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The Blog Business Summit will take place in January 2005, focusing on how to use Web logs in, for, and around business: I mention this Jan. 24-25 event partly because Wi-Fi Networking News is a business blog of sorts--we're advertising supported through relationships with Jiwire and Google AdSense--and because I'll be speaking at the event. I'll talk on topics that include building a successful and profitable content blog.
Carol Ellison tells a good story about the travails of trying to work at hotspots: Her story is familiar, but she tells it well. She's trying for a little productivity--paying nothing for it in one case, and using a fee-based service in the other. She can read the tea leaves--or coffee grounds--by watching her fellow laptop users frustration levels rise, or when they pack up and leave.
Still, she does manage to eke a few productive hours out of a few more of trying--and that might be more than any of us pull off in an office. For irony, she buys the television show The Office on DVD.
Hawking will release a more directional Wi-Fi detector: It's big, it's $35, and it looks like a Star Trek communicator (old style), but it's designed to offer more directionality and differentiate between Wi-Fi and other 2.4 GHz transmissions. However, it's not really much of an advance (if at all) over the Chrysalis WiFi Seeker, which is small, slightly less expensive, differentiates Wi-Fi from other electromagnetic radiation, and is pretty directional.
What I'm waiting for (and Gizmodo is, too) is a detector with a small LCD that scrolls through the open and closed SSIDs found in the neighborhood. We want a WiFi Sniffer--a WiFi Wardriver on a keychain. [link via Gizmodo]
Update: Okay, Julio Ojeda-Zapata is spookily ahead of the curve, in this piece datelined tomorrow. It's almost Hallowe'en, so a message from beyond (tomorrow at least) seems appropriate.
Ojeda-Zapata writes about Canary Wireless's Digital Hotspotter, a device that does, in fact, have an LCD screen. It's $50, but it provides wardriving details: open or closed, SSID, encryption type. And signal strength. And multiple signals. The lucky so-and-so has been walking around with one of these units, which goes on sale "later this month"--but there isn't much later this month, so perhaps in November.
Both Klaus Ernst and Ojeda-Zapata point out, too, that PDAs are excellent Wi-Fi sensors with the right hardware and software, tho' a little pricier than a handheld dedicated unit.
The Pentagon City mall gets Wi-Fi, free for now: The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City is just one stop from the Pentagon's Metro station and only a handful from the central areas of D.C. The mall's operators will run Wi-Fi in common areas for free initially, and plan to charge $3.95 per hour up to $49.95 per month for access.
Mall-based Wi-Fi access is becoming increasingly common as malls compete with other "third places" (there's work, home, and somewhere else) to draw in customers. If people start flocking to street-based shopping areas because it's easier to do business there, the malls can suffer.
I've found in my research that mall operators typically do a horrific job of explaining whether Wi-Fi is available, where to use it, and what it costs. You'd think they might want to promote it on the Web site as much as in person.
A restaurant in Seattle states it best on their front facade. A banner reads in big type, "Free Wi-Fi is Here!" In tiny letters they add, "while dining."
IPass announced plans to acquire Mobile Automation, a company that helps IT departments manage and secure remote devices: IPass plans to integrate Mobile Automation's technology with its own policy enforcement software plus technology acquired along with Safe3w. IPass hopes the result will let IT departments secure and protect remote devices.
At the cellular telecom conference, Craig McCaw said he's targeting international locations for broadband wireless and plans to offer voice over broadband wireless: NextNet, McCaw's equipment vendor, is already selling equipment in locations such as the Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, and remote areas of Canada. McCaw said that he's looking closely at VoIP and said there's "no question" that he plans to offer some sort of VoIP service to customers using services from Clearwire, his operator company. Clearwire currently has a network in Jacksonville, Fla., with plans to offer services in 20 cities in the U.S. and Mexico by the end of 2005.
A partnership between the city of Rio Rancho, New Mexico and private companies will result in a citywide wireless network: The network will use access points from Meru, wireless backhaul from Proxim, and billing and operational support from LogiSense. A 25-year agreement allows Azulstar Networks, the service provider, to install network equipment on utility poles, buildings, and other city infrastructure. Intel, which has a lab in Rio Rancho, is also offering access point locations and support.
This arrangement may prove to be the ideal relationship between private companies and cities. The city is involved in the project as far as supporting it and offering access point locations. But it doesn't appear to be using taxpayer money to fund it. Funding comes from private investors. Yet, residents will benefit from the network. Subscriptions start at $19.95 a month for 256 Kbps service, a comparable speed to DSL yet less expensive. The network will also offer unlimited voice over Wi-Fi service for $24.95 for calls anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. Look out local telco, real competition may be at your doorstep.
The network is expected to cover 103 square miles and be operational by March.
Cingular's acquisition of AT&T Wireless approved: There's ton of analysis about the voice side, but less so on the data part. Cingular was starting to roll out EDGE (100 Kbps or so real world) in 2002, but obviously slowed way down. AT&T Wireless now has a national profile of EDGE service, instantly available to Cingular, despite some mandated sell-offs of spectrum licenses for merger approval.
AT&T Wireless has offered awfully expensive Wi-Fi in a few select locales, such as the Denver and Philadelphia airports, and six Northeast Corridor Amtrak train stations (Baltimore onward north). Cingular has no Wi-Fi plan to date, but SBC--Cingular's majority shareholder--has the best Wi-Fi hotspot plan. T-Mobile's footprint is better, but SBC is pursuing DSL, cell, VoIP, and hotspot synergy.
SBC said recently they expect in 2006 to offer Cingular cell phones that can opportunistically use Wi-Fi networks to carry voice traffic as needed. With better national coverage, the largest cell customer base, and a solid plan, Cingular and SBC could become dominant in several markets all at once.
All by offering what people want like rollover minutes and unlimited Wi-Fi for $1.99 per month. What a concept.
Boingo users can now access 45 airports, hotels, and convention centers in France: The locations include the two big airports in Paris and the airport in Nice. For many years the major annual cellular telecom trade show in Europe has been held in Cannes and attendees arriving by air land in Nice. Boingo users who visit the trade show will likely find Internet access at the airport useful, unless they prefer to use their cellular connections.
Boingo also recently signed agreements with KPN HotSpots so users can access 300 hotspots in the Netherlands and Switzerland. Boingo now has 5,600 locations in Europe and 11,000 total.
After a little testing, comments are back up: We've been testing whether we could allow comments once again at Wi-Fi Networking News without being overwhelmed by comment spam or other problems. It looks like the answer is yes. We've removed the limitation that you can only post with a TypeKey account. It's easier to comment if you have a free TypeKey account, but you can post without one.
Intel installed a Wi-Fi network covering a Panda reserve in China: No, researchers aren't teaching Pandas to use computers. The network is used by researchers who can take laptops into the reserve and record data from there. Otherwise, researchers kept records on paper, which made looking up records difficult.
Public and university libraries around the country increasingly offer free Wi-Fi as a way to serve or bring in patrons--but patrons only, please: Based on some research I conducted recently for a magazine article--link to follow in a few weeks--I've discovered that the widely cited availability of "free Wi-Fi" in public and university libraries should be called "patron Wi-Fi." In the majority of libraries I checked around the U.S., using Wi-Fi required a library card (municipal/public) or a student ID (university/academic). In some cases, a Wi-Fi card had to be registered; this is mostly the case at universities.
See Bill Drew's list of Wi-Fi libraries for the details on which libraries are restricted and which are not. And help him continue to improve his excellent list by sending new entries and corrections as policies change at your local library.
I don't blame the libraries for trying to best serve only their target population, but it would seem like there should be a way to allow visitors to have access without compromising the service.
I have often thought that free and for-fee locations could offer a hybrid. For free you can retrieve email (but not send it possibly); use, say, up to 128 Kbps of the local connection, and have access for maybe 30 to 60 minutes with your particular MAC address. For a fee (or as part of a purchase), you can open a VPN tunnel, use SSH, have full access to the full bandwidth, and so forth.
Libraries could offer a similar service. Free for residents, and a small fee--possibly a confederacy of libraries with a roaming plan?--for visitors. Given that many libraries are already locked down with a login system, it doesn't seem a big stretch to add scratch-off cards or other fee-collection systems to offset the costs.
But we'll see. It's possible that totally free and open Wi-Fi networks, like that at the downtown central branch of The Seattle Public Library and across several of the Los Angeles Public Library branches, might rule the day.
Update: Tor Godo of Sesame Networks writes that their company's product is designed particularly for offering guests access in a secure and controlled manner. Although their focus is primarily on corporate guest access, Godo emailed that they are in active discussions with libraries trying to strike this balance. They recently sponsored free Wi-Fi at Access 2004, an information sciences conference held this year in Halifax.
Jessamyn West files this observation about library-Fi, too, in which she talks about the costs of authentication, and why libraries might consider bypassing those costs altogether.
Airespace joined other wireless LAN platform providers in introducing a solution aimed at medium-sized offices: The Airespace 3500 is a wireless LAN switch that can support as many as six access points and offers the same features as Airespace's larger switches. The new product allows Airespace to target two new sets of customers: the large enterprises that have smaller remote offices as well as medium-sized organizations, said Jeff Aaron, a spokesman for Airespace.
Airespace also offers an access point designed for remote offices that might require just one or two access points. The access point communicates over the wide area network with the remote wireless LAN switch to be centrally managed.
The Airespace 3500 can stand alone or can communicate over the wide area network with a centralized Airespace switch at headquarters. System administrators using the switch can assign bandwidth allocations per individual users. For example, an administrator might want to ensure that executives or voice handset users receive a certain level of bandwidth. Or, an administrator could ensure that employees can access 80 percent of the network, reserving 20 percent for visitors. Airespace is in the process of receiving certification for Wi-Fi Multimedia, the interim 802.11e quality of service standard as defined by the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Airespace has added RF attack signatures so the system monitors for common RF attacks. Airespace APs act as monitors, searching for such attacks or for rogue devices.
Airespace has also added reporting tools that allow users or partners to track bandwidth utilization, client count, AP utilization and other parameters. The capability enables service level agreement enforcement as well as return on investment analysis. "Customers have implemented networks for a couple of years now and they're looking to have specifics in network utilization to create an ROI model to justify the capital expenditure," said Aaron.
Airespace also announced that it supports Internet Protocol version 6. The support may be important for some government agencies and certain international markets, said Aaron. "It future-proofs our wireless LAN so as environments move toward that we're ready to support it," he said.
Network World tested 23 different wireless products in an effort to find out if it was possible to deploy a secure wireless LAN: It appears that there's no single vendor or solution that wins a prize for offering the most secure option. But this comprehensive piece spells out how the testers tested the products and which solutions were successful.
Kevin Werbach discusses his expectations for municipal Wi-Fi: He envisions cities contributing their physical infrastructure such as light poles as well as funding to support coverage in areas where the private companies might not get a return on their investments. Private companies would do the rest. It sounds like Werbach is suggesting that the municipal network wouldn't be free but would be cheaper than alternative access methods. The networks would also be used by city workers to do their jobs.
There are a couple problems about this discussion over municipal Wi-Fi that aren't usually addressed. One is that while it's a great idea for cities to sponsor coverage in low-income areas, the people who live there will need computers to get on the Internet. If those residents currently go to the library or the public school to use a computer, it doesn't make much sense to cover the whole neighborhood with Wi-Fi. San Francisco's mayor said that no resident should be without a computer, but his wording doesn't necessarily suggest that he's going to try to ensure that every resident has one.
Also, I suspect that if these municipal networks really happen in a significant way, the cellular operators will start raising a stink. Werbach describes competition between the high-cost and reliable 3G networks and the cheaper and less reliable municipal-sponsored Wi-Fi networks. Given the price that the cellular operators have spent to build their networks and to license spectrum from the government, I should think they'd raise hell over a city-sponsored competitor.
Lo, but how the times are changed: instead of leaping headlong into a line of business that isn't part of their existing competence, power utilities are hesitant to become broadband providers: What th'!? It's a new age, that's all I know. This article quotes a number of power utilities that are not very interested in becoming ISPs. NStar Electric, a Mass. utility, lost $200 million in an RCN investment, for instance.
Regulators want competition through this back-door method, however, which is why they approved it. It's easier to open a new modality than to, for instance, require reasonable wholesale prices and enforce the rules to allow competitive DSL providers, no?
It's clear that if BPL will happen in the short-run, ISPs like Earthlink will need to find utility partners who want to cope with infrastructure not users.
We check in with our sophisticated colleagues to the north at Mobitus, who have pursued voice over IP over wireless for average folks and businesspeople: Mobitus is tightly allied with FatPort, a veteran hotspot operator in Canada which builds hotspots and platforms. Mobitus focuses on mobile VoIP, which means that Wi-Fi has to be a component.
The service offering has a Vonage-like list of services without the unlimited use option. But what's interesting is how they've pursued the Wi-Fi angle in a way that Boingo is just starting to look into with Vonage.
In the Boingo/Vonage deal, callers have to be subscribers to both services. With Mobitus/FatPort, Mobitus users can employ FatPort hotspots without a FatPort subscription. They'll sell you a Zyxel VoWLAN phone preset to automatically log on to FatPort locations--as I've said before, authentication to for-fee hotspots is a key element in making VoWoHS (Voice over Wi-Fi over Hotspot?) work. The phone also works at open APs, including one's home network; or APs protected with WEP but not WPA at this time.
Mobitus is charging a small premium at this point. There's no setup or monthly charge, and you can pay from US$0.05 per minute on a pay-as-you-go option or as little as US$.03 with a 1,000 North American minute plan. This is in contrast to Vonage's unlimited US$25 offering for North America, but Mobitus believes it has enough added value to charge for all used minutes.
This offering could be a platform, too, with Mobitus looking to create a method for other hot-spot operators to provide this service over their own networks. I imagine a roaming VoIP solution could be popular as well.
VoIP's big selling point is cost, not ubiquity. VoIP replaces a wired phone line for now. To bridge the gap and make VoIP a roaming technology that competes with cell, service has to be available over a wide swath of where a user might travel. Could there be enough hotspots for someone to choose to roam with a Wi-Fi VoIP phone instead of a cell? Or could you supplement one with the other, carrying two phones (heaven forbid), allowing the VoIP phone to forward to the cell phone only when the VoIP phone isn't active? It makes our head spin.
Sony Ericsson builds Wi-Fi and EDGE into a single card, the GC-89: This new card should be available for American EDGE networks, and offers the ability to switch (but notice no mention of seamless switching) between cell and Wi-Fi networks. The card will be available later this year, and cell carriers should have it by 2005, according to Macworld. The press release says there will be a Macintosh version of the card, but it's probably the case that just a driver is needed.
Clearwire, Craig McCaw's broadband wireless company, got an investment from Intel Capital: The amount is undisclosed. Also, NextNet, the vendor that McCaw bought which supplies Clearwire's network gear, said it would use Intel's WiMax chips when they're available.
Researchers at Intel Research Berkeley are working on way for remote people in developing countries to use the Internet and email: End users in a village without an Internet connection would write an email and hit send but the requests to send would be bundled and saved. When the bus, equipped with an antenna, travels through town, its antenna picks up all of those requests and also drops off email or even requested Web sites. When the bus reaches a bigger town that has a connection to the Internet, it exchanges information there.
The application sounds exactly like one being used in Cambodia but with motorcycle mail delivery people. That solution has been commercialized by First Mile Solutions.
Christian Sandvig, a University of Illinois professor, gets it right when he says that the push around the country for municipal Wi-Fi is going through a "messy period": This Associated Press story is yet another piece looking at the municipal Wi-Fi issue but it does a good job of looking at it on a very high level. Because Wi-Fi isn't the ideal technology to use for broad scale coverage and because commercial concerns may offer access in some areas, cities may ultimately build networks in areas visited by people who otherwise might not be able to afford to pay for Internet access. Philadelphia is building Wi-Fi in schools, targeting those that attract students that qualify for the school lunch program.
The story also includes a list of cities that have Wi-Fi covering at least 90 percent of the city.
In other municipal Wi-Fi news, the city of Newton, Mass., is considering building a Wi-Fi network throughout its 18 square miles. Residents would pay $10 a month for access.
Airgo said today that its MIMO technology has been approved by governments for use around the globe: MIMO stands for multiple in multiple out and describes a technology that can boost the capacity and coverage area of wireless networks. The future 802.11n standard will be based on MIMO.
Airgo was able to receive global governmental approvals within six months, an unusually short amount of time, said Greg Raleigh, president and chief executive officer for Airgo. The approval process involves working with governmental regulatory bodies to explain how the technology works and then executing tests to ensure that the technology won't interfere with other devices. Such approvals mean that products can be legally used in the countries that have approved them, but it is separate from any standardization or association certification process.
Belkin recently introduced commercial products using chips from Airgo. The vendor has become the center of some criticism for using the term "Pre-N" to describe the new products. Shortly after the introduction of the products, the Wi-Fi Alliance released a statement encouraging members not to use the term "IEEE 802.11n" in association with any certified product and threatened to repeal certification of products using the term if the product interferes with other certified products. The 802.11n standard isn't expected to be ratified for another two years, according to the alliance.
However, the alliance certified Belkin's new "Pre-N" product because it complies with 802.11b and 802.11g. The alliance won't kick members out of the association for using the term and won't withhold certification unless the product interferes with other certified products but it will try to use its influence to encourage members not to use such terms. "Our take on 'pre-' is it's not good for the industry because it can confuse consumers," said Brian Grimm, a spokesman for the Wi-Fi Alliance. "Confused consumers won't buy." He worries that customers will buy products that are labeled "pre-802.11n" from different vendors and expect them to interoperate. When they don't, they'll return the products.
Airgo doesn't use the term "pre-802.11n" but doesn't see any reason to be concerned with the use of the term. "We think it's a fair marketing method," said Raleigh. He notes that the use of MIMO is the only component of the 802.11n standard that is certain. "Belkin is very straightforward in how they market. They don't say it's 11n compatible," he said. "I think it's a real stretch to say it's a misleading message."
He suggests that the companies that haven't yet released higher-speed products might be the ones saying that the 802.11n moniker is misleading. "It's clear that consumers are willing to pay for higher reliability and the ability to connect to Wi-Fi throughout their house. That's what this offers that other Wi-Fi doesn't. That's tough to compete with and has a lot of people stirred up," he said.
But some experts are critical of vendors that use the "pre-" designation. "If you buy something that's 'pre-11n' the assumption is that it's 11n at some point. That at some point it can be upgraded. I think that's misleading," said Ken Dulaney, analyst at Gartner Research. Because the standard is several years from ratification, it's unlikely that current products can easily be upgraded to comply with the final form of 802.11n.
Dulaney suggests that a company could use a wide variety of other marketing terms to describe a faster product, such as terms that include the number that describes the throughput speeds. "There are so many other marketing terms they could use, so why are they picking that? Clearly it's because they want to use that term to mislead people," he said.
Wireless ISP VeriLAN is offering free 56 Kbps Internet access throughout its coverage area in Portland: The idea is to attract dialup customers and once they get hooked, encourage them to upgrade to a paying service that offers higher speeds. VeriLAN's prices are pretty close to landline fees but users will be able to get access anywhere in the network.
Wi-Lan introduced a platform designed to deliver wireless LAN access while users are traveling at high speeds: The platform, called Mobilis, could be used by transportation providers such as trains for applications such as hotspot access for passengers or video surveillance. The platform would use backhaul based on Wi-Lan radios that are based on 802.16e, the standard in development that will support mobile WiMax. Standard 802.11 would be used to distribute access to passengers or other users. Other such systems have been developed to deliver hotspot service on public transportation but they typically use cellular networks or satellite for backhaul. By comparison, Wi-Lan says its network could deliver 32 Mbps backhaul speeds.
Chipmaker Fujitsu says that Qualcomm is working to delay the mobile WiMax standard: Fujitsu says that Qualcomm engineers that are working in the WiMax Forum are trying to shape the mobile WiMax standard so that it won't threaten Qualcomm's CDMA work. FierceWireless, a wireless daily newsletter, reports that Qualcomm was accused of a similar strategy with the development of Wi-Fi. The newsletter also reports that some industry insiders suggest that Intel is encouraging Fujitsu's accusations in order to avoid a direct confrontation itself with Qualcomm.
Add Redmond, Wash., Los Angeles, and San Francisco to the list of municipalities considering building citywide Wi-Fi networks: The Redmond City Council just approved a proposal to support wireless Internet. The mayor of L.A. created a panel that will create a report looking at the role that Wi-Fi can play in attracting business in L.A. and the role the city should play in making sure the access is available to residents. San Francisco's mayor boldly pledged to make sure that every resident has access to free wireless Internet service. He also suggests that no resident should be without a computer.
Some of these pronouncements smack of politicians latching onto a buzzword in an attempt to show their support for the everyman. We've discussed here the potential issues with cities paying to build Wi-Fi networks in potential competition to commercial ventures. I'm curious to see if some of these studies end up reporting on the response that hotspot operator have to the prospect of competition from the city.
The Wi-Fi Alliance certified the first products that include both Wi-Fi and cellular: The products include the HP iPaq as well as products from Nokia and Motorola that will be released later this year. The group also set up the Wi-Fi/Cellular Convergence task group to make sure the alliance meets the cellular industry's Wi-Fi certification needs.
Some New York City residents are taking advantage of a project offered by NYCWireless that teaches them how to set up a hotspot to share with their neighbors: Neighbornode is a project offered by NYCWireless that includes a package of open-source software that helps interested folks get started. NYCWireless is also offering workshops. People who set up the hotspots are encouraged to set up electronic bulletin boards that allow users to communicate with each other. So far, some of the hotspots are getting people together, for social reasons as well as neighborhood watch concerns.
No mention here of whether NYCWireless offers advice on avoiding the wrath of broadband providers like Time Warner, which sent out letters to people in New York City a while back warning customers against sharing their Internet connections.
PhotoVu releases Wi-Fi-enabled high-resolution picture frame: I am a gadget junkie, and I confess that I thought these kinds of remote picture frames were super-cool when Amazon.com started taking orders for the first of them many years ago. This latest LCD wonder, the PV1940, is 1280 by 960 pixels and 19 inches (vertical) or 19 by 24 inches (actual frame size, not screen dimensions).
The PV1940 is an update of an earlier model that already supports Wi-Fi; this latest unit, for $100 more, has landscape and portrait hanging modes, an optional DC adapter ($1,399 total) to avoid running through batteries, and an optional on-board 40 Gb hard drive ($1,549 total, presumably including the DC adapter).
You can also control the frame via a PDA with Wi-Fi, which is perhaps the slickest feature: your picture frame can suddenly become a PowerPoint presenter. [link via MacCentral]
T-Mobile UK and BT OpenZone have inked a deal to for mutual roaming across both networks worldwide: This article is short on details, but the press release from BT is quite informative. T-Mobile gains access to 1,900 BT OpenZone locations in the UK. BT customers can use the 8,000 T-Mobile locations in the UK, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and, significantly, the US.
Neither the article nor the press release mention cost: is this a free roam or a "you don't have to create a new account to be billed for additional service at the regular day rate" roam?
Interesting footnote in the press release: Through the Wireless Broadband Alliance, the Wi-Fi customers of BT and T-Mobile USA will have access on either companies' networks in Europe and the USA. This is the first we've heard of the WBA for some time; T-Mobile had earlier agreed to join but without providing many details. In fact, their news page was last updated Dec. 2003.
Roving Planet is offering a new module for its wireless LAN management software that aims to prevent infected devices from getting on the network: New devices that connect to the network are quarantined and only get restricted access until they are authorized for access. The module also ensures that connected devices have the latest security patches and anti-virus protections and tracks device behavior to identify potential infections.
Symbol has come out with a new PDA aimed at clumsy business professionals: Symbol is well known for its rugged handheld devices designed for use in environments that might normally destroy typical PDAs. Now it is releasing a new family of PDAs designed for business users and while the first product isn't quite as durable as the heavy-duty products, it can survive a three foot drop onto a carpeted floor. The first product has plenty of other bells and whistles, such as built in 802.11b Wi-Fi, support for voice over Wi-Fi, and a camera function.
A thoughtful reader with no connection to cable companies thought my analysis of DSL versus cable service (in re: SBC's Wi-Fi hotspot offering) was a little harsh: This reader has had great cable modem performance, meeting the promised speeds. But I thought I'd share with you my response. Update: Folks more knowledgeable than I in the workings of the cable world have taken me to task: apparently there's more in common now with DSL and digital cable head ends than a few years ago--my knowledge on this subject is obviously out of date. I've revised this post.
When you buy into a pooled business service like Frame Relay, you can opt for a Committed Information Rate (CIR), or a rate below which the bandwidth will never be unavailable, but above that rate, you're not promised and you may often get higher rates. At one point, I had a 1.5 Mbps frame connection with a 384 CIR. I usually saw peak performance. But I was paying for a pool of bandwidth shared (virtually) with other users from other companies.
I believed that cable still had this same difficulty. However, digital cable head ends, or the points at which entire systems are connected (usually by optical fiber) out to neighborhood cable nodes which lead to hundreds of homes by coax, has much higher capacity and much greater ability to expand than I realized.
With DSL, the effective limit is the size of the DSLAM or DSL aggregator/multiplexer in the C.O. or central office. From the C.O. in most areas that have DSL, there's probably fiber back to the Internet, or something sufficiently high-speed to provide a large enough pool at that end.
So the pool that DSL users share could be higher because of the one-to-one DSL modem to DSL card in the DSLAM relationship. The pool that cable modem users share is at the neighborhood cable node, which limits the maximum amount of bandwidth that the cable companies can offer across the entire neighborhood shared network.
Where I erred in my analysis in this post was thinking that the cost and complexity of cable companies increasing bandwidth more than moderately as demand increased would radically outstrip capacity. But, as one reader, Mike Ritter noted, "It's an open issue if their bandwidth is more expensive to provide than DSLAM bandwidth. My guess is not."
Kerry Williamson brought up an excellent counterpoint to my one-to-one DSL argument, too: "Cable companies are able to provide exactly the same level of service everywhere within their plant [wire service area]. That LOCAL area plant can have a radius of 100 miles (I know, I have designed and built several of them), and have no effect on the service, either data or video. The telephone company and DSL cannot do that. The further from the CO, slower the service. Not so with cable." The more I read about this issue, it's certainly cable's greatest single advantage over DSL's current few mile limit for high-speed performance.
Williamson notes that current technology has the ability to offer in the U.S. 10 streams or pools of about 30 Mbps downstream and 10 streams of 3 Mbps upstream without any real difficulty using the widely adopted DOCSIS 2.0 cable data protocol. Each stream is a 6 megahertz wide (replacing the spectrum used for a broadcast television channel), offering a pool as large or larger than non-fiber-based DSLAMs in telco offices. DOCSIS 2.0 can run over 40 Mbps in the U.S., but at those speeds has much greater susceptibility to noise. (European broadcast channels are wider, providing more spectrum that can be replaced in the cable system by data, increasing bandwidth per stream.)
Williamson also notes that a new revision to the cable modem standard, DOCSIS 3.0, could bring 200 Mbps per stream downstream into the home. Here's an article in a broadband publication that details DOCSIS 3.0. Upstream speeds would dramatically increase, with 100 Mbps available per pool in the best-case scenario.
Byoung Jo Kim responded to the issues of whether there's more expansion left in DSL versus cable with this: "For DSL, the high rates achieved in South Korea and Japan are mainly due to their shorter lines and higher line qualities from denser and more recent deployments of twisted pair copper wires. In the US with the longer and older lines, it will be very difficult/expensive to achieve such rates just by putting in new line cards at central offices. Thus, even Bells are looking into wireless for reaching far-away houses that HFC [hybrid fiber coax] reaches easily, although the seriousness is questionable."
Kim points me to this reference: "A view of fiber to the home economics" by Frigo, et al, in Communications Magazine, IEEE (Aug. 2004, pages S16-S23, Vol. 42, Issue 8). (Only an abstract is available at no cost to non-IEEE members.)
Similar feedback on the DSL side, about high-speed DSL flavors coming soon--ADSL2 and VDSL, to name two--would be welcome. I've opened up comments on this post.
Foundry has added some new features to its wireless LAN switch platform: It now supports Layer 3 roaming, which means that users can remain on their subnet even when they move into the range of a different subnet so that users can move throughout a building or campus without losing their session. Foundry's APs now support up to eight SSIDs so that network administrators can set up different profiles for different users, such as guests, contract workers, and employees. The APs can also now be set to act as dedicated probes that only monitor the air for rogue activity.
This is a small deployment but an interesting one from a portable standpoint: Dave Matthews Band uses between two and four Vivato base stations to cover concert venues where the band plays. The network is used for a variety of band-related business including ticketing services, audio/video information for crew, publishing of set lists for concert attendees, and band personal business including keeping in touch with family and friends. I've been hearing an increasing number of stories like this one about applications where Wi-Fi is being used because it's easy to deploy for temporary situations.
The Wall Street Journal's Lee Gomes misses the new paradigm by one day: I am a huge fan of Gomes, a regular columnist and reporter at the Journal, and his column today deals with how 3G cellular data and WiMax might replace the spotty nature of Wi-Fi hotspots. I don't disagree with his overall analysis that ubiquity might trump speed. He's also handicapping the players in this market, including Intel and Qualcomm.
Gomes concludes with this statement: As for people paying $50 or so a month to be able to access the Web wherever they are -- that's a different story. With a few exceptions like T-Mobile, the business of providing wireless connectivity has been a wasteland, akin to the online pet-food companies that sprang up during the Internet bubble. He notes that there may not be a demand for ubiquitous high-speed mobile connectivity.
This misses a key part of the hotspot value proposition, which SBC torpedoed today--that's why I say his column is a day off, and $48.01 short: the cost and complexity of figuring out how, when, and where to use Wi-Fi hotspots has clearly prevented widespread subscriber adoption by the target audience. SBC's new cost structure and pretty clear locations--UPS Stores and McDonald's--should demonstrate much more clearly whether there's a market for it when you eliminate price sensitivity. The lack of roaming at unmetered rates onto T-Mobile's network is surely another restrictive market characteristic that SBC could wind up breaking up.
Also, Gomes overstates the wasteland argument. While a few hundred million--not several billion--has been raised to fund hotspot firms, only MobileStar went bankrupt and only Cometa Networks shut down. MobileStar managed to sell its assets out of bankruptcy to T-Mobile. Cometa wound down its obligations. The rest of the industry is still standing and expanding, including STSN, Wayport, Surf and Sip (internationally), FatPort, TeliaSonera and the entire European market, T-Mobile, and so on.
It's hardly a wasteland when the number of hotspots is increasing by the thousands each month.
Revenue is still the question: it's extremely hard to get an answer to the question, "Is anyone making money?" Again, SBC should answer it. With its very low fixed costs to offer Wi-Fi as an add-on, their ability to gain and retain DSL customers, and then sell Cingular cell service as an add-on plus high-speed cell data (Cingular EDGE and AT&T Wireless EDGE and UMTS)--well, that should give us a definitive set of results. [link via Om Malik on Broadband]
Vonage and Boingo will trial a voice over Wi-Fi service: As part of the trial, Vonage softphone users will be able to make and take voice over wireless calls when in range of hotspots that are part of the Boingo network. A softphone is software that can be loaded onto a laptop or PDA that allows the device to handle voice calls. To use the service, customers will have to subscribe to Vonage and Boingo but they can use their existing Vonage phone number.
"We're going to trial this and make sure the [quality of service] is where it needs to be," said David Hagan, president and chief operating officer of Boingo. Boingo maintains service level agreements with all its hotspot operators and "this will be a test to see how it works with voice," said Hagan. He suspects that most hotspots aren't heavily-used enough to severely degrade a voice service, but he notes that testing that theory is the reason for the trial. A heavily-used hotspot might result in poor service for a voice user if the hotspot hasn't implemented quality controls. The 802.11e quality of service standard, which will allow operators to give priority to voice users, hasn't been ratified, although the Wi-Fi Alliance has recently begun certifying a subset of 802.11e, called Wi-Fi Multimedia.
Boingo is looking forward to the introduction of more combined cellular/Wi-Fi phones that will allow users to roam from cellular networks to Wi-Fi networks. Hagan describes a "natural synergy" between the two technologies that allow users of combined handsets to conduct voice calls over Wi-Fi networks when inside buildings in areas where cellular networks sometimes have trouble reaching. In order to enable such a combined service, the Boingo software client, which authenticates users, would need to be built into the handset. Boingo is working with operators, handset manufacturers, and chip manufacturers to make that happen, Hagan said.
AirMagnet has released an updated version of its wireless LAN security platform: Version 5.0 is now called AirMagnet Enterprise and is designed to support remote offices. Users can set the platform to automatically block rogue access points over the wired network. Once an AirMagnet sensor identifies a rogue access point, the central AirMagnet software sends a request to the switch to disable the port that the rogue AP is attached to. In version 5.0, AirMagnet also added triangulation so if users have at least three sensors the sensors can locate a rogue AP within around ten feet. Version 5.0 can block 120 different security threats.
RIM is demonstrating a new BlackBerry that includes support for 802.11b networks: The BlackBerry 7270 will be the first BlackBerry to support 802.11. It will also include a SIP client for voice over Wi-Fi support. The 7270 will be commercially available early next year.
Net2Phone is now offering service providers a Wi-Fi handset for voice over Wi-Fi services: The handset will allow voice over IP users who have Wi-Fi networks, either in their homes or businesses, to use the wireless handset as a portable phone. Net2Phone also expects to release a softphone in the future that will enable voice over Wi-Fi calling on PDAs or computers.
I asked Dr. Bill Koslovsky, the "Wireless-Doc," about a Swedish study that concluded there was an elevated risk of a rare form of cancer in cell phone users: His response is that the study seems good -- he needs to read it in more depth -- but the method they chose leads to the least predictive accuracy. It's a useful tool to look at a small group of people with a particular disease and tease out causes, but it's no smoking gun. Better, a large sample over a large time with no particular outcome being looked for: take 1,000 people over 10 years and track many environmental variables, including cell phone use, and see if you can identify more disease in sub-groups.
Take a look, by comparison, at the phenomenal Nurses' Health Study, which started in 1976 with over 121,000 female registered nurses. They've been followed in fits and starts with large participation for decades, and the results have revealed more specific information about human--and specifically the much ignored female side of human--health than anything else.
I'd like to see a study start now on cell phones involving such a large group. They could track individual cell phone models, among other factors. But I think the only folks with the resources to fund such a study is the cell telephone industry. And you've got to be kidding.
The science hasn't appeared to change much since this mollifying Clinton-era (Nov.-Dec. 2000) article in an FDA publication even with this latest study.
Flarion, the developer of FLASH-OFDM mobile broadband wireless technology, said NetGear will make combined 802.11/FLASH-OFDM products: Flarion first demonstrated a seamless handoff between its networks and 802.11 a couple of years ago. Now, Flarion says that the first products from NetGear will be available for testing this quarter.
This is an interesting development that only affects a small number of mobile users. Flarion's networks are being used by Nextel around Raleigh-Durham and T-Mobile, Vodafone, the city of Washington, D.C., and others are trialing Flarion networks. Although Flarion's reach may be small relative to the major cellular vendors, it proves itself forward-thinking by this development.
SBC officially announces $1.99 per month unlimited hot spot services: If you subscribe to SBC's DSL service at a rate as low as $26.95 per month for their cheapest service, you are entitled to unlimited Wi-Fi hot spot service for $1.99 a month with a one-year commitment -- after receiving free service until April 2005.
This gives SBC a giant sledgehammer to wield against the cable vendors trying to encourage people to sign up for ever-slower cable service. I'll confess that I'm biased against cable because of the pooled bandwidth/pooled network approach. Cable modem providers initially had no protection against entire neighborhoods seeing each other's networks. Then they restricted upload speeds to 128 Kbps on most links to defeat "servers." Because bandwidth is pooled, it means that each neighborhood on a cable head end has a finite amount of bandwidth--the more subscribers, the more frustration.
Meanwhile, DSL started out a little slow with odd problems, erratic service, and confusing installations. But with more experience, the telcos started to get it right, along with the last remaining competitive DSL provider, Covad. Now, most DSL installations are self-service. DSL offers a point-to-point link with a fixed amount of bandwidth; upstream of that, you might argue that bandwidth is pooled, but it's pooled on an ATM port, not on a tiny pool of cable bandwidth far from the backbone.
Consumer DSL can now top out at 6 Mpbs down and 768 Kbps up for under $100 per month, while the most competitive offerings against cable offer equal or higher uploads and a T-1 for downloads (1.5 down, 128 to 384 up). Cable companies have responded, but still mostly lamely.
SBC's full-court press includes its sale of Wi-Fi gateways to DSL customers--over 3,000 per day at last report--and building out its own Wi-Fi hotspot network. Given SBC's cost structure in offering hotspot service, they aren't selling it well below cost. This internetnews.com story reports that SBC has sold a million Wi-Fi gateways, and has 4.3 million existing DSL customers.
Now, Comcast, Time-Warner, et al., can enter the competitive marketplace rather easily in one sense: Wayport is willing to resell its McDonald's access to all comers who will pay the fixed monthly rate per location. But they'll have to play catch-up to get other outlets. Will SBC resell The UPS Store to cable companies? Time will tell.
The most interesting part of the SBC deal is airports: the more airports SBC has, the more likely that SBC-territory business travelers will switch at home from cable or sign up for DSL in order to use unlimited airport time. SFO is part of T-Mobile's network and only available at their hourly and day rate, but Seattle, San Jose, Austin, Dallas, and a few others are in Wayport's system.
(This story must have slipped out early on Bloomberg's wire service, as the report first surfaced on Oct. 16 from that news organization.)
Turn off your phone and pray: Israeli cell phone jammers costing about US$2,000 each are allowing people to worship without the countless ringing of phones. The use of these jammers is spreading worldwide; there's no law against it in Mexico, where these churches are, but there is in many countries, including the U.S.
Bloomberg News (and no one else) reports SBC to offer its customers six months free, then $1.99 per month Wi-Fi hotspot service: Strange that this story is only on Bloomberg's wire service, but it says that SBC will offer existing customers--presumably its DSL customers--free Wi-Fi access through April 2005 if they sign up now. After April 2005, they will charge $1.99 per month.
It's a great strategy. As noted many times in the last few months in this space, the combination of SBC building out its own hotspots with Wayport's help and reselling access to Wayport's networking and new McDonald's locations gives SBC a pretty remarkable single fixed cost for offering Wi-Fi access. In this model, the more users, the more they make. Their cost per user for accounting is already paid if they only offer this to existing customers, too, so that takes that overhead back into the DSL side instead of being a new cost for authentication or billing.
This throws down the gauntlet. I noticed yesterday that, as I predicted, Boingo Wireless's $21.95/month introductory rate for 12 months--after which the service would be $34.95 per month--is now the permanent rate.
The trend for venue owners and hotspot operators will now have to accelerate towards a fixed monthly fee per location instead of a per-usage fee. There's no way around this. If you decide not to play that game as a hotspot, you could be left out of the largest market of users, and increasingly marginalized by nearby competitors. If I can use one large Wi-Fi network for $1.99, or another for $20 or $30 or $40 per month, which do I choose?
Airports still sit in the catbird seat: captive audiences may still have to pay more for usage.
SoniqCast's Aireo 2 beats its competitors to the punch: This digital music player seems to have it all, including Wi-Fi. An 802.11b radio lets users wirelessly download music to the player and acts as a hotspot locator. The Wi-Fi connection also means that users can subscribe to and receive content from Audible. It also includes an FM tuner--the no-brainer that the iPod continues to skip. An FM transmitter lets users play music from the Aireo 2 over their car stereos. And it comes with two jacks so two people can listen to MP3, WMA, and WAV files at once.
My husband has an iRiver which I think is one of the best digital music player out there. We bought a headphone splitter so we can both listen at once while on an airplane. We also bought a cassette adapter that lets us listen to music from the iRiver in our car. The Aireo includes those capabilities. We were particularly interested in the iRiver, however, because we can connect it with a wired jack to our stereo to play music or to record--we have a vinyl collection and it's nice to be able to record some of it to take with us on the move. I'm not sure if the Aireo 2 has that capability.
The Aireo 2 isn't yet for sale so price is another unknown. Also, it's for PCs only at this point.
EWeek pushes for "pre-n" products to help fight ultrawideband's potential to steal market share from 802.11: Carol Ellison makes some valid points here (and cites a previous piece from Glenn) but I think she underestimates the confusion in the market and the potential problems that stem from calling products "pre-" anything. The Wi-Fi Alliance doesn't expect 802.11n to be ratified for another two years. That means that the chances are good that a "pre-n" product that gets released now won't be compatible with certified 802.11n products that hit the market in a few years. The danger is that people buy "pre-n" products thinking they'll be compatible and then they aren't. If vendors are crystal clear that their products may not interoperate, then I agree that it can be worth it for vendors to release proprietary products because sometimes proprietary technologies drive the market. But the only way that vendors can be crystal clear about that is if they don't make any reference to 802.11n.
The Wi-Fi Alliance has been burned on this before, thus the recent policy announcement that strongly discourages using the term "IEEE 802.11n" along with any certified product. The policy seems to be twofold. The alliance may be looking to avoid a situation like the one where Broadcom said that a proprietary extension in Atheros chips caused service degradation in Broadcom-based products. As part of its policy announcement, the alliance said it would revoke certification of any certified product with extensions that interfere with other certified product. At the same time, the alliance's director is quoted as pointing out that pre-standard products present risks for users so the alliance won't certify 802.11n products until the standard is complete. An analyst in the press release notes that buyers of "pre-802.11g" products had problems when their products didn't end up meeting the standard.
An IEEE working group is looking at adding Wi-Fi to cars: The effort actually has its own letter, 802.11p. The idea is to allow emergency vehicles to be able to change traffic lights when they're nearby and for the radios in cars to offer feedback to a central system that detects traffic jams and also may change traffic signals to speed things up.
While the idea sounds good, it may be difficult to get automobile manufacturers to build the radios into cars and even harder to get municipalities or other groups to build the networks and backend systems that collect data.
Hotspot providers are increasingly adding applications in addition to plain old Internet connectivity to their wireless offerings: The industry has passed the "gee whiz" factor and providers are finding out that the key to encouraging usage of hotspots and the key to leveraging hotspots to boost business is by offering applications that customers can use. The Feature writes about GPS Industries, a company that caters to golf courses. The Wi-Fi offering has lead to some tangible revenue benefits. Golf cart rentals have increased because the carts come with Wi-Fi enabled PCs. Golfers order more expensive food because they can order it from their carts. The course can also offer golfers more information about the course.
Michael Oh at NewburyOpen.net was one of the first people I noticed focusing on the application. He's experimented with offering a printing service for Wi-Fi users as well as a comparison shopping application in a bookstore.
It's interesting to watch the evolution of Wi-Fi compared to the evolution of the cellular networks. When the cellular operators first started talking about introducing data services, from the very start they were talking about the services that must be offered at the same time. They were very aware of the need to offer customers something to do with their data services rather than just Internet access. No comment on whether they've succeeded in offering applications that result in widespread use.
It said, he said: St. Paul Pioneer Press argues editorially against municipally funded wireless broadband; Buffalo, Minnesota, mayor suggests they get their facts straight: The St. Paul Pioneer Press published an editorial in which they argued that governments competing with local businesses don't give a fair shake to the ideas of market competition. The editors maintain that a publicly-run entity has little motivation or potential to keep such a service cutting edge. They point to Buffalo, Minn., where--they say--a $30 per month service that started up five years ago offers 1/10th the speed of competing cable companies. (Wait, doesn't that undermine their argument? Isn't that cable offering, just a few dollars more a month, much more compelling?)
Hold it, says the mayor of Buffalo, in a rebuttal published by the paper. The facts are all wrong he says. The broadband wireless service offered is from $10 to $40 per month for speeds from 192 Kbps up to 1.5 Mbps plus a $10 per month modem charge for 55 months. The cable service is $26 per month through Feb. 2005. The cable service is 3 Mbps. (Sidebar: We all know that broadband wireless has the potential to deliver a point-to-point "dedicated circuit" to an individual customer premises where cable service is pooled among neighbors that share a cable head-end, giving them a pool not a virtual circuit.)
The cable company charges non-cable subscribers $40 per month for 384 Kbps service; Buffalo, including the modem charge, sets the price at $34 per month.
Those are all details, of course. Most cuttingly, the mayor writes,
Finally, several years ago we asked the large, out-of-state telephone and cable companies serving our city to provide residential Internet access. They declined to do so. Our community needed the service. We provided it. Now there is competition. Everybody benefits.
As I note, doesn't the mere presence of a competing cable offering show that municipal wireless--in this circumstance--works? Here at Wi-Fi Networking News, we have consistently been in favor of rural municipal broadband wireless, but dubious about the success and fairness of urban municipal. For urban wireless to work, cities need to build infrastructure that they sell to all comers, like city-run fiber networks or cable wiring. Build the infrastructure, make it easy for providers to come in, and then everyone benefits from the competition.
An FCC rulemaking allows widespread BPL deployment: The rule makes it possible for utilities to offer competitive services with DSL and cable. Amateur-radio operators have expressed detailed concern about the potential for interference, and the FCC commissioner cited in this article doesn't think the rules go far enough in addressing those and other issues related to how traditional telecoms are regulated versus data services.
A hotel customer survey shows that offering bad Wi-Fi is worse than no-Fi: A majority of the 486 hotel customers surveyed by Jupiter Research said that they wouldn't return to a hotel if the Wi-Fi were slow or unreliable. Forty-four percent blamed the hotel for the problem, too, regardless of who is offering the Wi-Fi. Worse, 25 percent would spread the word. [link via InternetWeek]
An excellent article at eTrucker.com updates us on the status of Wi-Fi at rest areas: Texas has signed a contract to install Wi-Fi at 105 locations by Oct. 2005, with service free for the first two hours. They're hoping this encourages truckers and others to pull over a little more to catch up and reduce accidents, among other elements.
Michigan will roll out Wi-Fi at state parks, welcome centers, and rest areas charging $7.95 for 24 hours and $19.95 for unlimited access. (The article cites $7.95 for 24 sessions, which is taken from a typo in The State of Michigan's press release.)
Iowa and Wisconsin are also trying free Wi-Fi as part of a trial.
A slightly disjointed USA Today article discusses the FCC's considering how to auction spectrum for in-flight voice and data for ground stations: Most interested parties are arguing for competitive auctions, even if that makes it harder to coordinate where ground stations would be based. Aircell already has a working system, and it's apparent that they need more spectrum--although that's not stated in this article. Aircell already sells telecom services--voice, data, fax, telemetry--to airlines and private planes.
Ground-to-air stations would allow a potentially cheaper deployment per plane: $80,000 versus $500,000 for Connexion by Boeing; it would also weigh less. The article doesn't mention it, but Boeing is limited to 150 transponder pairs at the moment, so that there are 150 "cells" worldwide, each of which has a fixed maximum bandwidth pool. As usage increases, Boeing must increase their budget for transponder license ($1 million per transponder per year or $300M) or travelers might be contending for bandwidth as planes travel in the same large cells.
Tenzing's system allows for much more discrete bandwidth per plane, although in lower quantities, using a focused system that doesn't rely on cells. But you can't beat ground-to-air stations in which the distance will make high rates per plane possible at this lower cost. (Tenzing estimates about $100,000 to $200,000 for their over-water satellite system for any of the several thousand planes that already use Inmarsat satellite gear for international flying.)
All this to say that William Raspberry's worst nightmare is about to come true. Read his column, and consider: are you the talker or the middle-seat victim?
HP is adding Broadcom 802.11g chips to certain of its printers: This is part of a new trend, in which 802.11g-flavored Wi-Fi is just part of what comes with a peripheral or electronics device--it's not an add-on, an upgrade, or a driver-based doohickey. Instead, it's a fundamental part of the design of the product. For instance, the HP Photosmart 2700 All-in-One has a list price of $400, more than enough margin to afford to throw in a Wi-Fi option, and extremely appealing for the SOHO market that already has a Wi-Fi network and wants the flexibility of a printer, scanner, fax, and copier in one device. Once you have Wi-Fi, all resources become movable feasts, too.
In a confirmation of what many level-headed folks have been saying in the cellular industry for years, Wi-Fi will supplement scarce 3G spectrum to overload voice traffic: The technical head of SBC reveals what some had guessed part of his strategy might be. Among many prongs, SBC has aggressively pushed Wi-Fi gateways into homes, and gone from zero to 60 in the hotspot market by signing a massive client (The UPS Store), and becoming the first McDonald's/Wi-Fi World partner with Wayport.
Now, CTO Chris Rice says that Cingular will offer phones by 2006 that switch voice from Wi-Fi to cellular automatically. This kind of handoff will effectively Cingular more spectrum, as Rice puts it in this Reuters interview. Rice seems to be saying--as Carlo Longino points out--that the Cingular phones would use whatever SBC Wi-Fi was available, whether in private homes or at hotspots. That's a strange idea, but with 802.11e (quality of service) and Wi-Fi gateways that supported it, the Cingular phones could conceivably override a SBC's DSL subscriber's own data packets for priority! Very very odd idea, and we'll see if a clarification is made on that front.
SBC will offer a Wi-Fi/cell phone to businesses first, and work with them to install the right VoIP equipment in house, starting in 2005. In 2006, they'll offer consumer-based Wi-Fi/cell switching. [link via The Feature's Carlo Longino]
(Correction to the Reuters article: The article misstates who is installing Wi-Fi at McDonald's and the total number SBC plans to install: SBC has promised 20,000 access points but only 6,000 hot spots, and is handling the Internet back-haul and network but not the store infrastructure or the actual deal with McDonald's. Wayport has the contract with McDonald's. For The UPS Store, Wayport is acting as a managed services firm for SBC.)
Acacia wants you? We wrote a about Acacia Technologies seeking royalties from a Web page redirection patent that they maintain covers many forms of Internet access use by unauthenticated users. We've received reports from many businesses who have received the packet describing the royalty situation from Acacia, but we'd like to know if you've heard from them: drop us a line (but no attachments, please) if Acacia has contacted you.
Reports that Agere is exiting the Wi-Fi world are exaggerated: Agere clarified that it won't continue to develop standalone Wi-Fi products but that it will focus on voice over Wi-Fi and the integration of Wi-Fi and cellular. Agere sees the potential for higher sales with less price pressure in the mobile phone market.
Nomadix introduced a roaming service that connects hotspots that use the Nomadix Service Engine: Nomadix offers a clearinghouse service, settlement, and billing, supported by Convergys.
Nomadix follows a handful of other companies supporting roaming services and like the others, the Nomadix offering has some limitations. The Nomadix offering is only open to users of the Nomadix Service Engine. That means that if a hotspot operator or a hotel chain has Nomadix software only in some locations, it can't include all of its locations in the roaming plan. But, that apparently hasn't stopped companies including Sprint, PicoPoint, an Eleven Wireless from joining the program.
Wired News reports on WanderPort, a company developing a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot solution: The end product will be a small trailer with a diesel generator, an antenna, an AP, and satellite dish for backhaul. Users would be anyone who needs remote and probably temporary connectivity, such as disaster relief organizations.
Another temporary hotspot solution designed for less remote applications is available from Junxion. The Junxion box allows users to insert a PCMCIA card that enables backhaul over the cellular networks. Wi-Fi distributes that bandwidth to nearby users.
A market research firm predicts that WiMax won't pull in more than $1 billion before 2007: The market is likely to reach $2.5 billion by 2009, according to iSuppli, a research firm. While it's likely that WiMax won't reach the heights that some supporters envision, iSuppli may be missing a couple of key points. Researchers there say that landline players won't see any reason to use WiMax because it doesn't offer a quantum leap in capabilities over their existing technologies. That may be true, but a technology that offers a similar result but may cost quite a bit less, like WiMax, would certainly be of interest to operators.
To the contrary of many other analysts, iSuppli suspects that the best potential for WiMax will be as a next generation mobile network. This article, in fact, notes that the concept of using WiMax as a next generation mobile network is the concept least promoted by Intel. However, Intel is often cited discussing exactly that vision and its plans to build WiMax onto chips that will be used in laptops is based on that vision. Many analysts see the most significant potential for WiMax as a backhaul technology, for Wi-Fi hotspots or cellular or other networks.
Time article on Vivato, wireless clouds, and community/metro wireless: This article is so uninformed to my eye that I refuse to comment on it--I mean, look at how he describes Austin's network--instead allowing the community of readers to this site their opportunity to post remarks. Click Comments below to contribute.
VitalSense releases wireless medical telemetry pill: take one, and some aspects of your innards are exposed: It's not a pilotable nuclear submarine like they had in Fantastic Voyage, but it's still pretty interesting. The device can obtain core body temperatures as it passes through the system in this first version. The next will grab heart rates. They say other physiological parameters monitors are in the works, and you can certainly see thruster jets and a video camera, plus maybe tiny waldoes for fixing things. Ah, the future. [link via BoingBoing, who got it from our friend Bill at Wireless-Doc]
A new device from ZyXel is a multifunction tool: It integrates ADSL, a 4-port Ethernet switch, 802.11g Wi-Fi, and two telephone ports for voice over IP. It uses Session Initiation Protocol for voice support and is aimed at small and medium sized businesses.
Here's a shocker: TV's Mark Cuban says no Wi-Fi for fans at the stadium his Mavericks play at: The American Airlines Center installed a Wi-Fi network, and teams over than the Mavericks or special events may still use the network. But Cuban makes the remarkably sane argument that he'd rather have fans watching the game than worrying about beer on their Palm. Wi-Fi is being used widely through the stadium for operations: security (remote camera viewing), order taking, and sound checks.
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Michael Oh attended Making the Connection: The 2004 National Summit for Community Wireless Networks in August: Michael Oh is the fellow behind NewburyOpen.net, and the owner of tech superpowers, inc. He sent in this report:
First off, I think the biggest thing was simply that everyone got together. The CWN (Community Wireless Network) world is something that we're all very involved in, but we're all very locally focused. It's almost by definition that we're mainly interested in our own hometowns, but sometimes that keeps us from seeing that CWNs all end up having a lot of the same challenges.
So, I have to give props to Sascha Meinrath and the crew at U of I that put this together - it was something that we knew there was a need for, but no one had done it - and they created it out of thin air.
I'm also surprised that so many people showed up for the event. By my count, there were somewhere around 150 people, from people like Rob Flickenger (of Metrix and O'Reilly's Wireless Hacking book) to Michael Calabrese of the New America Foundation. More surprisingly, there were people there because their grants had funded them to come and do research on how wireless can help community development. That means that CWNs are getting a lot of exposure - and not just to the people that make them.
The turnout solidifies one thing - that CWNs are here to stay, and they are about a lot more than "competing" against for-pay wireless.
CMNs are about community, not about wireless. It's simple to say, but very complex to understand, since community is such a broad-based word. Still, this movement is one of the quickest forming community movements that I've ever seen or been a part of - and we all share the same idea.
That idea is that we all believe that community wireless will make a better world. We don't agree how, and we certainly don't agree what technology it will use, but we're pretty certain it will change how the world interacts. And this change is very different from how the corporations playing with WiFi in public spaces imagine.
The meetings were organized in three tracks - Organizational Models, Technology, and Policy. Going in, I thought that 2 out of 3 were of interest, but the Policy track was really kind of strange to me. I didn't understand fully how spectrum policy really would help the future of our cause.
This is one of the big benefits of the Summit - spending time with the policy "wonks" (which regardless of name, are very interesting people to hang around), at the very least because you're happy that SOMEONE is interested enough in spectrum policy to fight in the halls of Washington for us. Howard Feld and Michael Calabrese were people that I met, talked to, and understood after the summit. You may even see me in Washington sometime if they have their way... :)
Organizationally, the other benefit was meeting all of the other major CWN players in the country. There were people from NYC Wireless, Austin City Wireless Project, PersonalTelco, and others... We got to hang out, share stories of crazy wireless projects gone horribly wrong, and drink beer. I'm hoping that one of the results from the Summit is simply communication between all of the different cities, so we can all work together to further the cause.
I would love to coordinate wireless festivals in 4 major cities on the same day, share technology, or at the very least just have WiFi webcams that allow people in 4 coffee shops all over the country to say hi to each other. We would love to see projects like our Boston Music Project not only exist in 4 cities, but also be connected between the different places, so that anyone in a coffee shop in Boston could experience the newest local bands in Austin. (FYI - this idea was sparked by Rich from Austin's work)
It became obvious that CWNs were already diverging into ideas about culture, arts, media, and community content. While incredibly powerful in concept, we also risk losing the focus of people outside of the WiFi community with this divergence. If we focus on such broad-based ideas, we look a lot more like community non-profits and less like WiFi organizations. Unfortunately, "WiFi as commerce" is the baby of the business section, not "WiFi as community development." In my opinion, that's why all of the CWNs have "fallen off the map" compared to the T-mobiles and Tropos Networks of the world - they're just no longer interesting to the business community anymore.
But I predict that the next wave will be when CWNs begin to provide "national local" content providing interesting local content for their respective cities, but as part of a national movement. That's the vision that I have for CWNs going forward - it's just a matter of getting others to sign on.
Fact is, we're all volunteers, trying to feed ourselves with other activities, so the chances for success depend on how dedicated we can be to another cause when we're already stretched for time. Luckily, there are already great examples of how this happens.
One of the best connections that I made was Prometheus Radio, the guys that came from pirate radio and now specialize in 'powering up' Low Power FM (LPFM) stations. I participated in the Portsmouth, NH, LPFM barnraising last month, and they sure know how to motivate people. FM people have been fighting the fight for many decades - pushing back against the incumbents, correcting FCC shortsightedness, and organizing disparate groups all over the country. CWNs could learn a thing or two from them.
I think that if organized well, we can make the community wireless movement more than just an annoyance to the T-mobiles of the world - by providing content that can only be found locally. And the 1st Summit was a huge step towards that - even if it was just getting everyone in the same room.
Casino owners are starting to use Wi-Fi to try to attract a younger crowd to games like BINGO and to cut costs: BINGO players can use handheld devices to enter their numbers. They can also buy their cards from terminals via their handheld devices instead of from a casino worker.
Sweet Spot Solutions and Pronto Networks are offering a Wi-Fi network covering downtown Tempe this week in support of the final presidential debate: But in order to access it, customers must use a special USB Wi-Fi adapter available from Sweet Spot and the access is quite expensive. For one day, users must pay $49.95. A week's access costs $199.95. It sounds as if the companies are banking on attracting a captive audience such as members of the press who might really like to have such remote access. We'll have to see if they think the benefit is worth the price.
Symbol said it will introduce APs that support 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g simultaneously: The APs work in conjunction with Symbol's switch and will initially be limited to supporting Symbol's branch office switch. In other multiband news, Atheros introduced a single chip solution that combines 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g. The combined chip may encourage more use of 802.11a and result in better service for end users as devices can connect to the best available signal.
Broadcom came out with a chipset designed for voice over Wi-Fi phones: The chips will enable phones to support voice over Wi-Fi as well as data applications. The chipset combines Broadcom's 54g chip with Broadcom's mobile VOIP processor.
Aperto Networks said today that Rod Nelson, AT&T Wireless executive vice president and CTO, has joined its board. Nelson cautioned against inferring from the appointment that AT&T Wireless has plans to use WiMax or 802.16-based equipment. "This is about my joining the board not as a representative of AT&T Wireless, but as an individual," Nelson said.
However, Nelson's experiences at AT&T Wireless are what spurred his interest in Aperto. "At AT&T Wireless, we have quite a bit of experience with fixed wireless and not such a pleasant experience," Nelson said. He was referring to AT&T Wireless' so-called Project Angel which used proprietary equipment to deliver fixed broadband services to customers. He said that the requirements the company learned about with Project Angel are appearing in WiMax. Because WiMax is based on a standard, Nelson expects prices on infrastructure and customer premise equipment to decline. Also, the WiMax solution makes it easy for end users to install their own CPE which can significantly cut costs for operators. High cost and the requirement for professional CPE installation were some of the factors blamed for Project Angel's troubles.
But WiMax networks that serve individual customers aren't what most interest Nelson. He's interested in the possibility of using WiMax as backhaul for 3G cell sites. "We've got a situation on the mobility side of the industry where cell density is gong up and the bandwidth we're carrying at each cell is going to be increasing," Nelson said. With 3G networks, operators deploy significantly more cell sites--as many as five to ten times as many--and each site must have wired backhaul. "Most cell site locations aren't located right on top of the fiber ring," Nelson noted.
Aperto is noticing interest in using WiMax for 3G backhaul. "The notion of backhaul, especially IP backhaul, becomes of interest because of the economics," said Reza Ahy, CEO and chairman of Aperto. "That's where we see a push in terms of WiMax infrastructure." WiMax promises to be less expensive as well as quicker to deploy than wireline options.
Both Ahy and Nelson envision that service providers, which could be incumbant telcos or competitors to the incumbents, will build networks using WiMax to serve the needs of cellular or hotspot operators that need backhaul.
Nelson didn't sound convinced that WiMax would be ultimately used to deliver broadband access to end users. "My view of the near term is that [3G and WiMax] are complementary technologies and we'll wait and see how this develops as far as a direct access technology could be concerned," he said.
Nelson also thinks that the major operators in the United States that are interested in WiMax for backhaul or other applications are focused on deploying the networks in licensed frequencies and not unlicensed bands. "Its greatest success will be achieved in licensed spectrum," Nelson said. "Whether is for fixed access to small to medium enterprises or backhaul for Wi-Fi or backhaul for 3G microcells, you need the quality and control over your quality that licensed spectrum provides."
The initial commercial WiMax products to hit the market will operate in the 3.5 GHz band, which is licensed spectrum in many regions outside of the United States. Equipment that operates in the 2.5 GHz band, which is licensed in the United States, will hit the market six to nine months after the initial 3.5 GHz products, Ahy said.
The press release announcing Nelson's appointment doesn't seem to be online yet but should appear here eventually.
We thought this might happen with non-standard 802.11g devices, but perhaps the cart was well ahead of that horse: The Wi-Fi Alliance said in a press release that any product that labels itself 802.11n and Wi-Fi will lose Wi-Fi certification--and thus their ability to use the trademark--if the device causes Wi-Fi interoperability problems. This is what some chip vendors were arguing needed to take place with non-standard 802.11g extensions, but that seems to have devolved in turf battles rather than action.
Hello, Miami! If anyone's listening...: Does Miami's airport actually have Wi-Fi? This page from AT&T Public Communications indicates that they're operating it (for 25 cents a minute or $6.95 per day). If anyone has definitive information, I'd like to know.
It's time for self-promotion again: Glenn's latest print book is Take Control of Your AirPort Network: This 160-page title ($16.99, discounted at Amazon to $11.89) covers all the ins and outs of using Apple's AirPort technology and using Wi-Fi with Mac OS X. I include a huge appendix that covers configuring AirPort Express, and also include details on getting Windows XP and Mac OS 9 to work with Mac OS X and AirPort Extreme/Express. The book has troubleshooting details, and a long section on setting up your own dynamic addressing using hardware or software.
This is the print edition of the same-named ebook (PDF)--there was enough interest in the ebook to turn it into a print book. If you follow the ebook link, you can download a 29-page excerpt of the book to get a better sense of the print and electronic editions.
Last year, Adam Engst and I wrote The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, which is still current for designing, configuring, and understanding wireless networks. It's also available in both print and electronic form.
Updates on AirPort networking can be found at my separate AirPort blog.
AT&T said it plans to use WiMax to deliver voice and data services to residential customers: Covad has the same plan and has already begun testing broadband wireless equipment. I'm curious about what frequencies the operators plan to use. I continue to hear from vendors and operators that most major carriers wouldn't deploy WiMax in unlicensed frequencies but as far as I know neither Covad or AT&T have significant licenses for spectrum that would be ideal for WiMax. I also continue to hear that the first batch of commercial certified WiMax gear will operate in 3.5 GHz, a piece of the spectrum that has been licensed in other regions but not the United States. The 2.5 GHz band, licensed to operators such as Nextel and Craig McCaw's Clearwire, will come six months later, at the soonest. That means that operators in the United States that wish to deploy WiMax in the unlicensed bands won't be able to do so for quite a while. In the meantime, I suspect that they'll have to use WiMax-like equipment rather than officially certified gear.
This CNET piece says that Covad is envisioning a 2005 commercial rollout, but notes that timeframe may be ambitious because Intel doesn't expect WiMax to be integrated into notebooks until 2006. That's irrelevant because before Intel does that, other vendors will build CPE equipment that won't be embedded into computers.
T-Mobile said that it started selling today a combined Wi-Fi/GPRS PC card: The cards, which run for $199, will allow users to get online over T-Mobile's wide area GPRS network as well as T-Mobile hotspots. The Wi-Fi component supports 802.11b. This appears to be the first combined PC card from T-Mobile.
Nomadix spokespeople have not been available to comment on the Acacia redirect patent but the company released the following statement today: "We recently became aware of Acacia's allegations and are presently investigating the situation. Nomadix has always respected the valid and enforceable patent rights of others in our industry as we expect our competitors to do the same," said Kurt Bauer, CEO of Nomadix. "We are communicating with our customers and partners to ensure them that business continues as normal and we will stand behind them. Nomadix remains committed to providing the best quality of service and support and is looking forward to continued market success for all parties involved."
We reported on Tuesday that Acacia, a company that buys and enforces patents, has begun informing hotspot operators that they now owe royalties for using redirect technology. Nomadix also owns a patent that covers a certain type of redirect function. It's still not clear if Nomadix sees overlap between its patent and Acacia's patent.
Some hotspot operators have suggested that they are protected against such royalty demands due to agreements made with vendors in their purchase orders. Rob Berman, executive vice president of business development and general counsel for Acacia, suggests that operators may be limited in their abilities to approach vendors. "In many cases the equipment is not manufactured specifically to redirect people," Berman said. "It could be used in a variety of different ways. I seriously doubt the manufacturer would cover this part of use of the equipment."
Consumer electronics and telephony will account for about half of expected revenue for WLAN chips in 2008, according to a new report from In-Stat/MDR: The research firm envisions more Wi-Fi capabilities being built into consumer electronics products as well as telephones, including those that integrate Wi-Fi with cellular.
Some Wi-Fi chip makers are already moving in the direction of home electronics. Vixs Systems introduced a reference design with drivers for Microsoft Windows Media Center and new MPEG encoders. The system is designed to improve video streaming over Wi-Fi.
We're going to try to allow comments on postings again: Several months ago, I posted a note about why we were disabling the ability to add comments to posts at Wi-Fi Networking News. The reasons were threefold: comment spam, often pornographic in nature, intended to improve search engine rankings of various sites; off-topics posts by people who didn't understand what the site was about; and posts that critiqued the site directly instead of the item commented on. While we like feedback, we've made it clear that the forum for that is through us to email (or on another blog, for that matter), not in our comments.
We're using Movable Type to run our blog, and the company behind it, Six Apart, has made available a system known as TypeKey which is a centralized, free registration system for commenting. The idea is that you sign up via TypeKey and verify your identify via email. It doesn't prove you're who you say you are, but they at least have a valid set of tracking information about you. With a TypeKey identity, you can post to our site.
I have trepidations about offloading this function to another party, however much I trust them and their infrastructure, but it's the best solution I've seen for allowing reasonable commentary. We'll experiment with this, and based on the kind of comments we get, see where we go from here.
(Please note: there's a small problem with the template that tells you that your comment is pending: it's slightly unreadable. I'll fix that as soon as I can, but it doesn't prevent posting comments.)
NTT DoCoMo Mzone wireless LAN customers will be able to roam to Connexion by Boeing's onboard Internet access service: But their usage won't be included in their regular Mzone subscriptions. The deal means that Mzone customers can be billed for their onboard usage via their regular Mzone bill.
Connexion appears to be aggressively making deals with terrestrial hotspot services perhaps in an attempt to draw users to its service, which is available now on three flights but will be available on additional flights before the end of the year. Connexion at the end of August formed a roaming agreement with iPass. The companies said the deal would become operational in three to six months. Connexion also has an agreement with Infonet, which says that it will beat the iPass deal by going live by the end of the year.
iPass will roll out device fingerprinting, which allows only discretely identified mobile equipment to gain remote access to customers' networks: When a user is given movable credentials, like a username and password, they can log in from any device that has the appropriate software installed. Cloning a machine becomes a strong possibility as well. When you add device fingerprinting, IT managers can ensure that users are connected via only specific devices that the IT department has authorized. iPass acquired a firm that specializes in this technology; they will add it to their software later this year.
The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix set up a temporary network using BelAir equipment for the weekend of the race: Race organizers were able to compile race results and post them on monitors in the pit and stands so drivers and spectators could quickly see results. Previously, race results were compiled and distributed on paper, a several hour affair.
Because the race organizers used monitors to display the results to users, this application is potentially more useful than those that require spectators to use their own laptops or PDAs to access data. The baseball field hotspots have sometimes been criticized by people who can't imagine fans bringing their laptops to games in order to access stats.
The Cloud will provide hotspot service to O2 mobile phone customers: O2 will also use services from RoamPoint, a roaming hub that is majority owned by The Cloud. RoamPoint is one of a few companies that have emerged to support roaming. RoamPoint facilitates authentication but does not handle billing or settlement.
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Belkin is calling its new routers and cards "Pre-N," saying they are based on 802.11n: 802.11n is a proposed standard that promises to deliver higher-throughput and greater coverage area than current generation products. Finalization of the standard isn't expected until 2006 so it's probably difficult to fairly even call this "pre-N". Belkin is using MIMO (multiple input multiple output) technology from Airgo in the products. MIMO uses multiple antennas to send and receive, a method that can extend the range of signals. Belkin expects its products to deliver 45 Mbps of throughput and says the gear will integrate with standard 802.11 equipment.
FreedomNet Solutions promotes parking lot Wi-Fi: Why pay for a latte when you just need connectivity? It could be the windshield warriors' dream come true: parking lot optimized Wi-Fi access. The company behind it says they have a still-unnamed major retail partner they're close to signing. As long as surfers don't use the lots during premium business hours--which usually equates to busy streets, making it less likely a traveling salesperson would try to do so--it's additional use of underutilized space. [link via TechDirt]
Wired Magazine has posted its one-page comic of how this year's DefCon wireless challenge was won: It was a small crew of yoots (that's Joe Pesci for "youths") with determination, at least one supportive parent, and moxie--lotsa moxie! Go, kids! [link via Smart Mobs]
The Economist offers insightful business and mainstream technological details on ultrawideband (UWB): The article spells out how the technology works, who the players are, the current struggles in committees over standards, and which products will make it first to the market. I believe the piece downplays the significance of UWB's range versus the potential 802.11n standard.
UWB devices will certainly now make it to the market, but you have to wonder if there is a large enough class of equipment that needs high-bandwidth over very short distances when a competing standard might offer substantially longer ranges. Home-entertainment devices certainly apply, but what if you want to use UWB-equipped speakers in the kitchen and it's just a little too far from the media room? Frustration ensues. Or lower speeds.
Many of the folks in the UWB field note that UWB doesn't just stop working at greater distances, but it can't perform at anything like its real potential beyond about 10 meters in the standards that have been on the table to date.
Follow the mergers, spinoffs, and sales: Broadcom might acquire Agere, says Light Reading: Lucent acquired WaveLAN, an early 802.11b chipmaker, and later spun off its Wi-Fi division when it turned Agere loose. Agere, in turn, sold its wireless LAN portfolio to Proxim when it seemed to be of less interest to them to market and develop, but they continue to make Wi-Fi chips.
Lucent/Agere was the original chipmaker for many of the first wave of OEM Wi-Fi products, such as Linksys and Apple's gear. Broadcom was the chipmaker of choice for the first wave of 802.11g, so it's ironic that they migth bring Agere into their fold, wireless products aside.
Light Reading notes that Agere has just a few product lines that Broadcom doesn't already have entries in, such as hard drive chips and certain telecom products. [link via GigaOm]
A patent-buying firm has told hotspot operators that royalties are due for gateway page redirection: Last week, hotspot operators told Wi-Fi Networking News, they began receiving hefty packets from Acacia Technologies describing the company's patent rights that it contends cover gateway page redirection used by many hotspot operators. (T-Mobile's new 802.1X system will not use redirection at all.) Acacia will require royalties to continue using the technology.
Redirection involves the access point or back-end system capturing any Web page request from an unauthenticated user on the network and redirecting them to a page that contains login or usage information. After successfully logging in, the user is then passed on to their original page or a hotspot information page.
Acacia Technologies, a company that is in the business of purchasing and enforcing patents, bought patent number 6,226,677 from LodgeNet. The patent covers redirection. Hotspot operators that received letters have been asked to pay $1,000 per year (editor's note: an earlier version incorrectly stated that $1,000 would be due per quarter) for up to 3,500 redirected connections. Companies that rack up more than 3,500 redirections per year pay between 5 cents and 15 cents per redirect additionally.
Acacia wouldn't say how many letters it had sent out so far "but anybody who operates a hotspot with redirection can assume they'll hear from us," said Rob Berman, executive vice president of business development and general counsel for Acacia Technologies. Matrix Networks is among three hotspot operators that have contacted Wi-Fi Networking News regarding the letters; the others wished to remain anonymous. Wayport has not received a letter and T-Mobile has not yet responded to our query.
In January, Nomadix received a patent that includes some redirect techniques. "It is our belief that our patent predates" the Nomadix patent, Berman said. The Nomadix patent was filed December 8, 1999 and the Acacia patent was filed January 15, 1999.
Nomadix was not available for comment.
Acacia examined a variety of factors including the strength of the patent and profit margins of hotspot operators to set the licensing fee. "We think we set the royalties at a low enough level where it shouldn't have any affect on the market," said Berman. "These royalties should not affect anybody's business in a negative way."
Letter recipients will have 30 days to study the documents and ask questions. After that, Acacia will contact them again. "Ultimately if people opt not to license the patent, if they can't show us that they're not infringing, then that could result in patent infringement litigation. It's not our first choice but sometimes that becomes necessary. We have $30 million in the bank and we have the resources to enforce the patent as necessary," Berman said.
Those who choose to license earlier get a better deal, he said. Acacia is waiving past infringement initially but over time will stop doing that and will also raise royalties. "Those who license earlier on get the best deals," Berman said.
Not everyone believes the patent is valid. Jim Thompson, formerly the CTO of Wayport and currently with NetGate, weighed in on the topic on the Bay Area Wireless Users Group community site. Thompson says that Wayport was doing redirect before either the Nomadix or Acacia patents were filed. That could be grounds for reversing the patent, he said.
Acacia chose to approach operators that use products that do redirect rather than offering licenses to manufacturers because it can potentially earn more money from operators. "The user has recurring revenue, the manufacturer is a one-time sale," said Berman.
Nigel Ballard, director of wireless for Matrix Networks, has contacted Nomadix for advice on how to proceed since he received a package from Acacia. Matrix recently bought 37 Nomadix boxes and has others installed at hotels. Matrix sells systems to hotels so Matrix wouldn't be required to pay royalties to Acacia but its customers would. "If it comes down to it, do we have to go to Hilton and say, 'that box we sold you in good faith, apparently there's a patent infringement'? I don't want to have to do that," Ballard said.
Ballard is also involved with Portland's Personal Telco project and wonders if the group, which uses the open source NoCatAuth that has redirect built in, will also receive a letter. Berman said Acacia is looking into the community groups but hasn't made a determination about approaching them.
Update: Michael Oh of NewburyOpen.Net wrote in to note that he had also received a packet from Acacia relating to his free, business-supported Wi-Fi networking effort in Boston on Newbury Street. "Ironically, we don't use home page redirection on our public network, so they're obviously not doing their research," Oh said via email.
T-Mobile HotSpot offers secure login via 802.1X authentiation starting Tuesday with their own manager software, other 802.1X client software: T-Mobile has set the bar higher on hot-spot security by layering the 802.1X authentication process to allow individual logins through encrypted methods that provide a unique WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) key to each user. This prevents users on a network from seeing each other's credentials or traffic.
Joe Sims, the vice president of hot spots for T-Mobile, said in an interview Monday that security of hot spots has "kept Wi-Fi from being even greater than it is." Sims pointed out that "a lot of folks in the industry have been using other methodologies, such as VPNs [virtual private networks], which are very good."
However, not all of T-Mobile's users have access to VPN service, and the IT directors of companies with VPNs still want more security layered on top of their own efforts. "It's going to be another layer of enhanced security that corporations can depend upon," Sims said.
In 802.1X, access to the network beyond the access point is limited until a client authenticates itself through some method, typically a user name and password. The access point hands off the task of authentication to a back-end server, which tells the access point when the authentication has succeeded. In a secured 802.1X transaction, the client (called a supplicant) opens an encrypted tunnel to the back-end server to further protected credentials in transit against attempts to capture and then later crack or replay them.
For users with VPNs, the 802.1X transaction prevents details such as the IP address of the VPN server from being revealed, and could also prevent any putative VPN exploits from being usable in a hot spot. T-Mobile's 802.1X service is especially useful for consumers and travelers without VPNs as it provides them an effective defense against casual sniffers. Given T-Mobile's hot spot infrastructure, it would require physical intrusion and more to gain access to the network's traffic -- not just passive interception.
Explaining 802.1X is one of the problems with offering it, T-Mobile executives agreed. "It's a bunch of numbers; it seems like a bunch of gobblety-gook," Sims said. Just like Wi-Fi turned 802.11 standards into a household term, Sims thinks that 802.1X needs a "cool name" because "its time has come."
T-Mobile will offer an updated Connection Manager application for Windows that includes the 802.1X support. The software is a free download, and CDs containing the software will be available at hot spots like Starbucks and at T-Mobile's corporate cellular retail stores. However, Sims confirmed that standard 802.1X clients such as those included in Mac OS X 10.3 and Microsoft Windows XP will also work with the system.
For Connection Manager users, the update won't change the method by which they log in: 802.1X support has been added beneath the surface. "We tried to make it very seamless," said Paul Lopez, the senior product manager of advanced technology at T-Mobile.
During a transition phase of undetermined duration, T-Mobile will use VLANs (virtual LANs) to offer both the older, gateway-page based login, and the newer 802.1X service. The rollout is initially U.S. based in the 4,800-plus locations here. Sims said that European operations have about 3,500 locations, and that T-Mobile expects to top 10,000 hotspots in the U.S. and internationally combined by year's end with about 6,000 in the US and over 4,000 in Europe.
Sims has high hopes for the technically named 802.1X's more easily understood outcome: "This may be the tipping point for enterprises to more broadly adopt Wi-Fi."
The debate over whether cities should build Wi-Fi networks is hot enough to make the opinion page of a smaller metropolitan area's newspaper: St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a column arguing that it's not fair competition for city governments, which don't pay property or corporate income tax, to compete against commercial businesses. I don't have much sympathy for the Comcasts and Time Warners mentioned in this piece, but there are plenty of other boot strapped service providers that could end up competing with government-sponsored networks.
As this debate continues, I suspect some useful plans for how cities can help foster public Wi-Fi will emerge. Many onlookers cite examples where cities build Wi-Fi networks for public safety as good opportunities for the city to also offer that network to residents. Oklahoma City recently joined the ranks of cities building networks for public safety users.
Phil Belanger, vice president of marketing for BelAir offered another interesting example of how Wi-Fi can be made available to the public. In Encinitas, Calif., the downtown main street association decided to use Wi-Fi to promote the city as leading edge and also to offer broadband access, which isn't widely available in the area, to nearby residents. The association hired a service provider to build and maintain the network. Base stations are located on rooftops of member companies. The service provider aims for the monthly subscriptions from residents to serve as its regular bread and butter and figures revenue from the hotspot offering on the main street is gravy, Belanger said. While in this example the network sponsor is an association, it could just as easily be a city government that could negotiate for free or discounted access fees for hotspot users. In this case, a service provider has a business opportunity and the city can achieve some goals.
Belanger has been promoting collaborations between cities and commercial businesses, though he's not seeing much of it happen. Cities can contribute access to light poles or rooftops for network equipment to service providers who can help reach city goals of promoting growth or offering access to residents who might not be able to afford Internet access, Belanger said.
Analysts have been predicting consolidation in the Wi-Fi market but not much has happened yet: A few companies, however, have reached their limit. Bermai, a Wi-Fi chip maker, recently went under. Apparently there are some hints that Legra, a WLAN switch developer, may be on the way out. Ever since AirFlow switched its strategy to license its technology rather than sell products, observers have wondered if the company would stay in business for long. The upside is that some companies continue to get stronger.
Trapeze introduced today a wireless LAN switch designed for remote offices: The company joins a host of others who are addressing the wireless needs of branch offices. The Trapeze MXR-2 switch can support up to three access points and offers all the same features at Trapeze's larger capacity switches. The company built the switch from the ground up in order to deliver a product with the same feature set as its other switches but at a lower cost for customers. "The value for the customer is they don't have to think of the branch differently than the headquarters," said Bruce Van Nice, director of product marketing for Trapeze. "That's a useful thing because network managers don't like inconsistencies."
The switch costs $995 and APs range from $350 to $550.
Van Nice said the MXR-2 combined with Trapeze access points has some advantages over competing products. Some vendors offer enterprises fat APs for the remote offices instead of using a switch in the remote office. Van Nice said that architecture typically compromises the available features and the APs typically end up costing more than a switch designed for remote offices combined with dumb APs. Also, the architecture could require central administrators to manage and configure the remote APs separately rather than on an aggregated basis, Van Nice said.
The local switch also means that branch offices don't go down if the network at headquarters fails because the local switch handles security, authentication, and other functions.
Airespace offers an AP designed for remote offices that communicates over the wide area network with a switch at headquarters. The APs cost $750. ReefEdge offers a combined switch and access point designed for remote offices that costs $1,490.
Other solutions are also available from vendors such as AirWave which offers a management platform designed for enterprises that have as many as thousands of remote APs made by different companies.
The Trapeze product as well as the others indicate that enterprises are increasingly looking to manage their remote offices. Trapeze has noticed customers hoping to use their remote wireless LANs in interesting ways. For example, one Trapeze customer is a financial services company that hopes to offer secured access to the Internet for customers who visit the office, in addition to using the wireless access internally for connectivity.
On the heels of an announcement of an upgraded roaming settlement offering from iPass, AirPath introduced a roaming services platform: The service helps hotspot operators manage the contracting, rating, billing, settlement, and clearing among roaming partners.
The AirPath press release stresses that the solution is "provider neutral" which seems to be a response to services from iPass and RoamPoint. The Cloud is a majority shareholder in RoamPoint. Users of the iPass solution must essentially become part of the iPass network because they must allow iPass customers to roam onto their network.
Several months back roaming was the central issue in trying to encourage hotspot usage to take off. Now several companies have developed solutions making it easier for hotspot operators to form roaming deals with each other. Now, operators just have to start using these offerings.
Restaurants and bars that have Internet-connected jukeboxes can start adding Wi-Fi to offer hotspot service to patrons: After a test of the service with ten locations, venues found that customers stayed longer and spent more because of the hotspots. Pronto Networks will manage the network of hotspots.
It's not clear how many venues have these certain Internet-connected jukeboxes nor how many will decide to add the Wi-Fi component. In London, hotspots in pubs are common but that trend hasn't really picked up in the United States. I haven't found the need to pull out my laptop in a bar so I'll be curious to see what the demand and usage would be for hotspots in bars.