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Broadcom adds Skyhook positioning to portfolio: Broadcom already has a variety of tools for allowing its chips to determine position quickly, including a ground-based system that tracks GPS satellite positions and uses this to feed out data over cell and other networks to provide assisted GPS, where a GPS receiver doesn't have to find satellites, just lock onto signals where it's told the satellites are located. Adding Skyhook means that Wi-Fi can be used as another variable in quickly providing a fix on coordinates, especially in locales where GPS signals penetrate weakly, such as urban canyons.
The Minneapolis Wi-Fi provider uses point-to-point wireless for high-rise: Steve Alexander of the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune reports that residents of one 34-story building in his paper's city will have the option for 20 Mbps service from USI--but not precisely wireless. The company is running an 800 Mbps point-to-point connection to the building, and then distributing through short-run DSL, a typical technique for apartment and other spread-out or high-rise buildings. Because they can leverage their existing buildout while not paying Qwest or others for rental of wires or cables, 20 Mbps will run residents $50/mo, versus Qwest's fiber-backed $105/mo charge. Comcast charges $53 for 8 Mbps with 16 Mbps bursts or $153 for 50 Mbps in that city. USI is experimenting. With 300 residents, they'd likely need need 30 at that speed to pay their costs. Providing Wi-Fi service to buildings above a few stories has long been a challenge for city-wide Wi-Fi efforts, and possibly one reason why some early efforts fell short.
GSM Association creates laptop brand for mobile broadband: The GSMA will offer a Mobile Broadband sticker for laptops that includes cell chips and software that allow an immediate network connection. Sixteen firms have signed on, including Dell, Lenovo, Qualcomm, and Microsoft. I've been of the mind for some time that buying a laptop with a cellular modem built in is a waste of money, as you are typically committed to that vendor and technology for the life of the laptop, even if speeds improve or you don't like the service. Buying a USB dongle, ExpressCard, or PC Card allows greater portability of the service among computers, and more flexibility for upgrade. Further, with a given cell carrier, you can get a subsidized adapter; despite how they try to hide it in pricing, a laptop with a cell modem essentially costs the same as the laptop without plus the full multi-hundred-dollar true cost of the modem.
GigaOm on bandwidth caps: A must-read on how carriers and service providers are making a poor choice and risking alienating their customers in mass numbers by imposing short-sighted caps on bandwidth use that affect far from the heaviest users of these networks. "Today, it targets heavy users, while tomorrow it will affect all users," concludes the paper, written by Muayyad Al-Chalabi, an analyst and former Bell Labs researcher.
Rice University, HP work on dead zone prediction: Researchers have determined that they can make a small number of measurements and predict real-world performance of outdoor Wi-Fi to a decent degree. I've read the paper, and while it's awfully technical, there are valuable techniques likely to be incorporated into future planning and simulation products.
Go? No: Go Networks, a metro-scale Wi-Fi equipment maker acquired in Jan. 2007 by NextWave, is being shut down. Go announced their technology on 3-April-2006 at the height of interest in the municipal Wi-Fi market, at which point they thought their beamforming, MIMO gear would take hold. They believed they could provide superior coverage at far lower cost, especially when factoring in the need for fewer utility poles. As far as I can tell, they never had a huge win, and then the easy market evaporated.
It's amazing to me that the four independent metro-scale firms have survived this long; all are privately held, and so we know only what's publicly announced about their well being. BelAir has scored the Minneapolis and Cablevision networks, and thus perhaps has its future assured. Tropos appears to have developed alternative markets. For Strix and SkyPilot, the future must be uncertain, although I must stress that I have no particular knowledge of either companies' financial or sales situation. SkyPilot's only big win was with MetroFi, which is now gone missing; Strix has some international deployments that are perhaps what drives the firm, but domestically they were paired with now-dead Kite.
Along those lines, Riverside's network deployment has stalled, but is resuming buildout: AT&T had partnered with MetroFi to build Riverside, Calif.'s metro-scale network, and it's taken a while to build. The article doesn't mention MetroFi, but says "the original contractor has gone outt of business," and AT&T has hired a new firm. The network should be largely complete by the end of 2008. AT&T said that they had 17,600 unique sessions (not users) in August.
Illinois bus system adds Wi-Fi on express buses: The Madison Country Transit system put Internet service on 40 express buses. Service is free, but filtered.
This is a study I've been waiting for since the University of Essex research was released last year: New research using MRIs from the University of Regensburg, Germany, indicates that electrosensitives are suffering both cognitive and neurobiological reactions--but not to the presence or absence of electromagnetic signals that these sufferers believe are causing their symptoms. (The link is to an Economist summary; the abstract is all I can find online so far of the actual study.)
Back on 25-July-2007, I wrote about the cross-disciplinary, tightly controlled study of electrosensitivity carried out by an Essex (UK) team with government and industry funding. The study was yet another in dozens that showed that self-identified electrosensitive sufferers performed no better at chance in determining whether a signal was present or absent. The control group did no better than chance, either.
But the revelation that, with appropriate biological monitoring, the electrosensitive group experienced severe and measurable symptoms whether or not a signal was present indicated to me that there was a correlation problem in how electrosensitives view themselves.
Currently, these sufferers are either coddled by those who pander to them (typically to sell them stuff) or by those that are interested in faux science who need an audience for their crackpottery; a worldview in which controlled repeatable peer-evaluated tests aren't part of the picture. Conversely, they're also ridiculed by people who dismiss their symptoms as fake or overblown.
The Regensburg study would say to me that electrosensitives need to be renamed: they're sensitive to something; it may even be psychosomatic; but the effects are profound, real, measurable, and (again shown in this study) not tied to whether a signal believed to cause harm is present. The abstract concludes: "These results demonstrate significant cognitive and neurobiological alterations pointing to a higher genuine individual vulnerability of electromagnetic hypersensitive patients." But not vulnerable to EMF, the study found. (60% of suffers but only 40% of the control group had a reaction when "sham" EMF was used.)
I have long argued that the massive amount of "electrosmog" (to use the panderers' term) means that those who claims electrosensitivity would be incapable of living in an urban area. Not just Wi-Fi, cellular, and cordless phones, but vastly many more kinds of focused EMF transmissions are constantly bombarding them. They'd be in constant agony if not in the remote wilderness. These studies seem to reinforce the fact that there is a disease, perhaps self-caused and perhaps not, that needs to be studied and treated separately from EMF--much like tinnitus.
Trapeze Networks usually announces enterprise products and deployments, but not so with today's Chinese network rollout: Partnered with Commnet in China, the two firms will deploy 3,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in Hangzhou, a city of 6.5m. But rather than focus on a ubiuqitous network, it's clear from what's not stated in the press release that this is an efficient deployment of service where it's needed.
The city has six urban districts that total 260 sq mi and nearly 2m people' 3,000 nodes couldn't possibly offer total coverage even if just those areas (rather than "eight metropolitan districts") were what was to be covered. But that's not really what's needed.
The network will be built over the next 15 months.
In-flight call providers form lobbying group to dissuade formal ban on in-flight calling: FlightGlobal reports that OnAir and Aeromobile have formed the Passenger Communications Coalition--Peacekeeper missiles, anyone?--to prevent the Hang-Up Act that would provide a formal, instead of regulatory and procedural ban on placing phone calls in flight. OnAir's CEO makes the specious remark that this would be "putting the US behind the rest of the world."
Hardly. Americans aren't used to paying $2.50 per minute in the air that used to be a typical ground roaming rate until EU regulators pushed hard. US flyers would (surveys show) prefer the broadband that American, Delta, and Virgin are in various stages of commitment to.
In any case, how would having a total ban on in-flight talking that affected all over-US flights make us less competitive? Oh, yeah, we'd miss that one call that doomed our business while our European competitor was chatting away.
Google plays bridge with wireless contracts in patent: Bidding on contracts isn't just for companies answering proposals or contract bridge players. Google has filed for a patent in which a wireless device could put its need for a connection out for automated and instant bid among operators with service operating in proximity. The cell phone owner or even laptop Wi-Fi user could review bids and accept whaich they prefer. It's an interesting idea, as even without ubiquity, there's plenty of overlap. In parts of Seattle by 2010, there could be several wireless services for voice and high-speed data--there are already four (the 3G carriers plus Clearwire).
BT OpenZone to sever The Cloud roaming: OpenZone customers will lose access on 2-Oct-2008 to the thousands of locations in The Cloud's network. This reduces OpenZone to 3,000 hotspots in the UK. The Cloud partners with many other hotspot operators.
The Spykee is a $300 Wi-Fi Skype robot: Lots of strange coolness here. I don't know how I missed hearing about this before, but apparently an actual customer got his hands on the thing and recorded a video. It's cute. You can access its video through control software or a remote Skype video connection. It's got a speaker and microphone, and can be used for VoIP calls. The control software allows it to move around, play sound effects, and produce music. Like the computer in Superman III (or a Roomba), it craves power, and knows to return to its charger.
The name reveals some of its creepy appeal: Spykee = Spy Camera. I suppose the nanny you're trying to make sure isn't shaking your baby might be freaked out when it suddenly starts emitting Star Wars music, or such like. Made by Meccano under the Erector brand, its control software is Mac and Windows compatible.
I, for one, welcome our new Spykee overlords--on 15-Oct-2008 when it starts to ship generally.
Silicon Valley project finally gets underway: It's a still a pilot, small, with no promised outcome. And after all this time, a switch of partners, and new parameters, they've still mounted just 20 of 28 access points.
Trade mag Flightglobal gets the full story on Qantas' in-flight calling, texting, and Internet plans: A few days ago, it seemed to come out that Qantas had dropped Aeromobile (its test partner last year) for OnAir, and was moving to Internet service on A380s instead of in-flight cell calling and texting. Flightglobal clears the air, and reveals that Qantas will offer all of the above. (I wrote about this in "Sorry, Qantas, No Unfettered Broadband.")
OnAir was chosen for A380 service, with the initial rollout--especially for international flights--using the 64 Kbps Inmarsat satellite offering, which is too paltry for anything but limited text communication. When the recently launched Pacific satellite is active--which may take up to a year--OnAir and Qantas can upgrade to the luxurious nearly 500 Kbps per channel service.
The head of OnAir is pushing some mighty serious horsehockey, however, when he says as quoted by Flightglobal that he "is confident that once the full service is up and running, passengers will be able to access the Internet 'in exactly the same way as they can on the ground.'" That may be the case in terms of access, but not in terms of cost. The cost will be enormously high unless OnAir has a magic deal with Inmarsat that's previously undisclosed. I suspect a per MB charge will be in effect that will discourage much use. Calls and texting could be carried over the same system, of course.
Qantas plans to continue to work with Aeromobile for domestic service, with calls and texting available, on their Boeing 767-300s and Airbus A330-200s, Flightglobal reports. Aeromobile has plans to launch a full Internet service later this year using cached and live content. [link via Fabio Zambelli]
Those dang poles add $1m to Wi-Fi network expense: US Internet Wireless couldn't install service in a large remaining area of Minneapolis because the decorative utility poles in the upscale neighborhoods--paid through homeowner assessments--lack the strength to hold the Wi-Fi nodes. Minneapolis has opted to pick up the tab for replacing the 145 poles and putting in temporary wood poles to complete the network--a cool $1m. While unfortunate for the overall city cost savings, it doesn't seem out of line for which entity has the responsibility.
Without replacing these poles, the city would be unable to use the municipal services from which it still plans to save $3.5m over the 10-year contract life, and thus it would be pennywise and pound foolish to leave the status quo.
London mayor proposes Wi-Fi city, no fees: No details, naturally, just an optimistic statement. Boris, can I introduce you to Gavin?
First Android phone revealed by T-Mobile, Google: The first smartphone based on the Google-sponsored, Open Handset Alliance-backed Android platform was announced by T-Mobile today. The G1 will cost $180 in the U.S., has a slide-out keyboard, and has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS built in. The phone should start shipping 22-Oct-2008 in the U.S. and November in the UK. The monthly American fee will be $25 to $35 for data on top of a two-year voice plan commitment.
Soldiers at Joint Base Balad get Wi-Fi network: 20,000 American soldiers at this base in Iraq can now use a secure mesh Wi-Fi network for personal access. The description of how the network can self-heal is perhaps particularly apt in a country torn by insurgency.
The Wi-Fi sharing digital memory card Eye-Fi adds another option for its product line: If you've purchased or plan to purchase an Eye-Fi, starting 5-Oct-2008, you can upgrade the model of card you purchased by paying a yearly subscription fee. This provides more of a try-and-see mode for Eye-Fi's slightly more expensive offerings.
Eye-Fi divided its Wi-Fi SD card line-up into three parts earlier in the year: Home, which transfers to a computer ($80); Share, which uploads to a computer and to Eye-Fi's servers, which relay them to gallery, print, and social services ($100); and Explore, which ties in Wi-Fi positioning and one year of a Wayport hotspot subscription for uploads ($130). I wrote a long review of the Eye-Fi Explore on 12-Aug-2008.
If you bought a Home, you can upgrade to the Share service for $10 per year, and if you bought either a Home or Share, you can add geotagging for $15 per year and hotspot access for $15 per year. It's a smart move, since original Eye-Fi card buyers already had a firmware upgrade that converted their card into a Share model; they'll now be able upgrade to the full featureset. This is something I thought the company was offering at launch months ago, and I speculated it would be easy to add.
Eye-Fi also added two new photo sharing services: Apple's MobileMe and AdoramaPix. I cannot think of any other firm that Apple has partnered with to allow direct MobileMe uploads, although this may be technically less a big deal than it sounds. But I believe it's unique--only the iPhone and iPhoto software can transfers images into MobileMe's galleries; I'll need to investigate further. It's a good feather in Eye-Fi's cap.
Finally, Eye-Fi says they'll release tweaked firmware on 5-Oct as well that will double the speed of photo transfers from their cards to a computer on the local network.
Australian tech office wins appeal: Buffalo sinks further into the hole as it loses its appeal against a judgement over its use of what the Australian CSIRO technical agency asserts is its patented technology used in all 802.11 implementations. The case, in the patent-holder-friendly US Eastern District Court of Texas--a venue that may be dethroned as a forum coveniens for patentholders' suits in new legislation--prevents Buffalo from importing or selling gear in the US with Wi-Fi technology embedded. In Japan, the patent office threw out CSIRO's patent. While Cisco paid CSIRO as the result of an acquisition of an Australian company a few years ago, most US-based technology giants are involved in resisting the patent's continued validation and enforcement. I've read the patent and some of the suits, and as a non-patent expert, it's clear CSIRO original invention didn't cover what's at stake. However, CSIRO was allowed in a subsequent filing to extend its patent to cover already-in-use technology in a way that seems odd to me, but happens in patents all the time. Many millions of dollars and many more years may be expended before a resolution happens. CSIRO apparently isn't asking for insane fees, although anything paid to them would be passed along to consumers. If companies settled, this might result in an increase of 1 to 5 percent on retail prices. It may ultimately effect WiMax, too, though no suits in that area have been filed.
Finding Zune-Fi: Ina Fried of News.com wanders the polite streets of San Francisco in search of Zune connections over Wi-Fi. She finds a few, and has a good experience. One cafe owner sees the ease with which she can stream music and calls it cool. She can't connect at the long-running Google-sponsored free Wi-Fi at Union Square, however, which means the Wi-Fi likely has an accept button that must be pressed. Surely Microsoft could insert a little technology that would allow a browser-free acceptance of terms? Probably involves Yet Another Protocol: the Wi-Fi Terms Browser-Free Presentation Protocol (WTBFPP).
Kodak adds interesting Wi-Fi enabled all-in-one: The new Kodak ESP 9 is a multi-function printer (fax, scan, print, copy) that connects to a network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. The $300 device spits out 30 pages per minutes in color, 32 ppm in black only. Kodak claims that the model line to which the ESP belongs uses ink in a vastly more efficient manner than the "average of comparable consumer inkjet printers."
DSLReports has a tip that Sprint will launch its WiMax service in its first commercially available market on 6-Oct-2008: The site for the service should go live on 26-Sept, allowing sign ups. Pricing will likely be sub-$50. Speeds will likely be advertised as 2 to 4 Mbps with higher bursts. Long-time market watcher Karl Bode writes that backhaul issues appear to be sorted out, with Sprint having signed a number of new deals to ensure that their high-bandwidth WiMax sites can be fed with enough bites.
Baltimore is one of what I believe are still three test markets that will go into commercial availability, albeit as much as a year after initial plans, and then months delayed after revised plans were announced. Still 2 to 4 Mbps is far above the level that current cell technology can achieve as a consistent range.
I'm running a link to this story solely to avoid confusion among readers: Eye-Fi signed a partnership deal with Lexar several months ago that should lead to Eye-Fi technology being embedded in Lexar cards. Lexar works closely with so many camera makers and others that it was a smart move for Eye-Fi to link up, as Eye-Fi is selling its smarts as the value-add, not so much the hardware that the smarts are embedded in for now.
Obviously, as a practical stage one, Lexar is selling a private-label Eye-Fi Share as the Lexar Shoot-n-Sync using. Same price, same features.
What I'm waiting for, which will likely take into 2009, is for Lexar and Eye-Fi to announce partnerships with a major camera maker or two that will allow the Lexar or Eye-Fi card to talk directly to the camera to control battery savings mode, as well as other details. Conceivably, a camera that supports an external GPS (like the new Nikon D90) could allow the Eye-Fi to retrieve coordinates and perform assistive GPS using its Wi-Fi positioning software, and so forth. There's a lot of potential.
Qantas backs off from earlier plans, changes provider for in-flight broadband: The Sydney Morning Herald somewhat erratically and incompletely reports that Qantas has delayed and modified its in-flight broadband plans. Aeromobile was the provider when the service was tested in second quarter 2007, but OnAir is now described as the airline's partner. This was noted by colleague Fabio Zambelli, who emailed me the news, and has his own account at setteB.IT (in Italian).
OnAir has so far tested their calling/texting-only service on two aircraft--one operated by Air France, one by TAP Portugal--even though RyanAir announced plans that its planes would started being unwired with the service by late 2007. Still no word on that fleet progress.
Qantas will apparently launch cached Web browsing and limited Web email (probably through a proxy) along with instant messaging, with full Internet service coming "later in 2009." This is clearly due to a lack of satellite coverage that was just remediated a few weeks ago (see below). The first plane with limited service, a new A380, should be in flight 20-October-2008.
I hate in-flight
The Morning Herald seems to overstate the importance and scope of a complaint filed by the union representing American Airlines' flight attendants. The detailed coverage in the U.S. had more to do with the potential for issues, and likely attendants lack of interest in policing yet another media on the plane. Filtering doesn't work, the attendants probably already know, and this may just be a negotiating point with the airline.
On why Qantas is waiting until late 2009? This requires unwinding how OnAir gets its signal.
Aeromobile and OnAir both rely on Inmarsat satellites for their service. Both companies had several years ago staked their futures on the fourth-generation network Inmarsat was to inaugurate with three satellites that would use beamforming to allow precise delivery of nearly 500 Kbps per receiver, with hundreds or thousands of regions being able to be targeted from a single satellite. Inmarsat's third-gen network--don't confuse this with 3G cellular ground-based networks--can deliver about 64 Kbps per channel.
Now, unfortunately, Inmarsat was three years late on launching its trans-Pacific bird. While the company claims 85 percent coverage of the earth and 98 percent coverage of population, there's a big gap over the Pacific that also prevents them from having good overlap between the U.S. and Japan/China/Korea, as well as the southern Pacific, covering Australia. Since the biggest market for long-haul flights would likely be Australia, Japan, and China, traveling trans-Pacific or trans-hemispheric routes, that gap is rather large.
Aeromobile opted to build out a service, deployed only by Emirates airline as far as I can tell, that uses the 3G service since it was available, and most necessary equipment is already installed on most over-water planes. OnAir was waiting for 4G, which has necessitated a long wait, but allowed them to launch in Europe with a seemingly next-generation service. Given that OnAir is controlled by an airline-owned integration firm, SITA, and by Airbus, they're not going anywhere.
Inmarsat finally lofted its third satellite on Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 19-August-2008, and the launch and separation was reported as successful. Previously, the company has needed up to a year to verify and deploy its 4G satellites. (You can read extremely close coverage of the launch at a Web site devoted to space enthusiasm.)
However, the dirty little secret about Inmarsat's BGAN is that it costs a fortune to heft bandwidth across it. Thus, in-flight broadband over BGAN, if it's ever available, is going to be changed on an extremely high per-MB rate. None of the providers want to say this. This is in contrast to Row 44 (and, once, Connexion by Boeing), which relies on leased Ku-band transponders where they can fix costs and they require high volumes to keep per-bit costs efffectively low.
OnAir's launch of calling on Air France's service involves paying a few euros per minute for calls, which might help you understand what data costs could ultimately run.
Organizers of day-long discussion about ubiquitous mobile broadband want to know what you want to ask: In Philadelphia on 22-Sept-2008, panelists from AT&T, Comcast, Sprint XOHM, The Wharton School, and Network Acquisition Corporation (the folks who will be operating the former EarthLink network in Phila.) will be on one stage at 6 pm at The Franklin Institute's Planetarium (free, $5 contribution requested, advance registration recommended).
The panel will discuss fourth-generation (4G) networks, including both LTE and WiMax, and discuss what these networks might deliver, as well as how Wi-Fi networks fit into this future.
One of the organizers asked if I'd solicit questions--you can post them below--which they'll try to ask during the panel. The group would then write up responses which could posted in turn here.
The powerhouse that is Kevin Werbach, a professor at The Wharton School, is moderating the event. Werbach has been part of interesting thinking about spectrum for many years, a former editor of Release 1.0, and a former FCC staffer. He'll share the stage with a fairly high-powered crowd, including AT&T's enterprise architect for mobility, the president of NAC, and senior people from Comcast and Sprint Xohm.
The event is part of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter series called MobileMonday, an interesting business group that's trying to provoke discussion and development around mobile technology and access. This particular event is sponsored by local business development organization Select Greater Philadelphia.
Despite the failed effort to build city-wide Wi-Fi in San Francisco, Gavin Newsom can still borrow credit: Meraki's SF Free the Net effort, which has them paying a hunk of the cost of building a grassroots Wi-Fi network across swaths of the city, continues to be coattailed (with the company's full encouragement) by Mayor Newsom.
Today's announcement sees Meraki nicely footing the bill for extending their service into neighborhood affordable housing, municipal-speak for low-income housing that's subsidized typically through government efforts and funds. Meraki will install networks at 12 buildings in the Tenderloin, known as San Francisco's roughest neighborhood, now going on many decades with that designation.
Meraki claims a "presence" in 42 of 52 major neighborhoods in the city, although their map tells a very different story about how usage is clustered in areas in which it would make perfect sense that usage was seen.
Meraki has engaged in a very interesting public project, and likes the imprimatur of San Francisco, even as they don't really need the city; the city, in contrast, needs them (or Newsom particularly) to salvage something from years of planning that blew up in their faces.
Anyway, SF's EarthLink network would never have been built; or, having been underway, would never have been completed.
Forgive my snark tone and cynicism: Meraki has put a lot of resources into building a publicly accessible network across a hunk of SF that wouldn't otherwise exist.
AT&T seems to have added free Wi-Fi for its lowest-priced DSL customers: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the only one with this story, and they've garbled a few of the details, but checking AT&T's public sites seems to confirm it. Previously, AT&T customers had to either have a fiber-optic U-Verse subscription, or a DSL line running at 1.5 Mbps downstream or faster to get free Wi-Fi Basic. The Basic pool covers most of the 17,000 U.S. hotspots, excluding some hotels and premium locations.
AT&T now says that any "FastConnect" subscription, even its DSL Lite offering of 768 Kbps down/128 Kbps up, qualifies for Wi-Fi Basic. The new statement reads: "AT&T Wi-Fi Basic service is FREE and already included if you subscribe to AT&T High Speed Internet, AT&T U-verseSM High Speed Internet, or AT&T FastAccess® DSL—all speed plans included.
There's still a $10 per month fee to upgrade to Wi-Fi Premier, which includes over 70,000 locations worldwide, along with the missing U.S. hotspots, but their Web site says that you have to have a 1.5 Mbps or faster connection to get the $10 per month upgrade. That may be out of date. That ordering page also says you need 1.5 Mbps or faster for free Wi-Fi, so that tends to confirm it hasn't been fixed. (It's even hosted at sbc.com, so perhaps that's part of the vestige of an older system, harder to update.)
Please note that iPhone subscribers still don't get free Wi-Fi on AT&T's Basic network.
Think-tank wonders whether banning in-flight VoIP constitutes a violation of FCC rules about blocking services: The Progress and Freedom Foundation's Barbara Espin uses the ban on in-flight VoIP by American Airlines (facilitated by provider Aircell) to make a broader argument about what she calls the FCC's "ad hoc approach to broadband network management issues." It's clever. American discloses that calling isn't allowed, and VoIP isn't even technically within the FAA or FCC's purview, as far as I can determine. The FAA could choose to regulate it as a safety issue. PFF generally tilts anti-regulation, and has as what it calls its "supporters" a broad area of multiple system cable operators and telecom firms, including Comcast, which was singled out and fined by the FCC for its undisclosed network disruption of P2P connections.
Espin references Joe Sharkey's excellent column on in-flight calling in Sunday's New York Times: Sharkey, a veteran travel writer, who survived a mid-air collision over the Brazilian Amazon a few years ago, looks at varying attitudes about calls made during flights. He quotes Aircell's Jack Blumenstein saying what I've telling folks for months: Aircell has a lot of techniques to block VoIP calls already, and "as we identify new ways that people are trying to do voice calls on the airplane, we just kind of zero in and knock those off." Many geeks have assumed Aircell is a bunch of unsavvy folks who wouldn't be able to figure out how to disrupt their clever workarounds for making VoIP. (I keep noting that introducing jitter for suspicious data connections wouldn't disrupt legitimate applications, but would destroy VoIP call quality.)
Sheraton builds lounge in Central Park with Wi-Fi: It's a publicity stunt, but the hotel chain wants to promote the fact that it's updated its hotel lounges or some nonsense, so they've taken over the famous Sheep Meadow, blanketing it in free Wi-Fi through September, and offering snacks and such next Monday. Central Park already has some Wi-Fi, including at Sheep Meadow.
Slacker joins Apple and Microsoft in releasing new models: It's been a busy week for those who follow the latest developments in music players. Apple's new iPods, while not revolutionary, still up the ante for features and quality; Microsoft's new Zunes, released today, come with fascinating new software options; and the Slacker G2 today. The G2, like the iPod touch and all Zunes, sports Wi-Fi.
Slacker licenses music directly from publishers, and includes a perpetual subscription in the cost of the player. Slacker creates stations that feed out an endless supply of music. The new models are $200 for a 4GB model with the ability to list 25 stations (up to 2,500 songs), or $250 for an 8 GB model with 40 stations (up to 4,000 songs). You can also sync your own music in MP3 or WMA format. For $7.50 per month, you can upgrade and store songs you're listening to, as well as avoid ads.
The G2 is already getting reviews as a much-improved upgrade from the first release. Like the Zune, there's no browser or other Internet features, and that might be a positive.
The G2 is tied into Devicescape's Wi-Fi home and hotspot authentication system, which lets Slacker G2 owners pre-program encryption keys or login information for hotspots that they frequent. Devicescape's software both retrieves and stores login information, allowing the G2 to be used in places that would otherwise require either tedious entry of a WPA passphrase, or be unavailable without a Web browser to handle the login.
My review of the Linksys WRT610N at Macworld: The router works quite well at handling Wi-Fi and other functions, but is terrible at working with Mac OS X, one of the advertised features of the product. The WRT610N is a revised design of the previous simultaneous dual-band (2.4/5 GHz) Draft N WRT600N model which had far worse problems.
Linksys addressed many of my concerns with that previous device. The 610N can mount a drive and share it via SMB and FTP, have two full-speed connections running over both bands without skipping a beat, and supports several methods of getting the one-click WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) to work. Read the review for all the details, but I can't recommend this router to Mac users with any needs beyond basic networking; I'm perfectly happy to give it a full thumbs-up for Windows XP and Vista users, however.
WPS is a particular mess, by the way. Linksys has four somewhat distinct methods of using WPS to enable a password-free encrypted connection between a client and a base station: a button on the front that, when pressed, turns on WPS; and three modes (one of them similar to that button) accessible via their Web configuration software. One option is to get the base station to create a short PIN that's then entered on the client system as an out-of-band confirmation that there's no man in the middle.
Apple, by contrast, has a single way of joining a WPS-offering base station: it displays the network's name in bold. Select the network, and Mac OS X displays a key code that needs to be entered on the base station. But the WRT610N can't handle that option. If you put the WRT610N into a mode in which Apple can spot the device as offering a WPS handshake, you can't enter the code into the Linksys router!
This shows that there's still rough edges in the WPS protocol that two of the highest-selling makers of Wi-Fi gear can manage to not mesh up their respective options. (Apple declined to comment for my Macworld story; Linksys confirmed the lack of compatibility, but put the burden on Apple's doorstep.)
Microsoft signs three-year deal with Wayport for old and new Zune owners alike: This is a nice win for Zune users, Wayport, and McDonald's, each in their own way, and it's something Microsoft can simply write off as useful marketing--and a way to get people to try the latest models of their music player, which are being released on 16-September.
The Zune doesn't include a Web browser or any Internet focused features; it's not an iPod touch. But you can use Wi-Fi to browse the Zune Marketplace for music and games, and download new songs in programmed channels, music selections created by a variety of artists and stations. Zune offers both music purchases and a subscription for unlimited music listening. The new models range from $149 for an 8 GB flash model to $249 for a 120 GB hard drive-based player.
The feature I'm most interested in is Buy from FM, which leverages the built-in FM tuner and very low-bandwidth data that's already pushed over analog AM/FM. (See my write-up of this feature from last week.) With Buy from FM, when you're listening to radio stations that participate, you'll be able to click a button and buy the song you're listening to if you're connected to a Wi-Fi network. Zune Pass subscribers can download the song at no additional charge. If there's no Wi-Fi network, the song download or purchase is queued.
Wayport's marketing head Dan Lowden said, "Obviously, it's cool because folks who already own a Zune device and just need to do an upgrade will be able to use this just as with any of the new Zune devices that they start selling as soon as possible." (Microsoft may have a little accounting work to do: Sarbanes-Oxley doesn't let you enhance a product in the market without a fee if you realize the revenue all at once.)
The benefit for Wayport is to have yet another hefty but undisclosed fixed sum underlying its fixed infrastructure costs. In the past, Wayport has done deals with Nintendo, ZipIt, and Eye-Fi to allow all devices in a category unlimited access at McDonald's locations. McDonald's obviously gets more customers, or existing customers who spend more time or visit more frequently.
A partnership with a hotspot operator means that Microsoft doesn't have to provide tools and their users endure frustration in joining a network. "We're experts enabling one click to get this network connected," Lowden said. He noted that Wayport has opened test labs to work with manufacturers in Japan, San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle. "We're working with these guys from day 1 to make sure it's one click to get connected," he said. I'd also note that San Diego happens to be where Qualcomm's headquarters are located, not that Lowden gave me any tip-off there.
And I have to just say: burn, burn, burn on Apple. Despite Apple partnership with AT&T, which relies on Wayport to operate the AT&T-branded hotspot network and resells access to Wayport's own network, iPhone and iPod touch users have no inclusive Wi-Fi service. AT&T slipped a few times and ostensibly opened up their network or released details that iPhone users would gain free hotspot access--like all AT&T's fiber and all its standard and premium DSL customers.
As Wi-Fi becomes an expected part of any handheld gadget, the venues in which Wi-Fi is used multiply beyond cafes and hotels. Lifestyle locations--which could be clothing stores, nightclubs, ski resorts, and the tops of mountains suddenly become places where people want the same kind of access they have at home. Ultima thule is already unwired.
Another terror message sent via open Wi-Fi in India: Credit for terrorist blasts in Delhi was sent by email minutes before the attack took place using a Wi-Fi network owned by a retired engineer's wife. Though articles keep saying the network was "hacked," the Telegraph also notes that the network was "unsecured."
Italian free space optics test hits 1.2 terabits per second (in Italian, Google translation): Researchers in Pisa, Italy, along with colleagues from two Japanese institutions, crossed 1.2 Tbps in a test. Free space optics typically uses infrared lasers, and can work over a distance of kilometers.
More Canadian Wi-Fi health fears: This time in an island in Montréal. One of the concerned citizens: "This is something that is really under the radar. People do not know that long-term health hazards are associated with wireless technology." They don't know that because all verifiable, repeatable, well-conducted, academic tests so far indicate that there's no such health hazard associated with EMF. The concerned folks are raising an alarm about Wi-Fi being broadcast island wide, but are not paying attention, obviously, to the AM/FM radio, satellite radio, cellular, cordless, and thousand other wireless uses that are bombarding them right now, often at far higher signal levels.
Wi-Fi in a tub: I'm not going to say anything more.
QuickerTek adds antenna to 300 mW ExpressCard for MacBook Pro: Users of Apple's higher-end laptops can drop $200 to get a 300 mW Draft N (802.11n) ExpressCard and 5 dBi external antenna with a mounting clip. That's a lot of power, and it's important to recall that have a louder signal doesn't mean that distant base stations can necessarily hear you better. Draft N devices typically pair better listening (receive sensitivity) with higher transmission power, however.
Mac product ties location settings to Wi-Fi position: Centrix has updated its $29 Mac OS X location preferences program NetworkLocation to take advantage of Skyhook Wireless's Wi-Fi positioning data. You can now tie the package of settings that control what email account you use, iChat status, programs launched, disks mounted, and other factors, to where you're currently at.
Slashdot breathlessly posts an item by coderrr that Skyhook Wireless is exposing people's addresses: Yeah, whatever. Skyhook has accidentally offered an API that lets you query their Wi-Fi positioning system for latitude and longitude using a MAC address. Skyhook constantly drives major cities around the world and integrates scans created by users of their systems as well. The poster defines a non-existent problem: first, a scammer needs to get someone's MAC address; then you need to pair a rough lat/long with their street address; then, coderrr says, you'd get a phishing email with your home address. Whatever. If my machine is compromised enough that you can obtain my MAC address and then launch a phishing attack, I have worse problems already than my street address being in the email--which is unlikely given that most Wi-Fi scans will be in urban areas. It's likely Skyhook will modify their systems to prevent submission of such queries, or perhaps open their API further.
Madison Wi-Fi network sold to Atlanta firm: Xiocom purchases Mad City Broadband, a firm that has suffered significant criticism over the performance of its Wi-Fi network in Madison, Wisc. The press release from Xiocom (some quoted in the Badger Herald article) are a bit over the top about a network that reportedly has few users, inconsistent performance, and covers only a fraction of the city.
New version of Windows Mobile software to share cell data connections over Wi-Fi: Morose Media ships version 1.20 of WMWifiRouter, a Windows Mobile 5 and 6 application that routes cellular data connections over Wi-Fi, turning your phone into a micro-hotspot. The software can also share a cell connection via Bluetooth or USB. The software costs $30 or €20, and requires Internet (Connection) Sharing (ICS), which some providers may have removed from your phone. (The company set the price at US$30 before the euro drop, so is offering a kind of discount over their real €20 price for the moment.)
The New York Times rounds up using cell phones as hotspots: Though the reporter, Bob Tedeschi, mentions the issue of having to have an unlimited data plan to avoid unpleasant charges, and worries about bad drains and malicious users, he doesn't note that many carriers don't allow this kind of sharing or routing without a separate "tethering" plan, that can run $20 or more per month. Also, U.S. carriers have now all imposed a 5 GB per month reasonable use cap; some will cut you off, some charge you more, some cancel your service based on exceeding this use.
Fon declares 1m users: While the company says they have 400,000 hotspots and 1m users, I have yet to spot a Fon hotspot in all my travels around Seattle and beyond (even when examining maps of Foneros), and have yet to hear from a single reader who regularly users Fon hotspots. Anyone? Buehler? Buehler? Is this really an emerging network that's so far outside typical users that I just don't get a whiff of it? It's possible.
Gigabit Wi-Fi? Someday: TechWorld considers the IEEE's Very High Throughput (VHT) study group, which wants to start work on 1 Gbps or faster Wi-Fi standard for completion in 2012. With 802.11n offering raw symbol rates up to 600 Mbps--even though no devices have shipped with the radios and antennas to offer that optional high speed yet--there's interest in other frequencies that would allow faster encodings, as well as aggregating multiple links to achieve high speed rates. My experience in testing and using 2.4 GHz with Draft N would show that wide or aggregated channels doesn't work very well. The article's writer, Peter Judge, notes that ultrawideband had potential (over short distances) to approach the gigabit mark, but that UWB hasn't really reached the market in any substantive way years after it was promised to be a big technology.
Flight attendants express concerns about in-flight broadband porn: When I've spoken to airlines, industry experts, and service providers, I find that they all have stories about how porn is viewed on computers, through DVD players, and in convenient magazine form on planes today. Adding the Internet may provide new salacious imagery, but the problem predates Internet access, and filtering Internet service is never as good a solution as a social one. Someone idiotic enough to view porn on a plane over the Internet is also stupid enough to bring along inappropriate DVDs they watch while seated next to children. Flight attendants already have the power vested in them to take care of this. The flight attendants for American might be expressing this concern as part of a bargaining issue, where their responsibilities but not commensurate pay have increased.
Spokane ends free Wi-Fi: Remember Vivato? Boy, I sure do. A company with a reach far exceeding its grasp, Vivato initially powered Spokane's downtown network. The network has continued to run on some basis--I'm not sure using what equipment--and now will move from free to fee. OneEighty Networks will charge about $10 per month to cover the costs of the network, for which local businesses at one point chipped in.
Brazilian TAM airline signs up for in-flight calling, messaging: OnAir has signed up the Brazilian carrier TAM, which will deploy the service on its Airbus A320 craft. Brazil hasn't yet provided regulatory approval, so no launch date is noted. TAM is the largest domestic and international carrier for Brazil.
Aircell has snagged our neighbor (neighbour?) to the north, adding Air Canada to its signed-up airlines for in-flight broadband: Aircell will bring Gogo Internet to Air Canada starting in spring 2009 for trans-border flights using its existing U.S. air-to-ground network. Aircell told me some time ago that they ultimately expected approval from Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean authorities to use the same frequencies as they purchased in the U.S. for air-to-ground broadband; the same had been true for AirFone and other defunct in-flight call providers. The first planes covered will be Airbus A319s.
Latest Zune firmware, software allows Wi-Fi music purchases, FM tagging: Microsoft confirmed the 16-Sept-2008 release of new Zune firmware and players, allowing users of old and new devices alike to purchase music over Wi-Fi from the Zune Marketplace. The new firmware also sports FM tagging that uses information that some broadcasters will embed in their analog programming to tag songs for immediate purchase (single track) or download (Zune Pass subscription) over a Wi-Fi hotspot, or to queue for later download.
Apple added access for iPhone and iPod touch users to a subset of its iTunes Store over Wi-Fi--the awkwardly named iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store--more than a year ago, along with the ability to access that store at no cost from handhelds and laptops via Starbucks outlets in New York, Seattle, and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. (Chicago and Los Angeles have been "coming soon" for a year, but the new AT&T/Starbucks deal may have delayed opening up those markets.)
Terrestrial AM/FM radio stations would like to figure out how to remain meaningful in a world of streaming Internet radio. Their latest strategy is to embed information that allows a listener to mark a song they want, potentially getting a piece of music sold in this fashion. With FM tagging, Zune players tap into an existing very low-data-rate encoding protocols that allow stations to push out their call letters and current song information. By adding a very short code, broadcasters can allow Zunes to look up the appropriate song.
At launch, 450 stations from major networks, including Clear Channel, Entercom, and others, will broadcast tagging details. Note that Microsoft includes KEXP, a Seattle independent and alternative radio station, in its sample image, for the new models. KEXP, given a boost a few years ago through significant short-term funding by Paul Allen--funding that involved changing its call letters to his Experience Music Project museum initials--has an enormous listenership over the Internet ironically enough. KEXP will be a programming partner creating channels of music for the subscription-based Zune Pass service. (Zune Pass is $15 per month, all you can eat.)
This option could allow Microsoft to ink partnerships with hotspot networks to brand them with Zune compatibility, lets radio stations promote something other than iPods that they would have a direct relationship with (and, potentially, some kind of revenue stream from?), and may be part of breaking Apple's digital music hegemony. May be. Nobody's gotten rich betting against Apple for the last several years. (Details of revenue sharing with radio stations hasn't been discussed.)
Apple opted for a partnership with HD Radio broadcasters and equipment makers that has a relatively elaborate process of tagging songs. HD Radio is digital AM/FM, a patented and licensed method that has provoked a lot of controversy, and has lagged enormously in the marketplace, despite well over 1,000 stations (including many public radio stations) broadcasting in this digital format, some for over three years.
HD Radio tagging requires an HD radio receiver with a Tag button; pressing that button stores the song's tag information. The radio must also have an iPod dock. Docking an iPod syncs the tag information, and the next time the iPod is sync with iTunes, you can see which songs were tagged. Kind of tedious compared to "press a button while listening to an FM station and buy the song over Wi-Fi." (I've been writing about HD Radio for years, and even launched a blog that's gone moribund; the technology is interesting, but Internet radio on mobile devices coupled with on-demand music purchasing over cell and Wi-Fi may simply make HD Radio unnecessary for listeners.)
Microsoft has a more compelling "marketing story" for this feature than Apple, that's for sure. On the other hand, do you really need to tag songs from stations that play only the most popular music in a given format?
I'm not sure why this article was written, as there appears to be nothing particularly newsworthy in it: The News.com reporter Marguerite Reardon has covered muni-Fi for as long as I have, and after reading this in-depth piece, I'm left wondering whether it was assigned far too early, and she was meeting an editorial desk requirement instead of feeling like the story was ready to "print." The article looks at Network Acquisition Corp. (NAC), the allegedly interim name for the group that's taken over Phila-Fi.
One source at the Knight Center for Digital Excellence notes, "The new network owners are supposed to have a much more sustainable business model." Supposed to. Later, "Network Acquisition Company, which acquired the network, hasn't talked publicly about the details of its new plan, but it has hinted that its strategy will differ from EarthLink's." Hasn't talked publicly. Then, "[NAC and Tropos] spokespeople said the companies would talk more about the network later this month when details of the new business plan are ready." Huh.
Reardon explains digital divide issues and looks into what Wireless Philadelphia has been up to, although doesn't note that delays in EarthLink's deployment and other factors have led to just a few hundred individuals that have been assisted by the non-profit; numbers may have changed, but that was as of a few months ago. Still, Wireless Philadelphia has apparently diversified its funding sources--Reardon cites 30 now.
I think we're still coming off the doldrums of August.
New York area cable operator Cablevision flips switch for high-traffic areas of Long Island: They're announcing Thursday that they've turned on the initial phases of their network in Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as at commuter rail platforms and station parking lots throughout Long Island. The service offers 1.5 Mbps in each direction, the company claims. Detailed site maps for their previous much smaller activated areas are up at their Wi-Fi information site, and I expect to see these updated soon.
Cablevision will ultimately spend about $300m in building a Wi-Fi network exclusively for its customers; 2.4m of these customers qualify to use the service at no cost. There's no pay as you go option, no monthly subscription; you're either a subscriber of theirs, or not. It's a fascinating strategy, because they're leveraging all these dollars as a tool to crack its competitors in the market. With increasing competition from telephone companies that are offering television service, cable companies need to compete on voice, data, and video, as well as well as on mobile offerings. When the network is built, Cablevision can conceivably offer Wi-Fi telephony service, too.
I'm dying to know what the reduced churn rate and increase in subscriptions will be in six months. Given that hotspot access costs $10 to $30 per month depending on the network, Cablevision is delivering something of value. It's great honey for new subscribers and glue to keep current subscribers.
The company is claiming that with this latest activation, they have the largest Wi-Fi network for consumers in the U.S. They're likely correct. The only other public access network of scale that's being used by large numbers is in Minneapolis, and based on what I know about both networks, Cablevision probably deserves bragging rights. The network in Taipei, Taiwan, is likely still larger, but I haven't heard any usage number in nearly two years; at that point, subscription rates were 10 percent of what had been projected.
You wouldn't listen, but continued to generate products, news stories, and analysis about wireless networking in my absence: Here's the run down of the last week or so's Wi-Fi and wireless stories. (Yes, I enjoyed my time off.)
Fourth US airline to go Wi-Fi: Aircell says they have a fourth airline--after American, Delta, and Virgin America--on board for its in-flight Wi-Fi service. The aerial broadband provider's latest partner will be announced soon. Aircell's service went live in 15 American Airlines planes two weeks ago, and there's been a surprising lack of reporting from regular travelers or journalists since the big splash at the launch.
Microsoft, two universities research methods for better Wi-Fi handoff for vehicles: The researchers developed a method they call Vi-Fi, writes the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Todd Bishop, which allows a system to maintain connections with several base stations at once, using a primary access point for traffic until a discontinuity is predicted or encountered. This allows seamless handoffs and continuous voice conversations.
Speaking of autos and Wi-Fi, concerns raised about Chrysler's in-car Wi-Fi option: Randall Stross wrote nearly two weeks ago in The New York Times about the problem of distraction. With the Internet at your fingertips, can you restrain yourself? The only problem with the humorous and accurate analysis is that millions of business travelers have 3G access via laptop cards already, so you'd think we'd already be seeing the bad effects of automotive area networks.
A Wi-Fi booster can't post availability signs on highway: The Nebraska town of Louisville has free Wi-Fi downtown, and wanted to post "Visitor Wi-Fi" on a highway sign as another amenity. The state highway department has a policy that doesn't allow the promotion of Wi-Fi, because they believe they'd be inundated. A resident who runs a local Internet firm installed his own signs on the highway; the roads department removed them; he remounted them; they were removed again. The idea of zoning and mounting a billboard apparently hasn't come to the city officials' minds (or perhaps they're prohibited).
The folks spreading misinformation about Wi-Fi health effects cause Ulster school to disable network: I can understand why non-technical folks might think that Wi-Fi has been proven to be unsafe, given the kind of information that's available on the Internet about wireless safety. While there are ongoing studies about the safety of cellular signals--and I'm convinced at this point there's no increased risk to an adult's health by using a cell phone--there is no specific and credible research linked to Wi-Fi, which broadcasts signals at a far lower level than a cell phone, most of the time in most uses.
Washington state shuts down rest-area Wi-Fi: The $3 for 15 minutes, $7 per day, or $30 per month Wi-Fi service at 28 of Washington's 42 rest areas has been turned off after a year for lack of use. Figures. The fees charged by Parsons and Road Connect aren't unreasonable for a nationally scoped plan, but are ridiculous for limited use. States should either bite the bullet and offer these service for free, partner with national roaming operators who can resell service into large networks of business travelers, or use ads to support the service. Highways in remote areas can typically pick up cell data networks, and ongoing costs should be minimal to operate such networks.
IEEE approves fast-roaming standard, 802.11r: This new standard is designed to improve the handoff of devices between base stations. This is accomplished in part by allowing base stations to communicate security and quality of service information so that a VoIP over WLAN phone can immediately reassociate without the delay of authentication and other handshaking.
Denver airport sees 7,000 connections on a single day last week due to Democratic National Convention: FreeFi released the usage figures recently to show how their service is operating. The network started with about 600 daily users when the switchover from fee to free happened 10 months ago, and now carries about 3,500 daily connections.
Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf goes free: The chain of about 700 cafes will have free Wi-Fi installed by now in all its company-owned stores (about 300).