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Phil Belanger is responsible for Wi-Fi: Not solely, but he's one of the most veteran among industry veterans, and was involved in picking its name. (Note: Wi-Fi really doesn't stand for wireless fidelity or anything at all. Ask Phil.) He co-wrote a document that formed the basis of 802.11, helped found the Wi-Fi Alliance, and served as its first chair. He's worked for many Wi-Fi related firms, including Wayport, Vivato, and BelAir. He recently amicably left BelAir after a decade on Internet time working on startups. As a result, he has been able to catch his breath and reflect a bit.
Phil offers this two-page commentary (downloadable in PDF form) on the future of IEEE 802.11s, the in-progress mesh standards task group. Phil maintains that 802.11s will have little impact on outdoor mesh deployments, and that its real utility will be in providing a basis for home devices to intercommunicate and relay data--every client will be an access point with no extra configuration or fuss, in contrast to Wireless Distribution System (WDS), which is a relatively undocumented and variably supported element found in the original 802.11b spec. Phil notes that more mesh in the house means less signal power is needed, allowing more spectrum reuse and less interference among devices and neighbors.
Nigel Ballard reviews the Zipit: a tiny, expensive instant messaging appliance that can attach to a Wi-Fi network. Although it's weird and pricey, Nigel likes it.
My Zipit arrived, blister packed and complete with an integral Lithium Ion battery pack and the smallest AC charger known to man.
Setting it up was a breeze, simple on-screen instructions tell you what to do. And before you can say boo to a goose [ed. note: Nigel is British--gf], the Zipit is off connecting to the first open (visible) network it can see. It doesn't even wait and ask "Is it ok to connect to this one?" it just does.
I ended up manually putting in the non-broadcast SSID and WEP key for my office network, I added an existing IM account details and literally within ten seconds I was tapping out messages to my good friend Beth in Denver. She responded and was unaware I was using an overgrown pager to communicate.
The lack of a backlit LCD and the relatively small screen and spidery font gave me eye strain after twenty minutes of furious typing. But this is really designed for kids who should be eating their carrots in preparation for long bouts of frenzied IM'ing. The build quality is very good and the keyboard is really very usable and the clamshell lid complete with clip is very akin to a laptop that's been shrunk in the laundry.
It will work with existing AOL, Yahoo and MSN IM accounts. It should be noted that it doesn't do anything more than IM over Wi-Fi, but that might be enough as it is small and relatively cheap at $99.
The Zipit has to be the best thing ever invented for cheating on school exams because you just need an able accomplice with a copy of Webster's either in the school library or at another hot spot thousands of miles away! I wonder how long before we read a story of them being banned at a US schools? Danger Will Robinson!
Target and Amazon are now stocking the Zipit in all manner of tasty colors.
Wimax vs. WiFi: WiFi is the inheritor to Ethernet's Manifest Destiny
Robert Berger writes that WiMax and 802.16 may be eclipsed by near-term 802.11 development: Robert is a veteran of several industries, moving from digital video to Internet to wireless, having spent the last five years thinking about and building wireless systems and companies. He now consults in the industry through his firm Internet Bandwidth Development, LLC. Robert has deep thoughts that come from this experience, and I wanted to pass on (with his permission) an email he sent to Dave Farber's IP list today.
I have been involved in these realms for the last 4+ years both in the hardware manufacturer and service provider realms. Here is my opinionated, but educated perspective on the WiMax vs Wi-Fi debate:
At this point in time, WiMax/802.16 is another Zero Billion Dollar industry. There are no WiMax Products today. There will be some WiMax products within the next 3 - 6 months, but they will be first generation and far from the promises that the WiMax forum has been promising. Wi-Fi/802.11 chipsets are already up the learning curve by several generations. Wi-Fi chipsets are already shipping in the high 10's of millions / year.
IMHO, 802.11 is recapitulating the evolution of Ethernet into the Wireless realms.
Ethernet was originally considered a "toy" technology by many of the industry leaders of the time. The manly technologies at that time were first Token Ring, then 802.12 AnyLAN VG, then ATM.
Wi-Fi is currently considered useful only for the home and some enterprise applications and a "toy" for outdoor Municipal Networks.
But Ethernet out evolved and kept delivering just enough functionality, at much lower cost than the too sophisticated QoS laden and expensive "heavyweights".
Wi-Fi/802.11 has taken on the mantle of Ethernet's Manifest Destiny (it uses almost exactly the same packet frame as Ethernet) and brings it into the wireless realms. There are many more companies, universities and hackers pushing the boundaries of what 802.11 can do and the volume is growing at an accelerating pace.
Today 802.11 is at a similar phase of evolution as early Ethernet was when there were only a shared contention medium via hubs and bridges. Ethernet really took off when switches became available and allowed the contention realm to be broken up to support parallel data flows. And that is what we can expect in the next stage of 802.11 evolution. This is what is needed to make mesh wireless networks viable with 802.11. There are already several companies developing mesh (though only a few are doing it in a way that will scale). There is also an 802.11s working group developing a standard for wireless mesh. And mesh is what will allow 802.11 to eventually cover municipal areas.
WiMax hype is extremely misleading. You hear that a WiMax basestation can create coverage of 35 - 70 miles, deliver 50 Mbps, will work in unlicensed and licensed frequencies, can deliver Non Line Of Sight (NLOS) through trees and buildings, will support mobility and CPE built into Laptops.
But this hype is misleading because they mush together all the claims for all the different frequencies from 2 GHz to 10 GHz, licensed and unlicensed, and projections of their roadmap for the next 8 years.
If you compare WiMax using the same 5.8 GHz unlicensed frequencies that 802.11a would use, there may be only 3 or 4 dB link budget advantage of WiMax over 802.11a. (I.E, the link budget is the total of receiver sensitivity and transmitter power, less losses between the two end points, thus it represents the distance that can be covered and/or penetration thru obstructions. So WiMax can deliver a link budget that is at most twice as good as 802.11a, and in the scope of things this is not very much compared to the total link budgets used in outdoor links).
If you say, ok, lets use licensed spectrum, then you can get long distances OR NLOS. If you really want to deliver multi MBps and be able to use laptops inside buildings as CPE, you'll still need microcell sites on the scale of 1- or 2-mile radius of coverage and use multiple WATTS of power. WiMax uses sophisticated base stations and relatively dump CPE. So each micro-cell basestation would be relatively expensive (compared to 802.11, but definitely cheaper than cellphone basestations).
AND you would have to buy the spectrum to create the coverage. At this point in time, in the US, the only spectrum that has half decent propagation characteristics and is available for this application in big enough chunks to be useful is the 2.5 GHz MMDS frequencies. These are already owned by primarily 3 corporations, plus a bunch of educational institutions (the later still holding on to it for "educational" distance learning TV).
So there is a customer base of maybe a handful of companies to buy and buildout licensed networks. Two of the license owners failed already in building out an MMDS network, the third is a "new" company, Clearwire, who bought spectrum from Worldcom. This does not represent a robust marketplace needed to drive a rapidly evolving technology. Its more like a legacy telco marketplace that will have to compete against DSL and Cable Modem in the urban/suburban markets that represent the bulk of the potential end user marketplace. It will not be subsidized by a parallel home / enterprise networking marketplace as will 802.11.
Finally, the WiMax industry has (in terms of active, as opposed to paper members) one giant company, Intel, and scores of small, mostly barely surviving wireless equipment companies that had already spent most of their efforts on proprietary LMDS or MMDS technology and then threw their hats into WiMax as a way to try to keep going. Most of these companies plan to offer proprietary enhancements to their WiMax products to "differentiate" from the competitors. So there are already way too many companies involved in WiMax than there will be demand for their products. So we can expect that when the hype dies down most of the companies will fail.
Sometime in the near future, I would expect that Intel will drop out of most activity with WiMax. They will realize that they need to get back to their "knitting" as AMD is challenging their core business and that there is never going to be the kind of volume in WiMax chipsets that is needed to keep Intel's interest.
There are a few WiMax companies, that will do very well for themselves. Companies such as Alvarian, who are already a leader in the outdoor, wide area wireless network equipment even before WiMax, who understand the market and have the distribution channel / customer base. This niche will grow with the lower costs for this style of rural and Multiple Business Unit (MDU) type network buildouts that can afford the price points that WiMax will end up with. But it will not be a mass market.
In conclusion, Wi-Fi will out evolve and deliver connectivity at costs dramatically lower than WiMax. WiMax / 802.16 is just starting on its path to evolution, has a much smaller base of innovators and chipset growth volume. Wi-Fi is already far along on its core learning curve, has an easy order of magnitude larger base of innovators / investors and chipset growth volume. WiMax hype will sputter out to reality of a niche backhaul and rural marketplace, Wi-Fi/802.11 will evolve and grow into many more realms and dominate the Local Area Network (LAN) / Neighborhood Area Network (NAN) / Metro Area Network (MAN).
Craig Plunkett responds to the Edge Consult hotspot report: In a trial of introducing more voices to Wi-Fi Networking News, we're publishing a response to our recent coverage of the Edge Consult report on Wi-Fi from Craig Plunkett. Craig is the founder and head of CEDX Corporation, a network services and installation firm that has also rolled out hotspots in the Manhattan and New York area.
It would be interesting to see who commissioned the Edge Consult report. Sounds like a European GSM carrier that doesn't have a Wi-Fi strategy. With only having access to the report's table of contents, I think their conclusions are way off base. The Cellular carriers still have to provide backhaul, and for that, RBOCs [regional Bell operating carriers, or the Baby Bells] and MSOs [cable multi-system operators] rule in the U.S. I don't know about Europe; that's probably still the PTTs [state-owned phone monopolies]. Plus, venues that have cell towers that carry massive voice volume receive big-time rents for these, on the order of US$10,000/month/carrier if you have a location on a major highway.
Will venue owners expect this level of compensation for carrier hotspots? You obviously have to deploy more hotspots in different locations than the cell antennas are currently located, so you can't leverage the existing real estate, T-1s or fiber to towers, unless you use 3G backhaul from the hotspot, and we know that story. The report also seems very Eurocentric.
As far as the fee or free model, it's not an actual study if it uses made-up data! I can do a study, too, that says fee-based profits are higher than free and publish it if I make up my own numbers. I don't really mind the conclusion of the report, because it discourages competition from other fee-based providers. Hey, the market's going to do what it wants, whatever my opinion is, but let's not have made up numbers sound like facts. What needs to be done is to get a hold of some numbers from a chain under the same brand where access is free in some locations, paid in some, and there's no access in others, all in the same geographical area. You also need to collect data from the users of the spots, on whether they're here just for the Wi-Fi, whether they'd pay for it or not, and at the places with no coverage, find out how many folks walked in expecting to be coverage due to brand association. Then you can make some real conclusions. Everything else is just speculation. I also disagree with their assessment of the hotspot market's maturity. I think its still in the tweens stage, not quite an adolescent.
There's one thing that always nags me though. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Didn't anybody get it when banner ads didn't work? To co-opt Paul Boutin's example, you may not be able to order the salt on the table off the menu, but you still pay for it. It's bundled into the prices of the menu items, just like the air conditioning in the hotel room, but you should still have to buy something to get it. There's a fantastic restaurant called Les Halles in downtown Manhattan that just put in a free Wi-Fi spot. If I walked in off the street with my take out slice of pizza, used a salt shaker, then walked out, the head chef, Anthony Bourdain, might come bounding out of the kitchen after me. Let's see what their reaction is when I stand outside the restaurant and use the Wi-Fi without buying the 14.95 Steak Frites for lunch. (Which is fabulous by the way.) We'll see how long free or non-complimentary lasts as ubiquity increases.
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