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Telecommunications consulting and technical writing

Robin Whittle - First Principles Consulting 30 January 2007


Are you considering investing in telecommunications infrastructure, services, hardware or software?

There is a lot of money to be made and lost in telecommunications. In the time available, it is impossible for any investor to fully understand all the technical, human, business and regulatory issues which could be comprehensively researched.  Decisions must be made based on as wide a range of knowledge as possible after considering many viewpoints and estimating the risks and rewards.

Many of the technologies are explained in the material I write for Paul Budde Communications.  The reports you can purchase there are intended to give an introduction and explanation for non-specialists, and to set the technology in a broader context of likely demand and how it relates to other technologies.  These reports, and of course Google Advanced, are good ways of learning about telecommunications technologies.  But it can be hard work wading through the material on the Net, determining which documents are the most authoritative, up-to-date, complete and readable.

I can assist with researching, explaining and assessing specific technologies and business proposals regarding projects in Australia or overseas.  I am not able to conduct large projects, but I can contribute to crucial investment decisions by giving an independent, critical, analysis of the most novel and potentially promising aspects of a new product or service.

Technical writing

My work for Paul Budde Communications and previously for Australian Communications is primarily technical writing for readers who are not engineers or technicians.  These reports and articles introduce, explain and in some cases critically evaluate telecommunications technologies for people who do not have a strong technical background.

I can write in whatever depth and detail is required for engineers, programmers and sysadmins etc. but my main experience is explaining the most important aspects of complex technologies to people who are interested, but who may never have understood any such technology in detail before.

In order to do this, I try to introduce the important functional principles, and any underlying technologies they rely upon, in a way which builds a reasonable understanding in the mind of someone who initially knew very little about the field.  This can include technical people.  For instance, just because someone is an expert C++ programmer or knows a lot about digital signal processing doesn't mean they have any understanding or experience of the principles of MP3 audio compression or WiMax.  

The number of technologies continues to multiply, with only a few fading into obscurity compared to the number which are becoming important.  The new technologies are generally more complex and interdependent on other technologies.

My speciality with most of the technical writing I have done so far involves:

Ideally, the reader will then be able to imagine how one particular technology can be applied in a novel setting - how it would work with others and how to choose between competing approaches when planning a new service.

I find the major challenge in technical writing is reconciling two conflicting priorities within the limits of available space and the reader's time.

  1. The curiosity about the topic usually comes from "above" - from a higher level of abstraction.  For instance, most people want to know about QoS and  MPLS, or WiMax, because of what it can do, rather than out of interest with its internal principles.  (An exception would be someone who wanted to understand fibre communications and its lasers and modulators because of their interest in physics.)

  2. Real understanding must be built from the ground up.  For example, its not very helpful writing about how WiMax uses OFDM unless the reader knows what this means.  They need to understand OFDM and its constituent modulation techniques, such as QPSK and QAM.  For this to be meaningful, they need to know about signal-to-noise ratios, forward error correction and to some extent the convolutional coding which makes these modulation techniques more robust, at the cost of bits-per-Hertz.  For all these to be meaningful, the reader needs to know something about the propagation of radio waves, reflections with their time-delays etc. and the nature of various kinds of interference.  This leads to questions of symbol time and trade-offs between suitability for mobile reception vs increasing the maximum spacing of transmitters in a single-frequency network.  With this understanding, which involves basic physics and anticipating the actual situation the system is to be deployed in, the reader can then understand why correctly designed OFDM has many advantages over other approaches, and how parameters such as symbol time can be chosen for a particular application.  This is real understanding, and although it doesn't transform the reader into a radio engineer, and while he or she wouldn't want to be examined on the material in 6 months time, the reader does gain a genuine understanding of what OFDM is and how it makes a crucial contribution to the performance of the service.

Sometimes the low-level material is not something I find exciting or easy to understand.  For instance, all the detail in how MPLS etc. works doesn't fascinate me - but we need to understand it because QoS is so important for many emerging services.  More often, the lower level detail of the technologies is something I find inherently interesting, such as the subtle physics and technologies in Wavelength Division Multiplexing.  There is a limit to how much I can write about the many aspects of physics, digital signal processing, electronics etc. which I find fascinating, but I hope to convey some of my enthusiasm to the reader.

I have some experience indexing and in designing straightforward, elegant, text layouts.  I also have skills with photography, Photoshop and vector graphics with Illustrator. 

The best way to improve the final document is to leave the initial draft for a few weeks while several of the intended audience read and annotate it.  Then, with relatively fresh eyes, I can return to refine it, overcoming various problems which could not be seen during the initial writing.  When writing for a magazine, a good sub-editor works collaboratively with the author to refine and strengthen the text. 

A detailed CV of my background in electronics, software, writing, consulting and advocacy is at ../../robin/cv.html .

Please call 03 9459 2889 or email me at to discuss how I can assist your organisation.

 - Robin Whittle

../../ip/ivip/ To the work as part of the Internet Research Task Force Routing Research Group, on Ivip, a proposed new routing and addressing architecture for the Intenet.

To the description of articles I have written for Australian Communications.

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