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The Sacramento Wi-Fi network is finally underway: Through $750,000 of equipment leasing from Intel and Cisco, the $1m pilot project will get going, and potentially proceed to completion. Azulstar, once the lead partner on the project, was unable to raise the $9m needed without proof of concept in place, apparently. I wondered at the time why Cisco, Intel, and IBM would be willing to let their eyes be blackened and not participate; now the project seems self-financed. The pilot buildout launches in February in downtown with a May completion date. Rates of up to 1 Mbps are ad-supported and free; $15 to $50 per month subscriptions are available for varying speeds. (I confirmed with the City of Sacramento that Azulstar is no longer involved with the project; the city's CIO said that Azulstar is no longer "listed on the partner list" that was provided by the consortium to the city.)
Cameras on San Francisco street corners deliver choppy videos: Money was invested, time spent, but the 68 cameras don't record video well enough to help in cases or bring people to justice. Nearly $1m has been spent. The cameras are wireless (not using Wi-Fi, I believe), but the real problem appears to be storage and configuration--and the fact that "surveillance cameras have delivered mixed results in studies of their effectiveness at decreasing violent crime."
AP rounds up three messaging appliances: Sony Mylo COM-2 (not really available yet, $300) has dramatically improved on its first model, the reporter says, seeing a few glitches in pre-release software, but having a much more favorable reaction than anyone did to the first Mylo. The article also looks at the Nokia N810 tablet ($480), which is a full-fledged computer with good, but not great, IM capabilities: Yahoo and AIM aren't supported out of the box, but require additional software. The Zipit Wireless Messenger 2 ($150, optional $5/mo for 1,500 incoming/1,500 outgoing SMS messages) gets a thumbs up, too.
WiFi Rail announced they successfully carried about 15 Mbps of symmetrical traffic across a 2.6-mile test area of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system at up to 65 mph: The test covered above-ground and tunnel passages around Hayward, Calif. Roaming is seamless across the test area, the company said.
In an interview this morning, company founder and CEO Cooper Lee said that the secret sauce was in making "leaky coax" work, which is continuous copper coaxial cable that's left uninsulated in a particular fashion to allow signals to be passed over as if it were an antenna. Leaky coax is widely used for radio coverage in tunnels--it's even how AM/FM is carried through underground passages around cities.
WiFi Rail had to develop its own technology, including specialized amplifiers and high-performance filters coupled with Cisco radios and technology to pull tunnel service off. "It's a lot more than just tried it and it worked," said Lee. The system doesn't treat an entire run of coax as one access point, but rather they push signals from two access points, one on other end, using different channels. The signals taper off for a seamless handoff in the middle of the 2,200-ft run involved in the Hayward test.
Let me just point out that this is the sweetest possible network to build: Rights of way are controlled, the authority is apparently friendly, traffic is massive, commuters are already oriented to high-tech, cellular voice and data works only spottily, and the large scope of the service. If BART can have Wi-Fi, it's going to blow open the lid on commuter Wi-Fi across North America.
This initial proof-of-concept test, which involved working at times from 2 am to 4 am to access otherwise inaccessible equipment or avoid hours in which radio frequencies were in use, could lead to a system-wide deployment, pending BART's interest. The company would finance the deployment, which has a lot of characteristics that distinguish it from the spate of failed or faltering large-scale municipal Wi-Fi networks.
CFO Michael Cromar said, "We've built a business model that based on some relatively conservative assumptions, we think will give us pretty decent access to some private equity." He declined to disclose the expected cost of the network. The firm will benefit from existing coax in BART systems, and some backbone fiber, reducing their costs. Still, I would estimate such a system clearly will cost tens of millions to build--an exact price tag is tricky. BART comprises 104 miles, 43 stations, and 100m passenger trips (exit and entry) per year, or about 175,000 regular weekday riders.
The service, which tested out at 15 Mbps at 65 mph, would allow rich media--potentially from onboard equipment--along with VoIP and data. WiFi Rail might be in a position to extend cell carrier networks, too, using the same technology that's allowing them to overlay Wi-Fi on existing coax, or by providing bandwidth to carriers at strategic locations.
The network will cost users about $1 a day to use with a subscription, with various plans availble to reduce cost through usage or partnerships. The wholesale rate to roaming partners will be $1 for two hours: "It will be up to those services to decide what and how much they want to pass on to their customers the roaming fee," Cromar said.
An ad-supported option will also allow 5 minutes of use for every 30-second commercial viewed, through a partnership with JiWire. (Disclosure: I own a very small number of shares in JiWire, Inc.)
WiFi Rail won't start charging until its first phase is built, which they plan would span Oakland to Balboa Station in San Francisco, and take 3 to 5 months to build. The remaining system buildout time is roughly 15 to 18 months. Fees would be in proportion to the range of the system while it's under completion. Service is currently available in four downtown San Francisco locations at no charge; they've seen 6,400 registered users since they launched in June.
The folks at the company have ambition to bring their system beyond BART, even though just a single test segment has been completed. "We think there is a potentially very significant--you might call it a niche market, but it's a pretty significant niche market, for commuter inner-city rails, as well as metro systems, potentially even bus and ferry systems," Cromar said. "Anything that uses a predetermined path, where we could erect radios and antennas."
Part of the pitch to BART and other commuter systems will be video surveillance, which is a key aspect of interest to and funding by the Department of Homeland Security. Cromar said, "We've had six cameras all broadcasting at essentially 24 frames per second and higher, very high quality, and very high resolution, and still had much more than the typical Comcast cable modem or DSL conneciton that people would see in the home or office."
WiFi Rail has opted to bring fiber to each node with 100 Mbps of symmetrical bandwidth available at each location in order to provide the full capability of 802.11g. They're already thinking about 802.11n, trying to plan the network to be futureproofed with only radios needing swapping instead of basic infrastructure.
Unlike so many of the municipal projects, in which access to utility poles, the availability of electricity, and other facilities and infrastructure questions weren't known until later, BART controls its track and has detailed information about every part of the system. Also, BART is a single multi-governmental entity that can, in fact, make a decision about WiFi Rail without the same kind of political process that delayed or killed muni-Fi all over. (Not to pretend that BART isn't political; rather, the institution is designed to make institutional decisions that don't involve separate legislative/executive wrangling.)
This also ensures a knowable--not clean--radio frequency environment. BART has other radio uses, but they're in known places and can be characterized. CEO Lee noted, "If I pull up my laptop here in downtown San Francisco, I get 100 or more wireless networks that pop up out of the buildings. In a metro environment, there's no way to control the interference from everybody." By contrast, "Nobody else is going to put any antennas in the trackway, it's not possible," Lee said.
Ultimately, adding Internet access to commuter services has a lot to do with increasing ridership, allowing transportation authorities to improve their bottom line, remove cars from the road, and be part of larger efforts in changing cities and suburbs. "Increased ridership revenue for them for the most part goes right to the bottom line," Cowper said, as incremental passengers typically carry very little incremental costs--until ridership increases enough that the numbers justify adding more service.
The FCC has received a "provisional" winning bid for the national "C Block" licenses in the 700 MHz auction underway: The C Block, a national set of about 20 MHz of prime frequency real estate, has received a bid crossing the minimum $4.6 reserve price: $4,713,823,000 to be precise. The overall auction now stands at $13.7b after 18 rounds. This pretty much ensures that the open access, open device rules so fought over and then acquiesced to by major carriers will be enforced, and it's likely to push more openness into existing U.S. cell markets.
The future of competition for broadband and cellular wireless hits one milestone, close to other: The 700 MHz auction currently underway will distribute thousands of licenses to entities across the country for effective, widespread distribution of broadband, voice, and other services. The C Block is the most hotly contested block, representing a set of licenses that covers the entire U.S. The reserve bid for the block was $4.6b; the current high bid is $4.3b, while the next qualifying bid must be at least $4.75b. The auction as a whole had to gross over $10.3b, and that mark was also hit around noon with $10.8b bid so far. That means that it's extremely likely now that the auction will conclude successfully, and that the C Block will be won. Google at one committed to the reserve price, so if they're bidding--bidders are anonymous in this auction--they will make at least one bid to cross that mark.
The mixed public safety/private use D Block is still up for grabs. The reserve price is $1.4b, but the bidding has hit only over $470m. If the bids don't reach the reserve price, the block will likely be reformulated. Harold Feld alleges monkey business in how the rules for the band were set for a putative winning bidder. In short, he writes that a one-time potential bidder moved into an advisory role to the body that will control the block for public-safety interests. He says that would allow them to set unreasonable terms for a winning bid, and that the FCC refused to set rules that would prevent unreasonable terms from being proposed. Thus, Frontline Wireless, the firm most likely to operate the D Block, shut down, as they couldn't come up with a strategy that was financially sound. (The auction rules state that if you default, you forfeit the difference between your bid and the ultimate winning bid; Frontline could have easily been out hundreds of millions of dollars in that scenario.)
Update: By day's end (Round 16), overall bids reached $11.5b, but no new bids had been registered for either the C or D Blocks.
Eye-Fi supported by Nikon D60 firmware: The Wi-Fi Secure Digital card offered by Eye-Fi can now be recognized by Nikon's D60 SLR, a just-announced 10.2-megapixel camera due in March; pricing for the camera wasn't released. The Eye-Fi integration solves a problem I heard widely discussed at Macworld Expo, where Eye-Fi won a Best of Show 2008 award: because cameras can't detect the Eye-Fi, the makers of the Wi-Fi card say you should disable automatic power conservation on your camera to avoid the card--powered by the camera--shutting down while still uploading photos.
This makes logical sense, but it's irritating. I suggested in a review and to the company that because they have a server component to the offering, that they offer an option to email, send SMS, or offer a pop-up message on a host computer when uploading is complete, so a consumer would then know to turn the camera off. At Macworld Expo, when I talked to employees at the booth, they nodded without responding. I said, these aren't good ideas? They said, no, in fact, they're hearing the same ideas all the time, and they're trying to figure out how to work them in. That's good news.
But the integration with camera firmware is, of course, even better, because it makes the Eye-Fi essentially an accessory for a camera, rather than an unrelated third-party add-on. Older cameras could have firmware upgrades, but I find even though that's possible, most people who use cameras would never think of this, and thus camera makers would be unlikely to upgrade older cameras unless they sold well, and the maker could slipstream a branded offering into the retail channel that noted the camera was Eye-Fi ready.
Phila. CIO three-quarters sure EarthLink will pull out of city: Nonetheless, he's pretty happy with the service in places, and the city is considering its options. The city expects it will hear within 60 days about EarthLink's plans.
Continental signs with JetBlue for in-flight TV, Internet: The airline will offer 36 channels of television at no cost to first-class, $6 for coach starting in a year, along with email and text messaging, price not disclosed. American, Alaska, and JetBlue now also have test plans; United and Delta are sure to follow.
Denver airport offers downloadable movies over local network: FreeFi, which is handling the advertising-supported free service in the airport, which jumped from 600 connections a day when it was for-fee to 4,000 to 5,000 at no cost. FreeFi has a deal with Walt Disney Studios to offer digital movie rentals over the local network. I have been writing for years about the power of the edge network, where instead of providing an Internet feed, media resides locally and can be moved at many times the potential Internet rate. This is the first substantial deployment in any form that I'm aware of.
You can move gigabits for free over a local network, and even at 802.11g speeds, a movie could download in perhaps 7 to 12 minutes (1 to 2 GB), especially in a well-designed network with a strong Ethernet backbone; FreeFi said a two-hour film should take 8 minutes to download on an uncongested network with a modern laptop. Move to 802.11n, and we're talking Stars Wars: Episode IV in perhaps 2 minutes. (I've been expecting Apple to offer this sort of service for a while: download locally, with a requirement to authorize the film over the Net. Their new rental model requires authorization, so we might see something from them in the future.)
FreeFi told me by phone this afternoon that films will have a 48-hour rental period from download, and cost $5 to $8. The longer-than-24-hour window is a welcome relief especially for those traveling, but there's apparently a premium: most online movie rental services charge $3 to $6, and offer a 24-hour window within 30 days after download. For travelers, this will be fine: You'll download the film out of a need for something to do on the plane or during layovers or delays, or to have something to watch on arrival at a hotel.
The FreeFi representative said the intent was to expand offerings beyond the roughly 60 that are now available. The focus will be on airports, where there are plenty of the right kind of audience passing through. The downloads require Windows Media Player and use Microsoft's digital rights management, FreeFi told me; sorry, new MacBook Air owners.
Kudos to Minneapolis's US Internet for building a Wi-Fi network that works: The testing firm Novarum found that two zones tested in Minneapolis's nearly-done Wi-Fi network achieved the best marks for performance among U.S. networks tested for 802.11g and 802.11n clients. These are outdoor tests, as far as I know, but that's still saying something. Update: Muniwireless reports that BelAir (which commissioned the work) and US Internet shouldn't have released the comparative information, as testing is underway. Novarum is still positive about the results, just not precisely the method of comparison or disclosure, Muniwireless writes.
Empire State Building disabling cars wirelessly: There's a radius of five blocks around what was once the mooring place of Zeppelins that appears to be related to keyless entry systems in cars. About 10 to 15 cars won't start or can't be opened every day, according to locals. In parts of the country near military bases, garage door openers and keyless cars flip out when a base flips on systems that apparently leak out-of-band signals into those unlicensed frequencies.
Long Island Wi-Fi pilot launch delayed: The 2.5-mile project along Route 110 near the borders of two participating counties, Suffolk and Nassau, has been pushed back while utility pole agreements are finalized. It's getting close. As always, utility poles tend to take longer to secure rights to than anyone anticipates, even when they're aware of this fact. Suffolk County Water Authority is considering acting as one of the anchor tenants for the 750 sq mi project led by E-Path Communications.
Bluetooth used to synchronize leg motions for double amputee: Two veterans are testing out mechanical prosthetics that use standard Bluetooth signaling to coordinate their motion, allowing for greater range with less effort and more natural movement. One of the veterans reports that the legs sometimes get going a little fast and there's a chain reaction, but he sounds pretty upbeat about how it works.
A calm discussion about Wi-Fi table squatters: A neat slice of life from Milwaukee, Wisc., examining the unwritten rules of lingering over a cup of joe (or more) in cafes when it's quiet and when it gets busy. One customer, clearly an engineer, doesn't want unwritten rules, preferring to have written instructions about social interactions: "if the owners want the public to obey rules, they should state these rules, post a sign or something." Because if there's one thing a friendly cafe wants to do is post lots of rules that anyone with sense could intuit.
The train from Worcester through Framingham into Boston, Mass., adds Internet access via Wi-Fi in pilot project: A popular 45-mile commuter line will have at least one car per train with Internet service, with the intention of expanding access to all 13 commuter lines in Massachusetts. The line carries 18,000 passengers daily across 17 stations.
This would be likely be the largest deployment of train-based Wi-Fi outside of Europe, where GNER in the UK and SJ in Sweden have a couple dozen trains on a small number of lines unwired. This trial uses Sprint's EVDO service through an external antenna mounted on each car; 45 coaches are currently set up for Wi-Fi. The authority has already received piles of enthusiastic comments. No word on which service provider (if any) is involved among the several companies that unwire trains.
I've been predicting more train-Fi on commuter rail in the U.S. for a long time based on hard information from rail authorities. It's just harder than it looks. Unlike, say, bus Fi, where cell access is available along highways, or ferry Fi, where the ferries run fixed routes across water where you can point antennas, rail lines--even commuter rail--run along often highly variable terrain or inaccessible paths. It's just hard to get a constant signal. Most likely, most rail lines will need a combination of fixed, satellite, and cellular service--perhaps two or all three.
There's really no substantial Wi-Fi on board trains in the U.S. now. ACE in California no longer even discusses the future of its Wi-Fi on its Web site, even though it was the pioneer, and has been saying for about two years that Wi-Fi was returning. CalTrain dropped its plan due to cost in the South Bay Area. Capitol Corridor (Sacramento to San Jose) has a plan underway that should result in service in 2009. Elsewhere, I hear rumblings about BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), Amtrak (Northeast Corridor), and other lines, but no public announcements.
Before it really began, the Dade County, Flor., wireless effort shuts down: Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez has dropped his plans for an ambitious county-wide network after the departure of a key aide. It seems that WiMax was always part of the thinking for this 2,000 sq mi network, but Alvarez was optimistically relying on the separately politically organized county school board to give them valuable 2.5 GHz frequency for use! Rather than, you know, lease it to Sprint or Clearwire for tens of millions of dollars. Very optimistic.
I'm quoted in the articles saying that there are no successful countywide initiatives anywhere in the world (replace county with similar political units where unavailable). I can't think of a one; all I know of are abandoned plans and struggling projects likely to shut down.
The mayor is quoted stating, incorrectly, "Several communities before us attempted to do too much too soon, only to learn that their models were impractical, and more importantly, costly to taxpayers." That's really wrong. In all the Wi-Fi networks across the U.S., only a handful involved more than a few tens of thousands of dollars, and even in those cases, there was typically a public benefit. St. Louis Park, Minn., Chaska, Minn., and St. Cloud, Flor., are the most notable examples of public dollars spent to build networks; each is a relatively small town, and each has a different story to tell about outcomes.
A few large hotzones in Miami-Dade will still be built.
22 Vermont rural towns pool efforts to build fiber network: I don't usually write much about fiber--it's a kind of wire, for crying out loud--but this is an interesting model for rural communities that are still left behind in the telecom revolution because of the lack of interest by monopolies and competitors in rewiring remote areas. The East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network (try saying ec-vic-fun out loud) could increase the viability of these rural communities by providing a lifeline for telecommuters and local businesses trying to stay competitive. Half of the population of the towns has no option for broadband; I expect, although it's not mentioned, that most of the other half can only get a slow speed of broadband, too, since broadband includes 512 Kbps downstream, 128 Kbps upstream DSL.
The network would requires $70m, and the estimate is for positive cash flow in 4 to 6 years from just 6,000 paying customers out of the 25,000 residents in the covered towns. The plan includes--here it comes--a wireless overlay to enable mobile voice and data.
It's no walk in the park to build fiber in rural areas, but it's also clear that broadband brings business. I'd like to see some economic analysis of what happened in the Berkshires in Massachusetts following the laying of fiber along two major north-south highways across that region.
There's likely to be little carping by incumbents or others because these markets they'd rather not serve. The more the markets serve themselves, the less the incumbents are required to pay from Universal Service Funds and other state programs to subsidize service. If 6,000 people switched phone service to the East Central fiber system, that would likely produce hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or more in savings for the local telcos.
Orbitz's business service arm asked 640 business travelers about their interest in sky-hi Wi-Fi: The results are lackluster, but there's an important proviso. Orbitz found that only 8 percent of those surveyed thought Wi-Fi was important enough to take a "less convenient or more expensive" flight, while 56 percent didn't think Internet access was a necessity, and 36 percent said they'd look for a Wi-Fi-equipped flight but apparently not work hard for it.
But that's before virtually any domestic business traveler has used in-flight broadband. My expectation is that as service becomes available, people start relying on it, just as they do with a cell phone. Few business people needed to make a call away from a landline or phone booth before cells were common and reliable, too.
The final curtain has fallen on the ambitious St. Louis Park, Minn., Wi-Fi network: The city claims the contractor did a terrible job in planning and deploying the network, especially since the vendor received the contract through a low bid based on using solar-powered nodes. The city found the nodes were placed poorly for charging, and that the company, Arinc, used "the wrong locations" and "the wrong materials," according to the CIO.
It's a sad situation, the Star Tribune says, "that council and staff members said has 'sickened' them." The city owns the network, and had hired Arinc, which in turn contracted some local operations. Arinc is a large firm which has previously built Wi-Fi networks, but not using solar power. The city has spent to $800,000 on the network , but the story says the city might sue Arinc to recover this. It would cost $3m to build the rest of the network out, the city says, a far cry from the $1.7m that Arinc bid.
Some small part of the additional cost had to do with a redesign of the tall poles on which solar panels were mounted after residents complained about the garish appearance. They're breathing a sigh of relief now that they know their reportedly pretty town won't be festooned with such stakes.
Regarding the poles, the mayor had some choice language on the subject: " 'We're going to tell Arinc, "Come get your poles, take them out of the ground, stick them someplace where the solar panels won't work at all," ' Mayor Jeff Jacobs said."
Finally, airborne Wi-Fi is getting some legs with Southwest announcement: In the wake of a series of announcements and leaks last year, and today's formal plan by American Airlines to put AirCell service in all 15 of its domestic 767-200s, we're starting to see traction. Southwest will work with Row 44 to test in-flight broadband by this summer. Row 44 uses Ku-band satellites, the same as doomed Connexion by Boeing, but the company (and other similar operators not yet launched) argue that with modern antennas, more strategic transponder rental, and better signal processing, they can achieve far faster results than Boeing at a far lower cost.
With Row 44 and AirCell set for near-term tests, JetBlue in an active trial, and OnAir finally launched in Europe with a single Air France aircraft (but loads of RyanAir planes to come), there's at last some momentum. What could scotch the momentum is if service turns out to be erratic, if passengers don't like the offering, or costs turn out higher to equip planes.
None of those issues seems likely to come into play. The satellite operators are using well-known technology, and AirCell has been operating ground-station based telecom for general (private) aviation for many years. The cost for equipping planes is also well understood at this point.
Passengers didn't flock to Connexion, and some argue that was because of its high cost (over $25 for the longest flights), but I think it was more likely that Boeing was on the rising curve of people carrying laptops with decent battery life with Wi-Fi chips that didn't suck power too rapidly (the Intel Core processors hadn't hit when Connexion was in its heydey), and there were enormously fewer handhelds with Wi-Fi. The iPhone, with 4m sold to date, changes the equation of what people will want to do in the air.
Now, interestingly, there's room for a great partnership between Apple and all these various airline services. Why? Because Apple is now renting movies, which require an Internet connection to start watching after download. A colleague found that on his trip back from Macworld Expo, he couldn't watch the movies he'd downloaded before taking off because he didn't have a live connection in the air for the several thousand bytes needed to perform activation. Apple could partner with airlines and services to allow customers to activate rental movies in the air without paying for a connection. This would work even with JetBlue's limited bandwidth.
Apple could also put cached movies in on-board servers--say the most popular 300 films--so that people could download the movies over the local network at 802.11g or 802.11n speeds (a few minutes) when boarding or in transit. That's a longer-term project, but it's something I've heard discussed for years now: media servers for cafes, hotels, trains, planes, and other venues.
AT&T expands a previous free offer to premium DSL subscribers to almost all DSL subscribers: That's right: 10m AT&T DSL subscribers now qualify for free Wi-Fi at the 9,000 McDonald's and 1,000 other locations in AT&T's network (operated or resold by Wayport). Anyone with 1.5 Mbps DSL or greater, which is pretty much all of its subscribers, can sign up for free Wi-Fi at the AT&T Web site.
This is another big win for Wayport, which has a few deals already for free access to its McDonald's locations: Nintendo for its DS2 player and Zipit for the Zipit Wireless Messenger 2. I've long thought it odd that AT&T was willing to charge even a nominal amount to its DSL subscribers for them to use Wi-Fi, because that set a bar that would keep people from using it. Because AT&T is clearly using Wi-Fi as a customer retention tool, not a real line of revenue, the $2 per month charge seemed a little silly--both too low and too high.
I'm not sure if this puts any pressure on other locations or operators, because the kind of AT&T customer who would find this free access appealing is likely not paying for Wi-Fi elsewhere. And while McDonald's are convenient, it's not quite the same thing as, say, the mix of networks in Boingo's aggregated network or the comfort of Starbucks in T-Mobile's network.
Of course, McDonald's is putting in coffee bars in its stores, and perhaps this is part of a strategy that involves the fast-food giant to get more customers that frequent Starbucks, thus increasing the average meal price. But McDonald's would need to put cushy chairs and sofas in meet the coffee retailer halfway.
American Airlines provides Wall Street Journal with better sense of time, cost of upcoming in-flight Internet access: As previously was known, American will launch service on its 767-200 aircraft, but the plan is clearer that service will start this summer and expand across its fleet. Sounds like testing is going well. The service's rough price has been set at $10 for some time; this article clarifies two aspects to that. First, flights of over three hours will cost $12.95; shorter flights, $10. Second, that American doesn't quite expect to make money from the service, but views it as an amenity to "improve our customers' experience," which is marketing-speak for "poach customers." Update: The Journal article is more optimistic than American's press release, which says they're still testing and considering whether to expand to their entire fleet.
AirCell will operate the service, as I've written about extensively for what seems like years, using ground-to-air technology.
JetBlue is testing service on its own aircraft from ground station; Row 44 will test its satellite service with Alaska Air.
Minneapolis network operator says completion is close: About 85 percent of the network that US Internet is building in this Minnesotan city is complete, with the remainder done by February. US Internet has previously said that based on current subscribers and interest by people in areas that weren't covered, they could be cash flow positive in what seems to be months. That would be a huge milestone for the entire industry if it comes to pass. As usual utility poles figure into delays: Some poles don't have day-time electricity, exacerbated by what sounds like bad maintenance leading to cracked conduits where wiring could otherwise have been added.
Longmont considers buying network at fire sale: The city of Longmont, Colo., thinks that the network built by Kite Networks for their city could be worthwhile if purchased at discount if no other buyers emerge, this story from the local paper notes. Under Colorado law, voters would have to approve.
Boingo, JiWire partner in airport ad deal: Boingo Wireless will rely on JiWire for airport advertising on its 28 airport Wi-Fi networks. The deal is described as additive to revenue--that is, there's no mention of passengers getting free Wi-Fi for watching ads, although that's been part of JiWire's strategy elsewhere, including an ads-for-free-Wi-Fi deal for iPhone/iPod touch users in airports that obviously involves Boingo. (Disclosure: I own a vanishingly small number of shares in privately held JiWire.)
USA Today profiles Skyhook Wireless: The company's Wi-Fi-based GPS-like service was picked up by Apple, and this should make more deals easier for the firm.
Fon offers free routers to Castro neighborhood in San Francisco: Cher impersonator encourages people to share. Get it? The Cher connection comes from the Castro's long history as a gay commumity.
We're long past the beginning of the end, and we're nearing the end of the end for the built-it-first, figure-revenue-later model of municipal Wi-Fi: For two years, MetroFi has had the contract for Aurora, Ill., among the first cities to electrify its streetlights (1881). Delays due to utility poles have kept the network from growing fast for some time. Now, according to local papers, MetroFi is requiring a $3.5m contract over five years to cover public safety wireless costs or it won't complete the ad-supported, free public access network. Only 20 percent of the network has been built, and no work has been done since June.
MetroFi confirmed via email that the company won't build the networks out further, noting through a spokesperson, "Everyone involved has been aware of the change in the industry model for quite a while."
MetroFi has lost a number of contracts over the last year as it shifted its model--a process they say began in late 2006--from public access funded through advertising to public access/public safety, with anchor tenancy required by a city. In some cases, cities claimed that MetroFi brought up the requirement after contracts were signed; in others, municipalities said that the discussion started during negotiations.
In Portland, Ore., MetroFi apparently told the city in October that the company either needed a city commitment or additional capital to continue building the network. Nothing's been said since, and Portland pretty vehemently said that they wouldn't commit to any anchor tenant requirements.
While the city had originally budgeted $5m for a Wi-Fi network and "other technology upgrades," the Beacon News reports, MetroFi came in with a no-cost proposal for the city. The newspaper says that the city will put out an RFI rather than sign a deal without bidding it out. Aurora and adjacent Naperville, which is in the same boat reports the Naperville Sun, will likely produce a joint proposal.
The Naperville Sun article has the interesting additional fact that MetroFi built pilot 4.9 GHz public safety networks for the two cities to examine, and after tests, "both cities chose not to purchase additional services."
Related to this, perhaps, is that little word has come from MetroFi's primary equipment supplier SkyPilot, since a report surfaced in Unstrung last summer of significant layoffs; the company didn't confirm or deny those reports at the time or since. MetroFi is the only metro-scale Wi-Fi firm in the U.S. to use SkyPilot's gear.
It sounds like a litany, but another large-scale wireless project needs investment cash to proceed: The long-delayed project in Oakland County, Mich., which originally was planned to involve WiMax, and has suffered greatly due to issues around utility pole negotiations. Now, the network's operator, MichTel, says that $70m is needed to move forward, according to the local paper The Oakland Press.
Unfortunately, Oakland County's deputy executive isn't reading up on the issues troubling other municipal networks, at least according to this report. Phil Bertolini noted that no county money, only mounting assets like towers and buildings, were involved. But then he explains why other municipal networks have failed: "They went with advertising supported models."
Not so. MetroFi is still standing, and claims to have a good model for ad-supported service as long as cities are anchor tenants. We haven't heard much from MetroFi lately, but it's still standing.
Bertolini continued: "We realized we need to generate revenue from ads, subscribers, businesses that have a mobile work force and governments that can use it for meter reading and other things." Right. That's the foundation of a well-diversified network.
Apple plays to my interests this morning with a set of new products and upgrades tied into wireless data: The news out of San Francisco--where I'm on site--is that Apple is rather keen on Wi-Fi. The company announced several upgrades and new products that take advantage of a lack of wires.
The iPhone location update: The iPhone can now figure out your location by triangulating either the location of nearby cell towers or by fishing around for WI-Fi signals. The cell-tower system uses information from Google, which also provides the map data. Wi-Fi location details come from Skyhook Wireless, a firm I've tracked for years. Because the iPhone can make a connection over either EDGE or Wi-Fi, Skyhook confirmed for me that the iPhone can take its snapshot of the signals around it and transmit that to their servers over either Wi-Fi or EDGE. When connected to a Wi-Fi network, the query can go over Wi-Fi, of course, but could be coupled for better results with cell radio sniffing, too. The iPod touch also gets this Maps improvement, along with a handful of other additions, as a $20 upgrade for existing users; it has to be connected to a Wi-Fi network with Internet access to provide a location, however.
Time Capsule: Apple has scored the much coveted double-win on backups here, by coupling an operating system based backup feature (Time Machine) with a network-attached storage system that requires no configuration. Time Capsule incorporates a full AirPort Extreme Base Station (with 802.11n) with an internal 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive for $299 or $499, respectively. The base station is $179 when purchased by itself. A home network could have one of these puppies and accomplish several related tasks. Backup is for Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) only, which is a shame, but Apple would like people to upgrade to Leopard ($129) or buy new computers, so one can't precisely blame them.
MacBook Air: The "Air" refers to the lack of connections on this starting-at-$1,799 3 lb, high-performance laptop with a 13.3-inch screen, 80 GB drive, and 2 GB RAM. The MacBook Air has very few connections: there's a USB port, along with a mini-DVI connector and headphone jack, hidden behind a latch, but there's no FireWire (IEEE 1394), no optical drive, and no Ethernet jack. A external optical drive is $99 or you can use another drive on the network (Windows or Mac) via some special software that mounts the drive without any networking hassles. It includes 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR.
JiWire and its ad network will provide free access for Apple iPhone and iPod touch users to select hotspots, including airports and hotels: The program requires that you view an ad to connect for free. It's a very interesting idea, because getting on to a Wi-Fi hotspot, despite the full-featured browser in both mobile devices, is somewhat frustrating even for free networks that require a log in. JiWire's program not only offers free service, but bypasses hassle, too. JiWire expects to expand the program over time, but it currently includes most major airports.
Apple makes its big yearly announcements today at the Macworld Expo, which I'm attending. One of the near-term developments--perhaps showcased today--is the addition of third-party software development on the iPhone and iPod touch. I've been hoping for a Wi-Fi connection manager, a la Devicescape (which has a client that works on mildly hacked iPhones). The JiWire deal could obviate my need for a client, as I'll look at an ad to get free service.
(Disclosure: I own a very small number of shares in JiWire for work performed in its early years.)
Speculation is rampant around early glimpse of Macworld Expo banners: The banners (normally not seen until after the keynote) read "There's something in the air," which David Morgenstern speculates could refer to the inclusion of mobile WiMax (which he bucks the trend and calls WiMax Mobile, for some reason). I hesitate to stick my neck on the line, but I think it's unlikely Apple would push mobile WiMax at this point. But I've been wrong before.
Back in 2003, I said that Apple wouldn't introduce 802.11g products at the January Macworld Expo event because 802.11g wasn't yet well baked, and Apple wouldn't expose its customers to months of firmware updates and incompatibility issues with other Wi-Fi adapters and base stations. I was wrong! It took eight months of firmware fixes to get 802.11g just right, but we lived through.
In 2007, I thought it unlikely that despite the presence of what seemed like 802.11n chips in many Intel-based Macintoshes dissected by those interested in the innards that Apple would jump the gun on the standard which was still not clearly settled in its direction. Again, I was wrong: Apple pulled the trigger, and announced its 802.11n product and an activator for most Intel Core 2 Duo based Macs that had shipped to that point. A few days later, the IEEE group voted overwhelmingly to approve the draft of 802.11n that settled the issue as it moves to ratification.
Thus my track record is poor on Apple's wireless plans. Nonetheless, I think WiMax isn't in the cards. Rather, it's more likely for Apple to build in HSPA (high-speed packet access), the GSM evolution standard for 3G. I haven't seen this speculated elsewhere, so I may be totally off base, but here's my logic.
Mobile WiMax isn't yet deployed. With 802.11g and 802.11n, you could buy components from Apple and immediately use the higher speed for your own network. With Mobile WiMax, most Mac owners won't be able to access a network, for which they will have to subscribe or pay usage fees, until mid- to late 2008. People generally resent paying for technology they simply cannot use. Apple would also take a margin hit for including the internal adapter, which isn't in wide production yet.
In that light, HSPA is a more reasonable choice with its few hundred Kbps upstream and several hundred Kpbs downstream average performance. AT&T, its iPhone partner, already has HSPA networks deployed in the U.S.; it's determined to roll them out nationally, although its unclear what areas have the slower UMTS standard--faster than EDGE, slower than HSPA--and which have HSPA. (HSPA is often labled as HSDPA for the 3.6 Mbps or 7.2 Mbps raw "downlink" flavor and HSUPA for the 1.9 Mbps or 5.8 Mbps upstream flavors.)
The 3G iPhone will incorporate HSPA, and thus it would make sense for Apple to not be building in technology that's tied to a rival--Sprint Nextel--to its main and exclusive phone carrier partner.
What's more likely, however, is that the "in the air" has something to do with streaming media, a revised Apple TV, and new content than with a new network standard. But given my 0 for 2 record, you might want to take my opinion with a grain of salt.
Another Kite Networks operation confirmed down: The Dallas Morning News reports on the problems in Farmers Branch, Tex., which has had a Kite Networks Wi-Fi system up since Nov. 2006 that never met the required spec for coverage. The network is dead, Gobility (Kite's current owner) isn't responding for comment, and the city is about to seize the equipment under a default agreement. Farmers Branch doesn't want to operate the network, but with nearly 300 nodes in hand, they may be able to find a provider willing to go in with relatively little capital.
The only fly in the ointment is that Kite used Strix equipment, which is in use by no other major city-wide U.S. Wi-Fi vendor; it's had good international adoption, and used in a public access/public safety deployment in Brookline, Mass. This may make it hard for an existing network operator to want to take over equipment they're not used to using. Update: I was informed by Strix and another unrelated party that Farmers Branch is full of Cisco gear, not Strix equipment.
This is the first article to state what I've been told privately: that Gobility essentially started shutting down weeks, beginning with firing all its employees, according to former marketing VP Alan Crancer, who is quoted in this article.
Schneier on leaving his Wi-Fi network open: Bruce Schneier is a security savant, and I usually admire his writing. In this case, he wrote something quite stupid for Wired. He explains that he leaves his Wi-Fi at home unsecured and wide open. He walks through technical and legal and practical reasons why closing the network isn't of interest to him. But he only mentions the most important bit in passing: ". If I configure my computer to be secure regardless of the network it's on, then it simply doesn't matter. And if my computer isn't secure on a public network, securing my own network isn't going to reduce my risk very much."
And how, Mr Security Guru, might I do that? Readers taking his advice without knowing that he's set up encryption for his computer's data across the open network--which is what I assume he's done--would be exposing themselves to risk. He's also wrong about risk profiles. The risk profile at a Wi-Fi hotspot is smaller because of the time dimension (how long someone might attack your computer) and the population dimension (how many people might attack your computer over time).
I don't advise opening your home network because securing your desktop computers and even laptops is so much of a hassle most of the time, that simply disabling local network access--over which more attacks can be launched because many firewalls consider the local network a trusted network and lower their defenses--is the lowest-hanging fruit for average users' protection.
Also, Schneier's discussion with "several lawyers" led to his summary that if someone misused your network, you might wind up plea bargaining over child porn suits or paying the RIAA thousands of dollars to settle, even if you're not at fault. But his conclusion: "I remain unconvinced of this threat, though." I do not.
Finally, Schneier dismisses concerns over ISPs who don't allow their networks to be shared. (Note that although he mentions Fon, he doesn't note their Roadrunner cable deal, which provides their private/public router service to a much larger potential audience with legal sharing ability.) Schneier writes, "But despite the occasional cease-and-desist letter and providers getting pissy at people who exceed some secret bandwidth limit, this isn't a big risk either. The worst that will happen to you is that you'll have to find a new ISP." He is unaware of the near-monopoly in many parts of the US, even in cities where a duopoly exists. In many cases, a cable firm that drops you can't be replaced by any other broadband provider.
Open networks constructed properly with good security are a great addition to the arsenal of access. Implicitly advising everyone to open their APs--not so good.
Klaus Ernst writes and images from New York City with his experience with the free CBS OpenZone network: CBS's outdoor advertising division launched the service in November 2007; Ernst finds performance is all over the board. "The 47th Street Subway entrance has the "CBS mobile ((ZONE)) surf the web here. Free!" orange banner (see picture) but there was no hotspot. Maybe next time." He tested across Broadway and found a couple more working nodes, although one lacked a banner, advertising, or a splash page for accepting terms of service--but it worked.
"Well, it's not hopeless, but CBS is definitely not blanketing the area with Wi-Fi the way they made it sound in the press release," Ernst writes. Ernest tests with an Asus and HP iPaq.
The map--click for larger image--is Ernsts's overlay of his tests with a Fon map of that part of Manhattan.
What's your experience, New Yorkers?
Local paper reports Telscape may scotch plan to buy Kite Networks' Tempe, Chandler networks: The abrupt shutdown by Gobility of their network services--but not the hardware--in Tempe and Chandler, Ariz., is leading Telscape to reconsider its purchase of those networks, six months in the making. Telscape has been trying to take over network operations even though the deal isn't done, the local East Valley Tribune reports.
Yuma, Ariz., recognizes their network won't be built: Kite had committed some time ago to building a network in Yuma with a local partner. (This article incorrectly says Telscape has purchased Kite, when the arrangement isn't complete, and Telscape is buying just the Arizona network.)
In Longmont, Colo., another Kite network goes free for the moment as its future is decided: Longmont's network has been set to "free" while Gobility seeks a buyer, according to the Longmont Times-Call.
Very odd: The high-profile Frontline Wireless firm that convinced the FCC to tailor a public/private spectrum license auction to its needs is "closed for business": RCR News reports that the well-connected Frontline is shuttered. Frontline was expected to bid hard for a special band that would allow both commercial and public safety uses nationwide with priority given in emergencies to the public safety purpose. Frontline needed to make a $128m deposit for the D Block license with the FCC by Jan. 4, but the firm wouldn't tell the trade publication whether it had made such a deposit.
The New York Times notes involvement in Frontline from former FCC chair Reed Hundt, Kleiner Perkins' John Doerr, former Netscape head Jim Barksdale, and early Google backer K. Ram Shriram. The Times's John Markoff profiled the firm last April.
It's not clear what happened. The Times speculates capital was tight, although an AP report notes that one of Frontline's bidding partners is controlled by a private equity and hedge fund firm with $40b in assets. Update: Later on Tuesday the Times confirmed with an unnamed source within the company that the firm didn't make a deposit against the auction, and was unable to raise the funds necessary to make a successful bid.
The Associated Press also notes that without Frontline in the bidding, the D Block's minimum $1.33b bid may not be met, and it's unclear what happens at that point. The entire 700 MHz auction, including the C Block that Google, AT&T, and Verizon will likely contend over, must raise over $10b in aggregate, or the bidding will be declared null, and the rules changed. The C Block will likely exceed its nearly $5b opening bid, but the other regional licenses up for grabs may not total enough with the C Block to meet the minimum.
This could throw open access into disarray, as if the auction doesn't produce the desired revenue, the rules requiring the C Block winner to allow any legal device running any applications and accessing any service would be revised to be more restrictive.
Boingo, Broadcom partner to include Boingo software in Wi-Fi VoIP phones: Boingo received another shot of confidence in its method of aggregating access to tens of thousands of hotspots worldwide for a flat fee with Broadcom incorporating the Boingo software toolkit in its Wi-Fi phone chipset platform. Reducing coding effort vastly increases the likelihood that a manufacturer would partner with Boingo to provide access for its subscribers, or that a reseller or service provider would wind up working with Boingo because the phone already had the capability to tap into the Boingo network. Boingo charges $8 per month for unlimited access for mobile devices with Wi-Fi, including handsets and devices with browsers. The iPhone, alas, is not yet in the supported devices list given its closed platform approach--until next month when a software developer's toolkit is released by Apple.
Eye-Fi signs deal with memory-card maker Lexar for their embedded technology: The details are pretty vague right now, but it likely means better and wider integration of Eye-Fi's features with camera memory cards, among other possibilities. I don't think we'll see every memory card have Wi-Fi inside, but Lexar's market position makes it possible for them, in turn, to work with camera makers to incorporate special features that a Lexar Wi-Fi card would have access to. Eye-Fi also runs the back-end of the system, and while there are no details available about whether the company gets a cut of customer purchases for uploaded photos, one expects there's money on the back end, too. Separately, Eye-Fi announced new partnerships with Microsoft and Costco. Eye-Fi users can upload photos starting Jan. 11 to Windows Live, Windows Live Photo Gallery, and Costco's Photo Center.
Tropos has new CEO: The metro-scale Wi-Fi equipment maker, notable for providing gear to EarthLink Networks for the quiescent municipal division, has a new chief executive and president, Tom Ayers. Ayers's background is in networked security. Ron Sege is stepping down after four years, riding the rollercoaster of not-quite-early-stage startup to what is still not-quite-late-stage startup even as market conditions changed dramatically. Tropos began its life as a clever mesh firm looking to target the high cost of campus-wide enterprise networking with a cheaper approach. The firm rode the wave of hype in the metro-scale Wi-Fi market. With less growth in that field--but still a predicted hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent in 2008 in the U.S. alone on city Wi-Fi--it's a time of change and new strategies. With the loss of many thousands of nodes for projected EarthLink projects, the company has to develop harder markets.
Canary Wireless updates Digital Hotspotter detector: I thought Canary Wireless's first-generation product was the best of breed when introduced way back in Dec. 2004. The new model, the HS20, will go on sale for $60 sometime in the first quarter of 2008. Features seem much the same, with easier controls for scrolling among multiple networks detected. The device shows the network name, signal strength, and encryption type (if any). There's a place for Wi-Fi detectors only if they provide all this info. Otherwise, it's just a toy.
Latest ferry run powered by Wi-Fi in Washington State: Parsons has turned on Wi-Fi in the long Bremerton-to-Seattle ferry route after long delays in securing locations to mount equipment. In the end, they placed 10 shoreline access points due to siting issues and the curving path the ferry takes. It was known during the production tests of this service that this would be the hardest route to unwire. Bremerton is a blue-collar town that's much more affordable than any other bedroom-by-ferry communities. Washington State Ferries carries 50 percent of all U.S. ferry trips (by passenger numbers), and now has its most popular routes equipped with Wi-Fi. Roaming deals with Boingo, iPass, and others allow business commuters and others to have ferry-Fi access at no charge above their existing monthly fees. While the press release says this is the largest "commercial, over-the-water Wi-Fi system in the world," I would say that's too narrow: it's almost certainly serves the largest audience of commuters of any Wi-Fi system.
The Arizona Republic reports Tempe, Chandler network disruption in Arizona temporary: The networks in those two adjacent city, operated by Kite Networks, went down due to what the city of Tempe's go-to man on Wi-Fi, Dave Heck, said was Gobility and Kite shutting down their authentication servers before potential buyer Telscape had assumed operational control. This is why the several Tempe network users who wrote me were generally able to see an active network but not connect. The article says that Telscape should have the network back up this evening or tomorrow, while Chandler's network has been available since Friday. See my coverage from yesterday, with a recap on Kite's history and the state of municipal Wi-Fi.
Update: Heck is even blunter in this interview with another local paper, the East Valley Tribune: "Kite could have kept its servers running while California-based Telscape was preparing to take over service, Heck said, but instead decided to just shut down. 'I don't think they even cared, to be honest with you,' Heck said."
While the deal is apparently not finalized with Telscape, a large regional telecommunications company with a specialty focus on Spanish-speaking customers, it's far enough underway that they're assuming network responsibilities. With only several hundred current subscribers to the two networks, the lockout had limited effect.
Sony mylo 2 has crazy name, better interface, free Wi-Fi: Sony's insanely named COM-2 mylo has a nicer looking design, a lower price ($300 instead of $350), and password-free no-cost Wi-Fi hotspots access at all Wayport locations, including over 9,000 McDonald's outlets, certainly a prime overlap with mylo 2 buyers (I refuse to use its proper name). The new version adds AOL Instant Messenger support on top of existing Google Talk, Skype, and Yahoo Messenger. It also allows Skype voice calls as did the first edition. A preview in PC Magazine notes that the Web browser is good--reviews of the first mylo excoriated a poor browsing experience. But the reviewer's browser ran out of memory regularly, especially when trying to use Flash heavy sites. There's only 23 MB of free RAM on the machine, quite low given that the reviewer notes 831 MB is available for music and video storage.
Linksys releases revised EasyLink Advisor: the new "LELA" is shipping with Linksys's just-announced inexpensive home 802.11n gateways (2.4 GHz only at $100 and $130 for 10/100 Mbps Ethernet or gigabit Ethernet, respectively). The revised software has scored rave reviews from those who have seen it already, noting that it includes an update agent that scans Linksys's site for firmware updates for any devices on the network, and can allow a Linksys tech to connect remotely to your network to examine and change configurations. There's also a plan by the end of this quarter to offer a graphical map of your network, something that's available in limited form with the current LELA. LELA will eventually deploy with all new devices. In the past, Linksys makes LELA updates available for many older products at some point in the release schedule.
I've been trying to ignore this story about Boeing's alleged security weaknesses in its 787 networking, but it has legs: I keep reading references to it, so here goes. The Boeing 787, the Dreamliner, a plane that's remarkable and daring in so many aspects, doesn't have Wi-Fi on board. In their failed effort to meet their original deadlines for delivery, Boeing jettisoned the Wi-Fi system in favor of Ethernet to each seat, which, due to the structured wiring approach they have, reduced weight by 150 pounds. Go figure. (Boeing also showed a fully assembled plane a few months, the first, and then proceeded to disassemble it to make it work, which was why the head of the division was reassigned and the plane is now many months overdue, although they may meet their revised deadlines.)
This Wired article seems to be making a huge mountain out of the molehill that the FAA releasing a report that documented what it calls new forms of passenger connectivity that could allow vulnerabilities allowing passengers to gain access to flight systems. Now I find this all rather dubious for a few reasons. It's not like Boeing is new to making aircraft. It's not like Boeing didn't have (and shutter) the first in-flight broadband network. It's not like the FAA doesn't release reports like this all the time to make sure that there's full disclosure to the aeronautic community about particular issues in new planes. This is all part of the procedure.
Wired quotes a single analyst working for a company in "stealth mode" who most likely brought this FAA document to the Wired reporter. The analyst could, in fact, be set up to provide consulting to the airline industry, and thus have a vested interest in raising FUD about it.
I'm not saying that Boeing couldn't have developed a system with specific risks that they haven't well addressed. Rather, that we're still at a routine point in this development, and that the FAA highlights risks of this sort to make sure--in a manner that most government agencies and industries don't--that parties involved are aware of potential problems.
Boeing may have made huge mistakes, but I expect they have not. I expect the system will be correctly hardened, partitioned, and logically and physically segmented to prevent flight system access.
A Kite Networks subscriber alerted me to a lack of Internet access in Tempe and Chandler, Ariz.; a lack of phones being answered, and a dead Web site: Kite (under the name NeoReach) was one of the earliest entries into the metro-scale Wi-Fi market, and Tempe, Ariz., and adjoining Chandler at one point had the largest continguous area of Wi-Fi coverage in the U.S. Reports indicated that service was inconsistent, however, and published reports from local papers indicate that Kite ultimately tripled the number of Wi-Fi nodes originally planned (from 400 to 1,200). Tempe was not an anchor tenant, but was to receive thousands of no-cost network accounts for city employees as a trade for mounting rights. The network in Farmers Branch, Tex., may be out of commission, too.
Kite was known to be in trouble last summer, as filings by former parent company MobilePro with the SEC indicated. MobilePro had sold the Kite Networks division to Gobility last year, but with the proviso that Gobility raise $3m in a matter of weeks. They did not. In an SEC filing in November, MobilePro asserted that "Gobility has been unable to fund its operations including the payment of amounts due under a series of capital equipment leases and other equipment-related obligations." No news has come out since then except regional bilingual telco Telscape was interested in purchasing the network.
The Kite and WAZ (Wireless Arizona) Metro Web sites are dead at the moment, and Gobility has apparently removed all mention of Kite from its home page, but still notes its ownership on its investor information page. I have a query into Kite about what's happening, although it's a Sunday, so I'm unlikely to get official word (if any) until tomorrow--assuming that there are employees at Kite left to provide official details.
Kite was, at one point, one of the big three independent service providers bidding on municipal RFPs for city-wide networks. EarthLink and MetroFi were the other two. EarthLink has de facto exited the business despite their statements that they haven't: they're really working to wind down or sell the operations. MetroFi continues to move forward, but only on deals they have an advance "anchor tenant" commitment from a city with, and I haven't heard of new contracts being awarded lately. MetroFi's Portland, Ore., network, the largest they're working on, is operating but expansion is in abeyance until the firm raises additional capital. MetroFi has also built a network in Riverside, Calif., with AT&T, and that may represent their future direction.
A number of regional firms bid on and sometimes won the right to build metro-scale networks across the U.S. Many of those have faltered, had bids revoked, or are vastly delayed. US Internet in Minneapolis is the only example of a continued expansion of big-city Wi-Fi that I'm aware of. In some smaller towns, regional providers have built out networks that work.
C-Com, the firm that won the bidding to build Wi-Fi service across 10 Denver suburbs, has municipal commitments: With those in hands, it's out wooing investors for the money needed to build the network. The Colorado Wireless Communities consortium comprises cities representing 137 sq mi; the best know of those towns outside Colorado is Boulder, where the company plans to launch a square mile test network in the spring.
The value of municipal commitments, including utility pole arrangements or venue sitings, hasn't been disclosed.
C-Com's goal is combined voice and Internet to provide the return on investment. Voice was an afterthought for most other municipal Wi-Fi efforts. C-Com plans to charge about $10 per month for basic voice, $13 for enhanced (with Caller ID), $15 for 1.5 Mbps data, and $20 for a data/voice package.
The research paper is a few months old, but apparently just being publicized: Researchers at Indiana University modeled how wireless routers, if targeted with a virus, could spread such a virus among other routers. There are a lot of variables involved: whether the administrative password on the router was changed from its default; whether no encryption, WEP, or WPA/WPA2 is enabled; and the heterogeneity of router models, as viruses aren't one size fits all. Even though the paper is weeks old, the notion seems to have captured the mind of technology sites, which are all writing about it. (Some event sparked the paper's rediscovery?)
In their modeling, they looked at wardriving data that let them figure out how close Wi-Fi routers were. They found that there is likely enough density for tens of thousands of routers to be infected over a period of days. In Chicago, for instance, they found 48,000 contiguous routers assuming a 45-meter maximum interaction distance.
The wardriving data let them also determine which routers had which modes of encryption enabled to determine the speed and possibility of attacks. They assumed that routers protected by WPA are immune, which is reasonable; there's no known generic hack for WPA, only cracks that involve precomputed large databases of keys based on default network names (SSIDs).
Their assumption on administrative access to a router is predicated that someone who hasn't changed the router's SSID is likely also to have left the password unchanged. For the rest, they assume that 25 percent of passwords can be guessed with 65,000 attempts, which conforms to other password research. Routers, they found, don't have a mechanism to delay and disable password access due to failed attempts.
One thing I don't see addressed in the report is how many different worms would be required based on the many different models of Wi-Fi routers and the many firmware releases for each. There's an assumption buried that I don't see in which a certain homogeneity of routers--seeded by DSL providers, for instance, and aided by Linksys's dominance in the market?--has to be in place to be sure that enough security holes exist, are unpatched, and can be exploited.
Meraki Networks raises $20m in additional funds, spends a small portion on providing free Wi-Fi across San Francisco: Meraki, founded by MIT students, funded by Google, Sequoia Capital, and others, will expand its current 2 sq mi mesh Wi-Fi network in San Francisco across the whole city. Meraki will foot the backhaul bill and pay for equipment--but it won't pay for real estate. The city will help publicize the network, but I haven't read anything concrete about the city's plans. (Read good local coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle.)
The clever bit here, and how Meraki may succeed where EarthLink failed, is that the firm is relying on individuals and businesses to choose to opt in, site equipment, and take advantage of the network working better for everyone because they participate (paging Ayn Rand). Meraki plans to offer solar-powered outdoor nodes for extending the network's reach, which means potential locations don't have to provide electricity on rooftops or elsewhere, which in turn means fewer or no layers of approval from anyone in authority (whether a neighborhood association, landlord, or the city). "It's relatively easy to install on private rooftops," said Meraki CEO and co-founder Sanjit Biswas in a briefing earlier today.
In the process, Meraki gets a city-wide testbed for local search, local ads, and new technology. "The great thing about having a real-world testbed is you can see the performance," Biswas said. Meraki is testing advertising now, but Biswas says it's "very much in the test mode."
While Biswas didn't disclose any of the costs of building the city-wide San Francisco network or its recurring bandwidth bill for backhaul--he told the AP "a few million"--the math works for Meraki. Giving away 10,000 to 15,000 nodes that cost them as little as $25 assembled for indoor nodes and a few hundred for outdoor nodes with solar chargers and batteries doesn't add up to a lot. They don't have to negotiate pole rates, handle installation, or pay recurring venue fees. Bandwidth is relatively cheap if you can choose the points at which you inject it, which Meraki will be able to do. Update: I misunderstood the backbone part. Meraki will, in fact, install some hundreds of solar-powered outdoor nodes to run the backhaul; but they'll still be working with people to find those locations rather than securing those rooftops themselves.
Meraki has learned quite a lot about the real world, Biswas said, with their current San Francisco network, having identified 20,000 interferers--other devices within range and frequency of Meraki nodes--within the 2 sq mi area. Meraki nodes use a centralized intelligence to control routing, as well as a modification to Wi-Fi that doesn't affect end users' ability to connect, but does allow clusters of routers to act dynamically as a unit.
With unmodified mesh Wi-Fi networks, all devices within range of one another and on the same channel act in concert, reducing flexibility and throughput; smaller clusters produce better results. Further, most of the metro-scale Wi-Fi devices sold by Tropos and others are designed to put out the highest possible power output; Meraki uses generally low-power equipment. It's ants versus elephants, with ants being able to change course a bit more quickly. "It's kind of a brains over brawns approach. It's really because we have so many radios," said Biswas, that their network is more flexible. "We can set routes and load balance appropriately to get the maximum performance out of the network," Biswas said.
The current San Francisco network has seen 40,000 unique devices so far--there's no registration, so each unique adapter number is counted--and moved over 10 terabytes of data. Of those 40,000 devices, 1,000 were iPhones.
Biswas said that Meraki has discovered its biggest market may be developing countries where there's an established user base for the Internet that's limited to dial up or slow-speed broadband, and where carriers could deploy Meraki gear to get around non-existent copper infrastructure.
"A lot of our largest customers are carriers that are entering markets in Brazil and India," he said. "We're not at this point going after the most remote villages in the world; there are some very dense populations who...would love to use broadband but just can't get it."