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« Why the iPhone Lacks a Wi-Fi Service Plan | Main | Finding Wi-Fi for an iPhone; VPN, Too »

June 28, 2007

Steve Jobs Encourages Wi-Fi Mooching (and Other Tales of Misunderstanding)

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.

1 Comment

Saw Randall L. Stephenson speak recently about AT&T new direction. Bottom line, it was all about Wireless, and in his case he was talking Cell based Wireless only.
As a AT&T Partner it is very apparent that they are not interested in facilitating anything to do with WiFi/WiMAX or FMC anytime soon.

These folks are also scared to death about the new 700Mhz spectrum auction. They and Verizon Wireless need to win a Nationwdie License or they will return to being a Voice only provider with marginal Data (NArrowband) services in rural areas where WiFi or WiMAX (700Mhz systems) are weak.