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WiTopia joins several other companies in offering affordable WPA Enterprise service, personal VPN: The company announced two products to help small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) and mobile workers. SecureMyWiFi, is an outsourced 802.1X offering using WPA Enterprise offering that provides the RADIUS and keying back-end needed to have unique keys for each user on a network based on their credentials (username and password). The rates start at $29 per year for a single access point and up to five users; additional APs are $10 per year each, while additional blocks of five users are $5 per year each. The system uses standard 802.1X clients.
SecureMyWiFi competes against similar offerings from Wireless Security Corporation (WSC Guard) and BoxedWireless. In a comparison chart I put together as part of an article for Mobile Pipeline, I noted that a 10-user setup from WSC cost $449.99 for the first year while BoxedWireless would run $288 for those parameters. In contract, 10 users from SecureMyWiFi on a single AP would cost $34 for the first year, while even assuming three access points would only cost $54 per year. Move up to 25 users and WSC Guard $1,124.75, BoxedWireless $1,212, and SecureMyFi (assuming four APs for coverage) would be $74 per year.
Their personalVPN offering provides an SSL-based VPN service for $79 per year which works out to $6.58 per month. This competes primarily, in my knowledge, against HotSpotVPN.com, which costs $8.88 per month for a PPTP VPN. WiTopia's explanation that PPTP "is susceptible to hacking" is a bad summary of the issue. PPTP encryption can be cracked through poor password choice. HotSpotVPN, like all PPTP VPN service providers, enforces good password choice which fully defeats the cracking hole. personalVPN is available only for Windows XP, but WiTopia promises a Mac OS X version.
Normally, in seeing price discrepancies this huge, my reaction would be, "Who are these crazy people and what are they trying to pull here?" But then I look at the management biographies, find the parent company Full Mesh Networks has been around for two years, and realize these guys aren't smoking pot, they're dealing it as a gateway drug.
Psychopharmacopia references aside, Full Mesh is a full-service network IT and mobile worker support outsourcing firm that manages enterprise-scale resources. WiTopia lets them work with the very large, very undersupported SMB market--and provides those smaller customers with a taste of the larger picture. The pricing is part business model, part marketing, and may produce some large quakes in the SMB network service market for Wi-Fi offerings.
USA Today labels Wi-Fi as so yesterday: Actually, they list Wi-Fi as an amenity that was once considered cutting edge but is now de rigeur and walk through what's now au courant.
Connexion by Boeing is popping up in airplanes all over the world: This overview of Connexion's technology, service, and performance appears at Tom's Networking, my first article for the site. Some of the Germany-based cohorts at Tom's Hardware provided information for the article based on Lufthansa flights they've taken. In general, Connexion is getting high marks for delivering consistent amounts of bandwidth with what seems to me to be remarkably low latency given the plane-satellite-ground station loop.
Xirrus launches its wireless LAN array: In a briefing last week, Xirrus executives explained that their product combines the utility of a wireless LAN switch with a single footprint that can coordinate frequency and signal pattern across as many as 16 channels using a combination of 802.11a and 802.11b/g with sectorized antennas. Gigabit Ethernet carries the traffic to and from the array; a redundant failover Gigabit Ethernet port and a 10/100 management port ensures throughput.
The WLAN array comes in three configuration: four ports, eight ports, or 16 ports (models XS-3500, XS-3700, XS-3900). All three models can work in 802.11a, b, or g mode for each radio, with up to 12 for 802.11a and up to four for 802.11b/g. Xirrus has baseband-level control of the radios which allows them to adaptively and dynamically change the signal strength and antenna scope. Because they're sectorized, that means each radio can serve a greater distance if needed than the typical indoor omnidirectional antenna--or back off as the RF environment requires.
The arrays have what are now required features of any switch: VLANs, multiple SSIDs per switch (up to 16), QoS, and assignment to VLAN based on authentication, SSID, or other factors. One of the radios on any model can be set to work as a monitor for security threats, like rogue access points.
The arrays can be managed using Layer 3 tunneling with a centralized platform, the XM-3300, which can handle up to 500 WLAN arrays. Because there's an extra 10/100 interface, the management can be entirely out of band of the actual network traffic. The arrays are powered with 48-volt DC which requires either direct electrical wiring for an AC adapter or the use of DC power over Ethernet--not the standard kind, but their 48-volt variety--that ties into their Remote Power System (XP-3100) at over 300 feet of Cat 5 Ethernet cable.
The Xirrus array is the logical extension of the WLAN switch concept. One of the early gating factors for WLAN switching was the necessity for all traffic to be routed from an access point back via Ethernet to a physical switch which had to manage all the data coming and going. While this added the benefit of VLAN-based roaming that was independent of a physical switch location, it also tied bandwidth to the computational and switching capacity of that centralized switch device. (Symbol's first "access port" system had only 10/100 Mbps Ethernet out the back even though it could aggregate hundreds of Mbps in its first incarnation.)
As the switch market as matured, makers have continued to wrestle with this problem by using Layer 2 tunneling to virtual switches, but there's only so much power and GigE you can throw at that problem as long as traffic must be routed. Xirrus's idea of putting centralized intelligence in a hub-and-spoke model of smarts that takes radio frequency control and switching and mixing them together is intriguing: they'll have to deliver on reduced cost of deployment, management, and increased throughput to sell their product. But there's an air of simplicity about it that should roil the WLAN switch market.
The array costs $3,999 for a four-port unit, $6,999 for eight ports, and $11,999 for 16 ports. The management platform costs from $4,999 for a 10 array manager up to $24,999 for a 500 array manager. The remote power system costs from $1,999 to power four arrays with three $999 modules that can be plugged in to power an additional four arrays each, or up to $3,996 to power 16 arrays. The equipment should ship in May. The array design is modular for replacement and radio upgrades.
An interesting sidenote to Xirrus's rollout is that they're investing heavily in the market's refreshed interest in 802.11a: 802.11a is apparently more and more appealing to businesses as they consider rolling out voice over IP over WLAN. (See our VoWLAN blog.) With 12 nonoverlapping channels that are designed for 54 Mbps--and no 802.11b devices to slow the network down--and 11 more channels on their way, 802.11a is an extremely appealing alternative to 802.11g for voice and streaming media. It's relatively inexpensive to buy dual-band client cards, and I expect businesses to start making the switch to a/g client purchases as they move forward.
New Zealand hospice uses Wi-Fi to offer Internet access to patients: One of the many difficult parts of winding one's life down is surely the absence of family and friends who cannot get to your bedside or spend as much time there as they or you would like. Providing Internet access could be a remarkable tool for those who want to communicate during their last days and would otherwise have to rely on intermediation, such as someone relaying messages. Of course, not all hospice patients will have the energy, facility, or desire, but it's one more attribute of respect to people's desire to connect.
The city's daily newspaper urges Wi-Fi rollout: I grew up in Eugene. This is a fairly conservative paper in a pretty liberal town. And there's no sock-puppet talk here. Just a concern about keeping Eugene, a kind of island in the middle of the state with a large liberal-arts university, on track to keep the economy humming. They don't suggest city-wide Wi-Fi, but downtown Wi-Fi for free, which is a good starting place to understand usage.
Eugene's downtown used to be cited by city planners because in the 1960s, they converted from a street-based downtown to a pedestrian-only one. Streets were paved over. Remarkably, shoppers and businesses slowly fled downtown into surrounding areas and the Valley River Center Mall a few miles away on the other side of the Willamette River. A few years ago, the pedestrian mall was ripped out and life has slowly returned to downtown.
I'm writing these works on a regular run of the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island: I hadn't yet--remarkably--had the chance to try out the regular prototype service that's been deployed on a majority of the Washington State Ferry system's runs. Mobilisa, a company based in Port Townsend, has built and is rolling out the test. A formal RFP will be issued this spring, based on earlier statements, to find a commercial provider that will take over operation, maintenance, and establish fees.
I'm seeing 200 Kbps down and 50 Kbps up, which is pretty good for a moving ferry in a test out in the middle of Elliot Bay. I'm sure Bainbridge commuters are overjoyed: the island is a bedroom community for many downtown workers who managed to buy property out there when it was still considered a bit of a backwater.
We've launched another three Weblogs on wireless: We're committed here at Wi-Fi Networking News, otherwise known as WNN, to cover and offer the widest array of reporting on wireless networking, whatever the standard. Several weeks ago, we added WiMax Networking News and WNN Europe to the mix to better separate the increasing number of stories in that area.
Today, we've started the engine on three new topics that are of high interest to our readers. As with our other new blogs, you can see the most recent headlines at the right side of any page on any of our sites.
Cell Data News will cover developments in 2G, 2.5G, 3G, and beyond in the U.S. and around the world.
Voice over WLAN is voice over IP (VoIP) over wireless LAN, but VoWLAN is the most common abbreviation. Many enterprises, schools, and homes are adopting different forms of VoWLAN to make roaming with voice as seamless as roaming with data without the issues and costs of interior cellular voice coverage.
MIMO + N News is the central point for details on the coming IEEE 802.11n standard for increasing wireless network throughput through the use of MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) antenna arrays alongside a variety of other technical improvements. MIMO devices have hit the market, but 802.11n is as long as two years away. We'll chart the course of both the market and the standard.
Train rider offers free Wi-Fi via cell: The Sounder runs from Seattle to Tacoma and has been an incredibly popular new run over the last few years--our first test of some of the new light- and heavy-rail to come. A member of our community wireless group, Seattle Wireless, has hooked up a Wi-Fi to cellular EDGE connection in his backpack. He's noted the car that he's to be found in during morning and evening commutes.
A colleague of mine at Peachpit Press in Berkeley, Calif., told me a few years ago about her former commute in the late 90s from Fremont to San Jose, working for Adobe. Someone on the train would always power up their laptop, turn on a Wi-Fi software base station, and connect to Metricom's Ricochet service. Everyone on the train would use the good samaritan base station during the trip. [link via BoingBoing]
Hartford's mayor promised free Wi-Fi access to residents citywide in his state of the city address: The Hartford Advocate looks into this network's feasibility. The mayor proposes to not just provide a free network, but also to give computers to less-advantaged local residents. Hartford has had a problem for decades and decades with "rich flight": it may be divided across racial lines, but anyone with any money moved across city lines. The county structure in Connecticut is very weak providing no shield to a big city with big problems. (My wife grew up in West Hartford; I spent five years in New Haven. It's pretty clear that wealthy suburbs can suck a city dry in a way that's not quite the same in other parts of the country.)
Comcast played its hand pretty broadly when the Advocate reported asked for comment. Declining, the spokesperson suggested an analyst at The Heartland Institute, a group I've written about extensively on this site which doesn't disclose funding and released a report rife with direct ties to Verizon and Issue Dynamics, an incumbent telecom and cable PR and lobbying firm.
The work is still in the planning stages, but with only a third of Hartford residents hooked up to the Internet--and 83 percent of the poorest family not surprisingly having no computer--the city sees this as a critical gap they want to close.
The headline is an in-joke, but there's an explanation: Lightlink, an ISP in Ithaca, New York, offering mostly wireless broadband connections, has installed free hotspots around town in a promotional effort. My friends and colleagues Adam and Tonya Engst live in Ithaca, and I co-wrote The Wireless Networking Starter Kit with Adam (Tonya editing). They're even Lightlink customers. And Tonya was part of the group that decided on allowing Wi-Fi at the Tompkins County Public Library mentioned in the article. It's a small town, but I guess not that small.
The Wisconsin city has a booster group that will hand out Wi-Fi decals for local shops: Spirit of Milwaukee will provide businesses with decals that identify them as Wi-Fi hotspots extending an earlier campaign by the non-profit cultural group to identify high-tech businesses with a blue light. (K-Mart, move over?) It's an interesting idea to establish a local brand for Wi-Fi availability: because each location will have different bandwidth and network quality, prices (from fee to yow-ee), and expectations (make a purchase, use the network), it might raise the right expectation in users. But it certainly will help local residents and frequent business travelers better know where to unplug in.
Airespace accepted Cisco's proposal, leading Alcatel and Nortel to tear up their dance card: Alcatel partnered with Aruba on Tuesday, and Nortel today said that Trapeze will fit into its line-up. Nortel will continue to sell the WLAN 2200 series which was developed with Airespace, but the 2300 embeds Trapeze technology. Alcatel will provide worldwide marketing for Aruba's products, and Aruba is excited about integrating Alcatel's Voice over WLAN and security components into its line-up.
The attention that MCI has gotten from its expanded hotspot network is bewildering to me: I cover the industry obsessively, and so I know that MCI is just reselling locations available from Boingo and Wayport. Still, there have been piles of articles trying to articulate how MCI's hotspot plan fits into their rest of their operations. There's a strategic goal there, of course, but the articles--not the one linked to, however--often confuse the private-label reseller relationship that Boingo has with MCI (and with Earthlink, Fiberlink, and other companies without -link in their names) and Wayport with, well, everyone, with MCI building out a hotspot network a la SBC or T-Mobile.
Although the IDG story linked to says that the service costs $40 per month for unlimited Wi-Fi/broadband when added to a dial-up and VPN account, it's unclear exactly how that works as MCI's Remote Broadband Access FAQ states that wireless charges are in addition to dial-up charges. Just another way in which it's hard to figure out what, precisely, something costs.
Meru claims it's more compliant than compliant: Meru Networks issued a very odd press release that stated that although they were already meeting Wi-Fi Alliance certification standards, they resubmitted their gear for "more rigorous tests than are used on its competitors."
But the outcome is that Meru is..."completely compliant."
There's back story here that wasn't exposed in the release. It sounds like someone has been talking smack about Meru. And now they are compliant, even though before they were...compliant. Sure, that takes the confusion out of the marketplace.
Addison, Texas, has franchised a wireless data network (map): The town awarded Plano, Texas's RedMoon the franchise to build and operate a wireless high-speed data network using Wi-Fi in the 4.3-square-mile town. There's no discussion of how get the coverage of a promised 1 Mbps inside buildings, and they do sound like they want to build a T-1 competitive service, which is tricky to unlikely for a general purpose cloud-style network. They could certainly mix and match equipment.
A Texas bill that will hit the house floor on March 23 once would have made even this sort of public/private franchise agreement illegal. Arm's length relationships wouldn't have helped. The provision was stripped but will likely return as an amendment.
What's fascinating about this is that although the town awarded a franchise, there should be no factors in place besides siting issues for towers or antennas that would prevent any number of competing WISPs in town. It's just unlikely that with one firm having city support that others would try to compete. As I've noted before, it might be better to hire a firm to operate the infrastructure and others that would sign up customers, thus separating the two functions and ensuring two separate robust layers. In a town this small, that probably wouldn't have worked, though.
Incumbents didn't raise a fuss, and RedMoon is careful to note that they're not going to be as fast as the incumbents. They'll likely compete more with low-speed DSL and even dial-up rather than with high-speed DSL and cable-modem service.
Criminals use Wi-Fi to hide their tracks: But not very always successfully. Some criminals aren't very bright and are using networks adjacent to where they live and having stolen goods shipped to them despite using other people's networks. Others are more clever and their use of random Wi-Fi networks prevents them being tracked down by law enforcement as they engage in death threats, fraud, and cracking.
The article also lumps together unsecured business and home networks with free Wi-Fi networks: "Ms. Hubert [the supervisory special agent in charge of the Cyber Task Force at the F.B.I. field office in Buffalo] says one group of hackers she has been tracking has regularly frequented a local chain of Wi-Fi-equipped tea and coffee shops to help cover its tracks."
I welcome this article because there has been a lot of speculative coverage before this as to whether Wi-Fi was being used in this manner. Now we have a number of agencies citing actual cases in progress or already in court.
The SBC number is a little odd, by the way: the spokesperson says that SBC has shipped one million Wi-Fi routers to its customers with encryption turned on. But I saw a number months ago that said that SBC had shipped nearly three million routers to customers (out of a population of five million DSL users at that time). Did two of the three million get shipped with encryption off?
The CTI's goal is to spur local broadband infrastructure: The idea is to get municipalities involved in stating their goals and needs for broadband, but the CTI doesn't support a particular method of reaching those goals. Each town and city should take action in understanding what they need instead of waiting for other interests--incumbent, governmental, or otherwise--to bestow broadband upon them. I wouldn't describe this group as pro-municipal broadband, but rather pro-municipal understanding of broadband.
I've lead a dogged pursuit of the financial connections among groups opposed to any municipal involvement in broadband, telecom, and cable, and I would be suspect if I didn't track the CTI's origins. The CTI lists "endorsers" and a "facilitator."
The endorsers include TechNet (huge variety of leaders of large technology firms as members), Public Technology Institute (city and county governments), AeA (board contains a vast array of technology companies), Information Technology Association of America (no membership list, but an array of large tech companies on its various boards). The facilitator is Digital Village Associates, a firm that works on private/public partnerships.
I see lots of capitalists in these lists. And lots of companies that sell to both public and private enterprises, and thus have every interest in ensuring more broadband and more partnership to improve American competitiveness and our economic vigor.
Humorous newspaper The Onion reports on Wi-Fi in infographic form: Easily digestible items note factoids such as Wi-Fi "facilitates blogging while/about doing laundry" and, most insightfully, "Puts modem, hub, and router maintenance in municipal government's able hands."
Karl Bode over at Broadband Reports reproduces a piece of Senate transcript featuring Verizon and SBC's CEOs: The two CEOs deny that they're interfering with municipalities and that they can't stop anyone from anything. Except they admit that they are lobbying and that municipalities are unfair competitors because, SBC's CEO Whitacre says, municipalities makes laws, charge franchise fees, and so forth--except that that only applies to cable and telecom, while broadband is generally unregulated and broadband is what is largely being fought.
There's this misleading exchange, too:
Kohl: In Pennsylvania, the law was adopted at the behest of [Verizon]’s lobbying. Is that correct?
Seidenberg: But it didn’t prohibit the municipality from providing the service. It gave us a chance to jawbone about it, but it didn’t prohibit it from doing it.
Of course, that's a lie or Seidenberg is a severely uninformed head of his own firm. The law absolutely forbids Philadelphia's network except that as part of a compromise by the governor's office before Rendell signed the bill into law Verizon provided a waiver that's allowed under the law. Verizon was absolutely not required to provide that waiver once the bill was signed and certainly would have denied it had the cry not been raised.
Remember: Pennsylvania's law puts total control of a town or city's residents decision to build or farm out a broadband, telecom, or cable network entirely in the hands of incumbent operators who get to veto it. An extra-legislative, extra-suffragist process is created that denies self-determination and hands it over to non-people: corporations.
Verizon's CEO also maintains that lobbying against municipal services isn't a "programmable activity"--I think he means programmatic--and they only go after egregious situations. Which is a complete falsehood unless he is, once again, utterly uninformed about his company's lobbying efforts.
Seidenberg also claims that municipalities can't build networks that work:
"We would also make the point that in all these places where municipalities want to get into this, with all due respect, they don’t do a very good job either. Which then impacts us because the cities usually come back to us and find a reason that we need to spend money to fix the things that have occurred."
Great. Now are you going to cite a list of cities provided by institutes that are paid for by your company indirectly through Issue Dynamics, and that list contains the misrepresentations of municipal operation that we've been talking about for weeks here? You can get back to us on that one with concrete examples of what you're saying that are provably true. I want to see them. I haven't seen a single one yet that's turned out to be a municipal failure, but I'm sure there must be at least one out there.
It would be even funnier if Verizon hadn't not built promised networks while accepting money to build them. I guess it's easier not to fail when you take the money and don't build the network.
Read the comments that follow Bode's transcript expert for more golden nuggets of first-hand detail, too.
See your faithful editor on the small, small screen: ZDNet asked me to engage in a 15-minute videocast on helping users troubleshoot Windows XP wireless problems, which I am unfortunately highly qualified to do, having spent the last few years working with XP and Wi-Fi. For instance, I discuss updating BIOS to solve persistent Wi-Fi connection dropping.
Yes, I am in Seattle as you can see by the Space Needle in the photographic backdrop behind me. Now what's ironic is that the Space Needle is across the street from the studio I shot my remote in.
The folks at Tricitybroadband.com have a page that refutes failures: Many of the anti-municipal networking foes have released misinformation about what they describe as financially flawed or failed networks around the U.S. Unfortunately, although there are certainly municipal services that haven't worked out--there have to be some failures--the ones that are bandied about are typically misrepresented. Tricitybroadband.com has a regularly updated page that provides the official response and financial details refuting this misinformation.
The point here would be to work with facts: if the facts that the utilities, cities, or Tricitybroadband is presenting are incorrect, then other facts could refute them. We could have, say, a real debate going in which real information was presented, examined, and conclusions reached.
Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital offers a fantastic, capitalist, classically conservative essay on municipal telecom/broadband: Benchmark is an investor in Tropos, disclosed in Gurley's essay, but his essay is one that should make those that favor self-determination in government and true competition cheer. He peels back in six points the problems with the rash of laws sparked by a March 2004 Supreme Court ruling to restrict municipal involvement in telecommunications infrastructure and service.
In brief, these laws: favor incumbents by eliminating competition, enforce the idea that oligopolies are competition, restricts American innovation, restricts leverage for municipalities over incumbent development, eliminates community service aspects of broadband, and removes self-determination. I call this classically conservative because he's in favor of competition, although many conservatives would exclude municipalities from being involved as competitors.
"In what is ostensibly the cornerstone "democracy" on the planet, one would think that the citizens in each of America's cities could simply "vote" on the services they believe make sense for their city to provide."
Carol Ellison writes about the tale of two companies interested in the muni space: Ellison runs through the issues facing Tropos, a Wi-Fi metropolitan mesh provider, and DynamicCity, which offers fiber to the premises (FTTP). "The anti-muni bills present a scenario where their companies aren't submitting bids to win the business. They're forced into negotiations with a competitor, the incumbent carrier, which understandably will want to protect the market and keep its competition out."
A report from the IEEE 802.11n task group says that TGn Sync won 56 percent of the vote: However, in the IEEE voting rules, that only provides provisional support. TGn Sync must now solicit more than 75 percent of the vote for their draft to become the proposal that's refined and eventually ratified. If they can't achieve a 75-percent supermajority for a revision of their proposal in May--or possibly even subsequent meetings--the vote rolls back to trying to get 50 percent support for a single proposal to move forward on.
In the 802.15.3a group on ultrawideband, for instance, no proposal reached the supermajority, and the process has been stalled while individual alliances and companies have separately moved forward on developing against their own group or company standards.
Update: Wi-Fi Planet has a great summary of this with a bit more procedural detail.
During my visit to Austin this week, I stopped by Wayport and recorded this interview: David Vucina, CEO of Wayport, the leading hotspot infrastructure builder, reseller network, and managed services operator in the industry, lead me on a tour around their new facility in Austin, Texas. I have to say it's quite impressive. I wondered aloud why all the functions of the company were in one place: warehouse, hotspot assembly, customer service, network operation system, system management, and administration. But after taking the tour, it was pretty clear: the company is more like a big IT (information technology) department for hire than, for instance, an Internet service provider.
There are times in this virtual world when it's useful seeing firsthand how things are done. For instance, I was able to see the assembly facility Wayport is using to prep the equipment that goes into the field. They have a separate area for assembling custom McDonald's boxes because they're putting so many of them together. The assembly manager said that they had shipped over 400 hotspot boxes of all kinds in a recent day. They're typically handling site surveys for 25 to 100 sites per week, and that isn't slacking off.
A customer service operator gave me a tour through their CRM software that lets them slice and dice problems in a variety of ways, such as all previous problems that hotel room or how that particular user authenticated onto their network. This is typical stuff for any robust customer service/technical support operation, but the tools are quite nice and the Tier 2 reps have access to very level technical details about the access point or access port.
In the 30-minute audio interview I recorded with Vucina, we talked largely about the hotspot world, Wayport's position in it, and what the company will do when the U.S. becomes largely unwired. We also spoke about the nature of Wi-Fi in complement to 3G cellular data.
Correlating hypocrisy: In Pennsylvania, incumbents are really concerned about taxpayers' money being spent without their oversight or on projects that don't benefit every single last citizen in equal measure every day of every week.
In Alabama, SBC and Alltel (but not Cox) support Senate Bill 980, which offers a huge gift in the form of reduced taxes--thus an increased reliance on taxpayer dollars to offer services--for those that are willing to build broadband in rural and non-rural counties to the tune of $36.5 million.
It would be interesting for a progressive Texas legislator to ask SBC at a hearing why they're willing to take government money on the one hand in one state but decry the use of government money on the other hand in Texas.
The cable operators are part of the opposition, says the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: "But opponents--notably cable operators such as Cox Communications and Comcast as well as small, rural telephone companies--say the bill is too open-ended and unfairly provides government subsidies for work they’ve already done without incentives." Exactly the question asked in Pennsylvania. These tax breaks amount to twisting arms to create a monopoly.
SBC used the ZIP code argument. A spokesman said, "A year or two ago, Mississippi passed broadband incentives that led to all but 3 percent of its ZIP codes lacking broadband access — and the national average is 6 percent." This argument has been shown elsewhere to be bankrupt. ZIP codes circle areas of citizens; larger areas have fewer ZIP codes. Install the most convenient broadband in that area and you may have met a legal test or a statistical one. But it's forum non conveniens for people who don't life in the limited broadband areas in many of those ZIP codes.
As even-handed as I have tried to be about whether municipal broadband makes sense, it's awfully clear that instead of trying to encourage a commercial monopoly to do business in a place they don't want to by offering them negative money (less they spend, but still reducing government revenue), that this $36.5 million potential dollars could be used for large seed projects to build vendor-neutral networks which would allow citizens to subscribe to local ISPs, Earthlink, MSN, SBC, Cox, etc.
I think legislators are using the only blunt instruments they have available to them here, even if it doesn't make sense.
Springfield, Missouri, launches downtown Wi-Fi with no fuss: BelAir supplied the gear that provides service primarily to college students. The utility-run service cost $70,000 to set up and only offers an hour of access at a go, keeping SBC's objections at bay.
San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission votes to look further into municipal wireless: They'll spend $300,000 to figure out whether they can build a municipally run broadband network. I hope they set realistic goals, like charging for access for most users, having free hotzones in public places, and having good goals for speed, like 500 Kbps, not 5 Mbps into homes.
Sacramento is looking into it, too: They want to blanket downtown with free Wi-Fi with a private company providing the service.
Meetinghouse has licensed its AEGIS application interface to Broadcom: This should allow Broadcom to add robust authentication more easily instead of the standard drivers and within firmware that they offer to their manufacturing partners. Then companies like Linksys can put, for instance, PEAP-based 802.1X support with both Cisco and Microsoft inner authentication methods into a consumer-level device that might be used in a medium-sized business.
Aiirmesh is launching a pilot that offers Wi-Fi access on buses in Cerritos, Calif: Aiirmesh is the company that built a Wi-Fi network that covers the 8.6 square miles of Cerritos and now covers seven surrounding cities. In fact, this press release offers far more detail on those networks as well as what the buses look like than the actual onboard service. I'm guessing that the service is aimed at passengers but I could be wrong and it may instead serve the bus system. It's also unclear exactly what the network will look like.
Listen to an hour of discussion at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) on municipal broadband: Deep in the heart of Texas, mere blocks from the State House where a bill is under consideration to ban all forms of municipal networking, I led a panel discussion at SXSWi with three people well poised to discuss the issues: Esme Vos of muniwireless.com, Rich MacKinnon of Austin Wireless, and David Isenberg of the SMART Letter.
The conversation was fairly focused, and you'll hear the same themes over and over again: disruptive technology is threatening incumbents who are trying to prevent all forms of experimentation and innovation by municipalities because any success on these fronts could produce competitive private businesses.
All three panelists agreed the innovation and competition were good. Esme and I agreed that utilities should facilitate competition but don't necessarily need to own and operate broadband networks themselves--but be allowed to bid them out, provide access, and otherwise facilitate them. Rich MacKinnon has worked extensively with public/private partnerships for free Wi-Fi, so he has a more complex view on this. David Isenberg wrote in later to clarify what I posted here to note that he fully supports municipally run broadband: "Not that I believe that utilities are the greatest entrepreneurs, but because (a) they're well positioned (b) the future is unknowable and (c) there are more than a few success stories in that sector already."
The audio quality is mixed: you can hear the panelists quite well, but questioners and commenters from the audience--including well-known quantities like Jock Gill, Dewayne Hendricks, Cliff Skolnick, and Jon Lebovsky--are a little faint.
An article in yesterday's Austin Business Journal--in which publication my picture will appear in about two weeks in an unrelated story--points out that even airport-based Wi-Fi and broadband could be threatened because the contract that the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has with Wayport would be banned under the first form of the house bill.
Nortel said it will offer a converged CDMA and WLAN platform: The offering means that CDMA operators can deploy WLANs to deliver higher-bandwidth at a lower cost. This type of offering will make a lot of sense once more combined Wi-Fi and cellular devices become available. Cellular operators most likely won't be interested in converged solutions that require them to offload traffic from their cellular networks onto WLANs owned by someone else. But it makes sense for them to offload cellular traffic onto WLANs they own and this type of offering from Nortel should make it easier for operators to efficiently deploy both types of networks. The platform supports seamless roaming between the two types of networks.
Boingo and Kyocera said they'll work together on a combined cellular and Wi-Fi handset: The device will enable seamless roaming between cellular networks and hotspots. The idea is to support both voice and data services that can continue operating while a user is moving from the range of a cellular network into a hotspot. The phones will integrate Boingo's roaming software for connectivity and authentication to hotspots.
Such an integrated device will make it much easier for customers to use voice or other services over Wi-Fi if only because the Boingo application will help with hotspot login and authentication. The press release also is touting the benefit such a combined device will offer to users of higher bandwidth cellular applications, such as streaming video, because such services will operate better over the higher speed Wi-Fi networks.
The key to this announcement, however, will be seeing cellular operators choose to sell the resulting device. Most of the combined cellular/Wi-Fi handsets that operators have said they'll be selling so far purposely don't support voice on the Wi-Fi component. Some operators have discussed combined cellular/Wi-Fi PDAs, which would allow users to download a voice over IP client and use it over Wi-Fi but the service wouldn't be integrated with the cellular network. Most cellular operators aren't promoting the use of voice over Wi-Fi, even though most also say that voice over Wi-Fi is no threat to their cellular businesses.
Boingo also said that it, along with Kyocera, have joined BridgePort Networks' MobileIgnite Alliance. BridgePort describes the alliance as a group of companies "committed to standards-based, interoperability" of mobile voice over IP convergence solutions. In reality though, MobileIgnite pushes the use of BridgePort's solutions to support the integration of cellular and Wi-Fi networks. While the end result makes more sense than UMA because BridgePort's solution takes the most advantage of the efficiencies available by carrying voice over broadband IP networks, the last time I talked to BridgePort the solution required cellular operators to integrate BridgePort's products into their networks. While possible, I think that BridgePort may fight an uphill battle to convince many cellular operators to deploy a solution that offloads traffic from their networks onto hotspots that are potentially owned by another operator.
Cingular jumps into Wi-FI market with Wayport, others: The other shoe dropped. Cingular is 60 percent owned by SBC, which has the most ambitious, well-priced, and comprehensive plan of any of the telephone carriers, fixed line or wireless. And I'm not just saying that because I'm writing these words in Austin, Texas, SBC's real home territory. Cingular announced that their Wi-Fi plan will include all of Wayport's roaming network, apparently not including the McDonald's locations. They also made deals with StaOnline (hotels) and Concourse (airports). Cingular took over AT&T Wireless's locations after the merger, which include Denver International Airport and northeast corridor Amtrak stations.
The deal doesn't mention SBC FreedomLink, which has several thousand of its own locations now, but I would expect that to be included at some point, especially since Wayport builds and manages those locations, so integration should be trivial. And Cingular isn't reselling its locations back out to other operators or aggregators beyond those deals that are already in place.
The announcement tries to focus on EDGE, the nationwide deployed 2.5G service that AT&T Wireless had completed before the merger, and was one of its gems. EDGE will eventually migrate north to UMTS and then HSDPA with much faster speeds. EDGE delivers dial-up modem or better, with rates up above 100 Kbps, but it's certainly still trumped by EVDO basic double to quadruple rate with much higher bursty rates. (See Mike Masnick's remarks in the comments that Cingular is leapfrogging UMTS and abandoning its AT&T Wireless UMTS customers and markets. I'm not sure I believe this will happen, frankly.)
Which is why it's a little weird that Cingular is pricing unlimited EDGE at $80 per month with an extra $20 per month bringing you unlimited Wi-Fi at 4,000 locations. True, Cingular has the highest-speed national network with EDGE, but that's like saying, we can bring you a 4 oz. beef patty everywhere when the competitor is delivering a small but juicy steak at the same price but just in certain outlets and a 2 oz. beef patty elsewhere (1xRTT with fast dial-up speeds). There's a market decision here that might be based on appearance rather than producing demand especially since Cingular says in the press release EDGE and Wi-Fi are being sold through its business group not to general consumers.
Four options are affordable for enterprise-grade security inside a small office: This article, which I wrote for Mobile Pipeline, addresses the four servers and services that have a price and focus square on the small business of 5 to 100 users. Above that range, and you really better have an IT department and integrate your directory services. But for a few dollars per user period (in house) or per month (hosted), a small business can have a level of Wi-Fi link security that approaches that of a large enterprise.
Nokia has put its weight behind the WWiSE proposal: WWiSE and the competing TGn Sync consortium have a similar set of ideas, but WWiSE says that it's approach provides more optional extensions that will make it easier to have a subset of devices with room to grow in the future instead of burdening all devices with the load of meeting certain difficult-to-implement technologies. TGn Sync says, "Pshaw" to that.
The 802.11n task group will vote next week during an IEEE meeting. If either proposal receives more than 50 percent of the votes, it will move forward, but requires 75 percent of votes at this or the next meeting to be accepted as the basis of drafts. If the majority winning never achieves the supermajority through compromise, they all take one step backwards.
Newly merged ultrawideband consortiums report that the FCC has granted a waiver enabling their technology: The Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA) and The WiMedia Alliance, recently merged together, sent out an email just now that the FCC has approved a waiver that allows them to deploy their OFDM-based technology. MB-OFDM wasn't prohibited from use in the FCC-approved UWB frequency range, but there were issues about measurement that have been on the table for almost two years since the FCC declined to take a position on disallowing OFDM versus the "classic" mode of UWB which is championed by FreeScale.
Tim Higgins analyzes the response from the WiMedia Alliance ("we won!") and Freescale ("we won!"). Freescale expects to get a waiver under the same rule but are stating that they can achieve four times the data rate or use one-quarter the power as MB-OFDM.
Broadcom should be chortling with glee today as the leading consumer Wi-Fi maker demonstrates its one-button security setup: Broadcom's second-generation SecureEasySetup lets consumers add WPA encryption to a network by clicking a button (in software or hardware) on an access point and then on devices that need to be added. I wrote extensively about SecureEasySetup and some of my concerns about, along with Broadcom's answers to, denial-of-service and man-in-the-middle nuisance attacks (read overview, contrasted with Atheros solution, and a follow-up).
Linksys and HP committed to adding SecureEasySetup back in January, and Linksys demonstrated upcoming hardware at the German technology trade show CeBIT yesterday.
At the VON conference this week, Broadcom demonstrated connecting a Wi-Fi voice over IP phone to a network using SecureEasySetup.
The 802.1X protocol for authenticating users and restricting access is starting to hit the big time: This long feature, which I wrote for Mobile Pipeline, walks through how the 802.1X specification works, how it can be secured, and what benefits it is bringing to businesses and academic institutions that want to segregate traffic, control access, and provide a high level of security to their wireless links.
After talking to vendors and customers, it's clear that all the pieces needed to make 802.1X a consistently deployed, secure, successful method of authentication are in place. Even better, 802.1X can secure wired and wireless networks with equal ease, preventing rogue access points, unauthorized Ethernet users, and even sticking virus-infected legitimate users on special VLANs to solve their problems before they hit the LAN.
Aruba will release some of its access-point code under open-source licenses: Trapeze may follow: Peter Judge at Techworld reports the fascinating news that Aruba wants more Atheros-based access points to incorporate their secret sauce by making it no longer secret. They'll post source code on Sourceforge under open-source copyright agreements. This commodifies the AP, pushing Aruba's intelligence entirely into the controlling switch and reducing overall cost of management. Judge reports that Trapeze is expected to make a similar announcement.
Now wait a minute, your grizzled editor thinks to himself aloud, scratching his head, where have I heard this model before?
Oh, yes: Sputnik. Sputnik's first centralized management software release through its current one relies on firmware incorporated into access points that they make available at no charge to commoditize the AP and put value into the central controller. But Sputnik is a management tool; Aruba is a switch vendor. It's interesting to see the model recapitulate itself.
Update: NetGear will pursue Aruba certification for their access points, Tom's Networking reports.
Councilman Frank Rizzo suggests Philadelphia re-activate Ricochet network: I'd like to ridicule Rizzo here as I have elsewhere for making statements that have little technical merit and use dubious background research that comes from paid-for policy institute reports. But I can't. This is a very interesting idea, reactivating the former Metricom's ubiquitous low-broadband-speed network as an experiment.
While a modern infrastructure is needed for Philadelphia's public-safety purposes and for their broadband proposal, reactivating Ricochet would allow the city to start immediately on bridging the digital divide at an extremely low cost. It's a way to test how the market and citizens respond to faster-than-dial-up. There's very little risk, and the company that owns Metricom's assets appears eager to be involved.
But one comment in the story can't stand. Steven Schwendemann, "a vice president for Ricochet Networks Inc., a subsidiary of YDI Wireless," said, "WiFi cannot go through walls." That's a very interesting statement, and I imagine he said in more depth that Wi-Fi can't easily penetrate indoors from distant access points without additional equipment than built-in Wi-Fi adapters. In many mesh Wi-Fi installations, high-gain interior access point/bridges are used to solve that problem.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the city thinks about muni-Fi: the city's early estimates are under $20 million for a network somewhat similar to Philadelphia's upcoming proposal request. Unfortunately, the local alderman who wants to study the idea made this crazy statement:
"If you looked at 500,000 Chicago households that presently are accessing the Internet and multiply that by $20 (a month), that could be a huge amount of money," the alderman said.
Right, but you'll be offering speeds far below the wired broadband providers--and you probably should not be trumpeting the idea that your goal is to steal customers from existing providers, which is a pretty unlikely proposition.
But the good news is that the Heartland Institute is based in Chicago on LaSalle and would thus be forced to leave the socialist city (and its socialist public roads, public lights, public electricity, and public police) into some bastion of democracy elsewhere. Maybe Texas?
Esme Vos at Muniwireless.com has published her regular comprehensive report: This free report is invaluable because it contains the detail that's often hard to pull together about deployed municipal wireless networks. It should be ammunition for any debate in which the question of whether there are successful networks out there is raised. This is also a good thing because most of the anti-municipal broadband folks, both the reasonable ones and the ones who are acting by proxy for incumbents, keep citing fiber-optic network costs and failures. (Even though most of those networks were or are successful, which is an entirely different topic of discussion.) The report also covers the state of legislation to prohibit or limit municipal broadband.
Wayport streams music in Austin's airport: The streaming audio service is available to Wayport users at the Austin-Bergstrom airport through a relationship with the Texas Music Group, which features many local artists. The music service is free once you're connected to Wayport's network in the airport. The timing is perfect just before SXSW, which I'll be attending the interactive portion of.
Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute equates municipal broadband with socialism: In any discussion in which two parties are ideologically opposed it is inevitable that the leftists call the rightists Nazis (or sometimes vice versa and the rightists call the leftists communists or socialists. Bast is the founder and head of The Heartland Institute, and he purveys the latest misrepresentation of the facts surrounding municipal networks. He calls municipal networks "an experiment with socialism" rather than, as I would expect a true conservative to do, call anti-municipal bills an experiment with state-controlled institution of de facto monopolies and duopolies reducing competition and innovation.
"Advocates of municipalization accuse anyone who disagrees with them of being in the pocket of big telecom companies." I am not an advocate of municipal networks. I am an advocate of competition in local markets which municipalities may have to be involved in fostering or wresting control over despite the obvious concerns and problems with government offering technology services. Many of the bills under consideration or passed into law effectively prevent competition with incumbents in the guise of restricting municipal networks by disallowing municipalities the ability to foster FCC-recommended public/private partnerships.
I am an advocate of public safety and homeland security improvements through better use of technology to replace, supplement, or add to the tools of fire, police, and rescue, which many municipalities would be banned from building even if they do not offer any services to the public under the most severe of the anti-municipal bills.
I am an advocate of libraries and other similar organizations offering Wi-Fi to their patrons, a position echoed in the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) and Heartland Institute co-authored reporter on municipal networking--Wi-Fi that would be banned under the Texas bill currently under consideration.
I do not accuse The Heartland Institute of being in the pocket of big telecom. I can't because they don't reveal their funding. I created a chart, posted weeks ago, that shows the connections direct and barely indirect between Verizon and all of the board members of the NMRC and several individuals involved in the NRMC/Heartland municipal network report. The ones that don't have connections to Verizon are principally those that do not disclose their funding, so it's impossible to know.
Bast's non-denial denial doesn't say that Heartland nor any of the affiliated parties in this report haven't taken money from telecoms. Everything in the chart is built from publicly available information provided on the Web sites or in non-profit IRS filings from the organizations. I'm not imputing anything. Bast also says elsewhere that no one organization contributes more than about 10 percent of Heartland Institute's budget. Which is easy to read between the lines that some organization do contribute up to about 10 percent of their budget.
"Municipal governments can and do use coercion to drive competitors out of the market." This is absolutely true. Thomas Hazlett likes to point out the inconsistency between Philadelphia spending years fighting RCN entering the Philly cable TV market and now miraculously discovering the benefit of competition via public/private partnership. I've heard from others that municipalities cherry pick the customers they serve allowing them to bypass universal service provisions that incumbents are subject to.
"To see the future of municipal broadband, look at rural telephone exchange operators. They hold onto last century's technology, rely on massive public subsidies, tolerate no competition and offer no consumer choice." Strangely, this just reminds me of incumbent, monopoly and duopoly telecommunications and broadband services in most major cities and virtually all served smaller cities and towns. There's a myth that incumbents don't receive taxpayer dollars through the form of taxes and surcharges collected and used directly by the incumbents and taxes paid separately that are used to subsidize incumbent services.
"Early estimates of Philadelphia's proposed "free" Wi-Fi network, for example, were widely criticized as being far too low." Philadelphia never proposed a free network and they're not proposing it today. San Francisco has, and it's not yet even at the proposal stage, and I expect never will be. The people who said the price was too low didn't provide realistic alternative pricing; Philly councilman Frank Rizzo came up with a number out of thin air that doesn't correspond to the densities and capital/maintenance costs experienced in real private and public infrastructure of the same kind.
"The right choice is not municipalization but getting government out of the way and letting private companies compete for our business." I could not agree more with getting government out of the way. If any of these anti-municipal bills had any hope of allowing CLECs or other competitive broadband, telecom, and cable providers entry into a market, I would be cheering.
Instead, the anti-municipal bills are tools of retrenchment, refranchising, and renegotiation by the incumbent carriers.
If you're interested in where Voice over IP over WLAN is heading in the enterprise, listen to this interview with Telesym: I met over in Bellevue, Wash., today with Telesym, a firm that extends an enterprise-based phone exchange (PBX) system into laptops, handhelds, and "scanners": bar-code devices used in retail and logistics by store and floor personnel.
I spoke with Mike Houston, Telesym's director of Marketing, Ken Myer, senior VP of sales and marketing, and Jennifer Gehrt, a founding partner at Communiqué Public Relations about Telesym's position in the market, but more largely about the future of VoWLAN. (Ken had to leave for a meeting, so I spoke primarily with Mike in this podcast).
You'll hear at the outset of the recording after my introduction a conversation we had using Telesym technology: I was on a USB headset connected to a Telesym client running under Mac OS X; Mike was on a cellular phone. I had the recorder up to the headphone on the headset; next time, I'll plug the recorder into the line out on the laptop to better demonstrate the quality.
PC World's advice: go MIMO if you need range: A very sensible array of advice from Becky Waring over at PC World based on testing several of the current MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) Wi-Fi gateways and adapters on the market. Waring offers the same recommendation that I have, which is that for homes or small businesses for which the price premium overcomes the cost and/or hassle of installing many individual access points, a MIMO gateway makes a great deal of sense.
I would add that for networks in which throughput over Wi-Fi is a significant issue over short distances (up to about 50 feet), MIMO is the only technology on the market that can increase throughput even with existing 802.11g cards to their highest level at their greatest distance.
If you don't need range or speed and adding access points is not a big deal--you have Ethernet installed throughout a house or office or understand how to configure Wireless Distribution System and can deal with its limitations--then the price premium is probably worth sitting on your wallet as the cost of this technology drops rapidly because of unit sales and competition.
Meanwhile, Mobile Pipeline's editor writes about MIMO's early use in business: It's not ready for the enterprise yet, but even consumer-scale and early small-office MIMO gear has unmistakable benefits in certain cases that Haskin lists.
Intel says that a USB 2.0 dongle will bring UWB's simplicity to computers within a year: Wireless USB has a great potential to replace a myriad of proprietary and confusing standards for wired and wireless connections that are designed to hook peripherals into a computer. Combine the 480 Mbps short-range speed of UWB with the 480 Mbps wired-speed of USB 2.0 and it's a perfect (not coincidental) match.
Intel said at their Developer Forum this last week that a USB 2.0 dongle would add ultrawideband to computers with the ease of plugging it in. The company didn't explain association, though: if I have a stack of Wireless USB-enabled hard drives sitting around a bunch of computers, how do I associate a given hard drive with a given Wireless USB adapter?
The devil is in this detail, as this is what has rendered Bluetooth complex--it uses pairing, or entering the same pass digits or phrase on two devices to connect them--and Wi-Fi susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks. The Bluetooth SIG told me they're trying to pare down the complexity, pun intended, while the two leading Wi-Fi chipmakers, Atheros and Broadcom, each have their own one-button association method that combines connection and security.
Wireless USB will need something equally slick. I can suppose a system in which you hit a button on a drive or other peripheral and then enter that device's four-digit Wireless USB number printed on the back or underside in a piece of computer software to associate it. UWB has terrific security in that the range of the fastest version doesn't penetrate far so you have to be right on top of a device operating at 480 Mbps to even start to hack it.
Or so I think. How soon after the first UWB devices ship do we get UWB Crack? Maybe days, maybe decades. [link via Engadget]
Michael Copps, FCC commissioner, speaks out in favor of municipal self-determination: Copps is one of two Democrats out of five FCC commissioners, and he is favor of allowing municipalities to determine whether or not building broadband networks makes sense for their citizens.
He says, "I think we do a grave injustice in trying to hobble municipalities. That's an entrepreneurial approach, that's an innovative approach. Why don't we encourage that instead of having bills introduced--'Oh, you can't do this because it's interfering with somebody's idea of the functioning of the marketplace.' And then the marketplace is not functioning in those places."
He also notes, "...a municipality is a democratically run institution. They can make their own decisions."
What this issue keeps coming down to is: why are state legislatures making decisions that reduce the ability for self-determination of their municipalities in consultation with the taxpayers who write the checks and elect officials.
Taxpayers are already, without their consultation, feeding billions of dollars in subsidies, tax abatement, and other money from public coffers or their own pockets in the form of surcharges and telecom taxes directly to private companies. This use of taxpayer dollars isn't on the table, for some reason. Only the issue of how municipalities might fund--through risk-limited public/private ventures, bonds, or other mechanisms--broadband networks in towns and cities where they're hungry for competitive Internet access or have no high-speed service at all.
A fairly strident interview with CEDX's head, Craig Plunkett, about the failure of the tri-state rail system to add Wi-Fi: Craig is a great correspondent and a straight shooter over the years we've written back and forth about New York, New Jersey, and even Connecticut Wi-Fi and cellular data issues. His company, CEDX, does conventional network installations, but Craig's passion is Wi-Fi. He has a variety of interesting projects all over the New York area.
He's particularly irritated and interested--you can tell by this interview--in why it's so hard to get the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that runs the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road and Bus lines to care about adding Wi-Fi when it would be so easy to put together a subsidized test project. Don't they care about riders' needs? No, he says, they don't. Nobody's job is on the line because passengers complain.
Craig also notes that the MTA seems to be seduced by 3G. Now, 3G is a great technology and you'd think it would be perfect for railroads which move rapidly and cover often the same ground as highways or communities that would be the first to get 3G build-outs. But it turns out, as I wrote in The New York Times last July, most transportation vehicles are big metal shells that block cellular signals effectively enough to make data transfer problematic.
The solution could be a hybrid in which Wi-Fi isn't strung on posts but rather distributed through cars which then talk to cellular or other transmitters along the route. This is the model that PointShot Wireless has been pursuing with partners in the U.S., Canada, and the UK to deploy railroad-Fi.
Dartmouth plans video, VoIP on its Wi-Fi network: Dartmouth is the college that discovered nearly two years ago that it's cheaper to offer free U.S. long-distance calling to all campus lines than it was to manage the accounting and billing process for said service. Last year, they started trying VoIP over Wi-Fi using special phone. Now they're planning for video over 802.11a and a more rapid transition to VoWLAN calling.
Dartmouth chose 802.11a not just because it lacks interference from lots of non-WLAN devices, but because they are using 802.11b-based VoIP phones, which means that these phones can steal quite a lot of time slots at each access points just by being in use if they had gone with 802.11g for video. Instead, video will stream at 802.11a, while voice and data can remain on 802.11b and 802.11g. (A commenter below notes that the article incorrectly states that the entire network drops to 11 Mbps when an 802.11b device associates: in fact, the 802.11b device just takes up more "space" on the network reducing the ability of 802.11g devices to broadcast by reducing the amount of open signal time.)
The network will quadruple access point raw numbers to get the density right to support Wi-Fi. They're switching from Cisco APs to an Aruba WLAN switch-based architecture to provide better signal and data flow management.
Dartmouth is also aggressively pushing VoIP: 4,000 of 7,000 phone lines on campus are VoIP, but the article notes just a few hundred use Wi-Fi. That's set to change, too, and they may adopt Vocera communicators based on the a reference in the article.
Reduced IT burden, increased security for the smaller enterprise: The overall IT burden for small businesses has grown ever larger, which is why it's heartening to see the latest in an ongoing series of efforts by Wi-Fi-related software developers and Wi-Fi hardware manufacturers to provide enterprise-style network offerings with small-business pricing and knowledge in hand.
Elektron from Corriente Networks is a proud member of that family of goods. This RADIUS server is designed with one purpose in mind, rather than the Swiss Army knife approach of Windows 2003 Server or Mac OS X Server: Elektron secures wireless networks using WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) Enterprise, a flavor heretofore out of reach of those who couldn't spend thousands of dollars on server software and wanted the largest array of standard 802.1X client support.
WPA Enterprise uses a secured login for each user that's coupled with a unique, regularly updated, long encryption key. This eliminates the problem of a shared key being stolen or socially engineered out of an employee. It also avoids having to enter a new key on every computer on the network whenever the shared key needs to be changed. WPA Enterprise rotates around identity instead of a key.
By using a robust WPA key that's unique, the wireless network layer can be virtually assured of full protection from snoopers. The same amount of care needs to be taken with physical intrusion, in which a cracker gains access to the Ethernet network, but it eliminates over-the-air risks.
Elektron brings this to a small office using standard protocols and software and a server that works under both Mac OS X 10.2.8 and later and Windows XP, 2000, and Server 2003.
Read the rest of this review after the jump...
Well, we were all wondering where February went to: Philadelphia has delayed releasing its detailed plan for a wireless broadband infrastructure from early February to an unknown time. There's a missing piece in this coverage that I wanted to mention: Dianah Neff keeps saying "broadband" while Comcast and Verizon say "broadband" and they don't mean the same thing.
Neff's project will be able to deliver reliably hundreds of Kbps. Whatever they build starting today won't put megabits per second into people's homes. Comcast and Verizon can, today, put 3 to 6 Mbps of downstream bandwidth at only slightly more than the city's proposed price albeit in the locations they have facilities to offer it.
By late 2006, when Philly's plan is fully unveiled, even if they use the most modern widely used most inexpensive equipment, the incumbents will be offering 10 to 20 times the bandwidth at likely 20 to 50 percent higher cost. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi is a great way to reach a large audience but it cannot reach every resident with its full potential nor can even the most ideally placed residents achieve consistent speeds at a level that incumbent wired providers can easily push through.
I don't understand why this hasn't been factored into the reporting or the critique on either side of this divide. The point of Neff's network is to offer broadband speeds everywhere. Ten times faster than a modem is broadband and it enables true Internet connectivity for audio, limited video, and virtually all other purposes. One hundred to 200 times dial-up speeds takes you into an entirely different realm in which video-on-demand, downloadable movies, and multi-line VoIP are all trivial.
This will create a new digital divide, but one that's less critical than today's. Verizon and Comcast should be trumpeting their speed and what they envision possible in 18 months. It would be more effective (and more frank) commentary. Comcast once again in this article explains how, without building wireless networks themselves, they are more qualified to explain to the city and its taxpayers how difficult it is rather than, say, a town that has built a large municipal network with wireless.
This is the first article in which Verizon confirms they will bid on parts of the Philadelphia plan, which sort of defeats the whole argument that this is a municipal-run network that can't be built. The article also notes that thousands of access points will be required, which seems realistic.
Councilman Frank Rizzo chortles with glee about the delay in this Wall Street Journal article; he also wrote a letter (linked from the article) to the Journal criticizing Lee Gomes's recent column on Philadelphia's plan. Rizzo is parroting lines provided by the sock puppets I've exposed elsewhere, so he's acting indirectly on behalf of Verizon and Comcast through their intermediaries. This is interesting because Rizzo receives thousands of dollars in contribution from IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 98 which is full of folks who build networks and work for incumbents and others. Does the union understand that Rizzo isn't acting in their interests by trying to suppress competitive networks that would increase overall demand for their labor? Or does the union expect these new networks will all be the work of non-union employers?
In Rizzo's letter, he cites Georgia, Iowa, and Oregon as failures. These are fiber-optic installations he's citing, and while I don't know the details on Iowa, both Marietta, Georgia, and Ashland, Oregon's systems have been widely misrepresented through clever accounting omissions by the folks criticizing them.
You'll note that Washington (Tacoma) isn't included in that list. The "analysts" who have critiqued municipal networks do learn: they started omitting Tacoma around the time the New Millennium Research Council report came out because Tacoma (really Tacoma Power, a separately chartered public institution) comes out fighting and has entirely open books on their Web site that refute the contentions of earlier reports. (I've completed half an interview with Tacoma Power that I need to finish so I can write about their fascinating network here.)
Rizzo also doesn't seem to understand how a city could structure a plan in which a private partner would assume all risk. Private/public partnerships are structured all of the time like this and I imagine that the city has some in place already that have the same fiscal controls and contracts.
SBC adds 3,300 Airpath and Boingo, Airpath adds 3,400 FreedomLink hotspots(corrected story): SBC will let its FreedomLink users roam onto 3,300 Airpath hotspots, while simultaneously reselling access to SBC-operated hotspots back to Airpath and also to Boingo. This makes SBC FreedomLink one of the largest hotspot aggregators in the world, while increasing Boingo's raw count (including both active and contracted locations) to over 16,000. (Read also my colleague Eric Griffith's analysis at Wi-Fi Planet--he has much more detail on the Airpath part of the deal.)
This press release explains SBC's somewhat opaque pricing. SBC offers FreedomLink for $19.95 per month for FreedomLink's own locations. But they add an extra $20.00 per month to have access to the roaming locations run by other networks. That was never clearly explained before. FreedomLink now or will soon include thousands of roaming locations, including Wayport hotels, Concourse Communications airports, and Telmex hotspots.
FreedomLink's home network includes The UPS Store and Mailboxes Etc., Caribou Coffee, and Barnes & Noble. But it also confusingly includes the McDonald's restaurant that Wayport is unwiring and reselling.
So Wayport-managed FreedomLink locations: FreedomLink home network.
Wayport-operated McDonald's locations: FreedomLInk home network.
Wayport-operated hotels and airports: FreedomLink roaming network.
Boingo will have access just to the FreedomLink locations that SBC has Wayport managing for them, while FreedomLink subscribers will have access to the entire home network including McDonald's under the regular rate. Boingo will have to cut a separate deal with Wayport to resell Wi-Fi World locations.
SBC DSL subscribers pay nothing for Wi-Fi access on the home network until May 31; originally, that deal went through April. Starting June 1, the rate is $1.99 for FreedomLink network locations. Another deal will be announced later, the press release promises, to extend a special rate for roaming locations.
(The initial version of this story reported from a San Antonio business publication that had the details wrong.)
The two leading industry groups for ultrawideband merge: The Multi-Band OFDM Alliance and the WiMedia Alliance are merging their two groups to align goals more fully and reduce the number of acronyms and institutions. The two groups' have very similar general technology goals for UWB, and this leaves Motorola and Freescale even more in the lurch as the personal area networking (PAN) focus of WiMedia and the consumer electronics focus of MBOA come together.
The merger announcement is scheduled for this afternoon at an Intel conference.
Update: Here's the press release sent out on March 3. There's a variety of analysis on the merger. Tim Higgins at Tom's Networking points out that the merged alliance may have a better chance of getting their flavor of UWB approved by the FCC. Many months ago, the FCC refused to intervene in IEEE 802.15.3a when Motorola's group tried to get MB-OFDM ruled outside of the certification rules. The FCC felt the testing procedure that was in place would allow the industry to decide on the best standard without preemptory rulings.
The EE Times story on the merger indicates that IEEE 802.15.3a could swing back to MB-OFDM, which I thought was impossible at this point. The MBOA had withdrawn from the group's process, but there are votes that can be swayed to achieve a starting point for final drafts and ratification. This would be an enormous upset for Freescale to lose the IEEE process as well as the broader market.
Update: The merged group wrote to note that the MBOA did not withdraw from IEEE. As Patrick Mannion noted back in September 2004, "Amid accusations of deliberate stalling by one side and overstated time-to-market advantages by the other, the group is now considering extreme options — ranging from splitting the task group into two to outright dissolution if some progress is not made by March." It's March, but the process is still underway.
Testimony on banning municipal networks drew 2 1/2 days of testimony (annoying registration required): The chairman of the committee that originated HB 789 is Texas state representative Phil King. He's blunt about where his idea came from: "It was just me, sitting in the hearings," listening to industry representatives talk about broadband, he said. At least he's being upfront about it.
Rep. King is also blissfully clear about his ideology: "It's the idea of a free enterprise system," King said. "As a matter of public policy, we can't let the public sector compete with the private sector."
After weeks of sock puppets and obfuscation, it's so refreshing to hear someone simply state the origin of their assumptions. It's now possible to debate the merits of that proposition. The question to be posed now is whether municipal networks at any price (free, subsidized, or market rates) are public sector competition for free enterprise, or whether monopoly control of broadband in Texas creates a situation in which there is no potential for competition.
Later in the article, Rep. King is quoted stating that he'd like to provide incentives for competition. But I think he misunderstands how powerful SBC really is. There's no way for competition to gain access to communities without using SBC equipment and lines for wireline or digging new trenches. If they go wireless, they'll still be paying and using SBC for backhaul. It's tricky for small competitors to work with giant incumbents that face fines years later for activities deemed anti-competitive. The competitive DSL market in the US essentially died except Covad--which went through bankruptcy, shedding its previous debt and structure--because of efforts by the ILECs to prevent it from blooming.
This is why I keep writing that municipal networks are the choice of last resort, not first. If real competition existed and if competition were protected against predation with aggressive and quick action, then towns and cities would have little to no interest in getting into the market.
The Austin American-Statesman article notes that 16 Texas counties have no broadband service and 93 have a single provider. In rural areas, there may be extremely little broadband availability, too.
Rep. King uses an interesting analogy to describe his position on municipal broadband: A city shouldn't get into the grocery business, even if there's none in town, he said. Instead, he said, the state should provide incentives to companies in places where there is no competition.
But that's not quite apt. It's more like if there is no grocery in town and no farms nearby and no water to irrigate the crops, and a company 500 miles away has legislation passed to prevent irrigation, farming, and grocery stores in that town. Really, we're talking about bandwidth starvation and the legalization of starving these communities through this bill. That's in those counties with no broadband.
If you look at the 93 counties with monopoly broadband providers, it's like saying, the town is okay if there's a single grocery store in the center of town, even if everyone has to drive 5 to 50 miles to get to that store and the store charges a high price for its goods that people can't afford even though in similar towns with other grocery stores they charge much less.
Municipal networking is about feeding people a little bandwidth, most of the town. Sure, there are ambitious fiber-optic projects, too, but most of the attempts to add networks to towns and cities these days are about providing a lifeline for commerce and communications to underserved populations. Even a modified Texas bill would still keep those people with their digital ribs poking out, and would ensure that rural towns in Texas get smaller and poorer day by day.
Inmarsat is set to launch the first of its fourth-generation satellites Thursday: It will launch two satellites this year offering speeds of up to 432 Kbps symmetrically. Tenzing said last year that although it was limited to relatively slow speeds with current technology that the I-4 Inmarsat satellites would allow them to bond one, two, or four channels providing planes with 432 Kbps, 864 Kbps, or nearly 1.7 Mbps of symmetrical bandwidth.
Connexion by Boeing uses existing satellites to offer 5 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream with an option to go to 20 Mbps downstream. However, Boeing's more conventional system requires transponders in each area of coverage in which planes fly that effectively restrict the bandwidth in those zones. Inmarsat uses a beam focusing method that will allow them to deliver spot access to congested areas keeping throughput higher. Each satellite will support 200 spot beams covering 250 square miles each.
Inmarsat equipment is already in thousands of long-haul planes, or about 50 percent of all such planes. Tenzing told me in 2004 that on many planes, the upgrade process will require an hour or two of a technician's time to swap out modules.