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« New Life in Bluetooth Blog | Main | Wireless News for 4/23/2002 »

April 22, 2002

Wireless News for 4/22/2002

Swiss Wi-Fi Perspective

An extremely well-informed reporter from the Neue Züricher Zeitung (New Zürich Times, more or less; try saying "noy-uh zoo-ricker zigh-tongue") interviewed me and a number of other Wi-Fi folk a few weeks ago. Carsten Volkery produced a great report out of it last week (April 19). It's in German, and I can translate a bit for flavor, but both copyright and my ancient German knowledge prevent a full conversion:

Patchwork Quilt in the 2.4 GHz Band (literally: carpet patches): Idealism helps develop public WLANs in the US

Anthony Townsend has his routine down for journalists, who always want to see the same thing: he opens up his laptop, logs on, and he's off. With a speed of 4 megabits per second, he's surfing the Web.

Why makes this so cool to journalists: the late-20something is sitting in the middle of Washington Square Park in New York out of range of cables and phone outlets. In spite of this, his Internet connection is 70 times faster than modem and 30 times as fast as the promised but not yet available 3G cell phone standard.

Cut to the conclusion: Whether the free neighborhood networks will outlive the entrance of telecom companies is the question. One thing is for sure, however: once the big marketing campaigns begin, Americans will become a nation of Wi-Fi users. "It’s just like müsli," explained Wi-Fi expert Fleishman, whose father imported müsli to America. "In the beginning, it was very difficult, because no one here could imagine what müsli was. As soon as Kellogg’s introduced its brand Müslix, it suddenly became a good business."

My dad actually made the müsli here (in Eugene, Oregon, of all places); his partner and he imported the idea, which is somewhat trickier to convey.

The same issue of NZZ has an excellent piece on Swiss Mobile's planned entrance into public WLANs. This unbylined article details the history of an existing WLAN provider, Monzoon, which charges about 25 Rappen (15 cents) per minute for service including up to 15 Mb of data transfer. The writer contrasts this with Swiss Mobile's cell data charge of 10 francs ($6) for a single megabyte at their cheapest rate. Swiss Mobile expects to build out 100 locations. A nice concluding quote from the head of Monzoon: "If the market researcher's predictions turn out only 10 percent as much we can look forward to a fantastic business."

Merc on Bluetooth

Mike Langberg of the San Jose Mercury News Critiques the State of Bluetooth: this article comes a few months too early, and his conclusion is correct: not ready for consumers yet. Until OS level inclusion of standard Bluetooth stacks happens, Bluetooth is still in preview, despite manufacturer claims. A few comments on the article, though.

The technical rules for how this works are set by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group... The IEEE 802.15.1 task group now enjoys a relationship with the Bluetooth SIG that should allow future releases to be harmonized, taking the full control out of the SIG. This is a benefit to the SIG, too, as it changes Bluetooth from a set of company partnerships to an industry standard.

Setting up a wireless computer network with Bluetooth would cost two or three times as much as Wi-Fi. I understand the basis of comparison, but it's critical to know that you can't set up a computer network with Bluetooth. It's not designed to be a network component, but rather an ad hoc member of a small group (at most) of devices.

I did succeed in moving files back and forth between the two computers via Bluetooth, but the pace was sluggish. This is good to know. One of Bluetooth's purposes will be a universal connection tool between systems that can't necessarily talk to each other. Even if you've got a Wi-Fi card in your laptop and your colleague you want to exchange files with does as well, you may be unable to. The ad hoc, computer-to-computer mode of 802.11b was just added to Wi-Fi's certification program last year. If you've got a Mac and someone else has a Linksys card, you're probably out of luck.

Nor is it absolutely certain that large numbers of Bluetooth devices operating within the same home or office will avoid getting in each other's way, or won't suffer from interference by other 2.4-gigahertz devices. New versions of Bluetooth (probably starting after 1.1) should support the 802.15.2 task group's co-existence plan, which will allow Bluetooth devices to duck Wi-Fi broadcasts.

Other News

Nokia and IBM partner to build out public WLANs: Nokia has been working in a variety of ways for years to figure out how to tap what will become a lucrative service/hardware market for public space wireless LANs. An IBM manager spoke at the 802.11 Planet conference last November on how much work IBM Global Services was performing for installing these kinds of networks. A perfect match.

Cisco's dual-band access point to ship in August: Cisco wil offer a dual-band 802.11a/802.11b access point in August. Many folks in the industry suggest the card side is more likely to catch on for dual bands. The access points stay put; it's the laptops that roam.

Another card designed to switch between Wi-Fi and cell networks announced: although the card isn't slated to ship til year's end, it's part of the momentum for seamless WLAN/cell networks.

Forbes on Powell and the FCC: the analysis is interested, but you can't escape Forbes's libertarian nature. The Telecom Act of 1996 included a brief decree that the regional Bells could offer long-distance service only after opening up their local networks to rivals. The FCC overreacted and overregulated, spewing out 400 pages on that topic. It dictated myriad details, such as the exact prices that the Bells and their new competitors could charge. Allow market forces to set prices? The thought scarcely occurred to those lawyers. Yeah, the dominant carriers would set fair prices without being required to. Right. Even with 400 pages of legislation, the carriers have been fined millions and sued repeatedly over their varied failures and obstructions to opening their networks. There's only one nationwide DSL provider that's not a Baby Bell for a good reason. A less ideological sentence notes, In some instances Congress backed the agency into a corner. One 11-line provision inserted into the Telecom Act was phrased in a way that forced the FCC to give away spectrum to local broadcasters to develop digital television. Right on. A big boondoggle and a huge waste of the airwaves.