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Robert X. Cringely abandons satellite Internet in favor of long-distance 802.11b: Bob got the religion, found a line-of-sight neighbor and gave him free DSL, and spent about $1,400 to build a working relay. If Bob had been at the free wireless networking summit I attended last weekend, he might have learned how to do it for about $500 to $700 less! (More on the summit soon.)
Extend your range by miles and miles: SMC Networks introduces some new high-gain antennas that can extend the range for point-to-point applications of 802.11b to miles. However, pricing does not yet appear to be set. Many manufacturers make antennas, and I hope to survey offerings in the near future.
Elliot Spagat writes in great detail about MobileStar's plans, and commentary on the rest of the industry, in today's Wall Street Journal: unfortunately, the article is not publicly linkable, available only on their subscription site. A brief summary: MobileStar has received additional financing and hired a new CEO. Both WayPort and MobileStar are sitting on large cash stakes. MobileStar is now stating that roaming agreements would be premature in this nascent industry; this sounds more like a winner-take-all argument, and they are in the catbird's seat with more active locations than any other national provider. MobileStar apparently has the contracts for JFK, San Francisco International, and O'Hare (Chicago) airports. A formal roll-out with advertising of the Starbucks network is planned for later this year.
It's a Palm III-based device, and Handera is a Palm licensee. They have other benefits to their handheld as well, such as a larger (albeit greyscale) screen. They already list it as compatible with several CF 10Base-T Ethernet solutions, although I'm not sure how they do it -- maybe they provide drivers?
Hopefully, this implies that they'll work with newer wireless cards (as well as any SD cards Palm gets out). Although I still can't see myself using a Palm for Web browsing and e-mail (hey, even my laptop sometimes feels cramped for that), I can see interesting uses for network and wireless access in the handheld itself. (If only I handn't saved up money for a Newton to buy it the month they canned it ...)
If they put a color screen in this unit, it would instantly jump to the top of the pack for me, in terms of purchasing a new Palm handheld. And I stick with Palm because they at least provide a bit of Mac OS support -- I don't expect that from Pocket PC (although that platform is gaining significance on my university's campus), except from third parties.
A fellow Seattlite on loan to Brooklyn noted that the former home of the Dodgers sports 802.11b access in many Starbucks in the five boroughs. My correspondent tells me that he's been checking the list at MobileStar of Starbucks outlets, and that the several he's visited that are on the list are already lit up. Another correspondent noted that from his knowledge MobileStar was only adding stores to the list as they become fully operational. As of right now, the list sports over 420 outlets.
Remember, today is the voluntary Roll Your Own Blackout demonstration from 7 to 10 p.m. in whatever time zone of the U.S. you live in. Turn off those computers, unplug those wireless access points, and take a gander at the stars.
Excellent review by Gary Krakow at MSNBC: I tested this unit last week, and Krakow captures the details. The Xircom unit is certainly expensive, but early adopters will covet it. And he wisely notes that PocketPC has a tremendous advantage: Visors and the new Palm m5xx series have their own, unique proprietary slots, while PocketPCs can use standard laptop PC cards or standard Compact Flash cards.
I learned a useful lesson today when trying to connect two nearby networks, only one of which has an Internet feed on its Ethernet: read the specs on access points.
My office, shared with other freelancers, sports a 1.1 Mbps SDSL connection, as well as a full 10Base-T Ethernet, and an Apple AirPort Base Station for 802.11b networking. Colleagues of ours in a building next door were interested in wirelessly linking, as running a cable isn't a real option.
I recommended they buy another Apple unit, as I had read about large wirelessly linked projects at several places online that used AirPort Base Stations. Unfortunately, I misread the details.
The new base station arrived and we tried to configure it, and quickly realized - and confirmed via a few online technical resources - that you can only bridge wired Ethernet to wireless access with an AirPort unit.
Fortunately, another resource pointed to the Linksys broadband gateway: it can link a variety of networks, including another wireless system. And, as you can read in the Cheap Home Gateways article at this site, the unit is under $300.
So we'll be ordering one of those and returning the AirPort. Just a reminder that even those of us who think we're sophisticated really still need to read the spec sheets before ordering.
Redirection to home page.
This article hadn't been updated for a few months, and I had the chance to a long version of it for The O'Reilly Network, which you can find . For archive purposes, I'll leave the version below.
The slowdown of the economy put the kabosh on several of the networks I was tracking, and changed the deployment rate of others. The original projections for growth by the providers (wireless ISPs) profiled in Februrary now appear somewhat grandiose.
The latest trend appears to be a more conservative growth as wireless ISPs shift their costs from their own capital base onto their partners, such as hotels and conference centers. In the case of airports, the port and airport authorities have influenced and slowed this process after being burned one or more times by firms that shut down operations or changed business models after signing agreements.
Nonetheless, industry analysts, wireless ISPs, airport authorities, and many others say that ubiquitous Wi-Fi is inevitable as it becomes expected by business travelers. The cost may cause hotels and others to delay full installation for months or a year or two, but the expectation is that by 2005 at the latest, virtually all business venues will have Wi-Fi or similar access.
The ongoing confusion over emerging wireless flavors, and Bluetooth's ultimate impact and installed base, has also slowed some deployments. Many wireless providers are talking openly about installing two-or-more-flavor hot spots. Concourse, for instance, may put in Bluetooth hot spots (small areas of access for the very short-range protocol) and ubiquitous 802.11b service.
Another factor preventing the growth in usage of wireless ISPs themselves has been their account and access policies, requiring a separate account for each network. Roaming would allow users of one wireless ISP to pay a per-minute fee or have inclusive access to other wireless networks without a separate logon identity, just as cell phone users can generally roam without a hassle.
Network roaming is still an issue, but less and less every day as individual wireless ISPs join or partner with aggregators, like iPass and hereUare Communications. Boingo Wireless is one of the highest-profile, focusing entirely on wireless (iPass does dial-up, too) and 24-hour sessions as the basis of their service. (Note: hereUare was up for sale or shut in late July 2002.)
iPass works mostly with companies that have employees who travel around the U.S. or the world. They have relationships with many dial-up, wireless, and wireline ISPs, allowing their customers to run a small software client (with embedded virtual private network or VPN software) that connects them reliably and securely wherever they are in the world at a known cost. iPass has a deal with Wayport to use their network, and is providing the back-office billing and account management for Concourse (see more about Concourse below).
hereUare billed itself from its start as a wireless back-office firm that would allow individual outlets up to national networks to outsource some or all of their billing and account management or just join up with a network of partners, allowing simple roaming. hereUare's backers are identical to the investors in WiFi Metro which purchased AirWave's remaining outlets in early November 2001.
Boingo Wireless has partnered with Wayport and several other wireless ISPs to offer a single branded service using those hot spots as their network, and a client software package (with a VPN and authenticated SMTP) to handle the complications with authentication.
Plenty of regional ISPs now provide wireless links to their consumer and business customers. It's likely that as roaming becomes simpler and integrated that these ISPs will convince retail outlets to join a network as a method of increasing revenue as well as allowing the ISP more coverage for its existing customers.
Here's the overview of all the current large-scale providers in North America. (Please excuse the regional bias: exciting deployments are happening internationally as well, but they're tougher for this Seattle-based correspondent to track. Watch for reports outside the U.S. and Canada soon.)
AirWave, in February, seemed primed to expand beyond their coffee shop and restaurant base in the San Francisco Bay Area - but the crash hit them just as they started their expansion. Funded by idealab, AirWave listed fewer and fewer locations on their Web site until Nov. 6, 2001, when they sold their network to WiFi Metro.
Concourse Communications launched its network in March 2002 at Minneapolis/St. Paul's airport. That airport has the benefit of high-speed access over fiber, allowing Concourse to focus on contracting out installation. Concourse also outsources its billing and account management to iPass. They don't have to re-invent any wheels. The next airports slated for installation are the three metro New York terminals: LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark. Earlier timetables indicated tests by late summer 2002.
Global Digital Media told me back in Feb. 2001 that their deal with CNN would put them in more than 30 airports in the next year. They claimed at the time to have kiosks in Boston and Philadelphia airports. In the months since, however, they issued no new news. When I was writing my New York Times article in Nov. 2001, I could not get my phone calls or emails to them returned. The firm's Web site has been inactive since Oct. 2001 at least.
T-Mobile Wireless Broadband (formerly MobileStar) leapt into the highest-profile spot through their partnership with Starbucks. The company had deployed 700 outlets by summer 2001 before their funding dried up. VoiceStream, in the middle of a T-Mobile rebranding by its parent company, Deutsche Telekom, bought the assets, and rebranded the Mobile Star service as well.
T-Mobile's acquired network is valuable and should continue in operation regardless of the company's specific future. They have Wi-Fi hot spots running in 17 airports through American Airlines Admirals Clubs (some airports having multiple locations). They also have full-terminal coverage in Austin and Dallas/Ft. Worth, with limited hot spots in smaller airports such as Burbank. All of its hotel properties are using an older standard called OpenAir, which is not compatible with the 802.11 or 802.11b specs. (The status of this hotels continues to be uncertain--are they still operating?)
Nokia (no Web site for division) operates a single airport in Vancouver, British Columbia. Nokia has built out the networks in Denver, Ottawa, and Vancouver, and their initial partner in Vancouver exited that particular approach. Nokia took over that airport on its own, and is still seeking a partner for Denver, which has ubiquitous coverage through the majority of all terminals and waiting areas. Ottawa is operated by Sky.Link Internet Plus (below). Nokia has halted work on more North American locations, focusing on partnerships in Europe with cellular providers who want to deploy 802.11b and similar data networks that mesh with 2.5G and 3G (updated current generation and next-generation) cell data services.
Sky.Link Internet Plus slipped by my attention in Feb. 2001, although they have offered wireless service for a couple of years in many venues. Sky.Link serves the Ottawa airport, as well as hotels and other locations throughout Canada. Because the firm chose to offer either an hourly rate (Cdn$10) or a monthly subscription for fixed amounts or unlimited access with an initial 12-month term, dropping into a hotel to use their service near an airport is a practical possibility. They plan continued slow growth as demand and partners require it. The company disappeared from view in early 2002 for several weeks; when they returned (after suffering a dead Web site, bouncing email, and not returning my calls), the Calgary Airport was no longer listed among their hot spots.
Surf and Sip has focused on locating its dozens of hot spots in restaurants and similar locales near prime interchanges, using a business model that can combine wireless drop-in use with Internet cafe service. This allows them to get fees (and share them with venues) from unlimited monthly subscriptions as well as horly rate for use. The company also happens to have an access point in a railroad station my dad used to own, back when it was a furniture store. Surf and Sip is slowly expanding nationally outside of its San Francisco base using a simple authentication server combined with a basic access point which allows them to do perform offsite installations cheaply.
WayPort is a major player with hundreds of installations around the country, including entire chains of hotels with which they have relationships.Wayport purchased nine Laptop Lanes locations a few weeks ago in five airports, including some they already provided service to. (They have full access across Austin, Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Jose, and Seattle/Tacoma airports.) The Laptop Lanes locations are wireline T1 which Wayport hopes to convert to wireless over time in conjunction with the various airport authorities.
WiFi Metro launched about Nov. 6, 2001, with the same financial backers as hereUare. At launch, the company had the 20-odd outlets of AirWave, which they acquired, and 40-plus partners or locations, including airports in Georgia. Read more about the firm in this article I wrote Nov. 14. In late July 2002, the company indicated it was up for sale or would be shut down.
Intersil, largest maker of 802.11b chipsets, announces its 802.11a, 54 Mbps plans and availability: Although Intersil doesn't expect to ship in quantity to manufacturers until after fourth quarter 2001, it's good to know they're on track. Atheros, another chipmaker, has aggressively pushed its own 802.11a chipset. But Intersil's announcement broadens the industry impact. Intersil reiterates in this press release their support for the OFDM modulation that's employed in 802.11a to also be used in 802.11g.
Wi-Fi Video Projector: Matsushita Electric introduced an 802.11b-based video projector which allows any machine equipped with a similar card to use the network to send slides or images for display. The introductory price is nearly 850,000 yen or about US$7,000. Prices outside Japan haven't yet been set. Release is scheduled for August 2001.
HomeRF still pushing forward with renewed commitment from Motorola: This news, while not unexpected, reinforces the oncoming summer jam. Just as Palm organizers pushed companies to figure out how to support synchronizing them and using them in the workplace, so, too, does HomeRF have the potential to push itself into the enterprise through adoption in the home.
Guerilla wireless in New York City: a short piece from New York on the free wireless movement. More on that from me in a few weeks.
Comprehensive overview of the new wireless networking standards appearing this summer and fall, including 802.11a, 802.11g, HomeRF, and Bluetooth: in this article for O'Reilly Network, I attempt to explain the differences and upcoming problems with deployment of a variety of new wireless specs.
The Economist magazine weighs on whether we really need third-generation cellular: in yet another scathing analysis of the money wasted on third-generation cellular licenses in Europe, the Economist wonders if we need high data rates for devices on the go when so-called 2.5G retrofits to existing cell networks could add data, and 802.11b pervades the land.
The U.S. is in a fortunate position, in that the FCC hasn't yet been able to clear the frequencies necessary for 3G licensing, either in harmony with the European and Asian choice, or an entirely new set. I call this luck, because it means that American firms haven't spent billions on licenses for technology they can't yet deploy and is unclear of success. The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the cell trade group, disagrees - they don't want to see American firms frozen out of the handset and services market.
When 802.11a and 802.11g (54 Mbps and 22 Mbps, respectively) start deploying in public spaces and enterprise/corporate environments later this year and early next year, the last nail may be put in the coffin of short-term 3G deployment. As I've said before: why accept slow, expensive, and metered everywhere when you can get fast, cheap, and unlimited almost everywhere?
Palm announces a Bluetooth module for its new units: The new Palm m500 and m505 organizers have a module similar to the Visor Handspring port that allows plug-in devices which can access the higher-speed internal main board of the unit rather than go through the low-speed serial interface used for synchronization. Palm showed a module supporting Bluetooth, even though this unit won't ship until fall.
A side rant: why is it that even though the industry has created a standard, small format module spec - Compact Flash - every handheld maker seems compelled to introduce their own, incompatible version? Intersil announced a chipset for 802.11b that will work in a Compact Flash format, which could ship later this year. Palm and Visor are destroying their markets, and making it more likely that PocketPC's, some of which support Compact Flash, will have a greater variety of useful add-ons sooner.
Per yesterday's story, here is Texas Instruments's press release. I made an error: TI offers reference units now, and expect that their OEM customers will start shipping production units using the new chipsets by fourth quarter.
Texas Instruments to ship chipsets based on its non-IEEE version of 20+ Mbps 2.4 GHz wireless using PBCC: this development marks the beginning of the end, potentially, for harmonization at higher bit rates in the 2.4 GHz band. The IEEE's 802.11g task group has been closing on approving the OFDM modulation proposed by Intersil to reach 22 Mbps; TI's alternative would be incompatible, though TI claims greater backwards compatibility. The Balkanization may begin, though, as TI ships chipsets, which they anticipate by fourth quarter.