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Recent Entries

Cablevision Bumps Wi-Fi Speed Significantly
Report Indicates Obvious Wi-Fi Conclusions
O2 Switches to Free Hotspots in UK, Plans Massive Expansion
Sam's Club Adds Free Wi-Fi
Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable Sign Roaming Deal for Wi-Fi Networks
Pogue Finds Cisco Valet Good Step Forward, Not Leap
NY Times Reports on AT&T MicroCell Irony
Cisco Convinces Press That Router Is News
AT&T 3G MicroCell Finally Announced for Mid-April
WHDI Completes Wireless High Def Spec

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June 14, 2011

Cablevision Bumps Wi-Fi Speed Significantly

By Glenn Fleishman

Cablevision's member-only Optimum WiFi service now offers up to 15 Mpbs down and 4 Mbps up: The network is free to Cablevision's broadband subscribers, and restricted to them, although the firm also allows some roaming from other cable providers' customers, and has free and open hotspots here and there.

The company tells me it has 10,000s of access points in place across its New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut markets, along with 7,000 hotspots in business locations that are Cablevision customers. Over 500,000 Cablevision customers have used the network so far.

Wi-Fi networks, even at 802.11g speeds, can easily handle 15 Mbps over short distances. With 802.11n, 15 Mbps should be achievable over longer ranges.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:24 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Home, Hot Spot | No Comments

March 10, 2011

Report Indicates Obvious Wi-Fi Conclusions

By Glenn Fleishman

I do not understand this report: I've read Epitiro's report, which does not disclose any funding source for it, and I'm baffled. The report measures Wi-Fi speeds versus wired LAN speeds for broadband connections. Naturally, Wi-Fi speeds are lower. Wi-Fi has far more overhead than Ethernet, suffers from interference, and drops in speed the further you are from a transmitter. That's been true since 802.11b premiered in 1999.

One of the report's authors is paraphrased by the BBC as concluding, "for those who invest in good quality wi-fi equipment and position it sensibly, the effects of the speed degradation would hardly be noticed." So. Why was this report written again?

I suppose the company, which has broadband providers among its customers, wants to be sure that there's awareness that you can have higher rates of speed from very fast broadband connections by plugging in. However, with 802.11n networks and the much faster flavors of broadband available, it's unlikely most people would notice at all.

The report indicates if you're too far from an access point, you might have trouble with Skype. Well, duh. This is general background Wi-Fi knowledge. Measuring it more precisely doesn't advance the body of information about how Wi-Fi works in a home.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Home | No Comments

January 26, 2011

O2 Switches to Free Hotspots in UK, Plans Massive Expansion

By Glenn Fleishman

Mobile operator O2 will no longer restrict access to its UK hotspots, and plans to make a vast network: O2 has included free access at about 450 locations with some of its mobile subscription plans. Now, it's opening up its network, using advertising to subsidize it. The Register reports that free use will require giving up your phone number, too, in order to receive a text message with an activation code.

O2 said it would build out nearly double the number of locations operated by current partners, The Cloud and BT OpenZone, which is 7,500. I find it hard to imagine that it can easily find 13,000 venues (the number the Register reported) in which to offer service.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that The Cloud will be bought by the satellite television operator BSkyB to extend its reach. BSkyB uses terrestrial DSL alongside its satellite offerings. Adding Wi-Fi allows it to compete with BT, which operates the OpenZone hotspot network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:07 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Home, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

August 10, 2010

Sam's Club Adds Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Wal-Mart's Sam's Club warehouse stores will offer free Wi-Fi at all 500 locations by November: I'm not sure why it's necessary to add Wi-Fi in these stores, because they don't encourage shoppers to linger or waste time. However, the press release suggests coupled with a Sam's Club app that's due out for several mobile platforms that you'll be able to pull up much more product information in the store (as well as price shop).

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:53 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Home | No Comments

April 15, 2010

Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable Sign Roaming Deal for Wi-Fi Networks

By Glenn Fleishman

The three firms that own most cable systems in the Northeast US have struck a roaming deal for current and future Wi-Fi networks: I've written extensively about Cablevision, the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut cable provider that's put hundreds of millions of dollars into outdoor Wi-Fi deployment for its customers. Comcast and Time Warner Cable were widely rumored to have similar, perhaps less ambitious plans on the books, and Time Warner Cable has deployed some Wi-Fi hotspots in Manhattan, Queens, and at LIRR rail stations.

The roaming relationship for the three firms allows customers to use their own cable company login to access Wi-Fi across any hotspots operated by the three companies. Because the firms have virtually no territory overlap in service, they can pursue this cooperation as a full-court press against Verizon. Verizon has a paltry and restrictive free Wi-Fi offer that works only for a subset of Windows laptop users.

Providing outdoor data so extensively and free to cable broadband subscribers lets these firms sell "home" broadband as an extended alternative to 3G data pricing plans, whether for the iPad or MiFi or what have you. If you can service in most places you travel over Wi-Fi as an exclusive subscriber benefit, that might offset the $60-per-month plus overage fees cost of a 3G broadband plan (plus the two-year contract commitment).

This announcement doesn't seem like a prelude for Time Warner Cable and Comcast to start building out Wi-Fi in the rest of their respective territories; both have a relatively small footprint in the Northeast compared to the rest of their network operations.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:02 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Home, Hot Spot | No Comments

April 8, 2010

Pogue Finds Cisco Valet Good Step Forward, Not Leap

By Glenn Fleishman

New York Times's David Pogue finds Cisco Valet doesn't quite meet an admirable target: Following up on my post a few days ago in which I explained how Cisco managed to get a fair amount of attention for releasing yet another "simple to set up, simple to use" home router, the latest in a long, long series of such efforts by the entire industry, David Pogue weighs in on whether it meets the bill (I haven't tested one). His verdict is that the Valet makes a lot of good efforts in the direction of being as simple as the Flip--team behind Flip is responsible for the Valet's approach--but still puts bars in the way of a friction-free and comprehensible installation.

He also notes that the $100 unit has 2.4 GHz built in, which seems inadequate for an 802.11n router. It's a tricky tradeoff. Simultaneous dual-band devices can be made inexpensively, but perhaps not as cheaply as that yet.

Pogue notes, by the way, that Valet creates cutesy names for your network, like MonkeyTree, TinyFish, PeachLion, or HappyDog. This is a clever move. The master key material used in WPA/WPA2 is derived from a combination of the passphrase a user chooses or that's created for him or and her and the network's SSID or network name. There are precomputed databases of common SSIDs, like default and linksys, and pushing a unique combination of words for SSID does both make your network easier to identify and improve security. (Apple has long appended the last six hexadecimal digits of the base station's BSSID--a MAC address-like identifier--to create a unique network name partly for security reasons.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:01 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Home | No Comments

April 7, 2010

NY Times Reports on AT&T MicroCell Irony

By Glenn Fleishman

Matt Richtel at the New York Times nails the ire of AT&T customers about the 3G MicroCell: From a technology standpoint, AT&T 3G MicroCell, a small cellular base station that plugs into home or office broadband, seems to be a winner. From the marketing side, not so much. Richtel captures the tone of irritation among AT&T customers who have poor cellular service who have heard that for a mere $150 of their own money, they can improve AT&T's network.

I suspect we'll see far better deals from AT&T that make the femtocell palatable, though, but the firm might be making an error in billing it as something you can do for yourself, when it's clearly for the company's benefit in keeping you as a customer. AT&T should bleed a little more for you to make it work.

As I wrote several days ago, the femtocell is $150, but there's $100 rebate if you purchase a monthly $20 unlimited calling plan (same price for a single account or a family plan). The problem is that the $20/mo rate is pretty poor compared to AT&T's only slightly higher unlimited everywhere plan, and with Internet telephony services.

Given that most home callers are already covered under evening and weekends plans that are unmetered, AT&T should have gone lower, to $10/mo, to make this seem like a better deal. It would be used heavily by home businesses, but the company should prefer customer loyalty and less margin than having that customer switch to T-Mobile (unlimited home calling at $10/mo, faster 3G already deployed) or Verizon (more 3G coverage and more robust indoor phone service).

What I've read in the days since the MicroCell was finally announced is that AT&T will likely try to bundle femtocells into home routers, eating some or all of the cost there in favor of customer retention and satisfaction.

I disagree with one part of Richtel's logic, though, where he notes, "Even though it expects the towers to improve signal quality and take pressure off its network, they could displace landline telephones because wireless consumers will not need a second phone number." That's only true outside of AT&T's home markets. In those markets, if it can compete with cable, then AT&T spends less money servicing regulated voice lines, and makes more money from quadruple-play broadband plus wireless. Outside its competitive wireline territory, AT&T gets to eat Verizon and other firms' landline revenue if the wireless experience is better.

Where AT&T has the greatest risk is in markets in which cable operators provide a better triple-play offer, and customers have no AT&T wire coming into the house, but use AT&T wireless alongside cable service. This gives AT&T the least profit from that customer in its market, and the MicroCell is an incentive to not have traditional landline service.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:36 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Home | No Comments

April 1, 2010

Cisco Convinces Press That Router Is News

By Glenn Fleishman

I don't blame Cisco for pulling this stunt, but the company got mainstream media to buy in: Typical is this USA Today story, which follows the press release that the Cisco Valet is the company's "first consumer router," despite having purchased Linksys years ago and sold tens of millions of consumer routers during that time. The Valet has the same footprint, and likely similar innards with a new skin on top of it as most of the modern Linksys models.

Late in the story, the USA Today reporter notes the Linksys subsidiary, but has fallen for the marketing line that the USB dongle that lets you supposedly easily set up every device is somehow unique to Cisco, new, and exciting. The real news, I suppose, is that the Pure Digital team that made the Flip video recorder, acquired by Cisco, was thrown onto the home networking product line. But that's hardly a revolution in hardware, is it?

The notion of using USB drives (not one that comes with the device, necessarily) goes back several years to Microsoft's short-lived Wi-Fi product line, and some other companies--including Linksys!--let you write settings to a USB drive to move around to computers. (Amazingly, this time support comes in the first version out of the box for both Mac OS X and Windows!)

The notion of making Wi-Fi easy to set up dates back to, oh, I don't know, 1999? And it is far easier. Six years ago, I wrote "Beating the Wireless Blues" for PC World, which explained how to fix Wireless Zero Config problems in Windows XP and other troubles of the time.

At that time, about 35 percent of Wi-Fi routers bought at retail were returned to stores. Cisco says its number today is about 20 percent. (Update: Cisco says that's an industry average, not its experience.) That's closer to the return rate for all personal computer peripherals, but it also explains why Cisco is trying to change the narrative without necessarily offering anything new or different, just a further iteration of industry-wide efforts underway since Wi-Fi's inception.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:57 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Home, Mainstream Media | 2 Comments

March 24, 2010

AT&T 3G MicroCell Finally Announced for Mid-April

By Glenn Fleishman

After more than a year of leaked news and trials, AT&T will ship its femtocell in April: We've heard about and seen pictures of the 3G MicroCell for quite a while. Like all femtocells, the idea is to connect mobile users voice and data calls in their homes or small offices to a broadband connection, improving quality and throughput without taxing AT&T's network. The benefit to customers is better coverage, fewer dropped calls, higher consistent data throughput, and, optionally, unlimited calling.

For carriers, every call or bit of data that they don't have to pass over their expensive, congested mobile networks saves them real money in preventing customer defection and deferred capital expense, while increasing subscriber revenues.

The AT&T 3G Microcell is unique in working only with 3G; Verizon and Sprint's options are 2G only, which allow them to offload voice but not data. For smartphones that have Wi-Fi built in, that's not such a big deal for any of those three carriers, but for customers without Wi-Fi (there still are some) or phones that can use 3G mobile broadband only, AT&T has a much bigger win.

AT&T, like Sprint and T-Mobile (which uses Wi-Fi with the UMA standard), will also offer an unlimited calling plan for domestic US calls placed and received when in range of the 3G MicroCell. AT&T will charge $20/mo for either individual or family plans. That's steep for an individual: AT&T's general mobile plans are $40 for a 450-minute plan, $60 for 900 minutes, and $70 for unlimited calling anywhere. For families, it's a far better deal.

T-Mobile's UMA unlimited calling service is $10 per month (individual or family), and Sprint's Airave is $10/mo/account or $20/mo for a family plan.

The 3G MicroCell will cost $150, with a $100 mail-in rebate if you purchase monthly unlimited service at the same time, and another $50 rebate for those who sign up for AT&T fixed broadband services (DSL or fiber). Sprint charges $100 for its femtocell and a $10/mo fee, while T-Mobile's router is about $50. (T-Mobile seems to have removed pricing information from its site, so I can't confirm at this moment.)

Verizon has no calling plan, but sells its Wireless Network Extender for $250, with no recurring fees. It's meant to improve signal coverage only, which still seems strange to me. I suppose those who want Verizon service and can't get a good signal at home have an option with this device, as opposed to changing carriers.

Phone numbers need to be registered with the 3G MicroCell to be used. AT&T says the 3G MicroCell will be available in mid-April.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:05 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Home, Voice | 1 Comment

December 8, 2009

WHDI Completes Wireless High Def Spec

By Glenn Fleishman

The WHDI Consortium has finished a spec for running 1080p at 60 GHz and 12 bits over 5 GHz spectrum: It's not Wi-Fi, nor anything remotely like it, but the WHDI spec uses 40 MHz channels in the 5 GHz band to carry the equivalent of 3 Gbps as far as 100 feet. This new spec, based on work from Amimon, which developed the technology, boosts resolution fro 720p in the previous version to 1080p. It also supports HDCP, the digital rights management (DRM) specification that's used with wired HDMI to ensure end-to-end protection of content.

I wrote about the several contending wireless high-definition specifications in contention back in February 2009 for Ars Technica, including this detailed explanation of how the WHDI/Amimon system works.

While 5 GHz Wi-Fi using 40 MHz channels can only claim with 2x2 MIMO and two data streams to deliver a raw data rate of 300 Mbps, WHDI will deliver 3 Gbps. Because they aren't.

From the press release: the new spec "supports the delivery of equivalent video data rates of
up to 3Gbps." That's equivalent.

WHDI uses a clever system of representing visually more important data in the encoding such that it's more likely to get through in the worst circumstances. Ever less significant information is encoded in methods that are ever more susceptible to interface. The more noise, the less insignificant information gets through.

But that's where you have that equivalent: during the best transmission times, the WHDI Consortium's spec will be able to push through what looks like uncompressed 1080p; during the worst, something far lower than that. It's unclear whether best efforts will win the day.

The competitor for WHDI is pretty clearly WirelessHD, backed by SiBeam, which uses 60 GHz millimeter-wave signals for as much as several Gbps (real Gbps, not equivalent) for each of several channels. The 60 GHz signals are limited to within one room, and have some non-line-of-site and obstruction issues; the 5 GHz service can work over longer distances, but the WHDI probably doesn't want to go into any great depth on how rapidly a signal degrades providing an equivalent bandwidth that's far below 3 Gbps.

The WHDI Consortium was set up by Amimon, Hitachi, Motorola, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and LG Electronics. Those are some pretty big names in the consumer electronics space. The WirelessHD group also, oddly, includes Samsung, Sony, and LG, as well as Philips, Intel, NEC, and Toshiba, and a host of chipmakers including Intel and Broadcom.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:29 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Home, Video | No Comments

October 20, 2009

Apple Slipstreams 3x3 into Wi-Fi Base Stations

By Glenn Fleishman

Apple offered a quiet update note to its two main base station models today with a big boost in speed and coverage: The company put in a note on the data page (see "Even faster performance") and mentioned in passing to media who were briefed that its AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule base stations would see a boost of up to 50 percent in data throughput and an increase in range of up to 25 percent over the immediately preceding models.

How? 3x3. Engadget found the FCC documents that supports that statement before the announcement today, although the writer didn't explain what this means.

In the MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) antenna system that's used in 802.11n, designers have lots of choices in how to build in range and resiliency, and those choices have increased as silicon and antennas have become cheaper.

Most consumer 802.11n access points use a 2x2 MIMO array, which is two receiving and two transmitting antennas. Each antenna pair is typically handled by a separate radio chain. Each radio chain can transmit unique data for higher data rates, or the same data as other radio chains to increase redundancy, and thus provide better reception at lower rates.

These radio chains use spatial multiplexing, which allows a kind of "body english" in which varying power fed through antennas steers a beam so that it travels a unique path through space, using reflection of objects as one of the characteristics that forms the beam. Multiple receiving antennas decode these individual chains and reassemble data into what was sent in the first place.

In 802.11n, each spatial stream in the highest-rate mode can act like a separate full-speed connection. Since roughly 75 Mbps is the raw rate for 20 MHz channels and 150 Mbps for "wide" 40 MHz channels, a two-stream device maxes out at 300 Mbps of raw throughput.

Nearly all 802.11n base stations sold to date use 2x2 arrays coupled with two spatial streams; some also offer 2x3 arrays for redundancy with just two streams. However, chipmakers have been planning for some time on getting 3x3 arrays with three spatial streams into the market with a raw 450 Mbps rate. Apple may be the first consumer access point maker to bite, although there are definitely other 450 Mbps APs on the market. (See next paragraph for update.)

[Update! An informed commenter--see below--notes that there's only a single AP that does three streams. So Apple isn't slipping in higher bandwidth here, just better signal diversity and performance.]

The additional transmit and receive antennas improve how far signals can travel to a client, and how sensitively an access point can pick up distant transmissions. This accounts for Apple's statement on improved range. It also provides improved bandwidth further from the base station; the data rate doesn't drop off nearly as fast as with 2x2. The "up to 50 percent" figure relates to a range of distances, not close up to the base station.

The Wi-Fi Alliance just approved a testing regime for devices with three spatial streams, and all the major Wi-Fi chipmakers were involved in that testing. Our informed commenter says it'll be until late 2010 before we see a large number of 3-stream devices; other opinions?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:28 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Hardware, Home, MIMO | 6 Comments | No TrackBacks

March 1, 2009

Cablevision's Wi-Fi a Stunt?

By Glenn Fleishman

So claims a Verizon spokesperson: In an article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Comcast's possible plans to follow Cablevision's lead in pairing Wi-Fi with cable broadband are examined. But you have to read the last paragraph first to get the full impact. Verizon thinks it's a marketing stunt for Cablevision to spend $300m to cover the tri-state area of its franchises with Wi-Fi.

Let's start on the telco side. DSL from the central office into people's homes is dead, more or less, despite tens of millions of deployed lines. It's last century's technology. AT&T and Verizon have put their future into rolling out two different methods of fiber: AT&T prefers fiber to the node (FTTN), where they use very high speed DSL from a neighborhood termination point. DSL works extremely well over very short distances. Verizon has chosen the more expensive option of bringing fiber directly to the home (FTTH).

Read the rest of "Cablevision's Wi-Fi a Stunt?"

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:19 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Future, Home, Hot Spot

October 31, 2008

Book: Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network

By Glenn Fleishman

$5 off new edition of my book on using Macs with Wi-Fi: Folks, I've just thoroughly overhauled my book on Apple Wi-Fi networking, Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network. The latest edition, 244 pages long, costs $15--but for you fine people, just $10 with a $5 coupon.

The book covers how to use an AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and Time Capsule base station from Apple with Mac OS X and Windows for the best advantage. The latest Extreme model, along with Time Capsule, can share multiple printers and hard drives to Macs or Windows systems. With 802.11n built in along with options for wireless and Ethernet connection, you can build a robust network that can handle video streaming and large-file transfers.

The coupon code CPN007281031WNN can be used at checkout to pay just $10 for this $15 instantly available electronic book.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:38 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Book review, Home

June 25, 2008

T-Mobile Takes Home Line Service National

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile launches nationwide July 2nd with its home-line replacement service--or is it a cell plan extension service? I link here to Seattle Times's columnist Brier Dudley's take on @Home, T-Mobile's $10 per month unlimited domestic home calling service that leverages customers' existing cell service and broadband connection. The service launched in the Seattle area several months ago, and is expanding nationally, and Dudley interviews T-Mobile's boss Robert Dotson for the story. Dotson says T-Mobile doesn't see @Home as a way to get folks to necessarily cut their landline cord, but rather to extend the function of a cell phone inside the house, even if you're using cordless not cellular devices.

The service uses a router that accepts SIM cards for authentication, but the backhaul is pure VoIP over Internet. Regular POTS (plain old telephone service) phones can be plugged into the router. The router is also compatible with HotSpot@Home (an additional $10/month), which allows unlimited domestic calling over Wi-Fi using special handsets from T-Mobile; there are now 8 handset models available. Customers have to have at least a $40 single-line or $50 family plan service to add either @Home or HotSpot@Home.

Probably the key remaining advantage for Vonage and other Internet telephony services that typically charge $20 to $30 per month for unlimited calling is that they include unlimited calls to any number in Canada or the U.S., not just the U.S., as well as unmetered calls to landlines in dozens of other countries in Europe as well as Australia. For those who regularly call outside the U.S., the @Home service would quickly become ridiculously expensive for its international tolls.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:33 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Home, Hot Spot

March 18, 2008

Apple's AirPort Express Offers N at $99

By Glenn Fleishman

Apple isn't the only firm to offer inexpensive 802.11n, but their revised AirPort Express has a few extras: You can buy Draft N from other companies for under $100, but I'd point out that the new AirPort Express compact base station differs from those items. The new model, announced yesterday, is nearly identical to the one that Apple's been selling since 2004. Unlike other inexpensive N base stations, it has a USB port to share one printer (Windows/Mac OS X), an audio output port for streaming from iTunes or via Rogue Amoeba's AirFoil (Mac/Windows, analog/digital optical), and is dual band, supporting 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11a, b, g, and n.

airportexpress2.jpgThe base station is compact, small enough for travel, with an integral 2-prong plug that can be directly hung from a wall socket, or removed to replace with a several-foot-long 3-prong cord; the extension cord is part of a $39 audio extension kit, and not sold separately from that kit.

While Linksys, D-Link, and others have sub-$100 802.11n base stations, there are differences. The main one is a detriment to the AirPort Express: it has just a single 10/100 Mbps Ethernet jack. That means it's appropriate to directly connect to a larger network via Ethernet, where addresses are assigned out by another part of the network, or it can be plugged directly into a broadband modem and assign addresses out via DHCP and NAT (or a pool of routable addresses).

The Linksys WRT100 (about $80) isn't Wi-Fi certified (yet) for Draft N, while the D-Link DIR-615 (about $60) is, as is the AirPort Express (although the Express isn't yet listed in the Wi-Fi Alliance's database). Both the Linksys and D-Link units have 4-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switches along with a 10/100 Mbps WAN Ethernet port. Both are single-band (2.4 GHz), omit USB sharing, and have no audio streaming. (If you know of better sub-$100 models to compare the AirPort Express to, drop a note in the comments.)

It's worth calling out Airfoil, mentioned above, a package from Rogue Amoeba for Mac OS X and Windows that lets you manage where audio goes over your network. Using Airfoil and its included Airfoil Speakers software, you can choose to play audio on one computer and target it to other computers on your network, as well as AirPort Express base stations and the Apple TV media adapter (using Apple's AirTunes streaming protocol). Without Airfoil, you're limited to iTunes streaming under Mac OS X and Windows to an AirPort Express or Apple TV.

I've written a book about 802.11n and Apple's AirPort networking, Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Extreme Network, that covers all the issues in setting up secure networks using both Macs and Windows XP/Vista. You can buy the title with at a 30-percent discount ($7 instead of $10) by following the link or using coupon code CPN71005WNN at checkout.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:52 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Home, Road Warrior | 2 Comments

February 7, 2008

Digital Picture Frames, Many Wireless, Reviewed

By Glenn Fleishman

David Pogue reviews several of the latest digital picture frames at the New York Times: I have frankly avoided reporting much on digital picture frames, even those with wireless, because so many of them seemed far too expensive for their simple function of automating a rotating display of photos. Product announcements seem to come weekly, which means that a lot of people are buying these for their parents and grandparents, loading them with photos, and then the same pictures display for the next year until the relative takes it down and claims it "broke."

Pogue makes it clear that I'm not far off in avoiding writing about these frames. He likes the Kodak EasyShare EX1011 at 10 inches (diagonal), which supports Wi-Fi, but not Mac OS X, and which can link up to Kodak Gallery to pull in new photos over the Internet from galleries you update from wherever. That really does make it appropriate for computer illiterate relatives. Or those who just don't want to monkey around. The 800 by 480 pixel resolution is also quite reasonable for that size of display. Pogue notes that the dimensions, however, put it into a widescreen orientation inappropriate for most digital photographs.

At $250, though, that's a hefty gift and I find hard to swallow despite the screen size and inclusion of Wi-Fi.

Pogue also likes the much cheaper PanDigital Wi-Fi Picture Frame ($150, 8 inches) has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi but can't use Wi-Fi to grab locally hosted photos, just from Picasa.

He has kind words for the SmartParts SP8PRT ($280, 8 inches) frame shipping in March that has no Wi-Fi but can print photos through a built-in, hidden dye-sublimation printer. I find the idea a little funky: why print from a picture frame that you have to load with photos from a computer? It seems like you'd want Wi-Fi most of all in this kind of device to send pictures to others, and they could make prints of photos they like.

Three others, he generally excoriates. The Parrot DF7200: "the resolution is so's not a big improvement over your cellphone screen." The eStarling second attempt: "...even though this frame is much better than its disastrous first model last year, it’s still flakier than a croissant." Momento 100: "Photos from the Web arrive on the frame at half size, bizarrely floating in the center surrounded by fat black margins."

There's a lengthy comparison chart also online.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:05 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Gadgets, Home

January 23, 2008

AT&T Gives Free Wi-fi to All DSL Customers

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T expands a previous free offer to premium DSL subscribers to almost all DSL subscribers: That's right: 10m AT&T DSL subscribers now qualify for free Wi-Fi at the 9,000 McDonald's and 1,000 other locations in AT&T's network (operated or resold by Wayport). Anyone with 1.5 Mbps DSL or greater, which is pretty much all of its subscribers, can sign up for free Wi-Fi at the AT&T Web site.

This is another big win for Wayport, which has a few deals already for free access to its McDonald's locations: Nintendo for its DS2 player and Zipit for the Zipit Wireless Messenger 2. I've long thought it odd that AT&T was willing to charge even a nominal amount to its DSL subscribers for them to use Wi-Fi, because that set a bar that would keep people from using it. Because AT&T is clearly using Wi-Fi as a customer retention tool, not a real line of revenue, the $2 per month charge seemed a little silly--both too low and too high.

I'm not sure if this puts any pressure on other locations or operators, because the kind of AT&T customer who would find this free access appealing is likely not paying for Wi-Fi elsewhere. And while McDonald's are convenient, it's not quite the same thing as, say, the mix of networks in Boingo's aggregated network or the comfort of Starbucks in T-Mobile's network.

Of course, McDonald's is putting in coffee bars in its stores, and perhaps this is part of a strategy that involves the fast-food giant to get more customers that frequent Starbucks, thus increasing the average meal price. But McDonald's would need to put cushy chairs and sofas in meet the coffee retailer halfway.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:18 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Home, Hot Spot

January 4, 2008

Researchers Postulate Wi-Fi Router Virus

By Glenn Fleishman

The research paper is a few months old, but apparently just being publicized: Researchers at Indiana University modeled how wireless routers, if targeted with a virus, could spread such a virus among other routers. There are a lot of variables involved: whether the administrative password on the router was changed from its default; whether no encryption, WEP, or WPA/WPA2 is enabled; and the heterogeneity of router models, as viruses aren't one size fits all. Even though the paper is weeks old, the notion seems to have captured the mind of technology sites, which are all writing about it. (Some event sparked the paper's rediscovery?)

In their modeling, they looked at wardriving data that let them figure out how close Wi-Fi routers were. They found that there is likely enough density for tens of thousands of routers to be infected over a period of days. In Chicago, for instance, they found 48,000 contiguous routers assuming a 45-meter maximum interaction distance.

The wardriving data let them also determine which routers had which modes of encryption enabled to determine the speed and possibility of attacks. They assumed that routers protected by WPA are immune, which is reasonable; there's no known generic hack for WPA, only cracks that involve precomputed large databases of keys based on default network names (SSIDs).

Their assumption on administrative access to a router is predicated that someone who hasn't changed the router's SSID is likely also to have left the password unchanged. For the rest, they assume that 25 percent of passwords can be guessed with 65,000 attempts, which conforms to other password research. Routers, they found, don't have a mechanism to delay and disable password access due to failed attempts.

One thing I don't see addressed in the report is how many different worms would be required based on the many different models of Wi-Fi routers and the many firmware releases for each. There's an assumption buried that I don't see in which a certain homogeneity of routers--seeded by DSL providers, for instance, and aided by Linksys's dominance in the market?--has to be in place to be sure that enough security holes exist, are unpatched, and can be exploited.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:43 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Home, Security | 1 Comment

November 26, 2007

Dial-Up Prices Rise

By Glenn Fleishman

Dial-up is the cash cow of the broadband world, despite carriers irritation at providing it: For landline companies, dial-up service uses a heavily tariffed voice phone line that occupies a circuit, and just means more copper that they have to service. Carriers would rather have you switch to DSL or fiber. The logic of fiber makes sense--triple play or more services through one new pipe increasing annual revenue per user (ARPU)--but DSL's logic may be less explicable. It's the same copper used for dial up or DSL, but the phone company can sell you more services over DSL, and it takes you off a tariffed service and onto an information service that's not regulated. (AT&T is subject to certain provisions due to their merger on their DSL and data services, but those sunset in a few years.)

The upside of dial-up for carriers is that the margins are pretty high, as the cost of providing dial-up service is a fraction of what it was years ago. I have heard that it's as low as a few dollars a month in actual costs.

AT&T announced that starting Dec. 1, it's raising the price of all its dial-up Internet service: $9.99 per month plans go to $15.95, $15.95 to $22.95, and new service is $22.95 per month. EarthLink, which has told me what a cash cow dial-up is, charges $9.95 for three months, then $21.95 per month, or $14.95 per month with a 1-year contract, plus a $30 Amazon gift certificate. Juno and others charge as little as $10 to $15 per month, typically with fewer hosting services or other limits, none of which are particularly relevant in the era of Google GMail. AOL charges $9.95 for unlimited dial-up, and includes 5 GB of storage from its Xdrive subsidiary.

AT&T knows better than anyone who it has by the bollocks. It's jacking up prices knowing that there's a set of people who need Internet access who can't qualify for DSL, and they'll simply either extract more money for those people, or they'll flee to other providers who charge less and that will reduce AT&T's management and billing burden, and they might come out even there. They'll also pick up reluctant DSL convertees, who will sign up for the hard-to-find $10/month DSL package that's faster than dial-up, or a higher-speed offering.

In any case, AT&T comes out ahead: either more profit from a service that's cheaper to provide; fewer customers for a service they'd rather not offer; or more broadband customers, which increases their take while reducing their network overhead.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:22 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Future, Home | 1 Comment

November 1, 2007

Pepwave Drops Price of Bridge for Muni Networks to $99, $129

By Glenn Fleishman

The company decided to take some of the pain out of municipal deployments by extending its bulk price to individuals on its entry-level Wi-Fi bridge: In metro-scale networks, it's become clear that to get good indoor reception in most cases, you need a bridge. The popular bridges from Pepwave and Ruckus Wireless pick up a faint signal from a city-wide network and then essentially rebroadcast it under a different network name for users in proximity. These bridges used to start at about $150 for units with 200 milliwatt (mW) radios, which is from twice to septuple the power of built-in adapters; they usually put out 30 mW to 100 mW of juice.

The price has fallen, though, and while $100 isn't free, it's approaching a level that I suspect more people are comfortable spending to improve access in areas with coverage. Ruckus Wireless's MetroFlex DZ has a list of $149, but ExpressNets will sell it to you for $99; and Pepwave's comparable Surf AP 200 can now be bought for $129. The Surf 200, which lacks the second home network feature, is $99.

Pepwave has dropped its 400 mW Surf AP 400 from $289 to $189, which could be useful, too, in the right circumstances, but receive sensitivity is a more critical measure than transmit power in trying to "hear" distant signals. The AP 400 has a small but measurable improvement in receive sensitivity over the two 200 models. I can't find Ruckus's receive sensitivity numbers readily, but their approach involves multiple antennas, in which beam forming and multi-path reflection analysis provide their own improvements in range and reception.

Update: Ruckus provided their receive sensitivity numbers, which in nearly all cases exceed the Pepwave AP 400's numbers for nearly $100 less. Now, this requires real-world testing to see whether the multiple antennas and this higher measured sensitivity equate to a greater service area, but the raw numbers are good.

Update: Pepwave notes that in its testing transmit power is more critical; their perspective is that with metro-scale networks, the nodes can push power out quite well - often using the legal maximum - but it's difficult for them to hear distant, faint clients. An iPhone, for instance, can hear a far-distant transmitter, but can only call back weakly.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 5:19 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hardware, Home, Metro-Scale Networks

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