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Writer tries out British GNER's train-based Wi-Fi with a Webcam: The long trip becomes boring, and the writer pulls out a massive Webcam to transmit images back to his home office. And we thought cell-phone cameras were intrusive enough!
News.com reports that a formal Swisscom/Colubris deal should be announced Monday worth $5-6M for Colubris: The firm has already had 12,000 of its access points installed at 1,900 Swisscom hotspots across Europe.
The always interesting Rafe Needleman writes at the Always On network about a digital picture frame company that started with the equivalent of eBay bargain hunting: Wallflower's Wi-Fi-enabled digital picture frames were originally reassembled components from cheap, unused, underpowered laptops bought from eBay. The company switched to commodity parts and assembly once they hit the scale. But they were creating something between a prototype and a finished production model for their early sales.
Where this backfires? Every one of the first 150 units is handmade, and if it fails, there's no way to know precisely what went wrong. Eventually, even with a lot of care, they'll eat their first 150 sales by replacing them with production-line units, unless they already ate the sales by overengineering them.
Currently the largest ship ever built, the Queen Mary 2 features Wi-Fi throughout: The QM2 not only makes its own fresh water (by distilling sea water) and consumes its own waste with microbes, but the ship was designed with Wi-Fi in mind, offering access throughout. Prices weren't stated, but text SMS messages cost $1.50 each to send, so let's scale up from there.
(Headline an homage to this Onion story.)
I posed the question yesterday: have any 802.11b cards released before 2003 received WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) upgrades via firmware: Apple released theirs last week, as I noted last night, allowing AirPort Cards to support the newer, robust WPA security for encrypting network traffic.
Several readers pointed me to WPA upgrades that span from June to December of last year. Linksys released a WPC11 v3.0 WPA patch in June. The WPC11 v3 was one of their best selling Wi-Fi cards.
Agere offers firmware upgrades for its older products (Hermes 1), although it advises that you contact co-branded OEM of your card, instead of using these. The Hermes 1 radio system is in a few dozen cards, including the Orinoco 802.11b models; download the Windows drivers, unzip, and read the Readme file for the full list. This page also includes a link to Linux source code, too, but I'm not sure if the firmware update is encapsulated in it.
Proxim, which purchased the Agere Wi-Fi line-up last year, changed their white paper that stated several months ago that drivers for the Orinoco 802.11b Silver and Gold cards would be available to this latest version, which states they will not. (If that URL doesn't work, search for WPA in the KnowledgeBase and follow the link "Where can I find information on Proxim and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)?") Still, you can use the Agere link above.
Specific vendors have released support, however, as Agere notes. Here's the link from Dec. 15, 2003, for the Dell TrueMobile 1150.
Older Intersil Prism-based access points and gateways, including the AirPort Base Station, aren't upgradable to WPA. However, the hostap project allows you to take an older Prism card from an AP, plug it into a Linux box, and have a revised WPA-supported AP, although not a freestanding device--unless it's a wee tiny Linux computer. Read the site for more details. Work is still underway There's also a project to provide open-source drivers with WPA supplicants, as noted here.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in ("Shaxx Shaxx," Stan Chesnutt, Jim Thompson).
A former Al Gore aid supplies hotspots for reporters on the campaign trail: Nathan Naylor travels to popular campaign events, setting up hotspots so that reporters can file stores. Reporters pay for the service. Naylor recently offered them Internet access at the Iowa caucus and at caucus-night parties for four of the Democratic candidates for $100.
The Telecommunications Industry Association released results from its annual review and forecast of the wireless industry: It expects spending on Wi-Fi services to increase from $48 million this year to $270 million in 2007. The study differentiates between services and equipment spending but doesn't offer projections specifically for Wi-Fi equipment spending.
The next time you're in Singapore, you might want to avoid unauthorized use of Wi-Fi networks: Warchalkers and wardrivers can be fined, put in prison, or even caned.
The Duke of York, who reports indicate had three thousand men, marched them up the hill to see Wi-Fi and down again: I have rarely read such euphonious words as, The Duke of York showed considerable interest in our latest developments in WiFi, 3G and broadband.
This is perhaps only matched by the repeated line in The Annals of Improbable Research: Thus, they at once began to quarrel about the nut.
Broadcom won't play into Chinese requirement for in-country manufacture of chips with proprietary security standard: The pressure has been building for months, ever since China's new WAPI standard was suddenly announced. Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) is a homegrown proprietary extension to Wi-Fi that only a handful of Chinese manufacturers have access to. Equipment made and sold in China after Dec. 1, 2003, must have WAPI support, and chips must be made in China.
The head of the Wi-Fi Alliance says in this article that sharing U.S. chip manufacturing secrets with Chinese companies could result in piracy of their designs. Discussions are continuing.
I have assumed all along, and see no reason to doubt, that the WAPI standard contains backdoor technology that will allow China to monitor any communications sent over "secure" links. Given the propensity for Chinese government monitoring of general Internet activity specifically, and warnings from security firms about purchasing technology designed in China that could contain embedded corporate espionage tools, this isn't so much speculation as a high probability.
Apple slips in its retroactive support for Wi-Fi Protected Access: The recently released AirPort 3.3 software for the Apple Macintosh operating system includes WPA support for Apple's original AirPort Card, an 802.11b device that's practically identical to the WaveLAN/Lucent/Agere/Proxim Orinoco Silver and Gold.
Apple is offering this update only for users of their newest Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) release. With other AirPort software and firmware updates, the company did not push out software for releases older than the last six to nine months.
To my knowledge, and please correct me if you have other details, this is the first release of a WPA upgrade for a pre-2003, pre-802.11g Wi-Fi card.
According to information provided to me a few months ago, it's also clear that the original AirPort Base Station does not have the capability to be upgraded to WPA compliance.
Some cellular operators in Asia and Europe are deciding to stick with EDGE networks across most areas, only deploying true 3G networks in cities: EDGE follows GPRS, currently available on many networks, on the migration path for GSM operators and was meant to be a precursor to high-speed 3G mobile networks.
The strategy has been discussed often in the U.S., somewhat due to the size of this country--it'd be a major expense to build 3G literally everywhere. During the dotcom boom, however, there was some discussion of building 3G more broadly here. Now, of course, money isn't so easy to come by so operators are falling back to the "oceans of EDGE, islands of w-CDMA" concept, as one analyst puts it. Apparently the idea is somewhat new in Europe and Asia where until recently operators had still hoped to deploy 3G everywhere.
This development could be good news to Wi-Fi operators who can build hotspots or zones in areas where the only competition may be a 100 Kbps and likely expensive EDGE offering.
Posted by Nancy Gohring at 11:25 AM | Permanent Link | Categories:
There are issues with interoperability of 802.11 gear but this writer makes some big mistakes: He says there's no certification process for Wi-Fi. I guess he's never heard of the Wi-Fi Alliance. Vendors can't use the term Wi-Fi unless they've gotten certified by the alliance. The problem is that the IEEE, which sets the standard, doesn't have a watchdog body that makes sure that vendors don't use the 802.11 designation unless they truly are in compliance with the standard. But that's the point of the Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies and serves as a watchdog to the industry. Not to sound like a Wi-Fi Alliance spokesperson, but if you're really concerned about interoperability your best bet is to be sure to buy certified gear.
The UK government is thinking about adding hotspots to rural libraries as a way to bring broadband to rural areas: Only 15 percent of rural areas have broadband access as BT doesn't think it's worth it to serve those communities. The government will experiment by building in a few libraries first.
Cable companies and retailers are offering to set up Wi-Fi networks for customers for a fee: Some charge around $250 or more for the installation and the cable companies often add an additional ongoing cost of $10 to $15 per month. I personally think those fees are pretty outrageous but I suppose for people who really hate dealing with anything related to technology this could be useful. Still, I think the woman profiled at the start of this story ought to be embarrassed--she's the IT trainer for Sotheby's. If that's her job she really should be able to set up a wireless network in her apartment.
RSA Security surveyed Wi-Fi networks used by businesses in London and found an improvement over the last year: RSA found that 66 percent of the networks use WEP; that's up from 37 percent a year ago. Despite all the buzz around security problems with Wi-Fi networks, businesses in London continue to build the networks. RSA found a 235 percent increase in the number of Wi-Fi networks used by London businesses over a year ago.
Terra Lycos, the Internet portal, will offer a hotspot finder service in Europe: A client from Perfigo will help customers sniff for nearby hotspots. The service will offer information about the available service and connect users if they want. Lycos hopes that hotspot operators will provide regular updates about their hotspots for the Lycos database.
The Perfigo clight will create a secure connection for users and in the future will block machines that are infected by viruses.
The client will display advertising and in the beginning the service will be free but that's likely to change. I think it's a fine idea for Lycos to want to maintain a database of hotspots but I'm not sure why anyone would pay for this service. There are plenty of free lists online of hotspots. Plus, you don't need a special client on your laptop to find out if you're in range of a hotspot.
Both free and fee hotspots will continue to be offered in hotels and roaming needs to be improved before it means anything, said STSN CEO David Garrison. Garrison spoke yesterday to Wi-Fi Networking News about expectations for 2004, both at STSN and across the industry.
STSN has built Wi-Fi networks in over 500 hotels. Some charge for access and some don't. Generally, Garrison has noticed that the type of hotel that includes breakfast in the room charge--usually hotels without restaurants--also offer Wi-Fi for no additional fee. Hotels that have restaurants and tend to charge extra for breakfast also usually charge for Wi-Fi access. Both models will continue to be prevalent, he says, because no matter how you look at it the guest is still funding the wireless network. "Even where they give it away for free, you still pay for it somewhere," he notes.
Garrison thinks that roaming will continue to be a hot issue this year but it won't have much affect on users until more work is done on the backend. "Roaming deals will continue to accelerate but as a practical matter roaming is still very kludgey," he said. Currently, users must go through several steps to use a hotspot when roaming onto the network of a partner of their operator. It will take 24 to 36 months to hammer out the backend systems that will make such roaming seamless, Garrison said. For example, billing clearinghouses are just now being set up to settle billing between operators. A smoother authentication process when roaming will also make roaming easier, he said.
But probably the most important factor for business travelers will be security and STSN is working hard to position itself as the secure network operator of choice. STSN has surveyed thousands of business travelers to find that they are most interested in security, price, and ease of use. "But price matters a lot less--or not at all--if the system isn't secure," he said. "They don't care if it's free or $100 if it's not secure."
STSN has built some proprietary solutions to beef up security and plans to follow Microsoft’s lead in deploying 802.1X.
STSN built the bulk of its 500 Wi-Fi networks in 2003 and expects to grow at a similar rate in 2004. STSN grows its networks by securing approval from large hotel chains and then selling to each hotel individually. That's because many hotels may carry a brand but are owned by a separate company. Once STSN has the approval of the brand, it can sell directly to individual hotels.
The Multiband-OFDM Alliance (MBOA), a group that has been trying to set an ultrawideband standard within IEEE, is branching out on its own: The MBOA has failed again to get the necessary 75 percent vote required to move forward with the standardization process. As a result, the group has formed a special interest group to promote its technology.
The MBOA blames Motorola for blocking its standardization push. Motorola is promoting its own version of UWB alongside XtremeSpectrum, which Motorola acquired last year, but was originally its separate ally on the matter.
Motorola and the MBOA say they'll move ahead independently. Motorola says its chips will be in production this quarter, with consumer electronics products with the chips on the shelves at the end of this year. The MBOA may be just slightly behind, with silicon available in the last quarter of this year and products on the market in the second quarter 2005.
The MBOA, however, says it will continue to try to get its technology standardized within the IEEE.
This poorly-written piece offers up some more comments from Nomadix on its redirect patent: While Joel Short, Nomadix's chief technology officer, says here that the company isn't focused on suing companies for patent infringement, he also repeatedly says that Nomadix will "encourage" companies to license its technology rather than infringe.
I continue to make calls to operators and vendors that could be affected by this patent and generally find companies reluctant to talk about the issue. Many of them say that they believe many companies had redirection before Nomadix filed for the patent and as such the patent shouldn't be enforceable; this is called "prior art."
But I suspect that few want to actually be the company that challenges the patent. They're likely waiting to see if Nomadix goes after them. My impression, based on the fact that I continue to feel like I'm informing companies of the patent, is that Nomadix hasn't yet approached vendors or operators that it feels are infringing on the patent.
There are some companies supportive of Nomadix, however. STSN licenses the Nomadix redirection technology and believes others should too. "The Wi-Fi industry will come to a grinding halt if we don't support the private ownership of IP [intellectual property]," said David Garrison, STSN's CEO said in an exclusive interview today. "So, on one hand, we can say we want this industry to develop and have new technologies, but companies like ours aren't going to invest in the new technology and research if we can’t get protection around IP."
This Meta Group study is a bit of a no-brainer: The researchers looked at the hotspot aggregation model and found that aggregators offer a good option for enterprises looking to offer workers remote places to get access. Researchers found that while 70 percent of enterprises outsource remote dial-up services, less than 10 percent have deals for remote Wi-Fi access. That makes sense given the maturity of the dial-up market compared to the Wi-Fi market.
The study also ranks the leading aggregators, including Boingo, Fiberlink, GRIC, and iPass.
This story is largely another take on the free vs. fee debate: The general conclusion is that venues will find they won't make any money by charging for Wi-Fi because no one is willing to pay and if they can't make any money they won't bother offering Wi-Fi access for free. One angle this writer neglects to consider is the increased business that Wi-Fi can lead to for some businesses such as cafes. A lot of venue owners say they see increased visits during traditionally slow hours by Wi-Fi users, who even though they don't pay for access do pay for food or coffee.
One business owner in the story is quoted as saying that people expected Wi-Fi to become a mass market product but it's still mostly for business users. It'll remain that way unless there are applications running on the networks that the mass market finds worth using.
Broadband Wireless Internet Access and Voice Over Internet Protocol: The Dawning Of A Truly Next Generation Telecommunications System: Steve Stroh, the editor of the FOCUS On Broadband Wireless Internet Access newsletter, has graciously let us publish an abstract of the lead article in issue 2004-01, published January 14, 2003. I was taken immediately by the clarity and sense by which Stroh combines several threads of developments into a seamless disruption technology explanation.
In this article, Stroh examines the implications of operating "do it yourself" Voice Over IP (VOIP) systems on top of "where do you need it?" Broadband Wireless Internet Access infrastructure.
Few others have made a connection between these two powerful "disruptive technologies". Stroh quickly credits Brian Capouch, a Wireless Internet Service Provider, VOIP consultant, and college professor for his initial insights. At a recent WISPCON (Wireless Internet Service Providers Conference), Capouch demonstrated the power. and ease. of linking multiple Asterisk VOIP PBX (Private Branch Exchange - a small, privately owned telephone switch) systems. Asterisk is open source software that runs on top of Linux; it is found at the heart of a number of VOIP systems. Through the use of numerous well-supported interface cards, Asterisk systems can interface and interoperate with a very large number of legacy circuit-switched telephony systems and networks.
In the demonstration, Stroh was startled to learn that Asterisk's capabilities can exert total control over the routing and all other aspects of incoming and outgoing telephone calls. In short, with Asterisk, circuit-switched telephony has essentially been virtualized and "open-sourced" much like Linux. With Asterisk, one can obtain "dialtone" where it's cheap or convenient, and route that "dialtone" via the Internet to where it is needed.
Sitting in the midst of more than a hundred WISPs (standing room only), Stroh was filled with awe at the implication that each of the WISPs surrounding him could easily set up Asterisk VOIP PBX systems to service some or all of their customer's telephony requirements. Some of those WISPs were the only source of affordable broadband in their service areas; not only could they provide Internet connectivity for their customers, but it's now entirely conceivable that WISPs could also be the "telephony connectivity" for their customers. No longer are telephony services. and infrastructure, the exclusive domain of very well-funded mega-companies, or even co-ops serving only a few hundred customers.
FOCUS On Broadband Wireless Internet Access is an independent subscription publication published and edited by Steve Stroh, who has written extensively on the subject of Broadband Wireless Internet Access since 1997 when he began the Wireless Data Developments column in Boardwatch Magazine. Since then, Stroh has written and spoken extensively on the subject, including the appointment to a panel at the FCC's seminal Spectrum Policy Task Force hearings in Summer, 2002. Subscribers to FOCUS include Internet Service Providers, venture capitalists, influential industry analysts. and FCC staff.
BridgePort Networks secured a $10 million investment from Polaris Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners: The company will use the money for product development and market expansion.
BridgePort offers technology targeted at cellular carriers that integrates cell networks with Wi-Fi networks. Customers could seamlessly roam from one to the other using voice and data services.
The network architecture is probably more complicated than it needs to be but BridgePort is appealing to the needs of the mobile operators. In a nutshell, BridgePort's solution routes all data or voice traffic from Wi-Fi networks through a BridgePort gateway. That way the cellular operator can track and charge for all usage. The setup is ideal for cellular operators who don't want to hand customers off onto a Wi-Fi network where they stand to loose revenues if they can't track usage.
The North Miami Beach Police Department is building a Wi-Fi network using Tropos gear: The police had used a CDPD network to access data but the operator is shutting down its CDPD network. The department expects to save a bundle by not having to pay an operator a monthly fee for using the network.
The Wi-Fi network currently only covers a few square blocks but plans call for it to stretch five square miles. That's not a very big area so I wonder what the cops will do outside of that area.
Amtrak is planning to deploy hotspots in six more stations in the northeast: The setup may be different in those stations than in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station where the network is only available in the first class passenger lounge. Amtrak has high hopes for the new networks, expecting to see around 1 million users a day. Amtrak hasn't announced whether the hotspots will be free to use or come with a fee.
Jim Thompson of NetGate wrote a short analysis of the Nomadix gateway redirection patent, which he gave us permission to reproduce: Jim is the former CTO of Wayport, and an engineer with many years standing in the Wi-Fi industry. He writes about Rob Flickenger's response to the Nomadix patent on the NoCat mailing list. NoCat is an open-source authentication gateway project.
Here's Jim's email to myself and a Freenetworks.org list. Some of the terminology may be obscure to those of you not in the industry, but I hope we can start a dialog to explain these parts.
(Disclaimer: Jim is representing his own opinion on his own time and his opinion doesn't represent the view of this site or any of his employers past and present.)
[Rob writes] specifically:
I think the critical phrase from the press release is: "This redirection takes place regardless of the host computer's settings and without altering the user's browser settings."
Unfortunately, that has little or nothing to do with the patent. When one reads patents, one has to read the claims. The other text is basically fluff.
[Patent number] 6,636,894 has 11 claims. Of these, 2 are so-called "independent claims", and the other 9 depend on one of these two independent claims (or on another dependent claim.)
The two independent claims are #1 and #6.
1. A method for redirecting an original destination address access request to a redirected destination address, the method comprising the steps of:
receiving, at a gateway device, all original destination address access requests originating from a computer;
determining, at the gateway device, which of the original destination address requests require redirection;
storing the original destination address if redirection is required;
modifying, at the gateway device, the original destination address access request and communicating the modified request to a redirection server if redirection is required;
responding, at the redirection server, to the modified request with a browser redirect message that reassigns the modified request to an administrator-specified, redirected destination address;
intercepting, at the gateway device, the browser redirect message and modifying it with the stored original destination address; and
sending the modified browser redirect message to the computer, which automatically redirects the computer to the redirected destination address.
6. A system for redirecting an original destination address access request to a redirected destination address, the system comprising:
a computer that initiates original destination address requests;
a gateway device in communication with the computer, that receives the original destination address requests from the computer, determines if redirection of any of the original destination address requests is required, stores the original destination address request if redirection is required and modifies the original destination address request if redirection is required, and
a redirection server in communication with the gateway device that receives the modified request from the gateway device and responds with a browser redirect message that reassigns the request to an administrator-specified, redirect destination address, wherein the gateway device intercepts the browser redirect message and modifies the response with the stored original destination address before forwarding the browser redirect message to the computer and wherein the computer receives the modified browser redirect message and the computer is automatically redirected to the redirect destination address.
Note the lack of arp-hacks. That's a different patent. [Editor's note : ARP is Address Resolution Protocol, which maps unique Ethernet or Wi-Fi network interface card addresses to Internet Protocol addresses.]
So, the question becomes, does (for example) NoCatAuth [NoCat's software package] cross the line of (infringe) one or both of these claims? Lets look at claim 1:
receiving, at a gateway device, all original destination address access requests originating from a computer;
determining, at the gateway device, which of the original destination address requests require redirection;
Could be all of them. Check.
storing the original destination address if redirection is required;
modifying, at the gateway device, the original destination address access request and communicating the modified request to a redirection server if redirection is required;
Generate a new URL: Check
responding, at the redirection server, to the modified request with a browser redirect message that reassigns the modified request to an administrator-specified, redirected destination address;
Send a 304. Check.
intercepting, at the gateway device, the browser redirect message and modifying it with the stored original destination address; and
sending the modified browser redirect message to the computer, which automatically redirects the computer to the redirected destination address.
Given my 20 minutes of reading, NoCat (and the others) likely infringe on this patent. Note that you infringe if you "make, use, or sell" the invention.
The places to attack this are:
1) prior art, especially given the 1999 filing date. (Note that they could have a disclosure from up to a year before that.)
I may have some of that, from Wayport or even before. See the reference to the Cisco TACACS+ document? I know nothing about that.
Nor do I know anything about Cisco's Lock-and-Key, or an experiment to control access to a network via a web browser that took place in 1996. (ahem)
2) Other people (a company called ATCOM-INFO, subsequently acquired by CAIS Internet, and then sold to Cisco) were doing this long before Nomadix showed up on the scene. Cisco calls this BBSM now.
3) Ignore the damn thing. Use 802.1x/EAP. If the user can't authenticate, punt her packets (over a tunnel or vlan) back to some central point. Implement the Walled Garden/Captive Portal there. Once they authenticate there, open the port.
A patent awarded to Nomadix last week could force hotspot operators to pay royalties to Nomadix or change the way their networks work: Nomadix received a patent for technology that it claims it developed first which allows hotspot operators to redirect customers to a sign-up page, often referred to as a "gateway" page, when they first fire up their computers. "We're the first to develop this technology and we've been doing it for a while," said Joel Short, chief technology officer and senior vice president for Nomadix.
Many hotspot networks, particularly the larger ones that charge for access, redirect customers to a specific home page where they can sign in or pay for access. Often their methods for redirect were developed in-house. Redirection involves the access point or back-end system capturing any Web page request from an unauthenticated user on the network and redirecting them to a page that contains login or usage information.
"Some have copied what we've done," Short said. "We stand behind our intellectual property and now we're going to encourage those folks who provide that method to license the technology from us."
STSN, Hilton Hotels, and some McDonald's restaurants have licensed Nomadix technology, but T-Mobile, Wayport, Cometa, Surf and Sip, and other hotspot operators don't have licenses. STSN and Nomadix have both received investments from the Intel Capital wireless fund.
Most of the non-licensed operators have been reluctant to discuss the new patent. Cometa declined to comment on the matter. T-Mobile has been working on a comment since the middle of last week but has yet to provide a reaction to the new patent. Wayport and Surf and Sip are looking into the issue further before commenting.
If Nomadix chooses to pursue companies that use redirect without licensing its technology, the operators will either have to pay license fees, argue the reasonableness of the patent in court, or forgo using redirect. Redirection allows new or existing customers to avoid installing client software for connecting to a network, although some networks are moving towards requiring special hotspot software, which would sidestep this issue.
Many free community networks have also used redirection as a method of asking users to acknowledge that they are agreeing to a set of principles to use the free networks. Schlotzsky's Deli and many free or sponsored commercial networks also employ the method.
Companies are not required to enforce patents as they are trademarks; a patent holder can cherry pick specific targets for licensing or litigation without losing the use of the patent.
(We continue this discussion with the analysis of this patent's effect on the NoCatAuth open-source authentication gateway, and the patent's standing in general, by a Wi-Fi industry expert in this post.)
Atheros's single-chip 802.11g may move company into consumer products, cell phones: All chipmakers are constantly vying for the cheapest, least power hungry, most full-featured silicon to sell to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) who incorporate their chips into the products that end users buy.
Cheaper chips mean higher margins or lower end-user pricing for the OEM: the former boosts profits, the latter can goose sales. Less power usage means that chips find their way into more devices that have limited battery life, like handhelds and cell phones. Full-featured chips mean there's no compromise.
Atheros is trying to meet all three factors with their new single-chip 802.11g product. The cost is about 40 percent less than their previous two-chip product, and the company's vice president of marketing and business development, Colin Macnab, said in an interview today that there were no features cut (or added) from the more expensive product.
The new chip will premier next quarter at a price of about $12 for quantities of 10,000 or more (a typical chip volume price break) and about $5 for the other support circuitry. At under $20, this compares to under $30 for their previous set.
In a market in which PC Cards sell for $30 to $50, a drop of $10 in the component pricing could allow them huge inroads into more commodity markets. It also allows Atheros to have a leg up on other makers; Broadcom's all-in-one chip is 802.11b only, as far as has been announced so far.
Atheros's Macnab explained that the company viewed their 802.11g single-chip AR5005G as a technological accomplishment, partly because they managed to retain all the features and partly because of the manufacturing process they're using, CMOS, which is the most widely used form of integrated circuit manufacture available. (Atheros, like many 802.11 chipmakers, is a fabless firm which contracts out the actual manufacture.)
Macnab believes Atheros is far ahead of the competition. "From our point of view and our customers’ point of view, we’ve yet to see [a similar product] in captivity."
Atheros sees this product as eventually breaking the price barrier that will allow it to be used widely in consumer electronics. With a short-range, high-speed standard for the incompatible ultrawideband (UWB) technology in the works, Macnab noted that the two could be complementary technologies.
But, he said, "When you look at where we see these products being used in data networking and moving into the consumer range, a 10-meter range is a non-starter." Ten meters is viewed in the current IEEE 802.15.3a task group as the outside edge of the highest speeds for UWB.
The AR5005G includes Atheros's Super G featureset, which has the 108 Mbps turbo mode that employs two Wi-Fi channels simultaneously. Macnab carefully avoided using the term Wi-Fi in our interview, saying "802.11" and "802.11g" almost exclusively.
A UK village wanted high-speed access but couldn't round up enough customers to convince BT to build there: BT said the town would have to have 500 subscribers and as only 3,500 people live there, the requirement was a bit unrealistic. So villagers secured a grant and decided to pay a wireless service provider to build a network that uses Wi-Fi to offer Internet to residents. Surprisingly, the wireless network turns out to be more expensive to build then installing ADSL.
A "nationally-known chain of postal centers" may soon get Wi-Fi hotspots: This deal isn't set in stone yet so I'm reluctant to write about it but it could be a fairly big deal. AirQ, a Wi-Fi access provider, has made a preliminary agreement with MyMart, a company that currently provides wireline Internet access kiosks in the chain. If the deal goes through, AirQ will build hotspots in 1,000 locations of the chain.
I wrote a short article for Infoworld about the proposal for a fast roaming task group: If the IEEE approves the request, which most involved think it will, a new standard will be hammered out to speed up hand-off. The current mechanism for hand-off in the 802.11 specification isn't fast enough to support voice calls or other multimedia applications. Today vendors have their own proprietary ways to speed up roaming but they hope to come up with a standard way to do it.
Contrary to some earlier reports, Cisco told me that they are supportive of the effort. If the standard ends up being very different from the way Cisco currently handles roaming now, the company will support both the standard and its own technology.
Hopefully the standards process will create an efficient and fast way to do hand-off. While writing a different story for Infoworld about voice over WLANs, I found that most of the proprietary ways to support fast hand-off weren,t totally ideal. An improved hand-off mechanism may encourage more voice over WLAN implementations.
Boingo subscribers can now use networks built by Verge Wireless, a mesh network builder: Verge has built a network covering New Orelans' warehouse district, where users can access the network anywhere in the zone. The company is targeting the south, and has also built a zone in Baton Rouge.
Wi-Fi users who don't need to access corporate servers can use Verge's networks for free, however. Verge allows anyone to check email and surf the Internet for free but charges users if they want to hit a company server.
The Washington, D.C. area has a number of small operators using Wi-Fi to offer high-speed access to businesses and residential Internet users: An In-Stat/MDR analyst estimates that about 1,000 small operators sell wireless Internet access but what's interesting about the D.C.-area operators is that they're targeting customers in or very near cities. Typically small operators have targeted rural areas that don't have any other option for broadband connectivity. Perhaps the popularity of using wireless in the home is making wireless seem a more acceptable way for end users to get Internet access.
These companies can so easily distinguish themselves from the big operators by offering quality service and good customer service.
Posted by Nancy Gohring at 10:10 AM | Permanent Link | Categories:
World Economic Forum participants have been offered handhelds that they can use to check emails while at the conference: The conference center has also been covered with a Wi-Fi network which visitors can use with their own laptops.
Apparently the reaction to using the handheld devices has been mixed, which makes sense given the crowd. Some executives, probably those that actually have sent emails before, jumped aboard and avidly use the handhelds. Others, maybe those whose assistants do anything related to a computer for them, can't figure out how to take the stylus out.
This article is really confusing and it's not exactly clear exactly what's being offered. It sounds like there's a network that can only be accessed by the handhelds and a separate Wi-Fi network that’s open for use by any device. It also says that hotels have Wi-Fi networks that can't be accessed by the handhelds.
Atheros integrates 802.11g into a single CMOS chip, shipping 2nd quarter: The company is already sampling its AR5005G chipset, which comprises a single chip containing the Media Access Controller (the part that handles digital network interaction), the baseband processor (the part that handles converting analog to digital and the opposite), and the 2.4 GHz radio.
The company claims the same performance characteristics as their multi-chip 802.11g solution, including improvements in range. They also say that their WPA and 802.11i encryption support can be used without a reduction in throughput. The chip also features adaptive power use that selectively powers parts of the chip as needed.
This 802.11g design is another step in "Wi-Fi everywhere," in which all business and consumer electronics include Wi-Fi as a default fact, not an add-on at extra cost or only found in special models. We'll be talking to the company later today; watch for another report in the afternoon.
In Cambodia, motorbikes act as routers for a store-and-forward email system: The New York Times reports on a system that allow remote villages in Cambodia to send and receive email via Wi-Fi-equipped motorbikes. The Motoman system converges in the provincial capital where a satellite-enabled school uploads and downloads email for the remote recipients. The system is funded in part through U.S. benefactors who aren't just sending money; they're spending time there as well, and helping to improve the qualit of medicine and people's livelihoods.
Free hotel Internet access hits fever pitch with 2,200 Holiday Inns about to offer it: InterContinental Hotels Group will announce tomorrow that most of its 2,500 hotels, including 2,200 Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express properties, will offer free Internet access by the end of the year, the Wall Street Journal reported. The article doesn't note if any of it is Wi-Fi or not, but points out that 70 percent of Holiday Inn's guests are business travelers.
This latest edition means that by the end of 2004, the majority of moderate business-class hotels will have free wireless and wired in-room and common room access. Some scattered independent properties and high-end hotels (Westin, Hyatt, Marriott, Renaissance, and so forth) are largely continuing to charge, although most are offering a $10 to $15 per night phone and Internet rollup with unlimited usage. [via Alan Reiter]
All 2,300 Best Westerns in the US, Canada, and the Caribbean will offer free Internet access by Sept. 1: While Best Western claims its the first chain to offer free service in all its hotels, this is more of a semantics issue. Last July, Marriott International said that its 1,200 Courtyard, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, and SpringHill Suites would have free broadband (wired and Wi-Fi), and its Fairfield Inns during 2004. (This article notes indirectly that Marriott's plans are behind the curve.) Marriott charges for Wi-Fi and broadband in its premium hotels, however.
Washington State wireless broadband provider partners with rural PUDs to offer service: It's a natural match to let the PUDs further serve their farflung constituents, while providing the WISP with a much lower infrastructure cost, which in turn allows them to build a profitable footprint much more readily.
Maverick Wireless, founded by a former T-Mobile data manager, is starting in rural Washington State, with plans to expand to the sparsely populated Eastern Oregon. He plans 20 networks by year's end through these PUD partnerships. The utility districts install what sounds like the tower (and electrical power) for the wireless stations. In the case described, the utility already has a fiber-optic loop for backhaul. Maverick handles customer issues, like customer premises installation and billing, and splits the revenue with the PUD.
Although the article says the system uses Wi-Fi, I would guess it's a proprietary unlicensed system of the sort that will eventually migrate to WiMax.
The article makes an implicit connection worth noting explicitly: they point out that the 1 Mbps speed that Maverick will offer is faster than most average cable modem and DSL speeds. Two items here: first, they should have noted that DSL and usually cable modems are totally unavailable in rural areas.
Even in Seattle proper, if you go a certain distance outside the city (just a few miles, really), you're stuck at 128 Kbps iDSL (an ISDN-like version of DSL). If you don't have a cable line to your house already, it can cost thousands to get one brought in.
A colleague of mine recently moved to the suburb/exurb boundary. When looking for a house, he and his wife did a lot of data surveying since he needs to move large files around for his freelance work. One good-looking house was scratched when DSL possibilities were low to non-existent for the central office serving the area, and installing cable would have cost $5,000 or more. And this is about 20 minutes from downtown Seattle by highway.
Netopia said it has created a voice over Wi-Fi phone certification program: The program will certify that voice over Wi-Fi phones interoperate with Netopia's VoIP gateways. This is fine for Netopia, but doesn't guarantee that such phones will interoperate with gateways from any VoIP gateway.
The CNET reporter who wrote this article could afford to think a bit more critically rather than buying hook, line, and sinker everything companies tell her. The story reads like an advertisement for voice over Wi-Fi. She says here: "Some experts predict that cordless Wi-Fi phones could eventually replace cellular phones." I'd love to know who those experts are. Wi-Fi is a local area networking technology and it's ridiculous to imagine that it would ever cover the same amount of area as a cell phone network.
Truckstop.net, which plans to build hotspots in 3,000 truck stops, will use a software platform from LogiSense: The software enables integrated billing and traffic management. By the end of March, 500 Truckstop.net locations will have LogiSense software and the companies plan to deploy 200 per month.
Drivers offered that allow Mac OS X to use 802.11a, g cards with Atheros chipsets: Mac users haven't had access to 802.11a yet, especially with Apple's CEO declaring 802.11a a dead-end technology back in January 2003. Broadcom makes the chips for Apple's AirPort Extreme hardware, and you can use non-Apple Broadcom-based PC and PCI cards with Macs.
The OrangeWare driver lets users try out (for 10 minutes) a driver they put together for 3Com's Mac OS X users. The driver supports a host of cards from D-Link, NetGear, and other, including g-only and a/g cards. Permanent use of the driver is $15 per unique computer.
BT OpenZone is building Wi-Fi on 13 more railway stations: Virgin also covers a few stations. One route between London and Scotland offers access onboard as part of a trial. In addition, Broadreach and PointShot are building the backbone for a Wi-Fi network that can be offered to the rail network operators. They will use the platform to manage the onboard Wi-Fi access.
Businesses in Minneapolis/St. Paul are taking advantage of Wi-Fi in a number of ways: An outdoor Winter Carnival in St. Paul is blanketed with coverage, mainly for employees. Construction superintendents who work for a home builder can stop by any one of the company's model homes to get Internet access to keep track of construction projects. It sounds like a group of volunteers may be planning to cover a park in town too.
During a speech at the Wireless Communications Association conference this week, Intel predicted that the next 10 years would be defined by broadband wireless: Intel has become a big supporter of WiMAX, hoping to see Wi-Fi and WiMAX bundled into computers.
Some of the challenges facing WiMAX mentioned in this New York Times article aren't quite on track. For example, the piece says that the spectrum needed to deploy WiMAX isn't yet available. In fact the MMDS license holders could deploy WiMAX. Those licenses are owned by Nextel, Bellsouth, and others.
But John Markoff notes that the lower band frequencies are more ideal because radio signals travel further lower down on the spectrum. Those bands are very crowded and not much is available for hopeful operators. This is the argument the 802.20 standard developers are making. That standard is designed for very small swaths of spectrum in the lower bands to accommodate for the fact that only little bits of spectrum on the lower end are available.
Markoff also challenged an Intel exec on past failures to make a market for fixed broadband wireless services, likely referring to the failure of the MMDS market in the mid-1990s and others like Metricom. The developers of 802.16, however, clearly had in mind the problems that faced those initiatives. For example, the second version of 802.16 will eliminate the need for an outdoor antenna at the customer premise. Installing such antennas is an expensive proposition and that expense is said to have contributed to the downfall of the MMDS initiatives in the mid-1990s.
So far AT&T and Covad have joined the WiMAX Forum but no operator has said it plans to deploy the technology.
Intel is considering releasing a closed-source driver to support Linux on Centrino: Linux can run without using the Wi-Fi module; this driver would provide access. Intel doesn't want to offer a total open-source approach to this system as they don't want to give away their secrets. Perhaps it includes software-defined radio.
Atheros got around this through an intermediary in the BSD world who created a hardware abstraction layer to protect Atheros's SDR while allowing open-source drivers to access the proprietary abstraction layer.
NY Times presents overview of wireless printing: In this thorough article, the writer examines the many ways of using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to connect printers to a network or to individual machines.
Tatara Systems secured $8 million in its second round of funding: So far, the company has rounded up $17 million in financing.
Tatara offers a platform for hotspot operators that helps them manage customers. It's ideal for a hotspot operator that owns another network like a cellular network because the platform can tie into backend systems like billing or customer care. We wrote about Tatara in December.
Ithaca, NY, LightLink adds hotspots to its wireless mix: LightLink provides a multi-mile wireless link to my friend, colleague, and co-author Adam Engst, with whom I wrote The Wireless Networking Starter Kit. LightLink is providing free Wi-Fi equipment to qualifying locations, and will offer both free and paid access.
Guests who are not LightLink subscribers (either to home, business, or the hotspot service itself) will have email and Web (port 80 only) access. Subscribers receive full access to all ports, so they can run VPNs and other software.
It's a nice model that's being pursued by Telerama in Pittsburgh in which the hotspot market is of nominal value to the ISP as a pure revenue stream, but rather reinforces their ability to sign up more lucrative and steady fixed wired (DSL, etc.) or wireless customers.
Instead of building complicated authentication systems, why not employ agents and tokens in a peer-to-peer model?: Elias Efstathiou, a Ph.D. candidate at the Athens (Greece) University of Economics and Business in computer science, wrote to point to a paper he and George C. Polyzos co-authored entitled "A Peer-to-Peer Approach to Wireless LAN Roaming" (PDF download).
The two authors propose a peer-to-peer system in which autonomous agents store authentication and pricing information (although pricing can be more of a concept than actual monetary value), and use tokens to exchange access units. In this system, you don't need a monolithic back-end, because each entity has its own database, however large or small. Instead, the burden is shifted to managed token-based authentication.
It's an interesting idea, and certainly collapses complexity. However, it would have to be implemented and adopted through the same business realities that limit roaming today. Their paper presents ideas to cut through technological complexity, but you still have to have networks willing to buy into the notion of unhindered roaming to participate.
ABI Research has built a new site that offers wireless news and feature stories: Much of the content may hinge on data produced by ABI Research analysts. Meg McGinity, who once followed wireless for Interactive Week magazine is the editorial director for the site. You've got to sign up, for free, to read the content; it includes an optional daily newsletter.
InnerWireless plans to support wireless access throughout the Sears Tower, even in the elevators: The company will build a network that will offer Wi-Fi networks or cellular networks throughout tenant offices if they want it. But it must first make deals with the cellular operators to extend their coverage in the building.
InnerWireless sounds a lot like RadioFrame, a Craig McCaw company that's been around for ages. RadioFrame sells a box that can be deployed in offices that users can essentially slide radios for any kind of network into. The platform can offer Wi-Fi and cellular coverage from a single device.
A few years back the Sears Tower was having trouble keeping full of tenants. This may be one effort to draw tenants in. It seems that more office buildings are making themselves Wi-Fi-ready, which may be a major selling point for companies that don't have the IT staff to build their own wireless networks.
Also, in this case, cellular coverage in the elevators is probably a bonus because the building is so huge it probably takes forever to get in and out of.
Craig Plunkett responds to the Edge Consult hotspot report: In a trial of introducing more voices to Wi-Fi Networking News, we're publishing a response to our recent coverage of the Edge Consult report on Wi-Fi from Craig Plunkett. Craig is the founder and head of CEDX Corporation, a network services and installation firm that has also rolled out hotspots in the Manhattan and New York area.
It would be interesting to see who commissioned the Edge Consult report. Sounds like a European GSM carrier that doesn't have a Wi-Fi strategy. With only having access to the report's table of contents, I think their conclusions are way off base. The Cellular carriers still have to provide backhaul, and for that, RBOCs [regional Bell operating carriers, or the Baby Bells] and MSOs [cable multi-system operators] rule in the U.S. I don't know about Europe; that's probably still the PTTs [state-owned phone monopolies]. Plus, venues that have cell towers that carry massive voice volume receive big-time rents for these, on the order of US$10,000/month/carrier if you have a location on a major highway.
Will venue owners expect this level of compensation for carrier hotspots? You obviously have to deploy more hotspots in different locations than the cell antennas are currently located, so you can't leverage the existing real estate, T-1s or fiber to towers, unless you use 3G backhaul from the hotspot, and we know that story. The report also seems very Eurocentric.
As far as the fee or free model, it's not an actual study if it uses made-up data! I can do a study, too, that says fee-based profits are higher than free and publish it if I make up my own numbers. I don't really mind the conclusion of the report, because it discourages competition from other fee-based providers. Hey, the market's going to do what it wants, whatever my opinion is, but let's not have made up numbers sound like facts. What needs to be done is to get a hold of some numbers from a chain under the same brand where access is free in some locations, paid in some, and there's no access in others, all in the same geographical area. You also need to collect data from the users of the spots, on whether they're here just for the Wi-Fi, whether they'd pay for it or not, and at the places with no coverage, find out how many folks walked in expecting to be coverage due to brand association. Then you can make some real conclusions. Everything else is just speculation. I also disagree with their assessment of the hotspot market's maturity. I think its still in the tweens stage, not quite an adolescent.
There's one thing that always nags me though. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Didn't anybody get it when banner ads didn't work? To co-opt Paul Boutin's example, you may not be able to order the salt on the table off the menu, but you still pay for it. It's bundled into the prices of the menu items, just like the air conditioning in the hotel room, but you should still have to buy something to get it. There's a fantastic restaurant called Les Halles in downtown Manhattan that just put in a free Wi-Fi spot. If I walked in off the street with my take out slice of pizza, used a salt shaker, then walked out, the head chef, Anthony Bourdain, might come bounding out of the kitchen after me. Let's see what their reaction is when I stand outside the restaurant and use the Wi-Fi without buying the 14.95 Steak Frites for lunch. (Which is fabulous by the way.) We'll see how long free or non-complimentary lasts as ubiquity increases.
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Airport Network Services, a subsidiary of ICOA, built a Wi-Fi network covering the entire Savannah/Hilton Head airport: I was there about a year ago and it's a small but really nice airport. Visitors can use the network for $6.95 per day. It seems like more small airports like this one are building Wi-Fi networks that can be used by visitors but also airport workers.
Free Wi-Fi in Niue challenged artificially high telecom prices: I hope we don't seem obsessed by the tiny island nation of Niue in the Pacific, but this article from New Zealand's National Business Review shows the struggle between predatory pricing by a national monopoly and a society of Internet users wanting to offer free access.
Niue's top-level domain name, .nu, has 100,000 registrants at about $30 per year per name. The domain name is administered by an American who runs the servers in the US and Europe. A percentage of each fee is returned to Niue to the Internet Users Society of Niue (IUSN). The IUSN used the money from the fees to establish Internet access to the island, and eventually to propose and start building island-wide free Wi-Fi service.
Unfortunately for the local monopoly telecom, this free access bypasses the local metered phone service and could serve as a conduit for Internet phone calls. Only 1,700 folks live on Niue now (and they might abandon ship, according to articles after the cyclone -- the island's highest point is 68 meters), but 20,000 Niueans live in New Zealand, which has a complicated relationship with the islanders. Niue is independent in local affairs; the Kiwi government handles external affairs and defense. It also contributes $2.6 million per year to Niue.
The article notes with chagrin that the Kiwis will pay for helping to rebuild the infrastructure in Niue, but that the telecom monopoly will certainly continue its pricing structure.
Colubris has come out with a new generation of products that it says work better than a wireless LAN switch platform: The new system consists of a fat AP coupled with a central management console for configuring, monitoring, and troubleshooting.
Colubris says its architecture can be installed for one-third less cost than WLAN switch platforms. STSN may agree because it will add Colubris' access points to the list of gear it uses to build hotspots in hotels and conference centers.
Colubris' access points have embedded VPN servers and come 802.11i-ready.
While the WLAN switch makers like to say that the fat AP vs. thin AP debate is over and the thin AP has won, that's really not so. There are good reasons to put some intelligence at the AP to save on the backhaul required for communication between a thin AP and a backend switch. Ultimately both types of architectures may survive, each serving different groups of customers.
C I Host, a Web hosting provider, gave a journalist a Ford Expedition and told him to hit the road and report on Wi-Fi around the country: The "Wi-Fi Guy" plans to take a big road trip and report on his experiences at hotspots. The "Wi-Fi Guy" apparently doesn't have another name and the announcement doesn't mention where you can find his reports. While this sounds like fun, the guy also has to drive around in a gas sucking SUV "boldly wrapped in C I Host's trademark orange and blue."
Edge Consult says that Wi-Fi increasingly resembles a bona fide disruptive technology: This report actually has a handful of interesting tidbits about the development of the Wi-Fi market.
The researchers modeled five hotspots, three where service is available for a fee and two where service was free. They found that, on average, profits for the free hotspots were 533 percent higher than those that had paid services because of increased coffee and food sales. While these were just modeled scenarios, this may be the first actual study I've seen comparing profits of fee vs. free hotspots. That's a significant case for offering free hotspots.
The study also showed that while the number of hotspots continues to increase, those hotspots are experiencing low usage. That doesn't mean the market is about to die though. The researchers say they've seen a sense of realism entering the market such that operators are discovering that the market must be demand-driven, not supply-driven.
Unfortunately for the independent hotspot operator, the report concludes that cellular operators are the best positioned to run hotspots because it's easy for them to own the customer relationship.
By 2007, Edge Consult predicts there will be 203,000 hotspots around the world.
Wi-LAN said that China Telecom is using its gear to deploy a broadband wireless network in Tianjin: China Telecom will use unlicensed frequencies and looks at this deployment as a test before potentially building similar networks in other regions. The point-to-multipoint network can be used to supply data and voice.
Wi-LAN uses proprietary technology based on OFDM but says it's the same technology that makes up the 802.16 standard. That standard is backed by the WiMAX Forum, which hasn't started certifying products yet.
The press release doesn't seem to be online yet but may be available here eventually.
The small Pacific country of Niue (physical home of the .nu top-level domain) has phone and Internet service back after a cyclone hit: The cyclone, which practically leveled the island, knocked out all communications, but they've been restored along with the Wi-Fi network that has been a point of dispute in the past. [Mauricio Freitas sent us the good news]
IEEE approves formation of mesh study group for 802.11 protocols: The IEEE has approved the formation of a study group for fulfilling the promise of the wireless distribution system (WDS) that's been part of 802.11 since the beginning, Robert Moskowitz of TruSecure's ICSA Labs wrote in to tell us. The mesh study group will work inside of the 802.11 Working Group to take the extremely vague specification for the WDS and provide a protocol for auto-configuring paths between APs over self-configuring multi-hop topologies in a WDS to support both broadcast/multicast and unicast traffic in an ESS Mesh, according to the group formation proposal that was approved.
The study group isn't yet a task group--one of those 802.11 plus a letter designations--so the outcome of their work won't have as few steps to becoming a ratified standard.
The WDS part of 802.11 specifies the original and destination machine's MAC addresses, but also provides for two addresses for intermediate machines. In practical use of WDS to bridge wireless networks using gear from Linksys, D-Link, Buffalo, Apple, and others, each access point has a very loosely defined idea of where to pass traffic to get it closer to the destination address. The current implementations -- mostly a single Broadcom standard -- broadcast MAC addresses across access points as if the access points were ports on an Ethernet switch.
The new study group will provide a wider range of tools for establishing the paths between access points while also providing a protocol that can be developed against. Right now, multiple implementations of simple WDS don't always work together, and even multiple devices all using Broadcom's chipset and firmware use different ways of connecting and won't always interconnect.
Bonus: Explanation of WDS from The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, 2nd Edition
Here's how my co-author Adam Engst and I describe how WDS works from our book on wireless (2nd edition released last fall):
WDS is a clever part of the original 802.11b specification from 1999, but it wasn’t until 2003 that it started appearing in standard, inexpensive equipment. WDS connects access points wirelessly as if they were ports on an Ethernet switch.
On an Ethernet switch, each port keeps a list of all the machines connected to it and broadcasts that list to each other’s port. Every computer on the switch’s network receives these broadcasts and uses them to discover the MAC addresses of all the other accessible machines. Whether a computer wants to send data to another computer that’s on the same or a different port, it makes no difference: the originating computer still puts the same destination address on the packet. The switch, however, recognizes the destination address of each packet and routes it to the correct port and on to the destination computer.
Each access point in a WDS-connected network works in just the same way as a port, tracking the MAC addresses of all the connected computers and broadcasting lists of addresses to other access points. When a computer connected to one access point wants to send a packet to a computer connected to another, WDS ensures that the first access point delivers the packet to the appropriate access point, even through intermediate access points.
In the end, WDS appears seamless to you, and no special magic is involved. It’s just a clever way of keeping track of which computers are connected to which access points and making sure data can flow from any computer on the network to any other computer.
We got a call from Cisco after our earlier post about bad security advice: Chris Bollinger, the Cisco exec quoted in the story, maintains that the reporter misunderstood his comments. Instead of recommending that certain organizations ignore 802.11i, he suggested that some types of hardware used in some environments aren't capable of being upgraded to 802.11i so users will have to make due with WPA. For example, some retail stores and warehouses use purpose-built devices that may use Wi-Fi. Such devices may not be upgradeable to 802.11i.
A study group was formed last week to look at the possibility of creating a standard for wireless mesh networking: Intel and Cisco were some of the first proponents of a mesh standard. FireTide, BelAir, Tropos, Strix, and MeshNetworking are a few companies already delivering mesh products.
The formation of a study group is just the first step in determining whether a standard is even necessary, so the formation of an actual task group that hammers out a standard is still in the distance.
The migration from current generation security methods to the future isn't smooth: While moving from WEP to WPA was easy enough, the upgrade to 802.11i in many cases will require new hardware. That presents a conundrum to businesses that may want to expand their networks but may not want to buy current generation products. Cisco's solution: don't plan on using 802.11i. A Cisco spokesman in this article recommends that in retail sales or warehouse environments where there isn't much worry about sniffing, users might consider not using 802.11i. On what planet is sniffing not a concern for retail or any location? Perhaps he missed the big news about the WLAN at a Lowe's store being broken into and customer credit card information being stolen. While it's not clear how much security that network used, it proves there's certainly a reason to secure retail WLANs.
This story also looks at the break between Cisco and Microsoft that has resulted in two incompatible versions of PEAP.
A Malaysian user of the state-run operator's Wi-Fi service has trouble getting on: Then he gets no help from customer service. It seems that getting technical help when trying to connect to a hotspot is problematic anywhere you go. Ultimately, the writer finds more luck using free hotspots.
An apartment complex in Detroit that draws executives from nearby auto makers has Wi-Fi throughout: Residents who rent furnished apartments--apparently many of them do--get the Internet access for free. The owner of the complex calls Wi-Fi a "deal clincher" for many potential residents. It seems as though the network administrator authorizes users on the network by their MAC addresses.
A service provider is also targeting apartment buildings in Washington, D.C. For new or old construction, Wi-Fi offers a much easier way for building owners to offer Internet access than stringing cable throughout the building.
T-Mobile seems to be keeping its eye on the possibility that its Wi-Fi network may cannibalize potential cell revenue: Some say that Wi-Fi is a good draw for T-Mobile because customers may switch their cell phone service to T-Mobile so that they can get a single bill for cell and Wi-Fi. T-Mobile hasn't come out with any definitive plans for deploying a very high-speed upgrade to its cell network so it seems to be using Wi-Fi as the wireless broadband offering for its customers. Without a high-speed data service on its cell phone network, the Wi-Fi network isn't going to cannibalize the cellular service. Even if voice becomes popular on Wi-Fi networks, Wi-Fi won't be as ubiquitous as cellular.
Vodafone Spain and TeliaSonera HomeRun customers can use hotspots operated by KubiWireless in Spain: KubiWireless operates more than 130 hotspots in Spain. TeliaSonera HomeRun customers, those that use Telia's hotspot service, can connect to over 2,300 hotspots in Europe.
A new digital music player is set to hit the shelves: The Aireo synchs with a PC over Wi-Fi, rather than requiring cables to connect. Apparently the first version only offers a 1.5 gigabyte hard drive.
Brown has covered 5 percent of campus with a Wi-Fi network and may build out more but leaders there say the wireless network will never replace the wired: Brown has already wired classrooms and dorm rooms with broadband connections and those are faster than Wi-Fi, says a network admin.
Most other universities are much more gung-ho on building out Wi-Fi. This story looks mainly at Rhode Island schools and points to Bryant College which plans to be 100 percent covered this Fall. The University of Rhode Island is working on providing access to 20 percent of campuses used by 80 percent of students.
The Lehigh Valley, home to Agere, has just ten public hotspots: This writer supposes that people who live there are more satisfied with cheap dial-up connections than younger or more affluent people in other towns. Lehigh residents have a lower average household income and a lower educational average than the rest of the country. She looked for Wi-Fi users at Borders and another book shop in town, Moravian, but rarely found anyone using the networks. New technology does often take longer to filter into small towns.
Peter Lewis of Fortune went snooping with STSN's chief technology officer and found how easy it would be to break into computers of hotel guests: The story is a bit of a plug for STSN which touts the strong security mechanisms on networks it builds for hotels but the story demonstrates that hotels don't always employ the most rigid security on their Wi-Fi networks. The moral as always is protect yourself and make sure you know how secure your network is if you're planning to transmit anything sensitive.
Fixed-line provider TOT will open its TNET Wi-Fi service: TOT is a fixed-line provider that's rolling out more advanced features for land lines (including SMS and caller ID), but it's also trying out Wi-Fi at 100 baht per hour or about US$2.50. The first location is at a cafe that will also have 12 computers available; future locations include other branches of this cafe and supermarkets. Pricing deregulation appears to be driving the landline services into more competition against increasingly inexpensive package deals from the cellular operators, according to this article's details.
Man returns from California with stories of fire, wheel: It's very funny to read this local report about a fellow from the area who was in California for 10 years working in high tech and returned to his hometown. Remember that this is local coverage, and the reporter makes the guy sound like someone who has been to the mountain and returns with these 15...I mean, 10 commandments.
The idea is great, and it's in the pre-preliminary stages to put in a very inexpensive cloud of Wi-Fi across downtown Bowling Green. The proposal hasn't been publicly circulated and sounds full of questions about how to make it go; the technical issues are not a problem, however. [via a link at GigaOm]
Tropos's equipment tested by NASA as an idea for manned Mars missions: Next thing you know, there will be a Mars Communications Commission (MCC) insisting that a single newspaper and television station could provide all the news on the Red Planet.
Mesh wireless equipment makes sense for the terrain and goals of the mission. Will the low pressures affect signal transmission? And then there's hardening against radiation and temperature. I guess we have 20 to 40 years to figure it all out.
In response to member concerns, the Wi-Fi Alliance says it is conducting its own tests of recent allegations from Broadcom about bad-neighbor gear: In November, Broadcom said that networks built using Atheros's Super-G chips caused significant degradation of other nearby networks. In addition to posting results of Broadcom's tests, Tim Higgins at SmallNetBuilder (now Tom’s Networking) conducted his own tests and curiously found that products with Atheros' Super-G chips degraded nearby Broadcom networks but not networks with other chips.
The Wi-Fi Alliance closely watched news reports of the allegations. "We've had some of our member companies ask us what are we doing on this and is this an issue," said Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. In response to members, the Alliance has begun its own set of tests. "We are undergoing some testing to try for our own benefit to validate the issues and to take some of the grayness out of this," he said. They'll test how nearby networks might affect a network in a house next door or as close as an apartment next door. "The results of that will determine what actions if any we need to take with our certification program or with any products that are associated with it," he said.
Interoperability is becoming an increasingly important issue as vendors add proprietary extensions that differentiate their products, sometimes based on in-progress drafts of standards from IEEE committees. The Wi-Fi Allliance will certify products that have such extensions as long as they ship in a configuration that's interoperable with certified products, Hanzlik said.
While the Alliance recently noted that as many as 25 percent of products fail to receive certification the first time they are submitted to the process, Hanzlik estimates that as many as 85 percent or 90 percent of 802.11 products on the market are certified.
Signull's G2 device lets hotspots bill and control access: The device seems similar to many available from turnkey hotspot vendors like Airpath and NetNearU, but appears more focused on providing the services instead of building a network footprint comprised of individual locations.
Business 2.0 reports that Vivato has run through most of its money without selling much product [subscription required]: Matt Maier discloses a number of facts about Vivato, the high-flying antenna/switch company with the phased-array system that could span kilometers of open-source or entire floors of buildings.
The initial antenna is apparently no longer in production, and it had only 50 customers and $3 million in revenue last year. Maier reports that the company has burned through most of its money and lost or let go many staffers at all levels of the company. A new CEO, interim since October and now fully in charge, plans to slash research and development in favor of less-cutting edge products.
Maier concludes that Vivato is finally planning to launch its follow-up product in February: a switch based on the faster 802.11g standard. If it fails, Vivato isn't likely to get another chance.
Bob Cringely writes a follow-up column about his WhyFi idea, this time spelling out the impractical details more impractically: Cringely comes clean with the details of his WhyFi idea to spread free Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide. I ripped apart his previous column because it was long on bad ideas, short on execution strategies.
He expects that every participant in the project who offers free Wi-Fi will eat the bandwidth bill in exchange for free equipment, which will be loaned not given to them. Only those providing hotspots get free access to the network. (Original business models of Joltage [dead], SOHOWireless [apparently dead], and Sputnik [now an enterprise software developer].)
The free hotspots will apparently be part of a nationwide authentication network that will only allow members of this club to get in for free. Otherwise, users are charged for use. Cringely estimates the cost of a million hotspots at $150 million. He suggests someone underwrite this project to make a pile of money.
So now I can tell you exactly why this idea doesn't work, especially now that he's dropped the whole part from his first column about requiring special firmware or MAC filtering.
Hotspots cost more than $150 each. As I noted in my response to his first column, Cringely has magically eliminated the overhead costs for running a national network with a database of legitimate users. There's no dollars in here for running the backend, shipping out products, helping with installation (even by phone), dealing with customer/technical support ("my account doesn't work," "the hotspot is dead"). I would estimate given his plan that the cost per location for a million locations is about $300 per location for a single access point (which many won't be; see below), and about $20 to $50 per month for all of the associated support. More likely, the support costs are about $10 per month per free user on the network. It could cost more to support the paid users, and Cringely doesn't postulate a payment.
Hotspots aren't a single access point and you can't put them just anywhere. If you exclude homes and coffeeshops and a few small retail establishments, locations that have value and lots of traffic control their spectrum and require expensive or at least complicated, multi-AP installations. A mall or an airport can prevent tenants or airlines from installing APs. This is an ongoing battle right now in airports.
Arbitrary density doesn't promote the right kind of density. If every small business in the country was a hotspot, there would still be fast dead areas. If I have 20 businesses in a row across two blocks with WhyFi nodes, but a mall a few blocks away is dead as are all the hotels in the vicinity, that doesn't fulfill the WhyFi dream.
Going from zero to a million. The value of this network is only apparent when it's well underway. Unlike the Internet, in which adding a resource makes it useful to the entire global network at once, squaring the value of the network with each additional node (Metcalfe's Law), WhyFi is additive: each node only barely improves the overall utility of the network's free access.
Venue owners need to be cultivated. You can't just throw 1,000,000 APs in the mail and have a network spring up. The cost of cultivating each location or chain involves money and time.
Free doesn't feed the business bulldog. A hotel doesn't need free Wi-Fi when it roams. It's a company. So they're not going to install free Wi-Fi in a WhyFi network manner and allow random free usage. Rather, they might offer free Wi-Fi on their own terms to their own guests. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, for instance, offers free broadband and Wi-Fi to members of its free affinity club. The Marriott chain is building out free Wi-Fi in 1,700 budget-value properties (i.e., places families stay or budget-minded business travelers).
That old bandwidth problem again. Bob believes that a million people and businesses can share their broadband connections, the majority of which have usage agreements prohibiting sharing. So no company is going to pony up $150M or $1B or whatever the actual cost would be to encourage people to violate their usage contracts.
What's in it for them? Bob suggests that the benefit for the million WhyFi nodes is that they get free Wi-Fi. How many people actually have the simultaneous interest to offer free Wi-Fi by subsidizing it off their broadband connection and have PDAs or laptops where they think they'll get a benefit from free roaming on other WhyFi locations.
We don't need Wi-Fi everywhere. We just need it in the right place. Whether it's free, municipal, subsidized, or commercial, Wi-Fi hotspots have to be in the right places where people congregate, not in arbitrary locations self-selected by nodes.
Free commercially funded Wi-Fi is an idea that's spreading, but it's going to spread in the vernacular: not with a centralized database and huge funding. Each business or group of businesses will make their decisions and roll it out, and eventually it's going to be trivial for someone to find free, commercially supported access (not to mention free community and free municipal) in any business district.
There will always be limitations to free service: speed, time of day, quality of service, uptime, and bandwidth. These factors coupled with what will probably wind up being an unlimited flat rate of $20/month for nationwide roaming for Wi-Fi hotspots will make the alternatives easy and clear.
Florida plastic surgeon offers free Wi-Fi for patients: The doctor has thought about security. They use a firewall and other details to protect patient privacy, and rotate their security key.
Restaurant reviews mentions the Wi-Fi before the food and service: It might become de rigeur to mention the Wi-Fi (or lack thereof) when you review a restaurant in an urban area.
Fifty-three libraries in the Bronx and Manhattan will offer free Wi-Fi access: The libraries will provide filtered Internet access and full-text searching on the database they've licensed. Alert librarian Jenny Levine notes that the service filtered but the library's initial disclosure is inadequate.
Nortel says a $6M voice-over-IP-over-WLAN (VoWLAN) project will save them $28M in the first year alone: The article is rightly skeptical, because Nortel appears to be estimating extremely optimistically about the curtailment of cell phone use and the quality of out-of-office WLAN-VOIP.
Nortel also seems to be blithe about the idea that a laptop only has 2 to 5 hours of battery life, while a cell phone these days can have a week of standby time and many hours of talk time coupled with a quick recharge. If you have to run your laptop to accept calls and have to leave your Wi-Fi connection on, too, you'll run out of juice quite fast.
The reporter overstates one part of the issue when he writes: We wonder if Nortel is assuming that profligate executives with huge mobile bills, will also be obedient and tech-savvy when the scheme requires them to. Typically, larger corporations purchase bulk plans, including a fixed per-minute rate, instead of individual plans for each user. Executives might be the exception, in which case they might be paying $300 to $500 per month for practically unlimited minutes, so there is a cap on the service.
Schlotzsky's Delis require new franchises to install free Wi-Fi: This story covers much old ground (and misstates T-Mobile monthly hotspot fee as $40 when it's $20, $30, or $40), but it does note that Schlotzsky's has extended free Wi-Fi to 40 stores. Initially, they had it in just 10 corporate-owned stores. Also, new franchises are required to roll out free computer access.
Schlotzsky's approach combines computers in the stores available for free use and free Wi-Fi. The Schlotzsky's folks continue to cite a very small study they did several months ago: She said a survey of Schlotzsky's patrons indicated that six percent visited primarily for the Wi-Fi access. (It's actually that they visited for computer or Wi-Fi use, not just the free Wi-Fi.)
Intel releases its 802.11g Centrino module: The fully standards complaint, Wi-Fi certified 802.11g (and thus backwards compatible to 802.11b) mini-PCI module sells for $25 in quantities of 10,000 or more, according to the press release, and will appear in upcoming revisions to laptops from major makers. It supports WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access); current Centrino B adapters only support WPA for manufacturers who have integrated updated drivers.
What I was told last year during the Intel launch was that businesses of a certain scale work on a three-year purchasing cycle. Dell offered their own Broadcom-based 802.11g adapter to remain competitive because companies that had decided to go with 802.11g during 2003 wouldn't be coming back to the trough to buy more machines until 2006, and Dell would have left that business on the table.
Intel is finally able to belly up to the bar, but they really did leave a market moment open for Broadcom and others. Companies that have standardized on Broadcom's solution, even indirectly via Dell or others, won't now switch in their 2004 cycle for new machines to Intel's module because that would mean that they would have heterogenous hardware to support.
The flip side is that many companies waited on 802.11g: the enterprise versions of G access points didn't start shipping until long after the first consumer wave, and thus there was no benefit to having G.
Voice over WLAN vendors have asked the IEEE to start a VoWLAN-specific study group: Currently, aspects of 802.11 related to the needs of VoWLAN are broken out in 802.11e (quality of service or packet prioritization and scheduling), 802.11f (inter-access point communication, which includes fast handoff of authenticated users), and 802.11i (encryption). Voice calls need very fast handoff as users roam, and the current standards are apparently not focused specifically enough for some vendors.
As expected, Cisco has its own proprietary plans, yadda yadda yadda.
This seems to be an attempt at a big picture look at the Wi-Fi market: Big Picture it is, coming to novel conclusions such as that some enterprises will choose big names like Cisco because Cisco is well-known. Also, of all the big names in the Wi-Fi industry, the author chooses to only quote an exec from HP, which apparently is in the Wi-Fi business but certainly isn't considered a leader, and a Sony Ericsson exec.
The New York Times offers this cheery piece that suggests you can still ignore your kids while in the same room [reg. required]: I'm sounding cynical, but this article does extol the virtues of being able to be connected all of the time and work all of the time, even when in physical proximity to your family. Seriously, however, the notion that you can get necessary work done and not have to hole yourself up in a basement or at a specific location is one of the great benefits of a home wireless network.
Oddly, the piece opens looking at Oren Michels, identifying him as the president of a human resources benefits administration firm. I knew that name, so I perform a Google search, and find that he is also president and CEO of WiFinder, a Wi-Fi directory site. (Disclosure: I'm the senior editor at JiWire, an editorial and directory site focused on wireless that competes for ad/sponsor dollars with WiFinder.)
I shot a note to Oren to confirm that he was still in that role at WiFinder, which he is. Like WiFinder's chairman and founder Scott Rafer, Oren wears a few hats.
My point here is not that it's odd that Oren has multiple jobs, but rather it's an odd choice of the reporter to not mention that Oren Michels is the head of a company that's devoted to spreading information about Wi-Fi. It's not bias; it's just a strange omission, n'est-ce pas?
The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg reviews the Creative Technology Sound Blaster Wireless music system: Mossberg is very up on the device, which avoids some of the weaknesses of similar Wi-Fi-to-audio adapters by having its display built right into the remote control.
(Mossberg complains about having to enter a hexadecimal encryption key into the Sound Blaster software to attach it to his protected network. He speaks for all home users when he writes, No normal consumer knows what "Hex" is, and companies should stop expecting them to use it. On the other hand, when he says that the key is rendered in an arcane and obscure kind of techie code called "Hexadecimal" he's just being crotchety. Hexadecimal is just base 16: 0 to 9 and the letters A to F. Fortunately, WPA will replace the hex-interfaced WEP system eventually.)
I saw a similar device, Slim Devices's Squeezebox, at Macworld Expo last week. The Squeezebox has wired and wireless interfaces, a nice remote control, and a two-line bright LED display. It plays MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and WMA (among other formats) with the jukebox running on a Linux, Windows, or Mac system.
MediaTracker is offering a low-cost way for venues to manage their hotspots: The management software, ControlAP, costs $149 and can support several platforms and both external APs plugged into a computer or an internal wireless card. Because the software is Java based, it can be run from a handheld with a wireless card. "It's a do-it-yourself mechanism to control hotspots," said Dario Laverde, MediaTracker's founder. "The initial target is cafes and small store fronts."
The software enables a captive portal Web page where end users can sign in or see a welcome page if the hot spot is free. For now, a cafe may decide to offer 30 minutes of free use, then require customers to approach the counter where they pay the barista for additional use. A cafe could also ask customers to buy another coffee in exchange for additional use rather than set a price based on time, Laverde suggested. An employee authorizes additional use from a computer behind the counter where the ControlAP software can be integrated with existing point-of-sale software. The next version of ControlAP will support credit card billing.
The software logs traffic and allows a cafe to block URLs or users by MAC address. It can be used to manage wired connections, too, so a cafe that may have some wired computers available for customers can manage those together with users of the Wi-Fi network from the same tool.
Laverde says that thousands of people have downloaded the free version of the software, which is meant to serve as a trial version because it limits simultaneous users to five and offers stripped-down features. The full version of the software was just introduced this week.
MediaTracker isn't alone in the market chasing independent cafes that don't want to partner with any of the larger hotspot operators, but it does offer some unique differences from its competitors. Surf and Sip, for example, offers a hosted hotspot management solution that either costs $50 per month if the hotspot is free for users, or 25 percent of profits for a paid location. Sputnik offers a robust solution for managing hotspots but is designed for the small to medium-sized hotspot operator that has multiple locations. AirPath Wireless also offers a hotspot management solution but seems to be targeting larger hot spot operators--Sprint uses AirPath's solution. NoCatAuth is also an option but appropriate mostly for technical folks.
Tim Higgins gets it straight from the horse's mouth that Broadcom has no early 802.11n slated: The high throughput standards group was formed just a few months ago and expects to be done by Oct. 2005. Earlier reports that Broadcom would release 802.11n silicon relatively soon were incorrect.
The New America Foundation is offering up a new report written by Kevin Werbach called "Radio Revolution: The Coming Age of Unlicensed Wireless": The 52-page report offers a great history of spectrum regulation in this country as well as a good overview of the different types of wireless technologies used to date.
But perhaps the most interesting parts describe a vision for the future where unlicensed spectrum and adaptive mobile phones rule the day. If a bunch of policy changes are made and technology continues to develop, Werbach describes a day when virtually anyone who wants to could have their own broadcast network. Then not only could anyone create content to broadcast to anyone, but people could use wireless devices to watch an instructional video to learn how to change a tire, for example, on the spot.
A lot of the applications he envisions could be available in the near future with higher-speed networks that are in the works, but the content on the planned networks (particularly 3G networks) may be limited and expensive. He sees a much more open world where the creation and access of content is available to almost anyone.
The WiMAX Forum added 39 new members, including AT&T and Covad: The addition of major operators is significant as few operators had joined the group. The din around WiMAX is steadily growing as we approach the Wireless Communications Association's annual conference where the WiMAX Forum has tacked on a day dedicated to WiMAX.
In-Stat/MDR reports that 22.7 million Wi-Fi adapters (NICs) and access points (APs) sold in 2003: That marks a 214 percent increase over 2002 and amounts to $1.7 billion in hardware revenues. The year was also notable for indicating the start of the sale of devices that connect various home electronics such as stereos, the report notes.
In-Stat also reported that Europe offered the most notable geographic growth, moving from 9 percent of total Wi-Fi home shipments in 2002 to 15 percent. That may be good news to authors of another report who bemoaned the slow growth of Wi-Fi in Europe. Researchers at BroadGroup found that Europe and Eastern Europe combined have a lower hot spot population than South Korea. They also found that 71 percent of European hot spots are in five countries.
The Wall Street Journal reports that AT&T Wireless and Cingular are in merger talks: The industry has been predicting consolidation in the crowded cell phone market for ages. If such a deal goes down, T-Mobile, the other operator in the U.S. using the same GSM technology, would be left behind. This article notes, however, that T-Mobile could also step in and try to make a bid for Cingular.
AT&T Wireless has the fastest widespread data network in the U.S. right now with a national EDGE deployment. Cingular's data presence is quite slim, although they are reportedly building out EDGE.
Tom's Networking notes that D-Link will turn on an extended-range access feature in the Atheros chipset used in the DI-624 gateway: This mode is already available in the chip, but not turned on. By increasing receiver sensitivity, it may be possible to overcome the typical problem of requiring two or more APs to span a moderately large house or apartment.
A British governmental scientific group has given a tentative evaluation that cell phone use for adults is fine: Based on all the outstanding studies, the group did not find a conclusion that adult cell phone use constitutes a risk. However, the group continues to advise that children only use cell phones in an emergency due mainly to the lack of specific evaluation of risk for those of us with forming brains and thinner skulls.
Connexion by Boeing enters maritime connectivity market: Owning the airwaves high up in the troposphere isn't enough: the division is entering the maritime connectivity market, too. They should take heed: the press release notes that the industry is $1 billion in size, and there are many established players with entrenched partnerships.
In the cruise ship world, for instance, I traced the relationship of Holland America's on-board cybercafes through several different companies to find that one arm of a firm was selling bandwidth through two intermediaries to another arm. It was on the up and up, but it represents the byzantine structure of those complicated international marketplaces.
Mainstream business reporters are trying to get the security story right about Wi-Fi, but the details tend to be so blurry that I'm not sure it always helps: This is a fair article in BusinessWeek that describes the dangers (as so many other articles) do about the dangers of WEP. However, the examples cited in the introduction are both cases in which companies failed to use even the most basic of protections. Lowe's, as far as I've read the story, wasn't using WEP; the doctor's office didn't have any firewall security on the machines on the network, either.
To avoid using acronyms, the reporter doesn't distinguish between 802.11i and WPA and 802.1X. This whole part thus seems a bit obscure whether you know about the technology or not: By mid-2004, Wi-Fi component makers such as Intel Corp. (INTL ) and Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO ) will release products with the emerging standards. In the interim, the nation's biggest operator of public Wi-Fi networks, T-Mobile (DT ) HotSpot, plans to deadbolt its systems with upgraded encryption.
In the first case, he's talking about IEEE 802.11i, but he might be talking also about WPA. Intel supports WPA now for Centrino via a Windows XP patch and support from specific laptop makers. In the second case, T-Mobile won't deadbolt its systems -- rather, they're testing using 802.1X, which only a subset of all users will be have built into their operating system and be able to use.
This technical bit is wrong next: Security keys will be changed every time data are transmitted, instead of staying the same throughout a Wi-Fi session. And the encryption of data will be beefed up from the old 64 kilobits to 256 and will use next-generation cryptography. It's accurate to say the key is changed each time in WPA and 802.11i: there's a per-packet key mixing algorithm. However, it's not exactly a different key; it's more of a derived key, so you can still steal a single guy and can access to a network using a shared secret. The 64 kilobits is really 64 bits, and WEP supports both 40 and 104 bit (with a terrible 24-bit initialization vector) flavors. Key length isn't exactly the issue. And 802.11i will support longer keys using AES, which is the next-generation cryptography he refers to.
There's a small graphical sidebar, too which has strange advice. First, it recommends using WPA, which isn't mentioned by name in the main bar. Second, it suggests using an invite list, which is a MAC address filter, and which is known to be 100-percent ineffective. Finally, it suggests building a VPN, but doesn't really describe its nature: a encrypted tunnel running from a user's computer back to a corporate network. That's too many words, I guess.
The sidebar on WiMax is more on-target, although awfully specific. It's not really true that WiMax will first connect hotspots to the Internet and later be used for rural broadband; it's more likely that many different uses will evolve immediately, because WiMax is essentially a non-proprietary evolution of many, many specifications currently on the market that are non-interoperable.
In yet another sign of the reach of wireless networking, a Nigerian paper explains the technology to its readers: The introduction mentions four kinds of wireless, including the defunct HomeRF, and calls Wi-Fi "WECA," which is just the old name for the Wi-Fi Alliance. But it quickly settles down into a cogent explanation of how it works and why it's useful, noting that Wi-Fi isn't yet widely used in Nigeria.
A University of Texas research unit is unveiling today the results of a study of Austin's position as a hotbed of wireless development: The UT group, IC2 Institute, which stands for Innovation, Creativity, and Capital, worked with Polycot Consulting to complete the study. While results include some facts about the current status of Austin as a center for wireless development, the goal of the research was more to discover how the city might encourage the continued growth of wireless in Austin.
The study found that Austin is home to 91 wireless companies, over half of which are pure wireless ventures. Nearly half of the wireless companies, 43 percent, are involved with Wi-Fi. Most are small, with 80 percent employing 50 people or less. Through 2008, the researchers predict that the number of workers in wireless firms in Austin will grow an average of almost 19 percent.
While the researchers were surprised at how many wireless companies were in Austin, they were surprised by other findings too. "We discovered companies weren't really aware of how much there was out there," said Jon Lebkowsky of Polycot Consulting. The companies themselves didn't know how many other companies in the region were working on wireless development. As a result of that finding, the researchers started up the Austin Wireless Alliance as a forum for companies to promote growth in the wireless market in Austin. The researchers also initiated meetings for wireless workers, city government leaders, and community networking members to talk about industry needs.
One of the most important ways to support the continued growth of wireless in Austin is to make sure companies can find talented people to hire, the report concludes. As such the researchers recommend that companies work closely with local colleges and universities to ensure that proper training is available to students. In addition, the city should encourage pervasive connectivity so that more people have the opportunity to be connected and develop wireless technology. "The more people engage in the innovation of the network the more innovation emerges," said Eliza Evans, the project director with IC2 Institute.
While the city doesn't seem to be actively involved yet with supporting the proliferation of hotspots, the volunteer communities in Austin have put Austin on the top of the list of cities with the most free hot spots, according to at least one source. Less Networks, an Austin company of volunteers that develops software that venues can use free of charge to set up their hot spots, notes that Austin has the most free hot spots according to JiWire's hot spot listing. JiWire is a Wi-Fi Networking News partner. Rich MacKinnon, founder of Less Networks, did some math and notes that 36 percent of Austin's 235 hot spots are free to use while only 4 percent of New York’s 770 sites are free. JiWire's listing of free hot spots hasn't been terribly thorough but I just checked it again and the Seattle listing is much better than it was a while back. Regardless, JiWire's list is probably equally thorough (or not) everywhere so MacKinnon's numbers are probably pretty accurate.
I think this is meant to be sort of a snapshot of important companies in the Wi-Fi space: But the article lists just six, each in a different segment of the market. It also mentions that many of the companies focusing on security have "either been gobbled up or are struggling." It's true that many companies across the Wi-Fi market are struggling but I wouldn't say many have been gobbled up. There hasn't been any kind of frenetic acquisition activity going on.
The story also includes a confusing analysis of Microsoft's position in the industry, noting that its entry into the Wi-Fi market "rattled" the industry. Really? The bit mentions an announcement from Microsoft in October about an update to Windows XP that aims to make it easier for laptop users to log onto public hot spots and support for 802.1X security. It's not available yet so it's difficult to be "rattled" by the upgrade. Also, there's a good chance that Microsoft may offer stripped-down support for easier sign-in but that doesn't preclude other software makers from developing better, more targeted products.
It's unclear if the Red Herring article thinks the industry was "rattled" when Microsoft announced the software upgrade or when Microsoft introduced access points. The article goes on to say that "it is just a matter of time before the company strong-arms its way into a dominant position." Microsoft isn't in the hardware business and isn't known as a networking giant so I'm doubtful it will suddenly dominate the Wi-Fi gear market.
I'm always apprehensive when Microsoft enters a market but in this case I think there's room for Microsoft to be a big player as the supplier of stripped down software support for public hot spot access. But that's just one small component of Wi-Fi so there's plenty of room for a thriving industry of other companies.
Former Covad workers are planning to use 802.11 to build a nationwide alternative to DSL and cable modem service: Leaders of the new company aren't totally forthcoming with details, but say they'll start out slow, initially targeting the Silicon Valley region. The company plans to use smart antenna technology to increase the range of standard 802.11 gear.
Posted by Nancy Gohring at 9:49 AM | Permanent Link | Categories:
Remarkably, this $29.95 USB-to-Wi-Fi adapter has a $29.95 rebate: Someone, please explain the economics of this to me. [via Om Malik's GigaOm]
AT&T has licensed its brand to Wi-Fi devices: VTech will ship equipment with the AT&T label that's somewhat below the average price of other 802.11g gear.
In-Stat/MDR reports that the emergence of new standards, including 802.16 and 802.20, will spur growth in the fixed wireless broadband market: The market should grow from $558 million in 2003 to $1.2 billion by the end of 2007, the study concludes.
The report also notes that 802.16 with its WiMAX Forum will meet more success than 802.20, the standard being developed specifically to deliver high-speed data in a mobile environment. There is a battle emerging between these two developing standards as they are somewhat similar. While the 802.16 standard was originally designed for fixed or portable installations, it is now being developed for mobile applications. The 802.20 standard targeted mobile applications from the start and aims to use a smaller swatch of spectrum. The situation promises to get sticky and political as both standards progress.
DC Access, an ISP in Washington, D.C., is targeting multi-tenant units for its Wi-Fi based Internet access service: The ISP is partnering with property managers to put antennas on the roofs of buildings in exchange for a discount on Internet access for residents. The offering delivers 800 Kbps and is aimed at competing with DSL service.
The island nation of Niue was put on the map when it built a free Wi-Fi network covering the island: It made headlines again in October when reports surfaced that the government was shutting down the network because it hadn't been built with the proper authorizations. Now that debate is moot as a cyclone hit the island and Wi-Fi is likely residents' least concern.
EliteGroup and Lindows are selling a Linux-based notebook computer for under $700: The computer runs on an AMD processor and has built-in Wi-Fi. Some analysts wonder if the notebook will appeal to consumers given that low-end Windows laptops are available near that price range.
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Amazon.com is offering the Linksys WPC54G for $66.49 with a $10 rebate direct from Linksys; Dell has a built-in rebate for about the same: I don't like to highlight deals, but this is quite a bargain. The Linksys WPC54G is one of the bestselling cards for 802.11g under Windows -- and Mac. (That's right: if you're a Mac user with Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later and AirPort 3.1 or later, you can insert this Linksys card to get 802.11g even if you can't handle AirPort Extreme.)
Follow the graphical link at right and add the card to your Amazon.com shopping basket to see the price. There's a link to a downloadable $10 rebate coupon. You can even use Amazon's super saver shipping and pay $0 for delivery in the U.S.
I checked out Dell's price on this, and they list the card at $63.95, but my account is a Home account, and they gave me 10 percent off for no good reason and free shipping because it was over $49. I'm not sure if everyone will see the same price, but the net is $57.56 without having to send in a rebate form.
You can compare prices for more stores for this item at Shopper.com.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:00 PM | Permanent Link | Categories:
There's nothing wrong with this Robert X. Cringely column that a little expertise and knowledge couldn't solve: A little background on why I'm spending so many words to tear this essay apart. It's not that I'm opposed to the premise or some thought experiments. It's that it's so horribly uninformed.
Cringely is a well-known fellow in the industry who has written and produced videos about the business side of the Internet. Cringely is a nom de plume, but it's how the fellow appears to want to be known. He writes a regularly column on PBS's site and whenever one appears, it's quoted and linked to all over the Net. So it's my duty, unfortunately, to explain how bad this one is.
(This is the same Cringely who stated two years ago that he was using a passive repeater to obtain Wi-Fi service to his hill-top home in a manner that community wireless folks said was impossible. He promised to provide details and never did, although a personal tragedy was part of that.)
In the first part of the article, he completely botches explaining the hotspot industry in comprehensible terms. He calls several different categories of business aggregators, and completely ignores a whole other set of trends. It's not important that one adopt the cant of an industry, but when well-defined and well-used terms exist, you could use them or invent equally good distinctions if you must. He does neither.
A hotspot operator or wireless ISP installs hotspot infrastructure and manages the network, offering a revenue split and other incentives to real-estate venues to allow the hotspot to be set up; or a real-estate venue may contract with a WISP to have hotspot service installed. Wayport is the categorical WISP at this point, a practically pure play in this space. They contract with venues, install hardware, handle billing, and work with end users. T-Mobile HotSpot is also a WISP in its current model.
Infrastructure builders contract with real-estate venues to install hotspot service that they resell to hotspot aggregators. Cometa and Concourse Communications are infrastructure builders. They typically create vendor-neutral installations in which many operators and aggregators can pay for access for their downstream customers.
Aggregators resell access to other networks, typically handling the billing and authentication negotiation. Boingo Wireless and iPass are aggregators. Most of the cell companies are also aggregators, reselling access to a number of WISP networks, but sometimes also to their own network. SBC and Sprint PCS are building their own locations, but also include Wayport in their network plans.
Cringely writes the big money lately seems to be going into WiFi hotspots and hotspot aggregation. Not so. The Cometa investment, valued at $150 million (not hundreds of millions as Cringely writes), is partly services-in-trade from the three partners, Intel, AT&T, and IBM for installation and bandwidth. That amount was set over a year ago; it's not new investment at this point. Wayport has raised a lot of money in the past, but is only trying (still?) for $10-$15M more for expansion. MobileStar went down with over $80M in venture. The cell companies are self-funding their own network build-out. Boingo has a reasonable amount of investment raised since 2001. iPass raised tens of millions in an IPO a few months ago, but they stated very clearly that 99 percent of their revenue comes from dial-up, and the remaining one percent is broadband wired and wireless -- and most of their broadband is hotel in-room wired. I don't see the cash. Wireless LAN switches are where the real venture has flowed lately.
The first problem that all these aggregators have is the existence of the others. Actually, it's not. They're competing for venues, but all of the operators and infrastructure builders I've spoken with -- all of them, just about -- are looking for exclusive infrastructure and then to resell those locations to as many aggregators as possible. There are enough venues that they're not bumping elbows as I wrote in an article in The New York Times a few months ago. In some ways, more aggregators means it's more likely that more venues would install service because they would be more convinced that demand was there from customers of these services or their upstream aggregators.
For WiFi to really succeed it would be nice if there was just a single aggregator, but that's not the way things work in a market economy. There's no reason for this. Many aggregators can offer different combinations of plans for many sets of networks. iPass sells a metered rate en masse to corporations which essentially average their usage across all of their roaming users; Boingo sells an individual unlimited subscription that requires that each user maximize the utility of that subscription each month. A single "aggregator" in his terminology would also mean that every venue was presented with a single set of terms: like it or lump it.
IPass, another aggregatgor that works slightly differently from Boingo, (iPass is effectively an aggregator of aggregators) claims 2800 hotspots. Ignoring the typo, iPass is just another aggregator; Bob has misdefined the term and this trips him up. iPass actually has 10,000 under contract, even though they only claim 3,000 (not 2,800) today. Given his point about ubiquity, it would be worth mentioning the higher figure, which will be available near term, and include significantly the first reselling of T-Mobile's nearly 4,000 locations in the US.
Cringely now gradually segues into his big idea: let's have a million hotspots. How? By having everyone install hardware provided for free and then hook it up into an aggregated whole that requires Wi-Fi-like -- key word there, like -- hardware.
He relates the story of his friend who uses product placement on TV shows to sell jewelry. He says that his friend bypassed all the lawyers involved in contracting with each show by providing jewelry at no cost to the show's costume designers. It's a cool model because it means there's no money in this space for TV producers, or they'd be sucking it dry. His friend is milking a good run out of an otherwise unexploited niche.
But applying this to the hotspot world is tricky: his million hotspots are in a million venues, owned by probably 250,000 separate companies. Let's say 500,000 venues are owned by 1000 companies and 500,000 by 240,000 companies. Cringely writes, First we need to encourage what are essentially noncommercial hotspots and we do that not by revenue sharing but by providing free equipment. Anyone who wants to start a hotspot gets a free WiFi access point and a free WiFi client card for a notebook or other computer.
Who is this we? Who gives this hardware away? He never says. Who accepts it? There's no equivalent of a costume designer in a random venue. Every one of the 15,000 hotels in the US has a general manager and most have higher-ups. None of those people could accept free hardware -- and it wouldn't be a single piece. A hotel can cost tens to hundreds of thousands to fully wire or unwire. Even a coffee shop might need two access points. Every individual coffee shop in the US has already been approached by many, many hotspot operators -- at least when I talk to the coffee shop owners -- and some have already offered them free hardware, and they said no.
It gets worse. If you want to be part of the WhyFi network, you have to accept WhyFi equipment. Cringely doesn't define quite how WhyFi and Wi-Fi differ except by using a few buzzwords. He wants authentication through a database -- but who runs that infrastructure? Each location? A central authority? Who handles customer service, account management, backups, emergencies, tech support? That's a massive infrastructure right there if you scale above a few dozen people -- even a few hundred requires tons of resources.
The features of the access point and gateway in his vision include bandwidth throttling, firewalling, and other aspects of control that are the heart and soul of the Sputnik firmware, AP, and Central Control. Bob, you don't have to invent it. It already exists and it uses Wi-Fi standards and other networking standards. And it has all kinds of open-source and extensible components to it.
your WhyFi card gives you free unlimited access to the entire network through MAC address filtering. Still not sure how you get the millions of Wi-Fi cards replaced with WhyFi cards, and then how MAC address filtering -- a completely ineffective method of controlling access to a network as the MAC addresses must be sent in the clear and thus can be kiped and cloned -- really addresses anything. Then there's the issue of real-time processing of MAC addresses on a local WLAN authenticated through a centralized database: what happens when you lose or replace your WhyFi card? How do you register in the first place?
Right now many readers are thinking that most ISPs frown on hotspots and connection sharing. That's true but they also function in a competitive environment such that I don't think any major ISP could make stick such a prohibition if there was widespread cheating. Some strategic lawsuits a la the RIAA prosecution of teenagers stealing music would be part of it. Cable companies believe they can sue under theft of cable service laws. Some ISPs have been willing to cancel accounts when they find sharing going on. If it becomes widespread, there may just be more cancellations and prosecutions. Or Speakeasy Networks will get a lot more business for their legitimate and encouraged network sharing. (He mentioned Speakeasy.)
Because there is no revenue sharing the software to manage the WhyFi network can be much simpler. There's also no money to fund the new hardware or software or firmware or infrastructure necessary to run this system. And Cringely talks about charging just a moment later. The software to manage millions of MAC addresses and accounts even for free requires huge investment.
Because the hardware and service are free to hotspot owners there is likely to be great demand leading to those one million hotspots. I'm in the Twilight Zone. WHO is providing this for free?
And even the free subscribers don't present a burden on the system because each of their WhyFi cards extends the hotspot they are connected to by building a little ad hoc WhyFi access point of its own....Note that what I propose is simple technology. No mesh networks here. Not that I am opposed to mesh networks but I doubt that even WhyFi would reach the kind of density needed to make that concept work.
So is this entire essay a speculation on what could happen if every current Wi-Fi user were given (or purchased) new free equipment, a new standard were developed, and WhyFi was a bridge and access point and client at the same time? It's possible, of course, but when you start bridging and handling local traffic and have lots of individual access points in a small space, there are huge coordination issues under Wi-Fi, as well as a necessity of using the same channel, massively reducing available bandwidth. It's possible to approach this better with mesh, but it means even more so that entirely new hardware would be needed...which I guess he's proposing in the first place.
When it is finished the WhyFi network would have one million hotspots and hotspot extender cards, 30 million paying subscribers. Back up: who pays? I thought you needed a WhyFi card to access the network and then you used it for free. Without a WhyFi card, um, how do you access the network?
And how do you manage a network with 30 million subscribers on an ad hoc basis with no infrastructure and no centralization?
Here's my final flaw in Cringely's essay: the elephant in the room he's not mentioning. Free wireless. It's all over the place. Community groups. Municipalities. Businesses. Groups of businesses. Free wireless is a huge inchoate "movement" in which thousands of locations offer it without any coordination among most of them. Pyramid Research estimates that in a few short years most hotels that offer broadband (Wi-Fi and wired) won't charge separately for it -- it'll be an amenity like a bed or a desk.
The million points of WhyFi lead me to ask Why WhyFi? Why not Wi-Fi? The current set of overlapping commercial motivations to offer for-fee service and the huge wave of free and open commercial, public, civil, and community access mean that the nooks and crannies will be filled in.
Perhaps I'm spending too much time deconstructing Cringely, but his reach extends far. I'm not sure why we need a new standard nor who will pay for any part of it. This might have been just speculative fiction on his part, but there are too many errors and too many missing pieces to take any of it seriously.
Broadcom introduced an 802.11g chip at CES that promises to burst up to 125 Mbps: Buffalo Technology also introduced the first product to use the chip, the AirStation Router-g.
Broadcom said it achieved the performance gain with technology that closes the timing gap between data packets. The chips use just one channel to transmit. Broadcom says the chips are compatible with standard 802.11g gear and won't cause service degradation on nearby networks.
Broadcom is behind many of its competitors that have already introduced higher speed chips. Atheros offers a chip that can burst to 108 Mbps used by Netgear and D-Link. That gear, which employs several methods to achieve the higher throughput including channel bonding, degrades the performance of nearby Broadcom networks. It doesn't have negative affects on all nearby networks, though.
In line with Starbucks' plans to offer exclusive content to draw users to its Wi-Fi networks, the company is offering video clips related to Sundance to cafe visitors: The clips will include exclusive filmmaker interviews, behind-the-scenes clips, and movie trailers. Visitors can watch the video without paying for access to the Wi-Fi networks. But customers who do decide to pay for accesss will get a free day-pass to the Sundance Online Film Festival. Starbucks is a sponsor of the Sundance Film Festival.
Wayport has built Wi-Fi networks in over 800 locations, including 35,000 hotel rooms: The company has an additional 20,000 hotel rooms sold, soon to be built. In the last six months of 2003, Wayport logged a 113 percent increase in customer connections--defined as sessions of unlimited use in one location--over the same time frame a year earlier. Wayport's revenues for the fourth quarter 2003 grew 87 percent over the same quarter in 2002.
The buzz at CES must be all about wirelessly connecting home electronics because there is lots of talk on the subject this week: Philips is touting its connected home concept, which revolves around the iPronto, a universal remote, or the DesXcape, which sounds like a Tablet PC. The portable devices let users control all connected products in the home. Philips envisions users accessing content from the Internet or a PC to listen to a Web-based music station in one room, watch a movie trailer or music video in another room and check out pictures on a TV elsewhere.
While Philips touts a package of products that makes such a scenario easy to set up and use, it will take some time to develop products that will be truly easy enough for the mass market.
The editors at CNET picked four categories that they predict will be hot in 2004: One is using Wi-Fi to network home entertainment devices.
Tenzing, which offers airplane email access, will offer an onboard WLAN for Emirates Airlines: The service will use planes' existing 2.4 Kbps satellite connection so will only allow passengers to send and receive email, not Web surf. Tenzing says that limitation will make the service less expensive for passengers--around $20 for a long-haul flight compared to Connexion By Boeing's $30 for similar flights. Users must download a client before they take off and the service will support most POP3 accounts and some corporate VPNs.
This isn't an extremely attractive offering. If someone is willing to pay $20 to use email onboard, they're likely willing to pay $30 to reach the Internet and use any email. Plus, it's a hassle to have to download a client before you take off.
Verizon Wireless said today that it will spend $1 billion over the next two years expanding its data network nationwide: Verizon's EV-DO network is already up in San Diego and Washington, D.C. and "many major" cities will get it by this summer.
Alan Reiter has written a bunch about his experience using the network, which promises 300 Kbps to 500 Kbps speeds with the potential to burst to 2 Mbps. He says he usually gets around 200 Kbps and almost never as much as 2 Mbps.
In response to Verizon's news, AT&T Wireless is touting how its data network compares to Verizon's. AT&T Wireless has the fastest network with the widest coverage area right now. Its EDGE network, which delivers around 100 Kbps, is available nationwide. By contrast, Verizon's nationwide 1XRTT network offers over 50 Kbps. AT&T Wireless still claims to be planning to introduce a higher speed service based on the European 3G standard in four cities by the end of this year.
Around 50 million homes in Europe, the United States, and Asia will have Wi-Fi by 2007, according to report from BWCS: Today, about 5 million homes have Wi-Fi, and most of them are in the United States. Around the world, 23 percent of broadband homes should have Wi-Fi by 2007.
While some analysts commenting on Magis' recent bankruptcy say the market isn't ready to connect various home electronics, this story sites IDC research that says the next phase of Wi-Fi development will come from connecting the computer, TV, cameras, and MP3 players. That sounds like the next logical step and a great extension of use of existing Wi-Fi networks.
In response to our recent post about how many APs per student universities hang, Joao Nuno Castro kindly sent along a chart listing 70 universities in Portugal and how many APs they use: The average is 100 users per AP, but the numbers range from as low as nine to as high as 624, though most on the high end are closer to 150. That wide range may be tied to coverage and overall student population, not necessarily due to some ratio an IT manager has in mind.
Castro works for the Innovation and Knowledge Society Unit in the Portuguese Government and offered up some information about Portugal's interest in Wi-Fi. Portugal has an Electronic University (e-U) project that aims to build networks on university campuses and link them together. Portugal seems really aggressive in encouraging Wi-Fi network development. Read more about the e-U initiative here.
Portugal is also part of the Trans European Research and Education Networking Association which plans to enable roaming for students and researchers between member universities. Portugal is helping to pioneer the infrastructure that will enable roaming in 2005, Castro said.
SyChip showed off a new WLAN card at CES: The company said it is testing the product with PDA and smartphone makers. The card lets users opt for slower throughput speeds to save battery life, a key consideration for handheld devices that use WLANs.
Magis Networks, a developer of chipsets designed to allow users to network home electronics, filed for bankruptcy protection in mid-December: In 2002, the company raised $48 million from big shots including Motorola, Time Warner, Panasonic, and Sanyo. One analyst cited here says the demand for networking home electronics didn't materialize. He can't imagine why he'd want to hook his PC to anything. I can! I think a lot of people would like to stream music from their PC to their stereo.
Still, there may be something to the fact that perhaps the market isn't ready yet. One reason may be that the higher speed wireless networks haven't made major headway into the home yet and higher speed is required to steam video, for example, from the Internet to a TV. I imagine the general public also sees connecting multiple home electronics as a pretty complicated undertaking. Until it's faster and simpler, this market space might be slow to take off.
Conference and trade show managers see a trend toward small, targeted conferences, according to a recent survey: Apparently the hottest conferences in 2003 discussed Wi-Fi and the managers expected Wi-Fi to continue to be a hot conference subject through this year.
GlobespanVirata has come up with an upgrade to its 802.11g and 802.11a chips that it claims will boost network speeds to 140 Mbps: The company says the upgraded chips are compatible with standard 802.11g and 802.11a clients and won't cause interference with other networks. It's not clear how the chips achieve the higher data rates. Somehow the upgrade enables transfers of compressed audio and video at the higher rates but encrypted data doesn't get the higher throughput.
More companies are coming out with proprietary ways to boost throughput and that could be a recipe for trouble. We've already heard reports of interference from gear using an Atheros chip that boosts speeds. The more proprietary gear out there, the greater the likelihood of interoperability problems. Still, you can't really blame the vendors for wanting to come out with higher speed products and with the absence of standards, they don't have much choice but to do it on their own.
BT officially announced that it will build hotspots in over 500 McDonald's restaurants in Britain: BT will pay for the install and both companies will promote it and share revenues. BT expects to have 4,000 hot spots by this summer and said it will continue to make roaming agreements with other hot spot operators around the globe.
This story offers slightly different details, including some more information on what's happening with McDonald's hot spots in the U.S. A recent survey of McDonald's hot spots in the U.S. showed that customers are predominantly male, many of whom said they would not have visited McDonald's if not for the Wi-Fi. So much for the campaign to encourage people to eat healthier.
From the There's Nothing New Under the Sun Department, coffee houses in the 17th and 18th centuries were the Wi-Fi hotspots of their day: The Economist writes (without byline, as is its wont) about the parallels between the political and editorial foment that occurred in 17th and 18th century coffeehouses in England and, to a lesser extent, France, and how these centers of iquity (as opposed to iniquity, Wodehouse might write) led to the foundation of insurers and publications. In fact, coffee houses were often the mailing addresses for folks before street addresses were common.
It all sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee houses thus have this excellent pedigree. The author of this piece is the same fellow who write the charming and excellent The Victorian Internet, which relayed the development of the telegraph and its effect on the planetary infosphere, and how it paralleled (and predicted) Internet trends, including the bubble. The author is working on a book now about the coffee house/Internet cafe overlap.
Research and Markets has come out with a new study that asks some interesting questions, but doesn't offer answers unless you buy the report, apparently: One interesting question the study poses is, how can health providers, which have stringent security requirements, be major users of WLANs if security is so poor? I suppose that's because there are security solutions but they can be complicated or expensive to deploy. Another question is, why do some universities hang one AP for every 15 students and others use one for 100 students? That points to the fact that deploying WLANs is a fairly new phenomena and IT folks are likely experimenting with how many APs are necessary. Authors of the report also wonder why some startups have over 100 customers if there are too many 802.11 companies. That's a silly question as a company can have thousands of customers and still fail if the business case doesn't work out.
On the heels of announcing that only a Chinese-bred Wi-Fi security standard will be required in China and only Chinese companies can license it, the government has added nine more licensees: The names of the new companies have not been released yet and the total licensees is now 20. Foreign companies can make the gear but only with a co-production deal with a Chinese company. Plus, foreign companies must pay their partners to integrate the Chinese encryption standard WAPI into their gear while Chinese companies get the license for free.
This whole situation is so ridiculous I can't even comment on it. What would happen if the rest of the world tried to prevent Chinese companies from making Wi-Fi gear using a standard that the Americans or French or Australians controlled and wouldn't allow access to?
TI's new wOne software can support simultaneous use of 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g networks on a single chip: Other dual-band devices use multiple chips to support the different standards. TI claims that using a single chip will decrease the cost of products.
The catch is, when an access point with TI's chip is running two networks simultaneously, they both take a hit. Users will get around 10 Mbps on either an 802.11a or 802.11g network when running them at the same time. If that's what the manufacturer says, real life ought to produce even slower speeds.
PCTEL, the developer of software that makes Wi-Fi roaming easier, bought antenna maker Maxrad: Seems sort of an odd fit. While Maxrad makes antennas for Wi-Fi gear such as Proxim's access points, it also makes antennas for Motorola two-way radios and GPS systems.
WLAN chipmaker NextComm filed for bankruptcy protection last week: The company was based outside of Seattle and its Web site is still up and running. NextComm will likely be the first of many Wi-Fi chipmakers to fail as there are too many competitors in the market.
Roving Planet secured $9.5 million in funding: The company, which makes a platform that lets enterprises integrate existing network security and management functions with their wireless LANs, will use the money to expand globally and develop its product.
Rumor has it that BT may build hot spots in U.K. McDonald's: In the U.S., McDonald's has hired three companies to build hot spots but may ultimately whittle down to just one vendor.
The BBC has a silly article about Wi-Fi written by a reporter who fails to include any sort of insight or analysis between statistics: The piece hinges on the buzz around BT OpenZone's plans to offer free Wi-Fi access from Jan. 26 through Feb. 1. The stunt aims to boost awareness and increase use of the network. Looks to me like another sign that the big operators are still struggling with a business model around Wi-Fi.
A handful of small companies are delivering wireless broadband access to residents and businesses in and around Seattle: Most of the companies use Wi-Fi to serve customers as far as five miles from an antenna and they're charging around $30 a month for a 1.5 Mbps service. These small operators are welcomed with open arms especially by residents who aren't served by any other type of broadband access.
I'd love to see one of these startups expand and stay in business for a while. As this article notes, these small broadband wireless providers tend to come and go.
The service providers targeting rural areas may have more success in the future if the FCC decides to loosen up power restrictions. Apparently the FCC is considering allowing operators in rural areas to use higher transmit power levels than operators in cities. In rural areas there's less potential for interference and more need to allow signals to travel far because people tend to be more spread out.
San Diego is a hub for wireless companies and businesses there tend to be innovators in using wireless technologies: This piece looks at how one real estate agent uses Verizon's high-speed mobile network and how a handful of businesses use Wi-Fi networks.
One interesting Wi-Fi application is at One America Plaza in San Diego. The developer of the commercial office building offers Wi-Fi to tenants for free. He charges tenants for wired broadband access which is built in to the building but figures that Wi-Fi is an "amenity" so should be offered without cost, just like elevator service. An already-built Wi-Fi network sounds like a super bonus for any business hunting for new office space.
Christian Science Monitor notes growth of Wi-Fi and its potential for disruption: Very carefully documented article that describes Wi-Fi's current uses in public spaces and homes, and the potential for it or subsequent wireless technologies to completely disrupt the current model of telephony and data access.
Tacoma, Washington, has a tremendously ahead-of-its-time fiber optic link run as a utility by the city, but a hotspot experiment has ended due to concerns over security: The network tested out a hotspot at one location, but decided that for security reasons--and also, but less importantly, lack of projectable revenue--that they'd pull the plug.
As 802.1X and VPNs rise in availability and importance, it may be that security decisions can be wiped away. If you had a preponderance of Windows XP and Mac OS X 10.3 users, who have built-in VPN clients for both IPsec and PPTP as well as secured 802.1X/EAP, then perhaps you could build a business on the notion that you were offering 100-percent locally encrypted connections.
I've wondered why hotspots don't partner with a VPN ASP and simply provide a free account to monthly users or a $1 add-on to pay-as-you-go users to give them permanent (monthly) or disposable (pay-as-you-go) VPN accounts? (Boingo is the only service to offer VPN as just a part of their client.)
Tim Higgins of SmallNetBuilder and Tom's Hardware have a new offering: Where does this site's operators turn to get the exhaustive understanding of wireless technology and network issues? Tim Higgins. His site, SmallNetBuilder, has merged with the Tom's Hardware site's network section to form Tom's Hardware. Bookmark it!