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Several readers, colleagues, and blogs question MetroFi's move to all free metro-scale Wi-Fi: The move seems absolutely clear to me, but others think it's either reminiscent of the dot-com "get big fast" or "give it away" models or simply ill-advised. I don't see it. In my post yesterday, I noted that MetroFi used to charge $20 per month in Santa Clara and Cupertino; now it's free in those two cities and Sunnyvale, its test market for advertising.
At $20 per month, you're already paying a decent percentage just for credit-card processing, some amount for bill presentment, some amount for billing staff, some unpaid bills, and accounting costs. Even with a decent number of customers, at least several dollars a month is eaten up with pure overhead. CEO Chuck Haas said the company had "thousands, not tens of thousands" of customers before the switch to free. Haas also noted that a significant percentage of his customer support costs centered around billing. (Some hotels have found that not charging for Internet access was only slightly more expensive than charging for it, and that they accrued other benefits, like increased room nights to boot.)
Marketing might figure in several dollars per month per customer. The cost to acquire a customer for MetroFi's service is unknown, but one might suspect that it's from $20 to $80 per customer based on costs found in cellular and ISP markets. Over the first year of acquisition, that's a significant percentage of a $20 per month fee.
Now look at the replacement revenue side. MetroFi would rarely get casual users when it was pay-for-use, whether residential or mobile. Now, they will the network of choice across every city they operate in for users that can see the signal as long as they live up to providing a reliable and consistent data rate. This increases the pool of users immediately by thousands of unique individuals a month. Residential users who might not have wanted to pay $20 per month, but are paying that for dial-up now become immediate converts if they try it out and it works.
The three cities MetroFi covers have roughly 300,000 combined residents. This doesn't include the influx of tens of thousands of workers daily. If MetroFi had, say, 3,000 regular users prior to switching to free (1% of users), picks up 5,000 monthly unique users with laptops and handhelds, and perhaps just 3,000 more residential users, they're suddenly at 11,000 unique monthly users.
3,000 users would generate a gross revenue of $60,000 per month before expenses. Assuming the most optimistically cheap scenarios for billing and marketing, let's say that $45,000 per month was left cover CapX, forward investment, and profit. 11,000 users need to generate a little over $4 per month each on average to exceed that--probably more like $6 per month to handle the per user costs that will go up.
If advertising were still sold exclusively on a banner-ad model with a cost-per-thousand (CPM) rate, then MetroFi might be able to sell ads at a $15 to $25 CPM, and feed 250 impressions over a month to each user on average to achieve the $6 figure. However, local, targeted advertising can be sold at a higher rate or on a cost per objective (CPO) model in which leads or sales conversions result in much higher bounties or results. The Google AdSense model shows that certain keywords are worth vastly more than others resulting in extremely high effective CPMs even with low clickthrough.
When critics of MetroFi's actions say it won't work, my conclusion is: if an average user sees about 250 to 300 banner ads per month, MetroFi's math works. If they see 500, MetroFi makes some real cash.
David Isenberg sucked the Dr. Seuss houka quite hard to produce this poem on freedom to connect: It's a bit of beautiful doggerel from the man who gave us The Stupid Network. His latest cause is network neutrality, or the necessity of not allowing the folks who run the pipes to control what passes across them. It's all bits. We don't let the phone company tell us what conversations we may have on our wired and cellular phones. The battle is underway to, as Isenberg puts it,
The Bells want to split the Net in two,
Keep one part the same and give it to you.
A sliver of bandwidth that stays the same,
Even as Moore's Law continues to change the game,
Until "our Internet" is a rutted dirt road,
And their piece is a turnpike with heavy, heavy tolls.
The nycwireless community group has an excellent state on network neutrality's principles that I cited in passing in a recent New York Times article. You can read it all here, but the summary is that we should have the right to access any legal content using any software using any legal device buying content, access, or software from any provider.
Bay Area metro-scale wireless ISP MetroFi drops charges: MetroFi offers Wi-Fi-based service across Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara. Its Cupertino and Santa Clara services originally required a monthly fee for mobile or fixed access. When they launched in Sunnyvale, they decided to try whether an advertising-supported model, in which a strip of advertising appears while connected, would provide enough revenue to create a profit on their fixed and per user costs. It did. (Press releases here.)
CEO Chuck Haas said last week, "Most communications business--and MetroFi is no different--is a high fixed cost, low incremental cost business. Your denominator, how many subscribers you have to amortize that cost, is one of the big drivers of that business." Haas said that his top three per-user costs were customer acquisition, support (mostly to do with billing), and Internet bandwidth. By removing the first two major factors, it's cheaper for him to offer free service.
"The rapid awareness and the numbers we have are take rate are phenomenal. We've broken the code on how to fund this network with advertising. and we've also broken the code in using 2nd generation radio technology," Haas said.
While Haas declined to provide numbers, it's an easy calculation. At roughly $20 per month for unlimited usage, a good percentage of that had to be devoted to the expensive tasks of billing and marketing. If MetroFi netted $2 per month per customer, that might be an optimistic rate. By that token, having ten times the users bringing in an average of 50 cents a month each in advertising should cover increased capital and recurring expenses while reducing staffing requirements.
The company uses SkyPilot equipment, which uses mesh techniques for backhaul in which up to eight high-gain 5 GHz point-to-multipoint links per node are given scheduled slots to allow highly efficient spatially and temporally separated spectrum re-use.
MetroFi noted in a press release that advertising can be targeted based on a user's location. While all three cities don't have 100-percent coverage, most of each town does have access, and the company will be expanding service and node density as more users come online.
MetroFi uses a BYOB model (bring your own bridge), in which fixed users can purchase any Wi-Fi bridge and then connect into the MetroFi network.
I'd been hearing for weeks that the contract wasn't signed: The details have now been settled and the city council must approve the terms of the 10-year deal before EarthLink signs it. This isn't seen as a stumbling block, however.
This AP article notes that wholesale access will be sold by EarthLink for $9 per month, and mentions the 15-square-mile test network that the company must build and show works as expected before deploying citywide. The entire network would be finished by spring 2007.
Grand Rapids has been taking it slow, but has an RFP: The city invited a number of bidders to create test networks almost a year ago in order to see what (and who) works well for them. They've issued an RFP based on these test networks for citywide service. The city wants the equivalent of a franchise fee for providing access to "City buildings, water tanks and cellular towers, parking ramps, street and traffic lights as well as other city-owned facilities including use of the City’s Network operations center, dark fiber, and the underground conduit system." They also enshrine network neutrality in the RFP.
The many tentacles of Tempe stretch south: MobilePro's NeoReach division has unwired much of Tempe, Arizona, as part of a municipally requested network, and will now put Wi-Fi across adjacent Chandler, too. This will create a 110-square-mile contiguous network sharing some equipment for what the company suggests and I would agree is the largest domestic service deployment to date. It will be outstripped by Philadelphia and other cities, but not for many months. (The Philadelphia contract will be signed next month and require citywide access by spring 2007.)
Suffolk County will blanket the region with Wi-Fi: 900 square miles would be covered, but there's no plan yet, just intent. Verizon suggests the public will be disinterested and costs will be higher than expected. Yawn.
Manchester's airport gets T-Mobile service: It'll cost you.
Network Computing covers the tiny details that make WPA2 work: If you wanted to know the ugly innards of the beast that is the WPA2/802.11i implementation of Advanced Encryption System (AES) ciphers, read on. Frank Bulk dissects how the AES keys work within the certified WPA2 framework, including in an 802.1X environment.
The description of the network they'd like to cover 1,500 square miles is out: Joint Venture Silicon Valley has put out a press release and its scope document describing what they want from an RFP to cover building a wireless network across the entire region.
The San Jose Mercury News includes typical remarks from an incumbent broadband provider, Comcast:
"Andrew Johnson, a Comcast Bay Area spokesman,...said companies that have spent billions of dollars to build wired networks shouldn't be undermined by taxpayer funds focused toward a rival."
Interestingly, virtually no municipal RFPs now involve taxpayer funds, but incumbents continue to play from that script. This RFP will involve roughy $40,000 from a few dozen cities.
" 'The free market should be allowed to play out,' he said. 'A municipal subsidy, or a provision of a municipal WiFi network would not be the best use of taxpayer funds.' "
In other words, regardless of the fact that broadband firms have been spreading the notion that high-speed access is critical to individual businesses and entire communities, those communities have no right to ensure that they have what they want if they're paying for it directly despite massive public subsidies paid to incumbents, which are never mentioned in the same breath as the "billions" spent. This statement reiterates the "taxpayer funds" issue.
" 'While on the outside it might appear to be a simple and easy business, those of us in the industry think just the opposite. It's very complex, it's very detailed, it's very labor intensive and thus, something that a local municipality would have a tough time dealing with.' "
Same old script: This assumes that municipalities would start from scratch instead of finding private companies to bear the risk and who have the expertise to build such networks. Some of these companies build networks for cellular operators worldwide, install Wi-Fi in corporate and college campuses, and, gasp, have even built citywide public safety wireless networks, too.
They don't seem to have a "tough time dealing with" building those networks.
Is there any intellectually rigorous opposition to municipal networks that doesn't rely on an outdated script? If taxpayer dollars and municipal expertise are taken out of the mix, then what's left on the table to complain about?
The plan to build a 1,500-square-mile Wi-Fi network is underway: Yesterday, I wrote about a couple of stories (neither online) filed in Palo Alto newspapers about what seemed to be an Intel-led effort to put together a request for proposal (RFP) for a Bay Area-spanning Wi-Fi outdoor network. I spoke with Intel external affairs manager Mark Pettinger about the details, which will be fully available soon.
The Joint Venture Silicon Valley group via a local joint government organization has asked dozens of cities and counties in the Bay Area to contribute modest funds (a few thousand each) towards the cost of preparing a draft RFP which would then, in turn, be finalized and issued for bids. Joint Venture is run by an array of local businesspeople, elected politicians, executives from non-profits, and academic leaders.
The vision expressed in planning documents that I've seen show a scope that's incredibly broad: the network would provide outdoor service to sensors for municipal projects, like water levels in creeks, to ordinary consumer purposes. The network would cover Silicon Valley's broadest definition, reaching from San Mateo in the north to Gilroy in the south; Fremont in the east and over the mountains to Santa Cruz in the west. Silicon Valley's population in this definition was estimated at 2.44 million in 2003 by Joint Venture
No business model or technology is preordained, although Wi-Fi is mentioned repeatedly. Whether it's free, fee, or baroque combinations will be determined while drafting the RFP and considering bids. It might be that ZigBee, EVDO, WiMax, Wi-Fi, and other flavors would be the ideal combination.
Intel's Pettinger said the estimated cost of preparing the draft RFP is about $60,000, and Intel has agreed to provide about 1/3 of that as in-kind services. The Intel Solution Services (ISS) division, which is a systems architecture planning group, will lead on the drafting. Intel has agreed to not put in a bid to answer the RFP. The draft will be finalized into a bidding document by Joint Venture. Intel has helped a number of communities plan their municipal network RFPs, including most recently Portland, Ore., and Tempe, Ariz., through their Digital Communities effort.
This RFP will ultimately issued by a consortium that includes 16 cities and San Mateo County at the core (a joint powers authority called SAMCAT), and could encompass as many as 26 cities and counties that would join with them. Santa Clara County, Los Altos Hills, Santa Clara (city), Morgan Hill, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, and Santa Cruz have put their money where their mouth is for the RFP already. The draft RFP should be ready in April of this year, if all goes as planned.
The story leaked out ahead of supporting documentation over the weekend because local cities and towns in the Bay Area have received the solicitation for funds to prepare the RFP, and a reporter made a call (it's how the best stories develop). Pettinger said that there's no interest in keeping this private, but the groups involved hadn't yet had a chance to draft a press release and assemble all the pieces to explain the effort.
The Borough of State College considers citywide, university-covering Wi-Fi network: Penn State forms the largest part of the city, and neither town nor gown has a ubiquitous wireless network. They haven't built a plan yet so costs haven't been estimated; the university will pick up some undetermined part of the tab if it's built. Municipal uses could include parking meters. I hear about parking meters so often, it's clear that there is a vast, vast cost associated with operating them.
Tim Higgins has reviewed NetGear's RangeMax 240 and found it can top 100 Mbps of throughput, but wipes out nearby 802.11b/g networks: His tests show that the device, based on Airgo's third generation of MIMO chips, doesn't stop using two 802.11b/g channels' worth of spectrum when nearby networks are active. Read more over at our MIMO + N blog.
The flagship library has an extensive Wi-Fi network and staffers wear Vocera intercom badges: But branches have lagged because the library system has, frankly, been focusing on building. A levy a few years ago paid for a chunk of the fantastic downtown facility, and for branch libraries all over town. Last week, the SPL announced that seven branches have had Wi-Fi added, and all of the rest of the branches will eventually gain such service.
I've shared office space with fellow writers and creative types since about 1997 in Seattle, and since 1999, I've always been within one to four blocks of a library branch. It hasn't been on purpose, but Seattle is a book and library town. Every corner in most neighborhoods has some way of obtaining written literature and non-fiction. [Link via meatspace experience of Conrad Chavez]
A group headed by Intel has asked 38 Bay Area counties and cities to contribute towards writing an RFP for a regional Wi-Fi network: The Joint Venture Silicon Valley group wants to raise $50,000 from government to build the requirements list. The scope is massive, covering 1,500 square miles. It's unclear whether this project would attempt to provide residential service, but it seems more focused on mobile.
The details are scanty. The proposal to cities and counties isn't online and the Joint Venture Web site hasn't been updated to include any information. The most comprehensive story was published Sunday by a Bay Area paper that doesn't put its content online.
Anyone hiding their light under a bushel?
The press release will probably appear here on Joint Venture's site.
JiWire announced that its directory crossed the 100,000 mark: My editorial partner sees 37,073 hotspots in the U.S. as the leader in the world, with 12,668 in the UK as No. 2. This is a huge jump from 57,000 hotspots listed a year ago. About 8% are free.
Hotels represents over 26,000 of these hotspots, and that's a tricky counting problem: many have hardwired room connections and Wi-Fi (if at all) in lobbies. It's an increasing trend to use Wi-Fi throughout a hotel.
The Seattle Times writes about the coming U.S. air-to-ground spectrum auction and its potential outcome: I've been writing about this for several months, and it's just starting to get covered in the mainstream business press as the full impact of a mere 4 megahertz of bandwidth comes clear for domestic flights.
This article notes how Connexion's expensive and not widely deployed service--although it continues to grow at a good clip--will likely have no uptake in the domestic U.S. market because of this spectrum that will become available using cheaper ground stations rather than satellite for the backhaul to the Internet. Boeing estimates it could gross $500,000 per plane per year with its satellite service; no numbers were presented for domestic flights, which will likely cost less for usage but have a higher uptake.
This article doesn't mention two interesting factors in this auction, scheduled for May of this year which I documented in an article I wrote Dec. 9. First, AirCell already operates a national ground station network for general (non-commercial) aviation for data and voice, and they will almost certainly bid on this spectrum. They qualify for bidding credits under the auction rules, too.
Second, Verizon states in this article and has stated elsewhere that they could have their data service running within a year of winning the auction, but the FCC order that settled auction terms several weeks ago state that Verizon has two years from the end of auction to decrease its use of current spectrum for AirFone. The order states, "Airfone must transition its incumbent narrowband operations from four to one megahertz of spectrum in the band within two years of the initial grant date of a new license in the band."
If confirmed, it means that Verizon has a full year financial advantage for starting up revenue over any competitor, even if a competitor wins one of the two overlapping 3 MHz chunks up for auction in one bidding configuration. I'm not sure how this is the case because the company made a compelling set of arguments accepted by and documented by the FCC in its order that it needed a full two years to upgrade AirFone equipment on thousands of planes, some government owned and operated.
(There are three possibilities: 1 + 3 MHz, 3 +1 MHz, and overlapping 3 MHz; the latter is the only one that makes sense for bidders, but Verizon could game the auctions by bidding exceptionally high for a 1+3 or 3+1 configuration, which would exclude bids for the overlapping spectrum. The 1 MHz chunks aren't wide enough to provide the bandwidth necessary for profitable in-air broadband.)
Wi-Fi networks may run at a maximum rate of 54 Mbps, but the feed to the Internet on hotspots is always far below that: The mismatch between wireless local area network (WLAN) speeds, found in corporations and homes for moving data around within a network, and the wide area network (WAN) speed, which is frequently a low to medium broadband rate, means that hotspots are undervalued based on their connectivity. It's why Verizon wants you to think that their 200 to 400 Kbps EVDO cellular network is as useful as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
But the local part of the WLAN at a hotspot could be leveraged to provide more interesting services that are impossible over 3G cellular into the far future and that could make hotspots more useful to a greater range of users.
I've asked Apple on more than one occasion why they don't have a local cache of their gigabytes of Mac OS X and other software upgrades on the local networks at the Apple Stores they run mostly in the U.S. They've given me non-answer answers. I've wondered aloud why Akamai and other content-to-the-edge companies aren't involved in pushing content into high-traffic parts of the Net, like inside Internet service providers own networks (they are in some). I've questioned the folks at T-Mobile as to whether you couldn't just stick a server with a big hard drive in a Starbucks and deliver, you know, rich content without all the tedious download time.
The edge of a network is where all the action is, and the closer to the edge that content providers and service providers can push information, the more readily users will access it. With increasingly rich media available (albeit with tons of hard-coded usage restrictions), it would make sense to push the content closer to users instead of maintaining the gating factor of the local loop.
Finally, some of this is coming to pass. Starbucks will preview the movie Akeelah in its stores over its Wi-Fi networks. It's unclear whether the content is cached locally or pushed over the T-1 lines that feed T-Mobile HotSpot locations. One hopes it's cached locally. Even with lower-speed broadband at hotspots, they could retrieve updates overnight, or even load data from DVDs shipped out at relatively high bit-per-second rates via FedEx.
I've thought that the weak spot in delivering movies over the Internet is still broadband's slow speeds. If I could pop into a hotspot and pull down a movie at 20 Mbps instead of at home at 1.5 to 5 Mbps, it might be worth my time. And I might buy a cup of coffee and think about signing up for that hotspot network as well.
A large study in the UK finds no elevated risk of a common brain tumor from cell phone use: In a retrospective study in which researchers from several institutions in England interviewed nearly 3,000 people, they found that cell phone use does not appear to bring an elevated risk of brain tumors. 966 people in the group had glioma; 1,716 did not. Respondents were queried about cell phone use over the last 10 years.
Researchers found that in the group with glioma, there was an elevated risk of their tumors appearing on the side of the head which the interview subject said they most frequently used their cell phone. But they found an equivalent decreased risk on the other side of the head, leading to the conclusion of reporting bias: people knew which side their tumor was on.
Because many glioma sufferers perish quickly, a group quoted in this BBC article note that there may be a bias toward longer-surviving cancer sufferers. All parties agree more research is needed, especially on long-term use of cell phones. But this study confirms a number of others in recent years that, while they cannot show there is no risk, have demonstrated no increased risk.
Word just in that the 802.11n proposal was confirmed: The IEEE task group on high-throughput wireless local area networking has confirmed the joint proposal group draft which itself came out of the Enhanced Wireless Consortium. Now 802.11n will move forward relatively rapidly to ratification, even though that formal process of finalizing details could take until 2007. That won't delay shipping products at this point.
Broadcom meanwhile announced that what it's dubbed its Intensi-fi chips are now available in sampling and incorporated in reference designs for manufacturers and support all mandatory draft 802.11n specifications. The chips will also support any changes in the spec through ratification via software updates. The chips will support over 300 Mbps of throughput.
Later yesterday, Marvell chimed in that they, too, have chips ready to go with early 802.11n compliance. They are predicting products from their partners this quarter, and they say their chipsets can operate using optional parts of the standard at speeds up to 600 Mbps.
On Monday, Atheros added its chip announcement to the fray, noting 150 to 180 Mbps of real end-user throughput from a 300 Mbps system. Their system is called Xspan. They're also offering a 600 Mbps flavor.
EarthLink has signed a five-city deal with Motorola for services, equipment: Motorola has already been contracted to build out Philadelphia's wireless network for EarthLink using a combination of Motorola Canopy gear for backhaul and Tropos mesh access points for Wi-Fi access. The five-city deal formally extends the relationship. It's to EarthLink's advantage to leverage the Motorola name, especially as competition increases for building city networks.
The other Twin City considers a muni network: Minneapolis already has already gone to the semi-finals in bidders to create a fiber/wireless network across its side of the river; now St. Paul considers its own Wi-Fi buildout. The city owns its own utility poles, which makes it easier for them to franchise, they say, than Minneapolis. The first step is a study.
Taipei claims first city in the world to achieve even current level of Wi-Fi coverage: The network is still being built, the Wall St. Journal reports, but it should hit 90-percent completion by summer. The network already includes 3,300 access points and covers half of the 106 square miles of the city. They offered free access during early build out and now charge about US$12 per month for service. The Journal reports that about 6,000 out of 60,000 registered users have opted to pay, and the question is whether there will be enough uptake to justify the investment by winning bidder Q-ware Systems, which has born all the risk.
As expected, the IEEE 802.15.3a group has voted to disband: They've asked the leadership of the IEEE to withdraw the project authorization request that launched the exploration of high-throughput, short-range personal area networking. Ultrawideband (UWB) quickly became the dominant standard under consideration, and a couple dozen proposals coalesced into two.
The WiMedia Alliance and Freescale's UWB Forum will continue their separate ways in the market. Despite Freescale bringing commercial products to market through their manufacturing partners, I am still bearish on their long-term potential given that almost every other player in the industry has chosen the WiMedia approach if they've taken sides.
This means that manufacturers who want to have multiple chip vendor options for a UWB product that will support full interoperability can only go to WiMedia members. Those willing to accept a single vendor solution that has no interoperability with any other chipsets (at this point) will choose Freescale.
In this New York Times piece, I look at the transformation of community wireless networking advocates from hardware hackers to political operatives: The first wave of community wireless networking (CWN) groups appeared around 1999 and 2000, and this first wave inspired a larger wave that followed. While CWN initially focused in many cities on installing hotspots and helping to set up free locations, the larger themes have taken over as hardware as gotten cheaper to buy and easier to run.
When I started thinking about writing this article months ago, I thought I would be writing an elegy for community wireless. It seemed to me that membership had dropped, groups had disbanded, and leaders had left their positions. Instead, after talking to a few dozen people, many involved since the early days, I discovered that the focus has shifted away from the brute force stage and into subtlety.
In the early days, most groups were talking about how to create antennas, build node maps, modify firmware, buy gear for cheap, and get locations hooked up. Some were thinking all along about building their own citywide networks; others just wanted to convince all manner of venues to offer service for free.
Over time, it's become so easy to create a Wi-Fi hotspots or even a zone spanning a fair amount of area, that the challenges have shifted to issues like network neutrality, or making sure that everyone can use a network without prejudice for purpose or equipment. Many of the ideas of community networking have found their way into municipal proposals, and many of the wireless advocates I spoke to have tried to shape these proposals--often successfully.
Seattle Wireless probably represents one of the highest achievements in the area of neutrality, because they've built a network of what looks like now over a dozen nodes that use an open-source mesh routing protocol to create a neutral medium. Anyone can plug in multiple times into any point on the network to create tunneled services across the entire redundant, optimum route system. There are no rules on what the network is used for, which makes it unique. Their new Capitol Hill location gives them one of the highest points in Seattle from which their antennas can be "seen" and thus employed. (A bad bit of phrasing I wrote in the article makes it sound like the tower is their only location; it's just a centrally located, very high one.)
A Wi-Fi Networking News advertiser wants your help: They're trying to figure out more about the kinds of ads they might run on our site, and if you've got about 3 minutes (my score in filling it out), follow the link and answer a few questions. I can't tell you the advertiser's name as that would skew results!
Milwaukee, Wisc., votes to let firm build it a network: Midwest Fiber Networks will be allowed to spend $20 million to build out a citywide wireless network; they'll receive a 14-year contract with an option for six more years. The network should be built within 18 months, with a demonstration network up and running in four months.
This is a sweet deal for Midwest because they'll be allowed to pull fiber through the city's underground conduits. It's not an exclusive deal for Midwest Fiber.
The IEEE 802.15.3a task group on high-speed personal area networking may vote to disband: The vote will happen this week. The group has been divided for years between the Intel's supported WiMedia Alliance and Freescale, the UWB pioneer via its acquisition of XtremeSpectrum. While a 75-percent majority would have been needed to put forward a draft and has never been reached, they may have that many votes among two camps to halt.
In practical terms, the market was going to decide any way, and international regulators may have a hand. In the US, both flavors of UWB are legal after the FCC issued clarifying orders or re-emphasized earlier decisions over a few years. Elsewhere, the battle for approving UWB in one or more forms as legal to operate wages on.
Windows has an odd way of finding Wi-Fi networks: At the ShmooCon security conference, a researcher discussed how Windows XP and 2000's method of searching for networks could open a vector for attack. This ZDNet article describes Mark Loveless presentation. Windows XP/2000 when booted apparently searches for a wireless network and then attempts to connect to the last known SSID using ad hoc mode. (This doesn't sound exactly right to me, but Loveless's presentation isn't yet available online.)
An attacker could be listening for ad hoc broadcasts of this sort, and identify itself with the same SSID. As another user on a local network, it may have firewall privileges. Service Pack 2 for Windows XP should protect against this, although I believe only because it has better firewall policies.
The threat is seen as small.
Update: Microsoft has confirmed that there's a small risk, and said it will not specifically patch this problem until Service Pack 3, due in late 2007. In the meantime, you can disable your computer's ability to connect automatically to ad hoc networks. Select the adapter in the View Network Connections list. Right click and choose Properties. Click the Wireless Networks tab. Click the Advanced button. Under Networks to Access, select Access Point instead of Any Available Network.
Network Computing presents a primer on the very complicated subject of EAP: 802.1X, the port-based authentication protocol, works hand in hand with EAP, a generic method of passing messages. Because EAP is not, by itself, secured, forms of EAP paired with 802.1X form the backbone of enterprise wireless and wired LAN secure authentication and operation.
Frank Bulk helps define which EAP types are appropriate for which kinds of platform environment. We're nowhere near any kind of unity on that. It's possible that the adoption of EAP-TTLS by EarthLink for its municipal-scale authentication could push that form into wider use, but it's a specialized case they've chosen it for.
These two firms have independently prototyped methods of increasing downstream speeds for home users by banding them together: The idea is that consumer broadband is dramatically underused on average even as it is dramatically oversold in general. The ratios mentioned in the article, for DSL range from 14 to 200 oversubscription, meaning that as much as 200 Mbps of DSL service has been installed for every one Mbps of actual Internet access. (It's another reason why I've been surprised that despite companies like Akamai and products like Real Networks' reflectors--still extant?--that inside-the-edge servers at ISPs haven't been a much bigger industry. Perhaps it is and it's very quiet.)
Both Mushroom Networks and WiBoost's potential products would increase downstream bandwidth by borrowing from equally equipped neighbors' connections. Let's say A, B, and C had 1.5 Mbps/384 Kbps DSL. When A is at work and B is reading email, C could be browsing high-bandwidth Web sites and having them load, potentially, three times as fast less some overhead in managing connections among the special devices that would sit just to the customer's side of the DSL modem, much like where a VoIP adapter should be located topologically.
One rub is that without the agreement of an Internet service provider to install special software that would handle dynamic bonding of these separate DSL connections, these aggregated gateways could only split traffic quite grossly. For instance, they might be able to send image requests for a Web page to several neighbors' DSL lines, but not divvy up an FTP transfer.
The other rub is that ISPs often prohibit behavior of this type under the rubric of sharing a connection.
Now, some ISPs might see this as an opportunity to promote a "we all hang together" scenario, as New York Times reporter John Markoff cleverly quips in the article's opening paragraph, and offer neighborhood's superior rates for all signing up for longer commitments. Everyone participating would receive, on average, much higher speeds, and the ISP could offer a reduced group rate paid partly through a reduction in marketing expense and churn.
WiBoost gave me an early demonstration a little while ago, and the technology is de facto, not proposed. The next step for both companies is to find manufacturers and/or ISPs ready to take the plunge into a new form of network bonding.
The 4 MHz at 800 MHz that will be available for air-to-ground data, including voice, will be auctioned off May 10, 2006: The FCC issued an order on Dec. 9, which I analyzed back then, that settled a number of auction and transition issues. The auction will allow bidders to bid on a non-overlapping approach (1 MHz or 3 MHz out of 4 MHz in either 1 followed by 3 or 3 followed by 1) or two overlapping 3 MHz swaths.
The order made clear a month ago that incumbent Verizon Airfone, which currently has exclusive use of the 4 MHz, has two full years from completion of the auction to migrate from the 4 MHz down to 1 MHz, which will overlap with at least one of the winning bidders. (The internetnews.com article linked to above misstates that transition period as I post this.)
This two-year period for transition is required in part, I learned from the Dec. order, because Verizon will have to upgrade thousands of planes, including some operated by the government, and may need a good chunk of that period to obtain access to and deploy the new, more efficient gear. Airfone will be allowed to operate its air-to-ground phone service until 2010.
It's awfully clear to me, as it is to other observers I've spoken to, that there's no purpose in a bidder obtaining a 1 MHz slice of 800 MHz. I suspect that two overlapping 3 MHz slices will win, and the government will reap a fairly enormous sum--I haven't seen speculations on dollars, but having a symmetrical 1+ Mbps air-to-ground connection on thousands of domestic aircraft coupled with cellular service operating over that link means that it could be a multi-billion-dollar business over several years.
Cellular issues are, of course, still not settled. Internetnews.com states that cell use isn't included in this auction. That's incorrect based on my conversations with four major operators interested in this auction. This spectrum will be used for in-flight cellular transit (via an onboard picocell) to ground, carried just like other data--it's just a matter of when. As soon as in-flight cellular is approved, whichever companies have the rights to this spectrum will be able to route voice over their existing data connections. Some companies have already demonstrated this.
Interestingly, EVDO Rev. A will likely be used by a winning bidder for the air-to-ground communications as a pure, off-the-shelf data communications standard because it can accommodate a moving plane talking to a series of fixed ground stations.
It's not as big a move as IBM/Freescale to Intel, but it's a shift, nonetheless: Broadcom scored an early trifecta with 802.11g back in late 2002 and early 2003 by signing Apple, Belkin, and Linksys for a round of 802.11g-based products. They also swept in Buffalo and several other firms (notably missing D-Link and NetGear) in that heady run-up to 802.11g ratification.
In the latest Apple products, the first to be based on Intel processors using the Core Duo chips, sources outside of Apple told me that Atheros chips have been incorporated: it's true, but Broadcom hasn't been abandoned. Both Atheros and Broadcom chips are specified in Apple documents and are shown in FCC filings.
It's not odd that with a new system architecture Apple would have reviewed chip suppliers, and they may have chosen to work with both Broadcom and Atheros to have competition for their business. There's a limited number of PCI Express-based Wi-Fi chips, which is what the internal, included AirPort Express hardware uses.
The MacBook Pro (the PowerBook replacement) and the Intel-based iMac support 802.11a for the first time, as well. Apple isn't emphasizing the 802.11a inclusion, and the technical specifications only say "802.11g standard."
Although Steve Jobs declared 802.11a "dead" back in Jan. 2003, it was clear he thought it was a non-starter in the consumer market, and the enterprise was far from a win. In Jan. 2006, 802.11a's place as a larger spectrum swath without legacy slower equipment as a way to run more dense, faster enterprise networks and handle campus-wide VoIP is pretty clear. Apple adding 802.11a lets them sell more easily into enterprises and academia that are adopting 802.11a.
One rumor cited by AppleInsider is that the demonstration of the MacBook Pro's built-in iSight video camera was carried over 802.11a to avoid conflicting with the many ad hoc 802.11b networks running at the keynote venue.
Delicious Monster produces software in a coffeeshop: This is the most comprehensive and best story I've seen written about the relationship between Zoka Coffee's University Village cafe and the software company Delicious Monster. The company has no offices; rather, they work out of the cafe. While it's not unusual for individuals to adopt cafes as their working locations, nor for virtual companies to hold meetings in other venues, this appears to be unique. Zoka has free Wi-Fi in all its Seattle locations. They recently expanded the U Village branch, too.
Zoka's owner said to me when I was writing about Victrola Cafe turning off its Wi-Fi on the weekends last summer: "Students and young people are the majority of people who hang out at coffee shops, and they all use Internet and computers as a major part of the day," said Jeff Babcock, Zoka's owner. "And I'm not going to exclude that. If it gets too busy and packed, I'll build another one."
A blogger reports Panera in Santa Monica turns off its free Wi-Fi from noon to 2 pm: This dovetails neatly with an article I wrote in May about Victrola Coffee & Art where they instituted a plan of turning Wi-Fi off during the weekends to improve their cafe culture. As TechDirt (who supplied the link) notes, there was a point when offering Wi-Fi filled in empty times for cafes and other establishments. Now, laptop users may be creating a logjam.
As Victrola told me, and I've heard from other sources, a single laptop user might occupy a table for four. Larger tables are often located against a wall near a power outlet. Another coffee shop in Seattle, Herkimer, built long banquets with tables for two and outlets underneath, consolidating laptop users.
Update: My colleague Conrad Chavez, a co-author with me and two others on Real World Scanning and Halftones and fellow Seattleite, sent in this interesting observation about time and space:
I have a slightly different perspective on it. The cafes who are managing Wi-Fi do so in two ways: temporally or spatially. Panera, Victrola, Vivace (on Denny off Broadway), and others use the temporal approach, where they turn off the wireless at certain hours. Herkimer used the spatial approach during their remodel; when the owner expanded the cafe, he intentionally put zero outlets in the new section and put up a small sign pointing to the new "Computer Free Area," safe for traditional cafe users who do not want to see a sea of laptops. But they never turn off the wireless.
Researchers bounced Wi-Fi inside a gas pipe over about a mile: They were exploring whether off-the-shelf Wi-Fi could control robots that examine gas lines. It's also possible that, just as old pipes were used as conduits to run fiber optic, that existing gas lines could carry wireless backbone signals.
The Joint Proposal (JP) team in the IEEE 802.11n high-throughput wireless task group has accepted the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) proposal: This is the penultimate step for the EWC proposal becoming the 802.11n standard. The EWC proposal was originally developed outside the main standards process by the four overall largest chipmakers, and which eventually included most parties in 802.11n.
Task Group N will produce a standard that uses multiple antennas and a host of other strategies to produce at least 100 Mbps of raw throughput, but more likely 200 Mbps. Net throughput, or real data transferred, will be much higher than the current 50% of raw data passed across.
The JP at the task group comprised members of two previously at-loggerheads proposals led (in the least nuanced way I can put this) by Intel on the one side and Airgo, leading MIMO chipmaker, on the other. The EWC proposal had many points of similarity with work in the JP. The acceptance of the EWC proposal by the JP sets the stage for supermajority voting of 75 percent that will allow the JP to become the draft upon which final ratification of the standard is based.
The vote passed the JP group 40 to 0, with two members not casting ballots; neither of the abstainers was Airgo, a source told me. The JP includes all major players in the industry.
ICOA scores Stop & Shop deal: The folks who have been unwiring lower-tier, but high-traffic commuter airports around the U.S.--and acquiring firms that have followed similar paths--has a deal with Stop & Shop, the New England supermarket chain. Stop & Shop, like many supermarkets these days, has stores with cafes or seating. With more ubiquitous Wi-Fi appliances, like dual-mode phones or Wi-Fi phones, having more, free, gateway-free Internet access in public places will assume greater importance.
The Connexion by Boeing service appears to want more usage (site not updated at this writing): They've lowered prices, reduced pricing tiers, and added services to their in-flight broadband service available on about 200 planes for international, over water routes. The top rate used to be $29.95 for flights of more than six hours; that's dropped to $26.95. But flights of any duration now cost $26.95. New hourly pricing has been simplified, too: one hour is $9.95, two hours, $14.95, and three hours, $17.95. But that used to be "a period of time across the flight" and is now "from the sign in time."
A streaming television service was trialed last year on some routes, and starting Jan. 23 will be on all planes with Connexion. The Live Global Television service has news, sports news, and financial programming from BBC World, EuroNews, Eurosportnews, CNBC, and MSNBC.
The only reason to lower your prices or rejigger pricing is as the result of testing price elasticity. No service drops the price simply because of cost. I expect Connexion did extensive price testing on flights worldwide to produce the maximum yield. Dropping the price by $3 but setting it as a flat rate across all durations of flight must have provided good results.
Belkin didn't have a working demo, but did have prototypes of its recently announced ultrawideband (UWB) based USB hub: The hub comes with a USB 2.0 dongle that plugs into any USB port and bridges to the USB hub within a few dozen feet. No special software or drivers is required to use either the dongle or the hub. A Belkin spokesperson at CES confirmed that these devices will run at 110 Mbps, with future models reaching the full 480 Mbps of both UWB and USB 2.0, and that they are sold only in matched pairs.
The matched pair issue is a small problem because it means that you cannot have multiple dongles associated with the same USB hub (which might confuse USB devices, but could work like a USB switcher, too), nor can you associated multiple hubs with a single dongle, nor mix and match hubs and dongles. This will change in future releases, I'm sure, as all of the UWB vendors interested in USB 2.0 replacement want to offer users as much flexibility as possible.
Chandler, Ariz., considers city-wide network: Adjacent to Tempe, which expects to complete its municipal-spanning Wi-Fi network in February, Chandler would offer free access in some parks, at the university, and downtown, with some limits on time in certain areas. The same firm that is unwiring Tempe will install service in Chandler if the plan is approved.
Pittsburgh postpones downtown Wi-Fi: The merchants group that was to install a downtown Wi-Fi network will wait until July. The group had planned to use Vivato gear and was working directly with the company.
New Haven, Conn., contemplates a citywide plan: A big issue would be that the town is horribly economically disadvantaged so just building a network--given that Yale University has its own smack dab in the middle of town--doesn't help without ancillary programs.
Two Sheraton hotels are trying out free computer usage, free Wi-Fi and Ethernet: Yahoo is sponsoring tests at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina and Sheraton Boston; Sheratons in New York City and Stamford are testing simply free Internet access in rooms. A section of the lobby has Internet-connected computers, free for guests, that have branded Yahoo information services and an enticement to paid Yahoo services.
Many budget and lower-end leisure hotels offer free Wi-Fi and wired Internet access, including chains like Holiday Inn, but business hotels have been more reluctant. Wyndham, for instance, charges for access unless you're a member of their free affinity program, so it's a matter of knowledge to save money.
Many industry analysts in the hotel and connectivity markets have suggested for years that Internet service would evolved in an amenity, and if the Sheraton/Yahoo branding partnership makes sense, then the hotels don't have to pay for that amenity to provide it to its guests.
Canon's Elph SD430 uses Wi-Fi like a USB cable: Unfortunately, early consumer-priced cameras that include Wi-Fi are either locked to a proprietary service (Kodak) or tied to software that allows image transfers only over a local wireless LAN (Nikon, Canon). I played with Canon's SD430 at CES, and while the $500 camera is small and easy to use, and comes with a USB dongle that works attaches to its $150 dye-sublimation snapshot printer, its use of Wi-Fi isn't superior to a USB cable. In fact, because it requires proprietary, Windows XP-only software from Canon to move images, it's actually less useful than a USB cable, given that so many photo packages and operating systems directly import photos from a host of cameras.
A Canon product specialist at the booth agreed that offering additional transfer choices was basically a matter of firmware; Kodak told me the same thing when I reviewed the EasyShare One a few weeks ago. But could some consumer photographic vendor work with Devicescape to incorporate their compact 802.11 security stack that would have the hooks to offer WPA Enterprise and something like Secure FTP? Secure FTP should be a no brainer hidden in the advanced options.
The first consumer camera that can use Wi-Fi as a medium to transfer images to any of a variety of server destinations will become the camera of choice for a lot of early adopters who want that kind of flexibility.
The most surprising offering at CES? Lots of HomePlug and powerline networking products: Several companies and the HomePlug Alliance were demonstrating the latest in high-speed over-home-electrical-wiring networking. My scoop from the show? The HomePlug Alliance told me that the board had just released its ratified HomePlug AV--a 200 Mbps spec--to members, which can now finalize chip designs and start building systems. At the alliance booth, chipmaker Intellon had a demonstration of HD signals running across a pseudo network using pre-release chips.
Other booths around the show had non-standard but backward compatible powerline offerings at 85 Mbps from vendors that plan to upgrade to HomePlug AV in the future, but possible not for another year. One firm, DS2, was showing its own flavor of powerline that isn't compatible with HomePlug past or future at 200 Mbps.
The head of the HomePlug Alliance, Jim Reeber, said that several chipmakers will produce HomePlug AV chips, while competing powerline technologies are supported by single chipmakers. He believed this would enhance the HomePlug approach because manufacturers would have several vendors to choose among for chips, producing more competition and lowering cost.
At CES, Atheros and Broadcom showed working products based on early 802.11n chips: The demonstrations were off the show floor in private suites. These chips--along with Marvell, which had a chip to show but no working product--use the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) proposal as the basis of the silicon. Update: Metalink wrote in to note that they, too, were demonstrating EWC-compliant products.
Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell formed this private, originally secret group to cut through a roadblock in the 802.11n task group, which has a goal of higher throughput for future Wi-Fi standards. The EWC was criticized for working outside the IEEE process, but their proposal now has dozens of members of the 802.11n task group signed on.
Marvell's chip isn't in sampling yet--meaning it's not available for manufacturers to start building products around--but a representative at the booth said it would be out any day. I was not invited to Atheros and Broadcom's demonstrations--if I had been, I would have been under non-disclosure, too--but I expect they are in a close to similar state. The companies could produce the chips in quantities in a few months, meaning that 802.11n-like consumer products could be out as early as May or June. Metalink is sampling now and expects products based on its chips in July.
The sense I got from being on the floor at CES and talking to a number of Wi-Fi equipment makes is that the EWC proposal will easily capture the majority necessary to move to a vote to accept a draft, and that it then has the 75-percent supermajority votes, too. Airgo is the only major wireless data chipmaker that hasn't signed on to the EWC.
I'm never quite sure how the IEEE establishes rounds of votes, but if both the votes are held next week, the EWC version will win the day and move forward. The IEEE's Web site puts finalization as early 2007 based on certain assumption.
Wibiki joins Fon in reiterating failed business models of the past: They suggest installing their client software on your computer and server software on a Linksys router that can be flashed with their firmware. Their approach is similar to Fon's--and the one that Sputnik, Joltage, and SOHOWireless tried years ago and left--in which there's a pool of users in an authentication database and each access point has its own separate backhaul paid for by the person running the server software.
The Wibiki folks (part of Speedus) suggest that by creating an environment, a business model will follow. They ask on their blog, "How can we create sustainable business models to make Wi-Fi ubiquitous and free for users?" [link via Yeah!Fi]
Robert McChesney and John Podesta explain the historical underpinnings of why towns and cities are being forced to build their own networks: The authors explode the myth of existing competitive services for broadband in the places where municipal wireless is taking hold. Their "Let There Be Wi-Fi" essay points out how advanced other developed nations are in terms of broadband--a familiar point--and they note that we will be disadvantaged just as urban centers with early electrification beat out their rural neighbors who lagged. They note that Japan, with its robust competition, high broadband speeds, and low prices also encourage community networks.
They find an excellent example of competition in Scottsburg, Indiana, where three employers in the town of 6,000 threatened to leave because of the poor communications infrastructure. The mayor asked the incumbents for help and was rebuffed. The city built a wireless network. Here's the key sentiment: “Scottsburg didn't wake up one morning and say, we want to be in the broadband business,” Graham told PBS. “Scottsburg had business and industry that was going to leave our community because what we had was not fast enough.” Scottsburg's investment worked—the employers stayed.
I've heard this story across the country. Tacoma, back in the mid-1990s, was only slightly ahead of the former East Germany in the speed of getting a new phone line (18 months wait in 1995). The city tried to get US West and TCI to agree to invest, and couldn't. The power utility built a fiber optic/coax hybrid network that sells wholesale, neutral Internet access with several competing ISPs offering service. Their cable offering spurred enormous competition, extending service and offerings. Comcast even thanked the city in a newspaper article two years ago for forcing them to upgrade facilities and compete for customers.
On the public subsidy front, McChesney and Podesta hammer home the point that incumbents, while often saddled with additional regulatory requirements than independent startup wireless operations, also eat at the public trough: ...the cable and telephone giants don't mention that their own monopolies—which control 98 percent of the broadband market—have been cemented with extensive public subsidies, tax breaks and incentives (as well as free rein to tear up city streets). Verizon, for instance, didn't complain last fall when Pennsylvania handed them subsidies for broadband deployment worth nearly 10 times what Wireless Philadelphia will cost. Neither did Comcast object when Philadelphia approved a $30 million grant to build a skyscraper that will house its headquarters.
This is a key point to remember: Competition means public dollars underwriting incumbent providers in the incumbents' books.
Because of these kinds of arguments, the plans for municipal networks have changed considerably since Philadelphia's announcement. New RFPs typically offset risk to eager private enterprises whose get no public subsidy, although they may receive quasi-exclusive access rights for mounting equipment, and may also get the city's telecom and data budget--moved from an incumbent provider in most cases.
Their conclusion is a doozy and a winner:
Simply empowering local governments and community groups, in coordination with private entrepreneurs, to provide universal affordable, broadband may be the single best thing we can do to make America the pre-eminent economy—and democracy—of the 21st century.
If incumbents want to step up to the plate, create universal accessibility at affordable rates, and push overall speeds up, they are more than welcome to. The fact is that if private companies are eager to bear all the risk of building municipal networks, there's money in them there cities and the incumbents' shareholders should complain that the companies are spending too much time on failing rearguard actions instead of embracing the inevitable.
While the contract has been signed, apparently, the test network won't be in place until April: One of the big questions about new municipal wireless network has been--how quick? EarthLink won the exclusive right (i.e., a franchise) from Anaheim to install a citywide network across the town's 50 square miles. The contract is for 10 years with two five-year extensions possible.
EarthLink will spend $5 million to build the network and will pay fees for rights of way, although an earlier percentage-based fee appears to have been dropped. A percentage of gross revenue is sometimes levied for cable franchises. The city pays bupkes, while city schools and libraries will get discounted service.
A Time Warner Cable spokesperson says in this article that the company has offered "wireless service" for several years. In what capacity, I wonder? There are some Time Warner Cable sponsored locations that I've seen and heard about, but nothing comprehensive that I'm aware of.
The Q&A at the end includes an inaccurate statement by an analyst. The JupiterResearch analyst Ina Sebastian is quoted saying, that despite EarthLink's "strong security program," "in the end, it has the same security weaknesses that home Wi-Fi networks have" because knowledgeable hackers are able to break into such security systems.
This is incorrect. EarthLink will be using EAP-TTLS, a method of encrypting a user name and password across an open Wi-Fi network to obtain a unique WEP or WPA password for the particular adapter or Wi-Fi bridge (customer premises equipment or CPE device). Because EAP-TTLS will be used for external connections, there's no known risk factor between the adapter and the nodes. The nodes use encrypted communication among themselves.
The only point of risk is in the home, but with service providers selling CPEs with EAP-TTLS, they will probably also sell easily configurable home Wi-Fi gateways to an audience that doesn't yet have Wi-Fi because they don't yet have broadband, either. (Some folks will downgrade in speed from DSL or cable to municipal-scale Wi-Fi.)
One of the sets that HP has announced at CES has 802.11a/b/g: The built-in Wi-Fi in the SLC3760N can stream media via Wi-Fi using Windows Media Connect's technology. Because this is an end-to-end connection for the media, content restrictions are bypassed because digital rights management is employed.
Wayport is the last company standing that offered Wi-Fi back in the very early days: Their persistence has paid off. They now have over 12,000 locations in their network, including 6,300 McDonald's. The restaurant chain had a commitment of about 8,000 locations at the outset in 2004, so they're getting close to that target. (There are about 12,000 McDonald's in the U.S.)
Wayport broke 1 million connections in October and had a total of 10 million in 2005. The company has had 19 million connections from its inception, so you can do the math. For reporters who continue to insist that paid Wi-Fi is fad, that 10 million number is probably worth noting.
The McDonald's arrangement continues to be interesting to me because I hailed it when it was first announced back in 2004 after a competition among Wayport, Cometa, and Toshiba. Toshiba got out of the hotspot business and Cometa shut down within weeks of losing the McDonald's contract.
The model for McDonald's hotspots is called Wi-Fi World, and it involves aggregators and resellers paying a fixed rate per location per month for the portfolio of hotspots regardless of user session. Wayport speculated back in 2004 that an MSO (a multiple cable systems operator like Comcast) could jump into the hotspot business by offering it to all customer at an incredibly low rate. This is why SBC can afford to have a $1.99 introductory rate for unlimited Wi-Fi among its own FreedomLink locations (managed by Wayport), Wayport's regular locations, and Wayport's Wi-Fi World locations.
Here we are in 2006, and SBC continues to be the only reseller. However as today's press release notes, McDonald's has found many other operational and customer efficiencies out of having a Wi-Fi network in place. And Nintendo's deal with Wayport and McDonald's allows its Nintendo DS users free access to that network of hotspots. Clearly, money is changing hands, and McDonald's is probably happy to see an uptick in gamers in their locations buying food.
Belkin says it will ship an ultrawideband (UWB) USB adapter in early spring: The four-port hub will work seamlessly with USB devices. While other companies have discussed UWB devices, I believe this is the first announcement of a product and ship date that's designed for mass-market computer users.
Update: There's a little more information over at ExtremeTech, which notes that Gefen will also have products.
The Boston Globe nails Massport to the wall in a fair way: Massport wants full control of unlicensed network usage in Boston-Logan airport. Opponents originally included airlines that wanted to run their own Wi-Fi networks, and now include the cellular operator trade group, the CTIA, an enormous hospital operating company in Massachusetts, the Air Transport Association (airline trade group), and the Consumer Electronics Association.
The FCC has been reviewing the issue since July, the article notes. The FCC has repeatedly stated in previous orders or rulings that only the FCC has the ability to regulate the unlicensed spectrum. Massport continues to claim that interference could impair operations--and admitted in this article, it would impair profits, too. It might violate their contract with their provider, as well, as that provider that built the Wi-Fi network is almost assuredly promised exclusive Wi-Fi rights given the massive monthly payments they are required to make to Massport.
Unmentioned here, but noted in other articles, is that Massport should be using the tightly regulated 4.9 GHz band not 2.4 GHz. The 4.9 GHz band has some problems with density and obstructions when trying to cover a municipality--though those are problems that can be solved--but an airport authority should be using a licensed swath that's reserved for anything that's key to operations.
The Massport attorney is quoted stating that the issue is about the rights to place antennas, which is a new argument to me. The attorney claims that Congress didn't grant unimpaired rights for Wi-Fi antennas, only what's referred to as "wireless video." This refers to the right of tenants to place satellite video antennas on buildings--the right was established to ensure that wired cable operators didn't have a monopoly on television service to apartments, coops, and condos that signed side deals with them.
The issue of interference is raised, too, which is a silly thing. Interference is a guarantee in this band. Telling the FCC that other Wi-Fi devices will interfere with Massport's vendor's equipment is a non-starter. They're all operating under Part 15 and as long as the devices are legally certified and within operational parameters, interference in an unlicensed band is just the way it is.
I rarely predict, but this year it's easy: With so much in process, it seems straightforward to see what this year in Wi-Fi looks like. You're welcome to say "Ha ha!" on Jan. 1, 2007, where I'm wrong.
802.11n won't be ratified this year. The standards battle will get resolved and a proposal will win the 75 percent supermajority required for moving forward on a draft. Ratification won't happen until 2007. Speed will continue to be pushed, however, and what's sometimes referred to as a new "100 Mbps" standard will start being called a "200 Mbps" standard.
802.11n-like devices will ship year. By third quarter, there will be several chipsets in shipping equipment that incorporate draft-compatible versions of 802.11n in slower flavors. Manufacturers will issue a variety of promises and hedges about future compatibility with the ratified 802.11n spec.
One-button or simple security will appear for home Wi-Fi. Several disparate efforts being brought together into one potential standard at The Wi-Fi Alliance will result in firmware and software updates for tens of millions of existing Wi-Fi devices to allow simple WPA Personal setup.
Techniques to break WPA TKIP keys more efficiently will appear. But the TKIP key will continue to remain worthwhile when used with good passphrases. AES will remain unassailable in 2006.
Municipal Wi-Fi will continue to gain momentum. Hundreds of new RFPs will appear next year and hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent. Battles among incumbents, competitive operators, cities, and non-profits will be waged. But networks will be built. And we'll finally see whether muni-scale networks can deliver on promises, probably within the first quarter of 2006.
Google will not build a national Wi-Fi network. Instead, they will roll out services for municipal-scale Wi-Fi network operators.
San Francisco will probably not have a network. I place the odds on this at about 50 percent that San Francisco's winning network bidder will not begin work in 2006 due to lawsuits or public process.
Transportation Wi-Fi will slowly increase. I don't see any massive rollouts for rail, plane, bus, or ferry Wi-Fi for commuters and business travelers in 2006. Rather, the same steady increase in options will continue especially with cellular 3G becoming more ubiquitous for travelers who need access everywhere--assuming that metal tubes that encase users in buses, ferries, trains, and planes don't prove to be effective barriers.
Wi-Fi hotspots will cross 200,000 worldwide. They're already at roughly 100,000 worldwide today. The trend isn't lessening at either the informal level (adding a Wi-Fi gateway in a coffeeshop) or the top-end (installing a multi-million dollar airport system).
Free and fee hotspots will continue to co-exist, but hotels will increasingly drop fees. This is just a continuation of a trend. We won't see chains of thousands of hotspots drop their fees, but higher-end hotels will move towards the amenity model and stop charging. They may also stop charging for local and long-distance calls.
All consumer electronic categories will have many Wi-Fi-equipped models. It may take until Christmas 2006, but every single category of consumer product will have not just a proof of concept, but many items with Wi-Fi built in. Digital cameras with Wi-Fi might finally reach the consumer level with reasonable features, such as Secure FTP (SFTP) support. The remaining wild card is whether devices will be able to stream wirelessly among any equipment or whether the MPAA will fight back those attempts and require encrypted streams among licensed devices.
Fixed WiMax won't take off, but it will grow. While a lot of fixed WiMax equipment will ship and the certification process will continue to advance, there will be no new large WiMax networks built in the U.S., nor any substantial urban or suburban residential service launched. Rather, the trend of point-to-multipoint fixed broadband wireless will continue to roll on as a business-grade T-1 and multiple T-1 replacement.
Mobile WiMax will still be a non-starter. For all the hype surrounding it, the standard was just finished in the IEEE, certification is far off, and silicon is way early. 2007 probably won't see much happening beyond trials and possibly some deployments outside the U.S., either.
Multiple 3G cell data networks will be in every major U.S. city. We're not far off already, but Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon will have hit all major metro markets with competitive, overlapping service, which should push prices down.
3G operators will offer better Wi-Fi plans and VoIP. Despite Verizon's anti-Wi-Fi advertisements that misstate EVDO's strengths and Wi-Fi's weakness, Verizon will join the Wi-Fi fray. Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon will all offer phones that work over Wi-Fi or cell networks, although seamless handoff is still probably not in the cards.