Kevin and I go back three years, and thus we have a lot to talk about: JiWire is finishing up its third year of existence with new insights, new products, and new partnerships. Kevin, the founder and head of the firm, and I talk about how the growth in the number of hotspots seems to be slowing at the same time as revenue and sessions are increasing; what the change from points of Wi-Fi to entire zones or cities means; how mobile WiMax and mobile data of all kinds will affect how we use devices; train-base Wi-Fi; JiWire's new security product Hotspot Helper and the whole issue of encrypting data at hotspots; and the Sony mylo, a new Wi-Fi handheld device that Skypes, IMs, and emails. (Oh, and it has JiWire's hotspot directory embedded, too.)
My disclosures, stated in the podcast are that I first started working with JiWire in August 2003, and was briefly an employee. I realized that I was unemployable (read: too many fingers in too many pies), and thus turned into a consultant and adviser for the firm after giving them some extensive editorial input. We've worked together on advertising (they handled ads for me until last summer), and other editorial projects. This podcast is not an advertorial, and we leave the JiWire-specific stuff until the end. (And I mention a host of competing products!) [25 MB, 51 min., MP3, also available via iTunes]
Question for listeners: Does anyone want additional formats beyond MP3? I prepare the podcasts in Apple's Garageband, and the native output of that is AAC format, which is nearly the same size with the settings I use, but higher quality. It's also trivial for me to produce files in some other formats if there's demand.
Glenn Fleishman: This is Glenn Fleishman, the editor of Wi Fi Networking News. This is podcast number 15, recorded on August 9, 2006. In this podcast, I'm talking with Kevin McKenzie, the head of JiWire, Inc., a firm devoted...Well, it's devoted to Wi Fi and hot spots. Greetings, Kevin.
Kevin McKenzie: Hello, Glenn. Thanks for having me.
Glenn: Before we talk, I have to make my disclosure. It's obvious since you run the company, you probably have a financial interest in JiWire. I also have a very small but, thank you, a bit of stock from my involvement as an employee in the early days of JiWire. We've had an editorial and advertising relationship of different kinds going back three years now, too. So, that's out of the way; this is not a paid announcement or advertorial but I want people to know because I criticize other folks when they don't disclose.
One of the other things that's been coming up a lot so JiWire you track hot spots because you have a hotspot directory with over a hundred thousand what's the size of the directory now?
Kevin: Gosh, we've grown so much over the last couple years we started at about 13,000 when we first launched. Now we're up to well over 100,000.
Glenn: 119,759. I'm looking at the Web site.
Kevin: Yes, to be exact.
Glenn: So there's been an enormous growth, but that's partly that the growth in hot spots is not just that more being built, although that's one factor I want to talk about. But also you're discovering more as this goes on, right? Initially, it's partly a matter of getting companies out there that are running hot spots to have an interest in having those hot spots found.
Kevin: Right, it's been an interesting evolution. I think the first goal for a lot of people in the industry was hey let's make sure Wi Fi is ubiquitous and have thousands of hot spots available everywhere. Now as things have progressed, while that's still important, what I think is even more important is that the hot spots are in the right venues and the right areas specifically commuter areas where people can really take advantage of Wi Fi.
Glenn: Right, that's going to be the big trend--is commuter stuff which we'll talk about, too. Let's talk about numbers. I talk all the time to all the hot spot operators out there--the larger ones but I have conversations with, but the smaller ones with 10 or 20 or 100, fairly frequently too. There's a lot of smaller hot spot networks often reaching only a city center or area as well as ones that span multiple countries now. Look at a hot spot operator like Surf and Sip, started in the Bay Area back in 2000, and now has locations in Poland, the Czech Republic, and the UK.
Here's the thing--a couple years ago, talking to everybody, surveying the industry people who had a thousand hotels said we'll have two thousand. People who had x hundred coffee shops said we'd have two x or three x. As I look at the industry, I don't see a lot of growth except from really big deals now. So Wayport may have 12,000 locations. I was talking to Dave Vucina recently about how they make their money from those 12,000 locations, but 8000 of those are McDonald's, several thousand are from managed service deal with AT&T FreedomLink under contract. Their basic hotel footprint has not grown the other locations have not grown they're not doing so much airport Wi Fi anymore. Wayport is the biggest US based hot spot operator yet their growth is really coming from two basic areas. Is that a trend are we going to see the venues have already been exploited and there's not as many new locations to put hot spots into?
Kevin: You know I think so. I think it comes back to what I said earlier, right. It's not about having the most hot spots; it's about having the right real estate. The right real estate fortunately or unfortunately isn't covering the entire planet. I think in order to have a successful business in this space you've got to be aware of whether the user is going to take advantage of Wi Fi. That's obviously not being in every space that's available on the planet.
Glenn: That says that at one point there was an idea of every restaurant, every coffee shop people ate or drank or did anything at would have Wi Fi. I think there's two contradictory trends--one may be that won't be the case, but two may be it's all these onesies and twosies people throwing in an access point. Have you seen more of that?
Kevin: Yeah, I think it's onesies and twosomes, and talking to operators myself--look, you know this has a been a fantastic adventure since this industry started, but in order to survive you got to have usage and got to have people using it whether it's paying or looking at ads or both. In the industry someone has to pay for this and you talk to someone like Surf and Sip and he [Rick Ehrlinspiel] is getting hot spot access points everywhere. But he's also doing it in an economical way. He can't do hundreds of thousands and be super ambitious like a lot of the visions were outlined in the early days of the industry.
Glenn: Well that's sort of a Cometa thing. Cometa talked about initially 20,000 access points in two years. Then they say 6,000 venues in two years, 20,000 devices or something. Then they said we're going out of business and locking in all the millions of dollars. Some people saw Cometa as an example of hubris. You can't just walk into an industry in progress because so many venues had been locked up. It also seemed to me those growth curves for locations isn't necessarily the thing. This is what I've heard--the hockey stick of usage like the revenue and session numbers and whatever other targets you have even the number of venues is stalling. 10 percent growth per year instead of a 100 percent like it had been previous years I've heard maybe first, second quarter 2005 revenue in sessions went way up across the board. All the operators were saying, we hit an inflection point and we're seeing these enormous month over month increases. Can you pull enough revenue out of a slow increasing pool of locations? Is there a rapid enough growth in the use of those locations?
Kevin: I think you can, right. We're not an operator, but being a site online that provides information to help people figure what is Wi Fi and where to connect we just like operators have seen sessions grow we've seen the usage of our website grow. I think that you definitely have a parallel and things in common.
Glenn: There might be a correlation between people trying to find a Wi Fi hot spot and using one.
Kevin: Exactly. You and I and several others in this industry have used Wi Fi for years, but I think just like it took a while for DSL broadband and cable broadband to take off. We're finally seeing this take traction which has been fantastic. The usage has gone up, but the locations haven't skyrocketed like they did in the early days.
Glenn: Although there's a tricky thing too, I know say if you look at the hotel market I forget the total number, something like 50,000 hotel properties in the US a couple years ago 15,000 of them had high speed internet access, often called Wi Fi even when Wi Fi was just a small part of it. So when I look at the hotel market now, I think we're well over the 50 percent mark. You can't drive down an interstate or in a small town and not see this Best Western, this mom and pop.
Kevin: Yeah, a free Wi Fi sign or Wi Fi available, absolutely.
Glenn: Or it's got internet bandwidth like people don't want to necessarily spend money to wire each room but what's happening some of those are going to be off the grid. If all 50,000 thousand hotels--it's also a counting issue. Hotels if large can be a million square feet or something like that, which seems like that's part of it too. If a hotel has limited access and suddenly every room has Wi Fi that doesn't increase the count in your directory.
Kevin: Right, it doesn't. I would say I think our directory is the best representation of the market but it wouldn't be right for me to say it's 100 percent accurate in the sense that Wi Fi is obviously this unlicensed spectrum and it is taking off. For all we know, there might be a lot of independent venues that are taking it upon themselves to launch it and offer it to their patrons.
Glenn: I've often heard of the backlash factor is that at some small venues don’t want to advertise. I’ve heard that someone wanders in and you have Wi Fi? They look at them and say not a regular. No, we don't have Wi Fi, they don't want to say--have signage, have people there. I wrote last year almost a year and a half ago about the cafe in town that was turning its Wi Fi off on the weekends because the regulars couldn't come in and get a cup of coffee and sit down because of laptops. Could there be a backlash--could you have an undercount because locations purposefully don't want to or don't care to be listed?
Kevin: I don't think that. We're reaching out more and more to this industry because ultimately our goal is to be the most complete and comprehensive directory in the world. We have not heard that; we've heard the opposite that people want to offer it. They want to be the clean, well-lighted place people want to go to every day. At least in my experience.
Glenn: Let's talk some more about trends then, too, because I think this is kind of the fun part. So you have hot spots, the pinpoints of light. We know there's 120,000. Some of those are airports that span 500 gates and others are somebody's coffee shop that's a hole in the wall. You got that kind of range for what the 120,000 hot spots could be.
New trends coming to the market: we see Boingo which has been an aggregator reseller of other people's networks they have north of 50,000 hot spots that they're networked now which they can resell. They buy Concourse Communications, one of the leading outfits doing Wi Fi and cellular installation in airports. Concourse has Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, the three New York area airports, Chicago, Midway. Why would Boingo buy Concourse? What sense does it make for them as a hot spot aggregator--why would they buy an infrastructure builder where that hasn't been part of their model their whole existence?
Kevin: I think it comes down to usage. So you know Dave Hagen hasn't told me this directly, so it's an assumption.
Glenn: That's the head of Boingo.
Kevin: Yes, the head of Boingo, Dave Hagen. They obviously need to grow their subscriber base and my feeling is that you know that they're at the forefront of what venue types people are using when it comes to using their time and service. My assumption is airports have to be the highest usage area; that's why a lot of service providers are clamoring to renew their bids on them or outbidding each other to take over that real estate. It comes down to usage. He probably saw that Concourse was a network that had a lot of usage and ultimately could be kind of two things. One is a marketing vehicle for him to get more subscribers and two is the ability to have a network that could ultimately give them more negotiating power when it comes to trading foot prints with other providers.
Glenn: I wondered about that because the peering relationships have become important like the roaming network is important and Boingo has the biggest roaming network--iPass has the biggest roaming network but their model is really focused at corporate customers in a metered way that allows a corporation to smear the costs of lots of access across their entire user basis instead of individual subscriptions.
Boingo, on its consumer facing side, hey it's 22 bucks a month for unlimited usage in the US. In other places you pay fixed surcharges in some locations. So Boingo has this enormous footprint but they always want more locations, and airports could give them a good negotiating chip for that.
Kevin: Absolutely, everyone is opening up footprints to one another and that would put them in a better position of negotiating and expanding and roaming onto other footprints. I really think that it's got to be effective marketing for them to offer to not only access but then their subscription access to roam anywhere on the planet at the point of connection. They clearly spent a lot of marketing dollars over the last several years to figure out what works and what doesn't. I imagine that's an effective way to build their subscriber base.
Glenn: It's all private, so we don't know the deal cost or whether Concourse had debt to be redeemed, as infrastructure building is expensive. But Boingo is going to get hundreds of millions of people a year passing through the airport, not all using Wi Fi, of course, but the large percentage of business travelers who do will flip open their laptop and see Concourse operated by Boingo--Hey, download the Boingo client today. It's almost in the same way they'll get the revenue from Concourse reselling access to iPass to any roaming partners Concourse already had.
I remember talking to Dave Hagen a few weeks ago when the deal was announced it's going to be strictly non discriminatory access that's their intent. I imagine if they weren't there would be some big squawking because competitors who couldn't sell service in the airports because Concourse wouldn't let them buy it would be a big deal. I believe it's the test of time whether anyone squawks or sues or whatever. The idea is that Boingo now they get that revenue stream and on top of it get incremental customer monthly usage, too.
Kevin: Yep, and again I've been told that, but that's the logic that goes through my head for the logic behind that acquisition in the first place.
Glenn: Well there's a nice segue too in which one of the things I'm passionately interested in as Wi Fi moves from this pinpoint technology and we talk about airports which are not pinpoints but large territories. We're now getting city wide municipal--sometimes municipally sponsored or authorized networks. We're getting experiments--this is the transition--Concourse is one of the four companies that's going to build a test network for the Capital Corridor train line in your part of the world. You’re at one end of that train line, and San Jose is other (you’re in Sacramento). Capital Corridor train line has four companies Earthlink, a consortium that involves satellite usage ATCI leading it, Concourse and the fourth I'm blanking out. Four companies will build a test network in this location to see what train-based commuter access could be like. We're starting to see all these different models. What happens when Wi Fi is a continuous thing across a city or across a 180-mile train route? How does that change usage and the way you count Wi Fi locations?
Kevin: It's something obviously we've had to think about. I think what we're going to focus on is not a specific location but a specific zone. You're going to see our directory evolve that way. Instead of saying at this address you can get access, we're going to say within this geographic area or zone that you'll be able to get this type of access from these type of providers as various choices to the end user.
Glenn: I'll punch in an address and I might see an overlay?
Kevin: Exactly you'll see a cloud vs. a specific location on a map.
Glenn: Reminds me of how the cellular operators have done that; there's been some better mapping tools--like T Mobile has a neat tool. As I understand it, it's a simulation of where you type in a street address, and it says, hey, here's what we expect your coverage to be based on our calculation of your location which is fascinating.
Nomad Digital is the fourth company, by the way, for Capital Corridor. Nomad is running service on the Brighton to London line. They're part of the Caltrain test that just happened. I don't want to leave them out when I'm citing these trials.
Kevin: That's an exciting new category of venues.
Glenn: Rail-based Wi Fi.
Kevin: Talk about making the commute so appealing to have that available. I believe it'll actually get more usage than an airport will.
Glenn: The train operators sometimes sound a little nervous. I've been talking to a bunch of them. Sometimes they're a little nervous. They know the business passengers want it, but are sometimes a little hesitant, like, should we really do this? But there's been some kind of breakthrough with cellular uplink speeds, satellite pricing for bi directional satellite. Talking to GNER in the UK, they're extremely happy with their usage rates. The Swedish train line that started--I think it's called SJ--that started with one train a couple three years ago now. They have 42 trains equipped with Wi Fi.
Kevin: I can't think of a better more exciting event to promote public transportation then what's happening with Wi Fi and trains. For anyone who is working hard all day and can actually effectively use an hour or so to get work done--even two hours on a train as opposed to sitting in traffic that seems like an amazing alternative to driving.
Glenn: I would hope so or even it's even kind of a tradeoff. I heard of this with the Connexion by Boeing flights where they've got broadband in the air internationally--for however long we don't know at this point. I've heard that story where people--if it's a 14-hour flight people don't work for 14 or 10 hour flight. They might work four or five hours intermittently. If you have a two hour commute on a train vs. a two hour commute in the car. Even if you only get an extra hour or 45 minutes of work done and you relax the other hour, that's still superior to coming home saying hello to your kids and running to the home office to keep up with what you're doing with work.
Kevin: Exactly. I recently went to Taipei to look at the city wide network there. I took obviously a long flight and have the first opportunity to take advantage of the Connexion service and it was incredible. Be able to land and not have to worry about 50 things I had to get done; it felt great. I'm excited for the trains.
Glenn: I'm sort of bummed the Connexion might go away it sounds pretty likely it will because the extreme cost.
Kevin: Yeah I'm really disappointed in that. It's a fantastic service.
Glenn: But the flip side is there's at least three companies that are going to launch. There's OnAir and AirCell in the US rather—Aeromobile and OnAir in Europe that will launch services next year. We'll see something in the air again.
Here's another good transition. So we're talking about clouds of access and new modes. Sprint announces the other day, we're going with mobile WiMax, we can cover a third of the country. Clearwire a couple weeks ago says mobile WiMax we've got our billion dollars of investment--we need to make the next step. What happens if mobile WiMax takes off? I don't know mean specifically for JiWire, but does that negate Wi Fi as a business model and hotspots less important if half or a third of the country can use Wi Fi like speeds at least in the backhaul like the Internet access side as they could as they're sitting someplace?
Kevin: It's a great question. I think obviously it can hurt paid Wi Fi access in airports, but the upside for companies dependent on that if they've done a great job at acquiring customers who care about wireless broadband regardless of the flavor. I don't see it being terribly difficult for them to migrate from Wi Fi to WiMax, and I think they'll play an important role in that ecosystem as it progresses. I think we have to remember that Wi Fi is an open, free spectrum, and WiMax is not. At the same time we also have to remember that there are millions of devices computers that now have a Wi Fi radio on them that will take advantage of Wi Fi as long as there's an open, free spectrum like Wi Fi. I think it will continue to be used. If anything, my view is that WiMax will be a backhaul replacement. Mobile WiMax is something that is awesome and I'm excited about it and it's got to be for pay. And people love Wi Fi because it's a free spectrum.
Glenn: You got to love, though--I was listening to the Sprint conference call announcing the deal and it was very interesting. They were frank surprisingly about a lot of things that I would thought they wouldn't have talked about: the competing technologies they evaluated and decided against. One of the things one of the folks said, which was completely specious in one sense, although right in another, well, you know how frustrating it is now you go into a place that has Wi Fi, you flip open your laptop, there's a bunch of people to choose from and you pay 10 dollars an hour for usage?
First I noticed he had an English accent. In the UK you're going to pay six or ten pounds an hour for usage of service and second, if you're roaming in Europe unlike in the US where we have essentially a lot of free across roaming partners or Boingo one rate across the US. In Europe, if you have a roaming agreement for like TeliaSonera with Orange or T Mobile, you're still paying a rate just a negotiated rate on a single bill. I did agree, the guy is right, that you do sometimes walk in and you want that walk up service and you have to go to a specific location, and if it's not your provider, even if you're paying 20 or 30 dollars a month for unlimited Wi Fi, it may not be right there. I do agree there's a leg up. But I do think it's funny the 10 dollar an hour figure--not in the US, not in the US.
Kevin: Right, exactly, it'll be interesting to see how that pans out because if it's not I'm sure the first service plans that roll out will be fairly expensive and just kind of go down in price over time like every service that rolls out. As long as Wi Fi is available everywhere and not expensive, I think it has a leg up for a while against mobile WiMax.
Glenn: Here's another issue, too, is in the US it's going to be 2.5 GHz because Clearwire and Sprint own, maybe BellSouth would do something at 2.3 GHz; elsewhere in the world it could be different frequencies and profiles. I've talked to folks, talked to Monica Paolini about mobile WiMax, and the issue is even if Intel is going to bundle as they say they are a mobile WiMax receiver like a Wi Fi card in every new Centrino device the Rosedale chip they're putting in all these new computers. In the US, I've got one service plan. Am I going to be able to fly into France, and if there's a mobile WiMax service use that same card and account? Wi Fi is generally in the 2.4 GHz band; it’ss pretty uniform throughout the US. Almost every country in the world allows some kind of indoor and most allow outdoor use of that.
Kevin: Right so I question how that can all be all built up with WiMax with only two companies Clearwire and Sprint. It'll be interesting to watch.
Glenn: We'll see how it develops; it's definitely a competition of what the next generation of cellular technology is going to be. They said, "We're not so happy with Qualcomm owning everything." That's one of the views. On the other hand, Sprint's only going to be able to cover a third of the U.S. with this, so they're going to be paying money to Qualcomm for many, many years to come, no question about that no matter what technology is used for 100 million people. [laughter]
So let's talk about another issue which is, yesterday, you guys announced a product, and I think this ties in with a lot of things we're talking about too is the increased usage of Wi Fi, increased usage in different sorts of places, standing outside. So it's not controlled use of Wi Fi or even at a hot spot you trust, it's going to be sitting on a park bench, riding the train, in flight, right?
Glenn: You guys just rolled out the next release of a security tool, and, again, I'll point out this not paid advertorial--I'm mentioning competitors, HotSpotVPN.com, PublicVPN, WiTopia, there are many companies offering competing services. And what it really is, is a virtual private network [VPN], an encrypted tunnel that takes all your traffic and wraps it up securely and dumps it out somewhere else on the Internet far from the hot spot. So there are a lot of competitors for a service for a hot spot traveling customer for hire where you know the corporation behind you, and so forth. A few dollars a month, or a few dollars a year, the point is if I'm using personalVPN from WiTopia, or your product HotSpot Helper from JiWire, the point is I'm trying to protect my data when I'm in places where I feel vulnerable. This is kind of the point of this product that is I'm going to be in unknown locations.
Glenn: So, tell me about how HotSpot Helper works. I've used SpotLock, the previous version which was sort of an application interface, this is a little bit more hidden isn't it? It's a little less obtrusive than SpotLock.
Kevin: Exactly. I mean we'd learned--we launched SpotLock about a year and a half ago, and learned a lot. We're a very user-driven company, so we talked to our users, we listened to them, and we learned a couple of things. One is that a lot of client software for Wi Fi has to have a connection manager. And a connection manager can somewhat compete with what the operating system connection manager, specifically Microsoft's Zero Config, and so we found that with a connection manager on top of Microsoft's Zero Config, it created a lot of confusion and even some technical issues for the end user.
Glenn: So the connection manager was designed--that’s so that you could have profiles--like Boingo's client, that was a really early XP client.
Glenn: In fact I used to recommend to people, because XP before Service Pack One especially, it was really hard to keep connections, the configurations would be lost, you'd lose your WEP keys. So I said get Boingo even if you don't use it as a hot spot manager.
Kevin: Right, Boingo was definitely way ahead of Microsoft.
Glenn: Right, it was a profile manager, and, now, Microsoft got better with that, although I still find it a little funky, but you're saying that handling that, like trying to take over that function is problematic?
Kevin: Very problematic, and you know if you take a user who's used to using Zero Config and then try to get them to use another client to manage their profiles and connect to a signal, it just doesn't flow. There's a lot of friction for them is what I've found.
Glenn: And we even know Vista is not going to have the configuration approach that's in XP, like the same screen. I haven't seen the new one, but it's not even going to be like this because even if you get used to it, it’s really frustrating [and] there are several different versions of it inside XP. But then, as you say, it competes--even though software should be able to layer on top of it, and every Wi Fi card you get tries to install its own connection manager, which disables Zero Config. Still, letting XP handle it is probably the best solution because it's the lowest level, it's the most supported thing.
Kevin: Exactly. You know the second thing we found is look, people want to do three things at a Wi Fi hot spot: they want to browse the web, they want to do their email, and they want to do instant messaging. What they don't want to do is look at a large application that kind of even takes over a quarter or a third of their stuff that has to do with Wi Fi. As much as we'd love to think that they're going to use JiWire all day, they don't. So we just have to help them, in an elegant way, connect and manage their connection. And so we took full and austere approach of really being kind of a subtle little application that works on the side and is available in the System Tray, and we have an interface that we call a "toast" that pops up out of the System Tray and really helps the user.
Glenn: Oh now I get it. It's "toast" that pops up. Ok, I'm sorry, that was sort of a bad joke, but I understand now because you hover over it or you click on it, and I just installed to test it, and it pops up like toast. So it shows you when you want to see it, you're getting it as opposed to having screen territory that you have to bring up or a program that you have to execute.
Kevin: Exactly, and it goes away when you want it to go away. And we make it easy for you to uninstall it if you don't want it anymore. And we just, we're very focused on being super user friendly, and not trying to be a part of their world 100% of the time.
Glenn: Now the distinction between this and some other programs, like HotSpotVPN.com, I've tested and written some articles about all the hot spot VPN software and products out there, and a lot of them you're configuring your own client. Or in one case, I downloaded for the Mac, a program called the TunnelBlick, the German word for "tunnel glance" [laughter] I guess you'd say, tunnel connection [Note: actually, "tunnel vision"!--gf], and TunnelBlick is free software that overlays the open VPN software that's in the background that I installed on my Mac. And it's pretty unobtrusive, it's just a pop down menu, but I had to go in and enter some values, I had to download a certificate from the provider.
Glenn: Install the certificate, and I'm not saying I don't think this is a huge bar for a number of people. I followed the instructions and everything went exactly as required but I had to install a couple of certificates, do a little bit of configuration, and then it's just a little thing, and I select connect or disconnect. But you're packaging the whole software package so there's no--the idea is that this is for people who don't necessarily want to know what a certificate is.
Kevin: Right. So the way we looked at the opportunity we see out there as Wi Fi becomes more ubiquitous and highly available as an alternative to fixed broadband with municipal Wi Fi, we see security being an issue and we want to offer a product that is really user friendly, that requires no configuration from the end user so they don't have to really have a whole lot of knowledge about how to configure things on their operating system. It just works with one click. And that was really the approach of our product.
Glenn: The flip side is, of course, you're now platform dependent, so you've got an XP--I assume Windows 2000 support?
Glenn: Ok, Windows 2000/XP. You were telling me before we started talking you were using a lot of Macintoshes in house. So you can't just, here are some configuration instructions and download this package for your platform, this free software the VPN providers are offering. I can use it on Linux, I can use it on Windows ME if I could get that operating system running. So you're going to have to develop this application for different popular platforms in order for people to be able to use it, right?
Kevin: Absolutely, I mean we have a huge Mac following. We created a [Dashboard] Widget when Tiger was released about a year ago. It was one of the first Widgets available at Apple.com. And to date we have over 400,000 downloads of that Widget.
Glenn: That's pretty wild, Apple featured it I noticed too. Apple likes Wi Fi and Apple featured it on their widgets download page a number of times, I think, as a top download or something.
Kevin: Exactly. So we're super excited, we're very passionate Apple fans, and we're excited to launch some Apple programs very soon.
Glenn: Well good. As a Mac user, always happy to hear there's going to be more software that makes it easier to do something on the Mac. Although the Mac has a pretty good VPN client built in, it doesn't support natively, and I assume this is using SSL VPN software?
Kevin: We're testing both, we're not quite sure what direction we're going to be going.
Glenn: That's interesting.
Glenn: Even though it works for you, this is the thing not to get into too many things, our listeners probably don't care to know all the details but you know there is PPTP which is Microsoft's support that's sort of deprecated now. There is IPsec, widely supported but sometimes difficult to get all the pieces together and not a lot of encryption options. And I know that SSL, OpenSSL is an open-source project, has really led to a lot of adoption of SSL-based VPNs, because it's just a little simpler, a little more flexible to get everything to work right. That's been my take, but I don't know, I'm sure it varies from platform to platform, implementation to implementation.
Kevin: Right, exactly. Exactly. I don't know from our point of view, we're not religious about IPsec versus SSL, we think they're both excellent and we're actually working with both.
Glenn: That's good.
Kevin: I'm not prepared to say exactly what approach [laughter] we're doing with the Mac just yet.
Glenn: That's fine. So let's talk big picture about this, too, is the thing. I've spent now, I feel like, years. I'm not a Cassandra, I'm not a voice in the wilderness. People do listen to this, and I know other people have taken up the cause, but it's when you're using a hot spot network, if I walk in with the exception, I'll say of T Mobile and iBahn, formerly STSN, we'll come back to them. But if I walk into Joe's Coffee, if I walk onto a college campus in many cases, wherever I'm at, and I make a Wi Fi connection, everything on my computer that I'm sending back and forth, all the data and even like file service access into my computer if I don't have all the patches installed or I've left file sharing on or whatever exploits can affect any computer that's on a network, I'm really sunk here, right? Because, this is what I've been saying, is all my data that's transferred if it isn't encrypted in some particular way by a piece of software, like I'm not doing a banking transaction using SSL, is all exposed, isn't it?
Kevin: Exactly, exactly. It's very real, and I think it's obviously one of our challenges from a business standpoint, but as usage goes up it's going to become a bigger issue which is everyone is very exposed. And there will be, we believe that there will be some big stories in the future where people will have their information looked at. And we're excited about our solution because it's simple and we think it makes Wi Fi very safe, and that's where we see our overall opportunity. I think, the other thing, is that we help users beyond just security with this application. The other issue is that we actually started to work on SpotLock and now we think we've mastered with HotSpot Helper is the whole SMTP relay issue.
Glenn: Oh yeah, this has been big. I mean when Boingo started talking about their software release in December 2000, they said one of the things we're going to do is provide authenticated SMTP where with the user name and password you can log into our mail servers and send mail through every hot spot that you're at. And people went "Hallelujah!" because of all the spamming that was going on. Outbound mail servers by 2000 were being locked down. Now, you know, you can't send outbound email without being able to log in someplace, so this is your pass at being able to integrate that ability for people?
Kevin: Exactly, and do it in a way that if they're using--a lot of people obviously use web based email and this isn't relevant--but if a user has a POP mail server that they're logging into from an email client like Eudora or Outlook, they're just going to get frustrated, right? They're going to try and send an email out and they're not going to be able to do it, and a lot of people aren't technical enough to do it or enough to know why. And so with our solution it basically just makes Wi Fi or email work at a Wi Fi hot spot. Ultimately what we're doing is relaying packets using the same technology that we use with an IPsec VPN. It's a unique way, and we hear from our users, a big issue that users are having, specifically the small and medium business or the student, are having at hot spots. So we're excited about that, helping the user and fixing that problem.
Glenn: Are you running your own SMTP server for outbound email or does this stuff then tunnel to theirs somehow?
Kevin: No, we're running our own.
Glenn: Oh, I see, so their address, so I'm using Eudora, I've got my return address set, your SMTP server will accept the mail through this authenticated protected tunnel and send it out on my behalf, essentially.
Kevin: Exactly, and obviously we don't like facilitating spam [laughter] so we've put a limit to that too. So it's up to about 100 emails a day that'll work; if it exceeds that we're alerted and go wow, this is meant to be malicious and we can ultimately turn it off. But it's there to help the user.
Glenn: The way I've gotten around this of course is that I've found a mail provider, FastMail.fm, that does SSL email for incoming and outgoing. So when I'm at a hot spot and sometimes there's difficulty with that, some hot spots block port 25 as kind of a mail port as a way to avoid spam going out but that's only for stupid spammers; smart spammers can use all sorts of other methods to get out.
Kevin: Right, right. [laughter] Exactly.
Glenn: So I do an SSL connection, my email client connects out, makes a secure tunnel to FastMail's mail servers and logs in so I can do that. It's becoming more and more common to have SSL email available from Internet service providers, but it's also just yet one more thing to configure. I know I was excited when Boingo added their feature, I think this is kind of a neat idea because it just means zero configuration for outbound email, I just send it and your system will take care of it.
Kevin: That's our whole goal for the client constantly. If it doesn't mean zero configuration, then we're not doing our job. I think the last thing that's really unique about this is the offline directory. We were really inspired by what Google did with Google Desktop. We thought it was neat that they were able to obviously index your hard drive, and then make the information searchable and available through a web browser as an interface. So, along the same lines we've kind of re engineered our directory to be basically indexed and then ultimately searchable and available through a web browser offline as opposed to a proprietary Visual Basic client.
Glenn: Oh, that's nice.
Kevin: We actually make it available through a web browser which gives us a lot of flexibility in taking advantage of HTML and navigation and packaging, and it's just kind of a unique approach. So that's another element of this application.
Glenn: Well I know that's the thing, you're traveling and trying to find a Wi Fi hot spot and you don't have any connectivity, you don't want connectivity to find connectivity.
Glenn: You want the offline directory to be available, and you want it to be proximity based, you want all the other features to be within 100 miles, all the things that you go to the website for. Ok, one last thing because we're running up against my self imposed limit for the times of these podcasts. mylo, all lowercase, Sony's new "My Life Online" product. Now I bring this up because I know that you guys snagged a great business deal: your U.S. hot spot directory is embedded in this device.
Glenn: And you've seen it; I don't have my hands on one of these yet so I want to talk about it. It's a Wi Fi connected communicator. Is this thing as cool as a Sidekick? Is this going to take the universe by storm, and if so which part of the universe?
Kevin: Yeah, it is very cool. We had, since we developed a product for it, an opportunity to see it early on, and it is really cool. It's similar size to a Sidekick, it's got a keyboard similar to a Sidekick, but it does so much more. It takes advantage of Sony's incredible content library of music and videos, and just gives the end user the real basic things that they need and quite honestly probably use the majority of the time every day, which is instant messaging. And it does have a web browser on it.
Glenn: It's got Skype too, doesn't it? It's got Skype built in?
Kevin: Yeah, and that's what's really amazing, right, it finally, we've obviously all love Skype and what it's done for our communication lives...
Glenn: This call is being recorded. This podcast is being recorded directly from Skype, so there you go.
Kevin: Yeah, and there you go. And we've all kind of heard about these voice handsets that have a Skype client on them that people can kind of walk around to hot spots and kind of use. I personally have never used one yet until I saw the mylo device. It works, it really for the first time allows people to take advantage of using voice over a very cheap spectrum called Wi Fi. So my view is it's going to be a success. We're going to see a lot of other companies do something similar, but Sony clearly is pioneering the space. And the biggest audience for this device is going to be the university and college kids.
Glenn: Yeah, let's talk about that because you know already I have these great stories that I think I've already told in another podcast where I hear about a friend of mine working on a project. He's in his 40's working in a project with a college student, and she tells her she does not know that her phone can make outbound calls. Her fixed wired phone in her room that she still has? She's like, "Oh that thing makes outbound calls." She knows it rings, and you're thinking how naive, how stupid, and you're like, "No, no, no, the kids never touch a wired phone unless they're absolutely desperate." She's never had to pick up the thing and hear a dial tone, so that's the audience mylo is for, people that are already used to carrying a mobile phone.
Kevin: Right, exactly. And mylo just does everything what I think college kids are passionate about. Most importantly it's got a huge emphasis on entertainment with music and videos but it's a phone with Skype that works at Wi Fi and Wi Fi is available all over universities.
Glenn: So instead of getting a cell phone, conceivably, I could be at college, maybe I have my cell phone as an emergency, but I could be at college on a campus that's got Wi Fi, ubiquitous coverage I'm already paying for in my student fees. I can spend, I forget what it is, like $10 a year for a SkypeIn, real PSTN public switched telephone network, number and I can pay, well right now nothing to make unlimited calls in the U.S. and Canada because of Skype trying to kill Vonage [laughter]. But ultimately like $.01 or $.02 a minute to most landlines in the U.S. and not very much to Europe. So I could be on a college campus and the Skype device, my parents might say "I'm not going to buy you a cell phone but I'll buy you a mylo and I'll buy you a SkypeIn number so I can reach you there."
Kevin: Absolutely, absolutely.
Glenn: That's funny.
Kevin: Obviously most of these kids have accounts with Yahoo and with Google and they'll have Messenger available right there from both those companies.
Glenn: Well it's got a Web browser too, right? So I can authenticate to hot spots, which has been a missing piece for a lot of the phones.
Glenn: I mean Linksys has got a $350 phone that looks super cool and it's got a mini browser in it, but it's $350 and all it is a VoIP phone that can authenticate, and it's going to have some authentication profiles in it. mylo is retailing, I can't even remember, is it $300? Something like that?
Kevin: About $300.
Glenn: $300, and it's going to do all these different features and, because it's got a web browser, it means I'm going to be able to type in a username and a password, accept the usage agreement, whatever I need at a hot spot. So it seems like they even took, I know there real intent was to push entertainment, but the tie in with Wi Fi is that you have to have that browser still.
Kevin: Absolutely, absolutely. It's a great product and for JiWire as a company what it challenged us with doing was packaging our information for a non PC device. And we believe that that is the future, so we have more conversations around non PC devices than we do PC devices as we expand our business going forward. mylo has been a great product to showcase exactly what we can do as a company, so we're excited about this phase overall.
Glenn: Well it's going to be interesting when mylo is going to have a gigabyte of built in flash RAM, it's got expansion slot for SD, Secure Digital. I just saw yesterday, day before, Socket released a $100 pretty widely driver supported SDIO Wi Fi card. Every camera, I mean two years from now, every camera is going to have Wi Fi built in or you'll stick a card in and they'll all have it. I just bought a gigabyte of flash memory, it was SD format flash memory, it was like $30 and that's dropping.
Glenn: So it seems like, I've got my Wi Fi camera and hey, it only takes 100 MB to have an entire directory of all the hot spots in the U.S. on it, this reminds me of, what was the product? Five years ago, it was for the Palm, you download modules for each city, you'd walk around and it would give you walking directions but no maps for restaurants and things. I can't remember what that was called. It was a big deal at the time, it was very exciting because the Palm has like what, 16MB of memory so you're like, "I'm going to go to San Francisco [laughter] and so I'll check those two boxes and then spend 10 minutes downloading two megabytes for them." But when we're going to have a camera sold in 2008, right now you get a camera and they ship it with a 32 MB flash card which cracks me up. Two years from now they're going to ship it with a 512 MB flash card, that's just going to be uniform. It's going to have onboard memory. So these Wi Fi devices, we have to figure out where we're going to connect them.
Kevin: Absolutely, and speaking of the camera space, that's exciting with the Wi Fi radio on the cameras because obviously it can become an alternative to storage.
Kevin: As far as uploading your photos. But second, just like we're seeing MP3 players over Wi Fi giving the ability for users to buy songs through the MP3 player directly, I think the same thing will happen with cameras where people will just be able to process their film and upload their film to sites like Flickr through Wi Fi.
Glenn: Oh, my gosh, well that's going to push upload speeds too. I tested the Kodak EasyShare-One camera, their first Wi Fi enabled camera and I thought it was a really great camera in a lot of ways but the Wi Fi part was really weak and clunky and they only tied in with EasyGallery. But you know, the product manager, I had an interview with him, and he said, "Tell us what you want. Tell your readers to tell us what you want because this isn't our end all be all, this is our first pass." I was actually like, "Oh my goodness, they're actually going to listen to people, " and there's word that the next release that's coming out soon with that Wi Fi camera is going to support not just things like WPA which was missing and foolish to not have. But I said put secure FTP in there, let me transfer these pictures anywhere, don't tie me into your EasyShare Gallery service because that's a walled garden, that limits the utility, let me send these pictures anywhere. So in your vision, I'm taking the pictures, I'm out there taking them and I'm not evening managing, I mean I don't even have to manage it, right? I'm just taking pictures and they're being streamed however slowly.
Kevin: They're being streamed, in real time.
Glenn: Oh that'd be fun.
Kevin: You know, I think that companies like, or services--Flickr is part of Yahoo now--Flickr and even YouTube on the video side, I think they're obligated to figure out how to make an easy conduit between their services and these devices, and really using Wi Fi as the middleware to connect the pieces.
Glenn: That's going to be the scary part, streaming video. This is what Sprint was pushing as one of their messages for mobile WiMax yesterday, and what Wi Fi conceivably with 802.11n on the horizon, you're going to have dramatically higher upload speeds and backhaul: Verizon is pushing it's fiber out to 30 million homes. And that's going to include, we talk about residences, but it means more and more small and medium sized businesses are going to have fiber connections too that cost as much or less than what they could pay for a T1 today. So you're going to have hot spots that have 10 megabit per second uplinks to the Internet. And then streaming video I'm at a ball game and there's a hot spot nearby or I'm in part of town that has good coverage, I could be streaming that video over mylo with a camera or whatever it is, directly to YouTube.
Glenn: So we'll all be embarrassed much faster, we'll all be embarrassed by video much faster [loud laughter]
Kevin: Exactly. We thought taking photos from a camera and being able to upload them immediately was revolutionary, but I think this is going to be incredible. Things are just going to happen much, much faster.
Glenn: It's happening too fast but luckily we have children so they'll teach us how to use it. [loud laughter]
Glenn: 15 or 20 years. Well, boy, always a pleasure to talk to you, and again I'll give my disclosure. I've been talking to Kevin McKenzie, the head of JiWire, a hot spot directory service that is also offering some security products now. And just to reiterate my disclosure, I actually do own a small number of shares in JiWire but this has not been a paid advertisement. This has been a fun conversation about a whole range of things, including security and the future of devices, so Kevin, thanks for joining me with this.
Kevin: Glenn, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Glenn: This has been podcast #15, recorded on August 9, 2006. And this is Glenn Fleishman, the editor of Wi Fi Networking News.