networks again, it will never get the kill signal. That leaves all of my data on the device just waiting to be cracked. Lovely.

This sounds like an opportunity for someone to invent one or more solutions. One angle would be for Apple to stop selling non-cell devices and work out a deal where you could have "telemetry only" cell data service for free. The carrier could probably be convinced to do this because all of those devices on the free plan are just a credit card number away from being paying customers.

Another approach would be to set up a network of access points which stream out kill signals. Put them in Starbucks and other high traffic locations. If the device hears a properly-signed request, it kicks in. You could still steal a device but you'd have to keep it away from all of those transmitters or risk having it shut down.

Or hey, put in a S band receiver and get Sirius/XM to push the bits for you. That would cover the continental US nicely. You could even give it a catchy name, like "Death From Above" -- 22,000 miles, more or less! How about "Nuke it from Orbit"?

In any case, something like this is inevitable unless people stop stealing devices from each other. Considering the kind of petty stuff which keeps the courts busy year-round, I don't think that'll happen any time soon.

What can I say? Jury duty can leave a sour taste in your mouth. It's almost as bad as working a job in tech!