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L.A. mayor releases committee report on filling gaps in broadband coverage (PDF): The committee includes a few academics and the rest are incumbent telco and cable company folk. That's why the report's tone is quite extraordinary. It mostly evenhandedly lays out the scope of the problem, looks into what approaches might be taken to solve it (including all the models out there), and reaches conclusions that aren't unreasonable.
Pro-municipal advocates won't find the report anything to cheer about except the scope of the problem as stated, but I don't find anything misrepresented--except the definition of Metcalfe's Law.
The summit includes the city, non-profits, and Michael Oh: You can't swing a Yagi antenna in Boston without hitting something that Michael Oh is working on. This summit is due in part to his efforts along with others interested in expanding wireless Internet access. The agenda is to figure out how wireless technology could make Boston better without, it seems, any particular hook like "free wireless for everyone." Meeting details are on Boston Councilor John Tobin's Web site.
What never seemed like a good idea has been dumped: Verizon will "phase out" its Wi-Fi hotspots in New York which were attached to payphones. Verizon never integrated these hotspots into anyone else's network, which means that only their DSL subscribers had access. This is a sure strategy for disappointment, of course, because the idea of wandering around to find free access at phone booths was always bizarre. If Verizon looks to this Wi-Fi network as proof that Wi-Fi hotspots are a failed strategy, it explains some of their very bizarre public statements on how Wi-Fi works.
It's not clear whether "open-source" means boot our code in this scenario: Aruba has released its bootloader, a method by which an access point with the right hardware can load Aruba's AP code when detected by its central WLAN switch on a network. That's all well and good, but it doesn't bring much to the table--yet. Aruba promises more. In this article at Linux Pipeline, I examine the promise of open source for Aruba and the industry, and get a little into the issue of the latest proposal for WLAN switch AP interoperability.
Tropos announced its next generation of gear today, encompassing 802.11g speed: The new series of mesh Wi-Fi routers offers the higher speeds found in 802.11g, as well as support for a new mesh operating system and management console that offers more flexibility and support for security. (They're using Atheros chips, by the way.)
Tropos estimates that with $68,000 of their latest gear, one typical city square mile could offer 10 to 15 Mbps per user concurrently. They estimate a sevenfold higher cost for this throughput from other vendors; I'll be curious to see competitive math on that.
The Tropos 3210, an indoor mesh router, is shipping now, along with the 5210 outdoor router. The 4210 mobile router should be available by third quarter. The 4210 is designed for ad hoc access from non-fixed but static locations, according to an earlier press release.
The new management and operating system includes intra-router AES encryption support, which should answer one of the concerns I've heard raised about outdoor mesh Wi-Fi: with AES, there's virtually no opportunity to tap into communications between mesh nodes.
Now, there's definitely an issue of sniffing other users' traffic at any given node, however. The new system offers supports for up to 4095 VLANs and 16 ESSIDs, along with 802.1X and WPA support. This should make it much easier for metropolitan-scale networks to standardize on using 802.1X even for residential users connections to the network.
Take a Wi-Fi bridge with 802.1X client support as a CPE and set it up as the gateway using 802.1X with WPA Enterprise to a node using an ESSID reserved for that purpose and market it as secure access. Or support individual computer access using free built-in 802.1X software or Funk or Meetinghouse's $40-$50 clients for other platforms.
Other users can connect via insecure links but can be heavily warned about using SSL email and other security mechanisms. It can be a service differentiator.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:11 AM | Permanent Link | Categories:
Two weeks ago, the Progress and Freedom Foundation released two reports critical of Philadelphia's plan: Adam Thierer wrote one of these reports called "Risky Business: Philadelphia's Plan for Providing Wi-Fi Service." Based on articles from earlier in the year, the report was initially to be release by the Cato Institute, with which Thierer was associated. It was also drafted before Philadelphia's business plan and RFP was issued. The report was updated and released after Philly's plan--Thierer might have gotten advance copies as some people did--but it still bears many of the marks of ideas that were distributed about Philadelphia's plan that aren't actually in the plan.
When it first came out, I labeled the report more work from sock puppets. But I'm wrong: there's a fair amount of original thought in this. I don't agree with some of the assumptions made, but Thierer does spell out those assumptions which makes it easier to engage in a dialog about whether those assumptions are valid. His colleague Patrick Ross at PFF also pointed out that PFF has a variety of funders some of whom are backers of municipal networks, like Intel, which has taken a generally favorable stance, and may eventually lobby for it.
Fundamentally, I believe I come down on the idea that reducing corporate taxation and providing regulatory relief are arithmetically similar in my political philosophy to increasing the tax burden on individual taxpayers. Perhaps some of you can use that to pin a label on me, but I'm not sure one fits.
Interestingly, many of the new plans for broadband wireless are taking the tax issue into account and are requiring that none of the funding for the networks comes from taxpayer dollars. Offsetting the risk and putting money into the private sector takes some, but certainly not all, of the wind out of the sails of those who want entirely private sector competition.
One of the key issues I agree with Thierer on is that an underreported aspect of many municipal plans--including those that aren't disputed by incumbents or others--is that municipal facilities like light poles, conduits, and buildings are being made available at no cost to the entities that will build the networks, whether private or public. That no-cost basis actually has a price tag attached that prevents competitive entry into the market on equal terms. This is true in Philly's plan and in Minneapolis.
A state representative asked me a few weeks ago: what would keep SBC from coming into a city in Texas that decides to build its own municipal Wi-Fi network (on whatever basis)? I said, nothing. If they're using unlicensed spectrum, no one can really stop them. But the access to facilities for putting in access points is a killer: if SBC has to license for every private rooftop, like cell carriers do, and face opposition or stalling tactics from cities and towns on using poles and other utility facilities, then SBC can't build a network at the same cost or perhaps even one that has the same scope.
I have lengthy comments, and thus provide them after the jump. Download Thierer's report and then follow along. I've quoted small passages and provided page numbers for context.
Talk of the Nation covers municipal networking: The group of guests is biased quite a bit toward the very-pro-municipal side (2:1 plus a reporter), but I haven't had a chance ot listen to this program yet.
Macworld interviewed me for their first Geek Factor podcast, talking about Bluetooth 2.0: We had a very detailed conversation about the issues around Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) and what it means for cell phones, headsets and headphones, and the future of the standard. I start about halfway through the podcast.
Spyguard endorsed by British government to reduce RF emission of wireless networks: The window film and a similar paint reportedly turn rooms into Faraday cages without all the tedious insertion of a metal mesh. But MI5 gets to monitor who purchases the materials.
The group selling it claims it was developed by the NSA and that they have exclusive rights. Sounds a little James Bond-ish. Why would the NSA allow such an item to be sold overseas? I checked, and I'm wrong: they have a list of technologies available for license. (Hey, what happens when you link to the NSA?)
Atheros will ship a/b/g and b/g chips for PCI Express in third quarter: This next-generation bus design supports a much improved architecture for maximum throughput across all cards, and Broadcom and Atheros are both interested in being on top of its deployment. Atheros says that they have a single chip solution that integrates into a single-sided PCI Express card; sampling is already underway to its best customers.
Broadcom announced in early April that they have a PCI Express chipset--ostensibly at least two chips--that's was in sampling then. I expect a war of the words over throughput, cost of goods, and other factors in the months ahead.
The debate is much more reasonable in tone between differing parties in the opening days of Minneapolis's RFP: Unlike the Philadelphia plan, which was widely and inaccurately criticized for months before its release--and which criticism hasn't been updated to reflect the plan's real content--the Minneapolis RFP is provoking more reasoned discussion among debaters of the merits of muni networks.
This interesting piece in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal reminds local residents once again of an ill-fated plan set in 2000 for Time-Warner Cable to build out a fiber network. That work hasn't happened and Time-Warner won't comment on it. But they might bid on the new municipal plan.
The city's network planner, Bill Beck, said 20 companies have already responded with queries for the proposal in which no public money will be used and the network will be entirely privately owned. The city will give the network its telecom business and provide what appears to be preferential access to buildings, poles, and other facilities necessary to build out a wireless and fiber optic network.
I say this debate is more reasonable because Braden Cox of the Competitive Enterprise Institute provides what I would argue is not a strawman argument noting that there isn't an economic imperative in MInneapolis. It's not in the same state of broadband availability as Philadelphia. That's indisputably correct. Cox is interested in the Minneapolis model, too, as it "doesn't risk any taxpayer money..."
Steven Titch of the Heartland Institute, a group I have regularly criticized for not revealing any (if any) ties to incumbent telecom firms and for releasing a broadband report with a group that is owned by Issue Dynamics (whose clients include most major telecom firms), makes his usual argument here: that hotspots don't attract business travelers. But Minneapolis's plan calls for limited hotspot Wi-Fi; it's all about residential and business use, and includes fiber optic as part of the plan.
He objects that the technology isn't quite there and the timetable is ambitious. I'm finding more and more that I am agreeing with the "wait a little while" approach. With the emergence of faster and cheaper standards to the market, I'm not sure that a network planned today and ready in two years will represent the state of the art except on the fiber-optic side which requires so much more physical work to build out. It's possible that the city could fully realize the fiber optic part first with its private partner and delay the wireless part until the backbone timeline was set. That won't cost them more money--except in increased labor costs which should be offset by reduced equipment cost.
Esme Vos points out, however, that similar networks have been built in Europe and have proved that competition from municipalities has spurred cheaper prices and higher speeds.
I'm particularly interested in whether a city-franchised entity can be put together in such a way that it doesn't have discriminatorily low rates for facilities--meaning that no other competitor could afford to build a similar network if they so chose--and that it becomes a third choice alongside cable and DSL. If you could have a city-backed but not owned network plus the duopoly in place and add onto that TowerStream and other business-oriented broadband wireless firms and a handful of smaller residential firms--that could be enough competition to spur innovation, higher speeds, and lower costs.
The entrenched interests may find themselves operating more trenching tools if the multiplicity of options continues to grow.
Long-time tech report Rafe Needleman editorializes in favor of sensibly free Wi-Fi: He's not asking for a gift, but rather describes a set of strategies in which more free Wi-Fi could be made available to travelers and the public, and how to convince hospitality operators like hotels to include Wi-Fi in their amenities budget so that it's just plain free.
I'm not so convinced that Wi-Fi needs to be free everywhere: rather, I would argue that roaming needs to be universal with a single login and that pricing needs to drop to the natural bottom, which is about $20 per month. When you can get consistent, reliable, supported service everywhere you go as a business traveler for $20 per month it's worth the price. When you have to traverse several networks and a melange of free and fee networks all of which offer a differ set of costs and promises for availability, it's not worth the price. Free can cost you money if you can't use it and there's no promise you can.
In fact, I still believe that some locations may offer both free and fee usage: for free, you get bandwidth limits, limits by service, time limits, and no support. For fee, you get full bandwidth, no service limits, and full tech support, plus secure login over 802.1X. Having two separate network names would aid this, of course: "Use Us Free" and "Use Us Fee."
Rafe notes that municipalities may provide Wi-Fi soon, but I'd caution him to believe that it'll be free. Most of the plans--and all of the sensible ones--that would roll out metropolitan Wi-Fi involve charging end users in homes and businesses but offering some or extensive free hotspot service in parks, city buildings, libraries, downtown areas, and other public places.
We called him crazy, but he just kept coming at us: Peter Judge writes about Extricom, the company that produced a barrage of what appeared to be overblown throughput claims last November, but now offers enough details to evaluate their technology. Their claims of huge throughput weren't across the entire system--that is, 1 Gbps everywhere--but rather aggregated throughput from multiple cells on the same network using the same channels.
The system promotes channel reuse by leveraging the collision detection that's at the heart of 802.11 and Ethernet systems to better use the empty spaces that are wasted in routine Wi-Fi communication. Each Extricom switch has multiple thin APs on the same channel. The switch decides which AP handles which client without switching channels, and thus the client doesn't change its connection (which means handoff latency is reduced far below any conventional system) and the switch maximizes the use of the RF space.
APs are coordinated at the switch level to avoid interference, but the 802.11 specification can handle co-channel interference as well. Between those two parts, the amount of interference is dramatically reduced. The goal is to allow many simultaneous voice conversations by bringing each client's available bandwidth as close to the maximum throughput for their particular standard.
The only complaint from a test site seems to be the current eight-AP limit on their first switch model. That model will ship in May for $8,000 to $14,000 based on quantity and options like Power over Ethernet, according to the Techworld report. A 32-port switch will follow in the fall.
It's ingenious, and I've confirmed that this could work (if implemented properly) with a Wi-Fi expert. It's too bad they didn't explain this more clearly six months ago.
Strix Systems moves into the great outdoors with products announced now shipping: Their outdoor mesh routers are hitting distributors. Tempe, Ariz., will use Strix equipment through its integrator MobilePro. Strix, Tropos, and BelAir all offer multiple radio outdoor mesh networking gear that uses Wi-Fi. Tropos trash talks the competition in this article, noting that their use of 2.4 GHz for backhaul is actually a plus over BelAir and Strix's decision to backhaul over 5 GHz.
The Tempe hotzone will cover 40 square miles, the article reports, passing 65,000 residential households and 1,100 businesses. First responders will use the network, which will also offer service across the 4.9 GHz emergency band, which sounds like a unique offering. Subscribers will pay a yet-to-be-determined cost, but the service will be free in the downtown district to attract visitors and businesspeople.
Sprint PCS has turned on Wi-Fi at the Memphis International AirPort: For $9.95 per day or as part of an unlimited usage $49.95 per month subscription, you can use the airport-wide network. The airport handles 11 million passengers entering and leaving the facility. Sprint PCS has struck a number of bilateral roaming arrangements lately, so Memphis should become available to subscribers to other national networks.
At a London WLAN conference a fake network pushed viruses, worms: According to this ZDNet article (which relies on comments from a single individual who works for a reliable company that sells corporate Wi-Fi monitoring tools), a fake network set up at the Wireless LAN Event in London last week pushed 45 "random" viruses and worms to users when they connected. The article claims that the viruses were "randomly" generated, but that isn't a realistic description of how viruses work.
Superb article in The Boston Globe on the state and future of Wi-Fi and wireless in Our Fair City: I'm not a resident of Bean Town--which no one there every calls it, I know--but I'm a great fan of the city and have long been following Michael Oh's efforts to spread free, commercially backed Wi-Fi. He's profiled in this long and well-researched article. It lacks the flaws that many similar articles have had: it's technically accurate, paints a broad picture, and doesn't try to be too cute about the technology and its implications.
I'm not sure I buy that there will be 130,000 hotspots in the US by the end of 2005, but the number won't be an order of magnitude off. JiWire.com says there are over 20,000 now. I'd ballpark it at 30,000 to 40,000 depending on how you count all the one-offs and special cases. Based on targets set by T-Mobile, Wayport, SBC, and Sprint, hitting 75,000 by year's end seems possible.
One Boston city councilor wants to emulate other cities planning metropolitan-area Wi-Fi networks and have Boston jump onto that bandwagon. I hope he knows what he's getting into. The Beacon Hill Institute, which issued a negative report last year on municipal cable and broadband (looking almost exclusively at fiber-optic systems) is just over the Charles River from him at Suffolk University.
Tobin cites the same vague desire to bridge the digital divide that I've heard elsewhere, but I haven't seen any statistics that show that improving Internet access helps school test results, increase income, reduces crime, increase employment, or improves literacy. Does anyone have studies that show positive outcomes? Or any outcomes? It all seems a little nebulous. I disagree with those that say that $2,000 computers are needed to use Wi-Fi networks--about $150 would buy a refurbished computer and a Wi-Fi card--but I do wonder how the digital divide is spanned when you throw computers and broadband at folks.
Boston has unwired all of its municipal libraries and is experimenting with adding free Wi-Fi in city-owned buildings. The local transportation authority is planning to add Wi-Fi to the local subway and rail system, the T.
The article concludes with a lovely set of musings on the nature of human interaction, and a suggestion that Wi-Fi hotspots encourage a kind of interaction through solitude in the midst of community.
Jack Uldrich writes in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Wi-Fi is not enough: He takes the Minneapolis city-wide fiber/Wi-Fi hybrid network as a jumping off point for arguing for a national broadband policy that would provide the structure in which businesses and homes would have access to cheap gigabit Internet access. You can tell this is being written in Minnesota, because Uldrich wants the government to create a policy that encourage open competition and open access (read: non-discriminatory access in opposition to the way cable is run and the way that telcos tried to restrict DSL). But he doesn't outright state that the government should build this network. It's unclear who should pay for its construction if the market already doesn't have the incentives to build it.
Update on the status of the first large-scale BPL effort in the US: This is the largest commercial rollout of BPL, which delivers data over powerlines by encoding information on high-voltage lines. High-speed broadband can span fairly large distances over existing wires through devices installed at points, which makes it awfully appealing.
So far, estimates--not by the power company, Cinergy--are about 8,000 homes have signed up out of 50,000 which could be served. Cinergy and its data partner Current Communications Group expects to pass 250,000 homes within three years. They aren't giving out numbers themselves, they say, to forestall providing competitive information.
The article opens with line workers installing a bypass box--that's because transformers don't pass the encoded data. Some BPL models use Wi-Fi as the last-100-foot solution, instead of using BPL to the home. This could wind up being a great WiMax/BPL hybrid, too, with WiMax on a certain frequency of poles serving a group of homes.
The utility is starting to gear up using the BPL for its own monitoring purposes, too. In other cases, utilities have worked the other way around, building fiber-optic installations for monitoring that are then turned to the use of broadband for city or for-fee public use.
Some of the think-tanks and analysts who are either opposed to municipally run broadband on ideological, financial, or other grounds are promoting BPL as a method of adding competition without requiring more wire in the ground. But BPL has seen little commercial uptake yet as power companies apparently haven't acted generally interested in it. Related to this is the issue that many electrical utilities are municipal entities, in which case that introduces that element back into their concern about rolling out a network: should they in the current climate?
T-Mobile cell and hotspot subscribers can use this to find out specific coverage areas: This is a marvelous tool and one all carriers should emulate. It shows specific levels of expected signal strength for T-Mobile's cellular network--this would help plan for GPRS use as well as voice--and has a checkbox that lets you see T-Mobile's hotspots as well. You don't have to have a T-Mobile account to use it.
Verizon's CEO recently stated that people shouldn't have the expectation that cellular service works everywhere, like in their homes, or have access to detailed information about coverage
areas. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Seidenberg said it's not Verizon's responsibility to correct the misconception by giving out statistics on how often Verizon's service works inside homes or by distributing more detailed coverage maps, showing all the possible dead zones." Apparently T-Mobile thinks otherwise.
(Seidenberg also said that citywide Wi-Fi was the dumbest idea he'd ever heard while his company is preparing bids to build such service for cities.)
I'll also note that while T-Mobile has no good migration path for 3G cell data service in the US--they've got GPRS and some vague ideas about the future--they are the only carrier that owns and operates hotspot locations. SBC contracts their operation out to Wayport, which is fine, but T-Mobile has every reason to try to emphasize their street-level cell and hotspot operations. And to say nyah-nyah to Verizon. [link via Engadget]
Can you make users pick strong passwords?: It's well known that users are the problem in security. (Yeah, right.) I mean, you tell people to choose passwords of 16 characters or more with no words found in any dictionary on the planet using a combination of letters, numbers, punctuation, and the symbol for the artist formerly formerly known as Prince--and they just choose "dog," "cat," or "1234."
So we know that's not really the problem. The problem is providing reasonable tools to allow users to select passwords or passphrases that don't require them to memorize impenetrably long sequences that force them to write them down in order to have them available.
This Slashdot discussion linked to above links to a Security Focus discussion which runs through many of the issues. Even if you have a secure method to deliver password suggestions to a user, it's unlikely that those suggestions would meet the user's personal needs for recollection, identity with other passwords they use elsewhere, and security.
WPA's preshared key version--WPA Personal--suffers directly from this problem. Although you can enter long phrases (up to 63 characters), none of the interfaces provided by manufacturers requires a key of sufficient entropy to ensure that it beats the WPA weak passphrase choice problem. If you choose a short WPA passphrase with words found in a dictionary, it's possible for that passphrase to be cracked. This says nothing about the underlying WPA encryption, which is very good, but about the mechanism to generate the key used in that system.
Many systems solve the key problem by generating an extremely long and secure key that itself is secured through a passphrase that's passed through a strong one-way encryption algorithm. For instance, PGP's system protects the long private key that's part of the public/private pair using a passphrase of arbitrary content and length that you create. The passphrase isn't related to the private key--the private key isn't derived from it--but it can be something simple to recollect but not simple in nature. I use a long English phrase to protect mine, for instance, which is an increasingly frequent recommendation.
Ultimately, there has to be a way to have strong keys that aren't derived from passphrases and that can be used more easily by those who have proven their identity. This requires management, though, and it will take a long time for anything comprehensive to be rolled out.
I would argue that Apple's Keychain is the closest element that's currently available. Apple uses a passphrase to protect the Keychain, which is strongly encrypted. Keys can be retrieved as needed through the use of the passphrase. It stores keys, passwords, and certificates and can set individual access control limits per item, as well as managing multiple Keychains.
Google is sponsoring free Wi-Fi in Union Square in Frisco: I can't find out more information about it than what's in this photograph (click for larger image). One colleague I mentioned this to suggested that increasing Internet usage increased Google's ad revenue so just offering free Wi-Fi could translate into more revenue for them indirectly. Possibly. It might just be more branding effort--as if they need that, especially with yesterday's earnings news.
Excilan's pay-by-cell-phone technology has been acquired by The Cloud's Roampoint: Excilan went into bankruptcy in its headquarters of Luxembourg last Friday, but a last-minute deal with Roampoint, the aggregation and roaming service that's part of UK's large The Cloud network, saves its unique method of payment. Excilan's system allows a cell-phone carrying user to enter their telephone number on a hotspot gateway page, receive an automated call, and authorize payment which is charged to their bill. The significant difficulty faced by Excilan was getting both hotspot operators and cell operators in the same countries to participate. Excilan has 40 hotspot operators and 17 cell operator contracts, but few overlap geographically.
Sprint now claims 19,000 hotspots in its aggregated network: The company announced that it will gain another 6,000 locations from Quiconnect, 3,800 from Fiberlink, and several hundred from Pronto, Opti-Fi, and Nomadix. (The Fiberlink locations are actually resold from Boingo's aggregation platform, although that fact isn't mentioned anywhere.)
Sprint previously had arranged deals with SBC, Wayport, Airpath, STSN, and Concourse, as well as limited bilateral roaming with AT&T Wireless (now Cingular) for airport access. Those locations must have totaled 10,000, although I'm having a little difficulty adding up all of the component networks.
One of the key elements Sprint is pushing is its Extended Workplace, a way of having a single user interface for connecting across all kinds of communications methods, including dial-up, Wi-Fi, cell data, and Ethernet. Extended Workplace provides companies with a way of enforcing end-user policies, like VPN usage or anti-virus protection--just as with software from remote-access providers like iPass.
Pricing for Extended Workplace is $120 per month per user for unlimited Wi-Fi and Sprint PCS Vision (its brand name for 1xRTT data service) with additional metered fees for dial-up and other connection services.
The article bizarrely quotes a Sprint business development manager stating that Sprint started building airport Wi-Fi service in 2000 and now has seven airports. Now I've been writing about and researching airport Wi-Fi since 2000, and I can state categorically that Sprint didn't start getting into the business as a provider until 2003. If they were providing the back-end outsourced services, then they were handling it for Nokia and other companies without revealing their brand at the time. Nokia, Wayport, and MobileStar unwired the first airports in North America that I'm aware of all before 2001.
The two companies have similar hotspot footprints: Both firms offer service in airports, hotels, college campuses, apartments, and highway plazas. Their locations tend to be the overlooked second tier that has a substantially underserved market. For instance, while Los Angeles still lacks Wi-Fi across their airport, which handled 60 million passengers (combined embarkations and debarkations), ICOA fulfilled legislators' dreams by putting in Wi-Fi in Sacramento's terminals, which serve 10 million. Likewise, WiSE is in airports like Omaha, San Diego, and Baltimore.
The Star-Tribune unsigned editorial doesn't dislike the idea of citywide coverage, but suggests careful planning before leaping in: This editorial isn't opposed to the lovely notion of ubiquitous coverage through Minneapolis, as described in the city's request for proposal. In fact, it describes the idea as "cool." But it suggests that there's not enough detail in the current RFP to answer many outstanding questions, and that until proposals are received from bidders, the details will remain unknown.
Minneapolis is proposing a network that's of a larger scale than Philadelphia's with a more extensive purpose and that uses Wi-Fi for access but is tied together with fiber optic which will be used for other purposes. The city won't put a cent of funding into the plan, but will guarantee its telecom business to the project's winner, thus ensuring early revenue. (Both Minneapolis and Philadelphia project large cost conservation by shifting their telecom spending to this kind of network.)
The editorial notes that a previous effort to have Time Warner, the city's cable franchisee, install fiber-optic links among city buildings was agreed on in 2000--and still hasn't been built. This proposal might be an effort to route around that blockade, but it does create essentially a new kind of franchise.
The editorial concludes, "As this ambitious proposal goes forward, its balancing of complicated interests will bear very careful scrutiny."
I admire the stance of this editorial because it doesn't throw any strawmen onto a pyre and fling matches at them. Instead, it looks at the reasons advanced by the city for having this network built, analyses the risks without overstating them, and generally endorses the concept while remaining patient about how the concept turns into reality.
Microsoft and VeriSign have own flavor of how to protect networks from infected computers: This new architecture will be based on Microsoft's Network Access Protection (NAP) and VeriSign's Unified Authentication platforms. It's supposed to protect networks by checking that a laptop trying to connect over Wi-Fi has been issued a clean bill of health with the latest patches and virus definitions, among other factors.
But this announcement doesn't mention a press release from yesterday from the Trusted Computing Group's Trusted Network Connect specification will also work with NAP. The TNC spec allows computers that connect to a network through any medium to validated for security before being allowed access. It ties nicely into 802.1X port-based authentication. If a computer fails validation, it's segregated on a protected VLAN that only offers access to patches and updates, but can't reach the rest of the network.
Tor Amundsen whips up a Wi-Fi to 3G box: While you can purchase commercial systems like the Junxion Box to create a Wi-Fi network that's uplinked to a 2.5G or 3G cellular network using a PC Card from a cellular provider, this is the first do-it-yourself project I've seen to achieve those results. He used a Soekris box, a well-known and well-liked generic embedded OS appliance box, and installed NYC Wireless's embedded Linux. There's some work with a drill press and lots of kernel fiddling, but it's a neat idea, and a replicable project.
It also shows how the genie is out of the bottle for using cell data as backhaul whether the cell operators like it or not. The flip side? Many operators are monitoring usage and cut off those engaged in what they think are purposes contrary to their contract. [link via Engadget]
Robert Liu verifies early speculation that the Philly network needs indoor bridges: A CPE (customer premises equipment) could be a T1 modem, a cable modem, or a DSL modem--or, in the case of many Wi-Fi mesh networks, a Wi-Fi to Ethernet bridge with a high-gain antenna. This has been the missing piece in much of the coverage of Wi-Fi mesh networks.
Critics have said that cards built into laptops or added to desktop machines couldn't receive signals from ubiquitous outdoor metropolitan networks. They're generally correct. But until this fact-finding pre-proposal meeting in Philadelphia that Liu attended at which potential vendors had a chance to ask questions for the first time it was unclear that a CPE was required. The RFP states on page 10:
Should additional customer premise equipment ("CPEs") be required or assumed in order to deliver this in-building coverage, Respondents are expected to state this in their Proposals and elaborate on this requirement and their assumptions.
Liu says this is now a given, not a "should."
I disagree on this adding substantial cost, however, as Liu writes: a Senao 200 mW 802.11b bridge retails for under $100; in quantity, it would be substantially less. Because the network builder will be a wholesaler, they can't recover the cost of this device from the consumer directly, but it appears they'll be responsible for CPE selection. This could be built into the price of the network, representing a couple dollars per month of the wholesale cost. Or they could offset the cost to ISPs who recover it from end-user fees or leases. The Senao is being used in some Tropos deployments right now as a CPE.
Liu reports as well that the information provided to vendors who want to bid is probably inadequate for true RF planning: building footprints date to 1996; no building heights were provided. Other topographical details about poles and other city facilities was available, however.
Nintendo will use Broadcom to add Wi-Fi to "Revolution": Only sketchy details are known about Nintendo's next gaming system--more should be revealed at next month's E3 conference--but they'll definitely be using Broadcom's Wi-Fi technology with several features turned on. It's very possible that SecureEasySetup will be one of those features. Broadcom touts the technology as a painless method of ensuring that devices receive the maximum protection from WPA with the least effort by a user. Push a button on a router (or via a router's software) and then on the device you want to add and you're all done.
Glenn Reynolds asks from the right side of the aisle, what do incumbents fear? Reynolds, the No. 1 Google Glenn and author of the Instapundit blog, has a decidedly and honestly conservative viewpoint, but he's as interested as folks to his left as to why the incumbent telecommunications providers are so worried about the interest by cities and towns to build their own broadband networks or have those networks built for them under franchise.
He writes, "There's nothing illegal or improper, of course, about companies talking down competition, or hiring lobbyists to persuade cities to do things their way instead of somebody else's way, but there's nothing terribly impressive about it, either. In fact, the more those companies criticize the municipal wi-fi approach, the more it makes me wonder what, exactly, they're afraid of."
I have to agree. I'm not a fan of sub rosa lobbying, which is why I've written so much that complains about the attempts by incumbents to fund reports from groups that appear independent. What's ironic, of course, is that if incumbents bid to build the networks that the reports say are impossible to run reliably and are unnecessary, how do the incumbents explain to their shareholders their participation in those projects?
Reynolds also has the very reasonable concern that city-run networks could be subject to city-run monitoring. I've heard this concern in poor contexts before; here it's presented without any baggage. The most rabid pro-municipal-broadband supporters should acknowledge that under the current set of laws in the U.S. having municipalities directly responsible for the operation of new broadband networks could lead to personal information finding its way into government hands. Filtering laws, if they ever make it past the U.S. Supreme Court, might also affect these networks.
The proposals we're seeing from cities that want to have networks built are morphing, though, probably due in part to the firestorm of Philadelphia's initial reaction and the rash of laws spreading from state to state to restrict what some cast as a vital public utility that's underbuilt and others view as municipal attempts to regulate on a local level what only states or the federal government should have the ability to micromanage or not micromanage.
Philadelphia's plan hands off its network fundraising, build-out, and operation to a non-profit that will be ostensibly outside city control. This arm's length plan would also ostensibly remove the city's ability to monitor or be required to filter the network. Further, the non-profit would only sell wholesale access to ISPs. Minneapolis's request for proposal says, "keep the city out of it!" A private company or consortium would receive essentially a franchise and a commitment for city telecom business. This would remove filtering, monitoring, and censoring from the pile of concerns as well.
Reynolds, like me, is interested in diversity, and that's probably the broadest argument one can make for more competition of all kinds: "...municipal services are likely to be better when people have a standard for comparison, too. Being the only game in town is never good for service."
Update: There are some great comments below. But a number of those commenting seem to have missed the point that many municipal networks are being planned as (or already set up as) hands-off affairs from the standpoint of funding, taxation, and operation. If a city can't pay to have trash removed, but they're not paying for the municipal network, you have to readjust your attitude. If the structure is set up so that taxpayers are completely insulated--that is, it's encoded in a charter or local legislation that there's no bail out--then the network might go belly up, but it didn't cost you, as a taxpayer, any money.
Interesting side note here, too, on funding and taxes. Most municipal projects are criticized as having two tax and funding advantages: a city can issue tax-free bonds, and a city doesn't pay a variety of taxes. The newest projects I've seen don't provide that advantage to the municipal project. And if you look at one of the oldest broadband networks in the country run by Tacoma Power, they pay cable franchise and local and federal taxes. They even devote a page to their tax bill. Of course, Tacoma Power is separate organizationally from the local government.
Truck stops in Texas with free Wi-Fi may have to filter content: A Slashdot poster connects the dots in a Texas house bill that would require filtering on any state-provided wireless network on public property. This means the truck stops that have been equipped would need filtering. I don't need to make snickering references here, as you can read plenty on Slashdot.
Trapeze has added support for several Cisco APs: WIth a command-line change, a Cisco AiroNet 350, 1100, or 1200 can be part of a Trapeze-managed WLAN switched network. This should make it an easier sell for Trapeze VARs walking into Cisco-oriented enterprises, especially with Cisco VARs and direct sales folk trying to push new Airespace equipment into existing installations. This announcement ranks up there with AirWave's recent 3.1 version bump that allows AirWave's software management tool for WLANs to handle Cisco Airespace devices, too.
It's pretty extraordinary when there's competition for giving away security: On the small-office/home-office (SOHO) end of the market for Wi-Fi security products, there's an increasing trend to just give away products that can help very small number of users in the hopes that those users then adopt the for-fee products when they grow in scale or need. But it's a very nice development for SOHO warriors, to be sure.
LucidLink joins this trend by dropping the price of their three-user package for secure WLAN connections from $99 down to zero. My guess is that it was a hard sell for that user category, and that becomes a great test tool for offices considering LucidLink. They can hook up this three-user version as a test before buying a multi-seat license. The three-user limit is simultaneous users. More can be registered in the system.
LucidLink is a locally hosted 802.1X server package that uses proprietary client software for Windows 2000 and XP to make the connection. The server software requires Windows 2000 (any edition), XP, or Windows Server 2003.
The next step up is a 10-user version of LucidLink for $449.
UCSD did a great job getting into the media this week with a fast Wi-Fi handoff technology: SyncScan drops a Wi-Fi adapter or appliance, like a VoWLAN phone, out of its associated mode for a few milliseconds at a regular, defined interval to check on signal strength. This avoids adapters swapping to a new AP only when signal strength becomes unusable or nearly so.
SyncScan relies on a feature in Atheros's chipsets that's available from the open-source madwifi drivers; it's the same sort of feature (if not the identical one) that allows Atheros's WLAN switch partners to offer RF monitoring on the same APs that are also handling client data interchange.
Two problems with SyncScan's approach: first, it requires firmware to be installed on the access point, which is fine for experimentation and open-source projects, but otherwise needs signoff from major firmware developers and their manufacturing partners; second, it's got that patent-pending label attached, which always has the caveat of causing resistance until fees are revealed.
SyncScan puts all APs within listening range of each other into a synchronized beaconing mode so that the "I'm alive" signals happen at fixed intervals. This allows adapters to only listen at discrete periods and to get a clear idea of precisely what's happening in the local RF space. But this coordination adds overhead and there has to be a cost to synchronization and the inevitable resynchronization.
One of the IEEE 802.11 groups, 802.11f, was dedicated to fast reassociation through preauthentication--tokens exchanged among APs at Layer 3--but that doesn't help with fast reassociation on an RF level, or Layer 1.
Hotspot payment system provider enters bankruptcy, halts services: I obtained information yesterday that Excilan, a Luxembourg-headquartered firm that offered a unique method of payment for hotspot services, has entered bankruptcy in that country Friday. The service will halt operations Monday at noon local time according to details I received.
Excilan allowed cell phone users at a Wi-Fi hotspot to enter their number on a gateway page and receive a confirmation call that they could use to agree to pay for the service. Customers of cell operators that hadn't agreed to work with Excilan were granted short, free sessions which Excilan used as a market-research tool to find partners.
I don't know the details of why the company has gone into bankruptcy; they were privately held. The company has been remarkably upfront about its usage, however, posting statistics on its home page. The most recent quarter saw 7,098 sessions, which at the highest possible commission and split might have meant just a few U.S.$10,000s.
Sean O'Mahoney joined the firm last year as CEO. O'Mahoney was formerly a founder and the CEO of Vancouver, B.C., Canada's FatPort, which was an early Excilan partner. I was unable to reach O'Mahoney for comment since obtaining the news.
Vitriol spews from Verizon CEO's lips on municipal networks, customer expectations, cancellation fees: Get this man a Valium, stat! Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg needs to calm down a bit. He thinks San Francisco's municipal network idea is "one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard" because the network has to be built, designed, and operated. Oddly, Verizon has no expertise in building campus-wide Wi-Fi networks, and thus isn't really qualified to express that sort of opinion. I had the same reaction to reading a Comcast spokesperson's critique of the potential of a city-wide wireless network: Comcast doesn't build that; they're not qualified to say it's possible or not.
What's even funnier about this quote is that Verizon will probably bid to build city-wide networks in Minneapolis and Philadelphia.
Voice over IP in the enterprise company winds down: Five short weeks ago, I was over at Telesym's bustling headquarters east of Seattle having a great conversation recorded partly in this podcast about Telesym's latest products and the tweaks they had made to their offering to better integrate it into enterprise phone switches.
Now the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the company has laid off most employees with severance packages and hopes to return some capital to investors if it can sell its intellectual property. The CEO says fairly bluntly that their product doesn't scale, so I'm not sure how encouraging that would be to potential buyers.
The company's two co-founders were pushed out in previous months, and they're a little bitter about how the products developed without their shepherding them to completion.
One of their competitors, Vocera, says the company floundered by not having a sharp focus and by--at least initially--targeting voice over PDAs. This disregards the success that phone/PDA combos have had in the marketplace, of course, but the company was too far ahead of that market. They were also too far ahead of convergence phones that would have benefitted from their integration on the enterprise and Wi-Fi side while roaming onto cellular as necessary.
My kiss of death interview record is unfortunately quite good: I interviewed the CEO of Cometa just weeks before they coasted to a halt.
Every few months, there's another gas station chain adds Wi-Fi story: Estonia apparently was the first to pioneer this, and a colleague recently returned from there described the country as scary-wired. They're pretty hip. But the rest of the world has taken a while to catch on, possibly because of quantity. With most chains, you want to make sure that people can consistently obtain the same services. This is what took McDonald's so long to sign onto Wi-Fi: more than a year of testing with multiple partners led them to their current extensive plan.
Now part of Michigan has its Speedway and SuperAmerica stations unwired. FreedomNet Solutions is providing the service. They hope to strike gold in the way that apparently truck stops have. Truckers and mobile professionals alike need Wi-Fi on the road. It's just plain easier to remain in the car or grab a bite and commute while still staying on top of deadlines and changes.
Sputnik is offering a dual-radio AP designed to work as a bridge repeater: Sputnik offers software that lets hotspot operators remotely manage hotspots. The new AP will let operators extend the range of their hotspots to cover larger areas. Sputnik also appears to be targeting the municipal market, arguing that its solution would be less expensive than today's mesh offerings. However, I wouldn't think that the Sputnik offering would be quite as flexible as the mesh deployments which allow for multiple hops enabling coverage to areas that are very hard to backhaul.
The possible puns regarding this story are practically endless, though the Register does a good job of exploiting most of them: Two Intel employees set up a hotspot at a research camp at the North Pole. It uses Iridium phones for backhaul, which means the access is probably excruciatingly slow, but people at the North Pole probably aren't complaining. The deployment is purportedly meant to check out how the equipment fares in such cold, wet weather, though there are plenty of other such experiments that have been done for some time. Dave Hughes has done tons of work in Alaska with wireless networks and he was also instrumental in enabling the hotspot at Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal.
Here's the press release from Intel in Russia: catch that "hot spot" in Cyrllic would be pronounced "zhot spote-um."
VPN-for-rent services are multiplying: HotSpotVPN.com is the grandpa in the field, but WiTopia.net's new personalVPN offering challenges their price and technology. In this article at Mobile Pipeline, I talk about both companies services. HotSpotVPN's recently introduced SSL VPN service competes head-to-head with personalVPN but has higher grades of encryption available at higher costs. Read the whole article for the run-down.
The Brighton Express uses pre-WiMax gear to achieve 60 miles of coverage at 100 mph: Peter Judge reports from the London-to-Brighton line that although coverage is yet contiguous--that's still to come--the service offers seamless performance across each base station zone by relaying Wi-Fi in the carriages to WiMax base stations along the route. T-Mobile is involved in this unwiring--which was carried out by Nomad Digital--and is offering the service at no charge while they tune the system.
The estimate is that the 37 802.16d-based Redline devices will need to be increased to 60, or a density of about one per mile, to provide complete coverage. The limit on speed right now is the ADSL backhaul of 2 Mbps per base station. The service switches to GPRS when out of range of WiMax bonding three GPRS devices. Only one train out of 15 is equipped so far.
T-Mobile will charge £5 per hour or £13 per day for service starting in June.
In-Stat says that WLAN switches will become more prevalent, but not as stand-alone devices: As Mobile Pipeline explains it, Ethernet switches will increasingly incorporate WLAN functions making the use of thin access points (most radio intelligence) a given but the centralized functions won't require specialized hardware. The article specifically notes that Aruba and Trapeze may face difficulties on their own; Airespace was acquired by Cisco.
There's another course for Aruba and Trapeze and similar companies to take, one that I think we're seeing the early directions toward. Instead of selling centralized hardware and specialized APs, move to centralized software that runs on commodity PCs that integrators and VARs can configure. The value would move entirely to the switching software. Aruba and Trapeze's SLAPP proposal is one step in that direction for removing specialized requirements from APs; the next step would be to agree on a standard featureset with extensions that could loaded by individual switches.
HotSpotVPN joins the trend to offer SSL-based full-service VPNs: The service, launched today, offers Blowfish (128 bit), AES-192 (192 bit), and AES-256 (256 bit) encryption using SSL via the open-source OpenVPN client. SSL VPNs are not all about application and browser-based tunneling! OpenVPN is a full VPN just like a PPTP or IPsec service tunneling all data.
The idea of HotSpotVPN and similar services is to bring corporate-grade network obscurity and data protection to those who don't have an information technology department supporting them on the road.
HotSpotVPN is calling the new service HotSpotVPN2, and charges $10.88, $11.88, or $13.88 per month for 128, 192, or 256 bits of encryption. Multiply those numbers by 10 to get the yearly rate. For now, HotSpotVPN works with Windows, but the underlying OpenVPN software has been built for many platforms; expect more platform support in the future. A free PPTP account is included with HotSpotVPN2.
HotSpotVPN2 competes with WiTopia's personalVPN offering, another recent addition to the traveler's arsenal. There's a little that varies in the setup, but WiTopia's $79 per year service is available only with 128-bit Blowfish encryption.
EAP types define how 802.1X transaction are conducted with what credentials and encryption: The Wi-Fi Alliance has added EAP-TTLS/MSCHAPv2, PEAPv0/EAP-MSCHAPv2, PEAPv1/EAP-GTC, and EAP-SIM. EAP-TLS has been a part of the certification testing since WPA was introduced because, as one alliance member explained to me, you couldn't test all of WPA without having at least one secured EAP type involved so that 802.1X could be tested in a reasonable manner. Devicescape and Meetinghouse supplicants join Funk and Microsoft clients in the testbed. These several types represent most of the secure EAP in use.
Interestingly, this article says that WPA2 was released in Sept. 2004. I know that certified devices have slowly been hitting the market and mandatory inclusion of WPA2 is scheduled for later this year. I was dealing with a new baby in September and so I somehow missed this and subsequent WPA2 announcements, but so did many of my colleagues.
The press release notes that the alliance has produced a white paper on deploying WPA and WPA2 in the enterprise, which is surely good reading.
Minneapolis plans outsourced city-wide network: The city will request bids on a citywide network to serve city workers, businesses, and residences, but Minneapolis won't have any ownership of the network nor will they put one red cent in. The goal of the network would be ubiquitous 1 to 3 Mbps coverage through Wi-Fi hotspots that would be tied together through what sounds like an entirely new fiber-optic network. That leaps this proposal into a much larger cost category, and explains why the city expects proposals from consortiums not individual companies. The city has talked to 26 potential bidders.
Unfortunately, this otherwise accurate article states that Philadelphia's network will be owned and operated by the city; I've already written to them about this error. The piece also notes that two local companies offer WiMax, which isn't possible as the certification process isn't done yet, and confuses WiMax's point-to-point offering with the future mobile WiMax that will allow roaming.
WiMax won't be too expensive for residential use when other alternatives aren't available or when operators are serious about competing on price: the higher initial cost can be offset by a lower ongoing capital cost for infrastructure versus wireline broadband, meaning that WiMax operators will eat more of the setup in exchange for contract commitments. This was true in the early DSL and cable modem days when those devices cost several hundred dollars each.
Puerto Rican Wi-Fi operator uses cell towers to distribute access: Island Hop isn't trying to unwire the entire island, but is bringing service to resorts and residences. The wait for DSL is a month on the north end of the island, but Island Hop brings in Wi-Fi-based broadband in about three days. Resorts are unwiring their entire compounds, too. There's already fiber to the island, although the article says it needs to be "updated," which probably means just new equipment on either end to deal with more capacity.
Interestingly, Vieques may be sparking a resurgence in an effort to unwire Puerto Rico's main island one near Vieques. About 1,200 to 2,000 offices are hooked up wirelessly through an earlier effort. That project was supposed to help bring Internet access to more residents, and that might be getting back on track.
There's no criticism in this article in Forbes, bastion of the free market, about the idea that the government is driving this part of the effort!
It's not exactly an endorsement, but this unsigned editorial from the paper is highly complimentary: They make the usual provisos, but their tone echoes mine of a few days ago. If this plan is implemented as suggested, there's very little risk to the city while not putting the city in the driver's seat of being an ISP.
AirWave's multi-vendor WLAN management tool now has Airespace support: Version 3.3 will support configuration of the Cisco Airespace WLAN switch controllers and access points. This is fairly significant given AirWave's existing support for other Cisco devices and Airespace's success in shipping boxes to academia and enterprises leading to Cisco's acquisition.
Nothing new in this report from the incumbent-funded Progress and Freedom Foundation: This pro-incumbent institute is one of my favorites because of their full disclosure of their ties to industry with vested interests. The report recycles lots of figures and arguments from other sources, including the familiar "here's a bunch of failed municipal broadband projects," which actually aren't failures (see earlier post today on the Free Press's report) and which often involve vast investments for fiber-optic cabling which doesn't figure in here.
There's a lot of speculation and ideology in this report by Adam Thierer, and very little that I can hang onto to talk about that I haven't read elsewhere, usually in deeper form with more citation.
(The following has been updated after receiving additional information.)
Tom Lenard's separate report looking at the finances and strucutre of the Philly plan directly has a number of interesting ideas in it and it challenges optimistic assumptions in the Philly plan. However, the first page notes that the report was published simultaneously by the New Millennium Research Council.
The PFF's Patrick Ross has a very interesting response to this post on the PFF's blog that notes the diversity of funders of PFF and their varied opinions on municipal broadband. I'll be writing something separately about this whole issue and the PFF reports as it deserves deeper coverage.
The Thierer report points out what appeared to me to be an inconsistency in the business plan for Wireless Philadelphia: the first year capital cost is project at $10,000,000 but the next four years at just a grand total of $500,000. After reviewing the plan more thoroughly, the capital budget for years 2 to 5 is hidden because the money comes from cash flow: there's $4 million in there that Thierer doesn't discuss.
The initial cash required by the plan is $15 million with the $10.5 million for the capital budget and the rest for staff and operational costs of setting up an organization of this size.
In years 1 to 5, the capital budget noted in the plan is from funding sources: foundations and bank loans. But in years 2 to 5, there is a supplementary working capital budget that will reach $4 million by year 5 which comes out of cash flow. This working capital budget plus the $500,000 allotted from initial funds totals nearly 50 percent of the initial expense that's projected which is a reasonable budget for a project of this scale.
Over time, the existing equipment will need to be replaced or updated, but falling equipment costs mean that more bandwidth and better functionality with lower cost will be the case across the board. And the initial cost includes all of the work to build infrastructure to bring power and backhaul to the mesh nodes.
Remember how the anti-municipal sock puppets and ideologues keep citing the same failures? They're not failures. In fact, they're generally successes. You hear Tacoma, Wash.; Ashland, Ore.; Braintree, Mass.; Marietta, Georgia; and others bandied about as failures that have drained taxpayer inputs and failed to live up to their financial projects. As I discovered when starting down the research path on this two months ago, those networks are successes: the numbers that "prove" their failure are typically cherrypicked from early construction stages or even take numbers that were planning figures and weren't used during the approval stages by voters, city councils, or boards of directors.
The people at Free Press have released a comprehensive report, "Telco Lies and the Truth about Municipal Broadband Networks," (PDF) that includes the first-hand research that the authors of the reports that declare these networks failures never did. The Beacon Hill Institute report last spring, for instance, cites a number of cases using newspaper article, defunct Web sites, and early projects and apparently never actually spoke to the network operators about details. (I take the report apart in a post a few weeks ago.)
All academics will tell you that primary sources are how you do it. If you talk to a primary source and they have publicly available documentation to back up what they say, then you can confirm or reject the contentions of that primary source. You can bring in other primary sources who have opposing views and facts. But if you rely on second or third hand reports, you will invariably produce conclusions that are poorly founded.
The Free Press counters the misinformation that's been provided in two ways: first, by showing the fruit of the poisoned tree, a several-year-old report that gets cited today as if the information is contemporary (and it was bad back then, too); and, second, by using primary sources to show how each of these networks is producing the kinds of financial results that should encourage this sort of local development.
A second report, "Connecting People: The Truth about Municipal Broadband," (PDF) handles the arguments about whether municipal networks improperly take the role of private enterprise in a new and unique way and suck the revenue and development that comes from private infrastructure into a municipal maw. This report also tries to address misinformation about the way in which these networks operator, historical antecedents about municipal utilities, and whether municipalities are incompetent to run operations.
I took the anti-municipal folks to task for their lack of disclosure about membership, funding sources, and indirect lobbying efforts. I was able to pin Verizon at the back of most of those efforts through direct funding of institutes that wrote reports or indirect operation of groups that then themselves backed reports and public opinion articles.
I just took the same approach to looking at the funding, staff, and board members of Free Press. The funding is miniscule compared to the think-tanks involved in the anti-municipal effort: a few hundred thousand dollars a year drives Free Press's work. I was unable to find any smoking guns on the board members or staff: they're mostly academics and journalists with an interest in fighting government and corporate propaganda that distorts the public understanding. But they don't seem to have an ideological bent.
A big chunk of their funding comes from the Media Education Foundation, about half of their annual revenue. That group's mission is distribution of educational videotapes to educational, social, and religious organizations. They're both located in Northampton, Mass. It's pretty easy to find an ideological bias when you look at their board of advisers, which includes Noam Chomsky and the founder and board chairman of the Free Press. Update: Free Press explained that they are a spinoff non-profit from MEF so operated under their auspices during that period. The 2003 non-profit IRS disclosure form shows funding that was part of that separation process as grants flowed through MEF to Free Press until it was a separate organization.
The reports are also co-sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union (which publishes Consumer Reports), and the Media Access Project. MAP is about diversity in media and ownership, and works on issues like low-power radio and opening up cable infrastructure to multiple competitive providers. The two consumer groups fight for consumer rights.
I don't find any funding of the Free Press from vested interests: municipalities, private vendors of networking equipment, competitive carriers with incumbents involved in this debate, nor individuals involved in government or contracting related to it. The Media Access Project is opposed to many of the business and legal tactics employed by incumbents to reduce competitor's ability to thrive in the marketplace.
Tim Higgins of Tom's Networking offers his exhaustive look at the NetGear RangeMax Wireless Router: This device uses Atheros's Super G technology combined with Video54's multiple antenna approach. The folks at Airgo say that Video54's MIMO isn't MIMO because it doesn't support spatial multiplexing (multiple signals taking different paths over the same frequencies). Video54 says multiple antennas are multiple antennas; they're using a phase-array approach per packet in which each packet can be sent through a different antenna combination. The device has a street price of just $118, far below its "true MIMO" competitors.
Higgins thinks that the device delivers on some but not all of its claims, and that because four different technologies are involved (three from Atheros then Video54 on top) he has some issues with the simplicity of it, too. He doesn't know which technologies need to be turned on, off, or changed in order to achieve the best results with that combination. That's a key advantage for the True MIMO line of products using Airgo chips: it's essentially one technology that wraps around all these ideas while delivering better results.
Wi-Fi isn't exotic in printers any more: Kevin Savetz writes that he's found the cheapest printer with built-in Wi-Fi: the Canon Pixma iP4000R [Amazon.com link: $199 with $20 rebate]. It supports WEP and WPA with supplied Windows software, but the online help for Mac OS X shows only WEP support there.
The HP PhotoSmart 2710 ($360 to $400) has many functions, but also includes Wi-Fi for cable-free connections. You can even enter the encryption key for a protected Wi-Fi network directly into the device; it took a little digging on HP's site, but the device supports both WEP and WPA.
Savetz also notes a couple of Wi-Fi printer adapters, but both failed at allowing Mac OS X systems to print while he had success with the Canon and HP printers.
Travel columnist provides overview and links: A Washington Post travel columnist answers a reader's question about using free Wi-Fi at hotels with a long list with links and phone numbers of the chains that have extensive free installations of Wi-Fi. Also noted is SBC's statistic that 25 percent of travelers plan to use "wireless electronics" (one assumes Wi-Fi) while on the road.
Wireless Security Corporation offers version 4: The latest version of their security software now supports Windows 98 and Me in addition to XP and 2000. Better, you can use the software to make WPA Personal (Pre-Shared Key or PSK) connections from all of those platforms without paying WSC a cent. That's right: they've just opened up WPA Personal to the have-nots that Microsoft chose not to support. (It seems there's competition in offering free security software: LucidLink released a free client a few days ago that offers profile and security management for Windows XP and 2000.)
WSC Guard 4.0's larger purpose, however, is to provide an integrated client that works with a remote 802.1X server for Windows 98 and SE, which the company estimates is about 13 percent of all computers worldwide. That's a nice market to tap.
The latest release offers profile management to control which networks are preferred a bit better than Windows XP's support, and to extend profile management to all the platforms now covered. The system now makes it easier for network administrators to allow guests without the WSC Guard client installed and to add new users to an existing WSC Guard subscription more quickly. The software now features automatic updating, too, removing another administrative burden.
WSC Guard pricing derives from simultaneous active users. One to four users cost $4.95 per month per user or $49.99 per year; five and more users are $3.99 per month per user or $44.99 per year.
A patent mill will enforce its MIMO patents: Speedus developed some itself, bought some, and some come from its partner Philips. The company has dozens of patents that it believes cover MIMO technology and some wireless and cellular technologies.
The Philly plan suggests non-profit, wholesale model: Philadelphia's business plan for their wireless city-wide network is out. Esme Vos interviewed the CIO of Philadelphia on her site, linked above. The report and the RFP are available for download in PDF form.
In its broadest form, Philly proposes to create a separate non-profit organization which will conduct fundraising and obtain bank loans. Its finances will be separate from the city by charter. The non-profit will not operate as an ISP, but will handle infrastructure. This is a model that I have suggested in the past is ideal for municipalities because it promotes competition for the customer among many entities without requiring that each entity build their own infrastructure as a cost of entry into the market.
The business plan includes extensive technical and financial details that now must be factored into the very broad and often inaccurate criticisms of Philadelphia's plan. For instance, previous criticism suggested the plan didn't include WiMax in its thinking. Oops. It does. Extensively, in both pre-WiMax and certified WiMax forms.
Much of the criticism suggested that the city was going to give away Wi-Fi to everyone, thought that Wi-Fi receivers inside laptops wouldn't receive signals indoors, and that the number of nodes was unreasonably small. My reading of the report finds these criticisms specifically answered in depth.
Update: Coverage of the announcement
We've seen it before, and it's back from the dead! Rizzo's rambling on metropolitan Wi-Fi: Philadelphia Councilman Frank Rizzo's letter to the Wall Street Journal against a project that he doesn't understand or represent accurately has now appeared in the Chicago Tribune as an editorial. I've already dissected it once.
But here are a few choice tidbits: "Independent analyses and prevailing market prices for network and construction costs make clear that the real costs could range from $30 million to $100 million for a feasible network. And this is just the starting point."
There have been no independent analyses, only numbers supplied to Rizzo by folks like the New Millennium Research Council, an arm of Issue Dynamics, which has almost all major telcos as their clients. Thus "independent" numbers are coming from reports issued by dependent organizations. Philly's $10 million number may turn out to be low, but I wouldn't turn to the NMRC for an estimate. Philly could hire a disinterested third party and guarantee their report will be published. That's the way these projects are usually overseen.
"Indeed, municipal forays into local telecom networks have created a sea of red ink in Georgia, Iowa, Oregon and elsewhere." This is so depressing when Rizzo recites failures that don't exist. None of these three projects were failures. Only the NMRC and its ideological and similarly incumbent funded ilk promote that view, and they use incorrect numbers that don't reflect reality.
Tip to Philadelphia reporters: ask Rizzo for specifics about these failures and where he got the information from.
Muniwireless.com has the details on the conference call: Philly mayor and CIO will announce the details of their metropolitan-scale wireless network's business plan. The next phase should be issuing an RFP and considering vendors and financing.
We're all headline slap happy with introduction of WLAN switch standard SLAPP: The idea isn't to make fun with acronyms, but rather to find a standard baseline for switch-based access points that will allow switchmakers to focus their efforts on centralized support and turn APs into commodity items. Almost all industries eventually migrate into this modality, but problems in getting agreement among highly competitive vendors on CAPWAP (Control and Provisioning of Wireless Access Points) and LWAPP (Lightweight Access Point Protocol) led to SLAPP: Secure Light Access Point Protocol.
Trapeze and Aruba apparently put their engineers together on the problem and produced a standard they took to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to replace an expiring LWAPP proposal.
In SLAPP, the only issues addressed are getting an AP provisioned and into switch mode. Trapeze and Aruba both announced proposals in recent weeks around this issue: Aruba went the open-source route, releasing a bootloader for Atheros reference designs that use a Motorola PowerPC; Trapeze is working with partners to incorporate their bootloader into commodity hardware. Fundamentally, both approaches are similar.
The actual operation of the switched APs would still be proprietary, but at least a commodity device to boot from any compatible image under SLAPP.
Andy Seybold and Ron Sege (Tropos) hammer away on metropolitan-scale Wi-Fi: I've had long internal debates with myself about how to write about this issue played out in competing guest commentaries on Muniwireless.com. Andy Seybold is a respected figure in the industry, and someone I admire. But his approach to external Wi-Fi, however reasonable some of his concerns are, has been ham-handed, often inaccurate, and biased towards licensed frequencies.
Because he's a consultant and does not have a list of his and his firms' clients, it's impossible to know what angle he comes at this. I'm not suggesting his opinion is paid for. He's too honest, too independent, and too smart for that. But if you just had your head inside the cell data helmet for two years, metro-scale Wi-Fi looks absurd. Take off that helmet, and evaluate it fairly, and you could have an entirely different take. I'd urge Seybold to disclose any past and present consulting arrangement with companies that compete in the space that he is offering public opinion about. He's not a journalist, but he still writes like one.
His opponent in this debate, Ron Sege, makes his money as the CEO of Tropos Networks, a company that is the leader in selling metro-scale Wi-Fi mesh equipment. So we know where his bias is: he'd like his company to sell more and more gear. He has every interest in making his approach seem workable. But he's also responsible to his private shareholders and board of directors as well as his customers. As recent years have shown, pretending something works doesn't work as a long-term business strategy.
(Me, I accept advertising through third parties and am not involved in negotiating or signing advertisers to my sites. I work as a journalist, primarily, and do not consult in this or any industry.)
The difference between Seybold and Sege is that Sege can give you the names and addresses of networks and city IT managers: you can go and try his networks and talk to the people running it who aren't responsible to Sege, but to taxpayers and city officials. Seybold is poking holes through what I have to say is often specious or inaccurate reasoning; Sege is offering a rational approach that's not overhyping the abilities of the system he sells. I think both parties would agree that the future for metro-scale wireless (not Wi-Fi) is extremely bright.
If you view metro-scale Wi-Fi as a poor cousin to cell data, then I have to say that's where the drugs have kicked in and you're channeling Hunter S. Thompson. Verizon Wireless keeps making bizarre statements about how their EVDO service works everywhere unlike Wi-Fi which works mainly when your laptop is physically touching an access point. Okay, I'm exaggerating. But their statements have been strangely broad especially when their technology provider, Qualcomm, has a campus-wide Wi-Fi network that they're very happy with. Seybold agrees: indoor deployments of Wi-Fi are great uses of the technology and they work.
EVDO is fantastic technology that I'm in love with, but let's remember three salient points: limited spectrum available for 3G in this country; high cost for unlimited usage to deter too many subscribers; limited bandwidth compared to the backhaul capable with modern Wi-Fi (mesh or fixed hotspot or hotzone).
So where's the dispute? Let me start drilling into Seybold's Muniwireless.com commentary. He hates 2.4 GHz: it's a messy band. It may experience a tragedy of the commons. It's like Citizens Band radio: too many users turned CB into something no one can use. (Except that it's still in use by a group that carved their own purpose out of it when the FCC walked away.)
But that's not what's happening in 2.4 GHz. The band has become more and more useful because it employs technology to allow many simultaneous networks to work without rendering each other useless. Yes, the more networks, the worse performance. But I've been at trade shows--Wi-Fi Planet, notably--with hundreds of 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks over a few thousand square feet, and you can still associate and send data. The FCC hasn't walked away: they're actively involved in tweaking and enforcing rules. Seybold claims companies are selling gear that flaunts Part 15. Hey, who are they? Let's report them. They're violating the law and threatening public safety and corporate data networks through their gear.
Seybold moves on to airports, indoor spaces that you think he would admire. But a lack of coordinated policy have doomed some of his connections, he says. I and others asked where in the comments, and he cited Dallas/Ft. Worth and San Jose as having several networks that apparently prevented him from getting a good connection. But those two airports have coverage from Wayport, which he doesn't mention as one of the signals he saw. I was recently in Seattle and Austin's airports, which are two of Wayport's oldest installations, and had great service throughout. As you imagine, I have professional interest in wandering around to look at signal strength and throughput. I saw other networks, sure, but the ones that Seybold cites are ones that are designed to cover small areas, like an airport lounge. If you're not in the lounge, you might see the signal, but the coverage shouldn't be good. This is frustrating for T-Mobile HotSpot subscribers who aren't lounge members, but that doesn't mean that Wi-Fi failed them.
Seybold's airport reasoning is conclusion by anecdote. Airports are generating hundreds of thousands of Wi-Fi connections each month. Ask Concourse, T-Mobile, and Wayport, to name the biggest players. If service were as poor as Seybold maintains, this wouldn't be happening. I had terrific results in Seattle, Denver, and Austin a few weeks ago, three of the oldest Wi-Fi'd airports in the country. (Seybold is also incorrect about a remark in the comments to his commentary: "access points are being deployed without knowledge or consent of the airport commission--and sometimes with their consent." The FCC ruling last June precludes airport authorities from restricting unlicensed wireless.)
The commentary devolves into speculation about how metro-scale Wi-Fi networks can't work well because of interference and many competing networks (home and otherwise), and how if they even manage to work now they will fail in the future because of a tragedy of the commons.
Unfortunately, all developments point otherwise. Seybold mentions the 5 GHz band in passing, but it's clear that as 2.4 GHz becomes more crowded--I completely agree it will--that the 23 channels in 5 GHz for relatively unused 54 Mbps communications today and 100 to 600 Mbps communications with 802.11n in 2006-2007 will take up the slack. Manufacturers are clearly moving towards integrated dual-band chips in all non-consumer devices. It doesn't cost much more at this point, and it's the way the enterprise is moving.
Combine that technology direction with the spatial multiplexing and multipath discrimination that will appear in 802.11n (and is already in early form in MIMO gear hitting the market), and you solve another problem. If you can more clearly differentiate signals as they reflect in complex, radio-crowded environments, then you effectively increase the amount of bandwidth available across a given geographic area in a given slice of spectrum.
Thus even if 2.4 GHz becomes unusable due to crowding with today's technology, tomorrow's technology won't be subject to the same limitations. Even better, you can continue having bad results with today's technology while tomorrow's is installed all around you. Tropos could move from 802.11a/g to 802.11n for backhaul and use multiple radios for service to support legacy users.
Seybold also writes, "The problem with 2.4-GHz Wi-Fi is that if it works in a given wide area today, there is no guarantee that it will continue to work tomorrow. Building a system that requires, for example, 500 access points today might require the addition of another few hundred access points in the future. This would throw a wrench into the business model."
That's a lot of different ideas, but I don't buy any of them. The technology will improve, so upgrades to the technology will be necessary. But all of the plans I've seen and read about involve the idea that technology will improve. A 500-node network that needs 200 to 300 more because of usage or other factors is already in the plan. Nobody is deploying a network of fixed size, crossing their fingers, and trusting that it will work indefinitely--or even 1 to 2 years in the future without adding nodes.
Seybold transition into questions of mobility, or accessing metro Wi-Fi while in motion. "If public safety officers have to pull over to the curb to run a license plate while they are in pursuit of a vehicle, what good is the network?" I don't think Seybold has talked to police officers about how they work to make that statement. Most of the selling point of public-safety networks is about keeping staff in the field instead of returning to base to fill out paperwork. Another part is about getting robust information in the field--but not, typically, at 100 mph pursuit. You're probably on the radio at that point and focusing on driving and not getting shot rather than typing on a keyboard (or having your partner do such).
In any case, focusing on mobility sells the idea that a technology that doesn't yet exist in most cities--broadband speed cell data, which is coming--and that requires payments to external providers trumps a flexible, multi-purpose network that a city itself could own or have built for it. Cities should probably think about conserving costs in areas in which outside providers have no similar interest. This is one of the primary problems in my view with state laws that would prevent municipalities from being able to build multi-purpose networks that public safety personnel would benefit from.
Like so many of the arguments in this commentary and more cellular-focused articles and chats elsewhere, Seybold wants to make the indirect case that an unlicensed band will devolve into chaos without rules that provide for strict separation of providers, cell-like seamless handoff, and other features common to cellular data networks.
But he's taking a very small slice and a set of strawman that I don't think hold up to scrutiny to posit that today's networks don't work (when they do) and that the same technology will get worse and worse instead of the inevitable path that's already underway to improved use of spectrum, better signal discrimination, and more channels for use overall.
Now you think I have forgotten about Tropos CEO Ron Sege's commentary on Seybold's piece? I have not. Here's my dilemma. I'm not a toady, but I agree with practically everything Sege writes. Why? Because he's not trying to create an reductio ad absurdum argument. Sege is willing to consider and even introduce points of view contrary to his own interest in the purpose of arriving at a logical conclusion.
Sege doesn't look as Seybold does at spectrum in the classical, early 20th century view that is being widely discredited by people as varied as open-source radio enthusiast and the FCC. Spectrum is only scarce when you spew radio waves over it. It's abundant when devices are smart enough to use the least signal, to avoid stepping on others, and to hop away from frequencies in use. Some of this is already in place in 2.4 GHz; some in European rules for 5 GHz.
In the non-scarce spectrum worldview, the more transmitters, the more difficult but not unsolvable the problem becomes. Coordination happens among devices using protocols that allow this to be sorted out.
If you apply Sege's arguments to the tragedy of the commons you get a very different outcome from Seybold's. Seybold would argue that in a space intended for 1,000 cows consuming regularly that he found 5,000 cows and the field was trampled. Sege, in contrast, would point out that there were 5,000 cows, but they were led in and out on a rata system that assured that no more than 1,000 cows--and often only a few hundred cows--were munching at every given time.
In fact, rather than 1,000 cows mostly owned by Verimoo or SBCow, the 5,000 cows were owned by hundreds of different dairy farmers. By keeping the commons open and using a protocol that determined the number of cows that could contend for grass, the commons continued to flourish. To follow Sege's commentary, he would say that Seybold didn't stoop to look at the grass at all, but reasoned that 5,000 cows were an untenable number for the commons, and vowed to return in a year to see if any grass was left at all.
Sege's summary is rather stirring and in accord with my opinion: "Cautionary projections of potential failures of technology solutions based on previous failures have a place in the debate, as long as they are fully verified as still valid and acknowledge real changes in the environment."
Comments welcome below that advance a civil discussion of these issues.
Phil King leads the charge against municipal network build-outs, but undermines self again: King, in this Star-Telegram (Ft. Worth) article, says that "he views most municipal Wi-Fi networks as a ploy by cities to start for-profit businesses." But dozens of cities are fighting his bill's language, which while revised remains broad enough to fulfill its true purpose: eliminating private competition as well as municipal competition for incumbent broadband providers.
The bill doesn't address the lack of broadband. Rather, it hands monopoly and duopoly powers over to incumbents while reducing a host of regulatory burdens that affect universal access to dial tone and other resources.
Rep. King says, "No business should have to compete with public tax dollars," King said. But it's not about that kind of competition. No municipality should have to beg private corporations for the privilege of having the basic services they need to survive. No municipality should be barred from allowing private companies access to municipal facilities in order to provide private competition.
If Austin's airport has its wireless network shut down as is possible under the Texas bill, that only benefits the cellular carriers who are allowed to continue operating their cell data networks within the airport. It doesn't benefit air travelers, the city of Austin, or business in Austin that view the airport's Wi-Fi network as a competitive advantage.
If there's ever a case to be made for municipal self-determination it's that so many municipalities view broadband networks (wireless or otherwise) as vital components in their ability to serve the public through police, fire, and emergency care and to make their communities competitive for business. When Rep. King say he thinks that cities want to turn broadband into a profit center, he just doesn't understand what they're doing with the technology and how underserved and overpriced most of his state is--or he's only listening to one viewpoint: SBC's.
LucidLink has released a free Wi-Fi client that solves some configuration, security hassles: In an interesting move, wireless security software vendor Interlink has released LucidLink Wireless Client at no cost for all Windows XP and 2000 users. The client software aids in supporting secure configurations by detecting a network's settings--Mac OS X does this built-in--and secures against evil twin and related attacks by not automatically switching to networks named the same but with different attributes. The client incorporates several security elements, meaning it can serve as a single entry point for Wi-Fi network connection, as opposed to Microsoft's broken-up approach.
LucidLink Wireless Client also works with the company's 802.1X-based authentication system that uses their proprietary to set up secure connections over Wi-Fi using software you host in house and with a secure out-of-band confirmation element. The LucidLink system allows anyone with the client installed to request access to the network without requiring that they enter a username and password. The out-of-band confirmation eliminates rogue entry.
Broadcom claims first Wi-Fi chipset for PCI Express: PCI Express is the next next generation of motherboard-based expansion technology with a higher-speed switched bus architecture for better throughput. PCI Express (PCIe) can push 1 Gbyte/s of data; even the fastest proprietary flavors of 802.11 support about 3 to 4 Mbyte/s (30 to 40 Mbps), so it's not a stretch to have multiple cards in a single PCIe chassis, even. The Broadcom chipset is sampling now.
Dunn Bros. is a beloved Twin Cities institution, according to the folks there: Dunn offers Wi-Fi at no cost in its coffeeshops that have the service in contrast to competitors like Caribou (SBC FreedomLink) and Starbucks (T-Mobile). Not unusual. But Dunn will take to magazines and buses promoting its free service. Once you push something like free Wi-Fi you need to ensure that all of your locations sport it.
The number of hotspots in India is expected to grow tenfold with 3,000 active by December: for a country with many times the U.S. and with a vast technically trained population--and extremes of poverty as well--hotspot growth is a given. The government only recently legalized the use of 2.4 GHz and 5.1 GHz devices for this purpose.
Dishnet announced a 6,000-hot spot network this week with 2,000 planned to be active by December; Microsense has 200 now with 1,000 expected by December; other networks have hundreds of locations targeted, too. Prices have plummeted as growth has expanded--but probably not fallen "100 percent" as the article indicates.
San Antonio considers municipal broadband network: A non-profit is working on a plan to offer low-cost Internet access to poorer residents of San Antonio and wants to work with the city to offer free wireless hotspots. The Texas house bill that prohibits municipal networks would disallow this kind of cooperation. (It might even doom some of Austin Wireless's projects that involve city help, founder Rich MacKinnon mentioned during South by Southwest interactive a few weeks ago.)
The reporter quoted the New Millennium Research Council's concern about muni networks, but tried to get the executive director, Alan Hepner, to identify funding for the report and the group, which he refused to. This is a step in the right direction. In the past, they just denied a connection--well, at least their partner on the report The Heartland Institute did. C'mon, Alan, you're listed as an assistant vice president at Issue Dynamics; the NMRC site says it's a project of IDI; the IDI site describes its relationship with NMRC as the council providing clients briefs, analysis, and research; and SBC is a listed IDI client (as well as Verizon, Qwest,, BellSouth, and Comcast, and, bizarrely, several no-longer-in-existence firms Pacific Bell, Ameritech, and GTE). Your cover is blown. Let's drop the pretense. [link via Muniwireless.com]
West Virginia's pro-muni, pro-competitive bill morphs into deadly form: The quintessential quote from an elected legislator: '"We were moving toward a compromise with the industry," said Helmick, D-Pocahontas. "But they don’t want the bill, and they’re going to be against it."' I've forgotten, Senator from Verizon--who elected you?
The revised bill guts municipalities' self-determination and eliminates their ability to sell bonds to fund efforts. [link via Muniwireless.com]
HomePlug AV is near--but so are three other standards: Frustrating, isn't it, that just when you hear the news that the electrical networking standard HomePlug is about to be revised from version 1.0 to AV (11 Mbps to 200 Mbps!) that three other standards could split the marketplace and thus doom it in the same way that the excellent HomeRF standard sunk beneath the waters by failing to reach the market fast enough with speedy bandwidth.
PC World reports that HomePlug AV will be ratified in June and be built into settop boxes and other devices. With a raw 200 Mbps design, it should deliver at least 100 Mbps of actual net throughput, enough to stream multiple video signals across your home's wiring. It's also designed to work with Broadband over Powerline (BPL) equipment, although I'm finding that increasingly unlikely to be deployed in the U.S. based on power utility statements. (Anti-municipal telecom/broadband bills would make it impossible for private utilities to deploy BPL, too.)
The United Powerline Association unfortunately has a competing spec that won't interoperate. And then HomePlug has a low-power control protocol they're working on as does Z-Wave.
The article unfortunately quotes the New Millennium Research Council, a group that I have written about extensively here because of their parent company, Issue Dynamics, which is a PR firm that represents incumbent telco and cable operators. The NRMC is oddly 100-percent behind BPL, and if you look at Issue Dynamics's client list, you find that Edison Electric Institute and Virginia Power are represented in their client list; Pacific Gas & Electric was a former client.
So keep your scorecard straight: utilities offering broadband is a bad idea when they are owned by municipalities, but an entirely good idea when private companies own the utilities. And allowing municipal utilities to allow private companies to offer broadband over their electrical lines would be bad, too.
The city has asked its potential metropolitan wireless network vendors to build temporary test networks: This is an awfully clever idea from several standpoints. First, it allows the city to see how the vendor works with its utility employees to set up the test. Second, it shows that the equipment works. Third, it gives local residents a chance to test service to see if it's something they would ultimately be interested in. Fourth, it allows different technology to contend in similar spaces, which lets the city more easily choose the best kind of wireless technology for their region. Fifth, it's not as cut and dried as an RFP with a single winner.
Of course, this test favors companies that have the wherewithal to build out test networks of this scale, but the city has 13 potential vendors for these trials!
Trials will begin May 6 and last eight weeks with open access during the tests. The ultimate network will span 45 square miles. Funding plans aren't mentioned.
Update: Trials have been delayed to at least June 1 to have more time to review vendor applications for the test.
Train trade magazine reports on Wi-Fi and Internet on the rails: The article has a remarkably optimistic tone about the future of train access stating that most rail riders will have Internet access in five to 10 years. The piece walks through developments of the last year, including PointShot's significant partnership with Parsons Transportation Group, a major rail builder.
But beyond the passenger side, rail operators will see important telemetry and operations advantages, such as precisely tracking train location and on-board seat sales.
Two rail systems that I haven't seen previously discussing adding Internet access are listed in this article: Trinity Railway Express, which runs light rail in Dallas and Ft. Worth; and Caltrain, the San Francisco to San Jose rail line.
This trade-magazine article tries to show how cable operators are tied into Wi-Fi, but demonstrates their wrong-headed approach: The article surveys efforts by Comcast, Charter, and Time-Warner to offer their cable television subscribers some kind of Wi-Fi adjunct. But it's a lot of spotty, weird plans that don't bring enough locations or value.
Comcast partners with T-Mobile to discount the T-Mobile service, but as a Comcast subscriber, I can tell you I received a couple of coupons and virtually no information since about the partnership, which is more of a slightly discount off retail. If they wanted to do it right, they could pursue an SBC DSL/Wi-Fi promotion and offer a $20/month unlimited service plan--the same rate that T-Mobile only makes available to its cell subscribers. However, that might undercut T-Mobile cell market, and Comcast and T-Mobile aren't connected except through a partnership.
Time-Warner is installing Wi-Fi in a small number of random venues--the article makes it sound like quite a few, but the scale of "quite a few" is thousands now, not hundreds. The writer says that Time-Warner installs the service and sells minutes wholesale to the venue which then resells them at retail. Time-Warner Roadrunner cable subscribers get a small amount of free service in some locations.
Finally, Charter is reselling RemotePipes Wi-Fi footprint. They're an aggregator, but it's extremely difficult to understand their footprint from their Web site.
Bottom line: if this is the best they can do in response to SBC's DSL and Wi-Fi bundle, then we can expect the DSL churn rate in SBC territory to remain quite low.
A report in TidBITS dated April 1 explains Seattle's recent coffeehouse ban: As we all know, Wi-Fi commonly operates in the 2.4 GHz band, the same band used by microwave ovens to heat food through the bipolar effect in which rapid switching causes friction in water molecules. (Not resonance as is often mistakenly stated.)
This can apparently lead to dangerous results not previously seen as the density of Wi-Fi usage increases. At a local coffeeshop, an ill-advised gateway placement and too many Wi-Fi users resulted in the espresso machine's boiler exploding from too much pressure. Several were injured, only one seriously; all were bloggers.
Seattle has formed the WTF (Wi-Fi Testing Foundation) to better understand this incident, but has proactively banned Wi-Fi until the results come in.