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An L.A. man pleaded guilty to a felony for using unsecured hotspots to send out spam: He'll get probation or six months in jail or more depending on prior convictions. This apparently is the first federal conviction under the CAN-SPAM Act which prohibits some spammer activities. One of the big questions in this case which remains unanswered is how law enforcement officials nailed the guy.
A federation of Columbian coffee growers plans to open more than 25 coffee shops over the next six months: The group has signed up Sprint to offer Wi-Fi service in the first two shops, which will be in New York and Washington, D.C., and Sprint will likely unwire the future shops.
It seems an interesting choice for Sprint to make a deal with a new chain rather than trying to work with an established business. But perhaps there's some allure to teaming with an organization that is starting from the ground up.
NetGear extends its HomePlug products to include 802.11g/HomePlug bridge: NetGear says their new WGXB102 unit is the first 802.11g-equipped HomePlug powerline networking access point. HomePlug's standard runs at just 14 Mbps over ordinary home electrical wiring, and using one Ethernet-to-HomePlug adapter and one HomePlug access point, you can easily extend the range of a home network without running wire or relying on the vagaries of Wireless Distribution System (WDS).
NetGear points out that 802.11g runs at a nominal 54 Mbps, which means that you will have full speed on your network among devices connecting to the HomePlug access point, and you will achieve the full 14 Mbps rate available on the HomePlug backbone. Since 802.11b runs at 11 Mbps and often carries data at a much slower rate, like 4 or 5 Mbps, having the extra capacity of 802.11g will definitely speed the backbone's transit.
David Pogue reviews wireless speakers, and finds that only two out of five he looks at have real worth: Pogue looks at 900 MHz wireless speakers which don't employ any real networking protocols--they're essentially spread-spectrum remote sound systems using a base station plugged into a stereo and speakers that pick up the signal so that you can untether your sound. Range is generally poor and interference prevalent. But he does find two sets of speakers that have both good range and few compromises: for outdoor use, the Advent ADVW801 ($70); for indoors, the Acoustic Research AW871 ($120).
It's rare to see a technology that's been ostensibly pass by rise from the death, but 802.11a has some life in it yet: I've always been interested in 802.11a because, despite its lower signal propagation potential up in the 5 GHz band, it has had many more channels available for wireless networking from its first days, with more to come as more 5 GHz band is made fully available for unlicensed use. Because enterprises are more likely to have collections of heavy users, a dense infrastructure is more likely to be needed, making the shorter potential range of 802.11a less of an issue.
Thus it's a surprise to see Linksys introduce dual-band 802.11a/g gateways intended for the home market. But they see the future of home entertainment including streaming media that uses 802.11a--in line with Sony's early devices.
The 802.11a/g (Wireless A+G) equipment will ship in October at pretty low list prices: $89 for a PC or PCI adapter; $99 for a USB adapter; and $109 for a gateway/router.
Update: Tim Higgins of Tom's Networking wrote in to note that Linksys has been selling A+G access points since April 2003--he wonders whether this is just a promotional re-launch instead of new product. I have a query into Linksys asking if there is any difference with these "new" devices.
Daily Wireless analyzes Pulse-Link's demonstration of a single chip handling UWB and Wi-Fi: The demonstration at a UWB conference showed simultaneous transmission across 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, UWB (wireless), and UWB (electrical wiring). Daily Wireless also looks at the various players in the space, and whether UWB might win out over 802.11n.
The Keewatin-Patricia school district built quite an ambitious wireless network using gear from Redline: The network enables distance learning applications to students who are remotely located within a 27,394 square mile area. The specifics of this network are pretty amazing. One portion of the network features seven wireless links in a row reaching as far as 120 miles. The average bandwidth on the network is 48 Mbps. The district figures that if it hired the telco to build wired links to cover that distance and deliver that bandwidth, it would cost the district over $1 million per year. The Redline network cost $1 million and will cost about $120,000 to operate per year.
Matthew Gast interviews two of the principals of the open-source 802.1X project called Open1X: Matthew is involved in testing 802.1X systems (supplicants and servers); he's the author of O'Reilly's 802.11 Wireless Networks. He interviews Chris Hessing and Terry Simons about their use of 802.1X at the University of Utah--fascinating in itself--and their broader goals of bringing more interoperability and sophistication to 802.1X implementations. Open1X was started because they needed a client that worked across many platforms; now some platforms have limited 802.1X clients built in, but the need for a robust open-source supplicant is still quite high.
A number of vendors have made announcements over the past few days about product upgrades that enhance management and quality of service capabilities. Colubris introduced software that complies with 802.11e, the quality of service standard, as well as WMM, or Wi-Fi MultiMedia. WMM is a certification standard created by the Wi-Fi Alliance that is based on 802.11e and supports quality of service mechanisms. It enables the deployment of voice and video applications.
In other recent news, Propagate said that Netgear's ProSafe Wireless WG302 AP will include AutoCell. The Propagate software automatically tunes signal strength and makes channel selections to avoid interference. The software also includes a privacy mode that makes Wi-Fi networks invisible to unauthorized users.
For larger enterprises, AirWave's Management Platform is now a preferred software solution for managing HP's ProCurve APs. The software automatically and remotely discovers, monitors, and configures devices. The platform is targeted at customers who use APs from multiple vendors.
Cingular sold its Mobitex network to Cerberus Capital Management: Mobitex is one of the earliest data networks and was the first to support RIM's Blackberry devices. The network was initially used by very niche groups of people who were frequently in the field. But once the Blackberry grew in popularity, the network began to be used heavily by traveling business people. Now, Cingular reports that 25 percent of Blackberry users worldwide use the Mobitex network, which has been referred to as Cingular Interactive. Today, Blackberries also operate over the cellular networks and many also offer voice services. The number of Blackberry users on the Mobitex network may decrease in the future if an increasing number of customers want voice services or higher speed access on their Blackberries.
Newsweek reports on a government initiative that aims to use wireless devices in cars and traffic lights to improve safety and traffic management: Radios in cars could send messages to other cars about congestion and the radios would send alerts to sensors in traffic lights about backups and then change the timing of the lights. This article says that the department of transportation is working with automakers and wireless companies to introduce a pilot program.
It seems that Wi-Fi isn't the best solution, however. Existing cellular networks would be ideal for this type of application, which would only require the transfer of small amounts of data. But maybe using the cellular networks brings a host of cost issues along with it. But once again, building Wi-Fi networks to cover practically every roadway is a ridiculous proposition because the coverage area of one access point is just too small.
This piece profiles a trucker who is better connected on the road than most people are in their homes: He subscribes to a Wi-Fi service for Internet access at truck stops, Sprint PCS for data access where Wi-Fi isn't available as well as for voice services, and XM Satellite radio. He's also an amateur photographer and so he maintains a blog of his photos while he's on the road. His monthly fees run pretty high but if most of the subscriptions replace subscriptions such as DSL at home, it must make sense.
The New York Times piece adds a couple of noteworthy tidbits to the debate over whether cities like Philadelphia should use tax money to build Wi-Fi networks: Now city officials are saying that the target user of the network would be households or businesses that qualify for economic assistance. They also say that the city would privately raise the $10 million required to build the network, rather than use tax funds, and that the city wouldn't run the network itself but use a management company.
City leaders say that the communities that could benefit from such access likely won't be served by private hotspot operators so the city is hoping to ensure that those communities aren't excluded. That idea is similar to municipalities around the country who build broadband wired services in regions that the telcos flat out say they won't serve.
A Seattle city spokesperson counters that he doesn't see why the city would build such a network especially if it hurts other businesses selling something similar. He also points to WiMax as a future option that would offer a much easier method for covering a city in wireless access.
It's a good thing that this Philadelphia announcement has produced so much debate. For a while, it seemed like cities were blindly jumping on the Wi-Fi bandwagon with only a vague plan of using it bring in business and boost the local economy. This debate is a good opportunity for cities to think a bit harder about the benefits of Wi-Fi and how to do more than just build a network for access. They'll need to leverage the networks in a way that can be beneficial to the local community.
IPass said it formed a relationship with Cibernet: IPass already offers a roaming service for Wi-Fi operators that includes handling authentication, security, and fee settlement tracking. With the Cibernet deal, the iPass offering will also include financial settlement. It also appears that iPass hopes to leverage Cibernet's existing business as a roaming settlement service for cellular operators. That business could be helpful as cellular operators hope to begin offering services that enable roaming between cellular networks and Wi-Fi hotspots.
In April, a company called RoamPoint launched with much fanfare around the world. Its mission was to help facilitate roaming in the Wi-Fi hotspot market but it doesn't handle billing or settlement. When RoamPoint launched, it was majority owned by The Cloud, an ownership interest that some observers worried might discourage some of The Cloud's competitors from wanting to be RoamPoint customers. Since its launch, at least nine hotspot operators have become RoamPoint customers.
Proxim introduced today a new access point designed for small to medium enterprises: "It delivers the latest in terms of enterprise class features but does so with a price point that's competitive and in line with the requirements of small and medium businesses," said Ben Gibson, vice president of corporate marketing for Proxim.
Proxim also introduced a software suite comprised of tools from Wavelink and Ekahau. Using the software combined with the new APs, customers get support for 802.11i, the security and encryption standard, as well as a draft version of 802.11e, which supports quality of service. The capability is useful for customers that want to deploy voice or other time-sensitive applications.
The AP is also in line for WPA2 certification, an upgraded encryption standard set by the Wi-Fi Alliance that is based on 802.11i.
The combined products offer rogue AP detection as well as rogue client detection, where the administrator can receive an alert when unauthorized clients attempt to connect to the network.
For customers that may be migrating to stronger security mechanisms, the solution can support both WEP and WPA2 authentication at the same time. Because WPA2 requires a software upgrade on the client end, the capability allows customers to support all clients while they're in the process of upgrading.
Nancy Gohring reviews AT&T Wireless's new UMTS 3G cell data network in Seattle: Our senior editor Nancy Gohring wrote this for The Seattle Times. Nancy notes that AT&T Wireless has their UMTS service in six markets; Verizon Wireless will roll out its EV-DO service in 11 more cities for a total of 14.
Nancy tried the Real Networks video news service and gives them high marks; there's an audio-only component that offers NPR, too. That service is $4.95 per month. She notes, however, that much of that content is available for free on the Internet in formats included in the regular mMode subscription, which is $24.99 per month for unlimited use with basic Internet access and certain mobile data services.
Nancy also tried a data card that works with the service, although you can connect to the Motorola phone that's one of two options for the network via a cable to use it as a modem. The data card had worse coverage area, for reasons that are inexplicable. As with Nancy's earlier tests of AT&T Wireless's 2.5G GPRS service, the company couldn't explain the performance variations she saw in being able to get online around town.
Intel bows to manufacturer feedback, and drops plans to ever add Wi-Fi access point features to its Intel Express 915 and 925 chipsets: Frankly, we never saw the reason to add these features into a desktop PC with the combination of simple Internet sharing available within Windows XP and more robust options under Linux, and the cheap price of full-featured, stand-alone access points. There are a lot of reasons why a computer shouldn't be an access point, and most of them have to do with the nature of the device: most computers aren't on all the time, aren't in the right position to offer access for a home or business, and don't have the right kind of antennas.
Altitude Telecom, the only owner of a nationwide 3.5 Ghz license in France, plans to use Alvarion gear to build a broadband wireless network in the country: The Alvarion gear is based on WiMax, though not yet certified as WiMax because the certification process hasn't started yet. Altitude will start out with four counties and move on from there.
It's interesting to note that Altitude plans to use the wireless network to serve small to large businesses. That target market is the same market that broadband wireless operators have traditionally targeted. WiMax, however, has often been touted as a DSL replacement that could be used to serve the residential market. Perhaps Altitude will use the next generation of WiMax gear to target the residential market.
San Francisco Giants' SBC Park plans to allow visitors to watch instant replays via Wi-Fi: The park is already covered by Wi-Fi and next season guests will be able to use their PDAs or laptops to order up instant replays. Apparently many parks around the country are planning to offer Wi-Fi access.
I'm starting to notice that an increasing number of Wi-Fi services are beginning to make unique offerings. The first stage of Wi-Fi was all about getting the networks up and enabling basic Internet access. Now that it's clear that's doable, network administrators are thinking up creative ways the connection can be used. I expect to see more and more applications like the instant replay popping up on networks anywhere.
Verizon Wireless said it will introduce its 3G service to 11 markets starting next week: In what appears to be a direct hit against Wi-Fi, Verizon also said it would launch its EV-DO service in 20 airports around the country. A recent report from TeleAnalytics showed that the use of Wi-Fi in airports has grown by more than 350 percent in a six-month period. It appears that Verizon is looking to capture a bit of that demand for wireless Internet access. However, its service still costs $80 a month while most Wi-Fi access charges are significantly less.
Proxim lost a legal battle with Symbol and the result may be that Wi-Fi vendors will be required to pay license royalties to Symbol: Proxim had to pony up $23 million in damages and must pay two percent royalties, though every other vendor is on the hook for six percent. The question will be whether Symbol decides to chase down everyone else. Symbol claims that some vendors are already paying the royalties but it wouldn't name which.
As Peter Judge points out in an email to Wi-Fi Networking News, it will be interesting to watch if Symbol approaches Cisco and how that interaction plays out. Cisco, with its deep pockets, could afford to fight a legal battle that argues against the recent ruling in Symbol's favor. Proxim basically said it gave in because it would have had to post a bond for a large part of the $26 million if it continued the fight and the company didn't want that hanging over its head.
In just about any situation, licensing can be sticky. On one hand, companies should benefit if everyone else uses technology that they develop. But one of the reasons that Wi-Fi has taken off so quickly and so widely is because the cost of products dropped so dramatically. If vendors had to pay licenses on many different components of a product, the price would have to rise which at some point slows down growth. We'll just have to wait and see if Symbol does chase everyone down and if so, what affect the six percent will have on vendors.
A survey found that half of hotel guests would not stay in a hotel again if they were dissatisfied with the Wi-Fi service there: Most of the folks in the survey said Wi-Fi was important to their visit, so it sounds like they chose the hotel based on the availability of the wireless network. The conclusion here is that while Wi-Fi is broadly used as a customer retention tool, the opposite is true if the service is poor.
Following Nikon's lead, Cannon introduced a new camera that supports an 802.11g adaptor: This professional-grade camera runs for $8,000. Nikon recently introduced its second Wi-Fi capable camera that now supports 802.11g. For the non-professionals in the crowd, Concord Camera will soon introduce a camera with an 802.11g adaptor that may cost a bit less.
Burning Man revelers used a free phone in the desert, courtesy of a fellow visitor: The phone used 802.11, voice over IP, and satellite for backhaul. The phone's creator offers some great information on his Web site including details of where calls where placed and anecdotes about surprised people who were very glad to find a phone.
Dartmouth University, known for being an early Wi-Fi adopter, has big growth plans: Administrators are in the process of expanding the network from its original 200 access points to 1,500. The new network will use APs from Aruba and will support 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g.
It sounds like Dartmouth is responding to the bandwidth needs of students. Because Dartmouth has been on the leading edge of Wi-Fi, it'll be interesting to watch the university as WiMax products begin hitting the market. Stringing 1,500 APs sounds like a major pain while WiMax would require far fewer base stations.
TI, which is not heavily into WiMax like its competitor Intel, says WiMax won't be very effective at bringing broadband to the home: It's true that it's far from certain that WiMax will be anywhere near the success that Intel promises, but most of the reasons TI gives here are pretty weak. Because China hasn't jumped on the bandwagon and because broadband wireless standards have failed in the past doesn't prove that WiMax will fail. If WiMax products have a lower price tag and are more robust than previous attempts at broadband wireless, the technology has a chance of success. WiMax can be far easier to deploy than most wireline technologies and appears to offer a good alternative to wireline especially in developing regions of the world.
But there are plenty of reasons that WiMax could fail, which aren't mentioned by the TI executive. In the United States only a few spectrum holders own the licenses that would be ideal for a WiMax deployment and it's not clear that they're interested in the technology. One of those companies, Nextel, has expressed interest in using other proprietary technologies in the spectrum. Other large operators that don't own such prime spectrum are unlikely to want to execute a major deployment in unlicensed frequencies.
The TI executive suggests that a portable or mobile version of WiMax might have a better chance of success. While future iterations of WiMax may sound more promising than the initial fixed version, it's very difficult to know today what the market will look like by the time a mobile or portable solution becomes available. By then, other technologies may have leapfrogged WiMax.
It's also not clear that WiMax will indeed result in low-cost equipment for operators. Some wireless ISPs have said that vendors they've spoken to have said that the first couple generations of their base stations won't be interoperable with clients from any vendor. That lack of interoperability may not be very attractive for many operators and may prohibit prices from dropping.
Ultimately, there are plenty of forces working against WiMax but much of what the TI executive says here sounds to me like sour grapes.
Some municipalities may have already learned some lessons about offering telecom services that they can consider when deciding to build Wi-Fi networks: Some of the most successful municipal offerings of wired telecom services started out with small trial networks and were offered by municipalities that already offer utility services to customers.
But beyond whether a municipality has experience with billing and marketing a service, Wi-Fi presents a bunch of additional uncertainties. In the wired example, in many cases the market doesn't have any other option for broadband Internet access and customers definitely pay for the access. In the case of Wi-Fi, in many cases other service providers may already offer wireless access.
Plus, cities have to decide whether they want to offer access for free or for a fee. If they want to deliver free networks, they have to decide how to fund it, considering both the initial outlay and ongoing support costs. Ultimately, citizens of communities may end up deciding. In St. Cloud, Fla., the city is trying to decide how to pay for the ongoing maintenance of the network and will likely ask residents to decide on a ballot referendum.
If municipalities decide to ask residents to pay for access, they have to hope they can cover their costs. At this stage in the market, based on the experiences of commercial Wi-Fi providers, it's not clear that an operator can make money from for-fee networks.
Wi-Fi service on UK trains is seeing solid growth in usage: Use of the service is growing 77 percent week over week, but that figure is a bit misleading because the number of trains offering Wi-Fi is also increasing. However, users are also spending an increasing amount of time on the network and there seems to be an indication that passengers are deciding to buy first class tickets because the Wi-Fi access there is free.
In other commuter Wi-Fi news, Sydney, Australia is considering offering Wi-Fi on Sydney ferries.
Sputnik announced today an upgraded version of its software and a new hosted offering: Sputnik's software allows service providers to centrally manage and track usage on multiple remote Wi-Fi networks. Version 3.0 can now accommodate for very large networks. "With this, you can have one server that manages lots of independent wireless networks and each can have thousands of access points and each is segregated," said David LaDuke, CEO of Sputnik. A service provider could centrally manage, for example, a chain of hotels, a few universities, and several hospitals. The service provider could then allow a local administrator at each location to access network management tools but each administrator would be restricted to managing their own location.
Version 3.0 was also designed to offer users plenty of flexibility. It now includes support for RADIUS authentication, in addition to prepaid authentication and device based authentication. Users can run all three simultaneously, setting preferences for which type of authentication is presented to users first.
The software also enables flexible network policy management so administrators can set rules that may forbid peer-to-peer connections or block ports or IP addresses. The capability means that providers can set up a walled garden that users can access before they authenticate.
Sputnik also introduced today SputnikNet, which makes Sputnik's software available to service providers or businesses on a hosted basis. Customers buy access points from Sputnik and pay a flat $19.95 fee per access point per month for the service. Customers still have the flexibility of employing the authentication and payment method they prefer and can self-brand the offering.
Other providers have hosted offerings but they don't always enable self-branding. Surf and Sip, for example, has a hosted offering but the business essentially becomes a Surf and Sip location. Airpath, however, offers a hosted service that allows for self-branding.
Sputnik currently has over 300 customers around the globe and its products support hotspots in locations such as Holiday Inns, Comfort Inns, McDonald's, Subway restaurants, Ramada Inns, prominent hospitals, and universities. Existing customers can upgrade to the new software for free. New customers can buy the software and two access points for $599.
LaDuke said that he's noticing a change in the way that service providers leverage the capabilities of software platforms like Sputnik's. Instead of building hotspots merely to offer Internet access to customers, network providers are realizing that they can use the wireless network to build a stronger relationship with customers. "It's something like wireless [customer relationship management]," LaDuke said. "People come into your space. They may be in a waiting room or having a latte or staying overnight but you've got this relationship with them and you want to manage it and brand it," he said. Sputnik's software allows service providers to learn about user habits and offer them services such as linking to a premium customer program or offering a higher level of service to frequent customers. "People are doing very different and creative things that we hadn't even thought of," said LaDuke.
I'm flying with Boeing right now: This post is filed from the Connexion by Boeing test plane flying out of Boeing Field just north of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I'm on board with a number of journalists who are getting this demo flight today. The views are spectacular. I had no idea one could fly that close to Mt. Rainier.
The service has been working terrifically when the link is up--there were a few problems with the connection because of the short duration of the flight, our elevation, and the turns necessary to keep us within a large circle. The test plane is swank--a 737-400 with all first-class seating--but the service is the same on this flight as on the several planes on two routes of Lufthansa service. (Note: I missed the cutoff on the approach and wasn't able to post this during the flight; I added more detail below and posted a couple of hours later.)
I was able to run iChat AV (an Apple videoconferencing/chat program) to push video to my father, and handle two-way streaming video to two locations; the image at upper right of this post is how I looked to my colleague Adam Engst. (Interestingly, Adam has his home Internet feed coming over a few-mile wireless broadband link, and then distributed via Wi-Fi in his home. So you had Wi-Fi in the plane to satellite uplink then downlink to a ground station, over wire, and back over broadband wireless then Wi-Fi. With no glitches.)
I was also able to download a 1 Mb file in about 15 seconds transmitted via iChat (client-to-client transfer), check email, and perform other Internet tasks with no problems. Colleagues had more difficulties, but I will point out that I was using a Mac and they were wrestling with PC laptops that may have had layers of security that they had to punch through.
I tested a soft voice over IP phone (the Xten client using Vonage's soft phone service) on my Mac, and it made calls fine, but I didn't have a noise-canceling headset, so the calls were impossible to talk over the noise of the flight. However, the Connexion folks let me try a demonstration hardware VoIP phone which is given priority for traffic over the satellite connection, but not yet over the local WLAN. The phone came with a closed-air headset and noise-canceling system. The sound was superior to a cell call by a longshot, and latency was extremely small. Because of the closed-air setup and pass-through volume on the mike, I was talking at what seemed to me like a normal volume, but my seatmate (Steve Manes of Forbes) said he could barely hear me.
Connexion gives this demonstration to prove the service works as well as to answer questions. Among the questions asked were whether Connexion had reduced airplane downtime to install their service. Rumors were that it could take 20 days to install the service; more recent reports put it at 10 days. The sales director said during this test flight that they now have installation down to seven days, which puts it within a normal extended maintenance turnaround, making it more feasible to install during one of those periods.
A new study from TeleAnalytics concludes that business travelers are increasingly using Wi-Fi while the consumer market is growing much slower: The study tallies the number of hotels around the world that offer Wi-Fi and also looks at airport, hotel, and consumer hotspot usage. The study found that Wi-Fi use in airports has grown more than 350 percent in a six-month period. While that growth isn't expected to be sustainable, it only represents a fraction of the people who pass through airports so additional growth is likely. The study also found plenty of consumer hotspots with less than seven sessions per week and overall usage growth in the consumer segment doesn't surpass a 50 percent year-to-year increase.
The findings make sense. Currently, many of the for-pay hotspots cost more than most consumers would be willing to pay. Also, such hotspots offer more for the business user who can use the access to get their jobs done. Consumers have a less critical need for the service and may need more of an incentive, especially if they're asked to pay for it. As the market matures, I expect operators that try to target the consumer market will begin making special content offerings or loyalty programs that will encourage more use.
Airbus said it trialed a system that would allow air passengers to use their GSM cell phones on airplanes: The standard phones communicated with an onboard server that passed calls to Globalstar's satellite network. The satellites transmitted the calls to a ground station that forwarded them on to the recipient. It appears that airlines will likely charge customers for the privilege of using their phones onboard, though it's not clear how much. Also, it seems that the United States aviation authorities have been less eager than their counterparts overseas to accommodate for onboard cell phone use so it might be interesting to watch where such services first become available.
A new service in the UK lets Wi-Fi users find nearby hotspots with their cell phones: By sending a text message to a certain mailbox, users will receive a list of the nearest Wi-Fi hotspots. The service offers up hotspots that are near the cell site that the user's phone is communicating with.
This is a fantastic offering for finding hotspots in an area users may not be familiar with. There are plenty of hotspot locators online, but they require users to investigate hotspots in the area in advance. For all the procrastinators out there or for folks who may find themselves unexpectedly in need of a hotspot, the cell phone locator service is great. Now this company just needs to start offering the service in the United States…
Leaders of the power line networking space say that Wi-Fi's success in the home helps the power line networking industry: A spokesman for Intellon, which makes power line networking chips, says that the dead spots that result from many Wi-Fi networks in homes create an opportunity for power line networking, which can be used for network access in the dead zones. HomePlug, the alliance of power line networking companies, is also hoping to get ahead of its networking competition with a new standard it is working on that will be fast enough to support high-definition TV.
Airespace, the wireless LAN switch maker, formed a partnership with IBM: The deal will open the door for Airespace to market its products to IBM customers. Among startup WLAN switch vendors, Airespace has scored some notable deals. It has OEM agreements with Alcatel, Nortel, NEC, and a co-development deal with D-Link. Some other switch makers have also scored big-name deals as well. Trapeze recently announced that it formed an OEM deal with 3Com that is expected to blossom into a co-development relationship.
Observers have been expecting a shake-out in the WLAN switch market essentially since the segment was born because it appears that there are too many startups for the market to support. Partnerships with big-name vendors certainly adds credibility to the startups which can in turn help them raise financing and potentially stay in business.
Researchers at Analysys say that cellular operators should resist offering flat rate pricing for 3G access: They say that such pricing schemes aim to compete with DSL or Wi-Fi services but that the end result will be heavy Internet traffic on the 3G networks. Instead, operators should focus on valuable services that can be delivered to cell phones which they can charge more money for.
Cellular operators certainly didn't envision the existence of Wi-Fi when they first jumped into 3G. With plenty of hotspots available in most cities, users may decide to go the extra mile to find a hotspot rather than use an expensive 3G service, which may be why cellular operators feel compelled to at least mimic the flat-rate pricing of some Wi-Fi access plans.
T-Mobile is in a particularly good position, offering both cellular and plenty of hotspots. When it recently introduced an HP iPaq that includes both Wi-Fi and cellular, it planned to introduce a flat rate fee that includes both GPRS and Wi-Fi. It's a good way for T-Mobile to hedge in the hopes that heavy data use travels over the Wi-Fi network and lighter, on-the-move access happens on the GPRS network.
Nikon's new 12 megapixal camera will feature an 802.11g adapter option: Nikon currently enables 802.11b access but the new adapter option will allow the faster transmission of photos. The wireless access combined with software enables wireless remote control from a laptop of the camera. The camera, without the Wi-Fi adapter, is expected to cost a whopping $5,000. The previous version of the camera costs around $3,000 but sold very well to its target professional audience.
A review of the 802.11b version offers more details on what Wi-Fi connectivity means for photographers.
The University of Texas at Dallas, which recently set a rule forbidding students from building their own Wi-Fi networks, rescinded the policy: The action of forbidding the networks created quite a buzz online. University officials referred to an FCC notice posted in June that makes it clear that the FCC is the only body that has jurisdiction over the airwaves. While universities have some control over what students do in student housing, in this case, the student building is not owned by the university. That means the university has less rights to control what students do there. [link via Frank]
As previously hinted, Cisco officially joined the WiMax Forum: A spokesperson seemed to downplay the move, describing it as an exploratory move. Cisco historically hasn't been significantly involved with supplying radio equipment to carriers but given its Wi-Fi strengths it might make sense for it to pursue WiMax.
Paul Boutin muses in a Slate column about the future debate between commercial wireless networks and municipal networks: He concludes that ultimately cities and corporations will use WiMax but the end results will be different. The corporate networks will run over licensed frequencies. They'll be more reliable and will cost more for end users than city-run networks. The public networks might be free to use but won't have as great coverage as the kind you'd pay for.
That's a quite possible scenario. However, I wonder if some municipalities will end up getting burned by Wi-Fi and decide not to do WiMax. Depending on the gear they use, it may not make sense for municipalities to build citywide Wi-Fi networks, as Boutin points out, because of how difficult it is to blanket a city in Wi-Fi. Maybe some cities will try, largely fail, then be reluctant to try WiMax because of the experience. Enough companies may build WiMax networks--using licensed or unlicensed frequencies--that perhaps municipalities won't decide to build their own (although that hasn't stopped cities from building Wi-Fi networks). That would still leave the door open to community networkers to build their own free-to-access WiMax networks, if the price of gear drops low enough.
Boutin suggests that cities would do well to try to make deals with the owners of prime WiMax spectrum so local volunteers can build quality networks in underserved areas. However, I find it unlikely that the spectrum owners would do that. The underserved areas are exactly the market that they can best target with the spectrum. The big telcos that own this spectrum haven't been willing to bring lines to underserved, sparsely populated areas because it doesn't pay off. But with wireless, the network is far cheaper to build and could more easily spell profits.
Sony will soon start selling in Japan a very cool looking handheld multimedia device: It comes with Wi-Fi and from all descriptions so far has an amazing screen. It is based on the Palm OS, can play MPEG 4 and MPEG 1 video, and can play MP3 files. The bad news is, Sony is unlikely to sell it in Europe or the United States.
A few announcements have been made over the last couple of days about new broadband wireless deployments. Two come from Alvarion, including one where Telekom Serbia will build networks to support voice and data in suburban and rural Serbia. Closer to home, Alvarion also announced that its gear will supply a broadband wireless backbone network in Maryland, connecting counties that are part of a project connecting libraries and supplying mobile wireless for public safety workers.
In other broadband wireless news, Redline said that its equipment will provide backhaul for a wireless network being built in a region of Manitoba, Canada. Wi-LAN, a Calgary, Canada-based supplier, said that its products are being used by various customers, including a large ISP, in Malaysia. AirRover Wi-Fi, a company based in Baton Rouge, La., signed an agreement in principal to build city-wide mesh Wi-Fi networks in a couple of cities in the Philippines.
It must be refreshing for vendors to be making these kinds of sales, even before they are actually selling certified WiMax gear. There has been a fear that customers would delay buying decisions as they wait for certified WiMax gear. Perhaps the buzz around WiMax has generally helped to legitimatize broadband wireless so that some customers decide it will pay off for them to deploy now rather than wait for standard gear.
TowerStream, the wireless ISP, is building a network in the Los Angeles metro area: The company already offers services in New York City, Chicago, Boston, and Providence/Newport. TowerStream has been a vocal WiMax supporter and says it plans to use WiMax gear once its available. The press release doesn't appear to be available online but might appear here eventually.
USA Today ran a series of articles about Wi-Fi: One article looks at a Silicon Valley hospital's use of Vocera, another generally examines the free vs. fee issue, and a third is a case study of a small business owner's success with using Wi-Fi linked security cameras. The articles are fine but don't reveal much that is new.
EWeek offers a brief roundup of some of the highlights from DemoMobile: Announcements included one from Skype that its voice over IP software is available for the Pocket PC so that Skype users can call each other over Wi-Fi networks on their handheld devices. In other news, a company called DropZone introduced a solar powered wireless LAN platform.
The Virginia Journal of Law & Technology has published an article about wardriving: I confess that I haven't had the chance to read the whole piece, but the author concludes that wardriving is legal and that hackers are informally developing an ethical code that demarcates between essentially identifying hotspots and stealing information transmitted over the networks. The article cites some historical court cases surrounding wardrivers and looks at the positive changes in vendor security standards that wardrivers have affected.
Not to beat a dead horse, but an Investor's Business Daily article offers some good insights into Philadelphia's plans to build a Wi-Fi network: As much as I hate to sympathize with a huge telco, I have to agree with comments from a Verizon spokesman. He points out that city governments don't pay the same kinds of taxes as companies like Verizon so it's not really fair when companies have to compete with cities that use taxpayer money to build networks. While I like the idea of cities building low-cost networks, it strikes me as odd that they may end up competing against companies--large or small--trying to make a business out of Internet access.
3rd Wave, a provider of hotspot services in Atlanta, suggests that it's not necessary for cities to build networks using taxpayer dollars. It's not news when cities talk about spending money to research the affects of building a Wi-Fi network. "It's news when a city actually brings the Wi-Fi online, which we have done for Atlanta without any public money or help," Rich Tanksley, a 3rd Wave spokesman, wrote in an email exchange.
However, 3rd Wave and cities often have slightly different goals. 3rd Wave networks are hotspots that may be useful to customers while they sit in a cafe or other public locations. The cities like Philadelphia are usually trying to offer residents a low cost broadband Internet access option in their homes and anywhere they travel in the city. At the end of the day, however, the problem is that cities wouldn't be interested in building Wi-Fi or other networks if they had good broadband service--landline or wireless--from commercial providers.
On a side note, I'd like to encourage my fellow writers to resist the temptation to cite the largest Wi-Fi network in the world. Some writers said the Philadelphia network would be the largest in the world, the Investor's Business Daily piece points to Taipei, Taiwan as the biggest city to offer Wi-Fi, and a recent Seattle Post-Intelligencer article describes a network in Washington that covers 1,500 square miles. The moral of the story is that it's really hard to figure out who has the largest network in the world and that designation probably changes by the day anyway so it will probably suffice to just discuss really large networks.
The New York Times reports on the progress and promise of ultrawideband: The technology is still a few years from appearing in a significant way in electronic devices. The standards battle between two competing groups is not to be underestimated though, and could slow the progress even more. Also, Wi-Fi could steal some potential market share because it's already widely used and the chips are inexpensive, even though it's slower than ultrawideband. However, ultrawideband has Bluetooth's struggles working in its favor. If Bluetooth continues to falter, the gap in the market will be a great opportunity.
The FCC released 20 Mhz of spectrum that can be used for 3G and other wireless services: The spectrum comes in 5 Mhz-wide swaths, which means it is suitable only for certain applications such as 3G or Flarion's Flash-OFDM technology. IPWireless and vendors of WiMax gear, however, require wider swaths of spectrum so in their current forms at least they wouldn't be possibilities here.
I shudder to think of the process of distributing this spectrum. This is prime real estate that lots of people would like to get their hands on.
An association of university telecom administrators has already asked the FCC to clarify whether universities can ban Wi-Fi networks: The University of Texas recently banned students from setting up their own Wi-Fi networks, stating that the independent networks were interfering with a free university-maintained network. The FCC told the Association of College and University Telecommunications Administrators that schools can prohibit students living in campus housing from building wireless networks. But, if the school leases residential property where students live, they can't restrict the use of wireless networks. The right of the University of Texas to forbid students from using their own wireless networks will depend on who owns the building the students live in.
Frank Bulk, a some time contributor to Network Computing Magazine and Dordt College network administrator on leave, did some sleuthing and discovered that the student housing at University of Texas at Dallas is on university land but owned and operated by a property management company. It would seem that the university doesn't have the right to limit students' use of wireless networking in the facility. Also, a student and former resident of the apartments describes his experience using the university-sponsored network, which explains why students buy their own connections.
The University of Texas at Dallas has instituted a new policy that forbids students from setting up their own Wi-Fi networks: The university says the many independent networks cause problems for students trying to connect to the university provided wireless network. I'd like to know why so many students are setting up their own hotspots if the university offers free access--perhaps the university needs to improve their network so that students won't have the need to build their own.
It will be interesting to see how students react to the new policy. As noted on Slashdot, this appears to be a case where an organization other than the FCC is attempting to regulate the airwaves. The FCC has recently clarified that it is the only body that controls the airwaves.
21Net, a UK company, says its technology can enable faster bi-directional wireless Internet service on trains than other options: Some other companies offer systems that use the cellular data networks to send data from trains to the Internet. 21Net says that it can use satellite links to support a higher speed service. During trials, four laptops on a train were connected at 700 Kbps each.
Wi-Fi on commuter trips is one place where the business case for fee-based access is pretty clear. There's a captive audience eager to make use of what otherwise might be considered wasted time.
In other satellite-backhaul news, a government IT magazine has more details about the network some troops in Afghanistan set up to improve their Internet access. It sounds like the kind of network the army should be offering troops. The soldiers have also hooked up VoIP phones to the network for far cheaper calling home than the Iridium phones offered by the army.
T-Mobile has deployed a network using Flarion's Flash-OFDM gear in The Hague: Nextel and Vodafone are also trying Flarion networks but it's still a coup for Flarion to sign on T-Mobile as another trialer.
I examined some of the many different broadband wireless options available or soon to be available in a recent article for the Seattle Times. I had intended to come up with a somewhat definitive conclusion about whether technologies like Flarion's may elbow out some potential market space from WiMax. But it's just too soon in the development of WiMax to know. I do think that Flarion has an advantage in that its equipment is available today and it already has some deployments. But it has the fact that it uses a proprietary technology working against it.
Boingo released today the latest version of its connection software: The new version supports 802.1x and Wi-Fi Protected Access and can import profiles from Windows XP, Cisco, and Agere utilities. Boingo will also release an updated software developer kit for its partners that develop custom-branded offerings.
With support for 802.1x, Boingo may be able to attract more business users. T-Mobile has positioned itself as the highly reliable, secure connectivity option for business users but according to a customer care agent the company supports 802.1x at some sites but not all yet.
The University of Georgia's New Media Consortium recently conducted a study examining large Wi-Fi deployments in the United States: The study differentiates between what it calls Wi-Fi clouds, which have continuous coverage and Wi-Fi zones, which offer interrupted coverage. The researchers found 38 clouds and 16 zones. The study examines who owns the networks and what the owners hope to gain from building the networks. It's a thorough report on the intentions of hotspot builders today.
The next step will be trying to figure out if the intentions of hotspot network developers are being met. For example, 43 percent of cloud developers cited stimulating economic development as a motivating factor for building the network. But it's not clear if large Wi-Fi networks in small towns actually succeed in stimulating economic development [link via Rushton].
As expected, the Wi-Fi Alliance is now certifying products to an interim standard called Wi-Fi Multimedia, or WMM: The standard, which is a precursor to 802.11e, is meant to improve audio, video, and voice applications over Wi-Fi. A handful of products from vendors including Atheros, Cisco, Broadcom, and Intel have already been certified for WMM. The 802.11e standard will include quality of service mechanisms, which will allow network administrators to give priority to traffic such as voice that suffers from delays.
Connecting to multiple hotspots can be cumbersome for users: Part of the problem is that practically everyone along the value chain wants to deliver an easy user interface because that's one place they can differentiate their products from the competitors. But right now chip makers, product vendors, software developers like Microsoft, and hotspot service providers have all developed user interfaces aimed at making it easy for users to get on. Either they all need to get together on developing a single, easy way for users to get connected or one of them needs to make the perfect solution that everyone will naturally gravitate toward. Until then, users will be faced with so many "easy" tools for getting connected that they'll continue to be confused.
Unnamed sources are saying that Cisco recently applied to join the WiMax Forum: An official Nortel press release announces that Nortel has joined the forum. Cisco might be an unwelcome addition to the forum from the perspective of existing vendors because the company tends to dominate markets. While the company has significant wireless roots in the Wi-Fi business, it hasn't historically sold radio gear to the community of operators that builds large metropolitan networks. So it would be interesting to see how Cisco's presence might alter the WiMax market. But I'll reserve further comment until Cisco's WiMax Forum membership is confirmed or denied.
Some business travelers suspect that hotels use illegal cell phone jammers to encourage guests to use their expensive hotel phones: It appears difficult to prove whether hotels are using such jammers but the companies selling the jammers are staying in business and they say they're selling to hotels. In the past, before my employers paid for my cell phone, I always used calling cards in hotels to avoid the exorbitant phone charges. If hotels are making it difficult for guests to use their cell phones in their rooms, perhaps business travelers will have to start using cell phones where they work and calling cards in rooms.
British Airways, one of the first airlines to trial Connexion by Boeing's onboard Internet access service, won't be moving aggressively forward with rolling out the service on its fleet: The reason British Airways gives is exactly one that Glenn continues to point out--it doesn't pay off for airlines to ground their planes for around 10 days or more to install the Connexion service. A British Air spokesman said he thinks onboard email access is a great idea but that it will have to be built into planes as they are being manufactured rather than retrofitted afterward. This realization may be good news for Tenzing, which offers a solution that is far easier to build onto existing planes, though offers a lower throughput on the service.
A spammer in California has been accused of driving around looking for un-secured hotspots and sending spam from the open connections: The original story here is one of those infuriating reads that doesn't mention how the guy got caught. It seems that historically people who have gotten caught for improperly using hotspots have done so by being stupid or unlucky. It's otherwise difficult to track someone down especially if they move around a lot looking for insecure hotspots.
A group of operators and vendors have formed a group to work out seamless roaming between GSM and Wi-Fi networks: The group hopes to develop a specification and work with standards organizations for a formal standard. The three big GSM operators in the United States, AT&T Wireless, Cingular, and T-Mobile are part of the group as are Motorola, Nokia, Siemens, and others.
While the creation of a standard is a step in the right direction, there doesn't seem to be any mention on the group's Web site of any work toward backend billing and settlement between operators. The issue of arranging business deals between operators seems to be a more difficult hurdle than the technical issues of such roaming. Also, notably absent in the list of participants are many of the leading Wi-Fi operators. T-Mobile and British Telecom are part of the group but none of the other large Wi-Fi operators.
It's always hard to tell when these groups pop up if they'll just fizzle away or actually accomplish what they set out to. There is certainly a need for work on Wi-Fi/cellular roaming so hopefully this group will be successful.
The FCC is suggesting that spectrum licensees be allowed to let others use their spectrum in a similar fashion to the unlicensed bands: The only types of devices that would be allowed to operate in the "private commons" would be peer-to-peer devices in a non-hierarchical network that doesn't use the network of the licensee.
According to Kevin Warbach, a one-time counsel to the FCC and now an assistant professor at The Wharton School, some experts say that if open spectrum is truly beneficial, then licensees will create it. It seems there are a lot of doubters that licensees would actually open their spectrum for this kind of use, but perhaps a few innovative spectrum owners would give it a try and find success.
The FCC envisions that some current users of unlicensed spectrum would benefit by negotiating with spectrum owners to use their spectrum as a way to offer a service that is less crowded and thus potentially more valuable than services that operate in the unlicensed bands. It's the FCC's plan for avoiding the "tragedy of the commons," where the shared item becomes so overused that it loses its value.
This piece suggests that the standards battle over ultrawideband technology may allow the next generation of Wi-Fi to handle many functions dreamed of for UWB: The next iteration of Wi-Fi, 802.11n, is also in a standards battle of its own but apparently less contentious than the UWB battle. Products based on 802.11n will have similar throughput as UWB and a longer range but will be more prone to interference. Still, because it will be a future version of 802.11 which is already an entrenched standard it may see rapid adoption and be used for networking home entertainment products--a big market that UWB is after. Following the potential for Bluetooth to loose traction now that Ericsson is pulling back on its Bluetooth efforts, there's a chance that UWB may be primarily used as a cable replacement.
UWB was designed as a very broadband networking technology that doesn't use a designated frequency band. The concept was originally exciting because of its efficient use of spectrum but it's had trouble getting off the ground.
It will be interesting to watch how both 802.11n and UWB progress but there are so many uncertainties at this point that it's hard to predict how they might compete. While 802.11n is based on the existing popular standards, it is expected to require hardware upgrades so it will take time to infiltrate the market.
Ericsson, the company that invented Bluetooth, said it would stop developing and licensing new Bluetooth hardware: Some say the move may be a death knell to a cable replacement technology that never lived up to its hype. Many observers say that Bluetooth was over-hyped. The technology was meant to be a simple cable replacement but the hype around it raised unrealistic expectations. When Bluetooth-enabled products hit the market, they were difficult to use. Plus, the price of Bluetooth chips didn't drop as fast as expected.
However, Bluetooth does fill a need in the market. If the standard doesn't move forward, it's not clear what other technologies might fill the void. Bluetooth is still supported by many other big name companies, but having its creator pull back isn't exactly a vote of confidence.
T-Mobile said most of its 300 hotspots in Florida will be free to use through Monday: Kinko's, Starbucks, and Borders Books and Music stores that remain open will offer free access to their hotspots. T-Mobile and other hotspot operators made similar offers during hurricane Charley in an effort to help fleeing residents and tourists communicate.
The Wi-Fi Alliance is expected next week to introduce a new standard: Wi-Fi Multimedia, or WMM, will be an interim standard that will be released in advance of 802.11e. WMM is expected to help with quality of service for voice over Wi-Fi or other multimedia applications. QoS will enable network administrators to give priority to voice traffic over data traffic which will improve call quality.
There has been a lot of buzz about voice over Wi-Fi but one of the big stumbling blocks is delivering QoS. Vendors are all doing it differently at this time as they wait for 802.11e. The interim standard may allow them to converge on a similar way of handling QoS, which might make customers happy to have interoperable equipment.
A couple of new proposals aim to address concerns by the FCC and FAA that have prevented the use of cell phones on airplanes: One of the proposals, from AirCell, includes routing calls from a picocell on the plane to specialized base stations on the ground. One factor this article doesn't explore is why AirCell would propose to bypass existing cell towers. An engineer at a cellular operator once explained to me that using the regular cell towers would tie up an extraordinary amount of bandwidth on the terrestrial cell phone networks, as the phones in the air communicate with the many sites in range on the ground. The AirCell proposal would avoid that problem by attracting all of the cell phones to a local picocell, then transferring just the call traffic to a ground station.
Since yesterday when the city of Philadelphia said it hopes to build Wi-Fi networks covering the entire city, two other cities say they're also looking into similar plans: The city of Madison, Wis. is closely watching the Philadelphia plan to blanket the city in Wi-Fi in hopes of following suit. This is one of the first times I've seen a city official discuss the affect that a city-run network might have on other commercial services. Madison officials are carefully considering how they should go about building the network and what it should cost for users because of the affect the network might have on other operators. I've wondered how commercial operators feel about municipalities using city funds to build networks that compete for their business.
In addition, a city councilor in Boston said he wants to cover all of Boston with Wi-Fi [link via John].
While the cities of Philadelphia, Boston, and Madison talk about building networks, Culver City, Calif. said that next Thursday it will launch a free Wi-Fi network in its downtown area. Vernier and Firetide are supplying the equipment for the network.
In other new network news, the State of Michigan also announced that SBC would build hotspots in ten Michigan State-owned parks, docks, and rest areas.
The city of Philadelphia plans to spend $10 million to blanket the city in Wi-Fi: The network will either be free or available for a cost lower than commercial providers.
It's unclear if such municipal networks will succeed in the future. 3 Rivers Connect built a free, public network in Pittsburgh in 2002 but the network is no longer operating. That network failed for a number of reasons, said George Heinitsh, chief technology officer for 3 Rivers Connect. "The biggest was that we ran into a lot of competition from providers offering service for free," he said.
Doug Luce, founder and president of Telerama, an operator of for-fee hotspots in Pittsburgh, cited some other reasons for 3 Rivers' failure. He said that the mesh technology used by 3 Rivers may not have been very reliable. "Part of it also was they had a great signal in the middle of the street but not so great in storefronts," he said. He said that operators that try to cover whole cities might have such coverage issues.
Luce also wondered about municipal networks that may be built primarily for use by law enforcement agencies. "If the police use it, they're likely to cater to those people and individual users are relegated to second class citizenship," he said.
Still, it's clear that some municipal networks work. The Associated Press story cites Cleveland, which has 4,000 access points in one area of town. The chief information officer of Case Western Reserve University, which is running the project, said that at 2 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, 1,016 people were logged onto the network. The network is free to use.
But cities that use tax dollars to build networks, ought to have a clear plan for marketing and using the network because even commercial ventures are having trouble figuring out the best business model for operating a Wi-Fi network. Luce says of the Philadelphia network: "This is an expensive experiment."
The Wi-Fi Alliance announced today the first set of companies whose products have received WPA2 certification: They include products from Atheros, Broadcom, Cisco, Instant802 Networks, Intel, and Realtek.
WPA2 is based on 802.11i and uses Advanced Encryption Standard instead of TKIP. Broadcom and Atheros are both touting their hardware-based solutions. Broadcom says that its existing products have shipped with the chip-based AES engine which means that simple software downloads can upgrade products to comply with WPA2.
Both Atheros and Broadcom products will be used by the Wi-Fi Alliance in certifying other WPA2 products.
AT&T Wireless said it is offering its 3G network in Dallas and San Diego: San Diego should be a particularly interesting market as it will be the first in the country to have competing 3G services--Verizon Wireless already has its EV-DO network live there. It will also be interesting to watch if the two networks seem to have any affect on Wi-Fi usage.
On a side note, AT&T Wireless cleverly uses the term "metropolitan hotspot" to describe the service in the two markets. That term is usually used to describe the stringing together of Wi-Fi hotspots to cover a large region or by WiMax-like technologies that aim to blanket a city. It's really a stretch to compare the AT&T Wireless service to Wi-Fi. AT&T Wireless says its network offers 220 kbps to 320 kbps, with bursts up to 384 kbps, while even 802.11b, depending on how many people are sharing a network, usually can deliver multiple megabits of throughput.
A blogger was approached by a police officer and asked to leave a public park bench because of a Federal law prohibiting him from using Wi-Fi there: The officer told the gentleman that he couldn't use the Wi-Fi access, provided by the library, outside of the library because of a "theft of signal" law, which was recently explained to him and his colleagues by a secret service agent (scroll down to the August 22 entry here for the full account directly from the source).
Other comments posted on the blog indicate that I'm not alone in wishing that this guy let himself get arrested just to challenge the cop. It appears that the entire exchange was quite cordial, which is great, but clearly there is no such law and it would have been nice to find out what kind of information the officer was working on.
The other problem here is that the blogger had shut off his Airport card and continued to work offline but the officer wouldn't allow that either. Since the incident, the library has posted a sign that says the Wi-Fi network is only available a half-hour before and after operating hours. There are two issues with that policy. The first is that if the network is available when the library isn't open, users would have to be sitting outside, just like the blogger. It will be interesting to see going forward if people get approached for sitting outside on their laptops. The other issue, which affected the blogger, is how law enforcement can determine if laptop users are online or offline.