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The folks at Australia's science and technology agency could reap a billion AU$ for the country's coffers: CSIRO, a government agency devoted to promoting and advancing research, patented some of the fundamental aspects of OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), which is used in all Wi-Fi flavors except 802.11b, as part of WiMax's OFDMA, and in other wireless networking technologies. An analyst expects the agency to collect AU$1 billion in royalties, based on recent settlements with computer hardware makers and current suits against mobile carriers in the U.S.
I've read CSIRO's patent and its amended form that covers 802.11 specifications, and I would have thought it couldn't have survived a challenge. CSIRO has won battles in the East Texas district (a patentholder's venue of choice), but most firms have settled without testing the patent's strength in court and on appeal. CSIRO reportedly collects only pennies per adapter, and manufacturers may have simply decided to eat the cost instead of losing costly judgments.
As a consumer tax, CSIRO's fees likely have taken a buck or two out of your pocket for all the Wi-Fi gear you own that's covered.
Spokane's long-running hotzone is crawling to a close: In 2004, Vivato set up a large hotzone across downtown Spokane using its then-revolutionary phased-array antenna gear. Vivato could never make its system work in production, and the hotzone has gone through multiple operators and partners.
The network hardly works any more and has nearly no usage: only 204 KB (not MB!) were used in March, apparently. The network will likely disappear soon
The company behind Washington's ferry system launches San Francisco Bay Wi-Fi and WiMax: I'm a little confused by why Milt Gregoy spent $2m and risked life and limb to build a network without a specific business plan in mind. He favors the large audience available, but it seems like boaters are likely to also have 3G cards and phones, and thus be less interested in a monthly fee unless the speed and reliably are substantially better than 3G.
Here's today round-up of brief Wi-Fi items.
David Strom highlights the risks of in-flight Wi-Fi: David, who I have known for many years, writes about how much data people may wind up exposing on in-flight Wi-Fi networks, but not over the wireless network. It's a fascinating point of view. His seatmate on a recent flight revealed a ton of information to David's casual visual inspection, including passwords. He recommends privacy filters. 3M makes a host of these.
The Boston Globe looks at why Salem's free downtown Wi-Fi effort faltered: It's an interesting roam around that city, but doesn't precisely answer the question of why downtown businesses didn't continue to fund the group effort. Various shops have free Wi-Fi, but perhaps each wanted to have people come closer, instead of creating a commons. Boston's own OpenAirBoston municipal effort isn't even mentioned; the Boston Globe ran a long feature last August on the effort's small but interesting progress. (You can read the background about OpenAirBoston in this long article I wrote in 2006.)
Speaking of blasts from the past, the Washtenaw County effort appears dead: In Michigan, in the county that contains Ann Arbor, a long-running nearly unfunded private/public partnership has bit the dust, the local paper reports. The original firm, 20/20 Communications, bid on a plan with no funding to build it out, and a federal request for stimulus money was turned down. 20/20 apparently has sold the small number of current customers to 123Net, 20/20's president has left the firm, and the new company has no interest in county-wide service provision.
Company claims Wi-Fi charging system: RCA Airnergy will suck Wi-Fi signals out of the air and charge an internal battery that then discharges into a handheld. The limits on power for Wi-Fi, coupled with the laws of physics, would seem to argue against this producing enough to be useful. Read the comments on this post where someone works out the charging math. I like the idea, but I can't imagine it becoming a widespread technology, even at about $100 for the battery and charger.
Acela trains gain Internet service in March: Amtrak went full speed ahead on this one. The service will be free at first. Acela is just about the only high-speed rail in the US, operating between Boston and DC, although laughably slow compared to European and Asian offerings.
Private county wireless network in Michigan has government's ear despite lack of funding, uptake: Wireless Washtenaw, a three-plus-year-old network that serves the county in which Ann Arbor is found, has a few hundred paying users, and will likely be out of luck if the county and firm don't get federal stimulus money, AnnArbor.com reports. The county keeps pinning its hopes on this municipally anointed projects, and seemingly brushed off the successful Wireless Ypsi service in Ypsilanti, which offers both free and paid service, and sees over 2,000 users in a week compared to 550 regular Wireless Washtenaw users. Public access county Wi-Fi died out entirely with this exception even before city-wide Wi-Fi mostly went under. (A bonus in this article: my wife's uncle, J. Downs Herold, has an on-the-point quotation.)
Connectify releases Windows 7 PAN enabler: Connectify has pushed out the 1.0 release (free!) of its software that turns on a hidden feature in Windows 7--never completed with the proper user interface--to allow a single Wi-Fi connection to accept local connections while itself connected to a Wi-Fi network (infrastructure style). This avoids the trouble of ad hoc networking, while allowing robust WPA2 security.
Cleveland considers 4 1/2 sq mi free network: What's most interesting about this plan may be the proposed cost: $600,000 to build. In the olden days, it was a few hundred thousand dollars per square mile, as I recollect, even though it was often billed as "$100K," but that didn't include the modern density that's understood to be needed, and the real bill for the back end. Cleveland has other areas with free service through the One Community effort that sprang out of initiatives at Case Western University.
Bluetooth's low-energy mode announced: As part of Bluetooth 4.0 (even though 3.0 is just starting to ship now), the low-energy mode will provide networking for sensors that can't carry huge or rechargeable battery packs. This will be useful in healthcare, alarm monitoring, fitness, and other categories. The ZigBee standard was supposed to eat up this kind of usage, being a low-power, low-bandwidth technology, but Bluetooth wants to sweep this use inside its existing ecosystem. The data rate will be 1 Mbps.
UK tries to scare people over unsecured hotspots: This meme is running wild, that child pornography consumers and producers drive around to find unsecured Wi-Fi in order to do their evil. I'm sure it happens (I've linked to reports here before). But is it an epidemic with great flashing exclamation points? Not really. But it's increasingly the case that people are securing their networks, and increasingly sensible to do so. An unsecured network is a vector for infection on your own network if someone happens by, connects, and infects your machines over a "trusted" local net.
The future of 802.11: John Cox of Network World runs down all the various improvements we'll see now that 802.11n has been approved--part of the alphabet soup of add-ons and tweaks that will continue to make Wi-Fi more reliable and robust, especially in the enterprise. This includes four-stream 802.11n (600 Mbps raw rate).
Yet Another Story about Wi-Fi Manners: This time from Florida Today, explaining how to avoid being a wireless moocher.
Boingo Adds Australasia Access: The roaming aggregator will add 4,000 hotspots from Tomizone immediately through Australia, China, India, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands, with another 12,000 coming within months.
Skyhook improves S60 location accuracy: Skyhook offers a $2.99 Maps Booster for Nokia S60 handsets via the Ovi Store to speed up the fix and location time by adding its Wi-Fi and other positioning technology into the mix.
Bryant Park uses Verizon fiber for backhaul: The long-running Bryant Park Wi-Fi hotzone in New York City adjacent to the main branch of the New York Public Library has upgraded its backhaul to Verizon's FiOS, a 50 Mbps flavor. The network has been active since 2002 with different folks running it at different times. It's currently branded as operated by the Public Internet Project, the site for which hasn't been updated in several years.
Slate notices tired theme of WSJ's Wi-Fi cafe squatters article: Jack Shafer, media critic, compares the WSJ's summer 2009 story on how cafe owners are tired of people nursing a cup of coffee for 8 hours while bogarting Wi-Fi to my 2005 New York Times piece. I wrote a non-trend trend piece back in 2005, looking at why some cafe owners were turning off or restricting Wi-Fi, but also noting contrary trends, which have proven true. (I wrote a bit more about this on 5-August-2009 when the Journal article first appeared.)
Meanwhile, QSR Magazine, the trade journal for fast-food or "quick-service" restaurants, chimed in with a short report that Wi-Fi brings in bodies to buy stuff. Right on.
San Francisco bus stops will generate juice, Wi-Fi signals: Popular Mechanics covers a prototype covered bus stop that (when all are deployed) would generate 43,000 kWh per year--the equivalent of a few thousands dollars worth of non-renewable power, but often paid at a much higher rate for renewable. I'm not clear if the city can get a higher rate for feeding the meter backwards, or if it's only available to private citizens. The shelters also use less power for lights, and will include Wi-Fi access points. The plan is to roll out 360 shelters by 2013 at $30K a pop. Clear Channel Outdoor will pay for deployment and keep ad revenue.
College uses WiMax for network coverage: Northern Michigan University will hand out laptops--included in tuition since 2000--to students with WiMax cards for network coverage this fall. The intent is to provide secure and high-speed service over the hilly terrain of the school, and to students and staff off campus. This is the first move of the kind I've heard, and it'll be fascinating to check in with them in a few months.
Technology Review tutors us in white space spectrum: There's a lot of interest in using the guard bands, or empty space, between adjacent channels so long as it doesn't interfere with legitimate licensed uses. This could actually be Wi-Fi on steroids, allowing higher power levels and wider channels. There are a number of hurdles yet to overcome to make "White Fi" practical.
Meraki releases survey of device use on its networks: Meraki has observed over 200,000 unique devices on its collection of customers and self-run networks in 2009, and says that Apple equipment use grew year-over-year by 221 percent (laptops, iPod touch, and iPhone), while the devices it observed grew just 41 percent (from 150,000 unique devices in 2008). Apple equipment represents 32 percent of all devices seen by the networks, up for 14 percent in 2008. The company uses a software as a service (SaaS) centralized backend for its customers' administration, allowing it to track these kinds of statistics; it looked at usage over a 24-hour period in June 2008 and June 2009 across 10,000 access points.
Skype 2.8 for Mac adds per-minute hotspot access: Skype calls this feature "still in beta," and it's been available for months in pre-release versions. The Skype Access feature ties into 100,000 hotspots worldwide, and requires a per minute fee of €0.16 or US 22¢ (including tax/VAT). While that's high, it's cheaper than an international call from a cell phone in most markets, and cheaper than paying $4 to $12 for a daypass when you need a few minutes. At $13.20/hr, it's egregiously high for routine use, even in expensive Wi-Fi markets, so I'm not confident this will catch on. It seems more of a nifty demo. Boingo's mobile price is just US$7.95/mo with no contract, although it works only with mobile phones; the global plan (with 2,000 minutes per month) is $59. The Skype Access feature is Mac only at present.
Google asks public about its Mountain View service: The Los Altos, Calif., paper says that Google will have a public forum tonight at 7 pm to discuss what it's learned from a running a Wi-Fi network across Mountain View, and ask for feedback. The service has been in operation since 2006. Punters speculated back then that this was part of a national free Wi-Fi network Google would built out; I was mostly skeptical. About 19,000 users access the network, which consists of 500 access points, each month.
Australian police patrol for open hotspots: Should some volunteer wardrivers do this work, instead? The Queensland police will patrol for open hotspots and then advise residents. The police are concerned about crime happening over open Wi-Fi networks. A detective superintendent says "crooks were now sharing information on satellite maps showing vulnerable areas with large numbers of unsecured networks." Remember a decade or so ago, when police were convinced that millions of Satanists were conducting secret rituals? Community education forums and an explanation of how to notice and report network misuse would probably be time better spent.
Wi-Flowers from Toyota: The car firm has giant flowers--apparently solar powered--that have power outlets and Wi-Fi signals. Toyota is touring the 18-foot-tall "flowers" in Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles from July to October. Pictures.
Cablevision expands Wi-Fi in parts of New York: The service, only available and at no cost to its cable broadband subscribers, is now active in Orange and Rockland counties in New York.
The New York Public Library opens a room for technology users: The grand anchor of the city's public library system has opened its special-occasion room, the Edna Barnes Salomon Room, as a "wireless Internet reading and study room." Starting yesterday, the Beaux-Arts style room will offer seating for 128 patrons. The library will also loan out laptops. The room is 4,500 sq ft, and gorgeous. It sports "16 custom made, solid black walnut tables and dark brown leather chairs that will match the rooms' dark maple wood floor." Wi-Fi is free, as it has been at the library and adjoining Bryant park (operated separately) for some time.
Cape Cod vacationers can't unplug, un-unwire: The Boston Globe writes of the plight of those have jobs, take vacations, and aren't able to stop working on Cape Cod. Okay, let's not cry too much for those that get Cape vacations; it's a marvelous place. But it is sad that a function of modern life and the economy is that people are hunting out free Wi-Fi at 10 pm at night in the parking lots of libraries.
iPass extends its hotspot aggregation client for iPhone for enterprise users: The company works largely with corporations to provide roaming Wi-Fi, Ethernet, 3G, and dial-up for mobile workforces along with end-point security. Last year, iPass added individual subscription options, and in January added an iPhone application for those subscribers. Today's update allows corporate users to use the iPhone app, too. iPass is also wrapping in use of multiple devices by a single user into the same fee structure, as ever more people have a laptop, a smartphone, and other gear with Wi-Fi built in.
Eye-Fi adds more video upload sites: The latest Eye-Fi memory card that uploads pictures and video ($80 or $100, depending on features) now transfers moving images to Picasa Web Albums, Photobucket, and SmugMug. The card models launched earlier this year with YouTube and Flickr uploads. I tested the Eye-Fi Explore Video a few weeks ago, and found that it worked just as fluently in uploading videos and photos as the previous models (a couple of which I own) handled photo-only uploads.
If you need more proof that AT&T gets Wi-Fi, just read this quote: "You can think of Wi-Fi as a giant offload point for wireless data traffic. Look at the growth in smartphones and data traffic, and it's pretty clear that Wi-Fi can be a real plus to AT&T." That's from Greg Williams, a VP at AT&T who was brought over from his role as COO at Wayport when that firm was acquired. Williams was at Wayport since 2003 during which time it had explosive native and managed location growth. None of the other carriers understands this simple statement that Williams made.
iPhone 3.0 software: Apple showed off features in its iPhone 3.0 software, due out this summer as a free update for all iPhone owners of any vintage phone. Two features related to wireless include the ability for developers to embed map interaction into their applications, including the use of Wi-Fi positioning for location finding; and an auto-login option for Wi-Fi hotspots, not explained in any fashion. One colleague suggests wISPr, a somewhat de facto and erratic standard for a hotspot publishing its login characteristics, will be employed. As long experience with aggregators has revealed, Apple is 100-percent naive if it thinks that will work in isolation. It might be a tool to automate logins for AT&T and other iPhone carriers' Wi-Fi networks. Another colleague noted that EAP-SIM appeared in small print on one slide Apple showed today; that EAP flavor is used to allow a phone's SIM authentication card to perform a network login. Nokia was testing a kind of EAP-SIM long, long, long ago as a way to avoid hotspot login typing.
A hacker (the good kind) figured out how to use an Eye-Fi card with his own server: Eye-Fi transmits data back to a computer or the Eye-Fi servers (from whence it goes to photo-sharing and other sites you've chosen), using a computer-hosted Web server to manage a card's settings. Jeff Tchang wrote a python server script to allow substituting a different software package for the Eye-Fi Manager. Not sure if this violates the company's terms of service, but it's always neat to see constructive and unintended extensions of useful technology.
Green Wi-Fi gets Voice of America write-up: The folks at Green Wi-Fi are leveraging solar power as a way to bring networking to the developed world. With little or no electrical infrastructure, the wider world of the Internet was unavailable to rural schools. Baikie set out to make a system that was appropriate to the infrastructure as well as affordable. A Sun Microsystems engineer, Baikie helped develop a system that's smart enough to save energy by powering down at night when there are no users. Voice of America discusses Green Wi-Fi's projects in Senegal and Panama, as well as future efforts.
Gogo quietly offers mobile pricing option for in-flight Internet: Aircell's Gogo Internet service on Delta, Virgin America, and American airlines has quietly released an $8-per-flight mobile option, a discount off its $10-$13 (under 3 hours/over 3 hours) pricing model. The soft launch lets people with iPhones, Blackberrys, and other mobile hardware get a cheaper connection, justified because such users typically consume much less data than a laptop toter.
Ruckus Wireless releases enterprise-oriented 802.11n gear: ZoneFlex enterprise is part of Ruckus's move into corporate headquarters. The company started with MIMO devices for the home, expanded into IPTV, hotzones, and small businesses. This latest release includes a simultaneous dual-band 802.11n access point, an upscaled WLAN controller, and enterprise policy management including elements such as virtual LANs and virtual SSIDs. Ruckus gear uses mesh networking, which always functions better with multiple radios to avoid duplicating traffic over the same channels. Ruckus has a bit of secret sauce, à la Meraki, that segments same-channel mesh into dynamic clusters without breaking client Wi-Fi access.
Apple ships firmware updates for older 802.11n base stations: Apple last week released updated firmware, with security and bug fixes, to enable remote file-sharing and configuration for Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) users. This feature, the only backward-compatible item that's part of the company's new 802.11n base station models, allows a MobileMe subscriber to use Back to My Mac to access hard drives and base station configuration when using a computer with the same MobileMe credentials. The software can be downloaded through this link, or via Check for Updates in the AirPort Utility menu with that program launched and a base station selected.
Option offers up another cell gateway: The GlobeSurfer III is the latest release from Option for a cellular gateway, in this case featuring the fastest HSPA flavors. The device seems unique in offering networked support for those connected via Wi-Fi and Ethernet to USB hard drives and printers. The GlobeSurfer III also handles SMS messaging. With all these features, there's no battery-only option, which is becoming a common feature among simpler wireless WAN gateways.
T-Mobile disembarks Amtrak: No press release was sent, but our eagle-eyed informal correspondent Klaus Ernst once again spots the lacuna. He was unable to find T-Mobile service at Penn Station in New York City, contacted T-Mobile customer support, and was told that the service was no longer available. T-Mobile offered Wi-Fi in five Northeast corridor stations; Amtrak still lists them as their provider. A T-Mobile spokesperson didn't respond for comment (yet), and a perusal of the company's hotspot listings show no Amtrak stations. T-Mobile was the third provider to operate this service: Ernst notes Pronto/Urbanhotspots was once a provider, then AT&T Wireless ran the service (prior to the Cingular acquisition), and finally T-Mobile. One would think that with a captive audience often waiting Wi-Fi would be a big seller. Apparently not.
We're No. 1! We're No. 1! Whatever! Forbes has released its annual nonsensical top 30 wired cities report, which, of course, includes wireless services like public Wi-Fi hotspots and Clearwire's pre-WiMax and true WiMax. The methodology is ridiculous. They're measuring percentage of homes with "high-speed connections," without showing a historgram or other data about speeds, counting Wi-Fi hotspots, and looking at the sheer number (not scope) of broadband providers. Seattle comes in at No. 1, for whatever that's worth.
Metageek releases 2.4/5 GHz spectrum analyzer: The $799 Wi-Spy DBx, designed for network engineers, started shipping a few days ago. Metageek has long offered a 2.4 GHz analyzer ($399); this devices adds the 5 GHz band. I had a brief demo from a beta tester a few days ago, and it's rather slick. This might be a terrific tool for those building large-scale networks, trying to determine interferer sources. As with the previous Wi-Spy tools, graphical analysis software is included that allows the import and creation of profile to characterize common patterns, like cordless phones or microwave ovens.
Auckland fires up Wi-Fi service: Service was turned in preparation for the America's Cup regatta starting later this month. It's not free: NZ$3 (US$1.60) per hour, NZ$6.50 (US$3.50) per day, and NZ$30 (US$16) per month. But it's considered pretty affordable within the context of the local economy. Service is in zones rather than seamlessly across the town.
WeFi offers hotspot directory: I'm not impressed. I checked out Seattle in their database of 14 million networks and growing, and found a handful of networks across the city, even looking at both close, open, and authentication-required networks. Pretty paltry. There have been many attempts to have user-generated hotspot directories over the years. They have all faltered or failed because there's a lot of hard work in not just finding and cataloguing locations, but cleaning the data and updating it correctly over time. My usual disclosure: I own a very very small number of shares in JiWire, which built one of the first hotspot directories and still operates it. But, despite that disclosure, JiWire's the only directory that's usable; I've tried them all, and I try each new one, too.
Intel releases driver update to create simultaneous peer-to-peer Wi-Fi network and local area network connection: Intel started talking about its Cliffside project months ago, and EE Times reports that the silicon manipulator has released software for Centrino 2 laptops that allows simultaneous PAN (Personal Area Network) and LAN (Local Area Network) use.
PANs are used for gadgets and syncing: cameras, keyboards, printers, and such; LANs are used for network connections for file transfer, Internet access, and applications. Combining PAN and LAN into Wi-Fi without making a tradeoff is an interesting strategy, but it assumes that everything you'll want to use in a PAN has Wi-Fi built in. Bluetooth still has an advantage of both chip size and power usage over even the most efficient Wi-Fi, and most compact Wi-Fi chipsets are now being sold as integrated packages with Bluetooth on board.
Eye-Fi to offer iPhone application: Eye-Fi will offer a free application that lets owners of its Secure Digital (SD) format Wi-Fi memory card to upload pictures from the iPhone to computers and online sharing services. Eye-Fi is also working on direct video-to-YouTube uploads from its memory card.
Japanese bullet trains will gain the Internet service originally promised in 2006: The service wasn't delayed, but tied to new trains arriving for the Tokyo to Osaka line. The 270 km/hr line will offer Internet access over Wi-Fi, and will use leaky coax for its backhaul. Leaky coax is a kind of purposely undershielded wiring used to create a linear antenna for train lines and subway lines. WiFi Rail plans to use leaky coax to deliver Wi-Fi directly to passengers on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in California. NTT is handling the bullet-train service, which is expected to offer 2 Mbps downstream for from ¥500 (about US$5.50) for day pass to ¥1,680 (about $19) for monthly access.
AT&T will sell BlackBerry Curve with EDGE, Wi-Fi, no 3G: The Curve 8320's reliance on EDGE (2.5G) allows AT&T to offer a sort of bargain BlackBerry. It's just $150 with a two-year commitment, and the data contracts for EDGE are usually $20 per month (or less with corporate deals) instead of the $30 for 3G. AT&T will bundle its free access to its domestic hotspot footprint, as well.
Minneapolis stuck at 82 percent coverage: The city network that's the poster child for privately owned, anchor tenanted, public access Wi-Fi can't seem to get to its full footprint. The Minn. Star Tribune reports that the city and US Internet, which operates the network, failed to consult the park board about putting transmitters and poles on park grounds. Input is also needed from the state's historic preservation office and local groups about the visual impact.
The Wall Street Journal takes a brief look at four cities for which Wi-Fi is working: I wrote a piece for Ars Technica a few weeks ago that's a superset of the cities mentioned here: Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. But it's good to see the coverage about what's working in a national newspaper. The reporter is on the ball about what's different and useful about the networks that got built and are running. In 2009, we'll see how what we think is working in 2008 proves out. So far, so good. Expectations are lower, but projects planned better, than in 2004 to 2007.
The only nit I'll pick is that for Philadelphia, the reporter says that 28,000 unique users connect to free Wi-Fi in the parks each day, which is entirely impossible. (A typo that's there right now says "28,0000," but I'm assuming the number is 28,000 instead of a plausible but high 2,800.) Could there be 28,000 unique users over a month? Maybe. But just in the parks?
Virgin America formally launches: Last week, Virgin America offered free Wi-Fi on its single Internet-equipped aircraft, My Other Ride's a Spaceship. Today, the service goes commercial ($10 for flights 3 hours or shorter; $13 for longer flights), and the rollout to other planes begins. Virgin has a special URL--http://wifitracker.virginamerica.com/--that takes you to a tracking page showing which flights in progress have Wi-Fi, but they don't yet tell you how to determine whether a given flight you'll be on will offer the service. With 24 planes and a plan to add service one per week, that shouldn't be a problem for long.
Heathrow Airport Coach Link adds Internet service: Icomera, a leading transportation Wi-Fi firm, has added free Wi-Fi to FirstGroup's RailAir coach service that connects Heathrow Airport with Reading in England. RailAir runs every 20 minutes for a 50-minute route. FirstGroup handles 3 million passengers a day across all its routes, which makes it a plum market for future expansion.
Awareness Technologies adds Wi-Fi positioning for laptop recovery: Awareness is the latest firm to partner with Skyhook Wireless to use Wi-Fi positioning to its products, in this case Laptop Cop, software designed to aid in recovery. The software starts at $50 for a 1-year license, with discounts for quantity.
Meraki offers wall plug, solar unit, apartment package: Meraki has added two products to its line up. A wall plug ($179) can be screwed into an outlet's center screw hole for theft prevention and stability, perfect for hotels and public venues. The long-awaited solar product is nearly ready, with a 4-December ship date ($749 with no solar panel up to $1,499 with highest-end panel).
Meraki switched battery technology to lithium iron-phosphate during the year-long delay, partly due to an increase in cost and shortage in solar panels. Meraki's also got a new bundle: $5,000 for a set of nodes designed to cover an apartment building.
Over at Ars Technica, I wrote a long recap of the state of municipal Wi-Fi, noting that Meraki seems to be on the winning side of the equation with its start-small approach. A number of municipal wireless projects (not all Wi-Fi) are getting rave reviews. We may be over the hump: applications (purposes as it were) are now driving network building rather than networks seeking reasons to be.
Violet prepares to ship an RFID tag reader, Mir:ror: The new device plugs in via USB to a computer and can read standard RFID tags, as well as new ones offered by the company. Some of Violet's tags look like postage stamps and are adhesive; others, like tiny versions of their Nabaztag/tag bunny. It's weird, but interesting, like all their stuff.
Qualcomm brings in Skyhook's Wi-Fi positioning: Qualcomm becomes the latest GPS giant to add Skyhook Wireless's technology to their platform. The gpsOne system, found in 400 million cell phones, will be enhanced in future versions with an option for Skyhook data to assist and integrate with GPS lookups. Qualcomm's sold so many chipsets due to E911 requirements for location finding.
Houston, we have a problem: While the city reports its Wi-Fi-connected parking meters work great doubling as Wi-Fi hotspots downtown, their much-ballyhooed "bubbles" efforts to unwire housing projects seems to have narrowed in scope. The headline on the story in the Houston Chronicle, in which yours truly is quoted, is perfect: "Houston's Plan for Wi-Fi Bubbles Has Burst." The city now plans to use Wi-Fi only to connect up community centers rather than bring service to residents. As far as I and the reporter I spoke to for this story could figure out, the networks will be running as password-protected clouds that only computers in central locations will be able to access. I have no idea why anyone would think this is a good idea. Bringing Internet access to libraries, schools, and community centers is a perfectly marvelous idea, but in low-income neighborhoods, the notion of putting free or affordable Internet access in the home, paired with programs to offer inexpensive or free refurbished computers along with training, is to deal with the commensurate problem that kids can work from their homes instead of being out on the mean streets. In many neighborhoods that are both poor and high crime, parents keep their children in to avoid trouble. Thus, community centers aren't the logical way to ensure greater access and bridge the digital divide. These efforts should be trying to bring access parity across income levels to match the ecumenical availability of information to rich and poor.
Freakonomics notices funny network names: A Dutch cafe using a service from a company called They displays messages via network names (SSIDs) that remind freeloaders to buy something: BuyAnotherCupYouCheapskate. I confess to finding this story amusing, but not above the threshold to share, until the New York Times's Freakonomics blog picked it up. That's partly because even though the cafe is in the Netherlands, all the messages are in English. Are Brits and Americans the only freeloaders. They, the company, not an inchoate group of people, told me that they use a technique to change the text display name of the SSID, while the underlying network identifier remains the same. This keeps customers from being booted off even as messages are dynamically rotated.
The open-license 3.65 GHz band could be a great opportunity for startups: The band is available in a good hunk of the U.S. under a licensing regime that allows anyone to obtain a license, and providers in the same geographic areas have to work to coordinate among themselves. Redline Communications and the extremely sharp Monica Paolini of Senza Fili Consulting are offering a free 45-minute Webinar (Web-based seminar) on 12-November at 11 am PST/2 pm EST on the topic. Redline is one of several firms offering 3.65 GHz gear.
Meru further virtualizes virtual SSIDs: This might seem a little technical, but it's fascinating. Enterprise Wi-Fi maker Meru says they've developed virtual ports, that allows each Wi-Fi connection to act as if there's a separate AP controlling it. This has been used for quite a while to create virtual SSIDs: unique network names fed by a single access point. Meru says their approach centralizes the virtual SSIDs (which use BSSIDs, the underlying network address for a Wi-Fi access point), allowing roaming without the adapter appearing to change its network association. That goes one level beyond current roaming. The connection is essentially virtualized to be independent of the access point. With a unique per-user virtual WLAN, Meru says that they can optimize a connection, including throttling and provisioning to provide guaranteed bandwidth and priority.