Explainers

This is how SIM cards work

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We don’t think about SIM cards as much as we used to — like back when they were required to start up a phone — but these tiny chips are still essential in keeping a modern smartphone wirelessly connected at all times. This brings us to a question we should be asking: How exactly does a SIM card work?

Subscriber Identity Module

We all talk about SIM cards without even knowing what it means. As you’d expect, it’s short for Subscriber Identity Module, and it does exactly what it implies: Providing cellular networks with your identity in order to establish a secure connection.


They come in different sizes, with nano-SIMs becoming the new standard because of how small they are, allowing phone manufacturers to leave more space for other vital components in their products. What’s also minuscule is their storage capacity, often limited to 256KB. That, however, is more than enough to store all the important pieces of information, including the identification numbers.

The four universal SIM card sizes

Without getting too technical (and there is a lot to take in when it comes to authentication protocols), every SIM card holds a unique 64-bit number that identifies the device it’s attached to with the cellular network. Being a 64-bit digit, there are more than enough possible combinations for trillions and trillions of subscribers — so, no, you can’t buy all the SIM cards in the world and run out of phone numbers to use.

Connecting to a network

As soon as you turn your phone on with a SIM card inside, it’ll communicate with the network carrier to establish a connection. Once its unique number along with a security authentication key is sent to a nearby tower, the service provider will send encrypted information back in hopes of a match. If your SIM card is able to decrypt the randomized code successfully, your handset will receive its well-deserved wireless signal.

This process ensures only your SIM has the capability of figuring out the encryption and letting you use the mobile number you were provided with — but that’s just for the service itself. What if someone physically gets a hold of your SIM card and decides to use it on his or her phone? That’s where the personal identification number (PIN) and personal unblocking code (PUK) come in.

Phones like the Huawei Mate 9 can accept two SIM cards at the same time

By adding a PIN to your SIM, a four-to-eight digit code will be required to turn it on. If in case someone tries to break in using brute force, the SIM will be locked after three unsuccessful attempts; the PUK, which can be found on the card that comes with every SIM, is needed to release the lock.

The future of SIM cards

What makes SIM cards so popular is how easy they are to transfer from one device to another. Some companies, however, believe we can take this a step further with embedded SIM cards (e-SIM for short). As you can tell by the name, this form would embed itself in a device and can’t be swapped for another. Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of traditional SIMs? Not at all.

By being integrated into the hardware, you can change your network carrier without replacing the physical card. Instead, all you have to do is jump in the phone or tablet’s interface and select from there. Apple already began implementing this technology on its iPads, and Samsung’s Gear smartwatches have been following suit.

While it may sound like a pain in the butt to adjust to yet another new standard, this technology could lead to even slimmer devices and greater convenience once more companies jump on the ship. The hassles of international roaming would also become a thing of the past, since selecting your preferred service would only take a few taps on your screen.

SEE ALSO: What’s the difference between RAM and internal storage?

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Computers

Explaining OLED screens and Dark Mode

Why that screen fits in the dark

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Most of the applications you’re currently using must have rolled out their own version of dark mode by now. The smooth transition from a light to dark interface can be done through a push of a button, or by sending the moon emoji on Messenger. A lot of people also find dark mode quite sexy, and that’s probably because of the screen they’re looking at.

A lot of newly released smartphones now have OLED screens, and dark mode seems to work best on such displays! But why is that? How do OLED panels allow dark mode to flourish?


Better, blacker, affordable screens

Organic LED (light-emitting diode) or OLED is essentially a kind of display technology. In a nutshell, OLED panels allow for better and clearer images and colors.

Thin layers of carbon fiber make up OLED screens. Because of these lightweight fibers, screens show brighter and more vibrant colors. Apart from that, OLED screens show deeper blacks and reduce instances of motion blur when navigating. The best part is that OLED screens are becoming gradually cheaper to manufacture. That explains why more and more of today’s smartphones use this panel.

More colorful than the rest

In comparison to regular LED screens of the past, OLED promises more accurate colors by producing light from individual pixels, instead of relying on backlighting. Back then, LCD screens relied heavily on the backlight of the display to make colors pop. Although, such displays also make the colors seem washed, especially when compared to OLED.

Image credit: Denise Chan

However, OLED’s colors don’t always turn out better than on LED and LCD screens. One such case is when you turn your screen’s brightness to its maximum, especially under strong daylight conditions. LED and LCD screens are designed to perform relatively better in color accuracy when your screen’s brightness is set to max. OLED screens were not designed for maximum brightness, so colors at that point would be saturated.

Which OLED is best?

There are two types of OLED technologies that currently exist: AMOLED and PMOLED. A lot of people hear AMOLED tossed around a lot because lots of smartphones use it. Essentially, AMOLED uses a storage capacitor that controls how much light each individual pixel will give off. It’s the one responsible for projecting all sorts of vibrant colors on most OLED smartphone screens. Apart from that, AMOLED screens do support wider resolutions at a more affordable and efficient rate.

PMOLED, on the other hand, does not have a storage capacitor and instead relies on user control. Essentially, the user will control lighting settings, and the individual pixels will adjust accordingly. You can find PMOLED screens on smaller devices like older iPods and pocket Wi-Fi devices. Take note that these screens use more power to implement such color changes.

Joining the dark side

Ever since dark mode rolled out for different apps and interfaces, people have been contemplating on switching to it — and for good reason. On normal LED or LCD screens, the new feature does not bode well with the technology. The depth of the black their dark mode possesses is not reflected well, to the point that the blacks look more gray than actual black. This is much more obvious when the screen’s brightness is turned all the way up.

Image credit: Mike Enerio

Aesthetically, dark mode looks better on OLED screens because of the technology’s emphasis on deeper blacks. Most OLED screens have capacitors that control light passing through each pixel, which also works for blacks and whites. As such, dark mode shows up deeper and blacker, which is the intended look compared to regular modes. But, there’s actually more to just aesthetics for this mode.

It’s also been proven that dark mode on OLED helps save your battery life. Google confirmed this at its Android Dev Summit, citing that on max brightness, blacks consume less power than all other colors. Individual pixels need less electricity to show blacks on screen, which results in lower power consumption through time. Note that Google got these findings through tests on their original Pixel smartphones and their own apps like YouTube.

What’s left for OLED and dark mode

Apps and operating systems are now starting to embrace or consider incorporating dark mode into their software. While apps like Twitter and YouTube introduced such an option early on, others are beginning to take notice. Of course, you’re gonna need the right screen to fully immerse yourself.

Image credit: Simone Dalmeri

It has been proven: OLED and dark mode are indeed a perfect match. But, it is entirely up to you whether you want to stay in the light or switch to the dark side.

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Explainers

The new online generation: Explaining 5G internet

Faster, better, and more available?

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Are you still bothered by slow internet in your country? Even with the advancements and supposed improvements in infrastructure, we’re all living in a 4G world. The current generation of internet connectivity is still present in today’s mobile and telecommunication networks. But now, a new generation has emerged, and it has the potential of taking the whole world by storm.

Let’s stop and ask first: What really is this new generation? How different is it from the existing generation’s internet? And, what needs to be done to welcome the change?


What really is 5G?

5G is the new generation we’re speaking of here. Specifically, it’s the next level of mobile network connectivity being rolled out at the moment. What 5G offers to everyone is pretty straightforward: faster internet speeds, close to zero latency, and improved accessibility. It’s expected that 5G will replace existing 4G technology once fully deployed in the near future.

Currently, 5G is still in its early stages of deployment — much like an early-access game. Companies are given plenty of time to integrate the 5G connectivity interface on their devices, or at least until March 2019. Once the initial deployment is done, 5G will be available in more devices, whether it’s your phone or your smart device.

A connection that comes in waves

Remember that one science class you had about the electromagnetic spectrum and visible light? Basically, devices that emit electromagnetic waves fall under a spectrum depending on their frequencies and wavelengths. For most network connections, their waves follow a similar concept, with 4G found on the leftmost and 5G in the middle.

There are two ways that 5G can work in any place at any time, and one of them includes waves. This strand of 5G is called the millimeter wave (mmWave), and is currently present in most research facilities and military devices. With mmWave, 5G connections are ideally faster (peaking at 10Gbps) and provide lag-free services because it adds additional bandwidth for devices to use. Although, it is held back by obstacles such as walls and floors that just bounce the signal off.

The second way is through a sub-6GHz spectrum. Unlike mmWave, the sub-6GHz spectrum is more of a middle-of-the-pack approach to 5G connectivity. Basically, 5G signals will strengthen connections that currently exist in the world like 3G and 4G. This is mostly because 3G (2.4GHz) and 4G (5GHz) fall under the 6GHz limit. This method is the more cost-effective approach, and it doesn’t easily experience interference.

How different is it really from 4G?

We always talk about how 5G is faster than 4G in terms of data transfer, which is true. But, there are other things that differentiate 5G from its predecessor. For starters, 5G connections can cover a wider area than 4G. This means that even if you’re far from your router or cell tower, you can still access 5G networks at the same speed. Just don’t be too far away, as the technology isn’t capable of reaching that far yet.

Apart from that, 5G is less prone to interference compared to 4G networks. Even if mmWave is hampered with the presence of obstacles, it still doesn’t stop it from performing relatively better than 4G. For example, even if there were several other antennas in your area, you still experience better speeds while on a 5G network compared to 4G. 5G targets devices directly, instead of spreading the waves across the whole area.

Finally, with 5G connections, more devices have access to the network. Currently, 4G networks still have a cap when it comes to the number of devices simultaneously connected. As more devices connect to the same 4G network, internet speeds tend to get slower. With 5G, however, adding more devices won’t hamper its overall performance mostly because of additional bandwidth and wider coverage.

What’s next for the new generation?

Believe it or not: We’re living in the early-access world of 5G. We hear about major telecommunication companies starting to adopt 5G in their mobile networks, and things are about to get bigger. While their data plans are available to the general public, several improvements to network infrastructure are to follow. We’re talking better signal towers, and more of them across the world.

In the future, 5G may not be limited to just mobile networks. Car companies are looking at the possibility of applying 5G to smart cars, especially for navigation. Cars on the road will be able to share data like traffic situation, road hazards, and other delays. Even things like virtual and augmented reality can make use of 5G for better simulations.

By March 2019, the early deployment of 5G will be finished. Hopefully by then, we can get more information on what 5G can do for the world. The new generation is here, but we still have to wait and see how far 5G will take us.

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Accessories

C is the key: Explaining USB Type-C

What really makes this new standard special

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For years, people have grown accustomed to using USB ports for almost all of their devices. Whether you need to charge your phone using your computer or use a controller to play games, you can always count on a USB port to be readily available for you. But 2018 was the year of change and innovation, and the USB port you know and love welcomed change in a big way.

Introducing: USB Type-C, the newest port added to the family. Its round shape brought many new uses and functionalities to your ports. But, how different is it from its much older brothers? How have companies revolutionized its use in mainstream devices?


What is this USB Type-C port?

The USB Type-C (USB-C) port is a not-so-recent discovery in the world of tech. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) developed this USB port back in 2013, and launched it into mass production the following year. The connector is a reversible oval shape, much different from the usual rectangular shape of the previous generation. Its reversibility allows any orientation of the cable for transferring files or charging your device.

USB-IF developed USB-C following the USB 3.1 standard. Such a standard was particularly used because of its faster transfer speeds and charging capabilities. With a USB-C port, you can transfer an hour-long movie in less than 30 seconds, provided you have the appropriate connector for it.

Computer and smartphone manufacturers have incorporated the USB-C port in most of their devices. One of the early adopters of the new technology was Apple, with their redesigned 12-inch MacBook in 2015. Other computer manufacturers followed in the later years, especially with the release of the Thunderbolt 3 technology used for gaming machines.

It’s the younger, faster and more all-around sibling

USB-C has been around for the past four years, and it has gradually developed into an all-around port for users. Alongside Thunderbolt 3, the USB-C port posts the highest data transfer speed across all the available USB connections in existence. Not only that, USB-C ports these days can now connect your devices to external GPUs and displays, and charge your devices. Most USB-C ports even support fast charging for smartphones.

While the technology behind it is supported by a USB 3.1 standard, it’s still very much different from other USB ports that use the USB 3.1 protocol. For starters, the USB 3.1 standard found in USB-C ports are USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, which offer twice as much performance in data transfer as USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports. Most of the Gen 1 ports also use an older USB Type-A standard, which works for most of your gadgets and peripherals today. However, you would need more adapters for other functionalities, like displaying to a monitor.

But the USB-C port is a far cry from the old USB 2.0 and 3.0 protocols, which have been in existence for 14 years (and counting). Data transfer speeds for those two protocols are significantly slower compared to the USB-C port. An hour-long movie would ideally take around one to two minutes on a USB 2.0 port. Also, older USB protocols don’t really allow you to power up devices that need more electricity. So, charging devices on them might not be as fast.

Supercharged with Thunderbolt 3

So, you’re probably wondering what really makes a USB-C port just that fast. It’s not so much that it’s round, or that it’s new; rather, it’s the technology inside it. Late 2015 saw the arrival of the new Thunderbolt 3 standard specifically for USB-C ports. It first started out in most Windows laptops before making it to the 2016 MacBook Pro and several gaming motherboards.

What Thunderbolt 3 does for USB-C ports is to significantly increase its capacity and capabilities by a mile. We’re talking faster file transfer, heightened gaming experiences, and being able to plug in 4K displays for clearer images. Thunderbolt 3 also allows much bigger devices to be charged at a controlled rate. This is mostly evident with the MacBook Pro, several high-end Ultrabooks, and most recently, the 2018 iPad Pro.

The charging capacity brought about by Thunderbolt 3 deals with a tweak to how USB power delivery works. USB power delivery standards state that each USB standard has specific conditions that must be met to power up devices. Early versions of USB ports only allow a small amount of electricity (2.5W) for delivery, while USB-C allows for the full 100W.  Basically, you went from just powering up your mouse and keyboard to charging your entire laptop.

What’s to come for USB-C?

At this point in time, you’re already living in the future that the USB-C port hopes to achieve. Suddenly, you can simply bring a USB-C cable around, plug it into a powerbank, and you can already charge your expensive MacBook. More and more devices are starting to adopt USB-C because of its potential to enhance your tech experience as a whole.

However, people still find it difficult to switch to USB-C, and for good reason. Most devices continue to use a USB Type-A or micro-USB connector, especially gaming controllers and peripherals. Also, they can argue that the old ports are more accessible. In a not-so-distant future, using a USB-C port could potentially replace a phone’s headphone jack.

The future of USB-C is still uncertain. Companies will iron out the new technology more so it can become mainstream for the future. Let’s just hope that by the time that happens, there won’t be a USB Type-D yet.

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