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Apple's AirDrop file-transfer feature sounds an awful lot like it relies on Wi-Fi Direct: Wi-Fi Direct hasn't yet found its way into any desktop or mobile operating system as a built-in component. Wi-Fi Direct allows ad hoc-style connections between devices (computers, peripherals, mobiles, and others) using robust WPA2 security. Devices advertise services as part of the SSID broadcast, such as noting that they can be printed to.
AirDrop is a no-fuss way to swap files between two Macs running the Mac OS X Lion release, still in a preview/beta test phase. It notes specifically that it works wirelessly. I suspect Wi-Fi Direct underlies this. Apple already has Bonjour networking built in to all its computers, and relies on this feature being in most major printers. Bonjour announces services when you're connected to a network in a manner conceptually similar to Wi-Fi Direct.
AirDrop doesn’t require setup or special settings. Just click the AirDrop icon in the Finder sidebar, and your Mac automatically discovers other people nearby who are using AirDrop. You’ll even see contact photos for those who are already in your Address Book.
We'll find out eventually. Having Wi-Fi Direct built into an OS would mean opening up that OS to setup-free connections for printing, file transfer, tethering, and other purposes in a way that's much simpler than today's network connection and service configuration pains.
Update: I had a briefing with Apple. It is not Wi-Fi Direct, but it is awfully similar.
A California train line has onboard Wi-Fi funded: I have been writing about the Capitol Corridor line's efforts to get Internet access installed for five years. I wrote about the first RFP in 2006. The authority that runs the line ran tests with some providers, including EarthLink during that ISP's wireless networking days, but was never able to get the right combination of funds, vendor, and technology. But the dream never died.
Why? Because it's a route used heavily by commuters. It connects Sacramento (and parts north) to the Bay Area. The authority estimates 60 percent of riders carry laptops and and half have mobile broadband cards or dongles. (I love that the reporter calls them "air cards," which is both quaint and misguided. Sierra Wireless's modems are called AirCards—brand name—and somehow a decade ago that became the default and weird term for 3G modems.)
Service will be installed during 2011. One rider questions the nearly $4m being spent on the service, wondering if it could have been put to better purposes, such as better wheelchair access. That's a good question, but the point of Internet access is to bring more passengers on board. Train service is subsidized, of course, just like roads and airports, but adding passengers increases costs slightly relative to the additional revenue. If Internet service adds tens of thousands of additional trips per year, this can offset its cost.
The story misses a secondary point: the $4m is nearly the full capital expense for both passenger access and back-end operational uses, which incur separate costs—or simply don't exist, reducing efficiency or safety—today.
This New York Times article has a major inaccuracy related to WPA/WPA2 key cracking: The article is a welcome rundown on the security issues involved in using home and hotspot Wi-Fi networks, along with changes happening at major Web sites in moving to always-encrypted sessions.
The reporter quotes a sysadmin and security videocaster pointing out that essentially all WEP-protected networks are crackable. This is true. WEP is straightforward to crack; it's just a matter of time, and often not very much time.
But the reporter misses the boat when she writes:
A WEP-encrypted password (for wired equivalent privacy) is not as strong as a WPA (or Wi-Fi protected access) password, so it’s best to use a WPA password instead. Even so, hackers can use the same free software programs to get on WPA password-protected networks as well. It just takes much longer (think weeks) and more computer expertise.
That's extremely misleading and mostly inaccurate. The distinction she fails to make, which will confuse all readers, is that there are weak and strong WPA/WPA2 passwords. I've been tracking this subject for years, as regular readers, know, and that distinction is key, if you'll pardon the pun.
If you pick a WPA key of 10 characters are more, preferably not including a word found in dictionaries of dominant Roman-character languages, you are nearly certainly protected against cracking. Pick a short phrase of 8 or fewer characters, no matter how random, and you can be cracked by a determined party, possibly in as few as minutes for a short or dictionary-word key.
WPA/WPA2 can only currently be cracked via brute force. The article should have just said more accurately, "it's best to use a WPA password instead, making sure to create one that's 10 or more characters long." Instead, it's spreading a mistaken impression.
Later in the article, sense reasserts when the writer says to change your SSID (the network name is part of how the key is derived for a WPA/WPA2 Personal), and "choos[e] a lengthy and complicated alphanumeric password." It doesn't have to be very long or very complicated. "Abra23dabra" would be a perfectly fantastic WPA/WPA2 password.
Boingo carves out unlimited usage areas for service outside North America: Boingo once had a laptop Wi-Fi plan with unlimited global use, but that proved too expensive due to the cost of roaming agreements. Its revamped Global offering was set at $59/mo for up to 2,000 minutes. Today, the firm added a Europe Plus offering that provides unlimited usage at 90,000 hotspots in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for €28/mo. Another 170,000 hotspots in its network around the world are charged at €0.10 to €0.15/minute. (The plan is also available for £22.95 and £0.09 to £0.13 per minute for payment in pounds.)
Boingo's North and South American laptop plan is $10/mo for unlimited use, and a UK and Ireland combo is £15/mo for unlimited access. Boingo separately offers mobile services plans for a flat $8/mo for any hotspot in its network.
The company may run into trouble when mobile devices start allowing the simultaneous use of Wi-Fi as a client and a server, which would allow a mobile device to share a Wi-Fi hotspot connection to a laptop over Wi-Fi just as easily as mobile hotspot features in phones today allow a 3G/4G connection to be shared over Wi-Fi.
Norwegian airline opts for Row 44: Norwegian Air Shuttle is a tiny carrier, and has one plan equipped. Nonetheless, it gets European bragging rights for being the first to offer full in-flight Internet service. The airline chose Row 44, which is a satellite-backed offering, using modern Ku-band equipments.
In trials, the service will be free. The airline will put Row 44's service on 11 planes by mid-year, 21 by the end of 2011, and 41 by the end of 2012. Pricing isn't yet set, nor are routes confirmed.
The folks at iFixIt found a dual-standard GSM/CDMA chip in the Verizon model of the iPhone 4: In Step 17, the teardown experts note that the Qualcomm MDM6600, which can support GSM standards up to HSPA+ (14.4 Mbps flavor) as well as Qualcomm's traditional CDMA voice and data standards up to EVDO Rev. A (deployed in the US by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel) as well as EVDO Rev. B. There are an enormous number of shared characteristics between the GSM and CDMA standards, and Qualcomm represents a significant minority percentage of all the patents in a pool that's used for UMTS/HSPA.
Apple is spending more to put this dual-mode chip in, of course, than it would for a single-standard chip. But it makes a bloody lot of sense. By having a single chip that can be switched to GSM or CDMA, Apple can switch to a single line of manufacture to supply phones worldwide. They'll save the cost in a higher price for the chip by not having two separate products to make and track. I wouldn't be surprised if we see iPhone 4 models sold for the GSM market that are identical with new antenna locations to the so-called CDMA model.
Does this mean that Apple will offer a world phone for CDMA and GSM markets? Note that the Verizon version of the phone has no SIM slot nor built-in SIM card, so it can't be used on a GSM network in its current form even with a firmware update. Will an iPhone 5 be switchable? It's hard to tell. I imagine Verizon Wireless would prefer the CDMA lock in, but Verizon Wireless is minority-owned by Vodafone, a worldwide GSM provider, which would almost certainly like to sell a single model worldwide that could be easily switched to work in the US or in any of its non-US markets. There's a Droid that does that already.
The Boston Globe reports fourfold increase in Boston-Logan Wi-Fi use: The airport dropped fees for Wi-Fi last year, and saw a 412 percent increase in 2010 use over that in 2009: 1.4m sessions instead of 350,000.
Remember Massport's stupid multi-year battle, a large waste of public funds, against allowing airline lounges to offer free Wi-Fi? Seems even sillier four years after the FCC smacked down the airport authority over its dubious claims.
Wi-Fi requires cell data sign-up: Engadget has a Best Buy ad for the Motorola Xoom that states you can't use the built-in Wi-Fi without having at least a one-month mobile broadband subscription. Well, ain't that a kick in the pants. This is in addition to the $800 price for the feature-heavy Xoom, which comes with front and rear cameras, 1080p playback, 3G service (with a 4G LTE upgrade promise), and Adobe Flash support.
But, really: You have to activate Verizon Wireless service, even if you then cancel it, to unlock Wi-Fi? Big misstep. It's along the lines of that common scene in a car dealership when you're about to sign the papers, and the sales regretfully informs you that his manager won't sell the car without the underbody rust inhibitor treatment.
(That's from before the auto sales collapse, for you youngsters.)
Update: On 24 Feb, Verizon Wireless announced it would not require activation to use Wi-Fi on the 3G models.
The major operator of in-flight Internet gets more cash on hand: I've raised concerns about the uptake rate needed by Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet service to produce the revenue required to return a profit. But it's also been clear that not enough detail has ever been exposed to know Aircell's cost sharing with airlines, nor its ongoing costs.
Whatever those may be—and I don't suggest the firm was in a cash crunch—Aircell has $35m more in its pocket to keep operations running for whatever period of time that will cover. Certainly, Aircell needs capital to build out in Canada and (eventually) Mexico and the Caribbean.
Aircell's CEO spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle, which said he "declined to offer financial details, but said that the company has made major financial improvements and is on the 'path to profitability.'"
I just used Gogo on my trip mid-day down to the Macworld 2011 conference 10 days ago, and it was invaluable as always. I finished projects, kept up on email, and arrived without having anything on my plate to deal with.
Updated: A Bloomberg report on Monday suggests an initial public offering is planned, and says Aircell has raised $600m to date, a staggering sum, but not surprising for building a nationwide cellular network (albeit pointing up), ground station operations, and equipping planes at as much as $100,000 a pop.
AT&T starts offering portable hotspot feature 13 February: Joining other carriers, AT&T will let you turn your smartphone into a cellular router, sharing a mobile broadband connection with "multiple" devices. While this is likely to be added to the iPhone because Verizon Wireless is launching its version of that device with portable hotspot, the only phone mentioned at launch is the HTC Inspire 4G.
AT&T is folding this into the tethering plan it already offers, but with a twist. AT&T requires its higher-volume data plan, which includes 2 GB for $25/mo ($10/additional GB), to use tethering or its hotspot offering. Tethering and mobile hotspot adds $20 per month, but now brings another 2 GB of usage, for a total pooled 4 GB per month.
Before this added bandwidth, there was a general irritation that AT&T was charging $20/mo for no additional benefit except flipping a switch. Since service is already metered (for anyone signing up or changing a smartphone plan since June 2010), this was egregious profit taking.
The revision at least creates an association between usage and the added service, and puts the cost more in line with MiFi service plans from Virgin Mobile and Verizon Wireless.
Ford sponsors free Facebook on Gogo Inflict Internet in February: All of the airlines offering Aircell's Gogo service are part of the promotion, which puts Facebook outside the paywall. Google has sponsored free service at various times at airports and on planes to promote its offerings.
Aircell should love this deal, because it will expose potentially millions of casual travelers to a service that they might otherwise see as expensive, impossible, or uninteresting. Because in-flight Internet had a big flame-out with Connexion by Boeing (which worked just fine but didn't make its numbers), many people may carry the notion that mile-high Wi-Fi doesn't work and isn't worth messing with.
By providing Facebook access, the "number one website visited by travelers using Gogo," Aircell says, Gogo trains people to want the service in the future. I expect this pumps numbers way up in subsequent months, especially for mobile access.