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Boingo Wireless's new client software identifies and connects to free networks, too: I've been testing for several days Boingo's new Wi-Finder software, a lightweight client for Mac OS X and Windows that identifies and can automatically connect to 325,000 paid locations in Boingo's network or hundreds of thousands free locations. The app is also available with slightly different features for Android and iOS. A subscription is not required, and it's available now at no cost. The software also includes a Wi-Fi search function.
Boingo Wireless now offers three levels of membership with the new client. A free membership allows use of the client to connect to locations that allow access without a fee. The previous pay-as-you-go and subscriber levels remain the same. Pay-as-you-go users need to provide a credit card number, and receive a week of service. The client provides details about cost before a connection is made. For subscribers, the client automatically connects to in-plan hotspots, and provides details about costs associated if you're outside a home network. For subscribers in the Americas to the unlimited plan, fees are only required outside of the Americas.
For free networks, Wi-Finder interprets any splash or terms and services screen and allows a user to accept whatever restrictions are necessary automatically, or manually agree each time. Boingo learns adds new free locations based on subscribers' experiences, thus allowing subsequent visitors to the same connection the chance to autoconnect. I used Wi-Finder on a trip by Amtrak from Seattle to Portland last week, and after "teaching" it by clicking the Agree the first time, the software appeared able to connect on demand thereafter. (Which was useful, as Amtrak's service provider doesn't appear to retain MAC addresses for reauthentication after a device is put to sleep.)
The requirement of a membership confirmed via email for free accounts allows Boingo to meet requirements in many countries for a basic level of accountability and tracking.
From the security standpoint, the client prevents accidental connections to ad hoc networks so that you won't get bit by the "Free Wi-Fi" network phenomenon, in which unconnected Windows XP systems accidentally broadcast that network name.
Boingo is mimicking and expanding on a strategy first developed by Devicescape, which offers Easy WiFi connection software for Mac OS X, Windows, Android, iOS, and Nokia platforms, and is integrated into consumer devices, including the Eye-Fi camera card. Devicescape doesn't have a reseller network, but allows its users to enter credentials at individual networks (like AT&T or BT OpenZone) or aggregators (like Boingo) and automatically log in. Devicescape also manages connections to free networks.
Prices vary with pay as you go for hourly and daily service depending on region, but start at $4.95 for 1 hour or $7.95 for 24 hours in the Americas. Boingo's monthly subscription plans start at $9.95/mo for unlimited service in the Americas and mobile/tablet plans are all $7.95/mo. Prices are higher outside the Americas and may include limits. Many bundled plans (like mobile and laptop) are also available.
Virgin Mobile's unlimited, no-contract data plan seems to have rattled AT&T's cage: Virgin back on 23 August announced a change in its no-contract plan options. Instead of four tiered plans, the highest offering up to 5 GB used within 30 days (on Sprint's network) for $60, there would be two: a $10/10-day/100 MB option and unlimited 30-day usage for $40.
That so undercut the rest of the market, I was wondering if there would be any response. Verizon has long offered a one-day $15 data pass, which always seemed overpriced to me since the market it was trying to reach were those with otherwise inactive 3G cards or MiFis.
AT&T's response appears to be a modest rejoinder. Three tiers: $15 for 100 MB used within a day, $30 for 300 MB used within a week, and $50 for 1 GB used within a month.
What AT&T doesn't seem to still realize is that Virgin Mobile's deal can be paired with a $100 MiFi (no contract), meaning that a few months of AT&T-priced usage would be outweighed by cost savings and flexibility. AT&T doesn't offer a MiFi-like device, and thus service is limited to laptop cards and notebooks.
It's a step in the right direction, as was AT&T's change to metered 3G broadband with reasonable overage charges for heavier users.
Virgin Mobile has upped the ante on cellular data: Despite being owned by Sprint Nextel, Virgin Mobile is challenging all four major US carriers with an as-you-need-it, no-contract $40 unlimited 3G data plan. The plan lasts for 30 days. Virgin previously had four levels of service topping out at 5 GB for $60 used within 30 days. The new tiers are $10 for 100 MB over 10 days or $40 for unlimited data during a 30-day period.
Because Virgin Mobile also offers the MiFi cellular router for a low price ($150, no commitment), it now has a killer offering. Use a MiFi with an unlimited plan and avoid the overage fees or throttling from every other competitor.
This also guts tethering plans. I'm an AT&T customer with an iPhone 4, and I also own a 3G iPad (with no current active service plan). I typically now travel with the iPad and activate a plan on the road. I had figured on my next trip in which I needed a laptop, I would switch to tethering on my iPhone 4 (from a $15/200 MB plan to a required $25/2 GB plan plus $20 for tethering). That now seems unappealing.
Instead, I should pay the $150 for the Virgin Mobile MiFi, and pay $40 whenever I'm traveling. Then my iPhone and laptop can both use Wi-Fi to access Sprint's 3G network, and if I'm traveling with colleagues, I can share access with them as well.
Sprint recently dropped its MiFi offering (so far as I can tell) in favor of the Overdrive 3G/4G, which works on its Clearwire division's 4G WiMax network (no limits on use) and the 3G CDMA network with a 5 GB cap. (It's $350 upfront or $100 with a two-year contract at $60/mo.) You can also go to Clearwire and buy a similar product (the Spot 4G+) with a $55/mo service plan for the same terms.
Virgin Mobile will sell you a MiFi for $150 to use with pay-as-you-need mobile broadband: Virgin is pairing the MiFi with its existing Broadband2Go plan in which you pay for time-limited pools of broadband as you need them. The plans range from $10 for 100 MB used within 10 days to $60 for 5 GB used within 30 days.
Because there's no plan commitment for the MiFi or recurring fees for broadband usage, and because the rate charged by Virgin is as low as its competitors (and lower when you consider overage fees of $50 per GB from Verizon Wireless and Sprint), Virgin has an insanely competitive offering.
The MiFi from Virgin suddenly also becomes an effective competitor to AT&T's iPad plans. AT&T is charging $25 for each 2 GB unit of broadband over a 30-day period. Virgin charges $20 for 300 MB or $40 for 1 GB, which is far higher, of course. But if you want to pay out for 5 GB and allow multiple devices access, $60 for 5 GB is cheaper than the $75 you'd pay for 6 GB (three 2 GB units) from AT&T.
It's a very interesting set of tradeoffs.
Talk of the Nation looks at whether the distractions of in-car Internet will add to driving's dangers: They aren't even looking at whether or not you are manipulating devices while driving; rather, whether the increased distraction even with voice recognition software for handling tasks is a danger on the order of talking on the mobile or texting.
It's an ugly truth proved repeatedly and extensively in the lab that hands-free devices don't reduce the dangers of talking on a cell phone. The act of talking with a remote person is what causes your brain to work differently; it's not motor functions, but higher functions, that add to the risk.
A researcher in this field, Nicholas Ashford at MIT, said on the program, "...interactive communication technology, which is the kind that's being put in the automobiles now, is even more demanding of higher-level visual and audio functioning, and so it doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize the brain is compromised." He also said, "There's two freedoms to be balanced: the freedom to do anything in your automobile, which I would argue should be less clear than doing whatever you want in your home. But there's also a freedom from harm for your passengers, for the pedestrians, and these freedoms have to be balanced."
Ashford also noted on the issue of talking on the phone at all, "The evidence shows very clearly that whether it's hands-free or it isn't hands-free, there is a significant, a four-fold increase in accident potential."
A caller notes that he's a much safer driver using Ford's system because it lets him focus on the road, but Ashford differentiates between anecdote and statistics.
Multi-tasking is a myth that our brain does a great job to foster.
(Graphic above from the NPR show Car Talk, the hosts of which have been far out in front of the issue of talking while driving. I've seen the less polite bumpersticker, too: "Shut Up and Drive.")
Ford offers a remarkable option to add Internet access to an auto: Unlike automakers who have signed up to build in the Autonet Mobile system, a Wi-Fi gateway with a built-in cell modem, Ford is opting for a bit of openness. Car owners with the next generation of Ford Sync (by Microsoft) coming next year can plug in their own USB broadband modems into a slot near the gear shift to enable Internet access over Wi-Fi to passengers. USB modems are offered by all carriers, including Virgin Mobile's currently unique pay-as-you-go plan.
Ford should also be praised for not just offering, but requiring WPA2 Personal security. You might want to share access with others, but not after you see your first cell data bill with overage charges on it.
By allowing a USB adapter, Ford lets a car owner who already has a 3G subscription plug in instead of adding yet another subscription fee on top.
Sync costs $395 as an optional add on, although it's included in certain high-end Ford and Mercury models. The system is designed to allow integrated use of cellular phones and digital media players, as well as provide emergency service and send car system status reports. Next year, turn-by-turn navigation will be added (three years at no cost).
Devicescape has shipped Easy Wi-Fi 4.1 for iPhone and iPod touch, integrating location with hotspot availability: This version of the app ties in with Devicescape's plans to provide comprehensive mapping of high-quality fee and free hotspots around the world. The free software automates connections to any hotspot networks that you have credentials for, personal hotspots, and free public hotspots. See my earlier article, Devicescape Adds Seamless Wi-Fi Access Service, Mapping (5 October 2009), for more details on the broader strategy.
Firefox is using Google Location Services, which is a combination of cellular tower data that the company has assembled along with some unknown method of collecting and locating Wi-Fi hotspots, much as Skyhook Wireless has been doing for years. Likely, Google gathers this information as it drives the streets for Google Maps.
With several tens of millions of smartphones (iPhone and Android-based models mostly) and handhelds (almost entirely the iPod touch) providing location data through various combinations of Wi-Fi, cellular trilateration, and built-in GPS, getting a location instantly may not seem that interesting any more on the desktop or laptop.
But it still seems to have a place. Location has two purposes. One is to find oneself, an existential proposition if I ever heard of one, because you don't know where you are. But the other is to identify your location to someone else because you want them to know where you are for some purpose: personal, commercial, or otherwise.
In the latter category, having location built into a browser lets Web sites offer rich location data even when you're at home. Aren't you frustrated about having to type in repeatedly your street address for work or home to find something in proximity, such as with a store locator? Wouldn't you like to have Web applications that automatically took advantage of your location by providing relevant data you didn't need to look up separately? (There are already plenty of utilities for Mac OS X and Windows that can use location to change system-wide settings, such as backlighting, r to launch or quit programs, or change your instant messaging status.)
Smartphones work best at giving you instant proximity data when you're out and about, because there's zero startup time. You take the phone out, hit the wake button, and run a program. I've become addicted nearly instantly to Urbanspoon after installing it on my iPhone because it tells me with incredibly little fuss what's near me. I needed to find a place to take my older son for lunch, and his appetite doesn't mesh well with restaurants. He agreed to eat a hot dog. I punched hot dog into Urbanspoon and within a few seconds found a suitable place. (He did eat the hot dog, and about a million fries. We went to Schultzy's.)
A laptop is a much more tedious operation for a spur-of-the-moment check. You have to dig it out, find a surface on which to balance it or hold it in your hand, wake it or power it up, find a network connection (unless you have a cell data card), find the Web site you want, and so forth.
The flip side is that when your desktop or laptop is already running, and you need a location-based piece of information, it's far more convenient to get a full, fast browser experience, with a real keyboard you can use to type in what you're looking for.
There has to be a pull from sites to make people interested in and expecting to use location services. If all that sites do is enable store locators via this option, I can't see much interest developing over time. But if sites can find unique ways to let the browser plus location combination provide the social networking or sheer utility of many smartphone apps, then the uptake could be large.
Part of this could happen through making laptops act more like smartphones, too, trickling technology back up. While Sprint includes GPS technology in all its 3G networking cards and dongles--and an API for developers--that's about the extent of GPS in most mainstream products.
Netbooks already have many of the attributes of smartphones (small, fast turn-on time), and are starting to gain ubiquitous networking via built-in 3G cell cards. This makes Dell's decision to put a GPS chip in its Mini 10 quite fascinating. The company has also paired with Skyhook Wireless, which will integrate Wi-Fi and GPS data for a location result. The GPS-equipped model ships next week. Pricing is still unknown, but a reputable gadget site puts the cost at $70 above the current $300 to $350 price tag.
This turns a cheap netbook into a potentially fabulous turn-by-turn navigation system--although you certainly want to have a passenger holding it or figure out a mounting system. The Dell Wireless 700 option, as the company labels it, comes with CoPilot software as part of the cost. But it also means that people with netbooks and without smartphones will have fast and accurate location data.
Is this part of a revolution? Location-based services (LBS) have been discussed as the next big thing for targeting advertising, coupons, and, well, information of use for several years. The stars (and satellites) may finally be aligning.
On the right, a set of options, which let you set a once-only share (Share Location by itself) or a site-based share (check Remember for This Site and then Share Location). You can also click Don't Share or click the X to close the bar.
If you set site-wide location permissions, then you have to be on a page at the site in order to disable this permission. Select Page Info from the Tools menu, click the Permissions tab, and then you can modify the options for Share Location. You can use a combination of options, such as unchecking Always Ask and setting the radio button to Block or Allow. Or check Always Ask to re-enable that behavior.
To disable geolocation for the browser, type about:config in the Location bar, then type geo.enabled, and finally double click the geo.enabled preference. Repeat these steps (or double click the preference again while displayed) to turn location back on.
As expected, Comcast will resell Clearwire's WiMax service: The Comcast High-Speed 2Go brand will be powered by Clearwire, starting in Portland. Comcast is focused on the mobile part, of course, since the company has its own extensive residential and business fixed broadband portfolio. Comcast has invested in Clearwire, and has previously resold Sprint Nextel service, as well.
The company will offer a Metro plan and card that works only in the WiMax footprint area, and a Nationwide plan and card that offers 3G everywhere Sprint has it, and 4G within WiMax footprints.
Comcast is using the power of the bundle, where the reduced cost in presenting and collecting multiple bills results in savings for the company and the consumer, with a 12-month introductory rate. A $50/mo bundle pairs 12 Mbps home cable broadband with WiMax service; consumers can add national 3G service for another $20/mo. The rate after 12 months is $73/mo for WiMax and $93/mo for 3G+WiMax, or $30 to $50 above the current 12 Mbps broadband rate. You pay separately for a broadband dongle, likely under $100, but that information wasn't provided yet.
Clearwire charges $50/mo for unlimited consumer roaming, and has a variety of business plans for shared bandwidth among multiple accounts. Sprint has a combined 3G/4G plan that's $80/mo (with a 2-year contract) that includes 5 GB per month of 3G bandwidth and unlimited 4G bandwidth. Comcast appears to be following both firms' leads on that topic.
With either plan, it looks like a fairly enormous discount, especially during the introductory year, but also thereafter.
Wi-Fi will soon be on one-third of US mainline aircraft, but what about power? My colleague Fabio M. Zambelli (of setteB.IT, an Italian language tech site) wrote to remind me after my last item on the New York Times article on in-flight Internet that Virgin America has power plugs at every seat on every plane. True enough. I've flown VA a couple of times, and liked the experience a lot. There's Ethernet, USB, and a regular power outlet between every seat in coach (so two sets per three seats), and one set of the same in every first class seat.
VA has just 28 planes, or less than 1 percent of the domestic mainline fleet. How are other airlines equipping their planes, given 15 years of people toting laptops onto planes? And, now, with folks carrying smartphones that suck power but which can be driven by a trickle of USB energy?
It varies, that's for sure. I always make sure to consult SeatGuru, which has vast amounts of information about the configuration of every minor variant to every plane in service. The site's page on in-seat laptop power ports is a great starting point to figure out what seats to try for when booking a flight, and what extra gear you might need to plug in for planes that don't have standard outlets (which an increasing number do).
Depending on the aircraft, in-seat power may provide enough current and wattage to keep your battery from draining as fast, to keep it at a neutral setting (sometimes not charging the battery but powering the laptop directly), or to charge it when in use or in sleep mode. It's more likely you drain the battery very slowly than that the plane charges the battery, however.
When American Airlines started testing Aircell's Gogo last summer, I asked immediately about power, and the airline said that on the 767-200s in question, there was power at every first class and business class seat, and a scatter pattern throughout coach. I called up SeatGuru's page on the 767-200, and you can easily see which seats and rows you might want to try to get into in order to get a charge or trickle during flight.
American seems to have made an effort to get at least some power to coach in all its Boeing and Airbus models, but its smaller jets, like the Embraers, have no power anywhere in the planes.
By contrast, checking through Delta's fleet, it seems like quite a few models lack any power in coach, although some newer Boeing models have power at every seat in the front half of coach but not the back.
The whole point of Wi-Fi is to avoid pulling wire to every seat and having people mess with Ethernet, right? So the idea that airlines would now...pull wire to every seat with power attached, given the current state of the airline industry, seems pretty poor. Whenever possible a second battery is probably the best investment, and consulting SeatGuru the right plan if you need to work with or without an Internet signal.
(By the way, SeatGuru isn't an advertiser and didn't suggest I write about this. I just like the site.)
David Pogue adores the Novatel MiFi 2200: The tiny cellular gateway, which has a built-in Verizon EVDO Rev. A modem, sports a swappable battery and a tiny form factor. Pogue loves the notion that he can have a Wi-Fi hotspot on demand without any fuss of swapping in cards or hauling a large-format device. He found the device had about 4 hours of battery life in active use, but turning it on and off as needed can stretch it to a day. Standby is rated at 40 hours.
Verizon's pricing is its usual awful level: $15 for 24 hours, $40/mo. for 250 MB per mo (10 cents/MB or $100/GB thereafter), or $60/mo. for 5 GB. Two-year contracts for subscriptions are required, but that discounts the MiFi to $100 with a rebate. A no-contract purchase is $270.
I'll be more excited about the MiFi when it's bundled with WiMax or Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint get more realistic about the data people consume on 3G. Heck, the MiFi could be a multi-mode device and connect and extend Wi-Fi devices to your own private, encrypted Wi-Fi network when available, using 3G only when needed.
Clearwire unveiled the Clear Spot Personal Hotspot: Yes, the firm needs help with naming, but it's a great idea to push early adoption outside the home. The CradlePoint-developed device is a WiMax-to-Wi-Fi gateway designed for nomadic use due to its built-in battery. Plug in a Clear USB modem, and you're good to go over 802.11b and 802.11g wherever. The device will retail for $139; the USB modem costs $49 and can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis ($10 per day) or with monthly mobile subscriptions. It will be available in Clear markets in mid-April.
The Clear Spot appears to be a rebranded version of CradlePoint's PHS300, which has a built-in lithium-ion battery and can be recharged via or used with an AC adapter. The PHS300 works with a variety of cell modems and lists for $179.99.
This is an extremely smart move on Clearwire's part because it signals two things: The company knows that it'll take a while to develop an ecosystem of WiMax-enabled devices; and it wants customers to use its network extensively instead of imposing lots of limits.
If Clearwire can deliver on its top download speeds (4 Mbps with mobile gear), that's a big bump up from the 600 Kbps to 1.7 Mbps downstream rate promised by various 3G carriers. Of course, AT&T is aiming to double its speed through what's described as a software upgrade (to 7.2 Mbps HSPA), and Clearwire suffers from 384 Kbps upload speeds which now compares unfavorably with even 3.6 Mbps HSPA and EVDO Rev. A.
Clearwire has an advantage on mobile data limits, however, because the company apparently believes it has such a big pool and such a large spectrum swath that it can offer an unlimited plan. Whenever I've asked Clearwire what unlimited means, the firm says, really, unlimited. It'll shut down abusers, but it will apparently look at patterns, not quantity.
The Clear service has an unlimited mobile offering for $50/month with no commitment; contracts and bundle discounts drop the price to $40/month and waive a $35 activation fee. A 200 MB per month plan is an appalling $30/month, but likely targeted as a bundle for home users where it's heavily discounted. A more moderate $40/month 2 GB usage plan can be bundled, too; each additional GB is $10 in a calendar month.
Businesses pay on a different scale that offers a better deal but more "risk" of overages, too. An account is priced with two devices (included) under a 2-year contract, with 15 GB/month for $100/month up to 30 GB/month for $150/month. Additional GB are $10 each.
The in-car Internet system gets reviews: Autonet is packaging a car-oriented router that combines a cell data modem and subscription with a Wi-Fi gateway. The device costs $500 and plans are $30 per month for a measly 1 GB of data or $60 for 5 GB. The higher rate is precisely what you'd pay a carrier directly for such an item with a 2-year contract; Autonet requires just a 1-year commitment. Unlike portable cell routers that come with car-power adapters, Autonet's device is installed in the trunk or back, and is wired into a car's electrical system. Antennas are part of the unit, however.
Edward Baig of USA Today reminded potential buyers that a 3G connection requires a 3G cell network, and traveling in areas with spotty or no 3G coverage could be disappointing. Overall, he's not unhappy with it. He concludes, "Having a rolling hot spot is an appealing, if expensive, service for a lot of families. Just keep your expectations — and those of your kids — in check."
The Wall Street Journal's elder tech statesman Walt Mossberg finds the service too slow for video beyond YouTube snippets, just as Baig does, but seems to agree that for the right person or family, having continuous Internet access is worth the cost.
I haven't tested Autonet, but the router's cost isn't out of line with similar systems: Junxion, acquired recently by Sierra Wireless, sells its devices for $600 to $700 a pop, with discounts for quantity, because they're aimed at corporate road warriors.
But I can't see the benefit of getting a box with a sealed 3G card permanently installed in your car. For those who might find the Autonet a reasonable choice, the Kyocera KR2 ($220) coupled with the 3G EVDO card of your choice--including tethered handsets. The KR2 is portable, cheaper, and more flexible. The disadvantage is having to use a car-power adapter, an increased likelihood of theft if left in the car, and a unit that's not designed to be as rugged.
What happens when everyone is running around with smartphones that are easy to use? The iPhone 3G is part of a leading trend: phones that have accessible, usable functions. Apple may be first and best, but the rest of the pack will eventually catch up. (If you'd like to refute me, launch the BlackBerry Web browser first, compare it with Safari on the iPhone, and now try to make a case for RIM surfing.)
TechRepublic notes some interesting features in IronKey's secure USB drive: The IronKey is a seriously secure device, designed with a variety of physical, hardware, and software elements that make it as unhackable as possible: it's got its own hardware encryption chip built in, uses robust flash memory, and can sense physical intrusion. But it's got one more element that Selena Frye highlighted in a recent column: secure browsing.
IronKey runs its own network of secure, anonymous servers that mask your identity. You can choose to change your exit point with a click, and keep track of throughput in case a given link is slowing you down. The IronKey plug-in for Firefox, invoked with a click, also stores all settings and caches on the flash drive.
Like Frye, I have long wanted to recommend an option for people who already use SSL/TLS protection for their email service, and don't need a VPN. IronKey appears to be the right recommendation.
IronKey works right now just with Windows XP and Vista, but their FAQ states they are are working on Mac and Linux components. IronKey comes in 1 GB, 2 GB, and 4GB configurations for $79, $109, and $149, respectively, including a year of "Internet protection," which covers secure browsing and a few other features. There's no information on the cost of the subscription fee after the first year, a notable omission.
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.
The 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.
iPass has released its latest semi-annual statistics: The company is looking for a little attention, of course, but they provide a relatively huge amount of data (relative to everyone else in the industry) that helps highlight trends in Wi-Fi hotspot and, new this time around, 3G usage worldwide. Their user base is largely corporations that integrate iPass into their networks to allow worldwide roaming at set or metered rates on Wi-Fi, mobile broadband (via laptop), and dial-up with a single corporate login and end-point policy enforcement. This gives them numbers that reflect usage among the mainstream corporate business traveler.
The company found that European usage is accelerating, with Europe now accounting for 40 percent of their sessions worldwide in the second half of 2007, up from 31 percent in the second half of 2006. (All contemporary numbers are from 2007's second half.) North American usage dropped from 60 to 51 percent during that period as a percentage of the whole. As an increase, European usage jumped almost 150 percent while North American usage doubled: iPass saw nearly 2m sessions worldwide at Wi-Fi hotspots, up from just over 1m in the same period a year ago. Worldwide growth in total sessions year over year was 89 percent.
Rick Bilodeau, vice president of corporate and channel marketing, said that growth in Wi-Fi usage represented in part frustration with high 3G roaming costs in Europe. He said that European regulation has already forced a price drop for 3G roaming, however. It's "coming down from the stratosphere; they're going to drop into the 50,000-foot range. These drops still don't make 3G roaming affordable. Your break-even is now 5 emails instead of 2," he said, referring to the potential for emails to carry megabytes of attachments and 3G plans charging per-megabyte roaming fees.
European Wi-Fi prices still outpace North America's, and Bilodeau said a drop in 3G roaming might "start to apply pressure to European Wi-Fi prices."
iPass found big jumps in usage at venues outside of hotels (29 percent) and airport (45 percent): cafes, restaurants, transit, and other categories. Cafe usage grew modestly, from roughly 175,000 sessions to nearly 250,000 sessions, but restaurant usage jumped from 25,000 to about 80,000 sessions. "The restaurant growth is really driven by McDonald's around the world," Bilodeau said. The fast-food giant started marketing their Wi-Fi service more broadly in 2007. The service has been in place in some restaurants for three or more years in the U.S. iPass includes not just domestic McDonald's stores, but has a total of 10,000 outlets worldwide in their roaming network.
London tops city usage, and experienced 156 percent year-over-year usage growth exclusive of London hotels and airports. Only 8 countries saw more usage than the metropolis of London.
With 2.5G and 3G usage, the company tracks just laptop users which have roaming and service agreements handled by iPass. The firm found that as users become more accustomed to mobile broadband, they start using more data, with established users (those with accounts before 2007) using significantly more data than users who started service in 2007. Both categories of users increased their monthly average usage by about 25 percent across the year, which comes in part from larger, more compelling downloadable content. (Read: YouTube.)
A stat that jumped out at me from their report was the breakdown of exclusive 2.5G, exclusive 3G, and mixed 2.5G/3G usage within a given month by their customers. Only 3 percent of users only used 2.5G, which isn't unusual, as iPass is selling 3G service. But just 38 percent used 3G exclusively; 59 percent used a combination of 2.5G and 3G.
What interested me was that there was a group that was able to use just 3G--that's tricky even in excellent coverage areas, as even a minor hiccup could downshift a user to a slower network offering. Bilodeau said that users adapt to where bandwidth is best, and that many users are "bumblebees," an industry term referring to those who roam, but with predictable pattern.
"Where I work may be dictated by where I get a 2.5G or 3G connection," he said. "You adapt your habits to fit your technology."
iPass also found that just a tiny percentage of its 3G users were extremely heavy downloaders: just 0.5 percent topped 2 GB in a month, while 32 percent used 50 MB or less per month. Their 3G users are also regulars: more than 90 percent of 3G subscribers used the service in any given month. This makes sense, as the cost of 3G remains high enough that there's little point in subscribing if you're not making use of it; and using it justifies continuing to subscribe.
iPass makes available a variety of tables of this data on their Web site.
Canary Wireless hits another homer with latest Digital Hotspotter: About three and four years ago, the market became suddenly glutted with a variety of compact Wi-Fi detectors: relatively inexpensive devices designed to give you a snapshot of the radio frequency environment around you in the more common Wi-Fi band (2.4 gigahertz). Trouble is, most of them either worked poorly or provided too little information.
The original Digital Hotspotter and a combination detector/adapter from Zyxel were my two favorite devices for the amount of information they provided. A detector, to be useful, must show enough network information that it prevents you from having to open up a laptop; or enough information to help you find a stronger signal or troubleshoot what's wrong with a network.
The Digital Hotspotter (model HS-20, $59.95, on sale 15-Feb-08) really does shine, partly because it now includes support for detecting 802.11n networks, and reveals the network's top speed based on packets it's sniffing. The device has three buttons now instead of one, all along one side. The top button is the power button: hold it down to turn it on or turn it off; press it while it's on to rescan the environment. Previous and next buttons let you scan through the available networks. See this YouTube video I shot for a live demonstration.
The display now shows the network name, whether it's secured, its form of encryption, the type of 802.11 network (B, G, or N), the top speed based on it's network settings, and the channel on which it's operating. My only real complaint with the device is that it turns off its backlighting a little too quickly while I'm still trying to read the scrolling information about network speed and other parameters.
The price is a little high for the casual user, but a road warrior, network administrator, or those desiring to find open and free networks should find this a bargain.
(For the historical record, I reviewed the SmartID WFS-1 in 2004, a device with a single button and a few LEDs, which showed all 2.4 GHz activity; the Chrysalis WiFi Seeker, which looked just for 802.11b/g, showing activity with LEDs, in early 2004; the first Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter, which had no back/forth buttons, but had an LCD to show network status, in late 2004; and Zyxel's combination USB Wi-Fi adapter and LCD display network detector in 2005.)
The New York Thruway has free Wi-Fi at 27 travel plazas: The growth of Wi-Fi (free and paid) at highway stopover locations has run in fits and starts, with some states announcing and then canceling plans, and others just tootling along and suddenly announcing a major deployment. The service is intended for indoor use, it sounds like, but I expect enterprising truckers may use high-gain adapters.
A small spate of announcements from remote access firm iPass: The company resells access to 75,000 hotspots worldwide and countless dial-up lines, and has added EVDO Rev. A access and satellite roaming via Inmarsat's BGAN service. EVDO Rev. A reportedly runs at 450 to 800 Kbps downstream and 300 to 400 Kbps upstream; testers have found much higher downstream rates but often much lower upstream rates. iPass also said they will support Windows Vista in the second quarter.
While they don't identify which EVDO provider is which, it's easy to guess that iPass is offering service from both Verizon and Sprint, since there are two networks they offer and two providers of such in the U.S. They call them Network A and Network B, and require separate subscriptions for each network. It's likely that the EVDO Rev. A addition is from Sprint. The new offering costs $60 per month for unlimited use and volume discounts can reduce that further. Adapters are extra. This is one of the few cases in which iPass has a recurring per user fee, and I imagine that if the cell operators ever offer a pay-as-you-go system, iPass will be one of the first to provide it. They were T-Mobile's first roaming partner, too.
Inmarsat hasn't to date offered a simplified access structure for their fourth-generation satellite network known as the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN). Various companies resell terminals and access, but iPass will have the clearest and most transparent model for a company that may deploy a few terminals and have various employees using the network. BGAN can operate up to 492 Kbps, and charges are levied per megabyte.
Via email, an iPass spokesperson explained that the satellite service will come with two pricing models. A usage-based model will cost $60 per month per user and $7 per megabyte. This can be canceled at any time. More favorable to large corporations is a pooled model which carries a 1-year commitment and must include at least 10 users. The pricing is per user per month with 10 users at 20 MB each costing $120 per month up to 750 MB each for $3,000 per month. Terminals are sold separately and range from $2,000 to $4,500 with most falling in the $2,400 to $2,800 range, iPass said.
(Recall that OnAir and Aeromobile are planning to launch in-flight data services using BGAN eventually--in-flight cell may launch any day now on limited airlines in Europe and Asia--but you can see that the per MB cost on a corporate level makes it impossible for unlimited in-flight satellite-based Internet use. Connexion by Boeing relied on a different set of satellites that carried largely fixed costs, but those costs required millions of sessions a year to produce enough revenue to break even.)
iPass sells mostly to the corporate market where rather than have each roaming employee set up their own accounts with recurring fees, iPass can meter access or provide negotiated monthly rates across an entire organization.