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Skyhook Wireless will combine information from Wi-Fi wardriving, GPS radios, and cell tower signals for better location: The pitch at Skyhook Wireless is that despite its accuracy, satellite-based GPS remains relatively expensive, that it's slow to get a fix when it powers up, and that it's not accurate enough in the middle of cities. Their XPS 2.0 system leverages GPS with the advantages of Skyhook's Wi-Fi signal database and algorithms along with cell-tower triangulation.
Ted Morgan, the head of Skyhook, explained in an interview that while GPS is certainly the gold standard, and while it works well in stand-alone devices designed for continuous use and navigation, it's not the right choice by itself for mobile devices. It can take 5 or 10 minutes for a GPS-only device to get an accurate fix on the satellites it needs to give you accurate information. (Various shortcuts can provide less accurate information more quickly.)
"This notion of 'tell a user or consumer to stand outside for 30 seconds before they can search for the nearest pharmacy' is pretty silly," Morgan said. He noted that with all the radios now found in newer mobile devices, using several of them produces a fast and much more accurate result. The iPhone 3G, for instance, sports quad-band 2G, tri-band 3G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS chips.
Morgan said that A-GPS (assisted GPS) already combines cell tower information with GPS. A cell phone can be told approximately where it is, and thus instead of cycling through 24 satellites, start with the two that are most directly overhead. This can reduce the time to gain a location to as little as 20 seconds, Morgan said, although any kind of movement usually lengthens the time to 30 to 60 seconds.
Skyhook's system takes advantage of this aspect of A-GPS. They let a GPS system grab onto two satellites quickly to correct data from their Wi-Fi Position System (WPS). Morgan said that this reduces the WPS error by 35 to 40 percent through "weak fixes."
Within cities' concrete canyons, "you can only get a true GPS fix about 70 percent of the time outdoor, but you get two satellites all the time," Morgan said. "In the entire footprint, we're able to use this hybrid technology, even though GPS is only available 70 percent of the time." Outside of metro areas, cell towers can still be used to improve GPS startup times.
Skyhook has continued to expand its European coverage for WPS; they cover about 8,000 cities in the US and Canada, which is roughly 70 percent of the population; "it looks exactly like a cellular coverage map," Morgan said, and includes "any town with five streets in it."
In Europe, their current big push, partly because of their inclusion in the iPhone, they cover 70 percent of population in the current countries--the UK, France, and Germany--but they're now at 50 percent of the population of the rest of Western Europe. They're working assiduously in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Australia as well, and looking into China and India. India has very little Wi-Fi, so they may rely more on cell towers there.
The company also announced a partnership with wireless chip maker CSR today, which is a major providers of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips to computer and handset makers. Nearly a year and a half ago, Skyhook partnered with SiRF, the dominant worldwide chip supplier for stand-alone GPS gear, that's also making a push into mobile devices. Skyhook obviously needs a win with a cell chip maker, like Infineon, Broadcom, or Qualcomm, given the XPS technology, to score a place in tens of millions of cell phones beyond the iPhone.
Skyhook's technology most recently appeared in a soon-to-ship model of the Eye-Fi--the Explore. The $130 Secure Digital card with Wi-Fi built in allows you to take pictures with any camera, and have the Wi-Fi signal space recorded for later lookup when you upload photos. The pictures are geotagged with that information. The card can be used with Wayport's 10,000 strong Wi-Fi network in the U.S for free in the first year, and $20 per year thereafter. David Pogue of The New York Times recently wrote up the Eye-Fi Explore.
I'm going for the sensational in the headline, but it's part of the story's intro, too: The New York Times reports on some early uses of the city's $500m wireless network designed for non-public uses. The network uses UMTS over licensed spectrum specifically devoted the city's municipal and public safety purposes.
One of the projects leaders uses terms that should warm every New Yorker's heart, if he or she knew what they meant. IT head Paul Cosgrave says the system will overcome silos, an often disparaging term for the separation of resources across groups that can only expensively be overcome. It's the government and business equivalent of the academic problem of a lack of cross-discipline focus.
One of the first applications allows sanitation workforce managers a frighteningly precise amount of knowledge about routes, activities, and behavior of trucks in their territory. Let's hope that's not misused! Efficiency is one thing; micro-management is another.
Another project is testing wireless water-meter reading. The city hopes to spend $90 per meter for the upgrade and shed part of a $12.2m contract with Con Edison that covers 850,000 units. What should be useful about this is that problems can be detected by monitoring waterflow patterns, which in turn allows the often huge problems that take months to notice (occurring underground or in basements where rivers formerly flowed) to be stopped before they turn into multi-million-dollar problems for property owners or the city. Anytime anything happens in Manhattan, it's a multi-million dollar problem.
The New York Times takes guided Wi-Fi tour: An interesting article by Seth Kugel avoids the usual, "here's where you find Wi-Fi approach." Rather, he tours the city, pairing Wi-Fi with historical and political details you can find around you. Kugel, like our faithful correspondent Klaus Ernst, has found that CBS MobileZone is a no-show. The advertising group told him that they were improving the signal. I love the idea of super-local information, too. With Google Maps, Google Earth, Flickr, Dopplr, and other services, you can pair your current location with what's happening right around you in the past or right now.
Oakland County, Mich., project officially "on hold": For "on hold," read, "never going to be built." The pilot area in seven communities has been turned off, and MichTel has been unable to obtain the $70-odd million they project needed to build out the county-wide service. The state's ongoing reliance on the automotive industry makes it a hard sell to commit public dollars in advance of a return on those dollars, too.
Virgin Mobile buys Helio: The last vestiges of EarthLink's three-pronged approach to fighting the wireline monopoly appears to be at an end. EarthLink pushed its 50-50 partnership with SK Telecom in mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Helio as one prong; its municipal Wi-Fi division as another; and its DSL business as a third. The muni division is nearly out of operation, and DSL lines continue to fall in quantity quarter over quarter. Dial-up is still their cash cow. Helio lost hundreds of millions to obtain just 170,000 subscribers (that number down from 200,000 at the start of 2008). EarthLink will receive a pittance for its investment, part of the $39 million in stock that Virgin will pay for Helio; SK Telecom will invest in Virgin Mobile to obtain a total 17 percent state. Virgin itself makes just a very tiny sliver of profit. MVNOs buy minutes and data from carriers, and Virgin Mobile involves Sprint as a partner, making it the only tolerably successful MVNO.
Chrysler's in-car Internet $30 per month: The service, announced today but leaked yesterday, will cost about $450 and $35 to $50 for installation, using Autonet's system. The monthly fee is $30. I'm not sure I'm in love with the idea, because at that price, you could buy a Junxion box or equipment from another maker, and have the flexibility to move the portable hotspot around or stick an adapter into a computer. It might make sense for fleet deployments, though.
Alltel launches domestic US hotspot service: Alltel is reselling Boingo's offering at $20 per month or $4 per day with no commitment. That's 25,000 US hotspots. The No. 5 cell operator, which is in the process of being acquired by Verizon, also runs a EVDO network available nationally as part of a Verizon partnership (Alltel covers a ton of areas Verizon doesn't), which costs $60 per month. Combine Wi-Fi and 3G and pay $70 per month.
Beijing's Wi-Fi network launches with a limp; no 3G at Olympics, either: The Wall Street Journal says the WiCity project that will cover the Olympic venue with Wi-Fi (about 100 sq km) got off to a rough start at its launch, with reports from their bureau and others of poor signal strength; no answer on the customer-support hotline; and broken links on the Web site. The blog entry also notes that visitors who expect 3G over their cell will be bitterly disappointed, as anyone in the industry knows: China didn't adopt either worldwide 3G standard. They claim that their own TD-SCDMA 3G technology will be up and running in time, but that won't really help visitors much, now will it? I'm surprised no waivers were granted to run temporary cell installations for EVDO and HSPA just for the games. Wouldn't have been that big a deal.
The nearly finished IEEE 802.11y could make Wi-Fi more practical over longer distances: Wi-Fi is a compromise. In the unlicensed bands in which it operates, it has to deal with interference from noise sources and other networks, while using very low power, and trying not to make a pest of itself. It's done very well. In the 2.4 GHz band and parts of 5 GHz, the maximum power from the radio is 1 watt (W), and the effective power (EIRP) is 4 W on an omnidirectional antenna. (You can push far more power if you narrow the antenna's beam. And parts of the 5 GHz band restrict radio power below 1 W. I wrote a long rundown of 5 GHz issues back in Jan-2007.)
But there's this lovely new segment of lightly licensed spectrum in the U.S., the 3.65 GHz band. It's a non-exclusive licensed band available only in parts of the country that don't have pre-existing ground-to-satellite or radar uses that overlap. This omits most of the eastern seaboard and most major cities; Seattle is one exception.
The licensing mechanism allows any number of operators to obtain inexpensive licenses, and register the base stations they use by location. If interference arises among base stations, operators are required to work out the problems themselves. I wrote extensively about this band and its rules on 9-May-2008 in profiling Azulstar, formerly a metro-scale Wi-Fi firm, but now a big proponent of WiMax in 3.65 GHz. I also went over the rules for the band on 11-June-2007 when the FCC announced the arrangement.
Several firms offer base station and customer premises equipment for this band now, so close to the 3.5 GHz band more commonly exclusively licensed in Europe and elsewhere. WiMax equipment is available because the 3.65 GHz band can be used with WiMax without any modifications to that protocol, although limited to just 25 MHz of the 50 MHz that the FCC set aside.
Equipment that conforms to a more stringent set of rules about contention and other factors can use the whole 50 MHz, and that's where 802.11y comes in. It's an extension of Wi-Fi to cope with the specific needs--and to open Wi-Fi technology up to 20 W EIRP, a vastly higher power output. This could allow connections over 5 km, the group says.
The Wikipedia entry on 802.11y, clearly written by someone involved with the specification, notes that three specific additions are needed: a tweak to support the way in which the FCC wants contention among competing devices to work; a method for an access point to tell a station (a connecting radio) that it's about to switch its channel or its channel's bandwidth, and the station should do likewise; and a mechanism to handle a base station allowing or revoking permission to use the spectrum without uniquely identifying the user's system or broadcasting its precise GPS-based location.
The standard is near completion and initial approval. I don't have any knowledge about whether any mainstream Wi-Fi equipment makers or metro-scale equipment makers are looking into building 802.11y into their gear.
The fact is that this could be a great technology for the mostly sub-metropolitan markets that 3.65 GHz is available in, although it has the same pain as WiMax: all new gear on the towers and all new adapters for customers.
Chrysler offers automotive Internet access as 2009 model option: All its newest cars and trucks will, for an undisclosed price, act as cellular relays over Wi-Fi. The news was leaked and details should be available tomorrow. The LA Times writer notes that while only passengers should use the Internet while the car is in motion, there's no way to prevent the driver from surfing. Except common sense. Yeah, that'll work. (The writer has confused his megas and kilos; the likely EVDO Rev. A service that will power this system runs at 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps downstream and 350 to 550 Kbps upstream, according to the cell operators.)
Boston ferries gain Wi-Fi: The MTBA has put Internet access on its 11 commuter boats that serve 4,500 daily riders. Ridership is way up this year.
Bangkok builds slow Wi-Fi network, free for first year: The details are a bit sketchy, but the government has built a 15,000-hotspot network that offer 64 Kbps connections, and will be free (with an access card) for the first year. The government is handing out 500,000 such cards at shopping malls before this week's launch.
AT&T will manage Motel 6 and Studio 6 locations: The low-cost properties' parent corp., Accor North America, which also runs premium hotels, chose AT&T to handle its network. 600 company-owned and 200 franchisee-owned locations have service so far.
T-Mobile launches nationwide July 2nd with its home-line replacement service--or is it a cell plan extension service? I link here to Seattle Times's columnist Brier Dudley's take on @Home, T-Mobile's $10 per month unlimited domestic home calling service that leverages customers' existing cell service and broadband connection. The service launched in the Seattle area several months ago, and is expanding nationally, and Dudley interviews T-Mobile's boss Robert Dotson for the story. Dotson says T-Mobile doesn't see @Home as a way to get folks to necessarily cut their landline cord, but rather to extend the function of a cell phone inside the house, even if you're using cordless not cellular devices.
The service uses a router that accepts SIM cards for authentication, but the backhaul is pure VoIP over Internet. Regular POTS (plain old telephone service) phones can be plugged into the router. The router is also compatible with HotSpot@Home (an additional $10/month), which allows unlimited domestic calling over Wi-Fi using special handsets from T-Mobile; there are now 8 handset models available. Customers have to have at least a $40 single-line or $50 family plan service to add either @Home or HotSpot@Home.
Probably the key remaining advantage for Vonage and other Internet telephony services that typically charge $20 to $30 per month for unlimited calling is that they include unlimited calls to any number in Canada or the U.S., not just the U.S., as well as unmetered calls to landlines in dozens of other countries in Europe as well as Australia. For those who regularly call outside the U.S., the @Home service would quickly become ridiculously expensive for its international tolls.
I wish I was so high with some guy in the sky: In today's Mobile Post, I talk about the big event today: American Airlines flying the first commercial flight since Connexion shut down with broadband onboard. It's a test; it launches commercially in a few weeks. More in the post.
American Airlines will fly its first commercial round-trip with Aircell's Gogo service active tomorrow: On Wednesday, 25-June-2008, in-flight broadband briefly flickers back to life with a JFK to Los Angeles round-trip flown by American on which passengers will get free use of the onboard, in-flight Internet service via Wi-Fi. The test flight is a kind of soft launch, which will be followed in a few weeks by full-on service.
American will offer Gogo on its 15 Boeing 767-200s, which means all JFK-LAX routes and some JFK-SFO and JFK-MIA (Miami) routes. The test will likely stress the system because more people will get on than on a typical flight since they won't be paying, and I would guess a lot of people will immediately try streaming video just to see if it works.
The full-on launch is still a pilot project even though it involves so many planes, routes, and passengers.
BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin asked me to participate in an interview call today with execs from Aircell and American Airlines, and I've written up the full account for their site.
Among other interesting tidbits I learned today, the onboard systems have 800 GB of capacity for future expansion--streaming media, most likely--and the AA-configured 767-200 has power outlets scattered around coach, and at every seat in first and business class.
More hotels have Internet service, while fewer charge for it: A hospitality industry trade group says that 91 percent of 10,000 hotel properties surveyed have Wi-Fi service, a 35 percent increase over 2004, while only 16 percent of those polled charge for in-room service, down from 19 percent in 2006 and 22 percent in 2004. Many hotels offer wired connections in the room (sometimes at a fee), and Wi-Fi in lobbies and public spaces (often free). But clearly, the trend is for more Wi-Fi and less charging.
A second study focusing on information technology received about 250 responses, and indicated that Wi-Fi was present in 86 percent of those surveyed, but that 20 percent of the remaining hotels would add it within five years.
Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing gets the scoop on when American Airlines launches its in-flight network using Aircell GoGo service: She writes that it might be as early as this week on JFK, LAX, SFO, and MIA flights (that last one is Miami; took me a moment). Virgin is probably still a few months away, although they told Jardin that they're more prepared, but they have more integration to do.
Jardin notes that Virgin is thinking about what gets cached on planes. I would note that the idea of onboard media and caching servers is a great one, because it means that passengers could ostensibly stream or purchase downloadable digital content; and that whenever an airplane lands, its servers could automatically suck in at 802.11n speeds from a gate-mounted access point all the latest data to cache, including video.
On the cost of fuel to carry the Wi-Fi gear--probably a total of 200 pounds of dead weight and drag, based on information that Aircell and others have been giving out--I may have been close tot the mark when I suggested it was $50 for a cross country flight a few days ago.
The excellent Scott McCartney, author of The Middle Seat column in The Wall Street Journal, ran down the numbers on 10-June, and he says LAX-JFK costs about $500 per passenger when all the costs are figured out. But that includes all fuel divided by average passenger count: that is, the weight of the plane, everything in it, and its drag are all contributors.
That means that an added couple of passengers due to the availability of Wi-Fi; their willingness or the overall willingness to pay slightly more for the flight (which would be even fuller if more people want on); and the airlines' cut of a dozen or sessions per flight could clearly outweigh the gas cost.
Milwaukee, Wisc., network likely won't expand: Midwest Fiber Networks spent $700,000 to build a pilot network that they can't fund citywide. They want anchor tenants for the $20m network, and can't get the city signed on. The company will continue running the network, though, and is looking into alternatives. I always thought a fiber provider had a great win in having their backhaul to operate the many Wi-Fi nodes needed.
Nashua, N.H.'s downtown network may never launch: The local paper says, c'mon, already. The network was to span a 1.2-mi stretch of the main street and use donations. Deadlines have come and gone for a year.
Covad may launch San Carlos, Calif., test network: The company know for wired installations as the last-man-standing among competitive DSL and other digital line providers nationwide, is looking for city access to build a square mile test area. This is the latest wrinkle in trying to get Wireless Silicon Valley underway after the consortium was unable to raise funds, and lead-partner Azulstar stepped back or was replaced.
Lexington, Kent., may relaunch shuttered network: The city bought SkyTel's network assets for $10 over a year ago--10 dollars, not 10 plus any zeroes--and the city may partner with the University of Kentucky to build a public-safety network. The university would manage the network. It's unclear from the article if any public access would be included.
Regular readers of this site knows that Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil patented the first known description of spread-spectrum communications: Yes, that Hedy Lamarr. Studio 360, a public radio show, looks into Hedy's co-invention.
It was a matter of time, but the death knell date has been set for Portland, Ore.'s Wi-Fi network: MetroFi told the city that it will turn its network off on June 30, and remove all devices by about July 30. MetroFi's business model required most of its revenue to come from advertising shown to users of the network; they also offered ad-free service, and business services. The network never reached a scale in Portland with enough reach to hit a critical mass.
As with most Wi-Fi networks built or planned in 2005 and 2006, indoor coverage required wireless boosters, and the necessity of those signal bridges wasn't clear to early users. That led to early adopters rejecting MetroFi's and others' services, which didn't help spread use.
Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal uses test version of Aircell Gogo: He finds it works pretty much as the company is promoting it. Most medium-bandwidth activities work well, while video is choppy. The company told him it would prioritize data, so that email and Web connections would work for the most people. There's nothing new in the article for readers of this site about the technology (modified cell data), cost ($10 for sub-3-hour flights, $13 for longer flights), or speeds. But Mossberg says the service could launch in three American cross-country routes as soon as July, with Virgin following.
Okay, the name is Network Acquisition Corporation (NAC), so it's likely to change: But the deal closed yesterday. Tropos gets a win here because their equipment will continue to be used as the Wi-Fi network is upgraded. As I noted yesterday, NAC's plan (elaborated in this press release) is to rely on well-understood business services that are undelivered or overpriced in Philadelphia to provide recurrent, baseline revenue, rather than being yet-another-Wi-Fi-network-operator.
Three other significant details appear in the release, as well: The network will be free (that was discussed but wasn't entirely clear before), and may includes advertising, sponsorships, and other programs; the network will be focused on outdoor applications, not indoor service, hurray; and there will be no customer support--this will be a best-effort network that you can't complain about when it doesn't work.
So far, promising.
What do you get with that $17m network? A lot of heartache, but also a new business model that just might work. I discuss the new plan in Philadelphia in this audio mobile post.
UPDATE: Investors announce plan to complete Philadelphia Wi-Fi, built wired network: Now this is clever, and a new way of thinking. A group of investors will take over EarthLink's Wi-Fi network and complete it, while also building out business-grade wired service in competition with local carriers. The anchor tenants on the wired and wireless networks will provide the revenue to support the Wi-Fi side. This is not a new model, but this is the largest scale on which it's being tried commercially.
The OneCommunity organization, started in Cleveland, and in the process of expanding to other communities, is a non-profit-focused effort based on having academic, municipal, and business stakeholders that would make use networks that were built. The lack of a profit motive allows the participants to get reasonably priced or even cheap service, while serving community, business, and economic development goals and also offering Wi-Fi at no cost. (OneCommunity benefits from 500 miles of donated fiber-optic backbone, too.)
The Wall Street Journal separately reported in a brief story that EarthLink's CEO released a statement in support of this new group's plan, and a spokesperson told the Journal that EarthLink would work closely with them on a transition.
Based on what I have heard in Philadelphia, Verizon and other players could use competition on the wireline side. Back in 2006, the city's then-CIO Dianah Neff said in an interview that the city could replace 300 to 600 lower-speed, expensive wireline connections with point-to-multipoint wireless links that would leverage the Wi-Fi infrastructure's backbone--its backhaul distribution network--to reduce the city's cost while improving connectivity.
That same opportunity exists today, and it's a big reason that Towerstream has expanded so rapidly. Towerstream and its competitors can bring out a T-1-and-faster competitive wireless product in as little as a day that rivals or is cheaper than the wireline alternative.
When you go to rates faster than T-1, costs often go way up; wireless broadband doesn't have an automatic price hop into more expensive gear when you cross the 1.5 Mbps T-1 limit. That's changing as fiber is brought to businesses (AT&T via its small business division), and alternative offerings such as a new 10 Mbps/10 Mbps Speakeasy offering hit the market.
In this scenario, the Wi-Fi network serves as a useful adjunct for resident, visitor, digital divide, and business purposes without being the sole pivot on which the entire service rests. We'll see what happens. The folks who will run the network haven't even picked their business name yet. How about, "The City of Brotherly Wireless." (I'm not a naming consultant.)
EARLIER TODAY: Local investors poised to assume control of Philadelphia Wi-Fi network: The Philadelphia Inquirer says two local businessmen will form a new company to create a for-profit service that will have a combination of fees and advertising support. One of the two was briefly the head of the non-profit Wireless Philadelphia that technically is responsible for the network; the other, a former Verizon executive. Their announcement is expected later today.
Can they succeed where EarthLink (and others) failed? Possibly. If they get the same deal that EarthLink previously offered, they're getting a lot of equipment for free and a quantifiable set of problems. I had written earlier it wasn't a good deal for Phila. to accept the network, but a private operator that's locally based and is trying to do good and get a return on its investment may be able to raise money and set more modest goals. Starting from scratch is a non-starter for any firm at this point.
What they desperately need to do if they acquire the network is immediately bulk out several critical square miles, convince the city to buy some service right away (point-to-point dedicated connections to replace wirelines comes to mind, but will an ex-Verizoner be able to convert municipal revenue that's going to his old employer without qualms?), and show that the network can work.
The advertising part is interesting. MetroFi has shown that their particular flavor of ad-supported Wi-Fi doesn't work. But their goal wasn't crossing a digital divide, and the Portland, Ore., network was never given high marks by local users as to its robustness and reach.
The Detroit Free Press rounds up free and fee Wi-Fi efforts around it: The city and its suburban and exurban surroundings could use more broadband, but Wi-Fi has arrived only slowly as an option. It hasn't disappeared outright, and it's made inroads in some places. The project to unwire Oakland County is on hold as even though the county and cities secured pole rights for a firm to build service, that firm is still searching for capital. A county-wide network might be a better model, but the density is always the issue: mounting locations and assets coupled with homes passed and their median income.
GigaOm's Michael Wolf rounds up what other forms of networks are needed in a home beyond Wi-Fi: Ethernet, HomePlug, MoCA, HomePNA, Wireless HD, personal networks (Bluetooth), and automation controls. (My home is a very stupid home, thank you very much.)
He who steals my Wi-Fi steals hash: Mike Rogoway at the (Portland) Oregonian poses the question as to whether using a neighbor's unsecured Wi-Fi is borrowing, stealing, or nothing at all. I pipe in noting that more people are securing their networks. In my current office, where I've been three years, I spotted over a dozen networks when I arrived, most unsecured. Today, all the networks are secured (only some are small business networks), and many of the names have changed. The reasons? Better security wizards, widespread use of WPA, improved Wi-Fi network setup in Windows Vista and XP SP2, start of use of WPS, and general fear of security issues. Rogoway also runs through what the options for connectivity in Portland are as MetroFi is about to hit its network shutdown date.
Philadelphia's mixed free airport Wi-Fi: I somehow missed this story months ago, but PHL (Philadelphia's airport) is offering free Wi-Fi on the weekends to every one, and free Wi-Fi on the weekdays to college students. Students go to an information counter, show their valid student ID, and get an access code. This is a very neat idea. The airport is otherwise $8 for 24 hours or $40 per month, although it's part of much cheaper roaming plans from Boingo Wireless and iPass.
Toronto Hydro to sell telecom division to Cogeco Cable: The Toronto utility, itself created as a kind of above-board financial shell game to move money around in the city's budget, can't proceed on telecom plans through its Toronto Hydro Telecom division due to rules that disallow capital investment from electricity revenues.
Toronto Hydro has a very well-built network across 6 sq km that Novarum has rated the highest consistent bandwidth network in the U.S. In one square mile, the company had installed about 3 to 4 times the numbers of nodes of most city networks, and that showed. Affordable? Perhaps not. But the service worked. However, the network hasn't brought in enough subscribers to expand, and the capital restriction prevents that.
Cogeco, the fourth-largest Canadian cable system operator, will primarily be spending Cdn$200m on a 450 km fiber-optic network. The company passes 1.5m homes in Ontario and Quebec, although subscriber numbers aren't disclosed. (More detail here.)
The deal seems like a boon for Toronto, which will get Cdn$75m that's earmarked right now by the mayor for public housing, while the electrical utility will upgrade its distribution network with the remainder of the funds.
What happens when everyone is running around with smartphones that are easy to use? The iPhone 3G is part of a leading trend: phones that have accessible, usable functions. Apple may be first and best, but the rest of the pack will eventually catch up. (If you'd like to refute me, launch the BlackBerry Web browser first, compare it with Safari on the iPhone, and now try to make a case for RIM surfing.)
The newly launched 40-mile commuter rail line, FrontRunner, goes official with its free Wi-Fi: Nomad Digital, one of the longest-established firms providing connectivity to trains, has unwired the 12 double-decker trains on this new line, which opened for service in late April. About 1,000 passengers ride the route from Ogden to Salt Lake City each day (as of mid-May), and the service logged 700 users per day just a few days ago. Speeds aren't noted. Nomad worked with local firm Wasatch Electric and uses Redline gear. (The press release isn't up at this writing, nor has either the rail authority nor Nomad's site been updated.)
That's an insanely large percentage of riders using the service, so it's possible ridership has increased even more than the mid-May figures indicate, or the commuters are really intense computer and handheld users. Also, note that the FAQ for the authority's overall Wi-Fi service requires you to be 18 years or older. It is Utah, after all--a minor might do something dirty with the service and the transit authority would be held responsible. The authority offers Wi-Fi on some buses, too.
The network is backed by fiber that runs alongside the track, which can make a huge difference in the ability to bring in backhaul. Other train lines have to work with either or both cellular and satellite backhaul, although Nomad typically uses fixed WiMax, as they are in this deployment. They're finishing up a 600 km London to Glasgow route for Virgin in the UK, which will be vastly larger than any other Internet-equipped route in the world.
This is one of the first major production service launches of train-based Wi-Fi in the U.S. VIA Rail in Canada is the only other in-production system offering in-transit Wi-Fi on a train line in North America. There are several trials, pilots, and phased-in plans underway. I thought 2007 would be the year that train-based Internet access took off; looks like it will leave the station worldwide in 2009, perhaps due to better 3G cell cover and improved antenna designs, as well as new commuter rail systems like FrontRunner that are designed with the idea of connectivity.
Wired writes that airplane-Fi is bursting out all over: I'll quibble with the writer's assertion that inflight Internet has been promised "for at least four years now." It wasn't promised. It was delivered with Boeing's Connexion, which turned out to be too expensive, too heavy, too slow (relatively), and timed wrong for the industry. The latest wave hasn't been promised for very long, unless you count OnAir, which was promising mobile telephony and texting for about four years, but has been hung out to dry by its satellite partner, Inmarsat, which has suffered huge delays in launching its birds for service.
The writer says that air-to-ground service is like Wi-Fi in the sky, but it's using cellular data standards, and so it's much more like mobile broadband in the sky. He also writes that there's 3 Mbps, which is the combined up-and-down estimated throughput of AirCell, the only firm that can operate such service in the U.S. for commercial flights. The next graf mentions that satellite-based Internet access is coupled with, uh, 802.11b (yes, B) access points. I think that's an error, innit?
And the analysis of JetBlue's move is incorrect. The purchase of Verizon's Airfone network is about positioning equipment, not using out-of-date gear that can't be employed for phone calls on commercial airliners.
I'd suggest a more appropriate metaphor be used than the one in this sentence: "[Lufthansa] hopes the experience is more fruitful than its ill-fated 2004 deal with Boeing's Connexion service, which crashed and burned when Boeing shut it down two years later." Beyond the distasteful reference, Connexion was shut down in an orderly fashion, and Lufthansa was one carrier that loved it, and tried to get it to stay in operation, and, failing that, to build a consortium to revive it.
The article finishes with a set of incorrect conclusions:
"There hasn't been much news about how airlines plan to charge for these services." In fact, we know pretty much that it will cost roughly $6 an hour, $10 for a 3-hour flight or less, and $13 for a flight longer than 3 hours. That's from Aircell in various statements, and it appears to be roughly the charges expected from its competitors in the US. In Europe, mobile calls and texting prices are also known: about US$2.50 per minute for calls, and something like 25 to 50 cents for text messages, not much more than the egregious ground pricing.
"If the industry's cash crunch gets much worse, in-flight broadband might be mothballed before it even gets off the ground." It's unclear what part of the expense the airlines are bearing. In my discussions with firms over the last five years, it's clear to me that this round involves the providers bearing more of the cost--and hence the lower installation cost involved--but also retaining more of the revenue.
Wi-Fi a-go-go onboard buses: The New York Daily News checks in on the trend to put Internet access via Wi-Fi on board East Coast buses. The article notes that Greyhound's new sidewalk-pickup BoltBus service among corridor cities has provoked the long-running Chinatown buses to bolt on Wi-Fi as well. The Chinatown Bus Association says here that their bus tickets are cheaper and thus more competitive--but one of their members has already added Wi-Fi, and others are considering it. MegaBus also serves the coast and has Internet access, as well as DC2NY. The biggest problem, though? Passengers demand AC outlets, and only BoltBus has them on every bus. LimoLiner (New York to Boston) isn't mentioned here, but is one of the earliest firms I'm aware of with on-board Internet, starting in 2004, and they also have power to every seat.
As networks go dark, so, too, do governmental network advocates: I haven't tracked the political fortunes of elected and appointed officials who pinned their star to Wi-Fi's glow, but I have to imagine both those that have suffered removal from office or who have remained in position are infinitely less likely to push plans in the near future that have any parallels with the plans that stalled.
Aurora, Ill., joins MetroFi cities turning down gear deal: Aurora, the city of light, the first electrified streetlit city in the U.S., opts to not buy the MetroFi gear. Along with all of MetroFi's other networks (excluding Riverside, Calif., operated with AT&T), June 20 will likely be the last day of service. About 160 of 600 to 900 nodes were installed in Aurora.
San Francisco paper wraps up MetroFi's shutdowns in their area: Ryan Kim writes in the SF Chronicle about the many networks being shut down by MetroFi around the bay. Santa Clara and San Jose are still looking at MetroFi's equipment offer. Neither city has complete coverage; Santa Clara is focused on some residential portions, and San Jose has some downtown service. Kim brings up the spectre of twice or three times dead Ricochet.
Santa Fe bypasses Wi-Fi health concerns: The city council voted unanimously to approve Wi-Fi service in libraries and city-owned buildings. This odd paragraph appears in the AP story: "Julie Tambourine, an advocate for the disabled and homeless, said after Wednesday's meeting that the legal analysis was flawed, because it didn't take into account those with diabetes, seizure disorders, respiratory ailments and other conditions that can be adversely affected by microwave radiation." It's unfortunate the writer didn't get a medical research in any of those areas to discuss that. I have never heard the strongest advocates of the view that EMF causes health issues mention any of those conditions.
I apologize for the following deluge of Wi-Fi items, but I'm catching up after Apple's major product announcement on Monday: I was in San Francisco for the day, a neat trick from Seattle, and was able to see the Wi-Fi signal at one station on BART ride from SFO to the Moscone Center in the SoMa district of San Francisco. A loaner EVDO modem from Sprint came through during my keynote note taking and reporter with a consistent Internet connection and very little battery drain on my MacBook. Here's what I missed during my trip, recovery, and catch-up these last three days.
O2 will offer iPhone 3G for free along with extensive Wi-Fi coverage: AT&T may still be sorting out how Wi-Fi service will be included in its cell plans, but O2 had already provided free Wi-Fi to supplement scanty EDGE service in the UK. The new iPhone 3G will be offered fully subsidized to subscribers of £45 or higher tariffed services, along with 9,500 hotspots through BT OpenZone and The Cloud.
SanDisk buys MusicGremlin: The innovative Wi-Fi-enabled music player was and remains far in advance of the features found in the iPod touch, iPhone, and Zune, but the company behind the product couldn't get a fire lit under it. Sales figures were never disclosed, but it's never been on the list of top-selling players in the market. SanDisk's acquisition will shut down the product and its music service, but it will absorb the people and technology. I met with the founders of the company many years ago, and were impressed by how far ahead they were of everyone in the industry.
Zyxel introduces VOIP-connected Wi-Fi camera: I think they threw a bunch of buzzwords into a blender, but it's rather clever. The camera connects to a network via Wi-Fi, and has SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) embedded. SIP is used for VoIP and as part of gatewaying Internet telephony. The V750W gets its own phone number, and can be controlled remotely through either a real phone using the public telephone network, or a soft phone using SIP. It's being resold, not sold to consumers directly, as a monitoring tool. It includes two-way audio. The camera can also place a phone call if an intruder monitor is tripped. Why not just give it an IP address like other such cameras? SIP, if implemented correctly, can traverse private networks' NAT (Network Address Translation) gateway limits.
Monster Cable introduces cable-replacement wireless high-def tech: It's a hilarious little story that a company known for its wires drops them. Monster will ship paired wireless high-definition streaming transmitter/receiver pairs using Sigma Designs's ultrawideband (USB) based technology. The range is estimated at 30 feet. The boxes are $300 each--and you need a pair. Would you pay $600 to cut one $50 HDMI cable? Well, neither would I, but I didn't spend $5,000 on a wall-mounted TV, either.
Take a nice deep breath--we're going in! A plethora of municipal Wi-Fi stories hit in the last few days: Let's look at items from Philadelphia, Minneapolis, nearby St. Louis Park (Minn.), Texas, Foster City (Calif.) and Naperville (Ill.), Chehalis and Centralia (Wash.), Cambria County (Penn.), Santa Fe, San Francisco, and finish up with an Marketplace radio report. Whew!
Philadelphia may find operator for Wi-Fi network: The AP reports that the City of Brotherly Love's Wi-Fi network isn't yet down, or down for the count. While it's scheduled to be flipped off tomorrow (you can read whatever you like into the phrase "flipped off"), the city is talking to a party it won't disclose about the networks future. EarthLink sued Phila. in May to be able to remove its equipment and cap its liabilities. The city's wireless non-profit arm, Wireless Philadelphia, has made noises about what EarthLink's true liability could be; the non-profit has born some of the electrical cost, and might be seeking to have that repaid on top of penalties and other expenses.
Minneapolis suffers the heartbreak of leafage: Leaves are popping in Minneapolis, and Star-Tribune columnist Steve Alexander writes that residents are seeing some Wi-Fi reception problems on that city's Wi-Fi network. This is the only big-city network that can be currently described "successful," even though its long-term success has to be proven out. The firm responsible, USI Wireless, told Alexander they're working on adjusting about 5 percent of antennas to cope with the pesky greenery.
St. Louis Park sues ARINC over Wi-Fi network: The Minnesota town says the network never worked, and had earlier discussed a lawsuit. The city wants the value of the contract ($1.7m) plus a very modest amount in damages and fees ($50,000). The city plans to start removing gear if ARINC doesn't sometime in June. But they have to deal with 490 poles erected to hold the nodes and solar-charging gear--sunk into concrete. More recent testing showed that the network worked well in some areas, but the majority of the network did not, according to the Star Tribune.
Verizon builds out fiber in AT&T territory: Interesting sign of competition in otherwise monopoly-per-provider-type world. Verizon is using AT&T's hard-won statewide video franchising rules in Texas to build competitive fiber in Dallas suburbs. They're apparently not bringing telecom; they're acting like a cable TV firm with data. Verizon owns chunks of territory all over due to it encompassing GTE in a deal years ago. GTE serves suburbs west of Portland, Ore., and east of Seattle, for instance, while Qwest serves most of the rest of each state.
Foster City Wi-Fi dies on June 20: MetroFi is unlighting its cities, and Foster City opted not to spend the nearly $200,000 asking price MetroFi put on its equipment. MetroFi might still find a buyer, but June 20 is the network's current final day. Naperville, Ill., also expects a June 20 shutdown. They, too, were offered the network hardware for 200 grand.
Chehalis lights up: A small city in southern Washington votes to put in Wi-Fi hotzones. The cost is about $53,000 and annual fees $15,000. Funds will come from existing tax and grant sources. The city chose to install service to make sure they're not missing a checkbox on the amenities list for visitors and businesses rather than for a particular, measurable goal.
Nearby Centralia pulls its Wi-Fi: A pilot project in the larger city of Centralia, Wash., a bit north of Chehalis, is shut down when poles used to mount Wi-Fi radios are removed as electrical wires are buried. (The reporter here confuses broadband over powerlines (BPL) with broadband wireless.) The system might be restarted later.
Craig Settles writes up Pennsylvania's Cambria County wireless success: This is a network built for particular municipal purposes, part of Settles's long-time drumbeat about having applications first and then networks built for those networks second. He notes that Cambria built a 700 sq mi network that sounds nearly cost neutral through efficiency and cost conservation--it's cheaper to get much more service with this network than it was for a smaller array of services with incumbent-provided networks.
Santa Fe residents oppose Wi-Fi in the library on health grounds: You know what I have to say about how provable this has turned out to be in clinical studies. I am, however, as always, concerned about these people's health, even if I don't believe that Wi-Fi (or EMF) causes their problems. The group opposed to library-Fi is citing the ADA in this case, uniquely I believe. Six libraries suggested that EMF triggers seizures in epileptics, something I've never heard cited before; maybe CRTs (flickering), but EMF? Wired is substantially less kind than I am, pointing out that EMF other than Wi-Fi produces vastly higher signal strength. (They're sort of ignoring signal strength at a given point where an individual stands in relation to a transmitter, however.)
Meraki expands San Francisco network to housing projects: They're bearing all the costs, but Mayor Gavin Newsom shared the spotlight. That's called stealing the glory without paying the penalty; if the project doesn't work as expected, the mayor says the city wasn't involved.
Public radio business show Marketplace looks at the state of muni-Fi: A nice, brief report that looks at how wireless networks will serve cities in the future, not just Wi-Fi specifically, for municipal-only purposes.
Yes, I touched an iPhone 3G: At Apple's big developer event kickoff on Monday, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 3G. Later that day, in a briefing, I was able to handle and use the phone briefly. It's lovely. But its inclusion of 3G service coupled with Wi-Fi, as well as a real GPS chip coupled with assistive cell-tower triangulation and Wi-Fi network location approximation means that you have a device that might fairly replace a computer for many purposes. I've had an iPhone with 2G (EDGE) service since its release, and I recently took a two-day trip with my older son leaving my computer behind. (I was able to use a relative's machine, but only did so to be able to type email more efficiently.) If Apple would simply allow the use of the Bluetooth HID profile (human interface devices) for keyboard and mouse support, a compact foldable keyboard would be the only accessory I would need.
Note that the iPhone 2G and 3G aren't more powerful than other, similar devices. Symbian platform devices from Nokia and others are in notably short supply in the US, but come in great quantities and varieties elsewhere, and have some pretty impressive computational power; Nokia owns nearly 50 percent of the worldwide smartphone market. Likewise, you can run desktop-to-mobile programs under Windows Mobile that let you have real computer applications repackaged for better use in the smaller form.
But that's not what the iPhone is about. It's a non-compromise device, even when a little compromise might help. The lack of a touch-typist keyboard hinders data entry, but it doesn't restrict any other purpose of the device. The inclusion of those keyboards is a huge compromise for all its competitors, even though it allows those competitors to act more like little computers.
And that's where it's odd for me. The iPhone is much more like a full-blown computer than any smartphone I've used. It might be the superior browser, and the fact that a single company and design vision has ensured the maximum CPU is available for each current task, and that the interface and actions are nearly always consistent across every piece of software. Contrast that with many smartphones that don't just have ugly interfaces, crippled Web browsers, and varying input methods, but also require you to learn a different approach to using nearly every different piece of software on the phone.
Apple isn't about to kill its competitors, but they are providing an odd amount of support for killing a laptop.
On a slightly tangential front, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claim that their phone's 3G speed was nearly that of Wi-Fi requires some explanation. Jobs needed a footnote: "compared to typical Wi-Fi hotspots that have about 1.5 Mbps of downstream backhaul." The iPhone is clearly processor limited for how fast it can render Web pages and handle network processing. If you stick an iPhone on a 10 Mbps-backed network via Wi-Fi, the browsing experience isn't very different than on a 1.5 Mbps-backed Wi-Fi hotspot, in my experience with the current phone.
So clearly, there's more optimization to be done and more hardware upgrades to come in order to have a mobile device that can live up to whatever network it generally works on. For the iPhone 3G, Wi-Fi is an alternative, but it's clearly not intended as a superior alternative.
Starbucks informed me that it, AT&T, and T-Mobile have signed a memorandum of understanding about the free Wi-Fi kerfuffle: T-Mobile filed a lawsuit a few days ago against Starbucks stating it wasn't involved in discussions about its network carrying free loyalty-awarded Wi-Fi via AT&T's authentication system. Now the three companies are apparently making nice.
The statement from Starbucks reads: "T-Mobile, AT&T and Starbucks have entered into a memorandum of understanding to resolve their disputes and are committed to providing a high quality WiFi experience for customers, including Starbucks Rewards Customers, at Starbucks locations nationwide."
My interpretation is Starbucks said, oops, our bad, and they're figuring out the dollars and cents. Sometimes companies move too rapidly. T-Mobile is a quasi-jilted suitor, although they get something out of AT&T transition, too, so they're not likely to cut any slack.
Reuters confirms that AT&T confirms the statement. I separately confirmed with T-Mobile that the statement is accurate as well.
The LiveTV division of JetBlue will assume Verizon Airfone's operations, which includes 100 towers with communication gear in the US: While Airfone ceased commercial operations in 2006 following their giving up early in the bidding for plum spectrum won by AirCell, they still have governmental and corporate ("general aviation") customers. JetBlue's LiveTV won the smaller of two licenses (1 MHz); AirCell won the 3 MHz auction. AirCell built its own network (an expansion of previous general aviation service), and is launching very shortly with Virgin America and America Airlines.
Ostensibly this purchase allows JetBlue a faster and simpler path into operations. Whether it's worth it to JetBlue is hard to tell, except that they will likely be marketing this service to other airlines as a differentiator. It will be lower bandwidth than AirCell, but could be likewise cheaper and used for shorter-haul flights.
Verizon notes some of the technical details of their service's business status on a FAQ for their corporate customers, which has an oddly large amount of business detail. Verizon was obligated within two years of the end of the auction for the spectrum they occupied with their very inefficient narrowband analog service to cease operations on those frequencies. That date is about now (the certification of the auction results was close to two years ago), and Verizon clearly worked out the details to allow current customers to maintain continuity through the spectrum vacation and into JetBlue's hands on January 1.
As I noted a few days ago, a few sources had already tipped me that JetBlue's test aircraft with Wi-Fi onboard and email was using the ancient Airfone network, which is capable of slow dial-up modem speeds, rather than using the 1 MHz which could conceivably carry over 500 Kbps of data in each direction per plane.
Insanity in an insole: For some reason, the folks mstrpln (wasn't that one of Superman's pests?) along with Ubiq (a homophone for a Philip K. Dick novel) have released a Nike Dunk add-on that shows you whether a Wi-Fi network is in the vicinity of...your shoes.
They write: "The idea of footwear was pushed further by converging elements of digital culture with fashion and design into a wearble technology. The end product is a sneaker designed to detect Wi-Fi wireless internet hot-spots wherever the user may roam, with every step."
Uh, yeah, because, a shoelace cover that lights up whenever there's Wi-Fi around is some kind of cool. If it were 2003. And a handbag.
T-Mobile filed a complaint in New York's Supreme Court over the Starbucks Card Rewards free Wi-Fi launched this week: T-Mobile spokesperson Peter Dobrow said this evening that his firm was surprised when the free Wi-Fi was launched in every market, because T-Mobile wasn't party to that deal. "Starbucks launched this promotion without involving T-Mobile," he said. Dobrow said that T-Mobile continues to operate 95 percent of the Starbucks locations in the U.S. under contract as AT&T transitions into its role as the new operator.
The lawsuit, which I've read (GigaOm also posted it), says that T-Mobile never agreed to nor was compensated for providing free service in stores. A link to AT&T's network in all markets except San Antonio, Tex., and Bakersfield, Calif., is handled on the backend entirely by T-Mobile. The suit notes, "If AT&T or Starbucks wanted to offer 'free' Wi-Fi in non-transitioned stores for Starbucks customers, as they are now doing, they should have--and, indeed, were contractually required to--negotiate such an arrangement with T-Mobile."
The crux is that while T-Mobile did agree to provide free roaming to AT&T subscribers, as defined in a bilateral roaming agreement the two firms signed, T-Mobile states the agreement doesn't allow other parties to roam for free. (That's most likely why we haven't seen AT&T's roaming partners, like Boingo and iPass, appear in the login menu, too.)
Representatives of Starbucks immediately available on a Friday night. A Reuters report quotes a Starbucks spokesperson who doesn't comment directly on the suit.
An AT&T spokesperson said via email that the company doesn't comment on other companies' lawsuits. AT&T is not a party to the suit, although it is mentioned throughout.
The lawsuit provides quite a bit of previously private detail about the transition agreement. T-Mobile says that the transition contract signed by all three parties, T-Mobile still had responsibility for and ownership of a market until all equipment in all stores in a defined market belong to AT&T. The agreement also called for exclusive roaming only for each party's existing subscribers in markets that were converted or still under T-Mobile's control until 4-Jan-2009.
T-Mobile states in the suit that they didn't learn of the planned launch of the free Wi-Fi service until 30-May-2008.
T-Mobile wants money, release from current obligations, and other damages. I expect that things have gone quite far for them to file a suit.
"We hope to come to an amicable solution, and sometimes you do have to file a complaint in order to make that happen," T-Mobile's Dobrow said. "It's easy to give something away for free if it's not yours."
George Rausch decided in advance of the Phila. network shutdown to release his unfinished documentary: It's about 13 minutes, and isn't edited tightly at this point, but it's rather interesting. Rausch talked to a few network users, Wireless Philadelphia, and a few other people. These are well-spoken, thoughtful people, and it's well shot. I hope Rausch continues to think about how this all fits together after the Wi-Fi network halts operation in a few days.
This story is a bit cute, but it's true: Alison DeLauzon, Reuters reports, had her camera stolen when left an equipment bag in a restaurant in Florida. The folks who allegedly took the bag also took pictures of themselves, which isn't unusual. But DeLauzon had an Eye-Fi wireless Secure Digital (SD) card in her camera, received as a gift. The thieves apparently wandered by an open access point with the same SSID as one that DeLauzon had configured for use, and pictures of her baby and the thieves were uploaded to her picture-sharing account. Nifty.
This is reminiscent of another recent story in which an Apple Store employee was able to use Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard's Back to My Mac remote access software to connect to a laptop that was stolen from her apartment to grab images and screenshots of the two men alleged to have taken the laptop and other gear.
JetBlue's test plane with onboard Wi-Fi expands to other services' email offerings: JetBlue is running a trial of in-flight email access on a single plane. Initially, service was limited to Yahoo Mail and BlackBerry mail on Wi-Fi-equipped BlackBerry phones. Now, the company has expanded to AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, and Windows Live Mail. Microsoft Exchange access is also being offered, but I'm unclear how the security profile would work there--I'm guessing it's Exchange Webmail via secured connection. News.com reports that Web surfing is still off limits, but Amazon has a tailored shopping site.
JetBlue won a sliver of air-to-ground spectrum in auctions in 2006 through their LiveTV division. This should allow them to offer low-speed services, including email.
However, a little birdie told me that JetBlue's test is using the old analog cell network downlinks--that's right, 1990s technology that provides a trickle of bandwidth. This is what the Tenzing JetDirect service, briefly available before the airline industry collapsed, used for connectivity.
Caribou goes free: Caribou, like its totem animal, has spent a while roaming and grazing. It started with SBC FreedomLink (now AT&T Wi-Fi), moved to Wandering Wi-Fi, and then, sticking with that firm, has opted to drop the free-with-an-order or modest fee service. It's now all free.
Nintendo DS lost free McDonald's-Fi last year: Not with a blam blam, but with a whimper, did the Wi-Fi-enabled game player's two-year deal with Wayport expire. The Web site Knowzy revealed the agreement ended in Nov. 2007, and notes that because the DS lacks a Web browser, it's essentially unusable at public hotspots.
Oklahoma City has 555 sq mi network: Fortunately, not 666 sq mi down there near the Bible Belt. The municipal network has 150 applications available on it, and uses Tropos gear. The network covers 95 percent of the city's core area, with the whole network having 100-percent dedication to city workers and public safety purposes. This includes real-time video from 300 cameras. Tropos says 150 applications are available over the network. The network cost a tiny amount, just $5m, relative to the high cost of public access Wi-Fi. These sorts of networks are far easier to build. Funding came from city funds designated for capital improvement and public safety. The real question, of course, is whether savings in efficiency--and lives saved, even--can be measured over time.
Starbucks, AT&T biff day one of the card loyalty program: After several hours of occasional attempts to register my Starbucks Card (actually, two) with the company for free Wi-Fi and other rewards, seeing "Service Unavailable," long delays, errors, and a general failure to accept my card--now there's a message. "Due to overwhelming interest in Card Rewards we are currently experiencing difficulty accessing Starbucks Cards accounts. We are working to fix the problem and ask that you please try again later."
(Update: A Starbucks spokesperson called me in the late afternoon to let me know the site was back up and running. They had an excess of interest, shall we say. I checked: the site is working and I was able to register quickly and without a hitch.)
The Card Rewards program allows anyone with a Starbucks Card to register it with Starbucks for freebies, including Wi-Fi. There's an interesting choice (when it worked) where you can select whether to have freebies like free exotic milk options or brewed coffee refills by themselves or with Wi-Fi on top. If you choose Wi-Fi, you're redirected to SBC servers (for nostalgia's sake), at which point everything seems to fall apart.
Trying two separate cards, I was unable to set up an account and get the cards to take. The errors weren't clearly spelled out. Clearly, the system was neither designed to handle demand, nor designed to fail gracefully, blocking users until capacity was available.
For loyal Starbucks patrons, this doesn't come across very well at all.
The deal announced in February comes to fruition: The Starbucks Card, their stored-value plastic, entitles you to two continuous hours of free Wi-Fi service each day for 30 days in all their company-owned freestanding stores starting Tuesday, June 3, so long as you either add value or make a purchase every 30 days. Cards may be purchased with an initial value of as little as $5. Details are on Starbucks' site.
This free Wi-Fi deal with AT&T taking over Starbucks' hotspot service was fully explained by Starbucks in February, but apparently many media outlets were unaware of the details, and have reported on it over the last week as if it were newly announced and posted on Starbucks site. What's new is that the deal snapped into action today. I wrote extensively about this in February, notably in an extended explanation on February 19, in which I also explained why I was wrong (and right) about Starbucks never offering service for free.
The Starbucks Card loyalty program also now includes free syrups and free milk choices, brewed coffee refills at no charge, and a free tall drink when you buy a pound of coffee, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
If you'd like a good laugh, read AT&T's terms of service for these free Wi-Fi users. Specifically, I like this phrase: "...connectivity shall be for the limited purposes of accessing electronic mail, operating a basic web browser such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, or downloading files via the 'ftp' protocol typically implemented in web browser programs."
So...it's okay to read email, browse Web pages, and download files but not, say, upload pictures, view videos, listen to audio, use VoIP, or run other Internet-connected software?
One clue to the sanity of this provision, which I hope when Starbucks is fully aware of they demand to be changed, is that it mentions Netscape Navigator as a Web browser. Netscape Navigator is officially dead. This reeks of lawyer-speak unconnected with a customer's reality.
Update: I was unable to get a login page at a Starbucks just a few minutes ago that would let me enter the card information. Back at my office, I discover I'm supposed to sign up for an online account and activate Wi-Fi usage. I try. It fails. In an ugly fashion: apparently my card was already activated (even though it's in my possession). Perhaps systems are overloaded? Ah, now I get "Service Unavailable" on Starbucks.com. Now it's back. Now AT&T (via sbc.com, gotta love nostalgia) is totally hosed--the server is stalling.
Later in the day: Starbucks called to let me know the site's been fixed. I was able to register without a hitch.
An Intel-backed startup, Ozmo, plans low-power Wi-Fi protocol modification to compete with Bluetooth technology: Ozmo has developed chips for wireless peripherals like headphones, headsets, and handhelds (the three H's?) as well as mice and keyboards that pair with special driver software for computers to enable a 9 Mbps Wi-Fi-based PAN (personal area network) at the same time a computer is connected via Wi-Fi to a wireless LAN (local area network).
Ozmo apparently is trying to leverage the ubiquity of Wi-Fi, the market reach of Intel (which has invested in the firm and is pushing its technology), and the dissatisfaction with Bluetooth device association and throughput to stick a wedge into Bluetooth's market domination. Well over a billion Bluetooth chipsets have shipped--CSR alone has shipped over a billion--and estimates put half a billion this year into cell phones alone. So there's a large embedded market to overcome.
This new technology, so far unnamed but apparently part of Intel's Cliffside research program, is trying to reduce complexity by reducing the number of standards needed to drive a computer, while increasing the flexibility of those standards. Ozmo and Intel's system would, for instance, allow a simultaneous WLAN connection and a PAN network of up to 8 devices using a single radio on a computer.
The press releases and articles make it quite unclear whether a new Wi-Fi chip would be needed; that chip would almost certainly not conform to today's Wi-Fi standards except in a compatibility mode, given that Wi-Fi has no capacity for PAN-style connections. Ad hoc mode isn't quite the same thing. In the past, extensions to the 802.11 standards that are the basis of the Wi-Fi certification and service mark were allowed as long as basic 802.11 worked as expected.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have been complementary technologies for several years. There were early conflicts--I wrote an article about the severe problems in using Bluetooth 1.1 and 802.11b back in 2001! But those interference and coordination issues were resolved, and Blueooth and Wi-Fi marched forward hand in hand, without any close association between the two trade groups behind the standards and branding, but with a lot of technology acquisitions and mergers on the part of companies that make Wi-Fi gear.
The Bluetooth SIG has been working for years to put Bluetooth on top of ultrawideband (UWB), which is still not readily available in the marketplace. UWB is always next year's big technology, and may be passed by except for applications like high-definition video streaming among a/v electronics. The SIG also announced support in Oct. 2007 for Bluetooth + 802.11, where a Bluetooth device could initiate high-speed transfers using 802.11 (yes, Wi-Fi, but not by that name; no partnership there). Bluetooth plus UWB is likely not available until 2009 at this point; BT and Wi-Fi, not until perhaps 2010. (See my article, "Bluetooth to Add Wi-Fi with UWB Delays in Mind," 2007-10-31.)
It's hard to see how Ozmo builds a place in this infrastructure, even with higher bandwidth, and what Ozmo says is lower power use and a lower cost for their chips, because laptop and desktop makers will need to buy into the Intel/Ozmo ecosystem. The demand for this kind of technology is typically driven by users who buy one component and need their computer to interface with it.
With Ozmo and Intel apparently planning to debut the Wi-Fi chips and driver support next year, it seems like a multi-year process to figure out whether Ozmo can evolve a competitive position to Bluetooth, even as Bluetooth is estimated to be embedded in over 1.2b cell phones by 2012.
On a visit with my older son to Port Townsend, Wash., a few days ago, I spotted this odd tower: That's my father and my older boy in the photo, looking at this stack of wireless gear at Fort Worden, a state park and former garrison of democracy. We spotted another one near the water in downtown PT, as the town is known to locals. Any ideas? Post in comments.
Update: Turns out it's a tsunami warning siren with a dish that links it to an activation system. Although Port Townsend is far east of the Pacific Ocean, it's part of a strait that, were a tsunami to hit the Pacific, would likely inundate parts of the town.