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Recent Entries

Southwest Signs with Row 44
Hands-On with Gogo
iPad Creates New Class of 3G Device, Plan
AT&T Sees Continued Growth in Wi-Fi Sessions
San Francisco Airport Plans Free Wi-Fi
Aircell Pumps $176m More into Coffers
Palm Lets Plus Models Play Hotspot
Top Password? 123456
Wi-Fi Power Harvester Gets Steely-Eyed Look
Portland Donates Old MetroFi Gear to Community Wireless Group

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January 2010 Archives

January 29, 2010

Southwest Signs with Row 44

By Glenn Fleishman

Southwest announced on its blog that it's signed a contract and the next steps have begun for Wi-Fi: This is good news for Row 44 and its investors, as Row 44 has two airlines (Alaska and Southwest) that want its satellite-based Internet service, but until today there was no word of how that was going to proceed for either airline.

On the blog, Southwest's Dave Ridley wrote that the airline will start installations in the second quarter of 2010, and install about 15 aircraft a month from a fleet of 540 with a goal to ramp up to 25 planes a month. That puts them at 2012 on this scheduled for full-fleet rollout.

Cost still hasn't been set. Of course, people would prefer to pay nothing, but Southwest hasn't been consistently low-operating-cost and low-fare by guessing wrong on what people will pay.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:51 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments

Hands-On with Gogo

By Glenn Fleishman

My recent trip to San Francisco for Apple's iPad launch gave me some hands-on time with Gogo Inflight Internet: Despite writing about in-flight Internet for nearly nine years, I have rarely had the chance to experience it. My heavy flying days--tens of thousands of air miles a year--ended back with the dotcom boom in 2001. I flew a Connexion by Boeing test flight in 2004 with other reporters out of Seattle's Boeing Field that didn't even use the production flavor of that service; and I was on board Virgin America's launch of Wi-Fi in 2008. Other than that, nada!

glenn_va_jlc.jpgSo it was rather exciting to be able to have a real-world experience with Aircell's Gogo on the way down and back to San Francisco--even better, I was able to snag seats in an empty exit row on the way down and had an empty middle on the way back. The flights are 100 minutes in the air, with perhaps 80 to 85 of those above 10,000 feet. I had previously set up an account with Gogo, something Aircell advises because it removes the friction in the air from starting up a session. You can store a credit card for billing as part of account setup.

Connecting to the network was no trouble for me, but my colleague Jeff Carlson couldn't initially pull up the redirection hotspot page. We checked his settings, and found he had hard-coded his DNS servers to OpenDNS. This is a good idea in general--faster DNS, phishing protection, and search result redirection--but it causes trouble when there's a hotspot redirection page. He removed his DNS server settings and then got the splash page.

Setting up a session is straightforward: you choose a plan, such as a day or month pass, and then pay for it. We had complimentary codes, and entered those in the checkout stage.

apple_reflection_va.jpgService was reliable and consistent for nearly the whole way down and back. I used the Web, Dropbox, an RSS reader, email, screen sharing (VNC), Twitter, iChat, and other services and protocols without any problems. A test at one point during one flight of bandwidth showed precisely 256 Kbps of downstream (Internet to me) and about 300 Kbps upstream (me to the Internet). The service is clearly throttled and provisioned, and the exact 256 Kbps (two to the eighth power) figure shows perhaps how precisely so. Gogo has about 3 Mbps of raw bandwidth to divvy up.

It was definitely both useful and a pleasure to have Internet access nearly continuously during this particular trip. Jeff and I were trying to stay up to speed and get prepped on the way down, and then were writing and posting material at the Apple event venue, at a Starbucks afterwards, at SFO, and then from the plane itself. I rarely have to keep a constant stream of activity like that, but I work for myself.

Jeff and I conferred about the price. If were paying for it, we likely would not have paid the $9.95 for the SEA-SFO leg, because we could have read a book or slept. It was useful, but not critical. The ten bucks for the SFO-SEA would have been a no brainer, as we had plenty of work to do on that flight.

Now if only the people in the seats in front of Jeff and I hadn't leaned back so far we could barely open our laptop covers. Perhaps the iPad will solve that problem.

(Disclosure: Aircell gave me free codes to use to test the service on these flights, but this post is not sponsored, nor did Aircell see this post or have any input into it. I paid the listed fare for the flight. As you can tell from other articles on this site about Aircell and Gogo, I don't pull my punches.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:49 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | 4 Comments

January 27, 2010

iPad Creates New Class of 3G Device, Plan

By Glenn Fleishman

Apple's 3G iPad models will come with two unique aspects: only unlocked, no-contract services: It's not surprising that Apple will have Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi plus 3G variants of its new iPad mobile device. Rather, it's that Apple finally got its demands met about how consumers will control the relationship with cellular carriers.

The iPad will come with a micro SIM, a new tiny form factor for SIM in mobile devices that's not yet in real use, as far as I can tell. (I had never heard of it before today, even though it's a settled 3GPP format.) Steve Jobs said it will be simple to swap out SIMs from other carriers, so that the US version of the 3G iPad will "just work" in most cases outside the US. It won't be until June or July that Apple has carrier relationships for direct sales and data plans other than in America.

The unlocked iPad will be coupled with two data plan options from AT&T, neither of which requires a contract or (as far as I know so far) any cancellation penalty. AT&T has some services now that you can turn on or off on demand, such as navigation.

The 250 MB/mo. plan is $15/mo; the unlimited plan is $30/month. While you might scoff at 250 MB, the iPad will have the same limitations as the iPhone in terms of downloading and storing stuff over the Internet, so outside of purchasing movies, the biggest 3G drain will be streaming video. Because the iPhone OS doesn't support Flash, streaming video must all be embedded H.264 format or accessed via the YouTube app or other applications.

I'm calling the 250 MB/mo plan "your mother's plan," because it's most likely to appeal to people who won't be heavy 3G users, and will mostly use the device over Wi-Fi at home or at hotspots. However, they will want the flexibility of having 3G available wherever when they carry the device with them.

The iPad still is slated to have the disappointing pairing of UMTS for upload (384 Kbps) with HSDPA for download (ostensibly HSPA 7.2 as with the iPhone 3GS); this detail is noted on the Tech Specs page for the iPad. The iPad will likely be a heavier producing device, especially given that there's a camera connection kit (USB or SD card reader) that will let you suck photos directly into the iPad. These will sync with iPhoto when you return to a Mac (or through other means specified in iTunes on a Mac or under Windows), but uploading photos during a trip will certainly be desirable, and limited over 3G networks to the paltry 384 Kbps rate.

I should note, of course, that the iPad will have 802.11n support, but it's unknown to me yet whether this will be a single-stream radio, which would use less juice and thus be more sensible in a device intended to have a long battery life, or a two-stream 802.11n adapter, which will drain it faster. Apple uses USB for syncing large amounts of content, and doesn't provide over-the-air sync for anything directly. (You can use its MobileMe service to sync calendars and contacts.)

That means that the gating factor on most networks will be the Internet connection, not the wireless LAN. Having a 50 Mbps or so top rate with 802.11n single stream won't really be a clog on the iPad's abilities.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:06 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 802.11n, Future, Gadgets | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 25, 2010

AT&T Sees Continued Growth in Wi-Fi Sessions

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T released its fourth quarter 2009 Wi-Fi connection numbers: AT&T says that its customers made 85.5m connections via its 20,000-strong hotspot network in 2009, with more than a third--35.3m--made in 2009 Q4 alone. The 2009 usage is four times that of usage in 2008, although a far smaller number of AT&T fixed and mobile broadband subscribers had free Wi-Fi access in 2008 than in 2009.

If customers on average downloaded 1 MB of data for each 2009 connection, that's 85 terabytes of information shifted over the network--but that could be quite low. I'm sure I download 10s of megabytes when I fire up a laptop, but I might only retrieve hundreds of kilobytes with my iPhone. AT&T says that 72 percent of Q4 connections were via smartphone.

These numbers will completely explode in 2010 Q1, I predict, with 11,500 McDonald's in the US switching from for-fee to free service. While AT&T customers already paid nothing to use Wi-Fi at McDonald's, this move opens up the network to a vastly larger audience that might otherwise have balked at paying even the $2.95 for two hours access that was the previous rate.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:56 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot | 2 Comments

January 23, 2010

San Francisco Airport Plans Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

SFO appears ready to add to the free airport Wi-Fi trend: This is yet another surprise to this veteran watcher of airport Wi-Fi. The San Mateo County Times appears to have broken the news that the SFO airport authority wants to switch off the money flow when the current T-Mobile contract ends in February. The authority would try to keep T-Mobile as a managed services vendor for up to two years, but would tender a new request for bids for the airport's long-term wireless provider.

SFO would join Boston, which is finalizing its free decision; Seattle-Tacoma, which switched over this month; and potentially, Atlanta. Denver started offering free Internet access at the end of 2007.

SFO has competition in its area with two smaller airports: Oakland in the east bay and San Jose in the south bay; both of those airports switched to free Internet service in 2008.

Don't cry for the service providers who operate networks in these airports; that's primarily Boingo Wireless, which under the Concourse brand has the lion's share of airport operations; AT&T and T-Mobile operate most of the rest. Airports aren't inclined to run their own Wi-Fi networks, and thus providers may shift from the hassle and cost of collecting fees and splitting revenue to providing a fee for service, which is much more reliable income over the long haul.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:27 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 21, 2010

Aircell Pumps $176m More into Coffers

By Glenn Fleishman

The leading worldwide purveyor of in-flight Internet service gets a cash injection: Aircell has raised $176m in private placement equity financing. The company doesn't release many details, so we have no idea how this dilutes present private shareholders, how the company is valued, or on what terms the financing was arranged.

While Aircell has its Gogo Inflight Internet service on over 700 planes in the US, and planes to bring at least several hundred more into service in 2010, the market state of mile-high Wi-Fi is still largely unknown. Scanty figures released by Aircell and some airlines would put paid usage quite low, even though growth is trumpeted.

The cost of installation is about $100,000 per aircraft, fees that Aircell admits to having borne for at least some airlines in contracts from 2009 and before. The company said it won't make such deals in the future, but it's likely that current deals extend into 2010 and beyond.

With in-flight sessions costing $5 to $13, depending on device, time of day, and duration of flight, a relatively high percentage of passengers on each plane--likely at least 10 percent, and more reasonably 15 percent--need to pay for the service on each flight to produce the kind of return on the massive investment in building a national network of air-to-ground stations, installing aircraft gear, and running the service.

Raising more cash is a good sign in this still terrible economy, but without knowing more about the terms, it's hard to rate whether Aircell gave away the store, or brought in more eager equity participants.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:26 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | 1 Comment

Palm Lets Plus Models Play Hotspot

By Glenn Fleishman

The new Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus can be turned into a 3G phone hotspot: While you can purchase third-party software on a limited number of phones to make them into 3G-to-Wi-Fi gateways, it's not a standard option on any major smartphone platform in the US. Palm and Verizon are offering this new feature--via a free downloadable program--for $40/mo (5 GB limit with metered overage fees) above the rest of your voice, texting, and data plan.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:49 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular | No Comments

January 20, 2010

Top Password? 123456

By Glenn Fleishman

The New York Times examines the most common passwords: Imperva analyzed a stolen cache of 32m passwords, and found 1 percent of accounts were secured with 123456; the second most used, 12345. The No. 4 password? password. The majority of passwords are eight or fewer characters, and 20 percent are from a pool of 5,000 passwords.

This reaffirms what I've been writing here for many years when I publish the advice of security experts. Except in cases in which a weak algorithm is involved that allows passwords of any type to be extracted, strong password algorithms must be coupled with longer passwords that contain a mix of letters, numbers, and, where possible, punctuation.

With Wi-Fi, a 12-character mixed password is probably uncrackable even by government's, while a 20-character passphrase would survive the heat death of the universe.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:19 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Wi-Fi Power Harvester Gets Steely-Eyed Look

By Glenn Fleishman

Matt Hamblen at Computerworld does a nice job looking at the RCA/Audiovox Wi-Fi power harvester: This device will supposedly absorb Wi-Fi signal power from the air and convert it to stored battery power. This isn't an unreasonable notion, but it seems impossible.

The inverse-square law roughly says in this case that the signal would decrease in intensity inversely proportional to the square of the distance. Double the distance and signal strength drops by a fourth; triple it, and it drops ninefold; and so on. (It's got something in common with a soap bubble: a drop of liquid, when blown into an ever larger bubble, has less and less soap and water to maintain cohesion as it grows, becoming ever thinner.)

Thus at the distance at which most people find themselves in relation to access points, the amount of energy falling is incredibly minute. This is one of the miracles of Wi-Fi, that between using spread-spectrum and orthogonal frequency division multiplexing and a host of other tricks that a signal that is barely above the thermal noise floor can carry hundreds of megabits per second of data.

I like that Hamblen didn't dismiss the notion, but found reasonably skeptical people who explained the various reasons why it should be against the laws of physics to gather as much energy as the Airnergy device appears to be alleged to suck down.

The company made a splash by providing incomplete information and a seemingly specious number at CES--charging a BlackBerry in 90 minutes, although it may be that it took far longer to gather the energy into the battery by which the BlackBerry was trickle-charged.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:30 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Unique | 3 Comments

Portland Donates Old MetroFi Gear to Community Wireless Group

By Glenn Fleishman

Portland, Ore., was the big win for MetroFi, back in the day, the flagship network that never was: MetroFi was unable to make its gear and business model work in a way that let them move forward, and I won't rehash the process that led them to exit the working world. However, the company left behind hundreds of SkyPilot distribution and backhaul nodes, and a $30,000 bond to remove them. The city estimates the cost will be double, and the equipment has nearly no resale value.

Mike Rogoway of the Oregonian reports that the first batch of removed gear will be handed off to Personal Telco, one of the longest-running community wireless efforts in the world, which operates a variety of free service around town. The group hopes to be able to repurpose the nodes, but I'm dubious. SkyPilot's end-point nodes had two radios, one designed for 2.4 GHz 802.11g access, and the other at 5 GHz to work with its unique point-to-point system.

(SkyPilot's approach had 8 antennas in a sectorized in its backhaul units that used GPS time synchronization to make precise, very high power point-to-point connections at scheduled intervals. One backhaul node could deliver narrow extremely high-signal power zaps of wireless communication in 8 directions seemingly "at once.")

This means that the Wi-Fi nodes have to be served by SkyPilot backhaul devices, which in turn require precise orientation and placement along with back-end management software, which was typically licensed separately.

Personal Telco suggested to Rogoway that it might disassemble them for parts, but four-year-old gear that's designed for this particular a purpose probably has little of interest, even for free.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:37 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hardware, Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal | 3 Comments

January 19, 2010

Boston's Logan Airport Retains Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

The Massport authority voted to keep Wi-Fi free at Boston's Logan Airport: Following several weeks of Google-sponsored free Wi-Fi, the transportation authority is going to eat the cost of funding its provider to keep no-cost Internet access at Logan International Airport.

Logan joins a small number of the country's busiest airports that offer free Wi-Fi, with Denver in the lead. Seattle-Tacoma (Seatac) decided to go free this year following Google's winter promotion, and Atlanta is looking into the costs of dropping fees. Slightly smaller airports are much more likely to have no-cost Wi-Fi, including Portland (Oregon), Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Sacramento.

Logan's Wi-Fi sessions sextupled during the Google-underwritten period, no surprise to those of us who have followed the fee/free debate for years. The Logan vote will cover two years of free service.

Many dozens of airports still charge for service, the vast majority with service from Boingo Wireless, and a smaller number run by AT&T and T-Mobile. I would never have suspect the race to free up service in big airports, because reports are clear that it's a revenue-positive business, and there's a captive audience.

However, just like hotels saw a total erosion of long-distance revenue when people started carrying cell phones with good roaming and included-minutes plans, so, too, may airports be watching the 3G writing on the wall. If you've got an iPhone, a BlackBerry, a Nexus One, or a laptop with a 3G card, you're not paying the airport for usage. Providing free service may allow an airport to appear to be an amenity provider, sweep in good will from those who have no 3G service, and be a distraction during long waits.

I confess to being surprised to see this trend continue. A captive audience is usually held as somewhat price insensitive, but 3G seems to have tilted that balance quite a bit.

A large increase in use needs to be accompanied by a large increase in Internet backhaul, and I'm curious if any regular Boston travelers have noticed a difference.

Those with moderately good recall will remember Massport as the originator of a multi-year FCC action against Continental, which had the temerity to allow free Internet service within its paid member lounges. Massport made piles of specious arguments, which boiled down to, "it's our property, darn it!" The FCC smacked down Massport way back in November 2006 (see "FCC Smacks Down Boston-Logan's Dubious Wi-Fi Claims"), dismissing all the arguments. The FCC is the sole entity that gets to decide proper use of spectrum in the US.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:37 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Free | No Comments

January 18, 2010

Miami Beach's $5m Network Seems Spotty

By Glenn Fleishman

The Miami Times finds that a network that cost $5m to build still has spotty coverage: The contract was signed with IBM in 2006, and the network only recently came online. While it has municipal purposes, it's been pushed as a way for the public to get free Wi-Fi. The reporter wasn't impressed in his attempts to gain access.

The price tag is pretty high unless there were commensurate municipal purposes in which costs were conserved and service improved, and that doesn't appear to be the story the city is telling. The city's project manager says "16,500 people have signed up to use" the network, but as we've seen with other large-scale networks, it's never quite clear whether that's unique devices, sessions, etc. "Users" is often used broadly.

Finally, I missed the mayor of Miami Beach's badly researched comment back in October, reproduced here: "We are the first in the country to have a free citywide hotspot." Except neighbor St. Cloud, Florida, and Mountain View.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:02 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal | 1 Comment

January 15, 2010

McDonald's Starts Free Wi-Fi Today in United States

By Glenn Fleishman

McDonald's previously announced plan to stop charging for Wi-Fi access in its restaurants goes into effect today: The quick-service chain formerly charged $2.95 for two hours of service, although AT&T customers got access at no cost, and there were other promotions. Now, it's all free at the 11,500 out of 14,000 US locations with Wi-Fi. Add to that the "sort of free" option at Starbucks--a deal that changed for the worse in late December--and you've got nearly 20,000 where you shouldn't have to pay for Internet access.

That tips the balance in the US well in favor of free or free--or at least free plus "inclusively free," where an existing subscription brings with it Wi-Fi hotspot service.

Over at TidBITS, a Mac journal where I'm an editor, I wrote up Find Free and Inexpensive Wi-Fi a few weeks ago to summarize how you can either avoid paying anything, or at least anything much for service.

Myself, I maintain a Boingo Wireless subscription because that's a small price to pay for not having to consider whether or not I can get service without paying an additional fee. McDonald's are oddly scarce in Seattle, with several having been shut down in recent years.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:02 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 12, 2010

NPR's Sensible Look at Dangers of Automotive Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Talk of the Nation looks at whether the distractions of in-car Internet will add to driving's dangers: They aren't even looking at whether or not you are manipulating devices while driving; rather, whether the increased distraction even with voice recognition software for handling tasks is a danger on the order of talking on the mobile or texting.

It's an ugly truth proved repeatedly and extensively in the lab that hands-free devices don't reduce the dangers of talking on a cell phone. The act of talking with a remote person is what causes your brain to work differently; it's not motor functions, but higher functions, that add to the risk.

17FBCF52-BDE3-4E29-B314-8E2237560C93.jpgA researcher in this field, Nicholas Ashford at MIT, said on the program, "...interactive communication technology, which is the kind that's being put in the automobiles now, is even more demanding of higher-level visual and audio functioning, and so it doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize the brain is compromised." He also said, "There's two freedoms to be balanced: the freedom to do anything in your automobile, which I would argue should be less clear than doing whatever you want in your home. But there's also a freedom from harm for your passengers, for the pedestrians, and these freedoms have to be balanced."

Ashford also noted on the issue of talking on the phone at all, "The evidence shows very clearly that whether it's hands-free or it isn't hands-free, there is a significant, a four-fold increase in accident potential."

A caller notes that he's a much safer driver using Ford's system because it lets him focus on the road, but Ashford differentiates between anecdote and statistics.

Multi-tasking is a myth that our brain does a great job to foster.

(Graphic above from the NPR show Car Talk, the hosts of which have been far out in front of the issue of talking while driving. I've seen the less polite bumpersticker, too: "Shut Up and Drive.")

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:14 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Road Warrior, Transportation and Lodging | No Comments

Novarum Offers Guidance for Outdoor Wi-Fi Networks

By Glenn Fleishman

The folks at Novarum, who include two of the pioneers of Wi-Fi, offer a free report on outdoor Wi-Fi network building: The recommendations aren't surprising to anyone who has followed this site. Novarum recommends a whopping 60 access points per square mile to exceed 90 percent coverage for 802.11n laptops at rates higher than expected 4G cellular network speeds.

That's a high bar, but Novarum has tested existing networks, and it's not far off from what's been documented in the field. There's a joke in the report in the form of a headline on page 5 that reads, "60 is the new 20." Way back in 2004/2005, metro-scale Wi-Fi companies were saying good coverage could be achieved with as few as 20 nodes, which proved laughably low.

Older 802.11g network hardware can't deliver, the company says, with 80 percent coverage provided for laptops and 50 percent for smartphones. However, Novarum also says smartphones might see just 50 to 75 percent coverage for smartphones from high-quality 802.11n network.

The company recommends that 802.11n be used in both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, and that 802.11b be avoided on clients.

This report is based on 175 network analyses in 36 cities over a 3 1/2 year period.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:04 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Monitoring and Testing | No Comments

MagicJack Uses Magic Spectrum Wand for Femtocell Service

By Glenn Fleishman

MagicJack says it can provide GSM femtocells in the home without agreements with AT&T and T-Mobile: This is one of the most audacious and fascinating attempts to work around spectrum rules that I've seen since Vivato convinced the FCC to tweak the point-to-point power limit rules for phased-array devices.

MagicJack currently offers a VoIP service using a tiny plug-in device that costs $40, including a year's unlimited calls, and $20 for subsequent years. MagicJack pulls off this trick by being affiliated with a CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier), which allows it to benefit from call completion fees (paid by other carriers whose customers call MagicJack customers) and integration.

The femtocell MagicJack is altogether different. Using very low power, the femtocell will act as a GSM base station, and phones will connect to it to complete calls over a broadband Internet connection in the same way that the wireline adapter works.

The snag is that MagicJack doesn't have agreements with any US GSM providers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile, the two largest. Instead, it's asserting a couple of different doctrines of non-interference and, Kevin Werbach suggests, the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

MagicJack believes that by only using the femtocell in a home, and not interfering with carriers' outdoor networks, that there's no conflict with the FCC licenses that carriers have paid for. I first thought this was ridiculous, but now think there's a case to be made that could disrupt calling plans in the same way as T-Mobile's UMA handset service for unlimited domestic calls over Wi-Fi.

It's one thing for MagicJack to assert these rights, another to get FCC approval. IDG News Service reports that the FCC has no application yet and MagicJack confirms it hasn't submitted one. The FCC tests for certain kinds of rules compliance, and thus is unlikely to block device certification. However, carriers may file FCC complaints once the product is officially out to prevent its use and tie up the product for years under a restraining order or a similar mechanism.

It's a crazy idea, but also clever.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:56 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Voice | 4 Comments

January 11, 2010

Wee-Fi: Wireless Energy, Acela, County Wi-FI

By Glenn Fleishman

Company claims Wi-Fi charging system: RCA Airnergy will suck Wi-Fi signals out of the air and charge an internal battery that then discharges into a handheld. The limits on power for Wi-Fi, coupled with the laws of physics, would seem to argue against this producing enough to be useful. Read the comments on this post where someone works out the charging math. I like the idea, but I can't imagine it becoming a widespread technology, even at about $100 for the battery and charger.

Acela trains gain Internet service in March: Amtrak went full speed ahead on this one. The service will be free at first. Acela is just about the only high-speed rail in the US, operating between Boston and DC, although laughably slow compared to European and Asian offerings.

Private county wireless network in Michigan has government's ear despite lack of funding, uptake: Wireless Washtenaw, a three-plus-year-old network that serves the county in which Ann Arbor is found, has a few hundred paying users, and will likely be out of luck if the county and firm don't get federal stimulus money, reports. The county keeps pinning its hopes on this municipally anointed projects, and seemingly brushed off the successful Wireless Ypsi service in Ypsilanti, which offers both free and paid service, and sees over 2,000 users in a week compared to 550 regular Wireless Washtenaw users. Public access county Wi-Fi died out entirely with this exception even before city-wide Wi-Fi mostly went under. (A bonus in this article: my wife's uncle, J. Downs Herold, has an on-the-point quotation.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:37 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | No Comments | No TrackBacks

In-Flight Internet's Ongoing Bet

By Glenn Fleishman

New York Times business travel writer Joe Sharky weighs in on the current state of in-flight Internet: Sharkey notes that with a quarter of mainline jets equipped with Wi-Fi--over 700 planes--there's still not enough information to know whether or not Aircell will succeed financially with its offering. Aircell and airlines release pretty scanty information, although the tea leaves indicate a relatively low rate of paid usage--relative to what's needed to make these services go.

Sharkey got Aircell exec Ron LeMay to admit that the company was installing its gear at its own cost, using some of the huge private equity reserves it raised, which means the airlines bet less and Aircell bet more. Aircell needs to recover $100,000 per aircraft, or somewhere between 20,000 to 30,000 sessions per plane to break even on install after expenses of offering services, in my estimation. That's several hundred flights with good uptake.

The point of this particular column is noting that Continental is trying both Aircell (on 21 aircraft) and an in-flight entertainment system that offers email and instant messaging access without Web surfing. It's a good head-to-head look at what people will pay for.

For its part, Aircell wants to get corporations on board ostensibly with negotiated rates that would make it easier to roll out company-wide access. The widely discussed scuttlebutt is that Aircell isn't willing to discount much, if at all, to aggregators like Boingo, iPass, FiberLink, and others who would resell service to millions of existing customers. Aircell may want to strike direct deals with companies, but might find itself building infrastructure that aggregators already have in place.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:20 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments | No TrackBacks

Sante Fe Man Sues Neighbor over Radio Waves

By Glenn Fleishman

No one wins in this scenario: A man in Santa Fe claims his neighbor's use of wireless technology causes him to get ill. He has sued his neighbor, a woman who he used to hire to cook for him, and who purchased a house she used to rent. Electrosensitivity, or a claim that exposure to electromagnetic radiation causes illness, has been shown in dozens of controlled studies to lack any basis in whether signals or present or absent when self-identified and control subject were tested.

This case was filed in state district court, but will almost certainly be dismissed, not without some expense on the part of the neighbor. Courts have consistently ruled that the FCC is the sole agency in the US at any level (city, state, or federal) that has the power to set and enforce rules regarding spectrum. If you operate an FCC device in a form approved by the agency, then I can guarantee there is no basis for a suit.

While I am not a researcher, I have read tens of thousands of pages of studies on both sides of the issue. Some people believe (but cannot document) that cell phones may pose a risk for elevated incidents of cancer. Let's just pretend that it's always good to gather more information there, even though there are piles of studies from the last few years that can't find any correlation between cell phone use and illness.

But there should no longer be a dispute over electrosensitivity. It's become increasingly clear that people who claim that condition have a measurable health problem--Essex University and University of Regensburg both did work on this front.

Here's what I wrote about the Regensburg work back in August 2008: "The Regensburg study would say to me that electrosensitives need to be renamed: they're sensitive to something; it may even be psychosomatic; but the effects are profound, real, measurable, and (again shown in this study) not tied to whether a signal believed to cause harm is present."

I used to think that people with this self-described condition were tin-foil hat wearers. But in 2007, the evidence started to mount that these folks were not experiencing psychosomatic effects--they feel ill, and an industry has sprung up to impose quackery upon them.

A couple of readers sent in a link to this new paper on the effects of cellular phone use on mice that indicates "long-term exposure to electromagnetic waves associated with cell phone use may actually protect against, and even reverse, Alzheimer’s disease." Quite bizarre and fascinating; I've asked to get a copy of the paper. The researchers and journal appear to be quite legitimate.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:32 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Health | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 10, 2010

Aircell Adds In-Flight Movies via Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Computerworld reports that Aircell will offer movie rentals while in flight via its Wi-Fi network: I have been predicting this for umpty-umpty years, because if you have storage and a delivery system and content and a captive, bored audience, you have an incredible recipe for video sales.

This goes beyond the crummy seatback displays--no matter how good they are, they're still crummy compared to all other visual displays we use routinely. Yes, you can buy a movie or watch in-flight programming, but it's not the same as having a large library to draw on (not dozens but thousands of films and TV shows), and--as Aircell describes it--being able to take the content with you.

Computerworld reports the service will be launched in 2010 with Windows support only, and films will cost $2 to $4. One expects only SD quality to keep the file size low. Aircell told me a while ago that it had overengineered airplane wireless LAN for essentially this kind of purpose: robust delivery of content.

At the highest possible 802.11n rates, a single user on an access point could download a 1 GB movie in just over a minute. In practice, it's likely to be several minutes, but nearly all movie purchase systems start playing with only the first few megabytes of content download. (The start of most movies are highly compressible title sequences or credits, I was told by a delivery firm once.)

I don't know how such video delivery systems compete with existing in-flight entertainment system contracts. Not all planes that will have Wi-Fi have any or robust in-flight entertainment. Alaska Airlines, which has committed to Row 44, has notably eschewed audio and video content to keep planes cheaper to buy and maintain.

But Delta, Virgin America, United, and others have systems in place, and I wonder if they can simply shunt sales from one medium to another without having to renegotiate vendor deals.

In any case, video purchases over an in-plane network increases the value of that network beyond the pure Internet revenue.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Video | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 7, 2010

T-Mobile Ditches Landline Replacement, Keeps Handset Calling

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile will stop selling new @Home calling service; handset calling unaffected: T-Mobile introduced unlicensed mobile access (UMA) calling in 2007, where a dual-mode handset can place and receive calls over either a cellular network or Wi-Fi, and seamlessly continue calls as a customer travels.

This service works in homes and offices, and at associated hotspots. The service now costs $10 per month for residential plans with 1 to 4 phones, including unlimited domestic calls.

In mid-2008, T-Mobile extended that with updated routers that could also replace home landlines, allowing plug-in replacement of regular wired phones for an additional $10 per month. This service will no longer be sold, but existing customers can continue using it indefinitely.

It's not entirely surprising that T-Mobile would drop the landline replacement component. With an increasing number of households relying on cellular phones and no landline, the uptake rate was probably fine but had no growth curve--it only applied to people who wanted to retain the semblance of fixed home phone jacks. It makes more sense to focus on the pure celluar/Wi-Fi option.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:55 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Voice | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Sprint Releases WiMax/3G Gateway Next Week

By Glenn Fleishman

Sprint will sell its Overdrive, a router that handles 3G and WiMax, starting 10 January: The device, $100 with a two-year contract, works with either 3G CDMA or 4G WiMax, preferring the 4G network. It's $60 per month, which includes unlimited WiMax usage and 5 GB of 3G. The device appears to be nomadic, rather than mobile: that is, intended to be taken from place to place, but not used while in motion. (It's unclear whether or not there's a car adapter included.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:31 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 4G, WiMAX | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

January 5, 2010

Minneapolis Wi-Fi Network Complete

By Glenn Fleishman

Minneapolis becomes the largest city in the world with a privately operated, near total coverage Wi-Fi network: The network, built and run by US Internet, claims 16,500 private subscribers. The company was able to secure advance fees from the city against future services provided, services which have not yet been built. The company was able to reach 99.5 percent coverage, it says.

This year, services will be tested, such as linking police cars and fire vehicles to the Wi-Fi network. The city's unused prepayments will be rolled over.

US Internet told the Star Tribune the network cost $20m to build. It uses BelAir network equipment, which was the same choice made by Cablevision, which is building (or perhaps has already built) the largest single-operator coverage area of Wi-Fi in the world. Unlike US Internet, Cablevision offers Wi-Fi access only to its broadband cable subscribers.

(At one point, there was a similar, larger network being built in Taipei, but I believe it was abandoned. There's no information in English that I can find, nor linked in Chinese. The last update on Taiwan's government page about this private project was from early 2006.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:51 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

Eye-Fi Expands Product Line and Features

By Glenn Fleishman

Eye-Fi has added a new high-end Wi-Fi card for digital cameras, updated its software, and added an auto-delete option: I've been a fan of the Eye-Fi, a Secure Digital (SD) format memory card with Wi-Fi embedded since its release. But I've always had some nits to pick about how it works. Over time, Eye-Fi has addressed most of these.

The last appear to be resolved in the release of new software, and a new high-end card, the Pro X2. The software is available today, and pre-orders for the Pro X2 are being taken online now.

The Pro X2 (list $150) shifts its Wi-Fi to 802.11n, almost certainly the single-stream variety, which improves range and speed separately and together. The card includes 8 GB of storage, and is rated Class 6 for its read/write speed. This is a leap from 4 GB with its Pro card (see a comparison of all Eye-Fi cards).

The card supports all the Pro options, too, including ad hoc Wi-Fi connections, RAW downloads, hotspot access for 1 year, and Wi-Fi position-based geotagging. The Pro was formerly $150; the new pricing wasn't available as I write this.

Coupled with the new card is revised software for working with the Eye-Fi. Until now, Eye-Fi has relied on agent software that creates a local Web server for handling configuration. The new software is a desktop application, which among other features will let you publish photos to multiple online locations simultaneously instead of choosing a single photo or social-media site. All Eye-Fi owners can use the new software.

Eye-Fi also introduces a new feature the company calls Endless Memory, and which I would describe as "delete as needed." The original Eye-Fi firmware would upload all JPEGs. Later revisions added models that handle RAW and movie files, as well as giving all user selective uploads. (You use the protect or lock function on your camera to select images for the Eye-Fi to upload.)

Endless Memory adds the final missing piece, which is automatic deletion as necessary of verified uploaded images and movies when space is needed for new material. For a photographer with a hotspot subscription or a laptop nearby for uploads, you could shoot, well, endlessly.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 5:01 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Photography | No Comments

January 4, 2010

Buzz on 802.11n in the Next iPhone

By Glenn Fleishman

Gizmodo spurs sudden buzz about 802.11n in the next iPhone: Gizmodo spots a job listing from Apple for an iPhone engineer who needs 802.11a/b/g/n implementation knowledge, and leaps to the notion that the next model of the iPhone may include 802.11n.

I haven't written about this, despite what seem like thousands of posts at various blogs, because my reaction was twofold.

First: Well, duh!

Second: You don't hire a handheld engineer today with 802.11 experience that doesn't include 802.11n. It's contemporary technology.

I didn't get this buzz when I wrote in March 2009 about why and when the iPhone might get 802.11n. I thought Apple might put single-stream N into the iPhone 3GS, which it did not. It will clearly arrive in the next iPhone model as the chips are ready to go.

Single-stream N doesn't magically make the iPhone's data transfers much faster. It will definitely speed them a bit. Rather, it improves range and eliminates coverage holes, while allowing better network neighbor behavior with other 802.11n devices.

Gizmodo noted in September that the latest iPod touch revision included Broadcom's 802.11n chip that also had an FM receiver built in.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:46 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Cellular, Gadgets | No Comments

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