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Sputnik's initial launch (bad joke intended) presaged what appeared to be a new trend in inexpensive or free tools to transform cheap PCs and cheap access points or Wi-Fi cards into hot spots. Joltage and SOHO Wireless emerged from hiding around the same time, and while each company had a different aim, their approach was the same: focus on the software controls not the underlying hardware.
Sputnik's offering is open-source-based software that allows a PC plus a wireless card to be a self-standing, firewalled hot spot with quality of service (QoS) bandwidth throttling. Sputnik planned to let anyone who set up a Sputnik-based hot spot access all other points on this network for free, while charging the non-viral for access.
Today, the company made the announcement that they are focusing on a commercial product aimed at the enterprise, while continuing to support the free hot spot software. They also dropped plans to charge for the network.
I had a chance to talk with the three founders a couple of weeks ago, and that discussion is made more timely by today's announcements. I spoke with David LaDuke, Arthur Tyde, and David Sifry via conference call on April 12.
The talk with these three fellows was refreshing, as they have clearly paid attention to what's missing in wireless network administration: a single point of aggregation that allows a system administrator to avoid maintaining many different pieces of software, tables, and lists just to keep a consistent profile and robust security.
Sifry said that their stealth mode was abruptly turned off by a prominent mention in a New York Times article by John Markoff. "It wasn't our intention to go so public so soon."
Their initial product offering and approach made them seem as if they were planning on becoming another Wayport, but with a twist. However, Sifry said, "At the end of the day, we don't see ourselves as a service provider. We see ourselves as a software vendor, and specifically an enterprise vendor." (Today's announcement makes that much clearer, too.)
The basic Sputnik system they now call the Sputnik Community Gateway relies on a core platform that accomplishes several tasks; this core is also at the heart of the enterprise product.
First, it controls a radio, any radio, in true BSS mode, which is the infrastructure mode used by dedicated APs. Second, it uses firewall and throttling code to keep a local network fully isolated while allowing local users priority access. Third, the authentication system is independent of the device. Fourth, everything is tracked: usage by user and duration of sessions, and packets and bytes by user over the gateway.
Releasing the Community Gateway allowed Sputnik to get developers interested in the platform, as well as to let users stress test in heterogeneous environments. "Our goal is to see how" people would use it, Sifry said. As of April 12, over 200 developers had joined the Sputnik program, with 10 to 15 more joining daily.
The Sputnik Enterprise system adds a variety of tools to reduce cost of ownership and tie together equipment made by different companies, and installed with different configurations.
First off, the Enterprise version can be run as a radio-less server: that is, it can treat any APs on a network as dumb slaves, turning them into bridges (instead of routers, as they can sometimes be used) with authentication, access, and other management handled through the Enterprise server.
This option allows a company to keep its existing hardware in place and plop the Enterprise server in as an overlay. (Think: one server to rule them all...)
The Enterprise server offers a hot fail-over option: two identical boxes configured as master/slave can automatically change roles if the master dies.
In a feature that made me blurt, "You're the Borg!" while laughing, the Enterprise server offer "rogue AP detection." Sifry explained that many organizations find themselves with unapproved APs many of which offer a gaping hole in enterprise (not USS Enterprise) security.
The Enterprise server can monitor both the wired and wireless sides of a network for new APs. The system administrator has two options: it can "notify the network administrator whenever one of these rogue APs comes online," Sifry said, or, in the Borg move, it can configure it so that it's part of the Sputnik Enterprise network.
(This is a neat trick: because it's monitoring constantly for MAC addresses in the right ranges for APs, it can grab a device while it's still in its default mode as it comes online. Sputnik monitors MACs but also sends SNMP requests to test whether they're the devices they think they are.)
On the wireless side, the server checks the signal to noise ratio on networks that appears, and then examines ESSIDs and interference to inform a sysadmin.
The server has plug-ins to work with popular network management tools, like Unicenter and Tivoli.
Tyde pointed out that some sites, like Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, don't allow Wi-Fi at all. "I could see people deploying Sputnik gateways" just for detection, he said.
The security services attached to he server include plug-ins and APIs for biometric devices, SmartCards, etc. A different piece of hardware, a Sputnik authentication server, can talk to a single signon server based on Active Directory, LDAP, RADIUS, and so on, to handle the interaction. They offer an 802.1x plug-in, but it's not part of their reference platform at this time.
The authentication ties in with bandwidth throttling, allowing different user policies for use and allowed bandwidth.
Sputnik has committed to continuing to update their community software, and you can see why: it's both a way to get purchasers and developers to test the waters without a commitment, and it's a good-will gesture to the community of developers that underlies a chunk of their code.
Sputnik's software might find its way into all manner of other products, not just a software package. The company is talking to AP makers, who might want to use Sputnik as the layer their customers deal with instead of the typically poor interface the microcode firmware developers place on top.
Likewise, the company sees themselves with a strong role in the transportation and logistics industry where a variety of devices, not just Wi-Fi cards, will be connecting through all kinds of edge networks and need cheap, robust integration.
I don't know anything about Sputnik's financial viability or business model. I do know that they've produced a compelling offering which, if it stands the test of enterprise-grade labs and hard-nosed CIOs, could help substantially reduce the complexity and cost of wireless/edge network administration. This, in turn, could lead to greater penetration and lower costs in the industry as a whole.
Best of all, based on what I've seen, they may set a new high-water mark for creating configuration tools that work, and that average human beings can understand.
A Pirate Network Becomes Big Business in Der Spiegel (Germany): reporter Carsten Volkery files another excellent article, although with a little more sensational tone, for German newsmagazine, Der Spiegel (The Mirror).
Public wireless LANs and UMTS -- (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System or 3G) -- have been, up to now, two different worlds. On one side, leaping into the fray, are 20-something broadband pirates, who share their fast Internet access with the public, often for free. On the other side, stand multinational telecommunciations companies, which spent billions for the exclusive right to a radio freuqency. In the former world, a base station with an antenna costs a few hundred dollars; in the latter, the cost is in the thousands.
Volkery goes on to talk about the entrance of cell companies into the hot spot market, citing Voicestream Wireless's purchase of MobileStar assets. (Have to love the German word for bankrupt: bankrot, like a rotted bank.) He also mentions British Telecomm's recent announcement to roll out 4,000 hot spots, and AT&T Wireless's intent to launch a service, too.
"Within two years, all cell companies will certainly be in the Wi-Fi business," predicted Glenn Fleishman, a veteran Wi-Fi expert and editor of the 80211b.weblogger.com Web site. Volkery writes that the new magic word is Integration.
The first phase: Voicestream will integrate its cell and Wi-Fi billing. In the second phase, cell and Wi-Fi will tie together into a single user profile using a SIM card (as with GSM). In the thir phase, a user can wander in and out of regions and have their service automatically switch.
The article continues in discussing current Wi-Fi limitations: short range, and hot spots tend to be single, isolated points. Handing off from one service to the next is a problem, but IBM and Nokia are working on it. (A nice image here, too: hot spots are popping up like mushrooms out of the ground.)
Matt Peterson is quoted on the lack of awareness of service. For hobbyists, it's not a problem because they're working on it purely for fun.
Many observers recall the Wi-Fi boom as part of the Intenet bubble. Not enough, apparently, as the venture capitalists have discovered it as their new darling. The companies themselves may be too naive, too, Peterson says, who himself is a consultant. "Many Wi-Fi startups have the dotcom mentality. They have no customers, and are spending money like there's no tomorrow."
That can't last. It may last until the largest telecomms finally start their marketing campaigns, Fleishman believes, for America to become a nation of Wi-Fi users. "Millions of people already have network cards in their laptops. They would be ecstatic if they were to know abuot Wi-Fi."
Wi-Fi Metro and Gatespeed launch San Jose HotZone: the two companies add this second multi-block coverage area to their plate, having already unwired Palo Alto's main drag.
A new trade association for wireless ISPs slips out from under the covers: The organization is one of several I expect that will pop up to create international infrastructure, much like the jointly operated frequent flyer programs and code sharing between national and private airlines (Star Alliance, etc.). Initial members are Wayport (US), FatPort (Vancouver, B.C., Canada), Wificom (European hot spots), Tele2 AB (European data/telephony over cell/wireless/cable), and Open Point (WISP hardware service company). Affiliated companies include Symbol, Nomadix, and other hardware vendors.
Austin Chronicle writes a think piece on Wi-Fi: a very interesting feature on wireless in Austin, and the broader issues in which wireless ISPs and wireless advocates find themselves. The reporter brings up the interesting issue of how wireless can bypass the last mile and bring connectivity to places that would previously require lots of incumbent phone company involvement. (Of course, adding Wi-Fi to an apartment building turns out to be much more difficult and intensive than, say, using wireless to bridge the last mile and then using intra-building DSL.) [via Shelly Brisbin]
The Washington Post discovers Wi-Fi: in an example of coverage by accident, the Washington Post reports on Wi-Fi as if it had never been reported on before in practically every other newspaper and national magazine. The article itself is quite good, covering the whole range from suburban consumer to security expert to public space networking to company use, with quotes from the usual suspects throughout. [via my dad]
D-Link announces June availability of its dual-radio a/b access point: suggested pricing, $499. The unit uses the mini-PCI form factor for the necessary cards.
HomeRF partner Motorola releases cable modem with built-in Ethernet and 802.11b wireless: one of the HomeRF Working Group's main contentions on traction was that as soon as they could get cable boxes (cable modems and/or cable set-top service boxes) with built-in HomeRF installed in people's homes through partnerships with cable companies, they would see widespread adoption. Motorola was (and perhaps still is) to be the agent of that insertion. Today's announcement at a German cable operator show makes it clear that Wi-Fi is the way to go.
The foundation of HomeRF's alternative technology was that it was designed to integrate media as part of the protocol itself, rather than as a set of add-on protocols as with the 802.11 family. 802.11 is plain old Ethernet over wireless with plug-ins; HomeRF is a ground-up telephony, multimedia, and data spec.
As with the Betamax vs. VHS battle, however, the market spoke because Wi-Fi delivered enough, soon enough. HomeRF lagged in speed, needing to wait for a late-2000 FCC decision before they could start to make 10 Mbps gear. By the time they hit their stride in mid-2001, Wi-Fi was everywhere.
The argument to cable operators for HomeRF is pretty good, though: integrate telephony, cable TV, and data in a single signal to a consumer's home, and a Motorola box will split it out and Siemens chips and handsets will handle the telephone side, while Proxim adapters will deal with the computers and data appliances. All of this interaction would happen with quality of service scheduling over HomeRF. Cable companies would get into the dial-tone business, and also into the hardware business, making a healthy margin selling Proxim and Siemens gear to consumers.
Cable companies never opted for these services, however, and Wi-Fi's ancillary specifications have caught up with HomeRF. The built-in advantages to HomeRF will soon all be ratified as 802.11 family specs: quality of service (ensuring voice over IP and multimedia streaming priority), primarily. Also, with 802.11b about to be subsumed into 802.11g, the speed bump to 22 Mbps or more nails the lid on the coffin as HomeRF 3.0 (which should be 20Mbps+) is nowhere in sight.
The HomeRF Working Group was certainly counting on more synergy happening sooner, so that average consumers, not early adopters and techies, would wind up with wireless HomeRF gear. They never truly saw themselves in competition with Wi-Fi, which they often labeled an enterprise/business spec that made its way into the home.
Motorola's cable modem announcement today essentially threads the last needle needed to sew up the market for Wi-Fi. The last glimmer of potential for HomeRF is now gone.
NTT Communications launches 200 hotspots in Japan, and 1,000 by year's end: offering both 802.11a and 802.11b service, NTT may also be bringing in substantial upstream bandwidth to surfing locations. The article notes fiber, DSL, and fixed wireless. Service will cost a flat $12.30 per month or so.
Kevin Werbach notes Wi-Fi sales stun spectrum experts: at an Apsen Institute conference, Kevin says that he stunned the audience, a savvy group of lobbyists, economists, laywers, and politicians, by noting Wi-Fi card sales are 1.5 million units per month. It's fun to see how the perception of change filters through the folks who think they control it.
Los Angeles lights up via Cafe.com: from their press release -- Cafe.com today announced the public launch of its high-speed wireless Internet service in coffee shops and other venues throughout Southern California’s Digital Coast communities. The company plans to have over 30 high-speed access points or ‘hotspots’
offering true broadband wireless Internet access by the year’s end and more to come in 2003. Their approach is one that apes other, so-far successful firms in this space that have managed to raise small amounts of money and achieve a good revenue flow (and sometimes even net income) in a location-by-location basis rather than blowing tons of venture capital in ways that require short-term success. Note, for instance, that they're expanding to 30 hot spots over eight months, not 300 or 3,000. Their first two locations? The Novel Cafe and the The Bourgeois Pig Cafe! A good pairing.
Their pricing model is inline with the Wayport/Boingo/MobileStar world view: 17 cents per minute walk-up (about $10/hour); $7 for 24 hours; $16 per month for 200 minutes, 8 cents thereafter; $35/month for 500 minutes, 8 cents thereafter. They're allied with NetNearU, which in turn ties them into GRIC.
Bluetooth storage device from Toshiba: interesting option for portable devices.
A workaround for Voice-over-IP-over-Wi-Fi: buy a couple of these babies and you can at least turn your laptop into a phone booth over Wi-Fi. Read the thread of discussion on Slashdot where they mention a freeware tool to use this for point-to-point calls with other users of the same software.
US Robotics cloud the mind of reporters: US Robotics plans to ship Texas Instruments-based PBCC encoding access points and cards in June. Unfortunately, they clouded the mind of the reporter on this piece who makes it sound as if poor old TI was ostracized by the IEEE.
The article states: For now, TI is the only supporter of the 22Mbps PBCC-22 technology, which it had hoped to get adopted into yet another high-speed WLAN standard under discussion at the IEEE, 802.11g. However, the standards committee voted to use a rival modulation scheme, OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) proposed by Intersil Corp. of Irvine, California, according to TI and Intersil. TI's PBCC-22 remains as an optional part of the still-unfinished standard, which means products will not have to support it.
This is incorrect in part. The 802.11g task group approved the 802.11a 54 Mbps form of OFDM, which wasn't designed for the 2.4 GHz space. No one I've spoken to believes that it will deliver that kind of raw bandwidth. If it did, the whole issue of other encodings would be moot. A separate form of OFDM, called OFDM-CCK in some of the standards filings, was actually designed to run at 22 Mbps. That form plus TI's PBCC-CCK were approved as optional encodings. Intersil, the backer of OFDM, will release chipsets later this year that support 802.11g's draft form.
I asked Intersil and Texas Instruments's product folks at the 802.11 Planet conference last November whether we'd see devices that supported both PBCC and OFDM-CCK, and they more or less replied that both sides thought the other's technology was the wrong approach and no sensible manufacturer would put both in one unit because they would see the light on how the other company's technology was weaker.
The characterization that TI lost is just not right. TI won an important concession, as did the industry. Both TI and Intersil can push their technology into the marketplace, which will help decide the winner. You can imagine the series of head-to-head tests between the chipsets in different implementations. TI has always claimed that PBCC does a better job in extending range, and that may be true. Of course, Intersil claims that OFDM does the same thing.
Some nice clarity from News.com: the bulldog Ben Charny, who seems to run these stories down with great tenacity, uncovers the real story. WECA, the group that certifies equipment to carry the Wi-Fi seal, won't specifically test for PBCC interoperability. They only test for mandatory encodings, they say.
Intersil and Silicon Wave announced Bluetooth/Wi-Fi chipset last week at WinHEC: another portent of the future. I'm wondering whether we'll have a single mini-PCI or PC Card that supports GPRS, 802.11(a/b/g), and Bluetooth? It's not outside the realm of physics, especially of all the standards can use the same MAC.
Intel, Loaves, and Fishes (and Blades and Razors): Intel gets all Biblical, like, and talks about their desire to have hot spots everywhere. Intel makes the chips (or will be soon), and wants to encourage public space providers to push it out. This, of course, helps their market in a variety of ways: newer devices will push the sales of newer machines; new motherboards with on-board Wi-Fi or wireless push new sales. Intel gets to diversify, too, and sell more wireless gear, unlatching their gravy train (as they have been increasingly working on the last several years) from the pure processor market. Ultimately, Intel might see a fraction of their revenue from CPUs.
An extremely well-informed reporter from the Neue Züricher Zeitung (New Zürich Times, more or less; try saying "noy-uh zoo-ricker zigh-tongue") interviewed me and a number of other Wi-Fi folk a few weeks ago. Carsten Volkery produced a great report out of it last week (April 19). It's in German, and I can translate a bit for flavor, but both copyright and my ancient German knowledge prevent a full conversion:
Patchwork Quilt in the 2.4 GHz Band (literally: carpet patches): Idealism helps develop public WLANs in the US
Anthony Townsend has his routine down for journalists, who always want to see the same thing: he opens up his laptop, logs on, and he's off. With a speed of 4 megabits per second, he's surfing the Web.
Why makes this so cool to journalists: the late-20something is sitting in the middle of Washington Square Park in New York out of range of cables and phone outlets. In spite of this, his Internet connection is 70 times faster than modem and 30 times as fast as the promised but not yet available 3G cell phone standard.
Cut to the conclusion: Whether the free neighborhood networks will outlive the entrance of telecom companies is the question. One thing is for sure, however: once the big marketing campaigns begin, Americans will become a nation of Wi-Fi users. "It’s just like müsli," explained Wi-Fi expert Fleishman, whose father imported müsli to America. "In the beginning, it was very difficult, because no one here could imagine what müsli was. As soon as Kellogg’s introduced its brand Müslix, it suddenly became a good business."
My dad actually made the müsli here (in Eugene, Oregon, of all places); his partner and he imported the idea, which is somewhat trickier to convey.
The same issue of NZZ has an excellent piece on Swiss Mobile's planned entrance into public WLANs. This unbylined article details the history of an existing WLAN provider, Monzoon, which charges about 25 Rappen (15 cents) per minute for service including up to 15 Mb of data transfer. The writer contrasts this with Swiss Mobile's cell data charge of 10 francs ($6) for a single megabyte at their cheapest rate. Swiss Mobile expects to build out 100 locations. A nice concluding quote from the head of Monzoon: "If the market researcher's predictions turn out only 10 percent as much we can look forward to a fantastic business."
Mike Langberg of the San Jose Mercury News Critiques the State of Bluetooth: this article comes a few months too early, and his conclusion is correct: not ready for consumers yet. Until OS level inclusion of standard Bluetooth stacks happens, Bluetooth is still in preview, despite manufacturer claims. A few comments on the article, though.
The technical rules for how this works are set by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group... The IEEE 802.15.1 task group now enjoys a relationship with the Bluetooth SIG that should allow future releases to be harmonized, taking the full control out of the SIG. This is a benefit to the SIG, too, as it changes Bluetooth from a set of company partnerships to an industry standard.
Setting up a wireless computer network with Bluetooth would cost two or three times as much as Wi-Fi. I understand the basis of comparison, but it's critical to know that you can't set up a computer network with Bluetooth. It's not designed to be a network component, but rather an ad hoc member of a small group (at most) of devices.
I did succeed in moving files back and forth between the two computers via Bluetooth, but the pace was sluggish. This is good to know. One of Bluetooth's purposes will be a universal connection tool between systems that can't necessarily talk to each other. Even if you've got a Wi-Fi card in your laptop and your colleague you want to exchange files with does as well, you may be unable to. The ad hoc, computer-to-computer mode of 802.11b was just added to Wi-Fi's certification program last year. If you've got a Mac and someone else has a Linksys card, you're probably out of luck.
Nor is it absolutely certain that large numbers of Bluetooth devices operating within the same home or office will avoid getting in each other's way, or won't suffer from interference by other 2.4-gigahertz devices. New versions of Bluetooth (probably starting after 1.1) should support the 802.15.2 task group's co-existence plan, which will allow Bluetooth devices to duck Wi-Fi broadcasts.
Nokia and IBM partner to build out public WLANs: Nokia has been working in a variety of ways for years to figure out how to tap what will become a lucrative service/hardware market for public space wireless LANs. An IBM manager spoke at the 802.11 Planet conference last November on how much work IBM Global Services was performing for installing these kinds of networks. A perfect match.
Cisco's dual-band access point to ship in August: Cisco wil offer a dual-band 802.11a/802.11b access point in August. Many folks in the industry suggest the card side is more likely to catch on for dual bands. The access points stay put; it's the laptops that roam.
Another card designed to switch between Wi-Fi and cell networks announced: although the card isn't slated to ship til year's end, it's part of the momentum for seamless WLAN/cell networks.
Forbes on Powell and the FCC: the analysis is interested, but you can't escape Forbes's libertarian nature. The Telecom Act of 1996 included a brief decree that the regional Bells could offer long-distance service only after opening up their local networks to rivals. The FCC overreacted and overregulated, spewing out 400 pages on that topic. It dictated myriad details, such as the exact prices that the Bells and their new competitors could charge. Allow market forces to set prices? The thought scarcely occurred to those lawyers. Yeah, the dominant carriers would set fair prices without being required to. Right. Even with 400 pages of legislation, the carriers have been fined millions and sued repeatedly over their varied failures and obstructions to opening their networks. There's only one nationwide DSL provider that's not a Baby Bell for a good reason. A less ideological sentence notes, In some instances Congress backed the agency into a corner. One 11-line provision inserted into the Telecom Act was phrased in a way that forced the FCC to give away spectrum to local broadcasters to develop digital television. Right on. A big boondoggle and a huge waste of the airwaves.
The recent spate of announcements about Bluetooth have breathed new life into the Bluetooth Weblog. Scott's excellent commentary is back to an almost daily basis now that Bluetooth has finally started to approach prime time.
Security Review of 802.11b: an excellent rundown by the author of a recent O'Reilly & Associates book on 802.11b.
New name? The name of this blog made perfect sense when it was launched many moons ago. But 802.11b Networking News is rather, shall we say, dated now? Switching to Wi-Fi News doesn't help: Wi-Fi only encompasses the 802.11b standard at the moment. And there's so much more in the 802.11, 802.15, and 802.16 space.
Forbes on the actual arrival of Bluetooth as a viable technology: lest this become a Bluetooth blog, I won't get too mired down. But this article is worth reading as it points out what's available now and why Bluetooth is finally a market contender.
Microsoft decides it's time to stand up, remove the toilet paper from its shoe, and add Bluetooth to its OS: yes, they're leaving the proverbial pot in order to finally add the necessary technical support for developers (soon) and consumers (fall) to use Bluetooth in Windows. This announcement comes soon after Apple's recent release of a Bluetooth technology preview for OS X. (I've installed the preview, but I'm still awaiting the Bluetooth radio.) Both companies delayed on Bluetooth because the 1.0 spec wasn't ready for massive deployment. Bluetooth 1.1, according to many sources, added the necessary changes to make the protocol robust and reliable. Likewise, the IEEE draft of 802.15.1 allows Apple and Microsoft the security of not promoting a strictly one-industry-group solution, but rather something with a much broader ultimate base.
X10 wireless cameras leave a window into your home wide open: the New York Times reports on a new kind of war driving (joy riding?), in which equipped with an X10 wireless camera receiver souped up with a slightly more powerful antenna, you peep into people's homes and places of work that are using the widely advertised device. The X10 camera doesn't have even a minimal layer of security, and broadcasts widely. (A colleague, Paul Boutin, was talking about the potential of this a year ago when I was researching an article on data interception for him when he edited the Infoporn section at Wired magazine.)
X10 is bursty across the 2.4 GHz spectrum, causing problems with Wi-Fi networks, but it doesn't employ Wi-Fi technology.
ComputerWorld on British Telecomm's commitment to Wi-Fi: note the mention in the article about Britain's spectrum regulatory agency making a decision soon to allow commercial use of the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band.
Microsoft might lighten Wi-Fi's load: News.com's Ben Charny reports that Microsoft may offload some silicon functions from a Wi-Fi access point to the host computer. This seems misguided. The article cites $500 to $1,000 for an AP, which it calls by another term, but those of us building systems know that inexpensive APs are available for well under $150. The more expensive price tag is for systems that offer more processor power and more features in firmware, and typically a better radio coverage profile (more even and often more expansive).
Intel made a similar announcement last week about their progress in developing software-based Wi-Fi; the article in EE Times quotes an Intel manager stating that prices could be reduced from $250 to $100 for a consumer AP. Where are they living? Have they forgotten about Taiwan Inc. already? (Most of the inexpensive gear is being manufactured in Taiwan, which is also well on its way to undercutting the chipset makers, which will cause costs to further plunge.)
There's a long history of computer makers, especially Intel coupled with Microsoft, wanting to offload processing from peripherals and cards into the host. At the same time, though, the sophistication, speed, and cost efficiency of dedicated silicon increases. As both 802.11b/g and 802.11a inexorably march towards a single chip solution -- I interviewed a firm making Wi-Fi gear that can do everything but the MAC in one chip already -- offloading to host computation won't be necessary. The one exception could be AES encryption which, if employed as part of the IEEE solution for link security, currently requires a dedicated chip, increasing power usage.
A related issue is Quality of Service (QoS), sometimes referred to as scheduling. Can you ensure that the PC always has the cycles available to devote to the Wi-Fi computation? No, not in today's OS, which is not a real-time OS (RTOS) in which live events must interrupt and be part of the prioritization of tasks. Linux took a step in this direction recently by incorporating kernel-level interrupts in its source tree to improve interactive apps running on top of the kernel, like graphical user interfaces.
Intel cleared UK hurdles for 802.11a last month: ZDNet reported March 11 (and I missed) that Intel has been cleared to sell 802.11a equipment with the 802.11h modifications in the UK. Only four of eight channels available will be legal, according to the article. The article also notes that although the 802.11h standards are being incorporated, it's expected that the h designation will drop off. I doubt this as it produces market confusion. Likewise, when the Wi-Fi5 term is officially adopted with accompanying certification programs by WECA, if Wi-Fi5 doesn't include h (which is likely), that will weaken the brand's initial impact, especially in non-US countries in which h will be a required modification.
If you're wondering why this site appears more like radio silence than radio news in the last few weeks, it's due to my finishing up co-authoring a 900-page book on Adobe GoLive 6, an exciting product entirely unrelated to Wi-Fi. (Except that I and my co-author are using a lot of Wi-Fi in our production process.)
Pent-up news is starting to burst the seams of the Wi-Fi smokehouse, in which I carefully age and rotate stories. The normal flow of news and analysis should resume within a week or so as the book heads off to the printers, and my circuits are once again irrevocably committed to calculating the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and IEEE specs.
CNN reports on British Telecom's plans to install 4000 hot spots: Initially, BT will put in 400 hot spots; they claim it will cost about 10 million pounds per year, which indicates that they're spending a few thousand dollars a location initially, with costs dropping rapidly. BT's entrance through the front door further legitimizes the cell telco and Wi-Fi connection. [via Alan Reiter and others]
Next, a popup book with sliders: Owen Thomas explains Wi-Fi in words of a few syllables in a cardboard tear-out in the May 2002 cover dated issue of Business 2.0. The fine-print guide to things 802.11b offers specific technical details as well as technology overviews. My only complaint? He cites Alan Reiter's Web log, which is superb, and omits mine. My ego throbs! Get over it.
I'm in Whistler, British Columbia, for a working ski vacation (page layout for about 12 hours a day, a few hours of skiing with my fiancee and her brother), and found a great Internet cafe, Jody's Internet Services. Whistler Village, at the base of Whistler-Blackcomb ski area, has at least five Internet cafes that I've counted. Jody himself offers a variety of services, as well as a couple dozen machines. The cafe by itself isn' t the story, but rather that I walked in, started chatting with Jody and a colleague of his at Findwhistler.com, and found their shared interest in wireless networking.
Whistler doesn't yet have Wi-Fi, although it's a logical place. The village lies in a bowl, and there is fiber optic running from Vancouver to the local central office. Jody has 4 Mbps DSL running to his cafe, and DSL is widely available because of the short distance to the c.o. Something big is about to happen here, where Wi-Fi would become a shared resource and in which various businesses will plug into different aspects, such as bringing Wi-Fi to a condo complex or other businesses.
The top of Whistler has a cell tower; is Wi-Fi far behind?
Ben Charny of News.com runs down Sirius's complaints and its prospects: Charny reports on the absurdity of satellite radio provider Sirius's attempts to change the laws of physics. Some excellent quotes from Wi-Fi players, including lots of outrage and actual rage.
My round-up of the latest standards issues surrounding improving wireless network's speed, reliability, and security appears at O'Reilly Networks Wireless DevCenter. This covers the status of 802.11a, b, e, g, h, and i, and the Wi-Fi certification process.
Esther Dyson explains the magic that happened between wireless bloggers and live speakers: A few days ago, Buzz Bruggeman, Dan Gillmor, Doc Searls, and others in the audience were exchanging email and blogging, while speakers were reading their posts onstage.
Ephraim Schwartz of Infoworld weighs in on the petition by Sirius satellite radio: Schwartz points out that Ford and General Motors are on the side of the company that wants to ban weak out-of-band signals from devices in the 2.4 GHz band. He writes about the potential for conflict: Now, I wonder what happens if the local McDonald's has Wi-Fi at its drive up and you're listening to satellite radio. All I know is, if I don't get my fries, I'm writing my congressperson! Let me remind you all of the wise words of Intersil in their filing against the Sirius petition: This level [that the petition complains about] is actually about 8 dB below the thermal noise floor. Or, heat waves make more noise than the interference level Sirius is petitioning about.
100 wireless companies. 2 days.: hear CEOs pitch like there's no tomorrow as you hear the business cases for 100 interesting wireless firms.
Boston Wi-Fi Security Forum Apr. 10, evening: a few hours starting at 5.30 pm on security issues, with some opportunities for networking of the business variety).
Four people. One car. A Wi-Fi connection. Seven days. Or longer. : I thought this was an April Fool's prank, but it's not. Read about this contest in which four people spend at least a week in a VW bug to win it. The Internet connectivity for the dealership is provided through Wi-Fi. Yakima, Washington, the town in which this contest is taking place, is an ideal location for wireless ISPs, such as NWInfo.Net, the one running this connection. It's small, but has a fair variety of businesses, and is far enough off the beaten track to not have the kind of infrastructure to support cheap high-speed wired access. Likewise, a complex terrain allows strategic points for antennas.
Business Week interviews` the legendary spectrum guru David Farber on Wi-Fi: Farber is bullish on Wi-Fi, but warns against pressures that result from impinging success. Business Week has three other excellent articles on 802.11b linked from a box on that page.
Rafe Needleman's Catch of the Day on No Free Ride for new hotspot firms: Rafe analyzes the downside of creating a business model partially predicated on violating your service agreement.
802.11 Planet Posts Full Agenda for June: the 802.11 Planet conference in Philadelphia this June has posted their ambitious pre-conference and two-day conference agenda. The two-day agenda is split into four tracks showing the diversity of interest in Wi-Fi related topics for business. I suggested a few of the sessions, but am unable to attend. The Santa Clara event last November was a don't-miss opportunity for networking and learning, and I expect Philadelphia will be the square of Santa Clara with more attendees, exhibitors, and the more diverse conference agenda.
I was tempted to post some April Fool's news items today, including an unsolicited one about the Nagano snowboarding championships using Wi-Fi devices to auto-break out of control shredders, but realized that too much of what we all do seems like fiction sometimes already. Also, I don't believe Americans' love of this bizarre "holiday" is universally, internationally shared. Thus, only real news today. I cross my heart.
Deep Blue Wireless announces commercial-style turnkey package: Deep Blue is attacking venues with large pass-through user bases like coffee shops and hotels with an inexpensive package of hardware, marketing, and back-office tools. They are allied with hereUare, allowing subscribers of that network to have access at fixed rates. (Now, when will hereUare aggregate up the ladder with other players?)