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Recent Entries

Amtrak Cascades Run Gains Free Wi-Fi
O2 Switches to Free Hotspots in UK, Plans Massive Expansion
Specious Reasoning on In-Flight Electronic Interference
Wi-Fi Direct Update
Next iPhone May Be GSM/CDMA Hybrid
Boingo Wireless Files for Public Offering
That WPA/Amazon Crack Story
Virgin Mobile Throttles Unlimited Service
Verizon's iPhone Full of Tradeoffs, Good and Bad
WPA Cracked? Unlikely, Despite Headlines

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January 2011 Archives

January 31, 2011

Amtrak Cascades Run Gains Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

The Vancouver, BC to Eugene, Oregon runs gains free Wi-Fi: How do you get people to choose the train over a plane or car? You make it comfortable, fast, reliable, and useful. Amtrak has long advertised the notion of getting work done, and on some of the Cascades run (from Vancouver through Seattle and Portland down to Eugene) you can get a business-class seat with a power outlet. Now, a Wi-Fi plan long in the testing is available and at no cost.

Amtrak provides Wi-Fi service on the Northeast Acela run, and many regional train operations also offer Internet access. Over 800,000 passengers rode part or all of the Cascades line during 2010, the high-water mark for ridership. I have a trip planned to Portland in February, and might opt for train over car because of the Wi-Fi.

Service is free for now, and may remain free; it depends on usage and other factors. Internet service is typically installed to provide operational service for the train line, as well as passenger access, but it's unclear on whether this is just an amenity.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:46 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments

January 26, 2011

O2 Switches to Free Hotspots in UK, Plans Massive Expansion

By Glenn Fleishman

Mobile operator O2 will no longer restrict access to its UK hotspots, and plans to make a vast network: O2 has included free access at about 450 locations with some of its mobile subscription plans. Now, it's opening up its network, using advertising to subsidize it. The Register reports that free use will require giving up your phone number, too, in order to receive a text message with an activation code.

O2 said it would build out nearly double the number of locations operated by current partners, The Cloud and BT OpenZone, which is 7,500. I find it hard to imagine that it can easily find 13,000 venues (the number the Register reported) in which to offer service.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that The Cloud will be bought by the satellite television operator BSkyB to extend its reach. BSkyB uses terrestrial DSL alongside its satellite offerings. Adding Wi-Fi allows it to compete with BT, which operates the OpenZone hotspot network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:07 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Home, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 21, 2011

Specious Reasoning on In-Flight Electronic Interference

By Glenn Fleishman

Personal electronics might cause interference with airplane avionics, but there's seemingly no proof: For unknown reasons, the New York Times trots out a story that could have been written at nearly any point in the last five years about the potential for personal electronics to interact with avionics (airplane electronics and control systems) to deleterious effect.

I've followed this story for years, and there's no new information in this piece. Over a decade, the only association of passenger gear and cockpit trouble is from "at least 10" reports by pilots in the United States, all of which are anecdotal, and, ostensibly, none of which have proven repeatable. If they were repeatable, we'd have different restrictions and rules, instead of ever-fewer ones.

The article notes the study done with the permission of the FAA and airlines that showed there was always at least one cell phone on during a flight, if not more than one. Today, one would guess that dozens of electronics are actively seeking and producing signals in a standby mode.

Occam's Razor would suggest that avionic disruption would be commonplace with the sheer quantity and variety of devices across every plane model currently in operation. This has not occurred. The article doesn't discuss that disconnect between concern, repeatability, and reality.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:28 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | 1 Comment

January 20, 2011

Wi-Fi Direct Update

By Glenn Fleishman

Stephen Lawson at IDG News Service rounds up the status of Wi-Fi Direct: I've thought Wi-Fi Direct is quite promising since its introduction, and Lawson explains where all the support for the standard is to be found, along with why it's hardly available. Wi-Fi Direct is a simple way to create a kind of ad hoc, WPA2-secured network between two devices. It will likely be used for file transfer between mobiles and for printing when you don't have access to the network to which the printer is attached.

Lawson doesn't mention it, but I keep coming back to operating system support. No mobile OS offers Wi-Fi Direct yet, which keeps the most promising market from using the service. Mac OS X and Windows 7 also don't include support. To use Wi-Fi Direct, you need a device that advertises itself in the right fashion and can create the secure connection, and a client that can connect to it.

Wi-Fi Direct hasn't failed, to be sure, but we're still waiting for real signs of life.

The closest example I use routinely now is AirPrint, built into the iOS 4.2 release for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Apple's solution is extremely limited in this release, allowing straightforward printing from any of its mobile devices to certain models of HP printer. The original AirPrint announcement said it would work with any Bonjour-capable device (that's the standard Apple developed and uses for service announcements on a network). One suspects we'll find that in the upcoming 4.3 release.

In the meantime, I use Printopia, a $10 utility that makes any Bonjour printer appears as if it's a qualified HP device. It also lets you "print" to PDF to the computer on which it's running, and print a PDF directly to Dropbox.

With AirPrint, I select the action button in any program that supports the standard set of forwarding commands, like send via email, and choose the Print option. I'm given the choice to select among printers (real and virtual), and then the item is sent without fuss.

That's what Wi-Fi Direct should work like, with little additional fuss, and I'll be happy when that notion is realized in hardware and software.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:53 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Standards | No Comments

January 18, 2011

Next iPhone May Be GSM/CDMA Hybrid

By Glenn Fleishman

Apple reported to put GSM/CDMA chip from Qualcomm into next iPhone: It's hard to take rumors too seriously months ahead of the typical June introduction of the next iPhone model, but this is a credible notion. Qualcomm has offered a GSM/CDMA hybrid chip to allow worldwide (and intra-country) roaming for some time. There are few world phones with both GSM and CDMA. Apple could have a big hit by using a combined offering, even as it reduces its costs of maintaining two separate production lines.

Apple's first CDMA will be out 3 February to existing Verizon Wireless customers who signed up to pre-order. Customers new to the carrier can get phones starting 10 February. While worldwide CDMA subscriptions are below a billion, and a relatively modest percentage have 3G access, it's not a market to ignore. Other phone platforms, like Android with Verizon, will fill those niches.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:31 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular | No Comments

January 14, 2011

Boingo Wireless Files for Public Offering

By Glenn Fleishman

Boingo Wireless gives us a peek under the kimono: It's rare to get hard, audited, under-threat-of-government-rules numbers in the Wi-Fi hotspot industry. Now we have some. Boingo fired up its operations in 2001, and has taken over nine years to reach profitability under accounting (GAAP) rules. The firm has nearly $35m on hand, which means that on a non-GAAP basis, they've been putting money into the bank for years.

The firm took in $46m in revenue in the first nine months of 2009 ($66m for the year), and $59m in the first nine months of 2010. In 2010 up to 30 September, Boingo made $5.3m after tax and before accounting munges. Boingo's closest public competitor, iPass, saw $171m in revenue but a $13m loss in 2009; iPass's revenue has declined slightly in each of the last several quarters, grossing $117m in the first nine months of 2010, losing $3m on that. iPass offers a suite of roaming and remote-office services, as well as hotspot aggregation.

But what I'm most interested in, of course, is subscribers and sessions. Page 31 has the detail. The company has 191,000 monthly subscribers, nearly 10 percent of which cancel a subscription each month. Boingo charges $10/mo in the US for laptops and $8/mo for mobile. The international subscription is much higher, but there's no breakout between US and international accounts. A 24-hour pass is $8.

The filing reports 5.8 million sessions from Jan. to Sept. 2010 (all subsequent numbers I rely on use that period of time). The revenue from subscribers was $17m, making the average monthly subscription fee $7.50 ($17m/191K subscribers). That seems off and must be due to 30-day trial subscriptions and other promotions. It also indicates a low percentage of international subscribers, which would skew the number much higher.

Revenue from single-use sessions is $13m, which would indicate well over 150,000 yearly single purchases, most of which I'd suspect are in airports. Boingo operates paid Wi-Fi and most of the largest airports that charge for service; the company also gets fees for managing Wi-Fi at some airports.

The wholesale number is fairly staggering at $25m. This comes from outfits that resell Boingo's service under their own name (so-called "white label" service), and mobile carriers like Verizon. Boingo, without mentioning Verizon, attributes $3m in this period from "a mid-2009" acquired wholesale customers. Verizon is providing a reasonable, but not substantial amount of wholesale revenue.

The figures show for-fee Wi-Fi to be much more robust than I'd suspected. Many other firms have come and gone trying to make money selling Wi-Fi as aggregators, airport operators, and other incarnations. Wayport was bought by AT&T, and the majority of AT&T's Wi-Fi is now at venues that charge nothing for the privilege.

The challenge for Boingo is to continue this expansion. Mobile service must be a large component of its growth based on average subscription price, and the clear necessity for mobile users to have easy mobile access. AT&T certainly gave Boingo a gift by switching from unlimited 3G plans for new subscribers as of last June to metered service plans. At $25/mo for 2GB with a smartphone or slate, and $10/GB for overage, an $8/mo hotspot plans sounds positively cheap as a cost-conservation measure.

Boingo will trade under WIFI on NASDAQ, a move that strikes me as slightly odd since the firm doesn't own the trademark to that. Perhaps stock tickers are exempt from that issue.

Disclaimer: None of the analysis in this post is intended as advice on whether or when to purchase or sell Boingo stock. I am not a stock analyst nor trader. I own no shares in Boingo and have no intent to buy shares.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:48 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Financial | 1 Comment

That WPA/Amazon Crack Story

By Glenn Fleishman

It's remarkable how a little information can span the globe so quickly: The Reuters story on 7 January about a new WPA crack overstated the case, as I remarked in "WPA Cracked? Unlikely, Despite Headlines." I tried to get some clarification from Thomas Roth, the researcher cited in the story, who will present details at an upcoming Black Hat conference. He responded to my first request confirming that it was just an enhanced brute-force attack, but not to my second, asking how many characters in a random WPA/WPA2 passphrase could his method crack in the time he cited. (Subsequent attempts to get a response haven't been answered.)

Roth did give more detail to New Scientists, however: his 20-minute cloud computing hosted crack broke a six-character password, which he hasn't revealed. (A short passphrase is unlikely to be random.) Roth says that he has sped up the operation since by a factor of 2.5x.

This is impressive, but shouldn't cause anyone to quiver in their boots about a "WPA crack." It's been known for some time that short WPA/WPA2 passphrases, which are converted through an algorithm into a long TKIP or AES-CCMP key, are weak, but the algorithm isn't vulnerable to a way to speed up brute forcing. Each additional character you add to a WPA passphrase dramatically increases computational difficulty.

At present, I wouldn't risk a passphrase shorter than nine characters randomly derived with a mixed of numbers, punctuation, and upper and lower case. That might hold against cracking (unless quantum computation becomes practical) for decades to come.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:58 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security | 2 Comments

January 13, 2011

Virgin Mobile Throttles Unlimited Service

By Glenn Fleishman

It was too good to last: Virgin Mobile's remarkable $40 MiFi plan with unlimited service will no longer be so remarkable. That $40 bought you unlimited data on Sprint's core (non-roaming) 3G network. Service lasted 30 days, an neither a contract nor cancellation fees were involved. The revised terms, for new plans activated starting 15 February, will throttle your usage after you pass 5 GB within the 30-day period. (The MiFi is a portable cellular router that shares a mobile broadband connection with up to five devices via Wi-Fi. The plan requires separate purchase of a MiFi from Virgin Mobile for $150.)

Just as T-Mobile implemented with their 5 GB, no overage charge plan several months ago, Virgin Mobile will restrict throughput to a low level (probably 50 to 100 Kbps, based on other carriers' actions worldwide) for the remainder of the period. You can immediately purchase another $40 plan, however, to reset the clock.

I assume Virgin Mobile came to the same conclusion that other carriers did. It's likely that up to the 97th percentile of users consumes under 5 GB, that two percent eat 5 to 20 GB per month, and 1 percent consumes tens or even hundreds of GBs. While Virgin Mobile could cancel such accounts, it's not a reliable way of restricting usage and causes hard feelings. Virgin Mobile also certainly did not want to put in overage charges because it's a fully prepaid plan.

Because Virgin Mobile was the lowest cost, I'm also assuming heavy-data users, being mauled with overage fees from Verizon Wireless or Sprint/Clearwire (on the 3G side of the 3G/4G hybrids they offer now), migrated to Virgin Mobile.

Virgin could change the plan's name to "5 GB or 30 days, whichever comes first," which would be like AT&T's iPad plans. But it's perhaps a little kinder than that, offering the throttled rate so you're not suddenly cut off or having to pay the meter right away.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:39 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Financial | No Comments

January 11, 2011

Verizon's iPhone Full of Tradeoffs, Good and Bad

By Glenn Fleishman

So Verizon has an iPhone: Empires (of technology) have risen and fallen since Apple introduced its iPhone in 2007, and the question constantly on everyone's lips: When will Verizon get a model that works on its network? The answer: 3 February for existing customers and 10 February for new ones.

The CDMA-based iPhone has piles of tradeoffs, but these aren't necessarily worse than using a GSM iPhone on AT&T or other networks around the world.

The Downside

The ViPhone doesn't have LTE. No phone has LTE. We're not going to see LTE-based phones with decent battery life and size for several months, and the early ones will be monsters of compromise. There is no agreed-upon voice standard for LTE networks yet, which means Verizon will make compromises in whatever voice option it picks (initially) before later upgrading to something more universally supported. I don't expect an LTE iPhone until 2012, because coverage and other tradeoffs won't make it desirable until then.

You can't talk and use 3G data at the same time. Verizon opted for EVDO (Evolution Data Only), which tells a story with its name. Voice is handled separately and can't be used simultaneously. Wi-Fi and voice can be used at the same time.

It's Verizon Wireless, for cripe's sake. Verizon has a history of offering less-than-forthcoming information about its service plans, and is in the middle of settling a dispute in which it denied for years charging people $1.99 and other fees for inadvertent usage of mobile data without a plan (when pressing a conveniently located button that's on every featurephone). People don't like any carrier, but Verizon didn't make itself any friends with this.

We don't know pricing plans yet. Verizon's 3G service plans aren't bad, but they aren't enormously better than AT&T's unless you use a ton of data each month.

Worldwide roaming isn't an option. Despite being 45-percent owned by GSM carrier Vodafone, the ViPhone won't work on most networks worldwide because it's CDMA only. It's odd that with Vodafone selling many millions of iPhones into other markets, Verizon Wireless, Vodafone, and Apple wouldn't have teamed up to offer both. There are chips, from Qualcomm notably, that allow GSM/CDMA switchover. You won't be able to use your ViPhone in Canada or Mexico, notably, and you can't swap out a SIM in GSM markets for another carrier, something that carriers allow or make easy in some markets, or that you can jailbreak to allow. (Update: Canada and Mexico do have CDMA operators, and Verizon supports roaming. Coverage in Mexico is quite limited for voice and data; in Canada, there's broader availability, but 3G data isn't everywhere.)

AT&T has a path to faster service, with HSPA+ (21 Mbps) overlaying HSPA 7.2 (7.2 Mpbs) as the year goes on. Verizon is stuck at 3.1 Mbps EVDO Rev. A until it has a sufficient LTE footprint to jump its customers to that. (AT&T and Verizon will both require new hardware for faster networks, though. An iPhone 4 will not, to my knowledge, be firmware upgradable to HSPA+.)

The Upside

If you live in an area with poor AT&T coverage and great Verizon coverage, which likely amounts to tens of millions of people's homes and workplaces around the US, then you are suddenly able to own an iPhone of your very own. AT&T's coverage can be sketchy in many parts of the country, notably exurbs and large parts of New England.

Verizon and Apple are offering a mobile hotspot feature (pricing not yet known), which lets the iPhone be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, just like a MiFi, or Android 2.2 phone, or several other smartphones. This lets up to five devices connect. GSM networks and the GSM iPhone could support this feature, too. Apple has been keeping this in its back pocket, perhaps to save for Verizon. (I don't believe AT&T, unique among the carriers, has any phone with a mobile hotspot feature enabled, nor does it offer a MiFi or similar router to the general public. Correction: AT&T reminded me via email that they had added a MiFi to their product line last November.)

Heavy data users will have an unlimited plan restored to them if Verizon offers its $30/mo unlimited data plan to new iPhone users. AT&T removed that plan for new subscribers in June, and has a 2 GB/mo plan for $25, with $10/GB overage fees (charged by the whole GB for any fraction).

The Upshot

Verizon will sell many millions of its CDMA iPhone to existing customers (upgrading from featurephones and sidegrading from other smartphones) and new customers (who have never owned a smartphone or are fleeing AT&T, cancellation fees be damned).

Verizon has the best and most solid 3G network in the US, proven time and again by independent third parties. AT&T has continually improved its network coverage and speed, and has great plans for 2011.

Can we have some competition now, please?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:31 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, Cellular, Deals | 1 Comment

January 7, 2011

WPA Cracked? Unlikely, Despite Headlines

By Glenn Fleishman

A German security researcher snagged some great headlines today, but I suspect the impact is modest: Reuters ran a story today about Thomas Roth's claim that he can hack into WPA-protected networks by crunching passwords in Amazon's Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) on-demand computing service. I have a query into Roth, but haven't heard back yet. The report says he'll release software after a Black Hat conference presentation later this month. I expect he's developed an approach that uses Amazon's preconfigured instances to produce vastly faster dictionary attacks than are commonly available. (Amazon allows users to tap into the graphics process or GPU, which can offer order of magnitude improvements in certain kinds of mathematical operations, including some forms of password cracking.)

The concept isn't new. In December 2009, "Moxie Marlinspike" launched WPA Cracker, a fee-based dictionary and brute-force cracking service; see my write up at the time. Elcomsoft offers commercial desktop distributed password cracking for preshared WPA keys—along with a host of other types of passwords—with GPU support, too. I interviewed Elcomsoft's chief a few months ago for the Economist, and he provided me piles of information about how difficult it is even with his software to crack well-designed password systems.

WPA/WPA2's weakness is in passphrase choice, something that's been known for years. Researcher Robert Moskowitz gave me permission way back in 2003 to publish a paper on this issue. It remains the most popular article in every year since. Because of how the passphrase conversion routine takes the text you enter for a WPA/WPA2 Preshared Key (PSK) "password" and turns it into a long hexadecimal key, it's susceptible to cracking—but only when the starting passphrase is very short or comprised of only words found in dictionaries (along with common substitutions, like zero for the letter o). The passphrase is combined with the network name (SSID), which has allowed various groups to create large, precomputed cracks of common words (so-called rainbow tables) using default SSID names. (Moskowitz had wanted every access point to ship with a uniquely created name to increase entropy. Apple does this.)

Based on Reuters description, we may have lost a character with Roth's method. That is, a formerly secure eight-character randomly created passphrase, a mix of letters, numbers, and punctuation, may now need to be nine characters for the next several years to assure unbreakability. I'm looking forward to more news.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:39 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 6, 2011

T-Mobile Moves to 42 Mbps HSPA+

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile said today it would upgrade its HSPA+ network to 42 Mbps in 2011: Everyone keeps upping the ante. T-Mobile wants to persuade customers that it has the fastest network out there, and doubling its raw speed for HSPA+ from 21 Mbps to 42 Mbps is a good way to do it. T-Mobile invested in bringing high-rate backhaul to its 3G network (which it wants to call 4G; whatever), and this is how it pays off.

AT&T yesterday said it has HSPA+ everywhere, but its backhaul won't be fully in place at those sites even this year: only 2/3rds of HSPA+ sites will have capable bandwidth in 12 months' time, according to yesterday's AT&T press release.

T-Mobile has never given guidance on the percentage of its HSPA/HSPA+ network that has the necessary backhaul, although it's consistency talked about its intent to build that infrastructure as it developed its green-field 3G network a couple of years ago. (Update: Analyst Charles Golvin of Forrester Research wrote in to say that T-Mobile provided such information in a briefing yesterday: 70 percent of T-Mobile's sites have Ethernet. Ethernet doesn't imply a specific speed, but my understanding is that it's all being installed as gigabit Ethernet. Since a single site can have multiple HSPA+ channels in use, more than 100 Mbps is necessary.)

T-Mobile's upgrades are a defensive move against LTE in 700 MHz. T-Mobile has a relatively small spectrum portfolio in the US, and LTE networks in this country will launch with much wider channels, allowing greater capacity and higher speeds. The 700 MHz frequency range also allows better in-building and in-home penetration than T-Mobile's mobile data frequency allocations.

Put simply: T-Mobile is installing the most advanced current-generation, off-the-shelf equipment that it can to compete with next-generation networks that are barely off the ground (Verizon) or not at all, and will take until 2013 to have a complete footprint. T-Mobile has that edge. But the AT&T and Verizon LTE networks will have substantive advantages over HSPA+ because T-Mobile will need to install equipment at a much higher density than either competitor to achieve the same coverage and capacity.

T-Mobile also still only reaches 200m people with its current mobile data network. AT&T reaches about 50m more, and Verizon has over 95 percent national coverage with its older 3G technology.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:16 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 4G, Future | No Comments

January 5, 2011

Juxtaposition: Qualcomm, Atheros, Verizon, Apple

By Glenn Fleishman

Could Qualcomm be angling for more Apple business with Atheros purchase? A not-so-idle thought popped into my head. Apple has sold over 100m iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, iPods touch), and sells 10ms of Macs each year. It sells unknown millions of base stations. Apple has routinely purchased wireless networking chips from Atheros and Broadcom, although it appears that iOS devices are all Broadcom-based.

With a move into CDMA technology, if Apple releases a Verizon Wireless iPhone, Qualcomm may have preemptively offered a one-stop shop for chips. It's also possible Apple's design specs already require Qualcomm and Atheros chips, and Qualcomm stepped in to take advantage of the likely tens of millions of ViPhones that will be sold this year.

Qualcomm isn't the only firm that could provide CDMA chips for a Verizon iPhone, but with its CDMA and GPS portfolio coupled with Atheros Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS product lines, it could be well positioned.

(I have never doubted Apple continuously updates an engineering model of a CDMA iPhone to show Verizon and possibly Sprint. Whether the company has a production-ready model in place, and is gearing up for a launch is unknown. I suspect that the only reason Verizon doesn't have an iPhone is that Verizon won't agree to Apple's requirements. There's no technology limit here at all.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:35 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Chips, Financial, Future | No Comments

AT&T Issues 4G Plans, 3G Status Update

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T offers specifics on its HSPA+ upgrade and LTE deployment: At CES today, AT&T released its timeline for rolling out 4G LTE mobile service, which launches in mid-2011. Verizon Wireless gets bragging rights with several markets lit up in late 2010. However, with few devices, and an odd pricing model for such a fast service, Verizon has very little lead over AT&T.

AT&T and Verizon will likely both complete national urban rollouts by 2013, the stated date by both firms now for that goal. Their various FCC licenses require either geographic or population based completion at four and eight year targets, which will drive LTE service into less-populated areas and small-to-medium-sized towns.

AT&T's current HSPA/HSPA+ network is also measurably faster than Verizon's, which cannot increase its 3G speed at all. AT&T, like T-Mobile, is taking advantage of baby steps with HSPA (to 7.2 Mbps) and HSPA+ (to 21 Mpbs) to have an interim advantage, as well as a better hybrid 3G/4G roaming experience. Verizon is stuck at EVDO Rev. A, about 3.1 Mbps downstream. (All those rates are raw, and Verizon's coverage area remains superior to AT&T's; HSPA+ doesn't offer an advantage if you can't actually pick up a signal.)

Of course, it wouldn't be a telecom announcement without having to pick apart some news. AT&T says that it has HSPA+ available to "virtually 100 percent of its mobile broadband network" but then notes it requires "Ethernet or fiber backhaul." It predicts 2/3rds of its HSPA+ footprint will have such "expanded backhaul" by the end of 2011.

Which means that at the beginning of 2011, substantially less than 2/3rds of AT&T HSPA+ network cannot deliver true HSPA+ speeds, being constrained by the backhaul. If it were more than half, you can believe AT&T would have stated that in the press release.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:50 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, Future | No Comments

Qualcomm Buys Atheros

By Glenn Fleishman

Giant mobile chip maker buys wireless networking behemoth: It's a mark of how long I've been covering the industry that I remember when Atheros was a plucky startup, defending its alternative encoding proposal for 802.11g by citing distances the standard could reach in the warehouse the company owned (and used for testing). Ah, it's come a long way to this deal in which Qualcomm has had a $3.1b tender accepted.

Qualcomm makes most of its money from mobile chips and associated patent licenses. The firm's big trouble aren't its finances, but the fact that it doesn't have a terrific path towards future growth of its core technologies. Qualcomm developed, licenses, and sells chips and systems for CDMA, the technology Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel (on Sprint's network) employ in the US. CDMA is in use by hundreds of millions of subscribers worldwide. But GSM is in use by billions.

Worse, Sprint and Verizon both chose paths other than Qualcomm's 4G vision: Sprint acquired a majority interest in Clearwire, which uses WiMax, while Verizon opted for LTE, the dominant GSM-evolved 4G flavor that will be deployed worldwide. Clearwire may eventually swap to LTE as well.

Qualcomm recently sold the spectrum it acquired for a kind of mobile television broadcast system called FLO that never took off. I was always dubious about broadcasting when the future was clearly narrowcasting. Qualcomm bet against the ability to delivery unique streaming video on demand in large quantities. The jury is still out on that over 3G networks; 4G has to be designed to make this practical. (Qualcomm received over three times its purchase price for the FLO spectrum from AT&T—$1.9b—which will use it for LTE, but still took a loss when FLO development and deployment is factored in.)

Qualcomm's purchase of Atheros makes perfect sense, as it gives the company an instant strong position in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other related technologies, as well as relationships with most of the major networking vendors and computing manufacturers, including Apple. (Apple uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips from a few vendors, but I believe Atheros and Broadcom remain dominant.)

However, it's worth recalling that Qualcomm also bought Airgo (in 2006), the pioneer in multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) antenna system technology when Airgo was at the height of its success in the industry. Airgo disappeared without a trace as a unique technology line, although its clear the patents were sucked into the corporate maw, and some MIMO techniques found themselves built into other products.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:42 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Financial | 2 Comments

January 3, 2011

Staying Safe at Public Hotspots

By Glenn Fleishman

For Ars Technica, I penned this rundown of ways to stay safe on public Wi-Fi: Firesheep takes a techie sniffing tool and makes it mainstream, but there are plenty of other risks as well. Thus, I wrote this guide for Ars Technica on the best ways you can stay safe while using public Wi-Fi.

My main suggestion, as always, is a VPN: whether you rent a VPN connection from or other such VPN hosts, have a corporate connection, or set up your own. Securing services is second-best, like encrypting email, and using methods to force SSL connections.

Doing nothing is no longer a reasonable option for public hotspot use unless you want a fair degree of certainty that anyone could easily spoof your identity.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:41 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, Security | No Comments

Kein Freies Mittagessen: Free Hotspots in Europe

By Glenn Fleishman

Tech reporter Dwight Silverman writes from Europe of the lack of easily found free Wi-Fi: If you look hard enough in continental Europe, you can find Wi-Fi that you don't have to pay for, but it's far more of a struggle than in the US, where free Wi-Fi has flipped over in the last year or so to being a free amenity.

He didn't quite have a comedy of errors, but Dwight found that staying connected took a lot more effort, time, and money in Germany than in his travels around the US. He notes he could have dropped into McDonald's and Starbucks for some free Wi-Fi, but what's the point of going abroad to patronize businesses you have at home?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:35 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot, International | No Comments

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