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Recent Entries

AT&T Gives iPhones Free Hotspot Access
Wee-Fi: Whither Miami Beach-Fi? Overzealous Wi-Fi Config; Microwave Oven Leakage
Wayport Tops 10,000 McDonald's Locations
Wee-Fi: Mesh in Devices, Florida-Fi, Minneapolis-Fi, LA No-Fi, Harbor-Fi, Parade-Fi
EarthLink Shutters New Orleans, Staunches Own Losses
AT&T, Starbucks Make Rollout Start Official
Starbucks Leadership Shake Up Signals In-Store Direction
Wee-Fi: Big Brother Fi; Eugene (Ore.); Milpitas (Calif.); XP Net Monitor
Mobile Post: BT's New Clothes
BT Encourages Businesses to Open Up Wi-Fi for OpenZone Expansion

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April 2008 Archives

April 30, 2008

AT&T Gives iPhones Free Hotspot Access

By Glenn Fleishman

It's not confirmed by the telecom giant, but several people have been able to replicate it: If you own an iPhone, you can log in at an AT&T hotspot or a Starbucks through their AT&T portal link (upper right corner of the T-Mobile screen, and soon to be a unique SSID), enter your phone number, and have free access. This is nifty, and not unexpected. AT&T is providing free service to 7 million DSL and fiber customers and 5 million remote business access customers. Adding a couple million iPhone users as an additional tie for continued loyalty is a no brainer.

Stories with pictures at MacRumors and Ars Technica. I'll test this out with my neighborhood Starbucks tomorrow. [Link via Fabio Zambelli]

Update: Well, that didn't last. It was clearly a test, only a test, and AT&T has pulled the plug for the moment. I suspected that with no announcements, and a national network, they might simply have flipped a switch not understanding how rabid we are all.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:46 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | 1 Comment

April 29, 2008

Wee-Fi: Whither Miami Beach-Fi? Overzealous Wi-Fi Config; Microwave Oven Leakage

By Glenn Fleishman

A Miami Beach reader noted my Florida links yesterday, and wondered why that city's $5m IBM network isn't live: The network contracted was awarded in 2006, completed 6 months ago, and the reader can get great signal strength. But no Internet feed. Anyone in Miami Beach know?

The brilliant xkcd comic takes it to the next step: Wireless zero config? Try overzealous wireless config. xkcd_zealous.jpg

Microwave oven may have disrupted reader's Wi-Fi: Rob Pegoraro over at the Washington Post notes that a friend of his discovered through the process of elimination that his microwave oven was acting as a big interferer with his Wi-Fi network. The oven in question eventually started smoking and burned itself out, and its removal resulted in the network working fine. All microwave ovens produce low-intensity 2.4 GHz radio waves when in use; they don't leak the high-intensity signals that are reflected to agitate water molecules and heat food. But Wi-Fi uses such low signal strength to encode data that microwave ovens can be enough of an interferer to slow networks down. They won't cook you though, unless you crawl inside and close the door.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:02 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | 1 Comment

Wayport Tops 10,000 McDonald's Locations

By Glenn Fleishman

Ten thousand is an arbitrary place to put a stick in the sand, but significant nonetheless: The milestone of 10,000 McDonald's wired up--a few hundred have back access only, due to being stores within WalMart centers--is a vindication of Wayport's long-term strategy, dating back to 2004. Wayport switched at that point from a slightly more public-faced, public-access company to one that understood that back-office operations could be just as valuable, if less sexy, than front-facing consumer networks. Dan Lowden, Wayport's long-time marketing and business development chief, said yesterday, "In a lot of these venues, the back office comes first. The Wi-Fi public access for some is a big priority, but for others it's a nice to have, great thing to have, but the priority is the back office."

Although several other quick-service restaurants like McDonald's lack any comprehensive Wi-Fi plan--Burger King, Wendy's, and Subway to name three of the largest--Wayport is locked out of working with direct competitors. This opens the potential for another firm to handle a several-thousand-location network. Wayport has worked with both McDonald's corporate-owned stores (about 2/3rds of stores in the U.S.), as well as reaching out to franchisees, who Lowden noted pay a predetermined flat rate for the service via McDonald's. "It's made them incredibly efficient to be able to offer this to their franchisees at one price, instead of variable pricing," he noted. Wayport acts as the layer between various telecom providers, applications and services, and the stores.

Wayport provides several kinds of back-office services, although credit-card processing was the first thing htey rolled out. They've extended to remote video feeds for security, Redbox DVD rental systems that are found in some McDonald's, and kiosks used for job applications. Lowden said Wayport offers things as straightforward but critical as a dial-up fail-safe when a broadband connection drops.

Wayport also manages AT&T's hotspot network, which puts them in the unwiring seat for the 7,000-odd Starbucks stores that will converted from T-Mobile to AT&T service during 2008. Wayport was once the clear leader in the hotspot builder market, with T-Mobile in the second position. Now, Wayport will be operating through a direct contract or management agreement over 18,000 hotspots in the U.S.; T-Mobile will likely be the second biggest with a couple thousand locations (Borders and FedEx/Kinko's tops among them). The No. 3 player is hard to figure. Panera?

I've been predicting for some time that media on the edge--music, videos, movies, and games stored on servers on the local Wi-Fi network--will be the next big development in venue-oriented Wi-Fi, with Starbucks likely far in the lead. Lowden wouldn't comment on any specific plans in the works, of course, but said generally, "Storing and caching all that content on the edge...hasn't been leveraged in the past, but it will be in the future to create a very unique experience." At Barnes & Noble, Wayport caches some multimedia data that's available to customers in the stores.

The advantage for in-store media storage is that you can leverage the speed of the local network, and add additional access points to distribute network load. The choke point is no longer the Internet connection, but local network speed. I expect--though Wayport, AT&T, and Starbucks haven't said it--that Starbucks infrastructure will be all 802.11n for this reason, likely with both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz support for the best throughput in the higher-frequency band for media transactions. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you could only buy movies via 5 GHz.)

Lowden also noted that the proliferation of mobile devices with Wi-Fi built in have led to them reaching out to venues that wouldn't have made sense for them to work with previously, and for unlikely candidates to reach out to them, too. Wayport is now working with a number of healthcare facilities that, while they have their own network infrastructure, wanted to outsource public access Wi-Fi (whether they choose to charge or underwrite it), and certain applications that they're not as experienced with running themselves.

A little history: In 2001 and again in 2004, the heat seemed to be on the public side of Wi-Fi: lots of money to be made, ostensibly, lots of partnerships and venues to be built, and an overcrowded supply of infrastructure builders. The year before, Wayport looked to be an also-ran in the hotspot provider business.

Despite being one of the earliest firms to put Ethernet and then Wi-Fi into hotels, and build out hotspots in airports; and despite their survival of the first hotspot meltdown in 2001 during the dotcom crash and brief venture capital shortage; and despite their early entrance into allowing wholesale pricing for hotspot aggregators; the firm seemed about to be eclipsed by apparently deep-pocketed Cometa (with AT&T, IBM, and Intel in various capital and support roles), Toshiba's mom-and-pop focused turnkey system, and T-Mobile, which had the Starbucks contract. What a difference a year makes.

Cometa, Toshiba, and Wayport contended for the contract to build out back-office and public-access service at McDonald's in the U.S., and Wayport won. Within a few weeks, Toshiba passed its few hundred locations to Cometa, which shut its doors in May 2004. Wayport, meanwhile, had cooked up a strategy for McDonald's that it announced later that month.

Their approach involved a fixed-rate charged for unlimited access by retail network partners for all the locations in their pool. This meant that partners had a fixed cost, instead of a per-session cost, and Wayport could obtain specific revenue even before usage by a partner ramped up. Wayport hasn't discussed the details of this arrangement in depth since, but has partnered with Sony with its Mylo, Nintendo with its DS game player, and ZipIt with its wireless messaging appliance.

The McDonald's deal also apparently gave Wayport a way to extend its work with SBC-later-AT&T; Wayport had earlier in 2004 became the managed-services contractor for SBC to build out The UPS Store/Mailboxes Etc. nationwide. (UPS dropped AT&T as its partner in mid-2007, although that didn't appear to have anything to do with Wayport's role.)

AT&T through Wayport developed its large resold/managed footprint that incorporated resale of Wayport's McDonald's locations with the UPS Store and a few hundred other managed locations, including a handful of airports. The Cingular acquisition of AT&T Wireless put more airports in SBC's hands, too. (SBC was once the 60 percent majority owner of Cingular; when SBC and BellSouth, the other owner, merged that put the newly rebranded AT&T in charge of Cingular which it relabeled as AT&T. Confusing, huh?)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:25 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Aggregators, Financial, Hot Spot

April 28, 2008

Wee-Fi: Mesh in Devices, Florida-Fi, Minneapolis-Fi, LA No-Fi, Harbor-Fi, Parade-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Out-of-sight, out-of-mesh: PacketHop announces first 802.11s mesh standard products based on the likely-to-be-approved current draft. The mesh standard is about endpoints, and I'd entirely lost track of it; it has nothing to do with how metro-scale devices mesh way up on poles. 802.11s mesh should allow end-point devices to form their own loose associations, which could improve throughput and range across parts of a network. Latency increases when you have a mesh network, because devices require more hops to reach a gateway, but depending on how smart meshes are about tokens and limiting power, they can exchange data at higher speeds among themselves without a central chokepoint. PacketHop, acquired by SRI International, is offering their technology as something hardware makers can integrate, rather than as a set of chips or a reference product.

Stalled-Fi in Florida: The Sun Sentinal newspaper looks at stalled, dropped efforts at city-wide Wi-Fi in Palm Beach County. Boynton Beach had a network early on, in 2005, but the city dropped the operator in March 31 due to complaints over maintenance. Delray Beach (E-Path) and West Palm Beach haven't advanced.

Minneapolis Wi-Fi requires booster for best use: This isn't an enormous surprise, or anything, and one of the consultants on the Minneapolis project said that USI Wireless starts with the notion that a booster is needed, which is highly sensible. Reporter Steve Alexander found service was highly variable outdoors with a standard laptop Wi-Fi adapter. The company sells boosters: a $160 high-gain laptop card and an $80 ($5/mo rental) home bridge. Alexander didn't re-test problem areas with the high-gain card. You can see the map of Alexander's test locations.

Orange Line in Los Angeles can't attract Wi-Fi operator: A spokesperson suggested riders should take advantage of "existing satellite" providers, where I think he'll be red-faced to know he should have said cellular. Or the reporter misheard. Say satellite and cellular each ten times fast. Now drink a glass of water.

Scarborough (Yorkshire Coast, UK) offers free Wi-Fi: 5.5m visitors pass through this coastal town each year, and a local business association has decided to unleash free Wi-Fi. The service will be pointed outwards for boats in the harbor, as well as inland.

Free Wi-Fi float in Sebastopol parade: The Apple Blossom Festival Parade last Saturday included "a fluorescent and sparkle-clad crew that shouted, 'Free Wi-Fi.' " The parade was led by a 1906 San Francisco Earthquake survivor.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:09 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

April 25, 2008

EarthLink Shutters New Orleans, Staunches Own Losses

By Glenn Fleishman

The Big Easy gets a big loss with EarthLink's pullout: InformationWeek reports that EarthLink attempted to sell the network, get the city to buy it, and then to simply give the network (and its obligations) away, but had no takers on any front.

EarthLink announced its most recent quarter's earnings a few days ago, and they managed to turn a GAAP profit, while staunching the bleeding of so many businesses that had no short-term and seemingly little medium-term potential for net revenue. The company dramatically slashed its marketing, which they found only caused subscribers to join and quit. While revenue dropped from $290m to $235m year over year in Q1, operating costs and expenses were cut from $321m to $198m, with the most noticeable drop in sales and marketing ($99m to $31m) and operations and customer support ($60m to $39m). They recorded $58m in earnings versus a year ago's $22m loss.

Employees dropped from 2,108 to 922 during the period, while subscribers dropped from 5.7m to 3.6m. But it's worth noting that the biggest drop happened last year already: the 31-Dec-2007 subscriber count was 3.9m. They're making slightly more money from each of those remaining customers, and have slightly lower churn. Their municipal write-off is lower, too, as they've taken most of the expense, and have offloaded more and more of their future obligations.

The company still has the same problem that it had before it started unwinding its services beyond dial-up and broadband: None of its markets are expanding, and it has increasingly poor access to reasonably priced broadband to resell to customers, as no cable or DSL providers are obligated to provide true wholesale rates.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:52 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Financial, Municipal

AT&T, Starbucks Make Rollout Start Official

By Glenn Fleishman

Although a San Antonio PR guy spotted the AT&T trucks at a Starbucks last week, this press release makes it official: AT&T and Starbucks co-announced today that San Antonio--AT&T's corporate HQ town--is the first city to be unwired with AT&T's flavor of Wi-Fi in Starbucks stores. Other markets will follow this year, although, as before, there's no list of markets nor a time table beyond the notion that "it will continue through 2008."

The companies also said that AT&T high-speed DSL and fiber customers will gain free access at 7,000 Starbucks starting May 1, but as other eagle-eyed readers have noted, that option is already available on any T-Mobile login page that anyone's written me about or I've seen. The difference will be that a separate SSID called ATTWiFi will be available as an option for network selection, presenting a different gateway page.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:02 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot

April 24, 2008

Starbucks Leadership Shake Up Signals In-Store Direction

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks entertainment senior VP "left" the company today; its CTO subsumes the entertainment function: If you were wondering if Starbucks might provide even clearer signals about its future plans regarding in-store entertainment and its deal with AT&T to take over providing Wi-Fi services and back-end operations, today's brief announcement speaks volumes. Chris Bruzzo, the company's chief technology office, will add the entertainment group's functions to his current purview. This doesn't surprise me after speaking with Bruzzo two months when the AT&T deal was announced. (A few details from that talk.)

When I talked to Bruzzo, he was clearly focused on how to improve the culture of the stores, with technology being one tool. He talked about connectivity being "a core part of the Starbucks experience" (that's Experience with a [tm]), and that he wanted Starbucks customers to be able to "tell stories" about coffee, music, and other things. That implies a kind of online medium for discussion and interaction that doesn't yet exist, but that is more likely to happen with Bruzzo's expanded role.

starbucks.gifBruzzo had already tipped me to the fact that Starbucks has caching media servers in its stores; that's how the Starbucks iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store combination technology works with iTunes, the iPhone, and the iPod touch in the several markets in which that's offered. (Those plans never advanced much after the initial launch, by the way: Seattle, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area got service, but Chicago and Los Angeles are still listed as "coming soon," and other metropolitan areas are now "by the end of 2008," which would tie in neatly with Starbucks' other plans.)

With caching servers, content is pushed to the edge. Retrieving a 2 GB movie from iTunes thus becomes a matter of a few minutes to a laptop (or even faster if 802.11n networks are being deployed by AT&T), rather than 30 to 120 minutes over a typical home broadband connection. Stop in to Starbucks and fill up--with media. Neat, huh?

Back in February, Bruzzo described how the company has a unique relationship with its customers, who are already bringing their digital lifestyle into the stores, allowing hyper-local conversations to take place. "Starbucks is uniquely positioned to provide that kind of very local opportunity. It's what we do. The beginning of that is what we do today when we curate music, and books." The new AT&T relationship, he said, "gives us a landscape to continue to experiemnt with those kinds of things even at a local level."

As for the kinds of devices used, "We shouldn't be limited in our thoughts about connected devices to just communications devices; they should be PSPs [PlayStation Portables] and cameras." I expect that we will see a lot of change, much of workshopped in Seattle-area stores, in the digital side of Starbucks this year.

I will also repeat my expectation that the launch of a 3G iPhone will involve a Starbucks tie-in, and that the date for the first Starbucks AT&T markets to go live with AT&T in charge will coincide with the release of the 3G iPhone. The timing is too close to be coincidental. (Rumors today are that the 3G iPhone will be announced at the June 9 developers conference that Apple runs. I'll be at that event's keynote.)

Bruzzo has been with the company for not much over a year, coming off a few years as head of communications (talking, not technology) at Amazon. In January 2008, he was boosted to chief technology and chief information officer, as well as being appointed a vice president. That's a pretty fast rise; he must have, you know, a few good ideas. He's behind My Starbucks Idea, the site the company is using to let its customers give it free, valuable advice. One of the fascinating, Cluetrained elements of that site is the transparency: ideas that are submitted can be viewed by other visitors to the site, and voted upon. Suggestion boxes are usually locked tight, whether in the real world or on the Net. Some posts have thousands of votes and hundreds of comments.

Today's announcement also included a note that Starbucks is selling its Hear Music division to its partner in the venture, Concord Music Group. Hear signed Paul McCartney among other musicians; Starbucks will keep working with Concord, so this might not be quite as big a change in direction as a change in its internal focus. This is yet another move of many by company head Howard Schultz, who took charge of the firm again, and started getting rid of top executives, reorganizing divisions, and making announcements about massive changes in the stores, notably replacing its barista-hiding super-automated coffeemakers with shorter, more controllable systems, and tearing out the stinking breakfast sandwich ovens.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:01 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, Media

Wee-Fi: Big Brother Fi; Eugene (Ore.); Milpitas (Calif.); XP Net Monitor

By Glenn Fleishman

Artist's project sweeps Wi-Fi into watching your neighbor: The Register reports on an art project in Brooklyn where Emery Martin heads a conceptual group that advocates volunteers to monitor open Wi-Fi networks to make terrorists aren't planning attacks on "your own home network." He provides technical details for connecting to and dumping all the traffic passing over open access points. It's a send-up of the government's warrantless monitoring of data communications, really.

My hometown of Eugene, Ore., expands Wi-Fi: The City of Eugene, where I lived during my formative teenage years, has expanded its free Wi-Fi access to five locations, including three pools and five community centers. It's also available at airport, public library, local arts center, city hall, and elsewhere.

Milpitas votes to take over EarthLink's network assets: The city will assume control of the assets, sell some equipment to raise replacement cost funds, and shut down public access, as previously expected. Their yearly costs for operation, most electricity, are estimated at $10,000 to $12,000 for the compact network.

Xirrus releases Windows XP version of monitoring widget: The free Yahoo widget shows current Wi-Fi area status in a kind of radar sweeping method, and provides a popup with full details about all nearby networks and their access points. The widget was previously release as a Vista gadget. (Gads, I can't believe I just had to write that sentence. I suppose next, it will be a Windows Me gee-gaw, and then a Windows 98 jimcrack, and then, finally, a Windows 95 tchotchke.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:54 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

April 23, 2008

Mobile Post: BT's New Clothes

By Glenn Fleishman

BT opens up its hotspot network, while maintaining control: Can BT, by controlling the hardware and network infrastructure, let businesses effectively become new hotspots in its OpenZone network? I discuss this and more in this mobile post.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:18 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot

April 22, 2008

BT Encourages Businesses to Open Up Wi-Fi for OpenZone Expansion

By Glenn Fleishman

BT will upgrade its business customers broadband modem firmware to allow public hotspot service: This is a very, very interesting move on the part of the UK's giant telecom provider. The company will upgrade the firmware for its BT Business Total Broadband customers, which number 170,000. By flipping a switch, the business's modem will create an outpost of BT OpenZone, using a separate SSID, and a "secure Internet channel," as the press release describes it, which means a VLAN or similarly segregated connection that prevents access to the business's internal network.

The notion is that visitors can gain Internet access by using an existing OpenZone subscription, paying a fee (the business can sell vouchers), or being a member of a roaming network. The business customers receive 50 to 500 minutes of use on OpenZone each month themselves, based on their BT contract for broadband.

This business hotspot option extends a previous relationship for residential users with Fon that allows BT home users to flip a switch and become a Fonero.

These kinds of organic extensions of networks have very little impact on the party that's sharing their broadband, because there's almost no work involved. But if enough people opt in, it can have a large impact on the amount of hotspot service that's available. While I have critiqued Fon for its backside-utility quotient--how readily one can get work done or even make a phone call at many Foneros' locations--the BT business plan assures that hotspots will be in places where people work and gather.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:51 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot

April 21, 2008

Wee-Fi: In-Depth on Muni-Fi; Portland (Ore.) Update; Ferry-Fi Price Change

By Glenn Fleishman

John Cox exhaustively examines what works (and doesn't) with municipal Wi-Fi for Network World: This article thoroughly goes over what failed in rolling out city-wide Wi-Fi, and what kinds of networks seem to be playing out successfully so far. There's not enough history with nearly any of the "successful" networks out there, but building networks designed primarily for municipal or public safety purposes seems to produce revenue savings and an increase in specific results. You have to love the lead, too: "Municipal Wi-Fi is dead." Followed by a good summary of how the "classic" flavor is all washed up.

Portland, Ore., considers its options with MetroFi's stalled network: The city of Portland alerted MetroFi in February that it considers the company "in default of contract," according to the (Portland) Oregonian. MetroFi told the paper that his firm won't be finishing the network without "financial support from the city and left open the possibility MetroFi will shut off the entire system." CEO Chuck Haas also seems to have sworn off ad-supported Wi-Fi, something the company switched to years ago, deciding there's truly not enough revenue there to turn a profit. Local group Personal Telco may move into a more leading role, given their steady work while MetroFi fiddled with their business model.

The Oregonian's blog cites some items from the 6 Feb. 2008 letter sent by Portland to MetroFi, noting a lack of ongoing communication and maintenance, as well as a failure to provide information about its advertising partner MSN's privacy practices.

Washington State Ferry Wi-Fi adjusts pricing: Ferry-Fi operator Parsons now offers 2-hour sessions for $3.95, and pre-paid packages of up to 20 sessions for $29.95 (about $1.50 per session). Monthly service remains $30 per month, but Parsons roams with Boingo and iPass at no extra charge.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:33 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

April 20, 2008

Dead, Dead, Dead: Cities Accept Muni-Fi's Absence

By Glenn Fleishman

Local paper taunts Tempe's failed muni-Fi effort: Symbolically, a display celebrating the kickoff the city-wide Wi-Fi network built by NeoReach-cum-Kite-cum-Gobility is falling apart in front of the mayor's office, the reporter notes. I have to add "stucco" to the list of quotidian problems that tripped up metro-scale Wi-Fi. In many parts of the U.S., stucco isn't in a homeowner's vocabulary. But in large swaths of sunny states, especially the southwest and southern California, homes are finished by slapping plaster on chicken wire and calling it good--it's got good insulation. Where wallboard over balloon wood frames doesn't really obstruct Wi-Fi, the chicken wire coupled with the density of the plaster is as effective as the water always present in brickwork in keeping signals out. I had this conversation recently about plaster with Rio Rancho's city manager, too.

The reporter notes other common threads of problems with metro-scale networks: lowballed budgets, which turned out to underestimate infrastructure costs (nodes, real-estate rights, utility pole issues), low demand, and weak signals inside homes. Tempe apparently had 1,000 subscribers at one point, in a city of 166,000 (2005 census estimate).

The articles states, "The upside is Tempe and other Valley cities didn't spend taxpayer dollars." Of course, as I've noted before, the idea with a wireless network should be to both conserve expenses and reduce them. "Taxpayer dollars" is a shibboleth of those who believe government can solve no ills. Those who believe that are typically also fine with government overspending by paying large companies as private contractors rather than working in a public/private partnership that reduces expenses and yet puts most dollars into the private sector--just in smaller firms.

Gilbert, Ariz., one of several Arizona cities that was contracted with Kite, reaches fifth stage of mourning, acceptance: Gobility, Kite's ostensibly current owner, hasn't communicated with the city in two months, and its elusive head wouldn't comment for this article in local paper. The city isn't too depressed.

Oklahoma City is OK with lack of Wi-Fi network for public access: They're pretty pleased with their large mesh network for emergency services.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:54 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

April 19, 2008

U.S., European Views of In-Flight Cell Calls: No! Oui?

By Glenn Fleishman

My former hometown's paper writes about local politician working on bill to make double sure voice calls can't be made over the U.S.: Three House Transportation Committee members, including long-time rep Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), are pushing Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace: HANG UP. Cute. Congresscritters are well aware of the vagaries of flight. For most representatives, who are typically not wealthy, it's routine to travel coach as often as weekly back to the hinterlands for fundraising, constituent services, and family visits. DeFazio et al would like to ensure that the current regulatory situation that prevents in-flight calls would be more fully spelled out as a statutory ban.

Meanwhile, our European cousins are experiencing turbulence in the test of mobile calls on an Air France plane: The New York Times reporter found that calling is sketchy. Outgoing calls took a few tries; incoming didn't seem to work. Despite OnAir's promotion that 12 simultaneous calls can be supported under their system, only 6 are in this test configuration (12 will be available later). BlackBerry users couldn't get email. The cost is about €2-3 per minute, which is a bit higher than the US$2.50 originally estimated.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:02 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

If You See Someone Using Wi-Fi to View Illegal Images, Call the Police

By Glenn Fleishman

This child-porn-over-Wi-Fi story baffles me from two fronts: From Minnesota, a person (I use the term lightly) in a town north of Saint Paul and east of Minneapolis decided to use free Wi-Fi at a Dunn Brothers coffeeshop to view child pornography. He apparently sat or crouched in an alley or hallway between the cafe and another business.

Here's what mystifies me. First, someone from the business he's crouching near spots him viewing the porn, and instead of calling 911, reports him to the cafe's manager. Then, the cafe manager shoos the guy away instead of calling the police. Only when the man returns three weeks later does the manager call police.

If you ever see someone viewing images of clearly underage individuals engaged in sexual acts or having those acts performed on them, you call the police. There are times when it's unclear whether the images are against the rules of an orderly society in which we protect its weakest members, but I believe with most of this category of pornography, there is a bright line. There's not much subtle child porn, from the reports issued by the police.

The broader issue of whether one should ever look at images of consenting, legal age participants in naked gymnastics in public places is also pretty clear (no).

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:36 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Legal | 1 Comment

April 16, 2008

Wee-Fi: First Starbucks with AT&T; L.I.-Fi; Panasonic Camera; Corpus Christi Decision (Milpitas, Too)

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T-equipped Starbucks live in San Antonio Alan Weinkrantz believes he's spotted the first transitioned Starbucks. He saw installers putting in gear, and the login screen shows AT&T Wi-Fi prominently, with T-Mobile's HotSpot logo relegated to a square in the upper right. He may be right. In Seattle and New York at least, the Starbucks login banner shows T-Mobile prominently across the top with AT&T in a square at the upper right, as I noted with Klaus Ernst's help on 10 April 2008. The store is located a few miles from AT&T's HQ. Update: Information Week's W. David Gardner confirmed the milestone with AT&T.

Suffolk signs contract with E-Path: After yesterday's scathing New York Times article--which I wrote up and elaborated on--you might be surprised to read that Suffolk County's executive Steve Levy has signed a contract with E-Path, the Wi-Fi network builder. As of Monday, Levy was saying that no services would need to be paid for by the county. Now, it's "a price 'as close to zero as possible.'" Apparently the contract doesn't specify any actual purchase of services? While the New York Times was unable to get E-Path's head on the phone, Newsday had no such problem. E-Path's Joe Tortoretti is now saying that an anchor tenant and minimum service commitments are needed to build a network. That's rather a different tune, isn't it? E-Path, a firm that has built no such networks to date, is now going after the Long Island Railroad, too, with Levy's backing. Shouldn't this be bid out again by the county, given all the terms have changed?

lumixtz50.jpgPanasonic adds Wi-Fi camera: The Lumix DMC-TZ50 can upload directly to Google's Picasa photo-sharing service. It's got a 9.1-megapixel sensor, and comes with 12 months of free service at T-Mobile hotspots in the U.S. As I have noted many times before, uploading and "emailing" photos via photo-sharing services from Wi-Fi-enabled cameras typically involves a downsampled or compressed image, and that level of degradation isn't noted in the widely marketed information about the camera.

Corpus Christi to reclaim network: The city council voted 7-0 last night to take its Wi-Fi network back over from EarthLink. As noted yesterday, EarthLink avoids paying $1.59m in fees to the city, but the city gets $3m in improvements, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional equipment. The improbably amount of $50,000 in yearly operating expense was once again bandied about in this GigaOm report. Milpitas also releases EarthLink, accepts its network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:03 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | 3 Comments

April 15, 2008

New York Times Taunts Long Island Effort, E-Path

By Glenn Fleishman

The New York Times editorial board says nyah-nyah to Long Island's Wi-Fi network: The editorial posted on the Times masthead blog, The Board, notes that a "no-name" company with "no track record" was awarded a contract, and that citizens shouldn't worry because "the government wouldn't be spending anything." (The Suffolk County executive Steve Levy was quoted by the Times in August 2007 saying precisely that: "No taxpayer dollars will be spent.")

The money grafs in this article: "No tax dollars, no risk, no problem. Now it looks like no wi-fi, either."

As I, Craig Settles, Esme Vos, Craig Plunkett (a local wireless provider), your crazy uncle, and John McCain could probably have all told you (and many of us did), a $150m network from a firm that hasn't built such a network, with no municipal commitment for the purchase of services means no network will be built. I'm not saying that Wi-Fi is the answer or any answer, but it's become clear that if a city can't move some of its dollars from one vendor to a Wi-Fi provider in order to secure service, there's no way a network gets built. (See: everywhere.)

E-Path logo compared to IE logoE-Path revised logo
From left to right: Internet Explorer logo, E-Path's logo as of a few weeks ago, E-Path's new logo

Taxpayer dollars are already being spent on incumbent services for voice and data. Moving expenses from one firm to another is only a risk if there's a cost involved that can't recouped, and if the city is on the hook for services if a network goes defunct. That can happen, and has happened. But it's a different issue than spending "taxpayer dollars." In fact, through better controls and more efficiency, spending on wireless broadband of all kinds (Wi-Fi, public safety 4.9 GHz, WiMax, and cell data), fewer taxpayer dollars could be spent or more services obtained. Think about police officers being in the field 10 percent more per day if they can file reports from the field, electronically. It's been shown to help in cities that have tried this even with older wireless systems.

The Times editorial board isn't content to ridicule the potential deployment, however. They note that directory services lacks a listing for E-Path, that no phone number is on the company's site, and that email to the four principals isn't responded to--except a bounce message from the COO who apparently left the firm on 14 April 2008.

I'd also note that the company must have seen my post on the similarities of their logo to the Internet Explorer icon. The new logo is entirely different, and new in the last few weeks. (See inset figure.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:53 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

April 14, 2008

Russia Requires Wi-Fi Registration

By Glenn Fleishman

Russian regulator requires registration: The folks at the Rossvyazokhrankultura (Russian Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Protection Service) have decided that every device with Wi-Fi inside requires registration for use by an individual user without a transferrable license, according to The Other Russia, which picked the story up from Russian-language site

While Wi-Fi wasn't as broadly unlicensed in Russia as it is in most other industrialized nations, a state regulator exempted indoor use in certain bands from registration. The Mass Media agency apparently believes that it has the authority to compel this, although there's some doubt by observers as to whether it really falls in their purview.

Setting up a home Wi-Fi network or a hotspot would require what sounds like vast amounts of paperwork, akin to putting a cell tower.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:04 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, International, Regulation

Corpus Christi Cuts EarthLink's Cord

By Glenn Fleishman

The city council of Corpus Christi will move Tuesday night to resume control from EarthLink of its Wi-Fi network: The network was originally built by the city to support municipal purposes, such as meter reading, and was sold to EarthLink for $5.3m plus $340,000 in other revenues, the local paper reports. The sale was reported back in March 2007 as a way for the city to gain better coverage without investing their own money and recoup some of their expense. EarthLink did complete the network in August, but its future--like all of EarthLink's municipal efforts--is completely uncertain. EarthLink is likely to sell, shut down, or abandon all its municipal networks based on statements over the last several months.

Corpus Christi, if it resumes ownership of the network, wouldn't operate ubiquitous public access Wi-Fi, however. It would focus on nine areas of free service currently in place, which could expand in the future; municipal uses would continue.

EarthLink would avoid paying $1.59m remaining in its contract, but the city would get improvements that total $1.76m, as well as $830,000 in additional equipment that were used in building out the network. Yearly operating costs are reported here as $50,000, which seems insanely low. Perhaps with only municipal purposes, there's no backhaul cost. But radios die and equipment needs to be moved. I would expect a cost in the hundreds of thousands for a 147 sq mi network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:46 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

Mobile Post: Wi-Fi Geography

By Glenn Fleishman

What can we learn about what we do from Wi-Fi? Overlaying Wi-Fi on top of a map ties together facts, figures, and behavior, in this mobile post.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:24 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location

Charting a Landscape with Wi-Fi Signals

By Glenn Fleishman

Driving, biking, and walking to gain a sense of Wi-Fi geographies: Paul Torrens wore out the patience of his friends and family, but gathered 500,000 Wi-F samples across a 12 sq km area of Salt Lake City, Utah, for his paper "Wi-Fi Geographies," published in the 1 March 2008 issue of Annals of the Association of American Geographers. (The paper can be downloaded for a fee, but may be available through local public or academic libraries, too.)

In an interview recently, Dr. Torrens, an assistant professor at Arizona State University in the School of Geographical Sciences, said that he used his extended family to help him gather the data necessary to draw real conclusions. "Any time they were going anywhere, I got them to stick the rig to their car."

Dr. Torrens said that he decided to attack Wi-Fi because it was hard in the geographic field to find a subject area that hadn't been throughly explored, and that his interest in patterns and process over a landscape led him to Wi-Fi. His exploration looked at Wi-Fi as a topology overlaying population, demographics, and architecture.

torrens_AP_density_small.jpgIn examining the literature to see if scholarly research had been carried out, he found a lot of wardriving details, but not a lot of accuracy or analysis. The maps of Wi-Fi coverage that are out there "rely on people going out and wardriving and submitting the data to some sort of online repository," Dr. Torrens said. While they may use GPS for timestamping and logging samples, "Unless you really know what you're doing with it, it provides very weak spatial accuracies [and] positional accuracies."

Dr. Torrens said, "I was able to come up with a much better accuracy." Some of his work is patented, and he said that while the university assembled the materials to file against his work, he remained a bit quiet about it. (As with most universities these days, ASU actively seeks to patent and license research as one means of funding the university's future.)

The data that he found in wardriving databases didn't account for quality, very few samples had timestamps, and where he found huge clusters, it didn't account for the timeframe, and thus was hard to tell whether the clusters existed at the same point in time. Dr. Torrens was collecting his data in 2005; wardriving databases may have improved in that time.

Dr. Torrens said that using techniques from the field, he could associate samples together, determining whether a cluster was legitimately such, or an abberration in the data--"whether a cluster is a cluster," in other words.

The research revealed some expected results, such as an extremely high number of access points in the most densely inhabited parts of town, but Dr. Torrens said he didn't expect to find that less-populated parts of town would also have a nearly ubiquitous spread of nodes. One area "that's relatively underpopulated is a whole warehouse district," he said, and they had lots of access points.

In the least-covered areas of the city, about seven access points were "visible"; in some places, that number was as high as 43 access points.

Also interesting to note was that security was most frequently enabled on Wi-Fi nodes in the parts of town dominated by students, who obviously had the technical jobs and understanding to prevent others from gaining access to their networks.

Dr. Torrens may carry out more Wi-Fi related geographic research, but that partly depends on having the resources or capability to gather information on a large scale. He'd love to gather live data that would allow him to show patterns as they change across the time of day or over a period of time.

"What I would like to do is to look at a temporal snapshot of the city, to look at how the Wi-Fi cloud is changing over time, over the course of a week," he said. "What is the temporal topography, the space-time topography of a city."

"To collect this kind of data set in real time would require a couple hundred thousand people with iPhones, citizen volunteers," he noted, but that might be possible with the capabilities of an iPhone software toolkit, promised by Apple in June, or through data sets gathered by firms like Skyhook Wireless.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:55 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Academia, Research

Metro Round-Up: L.I.-Fi, Sebastopol (Calif.), Wired Muni Map, OpenAirBoston

By Glenn Fleishman

Dubiousness on future of Long Island project: Long Island network builder E-Path has lost out in Trenton, where it asked for a mere $250,000 in contracted services to build a 7.5 sq mi network; Delay Beach, Flor., hasn't progressed, either. Trenton's business administrator states the problem clearly: "You can't expect a company to come in and expend millions of dollars on build out costs without having some level of guarantee that they're going to recover their costs." But there's more problems with E-Path in Long Island, where the utility that needs to grant pole access for two pilot projects says they gave access months ago. We'll see what shakes out. I was dubious from the start about the scale of the project with no anchor tenant, and with a firm that had no comparable projects of scale even underway. It's not a lack of confidence in E-Path (I have no opinion on their abilities); rather, the state of financing for projects of this sort.

Extremely fair article on Sebastopol Wi-Fi networking health debate: The local paper manages to push the camel through the eye of the needle in presenting various aspects of the vote by the local council to rescind the gift of a local ISP to provide city-wide Wi-Fi. It neither ridicules the symptoms of people who describe themselves as electrosensitive, nor ignores the clinical research that shows such sensitivity to be unprovable, even as the symptoms are clearly manifest (just not correlated with EMF). The article notes that one radio host who speaks on health has his words carried by a station that is bumping more signal out across Sebastopol than any Wi-Fi network would. In a true Sonoma moment, however, the leading opponent to the city-wide network and the owner of the ISP cross paths in front of Whole Foods where high school students in favor of the network were gather signatures for a petition--and hugged. That kind of behavior is more of what we need: civility, understanding, and mutual working forward to improve everyone's health. More research? Sure. And more kindness, too.

Wired's Wi-Fi map: now, useful! My friend and colleague Cyrus Farivar spent weeks researching what municipal projects were proceeding, on hold, or dead across the U.S., and I wasn't very impressed by the way in which Wired presented this material in their print issue. But never fear! Online, paired with Google Maps, his research is tremendously accessible. It's now a few weeks out of date, but still useful for the scope and locations of projects. It makes me want to build an ongoing effort of the same kind!

Complimentary essay on Boston's pace: By not building fast, OpenAirBoston avoids the mistakes of other municipal networks. True. But in the end, they need to build something; they are only "behind" in the sense of not having put their neck out too far.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:12 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Health, Municipal

April 12, 2008

Metro Round-Up: St. Louis, Minneapolis, Tempe

By Glenn Fleishman

St. Louis's downtown Wi-Fi network goes live: AT&T overcame the problem that led them to cancel a city-wide Wi-Fi network--a lack of 24-hour-a-day power on utility poles--by building just a square mile out with nodes placd on traffic lights. The lack of power is rather difficult to overcome, and traffic lights are spaced too sparsely to replicate this deployment city-wide. AT&T is offering free, ad-supported 512 Kbps service and paid 1 Mbps. This seems rather paltry given the 72 access points that the reporter told me were being placed across that square mile. (That number is what led to my estimate of at least $500,000 in cost in the first year.)

BelAir's radios praised in Minneapolis deployment: Okay, they're praised mostly by BelAir and its customer USI Wireless. That's buttressed by details from a Novarum survey of the city that was done before the network was complete over a limited area.

Tempe moves to cancel Gobility's contract: The city could choose to take ownership of the network, but has opted for canceling the service, which would lead to other steps. This article notes that Gobility isn't communicating with city officials, but then a city official states late in the article that Gobility is still looking for a buyer for its assets.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:15 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

April 11, 2008

Wee-Fi: The New Muni-Fi; Akron Ecstatic; State Park-Fi; Transport-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Millions in grants for wiring, unwiring communities: This week brings $61m in funding to efforts to put affordable broadband with useful purposes in communities across the U.S., Wired reports, between a $36m grant from AT&T and its foundation to One Economy, and a $25m effort by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. As Wired notes, One Economy will bring broadband to 500,000 low-income Americans in over 50 communities, with private partners handling deploying. They'll also develop audience-appropriate content. The Knight project will bring together grants and best-practices to help communities create self-sustaining Internet access. OneCommunity in Cleveland was cited as an example, and its head will take the job at a new Knight Center of Digital Excellence.

Akron is pretty ecstatic about the new Knight center, which will be built in its midst, as not only will the city become a center of thought about linking up communities, but a wireless project of its own will now be completed more rapidly. The Knight Foundation is putting in $625,000 towards the $2.2m project to unwire 10 sq mi. Other funds are coming from the city and the University of Akron. Akron's local paper, the Beacon Journal, was the first newspaper owned by the Knight family. [link via Daniel McKimm]

Parks across the U.S.--about 194 of 3,208--have Wi-Fi, but why? This USA Today article enumerates what parks in which states offer Internet access, but are hard-pressed to explain why it's useful. I do like the idea myself of having a lifeline back to people and information even when I'm away from it all, but it's hardly a necessity.

USA Today also runs down some transportation-Fi: The newspaper runs through a list of where Wi-Fi is available on various means of transit.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:43 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | 1 Comment

April 10, 2008

Wee-Fi: General Commuter-Fi, Microsoft Bus-Fi, Nikon S52c

By Glenn Fleishman

Wi-Fi Planet runs down transit-based Internet access around the world: There's a lot to choose to write about these days, as Internet access using Wi-Fi for end users and cellular data networks for backhaul abound. The article notes that commuter vehicle Wi-Fi can serve three purposes: access for passengers, intra-vehicle communication among systems, and remote surveillance in case of emergencies or security issues. The King County Metro System (called Metro by those of us here in King County) has Wi-Fi on a variety of buses, and seems to be gradually expanding service.

Microsoft expands its commuter bus system: The Wi-Fi equipped buses will grow to handle 4,600 riders a day from the current 1,800. A good friend will now have a 5-block walk from his Seattle home instead of a sort of impossible bus commute or a tedious daily drive. Microsoft was late to the game of offering free bus service to its employees, and thus their expansion must indicate that the increase in productivity and other goals are being met. The company told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that 2,500 of the 4,300 employees who have so far used the system for a total of 130,000 rides were single-occupant car drivers.

Nikon's new Coolpix S52c pairs 9 megapixel images, Flickr, Wi-Fi: The $300 camera, shipping in a few weeks, has a 9 MP sensor, 3x optical zoom, and vibration reduction and stabilization. The camera's internal Wi-Fi works with a local network, where it transfers photos to a computer, which then can upload them to their own online service, Picturetown, or it can "email" photos (sending low-resolution images that the companies tend to forgot to give you the specs on how low resolution) at hotspots. The camera comes with six months of T-Mobile service. Pictures can be transferred to Flickr and social-networking sites via a feature at Picturetown.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:15 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

Access AT&T Wi-Fi from T-Mobile Hotspots

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile's roaming deal with AT&T has obviously already kicked in: Astute reader Klaus Ernst let me know several days ago that the New York Starbucks locations were offering an AT&T login on the gateway page. I lackadaisically tried this out yesterday here in Seattle. AT&T has a ton of roaming partners, so it presents an interface that lets you type in whatever your particular credentials are to gain access. With my Boingo Wireless account, I have easy access to Starbucks now. The screen below was captured on my iPhone at a Starbucks in Fremont, Seattle (otherwise known as the center of the universe).


Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:28 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot

April 9, 2008

BART Wi-Fi Access Moves Closer in Bay Area

By Glenn Fleishman

WiFi Rail may sign contract with Bay Area Rapid Transit soon: That's typical marketing fare from many companies, to pre-announce deals, but a BART official confirmed the state of negotiations in this Sacramento Bee article. I had a long talk with the WiFi Rail folks a few months ago, and they sent me some fascinating video of a live four-way video chat with three participants communicating from moving trains.

Their technical description of what they're doing makes a lot of sense, and if they can pull off their trial work in a production environment, they will have a set of patents and products that will likely be the model for deploying subway and train Wi-Fi in urban areas around the world. Yes, that's a big claim; but they have a unique and interesting solution.

The company told the Bee that they would start on heavily traveled underground routes first, with service available within 4 months of a contract. WiFi Rail relies on leaky coax, which is wiring that runs in the tunnel already, and they've overlaid Wi-Fi signals on in a way that simulates a very long antenna.

The Bee reports that they've raised $1.5m in financing so far with another round of $15m to $20m to close later this year. With a BART contract in hand, I can't imagine they'll have any difficulty getting funds. Captive audiences are worth the big bucks.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:39 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails

April 8, 2008

Mobile Post: London Calling, London Calling

By Glenn Fleishman

How much can people stand the person talking next to them on a plane? The real question about calling in-flight is whether folks in a packed sardine can over Europe will accept multi-lingual, multi-hour chats. Not the technical or price issues at all. That and more in this audio mobile post

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:23 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

April 7, 2008

European Commission Moves Forward on In-Flight Mobile Plan

By Glenn Fleishman

The EC adopted two measures that will allow harmonized licensing, technology across EU states: The EC recommends that member states mutually recognize each other's licenses granted for in-flight mobile communications, which means that a firm or airline need apply to just one telecom/spectrum regulator to have permission to use the service throughout the EC. The EC's other measure details the technical requirements for the equipment--picocells--to be used on aircraft so that frequency licensing isn't in conflict between ground and in-flight operation.

Airworthiness is a separate measure that's been addressed by the European Aviation Safety Agency across the EU. The EC took this as an opportunity for push for pan-European telecom rules to avoid having to keep defining rules that have to be adopted across all member nations for pan-European services, like this and mobile satellite operation.

The very pro-consumer Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding, who already through force of will backed down European carriers to drop their cross-border roaming rates--later backed up by regulation--suggests that carriers think long and hard about the rates they charge for in-flight service. "However, if consumers receive shock phone bills, the service will not take-off," she said in an EC press release.

The social factors concerns are left to the airlines, with an implicit threat by the EC to keep on top of it. Reding said, "I also call on airlines and operators to create the right conditions on board aircraft to ensure that those who want to use in-flight communication services do not disturb other passengers."

The rules today affects phones that can use the 1800 MHz band (GSM 1800), which is estimated to cover phones used by 90 percent of European passengers--or is that 90 percent of travelers on European flights? Hard to know.

The picocells must not simply accept connections for 1800 MHz bands, but also prevent phones using 460 MHz, 900 MHz, and 2100 MHz from communicating with ground stations, which is a simple matter of providing a null carrier that associates with the phone yet provides it no path. No mentioned here is the 1700 MHz and 850 MHz frequencies used by GSM in the U.S., which one would expect would alos need to be blocked, even though quad-band GSM phones include the 1800 MHz band for use. Perhaps through automated selection that's not an issue.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:21 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

April 4, 2008

Seven Years of Wi-Fi Networking News

By Glenn Fleishman

It's hard for me to believe this, but Wi-Fi Networking News is seven years old on Sunday, 6 April 2008: Folks, there are times when I feel a little bit aged. Turning 40 a couple weeks ago didn't give me that feeling. Have two children (1 and 3 2/3) has a bit (mostly when I'm achey from too much carrying and too little sleep). But finding that my "other child," Wi-Fi Networking News is a grand spanking seven years old has, in fact, made me stoop just a little bit.

I started Wi-Fi Networking News under the less euphonious name 802.11b Networking News back in April 2001 after spending months researching what became a front-cover article in Circuits, the then-separate tech section of The New York Times. The first post is still live, as are all the nearly 4,800 others.

(I had help: Nancy Gohring wrote part-time for WNN for a couple years when we had a bit more traffic; she took a full-time job for and still works for IDG News Service, which I am now slightly affiliated with through my new hardware regular blog at PC World.)

Original Site Design
The site as it appeared in April 2001

That first article for the Times left a lot of research unused. I flowed some of it into the first weeks of the 802.11b-later-Wi-Fi site. I discovered there was generally no shortage of news about wireless data, which in those early days included HomeRF and then early flavors of Bluetooth. HomeRF hit the dust, and Bluetooth evolved into a complement to Wi-Fi.

Since starting, I've covered extensively the growth of the hotspot market, the rise and fall and rise again of municipal networks, the change in consumer equipment from expensive and slow to cheap and fast, the growth of the enterprise market, the phoenix-like in-flight calling/broadband market, and, more recently, cellular and WiMax technology.

Enterprise coverage was once a central part of Wi-Fi Networking News, but it became clear a few years ago that as equipment was redesigned to be integral to the enterprise, that my ability cover and test gear was too limited, and the need for true enterprise experience was necessary to write about it. This disappointed a lot of enterprise readers and equipment makers who wanted me to keep writing about corporate hardware.

The focus over the last few years on municipal Wi-Fi was not just necessary--few people besides me were covering it in depth--but also represented the only significant news in the Wi-Fi world outside of the development of 802.11n/Draft N gear. It's only recently that WiMax, cellular data, spectrum auctions, and in-flight broadband have picked back up to become stories that you all want to know about--because they've become real technology you might work with. As the city-wide Wi-Fi arc played itself out, I'm covering it less because there's less of interest; it's going to become routine and the province of city CTOs and CIOs.

While writing this site, I try to have opinions, but not an agenda. I try to keep an open mind, though I do descend into cynicism, often well founded, but perhaps too readily employed. I'll try my best to keep myself honest and cheery in the years to come.

The biggest trends I expect to see develop in 2008 to 2010 are in these key areas:

Appliances. I expected 2007 to be the year that Wi-Fi was in everything: cameras, games, phones, and tchotchkes. Instead, Wi-Fi has only gradually spread, with a few gaming consoles, and many handsets and smartphones gaining or extending their use. It may be that I missed a trend: cameras in phones may become so good by 2009, that we don't need a camera with Wi-Fi at all (Wired reports today on several 5 megapixel cameraphones shown at CTIA this week). It's also likely that if WiMax gets a foothold, we'll get handhelds probably in 2009 that sport high-speed connections for all kinds of high-bandwidth purposes, like live uploading of streaming video.

Video over wireless. I look at this category as not just another instance of broadcast, like Qualcomm's MediaFLO which is really TV to the cell phone; rather, we'll see ways in which Wi-Fi, WiMax, and cellular data are used to push stored and streaming media to all sorts of devices. I look to Starbucks, Apple, and AT&T to lead the way on cached media in stores that can be filled up at local network speeds: download a full-length, HD movie in a few minutes in a Starbucks from the iTunes cache rather than 3 hours at home.

Radio over Wi-Fi. Internet radio via Wi-Fi music players seems like a trend--buying a boombox you can tune in wherever you are, or using a handheld MP3 players--but even with many devices, I don't feel a sense that it's caught on quite yet. If Apple puts Internet radio over Wi-Fi into new iPhone/iPod touch firmware, it'll likely take off; Nokia allows a third-party program for its N series for Internet radio over Wi-Fi already.

Cellular data/mobile broadband. I admit to being wrong about the potential of cell data, due to the overhype from the carriers and the horrible pricing relative to throughput and availability of the 1xRTT and GPRS systems. As cell data networks have matured into true broadband--slow, but broadband--media, the hype has lessened, disclosure has improved (no more "unlimited" usage, eh?), and the value has increased. We'll see more of the same with faster flavors of GSM networking and WiMax's deployment. The networks will become faster and cheaper and less restrictive.

For a good sense of what people are still reading on Wi-Fi Networking News, here are the titles of the top 10 articles since I switched to Google Analytics in Sept. 2006:

A few observations. Security remains key in people's minds: Security articles from 2004 are still being heavily viewed in 2008. Linksys is definitely high in people's minds for particular problems: Change the default password, buy a Linux (not VxWorks) embedded router, report problems with various models. Oddly, the wireless speakers and wireless printers articles are short stubs that are pure blog: they link to longer articles elsewhere. The Best Wi-Fi Signal Finder Yet story is 4 years old and still gets 1,000 page views a month. The invisible hand--nay, the long tail!--works in archives as it does everywhere.

Will I still be pounding away 7 years from now on this site? That seems about as unlikely as the last 7 years, which means it will probably happen. Traffic has dropped off over the years from the time in which Wi-Fi was a great (and expensive) mystery to today when there's more information and less confusion about it. As long as there are any questions to be answered, I'll keep writing.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:10 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail, Self-Promotion

Mobile Post: Utility Poles and Backhaul

By Glenn Fleishman


You can't ignore physical realities: Much as we might not like it, the hard work of attaching devices to utility poles and bringing in backhaul to cell and Wi-Fi sites can't just be handled by waving your hands around. Photo by Chris Chan

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:01 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Listen In

700 MHz Winners Talk: Google, AT&T, Verizon

By Glenn Fleishman

Even the losers win in this auction: The gag order from the FCC over the bidding and results of the 700 MHz spectrum auction were lifted yesterday, and everyone is jabbering. Verizon and AT&T have announced they'll build LTE (Long Term Evolution) cell data networks, a GSM standard, in the 700 MHz band. AT&T says their network will come online starting in 2012; Verizon, 2010.

Google posted on their own blog and told the New York Times that they were happy enough losing, even though they bid to win...sort of. They raised their own bids a few times to keep interest from other players, but were relieved when another bidder topped them. That turned out to be Verizon Wireless. Google managed to get a few types of openness encoded into the band, and they think (rightly so) that it made a difference. An economist notes in the Times article that Google now only has to spend "$1 million a year on a law firm to ensure Verizon lives up to the openness requirements."

AT&T didn't bid on the C Block that Google was discussing, a set of licenses that provide national coverage in a few easy pieces. Rather, they focused on acquiring 700 MHz spectrum before the auction from Aloha Partners (from the previous 700 MHz auction), and spending billions on smaller licenses all over the country that they can pin together. Those licenses are unencumbered by open device, application, and service provisions, so AT&T thinks they got the better deal. A good summary is at Phone Mag.

Verizon for its part said it was pleased with its national-scope licenses. Despite AT&T acquiring lots of spectrum, it's going to be far easier for Verizon to use these nationally defined bands, with consistent performance across all their networks.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:45 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Financial, Future, Regulation, Spectrum | 1 Comment

Boston Moves to Bubbles of Access

By Glenn Fleishman

The term "hotzone" is passé, apparently: The Boston Globe reports that efforts to build a city-wide Wi-Fi network in the cradle of liberty have faltered, with only hundreds of thousands of dollars towards a $15m goal raised; a retailoring of plans for more modest, inexpensive pilots; and the potential departure of the volunteer CEO in favor of a paid leader.

Still, I don't think it's a bad idea to retool: with no money on hand, with no commitment from the city, with the first pilot in place, rethinking the project as a series of lit-up areas makes just about as much sense as anything; cf., Houston.

The article notes that the company is switching from the BelAir equipment to free software installed on off-the-shelf hardware. There's no such product that I'm aware of that could scale for these efforts. There's off-the-shelf and commercial, paying for the management part (RoamAD); off-the-shelf and sort of open, but not commercial without paying for it (LocustWorld); open-source based but proprietary hardware (Meraki); proprietary all around, even if it has open-source components (BelAir, SkyPilot, Cisco, Motorola, Tropos, etc.); Roofnet (various components, but the team is now mostly working at Meraki); free, open-source, and open hardware (CUWiN, seemingly in abeyance).

So...what are they using?

Update: Stephen Ronan writes in to suggest it might be OLSR or Open-Mesh. (Open-Mesh, the company, uses RO.B.IN, a full-blown firmware package for Atheros AP51 devices that stands for Routing Batman Inside; B.A.T.M.A.N. is an algorithm: better approach to mobile ad-hoc networking; B.A.T.M.A.N. is also instantiated as software that can be installed on appropriate Linux-based routers. Holy flash memory!)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:53 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal

April 3, 2008

Mobile Post: Speeds Thrills in Minnesota

By Glenn Fleishman

In Minnesota, St. Paul and Minneapolis may stand as poster children for two trends in broadband: On your left, Comcast offers 50 Mbps/5 Mbps in the home; on your right, a working urban Wi-Fi network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:53 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Municipal | 1 Comment

April 2, 2008

Wee-Fi: Aircell Inches Closer; St. Paul's Cable Speed Boosted

By Glenn Fleishman

Aircell gets FAA approval for in-flight launch: Aircell has completed another hoop, with approval from the FAA to manufacture, install, and operate its hardware on planes; the first models approved are for the American launch, the Boeing 767-200. Virgin, Aircell's other launch partner, is using Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft. The press release notes that the launch routes for American will serve Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Miami. American is equipping 15 planes at launch with Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet service.

Is it a coincidence that St. Paul is getting Comcast's fastest service? St. Paul, just over the river from Wi-Fi-loving Minneapolis, will get news tomorrow from its cable provider that DOCSIS 3.0 technology will be rolled out. This latest flavor of cable standard will allow 50 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up in Comcast's initial rollout. Service will run $150 for 50/5 Mbps; 6 Mbps and 8 Mbps downstream service are currently $43 and $53 per month. The faster service will hit 20 percent of Comcast's customers nationally by 2009 and fully rollout by 2010.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:25 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

Air France Begins In-Flight Voice Trial

By Glenn Fleishman

Air France starts allowing phone calls in flight: Air France's single OnAir-equipped A318 has entered its next phase. Passengers can place and receive voice calls during flights. The first three months of this test involved only text messaging and mobile email; this phase will last three months, although earlier, both OnAir (the satellite-backed provider offering the service) and Air France said they'd pull the plug if calling were a problem.

Rates were not disclosed, but have been estimated at about US$2.50 per minute before the recent steep decline in the dollar. Carriers set the price; OnAir sets the wholesale rate.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:32 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Cellular

Wee-Fi: That's Hedy; Slacker, Devicescape Pair; SF Project-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Biopic of Hedy Lamarr will include technological achievements: One of the most beautiful women in the world in her day, Hedy Lamarr's achievement and co-inventing spread-spectrum frequency-hopping technology (to prevent jamming) was overlooked through government secrecy, sexism, and incredulity until the turn of the century. A planned biographical film, "Face Value," will survey the scope of her life.

Slacker partners with Devicescape for easy music access: The Slacker Portable adds Devicescape's simple connection software built in. A firmware update, available today, allows Slacker owners to use Devicescape software to connect without entering passwords and other minutiae on the portable device, but rather manage free and open network connections directly, or, for managed and fee networks, through a Web site into which passwords can be entered.

More detail on Internet Archive plan for San Francisco high-speed access in projects: MuniWireless details who all is involved, including usual suspect Tim Pozar, a long-time advocate of spreading cheap and free (and corporate-free) Internet access.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:13 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

April 1, 2008

Sperren Sie Endlich Ihren Kopf Auf

By Glenn Fleishman

Wi-Fi spectrum to be auctioned off: John C. Dvorak discovers that the U.S. Congress has voted to sell the unlicensed spectrum in which Wi-Fi works by 2012. In the meantime, a license code will be needed, purchased from the FCC, and coded into your devices' SSIDs. Microwave ovens won't be exempt; a $10 per month "potential interference fee" will be collected. Think this is too hard to regulate? Remember that TV detector vans drive around Britain fining people who lack a TV license!

Exploding head: An English schoolteacher's head exploded due to electromagnetic radiation at his school in Cotswold as part of an experiment gone awry.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:15 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: April Fool's

Wi-Fi Group Finalizes Latest Wireless Flavor

By Glenn Fleishman

The twist? This time, wires are involved: The Wi-Fi Alliance is poised to provide certification for a quietly developed flavor of 802.11--one so quietly developed that its true implications weren't understood, and few impediments were put in its way, such as internecine squabbling over esoteric details. The new flavor, 802.11af, will be ratified as Wi-Fi Over Ethernet (WoE), an unfortunate acronym that shouldn't bode poorly for the standard's future. (It's probably better they opted against Wi-Fi over Wires, WoW, which many geeks would have confused with World of Warcraft.)

Wi-Fi over Ethernet combines electromagnetic resonance--the ability of a EMF to excite signals in wires--with excess wired capacity in a manner similar to how broadband over powerline works. Where properly equipped 802.11af Ethernet switches and adapters are available, coupled with WOE-capable Wi-Fi systems, the Wi-Fi signals will simply be picked up and carried by the Ethernet network. Switching and transmission then become limited to the extent of the wired network--which will improve throughput and range. (A future standard might allow passive powering of lightweight devices from Ethernet, which is a neat reversal.)

This is in the same category of new convergent standards such as Bluetooth over 802.11 and FireWire (IEEE 1394) over IEEE 741-2007: ways to provide better specs on one standard by combining it with another that has a complementary purpose.

Now, of course, modern computing systems tend to include gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi, so why do we need a third modality that combines the two? Partly because of new devices like the MacBook Air and smartphones like BlackBerrys with Wi-Fi built in. Without an Ethernet adapter, the range of these devices can be limited, and throughput restricted.

You were waiting for the magic number: How fast is WoE? Nearly 1600 Mbps raw speed, and about 30 Mbps of raw throughput. Before you scoff, remember that you might be able to use WoE over hundreds of meters across a switched Ethernet network, where a Wi-Fi signal might stretch just a hundred or two hundred feet. If Wi-Fi beats WoE, a computer will use Wi-F.

The Wi-Fi Alliance hasn't set the date of their certification yet, but I'm told it will happen any day. The mark will be added to the list of A, B, G, Draft N, WMM Power Save, and other symbols, as AF. The industry is considering a campaign around the phrase, "WoE is me(tm)!" trying to capture the excitement of the new synergy. Again, unfortunate acronym.

The IEEE has finalized and approved a draft, but final ratification isn't expected until 1 April 2009.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:22 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: April Fool's

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