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Recent Entries

Migration of Hosting Platform
In-Flight Plans Start to Take Off
High-Fi News: Alaska Airlines Launches Trial; Noonan Takes Flight of Wi-Fi Optimism
Meraki Goes All In: 802.11n Triple Radio Outdoor Node
All Wi-Fi Networks Would Need To Keep Records under New Law
Delta Backtracks on Its Wi-Fi Rollout Pace
AirTight Plays Up WPA Crack Threat
Southwest Starts In-Flight Trial Monday
Femtocellarama: Carriers Opting for In-Home Base Station Offerings
Amtrak's Semi-Confusing Internet Access Message

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February 2009 Archives

February 27, 2009

Migration of Hosting Platform

By Glenn Fleishman

A minor administrative update: Today, I migrated Wi-Fi Networking News from the Movable Type 3.3 to Movable Type 4.2 platform. This is an administrative issue, bringing the site into 2009, and making elements of the site consistent. You'll notice that permanent URLs have changed their appearance, showing a slug, or a shortened version of the headline, rather than a number. Old URLs for individual entries will continue to work, redirected to their modern equivalent. Some old links may fail, and please feel free to contact me about them.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail

February 26, 2009

In-Flight Plans Start to Take Off

By Glenn Fleishman

Skeptics wondered whether in-flight Internet would just be blue-sky thinking: I'm more in the optimistic camp--the plane is half-full, as it were--than skeptic, but I've wondered since December whether plans to get the Internet aloft were stalling. According to the key companies involved, delays have occurred, but all engines are on full throttle. Now I'll spare you more aircraft "jokes."

In preparation for a longer article on in-flight Internet, I've spoken to several firms recently, including Aircell and Row 44. Let me share a few choice tidbits of interest to those of us following this market closely.

Aircell's executive vice president of airlines John Happ told me yesterday that the delay in Delta's rollout was partly coordination. Delta had originally planned to handle the Aircell Gogo service installation itself, but opted to hand that role to Aircell. Aircell has two intsallation lines putting its service in planes with an overnight turnaround, and will have two more lines in operation between this Sunday and the next few weeks.

Both Happ and Jack Blumenstein, Aircell's CEO, said that the target of during third quarter of 2009 for the full widebody fleet rollout of Delta remains on track. "We'll move on to, and toward later on in the year" with a firmer schedule about the Northwest mainline fleet, Blumenstein said.

While Delta and Aircell had planned to have more planes in the air sooner--75 by the end of 2008 at one point--this revised scheduled reflects the change in Aircell's installation role.

Virgin America's rollout continues apace, and Blumenstein said, surprisingly, that by third quarter, "We'll have at least one other airline fully deployed over that same time frame."

Aircell plans to start offering a proliferation of pricing plans soon, with overnight discounts, special event discounts, subscriptions, run-of-airline daypasses, and other bundles for regular or frequent users.

From Row 44's CEO, John Guidon, I learned that the company is poised for a fairly big expansion. Alaska Airlines was a natural customer because a lot of its routes are overseas and mountains, as well to, well, Alaska, which is remote.

Row 44's system can push about 4 Mbps of real network access to a plane, with a larger amount of streaming traffic.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:54 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

High-Fi News: Alaska Airlines Launches Trial; Noonan Takes Flight of Wi-Fi Optimism

By Glenn Fleishman

Alaska Airlines finally announced its test launch of Row 44's satellite-backed in-flight Internet service: Alaska's routes take them mostly over water to Alaska or Mexico from its Seattle hub, and thus Aircell's solution is a bad fit. The airline and Row 44 have been talking about trials for quite some time. Today marks the first live launch of a plane, apparently a single 737-700, which will fly from Seattle to San Jose today. This plane will fly for 60 days while they test the offering.

If "successful," and the press release doesn't define what success means, a schedule will be set for installing service across its fleet. Pricing hasn't yet been set; it will be free on this aircraft during the trial.

Row 44 is using satellites, the same Ku band type that Connexion by Boeing employed, but the company has claimed in the past that its combination of advanced antennas and secret sauce lets it extract massively higher data rates than Connexion while keeping the costs at a level that profit can be earned.


Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal opinion writer, finds inspiration in in-flight Wi-Fi: Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Reagan, had a brief exhilaration in sending and receiving email on an American Airlines flight because it reminded her of a better time in America's past in which innovation and was all around. "If you were paying attention, if you understood you were witnessing something great, the invention of a new age, the computer age, it caught at your throat." Despite the collapse, the uncertainty, and the change around us, Noonan is optimistic. She believes that the future is in change at local levels, from the bottom up. "No one trusts big anymore. In the future everything will be local."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:52 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

February 24, 2009

Meraki Goes All In: 802.11n Triple Radio Outdoor Node

By Glenn Fleishman

Meraki has decided they're a grown-up company, after all: Meraki started out as the little guy, with tiny $50 nodes that would self-organize into a mesh Wi-Fi network. Even as the company grew out of its origins, it still focused largely on indoor applications, where outdoor uses were an adjunct. Their new MR58, a 5 GHz triple-radio 802.11n ruggedized weatherproof outdoor node changes that entirely.

The $1,499 (list) unit, which meshes with all the existing gear and includes the license for Meraki's required software-as-a-service hosted management system, can go omnidirectional or directional on each of the three radios as separate systems. The company sees the unit as being a way to link locations (they claim 1 to 20 km with appropriate directional antennas), and provide front-end access in public places.

The company sells into several markets, including hotels and motels, apartment buildings, academic campuses, and hotzones. It doesn't emphasize corporate customers, although Meraki added WPA2 Enterprise authentication in a recent back-end update.

The gear Meraki is selling could be used for cities--the company has some such installations in towns--but the design is intended to extend Meraki's existing ecosystem from tiny indoor wall warts up to outdoor AC and solar-powered single-radio models.

The MR58 is 802.1af Power over Ethernet compliant, sucking down 8 watts at most, the firm's founder told me. This means a single Ethernet run to a roof can power the MR58; no AC outlets required.

You can get the full scoop in my coverage at Ars Technica.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:51 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Hardware, Metro-Scale Networks

February 20, 2009

All Wi-Fi Networks Would Need To Keep Records under New Law

By Glenn Fleishman

Veteran tech political reporter Declan McCullagh determines Internet Safety Act would apply to everyone who runs a Wi-Fi network: The law imposes unheralded requirements for keeping records on who accesses a given network, something that governments want to track criminals (often citing child-pornography downloaders) regardless of the cost to individuals and businesses in dollars, sense, time, and privacy. Odd how the Republicans back this so strongly; it's the law-and-order thing. But Dems are behind a similar version of the bill.

The act would requires two years worth of data being stored for anyone providing "an electronic communication service or remote computing service." McCullagh's analysis is that this applies to basically every kind of network everywhere run for any purpose by anyone.

He writes:

That sweeps in not just public Wi-Fi access points, but password-protected ones too, and applies to individuals, small businesses, large corporations, libraries, schools, universities, and even government agencies. Voice over IP services may be covered too.

It's unclear what this could possibly mean for home users and casual network operators like cafes. I'm sure larger firms, like Wayport (now an AT&T division), already had data-retention policies and have had to work with law enforcement in the past. But what would I, with my home network, have to do?

Some home Wi-Fi routers do keep internal logs by default, and would record the MAC addresses and timestamps of when access occurred. How about, however, if yours doesn't? Or it keeps one month of data and then dumps it?

I don't think this law's scope was well thought out, clearly, and one hopes that ISPs, consumer groups, and Wi-Fi gateway makers band together to force some sense into it.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:43 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Regulation

Delta Backtracks on Its Wi-Fi Rollout Pace

By Glenn Fleishman

Delta now saying five aircraft a week will be equipped with Wi-Fi: Everything about putting Internet in the air seems to suffer from unexplained delays, but at least service is expanding. Slowly. Delta's Mike Kotas blogged on 15-January that they would be putting "upwards of 10 new wi-fi equipped aircraft per week" in the air starting that day.

On 18-February, a Delta product manager blogged that the firm is "averaging five installations a week," and have just 25 planes equipped, which is an increase of far less than 5 per week over the nearly 5-week period.

I've long been bullish on Aircell's flavor of in-flight Internet, expecting that the problems in getting service signed up and equipped have been more financial than technical. Airlines have gone through a horrible rollercoaster over the last year-plus. Fuel prices caused massive losses. The drop in jet fuel cost incurred large hedging losses. The economy's partial collapse reduced flyers, especially lucrative business travelers.

Delta has about 330 planes that they plan to install Wi-Fi on in the first wave, not including its Northwestern aircraft. At 5 planes per week, that puts them all in service before second quarter 2010, instead of the firm's earlier prediction of second half of 2009, which was itself revised to late 2009 last December.

At least they have a nice logo.


Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:29 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | 1 Comment

February 18, 2009

AirTight Plays Up WPA Crack Threat

By Glenn Fleishman

I'm a little taken aback at AirTight's marketing campaign: A crack in WPA's security model discovered by German academics isn't the end of WPA security. In fact, it's more likely the end of any reason to use TKIP, the weaker of the two encryption algorithms available in modern WPA/WPA2 compliant Wi-Fi systems, that was developed entirely to enable older 802.11b devices to have a forward-upgrade path back in 2003 to a newer security model. See my article from 7 November 2008, "Don't Panic over WPA Flaw, But Do Pay Attention."

AirTight's advertisement for a webinar and white paper asks a different question. The subject line, "Is WPA Encryption Broken Forever?" No, because it's not broken now. The company goes on to ask, "I this the tip of the iceberg?", which is much more reasonable.

The marketing release says, "Roughly 90 days ago, the WLAN industry was abruptly shaken when two German researchers announced a crack in TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol), an encryption protocol used with the WPA wireless security standard." Not so much. There was a lot of interest, and once details came out, everyone relaxed. The vulnerability can be patched, but the correct solution is to leave TKIP in favor of AES-CCMP, something already recommended years ago for all enterprises and security-minded organizations.

AirTight writes, "Researchers were able to exploit this new vulnerability and inject arbitrary packets in the TKIP protected client in as little as 15 minutes. This method potentially creates hooks for new exploits in what was once considered the accepted security upgrade from WEP." The first part of that? Not so much, either. Researchers were able to inject non-arbitrary packets: They had to create packets of the same length as those that were being used as a model, and packets were only a few bytes long. Arbitrary packet injection without any explanation implies the ability to, well, inject any data into a packet. That's just not the case.

The last sentence, "creates hooks for new exploits" is a reasoned statement that's worth considering. There are likely other flaws in TKIP that haven't been exploited that could provide a way to claw out more data or inject longer packets that could do some harm. TKIP's model is a repaired version of WEP, and thus TKIP inherited some of the weaknesses. The WPA flaw that the folks in Germany wrote about could be repaired by a couple of minor changes in how bad packets are handled, and a faster TKIP key rotation.

With little security news, AirTight may be trying to make a little hay, but they should keep that to a small pile.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security | 1 Comment

February 10, 2009

Southwest Starts In-Flight Trial Monday

By Glenn Fleishman

USA Today reports that Southwest Airlines will start an in-flight Internet trial on one plane: The service will be satellite-backed using Row 44's system, and be free during the trial. Three additional planes will also have the service installed by early March, the newspaper reports. Southwest has 536 Boeing 737 aircrafts, the majority in 737-700s, as of October.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:01 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

February 8, 2009

Femtocellarama: Carriers Opting for In-Home Base Station Offerings

By Glenn Fleishman

Femtocells arrive: Femtocells are cellular base stations the size of typical home broadband modems and gateways, one step below office-building picocells, designed to enhance a mobile carrier's network in interior spaces. I've been skeptical of femtocells for the several years in which they've been discussed as the Next Big Thing Next Year.

Apparently, 2009 is next year. Sprint introduced its Airave last year, Verizon just released its Network Extender, and AT&T slipped up and revealed plans for its 3G MicroCell, which is apparently 2 to 5 months away.

Femtocells vary from VoIP over Wi-Fi (whether via T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home or Skype over Wi-Fi using a USB headset) in that they use licensed frequencies for the area in which the femtocell operates. There's no chance of collision with other users, which makes voice calls for all three operators and data calls for AT&T (the only one of the three to support 3G data) consistent.

Sprint and Verizon's base stations allow up to 3 simultaneous voice calls. AT&T allows up to 4 simultaneous 3G voice calls or data connections. Sprint and Verizon's femtocells work with all existing 2G-compatible handsets, which is pretty much everything; AT&T is restricting its femtocell to 3G for a lot of sensible reasons.

I've written extensively about femtocell announcements and some of the carriers' strategy over in my general tech reporting gig at Ars Technica, but let me run down how this fits into the wireless data world.

Read the rest of "Femtocellarama: Carriers Opting for In-Home Base Station Offerings"

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:08 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Future, Voice

Amtrak's Semi-Confusing Internet Access Message

By Glenn Fleishman

A few news outlets picked up a statement from NewYorkology last week that implied Amtrak was looking into on-board Internet service: But when you read the statement, it's not quite what some sites are making it out to be. "Amtrak continues to explore options which will ultimately allow us to offer Wi-Fi service to our passengers," is what Cliff Cole of Amtrak reportedly said via email.

Given that the organization still claims to be offering Wi-Fi in several northeast corridor stations, even though correspondent Klaus Ernst has seemingly confirmed that the service is gone (and T-Mobile never gave me an official statement on the matter), it's hard to know what that means.

There are now several functioning Internet-on-rails systems around the world, so there should be many more choices to pull from, especially on the most popular northeast Amtrak routes. It's also possible that the organization could use a relatively small amount of funding to create a trial or two, and test customer willingness to pay.

Amtrak saw a large uptick in ridership, as did most public transit systems, during the similar uptick in gas and oil prices. With people out of work, it's likely that trains will be used even more if competitive with the costs of driving.

Trains still have a unique advantage in most U.S. cities that have service in providing stations right in the middle of towns; airports, you have both the security theater delays and the process of estimating 90 to 120 minutes to get somewhere that's 30 minutes away to give yourself 30 to 120 minutes before a flight leaves.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:57 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails

February 7, 2009

NY Times on In-Flight Internet

By Glenn Fleishman

The story is kind of a mess: While it covers a lot of the usual bases, such as "will aircraft become places you have to work during work hours," but there's a lot wrong here.

"about $10 for three hours and more for longer flights": Since there are only two prices, why not say $10 for flights under three hours, $13 for longer flights? More specific is always better in these cases.

A flight attendant union spokesperson isn't challenged after making this statement: "Ms. Caldwell said the flight attendants' union also feared that terrorists plotting a scheme on a plane could use Wi-Fi to communicate with one another on board and with conspirators on the ground."

This should have been addressed by asking an aviation security expert, not by passing it on. Terrorists (and anyone) can communicate using ad hoc Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth on planes today above 10,000 feet. A terrorist (or anyone) could also have high-gain cellular equipment in a carry-on that would be allowed through security without a problem, and that would allow ground communication.

The notion that a controlled service with an in-air hotspot and air-to-ground communication makes it easier--maybe. I think we're unlikely to see terrorists planning an operation in which the presence of public Internet access was a given.

"The Federal Aviation Administration currently bans use of cellphones aboard planes because they may interfere with a jet’s navigation system." Really, it's because the FAA hasn't been able to run down a very small number of cases in which an effect has been alleged. It's increasingly clear that interference is unlikely, except possibly with older less-hardened aircraft avionic systems. The ban remains in place largely because there's no testing procedure, and because the FCC continues to prohibit 850 MHz PCS service. (I believe, technically speaking, the FCC doesn't restrict 1700-2100 MHz cell phone networks, but that no plane has been certified to allow such phones.)

"But Wi-Fi, as most technophiles know, offers a way around that ban, since the wireless connections can be used to tap into Skype and other programs that offer telephone service via a computer." Sure, and given that the reporter talked to Aircell, I'm not sure why the fact that Aircell actively attempts to block any VoIP or video chat from happening wasn't mentioned.

"On Delta, service is $9.95 for a flight of three hours or less, $12.95 for a longer flight." That's the case for all three airlines currently flying with Aircell's Gogo service. (Virgin America isn't mentioned here.)

"If all 150 passengers on a typical domestic flight were to buy three hours of time, that would mean an extra $1,500 or so in revenue per trip..." That's an insane number, and no one in the industry expects anything like that. A more reasonable analysis would have suggested that 5 to 15 percent of passengers might use the service, as a possible range. And the revenue doesn't go straight to the airlines, of course, which isn't mentioned here, either.

"By offering the service, airlines in the United States are catching up to many foreign carriers, like Lufthansa, which has offered the service for the past several years." Oh, spit: The reporter didn't get the memo that Lufthansa stopped offering Connexion service over two years ago when Boeing pulled the plug. This is incredibly sloppy.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:42 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

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