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Devicescape launches new service, software, to reduce friction: The company opened its public beta to enable portable Wi-Fi-equipped devices to attach themselves to hotspots without the tedium--when it's even possible--of logging in. Devicescape, until now, has been known as an embedded Wi-Fi driver developer, making network software that runs on devices that have very little space and very little battery power to carry out that task. They're leveraging their knowledge and experience in launching this new service.
The service couples a small software program that gets installed on a portable device, like an IP phone with Wi-Fi, and an account you set up on Devicescape's servers to enter your various Wi-Fi logins. In the beta, only a few devices are supported, but the company said in a briefing that more are on the way. They also support just four hotspot networks in this beta: AT&T FreedomLink, Fon, Google's Mountain View Wi-Fi network, and T-Mobile HotSpot (USA). More are on the way, as well as the ability to enter WEP/WPA network keys for your own networks.
Devicescape's approach bypasses having to have an embedded browser in devices, some of which will have no screen or the level of input controls that, say, a camera has today. The browser has been seen as necessary to allow data entry and interaction--clicking the I Agree button on free networks that require you to commit to acceptable uses of a network.
It also means that you won't buy a device like the Nikon S7c and be limited to using only the hotspot networks with which Nikon has struck deals to build firmware controls into their camera to manage a connection as long as the device maker has either a software platform that supports other programs being installed, like a PDA, or Devicescape strikes a deal to have their system preinstalled. (T-Mobile has done a great job of being the network of choice for many Wi-Fi-based device launches, like the Kodak EasyShare-One and the Nikon S7c. And Nintendo signed up with Wayport in the US and other networks internationally to pre-program access into its DS game console.)
The company's CEO Dave Fraser said in an interview that Devicescape expects billions of portable devices that have Wi-Fi radios to be in people's hands over the next few years. "Most of them are going to be the low-cost devices that just can't afford to have a browser anyway," said Fraser. "Our goal is to make the sign-on to these proliferating Wi-Fi networks completley seamless. So you don't need a browser--you don't need a clumsy user experience." Fraser suggested that this lack of frictionless authentication limits hotspot utility. "If you had to do that on your cell phone every time you had to make a call," he said, cell phones would never have gained an audience.
When you take one of the supported devices, like the Linksys WIP300 Wireless-G IP Phone, the lightweight on-board Devicescape application connects to the Devicescape server. It does this by bypassing normal hotspot port-based access controls and gateway authentication pages using DNS (domain name system). DNS allows the encapsulation of certain information in special record types beyond IP address records and mail exchange details. Devicescape encrypts your authentication information, so it doesn't pass in the clear; the phone's software decrypts the login details and carries out the connection process automatically. (Yes, they have a patent in progress on this.)
This DNS approach could be blocked by hotspot operators, but blocking DNS in general would disrupt network functions, and blocking Devicescape in particular could prove difficult. In any case, Devicescape sees hotspot networks as partners with which they want to develop roaming and billing relationships.
The portable device doesn't need to store much in the way of how to log in and your authentication details aren't stored, either. Cryptographic protections enable each device to be uniquely identified, too, so anything stored on the portable phone, camera, etc., can't simply be copied to another device to enable it. This ensures that devices are uniquely registered and that they are not cloned through over-the-air interception, hacking, or physical access to the device.
It also means that it could provide the tools to allow different fees for different kinds of devices, and a way to avoid a one-account, one-login problem. In testing, Devicescape execs said they hit login limits with accounts on AT&T FreedomLink and T-Mobile HotSpot, which assumes that a single account is being used on, say, a laptop or a PDA by one person. But one person with many devices needs a unique way to have those devices simultaneously connect. If I walk into an airport with a camera, phone, and laptop, and want to use all three at the same time, no current system supports this. And if your device is stolen and pops up on a network--you could alert the cops! (Mash up of Google Maps, Skyhook Wireless, and Devicescape.)
Devicescape expects to become a sort of aggregator of access, leveraging the fact that you have an account set up with details that could include credit card information in order to use your various devices. (Confusingly, Devicescape is calling a set of devices you use your...devicescape. Ok.) Imagine walking into a hotspot you've never used before, and seeing a dialog box appear on your limited-input device that says, "Would you like to use this hotspot for $2 for 24 hours access?" Click OK, and the billing and authentication happens behind the scenes.
The company said that they aren't looking to displace firms like Boingo Wireless and iPass, with which they could be partners, too, by leveraging those authentication and billing systems with their lightweight software approach.
For more relationship-based use of Wi-Fi in homes and offices, Devicescape will offer in a future release a buddy list feature so that people who trust each other can allow devices to share network encryption keys. This is a very interesting option, because it not only bypasses entering WPA Personal passphrases, for instance--I have spent a lot of time lately cursing interfaces for this on Wi-Fi-equipped phones--but it also means you don't have to provide a "buddy" with the actual key. If you change the key at any time, you just update your Devicescape account's profile, and your buddies don't have make any changes to connect the next time they are at your location.
For now, this public beta offers a limited set of devices and networks to test to show what the potential is. Over time, the company will add networks, equipment, and additional services like the buddy list feature to flesh out the bones of their offering. The marching orders for this service is to bring the coming universe of Wi-Fi-enabled portables into the hotspot world. "Devices today are second class citizens," said Fraser, and he's trying to advance their status to full members of society.
Last week, Nintendo says, the two millionth player registered and used its Wi-Fi-based games: The company's press release says that in nine months, they have seen 2m unique users--and that's a trackable number since registration is tied to a game console, as I understand it--with 70m individual game sessions. They still have just a handful of games, including Star Fox, which allows up to four remote players.
Connexion by Boeing, Intel, SAS put together an in-flight component to the Global Gaming League's American/European competition: The in-flight exhibition games happening today feature 24 of Europe's best gamers, Boeing said. They're flying SAS and using the on-board network to attack each other. Let's hope we don't see air-to-game rage.
Nintendo says 200,000 users have checked in at its Wi-Fi Connection site worldwide: This in just three weeks since launching with Mario Kart DS designed for Internet and LAN gaming over Wi-Fi.
Nintendo's future may be in handheld players, not consoles: Despite its attempts to compete against juggernaut Sony, which owns about 70 percent of the console market, and Microsoft, with a nearly equal 15 percent share, Nintendo's success has been in handhelds. The latest DS device is the first to feature Internet connectivity, and its Wi-Fi Connection service has so far been a hit through both free hotspot usage (at what are normally for-fee hotspots) and home Wi-Fi connections.
The folks at Nintendo report 45 percent of owners of this Internet-enabled game have used it over Wi-Fi hotspots: The company struck international deals to allow free usage by Nintendo DS owners of networks like those at McDonald's (U.S.) and run by The Cloud in the UK. They sold 112,000 copies of Mario Kart DS up until last Sunday; 52,000 unique users (who are identified by a code in the DS player) used one of these Wi-Fi Connection locations. Two more games are in the pipe for Dec. 5 and March 20 release.
Correction: The press release was apparently designed to be ambiguous. The term Wi-Fi Connection means the Web site that Nintendo designed, not the locations from which a DS user can freely use Wi-Fi. Thus, the 45-percent figure applies to any Wi-Fi user who went through the Nintendo portal, not that 52,000 users were out in hotspots. Those numbers don't appear available (yet).
Nintendo's European debut will offer access at 7500 hotspots in the UK, 7,500 elsewhere, on Nov. 25: BT Openzone and The Cloud are both partners with Nintendo, which is providing free access for its DS player and certain Wi-Fi-enabled games. Tony Hawk's American Sk8land debuts Nov. 18 and Mario Kart DS Nov. 25.
The DS player will also work on home Wi-Fi networks and free networks, and Nintendo has built a tech support database with hundreds of router configuration to aid players in punching through to enable gaming access.
TVG has an early review of Mario Kart DS.
You deserve a Nintendo DS break today: Wayport's deal to bring Wi-Fi into McDonald's so far has had just a single taker on the aggregator side: SBC. SBC FreedomLink's home network (their cheaper one, not their roaming network) includes unlimited access at McDonald's locations operated by Wayport, which now number over 6,000, and will exceed 7,000 by June. Wayport's plan, announced nearly a year and a half ago, is to resell access at McDonald's not on a per-session basis, but on a monthly fixed rate per location. Wayport receives fixed sums and the operator has a fixed expense.
Nintendo is the second company I know of--following SBC--that's signed up for this plan. Nintendo DS owners can bring in an equipped unit to Wi-Fi'd McDonald's starting Nov. 14 and pay no fee for access. A Web site devoted to the service just says that it's coming in November. Incremental sales to McDonald's should be quite marvelous.
Gamesindustry.biz reports that the U.S. launch is Nov. 14; in Europe, Nov. 25. They also note that other Nintendo systems will follow the DS connection. This model has sold 2.2 million units in the U.S., according to NPD Group, quoted in The New York Times.
The first games to support online gameplaying are Mario Kart DS and Tony Hawk's American SK8Land, with two other games to follow by the end of the year.
Update: Nintendo of Canada has separately partnered with Wi-Fi operator FatPort to provide free Wi-Fi to Nintendo DS users across hundreds of their locations.
There's not much detail: It's possible Nintendo will be setting up some hotspot partnership or infrastructure here; it's possible that you'll be able to set up a Wi-Fi gateway that any nearby Nintendo player can access. But it might just be a Wi-Fi plug-in to access the LAN and the Internet for other players.
Nintendo DS users will have access to a free national Wi-Fi network in Japan: The head of Nintendo said the company will build 1,000 hotspots and will charge nothing for access. Third parties might charge for access to certain games or features they offer. This is a fascinating idea: would Starbucks open their network for game-only use to encourage on-site caffeine consumption by players?
Nintendo will use Broadcom to add Wi-Fi to "Revolution": Only sketchy details are known about Nintendo's next gaming system--more should be revealed at next month's E3 conference--but they'll definitely be using Broadcom's Wi-Fi technology with several features turned on. It's very possible that SecureEasySetup will be one of those features. Broadcom touts the technology as a painless method of ensuring that devices receive the maximum protection from WPA with the least effort by a user. Push a button on a router (or via a router's software) and then on the device you want to add and you're all done.
D-Link offers Wi-Fi router aimed at gamers: The router comes with four gigabit Ethernet ports and it supports D-Link's 108 Mbps wireless flavor. The unit prioritizes gaming packets. A Wi-Fi version costs $180, while the Ethernet-only version is $150.
Electronic Arts CFO says that next-generation game consoles will have Wi-Fi access points built in: It's a natural and reasonable progression, allowing Wi-Fi to be a standard feature that can then be tied into controllers and portable games and have applications that run on laptops and handhelds. [link via Engadget]
At the E3 Expo, Microsoft apparently went out of its way to reassure Xbox fans that it will continue to make its Xbox Wi-Fi adapter: That's somewhat ironic because not too long ago Microsoft had a page on its Web site that said it didn't recommend using Wi-Fi with its Xbox and wouldn't offer technical support for it. Perhaps customer demand has made it change its tune.
In other gaming news, Nintendo's handheld game will include Wi-Fi, though apparently the company hasn’t specified if it'll be 802.11b or 802.11g. [links via Frank]
Xbox Wireless Adapter adds 802.11g for $139 list: The news was accidentally leaked via an FCC filing days ago, but Microsoft now makes it formal. The release date is Oct. 5 for the product. The release foolishly says, gamers on Xbox Live can experience speeds of up to 54 Mbps. Most other Wi-Fi makers are careful to say the network operates at speeds that high, but actual throughput is substantially lower.