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Recent Entries

Metro Round-Up: Bristol (UK), Westminster (UK), Southaven (Miss.), Framingham (Mass.)
Sharing Can Be Caring
Metro Round-Up: Houston (Tex.), Albany (N.Y.), N.S.W. and Western (Australia), Leicester Square (London)
Ultrawideband Steps into Certification, Worldwide Use
You Can Be Insane or Scientific, But Not Both
Full Newsreader Feed of All WNN Blogs
Power Hungry
The Cloud Expands Metro-Scale Service to Continent
iPass Opens Access to McDonald's
Streaming Media over N: Ruckus Will Show Its Answer

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November 2006 Archives

November 30, 2006

Metro Round-Up: Bristol (UK), Westminster (UK), Southaven (Miss.), Framingham (Mass.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Bristol extends pilot Wi-Fi network: The network currently covers three square km. Cityspace will expand this to business districts, "disadvantaged" neighborhoods, and along transportation routes. The current network sees 15,000 users a month. (I'm always a bit dubious about whether in citations like this that the uniqueness extends to 15,000 sessions or 15,000 users.) Video surveillance is, of course, part of what will be rolled out, including nomadic cameras that can be moved about.

BT will build out Westminster in London: The telecom giant says this is the first of 12 areas that will install Wi-Fi across by March 2007. Video surveillance is, of course...didn't I just write that? Ah, it's Blighty, the land of 1,000 cameras in every town.

Southaven, Miss., picks MagnoliaWave: The 36-square-mile town will be unwired with free service in parks and recreation areas. Residential service will be offered to the 40,000 residents in the town.

Framingham plans network: The Mass. town looks to Philadelphia, oddly, citing its network as a model, when that network hasn't yet been built. The network would be used for municipal purposes initially--again, odd to be looking to Philadelphia at this point. They've had a tough time finding a partner, however.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:49 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

Sharing Can Be Caring

By Glenn Fleishman

Some ISPs think it's better to share and share alike: Remember the kerfuffle a few months ago when Fon was announced, and said that part of its business model relied on people sharing a broadband connection--typically wireline--over Wi-Fi for allcomers to use? And recall that they had a short list of ISPs that supported the practice at the time, and created a bit of confusion by including Speakeasy, a Seattle-based broadband company that I use for DSL at home and work, in that list.

The confusion made sense in retrospect. Speakeasy is one of the few ISPs that allows any subscriber to share any connection at no additional cost. It also charges nothing for "excess bandwidth," preferring instead to have a slightly premium price for their DSL and other services in exchange for top-notch technical support, extra features, and uncapped bandwidth. This has worked for me for many a year.

When I was writing about Fon and at other times in the past, I've noted that there are now very few ISPs that encourage or even allow sharing. I just received a note from UK provider's Alan Bell, who had come across one of these older articles, and wanted to share the fact that they support Fon's form of sharing. Fon's list of ISPs that support using their service seems to be out of date as isn't listed. (Be sure to fill out's site survey on stuff you dunk in a fondue pot.) The Wikipedia entry for Fon has a long list of ISPs that allow Fon or forbid it, but it's unclear whether it's authoritative, as, you know, it's Wikipedia. (EFF started a list years ago, but it hasn't been updated since about 2003.)

Fon's founder, Martin Varsavsky, knows that for Fon to succeed, it has to attract more broadband usage among the ISPs that will allow it to persist. While Fon could be used without ISP's cooperation, it's more likely to find the toehold if there's financial benefit for an ISP and its customers and Foneros.

I don't cover all the news emerging from Fon, partly because I disagree with how they characterize the growth of their network. They like to put out press releases or public comments about how they are the size of so many T-Mobile networks. But their Web site puts it better than their PR: "FON is the largest Wi-Fi community in the world."

For instance, I missed writing a few weeks ago about the Skype/Fon/Accton deal that provides a US$160 phone/Skype service/Fonera router package that can place free calls over the Fon network, partly because it's an interesting idea but not that much more interesting than a Skype phone--yet. (Skype is a Fon investor.) I try to cover news that reaches a certain threshold of general importance or interest, and it's not always clear whether general Fon announcements hit that mark. Some clearly do.

While I still think the jury will be out for quite a while as to whether Fon achieves the specific initial objectives of blanketing cities with enough access to serve roaming and resident Foneros needs, it's clear that interest hasn't ebbed from the first announcement. I also expect Fon to be more useful in particular cities, in the way that the Google-supported Orkut social network is weirdly popular in Brazil, than to be the universal solution or tool for expanding connectivity and mobility.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:02 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, Roaming

November 29, 2006

Metro Round-Up: Houston (Tex.), Albany (N.Y.), N.S.W. and Western (Australia), Leicester Square (London)

By Glenn Fleishman

Houston moves forward with two finalists: The city will consider EarthLink and a firm with local ties, Convergent Broadband; there hasn't been a formal announcement yet. The network would span 600 square miles, and although this article it's "expected to be the biggest in the country once it's completed in 2008," that involves a tense rarely found in English (or even Icelandic). By 2008, there will likely be dozens of networks worldwide that span more than 600 square miles using a variety of technology to achieve broadband speeds. Even excluding faster cell networks, which may span tens of thousands of square miles, the Wireless Silicon Valley network may exceed 600 square miles by late 2007, depending on city buy-in. Rhode Island, a large county in Washington State (Pierce), Oakland County in Michigan--these networks would all be larger. (All antenna, no signal, down in Texas?) Meanwhile, Convergent may have the edge because it's local, although nobody seems to know quite what they do; they have money commitment contingent on winning the bid, this story says.

Spitzer's new hometown gets unwired: Albany, N.Y., the state's capital city, will get a combined public access and public safety network. Tech Valley Communications will build the network using Cisco's ServiceMesh approach. Service will be free to residents and visitors; the town will use the network's Wi-Fi and 4.9 GHz public safety bands for a variety of purposes.

Sydney, rest of New South Wales, need downtown Wi-Fi: The NSW government plans to encourage interest in adding Wi-Fi to central business areas of Syndey, Parramatta, Penrith, Liverpool, Newcastle, Wollongong, and Gosford. News travels strangely in the Antipodes, because the premier of NSW cites San Francisco and Paris as having such service. SF has no central Wi-Fi network yet, even in downtown; Paris is considering building such service in the future. This NSW plan has such passive tense in it, it's unclear who would actually build such service. An article at ZDNet explains slightly further that this might be an RFP for outside risk and ownership of such networks, with a deadline of second quarter 2007.

Western Australian commits Au$1b: The state government includes the city of Perth, the continent's most isolated large municipality. The plan will put the existing Au$100m per year telecommunications spending into a 10-year contract to bring broadband to all residents and businesses in the enormous region. The government would like to see 10 Mbps to the home. What portion will be wireless isn't specified.

Leicester Square at no cost: London's famous Leicester Square gets free Wi-Fi from a PR firm, an unusual move among the usually for-fee and expensive Wi-Fi in the UK.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:04 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks

Ultrawideband Steps into Certification, Worldwide Use

By Glenn Fleishman

The WiMedia Alliance has started certifying radios: The PHY (physical layer) of UWB packages moves forward with certification status. The certification means that multiple chipmakers have been able to provide interoperable silicon at the radio level. Most trade groups won't certify a standard or allow it to move forward until at least three companies have working silicon. In this cases, six firms passed: Alereon, Realtek, Staccato, Tzero, WiQuest, and Wisair.

The next move is the MAC (media access control layer), which is more or less the piece of the puzzle that works with higher-level network protocols (which in turn work with applications) and the PHY for transmitting and decoding information across UWB networks.

After the MAC, certain protocols will then be certified on top of the full radio, with Certified Wireless USB first out of the gate.

At the same time, Alereon announced that they will support higher frequency bands (above 6 GHz) for UWB to allow worldwide customization. This is a big issue, because most the regulatory authorities of most major regions in the world will each have slightly or vastly different requirements and available bands for UWB.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:55 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: UWB

You Can Be Insane or Scientific, But Not Both

By Glenn Fleishman

Those who claim that Wi-Fi gives them hives, the clap, finger-touching sensations, or shortness of breath have a choice: You can't simply assert that electromagnetic radiation causes you problems. Asserting something repeatedly without proof or with, in fact, contrary evidence would be one of the definitions of insanity. Sanity requires proof. If this were a matter of religious faith, I would not be challenging you. Perhaps Wi-Fi is against your religion? Fine. The Church of the Anti-Faraday accepts all members (please leave your sabots outside). Even politicians may join.

And I am not opposed to the notion that some people are electromagnetically extra sensitive. It's only reasonable, in fact, that that could be the case. But it's easy to prove through double-blind studies. Simply turning off a Wi-Fi gateway in a classroom because a teacher complained about it, and having that "solve" that teacher's problem is ignorance incarnate because hundreds or thousands of signals from other devices in similar bands are still operating, possibly at higher levels, in the same space.

So let's just be clear. If you're insane, make your hair all crazy, rant in the streets, and accuse the Kaiser of snooping on you. If you're a reasonable member of society who is suffering and wants relief, agree to simple double-blind testing in which it can be clearly revealed whether another, possibly worse, health problem is the cause. Like Munchhausen's Syndrome.

Update: A little more sanity from the Guardian on the fact that there are no specific studies on Wi-Fi and illness.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:37 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Health | 4 Comments

November 28, 2006

Full Newsreader Feed of All WNN Blogs

By Glenn Fleishman

You've asked for it, and here it is: I've finally created an RSS 2.0 newsfeed that combines all six blogs that I update on wireless data: the flagship Wi-Fi Networking News site you're reading here, and five others on cell data, public safety wireless, WiMax, voice over wireless LAN, and 802.11n/MIMO. This single feed will allow you to keep tabs on what's happening across these fields. None of the other blogs sees as much activity as Wi-Fi Networking News, but they each feature a specialty that seemed to crowd the "Wi-Fi" definition too much. You can subscribe to the feed by copying this link and pasting it into your newsreader; some browsers may let you simply click the link to subscribe.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:11 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail

Power Hungry

By Glenn Fleishman

Surge3000 InuseThe socket seekers heads an article about the need for travelers to find juice, not just Internet service: Yes, people are power mad in airports as they carry more devices they need recharging before and between flights. Used to be that you'd see one or two laptop owners near convenient plugs. Now, the well-equipped traveler brings a power strip with them to make friends. (Hey, now that spawns a lot of new pick-up--or plug-in--lines.) There's now a connection between the increased use of Wi-Fi and the corresponding pre-flight battery drain.

This New York Times article notes the cost of adding outlets during construction--about $150 to $200 a pop, commensurate with in-building wiring--but that it costs thousands to add electrical sockets after a terminal is built. Some airports are getting clever, such as Chattanooga, pulling pay phones to put in electrical circuits.

The article also notes that travelers don't make too much of a fuss about outlets, because they're not sure they are allowed to use them; they generally are, apparently. I recall years ago that I was a bit nervous to plug in, because outlets were sometimes embedded in the floor for cleaners to use.

Companies like PowerSquid should get clever and produce a lightweight travel edition of their clever extension system (pictured). Or maybe CyberGuys could retool its Liberator line for the road?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:10 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Mainstream Media, Road Warrior | 2 Comments

The Cloud Expands Metro-Scale Service to Continent

By Glenn Fleishman

UK hotspot builder The Cloud is in talks with 30 cities: The company had previously announced their intent to unwire city centers in about 10 UK metropolitan areas; they already operate service in The City of London, the square mile famous for finance, as well as the newer Canary Wharf district. The new deals include Stuttgart, Germany, and Karlskrona, Sweden. The company says it is talking to many other towns, too.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:02 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, International, Metro-Scale Networks

iPass Opens Access to McDonald's

By Glenn Fleishman

Wayport operates McDonald's Wi-Fi service in a unique arrangement: iPass will now resell access to its mobile corporate customers to the 7,500 unwired McDonald's locations in the U.S. that Wayport services. iPass offers typically metered access to Wi-Fi, dial-up, and other broadband that contrasts with subscription-based, per-user services.

Wayport's unique deal at McDonald's is that, at least until now, they have sold access to the entire chain on a fixed monthly fee basis as part of their Wi-Fi World arrangement announced in May 2004. In most aggregation and resale agreements, payments are made on a per-session basis from the aggregator, like iPass or Boingo, to the operator, like Wayport or iBahn or Surf and Sip.

I thought that Wi-Fi World had enormous potential when announced because it meant that companies with large consumer customer bases that wanted to add Wi-Fi--such as a cable operator--could pay a predictable amount to gain unlimited access for its millions or tens of millions of users. They could then resell this at a ridiculously low rate.

As it turns out, the uptake has been smaller than I expected, but I think Wayport still comes out way ahead. McDonald's pays Wayport for in-store services, including data access. AT&T came onboard as a partner right away, and provides data services and is a customer of the offering, providing McDonald's and other Wi-Fi World locations and AT&T-run locations to its FreedomLink customers at $1.99 a month (for DSL subscribers). Nintendo became a partner, allowing its DS gamers to use McDonald's locations for free to network with other players.

The financial terms of the iPass deal weren't disclosed, but I expect it fits closer to iPass's model of metered service, in which a negotiated rate is charged to iPass, which marks it up to its customers. That rate is typically far below the walk-up rate for the same locations, usually because only dayrates are available and iPass in many cases has lower-time-unit rates for its members.

iPass now claims 70,000 Wi-Fi locations in its aggregated network worldwide, out of what is estimated to be 130,000 locations.

Wayport has three models for hotspots at the moment: They directly contract with venues for under 1,000 locations that they resell on a per-session basis or through walk-up purchases; their McDonald's deal is a direct contract in which they service McDonald's and resell access on a network-wide fixed basis; and they work as a managed services company for AT&T, operating thousands of UPS Store and other locations in the FreedomLink network under the AT&T name.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:53 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot

November 27, 2006

Streaming Media over N: Ruckus Will Show Its Answer

By Glenn Fleishman

At the CES show in January, Ruckus Wireless will demonstrate its streaming media, voice, and data wireless solution with 802.11n incorporated: The company has often trash-talked claims that 802.11n's increased bandwidth produces a natural solution for moving media and integrating many kinds of communication over the same wireless network. They have a point.

While the typical 802.11n network, in the version expected to be certified in spring, will offer 150 Mbps to 300 Mbps of raw speed, and more expensive, later versions will carry 600 Mbps of raw data, these speeds are highly dependent on the amount of available signal reflection, the distance between adjacent receiving clients, and the number of other Wi-Fi networks (new and old) nearby. To achieve the highest rates of speed, each spatial stream has to be fully employed using double-wide, 40 MHz channels. That will be possible intermittently even on the best networks.

Ruckus says that at January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), they will show a set of devices that incorporates both 802.11n for speed and their proprietary technology that gets good reviews in its 802.11g version for keeping stutter-free video, drop-free voice, and consistent data pumping across a network. They even take shots at 802.11n in this press release, noting that "despite the periodic high bandwidth bursts, delay- or loss-sensitive applications such as streaming video or voice have remained elusive on "Pre-N" implementations."

As with all these systems, the proof will be in deployed home networks, which will likely come through the kind of partnerships the company already has in place with independent telephone companies and other operators that are deploying IPTV and converged services. But with claims of supporting HDTV streams, Ruckus might have a direct-to-consumer offering as well; it just depends how hard it is to uncouple digital media from digital rights management.

Ruckus's 802.11n system will use Atheros chips with a three-by-three array, which the chipmaker claims will offer 300 Mbps physical data rate and 150 to 180 Mbps of real-world throughput. It uses two data streams and three sets of receive and transmit antennas.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:03 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Consumer Electronics, Future, Media, Streaming

Metro Round-Up: Pittsburgh (Penn.), Paris (France), Alexandria (Virg.), Illinois

By Glenn Fleishman

Pittsburgh's downtown service tested: The local paper, the Post-Gazette, published a chart showing signal strength across many of the covered areas in the downtown Pittsburgh free Wi-Fi network, which is run by the Downtown Partnership. The group says that 3,200 users have signed up to use up to two free hours a day--this in the face of apparently quite cold weather coupled with heavy rains. The reporter notes that the service wasn't built with indoor use in mind, but they were able to gain access at a number of public locations within walls. The paid version of the service runs $8 a day, $15 per month, and $120 per year.

Mayor of Paris tries to burnish high-tech image with citywide Wi-Fi: The city's mayor wants free Wi-Fi across the City of Lights hoping to attract what this article describes as "creative spirits" and "legions of young people." These categories of residents apparently are moving to places to London, Eastern Europe, and Asia. (In the suburbs, a massive effort is underway to start work on broadband over powerlines, by the way.)

Illinois bids out 53 rest stops: In an ongoing trend towards putting Wi-Fi at rest stops, the state is looking for a vendor to equip 53 areas where people stretch their legs and truckers pull off with Internet access. Illinois already has free Wi-Fi at oases on its Tollway. The rest-stop service may have fees attached.

EarthLink gets Alexandria nod: The company will build a 16-square-mile network in the lovely somewhat suburban town that has its own extensive history.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:53 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

November 21, 2006

Metro Round-Up: Philadelphia (Penn.), Corpus Christi (Tex.), S.F. (Calif.), Vail (Colo.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Philadelphia launches their network with a party on Nov. 30: notes that the network will have a launch party after Thanksgiving. The Philadelphia launch is a $200 per person event sponsored by Wireless Philadelphia in a fancy penthouse apartment (see Muniwireless site for a PDF of the invitation).

Corpus Christi pushes network launch into Dec., considers partner: As reported earlier, the city is considering handing its network off to EarthLink for operation with a 10-year contract. In exchange, Corpus Christi would receive 3 to 5 percent of yearly gross receipts. As with most networks of this scale, the local paper reports that it "has been delayed because of signal-strength engineering problems"; engineers are now repositioning access points.

San Francisco showdown? The SF Examiner reports on a battle between the Board of Supervisors and the city's mayor. The two executive authorities apparently have a longstanding tension that far predates current officials. Early reports stated that the supervisors thought the Wi-Fi plan was designed without consideration as to alternatives. The board now may vote to force the network to be municipally owned.

Meanwhile, Google wants to put up its own SF test network: IDG News Service reports that Google wants to build a test network using as many as 1,500 utility poles in San Francisco that would be separate from the EarthLink network. (Google is EarthLink's partner, but will be a customer of EarthLink's network, purchasing 300 Kbps access that it will give away.) The city thinks it's unlikely to accommodate the request. EarthLink asked the city for access to 450 poles with an option for 1,500. The story says this access would be "a condition of its participating in the project," which is a far cry from earlier statements.

Colorado ski town gets Wi-Fi in time for season: Vail goes live with its CenturyTel-built network. The free service runs 300 Kbps, while paid bandwidth is much faster ($10 per day, $45 per week, $60 per month, $500 per year). The article strangely thinks that 100 Mbps Internet access is being offered, and notes that regular Wi-Fi only runs at 54 Mbps. I can't find a bandwidth figure elsewhere, although a press release from August suggests that 3 Mbps might be the top rate.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:19 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

Wi-Fi Health Fear Mongering and Rumor

By Glenn Fleishman

Two schools in UK turn off Wi-Fi: A few scattered complaints resulted in a school in England and another in Wales turning off their Wi-Fi networks. The lack of evidence of harm appears to be no reason to not disable the networks. One teacher reported ill health effects, but it doesn't appear that any effort was taken--it's not cited--to determine whether those effects resulted from something else. It's vanishingly unlikely that the symptoms this teacher had could be caused by microwave radiation of any kind, even at extremely high doses, and not effect those nearby. Even if this person has a unique constitution, the prevalence of Wi-Fi and similar, much more highly powered networks would lead us to expect thousands to tens of thousands of cases being reported daily, too.

The Health Editor of The Times (UK) notes that "it is impossible to prove anything safe" and that "The best that can be hoped for is no evidence of risk: evidence of no risk is asking the impossible." He points out that the extremely low levels of signal strength pouring out of Wi-Fi networks makes it unlikely to be a causal agent, even if you accept that mobile phones--which spit out much higher wattages--is a health risk. The Inquirer jibes, "if the mummies and daddies are worried about piddly little wi-fi systems, they'd better start thinking about WiMAX beams which they won't be able to avoid unless they kit their kids out with tin foil hats."

(The Times has already published letters in response to the column, including two that state bluntly that Wi-Fi makes people sick. This is easily testable in blind studies. Is anyone doing this work?)

Meanwhile, a Welsh MP and a Welsh paper spread fear further by reporting without attribution that the technology has been banned in schools in Canada." One school. One school is Canada did so based on non-existent studies.

Am I saying there's no chance that there's any potential risk of any sort from being close to networks that use Wi-Fi for communication? No. But I am pointing to both Occam's Razor and the Law of Very Large Numbers. If you have enough people exposed to the same technology, you should have large numbers of similar outcomes with no other reasonable explanation, including cancer clusters, sick days, and so forth. Sure, some health effects can take decades to appear. But the particular sort of problems cited, such as shortness of breath, rashes, and dizziness are rather obvious.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:58 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Health | 2 Comments

EarthLink CEO Has Cancer, Goes on Leave

By Glenn Fleishman

The head of EarthLink, Garry Betty, will take medical leave due to a "serious form of cancer": Betty has led the company's move away from the dwindling dial-up account business into partnerships with DSL and cable provides, voice over IP (VoIP) services, and, significantly for this blog, metro-scale Wi-Fi networks in Anaheim, Philadelphia, and other cities. Mike Lunsford will take over during the "undetermined leave of absence." EarthLink doesn't appear to have any split in terms of direction the company is heading, so it's unlikely Betty's absence will affect strategy.

As someone who beat cancer back in 1998, I can only sympathize with Betty, his family, friends, and colleagues, and wish him a safe and rapid recovery. The company characterized his cancer as "a serious form," and provided no additional details in press reports.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:03 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Medical, Metro-Scale Networks

November 18, 2006

Wireline Speeds Don't Always Match Promises

By Glenn Fleishman

Before we hear too much about how cell, WiMax, and Wi-Fi networks aren't as fast as promised, let's cast a steely eye on wired services: Whether fiber, coax, or phone lines are involved, the New York Times reports on how variables service can be at higher data rates. Wireless, of course, has more difficulties because wireline service tends to be consistent, with congestion being a secondary problem after basic line conditions. If the line is good, it's typically good for as long as the wire or glass is intact. The route out to the Internet at the ISP then becomes the next important factor, and we already know service provider dramatically oversell the ratio between downstream bandwidth to customers and their downstream feed from the Internet--ratios can vary from 20 to 100 to 1 oversell.

Interesting conclusion is that if you get a very fast service--like 15 to 50 Mbps cable or fiber--you're probably outstripping most Web sites and Internet services' ability to deliver. Thus, fast enough could really be fast enough. With enough speed, however, you could have true IPTV over the Internet, rather than over provisioned chunks of broadband that are set aside for provider-to-customer feeds.

There's a great chart embedded in this article that shows the price of various wired services at various speeds--although sometimes a commitment of 6 to 12 months required to achieve the listed price. This shows what $20 per month "1 Mbps" Wi-Fi will be contending against. I have long maintained that symmetrical 1 Mbps service over Wi-Fi has a great advantage over, say, 1.5 Mbps down/256 Kbps up DSL service, even if the latter costs about the same. The slight downstream advantage is outweighed for anyone who creates media and uploads it--like photos and video--for having that bigger upstream pipe.

For myself, I have Speakeasy Networks' DSL service at home (1.5 Mbps/384 Kbps) and work (3.0 Mbps/768 Kbps). When I perform downloads from companies that have large pipes, I typically see nearly the full speed that's feasible. I discovered a good test of this is to download files that are hosted at's S3 storage-system-for-hire. Amazon has a wicked amount of bandwidth available out to the Internet on that platform.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:27 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Home, Mainstream Media

November 16, 2006

Security Round-Up: Dell Updates Broadcom Drivers, NetGear Exploit Released

By Glenn Fleishman

Dell has released a 52 MB patch for its affected drivers: The company lists a wide array of adapters including Dell Wireless 1350, 1370, 1390, 1450, and 1500, and the TrueMobile 1300 and 1400 series of mini-PCI and PC Cards. That's one huge download to replace what's apparently not a ton of code. But it must include all the associated software that runs the system, too, as well as every patch for every device. The flaw in Broadcom's drivers can allow a proximate user to crash or own a system; Broadcom released patches to manufacturers some weeks ago, and they will now appear quite rapidly for end user and corporate customers, I would guess. [Thanks to Paul D. for the link.]

The Month of Kernel Bugs (MoKB) releases No. 16, affecting the NetGear WG111v2's driver: The report says this flaw is in the driver for a USB adapter, which generates a "stack-based buffer overflow"--a typical way to force arbitrary code execution--when a beacon is received that contains more than 1100 bytes in its payload. This does not require network association, as beacons are sent without association. There's no patch at this writing. (Back in 2002 at Wi-Fi Planet, Jim Geier's beacon tutorial notes that the average beacon frame is just 50 bytes long, although the article predates 802.11g.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:48 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security | 1 Comment

November 15, 2006

Muni Round-Up: EarthLink, Austin (Tex.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Computerworld looks at EarthLink's move into Wi-Fi: My excellent colleague David Haskin writes about EarthLink's necessary move from dial-up into wireless networks. EarthLink thinks that it will bring competition into markets that will benefit consumers by cutting all costs while increasing access. EarthLink's point person says that telcos are nervous because of other offerings, such as local-network VoIP, would cut into their cash cows. EarthLink told Haskin that it costs cell operators 25 cents to deliver a megabyte of data versus half a cent for a city-wide Wi-Fi network.

Capital Metro buses in Austin will gain Wi-Fi: Several Express routes in the Texas capital will have Internet access on board as part of a pilot program to see how riders might use it, especially on these longer routes.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 5:00 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

New Patent Tax on Every Wi-Fi Device?

By Glenn Fleishman

Patent5487069Fig1The Age in Australia reports that the country's tech research agency has won a lawsuit over Wi-Fi patents against Buffalo Technology in a US court: The Age says that CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) prevailed in a suit over patent 5,487,069 filed Nov. 23, 1993, and awarded Jan. 23, 1996, that covers fundamental aspects of WLAN communications. The patent describes multipath transmission of data at frequencies higher than 10 GHz, but the agency says a court in the eastern district of Texas found for CSIRO. They were asking for royalties from Buffalo; the case was filed in Feb. 2005. I've uploaded the court opinion and memorandum released Monday.

CSIRO intends to pursue royalties from all companies making Wi-Fi and other products, which could easily include WiMax and Bluetooth devices.

Intel, Dell, Microsoft, HP, and NetGear are engaged in two lawsuits to get the patent invalidated. CSIRO says that as a foreign government body, it cannot be sued. But, apparently, it can sue and collect patent royalties. Fascinating.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:57 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Legal

400,000 Tune into to Satellite for Internet Access

By Glenn Fleishman

Satellite is often the only option for rural or exurb broadband Internet: The New York Times reports that Hughes, Starband, and WildBlue have over 390,000 consumers subscribing between them by year's end (240K, 30K, 150K, respectively); WildBlue is adding 15,000 home users and HughesNet 8,000 each month. Installation costs can run $500 with monthly service $50 to $130 per month. The installation costs can be reduced through long-term commitments. Satellite broadband reaches 463,000 households and businesses in all, but will double by 2010.

About 15m U.S. households cannot get broadband service from the local incumbents, this article says. My guess is that number is actually higher, because service availability is usually estimated over broad areas. I have attempted to get DSL service in many places that the line tested as "available," but the service was either marginal or non-existent. This has happened many times to my colleagues as well, and I don't believe we're rare cases, often looking for access in the middle of a city.

The two firms plan to launch new satellites to provide better coverage and access, the Times reports. WildBlue has waiting lists in the midwest and central U.S. where they need more capacity to serve demand. And satellite customers are being slowly picked off as incumbents expand their own coverage as they see demand for wireline service.

Update: This original post stated 150,000 subscribers, but that unintentionally excluded the HughesNet numbers! Thanks to Hughes PR firm for correcting my math.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:38 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rural, Satellite

MusicGremlin Adds WPA, Remote Controls, Power Save

By Glenn Fleishman

MusicGremlin has answered my No. 1 request for their devices: These portable, Wi-Fi-enabled music players outdo Zune by using their built-in wireless adapters to, you know, synchronize with a computer and connect over the Internet. In fact, their peer-to-peer mode doesn't require proximity; I can exchange music with another MusicGremlin user elsewhere on the Internet as long as I have a network feed where I am. That's a bit more--social, innit?

The company announced Monday that they'd upgraded their Wi-Fi firmware to handle WPA and WPA2, which was my only real complaint with the initial foray a few months ago. WPA Personal is the minimum level of security I can recommend for home networks, and now MusicGremlin supports that.

The music player can also now take advantage of Wi-Fi gateways that use WMM Power Save, a feature that dramatically lowers power usage when the adapter is not actively transmitting or receiving. It requires a Wi-Fi gateway that has this feature installed, which is part of 802.11e (quality of service), but has been separately certifeid by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

MusicGremlin said that a new feature will let a player owner control the player wirelessly using a Web browser and an account on the company's Web site. Artist alerts about new music can now be delivered to the MusicGremlin directly, as well as to email.

Finally, this upgrade is an over-the-air release: no separate download required.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:30 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Music | 1 Comment

Wireless Power

By Glenn Fleishman

MIT researcher performs Gedankenforschung (thought experiment) into wireless recharging: Using resonance, or the tendency of things in nature to vibrate cyclically at certain frequencies--whether metal buzzing from low bass notes or high-frequency EF causing magnetic fields to rotate--the scientists believes its feasible to use a kind of high-powered induction field to allow a power source to charge a battery. Unlike induction, which requires close proximity, the prof thinks that EF loops, producing resonance harmless to other devices and to people, could hang from ceilings or on pipes above a highway. He expects practical results of testing his ideas within a year.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:22 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Future

LodgeNet Buys StayOnline To Cover 175,000 Hotel Rooms

By Glenn Fleishman

The acquisition of StayOnline by LodgeNet quintuples its broadband coverage: LodgeNet has primarily offered in-room entertainment, with broadband being a much smaller component. StayOnline, the other way. The acquisition adds 140,000 rooms with broadband service (mostly wired) to LodgeNet's portfolio, for a total of 175,000 rooms. LodgeNet works with a variety of chains, including Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, Omni, Intercontinental, and Historic Hotels of America, the release says.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:13 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hotels

Broadcom Says Driver Patched before Demo

By Glenn Fleishman

Broadcom says they had audited their driver code and released a patch prior to Jon Ellch's October demonstration: The flaw released in a exploitable form on Saturday by the Month of Kernel Bugs (MokB) project allows a physically proximate user to hijack a Windows and some Linux and Unix machines using certain Broadcom Wi-Fi drivers. Via email, Broadcom told me that they had not received information from Ellch prior to his Blue Hat demonstration last month. Rather, the company took seriously this August's demonstration by Ellch and colleague David Maynor of a fuzzing technique for throwing a lot of bad data at a wireless device to see what stuck (and broke). (This post was updated Nov. 16 with new information.)

While Ellch apparently told Brian Krebs of Security Fix, among others, wasn't represented correctly--his chain of events is: found flaw, demonstrated it, notified Broadcom, was told flaw was fixed, released proof with MoKB. Via email Ellch explained that he had notified Broadcom after showing a simple, early version of it at the Microsoft-sponsored Blue Hat conference when he had fleshed out the full exploit a few days later; he had found the flaw days before the event.

With Microsoft's assistance, he notified Broadcom, which, according to Ellch's email chain that he published on his site, led to Broadcom eventually telling him they'd already patched it. But they weren't quite clear in their response that the patch wasn't released yet by all their manufacturing partners, which is why Ellch was comfortable releasing the exploit when he did.

(Note: Ellch and I had a pleasant email exchange after he posted this item to his news page; my first email to him never arrived. Thank you, internets! Some of what he quotes from this post has been modified to reflect his response; other parts have been clarified as it was easy to read the previous final paragraph as accusing Ellch, rather than the MoKB, as making a poor disclosure.)

A Broadcom spokesperson, Heather Roberts, explained earlier this week that Broadcom had audited its own code following that August demo, found a number of flaws revealed in this manner, released patches to manufacturers, and themselves contacted Ellch after hearing of his demonstration. That last statement appears inaccurate based on Ellch's email archive, but it may have referred to the follow-up Ellch received after several exchanges. It's not very material, however.

Roberts said that Broadcom won't release its own list of patched drivers, because they don't want to sabotage the methods by which their manufacturing partners talk to their own customers and distribute their own necessarily customized patches. To date, only Linksys has a driver that others have confirmed fixes this flaw; it's unclear which particular computers, adapters, and software releases are affected except by examining the Broadcom driver release number on an individual computer.

Broadcom's Roberts also said that the company has not seen a demonstration of the root-level access that was claimed for this exploit, stated by Krebs as, "An attacker could use the flaw to take complete control over any vulnerable machine located within a few hundred feet." Roberts said, "Broadcom is evaluating the exploits posted to determine if they do indeed give this level of access. We do not think it's likely because  someone would need to know exactly what driver was in use to make a successful attack. Most likely, the system will just crash."

Ellch said that it's actually quite easy to weaponize this exploit for other drivers, because only the length of the SSID varies before the driver fails. Thus, using software to vary the driver length would quickly allow a successful exploit, at which point the payload could be arranged to load in the same exchange that overwhelms the driver. Ellch explained via email that there are any number of payloads, including something as simple as a "connect-back shell," that could be installed via this attack. Some payloads may require a reboot after they're executed to obtain full control. However, Ellch said the Broadcom attack would disable the Wi-Fi adapter, and I would thus expect a user to reboot in order to get on a network, thus finishing the payload's installation process.

A connect-back shell, by the way, is pretty simple: the payload launches terminal-like access by initiating an outbound connection from the compromised computer to a location of the attacker's choice. The attacker can then execute any command that the legitimate root user could.

I've criticized the MoKB elsewhere, because of their lack of requirement for an advance disclosure policy on bugs they are listing. Typically, security researchers inform a company, leave some reasonable period, then demonstrate a flaw, often leaving the actual details out until a patch is released. The MoKB project allows this but doesn't require it.

A confluence of Broadcom have already patched the driver and some miscommunication on their part makes it clear that Ellch was trying to follow good disclosure practices.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:17 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security

Bluetooth Tops One Billion

By Glenn Fleishman

For a failed technology, it's looking pretty good: Weekly unit shipments are 12m in devices; in 2010, they have a goal of shipping two billion units--in that year. Bluetooth 2.0+EDR solved a lot of frustration with throughput, range, and co-existance, making a better audio experience possible. The future of Bluetooth is now tied to UWB, and it's a year until we'll see the fruits of that collaboration. With Bluetooth over UWB, the same applications will be available with little effort on the part of developers to make them work with a different radio set.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:55 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Bluetooth

November 14, 2006

Clearwire Expands to Seattle

By Glenn Fleishman

Clearwire announced a major expansion of their market to cover the Seattle region: The company offers broadband wireless service in a number of US markets, but Everett-Seattle-Tacoma is the biggest single one they have so far. "With the launch of this market, the greater Puget Sound area, we will be making our services available to another 2m people," said Ben Wolff, the company's co-CEO and co-president, in a briefing last week.  Clearwire now serves 360 towns in 32 markets internationally.

(You can hear me discuss this story on KUOW-FM's The Conversation, aired today in the Seattle market, and archived here; my comments start about 20 minutes into the program.)

Wolff said that while the perception is that Clearwire was working the rural Chatauqua, that's no longer the case. "We have certainly built markets that are underserved markets, but if you look at our market today, the vast majority of customers in our market have access to both cable and DSL," he said.

When queried about their current potential coverage area, previously stated by the firm as being comprised of 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses passing 90m Americans, Wolff said that was outdated information. The 90m figure was "at the point in time that we filed our S-1 registration statement" when the firm was planning a potential initial public offering. Clearwire's current spectrum footprint is "dramatically larger," Wolff said, declining to provide additional detail.

Clearwire is competing with wireline broadband firms, but has a significant disadvantage in terms of speed, offering just 1.5 Mbps down and 256 Kpbs up as the top rate ($38 per month, $25 setup, $5/month modem rental or $100 purchase). A lower rate of 768/256 Kbps has the same modem fees and runs $30 per month with a $50 setup fee. A three-month introductory promotion is $20 per month for either level of service.

Much higher rates, up to 5 or 6 Mbps with DSL and cable in parts of many markets, are now available at higher cost. The Seattle Times published a fantastic chart showing what bandwidth costs from many providers in the Seattle area. 6 Mbps over 384 Kbps is $42.95 from Comcast and 5 Mbps over 896 Kbps is $36.99 from Qwest. Of course, this means that you have to qualify for those speeds in the place you live, too, which varies remarkably over metropolitan areas.

On the other hand, Clearwire has the advantage of mobility and simplicity. Wolff noted, "You can go into one of our retail stores today or order over the Web and get provisioned. As soon as you have the modem in your hand," plug it into power, the connection is active. Wolff joked, "It's so simple that even an adult can do it."

Clearwire's service is also nomadic, with the small-format modem working anywhere in the coverage range, and supporting a car-power adapter. This makes it appropriate for a host of mobile occupations, including real-estate agents and a variety of municipal employees. A company spokesperson separately noted a variety of uses of Clearwire in other markets, such as providing a mobile hotspot on buses in Anchorage, providing a method for a local newspaper's photographers to file pictures from the field, allowing mobile classrooms, and giving boat owners access without pulling a wire of any sort.

While cellular data networks offer even higher degrees of mobility with battery-powered portability, the cost is much higher for less throughput, and cellular operators are fixated on the smartphone and the adapter in the laptop--not on a nomadic networked device. Clearwire expects its users will watch videos, share their connection with other computers in the same household, and be used just like a broadband wired connection. Clearwire's acceptable use policy requires users to avoid certain kinds of excessive use, which are fairly reasonable. You can't operate a high-volume Web server, nor can you continuously stream video or transfer files via FTP upstream or downstream.

These guidelines are distinctly at odds with the restrictive terms and services of, say, Verizon Wireless, which expects less than 5 GB of data transfer per month, and contractually allows only Web browsing, email, and intranet application use with its EVDO service. Perry Satterlee, co-president of the firm, said in regards to the company's limitations on user activities, "Because of the nature of our product, we have a much bigger pipe that's available." He noted, "We see ourselves as filling a gap in the marketplace that isn't filled in any other way today."

Wolff said that Clearwire expects to be the affordable backhaul for hotspots, too, offering a complementary service to local Wi-Fi access. And with regards to the metro-scale Wi-Fi networks that are being built today, "You'll see us find ways to integrate and cooperate with the muni-Wi-Fi movement."

Clearwire's expansion brings some concerns that a high customer uptake could congest the network. Wolff dismissed this, noting the efficiencies of their technology choice for managing spectrum. "We are going about building our network today [in a way] that will more than absorb the customers and usage that we expect to see for some time," he said.

Update: A couple minor notes on Clearwire from the Seattle Times' Tech Tracks blog. First, you can use a powerline networking system to distribute incoming access around a home via power outlets. Second, the company employs two security methods: encryption for the local link and obscurity through licensed spectrum.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:48 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Broadband Wireless, Metro-Scale Networks | 1 Comment

MetroFi Partners with Microsoft for Content, Local Ads in Portland

By Glenn Fleishman

MetroFi is proving able at connecting itself with larger partners while still running the show: MetroFi is working with AT&T to provide Wi-Fi service in Riverside, Calif., in a winning bid there, and has bid with that telecom giant for Sacramento. In Portland, today's announcement is that Microsoft will offer a combination of targeted, super-local advertising for the MetroFi network in that largest of Oregon's cities, while also providing local content, such as maps.

GigaOm has more detail, with reporter Katie Fehrenbacher noting that Microsoft can match advertisers to prospective customers by Zip code within the network, and that the MSN division will deliver weather, news, restaurant and nightlife details, movie listings, and local government services. They'll also offer search results, which is a nice way for MSN to insert itself into a market dominated by Google. Fehrenbacher writes that MetroFi and Microsoft are both playing coy about the business relationship and what (if any) money is involved.

If this deal sounds vaguely familiar, we only need rewind to January 2001, when MobileStar signed up as Starbucks Wi-Fi provider. In this press release, those two firms and Microsoft note, "During the coming year, the companies will work together to develop services that leverage the power of the wireless broadband network. For example, customers will be able to download the latest information on local arts and entertainment and shop online while enjoying their beverage."

A few short months later, MobileStar filed for bankruptcy, and by late 2001, T-Mobile (then the separately owned VoiceStream) had acquired the firm's assets out of bankruptcy.

Now, I'm not in any way suggesting a similar fate for MetroFi--I just want to show how that wheel of synergy is a big cycle that keeps turning, turning, turning.

I'd rather point out that providing resources that are local to a given hotspot wasn't a bad idea, although it hasn't caught on to any great extent in the five intervening years. Offering super-local resources for a metro-scale network, however, seems truly useful. If I can power up my laptop as either a resident or visitor in Portland, and have the network know (with my permission, I hope) precisely where I am, then I've jumped ahead several steps in understanding my local surroundings and making decisions about what to do next with my good self and my good money.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:02 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location, Metro-Scale Networks

Trust But Verify: Measurement for Metro-Scale Networks

By Glenn Fleishman

New measurement firm joins two others that aim to audit performance of metropolitan-scale Wi-Fi networks: Wi-Fi veterans Phil Belanger and Ken Biba today launch Novarum, a firm that will produce 10 reports per quarter on how Wi-Fi networks that span cities and counties measure up. Novarum joins a field that's not yet crowded, but has at least two competitors I spoke with that make measurement part of larger businesses. Each of the three firms has a distinct approach to taking stock of these new networks.

For some time, I've been banging the drum of network performance audits for muni-Fi, because it makes little sense for a city or civic group to ask the same group that they paid or allowed to design, build, and operate the network to also provide guidelines for evaluating that network's performance. A disinterested third party with no financial stake in the outcome of a deployment should look at tests, pilot projects, and production rollouts to determine whether coverage and performance meets the contracted specifications.

I spoke with Belanger of Novarum, and the heads of Unplugged Cities and Uptown Services to learn about their methodology in measuring Wi-Fi networks of a scale that only came into being in the last year.

(Follow the link below for the rest of the article.)

Read the rest of "Trust But Verify: Measurement for Metro-Scale Networks"

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:00 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Industry, Metro-Scale Networks, Monitoring and Testing, Research | 2 Comments

Cisco Offers Soup to Nuts Citywide Networks for Providers

By Glenn Fleishman

Cisco combines hardware, design into tested packages for metro-scale deployment: The company announced their plan today to sell integrated packages of their wireless mesh equipment, wireless management systems, and routers that would let metro-scale service providers avoid building each deployment from the ground up each time. Joel Vincent of Cisco said in a briefing last week that this streamlined approach--known as ServiceMesh--will allow service providers to go from answering a city's request for proposal (RFP) to "having revenue as soon as possible."

Cisco has optimized their package to integrate applications across the network, including such popular municipal examples as wireless meter reading, in-the-field building inspection reports, and general public safety communications. The idea is that with Cisco providing help on the glue that binds these top-level applications from a variety of existing municipal and enterprise vendors into the wireless network, service providers can mix and match solutions without reinventing the wheel. This would result in more consistent deployments at lower cost.

Cisco's own services division can provide the design help necessary to put the integrated package together; Cisco's partners, like IBM, will also be able to bundle and resell this new offering.

This new offering is tied with Cisco's announcement that eight medium-sized cities have been deployed through service provider partners with packages derived from this reference design. Vincent said that most of the upcoming city RFPs would be from sub-500,000-population municipalities where there's less of a user base across which to spread design costs, making efficient planning and upfront integration more crucial. The international market is also heating up, and Vincent expected that a fair amount of future business would come from outside the U.S., citing Singapore's near-term effort to unwire the entire country as one example.

Vincent likened ServiceMesh to the way in which hardware products move from chip vendors into a broader marketplace. "If you think of a chip company that wants to spark the Wi-Fi revolution, the first product to come out was probably a reference design from the chip company. Then all the product companies took it and productized it," he said, turning it into an item to sell. When a service provider asks, how do I add wireless Internet access to a city, Cisco can provide that reference design as a well-thought-out starting point with the majority of pieces in place, Vincent said.

Vincent made the fascinating prediction that most networks on this scale would wind up offering Internet access at no cost, with the area that service providers derived revenue from coming solely from specific municipal, business, and consumer applications that would run over the network. "The days of charging money just to access the network are slowly disappearing," Vincent said. "Service providers have to stand back and say as the cost of pure access and [voice] minutes decline," where will revenue come from.

Cisco has worked closely with IBM to combine the design and deployment of networks, with the two companies finding a neat fit between Cisco's architecture and IBM's application focus. The two are part of two MetroConnect consortiums: the first, with Azulstar and Seakay won the Wireless Silicon Valley bid; the second, with Azulstar gave them Winston-Salem. In the former case, over 40 separate municipal entities, mostly cities, will strike separate deals with the consortium, and should give Cisco's approach an excellent test bed for both ease of deployment and adding other features to the mix.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 5:00 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hardware, Mesh, Metro-Scale Networks, Monitoring and Testing

November 13, 2006

Metro Round-Up: Manhattan (NY), EarthLinkLand (N.C., Flor., Tex.)

By Glenn Fleishman

Trump's broadband supplier piles on Wi-Fi: MST/NuVisions is broadcasting Wi-Fi across a great swath of Manhattan, the company says. They already run a gigabit-ring-in-the-air--a backbone unencumbered by ground connections--and they're leveraging their position on buildings to beam across the southern part of Central Park and other areas of the city. They expanded an earlier network that was highly localized around the buildings in which they provide tenant services, including many Trump properties, for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5. They told the New York Post that they're using MIMO technology, a multiple-antenna approach that has been slow to enter the metro-scale market mostly because of its newness. A few metro-scale equipment vendors were founded this year to use MIMO approaches to provide greater coverage with fewer nodes. NuVisions charges $10 for 10 hours and $30 per month for access to users who aren't in-building subscribers. Their map appears to show their previous coverage area.

EarthLink all over: The company may provide service in Charlotte, N.C., a city of 240 square miles; St. Petersburg, Flor., finds them one of two finalists for that town's 60 square miles; and Corpus Christi, Tex., writer Taylor Wimberly notes in his blog that tonight's city council meeting agenda contains items relating to EarthLink taking over the operation and expansion of that city's long-standing network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:52 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks

High-Level Summary of NY Times on Zune's Unique Wireless Sharing Feature

By Glenn Fleishman

Today's take on Microsoft's Zune: "Would the Zune ever be able to connect to the Internet? Could someone walk into a Starbucks and use the connection there to download a song?"

Mr. Lee answered without hesitation: 'Probably, one day.' "

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:41 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Music

November 12, 2006

Exploit Released for Broadcom Drivers: Windows, Other Platforms Can Be Hijacked

By Glenn Fleishman

The Month of Kernel Bugs project released details for taking over a computer with an affected Broadcom Wi-Fi driver: eWeek reports that Jon Ellch ("Johnny Cache") discovered the flaw earlier this year. Ellch provided details to Broadcom, which released updated drivers to its manufacturing partners, only some of which have apparently distributed end-user fixes to their customers in the form of driver updates or as part of larger software updates. Yesterday's release includes a Metasploit module for automated, relatively exploitation of this flaw which leads to complete control of a computer.

The exploit results from Broadcom's driver improperly parsing a response to a request for the network name (SSID or service set identifier) from a nearby device. These probe requests are sent out regularly by Wi-Fi adapters that are not associated with a network; they can also be sent by associated adapters updating the computer's picture of what networks are active in the vicinity. A malformed probe response--in the Metasploit module, this appears to be a crafted 93-byte name--can overflow a buffer and allow "arbitrary kernel-mode code execution," which can be turned into root-level ownership of the operating system. As long as the Wi-Fi radio is turned on, any computer with the right unpatched firmware is vulnerable. An attack requires a malicious user within antenna range of a vulnerable machine; the exploit cannot be executed remotely.

Any Wi-Fi adapter with Broadcom driver BCMWL5.SYS version under Windows XP, and potentially under Linux and FreeBSD distributions that can make use of Windows Wi-Fi drivers. The SANS Institute reports that this driver version is known to be vulnerable, but that others may be as well. The driver in question is bundled with computers made by a variety of vendors, including HP, Dell, eMachines, Gateway, and others, as well as third-party wireless cards from Linksys and others. A complete list of affected computers and chipsets (if limited to certain chipsets) is not available at this writing. According to what's known today, only Linksys's patches for its WPC300N Wireless-N wireless card contains the updated Broadcom firmware to fix this vulnerability.

The so-called Zeroday Emergency Response Team (ZERT) said there's no simple way for them to apply their usual ZERT methodology of releasing temporary patches for zero-day exploits in this case. Zero-day exploits are flaws that are announced at the same time as code is generally available to take advantage of the flaw. ZERT tries to release code to defeat these exploits to prevent short-term problems, but recommends vendor-supplied patches as they become available.

You'll recognize Ellch's name from the August through October soap opera in which Ellch and colleague David Maynor first apparently stated that they had found weaknesses in certain drivers that allowed non-associated Wi-Fi adapter attacks through weak drivres, and either implied or stated that this included Apple's Mac OS X operating system and associated Wi-Fi drivers.

The two researchers later couldn't be pinned down on precisely what they did say, and Apple denied that the researchers provided them with information that led to patches later released for OS X to fix what Apple described as flaws that hadn't yet been exploited. (Those flaws involved malformed frames, a higher-level and more generic problem; they don't appear to be identical in nature to this Broadcom vulnerability. Ellch's methodology in discovering the flaw was apparently the same.)

Ellch and Maynor have never publicly released the information they say they provided to Apple, and Maynor's employer SecureWorks put a kabosh on discussion by restricting him from speaking about it publicly (he dropped out of a scheduled Toorcon presentation with Ellch), while agreeing to work with Apple and CERT on vague coordination issues. (Ellch doesn't work for SecureWorks, but appears bound by the same confidentiality agreements that Maynor has observed.)

Some commentators and security experts said that Ellch and Maynor had the goods; others thought they were posers. I tried to stay consistent on this topic, which is difficult. I don't believe Apple was lying, based on both public and private information I obtained; and I have had a hard time believing, too, that Maynor and Ellch were simply seeking publicity through fabrication. That seemed unlikely given their track record.

This cognitive dissonance has led some commentators and columnists to support Maynor and Ellch unconditionally, even without seeing the actual exploits or any of the code, while some Macintosh focused writers have stated unequivocally that they think the whole matter was hand waving. (John Gruber of Daring Fireball and Jim Thompson agreed to buy and give two fresh MacBooks to either researcher if they could show up and crack the machine per their stated exploit.)

In this current case, it looks like Ellch gets to smell like a rose with no dispute over process, proof, or results. First, he revealed the exploit privately to Broadcom with sufficient advance word that Broadcom could create a patch that Linksys was able to incorporate by Nov. 6. Second, his disclosure is fully documented. Third, the disclosure has an excellent social purpose, as well, as it will force manufacturers that may have dallied on providing fixes or full disclosures of this risk (if they knew about it), to push patches out right away. Update: Perhaps not. Broadcom says that Ellch gave them no advance word; Ellch hasn't responded to my query on this.

While this is a serious exploit, it has to be carried out by individuals, even individuals with high-gain antennas. Because the vector doesn't work over the Internet or over local networks, only within the range of active Wi-Fi adapters accepting probe responses within reach of a malicious user, this reduces the scope of the number of possible machines infected. A crazy black-hat wardriver might be able to drive around a city and own machine after machine, true.

What can you do in the meantime with an affected driver? Unfortunately, the only option for true security is finding an Ethernet cable and disabling your radio.

Update on Monday: Still no details on how an unassociated Wi-Fi adapter can be hijacked through the exploit; perhaps the payload of the exploit enables peer-to-peer networking thus allowing a remote user to then access the cracked machine?

Broadcom released a statement this morning that they started auditing their code after what they describe as a "widely publicized vulnerability in certain wireless implementations that was announced at the annual Black Hat conference," which would be the alleged Apple Wi-Fi driver flaws. The company said they found some vulnerabilities via that audit and developed new testing tools that will help them avoid similar holes in the future.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:11 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security | 2 Comments

November 9, 2006

St. Louis Park Moves Ahead on Wi-Fi Network

By Glenn Fleishman

The municipally owned network will cost $3.3m in St. Louis Park, Minn.: The heavily canopied Minneapolis suburb won't pursue private/public efforts, but will finance its own for-fee network. The service will run from $15 to $30 per month, with rates starting at 128 Kbps to 1 Mbps for that range. ARINC and Unplugged Cities (a local firm) will build the network under contract. They city needs 32 percent of consumers and 15 percent of small businesses to subscribe to recoup costs. The city has 45,000 people in 20,000 households, so the numbers a little confusing--does one subscriber in a household that's sharing the service count as one "consumer"? I would guess they're looking at 6,000+ subscribers. The city has relatively little wireline broadband available from incumbents, according to this article.

Update: See local localist Becca Vargo Daggett's comments below that clarify all points; Daggett is with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:29 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

Zune Abuse: Journal, Times

By Glenn Fleishman

If you haven't gotten your fill of why the Zune won't be an iPod killer, read Pogue, Mossberg: The Wi-Fi-equipped Zune launches next week, and the two most widely read mainstream technology journalists have their reviews out--they don't much like it. I've been astounded that Microsoft would release a device with Wi-Fi that cannot sync via Wi-Fi to a computer (only via USB), and cannot connect to the Internet to download music. Pogue and Mossberg have broader critiques.

Mossberg is the kinder of the two. He likes some of what the Zune has and the iPod lacks, such as a built-in FM receiver, its larger screen, and the Wi-Fi music exchange feature. He also says the Zune correctly synchronizes music and other media files in a way that previous players that used Microsoft technology did not. Mossberg even finds the interface easier to use than Apple's. But that doesn't make up for a device that's "60% larger and 17% heavier than the comparable iPod," he notes, calling the design "rushed and incomplete." The battery life is poorer than the iPod's, too. The Zune's online store is much smaller than the iTunes Store, lacking TV shows, movies, and music videos, as well as audiobooks and podcasts. (There's zero help for managing or subscribing to podcasts, by the way.)

Mossberg heaps particular scorn on the purchasing model for the online store, which is the same as Microsoft uses for its Xbox Live Marketplace. Microsoft Points are pegged at 80 points to the dollar: $5 buys you 400 points or 500 points costs $6.25. Mossberg was irritated that you have to buy buckets of points in at least $5 increments; you can't just pay 99 cents via a credit card or other means to buy a 99-cent song, as you can with other stores. No, no, you have to pay $5 for 400 points and then use 79 points to purchase that song. I'm guessing Microsoft went with Points to tie in to an existing system that already supports worldwide purchase in local currency. The $15 per month subscription plan isn't being pushed, even though it's the gaping hole in Apple's music offerings.

Mossberg explains, too, that songs bought for the Zune will not play on any other music devices, and that songs purchased for playback using Microsoft's protected music format PlaysForSure will not play on the Zune. This latter fact came out months ago, but the former is worth noting as well, because it's been one of Microsoft's key talking points in critiquing the iPod/iTunes closed music format.

While he doesn't go into depth as to why the Wi-Fi features are a problem, Mossberg writes, "[T]he wireless music-sharing feature on the Zune is heavily compromised, in a way that is bound to annoy the very audience it is targeting."

Now David Pogue, a known admirer of Apple products and the iPod series (as am I), takes out an entire array of flensing knives to do his work. He spoke to a Zune product manager who essentially says that Microsoft's protected music system, PlaysForSure, is broken, which is something people outside Microsoft--including Real Networks, which just introduced their own system--have been saying for some time. Pogue quotes the Zune group's Scott Erickson saying, "PlaysForSure works for some people, but it's not as easy as the Zune." This is a remarkably strong statement from a Microsoftee, equivalent to burning villages and sowing salt on PlaysForSure's fields. More remarkably, Pogue notes, Windows Media Player can't interact with the Zune to load it with music! Another program is required for that purpose.

Pogue uncovers the fake scroll wheel, too, which isn't a scroll wheel at all: it's a round bezel that doesn't spin and isn't touch sensitive. Rather, it conceals four compass-point buttons.

But let's get to the Wi-Fi features. Pogue's tests show that you can send a song to another Zune user, the only use to which its Wi-Fi can now be put, in about 15 seconds, and a photo in two seconds, while video cannot be sent. Pogue states the Wi-Fi dilemma as "it's just so weird that Zunes can connect only to each other. Who’d build a Wi-Fi device that can’t connect to a wireless network--to sync with your PC, for example? Nor to an Internet hot spot, to download music directly?"

Pogue also jumps up and down on the restrictions for music sharing. There's no way for you, as the owner or creator of a piece of music, to tag it to not expire after the three days or three plays, whichever comes first, limitation of Zune's music sharing. (Mossberg found in his pre-release version that some songs would crap out after a few seconds or two plays, too, but Microsoft told him that's been fixed.)

There's a note of caution about discounting Microsoft too soon. As Pogue points out, all 1.0 products from Microsoft are "stripped-down and derivative," but research and marketing continues over year as they refine the product. Look at Windows Mobile 5 compared to any earlier release of Windows CE, for instance, and you'll see that Microsoft can create a smartphone and handheld OS that generally functional. (Although the OK button's function continues to be the strangest interface choice made in the history of mainstream computing.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:23 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Mainstream Media, Music | 2 Comments

November 8, 2006

US Lags in All Measures of Broadband, FCC's Copps Says

By Glenn Fleishman

One of two Democrats on the FCC board, Copps says we're laughably behind: Estonia, a forward-thinking country, beats us in the "digital opportunity" index at position 20, and we're 15th worldwide in overall broadband penetration. Copps nails one of the ways in which the FCC avoids facing reality: "The FCC still defines broadband as 200 kilobits per second, assumes that if one person in a Zip code area has access to broadband then everyone does and fails to gather any data on pricing." I've complained about this before in the debate over whether municipalities have any role in owning, fostering, or discouraging city-wide networks. Opponents to certain forms of municipal involvement will say things like DSL penetration in the US is over 95 percent. But they're using the one-line-per-Zip-code measure.

He issues a call to arms, which might stick with the shift in control of the House and apparently Senate: "We must start meeting our legislative mandate to get advanced telecommunications out to all Americans at reasonable prices; make new licensed and unlicensed spectrum available; authorize "smart radios" that use spectrum more efficiently; and do a better job of encouraging "third pipe" technologies such as wireless and broadband over power lines."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:57 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Regulation

Bellevue, Wash., To Launch Downtown Network

By Glenn Fleishman

The Seattle suburb has turned into a city in its own right: The town of Bellevue was once looked down by Seattle residents on as a lesser bedroom community, albeit one with vastly better schools than the city proper. Now, Bellevue has a huge and prosperous downtown with buildings that don't quite scrape the sky, but make a stab at it--and will have a downtown Wi-Fi zone long before Seattle moves in that direction. (The highway that crosses Lake Washington from Seattle to Bellevue is spitting distance from my home.)

Bellevue told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's John Cook today that they would deploy a 1.5-acre network across downtown, including the Meydenbauer Center, home to the recent 20,000-attendee Penny Arcade Expo, City Hall, and Downtown Park, and Bellevue Square, an upscale mall that has grown enormously in recent years. The city plans to expand the network to cover its entire area, ultimately, and has a strong focus on utility for municipal employees.

There are few places that people live in this initial coverage area, and it's a good place to start. Somewhere north of several thousand people come into this part of Bellevue for work and meetings each day, and it's not far from T-Mobile USA's headquarters, either. Microsoft has offices in downtown, too, as they've long outgrown their nearby Redmond headquarters.

Mobile workers and those with offices in the area who want to get out will see a huge benefit from an outdoor network, as they will already have the gear and be using it in their Wi-Fi and Internet-equipped offices. T-Mobile has launched the first unlicensed mobile access (UMA) network in the US--combining seamless calling across cellular and Wi-Fi network--in the greater Seattle area, and the Bellevue network may attract users of the dual-network service.

The network will be available to service providers, the first of which will be HarborLink of Ohio, which will offer free, advertising-supported access, and provide the city a 10-percent cut of revenue. The city hopes to wholesale service to other providers under other terms, as well. Cisco Systems has provided a no-cost loan for 180 days to the city of the necessary gear, which could be leased ($25K to $35K per year), sold ($101K), or returned ($0).

Seattle has a couple of neighborhood test networks, as noted in this article, but its focus has been on citywide fiber, with fiber-oriented firms having bid on an outstanding RFP. The RFP mentions Wi-Fi as an optional extra, not a requirement.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:50 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal | 1 Comment

HomePNA Hits 320 Mbps

By Glenn Fleishman

Version 3.1 comes after a long delay, and boosts speed from 128 Mbps to 320 Mbps: It's now technically the fast symbol rate of all home-networking standards. Real throughput with multiple devices coupled with the amount of jitter and frame drop will be the real test of how well future 802.11n, and current MoCA (coax), HomePNA (phone wiring), and HomePlug (electrical) stack up. HomePNA won't be found on store shelves, Ars Technica writes; it's one of the technologies being deployed by IPTV providers, including AT&T. An ABI Research analyst quoted by Ars Technica says that neither MoCA nor HomePNA will be found at retail during the next 12 to 24 months, in fact.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:03 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Home

Emirates Will Be First Airline with In-Flight Calling

By Glenn Fleishman

The Dubai-based carrier said they'll launch mobile phones calls in flight in January 2007: The service will launch on a single Boeing 777 in January. They're signing with Aeromobile, which will receive $27m to equipment its fleet. Aeromobile uses Inmarsat satellite links to provide onboard data services, relayed via a picocell for mobile calls. Emirates currently sees 6,000 calls per month from in-seat flights using what is likely narrowband 1990s technology, such as that used by Verizon AirFone.

The report says that the number of simultaneous calls is limited to five or six, which means that Emirates will be using third-generation Inmarsat equipment. The fourth-generation (4G) system offers several times the bandwidth, and should allow up to dozens of simultaneous calls. However, Inmarsat's launch time for 4G in-flight service is not yet set, but is expected no later than mid-2007, when Aeromobile's competitor OnAir will launch service with Air France and later bmi, TAP, and Ryanair.

The service includes phone calls and text messaging.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:41 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

November 7, 2006

Belkin's Ultrawideband Hub Wins Award, But Still a No-Show

By Glenn Fleishman

F5U301 04Popular Science gave the not-yet-shipping hub a "Best of What's New" award: The magazine picks products released between November of the previous year and Oct. 31 of this year, but Belkin's delivery of this device slipped. Belkin won a Best of What's New award alongside Airgo for its early MIMO router in Popular Science's 2004-2005 cycle. I've written for Popular Science in the past, so I know that the editors must have had a high degree of confidence that the device would ship by the end of last month.

Belkin's so-called Cable-Free USB Hub (MSRP $130) will use ultrawideband (UWB) to allow driver-free connections by pairing a UWB dongle that plugs into a USB port on a host computer with a four-port AC-powered hub that can be located elsewhere in a room. In the press release for this award, Belkin doesn't provide an expected shipping date.

Belkin was originally planning to release this in early 2006, and demonstrated prototypes (or at least brick-o-types: nonfunctioning plastic models) at CES and Macworld Expo. Their first design was based on Freescale's UWB chips, which have not yet appeared in a shipping product. Freescale was sold to an investment consortium recently, and I have expected to see their UWB line dropped in favor of a focus on the company's vast array of revenue-generating, already-shipping technology.

Uwb HubIn summer, reports appeared (that Belkin later confirmed) that the company was shifting from Freescale to a vendor that's part of the Intel-led, 200-member-strong WiMedia Alliance. Belkin noted today in their press release that they would use technology from Wisair. Wisair has a USB hub reference design that will obviously be the basis for Belkin's product. Reference designs are generally fully developed products ready for customization. Because this hub is driver-free, there's really nothing beyond an injection-molded case and some logo silkscreening that needs to be added.

(I said that Belkin's hub was "so-called" because Cable-Free is Freescale's term for USB over UWB; the WiMedia Alliance has a partnership with the USB Implementers Forum, and Wireless USB is the trademarked and supported term that those two organizations will push for USB over UWB. Belkin might change the name for this reason.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:26 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: UWB

Loki Here: Wi-Fi Location Finder Adds Tool for Web Publishers

By Glenn Fleishman

Skyhook Wireless's Loki navigation toolbar uses the company's GPS-like Wi-Fi location system: With coordinates in hand, Loki can feed location information to Web sites that use position to provide results. This could include the simple (maps), the useful (Wi-Fi directories), and the mundane (where's the nearest Home Depot?). But it can also include presence, where you can reveal your location to selected others, and all of you can be plotted on a map. Useful for sales forces, repair technicians, and others.

Loki's update, coinciding with their millionth location request from a user, adds a JavaScript-based function that Web site publishers can use to poll the coordinates of a user. This would allow any location-aware Web site to offer a result without an intermediate page or a query about location; user's have to approve a request for their whereabouts, however.

Skyhook has also added SMS notification, which lets you push your location via a text message to a friend or colleague, and a time zone changer, which uses the current location to set the system clock. Skyhook also says it's improved the speed and accuracy of lookups.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:18 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location

Wi-Fi on Heathrow Express Trains

By Glenn Fleishman

The 15-minute journey from Paddington Station in London to Heathrow will have Internet service: At first glance, this seems a little odd, T-Mobile's new offering of 8 Mbps downstream Internet access for a mere 15-minute ride. But it's part and parcel of building an expectation for high-speed service everywhere, especially at key transit junctures. T-Mobile subscribers who fly frequently will make use of this link-up; others will pony up when they find it useful; still others will pay the hourly rate of £5 for service. (A day pass at £10 works through T-Mobile UK's network.) T-Mobile told several news outlets that they expect that travelers will use that brief period to do one last email refresh, although Heathrow itself has four separate Wi-Fi providers, with varying amounts of terminal coverage. The 15-minute ride is £26 round trip in couch and £44 in first class, with trains leaving every 15 minutes. I imagine this compares favorably to the availability and reliability of ground transportation, and the cost of a taxi.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:32 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | 1 Comment

November 6, 2006

Metro Round-Up: Minnesota, Hartford (Conn.)

By Glenn Fleishman

US Internet seeks 17 deals: The Minnesota-based firm, which received the nod for Minneapolis's fiber/Wi-Fi network, is looking to bid on 17 more projects, although where that number comes from, it's unclear. Working with Charys Holding Co. in Atlanta, the firm already has a deal in Atlanta and is working on a pilot in Boston. (The Boston project is under Charys's name; it's the square mile in Roxbury.) Minneapolis signed their contract with US Internet last week.

Hartford Courant weighs in on city's ambitious project: The paper worries that early municipal Wi-Fi rollouts haven't gone to plan, and that the potential revenue isn't well described. But they like the general idea, and the plan to test, first, as well as to offer subsidized computers to low-income residents. Which is, unfortunately, a large percentage of Hartford's population. My wife is from Connecticut, and she discovered relatively recently that the lack of counties in that state may be part of Hartford's problem, as well as several coastal cities, such as New Haven, where I lived for five years. In Washington State, where we live now, the county (King) and its largest city (Seattle) tend to counterbalance each other for certain resources; it's a good dynamic. In Hartford, there's no fallback, no way to leaven income tax, property tax, or sales tax across a greater area to spread the wealth. The middle-class largely fled Hartford decades ago, although they're coming back as the nature of the town has changed. (Disagreement welcome!)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:14 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

Ryanair Expands to Second Classic Vice

By Glenn Fleishman

Ryanair doesn't make money from fares, but from in-flight services: They already offer quite a bit of one classic vice--the drink--and they'll expand their current second-vice offerings of gambling to include mobile phone bingo in partnership with Reuters says the firm expects to make "millions upon millions" from this partnership. The mobile phone offering will come about from Ryanair's launch of in-flight calling and texting using technology from OnAir. OnAir scored a massive coup a few months ago with Ryanair's agreement to outfit its entire fleet of short-haul aircraft with the satellite-based data service that will carry cellular traffic via an on-board picocell. So far, no word on the third classic vice, but the Mile-High Club is typically unofficial and unsanctioned.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:06 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

Hotspot Growth Predicted, But I Yawn

By Glenn Fleishman

I am ambivalent about predictions in hotspot growth: I held off on posting anything about ABI Research's PR on their report tracking current and estimating future hotspot growth. They expect 143,700 by the end of this year, which they say is a growth of 47 percent over 2005. Since hotspots are difficult to count given the number of ones-and-twos run by individuals and small businesses, I could argue that part of this growth is greater interest on the part of locations in getting themselves listed, too.

I don't disagree with ABI Research's basic assessment that growth will continue at a relatively slow pace--they see just 109,000 hotspots in the hospitality market by 2010, up from 40,000 today. While that may represent a 170-percent increase, it works out to about a 25 percent increase per year. Those new locations will come at this point largely from entire chains converting; from hotels in lesser-developed nations adding service; and from individually run hotels making their own decision to add service. When I stayed in a small hotel on the Pacific Ocean beach in Jacó, Costa Rica, in 2003, it had no Internet access, but it's the kind of establishment that, catering to tourists, will almost certainly add it when it becomes affordable to do so.

Fundamentally, it's not interesting to talk about hotspots any more, either. When you can get mobile WiMax, EVDO, HSDPA, and Wi-Fi in practically every location in the US with clouds of cell and WiMax along with metro-scale Wi-Fi deployments, hotspots will change in importance. There may be more of a shift to what's available on the local network--can I walk into Starbucks and download a 6 GB movie file quickly from a local server over 802.11n?--or the social aspect of the space. Higher bandwidth in hotspots may also drive continued interest. I have argued for a while that differentiation among hotspots, especially free versus fee, is quite tricky if they all work more or less well. But if one hotspots has a 6 Mbps downstream link and another 512 Kbps, it's quite possible that through word of mouth and experimentation, customers will migrate to the faster pipe even if they have to pay for it as bandwidth-intensive applications and Web sites keep appearing.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:02 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Future, Hot Spot | 1 Comment

November 4, 2006

More Wi-Fi at Boston's Airport: American Airlines To Add It at Lounge

By Glenn Fleishman

American Airlines had also been told by Massport, Boston-Logan's operator, to refrain from offering its own Wi-Fi service in its membership lounge: American had filed comments on behalf of Continental in the FCC petition that was granted by the regulator this last week. The FCC order reaffirmed a variety of rights for individuals and organizations that include preventing landlords from exercising any control of the use of antennas that distribute wireless signals over unlicensed bands, such as with Wi-Fi. American Airlines told The Boston Globe that they'd have service installed as fast as possible.

It's a little unclear whether airlines would move to add their own Wi-Fi in gates and other waiting areas, as there's more ambiguity about who would have access to that service, and there's less necessity for the airlines to offer Wi-Fi there as an incentive. However, they might choose to do so as another competitive factor. Imagine if you used your ticket number or confirmation number to get an hour of free Wi-Fi in each airport you flew through at the gates of that airline? That would almost certainly fit within the FCC's ruling. (Unfettered free access in more public areas, even around gates, could be trickier.)

As I've written many times before, I do think that the general issue of airport Wi-Fi has much to do with the kind of expected user. With most business travelers carrying laptops, and all of them having some kind of telecom subscription (cell phone, cell data plan, home DSL, and so on), it's increasingly likely that they would pay a very small amount of additional service charges each month--about $20 or so--to obtain unlimited Wi-Fi access in most airports and in thousands of other locations. Those users won't care whether service is "free" or not, but rather whether it's included in their unlimited plan.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:32 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | 1 Comment

November 3, 2006

AirCell Formally Receives FCC License

By Glenn Fleishman

You thought it was over, right?: The auction for the more valuable 3 MHz chunk of spectrum for air-ground communications--in-flight, domestic US broadband--was over months ago, but the FCC grinds through a very detailed process after the bidding is done to ensure that all the niceties were observed. AirCell announced yesterday that the FCC's process was completed, and the regulatory agency had handed AirCell the license.

The auction rules give Verizon AirFone two years to carry out a migration process that would free up spectrum for AirCell and the other auction winner, Live TV (a division of JetBlue), which received a 1 MHz license. AirFone said several weeks ago that they would shut down commercial aviation operations, and many airlines have apparently already turned off the phones. (I noted the phones were dead on Delta in a flight this last week, but I'd heard Delta had turned off AirFone some time ago.)

AirFone said they would continue some general aviation (privately owned aircraft) service, and apparently some governmental service as well. The terms of the auction make it perfectly allowable for AirCell and/or JetBlue to work out details privately with AirFone, and even pay them sums of money or make other arrangements to go live earlier than mid-2008. AirCell talks about a late 2007 commercial launch of their service, which would offer about 1.5 Mbps in each direction, from what the company has told me.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:54 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

November 1, 2006

FCC Smacks Down Boston-Logan's Dubious Wi-Fi Claims

By Glenn Fleishman

FCC says that its in charge of unlicensed spectrum (PDF): Today's ruling is a crushing defeat for the contradictory and shifting statements made over the last two years by Massport, the operators of Boston-Logan airport, in their attempt to control the use of Wi-Fi in their facility. Continental wanted to offer free Wi-Fi using their own equipment in their membership lounge. Massport tried to prevent this, but it's been clear that the FCC's broad and clear statements over the last few years--including this one in particular back in July 2004--said that only the FCC may control the unlicensed spectrum and that landlords have no rights in free airspace.

The FCC reiterated that language today: "Restrictions prohibited by the OTARD [over-the-air reception devices] rules include lease provisions (as is the situation here), as well as restrictions imposed by state or local laws or regulations, private covenants, contract provisions, or homeowner’s association rules." The order notes that this is the first time a Part 15 device has been involved in the application of the OTARD rules, so this decision has remarkably broad standing in clarifying any future disputes. (Part 15 governs most consumer and commercial devices used without a license in the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5 GHz bands, although there devices operating under other rules and under licenses in those bands as well.)

The Continental petition to get a ruling against Massport received 2,300 comments, 2000 of which were "brief, single-paragraph responses" from individuals, "many of whom identify themselves as frequent passengers of Continental." A number of large organizations filed comments in favor of Continental, including T-Mobile (long-time operator of airport-lounge Wi-Fi), the Consumer Electronics Association, and six public utility commissioners. The FCC notes that the Airports Council International as the only organization supporting Massport, though individuals did send positive comments as well.

Paragraph 12 of the order says Massport's lease restrictions are overly restrictive, without even addressing the specific installation. Paragraph 15 dismisses a specious reading of the "user" of the antenna, in which Massport had tried to state that end-users were the ones who would have to be leaseholders for OTARD rules to apply. Paragraph 17 dismisses Massport's specious reading of a "commercial signal." Paragraph 18 dismisses Massport's specious reading of fixed wireless signals. Paragraph 19 says that Massport misunderstands the FCC entirely in regards to OTARD rules. That, in fact, the rules exist to promote competition in a manner that Massport would like to suppress.

Paragraphs 23 and 24 note that Massport's lease contains unenforceable terms. Paragraph 25 is precious; read it, along with paragraph 26. In part: "The OTARD rules were adopted to enable access to competitive services – a delay of nine months and an offer triggered only by an antenna user pursuing its legal remedies countervails the overarching policies of the OTARD rules and existing legal precedent, amounts to an effective denial of competitive access, and is thus an unreasonable impairment of antenna use for the purposes of OTARD."

On the issue of safety, where Massport maintains that public safety officers, such as the state police, will rely on Wi-Fi, the FCC delivers this body blow starting in Paragraph 28: "Massport misreads the purpose of the safety exception in our rules, and misconstrues the applicable regulatory framework governing the operation of Part 15 devices, such as Continental’s Wi-Fi system, the airport Wi-Fi backbone, and Wi-Fi systems operated by other airlines at Logan Airport....The safety exception addresses potential dangers to the physical safety and health of the public and not interference to other radio device users." Massport, is down for the count, struggling to get off the mat.

Citing law going to back to the founding of the FCC, the order notes, "the safety exception concerns health and physical safety and is simply inapplicable to complaints of potential RF interference with other radio devices...Even if the OTARD safety exception did apply to RF interference issues, the safety exception would still not apply here because the Wi-Fi device that Continental is using in the President’s Club operates as permitted under Part 15 of our rules." That's gotta hurt.

The final chunk, starting in Paragraph 32, dismisses Massport's attempt to get an exemption because the OTARD rules haven't been enforced in government buildings. The FCC says that a house built upon sand cannot stand. Without providing specific reasons for recourse, the order won't allow an exemption because none is required. There now follows a more intricate set of issues about whether the FCC can apply its OTARD rules, here's all you need to know (Paragraph 49): "In sum, no arguments that Massport has made give us reason to change our earlier conclusions that the Commission has statutory authority in these circumstances." There's more about this, too, but of only academic interest.

This ruling may have little effect in airports outside of Boston-Logan, because I am unaware of any other situation in which the airport authority set up an adversarial approach to the extend of spending what must have been hundreds of thousands of dollars pursuing action on the public's dime against privately owner airlines, which are also the airport authority's tenants. In the airports I know something about, the development of a comprehensive Wi-Fi system was undertaken with the involvement of airlines and other tenants to provide the right services in the right places. In some airports, different entities, including airlines, run their own distinct systems without any conflict that's been documented.

More generally, however, the broad reaffirmation of these rules should provide a way to avoid petitioning the FCC and litigating against landlords (or tenants) when unlicensed airwaves are involved.

Update: Oh my goodness, read what the Associated Press heard from Massport: "A spokeswoman for MassPort said the airport had not decided if it would appeal the ruling. 'We're very disappointed in the ruling, but reviewing it carefully and weighing our options moving forward,' said spokeswoman Danny Levy."

Yes, the options include throwing oneself on the floor, bursting into tears, pounding the ground, and shouting, "No! No! No! No! No!"; or sucking it up, guys, rather than spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money and potentially several years appealing a foregone conclusion.

And I may be wrong on the impact. The AP quotes the trade group for major airlines as stating that other airlines might now choose to operate their own Wi-Fi networks in airports.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:13 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Cluelessness, Regulation | 2 Comments

Most Airlines Will Offer Internet Access on Planes

By Glenn Fleishman

SITA and Airline Business's latest IT trends poll shows plans for mobile phones, Internet access by most airlines: The poll showed that 50 percent of 200 airlines surveyed worldwide will have mobile phone services by the end of 2008, while 59 percent will add Internet and email access. Cute note: The no smoking illumination in Airbus planes will be replaced with a "no mobiles" sign in the future, which will be illuminated during downtime periods. (New cell phone models may be able to be disabled by an onboard picocell when calls aren't allowed, too.)

Point of importance: SITA is one of the owners, along with Airbus, of OnAir, a much-delayed satellite-based in-flight phone and Internet service that will launch in Europe next year with four airlines. And 50 percent of 200 airlines doesn't equate to 50 percent of passengers. In speaking with several domestic US airlines recently, they have little interest in allowing cell phone use.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:34 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

Net Neutrality Sock Puppet Rant

By Glenn Fleishman

Karl Bode at rants about how the network neutrality "debate" uses sock puppets and astroturf: Bode focuses his laser beam on the think-tanks-for-hire that write about telecom policy without clearly identifying their sources of funding, including a new coalition that advises, among other things, once again restricting municipal ownership, investment, and operation in broadband. It feels so...early 2005 to me. (Astroturf: Fake consumer groups and grassroots efforts that are paid for by vested interests. Sock puppets: Parties designed to appear to be independent that provide confirmation for ideas that are actually directly controlled by the vested interest.)

Bodes speaks to the heart of the issue, especially when so-called conservatives (rather than the unpaid-for conservatives with actual conservative beliefs) push tools to disable competition: "While there are certainly flaws with many municipal broadband models, these are decisions that should be made by the communities themselves, not subjective analysts on the payroll of major telecom providers. Fans of a free market should be eager to see the organic free-market at work. If these municipal broadband operations are such a flawed idea: let them fail....

"The reality is that these groups only oppose regulation when it runs contrary to the interests of their corporate financiers and their own portfolios. For the right price, these groups would find regulations preventing the dumping of toxic chemicals into river water equally 'unnecessary.' They'd quickly offer expert analysis and statistics suggesting mutant frogs are a boon to the local ecosystem."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:27 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 6 Comments

Skyhook Offers AIM Location Plug-In for GPS-via-Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

GigaOm reports that Skyhook Wireless will offer a coordinates plug-in for AOL Instant Messenger later this year: The plug-in will allow people to announce their location using Skyhook's constantly refreshed database of Wi-Fi access points that allows GPS-like precision in urban areas, less so the more rural you go. AIM users with the plug-in will be able to see when buddies are physically nearby and plot their buddies' locations on a map. I assume, as with most presence tools, there will be some level of granularity about how you allow others to see exactly where you are. A stealth mode, putting you at work or Antarctica might be useful for skipping out.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:22 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location | 1 Comment

Wireless HD May Challenge UWB, Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Several major electronics manufacturers back WirelessHD, which would be used for streaming high-definition video and other multimedia content: The specification would use the 60 GHz band, and they expect chips by 2008 that would support 25 gigabits per second (Gbps) of data transfer. Moving that much data is an expensive proposition today, with only high-end Ethernet switches and adapters handling that for wired communications. The roster of founding members includes LG, Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic parent Matsushita, NEC, and Samsung. These firms are also involved with ultrawideband (UWB) in the WiMedia Alliance, which the WirelessHD head said would be a complementary, not competing technology. Because apparently 480 Mbps over a few meters isn't enough to carry the kind of HD programming around a home (and at the distances) envisioned for WirelessHD.

We'll see. My take is that if UWB gains the expected traction in 2007 that is now anticipated, and it starts appearing widely in mid-to-high-end consumer electronics--especially HDTV sets--then WirelessHD has to deliver something pretty remarkable, or be positioned as an evolutionary technology. Meanwhile, the UWB standard from WiMedia will increase in speed during the same period, with some firms already showing 1 Gbps UWB using non-standard implementations.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:18 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Future, Streaming, UWB | 1 Comment

Municipal Round-Up: Twin Cities Suburbs (Minn.), Vancouver (Wash.), Caltrain (Calif.), Canada

By Glenn Fleishman

Twin Cities suburbs get Wi-Fi without fuss: Frontier Communications is reportedly building out a Wi-Fi network across several towns around Minneapolis and St. Paul without the cities involved issuing RFPs. Frontier offers DSL service in some of those areas, and charges $50 per month for 3 Mbps downstream; their Wi-Fi service will be rated at 1.5 Mbps and pricing hasn't been announced. Frontier is Minnesota's second-largest telephone company, after Qwest. This article notes that most cities are served by one telecom firm, but the town of Burnsville is split between Qwest and Frontier.

Vancouver plans expansion of free, public Wi-Fi: The city will extend service to City Hall, a community center, and other locations. Service is already available in Esther Short Park, where they revamped the offering last year with the help of firms like HP and Electric Lightwave. Portland, Ore., across the Columbia River from Vancouver, put an option in its contract with MetroFi, this story says, that would allow neighboring communities to get the same terms as Portland without separate negotiations--but there's no plan, as yet, for the Portland network to expand. It's under construction

Caltrain looks to funding for Wi-Fi on commuter rail: Caltrain's board may add $1m to fund the startup costs of putting Internet access via Wi-Fi on its 96 trains. As with other rail-Fi projects--which I surveyed in September in The Economist--the idea is to add services that move people from cars into trains because they're convinced they can either get more done (productivity) or have a better time (entertainment). Or some combination of both. The $1m would cover design and engineering costs, but not deployment.

PC World Canada rounds up projects in the Great North: Fredericton was the early entrant with its Fred-e-Zone, and Calgary is an early rejecter stating it won't ever install Wi-Fi (at least with municipal dollars).

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:10 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

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