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I'm trying to wrap my head around the series of announcements and developments this last week that will change the face of cell service, and notably wireless broadband in the U.S.: In short succession, you have:
Yes, it's Google, Google, Google all over. While Google's Android platform might not take off, it's pretty clear that the disruptive influence of Google combined with the WiMax direction chosen by Sprint Nextel are reforming the future of the industry. But WiMax might get left out of the dance.
You see, with Forsee out of Sprint and Zander out of Motorola, you have two major firms that were committed to WiMax looking for leaders who will come in and not continue doing precisely what lead to their predecessors being forced out. Which means WiMax will be on the chopping block. Motorola could write down its Clearwire investment and spin off its Expedience division bought from that company, while refocusing on 3G and 4G cell. Sprint could decide to deploy something entirely different in 2.5 GHz, even if that delayed network buildout, rather than investing billions in something that they're now not clear they want to move on.
On the consumer side, things are brighter. It's likely that by 2009, we will see substantial competition among devices--think about the diversity of digital cameras available in sizes, formats, and features--where we might pick a device first and then choose a carrier. Android could be part of that mix, but the FCC's pressure combined with market changes seem to be leading to cell networks in which you won't have the same kind of lock-in and commitment--it'll be more like Europe is but with greater competition reducing the cost of devices.
This openness could, in turn, supplant some of Wi-Fi's forward momentum as the de facto wireless technology to build into portable devices. Wi-Fi is a best effort technology, which means that it's not reliable. It's a contention medium and there's no company offering ubiquitous coverage--aggregators offer national and international subscriptions, but that's not the same thing. If the cost of making and certifying devices to use on a cellular network drops precipitously, and volume of chips sold would be one of those factors, it wouldn't be weird to buy a really good camera that has a 3G or 4G cell chip installed that you could use on a pay-as-you-go basis or as an add-on to an existing cell account you might have.
None of the cell carriers is particularly eager to allow more competition as that reduces margin, increases customer churn, and makes their returns more dependent on their short-term actions as people migrate around. But the fact that so many carriers are now promoting actions that will make life harder on them and their shareholders means clearly that the momentum is there for this change to sink in.
Google could sit back and do nothing, and they've already forced change. Sprint can't sit back and do nothing--but there's speculation Google might simply purchase them to pursue its goals. I doubt it, but Sprint will be a very different company within a year.
The airport decided to unleash its service at no cost: Denver (DIA) is an interesting case, being one of a few early airports in which Wi-Fi was built by Nokia when it thought it might become a Wi-Fi infrastructure player. As I wrote in Nov. 2001 in a story in the New York Times, the airport had a fully functional system and couldn't find an operator. Nokia was, in fact, paying them a promised fee even though it wasn't providing access. The next summer, they were lit up.
None of the country's or world's largest airports offer free Wi-Fi, while many still large but second-tier airports charge nothing, like Las Vegas, Sacramento, Portland (Ore.), and Phoenix. Denver was seeing about 19,000 to 20,000 monthly sessions at a fee, and now sees 10 times that number--without really advertising the fact until today that service was available at no charge.
I don't see this as a trend--there are typically too many expenses and too many contracts involved in providing large-airport Wi-Fi for the costs to be subsidized. Denver may have chosen to go free as a competitive move against Salt Lake City, Dallas, Chicago, and Minneapolis to get passengers from those hubs. The airport's explanation is rather thin.
Pepwave offers up a Wi-Fi bridge intended for vehicles: The several models of Pepwave CarFi--sounds like they're borrowing my mode of naming Wi-Fi market segments--have no backhaul, like a cell router. Rather, they're designed to hook into wide-area Wi-Fi networks, providing consistent relayed service in a car or bus as it moves about a coverage area. The models are designed for mounting and use a standard 12-volt power supply and external antenna. Three 2.4 GHz models come in 100 mW, 200 mW, and 400 mW versions; there's also a single 802.11a/5 GHz model.
There's a lull right now in Wi-Fi related news, so let's open the floor to questions: Any nagging questions on Wi-Fi, cell data, WiMax, Google Android, or other wireless data technologies and services? Post your questions in the comments, and I'll try to answer them with the help of other experts in the field as needed.
Q from Andrew (see comments) about cellular networks: The answer you seek would fill volumes. Fundamentally, GSM and CDMA employ different ways of reserving frequencies for users on the network, but both specifications do reserve spectrum. There is no intentional contention, in which manner GSM and CDMA (and their third-generation flavors HSPA and EVDO) are akin to WiMax, which uses OFDMA to reserve data slots (either by time or frequency). GSM uses time division multiple access (TDMA) or multiplexing to reserve periods of time for each receiver; CDMA's very definition is code division multiple access, which assigns unique codes which allow multiple transmissions over the same frequency at the same time. See also reply from George Bednyakov in the comments.
Q from Piet: "I'm from Europe, but I was curious how widely spread free outdoor Wi-FI is in the US?": It varies tremendously from city to city. There are at least hundreds, perhaps over 1,000 hotzones in limited areas, such as downtowns, parks, or public squares across hundreds of cities. Often, a city or a chamber of commerce sponsors such areas. Most of these offer entirely free access or access for a limited period of time or at a restricted speed. Larger, city-wide deployments that are free are pretty scarce, as are city-wide deployments of all kinds. Notably, anywhere MetroFi has a network, they push the free, ad-supported option. Some other metro-scale Wi-Fi firms offer limited free service, too, but that's rare.
Q from Steve about Rhode Island's state-wide wireless initiative: The project stalled in spring 2007 when the state assembly declined to provide a $28m loan guarantee for building the network further. Many lessons were learned, the group behind the project notes, and it's not necessarily dead in the water. Steve asked specific questions about technology, frequencies, and so forth, but my understanding is that in the pilot stage, everything was malleable for testing purposes; no firm decisions about a precise set of deployment hardware or licenses had been decided, as far as I know.
Q. from "toukoob" (see comments) about the security of data transferred over EDGE by and to an iPhone: EDGE is generally considered secure, although experts I've spoken to say that it's crackable with some real effort. So your neighbor or a committed cracker won't have the horsepower, but an industrial spy or a government agent would likely have a portable system that would given some amount of time. You can't break EDGE generically, but could capture and crack data from a particular phone at a particular time. I would love it if Apple and/or AT&T would offer a persistent VPN connection that worked regardless of the medium. NetMotion Wireless and other firms have had such systems for years that work on laptops and handhelds, and they simply require some basic client software and a server on the remote end, as well as an approach to IP address assignment that AT&T could easily manage.
Q. from Edwin (see comments) on current municipal Wi-Fi projects in some form: The best source of information about what's happening in city-wide Wi-Fi is MuniWireless. Now, the company and staff benefit from the municipal Wi-Fi industry by accepting advertising, running conferences, and selling reports and advice. However, in my experience over several years now with Esme Vos, the founder, and other staff writers and producers, I've never found a bias in the presentation of the facts they gather. MuniWireless is definitely a proponent of the notion of wide-scale, wide-area networking at low cost over wireless, but they're also good reporters. One measure of this is that their most recent report showed a huge decline in projected spending over previous estimates, but a big uptick over current year spending. They covered that decline in the estimate quite well.
Perhaps the city should have hired its school district's contractor to build city-wide Wi-Fi: The School District of Philadelphia has a 7,000 node network, using Meru's Radio Switches, centrally managed wireless LAN devices. Avaya and HJ Heinz, the network's builders, covered 268 schools, 166,000 students, and 10,000 teachers with the dispersed network. The 802.11a/g nodes handle voice, video streaming, and data.
Xirrus offers free Windows Vista Wi-Fi status tool: The program provides Vista users with a plethora of details about their Wi-Fi environment, and the access point to which they may connect. It's designed to inform users about rogue APs, too. This should be a very nice addition to Vista's already superior control over Wi-Fi networks. Microsoft improved Vista's management of Wi-Fi networks, although there are still awkward bits. Xirrus, a maker of Wi-Fi switches, should earn some nice karma points (and publicity) from this move. (One of the top hits still on Wi-Fi Networking News is an item about a free Windows 2000 WPA client.)
AnchorFree launches ad network for free access: AnchorFree joins the gang of providers of free-via-ads Wi-Fi service. MetroFi is the best known of these players, although they shows ads from multiple sources (as I understand it) including JiWire, a company that I've worked for and provided advice for in the past. The size of the ad-supported Wi-Fi market is rather murky: are millions or tens of millions being spent per year? AnchorFree is focusing on hotspots; MetroFi on cities, although the news that came out of Portland a few weeks ago indicate MetroFi is still sorting out how to raise capital or produce revenue for its continuing network development in that city.
Wi-Fi Alliance releases voice over Wi-Fi white paper: The group that certifies devices as Wi-Fi compliant is offering details on best practices for providing voice over Wi-Fi. It will offer a new certification for Wi-Fi devices with voice applications in the first half of 2008.
The company that said its First Amendment rights were being challenged by FCC auction rules that required open access now bows to inevitable: Verizon Wireless said today that it would allow devices, software, and services to be used on its network by the end of 2008 as a new "choice"--read, "new billing plan"--a remarkable turnabout from its position during the 700 MHz C Block auction filings process. The company had complained the FCC adding the requirement that the national C Block licenses allow any legitimate device, program, or service to operate was unfair and illegal.
Of course, cellular operators have extensive and expensive certification programs for devices and programs, and typically control the services themselves, even if third parties offer them; the services run through the carriers' systems. What Verizon's press release states is that the company will release an open set of technical standards and allow any device meeting the "mininum technical standard" to work on the network. This should dramatically reduce costs, but I wait to hear from the community of firms that currently develop certified cell network devices.
This change could affect the bidding in the C Block auction in early 2008. It was assumed that Verizon would stay out of the auction to keep the price down, and bolster its legal position for future appeals or lawsuits. AT&T was likely to get in, as it had earlier agreed that the basic outline of requirements was fine. With Verizon's change, this seems to signal that they'll be part of the bidding, which makes the outcome of the auction more likely to reach the minimum the FCC has set for both C Block ($4.6b) and the entire auction ($10b).
Dial-up is the cash cow of the broadband world, despite carriers irritation at providing it: For landline companies, dial-up service uses a heavily tariffed voice phone line that occupies a circuit, and just means more copper that they have to service. Carriers would rather have you switch to DSL or fiber. The logic of fiber makes sense--triple play or more services through one new pipe increasing annual revenue per user (ARPU)--but DSL's logic may be less explicable. It's the same copper used for dial up or DSL, but the phone company can sell you more services over DSL, and it takes you off a tariffed service and onto an information service that's not regulated. (AT&T is subject to certain provisions due to their merger on their DSL and data services, but those sunset in a few years.)
The upside of dial-up for carriers is that the margins are pretty high, as the cost of providing dial-up service is a fraction of what it was years ago. I have heard that it's as low as a few dollars a month in actual costs.
AT&T announced that starting Dec. 1, it's raising the price of all its dial-up Internet service: $9.99 per month plans go to $15.95, $15.95 to $22.95, and new service is $22.95 per month. EarthLink, which has told me what a cash cow dial-up is, charges $9.95 for three months, then $21.95 per month, or $14.95 per month with a 1-year contract, plus a $30 Amazon gift certificate. Juno and others charge as little as $10 to $15 per month, typically with fewer hosting services or other limits, none of which are particularly relevant in the era of Google GMail. AOL charges $9.95 for unlimited dial-up, and includes 5 GB of storage from its Xdrive subsidiary.
AT&T knows better than anyone who it has by the bollocks. It's jacking up prices knowing that there's a set of people who need Internet access who can't qualify for DSL, and they'll simply either extract more money for those people, or they'll flee to other providers who charge less and that will reduce AT&T's management and billing burden, and they might come out even there. They'll also pick up reluctant DSL convertees, who will sign up for the hard-to-find $10/month DSL package that's faster than dial-up, or a higher-speed offering.
In any case, AT&T comes out ahead: either more profit from a service that's cheaper to provide; fewer customers for a service they'd rather not offer; or more broadband customers, which increases their take while reducing their network overhead.
Wi-Fi Planet rounds up the uses of solar power for Wi-Fi and related wireless data nodes: The conclusion of this great comprehensive survey by Amy Mayer is that solar power isn't affordable for casual use, but it makes perfect economic sense in areas in which juice just isn't available at any reasonable cost, but the value of monitoring is high. It's also worthwhile when the pure capital costs of changing batteries are outweighed by the labor involved, as with a winery using ZigBee networking: they could swap AA batteries, but they'd be paying someone to do it.
Ars Technica debunks Wi-Fi/autism link so I don't have to: Thanks to Ars Technica and John Timmer for running down the reasons that the link between Wi-Fi and autism reported last week--which seemed entirely specious to me and I had thus ignored them--don't meet the smell test for a host of reasons. Perhaps the main reason is that the link appears to be that a heavy-metals detoxification method that's not recognized as curing autism, but is credited in the paper with such, was interfered with by Wi-Fi, according to these claims.
Explanation of Sprint Nextel's problem: It was like German reunification: The Washington Post reporter doesn't mention Wessies and Ossies (West and East Germans), but they should have. Sprint and Nextel apparently never quite merged, with Nextel's scrappy culture and Sprint's ossified one remaining distinct. Experienced Nextel workers left, taking their IDEN network knowledge with them--that's the unique network that simplified offering Nextel's early push-to-talk technology, and that Sprint is dismantling. The Wiedervereinigung--sorry, the merger--left workers in duplicated positions competing with each other, which left bad feelings. Headquarters were left in two locations. A new Chancellor--er, CEO is expected to have to resolve these cultural problems.
E-Path Communications gets Trenton, NJ, contract as sole bidder for city Wi-Fi network: E-Path, as you'll recall is also on the hook to build out (with help from two larger partners) two counties in Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk. The relatively young firm has now also agreed to build both city-only and public-access networks for Trenton, NJ, entirely at the company's expense. The company is quoted as saying they'll sell services to the city to recoup their investment; in other municipalities, cities are fronting some or much of the cost of public-safety oriented networks given that municipalities are the only legal customers of such networks.
E-Path is the last of an otherwise dead breed of Wi-Fi firms willing to front bills, wait for fees to come in, and talk about sub-40-node-per-sq-mi networks (they say 30 to 40 in this article).
White goods maker Haier introduces its first portable music player to generally positive reviews (Yahoo's The Gadget Hound, PC Magazine): The company best known for refrigerators and other home hardware staples is getting kudos for its Ibiza line of music players. The device has Wi-Fi built in and requires no computer to set up a connection to the Real Networks's Rhapsody subscription music service. The device comes in a 30 GB hard drive version ($330) and 4 GB and 8 GB flash models ($230 and $250). Both reviewers note that while the device is similar is size to an iPod or Zune, it's design is a little lacking, but not in a way that hampers use. The graphic interface is also not as good as either Microsoft or Apple's players, but it doesn't sound terrible, as so many music players' interfaces are. The chief complaint appears to be a problem with multitasking and hard drive speed, where the hard-drive edition of the Ibiza at least can't seem to keep up with demands.
EarthLink drops another bombshell: They hired Rolla Huff to sort out their future business, and his message from the start was steely eye, bottom line, get things on track for the future in an industry in turmoil. Then Huff cuts a huge percentage of the staff, lays off the municipal network head, and says no more investment in new networks without a change in model. Now the final piece is in place: No more "significant investments" for existing networks without some alternative model being in place, which isn't specified in the press release.
Many wondered if this were coming when the layoffs were announced. EarthLink was reassuring that it would continue to work on and finish projects it was committed to. But now, not so much. Philadelphia at last check was 65 percent complete. Update: The Associated Press has more detail (some of it added late in the day in an updated filing), including a statement from Philadelphia's current CIO who says EarthLink will complete the network--EarthLink also confirmed this--but has no commitment now to operate it. "Philadelphia could take the network over and find another company to operate it," the AP writes, which was precisely the worst-case scenario for public ownership that its detractors originally stated. (Although in this form, the city will be getting the infrastructure at perhaps zero cost.)
Other cities like Anaheim, New Orleans, and Corpus Christi were in various stages of completion or upgrade. The release values the muni business at $40m. That's useful to know when they shut it down entirely and write off the value. I expect there may be a company or two willing to buy the networks on the cheap if the engineering conforms to the buyers' expectations.
Further update: Greg Richardson of the consulting firm Civitium helped Philadelphia draft their agreement with EarthLink. He notes on his blog that EarthLink can't just walk away, but that the city can release EarthLink under circumstances it chooses, or EarthLink can sell the networks in a specific way that would get them off the hook for certain provisions (not all).
Sophos certainly did a great PR job: Dozens of articles have appeared in the last few days trumpeting Sophos's survey conducted for The Times of London. They found that 54 percent of those asked admitted that they've used someone else's Wi-Fi connection without their permission. What's strange about this is two things: The Times characterizes the question asked incorrectly and doesn't note the sample size. On Sophos's site, they provide both the precise question asked and the sample size, which was a meager 560 people.
The Times wrote, "It discovered that 54 per cent of computer users have secretly used someone else’s wireless broadband connection without paying for it." But the question asked according to Sophos was, "Have you ever used someone else's Wi-Fi connection without their permission?"
There's a vast difference, as I have written about for years. The question doesn't encompass whether someone hacked a network to use it--unlikely that very many people would do that at all--so we're talking about people accessing networks that aren't protected with some form of encryption. Some of these networks are open on purpose; many not. It's a very imprecise question, and worse in the Times's inaccurate restatement. We don't know that anyone stole access who answered this question; the Times assumes they did.
With this small a survey size, and no information provided on demographics, this reveals essentially nothing about people's behaviors. In the UK, accessing a network without permission is illegal; the Times notes just 11 people have been arrested for such actions. I'd like to see a sample size of 20,000 regular users of the Internet outside their homes. I expect the number is much higher than 54 percent. But it still doesn't really tell us much except that it's easy to use Wi-Fi when a network is intentionally or unintentionally left unprotected against access.
A Sophos manager has this rather specious soundbite, too: "Stealing Wi-Fi internet access may feel like a victimless crime, but it deprives ISPs of revenue."
Long Island is seeing a bit of competition already over Wi-Fi: The ambitious and almost certain-to-fail plan set by the counties of Suffolk and Nassau to have a private firm blanket the two municipalities with Wi-Fi has a very early phase ready to go in December, which is impressive. The first pilot covers 2.5 miles of Route 110, and will be free. The network will be up for 45 to 60 days. Among other purposes, I would imagine that the network will be designed to sniff how many Wi-Fi devices are querying it, as well as to see how well they can provide service.
Meanwhile, Cablevision has quietly started to build out Wi-Fi hotspots and hotzones for its subscribers in useful locations all over its coverage area, including Long Island. Notably, they're offering service at Bridgeport and Port Jefferson's ferry docks. Very smart. Very interesting.
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After Verizon's recent settlement with New York State over its BroadbandAccess service's limits, I've been watching its terms of service (TOS) change: I've written about Verizon Wireless's TOS for cell data for a few years, because it's the most restrictive and most ridiculous in the industry. No longer. Partly as a result of the settlement with Andrew Cuomo's office in New York, and I think partly due to the competitive nature of services that don't impose the same limits, the TOS has morphed into something that offers relatively decent disclosure and full limits.
I used the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive to examine previous TOS's to compare. Back in January, the TOS had the terms I have poked fun at for years: unlimited service can only be used for Internet browser, email, and intranet access. Explicitly prohibited uses include running servers; continuous uploading or streaming of audio, video, or game content; and using the service in place of a dedicated line, like a DSL connection. Peer-to-peer uses were banned, too.
This TOS has the incorrect example that someone would use "more than 5 GBs in a month" if they used the service continuously for 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Actually, that would be more like 50 GB. Using the service at full capacity for an hour a day would hit 5 GB, so it's a very low limit. This TOS had the egregiously offensive line, "Anyone using more than 5 GB per line in a given month is presumed to be using the service in a manner prohibited above," which is part of what got them in trouble in New York.
(I had thought that Verizon barred VoIP, but a check with the company confirmed that that restriction was dropped by 2006.)
These TOS terms didn't change through August, when the Wayback Machine loses track, but they did change after the New York settlement. When I wrote about the New York settlement on 23-Oct-2007, the bad calculation was still in place. Two weeks late, on 05-Nov-2007, language about throttling appeared. When I checked a few days ago, it had changed even further: the bad calculation was gone as was a threat of cancellation. Gone, too, is the restriction about streaming, uploading, or downloading. They still treat the line as not a fixed broadband replacement, and they added descriptions of disruptive network activities that aren't allowed, even though one would expect that those would already be a problem.
In terms of excessive use, they simply state now that using more 5 GB per billing period (which lasts a month) could result in them throttling your maximum download speed to 200 Kbps. They also provide reporting of your current usage, so you can see where you're at.
Now, as a consumer, you can read this and decided whether paying $60 to $80 per month for unlimited service is what you need. Sprint Nextel and AT&T both have less restrictive language, and apparently a lower level of enforcement. T-Mobile, with its 2.5G EDGE network, has generated no complaints I'm aware of from customers accused of misuse of the 100 to 200 Kbps unlimited service.
Part of my interest with mobile WiMax is whether restrictions are lifted on even more categories of use. Clearwire intends their service to be used as a wired broadband replacement--that's been their model all along. If WiMax costs the same, has faster speeds (as I found in my testing this last week with the Clearwire PC Card), and fewer restrictions than cell data, there's an audience that might make an informed decision about which network to choose.
Capitol Weekly runs a column in which Daniel Ballon suggests that the Sacramento network would cost $550m to build: Readers of this site know that I am pretty dubious that the Sacramento network will ever be built by the consortium that won the bid. Still. Please. Wi-Fi networks are estimated to cost around $150,000 per square mile. These numbers are well known. You add more nodes and costs go up. If you look at the now-well-received Minneapolis, Minn., network, US Internet now estimates $24m (up from $20m) to put 45 nodes per square mile. The 55 sq mi city will cost a whopping $440,000 per square mile to build, although that was supposed to include some fiber buildout (those details are sketchy in the documents I've found).
So, gentle readers, where does Ballon get the $550m figure? By looking at the cost to build the Sacramento airport and extrapolating its cost for its limited area by the city's dimensions. Ballon, as is disclosed in his linked bio but not on this page, works for the Pacific Research Institute, which is a think-tank that receives funding from Verizon and SBC, but that wouldn't be salient to disclose here, would it? (Ballon's background is in very small things, by the way: molecular biology and biochemistry, not telecom policy.) PRI has links to Big Tobacco, and ties to the Heartland Institute, which I have extensively covered in years past.
Now the issue is not that I disagree with Ballon's conclusion that a Sacramento network might cost vastly more than predicted. The original estimate doesn't contain enough nodes, and more than doubling the number from the 18 to 20 nodes planned (as reported in the Sacramento Bee 5-Nov-2007, and not refuted as far as I can tell) to 40 to 45 nodes would increase costs. They wouldn't double, because nodes are just a part of the overall cost of the network. But it's more likely a $15m to $20m network than a $7m to $9m one. (An anonymous commenter tried to tell me that the 18 to 20 nodes per sq mi figure was incorrect, but didn't reply to a request for the source of their information.)
Rather, the point is that Ballon has ties to beholden interests. It's fascinating that he mentions an existing competitive fiber provider in Sacramento with such positive praise--I never heard of SureWest, but he says they have 30 percent of the region's market, although not which market. I checked SureWest's site, and they have 30 percent of about 200,000 homes they pass--about half the households in the city. That's significant. And there's no comparison between fiber and Wi-Fi. The availability of Wi-Fi is in no way a challenge to the voice, video, and data triple-play and triple-threat that SureWest offers.
Ballon wants to paint the Metro Connect Sacramento network as government subsidized because the municipality may--but has not committed to, to my knowledge--shift some services from one set of private companies to another set of private companies. I thought that was the point of competition?
Interesting news from the Big Apple, with CBS working with the MTA on a 20-city-block hotzone: The free, ad-supported Wi-Fi network includes a variety of news content. It covers Times Square to Central Park South between 6th and 8th avenues. The Wi-Fi nodes are placed on CBS Outdoor billboards and on Metropolitan Transit Authority "urban panels," which I assume are some kind of advertising vehicle, located above subway station entrances. CBS will also distribute routers to extend the network to provide better indoor coverage, which is unique in my experience for hotzone networks.
The press release is full of bluster and hype, with a CBS Mobile exec calling this "what may be the most advanced wireless and pre-WiMax outdoor offering of it's [sic] kind in the U.S." Now, I don't know that this is the most advanced offering, and it's certainly not pre-WiMax. But it's definitely an interesting project, and one that could benefit commuters and businesspeople in a dense part of the city where people are likely to have handheld Wi-Fi devices.
The release also talks about hyperlocal content, but then lists "local and national news, sports highlights," and other items that have nothing to do with the 20-block area in question. There is a feature to find nearby commerce: restaurants, shops, and entertainment.
The Wi-Fi Alliance says it's certified over 4,000 devices with the Wi-Fi name since March 2000: Put that stick in the sand. Also, over 1,000 devices have been certified in just the last 15 months. They share the analyst opinion that 90 percent of Wi-Fi chipsets shipped in 2012 will offer 802.11n.
iPass hits 90,000 hotspots, 40,000 in Europe: The worldwide business roamer and security policy enabler notes that it saw 14,649 sessions used in London's Heathrow Airport in October totaling 12,484 hours.
Engadget finds new Microsoft Zunes, software better, but still lagging: Microsoft is catching up to last year's Apple products. Zune has Wi-Fi syncing; the iPod touch and iPhone do not. The iPhone and iPod touch have the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store; the Zune has no wireless download service yet. (Microsoft just bought a French company that specializes in cell-oriented music downloads.)
Nikon's revision to its previous Wi-Fi camera is better, but no browser: The review suggests that this 8.1-megapixel camera produces good images and works well with limited forms of Wi-Fi. But the reviewer wants a micro-browser. Really, they should just work with Devicescape or Boingo (or both) to integrate automated access to networks instead.
Minneapolis citizens who complained about Wi-Fi service starting to come around: Interesting article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Steve Alexander, who has closely followed his city's deployment of Wi-Fi by US Internet. In Minneapolis, Qwest and Comcast charge more for less, which isn't always the case. In many cities with Wi-Fi networks being built and duopoly broadband service, service providers have 1-year incentive plans and other ways to get their wired prices down. Alexander doesn't compare upload speeds, but Wi-Fi networks tend to have disproportionately higher upstream rates than broadband services even when the broadband download rate is higher.
US Internet apparently did its research and planning well, starting late enough to learn from others' problems. Alexander reports that the company says its six weeks behind schedule (partly due to a three-week shift of effort to help with recovery from the bridge collapse) and has increased its budget 20 percent (from $20m to $24m). The company moved from 30 to 45 nodes per square mile, and putting higher-gain antennas on most nodes.
They'll also provide an option for potential customers who can't receive a signal to have an external antenna mounted at a rate not yet set--this is unique to my knowledge. City-wide networks were predicated on the notion that customers would all self-install Wi-Fi receivers, if those were needed.
The city is happy with the project, too, which is on track for completion this year. Early radio rollouts were problematic because of interference with and from business Wi-Fi networks; that's less of a problem in residential neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, in nearby St. Louis Park, a city-built network is running behind: I've been writing about St. Louis Park for some time, because it was among the handful of cities that decided to have a network built for them that would be municipally owned and operated. Private firms are handling build-out and operation on behalf of the city. This Star Tribune article notes that the network is two months behind schedule which has produced a $150,000 shortfall, but 4,000 customers waiting for service and $25,000 a year to conserve in public safety budgets. Their goal is 6,500 subscribers in the first year.
One resident is rather vocal about the "unsightly towers"--solar-powered nodes that punch through the city's leafy canopy--but it turns out that he's also a Comcast spokesman which, he says, "doesn't affect his view." I can see that. The pictures of the towers were pretty imposing; they were redesigned to be less unsightly, but there are hundreds of them, and I can see residents concerns. Eventually, they'll just stop noticing them.
Carol Ellison files this thoughtful article at MuniWireless on Cleveland's approach to city-wide Wi-Fi: She notes that despite having five responses from an RFP issued in April, the mayor is saying that the city won't be an anchor tenant. She tried to get clarification as to what the "phased approach" the mayor was pushing meant, and wasn't given additional information. She thinks that the lily-pad approach engaged in by a non-profit in Cleveland might be the model in mind; hotzones, not a city-wide network to start with. She notes that MetroFi and EarthLink both responded to the RFP.
Satellite firm demonstrates 1.5m km laser link: They were able to use laser apertures to simulate 1.5m km across a 144 km stretch in the Canary Islands. Rates exceeded 10 Mbps. Laser links can transmit faster and with less power over the same distances, the company says, than comparable wireless technology. The firm simulated 1.5m km because that's the distance between the Earth and two Lagrange points, L1 and L2, that represent gravitationally stable positions between the earth and sun (L1) and beyond the earth balanced by the sun (L2). L1 and L2 would be ideally suited for space telescopes, the firm notes.
London calling, London calling: London Undersound proposes music sharing over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in the London Underground subway system using music with rights that allows free sharing. The project proposes setting up unique tracks for each station, making the music relevant to the location. The project will be a Java applet that would work on smartphones or other devices running Symbian or Linux. There would be no servers involved; peer-to-peer sharing would be required due to the difficulties of installing hardware in the underground. They're thinking about seeding Nokia N800s to people positioned within stations. Strangely, the article doesn't mention whether the transportation authority is interested in allowing this project to happen. With peer-to-peer technology, they wouldn't necessary need to involved.
The Boston Wi-Fi network won't be built in 2008, to no one's surprise: The Boston plan, announced 31 July 2006 (see my coverage), described a nonprofit that would raise funds to create a wholesale network that would resell to all comers. The network would build Wi-Fi and a fiber ring. Yesterday's Boston Globe notes that the network plans have been slightly scaled back, while a pilot network has been built through donations of time and material from the private firm that built the public access/public safety network Brookline, Mass.--Galaxy Internet Services (which used Strix gear in Brookline)--and BelAir Networks. The advantage of a nonprofit handling this side of things means that it's easier to accept donations without political repercussions.
The Grove Hall neighborhood pilot project was launched over Labor Day with 42 Wi-Fi nodes. A middle school earlier this week did their own testing to map strong and weak areas of coverage. Another 10 to 13 nodes are planned to fill in dead areas. The head of OpenAirBoston, the non-profit planning the network, said, "As other cities have found, we need more equipment than we'd initially expected to get the coverage." No kidding. Ostensibly, that's how we learn from mistakes, by not repeating them.
Sacramento paper writes about problems with scope of muni-Fi plan: The Sacramento network, currently unfunded by the consortium that won the bid, appears to be designed for 2005 network specifications. The reporter provides a great run-through of how such networks could work. With 18 to 20 nodes, this is a non-starter for indoor coverage. Which then begs the question of why build it without anchor tenancy and real applications committed to by the city?
And that reminds me of Wireless Silicon Valley: A similar set of partners won the bid for Wireless Silicon Valley as in Sacramento. (Cisco, IBM, Intel, Azulstar, and Seakay in Sacramento; all but Intel in WSV.) The lead, Azulstar, can't get $500,000 to build the pilot stages, without which no more money is likely to be forthcoming. Cisco may pony up something, but wouldn't comment in this article about how much, and it's clearly not "most of it."
Plano, Tex., now limits Wi-Fi vision: A deal with MetroFi went south when MetroFi wanted anchor tenancy. Now RedMoon is putting Wi-Fi in a few locations for the city.
Two Calif. shuttle buses get Wi-Fi: Shuttling to SFO from Santa Rosa--home of Charles "Sparky" Schulz's ice-skating rink--and need to make some use of those wasted two hours? Airport Express, the service not the Apple product, has put Wi-Fi on board with the help of local provider Sonic.net. The provider is offering the service free as a promotion.
T-Mobile offers an interesting deal to encourage support for One Laptop Per Child: The carrier will give you a year of free T-Mobile HotSpot service if you donate an XO laptop to a child in a developing country. The promotion lasts Nov. 12 to Nov. 26, 2007. Pay $399, and you get one laptop, and a child get the other. T-Mobile typically charges $30 per month for a one-year commitment to its hotspot service or $360.
Despite the marvelous intent behind OLPC, I continue to be highly dubious because specific programs of studies and goals are not set. The idea seems to still be, give kids laptops and marvelous things will happen, like they will all become programmers. Decades of research show that's not the case. Computer-assisted learning is all over the place in terms of results, and without a tight focus, good software, trained teachers, and objective goals, there's no hope of helping kids learn anything.
The company decided to take some of the pain out of municipal deployments by extending its bulk price to individuals on its entry-level Wi-Fi bridge: In metro-scale networks, it's become clear that to get good indoor reception in most cases, you need a bridge. The popular bridges from Pepwave and Ruckus Wireless pick up a faint signal from a city-wide network and then essentially rebroadcast it under a different network name for users in proximity. These bridges used to start at about $150 for units with 200 milliwatt (mW) radios, which is from twice to septuple the power of built-in adapters; they usually put out 30 mW to 100 mW of juice.
The price has fallen, though, and while $100 isn't free, it's approaching a level that I suspect more people are comfortable spending to improve access in areas with coverage. Ruckus Wireless's MetroFlex DZ has a list of $149, but ExpressNets will sell it to you for $99; and Pepwave's comparable Surf AP 200 can now be bought for $129. The Surf 200, which lacks the second home network feature, is $99.
Pepwave has dropped its 400 mW Surf AP 400 from $289 to $189, which could be useful, too, in the right circumstances, but receive sensitivity is a more critical measure than transmit power in trying to "hear" distant signals. The AP 400 has a small but measurable improvement in receive sensitivity over the two 200 models. I can't find Ruckus's receive sensitivity numbers readily, but their approach involves multiple antennas, in which beam forming and multi-path reflection analysis provide their own improvements in range and reception.
Update: Ruckus provided their receive sensitivity numbers, which in nearly all cases exceed the Pepwave AP 400's numbers for nearly $100 less. Now, this requires real-world testing to see whether the multiple antennas and this higher measured sensitivity equate to a greater service area, but the raw numbers are good.
Update: Pepwave notes that in its testing transmit power is more critical; their perspective is that with metro-scale networks, the nodes can push power out quite well - often using the legal maximum - but it's difficult for them to hear distant, faint clients. An iPhone, for instance, can hear a far-distant transmitter, but can only call back weakly.
What is it with these utility poles?! AT&T backs out of $1m Napa, Calif., network deal because the utility poles--most of which it co-owns with PG&E, this article notes--are too short. While this sounds like another case of failing to perform the right surveys, it stems instead from new regulations governing mounting Wi-Fi nodes or other equipment on poles that also carry electrical power lines.
Wi-Lan, a Canadian firm that holds lots of patents and makes no products, has sued 22 firms over Wi-Fi and DSL power consumption patents: They venue shopped and sued in the Texas court known for finding in favor of patentholders. Firms sued include Apple, Atheros, Belkin, Broadcom, Buffalo, Intel, Marvell, and NetGear. The rights of patentholders that have no competitive products were circumscribed by the Supreme Court to limit their power in getting injunctions. But patent-holding firms that exist to license still have plenty of rights. Some of these firms are called patent trolls, but I can't see Wi-Lan getting that sobriquet because their portfolio is targeted and descends from actual product work. Others may feel differently.