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The Wi-Fi Alliance announced this morning that it has started certifying fully compliant 802.11n devices, along with new optional elements: The group, which tests 802.11 gear for interoperability, is graduating from the Draft N trademark and testing to plain old N, with updates to logos and processes.
As noted in my earlier article, "The Fine Points of Optional Wi-Fi 802.11n Certification," 2009-08-07, the Wi-Fi Alliance added four additional optional certifications for a third spatial stream, better 2.4 GHz coexistence, space-time block coding, and packet aggregation. A few other tweaks are also added, described in that article.
The biggest change we'll see from the completion of the 802.11n standard and this certification update is three-stream N, which will allow raw data rates of 450 Mbps, along with the potential to simultaneously address three mobile devices at one time that are using single-stream 802.11n. This is likely to have much less impact in the home than in the enterprise, of course. Four-stream, 600 Mpbs devices are still in the future.
The alliance only releases new certification programs after testing with reference gear from major chipmakers, this time involving Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and Ralink. The companies involved all shot out press releases today describing their involvement, and how cool all this new gear will be.
It's likely that as the result of certifying new gear, older devices will see minor firmware updates as tweaks are made. The space-time block coding changes conceivably can be rolled into older devices, as well as some of the packet-aggregation updates. Both improve throughput depending on network conditions.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is weird: Verizon replaces T-Mobile as the Wi-Fi provider at Borders stores, with free service launching at 500 stores by mid-October. Barnes & Noble, Borders closest competitor, uses AT&T as its Wi-Fi provider. AT&T charges for access at most of its locations, but Barnes & Noble struck a deal for free Wi-Fi in its stores. (Note: This story originally said B&N's Wi-Fi was a for-fee service, but yours truly occasionally loses track of which chain's Wi-Fi is operated by which provider. Apologies.)
This is a competitive stroke for Borders, of course, which can add an amenity to the checklist of reasons to visit its stores as a B&N alternative. Borders earlier added a store affinity discount and rebate card that carries no cost, unlike BN's $25/yr fee for its more expansive discount membership program. (As someone who also operates a book price shopping service, isbn.nu, I highly recommend Borders free program, as the company regularly sends out huge discounts for online and in-store shopping.)
Verizon has, over the last several years, indicated that Wi-Fi is a kind of nonentity in the mobile connectivity world. While the company on its DSL and cellular sides have, at times, offered Wi-Fi services, it's always been a fourth-class citizen. More recently, Verizon offered free access to a subset of Boingo hotspots to its DSL and fiber (FiOS) customers, but you must run Verizon client software which functions only on laptops and only in certain Windows releases, including XP and Vista in 32-bit flavors. (See "Verizon Limits Free Wi-Fi to Laptops," 2009-07-28.)
Borders must have decided that bodies are better than pennies--and Verizon may have wanted to pick up the opportunity for more brand advertising at a low, low price.
The St. Cloud, Flor., network was likely the first free citywide network: The small, but at that time rapidly growing Florida community brought in free Wi-Fi for a variety of reasons, one of which was sold as keeping dollars local. Money that was spent on broadband left the community, it was argued.
Three years into the network, however, the city doesn't want to continue to commit funds to something that only a fraction (however large) of the population uses. With 32,000 residents, and over 10,000 households, spending $600,000 a year for perhaps a 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 user base may not be the right allocation of funds. The city will keep using the network for municipal purposes.
The current mayor, elected after the one who pioneered the project, wasn't so hot on the network in 2007, but voted against shutting it down.
As an early deployed network, St. Cloud hit a lot of snags in teaching people how to use the network and installing hardware. Every antenna had to be replaced at one point (apparently not at the city's cost) due to a manufacturing defect that may have affected only some of those installed.
The only other free networks that were intended to cover cities were never fully deployed. MetroFi was offering a mixed free with ads/fee to remove ads network in several cities, but was unable to complete any full deployments in larger towns.
AT&T inches closer towards broad availability of its femtocell: Details of 3G MicroCell, an in-home base station for the AT&T network, have been floating around for months. What wasn't known was when the company was planning to expand its test program into commercial availability. With the launch of a detailed Web site describing all the advantages--but also with a Zip code availability checker--the company is moving far closer to release. (Update: Charlotte, N.C., is the first test market.)
The idea of a femtocell is to have a broadband-connected tiny base station in the home that allows an existing cellular handset to work without any modification. Sprint pairs its femtocell with an unlimited call options ($100 purchase price plus $5/mo for the base station's use and $10 additional/mo for unlimited calls). Verizon offers just the signal-strength improvements ($250). T-Mobile employs UMA, which requires one of many dual-mode UMA handsets that the company offers, but works over plain Wi-Fi.
The 3G MicroCell is unique in that Sprint and Verizon's systems support just 2G voice only. AT&T is a smartphone and calling adjunct, although most smartphones that the company sells include Wi-Fi, and thus the data side isn't very important to most home users. Better call quality and unlimited home calling are the big carrot.
Engadget has a price sheet which shows calling plans at $10/mo (for one or more cellular phones) for existing AT&T wireline customers, and $20/mo for everyone else. The base station is $150 if you want it just for coverage; $50 ($100 rebate) if you sign up for the service plan. (The pricing is apparently a test, too, however.)
That's relatively competitive to Sprint ($15/mo) and T-Mobile ($10/mo), and cheaper than Vonage or Comcast VoIP. Further with VoIP services, you pay per line available; with the AT&T option (as well as Sprint and Verizon) multiple cell phones can place calls at the same time, which gives you a form of multi-line service.
AT&T gets a huge benefit from femtocells, extending its market into homes where its cell service can't reach or reaches poorly, while offloading potentially large amounts of home calling from its network to broadband.
AT&T may have announced HSPA 7.2 for later this year, but Rogers has launched HSPA+ at 21 Mbps: Rogers Wireless says that five Canadian cities have data-only access to 21 Mbps HSPA+, the fast current production flavor of HSPA. Last week, AT&T unveiled its roadmap for HSPA upgrades in the U.S. to the 7.2 Mbps flavor, with just six medium-to-large cities getting coverage this year, and 19 more markets in 2009.
Rogers is offering a C$75 USB adapter, and has plans as high as C$80 per month, but those include 5 GB caps. The caps start to seem rather ridiculous when, even at 5 to 10 Mbps of net throughput, you could run through the cap by downloading a single high-def movie over the course of a few hours.
There's a mismatch here between carrier messages: Go faster! But only for a few minutes at a time!
HSPA has seemed like an appealing upgrade for GSM carriers, because it requires relatively modest software updates in many cases; T-Mobile has its eyes on the HSPA prize due to spectrum issues. HSPA operates in 5 MHz slices, while you need 10 MHz or more for LTE.
Clearwire says it has covered 20 sq mi of Silicon Valley with its service for testing: This isn't a commercially deployed network; rather, it's intended to cover major Clearwire partners' California campuses, including Intel (which has long had early test and now commercial WiMax up around Portland), Cisco, and Google. Cities covered include Santa Clara, Mountain View, and parts of Palo Alto. The full Bay Area commercial deployment is slated for next year. (Intel and Google are investors.)
The network will allow developers to test applications and service in real coverage circumstances, while Clearwire can experiment with hardware and software tweaks without disrupting users.
If I had larger type, I'd use it: The IEEE Standards Board has formally ratified the 802.11n standard (802.11n-2009, to be extraordinarily specific). It took seven years and involved 400 members from 20 countries. Somebody deserves a vacation.
Successor standards committee's are already underway, of course, but it's likely years before we see products based on 802.11ac (6 GHz and below) and 802.11ad (60 GHz), both of which aim for speeds of 1 Gbps and faster.
Somebody go put masking tape over the word "draft" on all those Wi-Fi boxes.
As far as any firmware revisions based on tweaky late changes to the spec, it's unlikely. From what I can tell from colleagues and the Wi-Fi Alliance, it's much more likely that newer devices will add features than current devices will see (or require) firmware changes.
On 7-August-2009, I wrote up the four major additional features coming to the Wi-Fi certification process, some of which were dependent on the late-stage draft changes in 802.11n. See "The Fine Points of Optional Wi-Fi 802.11n Certification."
The four new certification elements mostly, but not entirely, related to improving raw speed or net throughput.
The latest update to my book on Macs and Wi-Fi is out: Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network has been updated to cover new options in Snow Leopard, which I've discussed on this site. You can also watch a brief YouTube video I made explaining how the new hidden AirPort menu information helps troubleshoot and position clients.
The $15, 265-page downloadable ebook covers setting up Apple base stations, using Wireless Distribution System, and handling security. You can get $5 off the price of the book by using coupon code CPN007281031WNN at checkout.
Major telecom firms, Cablevision submit bids to cover LIRR, Metro North: The MTA transit authority must be extremely pleased with the initial response to its request for proposals to provide Internet service to the vast number of passengers who ride Metro North and the Long Island Railroad. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and Cablevision all responded, among others.
Cablevision hopes to have a form of incumbent advantage, having already built Optimum WiFi coverage at 96 percent of the stations in the two railroads' systems for its broadband customers. Its MTA proposal would provide free access to its customers, and charge a fee for railroad services to others. Cablevision would absorb the entire cost of construction, however.