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Hartford, Conn., spends $1m on pilot program to start gapping massive digital divide: I write these words, oddly enough, in West Hartford, an affluent suburb not far from the house in which Mark Twain spent a good chunk of his later years, and an example of the massive inequality in income, quality of life, and public schools between Hartford's border towns and the city proper. The announcement of the launch of a pilot Wi-Fi network in downtown Hartford and in a Blue Hills neighborhood was above-the-fold, front-page news in The Hartford Courant this morning. (I'm not here chasing a story, but rather visiting my in-laws.)
Mayor Eddie A. Perez is building a network as one element of coping with the fact that only 25 percent of Hartford households have a computer with Internet access; 70 percent of suburb dwellers have such access. The 25 percent figure is far below the average in Philadelphia, which encompasses rich and poor alike within its varied borders.
For starters, the Wi-Fi network will be free, but will switch to 20 hours of free use per month in March to residents. Service will cost $12 to $17 per month for residents thereafter. Commuters won't get free service, but will get the resident rate. Visitors will pay a different rate, perhaps through a day pass, yet to be determined.
While municipally built networks have provoked huge outcries in the past, there's nobody lining up to beat down Hartford for this plan. But that may be because Hartford's mayor says the city will offer the limited free service at its own expense, and doesn't want to operate a retail brand, instead providing wholesale access to a network that they expect will cost nearly $6m to span the entire city. An AT&T spokesperson already expressed interest in this model.
The pilot project will encompass 5,000 homes and 75,000 people, with an additional 50,000 commuters exposed downtown. The city will sell 900 refurbished computers at $150 each, no more than one per household, coupled with a 45-minute training session. The computers will have Wi-Fi installed. More in-depth classes will be offered at libraries as the network expands.
The GNER rail line in Britain has Internet access on all its trains: The East Coast rail operator announced that it would expand service ahead of schedule, based on positive feedback. I spoke this summer to the head of the joint venture between GNER and Icomera, the Swedish developer of this particular technology, and he spoke glowingly of the uptake by their customers; once service was running on some trains, it became a drumbeat to get it running on all trains. One factor in adding service earlier was the boost to cellular uplink capacity via UMTS/HSDPA that was rolled out across parts of the service area in recent months.
GNER now has Wi-Fi-based access on 41 trains; the Swedish operator SJ has Wi-Fi on all its 42 trains. (GNER claims the world's largest operation based on carriages equipped.) Service fees run from £2.95 for 30 minutes to £9.95 for a full day in coach. First-class passengers pay no fees.
The UK operator for First Great Western and First ScotRail, First Group, told ZDNet, "The move in technology with handheld devices like BlackBerrys means not everyone wants to use laptops on trains." Which means that they haven't thought about the implications of having a high-speed network onboard--they're only thinking about the backhaul link, a major mistake, as it ignores using VoIP within trains for operational purposes, as well as surveillance video, and entertainment services, to name a few other options. And comparing Blackberrys to laptops--well, Blackberrys may be great, but every business traveler on a train is carrying a laptop, anyway.
Esme Vos of MuniWireless.com expects a massive growth in spending on metro-scale networks: Vos estimated $177m in 2006 spending, but that's mushroomed to an anticipated $235m. With larger county-wide projects in the works, so, too, will capital and operational costs expand. The latest report from MuniWireless.com expects $3b to be sepnt across four years, including operational expense.
Parsons won the contract to put permanent Wi-Fi service on board the largest ferry system in North America: Washington State Ferries riders represent half the passenger trips in the U.S., and are rivaled closely by British Columbia's ferry operations. They've had Wi-Fi on most popular ferry routes in a prolonged prototype since late 2004, and awarded the contract more than a year after it was originally expected to be put out for bid. Parsons won the service, and its Opti-Fi division has just announced pricing.
They'll charge airport-like rates of $3 for 15 minutes (25 cents thereafter), $7 per 24 hour period, and $30 per month. The WSF email that announces these charges, also notes that free service will switch to paid on Nov. 20. They also point out that Opti-Fi's roaming arrangements provide no-fee access to their partners. The email inaccurately states that iPass customers will pay no additional charge; iPass customers pay for each data session, in fact, but it's at a negotiated rate. T-Mobile and Sprint Wi-Fi users will find their service included. Opti-Fi also lists Boingo Wireless on their partners page; Boingo charges just $22 for unlimited North American roaming. Update: Opti-Fi doesn't include the ferries in their Boingo roaming, according to Boingo Wireless.
The first routes will be the heaviest trafficked: Seattle to Bainbridge Island, and Edmonds to Kingston. These two routes carry about half the passengers, and a large subset of the cars. These two routes take about a half an hour to cross, but car waiting times can run from 30 minutes to 4 hours depending on time of day and complicating factors. Later, Mukilteo to Clinton (a bit north of Seattle over to Whidbey Island) will be added, which comprises another large chunk of passengers and cars; andh Seattle to Bremerton, where the naval shipyard is located, and an increasing number of commuters live in order to work in Seattle and yet afford a house.
WSF is promising some expansions of their quite nice prototyped service. They'll offer a persistent connection, so that you won't need to login again regardless of where you start to stop using the service--some people will surely connect in the terminal, then again on board, and perhaps on arrival. During the test period, the main deck of boats, and car and passenger waiting areas had Wi-Fi; now, car decks, sun decks, holding areas, and ramps will also have coverage. They also promise higher bandwidth than during the two-plus-year test.
This is an accidental boost for T-Mobile in our area, because with the addition of a trial cell/Wi-Fi voice package starting in Seattle, you can couple a $40 or higher voice plan, a $30 per month unlimited GPRS/EDGE/Wi-Fi plan, and $20 per month unlimited voice-over-Wi-Fi together--including the entire ferry system. For frequent ferry riders, this is probably reason enough to switch voice plans. (Note that T-Mobile will allow voice-over-Wi-Fi only at its own managed locations; but you could use Skype while on the ferries.)
The triple play is the convergence of data, voice, and television (IPTV) across a single pipe: Wi-Fi's in-home dominance of data and increasingly voice and IPTV (with proprietary extensions) will be challenged, ABI Research says, by the latest versions of three standards that work over coax, electrical wiring, and phone wiring. ABI Research says that by 2011, over 45 million gateways will offer wired-based distribution of data, voice, and video. (The quadruple play, by the way, adds mobile voice.)
With 802.11n having pushed back so far, the three existing-wire-based technologies already offer speeds in excess of 200 Mbps. HomePlug AV-based products are finally just about to ship, and HomePNA revived itself from the dead with new company participation in its 3.0 standard. ABI writes that Verizon has adopted Multimedia over Coax (MoCA) and AT&T has opted for Home Phone Networking Alliance (HPNA). HPNA works like DSL in the home, employing otherwise unused frequencies to carry data over coax or phone wires.
Uptown Services will offer independent performance evaluations of large-scale Wi-Fi networks: The company consults on municipal networks already, and is in discussions with one city for testing, IDG News Service reports. Uptown will gather data at discrete points across the service area, and will test voice connections as well. I happen to know that some prominent wireless industry veterans are in a quiet period preceding their own launch of another metro-scale testing firm, too. The idea of having pilot projects and test periods for large networks is great, but having independent, qualified firms to evaluate the performance is best.
The WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) "standard" won't die: WAPI is a homegrown, proprietary encryption and authentication solution developed in part by the Chinese computer industry and in part by military- and government-controlled entities. WAPI has been slapped around by the ISO, in part because China's industry won't publish the spec. Problematic. A few years ago, WAPI was going to be required for all equipment sold in China, but high-level Bush administration negotiation apparently squashed that plan. It would have required foreign firms to partner with domestic companies, revealing significant silicon intellectual property in the process. You can see the posts in the WAPI soap opera through this link.
The latest news is that the Asia Times reports that two non-governmental wireless integrators have agreed to use WAPI as their preferred standard--over 802.1X and 802.11i, apparently. There's also been an increase in the number of firms involved in the WAPI Industrial Alliance: Once 11, there are now 22. One of the arguments made for developing a domestic standard, which is not an unusual step in China, is to reduce IP payments. Of course, there are extremely few royalties paid for any aspect of 802.1X or 802.11 deployment. If devices made in China can retail in the U.S. for $20 or less, it's hard to see that IP forms a significant outflow of yuan.
This Asia Times article is reasonably fair in recounting the technical, standards body, and political turmoil and series of events that have made WAPI such a hot potato. "Supporters of 802.11i say WAPI cannot be considered as a global standard because the Chinese government has not made its algorithms public and therefore independent verification of the strength of the security is not possible." Dead on.
A Chinese research firm is quoted in the article noting that over half of the WLAN products due on the market by the end of 2006 will be WAPI compliant. That doesn't preclude compliance with IEEE standards or Wi-Fi certification, of course. The Wi-Fi Alliance, in fact, opened a Chinese certification branch almost 14 months ago. The Alliance requires conformance with 802.11i-derived WPA and WPA2 encryption and authentication, which means that any product that supports WAPI and wants a Wi-Fi seal must also support the IEEE-based security methods.
I've said this every time I report on WAPI, but it's worth repeating. It's almost certain that WAPI contains backdoors to allow government surveillance of Wi-Fi traffic. As 802.11i has been published, it's almost certain that it does not contain such backdoors. China has an explicit policy of requiring the ability to monitor voice and data as it passes across domestic networks, so it's naive to assume that WAPI isn't being pushed as a way to ensure that a secure protocol that can't be broken into while in transit isn't used.
In the past, when I've stated this, commenters have accused me of being an anti-Sinite, or making up information. I'm neither. There's no logical leap involved in connecting WAPI, its government and military backers, and traditional Chinese information technology requirements.
Under Louisiana law, New Orleans free Wi-Fi network already had its days numbered: The city confirmed last week that their free network would be shut down as EarthLink's much more comprehensive for-fee network launched. The 512 Kbps city network operated under a waiver from state law that restricts municipal operation of networks faster than 128 Kbps. The city had tried to get new legislation passed to continue the network. EarthLink, for its part, promised a free 300 Kbps free service for a limited period of time--"as long as the city rebuilds"--while it sells a faster tier.
T-Mobile starts trial of unlicensed mobile access (UMA) voice calling: The service costs $20 per month for unlimited calls made via a home Wi-Fi gateway (a special one provided by T-Mobile at a net of zero cost) or T-Mobile HotSpots. The HotSpot @Home service is initially available in Seattle only. Read our full coverage at VoWLAN News.
Broadcom announced a family of 802.11g Wi-Fi single-chip systems designed for mobile devices: Without being an electrical engineer, having a lab, and perhaps manufacturing products, it's tricky to evaluate power and performance claims on the chip level as made by wireless chipmakers. Broadcom states that their latest device has the best power performance, best coexistence with Bluetooth, and improved radio sensitivity compared to competitors' offerings, and their own previous options. Broadcom says that their software architecture controls power at every stage of data transactions, using just 270 milliwatts in active mode, which they state is the lowest in the industry.
With a 50-square-millimeter footprint, Broadcom expects the chips could be embedded into the smallest Wi-Fi devices or be part of low-power modules. The single chip includes the radio, baseband, computer interface (media access control), and power management circuitry.
The small, high-tech California town of Milpitas may wind up with three wireless networks: When I was growing up in nearby Fremont, Calif., my parents would say when we were on the highway, "Don't blink, or you'll miss Milpitas." The small city will have a for-fee EarthLink network across the city this year, while MetroFi will provide some advertising-supported free service by 2007. And as part of Wireless Silicon Valley, MetroConnect (Azulstar, Cisco, IBM, and Seakay) will need to offer Milpitas its services as well. MetroFi is quoted as stating they're not fully committed to Milpitas, while EarthLink says MetroFi might use its network rather than build its own, to offer their ad-supported service.
Two articles today focus on the future of in-flight calling, Internet access: The Denver Business Journal covers local firm AirCell, the CEO of which, Jack Blumenstein. states that AirCell could become a billion-dollar company with its license to print money--er, to offer high-speed in-flight Internet access and related services. AirCell is based near Denver, and Blumenstein restated the company's expectation that it would have a carrier operating with its service by late 2007. I had heard that slipped into 2008, so this might indicate more optimism.
The billion-dollar figure isn't misplaced. If the company succeeds in signing up most of the major domestic airlines, and is able to cover the entire Western hemisphere (which is likely), they have the numbers to make it work. Unlike Connexion, they have no middleman to collect a fee for data transit, and they have a much cheaper antenna and ground station package with the spectrum they purchased.
There are roughly 11m flights and 660m passengers (each itinerary) flying in a 12-month period in the US, according to the US Department of Transportation. AirCell need only equip several thousand full-sized planes to put their service in front of a majority of people making those 660m trips. Add to that Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and airline-focused services that AirCell will deliver, and the revenue picture takes shape.
In the article, I'm quoted about in-flight entertainment, but it's a little opaque what I meant. In every industry I speak to now, I hear the same interest in intra-network media servers, whether it's coffee shops, railroad Internet operators, or in-flight broadband. AirCell may only have 1.5 Mbps to and from the ground (with today's technology), but they have 20 to 30 Mbps of throughput within the plane. I expect there's a high level of to-the-laptop or to-the-handheld (phone or PDA) entertainment that could be easily delivered at a reasonable price.
The Orlando Sentinel has an article today focusing mostly on the use of cell phones during flights. As I discovered in my research for an Economist piece that ran last month, U.S. carriers either don't want to talk about cell phones or say, "no, no, no!" Wi-Fi, however, produces a more positive response.
The article overstates the conclusions of the Carnegie-Mellon study, by the way, which was conducted under the auspices of a private research group that advises the FCC on technical matters, the RTSA. The RTSA will likely issue testing guidance later this year on how, specifically, to determine whether cell phones and other intentional and unintentional emitters interact with a broad range of avionics gear.
Interesting development in the cost structure for mesh-based architecture: The folks at Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) have ported their open-source mesh routing system to the Meraki Mini platform. The port allows the CUWiN software to operate on inexpensive nodes. Meraki hasn't set its release price for its gear, but it's about $50 during beta testing for those to whom it's supplying equipment. This is a nice convergence, as Meraki's codebase is derived from MIT Roofnet, where two of the company's founders come from as well. MIT Roofnet and CUWiN were working in parallel towards similar aims.
I interviewed two of Meraki's founders in a podcast last week, in which we talked, in part, about the commoditization of node equipment. For instance, RoamAD down in New Zealand transformed its business a bit ago into selling its software and management platform; its code runs on commodity Wi-Fi gear that can cost 1/10 to 1/100 of metro-scale vendors who sell complete hardware and software solutions integrated together.
Not quite the headline on the article, but I can't resist using tabloid style: Tech reporter Sam Gustin reveals a few well-known facts in New York City that haven't been put together before. New York is known as a city in which bureaucracy is a kind of superpower that can change the laws of physics, and the parks department is fully charged with these preternatural abilities.
The Department of Parks and Recreation is still working with its vendor, Wi-Fi Salon, to get service running in the parks that the company agreed to unwire two years ago. There was an absolute deadline this summer for Central Park service, and Wi-Fi Salon does have a few points up and running--confirmed by a regular correspondent to Wi-Fi Networking News. These points of access are a far cry from blanket coverage, of course, and then there are the eight other parks yet to go. Wi-Fi Salon agreed to pay some hefty fees to get these contracts, and Parks no longer asks for fees in its new contracts.
Parks has resisted reassigning these contracts, despite pressure from the city council. And they have put roadblocks in the way of other groups providing free service at those groups' expense. Dana Spiegel has kept me up to date on the issue reported here, that at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, Parks suddenly demanded a bizarrely high insurance policy from the Friends of D.H. group that was working with Spiegel's NYCwireless. The Friends and NYCwireless are sending waves from nearby for now.
And EarthLink apparently offered to unwire Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, only to face unbreakable red tape. We need some competing superheroes in New York, apparently, to fight the Tunnel Vision and Freeze Rays that emanate from Parks' leaders.
I'm cracking wise at the expense of a business reporter in Greensboro, North Carolina: The reporter is clearly just representing what was told to him in good conscience by the owner of a cafe in that fine city that had its Internet service yanked when it was discovered that millions of pieces of spam were initiated from their network. The Green Bean's owner is paraphrase by the reporter saying, "the agency that monitors the Internet for spam violations temporarily closed off the Green Bean's wireless access early this week after the spammer's mass mailing." I think he meant "monitors the internets"--all of 'em.
However, I crack wise because it's a problem that's been widely suggested as a flaw in free and/or open Wi-Fi networks operating all over. The terrorists might use them. Spammers might use them. Child porn aficionados might use them (remember the wrong-way driving, pants-down Canadian?).
What's more likely to have happened here is not that millions of pieces of spam were sent over the Wi-Fi network, but that a spam push was tracked down to having been initiated from that network. Sending a million pieces of email over a 384 Kbps to 768 Kbps upstream connection would take an inordinate amount of time and be noticed. Still a little tricky to state precisely what happened.
The "agency that monitors the Internet" would most likely be the ISP from which Green Bean purchases its Internet access. Green Bean charges a dollar a day for access, and might switch to a time-delimited password system. The owner might also put in filtering software to restrict outbound email.
The city of St. Louis Park, Minn., considers solar-powered Wi-Fi network: The service would be deployed by ARINC in the current plan, using 400 solar panels paired with batteries and Wi-Fi nodes. A city official estimates savings of $40,000 to $50,000 per year in electricity. Not noted is a comparison of upfront costs for solar deployment versus what are often highly variable costs in wiring nodes into utility pole power supplies. The power at poles and other locations can be of varying voltage, only in operation certain hours of the day, or taxed to the limit, requiring substantial rework to obtain additional juice.
The Wi-Fi service is currently being tested by 300 residents in the 10-square-mile town of about 45,000 and 20,000 households. The service would be fee-based, and the city will pay $3.3m upfront to have ARINC design, build, and operate the network, with the investment expected to span five years of upgrades and maintenance. It's described as a public/private partnership, but with the city paying the costs, it's unclear precisely where the ownership lies. Service would bafflingly range from $15 per month for 128 Kbps to $20 for 1 Mbps. That's a strange range.
David Pogue of the New York Times reviews the Wi-Fi-equipped Sony mylo: I haven't touched one yet--I should see one soon--but Pogue's review makes it sound a bit covered in cooties. He likes the device's orientation to college students, most of whom now have ubiquitous on-campus Wi-Fi access. He praises the Skype integration, which allows free Skype and inbound and outbound calls to the regular phone network, and finds the screen, keyboard, and IM features just fine.
But let's get to the showstoppers. Pogue points out the mylo works with Gtalk, Skype, and Yahoo's chat services, but not AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and MSN Messenger. AIM is the largest IM service worldwide. He points out that the Web browser is bizarrely put together, allowing you tediously slide around a segment of a Web page (as if you have a larger screen you're examining a window into), or squeeze the entire page into an unreadable preview. The browser lacks Flash support, along with no streaming audio and video support. Mylo also lacks support for PlaysForSure music, streaming or downloaded. (It also can't play music purchased from Apple's iTunes Store, but nothing except the iPod can.) While it plays video, it can only handle one format!
Pogue's summary: "Which young people, exactly, does Sony expect to pay $350 for a wireless gadget that doesn’t have a camera, can’t download e-mail, omits AOL Instant Messenger and can’t play music bought online?"
Davis Freeberg files this funny report about attending a public meeting in which Google and EarthLink hear from ordinary citizens and the tin-foil hat brigade in San Francisco: It's explicable that bureaucracy introduces delays, but uninformed crazy people may also extend the time-to-deployment for networks. I was warned by some SFer's months ago that despite predictions of smooth sailing for a muni-Wi-Fi network getting off the ground--and fast--that the political situation in San Francisco requires that the nuttiest have as much equity in the process as the sanest. Frisco! (They hate that name.)
Freeberg is most concerned about losing the free part of the Google/EarthLink deal, in which Google pays EarthLink in order to deliver free 300 Kbps service. EarthLink will wholesale and resell 1 Mbps access at what is predicted to be about $20 at retail. Google said they'll require accounts, which could be disposable but will still be mandatory, to use their free service.
In comments on Freeberg's post, legendary freedom fighter John Gilmore notes that the network won't be free to SF, which is providing valuable real-estate siting for antennas and other equipment. Gilmore is concerned that Google/EarthLink will be allowed to track users across the network with a high degree of granularity and "monopolize" the Wi-Fi airwaves. Thomas Hawk, who writes a blog that's always a good read, says privacy concerns are overblown given what's being provided in exchange for logging in.
EarthLink's financials are hurting due in part to metro wireless delays: They can't start making money from municipal wireless until they actually have the networks built and running. The firm posted revenue of over $330m and a loss of $3.2m. Over $26m in expense was attributed to Helio, their joint venture mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) with SK Telecom. Dial-up subscription fell less precipitously, dropping by 81,000 subscribers, leaving 3.3m remaining with revenue of $150m. Broadband accounts increased modestly by 47,000 customers.
The AP reports that the company's CEO Gary Betty told analysts about EarthLink's Wi-Fi ventures, "We've had every imaginable delay you can think of" from getting city councils to announce deals on time to getting permits and building towers. The delays will not impact cost estimates for the projects, he said. EarthLink expects a loss next quarter as well.
According to filings dating to June 30, EarthLink has over $200m in cash on hand and no debt. They spent nearly $60m repurchasing stock this last quarter, which is often the case when companies believe their stock is historically undervalued. This allows them to increase existing stockholders' equity without issuing a dividend, and makes it possible for them to sell additional stock later when they believe conditions are favorable, essentially making a kind of profit.
I love the smell of Bakelite in the morning: The fine people at ThinkGeek have taken their USB-corded retro handset and cut the cord. This Bluetooth handset has the charm of the old AT&T telephones, with the flexibility of Bluetooth. For $40, it's an easy sell for the stylish and those that like that full-sized effect. (They continue to sell their USB-only version for $30; this Bluetooth version includes a USB connector for charging.) [link via Gizmodo]
GigaOm just, you know, asked MetroFi about its funding: I suppose I could have done the same, lazy me. Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm checked in with MetroFi on the occasion of that company winning the Riverside, Calif., network bid in their proposal with AT&T. This will be AT&T first municipal network, and it's a rather large footprint--80 square miles. I've pondered with many colleagues over the last few months about how MetroFi was doing on the funding side, as they're rather quiet on that front.
(The press release trumpets this as the "largest Wi-Fi network that is designed for both public and municipal use," but I'd have to see their definition to believe that. Philadelphia will cover 135 sq. mi., so perhaps it will be the largest network at the time it is finished in what they describe as early 2007. Note that MetroFi is mentioned in only the last line of this network, even though MetroFi will, from what's been discussed publicly, build the network.)
Fehrenbacher notes that while MetroFi's main funder, the Sevin Rosen Fund, was cashing out its latest fund, MetroFi received $6m from Sevin Rosen Fund and August Capital back in June. MetroFi's CEO explains that the funds came from a previous Sevin Rosen Fund, not the one that was just terminated. The company plans to raise more money next year. They've taken in $15m in funding so far. MetroFi has partnered with SkyPilot as its metro-scale equipment vendor, which means that quite a lot of that $15m will go, in turn, into SkyPilot's pockets given the scale of networks being built. EarthLink uses Tropos equipment paired with Motorola for backhaul. MobilePro uses Strix gear.
Metro-scale network equipment provider Strix scores with a giant NTT West contract in Japan: The NTT subsidiary will roll out 802.11j service, using the 4.9 GHz band. Strix says the deployment will ultimately pass 50m people. The deployment uses Strix's Access/One OWS and IWS (outdoor and indoor) multi-radio products that allow voice, video, and data with quality of service scheduling. Update: Strix retracted this story on a later date, stating that they weren't providing accurate numbers or numbers with permission! It's also unclear what their total involvement in whatever scale project this is turns out to be.
802.11a isn't allowed in Japan, while 4.9 GHz is used for public safety purposes in the US and military purposes in some other countries. Strix is the only mesh vendor, according to Unstrung, that's selling into the 4.9 GHz band for 802.11j support. SkyPilot and others offer 4.9 GHz public safety gear in the US.
On top of Boston's downtown announcement yesterday, the city will light up a square mile in Roxbury: This second project will offer free Wi-Fi to a total of 5,000 households across Grove Hall and Dudley Square, which are in Roxbury. This is a pilot effort, led by Pam Reeve, who is heading up efforts to find funding for a nonprofit organization that will build the city's Wi-Fi infrastructure, based on a task force report suggesting a nonprofit wholesale operator. Four companies are donating service and equipment for this test: BelAir (equipment), Charys (installation, operation), Gigabeam (backhaul equipment), and MetroNext (backhaul connection).
Remarkably, Spectec could squeeze a Wi-Fi chipset into a phone-size card: The microSDIO (Secure Digital Input/Output) format is popular in smartphones and not-so-smart-phones because the slot size is just that much tinier. With a blowtorch and a headlamp, you can even put microSDIO into Blackberry's Pearl model. But sticking Wi-Fi in that form factor? A great technical achievement. More remarkable? It's 802.11g--G, baby!--not the slower 802.11b that's typically found in small and embedded devices. Support is noted for Windows CE 4 and 5, which encompasses Windows Mobile 5. It's only available in Europe right now (€90), according to TG Daily. [Link via PocketPC Thoughts]
Ultrawideband is approaching the market: This report on UWB from News.com conforms with my recent discussions with UWB chipmakers. There are chips at manufacturers who are working feverishly to release products. The first wave of products will be Certified Wireless USB focused, which means that you won't see a lot of video (which will overlay IEEE 1394 aka FireWire over UWB) nor IP networking. The Bluetooth SIG just announced a delay until late 2007 for their application integration with UWB, too.
However, wireless USB should be quite slick. The early devices I know about are mostly dongles and adapters. The dongles will allow driverless replacements for existing USB connections: plug one of a pair of dongles into a computer's USB port and another into a printer's USB port, and you're set. Associating UWB devices together will be a bit primitive at first. You'll be able to buy paired dongles and adapters, and there will be a mechanism to allow you to register dongles to associate together by running software on a PC and plugging in a dongle. This is a one-time operation, of course, and is simpler than Bluetooth pairing--but it's still a little kludgey.
Expect consumer electronics devices in early 2007. Kodak demonstrated a camera that would transmit data to a computer over UWB, but that's not a Christmas product. One firm is developing HDMI interfaces that will allow you to connect an HDTV and another HDMI source as if you were using a high-definition interface cable--a nifty alternative that should appeal to new HDTV buyers.
It took four years...but HomePlug AV is finally shipping from Zyxel: The 200 Mbps networking standard that works over home electrical wiring has taken quite a while to reach the market from its initial announcement. When I met with the HomePlug Alliance at CES this last January, they expected products within months. Still, even though there are two competing standards--each backed by a single firm--HomePlug has the industry mojo and will eventually catch on. The biggest consumer electronics and networking players back HomePlug.
HomePlug AV is designed around IPTV (Internet protocol television), which has millions of subscribers today and is expected to have tens of millions in a few years. With IPTV, a single pipe delivers TV programming, Internet access, and often telephony, too. Zyxel's first two products are an Ethernet adapter and a coax Ethernet adapter for $99 and $114, respectively. The coax adapter isn't well explained; I expect that it's a way for providers to pump data into the household over coax without requiring that the coax terminate at the settop box elsewhere in the house.
Oddly for a 200 Mbps raw throughput product, the Ethernet adapters run at 10/100 Mbps; gigabit Ethernet is apparently still too expensive to put into this class of device, but it should be a given in the near future because of the focus on having sufficient bandwidth to handle multiple video streams.
Several other manufacturers demonstrated HomePlug AV products a week ago, and more products are expected in the pipeline soon.
Boston lights up downtown: Galaxy Internet turns on SkyPilot equipment to run the Boston Wi-Fi HotZone. Quincy Market, City Hall Plaza, and Faneuil Hall. Equipment was donated by those two firms; labor by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Works (Local 103) for installing the radios. This is a pilot program related to the city-wide network that a task force recommended recently.
Oakland County, Michigan's network delays further explained: It's still all about the poles. The utility, DTE Energy, the electrical utility in the 910-square-mile county, wants to inspect every pole before allowing access. The utility explains that poles can have "different voltages, transformers, and physical characteristics." This is not unreasonable, of course, but in other locales, the utilities are working much more closely with firms and municipalities installing Wi-Fi service in a simultaneous and cooperative fashion to deploy radios in places where that works now--rather than surveying 20,000 poles first. The utility also says it's awaiting permitting requests from MichTel, the firm unwiring the county.
The FCC will allow the "white space" between television channels to be used for certain devices: It's going to take some time to test and develop the precise rules. Will the 3/4rds (rural) to 1/3rd (urban) of fallow spectrum be auctioned? Given away? Allowed for mobile devices, too? Be another swath of unlicensed spectrum? A Senate bill would have forced the FCC to develop rules within 270 days and deem it unlicensed spectrum.
This spectrum could become a metro-scale wireless band. It could be used only for short-range settop box communication. Or it could become another band for mobile communications.
Connexion sent out a note to registered users saying that the service will free as of last week: Boeing is shutting down its in-flight broadband service, Connexion, but they are working to phase it out instead of abruptly halting access. This may be in part due to contracts with their airline partners, some of which they are paying large cancellation fees to as a result of the shutdown. Connexion will operate through the end of the year, but individual airlines may start yanking equipment before then to reduce fuel costs.
The Bluetooth SIG announces a kind of Web clipping service: The new TransSend feature will let you click an icon next to a chunk of information on a Web page--like an address, map, contact, or arbitrary text--and have that pushed to any Bluetooth device in range. There's no retrofit needed for the Bluetooth phone or mobile device, as the transfers use an existing Bluetooth profile and formats. But you will need to install software on the computer; only Windows XP SP2 and Windows 2000 are supported at first, and only with IE 5.5 or later. Other platforms and browsers are "under consideration."
The software allows any arbitrary selection to be clipped by using a right-click menu that appears in the browser after selection. However, Web developers can update their pages with appropriate tags to identify TransSend regions, which will be a cinch for directories, mapping companies, and other services that specialize in this sort of information.
Moyers on America features an episode on The Net at Risk: Airing next week in the U.S. (check your local listings), this episode--one of three in this series airing the same week--looks at the U.S. approach to the Internet and broadband, and why we're lagging so far behind the rest of the developed world. There's a subsegment on Community Connections, focused on Lafayette, Louisiana's efforts to build its own, city-run fiber-optic network and the full-court press that telcos placed upon its plans. The Lafayette effort wasn't the first time a city built a municipal network, but it was part of what fired off the current debate, now two years old, about the appropriate role of cities and private enterprise in assuring ubiquitous high-speed network service--and whether we actually need that service everywhere. I watched a preview segment online, and the argument seems heavily tilted in favor of Lafayette. [link via Jeffrey]
T-Mobile will give Sony the same deal it gave Nikon: No details on dollars changing hands, but as with Nikons S7c digital camera with Wi-Fi, T-Mobile will offer twelve months of free service to Sony mylo customers. The mylo, a handheld music player, communicator, and gaming device with Skype support and Wi-Fi built in, will ship in mid-November for $350. I have suggested that the supported SkypeIn and SkypeOut features might make the mylo and interesting substitute for a cell phone on college campuses. The T-Mobile bundle means it can be used likewise at 7,000 hotspots, too. The deal starts on the first T-Mobile hotspot connect for each user, but will run no longer than Dec. 31, 2007.
There's life in those old copper wires yet: Dynamic Spectrum Management (DSM) aims to reduce the crosstalk among DSL in bundles of copper wire for vastly improved benefits through coordination. Ars Technica writes about how a consortium of hardware vendors and phone companies are pushing for a rethink of DSL. In this vision, DSL could carry more bandwidth than a fiber strand, with the extra advantage that the copper wire would already be in place. DSM could allow FTTN--fiber to the node--where the long haul is fiber to a point near the homes, and then the very short distance are carried over DSL with DSM. We'll see.
I recall that when I first heard about DSL back in 1996, and started talking to vendors about how it would be implemented, that crosstalk was the big issue. It was assumed that crosstalk might make it impossible to have more than a handful of DSL-enabled copper pairs in any binder, the sheath of bundled pairs that traverse distances from central office to cross-connect points.
The solution to this was, in part, a switch from the early, cheap CAP (carrierless amplitude/phase) modulation, which treated the entire swath of spectrum allotted to DSL as one big modem signal, more or less, to DMT (discrete multi-tone) modulation, which is quite close to OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) in some of its particulars. Notably, DMT and OFDM both channelize a swath of frequency into smaller subchannels, each of which acts effectively like a separate modem connection, which can increase or decrease the symbol rate as the provisioning or quality of the line allow. (OFDM as implemented in 802.11 also allows the number of subchannels to change based on signal quality.)
With DSL, DMT allows interference to be avoided by reducing symbol rates or turning off particular subchannels that won't produce good results. In a binder, you can have DMT-based signals coping with each other and making sure that the worst interference only degrades overall performance rather than blocking all transmission. It's funny how close this wired technology is to our fancy new Wi-Fi (OFDM starting in 802.11a in 5 GHz and 802.11g in 2.4 GHz) and WiMax (OFDMA in 802.16-2005).
The Federal Trade Commission releases a report for policymakers on municipal Wi-Fi: The FTC's staff produced this report to sort through issues of competition, fair trade, utility, and cost. Part I runs through technology and implementations, including Wi-Fi and WiMax, 3G, satellite, and Broadband over Powerline (BPL). Part II looks at operating models, including non-profit, cooperative (private pooled efforts with little muni involvement), outsourcing (quasi-franchise with no municipal commitments), public/private (municipality participates in project, including acting as an anchor tenant), municipally owned, and government loan-grant. Part III summarizes proponents views and Part IV the opposing side. Part V goes through legislation passed or in progress. Part VI presents best practice principles.
The decision tree on page 52 of the PDF is stacked against municipal involvement of any kind, even though the report seems generally more neutral with regard to particular operating models noted in Part II. The Balhoff & Rowe report that opposes municipal wireless is quoted extensively (I count 17 references), while there are no reports like the Free Press's from proponents that receive any real citation--but Tropos marketing materials are widely cited. Further, the New Millennium Research Council's astroturf report of Feb. 2005 is quoted 11 times. Jim Baller of Baller Herbst Law Group is quoted 13 times.
Singapore will receive two years of 512 Kbps Wi-Fi starting in 2007: The Wireless@SG broadband service should be deployed nationwide by Sept. 2007, and the government has promoted the notion of having two years of basic service as a way to encourage usage. Under the Singapore Infocomm Development Authority (IDA)'s plan, three firms will build out service nationally, spending $100m with IDA helping with up to $30m of that cost. Public hotspots will grow from 900 to 5,000 under this program, and hotzones will spread in high-traffic areas. The free tier of service is available to residents and visitors, and includes unlimited usage. Premium service levels will include content, video conference, VoIP, IPTV, gaming, and other services.
Winston-Salem signs up Azulstar/Cisco/IBM consortium: These three companies have a fourth partner, Seakay, a non-profit, in their winning bid for Wireless Silicon Valley and a proposal for Sacramento. In Winston-Salem, the consortium will spin out Wi-Fi to 225,000 residents, eventually encompassing the entirety of Forsyth County. There will be both free and premium services; premium levels of service will offer VoIP and video.
Metro-scale networks are all the range, but Meraki aims small: The company, emerging out of the academic project MIT Roofnet, has mesh-routing algorithms that work on commodity devices, and they aim to target markets like apartment buildings and hotzones. In this podcast, I talk to two of Meraki's co-founders, Sanjit Biswas (president) and Hans Robertson (chief operating office), about how mesh networks work, MIT Roofnet's algorithms, and who might want to deploy small-to-medium mesh networks.
In the podcast, they refer to an installation in Stapleton, Colo., using their equipment that was featured in a local TV report, archived on YouTube. [MP3, 17 MB, 35 min.]
The GPL-licensed, free wicrawl provides an array of tools for poking at a Wi-Fi network and seeing what's vulnerable: The tool can be used for good and evil, of course, but I see a lot of good in it. It comes with a number of modules for prodding a network to see what's exposed. For instance, it can passively monitor traffic in an environment and determine SSID names on closed networks, in which the AP sends no beacon with the network name. However, a station that wants to join the network and knows the SSID does, in fact, send that information in the clear. Closed networks are invulnerable to attack only while no one is connecting to them, in other words.
wicrawl is designed around a plug-in architecture so that it can be extended to have modules for particular purposes, like using nmap to chart traffic patterns and usage, or aircrack to penetrate weak encryption keys. Corporations spend quite large sums for tools that allow them to probe for these kinds of weaknesses; wicrawl could wind up being a tool of choice (as it develops) for smaller firms that want to have the same ability.
Of course, the dark side of this tool is that it will be an even-more-automated method of penetrating weak networks through a comprehensive approach that looks like it could go far beyond tools like Kismet. The existence of these tools should continue to signal vigilance by those who run networks, and reinforces my point about using at least WPA Personal on every non-intentionally-open network.
The Campus Computing Project says 51.2 percent of college classrooms have wireless network access: That compares to 42.7 in 2005 and 31.1 percent in 2004, they state in a new survey. 68.8 percent of surveyed campuses have a strategic plan for deploying wireless, too. The survey found that community colleges have substantially fewer wireless classrooms than four-year colleges and universities. Network and data security was selected by 30 percent of respondents as their single most important IT issue, which goes hand in hand with wireless networks.
Île Sans Fil (Wireless Island) will disseminate audio and video through its community-based free Wi-Fi hotspots in Montréal: Using content cached on the local networks, visitors to any of the 11 initial hotspots equipped with HAL (Hub des Artistes Locaux or Local Artist's Hub) can use iTunes and other music players to listen to music or watch videos. The project is supported by local media and culture organizations, including CHOQ.fm and CUTV.
HAL isn't just a local project. Rather, it's the local outgrowth of the open-source, commodity-hardware-based modification of the Firefly Media Server coupled with network software to allow network advertising (in the technical sense), discovery (in both the technical and artistic sense), and sharing (in all senses).
I am not alone in noting that the power of a Wi-Fi network can be in the "local" part of the WLAN (wireless local area network). While city-wide Wi-Fi networks might guarantee 512 Kbps or 1 Mbps of access, a WLAN in a hotspot could deliver 20 to 30 Mbps of net throughput.
Aruba thinks it may be part of the creation of the world's largest wireless local area network (WLAN): I'm not quite sure if they're right, but they make a good case. The network will require between 3,000 and 10,000 APs. On the short end of that range, there are plenty of campus-wide (academic and business) networks in that scale. But on the higher end, I'm unaware of anything that large. Even city-wide networks like Philadelphia should employ only the mid-thousands of nodes, although they're not providing the same kind of high-availabily, in-building overage that Ohio State will have.
The stats: 50,000 students, 27,000 faculty/staff, 25 million square feet across 400 buildings, and 1,700 acres. In three weeks, they've lit up 1,700 APs in 28 buildings. I assumed that was the time to get the network running, not both physically stringing APs and logically activating the network--but I'm apparently wrong. Read the comment below. [link via Engadget]
Portland-based wireless ISP sends out note about terminating its business: The Oregon firm VeriLAN, Inc., has bid on a number of recent metro-scale and larger wireless projects, reaching the final three in the Wireless Silicon Valley RFP process a few weeks ago. But lacking both deep pockets and large-scale installations, the company states that they're halting operations. The firm blames this in part on an inability to attract investment dollars because of "speculative municipal wireless business precedents" that they say are "undermining the economics" of this service. (Follow the link to the rest of the post below for their full note.)
This refers, of course, to MetroFi, which won the contract in VeriLAN's backyard to unwire the city of Portland. MetroFi offers advertising-supported free Internet access with an optional fee-based service that omits ads. Higher levels of service and business services, as well as municipal services, are not ad-supported, however.
VeriLAN might also be referring to the Metro Connect team of Azulstar, Cisco, IBM, and Seakay, which proposed broad amounts of free service in their winning Wireless Silicon Valley bid. Metro Connect is partly sorting out how technology scales, and the vast reserves of Cisco and IBM ensure that the network will be built, no matter what it winds up costing. EarthLink, recall, did not bid on the Silicon Valley RFP because they didn't believe it was financially viable to offer service across a region with a relative paucity of households based on EarthLink's business requirements.
In covering VeriLAN, I was often faced with conflicting information about their plans. A link on their Web site to a locally published article implied that Steve Wozniak, Apple's co-founder, had joined their board, but VeriLAN didn't state a definitive opinion either way. (In email, they said he was on an advisory board, not the board of directors.) The company claimed to be involved in the business of network access provision at conferences, but the event services group was split off some time ago, and the staff of VeriLAN, Inc., was a different group of people.
(Update, June 2007: There's been some confusion about which firm this post refers to: VeriLAN, Inc., was a separately constituted company from VeriLAN Event Services, which is a very active and going concern. The two unfortunately share a unique name, but not incorporation.)
I often had problems confirming details that VeriLAN provided in press releases. Their Digital Cities project was a consortium that they said they were the leaders of. Cisco, listed as a member of the consortium, denied any role in it. VeriLAN said I was talking to the wrong people at Cisco, but that the right people wouldn't talk to me or give me confirmation. (I was talking to Cisco's head of wireless strategy.) But then Pronto Networks told me that they were a member of the consortium, and VeriLAN characterization was accurate as to their role.
What's VeriLAN's legacy? They have a few pilot projects in the Northwest that will need new operators, and a few wireless antennas on roofs in Portland that will need new homes.
Ruckus's MediaFlex NG wireless platform is designed to let carriers remotely diagnose, update, and inspect Wi-Fi hardware installed for IPTV and data purposes: The new platform tries to eliminate truck rolls and long tech-support calls by allowing an operator that's bringing in many services into the home to figure out what's going on in the home. Right now, that can be frustrating for consumers and operators alike. The MediaFlex NG platform will let service providers gather statistics and determine what the RF environment is like, among other remote diagnostics. Being able to push firmware updates prevents a user from having to follow the many, often irritating steps in that process. (It does mean that if a firmware update kills an adapter, the operator will have to be able to get a new adapter out quickly.)
MediaFlex NG supports multiple virtual SSIDs, which lets a home user have a unique virtual Wi-Fi network at the same time as the operator is using the network to distribute IP-based video and other content. Separate virtual networks let the multimedia traffic have even simpler priority over pure data. The first instantiations of the product are a one-port media adapter (MSRP $100) and a router (MSRP $160).
A million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) subscribers is quite a remarkable landmark: Two industry groups note that 6m homes are now passed by FTTH, and that subscribers increased 50 percent in the last six months. Homes passed jumped from 2.7m in late 2005 to 6.1m today. The associations estimate that US broadband penetration is just 44 percent with FTTH being one percent of that; dial-up only is 28 percent, the same as no Internet access at home at all.
Although this is a site devoted to wireless data, some readers would be surprised that I am a great supporter of FTTH. In any comparison, wire beats wireless for exclusive bandwidth delivered for the same adapter cost, usually by a speed factor of 40 in LANs. For instance, 802.11g delivers 54 Mbps of raw bandwidth; gigabit Ethernet, with a built-in adapter or a cheap add-on card deliver 1,000 Mbps of raw bandwidth.
Fiber can carry an awesome capacity and have its capacity upgraded by changing out components, not fibers, making it a potential multi-decade technology to the home as copper and coax have ultimately proven to be. The ultimate home connection option should, in fact, be fiber, because there's nothing better.
Now the reality. Wireless has a leg up in most large-scale deployments because of the tremendous cost of bringing fiber to the home. Companies like AT&T are looking at large-scale FTTN (fiber to the node) in which the fiber is brought to the neighborhood, and then a short-range wire is used to connect to the home. It's cheaper, but it restricts the ultimate bandwidth fairly tremendously. It also leaves out intracity and intra-LAN services that could work over unused bandwidth on FTTH that isn't provisioned for pure Internet or pure video services.
We're seeing lots of Wi-Fi networks get pitched as what I call best-worst networks for cities. They're remarkably cheap to install compared to fiber, even as they deliver potentially anywhere from 1/1000th to 1/50th of the FTTH or FTTN potential bandwidth. Wi-Fi is best-worst because it's the best we have (ubiquitous, no license, no ownership of the band), but worst because it's not designed for this purpose, and thus an industry has grown up around trying to make metro-scale service work without breaking compatibility with existing Wi-Fi adapters.
Most broadband technologies now, wired and wireless, are simply patches on not being able to afford installing fiber to every home even in major urban areas. Some would say that this is a conspiracy of sorts; Bruce Kushnick argues that telcos received billions of dollars to build promised networks that have never materialized and the money is strangely not being returned. But no one denies the cost and hard physical work to roll out 85m households with fiber.
GigaOm notes that the Meraki Mini will be one of the bridges that will be offered to bring Wi-Fi access indoors on the EarthLink/Google San Francisco network: Meraki is turning MIT Roofnet's technology into commercial products while retaining open-source roots. This should enable bridging a city-wide network across a local mesh. The open platform would enable some applications to reside on the router or change router settings for optimal performance. Google hasn't funded Meraki as an investor, but has contributed some dollars as a vendor.
Helio says 160 MB of usage per month is "excessive or abusive": The new 3G/Wi-Fi combo plan from Helio, called Hybrid, offers "unlimited" Wi-Fi and EVDO service. Except that their definition of unlimited 3G is the most restrictive I've seen. I asked the company days ago for their terms and services so I could compare what they considered reasonable use.
They first sent me back this statement:
"The Helio Hybrid is meant to be a roaming service and we expect our members to utilize the product in that way. This is not meant as a source to run a web commerce site over the 3G network, that's not an efficient or optimal use of that network. Also, as the Helio Hybrid mixes Wi-Fi and 3G access, we expect consumers to have a more optimal user experience as they are able to seamlessly move between Wi-Fi and 3G access to best performance route - this is a new case study for wireless access utilizing a new category of converged services."
I replied that this is a marketing position, not their terms and services, and a very nice PR person has been trying to get me the specifics since. I had looked on their site, but not in the right place. A colleague pointed out a paragraph in the online T&S that's titled "Chapter 10: Unlimited Does Not Mean Unreasonable." (All the titles in their T&S are friendly ones, at least, like "Chapter 12: The Other Legal Stuff.")
They start with Verizon Wireless language on approved uses of their "unlimited" 3G service: Internet browsing, e-mail, and intranet applications. They then proceed into more Sprint/Cingular language which defines specifically excluded applications as those that turn computers into servers or drive heavy traffic. They exclude computer-to-computer applications wholesale, which is tricky because servers are computers, too, and their definition is overly broad.
But read the last line for the kicker. As the Washington Post pointed out in a column a few days ago, Verizon Wireless says that using more than 5 GB of data transfer (1 hour a day at 400 Kbps downstream) is unreasonable usage. A spokesperson tried to tell the Post reporter that the approved uses (email, Web, intranet) didn't count, so 5 GB wasn't a limit for those purposes. However, the Post reporter noted that Verizon's sign-up conditions state that using more than 5 GB a month was de facto proof of the use of unauthorized applications.
Helio's goes much, much farther. "Generally, excessive or abuse usage is characterized by monthly data usage of 160 megabytes or more." 160 MB. That's about 1/30th, oddly, of Verizon's acceptable use. One might suspect a typo. (While this appears to refer to all data usage, Helio told me it's 3G only that's restricted, not Wi-Fi. Some readers have suggested these limits apply just to 3G phones; Helio confirmed they apply to the Hybrid 3G service as well.)
But I also reject the tortured logic of Helio and Verizon. If you're going to put 5 GB in place as a hard and fast limit, do so. Charge excess fees above it. Warn users and allow an account setting that disables usage if the user doesn't want to pay overages. Stop playing games. If you're going to accuse people of abuse, you can't do it by implication. You need proof. And if you're not going to establish proof, then set reasonable limits and enforce them with good policies that make approaching the limit transparent.
And, by the way, stop advertising these services as unlimited.
Update: Helio doesn't advertise Hybrid as unlimited. In fact, nowhere on the site does it mention how much service you're allowed with Hybrid, except in the terms and services--where it uses the phrase unlimited. That's almost reverse marketing, isn't it?
Comic-strip Penny Arcade nails the Zune limitations: As Engadget reported the other day, the Zune player's Wi-Fi will only allow intra-Zune music exchange with limitations. Penny Arcade makes the Funny from this.
EarthLink/SK Telecom joint venture Helio releases EVDO card, software with one-rate plan: The company, which was founded to bring fancy handsets from South Korea into the hands of hip youngsters, has released a product that should appeal to we old-timers, too. The Helio Hybird package includes a 3G EVDO PC Card and a software package that enables access to unlimited EVDO and unlimited Wi-Fi for $85 per month. The package costs nothing if you commit to two years' service. (Windows only at this point.)
Helio is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), which means that they buy their cell minutes and cell data from established operators. Those operators tend to charge $60 per month for unmetered EVDO with a voice plan and a two-year commitment. (That's changing to just a two-year commitment and no voice plan.) Boingo Wireless, which is the enabler of the Wi-Fi part of Helio Hybrid, charges $22 per month for unlimited North American Wi-Fi and a combination of unlimited and metered worldwide Wi-Fi. So combine those two plans, and you get $82 per month, right?
But you can't get a single bill at that rate from any cellular operator. If you sign up with Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel for EVDO or Cingular for UMTS/HSDPA, you don't get a good Wi-Fi plan along with it. T-Mobile does offer a great plan--$30 per month as a voice package add-on for unlimited Wi-Fi and GPRS/EDGE--but even EDGE runs at just-above-modem speeds, and at a fraction of EVDO/HSDPA downstream.
Helio Hybrid thus does have the advantage of giving you everything in one place with one bill and one price. And the fact that they throw in the 3G card, that's just another cost advantage, along with the integrated software package designed by Tartara Systems.
Because these folks are an MVNO, they pay for every bit or minute to their operator partners. Because this is an EVDO service, only Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless can be the partners on the network. Verizon has onerous restrictions on usage, sending out nastygrams and cancellation notices to customers who exceed what they now define as five gigabytes of data transfer per month (an hour a day at 400 Kbps!). Sprint Nextel has not been quite as heavy handed.
The point, though, is that Wi-Fi should be the preferred connection method whenever it's available, because Wi-Fi on Boingo's aggregated network should be universally faster than EVDO whenever Wi-Fi is available. That motivation is coupled with what appears to be a setting to alert the user that there's a better wireless network available--meaning that Helio should be pushing users to swap over onto Wi-Fi whenever they can.
There's no terms of service online yet for the Hybrid plan; I'll be curious what they define as legitimate usage.
The folks at Eye-Fi will release their Secure Digital (SD) Card with Wi-Fi and 1 GB storage to beta this month: Engadget reports that the combo card will support a variety of cameras that are qualified by Eye-Fi. This makes it sound like the card will require separate configuration, and then, when inserted into a camera that can work with it,
Macworld's editor-in-chief Jason Snell and I talked about Wi-Fi and Apple on today's podcast: The Macworld Podcast (Wi-Fi Security and iTV) covers the Maynor/Ellch exploit controversy, and when 802.11n might arrive on a Mac (and whether iTV will sport 802.11n). In this podcast, I note that Apple's patches for what they term never-demonstrated-exploits, is the worst security hole in Mac OS X ever. But it's patched. (Download MP3.)
The growth of Internet Protocol television (IPTV) may dovetail with 802.11n, but 802.11g still has life in it: In this podcast, I talk to co-founder and chief technical officer of Ruckus Wireless, Bill Kish, about how IPTV works through a home wireless distribution system; the adoption of IPTV by rural telcos; where 802.11n fits into the picture; and the difficulty of managing Wi-Fi in a metro-scale network.
Kish tells me that while quality of service (QoS) for prioritizing one kind of data packet over another might work well at higher layers of a network, it doesn't account for physical layer issues that crop up routinely on Wi-Fi networks. Ruckus adds some secret sauce, including an MIMO array, to provide consistent, low-latency data streams. They also handle multiple streams of video, where QoS typically can only prioritize video as a category, with all video packets treated equally within that stream. That doesn't work in the quick-channel-change world of IPTV, where buffering is barely an option.
We also talk about how 802.11n doesn't answer every problem because so many of its new attributes only work in particular cases. Kish says that 802.11n will offer better throughput overall, but it requires a fairly specific set of circumstances to achieve its best throughput rate, notably no nearby networks to interfere with 802.11n's double-wide channels. [33 min., 15 MB, MP3]
This strange column/article in the Chicago Tribune makes O'Hare sound like a Wi-Fi morass: But it's a bit off-base. The networks deployed in O'Hare and Midway, Chicago's two airports, are temporary mesh networks. The splash screen notes they are beta networks, and the charge is a buck or so less than other airport networks. But the Trib's Jon Hilkevitch is hopping mad for some reason at Concourse Communications, a Boingo Wireless subsidiary that operates Wi-Fi in many major US airports.
He cites "many passengers" having problems, but notes that the airport authority reports fewer than 2,000 tech support calls from travelers about problems logging in and being disconnected. With the number of travelers that pass through O'Hare who might try the Wi-Fi network, this seems like a reasonable problem rate in a network that's not fully deployed.
The writer says that the airport had not renewed a contract with T-Mobile, which makes no sense to me. T-Mobile never operated a larger network in O'Hare than the several airport clubs that they continue to provide service at. These clubs typically have a dedicated high-speed line and a small number of access points in an enclosed space.
A Boingo spokesperson confirmed for me today that the network will be fully launched around Thanksgiving; the current mesh network was meant as an interim effort to get Wi-Fi in the facility sooner rather than later. The spokesperson also confirmed that the network can be overloaded during busy times as it's not designed to be as robust as their permanent network. I have not heard complaints of this sort from other Concourse-operated airports.
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The city rebid their municipal contract for Wi-Fi after MobilePro decided they couldn't meet the city's need for free service and be profitable: The city's reissued RFP brought in four bidders, all of which had also bid on the Wireless Silicon Valley project: The Metro Connect consortium (Azulstar, Cisco, IBM, and Seakay), which won the WSV bid; AT&T and MetroFi, which have partnered elsewhere; and two other smaller consortiums. The two larger consortiums have already build or promised to build networks with significant ad-supported free network access.
Nokia introduces Wibree, a low-power alternative to Bluetooth: No, no, no, no. We don't need another wireless standard with a silly name. Wibree supposedly uses one-tenth the power of Bluetooth to deliver 1 Mbps (1/3 of Bluetooth's current radio speed) over 10 meters. With Zigbee (extremely low bandwidth, extremely low power, short distances), ultrawideband (high bandwidth, low power, short distances), Bluetooth (low-to-medium bandwidth, low power, short distances), and Wi-Fi (medium bandwidth, medium power, medium distances), it's really hard to see how Wibree fits into this ecosystem.
Bluetooth has a billion embedded chips now, and is still growing, despite reports of its death every few weeks since before its actual first shipment. Bluetooth is morphing from an application plus radio standard into an application standard that can be overlaid with minimal effort onto many radio standards. In that sense, perhaps Bluetooth would be a layer over Wibree, which would be just radio technology.
Still, Nokia should have a hard time of it introducing yet-another-technology that appears to have a single unique attribute--lower power than Bluetooth. They will try to get it introduced into a standards process.
One computer maker steps over the line dividing hype from commitment with Draft N products: ASUS said in a press release this morning that purchasers of their Broadcon Intensi-Fi Draft N-based WL-500W gateway and WL-100W adapter are guaranteed firmware or hardware upgrades to the ratified version of 802.11n. The units must be purchased before Dec. 31, 2006, to qualify. ASUS is guaranteeing that for three months following the ratification, they will provide whatever is necessary to assure full N compatibility. If hardware is required, purchasers will have that period of time to return their equipment at their expense; ASUS will pay shipping back to the consumer.
This is so not a sucker bet, but a great move on ASUS's part. As I've written many times in the past, there is no guarantee that current generations of Draft N chips will be firmware upgradable, but there's also no assumption that they will not be upgradable. Because ASUS is offering this guarantee only for this calendar year, and putting the upgrade period at probably March 2008, the expected ratification, its likely that very few purchasers will, in fact, request hardware upgrades even if hardware upgrades are required. In the meantime, Broadcom and ASUS will certainly be posting a stream of firmware upgrades as those are needed.
The next logical step, of course, is that other computer makers and equipment makers offer the same deal, like Dell and Linksys. There's a multi-million-dollar risk behind this, of course, but a guarantee would almost certainly accelerate current purchases of equipment. The marketing and sales folks at many firms should be huddled over spreadsheets today, wondering how to launch a "Draft N--Guaranteed!" campaign that will push more current revenue without booking huge liabilities.
I'm embarassed to say that I assumed the Zune could use its Wi-Fi connection for all the usual purposes: But Engadget actually, you know, reads blogs, and found that a Zune engineer had posted a short list of what a Zune can do, and by implication what it can't. When the Zune ships, despite using standard 802.11g, it won't be able to connect to the Internet. You heard me! And it won't be able to sync with a PC wirelessly, either, only via a USB sync cable. By extension, since it can't use Wi-Fi to connect to either a network or a PC, all songs must be downloaded onto a PC and then transferred by USB to the Zune.
So this is a barely wireless player, with its only Wi-Fi features being the exchange of certain kinds of media with certain restrictions among Zune devices using ad hoc networking.
I know that the joke is that Microsoft takes until version 3.0 of any product to get it right, and 4.0 or 5.0 to make it work well, but this is somewhat ridiculous. This now guarantees that if Apple believes Wi-Fi is a worthwhile feature, we will see an iPod with a full-blown, well-implemented Wi-Fi connection before Microsoft can upgrade its firmware for Zune to do more than ad hoc.
For reference, the tiny firm MusicGremlin, was able to release their Wi-Fi music player months ago with full Wi-Fi features and a subscription-based service. Yes, you can connect to the Internet with it. Yes, you can sync wirelessly. Yes, you can exchange music with other subscribers. Its big problem at the moment is its low branding value relative to Microsoft and Apple, and its $300 cost with just 8 GB of hard disk storage. It also doesn't support WPA encryption, which makes it a non-starter for me, since that should be just a software update--and should have been included with its first release.
The 910 square miles of Oakland County, Mich., are still unlit, but 1,300 sq. ft. are up and running: The countywide project, designed to offer basic service of 128 Kbps free across the entire area, has suffered delays. The Detroit News reports that residents are getting antsy, but they might keep their pants on--this project would be the largest of its kind, figuring in population density and even trees. A larger network exists in Eastern Oregon, which is much less densely populated and has fewer physical obstructions, though more physical difficulties. It's also partly funded by federal dollars as a piece of a toxics alert system.
The Oakland County project has MichTel Communications bearing quite a lot of risk, and the firm told the Detroit News that they've had a lot of siting problem: figuring out precisely where equipment should go. This article doesn't mention an earlier issue in April, that at least one utility was putting roadblocks in expeditious permitting to use utility poles.
MichTel is still saying that the network will be deployed by late 2007, although only a few access points are in place. Interestingly, with just a small area in one city turned on, MichTel says that 700 hours of usage were recorded over 13 days around Labor Day. The company will charge for tiered service, starting at $20 a month for 512 Kbps.
Three buses will be equipped with Wi-Fi-based Internet access on routes in Utah: The trial service willbe on Route 73 from Ogden to Salt Lake City. If the trial is successful, the Utah Transit Authority could add service on all 40 of its routes. A commuter-rail service will launch in 2008, and the authority may install Internet access on the trains, as well.