Metro information displays and BGPS

For a while the Tyne & Wear Metro have had scrolling matrix displays installed in their trains, but until this morning I hadn’t seen them switched on. On my commute to work today Nexus (the operators of the Metro) obviously had them in some kind of test mode, constantly scrolling the message “NEXUS METRO agps-bgps” as you can almost see on the rather rubbish photo below (it was moving text on a moving train and a phone camera, so it was bound to be bad):

Something like that isn’t going to pass me by without a fair amount of curiosity.

Obviously they are going to be showing information based on the location of the train – that makes sense if the information is going to be useful. AGPS (Assisted GPS) is something that I know about – devices use data from a mobile (cellular) network to achieve a faster location fix from GPS satellites – but BGPS was a new one on me, so I looked it up.

Ordinarily I would expect there to be an article, or at least a mention in a bigger article, about something like this on Wikipedia, but I didn’t see it. Instead I had to rely on a 2008 article from GPS World called Innovation: First AGPS – Now BGPS. It’s a long article and assumes a knowledge of GPS that I don’t have, but I’m pretty sure I understand the main points.

BGPS (named simply because B comes after A), is an adaptation of AGPS which gets round some of the limitations of AGPS. The Metro has underground sections, which do have some mobile network coverage, but obviously don’t have line of sight with satellites, and when a train is in the great outdoors, it probably doesn’t want to be reliant on mobile network coverage anyway – I know from experience that it’s not great.

BGPS allows the side loading of the data that would come from the mobile network by using some other means. This is perfectly reasonable on the Metro network which is both tightly defined and linear, so beacons at some or all stations, or at signals, could talk to the BGPS hardware on the train and tell it where it is and the precise time; two things that enable a quick GPS fix via communication with the satellites, and could possibly enable the train to know where it is without the satellites with a good degree of accuracy too.

It all sounds incredibly sensible, so I hope that Nexus put the technology to good use. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

While I’m talking about the Metro, if there’s anyone reading this who is a regular Metro user and has an iPhone, I’d suggest you buy the incredibly useful Next Metro app. It tells you when the next train is due on your route so you know whether you need to run or can just saunter to the station. I hope they bring out an Android version soon!

NEBytes Bytecast

Back in May I posted about starting a podcast with the rest of the guys who run the North East Bytes usergroup – the idea being that we would chat about some things that would be relevant to the folks who attend the NEBytes meetings, i.e. I.T. professionals and software developers working (mainly) with Microsoft products. Relevancy is a fairly subjective thing, but we’re covering a fairly broad area from products aimed at corporates, to smartphones and other stuff that’s more in the consumer space. It’s not all about Microsoft since we’re interested in a whole load of related (and less related) technologies.

We’ve now recorded four episodes, and while I wouldn’t say that we’ve perfected the formula, it’s definitely improving. We’ve increased the speed of editing and releasing, and we’ve gone from trying to cover everything that we’ve found remotely interesting to focusing on a few areas. It’s so much better that I would suggest you just think of episode 4 as episode 1 and forget that the others actually happened! 😉

We’ve also got our act together and sorted our a proper NEBytes Bytecast RSS Feed, so you can subscribe in your favourite podcast client. It’s been submitted to iTunes, so hopefully you’ll be able to find it there soon too.

We’re still looking for feedback to improve the show further, so please get in touch and tell us what you think.

Free iPhone 4 cases from MobileFun

I mentioned the iPhone 4 reception problems in a previous news roundup post. It seems that Apple aren’t going to be giving away free Bumpers to solve the issue, but my friends at have announced that they are giving away a free iPhone 4 case to cancel out the “death grip” effect.

The free case is like a transparent bumper style band round the sides with cut-outs to access the buttons. It’s listed for £7.49, but their blog post has a code to discount that down to zero until the end of July or until stocks run out.

If you want a case that’s a bit fancier, then they’ve got a whole shed load of other iPhone 4 cases to choose from.