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Broadband Reports that Comcast is testing Wi-Fi for its customers: Karl Bode gets Comcast to confirm a trial that the company is offering at New Jersey Transit stations. Comcast has been talking to Cablevision about how its program works. Cablevision has committed to a 2-year, $300m rollout of Wi-Fi across much of its New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut territory, offering service only to cable broadband subscribers but at no additional cost.
Cablevision is using Wi-Fi as a tool to attract and retain customers, estimating that its costs are about $100 per household. That's far less than the cost to acquire or re-acquire a customer that shifts to a fiber-based TV offering or satellite, or one that unplugs entirely.
As is the case with large cable operators (multiple service operators or MSOs), which have franchises all over the place, Cablevision and Comcast are perhaps technically competitors, but don't really geographically compete. Cablevision and Comcast's true competition is AT&T and Verizon, along with other IPTV providers.
Cable firms have an advantage in already having a high-voltage powered plant over the territory they cover. Adding Wi-Fi nodes, especially the cable-plant compatible BelAir nodes that Cablevision chose, is therefore a substantially easier undertaking. Depending on the area, cable firms may already have the necessary rights of way and equipment-hanging privileges to put up Wi-Fi nodes--a problem that dogged the 2005 to 2007 wave of metro-scale Wi-Fi deployments.
Santa Clara electrical utility buys MetroFi's SkyPilot Wi-Fi nodes: The Silicon Valley Power (SVP) Meter Connect program will use the wireless backbone for automatic meter infrastructure (AMI) as part of a program to switch to smart meters and provide demand-based pricing and response for customers. They'll start with a pilot with a couple thousand smart meters, and eventually replace 45,000 residential and 6,000 business meters. Meters and the back-end systems are out for bid.
The current bill for providing American infrastructure rebuilding includes $4.5b in smart-grid spending, and utilities will be vying for hunks of this to pay or subsidize infrastructure updates. The money is well spent. The smarter the grid, the less power people and businesses use at peak times (through higher prices for peak power or incentives for conservation), and the less idle off-peak power plants have to be in place.
Wi-Fi Rail says they're starting work on putting the Internet into the BART system: After many months of contract drafting or other bureaucratic hinkiness, Wi-Fi Rail has a signed contract with the Bay Area Rapid Transportation system operators. BART covers a huge hunk of the San Francisco Bay Area, out into suburbs and even former exurbs.
Wi-Fi Rail said in a press release that they'll have the first chunk of the system active in 2009, although they continue to operate four downtown San Francisco stations and some of the tunnel between them, as they have for well over a year. (During which time, 15,000 users registered.)
Update: The San Francisco Chronicle adds a few details. The contract is for 20 years. The first rollout of the project will cover San Francisco and Oakland stations, and the trans-bay tunnel that connects SF and Oakland. BART comprises 104 miles of track and 43 stations, all of which would be covered.
The company uses a kind of leaky coax, a method of turning a stretch of wire into an antenna, to provide continuous high-speed coverage in tunnels, which is a neat trick. They claim the consistent ability to reach 15 Mbps upstream and downstream.
The system will be fee-based: $6 for two hours, $9 per day, or $30 per month. Don't expect to buy a Boingo or iPass plan and get unlimited BART roaming, too, from what Wi-Fi Rail has previously said. The Chronicle reported that Wi-Fi Rail will offer chunks of 3 1/2 minutes of free service followed by 30 seconds of ads.
With the huge growth in Wi-Fi–enabled handhelds (phones, gaming devices, and music players), Wi-Fi Rail expects that its high-bandwidth offering will have many takers.
Only two potential customers for the service were quoted in the Chronicle's article. Thomas Hawk, a well-known photographer who works for Zooomr, makes the rather insane statement that having systemwide Wi-Fi that he'd have to pay for isn't worthwhile. For a photographer, I'd think a reasonably priced 15 Mbps upstream connection would be crazily useful. But that's just me. I have 768 Kbps upstream at home (3 Mbps down), and would die for 2 or 3 Mbps upstream, even.
At $9 per day, of course, that's too much. But the Chronicle should have found a few business commuters, for whom an extra 60 to 90 minutes of work per day en route (instead of at home or at the office) would make a difference.
Aviation Daily reports that Row 44's satellite trial on Southwest Airlines bumped to mid-February: The industry publication says that Southwest will install Row 44's Ku-band satellite receiver on 3 Boeing 737s, and Alaska Airlines on 1 737. The trial was originally planned for launch by the end of January, but sources are saying that FAA approval is delaying launch.
These tests were originally announced for the middle of 2008, and I was talking to Row 44 about their launch plans way back in summer 2006. As with Aircell, innumerable problems have likely cropped up. Aircell's launch was pushed back about a year, and about 30 aircraft currently appear to have Aircell Gogo service on board. That number should climb above 100 within a couple months, and if it does not, questions will be asked.
Row 44 claims to have an affordable satellite solution that can deliver far higher data rates than the air-to-ground system Aircell is using. Further, Row 44 can serve over-water routes, which makes it quite appealing to Alaska, which flies a huge number of routes to its namesake state and to Mexico.
The huge spike in oil was certainly a delaying factor as airlines weighed every possible contingency and every ounce they were carrying.
The real issue for Row 44 is whether enough aircraft can be equipped, and whether their overhead structure for Ku-band transponder leasing and aircraft installation produces a real return. We'll see. Boeing tried it with far older, slower, and heavier gear; Row 44 has the 21st century advantage. [link via Joe Brancatelli]
Option offers up another cell gateway: The GlobeSurfer III is the latest release from Option for a cellular gateway, in this case featuring the fastest HSPA flavors. The device seems unique in offering networked support for those connected via Wi-Fi and Ethernet to USB hard drives and printers. The GlobeSurfer III also handles SMS messaging. With all these features, there's no battery-only option, which is becoming a common feature among simpler wireless WAN gateways.
T-Mobile disembarks Amtrak: No press release was sent, but our eagle-eyed informal correspondent Klaus Ernst once again spots the lacuna. He was unable to find T-Mobile service at Penn Station in New York City, contacted T-Mobile customer support, and was told that the service was no longer available. T-Mobile offered Wi-Fi in five Northeast corridor stations; Amtrak still lists them as their provider. A T-Mobile spokesperson didn't respond for comment (yet), and a perusal of the company's hotspot listings show no Amtrak stations. T-Mobile was the third provider to operate this service: Ernst notes Pronto/Urbanhotspots was once a provider, then AT&T Wireless ran the service (prior to the Cingular acquisition), and finally T-Mobile. One would think that with a captive audience often waiting Wi-Fi would be a big seller. Apparently not.
We're No. 1! We're No. 1! Whatever! Forbes has released its annual nonsensical top 30 wired cities report, which, of course, includes wireless services like public Wi-Fi hotspots and Clearwire's pre-WiMax and true WiMax. The methodology is ridiculous. They're measuring percentage of homes with "high-speed connections," without showing a historgram or other data about speeds, counting Wi-Fi hotspots, and looking at the sheer number (not scope) of broadband providers. Seattle comes in at No. 1, for whatever that's worth.
10 planes will get Wi-Fi installed every week from now on: Delta Airlines mentioned in passing in a blog entry last week that their Wi-Fi production line installation "begins with ship [airplane numbered] 9015 for the 11th aircraft. From January 15th through 3Q09, TechOps will produce upwards of 10 new wi-fi equipped aircraft per week."
If you want to understand the cost and complexity of installing gear on planes, read the first part of this post, related to putting in fully reclinable seats for trans-Atlantic flights. Their craft numbered 1804 will require 63 days for the modification. That's two months out of service to put in a super-premium-first-class option. The mind staggers.
Boingo takes over Austin airport: Austin Bergstrom has been operated by Wayport for about forever, being the town in which Wayport was founded. Boingo Wireless started gradually, but has ultimately become the dominant airport Wi-Fi (and cellular back-end) operator in North America.
Metageek releases 2.4/5 GHz spectrum analyzer: The $799 Wi-Spy DBx, designed for network engineers, started shipping a few days ago. Metageek has long offered a 2.4 GHz analyzer ($399); this devices adds the 5 GHz band. I had a brief demo from a beta tester a few days ago, and it's rather slick. This might be a terrific tool for those building large-scale networks, trying to determine interferer sources. As with the previous Wi-Spy tools, graphical analysis software is included that allows the import and creation of profile to characterize common patterns, like cordless phones or microwave ovens.
Auckland fires up Wi-Fi service: Service was turned in preparation for the America's Cup regatta starting later this month. It's not free: NZ$3 (US$1.60) per hour, NZ$6.50 (US$3.50) per day, and NZ$30 (US$16) per month. But it's considered pretty affordable within the context of the local economy. Service is in zones rather than seamlessly across the town.
WeFi offers hotspot directory: I'm not impressed. I checked out Seattle in their database of 14 million networks and growing, and found a handful of networks across the city, even looking at both close, open, and authentication-required networks. Pretty paltry. There have been many attempts to have user-generated hotspot directories over the years. They have all faltered or failed because there's a lot of hard work in not just finding and cataloguing locations, but cleaning the data and updating it correctly over time. My usual disclosure: I own a very very small number of shares in JiWire, which built one of the first hotspot directories and still operates it. But, despite that disclosure, JiWire's the only directory that's usable; I've tried them all, and I try each new one, too.
The Wall Street Journal writes on the confluence of the need for information for job seekers, and computer and Wi-Fi availability in libraries: The Journal story runs down the demands being placed on public libraries as those who are unemployed or underemployed check out books, check job listings, and cry on librarians' shoulders.
Oddly, the article doesn't mention that free Wi-Fi means being able to cancel one's broadband subscription if you lost a job or are being paid less--saving from $300 to $1,000 per year depending on the subscription--and if you lost access to a laptop from work, you don't need to buy a new machine (at least immediately).
The article also omits the unfortunate confluence that city and regional budgets are full of red ink, and that libraries often find staff, hours, and new book budgets on the chopping block as one of the ways to reduce costs. It's a shame, because libraries are never needed more than during tough times.
The profession of librarian has morphed from shushing books stamper to information technology/information sciences expert--crossed with social workers. In Seattle, even in the best of economic times, librarians are called upon to deal with legions of homeless people who camp in libraries (often making good use of their resources, too). The Seattle library system has advocated for hygiene centers and more shelters to shift their burden onto appropriate resources.
[link via Muniwireless.com]
Won't somebody think of the children? I guess they did: The Birmingham, UK, Green Bus--a low-emissions double-decker student transportation system--has installed Icomera Moovbox M Series gateways to give kids Internet access while en route to and from school. The system carries 1,400 kids each day. The system offers real-time tracking for parents, which sounds obsessive, until you realize that figuring out when your kid will be getting off the bus during the dreary, rainy days of winter is a big advantage.
The Green Bus is not a school-funded service, but an independently operated business that's combining a "green" message, convenience to parents and students, and technology to bring schoolbussery into the 21st century, I guess. A yearly academic full access pass is £475 (about $700). They're planning expansions beyond Birmingham this fall.
United adds Internet: United Airlines becomes the fifth airline to sign up for in-flight Internet service with Aircell, a company that offers ground-to-air broadband service to planes. United will start a pilot program in the second half of 2009 with 13 of its Boeing 757 aircraft in its p.s. airline operation between LAX and JFK and SFO and JFK.
American Airlines has been offering the service, under Aircell's Gogo brand, on 15 cross-country 757-200s since September 2008, Virgin American equipped one plane in December 2008, and Delta Airlines has been offering service on about 10 planes since late 2008. American has made no future commitment; Virgin has said their small fleet would be fully Wi-Fi enabled by mid-2009; and Delta plans to put service on its entire domestic fleet of over 300 planes.
For Aircell, this isn't yet a vindication of their decade-long effort to put broadband into commercial aircraft. The company worked for years to push low-use narrowband radiotelephone service (eventually, only offered by Verizon Airfone) off the airwaves in favor of broadband, and then changed its corporate structure to obtain the capital to win an important auction in 2006.
With American, Delta (with Northwest thrown in), and United on board among the big carriers, and their most significant competitor Row 44 without a production aircraft or public test with their partners Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines, Aircell is on top of the heap. But recall that Delta is the only large carrier committed to fleet-wide deployment, and that hasn't happened yet. American is moving into the 5th month of a test, and United isn't starting up service for at least six months, and then only on 13 aircraft. So much remains to be seen.
I've used the service on Virgin America, during the press event, and expected that 4 or 5 of Virgin's planes would be ready to go by now based on their public statements. That hasn't happened yet. Still, the service works quite well, and all reports are that for the right customer, the price is right. Update: Virgin's press spokesperson said that 4 planes now have Wi-Fi turned on, which is about right on scheduled. Funny; they're not showing multiple planes or flights at their Wi-Fi tracker.
United will offer Gogo service for $12.95 per flight. Other airlines have tiered service based on flight duration: $9.95 for flights of 3 or fewer hours; $12.95 for longer flights. However, United will only be flying with Internet service on routes of 5 or more hours.
The service uses a cellular backhaul technology to ground stations—EVDO Rev. A—that allows it to peak over 2 Mbps downstream (from the Internet to the plane) and nearly 1 Mbps upstream (from passengers to the Internet).
(Air Canada is the among the first airlines to sign up for Gogo; they will launch service for U.S. flyover flights only initially, as Aircell doesn't yet have Canada regulatory approval. Their launch plans haven't yet been announced.)
Parsons at one point seemed determine to be involved in every major transportation-based Internet access system; no longer: The multinational firm has completed the transfer of its operation of the VIA Rail Internet service, distributed to passengers over Wi-Fi, to 21Net. 21Net has been involved in setting up European rail access, including for Renfe (Spain), SNCF (France), and Thalys (cross borders).
Parsons late last year spun off its co-owned Opti-Fi airport division to Boingo Wireless, and then its Washington State Ferry operations to Boingo as well. Boingo is now, by far, the largest operator of airline Internet (and cellular) service in the world--you can measure that by airports, passenger volumes, or guessed-at session counts.
The VIA Rail offering has been in place for several years, moving to a higher-speed offering a couple of years ago under Parsons banner. The service operates only on the line between Windsor and Quebec City.
Monica Paolini writes up her experience last week with Clear in Portland: Paolini, a Seattle-area wireless industry consultant, has a stake in WiMax--she's consulted for players in the industry--but she's also consistently honest about how technology performs. She visited Portland, Ore., for the Clearwire WiMax launch (under the Clear brand name), and collected some spot measurements of static indoor and outdoor service, as well as mobile. She plotted her test locations on a map.
The results are fairly stunning, with fast service almost everywhere, and few interruptions. WiMax's key current advantage is speed, with rates that could be 2 to 4 times the fastest available on cellular data networks, or as much as 5 to 10 times the mid-range to lower-end of cellular speeds.
Now, of course, Clearwire is throwing a lot more bandwidth at the wireless broadband problem: 10 MHz channels instead of 1.25 MHz (EVDO) or 5 MHz (UMTS/HSPA).
WiMax isn't suddenly proven to be the technology it's been promised to be, but the early reports continue to be good. What will define WiMax as a success is whether Clearwire can consistently deliver speeds, make mobile access work reliably, deal with congestion if they get a lot of uptake, and have an equipment ecosystem from their vendors that allows inexpensive adapters and home gateways.
New York isn't happy with M/A-Com, a Tyco Electronics subsidiary building a state-wide wireless communications network: The idea was simple at its heart: get all public-safety officials and staff in the state using common equipment and frequencies. A $2b contract was awarded to M/A-Com, which bid $1b less than Motorola. (Of course, Motorola had its own failure in 2007 with a New York Transit wireless system that didn't work, according to The New York Times.)
Update on 1/15: New York canceled the contract.
M/A-Com disputes the problems, and has sent a lawyer letter threatening to sue. The New York Times account of the timetable, difficulties, and performance make it sound like a fairly one-sided problem. And lawsuits don't help when you're not delivering the goods. There's likely much more to be heard about this, since the Times seems to have state officials as its main source. M/A-Com clearly missed deadlines; the rest could wind up in prolonged litigation. [link via Klaus Ernst]
(On a totally unrelated front, M/A-Com long ago purchased Ohio Scientific Inc, or OSI, one of the first makers of non-hobbyist personal computers. My first computer was an OSI Challenger 1P with a whopping 8K of ROM and 8K of RAM.)
Row 44 is flying some journalists around in an old plane to show off their satellite-based service: At CES, the LA Times's David Colker was flown up in a 1950s seaplane to test the offering. But, more importantly, Row 44 told him that public tests will finally take place on Alaska and Southwest scheduled flights this month. (Colker's closing paragraphs make it seem that he hasn't heard of Internet service from Aircell on American, Delta, and Virgin, limited as that service currently is.)
Row 44 has been talking about its plans for at least two years. The firm says it has cheaper equipment that's far faster than Boeing's, even though it uses the same Ku-band satellite communications. The company told me long ago that they have cleverer transponder licenses that don't lock them into the same cash-hemorrhaging situation that Connexion found itself in.
Sony has introduced the DSC-G3 with a browser: This Wi-Fi enabled camera includes a browser, which Sony assures us makes it easy to gain access to hotspots. The camera includes access until 31-Jan-2012 to a special upload site via AT&T's hotspot network, the Sony Easy Upload Home Page.
Because if there's two things that digital photographers want, it's another photograph/video upload interface to learn and configure, and the ability to type in user names and passwords into a tiny tiny tiny Web browser. Goodness knows, I've been waiting for that.
Sony joins the other Wi-Fi enabled camera makers in creating a problem where a solution exists: multiple companies (Boingo and Devicescape leap foremost to mind) have figured out how to uniquely identify devices and enable no-entry logins at hotspots through an external account.
But Sony gave us a browser. Hurrah.
The camera has 4 GB of built-in memory, and uses the increasingly less-standard Memory Stick format for additional storage. The 10-megapixel, 4x optical zoom camera with Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens has a 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD, and is available today for $500.
Intel releases driver update to create simultaneous peer-to-peer Wi-Fi network and local area network connection: Intel started talking about its Cliffside project months ago, and EE Times reports that the silicon manipulator has released software for Centrino 2 laptops that allows simultaneous PAN (Personal Area Network) and LAN (Local Area Network) use.
PANs are used for gadgets and syncing: cameras, keyboards, printers, and such; LANs are used for network connections for file transfer, Internet access, and applications. Combining PAN and LAN into Wi-Fi without making a tradeoff is an interesting strategy, but it assumes that everything you'll want to use in a PAN has Wi-Fi built in. Bluetooth still has an advantage of both chip size and power usage over even the most efficient Wi-Fi, and most compact Wi-Fi chipsets are now being sold as integrated packages with Bluetooth on board.
Eye-Fi to offer iPhone application: Eye-Fi will offer a free application that lets owners of its Secure Digital (SD) format Wi-Fi memory card to upload pictures from the iPhone to computers and online sharing services. Eye-Fi is also working on direct video-to-YouTube uploads from its memory card.
Clearwire has finally launched a second city: Portland, Ore., close by to Intel's headquarters in Beaverton, finally gets WiMax coverage. This is the first network under the Clear brand, the service that's being deployed by the new Clearwire, a merger of the old Clearwire and the WiMax assets of Sprint Nextel. Over 700 sq mi are covered in the metropolitan region.
It was a poorly kept secret that Intel employees have been using WiMax service in the area for a couple of years, starting at their campus and eventually expanding out as the network was lit up for testing. Portland is an ideal early commercial market, however, because there's such a mix of old and new infrastructure, as well as suburbs and something like exurbs/rural not far from the city's boundaries due to an urban growth boundary.
From what I can tell, the impetus to get a city-wide Wi-Fi network (started by MetroFi, but never completed) was because of the uneven ability to get high-speed broadband. Clearwire's 768 Kbps to 6 Mbps residential service is price from $20 to $40 per month, which might be higher in some cases than comparable cable or DSL--but only if that cable or DSL is available. Business services may be far cheaper than landline offerings, while mobile and fixed bundles are much cheaper than anything the cell and wireline broadband companies can offer together so far.
Portland is served by Qwest, which is way behind in offering fiber-connected services, although it's finally rolling them out. Some of the suburbs are handled by Verizon, which is offering Fios in some places, its fiber-to-the-home service. (GTE once had parts of Washington and Oregon, and that operation was eventually folded into Verizon.)
Skype has released a beta test version of its Mac OS X that offers per-minute hotspot access: The 2.8 beta, released today, works with Boingo Wireless's worldwide aggregated hotspot footprint to allow metered access with no setup fee or monthly commitment.
Skype told me that they're charging 19 U.S. cents or 14 euro cents per minute. That's quite steep, except that they're pitching this to people who need a few minutes at a time. Boingo likely hopes to sell a lot of subscriptions to people who find access addictive, and don't want to pay over $10 per hour on a minute-by-minute basis.
The company operating Wi-Fi in some New York parks is closing down: Eagle-eyed correspondent Klaus Ernst noted that the Wi-Fi in the parks project has shut down. Wi-Fi Salon, the concessionaire for most of the major parks, posted a message about the current economic conditions, but the note is undated.
I was always dubious about Wi-Fi Salon due to the surreal technical explanations made by its founder, its small size and lack of real-world experience, and the extensive delays in every step of the project. Ultimately, something closer to kiosks than coverage were erected, and I've never seen any usage numbers.
Community Wi-Fi organizers in New York City had a variety of other ideas about how to offer free Wi-Fi, but parks had its own agenda. Let's see if they approach this differently this time around.
Update: Marshall Brown, Wi-Fi Salon's founder, takes issue with my characterization of his operations. No one--especially me--ever claimed that building outdoor networks was easy. From all that's happened in the last few years, it's clear that building large, sustainable, free (sponsored or otherwise) networks requires many stakeholders, a diverse revenue stream, and real purposes for a network beyond public access.
Crain's reports on the issue: Possibly prompted by my post (or by Brown's outrage), Crain's New York Business writes about the shut down and Brown's new project, which has put Wi-Fi into Union Square. Brown's new venture, Wired Towns, is talking to business improvement districts about outdoor Wi-Fi across New York City.
Yet another update: Sewell Chan of the New York Times provides more details about the timeline involved.
It's been a slow few weeks in Wi-Fi and wireless land; that should change this week: The holidays were quiet, but both the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Macworld Conference & Expo happen this week, and we'll see some action. I'll be at Macworld starting tomorrow evening; Apple might pull out a surprise. At CES, we're likely to see quite a lot of gadgets and home-networking servers.