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My detailed Ars Technica account of what may have been the trouble at Apple's WWDC keynote: It seemed at first that the problem Steve Jobs had on stage in getting the just-announced iPhone 4 to load a Web page were related to the congestion of hundreds of mobile hotspots, largely MiFi units, in the room.
But after examining video from the event and talking to two Wi-Fi gurus, it's more likely that the congestion triggered a Wi-Fi driver bug in the iPhone 4 that the company, if it can replicate it, is surely racing to fix before release.
Congestion of this scale will likely become a given at any technology conference in the future, and perhaps in more casual environments. Mobile hotspots are becoming a standard feature on new smartphones, and each hotspot creates its own Wi-Fi network, uncoordinated with all those around it.
Virgin Mobile is keeping its pricing tiers for its pay-when-you-need it broadband service, but bumping up included quantities of data: Virgin Mobile, now part of Sprint Nextel, has a unique 3G service, in which you can pay for limited amounts of data for limited periods of time. No contracts, and no other fees. And the division is upping the amount of data at each tier starting this morning.
Formerly, you could pay $10 to use up 100 MB within 10 days; with a 30-day usage period, you could pay $20 for 250 MB, $40 for 600 MB, and $60 for 1 GB. There are no overage fees because you are prepaying for a specific quantity of service. If you need more, you just buy another chunk.
The revised plan sticks with the $10/100 MB/10 days tier, but ups the data for each 30-day usage option: $20 gets you 300 MB (only a 50 MB increase), $40 gets you 1 GB (up 400 MB), but $60 now covers 5 GB or 400 percent more usage.
The $60 plan is identical in cost and data quantity to the contract-based 3G laptop service provided by AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, but there's no commitment. (T-Mobile also allows you to pay full price for a USB modem and then pay on a month-by-month basis.)
I suspect Virgin bumped up these numbers because as a better deal it encourages more regular purchases without feeding out much more data. I suspect most people paying for 1 GB never reach that total, and that offering 5 GB won't encourage much more consumption relative to the jump in usage.
Just as carriers have all seemed to spawn prepaid, supercheap voice offerings--all fees are collected before usage--I expect we'll see more prepaid 3G, too. Postpaid plans are supposedly billed after the fact, but all the voice and 3G data contracts I know of required a month's advance prepayment of subscription fees, but allow you to run a tab for overages during the month of usage and then pay for those. Hardly postpaid, despite the definition of postpaid.
The plans all require the $100 Broadband2Go USB Device (a Novatel Ovation MC760 with microSD slot). The USB modem works over Sprint Nextel's network at EVDO Rev. A speeds where available, and supports several Windows flavors and Mac OS X 10.3 and later. (Some commenters on Virgin's open-answer FAQ say 10.4 is the minimum supported version.)
Prevalence of laptops makes long bus rides into quiet study halls: This is the kind of technology coverage, I'd like to see more of, showing how a couple separate pieces of tech when combined produce a big change in people's lives. Students in Vail, Arizona, ride on a Wi-Fi bus, which uses a mobile broadband router (Autonet) to power their laptops en route.
The longer battery life in laptops, which have become ever cheaper, coupled with greater coverage of the fastest flavors of 3G, mean that students can actually get real work done that requires an Internet connection. The bus driver reports less rowdiness, and teachers are seeing more homework.
For business travelers, ubiquitous access in planes, trains, buses, and ferries might still mean an extension of the work day instead of a displacement of formerly useless time into productive activities. But for students on buses, the time can be lost--and then displaced into evening hours, reducing their time for unstructured activities.
Lest you think this is a rural issue, my wife recently calculated that when our 5 year old heads to middle school in several years, the busing system would probably require he spend 80 minutes on a bus to get to a school about a 10-minute drive away.
Matt Hamblen at Computerworld does a nice job looking at the RCA/Audiovox Wi-Fi power harvester: This device will supposedly absorb Wi-Fi signal power from the air and convert it to stored battery power. This isn't an unreasonable notion, but it seems impossible.
The inverse-square law roughly says in this case that the signal would decrease in intensity inversely proportional to the square of the distance. Double the distance and signal strength drops by a fourth; triple it, and it drops ninefold; and so on. (It's got something in common with a soap bubble: a drop of liquid, when blown into an ever larger bubble, has less and less soap and water to maintain cohesion as it grows, becoming ever thinner.)
Thus at the distance at which most people find themselves in relation to access points, the amount of energy falling is incredibly minute. This is one of the miracles of Wi-Fi, that between using spread-spectrum and orthogonal frequency division multiplexing and a host of other tricks that a signal that is barely above the thermal noise floor can carry hundreds of megabits per second of data.
I like that Hamblen didn't dismiss the notion, but found reasonably skeptical people who explained the various reasons why it should be against the laws of physics to gather as much energy as the Airnergy device appears to be alleged to suck down.
The company made a splash by providing incomplete information and a seemingly specious number at CES--charging a BlackBerry in 90 minutes, although it may be that it took far longer to gather the energy into the battery by which the BlackBerry was trickle-charged.
I must note that this article about chicken wire was written by Geoffrey Fowler. Seriously.
(Chicken wire background by Elné Burgers; used by Creative Commons license.)
Clever freelancer in Minneapolis finds combo of Wi-Fi, coffeeshop, and co-working: If life gives you 2% milk, make cream, apparently. A Minneapolis entrepreneur suggested to Crema Cafe's owner that she turn her shop into a co-working location--a place where people in unrelated, typically one-person businesses work together--one day a week. The cafe is closed on weekdays in the winter. With $40 paying for four Tuesdays, Cream's Carrie Gustafson will fire up the lights, heat, and Wi-Fi, and provide coffee and tea on an honor system. A couple dozen people will apparently be part of the experiment.
The co-owner of the shop doesn't expect to make money--24 people would bring in just $240 or about $30 per hour open. That has to cover one staffer, and utilities: remember that this is Minnesota, where nature tries to kill you, so heat may be a substantial expense. But it's a nifty idea.
This is co-working, not cow-orking, which I don't want to know about.
Bathroom scale maker adds Wi-Fi for body mass, weight transmission: Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale ($160) sends details about your weigh-in via the Internet so you can monitor your health and fitness. Studies have shown both that weighing yourself daily isn't a great tool for weight loss, but, conversely, tracking behavior and outcomes can help with sticking to regimen.
Sheraton builds lounge in Central Park with Wi-Fi: It's a publicity stunt, but the hotel chain wants to promote the fact that it's updated its hotel lounges or some nonsense, so they've taken over the famous Sheep Meadow, blanketing it in free Wi-Fi through September, and offering snacks and such next Monday. Central Park already has some Wi-Fi, including at Sheep Meadow.
Regular readers of this site knows that Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil patented the first known description of spread-spectrum communications: Yes, that Hedy Lamarr. Studio 360, a public radio show, looks into Hedy's co-invention.
Insanity in an insole: For some reason, the folks mstrpln (wasn't that one of Superman's pests?) along with Ubiq (a homophone for a Philip K. Dick novel) have released a Nike Dunk add-on that shows you whether a Wi-Fi network is in the vicinity of...your shoes.
They write: "The idea of footwear was pushed further by converging elements of digital culture with fashion and design into a wearble technology. The end product is a sneaker designed to detect Wi-Fi wireless internet hot-spots wherever the user may roam, with every step."
Uh, yeah, because, a shoelace cover that lights up whenever there's Wi-Fi around is some kind of cool. If it were 2003. And a handbag.
This story is a bit cute, but it's true: Alison DeLauzon, Reuters reports, had her camera stolen when left an equipment bag in a restaurant in Florida. The folks who allegedly took the bag also took pictures of themselves, which isn't unusual. But DeLauzon had an Eye-Fi wireless Secure Digital (SD) card in her camera, received as a gift. The thieves apparently wandered by an open access point with the same SSID as one that DeLauzon had configured for use, and pictures of her baby and the thieves were uploaded to her picture-sharing account. Nifty.
This is reminiscent of another recent story in which an Apple Store employee was able to use Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard's Back to My Mac remote access software to connect to a laptop that was stolen from her apartment to grab images and screenshots of the two men alleged to have taken the laptop and other gear.
On a visit with my older son to Port Townsend, Wash., a few days ago, I spotted this odd tower: That's my father and my older boy in the photo, looking at this stack of wireless gear at Fort Worden, a state park and former garrison of democracy. We spotted another one near the water in downtown PT, as the town is known to locals. Any ideas? Post in comments.
Update: Turns out it's a tsunami warning siren with a dish that links it to an activation system. Although Port Townsend is far east of the Pacific Ocean, it's part of a strait that, were a tsunami to hit the Pacific, would likely inundate parts of the town.
Azulstar once pinned its fortunes on city-wide Wi-Fi, but now looks to a special licensed spectrum band to make WiMax work where Wi-Fi failed: Azulstar has been the also-ran in Wi-Fi for some years, I'll just state bluntly and upfront. They built a network in Grand Haven, Mich., in 2003 that's one of--if not the--longest running metro-scale Wi-Fi networks in the world designed for public access. The mayor of Grand Haven since 2003, Roger Bergman, told me, "I got on board personally right away, and I am still on."
Azulstar soon answered several RFPs and partnered up with major firms to bring Wi-Fi to Rio Rancho, N.M., Winston-Salem, N.C., Sacramento, Calif., and most notably Silicon Valley--a set of dozens of cities along with county government and private enterprise all wanting some kind of tiered Wi-Fi across 1,500 sq mi.
While EarthLink, MetroFi, and even Kite Networks (with their extensive Arizona buildout in Tempe launched a bit before any other large competiting network) seized the headlines, and later made news about their stalls, failures, and exits, Azulstar seemed quietly to sink into the sand. The Wireless Silicon Valley deal fell apart, as did Sacramento after efforts to get stakeholder and outside investment seemed to fail to materialize, and the marquee partners--Cisco, IBM, and Intel--just wouldn't step up to the plate to make the project move forward. Azulstar was the lead techology firm, but the money just didn't come. (Both California projects are moving forward with a different set of partners and expectations now.)
Rio Rancho was perhaps one of the biggest letdowns. City manager Jim Payne explained in an interview a few weeks ago, "They had a number of things that were going against them from the start, and they did make an attempt to meet the requirements of the contract." But Rio Rancho voted to not just terminate the contract after years of attempts to make the network work, but rejected a proposal from Azulstar a few weeks ago to switch over equipment on the poles. Azulstar now has to remove all its devices.
All of this might make the typical company head a bit depressed about his firm's future, and less than sanguine about the potential for wireless broadband to work at all. Not so for Tyler van Houwelingen, Azulstar's chief, and I have to admit that he convinced me that the wireless provider has a fighting chance, due to a good combination of timing, spectrum policy, and a large dollop of can-do spirit.
The Ricochet network had continued to operate in Denver, passing through multiple hands, until its death March 28: I feel like playing taps. The Ricochet network, started up by Metricom, which spent billions and sold some assets for pennies on the dollar, was closed by Civitas, a company formed by the president of then-owner Terabeam's Ricochet division. The Ricochet site notes service halted on March 28.
The company claimed 6,000 users as of last August, but it seemed like a hard row to hoe competing as it was essentially against 2G/2.5G cellular data service that can be had for a pittance through embedded devices and cards. I tried to reach the company, and while its phones still work, the Civitas voice tree hangs up when you try to reach a real person, and Ricochet's tells you the network is shut down, and directs you to their Web site.
When I wrote about the sale in August 2007, I noted that Civitas was claiming "a decade of experience operating large-scale wireless deployments," which was specious. I noted, "That’s only true if you count some of the equipment mounted in Denver as continuous employees of the company."
Goodbye, Ricochet, an idea first way ahead of its time, and then way, way behind it.
Two from the ecological files today: In Costa Rica, a UCLA group is using Wi-Fi and fiber optic to provide canopy-level monitoring of microclimates that are typically hard to track. The top of the rain-forest canopy--in the La Selva Biological Station in this case--has a very different set of conditions than at the base. One measurement particularly of interest is the rate of CO2 leakage from the rain forest to see how the gas is passed in different areas, especially where there gaps due to tree falls.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., solar-gear maker Xantrex has added a Wi-Fi-based gateway to relay information about solar-panel performance in home installations. An embedded Web server provides information, or it can be retrieved and logged on a networked PC. It seems like the power draw from this device shouldn't be very high, but it's not noted.
ThinkGeek to release Wi-Fi detection shirt: I had to check today's date, despite the autumnal crispness in the air, because this is the kind of thing that ThinkGeek routinely offers up on April 1. But it appears to be real. It's a Wi-Fi detector with battery-pack that displays via a decal on a T-shirt front. It's $30, comes in S to XXL, and detects 802.11b and 802.11g. Requires three AAA batteries (not included). The washing instructions are particularly amusing; I have had silk shirts that required less care. The shirt ships later this month. And, no, I'm not looking for a gift. [via Gizmodo]
Wireless power coming closer to reality (abstract of paper, Wall Street Journal story): Researchers at MIT demonstrate lighting a 60-watt bulb (dimly) from over two meters. True, 40 percent power loss, but that's over open space. Commercial products might be a few years away. The short story is that they use a pair of copper coils tuned to the same magnetic resonance so that power is targeted in one place. The technology will work only over short distances, but that might make it possible to charge battery-powered devices by having them just in rough proximity to resonance chargers, or to have battery-free, wireless devices that work only in the vicinity.
For those who want no electromagnetic radiation in their homes, perhaps this new window film would help: CPFilms Llumar Signal Defense--the latest in EMF-blocking paints and covers--is designed to pass light but not signals. The idea is that by putting this film over windows, companies can keep their networks more fully enclosed. (Walls might need special paint, or might have enough material already blocking transmission.) The company says it's been making the film for several years for government purposes, protecting over 200 federal agency buildings. The film is also blast-resistent, and reduces fragmentation in case of an explosion or break-in.
Ostensibly, someone attempting to prevent signals from entering their homes, could apply this to their windows, too, serving the opposite intent.
What has six antennas, 4 GB of Compact Flash, and costs €999? I don't know, but it's crawling up your network. The rather crazy people at Geek Technique have built a strange box capable of attaching to six separate Wi-Fi networks and aggregating the results into a single stream of broadband. Of course, to actually bond two or more networks, you need to have support on the server side and the receiving side, so it's more likely that this box round-robins requests (image request one to that network, Web page request two to that network) than anything fancier. Still! And remember: more and more people are being arrested for using free or unprotected networks. This might get you arrested six times in one day.
Steve Jobs directly confirmed to one questioner that Apple would charge for its 802.11n enabler for existing Macintoshes: A reader who prefers to remain anonymous forwarded me the mail he sent to Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, and the reply he received. He included mail headers so that I can confirm the mail is legitimate. The reader asked Jobs whether press reports were in error that Apple would charge $5 for an "enabler" that would turn on the 802.11n functions in most Core 2 Duo and Xeon systems shipped in 2006. (The 17-inch 1.83 GHz iMac with Core 2 Duo lacks the necessary chip.)
Jobs replied, simply, "It's the law," which would confirm that the Sarbanes-Oxley requirement that seemed bizarre to me is, in fact, correct. In several reports, the law is cited as requiring different accounting for earnings on products that are shipped and later provide new functionality that wasn't initially advertised. Charging for the updater means that the functionality didn't come for free. I still hope to hear some better analysis about why the law requires this kind of product update micromanagement.
In any case, the email is legitimate, and Jobs's reply is unambiguous.
My earlier post on this was titled, "Apple Won't Charge $5 for 802.11n," but what I said--not so clearly--was that Apple would only tacitly charge that if they charged anything. The company isn't discussing releasing a locked, serialized enabler that works only with laptops and desktops that have been approved for update. Rather, they may charge $5 for an enabler, but the enabler will quickly be distributed for free, however informally, until the millions of older machines are patched.
I suspect based on Jobs's response, too, that Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), which will be a paid operating system update shipping in second quarter 2007, could include the enabler, too, since that's a separate fee. The AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n will include the enabler, and I'm extending the logic from there.