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« Apple: a Year Late, $100 Too Much | Main | News for 11/15/01 »

November 14, 2001

Welcome WiFi Metro

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. Round-Up on Comdex

Faster 2.4 GHz (802.11g) is on everyone's mind: and Texas Instruments' maybe annoying the big boys.

Too Harsh on Apple? And More on Its Update

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 or only to remember that the device was really at 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.

Superior Product Review of Access Points

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.