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Recent Entries

Wee-Fi: Pittsburgh Downtown-Fi Savior; Wi-Fi Geographies; Skyhook, Locr Team Up
Muni Round-Up: Longmont (Colo.) Network Sold; Milpitas (Calif.) Evaluates Post-EarthLink uture
Mobile Post: Explaining Out-of-Band Validation
Wireless Silicon Valley Pilot Planned: Business, Gov. Services Only
Mobile Post: The Flat-Rate Carrier Shift - Margins, Away!
WPA Enterprise Validation Weakness in Windows Highlighted
Wee-Fi: Toledo-Fi, Bus-Fi, Jack-in-the-Box-Fi, Balloon-Fi, Free Airport-Fi, Clueless-Fi
T-Mobile Ups Ante on Flat-Rate Home Plans: $10 per Month Unlimited
Mobile Post (Audio): T-Mobile's New Unlimited Home Line Plan
Wee-Fi: Minneapolis Approaches Completion; Gangs of Spain Use Wi-Fi; Tempe Update

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February 2008 Archives

February 29, 2008

Wee-Fi: Pittsburgh Downtown-Fi Savior; Wi-Fi Geographies; Skyhook, Locr Team Up

By Glenn Fleishman

Pittsburgh gets free-Fi: The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership found a new provider for its network, one that's agreed to donate service for three years. AspStation has stepped in to replace a provider, US Wireless Online (not to be confused with apparently thriving US Internet in Minneapolis), that filed 2008-10-08 for bankruptcy protection. The new provider will offer two hours of free service a day and a lower, not-yet-determined fee for monthly unlimited usage. AspStation was providing the back-haul for the network already, and took over. They will likely slowly expand the network, which has 5,000 to 6,000 monthly session (reported as users, but really sessions), averaging 85 minutes a day, or about 120 to 150 users active at any given time. If the company could convert 100 users to a monthly fee of even $10 per month, that plus the good publicity might be worthwhile to them. Their costs are lower since they already have a back-haul operation in place.

Professor maps Wi-Fi geography: An article in tomorrow's issue of Annals of the Association of American Geographers details Paul M. Torrens work in documenting the geography of Wi-Fi in Salt Lake City. Torrens, an assistant professor at Arizona State University's School of Geographical Sciences and Director of Geosimulation Labs LLC, and apparently students drove around SLC to obtain a huge amount of data that was then mapped in interesting ways over the city. The Flash presentation is nifty, showing 3D rotations of topologies. Part of the conclusion of the paper is that the amount of information we spew out about ourselves creates "data shadows" with "an increasing level of precision and depth of associated information." Food for thought.

On a related note, Skyhook partners with photo geotagging service Locr: Locr helps its users apply location information on top of pictures. Skyhook Wireless determines location based on Wi-Fi signals (in mostly urban areas). The partnership lets Locr tie into Skyhook on Wi-Fi-enabled handsets running Windows Mobile 5 and certain Nokia Symbian phones.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:18 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

February 27, 2008

Muni Round-Up: Longmont (Colo.) Network Sold; Milpitas (Calif.) Evaluates Post-EarthLink uture

By Glenn Fleishman

Longmont, Colo., network transferred from Kite Networks to Ohio firm DHB Networks: The Longmont City Council gave Kite's contracts to DHB, which gives them access to city-owned fiber and utility poles, and connects them to services DHB can sell the city. Although specifics of the Kite deal weren't noted in this story, I know from Tempe that a lot of what's at stake is leasing agreements; DHB may be taking over leases and making payments current, or may have negotiated a discount so that the leasing firm is getting something instead of a default. DHB will also take over the Farmers Branch, Tex., network previously operated by Kite.

Milpitas, Calif., considers next steps in wake of EarthLink's near-term exit from municipal business: The Bay Area city contracted with EarthLink for public safety services, as well as encouraging public access.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:03 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

Mobile Post: Explaining Out-of-Band Validation

By Glenn Fleishman

In this audio mobile post, I explain the WPA Enterprise security weakness: In brief, validation for all security methods is critical where spoofing is possible (that is--everywhere).

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:18 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security

February 24, 2008

Wireless Silicon Valley Pilot Planned: Business, Gov. Services Only

By Glenn Fleishman

New life in Wireless Silicon Valley? The San Jose Mercury News reports that Covad has stepped into the mix of firms that won the contract to build out the vast Wireless Silicon Valley project. The firm will work with Cisco to build a three-month, one-square-mile test network in San Carlos. However, if the test results in a network being built, Covad will focus on business and governmental customers--no consumer public access is planned.

A few weeks ago, I predicted the project was completely dead because there was no money, no funding sources, no focus, and the major partners (IBM and Cisco) seemed unwilling to put in their own funds to jumpstart the effort.

In the interim, Azulstar, the junior partner that was in charge of running the project and gaining funding, was pushed out of Metro Connect Sacramento, and Intel and Cisco agreed to provide $750,000 in equipment loans to get things going there.

I had wondered for some time why companies with the reputation and scale of IBM, Cisco, and Intel weren't going to the mat for the Silicon Valley project, given how embarrassing it should have been for them to have a proposal such as that fail. It highlights how these blue-chip companies put their names on proposals, when their real contribution is providing equipment loans and strategic advice, rather than real participation.

This news out of the Mercury News notes that Covad entered the business wireless broadband market through an acquisition in 2006, so it's not that strange for the company to test the waters here.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:13 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

February 23, 2008

Mobile Post: The Flat-Rate Carrier Shift - Margins, Away!

By Glenn Fleishman

While driving by the Fremont Troll, I explain the new flat-rate paradigm of carriers, driven by competition from Wi-Fi, Skype, and other factors

Fremont Troll, Seattle, WA

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:32 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Financial, Future, Voice

February 22, 2008

WPA Enterprise Validation Weakness in Windows Highlighted

By Glenn Fleishman

McAfee researchers show that a common setting for the WPA Enterprise supplicant in Windows leads to credential ownership: I was aware of this problem when WPA Enterprise first started to become available, because some early gateways equipped to handle the port-based authentication protocol (802.1X + WPA, essentially) lacked certificate-authority (CA) signed certificates. What this means is that the operating system and supplicant, which have the root certificates installed to validate the CAs, which in turn validate certificates signed by the CAs, can't provide the out-of-band confirmation that a certificate presented by the authenticator to create a tunneled PEAP or EAP-TTLS session is valid. Got that?

Today, it's likely that you either have a CA-signed certificate, your IT department has preinstalled the root certificate needed on your machine, or you're using an outsourced provider (like WiTopia) which includes root certificates to install on your systems. I say likely, but Brad Antoniewicz and Josh Wright apparently have found that it's not entirely common.

The weakness they document is based on a setting in Windows supplicant for PEAP: Validate Server Certificate. When unchecked--its default state is checked--the authentication is bypassed. The researchers note that there are similar settings in other supplicants, covering both PEAP and EAP-TTLS.

With validation bypassed, an AP can spoof the protected network (becoming the authenticator in 802.1x parlance) and the researchers' modified FreeRADIUS server software (FreeRADIUS-WPE) can handle the authentication server component. The client doesn't notice, or a user isn't prompted to confirm or simply clicks through when prompted to trust a certificate that's unsigned. The credentials are then sent in the clear using EAP, which has no integral encryption, within the forged tunnel.

Easy solutions noted above: Only trust validated certificates; configure supplicants to require validation; install root certificates as needed when using self-signed certificates or those issued by firms outside of  your operating system's chain of trust.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:36 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security | 1 Comment

February 21, 2008

Wee-Fi: Toledo-Fi, Bus-Fi, Jack-in-the-Box-Fi, Balloon-Fi, Free Airport-Fi, Clueless-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Toledo paper picks up on MetroFi woes: The local paper in Toledo writes about MetroFi's problems in Portland, Ore., and Aurora and Naperville, Ill., and recounts Toledo's history with MetroFi. The Wi-Fi firm originally contracted to build an ad-supported network for the city, but was working on a deal with the mayor's tech head to contract for services worth $2.16m over five years. (This story erroneously states it would "cost Toledo taxpayers" that much money, without mentioning that much or all of the sum would come from existing an telecom/data budget, and be cost conservation.) The newspaper is owned by Block Communications, which also owns Buckeye cable, which originally competed for the Toledo bid against MetroFi, but delivered a bid that didn't answer the spec for city-wide service--partly because Buckeye wondered if it made sense. (The newspaper/cable overlap is disclosed in the article.) Buckeye has installed about 61 hotspots around Toledo.

Cisco, San Francisco Muni test unwired bus: The Connected Bus will run for about a year on a regular route in SF, and offer Wi-Fi to passengers along with touchscreens providing information like current location, arrival times, and connecting transit routes.

Knowzy documents free Wi-Fi at some Calif., Ariz., Jacks in the Box (Jack in the Boxes?): A firm named Ripple, which puts TV broadcasts into the stores, offers the Wi-Fi using Sputnik as the back-end, the site reports. A code on the screen following the word Wi-Fi indicates both that Wi-Fi is available, and the gateway page passcode to gain free access. Two hours' use every 12 is offered.

Balloon-Fi: Space Data Corp. is floating balloons with cell-data transceivers over the southern U.S., with an expectation to extend their "network" further, the Wall Street Journal reports. It notes the rumor that Google may invest or purchase Space Data. The company puts a payload on balloons that it pays farmers and others $50 to launch the balloons at a regular time each day; the balloons each stay aloft for about 24 hours. They pay GPS hobbyists $100 to retrieve the $1,500 transceivers. They're registered to bid for 700 MHz spectrum in the current auction, and it's clear they'd like to offer cell-tower-like service across rural areas that are expensive to connect--but which have unserved audiences.

Cincinnati airport goes free: The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport, a major hub for Delta, now offers free Wi-Fi in a large portion of the airport. This is an extension of the local Project Lily Pad, which has attempted to build out free Wi-Fi where useful instead of building a city-wide cloud. Time Warner Cable is paying for the service. (A side note: My wife and I flew with our then-2-year-old son through Cincinnati in 2006, and for some reason, even though we were in the airport about two hours total round-trip, he still talks about the airport.)

Sky Broadband uses easy-to-guess method for default Wi-Fi network encryption: The Register reports that the UK Sky Broadband service sets a default password for a NetGear DG834GT Wi-Fi gateways issued to their customers that's based on the device's MAC (unique network interface) address, and easily derived. A Register states there are about 1m customers using the router model affected. Sky hasn't issued any broad advice to customers to change the password.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:42 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | 1 Comment

February 20, 2008

T-Mobile Ups Ante on Flat-Rate Home Plans: $10 per Month Unlimited

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile rolls out its latest HotSpot@Home offering, Talk Forever Home Service, in Seattle and Dallas: The service, launching in those two markets on 21-Feb-2008, uses a new Linksys router that has two integral RJ11 phone jacks, and accepts SIM cell authentication modules for each line. T-Mobile can port your home numbers to the built-in lines, which also have 911 location information encoded based on your address.

The fee is just $10 per line per month for unlimited domestic calls--you can choose one or two lines--and includes all the features found on cell phones, such as Caller ID, 3-way conferencing, call forwarding, and others. The router costs $49 with a two-year commitment, and the service requires a broadband connection. (This router was spotted on the FCC's site in August 2007, so this isn't much of a surprise; it's all in the timing.)

This new service works alongside the existing HotSpot@Home offering, which allows converged Wi-Fi and cell calling using one of four handset/smartphone models that T-Mobile offers. Pricing was recently lowered for this service to $10 per month for unlimited domestic calling on up to 4 cell phones, making it an easier win for family plans. You can choose either or both the mobile or landline-replacmenent services, but the newer router is required for landline calling.

T-Mobile will still suffer from the same ills that befall standard VoIP (voice over IP) systems like Vonage, because they can't guarantee the transit of data reliably between their supplied router over the customer's broadband connection to their voice gateway. But unlike Vonage, they control a lot of network components, and are less beholden to third parties. And as part of Deutsche Telekom, they're in a better position to complain and see it through if they're discriminated against by competitors.

Both HotSpot@Home and Talk Forever Home require a minimum $40 per month voice calling plan. That means if you sign up for both the mobile and fixed plans, you spend a total of $60 for unlimited home calling on a single line; unlimited weekend and evening calling; either 300 minutes with a MyFaves package (unlimited calls to 5 other domestic numbers of any type) or 1,000 minutes with a current standard individual plan promotion; and unlimited mobile calls originating on Wi-Fi, whether at home or in hotspots. (T-Mobile has a 5-year deal in place with AT&T to cover Starbucks locations as AT&T takes over operations this year of the coffeeshop's Wi-Fi.)

Joe Sims, T-Mobile's broadband products vice president and general manager, said in an interview that they were looking to "address the remaining reasons people were reluctant to cut the cord" and ditch their home wireline service. They found that 50 percent of those signing up for HotSpot@Home are new customers to T-Mobile, and were happy with the service's general uptake, but wanted to remove the last stumbling block to bring landline customers (of other telecoms) over to the service. One in 8 households have cell-only service, Sims said.

Sims noted that this is the "very first T-Mobile product with a dial tone." He also said that the company would have a total of 10 handset models by the time school starts this fall, up from 4 models currently. The World Mobile Congress last week in Barcelona saw the introduction and demonstration of piles of dual-mode cell/Wi-Fi phones, some of which include UMA (unlicensed mobile access), which is the specific technology T-Mobile deployed.

The home line service rolled out to Dallas and Seattle--my home town--can't handle fax machines or alarm systems yet, which is an important proviso. Electronic fax services like Maxemail can more cheaply replace a dedicated fax line, however, and newer alarm systems can be fitted with cellular calling. If you cut your monthly landline bill by $40 per month or more with this service and your long-distance bill by $20 to $40 per month, you might have the money to shift over to the alarm system.

Sims also commented on the Starbucks deal, noting it was critical to T-Mobile that "our customer experience didn't change." I asked if T-Mobile, now having consummated a real roaming relationship--it had some roaming deals for airports and international networks before--might consider other partners, given that their HotSpot@Home service would benefit from a greater number of locations for placing calls. He said, "Going forward, we are looking at other roaming partners. It's less about the footprint and more about the service."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:01 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Voice

Mobile Post (Audio): T-Mobile's New Unlimited Home Line Plan

By Glenn Fleishman

Audio commentary on T-Mobile's latest home offering: Talk Forever

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:00 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular

February 19, 2008

Wee-Fi: Minneapolis Approaches Completion; Gangs of Spain Use Wi-Fi; Tempe Update

By Glenn Fleishman

Minneapolis Wi-Fi network nears completion, but with dead zones: Steve Alexander writes for the Star Tribune that US Internet is nearly done with its city-wide buildout, about four months later than planned, which is a remarkable achievement compared with other city plans, mostly unfinished or never begun. Some "challenge areas" are featured in a map provided by the company that are due to a problem with--wait for it--light poles! Yes, the quotidian strikes again. Alexander writes that 124 poles are troublesome, and the city is working is working with the controlling utility on solving the problem. US Internet told Alexander that 20 percent of the 8,000 people preregistered for interest in subscribing live in one of the biggest dead zones.

Nigerian gang allegedly hijacks neighbor's Wi-Fi for alleged lottery scam in Spain: Allegedly. 10 Nigerians were arrested for their alleged participation in a scam that brought in whoop-de-whoo amount of $28,000 over three months. They used someone else's network to run the operation.

Tempe network's future: ComputerWorld runs down what's happening in Tempe following the collapse of the Kite Network service there. Kite's owner, Gobility, won't talk because of "legal reasons," which could include Tempe's actions against the firm, which apparently hasn't filed for bankruptcy or taken any steps towards resolving situations with the cities involved. The Telscape deal to acquire the network is clearly dead. The city may be able to seize the company's assets or assess them fines, and is thinking about trying to find another network operator.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:27 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

Starbucks Free Access: Broader Free Access, My Prediction It Would Never Happen

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks provided one more bit of clarification about free access related to its stored-value card: I understood last week that Starbucks required a single purchase on a Starbucks Card every 30 days to enable two hours of free service each day. This would cover any stored-value card, including gift cards, but unrelated to their Visa-branded Duetto card.

In fact, as a Starbucks spokesperson confirmed to me and my colleague Eric Lai at Computerworld that you either need to make a purchase or put more value on the card. As Lai points out, if you're extremely pecuniary, you could make a purchase every 60 days and put value on the card (a minimum of $5 each time) on alternating 60-day periods. I actually quite like the cold sandwiches and salads at Starbucks if I'm not a fan of their roasting style, so I'll have no trouble with this requirement.

Lai also teased out one more detail: the free access is for two consecutive hours of service each day, not for two hours in sum. Which means that if you need to use the service more than two hours apart in two locations, you need to either set up multiple accounts and have multiple Starbucks Cards; pay the $4 for two consecutive hour as-you-need-it price; or be a subscriber to a network like Boingo or AT&T.

473295245 79C54D0D58My dirty little secret as a Wi-Fi-focused reporter is that I have never had a subscription to any hotspot service for more than a month or two at a time, as I travel rarely these days and have found that paying nothing or $5 to $10 for a handful of sessions has outweighed the monthly fees. Now, however, I'm a Boingo subscriber, and will remain one--not to play favorites, but they have the best deal for my purposes in wandering around Seattle, and occasionally winding up in airports and downtowns of various cities.

On my prediction that Starbucks would never be free: I was off base in this prediction, but I predicated my prognostication on the notion that T-Mobile would never give service away for free. It had never entered my head that Starbucks would suddenly open negotiations to replace T-Mobile. My various sources indicate that the plan came about pretty quickly, and that T-Mobile was surprised to find itself not the winner. This is clearly part of the new direction that Howard Schultz is taking the company, but CTO Chris Bruzzo told me a week that when he arrived about a year ago at Starbucks, he was revved up on making sure that Wi-Fi was a more integral part of the store experience; now it will be.

T-Mobile apparently had no interest in being involved in providing more free service, and isn't in a position to use Wi-Fi as a tool for loyalty as AT&T can. AT&T is selling cell and landline and wired broadband; this extension of Wi-Fi to Starbucks costs them a rounding error, and reduces their churn by some unknown factor. If 100,000 people a year choose to stick to AT&T, and perhaps even expand their services, that's potentially $200m in revenue (100,000 people times $2,000 a year between cell contracts, phone, and broadband) that they would otherwise have had to spend tens of millions of marketing dollars to keep or would have lost entirely.

Will McDonald's go free? That's the next question. Starbucks was set up on a collision course with McDonald's as Starbucks introduced hot food and other services; but the ovens are being pulled out of the coffee giant, even as Mickey D puts espresso bars into most of its stores. McDonald's move seems a bad idea. However, the spirit of competition might drive the fast-food purveyor to offer a similar customer loyalty program for free access. At one point, you got two hours of free service in McDonald's for a purchase, but it's unclear to me from all McDonald's branding whether that's still the case.

(Photo by Rudolf Schuba. Used under Creative Commons license.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot

February 17, 2008

Mobile Post: Thoughts on Location Finding (with Wi-Fi) in Mobile Phones

By Glenn Fleishman

It's all about location, in today's mobile phones: Wi-Fi is an aid:
A few thoughts about finding oneself wit hthe modern mobile phone.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:15 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location

February 15, 2008

Hotspots: Free or $20 per Month

By Glenn Fleishman

One of my stock lines for the last five years has been: "Hotspots will either be free or cost you $20 per month": I've written that line many times, and told it to many reporters. What I meant by it was that the cost of providing service would approach zero for most smaller venue operators relative to its value; that Wi-Fi would be an expected amenity, and thus required, and part of normal operating expenses; and that the quality of free service would improve to a point that free could compete against hourly charges. With hotspot advertising thrown into the mix, that can subsidize enough of the remaining costs in places where venue operators want that subsidy above additional traffic.

Simultaneously, however, the idea of spending $20 per month for unlimited access at essentially all interesting venues also seemed to me to be the right price point and something that people who regularly travel for business, even within a city, would find no problem justifying and expensing, or having their firm pay for.

The Starbucks and AT&T deal that brings free access at Starbucks stores to a wide swath of both companies' existing customers exactly proves my point, coupled with Boingo's announcement this week of finally reaching a deal with Wayport to incorporate McDonald's restaurants into Boingo's aggregated hotspot network; and the incidental inclusion of all Starbucks by year's end in the Boingo network through their existing roaming relationship with AT&T.

Regular Starbucks customers who already use their stored-value card will get two hours of free use per day for 30 days following any purchase on a card. (Before you write in about: I've now confirmed these precise details three times with Starbucks. Folks are trying to tell me a purchase every day is required and other variations; you talk to the company, you get a difference answer, you call me.) New customers, even those that don't like Starbucks's coffee, can simply make a cheap purchase of mints or something every 30 days to keep the two hours a day rolling.

For those who need more predictable access, and want airports and hotels included, the price is now $20 or $22 per month. AT&T charges $20 per month for unlimited use of their "Premier" worldwide roaming network of 70,000 locations (including the Starbucks transition, starting in second quarter 2008), about 17,000 of which are in the U.S. Boingo charges $22 per month for unlimited access to all U.S. locations or $39 a month for 100,000 locations worldwide with no metering. (AT&T's fee is just $10 per month for expanded roaming for customers covered by the free "Basic" network deal--1.5 Mbps or faster DSL and all fiber-optic customers--which includes about 16,000 U.S. locations directly contracted by or resold by AT&T. Most hotels and airports aren't included in Basic.)

There was a point not long ago where unlimited U.S. Wi-Fi hotspot access was more like $30 to $50 per month for a subset of all available networks. Boingo dropped its price a few years ago in a "promotion" to $22 per month, and then made it permanent. T-Mobile kept easing the terms of its cheaper monthly packages, ($20 to $30 per month depending on subscriber type, with a long-term commitment; $40 per month without a commitment), and increased the locations covered with airport roaming deals.

But these networks were essentially incomplete. So it's a kind of neat tying up this week, where the price of unlimited service is now about $20 per month with complete U.S. networks included; or free if you can deal with a few ads or a purchase a month or just happen to be the right kind of DSL or fiber subscriber.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:08 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot

February 14, 2008

So Long, Analog Cell Phone Systems

By Glenn Fleishman

It would be inappropriate to let Monday's sunset pass by: The early analog phone system, the 1G (first generation) that defined what followed, is shutting down. AT&T and Verizon will turn off their networks on Monday, and AT&T will shut down its original digital network that used TDMA. The big problem here isn't cell users, which the cell companies track directly, and which have been getting outreach for some time to get swapped off analog-only phones. Rather, it's alarm and automotive users.

This issue was overlooked until a few years ago, when an industry group took a survey, discovered 1m of 30m monitored alarm systems used analog cell connections (850,000 of those just as a backup, in the very real case when a phone line was cut). As of six months ago, the number is believed to be under 400,000. Smaller alarm system operators are probably the root here, where they haven't aggressively upgraded their customers. (Customers might not want to pay several hundreds and higher recurring monthly fees, either, but the alternative is nothing.)

GM had about 500,000 of its 5m customers using analog services with OnStar, and shut down the analog offering on January 1. There's a lawsuit underway about the failure to offer an upgrade.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:12 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular

Starbucks Plan, the Indie Coffeehouse Reaction

By Glenn Fleishman

Beautifully detailed story at ComputerWorld on the reaction of non-Starbucks cafes to Starbucks switch to more free Wi-Fi with AT&T as partner: The reporter spoke to a lot of cafe owners and chains, and elicited some marvelous responses. The short story is: Hey, we've been free for a while; what took Starbucks so long?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:40 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Culture, Hot Spot | 1 Comment

Boingo Adds McDonald's

By Glenn Fleishman

In a deal that's been years in coming, Boingo's aggregated hotspot service now includes 9,000 McDonald's stores: Coming on the heels of Starbucks's switch from T-Mobile to AT&T, this is a very good week indeed for Boingo Wireless--they'll be adding the two biggest chain networks in the U.S., both of which dwarf the next largest network.

Boingo sells aggregated access to roughly 100,000 hotspots worldwide: unlimited U.S. access is $22 per month, while worldwide is $39. A mobile device service is $8 per month worldwide.

McdinternetlogoChristian Gunning, Boingo's marketing director, noted that McDonald's may have a reputation for bringing in local people and consumers, but, "The McDonald's [addition] also helps you with a subset of the business traveler group, the windshield warriors, the regional sales guys, who go from town to town to town."

McDonald's locations are operated by Wayport under an arrangement that they first secured in 2004 where resellers of the service pay a flat rate per location in the network rather than a per-session fee, which is otherwise common in the industry to this day. (Read "Wayport's Wi-Fi World Switches from Per-Connection to Per-Venue Fees," 2004-05-24, for historical background.)

AT&T's new contract with Starbucks also puts the coffee giant's 7,000 stores into Boingo's roaming arena as the telecom firm takes over management during 2008. Starbucks and AT&T said a schedule hadn't yet been set for the first market to switch to AT&T, nor which markets would switch first; just that it would start in second quarter 2008.

(Industry trivia contest: By the end of 2008, AT&T will have the largest network in the U.S., with over 17,000 hotspots directly under contract; who is #2? Panera has over 1,000 locations with free access, and I'm not sure any hotspot network is larger than that.)

Boingo also announced today that it had joined the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a several-year-old international group that facilitates roaming agreements among its members, T-Mobile's U.S. operations being the only American component. Boingo operates 28 airports in the U.S. and UK, and that gives them some leverage.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:45 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Aggregators, Hot Spot, Roaming

February 13, 2008

Devicescape Signs Deutsche Telekom for European Hotspot Network

By Glenn Fleishman

Devicescape has its first operator partner for its seamless login system for mobile devices and laptops: Devicescape's approach is to remove the necessity for a device's owner to have to sign in: no tedious entry (and memorization) of account details for your camera, iPhone, or what have you to get online. The operator deal puts their software front and center in the plans of the carrier as it rolls equipment and services out to its customers, driving more use in this case of the 8,000 hotspots offered across Europe by DT. Reducing friction in getting a device on a network almost by necessity increases a network's use. The company also announced its operator service.

Devicescape recently released its 2.0 software--see "Devicescape Releases New Connection Software: No Computer Required to Configure, Gain Hotspot Access," 2008-02-05--which allows properly equipped devices to connect to a hotspot network without any prior configuration or Web site account setup.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:19 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Gadgets, Hot Spot, Roaming

February 12, 2008

Poll Results

By Glenn Fleishman

Thanks to those who took the time to fill out the poll; I'm still reading results: If you haven't answered my poll about how you like this site and what I should cover, follow that link. I received responses from probably fewer than 1 percent of regular readers, but they were pretty enlightening. Those who chose to respond rarely pay anything or much for Wi-Fi when they're out and about, and nearly universally would like me to cover muni Wi-Fi with less attention.

You'll get your wish on both counts! Yesterday's Starbucks/AT&T deal means there's more Wi-Fi (starting in second quarter) than ever before in the U.S., at least, that's going to be free or cheap; and the implosion of the municipal Wi-Fi market means it's no longer superheated (or supercollapsed), and I'll be writing less about every city and project, and more about what works and where.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:04 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail

Starbucks Switches to AT&T, the Next Day

By Glenn Fleishman

Yesterday was pretty overwhelming, trying to sort out all the facts, and the impact: The bits and pieces of this industry-changing deal will keep shaking out until and past the launch. I have some detritus from yesterday to catch up on, as well as some new analysis of what this means. (You can also read my coverage in The Seattle Times, where I discuss this as more of a general business story.)

The Starbucks Card and free access: The press release from Starbucks and three conversations I had with them yesterday finally made clear what the free 2-hours access requires. You need a Starbucks Card, which is their stored-value card, not a credit card. (Their Starbucks Duetto credit card will, however, also qualify.) Starbucks Cards can be purchased at a store with a minimum fill of $5.00 that you can use to buy stuff at the store. Once you have the card, free Wi-Fi service is activated by a single purchase of any amount on the card every 30 days. No purchase is needed each time you use the free Wi-Fi nor for the 30 days following a purchase! (A reader asked whether you also had to be an AT&T subscriber. No.)

Starbuckscard-1AT&T's network scope and pricing: AT&T isn't very clear about what they include in various free and fee roaming packages. After consulting their Wi-Fi site and talking to an AT&T spokesperson yesterday, I think I have the story. DSL, fiber, and business remote-access customers (the 12m we've been discussing) get the Basic package included at no cost, which isn't 17,000 (with Starbucks included) but isn't far off. It's McDonald's (8,500) plus Starbucks (7,000) plus Barnes & Noble (several hundred) and a few other chains/venues and airports that AT&T operates itself. Most U.S. hotels and airports operated by other providers require a Premier subscription, which also adds 53,000 international locations. For those who get Basic for free, the Premier subscription is $10.00 per month; all others, Premier is the only option for a subscription, and it's $20 per month. Pricing is explained, but not very clearly, on their Wi-Fi page; you have to look at that page and then at the location finder to sort this out.

AT&T Wireless customers: There's no deal here for anyone but DSL, fiber, and remote-access business customers. Those will cell plans don't (yet) get anything special. That includes...

...The iPhone: No iPhone update yesterday, but everyone I interviewed was winking slyly.

Media in the stores, and Apple: Starbucks chief technical officer as much as told me that Starbucks has Apple media servers in their stores that feed out songs and previews based on what's programmed in the stores. The move from there to caching digital movie rentals and popular downloads is very, very small. I've written a long piece explaining this for Mac journal TidBITS: Starbucks Deal Brewed with AT&T Has Hints of Apple. You're going to walk into Starbucks, log onto free or cheap Wi-Fi, and download a movie for rental in a few minutes from the local network.

3G iPhone: Oh, yeah, I predict Starbucks will be part of the launch plan for the 3G iPhone, which I would now wager will appear in second quarter because that's when AT&T will have some markets up and running with Wi-Fi in the coffeeshops.

Location: Starbucks CTO Chris Bruzzo also emphasized community, location, and digital experience. He had few specifics, but the idea of bringing in portable devices, like cameras and games, and spending time interacting online in some fashion, yet to be described, with a community that's highly local to the store seemed the theme. He also mentioned location-based services in passing, since each store obviously has a fixed location; T-Mobile was providing some location-based information before this, but more extensive offerings sounds planned. Bruzzo was hip about broadcasting Web services that devices on the network would pick up, instead of talking about a Web browser to Web server equation, which is more laptop oriented.

Many devices, one account: You'll be able to use the same account or Starbucks Card code to bring multiple devices online at the same time, within reason. Bruzzo at Starbucks said it would be handled in a reasonable fashion; an iPhone and laptop logged in at the same time wouldn't cause the system to complain. They'll track MAC addresses--that's adapter unique IDs--to avoid real abuse.

Wi-Fi as glue between home and true mobility: AT&T also told me yesterday that the abundance of "free" in this deal had to do with cementing a customer's connection seamlessly along whatever they do. Joe Izbrand, a spokesperson, said, "The benefit is in our ability to continue to big the largest Wi-Fi connect, to deliver converged connectivity across the board, it's part of what we're trying to do to keep people connected no matter what they're doing, on the home, on the road, whatever. In the competitive marketplace, that's a real differentiator."

T-Mobile and Starbucks: As noted yesterday, T-Mobile data subscribers will have fee-free roaming access onto Starbucks when the transition to AT&T happens in each store, for now and "for years to come" according to a revised statement released late in the afternoon yesterday by T-Mobile. The statement also clarifies that T-Mobile HotSpot@Home customers who use the converged cell/Wi-Fi handsets for calling over either kind of network will also be included in this. The deal lasts "at least the next five years." I don't have details on this, but I have been told that the transfer of provider was abrupt, and I suspect that Starbucks made this a condition of the AT&T deal to avoid any of its customers being upset by a service transition. While numbers of monthly subscribers have never been released, it's likely in the 100,000 to 125,000 range. I can't see many fewer, and it's hard to see decisions T-Mobile made if the number was much larger.

Wayport's catbird seat: The first person I called when I heard about the deal was Dan Lowden at Wayport, a long-time executive who has been through all the changes in the market. Wayport is AT&T's managed service partner, and has the direct contract with McDonald's, to which Wayport resells access to AT&T; they're picking up 7,000 more locations to manage through this deal. "I think this is some of the biggest news in the industry ever," Lowden said, and I am loathe to disagree; the only other news that might qualify as "bigger" were failures, such as the shutdown of Cometa, which ultimately has made little difference in the market's evolution. In fact, the original Starbucks deal with MobileStar in 2001 was one of the factors that launched hotspot deployment at a faster pace. I asked Lowden about the role of mobile devices in their networks. "We work with a lot of these device manufacturers as they're coming to market" to ensure a good connection experience, Lowden said.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:55 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Financial, Future, Hot Spot, Media

February 11, 2008

Wee-Fi: Boingo Expands Mobile Offerings; WPS in More Devices; Train-Fi in Europe Goes Full Tilt

By Glenn Fleishman

Boingo expands mobile service to Sony Ericsson phones, Windows Mobile 6.0, plans iPhone service: Boingo Wireless will expand its $8 per month unlimited worldwide mobile usage plans to smartphones that use Sony Ericsson UIQ 3.0, which include the W960i, P1i, and G900i.

Boingo also released today its mobile service software for Windows Mobile 6.0, which includes devices like the T-Mobile Dash, under the same pricing scheme.

The company mentioned its interest in the iPhone to PC Magazine; Boingo says 6 percent of connection attempts in its airport locations are from iPhones or iPod touches. I confirmed with the company that they aren't interested in releasing an iPhone before Apple releases the developer toolkit--which is Any Day Now, since Mr. Jobs promised the kit in Feb. 2008. February has 29 days.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has certified 200 products with Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS): I'm still waiting for the operating systems to catch up fully with the fact that the easy-to-use WPS is out in the marketplace so widely. Apple upgraded OS X to handle WPS with its own products, but I haven't seen enough gear that's designed to work with it yet, despite that number. I wrote extensively about how WPS works back in Jan. 2007. The alliance has also started with "testing support" for near-field communications (NFS), a rather exciting new method of providing out-of-band security by simply touching two devices closely together at a designated point. The physical proximity necessary provides an extra level of protection against man-in-the-middle attacks and other interception issues.

Train-Fi is expanding at a modest pace across Europe: An update from the International Herald Tribune as to where you can now find Wi-Fi on trains, and where it's coming. The phenomenon, which I wrote about for The Economist in fall 2006 when I thought it was picking up steam now appears to be rounding the bend and accelerating. Notably, Deutsche Bahn has moved from a single trial to service on several long lines, and the international Thalys line will have all 26 of its trains equipped by spring, up from 3 today. French SNCF is in trials on a high speed line and could expand to all 400 trains it runs within France and internationally.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

A quick oral analysis

By Glenn Fleishman

A quick oral analysis of the AT&T and Starbucks deal: Short summary: it's good for Apple. In this first of a series of "mobile" posts that will combine aspects of audio, location, photos, and mobility--whew, that tires me just to write it--I give a 3 1/2 minute rundown of today's Starbucks/AT&T announcement, and why Apple will come out on top as a third leg on this tripod. You'll note these posts are sponsored by Windows Mobile, but I'll talking about all manner of mobile devices and technology; the editorial content is unaffected.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:01 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot

T-Mobile Loses Starbucks; AT&T Becomes Wi-Fi Hotspot Giant

By Glenn Fleishman

Big news, and I had not an inkling of it, lest you think your loyal correspondent always has the inside track: Starbucks is shredding its deal in place since 2001, originally with MobileStar then T-Mobile, to switch to AT&T as their Wi-Fi provider. That moves 7,000 locations from T-Mobile's ledgers of nearly 9,000 to AT&T's. It turns AT&T from "McDonald's plus," with a relatively small footprint of other locations, to a 17,000-location giant. It also means that 12 million DSL customers and fiber (U-Verse) subscribers and 5 million remote-access business customers now get free access to Starbucks.

AT&T says in their press release that all Starbucks Card holders, which is simply their value-storing swipe card system, will get two hours of free Wi-Fi a day. No purchase is needed: you just need an active card, I confirmed with the company. Walk in, buy a $5 value card, activate it, and you're on for two hours a day from then forward. You can also use multiple devices with a single account, within reason, Starbucks told me. AT&T has also lowered the price for usage from T-Mobile's somewhat egregious $6 per hour or $10 per day to $4 for a two-hour session. The monthly price, like the rest of AT&T's network, is $20 per month for outsiders, which also includes all 70,000 domestic and international locations in their worldwide roaming network.

And--yes, there's an and--all Starbucks employees, 100,000 "partners" (read: wage slaves and management) get free access at all Starbucks locations. Which you have to admit is a nice perq.

AT&T is also part of Boingo's roaming network, which means that their customers suddenly get 7,000 highly desirable domestic roaming locations at no additional cost. (iPass has long had a T-Mobile roaming relationship.) The same is true for other AT&T roaming partners, an AT&T spokesperson confirmed.

T-Mobile HotSpot subscribers will still be able to access Starbucks locations. Starbucks posted a separate press release stating that T-Mobile will be a roaming partner onto the AT&T network through a side deal; no additional cost is involved. There's some leverage here, because T-Mobile does have about 2,000 other locations, including some premium airports like San Francisco. Existing roaming/aggregation deals among Boingo, AT&T, and T-Mobile were partly predicated on the airport market, where millions of subscribers to each network pass through each year.

I should have seen this coming, because it was extremely odd when Apple partnered with Starbucks for the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store service, when their exclusive iPhone partner is AT&T and Starbucks had the T-Mobile deal. This also may pave the way for in-store iTunes Store media servers, which would--as I have written too much about in the last few years--allow someone to use the edge network, the WLAN not the Internet, to pull down a movie in a few minutes instead of an hour or two on a home network.

Wayport just sent out their press notification; the Austin, Texas, firm has been providing managed services for AT&T for the telecom's own network for a few years, but also operates through its own relationship the 8,000+ McDonald's locations. AT&T has been the backhaul provider, as I understand it, for most of the McDonald's deal. It's a bit intertwined. Wayport's hotspot growth has been limited in recent years as the market for where Wi-Fi could go became saturated; this move is exceptionally good for the privately held firm.

The deal goes into place starting market-by-market in the second quarter of 2008, and will be completed this year.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:42 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Aggregators, Hot Spot | 12 Comments

February 10, 2008

Bluetooth Will Add 802.11 for Bulk Data Transfer

By Glenn Fleishman

The Bluetooth SIG says a 2009 standard will integrate Bluetooth and 802.11 in a tighter, more complementary relationship: The group that controls the Bluetooth standard continues the evolution towards agnosticism about underlying radio stuff. The latest move takes advantage of the side-by-side deployment of the "winning" wireless specifications: Bluetooth for PAN (Personal Area Networks) and Wi-Fi for WLAN (Wireless Local Area Networks). Bigger files will automatically be sent over Wi-Fi. Sounds simple, no?

"Bluetooth is great right now for sending some of these less bulky data files," said senior marketing manager Kevin Keating, but with the "bulk transfer of entertainment data, whether it's piles of MP3s or a bunch of vacation photos you want to move off your cameras or on your PC, it's not really built for that."

The SIG made this announcement this afternoon at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona; Bluetooth is built into hundreds of millions of cell phones worldwide in its current form, and is near two billion devices shipped in all form factors. That number went from 1 to 2 billion in about two years.

The new standard, called Bluetooth High Speed, will allow a Bluetooth adapter and drivers to identify bulk transfers and move them from the lower-powered and slower Bluetooth radio technology to more battery intensive, but faster 802.11.

They're really talking about 802.11 and Wi-Fi nearly interchangably, but this standard doesn't yet have any formal involvement from the SIG's counterpart, the Wi-Fi Alliance, which controls the certification process for Wi-Fi and the trademark. Keating said, "Wi-Fi is its own brand, and we've talked."

It's important to remember that Bluetooth is both a set of profiles that define behavior--applications and schemas for data in those applications--and a radio standard. Bluetooth was originally developed with its own communications spec (the MAC and PHY, in technical terms) that worked at 1 Mbps; the 2.0+EDR and 2.1+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) bumped that to 3 Mbps. (Version 2.1 also dramatically simplifies pairing between devices; it's rolling out widely now.)

These profiles include things like HID (Human Interface Device) for keyboards and input devices, DNP for dial-up networking, GOEP (Generic Object Exchange Profile) for file transfer, and so forth. The profiles are at a layer of abstraction above the interface and radio part, which makes it relatively simple to repurpose them across many radio standards.

In that vein, the Bluetooth SIG has already disclosed plans for its support for ultrawideband (UWB), whenever PCs with UWB or adapters start appearing in great provision, and their own ultra low power version of Bluetooth for things like heart-rate monitor, bike cyclometers sensors, and other low-data-rate devices.

The Bluetooth SIG says prototypes using the high-speed standard will be tested this year, with a published spec due in mid-2009, and devices presumably long before the end of 2009.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:00 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Bluetooth, Future, Standards

February 9, 2008

Minneapolis Network Modestly Praised by Local Paper

By Glenn Fleishman

The Minneapolis Star Tribune cautiously expressed optimism at US Internet's network: When I spoke to the editorial writer--I'm quoted briefly in this unsigned piece--about Minneapolis, I stressed that I don't have feet on the street, but I do have, uh, feet in my inbox. When things don't work in various places, with various services, or with various products, I do hear about it. Thank you, loyal readers. I usually know a few hours to a few days before something collapses, or when a product is utterly unfabulous from a Wi-Fi perspective.

And I don't get email with the anger, disappointment, or even intellectual curiosity about Minneapolis, in the same way I did about Philadelphia, San Francisco, or Tempe. Which leads me to believe either no one reads my site in the Twin Cities (a possibility), or that the network is performing more or less--note the more or less--as the reporting and US Internet indicates it is.

Which must be highly gratifying to the firm when they read this local pat on the back. The paper isn't trying to be dubious. Rather, it's not entirely clear why US Internet succeeded where so many other firms have failed. There are at least three distinctive elements to US Internet's deployment: they are using BelAir equipment, which is used in none of the large-scale networks that have failed to be built or that are faltering; they were signed up in order for Minneapolis to be an anchor tenant of a considerable dollar value (Houston being the only network of that scale, but much more expensive to build); and Minneapolis agreed to make upfront payments against future services to help US Internet finance and build out the network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:50 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Mainstream Media, Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

February 8, 2008

Wacky Wi-Fi Products

By Glenn Fleishman

PC Magazine identifies 10 "wacky" Wi-Fi products, although only a few are truly offbeat: The magazine rounds up items like the Nabaztag from Violet, the Wi-Fi pen, and a Wi-Fi detecting T-shirt and watch. I suppose these are more "ways to spend your cash that aren't truly useful, even though they might be fun." They also include the Eye-Fi, eStarling's picture frame, and a Wi-Fi-enabled remote control from Acoustic Research that are all a bit more practical--still about entertainment, but they actually do something.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:37 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Gadgets, Humor

EarthLink Prepares to Sell Muni Assets

By Glenn Fleishman

The question is, of course, who's the sucker big enough to buy EarthLink's metro-scale systems? I say this with all due respect. There's just not a player in the market who would assume all of EartthLink's current systems, so it's likely that local bidders and potentially municipalities like Philadelphia pay fire sale prices--given that the other alternative for EarthLink is to pay someone to dismantle their networks and sell the equipment piecemeal.

Update: Read this marvelous coverage from Marguerite Reardon at who has covered this issue for as long as I have. She talks to folks in a couple of cities served by EarthLink. She also notes the fascinating idea that Boingo Wireless, a company founded by EarthLink founder Sky Dayton, could be one of the firms interested in some of EarthLink's municipal assets. It's not that much of a stretch: there might be some cherrypicking that ties in with their existing wide-scale airport operations acquired a couple years ago.

Essentially, all of EarthLink's businesses are in decline. Dial-up customers declined significantly as, unfortunately, did their broadband service. They reduced their stake in Helio by not infusing more cash, which reduces both the downside and upside from the mobile virtual network operator business. Municipal networking is now classified as a complete bust. Where do they go from here? Improving cost structures appears to be the name of the game, but I don't see how they become anything but a smaller and smaller firm.

The company's earnings report today says that they lost $80m in 2007 from municipal operations, including a $28m impairment charge that wrote down the municipal assets' goodwill, essentially. They also took $111m charge from their involvement with Helio. Gross revenue was $1.2b, which shouldn't be understated. Despite the scale of their losses, they still have massive income.

Over the last year, the company went from 2,210 to 998 employees, lost 1.4m million residential customers. Their churn is an astounding 2.75m customers per year! That is, they started with 5.3m business/residential customers, added 2m, and lost 2.75m plus another 0.8m from an expired contract with Embarq (Sprint's landline spinoff). However, the company recognized last year that they were spending way too much to get customers for far too short a period; that's part of why their annual revenue per customer went up even while customer numbers were down. They shed $100m in sales and marketing expense year over year.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:52 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Financial, Municipal

February 7, 2008

Digital Picture Frames, Many Wireless, Reviewed

By Glenn Fleishman

David Pogue reviews several of the latest digital picture frames at the New York Times: I have frankly avoided reporting much on digital picture frames, even those with wireless, because so many of them seemed far too expensive for their simple function of automating a rotating display of photos. Product announcements seem to come weekly, which means that a lot of people are buying these for their parents and grandparents, loading them with photos, and then the same pictures display for the next year until the relative takes it down and claims it "broke."

Pogue makes it clear that I'm not far off in avoiding writing about these frames. He likes the Kodak EasyShare EX1011 at 10 inches (diagonal), which supports Wi-Fi, but not Mac OS X, and which can link up to Kodak Gallery to pull in new photos over the Internet from galleries you update from wherever. That really does make it appropriate for computer illiterate relatives. Or those who just don't want to monkey around. The 800 by 480 pixel resolution is also quite reasonable for that size of display. Pogue notes that the dimensions, however, put it into a widescreen orientation inappropriate for most digital photographs.

At $250, though, that's a hefty gift and I find hard to swallow despite the screen size and inclusion of Wi-Fi.

Pogue also likes the much cheaper PanDigital Wi-Fi Picture Frame ($150, 8 inches) has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi but can't use Wi-Fi to grab locally hosted photos, just from Picasa.

He has kind words for the SmartParts SP8PRT ($280, 8 inches) frame shipping in March that has no Wi-Fi but can print photos through a built-in, hidden dye-sublimation printer. I find the idea a little funky: why print from a picture frame that you have to load with photos from a computer? It seems like you'd want Wi-Fi most of all in this kind of device to send pictures to others, and they could make prints of photos they like.

Three others, he generally excoriates. The Parrot DF7200: "the resolution is so's not a big improvement over your cellphone screen." The eStarling second attempt: "...even though this frame is much better than its disastrous first model last year, it’s still flakier than a croissant." Momento 100: "Photos from the Web arrive on the frame at half size, bizarrely floating in the center surrounded by fat black margins."

There's a lengthy comparison chart also online.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:05 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Gadgets, Home

Wi-Fi Networking News Poll

By Glenn Fleishman

Wi-Fi Poll

We'd like to gauge your interest in the kind of coverage that Wi-Fi Networking News offers: Tell us how you use Wi-Fi and what you think about our content by filling out the poll below.

Areas of interest What kinds of Wi-Fi topics are you interested in?
  • Hotspots
  • Public safety
  • Home security
  • Enterprise
  • Municipal/Metro-scale
  • Industry news
  • Hardware
  • Gadgets
How many days a month do you spend away from the office and home working?
Where do you use Wi-Fi regularly?
  • Home
  • Work
  • Coffeeshop
  • Airport
  • Park or outdoors
How much do you spend on public Wi-Fi each month?
  • Never pay
  • Under $20
  • $20 to $40
  • More than $40
Do you regularly use a cell data service?
  • Yes
  • No
If you use a cell data service, which flavor?
  • GPRS
  • EDGE
  • HSPA
  • RTT
  • EVDO
Do terms like WPA, 802.1X, EVDO, and HSDPA make your eyes glaze over?
  • Yes
  • No
What should we stop covering? Are we spending too much time on an area that holds no interest?
Why do you read Wi-Fi Networking News? Is there a particular reason you turn to this site?
Where could we improve coverage? Tell us what you'd like us to write about

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Terms of Service - Additional Terms

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:57 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail

February 6, 2008

St. Louis Suburb Glimpse of Wi-Fi Networks to Come?

By Glenn Fleishman

A small firm in suburban Missouri is building out a neighborhood at a time: Network 1 is building in bits and pieces, signing up customers as they go. This strategy might work. It's less capital intensive, although you still have the cost of building a network operation center and your backbone network; it's just that it can be built piecemeal. It also means that problems with technology or assumptions can be corrected as the network is built and as customers start using it.

I don't want to sound too optimistic: there are still plenty of technical, political, and financial obstacles in the way of having metro-scale Wi-Fi work. But I do think the days of 95-percent city buildout requirements led by municipalities that don't contribute any funding or buy any services are over. It's more likely that we'll see a combination of public space unwiring, business-grade point-to-multipoint broadband wireless, and something like reverse redlining: Wi-Fi brought to areas with high dial-up penetration and poor broadband availability, likely in lower-income parts of cities.

The company so far has just 150 customers and 10 square miles of service area--although it's unclear how fully unwired that coverage is. That's a pretty tiny number, and we now have to see if the network remains reliable and scales as users join.

The folks at Network 1 are using some kind of homebrew equipment, but the results so far seem fine. Tim Logan, the reporter at St. Louis Post-Dispatch who wrote the linked story, said the firm was playing it close to the vest as to what gear they were using, but that they were employing off-the-shelf equipment. I expect that RoamAD or LocustWorld is being used for the routing portion of their network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal

The Latest, Greatest Handheld Wi-Fi Detector

By Glenn Fleishman

Canary Wireless hits another homer with latest Digital Hotspotter: About three and four years ago, the market became suddenly glutted with a variety of compact Wi-Fi detectors: relatively inexpensive devices designed to give you a snapshot of the radio frequency environment around you in the more common Wi-Fi band (2.4 gigahertz). Trouble is, most of them either worked poorly or provided too little information.

The original Digital Hotspotter and a combination detector/adapter from Zyxel were my two favorite devices for the amount of information they provided. A detector, to be useful, must show enough network information that it prevents you from having to open up a laptop; or enough information to help you find a stronger signal or troubleshoot what's wrong with a network.

The Digital Hotspotter (model HS-20, $59.95, on sale 15-Feb-08) really does shine, partly because it now includes support for detecting 802.11n networks, and reveals the network's top speed based on packets it's sniffing. The device has three buttons now instead of one, all along one side. The top button is the power button: hold it down to turn it on or turn it off; press it while it's on to rescan the environment. Previous and next buttons let you scan through the available networks. See this YouTube video I shot for a live demonstration.

The display now shows the network name, whether it's secured, its form of encryption, the type of 802.11 network (B, G, or N), the top speed based on it's network settings, and the channel on which it's operating. My only real complaint with the device is that it turns off its backlighting a little too quickly while I'm still trying to read the scrolling information about network speed and other parameters.

The price is a little high for the casual user, but a road warrior, network administrator, or those desiring to find open and free networks should find this a bargain.

(For the historical record, I reviewed the SmartID WFS-1 in 2004, a device with a single button and a few LEDs, which showed all 2.4 GHz activity; the Chrysalis WiFi Seeker, which looked just for 802.11b/g, showing activity with LEDs, in early 2004; the first Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter, which had no back/forth buttons, but had an LCD to show network status, in late 2004; and Zyxel's combination USB Wi-Fi adapter and LCD display network detector in 2005.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:34 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Gadgets, Hot Spot, Road Warrior

February 5, 2008

Utah Backs off on Age Verification for Wi-Fi Bill

By Glenn Fleishman

A state rep in Utah tries to find common ground in keeping kids from viewing online porn and businesses that say they'll shut up shop: The bill would have required an attempt by anyone running a public Wi-Fi network to verify a user's age, and then prevent them from viewing obscene material if they're not an adult or can't verify their age. A penalty of $1,000 per incident would be imposed. That's probably an unconstitutional restraint right there, but a local free wireless operator, Xmission, said it would cost them $5,000 per month to verify ages, and would instead shut down its public service.

The legislator pushing the bill is "backing off the age verification provision," but suggests filtering should be required. Which is also silly. Filtering doesn't really work; it either blocks everything, or it's too porous.

The anti-pornography group The CP80 Foundation that was pushing for the bill thinks that it shouldn't take much effort on a business's part--obviously, they haven't done the math on this--and that homeowners should be regulated as well. Aren't these Republicans? What's with all the regulation?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:23 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Regulation

Devicescape Releases New Connection Software: No Computer Required to Configure, Gain Hotspot Access

By Glenn Fleishman

Devicescape released version 2 of their connection software designed for mobile devices today, making the initial setup even more frictionless: Devicescape Connect allows mobile devices to log into hotspot and home networks without the user entering a single password or using a micro-browser to navigate through usage agreements. The latest revision allows a mobile device to sign up for Devicescape's service without first setting up an account on Devicescape's servers. This dramatically reduces the overhead for someone wanting to connect immediately to Wi-Fi networks.

Company head Dave Fraser said in an interview yesterday, "Without registering or going to our Web site or anything, as soon as you install the client, or power on a device with the client in it, you get immediate access to any hotspot we can get you into." Fraser noted that's any of the tens of thousands of free hotspots that are part of their system now, including Google in Mountain View or McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. Fraser said, "There's lots and lots of them in our database now. We'll automate those. You don't have to plan in advance, and register, and populate My Wi-Fi," the part of a My Devicescape account in which you list networks you're a member of.

Devicescape currently has software available for Mac OS X and Windows, as well as certain Nokia phones and tablets, Windows Mobile, and jailbroken iPhones and iPod touches (iPods touch?). Prior to its current incarnation, the company focused exclusively on providing Wi-Fi and networking software for mobile devices, and that's still a big chunk of their business; this means we can expect to see a host of devices with Devicescape software built in, ready to go. The company had no announcements about built-in device support today, however.

I hope manufacturers will be delighted with this new release, because it means that someone who buys a piece of Wi-Fi-equipped hardware can immediately use it on an open or free network, or on a hotspot network for which they are a member, such as T-Mobile HotSpot or AT&T's Wi-Fi network. CEO Fraser said, "A manufacturer can ship the device, and if you switch it on for the first time in Starbucks, it'll say, 'hey, do you have a user name and password on this device?'" (Devicescape said they set a goal to be set up to work with 100 hotspot networks by the end of 2007; instead, they hit 1,000.)

That's a far cry from my usual experience with handheld devices that have Wi-Fi, where I'm tediously entering data in a micro-browser, if it's even usable, or unable to get past an Accept button that I can't see because the device lacks any browser at all. Even the iPhone's superior Mobile Safari browser doesn't store passwords or form field entries, which means re-entering the same data every time, and it doesn't work consistently on free networks that require a button or box to be checked to accept terms. (It's getting better; it was far worse when the iPhone was first released, but Apple and hotspot operators are clearly improving compatibility with one another's offerings.)

It's a great demo in, say, a camera store or a phone store, where with a store network all ready to go, a salesperson could help the buyer unpack their new gadget, fire it up, show them how to enable Devicescape, and then get on the Internet. That's a pretty powerful sales tool.

The 2.0 software has a feature that I expect will provoke criticism: By default, a device will automatically look for all unsecured networks in its vicinity if no preferred hotspot is found, and then connect to each open network and try to reach the Internet. In some states and countries, I believe this could constitute unauthorized use of computer networks; passively scanning doesn't typically ring any legal bells. In Germany and Singapore, I believe the law is quite clear: without advance permission, any access is infringing. I think it's a bad idea for this feature to be turned on by default for that reason regardless of its positive aspects.

Fraser noted, "You can switch it off, if you don't like it, because it can be controversial." They expect to leave this feature on only for a certain period of time as they gather more information about the open networks out in the wild, and work out a way to allow folks with intentionally open networks to register with them or signal their openness. In the next release, Fraser said, "You'll have the option of saying connect me only to intentionally open unsecured networks."

Fraser said that there are benefits to register on the Web site after initially using a device. If you have multiple Wi-Fi devices, including computers that use their connection software, you can consolidate it all into a single account. The Web site is necessary for registering personal networks that use encryption keys, and for using their buddy network to allow other people access to your networks or gain access to theirs without sharing encryption keys.

But the frictionless process is designed to let people who otherwise won't be paying for Wi-Fi to gain immediate access to free locations, or to use bundled services that their operator--like AT&T--might offer. Fraser said, "We wanted something that was going to work for the majority of people out there for which Wi-Fi is really a free or bundled thing."

The software isn't yet set up to serve ads to users in exchange for access, something that's proving efficacious in some networks, and has gained some traction through a recent deal between JiWire and Boingo Wireless that gives iPhone and iPod touch users free access in many airports in exchange for viewing ads. (Disclosure: I own a small number of shares in privately held JiWire.)

Devicescape also announced a change in their developer licensing terms to make their software easier for potential partners and free software developers to use. The new license isn't open source, but they provide the source code at no cost, and deployment for non-commercial projects carries no fee.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:00 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Aggregators, Gadgets, Hot Spot, Roaming

February 3, 2008

MetroFi Needs $9m for Portland Network

By Glenn Fleishman

The full story isn't yet available, but Portland Business Journal reports on MetroFi's cash shortfall in Portland: We already knew that the network wasn't being built out further at the moment, only maintained, and that MetroFi was looking for more cash from either investors or the city (for services). But Aliza Earnshaw of the Portland Business Journal reports that the amount in question is $9m, and that the city remains uninterested in signing up for more.

Can you blame them? Would you want to face taxpayers in this climate, with the economy on the verge of recession, with almost no on-their-way-to-success stories of municipal Wi-Fi in larger cities anywhere in the U.S., and say, despite a contract we signed which committed us to nothing, a partially complete network, and a startup company that can't proceed without additional dollars, that's had contracts cancelled all over the country for similar reasons, we're going to commit to pay out millions for services that can't yet be offered with the current state of the network?


Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:15 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

Cartoon Ethics on Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Another entry in the comic strip dept. on the ethics of borrowing Wi-Fi: On a Claire Day--for my money, one of the smartest new strips out there--sees its youthful, single, female protagonist agonizing today over whether to use the Wi-Fi signal of a neighbor. "I wonder if this is stealing...But I'm not taking anything. Or am I?" She concludes: "Bah, who cares. I've got emails to write."


Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:01 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Humor

February 2, 2008

NPR on Philadelphia's Wi-Fi Situation

By Glenn Fleishman

NPR reports in some depth on Phila. Wi-Fi in a 4 1/2 minute report: One Philadelphia city council member wonders if, with all the failures to build Wi-Fi networks in cities across the country, whether that means there's no market for it. I'd argue that the technology and cost underestimations coupled with overoptimistic business plans, and a lack of real partnerships between cities and the entities building the networks have more to do with the prominent failure.

Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation states the municipally owned networks are moving ahead, while corporate networks are failing. I think that's the wrong characterization, but Meinrath and the group he's affiliated with have a specific ideology that puts everything in those terms. This doesn't explain Minneapolis's network, which is apparently working well and ramping up to a cash-flow positive state. It's really more about cities putting  up money into networks, whether their own or ones being built for them. (You can read my long critique of the foundation's report on Philadelphia Wi-Fi.)

In networks where cities have a financial commitment to build the network  or to buy services, these networks are generally being built. The economics of large-city Wi-Fi was distorted by EarthLink's upfront willingness, then echoed by other providers, to build networks at no cost to cities with no commitment to purchase services.

The punchline for the story is that while the network is still being built in Philadelphia, very slowly, everyone's waiting for the shoe to drop.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:39 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

February 1, 2008

Tempe Network Deal Appears to Fall Through

By Glenn Fleishman

Tempe, Ariz., is now alerting citizens who ask that Kite Networks is in default of their arrangement with the city: The city's deputy CIO, Dave Heck, the point person on this issue since its inception, replies to those who ask that potential buyer Telscape has "been unable to negotiate a deal with Gobility and its creditors."

The city has declared Gobility in default of its lease agreement, and declares the network abandoned as of 28-Dec-07, which gives the city some remedies, I believe, in seizing and removing equipment from city property. Because the gear was leased, I'm not sure what happens now with creditors, the lessor, and the city. Back when Ricochet went belly up, to put it nicely, some cities were stuck with bills that ultimately ran as high as $200,000 in at least one case to remove owner Metricom's devices to free up space, reduce electrical use, and improve safety.

Heck's email notes that customers who paid for but did not receive service need to dispute the charges with their credit card company.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:29 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Financial, Municipal | 1 Comment

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