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« Day 2 at 802.11 Planet Conference | Main | Who's Your Daddy? »

December 5, 2002

The Rainbow Connection Revealed

Is Wi-Fi part of your product strategy? Let Blue Mug handle the details: integration, interop, roaming, power, performance.

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Project Rainbow announced as Cometa: AT&T, IBM, Intel: The rumored collection of companies planning to offer wireless hot spot service with the code nam Project Rainbow have announced themselves -- with fewer members and under the name Cometa. AT&T, IBM, and Intel are the partners in this operation which will deploy wireless hot spots into hotels, universities, and other venues through partnerships. More news as it emerges.

Computerworld has a more detailed story from before the announcement was formally made. The story also mentions a deal between a firm called WorkingWild and Circle K to deploy hot spots in 15,000 Circle K stores nationwide; Circle K is a 7-Eleven-style convenience store.

Infoworld offers the detail later in the day that the companies will serve the top 50 metropolitan areas with access during 2003.

Other News

Update to wireless article: I've radically revised and dramatically updated the wireless article on this site. I first wrote it last year, after WEP's weaknesses started to appear. It's now rewritten to reflect more of the developments in the meantime, and include some explanation about network-based authentication using 802.1x and EAP.

NIST draft goes final: The report on wireless network security that NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) was circulating over the summer went final last month without any fanfare. You can retrieve document 800-48 directly as a PDF or as a zipped PDF

Boingo embedded hot spot clarification: Christian Gunning from Boingo provided me a clarification on my statement that Boingo software would be embedded on consumer access points and gateways. I was wrong! We're not embedding anything in these devices. We provide the manufacturer with a list of industry standard features and parameters we need in the device to enable out-of-the-box integration -- e.g., full RADIUS functionality and specific attributes, https auth support, access control with passthrough support, etc. And then we test it thoroughly with several hot spot configuration scenarios to ensure it works correctly. There isn't any proprietary code or software in the Boingo Ready specification. We are firm believers in embracing standards to push the industry forward. That echoes one of the messages of 802.11 Planet. Of course, the other half of that message from Proxim and others (see below) is that we're going to support standards even if we're supporting our notion of the draft of a standard!

Blue Mug: I met David Loftesness from this week's sponsor, Blue Mug, at 802.11 Planet. Blue Mug is working on interesting ideas about embedding application support for telephony and shared communication (sketchpad, streaming media) into small devices. They don't want their name on anything. They want hardware companies to have them develop these ideas into code that runs on lots of devices.

I'm tired. 802.11 Planet was completely overwhelming, from the excellent content, the massive number of announcements, meeting terrific people I only know from email, and being recognized by readers of my blog and articles -- I think I'm the unofficial mayor of Wi-Fi-ville, but judging by the scrum around Sky Dayton after his talk, he's the king.

Angela Champness, Proxim, Day 3 802.11 Planet Keynote

Kevin Duffy was the scheduled speaker, but he has moved into the WAN division at Proxim. His replacement is Angela Champness, new senior vice president and general manager of the LAN Division. She was previously the general manager of Agere's Orinoco division, which Proxim acquired this year.

Champness outlined where Proxim is today, both in terms of integrating product lines (and the enormous scope of what they offer), as well as their role in enterprise sales -- less than Cisco, but not much less, and substantially larger than the number 3 player.

Shipments of Wireless LAN adapters are growing enormously, but we're already at 10 million total (about 2.5 million of which ship with PCs), and Champness thinks that 10M understates by excluding handhelds and a number of other embedded devices.

"The MAC will be placed on the motherboard" Intel plans, but the radio will be in an add-on card or other piece, fueling growth. Even with growing market, already have 10M at least looking for places to connect.

WLAN landscape: from a few intergrated vendors, like Agere -- chips, adapters, and client software. "Market was very small, market was vertically integrated."

Now, chip guys, like TI, Intersil, Broadcom, etc., but also any firm that has network chips. OEMs: had to teach them how to integrate, etc. Box providers: Linksys, etc., that just plugs into a broadband line. System provider: Proxim, Cisco, Symbol, integrating into the wired network with authentication, management, etc. Specialty players for aspects like security, voice, etc.

Service providers: Verizon might sell you the DSL or T-1 and then come in and provision, configure, etc. And aggregators like Boingo.

Tip of the iceberg: Only 15 percent of laptops ship with Wi-Fi, but they're looking for places to connect. Coverage of hot spots is sporadic. New standards coming soon.

Status of 802.11b: has limits, channels and coverage, but cost and ubiquity should give it lasting potential. Status of 802.11a: more channels means denser deployment along with higher speed. Dual radios really necessary because of the number of b points.

802.11a's big problem has been worldwide harmonization of 5 GHz availability. Different countries have different power limits, different ranges available.

802.11a also requires more density for higher speed, but they are seeing 12 Mbps at same limits that b provides just 1 or 2 Mbps.

802.11g status: Vendors announced draft-conformance products, appearing in Q1. Backwards compatibility is highly useful. Channel limitations are still a problem.

"That's the radio: the radio's the simple part." (Audience laughs.) "You go to Taiwan and tell them what chips you want and what boards you want," and other factors, and they deliver the product.

Showed large chart of features needed for enterprise, but pointed out that VLAN support is becoming highly important, especially to offer visitor access to the Internet.

Filtering a problem, too, because of peer-to-peer networks needing blocking by many of the companies using the tech.

Dual-mode infrastructure: "If you're going to install infrasutrcture, you should install dual mode." Price different is small, but should because it's coming. Higher speeds are needed.

Cost of deploying is most expensive piece. Cost of APs is not the main thing. Running wires, etc., although Power over Ethernet (PoE) is reducing that cost.

Client side: Dual-mode clients important because you don't know what infrastructure is going to be there. Public space will stay "b" currently. If you have choice, buy combo product. a/g cards coming soon.

Security in WLANs: huge developing area. WPA fixes some of the issues with WEP. Products by mid next year with WPA embedded.

What next? Mature industry, products here and work, market growing, etc., where do we go?

Study from a year ago about penetration into enterprises shows that back then, even though small part of most companies' employees had WLAN access, the plan was for virtually all employees to have access.

What's needed for both enterprise and public space?

Enhanced, scalable mobility. One customer has 600 APs on one subnet. "The reason is that roaming doesn't really work." DHCP for an IP address, but with a VPN session, it breaks. (Editor's note: lots of talk at the show about NetMobile and other firms which use techniques to allow continuous seamless roaming IP connectivity without a change in address or connection.)

Bandwidth management. Still an issue even with increasing bandwidth.

Quality/class of service. We don't have this segmentation in wireless.

Intelligent load balancing: not just across a single AP but across a network. This is how cell services work today -- intelligence is in base station not client.

Improved manageability. When you go over 10 APs, how do you do management?

Reduced deployment costs. Expensive to roll out. Even with products with long MTBF (mean time between failures), you could still see ongoing failures because of the large numbe rof points.

VOIP: should be doing Voice over IP. DECT in Europe has rolled out extensively -- not part of IP infrastructure. (Editor's note: HomeRF builds on DECT and extends it to data.)

Integration with cellular, GPRS, 3G.

Wireless networks will be furthered integrated with wired, but there will be a change in architecture.

Future of standards committees.

802.11e: QoS/Class of Service. Debate about more complexity for guaranteeing, or simpler to prioritize. Not sure about availability.

802.11f: Inter-access point protocol. Done. Neds to be ratified.

802.11g: done, but needs to be finalized.

802.11h: European extensions to 802.11a, done.

802.11i: nearly done, finalizing by end of 2003.

802.11j: 4.9 GHz in Japan.

802.11k: radio/net measurements by higher layers -- that is, "standardize the way that the radio reports the information up" the network layers. Each client software package now reports signal and noise information different ways. Radios and display all vary.

High-throughput study group (no letter).

Some features are available today. NetMotion for Mobile IP-like features, Vernier for policy control. But not manageable to have different boxes for each feature. Expense and manageability are prohibitive costs.

Integrated voice and data in the enterprise: long way to go, but lots of opportunity.

Mobile operators have lots of great developments in store. Ericsson, for instance, uses GPRS backbone with standard access points. All billing, roaming, and operator features are already in place.

Operators have a subscriber base. "Anyone with a cell phone is now potential subscriber." It's a little funky now, but over time will make it simpler -- "SIM dongles," new authentication techniques.

Roaming across the different areas: personal, local, and wide area networks.

Operators recognized that 3G is complementary to Wi-Fi. battle a few months ago, but now, operators clearly recognize complementary way to get low-cost system out there for user base.

"We've come of age here with wireless LANs. This is the tip of the iceberg."