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Report says WLANs may eat 3G's lunch: Another story, this one reporting on a research report, that 802.11b networks may pre-digest the food source that 3G hopes to sustain itself. My prediction continues to come true. Another reporter, unfortunately, trots out the 2 Mbps figure for 3G, which is a) a myth or vaporware (it doesn't exist yet), and b) only applies to indoors speeds, and c) I'm convinced by the overwhelming silence that it will require the lease of equipment from cell telephone companies to corporations. 2 Mbps won't be universal, nor will it be freely capitalized by the cell telcos.
Some inaccuracies: WiFi Metro, a startup wireless Internet access provider, recently launched a slew of Wi-Fi hubs for wireless Internet access in Northern California. WiFi Metro bought the assets of AirWave, an idealab company, which changed its business models. Most of their hot spots are in San Francisco and the vicinity, which is the most heavily Wi-Fi'd city in the world (with for-fee spots) at this point.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has approved the specifications for 802.11g but won't make it an official standard until early next year. My understanding is that G hasn't been ratified yet, and there are still issues to be resolved. The big one, the encoding algorithm, was settled by compromise a few months ago. (I'll have an alphabet soup article out next week that I'll point folks towards that updates the standards maze.)
Rob Flickenger out of hospital: For those of you following Mr. Flickenger's travails after a two-story fall, Rob was released from the hospital way ahead of schedule today and is apparently in good shape.
Beantown's Broadband Blues: Why No Wi-FI?: Scott Kirsner, a familiar name to those who read technology articles, writes about Boston's lack of Wi-Fi, although he points out that change is in the air. He cites an article (see below) that encourages public institutions to open their wireless networks because of the practically zero cost involved. Although acknowledging the chance of hackers, crackers, and spammers, reasonable safeguards could prevent that. Kirsner wants public Wi-Fi - now!
Privacy expert Garfinkel on opening public institutions' wireless networks: I hadn't realized that noted security and privacy expert Simson Garfinkel spent several months as part of a firm trying to build a commercial wireless ISP business that would expand across the globe. He found the back-office stuff the killer, not the networks or network infrastructure. (I've heard the same thing about MobileStar; it cost them $3K/Starbucks to put Wi-Fi in, so how did they burn through $80M? Garfinkel explains.) Garfinkel argues that public institutions for whom incremental bandwidth costs are nil should contribute to the larger community by opening their networks. Likewise, he points out how simple it is for individuals to get bandwidth and feed it out. Running through tens of millions put him on the track of what's becoming the real revolution: community networks. (Garfinkel's books include the superb non-fiction horror title Database Nation and the co-authored (with guru Gene Spafford) Web Security, Privacy, and Commerce.
Email received from O'Reilly (via a colleague) reports that wireless network advocate and writer Rob Flickenger took a spill from two stories up while installing some 802.11b equipment. He was immediately taken to a hospital and operated on for internal injuries, but is now in stable condition and is expected to be released in a week.
Rob is a noted 802.11b (white-hat) hacker, building and testing interesting equipment and ideas, and one of the popularizers of free community networking. He recently wrote a book on that topic published by O'Reilly & Associates. Rob is a system and network admin for O'Reilly.
Schuyler Erle from O'Reilly sent out a note on how Rob was doing, and added this advice: First, *please* be careful when doing this sort of field work. Our community almost lost a brilliant contributor and advocate (and a great friend, to boot), due to a simple accident. I really don't want to see this happen to anyone else. I'll say it again: Please be careful when setting up antennas, et cetera. No amount of bandwidth is worth your physical harm, so don't you be a martyr to the cause! :-)
Second, if you'd like to send cards or whatever, I'm sure Rob would be grateful to hear from a community he's given so much to. He can be reached c/o O'Reilly & Associates, 1005 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Feel free to be creative, but please don't send antennas -- we don't want to encourage him any further. ;-)
I'd expect a Pringles can full of tangerines might be the appropriate get-well gift.
Holy Grail time, kids: Nokia announced Wi-Fi/GSM GPRS Wi-Fi card: Nokia has been shipping a Wi-Fi card with a SIM slot to allow authentication and billing via existing cell network back office systems, but this is the real deal, and the beginning of the beginning of cell telco/wISP alignment. I was talking to a colleague yesterday about this very issue: the companies making the cellular equipment will have to drive the market, because cell companies don't have a particular motivation to make it easier for their customers to switch from band to band and service to service. Decreased friction also means you spend more to keep customers and can lose customers quickly. Nokia is taking the lead by offering the devices, and the cell companies will follow that lead and start partnering and building services. It's not as simple as that, of course, but users have driven the deployment of WLANs, and they will resist plain GPRS services, priced expensively, unless they're coupled with the Nokia card and wISP access. [via Alan Reiter; read his analysis.]
Intersil and Cisco join forces for 802.11g reference design: the reference design is a standard implementation that chipmakers often like to provide to manufacturers as both a proof of concept and a tool to get them going. Some companies take the reference design, send it off to manufacturing, and mix in packaging and marketing - and voila! A product. Cisco's involvement is fascinating, given that they sell equipment in the arena. It's obvious they want to derive some kind of revenue stream from this involvement, possibly through royalties on the reference design and software patents?
B is Busting Out All Over: It's getting so that I can't pick up a newspaper or magazine, or turn on the radio, and not hear thebeat of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi. In today's New York Times Circuits Q&A column, a reader asks about Apple's AirPort compatibility with other Wi-Fi devices. Meanwhile, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal answers a sensible question on whether a wireless network card offers access everyone or just near networks; lots of average folks confuse wireless cell and wireless LANs. The Seattle Times ran a business article a week ago Monday, Paul Andrews's column this last Monday, and I have a how-to/why-to piece coming up this or next Saturday. Okay, I'm part of the problem, aren't I?
Correction: Telesym Wi-Fi phone works peer-to-peer as well as through central phone systems (PBXs): a product manager at Telesym very nicely corrected my story of a few days ago about the potential of Wi-Fi phones. These devices will work peer-to-peer for voice-over-IP conversations. If you want to dial out into the PSTN (public switched telephone network), you need a PBX. (My original point still stands: this phone offers an enormous opportunity for companies to built quasi-cell-phone-style networks that overlay existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, a la Boingo's partnerships.)
Ricochet starts to heat back up: reports are filtering in about Ricochet Networks Inc., a subsidary of Aerie Networks Inc. The new firm is started to test the waters for powering the network back up. Ricochet technology uses a combination of unlicensed and licensed bands to relay data through a mesh of transceivers and relay traffic back and forth to client devices. Update: Steve Stroh wrote in to note that Ricochet's New York network was brought back up post-Sept. 11 to help with the rescue and relief efforts by the efforts of ex-Metricom employees and others. He also notes that although Metricom intended to use licensed spectrum, they only deployed that kind of network in Seattle, and those frequencies are still part of Metricom's assets in bankruptcy court.
Good to the Last Ping: Yuban coffee can-based antennas are good enough, but other tin cans with connectors work slightly better. All of them beat the Pringles design. Building your own antenna never sounded easier.
Seattle Times nails the business wireless market scenario: I apologize for ignoring the newspaper in my own backyard (and which I write for). Sharon Pian Chan cut to the heart of the several intersecting battles and opportunities on Wi-Fi business side.
DLink introduces DWL-900AP, a Linksys WAP11 workalike: DLink's new model, introduced at $130 list price, appears to be identical in firmware and reference design to Linksys's WAP11. This isn't surprising. The price is, however: this may force the street price of both this unit and the WAP11 down closer to $100. You need a Windows box to configure this unit: it has the same USB and SNMP software that the WAP11 uses.
Ocala, Florida, newspaper editor declares Wi-Fi unsafe at any speed: while this editor understands the underlying issue, I feel he's blaming Wi-Fi for not incorporating higher-layer standards into its core protocol. Instead, I'd argue, the very same VPN software he describes as protecting LANs are equally as valid and necesary for WLANs. Any IT director who operates a wireless network without putting it outside a firewall and requiring access only via VPN should probably not longer be an IT director.
PersonalTelco in Portland, Oregon, picks up some local coverage of their new downtown Pioneer Courthouse Square service: gotta love the quote from AT&T Broadband -- it's like stealing cable! Well, it can be. If you're sharing network access with anyone, it's critical to read your service agreement. Some AT&T Broadband plans for business allow this kind of use, apparently. Also, cable theft is a federal crime; sharing bandwidth may be a matter of tort law, if that. (Nigel Ballard wrote in to tell me that in the Pioneer Square Courthouse location, they're using a business T1, so there's no "stealing" involved. No, really, AT&T - tell us your true feelings.)
Apple AirPort Cards for about $50: Apple's AirPort Card has notoriously hovered at $100 retail even as PC Card prices have dropped. No more: order one for $52.50. It's possible this is a AirPort 1.0 Card, but all of these are flash-upgradable to 2.0 via the Software Update feature in OS 9 and X.
Linksys gear from Amazon.com: Amazon.com is offering Linksys equipment at extremely low prices. If you use this discount code, AMZNELEC2832, during the normal (not 1-click) checkout process on Feb. 18 only, you should receive an additional $20 off your purchase, making a WAP11 a total of $115 with their free U.S. mainland shipping deal. The discount is per order per account, not per item. Other limitations may apply. Linksys WAP11 $135 ($115 with coupon) from Amazon.com. The Linksys WMP11, their fully integrated PCI card with Windows XP drivers, is just $99.95 ($79.95 with coupon). Select Free Standard Shipping to get the free shipping offer during your checkout review.
Gear: there's clearly a stream of interesting gear coming out of the woodwork at the same time prices drop and deals abound. I'm combining both trends into a page called Gear at which I'll post any deals I find, as well as links to reviews of equipment as they appear. Please feel free to send me links of this nature, including coupons and offers from online stores. Some of these stores I may have an affiliate relationship with, but I will attempt to always link to the best resource for readers. The commissions from affiliate deals are a nice extra, but it's not why I'm runnning this site (nor how I'll continue to fund my time).
Veteran technology reporter Paul Andrews writes about public-space for-fee Wi-Fi hurdles to adoption: while I agree with Paul on the consumer side, I know that as more and more companies adopt Wi-Fi internally, an ocean of road warriors with wireless cards will start to transform the commercial use of Wi-Fi as they start to expect and demand service. I'm ready to make a prediction (and eat a can of Pringles chips if I'm wrong) that public space commercial Wi-Fi will start to exceed a million regular subscribers by mid-2003. By that time, the market will have split into tiers and niche players offering overlays onto Wi-Fi commodities, as Boingo's Sky Dayton has predicted, and the consumer element will be available alongside the business. The reason pricing is so high now is that everyone is sure enough of the race to the bottom, that no one dare price service too low and lose on margin while they can still get it. A second issue: real-estate venues get a split of the payment, and you have to guarantee a reasonable amount of money per user and session which requires high per-day or per-month fees, relatively speaking.
A lot of people are using pairs of Linksys WAP11 access points to link wired networks. Linksys and its retail partners keep dropping the price, which was over $200 last summer and is now available for just $135 from Amazon.com. Amazon is also running a free slower shipping promotion for orders $99 and higher (with some qualifications: mainland U.S. only, etc.) for which Linksys equipment qualifies. The Linksys WMP11, their fully integrated PCI card with Windows XP drivers, is just $99.95; it squeaks in over the free-shipping cutoff.
Linksys continues to update its firmware and drivers for the WAP11. I just installed the latest 1.4i release on the pair that I and a neighbor use to link our offices.
Disclosure: those links above are affiliate links. Buy something via these links and I get a cut - and I thank you for it!
Ephraim Schwartz details the man-in-the-middle attack that's possible in the current iteration of 802.1x authentication: because of the way in which 802.1x pieces elements of security together, a man-in-the-middle attack is possible in which a hacker poses as an access point to a client and a client to an access point. William Arbaugh and his graduate student Arunesh Mishra at the University of Maryland have made their report available in PDF form. (If you don't have PDF, use Adobe's online PDF-to-HTML converter.)
IOC: We Never Said It: the Olympics organizing committee apparently never said that they wouldn't consider 802.11 until 2008. Their contractor decided that for 2004 that the Olympics would continue to use existing, tested equipment, while continuing to evaluate 802.11 standards for future use. (This is what NASA does: they use old, slow, reliable technology for a lot longer than the rest of us.)
The New York Times Circuits section did a fantastic job today in dissecting the hype behind 3G deployments, and making it clear to all and sundry that 3G is interesting, maybe useful, but isn't yet up to its own hype, and may only achieve part of its currently stated goals.
Katie Hafner wrote about the current generation of cell-data services, including the initial 3G versions. She concludes ably, But as is often the case with marketing carts that precede the technological horse, the bottom line is: Buy into 3G now and you are buying a promise. Wait another year or two and you are more likely to be buying the real thing.
David Pogue, Circuits's regular columnist, covers the bewildering pricing plans that include some of the variety of cell data services. Jeffrey Selingo offers accounts of the irritations with cell phone use and customer service.
Pogue also writes a brief column, much more fun and lose in tone, which is sent to subscribers to Circuits weekly email list. (Sign up here.) This week's column offered more insight into the alphabet soup of current and 3G data standards.
Both Hafner and Pogue (in his email column) fell into the trap of cell industry hype, however, without realizing it. That's how effective the marketing machine is. Pogue wrote, But that's only the first phase. By 2004, the big carriers hope to have true 3G (third generation) networks in place, capable of 384 Kbps data speeds -- and then a year or two after that, speeds of 2 or 3 megabits per second. You'll feel like you've got a cable modem or DSL on your cellphone. Hafner said, Forecasts vary, but as carriers upgrade software and equipment, they are likely to start advertising speeds up to 2 megabits per second by 2003. The actual speed will be closer to 500 kilobits per second at first.
Bravo on mitigating the hype, but both writers are following the lead of the industry in saying 2 Mbps, while that's a highly limited potential speed. It's an indoor speed. Both writers are accurate, but they left off the rest of the explanation, which the industry doesn't seem to want to talk in too much detail about. If you visit the part of the FCC's site devoted to 3G technology, the government speaks quite clearly on the topic. The three modes of 3G ultimately envisioned are: 144 kilobits/second or higher in high mobility (vehicular) traffic; 384 kilobits/second for pedestrian traffic; 2 Megabits/second or higher for indoor traffic.
Now think about that phrase: indoor traffic. Perhaps just as airports and public spaces like hotels and conference centers are finding that Wi-Fi might be useful to offer to their business customers, so, too, these venues might also invest in 3G indoor equipment. But most of the world won't. If you're a company with a building or a floor or a campus, you're going to need on-site cell telco equipment. That's called customer premises (or CUSTPREM) equipment in the Ma Bell terminology.
In the POTS (plain old telephone service) world, custprem equipment is a box at the demarcation (demarc) point where the customer runs his or her inside wiring from. You can often pay extra for the telco to run wire for you inside and terminate it, but their responsibility ends at the demarc point (unless you pay for inside wiring insurance, as they used to call it; they may not offer this in many areas any more).
The cell telcos aren't in the business of custprem equipment. They put up towers and transmitters, occasionally negotiating leases to put equipment at or near business campuses and run their fiber optic or other landlines back into their system to tie the phone service together.
To get 2 Mbps or higher speeds with 3G, companies will have to individually negotiate and lease equipment from cell telcos; or, if they're leasing building space, their building landlords will. But it won't be a given: it won't be everywhere.
3G frequencies already chosen in Europe and those that we are likely to use in the U.S. are in the sweet 2 GHz to 3 GHz range (a few bands drop below into the high 1 GHz band). These frequencies can only operate at distance with high power, which isn't and won't be approved for cell handsets.
This brings us full circle back to Wi-Fi and 802.11a and g. If, in two years, I have a full 54 Mbps/22 Mbps dual-band installation or some component thereof throughout my entire corporate campus - equipment that I own, have paid for, has present and future utility, and I control all aspects of - explain to me again why I would pay potentially tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to bring the cell telcos into my facilities?
More likely, we'll see multiple band IP/GPRS/etc. phones. Give me 2.4 GHz in the office, in airports, at hotels, and I'll make VOIP or voice-over-IP calls (when 802.11e is ratified, we get the quality of service guarantees needed for VOIP). My VOIP phone will be tied back into my office's PBX or a private PBX a la Telesym's new IP phone, discussed yesterday.
But my magic phone will also have a software or hardware radio that tunes to other bands, including the seven or eight bands used for European and American 3G service. If I'm out of range of Wi-Fi or none is available, I can fall back into 3G. If I want to check my email while my cab takes me the 30 minutes from the airport to my hotel, I use 3G (maybe via a cable connecting my laptop directly to the phone rather than having a separate PC card, even, consolidating billing and accounts even further).
I've roamed far afield, but we're talking two to four years out. I want some good non-marketing proof that companies are stupid enough to pay for customer premises services when they can own and depreciate equipment themselves that offers superior connectivity and ties into their IT backends.
The FCC Approves Initial Ultrawideband (UWB) Standards: UWB is a very, very clever idea. Instead of using swaths of spectrum at low or high power,even rotating frequencies and jumping, you use incredibly short-duration high-power pulses across broad swaths of bandwidth that a similarly synchronized device interprets. You can use existing spectrum without (proponents hope testing will bear out) interference because existing devices rely on, would be affect or damaged by, or listen to a different pattern. By the time a pulse would pass, existing equipment wouldn't even tick over. Because of the broad amount of spectrum that could be reused, even many times in the same physical area, UWB might ultimately replace a number of existing technologies across a broad swath of consumer, scientific, medical, and military purposes. Here's a highly technical article on it from EE Times.
Boingo Wireless is giving away free Wi-Fi PC Cards at Seatac: visit gate B4 in the next few weeks and get a free Wi-Fi PC card (brand not specified). This can be a little tricky at Seatac because security is separate for the B, C/D (Alaska/American), N (United), S, and other terminal gates.
O Pioneers! Personal Telco offers free wireless access in Portland, Oregon's downtown Pioneer Courthouse Square: this urban oasis of brick and shops (and leaky roofs in underground offices, according to a recent report) now has free Wi-Fi coverage thanks to the community networking group, Personal Telco. They're professional now, too: they sent out an honest-to-goodness press release.
Wi-Phone: Telesym's Innovation: while other Wi-Fi phones exist, Telesym may have caused the synapses to burn in venture capitalists and entrepreneurs heads at the same time. While their phone is IP-based and works over a Wi-Fi network, it still requires a central PBX system or server system that they offer for sale. So you buy a license, set up your PBX, buy some phone lines, and offer these Telesym's phones for sale to anybody just like you'd sell a cell phone. Right? Right. (Thanks to Steve Stroh for setting me straight; see next item.)
Focus on Broadband Wireless Internet Access: to the increasingly large group of people who talk sense about broadband wireless services, I have to add Steve Stroh. His subscription publication (linked above) is full of sensible advice born of deep technical and market knowledge. The yearly rate is advertised at $595 for 12 issues. Anyone trying to make a living, start a company, or run a division in which this is your market shouldn't hesitate before subscribing. Disclosures: I don't get a finder's fee for telling you this; I have a free subscription which was not a quid pro quo arrangement.
Olympics officials say Wi-Fi too insecure for widespread use until at least 2008: this demonstrates their complete lack of understanding of the difference between the mechanisms that move data (bottom two layers of the ISO networking model) and the data itself.
Wi-Fi is a method of sending information wirelessly that is per se insecure but not actually insecure. With or without WEP, Wi-Fi doesn't prevent people from seeing a data stream. But in conditions in which knowing whether a data stream is present or not is not an issue, a substantial number of end-to-end encryption systems that reside at higher layers in the networking model can perfectly well secure data transmission between handhelds, laptops, remote systems, and central processing stations.
The Olympics got bad advice: they'll have to implement these security measures for remote systems even if they were using plain old wire or proprietary wireless devices.
Cringely claims passive antennas up in the old oak tree connect his fortress of arrogance with Santa Rosa, while Flickenger politely dissents and invites Cringely to speak: Cringely's article is about using two connected, unpowered yagi antennas on a nearby mountain top to relay his Wi-Fi signal from his own high mountain aerie to a wISP in Santa Rosa. (Fortress of arrogance is a tip to Dr. Science, and is only a slight exaggeration given Cringely.) Flickenger dissents, wondering how Cringely has outsmarted (with insufficient detail) the brightest or at least hardest-working minds in rock, roll, and community Wi-Fi. Worth reading both halves of the story. Hey, Bob: let slip the secrets!
University of Kansas groups collaborate on mapping the extent of wireless LAN signals on top of GIS and satellite imagery: their introduction says it best: While computer networks and geography may not appear to have much in common, a collaborative effort was launched between the University of Kansas' Information & Telecommunications Technology Center and Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program to create a more advanced wireless 802.11b mapping and network visualization method. This new procedure uses wireless network data collected from walking and/or driving scans, aerial photography, and interpolation techniques to create highly detailed network coverage and signal strength maps.
John McChesney of NPR visits Aspen and talks about Pringles cans, free networking, and Boingo [RealAudio required]: The intro said that these networks may pose a threat to existing telephone networks. McChesney interviews Jim Selby, and gets the facts right: he notes that the technology was designed for a few hundred feet, but that Shelby (like many others) can range for miles.
Selby's installation is at the center of Aspen in an old brick building. They clamber up to the roof through an access hatch. Selby: "I can probably cover 95 percent of this time with some form of minor line-of-sight." Shelby says he's using polarized Russian antennas that he calls Russkis.
Selby opens up a small box on the roof. "I use a garden hose to keep my cables dry." He's using a lightbulb to keep the equipment warm. McChesney says he's somewhat of a legend on the Internet.
Selby "gleefully shows off his signal strength on my laptop" and it's off the chart. He plays some NPR RealAudio for McChesney.
Enter Bill Gurley, a smart analyst I've been following for years: "It turns out there are Jim Selbys all over the contry." He notes that Wi-Fi is cheap and flexible.
Imagine setting up Wi-Fi in the Midwest where it's flat: a few Pringles cans and you're all set.
European companies are installing this equipment in thousands of railway stations, McChesney said. (I'm unaware of that; I know about hundreds, not thousands.)
On to Sky Dayton: "With Boingo, you need just one account and one piece of software, and it knows where networks are and it will connect you." McChesney mentions the security software (VPN tunneling) built into Boingo's software that addresses the listening-in concerns.
Tragedy of the commons: can the 2.4 GHz band handle all the interest? "Right now, no one knows what these limits are."
On the whole, very good: would have been nice to mention that there are thousands of people involved in free community networks, and that Selby is but one (and a good example). But the technology was described accurately, and there was no fearmongering.
VoiceStream goes public on the next steps of its plans through a customer mailing to MobileStar account holders: as a MobileStar user, I received this email a few minutes ago:
Dear Valued Customer,
Welcome to VoiceStream Global Wireless by T-Mobile!
We are pleased to inform you that VoiceStream has acquired the MobileStar Network and we are glad to have you as a customer!
For now, things are going to seem pretty familiar....
- You will continue to enjoy the same great wireless broadband service and same friendly customer service accessible at 1.800.981.8563 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- VoiceStream will immediately support all existing customer subscription and prepaid service offers.
- Your credit card billing will remain the same and we will keep you informed as the VoiceStream/T-Mobile name changes are reflected on your credit card billing statement.
- Until further notice, new locations and service offers will be accessible at www.mobilestar.com.
Our "GET MORE" promise means more features and services for you.
We promise to stay in touch and continue to expand to new locations and improve your broadband wireless service as we make changes.
Welcome to the neighborhood!
My friends at Homerun write about Telia's expansion into Finland from their home base in Sweden: "Telia launches Telia HomeRun in Finland on Feb. 11. The target is to offer 130 zones (hot spots) by the end of the year. Telia has signed partnership agreements to build service zones in Finland, with Ramada, Rantasipi and Cumulus hotels, Finnair, SAS, Wayne's Coffee and several congress centres."
Meanwhile, Alan Reiter blogs about the massive expansion of hot spots in Korea.Two competing firms will roll out 25,000 hot spots, ostensibly over the next several months in anticipation of the World Cup soccer games occurring there this summer. I'm assuming this is the advantage of being a wired and/or cell telco and rolling out hot spots. You already have and own some infrastructure nearby so you're not bearing the related cost of leasing a data infrastructure separately. (Note in the linked article that they're claiming 11 Mbps is five times the CDMAx1 speeds, as if 2 Mbps will be a consistent available speed for cell data.)
Biathletes use Wi-Fi for split-times: the Olympic biathletes will be using Wi-Fi transmitters to help their coaches offer in-progress advice. Watch for pranksters disguised as journalists carrying cans of Pringles.
Wi-Fi is Watching You: D-Link wireless camera: talk about opportunistic networking.
Software pioneer Dan Bricklin is shown a peek at the future of medical telemetry and computation [follow link and scroll to Feb. 4 entry] Dan is one of the guys behind ur-PC-software VisiCalc, and continues to make great new useful software today. He visited the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT), one project at which is looking into ways in which sensors could be more independent, broadcasting information wirelessly to centralized systems which could perform the computationally intensive tasks that individual devices either cannot or would be prohibitively expensive to offer ubiquitously. This kind of idea could transform aspects of diagnostic and hospital medicine. Dan provides quite a lot of detail; CIMIT's own site appears to not offer the same kind of insight at present.
This week's InfoWorld magazine covers wireless networking in quite extensive detail in several articles.
InfoWorld picked 802.11b as one of the most important technologies of 2001: of course, the technology has been around since mid-1999 in its current form, but the utility appeared last year. The article details the improvements, momentum, and challenges.
InfoWorld's CTO, Chad Dickerson, kvells about Wi-Fi's future in his and other operations: Dickerson, a clearheaded writer with a dead-on practical approach, is putting his money where his excitement is. In InfoWorld's new offices, they will go Wi-Fi everywhere for desktop machines. He doesn't offer a strict cost-benefits analysis (which I expect he's done: office wiring is expensive due to building codes and labor), but he has a key insight: On the business side, it's the ability to access key business data in real time to make critical decisions -- no waiting to get back to your desk. In our current era of tight belts, having better, faster, lower-administration methods of getting information everywhere makes us more competitive, efficient, and responsive.
Go Slow on 802.11a, many warn and urge: it's interesting to watch those in the industry try to slow a galloping horse, but the 802.11a spec (to be certified as Wi-Fi5 when WECA finalized its process for the new mark) is causing many distress. It's faster, yes, but unproven, and because of its use of 5 GHz insead of Wi-Fi's 2.4 GHz band, completely incompatible in its basic nature. In the future, dual-band radios may make headway, but a headlong rush into the new specification could certainly wait. With a raft of 802.11 improvements nearing ratification this year (e for quality of service, h for adaptive frequency respose and power response, and i for security), why buy 802.11a today when you can buy a+e+h+i in six months?
I've been corresponding the last few days with a fellow author working on breaking down the differences between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi/802.11b, and I think I've come up with a clear set of differences on the approach that developers, makers, and backers of the two take to the respective technologies.
Bluetooth proponents picture a world of roaming devices and people: at any point, you might want to sync your Palm to your computer, transfer info between a cell phone and a laptop, print to a nearby printer, retrieve a stock quote, or perform some relatively low-bandwidth task that requires the cooperation of another device. You might also want to be able to create ad hoc workgroups with the people you're standing or sitting near, exchanging a variety of rich but compact information. The cable replacement notion originally pushed seems less relevant with the improvement in USB hardware and software; rather, it's the opportunistic quality of Bluetooth that's appealing. Wherever you are, whenever you need it, you can use resources.
Wi-Fi backers break the world into zones at home, work, and on the road, that offer access to larger networks: Wi-Fi's current purpose is to create a seamless entity that you can plug into and out of with no wire, no plug, and no configuration. As the mesh of public hot spots grows finer, and as more offices and homes install Wi-Fi networks, a Wi-Fi user should never need to have a particular place to work, or one in which network-style resources (Web, fileservers, corporate network, email, streaming media) shouldn't be available on demand and with minimal fuss.
Distilled: Wi-Fi solves bandwidth-heavy, network-based (whether intranet or Internet) connectivity; Bluetooth offers ad hoc, resource-based opportunistic availability.
Cable channel TechTV's Chris Pirillo (of LockerGnome fame) featured Matt Peterson in a segment today: Matt is one of the movers behind BAWUG (Bay Area Wireless User's Group), one of the best sources of information on the practical and fun uses of Wi-Fi out there. Matt is a very well-spoken gent, able to distill his massive technical knowledge into sensible, accurate, understandable explanations. [via Chris Pirillo]
Funk to ship 802.1x server solution in February [Network Fusion World]: Funk's software is apparently a full implementation of the 802.1x draft standard, according to the article. The writer says that the server completes three separate tasks, but in my understanding those tasks are all part of the 802.1x spec: secure exchange of authentication information handed to and from a RADIUS server, with the AP acting as a relay instead of an authenticator itself.
It doesn't take a village to raise a network: it takes a heterogeneous group of individuals with aims that are close to similar enough to work cooperatively for a greater goal. In that process, not only are new communities of thought and work founded, but the method of getting to the goal may evolve new ends, new friends, new kinds of community. And you may learn something, too.
The theme of Rob Flickenger's Building Wireless Community Networks is clearly on the building part: building wireless, building communities, and building networks. It's an easy call to say that this book contains somewhere between thousands and tens of thousands of dollars worth of advice on each of those constructive topics.
Before I critique the book, though, let me digress on community. I'm a loose member of the wireless community. As a journalist, I'm working hard to objectively analyze the companies, movements, and governmental bodies that interact in this space. But I can't deny making friends and having folks I think of as close colleagues. I've never met Rob Flickenger, but I have exchanged email with him. I write for O'Reilly Networks Wireless DevCenter; so does Rob. I know, in fact, that he will read this review (hi, Rob!). So when I'm blunt about this book, you know that I'm aware of the community I'm part of and writing for.
Now the meat. The book covers all the important aspects of setting up community networks for cheap using off-the-shelf parts (literally: Pringles's cans are used as part of inexpensive antenna assmblies) and, as applicable, Linux and similar configurations.
But I kept finding myself drawn up short: I'd get into a chapter describing how, for instance, to build the Pringles antenna, which described a parts list, and had an illustration showing an assembled antenna. Rob explains how to cut and put it together until he gets to the part about soldering wire to a connector. "Straighten the heavy copper wire and solder it to the connector. When inside the can, the wire should be just below the midpoint of the can..." There's no picture of this, and I can't figure out from context quite where the wire goes: bent, up, down, straight out?
Later in the chapter he writes, "Most likely, failing to take into account the thickness of the washers has made the entire front element a little too long." Shouldn't this have been revised, tested, and included? Rob instead points us to the current state of the can at NoCat.
Where the book falls down, possibly, is it's combination of a breezy, anecdotal tone coupled with super-technical detail, and I'm a pretty technical guy these days. There's not much middle ground, which is where you would probably find many of the people most interested in building these sorts of networks and lacking the first-hand knowledge to get started. The book will ultimately get them there, after a steep learning curve, especially coupled with the copious resources on the Web pointed to.
The book's looseness coupled with the number of Web references does provoke a question: why a book and why not a Web site? The answer is clear: the time is right for a manual of the revolution that can be read, thumbed through, annotated, passed around, and recommended. A Web site, strangely, is more static than a book in that regard: this book is the Palm Pilot of community networks, providing a window into that larger resource base.
It's true that I was hoping for a tighter, more how-to approach to building and configuring community networks instead of a quick overview with some more detailed areas. Tighter prose with fewer asides and more in-between illustrations would have added clarity and reduced the number of questions I have after reading it. Many subjects are breezed over that could have had entire chapters devoted to them. For instance, I would have liked an entire chapter on security which could have included the configuration for end-to-end SSH tunneled links. Or how to set up rules in ipchains or using ZoneAlarm or Windows security software to route between interfaces.
As a first edition that both offers hard-won advice coupled with an interesting history of the nascence of community networking, the book shines. I'll expect a pretty quick turnaround from O'Reilly & Associates, however, with the changes in the field, and the information Rob is gathering to get a thicker, richer second edition that's more nitty-gritty.
Wi-Fi is to the wireless Internet like walkie-talkies are to cell phones: Doc Searls weighs in on the story below. A pithy observation: 1. Right now we have the Internet everywhere we have the phone system (and in some places, cable). That's Condition A. 2. What we want next is to have the Internet everywhere we have cell phone service. That's Condition B.
Wireless Week writes about wireless blogs: yours truly and this blog are nicely mentioned (although it's actually the Bluetooth blog I noticed first and which inspired me). The article also addresses the larger issue of the utility of blogging wirelessly, including via SMS. As the gateways, APIs, and mechanisms continue to interlock and interoperate, we'll soon be able to blog via practically any electronic mechanism.
The Wall Street Journal's Tom Weber discusses Wi-Fi in his Monday EWorld column (no link; the Journal charges for access). He writes quite convincingly about a number of issue that those of us who use it regularly already know: it's simple, it works, and wireless ISPs are trying to sort out how to make it a ubiquitous for-fee service.
Weber writes, Somehow, the people developing wireless technology have figured out how to make getting online at broadband speeds relatively painless. And they're getting better at it all the time. That stands in sharp contrast to the tribulations so often experienced by consumers who sign up for cable-modem or DSL service.
Weber mentions using MobileStar and the problems they've faced that forced them into bankruptcy. He talks to Sky Dayton of Boingo Wireless about Dayton's views of striating infrastructure from real estate from account and service. He praises Boingo for choosing a bottom-up percolation of hot spots (which is, as we know, in sharp contrast to some of the early stage players in this space, including MobileStar).
Weber concludes with some advice in the legislative arena, noting that he suggested that those in charge of the laws resist attempts to expand broadband investment until current demand has been met. He says that hot spot networking should be excluded from that advice. Wireless is the exception, because wireless has the potential to spur demand and spark new ways of using the Internet. For those looking for ways to nurture broadband, thwarting any attempts to stifle the growth of wireless should become a high priority.
Business Week argues misery awaits your attempts to go wireless (premium subscribers only): in the best tradition of anecdotal journalism, the writer asserts that misery awaits the faint-of-heart as they attempt to install a simple wireless network in their home. The writer had problem after problem but ultimately succeeded with a lot of help.
Well, he's right, drat it: he confronted all of the typical showstoppers that the average consumer would find baffling, from short range (probably metal or some other strong interferer between the floors in his home) to computers not seeing each other (he wisely had a personal firewall installed but it unwisely didn't alert him to the new wireless network) to asinine tech support policies (Linksys telling him they esentially don't support their own products except in very limited ways).
Now, of course, many consumers in regular ranch style houses or apartments would plug in, have no firewall, and be online in seconds. I've definitely had both the aggravating multi-hour install, but I've had several plug-and-play and walk away successes, too.
The personal firewall is a real problem: I use ZoneAlarm and it's smart enough to warn me when I plug a new device in (such as the Linksys WMP11 PCI card) that a new network is suddently available when it acquires a DHCP address. It gives me the instant option of saying, yes, include this new network in my local zone so that the firewall features don't block other machines.
My review of the 3Com 11 Mbps Wireless Workgroup Bridge at O'Reilly Networks Wireless DevCenter: the 3Com bridge is a small and simple device that lets you hook up to four wired Ethernet devices (via a non-included Ethernet hub) into the bridge to connect to an existing wireless network. No reconfiguration of the Ethernet devices is required, nor do you need a special AP.
Although the cost is high - $350 - it's a cheaper solution than actually plugging PC and PCI cards into existing equipment, and it's an incredible solution for legacy equipment that can't support wireless Wi-Fi networks. There's little administration: plug it in, configure simply, and let it run (all via a Web interface). It's elegant and it gets the job done.
For consumers and small offices looking to connect pods of machines, this beats drilling holes, crimping cables, and running wire. Likewise, some situations require wireless and administering wireless bridges (like the WAP11) is overkill or not an option.
Better yet, the 3Com bridge is the first member of a new revolution in Wi-Fi coming just 2.5 years after the first generation appeared. The new Wi-Fi devices coming down the pipe will be more about building meshes of networks instead of isolated access points that are connected with a wired backbone.