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The FCC has voted on the auction rules for the valuable 700 MHz band's upper reaches: The rules set for the 20 MHz hunk of spectrum that could be won by a bidder on a national basis will require that the winner allow any device and any service on the network. In practice, however, that won't be as interesting as it sounds. If the FCC had applied those rules retroactively to current spectrum holdings by cell providers, it would be easier to find and use advanced phones from Europe and Asia for both GSM and CDMA networks. Verizon's tetchy terms of services that prohibit anything but email, Web surfing, and corporate applications wouldn't be allowed, either.
But this is a new band that isn't used by any other countries worldwide for this purpose. It's possible an ecosystem of devices will spring up for the U.S. market, especially if 700 MHz radios turn out to be relatively easy and cheap to make. But the failure to require the winning bidder to resell access on a wholesale basis means the winning bidder gets to set the prices it wants.
Two of three Republican FCC commissioners--oddly, not the chair Kevin Martin--thought open access and open devices were added regulation. I disagree. There is just as strong a regulatory hand involved when you tell carriers that don't have to resell access as when you tell them they do. That's a regulatory choice that impairs non-incumbents in the same way that the converse impairs new entrants.
It's business as usual, folks, just a little more open.
Fast Company examines where metro-scale networks are heading: The writer looks at the state of municipal Wi-Fi and where it stands in light of recent changes. She interviewed me before EarthLink announced their plan to require "anchor tenancy" by municipalities for which networks they're bidding--that is, a contract in which the city agrees to purchase a minimum dollar amount of services over the life of the deal. MetroFi kicked in that provision themselves earlier this year.
I sound a bit negative in the article, as I expected that EarthLink might have exited the Wi-Fi business entirely, while honoring their existing network contracts, perhaps even selling off those networks to other firms. Instead, EarthLink chose a middle ground. But requiring a city to commit to services is like asking a city to spend money, even if the city's telecom/data spending remains neutral or goes down. EarthLink will likely participate in many fewer bids, and even if they win a bid, a binding deal is less certain because the service level negotiation will likely come only in detail after the bid.
So EarthLink isn't leaving the market, but they're no longer planning to put in anything like the dollars they have to date. They never released budgets of what they expected to spend overall, but I thought it was significant when the firm didn't submit a bid for Wireless Silicon Valley. That project seemed vast to me, and the estimates to build it have moved from $50m to $100m when it was announced to $100m to $150m today. EarthLink was wise to not step in that asphalt pit.
On the MetroFi front, I was quoted correctly when I'm cited saying, "MetroFi's lost four contracts they had in the bag, and I don't think that's an accident." Let me elaborate, though: I don't mean that MetroFi caused that to happen. Rather, that the anchor tenant requirement has caused a lot of rethink in cities that were previously all ready to go. (The four contracts I'm thinking of are Batavia/Geneva/St. Charles, Ill.; Toledo, Ohio; Anchorage, Alaska; and Corona, Calif.)
One thing is for certain: if you're a small town, you can kiss no-cost Wi-Fi goodbye. If you're medium-sized, you need to come with a budget in hand you're willing to sign over to a provider. And if you're truly large? You may be out of luck. That's right. Given EarthLink's experience in San Francisco, I expect that a city of that scale would have to commit to something like $2.5m to $5m per year in services, and negotiate a contract within a reasonable period of time. This means it's likely that large cities won't be able to come up with the dough to prime the pump, even if they're not paying a cent until the network is launched.
Ultrawideband in one chip moves industry towards greater possibilities: WisAir announced the immediate availability of UWB on a single chip. This is likely the first of many such announcements, as UWB moves from an "almost here" technology to one that could be pervasively available. Its success in the market is still unknown--how much do you hate USB cables? Other UWB offerings use two chips, which adds cost, complexity, and power drain. Wi-Fi didn't start hitting gadgets until chipmakers had single-chip packages with a lot of networking bits also built into that single chip; and 802.11g didn't supplant 802.11b in gadgets until makers had efficient single chips for it, too.
The WisAir offering is legal in the U.S. and Japan. One of UWB's key hurdles is international regulation, with different regulatory domains allowing different frequency ranges to be used by UWB; UWB requires large swaths of spectrum to transmit ultra-brief, ultra-low-power signals. The low power also means low range, but with 480 Mbps within a few meters and step-down speeds beyond that to 100 feet or more, that's probably good enough. And that's just the first version of UWB that will ship. If regulators add frequencies or allow higher power, or the inevitable improvements in the spec occur, short-range speeds could top a gigabit per second.
The WisAir chips use WiMedia and USB Implementors Forum (USB-IF) Wireless USB standards. WisAir can't claim Certified Wireless USB status at the moment, but WisAir's director of business development and marketing Serdar Yurdakul said in an interview that "devices supporting our chips will be certified in the short term." A handful of devices now sport the certified label; none are yet shipping.
While other protocols will follow (including Bluetooth, TCP/IP, and FireWire/IEEE 1394), Wireless USB is an important first step because it's so straightforward for existing products with USB to use much of the same conceptual and programming infrastructure to supplement or replace wired USB with wireless.
Yurdakul said that WisAir's implementation offers automatic, dynamic channel selection among the several available to UWB. Because UWB is such a short-range technology, the odds of overwhelming the available frequency/channel combinations is pretty unlikely in each cell. The implementation also offers "automatic rate adaptation." Combined, products with a WisAir UWB chip should find the optimum speed and channel on an ongoing basis. The chip can adapt to interference or obstructions in the environment within hundreds of milliseconds, Yurdakul said, without losing connectivity.
"Any legacy device today you have on your desktop can be enabled with Wireless USB," Yurdakul said. "It just pops into your USB port, and existing drivers you have already, it uses as is. You don't have to add new drivers. The downside, is that performance suffers a little bit." That will change over time as PC makers add UWB as a built-in radio with native drivers.
WisAir expects that its chip will be used in both PCs and devices in this early stage, however. Specialization among UWB chipmakers will happen later with some choosing to focus just on the device market, as has been the case with other technology that winds up getting embedded in Intel reference designs and Apple computers. Several Wi-Fi chipmakers have found limited but deep markets with PC makers as an alternative to Intel's Wi-Fi products, but the greatest number of Wi-Fi chips (as with UWB chips) will be in gadgets in the near future.
Because UWB has such high performance over short distances, Yurdakul sees the technology used for simultaneous HD streams and Dolby 7.1 audio, as well as the more mundane cable replacement purpose in portable and fixed devices, like cameras and printers. UWB has built-in quality of service settings that allow a device to ask for specific latency and error correction on an "isochronous" channel--that's real time data in the case of streaming audio and video.
UWB also has a fairly high power advantage because even though network protocols will be adapted to it, it's designed as a paired technology with two devices talking to each other. Yurdakul said that WisAir's chips have a 30fold power advantage, bit for bit, compared to Bluetooth or 802.11g. It's the nature of UWB's low power and bursty transmissions that allow this savings.
WisAir is shipping samples now to manufacturers, with quantities available in fourth quarter. Pricing is expected to hit $15 when volumes are produced. That means that a $100 camera will likely not sport UWB in the near future, but it's a reasonable option for a $500 as PCs start to include UWB.
Developers behind KisMAC scanning/cracking software, plan to give it up: A statutory change in Germany leads KisMAC's developers to believe that if they continue to make the source code available and develop the software, they would be liable to criminal prosecution. KisMAC software is a Mac OS X Wi-Fi stumbler that can capture data and crack Wi-Fi passwords.
The change would make it illegal to access private networks or private communications, by adding penalties not just for extracting passwords and other codes, but if you simply create software that could facilitate this illegal activity. In the U.S., it's still legal to create software that cracks passwords; intent is what drives criminality. (A description of the law's changes can be found--in German--can be found here [PDF], at the Federal Ministry of Justice's site.)
Because KisMAC scans for non-public information and can crack passwords, it would clearly be within the scope of the law. While the developers could conceivably tear some of the guts of the program out to remove cracking code, it's likely that the mere act of passively scanning a network to which you don't have permission to access, which might allow you to see unprotected passwords, would be illegal. (I start reading a little German, and the dependent clauses just start multiplying.)
A demonstration is planned for August 9, as the law also requires onerous data retention policies. The Stop the Data Retaining movement--it sounds better in German, honestly--says that the law will require retention by providers and telecoms records of all communications by landline phone, mobile phone, and the Internet. Six months of connection data would be stored . That is, not the contents of communication, such as email messages, but all the calls placed and received, to whom messages were sent, and so on. The movement also says anonymization services would be banned.
The Independent continues its rather ridiculous, non-science-based campaign for eletrosmog: The UK paper decided to take a stand, and decided to ignore the preponderance of evidence. In their latest article, they try to link research about something akin to static electricity causes micro-particulants to be charged in a way that makes them more likely to remain in the lungs. The article attempts to smear research released this last week that demonstrated an inability for self-identified electrosensitives to tell whether a cell phone base station was on or off.
(The article says, "It comes in the wake of the publication last week of research which concluded that people who believe that the masts are making them ill are deluding themselves." But the Essex study did not say that people were deluded; rather, that real symptoms presented themselves, that they presented without connection to the signal being present or absent, and that research into the real cause of these symptoms was needed.)
Researchers have found that a variety of electrical appliances appear to create this kind of charge; this has nothing to do with wireless communications, however. In fact, I recall reading studies in the mid-1990s that said the same thing just less broadly: Electrical charge could be passed onto particles that passed through the fans in computers. Researchers recommend grounding (earthing, in Queen's English) equipment and avoiding synthetic fibers.
MuniWireless explains EarthLink's new stance towards metro-scale networks: Carol Ellison writes that the new CEO of EarthLink said the firm's approach towards muni-Fi isn't working, and anchor tenancy will be required for future projects with a commitment for service on completion of the network. It's not unexpected, as it's precisely why MetroFi shifted their model. It's been several months since the free lunch ended, and municipalities are, I'm afraid, still reeling from the news that they may have to run financial analyses to determine cost conversation, and talk to voters about committing funds that they expect to get back in savings.
That's a different ballgame than "we build it, cities can choose to buy services" or even a true public-private partnership. This is a hybrid of a few different approaches, but it means the city still is in the position of being a customer, not a network builder. Cities now will put more at risk by committing funds towards services that might not be delivered if networks can't be completed or firms go out of business or exit markets. The risk increases because cities will have to terminate current services to reap savings, and thus put their connectivity and productivity in jeopardy against a new network. Cities might then be in a position to have to spend money suddenly to assume control of a failing network--depending on contract terms--to keep continuity of service.
This was true even when networks were being built at companies' expense with cities choosing to migrate services. But in this new anchor-tenant approach, cities have to commit before networks are built, even if they have objective, independent tests that have to be passed before they start paying money to the service provider.
Meanwhile, the Kite Networks division of MobilePro (a public company) is sold to Gobility (a private) one: The deal, announced today, but disclosed in an SEC filing July 10, indicates that Gobility is paying $2m in convertible debentures to MobilePro, meaning that it's a stock deal. Gobility must raise $3m in cash by August 15, according to the filing, or default, in which case MobilePro can pay a nominal amount to re-acquired Kite. Kite operates a few Wi-Fi networks, the largest ones in the Southwest, and provides Sprint-branded wireless broadband in the 2.5 GHz. Kite claims 17,000 customers across all its operations.
Toshiba has started shipping a laptop with an ultrawideband (UWB) docking station: This is a proprietary use of UWB, as far as I can tell, not inside the Certified Wireless USB efforts that were just announced. The $3,079 and up R400 laptops feature a dock with port replication for $500 with UWB compared to similar $180 docks that use a connector. The dock supports four USB ports, audio, Ethernet, and a monitor.
A UK academic study looked at cell towers, often cited as a cause of pain to those who identify themselves as electrosensitive: The study, funded by organization itself funded by both government and industry, was carried out by a University of Essex professor. The group tested 44 people self-identified as having problems with masts, and a control group of 114 who never reported any symptoms. The study started with 56 electrosensitives; 12 dropped out for what an anti-tower group said was illness, but which isn't noted by the researchers in a university press release or in the BBC story linked to here. Update: The study is now available for download in PDF form at no cost from Environmental Health Perspectives.
The study, conducted over three years, used a variety of measures to determine reaction, including "heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance," the University's release says. Subjective well-being was also measured in a couple ways, including using 57 symptoms extracted from a questionnaire designed to determine electromagnetic sensitivity. Researchers tested both in what is described as "open provocation," in which both the researcher and the subject knew when a signal was present or absent from a cell tower base station under the study's control, and in double-blind circumstances, where neither party knew when the signal was present or absent.
The open provocation part was critical, because other studies had been criticized for failing to observe people's symptoms at all, making it difficult to know what a typical reaction was. Sensitive subjects did report symptoms when they knew the signal was present. However, with double-blind testing of both sensitive and control subjects, the results were no better than chance in either group as to knowing whether the signal was present or absent. Two of the sensitive subjects and five control subjects were 100-percent accurate as to when the signal was present or absent, but this can be attributable to chance. If subjects were truly sensitive, then the results would have been better than chance, especially in the sensitive group.
Here's the critical part of this study, and something I have attempted to emphasize in my coverage in the last several months: the study showed that people's presented symptoms were real and measurable but that they could not be correlated to the source that sufferers believe the symptoms are associated with. The principal investigator put it quite humanely: "It is clear that sensitive individuals are suffering real symptoms and often have a poor quality of life. It is now important to determine what other factors could be causing these symptoms, so appropriate research studies and treatment strategies can be developed."
Researchers across many disciplines were involved--"cognitive psychologists, electronic and biomedical engineers and a medical doctor"--and the test conditions were in a lab equipped for the purposes, with an independent evaluation conducted of the test environment. Dr James Rubin, the Kings College London researcher who previously reviewed 31 similar studies, endorsed the results of this study.
Significantly, the UK group Powerwatch, which has a general acceptance of the notion of electrosensitivity and other health affects due to Wi-Fi, cell phones, and cell towers, had a generally positive reaction to the study, noting mostly that chronic health effects can't be assessed in this sort of study, which is true. Powerwatch concluded that people who incorrectly identify themselves as electrosensitive may be skewing these sort of studies--what they call nocebo responses.
The study was funded by the Link Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, funded by the affected industry and government. This is the first research released that was funded by this group.
Cisco releases full details on problem at Duke: While widely reported that one or two Apple iPhones out of about 150 used on Duke University's Wi-Fi network were bringing down groups of a dozen to 30 access points at one time, it turns out it was a Cisco fault all along that the iPhone triggered. A Duke assistant IT director initially blamed the iPhone for the problem. He later posted a note on his blog that he "regret[ted]" sounding quite so sure it was the iPhones' fault.
Cisco's security advisory, "Wireless ARP [Address Resolution Protocol] Storm Vulnerabilities," explains how in a very particular set of circumstances, a mobile device moving between access points and retaining certain information could cause Cisco network controllers to produce a storm of ARP requests. When I first heard about this problem in email from Miller--I declined to write about this because I thought it was too speculative at the time--the 18,000 ARP requests being made per second seemed like far too high a number to be produced over a wireless connection by a single mobile device.
While the advisory doesn't cite the Duke situation, the company confirmed that the Duke situation was what triggered this advisory and update, according to Network World.
The iPhone is now in the clear as the culprit, just the trigger. It's likely we'll see more vulnerabilities and bugs show up, however, because of the extreme mobility and promiscuity of the iPhone. It's willing to connect to any network it knows whenever it sees it, and to hop off onto EDGE whenever the network performance drops too low.
Kite Networks has flipped the lights on for 14 sq mi of Wi-Fi service in Chandler, Ariz., adjacent to 40 sq mi in Tempe: The 54 sq mi of networks are contiguous, according to Kite's vice president of marketing Alan Crancer. This gives them bragging rights to the largest such Wi-Fi network covering urban areas. The Chandler and Tempe networks kiss along a highway border between the two towns.
There are larger networks in Rio Rancho and eastern Oregon, but they're not governing urban or suburban areas. MetroFi operates networks in the adjacent cities of Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and Santa Clara, Calif., which have a combined city area of roughly 50 sq mi, but MetroFi covers only large portions of the city, according to their deployment maps that show the location of access points.
Unless plans go awry in other cities, Kite won't be able to keep their title for long. EarthLink and MetroFi are both well underway in building out their flagship metropolitan areas, Philadelphia (135 sq mi) and Portland, Ore. (130 sq mi), respectively.
Chandler is 75 sq mi total, and Kite will eventually build out all of it, giving them 115 sq mi and about 350,000 people passed. At one point, Kite was committed to building out Gilbert (pop. 190,000; 43 sq mi), adjacent to Chandler. There's no mention of this network on the city's Web site or Kite's site. I've asked Kite for the status of that contract. Update: Crancer confirmed the contract is still a go with Gilbert; no progress on the buildout yet.
Qantas says its new Airbus A380s will feature satellite-based Internet access: Apcmag.com reports on Qantas's news that the Airbus jets they will start putting into service in August 2008 will be set for in-flight access from OnAir. OnAir currently has near-term launch plans with a single Air France Airbus jet in a trial, and is retrofitting the entire Boeing fleet of RyanAir. A couple smaller airlines are also committed, with launch dates not set.
Pricing for Qantas's service hasn't been set. If it's designed to work around OnAir's arrangements with Inmarsat, there's no potential for real Internet access, because the cost would be far too high per megabyte. Rather, it's likely that GSM and GPRS services would be available, such as Blackberry email and text messaging. Voice calling wasn't mentioned. Via Wi-Fi, it's possible that limited email retrieval at a fixed rate would be available and instant messaging. Passengers can use seatback screens to access email, as well as their own gear.
Qantas also said they were introducing a new class of service with electronic extras. Premium Economy will be built into A380s and retrofitted on Boeing 747-400s. On both models, that class and all higher classes will have laptop power and Ethernet (RJ45) ports, as well as a video screen. The A380s will gain USB ports for recharging, but Apcmag.com speculates it could also allow iPod content playback.
Six cities, one county review whether they participate in the Wireless Silicon Valley project: Recall that this massive project, awarded to the Silicon Valley Metro Connect consortium (Azulstar, Cisco, IBM, Seakay) has no per-se official standing. The RFP they responded to had a lot of sign-off by encompassed municipal entities on the intent, but no commitment to participate. The first stages aren't yet live. No model contract is out for circulation that I'm aware of. Several south Bay cities are looking at whether to participate as the network proceeds.
Washington Post puts faces to the digital divide: The Post looks at Charleston, S.C., and how a lack of Internet access affects low-income parents and their children. It also shows how truly eager the kids and adults are for the Internet: for entertainment, sure, but also for communication, and to study. The more experience a kid has with the Internet as a tool, certainly the greater chance they have to succeed in the modern economy when coupled with other skills. Charleston's effort to build a city-wide Wi-Fi network has apparently stalled, this article notes.
Pittsburgh wants to expand their network city-wide: The mayor will solicit informational proposals starting August 1 on how to bring the whole city--not parts of it--into a wireless future with Wi-Fi or other technology. A downtown business-backed Wi-Fi network draws 200 users per day; the network offers two hours free per day, with paid options for a day to a year ($8 to $120). The operator says it's sold 10,000 "subscriptions" over 10 months, which includes day passes. The city's timing is tricky, because the industry is in a period where even a city of Pittsburgh's scale might not find a provider willing to bear the costs of building the network. As I'm quoted saying in the article, the city might want to wait until the shakeout is over; a "request for information" as they're issuing is a great idea, too, as they can study without commitment.
Ocean City paints grand vision of future, starting next summer: Ocean City, NJ, swells by tens of thousands of people each summer, and they want wireless networks to help them manage hordes and improve life. Those heading to the beach would wear electronic wristbands showing they'd paid instead of "those plastic or cloth scourges of the Jersey Shore." Badges are $5 per, $10 per week, and $20 per summer, and the city spent $282,000 last summer for badge checking personnel.
While indoor access may be a problem with Wi-Fi networks, wide-open beaches should be a relative breeze. The network would combine Wi-Fi for public access and backhaul, and RFID for the wrist tags. That combination could allow lost children to be easily found, too. The city wants its garbage cans to send email when they're nearly full, too, using solar-powered sensors and transceivers; an admirable goal.
The city is accepting proposals for a firm that wants to bear the expense of building the network. Because of the vast numbers of vacationers, it's extremely likely that there's a very high uptake on public access use of the network, not least of which will come from among the potentially 10m-plus iPhone owners, and from the millions or tens of millions of owners of Wi-Fi-enabled organizers, portable game systems, and cameras in the market and due to hit in the coming year.
The consultant Jonathan Baltuch, advising the city on the plan, estimates $26m in revenue ($14m for the city, $12m for the network operator) over five years between user fees and advertising. Baltuch helped launch St. Cloud, Flor.'s free citywide network. (That network is in jeopardy due to a change in Florida property taxing authority.)
Dell and Lenovo receive Wireless USB certification: The Dell Inspiron 1720 and Lenovo ThinkPad models T61 and T61p not only include ultrawideband (UWB) radios, but are approved by the group that manages the USB spec as Certified Wireless USB. The ThinkPad is shipping ($1,814); the Dell is due later, along with its pricing. There are no peripherals yet that use Wireless USB, but this is part of the break in a five-year-old logjam. I was told in 2002 that wireless USB (not in its current form) over UWB was coming that Christmas.
Iogear and D-Link also received certification on their wireless hub and adapter kits, which are similar or perhaps identical in internal design to Belkin's previously announced product. (These are driverless USB dongle plus AC-powered hub sets that are pre-paired with each other.)
Early startups may look to Austin forum for matchmaking: The Wireless Seed Stage Forum, Oct. 17 in Austin, Tex., might be a boost to firms trying to ramp up from early stage prototypes to a full-blown deployment or production. The forum will look for seed-stage wireless firms, and invite the best of them to pitch directly to investors. The forum coincides with the Texas Wireless Summit (Oct. 17-18). It costs $500 to put your firm in contention for an invitation. (The organizer is a non-profit--the Austin Technology Incubator.)
Don't check your monitors, wireless readers; we've gone all inverse: After six years of something close to the same color scheme on Wi-Fi Networking News (and the family of related sites), I have finally acceded to two realities. First, many readers--dozens not thousands--over the years have begged me to produce a less-dark design to improve legibility. For a while, I toyed with the ability to choose your own color scheme, or some such. But that was complex and wishy-washy. What convinced me to change to a dark-on-pale approach was (second reality) that virtually all readable news sites and blogs on the Web choose a white or off-white background with dark type. There's a reason for that.
The switch has been flipped! Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Update: That's inverse, not perverse. If you're not seeing the new dark-on-light design, try emptying the cache of your browser, or hitting force reload (Alt or Option plus the Reload button in most browsers) to bring in the new styles and images.
I've purposely avoided writing too much about the auction of a hunk of premium space in the 700 MHz band that's been under discussion for months: It's a bit arcane, but once Google enters the fray, it's mainstream. The FCC has freed up what's considered the last good stretch of bandwidth that might come available in the next decade or more. The propagation of radio waves in 700 MHz is rather superb; that's why it was chosen for television once (UHF), and why 850 MHz is one of two bands used for voice cellular calls.
The auction has been beset by comments from interested public policy groups and parties that plan to bid on the spectrum. There's a whole set of issues about the top part of the band, where some organizations want to move frequencies currently pledged to public safety into an auction pool or another allotment, but build a network that would give priority in emergencies to public safety above commercial uses.
In the rest of the band, the fight has been over "openness." Several groups want the auction rules to require that a winning bidder cannot offer retail sales of services. Rather, the winner would have to build a wholesale network and sell on a non-discriminatory basis. Other forms of openness include allowing any legal device to connect and allowing any legal use. These are pillars in the network neutrality platform, of course. (The four pillars are often cited as any resale user, any use, any device, and no tiered service.)
The FCC chair Kevin Martin first seem to signal he would support a requirement for wholesale-only bidders, but now has backed away from that, making that optional.
Google has expressed strong interest in the band, and has piles of money to spend on it. They favor as much openness as possible in the auction rules. Today, they committed to bidding a minimum of $4.6b if the auction proceeds with as much openness as they want. Carriers opposing this kind of openness said that Google could simply win the auction and impose the terms on itself, rather than narrowing the focus of the auction.
An effort in the legislature may define broadband and how we count it in the U.S.: The FCC was handed a ridiculous, incumbent-favoring methodology for counting broadband some years ago, and it's made us a laughingstock in the world community. Our "broadband" penetration rates are terrible, even by our own definitions, in which a 200 Kbps connection in one direction qualifies as broadband, and the entire area of a Zip code is counted as having broadband if there is a single subscriber. As I wrote in January, the British regulator Ofcom, in contrast, requires counting actual installed broadband lines and 512 Kbps is the minimum they count.
The legislation under consideration by a Senate committee would require defining areas into nine-digit Zip codes (ZIP+4), and to define second-generation broadband as allowing full motion high-definition video. (It's unclear if that's 480p or higher; I believe 2 Mbps downstream would be required to meet a minimal level of that definition.) Sen. Trucks McTubes (R-Alaska) suggested that Congress shouldn't define this stuff for the FCC, because "compression technologies" could improve. Maybe he can teach us how to get a free home renovation, next?
Verizon strikes deal with Broadcom for patent bypass: Verizon will pay $6 per handset up to $200m to be excluded from the import ban on 3G chips that use Qualcomm technology. Broadcom won a ban from the International Trade Commission; the U.S. trade representative will decide by Aug. 6 whether to overturn the ban. Verizon is hedging its bets. The firm agreed to not attempt to overturn the ban and to withdraw its motion for a stay. Verizon is Qualcomm's strongest U.S. partner, and apparently thought $6 handset was a small price to avoid defections and deferred purchases.
IEEE group adopts extraordinary voting rules: The IEEE has a large flaw in its standards process. Every qualified attendee gets a vote. You qualify to vote by attending enough meetings. Meetings are held worldwide. Thus, companies who choose to spend millions to send academics and their employees around the world, can outspend competitors who oppose them. This is precisely what I am told by reliable sources happened in 802.15.3a, that led to the dissolution of that group, which was to adopt ultrawideband standards for personal area networks. The 802.20 group looking at mobile broadband standards hit a snag when its chairperson was discovered to be in the pay of Qualcomm as a consultant without having disclosed that fact, which he later did. The new rules will allow each entity a single vote, rather than each qualified voting member.
Duke says Cisco at fault for iPhone thrash: Although an assistant IT director at Duke was very clear in pinning the blame on Cisco access points crashing to errant iPhones, Cisco and Duke say the problem has been resolved, and it had to do with "multiple network protocols" running over their wireless network. One security expert suspects that the network uses LEAP, which is not supported by the iPhone, and that triggered some errant condition. That seems unlikely, because the problem surfaced after iPhone's authenticated to the network, according to the initial report.
Clearwire and Sprint Nextel agreed to allow roaming on their underway mobile WiMax networks: It's a huge shot in the arm for mobile WiMax, as neither of the two firms have enough geographic licenses to allow allow full national coverage. Sprint Nextel planned to back up its WiMax network with its 3G EVDO coverage; Clearwire had no such plan, as it has no other spectrum or network holdings. The deal allows Clearwire to roam onto Sprint's 3G network, which is a boon for them. Both firms can avoid patchy networks now that would make business travelers and companies with national footprints less likely to sign up.
Now, the reason I pose the question as to whether municipal Wi-Fi networks could suffer as a result is that mobile WiMax is a superior technology to Wi-Fi for large-scale mobility and indoor coverage. Yes, this is a Wi-Fi-oriented site. Yes, I have spent much of the last six years writing largely about Wi-Fi. Yes, there are hundred of city-wide Wi-Fi networks in planning stages or being built.
And, true, mobile WiMax in a new, unproven technology with a lot of promise that has to demonstrate its effectiveness in the real world. Truly mobile adapters that fit in or are built into laptops, handhelds, and gadgets like cameras and gaming systems, have yet to come (although we should see laptop cards next year), and are critical for widescale adoption. (Intel has plans to embed Wi-Fi and mobile WiMax in a reference laptop design, of course.)
But there's no question that mobile WiMax is a fresh standard built for long-distance, mobile, outdoor use, and that doesn't use spectrum with tons of competing uses (Wi-Fi) or require support or interoperability with legacy technology (Wi-Fi, cell data). WiMax is the ideal technology for building city-wide wireless networks. It just has to prove itself, and the providers have to offer competitive pricing, too, when compared to those offered for metro-scale Wi-Fi networks, Wi-Fi hotspots, and cell data networks.
I've been saying for some time that Wi-Fi is a "best-worst" technology for metro-scale rollouts (it's the "best-best" for wireless LANs). It's the worst, because it's not designed to work in metro-scale environments, and accommodations for that involve decisions like having mesh nodes that blast the maximum allowable power out in every direction. Wi-Fi is well designed to cope with interference, but not in the complicated RF environments that already exist in every urban area in the developed world. It's a best effort technology, so that you can't guarantee results, because of interference, co-existence, and power limits.
Wi-Fi is the best, however, because it's here today, and well characterized. We know how Wi-Fi works. You can roll it out without licenses, it's flexible, and almost every laptop and an ever-increasing number of mobile devices sold today has a Wi-Fi adapter built in.
Municipalities considering today whether to write a request for proposals to encourage or authorize citywide Wi-Fi networks, especially with what appears to be a new requirement by service providers like MetroFi to sign up for multi-year contracts, may step back to think about WiMax. I've already been thinking that if you were starting today, the near-term availability of 802.11n and MIMO gear for metropolitan deployment--maybe 6 to 12 months away--should make you hesitate in finding a firm that's designing the network today.
Now you're saying, Glenn, Glenn, Glenn, WiMax will be controlled by two firms in this country, extending the oligopoly of the telecoms, wired and wireless, and that Wi-Fi can be deployed by anyone, at any time, whether a city, a non-profit, a neighborhood, or a large-scale service provider--or even a telecom. WiMax is totalitarian; Wi-Fi is socialist.
True. But there's a thin margin that Wi-Fi has over WiMax. Cost and availability of adapters will likely be an issue for as long as two years. Speed is another: Wi-Fi's boost into 802.11n should allow dramatically higher speeds, although large-scale networks need to figure out how to exploit this to their customer's advantage.
The final part of that margin is that Wi-Fi can be offered to cities for a fraction of the cost of cell data, like EVDO and HSDPA. Even with large-scale subscriptions, cities still pay close to $60 per month for cell data subscriptions per card or user, plus the initial cost of the adapter (from $0 to $100, typically). Wi-Fi-equipped laptops in a metro-scale network can hop on an office Wi-Fi network when a city worker is in the office, and then roam onto a secure city-wide network as needed. Because Wi-Fi works across all operating systems, there's no driver limitation as there is with specific support for 3G adapters.
If Clearwire and Sprint Nextel are smart--and Clearwire has already been bidding on city-wide networks--they'll be able to put together a package for municipalities that guts one of the primary financial legs for citywide Wi-Fi. In Seattle, with Clearwire's current proprietary, pre-WiMax gear, you can spend about $35 per month for 1.5 Mbps down and 256 Kbps. They provide a nomadic adapter; one of my colleagues carries the small AC-powered device with him so he can work from home or at his girlfriend's apartments.
With the right offer for municipalities, a city or town could avoid the whole issue about providing access, dealing with utility poles, coping with community groups and their privacy concerns, and waiting for the buildout. Instead, Sprint and Clearwire will just keep lighting up cities and knocking on their doors. (Oh, and Clearwire and Sprint already have voice integrated into their mobile WiMax plans, just by the way.)
EarthLink's reaction here will be critical. The new CEO said a few weeks ago that he'd have a decision in 30 to 60 days about the company's future direction. Some of us who follow the firm expect that the municipal network division could go into maintenance mode, continuing on active networks, and pulling out of undone proposals. This Clearwire/Sprint roaming decision could affect EarthLink's plans, by removing one of the potential underpinnings of their financial model.
Hotspot directory JiWire is moving further into the hotspot advertising space: CEO Kevin McKenzie told ComputerWorld that its advertisers will pay $35 to $150 CPM (cost per thousand impressions), which is far above the rates typically charged on Web sites without extremely narrow targeting. (I should know.) McKenzie said that JiWire now has relationships with 50 large firms in the U.S. Today's deal with Microsoft's MSN portal is intended to extend that service's reach, something that Microsoft has been working on heavily to counter Google and Yahoo.
Microsoft will run ads on Portland, Ore.'s MetroFi network, and in Oakland County, Mich., which is building a 900 sq mi network that has run into many snags related to utility pole access. Still, it will pass 1.2m people when completed. (Disclosure: I have a very tiny financial interest in JiWire.)
Over at Macworld.com, you can read my rundown of what Apple's done right and wrong with securing data in transit from the iPhone over Wi-Fi: The iPhone is, so far, widely regarded as a tremendously secure device in terms of putting data on it, and it's ability to be updated as exploits or other bugs are revealed. But once data leaves the iPhone, or is en route to it, the picture changes entirely.
In brief, Apple doesn't provide tools that make encrypting traffic over services other than email a reliable, consistent, and straightforward affair, despite their success in building such tools into Mac OS X. This includes a lack of a globally configurable Web proxy; Apple bizarrely set it up as a per-network option. Apple did, however, make its four branded email connection partners--the ones with logos and automated setup--default to SSL for POP, IMAP, and SMTP, and any new email connection you add tries to use SSL for its connections, too.
Apple's VPN implementation is rather slim and buggy. The only time I've crashed the iPhone so far was when trying to re-establish a VPN connection. Boom, went the iPhone, but it restarted just fine. I report on two separate bugs in password handling, one reported to me by a rent-a-VPN firm. The VPN password is sometimes forgotten, and if you've chosen to enter the password each time, the keyboard presented is a dial pad (numbers and some punctuation) not a full keyboard, making it impossible to enter a strong password.
Apple notes on their Web site how they only support the most basic versions of PPTP and IPsec/L2TP connections: PPTP plus a password, and IPsec/L2TP plus a shared secret and password. Two-factor authentication where you use a token (a key fob or other card) that generates a timed password isn't supported, and that's a must-have for many corporate networks.
All the problems and frustrations I document in the Macworld.com article can be fixed through software updates.
They threw in the kitchen sink: AT&T will gain another exclusive phone, launching the Blackberry 8820, a fully converged cell/Wi-Fi smartphone with support for cell networks as fast as EDGE and Wi-Fi. Will RIM now be criticized for "only" supporting EDGE? Unlikely. The iPhone is designed to be a rich multimedia computer platform, where EDGE makes using network-intensive features beyond email and widgets tedious. Blackberrys are messaging devices, for which EDGE makes perfect sense, even as RIM moves to make richer devices. Reuters reported that AT&T will launch the phone, but the exclusivity period wasn't mentioned. The phone launches later this summer.
The phone can also handle unlicensed mobile access (UMA), in which voice calls are placed from either cell or Wi-Fi networks and seamlessly shift between the two network types. T-Mobile launched the first such service with national ability in the U.S. in late June with HotSpot@Home. The phone is also quad-band for worldwide use and deployment. T-Mobile has to be jonesing for this model, because the consistent complaint about HotSpot@Home was the bare-bones quality of the two offered handsets; the network and service was often praised.
Wi-Fi support includes 802.11a, b, and g. 802.11a is important in the enterprise, where it's often used to segregate VoIP for better performance. RIM included WEP, WPA, WPA2, and Cisco Compatible Extensions. One presumes there's an 802.1X supplicant, too, but it's not separately mentioned. The Blackberry offers IPsec-based VPN service; PPTP is considered very strong, so it's not unusual RIM wouldn't opt to include it.
In the inevitable additional description of how the 8820 is unlike an iPhone, it includes fully enabled GPS technology that works with an existing mapping application; has a micro SD/SDHC support slot for up to 2 GB (SD) and 32 GB (SDHC), although only 4 GB SDHC is available now; voice calling, in which you speak a name to call it; and Bluetooth 2.0, although no mention of stereo output or external keyboard support. The 8800 series, not just the 8820, includes Yahoo Messenger and Google Talk for true instant messaging alongside both SMS text messaging and MMS multimedia messaging; the iPhone handles only SMS.
The 8820 also comes with new music and media creation tools for Windows from Roxio that organizes songs and videos, and creates versions of media optimized for this Blackberry model. With better support for creating media and playing media, the Blackberry now competes with a host of other phones and organizers, not just the iPhone.
The iPhone, on the other hand, has multi-touch navigation, a sleek interface, rich HTML email, a real browser, and visual voicemail. The Blackberry 8820 can handle third-party applications, of which a large number exist, including in-house software developed by corporations for their Blackberry-toting employees; Apple has yet to detail when such software will be allowed to be installed on an iPhone.
Oh, yeah: the Blackberry 8820 has a keyboard--a one-letter-per-key keyboard, unlike its Pearl model. The iPhone has a "glass" keyboard that makes my hand tired and I still haven't mastered, 28 years after becoming a touch typist on full-sized keyboards.
Devicescape adds buddies for your own networks: Devicescape has added a feature that lets you securely share encryption keys to your Wi-Fi networks among friends and colleagues who also use Devicescape's free software. "When you've got any of your personal networks up on our Web site, you can share them," said CEO Dave Fraser. Users control the access buddies have to which networks, and can revoke permission for a buddy's access. The centralized management through a no-fee Devicescape Web account also means that a user can change their Wi-Fi gateway's encryption key, enter that new key on Devicescape's site, and have that updated information distributed to their buddies.
Devicescape's plan is to have their lightweight software client preinstalled on gadgets like phones, cameras, and gaming systems. For now, their client can be used under Mac OS X, Windows, Windows Mobile, and a handful of handhelds, including the Nokia N800. The company said that announcements of other device support would be coming.
Buddy lists will make it simpler for a host of scenarios, including gaming parties, in which kids and/or adults gather with Wi-Fi-enabled systems. Right now, each person has to enter a key manually (something that Wi-Fi Protected Setup also hopes to obviate), adding friction. If Devicescape's client were embedded, buddies would simply connect.
The buddy system requires that a buddy connect to an Internet connection after being granted access to someone's network or networks, or after any key change by the network owner, to have Devicescape's servers push the new information to their client software.
Devicescape has focused until now on easing access to hotspot networks, by allowing an account holder to enter the credentials for every network they use. Devicescape has been compiling a portfolio of authentication information which allows their client software to navigate through gateway pages and other processes transparently to the user. "We've got to the point now where most of the world's hotspots are in the system," said CEO Fraser.
iPhones fill Duke University's Wi-Fi network with requests: Duke discovered that an iPhone is an effective denial of service attack against their Cisco access points. An assistant IT director reports to Network World that iPhones can generate spurious ARP (address resolution protocol) requests--up to 18,000 per second, effectively shutting down 12 to 30 APs at a time! ARP is used to obtain the unique media access control (MAC) layer address for an adapter when a device has the IP address. It's used on local networks to address Ethernet frames properly. There's no good reason for ARP to churn. In this case, the ARP request is for a non-existent IP address on the local network; Duke's Kevin Miller speculates that the iPhone improperly caches the gateway IP address at a home network and then attempts to perform ARP on that address on Duke's network.
From the lovely idea department, free Wi-Fi in honor of a late parent: Jonathan Plesset must love his father, who died eight years ago, because he's carried out what I believe is a unique idea in honor of R. Jeffrey Plesset: a free Wi-Fi network in his memory. The younger Plesset and his uncle operate Shadyside Inn Suites in Pittsburgh, and the Wireless Shadyside network spans several blocks in that neighborhood. They've seen 1,000 users before they even announced availability. They're using Meraki mesh equipment backed by two high-speed DSL lines, with nearly 10 Mbps of downstream bandwidth.
As previously noted and predicted in this space, the flood of offers by service providers to build out city-wide networks on their own dime with no service commitments is over: Clovis, Calif., is the latest case in point. The city found after performing quite a bit of analysis that they couldn't find a business model that would work, and costs were too high to hire a firm. This article doesn't note whether the costs are upfront but could be conserved through savings in telecom fees, like reducing leased lines or replacing cell data network subscriptions.
Clovis's information systems manager told the Sacramento Bee: "Nine months ago, companies were lining up at the door saying they wanted to do it for free." This comment has been echoed across the country. With EarthLink's at least temporary abeyance of new bids, with MetroFi having a new model (and its hands full), and Kite not appearing to participate in new bidding that I'm aware of outside the Southwest, the most prominent early firms in the space have checked out for smaller towns, at the very least.
The manager, Jesse Velez, also noted that a system installed today could be obsolete in a couple of years. I might normally ridicule that statement, because that's universally true, except that metro-scale systems are at a unique juncture. In two years, all equipment vendors will have multiple-antenna (MIMO) systems, with 802.11n as an option for improving range and bandwidth. Mobile WiMax will either be succeeding or crashing in the marketplace.
It's very reasonable for a city or town to say today, "Let's wait." There's going to be a shakeout in the provider market in the next three to six months. I also suspect many of the awarded bids and bids-in-progress for smaller towns fall apart--we've seen the leading edge in the last few weeks of that. And 802.11n is barreling down the road with interim certification for the draft and a final version due next spring. It's time to keep experimenting with parks, downtowns, and business districts, but the time doesn't seem ripe to launch major new efforts.
Ahoy, there, municipalities! Pony up service contracts or prepared for us to...leave: The anchor tenant/Anchorage city connection may have gotten to me. MetroFi has lost its bid to unwire Anchorage after the mayor was shocked to learn that the ad-supported, free-to-the-public network would require the city to commit to purchase services in advance as an, well, anchor tenant. The mayor seems to indicate that it was an initial $3,000 per month payment--earnest money, seemingly--prior to the first phase of the network's completion that was the sticking point, but the article goes on to indicate the council and mayor thought the network would involve no commitment.
I say, c'mon, here, because MetroFi shifted their business model a few months ago, many articles were written about it, and I find it hard to believe that the bid didn't mention that. Anchorage doesn't seem to make these documents available online (perhaps in person); the AP story quotes just the mayor on the subject.
MetroFi sent me a statement that notes: "In MetroFi's submitted proposal and subsequent discussions with the municipality and leadership of Anchorage, it has consistently been our position and understanding of the agreement that the Municipality of Anchorage would use the proposed Wi-Fi network for city services such as public safety. MetroFi's 'anchor tenancy' requirement for all new city contracts has been widely reported in national, trade and local press as a fiscally-responsible business model for municipal Wi-Fi projects, and we have included this requirement in all of the17 municipal Wi-Fi proposals we currently have pending with U.S. cities."
What they said. If the bid documents are public and any Alaskans care to forward them, much obliged.
Update: The local paper reports on the Rashomon story, and the reporter sees the non-confidential parts of MetroFi's bid, which state the network will be built at no upfront costs to the city. There may be some confusion about which part involves no upfront costs, too: The networks MetroFi builds involve no upfront costs; the fees are paid for services, not for network infrastructure. Confidential parts of the bid might contain additional information, but the reporter wasn't allowed to see them. Great sunshine act you got there in Alaska. I've contacted MetroFi asking them to send me a redacted bid that would omit proprietary financial details and other facts from the confidential part.
Wireless equipment resellers find sales increase since Panorama "documentary": Biased documentary focusing only on unproven ideas about the harm from wireless electromagnetic radiation seems to cause an increase in sales in the UK.
Wi-Fi iPod dock delivers: The $150 dock uses 802.11b or g to transfer data to an iPod plugged into it. It has audio and video outputs, and works with an Apple Remote (not provided) for rudimentary playback control. The review gives it four of five stars, but wants improvements in remote control, as well as 802.11n for faster data transfer.
Free Punter-Fi: River Thames gets free Wi-Fi supported by ads. The 22 km mesh network appears to be the same launched in Feb. 2006 by Thames Online, the Web site for which now redirects to the new project. Thames Online planned to charge for the service one day. Update: More information from News.com. Free service is 256 Kbps, and requires viewing a 15–30 second ad every 15 minutes. Paid service is £3/hour, £10/month and runs at 512 Kbps.
WirelessHD in 2008 or 2009: Yet Another Wireless Standard, this time designed to carry as much as 25 Gbps over 60 GHz unlicensed frequencies. It won't be embedded in devices until 2008 or 2009 based on the completion of the 1.0 version of the standard in August. Based on previous experiences, that means we'll see it in 2012 or so.
The FCC didn't say it had to be easy: Read this partial account of a man's journey to pay AT&T $10 per month before taxes--$18 with the necessary phone line--for a 768 Kbps/128 Kbps DSL line as mandated in the AT&T/BellSouth merger agreement and tell me how sincere the firm is about compliance. Can I get FCC commissioner Michael Copps on the case, please?
40 Gbps broadband for mom: "Swedish Internet legends" gives his mother the fastest home broadband in the world. The service works over 2,000 km with intermediate devices.
Pepwave introduces high-power, directional outdoor metro-Wi-Fi bridge: It's $245, but the Surf DX includes a 400 milliwatt radio (from 4 to 10 times the power found in typical Wi-Fi adapters), and an integral directional antenna with 13 dBi of gain. Can't hear a metro-scale signal? Pop this sucker in place and you're picking up Guatemala. The unit is designed for operators, and for outdoor installation. The idea would be like putting up a television aerial. Operators who charge for network access might be willing to eat some of the cost in exchange for a 1-year or longer commitment with cancellation penalties. This was (and remains) typical for broadband point-to-multipoint wireless.
Virgin Rail Group loses bid to continue running 1,500 miles of track in the UK: Virgin was thinking about adding Wi-Fi to their runs; the new operator, Arriva, will put free Wi-Fi in first class.
Tempe, Ariz., network offers poor indoor coverage: Also, Pope Catholic. The folks at MobilePro (now Kite Networks) have just 650 subscribers as of April, with no new numbers released, in a city of 160,000. I wrote about Tempe, Ariz., in my Economist article on municipal wireless about 15 months ago, noting that it should be an easy win with relative flatness and good expectations. The city appears happy with the mobile aspect, and Kite continues to add nodes. Kite will start selling a bridge in July that they believe will boost service indoors and improve subscriber numbers. (This article is from June 29; I can't believe I missed it!) Update: A reader pointed out this was June 29, 2006, not 2007. My mistake! I wondered why it seemed familiar. I blame RSS: the story popped up recent in a feed.
Brookline, Mass., launches citywide public safety and public broadband wireless network on July 18: The city and its partner Galaxy Internet Services--also involved in pilots in Boston--will use 2.4 GHz and 4.9 GHz, and is claiming a first: a Wi-Fi network which includes "the first implementation of newly licensed spectrum for public safety." Any takers want to dispute that? I know that 4.9 GHz is now widely used, but I believe Brookline is correct that there's no citywide network that has both public 2.4 GHz and public safety 4.9 GHz in place.
Harrisonburg terminates Wi-Fi agreement, starts work on next one: The city canceled the franchise to World AirWaves to build out an IPv6-capable wireless network. IPv6 is the next-generation Internet protocol that's been next-generation for approaching a decade. IPv6 offers a much larger address space (128 bits instead of 32 bits for the address), and much greater sophistication in handling and routing data efficiently. It can even support mobile IP addresses that roam with the device. IPv6 is apparently required for future federal government interties, something I was unaware of, and may affect hard-wired networks much more than wireless ones. World AirWaves was to bear the full cost of the network build out; the agreement was struck a year ago, and now must be rebid.
Holy Toledo: It just keeps going on. The fired city IS director tells the council that the proposed MetroFi $2.2m contract for services would pay for itself. Her former boss wouldn't respond to cost conservation being part of the way in which the network wouldn't involve much or any net increase in costs. One council member wants the process to be re-bid in any case, noting that a network that involved no cost to the city is quite different than a $2.2m contract. That sounds quite reasonable, even if you can zero it out at the end of the day.
NPR report says that Portland, Ore.'s anecdotally isn't working that well: Critical piece that finds people who can't get a good signal out of MetroFi's network and who disagree with its business model. The reporter, however, was able to get a good signal and watch a YouTube video.
Corona, Calif., opts out of MetroFi deal: The city had selected MetroFi last year, when the company was offering $18,000 per year in utility pole fees. MetroFi's revised business model of the last few months requires that cities sign up for services in advance, however, and that led Corona to pull out. MetroFi wants a commitment of $90,000 per year for five years.
MetroFi coincidentally (or not) released usage numbers for Portland for June: 13,000 unique registered users, 150,000 hours, 96,000 sessions. I'd like them to be fully transparent and release statistics about session churn: how many users connect, send very little data, lose a connection, re-connect, and so on. I'm sure they gather that data.
The UPS Store drops AT&T WiFi as a provider: It's unclear when this happened, but a spokesperson for The UPS Store confirmed for me that AT&T WiFi, the telco giant's Wi-Fi hotspot network, no longer provides service for The UPS Store and Mailboxes Etc. outlets. AT&T launched FreedomLink, now called just WiFI (no hyphen), with a bit of fanfare about how it would help extend its DSL users range as they roam. They signed up several chains right away, and began unwiring The UPS Store's outlets in the hundreds. The shipping chain's spokesperson said another provider has not yet been selected.
AT&T WiFi now has an extremely small footprint of under 2,000 hotspots, perhaps even fewer. They claim 10,000 locations in their home network, but over 8,000 of those are McDonald's restaurants for which Wayport operates the Wi-Fi and resells to AT&T. Wayport is also AT&T's managed services contractor for its Barnes & Noble, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Avis, as well as scattered oddities like the Mosser Victorian Hotel in San Francisco. AT&T inherited a number of airport locations and train stations built out by AT&T Wireless before its merger with Cingular.
It's strange to see AT&T's WiFi network reduced in size when they're emphasizing Wi-Fi connectivity on the iPhone. Wi-Fi is sold by the consumer division of AT&T; the iPhone by the formerly separate wireless group once known as Cingular.
Belkin sets new date for shipping Certified Wireless USB hub with ultrawideband (UWB): This item is different than the "cable-free" USB hub that Belkin is currently selling, which requires Windows drivers and isn't certified by the USB Implementors Forum. Rather, this new $200, 4-port hub with matching dongle emulates wired USB in a way that works with any host computer. The 4-port hub appears to the computer as directly connected.
This is the first stage in UWB evolution: dongles and paired devices that only work together. The next stage involves putting a UWB radio with multiple protocol profiles into a computer and operating system, such as Lenovo is offering with a new laptop. This will allow FireWire, USB, Bluetooth, and TCP/IP over UWB with a single radio.
Belkin says the device will ship in August.
iPass joins the growing array of aggregators of hotspot access in providing flat-rate service: In a briefing prior to today's announcement focused on enterprise device management, iPass product manager director Piero DePaoli said the company has been offering a flat-rate price for unlimited hotspot use across their network since 2006. iPass decided the time was right to discuss the pricing with Wi-Fi Networking News in context of the changes in the industry, and their bundling of IT tools to help tech managers keep mobile workers' laptops safely up to date.
The firm charges roughly $50 per month per network user that uses an iPass location at any time during a month. Users that stay off iPass hotspots but uses the iPass Connect client during that month to connect to non-iPass locations costs about $2 to $4 per month. DePaoli said that the unlimited use fee organizations pay varies upward or downward from $50 per network user based on the minimum number of users a client contracts for, and the areas of the world that a company has the most usage in. The flat rate "encourages [companies] and their users to use the service on a regular basis and be productive," DePaoli said.
iPass joins--or, rather, quietly predates--Boingo Wireless and Trustive in offering unlimited hotspot access at a single rate across their entire aggregated networks (Boingo coverage, Trustive coverage). iPass confirmed via email today that they count 80,000 locations in their network. Boingo claims 100,000 under contract with 60,000 live and accessible (the rest coming in a matter of weeks and months), reselling unlimited service for $39/€29 per month. Trustive just opened its network of about 30,000 European locations for €33 per month.
While I am not privy to the detailed terms of the deals arranged between aggregators and venues, I've been told on many occasions that aggregators typically pay a per-session fee to a venue. At one point that ranged from 50 cents to $1; I have no idea what price it is today. I suspect that there are an increasing number of deals in which an aggregator pays a guaranteed monthly minimum to a venue, which would then behoove the aggregator to accumulate more flat-rate customers who use that venue or set of venues.
All of which means that, on average, aggregators have customers who use about 10 to 15 sessions a month. Some power users who travel to countries in which aggregators pay higher than normal fees or frequent venues with better deals may far exceed their monthly payment in what the aggregators settle to hotspot operators and hoteliers; others may use just a few sessions a month, still coming out ahead on $7 to $15 daily fees.
iPass mostly does business with larger firms (386 of Forbes's Global 2000) that buy access for a subset or all of their employees, with iPass integrating the directory services already running at the company with their software allowing single login services for company employees, and a single bill with full itemization that hits corporate accounting in electronic form. iPass does work with resellers that sell to individuals as well.
iPass, like EarthLink, is the middle of the massive shift from dial-up to Wi-Fi and broadband among their user base. In their most recent quarterly reporting, they show a massive drop in revenue from their bread-and-butter, metered roaming dial-up, from $30.6m in Q1 2006 to $20.3m in Q1 2007. That would leave most companies weeping, and shifting management. However, in the same period, they increased broadband revenue (including Wi-Fi and other services) from $5.7m to $15.4m, a staggering rise. With an increase in software and service revenue, the firm managed to slightly increase overall revenue, while keeping losses at a dull roar.
Today's announcement, by the way, was that iPass's Mobility Management package is included in the cost of those monthly service fees. DePaoli explained that the management software lets IT personnel "use our system to push out operating system patches, homegrown software, configurations, and everything else." This keeps staff in the field up to date and in sync, reducing downtime or manual upgrade operations.
Book by the infamous Johnny Cache and his colleague Vincent Liu frankly rocks: Johnny Cache--the nom de Net of Jon Ellch--achieved notoriety for his efforts last summer alongside colleague David Maynor to expose wireless weaknesses in leading drivers and operating systems. Neatly glossing across the validity and provability of their claims--Maynor's promised code release in January still has not occurred--there's no question that Maynor, Ellch, and a number of their gray-hat colleagues have changed the way in which vulnerabilities are discovered and vectors exploited. Their techniques of fuzzing--throwing massive amounts of badly formatted data at a device, program, or service and seeing what sticks--should be used by all companies to stress test their products before release. Sadly, they still are not.
Ellch's book Hacking Exposed Wireless, co-written with Liu, a security expert I had no prior knowledge of, is a great primer on wireless technology, and a great read. I enjoyed it immensely--and that's not a phrase I typically use with the often dense, impenetrable books on technology and security I frequently encounter when trying to bump up my knowledge. Technical books are often hard to read because they have to convey so much detail, and there's no room to take a step back and breathe in a little life. This book reads breezily, maybe too much at times or for some people who want nothing but the deadly dull stuff. There's a narrative here, and I like that.
I would also rarely call a hacking or technical book charming, but this one is. Chapter 10 takes the form of a long story to show how a Bluetooth-based attack could allow someone's life to be exposed and monitored; in this case, it's both benign and creepy. The story is well written. Take this paragraph, for instance, with Bluejacker Jake noticing Monica, the woman whose phone he's hacked, enter a cafe she frequents:
"While she ordered her drink and waited for the barista to brew it up, Jake went to work. He pressed ENTER on his btftp connection and quickly pasted his command buffer into the window. After what seemed like an eternity, a connection banner from btftp greeted Jake. Seconds later, what appeared to be a directory listing appeared on the screen." (And, no, Monica never maces Jake, and Jake never menaces Monica. Maybe in the sequel.)
The book covers the basics with plenty of detail, recapitulating what you might read elsewhere but with a security and attack profile focus. There are runthroughs of many attacks and potential vectors for attack, as well as what to do once you've gained access. And, because this is gray-hat stuff, the section on defense lets you get your guard up after you've figured out what you have that can be broken.
I'd recommend this book as the first step for anyone trying to gain a fundamental and comprehensive understanding of the state of wireless cracking and attacks. You will find sentences like, "LORCON currently comes with a set of patches for host-ap, wlan-ng, prism54, MadWifi, rt2500/rt2570, and rtl8189." But that dense listing is followed by very comprehensible explanations of each element, how it works, and how to obtain it.
JiWire adds iPhone version of directory: Apple isn't letting third parties write software for the iPhone yet, but they are enabling smart Web applications that can provide an application's look and feel while there's an Internet connection. It's tedious, but it works. JiWire has leveraged their worldwide directory of over 150,000 hotspots to create an iPhone-targeted search; you can click the link to see what it looks like in a regular browser, too. It's rather nifty, as results are easy to read in the screen, you can tap a phone icon to call the venue, or tap a map icon to see the location in the iPhone's Google Maps program. I can't wait until I can get JiWire's directory as a downloadable app on the phone itself. I spend most of my time out with an iPhone dowsing for service. (Disclosure: I own a tiny number of shares in JiWire, a privately held firm.)
Navizon releases a desktop version of their location-finding software: Navizon uses Wi-Fi and cell tower signals to determine a set of coordinates through individual reporting. Users with software installed on mobile devices can mark their precise location, which is then shared among the community. The company claims 60,000 users. The release yesterday allows the software to be used on computer with Java installed, and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Navizon differs from Skyhook Wireless, which derives most of its data set from constantly driving major cities across the world, mostly in the U.S., Canada, and Australia at this point. Skyhook corrects its data from uploaded information provided automatically by its software. (The software works well, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to report the position of my desktop computer--Navizon thinks I'm two miles north.)
Lenovo will offer a laptop with ultrawideband built in: This should be the first computer to hit the market where UWB is an integral part. There aren't any peripherals out yet with UWB in them, of course, and the first devices will be Certified Wireless USB, most likely--cable extenders rather than, say, a camera with UWB instead of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Still, the industry keeps rumbling that UWB's day in the sun is Any Day Now. Still waiting!
Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) uses 5.8 GHz, standard Wi-Fi, interferes with wISPs: Government Executive's Bob Brewin reports that the Homeland Security Department's border network will be easy to disable because the contractor, Boeing, has chosen to use the unlicensed 5.8 GHz band and what appears to be common Wi-Fi gear. While Wi-Fi can be secured with a high degree of reliability these days, if the system is built right, there's no protection against denial of service attacks. The network is also operating at such a high signal strength as to interfere with local wireless ISPs. Hey, shouldn't the thinktanks that promote competition be upset at government use of spectrum interfering with private enterprise? Unlikely, because Security Is At Stake.
TurtleNet: Nifty use of solar-powered sensors and peer-to-peer file exchange for monitoring turtles. The transmitters and solar panels don't interfere with turtle behavior--"Hey, Bob, you've decided to get off the grid?" "Huh?"--and allow information to flow among turtles and then be captured as any turtle passes a single accumulator. That base station then transmits information to the University of Massachusetts's Amherst campus. Turtles may roam 10 miles from home.
FCC approves Wi-Fi Blackberry: The internets are buzzing with the publication of FCC paperwork indicating that Research in Motion's Blackberry with Wi-Fi has received certification. Apple received such public approval a few weeks before the iPhone was released. The devices approved use GSM, so would be sold by T-Mobile or AT&T. RIM said earlier such Blackberry models would ship in the fourth quarter.
AT&T's first metro-scale network, built by MetroFi, goes live in Riverside, Calif.: A 3 sq mi area is the first phase. Service is $8 a day or $16 a week; monthly prices weren't noted. In MetroFi's solo rollouts, an ad-supported free option is always available, along with a $20 per month ad-free version. Update: The press release didn't note it, but there's a 512 Kbps free ad-supported version, too.
AT&T has a bit of nonsense near the end of this press release. They claim the largest Wi-Fi network in the US, and "50,000 hot spots spanning 81 countries." Uh, right. First, the 10,000 hot spots in the AT&T WiFi (no hyphen) network include about 8,000 McDonald's, access for which is resold from Wayport to AT&T under terms that have never been disclosed. That leaves about 2,000 other locations, mostly dribs and drabs, and a few major airports inherited by Cingular from the former AT&T Wireless. Second, the "50,000" hotspots are all aggregated from other networks, and resold on a metered basis.
When T-Mobile claims to have the largest US network and a worldwide roaming partner network with metered rates, well, you can buy that. T-Mobile operators over 8,500 US locations, and is part of a worldwide alliance (including other parts of Deutsche Telekom) for metered roaming paid out of your US account.
The president of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors will back the mayor's deal with EarthLink with a number of revisions: This includes increasing the no-cost rate to 500 Kbps from 300 Kbps; reducing the contract's term to 8 years from 16; and having an enforceable provision for network coverage. He's in separate talks with EarthLink, apparently. The board will also review Tuesday the exemption to environmental review that the city's planning department recommends, and is opposed by anti-antenna group.
Milwaukee's network is finally nearly live, but citywide benchmark pushed back: Midwest Fiber Networks will complete tests with the city this week to launch the first major phase of its network. This deadline was originally to be met in January; the completion deadline was March 2008, itself set back from mid-2007 after negotiation delays, and that's quite unlikely to be met. Midwest Fiber is funding the project itself, and will charge $20 per month for access; about 60 sites chosen by the city will be accessible at no charge. The delays are attributable to utility pole issues, big surprise.
Toronto Hydro originally said they'd blanket the city with Wi-Fi; now, it's 4,000 subscribers before expansion: I had wondered what had happened to the utility's plans to move beyond the six sq km originally built. Because Toronto Hydro owns the poles--they bought them from the city in a deal designed to move deck chairs around on the ship of state--they would have fewer difficulties in deploying than network operators in other cities. Now, the president of the firm says that to build the network further, they would need 4,000 subscribers paying Cdn$30 (nearly US$30) per month.
It sounds like they might be approaching that number--43,000 free accounts and 10 percent conversion to paying customers--but there's no actual disclosed number nor timetable. Toronto Hydro's president "said he couldn't release the number of subscribers the network has..." Yes, that's what's great about a publicly owned utility with responsibility to its customers and taxpayers: all that transparency, especially given the...competition.
Canada's Rogers telecom firm says that WiMax will supercede Wi-Fi, which is rather hilarious. WiMax requires all new adapters for computers, licensed spectrum, and billions in deployment. Wi-Fi isn't ideal, but for mobile applications and mobile access, it ridiculously cost competitive even with its substantial limitations.
The description of Philadelphia's network evolution is rather inaccurate, unfortunately, since it's used as a comparison with Toronto's project. Phila. floated its Wi-Fi plan in fall 2004, put out a bid in spring 2005, and awarded it to EarthLink in fall 2006. It took until mid-2007 for the contract details to be finalized, and additional time in sorting out utility pole and attachment issues. The article describes the project changing hands, but Wireless Philadelphia was never going to build a company to create the network; it was always going to work with a contractor, and EarthLink's "innovation" was offering to pay 100 percent of the costs, bear all the risks, and provide digital divide benefits to boot.
Trustive adds unlimited Wi-Fi access for €33/month for 30,000 hotspots: The firm is also offering a five-account unlimited rate for €150 for businesses. The firm aggregates hotspots across Europe, with 23,000 available now and 7,000 being added in the next two months. Boingo's new worldwide plan costs US$39 or €29, but includes access across 60,000 hotspots today (and 100,000 in the near future), including Asia, America, and the rest of the world.
Given that both networks include major European providers such as The Cloud, Surf and Sip, and BT OpenZone, it's hard to see what differentiates Trustive's more expensive offering from Boingo's more extensive one.
Boingo requires a software client (Windows only at the moment) for access to every location, although the majority of partners also allow a manual login at a partners window. Trustive requires a client and doesn't note whether alternatives for login are available, although it's likely that similar partner login gateway pages are available. Update: A Trustive spokesperson said that a gateway login is available without a software client for all locations in their network. I'm not sure why both firms don't mention this clearly on their Web sites, as that would attract non-Windows users, including iPhone customers.
AT&T continues to baffle me: The firm dropped the $1.99 per month charge for access to about 10,000 hotspots, mostly McDonald's, that they charged their broadband users for the highest speed DSL subscriptions. That saves people a whopping roughly $24 per year. But despite the fact that the iPhone is mentioned in this brief article, there's still obviously no mental connection inside the company between the AT&T Consumer division (which made this announcement) and the wireless arm that's handling the iPhone. So much for integration.
Toledo, Ohio's mayor has backed away from Wi-Fi plan: The mayor says the city won't continue to seek council approval for a $2.2m contract with MetroFi. The contract would cover five years of service for the city, and was estimated to be at or near a cost conservation level compared with current services. MetroFi would spend about $5m to build advertising-supported free service, with an optional paid, ad-free offering as elsewhere. The city's IS director resigned and then was fired after a confrontation with the mayor over the plan's leadership. The mayor is now looking for partners, and won't "spend taxpayer money." Of course, if you have a five-year plan that could be revenue neutral, you're risking that it won't be, but you're not per se spending taxpayer dollars; and, no savings from efficiency were calculated.
The parent company of the newspaper covering this story put in a bid that the city found incomplete; MetroFi won in that round. That firm, Buckeye CableSystem, says that MetroFi's solution "is likely to become obsolete," and continues by criticizing Wi-Fi as a metro-scale solution. Well, sure, but what's the alternative? Mobile WiMax? Maybe next year, and you need licensed spectrum. And all technology becomes obsolete; it's a question of the value over its expected lifetime and whether that value presents an opportunity by investing now rather than waiting some period of time. Wi-Fi will get better, and any well designed network could be upgraded in phases.
Baton Rouge network will be shut down: JoVoGo Communications is looking for investors to upgrade its network; in the meantime, they're turning off the network. The firm purchased the network from US Wireless (Web site dead)--not to be confused with Minneapolis's network builder US Internet--but apparently didn't like the system design. The network's poor performance led the firm to first not charge for it, and then decide just to turn it off. JoVoGo's head would like more city commitment, but Baton Rouge's mayor said JoVoGo hadn't approached him for funding.
In brief, remarkable: The iPhone is a stunning piece of technology that delivers closely on the hype. It's much more like a slightly slow computer that weighs a few ounces than it is like a cell phone or smartphone. The phone features are a bit underwhelming, but the overall success of the rest of the device puts that into perspective. I've been testing Wi-Fi networks with the iPhone, and while some people are reporting less sensitivity than their laptops, I'm seeing more networks with the iPhone than I do with computers in the same locations.
There's a bad design decision in how passwords are entered, whether for WEP or WPA protected networks or anywhere in the interface: only upper-case letters are shown no matter whether you're typing an upper- or lower-case letter, and the letter or character disappears the instant you type it. This means that it's very easy to mistype a password to join a network and have to re-enter it several times. Of course, once you've entered it once correctly, you should never need to change it.
The EDGE network is spottier around Seattle than I expected. On a weekend outing with my wife and two sons, we lost the EDGE network in a relatively well-populated part of town for a few miles while we were trying to pull up the traffic conditions to make a choice about which road to take. It's now illegal to use a cell phone while driving in Washington state without hands-free gear, and it's always stupid to read a smartphone's screen while driving. (I was at the wheel; my wife, navigating.)