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Chicago issues draft RFP for citywide Wi-Fi: The city wants to invest no money, but can offer access to the usual light pole and electricity infrastructure (but not fiber) to a private partner. The RFP is being issued as a draft for the next two weeks, in an interesting review stage, will then be finalized and released, after which potential partners have 75 to 90 days to respond. (Here's the press release.) Download the PDF and take a look particularly at page 12--it has a lovely graphic showing the relationship of the bidder, the city, the utilities, community groups, and other parties.
Bidders must propose a network that reaches all residents; that provides free or low-cost access for all residents; that provides free access in public schools, parks, and public places, and that must include the kind of training and access that Wireless Philadelphia wound up negotiating in their deal with EarthLink--access to computers, access to training, access to "meaningful applications," which translates to more than email and Web surfing.
The free or low-cost access doesn't mean that the winning bidder can't charge for access. Rather, there has to be a fundamental level of no- or low-cost service, potentially only in certain places. The RFP calls for 1 Mbps symmetrical service fixed, nomadic, and mobile (up to 30mph!) purposes. It also enshrines network neutrality and nondiscriminatory wholesale access.
Chicago is 234 square miles and "sits on relatively flat land," the draft RFP says, with a 2000 census population of 2.9m people, 1.1m households, and 633K families. The contract will last 10 years.
Folks, we've topped 100 rounds: Cast your mind back a few weeks, when I thought this auction for the prized air-to-ground spectrum licenses would end quickly. I had hopes after Round 37, when AC BidCo (AirCell's sister company) effectively won the bidding for the important 3 MHz license. But at round 105, Space Data (free-floating airships with antennas) is still squaring off against JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV for the 1 MHz sliver. The bidding is up to $4.4m, and the FCC increased the number of bidding rounds up to 15 per day to move things along. Increments are a minimum of five percent, and both companies are just inching forward.
(Update: Round 120 finds the 1 MHz license residing at the moment in LiveTV's hands for $7m. The FCC is moving to 18 rounds per day starting tomorrow.)
Meanwhile, to pass the time, you can listen to a brief report from American Public Radio's Marketplace Morning Report in which I have a couple of soundbites on AirCell and AirFone (misspelled in the transcript). My point on AirFone is that Verizon will suddenly have a competitor via VoIP on laptops and via converged cell/Wi-Fi handsets. While they get a license until 2010 for operating phone service for which privilege they'll have to spend tens of millions to upgrade planes, they'll also have to contend with this very real alternative.
One thought is that Verizon and AirCell could partner on retrofitting planes as they won't be competing for the broadband side--or AirCell could buy the AirFone business outright. The two companies aren't allowed to talk under FCC rules for auctions yet, but I imagine various people will be in touch with other people's people as soon as the gavel slams down.
EarthLink will offer a package to wireless ISPs, operators who want to follow in their footsteps: This ISP Planet article says EarthLink will require roaming and some unspecific conditions for its franchisees, and will request (but not demand) a right of first refusal to buy should the WISP choose to sell its network. EarthLink will provide its architecture plans, its volume equipment pricing deals, and can offer EarthLink products and support. There's no revenue share, an EarthLink exec said at ISPCON last week.
EarthLink also said it was looking to rollup smaller WISPs into its footprint, although it would retain local brand names.
More free airport Wi-Fi is cropping up: It's hardly a trend, but it's definitely good for travelers. Virgin Blue, a discount carrier, relaunched its lounges in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane today featuring free Wi-Fi operated by telecom firm Telstra. Of course, just like I used to perch on a seat near airline lounges that had T-Mobile service, so, too, is Virgin Blue already finding that Wi-Fi is hard to keep constrained. Qantas, by contrast, charges as much as Aus$0.20 per minute for service in their lounges.
Adelaide, the article notes, provides free Wi-Fi airport wide.
China has reportedly filed an appeal with the ISO standards body over its proprietary wireless LAN encryption algorithm: WAPI (Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure) continues to make waves in international security and standards circles. The Chinese official news agency Xinhua reported today that a domestic industry trade group filed appeals in April and May with the international ISO standards body over ethics issues involved in the fast-track rejection of WAPI alongside IEEE 802.11i.
The Xinhua agency reports that the China Broadband Wireless IP Standard Group (BWIPS)--the recently formed WAPI Industrial Union isn't mentioned here--has collected 49 pieces of evidence proving ethics violations. The 802.11i standard was fast-tracked for consideration of approval; WAPI was rejected, in part, according to reports in March of this year, that China failed to disclosed key portions of the specification, including cryptography.
The group of 22 firms that are involved with WAPI's future were earlier reported to include many with government and military investments and control, which is a typical occurrence in China.
I've written a lot about WAPI; you can find earlier posts here. My ongoing concern, shared by many Wi-Fi industry insiders, is that without WAPI being fully published for examination, there's no way to determine the strength and integrity of the protocol--including whether backdoors are part of the standard. I've been told by some readers this is a paranoid attitude, but I'd suggest that events of the last six months make it clear that China wants to be able to monitor all data traversing its local networks and the Internet.
Update: PC Magazine provides a little more background detail on the dispute which centers on the IEEE recommending its own amendment to the ISO standard to IEEE international members, where the Chinese standards' backers believe the IEEE should have presented its members with an impartial representation of the two amendments.
A University of New Haven School of Business professor with a background in Chinese business operations sides with my take on WAPI. She says in this article, "China's WAPI standard could allow backdoor access to the technology, which is not really allowed. And China has no motivation to prevent backdoor access to the technology so this is one of the tussles. It's very characteristic of Chinese business. China has all kinds of on-the-books and off-the-books trade barriers."
Bucking the trend of larger airports, BWI goes fee-free: The Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Mashall Airport has contracted with BAA USA, the US division of the worldwide airport concessionaire and operator BAA, to provide free service. It's already available in some gates for American Airlines and AirTran, as well as at some restaurants in each terminal. The project will continue through summer. The airport served 20m passengers in 2005. Free service tends to be found in significant regional airports where passengers have options (flying versus driving or choosing one airport over another) such as Sacramento, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
Walnut Creek firm unwires city hall area and nearby parks: Astound Broadband wants to blanket downtown with free Wi-Fi. They're "competing" with nearby Concord where MetroFi is launching a square mile of ad-supported free Wi-Fi on Thursday. Astound says their service could provide up to 10 Mbps versus MetroFi's 1 Mbps.
Mesa trying to light fire under no wire: Mesa wants to emulate neighbors like Chandler, Tempe, and Scottsdale in providing Wi-Fi service. A downtown association wants to add free Wi-Fi, and a city request for information should result in as many as 20 responses from interested firms later this week. There's some resistence, though, as a downtown computer store owner notes some "high customer-turnover businesses" aren't as interested. They don't know that when cell data becomes cheaper, it won't matter if there's Wi-Fi or not; they'll have to line their cafes with metal or ban laptop use.
Hood River gets free Wi-Fi for 90 days: The former local phone division of Sprint Nextel, now called Embarq, has covered three square miles in this small town about an hour east of Portland that's well known for water activities. The company will provide free Wi-Fi for 90 days while they experiment with service and price models. They might turn the network over to the city, too. (My brother-in-law lives in Hood River; I'll expect reports from him.)
I'm often asked if WiMax will replace Wi-Fi: In fact, I received such an email this morning. Here's the answer I sent in reply.
WiMax and 802.11n (and related standards) are somewhat unrelated. Wi-Fi is a local area network technology; WiMax (whether fixed, nomadic, or mobile) are wide-area network technologies.
Wi-Fi will continue to evolve as the best way to spread a network over an office or home or small area in which a cloud of service is needed. WiMax will probably evolve as a great replacement, alternative, or complement to fixed wired and mobile wireless services. That is, instead of an ADSL line or T-1 line, you might have a WiMax receiver on your roof or an antenna in your window. Instead of a cell phone that uses 3G to carry video or a cell data card for accessing a 3G network, you might have a WiMax-equipped laptop or phone.
Wi-Fi is a local distribution tool to push bits among users connected nearby; with many Wi-Fi base stations using the same name, you can build seamless coverage on a college campus, city park, or corporate campus. While it's being used for metro-scale deployment, that's because it's the best worst solution. It's not designed for that purpose, but everyone already has a Wi-Fi adapter, the technology works in unlicensed spectrum avoiding that issue, and it's highly commodified making parts cheap across the supply chain for consumers, vendors, and network builders.
Right now, you can get WiMax or WiMax-like fixed broadband pretty readily in most major U.S. cities and in a lot of urban and rural areas worldwide. It's very competitive in performance over shorter distances when you get to or over T1 or E1 speeds (roughly 1.5 Mbps each way). Several providers in the US already compete in some cities, and offer incentives like 24 to 48 hours from order to live access and free antennas and receivers with long-term contracts. Switching from a T1 to the equivalent of two T1s over fixed WiMax is often about the same price--sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more.
Mobile WiMax has a tougher row to hoe here in the U.S. as spectrum is scarce in the bands that are most likely for it to use: a few carriers own most of the desirable bandwidth. This means that even if it's financially viable and Intel rolls out WiMax adapters in laptops (as they plan to), you still have to find spectrum to offer service. A "mobile" WiMax base station can offer fixed, nomadic (a movable receiver that's static while in use), and mobile service.
Fixed WiMax has an easier time of it because it's primarily a point-to-multipoint, mostly line of sight service, and thus the sweet spot of lower frequencies needed for ubiquitous, seamless mobile coverage aren't as critical. There will be WiMax for unlicensed frequencies, and there's potentially some reserved spectrum in many countries and regions, including Europe, that could be put to use for mobile or fixed service.
That's the long answer. The short answer is that Wi-Fi and WiMax will continue down somewhat different paths because they serve different purposes. If WiMax ascends as a better means of faster, metropolitan access, Wi-Fi's importance in that role will dim. But WiMax isn't affordable or sensible as a campus-wide service yet, and it's unlikely to ever metamorphose into a Wi-Fi competitor.
New Orleans taps EarthLink for citywide Wi-Fi: The company will unwire New Orleans, its fifth city, across a 15-square-mile area offer free service at 300 Kpbs and paid service at 1 Mbps. In an interview this morning, EarthLink's municipal networks division president Donald Berryman said that New Orleans's city council vote 7 to 0 to award EarthLink a non-exclusive wireless franchise agreement. Although no RFP was involved--given the unique circumstances--"If somebody else wanted to come in and go through this same process and build a wireless franchise agreement, they'd be able to negotiate with the city and negotiate it under the rules that exist for the city of New Orleans," Berryman said.
Tropos was originally in New Orleans to backhaul video surveillance. After Katrina, Intel (WiMax) and Tropos (Wi-Fi) stepped in with other partners to run Internet access. That access was threatened because it was too fast for Louisiana state law after the state of emergency ends. (You can read the law starting here; use Next Section to proceed through the Local Government Fair Competition Act. Cities can't run services over 144 Kpbs each way, but they can contract with private providers.)
The city was eager to get a replacement in before running up against state law. Berryman said the city's CIO Greg Meffert--who said he would go to jail if need be--contacted EarthLink after other companies backed out. In a Red Herring report in March, Meffert noted some larger firms had started "vacillating" in their interest.
The 300 Kbps free service will be ad-free, Berryman said, and will operate until the city is a bit more back on its feet. No date has been set for that free service to disappear, and Berryman expects that digital inclusion initiatives and other efforts will take its place at that point. The 1 Mbps service pricing hasn't yet been set, and Berryman said that FEMA workers and contractors in the city would be the most likely users.
Interestingly, while this deal involves Tropos MetroMesh access points and Motorola Canopy, as elsewhere, but the press release also mentions mesh from Motorola, which might be for the public safety band or for public safety use.
Update: A report over the weekend in the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes that the original 512 Kbps free service operated by the city will also continue to run, although that's partly dependent on legislation being passed to allow that speed to continue. Also, EarthLink agreed to pay the city a $25,000/year franchise fee for the initial 15 square miles, $500/sq mi/year as they expand, with a cap of $100,000/year, the Times-Picayune reports.
Sherwood unwires downtown: The suburb of Portland, Ore., adds free Wi-Fi at City Hall, McCormick Hall, and (soon) Snyder Park. The city plans to add service slowly throughout.
Deltona says no to free Wi-Fi: The city said without a vision in mind and with its difficult topology, the time isn't ripe.
Northbrook consider Wi-Fi: AT&T tells the town that it would cost $15 million over 10 years to build and $26m to operate over that period while collecting revenue of about $18m. However, the city has a fiber-optic network that could be leveraged for backhaul.
At long last, all the pieces are in place at Mayor Street signs the contracts: A Philadelphia radio station apparently breaks the news that Mayo Street signed the bill this morning that ends the long phase from the bid being awarded to EarthLink through negotiation through city council review to final signatures. There was a signing ceremony.
NuTel's plan is to work with existing ISPs or entrepreneurs to set up wireless broadband in small and medium sized communities: The company will handle the backend--accounts and support--while the local firm will own the customer. The plan is to organize a separate company in each community with Nutel as the managing partner. NuTel will handle bringing in broadband and mounting gear; they'll use SkyPilot equipment. They want partners who are qualified to handle truck rolls.
NuTel appears to be also following SkyPilot's original dream of customer-mounted mesh networks. Rather than negotiate with cities and utilities, SkyPilot--when it was a mesh network builder that made its own equipment rather than solely an equipment vendor--wanted to use each customer's location as a possible extension to the mesh. Their equipment supports this, but the companies that deploy their gear haven't pursued this original dream to that extent. NuTel appears to want the right to mount mesh extenders on customer buildings and houses.
The company has 8 to 10 operating partners lined up, they say in this Wi-Fi Planet article, and think they could hit 200 by the end of 2007. They wouldn't compete with municipal networks; this is a final-mile play in broadband-scarce areas.
Pricing could run about $60 per month for 1.5 Mbps access and VoIP service or as little as $15 per month for a 200 Kbps dial-up replacement. Other rates will be available. They expect to work in a 14-state area, including parts of the Mississippi Valley, the upper Midwest, Texas, and California.
Their VoIP service isn't Internet-traversing telephony, but VoIP to their network operation center where traffic is segregated out. This is how some DSL and cable firms handle VoIP, too, providing a much more predictable quality of service from home to PSTN.
Today's bidding up to round 68 produced no final winner: The FCC's auction of four precious megahertz (MHz) of 800 MHz band spectrum for air-to-ground data services for commercial aviation slogs on. Today, we saw 10 rounds of bidding that resulted in no clear winner. AirCell has technically won their license for 3 MHz of broadband (see yesterday's report). LiveTV (JetBlue subsidiary) and Space Data (stratospheric balloon-based wireless transceivers) are fighting it out increment by increment for the remaining 1 MHz license. The provisional winning bidder is LiveTV at $2.6m right now.
In the final round today, round 68, LiveTV's bid didn't budge, which I found odd. Only LiveTV and Space Data are bidding, and Space Data has run out of waivers that allow them to sit out a round of bidding while they contemplate their navel, their finances, or the tedium of this end game.
What they did as an interesting strategy was put in a higher bid for a different 1 MHz license. Due to the auction rules, that bid counted as a valid one and was considered, because there are three putative pairs of licenses on the block, but only one pair wins--the pair with the highest gross dollar value for both licenses in the set. By bidding on license E in the E/F pair, they retained their eligibility for another round.
Space Data is a small firm that qualifies for 25 percent bidding credits--they pay just 75 percent of their gross bid if they win. LiveTV may have bid the odd increment to $2.6m because the next higher bid--a minimum of $2.75 gross, is over $2m net for Space Data. I can only speculate on the cause, because firms aren't allowed to comment on the bidding during the auction. Space Data may be looking into whether they can stretch beyond $2m.
Bidding continues tomorrow with round 69, and we'll get the answer then.
Salem finds obstacles facing city-wide Wi-Fi: Concerns include terrain, existing broadband coverage, and whether Wi-Fi is already superannuated. The assistant city manager did her research and presents effective reasons for further consideration. We're at an awkward time for new Wi-Fi rollouts at smaller scales in towns that have reasonable amounts of broadband. It's perfectly reasonable to think about fixed WiMax in various forms for broadband coupled with Wi-Fi or mobile WiMax for mobility. But fixed WiMax is still too expensive for broad home deployment if you can get relatively inexpensive wired service, and mobile WiMax adapters and base stations are mostly a thing of the future (as is appropriate spectrum). A lovely line in this story is the manager's excellent concern that even equipping a 80-block downtown area with free Wi-Fi (estimated cost: $25K) would be challenged in the spring when foliage appears.
Seattle issues RFI for fiber, maybe Wi-Fi: My town of residence issued an request for information (RFI) today seeking ideas about what fiber to the premises (FTTP) might look like throughout Seattle. Wi-Fi is an also-ran: "...we encourage proponents to discuss whether they envision a wireless component such as Wi-Fi to serve as a complement..." As with other RFIs and RFPs, Seattle dangling access to poles, conduits, existing fiber, and land, and it might kick in some "investment," too. The city notes 6,200 acres of parkland which might be available for equipment siting and that "existing restrictions on some park lands could be revisited as part of this project." Now that's accommodating. The city wouldn't be a retail or wholesale provider or operator in this RFI's view. Net neutrality principles are enshrined. We're just 84 square miles with 573,000 residents. (Brief fiber rundown. FTTP = FTTH [Home]. FTTC [Curb] brings it to a street, about 500-1000 ft. from subscribers, with copper distribution to homes using ADSL2. FTTN [Node] brings it to a distribution point up to 5,000 ft. from subscribers, using VDSL over copper to homes.) [Link via Muniwireless.com]
MetroFi adds Ontario: The California town will feature ad-supported free access city-wide.
As I noted yesterday, other competitors to AC BidCo, AirCell's sister company, were out of the running: The tedious finale continues now, with 58 rounds of bidding over several days devolving to AirCell as the effective provisional winner of the valuable exclusive 3 MHz license (license C) and Space Data and LiveTV going back and forth for the remaining 1 MHz (license D). AC BidCo will pay $31,319,000 for that license. The 1 MHz license is now at $1,549,000.
Space Data has no waivers remaining while LiveTV has two. These two and AC BidCo are the only remaining eligible bidders, so we may see bids that go up by $75,000 in each round until one of the two companies cracks. It's not very important compared to the 3 MHz license, however.
The next step? The auction has to be finalized and money collected. Then the two-year clock starts ticking for Airfone to vacate exclusive use of the 4 MHz that was assigned. Verizon said that if they won the auction, they would have service ready to go within a year. Let's see how fast it works for them without this incentive. They fought hard to have two years to migrate, partly because their service is on thousands of planes, each of which must be touched by hand, and it's also found on many government planes, apparently, which will be harder to get to.
AirCell has certainly been talking to airlines, which must have received a lot of calls during the run-up to this auction. With carriers cash strapped, it'll take real incentives and a lot of capital on the part of AirCell to sign up domestic flights. But it's a given. There's no doubt that the lighter-footprint equipment required for air-to-ground broadband versus the satellite package will offer fewer concerns to carriers. AirCell has extensive experience in operating general aviation data services, so they should have an easy path to commercial aviation.
Now it's a waiting game: Waiting to hear about contracts, tests, timetables, and so forth. Round 59 opens tomorrow morning, and tomorrow looks likely to be the last day.
(The companies involved in the auction are prohibited from commenting until the auction is over, which is why you're not seeing comments from AirCell et al. on this site or elsewhere.)
Update: As of Round 66, LiveTV and Space Data are still slugging it out in tiny increments. LiveTV won round 66 at $2,311,000. Space Data has the slight advantage of bidding credits as a qualified smaller bidder. Because bid increments are in minimum five-percent moves, each subsequent bid has to be larger and larger. Space Data has no waivers remaining, so they must bid in each round, and there's no reason to not bid in each round with only one competitor. The next bid must be for about $115,000 higher than $2.3m.
Microsoft, Buffalo, Mediabolic partner for simplified network setup, including Wi-Fi: Microsoft Windows Rally will combine what sounds like "zeroconf," a network technology developed by an Apple engineer and now used as Bonjour in Mac OS X, and simplified Wi-Fi encryption setup, such as that in Atheros JumpStart or Broadcom's SecureEasySetup. It will certainly go beyond this, but it requires every hardware vendor of scale to sign on to make it worthwhile. Otherwise, you'll have little Balkanized oceans of interoperability with Rally.
Here's the somewhat buzzwordy description in the Buffalo/Mediabolic press release:
"Windows Rally Technologies are a set of networking technologies designed to make the configuration of wireless networks secure and effortless for consumers. Additionally, Windows Rally Technologies enable link-layer topology discovery to automatically detect devices on the network, determine how they are interconnected, provide quality of service for in-home audio/video streaming, and represent the network in graphic form. The ability to visualize home networks is designed to help users identify connectivity issues that need corrective action."
The first part is easy setup for secure networks. Buffalo has had its AOSS (AirStation One-Touch Secure System) for some time, but it involves a hardware button and only works with other Buffalo devices. This system requires the entry of a PIN on appropriate connected devices, which means that all devices that connect need some form of display and input. Also, I don't see anything in the descriptions currently available that provide protection for man-in-the-middle attacks through an out-of-band validation method. Even if they'd using, say, Diffie-Hellman key exchange, which allows public exchange of two keys, they still have the MitM issue, as do all public key exchange systems. It's possible that Rally will require unique keys embedded in the devices, signed by certificate authorities the keys for which will also be stored in devices. If so, that can enable the PIN to be passed without an MitM attack.
The second part involves something like Bonjour/zeroconf in that devices will advertise their availability through some trigger--the press release and other material describes a process in which devices, when they appear on the network, are discovered and connected to without extra intervention. That goes a step beyond Bonjour, which offers discovery and network negotiation for automatic configuration, but it won't enable devices to work with a computer or other devices without manual intervention.
Wavion unveiled its technology for using multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) antennas for city-wide architectures today: On the heels of Go Network's announcement at CTIA last month, Wavion's entrance could mark a trend. MIMO makes quite a lot of sense in cities in which dense radio frequency (RF) environments already occasionally make it difficult to operate a single new Wi-Fi access point, much less thousands.
Because MIMO offers greater range and greater discrimination through sorting out signals as they bounce across multiple paths from receiver to transmitter, this effectively--but theoretically until we can see benchmarks--provides more spectrum with less interference than competing technologies. In Go Network's case, they're using multipath to avoid interference; Wavion is focusing on spectrum reuse through beamforming, which focuses signal energy in particular places.
Wavion uses beamforming with six separate radios and antennas in their nodes; they haven't released full hardware specifications yet on their Web site beyond this, although they've developed their own chips. They also use SDMA (Space Division Multiple Access), which allows them to have effectively up to four separate unique beams operating at the same time for four separate users. That's downlink to users only, however; uplink would require proprietary equipment on the user's computer. This SDMA sounds an awful like like Vivato's beamforming system which used multiple radios and multiple beams versus multiple beams on a single channel, and I imagine we'll hear technical explanations as to how it differs in coming weeks and months.
Like Go Networks, Wavion isn't a mesh company. Go has some mesh capability, but Wavion connects directly to backhaul from its nodes. With fewer nodes, you don't need mesh for backhaul because you've already aggregated quite a lot of data. And metro-scale companies like Strix, SkyPilot, and BelAir aren't really using mesh for backhaul but a series of switched or dedicated point-to-point or point-to-multipoint links. Mesh has become the wrong synonym for metro-scale Wi-Fi/wireless.
Unlike Go and other firms, Wavion says their plan is to sell their chips and ideas to metro-scale firms that will benefit. That means that while their Web site has a Product link that says their AP is in trials, their official top-level goal isn't competition but integration.
Wavion claims a huge reduction in the number of nodes needed while providing higher levels of service. They say they can replace three to four nodes with one of their access points, reducing cost by 50 percent. That implies that their nodes would cost twice as much as Tropos's, as it sounds pretty clear that Tropos is the target here--it's the lowest-hanging fruit with which to compare on the RF front, but it's also the cheapest equipment on the market because of their single-radio design.
I'm jumping the gun slightly, but it appears AirCell has won the big license in the FCC's air-to-ground spectrum auction: As of the end of the 46th round and several days of bidding, it looks like no new bids are being entered to pass AirCell's sister company AC BidCo LLC for the 3 MHz license that will allow them to operate in-flight broadband for commercial flights in the U.S. AC BidCo has the provisional winning bid for license C, while LiveTV (affiliated with JetBlue) has provisionally won license D (1 MHz). I've written extensively about this auction over the last two weeks, including one possibility for LiveTV's use of a slender spectrum piece. You can read my broader overview, too.
Verizon stopped increasing their bids a few days ago, and the total auction haul right now is over $32m--$31.3m for the 3 MHz license and $1.0m for the 1 MHz license. The clock starts ticking on Verizon AirFone's two years of permitted transition when the auction is completed, but that might include the time required to cross the T's at the FCC after the bidding is done. The FCC's policy involves certain qualifications for bidders and then additional confirmation after bidding is finished.
(Update: At the end of the 48th round, AC BidCo's price hasn't changed, but LiveTV took license D back from Acadia, which had it for a few minutes in round 47. The ante for that 1 MHz chunk is now $1.24m. Bidding rules require 5% minimum increases, which is only $60K, so this could go on for a while. There are still four bidders and several waivers, which means the bidding continues Tuesday with Round 49. Until waivers are all exhausted or bidders withdraw, the auction continues even when it's a fait accompli.)
The reason I'm calling this auction now is that it looks like we're just watching waivers be applied automatically by bidders who have stopped raising bids. There remain just four qualified bidders out of nine to start with, and only Acadia Broadband, the only other bidder for an exclusive 3 MHz license that remains has just one waiver remaining, meaning that they sat out at least two rounds of bids. They may still bid in this final round, but failing that, the 3 MHz exclusive license goes to AirCell.
It's all about voice calling plan minutes: Today's announcement of the acquisition of Concourse Communications by Boingo Wireless has a lot to do with cell/Wi-Fi convergence for voice over IP (VoIP), although there's a lot of other ways in which the deal works. Concourse runs the Wi-Fi and often cellular networks in 12 North American airports, including gems like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Newark, and O'Hare (Chicago). Boingo, until now, has operated no locations. The merged company will run Concourse as a mostly-intact unit under Boingo's chief operating officer. Both companies are cash-flow positive, said Boingo chief executive and president Dave Hagan, but no other financial details were provided. The companies collaborated on a failed bid for the Los Angeles airport (LAX)--T-Mobile won that contract--but that led to this deal.
This is a seemingly odd move for Boingo, the second of three companies founded by Sky Dayton that relied on infrastructure built for and maintained by other parties. EarthLink leased time on modem banks run by others. Boingo pays for access to hotspots built by others. And Helio, a cellular company aimed at young adults, is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), buying minutes from carriers that run the physical networks. (Because Helio is a joint venture of EarthLink and SK Telecom, Dayton remains on the board of EarthLink but is no longer chairman and is the non-executive chair of Boingo, which may become a Helio provider.)
At second glance, an acquisition of physical infrastructure may be the future of all three firms: EarthLink is now building metropolitan-scale wireless networks in Philadelphia and elsewhere because broadband wired paths via DSL and cable to their users are unavailable. Boingo is moving on from a pure laptops-need-Internet-access approach which will benefit from operational knowledge and operational access. (We will need to wait five to ten years to see if Helio has to follow the same path.)
Boingo's strategy over the last year has to been to figure out how to leverage its now 45,000-strong aggregated network of Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, which includes nearly 300 airports, for partners and hardware. There's little doubt now that at least MVNOs are eager to have more voice minutes run over cheaper networks.
Boingo's announcement last week that they were turning their Wi-Fi toolkit into an open-source project was part of their effort to encourage handset and handheld device makers to consider baking Boingo into Wi-Fi-only VoIP phones or the more significant cell/Wi-Fi dual-network devices.
I'm not sure that the cell industry would reveal how much people talk in airports, but it may be several billion minutes each year. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics said last month that over 745m passengers traveled on domestic U.S. flights or international flights departing from the U.S. (That's enplanements, not unique one-way trips by passenger.) It only requires one call on average per passenger before getting on a plane to top a billion minutes used.
Boingo's CEO Hagan noted in an interview about their software platform recently that they can resell voice access over Wi-Fi profitably for about a penny a minute versus the several cents a minute that an MVNO pays for wholesale network time. A penny a minute produces modest returns, of course, as a billion minutes turns into just $10m. On the other hand, that's revenue in one kind of venue that can be captured with little additional work beyond the engineering the company has already carried out.
Added to this is Concourse's dual business: they run the cell infrastructure--typically logical access to the physical network, as it were, or routing cell calls to wired backbones--but that gives them an intimate knowledge of cell interchanges. They don't have to ask another firm's permission to install gateway hardware that will offload VoIP from the LAN onto the PSTN or cellular network, one expects, although airport authorities may constrain cell contractors' activities.
The acquisition benefits Boingo's existing retail hotspot business, too, by providing splash pages from which their software can be downloaded at high speed. Hagan said that a lightweight "applet" version of their client software is coming; for Windows users, it's currently a download of over 13 MB, although that's trivial if the download is happening from the airport's wireless LAN.
Boingo has roaming deals in place with AT&T/Cingular, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile for at least airport service, and, in some cases, beyond that. Boingo already had a roaming relationship in place with Concourse, so this doesn't expand their access.
Of the top 10 U.S. airports by passenger traffic in 2005, Boingo's acquisition of Concourse gives them facilites ranked No. 2 (Chicago O'Hare), No. 9 (Minneapolis-St. Paul), and No. 10 (Detroit). Boingo has roaming agreements directly or through its acquisition with the other seven or none is needed. 1. Atlanta: Local operator; roaming in place. 4. LAX: T-Mobile is building out, ICOA operates food courts; roaming in place with both. 5. Las Vegas: Free. 6. Denver: AT&T/Cingular; roaming in place. 7. Phoenix: Free. 8. Houston (Bush): Sprint Nextel operates; roaming in place.
The top tier airports are mostly served with Wi-Fi or have plans underway, Hagan said, but the second and third tiers are still being built out. With the financial results released a few weeks ago from ICOA, a hotspot operator specializing in second- and third-tier airports, Boingo might already have a second acquisition target on its radar.
ICOA needs more investment to continue operations, but it has a very sweet North American footprint already in place. Hagan wouldn't comment on future plans or ICOA's financial status, but he did say the company was neither trying to roll up a large footprint nor was it adverse to future airport location acquisitions. He said there were some "interesting" companies in the space. With 15,000 airports in the U.S., and only several hundred with Wi-Fi, there's a lot of room to grow before reaching those terminals with single gates in North Dakota.
St. Cloud, Florida, is probably unfairly receiving close scrutiny on its free, city-wide network paid with municipal funds: The city's mayor explained some months ago that he sees part of the point of this kind of network is keeping the $700+ per year spent on average by broadband users from leaving the state. It's an interesting article. But the network has been perhaps overcovered as the first municipally run free network of this scale; others that offer free service are substantially smaller or offer it only over a downtown or limited area. The latest report suggests $464K above the $2.6m spent to cover the city will be required to achieve close to 100-percent coverage.
Half the new expense was due to a mistake in timing. Developers will start paying a $118.46 per new house fee Dec. 1, but 14 developments weren't factored into the budgeting for the network. Covering these neighborhoods will come out of the city's pocket, although it's possible developers will voluntarily contribute to the effort, since they're passing this along in some form to buyers. (Yes, it's a free network, but that's how "free" can work.) Three neighborhoods were annexed since budgeting happened, and about 20 percent of this new expense covers service for them.
Another chunk, $185k, is for 35 APs--hey, we just found out these Tropos nodes cost $5,000 each to buy and install!--to fill in poorly covered areas, according to this newspaper story. The coverage level is now estimated at 82 percent, and expected to top 90 percent soon, which is the contracted amount. One council member thought the contracted coverage was 100 percent.
Given that 100 percent is impossible for any wireless technology and most wired technologies without excessive expense, it's a bad number to shoot for. That last one percent could cost more than the most expensive 20 percent of the network. (That last 0.001 percent--a crank in an underground concrete bunker--is the killer.) HP, which is building the networks, suggests that anyone with a problem receiving a signal by the end of June should the consider a PepLink bridge or a higher-gain antenna.
St. Cloud isn't unique in having a free service city-wide in a larger town, just for the city paying for it. Some smaller towns offer free Wi-Fi and I would like to guess that between 500 and 1,000 cities and towns now have some public or private limited or unlimited free Wi-Fi in at least one popular place.
But the only other cities that have free service on a metro scale are those operated by MetroFi, which went free several months ago. (That's free with ads; there's a fee-based, no-ads version, too.) MetroFi hasn't received the same kind of scrutiny and critique as St. Cloud because their first cities were unwired without municipal involvement. With the Portland, Ore., contract in hand, MetroFi might expect the same kind of close observation as the St. Cloud network. But given that MetroFi isn't required to disclose finances and runs its own budget, there shouldn't be any cost carping about their deployment in Portland.
An IEEE member informed me that the Task Group N schedule has slipped considerably: The group received 12,000 comments on the Draft 1.0 proposal that was accepted as a working draft in March, and which failed to achieve in May anywhere near the 75 percent required (it received under 50 percent) to make it a final draft that would head to ratification. What wasn't expected is that instead of perhaps 2,000 comments on the draft, a typical occurrence after drafts are sent around for review by IEEE voting members, 12,000 comments came in.
I can't say whether this is unprecedented--I simply don't know--but it should undermine the confidence of Atheros, Broadcom, and Marvell in producing silicon based on Draft 1.0 and calling it Draft N compliant. It's possible that none of the 12,000 comments will result in significant changes that require modification beyond what's achievable with firmware. Because none of the manufacturers shipping Draft N devices will guarantee that their shipping equipment will be upgradable for full functionality and Wi-Fi certified interoperability to the final, ratified version of Draft N, this is yet another sign that buying Draft N equipment right now is senseless.
To avoid confusion, Draft N encompass a set of technical changes that could boost speeds to 150 Mbps of net throughput or more. Multiple in, multiple-out (MIMO) antenna and processing technology is one part of that, and a significant part, but there are hundreds of other details. If you want a broader coverage area, buy current generation MIMO gear. If you want higher speeds, wait a few months at least. I was predicting July or September for a stable draft, but my source says things will slip, which could mean November or even January before a draft is reached that one would have confidence solves all the existing problems with legacy networks and which could be etched onto silicon wafers forever.
Some blame the IEEE for the slow pace of introducing new standards. I can't blame the group's process, but its pace is based on a certain frequency of general meetings that doesn't hold up to the demands of the marketplace. This is why gear now regularly ships far ahead of any standard, and why standards like the ultrawideband physical layer for personal area networks (802.15.3a) disbanded in disunity.
Again, if you want range, buy MIMO. If you want speed, wait. And whatever you do, don't buy Draft N. The premium you pay isn't worth the uncertainty and the many, many upgrades you'll have to apply.
The 30th round of air-to-ground spectrum bidding has closed and it's given me ideas: LiveTV LLC, a subsidiary of JetBlue, is currently winning a 1 MHz license in the air-to-ground auction. (Acadia is the current winner of 3 MHz for $24.5m, but bidding will continue tomorrow and probably beyond that.)
JetBlue would like to use in-flight broadband for more than just offering passengers an Internet connection, much as Connexion by Boeing--not a bidder in this domestic auction--uses its satellite service to offer a few live broadcast channels on select airlines.
So why would LiveTV bid on a 1 MHz license, which might carry less than 1 Mbps in each direction? Here's one scenario. When a plane lands, on-board systems sync over Wi-Fi with airport equipment to transfer massive amounts of current content to an onboard cache. Even with JetBlue's quick turnaround time, hours of programming could be received.
While in flight, content could be continuously streamed for lower-bandwidth, smaller-format live programming, as well as cached for rewind/pause capability. This could combine the best of both worlds.
How many streams could you squeeze into 1 Mbps when you're not offering broadband (or perhaps offering a tiny slice for email and text messaging)? I'm not clear on what the overall quality would be, but it could be enough to be interesting.
M2Z networks pitches FCC on free 384/128 Kbps wireless broadband by offering five percent of its revenue: The Kleiner Perkins, Charles River, and Redpoint Ventures backed firm wants national spectrum in the 2155 to 2175 MHz advanced wireless services band. In exchange, the company would pay the U.S. Treasury five percent of its gross revenues from premium services that it would offer alongside its top free rate. The former FCC wireless bureau head John Muleta and @Home founder Milo Medin founded the firm, which claims access to $400m in capital.
The FCC normally sells spectrum at auction, but M2Z is pitching this as an alternative that has a public good attached. The 384 (down)/128 (up) Kbps speed would be advertising supported, so there would be revenue to pay that de facto franchise fee even for the "free" service. They would want a 15-year license.
They smartly call these two models aimed at consumers up to small businesses their Wireless-G IP Phones: The WIP300 and WIP330 have a similar feature set, but the WIP330 is clearly aimed at road warriors, while the WIP300 is more of a home or small office phone.
With a 2.2-inch color LCD, the WIP330 includes a Web browser, which allows the phone to authenticate at locations that have a splash page--even just one that requires you to agree to a set of conditions to connect. After reviewing the phone's manual, I see that it offers 802.1X with PEAP, which is used by iBahn and T-Mobile as an optional secure authentication method, as well as by smart IT departments that use Wi-Fi. There's also an easy way to store profiles for hotspots for quick reconnection.
This is the first VoWLAN phone that--if it performs as advertised--is worthwhile to buy for use hotspots and on company networks alike, as it will handle authentication. Now the alternative is something like a VoWLAN handset maker licensing Boingo or another company's platform to provide authentication behind the scenes. But that ties you to the network run by Boingo et al.; this phone allows connection arbitrary networks no matter what method they require for access. Update: Boingo wrote to note that their platform supports browsing for authentication, and includes a scripting language for adding authentication without delving into rewriting program code.
The WIP300 has an estimated street price of $220 and the WIP330, $370; they're available now. Woof! I don't know for whom a $370 IP phone is worth that cost, but I suspect certain frequent travelers would like it. I can imagine being in a several-dollar-per-hour hotspot in Switzerland or Singapore, and instead of paying $60 to $90 per hour for calls to the U.S., you're talking over your preferred VoIP+SIP provider at just that hourly rate. For other users, I expect prices will drop pretty spectacularly by next year.
Was it a mistake in gamesmanship or a limit to what they wanted to bid? Verizon has been the exclusive user of the 4 MHz of bandwidth in the 800 MHz band for air-to-ground communications for some years operating its expensive to use and expensive to operate AirFone service on U.S. domestic planes. They expected to win this auction (Auction 65) for one of two licenses that will be awarded for service that will use the same bandwidth while AirFone moves to a different system that won't interfere with these new licenses.
And now Verizon is no longer a bidder.
Each bidder had three waivers they could play in any given round that allowed them to continue to keep the auction open without making a new bid (read Public Notice DA 06-299 for details). The waivers can be applied proactively, which means the bidder chooses to use the waiver, or automatically, in which the FCC uses the waiver because if they did not, the bidder would have been removed from eligibility. That is, it's better to waste a waiver for some reason than to not being able to bid after that round at all.
According to the bidding site, all of Verizon's waivers were applied automatically, as there are no proactive waivers noted for any bidder. A few other bidders have had automatic waivers applied, but only once.
The current bidding for Round 21 is for licenses E/F (1 MHz/3 MHz) for $343K and $15.9m. The 3 MHz provisional winner is Unison Spectrum, which qualified for 25 percent bidding credits, giving them a much lower net figure to win this auction. Round 22 ends shortly at which time I will update this post.
Update: At the end of Round 22, AC Bidco (AirCell's new sister company, both of which are held by a common holding firm) has the provisional winning bid at $17.5m for license C with Intelligent Transportation holding license D for $359K. Bidding continues Thursday.
Boingo Wireless becomes the latest firm to use open source to bypass licensing complexity for partners: When you hear open source, you think about software that has broad interest for either horizontal (think Firefox) or vertical (think Gimp) communities. Many well-known open-source projects involve hundreds of regular developers, some who are employees of firms like HP and IBM, and thousands of occasional projects. Boingo Wireless's open-source release of the Boingo Embedded Wi-Fi Toolkit has little to do with that group, although the principles are shared. (Read the press releases: Open Source, Partner Approval, E28 Ports Toolkit.)
In an interview, Boingo president and chief executive David Hagan explained that they wanted to put their authentication software out into a broader community of use to spread experience with their code base for companies that might want to partner with Boingo. "We're not looking for the college student in his room who is coding at midnight," Hagan said.
But their release of the toolkit doesn't prevent that college student from using the codebase. The toolkit includes Boingo's bag of tricks for detecting, connecting, and authenticating onto intentionally public hotspots. This represents hard-won knowledge spanning five years of the firm working on preventing their users from ever seeing a logon screen beyond their own. The first version of the toolkit supports Linux, BREW, Windows Mobile 2003, and Windows Mobile 5.
Releasing the toolkit allows any company or individual who wants to have hotspot features to adapt Boingo's software. Hagan notes that for the gaming, handset, and consumer electronics industries, there's enormous fragmentation on embedded software platforms. "For us to try to port our code and sell and license on code on every potential platform, we'd need a zillion engineers and a zillion business development," Hagan said.
The toolkit could be experimented by an in-house development team, and then, later, business-development folks could sign an agreement to sell access to Boingo's aggregated network. The software works fine without reselling hotspots, but that's the big value that's baked in.
Another advantage of the open-source route, Hagan said, is that cell handset makers and cell carriers don't like to be locked in. With an open-source approach, there's no exclusivity or control involved. "If it's truly an open platform, they won't feel locked in at all," Hagan said. The toolkit supports over-the-air provisioning, which allows a carrier to set up or reconfigure the software without requiring a visit to a carrier office or an Internet connection.
Hagan expects that one use of the toolkit would be to allow unlicensed mobile access (UMA), in which a dual-mode cell phone switches to Wi-Fi either automatically or by a user's request. Hagan notes that MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) who buy their minutes from carriers like Verizon and Sprint and resell them to their customers have enormous motivation to migrate talking minutes from this purchased cell airtime to much less expensive Wi-Fi time. MVNOs might choose to switch to Wi-Fi whenever an authenticated network is available, while a more traditional carrier might provide that as a simple option for users.
This open-source effort for detection and connection coupled with Devicescape's similarly focused open-source release of its Wi-Fi authentication and encryption package could produce enormously better hotspot support in completely open projects with no connection to for-fee hotspots and in commercial projects that currently lack the finesse, exhaustiveness, or ease of either Boingo or Devicescape's packages.
Boingo is dual licensing its code based. In the open-source version, the application layer is licensed under Apache 2.0 terms, in which republishing of modifications is encouraged; the Wi-Fi toolkit is covered by the Lesser GPL, which requires republishing of modifications; and the Platform Abstraction Layer (the part that talks to devices) is under Apache 2.0's license. The commercial license allows all part of that stack to remain closed. The open-source version, because it doesn't require publishing changes to the interface layer and driver layer allows those to be kept private, too.
The FCC's Auction 65 for air-to-ground (in-flight) spectrum continued today: Bidding today reached $11.274m for the sweet exclusive 3 MHz chunk (license F) and just $282K for the 1 MHz complement (license E). This has blown through my guess of $8m because of the small increments through which bidding proceeded. I still think Verizon will pay whatever is necessary to get license F. The dollar amount started moving up rather rapidly today from under $5m total on the previous day of bidding to $11.5m today.
An announcement from the FCC on Monday may explain the delay of a few days in resuming bidding. While it's dense to read, the FCC clarified that any organizations involved in the bidding that share controlling interest might see a bid from a previous round of bidding trump a bid in the current round if there's a conflict between controlling interests otherwise being the prospective winner. At least two companies have common controlling interests. No companies with common controlling interests may win both licenses, and so bidding technology must restrict that from happening.
Bidding was only in six rounds today, and will go into eight rounds starting at 10 am Eastern tomorrow, May 17. Unless we hear otherwise. Which we might.
ABI Research predicts UWB will get uptake: The analysis firm believes that "formidable-looking barriers" will be overcome for "widespread commercial success" with UWB. Neither the collapse of a single standards effort nor the emergence of 802.11n will cause UWB to falter, they say, and the Bluetooth SIG's support should help. Global spectrum and regulatory approval, cost, power consumption, and silicon package sizes are "legitimate concerns" they note. The firm believes that 7 GHz to 8.5 GHz--a very small chunk for UWB's needs--will be sections approved across many regulatory regions with Europe supporting 6 GHz to 8.5 GHz and Japan probably ratifying 7 GHz to 10 GHz.
The New York Times reports that the vendor selected in Oct. 2004 to put Wi-Fi in several parks must compete the Central Park job by July, others by late summer: The company, Wi-Fi Salon, is quoted in the article as sounding less sure about the deadline than the city is. Wi-Fi Salon won a bid after Verizon backed out for Battery, Central, Flushing Meadows-Corona, Pelham Bay, Prospect, Riverside, Union Square, Van Cortlandt, and Washington Square Parks, and Orchard Beach in the Bronx, the article notes.
So far, Wi-Fi Salon has put service in place only in Battery Park. Their plan has to been to find sponsors to foot the bill and provide the $30,000 per year minimum required in the contract. Future contracts will require no revenue to be paid, apparently.
The article notes that NYC Wireless has put Wi-Fi in a number of parks over a number of years, and was selected to unwire the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in conjunction with a non-profit associated with the plaza.
Let's recall that a year ago, Wi-Fi Salon's founder Marshall Brown told Wi-Fi Planet that his firm "will be launching eight access points (APs) in Central Park in July , all of which will offer free Internet access to the public using a backhaul of roughly 64Mbps..." This is the same interview in which he made the claim--which I hope he has since learned was understated by several orders of magnitude--"I'm saying to the city of New York, each of these APs can support 255 Wi-Fi hotspots each. If each Wi-Fi hotspot covers 300 feet in circumference, I could cover a square mile of open public location and I have 20 locations." [Photo via ladymay79]
Interesting, other coverage of this story seems to state that the city has just approved Wi-Fi for Central Park. For instance, the BBC reports that the city "announced plans." Their story (and many similar ones) make it sound like corporate sponsorship is already lined up. They say the Parks Departments "says that by July" service will be in place rather than the facts, which is that this is a vendor deadline.
While it may seem tangential to this site, recall how many articles have been written about Wi-Fi and wireless data and their associated patents: The Supreme Court ruled today that automatic injunctions are not appropriate for patent lawsuits. Rather, injunctions must be granted only when four tests already used for more general injunctions are used. Each test favors patentholders actively engaged in producing products or operating services that involve the patent. An injunction prevents a party from doing something; in this case, eBay would have been preventing from using its Buy It Now service while litigation was underway.
In Oct. 2004, patent-buying firm Acacia notified what seemed to be thousands of hotspot operators--including a tiny bed and breakfast on the Oregon coast--that they infringed on a patent Acacia had obtained from LodgeNet that covered redirection when connecting to a hotspot. I haven't heard boo since then, possibly because prior art emerged, even though Acacia vowed to follow up with those they'd sent paperwork to within 30 days. The patent stands, but it would have a hard time standing if re-examined, based on the information I've had described to me.
In many business-method patents, in which the method of accomplishing an activity is described, there is no operation in effect or the patent was sold or traded to a third-party that is pursuing legal remedies. The patents are used to obtain licensing fees from parties engaged in similar, identical, or unrelated activities as those described in the patent.
Injunctions are used as the threat by which a patentholder extracts money without necessarily having a patent that covers the use of the business-method in question. Because an injunction could irreparably harm a business, or, in the case of a diversified firm, cost them millions or more dollars, settlements often happen where a defendant has the resources to fight in court, and may think themselves likely to win. It's cheaper to settle than be barred from engaging in a particular use of technology or a way of doing business! This is why you see defensive patents filed that seem ridiculous; it's to prevent not necessarily lawsuits but injunctions and to enable a company to continue doing whatever it is they were doing. Amazon.com holds several patents that it has rarely enforced. (Disclosure: I wrote a draft of, but did not invent one of those patents when working at Amazon in 96-97.)
With the threat of essentially automatic injunctions removed--pending how it's interpreted by trial courts, of course--this means that fewer suits will be brought because there will be much less likelihood of the cases being settled beforehand to avoid injunctions. The bar is now higher, and teams of lawyers are likely at work now building briefs that they can whip out to explain why their particular business-method lawsuit meets the Supreme Court's interpretation.
The four-part test for general equity court injunctions should be used for patent injunctions is what the Court wrote. It will potentially make it far less likely for a trial judge to issue an injunction at any stage of the proceedings, including if the patentholder wins the trial but the defendant plans to appeal. The test requires the plaintiff to show irreparable injury (hard when you're not making or doing something), monetary or similar damages awarded at trial are insufficient (hard when you're suing specifically for money), and that the public interest "would not be disserved" by an injunction (hard to argue when the defendants are engaged in an activity and not therefore being prevented from acting in the public interest). A fourth test requires balancing hardships between the parties, and it's possible that that would swing towards a producer/provider rather than a patent-licensing house, too.
The Supreme Court immediately makes its opinions available as PDFs, which you can download here. The case is the eBay vs Mercexchange.
I'm sure this makes Research In Motion feel just wonderful tonight.
Fon receives some southern hemisphere ink at the opening of the Digital Cities Forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina (en español): While there's no deal in place nor an exact count, there's some interest in whether a proposal could provide free broadband wireless across this large South American city. Fon founder Martin Varsavsky is quoted indirectly via Alejandro Piscitelli, the head of Argentinian education portal Educ.ar as suggesting 50,000 to 100,000 Fon hotspots or Foneros might do the trick. Of course, as the article notes, it's not an easy project at that scale. Piscitelli is also involved with the MIT project for affordable developing world laptops for children.
A big issue with this plan is that Fon relies on ISPs for backhaul rather than creating its own network in the current incarnation. One hundred thousand Foneros would require 100,000 broadband lines, and the question is who precisely would pay for the backhaul and would that compensate ISPs who lose customers as a result? But there's a bit of excitement about the plan having been floated, the reporter notes.
Inmarsat has the FCC licenses to sell its satellite receiver gear in the U.S.: The Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) system makes use of new fourth-generation satellites that were launched in 2005 with one more to come this year. The satellites use beam forming to pinpoint coverage to cities or regions and has hundreds of beams per satellite. Speeds using the portable broadband terminals run 432 Kbps for $3 to $7 per megabyte. Inmarsat promises streaming quality at up to 256 Kbps. Receivers cost about $3,000.
While ruinously expensive for casual use, there is almost certainly a market of 100,000s of regular users who need broadband in areas where there really are no alternatives, including news crews and rescue workers for whom the tradeoff is time versus lives, making the cost less critical.
The latest Palm Treo continues its phone orientation by adding the cell data EVDO standard, but omitting Wi-Fi: The 700p is more phone like, apparently, with send end call buttons. It also includes Bluetooth 1.2, which is a shame as that standard tops out at about 700 Kbps of real throughput. EVDO networks currently peak at over 1 Mbps, although 200 to 400 Kbps is a more consistently found speed. EVDO networks deploying next year using the Rev. A standard will peak at over 2 Mbps, however. (More product information at Palm's site.)
While the Palm 700p has an SDIO slot, it doesn't yet support Wi-Fi via SD, which means that an external "sled" would be needed to use Wi-FI. This coupled with the slow Bluetooth speed means that it will be hard to move files on and off without resorting to sneakernet + SD cards or a USB cable.
There's no announcement yet about a UMTS/HSDPA Treo 700p, but this makes some sense when you consider there are no HSDPA phones available yet; UMTS is roughly 50 percent slower than HSDPA. Why release a device that can use the fastest network available? It would be a little odd on the marketing side. UMTS and HSDPA work worldwide, where EVDO is more of a South Korea/United States standard, which makes it clear that Palm needs to release a UMTS/HSDPA Treo eventually, but they might wait until they can have one that includes all the worldwide radio bands for those standards.
Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless will sell the handheld/phone, but pricing and availability aren't yet announced.
Ruckus's MediaFlex wireless distribution system will drive multimedia for Maxisat's customers: Maxisat sounds like s a satellite-oriented company--and they are--but they also provide wired services. Their basic package costs €49.80 for 19 IPTV channels, videon on demand, and 8 Mbps ADSL. For €75.90 per month, you get 29 IPTV channels, 24 Mbps ADSL, and VoIP. That includes setting up one television for reception. Additional TVs have a set-up cost of €50 per hour, taking one to two hours per connection.
Ruckus equipment is an option (either at a flat rate or as a rental) to distribute the IPTV and data around the house. Colleagues who have seen the Ruckus system in action say it's rather compelling.
Ruckus also has sold its equipment to several rural providers in the U.S., including ones in Ohio, Oregon, North Carolina, Nevada, and Oklahoma.
T-Mobile now bundles unlimited Wi-Fi and unlimited GPRS/EDGE for just $29.99 per month for voice subscribers: I don't know when these charges changed, but my friend and colleague Steve Manes, Forbes Magazine's technology columnist, mentioned this in passing in a phone call today. He'd been trying to renew his Treo service with T-Mobile when his old unit died and was told about this new deal.
I tried to find any announcement about this or any coverage, and bupkes. It's possible it flew under the radar. But it's a great deal. While GPRS runs at modem speeds downstream and usually less upstream, EDGE can provide a consistent rate of over 100 Kbps down and about half up. Coupled with Wi-Fi, for the right kind of business traveler or college student, this is a very inexpensive alternative for ubiquitous access.
The T-Mobile Internet plan requires a phone purchase, so make sure you get an EDGE capable phone through which to use the 2.5G service.
The Associated Press and IDG News Service report the Phila. city council unanimously approved the Wireless Philadelphia/EarthLink deal: Of course, there's still two more signatures to get. I'm not kidding. The City Solicitor and mayor must both sign the contracts, but there's no worry about that happening. EarthLink must now obtain permits, which should be expedited through these blanket contracts, and start building their 15-square-mile test network. They anticipate the full network being finished by third quarter of 2007.
New Rochelle installs $150K Wi-Fi network: The network will launch next month covering an area around downtown, including the train station. The money came from the state, Metro-North (which will have Wi-Fi within the station), and the remainder from downtown property owners. The network will have some local information available through a portal page.
Pomona starts pilot project for downtown Wi-Fi: One square mile of Wi-Fi. The press release fails to mention whether this is a free or for-fee network, however.
Verizon cuts off big 3G users: Last November, I wrote an article about the terms of service for Cingular, Sprint Nextel, and Verizon's 3G service. All three restrict what you can do, with Verizon having the strictest policies requiring you to only surf, read email, and use intranet applications. All other uses strictly prohibited.
The Wall Street Journal covers this issue today because the three domestic 3G carriers--T-Mobile isn't up to their speeds yet--are starting to cancel 3G subscriptions (Verizon) or bill heavy users (the other two). Verizon has apparently killed 100 user accounts for people using "thousands of times the average" network usage. And, holy net neutrality, Batman, Verizon will eventually detect protocol types so it can ban specific kinds. Of course, this means that virtual private network (VPN) users will be able to hide their particular habits, but not overall usage. The Journal notes that wireless data hasn't yet been part of the neutrality discussions.
Fundamentally, we all know the dirty little secret is that not that carriers have per-megabyte costs that they need to recover, but that they have extremely limited spectrum for these services, and that heavy users dampen the availability of 3G services for adjacent users. Heavy users also tax the cell backhaul connections, which, I have been told my multiple sources, is generally a relatively low-speed digital service line, like a T-1 or equivalent. Carriers have been eyeing fixed WiMax as a way to reduce their backhaul bottleneck.
The second day of bidding on the air-to-ground in-flight broadband spectrum auction was halted early for undisclosed reasons: The FCC stopped bidding after the eighth round (four yesterday, four today). The ninth round will start up tomorrow on Monday, May 16. The high bid for the 3 MHz license in the 3/1 configuration (see yesterday's post and below for more on that) is currently Unison Spectrum, and I don't expect that to last. You can follow bids and view reports via the FCC Integrated Spectrum Auction System (use Public Access and select Auction 65). (Updated portion: The FCC originally planned to resume bidding on Friday, May 12, but without explaining, has delayed round 9 to start on Monday, May 15. Then it was moved to May 16.)
Verizon, AC BidCo (AirCell's holding company), and Unison appear to be the only players now bidding on the configuration that most companies think is most valuable. Only one of two licenses in the band will be granted to a controlling interest, thus no company or companies that share controlling interests can own the whole band. Because of this, the 3 MHz + 1 MHz configuration (either C/D or E/F) are most desirable because it allows for the winning bidder to prevent a competitor from having sufficient bandwidth to truly compete. This also means that the 1 MHz license could go for a very tiny amount of money. Provisional winning bids are below $300,000 at present.
Some bidders are still trying for the A/B configuration of two sets of overlapping 3 MHz of spectrum, but that requires a sort of Prisoner's Dilemma for that to win. The FCC will grant licenses to whichever pair (A/B, C/D, or E/F) generates the most revenue. Thus, a company that desperately wants the A/B set has to either bid high enough to overcome the bid in C/D or E/F for 3 MHz or has to be competing with another desperate A/B bidder.
Because each vendor can offer multiple bids (one per license pair) per auction Unison Spectrum bid $4.33m in round 8--the same as AC BidCo for license C--and Unison also bid $4.5m for license F. That made Unison the provisional winner in round 8. The A/B pair totaled $1.915m + $2.815m = $4.73m, while the E/F pair of Space Data ($0.244m) + Unison ($4.532m) = $4.786m.
This is getting shaved a little fine. There are eight rounds of bidding scheduled for tomorrow Monday Tuesday, and I still think we might see $8m, per my prediction yesterday.
AnchorFree has built hotzones in the Bay Area and has built a marketing and branding program for free locations: Until seeing the press release yesterday about their acquisition of MetroFreeFi.com, an exhaustive directory of free locations built by feet-on-the-street, I was unaware of the second part of AnchorFree's plans. The release claims 10,000 locations in the AnchorFree network, and I grilled the firm's president about those numbers.
David Gorodyansky, the president and co-founder, said that AnchorFree or MetroFreeFi has spoken with every free hotspot listed in their network, and gotten their approval for the listing. About half the locations are displaying marketing materials, or use AnchorFree splash screens and authentication. he said. Gorodyansky said AnchorFree shares advertising revenue with locations that participate in displaying ads. "We're in constant contact with them, they have been validated that they're real," he said.
I did a spot check in Seattle of locations I have personal knowledge of, where I know the owners or have interviewed them, or where I've been recently. I can say out of a few dozen locations I've stepped foot in in the last few weeks, I haven't seen any AnchorFree branding and I'm positive that none of the locations that I know would agree to anything beyond being listed in a directory. AnchorFree is offering a directory with ambitions. I invite Wi-Fi Networking News readers to do some local checking, as it's possible that Seattle is an odd case.
Glancing through Seattle, I see King County Library branches, Zoka (fiercely independent), Fremont Coffee (ditto), Victrola (home of weekend no-Fi), Seattle's Central Library, and the University Village QFC supermarket (which has a large "sponsored by" sign for a local cable company when I was there last week). In Columbus, Ohio, they're listing Panera Bread, which has its own national branding and network. Examples of this kind abound elsewhere.
Clearly, however, many locations in their directory do have some kind of direct relationship. In these cases, a Member badge is displayed and even a network status indicator.
Another claim I found problematic in the press release was that all AnchorFree-listed locations had 5 Mbps of downstream bandwidth. Gorodyansky said in the interview that the upstream speed needed to be at least 768 Kbps. When pressed, Gorodyansky confirmed that speed had not been checked on site, but rather prospective locations are told that 5M/768K is the minimum speed required.
That speed is only available in certain parts of certain cities, sometimes via cable, sometimes via DSL, occasionally via both. I have strong doubts that 10,000 free Wi-Fi locations actually offer those speeds, regardless of what they've told AnchorFree or how it validates these locations for bandwidth.
I don't doubt that AnchorFree has good intentions, but despite Gorodyansky's statements of validation, I'm afraid they are making the same mistakes that other directories and aggregators have when they initially tried to list free locations as part of their network. MetroFreeFi has always found high-quality locations and certainly has the most comprehensive list of free hotspots available. (I can't compare number-for-number with Jim Sullivan's excellent effort at Wi-Fi Free Spot, but a spot check shows somewhat more at AnchorFree than his site in the cities I'm checking.)
But AnchorFree appears to be making a claim more like AMD's of a few years ago--one that AMD eventually walked away from. Claiming a network requires more than having a directory.
AT&T FreedomLink users can pay an extra fee to watch a package of 15 TV channels from MobiTV: The live streaming video service will be available for $11.99 per month or $5.99 for 24 hours at the 7,000 locations that AT&T operates or resells in their home or "Basic" network, mostly UPS Store/Mailboxes Etc., a couple coffee chains, McDonald's, and Barnes & Noble; a number of airports are also included, which seems like a more likely place for people to use the service occasionally. AT&T resells access in their Premier network (which includes hotels and roaming partners) at an additional fee for Wi-Fi service.
The press release says that MobiTV is available from the Wi-Fi portal page, which implies that you can purchase MobiTV service separately from Internet access. I'll try to get a clarification.
MobiTV provides service from MSNBC, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, Fox Sports, ESPN, The Weather Channel, NBC Mobile, TLC, and The Discovery Channel among others.
The much-discussed air-to-ground auction that will determine the future of Internet and cellular access on domestic U.S. flights is underway: Some surprises have already taken place. As I write this, the auction's third round is about to open, the total bid is just $3.7m--far below what I anticipate this will go for--and AirCell has been dismissed as an individual bidder.
I call the winner and the price: Verizon at under $8m. I expect this could have run to $30m or more if Connexion by Boeing had stayed in the running, and I thought that AirCell had the finances to make a good run at it (especially with bidding credits they received of 15% for their business size).
(Update: Round 4 is over. AC BidCo LLC (see below) was the provisional winner in round 1 of one of the exclusive 3 MHz licenses (C; see end of article), while Acadia Broadband and LiveTV were 3 MHz winners in round 2. In round 3, we see Verizon take 3 MHz (license F) for $3.55m and a tiny firm take 1 MHz (E) for just $210,000. Round 4 ended with Unison Spectrum bidding $3.7m for the 3 MHz (F) license. Another round will start Thursday at 10 am Eastern.)
An article in today's New York Times talks about the overall market and carrier constraints on adding in-flight broadband, but Ken Belson missteps when he wrote, "The auction will not advance the on-board use of conventional cellphones, which use other frequencies and are still prohibited in the air." This is not quite right. While the FAA and FCC have not agreed to allow the use of cell phones in flight at any point in the near future, all companies involved in in-flight broadband said that they had picocells to work with major cell frequencies designed to integrate with whatever downlink they develop for pure Internet access. So the auction will advance the technical possibility of in-flight cellular even though many other regulatory, safety, and social issues are still to be resolved.
You can follow live bidding at the FCC Integrated Spectrum Auction System by selecting Auction 65 from the Auction Information popup menu in the Public Access area (lower left). Bidding was in four rounds on Wednesday ending at 5 pm Eastern. Bidding starts Thursday for eight rounds at 10 am Eastern, ending at 4.40 pm Eastern.
The FCC details on AirCell note that a change they made in their filing was grounds for dismissal from the auction because the change "constitutes a major amendment" as it "includes changes in ownership of the applicant that would constitute an assignment or transfer of control..." This turns it into a new application, and thus it is past the deadline. But this doesn't put them out of the running; that change of ownership was already part of their potential bidding strategy. They put in one bid as AirCell and another as part of a potential changed entity that has emberged.
The company had an agreement (filed with the FCC along with supplementary materials) that details how AirCell would become a subsidiary of a holding company which would hold 100 percent of AirCell and 100 percent of AC Bidco LLC, which remains in the bidding process. Shareholders of AirCell become majority shareholders of AC HoldCo LLC in that scenario. Because of their revised filing as AirCell qua AirCell, that agreement must have been put into effect. Thus AirCell is still bidding in just a slightly revised structure and without the bidding credits they would have received on their own of 15 percent.
Only nine bidders were identified by the FCC (DA 06-907, Appendix A in PDF form) on April 28 as qualifying for today's auction: AC BidCo LLC, Acadia Broadband, L.P. (which apparently overpaid $100,000 on its upfront payment), AirCell (now dismissed), AMTS Consortium LLC, Intelligent Transportation & Monitoring Wireless, LiveTV LLC (JetBlue), Space Data Spectrum Holdings LLC, Unison Spectrum LLC, and Verizon Airfone. Inflight Online dug up a little data about AMTS, Intelligent, and Unison. AMTS and Intelligent both report controlling interests by Warren Havens, according to an FCC order released yesterday denying a motion by those two entities.
If Verizon wins, they had previously pledged to roll service out fairly quickly. There are two licenses up for grabs in any of the three configurations of spectrum that are being bid on. The configurations offer either two licenses with overlapping 3 MHz chunks of spectrum (for up and down links), or two different configurations of one license with 1 MHz and one license with 3 MHz.
The companies I spoke to a few months ago highly deprecated the overlapping 3 MHz licenses, designated A and B in the auction. The C/D and E/F pairs are much more likely to win because there's one winner with 3 MHz, which is the minimum required for true in-flight broadband. 1 MHz could be used for ancillary services, but isn't sufficient for Internet access.
AT&T unleashed a spate of announcements that Om Malik reviews: They'll use satellite broadband (reselling WildBlue which in turn buys service from a satellite operator) to reach rural markets they can't serve with DSL. Project Lightspeed, which is fiber to the node (FTTN) technology, will pass 5.5m low-income homes in 41 markets within three years, which should buy them some credibility in the digital divide bridge building market. (Affording Lightspeed is different than having it pass by your home, of course.) And it's pushing out WiMax, too. Together, Om writes, this could add 11.5m potential homes to AT&T's reach.
WiMax and satellite will help AT&T reach the 20 percent of its existing customer base that they can't get DSL to yet. The Lightspeed service lets them push more heavily for bypassing local TV/cable franchise boards through federal or state legislation as they can show they won't redline poorer customers.
Those working in the wireless and hotspot space are well aware of what damage and benefit patents have wrought: For every hard-won, hard-science patent that represents the unique result of expensive research and development that produces a non-obvious outcome beneficial for the market, there are piles of business-method patents that are just irritating. Until now, once a patent is issue, getting a review is a pain. The issuance assumes that overworked and underpaid patent examiners have discovered all prior art or evaluated the original and non-trivial nature of a patent. Often, not the case, as is found out after expensive litigation, as more of these patents fall into the hands of firms the objective of which isn't innovation but extracting tolls.
You see where my sympathies lie.
The US Patent and Trademark Office thus wins kudos from me and all right-thinking people--all people who want patent examiners to have perfect knowledge of all prior art--through their pilot project called the Patent Peer Review Pilot Project. The notion is that scientific peers and later unaffiliated third parties will be able to contribute to the patent process by providing relevant, potentially overlooked prior art. They'll have a briefing on May 12 in Alexandria, Virg., limited to the first 200 registrants.
Again, hard to see where opposition to this effort would produce a reasonable statement. For instance, this doesn't fly, does it? "Patent examiners don't have the right to see all prior art that's well known to the scientific, business, or other communities for which this patent is relevant." Nope.
IBM is one of the sponsors of The Community Patent Project, a New York Law School effort that helped produce this USPTO plan. More importantly, they're putting their patents on the table for the beta test. [link via BoingBoing]
Siemens is the vendor of record now for Toronto's massive project, but they'll use BelAir gear: It's almost a footnote in the press release trumpeting Siemens receiving the Toronto Hydro Telecom contract to handle the network building for their city-wide Wi-Fi network. The network will cover 10 square kilometers in the current plan, which will almost certainly grow if successful. Downtown access should be up and running by the end of 2006. BelAir's equipment has been used in other cities and projects, but they haven't yet had a project with this marquee value. When I asked the firm for a good deployment to look at a few months ago, they pointed me to Galt, Calif., a remarkably fast-growing Sacramento/Bay Area exurb that had (at that time) about 80 mesh nodes.
Phoenix starts work on starting work on a metro-scale wireless network: With its suburbs unwiring with great haste, starting immediately to the south in Tempe (home of a major university), a set of Phoenix stakeholders put out a request for proposal (RFP; download as PDF) to find a consultant that would help them develop a plan. Given the pace of other cities, this might be the right speed. While Tempe, for instance, has about 160,000 residents (including about 60,000 affiliated with the university), Phoenix has over 1.3 million residents.
Stakeholders include the city, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Arizona State University (main campus in Tempe, but satellites in Phoenix and elsewhere), and Maricopa County. That's a lot of masters to serve. The initial project would cover 90 city blocks; $2.5b in development is in the works in private, public, and transportation projects for downtown over the next three years. The RFP notes that 26,000 people work within that area. They're looking for the first phase to encompass outdoor access only.
The city's timing is auspicious because at least several other major metro-scale networks should be well underway by fall, allowing them the hindsight of observation before committing dollars or finding a private partner.
Your faithful editor is part of a prospective jury pool: I'm sitting here in an undisclosed court location in my hometown (I don't want to cross a line in terms of disclosure) waiting to see if I get a) called, b) screened, c) put on a jury. Since we live in the 21st century, there's Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity in a work room in the jury area. Delightful. You'll see possibly less news from this site over the next few days.
Update: Luckily or unluckily, I've been excused. I went through one voir dire, which was fascinating, wasn't challenged on any basis, and then had a number higher than the number of jurors and alternates they enpaneled. And then they said, buh bye. It was a great look into one of democracy's greatest gifts: public trials by jury.
It's a funny day when a short story is written about Google not doing something: IDG News Service reports that, in line with previous statements that nobody but me seems to believe, Google won't be bidding on the giant network to be built in its background. The Joint Venture Silicon Valley proposal for a Wireless Silicon Valley asks for ideas about how to cover a huge geographical area to meet many needs. Google won't bid and EarthLink is reading the RFP.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County's public libraries add Wi-Fi: There's service at the downtown branch and 41 county branches. Service is charged at $4.95 per hour or $9.95 for 24 hours, and it's run by Cincinnati Bell. Can I note how rare this is? Very. Most libraries absorb the cost of Wi-Fi as part of bringing in more users who in turn are more likely to donate to the system, vote for bonds, or otherwise support the library as a critical resource that needs funding.
Five thousand Nortel mesh nodes on poles in Moscow: Golden Telecom says they will start testing a network encompassing 3.9 million Moscovian households by summer 2006, with service to follow. This seems astounding. If the news of a network of this scale being completed so fast with so many mesh access points came from a company other than Nortel or one of their peers, I'd be checking to see whether it was a hoax.
Current scores $130m from General Electric and...EarthLink: Huh. Just a few minutes ago, I posted an item at WiMax Networking News about AOL and Clearwire partnering on a service that allows AOL to skip the wires, noting that like EarthLink, AOL must shed dial-up. AOL via Time-Warner may be resold over a major multiple systems cable operator, but they still have many parts of the country where they need a fourth way--beyond phone, cable, and powerline, meaning wireless as the fourth method. I count powerline as number three because the infrastructure is largely in place and it's been viable for much longer than true metro-scale broadband wireless.
So the third way is coming into its own, and EarthLink's investment is a direct result of their need to get customers without working through incumbent phone and cable operators.
It's worth noting that Google invested in Current (at an unspecified level) in July 2005 as part of $100m received from Google, Hearst, and Goldman Sachs. In 2004, Current and a related effort received $70m in investment. Google, too, needs end runs around gatekeepers.
Current offers broadband over powerline (BPL) in Cincinnati, and has a large project underway in Texas. EarthLink will be a retail reseller of Current's offering, but I expect that (per EarthLink's modality) this isn't exclusive.
Several months ago, I partnered with Federated Media (FM) to handle ads on this site: I knew that John Battelle was a good star onto which to hook this ship of bloggy commerce, as I trusted his editorial instincts but knew he had the publisher genes as well. I've been showing FM's banner ads on this site since late last year, and the group launched its self-service advertising system today, which has something slightly in common with Google AdWords and other methods of launching one's own ads without a salesperson directly involved.
The FM system lets an advertiser target sites in the FM network by demographics, or just browse available inventories. GigaOm, Fark, BoingBoing, and almost four dozen other sites that have the same author-driven or editorial-driven focus as Wi-Fi Networking News are also available.
I've already bought my first banner on another site for my book-comparison service, isbn.nu. If you've been looking for short or long ad runs on Wi-Fi Network News, check out FM's new system.
The AP and News.com report that Phila.'s city council has moved contracts forward: The contracts are not yet executed by the city council, but they were approved in committee with diversity language added for subcontractor arrangements EarthLink will make. The contract was awarded in October and the negotiations and city council wrangling have been going on since. The council could vote on the bill May 11, and are likely to pass it in this form. EarthLink's exec Don Berryman is quoted noting that the network could be built within 18 months of the city council's vote. However, this excludes any provision for the 15-square-mile test network that must be built and, if found lacking, the rework that has to happen then to build out the full town.
Meanwhile, Google's tests are showing they need to have what sounds like denser access point deployment in Mountain View: Google says the launch is still scheduled for June, but a Mountain View official said there might be delays taking it to July or beyond. The Mountain View network will be free.
Tropos Metro Compatible Extensions (TMCE) standardizes hardware, firmware for metro-scale client devices: The idea extends on Tropos' previous architecture that allows monitoring and control from end-user customer premises equipment (CPE) up to the network backbone from a centralized tool. TMCE goes further by providing a toolkit for client devices and software to conform to a set of specifications design to produce better performance within a metro environment. This includes hardware and RF specifications.
Tropos says the PePLink Surf 200BG is the first device that meets its spec to hit the market. It's a high-power (200 mW) CPE that I've already heard is being used in Tropos markets around the country. (There's a 400 mW version that doesn't appear to be certified by Tropos yet.) St. Cloud, Florida, sells this to residents on the fringes of reception for $170; I've heard the same price from other regions.
I've gone on the record before noting that higher-gain antennas and higher-power transceivers make the local RF environment worse, and that the transition to MIMO-based technology--a small increase in radio power but a smarter use of beamforming and multipath reflection--will have a much greater positive impact.
Tropos estimates a $1b market by 2009 for add-on metro-scale devices. This jibes with the tens of millions of users that will have Wi-Fi pass by them in urban, suburban, exurban, and rural areas by then. The only thing that could take the wind out of that $1b market? If it's subsumed within existing Wi-Fi or other wireless adapters--by building TMCE-like compliance in 802.11n-based devices in laptops and desktops, the cost drops quite a bit over selling standalone devices.
The TMCE tie into the management, monitoring, and provisioning features in the Tropos centralized system.
Huge overview of municipal networks in New York Times: The Times covers the range from a town of 312 in the Ohio Appalachian range to Philadelphia and Suffolk County. The small town of Chesterhill, Ohio, uses a water tower to reach residents, and it's already had a small but significant impact on the residents' spending. An interesting quote from St. Cloud, Florida's mayor points out that his goal was not to provide free service per se, but reduce payments by local residents to broadband firms outside the area. By building cost conservation for city employees as one leg of the plan, and providing what the mayor estimates is $450/year per resident who uses the city network not being sent off to large companies, he hopes the local economy sees a boon. (Hey, what if those people put their money into a bank! Not American.) This is part of the Walmart phenomenon: Walmart may have the best prices, but all its profits go to Bentonville (and then out to shareholders as dividends wherever they may live). It's interesting to see metro-scale Wi-Fi recast in the sustainable agriculture mode.
Three counties could get Wi-Fi network in South Jersey: About 1.2 million people would be covered in the proposed areas in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester counties. It's just a concept, but part of a growing trend for county-scale networks that may have more of an outdoor/mobility focus than the residential/mobility bent of urban networks. The three counties cover 1,378 square miles.
Pittsburgh agrees on downtown Wi-Fi: Though it was looking like the proposal might fail, the city council wound up approving access to the utility poles necessary to cover downtown with free Wi-Fi. The group behind the service, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, agreed to allow competition in the form of vendor-neutral access or sharing poles. This is a little broad: Vendor-neutral networks which wholesale access are cheap to hop on as a retail ISP; but adding radios is expensive. The council did want to ensure competition to make it more desirable to have the entire city covered. They've tiered the cost of utility pole usage based on digital divide coverage areas.
The folks at UStec sent out a press release about an Aug. 2000-filed patent being approved: The patent covers sticking a wireless transceiver on an in-wall port that has some kind of backhaul. The problem with patents is that while this sounds somewhat trivial, unoriginal, and well-known at the time the patent was filed, it's all about the details, and this patent has a lot of interesting particulars. The particularly carved-out space might allow this patent to stand and yet define a very small number of cases where they could license or ban the use of their technology because of it. At least this isn't a business-model patent.
The main claim describes creating a distribution architecture comprising a main node that is essentially a router ("a plurality of external signals") with more physical layer complexity than common routers; that central node distributes to individually addressable nodes that are mounted in walls. The wall-mounted unit has a wireless transceiver defined in each of the claims as being based on Bluetooth, any RF transceiver, 802.11, infrared, and so on. The backhaul could be wired or wireless, use mesh between nodes, etc. It's a bit like Ethernet combined with the potential for combining analog and digital signals over the same
The idea is that a single wired or wireless central receiving point would handle all the different kinds of telecom, video, and data traffic regardless of what method it used to arrive at the facility, and then distribute it over whatever kind of backbone was needed to individual wall units that would be paired with wireless transceivers designed to decode each type of broadcast. So you could have Wi-Fi and an analog transceiver that would plug into an analog input of TV set, and a POTS (plain old telephone service) transceiver plugged into the RJ-11 port of the phone.
Where this patent might break down is that in 2000, the idea of combining and distributing many protocols, digital and analog, to devices each with their own kind of paired transceiver might have made sense, but we're in an all IP world today.
It's very unlikely that a new investment would be made for this kind of technology when blanketing a hotel or other property with Wi-Fi and then running IPTV, VoIP or VoWLAN, and Internet access would make much more sense. Some hotels have done part of this; I don't know of a hotel or retail business that's using IPTV over Wi-Fi yet, partly because of bandwidth, and (I'm sure) partly because of IPTV sets that will be appearing this year.
There are probably properties and homes that this approach would make perfect sense for, but I question the mass-market appeal that would allow affordable manufacture of the central system and components--especially when there's momentum behind powerline networking, multimedia over coax, and Wi-Fi, each of which are now tuned for multimedia (through quality of service) and voice.
The press release notes, "It avoids the undesired transmission of signals through walls and over distances. Radio Frequency (RF) signals can be optimized to levels that guarantee performance in each individual room." In homes, signal reach is an issue, but security is the answer. 802.11n will help with range, and newer tools for automating WPA Personal will help with security. In hotels and universities (two markets cited in the release), there's little "undesired" transmission. For offices, security is a better answer than RF restriction; those who care about RF line the walls with chicken wire equivalents.
The IEEE group working on Wi-Fi's next hurrah didn't agree on a final draft today: No reasonable party expected that Draft 1.0 would be adopted as the final version of 802.11n. There are far too many issues that need to be addressed, and that's clear at the non-engineer macro level; heaven knows how many hundreds or thousands of protocol and RF level issue must be nailed down. Fewer than 50 percent of voting IEEE members--that's individuals, not companies--voted to adopt Draft 1.0 as the version to push for ratification.
The embedded-software developer with a long history provides its expertise for integration with the Linux operating system: Devicescape has been developing stacks--the protocol implementations--for Wi-Fi for years for embedded devices, which includes equipment from major manufacturers like Palm and Gateway. They've contributed their proprietary software for the purpose of eventual integration with the main Linux kernel development tree. Their software includes the latest and greatest Wi-Fi properties, such as quality of service (QoS) via WMM (a Wi-Fi Alliance version of part of the IEEE 802.11e standard) and WPA security, and incorporates long-running projects for software host-based access points. There's great coverage at Linux Devices of this announcement.
Part of their motivation is to make it easier for developers who use Linux to integrate Wi-Fi into their projects. Their release allows programmers to write a thin layer of integration to the Devicescape API. There's apparently full Atheros support (via their own abstraction layer) and Broadcom support.
Where's the profit motive in this? The company can obviously still be a consultant, developer, and support operation for Linux customers, as well as providing an alternate license for developing software for folks who want a closed approach, and Windows CE and Windows Mobile developers.
Devicescape also said they're pushing out an update to its commercial software that will make securing networks easier using technology that's part of an effort in progress at the Wi-Fi Alliance called Easy Access that will tie together initiatives from multiple chipmakers and manufacturers.
Milwaukee's business journal rounds up the state of Wisconsin's metro-scale network projects: We've gone in less than two years from dubious response to large-scale Wi-Fi to this statement, which leads the Business Journal article: "Citywide wireless Internet services are becoming almost as necessary as water and sewage service in communities across the United States." Milwaukee hopes to surpass Phila. by having their network built first; their contract was awarded to Midwest Fiber Networks, which already owns some infrastructure in the area, which reduces expense and complexity. There's a round-up of which cities and counties in the area are considering city-wide and county-wide networks.
Denver's downtown unwired: This editorial thanks the Downtown Denver Partnership for the large area of the downtown that's covered.
Riverfronts in Ohio have free Wi-Fi: Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport gain free Wi-Fi on their riverfronts via the Lily Pad project, which uses sponsored locations to drive free access. Time Warner was part of this launch.
Network World reports that Bluesocket will release MIMO access point: Bluesocket has an enterprise-scale wireless LAN system that specializes in policy-based management and access control. The new AP will cost $795 when it's available in July, twice its predecessor, but MIMO's increased coverage area could reduce the amount of equipment necessary by more than 50 percent. Less equipment reduces per-AP expenses for management, too.