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Alan Reiter files a report from the 1st International Asia Pacific Wireless LAN Conference and Expo 2002: he's chairing and speaking, and discusses a number of interesting points about international and specifically Asian Wi-Fi public network usage.
Still at sea: I'm in Skagway, Alaska, at the moment, still enjoying a slow but reliable Wi-Fi-to-satellite-to-Internet connection, courtesy of Geek Cruises. I say courtesy, but I am paying for it: $100 for the week, a pretty reasonable price given the alternatives.
Infoworld offers RDF channel feed of their wireless news: get Userland Radio and you can subscribe to news feeds of all kind, including this new one from InfoWorld. News feeds are like push technology, except that your news reader, polls news sources and pulls news snippets. So much better than push, and entirely within your control, not the software's own needs.
Steve Gillmor of Infoworld describes how cell companies try to catch a tiger by its tail: Steve Gillmor talks about the disruptive effect that Web logs have on information flow -- disruptive to the status quo. He tracks Web logs into wireless, for a similar effect at changing the relationship between information flow and information control: flow is now outside control, even as regulation helped create it.
I'm sitting here in the library on the MS Volendam using my Apple iBook to connect over Wi-Fi to a fiber optic link to a satellite uplink run by the concessionaire. I'm at the Geek Cruises MacMania conference. This is possibly one of the geekiest and coolest things I've ever been part of. I lecture for three hours on wireless and Macintosh in a couple of days. More about how Wi-Fi affects the shipboard experience soon.
It's like summer: a very slow news week.
An excellent summary of encryption key and handshaking flaws in the current Wi-Fi security implementation: this is a good review and a nice not-too-technical explanation of the flaws in the current system that prevent it from its intended first-line-of-defense position. It's also a good guide to understanding how any revisions to the spec will solve the problem.
Signull Technologies offers cost effective wireless antennas
and equipment for 2.4ghz ISM band equipment such as 802.11b.
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Any Idiot Can Do It: my note yesterday about helping a friend install his network continues with today's installment. Despite Windows XP's "simple" configuration tools for wireless, we were unable to get my friend's Sony Vaio with a branded Wi-Fi card (a relabeled Agere Orinoco) to talk DHCP with the access point. We're still wrestling.
Meanwhile, Alasakan Stephanie Kesler writes in to point to her own horribly frustrating and ultimately successful experiences. Documented horror stories are welcome: I find that manufacturers are reading this site and listening to customers, and the more individuals, especially we techie types, complain about complexity, the higher the odds that this will be fixed.
Of course, in an ideal world, a trade association like WECA could help draft standards for configuration that would allow identical terminology, data entry, and reporting to help home users, but the home use of Wi-Fi has still taken the industry by surprise. It's been more than a year since home users started buying Wi-Fi in huge amounts, and the software cycle still shows an orientation towards the techiest-of-the-techie. And even we can't figure it out.
Steel-belted Wi-Fi: Pittsburgh becomes the latest city to feature wide-ranging hot spots. The initial points focus on a couple of parks, but the plans are to blanket the out-of-doors all over a large, dense sector. Of course, this is exactly the kind of use of Wi-Fi that has the most chance to be interferring or interferred with per articles last week.
Palm synching with a Bluetooth card: I failed to mention my own article in the Seattle Times about Palm synchronization (and its failings) in general, and Palm synchronization (and its success) using the Apple Bluetooth software, Palm Bluetooth Card, and D-Link Bluetooth USB Adapter for Macs running OS X 10.1.
3Com Announces Bluetooth Printer Kit: turn your printer into a Bluetooth enabled device through a simple USB or parallel port adapter. Neat idea, although expensive out of the gate: $250. Still, it's two adapters, the USB unit (which also works as a host adapter for a PC running Windows) and the parallel adapter. In fact, you could run two printer with one kit. My Lexmark M412N has Ethernet, parallel, and USB, so I can run it Wi-Fi (via Ethernet bridged over the access point, indirectly) and Bluetooth.
San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor conveys David Reed's ideas along with his own about open spectrum: spectrum is finite, but technology can allow uses that go far beyond the stratification of policy. FCC licenses protect incumbents who have paid, often, for geographical monopoly. Restricting airwaves was once a necessity, and is now a market-driven requirement for companies that need to own purpose, location, and spectrum to make their business models fly.
Amazon.com notes a large sale on Linksys gear at the moment. For instance, you can buy their WPC11 Wi-Fi PC card with the integrated mini-PCI device (instead of the CardBus adapter) for just $70. But they're bundling it as a package with EtherFast BEFW11S4 router/gateway for $200 total. By itself, the EtherFast is $150, or $10 less than the last time I checked a few weeks.
The ever-popular WAP11 is $130. Buy a pair to link wired networks per my article last year at O'Reilly Wireless DevCenter.
For more details about gateways, read Cheap Home Gateways, which is fairly up to date. Prices continue to fall and devices increase in sophistication.
Linksys's 802.11a gear is starting to become affordable, too, although they offer just an access point and PC Card. (No USB or PCI card yet.) The WAP54A access point is just over $300 and the PC Card is about $135.
Orders over $99 include free shipping in the U.S. with some limitations.
My friend Nick recently left a five-year-plus stint at a dotcom. During his time there, he had enough connectivity at work, where he spent quite a lot of his time, that his home network was of little importance. After returning from a trip overseas, Nick turned his attention to the homefront: how to get bandwidth distributed through his not-ready-for-Ethernet, three-story house.
I volunteered my services in exchange for lunch and some strategic affiliate-based clickthrough purchases on his part through his former employer. We did a site survey. Nick and his family have a tower PC, primarily used by his wife; a parallel-port based printer, hooked up to the PC; and a recent generation iMac, with no AirPort card. They also have two phone lines, which the current computers share. Nick added a third computer: a Sony Vaio laptop, which he plans to roam around with.
The computers are on the third floor, and phone lines are wired throughout the house. After a failed attempt to order DSL -- his house is apparently too far for higher-speed DSL -- he turned to Ma Cable, and should have had his installation last Thursday. The broadband will be brought to the third-floor office.
After checking out the equipment and the lay of the land, we opted for an SMC gateway with Ethernet ports, wireless AP, DHCP/NAT service, and a print spooler built-in. (We'd looked at Linksys's offering, but it lacks external antennas or removable connectors and has only a single LAN Ethernet port, making it less flexible.)
The plan was to connect the printer and tower PC to the gateway directly (via parallel and Ethernet), adding an Ethernet card to the PC for this purpose. The iMac would get its own $100 AirPort card. For the Sony Vaio, several PC Card options were available, but I steered Nick to a refurbished Sony Vaio brand Wi-Fi PC card because he's running Windows XP. The Sony card is about $150 retail or $90 refurbished, and it's simply a relabeled Orinoco PC Card from Agere. Because it's a Sony card, it means he can make a single tech support call, and they'll actually support him in case of problems.
I brought over my Mac iBook when the SMC gateway arrived to test out the house's connection. With the AP located in the tippy-top of the house next to the PC tower and printer, the entire house received good to excellent coverage except in the kitchen and dining room. Old plaster walls covering wire or other support must provide an effective barrier. An option at this point would have been to locate the AP elsewhere (like on the 2nd floor), use bridging APs, or install a higher-gain antenna. However, those two rooms have little need of a roaming connection, so we avoided the problems with running printer and Ethernet cable as well.
The SMC gateway is administered via a Web interface. in my site survey, I could already see Nick's next-door neighbor's network, so I installed 128-bit WEP security. Yes, I know: it's broken. But for home users, the volume of traffic required to break the key happens over days and weeks, not minutes and hours, severely reducing even the possibility of a cracker obtaining the key.
The SMC interface is relatively clean, but the WEP key encryption area is ridiculous: to enter a key manually, not only do you have to invent it -- I don't trust the passphrase feature which is incompatible from platform to platform, often -- but you must enter it in 14 separate two-digit-hex boxes. Further, those form fields are set as password input types, which means you cannot see what you are entering as you type it, nor can you retrieve the key by reconnecting to the page. I carefully wrote down the code, rebooted the gateway, and then entered the code in my iBook to reconnect. (Remember: Mac AirPort software requires that you enter a dollar-sign ($) before the hexadecimal WEP key. Also, older AirPort cards must be upgraded to the 2.0.x software to handle a 128-bit WEP key.)
As Nick, a pretty technical guy, but not obsessed like myself, stood there shaking his head as I explained the details that I had written down about the station ID (ESSID), the WEP key, the sequence of digits, and other details -- I thought to myself again: now how does the average consumer handle this? Ah, yes: leave the details alone, no security, no even minimal protection, and no room for error.
FCC amends Part 15 rules for more flexibility, power, avoidance: the FCC issued an order today that allows more flexibility for Part 15 unlicensed devices in three bands (915 Mhz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.7 GHz). New, but unspecified modulations that are similar to direct sequence (DSSS) -- 802.11b's technique -- can be used in those bands as if they were DSSS. This may allow more and different technology to fill in niche gaps, as well as provide a future path for 802.11b/g and 802.11a development.
The order also allows for lower-power use of fewer hopping channels in 2.4 GHz for frequency hopping (FHSS) systems, like HomeRF and Bluetooth. Bluetooth has 79 channels of 1 MHz each that it hops among, changing 1,600 times per second. These narrow bands, which limit its current bandwidth to 1 Mbps, allow it the potential of using more power. HomeRF, on the other hand, uses wider bands (5 MHz) to carry its restricted power (125 mW) signals, which still allows them to operate at 10 Mbps.
The order will allow more leeway for avoiding interference by reducing the hopping requirement from 75 hopping channels down to as few as 15 using up to 5 MHz of bandwidth, but only at 125 mW. This allows devices employing this technique to more effectively avoid occupied bandwidth. 802.11b sits on 22 MHz of bandwidth in each channel in use, but even in a dense Wi-Fi installation, 15 channels for an FH device would almost certainly be available. (HomeRF already deploys certain time-bound avoidance techniques, but this would add another tool to its arsenal.)
The FCC also removed a constraint on DSSS systems: The Commission also eliminated the processing gain requirement for DSSS systems, concluding that manufacturers have market-driven incentives to design products that they can withstand interference from other radio frequency devices.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to have a talk with Ken Haase, the director of product marketing at Proxim. Proxim has been one of the chief developers and backers of the HomeRF specification, a 10 Mbps wireless protocol that works over the same 2.4 GHz band as Bluetooth, and 802.11b/g.
Proxim also has an extensive line-up of IEEE protocol wireless products: PC cards, access points, USB adapters for both 802.11b and 802.11a. They’ve been first to market lately with a number of technologies, and offer consumer and enterprise products.
It would seem like a contradiction to try to sell both HomeRF and Wi-Fi and 802.11 gear, but Haase explained how, although the technology isn’t per se complementary, that both protocols have a place in the market. There isn’t a “one size fits all” technology for consumers, Ken said.
It may surprise Wi-Fi advocates and users, but 45 percent of home wireless networks by unit volume purchased in 2000 were HomeRF-based, while that decreased to 30 percent in 2001, according to estimates from a Cahners InStat report.
This may sound like a retreat, until you examine the numbers: home networking shipments increased well over fivefold in the same period. Wi-Fi may be growing fast in the home, but HomeRF cannot be discounted. European sales of HomeRF equipment account for some of its strength, as the standard is compatible with the DECT protocol for cordless phones, unlike Wi-Fi.
Haase showed me the first real convergence product for HomeRF, which will start making a difference in how the product is product into homes. The Siemens Voice Data Gateway (PDF of press release) announced earlier this year will ship in the United States soon. It can accept a broadband feed via Ethernet and up to four phone lines. It can support up to 16 networks computing devices (through USB or PC Cards) and eight telephone handsets.
As I’ve said in previous analyses, until the HomeRF manufacturers could provide cable companies with an offering that they want to sell into the home as a value-added offering to subscribers, it would be a tough row to hoe. The Siemens device does that. Haase said that cable providers can see a tenfold increase in revenue per household between cable modem service and equipment sales and leasing.
Does this benefit the consumer? Sure. The HomeRF equipment is designed to be plug-and-play, unlike Wi-Fi, which requires tweaking for security and configuration. Add to that the telephone handsets, each with a (reportedly) crystal-clear quality, and, well, I have to think about whether my home can support both Wi-Fi and HomeRF at the same time.
Fortunately for my decisionmaking process, there are no Mac drivers for HomeRF equipment yet, but Haase promised that there would be. Proxim’s history includes its acquisition of Farallon, a long-time Mac firm that continues to be one of a couple of non-Apple providers of wireless and wired technology with Mac drivers and Mac support.
Haase noted that there are about 46 million households with a single computer, in which networking isn’t important at all—it’s one of Wi-Fi strengths. Rather, the ability to dial a phone number through a handset by clicking the number in Outlook, or scanning the subject line of email from a phone handset while sitting in the backyard may interest those houses more. That sort of integration is also one of the benefits of Bluetooth, but HomeRF can operate at Wi-Fi distances, instead of the dozen to few dozen feet that Bluetooth carries.
Haase explained some of their customer testing, as well, in which they discovered that an initial version of their software required 11 clicks to fully install. They’ve now reduced this to a short wizard that asks a few questions, easing setup.
Proxim’s recent merger with Western Multiplex makes them a top-to-bottom wireless company, too: Western Multiplex sells final mile high-speed wireless, often in licensed bands. They have one product, for instance, that offers “five nines” or 99.999 percent reliability at 2 to 5 miles and speeds of 1 Gbps (full duplex: 480 Mbps each way). It’ll go farther, but they can’t guarantee it to the same degree.
Proxim is shipping plenty of 802.11a gear, but they haven’t made any announcement about a/b convergence: dual radio APs or cards. Haase was nice about avoiding the question, since no decisions are yet public, but he pointed out that system design for the two protocols are quite different, and that a combined a/b access point wouldn’t offer all the advantages of 802.11a. Pure 802.11a hubs be deployed more closely together and densely, as more nonoverlapping channels are available, and the signal can’t travel as far as the highest speeds.
I have seen the mermaids JPEGing each to each. I do not think they will GIF to me: Rob Flickenger used EtherPEG at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference to stare directly into the minds of attendees. When Tim O'Reilly speaks, however, people stop thei tomfool browsing.
I've heard the name Darwin Networks bandied about as the first of what would be many enforcement actions against operators of wireless Wi-Fi and related networks. The story goes that Darwin was told to shut down a network because Part 97 amateur operators (hams) complained about interference at a Dallas, Texas, apartment complex. As primary and secondary licensed users of various chunks of the 2.4 GHz band -- see yesterday's post and more to come -- hams have the right to cite interference, and the FCC has the right to shut down the interferers.
As I've dug deeper, however, this single case appears much shallower than I originally expected. The bare facts are that a letter was sent February 8, 2001, by Riley Hollingsworth, who, as special counsel to the Enforcement Bureau of the FCC, writes these sorts of letters to violators. Hollingsworth makes numerous appearances at ham gatherings, too, to help inform them of their rights and responsibilities. I have left a message for him to clarify where I can find a copy of this letter officially.
However, searching Google and following up on sources, I found the following interesting facts.
It's possible with the company shut down, the FCC didn't pursue the matter. But there should be a record somewhere of the letter and the individuals involved. Or even the hams who filed the complaint.
If anyone has some specifics: an actual copy of the letter, a news story with primary citations (not quoting the ARRL story verbatim or mentioning that story in passing as a News.com story did), or other information, please contact me. It's ironic that the only and most prominently discussed case of an interference problem between hams and Wi-Fi appears to have no documentation.
David Pogue reviews Bluetooth's state of the art: Pogue's NY Times column is an accurate and astute run-down of the potential and current reality of Bluetooth. I was able to test Palm synching this week, myself, using an m125, the Palm Bluetooth Card for the SD slot, and the D-Link USB Bluetooth Adapter for Mac OS X. It's pretty wonderful when it's all hooked up. He also has a nifty rundown of available Bluetooth add-ons and adapters.
FCC technology adviser Dewayne Hendricks has appeared in the press lately to be obsessed with illegal Wi-Fi antennas. As I noted on Sunday, I suspected Hendricks had a broader message which was elided.
I spoke to Hendricks Monday morning, and he confirmed that while not misquoted, he has been edited down to soundbites that make him sound like an antenna zealot. In fact, Hendricks's concerns about the future of the unlicensed use of spectrum stem from broader FCC policy decisions and licensed co-habitants of the unlicensed bands.
The Dandin Group has an agreement with the Royal Kingdom of Tonga which allows them to test and deploy new technologies that incumbent users in other countries would prevent. "We can do whatever we want in the radio spectrum there" as a licensed common carrier. The kingdom is a test-bed where Dandin can offer to "bring your technology here and you can try it out in a real market." Ultrawideband (UWB) is one of the technologies for which Hendricks is interested in providing an effective testing ground.
Hendricks said that most unlicensed uses of the 2.4 GHz (2.4000 to 2.4835) band are unaware that there are four licensed uses of the same band. These other uses haven't overlapped significantly in the past, but the rise of use of licensed users may change the availability of this unlicensed spectrum.
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cordless phones, and a number of other devices are categorized under Part 15 of the FCC rules. Part 15 defines the characteristics of devices; the FCC individually approves Part 15 devices for use, but no license is required by purchasers to operate. Part 15 devices are limited to various spread-spectrum modulations to ensure that no one frequency in the range is occupied for very long. Power limits also ensure that signals can penetrate only limited distances.
In contrast, the four licensed uses of parts of the 2.4 GHz band can use more power, and have more rights. These licensed uses include amateur ("ham") radio and television (Part 97, overlapping 2.400-2.450 GHz), and three others that overlap 2.4500-2.4835: Part 101 fixed point-to-point microwave; Part 74, which Hendricks says is used for electronic newsgathering, such as local video uplinks; and Part 90, which Hendricks says many municipalities are using for police surveillance links. (In double-checking this information via the FCC's site, I found that many of these services can operate across many dozens or hundreds of frequencies, and most of them have many distinct purposes in addition to the specific uses cited by Hendricks.)
Roughly, the amateur radio/TV overlaps 802.11b channels 1-6, and the other three services, channels 7-11. HomeRF and Bluetooth hop across the entire available range so would be potential interferers across all four services.
Hendricks said, "All of those licensed services, if they're interfered with, can start an interference action with the [FCC], which can result in the unlicensed user being shut down." The sole case Hendricks can cite happened in early 2001, when Darwin Networks was contacted by the FCC because of a complaint by local hams. The ARRL, the ham's national association, reported on the story, but extensive searches through their archives and on Google cannot find the resolution, despite the initial attention. Darwin Networks no longer appears to be in operation. Hendricks spread the news about the FCC's request for information from Darwin in a few forums at the time, noting it as a potential harbinger.
Hendricks said that the lack of enforcement questions and actions doesn't predict the FCC's future behavior. I asked him if this were a Challenger shuttle-like situation, in which the current status quo had lulled unlicensed users into a state of complacency. He agreed with that statement.
Hendricks pointed out a simple case in which hams could shut down an extensive area. "Ham television is becoming more and more popular, the equipment's becoming cheaper; lots of hams like to broadcast," Hendricks said. "It's a pretty sexy application."
Hendricks said that the San Francisco Bay Area already has a number of ham TV repeaters. "A bunch of hams could deploy TV broadcasts" up to 1.5 kilowatts (kW). "We could effectively shut down 802.11 in the entire Bay Area, and it would be perfectly legal and there wouldn't be anything you could do about it." Part 15 devices like Wi-Fi radios are limited to less than 1 watt (W), and many devices use 30 to 100 milliwatts (mW). (When you start talking about radiated power output, these numbers are only starting points for calculations.)
Hendricks is pushing for a solution in his advisory role to the FCC to ensure that unlicensed spectrum is preserved. But, he says, "To deal with the situation effectively, you've got to start" dealing with the truth of the situation, including the licensed spectrumholders' power.
The FCC may offer up a new plan, as of yet unknown to deal with congestion. Hendricks said, "What happened in the first term of the TAC, when we presented our findings on the interference and congestion in the unlicensed bands," the FCC said it would be under a new regulatory framework.
Hendricks also noted the existence of a little-known intra-executive branch body known as the IRAC (Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee). This body, which operates in closed meetings, coordinates governmental agency use of spectrum, and recommendations coming out of the IRAC virtually always set the agenda for spectrum use. Hendricks said, "They operate as a Star Chamber. They meet in secret and there is no appeal to their decision."
The group "has been around so long that they don't really think about what's in the public interest; they think about what's in the agency's interest," Hendricks said. This tends to reinforce the status quo.
Hendricks divides the noise surrounding 2.4 GHz and unlicensed spectrum use into two piles: real threats from licensed users, which he hopes can be mitigated by future modification of rules; and political static from the incumbent telephone companies and other data providers who "are coming to the commission and saying, look, we're going to be paying all this money for 3G spectrum" and yet facing competition from unlicensed users.
The paradigm shift underway will leave those incumbents behind, Hendricks says. "Incumbents hardly ever make the shift because they don't learn the new language of discourse." Steve Stroh has said that he believes a murmur campaign is mounting in political circles to try to derail unlicensed wireless networks. In the June/July Cook Report on the Internet, Stroh wrote, "There is considerable anecdotal evidence that there is a widespread, and perhaps coordinated campaign underway to discredit BWIA [broadband wireless Internet access] in general (and in particular license-exempt BWIA systems and companies) with the effect of starving out BWIA vendors and service providers for investment capital."
Hendricks uses real property to make the example of how spectrum is currently used. AT&T buys a house, but they have to share it with other people. A key service is the bathroom. If a house sharer (unlicensed user) is in the bathroom when AT&T needs to use it, AT&T can kick them out. But if the lower-priority guy takes a few minutes to clean up and get out, AT&T can call this interference.
Instead, Hendricks pushes what he calls the "post-Shannon" model in which many services can overlay the same bandwidth, which sidesteps Shannon's Law. In this scenario, AT&T owns the house, but they're not aware that anyone else is there. With UWB, Hendricks said, "I'm not only using the house, but other houses in the neighborhood."
Hendricks is optimistic about newer technologies overcoming the regulatory mess, but these protocols won't emerge first in the U.S. "The real developments are not going to happen in the developed countries because of the incumbent issues," which is why Hendricks is working in Tonga.
My analysis of Hendricks remarks: he's clearly not an alarmist, and as someone with a deep technical and policy knowledge is speaking from experience. He said several times during our interview that his advisory role on the FCC committee requires that he and his colleagues spin out reasonable scenarios as they offer guidance that the FCC can choose to use in charting courses that allow for new technology to get the bandwidth they need.
But when the challenges start coming, regardless of the licensed users actual rights, will the FCC take the politically damaging course of shutting down public networks, community networks, and corporations networks. (Remember: if 3Com is interfering with a ham operator, the ham operator wins.)
It seems unlikely, but I'm not an inside the Beltway guy, no do I know how the FCC conceives of and interact with the markets. The most obvious course as we head toward the future is that the billions and billions of dollars representing companies that make, sell, and employ Wi-Fi and related equipment today will have the lobbying power and the public sentiment to push for changes that accommodate all users.
This changeover could be painful, but we have to ask: would the FCC even conceivably shut down all Wi-Fi or all public unlicensed networks? Will they consider the public interest as they move forward? Will open forums allow the discussion of these issues to the benefit of individual, groups, consumers, businesses, educational organizations, and other entities?
I'd personally like to see what happens when a ham tries to get the FCC to enforce an action against Microsoft's campus-wide Wi-Fi network.
Hendricks likes to point to Citizen's Band (CB) radio. Initially, CB required a license to use, but consumers purchased radios in large quantities, and the FCC had to make a decision. "The FCC was unsuccessful in dealing with the Citizen's Band," Hendricks said. "They just walked away from it." This left the citizen in charge -- which is how it should be for unlicensed spectrum as well.
Small update: Hendricks wrote in after reading this to note that he'd been attending Spectrum and Services Beyond 3G the last few days, where four FCC bureau chiefs were also in attendance. There was the announcement at the meeting that a new unlicensed band may be launched with different parameters to allow for more exploration.
Steve Stroh generously responded at length with further elaboration and some critique of my analysis -- which I welcome! Here is his reply to Sunday and today's items.
Not all, or even most (yet) of the use of 2.4 GHz is with 802.11b/g and a, and I think it is erroneous to extrapolate the likelihood, or not, of a "tragedy of the commons" from that perspective.
The bigger picture: The 2.4 GHz bands are far, far more utilized than just with 802.11b used in Wireless LANs such as hot spots and enterprises. For example, Wireless Internet Service Providers are a major user of 2.4 GHz, and in their markets (mostly secondary and rural) they are a competitive provider of, if not the only source of Broadband Wireless Internet Access. There are markets where there are as many as six or more Wireless ISPs operating Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) operating base station/Customer Premise Equipment that can achieve ranges between customer and base station of as much as 20 miles.
For example, in San Diego County, CA, the San Diego County Sheriff department has deployed a network of base stations that allow 1 Mbps intrAnet (note -- not Internet) access from each of their 650 patrol vehicles - using the 2.4 GHz band.
I view it as likely that 802.11b access points will be widely deployed in a similar fashion to Metricom's Ricochet network -- on streetlights and other "high, but not too high" structures to provide metropolitan area network coverage. There are already such deployments in operation.
Indoors, there are untold numbers of wireless devices using 2.4 GHz, and there is no requirement to use 802.15.x, 802.11, 802.16, or indeed any specific protocols that "politely share" usage of the 2.4 GHz band. There is also the looming issue of industrial uses of 2.4 GHz -- remember that the FCC designation of the 2.4 GHz and other license-exempt bands is Industrial, Scientific, and Medical, operating under Part 18 of the FCC rules. Part 18 devices, such as RF Lighting that you've already written about, doesn't have any requirement to "politely share" the 2.4 GHz band.
High power: There is no requirement that Wireless Access Points (WAPs) be restricted to the low power levels that most currently operate at. Much higher power levels are possible, and such (completely legal) "high power WAPs" are now routinely being deployed. This is why there could be much more interference -- a "street level WAP" could easily transmit signals well into buildings. In previous articles, you've noted that this is already happening in downtown San Jose, where a number of service providers are providing commercial 802.11b Internet access in "zone" coverage. While those service providers can and should cooperate between themselves, having only three non-overlapping channels for 802.11b does not allow much "room" for in-building WAPs to operate in "competition" with those service providers' systems.
The unfortunate tendency, proven all too often in real world experiences, is that in the face of such competition, using higher power is a solution of choice. This fear has been borne out in some countries, where there is weak enforcement of "low power" rules for equipment and deployment in the 2.4 GHz band -- a very real 2.4 GHz tragedy of the commons.
FCC Enforcement: While it is certainly true that the FCC can find and shut down illegal high power Part 15 systems, they do not have the ability -- manpower, budget, or mandate to investigate more than a token few violators. That's just the reality of the situation. I and others think that the FCC should have "spoken up" in the case of well-publicized news stories about illegal Part 15 use, but they didn't, and I think that lack of action will haunt them in the years to come.
You wrote, I'm optimistic: people may crowd the beach, but they're not masochists. Would you put your umbrella and blanket down if you knew that every minute a volleyball would land in your picnic basket and someone would run right over you pursing an errant child? Probably not. The beach that's so busy people don't go there has worked out an informal system of usage that preserves its common function. The cost: privacy and solitude. The benefit: society and common use.
The worst part of the tragedy of the commons scenario is that the average buyers of license-exempt systems don't know ahead of time about "volleyballs landing," so they buy the equipment, try it, interference results (both the new and to existing equipment), and the new equipment owners take it back for another unit because "it doesn't work." In the meantime, the 802.11b network of the folks next door "goes on the fritz" and they assume that it's stopped working. This effect is occurring more and more frequently.
The Part 15 vendors are in "sell, Sell, SELL" mode - very aggressive competition. I'm told that some have (illegally) moved the required "... must accept interference" notice from the device itself to the instruction booklet which few bother to read, likely so that the prospective purchaser is less likely to read the notice. It may be that the FCC requires vendors of consumer products to post the "... must accept interference" statement on the exterior of the packaging, in a certain size, like is done now with cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. But there will undoubtedly be resistance to such a warning -- the vendors aren't anxious to admit to potential customers that the tragedy of the commons scenario may come to pass. They just want to sell more Part 15 devices, and spooked customers won't buy many. The market will certainly correct this problem, as is happening with 2.4 GHz cordless phones being returned because they "don't work" when the problem was an interference issue with the units in the surrounding apartments.
No easy solution: What's made the 2.4 GHz bands such an unprecedented success is that new wireless products can be brought to market without regard to their potential to impact existing 2.4 GHz systems already in place. Got a new idea? As long as it's certified to meet the minimal requirements of Part 15 rules, any new product can be offered for sale. To me, this is a primary reason why the tragedy of the commons is, to some extent, a plausible scenario.
What do I think? After the above points, it's probably reasonable to conclude that I believe that a tragedy of the commons will occur in license-exempt spectrum. While I understand the arguments for that scenario, I don't believe that the license-exempt bands will become unusable. I've evolved a (somewhat controversial) theory that increased crowding of license-exempt spectrum and the FCC's requirement that Part 15 systems "must accept interference" have birthed a rapid "Darwinian evolution" in license-exempt systems.
You espouse the idea that future systems will "all just get along" with new protocols being proposed. I'm skeptical that such protocols will be sufficient; such protocols only work when all systems use the same protocol. It seems unlikely that a Part 18 plywood dryer could be made to "just get along" with nearby Wi-Fi systems. But I do believe in market forces, and if the FCC can resist the temptation to mandate a "spectrum sharing etiquette" for license-exempt spectrum, and the pressures of licensed uses of the same spectrum remain, then the market approach will be able to function. That is, the best wireless technology will "win" -- continue to function in the presence of interference. Such "robust" systems will begin to sell well, because they will continue to provide service when less-capable systems cannot function. We're seeing the beginnings of such Darwinian evolution now, in vendors that offer only older, less robust, less cost-effective wireless technology going out of business because few will buy their products.
The counter-argument, that the license-exempt bands should be reprioritized to favor "less robust, but cheaper and more widely used" systems such as 802.11b / DSSS modulation, would be, in my opinion, a major policy mistake. Doing so would fossilize the use of license-exempt spectrum into the same kind of slow, compatible evolution and eventually stagnation that we've come to observe from licensed spectrum. In licensed spectrum, there's very little market incentive to develop and deploy new technology that accommodates more users, is more cost effective, allows higher speeds, etc. (despite what the wireless auction economists state).
New technologies are emerging in license-exempt spectrum. FHSS, for example, was chosen by HomeRF and Bluetooth and a number of Wireless Broadband equipment vendors because it is much more robust in the presence of interference and arguably scales better. For example, while 802.11b equipment might be unusable in countries that don't effectively regulate license-exempt spectrum, certain vendors' equipment will continue to operate in the presence of such intense interference. It will be interesting to see how OFDM, PBCC, and other wireless technologies such as adaptation of cable modems for broadband wireless use fare in the presence of vastly intensified usage of license-exempt spectrum.
In summary, I think that as long as there is ample incentive for rapid evolution in technology in license-exempt spectrum, a tragedy of the commons will be avoided because better, more robust systems will continually emerge. But, if the incentive for such rapid evolution is removed, the result will almost certainly cause a tragedy of the commons in license-exempt spectrum.
D-Link shifts to Texas Instruments: D-Link and TI announced that D-Link will use TI's ACX100 chips in new products in its wireless line-up. The companies claim a 30 percent throughput improvement over competitors, along with greater speeds at longer distances. Although this chipset supports the someday-to-be-ratified 802.11g optional PBCC modulation (developed by TI), the press releases don't mention a 22 Mbps mode. Hopefully, they'll clarify whether a firmware upgrade will make the D-Link models 802.11g compliant when the spec is ratified.
I've had a variety of interesting email and read quite a lot since yesterday's post. It's clear that the fish being fried aren't just illegal antennas, but a variety of political, technical, and commercial interests contending over the future use of spectrum. I hope to offer more insight from a variety of people on this topic over the next week.
A whole lot of Wi-Fi going on over at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. (I know you're asking: why wasn't Glenn invited? And why didn't he go anyway?)
Cory Doctorow is madly blogging about sub-$300 AP plus satellite uplink box, Rob Flickenger's presentation slides, the NoCatAuth's plan to assign Class A 10.x.x.x addresses, Australian city-wide Wi-Fi networks, and a session on the NoCatAuth system. Whew!
Apparently, some people think so. In the last few days, I have read several articles, all of which quote DeWayne Hendricks. Two of these articles are noted in yesterday's post on FCC rulemaking. Hendricks appears to be everywhere, and while not opposed to 802.11b or other unlicensed specifications, is raising the fear of the Tragedy of the Commons to heights I haven't seen echoed elsewhere. [Pushback on this piece has already come in: see below.]
The Tragedy of Commons is stated succinctly thusly: shared resources, when they become popular, are unusable for their original purpose. In the ur-case, we're talking shared pastures. The shared pasture protocol was that common inputs resulted in a common resource. When the common use of the resource exceeded the resources ability to replenish, the commons is destroyed. Or, to loosely quote Yogi Berra on Coney Island, it's so busy nobody goes there any more.
I don't want to put words into Hendricks mouth, and I don't impute motives to other people. Hendricks is a big wireless proponent, and his consulting firm helps companies working in new and interesting areas, including ultrawideband (UWB), which could be spread-spectrum's successor for data transmission.
However, I hope we can get more clarity from him about some of the many public statements he has made lately, which I believe may be focusing too closely on one aspect of Wi-Fi specifically, and all unlicensed low-power data specs in general.
For instance, this morning, David Weinberger's excellently thought-provoking Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO) points to David Isen's Smart Letter #68 which reprinted an article of Isen's from March. (Whew.)
Isen notes the following: Hendricks is concerned that as 802.11b gets popular, its very popularity will make it harder to use. The 2.5GHz band [sic: should be 2.4 or 2.45 GHz band] could become so crowded that nobody will want to go there. Densely spaced 802.11b transmitters will make it more difficult for receivers to distinguish desired signals from undesired ones. Hendricks fears that people will respond by trying to amplify (or otherwise boost) the 802.11b signal. Indeed, such hardware hacks already abound. ... Virtually every 802.11b hardware hack is illegal, he says. And this is only part of the destruction-by-popularity story. Other devices – like portable phones, Bluetooth devices, and (soon to come) radio-driven lighting – operate in the same 2.5GHz [sic] frequency band.
Isen continues: Hendricks thinks that 802.11b is a train-wreck in the making. Furthermore, he says, there is nothing to prevent 802.11a (also unlicensed, operating at 5+ GHz) from following a similar trajectory. As currently conceived, unlicensed spectrum could devolve into a hobbyist's playground.
The contentions here are individually not unreasonable, but collectively appear to point to a subset of all wireless use which shouldn't affect the vast majority of users or locations.
The vast majority of Wi-Fi usage, and the vast majority of future 802.11a usage, will be indoors: in homes and offices, schools, and public venues like airports. Most of these indoor locations will, by their very nature, limit incoming signals from interferring transmitters unless those transmitters are so ridiculously boosted that the FCC simply steps in, issues fines, and shuts them down.
In the typical installation, there are no interferring transmitters, as the real-estate owner, lessee, or renter has no near neighbors or has a construction that prevents exterior signals from leaking in at levels that interfere with usage. In some small percentage of installations, adjacent consumers or businesses are operating similar systems. A combination of antennas, system design, and cooperation on channel usage can solve those problems in most cases.
In the very small percentage of Wi-Fi which is taking place entirely in the common, such as the overlap of hot spots across parts of San Jose or Palo Alto between the several for-fee providers that offer service there, cooperation would be the name of the game. No one user would drown out the others in the same space as that would prevent any effective use of the technology. Any user pursuing that tactic could be shut down or fined by the FCC, depending on their particular apparatus.
Really, the issue that appears to be in the forefront of Hendricks's mind -- and I'm not a mind reader -- as well as Steve Stroh (Focus on Broadband Wireless Internet Access newsletter) is the widespread development of illegal hacks to Wi-Fi equipment. These hacks are not illegal to discuss, unlike some of the copyright issues arising from the DMCA. Rather, they're illegal to deploy. The FCC may approve an access point, but they don't approve Pringles can antennas to work with them. There are some fine points to all this, including the right to make non-commercial antennas that appears to be part of the Part 15 rules.
But Hendricks and Stroh are correct: many informal installations violate Part 15 rules, and as these installations increase, the likelihood of rendering some part of the public space in dense urban areas unusable increases.
What none of the articles addressing this appear to note, however, is the subtext of the Yogi Berra bon mot: a beach may still be "usable" (that is, enjoyable) to some people if it's packed body to body, but spectrum is not. If interfering transmitters reduce the utility of a given public space network, the network would be shut down. It might be shut down by force (FCC fines), by agreement (if you can connect to a network, you know who runs it, ostensibly), or by apathy (hey, it doesn't work any more).
There's no cause to increase the density of network deployments when you can't use the ones that are already there. This seems like common sense: networks don't appear by magic, they have to be set up by people who need the utility of employing them to a purpose.
Another technical point to make is that Hendricks sounds like -- and again, I don't believe this would be the case in context -- he doesn't know about channelization available in 802.11b, g, and a; nor about the co-existence work happening in Bluetooth and HomeRF alongside IEEE efforts.
Wi-Fi has 11 legal channels in the US and more or less elsewhere. Three of those channels don't overlap, allowing dense network deployments at full speed in adjacent regions. However, many adjacent channels would still work even with interference at lower speeds. Because of the built-in step-down options in various wireless networking specs, a lack of usable clear signal at 11 Mbps doesn't necessarily mean you can't talk at 2 Mbps. For outdoor, public space deployment in which the uplink to the Internet is likely 256K to 1 Mbps, this isn't a problem, either.
802.11a has the chance to further reduce interference by offering eight nonoverlapping channels in the 5.150 to 5.350 GHz range and another four higher up the spectrum in 5.725 to 5.825, specifically reserved for certain outdoor applications, such as point-to-point.
Of course, if you have 50 transmitters in the space of a few hundred square yards, all the channels in the world don't help. But an increasing interest in commercial infrastructure building by fewer partners appears to be part of the evolving public-space market.
Commercial wireless network companies don't use illegal gear; if any are, their investors will string them up by their thumbs when the FCC comes calling, as it certainly would. (Their competitors would turn them in, if no one else did.)
But beyond that simple obvious point, commercial infrastructure for wireless is clearly moving away from multiple overlapping networks in the same public spaces to rentable hot spots. Concourse is a harbinger of this direction, having been chosen for the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport in part because they offer a network-neutral approach. They built the infrastructure; iPass is handling access. From my discussions with both companies and other firms in the industry, the only issue is how much iPass wants and on what basis for access to the network. But Boingo, Wayport, T-Mobile, and anyone else can tie in for a fee. And that's increasingly likely to happen.
One more point in this whole debate: HomeRF and Bluetooth won't wind up eating Wi-Fi's lunch. HomeRF, if it continues to grow as it has, is a pure consumer spec, and it employs frequency hopping. Adjacent users of Wi-Fi and HomeRF might see some minor degradation, but many companies selling HomeRF gear now also sell Wi-Fi. You can't imagine them not working towards a co-existence solution more formally to avoid these very problems.
Bluetooth has already solved co-existence, and Bluetooth 2.0 will incorporate the solution embodied in the IEEE 802.15.2 task group. Although a number of Bluetooth 1.1 devices are out there, in a few years, there will be a vastly larger number of 2.0 devices as that spec starts appearing.
Likewise, the 802.11h task group built an adaptive set of responses into 802.11a that will surely find their way into the 2.4 GHz band as well: use only as much power as you need, and don't treat on in-use frequencies.
Taken together, the current developments and future solutions in the works paint a picture of ever-more co-existent technologies and companies, and a more managed informal use of the space. I'm not a libertarian by any definition, but it looks to my eye as if the market (comprising commercial vendors, community networks, and home users) may solve all the problems of the common.
I'm optimistic: people may crowd the beach, but they're not masochists. Would you put your umbrella and blanket down if you knew that every minute a volleyball would land in your picnic basket and someone would run right over you pursing an errant child? Probably not. The beach that's so busy people don't go there has worked out an informal system of usage that preserves its common function. The cost: privacy and solitude. The benefit: society and common use.
Steve Stroh thinks the above is factually inaccurate, but he hasn't elaborated. He's an industry veteran and has great insight, so hopefully he will push back harder on this to present an alternate view that incorporates what he thinks the real facts are.
Dave Sifry of Sputnik blogged about the FCC's role.
Robert Scoble wonders based on his recent conference experience what happens when you have a lot of competing Wi-Fi networks in one space? This is where mesh networks could be handy: with a mesh protocol, each addition sub-network helps strengthen the network by co-opting and cooperating, adding a node, even if it's got private attributes, instead of overlapping bandwidth.
On the co-existence front, let me reiterate: very few manufacturers will wind up with single wireless investments. They will make Bluetooth and HomeRF, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (several firms already), Wi-Fi and HomeRF (Proxim, for instance). They have vested interests in promoting co-existence, not spectrum competition.
5/13: I exchanged email with DeWayne Hendricks today with a plan to talk more about the context of how he's been quoted on these issues. As I suspected, he's got a much bigger fish to fry than he's been quoted about. More later today.
FCC considers putting amateur radio operators above Wi-Fi users: in an interesting set of events, the FCC has opened a docket on making amateur radio have the primary status for the 2400 to 2402 megahertz band, the lower part of the unlicensed ISM band which 802.11b, HomeRF, Bluetooth, and cordless phones all use. In my initial posting on this issue, I thought (based on some other more informed comments on other lists) that this changed the balance of power. In fact, hams already have primary status from 2402 to 2450 MHz, and, as Steve Stroh wrote in, they have rarely exercised this priority. The announcement is available from the FCC as a Word doc, a PDF, or a text file.
The convergence, however, between this rulemaking proposal and another event made me fear this was worse than it sounded. I found out about this news from Dave Farber's Interesting People list [via Alan Reiter's forward to me] which had this forwarded post from Dewayne Hendricks, including Dave Hughes's mad as hell response to it, which, based on further feedback, may not be as fully correct as I initially thought. Interestingly, 80211-Planet ran a story yesterday about how Hendricks is the chairman of the FCC's Spectrum Management Working Group, an avid amateur radio supporter, and -- yes, there's an and -- the CEO of a consulting firm that is a proponent ultrawideband (UWB) technology. UWB has the potential to displace current Wi-Fi and related specs in two ways: by having priority over those standards and by being better than them (lower power, better range, less interference, etc.). The latter would be fine; the former, problematic.
More FCC news: tweaks to Part 15 rules: I frankly don't understand all the implications of these rule changes. I'm sure some of you can explain it better. If you're willing to share, email me and I'll post more information.
Mehr Licht! RF lighting might beat out Wi-Fi?: Slashdot weighs in on Steve Stroh's article from last summer in his Focus on Broadband Wireless Access newsletter about the potential for RF lighting (a method of illumination using radio waves) disrupting Wi-Fi.
Alan Reiter plans two-thirds day conference on using Wi-Fi at conferences!: an excellent topic, this 8 am to 1 pm conference in Washington, D.C., should help conference planners better incorporate wireless data into how they support attendees.
SpectraLink now has voice priority for its Wi-Fi phone when used with Symbol networks: SpectraLink, makers of a phone that works over 802.11b to a central phone switch, now interoperates with Symbol equipment, offering voice prioritization for that company's Wi-Fi networking gear. Telephony, unlike data, waits for no one, and a regular stream of packets must continuously be fed on a scheduled, priority basis to ensure clear voice calls. This quality of service (QoS) improvement works with Symbol NetLink wireless 802.11b networks among others. Symbol makes primarily logistics equipment, which means their networks and devices are often installed in warehouses and other spread-out locations in which telephony via conventional wires would be expensive, and proprietary wireless telephony equally tricky.
Three Times Fast: Service-Centric Service: Apple offers up some more information on its upcoming Mac OS X 10.2 release, including a longer paragraph on Rendezvous, its IP-based resource discovery system which supports wireless, wired, and FireWire networks.
Apple's preview of its upcoming OS X 10.2 Jaguar release included a technology the company is calling Rendezvous: the automatic discovery (search and recognition) of TCP/IP devices over Ethernet, FireWire, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
Alan Reiter remarks on it a bit and wonders what I think. My opinion: a whole new world of discovery awaits us.
Apple wasn't unique in building discovery into its AppleTalk protocol way back when. AppleTalk devices broadcast little hi, how-are-you messages all the time, and other devices can use these messages to build lists of network resources, categorized by type. By contrast, Ethernet networks are chatty, too, but more reserved: it's easy to find out which IP addresses are assigned to which MAC (Media Access Control or unique Ethernet) addresses on a network, but it's not so easy to figure out what services are available behind the curtain.
Lexmark included a printer discovery package as part of the Windows drivers and programs that came with my Optra M412N. The discovery package would scan the local subnet and find out which devices were Lexmark printers and make them available for use. Handy, certainly.
Bluetooth already has a fairly high-level discovery process. The whole point of Bluetooth is to allow opportunistic (let's not say parasitic) ad hoc use: devices find each other and talk to each other. The Bluetooth technology preview that I have from Apple scans constantly for nearby Bluetooth devices, including phones, so it can autoconfigure a connection or make me aware of the new devices, just like it does when I plug in a new USB device.
Apple's proposal, thus, is trying to bring to networked devices an entirely new layer of support that's more akin to directly connected peripherals, like hard drives and USB or parallel printers. It wants you, as a user, to not have to make decisions about how to connect to things as they become available. Rather, the system recognizes and makes those resources available, and you choose how or if you want to interact with them.
Apple includes FireWire alongside the wired and wireless network media, because FireWire is poised to enter a new age shortly. FireWire will migrate from a pure hard drive/bus substitute into a real high-speed short-range network method using less expensive cabling and hitting speeds of 1.6 Gbps.
The practical advantage of Rendezvous is an abundance of resources and a reduction in the time it takes to connect to what's available. (System administrators will probably love it, too, as it will be easier to monitor when resources stop working.) Rendezvous makes it practical to offer a printer service in a Net cafe, or a pool of printers in the enterprise, without requiring that each user's machine be tediously and individually configured to work with that device.
When you start building applications on Rendezvous, you can see the larger potential: users can make requests for specific operations that can be pooled and divvied out as devices appear or come available. Right now, outside of print spooling, machines also rely on and require the presence of networked devices and FireWire equipment before they can be used. Rendezvous should allow applications that can use discovery to create routine (think crontab jobs) or specific requests.
"When you find a printer that can handle color, print this job." "When you reach a network that has over 1 Mbps capacity, send this file." "Retrieve my email if there's 56 Kbps or more, but only subjects."
A machine might communicate over Ethernet instead of 802.11a, or split packets between them. A FireWire device might contain a video clip which, when the device is connected to a computer, is immediately and automatically copied over a network to a queued set of requests from multiple people for the clip.
Discovery turns resources into immediate push, not tedious pull. It allows queued pull operations, freeing users from waiting and requesting. Discovery shifts the burden from a human being acting as a device (click, check, login, click, click, refresh) into a system that handles it for them.
None of this requires science fiction. It only requires the expectation that your computer can fumble in the dark and put its key in the lock instead of requiring you to hold a bright flashlight and guide it in its course.
Intel to ship dual 802.11a/b hub within a month: At Network+Interop, Intel announced an Atheros-based access point that can offer both 802.11a and 802.11b service. The company also said they have developed their own chipset for future devices. (At the same event, they showed 10 Gbps Ethernet, and announced $59 One Gbps adapters!) Ken Haase of Proxim told me just the other day, however, that system designs make it tricky to simply replace Wi-Fi APs with dual-band devices. Between density and other requirements, more planning may be needed. More from Ken in the next day or so.
Proxim's big 802.11a day: Proxim today made several 802.11a-related announcements. First, the company became the first to sell 802.11a in the United Kingdom. Second, Proxim is shipping the first 802.11a PCI card. Third, they're the first to introduce 802.1x support for 802.11a. In one of the press releases, they also note the countries in which they're currently selling 802.11a gear: United States, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and Mexico. An interesting list that they expect to get longer as approval continues to be added thoughout Europe.
Fry and Wi-Fi: offering me a chance to use the same rhyme twice, McDonalds of Japan and giant investment firm Softbank are discussing installing up to 4,000 hot spots in the restaurant's Japanese outlets. Some find McDonalds emblematic of American cultural and economic hegemony, while others see it as a concrete example of the olio-centric destruction of native habitat, public health, and the atmosphere. I just like the fries.
Generic Wi-Fi card drivers for Mac OS 8 and 9: these drivers should unleash the full cheapness of Wi-Fi PC Cards on Mac owners with pre-AirPort equipped laptops, or those that want to bypass the $100 modified Orinoco card. The company lists compatible and probably compatible cards. The driver is $14.95 during beta, $19.95 on release. Some of the cards they list should be available for less than $50 on eBay or possibly even in new condition at a clearance site. [via Raines Cohen on the BAWUG Wireless list]
Sputnik's 1.1 release of its Community Gateway software is now available for download: Sputnik announced a few days ago that its community network will always be free, both on the software and usage sides. The Community Gateway is a way for Sputnik to roll development back into the open-source community, offer a firewalled and bandwidth-throttle-able access point package, and entice developers to look at its code. (Remember, kids, this free server is the Enterprise Gateway drug.)
Sputnik alerts me that the new 1.1 version has a variety of improvements, including PCI and PLX card support, the latest Linux kernel (2.4.18), a better driver autoconfiguration routine, support for latest Intersil PRISM 2 and 2.5 chipsets in newer PC cards, and a smaller ISO image for CD-ROM creation.
David Sifry noted, "We've seen significantly improved bandwidth figures when using the PCI cards - on the order of a 20-30% improvement over the PCMCIA cards. Now people can create APs using just about any old hardware, including those 486 doorstops piled up in basements across the land."
The Enterprise Gateway is still under construction, with expected summer release. For more information about the enterprise, read my article on Apr. 30.
Nokia announces hot spot tailored access point: paintable exterior, internal antennas, and power over Ethernet (PoE) all combine to make this unit appeal to the public-space owners aesthetic, financial, and technical needs. Ships in June 2002. No price noted.
Phone makers aggressive about 802.11b: phone makers talk the talk about incorporating Wi-Fi into cell phones; other devices also likely to see surge in development. Ben Charny mentions one chipmaker looking to make lower power devices, but remember Bermai and Marvell: two companies that have already built 802.11 protocols into the lower-power CMOS chips.
Sifry's alerts: I may be obsessed about 802.11b, but David Sifry is actually running a company that uses it (Sputnik). His blog so far is a solid compendium of news with a little commentary. If you have an RSS/RDF equipped program, like Userland Radio, you can subscribe to his feed.
PC Magazine cover story and articles on wireless: if you can find the content between the menu bars, advertisements, and popup windows, worth a good read, particularly this article on wireless LANs which offers product comparisons. [via Alan Reiter]
Ken Berger is a regular and well-informed correspondent on issues Wi-Fi-related. He's a consultant (LogX Technologies) and an active member of BAWUG (Bay Area Wireless Users Group). In what is more or less a first for this blog, he sent in a comprehensive guest report:
The Wireless Ventures conference overall was terrific, if for no other reason than it had a large percentage of existing U.S. wireless startups and interested venture investors all together in the same place. Richard Shaffer (VentureWire's editor-in-chief) has got to be about the best moderator I've ever seen, with a soothing yet authoritative orator's voice. The timing on the presentations was efficient -- about 10 different rooms in close reach, each with a company's CEO madly trying to compel his company's overview in the 20 minutes allotted, strictly enforced. The downside was that there was little or no time to get questions asked and answered, this particularly frustrating because many of the presentations left gaping holes in the pitch's substance.
Buzz. I read another blog or two about the conference talking about the sense of the Next Big Thing (NBT). However, I could, for the most part, largely sense an air of desperation. It's tough out there, and you can immediately feel it in here. Most CEO's seemed to be grasping for credibility -- you could tell that they know about the unknowns they face even as their words paint a rosy picture. The mood is not quite futile, but it clearly isn't fun, and very few presentations are punctuated with any humor or jokes. Even smiles in the hallways seem to be scarce compared to at other conferences, even venture-oriented ones. The attendee ends each session faced with a card on which to place their vote (from 1 to 10) on the company's prospects. I spoke to few people who put more than a 5 on any of their cards.
The Amway of Wireless? I found Joltage's presentation notable here. They stated they will neither own nor operate any of the system's AP's (access points), and that their business model rests largely on utilizing the AP's of private residences and businesses-- folks like you and me. So there's nothing stopping a house husband from hosting using Win95 over a dialup AOL connection, and even most advanced users are likely not going to have nearly the right equipment to scale for more than a couple simultaneous users. This is a not un-fathomable situation if the service does take off and the host lives, say, across the street from a Starbucks on 34th Street in Manhattan. Hell, I've used a Wi-Fi connection across the street from a souped-up host AP (not a Joltage one) with a high-powered antenna in San Francisco and the signal cut every time the shiny steel MUNI car came past!
I had time at the end of the session to bring up this serious QoS (Quality of Service) issue, where folks would get inspired to sign up for this mult-level-marketing (MLM)-style program (that phrasing in this part of my comment went unopposed), and then not necessarily be able to keep up their QoS, thus compromising the users' experience of the system in general. The question was deferred to the tech guy, who sprang up responding that substantial monitoring would take place, and centralized support would "talk the offending AP owner through resolution." Hmmm.
In my opinion, Joltage and Boingo may have something-- namely marketing -- but what they have for now is only a piece of the puzzle, albeit an essential piece. Other companies presenting here, SkyPilot, MeshNetworks, and Sputnik (I love Sputnik's term "rogue AP detection" -- sounds like something from The Terminator) have another piece of the puzzle. If that same AP goes down, just re-route to find alternative AP's. Perhaps the combination of these pieces is necessary for either model-piece company to survive, although I've run this thought by a few VC's and they feel that the economics may not pencil out. But before we lose faith, did you read this? Nicholas Negroponte has joined Joltage's board.
Out in the hallway, I ran into a prominent VC to whom I pitched an idea over a year ago. It was pretty much the same concept as Joltage, then later with a variation that more resembled Boingo, and he winced at the time. But he's now bullish on Boingo, saying that "If you're gonna do something like that, you better have a big bullhorn, and Sky's got one!" Glenn's aside: Ever since Sky told me about Boingo, I've said if it was anyone but him, they'd be wrestling with bodies in the dotcom graveyard. As it is, Sky's entrance validates the field initially, but Boingo still has to prove itself.
HereUare. This one really left me incredulous. The entire presentation preached to what should seem an obvious choir the merits and revolutionary aspects of hotspot networking and 802.11. But almost nothing was said about HereUare's specific place and future in the space. At the end, with no time left for questions, I muttered, "OK, but what do YOU do?" At least 4 people laughed aloud, thinking that they were the only one(s) thinking that as well.
WiFi Metro. Similar feel to the HereUare presentation. And I wanted to ask, "This didn't work for AirWave, tell us why it will work for you." I hope it does. Glenn's aside: One of WiFi Metro's advantage is that they took over spots and service without having wasted the sums of money of their predecessor; that's an advantage they have to maximize.
Unexpected winners: Leap Wireless and Vocera. These two were not named in the concluding session's top 10 but drew surprise interest. Leap Wireless did a lunchtime presentation and pretty much blew my socks off. Their innovative program is called 'Cricket', sort of a Southwest Airlines play for the cellphone industry. Nothing fancy (at least for the moment): just offer voice, unlimited minutes, about $32/month fixed, paid in advance. Pick a niche, including young folks, families. Only do it in secondary markets (Buffalo, Merced, Chattanooga, etc). Keep the device lineup small ("If you don't watch it, devices will kill you," was a quote from an ex-CellularOne exec the speaker mentioned), sell them in supermarkets and shopping malls. Brilliant. They will however need some serious additional investment in the near future (they've been public for a few years -- it's not just startups here). I'm tempted to reach for my checkbook.
Vocera makes a cool gadget that you can wear in your shirt pocket or on a necklace (think: doctor in a hospital or worker in a warehouse). When you talk, the mic picks up your voice and transmits it VOIP to the nearest 802.11b receiver, through the building's or area's system and broadcast out thus allowing communication walkie-talkie style to other hospital staff. I'm buying the CEO's story that this is highly useful today, and that hospitals and other in-building implementations may well embrace the product.
Blackburied? Eric Benhamou, Palm CEO, and Richard Shaffer had a little one-on-one chat, punctuated by a point that stuck with me. The tidbit stems from a data point whereby Research in Motion has sold a total of only 300,000 Blackberrys. Is this possible?? It sometimes seems like there's that many active on any business day in VC-rich Menlo Park alone. If the number really is that low, then the point being made on stage seems reasonable: questioning the value in going after this market after all. Shaffer made a poke about the i705's underwhelm; perhaps this point mutates the i705 fiasco into sour grapes. Glenn's aside: a reader added some detail. The 300K figure includes over units that RIM supplies service to. Worldwide, approximately 1.4 million Blackberrys are in use under different brands and via different service providers.
Stop here (concluding session). I really felt for the four panelists up there. No one wanted to be too hard on any company or technology; no one seemed to want to rave much either. There was a 10-most-likely-to-succeed listing, partly calculated from the voting cards turned in from the sessions. Actually, you really can stop reading here if you want, the following is just a few random notes from the closing session:
WLAN, 802.11b/a/g (I actually think I'm hearing it now referred to as just "bag" -- Glenn's aside: Alert Wired's Jargon Watch) has clearly the most interest, and the majority of the companies here are centered around it. The panelists seemed to agree that it's the near-term winner, though only one really spoke up for the hotspot companies, and he admitted that their business models were 'troubling'. Europe will want SIM-based WLAN cards, US doesn't and won't care. T-Mobile (VoiceStream's rebranded US name taken from their European service) will at some point run with their U.S. hotspot expansion. Wireless is no longer 3G; 3G dead in U.S. for at least three years. Were you planning to start a company to make 802.11 chips? Window is now closed! Bermai interesting in this area. Any exits will be overwhelmingly acquisitions, IPO's unlikely for most (any?) of these companies in the foreseeable future. Glenn's asides: See my analysis yesterday on 3G's future; day before on Bermai and Marvell.
Some of the winners:
Airvana: System to enable carriers to do something better. Doing well in Asia.
Cyneta: Data acceleration/optimization.
Rosum: Challenges conventional wisdom by using television signals for LBS (location-based services). TV signals are 1,000 times more powerful than the typical cellphone signal. But problems exist with the infrastructure.
Netmotion Wireless: LAN/WAN integration.
Mesh Networks: (Gee, what do they do??) Great idea, although will take a couple more years to get it right. Originates from military uses. Good solution in places where there are no alternatives.
Shel Israel files a summary of the Wireless Ventures event: he emailed the article out, but the link isn't yet on the site for it. Watch for it.
Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet, kipes some Wi-Fi: this comic strip is close to my heart, and the cartoonist is a real geek. Today, Helen acts like the rest of us (myself included) and steals a little bandwidth on a bench.
More on Best Buy's wireless cash register problems: the registers were used only when normal lines were overwhelmed. Still, who turned off the security?
Coming early next week: An overview of Proxim's latest technology, the potential for HomeRF, and other tidbits gleaned from a lunch with Ken Haase, Proxim's Director of Product Marketing, and the general manager of the HomeRF Working Group.
Lest I give the impression that I was in Burlingame -- I wasn't -- I'm providing more links and coverage from others on what was apparently a seminal event in the nascent wireless networking services industry. It's certainly nascent: lots of money has already been wasted in this area, but the real money is yet to be spent. (The hardware side is mature; the services side is what's to come.)
Shel Israel offers up another excellent summary covering events on day two: I have a polite disagreement with several of his conclusions, however, detailed here:
Bluetooth - the wireless scheme for doing away with cables - seems to have gone the way of the Saber Tooth. We heard it mentioned only twice, and both times it was in past tense. I'd argue this is the wrong conclusion: Bluetooth has never been so poised for success. The hype has fallen away and part of that hype was that Bluetooth was a Wi-Fi challenger. Between power consumption and the spec's design as an ad hoc connector, this was never possible. Now that real devices are shipping -- I'm sitting here with a D-Link USB Bluetooth transmitter plugged into my Apple USB keyboard -- the reality of what you can do with Bluetooth is starting to emerge. My sound bite: Bluetooth required ubiquity before utility appeared.
Hallway rumors allege that the [Boingo's] user base is decidedly smaller than one would expect. Ah, but the question is: is it smaller than the company predicted and its investors anticipated? Alan Reiter has serial blogged on the pricing structure for Boingo; I'm in clear opposition to him: the price is right for the business market which values convenience at a reasonable price over cheap prices and less service. (I have argued to Boingo that they need a day plan that would cover a user as they travel between several Boingo-affiliated locations, however: $15 to $20 for Boingo by the Day versus $8 for Boingo for 24 hours in a single location.) Alan noted in his blog Tuesday that Dayton says price is No. 5 on the list of customer concerns. I expect Boingo will grow slowly until it has a larger footprint, which is probably Sky Dayton's No. 1 job right now.
Panelists and show attendees agree that 3G - so-called third generation fast wireless services supposedly destined for metropolitan rollouts this summer - is irrelevant in North America, in no small part because 802.11 is faster, better, cheaper and more valuable. Apparently overlooked is that 802.11 still can't get you onto the Internet when you're not in a major urban area. I respectfully disagree with this, too. 3G is also a massively overhyped technology which the cell companies viewed as an investment that would reap them untold cash very quickly. Equally quickly it became clear that it would not: the dollars and euros and other currencies required to build out the networks became scarce as the dotcom bubble popped; European telcos found themselves saddled with debt and licenses. But 3G has a lot of potential in combination with Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi cannot and will not render 3G useless because it's a highly regulated use of unlicensed spectrum. Part 15 rules keep interference and power low for Wi-Fi and 802.11a devices (among other standards); 3G has a different set of limits because it uses licensed spectrum. While 3G will never achieve ubiquitous 11 Mbps coverage, neither with Wi-Fi. Rather, I see pico- and microcell architecture in which the customer hardware makes the network decision: multi-band, multi-protocols cards select the optimum speed and pricing with a single bill.
The last comment about major urban areas: 3G won't hit outside major cities for a long, long time: the cost for retooling is too low and density of users too low. You might see 3G first on highways and areas where people in transit might have data needs, but other not.
Remember to read Alan Reiter's coverage from yesterday as well: he notes that Palm's interim CEO, former 3Com exec Eric Benhamou, thinks you'll be able to get a PDA Wi-Fi adapter that has a longer battery life. You bet your boots: the CMOS development I discussed yesterday are the clear path to low-power, high-signal cards with very small form factors.
Buzz Bruggeman alerted me to a posting on the Interesting People list run by former FCC CTO Dave Farber on wireless cash registers. Although it may be old news in the wardriving circle, a post to the Security Focus list noted that Best Buy's wireless cash registers were sending customer data in the clear. MSNBC picked up the story and Best Buy shut down its wireless registers nationwide. Symbol, the maker of the enabling technology, noted in the MSNBC article that their devices have security built-in, but they can't ensure a store uses it.
In honor of the day, I spout revolutionarily: We have nothing to lose but our wires.
Bermai announces all-in-one CMOS 802.11a series chip: in a remarkable technological achievement this early in the game, Bermai has announced a CMOS chip that contains all of the necessary pieces for 802.11a: radio, baseband, and MAC. The chip can also connect with a second radio running 802.11b or 802.11g. They will start sampling the chip in small quantities to manufacturers soon.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to controller- and chipmaker Marvell, which is already sampling an RF+baseband chip for 802.11b in CMOS, which is also a technical triumph. (The Marvell system requires a separate MAC chip.) The Marvell radio could, conceivably, be used with Bermai's system for an all-CMOS approach.
What's so great about CMOS (definition)? The chips are made using the most standard, widespread methods of manufacture, meaning that any advance in overall production techniques decreases the cost per unit. The size of the wafers from which CMOS chips are cut is larger, and thus cheaper per unit, than the typical RF chips (silicon-germanium, etc.). The materials are also less exotic. Putting all the parts of the radio in a single chip reduces signal loss, and the overall power requirements are reduced as well.
Marvell said it well: their focus is on four fronts - price, power, range, and volume production. This announcement from Bermai should push chip prices even lower as we head toward the second half of 2002, which will also drop the already incredibly low costs for Wi-Fi and other 802.11 equipment.
The Wireless Ventures/Wireless Internet conference is underway in Burlingame, California. Alan Reiter is blogging in some detail yesterday and today about the flow of information. (I was invited, but was just too dratted tired from finishing the third edition of this book about a week ago. My brain is finally coming back online.)
Conferenza's Shel Israel also reports from the event: attendance is high, interest spectacular, and convergence omnipresent. [via Buzz Bruggeman]
The Big Easy's airport goes easy on wireless: Ernie the Attorney abstracts an article in his local paper (no online archive!) about the New Orleans' airport authority's removal of Internet kiosks. They're thinking about wireless, but worried about revenue and interference. There should be little concern about interference because aerospace frequencies aren't even close to 2.4 GHz ISM/Wi-Fi band and the U-NII (5 GHz) band. Even out-of-band signals from faulty devices are at such a low level that they wouldn't carry more than a few feet. I confess to some concerns about Wi-Fi inside planes: there might be equipment on planes that could suffer from low-intensity signal interference, and it just hasn't been effectively tested yet. I always carefully turn off my AirPort access on my Apple iBook when I board the plane.
Miami Herald offers straightforward overview: another broad overview of Wi-Fi and its benefits and uses. A good trend: solid, accurate, hype-free reporting with market figures and a broad set of quotes.