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In-house wireless 2.4 Ghz phones to ship: this is an interesting development. These phones use existing 802.11b infrastructure to communicate with their controlling equipment, perfect for networks that have already deployed wireless. Here is the press release about the system and the partnership between SpectraLink and Enterasys. The press release notes that voice packets are prioritized. However, if you are using existing equipment, there will be no way for prioritization to be assured as neither TCP/IP nor 802.11b offer scheduling or priority.
Starbucks soft launches their wireless network in Seattle, Dallas, and San Francisco: as noted a few days ago on this log, Starbucks had started to light up stores. This article, which I wrote for the Seattle Weekly, followed up with MobileStar, Compaq, and Starbucks on the near-term plans. MobileStar confirmed locations (visit their site and use the location finder) and the soft launch; a hard launch with press announcements should happen by late June.
Wireless consortium pursue roaming protocols: the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance is working hard to establish protocols and agreements to allow customers of one or more wireless service providers (which they are calling WISPs) to freely roam onto other networks. When I interviewed companies late last year and early this year, all the firms I spoke to had roaming high on their list, but technological and billing issues were a bigger issue than the concept of roaming. Everyone wants to expand their networks virtually, especially since most public installations will be exclusive: only one vendor, or possibly two, per location. This means that networks will be a patchwork, not a blanket, which makes roaming even more critical.
A new version of the AirPort Base Station Java configurator has been posted: this configurator allows non-Mac OS users to work with Apple's $300 AirPort Base Station. I don't recommend this unit, however, because it lacks a number of features now standard on cheaper home gateways, including firewall protection, multiple Ethernet ports, and Web-based configuration.
The Task Group met and adjourned without a definitive answer on the encoding method to be used for the IEEE 802.11g specification. Find excellent coverage here.
You can't find the information on Starbucks own site, but its wireless network partner MobileStar offers a list of WiFi-enabled Starbucks outlets in Texas, California, and Washington state. Try one today and report back! (Later in the day: I tried the nearest listed Starbucks to no avail. Baristas report not knowing when it will roll out, either, but have heard that it's soon.)
The 802.11g working group, discussed yesterday, approved the OFDM method over Texas Instruments's PBCC method, of incorporating 20 Mbps+ traffic into the 2.4 GHz range. A vote tomorrow would require 75 percent of the task force to agree, paving the way to finalizing this high bit rate spec.
A number of companies are working rapidly to push raw bandwidth in the 2.4 GHz unlicensed radio spectrum to 22 Mbps. A recent FCC decision should accelerate investment and development. The decision is quite technical, but essentially reveals the FCC's willingness to allow use to span a wider variety of practices in that band The full band is 83.5 MHz wide in the US, which means that achieving speeds of over 20 Mbps is well within the constraints of physics.
Two encoding technologies, W-OFDM or Wideband Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, and PBCC or Packet Binary Convolution Code would both be allowed under both interim and potentially permanent rules for 2.4 GHz. (Full PBCC explanation only in product brochure PDF document).
The IEEE 802.11g working group has been trying to finalize a high-bit rate version of Ethernet that would work in the same space as 802.11b. The March meeting of the working group led to a vote in which OFDM and PBCC were the two remaining contenders, but the IEEE - in a meeting this week - wants to get 75 percent of votes behind one or the other standard before adopting it.
It's unclear how 802.11b and 802.11g would interact, although Texas Instrument has details on a device (PDF link above) that can handle all current 802.11b and 802.11 rates, as well as PBCC, a technology they developed. You can also bet that the IEEE won't promote a technolgy that isn't co-existent with 802.11b as well as Bluetooth. (Read the minutes of the group's March meeting for more details.)
Internetnews.com weighs in with a detailed account, including some of the politics and finances. They identify OFDM's developer as Intersil (the folks who make most 802.11b chipsets), but Wi-LAN's site identifies Wi-LAN as the instigators.
Let's not leave out HomeRF, either: HomeRF 3.0 plans to reach 22 Mbps. However, version 2.0, which hits 10 Mbps, just had its first public demonstrations this last week; 3.0 is not due until next year.
Xircom announces availability of Springboard module for Visor with WiFi: this is a huge step forward, enabling 802.11b on a handheld. Most handhelds are currently limited by a serial port connector, or, at best, a low-speed wireless add-on. Being able to use a Visor at megabits per second will rapidly transform their utility from an organizer into a window on larger data structures and applications.
Mobilian announces a system that can decipher Bluetooth and WiFi in the same space: nice idea. It doesn't solve interference, it just more intelligently separates out signals and routes them to the appropriate devices. This is the cornerstone of offering combination Bluetooth/WiFi cards and access points.
Proxim announces 802.11a plans: Proxim announced support for the new high-speed 802.11a specification in their Harmony line of products. Proxim's approach with Harmony is to have a system in which many access points can be easily managed across a network through a central configuration system. This allows two cost savings: less time in configuring individual systems, and the ability to integrate less expensive access points (as well as those made by a variety of companies). The full suite of software and hardware hasn't shipped yet, but it may offer a good solution for companies that have deployed hetergeneous systems.
Jim Seymour writes three columns about Bluetooth, 3G, and 802.11b, and their interactions: it's a financial forum, but Seymour does a good job untangling the mess. The first column address Bluetooth; the second column explains the real problems behind 3G; and the third column tackles 802.11b, and winds up with some stock recommendations.
Our favorite WiFi geek, Rob Flickenger, has been experimenting with long-range WiFi at distances of 5 miles and simulated distances of over 20. Problems? None. Although he was using an expensive spectrum analyzer to help focus the two dishes that focused the signal.
This kind of testing has a large degree of importance for vernacular networks, set up in communities that might want to offer free line-of-sight WiFi, or for companies that want to broadcast WiFi over larger distances. However, the FCC limitations in power remain, and networks running in the 2.4 GHz bandwidth must be designed and set up specifically to avoid interferring with other systems operating in the same areas.
A correspondent writes that he was able to use an Apple AirPort card to connect to a WiFi network at a Starbucks in Seattle (on Capitol Hill at E. John). He writes, "I get 2 out of 5 [signal strength bars] in most of the store, because the base station is mounted toward the back...in fact, I get better reception from the outdoor area, where I can get 4 out of 5 and no dropping. Overall it is very nice..."
Starbucks had planned originally to have some stores in Seattle up and running by the end of March, but as reported earlier on this site, their wireless network partner, MobileStar, appeared to be sorting out their own internal management issues. MobileStar recently announced that IBM will be installing their network, and it would appear that that effort will now swing into high gear.
A press release from Starbucks on May 1 extols Compaq as their "in-store Internet access device provider for the wireless broadband network". This means that Compaq will provide devices that customers can use (rent?) in stores, including their iPaq. (I used an iPaq recently, and found it to be mostly poorly designed for the handheld features it should offer.)
The press release talks about Starbucks and Microsoft partnering on the wireless network with nary a mention of MobileStar. I'll be curious to see how this develops, as you would expect that firm to want to have their name on the marquee of their venture, given that they are spending tens of millions of dollars to build Starbucks network.
One of the largest Starbucks in Seattle is near my office, and the staff there have said that equipment has been put in place, but the network is not yet live. However, a Starbucks sales rep was observed using the network, possible via a closed network system in which only those who know the network name can gain access.
Flying into Other Airports: Home gateways for the Macintosh: I adapted the Cheap Home Gateways article to a Mac audience in TidBITS. Note also that Apple released a refresh today of their AirPort networking software, bringing it to version 1.3.1. This new version is better at turning a standalone computer into a software base station, among other improvements.
Momentum for 802.11a (54 Mbps) grows: the race appears to be on to ship hardware based on the 802.11a standard, which will allow up to 54 Mbps of raw bandwidth. This new standard uses the 5 GHz band in a few pieces; worldwide adoption may be slower than with WiFi and related technologies due to limitations on that band that need to be removed outside of the U.S. and a few other countries. The title of this site may need to be changed to 802.11x soon.
Sensible roundup of security issues facing WiFi: by Henry Norr, a veteran industry writer