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Jan. 21, 2013 at 7:02 PM
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Data demand could slow wireless networks

NEW YORK, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- As smartphone users consume more and more mobile data, wireless providers may be unable to keep up with the demand, a report by a U.S. research firm indicates.

Owners of iPhone, Android or Windows Phone smartphone devices have consumed 35 times more mobile data than a typical cellphone user, an annual report by Deloitte said.

The growing rate of data consumption could see a 50-fold growth in wireless traffic by 2016, it said.

The likely outcome will be a slowdown in data speeds and connection problems, mostly felt in cities, on networks with the most subscribers and in peak wireless hours, Deloitte said.

Users could see two to three times as many failed attempts to connect, three to four times as many dropped calls or frozen web browsing, and both 3G and 4G speeds 50-90 percent lower than expected, the company said.

"In the worst situations, download speeds may be under 1Mbps for lengthy periods of time, making video streaming impossible and even web browsing difficult."

Wireless traffic has more than doubled each year since 2009 and the increasing numbers of smartphones and tablets in use will only make the problems worse, Deloitte said.

Attempts to free up additional bandwidth are lagging behind traffic growth, the report said.

"Demand for wireless bandwidth will likely attempt to outstrip these improvements in supply for at least several years. Major metropolitan areas in some geographies should expect to see continued deterioration in end-user experience," the Deloitte report concluded.

Life on Mars may have been underground

GREENBELT, Md., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Minerals once more than three miles below the martian surface are the strongest evidence yet the Red Planet may have supported life, researchers say.

New research suggests ingredients for life have been present in the martian subsurface for much of the planet's history, they said.

Scientists have been studying McLaughlin Crater, one of many martian craters where impacting meteors have acted like natural probes, bringing up rocks from far beneath the surface.

Spectrometer data on those rocks from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows many of the rocks contain clays and minerals whose chemical make-up has been altered by water, an essential element to support life, NASA said in a release Monday.

Much of life on Earth consists of simple microorganisms hidden in rocks beneath the surface and scientists have suggested the same may be true for Mars.

"We don't know how life on Earth [first] formed but it is conceivable that it originated underground, protected from harsh surface conditions that existed on early Earth," Joseph Michalski, planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum in London, said.

That same may have taken place on the Red Planet, researchers said.

"This research has demonstrated how studies of Earth and Mars depend on each other," John Parnell, geochemist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said. "It is what we have observed of microbes living below the continents and oceans of Earth. They allow us to speculate on habitats for past life on Mars, which in turn show us how life on the early Earth could have survived."

Sound may protect airliners from birds

LAPLACE, La., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Low-frequency sound aimed at birds as they approach busy flight paths could reduce bird strikes that put airliners and passengers at risk, U.S. researchers say.

While noisemakers are often used to scare birds away from airport runways, the loud sounds are also a source of annoyance to people within earshot, something the new technology can avoid, they said.

Technology International, based in Louisiana, says its system will use infrasound, below the range of human hearing, directed at flocks of birds as they approach airliners taking off or landing.

Dubbed the Avian Infrasound Non-lethal Denial System, the technology used a passive infrasound detector that listens for an approaching flock and activates subwoofer speakers that generate high-intensity but low-frequency sound.

The system has worked well in tests, NewScientist.com reported.

Technology International head Abdo Husseiny said the system could also serve to keep pigeons away from public squares and city parks or divert flocks of birds away from wind turbines.

Glitch has space telescope shut down

GREENBELT, Md., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- NASA says its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope has been shut down to a precautionary "safe mode" due to problems with its orientation mechanism.

The action was taken Thursday when an unexpected rise in the amount of torque needed to turn one of the telescope's reaction wheels -- spinning devices used to hold observatory's position in space -- was detected, the space agency reported.

The Kepler telescope, launched in 2009, possesses four of the reaction wheels, three to control the spacecraft around three axes and one spare.

One failed last July, and the spare was put into operation. Kepler requires three functioning reaction wheels to position itself properly, meaning another failure could potentially end the $600 million mission, SPACE.com reported.

NASA said the rest period could return the suspect wheel to normal operation.

"Resting the wheels provides an opportunity to redistribute internal lubricant, potentially returning the friction to normal levels," Kepler scientists said.

The telescope's planet-hunting efforts have produced prolific results, spotting more than 2,700 potential planets around distant stars.

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