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Recent Entries

San Francisco Muni-Fi Competition Narrows, Heats Up
Staples Adds Wi-Fi?
EarthLink Offers More Details on New Orleans
If This Bluetooth Is Rocking, Don't Come-a Call Waitin'
Google's Wi-Fi Patent May Face Wayport Challenges
The Latest Community Wireless Tool
SMC Adds High-End WLAN Features at Low Price
Hotel Perversity
Belanger on Mesh Standards
Municipal Round-Up: Sahuarita (Ariz.), Burleson (Tex.)

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March 2006 Archives

March 31, 2006

San Francisco Muni-Fi Competition Narrows, Heats Up

By Glenn Fleishman

IDG News Service reports SF has narrowed its choices to build a city-wide Wi-FI network to three groups: SF Metro Connect, MetroFi, and Google/EarthLink are the leading candidates. City officials didn't confirm this report, the article states.

SF Metro Connect, a partnership of non-profit Seakay, Cisco, and IBM, said earlier this week that they would immediately start work on offering a free, symmetrical 1 Mbps connection in cities around the country regardless of the SF outcome. Their press release states that they will use a public radio/TV style model of sponsorships from individuals, corporations, and foundations. In the IDG article, they also propose allowing other operators to offer for-fee services--but not tiered bandwidth. They state they will not collect personal data, although they don't elaborate in their press release. Seakay was founded as a neighborhood-based group that offers information technology training.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:30 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

Staples Adds Wi-Fi?

By Glenn Fleishman

7768597Staples slips in a mention of Wi-Fi: In a blow-out and somewhat over-the-top press release about Staples stores opening Chicagoland (the giant megalopolis that is Chicago and its suburbs), the company says that "for the first time, Staples stores will feature free Wi-Fi access." Jim Sullivan of Wi-Fi FreeSpot remarked on a trial back in Nov. 2005 that must have blossomed into this. [link via JP] It's always useful to read datelines: This press release was from March 2005, not 2006!

I spoke to the company and they confirmed that they had put Wi-Fi into all the Chicago-area stores as part of a big push in 2005, but that throughout the rest of the country, they offer Wi-Fi where customer demand seems to require it. There's no comprehensive plan at the moment that they're talking about.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:17 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot

March 30, 2006

EarthLink Offers More Details on New Orleans

By Glenn Fleishman

EarthLink's human voice, its unsigned Earthling blog, provides some details, nice and Big Easy: The New Orleans network is still a work in progress in that EarthLink has regulatory hurdles to get through, but it seems unlikely any bureaucrat has the least interest in impeding them. Once a telecom franchise license is approved, EarthLink will start building 15 square miles (not the several hundred square miles of a 15-mile-radius described in a news report) that will have 300 Kbps of free access. EarthLink hopes this will be used beyond plain Internet connectivity for VoIP given the state of phone service. (Not a knock on BellSouth--rebuilding plans are still in the works which makes it hard to restore service.) They'll also have a 1 Mbps (most likely around $20/month) service aimed at commercial institutions and city workers.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:26 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

If This Bluetooth Is Rocking, Don't Come-a Call Waitin'

By Glenn Fleishman

06074Texas Instruments introduces a Bluetooth chip that rocks, dude! Its BlueLink 6.0 platform couples FM radio reception (mono and stereo) with Bluetooth in a single chip. This module also co-exists neatly with Wi-Fi. The notion is that a handset could be an FM tuner without additional chips or integration; this feature must be a top request as music players are added into phones. One analyst predicts 400m units with FM reception by the end of the decade.

Of course, if I put on my other hat, I know that HD Radio, a digitally encoded form of AM and FM radio, has begun making headway in the market. HD Radio uses unused guard bands around the primary analog frequencies to deliver crisp, even multi-channel audio. It makes a lot of sense in about two years to have HD Radio-only AM and FM tuners in handsets. About 700 stations broadcast HD Radio today and only a few car receivers, one high-end home receiver, and one tabletop radio can tune in these broadcasts. A few thousand stations will have added HD by 2007.

The platform works with all common cell phone standards (2G through 3G), as well as Linux, Microsoft, and Symbian operating systems. The chips in two modules are in sampling with devices expected in early 2007 based on the technology.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:56 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Bluetooth, Chips, Unique

March 29, 2006

Google's Wi-Fi Patent May Face Wayport Challenges

By Glenn Fleishman

Google's patent application revealed last week by ClickZ may face challenges from pre-existing patents issued to Wayport: Google hasn't been granted the patent that includes a number of specific claims for delivering advertisements based on a wireless access point's location, the entity running it or in which it's located, and customer behavior at the hotspot. But former Wayport CTO Jim Thompson let me know there are a pile of applicable and issued Wayport patents that overlap. Prior art means that a technique was in circulation rendering a patent's original idea less original; an existing patent is an even higher bar, of course. (Thompson said he has no remaining financial interest in Wayport.)

I spoke this afternoon to current Wayport CEO Dave Vucina who has overseen the hotspot operator's growth from a few hundred locations to several thousand, including locations it manages for SBC. Vucina said that the founders and early Wayport employees had remarkable foresight in where the market would develop, especially around location. "You invent these things early and then you wait for an industry to mature," he said.

Vucina said Wayport's intellectual property (IP) portfolio in patents were focused on location-based advertising, location-based services, digital certificates (that's identity confirmed through cryptography), and multiple applications over one Wi-Fi network (virtual networks).

Vucina wouldn't be pinned down on specifics about how the company might or might not react to Google's filings, noting that Wayport is in discussions with what he described as very large players that circle around location-based technology. Because deals haven't been made, Vucina wouldn't comment on which firms were involved. He did say that the company is oriented towards applying its patents in collaborative partnerships.

Wayport clearly owns a large part of the location-based Wi-Fi IP space. Vucina said, "If you read our patents, they're pretty clear on what we have."

Obviously, Google could be defined as a very large company, and Wayport certainly would have a great motivation to license or work cooperatively with Google as that would benefit both firms. Vucina wouldn't provide any direction on this front, although no conclusions can be drawn from that. Vucina would only say that generally with "fairly large companies" that "We're having some pretty interesting discussions."

These are two of the most significant patents issued to Wayport:

#5,835,061 (granted in 1998): "A geographic-based communications service system has a mobile unit for transmitting/receiving information, and access points connected to a network. The access points are arranged in a known geographic locations and transmit and receive information from the mobile unit. When one of the access points detects the presence of the mobile unit, it sends a signal to the network indicating the location of the mobile unit and the information requested by the mobile unit. Based on the signal received from the access point, the network communicates with information providers connected to the network and provides data to the mobile unit through the access point corresponding to the location of the mobile unit."

#6,452,498 (granted Sept. 2002): "A geographic-based communications service system has a mobile unit for transmitting/receiving information, and access points connected to a network. The access points are arranged in known geographic locations and transmit and receive information from the mobile unit. When one of the access points detects the presence of the mobile unit, it sends a signal to the network indicating the location of the mobile unit and the information requested by the mobile unit. Based on the signal received from the access point, the network communicates with information providers connected to the network and provides data to the mobile unit through the access point corresponding to the location of the mobile unit."

Wayport also has a small host of other patents that tie together geography and wireless.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:14 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, Legal

The Latest Community Wireless Tool

By Glenn Fleishman

2hotspot goes public with its community-organizing Wi-Fi software: The company's software joins a growing array of tools that provide Internet connect sharing and community features, such as discussion boards and chats. The trend I've spotted is that the network is slowly assuming as much importance as the Internet: that is WLAN power is just as great as LAN power in the right place. (Cf., Pulse Point, PlaceSite.)

2hotspot offers a Windows (2000/XP/2003) software package that handles the community features. The setup works with several configurations, although the easiest is either to use a built-in wireless card to create the hotspot or to use a two-port Ethernet card to pass through a broadband modem connection and allow the software to facilitate its insertion into the process.

The software is free, but they've raised funding. Their model? Advertising on community content pages.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:16 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, Software | 1 Comment

SMC Adds High-End WLAN Features at Low Price

By Glenn Fleishman

The EliteConnect series of access points have premium features for $300 to $350: SMC has adopted a number of typically enterprise-only offerings in its new mid-range priced devices. This includes the incredibly useful virtual SSID option, which allows multiple virtual networks to appear available with a single access point controlling access. Couple that with individual security settings for each virtual SSID and a VLAN--a separately partitioned logical data channel that keeps traffic private within the device and over an Ethernet network--and a small business could have top-level security for its own network and open access for guests.

The routers also include QoS (quality of service) prioritization, SNMPv3 reporting, and WPA2. A b/g router is $300 list and a/b/g just $350. The devices also support 802.3af for Power over Ethernet (PoE). They can be configured via a command-line interface, a Web browser, or a management tool from SMC. The units ship in April.

Prior to this product line, I've only seen some of these features in the Gateway Computers 7000 series of APs, which were announced and buried, though still sold.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:04 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hardware, Small-Medium Sized Business | 1 Comment

Hotel Perversity

By Glenn Fleishman

19297720HotelChatter offers its best, worst Wi-Fi hotels, while one commentator badgers £20 pounds to zero pence: A lot of buzz in the last few days about clueless and clueful hotels and hotel chains, including the £480 a day rate at one hotel for conference attendees (£10 for 30 minutes), and Peter Cochrane's commentary on beating free Wi-Fi out of a hotel. (It's a good story. He's a fairly high-end consultant, and was irritated to discover that his expensive hotel demanded £20 a day for Internet access. He threatened to change hotels, and magically the rate dropped to £0. He maintains that dropping EU politeness for American forthrightness helped.)

HotelChatter published their summary of top hotels and chains for Wi-Fi--and the worst offenders for access, too. Among the best, Kimpton ranks tops for their efforts to provide high-quality Wi-Fi and for the staff's general enthusiasm and interest in making sure guests get a signal that works. Omni receives a nod for its free lobby Wi-Fi, and the hotel chain's apparent effort to encourage visitors to use the lobby. A few high-end properties receive kudos, but Holiday Inn Express and Marriott Residence Inn are singled out for good access and free service.

The worst, which makes better reading, starts off with Marriott Flagship because of its inconsistent pricing with plans for the lobby and upstairs having separate components. The Kor Hotel Group and the W Hotel are excoriated for their charges, varied pricing, and separate lobby/room charges. And W has only wired in-room service. The W needs better chain-wide understanding of access, too, HotelChatter reports: "For instance, we called the W's 1-800 number to inquire about which properties have wireless. The kind woman on the other end informed us that all of the hotels have wireless in the rooms and in the lobbies. Hmm. We knew this wasn't true, but we gave W a mulligan."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:38 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hotels

Belanger on Mesh Standards

By Glenn Fleishman

Phil Belanger is responsible for Wi-Fi: Not solely, but he's one of the most veteran among industry veterans, and was involved in picking its name. (Note: Wi-Fi really doesn't stand for wireless fidelity or anything at all. Ask Phil.) He co-wrote a document that formed the basis of 802.11, helped found the Wi-Fi Alliance, and served as its first chair. He's worked for many Wi-Fi related firms, including Wayport, Vivato, and BelAir. He recently amicably left BelAir after a decade on Internet time working on startups. As a result, he has been able to catch his breath and reflect a bit.

Phil offers this two-page commentary (downloadable in PDF form) on the future of IEEE 802.11s, the in-progress mesh standards task group. Phil maintains that 802.11s will have little impact on outdoor mesh deployments, and that its real utility will be in providing a basis for home devices to intercommunicate and relay data--every client will be an access point with no extra configuration or fuss, in contrast to Wireless Distribution System (WDS), which is a relatively undocumented and variably supported element found in the original 802.11b spec. Phil notes that more mesh in the house means less signal power is needed, allowing more spectrum reuse and less interference among devices and neighbors.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:32 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Guest Commentary, Mesh, Standards

Municipal Round-Up: Sahuarita (Ariz.), Burleson (Tex.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Booming Arizona town opts for free Wi-Fi: The town's population has swelled from 3,200 to 14,000 over six years ending last year, with another 5,000 moving in this year alone. The town is south of Tucson. The town council has voted to move forward on the mayor's proposal for citywide free Wi-Fi service. The cost is estimated at $3m, which seems rather high for a town of its population and area.

Burleson gets Wi-Fi water reading: Chevron Energy Services and RedMoon Broadband have contracted to build a Wi-Fi network across this Texas town. They'll test automatic meter reading, which is of huge interest to cities because it would allow more accurate tracking of usage, demand-based pricing and adjustment, and a reduction in theft of services, a substantial cost to many utilities. It can also reduce staffing costs as fleets of meter readers retire as meters are replaced. They'll also look into selling public access to the network.

Charleston, S.C., launches free Wi-Fi this week: The network, funded privately, was to launch at the end of 2005. But trees, brick, and concrete have hampered deployments. The article states that $500,000 was spent, which seems crazily low. Free access is 256 Kbps and offers no security, the article notes, while paid service (1 Mbps and faster) starts at $20 per month. The network encrypts traffic among mesh nodes, which should be de rigeur, but paid subscribers receive a VPN client. They're clearly using Vivato equipment as part of the system because their network--you have to load a large Flash presentation to see this--includes both mesh and "a system of Phased Array antennas panels."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:18 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

BellSouth Blinks in New Orleans? EarthLink Moves In

By Glenn Fleishman

BellSouth has a history over the last few months of being hostile in private, conciliatory in public: In December, they allegedly said that New Orleans's plans to run its own broadband network would cause it to withdraw an offer to donate a building. Then they denied in public that they'd said this to the city.

Days ago, the New Orleans CIO Greg Meffert said he'd rather go to jail than turn off the vital broadband wireless network operating in the city. BellSouth was trying to force the issue, he said. Louisiana based a ridiculous broadband limitation bill that denies municipalities the right to build broadband networks operating at 144 Kbps in either direction or faster. Under emergency rules, New Orleans was able to turn the network on.

BellSouth now says that they haven't challenged New Orleans at all. Private lobbying in Baton Rouge doesn't count, I imagine.

EarthLink has taken advantage of this situation by offering to take over New Orleans network on its usual private basis, spending $15m over the next three years to build a network with a 15-to-20-mile radius. That would be 700 to 1250 square miles--perhaps diameter was meant rather than radius?

BellSouth said that the Wi-Fi networks relies on access that BellSouth spent tens of millions of dollar repairing. Which, in fact, they were obliged to repair under state and federal regulations for incumbent operators that grant a monopoly in exchange for certain kinds of services being universally available or available on a certain basis, so let's not pretend that this gives them special rights.

The incumbents have fought hard for unregulated broadband, and have won practically every decision they've needed. It's thus doubly irritating to hear them complain that they're spending money to build services other people use, such as T-1s. If the service is regulated, they are subject to strict tariffs and conditions. If the service is unregulated, they're competing in the market. In either case, they have to spend that rebuilding money if they want to maintain their rights.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:15 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

March 28, 2006

Common Cause Offers Astroturf Lobbying Hall of Shame

By Glenn Fleishman

"Senator, I knew sock puppets. Sock puppets were friends of mine. Senator, you are no sock puppet": I had no idea that the late Lloyd Bentsen, a great politician, coined the phrase astroturf, but I commend him for having done so. Common Cause, a John Gardner founded consumer advocacy group, released a brief report called Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: Telecom Industry Front Groups and Astroturf today. The report covers nine organizations that purport to be thinktanks or grassroots efforts, but are funded directly or indirectly by incumbent telecommunications interests. (Common Cause shouldn't be confused with Public Citizen, which I did in the original version of this post.)

I have written extensively about the New Millennium Research Council, a project of Issue Dynamics, which inserted itself into the municipal broadband debate by co-releasing a report with The Heartland Institute a year ago that explained why municipal broadband was a bad approach to increasing Internet access in cities and towns. Interestingly, the report may have had its desired effect. Before the report and surrounding furor, early city plans involved using city dollars. Now, virtually all plans offset capital investment, risk, and ownership to private firms, a move that has been met with by approval from some originally involved in writing this report.

I've notified Common Cause that they are slightly unfair to NMRC, even though I used that group as a punching bag myself. NMRC discloses its relationship to Issue Dynamics, a public relations firm that has telecom and cable clients, on its About page. NMRC has also removed at least one "scholar and expert" noted on their site who complained about being included in that list a year ago.

The Progress and Freedom Foundation is included in this list, and Common Cause acknowledges that the group is almost unique in providing a list of its donors. I have less of a problem with PFF because they seem to have a broader range of positions than similar organizations. I disagreed with their Adam Thierer-authored anti-muni report, but I didn't think his sources or motivations were hidden, nor PFF's. Further, PFF was perfectly happy to engage in open dialog. Common Cause does note something I found strange: PFF papers state that they are the opinion of the author, not the organization. [link via]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:40 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Sock Puppets | 1 Comment

Coax Enters Existing Wired Network Fray

By Glenn Fleishman

The Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) has been ratified with certified devices in pipeline: MoCA's standard allows existing coaxial cable wiring to carry up to 270 Mbps, competitive with the HomePlug Powerline Alliance's 200 Mbps HomePlug AV, which should appear in products shortly. Coax is already installed in many newer homes and retrofitted in older homes, making it widely available. Coax has very high short-distance frequency capacity, too, which gives this standard its speed.

While cable companies often provided the inside and outside coax wiring, it looks like Verizon will be poised to leverage it with their fiber to the home (FTTH) plan called FiOS. The FiOS system will bring fiber to the home, but distribution could be via many means, including coax. HomePlug AV should certainly be an option, but it's further behind production than MoCA's standard. This Telecomweb article lists a number of firms with products ready to ship: Actiontec, Entropic, Linksys, Mototech, Motorola, Panasonic, 2Wire and Westell. Verizon Labs handled testing.

The race for 200 Mbps or faster seems to be engaged on all fronts. The 802.11n spec offers 200 Mbps at a minimum with no optional services turned on, like double-wide channels. HomePlug AV weighs in at 200 Mbps. And the HomePNA Alliance, which I thought had passed quietly away, seems to have revived late last year and is produced a 300 Mbps+ revision to its 240 Mbps HomePNA 3.0 spec that runs over standard home phone wiring. Version 3.1 might have some traction with the firms involved--SBC and Cisco's recently acquired settop box division Scientific Atlanta. While HomePNA 3.0 may have been ratified back in 2005, I can't find any products for sale beyond the 2.0 version.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:50 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Home

Boingo Busts Out: Belgium/Lux., North Am. Airports, Asian Operators

By Glenn Fleishman

Just in time for the cell industry conference, Boing announces a slew of partnerships: The hotspot aggregator pushed out three announcements today in advance of next week's CTIA trade show in Las Vegas. Most significantly, Boingo Wireless now has a roaming relationship in place for seven additional North American airports, adding Chicago's O'Hare and Midway (Concourse Communications), Montreal-Trudeau (Opti-Fi), and Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, and Indianapolis (all AT&T Wi-Fi). The seventh isn't noted. San Francisco remains one gaping hole in Boingo and some other networks due to T-Mobile operating the airport and not providing what must be an otherwise standard roaming arrangement.

The partnership with Telenet N.V. brings 1,000 hotspots in Belgium and Luxemberg (no Netherlands, so I guess it's BeLux) into the aggregated pool. This includes airports, rail stations, and filing stations. The Asian deal primarily offers four airports in Indonesia and Thailand, important for the traveling business customer that Boingo appeals to: Jakarta (Ind.), and Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai (Thai.). There are a few dozen other locations in the roaming deal.

While Boingo offers an all-you-can-eat $21.95 per month rate for some locations, these are largely within the U.S. The charges for non-American locations vary by venue but are billed through the same account and use the same software and login for one-account experience. For instance, Chiang Mai is billed at 12 cents a minute ($7.20 per hour).

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:49 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, International, Roaming | 1 Comment

Wi-Fi in Most Cities in Five Years

By Glenn Fleishman

MetroFi's head Chuck Haas predicts urban and suburban Wi-Fi coverage in most areas in five years: Om Malik reports on the statement Haas--a founder of Covad--made at The Kelsey Group's local search conference yesterday. An EarthLink Municipal Networks division exec agreed with the principle but not the timeframe. Some commenters have interpreted Haas's remarks as meaning in five years not within five years. In a year's time, at least 10 relatively large urban areas or cities will have service. There are dozens of small municipalities in the US that will have completed networks this year.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:34 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

Wibiki Overlays Bryant Park in New York

By Glenn Fleishman

Home1Manhattan's Bryant Park gets a new form of Wi-Fi security: Bryant is part of the success story of New York's late 20th century renaissance. Next to the main branch of the New York Public Library--the one with the archetypal lions--the park was transformed from 1988 to 1992 (through efforts by the Koch and Dinkins' administrations) from an overgrown and unmaintained drug dealers' haven into an area that attracts thousands of people a day for lunch or contemplation. It's been used during Fashion Week for events, too. (See the park's Web site.)

Bryant has also attracted Wi-Fi and reporting on Wi-Fi because of its highly visible location in mid-town and next to the library. The park first received an Internet signal via nycwireless, the local and still thriving community wireless group. A few years ago, Public Internet Project (PIP) took over operation with Google subsidizing the connection.

Now, in an announcement yesterday, Wibiki will overlay its new flavor of secured Wi-Fi on the Bryant Park offering. In an interview with Marcos Lara today, founder of PIP and an employee of Wibiki, he said that open and unrestricted access would still be available, but that Bryant Park's administrators had agreed to allow Wibiki to build a parallel network over which their encryption software would work.

Wibiki's software works on a few popular routers. One software package primes the pump and is run on a computer connected to the router. The router is reconfigured to Wibiki's security setup; this requires no firmware change. After a router is set to Wibiki's configuration options, a Wibiki client (Windows and Mac OS X) can automatically connect enabling appropriate encryption settings on the client computer. It avoids 802.1X, which can be overkill and requires more coordination, while still providing a good level of minimum security.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:28 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

Bluetooth SIG Adopts WiMedia's UWB Flavor

By Glenn Fleishman

The group that controls Bluetooth's evolution decided to favor the WiMedia Alliance's flavor of ultrawideband (UWB): UWB offers speeds of 110 Mbps to 480 Mbps over distances of 10 down to 1 meters in its current incarnation. Two incompatible versions are backed by separate alliances. The WiMedia Alliance includes Intel and a number of other semiconductor makers, computer technology manufacturers, and consumer electronics firms. The other alliance--UWB Forum--is Freescale with just a few significant companies in the mix, including former parent Motorola.

The Bluetooth SIG had earlier signaled that it would support development of Bluetooth profiles and technology--such as object exchange (file transfer) and other widely supported and implemented higher-level modules for action--on top of the classic UWB that Freescale will release shortly to its manufacturing partners and the MB-OFDM flavor developed by WiMedia. (Freescale has talked about production silicon for years, but still lacks a single product on the market; July is the target for two partners for a USB 2.0 hub that uses UWB.)

Now, WiMedia is the only dance partner for the Bluetooth SIG. In an article in ExtremeTech, the SIG's head, Mike Foley says that the trade group's members heavily favored the WiMedia version of UWB. Freescale's head Martin Rofheart said in the same article that the company's short-term focus reamins USB 2.0 replacement given that Bluetooth-based high-speed applications won't be ready until some time in 2007 in the revised scheduled announced today.

A year ago, Rofheart said:

Fast Bluetooth may beat Wireless USB to the market, said Rofheart, since the high-level protocols are in place, and Freescale's silicon is further ahead: "The pieces are more mature, and can be wed together more quickly, rolling into the market faster."

This has proven not to be true. A demonstration last October showed Bluetooth operating over the Freescale flavor of UWB. Freescale and a few other firms that back its flavor are members of the Bluetooth SIG. Motorola was an original promoter and founder of the SIG. Freescale and Motorola have enormous product portfolios, however, and this Bluetooth SIG decision might not cause either company to leave the trade group.

The Bluetooth SIG is pursuing several different paths to make its applications continue to be relevant given the slow speed of its current paired radio technology--just 3 Mbps with Bluetooth 2.0+SDR. The applications allow for wide interoperability and leverage legions of developers who have written Bluetooth support. Changing the radio out from underneath Bluetooth is relatively straightforward compared with the adoption of an entirely new specification from top to bottom, which is why Bluetooth appears to have legs as it follows UWB, Near Field Communications (a form of very close proximity communication), and even Wi-Fi.

ABI Research put out a statement that this choice by the Bluetooth SIG puts WiMedia UWB makers in an superb position for unit volumes. "From a UWB perspective, this potentially opens up a vast market for products; we forecast over one billion Bluetooth radio shipments per annum by the end of the decade, and in the worst case -- should the UWB PHY be included in only a small percentage -- the market will still represent massive volumes of shipments that are unlikely to be encountered in other UWB implementations in the same time period," the statement said.

Alereon, a UWB chipmaker, issued its support for the decision in a statement, and trumpeted the fact that its technology was used for a demonstration at the Bluetooth SIG's meeting at which the choice of WiMedia technology was announced.

An interesting note at the end of the ExtremeTech article says that SIG head Foley didn't "rule out a merger" between the Bluetooth SIG and the WiMedia Alliance, which is the result of a merger itself of the original WiMedia Alliance (focused on higher-level protocols) and the Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA), which dealt with radio/physical-layer issues.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:16 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Bluetooth, UWB

March 27, 2006

Rail Telecom Gets Its Own Conference in London

By Glenn Fleishman

If you'd like to understand how important network access is on a moving railway car, attend Train Communications Systems 2006: While this is a highly specialized event--taking place June 7 and 8, 2006, in London--it shows the tremendous scope of interest in the area. It's not just a few commuter trains and a handful of long-haul trains at stake here, but rather a radical rethinking of the role of telecommunications in rail businesses.

The first day is a workshop, with more a focus on information technology and telecom issues for rail operators managing their train lines. The second day has a greater number of speakers and panels and turns the attention on providing Internet service, looking at the whys and hows. The two days together cost £1350.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:07 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Conferences, Rails

Google, SF Mayor Have Close Relationship

By Glenn Fleishman

The SF Gate reported Friday on chummy interactions between Google's founders and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom: Nothing untoward was found, the newspaper reports, but there's a quite close relationship. The mayor is isolated from the decisionmaking process that will pick a winning firm to build SF's Wi-Fi network, with the winner bearing all financial cost and risk. The article looks Newsom's relationships and friendships with a number of high-profile Internet firm founders and executives, but there's no smoke nor fire. It seems like a good example of public accountability: the mayor's office seems to have handled numerous contacts well and the arm's-length relationship of Newsom to the Wi-Fi decision seems appropriate. The public disclosure that allowed the San Francisco Chronicle to obtain emails relating to these relationships also worked in this case, according to the story.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:16 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

March 26, 2006

New Orleans Official Posits Jail Time over No Network

By Glenn Fleishman

10003225Red Herring reports that New Orleans' CIO won't turn off the city's Wi-Fi network: The network was put up under emergency provisions that allowed the city to bypass a state-wide law prohibiting city service of 144 Kbps or greater (this is widely misstated as 128 Kbps; read the law). The city had surveillance cameras and public safety services linked via mesh networking gear before Hurricane Katrina hit, but companies like Tropos and Intel donated piles of new gear to set up a core area and planned citywide network.

Bellsouth and other incumbents are fighting hard. Bellsouth misstepped in December by getting angry about New Orleans's network and then trying to pretend they hadn't. I don't know Louisiana politics, but I have to wonder if ACT736 (the enacted form of Senate Bill 877) could face repeal of provisions that prohibit this form of network. (Here's a link to the law.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 5:50 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

Guilty Plea in Illinois Wi-Fi Case

By Glenn Fleishman

26817776The fellow charged in January with unauthorized computer access pleaded guilty: He'll pay $250 and have a year of court supervision. Police spotted David Kauchak using a laptop to access the Internet via a nearby nonprofit. The article says via their computer, and that's possible, although strange. He was arrested in the "wee hours" to use the article's phrase, while parked in a car. I suspect the police took an interest because of other factors. The state attorney who headed the office proffering charges asserted that "our residents need to know that it is a crime, punishable by up to a year in jail, to access someone else’s computer, wireless system or Internet connection without that person's approval." [link via TechDirt and Jim Sullivan]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 5:27 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Legal | 1 Comment

March 24, 2006

The Nation Raises Privacy Concerns on Free Google-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Jeff Chester notes that Google's SF offer creates "a honeypot for law enforcement": The columnist says that Google's stock-in-trade is delivering targeted ads and tracking user behavior and location to provide the right ads. Chester writes of the model of opt-out, ad-sponsored Wi-Fi service across an entire city, "The inevitable consequences are an erosion of online privacy, potential new threats of surveillance by law enforcement agencies and private parties, and the growing commercialization of culture."

Three organizations dedicated to privacy and rights of expression filed comments on the Google/EarthLink bid to San Francisco: the ACLU of Northern California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Chester notes these groups urged accommodation for privacy and anonymous surfing.

Chester strays from advocating privacy to suggest that cities might develop their own community networks and that "the cost of building such networks can be very low." He points to the small town of St. Cloud, Florida, which offers free Wi-Fi for residents. But St. Cloud's costs were relatively high for a city of 30,000: "City revenue from the development is funding the $2.6 million in start-up costs, which include the first year of operation. The annual cost afterward is estimated at $400,000."

I can't see how any large city could justify the $10 to $20 million to set up and run a free Wi-Fi network even if there are ultimately cost savings involved. It's not politically popular, and offsetting the financial risk to a private company is a great alternative for towns that can't appropriately fund education and public transportation.

Where this comes to a crux, of course, is that free networks require money to support them. Advertising is one means in Google's and MetroFi's view. In both cases, however, you can still pay for advertising-free service. Whether tracking is disabled when you're paying isn't known. Opting out of using the network removes any privacy risk, but it also removes the utility of a network that has an ostensible civic purpose.

If free Wi-Fi becomes a citizen's right--at a slow speeds or for limited hours each day--it seems inappropriate to hand over control of users' privacy to a private enterprise when a municipality is, in effect, providing authorization and often some or all the city's telecom budget to provide quasi-exclusivity to the winning bidder.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:19 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 3 Comments | 1 TrackBack

Google Files Wi-Fi Ad Targeting Patent

By Glenn Fleishman

ClickZ reports that a Sept. 2004 Google patent covers a variety of Wi-Fi-based ad targeting: The patent, published last week but not yet granted, includes among its claims serving ads based on location, the entity providing the Wi-Fi hotspot, and behavior of a user at a hotspot--and all combinations thereof. They'll have a tough time defending this patent, as there are piles of prior art for delivering ads via splash screens, although perhaps not with the same degree of targeting. They might win some claims or some limited methods of supporting those claims instead of blanket intellectual property ownership of everything in this realm.

Update: reports on two related patents, one for reduced-rate Wi-Fi access and another that would change a browser's appearance to be branded with the hotspot's operator's brand.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:18 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Legal | 1 Comment

March 23, 2006

Lookie at Loki: Wi-Fi Begets Latitude, Longitude

By Glenn Fleishman

LogoSkyhook has unveiled a public beta of Loki, its Wi-Fi based location finder: Skyhook sends trucks with Wi-Fi receivers, computers, and GPS devices around major and minor cities in the U.S. all the time. It correlates this data together to allow publicly broadcast Wi-Fi access point signals to provide relatively accurate latitude and longitude locations, akin to GPS without the expense of a GPS receiver nor the poor performance of GPS in urban environments.

Loki is a proof of concept and quite useful. Download the toolbar for Firefox or Internet Explorer (Windows only at present), and you're no longer lost as long as the system can find nearby Wi-Fi signals that it's aware--and it knows about many millions of them. Because their database captures many signals, they can use a combination of network name, unique broadcast information, and signal strength to provide a triangulated (or better) location.

The Loki toolbar offers a popdown of location-based services that you can select from once your location is identified, such as Google Maps (by geographical coordinates) or a hotspot directory by Zip code. Loki prefills the information that it has from your location to the level of granularity that the Web site it connects you to allows or requires. You can also add additional Web site services using an approach that even allows user account logins.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:47 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location | 1 Comment

Who's Hot Today? Raleigh-Durham (N.C.), Phoenix (Ariz.)

By Glenn Fleishman

The Raleigh-Durham airport will be lit up by AT&T: Terminals A and C along with baggage claim and ticketing areas. This deal is a little confusing because Cingular acquired AT&T Wireless's existing airport and train station locations when Cingular absorbed the firm in 2004. These locations were eventually rebranded as Cingular hotspots. Then SBC, the 60-percent owner of Cingular, purchased AT&T itself and renamed itself AT&T recently. Now AT&T wants to purchase Bellsouth, which owns the other 40 percent of Cingular. All this to say: It's hard to figure out quite which entity is in charge of the RDC airport deployment.

Sky Harbor sees 3,500 weekly logins in first three months: The Phoenix airport finds Wi-Fi to be pop-pop-popular! It's free, you see.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Who's Hot Today?

March 22, 2006

Municipal Round-Up: Milpitas (Calif.)

By Glenn Fleishman

EarthLink's latest win is in Milpitas: The 13 sq. mi. town will gain coverage over about half its area in the renovated downtown. When I was growing up in Fremont (East Bay), we used to joke that if you blinked you'd miss Milpitas, so small a section it occupied across the highway.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:26 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

Battle over the Atlantic (It's Just a Game)

By Glenn Fleishman

Connexion by Boeing, Intel, SAS put together an in-flight component to the Global Gaming League's American/European competition: The in-flight exhibition games happening today feature 24 of Europe's best gamers, Boeing said. They're flying SAS and using the on-board network to attack each other. Let's hope we don't see air-to-game rage.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:13 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Gaming

March 21, 2006

Municipal Round-Up: Waukesha (Wisc.), Mission Viejo (Calif.), Peoria (Ill.)

By Glenn Fleishman

The Tri-County area in Illinois including Peoria considers Wi-Fi: The group interested in making this happen must raise $40K for a feasibility study. Service would ultimately cover 600 square miles at an estimated cost of $3.5M to $4M. Peoria considers whether they could use the network to supplement services, such as using it to carry traffic from surveillance cameras.

Waukesha's getting a lot of attention around its Wi-Fi plan: Mentioned in yesterday's Wall Street Journal article about incumbents signing on to build or bid on metro-scale projects, Waukesha is now considering whether to sign onto Wireless Wisconsin, a more coordinated statewide plan that grew out of planning in Madison. The idea would be seamless connectivity across cities and corridors. The city will pick its own provider this month, the article says.

Mission Viejo, Calif., adds Wi-Fi to City Hall: The article wryly notes that the $268K expenses contrasts neatly with $8m spent on landscaping. However, the figure also includes necessary telecom, networking, and security upgrades, so it's likely to happen. City Hall would be first step in a larger city-wide network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:09 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

Who's Hot Today? Scottsdale (Ariz.), Pierce County (Wash.), South Reno (Nev.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Scottsdale will have downtown Wi-Fi running by next month: Wildfire Broadband Wireless Communications--how about a few more words in your business name, folks?--started with Scottsdale Stadium. There are fews for usage. The company will pay $21,000 for the rights to install gear downtown. The contract is non-exclusive.

Pierce County in which Tacoma, Wash., is located, will add Wi-Fi for libraries: The Gig Harbor branch now has free service as part of a test. The library system will then roll out service in seven more libraries, eventually equipping all 17 branches in 2007. The cost: $50K for the whole system. The Pierce County Library System says that 80 percent of US public libraries are in some stage of providing Wi-Fi (the article says "working to offer").

South Reno mall puts free Wi-Fi at patrons' disposal: Meadowood [sic] will provide free Wi-Fi in the food court, center court, and certain other areas via a deal with Clearwire, Craig McCaw's broadband wireless firm. It's a marketing deal, which gives Clearwire some terrific local promotion. Reno is Clearwire's 27th market. Their hard costs for providing this service must be in the low thousands.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:48 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Who's Hot Today?

March 20, 2006

WAPI Unwrapped

By Glenn Fleishman

EE Times provides more detail on the history and future of the WAPI standard in China: The security standard has been rejected by international standards group ISO "overwhelmingly." The Chinese backers declined to release details of the encryption algorithm, the development process was closed, and there were concerns about its integration with existing 802.11 standards. The group overseeing WAPI's development is still railing against the IEEE for what it alleges are violations in ethics and procedures in ISO voting.

Intel, in this report, has stated its terms for integrating WAPI: Interesting major companies using the standard, and certification and interoperability.

This article is the first I've seen that's drawn a line between elements of the government that would be interested in monitoring WLAN communications: "Some observers believe the company has close ties with military and security forces, based upon a survey of its backers, whose public backgrounds don't suggest they would have the capital to back a startup." I've said from first hearing about WAPI that there is zero chance it doesn't include backdoors for government monitoring.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:54 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: International, Security, Standards | 2 Comments

Incumbents Feel Their Way into Muni Market

By Glenn Fleishman

Snail060320The Wall Street Journal notes Cox, AT&T, Time-Warner are or may be involved in municipally initiated broadband projects: It's what those of us following this market have been saying for a couple of years. It's inevitable that with political and regulatory machinations failing and grass-roots support for municipally authorized--not funded--metropolitan area networks on the rise, that incumbents would figure out a way to drop their objections and cash in.

Of course, do you hire a firm like AT&T, which is quoted in the story that if governments are "looking to establish a Wi-Fi network like this [in Michigan], we're certainly willing to work with them, wherever it's a good fit to do so...This isn't something we're actively recommending to customers." Stunning business plan, that.

The article waits until quite late in its sequence to mention that city-scale networks now proposed rarely involve taxpayer dollars in the U.S. The reporter writes, "To be sure, both the phone and cable companies say what they have opposed is having to compete with publicly owned or operated services that have access to municipal subsidies or other advantages. They say they have been more open to having local governments facilitate projects by giving out contracts to companies, which is the tack municipalities are increasingly taking."

This "tack" dates back nearly a year prompted in large part by the fallout before Philadelphia released its formal plan to bid out city-scale broadband wireless.

Update: In perfect timing, Sprint Nextel's soon-to-be-spun-off local telecom division announced a Wi-Fi mesh network trial in Henderson, Nevada. Under the name Embarq, the company will create a network for city and public safety workers and the general public. It will be free during the trial period.

And BellSouth says it will consider WiMax for areas with damaged or slow networks. They expect a live network in late 2006.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:30 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Mainstream Media, Municipal

March 18, 2006

Gigabit Wire, Wireless with Same Connection

By Glenn Fleishman

Georgia Institute of Technology imagines, demos future of millimeter-wave fiber, fiber-to-wireless: The technology under development at GIT would use existing fiber-optic cables that would have their normal infrared wavelengths stepped up to millimeter-wave signals that could be received within a building and rebroadcast through 40 to 60 GHz wireless and through a simple optical filter attached to an in-wall adapter. The researchers suggest 32 separate carriers each with 2.5 Gbps data rate. They've demonstrate the capability in their labs.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:00 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Future

March 16, 2006

Municipal Round-Up: Aurora (Ill.), Muni Podcast

By Glenn Fleishman

The city of light picks MetroFi: MetroFi will unwire Aurora, Ill., using SkyPilot equipment, the gear that they've deployed in recent years to cover their three cities in the Bay Area. MetroFi has bids in all over, including for Portland, Ore. The Aurora network will have both public and governmental use; advertising will cover the cost of free public Wi-Fi. The city covers 42 square miles and has 170,000 residents.

Pro-municipal trio Jim Baller, Greg Richardson, and Esme Vos inaugurate Local Loop podcast: Baller and Richardson will host the biweekly podcast; Vos was their first guest. All three make part or all their living consulting for or writing about the municipal broadband market, Baller as a lawyer, Richardson as a policy/financial consultant, and Vos as an analyst. Richardson's firm provided advice to San Francisco and Philadelphia, among other cities.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:07 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 TrackBack

Juice out of Zeus

By Glenn Fleishman

Steve Wozniak winds down Wheels of Zeus, GPS-like tracking system: The company, founded by Apple co-founder "Woz," had as one of its early project ideas that of providing an inexpensive method of tracking children using widely spaced transceivers and low-power RFID tags that might be cheap enough to be sewn into clothing and backpacks. The transceivers could be mounted in public places but would also have been in individual homes. The plan to deploy this network was never made clear. The company is winding down as Woz and two former Apple executives move into a shell firm that's looking to spend tens of millions of dollars to acquire and incubate tech firms. (The name: Acquicor, which was probably not the result of an expensive name search.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:30 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Unique

March 15, 2006

Municipal Round-Up: Upper Dublin (Penn.), Bethlehem (Penn.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Upper Dublin, Penn., claims southeastern bragging rights for first citywide Wi-Fi network: The city snuck under the wire last year to start its network to avoid having to ask Verizon for permission. (Sorry, notify Verizon and have them agree to build a network within some period of time or decline.) The service will cost just $12 per month and deliver 3 Mbps (downstream, one would wager) with higher-speeds available. The suburban Phila. city covered 13 square miles for $150,000 so far, which seems a bit low. The article notes a little irony: Verizon wanted the law passed to prevent competition by municipalities in areas they serve, but municipalities may decide on Verizon's ability to offer television over fiber--exactly the sort of situation that anti-municipal broadband forces have pointed to as a conflict of interest where cities act as regulators on one hand while competing on the other. This is the first overt mention of this that I've seen, however.

Bethlehem, Penn., has a South Side network mostly built: The Wi-Fi network is in the Keystone Innovation Zone, an area that's been targeted to try to keep local technology businesses from moving away. The project has scant details because it's being finished up and no one seems to want to comment. The zone covers four square miles, most of the South Side.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:53 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

ABI Claims 126,000 Square Miles of Metro-Scale Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

The report issued by research firm ABI Research says there are 1,500 square miles covered today: But the company estimates 126,000 square miles by 2010 with one million mesh nodes shipped in that year alone for $1.2 billion. The report's overview doesn't mention customer premises equipment (CPEs), the bridges that will be used to bring outdoor Wi-Fi to indoor locations. It's likely that millions of these units will be sold per year within two to three years if these networks are built at this scale. A specialized market is just starting to form.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:45 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal, Research

Brinksmanship in 802.11n

By Glenn Fleishman

16274164(Updated Wed. morning) A game is being played with announcements from Task Group N: Yes, there is unity. Of a sort. In an interview last week, Atheros's chief technology officer said the Draft 1.0 accepted by Task Group (which will eventually produce the 802.11n next-generation standard to move Wi-Fi forward) was essentially complete with small details to work out. He said there was a very small risk that major changes would be required. Bill Bunch, director of product marketing at Broadcom, confirmed that view in an interview Wednesday morning.

Atheros, Broadcom, and Marvell all had silicon to show in some form at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January; Intel, I didn't hear about, although they've announced both 802.11n and WiMax support for laptop designs later this year. Commitment to silicon, even in small quantities, is expensive, and changes in certain aspects of the radio's functionality would almost certainly require "retaping" circuit designs--making changes to produce new chips that have to go through significant testing. (Paul Callahan has details on where Atheros, Broadcom, and Marvell are at with chip designs, reporting that Marvell's chipset is nowhere near ready.)

Airgo's chief Greg Raleigh said in an interview on Tuesday, however, that "There's been an unprecedented effort to manipulate and monopolize the standards process." Raleigh maintains there are a few key issues for performance and backwards compatibility that are simple and won't change the cost for chip or device production. "It literally takes a couple of weeks" to make these changes in the spec, he said. Several chip competitors that are trying "to prevent any improvements" because they're "struggling to ship chips based on immature versions of the standards."

Atheros and Broadcom said, in contrast, that they preplanned for some changes in a critical backwards compatibility area. "It strikes me that no chipmaker is going to build a chip without thinking about these issues," said Bunch. "We have built a fundamental toolkit into our silicon so we can go in a number of different directions. We think we have all the flexibility we need to solve the generic problem."

Raleigh said Airgo hasn't committed to silicon yet because they believe a Draft 2.0 or 3.0 will be required before they are comfortable putting their fabless--that's chip-fabrication-plant-less--efforts into what they're calling their Gen N chip, which will succeed three generations of chips they've sold into the marketplace through Belkin, NetGear, and others. Cisco and Motorola are chairing an ad hoc group in Task Group N to put together a proposal for some changes to Draft 1.0, Raleigh said. Thousands of comments from the ballot that will go out are also expected, one source said.

The most significant changes have to do with the optional double-wide channel mode that 802.11n will use as one component in improving Wi-Fi's net speed. 802.11n will use MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) antenna technology for range and multiple simultaneous data streams in the air, but the 40 megahertz (MHz) wide channel has a neat doubling effect without fancy footwork. Existing 802.11a, b, and g channels are 22 MHz wide; double that, and you roughly double raw bandwidth at one swoop. Some companies won't implement 40 MHz channels in some or all of their chips for reasons of cost or power use--think cell phones that won't process more than several Mbps, anyway--and 40 MHz-wide channels aren't yet permitted in certain countries.

The problem with 40 MHz comes from 802.11b/g having just three nonoverlapping 22 MHz channels in the 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) band. These channels, numbered 1, 6, and 11, do, in fact, overlap, but somewhat faintly at signal strengths found in consumer devices. In most urban areas, there's already so much Wi-Fi in use, that every channel has someone "talking" on it, whether one of these three or 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, or 10--and 12, 13, or 14 in some countries. (802.11a in the 5 GHz band has 23 channels now, though some are designated for particular purposes. These channels are effectively non-overlapping: with so many and with channel spacing, 802.11n operating in 5 GHz won't cause the same hardships that N in 2.4 GHz might.)

For home users, therefore, it's important that the existing scarce 2.4 GHz spectrum not have even more demands placed upon it, which is why where a 40 MHz channel sits (by default or by choice) becomes a critial part of 802.11n. Task Group N still needs to decide whether it will decide where to place 40 MHz in the 2.4 GHz band and how to adapt to co-channel and adjacent channel networks, new and old.

Placement means that, unlike Atheros's widely disdained Turbo mode in their Super G extensions to Wi-Fi, you don't stick two channels in the middle of the band, which is one possibility on the table. Turbo grabbed channels 5 and 6--using much less than 40 MHz--but the technique caused performance degradation across the whole band. (That's why Turbo in shipping devices is either turned off or set to "dynamic"--disabled when it detects other networks--since about 18 months ago.) Task Group N might decide to not dictate how to specify how 40 MHz channel interact with legacy networks, too, leaving it up to each manufacturer. "That's up to the committee to decide whether they want to specify the gory details of how one manages the spectrum," said Broadcom's Bunch.

Airgo knows quite a bit about the 40 MHz interference problem because they've had a product on the market that uses 40 MHz--NetGear uses Airgo's third-generation chips in its RangeMax 240, which has a raw data rate of 240 Mbps in its most expansive mode (two streams, 40 MHz channel). The device uses a Wi-Fi channel and then extends out to one side (on either end of the band) or both sides (on a middle channel). Signals look like Wi-Fi on the same channel, making co-channel interference less of an issue. But that's not the case for networks on adjacent channels.

Tim Higgins of Tom's Networking back in January showed that the firmware available at that time caused significant problems in backing down to 22 MHz when nearby, separate, existing networks are detected. Airgo never publicly critiqued Higgins's review, but sent around some of the issues with both broad statements and methodology. The review has been updated three times to address methodology, particularly in measuring consistency in downlink speed. None of those changes affect the adjacent network interference.

In email to me at the time, Airgo justified a number of decisions on how they dealt with existing nearby networks, but also said that many of those decisions would be changed in firmware upgrades. For instance, in January the device could only automatically choose a new channel at startup; new firmware would allow it to switch channels while operating if other networks started up, although it would monitor these new networks for five or more minutes before switching to avoid causing unnecessary network disruption. (No new firmware is listed as of today at NetGear's support page for the model.)

I turned for a sanity check to a colleague who attends Task Group N but doesn't have a horse in the race: this person works neither for a chipmaker nor a consumer equipment manufacturer, but must remain anonymous because of their day job. This colleague stated that there certainly was an unresolved issue about playing nice, but my colleague views this as one of a number of minor issues. Since he or she isn't involved in making silicon his assessment and Raleigh's aren't incompatible: if there's no cost considered with an existing silicon commitment to earlier drafts, the changes could be very minor in wording and overall effect. But there's no particular way to know at this point whether Airgo's competitors have included the flexibility necessary in their chip designs to address whatever might be required for 40 MHz adaptation to legacy networks.

Now, of course, Airgo has the most to lose from commoditization of their key advantage: high-range, high-throughput backwards-compatible Wi-Fi. Their third-generation chips, already on the market in some products, can achieve 100 Mbps of real throughput out of a raw rate of 240 Mbps. (Atheros's CTO said that 802.11n products should hit as high as 75 percent throughput of their raw data rate, or as much as 450 Mbps out of 600 Mbps, but more likely as high as 150 Mbps out of the base 200 Mbps version.)

There's nothing to touch Airgo's throughput at this point, and they need to have chips ready for market at essentially the same time as competing chipmakers. Likewise, competing chipmakers have every incentive to be faster off the mark than Airgo, even if there's risk involved, because any contract they can sign with a consumer manufacturer to get products to the market a month or two or three faster is gold for that product maker--if the product works as advertised and can be fully firmware upgradable to final standards. I don't think there's a risk that we'll see devices on the market that use draft 802.11n and can't be upgraded; that would be far too embarassing to manufacturers, and destroy consumer confidence. Broadcom's Bunch said, "What we are saying is our products are fundamentally designed from day one to track the standard. The reason we're not guaranteeing is there is some small possibility that there is something significant found that we can't track."

Now, if you remember 802.11g, Broadcom managed to score an enormous coup in late 2002 by signing Apple, Buffalo, and Linksys as customers. They captured almost the entire 802.11g chip market between January and June 2003 because there simply was almost no other silicon available. There were huge problems with the early devices (but not the underlying chips) because the standard was in flux: it didn't get finalized until summer, and I saw enormous interoperability problems between Apple and Linksys equipment even though they were practically the same reference design. Despite the several firmware upgrades required to reach stable interoperable status in summer, consumers apparently liked the higher speeds enough.

However, an important point is that the first silicon Broadcom shipped in December 2002 was firmware upgradable to the final 802.11g standard, a standard that Broadcom helped shape but was in no position to dictate. Bunch noted, "Every single 11g chipset that we produced based on earlier drafts were all upgradable to the exact final standard after ratification." This helped anoint Broadcom in the Wi-Fi space, and was another push for Atheros to leave its 802.11a-only roots and become a fierce competitor through feature differentiation in the 802.11g market.

I suspected that Airgo might have another reason to want a different 40 MHz solution to win out: their third-generation chips might be compatible enough with the 802.11n offering to allow them interoperability, even if that cost some performance. Right now, all MIMO devices in the market promise no better throughput than 802.11g-level performance with whatever 802.11n products ship. Higher performance levels require compatible, proprietary equipment.

However, Raleigh said something I found surprising: He said the his 3rd gen chips have a solution "that's frankly not quite as good as what's on the table with 802.11n." He said, "The solutions that are on the table for 11n are superior to that," referring to what the ad hoc group is looking at to suggest for the next Task Group N draft. Raleigh said he wants silicon-based solutions that would far exceed what could be done in firmware to preserve the quality of legacy 802.11 networks. (Some elements of Airgo's previous generations will probably have forward compatibility with 802.11n, I should note, but the extent will certainly depend on the final draft and what Airgo can offer through firmware for older devices.)

If this legacy interference issue doesn't delay the spec, then Raleigh and company may wind up slower off the mark than their larger competitors. Even if does, Airgo as a smaller firm may not be able to produce designs and chips as rapidly as their larger competitors retool for any changes. Pushing through a particular approach to spectral management would give them a position of technology leadership, of course, and one can't underestimate their fleetness despite their size: Raleigh says their 2 1/2 years of building MIMO chips will let them have the best "product-to-price performance."

Bluntly, Airgo is saying that its competitors would risk destroying the performance or utility of existing 802.11b/g in order to capture part of Airgo's current proprietary, higher-margin business. I asked Raleigh if that characterization were correct, and he agreed with it. But he didn't think the plan to bake Draft 1.0 with minor changes would work. "I don't these guys are going to have the political power to clog the process at this point because the changes are highly visible and quite small," Raleigh said.

Broadcom's Bunch said in response, "The implication that we would damage our 11g business just to take his small share is very strange." He noted, "We cannot have the bad neighbor policy...It's a very dense world out there." Bunch strongly rejected any suggestion that Broadcom's spectral management approach to interference wouldn't fully consider existing networks' integrity.

Where the standard may wind up in the short-term is only slightly hazy. Draft 2.0 will certainly appear after comments are incorporated into Draft 1.0; that draft might be voted on in May. Even Raleigh thinks that a Draft 2.0 or 3.0 might be complete enough to base silicon on. Similar standards have taken much longer and gone through many more drafts; 802.11g ended up at Draft 8.2 heading for ratification.

What's certain is that Airgo has put its cards on the table: Their third-generation chips lack characteristics that they want built into 802.11n, and they believe their four prime competitors have lacked the savvy to build those characteristics into their proposed chips. It may be that Airgo gets its way, and specific spectral management behavior is added to 802.11n. But that might not benefit them: that behavior might be something that Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell have already counted on, and which they might bring to market months ahead of Airgo.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:59 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n | 1 Comment

March 14, 2006

Who's Hot Today? Rio Rancho (N.M.)--Again, Austin (Tex.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Rio Rancho might turn off user fees on Wi-Fi network: Azulstar Networks will allow users 10 hours a month of 100 Kbps free service (as opposed to their 1.5 Mbps/256 Kbps down/up paid service) if the Rio Rancho city council approves it. The free service has paid tech support ($1.50 per minute), and requires viewing ads. The paid service is $20 per month for 400 Kbps down, and $40 per month for 1.5 Mbps down. The city has 70,000 people, mostly across 45 square miles of the 100 square mile town.

A conference in Austin will leave a free wireless network behind: This is quite a lovely idea. The World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT) has its biennial event in Austin this May, and Cisco's $700,000 donation of gear won't leave when the conference does. Instead, it will be a nucleus of service across the city. The city's IT and telecom departments along with Austin Energy will create and maintain the network, which will first be open to convention attendees. The conference's CEO said planning had been underway for a year. The network's first stage will cover the quite fantastic convention center (I was there for SXSWi last year), and nearby hotels and entertainment districts. Parks will be added later. The city has a fiber-optic loop that will provide backhaul.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:06 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Who's Hot Today?

Independent Task Group N Members' Opinions?

By Glenn Fleishman

Are you a member of the IEEE Task Group N unaffiliated with a chipmaker? The FUD (fear, uncertainty, distortion) wars are underway for the near-term in 802.11n, the next-generation wireless LAN standard that will get folded into Wi-Fi. I'm trying to find people who attend the Task Group N meetings who can shed some light on the dispute that the draft voted into place last week will--without further modification--cause grievous problems to nearby 802.11b/g networks. Please email me at Or post comments below.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:39 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n

March 13, 2006

Mesh Standard Zooms Forwards

By Glenn Fleishman

19294177The 802.11s standard for mesh networking coalesced last week: Two leading groups with separate proposals, instead of slugging it out for a year or two, asked for and were given permission to attempt to merge into a joint proposal in January. At last week's IEEE meeting, the joint proposal was unanimously confirmed as the basis on which to proceed.

What this means is that within a year, there could be a unified standard that mesh devices could conform to for interoperability. I wrote in the Economist this week about one risk to municipal networks' early adoption was that at least four major metro-scale mesh equipment vendors are still categorized as startups. A shutdown or change in direction could leave superannuated equipment scattered like Metricom's or Vivato's.

A standard at least moves towards the potential of a trade group emerging that could set profiles--a la WiMax Forum--for kinds of mesh behavior. There could be single radio, switched multiple radio, contention-free sectorized mesh, and other profiles probably designed by frequency (2.4 GHz, 4.9 GHz, and 5 GHz); it's unlikely there would be a one-size-fits-all. Standards open industries to additional competition, but they can also soothe worried purchasers.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:49 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Mesh, Standards | 1 Comment

Cox, MobilePro Partner for Arizona Wireless

By Glenn Fleishman

I'd already heard that cable systems operator Cox was friendly towards Tempe's wireless effort: The NeoReach division of MobilePro is, according to Tempe, buying its fiber-optic feeds from Cox. The announcement today links Cox and MobilePro across Arizona, allowing the company to build out wireless and Wi-Fi services for municipal security and infrastructure overlaid on Cox's network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:16 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Deals

WPA2 Now Mandatory for New Products

By Glenn Fleishman

Key060313The Wi-Fi Alliance has flipped the switch for its certification programs: New devices that want to pass the Wi-Fi certification program and use its trademarked seal must include WPA2, the version of Wi-Fi Protected Access that includes the full IEEE 802.11i security spec, such as AES-CCMP encryption keys. The alliance has never made such mandatory elements retroactive, but it's likely that products lacking WAP2 or lagging in adding it will find a competitive necessity to do so when all new products will be able to trumpet this fact. It's critical for enterprise, which demands the highest levels of available encryption and security, but not very important for homes or small offices.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:29 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security

March 11, 2006

Phila. Deal Signed, Not Final

By Glenn Fleishman

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the city council won't approve the signed contracts between the Philadelphia Mayor's Office and EarthLink until at least April 13: Now, I thought back on March 1, the contracts were reportedly signed. The AP reported, "Philadelphia Mayor John Street said Wednesday that the city has signed agreements with Earthlink" on March 1. This Inquirer story says, however, the contracts weren't signed until last week.

And, apparently, signed contracts are valid in that city--perhaps this is common--until approval by the city council. I had thought the contracts couldn't be executed without council approval, but contract law works a little differently inside government, I gather. The AP story indicated this without making it explicit: "Street recommended that the city council approve the contracts." The council considered moving forward in a committee meeting yesterday, but expressed concern that there were too many unanswered questions, which prevents the vote from happening on March 23.

There are four contracts--more than previously noted--involved in the basics of this deal. The city contracts Wireless Philadelphia to manage the program and administer the social programs; Wireless Philadelphia contracts with EarthLink to build and run the network; EarthLink gets approval from the city utility to rent lightposts; and a contract that specifies the $74 per year rate per lightpost rented. There's a fifth contract between EarthLink and Peco Energy for electricity to flow to the access points, and that contract is under negotiation.

It runs to several hundred pages, overwhelming council members and their staffs, apparently. EarthLink and Wireless Philadelphia can abandon the deal if not approved by the council by its summer recess.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:44 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

ACE Rail Upgrades Wi-Fi Service

By Glenn Fleishman

Loco2The Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) Rail system will spend $200,000 to upgrade its trains' Internet connection: It's been over two years that U.S. and Canadian trials of train-based Internet access over Wi-Fi have been in progress using PointShot's products. The VIA Rail line in Canada has finally gone live with a Windsor-Quebec City route, and ACE turns up the volume on its long-running experiment, too. The ACE line seems a little disgruntled--"we're using old beta-test equipment now"--but also a little too enthusiastic in claiming T-1 service, which is an unlikely speed for a moving object using satellite or cellular networks. A few hundred Kbps is more likely downstream and less upstream. VIA eventually settled on satellite because cell operators couldn't meet their needs across the route.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:48 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails

March 10, 2006

WAPI Insertion at the IEEE

By Glenn Fleishman

A colleague writes that several attempts were made in this week's IEEE meeting to insert a proprietary Chinese security specification into 802.11: They all failed, and quite handily. But interesting that the WLAN Authentication and Privacy (WAPI) protocol, which has been fought by most non-Chinese firms, is rearing its head there. As linked to earlier in the week, the international ISO standards group is unlikely to incorporate WAPI, either. WAPI is not fully published and contains proprietary, undisclosed encryption algorithms.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:27 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security, Standards

Breaking News: 802.11n Draft 1.0 Approved

By Glenn Fleishman

The IEEE approved draft 1.0 of 802.11n yesterday: The IEEE voted in January to accept a proposal--largely that of the Enhanced Wireless Consortium with some changes--as a pre-1.0 draft. That near-unanimous vote was the first step in finalizing 802.11n, which has been under discussion for years and which appeared to be heading to a deadlock. The EWC proposal was quietly built by four chipmakers--Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell--and then sold back into a joint proposal group that was trying to harmonize competing efforts.

That work paid off given the quick approval of Draft 1.0. This first fully numbered draft had only very minor technical changes from the proposal that was accepted as the 0.1 draft in January, according to Atheros's chief technology officer Bill McFarland. In an interview this morning, McFarland said that changes were primarily to conform to IEEE editorial style, including adding detailed appendixes and some clarifying text. "The draft was evaluated by the group as being complete, technically very sound, and in shape where it could potentially be the exact final standard," McFarland said. That doesn't mean it will be adopted as is--that's very unlikely--but it has the form and detail of a final draft.

McFarland said that the proposal will now be sent out for balloting among 802.11 Working Group members for a 40-day period. Ballots will vote up or down on accepting this draft, and will bring back comments and requests for changes. In the May meeting, those changes will be discussed, and some will be adopted and others not. If all goes well, a re-ballot will happen following a similar course. In July, a final draft could win the day, which would then go on to a group of experts at a higher IEEE level who typically approve drafts--by the time they've reached this point, most technical and harmonization issues across 802 (networks) and 802.11 (wireless networks) have been settled.

Meanwhile, manufacturers will probably start firing up the silicon ovens. McFarland said that Atheros was already in sampling, and it was very encouraging that "In getting to this 1.0 draft very few technical changes needed to be made." There is a very low risk, he said, of significant changes being made before a final draft is accepted that would require changes in silicon.

Inertia will set in, too, because so many chipmakers already are sampling or showing 802.11n designs to their customers. "As time goes on, all the major silicon providers have begun work on it so they prefer more and more there not be changes," McFarland said.

Atheros is sampling draft 802.11n chips now. "We expect that you'll be able to see products on the store shelves certainly by the middle of this year implementing this 1.0 draft," McFarland said. Changes to the spec would be handled through firmware upgrades.

Update: There's some dispute over Atheros's characterization; more on this on Monday.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:40 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n

Friday's Open Thread

By Glenn Fleishman

The experiment worked well last weekend; let's try it again: This open thread allows you to post comments on any Wi-Fi topic.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:12 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail | 4 Comments

March 9, 2006

Stat of the Day: 41.2M Broadband Subscribers

By Glenn Fleishman

Phone060309The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) said in its latest report that 41.2 million Americans have broadband: Of course, let's just footnote that by noting that US broadband means higher than 200 Kpbs in at least one direction, so that 256 Kbps down/128 Kbps service is technically broadband. Still, not too many cavils need to apply, with the majority of broadband connections noted in other studies having at least 1 Mbps of downstream speed, with an increasing minority running 3 to 6 Mbps.

The TIA says 4.5m subscribers had broadband in 2000 before cable modems started to make inroads. Today, 17m broadband subscribers access the Internet over DSL and 22.5 via cable. The 2009 estimate is 69.2m total (23.8m DSL, 35.9m cable). Fixed and mobile wireless, satellite Internet, and fiber to the home will make up the difference, with nearly 10m subscribers across those technologies. The TIA estimate 1.5m fixed wireless and 2.0m mobile wireless subscribers.

The report projects hardly any decline in DSL price, although speed will increase, while cable prices will drop nearly 5 percent annualized over the next four years, also with faster speeds.

The report is $1,500 on paper, $1,800 on CD for non-members or $650 and $950, respectively, for members.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:00 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Home

Municipal Round-Up: Washington (D.C.), Western N.Y.

By Glenn Fleishman

D.C. prepares to ask for bids for "most" of the city: A Wi-Fi network contract will be awarded to the firm that does the most for the least-advantaged residents, including offering free access, computers, and training. There apparently won't be a requirement for full coverage, although the mayor expects the incentives will be there. The franchise will last eight years, and cover lightposts and building access, as well as some fiber-optic access. No tax dollars are involved, officials stated in this Washington Post article. An interesting twist: the winning bidder could serve low-income residents by wire instead of wireless. And the speed requirement is very slow: 500 Kbps downstream, 150 Kbps upstream. [Link via Esme Vos]

NeoReach extends to Gilbert, Ariz.: NeoReach (operated by MobilePro) has a network in Tempe and one under construction in Chandler. The adjacent city of Gilbert will add 76 square miles for a contiguous total network area of 187 square miles. I've been quoted in print media recently noting that Tempe at 40 square miles took the title as largest citywide network--that network is "substantially" complete as of March 1. With the addition of Chandler, they would dwarf the next largest network. Add in Gilbert, and they'll hold the title for largest area in a city network for at least a year and maybe two. Assuming other nearby suburbs in the sprawl around Phoenix don't ask to be admitted, too. And then there's Phoenix, suspiciously quiet at the moment. The Gilbert network will start rolling out June 1 and be finished in 2006.

Miami Beach awards IBM contract for free Wi-Fi service: The $5 million network will be paid out of city funds, remarkably, and cover seven square miles, with a commitment of access only up to the third floor--which is a problem in a town of high-rise apartments. I'm a little stunned by this one because I know of no city that would willingly put out this kind of money. IBM will give public schools 30 computers and sell computers "at a discount" to residents, but since IBM doesn't make computers any more, I'm not sure which company's products they'll offer. A local wireless service provider seems hopping mad, and notes that 50 to 80 percent of residents won't have access to this network.

Buffalo, Batavia receive state funds for Wi-Fi expansion: Two projects received matching dollars totaling about $350,000 for expanding Wi-Fi access. Buffalo will add more areas of free service. $1.4 million in matching funds will be distributed to 29 communities via High-Tech Initiative for New York.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:46 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

Tropos MetroMesh Update Provisions, Swaps Channels

By Glenn Fleishman

Tropos released version 5.1 of their MetroMesh software, which controls mesh deployments: This release increases capacity, Tropos said in a press release, by using information gathered at mesh end points about the RF environment in which they operate to select or change channels dynamically. In the architecture for city-scale operations that Tropos and EarthLink have described to me, a cluster of several mesh nodes will be paired with each back-haul node. The adjacency of clusters, however, would allow nodes to swap clusters by changing channels or join onto one channel to have more access to backhaul.

The software update also allows edge provisioning, or setting maximum burst data rates for end-users. This is critical for city-wide deployments, where customers will be given no more than 1 Mbps service. The software also ties in authentication with what they describe as "large network operators." Although the text is a bit dense, it describes seamless, session-persistent roaming through secure tunneling, which is akin to Mobile IP as implemented by NetMotion Wireless, for one.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:28 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Mesh, Municipal | 1 Comment

Wi-Pie in the Sky in the Economist

By Glenn Fleishman

20060311Issuecovus160In the Mar. 11 issue of the Economist, I write about the technical challenges for city-scale Wi-Fi networks (sub. req.): The article, already online, walks through what wireless experts and industry insiders I spoke to identify as key problems with trying to build metro-scale Wi-Fi networks, regardless of equipment: interference, standardization, and politics.

Tropos appears somewhat in the bullseye because their gear will be used in the most difficult urban networks currently planned; Strix and NeoReach have deployed networks in Tempe, Ariz., and BelAir elsewhere with simpler topography and much lower density. Philadelphia's density is more than five times higher on average than Tempe, but that belies areas in which Philly might have dozens of times the density. (Tempe's densest region is the university with tens of thousands of students, but also greater access to facilities when the network is fully extended to campus.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:49 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Mainstream Media, Municipal

March 8, 2006

Canada Charges Wi-Fi Thief

By Glenn Fleishman

Oldcar060308Ontario man charged with wireless network theft: From Canada, the land of the wrong-way, pantsless, child porno viewing driving, comes a very brief story that a 25-year-old was charged last week for the theft of a wireless Internet connection in the town of Morrisburg in Ontario. No further details appear available yet. [link via Michael Geist]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:52 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Unique | 1 Comment

AT&T's Wi-Fi Play?

By Glenn Fleishman

Unmentioned in most of the reports of the AT&T/BellSouth merger is Wi-Fi: AT&T runs one of the largest Wi-Fi networks in the country: AT&T's FreedomLink network is operated by Wayport, but branded and operated by the telecom giant. They have thousands of FreedomLink locations comprised largely of The UPS Store/Mailboxes Etc., Barnes and Noble, and Caribou Coffee.

They offer this network--along with several thousand McDonald's outlets directly under contract to Wayport--for $1.99 per month to their DSL subscribers. I haven't seen any numbers on how many DSL subscribers have taken them up on it. An extra $20 per month buys roaming locations across several networks, including Wayport's hotel and airport locations.

The question with the merger, of course, is whether FreedomLink's already national footprint becomes more intensely regional. Does AT&T push the DSL/$1.99 deal to former BellSouth customers? Likely. Does it expand locations in its larger coverage area? Almost certainly. And does Cingular's Wi-Fi plan, which relies on FreedomLink but is smaller and more expensive, become fully integrated with FreedomLink? You gotta hope so.

This could challenge T-Mobile, which currently offers a $20/month unlimited Wi-Fi plan for their over 6,700 domestic locations for existing voice subscribers (1-year commitment required). If AT&T--which will now own 100 percent of Cingular instead of 60 percent--matches or beats that deal for Cingular voice subscribers, that might cause some drainage out of the T-Mobile user pool.

With Cingular offering UMTS nationwide and HSDPA in certain markets, the combination of real 3G speeds, Wi-Fi hotspots, and voice could be a winning bundle over Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon deals. Sprint and Verizon lack good add-on plans for Wi-Fi, although Sprint has a roaming network of nearly 30,000 locations worldwide--they just don't bundle it well and domestic locations are largely FreedomLink's. T-Mobile has a great inclusive network in the US and roaming deals (single login, single bill, but fees) worldwide, but they don't have a 3G cell network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:06 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Deals, Hot Spot | 2 Comments

Last Stand for Chinese Proprietary Wi-Fi Security?

By Glenn Fleishman

lock (c)2006 Jupiterimages Corp.I've written disparagingly about the WAPI spec over the last two years: The WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) standard backed by the Chinese government has two key flaws. First, it's not international. Second, it's proprietary. Nonetheless, the government--despite earlier indications that the standard was stalled or wouldn't be enforcement--has decided to keep pressing on.

Companies that make Wi-Fi chips or devices designed for use within China were at one point going to be banned from selling in that country unless they partnered with a domestic firm, one of about a dozen, that had access to the license for the specification. The issue became heated enough that the US government in the form of Colin Powell and others became involved. The requirement was dropped, and the standard was introduced into the ISO process in the hopes of getting approval through that body.

According to IDG News Service, ISO is extremely unlikely to become part of any ISO WLAN security standard. The IEEE 802.11 Working Group pointed out the problems in a filing: There's no way to evaluate the actual security given an undisclosed mechanism; and there's no shipping devices with WAPI embedded, or even prototypes to test.

I'd add to that a concern I have beaten the drum about: There is zero chance that a government-backed security standard doesn't include back doors for monitoring. The complaints about 802.11i being "American" or "Western" or even "garbage" (as WAPI's developer stated) are a smokescreen for the ongoing desire by the Chinese to reject Western hegemony over its technology and reject security methods that allow for no penetration.

The response in China appears to be that companies will continue to develop WAPI which might find a market among government buyers. A Beijing-based analyst thinks it unlikely it will become mandatory for all Chinese users--which makes sense with likely tens of millions of existing Wi-Fi devices already in use in the country and no timetable for WAPI-based systems to become available.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:06 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: International, Politics, Security | 1 Comment

March 7, 2006

WiTopia Releases New WPA Enterprise Service Pricing

By Glenn Fleishman

Securemywifi060306WiTopia has somewhat quietly offered SecureMyWiFi for many months: Today, they announced a new pricing setup designed for larger offices. The service provides outsourced robust WPA Enterprise authentication in which each Wi-Fi user has a unique login name and password, and whose networking software receives unique encryption information on a successful login.

WiTopia now prices this service both for small office/home office users and larger firms. Home/SOHO users pay $20 for setup, and $9.99 per year for up to five users and one access point. Additional APs are $9.99 per year up to three, at which point you graduate to the Business Edition.

Larger business pay a one-time $99 setup fee, and $99 per year for up to 100 users a single access point. Each additional AP adds $14.99 per year, with custom prices quoted for networks of greater than 10 APs or 100 users.

I've evaluated SecureMyWiFi several times, most recently for Network Computing's March issue (availale online any day now). It works quite well, and the company is very responsive for special requests and tech support. Their only real competitor is BoxedWireless, which charges per user but includes unlimited APs. BoxedWireless also offers individual digital certificates for each client, which may be useful for smaller firms that need an even higher level of security than a username/password for network access. BoxedWireless also performs admirably, but is more expensive for larger numbers of users.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:06 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security, Small-Medium Sized Business

Municipal Round-Up: Madison (Wisc.), Orleans (Mass.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Madison's first phase due by end of month: Several firms are working together, and Cisco announced that it would provide the wireless equipment, the second such network that Cisco is involved with. Cisco released its mesh networking equipment months ago, and must push its way into a crowded market with five competitors, some of which are themselves funded by Cisco competitors. The entire city, including the airport, will have coverage by early 2007.

The first node of what's hoped to be a Cape Cod-wide Wi-Fi network is up at Orleans: It's one node and you need to create an account to use the currently-free service. Through a grant from a technology-promoting group, the Cape Cod Technology Council hopes to start deploying advertising-supported free Wi-Fi with cooperation of local businesses.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:24 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

SputnikNet Express Brings Free Service to Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Sputnik20060306Sputnik returns to part of its roots with the SputnikNet Express offering: The company started out with software for turning old PCs into hotspots in an affiliated network, but discovered its aggregation management software--tools to manage large numbers of access points through a central interface--was the valuable part. In the last two years, they added SputnikNet offerings which allow centrally managed hotspot networks with back-end charging. This latest Express addition costs nothing and is meant for stand-alone free hotspots that benefit from a splash page and other straightforward features.

Install Sputnik Agent on an appropriate access point, reflashing the firmware, or purchase such a unit from Sputnik. Configure your splash screen, choosing whether users see Google or Yahoo localized content, or no local content. And, bingo, you have a branded page with no authentication required that offers a screen of local content.

This software also allows you to choose to include PlaceSite, software developed for local community interaction.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:21 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | 2 Comments

March 6, 2006

Tropos, Alvarion Partner on Municipal Markets

By Glenn Fleishman

Tropos has frequently been paired with Motorola Canopy for metro-scale networks: However, Motorola has a division that competes with Tropos, their Motomesh line, which was primed by the acquisition of MeshNetworks. Motomesh doesn't support the notion of residential access via mesh-based 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, but they are all about mobility in city-wide networks, using a combination of proprietary and Wi-Fi encodings and 2.4 and 4.9 GHz radios with up to four radios per device. Tropos, for the time being, focuses on single-radio 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi with user access and mesh occurring on the same devices and channels. Both solutions need backhaul.

EarthLink signed a deal that pairs Tropos with Canopy for their first five city deployments, while Tropos included Canopy among their partners as part of their platform development that allows top-to-bottom management and reporting across an ecosystem of wireless devices--from customer premises adapters (CPEs) to backbone equipment.

Canopy competes head-to-head with Alvarion, with both going after similar market segments with similar technology. Both claim a high degree of WiMax feature compatibility in their current product line-ups and both will be fighting for deployments in municipalities that involve hundreds of base stations. This is the first move I'm aware of by Alvarion that specifically ties their equipment to a relationship with Wi-Fi access. The deployments I'm best aware of are direct broadband wireless replacement.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Deals, Mesh, Municipal, WiMAX

Municipal Round-Up: Toronto (Ont.), St. Cloud (Fla.), Portsmouth (N.H.), Peoria (Ill.), New York City, Ricochet (all over)

By Glenn Fleishman

Toronto Hydro to unwire largest city in Canada maybe by fall: Major news from the Great North with a dominant utility entering the broadband wireless business. The service would apparently compete most heavily with three wireless carriers rather than with wired incumbents because of the mobile voice potential. Toronto Hydro bought the city's streetlight operations for $60 million last year, providing them with mounting points and "free" power. Nothing like negotiating with yourself for access. The utility will install smart meters that can be read via Wi-Fi as the basis of the public system they will apparently deploy. [link via Rob Hyndman, a Toronto resident]

St. Cloud, Florida, up and running with 15 square miles: No reports from users yet, but the city wants to stake the claim to being the first citywide free Wi-Fi service in the U.S.

Portsmouth considers expansion of downtown zone: A variety of local businesses donate access, equipment, and maintenance for the Wi-Fi zone; the city pays for its library Wi-Fi. The counter shows over 1,400 unique individuals, most with multiple logins, during 2005.

Will it play in Peoria? Peoria Wireless Initiative studies whether a potential $3.5 to $5 million project to offer Wi-Fi citywide would fly.

Esme Vos explains New York's wireless lag in the New York Daily News: It takes a woman born in the Philippines who studied in the US and lives in Amsterdam to explain to New York why they're behind the times. Citywide networks could improve citizens lives, but also conserve spending by reducing cost and improving efficiency.

They should have called it Boomerang: Ricochet keeps trying to make its big comeback, but the predecessor company's failure to remove equipment and pay municipal bills has made it hard for the current owners of the technology to make inroads. Terabeam purchased the company a few years ago, and operates service in Denver and San Diego. They have last-generation, last-century technology with a key advantage: it operates in the 900 MHz band. However, Tim Pozar of the Bay Area Wireless Research Network and other groups told me that Ricochet radios caused enormous, but legal, interference in the unlicensed 900 MHz band. A few weeks ago, in an interview for a print article on a different topic, Pozar said, "any medium to long distance communication you wanted to do in the 900 MHz band was drowned out by noise" when Ricochet was in operation. Ricochet cites 20,000 users in Denver and 4,000 in San Diego at $25 per month; the modem is free.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:32 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

March 4, 2006

Piggybacking Neighbors' Networks

By Glenn Fleishman

(c)2006 Jupiterimages Corp.The New York Times files an amusing story about neighbors and travelers using open home Wi-Fi networks: The article is dead in terms of people's attitudes. Most people don't want other people on their networks, but those that leave their networks open also don't want to hassle with securing them. Buffalo has been offering one-button security through their AOSS system for a while, and Atheros and Broadcom each have simple, robust methods of adding Wi-Fi encryption without inventing one's own long passwords and manually entering them. The Wi-Fi Alliance told me in January that they expect to have a unified proposal later this year.

The article notes that users accessing people's networks could snoop or carry out malicious activities. Worse, however, is that a local network is usually given less scrutiny by firewalls and thus a user who piggybacks onto your network and whose machine is infected with viruses and worms could unintentionally compromise your systems. That's a bigger risk, in my view.

The Brodeurs, featured in the opening of the article, note at the end that after adding encryption to their network, neighbors who wanted access offered to pay. They demurred. It's a reasonable decision. Even if you run strong firewalls or use something like Buffalo's privacy separator feature (which keeps each user's data on separate virtual segments), other users can still sniff your traffic as it passes through the air, and can still burn up your bandwidth.

While Speakeasy offers network sharing and features for them to bill your neighbors, there's a missing piece: a piece of hardware that would provide built-in WPA Enterprise (for unique encryption keys for each user), network separation, and bandwidth throttling per user with revocable credentials or passwords. Elements of this exist in a number of gateways, but there's no way I know of to buy a commodity, inexpensive gateway that would combine all this.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:49 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Home, Mainstream Media, Security | 4 Comments | 1 TrackBack

March 3, 2006

Open Thread

By Glenn Fleishman

We're trying an experiment in participation: Here's an open thread in which to comment on anything Wi-Fi related. Feel free to post. It's moderated (we have too much comment spam and other problems to do otherwise) but anything germane to Wi-Fi will be posted. Enjoy.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:09 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail | 17 Comments

Free Weekend Wi-Fi for T-Mobile Customers

By Glenn Fleishman

Tmobilewifi200603-1T-Mobile has launched a promotion for its voice customers: If you're a T-Mobile voice subscriber, they're now providing free Wi-Fi service from midnight Saturday morning to Monday at 3 a.m. at their thousands of hotspots. They're using a system that reminds me of the failed Excilan process: you enter your cell phone number, and, if you're a T-Mobile subscriber, you get an SMS with a passcode. You only need one passcode for the entire weekend if you've got cookies enabled and use the same machine; otherwise, you need to request a new passcode for each session. The terms of service are pretty straightforward and quite nicely broad. The SMS message you receive is free. The deal lasts until May 28, the Seattle Times reports. [Link via dealmac]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:18 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | 2 Comments

Cell Phones Used on Every Flight

By Glenn Fleishman

Airplane060303-1Carnegie Mellon University researchers with the Federal Aviation Administration's cooperation listened for RF usage on commercial flights: Their results show that at least one cellular call is made on every flight during periods in which cell phones are not allowed for use. Further, these calls may impair flight instrumentation, particularly GPS receivers increasingly used for positioning during landing. They spent three months researching in late 2003; one might imagine usage has gone up since then, along with Wi-Fi usage, which is allowed on planes (viz., Connexion), but shouldn't be in use except at the 10,000 foot or higher level.

The researchers note that this is the first field research of this kind ever performed, although they did not witness actual equipment interference--they just measured activity that could cause that form of interference. The FAA and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) both approved this testing. Only the flying researcher and flight crew knew of the special device that measured RF usage and was located in the overhead luggage rack. They collected over 50 hours of data on 37 flights from Sept. 2003 to Nov. 2003.

They concluded that from one to four calls is made on an average flight and that at least one passenger leaves their cell phone on during an average flight. Because their systems allowed only certain forms of measurement due to form factor, they were able to make a number of conservative assumptions about what a cell call was that was originating from the plane, which means they likely identified only a subset of calls and other cellular activity.

The big issue isn't whether interference from the licensed frequencies of these devices, or unlicensed frequencies of Wi-Fi and other equipment, cause direct problems. Rather, it's out-of-band interference, which is regulated and controlled in a variety of ways, the authors note. The "spurious emissions," as they term it, are typically allowable at levels above the margin of safety required for avionics equipment operating in regions in which out-of-band signals would be generated.

GPS devices operate in the 1200 to 1600 MHz range, and there are documented reports from general aviation (private, non-commercial flights) that at least one cell phone model from Samsung caused a loss of GPS function.

They also analyzed both crashes and incident reporting to see if they could correlate the use of personal electronics and problems with avionics.

Their conclusions are that more coordinated cooperation between the FCC and FAA and among government agencies and private industry are required. Incident reporting should be improved and a missing piece of the puzzle dropped for budget cuts returned to funding. More measurement is needed on an ongoing basis. Flight crews should have RF monitors. RF standards should be harmonized.

And passengers should be told that cell phones harm flight operations, as they do on Turkish Airlines.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:05 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Cellular, Regulation, Research | 2 Comments

March 2, 2006

Chicagoland's Best Wi-Fi Hotspots

By Glenn Fleishman

The Chicago Tribune rounds up its 10 best picks for Windy City Wi-Fi: Or at least the 10 most interesting. It's heavy on cafes and restaurants, but also notes a library and even the W Hotel's Wave loung, which has "Loud music. Lots of chatter. Not the best place to concentrate." Most admirable feature in this survey? Information about whether electrical power is available.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:46 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, Mainstream Media

Have Bush, Will Jam

By Glenn Fleishman

Bush's Indian entourage of security is jamming, monitoring radio frequencies: To prevent untoward events, Hindustani Times reports, Secret Service agents jam all manner of radio frequencies and surveille others. The Hotel Maurya Sheraton is the base for operations, apparently, causing disruption to the hotel's network access and police radios. The expectation is that television remote controls and mobile phones may not work in a three-kilometer radius, the paper reports.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:44 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: International, Politics, Spectrum

School Bus Confessions over Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Schoolbus060302-1Scottsdale, Ariz., students who use spitballs on buses may be found out faster: Video equipment is installed on nearly all of the Scottsdale Unified School District's 85 buses, but transferring it in a timely and reliable manner was a problem. The new system uses digital video and Wi-Fi to store more information on the bus and transfer it when the vehicle returns to the bus barn. The video system is used mostly to meet the district's impression of federal requirements for tracking children on and off the bus.

The system can be equipped with cell data modems for remote viewing, but the district has no plans to carry that out. In the realm of accountability, it should be noted that the VCR system in place cost $1,200 per bus and the system that replaces it will be $1,400 per bus. How long were the VCR systems in use? Not noted.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:40 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Academia

March 1, 2006

Phila. Closes Deal with EarthLink, Releases Terms

By Glenn Fleishman

The AP reports that Philadelphia has signed its contracts with EarthLink: The deal includes 4,000 utility poles and $300,000 in utility payments from EarthLink per year plus $2 million in advance payments against revenue. These funds will be used to purchase 10,000 computers and training for low-income families; Phila. has a huge computer ownership gap as well as broadband and Internet access gap. The non-profit Wireless Philadelphia will receive five percent of EarthLink's revenue, which is roughly the same as cable franchise fees. EarthLink will also provide $9.95 per month accounts for up to 25,000 low-income households, and 22 free Wi-Fi hotspots around down.

The contract spans 10 years and is estimated to cost $20 to $22 million to fulfill. Note that this isn't a different number from earlier expectations. The network was originally expected to cost $10 to $12 million to build and $1m per year to maintain. Over 10 years, an estimated $20-$22m conforms to that range.

The city government will receive 3,000 accounts--1,250 free, 1,750 discounted--and 700 discounted "T-1" accounts, the AP reports, which are really point-to-multipoint broadband wireless connections over the Motorola Canopy aggregation network. Not mentioned here is Philadelphia moving other chunks of its existing data and telecom spending to Wireless Philadelphia and EarthLink; that amount was once estimated in the millions per year.

EarthLink's wholesale rate will be higher than the rate that Wireless Philadelphia initially anticipated: $12 per month rather than $9 per month. This rate could vary based on volume of customers by retail partners. Retail pricing isn't noted here, but an EarthLink representative confirmed Thursday that the expect rate is about $20 per month, but that some retail partners will certainly offer lower prices.

The next step? A 15-square-mile test network.

(Updated Thursday with information from an EarthLink representative.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:42 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

10,000 APs, One School District

By Glenn Fleishman

The State of Victoria, Australia's Department of Education has rolled out 10,000 access points across 1,700 locations: Their first problem was convincing Cisco to disable the reset button on their routers. They did not want technicians to hit a button that would reset APs to a default state that lacked the security and other options that were considered baseline. They also found a weakness in Cisco's central management solution for WLANs in both cost and functionality. The technology security head for the department said that Cisco's devices couldn't traverse NATs (network address translation gateways) and would have cost $30,000. They built their own software in two hours.

The network uses generic AMD-based Linux systems to handle proxying and authentication in each of 1,700 locations. Interestingly, the security head said that Microsoft and Intel didn't find the rollout "interesting"--certainly because of the AMD and Linux components involved. The department is keeping its integration of open-source and free software components private at the moment, but said they are obeying licensing terms by contributing elements back to each project.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:33 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Academia

Philadelphia Soon To Finalize, Make Public Muni Deal with EarthLink

By Glenn Fleishman

Lightpole060301The finalization of the deal hinged on a separate contract for access to light poles: I'm not sure why this wasn't reported earlier, but the first I heard about this utility pole arrangement being a gating factor is in this article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. The agreements could be introduced to the city council for approval tomorrow. Details of the main contract for service have been only sketchily released. For instance, I found out a few weeks ago--and had confirmed by city CIO Dianah Neff--that a 15-square-mile pilot network has to be built by EarthLink and tested through early users and independent evaluation before the full network is built. This is a prudent step.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:19 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 2 Comments

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