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Feature at Macworld on the best choices for iPhone-Fi: I wrote this feature for Macworld as a rundown of the best ways to find (and possibly pay for) Wi-Fi for an iPhone. Because the iPhone has a full-fledged browser, you'll be able to connect to locations that have gateway pages for terms of service acceptance, login, or payment. This includes Boingo, it turns out.
Yesterday, the firm wrote me to correct a misunderstanding. While Boingo uses a software client to allow automatic logins to their aggregated network's partner locations, the software client isn't a strict requirement. Most of Boingo's partners also have gateway pages that allow you to select a roaming partner, including all their airport locations (Boingo operates a number of airports themselves through an acquisition). This is great, because the very best U.S. and worldwide subscription deals are through Boingo, and iPhone users can tap into that.
The iPhone's features include VPN support--a helpful reader corrected me on that yesterday--and that's going to be problematic for most VPN users. Why? Because many corporations have moved to SSL-based VPNs, and Apple's Mac OS X includes only IPsec over L2TP and PPTP. I'm not sure if there's a generic way to support SSL-based VPNs without being able to edit the configuration file or install a specific one. Update: The iPhone supports just IPsec and PPTP.
Most of the hotspot-VPN services use specially configured SSL-based clients, too. HotSpotVPN is the only firm I know offering PPTP-based subscription VPN access (their legacy service, as they moved their main offering to SSL); post others you know in the comments below.
Apple CEO scrounges Wi-Fi on street corners: Steve Jobs tells the Wall Street Journal: "Most of us have Wi-Fi networks around us most of the time at home and at work. There's often times a Wi-Fi network that you can join whether you're sitting in a coffee shop or even walking along the street piggybacking on somebody's home Wi-Fi network." Okay, now I get it. He and AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson, also interviewed in the same article, just don't get Wi-Fi. They get cell networks.
What's wrong with Jobs's statement? First, Wi-Fi at a corporation with any decent infrastructure is protected either by Wi-Fi outside the VPN (old school) or 802.1X, which requires a special client package (a supplicant)--a package found in OS X, XP, and Vista. Apple is almost certainly using 802.1X. Which means that Mr. Jobs may have a very very special access point in his office that's set up for him to use with his iPhone, and which is heavily firewalled. Or he has an iPhone with a supplicant installed. Or the iPhone will offer supplicant support at launch. (There's apparently VPN support, according to the FAQ; IPsec-over-L2TP and PPTP VPN clients are built into OS X. [Thanks to Henry Stukenborg for the correction.]) Update: I've confirmed (by buying an iPhone) that only WPA/WPA2 Personal are supported.
Second, he's recommending people kipe Wi-Fi service. What th'?! As we all know, Wi-Fi mooching is becoming increasingly illegal, even when no financial loss is involved.
More to the point, both the WSJ article and a shorter piece on the networking part in the New York Times reveal that while the concerns about 3G chips are certainly valid--what they need didn't exist and may not exist yet, but will exist sometime soon--they're really fighting a rearguard action on EDGE and EDGE's speed. Stephenson says in both articles that EDGE is a 300 Kbps technology. Not so much that I've heard. It can peak way up to near 500 Kbps, but the average speeds routinely cited by trade groups (not carriers) is 100 to 150 Kbps.
To get 300 Kbps or higher, you need eight timeslots, which won't always be available because of voice users or other EDGE or GPRS users. And EDGE is designed like most networking protocols to be robust when it can't operate at full speed. I hope someone has an Ajax application that can test speed, since it won't be possible to download files or run Java-based bandwidth testers. Update: Engadget reports on news that AT&T may have just tweaked their EDGE network to boost performance. Engadget is seeing above 200 Kbps in their testing.
Both CEOs pretend that UMTS/HSDPA can't back down to EDGE speeds when the higher speeds aren't available. They're acting like either they can't sell two models of iPhone (one with EDGE, one with 3G) to deal with people in markets that don't have 3G or that don't want to spend extra for it, or that 2.5G (or really 2.75G) EDGE service is incompatible with the higher-speed 3G offerings.
AT&T's CEO also just doesn't think about Wi-Fi as a public resource that he can offer as a complement, even though his firm is operating at least 2,000 hotspots, and reselling access to an unknown number of DSL users. He doesn't think that way yet at least. He told the Journal that converged calling is in their future, which means they have to integrate Wi-Fi into their thinking.
But dig this comment from Jobs: "We obviously thought about VoIP. You still need a cellular phone because you're not always going to be in a Wi-Fi hotspot. One you have a cellular phone plan, it costs you zero incremental dollars to use it when you're making the next phone call."
Yes, again, Mr. Jobs, the cell phone itself has no incremental cost. But the minutes do. If you have a plan with a vast number of minutes, perhaps you don't notice. But for people who try to buy the cheapest cell plan with the fewest necessary minutes, "zero incremental dollars" is just simply incorrect, and again shows the disconnect in how these guys conceive of Wi-Fi's utility.
I figured it out: it's an internal business unit problem at the phone giant: There must no integration between AT&T's wireline businesses, which sell DSL, phone lines, and Wi-Fi, and the former Cingular as regards Wi-Fi. That would explain the lack of a Wi-Fi data plan alongside the cell data offering for the iPhone.
Cingular always had (and still offers) a crummy Wi-Fi plan compared to two-buck AT&T WiFi (formerly SBC FreedomLink). Prices were much higher and locations fewer. Cingular was 60 percent owned by SBC-cum-AT&T for the longest time, and the AT&T-SBC merger is still in the recent past; their "silos" may still reflect this.
I can't think that AT&T executives simply didn't think about this, but it's possible the integration between the former majority subsidiary wireless carrier and the larger business meant they didn't think about how this could work together. (AT&T's Wi-Fi page notes that it's run by AT&T Internet Services (ATTIS), by the way.)
What it means if you buy an iPhone and are an AT&T DSL customer, is that you should sign up for the $1.99 per month plan so you can use the 10,000 locations in their Wi-Fi network.
Boingo would be an option, too, of course, now offering unlimited access to tens of thousands of US locations for $22 per month and 60,000 locations (soon 100,000 worldwide for $39 per month. While Boingo requires a software package to use its locations, there's almost always an alternate method of entry--more tedious, of course, but a Boingo spokesperson said most hotspot partners let a user choose Boingo and enter their user name and password.
And one of those partners that does that? AT&T, naturally.
The statewide network planned for Rhode Island didn't receive the loan needed to get efforts started: The General Assembly did not approve a $28.5m loan needed by the Economic Development Corporation to build the project out. This was a loan guarantee, but the state would be on the hook. The EDC is looking at other options, as well as working with the assembly to jigger the deal. It's possible private firms might help finance the project, or that a nonprofit could be formed to work on financing separately from the state.
I guess I was a day or two prescient with my comment that Wayport and iBahn had stalled on the scale of their hotel networks: On Monday, I wrote about Wayport, after they announced a Yahoo portal deal on advertising and content, and noted that they and other firms that were founded to bring Internet service (often first wireline then Wi-Fi later) into hotels had reached something close to saturation on the number of properties they could provide service to. The only way to increase revenue is to have more usage or to add more services. And, lo, Wayport and iBahn have now separately announced their entrance into the hotel video, gaming, and billing markets.
Wayport announced Entertainment-on-Demand on Tuesday, which brings video on demand (VOD), including some high-definition content, to hoteliers' TVs alongside Internet access and other features. The VOD would be IPTV based, meaning that video is streaming over the IP network, and offer digital video recorder (DVR) features like play, rewind, pause,a nd bookmarking, as well as a program guide. In other words, something like HD TiVo for your hotel room.
iBahn, meanwhile, revealed yesterday that they are acquiring ETV Interactive, a hospitality firm with operations in the UK, Latin America, Australia, and India, that offers in-room entertainment and telecom. They'll use this firm's operation to launch a US service.
iBahn and Wayport will be competing with established in-room entertainment and integration firms, like LodgeNet, which I believe is the giant in this field. LodgeNet provides broadband, so they're already in competition with these other firms. iBahn and Wayport, of course, have their Internet infrastructure in the hotels they already serve, so it may be an easier transition for them to bundle the business and win it, too.
T-Mobile expands HotSpot@Home, a Wi-Fi plus cell system, to the whole U.S.: The company first offered their version of unlicensed mobile access (UMA) system in Washington state last fall. The ongoing commercial trial was apparently a success, and the company pulled the trigger Wednesday morning, June 27. T-Mobile has updated the pricing, handsets, and routers from their Washington trial, although basic service still starts at $20 per month for unlimited domestic U.S. calls originating on Wi-Fi.
UMA service treats trusted Wi-Fi networks as just more GSM cell transceivers. This requires new handsets that have both Wi-Fi and GSM radios, and which can operate both radios simultaneously to allow a seamless handoff between GSM and Wi-Fi (in either direction), just as cell networks hand off between two transceivers. "This is GSM over Wi-Fi," said T-Mobile spokesperson Tom Harlin.
The advantage of UMA is typically twofold: it infills areas that have poor coverage, such as inside buildings and homes, by using Wi-Fi as it's intended to work, covering interior spaces; and it's cheaper to carry service over Wi-Fi and consequently the Internet than it is to shuttle voice calls over a cell network.
T-Mobile's plan offers unlimited domestic U.S. calling for $20 per month for a single line or $30 per month for two or more lines. A minimum $40-per-month voice plan is required for a single line; $50 for a family plan. You can also choose to make Wi-Fi calls out of a cell minutes pool at no additional monthly charge, which might make sense when you're looking for better coverage rather than cheaper minutes. An introductory lifetime offer through mid-September offers unlimited individual plan calling for $10 per month and two or more lines for $20 per month; that price remains for as long as a customer keeps the service.
Calls that originate on a Wi-Fi network are unmetered even when you roam onto the cell network. "Any call that originates on Wi-Fi, the whole duration of that call is free and doesn't use cell phone minutes," said Britt Wehrman, director of product development. Conversely, calls originating on the cell network tick away your minutes even if you wander onto Wi-Fi.
Apple and AT&T announced the cost of a voice and "data" plan today for the iPhone, with nary a mention of Wi-Fi: Remember Wi-Fi? Remember how every demonstration of the iPhone's browsing, mapping, and email features are conducted via Wi-Fi, not the slower EDGE data service also built into an iPhone? Remember the promise of seamless EDGE-to-Wi-Fi and back roaming with no disruption in the delivery of data during that transition? Remember how goddamn slow EDGE is--about three times faster than the best analog dial-up, weighing in north of 150 Kpbs in ideal cases?
Apple and AT&T are hoping you don't quite remember that well. After you drop $500 or $600 on the iPhone, and pay $50 on up for an unlimited "data" plan--unlimited EDGE data--you're stuck high and dry without Wi-Fi hotspot access. AT&T WiFi is the company's large, managed and aggregated network with what I believe is 10,000 locations at last count: 8,000 McDonald's picked up from Wayport and 2,000 other locations (managed by Wayport), such as The UPS Store. They offer this for $2 per month to their landline DSL customers.
And no word whatsoever about how iPhone users will access Wi-Fi when not on a home or friend's network. The little High Technology page that shows wireless features of the iPhone says, "iPhone automatically finds and connects to trusted Wi-Fi networks so you can surf the Web at blazing speeds." Trusted. Huh.
Because seamless connections to hotspots require custom software--software that a third party can't install on an iPhone yet--iPhone owners who want to use hotspots will have to connect, use the browser, and login, too. You'd think they would have thought of this, given the availability of Wi-Fi on and off AT&T's own network.
Mac OS X has built-in corporate Wi-Fi networking support for 802.1X/WPA Enterprise, which allows secure access to networks protected with that standard. I don't know of any corporation that wouldn't choose to use 802.1X, as it assigns unique encryption keys to each log-in session. There's no word on support for that, either.
EarthLink hires Rolla Huff as CEO: The firm's previous CEO Garry Betty died in January after a bout with cancer, and was replaced with Michael Lunsford on an interim basis. The new CEO hails from Mpower, a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) with voice and data for business and residential customers in California, Nevada, and Chicagoland. This gives him full insight into how the big boys play rough games with competitive players. News.com notes that Huff has been willing to "cut loose unprofitable businesses," but Huff said elsewhere he'd take two months to evaluate EarthLink's current game plan. Combined with EarthLink's previous announcement that it was pausing in its headlong rush to unwire cities, it's possible we'll see a major pullback or expansion. I doubt status quo is an option.
Toledo city council doesn't move Wi-Fi plan forward: After Toledo's city IS director quit and then was fired last week, it looked like the mayor's office wouldn't be prepped for this meeting. The council had questions that lacked answers about specifically where the $2.2m in the contract for municipal services would come from. MetroFi would offer its usual ad-support, free service alongside ad-free, $20 per month service. They estimate $5m to build out the network. One issue at stake is whether free, ad-supported service is identical to the RFP's "free" service.
Hey, PC World likes us, they really like us: Kind words about my blog (and many others) from PC World. If you're looking for other good blogs to read, they have an excellent list of recommendations.
Wayport will display Yahoo content, ads on its Wi-Fi hotspot gateway page: The Wi-Fi hotspot industry has been slightly transformed by the introduction of a variety of advertising options that enable free or reduced price service access or that increases revenue to the venue owner. In this case, Wayport operates around 1,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in its primary business in hotels and other venues, and will be offering the Yahoo ad/information deal to those partners. It's hard to know how significant this is because of the small size of the hotel market compared to other sorts of venues; it's too early, in general, to know whether people will trade attention for access or information for clicks.
Hospitality Wi-Fi operators have seen their growth stagnate as many mid-range chains opted to build out free service, and as the potential for bringing in service to more properties dropped as a larger percentage of hotels have added service. This isn't meant to knock Wayport, iBahn, or others. It's just a fact of the market: it's small and saturated.
A good hunk of hotel Wi-Fi (or wireline service) is offered free to guests, a trend that's about four years underway. Someone has to manage that free service, but it's seen as a much lower priority (i.e., not worth paying a premium managed services provider) when there's no cost attached, even though every study on the matter shows that guests who have problems with Internet service, even free, are much less likely to stay at the hotel or chain again. Some percentage of hotels don't have Internet access, and won't offer it for reasons of resources, attitude, or remoteness. There's a chunk that has their own IT departments or other contractors that handle a for-fee service, too.
The US Census Bureau reports that in 2002, there were about 47,000 hotels and similar accommodations in operation. You can review Wi-Fi Free Spot's listing of chains and stand-alone hotels that offer free Wi-Fi, and see that many thousands of properties are represented. There's just not much room for growth. Overseas, perhaps there's much more potential, but the costs in wiring or unwiring the last parts of a market segment are always higher. London may need competitive costs for hotel Wi-Fi, but I understand there's no paucity of access.
In Wayport's case, no segment of their market has grown significantly; they've built out their original commitment for McDonald's and somewhat beyond that for AT&T WiFi (formerly FreedomLink). They didn't disclose the breakout in today's release, but they report 12,000 locations they operate; over 8,000 of those are McDonald's, the previously stated approximately 1,000 are hotels and other disparate venues, and the remainder belong to AT&T WiFi. iBahn claims over 2,100 locations, which is more than double what they reported in late 2005. But that's probably near the top of what they'll offer except through some natural growth in the number of hotels in chains they work with, or acquisition of other firms. Their Web site notes that they offer event networking, and have handled over 3,000 meetings and conferences; that's likely their growth factor.
What Wayport, iBahn, LodgeNet, and others are likely seeing is continuous increases in use month over month at each location; some of that may be offset by aggregation agreements as heavy users move to plans like those offered by Boingo and iPass. Wayport also picked up Nintendo. Update: On Tuesday, Wayport announced Entertainment-on-Demand, its flavor of in-room "video, gaming, Internet, and interactive service" that runs over their network. In other words, a way to increase revenue without increasing the number of rooms they cover.
The hotel market used to be quite exciting, but the focus has switched to hot zones, mobile WiMax, and other larger-scale networks that business travelers will also (or instead) rely on.
They promised June--they delivered June--but I was expecting, well, certified devices, not certification testing: The Wi-Fi Alliance has been asserting since last year that they would have a certification program in place during second quarter 2007 to test Draft N (early 802.11n equipment) devices against Draft 2.0, an expected milestone in IEEE work on the standard. Today's press release shows they met the mark, but I had naively assumed that there would certified devices on the market in June, too. Alas, not so. The certification program has begun, and new firmware and equipment will be out this summer. How soon, it's unclear.
The Draft 2.0 compliant firmware that manufacturers have promised, and that chipmakers apparently completed months ago, will likely not be released for the majority of Wi-Fi devices with Draft N until certification is finished for that device in case things need to be fixed.
Draft 2.0 should improve interoperability among devices, and it adds three separate protection mechanism for the 2.4 GHz band to prevent N from using more spectrum than a comparable G device in the presence of other networks. In 5 GHz, where there's much more "room," only two of those mechanisms are needed, because interference is much less likely and easier to solve. (See "How Draft N Makes Nice with Neighbors," an article I wrote after interviewing chipmakers that appeared 2007-02-16.)
Update: The Wi-Fi Alliance told me that certification could take as little as "hours," and that 20 products were booked for testing on the first day of certification. That's fine, but I'm interested in the cycle from certification to firmware release. I had really expected that certification results along with updated firmware would occur within the quarter, but I am just too darned optimistic.
Tim Higgins, meanwhile, is not very happy with his testing of pre-certification Draft 2.0 updates from D-Link. They don't conform to his reasonable interpretation of the co-existence mechanisms for N and earlier B/G devices in the same frequency ranges.
Boingo will charge $39/€29 per month for unlimited use at all its locations worldwide: Boingo has long had to explain its North America versus the world policy for its $22 per month offering. That option--which will be retained for those who spend their time domestically--includes all usage within the US and Canada, but quite a bit of the worldwide service was metered.
The new plan extends Boingo Unlimited worldwide as Boingo Global. Both month-by-month offerings are renewed automatically until canceled--without penalty. Sign ups can happen on Boingo's site or at two partners: Hub Télécom in France and Oslo Lufthavn Tele & Data AS (OLTD) in Norway, two key airport network operators. Boingo operates service under the Concourse name in several major U.S. airports.
The point of airport-based signups is that you can download the client and signup immediately, gaining access with your first session at the monthly unlimited price. Not everyone plans ahead, or is aware of this kind of service option.
Boingo has also replaced its more "heavy weight" software package with GoBoingo, a simpler utility that has a smaller download footprint. The software handles network identification and log in. It's available initially for Windows only. Partnerships in Germany, Italy, and the UK are coming later this year.
This is going to gut completely the high charge for Wi-Fi in Europe. It's not going to be sustainable. Why would you pay €20 or even £20 a day for hotel Internet access when Boingo will offer you a month's unlimited use for about the same? Why would you pay £6 an hour in the UK or the ludicrous Scandinavian prices? The Cloud told the International Herald Tribune that they were moving towards a flat-rate plan as well for their 8,500 locations (7,000 in the UK).
I have written for years that for-fee Wi-Fi hotspots would ultimately cost about $20 per month or be free. The former has been true for a while in the US with various plans running $20 to $50 per month for unlimited access on networks of 8,000 to 30,000 locations in the U.S.
The free part was when you get to a point where Wi-Fi is just a service that's thrown in for customer loyalty, like AT&T's $2 per month inclusion of 15,000 locations for its DSL customers--people they're already billing, and want to give a value add that reduces the $100s spent for customer churn and acquisition.
The free part also comes when the cost is low enough that your employer just picks up the tab because it's worth giving you constant access instead of nickeling-and-diming, or it actually substantially reduces their cost of your roaming.
I asked a Boingo spokesperson whether this plan involves changes in contracts with their customers, as the voice calling plan Boingo Mobile did. (That plan offers worldwide unlimited VoIP over Wi-Fi for $8 per month, but in a select and growing number of locations.) He said it did not; that Boingo has monitored usage very closely, and they can continue to pay existing session and other rates to their aggregated partners, while using a single fee to their customers.
Boingo now claims 100,000 contracted hotspots worldwide of which they said over 60,000 are currently integrated in the network, and the remainder are due to be so within roughly 90 days.
These two stories should get together and talk: Officials in Pierce County, Wash.--Tacoma's county--are apparently peeved after local telecom CenturyTel has decided its test in one city shows the business isn't viable. However, CenturyTel was one of ten bidders on a provide the county proposed, and one might think that they would have been committed to rolling out the service when they made the bid. Apparently unlike all other bidders on other projects that have signed contracts (so far), they were not. Pierce will pull the rights for free use to utility poles and reconsider other bidders.
On the other end of the country, Mebane, N.C., a fair distance from Winston-Salem is going to test downtown Wi-Fi, and CenturyTel there says they'll see if there's demand for city-wide Wi-Fi.
Toledo, Ohio, IS director fired after walking out: The Toledo Blade says that the mayor had harsh words about the IS director's preparation for an upcoming meeting with the city council about MetroFi's proposal to unwire Toledo. According to this article, director Patsy Scott alleges that Mayor Carty Finkbeiner told her to threaten the library levy if the head of libraries didn't endorse the Wi-Fi plan. The mayor denied this; the mayor's spokesperson was at the meeting and agreed with the mayor. Scott walked out of the meeting to write a letter of retirement; the mayor handed her hat instead. Scott was appointed by the previous mayor. An article on Saturday suggests that the Wi-Fi effort may not proceed.
At issue was perception of a contract that commits Toledo to purchasing $2.16m in services from MetroFi over five years. The Toledo Blado's parent company was also bidding on the network, and the city said that it didn't receive a real proposal from them. The article notes, "Ms. Scott and Mr. Davies [the mayor's spokesperson] said they believe the contract was misunderstood by the public, and that she and Mr. Davies were prepared to show how it would be funded at council’s meeting on Monday." Not surprising that the public misunderstood; the Toledo Blade didn't really explain the funding issue well in their coverage.
A little more Sacramento detail: The network approved yesterday to be built by a four-company consortium (Azulstar, Cisco, Intel, and Seakay) will have free, best-effort service of 1 Mpbs, paid premium 1 Mbps for $15 per month, and 3 Mbps service for $50 per month. The 3 Mbps service includes a free VoIP over Wi-Fi phone. The city will be an anchor tenant on the network.
Waukesha, Wisc., network not testing out well so far: A report will show that early tests reveal a city network would be more expensive and less "effective" than planned. A firm has been testing locations for a year within the city, which is a relative eternity in wireless time. Speed was lower and density wasn't high enough in tests. The firm Rite Brain would pay for the network, as far as I can tell from this piece.
The California capital's city council approved the contract: Sacramento Metro Connect can now go ahead to build out the 90 sq mi network that will pass 400,000 residents. The consortium comprises Azulstar, Cisco, Intel, and Seakay, with Azulstar in the lead. The group less Intel and plus IBM have a separate consortium to build Wireless Silicon Valley, a much larger and more involved project--many more stakeholders.
The Sacramento network will include what's being called a "high-speed free access layer" to be funded through sponsorships and advertising. Some form of free access was what drove the first winning bidder away from the negotiating table in a previous round of proposals; Sacramento felt it was key to their needs. A "concept phase" is due in Sept. 2007, with a rollout starting later in the year.
Mass Transit Railway in Hong Kong will add Wi-Fi: The service handles 2.4m passengers daily, and will initially have Wi-Fi in the waiting and boarding areas, according to its equipment vendor Colubris. All 51 stations will be equipped this year, with on-board access and video surveillance coming later.
Las Vegas approves access for metro-scale Wi-Fi firms: Two companies in Las Vegas received permission to use "utility poles, traffic signals, and school flasher poles" yesterday, according tot he Las Vegas Review-Journal. Cheetah Wireless and ExteNet Systems will build the system at their own expense. Las Vegas is tricky, because visitors are extremely likely to want to use such a network, but most likely to want to use it in a hotel room. As I am quoted in the article, hotel Wi-Fi networks could overpower a metro-scale network.
Chicago police will get Wi-Fi-enabled view into city buses: The video surveillance won't rely on a citywide network, but will allow nearby cruisers to gain access; the system can also piggyback on Wi-Fi hot spots in the vicinity. The Chicago Transit Authority already has 75 rail stations hooked up as hot spots with remote video surveillance.
OnAir announced at the Paris Air Show it signed its first Asian carrier: AirAsia will retrofit all 150 of its Airbus A320 aircraft to use OnAir's picocell for GSM calls and GPRS data using satellite backhaul by 2013. The long delay? AirAsia has just 18 jets on hand now, with 132 arriving over the next six years.
AsiaAir will also use OnAir's system for their new long-haul, low-cost carrier AsiaAir X, which will employ A330s that are on order. While the press release doesn't state this, it's likely OnAir equipment would be installed on at least some of those jets before delivery, saving expense. That's the ultimate goal. OnAir is a joint venture of Airbus and SITA, an avionics integration giant.
A judge in Texas may have overstepped his limits: The East Texas court that found Buffalo Technologies in violation of a patent held by Australian technology agency CSIRO is well known by venue shoppers as a place to get a favorable hearing on any technology patent. CSIRO asked for Buffalo to be prevented from selling any equipment with Wi-Fi in it. The judge agreed and issued an injunction June 15. Buffalo was found in violation of the patent last November.
Now, this is sort of odd because CSIRO's lawyers state in several reports today that they didn't expect the judge to go along in light of the Supreme Court decision--one of several recent ones that limit patent protection and patentability--that states pretty bluntly that injunctions in patent cases shouldn't be issued even when a patentholder has had their claims upheld. The exception is if the patentholder is competing in the marketplace with the company that was found to violate their patents. That's not the case here, despite CSIRO arguments.
The Supreme Court's decision should prevent patentholders from using the threat of an injunction as a tool for settlement. The Research in Motion (Blackberry) settlement would likely not have been so large or happened in such a way after the highest court's ruling.
There's a four-part test in the S.C. ruling, and clearly none apply to CSIRO. I expect the injunction to be quickly vacated by a higher court.
(Update: Two commenters point out that I'm interpreted the Court's decision incorrectly. One notes that the decision specifically exempts research organizations from having to have commercially exploited their product. That stands in contrast to patent trolls that purchase patents for the sole purpose of extracting fees.)
Interesting fact in the Canberra Times article on the topic, which frankly crows about CSIRO's victory: Cisco already pays a royalty to CSIRO, and is thus unaffected, because of an agreement as part of their acquisition of Radiata, a venture based Down Under.
OnAir's in-flight cellular GSM satellite-backed system received approval from the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA): However, EASA approves airworthiness--the idea that a certified item won't cause interference with the avionics or mechanical systems of a plane. That's just one of many remaining hurdles before OnAir's service is activated an Air France A318 as early as September.
In an interview a few weeks ago with OnAir chief commercial officer Graham Lake, he explained that in addition to certification of the GSM picocell system, the satellite connection to Inmarsat also required certification. Then each spectrum regulator over which planes equipped with such gear might fly must also provide approval--that's 34 countries in Europe alone. The firm had 12 of 34 approvals needed as of last month; they expect to be approved in almost all European nations by the end of 2007.
OnAir has been working for years to provide in-flight mobile data and mobile calling using Inmarsat's fourth-generation satellite system. Inmarsat's satellite launches were severely delayed, the first of them by a year, and the delivery, rollout, and certification of airliner equipment has lagged as well. OnAir uses an onboard picocell system to allow GSM-based phones and handhelds to use GSM and GPRS for voice and data. Each airline will choose what combination of service they need. Wireless carriers will set the ultimate price for voice calls, expected to be about US$2.50 per minute.
The Air France launch will start with just SMS (text messaging) and GPRS-based data. SMS messages will cost about 50 cents (U.S.) each, while GPRS pricing is still being sorted out. It's possible due to routes and timing that RyanAir would have the first picocell-operating plane in the air. Air France is using a single Airbus plane equipped for its trial; RyanAir is having its entire fleet of Boeing's retrofitted.
Update: The International Herald Tribune gets two elements of the story wrong. First, they lead with the notion that EASA's approval opens the door to mobile phone on planes. Per my notes above, it does not. There's still spectrum regulation to be nailed down, and certification for the satellite kit, which OnAir said had not yet happened when I spoke to them a few weeks ago.
Second, while Wi-Fi may be a future option for OnAir, it's not in the near future. It would be ruinously expensive to offer Wi-Fi-based Internet access over Inmarsat's system with the current pricing, and OnAir's Lake told me the firm had not sought Wi-Fi certification in their current system design.
Not the most easily reachable network, but the furthest flung: Results in Venezuela have managed a working Wi-Fi connection over 382 km/238 miles using two points in the Andes. They were using Intel equipment, and achieved 3 Mbps in each direction. Last year, at least one of the same researchers created a 279 km/167 mile link with some funky looking gear. Read this interview with that researcher.
Lincoln Center in Manhattan coins clever marketing name for its Wi-Fi: Linger Longer: Kind of a neat place to noodle around. There's a contest with good prizes that requires you to log on to enter.
Sacramento council about to vote on authorizing Wi-Fi plan: The consortium building Wireless Silicon Valley (less IBM, plus Intel) also seems poised to run a 100 sq mi network in Sacramento, California's capital. Intel is part of this venture, Sacramento Metro Connect; they were barred from the Silicon Valley project as they helped put together the RFP. Sacramento lost its first network builder, now called Kite Networks, which balked after winning the bid at the level of free service the city desired. SMC will offer 1 Mbps ad-supported best-effort service, which could lag in favor of paid 1 Mbps and 3 Mbps offerings ($15 and $50 per month, respectively).
Ocean City, NJ, solicits bids for Wireless Wave operator: The city has a unique pitch in that they have just 16,000 full-time residents--but add 150,000 visitors over the summer. They expect $13m in revenue for an operator over five years based on the demand from the summer folk. I can completely see that, too. Most families want Internet access, regardless of work obligations, when they're away from home. Put VoIP on top of that to keep the teenagers' calling bills low, and you've got a winning deal.
Anchorage, Alaska, picks MetroFi: No other national firm with previous deals in the bidding, except Clearwire, which can only offer its own asymmetrical mobile WiMax-like styling. The rollout will start with downtown. A city assembly has to approve the deal, which could happen June 26.
Spotty usage in two Penn. towns' Wi-Fi networks: The downtown networks of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre aren't seeing much usage. Perhaps 200 monthly users in the larger Wilkes-Barre area, and 25 to 30 in a smaller Scranton hotzone. Gateway Access, the firm that built out the service, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, but has sight of emergence. Wilkes-Barre chose Frontier to build out the entire city, with a launch in August. ("What, no 'The Office' jokes?")
Dharamsala, India, mesh network continues to expand: 50 nodes, 2,000 computers, with VoIP and videoconferencing.
EarthLink Wi-Fi accounts can be bought by kiosk: The kiosk approach, developed by GetConnected, Inc., will allow EarthLink to work with retail partners like Best Buy and Circuit City, Wi-Fi Planet reports.
Chicago Reader calls out "missing" mobile phone health study: European papers apparently gave this study that indicated no increased risk of glioma based on a retrospective (i.e., "what do you remember about your use") study on cell phone use across five countries. The study found that for people with gliomas and more than 10 years' cell phone use, the side that they remembered having used more frequently to speak on a mobile phone had an increased correlation with the side that the glioma was located on. From the abstract, I can't see if they removed side bias: there's a potential for someone with a brain tumor to remember incorrectly which side they normally talked on.
The conclusion is, "our results overall do not indicate an increased risk of glioma in relation to mobile phone use, the possible risk in the most heavily exposed part of the brain with long-term use needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn." Which is fine: It means more animal and other forms of study are needed, since this study didn't provide a firm conclusion.
There's a small cohort in this study: 1,522 glioma patients (a form of brain cancer that has sidedness, and thus some notion that it might reveal increased cancer risk derived directly from mobile phone radiation) and 3,301 control patients. A previous study from 2005 by the same authors about another form of cancer that could be predictably caused also found no increased risk of acoustic neuroma's, but concluded that more study of users with 10 years or more of use was needed.
The Danish study of 425,000 mobile phone users based on their phone records--rather than their recollection--showed no elevated health risks, and received wide play. The Danish study was retrospective, but relied on actual data of hours of use and phone types.
Two updates from the ever-delayed land of ultrawideband (UWB): I remember when 2003 was going to be the year of UWB. Then 2004, 2005, 2006, definitely 2007. Well, maybe 2008. Alereon announced today that they have a UWB chipset that will work with allotted frequencies worldwide. This has been a big stumbling block that has been part of the delays of the last year-plus, along with delays in a certification program. (The news is in this Associated Press article.)
After the IEEE group that UWB figured large in disbanded in Jan. 2006, the various firms and associations involved in UWB hoped to get regulatory approval in much of the world in a matter of months. It's taken years, of course, and the array of frequency limitations is surely one advantage in the multi-band approach that the WiMedia Alliance's partial predecessor, the Multi-Band OFDM Alliance took. The multi-band approach allowed the ultrawide stretches of frequency to be subdivided into smaller bands, making it easier to pick and choose which bands to use. (UWB pioneer and now-out-of-the-UWB-business Freescale's "classical" approach used filters to notch out frequencies that couldn't be trod upon, such as the 5 GHz unlicensed range, and that was reportedly unwieldy as an international approach. Freescale disagreed with that characterization when they were still in the business.)
Interestingly, although Alereon announced a year ago that they had U.S.-based UWB chips, this Associated Press article quotes an Alereon spokesperson stating that products using their first chipsets will appear in Wireless USB in the next month or two. Alereon had expected perhaps a February ship date last fall. The new chips from Alereon will appear in products next year.
The Alereon spokesperson says that the top speed of 480 Mbps won't be achievable on early devices, which is news to me, too. I'm expecting some clarification, as that's not what I've heard. Perhaps he's referring to a range and speed issue.
Meanwhile, the AP noted that Belkin had a Wireless USB product on the market, and I nearly wrote the reporter to correct that information. But Belkin appears to have quietly released the Cable-Free USB Hub ($200) months ago. They managed to ship this without a press release. The last mention on their site is a Dec. 4, 2006, press release that has a note that the product won't ship until January.
Reviews date back to March on Amazon.com (which offers it for $220), with three of four reviews offering a single star: two reviewers say that the unit won't work with Mac OS X, and a third notes a lack of Vista support. One of the Mac reviewers got a blue screen of death with XP SP2.
While Wireless USB requires no special drivers for the devices plugged into the remote USB hub, the dongle that connects to a computer has to be recognized as some kind of USB device. Freescale had planned paired dongles initially that would mimic a USB cable, and thus obviate the necessity of host USB drivers.
I'm not the first to state this, but the chorus is growing that municipal Wi-Fi will rise or fall by EarthLink's success in Philadelphia: Phila. is likely to be the first major city in the U.S. to have nearly full Wi-Fi coverage in a model that has many different purposes and different revenue streams. (Taipei is the first major city worldwide with Wi-Fi throughout, but it was much less of a partnership with the city, and they haven't done the full rollout of voice services that the firm building the network planned to drive network usage.)
Tropos picked up on my words about Phila. in their regular newsletter, which I found fascinating--not at my words being quoted, but rather that the metro-scale equipment vendor is also pinning its future on whether the Philadelphia experiment really works.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Miriam Hill, who has written extensively about the network as it's been built, quotes a few reliable sources on Wi-Fi who have concerns about how a Wi-Fi network this size will perform given a lack of knowledge. Philadelphia once looked like it would be the first big city network in the U.S., and teach other cities how to (or if to) build such networks. Now, with networks being built at the same time, it's likely lessons will be learned simultaneously. This could lead to some networks being abandoned mid-stream or scaled down tremendously if cost structures turn out to be different than anticipated.
Tropos once said 20 to 25 nodes per square mile would work in a city; they now put that number at 30 or further north. EarthLink told me last year that 35 nodes was their benchmark; Novarum, the muni-scale testing service quoted in this article, noted in their public research and in an interview that the best networks they found had a node density even higher.
Now in this Inquirer article, EarthLink admits to an average of 42 nodes per square mile. Novarum in its independent testing--hired neither by EarthLink nor Philadelphia--says that node density increased between two separate tests they conducted in that city.
Moving from 20-25 to 42 nodes per square mile means double the expense fairly linearly. And as the Inquirer found out in testing in this separate article, even 42 nodes doesn't guarantee reliable (anecdotal) outdoor coverage.
Nomade Telecom and Radioactif will build Wi-Fi across Montreal, Canada: The service will launch in Plateau Mont Royal this fall, and the companies plan to cover nearly 90 percent of the city's population. Montreal has 1.6m citizens spread over 365 sq km (141 sq mi). VoIP service will be part of the offering. Service will run C$30 per month with speeds up to 5 Mbps downstream. (With C$1:US$1 coming soon, C$30 is relatively expensive.)
The network will later extend to the North and South Banks after the first rollout. The firms then plan to build networks elsewhere in Quebec, as well as Halifax, Toronto, Windsor, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. This could be the big launch for metro-scale networks across Canada. So far, the only big city-wide effort in a large town is in Toronto by the incumbent electricity provider.
The Montreal companies have chosen to build service in areas with a population density exceeding 1,000 people per sq km. They expect this to cost C$25m. The Plateau is Montreal's most density populated borough, this article says. This is in opposition to how most municipal efforts have been targeted in the U.S., where a city issues a proposal that requires 90 to 97 percent coverage, with a focus on the areas less served by existing broadband, even if population density there isn't ideal.
While the article and the press release both mention WiMax, it's an infrastructure thing--for backhaul. This isn't a mobile WiMax deployment for end users. The press release notes that the downstream speed they're achieving "est possible grâce à l'infrastructure WiMAX déployée en arrière-plan" (is possible thanks to the WiMax infrastructure deployed in the background). But WiMax or WiMax-like technologies are being used by all metro-scale networks and equipment makers; I think the firms just wanted to put WiMax in the headline.
St. Louis Park moves ahead on Wi-Fi plans: The city had its rollout of 400 access points hit the skids when their first 16-foot pole was unveiled and citizens freaked out. It has to be tall to reduce the footprint needed and pierce the dense canopy in the town, as well as be clear enough to receive solar power to charge the units. The city painted the poles dark brown, and the delay and changes cost $150,000 and added six weeks. The network should be up and running in October. St. Louis Park is one of the few cities in the country to spend its own dollars, and even more uniquely is charging for the service. The few other city efforts are free.
Wireless Philadelphia distributes first computers to welfare-to-work recipients: The five women received laptops as a kind of reward for holding a job for a year. The group plans to distribute machines to 500 low-income workers this year, and thousands over the initial five years of the project. Pretty great stories about the recipients, too. One went to work when her husband became paralyzed; he used to work two jobs just to make ends meet for the family.
Periodik Labs has released version 2 of its Elektron authentication software for Wi-Fi networks: Periodik (formerly Corriente Networks) has refreshed its WPA/WPA2 Enterprise authentication server by adding a pile of mostly unrelated features that extend authentication options. They've also added Windows Vista support; and an encryption engine validated for FIPS 140-2, required for certain financial and governmental deployments. (A WPA/WPA2 Enterprise server allows users to log in via special client software found in modern operating systems in a secure fashion, and be assigned a unique encryption key distinct from all other users on the network. It's a form of 802.1X that excludes WEP as an option.)
One neat feature they've included is the ability to use domains in the login identity to hand off the authentication task to the internal database of back-end server. This could be very useful as the public face of a multi-company network in which each firm maintains separate authentication processes. The new version simplifies VLAN (virtual LAN) assignment, which combines neatly with this option: a user logs in, is authenticated against their firm's server, and then handed off their firm's VLAN on the network. Periodik also cites the case of using their local database to handle simple guest access, even as other users are authenticated against back-end directory servers.
They've also dropped their entry-level server, which was their first released product. The entry-level Elektron cost $300, and lacked directory and legacy RADIUS integration features. I'm guessing there wasn't enough demand for it to warrant the minimal work necessary for development, or that it confused uses looking for a more high-end product. At $750 (software only) or $950 (software and one year of support), Elektron is still dramatically cheaper than competing enterprise software.
The software can be installed on either Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later (with a G4 or Intel Core Duo processor or faster) or under Windows 2000, Server 2003, XP, or Vista. The server's must be connected to the network via Ethernet.
The Bluetooth SIG will incorporate Nokia's wearable Wibree technology into its portfolio: Nokia sparked some interest when it unveiled Wibree last year because of the niche it filled: wireless technology with miserly power use that could fit in a tiny form factor, like wearable items. But there were also groans. With Bluetooth, ultrawideband, Wi-Fi, WiMax, and ZigBee already extant--not another technology standard, please!
Fortunately, Nokia is contributing Wibree to the Bluetooth SIG, and the Wibree Forum (which includes Broadcom and other firms) will become part of the fold, too. Contributing is the operative word: Nokia will allow the use of Wibree royalty free. Bluetooth itself was turned into a royalty-free offering to push its adoption.
Wibree-based products will be marketed as ultra-low-power Bluetooth, and have a goal of a year's battery life, 10-meter range, and 1 Mbps throughput. Current Bluetooth products have no battery-life target that I'm aware of, and can operate at ranges of 10 meters (Class 2) or 100 meters (Class 1), and up to 3 Mbps with Bluetooth 2.0+HDR (high data rate). Existing Bluetooth devices won't talk to Wibree equipment, but future Bluetooth standards can incorporate that ability, as Wibree uses 2.4 GHz frequency hopping radios.
This might seem to put the Bluetooth SIG in competition with the ZigBee Alliance, which products products that use the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for low-power, long-battery-life, short-range, low-speed wireless communication. (By the way, IEEE 802.15.1 is a subset of Bluetooth.) ZigBee, however, is focused on devices in the home and office like alarm and fire sensors, A/V equipment (like a TV remote control), and "white" appliances like refrigerators that might have something to say to its owner. Wibree's intent is centered around small, mobile devices where Bluetooth might be too bulky or power-intensive. We'll see if worlds collide.
Part of the Bluetooth SIG's real genius in recent years--and, yes, its director Mike Foley deserves to be credited--is embrace, adopt, extend. Bluetooth was clearly on a path to obsolescence with its specific radio technology, even as developers and hardware manufacturers continued to cram Bluetooth into everything mobile. It didn't have a good roadmap with a single offering with incremental improvements--like moving from 1 Mbps to 3 Mbps.
What's critical to know about Bluetooth is that it's a pile of specific application-layer tasks (which they call "profiles") combined with underlying radio technology. The radio technology is, frankly, irrelevant except insofar as the original and current Bluetooth standards codified a common way of exchanging low-speed data wirelessly. That's great, but there are a lot of methods, and there's nothing particularly special or important about Bluetooth's RF.
Rather, the value is in the profiles, like file transfer, printing, hands-free access, and dial-up networking. These profiles are abstracted from the radio, which means that programmers never have to think about the RF properties of the device in order to use profiles. (They might think about efficiency for bandwidth and battery usage, but not about radio-wave propagation.)
This has allowed the Bluetooth SIG to embrace ultrawideband (UWB) and Wibree without compromising its existing set of products or alienating developers. In fact, it's a boon to all electronics makers: a handset or smartphone maker could add or switch to UWB from the Bluetooth RF standard without losing Bluetooth's capabilities. (UWB is always next year's technology. Late last year, it looked like 2007 was going to be the year. But we're still waiting for the first real UWB products to hit the marketplace.)
The Monterey to San Jose, Calif., line will add Wi-Fi: The bus service offers three daily round trips between the two cities. Monterey and nearby Pacific Grove are two of the nicest little towns on the California coast (feel free to object), and apparently are now considered commuting distance from San Jose, headquarters of Adobe Systems and other technology giants. The service has 1,800 daily passengers, growing 50 percent over its first 10 months. Right now, only 10 percent of riders in a survey said they were traveling for work. Service will be free. [link via MuniWireless]
Minneapolis should see $1m per year from Wi-Fi deal: The city's Digital Inclusion Fund is in the planning stages; it will receive 5 percent of fees collected by US Internet, the winning bidder for the network. This is expected to be $10m over the 10 years covered in the firm's contract. Community technology centers will be upgraded, and support will go towards community Web sites as well.
Boston's plans hits snags: The OpenAirBoston nonprofit charged with putting in Wi-Fi city wide is facing a variety of delays and complaints, the Boston Globe reports. They're trying to raise $12m to $15m from foundations, corporations, and other donors, and that seems bloody impossible to yours truly. There have been donations and sponsorships on some networks, but this is perhaps a factor of 50 to 100 larger than anything I'm aware of in this realm. The CEO of the nonprofit told the Globe that "Boston has yet to line up the 'key bucks' funders." Ain't going to happen. Ain't going to happen.
RFI responses are strong, with 15 firms submitting proposals on their involvement. A pilot project is scheduled for the end of this month. Complaints over filtering have led to changes, but the filters are still in place. Friend of this site Michael Oh, a member of the task force that created the Wi-Fi plan, told the Globe, "One thing it does say about the process is they should have done more due diligence about what should be filtered."
Cape Cod group works to build wireless backbone: Network World reports on a coordinated effort among a number of different entities on Cape Cod to build a wireless backbone along that seaboard chunk of Massachusetts. OpenCape Corp. is now installing gear to reach the entire cape and the two islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. This isn't any penny-ante best-effort Wi-Fi network, though. This is the real deal, with a 100 Mbps target in the pilot network. An early link will shoot 20 miles over water to test reliability, and they'd like to hit 250 Mbps. They're using the 5.4 and 5.8 GHz bands, but could add licensed spectrum from the colleges and other institutions in the area.
As in most quasi-rural areas in which there's a relatively low population density with clusters of larger cities and agriculture, it's tough to get high-speed connections at an affordable price. The summer people increase the population enormously, but aren't good candidates for the incumbents extending high-speed service.
The Eye-Fi adapter for digital cameras is edging closer to release: Eye-Fi has developed a Secure Digital (SD) card with what will probably be 2 GB of storage and a Wi-Fi radio in it that work in almost any camera that supports SD. The likely sales price is $100, according to this News.com article. News.com and other publications published stories yesterday and today triggered by the announcement of a $5.5m investment in the firm from venture capital firms.
I have not yet seen an Eye-Fi card, but my expectation is that they have managed to hijack the process by which cameras can print to a USB printing, with the Eye-Fi simulating a printer for the purposes of transmitting an image. Or they may have a set of triggers or default behavior that causes the Wi-Fi radio to transmit images when stored in a special folder (supported by some cameras) or just on the card at all.
Eye-Fi requires configuration of their card through special software. And because the camera's don't require any direct support of the Eye-Fi device, you won't be able initially to configure to any arbitrary network. It's a perfect match for Devicescape, where an Eye-Fi user could maintain network profiles on Devicescape's servers and obviate any configuration whatsoever.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system that links up much of the San Francisco Bay Area is in the first phases of a Wi-Fi rollout: As reported on this site earlier, through intelligence from veteran Wi-Fi guru Matt Peterson, Wi-Fi Rail has been turning on Wi-Fi at BART stations without any publicity. The company says that 1,000 riders have used the Wi-Fi service so far, with more each day (look for a spike today, no?).
The current test involves four stations in San Francisco (Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, Civic Center). The test could lead to Wi-Fi Rail getting a contract to install service through the system's stations. They will likely charge $10 per day, $30 per month, or $300 per year.
While those interviewed in this article aren't jumping up and down about Wi-Fi, that's probably because of the lack of continuity of service at this moment. Most transportation-based Internet access--ferry, plane, or bus--offers service that starts and ends at stations or stops, but is available throughout. That's a long-term goal for this installation, according to BART. When people realize they can stay connected on a phone call, or use a handheld device with Wi-Fi throughout a trip, they'll be a bit more enthusiastic than they are about whipping out a laptop at a station.
While Wi-Fi is an option on several long-haul/cross-country trains in Canada, the UK, and Sweden, adoption in commuter rail, light rail, and subway systems will likely take quite a bit more testing before becoming commonplace. The challenges of routing signals across complex routes, much of which might involve underground tunnels, adds a lot of cost and complexity in planning, installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting.
Parsons seems to have underestimated the difficulty in unwiring one of the longer, popular ferry routes in Washington State: The Washington State Ferries (WSF) have had Wi-Fi on more frequently used routes for three years, starting with a long-running pilot project that Parsons took over last year. When I spoke to the firm that was running the trial in 2004, they made it clear that the curvy passage for the Bremerton-Seattle run--a 55-minute ride--involved several antennas and rights of way issues.
So it's to my surprise that The Seattle Times this morning writes that Bremerton ferry riders are a little peeved that Wi-Fi is on several other major routes, but not theirs. Bremerton is on the Olympic Peninsula, where housing is still cheaper than in Seattle proper. It's not unusual to have this kind of relatively relaxing commute (less so for drivers, who may have to wait for one or more ferries).
Service is now expected for July because Parsons ran afoul of a rule in one place in siting an antenna, and in another case hadn't yet secured roof rights on the tallest building in Seattle. Seems like pretty poor planning. And why do I know something as a reporter that a multi-billion-dollar firm seemed unaware of? There's a missing piece.
The article also cites Parsons's need to get a license from the FCC, which doesn't make sense. Were they purchasing a license? If they already had a licensed frequency they wanted to use for backhaul, the FCC isn't involved.
The three routes noted in the article, the Winslow/Bainbridge Island, Clinton/Whidbey Island, and Kingston runs, carry more than 50 percent of the system's traffic and, by extension, more than 25 percent of the passenger ferry traffic in the US. The WSF carries about half of all ferry rider trips in the US.
The company wouldn't release statistics on use or subscriptions, but here's a tip to all WSF riders: While Parsons charges $29.95 per month for unlimited use just on their system, you can pay $21.95 per month to Boingo Wireless and have access to thousands of locations and the ferry system at no extra charge.
Champaign, Ill., to see free downtown Wi-Fi from local firm: The company has gotten rights to place access points at no cost as long as the Wi-Fi service is free. The local firm Pavlov Media thinks the exposure will help its business of providing Internet and telecom services to apartment buildings and other "bulk" customers.
San Antonio gets free downtown Wi-Fi from AT&T: A pilot program will offer Wi-Fi over two square miles. AT&T's corporate offices are headquartered in downtown San Antonio. You'll have to view ads to get the paltry 200 Kbps connection. Higher speeds will require payment.
Altamont Commuter Express was, at one point, the longest running Wi-Fi-on-rails production system: They ran into snags in providing a significant upgrade for their service, however, which has led to a year-long absence of service. The new satellite-based offering should be rolled out soon, with a price to be set. The University of Phoenix has had a long partnership with ACE, previously fully subsidizing the service, and offering classes on board. The subsidy amount remains to be determined with the new offering.
ACE runs from San Jose through Fremont (via a train station my dad used to own, no kidding), and then east through the foothills to Livermore, through Tracy, and up north to Stockton. When I grew up in the Bay Area, Livermore was practically ultima thule, not a suburb.
The U.S. International Trade Commission bars imports of newer handsets containing Qualcomm 3G cell data chips: This ban stems from a patent dispute with Broadcom, in which the commission found that Qualcomm infringed on Broadcom patents. Handset models previously imported may continue to be brought into the country from overseas manufacture. However, no chips or modules containing these chips, nor any device released after June 7 that contains Qualcomm chips may be imported. Qualcomm also must halt some domestic activities, too.
This should not affect Apple's iPhone, which uses so-called 2.5G EDGE technology that doesn't appear to be affected by this decision. Apple may have, in retrospect, had a stroke of luck by not including UMTS or HSDPA, GSM flavors of third-generation (3G) cellular data networks that might have wound up using Qualcomm chips. (W-CDMA, while a GSM standard, contains technology patented by Qualcomm; Qualcomm also makes UMTS and HSDPA chips.)
While Qualcomm has little impact currently on the Wi-Fi market, they have patents and technology that cover all major third-generation (3G) cell phones data networks and handsets. Disputes have arisen in the US and Europe over Qualcomm's extent of claims of what technology they control through patents, and their licensing fees. Broadcom and a number of handset makers have a variety of lawsuits against Qualcomm and Qualcomm against them.
Qualcomm purchased Wi-Fi chipmaker Airgo, the earliest mass developer of multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) antenna technology to supplement 802.11 specifications; and has staked out contrary positions around mobile WiMax, initially completely opposed to it and waging a propaganda war against it, and later purchasing a firm that had WiMax equipment in its portfolio.
President Bush can overturn this order.
Wireless power coming closer to reality (abstract of paper, Wall Street Journal story): Researchers at MIT demonstrate lighting a 60-watt bulb (dimly) from over two meters. True, 40 percent power loss, but that's over open space. Commercial products might be a few years away. The short story is that they use a pair of copper coils tuned to the same magnetic resonance so that power is targeted in one place. The technology will work only over short distances, but that might make it possible to charge battery-powered devices by having them just in rough proximity to resonance chargers, or to have battery-free, wireless devices that work only in the vicinity.
Meraki's recently announced outdoor repeater with optional solar/battery power could transform grassroots networks: Meraki has established itself as the cheapest provider of hardware and back-end controller support for mesh networking. With its $50 indoor nodes and new $100 outdoor repeater (shipping in July), the firm is making good use of its $5m in investment from Google and Sequoia Capital.
In an interview this week with co-founder and chief executive Sanjit Biswas, I discovered that despite the low cost, Meraki is "actually able to seel these devices at a small profit," Biswas said. The insides of a Meraki router are pure commodity, rather close to what's found in an inexpensive Linksys, he said. "We spent a lot of time studying the economies of scale opened up by them."
Biswas noted that he and his co-founders were graduate students for the five years prior to starting Meraki, and had to hack small, cheap gear by necessity. In the process, they put the software intelligence--the controlling part of the network--into remote servers, leaving individual devices to act as relatively low-powered nodes in a network that would self-form as it grew.
The new outdoor repeater is designed to allow those network to expand even further. With a built-in antenna that offers higher gain than their indoor node, they expect a range of several hundred feet. Optional higher-gain antennas can be installed, too. "Really what we're doing is saying, hey, we're a software company; if you want to tinker with the hardware and pick up some long-distance antennas, then we're all for it," Biswas said. Some customers have already set up 10 to 12 km links with the pre-release versions of the repeater.
The Meraki Outdoor has two 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports to allow local networks to be tied in or to run back-to-back repeaters with highly directional antennas. For now, each device has a single radio, but Meraki--like virtually all wireless LAN and mesh/metro firms--uses Atheros chips, and Atheros recently announced their roadmap with a reference design for an access point with two separate radios.
Meraki's outdoor devices are highly ruggedized, Biswas noted. "We designed the outdoor to survive anything from a monsoon to a scandinavian winter--pretty robust conditions." Meraki's equipment is already used in 1,000 networks around the world, and there's already a need for the outdoor product to spread coverage from the inside out, as Biswas explained.
The firm developed its own custom routing protocol that builds on top of the 802.11 set of standards. This allows each node to receive and send normal Wi-Fi traffic while also transferring control information. Their mesh routing system optimizes to reduce interference rather than for the highest thorughput. "People in general using Internet access only use tens to hundreds of kilobits per second when you average it out," Biswas said in the kinds of installations their gear is used in. Groups of mesh nodes can switch channels to improve network quality or increase throughput, however.
The intelligence of the system lies in Meraki's servers--these servers provide controller features that can cost thousands of dollars with other mesh or large-scale networks on top of the higher cost of each node. Even Ruckus's recently announced small-to-medium-sized business networking equipment requires a controller that starts at $1,200 for a small number of access points. (Ruckus is focusing on throughput and signal efficiency, however, for ensuring the best quality of service with streaming, voice, and overall data transfer.)
While the mesh nodes exchange information about path efficiency, Meraki's servers handle auto-discovery, collect statistics, and provide remote management. This means that any cluster of Meraki nodes--any group of nodes on a unique channel--must have its own backhaul. But because the system is self reconfiguring, no network will accidentally sever itself by losing an Internet feed on a segment.
Each Meraki network becomes its own cloud of access with unique private addresses assigned persistently to devices that join the network. This allows someone to roam from node to node, and it also allows multiple injection points--nodes connected to an Internet feed--to allow aggregating of bandwidth. Each TCP/IP connection can be routed the most efficient way through the network. The system can also packet-shape and throttle, allowing each node to control how much of its bandwidth is used by the Meraki network. That's a critical factor when shared DSL or other connections are being tied into a network.
The outdoor repeater includes power over Ethernet (PoE) as a standard feature, including the necessary adapter. This can allow an Ethernet cable to be used to provide juice to an outdoor node that's not sited near an electrical outlet. Using electricity outdoors or on rooftops is always a tricky civic code issue, too, making PoE a better choice.
The solar charger/battery combination that will be offered for the outdoor repeater should allow use in places where electricity and Ethernet just isn't an option, whether on a condo rooftop, on a savannah, or in a park. Biswas said that they were fortunate to have on their team the right combination of engineers to slice the cost of the device down to roughly $400 from $1,000. The final price hasn't been set. "This is almost a hobby project we had running internally," Biswas said.
Solar panels are actually in short supply, driving up the cost. Through use of a custom charge controller built in house, Biswas said they cut the panel size to a third of their initial requirements. They also built Ethernet into the controller, allowing it to handle reporting of a range of statistics back to their servers. This will allow network operators to pull useful details about the panel and its battery without making a remote visit.
The batteries are lead-acid, which have a number of downside compared to lithium-ion, but which are relatively cheap and available worldwide in the right format to be replaced out on site without expensive international shipments of custom items. "We're able to use batteries that are used in security systems around the world," Biswas said.
With a battery-operated Meraki Outdoor node being recharged by solar panels, network builders of all stripes are freed from a grid requirement. Biswas said that their work on a growing free network in San Francisco led them to see this as a developed-world problem, not just a developing-world one. His customers "want us to deploy larger and larger networks; they were having trouble with the power because it's a sticking point. People would get hung up on, hey, I'm putting a power outlet on your roof," he said.
(The San Francisco network has seen over 3,000 users during its operation iwth about 250 to 300 users on during peak periods. It covers about a square mile, and it's let the company get their hands dirty, Biswas said.)
Their new outdoor product may be the biggest challenge yet to the more expensive--but more robust--nodes sold for thousands of dollars by metro-scale equipment makers like Tropos and SkyPilot. Biswas said that they weren't attempting to challenge these firms in the municipal market yet, as they have no public-safety offering, and don't view their equipment as resilient enough for that yet. Tropos, he noted, offers bullet-proof casings for their nodes. "They're hooking them up to cameras and people do shoot at these things."
For now, Meraki's early customers are entirely through word of mouth. The firm has no sales department, and continues to devote most of its efforts to extending its product line, and getting nodes into the field. I see remarkable potential for small networks to be built easily by neighborhood groups, community organizations, and business associations--and then later linked up with either more Meraki equipment or higher-end metro-scale gear.
Whatever the case, Meraki has broken the price barrier and dropped the complexity bar. Will a million neighborhood networks bloom?
UK's Grand Central Railways chooses Icomera: The railway will equip all its carriages with onboard Internet service. Service will commence between Sunderland and London Kings Cross in Sept. 2007. Icomera is the world's largest operator of train-based Internet service. They cover dozens of trains in Britain's GNER line through a former joint venture (Icomera UK, which will handle Grand Central, too), and on the SJ line in Sweden. (Update: See comment--Icomera UK is now wholly owned by the Swedish parent firm.)
Despite rumors last year that the Dutch rail operator NS was preparing to deploy Wi-Fi access across its entire operations, there's been no motion on that front. A page from seemingly last year reports that the "draadloze internettoegang" (wireless Internet access) is in testing in 2006.
Staybridge Suites adds free Wi-Fi across properties: Parent company IHG claims to be the largest hotel operating in the world when counting rooms. Their Staybridge Suites properties have offered free wired Internet since 1998; now their 100 hotels include free Wi-Fi anywhere on the premises. They expect to have 200 hotels opened by 2009. Staybridge Suites operate extended-stay lodging with kitchens, on-site convenience store, on-site free laundromat, and breakfast buffet.
Minneapolis's Wi-Fi network's first phase lights up: A section near the University of Minneapolis West Bank campus is running, with downtown coming as soon as next week. The rest of the city will be unwired by November. Unlike many other recent tests by local or national reporters, Steve Alexander of the Star-Tribune was able to get excellent service wherever he tried in the current coverage area, an improvement over his tests a few weeks ago.
Smaller cities must court vendors for wireless networks: As I have been hearing with increasing frequency, smaller cities that want Wi-Fi networks can't count on having many bids arrive offering to bear the costs and risks. Instead, News.com reports from the MuniWireless conference, small communities may be shunted to local integrators and resellers for major brands, or have to build networks themselves. There just aren't enough service providers in the business to deal with smaller towns, and there's a greater focus on higher densities. You know, low-hanging fruit. A local corporation--as in a case cited by provider Azulstar--could anchor a town's service by agreeing to buy services on a long-term basis.
Finally, some good news from the muni-Fi market: MetroFi says its Portland, Ore., says 11,200 unique users employed its growing network in The City of Roses. This is 40 percent more than the previous month, the company says. They've registered nearly 20,000 people over six months. May's users spent an average of 94 minutes online in each session for a total of 131,000 hours. The company says usage represents 11.5 percent of the population of their current coverage area.
MetroFi can rack up these numbers because they promote ad-supported free Wi-Fi, in which the only pain is registering, rather than paying a fee. MetroFi didn't disclose how many (if any) subscribers are paying $20 a month to avoid advertisements.
On the negative side, the Associated Press found performance slow and spotty: An AP reporter wandered through the coverage area, and only had good results from the top of a Ferris Wheel. She tested other Wi-Fi networks using the same computer from the same location, and had no difficulties.
Lompoc city council member says articles on Lompoc Wi-Fi failure misleading: The council member, Mike Siminski, writes his local paper that the service isn't struggling to attract users because they haven't advertised for them yet. Numbers for break even have been revised down (to 1,500 instead of 4,000) even with a lower subscription rate because they'll use the network to save money on municipal projects, too. Finally, they haven't even hired staff yet, and billing isn't yet in house. He says, after the service is announced and marketed, "our subscriber numbers will justify the criticism or credit as the facts support." Several articles noted that Lompoc had signed up just a handful of users, and that the cable and telco incumbents had dramatically improved the town's broadband infrastructure since the Wi-Fi network was first announced.
Even at MuniWireless conference, success stories are hard to find: My fine colleague Esme Vos is quoted here as mentioning just St. Cloud, Flor., as a successful municipal Wi-Fi network. And St. Cloud might shut down or change dramatically if a state-wide property tax limitation measure is passed, the mayor of St. Cloud told me via email a few weeks ago. The small city has also faced unexpected costs due to annexation of various adjacent unincorporated areas; new developments must include a small fee for adding Wi-Fi.
BelAir will guarantee network performance: The metro-scale networking hardware provider will certify specific designs, and guarantee that those designs will meet certain performance and coverage specifications. The company will provide additional APs at no cost if the specs aren't met, but integrators and installers could still charge to put them in place. BelAir gear powers networks in London and Toronto.
Round-up of Washington State Wi-Fi: The Seattle Times looks at projects in the greater Seattle area and beyond. Nice factoid: The free Wi-Fi in a large county park near Microsoft, paid for by the software giant, made the venue more attractive to Cirque de Soleil as they were living at the site during their run of the show.
Eugene, Ore., adds, plans Wi-Fi: My hometown, a formerly pokey university town that's now a bit more industrious, has added Wi-Fi to a few parts of downtown. They'll expand to some pools and community centers by summer.
Ireland plans Wi-Fi on every main street: Test in Carlow, Irish Republic, may lead to free Wi-Fi in extensive parts of central city areas; 27 other large towns are slated to follow. Service for now is by credit card, and with scratch cards coming for prepaid use. However, the firm behind the network, E-net, would like service to be free.
Meraki introduces two additional models to its inexpensive mesh routing line-up: Meraki is interested in simplicity, fungibility, and quantity. Added to their existing $49 interior mesh node, which can plug into a connection and share it through automatic discovery of other nodes, they've announced a $99 repeater designed to be hung outdoors and reach up to 700 feet without an optional high-gain antenna. The Meraki Outdoor needs no wired feed, although it comes with double Ethernet ports.
The Meraki Solar (price to come) will power the Meraki Outdoor, making external, electricity-free mesh routing a reasonable option in both U.S. neighborhoods and developing rural economies. In the U.S., the issues over first, getting the rights to site equipment on a utility pole, and, second, getting electricity to equipment on a pole seem to be stalling networks of all kinds across the country. (This is one reason why Qualcomm and cell companies were laughing at muni Wi-Fi and mobile WiMax in their early days: they were thinking how naive the nascent industries were about real estate.)
With a solar-powered outdoor node with a high-gain antenna and a decent line of sight--read up on the Fresnel zone for those issues--this could allow a neighborhood area network (NAN) that wanted to use, say, a Speakeasy go-ahead-and-share-it T-1 or DSL line to set up a network pretty easily. I have been asked many times over the years by NANs what equipment to buy--if it all checks out, Meraki's going to have a lock on that market, too.
The Belfast Telegraph distorts Wi-Fi story: An anti-mobile masts group calls for the removal of school Wi-Fi networks in Northern Ireland. The story says, "The call came after it was revealed that classroom 'wi-fi' networks give off three times as much radiation as a typical mobile phone mast...researchers found the maximum signal strength from just one laptop was three times higher than that of a mobile phone mast." Which is a dramatic distortion of the BBC Panorama program, bad as it was. The signals measured were an active Wi-Fi network in a classroom versus the signal from a nearby mobile phone base station (mast). And it wasn't researchers: it was a single individual who makes at least part of his living from selling equipment to people who fear radio waves.
Gwinnett County, Georgia, can't afford Wi-Fi: They've got a grant and some allotted matching funds, but it's becoming ever harder for lower-population areas to get the kind of "free" Wi-Fi that service providers have offered. The free lunch is over, which may make citywide and countywide Wi-Fi much less appealing, and much less palatable to local taxpayers.
Naperville, Ill., to add Wi-Fi downtown; faces some local tinfoil hat wearers: MetroFi's network in the town should be active in downtown by July. Those pesky utility pole contracts have held up matters again. A local resident told the city council to beware, and the reporter duly repeated her claims without investigation: "Studies range from the declaration that Wi-Fi is a low-power system that emits less radiation than a microwave or mobile phone, to a system that can over time alter mood and behavior and even emit enough radiation to cause tumors have since been provided to elected officials." There are no such studies showing tumors caused by Wi-Fi.
The Toledo Blade continues to write somewhat inaccurately about MetroFi's proposal to the city: The newspaper is owned by Block Communications, which also owns a potential competing bidder that the city said didn't provide a viable proposal by the deadline. The story says that there's a debate over whether Toledo will pony up $2.2m to have MetroFi build a city-wide network. But regardless of whether there's a debate, that's not what the deal is.
The $2.2m represents services that Toledo must commit to purchase from MetroFi in order for the service provider to offer advertising-supported free public access in addition to municipal services. MetroFi confirmed via email that that's the case, as in other cities they are currently negotiating with. City officials are quoted in the story noting that services they pay for separately now would likely be replaced under that contract: "it would result in no net increase in the city budget," they are paraphrased as saying. In yesterday's Blade story, a city telecom official cited at as much as $1.5m that would be replaced in the new services contract.
A councilman argued the cost is too high--but seems to believe the cost is a payment rather than a services agreement--and that Block's Buckeye Cable Systems should be considered to build the network. The city said that MetroFi submitted a full proposal for building a network, while Buckeye offered some ideas about how a network might be built.
The council president seems inclined to move ahead if the expense is revenue neutral.
EarthLink relaunches the Texas city's network: Corpus Christi originally built out its municipal network for meter reading and such. They decided to hand the network over to EarthLink for operations and to extend it for public access. EarthLink says three-quarters of the 55 sq mi network are up and running now. Rates are $20 per month with the first six months at $7. A one-year commitment garners a free wireless bridge.
Interestingly, based on the current schedule, Corpus Christi could be EarthLink's first completed city and is probably already the largest contiguous area they operate. On the flip side, they inherited some of the infrastructure, and it might not be fair to judge their national performance on this network's ability.
MuniWireless reports that EarthLink added "up to 30" nodes per square mile; I wonder if they added nodes to reach a total of 30? EarthLink typically talks about using 35 nodes per square mile on average.