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Recent Entries

UK Pub Fined for Illegal Patron Download
Dutch Trains Gain Internet Service
Few Want to Pay for In-Flight Internet
Deconstructing Aircell's Million Sessions
New Outsourced WPA/WPA2 Enterprise Service Launches
UK Town Offers Free Wi-Fi to 186,000 Residents
Wee-Fi for 16 November 2009
Ruckus Enters Broadband Market
Longmont Keeps Wi-Fi Network
Eye-Fi Adds FTP Uploads

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November 2009 Archives

November 30, 2009

UK Pub Fined for Illegal Patron Download

By Glenn Fleishman

A pub in the UK that's part of The Cloud's network has been hit with £8,000 illegal download fine: ZDNet UK reports on some fragmentary information that a UK pub was hit with a fine in a civil case this last summer of £8,000 due to copyrighted material that was pirated over the pub's Wi-Fi network. The pieces don't entirely add up: it was a civil, not a criminal prosecution; UK law, like the US, seemingly should be exempt as a provider of service; and we don't know which pub nor what content. If the pub itself were downloading movies and making them available, then the fine would make some sort of sense.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:33 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, International, Legal | No Comments

November 26, 2009

Dutch Trains Gain Internet Service

By Glenn Fleishman

Dutch train operator commits to onboard Internet: Nomad Digital will use T-Mobile for backhaul to bring Wi-Fi service to 187 intercity trains initially, with a total of 365 planned.

Back in September 2006, when I wrote this Economist article about train-Fi, I had heard strong rumors that the Dutch NS train service was close to committing to roll out service across its entire stock. But it wasn't strong enough to include, and pilot tests didn't pan out.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:55 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

November 20, 2009

Few Want to Pay for In-Flight Internet

By Glenn Fleishman

Joe Brancatelli, veteran business and travel reporter, keeps looking for traces of potential revenue from in-flight Internet access: He's not finding it. He and I chatted today, and based on yesterday's numbers from Aircell, which put them on track to hit 100,000 sessions a week on over 600 equipped aircraft, Joe figures that's a 5 percent uptake: roughly 2 million people fly weekly in his estimation. And, as I noted yesterday, we don't know how many of the nearly 100,000 sessions are paid. Virgin America is all free, sponsored by Google, and each airline has a first-session-free deal in place, too.

In the column I link above, Brancatelli runs through the problem with charging: passengers just don't seem to want to pay. Alaska Airlines is committed to rolling out Wi-Fi with Row 44--just like Southwest--but found that it will have to give the service away. Even $1, in testing, had a big dropoff. (Row 44 has the small problem of needing to raise cash to afford installing its service in the two committed airline; Aircell, Brancatelli reports, is largely funding installation out of its own so-far deep pocket.)

Joe told me that he uses Aircell's service whenever he flies on a plane with it, paying whatever rate he has to, and misses it when he's on a flight without it. So he's not skeptical about it working, nor whether it's worthwhile. Rather, he hasn't seen any positive indications yet that business or recreational travelers are leaping at the offering.

Meanwhile, Air Canada starts trials on US legs of its flights. Aircell will work with a Canadian partner to build out service over Canada when all the regulatory issues are finalized.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:31 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | 1 Comment

November 19, 2009

Deconstructing Aircell's Million Sessions

By Glenn Fleishman

Aircell says that its Gogo service has had 1,000,000 users and now averages 100,000 users per week: I queried the company's PR firm, and had confirmed that this is sessions, not users. Aircell hasn't disclosed total unique users, any revenue figures, paid v. free sessions, airline-by-airline breakdowns, average revenue per paid session, or any numbers that the privately held firm could conceivably use to convince me or anyone in the flight industry that the service should be measured a success.

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with the idea of a ramp-up time for routine travelers to get accustomed to the availability of in-flight Internet. Delta is well along its goal of putting Wi-Fi in its entire mainline fleet, but a traveler can't take any flight (although they can take certain routes) with assurance that Wi-Fi will be available.

As with Boeing's Connexion, I've always thought that you can't just make Wi-Fi in planes available; you have to make it predictably and routinely available, after which the real usage patterns emerge. Virgin America and Airtran have full fleet coverage, but the airlines are tiny and small, respectively, and have some loyalty but don't own their passengers in a way that the biggest airlines do.

I'd love for in-flight Internet to be a rousing success, because I so like the option to use it, and think it's a great tool for time-shifting work back into travel (instead of on either end), and for entertainment. But I'm not seeing any compelling statistics yet.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:14 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments | No TrackBacks

November 18, 2009

New Outsourced WPA/WPA2 Enterprise Service Launches

By Glenn Fleishman

Eric Geier, a long-time tech writer and reporter, has launched NoWiresSecurity: Geier, who has been in this business of writing about Wi-Fi and wireless for longer than me, offers AuthenticateMyWiFi, a way to use 802.1X authentication for secure WPA/WPA2 Enterprise logins on a Wi-Fi network without hosting and managing the server yourself. The service is billed on a monthly rate based on the number of user accounts.

WPA/WPA2 Enterprise allow a Wi-Fi user to connect using credentials, typically a user name and password, which are passed securely over a network without first providing access to the network's resources. When a back-end authentication server confirms the user's identity, unique key material is creating that protects a user's Wi-Fi link separately from all other users on the network.

The ability to issue and revoke accounts, set policies (like: "can only log in between 8 am and 5 pm on weekdays"), and avoid giving out a shared key for all users are all why WPA/WPA2 Enterprise (or the underlying 802.1X standard in various modes) is the gold standard for secured network access. Interestingly, nearly all consumer-grade access points have the necessary support to enable this enterprise mode.

If you're running a small network, you can get access to WPA/WPA2 Enterprise by using Windows Server (various versions, prices varies) or Mac OS X Server 10.5 or later ($499 for unlimited users; Intel system required; bundled with some Macs). You could also install Periodik Labs's Elektron server ($950 with a year of maintenance).

All those solutions require a little to a lot of IT experience. Many small-to-medium-sized businesses have few IT needs beyond file sharing, but want to have a secure network. Geier's AuthenticateMyWiFi could fit this need. I've written about similar services in the past, such as the similarly named SecureMyWiFi from WiTopia, which the company has stopped offering. (WiTopia decided to focus on hosted VPN services, another category of outsourcing I recommend for small and medium businesses.)

AuthenticateMyWiFi provides the range of 802.1X options, such as access policies I described earlier (time of day, accounts that have expiration dates), security controls like IP-restricted logins, and access to usage logs. The service has you set up accounts via a Web site, and then configure one or more access points--as many as you like with the same user fees--to authenticate via its servers.

The rates start at $13/mo or $130/yr for up to 10 users, and scale up to $36/mo or $360/yr for 61 to 100 users.

The only trouble with hosted authentication is that authentication for users joining the network will fail if your Internet connection is down, the link between you and the hosted service is interrupted, or, of course, the hosted service isn't responsive. (Existing logged in sessions remain active.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:58 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security, Small-Medium Sized Business | No Comments

November 17, 2009

UK Town Offers Free Wi-Fi to 186,000 Residents

By Glenn Fleishman

The town of Swindon, England, will provide free Wi-Fi to residents: The project is estimated at just £1m to install 1,400 access points around the city, which seems rather inexpensive--could that possibly include installation, backhaul, network operations, and bandwidth? The network is described as a mesh, but it's hard to know what that means these days, as the term is used too loosely.

Usage will be limited on the free service, but that hasn't been described in any of the reporting. An hour a day? 100 MB a month? A 20 Mbps (noted as 20 MB in the Guardian story) service will be available as an upgrade, but I don't know of any Wi-Fi network capable of delivering 20 Mbps on a distributed basis. 20 Mbps is tricky enough in the home over any distance.

Color me dubious about the particulars. The Web site for the service, dubbed Signal, is unpopulated. International coverage of this story is breathless, quotes from the press release, and doesn't ask anyone from the company or elsewhere about how this could possibly work.

At least the firm plans to use WPA encryption, according to its press release. The company also recommends using a "wireless" repeater, which means there's a hidden $50 to $150 cost in obtaining such an item to pull the signal in from outside.

The network will apparently be up and running by April 2010, with an initial phase launched in December 2009. Funds will be used from both public and private sources, and a local businessman's firm, Digital City UK, will handle the buildout. The Swindon town council owns 35 percent of the venture.

I don't see how the stated goals, costs, deployment, and service is feasible. I'm looking forward to further details.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:37 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Mesh, Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal | No Comments

November 16, 2009

Wee-Fi for 16 November 2009

By Glenn Fleishman

UK tries to scare people over unsecured hotspots: This meme is running wild, that child pornography consumers and producers drive around to find unsecured Wi-Fi in order to do their evil. I'm sure it happens (I've linked to reports here before). But is it an epidemic with great flashing exclamation points? Not really. But it's increasingly the case that people are securing their networks, and increasingly sensible to do so. An unsecured network is a vector for infection on your own network if someone happens by, connects, and infects your machines over a "trusted" local net.

The future of 802.11: John Cox of Network World runs down all the various improvements we'll see now that 802.11n has been approved--part of the alphabet soup of add-ons and tweaks that will continue to make Wi-Fi more reliable and robust, especially in the enterprise. This includes four-stream 802.11n (600 Mbps raw rate).

Yet Another Story about Wi-Fi Manners: This time from Florida Today, explaining how to avoid being a wireless moocher.

Boingo Adds Australasia Access: The roaming aggregator will add 4,000 hotspots from Tomizone immediately through Australia, China, India, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands, with another 12,000 coming within months.

Skyhook improves S60 location accuracy: Skyhook offers a $2.99 Maps Booster for Nokia S60 handsets via the Ovi Store to speed up the fix and location time by adding its Wi-Fi and other positioning technology into the mix.

Bryant Park uses Verizon fiber for backhaul: The long-running Bryant Park Wi-Fi hotzone in New York City adjacent to the main branch of the New York Public Library has upgraded its backhaul to Verizon's FiOS, a 50 Mbps flavor. The network has been active since 2002 with different folks running it at different times. It's currently branded as operated by the Public Internet Project, the site for which hasn't been updated in several years.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:01 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | No Comments

Ruckus Enters Broadband Market

By Glenn Fleishman

Ruckus Wireless launches outdoor infrastructure for wireless broadband: Ruckus must like what Meraki has been up to, as the wireless firm has launched its own ecosystem for inexpensive, Wi-Fi based wireless broadband. The company has some remarkable international commitments to use the technology.

From where I sit, Wi-Fi-based broadband is a developing world and also-ran approach where either cellular or WiMax equipment isn't available or is too expensive. Wi-Fi emerged in the mid-oughties (2004-2007) as an option because it was an interim measure: a way to get faster speeds than cellular and often than most of the installed wireline broadband before those technologies had matured.

With an LTE and WiMax roadmap in the US and LTE in Europe, along with widely available WiMax gear for the quasi-licensed 3.5 GHz band in the US (for generally secondary markets), and vastly improved cable, DSL, and fiber rates across a good hunk of the installed broadband base, it's hard to see how broadband Wi-Fi carves out a niche where it can be cheaper, better, and ubiquitous.

However, there are 5 billion people in markets in which that's not going to be the case, and all research shows that those folks are heavy metered mobile data consumers where they can afford it. Layering broadband Wi-Fi on a best effort ability into areas where there's no reasonable or well-priced second choice could be a winning strategy.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:52 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: International, Metro-Scale Networks | No Comments

November 13, 2009

Longmont Keeps Wi-Fi Network

By Glenn Fleishman

The story in Colorado is that the Longmont network will keep operating under private ownership: Perhaps those of us who write about Wi-Fi, and especially large-scale networks, have followed Longmont too closely, but the city has a long-running network and hit all the high notes in the municipal wireless symphony. The latest of three providers to operate a Wi-Fi network failed to pay taxes and utility pole leases, and the city put up a ballot measure to try to take over the network. The measure failed in part because the city wasn't allowed to explain fully what it was doing due to Colorado law prohibiting municipal lobbying for this sort of measure.

However, there's a happy ending. The county in which Longmont is found auctioned off DHB Networks' gear; it was purchased by the owners of RidgeviewTel and StarNet. RidgeviewTel has been operating the network since DHB's equipment was seized in September by the county.

The company sees 1,900 unique devices connected to the network in the afternoon and early evening, which shows the utility of the network for its users. The firm will layer WiMax on top of Wi-Fi in just a few weeks.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:13 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

November 12, 2009

Eye-Fi Adds FTP Uploads

By Glenn Fleishman

Eye-Fi updates its software to allow secure and unsecured FTP transfers: It's funny how long it can take to get the basics in place, but Eye-Fi has finally added a feature that should make many digital photographers happy. Eye-Fi's digital media cards that sport an internal Wi-Fi radio can now transfer images via unsecured FTP and FTP over SSL/TLS. A card with the Online Sharing option is required; that option can be separately activated on some cards, and is included with other models.

FTP is an ancient and extremely common method of file transfer, requiring very little fuss to move data around. Early Wi-Fi support in expensive pro cameras relied on FTP because there wasn't any other reasonable mechanism to move files around. It's taken a few years to get back to the same point.

FTP lacks intrinsic security, but can have security options layered on top. FTP over SSL/TLS relies on a secured tunnel being created--precisely like a tunnel used for a secure Web session--after which FTP can flow without anyone between the two end points being able to sniff FTP passwords or data.

Some people use FTP as the basis of automation operations. You set a watch file that's accessible via FTP, and as images are loaded into that file, actions are performed on images, such as auto-correcting and resizing, or adding to an online gallery.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:33 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Photography, Security | No Comments

County Shuts Down Hotspot after Movie Download

By Glenn Fleishman

Coshocton County, Ohio, shutters a hotzone because of a movie download: The local paper reports that Sony Pictures notified OneCommunity, which operates the county's one-block hotzone, that a movie was downloaded "illegally." The article doesn't provide enough details to know whether this was via BitTorrent, a pirate movie site, or other means. It's possible it was a perfectly legal download that Sony doesn't like, too, such as a transfer of a movie for personal use or a legal movie download that was mischaracterized.

In any case, it doesn't seem that Sony nor the MPAA (which is mentioned in the article but didn't apparently contact the county at all) asked for the network to be shut down. Further, there's no legal basis on which to close down a network because of illegal use. The common-carrier and other ISP laws protect such operations, even though if Sony had filed suit the ISP might have had to produce certain logs and other connection records.

My friend Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing went with the knee-jerk headline: "MPAA Shuts Down Entire Town's Muni WiFi over a Single Download," when it wasn't a whole town, the MPAA wasn't apparently involved, and the shutdown was by the county, which didn't have to do so. The MPAA told MediaPost that it "didn't ask for the network to be shuttered."

What's likely here is that the county overreacted, and decided to limit any potential liability immediately, even though no sanctions or actions were apparently threatened by Sony (or the MPAA). In similar cases, private and governmental bodies have simply said, "Whatever" or turned to groups like the EFF for support.

Update: The network was brought back up on Friday. Sony received a number of complaints about its actions, despite not actually having asked the county to turn its network off. Sony reportedly emailed the county, and must have said it wouldn't pursue any action, which led to the county turning the network back on.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:28 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Hot Spot, Legal, Municipal | No Comments

November 10, 2009

T-Mobile Moves Aggressively into HSPA and HSPA+

By Glenn Fleishman

From a carrier with no 3G offerings 18 months ago, T-Mobile has turned the ship fast--and turned the table on its competitors: T-Mobile used today's announcement of a new 3G USB modem to lay out its aggressive plans for 7.2 Mbps HSPA and 21 Mbps HSPA+ deployment nationwide.

Starting from no customers in second quarter 2008 and clutching a handful of 3G spectrum, the firm now covers 240 cities and passes 170m people. T-Mobile's Jeremy Korst, director of broadband products and services, said in an interview that the number will hit 200m by the end of 2009, which covers nearly all the major urban areas. By contrast, Clearwire plans coverage of 120m people with its Wimax service by the end of 2010.

But perhaps more important is that T-Mobile will have 7.2 HSPA, which runs at a raw downstream data rate of 7.2 Mbps, on all its 3G nodes by year's end. On the upstream side, T-Mobile will gradually upgrade to 2 Mbps starting in early 2010.

This contrasts with AT&T's previously announced but much more moderately paced plan that gradually upgrades the current, seemingly overloaded 3.6 HSPA network to 7.2 HSPA through the end of 2011, at which point AT&T will still have only 90-percent 7.2 HSPA on its 3G network. By the end of 2010, only 25 of 30 major markets will have the faster HSPA flavor, the company has said.

The bigger news, though, is that T-Mobile is going full-court press on HSPA+, a 21 Mbps flavor already deployed by several carriers worldwide, and which T-Mobile launched for test purposes in Philadelphia in September. The company will start rolling out HSPA+ in 2010 on a "fairly broad-scale" basis, Korst said.

Read the rest of "T-Mobile Moves Aggressively into HSPA and HSPA+"

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:05 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, Broadband Wireless, Cellular, Future | 1 Comment

Google Gives Free Holiday Wi-Fi at Airports; Niagara!

By Glenn Fleishman

Google is underwriting free Wi-Fi and a contest at 47 airports: The deal runs from 10 November to 15 January, and combines fee-free Internet access with matching donations made via Google Checkout (up to $250,000) and a photo contest. Several of the airports listed already offer free Wi-Fi (like Las Vegas and Sacramento), but the other deals apply.

Meanwhile, Niagara Falls's new airport has free Wi-Fi; it opens 11 December. However, there's a hitch: there will be almost no regular flights. Go figure.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:28 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Free | No Comments | No TrackBacks

November 9, 2009

Bing Offers Sponsored Wi-Fi after Searching

By Glenn Fleishman

Bing is underwriting free Wi-Fi at some hotspots if you perform a single Bing search: Microsoft's new search engine has gotten positive reviews--I quite like it, though I haven't become a regular user yet--and the company has teamed up with JiWire to push brand awareness through sponsored hotspot access. The program started in September, and incorporates thousands of hotspots--though JiWire is providing details about which one. JiWire says that 30 to 40 percent of visitors take Microsoft up on the offer.

[My usual disclosure: I own a vanishingly small number of shares in JiWire, a privately held company, from my time as an employee and consultant.]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:13 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments

November 8, 2009

Voters Defeat Longmont Takeover of Failing Wi-Fi System

By Glenn Fleishman

This isn't a referendum on cities running Wi-Fi, but shows how freaked out incumbents still get over muni-Fi: Longmont, Colo.'s independent Wi-Fi service provider was struggling, and the city wanted the ability to take over the service should the company fail. However, a variety of Colorado laws required the city to be vague and not spend money saying exactly what it planned to do. Cable operators spent hundreds of thousands to defeat the measure, which implied that the city could run a triple-play system, even over fiber.

Now that the election's over, all the details have come out, and the city may take another go at it. About 400 to 600 citizens will lose Internet access.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:58 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | No Comments | No TrackBacks

November 5, 2009

MSNBC Examines Free In-Flight Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

The Well-Mannered Traveler, Harriet Baskas, gives an overview and some insight into in-flight Internet: Baskas provides a comprehensive listing of what airlines have free deals, and which flights (if particular ones are involved) are covered. This includes AirTran's Baltimore-to-Boston route, which the airline told Baskas was a competitive advantage. I suspect that Acela is a competitor on that route, among other airlines. (Acela will gain Wi-Fi in about six months.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:40 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Free | No Comments

November 3, 2009

Is Verizon Being Unfair to AT&T in 3G Map Comparisons?

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T is suing Verizon over a snarky campaign that compares Verizon's 3G coverage to AT&T's: Is this unfair? It's maybe impolite, but it doesn't appear unfair or incorrect. Is it actionable? AT&T says the ads will make customers believe AT&T has no coverage whatsoever, not just no 3G data coverage, in the white areas in the AT&T map displayed. And the map is from a few months ago, while AT&T has built out a bit more blue in that time. (AT&T isn't complaining about the accuracy of the map's depiction of 3G.)

Fundamentally, though, we're seeing a battle between the last advantages of the Qualcomm EVDO standard compared to the GSM evolved HSPA family of standards. When Verizon installed 3G, the company did it in a big way, upgrading a large majority of its 2G 1xRTT nodes to EVDO Rev. 0, and later pushing those to Rev. A for the current footprint and speed. Sprint did likewise.

Verizon had to, because AT&T and T-Mobile had intermediate 2.5G and 3G steps that would have left Sprint and Verizon at a competitive disadvantage. AT&T and T-Mobile pushed out EDGE, which is several times faster than 1xRTT (which runs at fast dial-up modem speeds), and did so relatively inexpensively. AT&T Wireless and Cingular, at the time separate entities, had distinct plans to test and deploy UMTS, the 384 Kbps low-end 3G standard on the road to HSPA. (GSM 3G HSPA standards are broken down into downlink and uplink and there are flavors and steps there, but it's nice to just say HSPA to encompass the realm.)

For AT&T, EDGE was good enough outside metro areas, because it competed effectively with 1xRTT before Verizon and Sprint had a full EVDO footprint (even with Rev. 0). The company then essentially stalled because of first the Cingular/AT&T Wireless merger, and then the 60-40 ownership split between what was then SBC and BellSouth. The two companies didn't see eye-to-eye on spending on 3G. AT&T's 3G plans really only took off after the BellSouth merger, which also gave it 100-percent control of the cellular division. Any rational wireless firm would have spent billions during the good times to get a competitive 3G footprint with the CDMA competitors.

If Verizon and Sprint had limited 3G upgrades just to major metropolitan areas, they would have been way behind the ball--and AT&T would be running ads now laughing at the companies' sub-EDGE speeds in the country, and slower than HSPA rates in the city. (T-Mobile dropped out of this speed war for a few years while it acquired 3G spectrum and deployed its HSPA offering. The firm intends to have the fastest 3G network while 4G networks are being built with a test of 21 Mbps HSPA already underway.)

Verizon has to be aggressive right now, because it's switching to LTE for its 4G network, a GSM-evolved standard. It will be years before it has a national footprint for 4G using LTE (over 700 MHz spectrum). During that time AT&T will have bumped its 3G network nationally to 7.2 Mbps HSPA, and potentially even going to 14.4 Mbps HSPA (that requires more hardware upgrades, so hard to tell), and also pushing out LTE over 700 MHz.

In a couple years, AT&T will have the bragging rights on speeds, will start having a better 3G and 4G map to compare with Verizon, and Verizon will seem like the sucker. At least briefly.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:42 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G | No Comments

Starbucks Makes It Harder to Get Free Wi-Fi (Revised)

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks is revising its stored-value affinity card programs, making it easier harder to get free Wi-Fi: I've noted before that Starbucks doesn't offer free Wi-Fi in the sense that an indie coffeeshop with an open access point does, nor like airports that provide Wi-Fi at no cost. Rather, Starbucks ties two consecutive hours per day of no-cost Wi-Fi to purchases made using a stored-value card. The firm announced changes last week to its affinity program that require some teasing out of the details; the Web site appears to have been updated today.

[Update: Starbucks hid a detail in a pop-down window that says the same requirement for regular purchases to use Wi-Fi applies. This article has been revised to reflect that.]

Under the current system, Starbucks has two tracks: a free card that stores value for purchases, and a membership card, that can optionally hold a dollar charge. The plain stored-value card exists mostly for convenience and usage tracking by Starbucks, but includes a few extras, one of which is the daily dose of Wi-Fi. To earn that benefit for 30 days, you either make a purchase with the card or add value (min. $5).

Starbucks's soon-to-be-defunct membership program costs $25/yr, includes a 10-percent discount, some free and discounted beverages, and has the precisely identical terms for accessing Wi-Fi.

Starbucks is merging the two programs into one that will have no fees and no discount, but which offers a free drink on your birthday as well as a free drink for every 15 transactions after your first 30 transactions. You can use multiple cards, but they must be registered to an account you set up, and then one or another used for each transaction to accrue and claim benefits.

starbucks_rewards.jpg In this new system, called My Starbucks Rewards, you get the birthday drink just by registering. After five transactions, you're boosted into the Green Level--green being Starbucks' corporate color--and you qualify for the daily Wi-Fi allotment with no further purchases.

Update: I was mistaken. You must be at the Green Level simply in order to qualify to get free Wi-Fi for 30 days following a purchase on the card or adding additional value on the card. This change thus makes it harder for new card users after 26 December--existing customers are grandfathered if they register.

The new card program's FAQ says that you remain active at the green level for two years following your last transaction. So those that want the two-hours-a-day Wi-Fi without purchasing drinks need only prime the pump lightly. (The FAQ is insanely complicated. One would think the marketing department might have drilled this down into several bullet points, and then given the gory details later.)

Green Level patrons also get free brewed coffee refills, extras like syrup and soy milk, and advance marketing materials about new stuff. They also get gentle pats on the head. Good customer, good customer.

After 30 transactions, you get bumped into the Gold Level, at which plateau Howard Schultz personally thinks about you in his office for five seconds on your birthday. Also, you get a personalized gold card that says, "Hey, I spend a lot of money in this place." And that free drink every 15 transactions. And coupons. And a pony*. (*Pony not included.)

This program requires that you register a card, which is optional for stored-value usage, but obviously key to Starbucks understanding everything you do and when. Starbucks is foregoing the revenue from its hundreds of thousands of current paying gold card users in exchange for a vast increase in data collection.

Existing registered regular stored-value card users and Gold Card members are transitioned automatically into Green Level and Gold Level programs, respectively. Register before 26 December if you haven't already to preserve the benefits. This also offers a five-purchase bypass. Buy a Starbucks Card with $5 on it, register it, and you need make no additional purchases to get to the Green Level.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:44 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | 1 Comment

Gogo Offers $25 30-Day Airline Wi-Fi Pass for Three Airlines

By Glenn Fleishman

Gogo keeps pushing deals for in-flight Internet during the holidays: A tweet from the Aircell service says that you can purchase a 30-day pass for access for $24.95 for AirTran, American, or Delta airlines on your next flight through 31 December 2009. This is usually priced at $50.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:23 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments

Atheros Offers Family of Three-Stream Chips

By Glenn Fleishman

Atheros announced its 2010 family of three-stream, high-data-rate and rate-over-range chips: The AR9300 XSPAN line up has a three-stream, 3x3 format for up to 450 Mbps raw (300 Mbps TCP/IP) 802.11n traffic. But speed is critical only at close distances: the chips have been designed to keep data rates high as devices move further and further from an access point.

Pen Li, senior product marketing manager at Atheros, explained that the company's goal with what it's calling SST3 technology is to "maintain signal reliability across the entire link." To that end, it's employing four features.

At short ranges, maximum likelihood demodulation (MLD) employs a massive amount of calculation to figure out the best of a matrix of potential encoding systems to use. Li said this could effectively increase antenna gain by 6 dB over the current technique. "Up to this point, the industry has been using this sub-optimal scheme called zero forcing." That was because the necessary CPU cycles weren't available in earlier generations. Atheros says this extends higher rates (up to 200 Mbps of TCP/IP throughput) 100 percent further than current tech.

At medium distances, where maximum speeds can't be maintained, higher rates can still be ensured with transmit beamforming, a well-known technique of varying signal strength to steer a beam to a receiver based on its understood location. However, Li says Atheros takes this a step further by beamforming on each subcarrier of an OFDM signal. (OFDM breaks a channel into many subchannels each of which sends data much more slowly than a monolithic channel would. This allows better signal reconstruction, and allows subchannels to be interferred with without degrading other subchannels. It's fundamental to 802.11g, 802.11n, and, in a slightly modified form, WiMax.)

This transmit beamforming boost keeps rates higher--at around the 100 Mbps TCP/IP data rate--50 percent further.

For the longest distances, Atheros will use maximal ratio combining (MRC), which uses some magic to pull signals from different paths, relying on a certain amount of redundancy, to push range by 20 percent further than current systems. MRC in a more limited form was used in Atheros's SST technology. With a 3x3 antenna matrix, it can be used to greater advantage.

Across all three methods, Atheros will use low density parity check (LDPC), a binary forward error correction with very low overhead to reduce error rates. Forward error correction encodes additional data to allow a receiver to fix errant bits without asking for a packet retransmission.

Atheros is pusing this chip line-up as its flagship brand, with suggestions for applications for home and mobile computing (better range), media (set-top boxes, gaming, multiple HD streams), and business (better performance in dense environments or less expensive deployments with fewer APs).

The chips are slated to be sampled in the first quarter of 2010. Atheros didn't offer guidance about when its OEM partners would have products available based on the designs, but it's likely by the end of 2010 at least consumer devices would appear.

While three-stream devices are already on the market, there's only one piece of client hardware for laptops, meaning that only range and reliability can be improved with a three-stream device, not throughput.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:01 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Chips | No Comments

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