Receive new posts as email.
This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator. Part of the FM Tech advertising network.
Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2010 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.
Clarins! Take me away: Cut to scene of woman with skin like Scarlett Johansson lounging in tub, surrounded by cell phones, Wi-Fi gateways, and uranium. "I'm 75, but you would never know it. Until now, I've spent 23 hours each day in a lead-lined bathysphere, miles below the earth to keep my skin silky smooth. But now I have Clarins Expertise 3P, specially formulated to protect me from artificial electromagnetic waves. While I always try to use natural electromagnetic waves, spending days at a time in the Van Allen Belts and consuming a healthy diet of charged particles created by nature, you know that in this modern age, artificial electromagnetism is all around me. Fortunately, Expertise 3P invisibly shields my skin through a formula that's as natural as can be,i including phenooxyethanol, biosaccharide gum-4, and sodium chloride--ordinary salt! So the next time you need to leave your lead-lined chamber and visit the site of a recent nuclear test or just walk under an artificial light, try Clarins Expertise 3P. Only $40 for a 3.4-ounce bottle."
(The science: "When exposed to 900 megahertz waves--the type most commonly used in communications--skin's free radical production increased, its protective barriers deteriorated and cellular renewal slowed by 26%.") [link via Leslie Schroeder, pictured on her all-natural yak]
The Cloud can't even give away its City of London Wi-Fi: The network covering London's business district, "The Square Mile," attracted 6,000 registered users in the first month, out of a working and visiting population of 350,000. There's a kind of mismatch. There aren't that many devices for which mobile Wi-Fi is useful yet. People come to the City to work, and thus have Wi-Fi at work. Those who roam the area probably already carry 3G smartphones.
Wi-Fi Planet rounds up the several delayed or troubled Wi-Fi projects covering cities: They review Aurora, Ill.; Wireless Silicon Valley; and Toledo, Ohio. More specifics below from local articles.
Toledo, Ohio, may agree to buy $2.2m in services from MetroFi in exchange for network: The city says they will divert between $225,000 and $325,000 in current costs (roughly $1.5m assuming no increases in current service costs) from existing expenses to the new network. The article says that revenue from advertising would offset the city's expenses, but that doesn't sound like MetroFi's model. I have a query into the company for clarification. The local paper is owned by a firm that also made an offer to build Toledo's network, but the city said their proposal didn't meet the mark as "it was a set of ideas," said the city's IT/telecom director. Update: I confirmed with MetroFi that the paper is reporting the deal inaccurately. The $2.16m would be for contracted services, and revenue MetroFi receives would not apply towards that.
Aurora, Ill., continues to find utility poles standing in network's way: Local paper reports that the city's CTO says that after a year of talks between MetroFi and ComEd, there's still no agreement in place. MetroFi discovered it would need to use many more poles than originally expected.
I can't make this stuff up: "The San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union (SNAFU) is a grass-roots, city-wide coalition of individual residents and neighborhood organizations that works to prevent the placement of wireless antennas on or near residences, schools, health care centers, day care centers, senior centers, playgrounds, places of worship, and other inappropriate locations in the City and County of San Francisco." That is, everywhere in the city.
If the group is successful in their effects to force a unique environmental review of the Wi-Fi network, a review that hasn't been required by any other wireless provider--oh, and remember that electrical lines produce RF as do wired networks! and equipment people buy for their homes!--it could delay the network construction by a year.
See their list of usual suspects. See their list of only studies and "evidence" that supports their position (omitting hundreds of studies that don't). I know, I know: that's advocacy. But it's intellectually bankrupt.
Their press release notes: "San Francisco is already immersed in a sea of electromagnetic radiation from sources such as 138 transmitters on Sutro Tower, over 2,500 licensed cell phone antennas at 530 locations throughout the City, thousands of WiFi
hotspots in cafes, shops and homes, and hundreds of thousands of cellular phones. No systematic attempt has been made to determine what current cumulative exposures to this radiation are and what the 2,200 proposed Google/Earthlink antennas would add."
Right. So. Uh. If you don't turn all those off, how do we decide if there's an effect, especially if you ignore the scientific and theoretical evidence that doesn't support your position? When a handful of scientists worldwide take the stance that more research is needed, but don't see a smoking gun? When no cancer clusters or other disease clusters have emerged inexplicably in areas that have had the greatest coverage for the greatest period with the greatest number of users (San Francisco and the Bay Area, notably, with Metricom, cell data, Wi-Fi, and other technologies deployed in the greatest concentration for the longest period)?
I'm calling this right now: EarthLink and San Francisco are going to walk away from their Wi-Fi network deal. This latest group's work will probably put enough of a wrench into the deal coupled with the other delays, and the lack of certainty of a board of supervisors go-ahead, that this network is dead.
200m Wi-Fi sessions with 5m users on Nintendo DS: That's a lot of metroids. The DS was April's bestselling game unit. Nintendo offers free access in the U.S. and a few other countries to large hotspot networks for gaming purposes.
Bench-Fi: A Parisian bench has had electricity and Wi-Fi added to it. The project involves Neuf Cegetal (Internet connection), Citelum (the Wi-Fi bench), and the (roughly translated) town planning council of Paris. The bench was designed to match other outdoor fixtures. Access is free. 400 free hotspots are expected to be built in this collaboration by August 2007--just in time for the tourists to arrive and Parisians to flee to the seaside.
Southern California Edison getting close to figuring out pole access for Wi-Fi: Many other utilities haven't put these kinds of hoops or spent this much time sorting out adding Wi-Fi to existing poles. That doesn't mean it's easy. We've certainly seen how the variety of pole and the electricity fed to them makes network rollouts viable. Recall Toronto's attempt to put Wi-Fi on lamp poles that they discovered only were fed with electricity during dark hours? The utility has filed a revision to its tariffs, MuniWireless.com notes, that should make Wi-Fi nodes possible.
Who would have thought a project spanning 1,500 sq mi and dozens of cities, a few counties, and other entities could ever possibly go wrong? Palo Alto Daily News reports at that Metro Connect--a consortium of giants Cisco and IBM, Wi-Fi specialist Azulstar, and non-profit Seakay--are months behind schedule. On the other hand, I thought their schedule was awfully ambitious, so I'm not surprised. The project is attempting to build something larger, with more purposes, and more stakeholders than has ever been achieved for any wireless project. The only comparable efforts are private-only deployments by cell operators which are build on a permit-by-permit or real estate-deal-by-deal basis once licenses are obtained for frequencies.
The two pilot square miles in San Carlos and Palo Alto were announced months ago, but aren't ready; summer is now targeted. The model contract that each of the cities and counties involved could evaluate isn't complete either; it was originally targeted for January 2007. The conflict there appears to be among members of Metro Connect rather than between municipal entities and Metro Connect. Update: TechWeb reports that Azulstar recently changed its CEO and senior management.
The network is ambitious. Project leader Seth Fearay is quoted noting, "What we're looking at is a much more complex network that will offer a wide variety of services, from automated gas- and water-meter readers, to webcams for public safety, to vehicles being able to connect to real-time traffic information." Which is ambitious, to say the least.
But it's important to note that Cisco and IBM have a lot at stake here: home turf, big public commitment, and their involvement in the Joint Venture Silicon Valley group that worked to make the proposal happen in the first place. They already estimated spending $50m to $100m, so why not get it right? Update: TechWeb quotes the project's leader saying $100m to $150m! When did that happen?
Craig Settles, who consults on and writes about how to put together the right combination of factors in writing municipal network proposals and answering those proposals, said via email, "Might it not make sense to focus on simplicity in regards to what they want to achieve with this network?...Metro Connect hopes to create a network to satisfy what has to be a witches brew of needs, wants, desires and political maneuverings. Sounds like a lot of incredible heartburn in the making." He suggests a few killer apps that justify the network to start with, with complexity coming later. "Metro Connect ought to consider finding two, maybe three applications that most of the cities and counties involved can agree on," he wrote.
For those who want no electromagnetic radiation in their homes, perhaps this new window film would help: CPFilms Llumar Signal Defense--the latest in EMF-blocking paints and covers--is designed to pass light but not signals. The idea is that by putting this film over windows, companies can keep their networks more fully enclosed. (Walls might need special paint, or might have enough material already blocking transmission.) The company says it's been making the film for several years for government purposes, protecting over 200 federal agency buildings. The film is also blast-resistent, and reduces fragmentation in case of an explosion or break-in.
Ostensibly, someone attempting to prevent signals from entering their homes, could apply this to their windows, too, serving the opposite intent.
What has six antennas, 4 GB of Compact Flash, and costs €999? I don't know, but it's crawling up your network. The rather crazy people at Geek Technique have built a strange box capable of attaching to six separate Wi-Fi networks and aggregating the results into a single stream of broadband. Of course, to actually bond two or more networks, you need to have support on the server side and the receiving side, so it's more likely that this box round-robins requests (image request one to that network, Web page request two to that network) than anything fancier. Still! And remember: more and more people are being arrested for using free or unprotected networks. This might get you arrested six times in one day.
The Economist revisits municipal Wi-Fi and finds it wanting: I wrote a rather massive feature for The Economist that appeared March 2006 expressing a host of technical and political reservations about the ability to build a Wi-Fi network citywide that conformed to the expectations back then. The magazine (not I this time; no bylines, so hard to tell) revisits the issue, and I find myself in accord with most of its statements.
EarthLink has pulled back and revised down its minimum captured user base for profitability. The density of Wi-Fi nodes required has doubled per square mile in many cases above early projections. Anchor tenants in the form of cities committing to minimum annual purchases are now required by many network builders. And so on.
My two quibbles. First, most homes in the U.S. aren't constructed with chicken wire in the walls; only some plaster construction--I think mostly in California--involve chicken wire. In Washington State, most homes have lathe and plaster or drywall, which have no wire in the walls.
Second, the closing statement seems a bit severe: "No, the future of municipal wireless broadband rests on making cities safer, saner and simpler to manage. Trivial pursuits like downloading songs or posting video clips can be safely left to phone and cable companies." I would suggest that mobile applications involving primarily outdoor use still have a lot of legs, as long as the finances support it. I continue to be concerned about the viability of building metro-scale networks that rely on in-home Wi-Fi as the foundation of their success.
New software ties in Web sites and location: Skyhook Wireless has released Loki 2.0, its revised toolbar for pulling a user's latitude and longitude based on the profile of nearby Wi-Fi networks and their various signal strengths. A connection to an active Wi-Fi network is required, as in the previous release. Skyhook has a massive, constantly updated profile of Wi-Fi signals in most cities in the US, Canada, and Australia, as well as some cities in Europe and soon in Asia.
Morgan said that the company looks to leverage this Web-based programming interface to allow firms to serve extremely local advertising. "There's a real opportunity for these newer ad networks that are building relationships with" yellow page-like companies, Morgan said. Local advertising, dominated by local newspaper, radio, and television, is seen as the last nut--and a big nut at that--for firms like Google, Microsoft, and others to track. (Just a few weeks ago, I might have written Google, DoubleClick, and aQuantive, but that landscape just had a seismic shift.)
Skyhook also has a Channels library (Windows only support at the moment) that allows a user to prefill information on Web sites that aren't Loki-enabled by pulling Skyhook location information and formatting it correctly for a form on a Web site.
For photography, Morgan sees a great boon where users would be able to upload their photographs and choose to have them geotagged--coded with a latitude and longitude--of their current location. Flickr.com and other services support geotagging, and a small number of cameras and add-on peripherals allow GPS-based location tagging. Morgan said Skyhook is working with eyeFi, a firm that has embedded Wi-Fi for file transfer into a 1 GB Secure Digital card that will work with any camera. In a combination of the two firms' tools, "When you take a picture, [our software] does a scan, adds the location, and uploads it to Flickr," Morgan said.
Morgan said the firm had seen 4m location lookups since launch, and has achieved Wi-Fi location coverage for 70 percent of the US population. They're nearing 70 percent in Canada and Australia, and recently finished scanning London, Amsterdam, and Barcelona, with Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong coming in June. The company continuously drives major cities to collect new data, and their software provides information each time a user performs a lookup to calibrate and extend the firm's own records.
The 2.0 toolbar with Channels support is available for Windows XP for Firefox 1.5 and later and Internet Explorer. Support for the developer tools is available for Mac OS X 10.4 with Firefox 2, and Windows Mobile. A toolbar for Mac OS X and for Windows Vista is forthcoming. The software is free.
Hey, Fon and Whisher, move over: there's another house being built in your neighborhood: WeFi allows you to map your own and other Wi-Fi locations, and share that information via their service, which puts the spots on a map with a key. You can set up buddy lists, and see who is online and where they are relative to your connection.
There's no clear explanation of how a router gets added to the network, but the notes say that the service supports WEP and WPA (but not WPA2) encryption, which means the keys must be distributed through the application, like Whisher. The first release covers Windows XP only, but Vista and Mac OS X are coming. (A download key is needed at this stage of the beta: 07ApM81D3.)
Esme Vos--on WeFi's advisory board--thinks that WeFi is distinct from Fon and Whisher because the former requires specific hardware and a network membership, while the latter isn't as good at finding free locations as it's an opt-in system. I tend to agree that it's distinct in this fashion, but that could be a problem. With more people being arrested around the U.S. and worldwide (Singapore, notably) for using open Wi-Fi access points without proper authorization, having an army of users mapping unprotected locations could be problematic even with an option for the operators of those locations to opt out. Some kind of accommodation must be made to avoid misuse of other people's networks in a systematic fashion.
I have a hard time seeing that without a reliance on extra features, how WeFi improves on JiWire's offline hotspot directory. The mapping is nice, but JiWire only lists purposely public hotspots. And the mapping would require a live Internet connection, in which case you could use JiWire online or any other hotspot directory to locate service. (Disclosure: I have a tiny number of shares in JiWire.)
Looking at the troika of Fon, Whisher, and WeFi makes me think back a few years to another group of three: Joltage, SOHOWireless, and Sputnik--not because I predict any particular failure, but rather because of some resonances. Those former companies were each founded with the idea that grass-roots installation of hotspots would lead to the creation of massive networks that each had their own sets of users. Joltage went under, SOHOWireless disappeared (its Web site is still alive, with an old copyright date), and Sputnik turned into a Wi-Fi network management firm that sells a combination of controller software and inexpensive manageable devices. Each had a revenue model behind them, and at least Sputnik had a free option.
The reason those three firms didn't succeed in their original mission was that the technology was too expensive and slow, and the range too short to build an affordable, effective network. Sharing an Internet connection was problematic, too, and broadband wasn't yet widespread back in 2002 when they launched. Today, Fon can ship a $40/€40 router that's more powerful than most 2002-era PCs, and broadband is widespread enough, coupled with their deals with Time-Warner and BT to make that a non-issue at least in the U.S. and U.K. Whisher and WeFi aren't dependent on routers. The three older firms had no chance of reaching any kind of critical mass.
However, it's probably worthwhile to read my response to a Robert X. Cringely column written in 2004 in which he proposed a WhyFi network. As I related what Cringely was suggesting: "He expects that every participant in the project who offers free Wi-Fi will eat the bandwidth bill in exchange for free equipment, which will be loaned not given to them. Only those providing hotspots get free access to the network." (Sounds quite like Fon in some ways, no?)
My conclusion was that WhyFi wasn't needed: "Free commercially funded Wi-Fi is an idea that’s spreading, but it’s going to spread in the vernacular: not with a centralized database and huge funding. Each business or group of businesses will make their decisions and roll it out, and eventually it’s going to be trivial for someone to find free, commercially supported access (not to mention free community and free municipal) in any business district." I thought scattered hotspots in unpredictable and off well-traveled paths by tourists and locals would have little value.
Three and a half years later, this is mostly true, but I don't think my argument refutes the merit of Fon for mobile handheld roaming--though the density they still need to achieve is much higher than what they have today--nor Whisher and WeFi for linking hotspots socially. Fon pays almost nothing beyond its router subsidy for building its network; Whisher and WeFi pay just for software development. The former does require someone swap out or install a Wi-Fi gateway; the latter two firms work with existing ones. The cost and complexity isn't high for any of the three networks.
The part I missed in 2004, however, was confederation: Fon, Whisher, and WeFi are all building separate grassroots networks which will have distinct user bases. Whisher noted at its launch that Fon users could also belong to Whisher; Whisher shares private Wi-Fi, while Fon manages public Wi-Fi. A La Fonera router has both a public and private network, and thus that could work.
But it's unlikely you'll find one user that chooses to run more than one of these networks, which restricts possibilities if the networks offer complementary purposes. Confederation would allow some kind of common set of user parameters and some kind of roaming across networks, or at least an exchange of information. That might allows a Whisher user to include a WeFi buddy. Or a Fon "Linus" user who shares his or her access point for free to other Linus users to roam onto open Whisher or WeFi access points that have been programmed into that system. (Whisher and Fon have bad blood due to conflicts among the founders, however.)
A lack of confederation is why some people use five different instant messaging clients, and others (like myself) are resident on one network and can't IM with people using other systems. The growth of confederation among text messaging systems in the US led to an explosion in the use of SMS, an area in which the U.S. once lagged other cell-phone heavy countries.
In a situation where we could have multiplying social and other grassroots networks, either the biggest pockets win and the other fade away, or the best idea that requires the least effort waxes while the others wane. Confederation and roaming among these networks could be a good long-term strategy to ensure unique characteristics of each network without making users choose.
Lots of good stuff here today from Ben Goldacre of Bad Science: In the Guardian newspaper (UK), he writes primarily about how Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch has a profit motive not disclosed in BBC's Panorama propaganda on Wi-Fi safety--he sells gear that "protects" people from electromagnetic radiation. Philips doesn't hide the fact on his lobbying site, but the program should have disclosed that fact, since it labeled other people with economic associations. (You can read the transcript of the show here.)
The BBC presenter Paul Kenyon says that Philips wasn't given a chance to interpret the results, but clearly in the show you can see Philips's reaction, and Philips's group's opinion essentially drove the tone and nature of the show, which lacked any skepticism about claims that are medically and fundamentally unproven. Further, we don't know what device or scale Philips used and how it was calibrated. We don't even know that he's an expert in conducting these measurements; he says he is. If so, another expert unassociated with his views or devices should have been able to reproduce the results. (Kenyon admits that in a follow-up interview at BBC; see below.)
Kenyon responded to directly to Goldacre in an interview posted on his site. Kenyon essentially says, we talked to a few people, and they all sort of vetted each other, so we're done. An actual documentary would have involved talking to dozens of people and then perhaps showing the opinions from a few.
Let me tell you how journalism works. When I wrote a 2,700-word item on municipal Wi-Fi for The Economist a year ago March (samizdat copy, paid version), I spoke to over two dozen people specifically for the article in addition to hundreds I'd interviewed or had talks with over the two years prior to that. I started out with a set of assumptions, but listened to what people said, and wound up writing an article somewhat different than I thought I was writing. (It's proved out to be accurate, too, so far.) That's journalism. Daily journalism often lacks that kind of time, so you read quicker, more facile stuff that gets facts or context wrong because it has to get out the door. An Economist feature or BBC documentary isn't typically produced on that scheduled if it's not a matter of breaking news, in which case journalists usually air on the side of what's best known at that time.
A number of people claim all journalists have preconceived notions and find subjects and quotes to fit those notions. Most of the journalists I know rather follow the story, and while the participants in the story may not like the piece we cut out that strikes our interest because we think that's the part that our readers will like--we're not tailoring the facts to fit our notions.
Had I been researching this documentary, I would have wanted to find out from several epidemiologists with no horse in this race how credible various claims were about risk based on studies. You can often find academics willing to read studies and read statements about them to give you a reality check. I would also have noted that there aren't two sides to this fence: there are people who promote the idea that EMF makes you sick; and mostly scientists and health officials on the other end evaluating research and finding no smoking gun but not stating definitively no shots have been fired. I would also have made sure that if I was finding something spectacularly different than what was widely accepted that I could explain the reason why effects weren't being seen--I wouldn't have speculated that the methodology for all measurement was wrong (as Panorama did, relying on a few scientists), but would have looked into how the methodology has worked in the past, and how it might be falling down now. That's a more involved set of research, but was what was needed to make the claims in the show.
The BBC itself grills Kenyon on its Newswatch program (see heading "Update BBC24 Newswatch transcript"). In it, Kenyon agrees it was a bad idea to use Philips alone to take measurements, and had no idea that the Swedish scientist he used a resource is considered controversial (read: a misinterpreter of results, which I know from reading his actual study, which includes a lot less correlation than he or anyone else reading it claims).
Kenyon twists himself into a pretzel, too. The program dismisses the fact that classroom levels measured by Philips were at 1/600th of the level deemed to be unsafe by the government, but then accepts Sir William Stewart's statements as fact, even though he's part of government. Go figure.
Kenyon makes this extraordinary claim: "But out position was that there is a mainstream accepted view on this and I think it’s a role that Panorama can play to challenge that mainstream sort-of culturally accepted norm." Perhaps the idea that Paris Hilton is a spoiled rich kid who avoids the consequences of her actions until now could be received wisdom and the idea that she's actually a modern rebel teaching a non-conformist view of the world would be the challenge. But for god's sake, this is about science with empirical, measurable results.
One of my favorite cartoons shows a scientist thinking, "What happens this time when I mix ammonia and bleach?" (or perhaps two similar agents that react together). The caption, as I roughly recall it: "Why all scientists are empiricists." I'm not representing it beautifully, but the cartoon shows what happens when you reject the idea that science is founded on reproducible experiments which, built up over time, produce an association of cause and effect founded on reason. That's science. Everything else is anecdote and conjecture, and, while useful, must be put in that context.
This newer cartoon rather well summarizes the situation (and is hilarious, to boot).
Goldacre also finds that a letter responding to criticisms was written by the BBC before the program had actually aired. Huh. Seems like someone had the idea that the problem might have weaknesses in sourcing. And Goldacre finds that Panorama tried to take measurements with students in a room, but the school balked at what they saw as bad science.
This would all just be a matter of one show not getting right except it's the Beeb, the venerable institution, and I've been reading about alarm spread worldwide by the program, and already seeing that some schools are turning off Wi-Fi.
I don't say that to be catty: Charlotte, S.C., is in the admirable position of having a high level of broadband penetration and a high level of Internet usership, David Haskin reports from a panel at the Interop trade show. They're not comfortable with a private firm handling their public safety network because the meetings they've had don't lead to confidence: vendors who have talked with them balk at 99.9 percent (or better, 99.999 percent) uptime. The city has no digital divide initiative, and doesn't see a case for businesses being more inclined to come to Charlotte.
I fear this is the same situation in Seattle. Much as I'd love at least an outdoor, mobility-oriented Wi-Fi network across my home city, we have so much bloody access, it's hard to make the case. While I have had offices in parts of town that seem relatively close in and not been able to get DSL, it's generally true that DSL and cable are available either as two good options or one or the other throughout much of the city. Likewise, we have four competing cellular data network, Clearwire, and the largest number of unwired Starbucks, as well as hundreds of free Wi-Fi hotspots. Plus Wi-Fi zones run by the city in parts of town and run by private enterprise in others.
Interesting sidenote to EarthLink getting a passing grade on its test network in Philadelphia: Drexel University has struck a deal announced today that will allow its tens of thousands of users access to EarthLink's network in Philadelphia and other EarthLink networks in the U.S. Terms weren't disclosed, if any. It's a one-year pilot project. Drexel has 28,000 registered network devices and nearly 20,000 students. Greater Philadelphia sports over 80 institutions of higher education that enroll 300,000 students each year. Drexel will continue to operate its own Dragonfly network on its campuses; this is an interesting extension, and a great way to win customers who pay as each class graduates.
Philadelphia was part of the impetus for the whole wireless city notion, as well as the heart of the backlash; it's also EarthLink's first real city to build out: Philadelphia was where it all started, not just for our fine country's origin myths, but also for the idea of unwiring entire cities with Wi-Fi. Smaller towns had conceived of and a few built such networks--Chaska, Minn., always first on that list--but Philadelphia put out a number of principles that have driven networks since.
Philadelphia said: subsidized and free access for low-income residents; computers and training for same; ubiquitous coverage, approaching 95 percent, with indoor bridges required where necessary; no financial outlay by the city--that last point an amendment to both their and a similarly timed (but less detailed) announcement by San Francisco.
The backlash that arose from Philadelphia has mostly subsided, because both Philadelphia and San Francisco backed away almost immediately from the idea that city coffers would fund free networks. AT&T now bids on and builds out citywide Wi-Fi networks. Some former critics of municipal involvement appear fine with the notion that cities authorize networks, but don't spend their own money. And it's clear that by floating the idea of building a Wi-Fi network for a town (or Wi-Fi plus fiber), it forces the incumbents to accelerate their spending, and provide better service, even if a network isn't built.
EarthLink helped set the tone for that when it jumped in with both feet to get the bid to unwire Philadelphia, rejecting the need for the Wireless Philadelphia nonprofit to raise any money to build the network at all. In 2005, when Phila.'s request for proposals (RFP) was issued, EarthLink seemed to be facing despair on all fronts. Declining dial-up user base. No access to wireline services without either high wholesale prices or deals struck with incumbents. A lack of a third wire (like broadband over powerline) or any hope of non-discriminatory access requirements. Wi-Fi was one of two ways for them to build new markets; the other was in the cellular world, by launching Helio with SK Telecom as a 50-50 project. Getting a big city and offering to bear the relatively modest costs to build it out made a lot of sense.
While EarthLink has signed a lot of contracts in the interim, they have frankly not built much, and they're not to blame for that either; no one is really to blame for public processes that take longer than expected. (To avoid being insulting: They haven't built much of any metropolis, nor much relative to the square miles contracted to be built.) While EarthLink has the San Francisco contract and recently was awarded the 600 sq mi deal for Houston, work hasn't started; ditto, Atlanta's massive undertaking in EarthLink's headquarter's backyard. Anaheim is underway, but not complete, and nowhere near the scale and complexity of Philadelphia. New Orleans is only partly built-out (and partly assumed from previous networking gear in place), while EarthLink took over Corpus Christi, Texas's network from the city, and only recently at that. EarthLink's announcement a few weeks ago that they'd review what they've done and pull back on any but big contracts is in line with these facts: they don't have enough footprint to predict what works. (We can argue the same points, by the way, for Cisco and IBM, with nothing really built in their various projects; Kite, with a pile of smaller cities and a growing regional footprint in Arizona, but no urban giants; and MetroFi, which is facing constant sniping as they build Portland, Ore.)
We can bitch and moan about how San Francisco is a morass, with a public process that's taken well over a year from a winning bid to the potential of a contract being scotched. But that's civics, folks. Citizens, interested parties (commercial and nonprofit and NGO), and elected and appointed officials, along with bureaucrats, all get together to make it work or not. In some cities, the wheels are greased for better or worse; in others, the process can destroy the ability to get anything done. In this case, however, I'd have to argue that despite the lengthy delays, San Francisco is only a slight outlier, not several sigmas away from the standard deviation. It's one thing to say, hey, part of the Oakland interchange for the entire highway system went up in flames, and we need to get it fixed fast to avoid wasting billions in commerce (and burning more gas in delays); and another to look at the next 10 to 20 years of telecommunications within a city and decide too quickly who will own some fundamental pieces of that. Decisions made today could constrain the city's appeal to businesses and residents alike in the future.
So Philadelphia will be the auto de fé for both EarthLink's ability to manage and deploy a project of this scale, and to prove the viability of their technology and market approach. It's also going to be the crucible for the ideas that the city raised: can you bring computers and Internet access to a lesser-educated, lesser-earning population and see positive results such as increased employment, better school test scores, lower rates of crime, better satisfaction with government, and other civic and academic results? Will people be happier, even, with the world that's farther away closer to their reach, and the world outside their door pushed a bit further away?
Boingo will allow its mobile and laptop subscribers to roam onto the Fon network: This is part of the mobile play. Boingo Mobile offers voice service for $8 per month worldwide, and that will now include the 130,000 locations Fon currently claims at no additional charge. This sort of roaming arrangement validates Fon's model in a way that nothing to date has seen, because it involves no additional per-session cost. Laptop users can also roam, but I see less potential there as when I survey Fon locations, they tend to be in places where, to gain access, you're unlikely to use a laptop. (Fon locations that are ideal for laptops tend to be the same kinds of locations that may already be part of Boingo's network, like cafes and retail establishments.)
A spokesperson for Fon confirmed that "Bills," Foneros who receive payment when their Fon access points are used, will get 50 percent of the revenue Fon receives from Boingo. What that revenue is, however, hasn't been revealed. In the past, Boingo paid 50 cents to a dollar per session to its hotspot partners. That can add up with a $22 per month unlimited use subscription, and I suspect Boingo pays much less per session now. Their Boingo Mobile deal with hotspot operators required new contracts, and works worldwide with a single rate--and thus likely to have substantially lower rates of session payment.
Michigan moocher faces fine, service, not jail time: The Michigan man who used a coffeeshop's free Wi-Fi without entering the shop or gaining their permission will pay $400 and perform 40 hours of community service (perhaps helping people hook up Wi-Fi networks in community centers?). He doesn't appear to have been charged, but got this deal under a prosecutorial "diversion" program. Tricky: free Wi-Fi still has to be authorized to be used, even though no theft of service is at risk. He's one of several people charged with using Wi-Fi without permission in the last few years, although the first I can recall using a purposely public free location.
Cincinnati paper asks, why Wi-Fi without computers? The paper's editorial thinks Wi-Fi is just fine, but wonders if the divide between computer-owning and not is the one that should be solved first? It's a chicken-and-egg problem. If you help people purchase computers, then they're stuck paying $10 to $20 per month for slow dial-up access. If you build a citywide Wi-Fi network that includes a provision for subsidized and free accounts for low-income residents, then the computers start to have real value. There are a lot of ifs and buts in there.
Studies on radiation and health lead to more studies: The Guardian writes how the head of the Health Protection Agency in Britain called in 2000 for more studies on the connection of mobile phones to health; the results of that work (not all studies everywhere) have all been inconclusive or reject any connection. He's the one calling in Monday's BBC documentary on "electrosmog" for more studies. Actually, I'd love more studies, but it's unlikely they'll reveal more than the mobile phone ones, given that the energy expressed is so minute comparatively.
Wash those hotspot minutes down the drain: Trustive finds in a survey that half the hotspot minutes purchased on scratch-card and use-em-or-lose-em plans aren't used. In my case, it's probably 75 to 90 percent. Trustive is an aggregator, and sells prepaid (not as-you-go) minutes that expire after 12 months, and monthly service plans, so their interest is slightly vested, but they are also in a position to understand where minutes disappear to.
Philadelphia approves EarthLink's test network: The 15 sq. mi. testbed that EarthLink built to demonstrate its citywide network would also function has received a passing grade from Wireless Philadelphia, the nonprofit the city established to handle network details. A third party evaluated the network. Interestingly, the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter writes (and told me when we spoke) that EarthLink doesn't know which firm evaluated the network and the city didn't return her calls on the question. The entire network will span 135 sq mi.
EarthLink's set its rates, too: $22 per month for 3 Mbps/1 Mbps and $20 for 1 Mbps/1 Mbps. Introductory pricing for the plans is $10 and $6 per month, respectively, for the first six months.
The division head at EarthLink said they expect 5,000 customers subscribed by July and 12,000 by the end of the year. The network should be finished by third quarter.
That's a lot of qualifications in my headline: The Washington State Ferry system has the very largest Wi-Fi operation for regular transportation in the United States by far--they carry 50 percent of the passenger trips in the US across their boats--but it's rather hard to find No. 2, because there aren't many production Wi-Fi services in effect. There are trials here and a few buses or train cars there. ACE Transit in the Bay Area thus clearly becomes the second largest commuter-Fi and largest land-based-Fi service today.
Internet access is available on specially marked buses--78 MCI buses and a dozen others--that cross the Bay Bridge, San Mateo Bridge, and Dumbarton Bridge. The system has 11,300 daily riders. The service is free, with the capital expense funded by a county grant. AC Transit's monthly cost, they say, is just $60 per month--the cost of the cellular data backhaul. They say adding just one new commuter per bus per month would cover that cost. (The press release isn't posted at this writing.)
The Panorama documentary on the alleged risks associated with Wi-Fi can be viewed online: You can watch it via the BBC Web site or using Bad Science's Google Video link. While you're at it, read Bad Science's comment space on this documentary, as well as the article written by its editor last year about electrosensitivity and the comments that follow it. Editor Ben Goldacre states it beautifully in that May 13, 2006, article: "I don’t think people who report being hypersensitive to electrical fields are hypochondriacs: I think they have real and distressing symptoms, but I also think, in the light of the evidence above, that electromagnetic fields probably aren’t causing those symptoms, and they may remain unexplained for the moment."
Lord, is it bad. They show a single person involved in a study (apparently showing a re-enactment of that, as they couldn't possibly be in the room when the study was conducted), stating that she identified the presence of a cell base station (mast, as the British call it) signal 2/3rds of the time, but then note in passing that the results from the rest of the "independent" study's subjects haven't yet been analyzed. The signal was artificially generated, and other aspects of the study are unclear.
If I were not a calm man, I'd start ranting right here. You can't cherry pick a self-identified sufferer from a clinical study and say that because she achieved a certain result that you're confirming her claims. What if 50-percent of the control and suffering group identify 2/3rds of the time a signal was present, and 50-percent were wrong 2/3rds of the time? Bad Science points to 31 studies done on electrosensitivity, and the overwhelming consensus review of those studies that there was no correlation between identification as electrosensitive and the ability to sense a presence or absence of signal.
Please note also that Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch, a lobbying group that promotes the notion of ill health from wireless transmissions, helps measure the signal intensity in a classroom--the measurement that the program notes is 1/600th of the UK's level of concern of signal strength. Nowhere is it mentioned here (or in his other appearances, from what I can tell), that Philips's advocacy site refers sales to EMFields, the "trading arm of A & J Philips."
One might suggest that if you're pushing the notion that industry, with a vested financial interest, might be suppressing the outcome of studies, that it's also worth noting one of the primary people involved apparently has a financial interest himself in serving a community that he is helping to identify. This shouldn't discredit him (nor industry) from commenting on the matter. But it should have been mentioned that he sells the tinfoil that lines people's walls. Powerwatch itself discloses this information in part on one of their sites.
AP notes that there's no great success story in early city-wide Wi-Fi: I don't think the long-term prognosis is failure, except in cases where cities and providers don't adjust to the reality of how it's playing out. The low subscriber numbers should not be a problem if the contracts with cities or the cities' own arrangements were designed to have many different lines of revenue that would mature separately. As it stands, the focus has been on residential use, and that's changing.
Back in Feb. 2006, I listed the many kinds of wireless networks that would be built for a so-called "Wi-Fi" deployment citywide--and thus lines of revenue--that service providers should engage in to have the chance at success, along with a list of potential services deriving from that. Service providers should be offering, and cities requiring, public safety networks, public access, municipal worker access, mobility applications and device support, and residential and business service.
(Esme Vos notes a significant error in the story that I missed: the reporter says most muni-Fi networks are paid for by the cities: "Most communities, including Lompoc, paid for their projects. Elsewhere, private companies agreed to absorb costs for the chance to sell services or ads." The vast majority of city-wide networks are built on the provider's dime. However, there is still the concern that networks, once built, could become a city liability if the city and its residents depend upon it and the provider wants to shut it down or goes bankrupt. Update: AP ran a correction.)
Houston tech reporter says city should own its own Wi-Fi: In the wake of the above and other articles about metro-scale Wi-Fi networks failing to earn out early, Dwight Silverman repeats his contention that Houston's 600 sq. mi. network should be built out by the city rather than a private firm. "Ubiquitous, reliable and robust connectivity to the Internet is to the 21st century what a network of paved roads was to the 20th, and should be enacted for the public good." He suggests if that's not possible that the incumbent wired providers pay EarthLink so that cable and DSL customers also have free access to the citywide network. (That ain't going to happen: EarthLink will charge $8 to $12 per month on a wholesale basis, and I suspect Time Warner/Comcast and AT&T would rather not give away that sliver of their margin.)
Put the cell phone and climb: Oh, lordy, climber makes cell call from Mt. Everest's peak. [Sound of ironic clapping] Bravo, Superman. Other calls have been made via satellite phones before.
Avis launches rent-a-connection service: The Avis Connect offering puts a Wi-Fi-to-cell gateway in the car for $11 per day. It rolls out at San Francisco International Airport first, then moves into San Jose, Los Angeles, and Newark, and out to other major cities by third quarter. They're using Autonet Mobile's system, and it must be EVDO based as the AP is reporting that either Sprint or Verizon is powering the back-haul. Verizon has stated repeatedly that it forbids this sort of usage. Sprint resells devices that support this kind of usage, as does Cingular (sorry, AT&T, see next item).
AT&T starts final Cingular rebranding: The company stores were switched out overnight, and the Cingular name will appear ever less frequently from now on. The firm says the store revisions were necessary as the firm prepared to launch Apple's iPhone as the exclusive provider in June. Good commentary on the brand switch over a GigaOm.
Atheros announces fast, two-radio gateway, USB adapter, revised single-radio gateway: Chipmaker Atheros announced today that it has dramatically expanded the variety of its Draft N reference designs to include the smallest form factor USB 2.0 after-market adapter and two new routers, including a dual-radio access point that can achieve 400 Mbps in aggregated TCP/IP throughput. Reference designs are licensed to manufacturers which modify and package them as unique products.
Atheros faces sharp competition from Airgo, Broadcom, and Marvell in the general market for providing Wi-Fi chips to manufacturers of consumer and enterprise equipment - the so-called OEM or original equipment manufacturer - and additionally from Intel in putting Wi-Fi into laptops. Intel would prefer its computer-making partners buy the whole Centrino Core 2 Duo shebang from them, Draft N chips included. These new designs are clearly aimed to ensure Atheros's manufacturing partners have the largest range of possibilities with the least amount of independent engineering.
In a briefing last week, Atheros's vice president of marketing Todd Antes said the firm sees the inflection point for Draft N products outpacing 802.11g products coming by 2008 as consumer products with Draft N become less expensive and more available, along with integration of Draft N adapters in notebooks and computers. "It's no longer just the early adopters," Antes said, who use Draft N.
Easy configuration, low cost, no RF experience required, the company says: Ruckus Wireless, an ahead-of-the-curve wireless gear maker that, until now, has looked to bridging metro-scale networks into homes and distributing media around a house over Wi-Fi for IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) providers as its key markets is expanding into the SMB space, offering small-to-medium-sized businesses a new line of easy-to-configure, inexpensive products that can achieve enterprise-like results.
In a briefing last week, CEO Selina Lo said, "We saw that for the SMBs, there's a big need for a complete wireless LAN solution made simple -- so simple that you don't need IT operators." A problem that I've heard consistently expressed by SMBs is that with no or few full-time IT staffers, enterprise-scale WLAN technology is not just an order of magnitude too expensive, but would require too much in-house expertise to run. "There are lots of companies from 50 to 500 people -- they still need completely secure and robust and critical Wi-Fi solutions," Lo said.
Lo said that the company will have three offerings: auto-discovery access points, including their existing 802.11g ZoneFlex 2925 access point, which is ready to work with their new system, and a planned 802.11n addition in the third quarter; a controller, called ZoneDirector, that manages and directs the functions of APs, as well as handles authentication; and FlexMaster, a remote administration tool, which will ship in the fourth quarter.
The 802.11g access point lists for $259; an office-building oriented model (2942) will ship in July for $349, and sport power over Ethernet and a plenum-space fire rating. The ZoneDirector 1000 series comprises three models that manage a maximum of 6, 12, or 25 access points, and cost, respectively, $1,200, $2,000, and $3,500. They ship in July. The 802.11n access point and FlexMaster tool have not yet had their pricing set.
Lo said the company will also offer a starter pack of six 2925 access points and the entry-level six-AP ZoneDirector for $2,000, a discount of about $750 off list.
The company has also developed a simple security alternative that occupies a niche between WPA/WPA2 Personal's preshared key and the authentication server-driven WPA/WPA2 Enterprise system. They call this Dynamic PSK, and say patents are pending.
BBC Panorama airing on Monday night in the UK fans fears of health risks from Wi-Fi through bad interpretation: As the Guardian points out, not only are the classroom measurements discussed in the program 600 times below the level that the government expresses concern at, the measurement of Wi-Fi signal strength and a cell base station signal are made at different points. The measurement for Wi-Fi is at 1 meter, and the cell base station at 100m. At those disparate differences, Wi-Fi comes out three times stronger. I haven't seen the program, as it hasn't aired yet, and in parts of the program description online, it makes it clear that they are measuring exposure within the classroom to Wi-Fi and exposure at the same location to signals from the mast; in others, they appear to be making an apples-to-apples comparison.
The entire basis of the program appears to be using the many studies of mobile phone emissions and resulting health effects and applying them against Wi-Fi on the basis of this erroneous measurement. The Guardian doesn't note the other specious element. The point isn't a cell base station radiating to a user, but the cell phone someone carries produces a signal that reaches the base station. No measurement appears to have been taken of a cell phone in use.
Lest we forget, the Guardian writes, "The Health Protection Agency says a person sitting within a Wi-Fi hotspot for a year receives the same dose of radio waves as a person using a mobile phone for 20 minutes."
Scientists quoted in the program apparently say that using thermal effects--heat produced by exposure to electromagnetic radiation--to determine risk isn't enough to, well, determine risk.
You will likely be able to hear me speak on this issue on the UK's Channel 4 Morning Report podcast being posted Monday morning GMT.
InformationWeek's Richard Martin dissects the state of metro-scale Wi-Fi: He offers up some insight gathered across a few cities in California, and has some excellent information from EarthLink about their re-evaluation of how city-wide Wi-Fi can work financially. Among other things, EarthLink has changed its model to turn a profit with 12 to 15 percent resident uptake instead of an initial--and pretty ridiculous--20 to 25 percent. I hadn't seen that initial number before, and I'm glad they've reduced their target.
But this emphasizes what Martin discusses in this article: a combination of city anchor-tenant services combined with residential Wi-Fi is the only way to go. I'd go further and say that any Wi-Fi service provider that doesn't have a strong business offering for broadband wireless over fixed WiMax or similar technology has no hope of turning a buck. The three major early providers--EarthLink, Kite, and MetroFi--all expect to sell business services.
The U.S. has ridiculous standards by which they count a broadband user: It's pretty absurd, but 200 Kbps in a single direction qualifies as a broadband line in our country. Now, that's just how the methodology is defined, and the methodology can be changed. There's now proposed legislation that would require 2 Mbps as the baseline for service to be counted as broadband, and revamp how counting in an area is performed. Right now, a single user in a Zip code tract--a tract that doesn't mesh with the USPS's Zip codes, according to some researchers--with broadband service means the entire Zip code region is counted as broadband-capable. The bill would also require the NTIA, our spectrum agency, to offer the information in searchable form.
The head of the cable industry association said that the industry was addressing concerns over broadband, noting that Comcast recently demonstrated 100 Mbps cable service. That's garbage, of course; the issue is about universal availability of broadband, not the speed in limited areas. By pretending that 200 Kbps is broadband, companies and lobbyists are allowed to talk about broadband generically, when better-than-dial-up is what's in place.
The 75 acres of Dallas's Victory Park will be unwired: The mini-city development will cost $3b, and sport 7m sq ft of retail, residential, entertainment, and office space; 4,000 "residences" are part of the plan. You know: the New New New Urbanism of created spaces, owned and operated by a single firm instead of the organic development of dense, heterogeneous city environments. Social critique aside--and I am a fan of density in cities--the developer is working with BelAir Networks and Red One Network Solutions to cover the community with Wi-Fi.
They don't have a snakes-on-a-plane logo parody, I'm sorry to say: The BWCS consulting firm will host its second conference on installing Wi-Fi and Internet access in trains. Train systems worldwide are piloting and rolling out service, the most advanced stages of which are in the UK and Sweden at the moment; California is a coming flashpoint, too. Putting Wi-Fi on a train isn't just about giving commuters or long-route travelers access to email and YouTube. Rather, it's about offering in-transit entertainment through media servers on trains; sending train telemetry back to control centers; remote video surveillance; and voice communication while en route. Passenger access is a bonus, of course.
The conference runs June 6 and 7, 2007, in London. Leading specialized firms and train operators will be presenting and sponsoring the event. (I would normally suggest attendees visit the London Transport Museum as well, but it's closed until this fall!)
The Wi-Fi Alliance still targets late June for completion of its certification of Draft N devices: Equipment that conforms to Draft 2.0 from the 802.11 Task Group N as tested through a suite developed by the alliance will be able to display a new logo that incorporates the Draft N motif. Atheros, Broadcom, Cisco, Intel, Marvell, and Ralink provided reference designs that were part of the certification process. These products are now Draft N certified, but they're reference designs--they can't be purchased. Rather, the changes to these designs to reach interoperability will now filter out from the chipmakers to their OEM partners, the companies that make end user gear, like Apple, Buffalo, Linksys, and others. These OEM devices will then, in turn, receive certification as they update the firmware necessary to achieve that state and submit their equipment for testing.
San Francisco's embattled Wi-Fi plans continue their stall: The head of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce chides the board of supervisors, in whose hands the future of the EarthLink-awarded network lie, for not simply accepting the deal as it stands. The board's hearing yesterday made it clear that some supervisors still haven't been assuaged. It puts Mayor Gavin Newsom in the position of arguing that his city isn't competent enough to run its own Wi-Fi network, which may be true, but it's an awkward pose for a chief executive to take. The supervisors didn't like that the "free" flavor of network that Google will offer likely requires a "$50 to $100" bridge--which really costs more like $150; the article is being conservative based on current equipment out in the market. Privacy issues are also still in the air.
The clock is ticking on the contract: the agreement stated that the board of supervisors and public utility commissions had to offer their approvals within 180 days of execution; the mayor's office executed the contract in early January, but it requires these additional approvals to go forward. That six-month period would end around the July meeting that the supervisors say they'll take up the issue again. After that, EarthLink or the city can walk away from the January contract, although neither party has indicated that they would do so.
Meanwhile, Minneapolis's first couple tests are up and the local tech report isn't impressed: Steve Alexander went out to kick the tires on US Internet's network. He tried 25 locations where he should have been able to gain access as of last week, and could only connect at four, finding a signal too weak at five and no signal at 16 other places. The provider admitted to him that they were behind. They have until June 6 to have five zones up and running; they only have 17 of 60 access points installed so far. The city apparently has no stick if that date isn't met; the reporter couldn't reach officials for their side of that statement.
DirecTV might try BPL: Broadband over powerline injects signals into medium- and high-voltage lines to use electrical wiring and distribution as a third pipe into the home. No BPL deployments have reached any real scale, although that could finally change this year. We'll see. Prior projections of "next year" always lead to another "next year." It's likely that DirecTV would work out a partnership with Current rather than deploy its own network, but we'll see. DirecTV, like all non-wireline providers, needs additional pathways into the home.
Powerline networking need not interfere with amateur radio: Excellent comment from an amateur radio leader, Ed Hare of the ARRL, on BroadbandReports about the state of ham technical experts' cooperation with broadband over powerline (BPL) and home powerline networking; the thread is about DirecTV's potential BPL deployment. Hare lists which firms have been working to avoid interference with hams' licensed frequencies--remember that hams have primary and secondary rights, while BPL and home powerline are merely unlicensed users or unintentional emitters. The largest planned project in the US uses gear from (and is being built by) Current, which Hare notes, "In both cities [Cincinnati and Dallas], BPL is deploying without major interference problems."
Virgin offers free Wi-Fi to Upper Class passengers: In several airports already have this free service, including Heathrow, Gatwick, JFK, and Dulles. They'll add the rest of their lounges this year.
Belkin announces late June shipping date for USB over 802.11n: The $130 device was previously announced. It allows independent control of each USB device connected to the five-port hub, with unique computers able to control each device, but only one computer at a time per device. Windows drivers are due at launch; Mac drivers in September. Belkin's ultrawideband hub is still MIA.
Six major tech firms are backing OpenSEA, an effort to build an open-source 802.1X supplicant: 802.1X is port-based access control for networks, whether Ethernet, Wi-Fi or other. The system allows a Wi-Fi access point or an Ethernet switch to have an authentication session with a device that wants to connect without providing any access to that device until authentication is confirmed through back-end, secured means.
802.1X requires a supplicant, or a client package, that handles the authentication process. Microsoft built in a rather difficult-to-configure supplicant into a service pack of XP, and it's part of Vista as well. Mac OS X has featured 802.1X support since version 10.3; it's prettier and easier to use and configure. (A back-end authentication server is also required.
For other platforms or for enterprises that want to configure all their users with a single profile, there are clients available for virtually every desktop and handheld platform from Funk (now part of Juniper) and Meetinghouse (bought by Cisco) which run $25 to $50 or so each depending on platform mix and quantity. Devicescape also has an open-source embedded 802.1X supplicant in its platform.
OpenSEA hopes to achieve two different aims: First, to extend the existing Open1x Xsupplicant effort into an enterprise-class offering with a front-end and Windows support, along with a programmer's interface (API). XSupplicant came into being because of a lack of 802.1X support for GNU/Linux. Second, by turning the supplicant into a potentially cost-free element for IT departments to deploy or other businesses to use--OpenSEA will offer GPL and BSD licenses to facilitate that--they should lower the overall cost to deploy 802.1X while increasing the odds that 802.1X won't be "broken" by Microsoft or others.
Back a few years ago, Cisco and Microsoft were pursuing incompatible flavors of the authentication protocols that run over 802.1X, while Funk, Meetinghouse, and other pursued a third direction. Now, most supplicants and servers simply support all necessary flavors.
The companies behind OpenSEA at its launch are Extreme Networks, Identity Engines, Infoblox, Symantec Corporation, TippingPoint, and Trapeze Networks, along with a UK academic IT consortium, UKERNA Ja.net. The latter three are perhaps better known than the first three. (TippingPoint is a security division of 3Com that pays bounties for zero-day exploits to keep them from entering the wild.) The alliance is looking for more members.
In the enterprise world, the back-end part of the 802.1X ecosystem is simpler because companies typically are already running some kind of directory service and authentication system which can be patched directly into 802.1X. For smaller businesses, Periodik Labs's Elektron server software and DAZ Software's Wi-Fi Login Pro are affordable options, starting at $300 and $200, respectively.
Coaster route gets security-Fi network: A 10-mile stretch of a 42-mile Southern California railway gets Wi-Fi for security purposes. Datel built the system with Strix gear. They're claiming 17 to 20 Mbps of bandwidth along the route.
Aberdeen, Scotland, becomes a Wi-Fi city: The city council will pay for a wireless network to span the town. CCTV (surveillance cameras) and traffic lights will be among the civic applications run over the network, as well as public access. There's interest in remote health monitoring as well.
The San Francisco controller's office sees substantial cost savings to residents with EarthLink network: The office, which the SF Chronicle says acts as an auditing arm, sees $9m to $18m in yearly savings for residents due to the option of choosing EarthLink over other broadband services. One supervisor noted that a city-owned system would provide even greater benefits, however. EarthLink won approval this week for access to light poles, one of the last hurdles in moving forward.
Salling Clicker lets a phone be used to control a computer: The software started as a Mac-only product that worked with Bluetooth to handle presentation advances and a few other limited options. The product has gradually become richer and richer, and long ago added Windows support. The latest release extends Wi-Fi support for smartphones that include Wi-Fi, and uses auto-discovery with Symbian and Windows Mobile 3.5 to allow computers to find all Salling Clicker-enabled phones.
DAZ Software releases Wi-Fi Login Pro, an inexpensive WPA/WPA2 Enterprise server: The enterprise flavor of WPA/WPA2 requires each user who wants to gain access to the network to have a user name and password. (Some systems support other credentials, like smart cards or certificates.) Wi-Fi Login Pro joins Periodik Labs's lower-end Elektron server (Mac OS X, Windows; $300; unlimited users). Wi-Fi Login Pro runs $200 for 100 users, but is designed for somewhat simpler administration. There's a trial version.
I recommend that any business of more than a few employees consider WPA/WPA2 Enterprise. Each logged in user's system is assigned a unique encryption key, and credentials can be revoked if someone leaves the firm. WPA/WPA2 Enterprise isn't foolproof, but a cracker can't bruteforce his or her way through; and social engineering might allow one user name and password to be obtained, but, unlike the WPA/WPA2 Personal system, that doesn't compromise other user's sessions because they have unique encryption keys.
Wilkes-Barres signs Frontier: The large landline telecom will install Wi-Fi throughout the city. The city recently dumped one provider that had won bidding after that provider during negotiation said the city would have to provide a $1.25m loan guarantee. [link via MuniWireless]
Wi-Fi payphones in Russia: While Verizon once planned to put Wi-Fi on hundreds of payphones in New York (for reasons that we still never figured out), Comstar and Moscow City Telephone Network will install Wi-Fi on 200 "coin-box" payphones in the capital. The Wi-Fi will be added in busy venues, like trains stations, airports, and hotels, as opposed to just out on the street in Verizon's version. [link via Geeksugar]
The Blackberry produces a bit of buzz: The Wall Street Journal reports on the speaker hum produced by Blackberrys and other devices. RIM's co-CEO has to turn his device off when he gives speeches. My GSM Sony Ericsson phone, when placed within a couple feet of a 900 MHz baby monitor produces a pattern that goes "bit buh buh buh buh buh buh bzzt bzzt' a few times every 30 or 60 minutes.
Lafayette fought for years against the incumbents for the ability to roll out its own fiber-optic network: The Louisiana town fought advertising, court cases, and citizens (possibly acting on others' interests) to gain the right, which they now have, to install their glass network after voters approved it. Then-SBC suggested they might withdraw jobs from the city, even. Now Lafayette will add a citywide Wi-Fi network, too. Fiber is great, but fiber interfaces are expensive. Popping out from fiber (owned by the network) to Wi-Fi for end-point services like remote meter reading, public access, and mobile municipal applications (building inspection, public safety) is a perfect complement. CSG Data Networks will build out the Wi-Fi system using Tropos gear.
D-Link updates its Draft N product line to Draft 2.0 of the specification: This is the first announced firmware release of many expected for the existing draft 802.11n or Draft N product lines from companies like Apple, Buffalo, Linksys, and many others. Draft 2.0 is currently being used as the basis of an interim certification for 802.11n by the Wi-Fi Alliance that should see certified products by June.
Rice University sets example for Houston network: The university has installed what they believe is the world's most densely used Wi-Fi network in cooperation with the Technology For All nonprofit in Houston's Pecan Park. The network has 650 users per sq km, and expects to hit 1,000 per sq km. 2,000 users currently use the system in the eastside working-class neighborhood. The university hopes its research will be used for practical purposes. Houston recently agreed to have EarthLink built a 600 sq mi network across the entire city, currently the largest committed network to be built in the world; Wireless Silicon Valley would be larger (1,500 sq mi), but all the commitments from cities and counties aren't yet in place. The Pecan Park network has prompted research projects within the coverage area, including one that combines health monitoring and ethnography to determine how to improve health care and residents' health.
Clovis, Calif., looks for Wi-Fi: The city is talking to MetroFi to provide service to its 92,300 residents. They'll talk to Azulstar if that doesn't pan out. It seems rather public, their courtship interests. Andy Seybold is quoted on the cost of metro-scale Wi-Fi nodes. $500 each? I've been told $2,000 to $3,000 is more likely. Any feedback from those who actually have seen price sheets (or create them)? The reporter also writes, "Haas said his firm also sells $99 modems that allow users to access the Wi-Fi system without relying on wireless signals." Rather: without relying on a computer's built-in Wi-Fi card receiving a signal directly; those are bridges that MetroFi's Chuck Haas is referring to, but it's still wireless.
Boingo roams through Tokyo: Boingo has signed up with livedoor to add the thousands of Wi-Fi access points within the circle Yamanote Line in metro Tokyo. Typically, Boingo offers metered rates for usage outside the US, with single account/single login plus negotiated rates making it simpler to use international locations.
Fon City Deutschland offers 5,000 gateways to German cities, communities: Fon's German branch is offering free routers and free access to municipalities. Community members would have free access through a portal. I'm a little unclear on the details, especially as the site states that community members could use over 150,000 hotspots worldwide at no cost. However, the Fon business model only allows free use of sites that are set to be used for free by the site operator. Fon locations operated only a fee basis ("Bill" sites versus "Linus" sites) aren't free for anyone.
Madison's network bought out: Mad City Broadband, a division of Cellnet, has been sold to Cellnet's former CIO. The Capital Times reports that 90 percent of the network's customers were handled through a single firm, ResTech Services, which will end its contract this month due to complaints about connection quality. The new owner will work with Cisco to improve the network quality.
Rhode Island, Vermont vie for first wireless state title: Other states are also in the race. A nice use of friendly competition.
Nashua, N.H., gets downtown Wi-Fi: Right near the Route 128 and Route 495 loops. Service launches in June.
Marina del Ray network completed: Planet Halo has built out their first phase as of a few days ago.
Governing magazine weighs in on the municipal benefits of city-wide Wi-Fi: "What early results in Corpus Christi indicate is that the nationwide buzz around municipal WiFi is all wrong...Where WiFi actually does ignite life-altering change is on the government side." Hard to put it better. I've been trying to tell reporters interested in muni-fi for the last two years that the sexy part (public access and digital divide) is only the tip of the iceberg: two other legs of the tripod must be services to municipalities (meter reading, mobile workers, public safety, etc.) and services to business (replacement T-1 and the like). This is a pretty fabulous overview, and a must read for anyone not yet up to speed on why these networks go far beyond residential Wi-Fi access.
The Times mades a big blooper, mistaking a login bypass for an attack: The Times Online has this story about how Starbucks in the UK are being targeted by hackers (phishers and simply criminals, really) who are setting up evil twins, which are computer-based hotspots that masquerade as the legitimate local network. The evil twin itself connects to the legitimate network to provide backhaul. Evil twins are useful at harvesting information sent in the clear, as well as providing fake DNS coupled with locally hosted phishing Web sites that might convince a user to enter private data.
Unfortunately, the Times's information, uncovered in a chat room, points to a method by which hackers are bypassing paying for T-Mobile's Starbucks-based service. The chatroom discourse begins with someone asking about man-in-the-middle (MitM). In classic MitM, an intruder inserts themselves between two parties, relaying information while listening in. In cryptographic circles, MitM is defeated by using effective key exchange with out-of-band confirmation through certificate authorities, reading a fingerprint to one another, or other methods.
The next chatroom messages the Times discusses, however, are about tunneling Internet traffic from DNS (domain name service). DNS is used to take a domain name and retrieve the associated Internet Protocol (IP) address. Because the login process for a hotspot requires DNS to work, DNS requests are generally passed through without restriction. However, DNS requests can return loads of other information in special resource record types. With the right kind of software on both ends--on your laptop and a remote server--you could perform an end run around authentication and tunnel your traffic over DNS just like a virtual private network connection tunnels all its traffic via the VPN connection. Devicescape uses DNS to retrieve authentication information in its lightweight device-oriented hotspot login environment.
The chatroom participants pretty much state this outright: "I am now able to tunnel my way around public hotspot logins...It works GREAT. The dns method now seems to work pass starbucks login." In fact, there are two popular DNS tunneling packages available.
Hotspots can throttle DNS traffic, or filter queries, but there are clever ways around this, including returning data as part of the alias for a domain name that's requested (a CNAME or canonical name record). So much of DNS requires passthrough of arbitrary data that I don't know how large a problem this is. One of the quoted chatroom messages in the Times article notes that the user was only able to get a few kilobits per second, which could be a result of either throttling or overhead. It's possible T-Mobile has throttled DNS traffic to a very low speed, which would make sense.
We all know (or should) that Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) isn't real security: And that's been known since at least 2001, as cracks become more and more efficient at breaking this first line of defense for a Wi-Fi network. Most recently, researchers showed they could crack WEP in as little as one to two minutes, which would overcome even 802.1X plus WEP, in which keys are unique to each user and changed frequently.
Two years ago, The Wall Street Journal reports, crackers monitored the Wi-Fi traffic outside a St. Paul, Minn., Marshalls, a chain of stores owned by TJX, which also owns TJ Maxx and Home Goods. They used this information to crack TJX's main database, while the company was unaware of the intrusion for 18 months. From 45.7m to 200m credit card numbers were obtained. TJX says the latter number is too high, but told the Journal that it can't know for sure. Private information like driver's license numbers, social security numbers, and military IDs for 451,000 customers were also stolen.
TJX has hired 50 investigators to deal with the problem and will pay for fraud monitoring for those whose private information was taken. It's unclear to me whether TJX is liable for the fraud committed using those stolen cards, having to repay Visa and MasterCard member banks.
The Journal says that TJX didn't switch to WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) early enough--at least by 2005--and an audit they cite showed a lack of encryption and firewalls. The crackers broke into connections used by handheld devices used for inventory and other purposes, almost certainly equipment made by Symbol, the dominant player in that field. (No knock on Symbol: a safe network is the responsibility of the purchaser, and Symbol supported WPA just like everyone else.)
Remarkably, that's practically all it took: they were able to grab central access passwords through the Wi-Fi network, which means that no real protection for credentials and replay was in place. With access to the central system, they could install their own software without detection, and then they exchanged messages with one another on the system itself! Good gravy.
TJX transmitted credit card numbers to banks without encryption, the Journal says the company noted in an SEC filing, which should be impossible. My guess is that explanation is slightly inaccurate. More likely, they retained and stored credit card numbers without encryption, because banks won't accept insecure transactions for their back-end processing. The article notes, "A bill in Minnesota would bar any company from storing any consumer data after a transaction is authorized and completed."
St. Louis sets agreement with AT&T: This was the non-bid contract that some have had problems with. The network offers 20 free hours of use each month to residents and visitors, and may be partially operational this summer. The network will cover 80 percent of the city in a year, and the entire city by 2010. Estimated cost: $6m.
Foothill Transit takes Wi-Fi live on Silver Streak: An already announced deal, the Internet access is now live on the 40-mile route from Montclair to Los Angeles.
free-hotspot.com expands to 1,000 European locations: The network of ad-supported hotspots aggregated under free-hotspot.com sees 100,000 monthly users. And no wonder, with typical European hotspot pricing.
The Wi-Fi Alliance says 25 devices certified with WPS: The new security standard uses a simplified method to distribute a WPA/WPA2 encryption key to a device that wants to join the network. The standard was nailed down last year, and it was expected that WPS would hit the market earlier than this. Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n that shipped in February includes WPS, but not under that name; it requires an 802.11n adapter and Mac OS X to negotiate via WPS.
With WPS, a user presses a physical button on a router or uses a gateway configuration tool or Web browser to click a software button to initiate the "next device gets a key" connection method. A short PIN can be used instead. In Apple's version, you use its AirPort Utility program to add a client, choosing either the next computer to connect or the PIN option. If the latter option is chosen, after you choose the network from the client, the client produces a PIN which you enter in the utility software. It sounds more elaborate than it is.
No word on XP or Vista support baked in, unfortunately.
The Wall Street Journal reports that T-Mobile will extend its converged cellular/Wi-Fi calling plan and hardware nationally: The plan, called HotSpot@Home, has been available in Washington State since October. The Journal calls that "Seattle" and "a few months," a dramatic understatement of how long T-Mobile has taken to shake the bugs out of this service. I was starting to wonder whether T-Mobile would ever launch nationally. The launch could happen in mid-June.
The converged plan uses a handset with both GSM and Wi-Fi radios built in, allowing seamless roaming among preferred personal hotspots (home, for instance), the T-Mobile HotSpot network in the US, and the GSM network.
When I tried it and wrote it up for The New York Times last fall, the roaming part of the operation--from cell to Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi to cell--wasn't up to snuff, but I like the Nokia phone I tried and Wi-Fi-based calls sounded great. The Journal says those problems have been ironed out through handset improvements, which I believe. The technology would seem to me to involve a lot of tweaking, rather than overcoming insurmountable odds.
The article notes that the $20 additional monthly fee for unlimited Wi-Fi calling, and $5 per month for subsequent phones in family plans, could be tweaked for the national rollout. In the Washington trial, you can also pay nothing and use normal minute plans to make Wi-Fi calls if you're after improved call quality in your home instead of more minutes.
An intriguing option I hadn't heard would be to extend the plan, allowing a landline connection in the home to use the same system, although it hasn't been set for launch. This is extremely simple to do because it involves no roaming and probably very little hardware--an additional plug on the routers that T-Mobile offers to customers with this plan. The router is free ($50 minus a $50 rebate), and supports WMM Power Save for improved battery life and WMM for voice prioritization over the Wi-Fi network.
The reporter hasn't done his homework, because he says that three European carriers are "launching" Wi-Fi phones: BT launched back in January, and seen 40,000 subscribers by early April, according to Light Reading. BT's plan includes their OpenZone hotspots, home service, and GSM as well. France Telecom's Unik converged service has done far better, with 100,000 subscribers, due in part to the telecom's success with a bundled broadband offering that has put 3.5m gateways into homes. These gateways are optimized for calling over Wi-Fi; BT and T-Mobile need to get gateways into homes, which is a higher bar to gain customers.
Ugly solar panels make St. Louis Park, Minn., residents fret: The first of 400 solar-panel equipped Wi-Fi nodes that will blanket the city resulted in complaints over the obtrusiveness. The city removed the 16-foot pole and hardware, and is rethinking its next steps, pushing back the rollout by six weeks. The height was needed to push past the tree canopy. Moving the nodes to poles and electrical power would boost costs. This might be a good note for other municipalities and service providers: convene some neighborhood meetings before installing nodes to make sure they fly. (That may have happened in this case, but perhaps the reality of the pole was too much to bear.)
Yet Another Broadband over Powerline launch: I can tell you about dozens of BPL launches around the world that were going to start with a few hundred or thousand homes and expand to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. So far, no go. No word on the French suburb BPL plan announced last summer. Current hasn't offered a peep lately from the TXU project in Texas. Now Grand Ledge near Lansing becomes the latest small town to buy in. Smaller towns seem to have faster rollouts.
HotelChatter posts this year's list of best Wi-Fi-equipped hotels: The site finds that while Wi-Fi is more available, more restrictions (and fees) apply. Marriott as a chain gets the top marks because of the free Wi-Fi they offer in many of their mid-range hotels, and how well they cope with getting travelers connected. HotelChatter thinks they should extend free Wi-Fi to all their properties; like many hotels, the chain charges high fees at its high end hostelries.
Apple improves WPA, WPA2 compatibility: A software update for Mac OS X 10.4.8 should improve Intel-based Macs ability to work with third-party access points (i.e., not AirPort) that use WPA and WPA2.