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Metageek drops down a few gigahertz with the Wi-Spy 900x: The new spectrum analyzer from Metageek, in a USB dongle form factor as with previous offerings, extracts data from the 900 MHz band, an unlicensed band used for cordless phones, baby monitors, RFID tags, ZigBee, and other mishegas. The price is $199. While WLAN use 2.4 and 5 GHz, there are still plenty of purposes for 900 MHz devices, which take advantage of the better propagation available at this frequency range.
As expected, Comcast will resell Clearwire's WiMax service: The Comcast High-Speed 2Go brand will be powered by Clearwire, starting in Portland. Comcast is focused on the mobile part, of course, since the company has its own extensive residential and business fixed broadband portfolio. Comcast has invested in Clearwire, and has previously resold Sprint Nextel service, as well.
The company will offer a Metro plan and card that works only in the WiMax footprint area, and a Nationwide plan and card that offers 3G everywhere Sprint has it, and 4G within WiMax footprints.
Comcast is using the power of the bundle, where the reduced cost in presenting and collecting multiple bills results in savings for the company and the consumer, with a 12-month introductory rate. A $50/mo bundle pairs 12 Mbps home cable broadband with WiMax service; consumers can add national 3G service for another $20/mo. The rate after 12 months is $73/mo for WiMax and $93/mo for 3G+WiMax, or $30 to $50 above the current 12 Mbps broadband rate. You pay separately for a broadband dongle, likely under $100, but that information wasn't provided yet.
Clearwire charges $50/mo for unlimited consumer roaming, and has a variety of business plans for shared bandwidth among multiple accounts. Sprint has a combined 3G/4G plan that's $80/mo (with a 2-year contract) that includes 5 GB per month of 3G bandwidth and unlimited 4G bandwidth. Comcast appears to be following both firms' leads on that topic.
With either plan, it looks like a fairly enormous discount, especially during the introductory year, but also thereafter.
I complained the other day that camera manufacturers weren't integrating support for Eye-Fi's Wi-Fi SD cards: But that's not quite right: a few camera makers have the religion. Eye-Fi is the only generic solution to moving images (and now video) from a camera to a computer or photo-sharing service via Wi-Fi. The market seems to me huge, and Eye-Fi continues to expand models, features, and distribution channels, as well as upload partners. This makes me think the market is robust, too.
However, no competing product has entered the field. Eye-Fi is a startup, and you might expect another firm--a memory-card maker, certainly--would add up the potential and try to compete. It has not happened after nearly 2 years of product in the market.
Camera makers should thus wake up: if they can't properly integrate Wi-Fi into the firmware and hardware of their cameras--and I'd argue no Wi-Fi equipped camera below the expensive professional level has yet done so--then the only reasonable partner is Eye-Fi.
Eye-Fi has two limitations in operating as a separately functioning computer-on-a-card independent of the camera's gear. First, a camera's standard power-down operation will remove the power to the card before all uploads have completed in many cases. I upgraded my Wi-Fi network by moving to 802.11n, and that reduced congestion and seems to make the Eye-Fi cards I use--which have 802.11g built in--more efficient at uploading.
Second, the camera can't alert the user that the uploads have completed. Eye-Fi gets around this with notification services via email or SMS that you can set up for each card. But a ding or dialog would go a lot further.
Eye-Fi has a page at its site that I was unaware of that lists all the camera models that have Eye-Fi integration. This includes 5 recent Casio models that signal whether an Eye-Fi is inserted, allow Wi-Fi to be turned on or off, that stay powered up until uploads are completed, and which indicate transfers in process.
I expect it's a multi-year process for Eye-Fi to convince cameramakers that the company will be around in the long term, that it is sui generis for Wi-Fi digital cards, and that firmware integration enhances the value of a new camera (i.e., more sales from people who thus need the new cameras) instead of pushing money over to Eye-Fi that the makers would rather keep themselves.
Sure, Clearwire has Baltimore and Portland, but Atlanta eclipses those: The Clear network in Atlanta spans 1,200 sq mi and passes 3m people. Given the hideous commute and highway backups, I can see a ubiquitous network that's cheaper than and faster than 3G competitors being a windshield warrior and mobile work team must-have. Clearwire maintains that 4 to 6 Mbps downstream is typical, with an over 15 Mbps burst rate.
Clearwire pairs the Atlanta announcement with a laundry list of gear customers can use to connect, which has increased considerably in the last few months.
Wireless networks are always a chicken-and-egg problem. Wi-Fi insinuated itself into nearly every mobile device because there was no network lock in. You could install one hot spot and have one adapter and have all the freedom you needed to cut the cord. Wi-Fi became cheap to include in mobile devices years ago, and required no carrier or regulator relationship.
Cellular 3G and 4G networks have a harder row to hoe because every adapter will have both high cost and provider lock in. 3G cell modems are starting to become a standard feature on some netbooks and laptops, although it's a financial risk to the makers of these computers, as the underlying cost of mobile broadband modems remains high. If the user never activates the modem, or cancels within a short period, the buyer isn't bearing the full cost of that adapter based on the current model. (It's not clear whether carriers and/or modem makers absorb some of this risk to ship more adapters and gain more customers, too.)
For Clearwire, it's a bit different, because Motorola and Samsung are both major investors and principle equipment manufacturers. This can be awkward, because the two makers can't offer gear to Clearwire at cost, but neither do they have a motivation to extract every last dollar.
Clearwire notes in this release how many WiMax adapter are now available, and in what variety. For laptops, there's a $60 (or $5/mo) USB modem. This takes care of legacy laptops and even desktop computers. USB modems for 3G networks have multiplied and added features (such as having a microSD slot) because the ability to move the modem among multiple computers is desirable.
For home users, there's the Clear Residential Modem, which is $80 or $5/mo; voice calling requires an additional $15 adapter and a $25/mo calling plan (competitive with Vonage, and from half to one-third less than Comcast's).
Apparently, this is the soft launch of Clearwire's Clear Spot, a Wi-Fi/WiMax gateway ($140), which is battery powered and requires a Clear USB modem. As I previously noted ("Clearwire Offers CradlePoint WiMax/Wi-Fi Hotspot," 31-March-2009), this is a Clearwire-enabled version of a product that CradlePoint has offered for some time. On the laptop side, Clearwire lists a variety of Dell, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba notebooks and netbooks. A Panasonic Toughbook is coming later this year.
An anticipated 3G/4G broadband modem is due "this summer," which will combine Sprint 3G with Clearwire WiMax, and start allowing business customers in Clear coverage areas to upgrade to have the benefit of a faster network at home and roaming while away, or in weak WiMax coverage areas.
MetaGeek breaks the $100 barrier with the Wi-Spy 2.4i: The company's new USB spectrum analyzer is a revision of its entry-level model, which handles 2.4 GHz (2.400 to 2.492 GHz). A spectrum analyzer constantly samples the radio frequency environment around you; software that works with the analyzer can derive graphs, charts, and other visual and numerical representations. You use a spectrum analyzer to troubleshoot problems in wireless network, identifying interferers, or to plan networks by figuring out what's already in place and testing access points' reach when you fire them up.
While Ubiquiti sells 2.4 GHz spectrum analyzers that are less expensive (the cheapest can be found for $40), I believe that MetaGeek is offering higher resolution (375 KHz instead of what looks like about 512 KHz). MetaGeek also has software support under both Mac OS X and Windows (with the free Chanelizer Lite).
MetaGeek also dropped the price of its next-level-up analyzer, the Wi-Spy 2.4x, which has an external antenna, and both finer and adjustable resolution. It's now just $199. The 2.4/5 GHz Wi-Spy DBx took a $200 plunge, too, and weighs in at $599.
Sen. Charles Schumer is pushing the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to get Internet service on board: Unfortunately, the numbers thrown out ($1,000 per train car) are nothing like the cost unless each train car simply had a cell gateway stapled on top. That cost would exclude installation, maintenance, bandwidth, and network operations. The railroad will issue an RFP later this year.
Also, in this Newsday piece and elsewhere, Sen. Schumer seems to think that there are similar and inexpensive systems running all over the U.S. There are now a number of production systems in the U.S. (and elsewhere) on trains, but there isn't anything running on the scale of LIRR. The closest is the MTBA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority), which is either in the process of or finished with a rollout across 13 commuter lines after a successful test on a Worcester line.
Other rail-Fi projects are much smaller in scale, often involving (as in Utah and elsewhere) new projects that were designed from the start to have Internet service in stations and on board.
In the Bay Area, the BART system has a contractor in place (Wi-Fi Rail) which is ostensibly in the process of setting up systemwide Internet access as we speak. If Wi0Fi Rail is successful as it rolls out in the Bay Area, it's likely that the company's approach will be useful in other metro areas that are otherwise quite expensive to get backhaul and signals through.
Two weeks ago, Canadian regulators accepted a winning C$5.1m bid from SkySurf Canada for air-ground spectrum for in-flight broadband: The Canadian firm bid a whopping C$3m above the second bidder, and only two firm ultimately submitted bids. SkySurf won 4 MHz of spectrum. The FCC awarded similar frequency back in June 2006 to Aircell (3 MHz) and JetBlue's LiveTV division (1 MHz) for $31m and $7m, respectively. The U.S. and Canadian bands are aligned.
In talking early this year with Aircell's CEO, the firm planned to create a partnership with the winning bidder. "Anybody who gets that license is doing so on the basis of forming a relationship with us where they operate the physical network in Canada," Jack Blumenstein said back in February. Blumenstein said that the rollout in Canada would likely be in 2010. He also noted that only 20 base stations would be required to serve all of content, because Aircell already had a number of near-border locations that could be turned north.
The bid price seems rather high, but that's clearly in expectation of the winner being part of a cross-border monopoly on this particular service by dint of owning the license. While Canada has a smaller population, there are plenty of aircraft crossing the country and traveling back and forth to the U.S.
Eye-Fi has added a fifth member to its product matrix, the Pro which supports RAW format uploads, direct computer transfer: Eye-Fi's list of options is getting a little longer than makes sense for a simple product, but the distinction between Pro and the others is clear. If you need to upload anything but JPEGs, you need the Pro card (street $150, 4 GB, SDHD). Maybe professionals and plenty of amateur photographers prefer the loosely-defined RAW format (not a standard) in which the quirks of the image sensors aren't smoothed out. This allows better post-capture correction.
An additional feature found only in Pro is allowing transfers using the Wi-Fi ad hoc mode. All Wi-Fi base stations and some software found in operating systems or added on use infrastructure mode, which hub and spoke. Each station (a spoke) communicates via a coordinating access point (the hub). In ad hoc mode, however, all devices are equal players and there's no central coordinating point. (Ad hoc mode is also responsible for the ubiquitous Free WiFi networks you see at airports, because if you're not connected to a network and ever used an ad hoc network, you broadcast the ad hoc names under Windows XP and some other OS's.)
Ad hoc mode is useful for photographers, because it means they can transfer images directly to a laptop or computer they have with them without having to also have a gateway. Mac OS X offers both a software base station mode and ad hoc networking, but Windows only has ad hoc built in for direct transfers. One year of hotspot access is included at Wayport operated locations. (Eye-Fi says 10,000 hotspots, but given Wayport has merged into AT&T, does that mean that the 7,000 Starbucks and thousands of others are excluded?)
Eye-Fi also updated all its models to support Selective Transfer. With this new mode, any image marked as protected or locked (depending on camera firmware options) will be uploaded, while all other images will not. That's a clever way around the fact that only one high-end digital camera so far talks directly to the Eye-Fi card. I was really expecting at least one camera maker to integrate Eye-Fi as an offering, using the firmware as a way to enable more features. Ah, well; camera makers aren't known for understanding what users want out of image transferring over Wi-Fi.
Selective Transfer is available through a firmware update via the Eye-Fi Manager. Connect your Eye-Fi card via a USB card reader and run the update to get the new feature.
Eye-Fi has defined its featureset as seven items, all of which are part of Pro: JPEG uploads, online sharing, video uploads, geotagging, hotspot access, ad hoc transfers, and RAW uploads. As you move down through the matrix, fewer features are found, but the cards cost less, too. Cards start at $50 for transfers only to a networked computer (not via ad hoc) with the 2 GB Home model. You can upgrade cards that lack webshare, hotspot access, and geotagging for $10, $15, and $15 per year, respectively.
A bit of humor for the weekend: This Pearls before Swine strip made me cackle this morning. I don't know if it will hit everyone's funny bone the same way, but the punchline will reveal why I'm linking to it.
Take Control Books has just released version 1.5 of my Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network ebook: This release covers the simultaneous dual-band AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule, re-organizes the discussion of how to set up Wireless Distribution System (WDS) in the new and old methods, and has a new take on choosing bands and channels when you can have your cake (5 GHz) and eat it, too (2.4 GHz).
Readers of Wi-Fi Networking News can save $5 off the $15 cover price by using coupon code CPN007281031WNN at checkout. There are other bundle deals available as well.
Qualcomm says it has 600 Mbps 802.11n 4x4 solution: The cellular and GPS chipmaking giant finally releases new Wi-Fi gear, blowing the roof off with a 600 Mpbs (raw), 4-radio, dual-band, 4x4 antenna array--the N-Stream Wireless LAN WCN1320. The chip will sample this month, allowing manufacturing partners to start designing products around it. A production date isn't announced.
Ever since the grand compromise was made that allowed Task Group N in the IEEE 802.11 Working Group to move forward, the option of having four radios and a 4x4 antenna array for a raw data rate of about 600 Mbps has existed. However, the cost of such a device would be so high that until 2-radio (raw 300 Mbps) 802.11n was in wide use--especially in enterprises--the 4-radio flavor didn't seem to be something the market would demand and pay a huge premium for.
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years into the N revolution, depending on how you count, the time must be ripe. Qualcomm is advertising this product as a way to carry multiple HD streams across a house. The chip integrates an application processor, which allows a set-top box or other equipment maker to offload some processing to the chip instead of adding an additional burden.
Qualcomm acquired the pioneering MIMO Wi-Fi firm Airgo a couple of years ago, and this is the first standalone Wi-Fi product that's emerged from the firm since then.
The company isn't the first to announce a 4-radio 802.11n solution. The startup firm Quantenna announced a 4-radio, 4x4 antenna chip that it could configure in a pair for what they say would be an aggregate of 1 Gbps across 2.4 and 5 GHz. As far as I can tell, Quantenna is sampling, but no products are yet shipping.