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The AP reports that Verizon and Philadelphia have an agreement to allow the city's Wi-Fi network to be built regardless of the telecommunications bill: The story reports that Verizon has agreed to waive its first right of refusal to build a broadband network when Philadelphia requests permission under the law, if the bill becomes law. The bill has not yet been signed by the governor, but unless vetoed before midnight tonight, it will automatically become law.
The language in this story indicates that this side agreement has more of a chance of being enforced because it binds Verizon to carry out a provision in the law instead of being extra-legal, as some early reports and participants indicated.
Truckstop.net has halted operations, filed suit against Sprint Communications: A press release arrived out of the blue from highway-side Wi-Fi operator Truckstop.net that they had suspended operations due to equipment problems that the company alleges are the responsibility of Sprint Communications. Further, Truckstop.net has filed a suit against Sprint seeking $75,000,000.
Update: TruckingInfo.com reports on Dec. 2 on which of Truckstop.net's locations are still operational.
Full press release follows:
The IEEE adds Japanese spec to 802.11: 802.11j lets an 802.11 network conform to the frequency rules for 4.9 GHz (unavailable in the U.S.) and 5 GHz bands in Japan.
Om Malik alerts us that ReefEdge has had layoffs; he muses about their future: Om points out that the WLAN market slice for new players is exquisitely small with AireSpace taking the biggest part of that tiny piece of pie. ReefEdge is a switchmaking focused on policy issues, and Om can't get them to return his calls. He reports on the swirling rumors, which he has been unable to get the company to talk about.
Om asks, The big question, however remains for the venture capital community: how do you evaluate a start-up that is involved in highly commoditized business like WiFi? This question is equally valid for the enterprises looking to buy WLAN equipment. The ultimate end game is certainly acquisition by the big players of niche switch firms, and Airespace has seemed an obvious Cisco candidate for months and months.
Salon argues that the growth of wireless clouds encourages more use of the agora: Public places may have been in decline, but shared experiences are growing now that wireless clouds blanket downtowns and communities. ...Cutting-edge mobile and wireless services emphasize proximity over connectivity, the local over the global and the here and now rather than anytime, anywhere.
The article runs through location-based services, wireless scavenger hunts, and overlaying digital details on top of physical places. Some interesting opportunities arise out of ubiquitous clouds combined with data: Page recently completed a comprehensive technology strategy for a distressed neighborhood in northern Philadelphia, including a community technology center where Temple University faculty will teach kids GIS (geographic information system) skills to build a database for the neighborhood, and public art that will double as a digital bulletin board accessible from a public place.
Chipmaker Engim and WLAN monitoring firm AirMagnet partner for powerful three-radio-in-one solution: Engim's chipsets can provide the equivalent of several radios within a single design. The chips process all of the signals in the 802.11a, b/g, or a and b/g bands (depending on configuration) and then dole out the details to on-board media access controllers. This lets them coordinate and analyze frequency use in a way that multiple physical radios cannot.
The neat part of this is that the silicon gives access to the spectral picture in a way that can be broken off and used separately. Airespace was the first firm to combine spectrum analysis with WLAN access points in a single device, and they accomplish this by licensing the code from Atheros that gives them access to the baseband; Trapeze now offers the same. However, a partnership between Engim and AirMagnet on Engim's reference design will allow the two companies to offer three radios in a single box in which two can be set to be access points and a third can be a dedicated AirMagnet monitor.
AirMagnet's system can track performance problems on a network, identify rogue access points (unauthorized Wi-Fi), and detect intrusion. Like most monitoring software, it can even disable rogues through a denial of service attack focused on the "illegal" access point.
Rich Mironov, vice president of marketing at AirMagnet, explained in an interview that the company has never wanted to be in the hardware business, but that until now they have needed to create and sell their own overlay of sensors for a WLAN. This partnership will allow them to transition gradually to a pure software business. Mironov said, "We've taken all of our sensor software and we're putting it inside the Engim device."
"Today, you might be buying three separate devices, two access points and one of our sensors, and here we have the chance to roll that into one physical device at much lower cost and much lower deployment cost," Mironov said. The Engim reference design has not yet been sold to any OEMs, or companies that will integrate the design into their own product needs, but announcements are expected in the near future from WLAN switch makers.
All WLAN systems outside of Airespace and Trapeze that offer monitoring using access points have to drop the AP's clients, switch to monitoring mode, gather information, and switch back to AP mode. This disrupts low-latency connections, such as voice over WLAN (VoWLAN), and isn't elegant. Even switchmakers agree, but it's necessary that they offer such an option to companies that didn't want to deploy a separate AirMagnet or other monitoring network. Mironov pointed out that such an approach misses critical data, too. "If you don't maintain a sort of stateful constant watchful view of what's going on, you miss all the interesting attacks," he said.
AirMagnet is in the remarkable position right now of having their prototype version of the software that will be embedded in Engim's design ready to go--they're just waiting for the deals to be inked and the production lines to run to finalize specific featuresets for each vendor.
The Engim design can be used either as a two AP/one sensor configuration or as three APs. Mironov said that companies might install one or two Engim-based units with three APs enabled for every one configured with two APs and one sensor. (Trapeze Networks offers dual-radio APs in which one radio can be turned into a sensor in the same fashion.)
It's the final day: will Penn. Gov. sign the bill? The Wall Street Journal reports that Verizon and Philadelphia may sign an agreement that allows Philadelphia to proceed on its municipal wireless project regardless of a new state law that may have been signed or vetoed at this point. (The deadline is midnight Nov. 30 and this list of bills doesn't include it.)
While the article quotes at least one attorney stating that Verizon doesn't have the power to grant exceptions to the law, the law authorizes Verizon and other incumbent carriers to respond to requests by municipalities. Right there in the last version of House Bill 30, the proposed law reads:
A political subdivision may offer advanced or broadband services if the political subdivision has submitted a written request for the provision of such service to the local exchange telecommunications company serving the area and, within six months of the request, the local exchange telecommunications company has not agreed to provide the data speeds requested. If the local exchange telecommunications company agrees to provide the data speeds requested, then it must do so within 18 months of the request.
Philadelphia could immediately write Verizon (or wait until June 30, 2005, six months before the law's grandfather clause hits for deployed systems) and Verizon could immediately waive its right to build such a network. That's clearly within the law even as a layperson reads it.
However, Verizon and Philadelphia might be talking about an extra-legal agreement that doesn't follow this process, and it seems unclear whether the state law would supercede the enforcement of such a side agreement allowing Verizon to later change its mind without legal repercussions.
One might also read this provision noting that the exemption doesn't state precisely what services need to be requested or offered. If a town requests a provision with 100-percent coverage and Verizon doesn't provide 100-percent coverage within 18 months or declines to do so, then does the political subdivision have the right to proceed? Unclear. Also, could a network be built and operated for free until such a point as the 18 months have passed?
There are a lot of ifs in this bill. [Thanks to Ross for list of bills governor signed]
Update: Local report indicates the governor still hasn't decided as of this morning, but a top aide says that even if the bill is signed, some Philadelphia compromise could be worked out.
Larry Abramson of All Things Considered weighs in with a report on Philly Wi-Fi: The governor hasn't signed the bill yet, and NPR adds their somewhat objective two cents. It's so objective that they give Verizon a little too much of a bully pulpit. Verizon complains that the municipal government has enormous cost advantages, but that's a blind: Verizon will have a 2015 requirement for 100-percent access in Pennsylvania, which gives them plenty of time to push back on that requirement in years to come. Philadelphia wants to offer 100-percent access by 2006. There's no way that Verizon could build out such a service profitably in that time at any rate that would make sense to residents.
I've said it several times during this discussion, but Verizon would love to avoid building infrastructure. They'd love to sell logical service on a single bill--that is, the Internet dial tone not the Internet copper and wireless. It's incredibly cheap for Verizon to add, say, 50,000 customers on infrastructure they don't have to finance, build, and maintain. In fact, the Verizon rep said as much: cities can raise money more cheaply and aren't subject to taxation. Thus Verizon would benefit from cities building Internet infrastructure resold to Verizon on a cost-plus basis, as well as to all comers.
The industry rightly has qualms about pre-802.11n labeled devices, but speed sells: If we've learned anything from the 108 Mbps and 125 Mbps branding on a variety of Wi-Fi gateways, it's that speed apparently does sell even if standards built the foundation on which Wi-Fi thrives. Belkin's pre-802.11n (high-throughput standard) router and PC card lives up to its promises of increased speed, according to PC World test. Now I have a test unit--still in the box at the moment--that says on the packaging that it beats 802.11g sixfold. That seemed unlikely. But PC World did find the Pre-N units doubled or tripled comparable 802.11g performance while serving as a better tool for 802.11g clients that were unable to reach an 802.11g gateway at the same distance that Pre-N worked.
The fundamental result of this early review is that the MIMO approach of multiple input and output antennas obviously has promise. And the good news is that you can add just a Pre-N router and still have backwards compatibility and forward gains in distance. That doesn't bode well for a standardized future given, as the article states, it might be 2007 before there's an 802.11n certification in Wi-Fi. In the meantime, the Wi-Fi Alliance said it will pull Wi-Fi certification from Pre-N devices that break Wi-Fi compatibility. Perhaps that threat will keep compatibility at the forefront.
The second of two parts of my Wi-Fi security article recommends 802.1X and VPN service: This article is a matched set with last week's piece in The Seattle Times, in which I provided simple advice for securing one's email sessions or connections at a hotspot or any insecure network. This week, I talk about using a VPN via HotSpotVPN.com and employing T-Mobile's 802.1X solution. For reasons of length, my suggestion of using Buffalo's new SOHO VPN server and Wi-Fi gateway wasn't able to make it in, but it's a great solution for a few users.
An exhaustive, perhaps obsessive review of Wi-Fi detectors: This lengthy and detailed review of five different Wi-Fi detectors that let you know about the presence of 2.4 GHz signals, mostly Wi-Fi, is worth reading if you're in the market. I agree with the conclusions, but have not tested the Hawking unit myself, just the other four.
From the Empire State Building, TowerStream sees most of Manhattan: The article makes the business case for TowerStream: price, simplicity, speed of installation, reliability, competitive angle against incumbents, and large markets available from a very few fixed locations. However, it gets a lot of terminology and technology wrong.
Let's start with: With 700 customers in five cities, TowerStream is the most active player in an emerging industry that sells a technology known as WiMax, or worldwide interoperability for microwave access.
WiMax does not yet exist no matter how many reporters write that it does, no matter how many companies are advertising themselves. It's not critical that WiMax certification is in place: the technology's function and utility is what's important. But it's just plain incorrect to label anything WiMax yet. It's just point-to-point high-speed wireless. Not as nifty a way to say it, I know.
Unlike WiFi, the radio wave technology in airports and cafes that allows users to log on to the Internet from their laptop computers within 150 feet of an antenna, WiMax delivers broadband Internet connections through fixed antennas that send and receive signals across entire cities.
I'm not sure this makes it clear enough that Wi-Fi in cafes is sending signals in all directions. If you install Wi-Fi outdoors with a sectorized antenna, you might be able to get several hundred feet over 45 degrees. And you can run Wi-Fi in the same point-to-point fashion as pre-WiMax and non-WiMax equipment over dozens of miles.
The price is another advantage of the system. TowerStream charges $500 a month for a 1.54-megabits-a-second connection, about one-third to one-half less than the cost of service on comparable T1 lines that phone companies sell to businesses for data transmission. TowerStream can charge less because it does not have to rent connections from Verizon or another former Bell company that runs local switching stations.
I believe this 1/3 to 1/2 figure accounts just for the Internet service, not the local loop: my understanding is that in Manhattan, you could be spending four to eight times $500 for a T-1. More information welcome. In Seattle, you might spend as little as $650 per month for unlimited full T-1 service, and Speakeasy is trying out its competitive wireless broadband for about half that.
Still, there are limits to WiMax's expansion. Because it uses public airwaves rather than a licensed spectrum, signals are vulnerable to interference if providers overload a frequency in a market.
Lack of research here: in fact, what TowerStream is using is not WiMax, and this pointedly shows it. WiMax's formal introduction in Europe next year, most likely, will involved licensed frequencies. WiMax will encompass 2 to 60 GHz, and thus no two WiMax devices will necessarily have the same specifications for frequency or range. TowerStream's wireless service is using unlicensed spectrum. Some speculate that WiMax will be a tool for incumbent telcos to fill unlicensed spectrum and then turn to their own licenses when unlicensed becomes crowded.
TowerStream says that it has acquired the right to force latecomers who install antennas near theirs to move if interference is created. The company also says that its connections are encrypted and not vulnerable to eavesdroppers.
I'm sure the FCC would love to hear about this. TowerStream is operating under Part 15 rules, which state that you can't interfere and you must accept interference. These two competing principles serve unlicensed spectrum well. I'd like to know how TowerStream would force latecomers to do anything: they don't have the right, and the Empire State Building can't restrict tenants on their use of unlicensed frequencies. The building's owners might be able to have a lease for antenna space that says that a newer antenna can't interfere, but I would want to see the court case resulting from that. That's probably the case, and it doesn't make sense to try to interfere or stand one's ground in any case. (See Steve Stroh's remark in the comments for this post for more on this.)
Mobile phone companies, which are investing billions of dollars in third-generation cellular networks, may also increase the speeds of their data connections to compete with WiMax.
That's fascinating, but off base. WiMax's initial thrust and TowerStream's core business is to deliver non-mobile high-reliability service that won't be touched by 3G ever, or at least for some time. 3G won't be able to deliver five nines service level agreements to specific corporations with a symmetrical speed of 1.544 Mbps in any universe I'm aware of this decade.
WiMax technology is too expensive for residential use. The antennas on a customer's premises cost about $500 each, and phone companies and cable providers already sell cheap high-speed Internet connections for as little as $20 a month.
That should read TowerStream's technology. Pre-WiMax equipment and non-WiMax equipment is being widely used for home service, especially in areas where telcos and cable providers aren't offering service.
For now, TowerStream and other providers use proprietary equipment and can beam signals only to antennas on rooftops. The WiMax Forum, which helps set industry standards, has endorsed the technology to deliver broadband to fixed antennas, but there is still no consensus on a standard for users to receive WiMax links on laptops and other mobile devices.
No, the WiMax Forum hasn't. They are working towards a certification standard which will label devices conforming to its interpretation of the 802.16-2004 specification. Maybe endorsed implies that, but certification is the more important issue. I have my doubts that WiMax will materialize on laptops before 2007, if ever, especially if the cell companies continue their 3G deployment. Some view mobile WiMax and 3G as complementary, though, and that might play out that way.
Finally, I do hope the COO pictured in the lead photo in this article is a victim of depth of field and is not standing directly in the microwave beam produced by his company's equipment. It's not safe.
David Churbuck, veteran tech and business writer, says municipal broadband wireless is one case for free market avoidance: Churbuck writes that municipal wireless is more like ensuring POTS (plain old telephone service) for all residents as opposed to a competitive force that's stealing from free market efficiency. Succinctly, he notes, While I rather see the private marketplace do its economic magic, the cozy relationship between the Telcos and public utility commissions insures we’ll never see true free market capitalism at work.
I've thought several times about creating a sidebar or special page on this site for newspaper articles about the first hotspot in a town: It's a definite journalistic subset, that article. I've read literally hundreds of them, and two more came across the wire this morning, one from Charlotte, N.C., and the other from Fargo, North Dakota.
The best development over time is that reporters have increasingly better resources to draw on and more breadth to focus on. Early articles were, "Starbucks gets Wi-FI!" and focused on a single brand or location. Now, you see writing as in the Fargo piece that brings in municipal Wi-Fi, the scope of installations, and the utility of using Wi-Fi.
Nigel Ballard reviews the Zipit: a tiny, expensive instant messaging appliance that can attach to a Wi-Fi network. Although it's weird and pricey, Nigel likes it.
My Zipit arrived, blister packed and complete with an integral Lithium Ion battery pack and the smallest AC charger known to man.
Setting it up was a breeze, simple on-screen instructions tell you what to do. And before you can say boo to a goose [ed. note: Nigel is British--gf], the Zipit is off connecting to the first open (visible) network it can see. It doesn't even wait and ask "Is it ok to connect to this one?" it just does.
I ended up manually putting in the non-broadcast SSID and WEP key for my office network, I added an existing IM account details and literally within ten seconds I was tapping out messages to my good friend Beth in Denver. She responded and was unaware I was using an overgrown pager to communicate.
The lack of a backlit LCD and the relatively small screen and spidery font gave me eye strain after twenty minutes of furious typing. But this is really designed for kids who should be eating their carrots in preparation for long bouts of frenzied IM'ing. The build quality is very good and the keyboard is really very usable and the clamshell lid complete with clip is very akin to a laptop that's been shrunk in the laundry.
It will work with existing AOL, Yahoo and MSN IM accounts. It should be noted that it doesn't do anything more than IM over Wi-Fi, but that might be enough as it is small and relatively cheap at $99.
The Zipit has to be the best thing ever invented for cheating on school exams because you just need an able accomplice with a copy of Webster's either in the school library or at another hot spot thousands of miles away! I wonder how long before we read a story of them being banned at a US schools? Danger Will Robinson!
Target and Amazon are now stocking the Zipit in all manner of tasty colors.
Portland airport tells you where you are: Nigel Ballard of Personal Telco Project wrote in to note that Portland International Airport's new free Wi-Fi network has a page showing where you're connected and also showing the extent of the installation and its coverage area.
It's a neat demonstration of how to connect location with service. I know there are many companies working on putting time, space, and Wi-Fi together--such as Ekehau--and this is nice, clean example of this utility.
Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) granted money to a number of community wireless groups: TOP was defunded in the FY 2005 budget. Sascha Meinrath, who noted this defunding on his blog, said via email that an important ally of community wireless groups was lost with the end of this program. The program disbursed $250 million since 1994.
A cellular base station transmitter using SDR has been approved by the FCC: The FCC press release says this is the first SDR device they have approved, and is working to streamline the approval process. SDR uncouples the notion of what frequencies a device can receive and transmit from hardware and allows software control (within a variety of parameters). SDR could vastly reduce costs and increase flexibility of devices that could be used in more countries and across more bands without expensive custom hardware.
Oddly, I thought SDR was in wide use. For instance, Atheros has based its products on SDR, locking down the abilities of their device to work in specific frequencies. The madwifi drivers for Atheros use a Hardware Abstraction Layer controlled by the open-source project manager--and not part of the source code of the project--to allow Linux and other drivers that cannot manipulate the frequencies used by the chips.
Also oddly, I cannot find a single bit of information outside of the madwifi project that indicates that Atheros uses SDR.
It's untrue that lobbyists are trying to kill Philly wireless plan, as this article's headline reads: Instead, incumbent telcos and cable firms are trying to kill all competitive broadband offerings and extend monopoly powers beyond their traditional base into a field they've been struggling to own since about 1996. It has little to do with Philly's plan in particular: the language in the Pennsylvania bill is from April 2003. No one should be hung up on the Philadelphia segment. This bill will prevent even tiny towns from installing their own for-fee (even fee recovery) networks if the incumbents serve that town and if they are engaged in a modernization plan.
It's fascinating to see that having failed over 10 years to meet goals that were set, the incumbents have been told, okay, well, just another 10 years before we think about breaking the monopoly and allowing better competition.
My take is that municipalities should be allowed to build infrastructure on a vendor-neutral basis that they charge recovery fees to private carriers and others to operate the network side. You could have non-profits charging $5 per month to lower-income residents through subsidies and Comcast and Verizon charging $19.95 per month as an add-on to the phone or cable bill. It's all logical, quite literally.
What the incumbents have done now is radicalize the issue so that towns and cities will be more likely to demand to serve as their own ISP instead of working on vendor-neutral basis to allow all comers.
BT (formerly British Telecom) is offer £1 per month Wi-Fi service: Lots of provisos on this service. First, it's a three-month introductory offer for mobile phone subscribers only. Second, it includes 500 minutes per month. Third, it's on BT OpenZone, T-Mobile UK, ad The Cloud networks only which, even so, comprise over 7,000 locations. After the first three months, the service rises to £5. Neither price includes VAT. A one-year contract is required after the three-month promotion, but customers may cancel during that first three months.
Wimax vs. WiFi: WiFi is the inheritor to Ethernet's Manifest Destiny
Robert Berger writes that WiMax and 802.16 may be eclipsed by near-term 802.11 development: Robert is a veteran of several industries, moving from digital video to Internet to wireless, having spent the last five years thinking about and building wireless systems and companies. He now consults in the industry through his firm Internet Bandwidth Development, LLC. Robert has deep thoughts that come from this experience, and I wanted to pass on (with his permission) an email he sent to Dave Farber's IP list today.
I have been involved in these realms for the last 4+ years both in the hardware manufacturer and service provider realms. Here is my opinionated, but educated perspective on the WiMax vs Wi-Fi debate:
At this point in time, WiMax/802.16 is another Zero Billion Dollar industry. There are no WiMax Products today. There will be some WiMax products within the next 3 - 6 months, but they will be first generation and far from the promises that the WiMax forum has been promising. Wi-Fi/802.11 chipsets are already up the learning curve by several generations. Wi-Fi chipsets are already shipping in the high 10's of millions / year.
IMHO, 802.11 is recapitulating the evolution of Ethernet into the Wireless realms.
Ethernet was originally considered a "toy" technology by many of the industry leaders of the time. The manly technologies at that time were first Token Ring, then 802.12 AnyLAN VG, then ATM.
Wi-Fi is currently considered useful only for the home and some enterprise applications and a "toy" for outdoor Municipal Networks.
But Ethernet out evolved and kept delivering just enough functionality, at much lower cost than the too sophisticated QoS laden and expensive "heavyweights".
Wi-Fi/802.11 has taken on the mantle of Ethernet's Manifest Destiny (it uses almost exactly the same packet frame as Ethernet) and brings it into the wireless realms. There are many more companies, universities and hackers pushing the boundaries of what 802.11 can do and the volume is growing at an accelerating pace.
Today 802.11 is at a similar phase of evolution as early Ethernet was when there were only a shared contention medium via hubs and bridges. Ethernet really took off when switches became available and allowed the contention realm to be broken up to support parallel data flows. And that is what we can expect in the next stage of 802.11 evolution. This is what is needed to make mesh wireless networks viable with 802.11. There are already several companies developing mesh (though only a few are doing it in a way that will scale). There is also an 802.11s working group developing a standard for wireless mesh. And mesh is what will allow 802.11 to eventually cover municipal areas.
WiMax hype is extremely misleading. You hear that a WiMax basestation can create coverage of 35 - 70 miles, deliver 50 Mbps, will work in unlicensed and licensed frequencies, can deliver Non Line Of Sight (NLOS) through trees and buildings, will support mobility and CPE built into Laptops.
But this hype is misleading because they mush together all the claims for all the different frequencies from 2 GHz to 10 GHz, licensed and unlicensed, and projections of their roadmap for the next 8 years.
If you compare WiMax using the same 5.8 GHz unlicensed frequencies that 802.11a would use, there may be only 3 or 4 dB link budget advantage of WiMax over 802.11a. (I.E, the link budget is the total of receiver sensitivity and transmitter power, less losses between the two end points, thus it represents the distance that can be covered and/or penetration thru obstructions. So WiMax can deliver a link budget that is at most twice as good as 802.11a, and in the scope of things this is not very much compared to the total link budgets used in outdoor links).
If you say, ok, lets use licensed spectrum, then you can get long distances OR NLOS. If you really want to deliver multi MBps and be able to use laptops inside buildings as CPE, you'll still need microcell sites on the scale of 1- or 2-mile radius of coverage and use multiple WATTS of power. WiMax uses sophisticated base stations and relatively dump CPE. So each micro-cell basestation would be relatively expensive (compared to 802.11, but definitely cheaper than cellphone basestations).
AND you would have to buy the spectrum to create the coverage. At this point in time, in the US, the only spectrum that has half decent propagation characteristics and is available for this application in big enough chunks to be useful is the 2.5 GHz MMDS frequencies. These are already owned by primarily 3 corporations, plus a bunch of educational institutions (the later still holding on to it for "educational" distance learning TV).
So there is a customer base of maybe a handful of companies to buy and buildout licensed networks. Two of the license owners failed already in building out an MMDS network, the third is a "new" company, Clearwire, who bought spectrum from Worldcom. This does not represent a robust marketplace needed to drive a rapidly evolving technology. Its more like a legacy telco marketplace that will have to compete against DSL and Cable Modem in the urban/suburban markets that represent the bulk of the potential end user marketplace. It will not be subsidized by a parallel home / enterprise networking marketplace as will 802.11.
Finally, the WiMax industry has (in terms of active, as opposed to paper members) one giant company, Intel, and scores of small, mostly barely surviving wireless equipment companies that had already spent most of their efforts on proprietary LMDS or MMDS technology and then threw their hats into WiMax as a way to try to keep going. Most of these companies plan to offer proprietary enhancements to their WiMax products to "differentiate" from the competitors. So there are already way too many companies involved in WiMax than there will be demand for their products. So we can expect that when the hype dies down most of the companies will fail.
Sometime in the near future, I would expect that Intel will drop out of most activity with WiMax. They will realize that they need to get back to their "knitting" as AMD is challenging their core business and that there is never going to be the kind of volume in WiMax chipsets that is needed to keep Intel's interest.
There are a few WiMax companies, that will do very well for themselves. Companies such as Alvarian, who are already a leader in the outdoor, wide area wireless network equipment even before WiMax, who understand the market and have the distribution channel / customer base. This niche will grow with the lower costs for this style of rural and Multiple Business Unit (MDU) type network buildouts that can afford the price points that WiMax will end up with. But it will not be a mass market.
In conclusion, Wi-Fi will out evolve and deliver connectivity at costs dramatically lower than WiMax. WiMax / 802.16 is just starting on its path to evolution, has a much smaller base of innovators and chipset growth volume. Wi-Fi is already far along on its core learning curve, has an easy order of magnitude larger base of innovators / investors and chipset growth volume. WiMax hype will sputter out to reality of a niche backhaul and rural marketplace, Wi-Fi/802.11 will evolve and grow into many more realms and dominate the Local Area Network (LAN) / Neighborhood Area Network (NAN) / Metro Area Network (MAN).
It's not quite Open Spectrum--call it Open Market Spectrum: UK airwaves regulator Ofcom wants to free itself and the industries it works with from onerous and outdate regulatory oversight, it's said. The agency's head of research proposes reducing its oversight of spectrum from 94 percent of radio frequencies down to about 21 percent by 2010.
It proposes to carry this out by relying on market forces to handle use and change of use. It's a gutsy idea, but not as gutsy as Open Spectrum. Still, it's an enormous change in the way that a regulatory authority would handle administering the airwaves. It would bring money into the coffers of the empire by allowing spectrum to be traded more freely. Because most telecommunications services have some taxation, it's clear that Ofcom hopes making it easier to use spectrum more flexibly will result in greater revenue from spectrum for UK firms at a lower cost to the government to manage.
Ofcom will phase in its liberalization (or liberalisation). First, trading will be allowed. Then, over the next three years, certain restrictions on changing the use of a licensed band will be removed. From 2005 to 2010, additional bands and spectrum will fall under free trading and change rules.
An important note from the roadmap at Ofcom's Web site: Throughout, Ofcom will also continue to auction released and returned spectrum allocations on a business-as-usual basis. So there's certainly joy in unhitching bands from purposes.
Peter Judge picks at the issue that only seven percent of spectrum by 2010 will be unlicensed, a tiny fraction up from the current pot. But the head of research notes that 5 GHz is still totally underexploited--true in the U.S., too, and that the agency is looking into approving higher signal strengths in rural areas to make it easier to run broadband wireless links.
PCTel is releasing a package of code developers can use to include 802.1X in their applications: This might seem like a minor note, but it's significant that any software developer creating a program that requires Internet connectivity doesn't have to build an 802.1X stack from scratch, but can license it. (There may be others floating around I'm unaware of.)
With an SDK, as it's called, a software developer doesn't have to build, test, and maintain the code for what is a bit of a moving target for compatibility and standards inside an application that might be focused on other connection issues. For instance, a developer who wanted to release a software package aimed at hotspot users might license a VPN module, an 802.1X module, and other authentication modules, and only need to tie those together and test them as a system instead of maintaining separate codebases for each.
Update: Jim Thompson notes that for companies or projects that can use open-source code--which is a great way to go if your company can cope with those requirements--the Open1x project (Linux) and the derivation for Windows, Wire1x, could be an alternative to PCTel. Open1x doesn't support WPA yet, but the work they've done is quite impressive and ongoing.
SBC will operate Barnes & Noble's Wi-Fi hotspots: Second time's the charm, I guess. Cometa Networks, now deceased, spent a year wooing Barnes & Noble before making the announcement of the bookseller as their "anchor tenant" in a national network in March 2004. Come April, Cometa starting winding down its operations.
Barnes & Noble has almost certainly been eyeing whether Borders Books decision to work with T-Mobile made sense, and whether they needed to offer a hotspot service as a competitive balance. B&N has seen other setbacks in the digital realm, and after being burned by one hotspot operator, it's clear that they picked one that was likely to be in business several years from now--and become a dominant player.
Contrast the statements made by Barnes & Noble this time around to when they struck their deal several months ago with the now-deceased Cometa Networks:
March 2004 (News.com interview): "We want to make our stores--and specifically, the cafes inside them--a destination, and hopefully, (the hot-spot service) will bring (customers) back more often," said Gary King, chief information officer at Barnes & Noble.
November 2004 (press release): "We chose SBC to be our Wi-Fi partner because they provide our customers with the best user experience and value in the industry," said Chris Troia, chief information officer of Barnes & Noble, Inc. "SBC has a customer-friendly pricing model and widespread coverage in major metropolitan areas."
See? In March, it was inward focused, about their business. In November, it's outward focused about making sure the partner is right and will drive traffic to the store. (Yes, I know that press release statements are written by the company making the deal.) You'll also notice that the person with the CIO title changed from March to November, but it's unlikely the hotspot deal had anything to do with that.
The service is available immediately, probably using hardware originally installed by Cometa.
Also today, SBC announced hotspot service will roll out at "up to" 88 Avis Rent-a-Car locations. This deal is similar to Wayport's and Hertz. Interestingly, because SBC is a customer of Wayport's and hires Wayport to build out portions of its hotspot network, Wayport could be building the Avis locations and SBC could be reselling the Hertz hotspots. Avis will unwired by early 2005.
The Wall Street Journal writes about the Pennsylvania legislation to ban municipal networks: The Journal's Jesse Drucker does his usual comprehensive job in describing the scope of the law awaiting the governor's signature in Pennsylvania that would disallow municipalities from building their own networks offered on a fee basis to residents unless they were in place by January 1, 2006.
If you want the summary of why cities and towns are building broadband wireless networks, you have this superb quote. "There are some very specific goals that the city has that are not met by the private sector: affordable, universal access and the digital divide," says Dianah Neff, the city's chief information officer. She says that less than 60% of the city's neighborhoods have broadband access.
The telcos don't want to compete against the government, and I can see how there's a disincentive to build service in a market in which the local municipal authority will be offering the lowest possible rate for the broadest audience. It makes more sense for municipalities to cooperate with telecommunications firms, nonprofits, and other institutions to provide an infrastructure--the wires, towers, radios, and so forth--and not the actual service.
Update: Some good additional detail appears in an IDG News Service article that notes there's ambiguity about the interpretation of the grandfather clause. A staffer of a Republican backer of the bill says having a single subscriber qualifies as an operational service, while Philadelphia is concerned the language isn't clear enough and may accelerate plans.
Portland International Airport launches largest free airport Wi-Fi network--in the world? PDX breaks with the usual habit of charging fees, sometimes higher than those in hotels, for airport Wi-Fi. The service covers about 70 percent of the airport, and will be free for at least the first year. The project has a single T-1 on the back end through XO Communications at present. I'm unaware of any other airport of this scale offering free service in the U.S.--or anywhere in the world. The airport sees over a million passengers (counting in and out) per month.
Symbol claims switchmakers aren't making switches, are violating standards: It's not as compelling a title as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but Peter Judge argues that Symbol and WLAN switchmakers are having an interesting terminology conversation that could affect eventually hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Judge's article at Techworld should be studied in depth--I read it a couple of times because of the level of detail, but the executive summary:
Symbol says it makes switches, others make bridge managers. Sure, but the bridge managers work just fine. Symbol tries to make the argument that Airespace, Aruba, and Trapeze are making AP management consoles, but it doesn't hold water, and it shouldn't be Symbol's selling point. Airespace, for instance, can dynamically adjust power output on their APs based on traffic patterns; can support multiple-switch failover; and other features that go far behind pure management.
Symbol says the switchmakers violate standards by mapping multiple ESSIDs (network names) to BSSIDs (AP MAC addresses). Unfortunately, Judge points out that that difference has or is eroding for the switch vendors.
Symbol says 802.11e doesn't allow monitoring and AP service on the same devices. Airespace, for one, uses the silicon to handle both simultaneously, instead of switching into a probing mode. Symbol doesn't offer this feature; other WLAN switch vendors suggest install extra access points.
Most interestingly, Judge writes that Symbol owns half the switch market's revenue, which seems extraordinary, but must be an outgrowth of their veteran status as a WLAN builder for warehouses and other information and logistics processing industries.
Broadcom says its newly revised 802.11g chips offer range without gimmicks: In an interview last week, Bill Bunch, senior product line manager for wireless, said that the single-chip 802.11g adapter and two-chip 802.11g router/access point products had dramatically improved receive sensitivity, which translates into increased range. "If you have better hearing, and you and I are talking, then I can walk away further, and we can continue to talk at a very decent throughput," Bunch said. "It's like we both went out and got a hearing aid." The new technology is called BroadRange.
The new chips offer 50 percent greater range using the 125 High Speed Mode, Bunch said. "This gives you higher speed at every point that you care about." I asked Bunch what the real world performance would be given, that Wi-Fi is often advertising as a "150 foot" technology that turns out to be much less in homes with real building materials.
Bunch said that the company tests against environments that give them realistic results: if you formerly could reach 50 feet in one direction in an interior space, he said, you should now be able to reach 75 feet. For most homes, a 150-foot diameter might be all that's needed.
The adapter chip is available now; the router/AP chipset are at the sampling stage.
Protecting your passwords and your data at a hotspot, in two parts: I've written a brief, two-part series for The Seattle Times's SOHO (small office/home office) focus in their Monday Business section on how to secure yourself at a Wi-Fi hotspots. This week, I point to email protection; next week to session protection (with VPN and 802.1X). I wrote this two articles to help people who aren't experts but want to reach a higher level of security and who just needed a few pointers.
Two smart guys talk about T-Mobile's behavior in clinging to metered session pricing: John Yunker of Byte Level Research talks about the inexorable path to flat-rate pricing for not just data, but voice. T-Mobile wants to keep charging by the hour or day and not roam with other carriers, but they're ignoring the reality of all that's happening around them. (T-Mobile's recent roaming agreement with the WBA has its best benefit, as I noted a few days ago, for their existing and potential flat-rate subscribers who travel regularly but infrequently overseas and who also have cell service from T-Mobile.)
David Haskin of Mobile Pipeline--a publication for which I'm writing two articles--references Yunker's monthly newsletter and notes that John writes there, "The only question is when, not if, Starbucks will offer Wi-Fi for free." Yunker says that Starbucks managers are pushing for free access for their customers. But as I've written many times, inclusion of T-Mobile locations in other companies roaming plans is just as good as free in some ways. I agree with Haskin's analysis of the market.
Free means never having to say you're sorry; for-fee means that you're making a promise about service. If T-Mobile switched to Wayport's view and charged a fixed rate per location per month to roaming partners instead of letting their partners go free, T-Mobile would vastly increase usage while reducing customer irritation and billing support issues.
In speaking to various Wi-Fi industry figures over the last six months, it's clear that the question is not whether Starbucks will turn its Wi-Fi billing off, but rather when, not if, T-Mobile will open itself to roaming partnerships that don't rely on their structure for session billing.
T-Mobile may be making the internal numbers they need to continue to expand, but Wi-Fi routes around pricing bottlenecks the same way that the Internet routes around outages. SBC has produced a model that all of its DSL subscribers will be incredibly motivated to adopt because of its cheap and easy nature. If SBC customers can't roam onto T-Mobile locations, they'll roam onto partners of SBC. Just chart the fluid dynamics of it, and T-Mobile will see ever-declining usage as the SBC/Wayport approach grows.
Paul Boutin writes about kiping your neighbor's Wi-Fi: Paul suggests the easiest ways to gain access to even poorly password protected networks run by your neighbors without violating any laws that the FCC is aware of. He even links to a list of common passwords. I expect that more and more networks will wind up becoming secured as manufacturers continue to promote using WPA and make it easier to protect machines.
(John Dvorak ranted about WPA recently, and rightly so: unless you know that everyone using a network has all the updates, WPA isn't a solution. It's appropriate for home and businesses in which the users are forced to upgrade!)
Paul has a great line in this story about warchalking:
"Warchalking," a technique for writing symbols in public places to alert neighbors to nearby wireless access points, is a cool concept that's been undermined by the fact that no one has ever used it.
Warchalking was a great mini-phenomenon because it was instantly adopted not by a street culture, but by many small companies involved in Wi-Fi hotspots and equipment manufacturers. Eventually, it burbled up to major corporations, that want to be hip in the same way that saying jiggy with it makes you a cool thirtysomething. It was identity rebranding by Matt Jones, a party unaffiliated with the Wi-Fi industry.
Interestingly, too, in revisiting a number of companies' Web sites that had warchalking elements on them, I find that they've removed those marks. Warchalking never had a marketing budget, and even Jiwire's logo is just the stylized remnants of the original design.
Update: I read Paul's piece on warchalking from July 2003 that he links to from this article, and found how prescient I was:
"It's something everyone thinks is cool but it may not actually have staying power," agreed freelance journalist Glenn Fleishman, who edits 802.11b Networking News. "It's a compelling idea more than a physical reality."
But several warchalking enthusiasts -- none of whom claimed to have actually done any chalking yet -- claimed the idea itself is more important than whether or not anyone is running around chalking walls yet.
Providers might be threatened by Philadelphia's planned Wi-Fi network: A bill was introduced at the state level in Pennsylvania that would prohibit the kind of networks that Philly plans to build. Comcast and Verizon denied any interest in suppressing the plan, noting that the bill has been in the works for a year, and includes a revamp of educational telecommunications funding. The article doesn't look at draft of bills. I compared the early text of the bill from April 2003 with the current text, and it does, in fact, have the same language prohibiting municipalities from engaging in for-fee networks:
A POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OR ANY entity established by a political subdivision, including a municipal authority, may not provide any telecommunications services to the public for compensation within the service territory of a local exchange telecommunications company operating under a network modernization plan.
Update: Great analysis from Esme Vos over at Muniwireless.com about how the Philadelphia situation might play out. As she notes, the legislation restricts compensated networks, not free ones, among other angles she explores.
More updates: An Associated Press story adds some details, including the fact that municipal systems in place by Jan. 1, 2006, are exempted--expect a speed-up on Philadelphia's plans. The bill gives the incumbents 10 years to offer broadband statewide, and requires contributions and discounts. The fact that the carriers get another 10 years of monopoly in exchange for offering schools 30 percent discounts (among other items) is a little like saying, "You can keep repairing this toll highway and keep the proceeds, but school buses pay less"--while preventing municipalities from building local arterials.
Connexion by Boeing signs China Airlines; service after 2005 Q2: Connexion's faster turnaround is obviously helping them get connected planes in the air faster. In their latest deal, this time with China Airlines, they say installation will start in the second quarter of 2005 with service beginning shortly thereafter. This is a far cry from the two year timetables set in 2003 for many of their contracted and letter-of-intent partners, some of whom still don't seem to have a set date for installation. Service will be on several U.S. west coast routes to Taipei, Taiwan.
If I read between the lines, the fact that service is going in on 747-400's might have something to do with the relative ease of reconfiguring that plane versus other models. But it's clear that Connexion is gaining traction. Next up, SAS?
My favorite bargain site for tech goods, Free after Rebate, notes a free 802.11b card: The Belkin 802.11b PC Card is $25 with a $25 rebate. You pay $6 for shipping. If you were looking for a spare card or a card for an older machine, leap!
iPass extends its deal with T-Mobile to skip metered in favor of flat-rate--as an option: IT managers who use iPass's platform for mobile wired, wireless, and dial-up connectivity, can now opt for specific employees to have flat-rated, unlimited access to T-Mobile's hotspot network. iPass typically offers only metered rates, sometimes with daily caps. Their software allows enterprise users to use their local network authentication to access points of presence and hotspots worldwide, and avoids having to provide each user with a separate subscription with its own fees, minimums, and credentials.
This revised T-Mobile deal extends iPass's earlier offering, in which T-Mobile locations were available at a discounted DayPass rate. Via email, iPass didn't disclose pricing for the new service. iPass sets pricing based on a number of factors, including the geographic region, a company's overall usage, and its term of commitment. A spokesperson for iPass estimated that the flat-rate monthly fee for T-Mobile access would be about four hours of per-minute charges. It's a pretty clear split: road warriors will get flat-rate; occasional travelers, metered.
John Yunker blogs at Unwired about WiMax, hotspots, and the industry in general: John is one of the best and most wide-ranging analysts in the wireless space, formerly with Pyramid Research and now at Byte Level Research, a company he founded. His blog will cover a large range of different issues surrounding wireless, and I'll be a regular reader. (I'm embarassed to not have linked to it already.)
For instance, today John writes about how Lufthansa now has 13 jets outfitted with Connexion by Boeing's in-flight broadband service. Connexion told me and other journalists a few weeks ago on a Connexion demonstration flight that they had reduced the installation time down to seven days, which is within the scope of a normal extended maintenance period for a plane. The fact that Lufthansa jumped from 3 to 13 in a few months shows that that information was accurate. Previous reports indicated anywhere from 10 to 20 days of downtime for Connexion installation.
John asks, Now when will an American carrier suck it up and embrace Wi-Fi? Perhaps when they're not all about to go under. Matt Maier of Business 2.0 offers a pile of insight on Connexion's past and current business models, and how they managed to survive when $5 billion in revenues projected back in 2001 almost completely disappeared on 9/11.
If It's not enough that TeliaSonera has blanked Sweden with Wi-Fi, more is coming: The Cloud has formed a norther subsidiary, The Cloud Nordic, that will challenge TeliaSonera's Swedish primacy by installing hotspots in 55 Swedish train stations. Eventually, all 178 train stations in Sweden will have hotspot service. (In the U.S., we have maybe a dozen so equipped.) Telia HomeRun lists nearly 500 locations in their Swedish directory.
This Register article notes that The Cloud's competitor Broadreach has installed Wi-Fi both in stations and is preparing to roll service out on trains. Sweden and Britain already have Wi-Fi-equipped trains: the Gottenburg to Copenhagen run and some of Britain's GNER trains; both of those installations come from Icomera. Broadreach is using Canadian firm PointCast's equipment. PointCast has two lines in California and one in Canada up and running in production and trials.
Siemens will start distributing and integrating RoamAD's high-ubiquity networking equipment in New Zealand: The goal, eventually, is for Siemens to sell RoamAD's system outside of the land of kiwis, but it's a good start for this antipodean firm. RoamAD's system relies on using many overlapping Wi-Fi channels coupled with wireless backhaul to create a very high availability, highly ubiquitous signal at commodity-level prices and low latency.
My Business 2.0 feature on the best places for business travelers to hit the Internet is now mobile: Business 2.0 has repackaged the content from its print-like form into a format compatible with mobile browsers, like PocketPCs. It's also accessible free, and includes all 20 cities that I researched; only 12 fit into print.
Alereon says they demonstrated 480 Mbps and 320 Mbps speeds using UWB and the MBOA specification this week in their lab: Alereon is working in the Wireless USB and UWB worlds, and is creating chips in compliance with the Multi-Band OFDM Alliance (MBOA) approach.
The MBOA left behind efforts at the IEEE 802.15.3a task group to form an IEEE standard. Freescale (a Motorola spinoff) is pushing the technology behind its XtremeSpectrum UWB acquisition. That technology uses a "classical" UWB approach versus MBOA's integration of a variety of wireless ideas into one standard that they say has a better chance of resulting in higher throughput. Freescale disputes this, and had tried in the past to get the MBOA approach ruled out of bounds by the FCC. The FCC essentially said it was fine.
The ultimate goal of the 802.15.3a task group was 480 Mbps at 10 meters; Alereon issued this press release to try to up the ante on its friendly and unfriendly competitors.
Press release follows this link:
Motorola was an investor and customer; now, it's an owner: Motorola will close the deal for an undisclosed amount to purchase MeshNetworks this quarter. MeshNetworks is a pure mesh firm, making cards, access points, and other devices that allow networks without central hubs. Motorola had invested in the firm through its venture arm, and distributes and licenses MeshNetworks software and hardware.
Motorola earlier purchased XtremeSpectrum, an early ultrawideband firm. The UWB assets became part of Freescale, Motorola's semiconductor spinoff. Freescale becomes fully independent Dec. 2 when Motorola distributes Freescale stock to Motorola shareholders and removes its outstanding majority ownership of Freescale.
How long after SBC's VoIP service launches in homes that they offer a Wi-Fi phone?: SBC had already signaled that VoIP over Wi-Fi is a long-term strategy complement for its majority-staked Cingular Wireless. By adding VoIP Into homes, they're building on the cellular/DSL/VoIP/Wi-Fi strategy.
They've pushed DSL aggressively into homes. They have sold Wi-Fi into those same homes with no per-user fee, unlike most cable plans. They are offering $1.99/month unlimited Wi-Fi on their roaming network for DSL users. They will now offer those users VoIP. They will certainly offer them a Wi-Fi-only phone for their home and hotspots (prewired for both). They will also certainly expand that to offer a cell/Wi-Fi phone with a Cingular plan and Wi-Fi roaming for a pretty low cost.
All of this is to squeeze the cable companies: it's mostly about paying the copper wire cost base, right? DSL helps them pay for all those wires in the ground. Anything that brings in more revenue on top of existing DSL customers and reduces churn helps produce a better ROI on copper. It can also decrease churn for Cingular.
There probably is little fear of contradiction that with 1,200 Wi-Fi sessions per week, the British Library's Wi-Fi network is the most popular (and largest) in London: The library officially launched its Wi-Fi service today through its 11 reading rooms, conference auditorium, cafe, restaurant, and outdoor area. The Cloud is operating the service, providing pay-as-you-go service and allowing roaming with its many partners. HP was involved in the build-out, although the press release is vague.
The library has 3,000 visitors per day, and a survey they conducted found 86 percent of them were laptop owners; many left the library to find nearby Internet access. The library expects its service will be even more popular than the current 1,200 sessions per week with this formal announcement, and the near-term completion of a rail link that will bring people at high speed from the Continent practically to the library's front door.
People with no interest in research will likely use the library as a hotspot; The Cloud's increasing portfolio of partners should encourage that trend. (16 percent of library visitors already use it as a place to sit and work, rather than a place to research.)
This ZDNet article has a few more details, such as the £4.95 pay-as-you-go rate, but doesn't note that The Cloud's roaming partner subscribers will have inclusive access, as the press release does. The political backstory is that the library was ready to have its formal launch in September, but government cabinet shuffling delayed the opening.
State parks in Illinois to get Wi-Fi: Hey, hey, Boo Boo! Pere Marquette State Park is the first location unwired; it has lodging and conference facilities in addition to camping and park features. Transnet will add Internet service (using AirPath's management system) to a number of Illinois parks.
OvisLink's AirLive 802.11g adapter for USB 2.0 has an impressive array of features: It's a nifty little device that retails for about $35 with included support for Windows 98SE through XP, 802.11b and 802.11b, USB 1.1 and USB 2.0, and WEP and WPA. You can even adjust power output, which should reduce battery drain when that's an issue. [link via Tom's Networking]
Linksys ships Compact Flash 802.11g adapter: This $90 adapter is the first 802.11g Compact Flash device. As Tim Higgins notes in his overview, you won't see 802.11g speeds, but you will reduce the impact on an 802.11g network by not forcing it to drop down to a mixed 802.11b/g mode.
The Tampa International Airport apparently thinks the FCC rule that landlords can't control unlicensed spectrum doesn't apply to them: The airport is retaining legal counsel to deal with the issue, which was settled definitively by the FCC earlier this year. We wrote about this decision in June. I don't see much leeway in the FCC stating it has exclusive authority to resolving matters, and that rules prohibit landlords from placing restrictions.
The article quotes the airport's executive director's position. "There's been talk that airports do not have the authority to regulate telecommunications services within the airport," said Louis E. Miller, executive director of Tampa International Airport. "We think that's ridiculous." Fascinating that an FCC ruling would be dismissed as "talk." If this makes it to federal court, it's certainly possible that a court could rule the FCC doesn't have this authority, but it's seems doubtful, as the FCC has such a broad mandate covering this issue. There were numerous lawsuits about condos and satellite TV antennas, and the FCC appears to have definitively resolved that in their own favor.
Here's a great equivocation from a trade association that seems to side with the airport: While the FCC does have the authority for frequency regulation, it does not stop an airport from "managing" the usage of spectrum, said Bill Belt, director of technical regulatory affairs for The Telecommunications Industry Association. The Web site for this group shows it advocates market-based regulation of spectrum. The board of directors doesn't seem to represent any particular landlord/airport bias, either: Lucent, Cisco, IBM, and Intel are all on the board.
Early Clearwire customers in Jacksonville, Florida, like the service's reliability, ease, cost, and portability (reg. req.; click for username/pwd): It's a rave review for Clearwire so far, Craig McCaw's latest venture that has a trial in Jacksonville. Julio Ojeda-Zapata of the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press reports that Clearwire's next expansion in St. Cloud, Minnesota, hasn't materialized beyond a test setup, but that it works as advertised. Clearwire uses broadband wireless technology that's probably a precursor to WiMax.
Ojeda-Zapata interviewed some Floridians about the service, and they weren't just happy about it, but quite ecstatic. One user had access when his cable modem went down during a hurricane. A few discuss how portable the modem is, requiring just an AC outlet in the service area. Clearwire might combine some of the best aspects of DSL/cable (high speeds), 3G cellular (ubiquity), and Ricochet (driverless transferability).
That last is quite important: if I have to install drivers on my computer and reconfigure it for access, thumbs down. If I just plug into an Ethernet port, thumbs up. This was one of the factors that held back smaller-city provider Monet Networks: the lack of this kind of Ethernet-based hookup. And it's one of the driving reasons behind the business model for Junxion, a Seattle company that has a cellular data box with Ethernet and Wi-Fi built in.
Not coincidentally, today's Pioneer Press also includes a first-person article by a reporter who tests Verizon Ev-DO service in Washington, D.C. He finds it as effective as Verizon promises for typical road warrior tasks, but questions how many people need that kind of access everywhere. That flip side of that question is: how many people don't want to worry about having that kind of access everywhere? If you know you could have 200 to 300 Kbps everywhere you went, is it worth paying for ubiquity instead of wondering whether you'll get 50 Kbps to 1.5 Mpbs? The market will answer that question.
The same reporter files another interesting article about how Cargill leveraged its need for Internet access at a grain elevator in Nebraska into free service for itself in exchange for making the tower available to serve local farmers and residents.
Jim Sullivan sends in this bright spot in the world of Library-Fi: The Arlington (Virginia) Public Library page pointed to by Jim--maintainer of the Wi-Fi-Freespot directory--encourages patrons and travelers to use their free Wi-Fi network:
Spread the word to friends and travelers!
By using your laptop at the library for checking email, surfing the Net, and doing research, you are freeing up library Internet stations for people who vitally need that access.
It's a lovely thought: if you've got a laptop, you can offload your computational need from their limited equipment.
Cambridge Radio Silicon (CSR)'s UniFi-1 is designed for low-power 802.11b/g and a/b/g: CSR is known for Bluetooth chipsets, and their new product might challenge Bluetooth's advantage in cell phones and other devices. CSR says their all-in-one solution doesn't require a host processor, nor (in the slightly larger consumer version of the chip) external flash memory. The chip will cost less than $8 in quantity plus $1 in other parts, which is a few dollars more than Bluetooth per unit. The tiny chipset will be available in samples this year and in production by mid-2005.
Reporting in ComputerWeekly.com indicates that the chipset uses much more power at full speed than a comparable Bluetooth chip, but most small devices can't transmit at anything like the full WLAN speed. The lowest 802.11g OFDM speed (to avoid mixed b/g networks) would be just as appropriate for most handhelds' capabilities.
You could look for days and be hard pressed to find a Wi-Fi device quite this silly: Nigel Ballard alerted me to this Target.com item, the K-Byte Zipit Wireless Instant Messenger, for $99.99. It's as ridiculous as its name. It lets you instant message with Yahoo, MSN, and AOL services if you have accounts on those IM systems. (This isn't mentioned on Target's site, but is noted in an Amazon.com customer review.)
The device works with Wi-Fi networks--it must lack any kind of stub browser because it refers to using just home and free networks, which means that if you have WEP or WPA security enabled or use a gateway page, you must be out of luck. The product details say there's security for instant messaging, but doesn't describe it. I'm guessing it means password protection, not encryption. (A reader suggests its application-layer encryption for instant messaging systems that support it.)
BT OpenZone trumpets their side of the WBA roaming agreement: they can count 20,000 hotspots in their roaming arrangements: T-Mobile may have nearly 12,000 hotspots between the Wireless Broadband Alliance's six members who they're roaming with and T-Mobile's international locations, but BT had already cast its roaming net wider with The Cloud, TeliaSonera, and Airpath.
Get our your paring knives: your faithful editor offers suggestions for where to Wi-Fi in 12 major cities: A few weeks ago, I did some intensive researching, contacting colleagues across the country; making phone calls to hotels, libraries, and coffeeshops; and scouring my personal and professional memory bank on places I've visited and stayed to produced this 12-city guide to the best Wi-Fi hotspots and facilities. You may disagree with some of my choices: please use the Comments link below to chime in!
I learned quite a lot in putting this feature together, some of which I've shared over the last few works. I can't, however, share the full text of the article unless you're a Business 2.0 subscriber or buy an issue at the newsstand. (There's a code in every print copy that when entered gives you access to that month's content; or you can pay a few bucks online for a new 6-month subscription and have access to the print and online content.)
Best Wi-Fi directory: I have a relationship with Jiwire, but this doesn't color my finding that after reviewing thousands of hotspot listings and factchecking through several hundred that Jiwire's directory is the most comprehensive and accurate. A few other directories are pretty good, but they don't have the scope, currency, or level of detail of Jiwire, and only Jiwire's has first-person accounts of service in a number of locations. I find the integration of Jiwire's information with Yahoo! Mobile to be the best way to search for travel information as a whole, however. I'm also a big fan of Jim Sullivan's Wi-Fi-Freespot directory. (Jim works with Jiwire, too, but I was a fan before that relationship began.)
Hotel Web sites are weak, generally: It's hard to get reliable information from all but a few of the major chains that offer Wi-Fi and/or wired Internet access from their Web site. A call was usually required. Depending on who answered at certain hotels, different answers were provided about cost, availability, and whether people not staying at the hotel could get access in the lobby for free (if the hotel's service were free) or for a fee (whether or not the hotel charged).
A Wi-Fi hotspot is often a wired hotspot: Most hotels still have in-room wired, and their listing in a Wi-Fi directory doesn't mean there's any Wi-Fi on site. However, the vast majority of hotels offering in-room wired or Wi-Fi have Wi-Fi in the lobby and public areas.
Libraries rock! Wi-Fi is busting out all over in public libraries, although the trend seems to be to restrict it in libraries that have the time and technology to build or hire out authentication. Denver appears to be unique in offering its library Wi-Fi for a fee. Elsewhere, it's free whether restricted to patrons or available to all comers.
Coffeeshops and restaurants with Wi-Fi still aren't pushing it: Most of the coffeeshops and other eating establishments with Wi-Fi haven't figured out how to integrate this offering into their overall approach. Most smaller locations lack Web sites. And sometimes even a well-designed Web site with some thought behind it hid or omitted the Internet access--or the charges. A number of eateries stood out with clear and concise information, and broad encouragement to come and eat, drink, and be unwired.
There's a reason for all that for-fee Wi-Fi branding: In many cities, including some dropped from the project for lack of substantial locations, Starbucks, McDonald's, Borders, Kinko's, The UPS Store/Mailboxes Etc., and Barnes and Noble are the primary venues to find Wi-Fi. We omitted these chains from this survey to provide regional flavor and more variety, but those chains combined now have over 10,000 hotspots in the U.S. Business travelers who like the big box stores and the consistent food retail experience won't be poorly served by looking for the M with a circle around it, the FreedomLink decal, or the T-Mobile sticker.
Airports are reaching critical mass: Boston is the most recent large airport to add Wi-Fi, but Atlanta, Chicago O'Hare, and many others are in the three- to nine-month range. By mid-2005, most of the major airports in the U.S. will have some Wi-Fi zones. This may be partly due to the FCC decision that restricts airport authorities ability to control unlicensed spectrum, but it's also the momentum. AT&T Wireless's acquisition by Cingular Wireless will have some impact given ATTWS's operation of Denver and Philadelphia's airport networks, but what that impact will be, I can't yet say.
(Sidebar: AT&T Wireless charges the highest rates for Wi-Fi subscriptions of any US plan: $70 per month. Cingular's majority shareholder SBC now has the cheapest rate of $2 per month--albeit for SBC's DSL subscribers only. How do these two cultures collide?)
Municipal Wi-Fi is expanding in fits and starts: There's a lot of city park Wi-Fi, downtown business zone Wi-Fi, and "come to our building" Wi-Fi all over. San Diego was the biggest surprise to me. (It didn't make the print cut, but should be online later this month.) It's full of free Wi-Fi through several local business consortium initiatives. It may be the home of Qualcomm, and the first 3G city in the U.S., but Wi-Fi has a dominating presence in the downtown.
T-Mobile expands roaming to Europe, Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA): T-Mobile's US hotspot division announced today that it has agreed to let its members roam to six other carriers' networks worldwide, including Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, and Australia. They reiterated an announcement snuck into a press release about British Telecom (BT) roaming on Oct. 21 that T-Mobile's international hotspot would also be part of this roaming arrangement. The total hotspots in this roaming network is nearly 12,000.
The WBA has been quiet for nearly a year, and Pete Thompson, T-Mobile HotSpot's director of marketing, said in an interview that the group has been developing the technical infrastructure to handle this worldwide, cross-system roaming. Part of the complexity is that "each carrier has the freedom and flexibility to set the retail roaming rate independent of each other," Thompson said.
During this quarter, T-Mobile HotSpot subscribers will pay no fees to use T-Mobile international, BT, Telecom Italia, Maxis (Malaysia), NTT (Japan), StarHub (Singapore), and Telstra (Australia) hotspots. Thompson said that the company will watch usage and gauge feedback to decide on the ultimate pricing. Each partner in the roaming agreement is purchasing capacity on the other networks at a wholesale rate.
Thompson said no pricing decisions had been set, but that it was likely prices would be consistent across a geographic area rather than varying by provider. T-Mobile HotSpot subscribers get the benefit of a single login, a single bill, and the negotiated rate. Recent analysts' reports have shown hotspot costs for single sessions range from moderately high to exorbitant in most locations outside the U.S.
The press release for this announcement noted that T-Mobile's Wi-Fi customers travel internationally an average of three times per year, but Thompson noted that a smaller subset travels outside the U.S. once a month, and that international roaming has been a top request in their survey of existing customers. "We think it's going to drive a lot of demand and satisfaction," he said.
Thompson noted the extraordinary fact that free roaming has been in effect between T-Mobile U.S. and Europe for two months and generated tens of thousands of roaming sessions--with no publicity. "We expect that to expand quite significantly over the next few months," Thompson said.
While quality of service and security is part of the expectation for all WBA members, Thompson said, 802.1X authentication is not yet a required element, even as an optional item. However, "We are encouraging the other carriers given the feedback we've gotten from enterprises in the U.S."
T-Mobile continues to see a strong connection between its $20 per month unlimited usage plan (with a one-year commitment and early cancellation penalty) and T-Mobile voice cell users. Thompson said 35 percent of existing hotspot subscribers are voice customers of T-Mobile, and that a staggering 60 percent of new Wi-Fi subscribers are existing or new voice customers.
T-Mobile was criticized since its acquisition of the assets of bankrupt MobileStar in early 2002 over deploying Wi-Fi when its voice business lagged. This reporter and a handful of other analysts noted that T-Mobile was gaining enormous marketing exposure as part of their arrangements with premium brands like Starbucks and Borders.
The addition of a cheaper Wi-Fi plan early last year for T-Mobile voice subscribers was certainly one of the steps that brought voice and Wi-Fi closer together, as is T-Mobile's package of unlimited Wi-Fi, unlimited GPRS, and voice minutes on a single bill.
Adding international roaming with negotiated tariffs should allow T-Mobile to extend its reach to more high-end voice customers even further--but it does take some of pressure off the company to open its domestic U.S. network to unlimited, no-fee roaming from other partners.
I was reluctant to link to this article because the subject of the article violates my credulity: Now, I could be wrong. I am not an expert on either information theory or low-level physical layer limitations for radio. But the folks at Extricom are offering something that I believe is impossible while discussing it in the vaguest possible terms.
The company's Web site is incredibly thin on their actual technology. They have a good white paper explaining the technical limitations of current technologies, and the realities of re-using channels over short distances. They claim that you can only reuse a channel in the 2.4 GHz band three times over 1,200 feet without suffering some bandwidth degradation. They're probably right.
But their technology is undefined. They say that they have solved the problems that restrict frequency reuse and talk about using each channel at triple its capacity: that 33 Mbps for 802.11b for a total of 99 Mbps across three channels, or 162 Mbps for 802.11g or 486 Mbps for three channels. They would bond 802.11a channels for 1.296 Gbps capability.
They say that their TrueReuse patent-pending technology enables this miracle, but they don't say how in even the slightest way. They allude to the fact that there are a lot of wasted time slots on a normal Wi-Fi network in either band dealing with packet collision avoidance, and in the intervals when devices back off after a collision. Fair enough. Entirely true. But they don't really say how their technology could triple the throughput of each channel, nor how they can avoid harmonic interference on the side nodes of seemingly nonoverlapping channels in 2.4 GHz (1, 6, and 11 do overlap, just not very much).
I'm in a wait-and-see mode. The Web site describes compatibility with existing Wi-Fi technology, but the article about the technology at Wi-Fi Planet quotes the company saying that all Extricom technology is needed to achieve the highest bandwidth--I confirmed with the reporter that that means all cards, APs, and switches. It will work at slower rates with existing Wi-Fi devices.
Another strange item on their Web site: their switch is described as being the single product for an entire network. Can multiple switches interact to create a larger-scale network? The FAQ describes adding APs for scalability, which won't work when the switch is full. The switch has a single 100/1000 Mbps connection, which is inadequate for a modern network--especially when the company is talking about offering 1.296 Gbps from one switch. A device of this scale needs, at a minimum, two high-performance switched gigabit Ethernet interfaces--and possibly more than that.
National DSL provider Speakeasy adds Seattle broadband wireless test area to mix: Speakeasy offers DSL, T1, and dial-up nationwide through local points of presence and relationships with Covad and regional telephone companies. They rolled out Voice over IP telephony to their DSL customers recently promising that their network is optimized for voice performance.
Now, it's time for broadband wireless. In August, Speakeasy revealed an undisclosed sum was invested by Intel, which is betting on the future of WiMax, a yet-to-be-finalized certified form of wireless broadband that will have a high degree of interoperability and is tuned for delivery. (For a cogent explanation of these abilities in WiMax, download and read the first white paper on this page, ISPCON 2004 keynote, by Nigel Ballard of Matrix Networks and Personal Telco in Portland.)
Speakeasy's first rollout is in their (and my) background, in the area around their downtown Seattle offices. This makes it easier to check on performance, no doubt. The promised speed is 3 Mbps symmetrical with optimization for voice packets to have priority. The focus is business broadband, which is a great market to start on. The equivalent in T-1 lines (two 1.544 Mbps circuits) would cost nearly $1,500 per month; Speakeasy hasn't posted pricing, but Om Malik spoke with Speakeasy CEO Bruce Chatterley who says a T-1 equivalent will be $300 per month, and a 3 Mbps service will be $600 to $700 per month. Installation time will be 24 to 48 hours. Malik says that Chatterley cites T-1 installation at 18 to 20 days.
I had a chance to catch Chatterley this afternoon by phone at the Wireless Connectivity Americas conference (WiCon). Chatterley said that the pricing Malik cited are rough estimates for their ultimate fees. "The objective of the trial is to really confirm that pricing, both from a cost structure standpoint and from an end-user demand standpoint," he said. He noted that 30 percent of customers who try to get service from Speakeasy cannot, and "the first reason we're doing WiMax is to start to address that demand that we can't serve today, which is just a huge opportunity."
Chatterley also said that Speakeasy found that there's a large gap between T1 at 1.5 Mbps and higher-bandwidth offerings. They can sell T-1 for about $700 per month for unlimited bandwidth, but if you want 2 or 3 Mbps, you have to resort to technical tricks like bonding multiple T1 lines, and the costs start to mount. Moving to a T-3 or OC3 equipment starts well above $10,000 even for fractions of its full 48 Mbps capability. Business customers are going to be very excited about 3 Mbps broadband with a service level agreement as part of the contract.
The emerging regulatory framework is another reason Chatterley cited for testing broadband wireless, which will likely remain under a lighter burden for some time to come. Speakeasy's primary business is broadband over DSL. The FCC has gone back and forth on certain issues, like line sharing. Chatterley said, "This is a good hedge. You never know who is going to be in office. You never know what kind of dynamics are going to be at the FCC." Even if Speakeasy loses access little by little to their last-mile providers, Chatterley said, they can move forward on this service, which he estimates would add just 10 percent to their infrastructure costs of offering a point of presence.
Chatterley is very bullish on mobile WiMax, which he puts out at 2007 or later, noting that there's a neat dovetail between cellular and mobile broadband. He expects his customers who adopt the Speakeasy VoIP offering will be able to take voice and high-speed data as they travel around Speakeasy's coverage area, turning to cellular networks as needed. He's the first CEO I've heard talk about cell data, cell voice, VoIP, and WiMax as all complementing each other, and it's a more compelling combination than expecting cellular to shrivel up and die--who would install WiMax on every highway and in rural areas?--or believing that 3G will eat WiMax's mobile lunch.
I'll take Speakeasy to task for using WiMax generically. The press release says, WiMax is an industry standard for wireless communications. Not yet, it isn't: maybe next year. In the meantime, Malik notes that Chatterley told him that the gear is pre-WiMax, which probably makes it Alvarion or Proxim's pre-WiMax system. [link via GigaOm]
Many governmental and military agencies and offices, as well as contractors, have easily detectable Wi-Fi networks: Reporters from Federal Computer Week wardrove and found networks everywhere, often run in contravention to official policy or without safeguards that are mandatory. Unfortunately, the article suffers from a giant gaping hole: the authors never mention it, but to avoid prosecution, they appear to have only passively sniffed data and not examined the contents of packets. So we don't know whether these access points are really as secure as the various parties they contacted told them they were: behind firewalls, encrypted, authentication--what have you.
In fact, the conclusion at the end of the article that T-Mobile's network is more secure because it uses 802.1X is somewhat misleading and inaccurate. T-Mobile has both open, gateway-based authentication and 802.1X on the same network; they haven't switched over. And 802.1X provides a mechanism to serve out an encryption key to wireless clients that only secures the link from client to access point, not out to the Internet or a remote office. If a government contractor is using a totally open, accessible network that has a firewall and requires a VPN tunnel to pass through, then it's much more secure as an end-to-end session than T-Mobile's network.
Further, 802.1X isn't better than WEP. 802.1X is an authentication method; WEP is an encryption method. 802.1X can employ WEP or WPA; T-Mobile is using WPA, so in that sense alone is it better than WEP. Whether they use WEP or WPA, 802.1X only allows them to serve wireless clients with an encryption key for the wireless link.
It's clear that government like private industry must take measures on their wired network to prevent the easy addition of Wi-Fi access points. Really, 802.1X could be used just as effectively on a wired port as on a wireless one: by requiring 802.1X, no unauthenticated clientless device would work on an Ethernet network.
I'm in Dublin for a couple of weeks and seem to have stumbled into a town that has only barely embraced Wi-Fi: I've talked to a couple of locals about the market for Wi-Fi so have anecdotally confirmed that I'm not just a confused foreigner who can't seem to find the hotspots.
While my hotel, the Westin, has hotspot coverage from Swisscom and operators such as BT Openzone and O2 also offer for-pay hotspots, they are few and far between and the instance of free hotspots is quite rare. I paid the exorbitant €25 for a day pass in my room with plans to look online for free spots in town. I found a very short list--ten total. I started writing this offline from a cafe in a popular shopping center just across from St. Stephen's Green, a park in the center of town. I found the cafe listed online as a free hotspot and I can see the signal but can't connect to it. There's not another person with a laptop in the large cafe. Another cafe across the road I believe was free once, but now is a for-fee site operated by BT Openzone. My hotel is just across the street from Trinity College, which surprisingly also doesn't seem to have much--if any--Wi-Fi coverage.
I've moved on to one operating free hotspot that I found and while I'm grateful for the service, it's not exactly ideal. It's in the Chester Beatty Library, in Dublin Castle. The term library isn't exactly what you might think--it's actually a museum with a cafe near the entrance. It's a small cafe though and every seat is taken so I sit, along with two other computer users, on benches in the hallway. Still, I'm appreciative for the access. Administrators here use NoCatAuth and ask users to sign in and offer a bit of information about themselves. The sign in page also says that the service is "currently free" and asks for a donation. I'll be sure to drop some coins in the donation box.
The locals I spoke to about Wi-Fi in Dublin noted that it's unusual for a European city to have such little Wi-Fi coverage but couldn't offer any reason why. I find it especially interesting seeing as two operators, Leap Broadband and Irish Broadband, are building or expanding their broadband wireless networks, based on 802.16, in town. Clearly there are some cutting-edge wireless efforts here, just not when it comes to Wi-Fi. I hope to do some more investigation into why Dubliners don't appear very interested in Wi-Fi.
The Wall Street Journal notes that easier regulation and a lower tax burden might contribute to VoIP as a cellular complement: A new phone from Motorola might be one of the first to hit the U.S. market in which voice calls could travel over home Wi-Fi, hotspot Wi-Fi, and GSM cell networks. Reporter Jesse Drucker writes that the Yankee Group estimates one-third of people's cell calls would be within range of some Wi-Fi service. Offloading minutes via Wi-Fi could be appealing to consumers if the cell companies don't count those as in-plan minutes. It allows carriers to be more "generous," reducing customer churn, and it avoids filling expensive cell spectrum with more calls.
Sprint PCS and Cingular are both pursuing this hybrid option, which a potential FCC decision that would make VoIP calls exempt to local regulation and taxation could aid. The cell companies can more easily add a service that has a single national taxation and legal structure. SBC is again the catbird seat with a large footprint of Wi-Fi hotspots of their own and available for resale that could be used.
I predict that the $1.99 per month unlimited FreedomLink Wi-Fi that SBC is offering to its DSL customers (with six months free with a year commitment) finds its way by spring into Cingular customers' mailboxes for a slight premium: I wager $10.00 per month, partly to counter T-Mobile's excellent footprint and $20 per month unlimited Wi-Fi for its cellular customers.
Firetide introduces 5GHz mesh routers for indoor and outdoor use: The HotPoint 1500S (indoor) and HotPoint 1500R (outdoor) use the less-congested 5 GHz band for meshing together a network. Of course, the illustrations of use avoid the hidden-node problem: each node can see all of its adjacent nodes that communicate with another mesh point. In the real world, that's not always the case, and it's a scenario that might dog mesh networks for some time to come. [link via Tom's Networking]
The Bluetooth SIG responds to its near-term extinction by tripling speeds and lengthening security codes: Bluetooth's blazing fast 1 Mbps maximum speed will be tripled in a new version to 3 Mbps. Send up the fireworks. Enhanced Data Rate will be certified next year, but a few products offer it now.
Security will also be improved, but it's hard to see how this will help Bluetooth any: the current four-digit codes will be lengthened to make it harder to sniff a Bluetooth pairing and crack it offline. Since Bluetooth is already irritating to handshake--why not use a simplified public-key infrastructure to handle keys for users since on group owns the spec?--a longer sequence means more likelihood of failure. You see where Wi-Fi went: either a credentials-based login with a username and password (802.1X) or passphrase--not arbitrary PIN sequences--for WPA.
Bluetooth is reeling from the ratification and/or industry-group cohesion and near-term deployment of several technologies that challenge its basis: low-power, cost, and "simplicity." Bluetooth was supposed to be easier than Wi-Fi, if you can remember when that was the case.
Zigbee is designed for extremely low-power, short-range use as a way to communicate configuration information among primarily home electronics. WIth a standard configuration schema, you could actually have a universal remote control. Zigbee devices are a trade group version of IEEE 802.15.4.
Ultrawideband (UWB) has the potential for several hundred megabytes per second over very short distances, and a reasonable speed at as much as 30 meters, and the power use and cost should make it competitive when it really starts rolling in 2006. UWB's first incarnation will be either as a version of 802.15.3a, a high-speed personal area network standard, or in the splinter groups that represent a majority of the industry--the Multi-Band OFDM Alliance, the Wireless USB Promoters Group, and others.
Finally, even 802.11b in its single-chip, low-power version available from several firms, may give Bluetooth a run for its money. If cell phones and other devices wind up embedding 802.11b or its faster 802.11g relative, then why bother with Bluetooth at all? For extremely low battery use devices, like earpieces, I can see the problem with Wi-Fi. But for most other categories, they're going to have to learn to live with low-power Wi-Fi to be useful in the coming months and years.
Linksys introduces its Vonage-enabled 802.11g router, the WRT54GP2: The very wise Tim Higgins at Tom's Networking points out that AT&T CallVantage has already been offering this model; this deal essentially preconfigures the unit and shrinkwraps it with Vonage's settings and service. The core device is the bestselling WRT54G router. The VoIP features add two separate phone jacks. Vonage supports up to two lines per adapter, with the second being a fax line. Best Buy offers this Linksys/Vonage Wi-Fi gateway for $130. There's a $50 rebate from Vonage available after three months' service. [link via Tom's Networking]
We warned you: short WPA passphrases could be cracked--and now the software exists: The folks who wrote tinyPEAP, a firmware replacement for two Linksys router models that has on-board RADIUS authentication using 802.1X plus PEAP, released a WPA cracking tool.
As Robert Moskowitz noted on this site a year ago, a weakness in shorter and dictionary-word-based passphrases used with Wi-Fi Protected Access render those passphrases capable of being cracked. The WPA Cracker tool is somewhat primitive, requiring that you enter the appropriate data retrieved via a packet sniffer like Ethereal. Once entered, it runs the cracking algorithms.
Remember that to crack WEP, an attacker has to gather many packets, possibly millions, but can then easily crack any key. For WPA, certain shorter or dictionary-based keys are highly crackable because an attacker can monitor a short transaction or force that transaction to occur and then perform the crack far away from the physical site.
The solution to this WPA weakness involves one of three approaches:
Choose a better passphrase: Pick passphrases that aren't entirely comprised of dictionary words, meaning they need some random nonsense in them. "My dog has fleas": very bad. "Mdasf;lkjadfklja;dfja;dfja;d": very good, but hard to type in. Passphrases should be at least 20 characters.
Use randomness to choose a passphrase: A random passphrase of at least 96 bits and preferably 128 bits will defeat the cracking that Moskowitz wrote about, according to his paper. Tools like SecureEZSetup from Broadcom and AOSS (AirStation One-touch Setup System) from Buffalo are two automated ways to produce better passwords of this variety.
Use WPA Enterprise or 802.1X + WPA: Deploy enterprise-based authentication which will allow a strong WPA key to be uniquely assigned to each user. This isn't as expensive as it once was. The TinyPEAP folks are pushing their method, but you can also turn to Interlink Networks's LucidLink product (for on-site control), Gateway Computer's 7000 series of access points with on-board PEAP service, and Wireless Security Corporation's WSC Guard, available from them directly or for certain Linksys models via Linksys.
Update: Alert Slashdot readers noted that KisMAC has had a WPA cracking tool built in for several months. KisMAC is a Macintosh-only version of Kismet, a tool for monitoring and cracking wireless networks (for good and evil). Kismet itself lacks this feature. The Mac-only nature of KisMAC has most likely limited the spread of this knowledge.
Two NetworkWorldFusion writers pointed out last month KisMAC's ability in a great overview of WPA's weakness and the justification for adopting 802.1X plus WPA.
The flip side of good is bad: Hotel Chatter lists its five worst hotel chains for Wi-Fi and Internet access: The good list is simpler--free, widely available, no fuss. The bad list is a variety of complaints: high prices, proxy servers with undisclosed bandwidth usage caps, and the general complaint that lobby Wi-Fi costs extra--sometimes for guests who paid for Internet access already. [link via Gizmodo]
It's a nice, concise list from a site dedicated to talking about hotel customer satisfaction--according to customers: The list is very reasonable, and while Wi-Fi isn't available in all rooms at all of the five chains they suggest--Kimpton, Omni, Marriott Residence Inn, Best Western, Holiday Inn/Holiday Inn Express--it's available in all the lobbies. Internet access is free in all the rooms in these particular chains.
In researching hotel Wi-Fi recently, I have one giant pulsating piece of advice to hotel operators: put a page on your Web site for each hotel that describes, in detail, all of the Internet connectivity options at your hotel, including lobbies, restaurants, and rooms, and including the cost. Show me pictures of your lobby. Tell me your day rate. If guests visit me, can they use Wi-Fi in the lobby, too, and at what cost? Do some rooms have Wi-Fi and some Ethernet? Can I request a Wi-Fi room, as some resorts (such as one in San Diego) offer?
And don't hide the cost. Hotels that tell me what the gym costs, what other amenities cost, pretend that "Internet access available" is going to sucker me in. Nope. I call the front desk, and with some dithering, eventually get a price. One hotel tried to convince me that the cost was $10 per 12-hour period--that was the reservation line. When I finally got to the front desk, it was much simpler: $10 per 24 hours. [link via BoingBoing]
During his remarks at a conference, Cisco's CTO Charles Giancarlo said his company isn't interested in WiMax: He said that the case for WiMax is "challenging" right now. While WiMax has certainly been overhyped, Giancarlo's reasoning for WiMax's impending doom are a bit off the mark. He notes that 3G networks will be deployed by the time WiMax is available so he wonders why anyone would build two parallel wireless broadband networks. The answer is, they wouldn't and few people suggest they would. The cellular operators that are working on 3G networks have expressed very little interested in WiMax. Instead, ISPs or wireline telecom providers have expressed interested in WiMax. They could build networks that might in some regards compete with 3G networks or extend their existing coverage areas. Because the licenses to build 3G networks are already scooped up, WiMax could allow other operators to enter the field.
Giancarlo also reminded his audience of the failures of MMDS and LMDS efforts historically, suggesting that the poor economics that caused those failures would also affect WiMax. That may be so, but it's only fair to give WiMax some credit for attempting to improve the economics by creating a standard. The LMDS and MMDS markets didn't have standard equipment which almost always drives up cost.
This isn't to say that Giancarlo may not be right about WiMax struggling because the movement has its share of problems. It's just that he sees failure for WiMax due to issues that are really non-issues. [Link via TechDirt]
Telabria plans to launch a network in South East England by mid-2005: The operator is using an interesting combination of technologies. Telabria will use 802.16-based gear to extend the network throughout the area. But because initial 802.16-based end user equipment is still expensive, Telebria will use a mesh 802.11-based network from SkyPilot Network to reach the end user. It's an interesting way to work around high-cost customer premise equipment.
Update: A reader pointed out that I wasn't quite accurate in describing the SkyPilot system. After digging around SkyPilot's Web site, I confirmed the reader's comments--while SkyPilot uses 802.11 chipsets, its network isn't compatible with standard 802.11 gear. That means that end users can't use off-the-shelf PC cards or other standard user equipment to access the network. Customers must use SkyPilot antennas to receive the signal. As such, it's not clear how much cheaper the end user equipment is than 802.16 gear.
In a second update to this post, we have some additional information about the SkyPilot CPE. Jim Baker, Telabria's CEO, wrote to tell us that SkyPilot's CPEs retail for $349. He expects 802.16 CPEs to cost three times a much. Baker says that it's not totally relevant how much the SkyPilot CPE costs because Telabria gives them to customers. However, the cost of the CPE is totally relevant to the operator. Somebody has to pay for the CPE and historically the operator has heavily subsidized them because they're too expensive to ask customers to buy. High-cost CPEs have been blamed in part for the historical failure of MMDS where the economics never worked out for the operators.
Also note that Baker has clarified that Redline will supply the 802.16 backhaul equipment as well as enterprise CPEs.
The operator plans to target both residential users and businesses. It will also use the 802.16 network to backhaul hotspots that it is building in the area.
In other WiMax news, the WiMax Forum said it now has over 170 members including Lucent and LG Electronics. AOL and Deutsche Telecom also recently joined.
You see him here, you see him there, you see him Wi-Fi everywhere: Nigel Ballard is Portland's Wi-Fi king: Nigel doesn't offer service himself, but he's behind or beside--with many other volunteers--the most public and popular free Wi-Fi installations in Portland, Oregon. He's also a commercial Wi-Fi guy at his day job, in which capacity he installs service at resorts, golf courses, marinas, and, yes, hotels and motels. Captive venues, let's say.
Nigel wrote this linked analysis at the always interesting MuniWireless.com. He notes that truly captive hotspots can charge $10 a day (or more, I've found). They have their audience where they want them, and unless they're non-exclusive--like having a choice of similarly priced hotels--they don't have competition for those spaces. (Well, not yet anyway: as 3G spreads, people may opt to spend $20 to $80 per month for unlimited 100 to 400 Kbps service instead of $10 per day for captive higher-speed access. Depends on the applications.)
For more competitive locations, like coffeeshops, Nigel argues it's a race to the bottom to charge nothing for service. And he has numbers and years of service to prove his contention. Personal Telco Project (PTP) gets a venue set up for about $60: they buy a router and use a donated PC that Personal Telco has rehabilitated. The folks at PTP recommend business DSL, about $45 a month, which gets around the shared-access issue.
Nigel also makes a good case for why T-Mobile's plan of unwiring Starbucks makes sense: ubiquity and consistency. This is a message I've put out for years, too. If you need high-speed--there's a T-1 in each location--and you want an almost certain chance the service will work and be available in many places wherever you travel, T-Mobile is the service for you.
But Nigel addresses the PTP "customer": ...you just want a good cup of joe, a comfy chair and free access to a Wi-Fi node, then the community model may well serve you and your wallet better.
From the financial angle of the venue, Nigel points to World Cup Coffee's experience in trying to charge for Wi-Fi with Toshiba SurfHere's service. They lost customers to PTP nodes nearby. Turning off SurfHere had results he doesn't report--they're obviously happier--but they only had a handful of customers pay for service off months of having it on a fee basis.
Wading into more challenging waters, Nigel points to SBC's $1.99 per month unlimited FreedomLink Wi-Fi hotspot service that SBC introduced recently to SBC DSL customers. I believe he's incorrect about the billing and customer service costs: this is incremental to the existing overhead of servicing DSL customers, which already pays the associated expense for those factors. $1.99 is just more revenue.
Nigel wonders where this rate leaves Wayport, T-Mobile, and Boingo. In pretty good condition, I'd wager. Wayport has already turned their ship, moving from per-session fees to per-month-per-location fees. If an aggregator wants to roam onto McDonald's or, soon, Hertz locations operated by Wayport, that aggregators pays a fixed amount per month for access to those locations. They don't have to recover a per-usage fee, which means that they're free to offer it, as SBC is, to millions of customers without increasing their cost basis.
Wayport will eventually try to shift all of its contracted hotspots to the Wi-Fi World model, they said months ago, and they'll have the SBC usage data to show hotels and airports why it makes sense. Airports might be hard to convince because they're truly captive outside of cellular. (And they make money by charging cell operators to have good reception in the airport terminals.)
T-Mobile still has the factor of ubiquity now coupled with a greater international presence. Wi-Fi is not racing to free outside the U.S., and that's part of T-Mobile's worldwide advantage. Because T-Mobile just added 802.1X authentication, that gives them an additional leg up: T-1, business-grade security, high reliability, and per-user unique encryption over the local link. It's an IT person's dream, and at $20 per month unlimited use or per-session resale through iPass, it's not a sufficiently high bar to cross for road warriors and their companies' expense-approving managers.
Boingo Wireless is only nominally a customer-facing service, and until free is really ubiquitous, Boingo's client software is the best thing out there. At some point, SBC's portfolio of hotspots might be better than Boingo's, but Boingo might also be reselling SBC and Wayport Wi-Fi World locations when that point would be reached. At $22 per month for unlimited usage worldwide (for virtually all locations), Boingo is probably the best bet for an international traveler visiting countries that they serve. Boingo feeds out Wayport, which gives you inclusive access at many hotels and airports, too. Again, not a hard decision. In any case, Boingo has a large business building private-label and back-end software, so it's unclear if long-term their strategy is offer a retail price and retail brand.
I agree entirely with Nigel that free is making huge inroads, and most spectacularly in the hotel industry which I would find surprising if, outside of certain independent or boutique properties, breaks Internet service out as a separate fee within a year or two. Some hotels will definitely continue to try to charge, but as the majority of them offer free Internet and free Wi-Fi, the number crunchers will find that unless they try to compete solely on room rate, they can't make it work.
Wayport's Dan Lowden told me Monday that certain Wayport hotel properties now see 25 percent of guests using Internet service in a given night. Wayport operates both fee and free properties, including the Wyndham chain which offers free Internet to members of their no-cost guest club. Even if the highest usage is at Wyndham, it still shows that the Internet is a service that's being used at hotels, and thus the race to free is certainly going to continue there.
The Register is reporting remarks from a Taiwan talk by an Intel marketing head on the return of Wi-Fi into future chipsets: Intel was supposed to deliver integrated Wi-Fi and access point technology in its latest Pentium chipsets, but failed to in part because of delivery schedules and manufacturers' disinterest in the Wi-Fi component. The Register says that Sunil Kumar revealed the next Pentium 4 revisions called Lakeport and Glenwood would ship in the second half of 2005; the roadmap for these chips includes a Wi-Fi module. Whether access point functionality will be included is unknown, but reporter Tony Smith notes that these particular P4 models are aimed at a digital home marketplace.
PC World reviews NEC's LT265 with 802.11g connectivity: The reviewer says it's not a bad projector, but the complexity of setting up a wireless connection are frustrating. Still, once the details are worked out, the LT265 provided good remote projection and control for $2,500 device. The projector can control a PC, and a laptop can project to multiple projectors.
The reviewer notes that NEC recommends its own, very expensive 802.11g card to use with a connected laptop, and doesn't offer tech support for other 802.11g products. The device can only support 802.11b connections through an ad hoc hookup; an 802.11g router is required for that level of performance from a remote laptop.
Wayport adds Hertz rental car counters to Wi-Fi World; navigation systems will show Wayport locations: On Tuesday, Wayport will announce a deal with the Hertz Corporation that allows Wayport to operate service at more than 50 Hertz rental car counters and waiting areas at airports in the U.S. The Hertz locations will be part of Wayport's Wi-Fi World, a set of retail and customer-facing chain locations that are resold to service aggregators at a fixed monthly cost instead of a per-session rate. SBC is an early customer for Wi-Fi World, and will have the opportunity to add Hertz locations to their current pool of Wayport hotspots.
Wayport picked Hertz as a partners as much as vice-versa. Dan Lowden, Wayport's vice president of marketing, "We've been talking to a lot of different brands, and we've selected key brands in each category that we're going after." Hertz is the leading brand for airport rental cars, especially in light of their premium business members. Wi-Fi service will be available both in parking lots and waiting areas, allowing a traveler to access the service before getting out of the car on return or leaving the lot.
Lowden said that Wayport will manage the Hertz locations, providing a co-branded login screen through which Hertz customers can pay for sessions or subscribe. As the Wi-Fi World reselling efforts expand, Hertz locations could be part of a subscription for SBC or other providers, too. Wayport sells its own in-house unlimited service offering for $29.95 for a one-year commitment for all of its directly served locations, and $49.95 for month to month. This offering is more a convenience than a competitive one; they expect their partners to drive usage. Hertz will not become a Wi-Fi provider in this deal; they're looking at making their customer experience more appealing, not acquiring a new line of business.
The other part of the Hertz deal is the integration of Wayport's hotspot locations into Hertz's onboard navigation system, Neverlost. (Note to brand managers: never, ever choose a name that can be mocked with the addition or omission of a single letter.) Lowden said, "You'll be able to search for Wayport and it will actually give you driving directions and help you navigate directly to the nearest Wayport location." That might be a McDonald's or a hotel.
Proxim's latest point-to-multipoint hardware, the Tsunami MP.11 Model 5054-R is an interim stage on the road to full WiMax compliance: As Alvarion said back in June, so, too, Proxim is riding the WiMax name wave while providing a product platform they say is committed to future compliance when a standard for certification is finalized.
Proxim has taken the additional twist of defining WiMax applications as opposed to WiMax hardware. That is, they look to public safety and last-mile broadband wireless to the home as types of services that WiMax will enable.
What's not said in this article nor in Proxim's press releases is the cost and availability of upgrades to full WiMax compatibility. We had to push with Alvarion to get them to state clearly that each contract with each purchasers of an Alvarion system had specific language and commitments as to the WiMax upgrade. It's not a "free" part of buying pre-WiMax, but a negotiation issue. With Proxim, none of the materials mention costs or negotiation, and it's possible that they're much more bullish than Alvarion that the WiMax certification will only require software and firmware, but not hardware upgrades.
The Tsunami MP.11 was used in the Washington State Ferry system on-board/waiting area test that I wrote about for The New York Times back in July.
Hidden in press release is a bullet point mentioning that this equipment supports mobile receivers and 125 mile per hour handoffs! Now that's a technology you can build alongside railroads and highways. The system uses the 5 GHz band with 20 possible non-overlapping channels.
Proxim also announced several point-to-point bridges designed to extend range while maintaining low latency and high throughput.
Buffalo has packed a VPN into an 802.11g gateway to allow remote access: GoToMyPC.com and other services have shown that individuals and small businesses need remote access to their desktop computers while away from their home or office. The Buffalo Airstation Wiireless Secure Remote Gateway--known more concisely as the WZR-RS-G54--has a PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) VPN server built in to allow remote connections back to the wired and wireless LAN connected to the gateway.
In an interview, Buffalo's vice president of product marketing and public lreations Morikazu Sano noted a fact I didn't find in the press release: multiple remote users can essentially relay via the gateway to exchange files in a secure fashion. The gateway is the gating item for bandwidth, of course, but both remote users can use it as an endpoint instead of using email or other tools. A service menu in the remote software will let you find which other users are connected.
The device will support dynamic DNS, since many home networks have ever-changing dynamic addresses. It also has the very nice Wi-Fi feature that lets you separate out users on the WLAN: each Wi-Fi user has a separate tunnel to the Internet connection, meaning that users don't see promiscuous traffic on their link. (This doesn't disable sniffing, but it does mean that with WPA-PSK enabled, users can't see each other's traffic.) Included software supports Wake-on-LAN allowing a remote user to wake up their slumbering desktop machine.
The device will cost about $200 and ships this month. Buffalo likes to contrast that price point with the $20 per month cost of GoToMyPC.com.
It's a trend: several people have built usable Wi-Fi hotspots that use a variety of techniques for backhaul to bring access to performance venues, outdoor events, and disaster sites (reg. req.; get generic user/pwd): The latest wrinkle is a musician and tech entrepreneur who uses an old TV transmission van to connect to his wireless broadband receivers around town. He has transceivers on top of skyscrapers used to bring point-to-point wireless to his Implex.net customers, but coincidentally offering him backhaul for art and music projects.
The article also talks about bikes, mopeds, and golf carts equipped as hotspots. With the addition of a system like that from Junxion, any vehicle with a cigarette lighter within cell data range can become a mobile hotspot, too. And then there's the planes, boats, trains, and buses coming down the pipe.
Escape Wi-Fi? Never! Not even if you want to.
Excilan lets the 95 percent of users who can't pay for service get a taste for free: Excilan works with hotspot operators and cell carriers to connect a phone number to a payment session. If both your carrier and the hotspot you're at have an agreement, you see a gateway page on your laptop or PDA at the thousands of hotspots in Excilan's aggregated market, you enter your telephone number, and you receive an automated call that tells you about pricing choices. Select a pricing option, and your Wi-Fi session is authenticated and you're billed.
But Sean O'Mahoney, Excilan CEO and former CEO of Canadian hotspot operator FatPort, says that their wireless ISP partners are missing 95 percent of the audience trying to use the service. That's frustrating for all concerned. In the most recent quarter, Excilan served 3,179 sessions, O'Mahoney said via email, but could have served 63,580 if deals had been in place with every user's carrier.
To reduce frustration, Excilan has implemented a very interesting market-data gathering campaign. Now, if you cell number isn't in an associated carrier, Excilan authorizes a 15-minute session for free, paying the hotspot operator for this service. After 15 minutes, you're knocked off, and can get another 15 minutes for free. After that, you're presented with the login screen to purchase time or sessions from the hotspot operator directly.
That's clever enough, right? Excilan is gathering mobile numbers of customers who want to use this service, and this can give them leverage with carriers. But O'Mahoney says they're going one step further. You can associated your mobile number in Excilan's roaming system with your credit card, and, on your next visit to an Excilan-served location, charge directly to your card.
Excilan is trying to tap into the massive cell phone audience, and this new wrinkle should provide them both with some additional short-term revenue for those who opt to continue to charge through the phone-to-credit-card link, but a fairly massive number of more satisfied customers that they can take to cell phone partners to create the billing relationships needed for direct account charging.