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A three-day-a-week paper in North Carolina decides to serve its community with Wi-Fi, too: The Pilot will add free Internet access starting in Southern Pines, where it's based. The paper will put a Wi-Fi node on its roof and then expand from there into town squares. The paper has an extensive Web presence, with blogs, podcasts, and multimedia, so it seems like a natural extension for them. Their site receives 5,000 unique visitors a day. Later, they'll add a wireless broadband network that will charge a fee.
The man behind this is Eric "Zonker" Harris, which makes me imagine him as his sobriquet's inspiration from Doonesbury, with a pointed Van Dyke beard scurrying around rooftops. Hey, Zonker! Be careful on rooftops, or this could happen to you.
As part of a scheduled upgrade on the Tokyo to Osaka line in 2009, Internet access over Wi-Fi will be added: The bullet trains will have service at 300 km/h that's brought onboard via leaky coaxial cable, a way of pushing out high-frequency signals over wire that can be picked up by onboard receivers.
The timeframe and the plan for wire to be involved seems quite odd when there have already been successful tests of high-speed wireless transmissions to trains, including one by a vendor which is part of a test for California's Capitol Corridor train line. They were able to pass signals at 320 km/h.
News.com reports that a Senate bill moving forward won't allow states to prohibit municipal broadband: The Senate bill passed 15-7 in the commerce committee, and the influential Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), called the new language reasonable. Municipalities will have to provide 30 days notice before starting their own service and solicit private bids, but aren't required to accept those bids. The bill lacks net neutrality provisions, however, and might be held up for months or until next year.
A competing House bill states only that municipalities can't treat their own networks preferentially over other broadband providers. This might come in cases like Philadelphia in which a city has signed over its telecom business to a municipally authorized network. However, Philadelphia like others cities has moved to authorize rather than operate networks, which might exclude them from such provisions.
Less tracking in Google free service in SF? IDG News Service reports that Google's requirements for using their free 300 Kbps flavor of service on EarthLink's potential San Francisco-wide network have changed. While the original song in their combined RFP response talked about targeted advertising, Google's metro Wi-Fi head says that the company will track less and discard more. While an "iGoogle" account will be needed, the accounts can be disposable, created with fake information each time, and a login is needed only to gain network access. You can logout immediately, and less information is collected. After 180 days, information collected will be discarded.
Baltimore looks to create different Wi-Fi plan: The city is focusing on digital inclusion, working from the idea of getting more technology, training, and access to people first, and working their way back into how to provide that. For instance, new requirements for residential development require high-speed broadband infrastructure to receive municipal funding.
Nigel Ballard wants to help the world, and Intel apparently wants him to, too: Ballard's projects include digital inclusion, which is the extension of useful technology to underserved and unreached people, whether in rural or urban parts of the U.S., or distant reaches of Africa. Ballard's background at Personal Telco, a wireless community group in Portland, Ore., gave him some insight, as well as his efforts to build devices that would use mesh, Wi-Fi, and long-range wireless combined with solar power to offer voice and information to distant communities. Ballard talks about how you can't throw computers at problems, but need to back them up with training and applications.
Ballard was also one of the key folks that Intel tapped to bring connectivity to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Ballard describes being on the job for a few weeks and then suddenly being given carte blanche to just get whatever was needed however it could down south. [40 min., 19 MB, MP3]
Earthlink launches its first city-wide network in Anaheim, Calif.: While EarthLink has won or is a finalist for several large, city-wide networks, this launch today of Anaheim's Wi-Fi system is the first complete buildout for the Internet service provider. They've got a map posted of their near-term plans, too.
The company also announced its retail pricing today at their new EarthLink Wi-Fi site: $21.95 per month for normal EarthLink email and online services, plus a Wi-Fi bridge for existing EarthLink subscribers and those that sign up for a year of service. (This bridge policy is clarified in a News.com article.) Charter members pay $17.95 per month for the first three months and receive the free bridge.
There's a new brand, too: Feather. The logo appears on their Wi-Fi site, and identifies the mobile portion of their network. This mobile/occasional use pricing is $3.95 for an hour and $15.95 for a three-day pass.
Wholesale prices weren't announced, but they were expected to be in the $12 per month range. PeoplePC and DirecTV will be resellers, while AOL may extend some of its content to the local network. Reports later in the day indicated that AOL will be a full network reseller.
The press release notes a fact I have been trying to hammer home over the last six months, at least: EarthLink will be selling wireless T-1 and higher replacement services. This is a huge point because it opens up a business market to them, while also putting them in competition with the Towerstreams of the world.
Public radio's Marketplace covered the story this morning, with yours truly quoted, noting that Anaheim now becomes a showplace for EarthLink to demonstrate to other cities precisely what they can offer.
The Sacramento to San Jose run has four vendors willing to try to stick high-speed wireless service on moving trains: The transportation authority that runs the 171-mile-long train line put out a request for information (RFI) in March, looking for companies that would have interest in trying lots of different ideas in this trial phase. Those who answered the RFI wouldn't be restricted from answering a later request for proposals (RFP), and the process developed for this train line could be the model for dozens of transportation systems in California and, likely, beyond.
The four selected companies out of 11 proposals are a interesting bunch: Concourse Communications, known for dual cell/Wi-Fi installation in airports and recently purchased by Boingo Wireless; EarthLink, about whom we all know plenty; Nomad Digital, which operates a WiMax-based service on a Brighton to London line in England; and ATCI, about whom I know nothing, which is the head of a consortium that will look into bidirectional satellite access.
A host of applications are intended for the network, and these companies will test various of them, including basics like email, Web browsing, and corporate VPN access, and more advanced or bandwidth-intensive functions like video streaming, video surveillance, and train diagnostic transmission. The tests will last until December, with a competitive RFP slated for spring 2007. No company excluded from the RFI process is excluded from bidding on the project in its RFP stage.
Update: ATCI wrote in to note that they typically build large projects that tie security in with technology, such as video surveillance and asset tracking. The company with partner Wi-Fi America is currently installing a wireless-based video surveillance system on a 72-mile commuter rail run in South Florida. The consortium they're part of for this California proposal includes Train-Phoenix of Madrid, which has tested 200 mph wireless communications successfully, and Pronto Networks, which provides back-end billing and authentication systems for hotspots and municipal networks.
In related news...Virgin Train announced that they would work with QinetiQ Rail to put Internet access on trains through a combination of HSDPA cell data, WiMax, Wi-Fi, and satellite access. The west coast of England line covers 1,500 km, and QinetiQ claims they'll hit 49 Mbps downstream for trains traveling within reach of WiMax (about 10 percent of the line) and 20 Mbps for the rest via satellite. The service will run at speeds up to 200 km/h.
eWeek reports that RIM's head said dual Wi-Fi/cell Blackberrys are on the way: The head of Research in Motion said that dual-mode devices would be available by year's end. A CDMA version is also on the way to support the cell network standard used by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel in the US and several carriers in South Korea.
The addition of Wi-Fi will be a boon to hotspot operators. There are approximately 5m Blackberry subscribers as of late in 2005. While those users won't convert en masse, if RIM adds features that work better with more bandwidth, Wi-Fi service plans would almost certainly be cheaper than corresponding EVDO/HSDPA plans. Hotspot aggregators, especially, might be able to offer highly discounted access for devices much less likely to use bandwidth, and increase overall Wi-Fi network utilization.
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce issues an RFP: The group is asking for proposals to build hotspots in several targeted areas, including the central business district and along the Oklahoma River. The provider would have to bear most costs but would get all revenue. Some supplemental funding from a community partner might be available. They're asking for 384 Kbps minimum, and are looking just at outdoor coverage. The region has 1.3m residents (600K in the city itself).
Corpus Christi negotiating with EarthLink: The city was an early adopter of Tropos mesh gear for municipal purposes. It's now turning to retail and public access. A pilot network covers 80 percent of residents and 65 percent of the city's area. The deal would have EarthLink charging $20/month. No word on digital inclusion, training programs, or other benefits that might be part of a contract.
Work progresses on the plan for Rhode Island Wireless Innovation Networks (RI-WINS), a state-wide effort: This video is of a question-and-answer session organized by O'Reilly editor and writer Brian Jepson, a long-time resident of the state with the longest name. RI-WINS is a large-scale public/private effort that already has a pilot network deployed. They want to create a network with fixed and mobile components of at least 1 Mbps across the entire state, border to border (to sea). The pilot phase is checking out how different technology will work; IBM is the lead player in the pilot.
Deal with power company has pushed forward city-wide Wi-Fi: Lebanon, Ore., has mounted 42 of 12 Wi-Fi access points after completing negotiations for pole access with a utility that powers about 1/4 of the city's area. Residents get 10 hours of access at no cost per month, but will pay the provider who operates the network for a full subscription. The city owns the gear; the provider operates the network.
Kansas City International Airport (Missouri) turns off the fee on their Wi-Fi: Sprint Nextel originally operated the network charging $10 a day for access. However, the airport cleverly wrote a contract in which equipment reverted to the airport's ownership at the expiration of the deal. The airport will absorb what a KCI spokesman called the whopping $800/month operating cost. Okay, I used the word whopping.
In this podcast, I talk with Becca Vargo Daggett about local ownership: This Minneapolis-based non-profit jumped into the municipal wireless fray when its hometown issued an RFP without public involvement. Daggett started making calls and then developed a practice with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance arguing in favor of municipal ownership, but not operation, of broadband networks. She believes broadband is too important to be in the hands of private entities that own the wire or airwaves; rather, she'd like to see cities fund the projects and outsource building and operations. [42 min., 21 MB, MP3]
Today's podcast is an interview with Esme Vos: Esme has turned into a one-woman army of municipal wireless information. She compiles reports, runs conferences, speaks on panels, and has launched a magazine. While her background is in intellectual property law, she's a quick study. Her site started up three years ago as an exchange point on information, and has turned into the dominant force in the pro-municipal industry, with vendors, municipalities, and reporters turning to her for her well-researched opinion. [37 minutes, 18 MB, MP3]
I've hired a PR firm: The folks at newly formed Mobility PR will be representing Wi-Fi Networking News, but not quite in the way you might think. Fundamentally, I get enough press. I'm a reporter. I'm quoted. It's all good. What I need is to make the site reach more people so that I can devote more resources to producing more independently reported and researched sites. That's what the folks there will help me with.
Mobility--which has a pretty funny blog already--comprises three folks, two of which I've known for a while. John Sidline was an executive with iPass, an access aggregator, who I'd met with and discussed the industry with a number of times. Melissa Burns was on the team that handled iPass for The Hoffman Agency, and I'd had many positive encounters with her as well.
I'll be careful to disclose any conflicts of interest here as I attempt to always reveal when I have a relationship with a firm or person I write about.
Swing the noisemakers, folks: Yes, this is just a typical industry press release. But it's also a good milestone to mark. Broadcom was the first company to ship production 802.11g in advance of the ratification of that standard, and has now shipped 100m 802.11g chipsets. With that mark in mind, it's likely that we must be over 500m 802.11 chipsets of all kinds from all vendors.
In a brief story in the Wall Street Journal, they say Boeing has confirmed that something will happen with Connexion: The company is meeting with its customers, like SAS and Lufthansa, to talk about the future, which will involve some change in direction, whether a sale, shutdown, or a third option. It's barely possible that Boeing would agree to sell a financial interest in the division to the airlines that like it best, and then write down the massive accrued investment as a loss. It's a good time to write down a one-time loss that mostly involves expense in the past given that they are riding high on airplane orders.
The new firmware can be installed over the VxWorks operating system found in the Linksys WRT54G version 5 router: This router caused some irritation among those who wanted to use it with modified firmware that worked in version 4 and earlier, which relied on embedded Linux and contained double the volatile and flash memory. Linksys says it shaved costs on memory because the Linux they used couldn't be shrunk enough. (For more on this, see this very long set of comments on a thread I started after having reproducible, continuous problems with two newer Linksys devices that use VxWorks.)
Linksys did recognize the interest among the open-source and community wireless movement, and added the WRT54GL to its line-up, which is essentially the WRT54G v4--and which sells for about $20 more than the v4 and v5.
This latest wrinkle allows a non-reversible installation of a very compact version of the DD-WRT distribution. However, this is clearly a step along the road to more functionality. Making code smaller is always tricky because it often means stepping down below high-level programming languages to optimize inefficient libraries, which in turn requires much more testing and is harder to debug. (Take it from a guy who cut his teeth on 6502 machine language.)
Concord starts its pilot network: MetroFi has yet another network to build. The pilot program launches iwth a one-square-mile network in downtown runnig 1 Mbps down and 256 Kbps up, the only MetroFi network I'm aware of with asymmetrical speed. The network tests started May 19; this is the next phase of testing. Service could be installed over six months when the pilot program is complete. MetroFi will build both a public and municipal network that will be tied into an adjacent city and the county's networks. Concord will save about $200k/year through consolidation of telephony service.
Free Wi-Fi in Honolulu's Chinatown: EarthLink will create the service, which will run for one year with no access fees and demonstrate network technologies.
Alereon said last week it has production-ready chips for Certified Wireless USB using ultrawideband (UWB): The chips are available for $10 in quantities of 10,000, which should give you an idea of the final cost of a device incorporating them--at least $100. The two chips that form their UWB solution would be the first to hit the market. The WiMedia Alliance chief, Stephen Wood of Intel, is quoted in the press release noting that "momentum...continues to surge." Well, one out of the gate can certainly help with momentum, and the rush of other chips is likely to happen soon. At long last.
The competing UWB standard developed by Freescale, a spun-off division of Motorola, hasn't yet hit products, although their Cablefree USB device--a driverless four-port USB hub and matching USB dongle for a host--may hit the shelve as soon as July from Belkin.
I can't quite figure out why the news site created this map: It's a graphical way to get information about hotspots in the 30 largest cities in the U.S. Trouble is, that's stupid. First, most people need to know about hotspots where they're traveling, and "cities" doesn't include the large metropolitan areas that encompass the actual city name. Second, the list is ludicrous. Check out Austin where they show libraries, parks, and the Austin airport. Seattle, similarly silly. It' snot that they're only showing free locations; they're just showing a handful when there are hundreds upon hundreds of hotspots in each city they cover.
I don't know how something like this moves from idea into production.
(Disclosure: I have a relationship with JiWire, a hotspot directory and editorial site on Wi-Fi. I'm not involved in business decisions, but ABCNews.com could have chosen any other directory on the planet and still produced a better list than what they went with.)
The New York Times writes about the paucity of use in what is arguably the largest urban area served by seamless Wi-Fi: The 2.6m residents of Taipei, Taiwan, are covered by 4,100 access points which reach 90 percent of the population. Despite original estimates of 250,000 subscribers by year's end, only 40,000 have signed up since the network switched from free trial to fee-based. Q-Ware, which created the network known as WiFly, has lowered its estimate to 200,000 subscribers, partly because key applications and hardware wasn't ready on time for network deployment.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Taipei and comparable U.S. metropolises, only mentioned in passing in this article, is that cell data services are substantially better and cheaper than in the U.S. Where the majority of Philadelphia residents have dial-up service and almost certainly little or no cell data access, Taipei residents might have wired Internet service and advanced cell phones.
Reporter Ken Belson points out that the network has municipal uses, such as remote traffic ticket submission by police officers. And Q-Ware is developing applications, like P-Walker, which will work with Sony PSP game machines, and a cheap per-minute phone service that uses an expensive handset.
The network cost $30m, and reaches throughout the subway system, which is an impressive achievement, and will ultimately make the network more widely used when the telephone service and game service are offered.
Update: The network itself works well, JiWire reports. The company spot-checked the network and found it met the grade.
Powerline is technically a no-new-wires technology: NetGear joins the club in offering 200 Mbps powerline adapter that use a home's electrical system to encode and pass high-rate data. Their soution is based on DS2's technology, which falls outside the HomePlug Alliance. HomePlug's members are still lagging their fleeter competitors--there are now two competing, single-maker powerline standards. However, HomePlug could win in the end as applications that require 200 Mbps networks aren't yet to market, and HomePlug's advantage is that many chipmakers and manufacturers will produce products, which should drive prices quite low.
NetGear offers this under the "HD" brand to associate it with the flow of high-definition video. The Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter has a list price of $130, while a kit containing a pair of devices lists at $250.
The Department of Defense has upped the ante on wireless LAN security policies: The new document, a supplement to DoD Directive 8100.2, creates a very high bottom rung for using WLANs as part of the DoD Global Information Grid. Equipment must be Wi-Fi certified and WPA2 Enterprise certified, and handle 802.1X with EAP-TLS using only the AES-CCMP key type. Wireless intrusion detection is also mandated, which should be a boon for the many companies that sell these sorts of systems, either as integrated components of switched WLANs, or as standalone sensors. [Link via Brian Mansfield]
Naperville covets Aurora's network: A next-door city has a city-wide Wi-Fi network courtesy of MetroFi, which offers a free ad-supported version and an ad-free fee-based subscription. It could be quite simple for MetroFi to extend over the border.
Six Foothill Transit buses will have Wi-Fi: The Line699 buses run from Montclair to downtown LA. Six buses will have free Internet service, distributed via Wi-Fi, for 60 days while the transportation agency evaluates the idea. Downstream speeds will hit about 600 Kbps, official predict, which means they're almost certainly using an EVDO backhaul connection via Sprint or Verizon. Sprint's more likely because their usage policy is more liberal. The bus line carries 15m passengers a year among 21 cities.
Pleasanton might expand downtown Wi-Fi to other parts of town: Leaders are considering next steps for the network, which will be live later in the year; the network was originally conceived of as a public-safety tool.
Reuters says that Fon will charge $5/€5 plus shipping and tax for a Buffalo or Linksys router: In exchange, the Fonero must remain on the phone network for 12 months. The Fon network relies on principally wired backhaul purchased separately by the Fonero, and expects the Fonero to observe local network limitations, but doesn't enforce ISP no-sharing policies. They're working to sign more ISP partners who will appreciate the line-land-to-hot-spot notion. (They're charging the same unit value in euros or dollars for all their services, it looks like.)
Fonero who share their connections at no cost to other Foneros can use all Fon locations at no cost. Those that charge a day fee (about $3/€3, intended to discourage non-Fonero use of Fon spots as a replacement for an ISP connection) have no free roaming privileges, but their locations may still be used by no-fee Foneros for no fee.
One million routers sold for $5/€5, even with a great purchase deal, could translate to $20m. And they just raised slightly more than that a few months ago. Since there's no revenue pipe as of yet, this is tricky math until they explain more of the details.
Update: A commenter notes below that the billing system, noted at the end of the Reuters article, will provide revenue. I'm still not confident of the revenue side of Fon given the emphasis on and clever marketing of the Fonero-to-Fonero connection. Still, at $3/€3 a day per occasional user with a million routers, Fon's take could be sizable if the idea has legs.
You know who is going to buy accounts on metro-scale Wi-Fi networks and not even feel the pinch? Those with high-speed DSL, cable, and dedicated line connections already: I haven't seen this issue discussed one whit. Everyone keeps writing and talking about Wi-Fi networks that span cities and towns as primarily serving an audience that has no connection, has a high need of mobile access, or that has dial up and wants to move to broadband without paying a regular rate of $40 to $60 per month. (Let's ignore those promotional $15/month rates unless they really become regular--not for the first 6 or 12 month.)
But here's who is going to be among the other large consumer of $20-odd/month unlimited mobile/fixed Wi-Fi: People for whom Internet access is like breathing a nitrogen-oxygen mix. If you're part of the crowd that spends above average on broadband, say $60 to $100 per month for higher speeds or special features, you probably also own a laptop. Which means that an extra $20 per month for roaming VoIP, Skype, instant messaging, and all the non-business aspects won't be a big deal.
If you're a business owner--home, small, medium, or large--$20 per month as a backup policy against a broadband outage or a line cut that would take down a wired service is a pretty low price to pay just to have it immediately available as needed.
Remember that many of the RFPs issued by municipalities require net neutrality to be enshrined in proposals. Which, in most cases I've read, includes an explicit mention that any device may be attached to the network and used for any legal purpose. Thus sharing a single network connection when a business's wired line goes down is perfectly legitimate.
The municipal architecture for most cities is either switched or mesh throughout, and it's only dependent on a supply of power--I don't know city-by-city requirements for backup power on mesh nodes, and I think there's essentially no requirement for this. In Tempe, I believe six fiber drops serve the MobilePro network, with at least one dedicated to city purposes. Because they're switched, even multiple fiber cuts wouldn't damage the network. Likewise, a network like Philadelphia's, according to EarthLink's description, will be almost entirely wireless until you hit some fiber points of presence.
This alternate infrastructure could become extremely popular. Which then begs the question: When these networks are actually operational and where the operators are obligated to or desire to resell access on a wholesale level, will Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and others come around and simply make this a checkbox on customers' bills? "Add Wireless Philadelphia for just $17 per month! A discount of $5 per month off retail!" I'm guessing yes, because it will become another tool to reduce churn among its best members, and the equivalent of the limited free dial-up access that broadband providers offered in the early days (some still do).
Metro-scale Wi-Fi as a wired backup? It's a concept.
AirFone will halt its service by the end of the year: My informed speculation of two days ago turned out true. Verizon said its AirFone service would halt operations by the end of the year in commercial flights (about 1,000), while continuing government and general aviation operations (about 3,400 planes). There's a possibility that they could sell the operations, but as reporter Ken Belson notes, Verizon's license to operate AirFone ends in 2010--and the FCC said in multiple orders that this is a non-renewable license--and they have two years to redesign their use of spectrum to be compatible with the auction held recently for air-ground spectrum.
Verizon dropped out early in the bidding for the more important 3 MHz license in the 800 MHz band. AirCell ultimately won that license, and JetBlue's LiveTV division acquired the slimmer 1 MHz rights. Verizon will still have to redeploy service on 3,400 planes in a sharing relationship with JetBlue. The corporate and government business must be lucrative enough to be worth spending tens of millions of dollars in retrofitting for a few years of additional operations.
Look for empty spots on seat backs in the near future as Verizon works with airlines to remove phones.
A Vancouver, Wash., coffeeshop finally called the cops: This is a frightening trend (of one story) where a cafe was pushed to the brink. As KATU in Portland reports, a 20-year-old man spent three months using Brewed Awakenings's free Wi-Fi service from their parking lot for hours at a time. It doesn't say that the staff asked him to stop; rather it says, "deputies told [the guy] to knock it off." Police charged him with theft of services when he returned. It's unclear whether that charge will stick. I'd think trespassing (the parking lot is likely private) or harassment is more likely. Oh, and the guy is a Level One Sex Offender, which makes the story prurient.
This is a tricky one because the cafe certainly could have chosen to take measures that would have either required a purchase or required someone to enter the store at the very least and get a code. They didn't, so this guy ruined their idyllic situation.
As I wrote about more than a year ago when I covered a few scattered cafes and restaurants that turn off Wi-Fi at different points of the day or week, freeloaders can ruin it for everyone else, and it's particularly galling to owners of small establishments trying to make a living. [link via TechDirt]
Details are few because the researchers are withholding the goods until an Aug. 2 presentation at the Black Hat USA 2006 conference: The two researchers--one with ISS and the other at the US Naval postgrad school--say that they have uncovered techniques that allow them to hack into a laptop through flaws in the driver software that manages the way in which the radio interprets signals and passes them to the operating system. Most horrifying? Half the flaws they found don't require the Wi-Fi adapter to be connected to a network--just active.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Boeing may halt is Connexion in-flight broadband service: The Journal says that the company has invested about $1b in the service. My sources put this number much higher--potentially far above $2b. Whatever the number, the Journal states that satellite industry officials put the current value at $150m. The article says that Boeing is saying privately that the user uptake is too low.
Boeing has apparently been in communications with at least three firms to arrange a sale: SES Global, Inmarsat, and Loral Space & Communications, with talks in detail with SES. If no sale can be arranged, Boeing would pull the plug. The latest Boeing CEO pushed the division to a different part of the aerospace company, and signaled his relative disinterest in interviews. Earlier CEOs had more at stake, and I predicted years ago that a change in management could result in a massive writedown, but I didn't expect a shutdown.
Connexion competitor OnAir plans to launch service via Inmarsat satellites in 2007 starting with in-flight cell in Europe and moving to broadband. They have long estimated a much cheaper conversion with much lighter equipment, but that has yet to materialize on commercial aircraft.
The timing on this story is fascinating given my prediction earlier today that Verizon could announce a complete shutdown of its AirFone system at an all-AirFone-employee meeting I learned is scheduled for tomorrow.
For those who claim that Our Google Overlords, praised be their names, have plans to blanket the earth in Wi-Fi in exchange for precious ad revenue, think again: A Google exec said the Mountain View network wouldn't have ads on it. They've said before that the San Francisco network likely wouldn't initially have ads, either.
Interesting side note that Google is working with amateur radio operators or hams. Hams have some licensed use of part of the 2.4 GHz range, although that's rarely come up as a conflict. It's obviously in higher use in Mountain View or the issue wouldn't have been raised.
(Oh, and the group who are those who claim...I'm talking about you, Om.)
I really like Mike Langberg's take on municipal wireless hype: Langberg is a long-time tech journalist, and filed this column for the San Jose Mercury News based in part on visiting Esme Vos's MuniWireless 2006: Silicon Valley conference this week. He points out the weakness in current discussions of wireless: last year's poster child is this year's red-headed stepchild. Chaska was last year's darling; St. Cloud, Florida, this year's.
Now the problem isn't with a particular city or vendor. Rather, and let me be the first to admit this with complete frankness, those of us who write about municipal wireless have to take the word of both the people building the networks and the people castigating them. When I say "word," I don't mean an uncritical evaluation and repetition of statements made by those parties. Rather, I can't drive the streets and walk into people's homes with signal detectors at different times of day over a few weeks for every city I write about. Or any city I write about.
Hotspot service you can spot check. Metro-scale service is a statistical problem. If 50 percent of the city gets perfect access everywhere and 50 percent can barely hold onto a signal, that's not a functional network. But what if 90 percent gets a great signal and five percent receives an unusable one? It's impossible for a journalist to know.
Langberg hits the nail on the head when he quotes folks in the industry noting how difficult it is to get straight answers. Here's him quoting Google's metro wireless head Chris Sacca: Equipment makers trash each other instead of offering hard performance data, Sacca complained, then make ``outrageous and exaggerated claims'' about their own product
I had a line in a draft of my Wi-Pie in the Sky article that appeared in The Economist in March about how every vendor I spoke with first complained that Tropos's gear couldn't possibly work as advertised, and then described how nearly every other metro-scale competitor's equipment also wouldn't work. Of course, two firms (BelAir and Motorola) make single-radio equipment similar to Tropos, which defeats their arguments a bit, I fear.
Metro-scale Wi-Fi can work and it will work. But the scale and complexity of projects combined with the low density of Wi-Fi nodes appears out of whack to my analysis. The only way to know? When projects are deployed and third parties produce rigid engineering analyses.
Update: Of course, as soon as I write these words, one reporter proves me very partly wrong. Mike Rogoway of The Oregonian traveled around MetroFi's Bay Area coverage range for an idiosyncratic taste test. He found extremely variable performance. But the service performed admirably in many places. And, Rogoway doesn't note, the Bay Area installations in the South Bay were not built to a city's RFP. These were privately deployed with no city contract. Portland will have performance measurements to meet, and MetroFi might have to deploy a greater density of equipment to meet those marks.
This is wild speculation on my part based on an analysis of Verizon's low bid for air-to-ground spectrum and an all-hands company meeting at AirFone tomorrow: Verizon has two years to re-equip several thousand planes to use a 1 MHz slice of spectrum (two 0.5 MHz sections) for a non-renewable in-flight phone license that expires in 2010. That's not a lot of time to recoup what should be tens of millions of dollars in expense, if not more.
I've speculated for a while that AirFone could choose to shut down entirely, and enter into a partnership with other firms. By not acquiring the 3 MHz license that was up for grabs for broadband, they have no more than two years before voice over IP services could effectively compete with anything that they could offer in seatbacks. Airlines are reluctant to allow tons of rewiring these days, too, because of the downtime cost on the plane. Even if it cost, say, $25,000 to replace equipment on a plane, it might take weeks and require time outside the regular seven-day maintenance period for planes.
Here's my guess as to what will be announced tomorrow. AirFone will halt service within a few weeks or month. They will accept funds from AirCell for this purpose, which is explicitly allowed under the terms of the order that renewed Verizon's license and established auction terms. Verizon will create a partnership with AirCell, perhaps with some branding, that will allow their wireless service to get favorable terms for roaming onto planes.
Remember, this is just speculation from 18 months of following this story. I have a few leads, but anything's possible, including Ripplewood, AirCell's minority investor from a recent reorganization, allowing an additional minority investment by Verizon--or an acquisition. But given Verizon's current plate full of business and regulation issues, I expect they'll take some money and exit the business, ending two decades of radiotelephone service.
In the second show of the inaugural series, I interview the head of the Wi-Fi Alliance [30 min., 14 MB, MP3]: The trade group controls one of the most consistent and powerful marks in the electronics and computing industry. Wi-Fi means something, and despite the fact that the group is entirely comprised of and controlled by companies and industry professionals, the organization as a whole has withstood some tough challenges from proprietary extensions to certified Wi-Fi and the IEEE's lag time on approving the security overhaul now branded WPA and WPA2.
Hanzlik took the position of managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2003, and he's not afraid to speak out on issues ranging from the problems with deploying Draft N (802.11n pre-ratification) hardware, concerns over metropolitan-scale networks, and confusion in the marketplace over too many standards bundled into the Wi-Fi name.
The city of Atlanta acts on a long-expected plan called Wireless Atlanta: Bids are due Aug. 2 for a universal affordable network for citizens, city workers, and public safety employees. The proposal can't cost the city a penny in initial outlay or ongoing expense. The RFP requires wholesale access and network neutrality. The city won't require a free solution, but wants ideas on making the network affordable, including no-cost access.
Atlanta is 132 square miles with 425,000 citizens, and, the RFP notes, a daytime population of 675,000. That's a lot of people coming into the city that might need some access, no? The RFPs cautions that proposals that exclude parts of the city won't be considered; they want 95 percent outdoors and 90 percent ground/second floor coverage with some form of bridge or amplifier indoors.
Section 3.2.7 sounds very familiar as it defines network infrastructure. A first tier must use 802.11g; that tier must be backhauled via fixed point-to-multipoint (i.e., WiMax or the like); that tier is aggregated via fixed point-to-point over licensed spectrum; then that carried to a high-speed POP. This is what EarthLink is building for its networks. I would imagine most metro-scale vendors can build this infrastructure in partnership or solo.
(The link to download the proposal from their General Fund RFPS/Bids page appears broken, but this link to the PDF I extracted from their HTML appears to work.)
The Wi-Fi Networking News podcast series kicks off with an interview with Ted Morgan, head of Skyhook [39 minutes, 19 MB, MP3]: Skyhook Wireless drives the streets of 100 cities, combining wardriving data from millions of Wi-Fi access points with coordinates derived from high-end GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) receiver systems. They correlate this data through their in-house algorithms, and in most urban and suburban areas can produce a pretty good fix--often much better than GPS which requires at least three satellites in good line of sight.
I talked to Morgan this morning about the company, its toolbar product Loki that plugs their data right into Web sites, and privacy issues about collecting the information they do.
This is the first in a regular series of podcasts I have scheduled over the next few months. I've started a new podcast-only RSS feed which you can plug into a news aggregator that handles podcasts or a program like iTunes that can handle podcast syndication directly.
I welcome your feedback on the programming and future guests you'd like to hear. I have a few dozen backed up into August, and I'll try to have one to three new programs each week until then.
(Please note that although WNN accepts advertising, and Skyhook has, in fact, been an advertiser, these are not paid podcasts: no money or other incentives are involved in these podcasts. The podcasts may feature sponsorships in the future, but those will be fully disclosed and explained.)
The WiMedia Alliance has a lot of ultrawideband (UWB) gear to show at the Certified USB Developers Conference: The group reports that the latest round of interoperability testing occurred at Intel's labs in Oregon last week, leading to many products and components ready to be shown this week. This includes everything from hubs and dongles to development kits to testing and measurement gear. I expect reports from San Jose about the imminent reality of this trade group's membership having products ready for market this summer.
The Wall Street Journal writes about cities new demands for wireless networks--free! The peg on this story is Sacramento's late-in-negotiations request for better free access from MobilePro, the winner of the bid for that city's service. MobilePro estimated that it could only make $2 per customer using advertising versus the $20 or more from subscriber fees. Of course, the $2 rate might be gross ad receipts while $20 doesn't back out bill presentment, marketing, and other expenses.
The key difference between MetroFi, which has an ad-supported free, full-speed service, and an ad-free paid option, and MobilePro is how they conceive of their potential customer base. MetroFi looks at sweeping a wider net using the same fixed-cost infrastructure. Thus, getting 10 times the customers and grossing $2 apiece while eliminating all the paid-service and marketing overhead seems like a good deal to MetroFi. To MobilePro, it's lost revenue.
This is a fascinating evolution that's happened in about 18 months from cries of "a waste of taxpayer dollars" for service that would benefit just a few, to risk outsourcing with vendors handling all the money in exchange for being able to charge for services and get a city's telecom/data business, to "gimme gimme gimme." We'll see what model is most stable.
EarthLink's leadership has been widely quoted stating they don't believe that advertising-supported service is viable as a main line of business. EarthLink, MobilePro, and MetroFi are the three biggest metro-scale providers, so we'll see in probably fairly quick order which outlook is correct. MetroFi needs a lot of money to build out their newly acquired cities, and the market will supply that money if they think there's a revenue pipe to return it.
MobilePro apparently provided a wide array of interesting numbers to the reporter, including that they grossed $46m last year, although they run a large variety of telecom-related businesses outside of metro-scale Wi-Fi. They're publicly traded, so you can examine a wide variety of statistics about the firm, and reports filed with the SEC. Yahoo Finance's current Key Statistics chart shows nearly $100m in revenue as of March 31, 2006, the end of their fiscal year.
Linksys has added a fairly advanced wireless camera to its line-up: The remotely controllable WVC200 can have its own IP address and supports dynamic DNS. It has pan, tilt, and 2x zoom features, and uses Wi-Fi to stream 640 by 480 video with MPEG4. The device can be configured to start pushing video and audio to an optional hard drive when it detects motion, while also sending an alert via email or text messaging, including a video clip. An LCD display makes it easier to configure multiple units. A software package allows remote monitoring of up to nine of these devices.
The name of this camera, by the way? The Linksys Wireless-G Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) Internet Camera with Audio. Whew. A cool $299 list.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:14 AM | Permanent Link | Categories:
MetroFi gets another city: The Wi-Fi unwirer, which uses SkyPilot gear, will add service to Foster City. Their model is advertising-supported free access or monthly rates for avoiding ads. Municipal use is part of the deal.
Siemens may get Lompoc bid: Lompoc was unhappy with its first Tropos deployment from the winning bidder for the city's wireless network. They put out a new RFP, and Siemens is the likely winner. Siemens apparently also rescued an early, poor deployment in Chaska, Minn., the fallen poster child for city wireless. The RFP calls for 100-percent coverage. But, as we know, you kinna change the laws of physics!
Farmers Branch rolls out first Wi-Fi zone: The city contracted with MobilePro (which is using Cisco equipment, apparently, not Strix) to deploy service across 12 square miles with some free areas. The first phase creates the free zones, which the city hasn't yet defined. The service will be used for meter reading and municipal purposes, as well as paid public access.
Longmont signed with MobilePro: The company will use the city's existing fiber-optic network and charge for access to a city-wide Wi-Fi network. They hope to have the network running by the end of the year. While Colorado prohibits municipal-offered service, it allows private companies to be contracted. The network will feature 600 nodes and cost $2m to build. Longmont has a massive fiber-optic network (17 miles long) that's underutilized; it was paid for by a power utility.
The HotZone Duo comes with one or two radios: The new products compete both against Tropos and BelAir's single-radio mesh nodes, and against BelAir, Cisco, SkyPilot, and Strix's two-plus radio products that offload backbone traffic through switched, mesh, or point-to-multipoint links. A few months ago, the Motomesh division head told me that residential use of metro-scale Wi-Fi couldn't compete against wired service, and was emphasizing the loss in single-radio hopping as packets were rebroadcast over clusters.
But, just as BelAir told me that they had to release a single-radio product to compete against Tropos for price and market niche, I imagine that Motorola wants to sell two-radio solutions that conform to their vision of metro-scale service.
These new products put them somewhat at odds with Tropos, which has been paired with Motorola's Canopy gear as backhaul for their clusters. In the Tropos configuration, a few mesh nodes, typically 4 to 6, are paired with a Canopy radio that uses WiMax point-to-multipoint aggregation to base stations that then in turn use license, high-frequency wireless to further aggregate to fiber points of presence and network operation centers.
Now, Motorola can sell an end-to-end solution, coupled with their existing multi-radio public-safety oriented system that uses both 2.4 GHz and the 4.9 GHz public safety band.
EarthLink contracted with Motorola as their service firm, meaning a division of Motorola handles integrating and maintaining all the technology for the metro-scale operations that will roll out in Anaheim (launching in a few days) and Philadelphia (test network due later this year). EarthLink committed months ago to Tropos and Motorola Canopy for its first five cities.
Tropos knew the writing was on the wall, which is why they now also have a partnership with Alvarion, one of the leading WiMax firms, with a history of broadband wireless gear dating back to the mid-90s.
Mad City Broadband started charging, as expected, for its downtown Wi-Fi network, drawing few paid users: The service was free while transmitters went up, lasting almost three months. The service drew 4,000 unique users during that period, they say, but only "a few subscribers" since turning on the fees on June 5. A University of Wisconsin at Madison student stated the obvious: "I have DSL at home, and Internet on campus is free. And usually most coffee shops have free wireless, so I've been using that."
While I have often argued that there's a distinct difference among for-fee business-oriented networks (many locations, high locations, hotels part of the mix, roaming deals), for-fee consumer networks (lower prices, unique locations or value, usage cards), commercially operated free networks (NewburyOpen.Net), advertising-supported free networks (MetroFi et al.), and purely free networks, I also note that networks that merely overlap existing coverage where there's substantial free or campus coverage will have a hard time of it.
The local airport launched Wi-Fi service this week for $7 a day also using Cellnet's Mad City Broadband service, but the airport spokesperson has a problem with math. She is paraphrased as stating, "Madison is one of the first communities in the nation to offer both airport and local wireless access for a single fee." But then the article notes that it's an extra $3 on top of $7 to use the rest of the network. This is a discount, not a single fee--it's just a paid-at-one-time surcharge.
The ultimate plan is to extend access beyond this "Phase 1" in downtown, and that's where the value will start to increase. A service that someone can use across an area--even in one's backyard, for instance--becomes more valuable to obtain an unlimited monthly account.
In a few short months--about 18 to be exact--domestic flights will sport Internet access: But what about the power? When you finally have bits descending from the sky, how, I cry, will you keep your laptop juiced? There's a fundamental disconnect between adding wireless technologies to planes--cell eventually and Wi-Fi sooner--and then asking for more wires with which to charge your wireless units.
In fact, airlines have enormous motivations to not rewire planes. It costs a small fortune per plane, and set-back video devices have proven tremendously expensive to maintain, while people get mad when the device in front of their face is the one that's broken. There's also some concern that older forms of wiring could have been responsible for certain air crashes, such as the SwissAir flight that took the life of hundreds, including one of my college classmates and her family.
While Tesla might have said, just push electricity through the air (or, rather, ground), we haven't achieved that glorious state yet. The Inflight USB Power Unit is quite interesting as it pulls a trickle charge from the audio plug to provide minimal but useful power to handheld devices and music players. it's probably two orders of magnitude below what's needed for laptops.
There are external battery packs that typically weigh just a few pounds, but cost $200 to $400 for from three to 10 hours of additional power. A second replaceable internal battery often runs $100 or more, and provides two to four hours of additional power.
The ultimate irony is that a jetsetting road warrior (an oxymoron, I know) who makes the best use of the longest flights could find themselves packing extra gear to use a wireless connection unless they can afford the glorious business or first class sections which, on certain planes, offer an actual power feed.
Wireless Harlem Initiative signs consulting firm to develop plan: The non-profit's goal is to bring affordable and widely available broadband to the historically African-American neighborhood that went through one boom and crash in the 20th century, only to start its latest renaissance as that centennial closed. They've hired Civitium, a consulting firm that's been involved in many municipal requests for information and proposals (RFI/RFP) for wireless networks.
I've talked to Greg Richardson, a principal and founder of the firm, a number of times, and have always been relieved at how frank he is about the limits of the technology, the political issues involved, and the financial challenges. If you know which RFPs the firm has written or consulted on, it becomes clear that network neutrality is of primary importance as they appear able to get most RFPs to include an enshrined portion for open, wholesale, non-discriminatory access to content, competitors, applications, and devices. For instance, here's some straight talk from him on his blog in which he notes, "Present case studies in the industry as 'what worked and what didn't work,' as opposed to our typical approach to focus only on the positive outcomes of the initiative."
Harlem has 225,000 residents, and a vast amount of outside interest, as it is one of the founding and present centers of African-American culture. There's money waiting to be spent, clearly, on any efforts that can improve the quality of life, education, and financial status of the area's residents.
While regular readers of this site know that I am dubious about digital divide projects that focus entirely on "give them computers and the rest will come," I am entirely supportive of efforts that combine community input into what services are delivered, that include training for general users as well as specialized training in administration, and that has a comprehensive plan with measurable results for the money invested in these efforts. If the goal is a reduction in high-school dropouts, an increase in test scores, a burgeoning of eBay sellers, an improvement in basic literacy, scores of new businesses being started, or efficiencies that reduce expenses through better use of existing technology--any or all of these can be achieved with good planning and good follow-through.
The Wireless Harlem Initiative states in its FAQ they'd like to have service up and running by Spring 2007. This move to hire the preeminent plan writers is a big step towards producing a biddable, buildable service.
A neat experiment in community will be repeated in San Jose in August: A year ago, Anab Jain handed people flyers with tear-off contact information that read "Wanted" and asked them to fill out what they wanted. Neighbors and a Wi-Fi connection were two responses. Jain took this idea and created the yellow chair: A chair they placed outside Jain's house with access to her Internet-connected Wi-Fi network. They did a little advertising for it, and created a book. She made a neat movie about it, too.
we-make-money-not-art reports that two designer/artists will install their yellow chairs in San Jose, if they can find welcoming households. The we-make-money-not-art site includes a short interview, and notes that Jain and a collaborator won a prize in the UNESCO Digital Art Awards competition.
The folks at MusicGremlin have pushed out their portable, Wi-Fi-equipped music player with a big splash: Walt Mossberg may have reviewed it--and found a few rough edges in its network support--but I've opted not to run it through its paces at this point for what I think is an important reason.
The Gremlin MG-1000 is a portable music player that comes pre-equipped with a directory of 2 million songs on its 8 GB hard drive. It can use Wi-Fi or a computer connection to download music, with most songs generally available for purchase (most 99 cents), but all songs available to listen to with a monthly $15 subscription. The $300 device can also exchange downloaded music with other peers who are also subscribers. This means that if you're listening to a song someone else wants and you're nearby, they don't have to pull from the Internet, they can pull from you locally as long as they're already permitted to listen to music.
It's sleek and the people behind MusicGremlin are quite brilliant. I saw a prototype of the device about 2 1/2 years ago, and saw the latest iteration at CES in January. I have two review units in hand, in fact. It's the only piece of hardware I've used that has the potential to supplant some of the iPod's cachet and market. I've said since I first saw the prototype that Apple should just up and buy the firm because they need some of the mojo of the Gremlin player to keep the iPod's momentum. But then the iPod just keeps on flying off shelves, so I may not be the best judge of what the consumer entertainment market wants.
But there are two problems for me on the Wi-Fi side: one, a showstopper; the other, just eventually important.
First, the MG-1000 can't connect to a Wi-Fi network using WPA Personal. Because I and all sensible security experts now recommend WPA Personal as a minimum method of securing a home or small-business network, I balk at reviewing a device that requires a security step-down even to test. For home users who leave their networks completely unsecured or use the older WEP thinking it's good enough, well, I worry about you, but this wouldn't be a stumbling block for using MusicGremlin. I castigated Kodak and others for shipping WEP-only devices last year, when even then it seemed rather absurd.
Years after the mandatory requirement of WPA for Wi-Fi certification of adapters and access points, I just can no longer accept a device that can't meet this security bar. The chips and firmware used for embedded devices may lag, but then you have Devicescape giving away their entire security stack for integration on embedded devices running Linux, including not just WPA Personal but WPA Enterprise. There's no good excuse except a lack of development time, and that doesn't justify requiring worse security.
The other issue, which doesn't make the device unusable, is the lack of a partnership with a hotspot aggregator. You can connect to a T-Mobile hotspot if you have a T-Mobile account using a preconfigured setup in the Gremlin player. (There's no special Gremlin rate, either.) But the many, many hotspots that use a gateway page are off limits. This includes the large number of free locations that require use of an account, or a click-through on terms of service. My recent jury duty experience included Wi-Fi that was usable only after clicking a button at the bottom of two pages of legal disclaimers. Only then did ports open up for access.
For a device that's meant to be mobile, I would have thought a hotspot aggregator partnership or an embedded micro-browser with very minimal functionality would be a given. Boingo just open-sourced its hotspot platform and they offer reseller agreements for the hotspots in their network. There are other options, too. Linksys has an upcoming VoIP over Wi-Fi phone that includes a micro-browser and an extensible authentication module for other kinds of log ins.
The second point is not as important as the first, and I hate to criticize a product for what it lacks rather than what it contains. It's a great device, a great service, and I'd like to provide a full review. But I'll wait until the developers catch up the security realities of 2004 and add WPA Personal support.
The U.S. department responsible for setting standards publishes well-written draft on 802.11i security: As with previous National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) documents on wireless technology, the intent is both to provide recommendations and requirements to government agencies, but it's also to disseminate to a wider business audience a solid set of principles that should underlay a security plan.
The Guide to IEEE 802.11i: Establishing Robust Security Networks, is extremely dry but readable, providing a solid framework for those trying to make sense of old security flaws and new solutions. If it had a slightly livelier tone, much of it could be published as a mass-market book, in fact. While this is a draft, it seems awfully finished to me, and I expect there's a review process to correct errors and gather opinions about specific requirements.
There's a bit of gallows humor about previous encryption, integrity, and security schemes in 802.11, such as Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), which gets a thorough whacking. In one footenote (No. 16 on page 3-2), we find this punchline: "The shared key authentication scheme based on a unilateral challenge-response mechanism is typically referred to as WEP because it uses the WEP encryption for response computation. However, shared key authentication is actually a simple authentication scheme independent of WEP. Also, it does not work." Bah-dum-bump. And, it's accurate.
My colleague Matthew Gast (author of 802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide) will appreciate that the IEEE standard 802.1X is properly capitalized, too. (Amendments are in lowercase; standalone releases are uppercase.)
TechDirt has some scathing analysis of Chaska, Minn.: Remember a few months ago when I complained that Chaska was the poster child of metro-scale Wi-Fi? That none of the metro-scale equipment vendors and deployment firms could point me to urban environments with large-scale working networks? It turns out, the Chicago Tribune reports and TechDirt dissects, that Chaska's network didn't work well at all until recently. I had heard weeks ago that a Chaska official winked at a conference when asked about the cost of replacing all its early Tropos gear--the Tribune says it "shelled out more money" for the newer transceivers.
The Tribune paints a fairly bleak picture and quotes Bradley Mayer--then Chaska's network go-to guy, now part of EarthLink's efforts--as naive about RF propagation. "Mayer made some unpleasant discoveries. Like the fact that wet leafy trees absorb radio signals, hampering Wi-Fi coverage. And this one: Wi-Fi signals don't pass through stucco like they did wooden walls, another negative for coverage."
Since these are obvious and well-known issues with Wi-Fi and RF, I'm hoping Mayer was misquoted. They shouldn't have to learn that; it was well known by the time I started this blog in 2001.
TechDirt says it best when it notes, "Of course, the Tribune article claims that that [network troubles at Chaska] is all in the past, and now the network is great. Well, I'm sorry, but there is a credibility gap to address now. We were told it was 'great' 18 months ago, but later we're told by the same person 'It took about a year and a half before we felt we really had a good handle on the network.' "
I feel a bit taken in, too.
This is why there's a necessity for independent testing and verification of claims and performance that should be written in to every single RFP that's being issued, for the benefit of the companies installing the networks, the cities authorizing or encouraging them, and the population that will use them. No company should be able to show its own numbers. Independent RF and performance audits should be mandatory, and city officials should have to publish the results.
We've moved a long way away from the issue of taxpayer-funded networks, but that doesn't mean networks can't perform, and that those in charge can mischaracterize them. As we're seeing in Mountain View, Tempe, St. Cloud, and elsewhere--the first networks with many thousand of simultaneous users--it's not as easy as any one in the industry has been pretending.
Macomb, Mich., misses June 1 target: The downtown area should have had Wi-Fi by June 1, with other locations coming next year. Bidding is still underway to select a provider, however, and took longer than expected. The ultimate goal is to cover the entire town and nearby towns and villages.
Beauty and Wi-Fi at Multnomah Falls: The state has added for-fee Wi-Fi at the falls primarily for RVs. Service is $1.99 for 20 minutes up to $29.99 per month. Some travel-related sites can be accessed at no charge.
The Yuma Sun reports a local business is up in arms over MobilePro contract for metro-scale service: Beamspeed, a local wireless ISP, believes it could offer the same services. It's handled police and fire communications for 20 years, and never heard about a bidding process for the Wi-Fi service. Yuma used a contract from Tempe that allows the city to gain the same terms without negotiation. Beamspeed currently handles 1,200 US customers and 400 to 500 in Mexico.
The city may open the process to bidding which will add some months to the rollout.
An interesting editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review equates municipal authorization of privately funded networks with municipal control: I find this argument quite interesting as I've long said that the deals that allow infrastructure use through streamlined or cheaper rates for metro-scale wireless providers in places like Philadelphia, Tempe (Ariz.), and Portland (Ore.) would create a de facto franchise and de facto exclusivity even though contracts and federal law (the 1996 Telecom Act, for one) would allow non-exclusive use of those public rights of way and poles.
The de facto part comes from that fact that a winning bidder for a network may use only their own funds, but they typically receive guaranteed contracts from the city for data and telecom service. A competitor would need to drum up other business to make the rollout profitable.
The Tribune-Review cautions that cities could turn muni-authorized networks into unfair competition against ISPs, which is an interesting turnabout from the allegations of unfair competition against incumbent operators. Municipal contracts should require a hands-off approach to pricing that would prevent cities from forcing their risk-bearing private operators from underpricing the market beyond the accounts and subsidization needed for low-income accounts.
eWeek writes that Microsoft has been tardy in adding WPA2 support: The company sits on the board of the Wi-Fi Alliance, and yet has seemed relatively indifferent to corporate and government interests in having the strongest form of Wi-Fi link layer security available across its platforms and management systems. Andrew Garcia notes that Windows 2003 still doesn't offer WPA2 support--it will arrive with Service Pack 2--and that the early look at it within Longhorn Server shows it needs more work.
Garcia notes that system managers can't use the Group Policy tool to control WPA2 authentication settings for Windows XP Service Pack 2 clients that have added WPA2 support. XP SP2 allows WPA2 as an optional upgrade, too.
The writer takes Microsoft to task for continuing to support just PEAP, its preferred flavor for 802.1X authentication. He notes that it would be nice to see EAP-TTLS, PEAP/EAP-GTC, and EAP-SIM, authentication flavors supported through an optional certification process at the Wi-Fi Alliance.
At one point, I thought Microsoft chose PEAPv0 as a defensive measure and a way to ensure use of their server software. But since most clients and servers now support most secured EAP methods, it's a little silly for Microsoft to stick to one option: there's no advantage for them, and it restricts customer choice.
BusinessWeek describes the roadblocks following the air-to-ground spectrum auction to real deployment: The article focuses on cell phones in the air, but many of the points are relevant to broadband, too. The writer Sarah Lacey notes that the FCC could take months to review the long-form applications required of the winning bidders, AirCell and JetBlue's LiveTV.
Point 4 in the article is a little vague on Verizon's responsibility. Verizon has two years from the official end of the auction--not until 2010, the end of their license--to migrate off the narrowband frequencies they use now scattered across 4 MHz of spectrum down to a shared use of 1 MHz with JetBlue using polarization to avoid signal interference.
China continues to be offended: The ISO scheduled a two-day meeting in The Czech Republic to have the Chinese delegation talk about their concerns with their proprietary WAPI security and authentication system not being adopted by ISO. The AP reports that the Chinese representatives walked out early on. They wouldn't provide a comment to the reporter, nor would the ISO. The IEEE, whose 802.11i protocol is moving forward to become an ISO standard, did talk:
"Steve Mills, the chairman of the IEEE Standards Association Standards Board, said in a statement, China 'has lost another valuable opportunity to constructively discuss the technical merits of the two security amendments.' Instead, Mills said, China continued 'to focus its attention on complaints about the balloting process.' "
One of the problems with China's attempt to get WAPI wider acceptance is that they refuse to provide the full specification or its encryption algorithm. I can't think of a standards body willing to adopt a standard they can't see.
Here's a link to previous coverage at Wi-Fi Networking News.
Company issues press release about rug being pulled: MobilePro uses Strix gear to build privately operated metro-scale networks that provide some services to cities--typically mobile workers--with a larger focus on mobile and fixed access for consumers, businesspeople, homes, and businesses. They put out a press release that they've withdrawn from the Sacramento, Calif., project because the city changed its terms. MobilePro says Sacramento now wanted to require them to build a high-speed, free, advertising-supported network contrary to MobilePro's business model and original response to the RFP.
The Sacramento Bee has a reaction from local officials: The city's CTO says he was surprised that MobilePro went public instead of further negotiating. Stephen Ferguson says in this article that the city council directed him to work on a deal closer to those in San Francisco (300 Kbps free via a Google partnership with network builder EarthLink) and Portland, Ore. (free ad-supported access with a fee-based no-ad option).
Ferguson says in this story that they'll have to go back to the drawing board, but that their pilot project with MobilePro will aid them in finding a replacement faster. According to earlier news accounts, AT&T (then SBC), Motorola, and MobilePro submitted bids, with AT&T withdrawing at one point. I imagine that Sacramento could get as many as a dozen bids on this go-round.
Update: I talked to Stephen Ferguson, the city's CTO and Jim Rinehart, the head of the economic development department for Sacramento, about this development. Both Ferguson and Rinehart said that the evolving nature of metro-scale wireless networks in other cities affected the city council's requirements for this network. Because other cities were able to find providers that could meet the city council's targets, this meant that MobilePro was asked for comparable services. "The council's feeling was if we're going to sign a contract with a provider, we want it to be comparable with what we're seeing in other locations like Portland, San Francisco, and Philadelphia," Ferguson said.
"We wanted to give MobilePro every opportunity to the city's issues. They were repsonding in good faith," Ferguson said. "We just got to the point where they couldn't close it, they couldn't make it worth, according to their own internal business model." The city wanted advertising-supported free access to be a part of the mix, they said.
Ferguson and Rineheart noted that with so many changes in technology and in the economics of these networks, they would rework the RFP to incorporate newer ideas, such as including tests of more cutting-edge technology, like mobile WiMax, as part of the mix, although the core end-user access will still have to remain Wi-Fi. The RFP will be reissued within four to six weeks with a 30-day deadline for responses.
Ferguson noted that municipal CTOs and CIOs talk to each other all the time, and that Philadelphia's technology head, Dianah Neff, is someone he's known for 20 years. Sacramento sent their own RFP to five other cities to use as a model. "We know more about them [vendors] than they know about themselves," since cities aren't competing on technology and they have broad public disclosure.
This development in Sacramento may put more pressure on firms entering the metro-scale market because city's may increasingly ask for escalation. Some cities already state in contracts that they will get at least a good a deal from the company that's building the wireless network as that company will offer elsewhere. But since it's a partnership, one expects cities not to push too hard--or the firms they contract with will, like MobilePro, decline to proceed.
AnchorFree ups the ante on secure hotspot use: The free Wi-Fi advocating network reduces the cost of virtual private network (VPN) access from a few dollars a month to free. AnchorFree has built its own free hotspots in the Bay Area, acquired MetroFreeFi.com, and is building an affiliate network of free locations that meet its technical standards in exchange for some group resources and branding. Do you see the trend for free?
Over the last two years, I've written extensively about VPN use in hotspots and reviewed a number of services like personalVPN (WiTopia.net), publicVPN.com, and HotSpotVPN.com. I've also written about my editorially affiliated partner JiWire and their SpotLock service, which combines a hotspot directory, how-to guides, and a VPN.
AnchorFree, which just received $6m in private funding, may tap into a very broad audience of Windows 2000/XP laptop toters who just want the security without paying for it, even modest amounts. Regular readers will recall that Google launched a free, fairly limited VPN test (it used PPTP, which I would describe as last century's technology, although with the right long password, it's plenty secure). While the FAQ is still available, Google's VPN page is missing in action. I'll be surprised if we don't see Google VPN return for metro-scale Wi-Fi market, however; it originally appeared at wifi.google.com as part of their testing with free Wi-Fi in San Francisco. (Search on Google VPN on Google and you get a page that redirects to their home page.)
I asked AnchorFree what flavor of VPN they're using, and it's SSL (read a 2005 article at InfoWorld or this TidBITS article on VPNs in general for background). This form doesn't require a reboot, and it's controlled via a local Web page once it's installed. I did some brief testing and found performance and security just fine, although I'd like to see some security types really pound on it (and report problems to AnchorFree before publicizing them), to run it through its paces.
My absolute recommendation for all public hotspot users, as much or as little as you care about your security, is to use a VPN or secure any connection that uses a password with SSH or SSL/TLS.
With a free solution available, you owe it to yourself to try it out. If it's not flexible enough, tell AnchorFree why (they might improve it), or migrate to a few dollar a month service. Mac users, Linux users, and other Windows platforms still need to pay, but given the wide availability of SSL VPN clients out there, I would imagine AnchorFree has further plans.
Vnunet is reporting that Intel demonstrated a way for Wi-Fi to overcome microwave, other device interference: The reporter attending Research at Intel Day in Santa Clara says the company showed Spectrum Sensing, a way for 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi devices to determine whether a signal is interference or a well-behaved device. If it determines it's interference, the Intel approach boosts power to overcome the interference. Spectrum Sensing is still just a research project, with no standards or implementation plans, Vnunet reports.
Intel and UC Berkeley devise remote diagnostics: In the southern India state of Tamil Nadu, a central eye hospital can now examine patients through outposts up to dozens of miles away using Wi-Fi to transmit image data from cameras. Thousands of patients were served in this trial, and the university reports that the project will be expanded to five hospitals, 50 linked clinics, and an expected 500,000 patients a year.
Nurses trained in eye care screen patients at smaller village clinics. A doctor at the Aravind Eye Hospital then spends five minutes examining the patient's eyes through a Web camera connection. The patient is given a hospital appointment if the doctor needs a closer examination or needs to schedule surgery.
The cost cited is a little inexplicable: $800 for two routers with antennas. I expect this might include the costs of ruggedizing the cases and the like, but it's not clear. There are no viable broadband providers in the area, and using commodity gear allowed them to create a 6 Mbps link over distances of up to 40 miles using their own software.
Of course, there are greater implications for telemedicine, because once you have local clinics with high bandwidth that can then hop on a larger national network, you can have doctors all over the country (or world) contribute hours towards diagnostic work, reducing the time that patients have to spend in travel or untreated due to cost.
Space Data, a losing bidder on commercial air-to-ground spectrum, has lofty goals: The company didn't win the 1 MHz license in the 800 MHz spectrum auction--JetBlue's LiveTV division snagged it for over $7m--but they are moving ahead with their fill-in cell tower offering. They loft lightweight cell transmitters to 20 miles using inexpensive balloons. The transmitters, which carry juice for 8 to 10 hours of operation, can function to as much as 420 miles in diameter. (Their site says 420 miles in diameter; the article says, imprecisely, 50 to 500 miles.)
The trick is that the transmitters are designed to parachute to safety and be recoverable through embedded GPS locators and transceivers, but new transmitters must be launched constantly. This could add up to $100,000 to $300,000 per cell site per year, but this could be substantially cheaper than any comparable terrestrial option for remote areas or areas with zoning issues. The technology is currenty used by oil companies in some southern and southwestern states to track vehicles and monitor production.
No word on how transmitters that land on private property are recovered.
In the air-to-ground 800 MHz spectrum auction, Space Data won a ruling that allowed them to use their balloons to communicate with aircraft, which might have obviated a chunk of the ground stations they would otherwise have had to build, but they lost permission for secondary licensing of the spectrum, which would have allowed unrelated terrestrial-only use. (If that had been permitted, the auctions would have been much more valuable. In an interview today, AirFone founder Jack Goeken said that GTE bought AirFone way back when because it wanted the secondary use of the spectrum that AirFone had for ground mobile devices.)
Space Data has competitors, which include Sanswire Networks, which proposes unmanned 13-mile up solar-powered blimps that will stay fixed in place, and carry transmitters for cellular networks and Internet access. Straight up offers excellent line of sight.
The founder of MCI, AirFone, FTD, and a host of other firms talks in this podcast: I interviewed Jack Goeken because he neatly bookmarks the history of radiotelephone service, which effectively moves into history with the recent conclusion of the FCC auction that moves the reserved spectrum's use from narrowband, analog air-to-ground telephone calls to broadband network and Internet access.
Goeken and his colleagues more or less came up with the idea of commercial radiotelephony, made it work, obtained a coast-to-coast experimental license from the FCC, battled terrestrial phone companies, and eventually sold the whole thing to GTE--which failed to implement his ahead-of-their-time ideas, like gaming and news coming through the phones. He later founded In-Flight Phone Corporation, which used digital air-to-ground communications, sold it to MCI, which shut it down in six months.
Goeken has a lot to say about the crushing of the entrepreneurial spirit, especially in telecommunications. As a pioneer who left the field--but is still running an enterprise with many innovative products--he has some timely advice and insight.
This is the first of a series of podcasts I'm launching in two weeks. The audio quality will be better in future podcasts. You can download the MP3 file at the link above, or, if you're using software like iTunes that allows you to retrieve podcasts directly, you should use the syndication feeds at left to subscribe to our general RSS or Atom feed.
On a related note, I was interviewed last night on my local public radio station KUOW-FM about the future of using VoIP and cell phones to make phone calls in-flight.
The 4.9 GHz public safety band is getting a workout: The band is allocated for first-responder government use, and many devices now support this 50 MHz-wide spectrum band. The Motorola WDE100, part of its Motomesh product line, offers both 2.4 GHz and 4.9 GHz in a single PC Card form factor. The card can work to extend an existing network to other peers--the word "mesh" is in Motomesh's name, after all--or establish peer-to-peer networks.
The Motomesh division seems to be the only company in the metro-scale/municipal space that's focusing on multimodal public safety equipment. Other mesh vendors have 4.9 GHz access points, but aren't in the adapter business. Motomesh appears determined to marry public standards with public safety and proprietary encoding, too. For instance, their four-radio access point uses their original proprietary standard on both 2.4 GHz and 4.9 GHz (one radio each) but then uses standard Wi-Fi on 2.4 GHz and adapted for 4.9 GHz. This allows one device to offer service to the public, municipal employees, and public safety workers. The new adapter neatly pairs with that idea.
This relatively new swath of spectrum is only legal for use by governments or government-authorized NGOs to "protect the safety of life, health, or property." Despite being allocated in 2003, it took some time to migrate existing government users off the band, and for manufacturers to develop a public safety market that asked for equipment in this range.
The 4.9 GHz band requires jurisdictional licenses, in which the jurisdiction over which a public safety entity has sway defines where they may operate, but it also requires that each overlapping authority in that region coordinate spectrum use.
The New York Times writes in an unsigned editorial that local governments are filling a void through bringing metro-scale networks into existence: The paper chides its hometown for lagging, partly because of the slow deployment by the city parks' lead vendor, and the lack of a larger vision. They support Wi-Fi as a best-cheapest method of minimal access. They support free or low-cost access through poorer neighborhoods across the city--in places, they write, that "cable and phone line options are out of financial reach."
This is a fairly significant statement by the Times, which covers these ventures extensively in its non-opinion pages. They don't take a stand on ownership or motivation, but these are the kind of words that sometimes become part of business plans and stump speeches.
The winner bidder for the larger chunk of air-to-ground spectrum expects commercial service in 18 months plus Canadian, Mexican rollout: Jack Blumenstein, AirCell CEO and president, said in an interview today that he is confident all the pieces are in place for the veteran general aviation broadband and radiotelephony provider to offer in-flight Internet access on at least one commercial airline by the end of 2007. The service will be distributed on board via Wi-Fi.
Blumenstein also said that Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean nations are likely to follow the U.S.'s lead on use of this spectrum as the countries previously did for the original organization of spectrum for radiotelephony in the early 1990s. "These countries once again are going to follow the same process on a fairly expedited basis," he said. This could give AirCell a footprint covering what Blumenstein described as 60 percent of global passenger air miles.
AirCell won an exclusive 10-year license of 3 MHz in the 800 MHz band last week, paying over $31m for the privilege; the license was technically won by a sister company, AC BidCo, which AirCell is affiliated with as a result of an in-progress reorganization that includes investment from private equity manager Ripplewood Holdings. LiveTV, a subsidiary of airline JetBlue, won the less important but still significant exclusive 1 MHz, nonoverlapping license for just over $7m.
AirCell's Blumenstein and soon-to-be chairman Ron LeMay--former president and CEO of Sprint and CEO of Sprint PCS--spoke under the condition that they not answer questions about bidding and certain details related to the auction process per FCC rules while the auction is finalized in a few weeks.
A representative from LiveTV said that the company would defer any comment until the auction was finalized. AirCell has made many previous public comments, while LiveTV's plans for the spectrum are unknown. Update: In a USA Today story, LiveTV's head is paraphrased saying that, "It may offer e-mail and Web surfing to customers of its existing satellite TV service on JetBlue and Frontier Airlines aircraft."
While Verizon AirFone is obliged to overhaul its in-flight telephone service, migrating from parts of 4 MHz down to 1 MHz of spectrum over the next two years, Blumenstein said that AirCell's schedule wouldn't be beholden to Verizon's timetable. He declined to comment on how their system and Verizon's would interact during the transition, but stated it wouldn't be a technical problem.
AirCell has had ongoing conversations with air carriers, and one of their board members and senior adviser is former American Airlines head Robert Crandall. "Bob has been very instrumental in helping us understand and have the right discussions in the airline community," said Blumenstein. "We've had conversations in some cases over a couple of years, first to understand the airline perspective--to understand where they would like to see this go from a service and price standpoint." Blumenstein said it was premature to talk exact pricing. Connexion by Boeing, the only commercial aviation in-flight broadband operator, charges from about $10 to $25 based on flight duration for unlimited use of their satellite-based network.
The equipment they plan to deploy is significantly lighter and cheaper than "that which has been used historically in international flights involving satellite communications," he said. AirCell will use EVDO Rev. A for backhaul to relay data to and from the ground at speeds that Blumenstein said exceed 3 Mbps (1.5 Mpbs in each direction) in testing last fall. Beyond normal FAA certification, Blumenstein said they expect no other regulatory hurdles to in-flight broadband over Wi-Fi.
Blumenstein said that there are a host of airline-specific applications which would be available beyond any passenger use, including telemetry, monitoring, and security. Although Blumenstein didn't mention telemedicine--equipment that allows a remote medical professional to see the condition of a crewmember or passenger--it's of key interest to airlines, which can spend thousands of dollars or more diverting a flight unnecessarily for medical purposes.
Voice over IP (VoIP) isn't a per se priority for AirCell, which will be directed by its airline customers for specific deployments. AirCell chairman LeMay said that the equipment they design will be able to offer quality of service prioritization for voice if "that's the airline's desire." He said AirCell conceives of this as a data service will voice coming second.
While the FAA and FCC haven't approved in-flight cellular phone or device use, Blumenstein said that the process for evaluating the safety of such equipment is well underway in the U.S. AirCell won't try to accelerate that process, but they will be prepared for a time in which cell use might be approved. LeMay said that the cellular data side of the market could be of great interest, with passengers roaming their handheld devices and phones right onto the plane's network. "We could reach agreements with the cellular guys that would allow them to offer an airline option."
But both LeMay and Blumenstein say there's no chance of cell calling being forced down airlines' or passengers' throats, echoing assurances from other current and future in-flight broadband operators that there are many social factors involved that still need to be worked out. It might be that some airlines allow voice at certain points in a flight.
Some may worry that the extension of Internet and eventually cell access to domestic flights could erode personal space and time even further. But Blumenstein noted that it's not necessarily access that people are always looking for but rather the knowledge that they have "the ability communicate." He likes to remind people that communications devices have off switches.
In researching AirFone's history, which dates back over 20 years, I found this Associated Press story in an old telecom journal: The story, filed in Oct. 1982, describes a not-far-off future in which businesspeople would have access to terminals for data exchange using "electronic mail" on board planes and at hotels. (Search for AirFone to find the article in this long set of text journals.)
This most amazing paragraph belies the next 24 years: "An unrelated company, Airfone Inc., hopes to begin testing the nation's first commercial air-to-ground telephone system next month. Assuming the experiment works, Airfone officials say it's a small step from an airplane telephone system transmitting voices to a phone system transmitting computer data." (AirFone was 50 percent owned by Western Union at that point, then sold itself to GTE, which was transformed into Verizon. It's remained somewhat of a separate division from what I can tell.)
This is even sadder: "While there might not be many people carrying portable computers now, that is clearly something envisioned by Airfone. The company says that one day airline travelers will be able to use their own terminal or a portable device provided by the airline to work during flights."
One day 20 years later for Boeing on over-water routes, and what will wind up being about 26 years later not for AirFone, but for AirCell on domestic flights.
Interestingly, AirFone's founder, John D. Goeken, also previously founded MCI, is partly responsible for the AT&T breakup, started FTD (the floral delivery service), and founded another in-flight phone company after selling AirFone--In-Flight Phone Corporation--which used all-digital phone communications with a network operational in 1991. That was the same year that AirCell's business was sparked for air-to-ground telephony, according to their corporate history.
Shades of Wi-Fi in this paragraph: "Dallas-based Travelhost Inc. plans to begin placing small computer terminals in hotel and motel rooms in January. The company is convinced it can entice hotel operators to place 500,000 terminals in the field by mid-1985." (An obscure young reporter named J. Markoff wrote about Quazon in the June 1983 issue of InfoWorld, still noting the 500,000 terminals.)
Suffice it to say, Travelhost's Quazon terminals didn't take off. I was unable to find out what happened via Internet searches. I found a 1983 Wall Street Journal article mentioning a deal with Nynex. There's a May 1983 article in The New York Times written by David Sanger talking about the first 5,000 hotel rooms with Quazon terminals and plans for 100,000 by the end of 1983 in Quality Inns, Hiltons, Marriotts, Sheraton, and so forth. Service would run $3 plus 34 cent a minute (peak time) or 17 cents a minute at night. The device had a touch-sensitive keyboard and no word processor, but included a flight directory, up-to-date news, and some form of email.
The Houston Chronicle documents the move to make room for Wi-Fi and laptops everywhere one eats or drinks: Cafes started offering Wi-Fi way back in 2000, with hundreds offering the service by 2001, and thousands by 2002. While some early Internet access was found in restaurants, it was still strange to have people carrying Wi-Fi equipped laptops; no handhelds offered the service. Now, with Wi-Fi in every device, venues are making more and more accommodation for lengthy users.
An interesting story early in the article details a wine bar adding Wi-Fi primarily to help its network of wine vendors and buyers have convenient access for placing orders as a thank-you for their business. Because coffeeshops are now crowded with users, Wi-Fi elsewhere seems to have gained in popularity because there's still places to sit.
A tea shop found the mythical Wi-Fi-to-dollars conversion, too: "Many customers 'will open a tab,' Bell adds. They may start their visit with a cup of tea and move on to a meal."
This article is a neat contrast to the minor trend I was alerted to last year, with locations that were limiting Wi-Fi or engaged in some battles with Wi-Fi users who lingered (or didn't make a purchase). [link via Steve Titch]
The winners are AirCell and LiveTV: The auction went to 144 rounds primarily because Space Data, a ballon-based wireless firm, delayed what turned out to be the inevitable by bidding on licenses that couldn't win. Was that an effort to buy some time to raise funds? I may be able to find out now, as participants couldn't discuss specifics while the auction was ongoing.
AC BidCo LLC, a company formed as a sister firm to AirCell (and both held by AC HoldCo LLC), essentially won the 3 MHz license C in round 37, and LiveTV (a JetBlue division) won the 1 MHz license D in round 120. The winning amounts are $31,319,000 and $7,020,000 respectively, so my way-back-original estimate of $40m for this auction (which I thought I might be too high on and revised lower) turned out eerily accurate.
The FCC has to finalize the auction with additional diligence and collect the funds. Then the clock starts ticking on Verizon's move to a smaller slice of frequency for its AirFone service. More news on this as I talk to the companies who won and lost the licenses in the days ahead.
Update: I've been informed that the FCC rules still keep companies from talking about this auction today. I'll have more on the outcome of these auction on Monday.
M2Z has hundreds of millions of dollars poised to start building a national backbone: All they need is sweet, sweet spectrum. This new firm burst into broadband consciousness just two weeks ago when it filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking for 20 MHz of spectrum with a 15-year license at no cost (2155-2175 MHz).
M2Z promises to use this spectrum provide free, advertising-supported 384 Kpbs/128 Kpbs Internet service to 95 percent of the U.S. population alongside premium offerings of about 3 Mbps. They promise to deploy immediately and guarantee to meet deployment targets over a 10 year period, starting with 33 percent coverage within three years of the license grant.
What they offer in return is five percent of gross receipts for their premium service, which will run about 3 Mpbs.
I spoke to co-founder John Muleta, a former FCC bureau chief and executive at PSINet, and Michael Howse, co-founder and chief executive of PacketHop, a strategic partner for public safety with M2Z, about the need for M2Z in an era of increasing wireless options, the content filtering on their free service, and the technology that will drive their efforts.
Muleta said the motivation for this network was the lack of reach for Internet access. "The one universal truth is that there's market failure to provide people with a universal, affordable access," he said. While metro-scale networks using Wi-Fi are proliferating, Muleta said that what they're proposing restores Wi-Fi back to a local area networking technology, its designed purpose, by providing backhaul using technology designed for wide area purposes. "We are neither opposed to nor critique municipal systems; we think they'll be part of the mix," Muleta said. Muleta thought M2Z could make it substantially less difficult and expensive to deploy metro-scale Wi-Fi, in fact.
Howse noted that by having backhaul available everywhere in a licensed band it will be easier for Wi-Fi networks to provide high-bandwidth local communications. PacketHop offers mesh equipment, and Howse envisions offloading to peer-to-peer networks a good portion of traffic that now, by necessity, passes through metro-scale Wi-Fi nodes. "You're really decreasing the tax on some of the backhaul requirements by maintaining some of these local communications when they can be," said Howse.
Both Howse and Muleta emphasize how edge applications will be able to flourish on the M2Z network as they will be a mostly neutral, non-discriminatory host. Our fundamental goal is to "make transport a non-issue so that edge applications can deliver," Muleta said. They'll encourage manfacturers to produce consumer premises equipment (CPE) devices that couple their wireless standard for backhaul with Wi-Fi for local distribution. Their interest isn't limited to Wi-Fi, but that seems like the most logical first wave.
The M2Z approach is essentially a flavor of the 802.16-2005 standard (formerly 802.16e), which includes fixed, nomadic/portable, and mobile wireless connectivity. They'll use the OFDMA standard that's part of 802.16-2005 with beamforming through multiple antennas--what they call advanced antenna systems or AAS--and time division duplexing (TDD), which allows dynamic asymmetric network usage. With 20 MHz to play with, they could dedicate 1.25 MHz to the free service and still have three 5 MHz channels or one 5 MHz and one 10 MHz channel, based on current WiMax Forum generic profiles for service.
M2Z has received a fair amount of criticism over their promise to filter pornographic and related content over their free service. Muleta says this is a red herring. Muleta said that given that they will provide access to anyone eventually nearly anywhere in the U.S., they have significant liability concerns about allowing minors to have unfettered access, as this might put them afoul of state and federal laws--especially since they expect schools to take advantage of the free service. Muleta said their premium service will be unfiltered, unless requested, as they will have a billing relationship with premium customers that will allow age verification.
I tried to strike up a discussion of net neutrality, but Muleta, old FCC hand that he is, is focused more on the competitive aspects than the social and political ones; as a new provider, he wouldn't want formal neutrality requirements. From Muleta and Howse's descriptions, however, they don't plan to limit what devices can use the network, will not require certification or approval of third-party devices (the more, the better, Muleta says), nor discriminate on the basis of services used. This is a fair amount of neutrality, although the devil is in the details if they decide port blocking is part of filtering or that swarming is inappropriate. (Several users with the right kind of peer-to-peer software could pull down pieces of large files at the full network download level and combine them over Wi-Fi, for instance.)
In other words, it might not be a "stupid" network, but they're not making noises about how it might be smart, either. "Let lots of applications bloom," Muleta said, and both he and Howse emphasized the critical importance of edge applications, which is a very "stupid network" view. Neither wanted to talk much about voice over IP, because, they said, they don't want to limit the discussion to just that service.
One of Howse's key messages for this bandwidth chunk is that it can be an additional, unencumbered, prioritized, and free method for ubiquitous access for public safety (fire, police, emergency, and first responders). PacketHop already sells into that market, and M2Z promises to allow unlimited public safety users. They envision this as potentially secondary to the 4.9 GHz public safety band, but the characteristics of M2Z's network will be broader coverage.
The FCC has, in the past, allotted spectrum for particular purposes, but there's no way to predict whether they'll have any truck with this proposal; nor, if they agree with its terms, to know how many (if any) lawsuits will be filed by potential competitors in the cellular data and wireless broadband industries.
At this stage, everything is speculation. M2Z sees themselves as providing a vital service conforming to the goals of U.S. broadband initiatives, while filling a gap for small businesspeople who's other alternative is typically a wired T-1 line. By the time M2Z could deploy, it's possible that their impending entry into the market would have fundamentally transformed the nature of wireless services.
With Verizon Wireless sending out cancellation letters about non-typical bandwidth use in violation of their extremely restrictive policies of use--email, surfing, intranet apps--on their EVDO network, it's very easy to see how 20 MHz could provide unencumbered, nonrestrictive bandwidth that would be a giant threat to cell providers, wireless ISPs, and wireline T-1.
A few days ago, I wrote a rather tetchy article about Microsoft reinventing the wheel: Windows Rally will appear in Microsoft Vista some day in the far off future when that OS ships (January? February? March?), and it will incorporate a simplified Wi-Fi security setup and automatic discovery of multimedia and peripheral devices across a network. I say bravo to the concept, but no points for originality: chipmakers, Buffalo, and the Wi-Fi Alliance all had either working or proposed simplified security methods.
A Microsoftee posted comments on my item that, in fact, Rally would incorporate Simple Config, an approved proposal from the Wi-Fi Alliance. I said, Simple Config? Frank Hanzlik, the Wi-Fi Alliance's managing director, explained to me this morning that Simple Config isn't quite as simple as all that.
Simple Config is a working title for the technology, which they plan to have a better public name for. It's not fully cooked, although the plan is for a release in fall. The specification will be available to those who aren't members of the alliance for a small fee. Microsoft's announcement was a bit ahead of the alliance's plans; Microsoft is on the board.
Hanzlik said that there is "a lot of great support within the industry for it," which makes sense given how often setting security has proven to be beyond ordinary users. Simple Config will use Diffie-Hellman key exchange to encrypt communications in establishing the security key, and will have a variety of options for confirmation out of band: a PIN, a push button (a la Buffalo's AOSS), near-field communications, and USB dongles.