This morning's New York Times (Monday, 3/4) has two superb stories on Wi-Fi in the business section: one covers Wi-Fi's community networking angle, and how the bursting energy in that unfederated movement may be the nucleus of the next big cool thing - mesh networks that use tiny cells to bypass conventional infrastructure. This time, that cool thing will be mostly free. The other article focuses on Wi-Fi's remarkable popularity and growth, centering around the accidental and purposeful availability of service at coffee shops, in neighborhood, and used for interesting purposes.
Both stories, by John Markoff (a real gem among tech reporters) and Amy Harmon (also one who Gets It Right), come from an attitude of understanding: it's clear that both writers aren't trying to cram Wi-Fi into a hole it doesn't fit in. Rather, both articles arise out of what the grassroots commercial and non-commercial uses are, and why this is interesting and important. The fact that both articles have a business focus and appeared on the cover of the business section announces a sea-change in their perception of Wi-Fi, and will also signal to the business types who read the paper that Wi-Fi is to be reckoned with.
Other News for 3/4/2002
News.com reports on wISP hereUare's study that San Francisco is the hottest spot: SF leads the nation in public access points, says hereUare, a San Francisco-based public access firm. The numbers they offer up sound perfectly reasonable.
Military interest in Wi-Fi at Asian Aerospace exposition in Singapore: a long-time friend who covers the defense industry writes, "Just got back from Singapore, where I was covering Asian Aerospace, the continent's largest defense expo. Also visited three Singaporean military sites, and found Wi-Fi in use at two of them: an experimental mobile Army battalion headquarters, where the wireless protocol is used to link laptop computers quickly and conveniently; and in a naval combat simulator, where instructors use Wi-Fied touch tablets to enter minute-by-minute evaluations of their trainees under simulated fire." I mentioned to my friend that the mere presence or absence of traffic (plus the information density itself) could reveal strategic information even with the information totally encrypted. He responded, "One of the big tasks these days (for the US military if no one else) is compiling an 'electronic order of battle': a list of emitters in the battlespace and what they're attached to. Sounds like the NSA, the Air Force's Rivet Joint crews, and other sigint bodies will have to add the Wi-Fi spectrum to the list of those they look for."
Boingo pushes forward, predicts 5,000 hot spots by year's end: a very nicely reported piece by Mark Frauenfelder on Boingo's roll-out and future plans, including some of the back-and-forth about their initial inclusion of Neighborhood Area Networks (NAN).
Bob Liu at internetnews.com turns in an insightful article on the backlash against Boingo from community networks: Bob's article focuses on the non-quid-pro-quo nature of Boingo's current offer, which is - we want to include community network access points in our location finder, but we aren't offering free accounts or other services in return.
Sky Dayton's comments a few days ago on Boingo and community networks: Boingo's founder takes a moment to explain where they're at in building networks to avoid the kind of conflict that happened at the launch.
It's clear to me that no commercial services can blanket the world with bandwidth affordably, and the cross-over of free community networks and commercial networks will form a more seamless whole. The commercial networks will tend to control venues where outside access is impossible (the conference center bunker, for instance, in which cement prevents radio waves), or where the venue is too far from communities (airports, remote hotels, resorts, etc.). But the commercial network will rely on the spread of community networks to ensure that people have continuous access, even if quality of service is uneven and availability not assured. With enough of the mesh approach, other cells fill in the gap, anyway.