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Another nail in the retail fee model for Wi-Fi hot spots: I know there are arguments to be made on both sides, but it may be hard to charge for Wi-Fi in cafes and retail establishments (see my quote in this article, in fact) when free alternatives abound.
There may be reasons to pay, among those the fact that it's "free" for you because you've already bought an unlimited monthly subscription to use hot spots and wired broadband in hotels and airports as you travel. Or, because you prefer a venue, and cost isn't an issue versus location.
Take a mall, for instance: if there's an Apple Store in the mall, you get free Wi-Fi. So you take your latte and sit on a bench near the store instead of paying to use T-Mobile's service at a Starbucks. And so on.
The future of non-captive venues where leaking signals and dense adjacent stores is questionable except that with more subscribers, for-fee because de facto free. That is, if you pay for the airports, you get the coffee shops "for free" and this issue disappears.
The FCC posts the licensing approval for the Xbox adapter: Microsoft had asked for the filing to be repressed to prevent advance word of their announcement, but the FCC posted it by mistake, apparently. (You can almost always look up the FCC filings for any approved device.) It'll run at 54 Mbps.
Intrepid reporters visit many hot spots, report on the experience, in London: An amusing report, the funniest part of which is that in none of the hot spots they examined did they spot any other users, despite being frequently reassured that several people used the service in various locations every day.
Wirelessly bridging wireless networks with Wireless Distribution System (wirelessly): WDS is a very simple idea: it allows an access point to act like a port on an Ethernet switch. With this simple idea, Apple, Linksys, Buffalo, and others have finally implemented inexpensive and simple-to-configure bridges. What's better, Apple and Buffalo, to name two, allow their access points to work as APs and bridges simultaneously, which can let you create a cloud of access instead of a little pool. It also reduces costs.
In a shocking discovery, which I write about in this article, you can use Buffalo and Apple equipment together in WDS mode. Buffalo's roughly $100 access point (WLA-G54) pairs with Apple's $200-$250 AirPort Extreme Base Station, which has all the gateway features you need. There's even a Windows configuration utility available for it (in beta testing).
Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland makes its academic Wi-Fi network open to the public: It's an ambitious project that allows the public to take advantage of an expensive, but bursty and abundant service. The university has over 1,200 access points, and unless it's a unique case, there must be businesses, apartments, and houses sprawled all around and on top of it that can take advantage, as well as visitors to the campus. The project is labeled OneCleveland.
Via email, I asked Lev S. Gonick, the university's chief information office, how the network separated authenticated traffic and public traffic. The 1230+ APs are segmented into 6 VLANs that ride external to the Enterprise (OneCleveland) infrastructure. Users (guests) are assigned an IP range outside the enterprise space and can VPN to any network, including those of course in University Circle with proper authentication. Otherwise it's [using] shared bandwidth on the VLAN.
The university is also using packet shaping to control traffic flows. Dr. Gonick said that the group would put up network diagrams and other information. Case could become a case study for how universities and communities can work together, and might extend on some of the public/private partnerships for municipal Wi-Fi currently in the works.
The key, of course, is keeping private network traffic separate. As more hardware and software emerges that makes this simpler, or just a basic part of running the network, extending public access becomes a no-brainer: you give the people what's not in use, which is almost always going to be plenty.
High fixed fees are still cheaper than the alternatives: It seems expensive to us landlubbers, but Wheat Wireless's rates are an inexpensive alternative to satellite, which can't deliver the performance, either.
The cities of Bellevue and Kirkland, Washington, consider free Wi-Fi: These are the two adjacent cities to Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., home, and they've pooled some resources to unwire community locations.
This is part of a larger telecommunications overhaul that might also include upgrading fiber-optic service run by the cities. As in Palo Alto and Tacoma, Wash., municipal fiber optic connections could be a key in attracting businesses by reducing their local loop charges and other recurring and capital expenses.
I recently used free Wi-Fi at the Crossroads Mall mentioned in the article. I had an hour or so to kill before meeting colleagues for lunch and found the Starbucks near the entrance to Crossroads. I couldn't get the T-Mobile connection to work, but I saw a network labeled KCLS. Figuring it was a radio station promo network, I connected with no problem. Turns out it's the King County Library System (KCLS!) branch across the street from Crossroads. (Update: The free KCLS Wi-Fi is actually a cooperative project between Crossroads and the library system within the mall.)
FatPort's CEO discusses their cash flow, growth: Sean O'Mahoney talks about the road to profit and the cash demands needed to carry his Canadian firm through the next few years. It's fascinating to read about how the bottom-up firms work: small investments, significant growth, and a business model they believe will sustain them into a larger firm with good returns.
FatPort (Canada) and Surf and Sip (US, UK, Eastern Europe) sign cross-network roaming agreement: I spoke to the CEOs of both companies just after they signed an agreement that will allow subscription customers of either network to use their counterpart's hot spots without additional charges. The two networks combined have 600 locations currently worldwide, with hundred more due to come online in the next few months. Surf and Sip has 135 locations just in the UK.
Both networks charge about $20 per month U.S. ($35 Canadian) for unlimited use. (Surf and Sip's deal is for a one-year commitment or $30 per month for month-to-month; FatPort's is just month to month.) FatPort CEO Sean O'Mahoney said, "We don’t expect much arbitrage because the prices are so similar everywhere."
Although several Canadian cellular operators recently announced interoperability standards, O'Mahoney said, "So what and who cares? They haven’t got any locations, they haven’t got a strategy." FatPort operates the largest Canadian footprint directly and through platform partners who deploy their technology and allow network access to any FatPort subscriber. "Let’s talk about two people with actual networks, who can make a decision," O'Mahoney said, referring to himself and Rick Ehrlinspiel, Surf and Sip's CEO.
The operators will first allow FatPort customers to use Surf and Sip locations starting in September. O'Mahoney noted that many Canadian customers travel to the US and the UK and had asked for roaming options. Shortly thereafter, Surf and Sip customers will be able to roam onto FatPort's network.
The two networks also have partnerships with network aggregators, including Boingo Wireless, but the direct roaming agreement allows them to keep a much greater percentage of the fees collected, the companies' CEOs said.
Ehrlinspiel noted that Surf and Sip offers a one-time $100 for 12 month unlimited service plan during the first 30 days that a new location has service. O'Mahoney said FatPort intended to copy that offering. Ehrlinspiel said that if just 10 users sign up for that offer, it essentially covers hard costs for the first full year of operation.
$5B/year coin-operated laundry service gets its own hot-spot operator: Have we nichified enough yet? This company has a good pricing model ($2.95 per hour or $5.95 per day) and a target market to hit through trade associations. It sounds like few laundromats are one-off operations.
Report on why the French lag the rest of Europe and the U.S. in Wi-Fi deployment: The hope is municipal deployments, the report's author says.
Public IP offers a standard access point and DSL for a fixed price: This interesting business is providing a Proxim Orinoco AP-2500 configured to work as a hot spot, and handling contracting DSL service for you. The pricing is upfront and clearly stated, which is a nice bit of straight talk. The advantage of their approach appears to be a single point of contact, a single standardized hardware platform, and a single bill. However, even though these systems can work with billing and authentication, you'll have to contract with another hot spot firm to provide those services.
D-Link to offer a preconfigured hot spot access point: The Airspot DSA-3100 Public/Private Gateway has a suggested price of $599, for which you get captive portal/gateway page, up to 250 local accounts, authentication pass-through for back-end 802.1X and other AAA, MAC filtering, and time/bandwidth limits and monitoring. It also has various firewall and attack monitoring options.
Configuration is handled through a Web-based interface, but it doesn't mention whether it's an encrypted, SSL/TLS Web server.
That's Harley-Davidson to you, sir: The 100th anniversary celebration of Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, expects to see 800,000 to 1.2 million folks arrive -- and they'll have Wi-Fi, courtesy of WEBbeams. How many hogs are Wi-Fi equipped? The weekend will show. One of the closed-off streets has a WEBbeams shop. They dropped me a line about the event, and I hope they'll provide some color coverage of how it all worked out.
British Telecom will wholesale access to OpenZone: Wake up and smell the reselling, everyone, with BT reportedly about to offer access to its network on a wholesale basis to other hot spot operators. BT aims for 400 hot spots by autumn, while The Cloud (run by a gaming company with relationships with all kinds of pubs) has 1,000 already.
Boingo Wireless breaks through the 2,500 mark: Boingo has been stuck at about 1,300 locations, with about 40 percent of them Wayport locations, for some time. Tomorrow's announcement, already available on their site tonight, propels them into neck-to-neck competition with T-Mobile, which has nearly 3,000 locations all under their direct control.
Boingo's deal with STSN puts them into Marriott properties, including Marriott and Renaissance hotels. Marriott aggressively rolled broadband out in the last few months, and has nearly 500 hotels equipped. STSN plans an aggressive expansion themselves, predicting several thousands locations within 12 months.
Boingo needs to crack the T-Mobile nut and they become the go-to company, with the ability to sell to corporations and individuals who want a single rate across all the major networks. At $21.95 for the next 12 months, their unlimited plan (with no cancellation penalty) has no comparison. (T-Mobile's $20/month plan requires T-Mobile cell service and a one-year commitment; the $40/month plan is month-to-month with a $25 cancellation fee.)
Even more important, increasing to over 2,500 locations -- within the next 90 days, it should be noted -- gives them the national scale and scope that will allow them to compete with Sprint PCS's new rollout as well as SBC's. This allows Boingo to more easily cut a deal with the cell carriers because they bring so much to the table.
Burglars use radio frequency detectors to find laptops: If you're already a worrier, add one more item to the list.
Intel sponsors free Wi-Fi day on Sept. 25 in the U.S.: This was rumored a few weeks ago, but I didn't have confirmation of the fact that Intel was sponsoring this day. It's a great idea: give everyone a taste for free, and you might raise the level of use by a consistent percentage point.
The list of participants includes AT&T plain and AT&T Wireless, Boingo Wireless, Cometa, iPass, Sprint, STSN (iBahn), Toshiba, Verizon Wireless, and Wayport. [via Mike Hoefflinger]
Wi-Fi increases revenue, saves bucks, but on the back end: This article focuses on retail operations turning to Wi-Fi as a cheap, standardized method to replace proprietary systems and paper scrawls. Restaurants see higher earnings, and other businesses find greater efficiencies in using Wi-Fi-based networks to convey customer information to roaming employees.
Gizmodo gives two thumbs up to SmartID's WiFi Detector: My only question is -- where can I buy one?
SmartBridges offers an outdoor router box with dynamic power controls: This seems cool, but I'm not versed enough in outdoor gear to know whether it is or not. Among other features, external LEDs for status, and dynamic output control based on cable length to your antenna.
Chair of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology shows that UWB doesn't interrupt a GPS signal, but tee-vee device (removed from market) does: A neat tour de force is getting the press to cover a cool technology demonstration of equipment not available yet outside the lab while showing that it has better characteristics than are widely reported -- at least by skeptics. [via TechDirt]
I don't like to taunt, but here goes: WirelessUSB LS should never have been released: A wireless technology that works in the same band as 2.4 GHz, is proprietary (apparently) to one maker, offers lower speeds than Bluetooth, and isn't interoperable with anything?
It's funny how this offering is appearing right now, and calling itself a contrast to proprietary technology, just at the time when Bluetooth keyboards have hit the market and Bluetooth is gaining momentum. According to this article, the current WirelessUSB LS standard runs at a few tens of kilobits per second compared with Bluetooth's 1 Mbps.
This is a component maker pushing the standard, and they say in this article that "any" WirelessUSB device will work with their dongle. Any that uses chips from them, of course. The maker touts battery life, but the uses cited are all desktop uses, which means that swapping a battery or charging a unit isn't really that big a deal.
Meanwhile, they'll have higher speeds by 2005 at which time UWB will have hit the market offering 110 to 480 Mbps over similar distances, and ZigBee (802.15.4) devices will provide the battery life while achieving similar speeds -- in a standards-supported environment.
What's its real advantage? It walks and talks like USB to the operating system and the devices. Nobody need support wacky new protocols; the chips handle it. (You can read the company's FAQ; amusingly, it's a draft document containing queries and notes for revision.)
Cypress got on the wrong boat with this technology, and we won't see it adopted anywhere by anyone but perhaps game manufacturers who have USB on board and want to add wireless controller options. I'm even surprised PC World covered it.
Stockton to San Jose train route gets Wi-Fi: As with other solutions, RailPoint uses satellite for downstream, cell for upstream. Speed isn't mentioned, but the Altamount Commuter Express Rail expects more than 25 percent of passengers to use the service. Service is free during the three-month test starting in mid-September. The provider expects their partners to charge about $10 per day or $20 to $40 per month.
Excilan pay-by-phone portal and directory: I've been interested in the Excilan model for paying for a hot spot connection by cell phone for some time, ever since FatPort tipped me to it. In Excilan's system, partner wISPs have on their gateway page a place you can enter your phone number. If your cell carrier is one of those partnered with Excilan, your phone rings and an automated system tells you the price and confirms that you want to pay. When you confirm by pressing a button on your cell phone, the system authenticates all the way back to your particular session.
The reason this model is interesting is that it doesn't require a user login or other authentication. It lets cell carriers partnered with wISPs charge whatever they want above the wholesale rate -- which could be a tiny markup if they're just trying to show off new uses. And the user gets the charge on their cell phone bill, making it easier to have it reimbursed if they work for a business.
It's not free and easy, but it is legal: You'll need a license to operate outdoor Wi-Fi, and must pay a US$9.30 fee to use it indoors (yeah, right), but it's now legal to operate.
Nextel's Wi-Fi plans aren't about hot spots, but about better in-building coverage: Nextel has partnered with RadioFrame Networks to allow its iDEN network standard to have better coverage inside buildings, while also providing 802.11b service for wireless LANs. The two are basically unrelated, but RadioFrame can add iDEN cards to Nextel corporate customers alongside their Wi-Fi cards. GSM, 802.11a, and 802.11g will follow, according to this story.
This isn't so much about Nextel branching into Wi-Fi. Rather, it's about extending their voice service by reselling a product that provides better voice performance while answering the wireless LAN need.
SSL-based virtual private networks explained with illustrations: I've been hearing quite a bit about using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security, the newer name for the same thing) for remote VPN access, but didn't fully understand how it worked until reading this article.
The traditional VPN requires a special client installed on each computer, or can use a built-in VPN client in many operating systems, such as Windows XP Professional (a couple standards) or Mac OS X 10.2 (PPTP). A VPN server/firewall terminates the connection on the enterprise side and allows access across the VPN encrypted tunnel to internal resources.
The SSL/TLS VPN uses a browser, any SSL/TLS capable one, as the front end, and delivers applications inside the browser terminating the connection behind a firewall at an SSL/TLS server which relays application data to appropriate internal resources.
Superb article on how "wider-fi" -- wireless first/final mile -- could have an impact: This excellent piece of mainstream journalism clearly identifies the hurdles and potentials for operating and purchasing wireless links and avoiding telco/cable wire. The term "wider-fi" isn't in wide use, but it's an interesting alternative to "Wi-Fi." More likely, WiMax, the trademark of The WiMax Forum, will take off as a term. It's not as euphonious as Wi-Fi, but it'll get some good mileage.
Startup company provides faster wireless speeds at greater distances: Airgo claims 108 Mbps at two to six times Wi-Fi's range using closely spaced multiple antennas that send and receive simultaneously, according to the article in the New York Times.
An engineer colleague wrote in to note that Airgo's technology employs lots of redundancy as part of its high-data rate operations, and that the device isn't full duplex: that is, it sends and receives on different channels at the same time not the same channel, which is virtually unworkable.
It's unclear to me how this product enters the market: the parameters are fine, but without compatibility, how does it proceed? Enterprises haven't deployed anything like the extent of wireless LANs that will be built out, but Wi-Fi is a tested, multi-vendor, reliable product with known qualities.
The CEO of Airgo expects adoption immediately, saying in a couple of places he expects they could be profitable in 2004. To believe that, he must have quite a few deals signed and ready to be announced. Ultrawideband (UWB), a technology without the range but with the speed necessarily to meet some of the same consumer-electronics goals has been under development for years and should finally appear in equipment soon -- by Christmas 2004.
InfoWorld's Ephraim Schwartz argues that paid hot spots will be overwhelmed by cell data except in airports: I disagree with many of the premises on which Ephraim makes his argument, but I also don't think that I can prove myself correct until a few years have passed. Perhaps we need a bookie to get involved and set odds?
I'm of two minds on for-fee hot spots: the only way for them to succeed in the long-run is to be part of larger networks that charge fixed monthly fees and to offer significantly more bandwidth than cell data can possibly provide. Cell data is a great idea, but it's a shared pool of fixed spectrum with high costs attached. The carriers are all getting involved in Wi-Fi for reasons that contradict Ephraim's: they want to leach off data onto cheaper-to-operate hot spots to keep their voice networks able to handle more and more call volume.
A couple of fundamental disagreements:
Seamless switching a vague promise? It's a near-term reality, probably first surfacing in limited form in a few months, and then widely available by the end of 2004. I don't think it's very difficult to accomplish, as I've seen a demonstration -- that required client/server software -- at NetMotion Wireless's office and in the field with their equipment.
DSL runs at 600 Kbps to 1 Mbps: I've had 1.5 Mbps ADSL that did provide nearly 1.5 Mbps of download speed. There are folks in Snohomish, a tiny town with a small central office a few dozen miles north of Seattle, who have 8 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream ADSL. DSL can operate that fast if there's a market force pushing the telcos to upgrade their central offices to support better speeds. SBC is such a company and this might be part of the motivation they need. Technically, there's no reason for DSL to run as slowly as it does.
Finally, I'll just reiterate my point: ubiquity is trumped by speed and price. It's likely that an unlimited national roaming Wi-Fi plan will cost $20 to $30 added on to a cell subscription within a year. (You can already get all T-Mobile locations for $20/month and all Boingo Wireless locations for $21.95/month.)
The 2.5G and 3G rollouts aren't priced in the same class, and cell carriers have made it clear in recent weeks that you aren't going to see 3G speeds nationally til probably 2005 or 2006 -- if they decide to commit to it, which isn't a given yet. Remember, too, that no one is quite sure whether 3G speeds will be possible in interior spaces like hotels and buildings, just as cellular voice is now problematic.
My paradox still stands: you'll pay $20 per month for for-fee Wi-Fi service all over the U.S. as a flat rate, but you'll also find lots of free service. Cell data will be much more expensive, offer lower speeds especially in congested urban areas, and have limited coverage areas for the next couple of years or more.
Sacramento airport gets Wi-Fi for $110,000: I'm so glad that airport authorities are starting to talk about the actual cost of providing service. I've been in the Sacramento airport and it's itsy-bitsy: I would be surprised if more than a dozen access points were needed, and only that many because of some odd twists and turns. The authority will pay for the cost from its share of revenue with the service provider. They're hoping for 35 users a day at $6.95.
Of course, they don't understand the market by expecting that much money over three years in that way. If they resell access to their airport to aggregators and to other networks, they might have 200 to 300 people per day use it and maybe get 50 cents to a buck per user today. Over time, perhaps several hundred users will employ it daily given the airport's volume, and they'll get only pennies per session.
If they fail to resell access, then their plan is doomed as EDGE and other cellular services ramp up. If I have a fixed monthly plan and can get 100 Kbps for "free" or pay $6.95 for 1.5 Mbps or something similar, which do I choose? Medium-speed 2.5G will certainly threaten islands of connectivity.
The New America Foundation explains spectrum policy--graphically!: A researcher at the foundation, which describes itself as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit public policy institute, alerted me to their new (and free) report, The Citizen's Guide to the Airwaves. This handsomely and expertly produced set of writings and graphics clearly shows the disproportionate value assigned to segments of spectrum, and the lumpiness and irregular approach taken by regulatory, legislative, and executive approaches to spectrum management.
The U.S. has a crisis in spectrum because of how it's been distributed, sold, given away, allowed to be used on an unlicensed basis. This document goes a long way towards explaining the fix we're in and presents ideas about how to solve it. Even better, it quantifies so much: current value of various chunks of the frequency dial, and the potential value that could be realized.
Washington State and B.C. marinas get Wi-Fi: An entrepreneur has unwired 21 marinas. Service can be reached in some places 2 miles out of the marina, and costs $6.95 per day or $39.95 per month. Better yet, the company says they have 1,000 people signed up, although from the article it's hard to tell whether that means "sessions and subscriptions" or just subscriptions. $40,000 per month would be a nice starting point, if it's all monthly revenue.
Although another group, Wheat Wireless's TeleSea division, claimed to have unwired marinas around North America, their coverage map hasn't been updated since 2002 and their press releases end in March 2003. (The company posted a comment below -- has anyone used their service in any marina?)
Fort Lauderdale to add Wi-Fi, but reveals the dollars behind it: The airport says that the cost of building out a data network across the airport was $1.6 million, of which the Wi-Fi portion was tiny. This compares to the Massports Boston-Logan request for proposals which estimates the build out cost at $2.5 million across all but Terminal E, which may have a separate arrangement.
Several hot spot firms told me that 75 percent of the cost of build out for Wi-Fi is typically the Ethernet backbone and other facilities. For the Boston proposal to get good bidders, I have heard, they need to eat their backbone costs, which could reduce the contractor's cost to perhaps $500K to $750K.
Roving Planet is cited as the company providing equipment, and the article says Roving Planet runs LaGuardia, too. As far as I know Wayport operates the OSS (billing, authentication, etc.) for LaGuardia and Concourse wired and unwired it. Did Roving Planet provide the hardware? Or that a misstatement in the article?
Wired Magazine sponsors Union Square Park Wi-Fi in Manhattan: Wired's biggest push these days is, in fact, unwired technology, and they've been covering it more and more thoroughly as the year has progressed. In this odd move, they're sponsoring Union Square Park's unwiring via Emenity, a company founded by some of the folks who also founded the community wireless networking group NYCWireless, which itself was behind the Bryant Park Wi-Fi. Wired has some sales offices in Manhattan in the Conde Nast Building.
Intel shows Wi-Fi chairs: Unfortunately, they don't have Wi-Fi built in, or even electrical outlets. Rather, they show the remains of computer cables, spelling the end of wired connections! Except that you can send data at 1 gigabit per second on a wired link, there are wires inside computers, and we still have power cords.
Apple Core Hotels use 3Com, CDW to deploy free Wi-Fi: Another entry in an increasingly long list of hotels appealing to budget/mid-range (i.e., about $75 to $150 per night) travelers that offers Wi-Fi. They discuss some of the specifics in the press release, including occupancy rates (92 percent), rates (as low as $89), and even the location of range-extending omnidirectional antennas (outside each phone closet among).
Paul Boutin nails the lid down on the coffin of for-fee hot spots: Colleague Paul Boutin writes in Wired magazine about how free Wi-Fi can cost less to offer than for-fee Wi-Fi.
Having just spent weeks talking to folks who build back-end hot spot billing systems or run hot spot networks, I don't believe the per-day cost are quite as high except for small operations. It doesn't cost T-Mobile $30 to $70 per day in non-bandwidth costs to run their authentication and billing networks. It probably does cost T-Mobile $25 to $50 per day for the T-1 line, however.
Ernie the Attorney files this report from the mean streets of N'awlins: Ernie is a Wi-Fi enthusiast, as he describes in his account of visiting coffeeshops and trolling for Wi-Fi--and engaging customers, staff, and owners. He has nothing to sell, but an idea.
I've seen the same concern expressed by coffeeshop owns. The folks who run Diva, a wonderful little place a few blocks from my office, have decided not to offer Wi-Fi because they already have table campers who sit for five hours with one cup of joe.
What they don't realize is twofold: first, the table campers could be asked to limit their time. Second, it's a different audience who comes in ready to work with Wi-Fi. They spend more, they spread information better, they can't sit still for long.
I've watched Herkimer Coffee, six blocks from Diva, which makes an equivalently good brew, grow its audience in just a few weeks from zero to packed almost every time I'm in there -- they have free Wi-Fi, more seating, outlets all over the place, and no problems with squatters so far.
One fellow, I see in there all the time. Every time I go in. He's got an expensive Dell. And he buys a lot of coffee.
Now we have to remember to turn Bluetooth security on: Few devices equals security by obscurity. Millions and we have to remember to enable the features that protect us.
Wi-Fi will show up in passenger trains in the UK and the US: a London to Scotland run and from San Jose, California, up to near the capital of the state: The UK test comes from GNER, a private rail operator, which is using Swedish technology to equip a long run from Kings Cross in London to Scotland. Eventually, 40 trains in its fleet will be equipped with satellite receivers if the three-month trial is successful. No mention of cost.
Zoom 1/3 of the way around the globe with me to the California coast, Silicon Valley's headquarters -- San Jose and Santa Clara. Caltrans is installing test service on their most popular route, which carried 1.13 million passengers in the last year. A Canadian firm is supplying the technology, which uses satellite for downstream and cellular for upstream. Only one car will be equipped on one train for the test.
Newsday writes about a rocking barbershop with Wi-Fi: The barbershop offers Wi-Fi more as a lark than a real draw, but the article looks into the whole phenomenon with a Long Island focus.
Alan Reiter has the scoop: McDonald's will use Toshiba in Chicago: I can't find the news anywhere else, so Alan gets the credit. The Toshiba division that's building turnkey hot spots will unwire 130 McDonald's; 60 are done already.
FatPort spans Canada: B.C. to New Brunswick: FatPort has signed 2,000 customers up, and is adding three locations a week, while having strung wireless (an oxymoron I like to use) across the Great North. FatPort told me that the pace of sign-ups accelerates as they add locations. Most of FatPort's current expansion is from partners licensing their platform but allowing roaming to all subscribers in the network.
SmallNetBuilder says Microsoft's FCC filings show 802.11g products on the way: Microsoft's first line of home wireless broadband adapters and gateway were well received. The manual, 96 pages long, received high marks. The next generation of gear is quietly on the way, perhaps due out his fall, supporting 802.11g.
In a crowded field, does being an early adopter help you sustain your lead? Wayport will find out: Monday's New York Times features this piece by yours truly that focuses on Wayport's role in the development of broadband access, increasingly Wi-Fi, in business locations. I've been interviewing folks for weeks, and the timing couldn't be better: the article almost ran last Monday, before Wayport and SBC announced their deal, discussed in the article. Sometimes the stars align. A week earlier, and the article would have asked more questions about Wayport's long-term future, but after last Wednesday, it's clear they have a great potential to continue to have an edge when recruiting new venues and reselling their service to new partners.
It was a great experience writing this, my first feature for the Times's Business section, in that I had a chance to talk to the heads or top executives of most of the hot spot and hotel broadband firms. It's really the culmination of weeks of short articles and other work in which I've spoken to most of the cellular operators and many of the companies rolling out hot spots in their own locations, such as Marriott International, Schlotzsky's Delis, and McDonald's.
What are some conclusions that I made outside of the scope of this article?
1. Airports may have to offer much more on the table than Boston-Logan was willing to in the first draft of their request for competitive proposals. Clearly, requiring that the Wi-Fi contractor build their own physical plant (wired backbone, more electrical outlets, service closets, etc.) isn't a winning strategy in the eyes of potential bidders. Expect more on this as deadlines pass.
2. The number of hot spot locations is growing faster than I realized -- the big push is finally on, and the financing isn't coming from the hot spot operators. Because locations are investing in their own infrastructure, the last piece is in place to have thousands of locations unwire in the next six months.
3. Free or for-fee isn't as critical an issue as whether the infrastructure companies like Wayport can derive enough revenue for profit and growth by building out service. The consumer side of the equation may still be up in the air, but Wayport's model is increasingly to take a very small per-use fee in exchange for having more and more locations at which they collection those tithings.
Michael Oh et al try to bring business-sponsored Wi-Fi to larger area: The notion is that a number of businesses underwrite the nominal cost as a factor in bringing more customers into the area as a whole. Businesses don't charge customers for air conditioning, Michael Oh says, so why charge for Wi-Fi? Ah, but businesses don't let customers use their phone for free, either.
802.11g in a mixed b/g network only delivers about twice the performance of 802.11b by itself: Matthew Gast, author of 802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide, walks through the math of how fast 802.11a, b, g, and b/g networks really are. His conclusion is that a b/g network can only run at about 1.6 to 2.4 times faster -- measured in actual data payload -- than an 802.11b only network.
The good news is that 802.11g in its pure mode does run about five times faster when measuring real data.
Bumping folks off Wi-Fi network a "new" attack?: I've been hearing about this attack for at least 1 1/2 years. Deauthentication (and disassociation) requests aren't authenticated in the same way as the reverse process. Thus, a bunch of valid but inserted requests of this sort can provide Denial of Service (DoS).
The problem is at the MAC layer, if I recollect correctly: changes need to be made in the 802.11 MAC to prevent this kind of DoS. The paper that describes this problem appropriately notes that its contributions are more practical and advisory than new: they have a lengthy bibliography that credits previous reports.
Wireless thinkers weigh in on when a venue can charge for Wi-Fi or offer it for free: Two of my favorite wireless Web writers offer their opinions with some back and forth on when a venue should consider charging for Wi-Fi access and when to go free. Mike Masnick opines here and then Alan Reiter speaks out.
Here's my brain teaser. If you believe folks like John Yunker, and I do, most hotels with broadband won't charge for it within a few years. Most airports, I argue, will charge for Wi-Fi indefinitely -- unless the cell data pricing changes dramatically and speeds increase.
So puzzle this: if you're a traveler and you know that in any given month you might have to pay fixed daily amounts for Wi-Fi, even though you might also have plenty of other opportunities to use it for free, would you pay a fixed $20 per month for unlimited service at 20,000 locations (including most airports and hotels) across the U.S. to mitigate any possible marginal expense? Between now and a few years from now the majority of business locations will continue to charge, too, making that $20 per month more than a marginal savings.
My contradictory conclusion is that while Wi-Fi will become increasingly free, so, too, will subscribers grow at that not-so-hypothetical $20/month rate that T-Mobile currently offers to its cell subscribers and Boingo Wireless ($21.95) is offering via a 12-month promotion.
Here's where I get slippery. The more subscribers and the more usage, the less venues will receive per user. A hotel with 200 people using their broadband/Wi-Fi network each night might only split, say, $50 to $100 with a hot spot operator, if that. Maybe slightly higher if even a few people purchase $5 or $10 one-day connections.
The venue thus sees a marginal return on charging and would probably be bearing the cost of some of the infrastructure. Thus, spending a small amount per user paid as a fee to the hot spot operator and not charging could be cheaper.
A hot spot operator who might receive even $25 to $50 per day from a hotel could profitably operate that venue for free; or, for a little higher, for a fee (the extra cost is in authentication, billing, and customer service for billing).
That's the whole contradiction. At a point when 10,000,000 users roam with $20/month Wi-Fi accounts, the actual payments for site usage become so small for each connection as to only provide a marginal return on investment rather than a real revenue source. A traveler like myself might burn through 50 connections (even if it's five minutes in an airport) across amonth; how do you split $20 less overhead and profit among all those venues?
Venues have to turn more and more to justifying Wi-Fi as an infrastructure and IT cost that also brings in more customers instead of as a revenue generator.
In my view, then, it doesn't precisely matter whether venues charge or not, because people will subscribe to avoid unpredictable rates in the minority of places that they need access and don't have an option for. With cell data rates remaining low and fees remaining high, $20 per month is also a marginal rate to pay to get high-speed access in those for-fee venues.
Let's look at the big picture: Michael Tippett of BlueHereNow kindly turned my musings on the number of upcoming hot spots in the U.S. into a nifty graph that shows quite stunningly what the predictions entail:
The IEEE's latest work may provide Bluetooth's death knell, but not for four years: I write in an upcoming InfoWorld print edition (this is the advance online version) about the work being done in the Wireless Personal Area Neworking working group (802.15)'s high bit rate task group at the IEEE. This group is focused on fast, easy, and low power for streaming media and other big files.
The leading contender for the physical layer at 802.15.3a is ultrawideband. One proposal has garnered more votes, but some issues have to be resolved for it to be adopted. If it can't pass, another UWB proposal probably will, but the winner won't show up in silicon for a year or so and won't be widely available and cheap until 2006 or 2007.
What's the joy with UWB? Very high speeds over very short distances. Imagine walking in with your laptop and even as you get near your office, a file transfer starts that, in a minute or so, moves hundreds of megabytes between them. Imagine plopping a hard drive next to your computer and seeing it mount. Imagine wheeling a shared scanner into your office and just starting to work. Imagine having several monitors, none of them connected, all of them providing extremely high-quality displays -- and your computer is in a closet next door.
None of this is even remotely science fiction; it's the logical evolution of wireless PANs in the context of personal and enterprise computing.
Bluetooth is not an inherently bad spec, but it has two key failings, which were limitations of the time it was developed: the first is speed. 1 Mbps turns out to not be a USB replacement except for very low-speed peripherals like keyboards. It's even frustrating for synchronization. That was a feature of the engineering possible at the time. (802.15.3, not .3a, provides a kind of Bluetooth migration using spread spectrum in 2.4 GHz but at 11 to 55 Mbps; it was just finalized and it on its way to approval, but .3a stole its thunder.)
The other failure was the difficulty of use. Recently, some Bluetooth SIG marketing folks have talked about getting down the time to hook two Bluetooth devices together to five minutes. I'm an experienced Bluetoother and it still takes me a bunch of monkeying around.
The 802.15.3 task group has simplified connections to avoid these problems, and .3a kicks the speed up to 110 to 480 Mbps. These two changes alone will make Bluetooth potentially superfluous when .3a hits because .3a also has good battery life.
Another group has worked on extremely good battery life: 802.15.4, which is already being marketed as ZigBee with no products in sight. ZigBee wants six months to two years of usage out of, say, a couple of AA batteries. Because its intended to replace infrared controls and other devices that use wires for very very little data (like alarm circuits), it might wind up using UWB running at just a few tens of kilobits per second.
The clear outcome of 802.15 in general is massive success: they've taken a niche part of the industry, gotten huge semiconductor firms involved, and potentially moved us into the wireless office of tomorrow -- we just have to wait for it to arrive.
Wall Street Journal shows how startups and first-movers have been swallowed and squashed by the big firms (link good for one week): The Journal looks at the sweep of companies involved in Wi-Fi, from the earliest stages to the present, and how Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, and T-Mobile have figured out how to co-opt and buy in.
What's always been funny about Wi-Fi is that it's never been tiny companies or hobbyists who have developed the equipment, unlike some previous generations of grassroots technology. The chips, the gear, the firmware, it's all been made by relatively well-funded startups and spinoffs.
But as sales have grown, so has control by the usual parties. Since Wi-Fi is unlicensed and, so far, interoperable, that hasn't been a bad thing: it hasn't stifled innovation (companies still spring up on the periphery: Trapeze, Tropos, Vivato), or caused proprietary problems.
So far. So far.
Cisco's proprietary extensions that chipmakers have signed up for are one large thundercloud on the horizon. Secured/encrypted EAP for network authentication is another.
If the industry standards together, they rise together.
T-Mobile cuts 300-minute pay-as-you-go plan in favor of $10/day option: T-Mobile formerly offered 300 minutes for $50 or about $8.33 per hour with a 15-minute minimum usage per session. Minutes supposedly expired 120 minutes after purchase, though many people told me minutes never actually expired in their experience. (I know something about MobileStar-cum-T-Mobile's hot spot billing system, so this makes sense.)
The new option is $9.99 for "24 continuous hours"; it expires 24 hours from purchase or 120 days from purchase, depending on the kind of purchase, I guess. You can still pay $6.00 for one hour and 10 cents per minute thereafter, which is hardly a deal.
I was told back in April that a day plan from T-Mobile was imminent but was asked to not discuss it. The price I'd heard was substantially less: in fact, the $6.00/60 minutes option would have disappeared.
Does this make T-Mobile more competitive? Or are they trying hard to convert occasional users into $20 to $40 per month subscribers? More likely, they push Clay Shirky (see below) from Starbucks to free locations or cheaper per-minute options nearby.
Surf and Sip and FatPort remain the only hot spot networks with wide coverage where, if you buy directly from them, you can pay on all kinds of per-unit plans. Boingo, Wayport, T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, and Cometa only offer per-large-unit (typically per day) plans, with Wayport's $4.99 for two hours in SF McDonald's being the only major exception.
Defcon's Wi-Fi shootout produces unusually shaped winner: At the annual hacker conference, Defcon -- that's hacker like "people who hack together cool stuff" (mostly) not hacker as in cracker -- a long-distance Wi-Fi shootout resulted in an interesting winner. The folks threw together an interesting idea at the last minute and spanned over 35 miles! A Vivato reseller was in the mix and hit under 6 miles in the sere, wet, hot, dangerous desert landscape.
Australian ski village turns to wireless for logistics, operations, and, eventually, guest access: This is an excellent case study of how wireless allows a company to achieve a lot of related, but separately difficult goals with a single system that they don't pay recurring telco costs on and which is flexible for deployment and expansion.
The ski resort put in 2 Mbps link (the article doesn't explain why 11 Mbps wasn't an option) to connect various mountains and provide Internet access distributed across the system. They can remotely control snow making machines (hope your network is secure, folks), and will eventually be able to use wireless to authenticate tickets instead of requiring manual pass checkers.
(When I skied at Montana's Big Sky last year, there were no lines: partly because the big snow hadn't fallen yet by late January, partly because of the nature of the place, and partly because the turnstiles for access to the liftlines were self-serve, scanning one's pass.)
Toshiba introduces high-resolution streaming camera for $799 that uses Wi-Fi: This new device is uniquely targeted for security monitoring with lots of nice touches. Among other issues, Toshiba includes on-board SecureDigital storage in case the camera goes down, and an associated Web site with up to 400 Gb of storage for an extra fee. [via Gizmodo]
Hot spot market might finally take off in the next few months: Those of you who have read this Web log or met me might know that I've been saying for many many moons that the only way in which the hot spot market turns from a collection of small, independent firms pursuing niche business models that might or might not turn a profit into an actual industry with ubiquitous coverage was that the telecom firms, especially cell telcos, had to get involved.
The last few days have been a whirlwind of announcements and revealed plans that suggest that even if the revenue isn't there, the build-out money is not guaranteed: there are too many parties with too much at stake to not build the network, allow roaming, and see if users come.
This is an entirely separate question from whether there is money to be made in charging for hot spot service, which itself is a different question from whether there is money to be made building out Wi-Fi service.
Let's look at the promises made this year, many of them in recent interviews I've conducted with the operators:
Airpath (back-end only): 300 today, 900 by year's end, 4,500 in 12 months
Cometa: 5,000 in 12 months, 20,000 in 2 years (75 today)
STSN: 500 today, several thousand in two years (may include some or all of Marriott's 1,700 budget hotels with free access by end of 2004)
Surf and Sip: over 300 today, 200 in the next month and a half, at least several hundred more next year
Wayport: 500 today, 1,500 in two years (not including SBC's 6,000 managed locations)
Now let's look at the cell/telecom market:
AT&T Wireless: reselling Wayport, operating Denver airport
Cingular: partnership with SBC by end of 2004 for 3G/Wi-Fi roaming
SBC: hundreds by year's end, 6,000 locations within 3 years
Sprint PCS: 800 soon (Wayport/Airpath), 2,100 by end of year
T-Mobile: 2,700 today, at least 4,000 with current commitments within 12 months
Verizon Wireless: reselling Wayport (parent company predicts 10,000 DSL-subscriber-only hot spots in next year)
Somebody tell me again how the hot spot market is dead? Of all of those companies building service, none of them have an issue with burning cash. They either have the cash to burn or they are partnering with venues who will pay much of the capital cost.
We're about to see a domestic market of about 5,000 hot spots (which includes hotels with just public Wi-Fi) grow to 10,000 to 15,000 by year's end and 30,000 to 40,000 by the end of 2004. The commitments are now there. They just need to find the customers.
SBC Communications to roll out 6,000 hot spots using Wayport (free reg. req.): SBC plans to 6,000 hot spots at business venues mostly in territory it provides phone service to, including California and Texas. The story notes that SBC will resell Wayport's network; Wayport also told me today that they will building out service on SBC's behalf and providing the back-office services.
SBC defined the rollout slightly differently than other hot spot operators, saying there would be 20,000 access points at 6,000 locations. Since hotels might require dozens of access points, I'm not sure if they mean areas of access (such as several spots at a mall, or hotel rooms and public areas as two separate areas) rather than actual hardware devices. SBC hasn't announced pricing.
Interestingly, SBC owns the majority chunk of Cingular, which is one of only two cell companies who haven't announced Wi-Fi plans; Nextel is the other. An alert reader noted that the press release from SBC contains more information about the Cingular/SBC arrangements than the stories covering this matter:
SBC Communications will use its relationship with Cingular to bring to market a service that combines the strengths and benefits of Wi-Fi hot spots and 3G wireless data services. The service will allow subscribers to move between their home or office SBC broadband service, SBC FreedomLink Wi-Fi hot spots and Cingular's network, while experiencing not only speed and mobility, but service consistency and simplicity as well.
Cingular is already deploying EDGE, which is pseudo-3G (Cingular says 170 Kbps max). The integrated service is expected to be available in late 2004 or early 2005. There's your roadmap.
Cisco says that Wi-Fi grew its revenue: Several stories like this one say Cisco's purchase of Linksys coupled with aggressive enterprise sales were one of the big factors in the huge profit this fiscal year.
Panera says eventually, 1,000 hot spots; for now, 60 and then 70: The Panera Bread Company has equipped 70 stores with free hot spots and another 60 will be unwired by year's end. Eventually, they plan to unwire all 1,000 locations.
42-inch and 50-inch plasma displays with built-in 802.11a: Sony will introduce $10,000 and $12,000 television sets later this year. Why the Wi-Fi? The remote control pad is actually also a Web browser and second television display with 800-by-480-pixel resolution! It connects to the TV via 802.11a, and the TV must have some kind of Ethernet or other connection built in to hook into broadband. Yes, I'd love one for my birthday, but my wife and I would have to sell half the furniture in our living room to fit the smaller unit. [via Gizmodo]
The slow Wi-Fi'er spoils the broth: I've been reluctant to link to any news covering this story, because I think the journalists writing about it don't understand that it's well known that a slow user on an Wi-Fi network can drag the speed down.
The French paper is a formal analysis of the problem with lots of detail, and that's terrific. But it's a long-known phenomenon that users who connect at slower speeds occupy more time slots, reducing the overall speed of the network.
Some network administrators turn off backward compatibility for this reason, forgoing dropdown speeds to trade off better overall throughput.
Jupitermedia rebrands 802.11 Planet as Wi-Fi Planet: In a welcome change, Jupitermedia's 802.11 Planet Web site and conference are rebranded as Wi-Fi Planet. Much easier to say Wi-Fi Planet than Eight Oh Two Dot Eleven Planet. They'll also cover VoIP over Wi-Fi and WiMax (trade group for 802.16).
WiFi411: Feedback on how they work welcome.
The fine folks at Shmoo bring us a robot network dog: At Defcon, the security-minded Schmoo-izens demonstrate a robot that monitors Wi-Fi networks for security violations. It has two cards: one for communicating back and the other for monitoring. "What is it, boy? You say Timmy is stuck down the well with only a WAP-enabled phone? We'll never rescue him!"
(Earlier, I wrote that Andy Capp drew the strip, but, in fact, Andy is a fictional cartoon character who lurches about in a drunken stupor.)
Read this Q&A carefully: can you spot the content?: Fascinating how this executive manages to avoid say anything at all. I'm being unfair. He also hypes some coming products that don't exist and definitely states they're not creating Toshiba-like turnkey hot spots.
John Barnhart sent this photo from a trip to London. Where's your laptop been? Send me photographs.
Critical Friends of Technology files this report on three aspects of wireless (mostly cell, but some Wi-Fi): The report covers developing nations use of wireless technologies, the environmental impact of wireless (including disposable cell phone systems coming on the market), and health issues associated with wireless.
Interestingly, on the last point, health is broadly defined as both the interaction of wireless systems of all kinds and medical telemetry and other medical devices, and the direct impact of wireless on human health.
(I'm asked all the time about whether Wi-Fi poses a health threat, and I point people to an extensive lists of questions and answers at the FCC site.)
Proxim adds 802.11a to its point-to-point and long-haul portfolio: The Tsunami MP.11a uses plain old 802.11a to run what they claim is up to 30 Mbps of real throughput out of the 54 Mbps standard. You can also bond channels together to boost bandwidth. The base station unit is $1,295 and can support up to 100 subscriber units. They have a business subscriber system for $695 which will handle multiple antennas, or a residential subscriber unit for $495 for a single antenna, including an "indoor" style one that mounts in a window with a self-install -- if the subscriber has line of sight!
Hughes Network Systems offer turnkey hot spot system for RV parks with satellite backhaul: Another poorly written press release that seems geared to several audiences simultaneously: the consumer, the press, and the actual RV park owner. What I can determine here is that Hughes is combining a hot spot turnkey system for local Wi-Fi, including billing (from whom?), with a satellite backhaul. I'm not sure why they're targeting RV parks, but it might be installed base.
There's no pricing information included, of course, nor bandwidth details. Alan Reiter has more on the story.
And, of course, there's this Hughes competitor in the field, Aloha Networks, which is specializing in what they're calling SkyDSL: a way to use satellite bandwidth more effectively for backhaul. The company is run by the father of an old friend, and named, I suspect, for the Alohanet -- the packet-based radio network that inspired Bob Metcalfe in his development of Ethernet and was the genesis of the modern Wi-Fi movement decades later.
Voice over IP over Wi-Fi continues to show promise: Two stories today, one in NetworkWorldFusion on VoIP in the mud and Vocera in the hospital and the other, a baffling press release from Motorola and NEC full of marketing buzz about WLANs, cellular, and VoIP.
The former story describes a mining camp in Laos being set up with VoIP and a satellite dish as the only reasonable way to run communications. (Previous generations would have settled for walkie-talkies.) NWFusion also writes about Vocera's introduction into a hospital -- Vocera has a nifty communicator device for telephony that ties right in WLAN systems.
The Motorola and NEC announcement seems to be the intent to work together, but not an actual product. They'll develop some combo system that can handle cellular and Wi-Fi while providing VoIP, all in a single handset. Or so I think when I cast away the marketing phrases and jargon.
Steve Stroh notes a new backhaul option in New York City: Steve, who writes Focus on Broadband Wireless Internet Access wrote in to note that even though wired T-1 might be $650 or much more per month, a telecom firm called TowerStream is now offering Wi-Fi backhaul wirelessly for what he believes is $365 per Mbps per month. Given the excessive pricing for T-1 in metropolitan markets, we'll see if they can get enough line of sight to beat the pants off wireline services.
Although Verizon Wireless confirmed their plans to me last week, this makes it formal: Verizon Wireless has been talking about roaming on Wayport's network since March, but I believe this is the official announcement that the deal is done. As with the Sprint PCS announcement, pricing and timetable to come. Verizon Wireless said last week that it would be in the fall.
D-Link AirPlus DI-614+ 2.4GHz 802.11b 22Mbps Wireless Cable/DSL Router for $28.95: As Cory Doctorow said linking to this on BoingBoing: God, WiFi gear is so cheap, it's nearly free.
This unit supports the mostly defunct 802.11b+ (Texas Instruments) PBCC encoding but only in talking with other plus devices.
Australians bring token ring to Wi-Fi bandwidth throttling, quality of service: This interesting project allows standard Wi-Fi to be queue packets using client software. The token dramatically reduces collisions and other network throughput reducers. Of course, it means that everyone on the network needs to install special software, and they don't appear to have a method of not allowing people on who aren't using "frottle."
Solomon Islands build inexpensive wireless network to connect families and world: The article explains the super cool PFnet or People First Network, a project which will transform communications among far-flung islands and perhaps improve their economic lot. In examining the CIA World Book entry, there's not a lot of detail about how much individuals make. The rate of SOL$5 looks to be about a US dollar. (Of course, I'm not a fuzzy-headed one-worlder: I believe local economies are much more important for agrarian/non-heavy-industry quality of life rather than the World Bank, cash crop for export approach.) [via BoingBoing]
Mike Sullivan reports from the clean streets of Manhattan: Mike wandered around a bunch of Cometa's hot spots in McDonald's around Manhattan and agreed to let me share his report:
I had an afternoon off today in Manhattan, so I took the opportunity to scope out three of the new McDonald's Wi-Fi locations in Midtown, each of them along 42nd Street. My client system was my trusty Apple iBook 500Mhz, a notebook known for its excellent Wi-Fi signal reception. Here's what I found:
220 W. 42nd Street - One of the busiest McDonald's locations in the world. Signal strength in the second-floor seating area was 4 bars (best possible) and held strong. Browser login seems overly complicated, with the user getting presented with four screens and a checkbox user agreement before getting the message that you are connected to the Internet. But I had intermittent success loading popular sites: Slashdot loaded fine; Apple.com did not. My Yahoo! loaded fine, your Wi-Fi site did not; NYC's MTA site would not load; McDonalds.com did. POP3 mail came and went just fine, and Apple iChat was able to get connected and worked fine. No idea why some of the sites did not load, but I found this to be a consistent issue at all four locations I visited. This location has video projectors showing promotional videos on the walls of the seating area promoting the Centrino/Wireless functionality.
1109 6th Avenue - Signal strength 3 bars in the center of the seating area. Same problems loading the same sites mentioned above. iChat and Mail worked fine.
18 E. 42nd (5th Ave.) - Signal strength only one or two bars in the front (street side) of the 2nd level seating area. Same site loading problems as above. iChat and Mail worked fine. I guess McDonald's 'Centrino-certified' signal coverage isn't as solid as one might hope.
For comparison, I stopped at a table in Bryant Park, along the 42nd Street side, and got an immediate 4 bars of signal strength, a quick login after just one screen of info and the user agreement, and perfect functionality with all apps. The signal and service from this free, non-commercial hotspot (BryantPark.org / NYCWireless.net) was better and easier than any of the McD Wireless sites.
So, I'd say Cometa/AT&T/McD has some work to do to make the experience easier and more technically smooth for users. But the mere fact that they are up and running, even with some glitches, bodes well for the future of near-ubiquitous Wi-Fi service in Manhattan.
Thanks for the report, Mike!
The FCC offers its guests coffee, tea, and Wi-Fi, and I don't know about the coffee or tea (PDF format): Dewayne Hendricks sent out the press release to his list, noting that for insiders, the 8th floor is where FCC commissioners and their staff hang out.
More reports on problems with the credit-card sized Kensington WiFi Finder: I posted a report from Bob Rudis on his early experience with the first cheap and small device that alerts you to Wi-Fi networks. Now, even more bad news via Kensington's technical support quoted in a post to Dave Farber's Interesting People list as to why networks aren't being found:
There are 2 possibilities: 1) Your work has an encrypted network, by
design the wifi finder will not detect networks that do not want to be
detected. The wifi finder will detect a peer to peer network at your
work site but you had better check with your helpdesk/IT manager before
setting up peer to peer wireless networks - this can compromise your
companys security and maybe even your job!
2) Your work is using a recently upgraded form of 802.11g. Network
speed helps productivity so it is likely your IT manager is always
looking for ways to go faster. The wifi finder design uses a version of
802.11g prior to that standards finalization. It is possible that your
network has been upgraded and wifi finder does not yet know how to look
for that network protocol. Look for updated Kensington wifi finders
Uh, what about our existing units? Will Kensington replace them? There's no interface, so I can't see how they'd provide a firmware upgrade.
Why does fee cost more than free to run? Scott Rafer wrote several days ago that it cost about $30 per day to run a for-fee hot spot, while a free hot spot cost $6 per day. I commented on his remarks, and he responded in the comments section.
In the last week, I've been interviewing hot spot operators for an article I'm working on, and Scott's comments came up a few times. Most of the operators were vaguely dismissive, pointing out that for most venues, even ones they operated, the cost were pretty minimal even when dividing out OSS (back end billing and authentication) across the system.
But it struck me that there's one key difference between most free and fee hot spots: a T-1 one. Many of the fee networks have decided a T-1 line is the basic level of service they want. Speakeasy Networks will sell you a T-1 for about $650 per month with unlimited bandwidth in many parts of the country. Other providers, with different assurances and network configurations, could charge much more. But evn at $650 per month, you've got to recoup $20 per day just to pay bandwidth.
Free hot spots are more likely to employ an inexpensive DSL or cable modem connection that can cost $50 to $100 per month, or more like a few bucks a day to recoup.
Until backhaul drops significantly, we'll probably continue to see that disparity. With low usage rates at hot spots, the big cost may remain high-quality backhaul. DSL has latency and reliability issues, even with good providers; T-1 typically doesn't.
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Editor Glenn Fleishman: Glenn writes about the effects of wireless networks on society and business as a regular contributor to The New York Times, The Seattle Times (Macintosh columnist), The Economist, Popular Science, O'Reilly Network, and Macworld magazine, among many others. He has co-authored several books, including The Wireless Networking Starter Kit and Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Extreme Network.
Glenn has a degree in graphic design from Yale University, but has pursued technology since 1979, when his parents bought him an OSI C1P 6502-processor-based computer while he was in junior high. Despite forays into other endeavors, his interests remain technology-based, now focused on the implications of technology - specific and general - on individuals and society. And really cool toys.
Associate Editor Nancy Gohring: Nancy Gohring has been writing about the wireless industry since the mid-90s when the cellular market first opened to competition. She served as wireless beat reporter for Telephony and later for Interactive Week, covering cellular industry events around the globe. In 2003-2004, Nancy contributed to this site as well as The New York Times, The Seattle Times, InfoWorld, Network World, and Wireless Week, among others. Her stories examine the business model behind public Wi-Fi networks as well as the value and technical challenges of WLANs in enterprises.
In 2005, Nancy became a full-time staff reporter for IDG News Service where you will find her present writing.
A dual-GPRS and CDMA 1xRTT laptop PC Card allows data in Europe and the US: Something we didn't expect to see so soon, this card allows Verizon Wireless to sweep in more business travelers who also need data access while they're in Europe, where GPRS rules the 2.5G roost. [via Alan Reiter, via Gizmodo]
Uninformed security experts critique Boeing's Connexion service: In an odd article, TruSecure (normally intelligent sensible people) are quoted criticizing Boeing's Connexion service as if they don't quite understand what it is. Connexion uses phased-array antennas to communicate at 1 Mbps up and 5 to 20 Mbps down between a plane in flight and a satellite.
The TruSecure experts sound as if they think the plane is communicating with the ground -- are they just suggesting that a ground-based cracker could gain access to the in-flight Wi-Fi, used just within the plane to connect? Seems unlikely at those signal strength levels. They also make it sound as if the Wi-Fi might not work on the planes, despite Boeing's years of testing, successful Lufthansa flights over three months with real passengers, and strict FAA and international testing.
I'm not sure where the beef is here, but it's even stranger that an article was written quoting such clearly uninformed parties. I have to hope they were severely misunderstood. [via TechDirt]
Internet access tax moratorium extends to wireless Internet: This sounds like it refers just to final-mile wireless, not public Wi-Fi. [via DeWayne Hendricks]
Nigel Ballard fears the Wi-Fi man who lurks at night (link expires in 7 days): Is the new boogieman someone parked outside your house using free Wi-Fi? New strange tales of late-night Wi-Fi, and some excellent connections being made about whether free Wi-Fi makes sense.
Volunteer bandwidth restores Portland, Oregon's Pioneer Courthouse Square free Wi-Fi: Nothing nefarious about a company moving its headquarters and being unable to continue to provide donated bandwidth. The Portland Business Alliance is provided the service via donated bandwidth from EasyStreet Online Services. [via Nigel Ballard]