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Auckland City and ISP sponsor free Wi-Fi for June in central business district: Reach Wireless, which uses RoamAD's Wi-Fi mesh technology, has launched its central business district (CBD) service in New Zealand's Auckland City. The CBD and Reach are sponsoring free Wi-Fi with a downtown purchase through the month of June as a promotion.
RoamAD's VP of business development Martin Levy said that service speeds range from 500 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps throughout the three-kilometer-square covered area. Pavements have been marked with a "Wi-Fi Zone" tag, and people in orange suits and hard hats--for visibility, Levy said--are handing out information packets during June (see inset photo).
Regular service costs are NZ$8.50 (US$5.27) for an hour, NZ$16.95 (US$10.50) for a day, NZ$49.95 ($30.97) for monthly users that the press release describes as "light" (600 megabytes of transfer), and NZ$74.95 ($46.47) for "uncapped reasonable use service": 10 gigabytes per month after which your service speed may be capped at 256 Kbps.
Almost superb AP story on the lack of simple setup in Wi-Fi home gateways: The reporter neatly details the difficulties in all of the current Wi-Fi gateways in turning security on, especially in gateways and adapters designed by different companies.
The only point the writer misses is that WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), which is required in all new Wi-Fi equipment, allows the entry of a simple passphrase instead of a long sequence of hexadecimal numbers.
But there's so much pre-WPA equipment out there that hexadecimal WEP keys are still the rule of the day--most adapters (but not all wireless gateways) can be patched to handle WPA, but a user who can't figure out hex keys won't be able to figure out where to find obscure firmware upgrades.
Windows XP requires patches and a rollup to support WPA, while Apple users must installed Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) for WPA support. As WPA support permeates the home market through updates and upgrades to hardware, and as new equipment fills homes, you might see security improve through less obscurity.
Newsweek covers all forms of wireless networking and cellular telecom across several stories this week: The package of articles opens with Steven Levy musing about why people find wireless technology so compelling. You can distill his interesting and accurate overview of the field into this sentence: The ease of distribution becomes a force in itself, pushing networks to handle more bandwidth.
It's a restating of Metcalfe's Law, in part: The power of the network increases exponentially by the number of computers connected to it. Therefore, every computer added to the network both uses it as a resource while adding resources in a spiral of increasing value and choice.
Wireless networks require substantial innovation and expense in developing the basic technology, but then each additional node has substantially less cost associated than with increasing a wireline network, whether in an office or across a city. Wireless reduces the friction in accelerating the density of network, and that rollercoaster ride into exponential power is where speed freaks get their high.
A bar at the right top of the article links to the several other pieces in the package, but I'll point out two notable pieces: The Wireless World offers a city-by-city rundown of some of the more interesting uses of wireless data, including entire towns blanketed with Wi-Fi and Austin, Texas's intense density of free hotspots. The other article to note is A Few Who Got Us Here, which puts NYCwireless co-founder Anthony Townsend in the first position alongside the founder of BlackBerry's maker Research in Motion, and a VP at Samsung.
Avaya, Motorola, and Proxim combine on a handset that talks Wi-Fi in an enterprise and cell elsewhere--but only the 802.11a flavor of Wi-Fi: Requiring the use of 802.11a is an interesting choice, because it avoids many of the interference, latency, and dropped packet issues present in using an overtaxed, QoS-free 802.11b/g network. With 802.11a, you could conceivably devote several in-building channels to voice or have a sufficient density and overlap of coverage that you wouldn't suffer from bandwidth lacks.
One analyst quoted in the story suggests that enterprises will eventually all use 802.11a, but I'd like to see some evidence of that. A number of vendors sell a/g equipment for the enterprise, and I've seen no information on an upswing in dual-radio adoption.
A more compelling option for 802.11a is via products that have multiple radios or multiple channels in a single box, such as products powered by Engim's chipset. In that model, because each access point could have several hundred Mbps of actual throughput through bonded or standalone channels, it would be worth deploying the denser installation required by 802.11a. 802.11b and g have substantial limits on total system speed because of their staggered and overlapping channels.
Nobody likes to make enemies, but I have to be honest about the dollar-to-content value of this book: Let me be clear from the outset. I don't know any of the authors of this book, except by reputation, and have nothing but the highest regard for their technical knowledge and their achievements. The folks who wrote WarDriving: Drive, Detect, Defend are experts about most of what they write about, and offer great technical insights and tips throughout.
That said, I can't recommend this book primarily because the best advice is already available on the Web for free in much the same form; chunks of the most practical early part of the book are repetitive to cover different operating systems or scenarios with the same approach; the middle part of the book comprises a 60-page-long set of anecdotes with long code extracts; and the last part of the book features security advice that's somewhat strange focusing on commercial software and hardware that's obscure and hard to use and mostly out of keeping with the kind of audience that could possibly be interested in this title.
A factor that led to book bloat (520 pages, no CD-ROM, $49.99) is the lengthy reproduction of code, sometimes double spaced that a reader must be expected to input rather than download or copy and paste from a Web page. Further, many of the programs seem too idiosyncratic to be of general utility, arguing against their inclusion in the printed book even if other programs were printed in full.
For fairness's sake, after reading this book a few weeks ago, I sent the publisher's publicist contact my remarks and a list of errors found in the book. I was promised some follow up and didn't get it, so the statute of limitations of waiting for a response to specifics has ended. I should also make it clear that I have co-written a book on wireless networking which has practically no overlap with this book.
In general, the book is best at collecting and providing documentation on the trickiest aspects of scanning for, recording, and defending against wardriving and Wi-Fi network cracking. Some of the areas on defense are the strongest in the book, although other areas seem highly misguided.
From the first page of the book to the end of Chapter 7, page 243, it's at its strongest. It's a cogent, how-to guide to installing and using stumbling and detection software. While much of this could be found online, it's the best use of screen captures, code excerpts, configuration details, and tips. If the book had ended on page 243 and cost, say, $30, I'd be giving it an entirely positive review.
My only real problem with that first chunk is on pages 5 and 6, where warchalking is treated contemptuously for no good reason I can determine. The sidebar makes it sound like warchalking was a media invention instead of a set of simple graphics invented by Matt Jones. (For some odd reason, there's a sub-class of writers who are Jones deniers or ignorers--a major newsmagazine refused my request to correct a statement in a Wi-Fi article that read "nobody knows who invented warchalking," for instance.) There's also a specious survey of 48 people who have never seen a warchalking mark in the wild, "proving" that warchalking doesn't exist.
But contradictorily, warchalking is then used throughout the rest of the book. It's used to identify software, meeting points, the WorldWide Wardrive--and that doesn't include the companies like Jiwire or hotspots community and commercial that have adopted the )( symbol. I can't quite figure out the rant's purpose or intent. It doesn't matter if warchalking marks have appeared spontaneously on pavement; it does matter that a recognizable graphic element has entered the group consciousness, which the book proves it has.
The book abruptly shifts into anecdote in Chapter 8 starting on page 245 and continuing through many DefCons and WorldWide Wardrives and fully reproduced scripts to page 313. I'm sure to offend the author of that section, but dropping the scripts and condensing the long stories of interest primarily to the participants--do we really care about the parking lot at the hotel?--would have provided better advice for creating wardrives and contests. A few pages of anecdote, downloadable code, and a tightly written set of guidelines and principles would have been much more useful.
Chapter 9 effectively covers a range of methods to compromise encryption or networks, and offers good advice about it. But the remainder of the book is spotty. It has quite basic chunks on using WEP and WPA which seem out of place--more manual-like than book-like. And the authors spend quite a while covering one free (from Reefedge, but at no charge) and three commercial methods (Linksys, Microsoft, and Funk) of securing access, some of which are quite extraordinary, such as using a Linksys VPN router to configure an end-to-end tunnel to secure traffic. I've tried using that Linksys VPN to do that, and even with the number of pages devoted to it in this book, it's not for the faint of heart.
The coverage of using EAP-TLS over 802.1X as a reasonable method baffles me. It requires a public key infrastructure, and has several alternatives, including PEAP and EAP-TTLS, that avoid the PKI issue entirely. PEAP can be implemented for free, as well, instead of using a commercial server.
Oddly, too, there's no reference to FreeRADIUS which has Wi-Fi authentication components, or the discontinued but still robust FreeS/WAN network encryption management system--which seem like no-brainers to include or at least mention.
I haven't even mentioned that the choice of spelling wardriving as WarDriving throughout the book is slightly distracting.
Other errors point to a potentially long genesis of the book, which may explain why it feels outdate in parts but completely timely in others. On page 372, the WRT54G configuration is shown using firmware that's a year old, which is very strange given that that was a pre-certification 802.11g release, and didn't include WPA, either. The book covers NetStumbler's 0.4.0 release, which postdated release of the book.
I wanted to like or even love this book, but only parts of it are compelling. At fifty bucks, I'd rather buy a Wi-Fi card and spent my time researching configuration online.
Your editor has been trying to sort these story out for a couple of days: T-Mobile's hotzone powered by Comcast broadband: The problem with a story like this is that it's been given enormous play because it's a major city and a large area. But it's planned to be a paid location after the first six months, and it's not particularly interesting as a "partnership," because Comcast's role is mostly marketing. Sure, they're bringing in bandwidth, but any Internet provider would do. Likewise, T-Mobile has no other outdoor hotzones that I'm aware of, and it's unclear what the point is of this one: a trial balloon?
The press release and coverage cites the fact that Comcast customers have access to T-Mobile's hotspot service. Sure, and so do I: the rate, as far as I can tell, is the same. Again, marketing. I thought about not covering this at all, but it's worth explicating the event.
Meanwhile, in cities around the country, hotzones like NewburyOpen.net in Boston and Battery Park in Manhattan are sprouting that are commercially supported free locations designed to be free indefinitely and focusing on areas with high appropriate traffic.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, expands a one-year trial of free Wi-Fi in its downtown: I first heard about this on the radio program I was interviewed on yesterday on New Hampshire Public Radio (show archived at this page). The first year had 600 unique users connect to a free hotspot in the Market Square area. They're extending that and hoping for twice the users using donated services and hardware. The cost must be quite minimal. Now 600 people (not 600 sessions) only translates into an extra few people a day, on average, but Portsmouth is using whatever tools they have to increase traffic to the community. The fellow interviewed alongside me on the radio said that their big time is cyclical, every four years, when the primaries roll through the state, and that reporters were filing over the free Wi-Fi this last winter.
Chaska, Minnesota's city government will offer Wi-Fi citywide for broadband connectivity: Using Tropos gear, the city will charge $16 per month for access to the network, which will also be used for public safety. The town has 18,000 residents, and they expect 2,000 people to sign up for service. The offering will inclue about 200 Tropos access points over a 12 to 13 square mile area.
It's not a truck stop, it's a travel center, and its 150-plus locations will be wireless by July: Travel Centers combine truck stop features with RV and auto drivers needs, and they'll add Wi-Fi to the mix--it's a must have for any place in its category now. The 40 company-owned stores are already unwired; the franchisees will be ready to go by July 3. Service will cost $1.49 for an hour, $4.49 for 24 hours starting at the time of purchase, $22.49 for two months, and $169.99 per year. These longer plans are designed truckers to ensure brand loyalty. Diesel-fuel buyers can cash in RoadKing Club points they earn from buying gas against the Wi-Fi service.
At a cost of €1 million, Brussels puts in first of 20 Web kiosks with Wi-Fi: The cost seems quite extraordinary, but these are outdoor units designed to stand up to abuse and weather. They use touch sensitive screens for browsing, and have Wi-Fi built in for nearby use.
The U of O installed Wi-Fi beginning in 1999; 2,500 unique users in a 20,000-person student body in January: The university went full bore on Wi-Fi in 2002, and access is practically ubiquitous. They're thinking about extending service out into community nearby as well, but not for general use. The university is in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. (That's OR-ih-gun not OREY-gone. What are you, some kind of hick?)
c|net reviews SoniqCast's Wi-Fi-enabled MP3 player: The device gets 7.7 out of 10 points for its good featureset, small form factor, and easy Wi-Fi configuration. The retail price at Best Buy is $300. Transfer speeds are quite slow -- just a few hundred kilobits per second -- whether via USB 1.1 or 802.11b Wi-Fi. WEP support is built in; WPA support due later this year. It has a FM receiver for that older form of wireless music transmission. It stores 1.5 gigabytes.
Glenn Fleishman appears on The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio tomorrow: Tune in your crystal radios or click this link to listen live as I discuss wireless technology with the host of the program at 6 am Pacific/9 am Eastern on Wednesday. We have a wide-ranging agenda, part of which will focus on wireless broadband, given New Hampshire's substantial non-urban population.
Carol Ellison echoes and expands on sentiments that are rampant: fixed fees for hotspot reselling moderates risk: Ellison's superb three-page column at eWeek.com analyzing why Wayport could succeed with its Wi-Fi World model through their existing partnerships, the reduced risk of success through fixed fees from many parties, and the value-added services that will keep Wayport in McDonald's even if hotspot usage doesn't skyrocket.
In an email exchange with a few colleagues today who follow the Wi-Fi and cell industries, the same themes emerged. Wayport has cut through the nonsense about Wi-Fi growth by building a model which has an upside based on the number of resellers, not the number of sessions they sell.
NPR reports on interference among legitimate radio uses: Morning Edition reports on conflicts between legitimate uses, such as a baby monitor poorly made that was appearing on military and AM/FM radio (they pulled the monitor off the market). It also explains how broadband-over-powerlines (BPL) might have an impact on licensed amateur radio. The excellent report covers how the FCC is improving its testing methods to observe interference.
Business broadband wireless firm TowerStream adds antennas to Empire State Building: Steve Stroh reports that TowerStream now says it has nearly 100 percent availability in New York City for its service guarantee backed broadband wireless service. TowerStream has made a name for itself as a T-1 or faster replacement with fast rollout. In New York, this is an especially appealing offering, where aging facilities and other factors can produce long delays for high-speed business-grade data lines. TowerStream is not a Wi-Fi company, as Steve notes; they're using technology designed for this task, but are often bringing backhaul to Wi-Fi hotspots.
Cingular says it will build UMTS, but needs spectrum first: The article doesn't cite Cingular's expected speed, but notes that the company will finish its EDGE (roughly 100 kbps) build-out by this summer. Merging with AT&T Wireless provides Cingular with that firm's EDGE infrastructure, as well as the four trial cities for UMTS that AT&T Wireless has scheduled. UMTS service by Cingular might take until 2006 or 2007 for broad availability; testing begins in Atlanta this summer.
Tim Higgins covers Buffalo's announcement of its "125" gear: This equipment uses the latest firmware and chips from Broadcom, which Buffalo very neatly clarifies has about 34 Mbps of throughput and 125 Mbps of signaling bandwidth. This is quite fair: it's one of the clearer statements from any vendor about real-world performance of increasingly higher signaling rates, or rates at which symbols are encoded. Real throughput measures the actual data transferring end-to-end over the network.
Buffalo has its wireless gateway ready to go now for about $110 street price, Higgins notes. The unit supports all current security options. The CardBus (PC Card) and PCI cards will ship next month for about $100 list.
Each of the new Buffalo devices, plus some existing Buffalo equipment, will support its AOSS or AirStation One Touch Secure System. AOSS is supposed to set up an encryption key between a base station and a client adapter when you hold down a button for a few seconds on the access point and then run client software on the computer you're connecting. I just spent 40 minutes with two fresh-out-of-the-box Buffalo units (the WBR2-G54 AirStation and WLI-CB-G54A PC Card) without reaching a successful conclusion. I'm talking to Buffalo about this to see where I went wrong. This obviously can't be every user's experience.
Buffalo also announced a partnership with my editorial and advertising partner, Jiwire. The Jiwire Portable Hotspot Locator will be bundled with the software distributed by Buffalo on CD.
During Wayport's briefing yesterday, they shared key metrics about the company: It's rare to see this much data from any hotspot provider, which goes to show the confidence Wayport has in its current and future businesses. The old saying is, never write your competitor's business plan for them. Wayport fears no such animal, it's clear, especially with its Wi-Fi World partnership model ahead of it.
In terms of core connections or 24-hour sessions, Wayport shows 124,000 in the first quarter of 2001, rising to 301,000 in first quarter of 2003, and 645,000 in the first quarter of this year. They estimate 714,000 connections for this current quarter, and over a million for third quarter. These connections include all direct and third-party pay-as-you-go and subscriber uses.
Wayport also provided its raw revenue figures for the last three year. The company started with $1.5 million received in 2002's first quarter, rising consistently and steadily to $6.1 million in the first quarter of 2004. They estimate $6.7 million for second quarter, $8.7 million for third quarter, and over $10 million in the final quarter of 2004. The company's CEO expected to produce about $1.5 to $2 million per week within 12 months for an annual runrate of $75 to $100 million.
Under Wi-Fi World, subscriber connections ostensibly won't be counted because Wayport will receive fixed fees per venue regardless of connections. However, Wayport will still collect walk-up fees for two-hour sessions ($2.95 for two hours) which they will share with the retail venue.
Wall Street Journal says instructional television spectrum may be resold: This interesting article looks into the FCC's exploration of reselling parts of the licensed band that's used in a very limited fashion for instructional television. While originally assigned for that purpose, only a few institutions actually use it. Institutions are allowed to sublicense 95 percent of their spectrum as long as they're broadcasting, and apparently, some groups broadcast meaningless content in order to bring in the revenue from the other licenses.
The FCC is licking its lips at the sweet spot in the 2.5-2.7 GHz range that comprises ITFS/MMDS (instructional television fixed service and multichannel multipoint distribution service). Nextel, Craig McCaw, and other companies have purchased sublicenses across the band.
The FCC proposal would reassign some spectrum for its own auctions, and allow educational entities to resell spectrum for new uses which could produce billions in revenue for the institutions. One scenario spun by an opponent is that California's governor could sell ITFS spectrum to help balance the state budget.
The Wi-Fi Alliance updates standards, certifications: The new branding should make it clearer to consumers what's available in a given unit. Tom's Networking, through which we found this link, shows a version of the branding with more attractive colors.
In a related story, the group is also readying testing programs for IEEE 802.11i's final form, which they will label WPA2, and for 802.11e's Wireless Multimedia Extensions (WME) to improve streaming media over Wi-Fi networks, which they will call WSM for Wireless Scheduled Media. The group is also considering certifying EAP types.
Airespace will offer multiple-in, multiple-out antennas for its access points later this year: The Intelligent RF Access Point (IRAP) will ship third quarter, and uses the MIMO technology to extend range. MIMO was pioneered by Airgo, which has not supplied the technology for IRAP; Airgo expects to have manufacturers incorporating their MIMO reference design in the next few months.
MIMO uses multiple input and output antennas to better sort out actual signal from noise, which can effectively extend range. It works best in combination with both client adapter and access point incorporating MIMO, but there are benefits for an access point by itself.
Airespace is effectively either reducing the number of access points an enterprise needs (although raising its per unit price tag), or offering better overlapping coverage in the same areas increasing throughput for a network.
Push-to-talk has become the must-have technology for cell phones; new Motorola equipment offers support over GPRS, 1xRTT, and WLAN: PTT provides an intercom-like service immediately, without dialing, for members of a group. Nextel owned the market until recently. Motorola's technology is in testing, and they expect to offer support over a large variety of other cell data standards, too, such as EDGE.
We're not making this up: 64 percent of those surveyed about their Internet surfing habits admit to surfing in their underwear: At least it's not in the altogether. Iogear's survey, intended to promote some coverage of the company (viz., this item), had some interesting results though. 56 percent said they use Wi-Fi in hotels and airports while traveling (although the hotel usage has to be mostly wired in-room access), 27 percent in fast-food restaurants (which is odd, since McDonald's is the only chain that has it that you'd call fast food), and 17 percent in bookstores.
Nepalese community wireless network helps sell, trade yaks: Villagers in remote Nepal are using a wireless network to communicate between where they live and where others take care of the yaks. They find out whether the tenders need medicine or assistance, and the herdspeople use NetMeeting to videoconference with their families. Several villages are hooked up with each other and out to the Internet. Distance learning is in the future.
Wayport will announce Tuesday a significant change in how hotspot builders charge hotspot resellers and aggregators: In a press and analyst briefing on Monday, Wayport disclosed Wi-Fi World, their name for a pricing model for partnering with retail chain stores and reselling access to aggregators and others for a fixed monthly fee per location instead of a per-connection rate. Resellers choose their own pricing for subscribers and do not share that revenue with Wayport.
In a clear swipe at T-Mobile's arrangement with Starbucks, Borders, and Kinko's, in which, according to many sources, the cell company bears the cost of the network and operations and shares revenue with its venues, Wayport's CEO Dave Vucina said, that a retail partnership "shouldn't be about how much they can get for free form the provider but should be more about their core business and driving enormous traffic for their core business."
The current model for venue operators that resell access to their networks, such as Wayport, Surf and Sip, and Concourse, is to charge resellers a small, fixed fee for each daily connection to the provider's network. Wayport's resellers include iPass, Boingo, Sprint PCS, and Verizon Wireless, among others. While Wayport doesn't disclose those fees, they are estimated to be from 25 cents to $1.00 per connection. The provider typically pays the venue about half of that connection fee, or subtracts that fee from monthly recurring billing, depending on how much of the installation costs the venue has paid and other factors.
Vucina said that in that model, the impetus has been on the hotspot provider or retail venue to drive traffic, as resellers with fixed monthly customer charges for unlimited usage had little upside. (iPass and GRIC charge metered rates for all services, and thus have a different cost basis.) But with Wi-Fi World, resellers that could include phone companies, cell operators, cable companies, service aggregators, Internet service providers, and firms outside telecom entirely--any firm with a large mobile customer base--can retain all subscriber fees regardless of usage by their customers.
In Wayport's Wi-Fi World, resellers will pay $32 per month on average for each of the McDonald's restaurants. Wayport expects to have about 8,000 McDonald's restaurants in its next within 12 months, which would result in fees of roughly $250,000 per reseller per month or $3,000,000 per year. These fees could increase over time as usage increases, Vucina said, while venues with less traffic might have lower per location charges.
Wireless analyst John Yunker with Byte Level Research, who was briefed on the announcement, said "flat fees on the vendor side need to happen." His initial reaction, he said, was that $32 per month per venue might be too high, and was concerned how regional telephone and cable companies would view the fees.
Wayport also said that as part of this model, McDonald's is paying part of the installation and capital costs and a fixed monthly fee to have the service in place. Wayport has a four-year contract with McDonald's. Because of McDonald's franchise relationships, individual franchisees may choose other Internet options, but the parent company has an exclusive commitment and many franchised locations have signed on as part of this next year's roll-out.
Wayport is not just providing public hotspot service, however, but it is also running the chain's cashless transactions, such as credit-card verification, and will provide electronic training and other services in the future. McDonald's hopes to reap millions of new or more frequent customers because of this new model's potential to bring in home broadband and business broadband users through resellers.
Byte Level's Yunker noted, "The additional applications riding on the network is vital to long-term success."
As usage increases, Wayport has the option to raise its fees for service to McDonald's, too. "After we would hit a certain threshold we would go back to the McDonald's franchisee and ask for some additional compensation for circuit cost," said Greg Williams, Wayport's chief operating officer. Reseller fees may also increase over time.
McDonald's stores will carry out extensive branding of the Wi-Fi service that includes Wayport's logo and the logos of major partners. The branding will appear on lighted signs with the at-sign like "at-m" symbol McDonald's has used for the last year, on the price board, on notices in the store, and on table coverings.
Further, Wayport's network provider vendors will have the potential to receive branding on store signage and may resell use of the Wi-Fi World network for fees as well, which will offset Wayport's costs of bringing Internet service to McDonald's. "There's a large branding element to this entire model," Vucina said. "We want to advertise who's providing that connectivity." Wayport plans to install business-grade DSL with service guarantees rather than T-1 lines in most locations.
Wayport has a major reseller partner already signed which they have not yet announced. "We are very confident that with the fees that we are generating and our first signed partner that we are over the break-even mark with the first store that we install," Vucina said. In another not-so-oblique reference to T-Mobile, Vucina said Wi-Fi World isn't about installing a few thousand locations to reach scale, writing checks, and holding on for dear life. Rather, he said, it's a sensible model for both venues and Wayport that "gets us in the black out of the gate."
Wi-Fi World reduces overhead for all parties involved in the transaction, by our analysis at Wi-Fi Networking News. Wayport collects a simple, fixed monthly fee that varies only as locations in the network increase, while the reseller pays that fee regardless of usage. This eliminates fee settlement across networks for usage, as well as the accounting required for that and systems integration. Instead, authentication and account management becomes the primary cross-network requirement. In discussions with past and present hotspot operators, fee settlement accounting and billing and financial systems integration remains an expensive and high bar to roaming, and has been one reason why some networks have signed settlement-free bilateral roaming agreements.
Vucina said that Wayport's intent is to provide partners like regional telephone companies a rate that allows them to bundle Wi-Fi as a fixed-fee service. In the current model, there's no predictability about a user's ultimate cost to the reseller, because the number of connections can vary by month. Heavy users could make dozens to hundreds of connections per month. But with a fixed per-venue fee, a telco could bundle Wi-Fi with DSL with a clear understanding of the margins and ongoing costs.
For instance, a provider with several million customers could offer unlimited Wi-Fi for $10 per month and with only 100,000 subscribers to the service still clear a considerable net before overhead each month. The service could also reduce customer turnover, a serious problem for cell carriers and cable and satellite companies.
One limitation Vucina said Wayport has imposed on this model is restricting its reseller partners from themselves reselling the service. They may not resell to any of a list of what Vucina called premium strategic partners that Wayport may want to work with directly.
Vucina also noted that while McDonald's will not receive part of subscriber fees--and neither will Wayport--the fast-food giant will get a portion of walk-up fees. Wayport has previously said that it will charge $2.95 for two hours of access.
Wayport will also pay McDonald's a share of fees received from its resellers when it exceeds what Vucina described as "X dollars" and did not elaborate on. This part of the agreement could potentially offset some or all costs that McDonald's and its franchisees have agreed to pay.
The company expects to install 7,000 to 9,000 McDonald's restaurants in the next nine to 12 months, based in part on where Internet service is available and the interest of franchisees. McDonald's owns about 3,500 company stores, while another 9,000 are owned by a disparate group of 2,200 franchise holders who have some degree of autonomy. The deployment is limited to the U.S. for now, but Wayport is already talking about international stores.
Vucina said that approximately 18 million customers pass through the restaurants they plan to install in the first wave, which will be about 70 percent of the McDonald's in each major city.
McDonald's franchisees have expressed great interest in Wayport's program partly for competitive reasons. "People that might have gone to Burger King yesterday and bought a Whopper without Wi-Fi, might very well go to McDonald's tomorrow and buy a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Wi-Fi," Vucina said. In a survey conducted during the McDonald's Wi-Fi trials, three-quarters of the people surveyed who were using the in-store Wi-Fi came to the McDonald's specifically because of the Internet access.
Dan Lowden, vice president of marketing at Wayport, said that McDonald's franchisees have had great difficulty in obtaining a reasonable price for video surveillance, credit-card processing, and other services that Wayport will be able to offer as an integrated set of services using the Internet infrastructure that they are building.
Vucina said that Wayport plans to implement Wi-Fi World in several phases. Starting on Tuesday and for the next 90 days, Wayport will work to create its partnerships with network service providers, none of which have apparently been briefed on this version of the model yet. The following 90 days will see Wayport reworking its relationships with existing roaming partners. The next 90 to 180 days will focus on new roaming partners, such as cable companies.
Wayport's current deployment plan of Wi-Fi World excludes its 800 hotel and airport installations. "We're not ready to roll out our hotels, our airports yet under Wi-Fi World," Vucina said. "We created this around the retail brand model." But Vucina said the company views it as interesting possiblity for the future. "We're working on it; we're not ready yet."
While Wayport is focused on reselling the entire network of locations, Vucina and Lowden emphasized in response to questions from reporters and analysts that they are entirely open to selling state-by-state or region-by-region selections to ISPs and regional telecoms. Vucina noted that they wouldn't allow cherry-picking of specific locations or cities. "I don't think we would ever be smaller than buying the stores in a state," he said.
Providers such as Qwest and other regional companies would have the opportunity to resell both a regional plan for local customers and a national plan for roaming users to better manage costs across the entire network, the company said.
Wi-Fi World is Wayport's invention, but Vucina said he is eager to work with other hotspot networks and resellers to make Wi-Fi World a more general approach to pricing in the industry. "We would like to see this platform be the method of choice with venues, partners, and providers," he said. "If you were selling sandwiches or coffees, you would be very interested in this model."
Specifically, he said in response to a question about T-Mobile's network, he would welcome their competitor in talks. "We'd begin discussions today for a sensible Wi-Fi World model" with T-Mobile, Vucina said.
Vucina also released a substantial amount of information about Wayport's revenue and connections during the briefing, which we will discuss in a separate report on Tuesday. The company is on track to gross over $10 million in the fourth quarter of 2004, and Vucina estimated Wayport could reach a run rate within 12 months that would translate into $75 to $100 million per year in revenue.
Wayport clearly believes that their agreement with McDonald's can break a model that has restricted the interest in resellers from growing the customer base of Wi-Fi users. "You'd be hard pressed to find any sizeable retail brand vendor that has paid a provider for the services rendered, and I think that becomes an important component," Vucina said.
SanDisk continues to push combo envelope with 256 Mb and Wi-Fi in a single SD card: These cards still remain supported only by Pocket PC systems running Microsoft software, but it's a great technical achievement. As we move into a time when it's likely that digital cameras will offer driver-level support for Wi-Fi Compact Flash and similar memory cards, SanDisk could be poised to deliver their combo punch for that market. Some storage (at least temporary) coupled with the ability to transmit images.
Tully's and others figuring out next steps for Wi-Fi as Cometa slowly turns off the lights: You can tell how confusing the situation is when the Tully's VP quoted in the story confuses AT&T with AT&T Wireless. AT&T had invested in Cometa; AT&T Wireless is merging with Cingular. (After which point, AT&T will regain the AT&T Wireless name, very likely, and resell Sprint PCS service under that brand!)
A Cometa spokesperson is quoted as saying McDonald's award of its entire Wi-Fi installation to Wayport did not have anything to do with the decision by investors to end funding of Cometa. From what I have heard from various sources, this is correct. In fact, given their investment picture, had they bagged McDonald's, they might still have found themselves in the same place.
The report says that AT&T withdrew its backing from the venture, but that's incorrect. One division of AT&T that was reselling Cometa service stopped its reselling agreement, but the reporters imply this was connected to the investment side, which wasn't the case. AT&T and IBM made token investments in the venture despite being listed as marquee partners. This may have hurt Cometa's ability to raise money from other, small venture firms.
A writer becomes curious about his California Zip code's Wi-Fi penetration, and creates a map: Lee Gomes of The Wall Street Journal drives around for hours, picks up 3,000 hotspots in a population of 70,000 households, and then maps the results against income. His conclusion: Wi-Fi has become so ubiquitous in urban areas that even though it's not linked together, we have practically a seamless network already. (Tie that idea in with community mesh, and you've got ubiquitous access.) [link via Brian Chin]
The Journal's Nick Wingfield lays out the WiMax field, including the basis of its technology, its potential for rollout, and the current state of wireless broadband: Wingfield's article is a solid portrayal of the state of the industry, including the likely date for real equipment being available in the U.S. (2006, he notes, which jibes with fellow editor Nancy Gohring's research among WiMax-backin gcompanies), the market size, and the potential competition with cellular data and existing wireline services.
WiMax and its early relatives has the best potential in areas in which service is difficult to obtain (the prairie or Manhattan), wireline services offer limits to uploads and downloads far below a wireless broadband offering (at the edges of DSL coverage, for instance), or where wireless broadband is just plain cheaper. In some cases, early wireless broadband offers high speeds at cost that are the same or as little as half of competing wireline offerings.
I'm not bullish on WiMax's mobile options, which are even further out in the future for deployment because by the time that standard is set, the cell companies will have had three or four years dealing with the first and probably second iterations of 3G cellular data. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi might blanket whole cities, an increasing trend. [link via Brian Chin]
The Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network project adds additional support: This mesh/cloud open-source project profiled here a few weeks ago now supports Atheros cards, and has ported their software to work on the Soekris 4526, a solid-state platform that can handle its hardware needs. Downloads are available immediately of the new software.
Paul Andrews writes in The Seattle Times about the notion of a public coordinating board for municipal wireless: Andrews thinks that towns and cities could be well served by planning policies and deployment, whether public or public/private partnerships, to better ensure comprehensive coverage rather than a patchwork.
Enterprises are reacting sensibly to the issue of low-speed (20 Mbps or slower) Wi-Fi interference techniques documented by Australian researchers: It's not so much a flaw as a part of the spec that allows a certain kind of attack to disable an access point; there are many others of varying degree of severity, too, including just bringing an unpleasant 2.4 GHz cordless phone into an office and leaving it turned on without a connection to a cordless base station.
The reaction cited in this Computerworld article is sensible: managers are examining their risk and noting that with many access points, an attacker would have to attack numerous locations at once to have an effect, and would then be vulnerable to physical detection.
All 802.11a and any 802.11g networks running at faster encodings (using OFDM) can't be attacked in this fashion, either.
Profile of two Hawaiian businesses shows that cutting landlines decreases cost and increases connectivity: The trend might be starting to show where businesses can easily turn over from a wired landline PBX and cell phones outside of the office, to a Wi-Fi and optionally Ethernet based voice and data infrastructure in the office coupled with cellular voice and cellular data on the road.
For those interested in navel gazing journalism, read my account of how Wi-Fi Networking News broke the Cometa Networks story: Other sites and publications were sometimes gracious, sometimes not about assigning us credit for having been the first to report on the event. Why does this matter? Because more and more breaking news important to the people particularly interested in the subject is appearing on Web logs, not in newspapers or on media Web sites. Trying to subtract from this forum and similar fora's ability to report is an attempt to lessen the legitimacy of the work we're doing here.
Motorola's Freescale division ups the ante on ultrawideband (UWB) by showing working demo of what's to come this Christmas: The head of UWB innovator XtremeSpectrum, acquired by Motorola last year, is now director of Motorola subsidiary Freescale's UWB division. Martin Rofheart showed a camcorder sending data over UWB to a plasma television, according to this second-hand report at Wi-Fi Planet.
Motorola's version of UWB is still winding its way through the IEEE process, but literally every other company in the industry (most members of the Multi-Band OFDM Alliance) withdrew from 802.15.3a to develop standards through trade organizations.
By showing working products and promising Christmas 2004 products, Motorola has raised the bar. Some industry experts are convinced that Motorola hasn't a chance at dominating the market, no matter how early they get in, because Intel, Texas Instruments, and many, many other firms will have competing products that all interoperate. Motorola's consumer partners' equipment will only work with other Motorola-based equipment.
In two sizes at $1,000 and $1,500, the portable LCD uses a base station to access 802.11a, b, or g networks: The LocationFree Portable Broadband TV will ship this fall with two options: a 5 pound, 12.1-inch, 800 by 600 pixel display for $1,500, or a smaller 7-inch, 800 by 480 pixel unit for $1,000. The screens connect remote to a base station which has Ethernet, two USB ports, and an NTSC tuner, plus an infrared blaster needed to tune set-top boxes which don't produce tunable signals.
Interestingly, the base station can feed content over the Internet if you have an upload speed of at least 300 Kbps on your local network. Sony can't guarantee the quality of this kind of remote viewing, but has built early 802.11e-like support for quality of service (QoS) packet prioritization and scheduling for crisp local viewing, according to the report. The larger unit has a Compact Flash slot; the smaller, a Memory Stick slot. The portables can view images stored on those cards.
Oddly, the article doesn't mention battery life, but a posting from earlier this year on AkibaLive notes that it has a lithium-ion battery that offers 100 to 180 minutes of viewing on a charge depending on the unit's brightness setting.
A pig, a cow, a camera, some coffee--and thievery: There's got to be a category that's uniquely unique, as much as an oxymoron as that might sound. Nigel Ballard sends the following combination police blotter, glimpse in the future, and Wi-Fi report from Portland, where he helps build out community wireless networking hotspots as part of Personal Telco:
I'm on a new steering committee! This'll make it three in total.
The Pig & Cow Steering Committee differs from the others, not only because it has a way more interesting title, but also because there are livestock involved, albeit the plastic variety.
Confused? OK, some background is needed.
Urban Grind is a coffee house with a difference, home to Personal Telco and a whole host of other community-related happenings. You need to hang there to see how very different it is from the sterility encountered in those national coffee houses.
A few months back two plastic animals appeared on the countertop. Namely, a pig and a cow. People waiting for their drinks started posing the animals, and then customers slipped in extra characters and even props to create scenes ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre.
Along comes Intel's People & Practices Research Group who have been watching the way the free Wi-Fi access from Oregon non-profit Personal Telco was changing the clientele, attracting customers from miles away, and creating a real sense of community, communication and interaction in this large and comfortable space.
Many of the customers at UG actually talk to each other; they learn each others names, enquire about lives, loves and job searches, amazing!
Intel asked Urban Grind if they could install some fun technology, Brenda and Macker, the proprietors said "Sure, knock yourself out".
Intel duly installs a camera, an LCD monitor, a big blue button, a tiny web server and a wireless client to connect their server through the Personal Telco Wi-Fi to the outside world.
The idea is this. You are invited to pose the characters, bring in some of your own, and even add a prop. Hit the big blue button, the image appears on the LCD monitor and shortly thereafter they also appear online at the web site for all to see.
Cool beans, but "why" I hear you ask.
Intel says "We'd like to help people get marginally more enjoyment out of Urban Grind, or get to know other patrons a little better, or feel a little more attachment to the place. What's all this "ubiquitous computing" good for if it can't help us get value out of it in our daily lives?"
So it isn't about the technology per se, more as a tool to get people off their chairs, out from behind their books and to step up to the counter and get creative, to communicate, to be a part of something silly and social. Now I defy you to tell me how that could be anything but a good thing?
NEWS FLASH, NEWS FLASH, NEWS FLASH..
Someone stole the Pig and the Cow! I hear you gasp in disbelief. Have no fear, all is not lost. Portland's finest have descriptions of our missing movie stars, and are on the case.
Meanwhile back at UG Central, we are reliably informed that local toy stores are well stocked with doppelgangers keen to take up from where the original actors left off. Alas poor pig and cow, I knew them well!
See the story unfold: http://www.sstanamera.com/~UG/index.php
About Intel: People and Practices Research Group, a small group of social scientists and designers at Intel Corporation, are engaged in a series of studies trying to understand the effects and possibilities for technology to create communities "in place." With the internet in the 1990s came the rise of "virtual communities" and the declaration of "the death of distance." But we are human beings who inhabit and value our physical spaces as well. What can new technologies enable in terms of physical communities, how can technology create a "sense of place?" Our goal is to understand how people go about creating a sense of place, and how new technologies such as Wi-Fi, embedded sensors and actuators, large and shared displays, and other technologies might contribute.
About Personal Telco: We are a volunteer group of Portlanders who believe that 802.11 (wireless networking, or "Wi-Fi") technology is both cool and empowering. We started out by turning our own houses and apartments into wireless hot spots (also referred to as "nodes"), and then set about building these nodes in public locations such as parks and coffee shops. Currently we have over 110 active nodes, and we eventually would like to cover the entire city of Portland, Oregon with even more. We are here to promote and build public wireless networks through community support and education. Personal Telco Project is a Federal tax-exempt 501(c)(3) and an Oregon non-profit organization. We want to facilitate partnerships with local businesses, and in doing so permit the raising of funds though tax-deductible contributions.
British Telecom will deploy a Vodafone handset that switches from cellular to a local broadband connection at homes, offices: Project Bluephone would ostensibly use Bluetooth to handle the cell to broadband swapover when within the range of a local base station, and then transmit voice over that connection out to BT. Details are a little hazy about how well this will work in homes: Bluetooth typically runs at its 1 Mbps speed only within 30 to 100 feet, even with the more powerful flavor of Bluetooth. [via Engadget]
KT is nearly doubling its hotspot network from 12,000 current locations to 23,000 by the end of the year: Korea spent publicly to build a broadband infrastructure, and that's paid rewards with 71 percent of the population having high-speed service. 8 Mbps DSL costs as little as $20 before tax and equipment and a Wi-Fi subscription is as low as $9 for DSL subscribers. KT is now also selling cell/Wi-Fi handsets; they sold 2,000 in the first two weeks it was offered.
Some Internet service providers allow connections to be shared, but they're few and far between: I mentioned in passing yesterday that Speakeasy Networks was the only ISP to encourage sharing access to anyone and everyone for any of their personal or business DSL and T-1 accounts. Dana Spiegel of NYCwireless wrote in to note that three New York providers allow sharing.
He also pointed to PersonalTelco's run-down on ISPs and their sharing policies, but the information is largely out of date, or includes ISPs as allowing sharing which have only confirmed this by phone or in email but not in their AUP. EFF had a list as well which they've intended to update for two years, and may happen soon. I don't take a statement from an ISP via email or by phone that sharing is permitted as legitimate: it has to be in the publicly posted terms of service.
NYCwireless lists Bway.Net, Cloud9.Net, and Ace DSL. I checked their terms of service to see how they word it. Bway.net explicitly allows it, but you have to notify them to be legit. Cloud9.Net doesn't really state you can share, and you can read their terms to state you can't. They say, in summary: The customer may permit a member of their immediate household to use the customer's account subject to the account holder's supervision and the customer agrees that Cloud 9 reserves the right to prevent other Internet users from accessing its network, either in part or in whole, for any reason. Ace's policies are even vaguer, making it a gray issue that you can share a connection. But they do say In conjunction with the terms of Section "III c.", above, I agree not to resell any of the Services provided hereunder or the passwords thereto; Speakeasy allows resale of any part of any connection.
Updates: Oregon's Easystreet allows noncommercial sharing of their DSL service. Their page clearly says its an experiment, and they're working with Personal Telco to see if this concept works.
Butler Networks of Tennessee specifically allows noncommercial wireless sharing, too. Their agreement is very specific, saying you can't accept money or trade services in exchange for offering wireless access via your account, but that's perfect for community networking and other free public hotspots.
You can help compile a newer list of sharing-friendly ISPs: email me if you're an ISP that specifically allows sharing in your usage agreement or if you work with such an ISP. Please include a link to the terms of service Web page for confirmation.
Earthlink will offer Internet access to customers in Northern California through a deal with Digitalpath Networks, a wireless ISP: Digitalpath uses a proprietary system to deliver the access. It had better be a pretty cheap proprietary system because it requires technicians to install antennas on customer homes. The cost of such installs is commonly blamed for the failure of the MMDS market in the '90s. Since then, many wireless ISPs in non-rural areas have targeted the more lucrative business market because of the expense of building and installing network equipment.
Earthlink has been one of the most bullish big players to pursue broadband wireless opportunities. It has made similar wireless offerings in the Atlanta area through partners.
On a side note, shame on Cnet for this line: "Wireless broadband, commonly called WiMax." Come on folks, not all wireless broadband is WiMax and in fact, WiMax gear doesn't exist. It sounds like Digitalpath is using a technology that is nothing like WiMax.
Austin Wireless City worked with the City of Austin to build a hotspot in Republic Square Park: The two have also partnered for hotspots at One Texas Center and city hall. Republic Square is the first of four Austin parks to get wireless. The City of Austin is apparently really supportive of Austin Wireless City projects, which will only encourage more Wi-Fi in Austin.
Athens IT contractor finds Wi-Fi too prone to denial of service at present: The Atos Origin manager for the games didn't stress security issues like actual break-ins. Rather, he was concerned about the likelihood of attempted attacks that they would have to analyze, and the potential of a single idiot to jam signals. These are unfortunately reasonable concerns at present--it's all too easy to produce junk 2.4 GHz signals or to automate denial of service attacks that deassociate other clients.
Survey says that most business travelers would opt for a train over a car or plane ride if Wi-Fi were available: Fifty percent of existing business train travelers already carry a laptop, the survey found, and most already work during train trips making calls or handling electronic files. Users would pay up to £12 (about US$20) for longer trips.
David Pogue wonders if the concern about Wi-Fi security is at too high a pitch for home users: Pogue's email column, archived online, this week questions whether there's too much focus on security. Now, I'm the first to agree with him that people with home wireless networks that aren't near neighbors have nothing to fear. Even if you have near neighbors, enabling WEP or WPA, as Pogue recommends, lowers your risk from low to nil. (WEP's key weakness that enables a cracker to break a key and access a network could require weeks of network monitoring to extract enough data to carry that out. It's only a quick crack on high-usage business Wi-Fi networks.)
But Pogue doesn't separate out different risk scenarios. My colleague and co-author on The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, Adam Engst, wrote an excellent essay on how to decide the level of exposure you have and how to mitigate it which parallels Pogue on the home networking side, but is more granular on risks outside the home network.
Pogue opens his piece talking about public Wi-Fi: "It's just so glorious to be standing in an airport, hotel lobby or city street, open your laptop, and discover that you can go online at cable-modem speeds without hooking up a single cable." But the rest of his column focuses on home networking risks where I generally agree with his take and his recommendations.
Out in the wild, the risks are quite high that someone could be monitoring an open free or fee-based Wi-Fi hotspot network -- it's probably 1,000 to 10,000 times more likely that someone is using software to monitor a hotspot than a home network. I have a piece of software that I can run that automatically captures all passwords passing over any network connection, Wi-Fi or otherwise, that requires me to press a single keystroke to activate. You should never conduct unsecured transactions over public hotspots using FTP, email, or the Web for this reason: it requires no effort to capture those passwords, and people may capture them idly.
At the very least, your email password should be secured via APOP (authenticated POP), which creates a one-time use token for access. Your email would still pass in the clear, but your password would be protected. Better, try to use SSL for email (POP and SMTP), or read your email with a Web browser using an SSL connection. Fastmail.fm and Google's beta Gmail both allow secure email reading; some ISPs certainly must offer SSL-based Webmail, too. Community wireless group NYCWireless now offers SSL Webmail, IMAP, POP, and SMTP to its dues-paying members.
Pogue focuses on the data that's being transferred as being at risk and not being very interesting. My colleague Adam does the same. They're both right. What sniffers want it isn't your private email but your passwords because then they can break into email accounts, conduct transactions using your eBay account (your password is probably the same, right?), and otherwise hijack parts of your life that allow them to commit fraud. These sniffers are, in fact, well advised to haunt Wi-Fi hotspots because they can harvest that information so readily.
Pogue does quote a Linksys product manager saying that only a skilled hacker could access files on your system, which is quite strange. Even under Windows XP, you can set up password-free shared folders that anyone can access on a local network, whether a home network or a public Wi-Fi network. It doesn't require special software to mount those shares, and many people seem to still use this option for their own ease.
Pogue closes the column with sensible advice for protecting one's computers on a local network, and this advice goes towards protecting it from attacks over the Internet, from crackers who hop on your home Wi-Fi network, and from ne'er-do-wells at public hotspots: turn off services you don't need, choose good passwords, keep your system patched.
His concern seems to be that users could wind up too anxious about using Wi-Fi networks when most of the security advice is better aimed at roaming users or corporate users. And he's right. The best advice should differentiate between simple steps for home users, and more sophisticated advice for others at higher risk as in this Jiwire article on security.
Intermediary device turns any digital camera into a Wi-Fi-enabled transmitter and storage device (reg. required): In Thursday's New York Times, I write about Wi-Pics, a portable device that connects to a digital camera's Compact Flash slot on one side and a Wi-Fi network on the other. It ships in June for $1,700 with additional fees for a 40 Gb hard drive and bar-code scanner, and it appears to fit a niche that certain kinds of professional photographers are hard-pressed to find an alternative for today.
A few technical details that didn't make it into the Circuits article: Wi-Pics uses Atheros chips and an Intel Xscale processor. It can make secure, encrypted connections over FTP and the Web for storage. It has a Compact Flash slot built in as well as the option of adding a hard drive. The cable from the Compact Flash adapter to the Wi-Pics uses a flat profile so that you can close a Compact Flash door (which many digital cameras require to be closed to operate) and not hurt the cable. The cable connects through a tripod mount to a thicker cable that runs to the camera.
While my article focused on some of the more typical uses that professionals might find for this camera, I'm also interested in how Wi-Fi starts percolating into individual application devices instead of multi-purpose computers and handhelds. With the cost of Wi-Fi dropping and with Wi-Fi SD and Compact Flash cards available, it's a short matter of time before $500 to $1000 cameras will support Wi-Fi cards.
With the slow rundown of Cometa's clock starting today, which companies remain standing?: I do have a little ego, and my article in Feb. 2001 in The New York Times was the first comprehensive piece written in a major publication about the nascent Wi-Fi hotspot industry. Several companies were striving to raise funds into the mouth of the dotcom collapse, which claimed bloated business plans or too early attempts to capitalize on a technology that only a small number of laptop users had access to.
While researching the story in Dec. 2000, I spoke to the chief marketing officer of the Aerzone division of Softnet. Three days after I spoke to him, Softnet pulled the plug because they couldn't raise the funds to perform the build out that they'd contracted with airlines and airports to handle.
The firms I interviewed for the article were Wayport, Surf and Sip, Global Digital Media, AirWave, SkyLink (not quoted), and MobileStar. Let's start in reverse order. What's clear from examining each of these firms is that execution and timing mattered as much in 2001 as they do today: controlling costs and building out a robust network in the right place can only go so far: users who pay are still required.
MobileStar: While initially well funded, MobileStar had extremely high run rates. I's technical standards were top notch, but expensive, and expenses ran far ahead of any potential revenue. They went bankrupt late in 2001 and had their assets purchased by T-Mobile HotSpot. The company reportedly went through as much as $90 million in investment income while producing no more than a couple million in revenue. T-Mobile has continued to use its brand name and high-level partnerships to run what is generally considered to be an excellent network that's overprice for day use, but not far out of scale on their unlimited monthly plans with one-year commitment.
Sky.Link Internet Plus: A promising Canadian firm with hotel and airports service, the company disappeared abruptly a few months after my article came out. It resurfaced briefly with fewer locations before taking a final plunge. Its history and disappearance are a mystery.
AirWave: AirWave was a small San Francisco Bay Area set of hotspots in restaurants and coffeeshops that decided that the software they'd written to manage access points was a better product than the hotspot business. In 2002, they exited hotspots, spinning off their locations to WiFi Metro, which had the same investors as hereUare. (WiFi Metro and hereUare were sold to Ikano, which operates a truly bizarre set of locations as Hotspotzz, including KOA campgrounds, a few Subway restaurants in Washington state, and hotels in Montreal. Hotspotzz also has the most egregious press release announcements in the industry.) AirWave is apparently thriving selling access point management software that allows heterogenous installations of gear from many manufacturers to be managed centrally through a single piece of software. (Sputnik, like AirWave, dropped out of hotspots long ago and moved into developing a software and firmware platform for managing access points across a network.)
Global Digital Media: With a strong and nimble presence, GDM had Wi-Fi kiosks and service in Philadelphia and Boston airports, and a contract in hand to use CNN's airport news service coax cable to bring in more service to dozens of additional airports. They seemed poised to become a dominant airport provider. Then, they disappeared without a trace in mid-2001, probably unable to raise additional funds.
Surf and Sip: Scrappy Rick Ehrlinspiel seemed like a go-getter when I met him in Dec. 2000, and he's still scrappy, though tired, after four years of traveling the world and building out several hundred Surf and Sip locations in places as varied as his home base of San Francisco and as far-flung as the Czech Republic and Poland. Rick has consistently maintained that the privately held firm turns locations profitable within months, and has the cash to continue self-funding its rollout. Rick has aggressively offered bilateral fee-free roaming deals with other networks, such as Canada's FatPort, to extend Surf and Sip's reach.
Wayport: Let's leave the best for last. Wayport was founded to put Ethernet into hotel rooms, and still derives most of its revenue from that business. But it's changing. With 12,000 McDonald's under contract to get Wi-Fi service, thousands of UPS Store locations that they'll operate for SBC as a managed services provider, and a network of hotels and airports that will top 1,000 this year, Wayport is the last brand standing. Wayport has raised as much as $100 million in funding across its five-plus years in business.
Other apparently thriving hotspot operators and aggregators -- apparently because most are privately held -- include STSN, which started with Marriott hotels and now has 1,900 locations built or under contract; FatPort, with a platform they resell and hotspots they operate across Canada; Boingo Wireless, reselling its software to business service divisions and end users for aggregating hotspot access; and iPass, with aggregated worldwide access to dial-up, broadband, and Wi-Fi service. GRIC is also an aggregator along the same lines as iPass, but with fewer Wi-Fi locations.
AirPath and NetNearU continue to sell their platform and network service which allows individual locations to enable for-fee service and network resellers to build hotspot operations and tie them together through their respective authentication and billing systems. Even more platforms, roaming enablers, and networks exist outside the U.S., in numbers that grow daily.
Other failures include most recently Cometa and Toshiba, both of which lost out in the McDonald's trials to Wayport; and Joltage, which had a strange grassroots plan.
I had thought SOHOWireless was in this category, but they said via email despite the 2001 copyright date on their page listing a handful of locations (which are described as "initial locations" this many years later) that they're still kicking and are working hard on the next release of their LANRoamer 2 software platform.
An apartment resident worked with his landlord to build out good Wi-Fi coverage for free Internet access--but did he read the Comcast contract?: The page documents how "JC" worked with his landlord to build out ubiquitous coverage for the complex, incidentally benefitting himself by eliminating his personal monthly broadband bill. But he notes they're paying $60 per month to Comcast for their Internet feed, and at that rate, Comcast isn't offering shared Internet access in this fashion. Comcast clearly only allows use by people in the same household, and used to charge extra per machine and try to restrict sharing by locking down use to a single Ethernet adapter address.
Given the promotion that JC's story has gotten, how long is it before either Comcast shuts them down or Speakeasy Networks steps in and offers free access in exchange for promotion? Speakeasy remains the only national ISP that I'm aware of that encourages the shared use of personal or business DSL and T1 connections at all prices. [link via BoingBoing and Nigel Ballard]
While Quarterscope pursues worldwide wardriving to build its virtual GPS database, the open-source Herecast project expects more grassroots contributions: A few weeks ago, we wrote about Quarterscope, a company which combines a database of wardriving-based GPS and Wi-Fi access point data with live information from a Wi-Fi card to produce a virtual GPS. Mark Paciga wrote in to point to his nascent effort, Herecast, which is an open-source project to develop a similar resource that's a little more open-ended as to goals. It can combine mapping, location information (you are here/you are near...), and friend finding.
The system doesn't use GPS mapping either on the input side or output side, but rather tries to use wayfinding through naming of familiar places in the vicinity. Paciga notes that it only took a few hours to mock up functional demos. It's available now as a Pocket PC beta, but he hopes to port it to Windows XP as well.
Reports today provide more detail on Cometa Networks' shutdown: In news broken here yesterday, Cometa Networks will cease operations. Several publications provide more insight into what happened and what will happen to existing venues.
Richard Shim of News.com offers good analysis that scale and resale are the only ways in which hotspot networks can spread out expense and have enough usage. One analyst notes what is becoming a refrain: Wi-Fi service has to be an add-on package for existing offerings, not a standalone subscription.
Seattle reporter John Cook of The Post-Intelligencer talks to Cometa's venue and reseller partners, who were taken by surprise and are sorting through how to proceed.
Vivato gear enabled a hot zone in Montreal that otherwise would have been much more difficult to build: Tadaa Wireless, a wireless ISP, hired Summit Technologies, a solutions provider, to build a network covering three 22-storey skyscrapers in Montreal. Summit figured that it would take 160 traditional APs to do the job. Using Vivato gear instead, Summit built the network with three Vivato base stations and six Vivato APs. The network covers a 1.5 mile radius and is available to 1,500 users.
Vivato has had some troubles recently with an overhaul of its management team but if it can focus on this niche of unusual deployments it may do well. There's probably not a shortage of historic buildings or other sites that may be difficult to wire.
Boingo Wireless CEO issues statement critiquing Cometa Networks' failures: In a rare case of this sort, Sky Dayton, Boingo's founder and CEO, issued a brief statement reiterating the overall growth in revenue and use of public Wi-Fi hotspots, and critiquing Cometa's missteps.
The statement notes, "Cometa had the potential to become a leading wholesale hot spot provider. The company's business plan made a lot of sense -- build lots of hot spots on the cheap and wholesale them to brands who shoulder the costs of marketing, support and billing. But they didn't execute well. They spent too much money before they needed to and demanded carriers pay high minimums for access to a network that wasn't yet built. No carrier wanted to go along with that."
Dayton also noted that despite Boingo's ability to sign up networks worldwide as part of their roaming and aggregation system, that Cometa wouldn't work with them. Cometa signed a roaming deal with iPass which was just ramping up this month; iPass reports seeing reasonable usage with the locations already available in their network. Dayton wrote, "Boingo had attempted to strike a roaming agreement with Cometa, but they claimed to not be interested. Even though their network wasn't much more than a promise, they were acting as if they were already the market leader. They succeeded in alienating the very people they needed to help them succeed."
We've heard now from other sources that Dayton's experience was consistent with Cometa's approach to other firms.
Cometa Networks has confirmed that they are ceasing operations: Wi-Fi Networking News was able to confirm through multiple independent and reliable sources this morning that Cometa Networks will start the process of running down its hotspot network operations tomorrow. Cometa vice president of marketing Kent Hellebust acknowledged the news in an interview early this afternoon.
"We've built a profitable business in the Seattle test market and to go national requires additional capital," Hellebust said. The company was unable to obtain the capital necessary for this expansion, and will wind down operations through phases to best serve existing venues and resellers rather than abruptly terminating service to subscribers and locations. "The networks will be running for coming weeks and then will be phased out," Hellebust said. "The employees have been notified at Cometa Networks."
Cometa Networks was funded by Intel Capital, the company's investment arm, and two venture capital firms. AT&T and IBM committed resources to the project as well. From the start, Cometa was treated as dubious by many established players in the industry due to their frequent claims that they would install 20,000 locations with Wi-Fi service within two years of their Dec. 2002 launch. But their high-profile backers meant that Cometa might be in a position to make good on their projections.
Their model was to resell these locations to cell operators and other partners of that scale, as well as to aggregators like iPass. After more than a year of operation, Cometa had a handful of partners and about 250 locations, including 150 trial service hotspots set up with McDonald's in the New York tri-state area and Seattle and most of the rest across many kinds of venues in their Seattle test market.
However, McDonald's opted for Wayport to install Wi-Fi in its over 12,000 domestic U.S. stores and franchisees. This decision quickly caused Toshiba, another McDonald's trial partner, to close its hotspot operation and start work to transfer locations to Cometa. Cometa was able to announce that Barnes & Noble had chosen Cometa to build and resell access to its over 550 U.S. bookstores, which seemed like a big step in Cometa re-establishing itself as a growing operator with locations that were worth reselling and aggregating.
Cometa put a brave face on its future in an interview with Wi-Fi Networking News on April 21, 2004. The company's CEO and a vice president painted a picture of a more conservative growth pattern that reflected more of the pattern followed by FatPort and Surf and Sip, smaller but steadily growing hotspot operators that emphasized partnerships, reselling, and cash-flow positive short-term goals. VP Hellebust said today that Seattle subscribers and revenues were growing. "We feel proud of what we’ve achieved in the Seattle test market."
However, the company's capital resources couldn't support their model, and Cometa Networks will start running down its clock, with the end date not yet determined.
Cometa's former chief technology officer Michael Kleeman said in an interview today that Cometa had built a business-class network, "but if you don't get up to scale, don’' get up to revenue, then you are going to fall short." He left the firm in October, and has focused on consulting on aspects of networking involving voice over IP and, separately, national security.
Kleeman said that each of Cometa's partners--Intel, AT&T, and IBM--provided invaluable support and education in building a national network that met the needs of business customers. But even with this backing, he said, "You still have execute. Even if with big parents, startups still have to be scrappy." He credits Cometa with establishing a high mark for service quality.
Some WLAN security experts say that the reaction to a type of denial of service (DoS) attack recently described by Queensland University researchers is severe: "This is new only in a small incremental sense," said Rich Mironov, vice president of marketing for AirMagnet. "This is one new flavor or variation of the DoS attack."
The report from Australia has been widely described as a dramatic new security fault inherent in the 802.11b standard. Some reports have included recommendations to stop using 802.11b networks altogether. The attack appears to have no real effect on 802.11a or 802.11g-only networks which employ a different signal encoding method than 802.11b.
But some say the attack isn't new at all. Richard Rushing, chief security officer for AirDefense, says this new report looks exactly like findings presented by University of San Diego researchers at a UseNix conference last August. The buzz around the recent report from Queensland just happens to be better publicized, he said.
Neither Mironov nor Rushing expect the form of attacks to be particularly threatening. The attack can be performed with an off-the-shelf PC card but the card's firmware must be modified using a driver that may or may not become public. "It's probably going to come out, but it's not necessarily going to propagate," said Rushing.
Even if it does get widely circulated, the attacks themselves will be limited to the APs in range of the altered PC card. "It's not like the whole network crashes. It's the one or two or three APs nearby that are crashing," Mironov said.
AirMagnet's current product looks for 16 other distinct DoS attacks and will soon identify this type of attack. When its network sensors pick up on the attack, an alarm is sent to a network administrator. An IT manager can then use a handheld device to locate the source of the attack to shut it down. AirMagnet expects to be able to distribute an update that will identify this specific attack in about a week, Mironov said.
Key to identifying such attacks are sensors that are separate from the APs, Rushing said. "If I'm using the AP to get my monitoring information I won't see anything. I'll just see that nothing is connecting to the AP," he said. But a separate sensor would see the signals sent from the hacker's device.
Mironov says this new attack is not a reason to shy from using WLANs. "It's the nature of Wi-Fi. To say you're going to give up on Wi-Fi because someone figured out how to shut it down seems extreme," he said.
Kathy Gill encounters highway robbery in her hotel room: $14.95 per day, per machine: My colleague Kathy Gill is at the WWW2004 conference in New York, and has been astounded by the Sheraton's data charges: $14.95 per day for wireless access in the hotel, and another $14.95 per day per person for in-room access. She's peeved.
It's this irritation that could ultimately transform hotel Wi-Fi. If Kathy had $20 to $80 per month unlimited cell data access (anywhere from 10-50 Kbps up to a few hundred K download speed), even with the slower upload speeds of cellular networks, she might have foregone the $14.95 per day fee. In which case, how does the hotel recoup that money? They can't.
Take the alternative experience, in which my wife and I spent three nights on the Oregon Coast this last week. I wasn't working, and just wanted to briefly check my email on the road. The first night, we stayed at an older motel in the process of becoming a resort. For $9.95, I could have had wireless service, but I didn't need to spend that much. My ISP lacked an 800# and local numbers on the coast. I wound up using my GSM (9600 bps -- yes, bits per second) cell phone service which on Cingular's network comes out of my minutes pool.
Next night, again with no concern about access, we chose a hotel that was about 30 percent cheaper and claimed wireless Internet access for free. Ah, but not in the cheaper part of the hotel. I didn't need access badly enough to roam to the part of the hotel in which I could get service, so I turned again to the cell phone.
The third night, we stayed at a Best Western in a small town. The room was nice, the rate was 30 percent less than the second night's, and the deal included free in-room wired broadband and free breakfast. Guess which hotel I'll choose first next time? All Best Westerns will soon have free in-room broadband--as will most budget hotel chains around the U.S.
Hotels that charge for service might find their high-end customers turning to cell data as that becomes more available and less expensive--or losing customers to the cheaper chains.
(Our first and last nights of our trip were spent at my brother-in-laws and my parents'--both of which offered free Wi-Fi throughout the property.)
It's not "What Hath God Wrought," but it's historic nonetheless: Connexion by Boeing launched its first commercial flight today, with flight 452 on Lufthansa flying from Munich to Los Angeles. The press release and photo were filed (also a first) from the flight at 35,000 feet. Connexion's commercial launch of a single plane is significant, but Lufthansa won't finish unwiring its 80 planes in its long-haul fleet until the end of 2006. In fact, it's possible that fewer than a dozen planes out of a few hundred committed will be ready to go this year. (Photo shows a German passenger at right, and Boeing VP David Friedman at left.)
ACISgroup, an ISP in Greece, will build hotspots in major hotels and nearby outdoor areas in Greece in anticipation of the upcoming Olympics. The ISP will use gear from Proxim and Nomadix. It's not clear how extensive the network will be or what the charge for use will be. Proxim plans to release an announcement about the deal tomorrow which should be available here.
At the E3 Expo, Microsoft apparently went out of its way to reassure Xbox fans that it will continue to make its Xbox Wi-Fi adapter: That's somewhat ironic because not too long ago Microsoft had a page on its Web site that said it didn't recommend using Wi-Fi with its Xbox and wouldn't offer technical support for it. Perhaps customer demand has made it change its tune.
In other gaming news, Nintendo's handheld game will include Wi-Fi, though apparently the company hasn’t specified if it'll be 802.11b or 802.11g. [links via Frank]
ZDNet UK has a comprehensive analysis of factors businesses should consider when choosing between 3G or Wi-Fi for mobile workers: The conclusion should be disheartening for operators of either network. Based on comments from an analyst, the writer concludes that some companies might be better off asking workers to use Internet cafes, which are more prevalent in Europe than in the U.S. Companies might be wise to wait for a bundled Wi-Fi/3G offering because both services are lacking individually. In the same breath, however, he notes that such bundled offerings probably won't be available for a while.
Until such bundles are available, it's true that 3G and Wi-Fi may appear competitive to the many users who aren't willing to pay for both. But choosing between the two is like choosing between two evils because both need changes to their pricing models and both are lacking coverage.
Business Week does a decent job of looking at Craig McCaw's recent purchases in the broadband wireless space: McCaw recently bought a company that owns spectrum that would be ideal for rolling out broadband wireless. He also bought NextNet, an equipment maker. The story takes a broad look at McCaw's history and places this move among McCaw's success and failures. This recent foray is risky just like McCaw's other ventures so it could become quite successful like Nextel or McCaw Cellular or it could fail or stall like XO or Teledesic.
This story notes that the first WiMax equipment will appear next year. While that's accurate and exactly what most of the folks in the WiMax movement will tell you, I think the WiMax folks are remiss to not clarify that statement. The first equipment will operate in licensed bands internationally--it can't be used in the United States. Some experts say that the first gear to become available here won't surface for another couple of years.
The story quotes our pal Steve Stroh, the editor of Focus on Broadband Wireless Internet Access. Steve wrote a detailed report of McCaw's moves when these recent purchases first came to light.
A Denver TV station demonstrates the insecurity of wireless networks at the Denver Airport: A reporter and a security analyst sat nearby a hotspot user and were able to steal his email. They approach the user and tell him that anyone could do the same. The story says that the reporters got his cell phone number, social security number, and Visa card number. We're curious about why he was sending that information in an email. The story is typically sensational for a local news station but the point is made--users should make sure they have a secure connection like a VPN if they're sending that kind of information. If such security measures aren't available to them, they shouldn't send that information.
A non-profit group is funding a Wi-Fi network in L.A.'s Little Tokyo District: The network will be built by eWAN and the city of L.A. is offering access to light poles and rooftops for the network. Users will pay comparable rates to DSL or cable service. This is an interesting partnership between a community group, the city, and a vendor to offer Internet access in an area that may be underserved.
The FCC today may propose to open up spectrum between television channels 2 and 51 for unlicensed users: The television broadcasters are likely to put up a fight on this one so it's not clear if a ruling will be made opening up the spectrum. An FCC chief suggests that TV broadcasters could use the spectrum to send TV signals to laptops where consumers can have an interactive experience. It's more likely that the spectrum would be primarily used for wireless Internet access.
Despite the protestations of the TV broadcasters, it would be nice if this spectrum were opened up. More available spectrum will only help fortify the broadband wireless space which is just beginning to attract significant interest.
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Intel Research looks at tracking people you see all the time, but don't know, via Bluetooth: Mark Frauenfelder writes about Intel's Jabberwocky, which explores your relationship with other people, including what are called familiar strangers: people who you don't know, but recognize because you see them regularly. The first instantiation is a Bluetooth application that tracks the Bluetooth IDs it sees. The more frequently you see certain IDs, the more familiar the program marks them. When you're surrounded by actual strangers (or their strange Bluetooth devices), you'll see a different display than when you're near people you see often but don't know.
Once and if everyone is carrying Bluetooth devices, perhaps you could use this tool as a way to avoid detection. Private detectives will have to learn to turn off Bluetooth features to avoid showing up as known parties. Trying to avoid colleagues at work? As the colored squares grow in intensity, you zip out a fire door.
Newtown, Pa., renovates library and installs Wi-Fi, doubling town's Wi-Fi hotspot count: The small town of Newtown has a Starbucks with fee Wi-Fi access as its sole reported public Wi-Fi. This library isn't public; it's supported by membership dues since 1760. The library isn't sure whether they will open the Wi-Fi access to all, or just to members.
Microsoft's mission accomplished message belied by drop in marketshare, commodity pricing: News.com follows up on yesterday's scoop that Microsoft was canceling its broadband wireless products with analysis of the exit. A Microsoft spokesperson attributed the exit to having fulfilled their goals of raising the standard of Wi-Fi products, but a drop from 9 to 6.6 percent marketshare over three months coupled with the fungibility and low cost of Wi-Fi gear was the reason, News.com writes. Linksys may pick up the slack, but might also be forced to lower prices.
Quarterscope converts Wi-Fi cards plus a wardriving database into a virtual GPS receiver: A few weeks ago, Wi-Fi Networking News talked to Ted Morgan, the founder and president of Quarterscope, a company which had just won an award at the cellular industry's big trade show for location services, finishing behind well-established Ekahau. Quarterscope's product is software that uses a database of wardriving records that it matches against the signals received by a Wi-Fi radio to produce an approximate set of coordinates, like a virtual GPS.
"What got us started down this path is the density of public and private hot spots," Morgan said. "No one realizes just how many of these access points has been installed. They see the sales numbers, but they don't extrapolate the fact that people are going home and plugging them in."
Morgan said that they have primed the pump of their database using existing information from research groups, hobby wardrivers, and collective databases. "We're aggregating from lots of different existing sources today," he said.
Wardriving uses "stumbling" software like NetStumbler to record all of the network names and unique access point hardware addresses at regular time slices, like every second, combining that information with GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) receiver coordinates tied into the same laptop or handheld.
Quarterscope is starting its own stumbling efforts by installing wardriving devices on vehicles in metropolitan areas that drive random paths, such as delivery vans. "If you have somebody who is scanning for a full day, in metro areas, they can scan over 5,000 a day, particularly in downtown areas," Morgan said.
Oddly, he said, certain kinds of vehicles don't work because they drive similar routes every day, such as police cars. "if you really look at what a cop does all day, it's pretty revealing."
Morgan said that they've had legal advice as to whether passively scanning or pinging for a beacon violates any laws int he U.S. "We've gotten consultation on the whole process, and it’s very clearly within legal bounds," he said. "If we have any concerns, it's more on a perception side of things. You can go to the FBI Web site and they very clearly state that passive scanning is fine. The problem is if you connect into somebody’s network."
Quarterscope's software generates a virtual serial port on a Windows system, and uses the NMEA GPS protocol. it works with a variety of mapping programs that support GPS receivers, such as Microsoft Streets.
The granularity of the data which Quarterscope uses to produce coordinates is quite fine. "Every single access point tends to have hundreds of readings behind it which are showing different positions and signal strengths. It's very difficult to use just a couple of readings and develop a position," Morgan said.
The company may use its data to drive market research analysis, because they believe they might wind up with a more accurate eye-level view of deployment of access points by vendor and location. He noted that he can derive vendors from the access point's unique hardware address; these addressees are assigned in ranges to companies.
Quarterscope has seen what Morgan characterizes as a surprisingly high level of interest from cell phone makers and cell carriers. These companies are concerned about relying entirely on GPS, especially in urban areas where downtown caverns block accurate satellite reception, or inside buildings or other structures where Wi-Fi might be prevalent and GPS unavailable.
Morgan said that when a carrier tries to sell a GPS-enabled phone, the first thing a customer does is try it out in the store--where it fails because it can't get a satellite read.
Morgan expects that Quarterscope will resell its software as a consumer offering, but its primary market will be to OEMs, or manufacturers that will repackage or recombine the software.
Manhattan remains one of Quarterscope's great points of interest because, Morgan said, in some areas their stumbling software can see well over 25 access points at once. The next most dense city, Boston, might reach a maximum of 15 in similar areas.
"We talked to the carriers, and they all refer to Manhattan, because it also happens to be where GPS struggles as well," he said.
Roaming is crucial for many service providers that are hoping to offer their customers access to the greatest number of hotspots. But while service providers know that roaming is important, they're faced with a slew of options, each with varying services, for how to make it work. We covered RoamPoint's recent launch, comparing its offering with the iPass roaming offering. Wi-Fi Networking News today spoke with the marketing director from WeRoam for a perspective on that company's mission.
WeRoam handles authentication, billing, settlement, and aggregation of hotspots for GSM operators around the globe. The company is a sister company of Comfone, the organization that provides clearing, billing, and authentication for over 200 GSM operators' roaming services. WeRoam is building on those capabilities and existing relationships to offer hotspot services to GSM operators.
WeRoam says it has aggregated 8,000 hotspots worldwide, which includes Fatport, Surf and Sip, and Concourse in North America. WeRoam's GSM operator customers can offer those hotspots to their customers, relying on WeRoam to support authentication and bill settlement. WeRoam primarily touts its SIM-card authentication method but will support password authentication, smart cards, interactive voice response methods, and other authentication methods.
End users typically have a combined UMTS, GPRS, and Wi-Fi PC card that has a SIM slot but they can use a SIM card dongle instead. When they arrive in range of a hotspot, the WeRoam client software on their PC checks that the hotspot is part of the WeRoam network. If it is, the SIM card in the PC card authenticates the user against WeRoam servers in Switzerland. Then WeRoam aggregates billing information and settlement data and acts as a broker.
The process uses the same secure networks used by GSM operators to enable their cellular voice customers to roam so it's easy for operators to sign up for the service, said Michael Gebert, director of marketing for WeRoam.
WeRoam primarily focuses on Europe, where Orange Switzerland is a customer, but has some customers in Africa and South America. The U.S. isn't a large market for WeRoam because cell phone users here aren't as comfortable using SIM cards as customers in other parts of the world. But WeRoam has talked to operators such as AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile, which could use other authentication methods instead of SIM, Gebert said.
WeRoam recently added Australia's Skynet Global, a hotspot operator, to its network.
WeRoam doesn't consider Roampoint a competitor. RoamPoint facilitates roaming for hotspot operators but doesn't handle bill settlement; neither does iPass's clearinghouse system. "RoamPoint is evaluating our service," said Gebert. He said RoamPoint could essentially resell the WeRoam authentication and settlement service. "RoamPoint is coming from a marketing-drive, loud perspective of doing business," Gebert commented. "What they want to do is partly the same business as we are already offering."
PC World editors evaluate eight wireless mice and keyboards, and Bluetooth's advantage is nowhere to be seen: The editors generally preferred less expensive, more responsive, easier-to-configure RF devices that use proprietary protocols. Their favorite Bluetooth set is $250, which is steep, but it was the best they found in the bunch. A $50 or $65 RF keyboard/mouse combo with plain RF is recommended.
News.com reports that Microsoft will cancel its entire broadband wireless product line: News.com says they received confirmation this afternoon of an earlier story that Microsoft's broadband networking line-up will be supported, but no longer developed. The company will apparently run down existing inventory. It will continue support through a two-year warranty period.
Microsoft was late in bringing 802.11g gear to market, but has always received high marks in the ease of configuring their equipment and enabling security. Its primary consumer operating system competitor, Apple, continues to have a disproportionate marketshare in selling their AirPort Extreme (802.11g) equipment despite a cost that is two to three times comparable equipment from Linksys and similar manufacturers.
Colubris Networks, the maker of fat APs, introduced support for voice over Wi-Fi: The new system will support SpectraLink's voice over Wi-Fi solution. Colubris is touting its ability to isolate voice and data services so that each can have its own security parameters and quality of service profiles. The company says that previously companies would have to either resort to the lowest common level of security or deploy separate networks for each application. However, a number of WLAN switch vendors support voice and enable the separation of traffic based on the application. Voice traffic is often treated differently than data traffic because most voice over Wi-Fi handsets don't support VPNs. Enterprises that want to secure data transmissions using VPNs must treat that traffic differently than voice traffic.
Answering the cry of system admins everyone, new system controls up to 16 servers over 802.11a with AES encryption: If you ever visit a server room, you see monitors and keyboards piled up or hung or inserted all over the place. These keyboards, video displays, and mouses (KVMs, in brief) are controlled through switches that are plugged into the servers. Avocent's AutoView Wireless cuts those cords and extends the range, removing clutter and wasted space from a valuable server room.
With multiples of this unit, which lists at $595 each, admins can connect up to 16 servers to two workstations so that two admins can connect to the same set of 16. Some details are blurry that I'm trying to get clarification on: is there an intermediate KVM server to which the transceiver is connected? If you have several sets of 16 servers, can a single transceiver at the admin's station switch among those sets?
FatPort's Sean O'Mahoney is cell-payment-enabler Excilan's new CEO: We rarely cover management changes at Wi-Fi Networking News, but O'Mahoney's move is worth noting. O'Mahoney helped build FatPort from a small Vancouver, BC (Canada), company with an interesting hardware platform in 2001 into Canada's dominant hotspot provider and platform reseller. While the four Canadian cellular telephone carriers have made roaming announcements and issued press releases, they have yet to build out a presence, and may have just a handful of hotspots by year's end among them.
FatPort has 140 locations according to their Web site, mostly centered in British Columbia. But their platform has allowed them to resell their managed services and hardware/software combo, and will potentially yield hundreds of additional locations this year, most of which will include free roaming across FatPort's own network.
O'Mahoney--along with Rick Ehrlinspiel of Surf and Sip--has been most aggressive in offering bilateral fee-free roaming agreements, having aggregated over 800 locations worldwide for their customers through these agreements. Unlike models in Europe, in which roaming means paying extra to use non-local networks but using a single login, FatPort's model offers a single login and a fixed monthly rate no matter which partner network is being used.
Excilan is a natural fit for O'Mahoney's approach. Excilan's technology allows hotspot operators to partner with cellular carriers without building client software that an end user must install nor assigning new usernames and accounts to cell owners.
In the Excilan system, you visit a hotspot's gateway page and enter your cellular telephone number. If your carrier is part of the Excilan system, your phone rings and an automated system asks you to authorize a charge. When you agree, the charge shows up on your bill at the negotiated rate your carrier has with the hotspot operator, and your laptop or handheld is authenticated through the back-end.
FatPort and Surf and Sip are the only North American network users of Excilan, while mostly European cell carriers have signed up to enable their subscribers. Overall, nearly 50 hotspot networks are involved worldwide partnered with 14 cell carriers with 23 million customers.
In an email interview, O'Mahoney said, "For the Excilan system to reach its full potential we
have to extend our reach into U.S./North American market as quickly as possible." He added that the rest of the Americas were also important. O'Mahoney also hopes to work with other aggregators of hotspot networks to help make it easier for hotspot networks to work with many aggregators. "As an ex-WISP manager I know it is very confusing to deal with all the aggregators," he said.
Other hotspot operators have told us at Wi-Fi Networking News the same: the benefits are there to resell to aggregators, but the increasing number (iPass, RoamPoint, etc.) add burdens to the infrastructure. "They all 'get' roaming, but day-to-day they have many more fundamental issues to deal with," O'Mahoney pointed out.
USA Today reports that Lufthansa will offer Connexion by Boeing over Wi-Fi starting May 17: This is the first commercial launch of Connexion, and the service will operate on a Lufthansa plane between Munich and Los Angeles, a non-stop flight. This may be the first commercial in-flight Wi-Fi: Emirates airline was close to offering Tenzing's service over Wi-Fi a few weeks ago. We'll see who wins the race to be first.
T-Mobile will offer service throughout Heathrow, Gatwick, and Glasgow airports: The deal comes with the typically high fees charged in Europe, staring at £1.50 for 15 minutes and £5.00 for an hour, and heading north to £16.50 for 24 hours. A day rate for T-Mobile in the US is $10 or about 75 percent less.
Signs are pointing towards widespread ability to make Voice over IP (VoIP) over Wi-Fi calls: But will revenue follow? Many of the uses of voice over Wi-Fi reduce costs or shift usage; one firm puts revenue in 2009 for long-distance Wi-Fi voice calling at just $20 million, according to the article.
But cell phones with Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi phones aimed at the home market could drive more rapid adoption. Imagine a single phone that you carried everywhere, but with higher quality and lower cost than a cell phone whether in your house or deep in a convention center.
The main problem with a roaming Wi-Fi phone is authentication on networks that require accepting terms at a gateway page, logging in, or paying for use. These are not insurmountable problems.
Engadget notes two other PC Cards with stubby or hidden antennas: This is in addition to Iogear's new card. The Sony has a bit of a lip. The 3Com card I used a bit and quite like: pushing the antenna in deactivates the card; push it again and it pops out and fires up.
Students design wireless beer pitcher monitoring system: Meticulously researched, designed, and documented, two students solve the eternal problem of ensuring that pitchers are promptly refilled and that they don't miss last call by accident. A sensor monitors the pitcher's tilt and then alerts a remote system via radio signals. [via Slashdot]
Fixed broadband wireless is in the spotlight, now that 802.16 and WiMax are being written about in the mainstream press: But that attention seems to be adding a lot of confusion to the market, particularly about the difference between different technologies. The Financial Times ran a story about PCCW's launch of broadband wireless in the U.K. but said that the network would use WiMax gear. In addition to the fact that there is no WiMax gear yet, the network will be built with equipment from IPWireless, which doesn't aspire to be WiMax. Strangely, PCCW doesn't even mention IPWireless or the type of technology used in its press release about the launch, which came out yesterday. IPWireless followed up today with an announcement of its own that adds a bit more information.
There seems to be a lot of confusion especially around the 802.16 and 802.20 camps and some of it may be caused by some of the companies involved. For example, I was once told by an 802.20 member that IPWireless was active in the development of that standard. I talked with an IPWireless spokesperson at the time who I understood to say that IPWireless had moved to the 802.16 camp. However, she recently contacted me to say that IPWireless has never been part of the 802.20 effort and while the company has an engineer who attends the 802.16 meetings, the company is not active in the 802.16 development effort and does not at this time have plans to build to the 802.16 standard.
At the same time that the 802.16 and 802.20 efforts work on developing their standards, some of the member companies are also developing and selling their own systems, which sometimes adds to the confusion. Flarion, for example, is one of the founders of 802.20 and is conducting trials for Nextel and Vodafone. But the 802.20 standard is far enough away from being complete that Flarion can hardly call its current equipment 802.20-based. So Flarion and companies like IPWireless are each in their own category.
Generally, it's great that the fixed broadband world is getting a lot of attention but companies and journalists have to be more careful about the facts. The space is confusing enough for folks who are just being introduced to it.
US Robotics told Tom's Networking that the delay in releasing WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) upgrades for its 802.11g gear has to do with the Windows XP/2000 only driver issue: Tim Higgins, as usual, gets to the bottom of a mystery: why US Robotics had lagged in WPA support. The company says that the only drivers available until recently that they could have used support only Windows 2000 and XP, and that they wanted full legacy support from Windows 98 Second Edition through current releases. Texas Instruments will provide the utilities necessary.
The WPA update will be available in June when US Robotics ships firmware upgrades to support frame bursting and other speed improvements for both their TI-based and Broadcom-based products.
Ephraim Schwartz reports that 802.11i is expected to be ratified in June: The IEEE 802.11i protocol is the update to 802.11 security that includes all of the interim measures found in WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), and also adds a longer, strong encryption key using AES and fast handoff through quick reauthentication among access points. AES has higher computational requirements, and Schwartz points out that some devices will need replacement.
WPA was a stop-gap based on work in progress in 802.11i, and issued by the Wi-Fi Alliance in an attempt to make older equipment backwards compatible. The elements found in WPA didn't require circuits other than those used for the older, broken WEP encryption standard. If you hunt, you can find firmware updates for almost all 802.11b devices ever produced.
What Schwartz doesn't mention, though, is that virtually all Wi-Fi chips shipped since the end of 2002 (including virtually all 802.11g chips) contain the processing core and other elements necessary to handle AES. They just need firmware upgrades. Schwartz talked to several major vendors, who pointed out their timeframes and upgrade plans, but he omitted chipmakers like Broadcom, Atheros, GlobeSpanVirata, and other consumer/enterprise OEM vendors who would have told him that AES is baked in and just ready for ratification to activate.
The Wi-Fi Alliance has said that it will certify 802.11i under the name WPA2.
Schwartz also notes the 802.11e's improvements in throughput and resource management for bandwidth won't be finalized until the end of this year. The Wi-Fi Alliance will certify the throughput (Wireless Multimedia Extensions) portion of 802.11e before the full standard ratification, he reports.
Analyst sees Intel technology that uses low-power Bluetooth to signal when Wi-Fi needed (3rd item): Rob Enderle visits Intel Labs and sees what he calls a personal data repeater which combines Bluetooth (low power, short distances, low speed) with Wi-Fi (higher power requirements for longer distances and higher speeds). The implementation he describes is a portable device that relays information from an appliance like a watch or PDA; the implementation sounds rather horsey. More likely, you'd see it used in a cell phone or PDA directly that has (in the future) single chip Bluetooth/Wi-Fi and activates the right circuitry at the right time. It's a clever idea to use the low-power signaling, but it's also possible that a Wi-Fi transceiver with multiple power levels could act in the same capacity.
Truck stops could become the most unwired category of business in the next 12 months: the market wants it: No one is guessing whether truckers want Wi-Fi hotspots at truck stops. It's a done deal. Truckers are typically also businessmen and -women and they use their laptops on the road to deal with loads, pay bills, and keep in touch with family. A hotspot means not having to leave one's truck and tote a laptop, increasing security and ease. Thousands of truck stops will have Wi-Fi by this time next year. The annual rates of $200 to $250 for unlimited access means that there's money to be made in assuring loyalty. A trucker will travel another 30 miles to use their Wi-Fi (just read this article), meaning that the right price and the right ubiquity could translate to thousands of dollars of additional gas and food sales per Wi-Fi user.
Omni Hotels has a contest and promotion tied with Wi-Fi: Omni offers free wireless Internet access at all of their 40 hotels. The promotion provides double airline miles through June for qualifying stays, but if you sign up to join their Select Guest program, you're entered in a contest to win a home Wi-Fi system (laptop, card, wireless gateway, and a year's worth of DSL/cable service). A lesser prize is the WiFi Finder from Kensington, which we've previously said doesn't offer enough Wi-Fi finding ability to be useful. Omni Hotels started offering free Wi-Fi in Feb. 2003.
Vivato formally announced its next-generation 802.11g switch today: The 802.11g device that the FCC approved just three weeks ago will ship this summer. Pricing isn't indicated. [link via Daily Wireless]
Marvell's LiveAP can use the trickle of standby power from a computer to operate even when the computer itself is entirely off: The idea is that LiveAP can be embedded in devices that are on intermittently without losing the AP function. Today, you can turn a Windows, Linux, or Mac computer into an ad hoc or (in certain cases) infrastructure access point, but only while the system is fully powered and not crashed. Marvell, a chipmaker, sees the device in computers, gaming consoles, and media centers.
Honolulu airport offers Wi-Fi at all gates: ShakaNet will offer the service free until May 15, and then charge $7 per day or $20 per month. Reseller agreements are absent from the article and the ShakaNet site.
(Interestingly, this story was first reported a year ago, with little depth.)
Comcast will install Wi-Fi gear, configure a router, and rent it to their customers with new program: Comcast Home Networking includes the delivery and installation of Wi-Fi networking for a setup fee and $5 per month (covering the router and one PC Card). Setup costs $200 for two computers up to $300 for five computers, the maximum covered by this deal. A current discount program chops $100 off that price until June 1. The terms and pricing don't explain the rental fee for the second through fifth computers' hardware, referring to a "rate card" that isn't on the Web site.
The installation includes configuring and setting a WEP encryption key for the network, a task which with certain equipment can cause grown men and women to weep. There's definitely a place for a service in which the equipment is covered against defects. The site for the program doesn't note this, but Comcast's overarching subscriber terms says, During the term of this Agreement, Comcast will repair and maintain all Comcast Equipment and you agree that the Comcast Equipment will not be serviced by anyone other than Comcast employees or agents.
Part of the press release noted that this package, offered as $52.95 per month excluding the rental fees and install fees, has up to 4 Mbps download speeds and 384 Kbps upload speeds. The basic package is $42.95 per month for 3 Mbps down and 256Kbps up. These prices require a Comcast cable subscription; it's $10 extra per month without such a subscription. (Macintosh users aren't covered yet, but Comcast is rolling this out actively region by region, according to email from a Comcast spokesperson.)
Qwest DSL's comparable service is $39.99/month for 1.5 Mbps down, 896 Kbps up (with Qwest phone service). Qwest also offers a wireless option with less support and no installation but without the rental cost: you just buy an Actiontec device with 802.11g and DSL modem support built in.
Cisco introduced today its wireless LAN services module, an add-on to its Catalyst 6500 switch that integrates support for WLANs: Coupled with Cisco APs (wireless access points), the platform offers some of the functionality of other WLAN switch platforms but has some drawbacks. One of the most important capabilities that Cisco executives stressed during a Webcast this morning was the ability for users to roam between APs in 50 milliseconds--fast enough to support voice. The client is authenticated at the AP where traffic is sent through a secure roaming tunnel back to the Catalyst switch, which could be located anywhere in the network. As the client roams, its IP address stays the same, so voice calls, VPNs, and other applications aren't interrupted when the client associates with a new AP.
Because all traffic travels through the switch, roaming might not always happen in under 50 milliseconds. Cisco tested roaming between two APs that were located in Perth, Australia. The APs were connected to a switch that was located in Sydney, a distance away from Perth that is similar to the distance between Los Angeles and Miami. The handoff time increased to around 250 milliseconds, slow enough for an audible blip in a voice call. But applications are not dropped during that time.
Cisco also said that it is releasing an upgraded version of its wireless LAN solution engine (WLSE), Cisco's management software for APs across an enterprise. The new version not only detects rogue or unauthorized APs, but can remotely disable the switch port that the rogue is connected to. Also, with the new software, customers can set their Cisco APs to scan-only mode. Customers who may not be ready to deploy a WLAN may still want to ensure that rogue APs aren't being deployed. "Over time they will deploy a WLAN, and the same APs they use for scan-only can be used as regular APs," said Bill Rossi, general manager of Cisco's wireless unit. (Airespace, a WLAN switch developer, has a similar offering, which has the added feature of deassociate signal bombing a rogue AP to prevent clients from successfully remaining connected to it.)
The upgraded WLSE also supports instant AP deployment without having to configure the AP before adding it to the network. When the switch module recognizes that a new AP has been plugged in, it alerts the WLSE system, which sends the configuration file to the new AP. In the previous version of WLSE, the management software would monitor as well, but this newer method provides a more direct and instantaneous configuration.
The WLSE also optimizes frequency use. IT managers can set thresholds for capacity or coverage, and if the network exceeds those thresholds the engine will boost or decrease power in individual APs to optimize the environment. The WLSE also supports self-healing, so if one AP goes down, other nearby APs increase coverage and change channels to cover the open spot.
The switch module supports as many as 300 APs from a single switch and only works with Cisco APs. End users cannot roam between APs that are attached to different switches, however. Executives said that capability should be available some time in the future.
Cisco also introduced a new AP series, the Cisco 1300, that can be deployed indoor or outdoor.
Many of the capabilities of the new platform are also offered by the startup WLAN switch developers. Cisco has an advantage because it's a large, established company with a large base of Catalyst switch customers. Cisco also touted the fact that its platform can support 300 APs, a number it says is far greater than that supported by other WLAN switches.
Jason Levitt of Austin's LessNetworks outlined the platform approach to Seattle Wireless community networking group's monthly meeting: Last night, Levitt discussed how LessNetworks has built (and is about to release) an almost-turnkey system for enabling free hotspots. Less works hand-in-hand with Austin Wireless City Project: Less handles the software platform and back-end authentication operations, while Austin Wireless develops the volunteer organization and contacts venues to install and maintain free service.
The Less software is based on NoCatAuth, and one of the developers of that package, Rob Flickenger, was in attendance as well. NoCatAuth requires command-line knowledge, while the Less package is rebundles it into a full bootable, installable distribution. With an old PC in hand, a venue or volunteer can install the software, plug in an access point, and create an account at Less's authentication server. The venue can customize their local splash screen. Users create a Less account and agree to usage guidelines, and then can log in for free at all Less-enabled venues.
Less has the software almost ready to go and is in technical pre-release testing. When it's ready, anyone will be able to download a CD-ROM ISO image which can be burned on any platform, and used to boot a generic PC.
Also at last night's meeting, Matt Westervelt and Flickenger discussed the hardware that they're providing in kit form through their new company, Metrix Communication. The goal of this firm is to provide kits that put together the resources that formerly required many trips to many vendors and bulk orders. The company is working with undisclosed community networking partners, the principals said.
Peter Yorke of Seattlewireless TV was on hand to capture Levitt's talk, which will be edited and aired during the next broadcast.
|Many hands examine a completed Metrix box||Matt Westervelt shows models of their system||Matt Westervelt and Rob Flickenger|
Rudeo Control offers a remote control interface for Pocket PCs to control a Windows XP Media Center: The Pocket PC needs Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and it allows a high level of control over music and media playback. The real question is how many people own both a Windows XP Media Center (early adopter home user) and a Pocket PC (middle adopter business user)?
BMW institutionalizes CAN: car area networking: BMW and HP will market a car that has Bluetooth and Wi-FI, and uses cell data (GSM or GPRS) to provide the Internet uplink. P'shaw! Anyone with that money to spend would want 1xRTT and 1xEv-DO to get the generally higher rates--or at least EDGE.
The BBC offers this report on Wi-Fi in Estonia, focusing on Veljo Haamer: Veljo has been a long-time correspondent to this site, offering insights into how Wi-Fi can be used not just in a smaller country but in unique ways. Estonia was the first to have gas/petrol station Wi-Fi, and the country as a whole has been fast on the high-tech uptake.
EWeek reports that Cisco is about to introduce new products that will enable roaming between access points: The capability is key to rolling out voice services on WLANs. The products will work in conjunction with Cisco's Catalyst 6500 switches. One apparent downside to the Cisco setup is that it won't support roaming between APs that are connected to different switches. Also, packets will travel from the client to the AP then through to potentially multiple switches before reaching their destination, which could be a client attached to the same AP.
Most WLAN switch vendors and security gateway developers already support roaming across networks and even across subnets. But Cisco always has a leg up on startups because of its installed base.
Cisco is hosting a Webcast for journalists tomorrow during which executives may detail more about the new platform. EWeek wasn't expecting an announcement from Cisco until Networld+Interop next week, however.
Tim Higgins puts the keychain-sized WiFi Seeker through its paces, likes the results: Tim is a harsher judge of the underlying technology than I am, and more rigorous in his testing. He likes the WiFi Seeker from Chrysalis Development, too, because it intelligently recognizes just access points and provides a good analog of signal strength meters found in Wi-Fi adapter drivers on laptops.
The Cloud customers can now get authenticated using SIM cards: Transat Technologies enables the service. SIM-based authentication is already being used by some hotspots in Europe and is expected to be a widely used authentication method there. Because Europeans use GSM for their cell phone technologies, they are already used to the concept of the SIM card. They can use the same SIM card for their cell phones and for hotspot authentication, which also means they could receive a single bill for both services.
Some of the early SIM-based WLAN authentication solutions are pretty rudimentary. They involve the user sending a message from their cell phone to get a code that allows them to access the WLAN. But the more sophisticated solutions include a SIM card reader on a laptop. The SIM card authenticates the user but also applies encryption and security to the communication between the client and the network. That is likely the offering Transat is delivering for The Cloud.
At the CTIA Wireless I.T. show last fall I talked to a handful of companies that are touting SIM-based authentication tools, including some of the big SIM card makers. While they're looking for a U.S. market, most weren't terribly bullish that the authentication method would take off here because people aren't widely used to the concept of using SIM cards. Even GSM users in the U.S. don't often realize that they have a SIM card.
Sprint PCS Wi-Fi Access service now available at $49.95 for unlimited monthly usage: Sprint PCS is bucking the trend downward by offering Wayport and Cometa's network and a handful of other locations under their own brand for almost twice what other companies were reselling those networks for. Boingo Wireless gets you Wayport, Surf and Sip, and a number of other domestic U.S. networks for $21.95 for 12 moths (then $34.95 per month); Cometa's partners were at one point selling their network for under $20 per month and Cometa is suggesting a monthly unlimited rate below that.
Sprint PCS will eventually have a number of unique locations that aren't just resold from other networks, but it's likely that those locations will be part of bilateral or clearinghouse roaming agreements and thus be available for use by other networks that charge less for unlimited use. The carriers appear to continue to want to eke as many dollars as possible out of non-voice subscribers (viz., T-Mobile's $40 per month for month to month rate, $30 for 1-year commitment, or $20 for 1-year voice subscriber commitment).
Let's put it this way: when a user can walk a few minutes to a McDonald's in any direction and use their network as part of their 50 percent cheaper unlimited plan, what chance does Sprint PCS have to charge the rate they started with today?
If you want a laugh at the modern provisions of a contract for Internet use on the fly, click through to sign up for the service and read the terms of service in a popup window. It includes deathless legal prose in a list of things you promise not to do on their network:
b) Defame, abuse, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (such as rights of privacy and publicity) of others;
c) Publish, distribute or disseminate any inappropriate, profane, defamatory, infringing, obscene, indecent or unlawful material or information;
There are a host of other illegal activities they enumerate as well. Kids, don't do Wi-Fi (actually you have to be 18 to sign up for the service). Stay in school! [link via Tom's Networking]
New York Times staffer John Schwartz drives his daughter from Austin to New Jersey in search of colleges and Wi-Fi: Schwartz is a keen observer of the Wi-Fi scene, and he writes of his fairly easy process of finding Wi-Fi hotspots along his long route. He includes a bit of found poetry from the Flying J, one of the many thousands of truck stops that are or will become hotspots over the next year: God Bless America / Position Open / Wireless Available.
Schwartz started in Austin, and he also filed this article about the work being carried out by Richard MacKinnon, Jon Lebkowsky, and a cast of dozens involved in Austin Wireless City to spread free Wi-Fi across the town.
Legendary beauty Hedy Lamarr invented frequency hopping; a film may show her intellectual side: Lamarr and George Antheil developed many of the fundamental ideas for frequency hopping spread-spectrum technology that is the foundation of much of modern data and voice wireless communication. Their patents were kept secret until 1985, delaying recognition. A foundation is helping to fund "Face Value," a screenplay about these broader aspects of Lamarr's life beyond her screen talent.
Lamarr received a Pioneer Award in 1997 from the Electronic Frontier Foundation while Antheil was recognized posthumously. The Associated Press reported that the actress, then in her mid-80s, said on learning of the award, "It's about time." Her son apparently traveled to accept on her behalf; she died in 2000. In an uncredited article about her written around 1997, this prescient quote appears: "I should probably sell my life story to Ted Turner," says the film goddess-inventor-patriot, "because it's unbelievable."
Dave Hughes successfully lobbied for Antheil and Lamarr's nomination for that Pioneer Award. He is a technical adviser for the screenplay about her life. (Hughes himself will receive West Point's Distinguished Graduate award in late May, a signal honor by his alma mater. And someone should, in fact, schedule a movie to be made about his life, too.)
It's quite a bit late, but it's still coming to the party with all of the cash it can carry: Dothan and Sonoma arrive on May 10: Intel's next-generation Centrino system, which uses the processor dubbed Dothan and a system known as Sonoma, will be unveiled May 10. The system includes the updated Wi-Fi mini-PCI module, the Intel Pro/Wireless 2200BG, which supports 802.11g, and by implicit extension, 802.11b. Intel has the 2100A, which is an a/b module, but no a/g module.
This internetnews.com article indicates that Dothan's smaller chip process increase power consumption and thus Intel can't spike performance without killing battery life, a big no-no after the huge improvements found in Centrino, which can stretch an included battery to four to six hours, or two to three times the normal life found in pre-Centrino models.
A year ago, when Centrino debuted, Intel received a drubbing for shipping 802.11b with it instead of looking to the future. They've had many delays in getting Sonoma to the market, which has pushed their 802.11g availability back at least six months from what was envisioned a year ago. But, still, the public associates Centrino with Wi-Fi, and thus Intel's goal was achieved. Never mind that Broadcom has shipped most of the consumer cards and gateways, and that it scored deals with laptop makers that have a lock-in of several years because of corporate sales that don't allow for mid-stream component changes.
Atheros offers USB 2.0 chipsets that support Super G and Super AG: The new chipsets will allow full USB 2.0 performance in an adapter that can support Super G and Super AG proprietary modes offered on top of 802.11g by Atheros, including their disputed Turbo channel bonding technology.
Iogear offers PC Cards without the protuberance: Their stubby 802.11g card ($50 retail) eliminates the antenna snap-off problem--but how good is the range? We'll have to wait for magazines to review it alongside comparable cards. Apple gets away with a no-external-antenna card by building antennas into every laptop and desktop machines and attaching that antennas via an internal cable to the internal card.
OrangeWare offers $15 driver to Mac users to pick up extra speed: We here at Wi-Fi Networking News remain dubious about the efficacy of Atheros's Turbo mode, which bonds two Wi-Fi channels and has been shown in some studies to cause interference. Atheros continues to assert there is no interference. In either case, Mac users now have access to many more options for wireless networking through the OrangeWare driver, which can support a/g cards that use Atheros chips, including the Super G features, which include compression and frame bursting, among other non-radio-frequency improvements in speed among similar devices. A free trial version is available for download.
The driver lists support for a couple dozen cards (PC Cards and PCI cards) and works with Mac OS X 10.2 or later. These cards are typically less than $50 or even as low as $30, while an internal AirPort Extreme Card--if available for a given model--is $100. The driver only shows WEP, not WPA support.
Broadcom introduces shortcut for creating strong Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) keys without the fuss of memorizing long base-16 numbers: Broadcom's new method of guiding home users to create a WPA encryption key without having any technical knowledge has the unwieldy name of SecureEZSetup. But the name is more complicated than the technology: a simple two-step wizard in which users choose two out of four personal questions to answer from which a full-length 16-byte WPA key is generated. The user can then answer the questions the same way on another computer or enter the hexadecimal key for non-EZ systems for compatibility.
|New or |
|Choosing and |
The first time you set up a router with SecureEZSetup, the key is stored in the router's configuration and in the local wireless adapter. The setup wizard allows you to save and print the information you entered, including the long hexadecimal key, for reference in configuring addition machines. The setup also assigns a unique SSID (network name) to the Wi-Fi gateway based on that gateway's MAC address.
SecureEZSetup has some similarities with Buffalo Technology's AOSS (AirStation OneTouch Secure System) which requires all Buffalo hardware to negotiate a lowest-common denominator encryption setting for the network. A Buffalo spokesperson said via email that Buffalo would support both systems, and allow their customers to choose whether to select AOSS or SecureEZSetup.
Jeff Abramowitz, senior director of marketing for wireless LAN technology, said that their customers, which integrate Broadcom chips into consumer and enterprise products, would start rolling out EZ into products as soon as in the next month, but more likely in upgrades destined for before the back-to-school period. He declined to say which companies initially plan support. Abramowitz said that the algorithm that drives the setup would be made available to incorporate into a standard, and that the front-end would be backward compatible for all of their shipping equipment.
Because the algorithm hasn't been open to public scrutiny, the possibility remains that a cracker could discover a method to precompute in finite time all or most possible keys based on all reasonable length answers to the four questions in each combination. Because WPA-PSK (pre-shared key) can be forced to reveal known data encrypted with the key that a cracker can then take and work on elsewhere, it is open to a dictionary attack. If the number of precomputed keys is sufficiently small to store (on the order of megabytes, not tens of gigabytes), there's the potential of a cracker using this algorithm to his or her advantage. I'm sure the encryption community will have more to say about this when their hashing algorithm hits the light of day.
Broadcom chose to deal with the application level of this problem because of the current obscurity in enabling encryption. "In most cases, I think the people that we've talked to they look at these screens and disable security," Abramowitz said. The company ships 71 percent of all 802.11g products at the retail level, he said, making it possible for them to roll out this new initiative and see significant uptake.
Abramowitz also noted that the EZ system could piggyback in the future on an initiative that Microsoft is working on to allow secure exchange of keys and other material through a USB flash drive. In that system, the user could generate the key on one machine, write it to the drive, and then use that to load the key on other systems. Microsoft employed a floppy drive version of that idea to distribute keys on their home wireless routers first generation. Broadcom is concerned that any distribution method for the keys is secure. "If it's not secure, then we've just blown half of the value," he said.
SecureEZSetup defeats two common problems with Wi-Fi security: first, convincing users to enable it by avoiding a WEP-like screen. Even Apple's relatively simple interface for entering a security key on their gateway requires the user to choose from one of four options, including the non-standards-named WPA Personal and WPA Enterprise (WPA-PSK and WPA over RADIUS, respectively).
Second, because Broadcom generates a long WPA key, they avoid the WPA key weakness which would allow a key that is comprised entirely of dictionary words and is 20 characters or fewer in length potentially to be broken through an offline attack. (No documented software exists that performs this crack, but it's not an issue of when but if since the weakness is well documented.)
Broadcom is also introducing a new chipset that combines and reconfigures some elements of their radio and processing circuitry to reduce the cost of manufacture while extending range. The tradeoff for range is speed, but Abramowitz said that users are willing to exchange more distance for lower speed because the speed is typically far above the home broadband connection speed.
Abramowitz promised future developments of a similar nature to improve Wi-Fi's usability by home users. This is "the first of what we expect will be several deliveries by us to advance state-of-the-art Wi-Fi connectivity."
FreeFi will overlay advertising on Wi-Fi free hotspots; The press release claims FreeFi is the first Wi-Fi ad network, but it's only narrowly the case: DotSpot launched in March and both builds out hotspots and then sells advertising on them. The FreeFi site makes it clear that FreeFi is a software gateway overlay. The FreeFi system uses a Web-based advertising bar that apparently a user must agree to open in order to gain access. It says it doesn't rely on spyware, popups, or other annoying tools. (The FreeFi logo cleverly incorporates the open Wi-Fi hotspot warchalking symbol.)