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More wrangling over Minneapolis-Fi: The city's CFO noted that the $2.2m that would be advanced against services to US Internet would otherwise be gaining interest for the city. As a result, the firm suggests providing $1m in additional network services at no cost to the city. The city council will now vote (or perhaps has already voted--the tense is unclear) on signing a contract. Though, as these things go, that's almost certainly "voting to approve the executive branch being allowed to sign a contract."
Update: The city council approved going forward on Friday. Accounts from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. A short haiku on why the approval had to happen so fast and why one councilor voted against the quick approval.
As leaves fall from trees
obstructions leave our view.
planning becomes harder
Naked trees emerge
autumn challenges Wi-Fi
The Wall Street Journal reports on an expected demonstration by Samsung of a 4G network: Many kinds of networks are now labeled 4G (fourth generation), such as Sprint Nextel's planned mobile WiMax network, because 4G originally meant "all Internet protocol." No more of this circuit-switched emulation with proprietary this and that. (There will probably still be proprietary this and that in 4G, of course.)
Samsung will reportedly show a mobile data system that operates at 100 Mbps at speeds up to 60 km per hour (37 miles per hour) as well as a nomadic connection with 1 Gbps performance. The Journal notes that NTT DoCoMo showed 2.5 Gbps at 12.4 mph--in the lab--as part of a previous technology demo.
Service using this definition of 4G isn't expected until 2010.
Update: Coverage from the Korea Times says that "yesterday's" demo--the international dateline plays havoc with us all--showed not just a demonstration of 1 Gbps performance at rest, but Samsung disclosed they had hit 3.5 Gbps at 5 km/h (3 mph) in the lab, thus surpassing NTT DoCoMo's reported top rate.
The demos took place in a bus that showed 32 simultaneous streaming high-definition video streams while video telephony and Internet browsing was also going on.
Interesting experiment for the BBC News Interactive section: They decided to test out Norwich's citywide service by working in the great out of doors. They had a variety of trouble with VoIP over Wi-Fi phones, but they did manage to use Skype on a laptop. Power, of course, reared its ugly head. Not signal power, but electrical. All four reporters ran out of juice within a couple of hours and needed to borrow a long extension cord to charge. (Photos)
Yes, at long last, the AP reports that the network has started being built out: My understanding is that while EarthLink, Philadelphia, Wireless Philadelphia, and a state-run pole-access coordinator signed contracts months ago, there was still coordination and permitting going on. That must have been completed. They will now build the test bed, a 15-square-mile network that the Associated Press says contains 81,000 households. Phila.'s then-CIO told me this last winter that the test bed would cover many kinds of terrain and housing densities. The whole network will pass 590,000 households, and the company is saying it will be complete by third quarter 2007.
Mobility is the enterprise of the future: In this podcast interview with Alan Cohen, we talk about how technology once restricted to the enterprise roams much more freely with the availability of wireless data networks. This trend, of course, will only increase as broad public networks of all forms proliferate: cell, mobile WiMax, and Wi-Fi. Cohen talks about how applications drive networks and networks facilitate applications. [33 min., 16 MB, MP3]
The budget European airline will eventually equip all plans with OnAir service: They'll start with 50 planes by the end of 2007, and expand to what is now a 200-plane fleet. OnAir has told me in the past that they don't have total control of the end price--that will be set by mobile operators that allow the roaming--but prices will be in line with international roaming, so at least $2.50 a minute. Ryanair isn't mentioning pricing yet. I expect that text messaging and other text-based services, such as Blackberry email, will represent a significant portion of use for social and cost reasons.
OnAir backhauls its service over Inmarsat satellites, and it's waiting for regulatory (FCC analogs) and airworthiness (FAA analogs) approval for its approach. They expect to launch Air France in the first half of 2007, followed by regional airlines in Portugal, the British Midlands, and now Ryanair.
Qantas, by contrast, will try out Aeromobile's service, which relies on slightly older Inmarsat equipment at the moment. Qantas will run a test of the service for three months on a single Boeing 767 on domestic routes in Australia.
A bill that's composed as a consumer protection measure for Wi-Fi gateway buyers will likely become law in California: The bill has a vague set of requirements for manufacturers selling their Wi-Fi equipment in the Golden State to provide some documentation on securing their network. This law will likely only affect off-brand products; I haven't tested a wireless adapter or gateway in a few years that hasn't provided some form of warning and advice on this topic. Further, the Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) will launch this fall for substantially simpler, no-password-invention-required WPA configuration. The law takes effect Oct. 2007.
This law is much better than Westchester County's highly misguided attempt to control the public airwaves by requiring weird disclosure on Wi-Fi networks, while misunderstanding the difference between link-layer encryption and firewall protection--but encoding that mistaken idea in law, anyway.
In Podcast #16, we talk about hotspot growth, hot zones, and new mobile technology: Anurag Lal handles business development and sales at iPass, and has a background in the international aspects of mobile telephony, with stints at BT and Sprint's worldwide divisions. iPass is a global aggregator and reseller of Internet access, with a focus on enterprises that have lots of mobile employees. This gives him good insight to talk about the future growth of hotspot networks. We also talk quite abit about the multiple kinds of wireless data networks that will spread across cities and regions, the necessity of seamless roaming across networks--types and operators--that doesn't require user intervention, the cost of billing and savings of bundling and unlimited plans, and the developing world bypassing wire and, possibly, fiber, in favor of wireless.
We also talk about the future demise of dial-up, which is a significant portion of current revenue for iPass, AOL, and EarthLink, all companies working on a transition to broadband. iPass has seen a drop year-over-year in second quarter dial-up revenue from $35.3m to $28m, but during the same period increase broadband revenue (hotel wired and Wi-Fi everywhere) from $2.1m to $9.6m. Lal thinks there's still life left in dial-up for the foreseeable future, but we talk about an inflection point at which wireless can outweigh a wired, 56K or worse connection. [38 min., 19 MB, MP3]
Canadian university mocks president, my alma mater: The Yale, Shmale campaign by Lakehead University does little to restore the luster to an institution, the president of which has banned a campus-wide Wi-Fi network due to unsupported, bad science that he nonetheless believes is prudent to work from. (Despite no epidemiological effects from tens of millions of people living and working in constant proximity to Wi-Fi transmitters. Perhaps we'll all drop dead en masse.)
The Yale, Shmale campaign is also offensive to Yinglish speakers, that blend of Yiddish and English, for appropriating the sing-songy rhyme used to indicate a dismissive attitude. Correct use: A member of the Whiffenpoofs described missing some midterms in order for the long-running campus singing group to perform the national anthem at a World Series game thusly--"Midterms, shmidterms! This is the World Series!"
The firm has added a model of bridge for municipal networks that doubles as a home gateway: This was inevitable, and I was surprised that Ruckus's first metro-scale bridge, the MetroFlex, lacked this feature. The Peplink Surf 200BG-AP has a 200 mW radio that uses per-packet power control to send and receive data to remote metro-scale nodes and handle traffic in the home as well. For $189, you lose one device and avoid complexity in redistributing Wi-Fi within the home. Via email, the company told me that the 200BG-AP doesn't offer virtual SSIDs, or the ability to set up multiple Wi-Fi network identities--that's coming later--but lets the user configure the bridge to act as a client for the larger network and a gateway for the local network.
AT&T has signed Springfield: Of course, SBC can now pretend to have never lobbied against municipally funded, authorized, or glanced-at wireless. That's not entirely fair. SBC-cum-AT&T and other telcos and cable firms have wanted to--and occasionally had legislation passed to--prevent city-owned and city-funded wireless. The opposition to municipally authorized networks now comes mostly from groups that want cities to own their networks, contracting out their construction and operation. The Springfield deal will include tiered, free access, with details to come. The city council must approve the deal.
Meanwhile, Qwest objects to Minneapolis process: Qwest, never a highly anti-muni-Fi advocate, but neither a great supporter, was an early contender for Minneapolis's long, drawn-out selection for fiber/Wi-Fi operations. They complained yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, that the funds that will be advanced--$2.2m--to winning, local bidder US Internet amount to a subsidy. Here's a great bit from this article: "Asked by Council Member Gary Schiff whether Qwest had ever bid on a metro Wi-Fi network in any city, Stanoch said Qwest did not bid on Wi-Fi networks generally because it believed another wireless technology still being developed would have superior performance to Wi-Fi." Now, I can't disagree with that statement. Wi-Fi is not the best technology for this purpose. It's the best available technology.
Singapore plans national Wi-Fi: I've read bits and pieces about this before, but the plan is apparently well underway, with a major portion done by the end of 2006. They want computers in 100 percent of homes with school-age children, too.
WA hops on rest stop bandwagon: The state is offering Wi-Fi at 28 of 42 rest stops with free access to road conditions and travel information. Internet access is $1.99 for 20 minutes, $3.99 per day, $7.99 per week, and $29.99 per month. Service just launched to be ready for coming Labor Day weekend. The state has a rather complicated map that uses a big no-no in using icons to convey meaning. They have four logos that convey one implicit piece of information and two explicit addenda. The presence of the icon indicates a rest stop, so that's implicit: the icon appears wherever that's available.
The two addenda are whether the rest stop has an RV dump site or just wireless. This produces four icons: rest area only, rest area with dump site, rest area with wireless, rest area with dump and wireless. The wireless icon thus varies in size and color, and appears in two different forms in the list of amenities below the map, too.
The Wi-Fi Alliance said today it would offer a two-phase plan to keep 802.11n's innovation moving along: With the next potential draft approval of the faster wireless data standard from engineering standards group IEEE's Task Group N looking like it won't appear until March 2007, the Wi-Fi Alliance has chosen to step in to stabilize the market. The first phase of certification will confirm compliance to what they expect will be Draft 2.0 in March, the next letter ballot in which Task Group N voters agree to an extensive set of changes to Draft 1.0. The compliance will be coupled with interoperability testing, so that devices labeled with their phase 1 branding--yet to be determined--will work together at the right speeds.
The second phase will be tied to a ratified standard, which may come by spring 2008. Ratification usually takes up to six months after final technical details are decided on and approved within a task group, so the standard will likely be gelled by fall 2007. Wi-Fi Alliance managing director Frank Hanzlik said in an interview today that should the March 2007 meeting not produce another draft, the alliance would assemble the closest possible set of agreed-on ideas to produce their certification standard. (The news was scheduled to be released tomorrow morning; News.com broke the embargo this evening.)
Products that comply with phase 1 certification for draft 802.11n could be on the market--through firmware upgrades or new hardware releases--by June 2007, but it's likely that devices that start to hit the market by early 2007 will more and more closely conform with what will be certified. "We actually are doing a lot of formal interoperability testing within the alliance with pre-standard products," said Hanzlik, and this ongoing work should reduce the time between the draft's approval and certification approval. (The alliance has opened more worldwide testing labs in recent months, too, which should distribute its certification work for faster completion.)
Phase 1 products aren't guaranteed to be forward-compatible with phase 2 products. "The forward-compatibility part is certainly too hard to call at this point; it's not anything that the alliance is committing to," Hanzlik said. However, they are stressing that compatibility among the phase 1 and 2 products would be highly stressed.
Phase 1 products will almost certainly have none of the optional elements for 802.11n, such as larger antenna arrays that produce higher throughputs. Some of these optional elements remain points of discussion, and will be less settled until further drafts are developed. Another major issue outstanding is the manner by which 802.11n devices will interact with legacy adapters and legacy networks, whether on the same Wi-Fi network, same Wi-Fi channel, or on adjacent Wi-Fi channels. That is expected to be resolved for the next letter-ballotted draft, which should be Draft 2.0.
This intermediate approach to 802.11n certification echoes the earlier interim security measure, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), that the alliance put into place when the work on 802.11i lingered far longer than the market and manufacturers would tolerate, with the failure of Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) as a reliable link encryption method. WPA was available a year before 802.11i's final ratification, and stabilized the security concerns of the market. The later WPA2, which included the strong AES encryption method, entered the industry with relative seamlessness.
Of course, WPA had more to do with retrofitting a security model to work on older devices without leaving newer devices with less protection, and was a good-enough security system; WPA2 almost serves a different market, in which government-grade encryption algorithms are required and fast handoff for authentication, mobile devices--like VoWLAN handsets--is critical.
With 802.11n, the standard has to work on the lowliest to most sophisticated device, and there's a lot of hardwiring in silicon that can't be fixed later, so the standard has to be right when devices are released. That's been one of my primary objections to Draft N gear.
I have consistently said that you should not buy Draft N gear because there are significant advantages for most users. Buying MIMO gateways makes a lot of sense if you want better 802.11g speeds over greater areas. That technology is now relatively mature, relatively compatible, and relatively cheap. Draft N devices are quite expensive (Atheros aims to fix that by year's end), don't seem to deliver range and speed in testing (see this latest PC World showdown), and have no guarantee of full upgradability when the final 802.11n standard is delivered. (Intel said today they'd include Draft N support in their Santa Rosa platform in the first half of 2007, but Intel is on the board of the Wi-Fi Alliance, and thus knew this certification was coming when they made this statement.)
This process set up by the Wi-Fi Alliance answers my concerns.
First, with 802.11n's ratification pushed back nearly a year from the expectation just a few months ago, there's now a reason to bring today's capabilities into today's equipment. When ratification was just a few months away, having an entire generation of equipment that would be potentially incapable of forward compatibility or upgrade seemed ridiculous. Now, it's a reasonable market choice given a 12-to-18-month lifespan for the right kind of user. (The equipment will obviously continue to work after the ratification, too, and have its own value as it will retain interoperability and other benefits that current Draft N devices can't guarantee.)
Second, the Wi-Fi Alliance is waiting for Draft 2.0 or its equivalent. This allows a host of compromises to be made in the year between Draft 1.0 and 2.0, and technical problems to be solved. There should be an ocean of difference from Draft 1.0 to 2.0 in terms of basic problems being solved. Today's Draft N devices promise compliance to a draft that will be superceded, and offer no hardware upgrade promise when and if that happens if firmware upgrades fail to suffice.
Third, the alliance will offer a brand that I confirmed with Hanzlik will be clearly differentiated in phase 1 and 2. This won't offer consumers or businesses any implicit promise about forward compatibility. This reduces confusion in the marketplace and provides a clear message to equipment buyers that they are buying gear that may be superceded later, but has value now.
Fourth, the interoperability and conformance testing by the Wi-Fi Alliance will smooth out the rough spots in using devices from different manufacturers together. Some early equipment plays very poorly with its friends (similar devices from other makers) and neighbors (nearby networks). The alliance's process has worked in the past.
So, I can't say right now, go out and buy Phase One gear, because it has no name and doesn't exist. But I will predict with some degree of certainty that devices that start shipping in late winter 2007 will likely offer enough carrots for those who need higher performance or greater area networks to start thinking about purchase, and what's for sale by June 2007 (and certified) will be good investments in the next generation of Wi-Fi.
Intel's security updates for its Centrino Wi-Fi adapters had a memory leak that affected performance: The bug has been fixed in a newer release available from Intel's drivers download page.
The folks at Network Computing have delivered a mammoth, superb overview of mobile wireless data: The article by Peter Rysavy--a wireless consultant that I had a great interview with last winter--and Jameson Blandford covers the history of wireless data; the current market of cell data and pricing, Wi-Fi mesh and municipal networks, and mobile WiMax; and looks at the long-term disruption that's to come. While the article is focused on how companies can manage their data needs and deal with costs associated with services, the technology and market explanations are universal. This is a must-read.
Last week, Nintendo says, the two millionth player registered and used its Wi-Fi-based games: The company's press release says that in nine months, they have seen 2m unique users--and that's a trackable number since registration is tied to a game console, as I understand it--with 70m individual game sessions. They still have just a handful of games, including Star Fox, which allows up to four remote players.
Caribou Coffee gains freedom from FreedomLink: The firm, which at this writing still lists its AT&T FreedomLink affiliation, will offer one hour free to customers. After the first hour, a purchase of $1.50 or more is needed for each additional hour. This is a very interesting model that I've seen at some independent coffeehouses, but not that I can recall in a chain.
This is also the third national chain going free or quasi-free: Tully's cut the fee cord a few weeks ago, and Cosi went free on July 1. Neither Cosi nor Tully's requires purchases.
Wandering WiFi will operate the service for Caribou, which will launch Wi-Fi at some undisclosed number of its over 400 stores in 16 states. The press release says "participating locations" will have Wi-Fi by next month.
The city has spent many, many moons deciding on who to anoint to build a fiber, Wi-Fi network: A local firm called US Internet has gotten the nod to move ahead for further steps of approval. They won out over EarthLink, which has notched mostly wins in its bids around the country for the largest cities. The fiber part wasn't even mentioned in this article, which focused on competition and pricing for Wi-Fi.
An interesting part of this plan is that Minneapolis will advance the sub-$7m/year revenue firm $2.2m, and pay $1.5m for city and public safety even before services are fully active. These fees will wind up paying for services later; essentially a credit against those future services.
The network will be built over 9 to 12 months, and US Internet wants 18 percent of 168,000 Minneapolis households within five years. That is awfully ambitious, especially because the promised speed is 1 Mbps each way for $20 per month. According to one local source, there is no provision for an increase of speed nor a higher price for higher speeds. Businesses will pay $30 per month for the same service, and city employees will pay $12 per month for accounts. (A far sight from $60 to $80 per month for unmetered but not unlimited Verizon, Sprint, or Cingular 3G broadband, though municipalities can pay less for large plans.)
A $75 bridge will be required for reliable indoor reception; it can be leased for $5/month, but the articles doesn't mention if that includes hardware upgrades as the bridges turn into last-year's technology. The firm will also offer VoIP plans, with video downloads coming a few years later.
As has happened in some cities, this pricing and these goals for penetration may ignore the 800-lb. gorillas. Comcast and Qwest could offer lower-speed upload but similar or faster download services that directly compete, but, of course, they lack the mobility.
One of the big questions in cities that aren't suffering from a large broadband availability gap--a St. Paul reporter told me that nearly the entire city has DSL and cable availability--is whether the mobility portion is as important for residents and businesses as it is for municipalities. Municipalities need mobile accounts across an area clearly defined as their city. But do windshield warriors and average folk if you couple it in with home service and business service? This is the big question, and that's why 18 percent penetration in five years seems like a high bar to set.
As part of Vista, the new Windows Live Hotspot Locator Wi-Fi SpotHot Locator Brand Brand Spot Brand Service Microsoft Hotspot Locator Finder helps find hotspots: It's no JiWire--disclosure, I own a tiny number of shares in JiWire--but it's, you know, Microsoft. So we know that whatever it's like today, it will get better and bigger, and huge amounts of money will be poured into it.
While the beta is out now, the integration with Vista will apparently allow some kind of connection between configurations and hotspots you find. They've integrated Virtual Earth mapping with the hotspot finder.
It's extremely easy to crash right now. Choose Advanced Search, United States, and check Airports. Click Search. Watch it go boom. Yes, it's a beta. Actually, right now, everything I do crashes it.
Linksys has rolled out its EasyLink Advisor, a tool for network and gateway management, on a single model to start with: The EasyLink Advisor could also be labled, "A tool by which purchasers of our equipment have their frustration lessened and thus are less likely to stuff our gear back into a box and fling it at the salesperson at Best Buy who sold it to them."
Customer returns, technical support calls for setup, and over dissatisfaction are the biggest problem for Wi-Fi equipment makers. I have heard in some circles that return rates for gateways can be over 30 percent. Anything that can be done to make the first steps easier will result in substantial improvements in margins. Belkin recently tried adhesive, lettered labels for its Draft N device coupled with a large single sheet that had the series of directions. And they put some big glowing icons showing connectivity status on the top of the device. All good measures.
Linksys is attacking this on the software side. Over the years, I've watched their Wi-Fi setup tool improvement quite remarkably, although I typically skip the chase and go straight to the Web interface for advanced setting changes. The Linksys EasyLink Advisor wants to pull in more factors than just the gateway that you're setting up. The setup wizard shows graphics of the different components, cues you to plug in different parts, and confirms that you did, in fact, plug things in correctly. Icons on the front of the gateway also provide additional confirmation, much like Belkin's icons.
Now, the next part is quite interesting, because it pulls in network data, showing the relationship of your gateway to a DSL or cable modem, and the Internet (to confirm that you have access to our global computing network). And it shows other computers and devices on the network. The software can auto-discover information about Linksys devices. I'm guessing that the small Web server that's in Linksys equipment has some auto-discovery subsystems that have been kicking around unused for a while.
EasyLink Advisor also handles troubleshooting, alerting you when connections go awry, and can create a security configuration file that can be copied to other computers to add them to the network. It's not WPS, the Wi-Fi Alliance's upcoming simple security setup, but it is a fairly straightforward approach in which a Windows executable program is created that has all the settings you need to join the network built in. Run the program, and a new computer is added. The system will also provide manual setting information for non-Windows systems.
From Linksys's perspective, a final feature worth mention is what they label Support: the software can pull all the various version numbers and other details, so when the customers places a call to tech support, they have everything right there to tell the tech. This could reduce several minutes and additional frustration from a tech support call.
The software is a free but currently works with and comes with just the WRT54GS model. Linksys promises more models will receive this upgrade soon.
The transit authority for a chunk of the east side of the San Francisco Bay adds trans-bay Wi-Fi on buses: AC Transit, which handles Contra Costa and Alameda county transportation, is testing Wi-Fi starting next week, with a plan to have production service in the fall. A number of Bay Area transit authorities are testing or deploying Wi-Fi for commuters, which have commutes that probably are rivaled only by metropolitan Atlanta for duration and variability.
AC Transit would deploy Wi-Fi-based Internet access on 79 buses that cross the three lengthy bridges on the Bay: Dumbarton (I used to live near the east end of that bridge), San Mateo (a very windy bridge), and Bay (intersected by an island). The service will be free, and is funded by the state. The idea is to see if the bus could offer a competitive advantage with this amenity. The trips are long enough to get work down, bumpily, but short enough that a second battery wouldn't be needed.
The story in the San Francisco Chronicle notes that BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is in talks to consider on-board Internet access, but there are no plans to move forward, the article says. (A Jim Allison is quoted about this; this is a different Jim Allison, also working for BART, than the one involved in the Capitol Corridor Internet access project.)
This is a better deal than, say, Kodak's first Wi-Fi camera offering, which just facilitated T-Mobile connections: The CoolPix S7c is the only one of five new Nikon cameras that has Wi-Fi. The camera can also connect to other hotspots and home networks. It's $350, has a 7.1-megapixel sensor (3072 by 2304 pixels), emulates up to ISO 1600, and sports a 3x optical zoom lens.
he details on Wi-Fi are scanty--there's no information on whether it supports WPA, for instance--and it doesn't appear to have a useful file-transfer feature like Secure FTP built in. Rather, you can email photographs to people from the camera. Woo! Please, folks, just built Secure FTP in, and perhaps something like PictureSync, which uses the APIs from many different photo services to allow direct uploads. You can only seemingly transfer images via Wi-Fi directly to a computer while on the same WLAN, with the computer having special Nikon software installed. No, no, no! Open it up, folks.
The T-Mobile deal is 12 months of free usage via the camera, with service needing to be activated by Sept. 30, 2007.
One of the oldest wireless ISPs I'm aware of gets upstart in its backyard: Midcoast Internet Solutions started offering wireless broadband in 1997 using equipment from a firm later acquired by Alvarion. They're based in Rockland, although they started up in a neat little town nearby, picturesquely named Owl's Head, where the local airport is. (Of course, every town in Maine is named something picturesque. I lived in Camden, a few miles north of Rockland, for about two years in the early 1990s working for a distant and wacky teaching arm of Kodak.)
Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe has a place up the way a few dozen miles, and offered the firm's founder some good advice more than 10 years ago. (I wrote about Midcoast back in 2001; Metcalfe, who had or perhaps still has a sheep farm, wrote about them the same year when he was an InfoWorld columnist.)
About three blocks from their HQ, you'll now find RedZone, which started offering wireless broadband this last spring, and made a formal announcement about its service. The two firms are competing across a quite similar geographic area and offering quite similar pricing and services. Midcoast appears to still be using Alvarion gear. RedZone opted for SkyPilot equipment. Rockland's county, Knox, has about 40,000 residents.
Is the market mature enough to allow for competition at this scale among a set of small towns? It's part of the market that Clearwire will be after, too, with many of their licenses in less-urban areas of the U.S.
Back in 2001, Midcoast charged $800 for installation, and rebated $300 for a one-year commitment. Now, they charge $100 total with a one-year commitment. 1 Mbps service, apparently symmetrical, runs $50 per month; 2 Mbps is $90 per month.
RedZone provisions lower speeds, offering 500 Kbps/128 Kbps for a $50 setup fee and $20 per month with no contract commitment. The equipment is owned by RedZone and must be returned when service is canceled. They charge $100 setup and $35 per month for 1.5 Mbps/768 Kbps, and $100 setup and $50 per month for 2.5 Mbps/1.5 Mbps.
When I last visited Camden, cable modem service was spotty and DSL was barely available. Dial-up and leased line services would be the only real alternatives to wireless broadband. A few years ago, Midcoast had to bring in their T-1 lines in that standard's original, ugly form: a huge bundle of copper wires patched into their T-1 CSU/DSU. I know there were plans to bring fiber through and other, modern services, but I don't know at the moment whether late 20th century and early 21st century technology is running on 19th century copper.
(Lobster courtesy of Beal's on Mount Desert Island. My wife ate the one pictured.)
You know a problem has hit the mainstream when it hits a Tuesday New York Times: My articles for the Times appears most often in Thursday's Circuits section, a time-defined region of the paper aimed at business professionals without IT backgrounds, frequent travelers, gadget freaks, and prosumers. This solid article by Susan Stellin appears in Tuesday's edition, which means that it's aimed at the general business audience. That means that VPNs have hit the mainstream, along with good advice for avoiding having your data snarfed wirelessly at hotspots.
I've been writing for years about the steps one could take to avoid snoopers intercepting unprotected passwords, email, and other session data that's not secured by a VPN or a secured SSL/TLS or SSH connection. But my articles have appeared in trade publications like Macworld and in the Personal Technology section of The Seattle Times, to name two.
A CNet editor is quoted in the article recommending that you avoid all financial transactions at, say, an airport, but that's probably condensed from longer advice. I always say that as long as your financial institution has an already-secured page on which you log in--that is, you're at https://mybank.com not http://mybank.com when you type in your account login--then you should be able to surf securely at any hotspot. (There's a known flaw in using non-secured pages for login, because evil twins and other foul Wi-Fi tools could allow a ne'er-do-well to provide a false login page with a false site to which your details are submitted. Secured Web pages for login mean that the page's security is validated by the SSL/TLS process before you type in your password.)
There's also good advice on using public computers. I have given up on that idea--keystroke loggers are too easy to install to allow any safe use of a computer you haven't vetted.
Associated Press, Walt Mossberg favor latest NetGear electrical data network devices: Last week, Mossberg said the 85 Mbps flavor of NetGear's Powerline adapters made a lot of sense for home users who want high-speed networks without pulling wires, and they worked reliably, unlike his recent experience with early Draft N (pre-ratification 802.11n) wireless devices. Today, the AP's Peter Svensson chimes in with a positive review of the faster 200 Mbps (HDX101) adapters, which Mossberg thinks are overkill for the overwhelming majority of consumers.
EarthLink covered in The New York Times, MetroFi in The San Francisco Chronicle: EarthLink's pinned its future on evolving businesses, like voice over IP, municipal wireless, and their participation in Helio, a youth-focused cell operator (a mobile virtual network provider or MVNO). MetroFi's future hangs on whether they bet right in pushing free metro-scale Wi-Fi as a sustainable business.
Is there a MacBook hack that uses its native, built-in driver and hardware, or isn't there? I have been talking to many colleagues via email about the Black Hat 2006 presentation and its precursors and aftermath. Researchers David Maynor and Jon Ellch first stated that there was an exploit on multiple platforms with multiple drivers that would allow remote attacks and potential escalation of privilege--taking over a computer--via a Wi-Fi connection. This would not require the Wi-Fi network to be connected to a network for the attack to work.
I have not, in fact, spoken to Maynor and Ellch, which may be an oversight, but when colleagues have offered to get me in touch, it has come with a proviso that I will learn non-disclosable information. I'd rather not be in that position (yet).
Part of the confusion over whether this is a real exploit against a limited set of Macintosh computers--ostensibly MacBooks and MacBook Pros with specific Apple-installed adapters and drivers--stems from the researchers' decision to record a videotape that used a third-party adapter and drivers. Since this is uncommon and they wisely didn't show or explain which adapter was in use--to avoid releasing information about the exploit before it could be patched--the demonstration was not significant.
Their statements before, during, and after the event are, however, because they stated to Brian Krebs of Security Fix and demonstrated to him that there is an exploit that works on certain Macs. I can find no other person on the record who has seen this exploit demonstrated or to whom Maynor and Ellch provide the same statements. No one has publicly admitted to having seen the mechanics of the exploit--what kind of frames? what's the sequence?--and it would be irresponsible for anyone to reveal these exploits before they were patched.
Apple has denied that any material supplied by Maynor and Ellch shows a vulnerability. (I haven't heard anything about Microsoft or other vendors, except for Atheros, which said it hasn't seen anything that can be exploited, either, but it's unclear whether Atheros received the code and exploit details from the researchers or received them and found them lacking.) They have not denied that there is a possible exploit, which is wise, because this category of exploit is certainly possible.
There appear now to be two camps of pundits and commentators following the matter.
The first camp, which George Ou is the leading member of, says that the researchers clearly stated at Black Hat 2006 that they were demonstrating a third-party hack on the video that they showed. What's confusing here is that Ou was never told directly by Maynor or Ellch that they had a native Mac exploit. Ou cites Brian Krebs and points to Krebs's transcript and other reportage on this matter. On the video of his interviews, Ou quotes a snipped in which Maynor specifically states that they are not showing an Apple exploit. Ou can't get more out of Maynor at this point, he writes, about the Apple issue.
Ou believes there is an orchestrated attempt to discredit Maynor and Ellch. Brian Krebs at Security Fix stated on Aug. 3 that Apple had leaned on the researchers to not "make this an issue" about the Macintosh drivers. I'm not sure I can buy that. Rather, I think Apple released a press release that specifically has a point in time mentioned: nothing Apple has seen to date shows a native exploit, and the exploit demonstrating was using third-party equipment.
Rich Mogull, a computer security expert, is also a member of this camp, in that--as he writes on his personal blog on security issues--that Maynor and Ellch will "emerge with their reputations intact." He also says they've been trying to do the right thing from the start. He can't speak directly to all the issues as he's under nondisclosure (as is George Ou) with the researchers. However, he's pretty strongly implying that Maynor and Ellch were generally avoiding talking about the Apple exploit they mention to Krebs.
The other camp now believes there is no such native Mac exploit, and is stating it pretty unequivocally. Jon Gruber of Daring Fireball sends out this Molotov cocktail today. Here's his stance in a nutshell, but read the whole article: "...[W]e know that if Maynor and Ellch have identified an exploit against a stock MacBook, that they have not yet contacted Apple (or Atheros) with details about the vulnerability--which is both enormously irresponsible for ostensibly professional security researchers, and which contradicts statements they previously made to Brian Krebs that they had been in contact with Apple regarding their discoveries. Or, if they have contacted Apple, the statement issued by Apple’s Lynn Fox is flat-out false and Apple has committed an enormous, almost incomprehensibly foolish mistake, because such a mendacious lie will prove far worse for Apple than divulging a Wi-Fi exploit that, if it actually exists, is surely going to come to light soon anyway. I.e. why would Apple lie about this if Maynor could call them on it?"
Gruber answers the question: Have Maynor and Ellch made contradictory or ambiguous statements that appear straightforward at first and then less and less so each time you read it. In fact, as I review statements and read Rich Mogull's post particularly, it's clear that the researchers are generally avoiding talking about a native Mac exploit. In the interview with George Ou, they talk about their third-party wireless hack. In the slides they prepared for DefCon, Gruber notes that they state, that "we are, however, doing ongoing research on the built-in card," which doesn't say, "We have an exploit," but nor does it disclaim that they have found such an exploit.
Jim Thompson, formerly of Wayport and Vivato, and currently a designer of wireless ISP-oriented gear, has posted a series of analyses of the exploit and how it might work. (Note that he does not disclaim, and neither do I, that such exploits are clearly possible.) Thompson writes in a fairy scathing manner, and Maynor tried to scathe him in return. Jim is fireproof, and he's since written even more analysis after seeing the high-resolution video of the Black Hat 2006 demonstration in which he thinks he's finding all kinds of continuity problems, red herrings, and other suspect pieces of information. (I have not seen this high-res version.) He wrote about this on Aug. 3 (general thoughts), Aug. 18 (specific details about how adapter MAC addresses don't add up, among other items), and Aug. 20 (what's up with the shell path).
(There's another camp that seems to maintain that the researchers said they were demonstrating a native Mac weakness, but instead showed a third-party adapter and driver. That is clearly not the case, although it's being used as a strawman. The Unofficial Apple Weblog took that stance, for instance, but they are misreading SecureWorks's note attached to the video demonstration. The note doesn't say there is no native Mac exploit; rather, it states that the demonstration didn't show it. Which the demonstration video never claimed.)
Where does this leave us? George Oh says that those of us reporting on this issue are judging Maynor and Ellch by a standard that other security researchers aren't held to. That Maynor and Ellch are trying to be responsible and provide the exploit to the relevant parties for them to deal with. But given that Apple and Atheros have released statements denying any problems with the specific situation the two of them say they have proven, this releases the researchers from the very high level of restraint they've shown, doesn't it?
There's one more possibility that I was just alerted to. It involves timing and accidental disclosure. I'll write more about this as soon as more is purposely disclosed.
A hearing-impaired colleague thought transcripts would be quite useful: I have to agree. My wife is deaf in one ear--although she has it restored with a special hearing aid through the magic of a metal screw in her skull--and I had concerns about audio or video only publishing. Luckily, through colleague recommendations, I found CastingWords, a firm that charges a ridiculously small amount of money for complete transcriptions. I handed them a set of difficult, acronym-filled podcasts, and received fantastically good transcripts that require very little editing to fix a few misheard names and abbreviations.
I've posted the first transcript, from Podcast No. 13 with Steve Shaw of Kineto Wireless, as part of the extended entry for that podcast. In the future, I will plan to have transcriptions made immediately after posting, and have them available within a few days of the audio podcast.
I'll be posting transcripts over the next week or so from the other 14 podcasts broadcast to date.
Atheros hasn't seen any credible code, either: Brian Krebs of Security Fix at the Washington Posts updates the story he was the first to write about extensively with access to the researchers. The Wi-Fi exploit that they claimed allowed compromise of a computer because of drivers problems with several adapters now appears to be somewhat debunked. While the general premise is still reasonable--Intel released an unrelated Centrino update intended to prevent escalation of privileges via a Wi-Fi driver flaw--the researchers appear to have no leg to stand on at this point in terms of their demonstration and their claims. (Update: Some commentators and security experts have a different opinion: see bottom.)
Atheros's CTO, a blunt-spoken fellow, sent Krebs this statement: "Atheros has not been contacted by SecureWorks and Atheros has not received any code or other proof demonstrating a security vulnerability in our chips or wireless drivers used in any laptop computers. We believe SecureWorks' modified statement and the flaws revealed in its presentation and methodology demonstrates only a security vulnerability in the wireless USB adapter they used in the demo, not in the laptop's internal Wi-Fi card."
Apple said yesterday that the researchers had provided no information that showed an exploit was possible, and that the demonstration used a third-party Wi-Fi card and driver; the researchers updated their site to reflect this. Krebs received a clarification today from Apple that the researchers had, in fact, contacted them prior to their demonstration at Black Hat 2006--which seemed in dispute yesterday. Krebs writes, "Apple's revised statement today made it clear that the company had not received any evidence from SecureWorks to back up the claim that the Macbook drivers are indeed vulnerable."
Finally, Jim Thompson, whom one of the researchers attempted to smack down by assaulting his expertise and misreading some of his analysis, goes all out. He's obtained a high-resolution version of the video that the two researchers recorded, and uses information that he can see in that version to show what appears to be misdirection and other problems with what they stated they were doing.
The suspicion now is that the researchers hit upon a FreeBSD Wi-Fi driver flaw that has since been patched, and that Apple doesn't directly rely on, although they've built on top of it. Krebs is waiting for confirmation of this back from Apple.
What do we learn from this? Not that Mac OS X is impregnable. Not that Wi-Fi drivers are trustworthy. Not that researchers may exaggerate data for publicity. Rather that it's, in fact, all too likely that a Wi-Fi driver could allow an exploit to happen--but that under the guise of preventing exploits in the wild that it's too easy to take that general case and believe that it's applicable when we can't see and touch it.
Ultimately, the exploit the researchers allege to have found must be fixed, and at that point, their research should be made fully available for inspection. If that doesn't happen, their credibility is sunk.
The moral of the story, truly, is "Don't taunt Mac users unless you've got something real to show."
Update: Some folks like George Ou and a few through private email who don't want to be identified at the moment are stating that researchers David Maynor and Jon Ellch never said that there was an exploitable feature in the driver for Apple's own Intel-based laptop Wi-Fi adapters. Ou has video of his interview at Black Hat 2006 with the two fellows in which they state this more clearly than any other coverage I've read or, in fact, their own video.
Ou suggests there's an orchestrated attack being conducted--one assumes by Apple?--against Maynor and Ellch to discredit them. He cites hate mail and crazy phone calls as part of this, but I don't think he's implying Apple is making them. But he does think the press is ganging up against Maynor and Ellch. I'd suggest that we're seeing follow-up stories because the two researchers first said that Apple leaned on them not to show an Apple driver being hacked, then they backed off that claim (or that claim was misunderstand). They also baited Mac users and didn't deliver the goods, making the goods seem unreliable.
Ou can't get Maynor to talk about the Apple situation, so he references the live demonstration that Brian Krebs received in a hotel room at Black Hat 2006 that Krebs published the full transcript of after people on his blog complained that he was exaggerating the exploit's potential. However, Ou misses a key point when he writes, "The transcript clearly reveals that Maynor had demonstrated the same exploit on a Mac without any third party wireless hardware!"
Krebs wrote in the introduction to the interview transcript, "in the demo Maynor showed me personally, he exploited the Macbook without any third-party wireless card plugged in. As far as I'm aware, only one other person at the conference saw the demo the way I saw it (a Black Hat staff member whom I'm not at liberty to name); the discrepancy over the wireless card is probably the biggest reason why the Mac community was so confused and upset by my original post."
Now here's the crux. No one that I know of has seen the actual code or the details of exploit, or at least they are not yet able to even state that they have. Thus, what Brian Krebs saw and George Ou cites is Krebs seeing a few keystrokes on a computer and then a file appearing on a Macintosh. Krebs saw a live demonstration, but he still hasn't seen the code. Apple has apparently seen the code, but says it's not an exploit. Atheros has not seen the code.
I'd like to say I'm from Missouri here. Let's hear from an independent party that won't reveal the code but who has inspected it, and performed the exploit on unmodified equipment.
Another update: Some think that Apple has snowed me. There should be more news this week. Many security researchers and commentators know Maynor or Ellch, and believe they have seen something legitimate. If so, Apple will have a lot to answer for.
The Dalai Lama offers his support for the conference: The summit, taking place in the Tibetan government in exile's home in the Himalayas, happens Oct. 22-25. The Dalai Lama released a letter in support of the event, which will focus on the advantages of wireless networks for rural communities in bringing better education, health-care information, economic development, and a host of other potential enhancements to life. The local wireless mesh network was recently highlighted in the US by BoingBoing editor and NPR Day to Day correspondent Xeni Jardin who trekked out to see many-mile-high Wi-Fi. She writes over at Wired News about the summit. [link via BoingBoing]
The Seattle Times hits the mark on the death of global Internet access: Aerospace reporter Dominic Gates offers the best summary in the media of what the end of Connexion by Boeing truly represents: An end to Internet access in flight anywhere in the world (not everywhere, however). (The second death for Boeing is that it's the end of their plans to build multibillion-dollar satellite-based businesses.)
Boeing built Connexion around a late 1990s business plan, and I had always seen its post-9/11 existence as proof that it was the then-CEO's pet project. There is no love for Phil Condit in Seattle, where I live, as he decided for what appears to be no particular reason nor financial advantage to have moved the company's headquarters to Chicago. Most of its operations and a lot of key staff remain here, while Condit was ousted in 2003 over fallout from the US Air Force tanker deal.
In the late 1990s, jet fuel prices were much lower, and by the time 2001 rolled around, planes were full and airlines made apparently more profit during that short period than in the entire previous history of the industry. Putting 800 pounds of equipment on a plane and charging $30 a flight to use the internets at 35,000 feet seemed completely reasonable. And remember that domestic carriers had signed off on the plan.
Then 9/11 hit. The airline industry sunk. The economy briefly supertanked. Travel seemed less fun and necessary. And then gas prices shot up and up and up. An 800-pound monkey now seemed untenable to airlines heading into and then fully in bankruptcy.
By the time the next CEO came in, well, he was tied up with the ethics investigation and trailing Airbus's momentum. He was in for a year, and then out for violating the company's code of conduct. Jim McNerney was appointed the head in June 2005, by which time Connexion was actually established and seemed to have an upward pointing deployment and usage arc--I'm guessing that bought the division some time. McNerney didn't carry the sentimentality of Condit, and with Boeing on an upswing of orders, profits, and brushing away the past, must have decided it was time to take the financial hit when $320m written off would sink down among a lot of good news.
Boeing thought the business would bring in $5b in revenue per year by 2010, but it's hard to understand even that calculation. There are several thousand planes used for commercial flights in the US, but only a fraction would be appropriately large enough for Connexion to have been installed. With, say, 2,000 planes flying 300 days a year, that's 600,000 flights. With optimistic usage of 40 people on average per flight at $20 a pop, that's just $800 per flight or about $500m per year. So they would have had to have 20,000 planes or a variety of expensive services to sell airlines to reach anything like that revenue.
I was surprised as anyone to see the poor uptake numbers in this story and elsewhere: Lufthansa never saw more than 40 users on a flight, and rates were typically four percent or 10 passengers per flight. While Connexion's rate is typically reported as $27 for an entire flight, that's for the longest flights. Shorter duration flights cost less, and there were bundles and discounts available for larger companies and purchases through access aggregators, like iPass and Boingo Wireless.
On a flight that might cost $600 to $2,000 and last 6 to 14 hours, paying $27 for high-speed Internet access seems like a small fee to get a day's work back. And many regular users said exactly that. I have a feeling that outside of Lufthansa, which equipped most of its long-haul planes, there simply wasn't enough Connexion available routinely to the kind of regular traveler that would use the service. There wasn't enough for this traveler to get used to the amenity and find it out.
A comment on one blog about the shutdown wondered why Boeing didn't offer 20 or 30 minutes per flight for free to whet people's appetite. There has always been a lot skepticism about the speed the service offered, despite consistent reports that the speed was, in fact, quite good and consistent. (I occasionally received anonymous emails about gaps in coverage in certain parts of the globe, but wasn't able to confirm them.)
There's no other service in the running yet to offer global Internet access. In fact, there's no other generally available commercial Internet service in flight at all right now. AirCell will blanket North America with broadband--they will eventually have permission and partners to deploy over not just the US, but Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. OnAir and Aeromobile plan European launches by next year of cell service.
Gates of The Seattle Times provides a number that I haven't seen before for broadband via Inmarsat's satellite service, which is how OnAir will bring cell service into planes. Gates writes that Inmarsat would charge $6 per megabyte for data transferred. Unless OnAir has a magic deal with them, that wouldn't allow anything like the unlimited service that Connexion offered. (Connexion had enormous fixed costs, paying for transponders on satellites around the world to provide global coverage. Inmarsat is offering more of an a la carte plan used their fourth-generation satellites.)
Inmarsat doesn't yet have its third bird up covering the Pacific, which is key to making an international service viable. They claim 85-percent land-mass coverage, but that big, nearly empty ocean has a lot of people flying across it quite regularly.
Interesting column by UK Wi-Fi gadfly--say that three times fast--Guy Kewney, pointing out a competitive technology to Tropos's new approach: Kewney thinks I was too broad in stating that all Tropos competitors choose to use 5 GHz for backhaul only, where Tropos's new metro-scale mesh system will use 5 GHz as an alternative mesh routing path with dual-radio nodes. He writes that LocustWorld, in operation since 2002, offers similar mesh-over-multiple-radio technologies. And that the firm is ignored because they don't really sell hardware or software; they develop software for reference platforms and sell consulting services.
Because LocustWorld doesn't have salespeople or an obvious US presence in the market--because they're not per se selling a product--I haven't seen any comparisons with their software running on commodity devices against commercial, expensive gear sold by Tropos, BelAir, and others. I don't know whether their approach has been considered by any of the major operators now in the US market. MobilePro has chosen to use Strix gear, EarthLink picked Tropos and Motorola, and MetroFi has stuck with SkyPilot.
It's worth noting that both the commodity devices and the multi-thousand-dollar, multi-radio proprietary hardware mostly use Atheros chips. That's right. The heart is the same. Tropos's VP of engineering Saar Gillai said in an interview earlier in the week that Tropos has put significant effort into building their own radio boards around Atheros chips, while, he asserted, their competitors typically purchase prefab reference design-based boards that Gillai says vary in performance from board to board.
If you look at Defacto Wireless, a partner of LocustWorld that sells Atheros-based mesh nodes in the US that will run LocustWorld's software, they offer single-radio ruggedized external nodes for $700 to $800, which is about a fifth of the list price of a Tropos single-radio node, which Inc. magazine said retails for $3,500.
RoamAD from New Zealand also offers software for fungible Wi-Fi boxes, although they charge license fees for it. Martyn Levy, RoamAD's CEO, told me recently that their mesh approach allows their value-added integrators to choose the best set of Atheros-based hardware, manufacture or purchase it in whatever quantities they want to negotiate, and then install RoamAD's routing gear.
I'll be curious if someone performs the testing necessary to see how RoamAD and LocustWorld stand up to their much-more expensive, proprietary hardware brethren. I have been told by RoamAD and LocustWorld seems to maintain that a large number of nodes using their respective software have been installed worldwide.
But no significant metro-scale operation in the US has been built on either platform, and we're living in the crucible of municipal Wi-Fi right now. RoamAD has a large installation in downtown Perth that's focused on three-dimensional (i.e., tall building) mesh networking, but it's only 20 blocks. Bigger networks are in the works, but not yet announced.
Apple says no Wi-Fi flaw: Apple's public relations director Lynn Fox says that the Wi-Fi exploit demonstrated two weeks ago in a video shown at the Black Hat 2006 conference does not represent a flaw in Apple's software or device firmware. Apple told Macworld that the demonstrated exploit uses a third-party wireless driver for a Wi-Fi USB adapter. Neither the driver nor the chips are the same as those used by Apple in Mac OS X on a MacBook.
Further, Fox told Macworld that Apple has not received code or a demonstration that shows a flaw in shipping hardware and software. The researchers have changed the message on the page at SecureWorks, the consulting site at which they provide services, to note that Apple code wasn't involved in their demonstration.
The two researchers who presented the hack say that a flaw in the way in which wireless drivers from several manufacturers hand off data to the operating system can allow exploits in which a machine can be compromised to execute arbitrary code, such as a "bot," a remotely triggered piece of software used by spammers or attackers.
This was apparently true for Intel Centrino adapters, as that firm released update drivers in July that prevent this form of exploit. The researchers say they had nothing to do with Intel's update, but their exploit has similar attributes, and that helps make their case more credible.
Connexion shuts down: The Times of London reports that Connexion has been shut down. They spent six weeks evaluating whether they could sell the service. They apparently couldn't. They will write down $320m. Some of these fees are paid to airlines for early termination. The company seemed to reveal in a conference call on earnings a few weeks ago that the service costs $120m per year to operate.
Lufthansa vows to get the service running again. They installed it on 80 percent of their long-haul planes, were one of the first, and have the most planes by far hooked up.
Here's Boeing's press release. They'll start phasing the service out soon.
Ever since Wavion said they'd use space-division multiple access (SDMA) for downlinks in their metro-scale Wi-Fi product, I've wondered whether it could work: A very nice PR flack for the company gave me flak because I compared Wavion's approach to Vivato. In SDMA, you divide client access across space rather than time or frequency. In theory, this allows a single wireless base station the ability to pinpoint a receiver with a unique signal from other, even close by receivers. This reminded me of Vivato's approach, in which a large number of antennas were used to beamform signals; Vivato's product wound up too expensive and not functional enough, and the company went into bankruptcy months ago. (There are new signs of life, however.)
In a recent interview with Wavion for their product launch, their technology head Dr. Mati Wax, explained that they have a distinctly different approach from Vivato, using a single channel and fixed antennas that are digitally controlled. Vivato used three channels and analog beamforming among a large array of antennas. Also, Wavion has production equipment out in the field, while Vivato never got their unique technology to work in production. (If you used a single beam, you could get good results, but the pricing then was out of whack. I still hear about Vivato's panels being used to cover large outdoor areas with low usage rates.)
Wi-Fi isn't designed for SDMA, and thus Wavion can only provide SDMA on the downlink side from base station to receiver. Since routine network traffic like streaming data, Web surfing, and file downloads are all downlink, there's an advantage to a 4:1 asymmetric rate. Further, SDMA would allow specific devices or sets of devices a kind of priority over other devices, making it easier to deliver forms of quality of service (packet priority) in the field.
When I spoke to Wavion's Wax, he said that SDMA support wouldn't be in their first product release, but was still in testing. In an interview earlier this week with Tropos Networks, I asked Saar Gillai, that firm's engineering vice president, whether SDMA was practical. Tropos doesn't use anything like that technology, and Wavion could potentially challenge (or partner with) Tropos if SDMA works as they hope. Gillai said that SDMA was possible--it has been used with specific devices--but fiendishly difficult, which is a fairly positive answer from a company that has gone done a different technology path. Gillai doesn't believe the numbers on density put out by Wavion and others, as he sees MIMO as more of a coverage than performance technology on the metro-scale.
Ultimately, for SDMA to be successful, a future Wi-Fi MAC (media access control) protocol would have to incorporate it so that both adapters and base stations could coordinate more efficiently. The 802.11n spec doesn't include SDMA as an element, so any Wi-Fi update with SDMA that's not a proprietary offering for a niche industry (like military or public safety) would be at least three years away.
It's no surprise that Tropos would offer multiple-radio mesh nodes for its metro-scale networking equipment, but how they're using the second radio is unusual: It has been abundantly clear for many months that for Tropos Networks to compete effectively for metro-scale network deployments they would need to add models of mesh network routers that had two or more radios. Tropos has now done so, with a model slated to ship in October that contains both a 2.4 GHz and a 5.8 GHz radio. What surprised me is how they chose to use that second radio, and how relatively little they're charging for it. (This announcement was slated for Thursday, and News.com broke the embargo this evening.)
Tropos has chosen to upgrade its MetroMesh operating system to support mesh routing across bands. The company said in a wide-ranging interview that their new approach will choose the most efficient route to move packets among clusters of mesh nodes. In an extreme example, if the user-facing 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network is busy, then Tropos routers would move all intra-nodal traffic to 5 GHz hops; more typically, however, any given packet will transit over the least loaded connection, which could be hopping among a combination of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz links.
Combined with a recent improvement that allows per-packet power level controls, this change could produce a substantially more efficient use of spectrum; lack of efficiency has been one of the biggest criticism of single-radio mesh networks in general and Tropos's system specifically. True mesh networks require all nodes in a cluster to use the same frequencies, which results in a single packet occupying network time slots usually at least once, but possibly several times, to reach a connection out of the cluster. With a second radio, packets could transit the mesh-only 5 GHz connections as need be, offering more time slots to clients. (In future software releases, Tropos might support clients on 5 GHz as well as mesh traffic.)
Their first two-radio router doesn't solve the problem of backhaul, and will still require an capacity injection connection to equipment like that from Alvarion or Motorola, which Tropos points out is typically substantially less expensive than a mesh node.
Saar Gillai, vice president of engineering, said Tropos approached the multi-radio problem differently than their competitors, because there's a high cost in "closing" 5 GHz links--or providing full coverage in every part of a network. Tropos has opted for omnidirectional 5 GHz antennas, which dramatically reduces a 5 GHz radio's potential range, but fits in neatly with Tropos' desire to distribute traffic across a cluster of nodes. In some clusters, 5 GHz radios will only cover 50 to 80 percent of the same area that 2.4 GHz radios cover.
This approach allows less dense areas to use single-radio routers and more densely deployed areas to employ dual-radio routers, rather than requiring every device have at least two radios. (Clusters could number from about three to eight units in which the 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz radios are using the same channels.) Tropos says this helps them maintain a cost advantage over competitors.
Tropos says that they can increase capacity 50 percent above their current levels with the same density of access points as they currently recommend for single-radio deployment. This gives them 50-percent closure, as they describe it, meaning that their 5 GHz links will only cover about 50 percent of the area. For a 20 to 30 percent higher cost, they suggest they could reach 80-percent closure, and nearly twice the capacity of their existing gear.
Bert Williams, senior director of marketing, said that deployment costs would be less because each 5 GHz radio wouldn't require alignment with other radios, as in point-to-multipoint systems, and adding capacity could involve simply upgrading their single-radio unit to a dual-radio model rather than building a new backhaul topology.
Not above some mild trash talking, Gillai stressed Tropos's development of their own radio technology, using industry-standard Atheros chips, but building their own radio boards and systems which reduced cost and allowed them to create what they characterize as more consistent performance from their radios. "Some of [our competitors] are using directional [antennas] because they don't have such a great radio," Gillai said. "If they're buying a whole radio in a reference design it's going to be more expensive for them. We invest much more in software." (I have heard this as well from wireless experts outside of the metro-scale networking business.)
The first hardware version of this technology in Tropos routers appears in model 5320, which supplements the existing single-radio 5210. Gillai said, "This is completely transparent to the users. You can add these routers to an existing network, or you can add these routers to a new network" as existing single-radio routers can receive software upgrades. He also said that existing networks under construction using Tropos gear would not see a shift in orders-in-progress, and that their partners had been aware for some time of the features and timetable of the new routers. Newer routers could replace existing ones in areas of congestion, although Tropos expects that busy areas would involve a denser deployment and dual-radio routers.
Tropos competitors--all of them--use a second band primarily as capacity injection, or the layer at which traffic from the user-facing radio in 2.4 GHz is offloaded to aggregated backhaul through point-to-multipoint connections. Now BelAir will say that they use intelligent switching in 5 GHz when they have two or more 5 GHz radios in a single box, and that's just fine. Strix has similar statements. SkyPilot uses extremely high-gain antennas to create point-to-point limits that are isolated in frequency and time from adjacent networks.
In their competitors' models, this allows substantially greater density at lower power of Wi-Fi nodes on nonoverlapping channels to provide a lot more bandwidth per square mile; a true mesh network like Tropos's requires all radios on the same channels, and thus you can only shrink or grow the area of a cluster of nodes (or reduce the number of nodes in a cluster) to improve bandwidth. However, the cost is prohibitive for high densities in any of the currently envisioned metro-scale projects using non-Tropos gear because each competing radio includes at least one 5 GHz radio for backhaul--what Tropos has described as the "5 GHz tax." This makes it difficult for competitors' advantage in a honeycombed Wi-Fi deployment to be expressed in the marketplace.
What Tropos is saying with their multi-radio approach is that 2.4 GHz is typically not fully loaded at any given time and that 5 GHz isn't just a directionally appropriate band. Rather, they're trying to combine the best attributes of mesh networking--closely placed nodes with frequency reuse in which the best node responds with the strongest necessary signal to a client--with the advantages of routing across dissimilar networks. The real question is whether in the field this amounts to the performance advantage that they cite, and whether the increased cost of their new units is justified by that advantage.
Tropos stated that their new 5320 would cost about 30 to 40 percent above their single radio units' cost, or more than 30 percent less than their competitors' two-radio units. It is nearly impossible to obtain pricing for metro-scale equipment--Tropos declined to provide dollar figures--and bulk orders and special partnerships also skew the numbers. Tropos also claimed in a briefing that their competitors substantially undercut equipment prices or even give equipment away to have a lower bid than Tropos-based projects.
The 5320 will ship in October, and the company expects versions with other technology, such as 4.9 GHz public safety band radios, to ship within the year. Future devices could include their own backhaul radios with directional antennas, too, and the company is watching MIMO closely as a tool to improve coverage areas. They are also watching WiMax, both fixed and mobile, to see whether there's enough service appearing in the market to offer either a client radio for backhaul or a base station radio as part of a mesh.
Here's your latest TLA (three-letter abbreviation): Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS): The newly dubbed WPS system will allow consumers to enable strong Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption on their home networks with a few clicks. No passphrase invention. No long sequences of hexadecimal to enter. No more, "this is too much trouble." Or so we hope.
While individual chipmakers Atheros and Broadcom have spent some years trying to get manufacturer uptake for easier security setup, and Buffalo has long had its AOSS hardware button solution on its gear, the whole point of Wi-Fi is that it's mix and match. As much as vendors don't like it, you will often find heterogeneous gear in a single household. Thus, a Wi-Fi Alliance backed initiative must take the day in the end.
The new system, which will be incorporated in Windows Vista, will work with computers, gateways, peripherals, and consumer electronics. The notion is that you would initiate a WPS mode on a gateway and then enter a simple sequence of digits (like a PIN), press a button, or use a similarly easy method to start a secure key exchange to retrieve the WPA key. As a fallback, devices will also be able to produce the underlying WPA key. There's been some talk in the past of pushing this key onto a USB device, as one example, to allow key exchange through hardware instead of over-the-air.
WPS will be a certified technology controlled by the Wi-Fi Alliance, so that any device using the WPS label will have had to pass laboratory tests.
A third round of private financing brings in $65m: The money was raised to finance the acquisition of cell/Wi-Fi airport operator Concourse Communications, which runs services for airport authorities in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, Chicago (both), New York (all three metro airports), and elsewhere.
They'll use the excess cash to "provide working capital to strengthen the company's balance sheet and provide funds for future growth." Which, translated, means, "We have money but not enough to move ahead at the speed we want to, and we want to buy more companies."
Boingo has raised nearly $100m in three rounds, the last of which was in 2003. The firm says they expect they will not raise additional private funds.
I have said many times that those that believe that Boingo's entire business is customer-facing resale of aggregated hotspot access might consider that the firm has an awful lot of staying power and an awful lot of staff to perform that one function. Remember that they are a software developer, just for instance.
The network goes live Wednesday morning: Google's gift to its headquarters city is now labeled the largest purely free Wi-Fi network in the U.S. This qualification is necessary because there are larger cities, including some other Bay Area cities, that have advertising-supported free networks (such as MetroFi's) or limited free usage each day. St. Cloud used to be the largest free, non-commercial network, but they have a third the residents. The network was delayed a couple of months from an earlier launch plan to increase density to fill in niches.
Google deployed 380 Tropos nodes and says they spent $1m. The network isn't intended to provide robust indoor coverage, and isn't optimized in my view of their plan for bridges, although Mountain View's general architecture should allow bridged connections pretty easily.
The New York Times focuses on Google not building networks beyond Mountain View and San Francisco, the latter of which EarthLink has said that Google will be a key tenant on a for-fee network that EarthLink will construct. I have said dozens of times since the idea first floated of nationwide Google-Fi that metro-scale Wi-Fi is a low-margin business; applications that run on networks are much higher. Why would Google sink capital into a network that others could build and they could leverage?
Wireless Week reports on Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) proposal: The Senator would like to get $50m added to an existing Department of Agriculture rural broadband program to provide funds or tax breaks to get more Wi-Fi built out in smaller towns and rural areas. Wireless Week wonders if this would affect EarthLink or other metro-scale network contractors, but notes that the funds would go to towns almost certainly below these companies' scale of operations.
In a recent podcast with Don Berryman, EarthLink's head of municipal networking, he said that the company has to work by the number of houses passed as a metric for whether to bid on contracts. That metric led them to give a pass on the Smart Valley wireless project in Silicon Valley.
The chief information officer of Philadelphia joins Civitium: She'll lead the international practice for the firm, a growing segment of their market. Dianah Neff's rumored departure from Phila. was covered two weeks ago. The Philadelphia Inquirer focused on the negatives, including an ethics investigation and a failed billing system that cost millions.
Neff was an early and consistent advocate for the utility of a city-wide wireless networks, and the company she joins develops plans to cities to carry out the authorization, encouragement, or operation of these networks. Philadelphia was an early Civitium client; that contract ended in 2005. Civitium's work with the non-profit that will handle the money and digital divide programs, Wireless Philadelphia, ended in early 2006.
It's unfortunate that Neff's five-year tenure at Phila. ends before that city's network has been even partially activated. The delays in getting started had much to do with the complexity of the relationships involved among the city, EarthLink, Wireless Philadelphia, and local utilities. Several contracts were required among these parties.
Whatever happens in Phila. will surely dog Neff's heels for good or ill. Whether the plan is executed to her instructions or not following her departure, and whether the network works as pictured or not, her legacy at the city will be tied to it.
Update: Philadelphia radio station KYW reports that the mayor's ethics board will investigate Neff joining Civitium.
The access provider that specializes in Wi-Fi has outlasted many competitors: The firm's bread and butter was once wired Ethernet pulled into hotel rooms, but they were early to consider and deploy Wi-Fi. While MobileStar went into bankruptcy, AerZone never launched, and other smaller firms disappeared, Wayport lasted through the dotcom crash and venture capital pullback to become the largest U.S. operator of Wi-Fi locations--over 13,000, combining their own contracted points and managed locations they handle for AT&T FreedomLink. Wayport was the first to push roaming as a concept, rewriting their contracts with their partners to resell those locations to Boingo Wireless, iPass, and now numerous others.
I wouldn't normally point to the celebration of a company's anniversary or longevity, even one that's been as key to the domestic expansion of Wi-Fi hotspots, except that Wayport thoughtfully includes some good statistics in their announcement. They say that they have served 25m paid connections since inception but nearly half of those have come in the last 12 months. They now incorporate 7,200 McDonald's restaurants, and I know of a few thousand FreedomLink locations as well. The rest are hotels (most of them primarily offering in-room wired access) and airports.
There was a point in which hotels appeared to be a growth market for Wi-Fi installations (with a finite limit) that would be split among major hotspots operators. In fact, that market appears to have stalled, even as major deals continue to be announced, because so many of the budget chains opted for free access. Some chains offer free service pay management fees to hotspot operators.
Where's growth in hotspot locations today? It's a good question, and one I hope to answer in the coming weeks. McDonald's is the only quick-service restaurant of its scale--think Burger King, Subway, and Wendy's--that offers Wi-Fi. Hotels have their own plans and there aren't any remaining quick wins or large wins. Borders and Barnes & Noble are tied up. And convention centers have figured out their own typically sucky strategy of charging obscene, insane fees.
Xeni Jardin spent weeks off in northern India looking into how technology and media have affected the Tibetans living here: She talks in one of her four reports for NPR radio show Day to Day about a mesh wireless network that uses Tibetan Buddhist temples--typically the highest point in towns--and abandoned radio towers. This isn't a public Wi-Fi network. Rather, it's a tool for communicating about Tibetan culture among their own society and with the outside world. Nodes are solar-powered; batteries are heavily used where electricity is relied on. About 2,000 computers hook into this network, and a summit will be held in October.
This was part three of four. Part I deals with a nomadic Hindu tribe that lives near the Himalayas; the second, about Tibet's exile community's connections via the Web; and the final about "Lhasa Vegas," in which prostrating pilgrims are juxtaposed against "garish sights and sounds."
Bad bad bunny: I am exercises my arbitrary editorial discretion to state that I will not write about this rabbit, which costs $150, glows, and wiggles its ears based on...as I said, I will not write about this bunny. They've sold 50,000 of them in Europe, and it's now available in the U.S. Okay, that's it. You can buy it from ThinkGeek. Really, I'm done.
Don't prejudge them by the word hype in their name: Hypewifi has yet another model of providing users with free Wi-Fi through support from advertising. In their model, a user must answer a few demographic questions which are tied to their profile in order to surf. These demographic questions allow more closely targeted advertising, they say, without exposing a particular user's details. Advertisers can choose to only target those whose profile matches their needs extremely closely.
This kind of approach requires a very high volume of users as qualifying users because winnowing down all users to find just the reasonable targets of ads means that an advertising inventory can't be served uniformly. Sell a million ad impressions and you see just 50,000 qualified users come through for a few pages each, and you've got a lot of unsold inventory. (You could have low-rate salvage ads displaying for "unqualified" users; this is why some sites seem littered with T-shirt ads, for instance. Although let me not mock the billions spent each year on message T-shirts.)
Hypewifi looks for locations where users would want free Wi-Fi and where professionals that meet the demographic that they want to offer to advertisers would congregate. The company says that they have 1,000 registered users so far with a soft launch.
Kevin and I go back three years, and thus we have a lot to talk about: JiWire is finishing up its third year of existence with new insights, new products, and new partnerships. Kevin, the founder and head of the firm, and I talk about how the growth in the number of hotspots seems to be slowing at the same time as revenue and sessions are increasing; what the change from points of Wi-Fi to entire zones or cities means; how mobile WiMax and mobile data of all kinds will affect how we use devices; train-base Wi-Fi; JiWire's new security product Hotspot Helper and the whole issue of encrypting data at hotspots; and the Sony mylo, a new Wi-Fi handheld device that Skypes, IMs, and emails. (Oh, and it has JiWire's hotspot directory embedded, too.)
My disclosures, stated in the podcast are that I first started working with JiWire in August 2003, and was briefly an employee. I realized that I was unemployable (read: too many fingers in too many pies), and thus turned into a consultant and adviser for the firm after giving them some extensive editorial input. We've worked together on advertising (they handled ads for me until last summer), and other editorial projects. This podcast is not an advertorial, and we leave the JiWire-specific stuff until the end. (And I mention a host of competing products!) [25 MB, 51 min., MP3, also available via iTunes]
Question for listeners: Does anyone want additional formats beyond MP3? I prepare the podcasts in Apple's Garageband, and the native output of that is AAC format, which is nearly the same size with the settings I use, but higher quality. It's also trivial for me to produce files in some other formats if there's demand.
Virgin Atlantic Airways claims to be offering the first in-flight text messaging service: If you define text messaging as "sending short emails to somebody at a dedicated service who answers your questions," then, sure, they're the first, and, I hope, the last. Instant messaging isn't what they're offering; Tenzing, by the way, was the first to offer it in 2003 and 2004, plus low-speed email via proxy. That service was discontinued, but will re-emerge from its descendent merged entity OnAir next year along with cell phone calling in flight.
You have to tell me why anyone would pay whatever ridiculous fee Richard Branson--now the world's third greatest billionaire--will demand from passengers to ask, for instance, "the best way to chat up the cabin crew" according to a Virgin spokeswoman (and isn't that a nice double entrendre on top of that nonsensical query) quoted in this Reuters story.
I won't be covering Auction 66 for 3G spectrum as closely as the air-to-ground one: I swear. The current auction involves a number of licenses in 1700 and 2100 MHz for advanced wireless services (AWS). Auction 66 should bring in nearly $15b. Sprint is not bidding, but the partnership of cable multiple systems operators (MSOs) are under the name SpectrumCo. DirecTV and EchoStar are bidding as Wireless DBS LLC.
T-Mobile needs these licenses, baby, they need them bad, if they ever want to move beyond GPRS and EDGE in the U.S., and have competitive 3G services. T-Mobile bid $437m out of a $769m bid just this morning. Over $4b was put on deposit to qualify by all bidders. T-Mobile has $584m on deposit.
Cingular and Verizon Wireless are also bidding for important regions, as well as Space Data, the folks who will shoot up balloons with cell towers on them in less-populated areas. There were 168 bidders qualified by the FCC to place offers, and the bidding will go on and on and on. The new frequencies that will be made available are certainly a big part of Verizon, Cingular, and T-Mobile's plans to offer more network-intensive multimedia services.
I keep seeing phrases like "WiMax is Wi-Fi on steroids." It's not. Here's why: The fundamental difference between WiMax and Wi-Fi is that WiMax is intended for licensed spectrum in which contention among providers with different interests is eliminated; Wi-Fi is designed for a hostile environment in which every party must accept interference within the legal limits without complaint.
WiMax works over long distances because the spectrum band rules in which it will be deployed for licensed service allow higher signal strength and have higher parameters in every area than the FCC Part 15 rules (and similar regulations internationally) that define Wi-Fi's use in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band. WiMax also benefits from the licenseholder coordinating among itself. Wi-Fi lives and dies by contention, a fear in municipal-scale networks.
Wi-Fi is a best efforts technology. Like an eager and precocious child in a raucous classroom full of other precocious children and noisy underachievers, Wi-Fi struggles to be heard while not stepping outside the rules. It often is heard, but its answers to some question are drowned out or need to be repeated. Sometimes, it takes a lot of effort to just spell serendipity because it has to say each letter loudly and slowly for the teacher--the access point--to hear what it's saying.
WiMax is a service level agreement (SLA) technology. WiMax is a private symposium with a talking stick in an elite, organized, and expensive university. In each classroom in the groves of academe, you find extremely well-turned-out students in bespoke clothing, none of whom dares speak without tacit permission of the profession. In fact, it's a bit more like watching staged readings of synchronized poetry than it is a discussion. There is no contention, and each professor rules each classroom as a captain rules his or her ship.
Before you get huffy out there and say, hey, there's going to be unlicensed WiMax, too, or, there's already unlicensed WiMax, think again. There is no unlicensed profile yet approved for WiMax. Any device that uses 5.8 GHz may be lovely, full of light and truth and the joy in exciting electrons into different states at high frequencies, but it isn't certified WiMax. Further, the word is that there may never be a certified profile for the unlicensed bands.
The 5 GHz band gets a real workout, especially 5.8 GHz with its special point-to-point rules for higher signal gain, in metro-scale Wi-Fi networks because it's the only affordable way to backhaul data, and by using highly directional signals, they can bypass quite a bit of the interference issues in that band. At least for now.
Now, I have been pigeonholed as pro-Wi-Fi because I run this blog with the title Wi-Fi in it. I also run a WiMax blog and have for years (originally with help from a colleague). My allegiance is to the consumer rather than the technology, and to the application rather than the physical medium over which applications run. I am not afraid to say that Wi-Fi is often the best-worst technology for a given situation. I could also say that Wi-Fi technology is fundamentally a mid-90s approach to wireless networking wrapped in modern encodings for speed. (Even 802.11n suffers from this.) WiMax is a 21st century technology that has roots in the past, but fewer of the past's limitations.
With more WiMax in the mix in the US, as now is inevitable (whether it's financially advantageous to the firms involve), we will see a lot more tradeoffs between Wi-Fi and WiMax. Wi-Fi's key advantages today are that it works, it's deployed, it's cheap, and it's in practically every laptop. Fixed and mobile WiMax will have some of those advantages within one year.
It's not citywide yet, but it's a great effort for an after-school project: The Rochester After School Academy (RASA) is building a network with Wi-Fi nodes attached to 17 utility poles; the network could expand to 35 in this early phase. The student-staffed Rochester Digital Ripple will operate the network. The city of Rochester helped RASA negotiate access to utility poles, and will donate 35 computers for use at a community center.
The negotiations for these poles took--a year! Can I keep reiterating that the hand that rocks the utility pole rocks the world? Yikes. The efforts in this pilot project are part of the groundwork for plans for a citywide network. [link via Mike Thomas]
The mylo instant messages, Skypes, browses Web pages, send email, plays music, and shows pictures: It's a $350 device that Sony will put on the market in September, and it uses Wi-Fi (slow 802.11b) for communications. The device, the name of which is supposed to remind us that "my life [is] online," includes support for Skype, including SkypeIn (inbound "real" telephone number) and SkypeOut (outbound phone network calling), which means it's a Wi-Fi telephone. A QWERTY keyboard is hidden and can slide out. It comes with 1GB of flash memory and a Memory Stick slot.
JiWire (according to Om Malik) apparently managed to get their hotspots directory (of locations in the US) embedded it this doodad, too. It supports WEP and WPA Personal; no corporate authentication, folks, which is just fine with the corporations.
The $99 card works with handhelds: SDIO is increasingly the form factor of choice for handheld devices, whether cellphones (which sometimes opt for mini-SDIO), cameras, or PDAs. Having a Wi-Fi option for those devices that don't offer Wi-Fi built in or through their own card is extremely worthwhile, and the retail price of $99 for the Go Wi-Fi!--love that !--makes this a decent choice, even.
The Socket card uses 802.11g, the faster Wi-Fi standard in common use, although the overall throughput is highly dependent on a device's bus. Still, even if a device can only push 1 Mbps over a 54 Mbps connection, 802.11g ultimately uses less power to move the same bits and occupies a network for less of the time, improving overall throughput.
Socket claims fairly wide support, with drivers for Dell HP, and Palm devices, and Windows Mobile 2003/2003SE and 5.0. They also say that the card supports Windows CE 42/5.0 drivers for embedded devices, which could encompass a fairly large category of equipment. There's a full suite of security support--thank you, Socket--including WPA Enterprise, but it appears its lacking WPA2. This shouldn't be an issue for many customers, although some people may be required to use the stronger AES key available only in WPA2 if they work for the government, or in healthcare or the legal industry.
The system includes a Wi-Fi management program that's sold separately for $25.
Demonstrations of long-delayed Wi-Fi service in Minneapolis: The Star Tribune writes about some public safety scenarios spun by US Internet, a local firm that is one of the two long-running finalists in building out fiber and Wi-Fi for Minneapolis. The demonstration sparked some concerns, too, because the firm showed 24-hour surveillance, which led the reporter to The Electronic Frontier Foundation. The city has set a Sept. 1 deadline for choosing a winning bidder.
Bowdoin halts Brunswick network over CALEA concerns: Bowdoin College in Maine decided they couldn't extend their Wi-Fi network covering the lovely downtown in Brunswick because they were concerned that the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) would require that a network open to the public allow wiretapping by law enforcement. This issue has been bedeviling colleges, which want to be exempt from such requirements; the FCC and an appeals court nixed that. (link via Adam Engst)
Ann Arbor, Mich's county plans Wi-Fi coverage: They've picked their provider but not signed the contract in Washtenaw County. Rural coverage for residents is part of the mix. The provider, 20/20 Communications, will spent $42m to set up the network, and charge nothing for using an extremely low-speed connection--85 Kbps in the article! Higher-speed service with advertising subsidies will be $35/mo.; no ads will cost you $50/month. They'll get access to municipal facilities to hang access points. The article is short on technical details, but they're clearly using 5 GHz for backhaul. They plan to start rolling out service in October. Residents are volunteering silos and barns for access point siting.
Springfield considers monorail, I mean, Wi-Fi: The non-Simpsons town of Springfield, Mass., which gets this joke all the time and fails to find it humorous any more, will spend $30k on a study of how to provide citywide Wi-Fi. They're thinking public safety and economic development.
Gainesville might connect traffic signals wirelessly: I'm hearing more about this lately as cities demand more applications that they could run over a municipal network, especially applications that are rather fault tolerant or require little bandwidth. Coordinating tens of thousands of traffic signals would likely use a minute percentage of a city's network bandwidth. Officials will test a system later this year, and if successful, it might help push a municipal Wi-Fi network through to reality.
PacketHop has pushed out version 2.0 of their software: This release of video streaming, whiteboarding, and messaging software combines with peer-to-peer meshing and cellular backhaul support for public safety use in the 4.9 GHz band. For more on this release, see our new Public Safety news site.
Intel's $600m investment in Clearwire had an impact? Sprint picks their next-generation network technology: Mobile WiMax. They'll use this to reach 85 percent of the U.S.'s top 200 markets by 2008 using their 2.5 GHz licenses. While they have deployed EVDO extensively with plans to upgrade it in the 4th quarter to a faster version, they've also made it clear they were looking for more ways to deliver more data than their cell spectrum holdings allowed.
Read my full analysis on our WiMax Networking News site.
The Wall Street Journal reported last night that they've decided on WiMax (confirmed in their news conference on Tuesday), which allows both fixed and mobile deployments in its newer flavor. Building a national network would cost $1b to $4b, the Journal reports. A Sprint VP told the Journal that the firm wants to be a conduit for media, and only this kind of network--not the current roadmap for 3G cellular--can deliver the bandwidth.
Qualcomm is left out of the dance on this one. They offered their subsidiary Flarion's technology to Sprint. The Journal says that, according to analysts, Sprint didn't want to be stuck with a single vendor that controlled the technology. WiMax is already too big to be controlled by any one firm, although Intel has set much of the mobility direction through heavy investments.
Sprint could even buy equipment from Motorola, which then starts to make sense about how Clearwire spun off their adapter and hardware division in exchange for cash and investments. Motorola can be a vendor to Sprint without Sprint feeling like they're directly funding their competition, and without Clearwire holding back key technology or driving it in directions Sprint is uninterested in. Update: Motorola was part of the announcement; they will be a partner in some fashion.
The Israel-based firm offers some details and a product shipping date: While Wavion's focus on its beamforming metro-scale Wi-Fi technology isn't to sell hardware, but rather to license their approach and software into other makers' gear, the company will offer devices that will be fully production oriented. The WS410 access point sports six antenna and uses beamforming--a single radio method of handling signal reflection and directionality--to provide what they term a vastly increased coverage area.
Wavion's approach seeks to remove an intermediate level of wireless devices between the highest-end backhaul and the end-user. In most metro-scale systems, there's a front-end 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi access point which is aggregated--either through an integral radio or, with Tropos, a backhaul unit for a cluster of mesh nodes--to a higher-level of the network which then picks up a fiber optic or licensed wireless backhaul to a point of presence. Wavion says that their units can serve end users and tie into the highest level of aggregated backhaul.
In trials near their office in San Jose and in conjunction with Conxx, a firm that operates an older-technology wireless network--10 years old--called AllCoNet2 in Maryland's Allegany County, Wavion says that they were able to show a dramatically reduced number of APs per square mile for comparable service. In their tests compared with gear from other metro-scale vendors, Wavion said that they could achieve better coverage with eight units a square mile than the best results from other gear using 25 APs.
Connx's CTO Jeff Blank said they have had requests from the county's municipalities at Wi-Fi overlays for their existing 500-square-mile system. They evaluated 12 Wi-Fi metro-scale vendors starting 18 months ago in rigorous standard test conditions. Blank said that Wavion's test units showed at least two times the area, and often three to four times the area, of the best of the 12 other vendors' equipment. He declined to identify the best of breed in their testing.
Pricing will vary based on a number of parameters that Wavion identified only vaguely, but in a deployment example, the firm priced their gear at over $3,000 and a competitor's at $2,000. Wavion said the WS410 will ship August 30, and be resold through other channels, including OEMs and partners.
In an interview last week, Wavion said that they had removed the controversial SDMA (space-division multiple access) from the software in this first product release, the WS410 access point, but will offer it through later upgrades. I say that SDMA is controversial because some in the industry maintain it's not possible. SDMA relies on using beamforming to target unmodified Wi-Fi adapters with enough energy that those adapters and no others can "hear" the signal. The adapters cannot use CDMA on their uplink, of course. Wavion plans four SDMA channels per access point, and say this would aggregate 216 Mbps in the best reception areas for downlink access. Some experts hope that future revisions to the MAC (media access control) layer of 802.11 adapters would provide an option like SDMA for better use of shared frequencies.
When I previously compared Wavion's SDMA with Vivato's technology, their PR folks were upset. I asked Wavion founder and CTO Dr. Mati Wax about how the two technologies differ, and why Wavion's approach would overcome that firm's technology problem. First, he noted, Vivato used analog antenna technology; Wavion does not. Second, Vivato attempted to use different channels closely adjacent to produce multiple beams; Wavion uses the same channel and a single controller to create what they believe will be the necessary separation. Their goal is zero energy at the non-targeted clients, Wax said. Wax said this was an extremely complicated task, but one that they are having success with in testing, and will bring to market.
Green Wi-Fi wants to use solar power as a hook to push networks into developing nations: The nonprofit wants to develop units that will combine solar for charging with a battery for off-peak hours. Seed money has come from One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which I keep thinking puts technology before applications. The challenge is not just that billions of people live without any or reliable electricity in their areas, but also that weather conditions could produce long periods of weak sunlight.
The less power that's trickling in, the more that the system intelligently cuts off users, uses, and periods of use to leave a window of availability. The first test was 28 days of straight rain in San Francisco without a hitch in continuous operations. Their first test will be in India through a Canadian aid organization's interest.
Podcast questions: I'll be talking to Green Wi-Fi in a podcast interview next week. Do you have questions for them? Send them on in.
An excellent prankster who uses Linux offers a way to befuddle those who would use his Wi-Fi network: Through DHCP identification of local computers, he splits traffic among legitimate access and those subjected to torment. He can either redirect everyone to, say, judging kittens, or he can run images through a local filter that turns them upside down or reverses them. Or makes them blurry. [link via BoingBoing]
Vivato's Web site has been reanimated from the dead: There's no information on why. I wrote extensively about Vivato's big, cool, fundamentally unworkable products over their several years of life. Here's the obituary. Premature? There was word the company was bought by GeoWireless, a firm that was using Vivato panels in their installations. (Yes, it's an all-Flash site.)
The fuss caused yesterday by a video presented at Black Hat 2006 of a Wi-Fi hack is still ongoing: Some folks want to deny that the hack is possible because the researchers didn't show it live in controlled circumstances. Instead, they showed a video (available at Security Fix) that shows part of the process of owning a MacBook Pro. Unfortunately for those who want to deny the possibility of this, and despite Apple's lack of public statement on it, Intel just released driver updates a few days ago for its Centrino adapters that basically state precisely what these guys have said they uncovered as a flaw and reported to Intel, Apple, and others.
The flaw affects Windows XP and Mac OS X, although it's probably only a MacIntel problem. (I have to believe that with seven years of AirPort and three of AirPort Extreme, that this category of flaw would have been uncovered on the PowerPC side, if anyone cared.)
So my guess? It has to do with a malformed beaconing frame. Access points that are not set to closed status in which the SSID (service set identifier or the name of the network) isn't broadcast are constantly sending out frames that explain who they are. Whether connected to a network or not, Wi-Fi adapters are receiving and processing this information; it's why you see a list of Available Networks in Windows XP or have a dropdown list from the AirPort menu in Mac OS X.
A specially crafted beaconing frame is the only method I can conceive of in which a computer that is otherwise not engaged in specific behavior, such as connected to a network or connecting to one, could be attacked, and that's what the researchers claim can happen. Other thoughts?
Update: Jim Thompson details extensively what he thinks is at work, including the kinds of frames that unassociated and unauthenticated Wi-Fi cards will accept.
Sharp finally yanks the fax chain with BroadbandFax: I've only been asking for this for a decade. This is a fax machine with an Ethernet port. It walks, talks, and breathes like a fax machine over phone lines, but it can also "fax" via email (converting two-sided documents to multi-page TIFF or PDF files), and can send incoming faxes directly to email. These are black-and-white only, and it can (yawn) print incoming faxes via its ink-jet printer. There's a full keyboard on the front to enter email addresses, but you can also use a Web interface to set up addresses and groups, to send a single fax to multiple parties. Best of all, $160 list price, which SciFi.com says means $130 retail. Thank you, Sharp.
Back in the 1990s, Adobe briefly had a fax option that was built into some printers. Incoming documents could be delivered as PDFs; outgoing documents would be sent via a phone line, but if another Adobe Fax printer was the answering party, the two printers would talk PDF instead of fax protocols.
This is far better. It means that you can gradually transition out of landline faxing without losing the simplicity of throwing documents into a fax hopper. While there are plenty of electronic faxing services, they all require having some kind of method of getting non-electronic documents to them. (A shout out to MaxEmail, a great and inexpensive option for receiving many faxes and sending very few.) [link via SciFi.com]
The group behind Wireless Silicon Valley winnows from seven to three: As I stated in earlier articles, I thought it unlikely that six of the seven accepted bidders for the project proposal put together by Joint Venture Silicon Valley could achieve the work. The three finalists reflect this in part. JVSV picked MetroFi, VeriLAN, and Silicon Valley Metro Connect Team, the name of the Cisco, IBM, Seakay, and Azulstar consortium. VeriLAN stated in a press release that they sent me that they are leading a consortium on projects of this type, and that Cisco is partly financing the effort.
You can read my rationale about why I still see the Metro Connect Team as the only viable choice in a posting from a few weeks ago. The WSV project would span 1,500 miles, but doesn't automatically provide a winning bidder with a carte blanche to start mounting Wi-Fi, WiMax, or other nodes.
Michael Oh and I talk about the unique aspects of Boston's initial look at citywide Wi-Fi: Oh was on the task force that released a report with recommendations earlier this week on how to bring ubiquitous, inexpensive broadband across all of Boston. The plan includes some interesting angles, such as spending $2m to light and connect dark fiber to build a 50-mile fiber ring, and the formation of a non-profit that would be dedicated to this project and yet not under the control of the city. (The mayor's office announced today that a local former tech exec with head the group that will figure out which nonprofit to pick for the plan.)
In Oh's estimation, the task force's key recommendation is that the enabling non-profit that will raise funds and contract for the network to be build will not be allowed to sell retail access. There will also be a very low bar for companies that want to be retail ISPs of the service. Oh's own business, TechSuperPowers on Newbury Street will launch a Mac-focused ISP--his business is a Mac integrator and repair shop. There's no conflict of interest in being on the task force in this case because he cannot obtain better terms; the wholesale service will be priced on an equal, nondiscriminatory basis.
Oh speculates that a neighborhood group with some volunteers could meet the criteria for being an ISP--there's no large deposit for escrow required as on other networks--and offer practically the wholesale rate to a small community. One that expects that tech support and help will be local, of course.
We also talk near the end about how existing non-profits in Boston that already are involved in training and digital divide work have been and will be involved. [42 min., 20 MB, MP3]
EarthLink chosen for Pasadena network: The firm keeps on adding customers, but Anaheim remains the only network of real scale that's live. (And it's growing: The initial rollout is part of a longer plan to equip that entire city.) EarthLink has corporate offices in Pasadena, with 400 employees. The firm is now based in Atlanta after a variety of mergers. The city's chief IT director said that MetroFi and NeoReach (which operates MobilePro) were in the running, too, but EarthLink had the "best fit."
Rhode Island will hook up a remote town as part of an extension of their state-wide network: Rhode Island Wireless Innovation Networks (RI-WINS) so far has outposts in Providence and Newport. Foster will be connected to those locations through a $200k state grant. The state had 4,300 residents in 2000. The town is located near the Connecticut border and not near much of anything of any scale.
Norfolk, England, sees largest UK network lit up, free: The city of Norwich and the surrounding area in Norfolk benefits from a publicly funded 30 sq. km Wi-Fi network offered at no cost. The £1.1m network will be a testbed for how mobile access improves life, education, and public service workers. The network offers 256 Kbps symmetrical for public access and 1 Mbps symmetrical (secured) for municipal employees. (The ZDNet article linked says that a 4 km radius (about 50 sq km?) is covered in the city center; a press release from Telabria, makers of the 200 dual-radio mesh access points used in this deployments, counts 30 sq. km overall. I'm guessing it's 4 km diameter (2 km radius), which would be just 12.5 sq km in the city center.) The network will extend to 20 rural locations in South Norfolk later this year.
The New York Times has an odd piece about Wi-Fi as a building amenity: The fundamental problem with this article is that it views Wi-Fi as something that's installed and generally tinkered with only when there's a problem, sort of like plumbing or an electrical system. In fact, Wi-Fi is fairly organic and must be actively managed. There is a model for an office to install a robust Wi-Fi system that would use multiple virtual LANs (VLANs) and multiple SSIDs to allow each company to have unique, secured paths across the wireless network within their offices or in public spaces in the building.
Generic Wi-Fi, like "here's a password, here's a network name," only works in residential settings or where small businesses are involved, and even there, there must be some kind of security overlay that would prevent neighbors and neighboring businesses from sniffing each other's traffic.
The reason building managers are not installing Wi-Fi for commercial operations is that any business of any scale will want to own, operate, manage, and upgrade its own network facilities. There is a case in which each VLAN/SSID combination could point to an individual company's own authentication or RADIUS server, but even that's a little wonky for any medium-sized business. Home users are just going to plug a Wi-Fi adapter into broadband, whether a building-wide wired service or something they pay for themselves.
This article has a bit myopia about Wi-Fi as a technology versus applications that run over Wi-Fi. For instance, this statement from a commercial real estate brokerage director: "For larger businesses, with 100,000 square feet or more, installing wireless Internet access might be less costly than hard-wiring all work stations, Mr. Popkin said."
That's true, but it's all about applications. For a video or graphics intensive business, they'll be using gigabit Ethernet everywhere, hang the cost, because network delays would result in less efficient use of staff. For a firm with lots of consultants and few permanent office space, or salespeople in and out, Wi-Fi makes sense because the staff doesn't have to switch modalities when they're in or out of the office. They just have access to the applications and network resources they need.
No: The Register asks whether fiber would trump Wi-Fi in municipal plans. The answer is clearly no, because fiber serves backbones and businesses and incumbents. Wi-Fi serves end users. We'll likely see more plans in which fiber is a component of a Wi-Fi build out, such as Boston's recently released task force report recommending a fiber ring buildout.
In areas with dark fiber owned by companies that are willing to lease the strands, building a fiber network might require only small amounts of new trenching and line laying; that's apparently the case in Boston, and might be the case here in Seattle, where a fiber RFI is out with a lot of interest expressed. (For Seattle, Wi-Fi is an optional extra in the plan.)
Berkeley's IT director describes Wi-Fi as "cheap and quick" versus fiber's "expensive and long term" and that is precisely the tradeoff (as noted to the San Francisco Chronicle). He might add that there's another tradeoff. Fiber to the home has to be built with money raised from residents, unless a private telecom like Verizon puts its dollars in. (Verizon is building out FTTH on a massive scale, but they don't commit to every home in a city, which is what a municipality would want.)
Wi-Fi, at the moment, can be had for "free," in the sense that no city expenditures have to be put in place to get EarthLink, MobilePro, or MetroFi to build a network for you, to name the three leading firms. The companies will only come into areas they think they can turn a buck, and the first two will charge residents for access. So that's a compelling part of Wi-Fi at the moment.
The Register quotes the IT director from the director's notes (but provides no link to these notes) that there's no successful economic model for running municipal Wi-Fi networks. That might be a very specific comment, in that there's been no time yet to see what models might work or fail.
Fiber to the home is infinitely preferable to Wi-Fi to the home, and I can get executives off the record in every kind of wire and wireless industry to admit that. However, the cost is so prohibitive, that Wi-Fi becomes a "best worst" alternative. It's far better than dial-up, and is the only reasonably cost-effective way to spread mass mobile access. Cell data networks work well, but are too expensive for average users and most small businesses (unless a very few employees have access), and their uplink speeds are still far too slow. (There should be no debate about how well mobile, outdoor Wi-Fi networks can work at a metro-scale; the indoor use is still where there's FUD and reasonable arguments to be made.)
Fiber is a large-scale infrastructure item that can benefit a city or town's competitiveness regardless of what kind of entity installs it because when tied in with very long-haul fiber, it allows even the remotest town to engage in the global economy. Fiber lines are starting to be laid in quite rural areas, because there's a connection between lower livable wages and the ability to bring in thousands of phone lines for companies that want to keep customer service or ordering operations in the U.S. (Where I once lived in Maine, MBNA America brought in thousands of jobs that paid awfully well compared to most local alternatives. Fiber was the key there, too.)
Two researchers will demonstrate a driver exploit today at Black Hat 2006: This exploit was made public in general terms last month, but the actual public showing will be today. The researchers have found sufficient flaws in Wi-Fi drivers on the Apple MacBook (which they're using in the demo to tweak Mac users) and Windows XP (including signed drivers) to take over a computer. Their session won't show the live exploit because they're concerned about revealing the secret sauce to a community that knows all about sniffing Wi-Fi packets; rather, they'll show a video. (Update: The video is now available at Security Fix. It seems credible, but there's no enough detail to be sure. See Intel update at the end of this post for more on credibility.)
The exploits don't require that a Wi-Fi adapter be actively seeking for a network or connected to one. It need merely be turned on. (You can turn off Wi-Fi adapters on all laptops that feature the technology built in. I'm not sure if it's an FCC requirement, but it's certainly worthwhile from a battery-life perspective.)
Brian Krebs of The Washington Post's Security Fix notes that the number of different parties involved in making a Wi-Fi adapter work is part of the issue here, and the rush to get new, working technology out the door. Wi-Fi is a particular vector because it can be poked at remotely. There may be weaknesses in many hardware drivers, but most of those require physical access to the machine to exploit.
The researchers are apparently withholding details of the exploit, which has not been seen in the wild, and have provided details to computer and operating system makers.
Intel Centrino adapters already have updated drivers that are ostensibly to fix two forms of this problem for their original 2100 adapter, and the later 2200BG and 2915ABG adapters. The 2100 has a "malformed frame privilege escalation" patch while the later units can be protected against "malformed remote code execution."
Kineto makes the gear, but we talked about the process: Kineto Wireless has been one of the drivers behind industry acceptance of UMA, a standard for cellular and Wi-Fi voice convergence in which a single handset will roam as seamlessly among both wireless network types as a cell phone can already roam from tower to tower. In this podcast, we discuss how UMA works, what the potential is, whether hotspots are important to it, where the money can be saved, and when it's coming to market.
I see UMA as a potential win-win. Consumers may see huge savings and improved call quality on cellular plans by offloading minutes to a Wi-Fi network. Carriers will see increased overall use but less reliance on their networks, making it cheaper for them to push out those increased minutes. The potential for improved call quality--coupling 802.11e for voice priority on a handset with that capability on a Wi-Fi gateway--is just icing on the cake. [31 min., 15 MB, MP3]
Transcript available below.
JupiterResearch says a poll shows 60 percent of home Wi-Fi network users have enabled security on their networks: I've been hearing anecdotally from many travelers and urbanites I know--and seen in my own peregrinations--that it's much more likely to see WEP or WPA enabled on networks when you're trolling to kipe some service (29 percent of us have done that). The press release doesn't have much detail, as the company is selling a report with the information, but notes that WPA has made it easier deny outsiders network access.
The Wi-Fi Alliance will launch a big initiative this fall to push a new, unified method of turning on WPA through a simpler process that won't require creating a passphrase. Rather, the system will generate it and protect it in a variety of ways, requiring a short PIN or a button push to provide out-of-band confirmation.
Perhaps the end of the line for Freescale's UWB chips: The first two companies that had committed to releasing Freescale UWB-based products--first in spring, then in July, now perhaps in September--told Wi-Fi Planet they've switched vendors. Belkin and Gefen confirmed the change, which seemed long coming. There are now no publicly announced plans for any manufacturer to choose Freescale UWB products. The company, a Motorola chipmaking spinoff, produces hundreds of products.
UWB offers very high speeds at short distances with the added advantage of having very little chance of interference among UWB devices or with other users of the same spectrum. (In fact, UWB has to be just above the noise floor for the long swath it's allowed to use in the US, or essentially imperceptible to existing wireless receivers and radios.)
Freescale through the firm it acquired pioneered UWB and was critical in moving it towards the potential of mainstream adoption and in getting the FCC to approve its use. But the company has never produced chips, despite predictions of "this year" since at least 2003, and engaged in a long, ugly fight with essentially everyone else in the industry. The rest of the industry, led by Intel, split off, and there's a lot of signals coming for near-term multiple vendor availability of Certified Wireless USB. The signals are more positive than before because it's not just public demonstrations, but plug-fests and announcements of reference designs.
Wi-Fi Planet cites analysts saying that Freescale's proprietary Cable-Free USB approach wasn't gaining traction, and that Freescale had apparently pushed back chip availability to 2007 "at the earliest, if ever."
Some equipment makers are miffed at the long delays in getting UWB to market, but it's clear that the two-plus years of standards wrangling had no positive effect on producing working chips.