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...but that name has already been taken: Hugo Gernsback, father of science fiction, is also the father of amateur radio. I discovered while researching early newspaper stories on wireless communications that Gernsback published an early magazine on the topic, "Modern Electrics," imported European electronics gear for amateur radio builders, and organized the Wireless Association of America in 1909 that had 10,000 members within a year. Gernsback estimated that 400,000 amateur radio aficionados were at work in 1912.
Does this all sound a bit familiar? Working with cheaply available equipment, clambering on roofs, and working inside the law while not being subject to regulation, these amateurs--largely boys and young men--spent countless hours messing with technology to extend transmissions. It was some kind of combination of instant messaging, phone phreaking, and Wi-Fi with a distinctly modern flavor to it.
The popularity of wireless led to regulation, of course, as unregulated high-powered output caused enough interference to challenge "legitimate" uses. There are some hilarious stories from these days, including a cover story in the New York Times about a miracle "wireless boy" who could send messages around the world without them being detected--was he using a virtual private network?--and people using so much power to broadcast trivia to each other, such as, "I'm stepping out to tea," that folks in Australia were picking it up from England.
Ultimately, the regulatory power of the government pushed amateur use into specific bands and powers and gave primacy to commercial and governmental licensed use. (Amateur users are licensed primary or secondary users of the bands they live in giving them some fairly strong rights, however.)
It's nice to see that the man that popularized the notion of other worlds, space travel, and science that seemed like magic at the time also helped lead efforts that democratized access to public airwaves. I'm surprised hams don't call themselves hugos, but perhaps Wi-Fi community groups could organize a Huge Urban Galvanizing Organization Seminar in his honor?
Chinese peeved, walked out over procedural move in ISO over WAPI: The Wireless Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) proprietary standard that the Chinese government originally intended as a mandatory element for all domestically sold Wi-Fi gear was made optional and moved into the ISO standards organization to be approved as an international protocol. It was fast-tracked for approval initially, but then through a procedural move placed into a slower track. 802.11i remains fast tracked and may be approved as an optional security standard by April.
I learned recently that the Chinese object to 802.11i because it includes a 128-bit key length version of AES which they believe the NSA has the ability to decipher. The corresponding problem with WAPI is that it is a proprietary protocol controlled by the government which leads one to believe that it has either a back-door or a weak known flaw in it that would allow interception.
The WWiSE proposal has brought Motorola on board and adopted parts of their proposal: Task Group N in the IEEE 802.11 Working Group voted a few weeks ago to continue forward on just WWiSE (Broadcom and many others) and TGn Sync (Atheros and many others). Qualcomm signed on to TGn Sync when their proposal didn't make the cut, and the Motorola notion was also voted down. WWiSE's press release says elements of Motorola's plan will improve WWiSE's robustness and range.
This is a key jockeying move because the next meeting could achieve a majority vote on a single proposal which would then move through drafts to final ratification probably in late 2006. A simple majority selects a winning proposal, but changes in drafts must be approved by a 75-percent super majority. Both TGn Sync and WWiSE are willing to compromise, but both want their drafts to be the starting point. WWiSE says they have a more minimal approach on top of which more options can be added without being mandatory parts of the specification; TGn Sync says their more thorough approach gives the standard more legs and more competitive power.
Press event on using municipal networks to bridge the digital divide includes letter signed by 60 parties: The New America Foundation hosted this event yesterday to highlight successes in municipal networks and to re-focus the debate on serving a larger community. The site's archive page includes the presentations given at the event. They expect to post audio later.
The event included the presentation of a letter signed by 60 organizations in favor of municipally run or licensed broadband. A VP at New America pointed out that "Speed is not as important as ubiquity." Many of the critics of municipal networks point out that they can't achieve the speeds of wired networks. And that's true; it's part of the selling point. The growth of universal availability of Internet access at low broadband speeds--say 128 to 256 Kbps up and 512 to 768 Kbps down--gives people a taste of the service. They may then upgrade to the increasingly higher speeds offered by incumbent wireline and cable providers. They're building a market.
Now it's key to note here that this press conference includes parties with an interest in promoting their networks or ideologies. These folks believe that municipal networks are a panacea for many ills. But unlike the hullaballoo a few weeks ago, none of these folks are sock puppets: we know their affiliation, funding, and motivations. Now we can have an open debate on the merits.
David Deans writes about how the Texas anti-municipal networking bill could damage the state: Deans makes a classic argument that proceeds from the assumption that networks run by municipalities are co-equal to existing utilities: we don't quibble about government building roads or ensuring that everyone has potable water and reliable electricity.
He also maintains Internet access should be viewed as a fundamental benefit to a town or city in its ability to compete on a national and international level.
RoamAD tested VoIP at 130 kph in Arizona: RoamAD worked with Wi-VOD in Arizona using a Homeland Security grant to test whether multi-party VoIP calls could work at speeds up to 130 km/hour (about 80 mph): I'll save you the suspense. They did work just fine. The test bed is an 8-km stretch that placed RoamAD nodes less than 2 km apart. They'll build out 54 km (32 miles) by May.
This time, it's Verizon Wireless, a subsidiary of the phone giant, which says that Wi-Fi doesn't work over areas: The Austin Business Journal reports on Verizon Wireless's interesting timing in upgrading service in the Texas Capitol. It's interesting that they choose this moment for a massive improvement in voice and data service--including EVDO upgrades--when the legislature has a pro-incumbent, anti-municipal, anti-public/private partnership bill in front of it.
The article doesn't mention who paid for this upgrade; it sounds like Verizon Wireless did as part of their routine infrastructure improvements. But still--please. There are no coincidences in coordinated lobbying efforts.
A spokesperson for Verizon explains that the new "broadband" service will be everywhere.
"It's different than Wi-Fi. With Wi-Fi, you're limited to one spot. Broadband access allows you access anywhere the service is offered, which in this case, is throughout the entire building."
Uh, yeah, maybe you need to read an article or two about how SBC and Cingular are going to eat your lunch in the data game through integration of VoIP, DSL, 3G, and Wi-Fi? Or possibly visit La Defense in Paris where they have Wi-Fi, strangely, throughout the entire massive building. Or possibly you could visit Qualcomm's headquarters in which they freely admit that Wi-Fi available...throughout their entire campus.
How exciting to have "broadband" of a few hundred kilobits per second everywhere, shared among thousands of people. How interesting to note that you have to add special equipment in order to provide full-speed interior coverage with EVDO.
If this is Verizon Wireless's Wi-Fi plan, dissing it through inaccurate statements that misrepresent it, SBC and Cingular are going to mop the floor with them on the data side. They've just admitted that EVDO doesn't work well in interior spaces, haven't they?
We already knew that, but now they're stating that they have no idea how Wi-Fi deployments work, either. Worse, they even point out EVDO's big disadvantage: "users must be Verizon Wireless customers to access the service." That's right: instead of a network that the state of Texas owns and operates and provides "free" access to at megabits per second for its staff and legislators, each user must have a laptop and a PC card (hundreds of dollars) and a subscription.
Is anyone going to complain that taxpayer money is going to Verizon instead of an internal information technology department in the state that could offer higher bandwidth at enormously lower cost and deliver voice over IP (oops, competes with Verizon) as well as streaming video and audio? There's some free public Wi-Fi available (courtesy Austin Wireless City Project), but it's only in select rooms.
I'll stop being irate now.
Phil Baker relates using Skype on a Pocket PC in Japan, Shanghai: The San Diego tech columnist thought that the mobility of a Wi-Fi-enabled HP Pocket PC running Windows Mobile 2003 with a Skype client would unshackle him from expensive calls or a hard-to-find Japanese rental cell phone. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi abounded in Japan but not much he could use. The Skype solution worked better in his hotel room with a wired Ethernet connection bridged with a travel device. Still, he sees the potential, and it's just in its infancy.
Phil mentions that he'll be flying soon on a plane equipped with Connexion by Boeing. A colleague the other day tried to call me via Skype from a Singapore-departing flight, but I wasn't set up to receive the call. If you're in the air, email me and we'll Skype. (I'm working on an article about this: can you tell?)
Update: Edward Vielmetti has already documented an excellent quality call from a colleague of his who was flying SAS. Unfortunately for the colleague's nearby seatmates, he was talking into his Macintosh laptop's microphone.
Ron Sege, CEO of Tropos Networks, makes available a letter to Texas and a fact sheet on muni wireless: Tropos's vested interest, which they wear on the sleeve as a proud firm engaged in capitalism, is that they sell equipment to municipalities. Now, a company that makes a profit and employs people should be the kind of firm that the ideologically minded folks behind the concerted, paid opposition to municipal broadband should extol. Go, Tropos, go, you should be hearing them cry.
But Sege states in his letter to a Texas representative, Phil King, Chairman of the Committee on Regulated Industries, that the Texas anti-muni bill will hurt his business by removing competition, restricting broadband and other services to monopolies and duopolies. In the associated fact sheet full of rich detail with verifiable financial, crime, and staffing statistics, Sege points out that incumbents are beneficiaries of municipalities, too: rights of way, franchise agreements, and access to utility resources.
Sege isn't pretending to not be an involved party. And he's presenting his assumptions which can be checked against reality. This is first-hand research from his staff and customers; it's not newspaper articles and third-hand accounts presented as primary evidence.
I appreciate that Sege takes the time to address the misleading information that's being disseminated, such as the notion that all municipal networks are being funded from taxpayer dollars (I can't find any that are using general funds), that they will all be free, or that they don't serve economic goals.
There's this very weird disconnect in the logic of anti-muni advocates: they say that, on the one hand, broadband is a difficult and unprofitable business to be in and that it doesn't foster economic growth. But, on the other hand, they're fighting for the right for incumbents to continue to expand and control an unprofitable business that doesn't help anyone. Can anyone sort through this logic for me?
Add to the mix of remote RADIUS servers for small-office WPA Enterprise: The folks at BoxedWireless are offering the back-end RADIUS authentication server needed to provide WPA Enterprise. The interesting twist with BoxedWireless is that they offer both EAP-TLS (unique certificate per computer) or PEAP (certificate optional on server) under 802.1X.
The EAP-TLS option is quite fascinating as the company is taking on the burden of running a public-key infrastructure (PKI) for you. It's usually beyond the means of most smaller companies and even large enterprises sometimes don't opt into building a PKI. With a PKI, BoxedWireless can let you use the most secure method of EAP encryption in which the server certificate is first authenticated after which the unique client certificate is delivered to the server for full mutual authentication. You can even issue temporary-duration certificates to particular users for guest or temporary access.
For an office of 10 users, the cost is $24 per month or just over $2 per user. They charge based on a range, such as 1 to 10 users or 51 to 100, so the cost per user varies based on which end of that range you're on. The worst case is still a few dollars per month per user.
BoxedWireless makes it easier to use a variety of platforms with small-office WPA Enterprise because you can use any standard EAP-TLS or PEAP client (with MS-CHAPv2 inner method). But they don't provide the extra in-house failover method offered by Wireless Security Corporation in WSC Guard, the other slightly more expensive outsourced WEP/WPA 802.1X solution. WSC Guard includes software that runs on the local network in case the Internet connection drops, the path to the Internet (i.e., the route between your network and WSC or BoxedWireless) is temporarily lost, or the remote 802.1X authentication server fails.
Update: Peter Judge chimes in on the issue of trust and reliability for services of this kind, especially where public keys, certificates, and encryption are concerned over at Techworld.com. Peter got the additional detail that authenticated users retain their access to the network in the event of an infrastructure failure: this makes sense as new keys are provided only through a rekeying process that requires the client's participation.
The congressman from Massachusetts wonders why rich, white suburban neighborhoods get fiber first: Look, we all know that it's about profit. Let's not pretend otherwise. So it's not strange that Verizon and SBC (in Chicago) are choosing suburbs and neighborhoods that have more money to put in fiber first. They're more likely to buy the service.
But doesn't his lend credence to the idea that incumbents have a motivation to follow the money while municipalities try to offer and extend services to all residents? I don't think Verizon or SBC's actions are redlining: it's nothing personal, as redlining often is.
It's about whether--and make up your own mind here--universal availability is a social good or not, and how that gets funded. Through regulation that forces companies to levy fees to all subscribers to fund universal accessibility at whatever cost, or through community-based or town-based services that may impinge on some private profits at the interests of extending access.
Tim Higgins exhaustively reviews Linksys's rendition of Airgo True MIMO technology: TIm runs the Linksys unit through its paces, and notes that it does deliver as promised on range and throughput. But in his conclusion he states points I agree with: for three times the cost of a regular extended range 802.11g access point, it's only worthwhile if you need additional range or throughput.
Tim wrote: "At least for now, no matter what moniker it goes by--True MIMO, SRX, Pre-N, VLocity, RangeMax--MIMO is just another non-standard performance-enhancement technology. It doesn't solve WLAN problems caused by an already over-crowded 2.4GHz band and has a snowball's chance of being compatible with 802.11n gear that won't appear until sometime next year. But at least Airgo's True MIMO flavor delivers the goods for unequalled throughput over range performance."\
Tim's more optimistic about real 802.11n gear appearing next year. It's possible we won't see future-proofed 802.11n--devices that can be upgraded to the final standard--until 2007.
Jiwire reviews the Hawking Hi-Gain PC Card: Becky Waring finds that the $40 card equals the coverage range of a Belkin Pre-N MIMO PC Card at a third the price through the use of a high-gain antenna.
News.com looks into the death of the Indiana bill that would have made it virtually impossible for municipalities to build out networks of any kind: This article is full of the touching concern that incumbents have been offering for the poor taxpayers in the areas they serve:
"When you look at a time when state and local budgets were severely strained, we think there needs to be a system in place that monitors government entry into what could be high-risk telecom investments on the backs of taxpayers," said Mike Marker, a spokesman for SBC in Indiana.
Lobbyists don't get involved in these issues because they're concerned about taxpayers. SBC is concerned about its bottom line and should simply say that it feels that municipal networks threaten their ability to produce a good return for their shareholders. It's likely a true statement.
The back of the Indiana bill doesn't want municipal competition, but it sounds like his office hasn't surveyed what's available and what's not.
I haven't heard any proposals for legislation yet that would impose less than draconian conditions on municipalities or ban their network build-outs altogether. I would expect to see some compromise legislation that might look at aspects of universal availability: if a city or town has broadband (defined as 1 Mbps down, 256 Kbps up in many cases) available from incumbents to fewer than 50 percent of its residents, then perhaps then with certain constraints on funding (bonds, not tax receipts) a network could be planned that allows multiple service providers to use the infrastructure.
It's all or nothing right now.
Wi-Fi used to aid travelers at La Defense through contextual information: La Defense, outside Paris, has 480,000 people passing through every day across all modes of transportation, so it is an ideal place to try Appear Networks location-aware software that uses Wi-Fi access points to pinpoint where an RATP employee is at.
Sonos' wireless mesh music system is shipping: I just spent a few days with the Sonos system--two ZonePlayer units and a Controller--and wrote the linked review for Personal Tech Pipeline. My take is that the kind of person who might consider spending $499 per node for the best possible digital music system will love this. If $499 per node seems insane to you, you're not the audience.
There's so much care taken with almost every aspect of the system that once I overcame a networking problem--with my network, I should note--it was trivial to set up additional units, configure them, add music libraries, and so forth. It's price beyond my needs and means, but I can highly recommend it to those who want the best possible device currently available.
The ZonePlayer unit uses a wireless mesh system that is not interoperable with Wi-Fi, and, as far as I can tell, doesn't seem to interfere with Wi-Fi, either. You can connect up to 32 ZonePlayers in a network, but when you reach those numbers, the company recommends that several of them are connected to an Ethernet backbone to reduce the load on the mesh.
Colligo offers software for secure, ad hoc workgroups: The software avoids the need for a central server for collaboration over Wi-Fi. Version 4.0, available later in February for $99 per user, secures transactions via IPsec, and offers the kind of group tools for chatting, file exchange, and white-board brainstorming. It can also work as an ad-hoc bridge to connect a group through one user's Internet access.
El Al Israel Airlines will built in Connexion by Boeing into their long-haul fleet: Starting later this year, El Al will add Connexion service to their long-haul fleet, which includes 747-400s and 777s. The build-out will last until 2007.
Let's just cut to the chase: municipal networks must be a viable threat or why the pushback?: Why are incumbent telecommunications firms and cable operators so afraid of municipal networks? They must work or they wouldn't be spending tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and advertising to fight them. You have the touching daily reports of Comcast and Verizon, just to take two examples from today's New York Times, weeping over how the taxpayers' dollars will be wasted, how the municipalities can't possibly understand how hard it is to run networks--news flash: running an electrical utility is tough, too, fellas--and how the whole project will go down in flames.
It fills me with such civic virtue to know that giant telecommunications and cable firms are so full of ruth and kindness that they extend their gaze down to the level of mere towns and cities, their beneficent knowledge of business, ethics, and operational efficiency bestowed upon grateful citizens.
No cable company ever lied about earnings and subscribers. No telephone company ever prevented competitors access to their networks. No executives have ever received enormous compensation that decreased shareholder value and threw the companies into disarray. No operator ever accepted public subsidies and taxes levied on their bills and then didn't built services required for those fees. Never happened.
As I turn to the scions of what is right and just, I ask myself: if municipal networks were really a bad idea, they'd let them fail. Then they'd sweep in with a plan to take over or rebuild the network at pennies on the dollar, charging a hefty price and not guaranteed universal service, and restore their margins with a multi-decade franchise lock-in.
The mere fact that giants of industry feel compelled to hire firms to create arm's length reports, to call in favors from think tanks that typical deal with entirely different issues, to go full frontal on taxpayers' fears of paying more taxes tells you that municipal wireless has been evaluated internally at these firms with expensive reports we'll never see and shown to be efficacious.
Municipalities need to each consider the costs and risks of starting broadband operations with independent analysis of the viability of the network, its integration with other city or local services, and with rigorous testing of pilot projects prior to full rollouts.
But the incumbents are frightened because municipal broadband might work.
Municipal Round-up: Piles of news about municipal networking keeps pouring in; for links to our complete coverage, follow our category pages to municipal and (about the hands that pull the strings) sock puppets.
The fight in Texas, reported yesterday, is heating up over municipal wireless: The bill under consideration in Texas--HB 789--would impose one of the most extreme bans on municipal involvement in any form of communications--free or otherwise--of any state bill I'm aware of. But the fight is joined. The EFF (that's EFF-Austin not the national organization) will help fight the bill, according to Esme Vos of Muniwireless.org. Esme also points to an anti-anti-municipal wireless Web site, Savemuniwireless.org set up by Chip Rosenthal. Esme notes and a commenter on Rosenthal site queries that this bill would ban free library access among other broad statements.
In Indiana, three bills under consideration would have affected municipal wireless: HB1148 would have banned municipalities from engaging in network building by imposing conditions that would have allowed any incumbent to state they were going to build a network within nine months, restrict funding in an unpleasant way, and allow endless appeals for delay and information. That bill is dead. Two other bills (SB0381 in the Senate and HB1793 in the House) would allow the resale of access to Indiana's statewide fiber optic network if there's excess capacity. (It's fiber: there's always excess capacity.) [Thanks to David Dellacca at Indiana University for the bill information and insight.]
The New York Times chimes in on municipal networks: This article has some great direct quotes from the incumbents involved in the municipal debate with very few indirectly funded third parties in the article. The lead says it all, describing the scope and intent of Philly's network more accurately than almost all over press accounts:
"City officials envision a seamless mesh of broadband signals that will enable the police to download mug shots as they race to crime scenes in their patrol cars, allow truck drivers to maintain Internet access to inventories as they roam the city, and perhaps most important, let students and low-income residents get on the net."
The Cato Institute tips it's hand at the fairness and balance of the report they'll be issuing by stating, "The last thing I'd want to see is broadband turned into a lazy public utility." Because, of course, if you survey the field and look at the municipalities all running networks of varying kinds today, they are all lazy. Thanks for that brilliant insight; can't wait for the feature-length movie.
Comcast's executive vice president asks, in the article, "Is it fair that the industry pay tax dollars to the city that are then used to launch a network that would compete with our own?" Once again, subsidies rear their ugly heads: I'd like Comcast to disclose every penny they're received in subsidies or allocated taxes. It's only fair. We already know how much money Verizon got for a fiber-optic network they never built in Pennsylvania.
Here's a great example of how the incumbents have shifted an aspect of the debate: "Philadelphia officials say a recent survey found that nearly 40 percent of residents did not have Internet service. But industry officials say that virtually every neighborhood in the city is wired for broadband and that many people are choosing not to buy it." This is like the Zip code argument cited by the sock puppets in this debate: every neighborhood may have access, but that doesn't mean that every home does.
This doozy from Verizon: " 'Government doesn't do service well,' said Eric Rabe, vice president for public relations for Verizon." Help me, I've fallen down laughing. A telephone company is lecturing public entities on providing service. He then goes on to note that with 3.5 million DSL subscribers, they're still trying to make money at $30 per month. That seems absurd. It's a low price, sure, but they already have the wire into the home. They already have massive data networks wired into central offices. Their real cost is quite low--and they get to keep making money on the voice line that's bundled with the DSL service. Even if they break even on $30 per month, they still make money on the voice wireline which might otherwise be switched to cell.
Comcast argues that the city's estimate of $10 million to set up and $1.5 million a year is too low. But how would Comcast know? They don't run broadband wireless networks for public safety or for wide access. It's more likely that other cities would understand the costs than Comcast.
Philly Councilman recites sock puppet numbers: Frank Rizzo recites the history of what he calls overbudget municipal networks without noting that a) they are all fiber optic networks, b) the numbers and conclusions are drawn from sock-puppet reports by institutes directly or indirectly funded by incumbents competing with municipal networks, and c) the reports of failure are pretty poorly researched and in my limited checks so far don't pan out. (I'll be working more on this subject in the future.)
Rizzo points to the Big Dig as an example of overspending, but it's really hard to compare a massive project that will positively affect the face of Boston for decades (or hundreds of years) to come that was ridiculously over budget with fiber optic networks that involve lots of digging with wireless networks that can be easily deployed and refreshed. It's not apples to apples nor apples to oranges: it's blue whales to field mice.
Rizzo cites tons of technically inaccurate information from reports or other sources. He writes, the network will be "enabling those with expensive laptops to get wireless broadband signals in a radius of 300 feet from a municipal router." That's not the network that's proposed nor are laptops that expensive any more. A $200 desktop with a cheap high-gain antenna will gain access as readily as a $3,000 laptop owner.
He notes, "Further, many engineers estimate that an astounding 60 percent of the equipment requires replacement or upgrading every three to five years." Sure, but the capital outlay costs are about building service; equipment is a fraction of that. This equipment becomes increasingly cheaper and more powerful over time meaning that replacing 60 percent of the equipment in 3 to 5 years could result in a tenfold speed advantage at 20 percent of the original cost.
Rizzo says, "It's highly conceivable that the protocols used for Philadelphia's wireless network today will be outdated tomorrow when new equipment is manufactured to accommodate more robust wireless technologies like WiMax." Mr. Rizzo, I know John Dvorak. John Dvorak is a colleague of mine. Mr Rizzo, you are no John Dvorak. By the time WiMax hits, hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi devices will be in use. 10Base-T Ethernet hasn't gone out of fashion just because Gigabit flavors are readily available.
The councilman doesn't address any of the homeland security and public safety issues that are part of what Philadelphia's mayor's office proposes, nor does he deal with the lack of incumbent build-out. This whole essay is full of specious logic, incorrect technical interpretations, and puppet shows of misleading facts.
Who wrote this for you--and why did they do such a bad job?
(Update: Rizzo claims his stance, at least, was his own, but still doesn't claim the words.)
Colorado is considering SB 05-152 to burden muni telecom, broadband, cable: For the down side of the bill, read the Colorado Municipal League's February 4 Statehouse Report. For the up side, contact Qwest and the Colorado Cable Television Association, which the CML says is backing this bill. The text of the bill explains that municipalities have many flaming hoops to jump through in their pursuit of rolling out any kind of service. These hoops don't constrain other municipal services or private enterprise. They're very specific.
These bills remind me of Kurt Vonnegut's superb short story Harrison Bergeron in which the field of humanity was leveled by the exceptional being hobbled to match the mediocre. Bergeron is so extraordinary that he carries the heaviest weights and most disruptive devices of anyone. But his inner strength is so great that he casts off these shackles and flies--only to be downed by the enforcer of mediocrity. I don't need to give you a key for that roman a clef.
Okay, so it's my fault, but I said puppet too many times: In the world of Google advertising, context is king. There's one fellow who has built a site develop to asbestos litigation because the Google AdWords price on those words is so enormous--because of ambulance chasers or noble consumer advocates (you pick the term)--that he can make a small fortune by focusing on it.
Now, me, I used the term sock puppets. Sock puppets, sock puppets, sock puppets! I was writing in recent weeks about PR firms that set up and fund friendly institutions that describe themselves as independent and then consistently release one-sided reports that have the same viewpoint as the PR firms' client. I call these sock puppets borrowing from terminology common elsewhere, such as on Usenet.
What does Google's automated goldmining algorithm for placing advertisements on my site do? It gives me puppets. Everyone sees a slightly different set of ads at left right and middle of this page--just the Ads by Google, not our image-based banner advertisement--and if you're like me, you are scratching your head about the puppets.
And there I went again. I said puppets. We'll weather this puppet storm and return to our regularly scheduled advertising soon, I imagine. Google deprecates ads that don't perform on given pages based on clickthroughs.
Boingo gets a nice boost up to 35,000 feet as its users and platform partners get single-signin access to Connexion by Boeing: Boingo hasn't released any details on the number of subscribers they have, but they keep adding partners and reselling their platform, so one assumes subscribers are growing. This latest deal allows Boingo users to access Connexion by Boeing with their existing Boingo account logins. No, sorry, it doesn't mean you can have unlimited Connexion usage with a Boingo account, but rather that you can charge Connexion through that login to whatever credit card Boingo has on file for you.
The press release mentions several of Boingo's Platform Services Program partners, which are firms that use Boingo's backend management and frontend client to offer private label Wi-Fi roaming service. This kind of deal should be particularly interesting to partners MCI and Fiberlink.
Pricing hasn't yet been announced, and integration will come later this year.
iPass and Meetinghouse have partnered to improve 802.1X support for mobile enterprise workers: Meetinghouse is one of the two companies focused on 802.1X and integrity checking for networks (Funk is the other), while iPass is the leading enterprise mobile access enabler. The two firms will work together to integrate Meetinghouse's Aegis client into their iPassConnect client. This is interesting because Funk's platform is all Windows on the client side, while Meetinghouse has Mac OS X (10.2), Linux, Unix, Windows, Palm, and Zaurus clients.
The overall goals are to make it much, much easier to provide authentication across a system without imposing a higher burden on the user, the enterprise the user works for, or the hotspot operator. This is possible, but it requires some sign-off from each party to make it simpler, which is always the crux of this kind of change.
802.1X provides the highest level of security for the wireless link on a Wi-Fi network by securing the credentials exchange, offering a unique network encryption key, and providing the option to regular change that key without user involvement beyond the initial login.
I was reading this story about Lompoc, Calif.'s soon-to-emerge wireless network: The town is planning full fiber-to-the-home but deploying a Tropos-based Wi-Fi network to fill the gap and offer some price competition and fuller service areas.
This paragraph piqued my interest:
"Even though no subscription prices were talked about, the magic number the city has repeatedly mentioned is $20 a month, which is less than what telecommunication titans such as Verizon and Comcast charge for high-speed Internet services. That price is also less than what America Online charges for dial-up, which is considerably slower than broadband and DSL."
Of course, the "cost" of dial-up is hard to analyze from any one angle. America Online certainly makes money from its dial-up operations on average, but the costs of the system are very interesting. Because dial-up service requires circuit-switched telephone lines, the more dial-up users, the more a central office of a phone company is filled with in-use circuits.
Many people get a second line for dial-up if they use it often, and while phone companies make money on those lines over the long haul, sometimes bringing the wire out requires a multi-year recovery of costs. With broadband in ascendance, it's likely that many of these additional lines will only be in place for a year or two before they're not used. But the copper stays on the pole and in the ground. (I once had a T-1 line (four wires) and three phone lines to my house. I now have one that, with line sharing, brings in DSL and dial tone; I use VoIP with my DSL provider for a second line.)
At the America Online end of things, their modem pool providers have to maintain a certain overage on the number of circuit-switched lines they maintain in each calling area--although I may be missing the boat and it's possible this is all back-hauled via ATM to centralized pools reducing local point of presence (POP) expense. But they are still maintaining thousands of POPs and millions of modems and phone lines, all of which involved circuit switching.
Fundamentally, subsidizing DSL service through competitive pricing allows the phone company to reduce their circuit-switched burden. Line-sharing has meant that less copper needs to be brought out and maintained. Overall, a dial-up line costs everyone more money than DSL: it's not peculiar that DSL and cable service cost less than unlimited monthly dial-up and a separate phone line.
Cable companies have a different problem, however. They've got this fat wire in your home and they need to fully load it with as many logical services as possible: phone, video, HD, video on demand, channels, broadband, what have you. The more money they can extract from that fat wire the better, meaning that subsidizing broadband service to keep you a subscriber--instead of switching to satellite and DSL for TV and broadband--makes it worthwhile for them, too.
The big switchover will happen in the next few years. By my reading, cable companies should be able to offer affordable 10 to 20 Mbps service in most areas that they already serve using the DOCSIS 3.0 standard. This doesn't require more infrastructure for them, but it does require swapping out cable modems already in use and upgrading head-end equipment. Likewise, DSL is now readily available in 6 Mbps down and 1 Mbps flavors around the country for under $100 per month. DSL speeds should start approaching what's standard in Asia as well.
Eventually, dial-up will be an expensive luxury. I see projects like Lompoc's setting the stage for more users giving up dial-up in favor of higher speeds, and then many of them migrating--as economic and infrastructure realities allow--to even higher speed services.
BelAir's Phil Belanger sent in this report: BelAir makes equipment that gets sold into the municipal networking market, among many markets they're involved in, and via BelAir's media relations person, Phil sent his thoughts. Now before you dismiss Phil as a vendor, it's probably important to note that he's one of the many people responsible for the fruition of 802.11b and Wi-Fi in general, from his days at Aironet to sitting on 802.11 committees and co-authoring specifications to co-founding the Wi-Fi Alliance. He's also had high-level positions at Wayport and Vivato before joining BelAir. Let's just say he has a perch from which he views these issues.
I don't often post email from manufacturers or service providers, but Phil is talking about the space in which his operates rather than promoting his particular hardware instantiation of it, which makes it fair game. Here's his email posted with his permission reaction to the New Millennium Research Council's municipal networking report:
BelAir's position on the NMRC series of reports is that while the authors of the report clearly only did a cursory job of understanding the Municipal Wi-Fi market, and reported many technical inaccuracies about Wi-Fi and WiMAX, there were some valid points made.
BelAir agrees that it makes sense for service providers to own and operate these networks. We think that this is way it will eventually roll out. There are not many examples of that yet, but it is early days. This market is not well formed.
The most likely scenario for Philly is that it will be run by a service provider. (It could even be Verizon!) The city just wants to make sure that it happens, has certain requirements for its applications and is will to provide funding and promotion to make it happen. We applaud that.
Now for some specific comments on some of the problems with the reports.
From David McClure's paper, "The Myth of Municipal Wireless Networks:"
"Here's the spin: municipal Wi-Fi networking is a widespread, growing, David versus Goliath effort to bring broadband connectivity to communities poorly served - if at all - by existing broadband providers. Impatient and frightened of being left behind in the information economy, these communities can build and operate their own networks at rates much lower than those offered by companies whose goal is to make a profit. Consumers will get free Internet access and it will cost the cities almost nothing."
BelAir agrees that the hype is silly and not representative of the way these networks will roll out. That is essentially the sales pitch of many municipal Wi-Fi vendors - anti-carrier, anti-cellular etc. However, this is not the discussion that cities are having about municipal Wi-Fi. In fact, most of the cities that have already deployed municipal Wi-Fi do not offer and did not contemplate Internet access for the public (free or not). Most of the networks have been, as Wi-Fi Networking News noted, put up to support public safety applications.
Across the board the papers are inconsistent in their use of the terminology and it creates logic problems. It is our understanding is that this series of papers is supposed to be about Municipal Wi-Fi networks. This means a Wi-Fi network that spreads across the whole town. It does not necessarily mean that the city owns and operates the network. Additionally, the authors fail to recognize that a Wi-Fi network is not the same as other forms of broadband--wired or wireless.
There are many arguments about the financial failure of previous municipal broadband projects. These miss the point. This is not fiber to the home. This is specifically about using Wi-Fi to cover the whole town. Wi-Fi has specific properties that enable a very different service and a number of applications that are not possible with other broadband techniques. The multi-service nature of Wi-Fi is entirely missed in all of these reports. As several respondents have noted, including Wi-Fi Networking News, the emergency services application is not covered at all.
McClure's statement: "Networks will not close the digital divide."
To BelAir, this is one of the more offensive points in the papers.
Municipal wireless networks can help to bridge the digital divide by providing a quick and cost effective way to deliver broadband internet access to underserved areas. However, "bridging the digital divide" is an empty slogan unless this network access is also accompanied by a program that provides client devices to the people who need access for free or at a very low cost. The wireless network is not a complete solution.
A few of the reports attack Philadelphia specifically (and the whole thing seems a response to Philly). This is entirely inappropriate. The "digital divide" point is one example. Philly wireless has used that term in their description of the mission for their network. They also have a well thought out plan to address the other issues that would enable people to access the network. In Philly's case it is not a meaningless slogan.
McClure then goes on to conclude that municipal Wi-Fi networks should have "A quantifiable cost/benefits analysis; a full accounting for costs; division of responsibility; open, competitive bidding processes; and accountability."
Of course, it's easy to agree with all of those points--and the city of Philadelphia is following ALL of them in a very open and methodical process.
Perhaps the best paper is written by Braden Cox. However, it's all over the map and focuses on legal issues. That said, BelAir agrees with many of his conclusions such as:
"Governments can take steps to ensure that the private sector performs as desired. Municipalities should focus on ways to make it easier for private companies to provide service. State legislatures should ensure that they make right-of-way access available on terms that are fair, administratively efficient, nondiscriminatory, and pro-competitive. Federal telecommunications law requires reform and spectrum needs to be better managed. Removing restrictive regulations would provide a boost to the widespread deployment of broadband service and allow for the natural order of things, i.e., governments in the business of governing and private sector firms in the business of competing."
SenForce's latest end-point security product restricts adapter, WLAN networks, standards based on policy: The options for protecting computers through intelligence at different points in the network is really blossoming. You can use anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software on individual computers and in mail servers and dedicated boxes at the corporate network edge, deploy 802.1X to restrict network access (wired and wireless) until a machine's integrity has been checked, and, now, control end-point security through policies set for individual machines for a host of parameters.
SenForce's version 3.0 of their Endpoint Mobile Security Manager (EMSM) is a stateful packet firewall that prevents pattern attacks among other advanced features; location-based security policies; adapter-based policies (like, you can't put a Wi-Fi card in that thing or at least not one from that vendor); restricted WLAN network visibility; integrity checking; and external storage control.
On the Wi-Fi side, this means that a network manager can make sure that only approved cards and types are installed in laptops (or even desktops), that a user has access only to certain networks, and that minimum network security is required, such as only allowing connections to WPA-enabled networks.
Part of our ongoing coverage of municipal networks, wireless or otherwise, finds us in Texas: The legislature is considering a bill that would block any form of municipal networking, according to the reading of the blogger I've linked to. It's hard to disagree in reading the text of the bill, shown here with emendations to the existing law. This is a deregulation bill that also sneaks in some nasty language throughout.
As part of the deregulation the principle of universal access appears to have been cut:
It is the policy of this state to ensure that customers in all regions of this state, including low-income customers and customers in rural and high cost areas, have access to telecommunications and information services, including interexchange services, cable services, wireless services, and advanced telecommunications and information services, that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas and that are available at prices that are reasonably comparable to prices charged for similar services in urban areas.
So no more of that. But more importantly for our considerations, section 54.201 eliminates the phrase "for sale" from a list of prohibited municipal activities. These previously prohibited activities were strictly telecommunications limiting certain kinds of specific competition with competitive and incumbent voice providers. A few small changes, and it prohibits all municipal information and telecommunications services--including private/public partnerships that the FCC just paraded out in their broadband wireless report. The revised section would prohibit municipalities and utilities on their own or with other entities from offering services. [link via Muniwireless.com]
ExtremeTech writes about Pulse-Link's entry into the UWB debate: Now there are three. The MBOA (Multi-Band OFDM Alliance) includes everybody but Motorola and Freescale which have their own ultrawideband ideas that sundered the IEEE 802.15.3a task group. But now Pulse-Link wants the world to consider its gigabit flavor as a third alternative. The initial MBOA specification is pegged for 480 Mbps.
There's the obligatory phrase "could eventually replace Wi-Fi in the home" in the story. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall (among UWB standards). Read my lips: no new standards. And, finally, from the Wi-Fi side: We will bury you.
Connexion by Boeing announced that its airline partner SAS now offers on-board service on all Seattle flights: SAS is a major international carrier in and out of my home town, and Connexion's high-speed in-flight service, available throughout the cabin via Wi-Fi at speeds of 1 Mbps up and 5 Mbps down, should be an interesting draw for European-bound passengers. Terrence Scott, director of communications for Connexion,, noted that Boeing and Microsoft are two of SAS's biggest clients for their nightly 7 pm departing flight.
"From a Boeing perspective, and a Connexion by Boeing perspective, it's particularly satisfying that it's happening in Seattle, and it's our service that's going to be the first out of the gate here," Scott said in an interview last Friday.
Scott noted that Lufthansa is now operating Connexion service in and out of 13 North American cities, and is working towards providing coverage on every flight on those routes. "They're finally getting to a point of critical mass where they can offer that service on a consistent basis," Scott said. About half the long-haul fleet will be outfitted with Connexion within another month.
The corporate sales side of Connexion is also heating up now that the service is more widely available on international flights. Scott said that 220 corporate customers have signed fleet deals with Connexion that allow simpler billing and account management for their employees that use the service. Boeing is putting corporate sales teams in each city that has Connexion service through one or more airline partners to capitalize on the service.
Later this spring, Connexion is on track to unveil four channels of in-flight entertainment on Singapore Airlines, which they will later expand to include more programming.
Russell Shaw at Corante interviews Chaska's IS Manager: Chaska spent about $800,000 in initial capital outlay, and used a privately sourced $1,000,000 loan to cover early expenses. They'll repay that loan within a year--they launched in Nov. 2004--and expect to have a return on their investment within 18 months of launch. The service has about 2,000 of 18,000 residents subscribing across the town's 250 square miles, all of which offer coverage. The town stayed under the radar, avoiding major incumbent complaints. The town expects to grow to 35,000 residents within five years.
The FCC's Wireless Broadband Task Force avoids any mention of the word municipal in their initial report. It's a good report, encouraging the growth of broadband wireless, but all of the projects they mention are private or public/private in which a city provides some resources or a contract to a private firm. There are no public-only efforts mentioned.
The Wall Street Journal connects the dots between wires and muni network opposition: Lee Gomes mildly opines that opposition to municipal networks, particularly wireless ones, are entrenched in incumbents desire to keep making their wire base pay. Philadelphia's position has been misrepresented, the city says, because it plans to make municipal utility poles and other access available, but contract out the building, operation, and risk to private enterprise.
A group of companies that have banded together to work on mobile voice over IP will be demonstrating handoffs between GSM and Wi-Fi voice over IP networks at the 3GSM conference: BridgePort, IBM, PCTEL, and Verisign are some of the companies involved in a group called MobileIGNITE which is supporting this type of roaming.
These companies are supporting Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a commonly used voice over IP interface, to deliver voice over Wi-Fi. It appears that these companies are mainly targeting enterprise or government users. So the end users might have a combined Wi-Fi/cellular phone and with this solution, they could use the handset to make and take voice calls over their corporate WLAN. This is different than the companies involved with UMA, which allows roaming between Wi-Fi and cellular networks but relies on existing components of the cellular network in order to allow for authentication and billing and other services.
I've long thought that while the idea behind what MobileIGNITE is doing is good, the mobile operators will resist it. They would much rather support Wi-Fi/cellular roaming the UMA way, where they have the most possible control over the call from end to end. They want to charge for every voice minute, whether the voice call is handled over Wi-Fi or GSM. But from what I understand about Bridgeport's model, the MobileIGNITE companies want to offload voice traffic onto the enterprise WLAN because it's cheaper for the company to support those minutes than pay the GSM operator. Enterprises will have to work out the cellular/Wi-Fi roaming with their mobile operator in order for this to work and that negotiation is one that I think will be difficult.
Several stations on the T will have Wi-Fi access: Park Street, Downtown Crossing, Government Center, and State Street (and tunnels connecting stations) will have Wi-Fi access provided by InSite. The city may extend the network to the whole system. I can't see laptops in use in those environments, but VoIP Wi-Fi phones, handhelds, and unknown portable Wi-Fi appliances are all candidates. There's no mention of the cost.
I'm worn out from reading this exhaustive coverage of WLAN switches in Network Computing: The publication invited 18 companies to be involved in their testing, but only four agreed: Airespace, Aruba, Cisco, and Trapeze. That's now three companies; the Airespace acquisition by Cisco happened after testing. There's a long sidebar at the end with explanations from vendors who didn't participate which is particularly interesting if you were considering purchasing hardware and support software from these companies.
One piece of excellent news is that all four products coped extremely well with WPA2, the certified version of 802.11i, through all of the client and back-end mix and match that author Frank Bulk and his crew threw at the systems. Trapeze is the weakest on integrity detection, an increasing theme for 802.1X and both wired and wireless switches. They also noted that Cisco used a CLI or Web browser to configure its access points instead of the WLSE management system, which was telling.
Most miraculously, the article includes apples-to-apples pricing for three scenarios which is information a company might spend weeks trying to gather from reluctant vendors and integrators.
McAfee is offering a free Wi-Fi scan to determine whether your network is at risk: The McAfee scan (which I learned was built by the folks at Wireless Security Corporation) uses an ActiveX control to check on your Wi-Fi network from a client machine. It's free, and it offers sensible advice about WEP, WPA-PSK (WPA Personal), file sharing, other users, and client access speed in my test of two Wi-FI networks I run in my office. It's a great free tool. David Haskin writes more about the Evil Twin detection that it also offers. I apparently have no such animals in my vicinity.
Monica Paolini of Senza Fili explains a technology you've never heard of that will soon be everywhere: Monica, a fellow Seattle-area resident, has written a long and expensive piece of analysis about UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access), which is a way to use unlicensed Wi-Fi and Bluetooth spectrum to carry voice through a gateway to the existing GSM networks. GSM operators can then leverage their huge investment and better serve existing and new customers with better pricing and service.
I asked Monica if she could extract a high-level overview of UMA for Wi-Fi Networking News, and she obliged. Her full report, intended primarily for decision-makers and analysts involved with GSM networks, is available at her Senza Fili site. (And for those of you who speak Italian, Senza Fili means Without Wires.)
The UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) Consortium was formed by GSM mobile operators with the aim of creating specifications for WCC that would eventually become standards-based and that would interface well with their core networks. Manufacturers have also joined to create an impressive, if restricted, group that includes Alcatel, British Telecom, Cingular, Ericsson, Kineto Wireless, Motorola, Nokia, Nortel Networks, O2, Rogers Wireless, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and T-Mobile USA.
The specifications were published in September 2004 as guidelines for mobile operators and handset manufacturers, and as a blueprint for a future 3GPP standard. They are available at www.umatechnology.org. They are clearly designed by and for mobile operators, to allow them to control both cellular and Wi-Fi traffic, and to integrate Wi-Fi voice services seamlessly with their GSM networks. With a Wi-Fi cellular phone, subscribers are able to switch freely from the cellular network they use when away from home, to Wi-Fi when they enter their home network coverage, and vice versa.
UMA enables GSM/GPRS handsets equipped with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to access the GSM and General Packet Radio Service GPRS core networks using the unlicensed air interface when available (see figure from the UMA Consortium at above right). As such, UMA represents an extension of the GSM/GPRS network for mobile operators, which can support voice services in homes, offices and hotspots both through the cellular and the WLAN networks. Subscribers using UMA can take advantage of improved indoor coverage and higher data rates, when accessing the local WLAN.
(More after the jump.)
SBC has unwired The Merchandise Mart in Chicago: About 18,000 people per day pass through the retail, office, and transportation centers there. Is it really the biggest commercial building in the world? I suppose they wouldn't put it in a press release if it weren't.
A little thought experiment: let's pretend broadband was electricity: The Previous Millennium Research Council today released a report that strongly opposes the entry of municipally owned entities into electrical power generation, distribution, and delivery. The PMRC's report, sent out by telegraph to business centers around this great country, is dated Nov. 1895, although it will take several weeks for sufficient copies to be printed and distributed by rail to business centers.
Electricity is too important a resource for America's future to be left in the hands of cities and towns, the council argues, which are inefficient enterprises that take profits from industry in their pursuit of ever-greater control of the flow of capital within their borders. "How big may these so-called public utilities grow in their efforts to stifle free enterprise and increase the size of government?" the report asks.
The report notes that 97 percent of all neighborhoods in the U.S. have at least one functional electric street lamp running built through private enterprises' effort, and that some urban areas have two electrical lamps on each corner, as well as lighting available at different times of the day and night both within and outside of homes and businesses.
The report dismisses the concern that in many areas, only a small percentage of all buildings are equipped with electricity and rejects the fact that private utilities in some municipalities only provide enough voltage and amperage to power a few dim lights.
His Honor, Mayor Charles Franklin Warwick of Philadelphia has recently said that he intends to provide universal electrical service, but critics argue that merely providing electricity will not ensure that the "electrical divide" will be bridged because poorer inhabitants of cities and towns will not use their hard-earned pittances to pay for electrical appliances, such as a motor-driven wringer or electrical lamp, much less power. And, in any case, most of them are illiterate and work 16-hour days, and thus have no need for the modern wonder of electrical lighting which would merely disturb their few hours of rest each night.
Several authors in the report state that the abiding interest of the community is served best by providing financial and monopoly incentives to existing private utilities to expand their electrical offerings. For instance, Variegated Zandegraaf and Sons received a subsidy of $1 million to substantially increase the flow of electricity through Pennsylvania over the last decade. While it has provided some additional service, the company required additional infusions of millions to complete the task over the next 10 years without the threat of competition which would diminish the utility's motivation.
The PMRC also takes the stand that installing electricity in every home would drain tax coffers, and expects that once projects are begun, the revenue from them might never cover the immense cost of such service. "One might imagine a city building an electrical network that could provide any amount of service at any time of day or not, rather than at particular times that are most advantageous for power generation," the report states.
Businesses are also not interested in electricity, the PMRC states, noting that horses, railroads, coal, and the Irish are the driving forces of the economy. "Providing universal access to electrical power is not a leading consideration in business development," the report says. While certain businesses require electricity, such as theaters or carnivals, business conditions are best improved by well-honed service provided by a single company in each field which reduces the chances of disruption.
One report author did suggest that a new form of ground-transmission technology invented by Nikola Tesla might provide enough energy to be substantially less expensive for a municipality to install but have limited enough utility that both private and public electrical generation could be possible.
The PMRC report comes on the heels of legislation passed in several states that require municipalities to petition the local private utility before they attempt the arduous work of installing electrical plants. If a private utility states that they plan to add power within 30 years, the municipality is required to wait.
Breaking News! This correspondent has learned that PMRC is a paid agent of Issithorp and Dankerbottel, two gentlemen who have contracted with Variegated Zandegraaf and Sons to increase their reputation and improve business conditions on their behalf. Although severely pummeled by Pinkertons, I remain your faithful scribe, and will have further dispatches as they come available.
Dianah Neff is miffed: The CIO of Philadelphia has written a fairly hilarious, factually based screed over at News.com that shreds to ribbons a variety of the issues raised by the sock puppets of industry and directly by incumbent monopolies and duopolies. She knows where the bodies are buried--alongside the rights of way for fiber and copper, I'd guess--and is starting to pull out the big guns as the plan to unwire Philadelphia nears its revelation.
Mobile Pipeline runs two politely contrasting views on municipal broadband: Now this is the kind of civil discourse that acknowledges facts on both sides of an opinion that I've been hoping for. Mobile Pipeline contrasts the "municipal broadband is costly and inappropriate" opinion of Dave Molta with the starry-eyed idealism--wait, that's hard-bitten realism--of David Haskin who argues that municipalities are stepping in where incumbents aren't willing to tread. (Disclosure: Haskin writes me checks in his capacity of editor of publications that I write for at CMP.)
Both authors point out that the NMRC report has a funding/disclosure bias, but both also tackle the issues within. Molta argues that the report was being attacked for its authors' connections; I'd take the opposite point that the report would have been better received with less furor had a picture been painted instead of I and other journalists having to track down the connections. Molta notes, "But beyond the cries of conspiracy lies some wisdom about technology, market competition and politics." I agree: I wrote a long post analyzing the best-founded aspects of the report.
Molta writes, "Building out metro-area Wi-Fi networks that deliver per-user throughput in excess of one megabit per second would likely require the deployment of thousands or tens of thousands of access points." That's fortunately incorrect. He hasn't studied the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi-like metro-scale systems that are in actual use in many cities already. There are definitely scaling issues, but we're not talking about building clouds of Wi-Fi access with ubiquitous rates within the cloud for roaming users.
Rather, this is much more like the WiMax point-to-multi-point standard. Talk to Tropos, PacketHop, Belair, and SkyPilot, and then we can revisit this statement. (I've talked to two of the four and will be writing more about them all in the future.) Talk to San Mateo, Oklahoma City, Chaska (Minn.), Buffalo (Minn.), and Corpus Christi, and then get back to me.
Molta ignores the issue of service and availability. Incumbents work best with competition. A lack of competition causes them to focus infrastructure building into other areas. When I spoke with Tacoma Power about their fiber-optic/coax network, they said they were dragged kicking and screaming into offering broadband services because they couldn't convince the incumbents to provide the services their communities were demanding. This is a statement made by virtually all municipalities considering or who have built fiber, coax, and wireless networks. (Haskin also notes a problem in arguing that municipalities are subsidized for their deployments: "The very telcos that have been so bitterly fighting municipal networks have received billions of dollars in government subsidies for doing things like creating fiber optic networks.")
Finally, Haskin and Molta both miss a truly fundamental aspect of municipal networks that the NMRC report disregarded: public safety. That's fire, police, emergency. The reason many municipalities even started planning for their own networks is that they have 10 or 20 year old networks, some based on the soon-to-be-dead CDPD cell data standard, that they need to upgrade for the modern exigencies of less staff, more needs, and homeland security. (Shouldn't someone write a report from the conservative side called, "Municipal Networks: the Bulwark of Effective Home Security and Surveillance?")
Most municipal networks that are founded in sense--for instance, let's just throw San Francisco's broad pronouncements out the window right now--incorporate governmental access by roaming agents (parking enforcement, building inspection, meter readers, and so forth); public safety purposes (police reporting and information retrieval, dispatch); emergency response; video surveillance; and improved bandwidth and networking in remote offices outside of central governmental buildings. Tacoma Power's fiber/coax network recovers so much cost operationally--from monitoring, response, and productivity--that they had planned to build it before the benefits of adding cable and broadband services were layered on top.
Broadband service to the home and business is one leg of the network, but governments are often building these networks to begin with to provide 21st century field support and efficiency to public safety and other government employees. It's all about what the government and its citizens both need and what incumbents aren't motivated to provide in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner. Incumbents shouldn't be saddled with the responsibility of that kind of service, and they shouldn't be fighting so hard to prevent effective discussion of it.
I distilled everything I've learned about the NMRC and related organizations into a visual display: This chart shows the disclosed and reported relationships, mostly found on the various organizations' Web sites, between the entities responsible for releasing the report castigating municipal broadband without revealing their funding and ties.
Downloading: Some readers have reported a problem viewing the PDF-based chart. This is related to Adobe's support of viewing PDFs within a Web browser. If you click and get a corrupted file error, please right-click the link to the PDF and select to download it, and then open it from the Desktop or within Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Apple is the first out of the gate with Bluetooth 2.0+EDR: More manufacturers will follow, including Dell, which has committed to integrating the CSR chipset into an upgraded optional Bluetooth model. Apple includes Bluetooth as a standard feature on its laptop line of PowerBooks. CSR is currently the only company with certified silicon, but more are on the way. The executive director of the Bluetooth SIG said that in order to approve a standard, they have to test three functional reference designs from different chip makers, so there's at least two other companies primed to launch.
Read my full coverage of Apple's inclusion, focusing mostly on the general issue of Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, over at MacCentral.
Rockland, Maine, restaurant will offer online ordering, Wi-Fi in the store: I used to live about 10 minutes north of Rockland in the village of Camden, back when Kodak accidentally opened a multimillion dollar training facility for digital artists, photographers, and graphic designers. Halcyon days of youth and all that. (Don't get me started on why I describe this as an accidental opening.) The father of a good friend of mine in those days was the zoning officer in Rockland, so perhaps the code enforcement fellow cited is his successor.
In Maine, there are "cahnah stowahhs" all over the place. You know, cahnah stowahh? c-o-r-n-e-r s-t-o-r-e. Corners are important, but don't ask me why. You also always enter a Maine home through the back, the mud room, which leads into the kitchen. The front door is often invisible and stuff is piled against it inside. When I rented one apartment, I asked about the front door, and the landlord said, "Oh, yewah, its ovah theah, if you need to know wheahh it is fowh some reason."
Rockland is in mid-Coast Maine, which has the way-ahead-of-its-time Midcoast Internet Solutions ISP that started offering wireless Internet access using Breezecom (now Alvarion) equipment in, get this, 1997.
Hey, don't get excited--this new Blackberry doesn't have cell access: The Blackberry 7270 has Wi-Fi built in as well as a VoIP client, but there's no cellular radio inside, reports Techworld. Instead, it's designed as a campus-wide enterprise tool that combines voice and messaging. Campus-wide pager systems have been widespread and there's a growing use of VoIP over Wi-Fi; this is a neat combination of both. But it means some executives will now have to carry two Blackberrys.
Now you see it, now you don't: The New Millennium Research Council has removed the page listing its board of directors. On their About page, it used to have a link to the board and to internships. Now just look at it. The NMRC was behind the report that came out last week agitating against municipal broadband; they are owned by Issue Dynamics, a PR firm representing cable and telephone companies, including Verizon.
If we take the WayBack Machine from the Internet archive and set it to Feb. 2004, we can see that Karen Buller, Allen Hepner, Barbara O'Connor, and Jorge Schement are listed as board members. When I saw this page a few days ago, Allen--identified as affiliated with Issue Dynamics back then--was relegated to a contact page where he is listed as executive director.
Buller was listed as the chair of the board. I'm unclear who funds her organization as this information isn't provided on their site. The National Indian Telecommunications Institute seems to have great goals and is widely cited across the Net as a progressive force.
But Buller sits as a member of the board of directors of the Alliance for Public Technology (APT) alongside Barbara O'Connor, the founding chair. The APT states on its board of directors page that "Membership is open to all nonprofit organizations and individuals, not members of the affected industries." However, inexplicably, the sponsors and affiliates page lists BellSouth, SBC, and Verizon. The statement about this is that "These affiliates provide a portion of APT's financial support but do not vote or serve on its Board of Directors."
That's a great non-denial denial, just like the Heartland Institute's very specific note that no donor provides more than 10 percent of their budget.
If you view the HTML at APT's Web site, the first comment reads: "Designed and developed by Issue Dynamics, Inc. For more information see http://www.idi.net". Welcome to another arm of IDI. The Executive Director, Sylvia Rosenthal is "also Assistant Vice President of Issue Dynamics Inc. where she devotes her time exclusively to management of APT." The group is linked via SourceWatch.
Jorge Schement is a professor at Penn State and a co-director of the Institute for Information Policy, which lists Issue Dynamics and Verizon among their sponsors.
Am I going to wake up with a horse's head in my bed? I'm a fish-a-tarian. Could it be a full-sized Tofurkey, instead? [Thanks to Karl Bode of DSL and Broadband Reports; he can have half a horse's head.]
Regular readers will notice a few changes: It's been months in the making and weeks in the finalizing, but Nancy Gohring and I would like to introduce you to our new design and two new sites. You'll notice that our new site design is a little cleaner. We lost our unmanageable blog roll of other sites that we like and related information, but those seemed increasingly dated and hard to maintain in a world of Google headlines and search results.
With Nancy off in Dublin, Ireland, for the foreseeable future, we saw an opportunity to focus more closely on the increasing flurry of news about wireless networking and hotspots in Europe and parts east. Nancy will be heading up coverage at WNN Europe.
WiMax Networking News will siphon off the ever-larger percentage of our reporting that has focused on the upcoming WiMax standard, and existing and future wireless broadband. Nancy will also be taking the lead on this site, but I'll be contributing regularly, especially on municipal projects.
For ease of navigation, every page on all three sites will show you the newest headlines from the other two so you can avoid having to load each page separately. RSS/Atom feeds in several formats as well as separate email lists are available for each site. Look to the left navigation bar to subscribe or syndicate the news feed.
Most of all, we'd love your feedback about the design, our new coverage plans, or suggestions for the future. We're doing it all for you, after all.
"Sweeping statements were made without any substantiation," says Tropos CEO and president Ron Sege: After last week's kerfuffle over the release of the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) report on municipal broadband, telecom, and cable, I thought it would be useful to the readers of this site to hear from Tropos Networks, a leading municipal wireless product vendor.
Tropos is a metropolitan-scale mesh network provider that I've been following for a few years. While they started in competition with enterprise campus networking equipment manufacturers, they quickly found a niche in public-safety and broadband networking in cities and towns that needed the kind of infrastructure that mesh can provide. Ron Sege, the CEO and president of Tropos, spoke with me yesterday about the NMRC and the municipal market in general.
Sege agreed that municipal networks don't always make sense, but said that the report overstated the case by far. "Sweeping statements were made without any substantiation," he said.
Read the rest of the interview after the jump.
Sputnik continues to focus on hotspot market: Sputnik began its life as a way to embed management control in an access point's firmware, but as the market has evolved, they've honed in more and more on the needs of small to medium network operators running hotspots and managed networks. Although they have enterprise customers, their particular expertise allows an operator or business to scale a network with the same management console and very little upfront investment for the sophistication of their tool, especially when compared with Cisco WLSE or AirWave, which are cost effective for installations of hundreds of access points in corporate campuses.
The latest addition to the hotspot arsenal is Sputnik Premier, which allows a hotspot operator to set up PayPal (no extra charge) and credit card payments (via a separate account with their partner Aria) in a bundled arrangement. This puts them in closer competition with companies like NetNearU, AirPath Wireless, and Pronto Networks which provide complete OSS (Operations Support System) for account management, billing, and cross-customer network roaming and fee settlement.
Mobile Pipeline says buy MIMO now if it fits a particular need: David Haskin, editor in chief, writes about his experiences with Linksys's new MIMO-based router and PC card. He's very positive about its throughput, performance, and interoperability. But he raises the same three concerns I have about recommending MIMO: price for current performance, future support of its highest speeds, and interoperability among multiple MIMO vendors.
The Linksys unit at $200 for the gateway is particularly high priced, especially compared to Belkin's MIMO which has dropped to well under $150 street price. Haskin notes that people with a compelling reason for MIMO now--greater throughput or greater supported distances--should consider it.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Nextel spectrum swap is a done deal: This will give Nextel a contiguous chunk of spectrum that makes their system easier to operate while improving the public-safety bands near which Nextel equipment interoperates. It should make operations much simpler for everyone involved.
Nextel gets $2.06 billion in credit for the spectrum they give up and will pay at least $2.8 billion in migrating public-safety users' equipment to newer spectrum and systems.
Who gets the public-safety contracts? Those will be interesting companies to follow with an infusion that large flooding the market over a short time period.
Events move so fast, my head spins: a few days after covering the flurry of activity around the New Millennium Research Council's report discouraging municipal broadband, I was asked to moderate a panel on the discussion on March 14 during the South by Southwest (SXSW) music, arts, and interactive festival and conference in Austin, Texas. Esme Vos is also on the panel, from MuniWireless.com, and we should have a rip, and might I add, roaring time. The interactive part of the event runs March 11 to 15; the overall event is from March 11 to 20.
WiFiMaps.com releases massively large, detailed wardriving maps of Seattle: In conjunction with a University of Washington course. I can't describe it better than Drew:
Dr. Philip Howard from the communications department has been teaching his students about technology, ideas, people, and how culture is affected by these new concepts. Their project allows them to gain some practical experience while exploring Wi-Fi as it pertains to them and the people around them. Involving 100 students, this project is one of the largest collective efforts to map Seattle's wireless landscape.
WiFiMaps.com is a website which provides interactive maps of Wi-Fi installations, as seen by wardrivers. This collaboration served to create critical mass for the website to provide printable maps, in addition to on-screen maps that exist. Also, this paves the way for other universities and groups interested in orgznizing detailed scans of their city to have a way to actually accomplish this, and have visual results.
The files are BitTorrented because of their enormous size (over 100 and 300 MB). [link via Slashdot]
Palo Alto's fiber network: I admit that fiber-optic networks have little to do with wireless, but we're still playing clean-up from this week's flurry of activity around an astroturf report on municipal broadband. (Scan through the archives for more on that.)
One piece of email I received during this week from Jeff Hoel in Palo Alto long and interesting as relates to their fiber network. Palo Alto was one of the first cities to build their own infrastructure. They have not been cited in any of the reports or ancillary material that have disputed the efficacy of municipal networks and I was interesting in finding out more. Jeff has a lot of points to make and, with his permission, I reproduce his email in condensed form below.
(Note: Jeff writes about FTTH, which is Fiber To The Home. Many fiber systems are fiber/coax hybrids in which fiber is the backbone and drops to the home use coaxial cable to reduce expense and complexity.)
I'm a Palo Alto resident and an enthusiastic supporter of muni FTTH here. In your 2-1-05 article "Beat the TechBeat on Muni Wireless", you say:
The author conveniently ignores Palo Alto, an early fiber-optic deployer, and I have no idea whether that project was vastly successful or a huge failure. Based on what I know about the growth of Internet businesses around Palo Alto that have remained post dotcom bubble, it seems that fiber might actually attract business.
Here's what I think is going on in Palo Alto.
The city put in a dark fiber infrastructure in 1996. [1 (PDF)]  It's doing fine, in that it's making money and paying off its investment. But the service is expensive enough that only businesses can afford it.
The city put in a 66-home FTTH Trial system in 2001. It's doing fine, in that participants are happy to pay $85/mo for Internet service. During the first year, phone service was also offered, but after that it was dropped because the point had been proved that you could do it. RF analog TV was also demonstrated to work technically, but was never offered as a service because of the hassle of buying the content. The Trial cost something like $640k; nobody ever thought it would pay for itself eventually. I think the equipment chosen for the Trial is not the equipment we'd want for a citywide system, which is too bad, but we learned that the city can at least run an FTTH system.
The city funded FTTH consultants and staff to create a FTTH Business Case (2002), a FTTH Business Plan, phase 1 (2003), and a FTTH Business Plan, phase 2 (2004). Here is the best place to find pointers into this documentation . I wish this documentation were more perceptive than it is.
In 2004, the city came to realize that there might be no attractive way to fund citywide FTTH, given California law. On 7-19-04, Council voted to "chill." [4 (PDF)] That is, they voted not to put FTTH to a vote of the people in November, and not to spend much staff time on FTTH, hoping that maybe some other California city would come up with a good idea for funding FTTH. They also voted to keep running the FTTH Trial, since its continuing operation seemed to be paying for itself.
I think that if a citywide FTTH system does not happen, then FTTH in Palo Alto will have been a failure overall. But it's too early to know what will happen.
The city's utilities department is looking at using wireless for reading hard-to-get-to meters.
By the way, where muni telecom has been successful, economic development was one of the factors considered. Historically, Palo Alto hasn't emphasized this point, but maybe it should.
If you want a FTTH success story, look to Provo, UT. 
Iowa joins a growing trend of states with large empty stretches: For traffic safety purposes, the more frequently people stop, stretch, and take their eyes off the road, the better. Adding Wi-Fi at rest stops is just one tool in that arsenal, but it's also a nice idea for tourists, truckers, and business travelers. Iowa will equip a total of 40 locations by July; 20 of them by mid-March.
A trial set of eight locations had 111,000 access over seven months. Several stops are active on Interstates 35 and 80. Service will be free and operated by I-Spot.
There's a lot more readily available details about the New Millennium Research Council than I realized: The NMRC is the co-publisher of a report that says municipal broadband is anti-competitive and a waste of taxpayer dollars. eWeek broke the news yesterday that they're a division of Issue Dynamics, Inc., a group that specializes in creating the appearance of grassroots and independent support for ideas on behalf of their clients. They don't hide this specialty.
The NMRC lists this relationship on their About page; I'm embarrassed that I missed noting this: "The NMRC is an independent project of Issue Dynamics, Inc. (IDI), a consumer and public affairs consulting firm that specializes in developing win-win solutions to complex policy issues." (IDI lists the US Internet Industry Association as a client; the head of the USIAA wrote part of the NMRC report.)
An email correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous but has had dealings with the NMRC and IDI wrote in to note, "If you need an 'independent' third party to provide support for your particular issue interest, IDI will find an independent expert who will write a supportive piece for you--the report will then be issued by the NMRC or another front org. There is no direct money passing from the corporation to the person writing the research, and as a technical matter, the funding for NMRC comes directly from IDI. However, people like Verizon pay IDI a pretty stiff retainer, and IDI essentially uses part of that to fund NMRC."
IDI says about NMRC: "A unique component of Issues Management & Research services is our relationship with the New Millennium Research Council. The New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) has an experienced staff that provides clients with topical briefs, targeted policy research, and in-depth issue analysis. The NMRC also provides clients with a network of policy experts who can provide content and services over a range of topics. NMRC research projects include, but are not limited to, telecommunications, Internet, and technology policy issues."
The executive director of NMRC, Allen Hepner, wrote in this article at IDI's site (which is linked from the NMRC About page), "Next Generation think-tanks are able to present their views to larger populations including national and influential decision makers and attain a new level of credibility at a much lower cost. When it comes to winning the war of ideas, bigger isn't always better in this case."
Mike Masnick breaks the news that Nextel is pulling the plug (or lack of plug) on Flarion trial: Mike's eagle eye apparently spotted a blogger noting his Flarion service was being turned off at the end of June. Nextel was trying Flarion's high-speed wireless broadband technology as an option for data service. Nextel's iDEN voice technology doesn't have a data path like GSM and CDMA. Masnick puts the blame on the trial ending on the Sprint/Nextel merger. Sprint has its dollars behind EVDO, the same technology being rolled out quite successfully by Verizon Wireless right now.
eWeek connects NMRC to Issue Dynamics, a telecom lobbying firm: Wayne Rash reports at the end of a story about Philadelphia's upcoming municipal wireless announcement the following blockbuster about the ties between the New Millennium Research Council, co-issuers of today's report "Not In The Public Interest - The Myth of Municipal Wi-Fi Networks." (I've written extensively about this report and its precursors over the last few days.)
Rash writes: While preparing this story, eWEEK.com learned that the NMRC is actually owned and sponsored by Washington lobbying firm Issue Dynamics Inc., whose clients include most of the major telecommunications companies in the United States. Those companies have been active in opposing municipal wireless and broadband efforts. The company claimed that its reports were nevertheless completely independent.
I've been saying these folks were sock puppets for days and criticizing the lack of transparency about funding among several organizations involved in creating this report, while still listening to the message. (I had some positive things to say about parts of the report earlier today.) This should be a major embarrassment to Issue Dynamics's clients who are now starkly revealed as the puppeteers.
More prosaically, Rash describes the public/private partnership that Philadelphia expects to use, which is in contrast to the kinds of entirely municipal efforts decried in the NMRC's report. Tropos may have the lead as it was involved in a four-square-mile test. And note throughout the article that Philly's CIO Dianah Neff is talking about broadband wireless, not "Wi-Fi," as the report continually conflates.
The ever-insightful Carol Ellison also weighed in about the NMRC report. She summarizes the phone conference about the release of the report today as, "The rollout of municipally held Wi-Fi networks will likely have a detrimental effect on city budgets and on competition." Ellison castigates the press event and the report, noting, "But while the session promised to fill the gap on the dearth of in-depth analysis on the subject, it and the report that accompanied it offered many more sweeping statements about failed projects than information about why they failed."
Ellison shreds the NMRC for its undisclosed connection to Issue Dynamics: "The NMRC made a point to say that none of the researchers who participated received any money from NMRC. But in case you're wondering who's paying the bills at IDI, take a look at its client list. If you don't want to read the whole huge thing, let me summarize those of interest in this issue: Ameritech, Bell South, Comcast, Pacific Bell, Qwest, SBC Communications, Sprint, U.S. West, Verizon and Verizon Wireless."
It's fair to say that the disclosure of the NMRC's parent firm may alter the entire landscape of debate on municipal wireless.
I've read the report, and it's worth downloading and reviewing: The report from the NMRC is called "Not In The Public Interest - The Myth of Municipal Wi-Fi Networks -- Why Municial Schemes to Provide Wi-Fi Broadband Services With Public Funds Are Ill-Advised." I've studied it now and have some comments. Before reading my comments, you should review that report and one that's a predecessor and cited in this report and in some of the advance publicity from The Heartland Institute, which co-produced the report--The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University's Municipal Broadband in Concord: An In-Depth Analysis. (See also Karl Bode's more irate analysis of the report.)
I'm going to back in time to March 2004, when the Beacon Hill Institute report was published because many elements of it are embedded in the NMRC report. The Concord report from Beacon Hill analyzes whether a proposed network in Concord, Mass., has any hopes of producing a good return with low risk. The report looks at four cities, including Tacoma, Wash., and Ashland, Ore., and also examines RCN, a cable operator that tried to offer competitive broadband services in areas with incumbent operators.
The Concord (Mass.) Journal wrote back in April 2004 that this report was funded by the New England Cable Telecommunications Association (there's no "and" in there), of which Comcast is a member. There is no funding information or other sponsorship information listed in the report or anywhere on Beacon Hill's site. An opinion piece from July 2004 in the Boston Herald blasted the Beacon Hill Institute for relying on funding from vested interests in the topics of reports they wrote.
Some financial details in the report on Tacoma and Ashland date to 2001 partly because financial information isn't readily broken out for these two projects. Based on aspects of the Beacon Hill report, it was clearly primarily written in late 2003 when full-year figures for 2002 were all that would have been available.
It's tricky to tease out where they got numbers for Ashland and Tacoma even after studying and following the footnotes and reading reports at the various project sites. For instance, a citation on Ashland borrowing as much as $20 million from other city agencies to make up revenue shortfalls in their fiber network is attribute to a site called Dynacorp-sucks.com that was "last accessed January 28, 2003" in the footnote reference. There is no record of this site at Archive.org, either, which doesn't mean it didn't exist, but means I cannot research what used to be there. On the Ashland Fiber Network site and City of Ashland's site, I cannot find recent numbers on cost and capital expenses, except that in the 2003-2004 budget, income from AFN outstrips expense by about 15 percent ($2.67 million in versus $2.33 million out).
There appears to be no primary research in the Beacon Hill report, such as interviewing or filing information requests directly from the agencies that run the two networks. There's more work to be done here to find out whether the numbers in the Beacon Hill report still reflect the situation.
The reference to RCN is fascinating because the Beacon Hill report points out how they filed for bankruptcy due to the competitive environment. But Thomas Hazlett makes the argument that they weren't allowed to compete in Philadelphia, as one example, in a recent Financial Times article I cited earlier today.
And the Beacon Hill report doesn't include successful or allegedly successful municipal networks. The NMRC report notes that there are at least 200 municipal networks in the works or built. Are the vast majority as bad as the few examples they pick? Beacon Hill also looked at expensive networks (fiber and coax) not wireless. Esme Vos at MuniWireless.com cites three cities with what she characterizes as successful municipal Wi-Fi rollouts. In a balanced report, the devil's advocate would have a place pointing out projects that seem to work and explaining, perhaps, why they haven't.
Now let's focus on the new report from the NMRC. As I have said in several previous posts, their basic proposition has several legs to it, but it boils down to a concern that taxpayer money will fund endeavors that aren't needed, tend to go over budget, could face government censorship, overlap with existing services, and deter private enterprise from engaging in building broadband.
On the face of it, these are reasonable arguments to raise and then argue the merits of. My primary complaint about this report before and after reading it is that most of the parties to it--institutions and individuals alike--are tied up with the telecoms as funding sources or former employers. Because of the lack of transparency, it's easy to read an agenda into anything they write. It's also odd because several of the entities involved in this report don't typically cover telecom; rather, they deal with issues of removing regulations of all sorts and preventing laws covering chemical and tobacco industries. It's still a mystery why this appeared. Verizon appears to be the only connection between some of these groups, and it's tenuous. (You can read my run-down of the background of the people involved in today's call announcing the report, which is a slightly different group than those who wrote it.
Let me pick this apart in pieces, and I hope that readers who support or reject this report will post comments directing us to page numbers within it. I'm using the page numbers in the PDF rather than the printed page number for clarity.
Page 12: We start off with a problem defining Wi-Fi. Many of the municipal "Wi-Fi" networks are actually using a variety of broadband wireless, including mesh. Stating that Wi-Fi works in a 300-foot-radius is like saying that cell phones work within a several thousand feet of a cell tower. It only tells part of the story.
Much of the cost savings in broadband wireless--private and public--is in reducing backhaul costs for point-to-point delivery of bandwidth to hubs that then distributes as a cloud of service (for a hotspot) or point-to-point. SkyPilot's technology, for instance, uses 802.11a--sort of. It's a variant, but it has the benefit of commodity chipsets underlying their equipment, unlicensed spectrum, and the empty 5 GHz band. But it's not Wi-Fi, nor does it work the way a hotspot does.
This technology error was in the article on The Heartland Institute's site from earlier in the week and tends to pervade this report, too. They arguing many times against Wi-Fi hotspot networks when the main issue here is wireless to the home, like DSL and cable modems, not wireless outside the home to public spaces (parks) or retail establishments (coffeeshops).
David P. McClure, the head of the US Internet Industry Association writes the first part, The Myths of Municipal Wireless Networks. His basic argument is that communities moving to build their own networks are following dreams that will evaporate leaving behind costs to pay from municipal coffers. On page 14, I disagree with his assessment that these projects are typically pushing free Internet access. The ones I'm most aware of that have moved from thinking into doing charge commercial rates commensurate with those available in large cities.
The benefits analysis on pages 14 to 15 is mostly asserted. One footnote points to a Heartland Institute report, which is a circular reference in the context described earlier.
Take pages 16 and 17 to heed, though, under The Community Response. These are terrific guidelines for any project involving public funds, and I cannot find any fault with them. All too often, nebulous goals are set with optimistic budgets, and there's no interim accountability: no one gets fired. Look at Boston's Big Dig.
The second section, Whose Internet Does Municipal Wireless Subsidize?, conflates broadband wireless with Wi-Fi hotspots consistently, and lumps in fiber optic network build-outs with broadband wireless deployments. Earlier today, I tore apart an article written by the same individual for The Heartland Institute's Web site--Steven Titch, a senior fellow there--and most of that applies here.
Titch tries to label WiMax and broadband wireless experimental, even though there are tens of thousands of networks of varying scales already deployed. The hotspot market is a red herring: none of the municipalities trying to provide residential and business Internet access via wireless are focused on hotspots. Rather, they're using well-established, mature technology employed by corporations, wireless ISPs, and even cellular operators and telcos for backhaul.
The third essay, The Viability of Municipal Wi-Fi Networks, is an interesting legal and regulatory disputation that I don't have the background knowledge to evaluate as completely as I would like. Elements were intriguing, even the First Amendment specter that was raised. There's a certain buy-in to this part of the report: that government can't and shouldn't do things that private enterprise can and will do. And you have to believe that most municipalities can't run existing utilities well. I haven't surveyed it; it might be true.
The essay doesn't mention the tradeoffs of government subsidizing private enterprise to provide universal access and availability, which is one of the municipal sticking points: billions have been granted or tacked on as separate taxes paid by telecom subscribers. Have utilities done worse in delivering on their promises than incumbent voice, cable, and broadband operators who have received public taxes and subsidies?
The fourth essay covers some well trod ground: Municipal Networks: The Wrong Solution. Regulation stifling competition is the reason for delays in broadband rollout. A few networks have run way overbudget or lost value; these have been cited elsewhere in this report already.
The fifth piece, The Competitive Effects of Municipal Provision of Wireless Broadband, comes from the executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute. It opens with misstatements about the kind of technology that will be used for municipal deployment, focusing on limitations of standard Wi-Fi as deployed in consumer access points. The unique point of this essay is that wireless ISPs (WISPs) should be the ones filling the gaps where they exist using ever cheaper equipment, including WiMax. (Of course, WiMax is a red herring: there's plenty cheap and workable broadband wireless gear available today, as noted earlier.)
The final essay, Municipal Wi-Fi Networks: Economic Viability and Economic Impact, is a fascinating one because it undermines parts of the rest of this report. Written by Ron Rizzuto, a professor of finance at the University of Denver, it argues that the costs for running a broadband wireless network are substantially lower than wireline and fiber networks--the primary examples being cited elsewhere for cost overruns in this report.
His thrust seems to be that municipal wireless networks might not stifle competition as long as rules are in place to keep government from establishing a playing field in which commercial enterprises can't compete.
My conclusions: This report is tremendously less incendiary than the snippets and press releases issued in advance of its appearance. It's full of interesting ideas and reasonable conclusions, with a fair amount of repetition.
If I can make one sweeping generalization about the report: any municipality thinking about installing fiber optic or wireline service would be well advised to read it and heed it. But I can't see the same justification for concluding that a wireless network--especially with Prof. Rizzuto's conclusions at the end--have the same kind of disruptive commercial and taxpayer impact that the authors maintain elsewhere in the report.
This report is largely about competition and fairness, and throughout, points to cases in which municipal networks don't meet their financial goals because investments are made suddenly by incumbent operators.
I'lll conclude, therefore, with this excerpt from a Tacoma News Tribune article from May 19, 2003 (page B1), about Comcast and Tacoma's Click! Network:
Steve Kipp, a Comcast spokesman, said competition with Click!, along with Comcast's satellite television competitors, will bring out the best in the company. "It's that competition that has really spurred the additional investment in cable and customer service," Kipp said.
Journal tests NetGear, D-Link portable gateways: This category is starting to expand as manufacturers realize that once someone tastes Wi-Fi, they don't want to back to no-Fi. Jesse Drucker, subbing for Walt Mossberg, writes in The Wall Street Journal about testing two different gateways on the road and at home. As is typical, the basic functions are fine and security settings are a bear.
Possio has updated its product line to add the PX40, which handles UMTS: Like its predecessor, the PX30, and a similar product from Junxion, the PX40 acts as a gateway to hook into a cellular data network and route the Internet to Ethernet and Wi-Fi users. The PX40 has integral UMTS support (for two popular flavors); its predecessor was more of an enabling tool without integral network connectivity, and the Junxion Box accepts PC Cards for a variety of cell data uplinks.
The PX40 displays SMS messages as well as sends them: this SMS feature is needed for certain networks that use SMS as part of the provisioning. It also has a built-in 802.1X supplicant, so it can make an authenticated network connection where needed. (802.1X in this context is like PPPoE support in home gateways: you need the end-point device to act precisely like a client.) [link via OSGi]
By the way, Junxion was featured in Business 2.0 recently, but not by name: the Stay Connected element of the Google shuttle bus from SF to Mountain View is a Junxion Box.
The "report" is out, and it's a short article that has no original research: The Heartland Institute has published what it called in the advance press a "report," but which appears to be a several paragraph long article that uses entirely secondary sources as its basis. (Correction: This is just an article introducing the topic. More on the report later; here's the link to download it.)
The article starts out saying that municipalities want to add broadband wireless to boost the economy: The theory goes like this: With widespread wireless Internet access available to anyone, local economies will boom and jobs will come to the city in droves.
It then cites Ashland and Tacoma as two poor projects in municipal broadband. But both of those cities deployed extensive fiber optic networks that have been used to provide service throughout cities that had poor infrastructure. Growth was being restricted because incumbents were unable to provide what the cities wanted for their economic future. Both Tacoma and Ashland are offering residential and business Internet access and television services at competitive market rates. Both have several private Internet providers that offer access; the fiber network is just dial tone. I'm looking into the numbers that this article cites from a Beacon Hill Institute report.
...Wi-Fi projects are likely to go over budget. Telecom industry experts already question whether the Philadelphia Wi-Fi system can be built for its proposed cost of $10 million....“When Philadelphia announced it would be doing its citywide network at a price of $10 million, that figure was laughed at. It’s way too low,” said Anthony Townsend...
Since Philadelphia plans to issue a contract to a private partner to build the network--we'll find out more in a few days when they make their formal announcement of their full plans--the $10 million is still an estimate. Anthony Townsend is quoted here from an article in Reason in which he is also noted stating that municipal projects are feasible. He should know: even though he is listed as having an association with the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC), he was a founder of nycwireless (the folks who originally brought Wi-Fi to a number of public places in New York City), and emenity, a firm that has been engaged in public-private partnerships with economic development districts in New York to add free Wi-Fi. He's been promoting municipal wireless in various forms for several years.
What it seems like this segment of the argument is about is how to budget correctly for new services and then whether those services are a good investment of taxpayer money. Although it's not clear that taxpayer money or taxpayer risk--of pouring more money in--is always at stake here; money could be coming from bonds or public/private investment partnerships. I'll be looking further into where the sources of funding for municipal broadband and wireless come from.
The article shifts gears for a moment here, by switching to the theme of universal access, which is one of the points of interest over at the NMRC. Cost considerations aside, it remains to be seen whether a municipal Wi-Fi network will achieve the goal of its proponents: wider Internet access, especially for lower-income residents who cannot afford wireline broadband such as cable modems or DSL....Municipal Wi-Fi networks like Philadelphia’s will merely duplicate similar networks operated by T-Mobile, Verizon, SBC, and numerous smaller entrepreneurs.
Now we start to get into it: We have a fundamental misunderstanding of the network at the heart of this set of objections. Philadelphia has proposed building a broadband wireless network, not a giant Wi-Fi hotspot. While the city's descriptions of its efforts would result in large areas of Wi-Fi service, its primary purpose is point-to-point: bringing service into individual homes and businesses that are unserved or underserved at the moment. (Thomas Hazlett recently wrote in the Financial Times that Philadelphia wasn't very interested in allowing a competitor of Comcast's to enter the local market; he favors a massive increase in competition; Hazlett is also listed as an "expert and scholar" associated with NMRC.)
This thread of the argument overstates competition, too. The several large firms and nameless small entrepreneurs are competing in this context for a few hotspot dollars, not the residential and commercial Internet access market.
This an unfortunate part of using a popular term like Wi-Fi to describe activities that are very un-Wi-Fi. The Heartland article goes on to note: Even if Wi-Fi is “free” for everyday residents, Wi-Fi access presents other cost barriers. Since hotspots are largely in public places, a portable laptop is the best PC to use with Wi-Fi. Laptops, however, tend to be the most expensive PCs, costing $500 to $1,000 more than desktops with comparable speed and power.
This continues the confusion over how service will be offered. Unless Philadelphia pursues something different from all of the other municipalities deploying wireless broadband, service is to the home or business through interior (window mounted) or exterior (roof mounted) antennas. The interior customer-premises equipment usually offers an Ethernet port, Ethernet is available in free or up to $100 refurbished computers that many community technology groups produce in mass quantities to bridge the digital divide. Even a new $300 computer has Ethernet. A used 802.11b Wi-Fi PCI card is maybe $10 to $20, if necessary, for a desktop machine. The article assumes people would buy brand spanking new high-performance computers. You can get laptops for well under $1,000 now, and used and refurbished ones for even less.
A final strawman is introduced: But to set up his or her home to receive wireless Internet service from the network, the average user must pay between $75 and $150, according to a leading city council proponent of the project. How can cities expect low-income citizens without broadband access to afford this “free” service?
I'll reiterate that, San Francisco's political announcement aside, all of the municipal broadband projects that I am aware of are focused on providing universal availability of service to all residents in places where the incumbent has been unwilling to do so, often citing the extreme costs of installing universal service. This doesn't mean in any of these towns or cities that everyone gets on the network "for free." What it means is that some residents will pay competitive rates, typically getting higher speeds or more service offerings than commercial providers in the same areas; others may be subsidized or provided free service through funds dedicated for that purpose, or private and federal grants.
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and this strawman proposes to connect the idea of "free" with the idea of "people with no money." But there's no such connection.
Let's roll the clock back to October 2004 to a contretemps that arose between an uninformed editorial in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the mayor of Buffalo, Minnesota, which had built their own municipal broadband network. The Press got the facts wrong, the mayor said, and, he wrote: Finally, several years ago we asked the large, out-of-state telephone and cable companies serving our city to provide residential Internet access. They declined to do so. Our community needed the service. We provided it. Now there is competition. Everybody benefits.
What's interesting in this Heartland article is that it explicitly advocates keeping taxpayers' money out of the broadband market because there's too much risk of underbudgeting for expense, and too little chance of reaching the audience or goals set by the networks. The implicit argument would be that incumbents can and will provide the service at no risk to taxpayers. If you follow Hazlett's arguments cited earlier, an increase in the competitive landscape through changes in regulations (i.e., less of them governing spectrum, which Michael Powell agreed with) could, in fact, provide better service.
If we split the municipal broadband article between city and country, I would be in general agreement. Municipal broadband projects seem to arise out of perceived need, not revenue. The Heartland folks obviously agree with this, predicting loss. An increased competitive environment coupled with universal access for less-funded residents could allow a de facto municipal network at no cost to residents. But competition for broadband is still a bit of a dream, isn't it? Hazlett notes that a lack of spectrum may keep interesting projects like Craig McCaw's from becoming fully deployed at speeds that allow competition with wireline services.
In the country, broadband is a vital link for businesses and individuals to remain competitive in a global marketplace. And it's extremely hard for incumbent carriers to make money providing high levels of bandwidth and service in small communities. It's the reason that towns like Tacoma (a big city but only recently emerged from a lumber and port focus) and Ashland (a town that's a bit of on its own in the lower part of Oregon) have plowed money in: residents want advanced services and--here's the key--can pay for them if they were available; businesses want advanced services to stay competitive. It's the reason that tiny and remote towns all over the country are building their own broadband.
The crux here, and the difference between my opinion and that of the NMRC, the Heartland Institute, and this article? Municipal broadband is almost the last resort of cities and towns that can no longer wait on the promises or lack of promises from incumbents. An increased competitive landscape could, in fact, obviate the need. But it won't happen in the current environment: the low-hanging fruit having been plucked, the incumbents are now striving to keep the debate focused on cities making bad choices instead of their own near-monopoly status, ever increased through laws passed by state legislatures--such as the latest from Oregon.
This Heartland article tries to make the case that municipalities are the wrong organizations to build networks. In a perfect world, I'd agree: the right organizations are private companies on a level playing field without sock puppets making their arguments for them, but, rather the firms contending in the marketplace for customers.
The Greenwood Branch of the Seattle Public Library system opened Jan. 29: My officemate and I stopped in to take a look at this fantastic building a few blocks from our office and chatted with the branch manager. We asked, "Is there Wi-Fi?" She said, no, but there's a plan afoot to roll it out to branches soon. But she noted that the first phone call they received after re-opening was from someone asking the same question! It's a trend.
The library was funded by Libraries for All, a truly remarkable levy that helped fund our tremendous new downtown branch (Wi-Fi throughout, Vocera badges in use by librarians), and revamp or rebuild a number of aged neighborhood libraries that were incredibly overused. Some libraries are four times as large, and the community is overjoyed. We're apparently the readingest, bookbuyingest city in the U.S.
I'm hoping that the libraries will come before citizens again soon and ask for a levy to fund operator expenses: we need more library hours, more staff, more books. The libraries are well used here, and people seem to like to pay for them (indirectly). I know I do.
Ironically, a coffeeshop half a block from the library has been hoping they'll add Wi-Fi: the shop is too small to handle more than its usual packed array of regulars and passers-by, so they hope to shunt the Wi-Fi needy over to what will be a free service at the library.
The Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) released the fruit of their efforts at the end of the week: The project is an open-source effort to provide mesh networking with no center. The system is self configuring among nodes which need no non-volatile or permanent storage.
To set up a CUWiN network, you burn a CD with the 0.5.5 software later this week and use it to boot a computer with a supported wireless card. The system finds nearby nodes, creates tables, and establishes itself as part of the network. The software is free and open source.
The full press release is after the jump.
A continuation from the previous post about a Feb. 3 announcement of a report on why municipal networks are a terrible, anti-competitive idea: In the previous post, below, I dissected BusinessWeek's blog entry on a new report that will be released on Feb. 3 from the New Millennium Research Council. In this post, I include the announcement's text after the jump below, and provide some background on each of the people who will be part of the press event.
I've done this annotation not because I wholeheartedly oppose their point of view, but rather because a light needs to be shone on the connections between organizations that call themselves independent but have ties among each other and to the industries about which they are stating they have an objective opinion about. This is about transparency, and a pro-municipal telecom group that was similarly opaque would receive the same treatment. (Oddly, there only appear to be pro-individuals and municipalities, not groups that I've heard from or about.)
David P. McClure, president and CEO of the US Internet Industry Association. This association filed an amicus brief on behalf of Verizon in an RIAA suit in which Verizon was trying to be compelled to release user information. Verizon also holds a board seat in the organization. It appears generally pro-consumer in terms of privacy and disclosure--because it's against shifting the burden of enforcement to ISPs--and anti-regulation for taxing and oversight.
The USIIA does not list its membership. Its founding members don't include many Internet service providers. US Robotics employees were key among founding members, and the group's chairman is Dennis Hayes, the legendary modem developer. The USIIA is listed as a client of Issue Dynamics, which is the parent company of New Millennium Research Council. (See below.)
Steven Titch, senior fellow for IT and Telecom Policy at The Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute describes itself as a genuinely independent source of research and commentary. Sascha Meinrath noted that the institute refuses to disclose its funding sources and doesn't list affiliations of Board of Directors on their website. However, it is a 501(c)(3) corporation. On its Form 990 filed with the IRS for 2003 (filed under an extension before August 2004), the organization checked "No" on Schedule III, Part A, line I that reads, "During the year, has the organization attempted to influence national, state, or local legislation, including any attempt to influence public opinion on a legislative matter or referendum." If they had checked yes, they are required to fill out Part VI-A and VI-B detailing expenses in cash and by other means. In 2003, they received $1.5 million in contributions from unnamed sources out of $1.8 million in revenue.
The Heartland Institute states on their Web site why they don't reveal donors: After much deliberation and with some regret, we now keep confidential the identities of all our donors. If you do not approve of this policy, your argument is not with us but with those who would abuse a sincere effort at transparency. The Center for Media & Democracy has an entry about them as well noting their smoker's rights and anti-Kyoto stances. The board includes a Philip Morris exec. [Media Transparency's list of foundation contributors.] The last donor list on their site was Oct. 17, 2002, according to the Internet Archive; it's archived here.
Braden Cox, technology counsel, Competitive Enterprise Institute. The institute focuses primarily on anti-regulation issues with particular emphasis on removing environmental regulations. Cox has written articles that appear on the Heartland Institute Web site. (A firm he worked for previous, Veriprise Wireless was acquired by Mbrane which filed for bankruptcy a few months later in Aug. 2001; it's hard to find out much about that business or its partners.)
For the CEI tax year ending 9/2003, they did claim on their Form 990 to be lobbying for legislative change in the amount of less than $13,000. Their site has no information on their funding. [Media Transparency's list of foundation contributors -- quite similar in recent years to the Heartland Institute]
Barry Aarons, Research Fellow, Institute for Policy Innovation. The Center for Media and Democracy says that IPI hides its sponsors. He spent 20 years at US West. Aarons was also connected with the Progress and Freedom Foundation, which openly lists its supporters, which include a wide range of computer, media, and telecom firms. A breath of fresh air, at last, but not connected with this effort. [Media Transparency's list of foundation contributors; again, many similar names]
Paul Bachman, Research Assistant, The Beacon Hill Institute. The Institute is part of Suffolk University. Focuses on competitiveness, which is a code word for deregulation.
The New Millennium Research Council is listed as the organization releasing the report. Their board comprises people who seem genuinely focused on universal access issues. Update: There's much more about NRMC, a division of a lobbying firm called Issue Dynamics, in this new post.
Review their list of scholars and experts who have spoken at their events or released reports under their auspices and you find a very interesting mixed bag of interests, all quite openly presented. Two Verizon employees participated in NMRC events--one a director, another a senior vice president. Both Braden Cox and David P. McClure have contributed to NMRC reports.
Anthony Townsend, formerly of NYC Wireless and emenity (once called Cloud Networks), is quoted in the advance press about the report. He is listed on the NMRC's expert and scholars page. The advance material on the report quoted Townsend as saying that Philadelphia's $10 million estimate is far too low, although he's quoted from an article in Reason, apparently not from a direct interview by the report's author. (The article, like other coverage of broadband Wi-Fi networks, assumes that the equipment being deployed will work like home wireless access points in terms of signal strength, range, and omnidirectional coverage.)
BusinessWeek's Tech Beat blog says muni bad, muni fall down and go boom: The fine folks at BusinessWeek seem to have fallen for tropes, sock puppets, and strawmen. In this post, they say that Philly probably shouldn't get into the business of offering municipal wireless Internet access because other municipalities have failed and shouldn't cities be putting their money elsewhere?
The report they cite, not yet out, is from the New Millennium Research Council which is a sock puppet for the incumbent telecommunications interests. The Council, with three listed board members, is related to several other institutions that serve as ostensibly disinterested mouthpieces for industries that want less regulation and are afraid to speak directly to that point. Sascha Meinrath unearthed the connections at three institutes a few weeks ago. In fact, I believe I received an executive summary of this report co-branded with The Heartland Institute a few weeks ago aimed at op-ed pages.
BusinessWeek believes the anti-municipal hype, which is that Philly is going to round up garbagemen and street cleaners and put them to work building out and maintaining the network. I exaggerate. But it's been clear for months that Philly is talking about finding a commercial, private partner which will build and run the network for the city on a contract basis, just as many cities don't empty the garbage themselves but hire firms (which can be fired) to do so.
In the report I believe BusinessWeek refers to, several strawmen are set up, including the fact that two municipal broadband projects--one in Tacoma and one in Ashland--have failed to meet goals and have gone overbudget. But the "report" disregards, conveniently, that these two projects were in small, struggling cities trying to reinvent themselves as more than just lumber-smell central (Tacoma) and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland). They were ahead of the curve, deploying fiber optic connections without necessarily having clear goals. They wanted to attract more business. Ashland's situation is particularly complicated.
The author conveniently ignores Palo Alto, an early fiber-optic deployer, and I have no idea whether that project was vastly successful or a huge failure. Based on what I know about the growth of Internet businesses around Palo Alto that have remained post dotcom bubble, it seems that fiber might actually attract business.
Finally, we're talking about wireless here: no need to tear up the streets again and again. No need to wonder whether fiber can be brought to the home or into businesses on a cost-effective basis. Broadband wireless is already a well-known commodity that can be delivered on a reliable basis with current technology. And it can reach plenty of areas that DSL and cable don't serve at a fraction of the raw infrastructure cost.
The reason WiMax is getting so much attention is not that WiMax makes this possible, but, rather, that WiMax turns a variety of disparate non-interoperable ideas into a coherent set of possibilities that will lower costs through standardization. WiMax doesn't enable broadband wireless; it enables cheaper, more standard, more robust flavors of broadband wireless.
The Tech Beat writer also seems to misunderstand that these aren't hotspots: But some of these hot spots might be never used (My elderly neighbors are unlikely to hook up to the Web any time soon). And in places like parks and public libraries where lots of people might want to use Wi-Fi, chances are that private companies like Wayport have already installed their access points. So, what's the point?
Philly is building broadband to the home and to work as its central purpose. They may use Wi-Fi, but it's Wi-Fi as a delivery mechanism not as a cloud of access. Philly isn't building a city-wide hotspot network; they're building a municipal dial tone that guarantees each resident the possibility of high-speed Internet access in the same way that telcos have been regulated to provide the opportunity (and subsidized funding) for every individual to have a telephone dial tone.
(On an unrelated topic, the writer notes, Here in Portland, Ore., which was severely impacted by the recession, I see homeless people standing at every freeway exit asking for money every day. Shouldn't the cities help people in need first? The answer is yes. We have those folks in Seattle, too, where we have a reasonably large homeless problem. The folks at freeway exits may be homeless, but they're actually hustlers: I see them in Seattle changing shifts, handing signs off, etc. It's a scam. The real homeless problem is much more hidden than freeway exits, and it's much more real.)
The writer also notes, So, that might mean that when a city's pockets get lean -- and that's something that happens every few years -- it could very well cut the Wi-Fi service off. And without proper maintenance, the infrastructure could quickly fall apart. It depends how the contract is written: Philly has a plan to be cash-flow positive within a few years and to establish the service on a contract basis. If the city goes bankrupt, right, the service might get cut off. But this isn't a yearly budget item any more than garbage service and water/sewer are budget items that have to be renewed. They're fee-based services that have to pay for themselves.
So what's my point in thrashing through all this? Once again, the incumbent interests are trying to pursue an agenda through misdirection rather than directly addressing what's at stake. They want less regulation in order to more efficiently pursue profit, which is not, in itself, a bad thing in a capitalist society assuming some of the returns go to shareholders. (Not a given in this executive overcompensation day and age.)
The pro-municipal forces state their cases clearly with examples, dollar figures, objectives, and real arguments. They aren't acting as sock puppets for other causes. They represent themselves. These fronts for interests degrade the quality of the debate by trying to slap the equivalent of disinterested academic rigor on top of their statements.
Let me see that Heartland Institute/New Millennium report signed by Verizon Wireless or whoever paid the bill that keeps these institutions humming. I sound pro-municipal wireless, but am actually pro disclosure.
(Disclosure: I believe that cities and other entities should have the right to install their own networks, but am dubious about whether municipal networks that aren't host-neutral will be viable in the long term.)
TeliaSonera customers can roam onto 500 NTT DoCoMo hotspots: As with the many, many other TeliaSonera HomeRun roaming relationships, this is one-account, one-bill, but isn't a free roam. Swedish and Norwegian TeliaSonera customers can roam in February; Finnish starting in March. They are NTT DoCoMo's first non-Japanese roaming partner.
Atheros talks about WAPI, 802.11N, and standards: Atheros recently announced that they would be the Wi-Fi chip supplier for Lenovo, the Chinese firm that plans to take over IBM's personal computer division. While that takeover may be temporarily held up due to politicking, it's still likely to go through, and gives Atheros a foothold in a new market.
But this relationship reminded me of the WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure) debate last year in which China was about to require this proprietary and closed security standard in all domestically sold Wi-Fi adapters and equipment. After high-level intervention by the U.S. government, China backed off from the requirement.
My objections to WAPI stemmed from its closed nature: many in the encryption world believe that closed crypto is made to be broken because it cannot be tested in a robust fashion. It's also extremely easy to provide back doors, which can be used for government monitoring as well as being themselves weak points of entry. The U.S. government wanted explicit backdoors in encryption in the 1990s; there's no reason China wouldn't want that right now.
I had the chance to speak to Atheros's Sheung Li, their product line manager, about both the WAPI standard and the progress in Task Group N (802.11n), the high throughput standard underway at IEEE as a successor to 802.11g.
The interview appears after the jump.