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Running through last week's top stories: Verizon extends free Wi-Fi at thousands of US hotspots to 3G laptop/adapter users (Windows only, thanks), Continental signs up for 21 planes with Aircell, and McDonald's ups the ante in its competition with Starbucks by unleashing free Wi-Fi starting mid-January in the United States.
Trying something new: Would a weekly round up in a minute or two of wireless news be of interest? Listen to this week's podcast: 2 1/2 minutes, three stories. Comments welcome. Use the player below, or you can download an MP3 or AAC file.
I spoke with Jon Gordon about Wi-Fi Direct for Future Tense, his American Public Media radio show: I try to explain for a general audience why Wi-Fi Direct might be useful, focusing, as I often do, on the utility of high-speed peer-to-peer transfers for buying video downloads or moving such files around.
Metro-scale networks are all the range, but Meraki aims small: The company, emerging out of the academic project MIT Roofnet, has mesh-routing algorithms that work on commodity devices, and they aim to target markets like apartment buildings and hotzones. In this podcast, I talk to two of Meraki's co-founders, Sanjit Biswas (president) and Hans Robertson (chief operating office), about how mesh networks work, MIT Roofnet's algorithms, and who might want to deploy small-to-medium mesh networks.
In the podcast, they refer to an installation in Stapleton, Colo., using their equipment that was featured in a local TV report, archived on YouTube. [MP3, 17 MB, 35 min.]
Macworld's editor-in-chief Jason Snell and I talked about Wi-Fi and Apple on today's podcast: The Macworld Podcast (Wi-Fi Security and iTV) covers the Maynor/Ellch exploit controversy, and when 802.11n might arrive on a Mac (and whether iTV will sport 802.11n). In this podcast, I note that Apple's patches for what they term never-demonstrated-exploits, is the worst security hole in Mac OS X ever. But it's patched. (Download MP3.)
The growth of Internet Protocol television (IPTV) may dovetail with 802.11n, but 802.11g still has life in it: In this podcast, I talk to co-founder and chief technical officer of Ruckus Wireless, Bill Kish, about how IPTV works through a home wireless distribution system; the adoption of IPTV by rural telcos; where 802.11n fits into the picture; and the difficulty of managing Wi-Fi in a metro-scale network.
Kish tells me that while quality of service (QoS) for prioritizing one kind of data packet over another might work well at higher layers of a network, it doesn't account for physical layer issues that crop up routinely on Wi-Fi networks. Ruckus adds some secret sauce, including an MIMO array, to provide consistent, low-latency data streams. They also handle multiple streams of video, where QoS typically can only prioritize video as a category, with all video packets treated equally within that stream. That doesn't work in the quick-channel-change world of IPTV, where buffering is barely an option.
We also talk about how 802.11n doesn't answer every problem because so many of its new attributes only work in particular cases. Kish says that 802.11n will offer better throughput overall, but it requires a fairly specific set of circumstances to achieve its best throughput rate, notably no nearby networks to interfere with 802.11n's double-wide channels. [33 min., 15 MB, MP3]
All about ultrawideband (UWB), including its imminent arrival in products: Stephen Wood coordinates Intel's ultrawideband (UWB) strategy and is the president of the WiMedia Alliance, a broad industry trade group that develops standards for UWB. In this podcast, he talks about the technology, its potential, and the timetable for products with UWB appearing on shelves--as early as the end of 2006. [36 min., 17 MB, MP3]
UWB is busting out all over this week, by the way, with demonstrations all over the Intel Developers Forum. Artimi, for instance, is showing off its system-on-a-chip UWB solution for low-power devices. Their equipment will find its way into cameras and handsets. Also this week, an announcement from the USB implementers Forum of the certification program for wireless UWB that will be labeled Certified Wireless USB. And, as Wi-Fi Planet notes, several firms have released UWB references designs--prepackaged board designs meant to be turned into final products--including six designs from Staccato alone.
Dear readers, wondering what the interest might be in a regular, hour-long podcast that features call-in questions of myself and a guest? With 23 podcasts under my belt, I've been considering other ways in which delivering audio could answer the needs of you, dear readers (and listeners). One idea I've considered is a call-in show, in which various tools would be used to allow questions to be left (via voicemail) before the show and live questions "on the air." The show would feature myself and likely a guest with specific knowledge of some area of wireless data that we'd ask questions to focus on.
I've also been thinking of putting together roundtables, in which several people could participate in a discussion of a given topic, such as municipal funding and ownership of Wi-Fi networks, or the future of mobile WiMax as a viable U.S. alternative to cellular data networks.
Feedback? Post comments below or feel free to email me directly.
The numbers supporting free, municipal-backed wireless: St. Cloud, Florida, was the first city of any scale in the US to offer a completely free network -- no need to view ads, no extra fees. The city of 11,000 households has seen 77 percent of those homes register for service within the first six months. In this podcast, the city's consultant Jonathan Baltuch discusses what those numbers mean, and why cities should consider paying directly to build a free network rather than allow an outside ISP to build one and charge for it. [37 min., 17 MB, MP3]
Keith Higgins explains IMS: You don't know what IMS is yet, if you're like most people, but you will soon, with a commitment from Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless to migrate to the fixed-mobile convergence technology, and interest worldwide as well. IP Multimedia Subsystem is a way to develop one platform for delivering services like voice, video, games, and music for mobile devices and fixed devices over many kinds of pipes--wireless, fiber, what have you. Stoke is developing a universal translator to help operators add IMS services, and Keith Higgins talks about what IMS is, what it can deliver, and how we'll move to an era of getting the same kind of thing everywhere, mediated by the device rather than the connection.
Another aspect of IMS is that the it uses SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), a now-old and well-used standard, for connecting calls and sessions. This is interesting because it shows the adoption of a widespread relatively open standard widely used in VoIP by the major telcos. Of course, they can wall off SIP as much as they want, but it's a nice big chink in the walled garden's fence.
Chumby received a rush of blog-licity when the firm handed out these portable Wi-Fi thingamabobs at O'Reilly's Foo Camp to alpha-geeks: The device, in prototype, is small, designed for the "kids," and sports a Wi-Fi adapter, an AC power plug, a small, color touchscreen, and an open architecture. The company wants people to hack the software, hardware, and even the device's case with their own modifications. It's not precisely open source, but it's all open. They hope the device will ship in the second quarter of 2007 for about $150. They also expect that it could be licensed or replicated in many forms--they have released or shortly will release the parts list and schematics among other parameters--and they're curious what results.
In this podcast interview with Avalon Ventures partner and Chumby Industries chairman Steve Tomlin, we talk about how having a device that's designed to be open affects what gets developed for it. We also talk about how Chumby, as a general-purpose appliance, make available many kinds of applications--it's not just another picture frame, just another music player, or just another RSS display. In its current iteration, the Chumby has a touchscreen but no keyboard interface. Tomlin expects someone is already working on that. [27 min., 12 MB, MP3]
We discuss how the hotspot market has evolved over six years: Rick, the founder of Surf and Sip, was one of the first people I interviewed back in late 2000 for my early article in The New York Times on public hotspots that ran in Feb. 2001. (Rick said he still has the article on his wall.) This was the first article in the mainstream media looking at hotspots, and it's what pushed me on the road to writing this blog. Rick had over 100 locations at the time; his network has now grown to nearly 600 in Europe and the US.
Surf and Sip started by actually soliciting business, pounding the pavement, paying for equipment and DSL lines, and offering high-touch service. The company has shrunk in size to just a handful of people while running a multi-national operation as the complexity as reduced, and their in-house software has been developed.
We talk about whether hotspot growth has stalled, where revenue comes from, and the future of VoIP at hotspots and municipal networks. Rick has some interesting insight into Wi-Fi handsets and music devices like the Music Gremlin which require specific network resources or lots of bandwidth. [42 min., 20 MB, MP3]
A few weeks ago, I noticed that a second broadband wireless ISP was announced in midcoast Maine: I wrote about this at the time, as it seemed remarkable that an area with just tens of thousands of residents could support two firms. The companies' founders both commented on that post, and that's interesting reading, but I wanted to hear some additional detail. I got Jim McKenna, the founder of the newer firm, on the phone to chat about the advantages of wireless mesh in areas where real estate rights are easier to obtain, mountains abound, and customers have few other options. That's featured in today's 20-minute podcast. (Yes, I kept a podcast under 40 minutes.) [20 min., 10 MB, MP3]
He pointed out in the interview that the numbers for Maine are pretty staggering bad for broadband adoption, and he thinks it's about price. He said that one survey showed that only 10 percent of households passed by DSL or cable subscribed to that service. Maine is not only a poor state, it's largely rural, and I would guess that out of 1.3m residents and over 500K homes, that perhaps only 30 to 40 percent are passed by DSL or cable.
The largest cities in Maine--Portland, Augusta, and Bangor--have about 20 percent of the state's population. Everyone else is spread out. In Knox County, where Red Zone Wireless and the 1995-founded Midcoast Internet Solutions have their headquarters about two blocks from each, there are only 40,000 residents, and about a quarter live in and around Rockland, the county seat.
McKenna says that $20 per month is the right price point, and Red Zone offers a residential Wi-Fi-based service with broadband rates for that price and $50 setup; no contract, no cancellation fees, either. That's 500 Kbps down and 128 Kbps up, or about 10 times the download and four times the maximum speeds of a 56K modem. (Although when you get to some of the towns in Red Zone and MIS's coverage area, you're not seeing modem rates that high, either.)
I have a query out to talk to Midcoast Internet Solutions's founder, too, to compare notes. They started as a dial-up provider in 1995, and added Breezecom (now Alvarion) wireless gear in 1997.
802.11n is lurching towards completion, and we talk about when, where, and why: Matthew Gast was my guest Wednesday for a live, in-office podcast in which we talked at great length about Task Group N, the group within the IEEE 802.11 Working Group, that's attempting to push faster Wi-Fi at the world. Matthew is a voting member of the group, and we talk about the politics, the technology, and, you know, how fast this stuff will actually be when it's released.
We also delve a bit into voice and why 802.11n is important for handheld devices and how handset manufacturers worked hard to get their interests served in the compromises that appear to have led to current state of the protocol.
Matthew is the author of O'Reilly and Associates's 802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide, which came out in its extensively revised and updated 2nd edition last year. [44 min., XX MB, MP3]
Mobility is the enterprise of the future: In this podcast interview with Alan Cohen, we talk about how technology once restricted to the enterprise roams much more freely with the availability of wireless data networks. This trend, of course, will only increase as broad public networks of all forms proliferate: cell, mobile WiMax, and Wi-Fi. Cohen talks about how applications drive networks and networks facilitate applications. [33 min., 16 MB, MP3]
In Podcast #16, we talk about hotspot growth, hot zones, and new mobile technology: Anurag Lal handles business development and sales at iPass, and has a background in the international aspects of mobile telephony, with stints at BT and Sprint's worldwide divisions. iPass is a global aggregator and reseller of Internet access, with a focus on enterprises that have lots of mobile employees. This gives him good insight to talk about the future growth of hotspot networks. We also talk quite abit about the multiple kinds of wireless data networks that will spread across cities and regions, the necessity of seamless roaming across networks--types and operators--that doesn't require user intervention, the cost of billing and savings of bundling and unlimited plans, and the developing world bypassing wire and, possibly, fiber, in favor of wireless.
We also talk about the future demise of dial-up, which is a significant portion of current revenue for iPass, AOL, and EarthLink, all companies working on a transition to broadband. iPass has seen a drop year-over-year in second quarter dial-up revenue from $35.3m to $28m, but during the same period increase broadband revenue (hotel wired and Wi-Fi everywhere) from $2.1m to $9.6m. Lal thinks there's still life left in dial-up for the foreseeable future, but we talk about an inflection point at which wireless can outweigh a wired, 56K or worse connection. [38 min., 19 MB, MP3]
A hearing-impaired colleague thought transcripts would be quite useful: I have to agree. My wife is deaf in one ear--although she has it restored with a special hearing aid through the magic of a metal screw in her skull--and I had concerns about audio or video only publishing. Luckily, through colleague recommendations, I found CastingWords, a firm that charges a ridiculously small amount of money for complete transcriptions. I handed them a set of difficult, acronym-filled podcasts, and received fantastically good transcripts that require very little editing to fix a few misheard names and abbreviations.
I've posted the first transcript, from Podcast No. 13 with Steve Shaw of Kineto Wireless, as part of the extended entry for that podcast. In the future, I will plan to have transcriptions made immediately after posting, and have them available within a few days of the audio podcast.
I'll be posting transcripts over the next week or so from the other 14 podcasts broadcast to date.
Kevin and I go back three years, and thus we have a lot to talk about: JiWire is finishing up its third year of existence with new insights, new products, and new partnerships. Kevin, the founder and head of the firm, and I talk about how the growth in the number of hotspots seems to be slowing at the same time as revenue and sessions are increasing; what the change from points of Wi-Fi to entire zones or cities means; how mobile WiMax and mobile data of all kinds will affect how we use devices; train-base Wi-Fi; JiWire's new security product Hotspot Helper and the whole issue of encrypting data at hotspots; and the Sony mylo, a new Wi-Fi handheld device that Skypes, IMs, and emails. (Oh, and it has JiWire's hotspot directory embedded, too.)
My disclosures, stated in the podcast are that I first started working with JiWire in August 2003, and was briefly an employee. I realized that I was unemployable (read: too many fingers in too many pies), and thus turned into a consultant and adviser for the firm after giving them some extensive editorial input. We've worked together on advertising (they handled ads for me until last summer), and other editorial projects. This podcast is not an advertorial, and we leave the JiWire-specific stuff until the end. (And I mention a host of competing products!) [25 MB, 51 min., MP3, also available via iTunes]
Question for listeners: Does anyone want additional formats beyond MP3? I prepare the podcasts in Apple's Garageband, and the native output of that is AAC format, which is nearly the same size with the settings I use, but higher quality. It's also trivial for me to produce files in some other formats if there's demand.
Michael Oh and I talk about the unique aspects of Boston's initial look at citywide Wi-Fi: Oh was on the task force that released a report with recommendations earlier this week on how to bring ubiquitous, inexpensive broadband across all of Boston. The plan includes some interesting angles, such as spending $2m to light and connect dark fiber to build a 50-mile fiber ring, and the formation of a non-profit that would be dedicated to this project and yet not under the control of the city. (The mayor's office announced today that a local former tech exec with head the group that will figure out which nonprofit to pick for the plan.)
In Oh's estimation, the task force's key recommendation is that the enabling non-profit that will raise funds and contract for the network to be build will not be allowed to sell retail access. There will also be a very low bar for companies that want to be retail ISPs of the service. Oh's own business, TechSuperPowers on Newbury Street will launch a Mac-focused ISP--his business is a Mac integrator and repair shop. There's no conflict of interest in being on the task force in this case because he cannot obtain better terms; the wholesale service will be priced on an equal, nondiscriminatory basis.
Oh speculates that a neighborhood group with some volunteers could meet the criteria for being an ISP--there's no large deposit for escrow required as on other networks--and offer practically the wholesale rate to a small community. One that expects that tech support and help will be local, of course.
We also talk near the end about how existing non-profits in Boston that already are involved in training and digital divide work have been and will be involved. [42 min., 20 MB, MP3]
Kineto makes the gear, but we talked about the process: Kineto Wireless has been one of the drivers behind industry acceptance of UMA, a standard for cellular and Wi-Fi voice convergence in which a single handset will roam as seamlessly among both wireless network types as a cell phone can already roam from tower to tower. In this podcast, we discuss how UMA works, what the potential is, whether hotspots are important to it, where the money can be saved, and when it's coming to market.
I see UMA as a potential win-win. Consumers may see huge savings and improved call quality on cellular plans by offloading minutes to a Wi-Fi network. Carriers will see increased overall use but less reliance on their networks, making it cheaper for them to push out those increased minutes. The potential for improved call quality--coupling 802.11e for voice priority on a handset with that capability on a Wi-Fi gateway--is just icing on the cake. [31 min., 15 MB, MP3]
Transcript available below.