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Sputnik announced today an upgraded version of its software and a new hosted offering: Sputnik's software allows service providers to centrally manage and track usage on multiple remote Wi-Fi networks. Version 3.0 can now accommodate for very large networks. "With this, you can have one server that manages lots of independent wireless networks and each can have thousands of access points and each is segregated," said David LaDuke, CEO of Sputnik. A service provider could centrally manage, for example, a chain of hotels, a few universities, and several hospitals. The service provider could then allow a local administrator at each location to access network management tools but each administrator would be restricted to managing their own location.
Version 3.0 was also designed to offer users plenty of flexibility. It now includes support for RADIUS authentication, in addition to prepaid authentication and device based authentication. Users can run all three simultaneously, setting preferences for which type of authentication is presented to users first.
The software also enables flexible network policy management so administrators can set rules that may forbid peer-to-peer connections or block ports or IP addresses. The capability means that providers can set up a walled garden that users can access before they authenticate.
Sputnik also introduced today SputnikNet, which makes Sputnik's software available to service providers or businesses on a hosted basis. Customers buy access points from Sputnik and pay a flat $19.95 fee per access point per month for the service. Customers still have the flexibility of employing the authentication and payment method they prefer and can self-brand the offering.
Other providers have hosted offerings but they don't always enable self-branding. Surf and Sip, for example, has a hosted offering but the business essentially becomes a Surf and Sip location. Airpath, however, offers a hosted service that allows for self-branding.
Sputnik currently has over 300 customers around the globe and its products support hotspots in locations such as Holiday Inns, Comfort Inns, McDonald's, Subway restaurants, Ramada Inns, prominent hospitals, and universities. Existing customers can upgrade to the new software for free. New customers can buy the software and two access points for $599.
LaDuke said that he's noticing a change in the way that service providers leverage the capabilities of software platforms like Sputnik's. Instead of building hotspots merely to offer Internet access to customers, network providers are realizing that they can use the wireless network to build a stronger relationship with customers. "It's something like wireless [customer relationship management]," LaDuke said. "People come into your space. They may be in a waiting room or having a latte or staying overnight but you've got this relationship with them and you want to manage it and brand it," he said. Sputnik's software allows service providers to learn about user habits and offer them services such as linking to a premium customer program or offering a higher level of service to frequent customers. "People are doing very different and creative things that we hadn't even thought of," said LaDuke.
ABI Research has built a new site that offers wireless news and feature stories: Much of the content may hinge on data produced by ABI Research analysts. Meg McGinity, who once followed wireless for Interactive Week magazine is the editorial director for the site. You've got to sign up, for free, to read the content; it includes an optional daily newsletter.
I wrote a story for the Seattle Times about a planned wireless network at the Experience Music Project: The rock museum, built by Paul Allen, plans to offer the network to visitors but also use it for a variety of internal functions. One plan is to use the network to stream audio and video to handheld devices that visitors can carry around through the exhibits.
I'm not sure I did a very good job of conveying how interesting this project is. For those of you who aren't familiar with the EMP or haven't seen pictures, it's a Frank Gehry building that looks like a bunch of colorful lumps glued together. I would imagine that building a wireless network there would be a nightmare, given the structure doesn't have a single right angle. I'll be interested to check back with the folks at EMP in a couple of months when more of the network should be in place to hear about the experience. Then I'd like to check in again next summer to see how many of the ambitious applications are actually in place.
Forester makes strange points in brief Wi-Fi report: News.com printed a commentary from a Forester analyst which contains a variety of strange and slightly inaccurate statements. Reader Kevin White wondered why, among other things, the analyst recommended 802.11a. Let me walk through some of the problems.
Forrester believes that companies should deploy 802.11a because it bolsters capacity to 54Mbps, offers eight channels instead of three and reduces interference by using 5.8GHz instead of the 2.4GHz spectrum. This isn't bad logic, but it's not the 5.8 GHz band -- the upper 5 GHz band is reserved for four outdoor 802.11a channels. The lower two 5 GHz bands (around 5.1 to 5.3 GHz) are the indoor channels.
Although 802.11g offers high speed with backward compatibility, using the 2.4GHz band does nothing to fix interference, and the gear isn't yet standardized. Companies typically don't experience the kind of interference that causes problems in 2.4 GHz deployment with cordless phones, microwave ovens, and competing band users. 802.11g has been ratified; there are no standards issues, so I'm not sure what's meant there.
Companies with large in-place 802.11b networks should issue dual-radio cards to their users and run a mixed 802.11a/b environment until they can replace access points. 802.11a is a useful option to consider, and dual-band cards aren't a bad idea if there's a motivation. But 802.11a has specific niche markets. It's ability to penetrate obstacles is worse and its range shorter. This means that an 802.11a installation should cost substantially more than an 802.11g roll-out, plus the extra cost of dual-band cards.
The next section on implementing a secure WLAN is 2001 advice. None of this makes sense today. IT managers should be planning on rolling out 802.1X/secure EAP (PEAP, probably) installations that are inside the firewall using WPA and later 802.11i. That's where the future focus should be for installations being planned starting today. VPN-outside-the-firewall WLANs will be a thing of the past; they won't be needed and don't make sense. The "turning off the SSID" advice is more consumer and old hat. It's not a corporate-level security data point.
New WLAN switches from vendors like Aruba Wireless Networks and Trapeze Networks will improve manageability by automating calculations for access point placement and centralizing intelligence into a single--or handful--of switches. More last-generation advice. In fact, although these particular switch companies are centralizing intelligence, there's no clear market trend that that's the right approach. Dumb APs or smart APs -- there is some middle ground, and it's likely that a combination of medium-intelligence APs, VLAN switching, and policy-based WLAN management will allow different models of deployment.
Instead of paying $30 a month per user for hot spot access from T-Mobile, a company will be able to add Wi-Fi access to its AT&T remote access service for $5 per month. News to me! Is this true? Part of AT&T's deal with GRIC was to resell GRIC service to its VPN customers. But GRIC charges on a metered basis, not a flat rate.
Jupitermedia rebrands 802.11 Planet as Wi-Fi Planet: In a welcome change, Jupitermedia's 802.11 Planet Web site and conference are rebranded as Wi-Fi Planet. Much easier to say Wi-Fi Planet than Eight Oh Two Dot Eleven Planet. They'll also cover VoIP over Wi-Fi and WiMax (trade group for 802.16).
Wi-Fi is on cable operators' radars as a way to increase home use, and provide roaming for users: The article starts out talking about the specific opportunity for cable operators to provide Wi-Fi as a home networking tool (although operators say it's the dominant method used by their subscribers already), but also to extend their reach to users outside the home. Some small operators have already discovered that they can add on a subscription fee for usage at hot spots that allows them to capture more revenue.
Late in the article, Wayport's marketing director notes that Wayport is in "massive deployment mode." No real signs of that yet: I'm wondering when that materializes, as Wayport's node count has been relatively steady for three years.
Network World has RSS feeds for their wireless reporting: Executive Editor Adam Gaffen writes to note that three feeds are available for wireless topics: "Every article we post on wireless (breaking news, feature articles, reviews, columns and newsletters), wireless security, wireless LAN switches."
Tim Higgins summarizes the Network+Interop show: mostly yawn-worthy: After a flurry of lead-up press releases and the usual hype, Network+Interop shaped up to be rather dull, I gather from Tim Higgins's as-usual exhaustive reporting. Tim was looking mostly at home and small-business manufacturers and equipment, and there just wasn't much of interest.
One tidbit: he reports that the Wi-Fi Alliance will probably brand 802.11i as "WPA2" to show that it's an extension to the WPA spec. Only enterprises will need the missing pieces in 802.11i that aren't in WPA, so that seems perfectly reasonable.
Meanwhile, this report from CRN doesn't make the enterprise side of things sound any livelier.
Welcome to the new home of Wi-Fi Networking News. The site is now hosted on my own hardware, which might allow me more flexibility in the future, and it's running using Movable Type, an excellent Web log system that meets my needs for publishing this site. Please check out the search interface at right, which is substantially improved over my old improvised Google link.
As always, feedback is welcome, as well as bug reports. The old 80211b.weblogger.com or wi-fi.weblogger.com URL will continue to redirect indefinitely to the right location for archived postings and the home page.
Wall Street Journal's comprehensive Wi-Fi overview: A cogently dissected view of Wi-Fi's current state, looking at costs of equipment, deployment in homes and business, hot spots, new antennas (Vivato), and 802.11g.
Robert X. Cringely abandons satellite Internet in favor of long-distance 802.11b: Bob got the religion, found a line-of-sight neighbor and gave him free DSL, and spent about $1,400 to build a working relay. If Bob had been at the free wireless networking summit I attended last weekend, he might have learned how to do it for about $500 to $700 less! (More on the summit soon.)
Extend your range by miles and miles: SMC Networks introduces some new high-gain antennas that can extend the range for point-to-point applications of 802.11b to miles. However, pricing does not yet appear to be set. Many manufacturers make antennas, and I hope to survey offerings in the near future.