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From 1 November to 31 December, double your AirTran Wi-Fi fun: The airline is promoting its in-flight Wi-Fi by offering a 2-for-1 purchase: buy a session, and get the next free (must be used by 31 January 2010). AirTran has Wi-Fi on all its aircraft, and operates 700 flights a day.
This spate of free and sponsored deals would seem to indicate that Wi-Fi session use isn't high enough, because you don't give away a service that has a trajectory of adoption that you want. Instead, you use freebies to gain users who then find the service worthwhile enough to pay for routinely in the future.
It was earlier rumored that any iPhone releases in China would lack Wi-Fi; that's turned out to be true: I wrote back on 15 July 2009, in addressing what was a rumor at the time, why Apple couldn't release a Wi-Fi-enabled iPhone in China, because Apple would have to include WAPI, a proprietary government-backed non-disclosed Wi-Fi security spec. To use WAPI, non-Chinese firms have to partner with one of several in-country companies that are controlled by the military or government or both.
The AP notes, "Unicom's iPhones lack WiFi because it was temporarily banned by Beijing, which was promoting a rival Chinese system, according to BDA. The ban was relaxed in May after manufacturing had begun." That's incorrect. Wi-Fi wasn't banned, rather devices that used Wi-Fi with the internationally supported IEEE security standards that China doesn't like.
I have long maintained that China developed WAPI for two reasons: first, to provide an obvious back channel into encrypted communications that would allow the government to monitor as it desired; second, to provide access to foreign intellectual property by requiring companies to work with a local partner.
Aircell is giving $1 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for each free session given away on Delta on 31 October: The Gogo Inflight Internet service will be free on Halloween on Delta, and Aircell will donate up to $10,000 to research. The company is also donating all its October proceeds from the Pink Plane, a specially decorated Delta plane, to the research group. Use the code GOPINK to get the free service.
Amtrak will install free Wi-Fi on Acela trains: The quasi-governmental Amtrak national train operator noted in its five-year plan released today that it would be adding free Wi-Fi to its Northeast Corridor high-speed Acela trains. The report says the service should launch in the second quarter of its 2010 fiscal year, which puts it in first quarter of the 2010 calendar year. It will initially be free, but that may change. (The report's cover page is dated a month ago, but news accounts say it was released today.)
Adding Wi-Fi is expecting to drive $4.3m in additional revenue across the five-year plan. Other lines may also receive Internet access starting in subsequent years and likely in the northeast, with Amtrak budgeting $26.2m for that work.
Amtrak would join several regional and national railroads primarily in Europe and North America that offer Wi-Fi on some routes, typically on every train that covers that route. Earlier programs to expand Internet access haven't yet borne fruit, but with an increased interest in commuting without driving in the U.S., onboard Internet access may be a big carrot.
The first trains with Internet service appeared at least five years ago, if not longer, and until the last two years efforts were in fits and starts outside of a couple of lines in the UK and Sweden. Now, with robust 3G in many cases paralleling major commuter train routes, adding Internet service becomes less troublesome. The Washington State DOT in conjunction with Amtrak and trainmaker Talgo has been working on adding Internet service to the Seattle to Portland route.
Clever use of built-in Windows 7 networking from Connectify: The beta version of Connectify for Windows 7 uses the OS's ability to create a software access point and a virtual Wi-Fi adapter while still remaining connected to an infrastructure Wi-Fi network. This Windows 7 feature virtualizes the Wi-Fi network connection, allowing a separate client and access point function to operate as separate virtual devices using the same radio channel and same hardware. Some advantages over ad hoc networking, just like with the upcoming Wi-Fi Direct technology, is the use of WPA2 Personal (AES-CCMP flavor) for securing the connection.
The work was originally developed by Microsoft Research, and is still apparently a little hidden in Windows 7, although available. Connectify apparently lets you take one or more WAN connections (like Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or 3G) and aggregate them into a single backhaul for the software AP, too.
Clever freelancer in Minneapolis finds combo of Wi-Fi, coffeeshop, and co-working: If life gives you 2% milk, make cream, apparently. A Minneapolis entrepreneur suggested to Crema Cafe's owner that she turn her shop into a co-working location--a place where people in unrelated, typically one-person businesses work together--one day a week. The cafe is closed on weekdays in the winter. With $40 paying for four Tuesdays, Cream's Carrie Gustafson will fire up the lights, heat, and Wi-Fi, and provide coffee and tea on an honor system. A couple dozen people will apparently be part of the experiment.
The co-owner of the shop doesn't expect to make money--24 people would bring in just $240 or about $30 per hour open. That has to cover one staffer, and utilities: remember that this is Minnesota, where nature tries to kill you, so heat may be a substantial expense. But it's a nifty idea.
This is co-working, not cow-orking, which I don't want to know about.
American Airlines passengers from 1 November to 7 November can use a code for free Wi-Fi: The airline has put service into well over 100 planes, with a target of 300 craft in 2010. Lexus is using free Wi-Fi to promote the 2010 Lexus LS: the coupon code is 2010LEXUSLS. American also has a code for first-time users on any flight until the end of the year: AATRYGOGO.
AT&T may be crying uncle about how much bandwidth 3G smartphone consumers use, but the firm is proud of the level of Wi-Fi service it offers: Wi-Fi is vastly cheaper to provide than 3G, and AT&T knows it. That's why the company has been expanding coverage to its customers both for improving loyalty and decreasing costs. (It's why I expect AT&T may offer its 3G femtocell at no cost to many customers, too.)
AT&T's Q3 2009 hotspot connection numbers are just crazy: 25.4m sessions, up from 15m the quarter before, a 66 percent increase. Of those connections, 60 percent were from "integrated devices," meaning smartphones. That makes sense given the release of iPhone OS 3, which provided an automatic login to AT&T hotspots for U.S. iPhone subscribers. (That could result in sessions in which the iPhone user had no idea the phone connected and retrieved email or performed other tasks while ostensibly asleep.)
The company reports that 27m of its customers now have free access to its 20,000 hotspot U.S. network.
Folks involved in running the Milpitas, Calif., network alerted me that I'd left them out of a recent article about free city-wide service: The Milpitas network was built in part by EarthLink, which offered the network at a song to the city government when the dial-up giant exited the municipal wireless business. A non-profit group, Silicon Valley Unwired, is running the network.
Devicescape has shipped Easy Wi-Fi 4.1 for iPhone and iPod touch, integrating location with hotspot availability: This version of the app ties in with Devicescape's plans to provide comprehensive mapping of high-quality fee and free hotspots around the world. The free software automates connections to any hotspot networks that you have credentials for, personal hotspots, and free public hotspots. See my earlier article, Devicescape Adds Seamless Wi-Fi Access Service, Mapping (5 October 2009), for more details on the broader strategy.
I spoke with Jon Gordon about Wi-Fi Direct for Future Tense, his American Public Media radio show: I try to explain for a general audience why Wi-Fi Direct might be useful, focusing, as I often do, on the utility of high-speed peer-to-peer transfers for buying video downloads or moving such files around.
Craig Settles writes about Comcast's attempt to prevent Longmont, Colo., from operating a Wi-Fi network which has defaulted to city ownership: Comcast's sock puppets and trade association have poured at least $150,000 in a campaign to prevent the city of Longmont from operating a Wi-Fi network that a private firm built and was unable to operate. Settles notes that Longmont is also sitting on top of a fiber network that it built, and then was legislated away from being able to use. Sigh.
Flashbacks to the 2005-2006 era, for sure. The argument has been made that Longmont is usurping private enterprise by taking over the network, instead of, as has been proved elsewhere, building demand for broadband and also providing it in places that incumbent carriers are unable to. City-wide Wi-Fi data rates are well below typical cable and most DSL service rates, and wired services tend to be more reliable. Customers who use a free network either would never subscribe to wired fee-based service, or, after tasting the sweet juice of YouTube and others, decides that 5 to 20 Mbps downstream would be even more succulent.
Settles notes that the hoary arguments that cities can't effectively run broadband networks are easily refuted by examples of governments that, by building such networks, rapidly conserve their data communications costs, and then save taxpayer dollars while often expanding service and efficiency. (Settles consults with cities on this topics, but his facts are public.)
The real issue, of course, is whether Comcast and other incumbents can compete against public entities. And the answer is, of course. But those firms have to become a better deal, improve customer service, and charge less--just as they do whenever they are in a truly competitive market with multiple effective broadband providers. Cities have no inherent advantage on networks that are built right, because outside of a few free Wi-Fi networks, cities charge a market price that's typically not cheaper than a competitive broadband price for the same level of service.
What Comcast should have done, were it cleverer about this matter, was offer to take over the Wi-Fi network, build it even better, and offer limited free service to all residents and visitors (maybe an hour a day), unlimited service for the city, and unlimited service for all its subscribers. This would motivate more people to sign up with Comcast or remain customers, and would benefit the city as a whole. $150,000 would have bought a lot of Wi-Fi.
Apple offered a quiet update note to its two main base station models today with a big boost in speed and coverage: The company put in a note on the data page (see "Even faster performance") and mentioned in passing to media who were briefed that its AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule base stations would see a boost of up to 50 percent in data throughput and an increase in range of up to 25 percent over the immediately preceding models.
How? 3x3. Engadget found the FCC documents that supports that statement before the announcement today, although the writer didn't explain what this means.
In the MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) antenna system that's used in 802.11n, designers have lots of choices in how to build in range and resiliency, and those choices have increased as silicon and antennas have become cheaper.
Most consumer 802.11n access points use a 2x2 MIMO array, which is two receiving and two transmitting antennas. Each antenna pair is typically handled by a separate radio chain. Each radio chain can transmit unique data for higher data rates, or the same data as other radio chains to increase redundancy, and thus provide better reception at lower rates.
These radio chains use spatial multiplexing, which allows a kind of "body english" in which varying power fed through antennas steers a beam so that it travels a unique path through space, using reflection of objects as one of the characteristics that forms the beam. Multiple receiving antennas decode these individual chains and reassemble data into what was sent in the first place.
In 802.11n, each spatial stream in the highest-rate mode can act like a separate full-speed connection. Since roughly 75 Mbps is the raw rate for 20 MHz channels and 150 Mbps for "wide" 40 MHz channels, a two-stream device maxes out at 300 Mbps of raw throughput.
Nearly all 802.11n base stations sold to date use 2x2 arrays coupled with two spatial streams; some also offer 2x3 arrays for redundancy with just two streams. However, chipmakers have been planning for some time on getting 3x3 arrays with three spatial streams into the market with a raw 450 Mbps rate. Apple may be the first consumer access point maker to bite, although there are definitely other 450 Mbps APs on the market. (See next paragraph for update.)
[Update! An informed commenter--see below--notes that there's only a single AP that does three streams. So Apple isn't slipping in higher bandwidth here, just better signal diversity and performance.]
The additional transmit and receive antennas improve how far signals can travel to a client, and how sensitively an access point can pick up distant transmissions. This accounts for Apple's statement on improved range. It also provides improved bandwidth further from the base station; the data rate doesn't drop off nearly as fast as with 2x2. The "up to 50 percent" figure relates to a range of distances, not close up to the base station.
The Wi-Fi Alliance just approved a testing regime for devices with three spatial streams, and all the major Wi-Fi chipmakers were involved in that testing. Our informed commenter says it'll be until late 2010 before we see a large number of 3-stream devices; other opinions?
Time Warner induces nostalgia via punk security hole: Remember the 90s? The dotcoms? The boring music? The constant stream of basic security blunders? It's so retro of Time Warner to remind us of that era by providing about 65,000 customers with a router that has not just an identical password (not strange) but that's open for configuration over the Internet.
The SMC Networks SMC8014 cable modem/Wi-Fi router is the culprit, and using the same password on each router isn't odd: I have an SMC from Comcast that I found out the password for simply by checking discussion boards.
David Chen, co-founder of pip.io, discovered this problem weeks ago, and informed Time Warner, who brushed him off. When Wired's Threat Level contacted the company, however, it admitted the problem and said it was working on a code fix. The firm says it has 14m broadband users.
Barnes & Noble knows that people want access for their ebook readers everywhere they go: Barnes & Noble's $259 Nook ebook reader, announced today and shipping by the end of November, sports two kinds of network connections, and that's just right. The Nook has support for AT&T's 3G network as a built-in, no-cost download method, as well as 802.11g Wi-Fi, with an automatic connection to the bookstore's free in-store networks.
The general press coverage doesn't mention the details: AT&T's 3G network is HSPA based, and the chips used for HSPA almost always include all the slower flavors of 2G and 2.5: GPRS, EDGE, and UMTS, which makes it more broadly useful outside of major cities in the U.S. GSM-based 3G is also available worldwide, which makes it easier for B&N to broker deals outside the U.S. later, but by including Wi-Fi, the book reader can be updated anywhere in the world without relying on a USB connection to a host. Download costs over AT&T's network are included in the cost of a book, as with Amazon's Kindle titles.
Amazon recently released a new model of Kindle ($279) that works over AT&T's domestic 3G network and with roaming partners worldwide. It's fairly clear from how Amazon is pricing service in the U.S. for those roaming outside the states, and for customer able to buy Kindles in their home markets, that Amazon is paying AT&T which in turn pays its cellular roaming partners. Ostensibly, Amazon will eventually create direct deals with carriers, too.
The biggest drawback to including Wi-Fi on a device such as this is providing an interface for people to log into networks other than those protected by simple WEP or WPA Personal encryption at home or work. There's apparently no browser--not even an "experimental" one as is found in the Kindle and Kindle 2; the international Kindle apparently omits the browser. Without a browser, there's no way to click Accept buttons or enter credentials on a Web page. That's a shame. One hopes B&N will partner with Devicescape or develop some system to allow simple logins.
I won't go into detail on all the specs, because other outlets can cover those aspects better. In brief, two screens, one for reading and another for touchscreen navigation; 2 GB of built-in memory and (thank you) a microSD slot that supports up to 16 GB; MP3 support with a built-in mono speaker and headphone jack; and it supports PDFs (albeit only via USB), as well as Epub and eReader formats (which can include or exclude encryption).
And, you can loan books to friends for up to 14 days; any content you buy can be used across B&N reader formats (programs for Mac and Windows, apps for mobile devices, and Nook), syncing your current location; and access to Google's 500,000 free downloadable books is part of the deal.
The free network that covers the small city of St. Cloud, Flor., is still in jeopardy: The Orlando Sentinel looks at how St. Cloud residents use the free network that's paid for by the city. Earlier this year, the city council looked to shed the $30K per month paid for service and upkeep due to a shrunken budget. Residents begged the city to continue the network, and the council was able to extend service until January, at which point all bets may be off.
The network is the only publicly funded free Wi-Fi network in the United States that attempts to cover a city and provide indoor access. Previously, I had stated more broadly (and incorrectly) that it was the only city-wide free network, but Phil Belanger among others reminded me that the Google-run Mountain View, Calif., network has a long history of free operation as well.
Still, there are only a handful of public access networks of any kind that cover cities. Miami Beach, Flor., apparently this week just got its act together after years of work to push out city-wide service, with the intention of covering 70 percent of indoor users and 95 percent of outdoor locations with free service. We'll see how that pans out.
Back in St. Cloud, the biggest impact of the network's potential disappearance is on, as usual, the city's most vulnerable population, including Del Miller, who relies on the service for personal contact and vital communications, and Patricia Bennett, who has no car, and would otherwise be unable to keep up her job search and maintain unemployment benefits.
Vulnerable and unemployed citizens might be better served by creating a public-private partnership with the city kicking in some money for subsidized home service, or working with incumbent carriers for low-income services. AT&T, I believe, still has a $10/mo. low-speed DSL offering which would easily be as fast as whatever the St. Cloud network delivers over Wi-Fi.
When city-wide Wi-Fi was first proposed, one of the key reasons was a lack of affordable access for all residents. While the availability of broadband has improved, its affordability has not.
Google's picking up the tab for passengers' Wi-Fi on Virgin America for two months: From 10-Nov-2009 to 15-Jan-2010, Virgin America's Wi-Fi is free, with Google acting as the sponsor. (Of course, I'm flying Virgin on 7-Nov and 9-Nov. It figures.)
Is this a sign that few are paying for in-flight Internet? Hard to say. Virgin America continues to put out the number that 12 to 15 percent of passengers, on average, use the service, but that number first appeared months ago, and we can't see sessions or revenue from that.
Meanwhile, an American Airline exec said in this CNN report, "Well over 40 percent of the people who use American Airlines once, use it again, and that percentage and number is growing." That seems like a good number to AA, but it seems rather low to me (despite growing), unless it implies that a relatively small percentage of regular business travelers over the last several months haven't yet tried Aircell's service at all--which would explain all the first-time free coupons out there.
The areas Wi-Fi Direct can best Bluetooth are on distance and speed: I've written a few articles already about Wi-Fi Direct, the new peer-to-peer mode that the Wi-Fi Alliance is finalizing and which will appear in updated and new hardware in mid-2010. This includes my analysis of why Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct serve related but not entirely overlapping purposes. But in that discussion, I only mentioned speed and distance in passing.
Bluetooth devices come in one of three varieties by signal output: Class 1, 2, or 3. Class 3 devices (1 meter, 1mW) were originally the most common, intended for low-power earpiece-to-phone communication. Class 2 (10 meters, 2.5 mW) became more common, and I believe now predominates. This allows communication within a room and sometimes beyond. Class 1 (100 meters, 100 mW) is rarely found in peripherals, although it's used in computers. The Callpod Dragon V2 headset ($99) is a rare peripheral exception, but the size and price have something to do with its ability to push out that much signal.
Wi-Fi, in contrast, is designed for whole home/whole office coverage, with 802.11n finally achieving that for many venues. Wi-Fi equipment makers used to, and some still do, put out nominal distance numbers, like 100 meters diameter or what have you, but I always thought these numbers were nonsense. Originally, these distances were based on minimal testing in simulations of the real world. Some companies and trade groups have houses that are designed to be testbeds, even.
In practice, 802.11g Wi-Fi was a one to two wall and one, maybe two floor solution. A lot of factors about building materials affected that. 802.11n penetrates far better, and can produce a far clearer signal (and thus higher speeds) through many more obstructions.
For Wi-Fi Direct, where you want to be able to peer easily to devices around you without fuss, the distance and penetration issues may be one important component of why people may turn to use that mode rather than Bluetooth. It's possible that some operating system makers or third-party software developers will make it simple for Wi-Fi Direct to become an ad hoc Internet access mode, bypassing the need for guest networks in access points, for instance.
Speed will also be a component depending on the uses to which Wi-Fi Direct is put, and how OS makers and device makers incorporate the mode. If Apple lets me use Wi-Fi Direct on an iPhone to transfer data from an Apple TV or a Mac or Windows system with iTunes installed (say, as an extension of the firm's new Home Sharing feature in iTunes), then I will surely want the 50 to 150 Mbps available with Wi-Fi Direct instead of the 2 Mbps of throughput from Bluetooth 2.1+EDR.
This draws me back to the application and profile issue I discussed in the previous article on Bluetooth competition. The usage Wi-Fi Direct beyond simple file transfer and Internet access and printing will depend heavily on having layers of functionality (tasks and purposes) put on top of connectivity.
Wi-Fi Direct is both parallel to and complementary of Bluetooth. Discuss: Today's announcement of Wi-Fi Direct, a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi transfer method, might seem to be firing across Bluetooth's bow. But it isn't quite. Intel's My WiFi is a much more direct threat, and even then may not materialize in quite the way that's being predicted. (Read my coverage, "Wi-Fi Alliance Peers into the Future with Ad Hoc Replacement.")
To review, Bluetooth is a PAN (personal area networking) technology in which devices under the control of the same person or computer communicate over short ranges and relatively low speeds. Bluetooth can create peer-to-peer connections or piconet networks, which comprise a host and up to seven clients. In a very standard configuration, a cell phone might use Bluetooth to communicate with a laptop, sharing its 3G mobile broadband connection, while at the same time a Bluetooth earpiece is paired with the phone to handle audio.
Bluetooth requires a pairing process, in which devices authenticate to each other and agree through a handshake (with optional encryption) to talk to one another. The SIG, device makers, and desktop and mobile OS developers have done a great job of simplifying this process down to typically entering a PIN--one of several options with the current security system, Secure Simple Pairing--instead of having 20 to 25 steps as it used to be.
Bluetooth's current release (2.1+HDR [high data rate]) encompasses a wireless spec for 3 Mbps data transfer (raw) using the 2.4 GHz band. The spec also includes application-layer elements, which are called profiles, and which define a large array of end-to-end tasks, like printing, file transfer, or acting as a modem. This allows any manufacturer to make a Bluetooth keyboard that talks the HID (human interface device) profile, and which is tested and certified as such, to talk to any other Bluetooth device with the HID profile.
The Bluetooth SIG, which maintains and develops the spec, isn't tied to its physical medium. It's tried to partner with other specs in process to extend itself, notably tying its cart at one point to both major ultrawideband (UWB) encodings, and then picking WiMedia, which was the "winner" in UWB. WiMedia disbanded, but handed off the Bluetooth component to the SIG; there may still be life in it. (Originally, Intel et al. wanted to stick one UWB radio in computers and devices, but have many different protocols run over that radio, such as Bluetooth, TCP/IP, Wireless USB, and video. UWB is currently shipping only as an instantiation of Wireless USB.)
While UWB fiddled and burned, however, the SIG worked on Bluetooth 3.0+HS (High Speed), which incorporates a high-speed transfer mode that allows a Bluetooth device to coordinate with a peer switching to use 802.11 for a bulk transfer, useful for large files or high-speed video streaming. The session is still within the structure of a Bluetooth PAN, and the use of 802.11 is entirely under the control of the Bluetooth session. The devices don't suddenly become ad hoc nodes or soft access points. Note the use of 802.11: this is a particular use of that protocol outside of any current Wi-Fi spec.
Wi-Fi Direct is an outgrowth of the interest by Intel and others in reducing the number of radio technologies and the level of complexity in devices, which can correspondingly reduce battery usage, while also developing a spec that's to their liking. Intel has a board seat on the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Bluetooth SIG, but still enjoys charting its own course.
Wi-Fi Direct is a peer-to-peer technology, at least the way it's being described initially. Wi-Fi devices that have services to offer (like printing, file sharing, etc.) can advertise those in a way that other equipped devices can access directly. This new method offers the speed and security of an infrastructure Wi-Fi network with an access point at the center without the overhead of joining such a network or making such networks public to allow access to specific resources. That is, someone can print to your printer without you giving them a key to your network. Wi-Fi Direct is built on top of 802.11n, so it can work in both 2.4 and 5 GHz, too.
The simplicity of Wi-Fi Direct is supposed to aid in devices without keyboards or easy data entry methods, much as Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) was supposed to offer a one-click secure connection. With a peer-to-peer approach, a camcorder could hook up with a laptop to transfer data directly without you needing to enter a WPA2 Personal passphrase or even connect at all to an existing Wi-Fi network.
Beyond speed and security, Wi-Fi Direct will allow an adapter to be scanning and accessing peers while also maintaining a full infrastructure connection to a network. It's this feature that allows devices to ostensibly cut the Bluetooth "cord," although I'm still dubious about that as a general element, as I'll explain.
The My WiFi technology that Intel developed (apparently at least in part with Ozmo Devices) emphasizes more of the PAN aspect, talking about having eight devices associated with a laptop, for instance.
So, the question at the outset was whether Wi-Fi Direct is a competitor to Bluetooth?
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct definitely compete head to head on trying to make the simplest network connection between two devices for a variety of straightforward purposes.
However, Wi-Fi Direct won't be backward compatible to the hundreds of millions of devices on the market that already have Bluetooth 1.x or 2.x. Bluetooth's later flavors (2.x and 3.x) are backwards compatible with those older devices.
And while Wi-Fi with a PAN mode could reduce circuit counts, most Wi-Fi chips that are being sold in the mobile market, and I believe in the desktop/laptop market, are integrated Bluetooth/Wi-Fi modules that often throw in other radios and circuitry as well.
Wi-Fi may eventually be appropriate to build into keyboards, mice, wireless headsets, earpieces, and other low-battery peripherals, but that's not really the case today. Bluetooth dominates there in hundreds of millions of installed devices.
Bluetooth's profiles also seem like an advantage to me. Kelly Davis-Felner, the Wi-Fi Alliance's marketing director, said that Wi-Fi Direct would not have application or task overlays, but would be focused on the networking and communication level, as with other Wi-Fi certifications.
Which means that if I connect my mobile phone with my computer to transfer music over, I still need an application on both sides that handles the file transfer. With Bluetooth, the profiles still need an interface on top, but a universally supported file-transfer method already exists. I can use a Bluetooth program under Windows and on the Mac and within various mobile phones to transfer files today.
If I want a method that synchronizes stored files and handles it automatically, then OS makers or third-party developers still do have to build an application on top of that. But with Bluetooth, they can rely on leveraging a well-supported mechanism. It's asymmetric, in that a desktop OS program for syncing MP3 files or photos doesn't require a corresponding program to be installed on a mobile phone that allows access to its storage via the Bluetooth profile.
Now, of course, I'm being a little disingenuous about profiles, because Wi-Fi Direct will create an IP-based network between the two parties, allowing existing service discovery methods to work just as they do over a wireless LAN today--including Apple's Bonjour and whatever the current name of Microsoft's technology. But none of these methods are supported across gadgets (like cameras). mobile operating systems, and desktop/laptop operating system platforms. That's going to be the challenge for Wi-Fi Direct.
In the end, I certainly see Wi-Fi Direct as provoking additional industry efforts to figure out precisely what's useful about PANs and sell those capabilities to consumers as solutions for frustration or a way to accomplish tasks they're unaware they need to accomplish.
The best thing about Wi-Fi Direct is that it enables a secure, high-speed ad hoc mode that will actually work among different devices, something that's long been needed.
One of the most interesting aspects of Wi-Fi Direct is that it could be used with Bluetooth, since many manufacturers participate actively in the Bluetooth SIG and Wi-Fi Alliance. Beyond Bluetooth 3.0+HS, there could be a convergence path for hand-in-hand networking, playing to each standard's strengths.
Strong peer-to-peer mode added to Wi-Fi portfolio: The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced Wi-Fi Direct, a peer-to-peer wireless networking method that takes the group into a new realm of creating specifications de novo, instead of following IEEE groups. The spec will appear in hardware by mid-2010.
Wi-Fi Direct will allow any device to advertise itself as a combination of software access point and peer. Newer hardware--which will include some existing equipment with firmware upgrades--will be able to maintain a wireless LAN connection to a so-called infrastructure network (via an access point), while also creating a peer-to-peer link to a device like a printer, mouse or keyboard, computer, or handheld. This could be used for file transfers, printing, input, and synchronization, among other purposes.
The spec is backwards compatible with 802.11a and 802.11g, which will see the peering device as a software access point, if I understand that detail correctly.
Wi-Fi Direct will include mechanisms for advertising service availability without connecting, something like the Apple Bonjour method known generically as Zeroconf that uses DNS records to broadcast specific services over a LAN.
The new method is a wholesale replacement of the weak ad hoc networking mode that's part of 802.11, but never built out into a standardized, certified part of Wi-Fi. Ad hoc networks allow devices to exchange data with each other without an access point, but implementations almost universally offer poor security and degraded throughput.
Distinct from ad hoc networks are software access points, which mimic all the functionality of an infrastructure network, and must be operated in a continuous fashion on a computer.
The Wi-Fi Direct mode will not suffer from weaknesses of either type of quasi peer-to-peer methods, and will be rigidly tested for interoperability among devices. Kelly Davis-Felner, the alliance's marketing director, said in an interview that Wi-Fi Direct can preserve the full bandwidth of 802.11n, as well as use WPA2 encryption and WPS (Wi-Fi Protection Setup) secure key handling.
Davis-Felner also said that while the spec has a lot of consumer electronics and home user advantages, enterprise management was baked in as well. The spec requires "Wi-Fi Direct networks to be seen by enterprise APs, and, potentially to be shut down by them" to prevent rogue networks that violate policy, she said. The spec also includes optional mechanisms that allow enterprise access points to suggest channel assignments and power management choices. The spec was designed to be an "enterprise-acceptable solution," Davis-Felner said.
The alliance has pulled together support from many non-standardized PAN/WLAN hybrid modes that have been under development, most notably the Intel My WiFi personal area networking (PAN) extension of 802.11. Intel said via email that Wi-Fi Direct would be incorporated into Intel My WiFi, which has additional capabilities. (My WiFi supports up to eight devices in a PAN configuration, much like Bluetooth.)
Chipmaker Atheros also offers its Direct Connect mode (in addition to a soft access point feature), which it said via email can converge into Wi-Fi Direct. (Oddly, Atheros has no plain product briefing page on this mode.) Marvell has a similar hotspot-on-a-chip offering, and plans Wi-Fi Direct support.
"This has been by far one of the most dynamic and heavily participated in groups that we've had in the Alliance," Davis-Felner said.
Wi-Fi Direct is a bit of a departure for the Wi-Fi Alliance, which typically develops a set of parameters from IEEE standards that a Wi-Fi-compliant device should support, and then builds interoperability testing and certification around those parameters.
With the initial release of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), the Wi-Fi Alliance reacted to the interminable delays at the 802.11i security task group by splitting the backwards-compatible components from all the future-looking elements. WPA was based on an interim 802.11i draft, but ultimately was updated to WPA2 to incorporate the final work of the group.
Here, the alliance isn't following the IEEE, which has no PAN/WLAN convergence group, but maintains separate WLAN (802.11) and PAN (802.15) efforts. The 802.15 group has famously suffered from mid-stream shifts in technology approaches and the disbanding of 802.15.3b (high-speed PAN using UWB).
Wi-Fi Direct could be seen as a challenge to Bluetooth, given that Bluetooth is designed entirely as a PAN, and has a specification that will soon see light that allows Bluetooth to trigger an 802.11-compatible bulk-transfer mode for large files at faster rates. Bluetooth had paired itself with UWB as its next-generation wireless medium, but generic UWB radios never reached market, although there's still some potential.
Lufthansa is finally nearly ready to announce a deal long in the making: I've been hearing private noises and reading articles citing insider sources for a couple of years that Lufthansa would return to offering in-flight Internet service following the demise of the Connexion by Boeing service in 2006. The airline equipped dozens of planes, far more than the second-most unwired airline that worked with Boeing. (Update: Lufthansa has made its announcement, but with details.)
With Row 44 signing and Aircell installing its service on hundreds of domestic U.S. aircraft, it was a wonder why Lufthansa couldn't pull the pieces together. A couple of years ago, Panasonic Avionics announced a plan to bring back Ku-band satellite service like Boeing's with higher speeds, much lower costs, and a much smaller package with lower drag for the antenna. However, Panasonic needed a core set of committed planes to get going--and that was before the economic collapse in 2008.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Lufthansa and Panasonic are finally together, with an announcement due Monday, and a plan to equip all 120 long-haul planes Lufthansa operates. If I recall correctly, Lufthansa had put Connexion service on nearly 70 aircraft. The article says that Lufthansa is using heavy antennas (calling them antennae for some insectival reason), which may mean the airline still has the Connexion gear installed on the airline's skin. Newer Ku-band antennas are sleeker, offer much less drag, and are much lighter and cheaper.
Lufthansa's offering will include cellular calls as well as Internet access, and the Journal says calls will be about $3/min., which isn't far off cellular carriers' horrible international roaming rates, nor what OnAir charges for in-flight calls. (OnAir leaves precise pricing to the carriers that allows customers to place calls on planes, just as any other roaming operator.)
Internet service will cost $12/hr or $22/day, which is cheaper than the initial Connexion rate, but above what I would argue makes sense in the current business climate. In-flight Internet service must work for frequent flyers, who will not pay those rates each time they fly. Pricing has to be tied directly into recurring rates with corporate plans, tied into home-office single-login, single-bill services, either run by Fortune 500s or firms like iPass and FiberLink.
The Journal reporters seems to place blame on Lufthansa for putting so much effort into Connexion. I'm not sure why the airline has to be painted as a chump.
The ability to use VoIP over 3G and Wi-Fi turns iPhone into more powerful tool: AT&T, under pressure from the FCC to explain precisely why the iPhone can't place VoIP calls over 3G when its other smartphones can, reversed its previous policy. Apple will be updating its App Store rules to let developers run VoIP connections over any available network medium, not just Wi-Fi.
This change is a big one for AT&T, which I'm sure wrestled with lawyers, spreadsheets, and customer surveys before implementing the move--a move which could have been forced on the firm by the FCC.
And I think it's a good one for AT&T, despite the potential loss of revenue.
Why? Because it's yet another tool for customer loyalty to a company whose 3G network has delivered sub-par performance. I've been generally satisfied with AT&T's service, but I don't live in areas of weak coverage, and I don't travel extensively. (Two recent trips of hundreds of miles each across rural and highway portions of Oregon and Washington were generally satisfactory.)
In fact, AT&T turning on 850 MHz base stations in Seattle has distinctly improved my iPhone phone and data experience, especially in my house.
The move to allow VoIP over cell data means that iPhone customers can turn to Vonage Mobile, Skype, or other programs in new versions to make calls outside the U.S. at rates that aren't insanely high, and can downgrade subscription plans to have fewer minutes in the plans, relying more on VoIP for domestic calling.
But if you look at subscription trends already, this isn't as disruptive as it looks. I have no idea how many people pay AT&T's wireless international rates; perhaps billions are spent, but the costs are so high, I have to believe that most people are motivated to use calling cards or other solutions, which have included VoIP over Wi-Fi with Skype on the iPhone.
AT&T already offers rollover minutes, free evening and weekend calling, and free mobile-to-mobile calling as part of its cheapest postpaid plans. For most iPhone customers, AT&T gets a minimum of $75 per month ($40 voice, $30 data, $5 for the cheapest IM package); multi-line plans with two phones start at $120 ($40 voice, $10 extra line, $60 for two data plans, $10 for two IM plans).
For $100 per month, you can get unlimited voice from AT&T, so that's maybe the biggest competition for the firm: the $60 difference between a limited-minutes $40 plan and unlimited $100 plan.
However, never forget that the cost of customer churn and acquisition (and re-acquisition) is exceptionally high in the cellular industry, racking up hundreds of dollars per customer between advertising, subsidies for new phones, and company stores or commissions to independent stores.
If AT&T ups its iPhone customer retention rate by a measurable amount, the company likely saves more than the difference, and achieves better costs of scale, too.
Also remember that every minute someone uses a VoIP service over Wi-Fi is a minute that AT&T doesn't have to pay for (or pays very little for at its hotspots), and doesn't have to provide customer service for. Every minute of VoIP over 3G requires the firm carries roughly the same data traffic with none of the responsibility for call completion, billing, fee settlement, or customer support.
AT&T may actually benefit quite a bit from this change in policy, which may be why it didn't opt for prolonged legal action.
United Airlines started offering Wi-Fi 5 miles high on Friday: The Chicago Tribune reports that United has the first of 13 Boeing 757s fired up with Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet service. The company hasn't made any commitment beyond this first batch of planes.
Row 44 will offer in-flight portal: SkyMall goes digital in partnership with Row 44, the firm providing Wi-Fi service to Alaska and Southwest airlines. Row 44 announced its Skytown Center portal, free to access, will provide both stuff to read and doodads to buy. Why, yes, I do need an electric, rechargeable nose-hair trimmer. The portal will provide TV, gaming (not gambling), and other services, too, plus a for-fee SMS gateway.
This is outside of the Internet offering, and is something that Aircell hasn't yet launched with its airline partner. JiWire is tied into this, providing the advertising engine and relationships that will offer some of the associated revenue to run this portal. JiWire was once a Wi-Fi content and hotspot directory; now it focuses on mobile advertising delivery. (Disclosure: I own an extremely tiny number of shares in JiWire from working there several years ago.)
The system is announced, but Alaska and Southwest didn't indicate whether they would deploy this service.
Free Aircell trial on AirTran, American, Delta: First-time Gogo Inflight Internet users on AirTran, American, and Delta can use coupon codes to get a free session. American's code is AATRYGOGO (good til 2009-12-31); Delta's is DELATRYGOGO (also good til 2009-12-31). Follow the links for all the terms and conditions. I can't find a link for Airtran, but the code is AIRTRANTRYGOGO.
Handheld makers can turn to Devicescape for seamless login, access maps, hotspot aggregation: Devicescape is updating its Easy Wi-Fi system to offer equipment makers an all-in-one deal to consumers. Buy a camera, for instance, and the device comes with lifetime worldwide hotspot access along with no-button seamless login. Capable devices will also gain maps showing available in- and out-of-network hotspots in proximity with an annotation for quality.
This move could change the market for attaching Wi-Fi access to mobile devices if manufacturers hop on board. Selling devices that have permanent, seamless access to hotspot networks would seem to command a premium, and reduce friction in using a device. Less friction means fewer product returns; premiums and fewer returns mean higher margins.
The consumer has the cost of Wi-Fi hidden in the device price, but considers the value of the device as an overall flat rate. It's a "tax," but one that's exposed in the purchase price.
This is a classic multiple-party win. Manufacturers sell more gear at higher prices. Hotspot venues gain more users who, not paying for service, pay for goods; and additional usage produces incremental revenue for hotspot operators. And the consumer wins by having devices that are simpler to use and keep them more connected, something that the success of cell phones and the iPod touch seem to confirm is desirable.
Devicescape has been pursuing its Easy Wi-Fi approach for a few years now, after morphing from a back-end software firm that sold embedded Wi-Fi software for PDAs and other devices. Easy Wi-Fi combines software embedded or installed in a device--typically a portable device--with an account at the firm's Web site that manages which home, office, free, and commercial networks you have credentials for. Logins to known networks are automatic. (The Web account has become increasingly optional, but it's still a great tool when you have credentials for multiple networks.)
This latest transition turns Easy Wi-Fi into a very specific form of hotspot aggregator: only for equipment makers. Unlike Boingo Wireless or iPass, Devicescape won't have a customer-facing access plan. Rather, manufacturers will pay the firm per-device fees that cover unlimited eternal hotspot use by equipment purchasers.
The firm's CEO, Dave Fraser, said, "It's obvious that there's a big attraction for putting Wi-Fi into devices, whether it's netbooks, new types of consumer electronics, like media players or ebook readers," and so on. But device makers have a challenge.
Fraser said companies could "ship the device with service included, which is theoretically a great experience for the consumer, because it just works," but that's "very expensive for them." Nintendo, Kodak, and a few camera makers all included free access for a limited time to hotspot networks (Nintendo partnered with Wayport in the U.S.; Kodak and others with T-Mobile).
Those deals all expired, and new devices haven't been shipped with bundles; the exception is Eye-Fi, which offers yearly rates for Wayport hotspot access, bundling the first year in with some memory cards. Amazon's Kindle includes free Sprint 3G access, but the bookseller clearly pays a fee to Sprint for each book or media item downloaded.
Fraser noted also, that even with bundles, consumers are typically limited to the country in which a device was purchased, which doesn't conform to modern travel plans.
The second option is to "leave it up to the end user" to configure and figure out. Again, Eye-Fi is the only firm that makes mobile equipment that's easy to configure for multiple networks from a desktop computer with a keyboard. Apple gets around this with the iPhone OS 3 software by managing some hotspot connections that require a button to be clicked or a certain kind of login.
I've tested a ton of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, and the single most irritating part of using them is navigating admission to a hotspot, even one that you're already paying a monthly fee to use.
As I've long discussed on this site, devices without Web browsers can't connect to most free networks, because most free networks have some kind of usage policy acceptance (a link, checkbox, and/or button), or even an account to use. That means that most of the hotspots people would want to use with a mobile device are off limits. (Fraser said a survey revealed 54 percent of Devicescape's membership base "will only ever use Wi-Fi if it's free.")
Until now, Easy Wi-Fi's proposition was to insert itself at the "leave it up to the end user" phase, offering software for Windows and Mac OS X, as well as smartphones and a few other devices that allow third-party software to be installed.
Boingo Wireless tried to fill this hole in part by offering its software for integration with third parties and manufacturers. Skype is probably the highest-profile partner, with a per-minute hotspot rate (that's astoundingly high at $0.19/min.) available at present only to Mac OS X Skype users.
This is where Devicescape is attempting to step in. Added to the connection part, Devicescape will provide features to find hotspots, and a global access plan.
Fraser said, "We're offering this package at an economics that a device manufacturer should easily be able to ship lifetime access products."
He noted that Devicescape currently manages 400,000 session connections per day across all users and platforms, and this has allowed them to capture a massive amount of data about hotspots available around the world--2m access points of all kinds, which the company categorizes.
Fraser said the company scores a hotspot based on connection quality, signal strength (which obviously varies enormously), bandwidth, and the number of people who connect over time. Weighted into that are values from the most recent connections, too.
The hotspot's score is represented on a map as a blue pin with no signal waves up to three signal waves (3 on each side). The no-wave pins are from locations about which not enough information has yet been collected.
Fraser said the firm sweeps in any open access point, as well as commercial networks (which are marked with red pins). The company then attempts to figure out whether a location is intended to be accessible or not. Secured base stations aren't listed, and the firm tends to remove those in what it analyzes are residential neighborhoods. (Fraser said it's quite obvious in analyzing density what's a residential neighborhood and what's not.)
"We have an innocent-until-proven-guilty model: if we see an open access point, or a free network, we assume that it's meant to be shared until we're told otherwise," Fraser said. The company will remove any location on request. In years past, I'd have disagreed with this policy, but it's clear from my travels in the last year that a vanishingly small number of access points available from a public street or in trafficked areas that have no protection are intended to be private.
Fraser also notes--and I agree--that there's no definitive database of networks that are intended to be free and open; JiWire has a large database, but (despite a multi-year effort) it's not exhaustive since it's network-operator reported, and it doesn't show excluded access points.
Fraser said that of 2m scanned access points so far worldwide, only 100,000 meet Devicescape's criteria for reliable quality that they would offer to its customers.
As with Skyhook Wireless's method of capturing data from end users who employ its Wi-Fi positioning system to supplement wardriving, Devicescape will rely nearly solely on automatically provided data from users. "Every user ends up reinforcing and allowing us to grow the network," Fraser said.
The mapping software will be available on smartphones and other devices with the ability to display and navigate a map; the company's Web site will offer the map directly starting 20-Oct-2009.
Fraser wouldn't disclose which for-fee networks are partners, only noting that the firm had worked out terms that allow it to offer eternal access per device.
Because the software will keep the previous features, those with access to AT&T or T-Mobile or any other commercial network will be able to overlay that access into their account as well.
"We don't want to ever charge for premium access, but we do see ourselves as being an onramp," Fraser said.
Residents of St. Cloud, Flor., made the case for continuing the city's free network: St. Cloud was one of the first, and remains one of the only free city-wide networks (sorry for ignoring you before, Google and Mountain View, Calif.). Dozens of residents attending a city council meeting yesterday, the Orlando Sentinel reports, demanded the service continue. They were angry!
The council opted to extend public access for four months, revisiting the issue in 60 days to see if they can come up with the budget. The network costs about hundred of thousands of dollars a year to operate, but only the public portion would be shut down, as the municipal-only side apparently justifies its cost. [link via MuniWireless]
Bathroom scale maker adds Wi-Fi for body mass, weight transmission: Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale ($160) sends details about your weigh-in via the Internet so you can monitor your health and fitness. Studies have shown both that weighing yourself daily isn't a great tool for weight loss, but, conversely, tracking behavior and outcomes can help with sticking to regimen.