Receive new posts as email.
This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator. Part of the FM Tech advertising network.
Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2010 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.
Without beating this story to death, I'll round up the current status: The story so far: Google sniffed open Wi-Fi networks while taking pictures for Street View, and, it says inadvertently, collected dribs and drabs of regular packets from these open networks, too.
In Hamburg, Germany, the city's data protection head (cool that the city has such an office) says Google won't turn over the data it collected for examination; Google says it's still figuring out whether under German law turning off this data to the Hamburg chief would be itself another violation of privacy.
In the same New York Times article, it's noted that Hong Kong's privacy commissioner might impose sanctions after Google ignored his request to look at data.
The Times says that Google has destroyed data collected in Denmark, Ireland, and Austria after being requested to so by those nations' regulators; eight other countries have asked for the data to be kept. Google said elsewhere that it had turned the data over to a third party for safekeeping.
Lawsuits continue to mount, too. I wrote a few days ago about a Northwest US effort to get a class-action suit going, and why I thought the suit was technical nonsense, and unlikely to pass muster on those grounds (who knows about legal). (An Oregon judge just ordered Google to hand over related data within 10 days.)
Now, Galaxy Internet Services, a veteran wireless network provider in New England, has sued in that state, trying to get class-action status. There's also a California suit underway.
I give none of this much chance of success. Regulators and privacy commissioners may impose token penalties. What if the penalties are $50m worldwide? A pittance for Google, and happily paid to resolve it. (It's more likely to be $100,000s total.)
This will raise more awareness about the dangers of open networks that are unintentionally open, and more people will enable encryption.
Google's greatest penalty will be more restrictions on its actions in all realms, however, which could extract a greater price than any fines or lawsuits.
Google adds a test of a secured search page: Google offers SSL/TLS security for its Gmail service (through a browser or client protocols). It's extended that in a trial for searching. SSL/TLS provides a (so far) unbreakable encryption tunnel between a client (such as a Web browser) and a server.
If you're using a VPN service or a VPN connection to your company when working on an open hotspot network, securing search isn't terribly important. And securing search alone isn't enough; a secured proxy Web server that lets you redirect all queries would be better.
However, for those without the resources to use a VPN (or pay for a service like Anonymizer) could turn to Google for at least a bit of protection.
And if you live under a regime in which searches are dangerous, a secured search--if not blocked--is a conduit to freed information.
AT&T is setting up an enormous network free to its subscribers in New York City's Times Square: The Wall Street Journal quotes AT&T's NY network head as stating this is explicitly to offload data. AT&T had said a year ago that it was considering large-scale hotzones for this purpose.
I've been baffled that the company didn't spend a few tens of millions of dollars in its troubled areas (San Francisco and New York City, notably) for Wi-Fi. The Journal notes that this is a pilot test, and AT&T may install similar networks in one to three other cities.
AT&T already operates 21,000 hotspots, and the iPhone, 3G iPad with active AT&T service, and some other smartphone models actively switch to Wi-Fi for data when in range of any AT&T-run location.
AT&T gives away Wi-Fi at its hotspots to 32m customers, including smartphone, laptop mobile broadband, DSL, fiber, and business customers.
Russian operator switches to LTE: Yota, a Russian telecom operator, had committed to WiMax, and has 500,000 subscribers in five Russian cities. It's switching to LTE for new deployments in 15 cities, and will migrate subscribers to LTE in existing WiMax-deployed locations.
Monica Paolini, the principal at Senza Fili, wrote that this wasn't unexpected, but the timing was sooner than anticipated. She points to an interview with Kommersant in which Yota's head says that LTE as a technology choice has more to do with a somewhat faster technology, and switching to a multi-vendor approach.
This announcement comes not long after Clearwire said that it would consider LTE in the future, a statement it reiterated today.
WiMax may turn out to be an interim technology, deployed because of particular advantages of timing, along with flexibility in encoding, channel widths, and bands. It's too early to say whether it's headed for the bin.
The class-action suit by two Northwest US residents relies on assertion of privacy of publicly broadcast information: This isn't going to fly. The suit states, "As data streams flow across the wireless network, the sniffer secretly captures each packet (or discreet package) of information, then decrypts / decodes and analyzes its content according to the appropriate specifications."
First, it's not secret. You're broadcasting data in an unlicensed band. You have no reasonable expectation of privacy over openly broadcast data. Perhaps secret means unknown to the transmitter; in which case, the transmitter shouldn't be using an unencrypted broadcast network standards.
Second, and related to the first, Google says (and governments will now confirm) that it was sniffing only open networks, which means it only received data that wasn't locked behind a form of Wi-Fi encryption.
I suspect the attorneys are using this language to make it sounds as though normal decoding of data from an open network is breaking the packets, when, in fact, simple operation of a Wi-Fi adapter allows this data to be received.
The suit also states, "To view data secretly captured by a wireless sniffer in readable or viewable form, after being captured and stored on digital media, it must then be decoded using crypto-analysis or similar programming or technology. Because the data "as captured" by the wireless sniffer is typically not readable by the public absent sophisticated decoding or processing, it is reasonably considered and understood to be private, protected information by users and operators of home- based WiFi systems."
This is patently inaccurate.
Then we come to this. One of the plaintiffs apparently is engaged in risky data behavior:
"In connection with her work and home life, [Vicki] Van Valin transmits and receives a substantial amount of data from and to her computer over her wireless internet connection ("wireless data"). A significant amount of the wireless data is also subject to her employer's non-disclosure and security regulations."
In which case, Van Valin was probably in violation of the terms of her employment and data handling if she had an unsecured, "open" Wi-Fi network. It is more likely, and would be found in discovery if the case goes to court, that Van Valin was either engaged in activity unlikely to be protected by an expectation of privacy, or, in fact, was using a VPN or other methods of encryption required by her employer, thus rendering the captured "open" packets unreadable by Google.
I'm sure there are 1,000 Wi-Fi experts that Google could call upon for this case for testimony to explain the clear difference.
Since 2006, most routers have included software that explains the risks of unsecured networks and makes it easy to secure networks. Further, the FCC's Part 15 rules don't impose any expectations of privacy, and various state laws about network sniffing typically require some effort being made to break into a network in order to claim a violation.
This is an opportunistic lawsuit that I suspect will not reach class-action status, nor will Google settle to dispose of.
The New York Times reports on a number of investigations planned of Google's self-described accident in collecting data from open Wi-Fi networks: Hamburg, Germany, has opened a criminal investigation, while Spain, France, and the Czech Republic's data protection officials plan a look-see, too. The US FTC has been asked by Congress to check out the effort, too. Ireland and England are fine with the data collected in those countries being destroyed.
Walt Mossberg reviews the Sprint Evo 4G: The new phone works on 3G and 4G WiMax networks, and Mossberg tested it in Sprint's oldest WiMax market, Baltimore, and in a new on in D.C. While he notes that he saw the fastest cell performance ever, that still wasn't saying much--he found speeds to be far below the maximum.
Battery life is the real issue. With 4G active, he couldn't get through a day on a full charge. Storage for third-party apps and data is strange. Mossberg writes that there's just 400 MB out of 9 GB available. The phone runs Android, and has a Wi-Fi hotspot feature and tethering available ($30 more per month).
By the 2012 Olympics, Boris Johnson pledges full outdoor Wi-Fi network: The Wifi London project, about which I have heard nothing before today, will result in "every lamppost and every bus stop" having Wi-Fi nearby. Twenty-two London boroughs have signed on to the plan that would rely on existing poles to provide power and lighting.
Excuse my knowing laugh. From the dozens upon dozens of municipal networks that I followed over years, the biggest problem was getting power to poles. In some cities, like St. Louis, this proved impossible because lights were controlled for time of day through large master switches; there was no 24-hour power at the pole. In other cities, poles had ancient wiring, or were incapable of having additional juice pulled. In a very few cases, poles were available in most places with enough power. Very very few cases.
Regulators and commissioners in several countries express dismay and demand information from Google: It will likely turn out that Google collected only nonsense from its passive scanning of open Wi-Fi networks, but nonsense or no, the company will face increased scrutiny all over the world as a result. It's fairly ridiculous the company didn't know it was collecting such data; it shows a lack of oversight of the code base and the results. But it will have serious political and regulatory consequences.
I won't attempt to link to every bit of news, because there's simply too much. The New York Times has a good overview in looking at the Hamburg data protection supervisor, who wants Google to turn over a hard drive containing some of the collected material. (It would be nice if the Times would get WLAN right: wireless local area network, typically called a Wi-Fi network, rather than "wireless area network," which is just wrong.)
Google hasn't yet responded to that, although it has destroyed some data (under third-party supervision) collected in the Republic of Ireland after an order from the Irish Data Protection Authority. The UK Information Commission Office has made a similar order.
Skyhook Wireless's chief, Ted Morgan, explained to Motley Fool how his firm had specifically avoided capturing any data other than simple beaconing details. He told the Fool, "when you are doing the passive sniffing you have to make sure you are not accessing private network messages. It's not a hard thing to do; you just do not record those messages."
The FTC in the US will likely open an inquiry into Google's data collection, too, the Wall Street Journal says. Canada's regulators have said they will contact counterparts in nine other countries to discuss Google's actions, USA Today says.
Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, is trying to wave his hands to get rid of the problem. The Times Online reports that at a Google conference in England he said that "the company had not authorised the activity of its Street View cars"--another way of trying to pass the buck. You're the CEO. If the company is engaged in the activity, then you are responsible for it, regardless of which manager screwed up.
Alaska Airlines has its first six equipped craft: The service launched on six 737-800s, and is free for airline Visa card customers through 31 July. Other customers will pay Gogo Inflight Internet customary charges. The 737-800 and -900s will be equipped first, followed later this year by 737-400 and -700s.
Alaska had first partnered with Row 44, but after numerous delays decided to go for a service that was already in effect, despite the airline having a fair number of routes over the Pacific and to Mexico where Aircell's service can't yet reach. Alaska coverage is expected in early 2011, according to the airline's Web site. (How'd you like to be on the Aircell Alaska install team? Sounds interesting.)
In a smart move, flights from Seattle and Portland to Alaska are currently free, because service will be available for so brief a period.
The mouse roared, the elephant lumbers forth: T-Mobile, as the distant fourth-largest carrier in the US by subscribers and revenue, needs to have a gimmick. It chose to use its limited 3G network allocation to push for the fastest possible flavor available right now. The firm went to HSPA 7.2 network wide (including backhaul support) before AT&T; AT&T is using HSPA 7.2 but says it hasn't lit it up nationally due to backhaul issues.
T-Mobile several months ago put HSPA+ (21 Mbps raw downstream) on the table, and early this year said it would have the coasts deployed by summer, most of the rest of its coverage area (which is approaching AT&T's and Sprint's) by the end of 2010. AT&T seems stuck on its HSPA 7.2 upgrade with LTE looming as the next network refresh. AT&T even said last year it wouldn't deploy HSPA+.
I guess the future revenue of LTE seems too far in the future, and AT&'s CEO said on Friday (official press release not yet on its site) that it would roll out HSPA+ apparently the 14.4 Mbps flavor) on its US network to cover locations serving 250m people by year's end.
Sprint covers north of 230m people with 3G; Verizon somewhere over 280m; T-Mobile's 3G network passes more than 200m at last check, but it has licenses to allow coverage as large as Verizon (whether that's a good return on investment is a separate question).
Verizon continues to have the short stick in this 3G/3.5G/4G competition. It's EVDO Rev. A service tops out at 3.1 Mbps, and while it will have a super-fast LTE network running with several Mbps downstream service in late 2010, comparable coverage to T-Mobile or AT&T's HSPA+ network won't come until perhaps 2012. Sprint comes in third with Clearwire planning just 120m people covered with 4G WiMax service in 2010.
Google says it's inadvertently been recording packets from unsecured Wi-Fi networks while sniffing for publicly available information: Remember how Google said its scans of Wi-Fi networks while carrying out Street View photography were innocuous? Remember how I defended the practice, and said nothing in what Google was doing was different or more personally invasive than Skyhook Wireless or others? Oops.
Google now reveals that it's discovered code written in 2006 as the basis of its Wi-Fi scanning system in Street View contains a portion that samples data on networks that aren't secured, presumably as a tool for statistical analysis of what people are doing. That's a no-no in 2006 and today, and may result in fines and consent agreements.
Google might have caused themselves lasting harm. I can believe this was unintentional; the company is, frankly, sloppy about managing its projects. The firm said it has 600 GB of such data, mostly fragmentary as the Street View vehicles are in constant motion. Given the petabytes of Street View imagery, that's also plausible that it didn't notice the 600 GB of other data collected over years.
Street View was taken off the road briefly, and the company has said it won't be scanning for Wi-Fi temporarily as it assesses what's happened. I wouldn't be surprised if the firm is pressured into agreeing to not gather Wi-Fi info at all in the future by various countries, or possibly worldwide. That's good news for Skyhook Wireless, as it would be the only worldwide purveyor of such information.
I don't feel too foolish about my previous posts, because I was discussing the publicly available information that Wi-Fi networks announce from access points. The privacy concerns raised have to do with how such information could be associated with private information (Google searches, email, and other elements). I have to say that Google's accident makes that kind of association far more reasonable to raise, intentional or not.
Update: The German privacy commissioner has responded angrily.
TechCrunch reports that the Android 2.2 mobile operating system update brings a couple terrific features to capable phones: The release will add USB tethering, in which a phone acts like a 3G modem for a laptop over USB, and Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot, which lets a phone share a 3G connection to nearby devices over Wi-Fi.
Of course, providing these options in the OS isn't the same as carriers enabling them. Verizon allows hotspot use from the Palm Pro models (Pre and Pixi), dropping the price for the feature to $0 recently. And Verizon and Sprint allow tethering at various costs for phones.
But AT&T doesn't allow tethering or mobile hotspots, presumably because the network can't support the additional usage at any price. AT&T's network buildout is at a fever pitch this year, and one expects the iPad deployment will push the needle into the red even more.
Protect your Wi-Fi network in Germany, or pay the piper (in German): The piper, in this case, being music industry or other rightsholders. Germany's Bundesgerichsthof, the highest appeals court for civil and criminal matters, ruled in a case stretching back to 2006 about a song downloaded from an open Wi-Fi access point by a third party--not the owner of the access point, who had left the location unprotected.
The court said that actual and punitive damages weren't warranted in such a case, but that a kind of statutorily defined penalty of €100 did apply. (The term is Abmahnung, which seems to be a sort of compulsory penalty that doesn't require a court case to be levied.)
Update: A commenter who knows more than I do (that's why we like comments) explains that the fee is a "civil pre-trial settlement to avoid a costly civil trial if the facts are clear."
The court said, "Private individuals can be held responsible for default judgment, but not for claims of damages, when an unauthorized third party makes use of an insufficiently protected wireless LAN access point for copyright infringement."
The decision is welcome in Germany, because it removes a lot of worry about unlimited fees (such as have been levied only directly against filesharers in the US), and the fees that can be collected are small enough that the various copyright holders may not pursue them.
Nonetheless, the precedent now allows these fees to be collected, and that does change the equation.
Germans thus warned ought to enable any kind of encryption. The linked article notes that even WEP, though it's easily broken, would qualify because then the third party would have to break into the network (a fairly severe crime in Germany since 2007), making the access point's owner not liable.
The head of Electronic Frontiers Australia is making ridiculous statements about Wi-Fi positioning: Google is being excoriated now in Australia for failing to disclose that it is scanning public Wi-Fi network signals while driving for Street View image captures and mapping. The electronic privacy advocacy group EFA's vice-chair Geordie Guy is way off base in his technical statements about this matter.
As a refugee from Google Buzz and someone who deleted his Facebook account permanently (or so I hope) several weeks ago, I have no truck with the notion that corporations gathering and collating information about me will use it appropriately. Buzz was proof of that. Buzz was a betrayal of Gmail users.
But there's a sky-is-falling attitude here about Wi-Fi signal scanning that needs to be fought back against, because it's simply wrong. There is no sensible way for Google to associate specific Wi-Fi networks with specific queries or individuals because the Wi-Fi network scan simply doesn't contain information that's sent out as part of a query to Google. (I'd be terrified if it did, however.)
As I wrote on 23 April 2010, Google--like Skyhook Wireless, which is mentioned in this Australian article--only scans publicly available passively scannable data.
EFA's Guy says, Google is "collecting data that could enable it to physically map that information to a physical street and presumably a physical house." I categorically reject that. The Wi-Fi network name and BSSID (the unique MAC address assigned to a Wi-Fi access point) aren't associated with data that's sent over a browser. Google can't determine the gateway IP address or a public IP address from a Wi-Fi router signal, nor do browser queries contain that information.
If you're using Google's extensions for geolocation--which is part of the latest release of its Chrome browser--Google could conceivably take the Wi-Fi information your browser provides as part of geolocation data and associate it with queries...but it's already doing that. If you let Google look up your location, well, they have your location now, don't they?
Guy goes on to ask technically inaccurate questions that weaken his valid privacy concerns. "Google talks about wireless routers at home but what about the printers, computers, mobile phones and other devices that might be sending out wireless information?" Those devices don't send out beaconing information. On unsecured networks, you could sniff that data, which is likely illegal to do in most developed nations, including the United States, Europe, and Australia. I don't suspect Google is pulling that information down. On secured networks, that information isn't actually available even to sniffers.
Guy also says the EFA is unaware of similar efforts. He apparently wasn't previously aware of Skyhook Wireless, which has been driving all Australia for a few years, along with a good hunk of the rest of the world. Guy excuses this by stating that Skyhook doesn't have cached search information against which to correlate scans, but I've already explained why that's not a valid concern in the form stated.
He goes on (this guy doesn't stop) to explain incorrectly what a MAC address is: "A MAC address on a home wireless connection or any other piece of electronics that uses Wi-Fi is a serial number, it's unique." Sure, but since when does a serial number get you anything about a product or a device?
Guy says, speciously, "If Google rang you up...and asked you to read out a serial number of your mobile phone, what would you say? I'd tell them its none of their business. If I saw them on the street with binoculars trying to read it, I'd close the curtains."
Right. And the strawman here? The Wi-Fi router address that's being publicly broadcast is like the street number on your house, not the serial number on your mobile phone.
A more sensible response is in the article from Australia's privacy commissioner. And might I say, bravo, Oz, for having such a commissioner. "From a privacy perspective, our preliminary inquiries have indicated that the information about Wi-Fi data that Google is collecting would not be considered personal information under the Privacy Act," said Karen Curtis. Right.
If you don't want your Wi-Fi router's public data that doesn't identify you personally scanned, don't use Wi-Fi or set your network to "closed," which prevents the kind of passive scanning from being performed by Google et al. If you use Wi-Fi, it uses public unlicensed airwaves, and the notion that some data might be leaked is just part of the rules of the game.
You're not obliged to use Wi-Fi, Guy.
Trustive has released a fascinating worldwide connectivity plan that charges per MB for 3G and per minute for Wi-Fi: I've seen variants of this before, but I believe Trustive has the only service with this scope.
It works this way: you sign up for €99, which includes a €54 credit for service and a Trustive SIM card. If you don't have an unlocked USB 3G modem, Trustive offers one for €150. There's a €15 shipping fee, too. Trustive confirmed that shipping covers international transit.
With that in hand, you can connect to Wi-Fi and 3G network in over 70 countries (Trustive provides a list). All Wi-Fi access is billed at 9 euro cents (€0.09) per minute, with no minimum, regardless of data transferred.
3G use is tiered: Zone A countries, which include the United States, most European nations, India, and China (but not Canada or Mexico), cost €1.50 per MB. Zone B countries are a whopping €15 per MB.
Trustive has some bugs to work out in its explanation, however. The USA, Canada and other countries appear in both Zone A and Zone B lists with no explanation. And there are typos and some confusing information around the site.
The prices are extraordinarily steep, but in the universe of international roaming, may appear perfectly reasonable.
SiBeam will have first WiGig silicon: Now I missed this interesting announcement yesterday among the news about the Wi-Fi Alliance partnering with the WiGig Alliance for a harmonizing 60 GHz data networking standard. SiBeam, which is behind the WirelessHD group for high-definition video streaming, said it embraces WiGig and will have the first chips out there for WiGig. The chips will support either or both WiGig and WirelessHD.
That's pretty slick, and it pretty much collapses 60 GHz into one unified, non-competing approach. This is great for OEMs, consumers, and businesses. As I noted yesterday, having a single radio over which multiple kinds of activity can take place without conflict means that PC and CE (consumer electronics) makers need only worry about what to layer on top--how applications will work, for instance.
The chip and reference design will be available in June.
GigaOm's title says it all: "The Wi-Fi Juggernaut Rolls on, Crushing Startups": Stacey Higginbotham writes that the cooperative agreement between the Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig Alliance to harmonize 60 GHz wireless networking standards spells doom, despair, and agony for any competing efforts.
For Ars Technica in February 2009, I looked at what was once six and had settled to three competing approaches for wireless high-definition video.
Since then, UWB dropped out as a competitive offering for wireless high-def, and that left us with just Amimon's WHDI, which works in 5 GHz, and SiBeam's 60 GHz flavor standardized under WirelessHD.
I have been dubious about WHDI, because it relies on organized degradation to push through gigabits per second over a medium that should be able to carry no more than 600 Mbps with today's networking technology. Amimon is clever, but clever don't necessarily feed the bulldog.
SiBeam, however, should be able to deliver a complementary technology to the WiGig/Wi-Fi effort; WiGig and Wi-Fi aren't looking at wireless video, but at PC and consumer electronics networking.
On a related note, Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet says that "governments...must approve use of the frequency spectrum" in 60 GHz, which is incorrect. Many regulators, including the FCC, have already approved large swaths of unlicensed use in 60 GHz. The real issue among different countries and regulatory domains is the amount of 60 GHz bandwidth, not whether it's available.
Update: I received a press release later in the morning trumpeting chipset figures. "Amimon announced it has surpassed half a million units in chipset sales and orders." Sales and orders. Huh. "Also, Amimon will pass the 1 million chipset sales milestone by Holiday Season of this year." Sales predictions.
Good news for those of us that like harmony in standards-land: The Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig Alliances have agreed to cooperate on technology for networking in the 60 GHz band. This is terrific, and not unexpected. The two groups share many members, and a fairly common purpose, distinct from the WirelessHD group which is using 60 GHz for streaming high-def video. (The announcement was set for 10 May 2010 at midnight, but some outlets broke the embargo.)
The 60 GHz band, also known as a millimeter band for its wavelength, can allow up to 7 Gbps in short-range data transmission in the US and many other countries, with multiple channel configurations allowed to operate in the same space. The short wavelength means short propagation, mostly in room.
The IEEE has a 60 GHz task group (802.11ad) that's paired with its sub-6 GHz 1 Gbps group (802.11ac) as part of two separate moves forward to faster WLANs. The Wi-Fi Alliance would likely certify specific characteristics of 802.11ad for 60 GHz.
But it's been seen as quite likely that a single Wi-Fi adapter in the future would handle 2.4 GHz for compatibility and range, 5 GHz for performance and reduced interference (also where 802.11ac is focused), and 60 GHz for short-range super-fast data transfers. Having the WiGig group's specification now aligned with the future of 802.11 and Wi-Fi will make it easier for manufacturers, computer systems' makers, and home and business users.
Competing standards in computer hardware have been clearly shown to stall market development. Competing offerings differentiated by design, features, and integration are were the money is at.
Fascinating report says high-power Wi-Fi adapter bundled with network key cracker: Owen Fletcher reports from China for the IDG News Service that kits are being sold for easy cracking of WEP/WPA-protected networks. Fletcher apparently bought one for about US$24 (¥165) at a bazaar, including setup help. The kit is a CD-ROM with software, a six-inch antenna and Wi-Fi adapter, and a live boot CD.
While WEP is easily cracked, sometimes in seconds, WPA requires a large precomputed set of keys in the terabytes. The reporter cracked a 40-bit WEP key ("sugar") in an hour, which is quite a while. That implies that the router had only strong initialization vectors and other improvements in WEP that typically only forestall cracking by minutes. (With weak IVs, a subset of the counters used to create separate keying material for each packet, an older or unpatched router's key could be broken in 30 seconds to about 5 minutes.)
Joe Sharkey channels 2005: This travel column in the New York Times reads a bit odd. Nearly everything in the article, exception the proliferation of mobile devices with Wi-Fi built in, could have been written in 2005, or even earlier.
"The days when business travelers routinely fretted about the availability of Internet connections in hotels are gone, or rapidly fading." That started fading long ago, when most hotels had put in Internet service. Five years ago, the majority of hotels had some form of access, with most of that service in rooms. In the last five years, it's been backfill for the few remaining properties and rooms, with more Wi-Fi than Ethernet in the mix.
Sharkey even uses a term I haven't heard broadly used in years: "Others carry an AirCard, a small modem that can link laptops to the Internet using cellular networks." First, it's a generic, so it shouldn't be capitalized; second, it's a mobile broadband modem, a 3G modem, a USB cell modem, or whatever. Aircard was a mainstream media invented term for something that already had a name.
With more people traveling with 3G modems and devices with 3G access, the odds of needing hotel Wi-Fi is likely declining daily. Hotels have to cope with that loss of revenue, just like they lost long-distance calling and fax revenue over the last 15 years.
The only real news in the column is the increasing shift to free service, driven by a move in the United States (but not internationally) to more no-cost Wi-Fi. Most Wi-Fi hotspots in the US are now free or free-with-purchase (or Starbucks's deal: two hours free with a single purchase on a registered card).
Clearwire has changed terms of a deal with Intel that required support of WiMax through late 2011: GigaOm reports that on the call, Clearwire's CFO said that the prior contract required Clearwire to use WiMax through 28 November 2011. Now, either party can back out with 30 days' notice on that commitment.
Intel has driven WiMax to its current state after apparently having dissatisfaction in the early 2000s with the direction, nature, and speed of cell carriers' drive towards mobile broadband. Without Intel, WiMax wouldn't have proceeded in the US, and perhaps would have stalled worldwide.
At the time of Intel's first real commitment, 3G networks were slow and hardly built out in much of the world, and the roadmap for faster speeds wasn't fully in place. A CDMA and GSM battle was still underway in the US, and LTE was still on the drawing boards.
The 2010 landscape is entirely different. AT&T and Verizon have the spectrum to deploy LTE and the commitment. LTE is being piloted all over, and is moving into production.
While hundreds of WiMax networks are in place worldwide--in part due to its availability, relative ease, and fairly wide range of equipment across many bands and encodings--most carriers plan a migration to LTE. In fact, WiMax in its next version and LTE may not be that far apart in terms of the underlying technology, just the encoding mechanisms.
Intel, Google, some cable giants, and others have a big investment in the Clearwire portion of Sprint (as does Sprint itself), while Motorola, Samsung, Zyxel, and others have poured billions into hardware development for consumer and carrier gear. But if it's not going to wind up being cost effective or competitive, a transition to LTE makes more sense than spending billions more heedlessly.
With a transformed market, Intel may be less concerned about bandwidth and content control, walled gardens, limited speeds, and other factors that led it down this decade-long path.
The biggest problem I see with Clearwire switching to LTE is that while Clearwire has extensive 2.5 GHz holdings that would let them deploy nationally with high data rates, the 2.5 GHz range requires about four times as many base stations as AT&T and Verizon's 700 MHz range to provide the same footprint, while penetrating indoors more poorly.
It may be that less equipment is needed at each location in 2.5 GHz because more gear is spread out than for 700 MHz towers, but securing real estate and operating four times as many nodes introduces fixed costs above any savings in having less gear in each place.
Fascinating development. Were Clearwire to exit WiMax, that would put a pall over the issue of producing devices in enough quantity for that technology.
IDG News Service reports that Apple has a version of the iPhone with China's WAPI security method on the road to release: Owen Fletcher at IDG News Service writes that China's spectrum regulator lists an iPhone with GSM-flavored 3G (used by Unicom) and Wi-Fi with WAPI alongside other encryption method.
The WAPI method is a proprietary measure for authentication used in China, with most of the spec secret, and controlled by a consortium of firms with strong ties to Chinese government. In order to use WAPI in the past, an outside firm would have to partner with one of this consortium, which could lead to the leak of intellectual property, as has happened in the past. China has cracked down on some aspects of IP theft and unauthorized manufacturing, but it's still a rampant problem.
While the inside details of WAPI are unknown, I have long stated that it must contain backdoors to allow easy monitoring by government officials, because that's simply how things work in China.