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Gates says 802.11 everywhere: Gates predicts and ensures the future of wireless networking through WLANs.
Cell carriers are getting into Wi-Fi in a big way. The universal topic at the conference was discussion of how cell telephone carriers have realized that their hope for the future of data over wireless lies in hot spots coupled with ubiquitous lower-speed cellular service. Voicestream's intended purchase of MobileStar's assets in early 2002 is only one small example. In Asia and Europe, carriers are aggressively (and sometimes quietly) building out pilots of dozens of hot spots. Whispers at the conference made it clear that that is the tip of the iceberg, and we could see large-scale installations during 2002 that dwarf current deployment.
The 802.11g (Task Group g or TGg) compromise improves manufacturers' ability to make dual-band access points. The TGg compromise requires backwards 802.11b compatibility (essentially making 802.11g a superset replacement for 802.11b, not an adjunct) as well as a mandatory inclusion of the OFDM encoding method found in the 802.11a 5 GHz band spec as well. Many vendors and speakers at the conference said that because they have to build OFDM in the chipset, the MAC chip or chips can be identical with two radio chips handling the separate 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz transmission and reception. It means that 802.11a+802.11g dual-band radios will cost incrementally more than single-band radios. Expect these dual-band radios by early 2002, incorporating either 802.11a+b, or a+b+early versions of g.
802.11g isn't ratified and won't be until late 2002. Despite the hype, the TGg compromise only settled encoding. The rest of the issues are apparently minor in comparison, but full ratification of the specification won't be until as late as the end of 2002. However, chipmakers will be shipping g-compatible chipsets much earlier than that.
802.11a has limited but important appeal. Despite 802.11a devices already shipping (based on Atheros's chipset), the appeal of 802.11a may have eroded somewhat with the TGg compromise adding high-symbol rates to 2.4 GHz. Still, 802.11a has distinct advantages - uncrowded spectrum, 8 to 12 nonoverlapping channels, etc. - that make it ideal for enterprise applications and backbone signal carrying.
I had the opportunity this morning to speak with David Cohen, chairman of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, the industry's certification trade association that has emerged in the last year from a significant to entirely dominant position with the addition of Intel and Microsoft to their membership.
I asked Cohen about how the Wi-Fi certification mark would evolve over time with new standards and elements (such as security) being folded into the networking mix. "The requirements to earn that mark may change over time, just like the requirements for other marks change over time," he said.
The Wi-Fi symbol will remain unchanged, and the certification will assure a basic level of interoperability between all devices. Any currently certified Wi-Fi device will work with any future certified device, even if that newer device has more features.
Cohen said that WECA only makes changes to the certification standard once per year to avoid confusion and sudden change that might confuse consumers or injure the marketplace.
The latest specification, which goes into effect Dec. 1, 2001, adds ad hoc mode standardization, something that many in the industry had been looking for for some time. In ad hoc mode, multiple devices may communicate with each other without a central base station to act as a coordinator. Current ad hoc modes are specific to vendor firmware with major camps supporting different implementations.
The Wi-Fi certification of ad hoc mode should move all vendors into a common ad hoc standard which may be available through firmware upgrades for older equipment.
With 802.11i security standards due to be ratified by mid-2002, Cohen expects "that it's extremely likely that 'i' will be pulled into the next round, the next time we change the certification."
The new Wi-Fi5 logo for 802.11a devices and the soon-to-be-completed certification suite for that protocol, will roll out in spring 2002. Cohen said that a new symbol was needed and a new term to avoid users believing that 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz devices would interoperate.
Cohen also explained the distinction between promoting the term Wi-Fi as a generic alternative to 802.11b and the logo (or mark) used to brand products that meet the certification. "The logo is that mark of interoperability. The logo is trademarked," he said, and they enforce the rules surrounding its use.
In my view, Wi-Fi will become an even more important substitute for IEEE specification numbers. By the end of 2002, we could have a single device that conforms to 802.11a, b, e, g, h, and i. Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi5 sound like appealing alternatives.
Brilliant essay on the advantages and nature of shared spectrum: a tour de force and right on target (sent to me by Burton "Buzz" Bruggeman)
More of my thoughts on the 802.11 Planet conference and its takeaway ideas tomorrow.
Summaries in order of most to least recent sessions.
Glenn Joe Bob says: ten fingers way up. Great conference, great content, lots to think about, lots of rational exuberance. At many conferences, you find presenters who have five things to say and spend an hour telling you that over and over again. At this conference, every presenter had 50,000 things to say and one hour to say it in.
Moderator: Bob Liu, Executive Editor, internetnews.com
Bob tried to shake things up on this amazing panel that had strategic folk from Atheros, Intersil, and Texas Instruments.
Jim Zyren, Director of Strategic Marketing, Wireless Networking Products, Intersil Americas Inc.
The 802.11g solution: "Aside from bringing higher data rates to 2.4 GHz band, and facilitating backward compatibility with 802.11b devices, it also facilitates future development of dual-band radios." Once we have OFDM in both bands, it becomes easier to make dual-band radios in a cost effective manner.
Chris Heegard, CTO for the Wireless Networking and Home Networking business units, Texas Instruments
"There isn't a lot of animosity - we all get along fine" in regards to collegiality. (Although there was a bit of sparks later in a patent discussion.) TI talks about "11b+11a= 11g".
Mark Bercow, VP of Marketing, Atheros Communications, Inc.
Atheros has been shipping 802.11a chipsets (two chips in total with everything on them) since September. 10 announced customers including Proxim, Sony, Intel. 12 more not announced. Dual-mode radios (a + b) due out from some of their customers soon.
a vs. b speeds: Link rates of 3 to 5 times the speed with 802.11a compared to b because of stepdown speeds in the same facility up to 225 feet.
Q: Upper band of 5 GHz (5.725-5.825 GHz) support? A: Intersil: not yet, but in future. Atheros: can get four more channels (in addition to eight in lower 5 GHz band) out of that upper band.
Q: Dual-band radios (a + b/g)? A: Atheros: "What's the need for it? Our view is...it's a problem that's more easily solved at the access point than it is at the client." If you have an existing b network, a dual-mode or a point next to the b point, everybody's covered. TI: It's going to happen and networks will grow this way. 100 Mbps didn't work well until you had dual-mode versions. 1 Gb mode supports older forms, too. "If there wasn't much b out there, you could argue just throw it all away." Intersil: client side needs dual mode - if you roam and there's a different infrastructure, you'll want what you need with you as you roam.
Q: IEEE patent licensing issues? TI: OFDM have extra-IEEE standards and patents issues, so not all of OFDM are in the IEEE process All of the participants will license OFDM pieces from Agere, Intersil, etc. "I'm more concerned frankly with people who don't participate in the IEEE than those who do." Policy places emphasis on member's conforming to IEEE's general statement Intersil: Participants need to reveal policies and license equitable - or license for free Anyone can make any claim about anything they want - are the patents relevant? Claims have to be made. No such thing as a clear title to IP rights. (There were some sparks on stage: Intersil has a variety of challenges to OFDM, the merit of which has not been determined. PBCC is based on older, pre- or non-patentable ideas, mostly, so not subject to the same sorts of modern challenges.)
Power usage, especially in smaller Wi-Fi devics? A.
Atheros: power - do you need 54 Mbps in a handheld? Probably not.
Intersil: dual-mode compelling designs will have 2 to 3 chips and be highly integrated; CF devices today are not power efficient yet, but 802.11b uses a lot of power. Bluetooth has a design advantage.
Restricting usage to lower bandwidths would occupy larger segments of the available bandwidth (1 Mbps takes longer but uses same "width" as 11 Mbps)
Q. Proxim patent claims over Intersil? A: Intersil May be resolved by middle of next year, but didn't want to go into depth because it's in process.
Allan Scott, Business Manager, the Americas, Agere Systems ORiNOCO: intro
Dr. John Rasmus, VP Business Development, GRIC Communications
Carriers getting involved. In Asia, carriers starting to throw out deployments of a few dozen points to test the market and infrastructure. Equipment may change to reflect needs. Applications will develop on top of ubiquity: collaboration, video, streaming content, and worldwide instant messaging.
By middle of next year, market heats up again and WLANs become part of a bigger set of concerns and industries. "To think of wireless LANs as a market unto itself is wrong" - total access solution will include WLANs.
Antti Eravaara, Marketing Director, NetSeal Technologies
(Intro: MobileIP bit part of this company's business)
Netseal has Mobile Private Network (MPN) to move freely across networks, within networks, etc.
<pMatt Brookshier, VP product Marketing, PacketAir Networks, Inc.
"Want to have to do it without worrying about loading up special software just to get on a certain different network." Like cell phone: "I don't have to worry about" coming from San Diego to Santa Clara.
Dr. Francis "Butch" Anton, Jr., VP of Advanced Technology, hereUare Communications
Not enough coverage for roaming/mobile needs.
Q: MobileIP and IPv6? A: Some part of the solution, but not coming immediately, and won't be the end solution. One panelist's product is compatible, but they can do everything in the router, avoiding client-side support problems.
Q: Who's going to buy products now? A: Will work on wireline and wireless, and solves a number of related roaming issues (packetair?)
Q: What's WISPr (Wireless ISP roaming) doing now? A: (Butch) Creating ideas about interoperability for WISPs. User wants same credentials, process, experience. "Best common practices" document due out for public comment soon.
Q: Carriers' continuing role? A: Antti: Scandinavian carriers are all offering some Wi-Fi public access. Carriers' role going to be great. History shows. ISPs: mid-90s, grass-roots. Today: consolidation. Local telcos are ISPs, buying out smaller players. Some large non-telcos involved, too (MSN, AOL, etc); it has required huge investments. Broadband wireless: Ricochet, $1B raised, but failed. ("Maybe they were too early?") MobileStar "another example of that." Both companies "did not understand the breadth and width and investment size it takes to build a really good solid service provisioning business."
Rasmus rejoins: Yes in Scand., but slowing business or on hold. Rest of Europe and similar countries, much more interest, but "in the planning stage" not deployment stage. Cautious and limited pilots.
Antti: Economy overall, but usage of data applications totally different than in US. If you're in Finland, you're running your business just there (like just in California or just in Maine). Travel is less extensive.
Q: Difference in use of WLAN in Europe vs. US. In US, mostly business. What's the story in Europe? A: Data usage much lower, but picking up.
Silliness interlude: Alison's Pantscam - reading Doc Searls's Web log, I came across this ingenious use of 802.11b technology to look at a young woman's underwear (requires Java). Bravo, young person!
Q&A: audience member asks if it isn't overhyped? Panel said turning current security on isn't a bad idea because it's there, even if a determined hacker can get through easily enough.
Q: Are VPN servers robust enough? A: Not in general, as most servers are expectcing some batches of 56K dial-up customers, not huge bandwidth users.
WEP ever appropriate? Yes, to make sure someone doesn't accidentally or incidentally attach. But companies should use VPN - all companies, says Cox.
RADIUS: Cox says he uses RADIUS as a simple solution because it can hand off authentication to more secure implementations, such as SecureID or Windows-based Kerberos.
Mandy Andress, CEO, ArchSec Technologies
Very, very detailed description of solutions appropriate for various sizes of WLAN. Mentioned a specific example from a university in Georgia that uses a combination of Kerberos, Unix IPTables (IP-based port filtering), and Web-based authentication to allow a redirect to a login that then passes a specific machine for a period of time through the firewall.
Phil Cox, consultant
(By the way, I'm getting access in the room for just the moment through the floor...)
Cox discussed all of the current challenges and problems with WEP. He went throught the basics and how to avoid key problems by not using ASCII passphrase encoding, but then blew that all away by describing the complete lack of protection available with WEP.
Jessel Frankel, NeTeam Corp
Biggest wireless university? Akron, OH University of Akron.
"All radios are not created equal" if even Wi-Fi compliant. "Transmit power, receive sensitivity is not identical from vendor to vendor."
Capture requirements: "Everybody's accustomed to understand the concept of deciding where you want coverage, … but this is another security issue: you also have to design where you do not want coverage."
Jim Thompson (Musenki, moderator) noted that the Dallas/Ft. Worth Wayport installation: 50% of cost was electrical wiring. Jesse Frankel noted that union requirements and other details add to cost and suggested power-over-Ethernet which reduces cost substantially at install.
Thompson also pointed out that 2.4 Ghz is the harmonic frequency for water: "when you put a bunch of what I like to call bags of salt water in an environment" it changes characteristics of the environment. People absorb signal.
Matt Peterson, BAWUG (Bay Area Wireless User Group)
Matt talked generally about BAWUG and community networking.
Community benefits: make friends. "I have a T1 at home and I'm becoming very popular around the community."
Access points are pretty bad: "for the most part they suck." Like first-generation cell phones. Bad manufacturing.
War Driving (scanning for open APs): Market & 4th in SF: "60 APs with a normal PC card, no external antenna," nothing special, and only two have WEP encryption turned on.
802.1x is still in progress: "at least a year down the road until 802.1x is pretty viable."
Jim mentioned that "Taiwan, Inc." was partly responsible for drop in 802.11b prices, as they are churning out equipment cheaply. 802.11a, for him, is an attempt for manufacturers to retain profit margin, but Intel has set price low (mid $300) so that may not be in place.
802.11a has better characteristics for dealing with multi-path fading so you could have overlapping 802.11a/b installs where 802.11a can hit 11 Mbps everywhere b can, but you can have hot spots with higher speeds.
Jim's comments on g where that of the multiple standards approved for encoding in 802.11g, you'll only find three of four in any device, and OFDM will operate at 54 Mbps in that band within just a few feet while blowing other transmissions out of the water – shutting them down.
Jesse: cost of electrical install had to do with local electrical standards.
Q: How to restrict RF propagation? Jesse: you can control output power of radio through various settings on some devices, and can create back shields to tune shape.
Josh: "You need to deploy some kind of security mechanism on an AP" whether WEP or 802.1x or something else. In Berkeley, in testing security, they were able to see APs in San Francisco, 10 miles away!
Related to another q, Matt mentioned that ad hoc networking (card-to-card without AP) is very different without the same kind of standards. Point-to-point is very cheap; they're running 20 mile cross-SF Bay links for a few hundred bucks. But no cookie-cutter method: have to dive into it.
Frankel: bridging – design characteristics important. If someone wants "five nines reliability" (99.999%), then there's much more work to be done to assure with wireless point-to-point bridging. Josh: price point: $10,000 for Tsunami link versus a few hundred.
I was moderating this panel which featured a number of interesting folks deploying and handling different aspects of public space, for-fee wireless networks.
The panel comprised Stephen Saltzman, general manager, wireless LAN operation, Intel; Phil Belanger, VP, Wayport; Rick Ehrlinspiel, CEO and founder, Surf and Sip; Clark Dong, hereUare communications; and Anurag Lal, iPass. (I'd had the opportunity to interview everyone but Clark Dong for various articles.)
We talked about a number of topics, mostly centered on roaming, as the conference track was the Enterprise one. It's clear from the folks on the panel that seamless, well-managed roaming across networks is building to a head, and will involve lower costs than previously anticipated.
Phil Belanger specifically said that Wayport is trying to avoid or eliminate roaming fees: if you're a monthly Wayport subscriber and roam onto an iPass network partner, you wouldn't pay an additional fee for other wireless access and vice-versa. That's his notion at least, and there was a variety of response about venue managers (hotels, conference centers, airports), and issues with how revenue gets generated if there aren't roaming or site fees.
802.1x came up again as a good end-to-end solution that public space providers can implement to provide link security with encryption key management. As it starts to become available, they'll deploy it, but they still believe overall security is a customer issue: end-to-end encryption using VPNs or other methodologies.
Greatest quote from the session: "The time of crack-induced business plans is over," from Stephen Saltzman. This was in reaction to several questions from the audience about what MobileStar did wrong. (My response to that question was, "When a company asks you to build a national T1 network for them at your expense and won't agree to mention you in a press release, say no."
Dean Douglas, IBM Global Services
(IBM Global Services was MobileStar's contractor for installing Wi-Fi into Starbucks.)
Talks about new concept of gold-collar workers: people who are critical to a company or organization who aren't office workers or skilled manual laborers – people who have interactions with technology to move things along or report status, but it isn't necessarily the key part of their job.
Wireless LAN devices (wearable computers) offer employees a chance to perform tasks while they're interacting with a network instead of turning to a keyboard or stopping the task to perform a computer operation.<p/p>
IBM says they save $75 million/year in real estate costs due to WLANs, including savings of not reconfiguring and constantly updating technology in shared spaces (conference rooms, etc.)
In Q&A: use in other countries? In Scandinavia, one cell carrier lets you plug in names and phone numbers, and the phone tells you when you're near someone you know or want to meet.
Today's ongoing blog (chronologically reversed) from today's session's at the 802.11 Planet conference.
Session: Building a Robust Wireless Business Post-Sept. 11
Alan's session was amazingly, overwhelmingly detailed (attendees get his slides online at a protected URL). He had some great sound bites:
On coding standards: "Consumers don't care: they just want to access the Web."
On Sprint's Wireless Web (lying to the customer, he said: HDML sites only): "What they're doing to stimulate usage is to charge you a high price."
On up to: "These are lies by marketing and PR people...they use these little weasel words: up to. You can get speeds 'up to.' "
Speeds under 1xRTT et al. are not available individually: only shared. "If there are absolutely no molecules in the air at all and you are making physical love to the transmitter" you can achieve maximum full speeds.
On speeds of 40-60K, "I spit on your 40K. We don't need no stinkin' 40K - but a lot of people in the U.S. and around the world dial-up and they get around 40-50 Kbps."
Building nets; "You'd better understand what customer service is all about."
Matt Peterson and various BAWUG folks kept me from eating lunch through excellent and fun conversation, and then I fell into discussion with Jeff A. from WLANA. So I confess I missed most of this panel.
I caught the end of Locationet’s presentation: they are building systems to identify location-based services and provide those for venues.
In Q&A, many questions about Bluetooth: whether it’s here and real and how it will be deployed and interact with Wi-Fi deployment. Wasted time and effort with early deployment or not? Panel thought that there was still a lot of opportunity for Wi-Fi services that Bluetooth won’t have the right configuration to support.
Another attendee emailed me – wanted me to point out something I do feel compelled to (plus he didn’t like the for-fee food). There’s no 802.11b access in the conference presentation room! It’s not the end of the world and I suspect it has more to do with the convention center’s telecomm/Net charges than anything else.
Am I just glad this conference is happening in this economy? Yes!
I’m quite impressed with the conference, and with the determination of Alan Meckler (who I met for the time here) to carry through with this event. Everyone here is dedicated: they’re here to learn and then run out and spend. I imagine the 100 or so attendees are highly qualified for the trade-show vendors. (Wi-Fi access is available there, which makes us a nicely captive audience.)
INT Media has already announced at this event the next two: June in Philadelphia and October back here in the Bay Area. I can’t tell if Meckler’s doing okay on this event (he did say he was, but was vague about in what way), but they’re in it for the long haul: this is the establishing event, and I’m learning a lot of the subtle points surrounding the ISP and IT side of things. My reporting and expertise is centered on the complementary side: technology and consumers.
Come to think of it, I think INT may be doing just fine: the entire convention center here in Santa Clara is empty, so I imagine they got a deal on rental. There are a number of trade show booths, and a reasonable number of attendees. Meckler pointed out in some opening remarks that almost all attendees are from West of the Mississippi and most are from the West Coast. He thought that was one telling factor of the post-Sept. 11 reality coupled with the current economy.
I was on this panel and tried to take notes during the presentation.
Kathryn Korostoff, president, Sage Research, panel moderator: has spoken with hundreds of IT managers as part of her job. Wireless LANs aren’t being deployed universally: often dependent on job title.
They estimate 8 hours per week in saved productivity on average per connected WLAN user – about $400/day.
Fewer than 15 percent of users on average have WLAN access in companies with WLANs.
Jeff Abramovitz, executive director of WLANA (the Wireless LAN Association, non-profit trade group): enterprise adoption is 3 to 5 percent of market. (Also talked about WLANA in general and market, relevant to audience, which has many ISPs and potential ISPs in it.)
Greg Collins, Dell’Oro Group, consulting and market research: 9 percent increase in 802.11b equipment shipments in third quarter 2001. Price declines are “key to growth.”
2001: doubling shipping revenue (i.e., to manufacturers) to $1.2 billion, mostly SOHO in increase. Still in early adopter phase.
Monica Paolini, consultant, Analysys: 3G is coming “any time soon, but probably later than soon.” 3G handsets may cost $700 initially.
3G’s primary use may wind up being email because of limited bandwidth even with full deployment, which she says is 500 kbps at best.
Real-estate owners have lots of leverage with Wi-Fi, as deployers can sign contracts with them as opposed to cell phone and similar wireless where each person has their own deal.
Roaming is especially important. “Mobile operators have big advantages in exploiting wireless LAN applications” as they already knowa lot about networks.
Daniel Williams, Chief Investment Office, Telecommunications Development Fund: ($50M under management VC talking about opportunities from VC perspective) Profitability should be on the list. It wasn’t in the past, and you have to have a clear path to it now.
There’s a value chain from chips to end user, and many of the points along the chain are fully occupied by major vendors and suppliers. But middlemen that connect pieces (wiring homes, software, etc.) have opportunities.
Bandwidth has to be provisioned, managed, billed, and reconciled, and there must be a back-office infrastructure to deal with it. That’s an opportunity.
Yours truly: I spoke about Balkanization and co-existence in 2.4 and 5 Ghz: competing specs, non-standard specs, etc. My presentation is available on the Web here.
Business Manager, the Americas, Agere Systems Orinoco
2.5G services around the corner: maybe next 12 months or so
Agere estimates 500 wireless ISPs nationwide, making money and focusing on niche
HyperLAN too telecomm focused, too limited: 802.11a will become worldwide standard in the long run
Top 10 portable computer manufacturers: all of them are offering Wi-Fi as an option
Agere sees Wi-FI as complementary to 3G (ubiquity, speed tradeoffs)
Next year: PC cards at $50
Wi-Fi: "Probably the only attractive segment of the IT market today." Why? "Why? Because it makes economic sense."
Good for ISPs: "You don't have to send somebody in the house to drill holes in the wall." No truck roll. No expensive service calls.
"Very shortly you're going to see integrated DSL/cable modem" routers in home wireless gateways
Wi-Fi5/802.11a solution for backbone: $25K each for microwave solutions versus maybe a few thousand for 5 GHz WLAN
Telcos: "I don't know of a major carrier in the United States that isn't testing today. If they're not testing a system, they're already in the pilot stage."
"Wi-Fi is 3G: If a base station costs anywhere from $250K to $750K, why would you invest in something like that? Wouldn't it make more sense to take that money and blanket the area" with cheaper access points?
Teik-Kheong (TK) Tan, 3Com, and WECA marketing co-chair keynote
Wi-Fi5 logo to certify 802.11a products. The Test spec for Wi-Fi5 almost ready
802.11i will have mandatory 802.1x authentication as part of spec
802.11e: 2nd Q 2002 most likely. Quality of Service issues for voice over IP, etc.
802.11g: end of 2002, early 2003 for final ratification - only first half of work really done, instead of as reported in press
802.11h: DFS/TPC required for European operation
Radar community trying to convince ITU to prohibit 5 GHz WLANs but attempt at WRC2003 to allow radio LANs while respecting needs of radar community (DFS/TPC part of techniques)
802.11NG was trying to be agnostic across 5 GHz standards including HiperLAN2 and 802.11a, but now moving into broader swaths of issues not just 5 GHz
WISPr (Wireless ISP roaming) standard in active discussion next week in Boston by WECA.
I'm currently en route from Seattle to San Jose for the INT Media 802.11 Planet conference which runs Tuesday and Wednesday this week. I'm assuming - praying given the conference title - that I'll have unimpeded 802.11b access during the conference, at which I'm on one panel and moderating another. I hope to "web log" live at the event, so watch this spot for updates.
I arrived at Seatac over two hours before my short flight (which will last just 2 hours 5 minutes), and spent just 30 minutes in a brisk, professionally run security line. Very heartening. Seatac has Wayport comprehensive coverage and MobileStar in the American Airlines Admirals Club. I have a MobileStar account (which they continue to charge throughout this whole layoff/bankruptcy period), and so find myself in a comfortable chair near the entrance to the club. I get two to three bars of access on my Apple iBook, which is more than enough to handle email and Web.
I spoke (blogged) too soon: MobileStar kept picking up and dropping off at two bars. It's odd how with me just sitting there that service would change. The access point is up a flight of stairs, so I was lucky to get anything, I suppose. I selected Wayport's network, paid $6.95 for 24 hours access (I'll be flying through San Jose, so can use it on arrival, too), and am having no difficulties. This re-emphasizes to me the importance of roaming.
I again spoke too soon (3.37 pm): I misread Wayport's fine print. Paying for a day's access is by location, not nationwide. Rats. I decided against paying another $6.95 while waiting in San Jose despite the perfect signal in the baggage claim. Now I regret it. I'm in my hotel. No Wi-Fi in sight (or site). I'm next to the Santa Clara Convention Center, so I'm bit out in the middle of nowhere (in some sense).
The Westin here has CAIS wired access (won't work with my Mac despite link lights and the Mac's totally standard and Windows-compatible TCP/IP stack and DHCP id configuration). Their tech support phone number is constantly busy. Dial-up is ok, but $2.00/call (up to 60 min.) for 800/877/888; $1.50/call (up to 60 minutes) for local calls. When will hotels wake up? Increased usage comes from lower rates.
But I would bet they have the financial models to negate that. I'm using my cell phone (which I guess more and more business travellers do), so the poor suckers who have to use dial-up are probably fewer. This is the only time I've wanted cell packet data (2G through 3G) in all my travels.
For those of you thinking of buying some network gear, you may want to take advantage of Amazon.com's mainland U.S. free shipping over for orders over $99 (read restrictions). Yes, there are lots of provisos, so read the list carefully. Amazon.com's prices are competitive or better for all of the cheap home gateways that they offer; I just updated that page to include links to Outpost.com and Amazon.com for items that either or both store sell directly.
Greetings, everyone, wherever you are. For my fellow Americans, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. For Muslims around the world, I hope that Ramadan is peaceful and offers a chance for introspection of the variety that most religions fail to require regularly of their adherents. For everyone else, a peaceful season.
I hope some of you will be joining me next week at 802.11 Planet, a conference aimed at ISPs and IT professionals sorting out the future of 802.11a, b, g, and other protocols. It promises to be an excellent event. If you're there, please try to say hello, as I'd very much like to meet the people who refer to this site.
I've revised the Cheap Home Gateways article today to reflect the most recent price changes and feature updates with the dozen or so manufacturers making wireless routers/gateways intended for the home market. In some cases, the vendor has several different models with only slight price variances.
I'm getting old as I keep saying: these prices are incredibly low. But I said that six months ago when the average price was around $250. We're now down to $150 for cheap, low-features access points with meager gateway features, and under $200 for several full-featured, 128-bit WEP capable, secure VPN protocol passing gateways with NAT, DHCP, PPPoE, and other doodads.
The 802.11g vote will almost assuredly drive the price of the remaining 802.11b equipment down further, though that's hard to imagine. Will we be buying $100 full-featured gateways in six months' time? Or will all manfacturers rapdily retool their innards to support g and raise the price? The final vote approved an 802.11g spec that must be 802.11b backwards compatible, so there's little risk in moving on once the chipsets are certified (and one hopes that WECA leaps into the gap with new Wi-Fi-like to Wi-Fi-plus certification.)
News.com reports on Proxim's approval from the FCC: I can't tell from the story whether this includes their double-speed 108 Mpbs mode that's outside the 802.11a spec, or just the IEEE flavor that will be compatible with other 802.11a devices.
I've received some email asking about the differences between the Apple AirPort Base Station's new release and the updated firmware for the AirPort Cards and cheaper equipment that can be purchased from other manufacturers. (Note that access point or AP is the industry term for Base Station.)
Mac configuration support: Many APs can have their settings changed only via a Web browser: you enter the local IP address of the AP and then a password. This works pretty well, but some features - like upgrading the internal software (firmware) on the access point - fail on a Macintosh. This is consistently true for me with the Linksys BEFW11S4 EtherFast AP, for instance. Some APs have Windows-only software, too. The AirPort Base Station by contrast comes with the AirPort Admin Utility, a Mac-only tool that scans a local network - you don't have to remember the Base Station's number - and uses simple graphical tools for making setting changes. A Java-based configuration tool works with other platforms, but it's not supported by Apple .
AppleTalk compatibility: AppleTalk is an older protocol for printing and reaching fileservers (shared volumes, too) over Ethernet networks. Many APs won't handle AppleTalk. Apple's Base Station, and models from Farallon and Asante will work wirelessly with AppleTalk. Users of newer printers and Mac OS software (including 9 and X) don't need to worry about AppleTalk, as Apple switched over entirely to TCP/IP. (Even if you're currently relying on AppleTalk, you may be able to change a couple of File Sharing settings and use the Apple Desktop Printer Utility to switch over to TCP/IP.)
AOL support: No other wireless hub from any maker can support dialing AOL - not over Windows, not over Mac. Dial-up AOL users who want to use wireless networking can essentially relay through the Base Station to reach AOL.
Modem and Ethernet: Some other APs have both an Ethernet port and a modem (or an RS232C port for a modem or ISDN device), but it's usually at extra cost over the plain vanilla version, bringing the price closer to an AirPort. Many readers find that the modem is a great backup if their broadband connection goes down. It only works at so-called 56K speeds (more like 40 to 50 kbps), but it still handles dialing up for a whole network.
High-speed LAN Ethernet port: The revised Base Station has a second Ethernet port that runs at both 10 and 100 Mpbs depending on the connected network. The cheapest competing APs have a single Ethernet connection, although others may have up to a 4-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet hub.
RADIUS: While it's only important in more advanced networks, RADIUS authentication is supported in AirPort 2.0 (requiring a new Base Station, not just a software update with the original modem). Many cheaper APs don't support RADIUS.
Cisco LEAP: A software upgrade that works with older AirPort cards allows them to connect to networks that use Cisco LEAP for authentication. Again, this feature is not found in all cards (especially not in $99 ones), and is critical for networks that require it.
Magic Kingdom powered by 802.11b: no word on whether costumed characters are tracked by GPS, however. Computer World reports on Disney's deployment of Wi-Fi throughout its Disney World complex in Florida for internal purposes only, such as a live credit-card authentication and tracking entry and exit from theme park attractions. They boast that they use 128-bit encryption, and one hopes they're talking SSL over TCP/IP and not WEP.
Readers wrote to ask about some of the differences betwen Apple's AirPort system and cheaper access points and cards. I wrote a short article describing those differences.
My Practical Mac column in today's Seattle Times walks through the revisions to Apple 2-year-old-plus AirPort wireless networking system, released last week, and which I discussed at some length here a few days ago.
The revision adds support for direct-dialing AOL (useful to millions of Mac dial-up customers), improves aspects of security, supports faster Ethernet, and connects the Base Station and its related AirPort Card to back-end authentication systems used in institutions.
AirPort is just another name for 802.11b or Wi-Fi (it's certified by WECA), and Apple's revision makes it even more so by supporting standard authentication tools (RADIUS, Cisco LEAP), 100 Mbps-only Ethernet networks (through a 10/100 Mpbs autosense port), and longer WEP encryption keys. Apple also told me that they were actively following the issues surrounding 802.11g development.
The support for 128-bit long WEP encryption keys used for network data encryption is long overdue, if only as a way for Mac users to join supposedly safer PC-based networks.
Take it easy when reading this article, you wireless cognoscenti. It's written for a Mac-only audience who want to know how to use systems they already own or are considering buying (hence the name Practical Mac). The audience for this column is probably 50% likely to have a dial-up only connection, where I would guess readers of this site are about 1% or less likely to be in that category.
internetnews.com's summary of the last-minute save of 802.11g: great summary of the background and politics, but still doesn't explain the mandatory support of plain OFDM in 802.11g. This seems like a disproportionate boost to Intersil. Also, I'd like to know the terms of patents for OFDM, CCK-OFDM, and CCK-PBCC as relates to cross-licensing or simple licensing by other chipset makers.
Another account, from EE Times: some additional technical detail.
More news on 802.11g: Details Via Texas Instruments: TI sent me the following info:
Yesterday evening the IEEE 802.11g task group voted on a compromise from TI, Intersil and other member companies as the new draft standard for 802.11g. The draft standard makes 802.11a data rates (up to 54Mbps) available in the 2.4GHz band with interoperability with existing 802.11b devices, which paves the way for multi-mode WLAN devices. Here is a quick look at the 802.11g draft standard.
Mandatory modes: OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) operating in the 2.4GHz band. OFDM is the modulation for 802.11a today which is why the new draft standard provides data rates up to 54Mbps in the 2.4GHz band.
802.11b mode (CCK) to offer compatibility and interoperability with 802.11b (Wi-Fi) devices.
Optional modes: PBCC-22 which was TI's proposal for the 802.11g standard. This provides 22Mbps data rates and compatibility with 802.11b since it includes 1-11Mbps transmission rates which are defined in the 802.11b standard.
CCK-OFDM which was Intersil's proposal for the 802.11g standard. This is not to be confused with CCK in the 802.11b standard, they are not the same.
Intersil describes accommodation for 802.11g: it's odd to turn to a press release for information, but it appears that the story that emerged yesterday from the IEEE 802.11 Task Group G is that a solution for that spec was approved that allows the choice of Intersil's OFDM or Texas Instruments's PBCC modulations in 802.11g. Of course, this only make Balkanization at that speed a policy, not an accident.
Having two encodings means that devices can be released with chipsets that are compatible up to the 802.11b speed, with higher speeds restricted to devices that supported one or the other. Because of not-invented-here issues, I believe it's unlikely we will see chipsets from Intersil or TI supporting both encodings. This may open a market opportunity for other chipmakers, as I believe that IEEE requires cross-licensing agreements from any patents that are considered as part of their specs. In which case, a third party could license both patents and create adapative chipsets.
802.11g compromise?: News.com is describing more of a compromise decision on the IEEE's vote on the 802.11g specification than previously reported.
iPass spans globe, wireless networks: a nice analysis at 802.11 Planet of the business model and practical issues for iPass in creating a global roaming network comprised of partnerships with dial-up, wireline, and wireless ISPs.
I interviewed Anurag Lal a few weeks ago and was impessed with the company's focus on their market. They do require a special client software package for their customers, which finds the closest network or dial-up for them. But this client package has a variety of VPN software bundled with it, reducing the administration overhead for corporate IT folks in managing a roaming system. It's also intercompatible with Cisco and other vendors equipment.
I'm moderating a panel at the upcoming 802.11 Planet conference (Nov. 27-28 in Santa Clara, Calif.) that will feature Mr. Lal, Clark Dong of hereUare (an iPass competitor), as well as Phil Belanger of Wayport, Rick Ehrlinspiel from Surf and Sip, and Stephen Saltzman from Intel's Wireless LAN Operation. The whole conference looks terrific. My moderation session is on day 2; I'm on a panel about the future on day 1 in which I'll be overviewing the standards battle.
802.11g standard once again pushed back: the IEEE task group couldn't reach 75 percent support of the Intersil encoding scheme for 802.11g. The next meeting is January. Meanwhile, Texas Instruments continues to press forward with their unapproved variant, and Intersil's stock took a run-up and a slide.
More wireless news from Comdex: lots of Wi-Fi devices, plus Bluetooth emerges. Some industry dollar/unit statistics, too.
WiFi Metro is the newest wireless ISP emerging in the post-hyper-deployment era. Announced just last week, WiFi Metro starts life with the hotspot assets of AirWave, which has turned itself into a business service firm helping companies manage access for their road warriors.
I spoke to the general manager of WiFi Metro, Arturo Pereyra, on Nov. 13 to find out the scope of the new firm and its plans for deployment. Pereyra kept most of the company’s plans close to the vest, as he indicated they would rather execute and then talk about it than talk it about and create expectations.
WiFi Metro’s initial deployment maintains 27 AirWave locations. The ISP is also part of hereUare Communications’s JumpStart program, offering free access to 21 other locations (at this writing) until January 1, 2002. WiFi Metro has the same pool of investors as hereUare, but Pereyra said the company will set its own independent agenda.
WiFi Metro itself charges $19.95 per month for unlimited time and bandwidth. The unlimited bandwidth is of particular interest, because MobileStar had hedged its bets in the fine print of its user agreement, capping free transfers at 500 Mb per month with a 25-cent-per-Mb surcharge ($25 per 100 Mb).
Pereyra said, “If there are needs for a lot of data transfer, then we’ll figure out a way to accommodate that and obviously build that into our economic model.”
WiFi Metro plans to focus on the San Francisco Bay Area at the moment, and is following the new industry trend of testing the waters and building out as demand exists. “Our strategy is to get a model that works right in a metropolitan area and build out similar networks throughout the country,” Pereyra said.
The company isn’t limiting itself to restaurants and coffeeshops as future venues. Pereyra said that WiFi Metro would consider any scale of venue as long as it made business sense. “As we deploy more sites, and as hear more feedback from our user base, we’ll try to match those needs,” he said.
While not revealing WiFi Metro’s specific plan, Pereyra noted that the company has a leg up in deploying later in the game. “We’re starting out where there are more 802.11b users,” he said, making their strategy more viable on day one.
WiFi Metro’s most significant competition is Surf and Sip, a mostly Bay Area-based wireless ISP which is expanding in pieces nationwide, and has about three dozen locations in the San Francisco area (including in a café at the railroad station my dad used to own when it was a furniture store). Surf and Sip’s business model combines Internet café hourly rates for on-site machines with wireless access for the already equipped.
Currently, Surf and Sip is offering a free promotion through the end of the year, at which point they plan to set pricing. Surf and Sip is not part of any roaming network currently; joining hereUare or iPass could affect their overall footprint, too.
MobileStar would offer equally substantial competition, except for its current state, reportedly moving towards a bankruptcy filing in order to sell its asset to VoiceStream. Their California outlets are still operating, and users of hereUare’s network can currently get free access to MobileStar’s locations throughout the U.S.
Faster 2.4 GHz (802.11g) is on everyone's mind: and Texas Instruments' maybe annoying the big boys.
Some readers complained that yesterday's headline was too severe. They may be right. Late in the day yesterday, after speaking to a senior product marketing person at Apple, I revised yesterday's story to reflect some of the insight he shared. The price now still seems too high, but I accept that Apple is justifying it.
Greg Joswiak, senior director of hardware product marketing, reminded me that millions of their customers use AOL and only over dial-up. Regardless of whether you like AOL itself as a service or not, that's the reality. The AirPort 2.0 update allows users to connect wirelessly using a client on their machine and the modem on the AirPort Base Station to AOL. This is a huge benefit. (It reminds me of the original Emailer, devised by Guy Kawasaki, which was the only non-AOL client that could retrieve mail from AOL, as well as read POP and other formats.)
No PC or non-Apple wireless system can dial into AOL, and this may continue to be an aggressive advantage with the new software.
Another advantage is the host-based software for controlling the access point. Some would see this as a disadvantage, as it prevents Windows and Linux users from buying this piece of equipment. The upside, however, is management. Web-based configuration is fine, but wonky. You typically cannot scan for devices, but must know the exact IP address.
I've spent many wasted minutes with Linksys devices (no knock on them specifically, though) trying to connect via 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1 only to remember that the device was really at 192.168.1.100 or something equally obscure.
The AirPort Admin Utility checks all of your network connections. I noted yesterday that in Mac OS X 10.1 with both my AirPort and Ethernet connections active, the utility found both the NAT and static IP addresses of the device.
Perhaps I should have titled yesterday's article: Ahead of the Pack with Features and Ease of Use, But Still a Bit Pricey.
A colleague pointed out to me: Apple never lowers prices; it just adds features.
A reader forwarded me a report from 8wire Labs (free registration required) analyzing the price, performance, and other features of several popular access points. Amazingly, the most expensive units don't substantially outperform the cheaper ones.
Defying Apple's trend of introducing sophisticated new products ahead of the PC industry and helping to create de facto standards or build markets for 802.11b, USB, and FireWire (IEEE 1394), Apple today released its revised AirPort Base Station and AirPort 2.0 software. (AirPort is Apple's name for 802.11b.)
The gateway features a new LAN 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port in addition to the existing "56K" modem and 10 Mbps WAN Ethernet; the ability to dial-up directly over the modem using AOL version 5.0 for Mac (U.S. only); and 40/64- and 128-bit encryption. Configuration is through Mac-only software (or unsupported third-party Java configuration tools).
Firmware and software upgrades are available for older Base Stations and AirPort Cards (which are essentially Agere Orinoco Silver cards being upgraded to Gold). Older Base Stations cannot be upgraded to 128-bit encryption, however.
These updates remain at a premium: the cards are $99, somewhat higher than cheaper PC Cards which don't have drivers for the single Mac model that sports a PC Card slot. On the flip side, it's much cheaper than comparable PCI Cards; Apple's tower models have a separate built-in slot for the AirPort card, just like the iMacs, iBook, and PowerBook. The Base Station is $299, or $50 to $100 more than similar Mac-compatible, Web-based configuration models. (Two companies make gateways that pass AppleTalk packets, which Apple has been phasing out in favor of pure TCP/IP-based filesharing and printing for the last few years.)
What Apple is offering is the value-add: simple, Mac-tailored software with easy configuration options coupled with a slick, box. The AOL connectivity is a big plus for many users, too: although I and all my friends and colleagues are broadband subscribers over DSL and cable, the vast majority of connected Americans still dial up.
In promoting their new software (which upgrades existing AirPort cards to 128-bit WEP support) and the new Base Station, Apple perpetuates the notion that longer WEP keys are safer, which I think is a mistake. The entire industry and the IEEE are well aware that WEP itself is broken. (The older Base Station model cannot be flash upgraded to support 128-bit WEP keys.)
Apple wraps the WEP message in a broader security profile, however: they now support RADIUS authentication, and recommend VPN software (all of which protocols the Base Station passes) for companies with an interest in securing their data flow.
Apple's page on where and how to use AirPort also appears to have been written several months ago - or never updated - as it lists MobileStar (reportedly about to file for bankruptcy and sells its assets to VoiceStream) and AirWave (sold its public AP network to WiFi Metro last week) as two wireless ISPs one might use.
I read ur article Bridging 802.11 Networks with Linksys with interest.
I believe that was written 08/24/01. I can not find any info on the linksys site with respect to ur article. Can u follow up on the topic. I think linksys wap11 driver is now 1.7+.
I am using an intranet + T1 internet with Cisco wireless bridge/ap equipment. With 200+ situations like ur find joe. Instead of 2 ap's I want everthing in one unit for around $185.
Can u help me.
Cell carriers must pay attention to Wi-Fi: says the cover story of an industry publication. Ignoring the short-term economic realities, the article discusses the cross-over potential and the long-term crossover of Wi-Fi and cell-based data networks.
Intel discusses 2.5G/3G/802.11 convergence: at Comdex, the company talks further about its products converging across cell and Wi-Fi.
BWCS's analysis of VoiceStream's convergence potential: because VoiceStream is aggressively moving forward with 2.5G networks (an upgrade to existing digital/PCS cell networks that doesn't require new towers or frequencies), they may be poised to combine billing, service, and ubiquity.
Assets, not the company: the VoiceStream deal noted in today's New York Times (referenced yesterday) is for the assets of MobileStar through a bankruptcy filing. This means that management, employees, and contracts may all fall by the wayside as arrangements are renegotiated and VoiceStream sets up essentially a new operation with existing equipment.
Linksys shows off neat new wireless items: Compact Flash adapter, peer-to-peer print server, Ethernet-to-Wi-Fi, and a presentation/projector gateway. This is a year I wish I were at Comdex.
New York Times reports VoiceStream to purchase MobileStar's assets: a report in Monday's paper states that VoiceStream has signed a letter of intent to purchase MobileStar's assets, as well as provide a few million in funding to cover the gap until such a transfer can take place. The article further states that MobileStar will file for bankruptcy as part of the arrangement, which would allow another party to step in, if a court approved it, with its own bid.
VoiceStream uses the GSM standard for cellular phone service, which is most commonly found outside the U.S. Developments in the last three weeks indicate a quick about-face and continuation of plans by several U.S.-based cellular telephone companies, which could lead to a much deeper deployment of GSM as quickly as within one year.
GSM-based equipment can be cheaper than other digital and PCS standards currently in use in the U.S. because the equipment is made for a larger audience worldwide, including Asia. Further, it can allow a single phone to be used for worldwide roaming by multiple carriers or by a single carrier with worldwide roaming agreements.
From the data perspective, the deployment of GSM should also speed the creation of seamless networks that allow connected devices to work at speeds ranging from slow modems (9600 bps or higher) in large swaths of the country up to 802.11b networking in hot spots and covered areas.
Nokia, for instance, has an 802.11b card that uses the SIM card that provides authentication for GSM-based phones. A future card from Nokia could combine cell frequences and 802.11b with SIM authentication.
VoiceStream's consummation of this purchase will mark the beginning of the next age of ubiquitous wireless data communication long before 3G (third-generation cellular) is anywhere near a reality. The next steps should involve closer partnerships between other national and non-U.S. wireless ISPs and cell telephone companies.
The excellent Ben Charny reports on MobileStar's mysterious return to full existence: the company was just as vague with him as they were in their email. However, he did get a comment from the corporation. Leading contenders for offering new funding or a takeover of MobileStar were Voicestream, Nextel, and Microsoft. Let's see who comes forward.
Novell deploys 100 access points: lets a 100 flights of data contend? Not in this installation. They use VPNs to restrict network access. Their entire campus is now wireless, like Microsoft's. (Link via Tomalak's Realm.)
An aside: Microsoft's own internal experience with 802.11b obviously affected their thinking in the simple and robust way in which Windows XP seamlessly manages wireless networking. It's as good or better out of the shrinkwrap than Apple's, which Apple managed only after two years of messing around with the software and its integration with location management software.
Meanwhile, Apple itself sheds some scary light on a business in Ashland. The scary part is not how much they enjoy AirPort, Apple's branded version of 802.11b, nor how well it works for them. The scary part is this: To secure the network, Arthur simply listed the unique AirPort Card addresses for each authorized user in the base station’s access control panel. That was it.
Unfortunately, it's insanely trivial to watch these MAC (media access control) addresses flash through the air, grab one, and change the address on another card to gain access. With WEP encryption broken and this simple hack - most PC Card software has the built-in feature to change a MAC address - they're toast. Apple itself uses VPN software and places its access points outside the corporate firewall.
Cisco demos 802.11a at Comdex: scroll down to Wireless Wonders; Cisco plans to demonstrate the technology.
Meanwhile, Proxim invents its own flavor of double-speed 802.11a in access hubs by 2002 second quarter: Although from my understanding, current FCC regulations wouldn't allow a 5 GHz spread-spectrum broadcast that exceeds the 802.11a spec of 54 Mbps raw transmission, Proxim has doubled that speed in raw terms. Read their press release, too, notable for the inclusion of good details. The article focuses on hub-and-card networking, but, apparently, the PC Cards can already function in ad hoc mode (machine to machine) at the 2x speed.
The actual throughput listed in this article floors me. Running at a raw speed of 54 Mbps, 802.11a supposedly produces just 23 Mbps of real bandwidth. Likewise, Proxim's 108 Mbps flavor will net just 34 Mbps. Is the standard truly that inefficient? 802.11b runs at 11 Mbps, but delivers more like 7 Mbps in actual bandwidth. Many folks testing their specific equipment find that 2 to 4 Mbps with the chipsets and OEM packaging is the maximum they see, especially with WEP turned on.
Also, note that the Register misspells HiperLAN as HyperLAN, and claims that 802.11b has three channels. (It has 14 defined 22 MHz overlapping channels; only channels 1, 6, and 11 can be operated simultaneously without signal interference, meaning it has three non-interferring channels.)
Reports from readers are always useful as they reveal actual experiences out on the road or in communities. One such reader, with the lovely name and nickname of Langston James "Kimo" Goree VI, wrote in about his recent experience in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Mr. Goree travels on behalf of an office at the U.N. setting up connectivity for reporting services at negotiation sessions around the world, many of which now feature wireless networks as part of the mix. Mr. Goree writes:
The company that is wiring AMS for 802.11b is a href="https://www.attingo.nl">Attingo, and they run the Airport Communications Centre, which offers various services including web access, phone cards, small private offices, etc.
I spoke with the owner/general manager who was there supervising the installation of the wireless access points. He said that he had just finished going around with the airport security people and briefing them on the locations of the points. He said that they would be doing the piers soon, but that he was still in some discussions with KLM about wiring up the Business Class lounges. He said, “they want too much money.”
I bought a userid and password that was good for the whole day. it was about US$10. I set my LAN service area to the name they gave me (“any”). After some problems with routing (there was an error in their script that failed to create a route through the proxy server for the assigned IP address) I was up and running. There is a whole veranda full of comfortable recliners about 50 meters from the Communications Centre. Speed was good.
I've posted an updated article about the state of U.S. and Canadian for-fee networks.
The page you requested does not exist. Please try searching or following links to find what you were looking for.
This just in from MobileStar:
Valued MobileStar Customer,
You may have heard news about MobileStar suspending some aspects of its operations in mid-October. We want to assure you that the MobileStar network remained operational during this brief period and that MobileStar has returned to business as usual with the exception of new customer service operating hours.
You may contact customer service by calling (800) 981-8563 Monday through Friday, 7 AM to 7 PM Central Time or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience you may have experienced over the past few weeks. We do expect to return to a 24-hour, 7-day operating schedule and continue to add new MobileStar service locations in the near future. We will keep you informed of our progress.
We are committed to providing you with the largest wireless broadband network and best service available anywhere. Thank you for your continued business.
As far as I can tell, I have continued to be billed during this period, too.
Reports are coming across the transom that parts of MobileStar's Starbucks network is nonfunctional. Members of a free wireless networking newsletter report that some outlets appear to be working but others, which worked until recently, are now out.
A variety of sources have indicated, including the CEO (currently still the CEO?) of MobileStar, that a deal is imminent between MobileStar and another firm. Suggestions of this buyer or money-infuser include several voice cell carriers looking towards next-generation (3G and other) data networking.
In a mailing today, AirWave stated that it has transferred its remaining outlets to WiFi Metro. The note state that WiFi Metro is the "preeminent wireless Internet service provider." The sobriquet is perhaps not the mot juste: the list of its locations appears to be the just over two dozen locations still served by AirWave.
AirWave was poised in early 2001 to attack the restaurant and coffee shop market as an aggressive deployer, funded in part by idealab. Within months, however, the firm scaled back and then refocused their model towards offering businesses roaming accounts and facilitating on-the-road corporate data connections.
WiFi Metro looks like the brainchild of the folks behind Hereuare.com, which started life as a wireless network back-office firm, offering billing, accounting, and cross-network roaming in various combinations. They hoped to be the glue that offered cell-network-like roaming to wireless users.
They face increasing stiff competition from iPass, a long-established international company that works primarily with corporations to offer a single-login to dial-up and broadband connections worldwide. (Sort of like what AirWave repurposed themselves towards.) iPass has arrangements already with Wayport and Concourse Communications. (Concourse launches its first airport service in the next few weeks in Minneapolis/St. Paul's.)
By launching WiFi Metro, Hereuare.com's backers may be taking advantage of their existing partnerships with MobileStar (again, see previous item above) and what looks like about 40-odd other locations. It possible that WiFi Metro got a great deal on buying out AirWave's infrastructure and obligations to outlets in which service was offered. (The same leverage bought Wayport nine Laptop Lanes outlets.)
The name had me wondering: Wi-Fi (spelled with a dash) is a trademark. The statement from the WECA site (link at left) says, "Special Note: The Wi-Fi(tm) logo is a registered trademark of WECA and may not be used unless WECA Board Authorization is received." I contacted a spokeperson for WECA who said that the industry group is encouraging people to use Wi-Fi as a generic term, especially as opposed to the clunky IEEE 802.11b. (This begs the question of what to call 802.11a, e, g, and i, of course.)
WiFi Metro's real competition remaining, dependent on MobileStar's final status, is Surf and Sip, which has been slowly growing across the same market that AirWave abandoned months ago.
The current strategy of slow, steady growth coupled with acquisition of abandoned markets may mark the emergence into a mature, sustainable marketplace for wireless ISPs.
I had the opportunity a few days to interview Giles Goodhead, chairman of Pyramid Research (formerly known as Executive Insight), for the New York Times article I wrote about airports and wireless ISPs continuing their deployment of Wi-Fi at a more moderate pace.
Goodhead's firm has just released a mammoth and expensive report (about $5,000) on the future of broadband in hotels - worth every penny to the folks actually in the industry who are considering the multi-billion dollar deployment of all manner of high-speed access, not just 802.11b.
I wasn't able to fit Goodhead's insights into the Times article, but he's worth heeding at some length. Goodhead talked to me about airports a bit, although that was just a tangential part of his report, which focused on hotel operators.
Goodhead is fairly pessimistic for the next year about both wireless ISPs and the overall market in airports. “There’s a lot of instability amongst the operator companies, and the airports are very aware of that," he said. “The decline in business travel, means both airport and operator financial projections don’t look as good as they used to look.”
He also noted that the post-Sept. 11 concerns affect deployment. There is "a very high degree of skittishness that’s going to last a while at airports, that’s going to make it a very tough environment to carry a lot of electronics around," Goodhead said.
Long term, Goodhead is bullish: “I absolutely think it will happen, but it’s going to take a while.”
From the hotel side, Goodhead has definitely seen a wireless backlash after the failure and refocusing of several national and regional firms. Hotels and ISPs may focus more on wireline (i.e., Ethernet and copper-based networking) than wireless.
To date, Goodhead said, hotels have not been satisfied with the revenue they receive from broadband overall, so the sell to continue deployment has been tougher, even before the tightened travel market and cuts in expense budgets.
Goodhead does expect most hotels to offer some form of broadband in the next few years, though, partly because it will simply become an expected part of a hotel's kit. And, he noted, in the overall scheme of things, installing a broadband system, wireless or not, pales next to routine expenses. “It’s not really a huge investment” relative to changing the wallpaper every few years or the carpet, he said. Broadband will become “an amenity on a long list of guest amenities.”
When broadband becomes more prevalent, it may sway business travellers to stay in hotels they otherwise wouldn't. “The economics (of broadband) only work if you look at the indirect effects, and getting an extra person in a room is huge, and it comes through to marketing," Goodhead said.
Many of you may not know that this site is a one-man operation. I'm Glenn Fleishman, a freelance writer with a lot of interest in this field. I regularly interview wireless ISP operators, vendors of equipment, end-users, and those involved in spreading the gospel of 802.11b and related protocols. This ongoing dialog with people making things happens lets me share items of interest in this forum direct from the source.
Of course, with the economy in its low ebb, there are fewer opportunities for me to pursue paid writing. I'd like to devote even more time and resources to this site, and came up with the notion of suggesting voluntary contributions for those of you who find this information useful and would like to see the variety and depth expanded, along the lines of the Wireless and related articles (at upper left). I'm using both PayPal and Amazon.com's donation systems - clickthrough at right to use either method.
This is an experiment. This site certainly won't switch over to paid access by any means, but if enough people find its approach and analysis useful, I can devote the same kind of effort to it that I have been able to for my commercial writing.
BWCS predicts over 1,000 airports will have wireless data network for public use by 2006: this article anayzes trends in airport networks, including an analysis of my New York Times article from today. Oddly, the article states that MobileStar has service in 24 airports at 31 locations (some airports have multiple American Airlines executive lounges) and in 10 departure lounges. MobileStar's site, at least a few days ago, claimed only 17 unique airports for the club locations, while the "10 departure lounges" boils down to a few tiny airports (one in South Dakota, the Burbank airport, and then access across larger venues like Dallas).