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Aircell has unwired its 1,000th aircraft: It's a Delta DC9 flying out of Detroit; lucky passengers will get free Wi-Fi access. Aircell says one-third of mainline aircraft flying each day in the US have its service onboard, for nearly 4,000 flights each day. Aircell's contracts should push it to 2,000 craft in 2011.
The question is, however, whether Gogo Inflight Internet will grow large enough to be profitable, for airlines to continue to want it, and for Aircell to thrive. It's impossible to know. None of the parties involved release enough numbers to perform a real analysis, and my estimates based on the limited data released indicate that the revenue is good but not great.
Aircell's service becomes most useful when it's predictably available for the routine flights of regular businesspeople. Then a fixed monthly subscription will make sense, companies will cover it for increased productivity--and there will be one more inescapable workplace in which you will toil. Excuse me: save time in the air.
Virgin Mobile has upped the ante on cellular data: Despite being owned by Sprint Nextel, Virgin Mobile is challenging all four major US carriers with an as-you-need-it, no-contract $40 unlimited 3G data plan. The plan lasts for 30 days. Virgin previously had four levels of service topping out at 5 GB for $60 used within 30 days. The new tiers are $10 for 100 MB over 10 days or $40 for unlimited data during a 30-day period.
Because Virgin Mobile also offers the MiFi cellular router for a low price ($150, no commitment), it now has a killer offering. Use a MiFi with an unlimited plan and avoid the overage fees or throttling from every other competitor.
This also guts tethering plans. I'm an AT&T customer with an iPhone 4, and I also own a 3G iPad (with no current active service plan). I typically now travel with the iPad and activate a plan on the road. I had figured on my next trip in which I needed a laptop, I would switch to tethering on my iPhone 4 (from a $15/200 MB plan to a required $25/2 GB plan plus $20 for tethering). That now seems unappealing.
Instead, I should pay the $150 for the Virgin Mobile MiFi, and pay $40 whenever I'm traveling. Then my iPhone and laptop can both use Wi-Fi to access Sprint's 3G network, and if I'm traveling with colleagues, I can share access with them as well.
Sprint recently dropped its MiFi offering (so far as I can tell) in favor of the Overdrive 3G/4G, which works on its Clearwire division's 4G WiMax network (no limits on use) and the 3G CDMA network with a 5 GB cap. (It's $350 upfront or $100 with a two-year contract at $60/mo.) You can also go to Clearwire and buy a similar product (the Spot 4G+) with a $55/mo service plan for the same terms.
Sprint puts 3G in femtocells at last: Sprint had the first entry in the femtocell market, those tiny cell base station that a subscriber installs in the home and plugs into his or her own broadband connection. But Sprint and later Verizon's femtos were 2G (1xRTT) only. For calls, that was no problem, but the data side would run at 2G, or a phone would make a weak 3G connection and reduce the macro cell base station's spectrum efficiency. If you had a CDMA phone with Wi-Fi, of course, your phone would simply use your local network for data.
Sprint's new 3G EV-DO device won't be sold or available for sale. Qualifying customers who have reception problems indoors will be offered the device. Sprint's cover is about 75 percent of the US population versus Verizon's over 95 percent. Sprint leans on Verizon's network and pays roaming fees--and cancels customers who roam too much.
A 3G femtocell could preserve Sprint customers who normally have good service except at home or in an office.
Fierce Wireless reports that there's no special plan or fee for the 3G femtocell. The 2G cell that Sprint offers for sale comes with a $5 monthly usage fee, and an optional $10 unlimited US calling plan for a single line or $20 for a family plan.
AT&T released its 3G MicroCell in limited markets for its GSM network earlier in the year. It's $150 upfront and no monthly fee for coverage improvement, or $50 with a rebate if you sign up for a pricey $20-per-line unlimited calling plan. The calling plan is so spendy, that it likely makes more sense to get a better overall plan than the femtocell.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has launched its free Wi-Fi service: SFO is among the largest airports in the US to have pulled fee service off the terminal menu, replacing it with free. Denver (DEN) was the first large airport to make that choice a few years ago; Seattle's Seatac (SEA) went free earlier this year.
Canadian school board will keep Wi-Fi on: Terrific reporting (no byline, or I'd praise the reporter) on a sticky issue. A school board in the central Ontario area of Simcoe County is refusing to turn off Wi-Fi because of scaremongering from parents who allege a direct connection between symptoms of ill health and the presence of signals.
Great summary in the second paragraph: "There is no scientific or medical evidence to show children complaining about headaches, dizziness and nausea are being made ill by the Wi-Fi in their classrooms, the Simcoe County District School Board said Monday."
The school board said only "about a dozen parents" complained about symptoms out of 50,000 students' families. And, of course, unless you live inside a Faraday Cage, you're exposed to varying amounts of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation constantly from radio stations, cordless phones, police radio, cell towers, and so on.
Wi-Fi uses an extremely low signal, and the exposure for a kid over a school day is likely vastly lower than the same exposure to cell base station signal output or from cell phones many of their compatriots carry.
I suppose these parents have already made sure none of the homes near them have Wi-Fi base stations, and that they don't use electricity in the home, since electrical cords and devices produce EMF, too.
I've said it many times before: focusing on wireless signals as a cause of a constellation of nebulous symptoms doesn't help those suffering. It's a desire to have a single-source solution, like mercury in vaccines leads to autism. As studies now show, removing thimerosal from vaccines hasn't had any impact in any country on autism diagnosis rates, and the original fraud who suggested such has been thoroughly discredited.
Devicescape will offer SoftGPS, another way for device makers to obtain coordinates for mobile equipment on the go, GPS or no: I've written before that Devicescape and Skyhook Wireless are two of my favorite companies in the back-end Wi-Fi space because what they do is so clever. Both have been around for years; both are seeing the payoff for consistently working towards intelligible goals. And both rely on their software or data being used by other firms.
Of course, they're now in competition for some of the location services dollars. It makes sense. Skyhook Wireless bootstrapped itself into the Wi-Fi positioning business through brute force driving. It still uses driving as a primary component in how it provides fairly precise latitude and longitude based on an analysis of Wi-Fi network IDs and the corresponding signal strength around a device.
But Skyhook also gathers data, massive massive amounts of data, from mobile devices, largely smartphones. Each time a smartphone snapshots a network environment and sends that information to Skyhook, the company not only replies with GPS-like data, but it adds the collected information into its databases to refine, update, or expand its knowledge.
Devicescape thus finds itself in a similar footing. Without having fleets of wardriving trucks, Devicescape does have its software installed in millions of devices worldwide, and gathers the same kind of snapshots. The company has also collected the information and positions of millions of hotspots. This information put together leads inexorably to the desire to make money off it. You don't collect a billion (or 10 billion?) pieces of such information without wanting it to generate some cash in return.
The demand for location services is extremely high now that the pieces are in place by many content providers to deliver general and specialized information relating to where you're precisely standing. That ranges across simple mapping, navigation and directions, advertising, yellow page-like business data, and augmented reality (where information is overlaid on a live video stream of your surroundings, for instance).
While the focus has been on smartphones and other cellular devices, that may be misplaced. In most such devices, GPS (and, most of the time, Assisted GPS) provides primary information with Wi-Fi and cellular triangulation a secondary or supplementary factor.
But what about the thousands of current and future mobile doodads that won't have a GPS chip, but for which location is a useful component? That's where Devicescape and Skyhook will contend. And Devicescape has an advantage there.
Devicescape has relationships with many hotspot networks and the software that allows authentication to free and open networks. That means Devicescape's SoftGPS will likely be able to connect to its back-end servers quite a lot of the time, where Skyhook will be relying on a network connection made by the user, or a 2G or 3G cellular data connection.
Both companies can offer "deferred" lookup, too. That's what I get with my Eye-Fi cards, the SD camera cards with Wi-Fi built-in. The Eye-Fi (with the right model or add-on subscription) captures Wi-Fi scans along with photos. When you use its software to transfer photos, a Skyhook lookup happens and adds geotagging (EXIF metadata) to the images.
I tend to disagree with my colleague Om Malik, who writes at this GigaOm site that Devicescape "may find itself outgunned" in competition with Google and Skyhook, while contending with Apple and Nokia no longer needing to outsource for such Wi-Fi-based information. (Apple recently stopped using Skyhook in its iOS: neither the iPad nor iOS 4 uses that firm's data.)
Rather, the market for location is expanding, and not everyone wants to be in bed with Google, nor will Skyhook have the right mix or technology for each potential customer. And, Om omits the fact that Google has agreed to be or is prohibited from collecting Wi-Fi data from Street View in many countries, although Android-based location collection is likely unimpaired.
The addition of Devicescape to the Wi-Fi location market seems like a clear win for everyone but Skyhook, which now has to contend with a potentially strong and savvy competitor that knows plenty about device-level driver and OS integration. For manufacturers, service providers, and customers, there will likely be a faster pace of devices knowing where we are.
Wal-Mart's Sam's Club warehouse stores will offer free Wi-Fi at all 500 locations by November: I'm not sure why it's necessary to add Wi-Fi in these stores, because they don't encourage shoppers to linger or waste time. However, the press release suggests coupled with a Sam's Club app that's due out for several mobile platforms that you'll be able to pull up much more product information in the store (as well as price shop).
The LA Times files the latest in an endless series of articles about cafés opting out of a Wi-Fi, but with some new insight: Since I filed what I believe is the first in this series of "coffeeshops shut down Wi-Fi" articles in the New York Times back in 2005--"Some Cafe Owners Pull the Plug on Lingering Wi-Fi Users"--I have read hundreds of similar articles, and been quoted in some.
Most recently, my friend Cyrus Farivar filed a story for ABC Radio National in Australia about the Actual Café in Oakland, Calif. The owner of the Actual Café was looking for a sense of community, just like the Victrola coffeeshop owners I profiled in 2005, and found laptops interfered with that.
The LA Times piece has a similar structure, but a different tack. Many of the articles written to this point have been about time-of-day or day-of-week wireless network bans. But I'm seeing an increasing trend towards "no Wi-Fi" at all, or a full-on computer/device ban. Nick Bilton, who heads The New York Times Bits blog, was told he couldn't use his Kindle to read a book at a coffeeshop in Manhattan a few days ago.
Rejecting Wi-Fi or computers has finally migrated from a quirky story to an actual trend. When I wrote the 2005 article, I was trying to state firmly that this wasn't a trend, but it was interesting. In the years since, until perhaps the introduction of the iPad this year, it still seemed like anecdotes. But the anecdotes are now really piling up.
Starbucks shift to free Wi-Fi all the time, instead of a more limited and complicated method of obtaining access for two hours at a go, may have become the rallying cry for independent shops or small chains to set themselves apart. You want free Wi-Fi? Go to Starbucks, you sheep. If you want good coffee or tea, a place to think and talk, and community, come to us. (I've cribbed this idea from the LA Times article, and it's a good one.)
Of course, this depends on the cafés size, the patrons it attracts, its location, and its owners' or managers' feelings. In Seattle, we have a huge range of opinion and configuration. Some cafés make sure there are outlets everywhere, put in small tables, and encourage long visits. Others block outlets, require or encourage regular purchases, and don't allow or want computer use.
The LA Times quotes an owner describing typical camping problem (from Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco):
"We just realized it was a mistake. People would just camp out for hours, literally eight hours on one cup of coffee. We only had 75 seats, and those were always full. It killed the vibe, too."
But the article also quotes the opposite view, from a Seattle coffeeshop.
There's no monolithic problem or answer here. Any time people feel like they can spread over a table for four by themselves for eight hours on a single cup of joe (or bring one themselves; it happens, unbelievably), you're going to have problems.
AT&T's Chicago hotzone was launched today, the third in its pilot for offloading 3G data to Wi-Fi for subscribers: AT&T said its Chicago hotzone covers "Wrigleyville," the area around Wrigley Field. AT&T's first hotzone was installed in Times Square (Manhattan), and second in Charlotte, NC. The zones are entirely for its own customers, a way for the company to keep high data rates at a lower cost while conserving 3G spectrum use.
A newspaper reports that a strong password prevented a neighbors' entry to a Wi-Fi network: Next time, Ted Murphy should try 123456789, the third most-popular bad password.
GigaOm notes that Clearwire's 201 target of 120m people covered in 2010 could be hard to reach given its 51m passed numbers today: Stacey Higginbotham writes that Verizon's expected 2010 launch of a 100m-passed LTE 4G network could put a crimp in Clearwire's plans. However, as she notes, Clearwire's 4G pricing and limits (none on most plans) could provide an advantage over AT&T and Verizon, which place relatively tight limits on mobile broadband today.