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It's not quite a family reunion, but the new AT&T has had its buyout of BellSouth approved by the FCC in a 4-0 vote: The combined firm comprises a large fraction of the original AT&T, but with long-distance no longer a viable business, cell phone operators (including jointly owned Cingular) in fierce customer competition, and the future of broadband a monopoly and duopoly business--it's not your father's AT&T. The merger was approved with AT&T agreeing to a host of conditions, including net neutrality, the provision and sale of naked DSL lines, and the divestment of its 2.5 GHz frequency holdings.
BellSouth will receive $86b in stock; the combined firms produce $117b in revenue and operation, serve 35m customers, and handle 68.7m phone lines in their territory. Verizon, Qwest, and Embarq (the spunoff division of Sprint) represent the vast majority of the rest of the old Bell infrastructure.
One of the FCC's conditions will damper interest in metro-scale Wi-Fi in the combined AT&T/BellSouth territory: the company must offer new customers basic DSL for $10 a month for 30 months. AT&T has what has been a 12-month deal for $15 per month in its territory, but BellSouth has charged no less than $25 per month. At $10 per month, that sucks some of the life out of the use of Wi-Fi as a DSL or cable replacement for low-end wired broadband, and could affect dozens of cities' plans, and the ability for operators like EarthLink and MobilePro, which have contracts already in cities covered by the new AT&T.
A couple of related conditions also could cause a hiccup in metro-scale Wi-Fi. The combined company must offer free broadband modems to those replacing AT&T and BellSouth dial-up services with broadband. Those modems are generally free-after-rebate today, and AT&T can charge more on its higher-tiered service to recover the modem cost.
More significant, however, is the company's consent to offer broadband in every city in which it is the local phone company. Currently, that's a market-by-market policy with conditions sometimes negotiated by individual states. They can use alternates to wired broadband, such as satellite broadband, to cover as many as 15 percent of homes in the market. This could put AT&T in a position where it builds out more Wi-Fi (as it is doing now in Riverside, Calif., with MetroFi) or force them into a partnership with Sprint or Clearwire for rural mobile WiMax to fill any gaps.
Sprint and Clearwire will certainly be chomping at whatever 2.5 GHz leases that AT&T has to sell. Sprint has said it would pass 100m people around its network launch next year; Clearwire said it has licenses that cover 200m people in the US. Licenses are not in great supply, and Sprint owns a huge percentage of the band. It's possible that the broadband condition might allow AT&T to broker a combination deal and sale with one of the two future mobile WiMax firms acting as the broadband provider for rural or less-served customers in AT&T markets.
The FCC also requires that AT&T offer naked DSL--which will run 768 Kbps downstream for $20 per month--for 30 months after the merger is complete, allowing customers to have broadband without phone service bundled with it. Naked DSL is often used to provide VoIP. AT&T has also pledged to abide by network neutrality principles insofar as they won't discriminate in what traffic passes over their network. They had considered offering a fast tier of services that would throttle transfer speeds from Web sites and Internet services that hadn't paid AT&T fees for premium access.
The approved merger means that Cingular has one daddy now (it's not a mommy, let me tell you), with 100-percent ownership in AT&T's hands. This may allow AT&T to integrate Cingular fully with its other offerings, providing a seamless quadruple play in its landline markets with fixed voice, mobile voice, data, and IPTV in one package. This might also allow Cingular to push faster on fixed-mobile convergence; they've already committed to IMS, but they could adopt interim steps to pick up more of the voice over IP and voice over Wi-Fi market.
Fantastic article by Jem Matzan provides the background and specifics on why support for Wi-Fi in open-source, GPL, and free operating systems is so problematic: Matzan has done a superior job in tying together the technical, political, and legal reasons why it's just so darn hard for OS developers outside of major, proprietary, for-fee releases (i.e., Windows and Mac OS X) to obtain the necessary pieces to support any given Wi-Fi device. (Mac OS X is quasi-proprietary: Large parts of the system are dependent on open-source and related software, but Apple keeps many elements of its system private.)
Matzan points out that at the most minimal level, simple permission to redistribute firmware without conditions along with an OS would enable greater support with less effort. Few Wi-Fi equipment makers allow this. Further, direct access to underlying functions would also make integration simpler. Again, few companies allow this.
Going one step further, Matzan attempted to interview every major Wi-Fi adapter manufacturer, including Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell, the big four that rewrote the Task Group N direction last year, but received no real information or response; same with Texas Instruments. Atmel, Ralink Technologies, and Realtek were enormously more forthcoming.
A/V equipment maker Gefen says they'll ship several ultrawideband cable replacements in 2007 (release not yet on site): The company will ship the Wireless USB Extender, a four-port USB hub that connects via UWB to a USB dongle on a computer, for $249 in January. Of course, last January, they said, "Cable-free USB 2.0 extension is a reality for...Gefen...The unit...marks the initial release of UWB-enabled product for the US market."
Ha, ha! Just kidding! We meant, January 2007! Last year's product, which they claimed to "showcase" at CES wasn't really shown. At Macworld Expo, a few days later, I asked Mr. Gefen himself for a demo, but they didn't even have a plastic brick as a prototype. Belkin had a plastic brick at their booth, but it had no innards. Both Belkin and Gefen had planned to be the early partners of Freescale, which now is apparently out of the UWB business, as far as the tea leaves suggest. (They still have this very slight page describing that part of their operations.)
UWB chipmaker Wisair, a member of the WiMedia Alliance, has developed the reference design from which Belkin and Gefen have derived their products. The device supports connections at up to 30 feet; Gefen promises 30 feet and a wall for coverage. It does require an AC power source, and all the associated USB devices plug into it. So it's hardly free of cables, but it's rid itself of a host-to-USB cable. With integrated UWB, every peripheral will have Certified Wireless USB built in, allowing each to be separately powered and located, rather than spoked off a hub.
Belkin has been stating for several weeks that their Cable-Free USB Hub would be available Any Time Now. Most recently, they posted a press release on Dec. 4 stating that mid-December was the target date. As of today, the product isn't even listed on their site--not to mention available for purchase. They had the temerity to write this in that press release: "As the first UWB product to hit the U.S. market..." A little premature, folks. (Their list price is $200; can Gefen sustain $250 on the basis of their brand?)
Is this vaporware? Not quite. They're just all a bit too eager to push the releases out before the product has shipped. At CES, I believe several dozen USB products will be demonstrated, although almost none will be shipping. Perhaps none demonstrated will be shipping. But within a quarter or so, there should be a number of items actually available for purchase, probably at too high a price point except for certain markets and some early adopters. Compare $200 or $250 for this early UWB-with-UWB hub with $3.19 for a 15-foot USB cable.
Gefen, by the way, has also said that they will have two somewhat more interesting UWB items later in 2007--wireless component audio and wireless HDMI extenders. HDMI sounds particularly useful, as it would be lovely to stop snaking cables behind television sets. It could also be extremely nice in situations where you'd like the TV set mounted separately from the rest of a home-entertainment system.
Update: Gizmodo has some more pricing details. The component audio extender apparently handles 1080i, which I don't get, given that 1080i is a video standard. It will cost $1,500 and reach 300 feet, line of sight, which is far beyond UWB standards. In fact, there is some concern that attempts to push the limits of UWB will run afoul of the principal of non-interference based on FCC rules. The wireless HDMI extender will use Tzero technology, spit 400 Mbps over 30 feet, and carry up to 1080i resolution for $500. There's also a VGA extender, Gizmodo reports.
San Francisco, Google, EarthLink still negotiating: I happened to interview an EarthLink exec a few days ago on non-Wi-Fi topic during the middle of the city negotiations. He sounded a bit weary. The talks have lasted months, and they're still haven't agreed on the final details of what will be offered for free, and what network charges for for-fee service will be.
A project to unwire the 910 square miles of Oakland County pushed to mid-08 completion: The project was intended to offer both Wi-Fi and mobile WiMax, with the latter being used as a filler for areas in which Wi-Fi wasn't cost effective or had other limitations. The network was planned to get running by mid-2006, but the first phase didn't launch until fall. The local utility substantially delayed the project due to what may be reasonable issues about utility poles. Rather than offer blanket access, there have been reports over the last many months of needing permits for each pole. I have heard from multiple sources that utility poles can be in all kinds of conditions, especially in rural areas, and adding addition services might require replacing the pole or upgrading a temporary fix (like some kind of extender or a waiver that allowed a short pole) into a permanent solution. Nearly 27,000 poles are required for project operator MichTel to build out the network. Another part of the delay appears to be a switch to some kind of mesh technology by MichTel, too.
Illinois shelves rest-stop Wi-Fi: The state's transportation department received a single proposal when putting out the service for bid.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the efforts by Lufthansa, Panasonic Avionics, and others to have a transition plan in place for Connexion's demise are delayed: Panasonic made the surprise announcement a few months ago that they were considering launching a Connexion successor which would use a lighter-weight set of gear (less weight = less fuel) and a smaller antenna (less drag = less fuel) that would allow them to charge less and also push a lot more bandwidth over the same Ku band satellite connection. They would also have a much lower transponder bill in their formulation. Boeing isn't involved in this successor effort, but is supportive of the notion.
The Journal says that despite the involvement of Lufthansa, which has the most planes in the world equipped with Connexion gear, and the participation of satellite operator SES and Connexion integrator ViaSat, that they still can't get a deal together. Because of unspecified "financial and regulatory complications," the timetable is now stretching into 2008, if the various interested airlines and partners can pull it together even then.
My research into the costs of in-flight broadband using the alternative Inmarsat fourth-generation satellite network--two of three satellites launched so far--has made me think that unless a Ku band solution can be developed, we won't see anything like inexpensive broadband in the air via satellite and not outside the Americas. It's just too expensive. Mobile phone calls will travel over Inmarsat's links because of the potential high per-minute calling rate and the low bandwidth required relative to almost any purpose that requires the Internet.
In the US, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, AirCell will likely be able to deliver a cost-effective air-to-ground broadband system. They pushed back their launch date from potentially late 2007 to early 2008 a few months ago. AirCell has a US spectrum license, but believes they can negotiate with the other countries involved for an extension into their territories, as Verizon AirFone did with their service.
The costs for AirCell are enormously lower than they were for Connexion because no satellite leases are involved, and the equipment is substantially less. An article at CNN today mentions AirCell and Connexion when talking about Emirates Airlines expected January 2007 launch of in-flight mobile phone use via an onboard picocell. Emirates will use OnAir's system.
EarthLink launches update network in New Orleans: New Orleans set up its own temporary network through donations and its own efforts following Hurricane Katrina's devastation, but a combination of state law and overall cost seem to have led to them picking a private company to handle details. EarthLink offers a 300 Kbps connection for free across the 20-square-mile network, and will continue to do for the indefinite feature. A faster, 1 Mbps service is available at the usual rates ranging from $4 an hour to $22 per month.
In a country without chewing gum, can one be free? With Singapore poised to offer Wi-Fi nationwide, and with a free, low-speed versions being offered for a long initial period, it's somewhat interesting that a youth was charged with (and admitted to) "wireless mooching." He picked a bad time and place to get bored. The Straits Times reports that 17-year-old Garyl Tan Jia Luo said he was locked out of Internet access by his mother--who thought he was spending too much time online--and accessed an unsecured network while outside at 3 am. The mooched-from neighbor confronted Tan, and, after an argument, called the police.
The judge appears to have shown lenience given possible penalties--three years in jail and a $10,000 fine. The judge turned down an offer to impose a small fine, an offer made by Tan's attorney. The judge suggested that the youth might avoid a criminal record by enlisting in national service earlier than is normally the case. Tan may receive probation if he agrees.
Divine Wireless charges 8p per minute for access to The Cloud, BT OpenZone, and Surf and Sip: The company is aggregated 15,000 locations across the UK into a metered network. The tariff runs £4.80 per hour in intervals of 8p per minute; this is still cheaper than OpenZone's £6 per hour walk-up rate, which is also the minimum time you can purchase from OpenZone.
Boingo Wireless encompasses more locations from The Cloud, new relationships with seven other European operators: The hotspot aggregator already offered roaming onto several thousand UK The Cloud locations, but adds 1,500 new hotspots in Germany, Scandinavia, and The Netherlands. They picked up GANAG in Germany (Munich's airport provider), 802:WLAN (300 hotspots in Germany), Travelping (150 in Germany, Spain, UK), AWA (600 in Spain, with 4,000 coming), Mobilander (140 in The Netherlands, and Dutch Antilles), FORTHnet (72 in Greece), and Wjoy (240 in The Netherlands at business venues).
Without getting too far afield from our main topic here, FCC Commissioner McDowell did the right thing (PDF): It doesn't matter whether you support or oppose the condition-free merger of AT&T and BellSouth. Robert McDowell shouldn't vote on the matter, and he agrees. I was stunned when President Bush appointed McDowell to the FCC to one of its three Republican seats (the other two are held by Democrats) because McDowell was working for a group representing CLEC, or competitive local exchange carriers. CLECs stand in opposition to the former Baby Bells, the ILECs (incumbent local exchange carriers).
The merger affects Wi-Fi and WiMax because the two ILECs collectively own Cingular, AT&T has deployed a substantial Wi-Fi hotspot network, and BellSouth has pushed out some WiMax and owns 2.3 GHz and 2.5 GHz licenses.
While McDowell can be as fair as possible, he's in a position to know and dislike the games that ILECs play. Further, I wondered how he could vote on a number of major issues involving ILECs. Turns out, McDowell agrees can he can't vote on this matter.
With a 2-2 loggerhead between the other four FCC commissioners, the FCC's chair broached the subject of un-recusing McDowell. An extremely weak set of arguments to allow McDowell to vote issued forth from the FCC Office of General Counsel--which previously had prepared his ethics statement on taking office in which he specifically agreed to not vote on any matters involving Comptel, the trade group he worked for.
It's lovely to know that someone in his position in government, ostensibly appointed in part for partisan and pro-business attitudes, could state the following:
"In all candor, however, I had expected a memorandum making a strong and clear case for my participation. Instead, the Authorization Memo is hesitant, does not acknowledge crucial facts and analyses, and concludes by framing this matter as an ethical coin-toss frozen in mid-air. The document does not provide me with confidence or comfort. Nor does the December 11, 2006, letter responding to the questions posed by Representatives Dingell and Markey. I must emphasize that in no way should anyone interpret my observations as a criticism of Mr. Feder or his staff. As indicated in the Authorization Memo, reasonable minds can differ on this matter. Nonetheless, while I expected the legal equivalent of body armor, I was handed Swiss cheese."
If I were 100-percent in favor of the AT&T-Bellsouth merger--which will inevitably occur--I still would be pleased at this level of ethical behavior.
The likely outcome now is that the FCC will require substantially more conditions for the merger than AT&T and BellSouth want. The Democrats on the commission have consistently demanded something more than "it's good for everyone" as a condition of large telecom mergers.
The land of up to three Wi-Fi networks is live with EarthLink: The city may eventually have coverage from MetroFi, EarthLink, and the Wireless Silicon Valley project. EarthLink is offering 30 days of free use starting today to promote the 10-square-mile network. Thereafter, service runs $4 for an hour, $16 for a three-day pass, or $22 per month from EarthLink. The company will resell access to other providers. Their press release cites PeoplePC as a third-aprty reseller, but that firm is owned by EarthLink.
The New York Times builds a story out of anecdotes that rings all too true: There aren't any numbers in this piece about how frequent business travelers find gaining Internet access a hit-and-miss proposition--do 50 percent of travelers surveyed by firm X have trouble in most stays? We don't know. But the stories presented are quite familiar. Although I haven't traveled much in the last couple of years, I've found that regardless of what a hotel promises, the truth is often sketchier. Two of my officemates, who produce book events, spent a couple of hours on the phone in a four-star Manhattan hotel recently trying to get online with the in-room service. They wound up at a Starbucks close by, instead.
It's odd that Wi-Fi is singled out; marginal connections are often an issue, but the problems I see are in authentication and network operation, not in signal strength or physical medium issues. The reporter also claims, "most large hotel chains work with dozens of Internet service providers, some of them small local operations, leading to an inconsistent service experience for guests." That's news to me, but it could be accurate. Hotels that manage their own access, such as chains that offer free service in their budget and medium-range properties, may be turning to local providers instead of building their own operations or working with a national services firm, like arms of Motorola, IBM, or HP, or with an hotspot infrastructure builder like iBahn (mentioned) or Wayport.
On the heels of my tests of T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home converged cell/Wi-Fi calling service, I put together a chart of the offerings: I've created a chart you can download as a PDF or view as HTML that compares the major combinations of service offerings for VoIP, Internet telephony, and their Wi-Fi components. For instance, Vonage and Speakeasy's Home VoIP service are both wireline voice plans that rely on an existing home broadband network. They're fairly close in intent to pure-play voice as a landline replacement.
In contrast, Skype's partners offer Wi-Fi phones but with the exception of Belkin's--treated separately--Skype phones are meant for unprotected, purposely open, or WEP/WPA/WPA2 secured networks. Few hotspots need apply. Belkin's Skype phone, with firmware I received and installed today, can use Boingo's $8 per month mobile service to access over 8,000 hotspots in the US and over 35,000 worldwide. (See article from earlier today.)
I'd welcome any comments on the chart. It's tricky to present online, as most tabular data is, which is why I've relied on PDF.
The city in Scotland will get Wi-Fi, cell antennas in subway: The plan is to hook up the 15 subway stations in Glasgow with Wi-Fi, as well as extending mobile phone service. The hope is that this service can be one of the tools to bolster a 2014 Olympics bid.
The city of Yuma, Arizona, has no Wi-Fi network nor a timetable: The Yuma Sun writes about the dark underbelly of private-public partnerships. While Yuma awarded MobilePro's NeoReach division the rights to build a network, the city doesn't have much hands-on power over when and how its built. A newly acquired distinct division of MobilePro, Kite, is in charge of the Yuma build-out and didn't return the reporter's calls. A local Yuma partner that was brokered into the deal to handle network installation hasn't heard much from Kite, either. He's sitting with a warehouse full of gear.
Smallbusiness.com is offering a wiki page listing airports that don't charge for Wi-Fi: As a wiki, this means you can add new information and fix errors in existing details.
Boingo Wireless wrote to note that their new VoIP pricing at hotspots includes all locations: On Dec. 7, Belkin announced their Skype phone that would work with a Boingo hotspot service plan. At the time, I assumed that the $8/month fee for unlimited VoIP usage would be subject to the same restrictions that applied to Boingo's pure data plan: US and Canadian locations are included in their $22/month charge for "unlimited" access, while negotiated metered rates apply to many locations outside North America.
Not so, Boingo says. The VoIP plan is really Boingo Mobile, a new service aimed at the category of mobile devices that sport Wi-Fi. This will be a large category in 2007, with potentially tens of millions of units across games, cameras, phones, and handhelds sold worldwide. And tens of millions might be too low a number. Despite predictions that cell data networks will improve in speed and coverage, there are no cameras or gaming systems that use cell networks for connectivity, and no plans that I'm aware of because of the heavy data demand that real cameras (not phonecams) and interactive games would place on the limited bandwidth of cell networks.
Boingo said that their $8 per month mobile service buys you unlimited access from supported devices at all their locations--no metered charges will apply. Right now, the focus is on phones, but that will change. As Devicescape noted in their beta launch of their method of making it easier to log into Wi-Fi networks from mobile devices, current account systems require a unique paid account for each unique use--you can't use your T-Mobile account on two laptops at once, but you also can't use it on a phone, camera, and laptop. New pricing models have to evolve to allow unique devices you own to have their own subscriptions under a super-account you manage.
Boingo's network now stands at about 35,000 hotspots worldwide with about 19,000 more ready for near-term integration, and 6,000 others in various stages. However, not all 35,000 integrated locations work with VoIP yet, due to software and authentication updates that are in progress.
Staccato's ultrawideband chip will find its way into SK Telecom handsets: The UWB product will support the host of WiMedia protocols and standards, some still under development, and allow a handset to communicate via TCP/IP (WiNet), Bluetooth (version 3.0!), and Certified Wireless USB. This should open tremendous possibilities for a cell phone's interaction with home electronics--hey, it's a remote control!--and PCs, allowing simple transfer, simple network access, and other features.
Today, handling USB, TCP/IP, and Bluetooth requires, at a minimum, a USB jack, a Wi-Fi radio, and a Bluetooth radio. UWB has to develop an entire ecosystem for handsets to have a true need for a UWB radio, and 2007 will tell the tale of whether that ecosystem is more of the Sonoran Desert (lush, but much hidden under the surface) or a riotous Amazon rain forest (gaudier, with more diversity).
In Thursday's New York Times, you can read my experience with HotSpot@Home: T-Mobile's converged (unlicensed mobile access or UMA) cellular and Wi-Fi calling plan and hardware is available in only Washington state at this point. I tested the service for two weeks, and was quite impressed with overall quality, but handoffs between cell and Wi-Fi networks needs work. T-Mobile won't be rolling this service out more broadly until the hiccups have been scared out of it. But for someone who needs mobility, the fixed cost of Wi-Fi calling, and who likes one of the two available phones, it's a solid offering.
At $20 per month for unlimited calls within the US, T-Mobile can compete with Vonage on pure cost, as Vonage is $25 per month. Skype's decision today to launch $30 per year unlimited calls within the US (and Canada), or less than $3 per month, puts another spanner in comparing plans.
But let's be frank. T-Mobile is a phone company, and they know how to run a network. The intent with HotSpot@Home isn't to make a super-generic Wi-Fi offering. Rather, it's a way to lower customer costs at the same time as they increase loyalty. Their UMA offering is an integrated, single-bill package that's a double-play (fixed location, as in the home, and mobile).
Vonage still has a lot of stutters--in their business and in their service--and the lack of a mobile component means you're managing multiple phone numbers and devices. Would I drop a landline for Vonage? Hardly. And I can't drop a mobile line, so it doesn't buy me anything there.
Skype can't provide reliable service yet--it's not anywhere near telecom quality on average, although individual calls can be fantastic. I've made hundreds of hours of calls on Skype's network this year, and despite having a 3 Mbps/768 Kbps connection at my office, the call quality and other parameters for Skype-to-Skype and SkypeIn/Out calling is all over the fence. It's unacceptable to rely on for business calling without accepting that fact. I love, for instance, when calls go out of sync so there's a several-second offset between myself and the other party.
Now Skype is starting to move into the double play by pushing Wi-Fi only phones, such as those from major Wi-Fi equipment makers. Belkin's introduction of a Skype phone that can place calls using Boingo Wireless's puts them closer to challenging cellular operators. And as Wi-Fi expands to broader coverage areas, perhaps Wi-Fi will be an alternative to mobile calling for some users. But I don't buy it. Voice is very challenging, and Skype is starting already with an uneven service.
I'm watching T-Mobile HotSpot@Home very carefully, because they are the largest carrier in the world to push this as a service that they apparently plan to extend to their entire market. Their decisions in response to real-world performance will affect cellular customers and carriers in the US and internationally, and will also affect how VoIP develops in metro-scale Wi-Fi networks.
Update: British Telecom (BT) just launched their UMA service for SMBs (small-to-medium-sized businesses) in the UK. They're offering the Nokia 6136 and the Motorola A910 handsets; the Samsung P200 will be added next month. They're not offering unlimited calling for a flat rate, but the tariffs for Wi-Fi home/office/OpenZone calls are quite low: 5 pence (p) or less than US$.10 for up to 60 minutes to a UK landline; 15p to BT mobiles; 25p to other UK mobiles. Cellular rates are 25p maximum to all numbers for calls up to 60 minutes.
The British Medical Journal looked into whether EM "sensitives" could detect mobile phone signals: A colleague who I queried on this matter noted that this study published in March of 60 people who claimed electromagnetic sensitivity and 60 control subject who did not found no ability on the part of "sensitives" to determine whether a signal was present. This is the kind of double-blind study I suggested would go a long way to helping those who have frightening symptoms go through testing to determine what is actually wrong with them, since it's almost certainly not Wi-Fi or cell phones.
In the study, participants were exposed to 900 MHz GSM cell phone signals, sham conditions (no signal present), and a carrier wave for 50 minutes each. The sensitive participants thought a signal was present 60 percent of the time a GSM signal was in use and 63 percent of the time that no signal was in use. Symptoms developed in both cases identically, both in terms of nature and severity. Symptoms reduced following the subjects being told the signal was discontinued whether or not a signal was actually present.
Microsoft releases a fix for Wi-Fi that stops Windows XP SP2 from alerting ne'er-do-wells: Windows XP SP2 would, if it couldn't find a preferred network, issue continuous probe requests to see if any networks it had previously connected to were "closed" networks in which the access point doesn't offer its name out to those who don't know it. This would allow crackers in proximity to create rogue networks that matched the XP system's request, and allow an association.
Brian Krebs of Security Watch notes this flaw was discovered well over a year ago, and at one security conference, a demonstration showed that 100 out of 400 to 500 laptops could be associated in this way. This association would allow a rogue AP to provide poisoned DNS, and thus allow extracting passwords and other information if someone attempted to log in. Attacks could also be launched over the trusted local network, bypassing firewall protections in some configurations. Apple fixed this flaw, Krebs notes, back in July 2005.
Windows Vista has a napping problem: I've been reading about an issue regarding low-power and brief sleep modes in "802.11" and "Wi-Fi" (used sometimes inaccurately as interchangeable commodities) for days now to understand what Microsoft did right or wrong in how they configured Vista to save battery power when using Wi-Fi. Ars Technica, as usual, has the right combination of technical detail and comprehensibility.
The story started as if Vista would "drain" batteries, which made little sense. Reading the original coverage in TechWeb and a Microsoft blog post on the matter didn't enlighten me. Why would any Vista setting use more power than XP SP2? Surely, XP SP2 has an optimized, but inferior set of options for Wi-Fi, because Vista is reported to offer better control over networking and wireless usage. (The Microsoft blog post has been deleted, by the way, with no placeholder. The TechWeb story has quotes from the blog.)
The discussion of "802.11 power save" made things even murkier. The Wi-Fi Alliance approved a test to certify part of 802.11e known as WMM (Wireless Multimedia). WMM as a whole deals with prioritizing packets in different queues so that voice packets can be given priority over ordinary data, and streaming data packets likewise. These queues are only part of the answer--ask Ruckus Wireless and others about that--but within 802.11e, there's an option for reducing power usage through cleverer brief naps while a transceiver isn't active. The alliance calls this WMM Power Save, and just a few devices currently carry that certification standard. (T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home service offers a D-Link router with WMM Power Save for this reason to preserve battery life on its UMA [unlicensed mobile access] handsets that work over Wi-Fi or cellular networks for calls.)
These tiny naps can add up. By catching a few milliseconds here and there, the Wi-Fi Alliance has estimated a 15 to 40 percent improvement in battery life over regular Wi-Fi. This will be significant in phones, games, and cameras where every electron counts.
So what's "802.11 power save"? Ars Technica notes that a power save mode appears in 802.11 specifications, and that different vendors have implemented this in different ways. Vista's default setting for its last version before the product was actually installed on hard drives heading to corporate customers was "Medium Power," which made adapters use this older, uncertified, non-interoperable mode. Because adapters and access points from different manufacturers--perhaps just different models--handle this power save feature differently, "Medium Power" would find APs sending packets when adapters were sleeping.
In the release to manufacture (RTM) version of Vista actually pushed out the door, the setting was change to "Maximum Performance," which disables sleep, and provides the most compatibility. It's unclear whether that setting would disable WMM Power Save--that might be implemented at a lower layer of the stack and only work with compatible devices.
Skype's unlimited calling to US and Canadian numbers ends Dec. 31, and they've have the next step: The promotion was ostensibly to see whether people would use the service when price wasn't an issue. Sounds like the numbers came in at the level they wanted. The for-fee version rolls out Jan. 1, when $30 per year or less than $3 per month buys you unlimited calls to the US and Canada from anywhere that Skype operates.
This couples with new Skype Wi-Fi phones and plans, like Belkin's phone that will work with Boingo's aggregated hotspot network. The Belkin/Boingo plan is $8 per month for unlimited use of Boingo hotspots in the US and Canada; there's usually a charge in Boingo's network outside those two countries. The Belkin phone can authenticate with networks encrypted using WEP and WPA/WPA2 Personal, too, for calls on your home network.
Add the under-$3 calling plan, and that's less than $11 per month for a Wi-Fi-only phone that could work remarkably like a cell phone. Quality of calls will be the real issue.
Times of London offers some views on Wi-Fi's dangers: Rather than analyze (or analyse) this article, I present two salient quotations.
Dr Michael Clark, of the [Health Protection Agency] says, "When we have conducted measurements in schools, typical exposures from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent to 20 minutes on a mobile. If wi-fi should be taken out of schools, then the mobile phone network should be shut down, too--and FM radio and TV, as the strength of their signals is similar to that from wi-fi in classrooms."
Alasdair Philips, the director of Powerwatch, a lobbying group, who also "runs a company selling electromagnetic radiation detectors and blockers," according to the Times, and who is apparently not connected to any medical profession or health research background, says, "Electromagnetic radiation exposure guidelines in the UK are designed to protect against gross heating effects. They are not meant to protect against long-term exposure to low levels of pulsing microwaves, such as laptops emit when downloading. We believe that these interfere with the body's own normal internal electrical and electro-chemical signalling systems, leading to serious health problems, and growing children may be more affected than adults, whose cells are not changing as rapidly."
I would love someone to design a double-blind experiment that could be easily set up.
I am highly concerned now that there are many individuals who have a serious health ailment that is unrelated to Wi-Fi, but which appears to have a correlation. Since I think it's unlikely that Wi-Fi is causing their problems, and it's impossible to tell someone experiencing real discomfort that it's not true, then the logical outcome would be that either I and many others are wrong and Wi-Fi does cause extremely rapid noticeable health effects in adults, or that an undiagnosed, serious issue is affecting these individuals.
Impressive number: The 200m estimate of Wi-Fi units shipped in 2006 is due, in part, to the increasing prevalence of Wi-Fi as a prebuilt option--nay, necessity--in laptops, music devices, and gaming systems. The Wi-Fi Alliance noted today that the Zune, Wii, and PlayStation 3 all feature Wi-Fi built in. Odd that the Xbox 360 does not; Wi-Fi is a $100 add-on that might cost $10 if integrated. (Consumer electronics are often cost times 10 for separately sold items.)
The European Commission greenlights ultrawideband: There are a few more formal steps to be made, but it's basically a done deal. With the approval of UWB in Europe, this should allow manufacturers to step up their efforts, which are already well underway, to include additional bands. Some early UWB chips may only include the pieces necessary for operation in the U.S., and under identical regimens elsewhere. It's likely that UWB permission will be slightly different, involving different chunks of spectrum, in each regulatory domain. Thus some chipmakers started with the premise of having more flexible chips, even though it added cost and delays.
This factor is part of what drove dissent and division at IEEE 802.15.3a, a committee whose work was abandoned. XtremeSpectrum-cum-Motorola-cum-Freescale pursued classical UWB, their pioneering work, in which an entire swath of spectrum was treated as one identity and notch filters dropped signal strength in specific bands, which included the 5 GHz unlicensed band, which would have been susceptible. The Multi-Band OFDM Alliance, now merged as part of the WiMedia Alliance, had a variety of problems with that approach, including their concern that each regulator might approve different spectrum chunks. With multi-band OFDM, UWB can be divided into separate bands, avoiding notch filters, and OFDM--the same encoding used for 802.11a, g, and n--further helps improve throughput by segmenting spectrum within those bands.
The EC, according to the Radio Spectrum Policy document presented to the committee is recommending 3.4 to 5 GHz and 6.0 to 8.5 GHz for the initial deployment. This latter range could extend to 9.0 GHz if other recommendations are accepted. Development would proceed fastest on the 3.4 GHz chunk, with harmonization desired by the second half of 2007. The higher frequency 6.0 GHz chunk would be harmonized by the first half of 2008.
The US allows 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz to be used for UWB, with some power limitations and exceptions.
UWB faces another hurdle, by the way, which is aeronautical use. In talking with the RTCA, the private US committee that recommendations technical guidelines to the FAA, I found that UWB has raised many red flags for use in-flight due to its broad nature, and the lack of testing so far with how extremely low-power pulses overlaid on aeronautic frequencies will affect flight systems. (You can read their meeting reports here.)
News.com writer tries to find another Zune: She wanders likely spots in San Francisco, even finding a Microsoft employee who has three--but not carrying any on him. She finally finds one lonely man watching Family Guy on it. That's illegal, of course, because he would have had to rip Family Guy using tools that are prohibited for use in the U.S., and because Microsoft does not offer video downloads yet from its store.
Oregonian writer tries out nascent network: Mike Rogoway has spent a lot of time writing about and looking at the MetroFi network that launched in parts of Portland last week, and his tests after the wire cutting are all over the board in terms of access and performance. It's far too early to draw any long-term judgments about the network, but they did launch it, which means critique is fair game at locations that are considered inside the current service area. Some early users are already grumbling loudly; no reports on early satisfied users, who tend to be much quieter.
Rogoway notes that interior coverage has always been described as perhaps requiring a wireless bridge, although he was able to get great coverage in his newspaper's office. (Intentional network design? Probably dumb luck.) The reporter bought a Buffalo AirStation unit recommended by MetroFi among other choices, although Buffalo's tech support told Rogoway it's not really designed for the purpose MetroFi recommends. Nonetheless, he got it working.
I would suspect a Ruckus or PepLink bridge would work better and be vastly simpler to configure. MetroFi links to a installation and equipment sales partner who is offering a Ruckus bridge for just $100 until Dec. 31. That includes the software upgrade that allows the Ruckus MetroFlex to have two virtual network interfaces, using one to connect to the metro-scale network and the other to provide Wi-Fi service as a wireless LAN using lower power.
I was just down at a new coffeeshop that opened in my small Seattle neighborhood, and it was quiet--too quiet: As I heard from Sean Savage about 18 months ago, and wrote about in a New York Times article about cafés that were pulling the plug on Wi-Fi at times, his researched showed that coffeeshops can be classified as "office," "social," or a hybrid. To quote myself, "...an office cafe discouraged conversation and was filled with people who came alone and were focused on their work. Social cafes have customers who arrive in groups. 'If you come into a place like that and it's a particularly busy time, you get dirty looks if you open a laptop and start zoning out,' Mr. Savage said."
Fuel, the café I was in today with my 2-year-old son, has a branch up on Capitol Hill; this is their second outlet. According to a mom I met at our nearby library who lives near the first Fuel, it's habituated by people of all ages, and is a hangout for neighborhood parents, toddlers, and older kids. This new outlet isn't kid unfriendly--it's not hostile. But it's a bit hipster and dark.
It's also optimized for laptops. Lots of outlets, and many two-person tables. When I walked in this afternoon, it wasn't deathly quiet, but it was a bit still, even with the pleasantly low-level music playing. I counted about five laptops when I walked in, four of which seemed to be filled with programming, including two side-by-side extreme programmers. Another one or two showed up before I left.
As a neighborhood cafe, they're likely to want to create the warm, social environment that produces lots of regulars, but the office environment isn't likely to foster that. It's possible that reorganizing the place slightly to encourage or suggest laptop users are in spot and more social users elsewhere could change the dynamic, but I think it's something that all café owners are wrestling with.
Community Hospital of Ottawa makes available free Wi-Fi for patients, visitors: It's BYO-Laptop for now, but the hospitals will add workstations for patient use later. I recently found out that Swedish Hospital in Seattle, where my wife and I will have our second child in April, has added free Wi-Fi for visitors and patients (hello, Nikon S7c!).
What's your experience with Wi-Fi in hospitals? Post in comments below.
Culver City proudly announces content filtering: Their free Wi-Fi network, according to analysis by the company that was trying to sell a service, had illegal downloads and porno passing across it. Fortunately, Audible Magic stepped in to help poor Culver City protect its most important residents--three movie studios. The press release notes that P2P isn't being blocked. They're only blocking "illegal or pornographic" transmission. Because we know that filters are 100-percent accurate all the time in every case.
Preemptive efforts to cleanse networks results in people employing simple workarounds. A VPN, f'r'instance, would block any ability for the local network to filter traffic. Not that I'm suggesting one go out and then illegally trade copyrighted media or view porn. The latter being a legal activity (depending on content). Rather, Culver City is being fairly proud about snooping on its citizens. And, remember, this isn't about "the kids" or viewing material in inappropriate places that other laws would already cover.
I'm all in favor of legitimate use of copyrighted materials. The trouble is that the balance of power is entirely on the side of those with lobbying power and lawyers who use lawsuits to bludgeon the innocent and the weak.
How soon does Culver City plan to shut down their network entirely in the face of acting as a government-sponsored viewer and censor? Calling EFF, EFF to the front desk, please.
CSIRO, the Australian tech agency that may prove to own a fundamental part of 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi, showed off 6 Gbps wireless this week: The network ran in a demonstration over 250 meters, handling 16 simultaneous DVD quality streams. (This press release is in the past tense; other articles indicate it happened.) The next step is to move to 12 Gbps. Just as fixed WiMax is seen as a T-1 replacement, especially in places where running copper is expensive or impossible, CSIRO says this could be a fiber replacement for the same purposes.
Greg Raleigh turned MIMO into a household word: But with his move following his company's acquisition to Qualcomm as a VP--even though he's identified as Airgo president in this article--he says that Wi-Fi has no future as a standalone technology. Rather, it's going to co-exist with 3G, he argues.
I can't agree that 3G will be the be-all, end-all partner for Wi-Fi, but it's very clear that Wi-Fi-plus will be the way of the future. Intel will release Wi-Fi plus mobile WiMax and 3G. WiMax vendors are already releasing base stations, like a recent one from Alvarion, that couples fixed WiMax and Wi-Fi in a single supported package. Wi-Fi plus 3G is going to be an increasingly popular laptop offering; it's already available from several makers, such as Lenovo and Dell. And cell phones are already cell-plus: cell plus Bluetooth, and, increasingly, cell plus Wi-Fi.
(I like how this article's writer has put Clearwire's future deployment of mobile WiMax as in the past tense and being built by the city.)
Reason Foundation releases report that seems, at first, to decry municipally built Wi-Fi: The report appeared yesterday, and I've taken some time to read it and its conclusions. I don't think it's quite what it seemed to be when first looked at.
The bulk of the report looks at whether government should get in the business of paying for and operating municipal networks, looking at the history of fiber optic, coax, and other networks. This ground has been hashed over before, and it's frankly a little too technical on the economic details for me to provide expert analysis of.
No large city since Philadelphia's announcement has chosen a plan that would put the brunt of expense, risk, and operation on itself. St. Cloud, Flor., and St. Louis Park, Minn., are smaller cities that have chosen to build networks, but are funding operations, not building departments to run them. Really, I'd like see the response from the loyal opposition, The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is distinctly opposed to this report's primary viewpoint.
So the universe of new (and especially wireless) projects in the U.S. that seem to fit the criteria established by writer Jerry Ellig seems to be rather small. I don't think government is as limiting or incompetent as libertarians believe by philosophy or many believe by real-world experience. But I also tend to agree that in a fast-moving field, there has to be a very particular need for any medium-to-large city to find the funds and build the network in such a fashion that the network meets its financial goals and remains relevant and up to date.
There is little critique in the report of municipally authorized proposals except as relates to the issue of de facto franchises, something I've sounded the horn on since Minneapolis first revealed their plan to find a company to build a network. As Ellig notes, there's a risk in squelching competition and providing unfair advantage when a city allows exclusive access to rights of way and utility poles.
While the Telecom Act of 1996 provides for non-discriminatory pole access, in practice, that's been a mixed bag. There are a lot of logistical and technical reasons why poles can't be used by every party that wants to use them in a reasonable timeframe. And there are many ways to drag one's feet in providing legitimate access. Even Toronto Hydro discovered that poles that they owned--that were sold to them by Toronto--weren't capable of handling Wi-Fi access points 24 hours a day.
While Ellig misstates the San Francisco deal--noting just Google's free 300 Kbps service, not EarthLink's intended 1 Mbps for-fee offering--he 's clearly right that exclusive, franchise-like agreements are not in the best public interest, as they protect only the city's anointed Wi-Fi provider and exclude the potential of competition by making good real-estate locations cost more (if obtained privately) or unavailable (if no private alternatives exist).
He writes, "Any local government that grants one Wi-Fi provider an exclusive right to use right-of-way and poles risks distorting competition in whatever markets are generating the revenue stream that will subsidize the Wi-Fi service."
What's interesting about this is that Clearwire has now entered the metro-scale market from the municipal side with their win this week of Grand Rapids, Mich. Clearwire keeps saying that they are happy to have a Wi-Fi network running citywide operated by another party, and see that network as a cooperative partner. The mobile WiMax that they will deploy there as the first real North American rollout of true mobile WiMax has different parameters and purposes than Wi-Fi, and could be substantially easier to provision with reliable throughput rates across the system. (The mobile part, for instance, although many metro-Wi-Fi vendors will tell you how they can make Wi-Fi work for moving vehicles, too.)
Clearwire thus now has a stake as a municipal partner in preventing competing initiatives--whether Sprint or others--from gaining the same rights to real estate, because the cost of finding appropriate antenna venues is a key aspect in setting up new networks and providing the density of coverage necessary to meet customers' needs. Ultimately, it's just a stumbling block for established cell operators, but it could prevent newer firms with no existing towers or real-estate arrangements from gaining a toehold.
Is Reason's report a condemnation of the general trend in building citywide wireless networks? I can't see how encouraging non-exclusive access to poles, buildings, and towers reduces competition. It does increase the risk for companies entering the field that other competitors might follow, but that's what competition is supposed to be about.
On the cheap for manufacturers, at least: Cambridge Consultants has managed to pack every feature needed for Internet radio, in which streaming stations are picked up via a network feed, into a package of chips, a small monochrome display, and other goods that cost just $15 to build. They use two integrated circuits to achieve this task, one handling processing and audio; the other 802.11b/g. Their platform could lead to Internet radios costing $50 to $60, the company said.
Their system can support several streaming and download methods, including RTP and HTTP, and MP3, WMA, AAC, AIFF, and WAV audio formats. And they even support all the Wi-Fi encryption methods for home: WEP and WPA/WPA2. The company says nearly 25 percent of people in the U.S. listen to Internet radio each week (60m people), with growth expected to reach 180m by 2010.
Current Internet radios are typically designed as either a component in a multimedia gateway to handle streaming audio and video over a network, or as part of a tabletop radio that has built-in speakers and often support for other media.
The Oregonian writes about how local community wireless group turns off required ads: Personal Telco has figured out easy ways to disable the one-inch ad banners required to use MetroFi's free flavor of service in Portland, Ore. The community wireless group has been deploying free access points and zones across the town for several years, and had some friction with the city when a comprehensive plan was announced.
MetroFi offers free service with revenue coming from the screen real-estate that displays those ads. And you have to agree to view ads in order to use the free service. Otherwise, you pay $20 per month; higher tiers of for-fee service will be available, too.
As I suspected, however, the article notes that MetroFi can tell whether someone is displaying ads or not and could choose to disable users that disable ads. They're not engaging in anti-anti-ad moves yet, but could if they chose. The company says only a small number of users seem to be turning off ads, and they haven't seen a widespread problem elsewhere.
There's another way around seeing ads while you surf: Don't use the network.
Chicago edges towards metropolitan Wi-Fi: A round-up of the opinion surrounding the technical and competitive feasibility and sense of large-scale networks that are municipally authorized. Chicago will close its bidding process on Jan. 2.
S.F. Mayor says deal nearly done: Sure, Gavin, sure. There's a big "if" in this: Approval could come next week if the board of supervisors agrees with the contract.
Waukesha, Wisc., network nearing pilot project: The trial will be run by Rite Brain Consulting with Nortel's involvement.
Belkin announced a new feature for their Wi-Fi-enabled Skype phone that works with Boingo Wireless's hotspot network today: The $180 list price phone will shortly work with an $8 per month Boingo Wireless VoIP subscription to place calls over the Skype network. As with other Skype phones, calls from the regular phone network via SkypeIn and back out via SkypeOut also work. Belkin's site says "free unlimited calls" but that refers just to the Skype network. SkypeIn and SkypeOut have applicable charges for use. (The phone was slated for release a few days ago, but Amazon shows it in pre-release status.) Update: Boingo put out its press release a few days later.
The built-in authentication to Boingo's network--listed at about 8,000 active locations in the U.S. on their hotspot directory--bypasses the problem of joining a Wi-Fi network via a device that lacks a Web browser or easy data entry. You can even register for Skype on the phone. Boingo, by the way, charges metered rates for many non-U.S. locations for general Wi-Fi access, but this VoIP subscription requires no additional fees beyond the monthly charge worldwide. Update: Boingo says that although they list 60,000 hotspots in their network, 35,000 are live and two enormous integration projects comprise nearly 20,000 more that will be live in the near future.
The phone is available in the U.S,. but the company told me the firmware upgrade for Boingo support is due out next Wednesday. The phone supports English, Chinese, and Korean, and will be released after its U.S. launch in Asia, Europe, and Australia.
Similar deals already exist in Europe. Truphone just announced a deal with The Cloud that supports certain Nokia phones with Wi-Fi. SMC recently released a Skype phone that works over Fon's self-forming international network.
I wrote about Devicescape's solution to this problem--maintaining login information on a separate Web site--earlier this week.
The BBC reports that a very large Danish study found no link between an increase in cancer incidence and mobile phone use: The study looked 425,000 people, 56,000 of them who have used a cellular phone for 10 years or more, including people who had begun using phones in 1982, the old massively and massively radiating models.
The BBC reports, "They found no evidence to suggest users had a higher risk of tumours in the brain, eye, or salivary gland, or leukaemia."
Retrospective studies that rely on the memory of the person being interviewed are typically considered inferior to clinical studies in which behavior is recorded. But this study relied on calling record from phone companies to analyze use, which raises the bar on accuracy by a large measure.
It is certain that some will argue that even 10 years isn't long enough to track whether cancer develops, but that would be incorrect. In any reasonably large population--and 56,000 is large enough--any slow-forming and slow-growing cancers will start to have manifested themselves in a statistical bulge long before the full bulge would form. That is, if some cancers appear due to a cause in 10 to 30 years, an increased risk will appear in a significant subset of people based on their bodies and particular genetic makeup in advance of 10 years. In a study of 500 or 5,000, you won't see that (unless it's a poison or some other strong-acting direct biological agent); in 56,000, yes, you would, even if it meant 5 or 10 additional people developing a certain form of cancer than expected in that population.
This study doesn't specifically determine whether there is risk to immature brains in adolescents and those younger, and the British government has advised no use of mobile phones by children. That's a harder group to track and understand usage, and it's a highly reasonable caution given some biological studies that need further elaboration.
The Mvix Wireless HD Media Center is chock a block with features: It's a hard disk drive enclosure that requires you to BYOHD (bring your own hard drive), accepting any standard IDE internal drive. But what it offers isn't just 802.11b/g/Draft N wireless and 10/100 Mbps Ethernet for network-attached storage. That's just a minor point. Rather, this is a streamin' demon. It supports a host of video and audio formats, including DivX and MP3, to name just two, and has composite, component, and DVI video output with high-def up to 1920 by 1080i; and stereo RCA, 5.1 RCA, coax, and digital optical audio. It can play images, audio, and video from its internal hard drive or via networked computers.
What does it lack? It apparently can't support WPA encryption.
It's $300 and backordered.
Bragging rights for a town in Texas: Tropos says that Corpus Christi's network is the largest multi-purpose such deployment in the world at 100 square miles. The network was originally envisioned for municipal purposes, like remote meter reading, but has expanded into public safety and public access. EarthLink is expected to take over operations.
Portland launches first stage of network today: The Oregonian newspaper reports that MetroFi will take the wrapping off the initial deployment of its citywide network today. The service offers free access for those willing to view ads; an ad-free service and tiered higher speeds are available for monthly charges. MetroFi will likely live or die by Portland, its first large city rollout in which the municipal authority asked for the network to be built. This network will be a very visible showcase, and the expectations will be higher in Portland than anywhere else they are currently active or building. (MetroFi has other, smaller muni-led installations, and company-driven networks, its original model for deployment.) The first phase covers downtown and the closest parts of the east side.
Grand Rapids picks Clearwire: The city council unanimously approved Clearwire as the winning bidder to cover its 45 square miles. This is Clearwire's first win to build out in cooperation with a municipal entity. The town had 47 expressions of interest, 21 letters of intent to bid, and nine proposals. Clearwire will actually pay the city $100,000 to cover the cost of running the bidding and due diligence! Among other interesting tidbits, Clearwire will offer wholesale Internet access rates over its network, something they have not tried in other markets.
Airmagnet notes that holiday decorations can disrupt wireless networks: The more popcorn you heat up in the microwave, the more trees you decorate, the more banners you hang...the worse your WLAN performs. [via SmallNetBuilder]
Extra points to any reader who figured out the headline reference.
Devicescape launches new service, software, to reduce friction: The company opened its public beta to enable portable Wi-Fi-equipped devices to attach themselves to hotspots without the tedium--when it's even possible--of logging in. Devicescape, until now, has been known as an embedded Wi-Fi driver developer, making network software that runs on devices that have very little space and very little battery power to carry out that task. They're leveraging their knowledge and experience in launching this new service.
The service couples a small software program that gets installed on a portable device, like an IP phone with Wi-Fi, and an account you set up on Devicescape's servers to enter your various Wi-Fi logins. In the beta, only a few devices are supported, but the company said in a briefing that more are on the way. They also support just four hotspot networks in this beta: AT&T FreedomLink, Fon, Google's Mountain View Wi-Fi network, and T-Mobile HotSpot (USA). More are on the way, as well as the ability to enter WEP/WPA network keys for your own networks.
Devicescape's approach bypasses having to have an embedded browser in devices, some of which will have no screen or the level of input controls that, say, a camera has today. The browser has been seen as necessary to allow data entry and interaction--clicking the I Agree button on free networks that require you to commit to acceptable uses of a network.
It also means that you won't buy a device like the Nikon S7c and be limited to using only the hotspot networks with which Nikon has struck deals to build firmware controls into their camera to manage a connection as long as the device maker has either a software platform that supports other programs being installed, like a PDA, or Devicescape strikes a deal to have their system preinstalled. (T-Mobile has done a great job of being the network of choice for many Wi-Fi-based device launches, like the Kodak EasyShare-One and the Nikon S7c. And Nintendo signed up with Wayport in the US and other networks internationally to pre-program access into its DS game console.)
The company's CEO Dave Fraser said in an interview that Devicescape expects billions of portable devices that have Wi-Fi radios to be in people's hands over the next few years. "Most of them are going to be the low-cost devices that just can't afford to have a browser anyway," said Fraser. "Our goal is to make the sign-on to these proliferating Wi-Fi networks completley seamless. So you don't need a browser--you don't need a clumsy user experience." Fraser suggested that this lack of frictionless authentication limits hotspot utility. "If you had to do that on your cell phone every time you had to make a call," he said, cell phones would never have gained an audience.
When you take one of the supported devices, like the Linksys WIP300 Wireless-G IP Phone, the lightweight on-board Devicescape application connects to the Devicescape server. It does this by bypassing normal hotspot port-based access controls and gateway authentication pages using DNS (domain name system). DNS allows the encapsulation of certain information in special record types beyond IP address records and mail exchange details. Devicescape encrypts your authentication information, so it doesn't pass in the clear; the phone's software decrypts the login details and carries out the connection process automatically. (Yes, they have a patent in progress on this.)
This DNS approach could be blocked by hotspot operators, but blocking DNS in general would disrupt network functions, and blocking Devicescape in particular could prove difficult. In any case, Devicescape sees hotspot networks as partners with which they want to develop roaming and billing relationships.
The portable device doesn't need to store much in the way of how to log in and your authentication details aren't stored, either. Cryptographic protections enable each device to be uniquely identified, too, so anything stored on the portable phone, camera, etc., can't simply be copied to another device to enable it. This ensures that devices are uniquely registered and that they are not cloned through over-the-air interception, hacking, or physical access to the device.
It also means that it could provide the tools to allow different fees for different kinds of devices, and a way to avoid a one-account, one-login problem. In testing, Devicescape execs said they hit login limits with accounts on AT&T FreedomLink and T-Mobile HotSpot, which assumes that a single account is being used on, say, a laptop or a PDA by one person. But one person with many devices needs a unique way to have those devices simultaneously connect. If I walk into an airport with a camera, phone, and laptop, and want to use all three at the same time, no current system supports this. And if your device is stolen and pops up on a network--you could alert the cops! (Mash up of Google Maps, Skyhook Wireless, and Devicescape.)
Devicescape expects to become a sort of aggregator of access, leveraging the fact that you have an account set up with details that could include credit card information in order to use your various devices. (Confusingly, Devicescape is calling a set of devices you use your...devicescape. Ok.) Imagine walking into a hotspot you've never used before, and seeing a dialog box appear on your limited-input device that says, "Would you like to use this hotspot for $2 for 24 hours access?" Click OK, and the billing and authentication happens behind the scenes.
The company said that they aren't looking to displace firms like Boingo Wireless and iPass, with which they could be partners, too, by leveraging those authentication and billing systems with their lightweight software approach.
For more relationship-based use of Wi-Fi in homes and offices, Devicescape will offer in a future release a buddy list feature so that people who trust each other can allow devices to share network encryption keys. This is a very interesting option, because it not only bypasses entering WPA Personal passphrases, for instance--I have spent a lot of time lately cursing interfaces for this on Wi-Fi-equipped phones--but it also means you don't have to provide a "buddy" with the actual key. If you change the key at any time, you just update your Devicescape account's profile, and your buddies don't have make any changes to connect the next time they are at your location.
For now, this public beta offers a limited set of devices and networks to test to show what the potential is. Over time, the company will add networks, equipment, and additional services like the buddy list feature to flesh out the bones of their offering. The marching orders for this service is to bring the coming universe of Wi-Fi-enabled portables into the hotspot world. "Devices today are second class citizens," said Fraser, and he's trying to advance their status to full members of society.
Silex releases $149 dock for iPods with Wi-Fi, Ethernet connectivity: The WiDock includes standard output features, like audio and S-Video, while connecting to a computer for synchronization and library access via 802.11b/g or 10/100 Mbps Ethernet. The Wi-Fi side supports WEP and WPA/WPA2 Personal. Because the dock requires power, it also charges the iPod. The WiDock works with Windows 2000/XP and Mac OS X 10.2.7 or later. It supports the third-generaton iPod or later (iPod, iPod nano, iPod mini).
The WiDock is an interesting alternative to the AirPort Express, a small base station that Apple sells for $130. The Express is a Wi-Fi gateway with a single Ethernet port and Wireless Distribution System (WDS) support. Its unique feature is AirTunes, which lets any iTunes user on the same network send music--encrypted in transit--to the Express, which sports a combo analog/digital optical audio output port.
Apple plans to introduce the not-its-real-name iTV in 2007's first quarter to stream audio and video over a Wi-Fi or wired network. The video output will be HDMI (a superset of DVI, used for high-def connectivity with encryption layered over it) and component--no RCA jacks or S-Video.
Two of the wave of newer metro-scale wireless equipment firms release news on deployments: Wavion, InspiAir, Go Networks, and Cohda Wireless are in the wave of startup vendors that came in being after BelAir, SkyPilot, Strix, and Tropos became established (but still startup) players. (Cisco and Motorola may have acquired and built metro-scale and mesh technology, but they're hardly startups.) These firms all employ techniques to allow greater range and greater spatial reuse of frequencies than the established players, typically via multiple antennas to allow beamforming and/or spatial multiplexing (unique data streams that follow disparate spatial paths using the same frequencies).
Wavion notes today that CONNX, a Maryland network operator, will deploy 120 of their APs. Their AllCoNet (Alleghany County Network)is one of the earliest municipal wireless networks, and the organization did rigorous testing of a host of mesh and metro-scale devices. The group claims that just 12 Wavion devices (with six transceivers and six antennas) cover a square mile. In most competing deployments, 25 to 50 APs are recommended, according to my many sources on this matter.
Wavion has said in the past that they plan to add SDMA, a method of beamforming a signal to specific clients in such a way that other clients on the same frequencies receive nearly zero energy, enabling simultaneous reuse of frequencies over space. That SDMA mode isn't yet out, and some engineers I've spoken to think that the current Wi-Fi MAC can't accommodate this mode. Wavion has acknowledged it's a challenge, but they believe it's got a solution.
Meanwhile, InspiAir, a company that boasts in its press release that it violates people's notions of the laws of physics, has formally unveiled a network covering Helsinki, Finland's central core. The network was biult with local firm Omni-Directional Communication Products (OCP). The firm says they've monkeyed with standard Wi-Fi to support dramatically higher areas of coverage with good throughput.
The press announcement says only 14 access points were required to cover the area in question, the size of which isn't defined, and thus that number provides no guidance in comparison to other systems. Update: Esme Vos has the details: It's a 4 sq. km (1.5 sq. mi) installation, but they told her only 2 APs are being used; their press release distinctly says 14. They also told her indoor coverage was hit or miss. If you're not attempting full indoor coverage, their competitors would also recommend a lower range of APs per square mile.
They note their APs use 60-degree sectorized antennas, offering 1.6 km reach in near-line-of-sight (nLOS) positioning. Their network operates at high 802.11b speeds--they suggest 6 Mbps--with fast 5 to 7 millisecond handoffs for mobile users. Service will run about €2 ($2.70) per day and €15 ($20) per month.
The city-wide Wi-Fi network is becoming a ubiquitous part of village, town, city, county, and state planning: A couple of years ago, I faced the dilemma of seeing stories in local newspapers nearly every day about Wi-Fi, typically because a cafe had added Wi-Fi or a hotspot network had installed service in several coffeeshops, bookstores, or other locales (especially a local airport). This news was so frequent I introduced the Who's Hot Today rubric, a category for rounding up this smaller news that was still worth linking to.
Then Philadelphia and San Francisco's city-wide projects came along, and the flood of "Cafe Nervosa has Wi-Fi" tuned into "Frostbite Falls considers Wi-Fi for entire town." Now, there are a daily flood of stories about city council meetings, contract negotiations, and trial projects, along with editorials suggesting or condemning plans--and stories about actual networks being finalized and mounted. For instance, just today Sioux Falls, South Dakota's paper talks about whether the city should get some fires going and how; and Mount Clemens, Mich., is looking for a Macomb County service to get running in its downtown by year's end.
In the interest of not overwhelming you loyal readers, I've been tending to limit my "Metro Round-Ups" (which themselves have morphed from "Muni Round-Ups" as more involves private and private/public partnerships) to stories I find and interviews I conduct about networks that involve the largest cities or areas, or that involve actual deployments of some scale. I throw in stories of interest that cover unique networks or business models, or that have enough quirkiness to be of interest.
All this to say--the subject has grown large enough to need winnowing yet again!
Reader notes that AT&T has a simple giveway for using their network at no cost until Dec. 31: Klaus Ernst, a handheld Wi-Fi device aficionado, writes in to note that he spotted a link to get free access to the AT&T FreedomLink network over at JiWire's hotspot directory. Search on any AT&T FreedomLink location--that's the 4,000 UPS Stores, Barnes and Noble outlets, and other hotspots in their self-contracted network--and you'll get a link to a coupon. The coupon is good until the end of the year, and apparently allows unlimited use. (This excludes McDonald's locations, which are available to AT&T FreedomLink subscribers, but which are operated by Wayport under a separate agreement.)
(Disclaimer: I have a long-term relationship with JiWire on editorial and testing matters, and a small stock ownership in the firm.)
The cell-phone tech giant buys early MIMO company: Airgo was a pioneer in commercializing multiple-antenna (multiple-in/multiple-out or MIMO) technology for the mass market. While one might quibble with some of the particulars of their marketing or their confidence in their precise technology decisions, there's no question that they were the first to market with Wi-Fi plus MIMO, that they helped set the direction of the industry towards MIMO, and that they continue to be a significant player--although that significance was in danger of being challenged by the success of MIMO as a component in wireless data networking.
Their acquisition by Qualcomm ensures their future relevance. Qualcomm says they'll continue to support Airgo's lines of business, but will also integrate their Wi-Fi technology into the Mobile Station Modem chipsets and Snapdragon platform, both of which are designed to give Qualcomm a full place at the converged "table," in which cellular data is one of multiple options for connectivity.
MIMO makes it possible to carry more data over the same frequencies through reuse of those frequencies across space (spatial multiplexing), while also increasing receive sensitivity and transmission clarity, resulting in greater effective area covered by a transceiver.
A related announcement made my head spin. Airgo is claiming the availability of 802.11n Draft 2.0 chipsets that are fully backward compatibility with Draft 1.0 features, and 802.11a/b/g. Now this is hard to swallow given that Draft 2.0 won't be actually voted on until March 2007. In fact, the latest notes from the November meeting of Task Group N--the group responsible for the drafts--explains that 370 technical comments are left to address (88 percent have been gone through) with expected approval on the resolution of those comments by the January meeting. Only by that happening would a ballot be created that could then be approved for the March 2007.
So I have to ask--what kind of crack is Airgo/Qualcomm smoking, and how do I get me some? I'd love to be able to exist simultaneously four months in the future and today; it would make investing much easier. This announcement from a company that denounced Draft 1.0 chip releases is especially rich.
I expect we will get all kinds of qualifications from Qualcomm, and all kinds of denunciations from competing chipmakers. What they will certainly claim is something like, "Based on our expectations of how the final 370 comments will be addressed, we currently comply with the state of Draft 2.0 in progress." That is, they will claim compliance with a DRAFT OF A DRAFT and state that with a straight face. This is why I am not in marketing.
Update on 2.0: In email with an Airgo spokesperson, the company stated that the chips will include all possible iterations of ideas still under discussion and incorporate everything that could possibly be in 2.0. This is probably true. But there's a great difference between "we anticipate Draft 2.0" and "we're Draft 2.0 compliant," which is logically and linguistically impossible. Airgo's CEO--newly minted VP of wireless connectivity at Qualcomm--Greg Raleigh told Wi-Fi Planet: " 'We've had a year of debate and negotiation in the IEEE,' says Raleigh. In that time, lots of features have been introduced as possibilities for 802.11n and Airgo plans to support just about everything that’s come up. In fact, he says Airgo argued to include most of them while some other vendors argued to have features taken out."
It's still specious to call their new chips Draft 2.0 compliant.
Another update: TechWorld talked to someone at Qualcomm who said that "availability" doesn't mean that chips are available. "With no possibility of a Draft 2.0 design until after then, Qualcomm vice president Enrico Salvatori admitted to us that the Draft 2.0 silicon was not actually "available" was planned for sample quantities in the second half of 2007."
Airgo, by the way, has a pile of patents, and while I haven't heard boo so far about them attempting to enforce these in any fashion--and as a participant in IEEE, they've had to agree to certain licensing terms--I expect Qualcomm to follow its usual aggressive strategy. Which means bloody noses, lawsuits, and so on. Qualcomm is in the midst of being sued by and suing a variety of competitors, involving patents that parties claim other parties have used without permission and the cost of patent royalties.
Qualcomm announced another purchase today, too. The deal is described as Qualcomm acquiring the "majority of RF Micro Devices' Bluetooth assets," which is a little difficult to parse, but ostensibly means patents, processes, licenses, and inventories.
Peeps on the Portland network: Mike Rogoway, reporter for The Oregonian newspaper, has word from the city of Portland's coordinator on the project, that parts of the network are lighting up. MetroFi has posted a map of its current access point locations.You can see the density in downtown (lower left of map), and around some popular streets and neighborhoods east of the Willamette. (That's WILL-am-ett, if you want to not sound like an out-of-stater.) Rogoway will write more about this in Tuesday's paper, he says.
Grand Rapids votes on Clearwire proposal: Under the deal, Clearwire would gain access to municipal facilities for placing equipment. In other cities, Clearwire is a non-exclusive, non-franchised vendor using normal real-estate rights processes to place its antennas and hardware. The city council is voting on the proposal, which would require offer the least-advantaged five percent of households in the 45-square-mile city with discounted $9.95 per month accounts. Clearwire would also, unique to this rollout, set up Wi-Fi hotspots around town.
Columbus newspaper skeptical of rapid Frontier deal: The paper writes in an unsigned editorial that despite the attractiveness of Frontier Communications bringing in Wi-Fi citywide, that normal practices shoudn't be abandoned. They want the city to charge a franchise fee, open the proposal to bid by other vendors, and disclose what rates would be before signing a deal. The city administrator produced a memo for the mayor and council on what the deal comprises.
Free Wi-Fi in Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport: The Internet provider PCCW launched service three years ago with fees attached, and only offered access in limited locations. The service in Hong Kong will now be throughout all terminals and areas, and be available at no cost. Service used to substantially more than their comparable service in the city. The company doesn't discuss what it gets out of going free in the article, but it's clear that it's a great promotion for them to have many more users seeing their name, and then buying other services from them--including more moderately priced Wi-Fi (HK$18 or US$2.30 per hour) at locations throughout Hong Kong.
Via Rail has fully built out the Windsor, Ont., to Quebec City, Que. line: The service is a significant upgrade from its previous offering, with greater rates of speed and great reliability. Their next move, with the entire corridor covered, it to add on-board media services that would allow you to watch movies on your laptop from a server, or play on screens in trains while being distributed via Wi-Fi among cars.
The Via operator also expects to extend service through Canada, using store-and-forward proxies for periods in which trains would be out of reach of the cellular networks the service relies on. Queued email would be sent when the train arrives at a station, for instance.
I wrote about train-Fi for the Economist back in September. There are a number of large-scale trials that I'm waiting to hear more news about, and will be writing about soon.
This article seems to indicate that broadband is still mostly in the hands of the better-off in the developing world: Still, the overall point is that growth and availability has surged in the last few years, partly due to the decrease cost of technology, and partly due to the increase cost of copper. The latter seems paradoxical, but it's apparently now cost effective to lay fiber optic cable because of copper's high cost. (This cost is extremely granular: a contractor friend about to work on our basement said that costs could change by a decent amount on materials for some part of the job due to copper price fluctuations.)
One industry exec says that the developing world is starting to feel the same boom that the Europe and North American experienced in 1999--when broadband went from a tiny minority that were early adopters or in the right place at the right time to widescale availability coupled with price drops. Venezuela has installed 500,000 broadband connected over the last 2 1/2 years, but will hit a million by the end of 2007. Argentina leapt from 115,000 to 841,000 lines over three years (as of last year). India has just 1m broadband users, unbelievably, and WiMax is widely seen as a tool to push users onto the Net.
Radio show on the future of phones: I was interviewed today for a good chunk of public radio station KUOW's The Conversation program, in which we talked about how phones will evolve--and how far they've come. We talked about cell phones, smart phones, satellite networks, voice over Wi-Fi, and quite a lot more. You can see how techie the Seattle audience is around me based on the excellent questions sent via email and on the air. One caller was brave enough to use a Windows Mobile phone to place a Skype call--and he sounded great! (Available as MP3 or RealAudio stream.)
SF mayor's tech head expects to finish negotiations this month: The board of supervisors would begin their review in January. So that's...nearing an end? Frightening. The article also notes that Google's Mountain View network has had quite a lot of usage--"far surpass[ing] anything the company expected," a Google product manager said at a conference.
Singapore launches its Wireless@SG service: The network involves multiple carriers selected by a governmental authority to blanket the nation with wireless access. The initial launch covers 254 locations. Roaming among the three operators' networks is a part of the arrangement. Basic 512 Kbps service is free; higher tiers, for fee. The government offers a list of locations, which will become unwieldy quickly. Get those folks a searchable front-end for their database! Update: The free service was originally intended to last two year; it will apparently now last for three.
Manchester to add Wi-Fi: The network would cover 90 percent of the Greater Manchester area, passing 2.2m people. It would be free, to boot. Coverage would begin across 100 square miles and increase to 400 square miles over time. Some funds are available—up to £3m for this project, potentially—as part of the UK Digital Challenge Initiative.