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Clearwire unveiled the Clear Spot Personal Hotspot: Yes, the firm needs help with naming, but it's a great idea to push early adoption outside the home. The CradlePoint-developed device is a WiMax-to-Wi-Fi gateway designed for nomadic use due to its built-in battery. Plug in a Clear USB modem, and you're good to go over 802.11b and 802.11g wherever. The device will retail for $139; the USB modem costs $49 and can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis ($10 per day) or with monthly mobile subscriptions. It will be available in Clear markets in mid-April.
The Clear Spot appears to be a rebranded version of CradlePoint's PHS300, which has a built-in lithium-ion battery and can be recharged via or used with an AC adapter. The PHS300 works with a variety of cell modems and lists for $179.99.
This is an extremely smart move on Clearwire's part because it signals two things: The company knows that it'll take a while to develop an ecosystem of WiMax-enabled devices; and it wants customers to use its network extensively instead of imposing lots of limits.
If Clearwire can deliver on its top download speeds (4 Mbps with mobile gear), that's a big bump up from the 600 Kbps to 1.7 Mbps downstream rate promised by various 3G carriers. Of course, AT&T is aiming to double its speed through what's described as a software upgrade (to 7.2 Mbps HSPA), and Clearwire suffers from 384 Kbps upload speeds which now compares unfavorably with even 3.6 Mbps HSPA and EVDO Rev. A.
Clearwire has an advantage on mobile data limits, however, because the company apparently believes it has such a big pool and such a large spectrum swath that it can offer an unlimited plan. Whenever I've asked Clearwire what unlimited means, the firm says, really, unlimited. It'll shut down abusers, but it will apparently look at patterns, not quantity.
The Clear service has an unlimited mobile offering for $50/month with no commitment; contracts and bundle discounts drop the price to $40/month and waive a $35 activation fee. A 200 MB per month plan is an appalling $30/month, but likely targeted as a bundle for home users where it's heavily discounted. A more moderate $40/month 2 GB usage plan can be bundled, too; each additional GB is $10 in a calendar month.
Businesses pay on a different scale that offers a better deal but more "risk" of overages, too. An account is priced with two devices (included) under a 2-year contract, with 15 GB/month for $100/month up to 30 GB/month for $150/month. Additional GB are $10 each.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:33 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 4G, Road Warrior, WiMAX
American Airlines apparently liked its long-running pilot test of Aircell Gogo Internet on 15 planes: The airline is expanding service over two years to 300 mainline craft. American has over 600 planes in its active mainline fleet, but about half those (Boeing 757, 767, and 777 models) spend most of their time over water, the carrier told the Dallas Morning News.
The company is opting for an interesting rollout: 150 MD-80s this year; about the same number in 737-800s in 2010. The first of the MD-80s with Gogo will go into service this week. The firm's 15 767-200s with Internet service used for cross-country routes will remain available, too.
The strategy is a bit odd: the expectation of service availability will likely be one factor that drives usage. Regular travelers will want to know that they can use Wi-Fi on a flight; otherwise, why would they change traveling preferences for a given flight without that assurance? I expect American might try to guarantee certain routes will have Wi-Fi, but it's still a bit odd.
Related to that, why stretch this over two years? Cost? I don't see how the company achieves a real competitive parity with Delta, which expects to have its domestic mainline fleet equipped by third quarter, without meeting Delta's fleet rollout.
Further Delta has signaled that it plans to announce a schedule later this year for putting Aircell's offering on domestic craft in the Northwest fleet that the airline acquired.
Delta reported on its blog a few days ago that it's at 77 planes with Internet service, or about 25 percent.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel
Wi-Fi makes it possible to find a stolen laptop with a pin on a map: Last week, I heard a story of a laptop theft that made me sit up. I talked to the victim (still distraught), who had her laptop stolen when a young man in a group of four in a coffeeshop walked up to her and grabbed it. (She grabbed it back once, and he snatched it again.) The four men scattered, and they weren't found. She had, apparently, no backups and no way of locating the stolen item.
The trick here, of course, is that once the horse is out of the barn there's little that you can do. If you plan, you might be able to recover that stolen laptop; reports of recovery are quite encouraging with the right software installed. This dovetails with my interest in Wi-Fi because software makers are starting to pair Skyhook Wireless's Wi-Fi positioning system and software with recovery software.
The basic idea is that you pay a relatively modest one-time fee or yearly subscription fee to have difficult-to-remove software running on your computer at all times. The computer checks in at frequent intervals to see if it's been marked as stolen. Once it has, it activates various recording and transmission modes, sending (depending on the package) anything from Web camera snapshots to IP data. A few packages now offer Wi-Fi positioning info, too. (I wrote an article for the Seattle Times that appeared last Saturday that wasn't focused on the Wi-Fi aspect.)
The assumption lies in most thieves of this kind being technically unsophisticated and having a laptop join a network in order to use it. Some laptops may be set (Windows and Mac OS X have options) to join any available network, too. While this is a security issue when the laptop is in your hands, it's an advantage when it's roaming.
Programs that use Wi-Fi location information that I've tested or use include Undercover (Mac OS X, $49 one-time fee) and MacTrak (Mac OS X, $24.95 per year); there's also Laptop Cop ($49.95 per year, Windows XP/Vista). There are plenty of others, too, mostly for Windows, that lack location scanning. Computrace LoJack for Laptops notably has a BIOS agent preinstalled on many major Wintel brand computers that can be activated and not disabled without BIOS being wiped!
Each package has the same fundamental working methodology, but offers different front-end features. Orbicule's Undercover takes screen shots and Web camera pictures, capturing that along with identifying network data and Wi-Fi scans. If a laptop remains unrecoverable, it goes into a simulated failure mode, and then activates a kind of screaming stolen laptop alarm if the machine is taken into a known Apple repair shop or Apple Store.
GadgetTrak's MacTrak sends information directly to you via email and/or Flickr, uploading Web camera photos and providing network details, as well as a link with the calculated coordinates.
Laptop Cop has a variety of extra, including remote file deletion, remote file retrieval, and full-on capture of everything a thief is doing, including keystrokes. (These options are available in some other Windows packages, too, but not in Undercover nor MacTrak. GadgetTrak plans to add Wi-Fi positioning to its higher-end Windows product at some point.)
Each of these firms works with your local law enforcement agency to provide data; in the case of MacTrak, GadgetTrak is happy to work with police, but you can also take the information the company's software sends you to officers directly.
After a rash of thefts among friends and acquaintances, I've installed recovery software on each of my computers, as well as arranging both local and remote backups.
Alternatives with no software installed: If you haven't installed recovery software, you're not entirely out of luck. Many people now run remote backup software, such as Mozy or CrashPlan, or use synchronized storage like Dropbox, Microsoft Live Sync, or Apple's iDisk. And many of us have email software that regularly and automatically checks for messages.
In all of those cases, the current IP address of the computer is recorded whenever a request is made. With your account information in hand, you may be able to log in directly to one of the services, and retrieve the IP address. Or, you can call the company or use customer support to get this information as long as you're the valid account holder. Some firms may require law enforcement to contact them directly.
Police can take an IP address, use that to determine the Internet service provider at which that address is located, and then get the street address that corresponded at that point in time (IP addresses are sometimes reassigned when a modem is rebooted or over time). A warrant may be required.
If you have remote backup software installed, you might get the benefit of having files backed up even if your machine can't be recovered. My friend David Blatner wrote up his own laptop-theft article after his machine was stolen. He had CrashPlan running, and the thieves reconnected to a network after taking his machine, and this gapped much of the difference between a month-old local backup he had made and what was on the stolen machine.
In an oddball case last year, an Apple Store employee who had the remote access software Back to My Mac installed, which allows remote screen-sharing and file transfer, was able to snap shots of a thief and transfer photos he and a collaborator had put onto her computer. That was a sort of one-in-a-million shot.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:55 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security
Why should AT&T be excited about Skype for iPhone: Because all of us iPhone users are paying minimum fees for service that we will use less and less in favor of Skype. The free Skype for iPhone application, due out tomorrow, will only work over Wi-Fi. (PC World has a full report including screen captures.)
Skype has 400 million users worldwide, and the voice quality tends to be better than that of the conventional POTS (plain old telephone service) or cellular network when there's sufficient bandwidth. With a user base that large, with a mobile version of Skype you're more likely to make Skype-to-Skype calls (which are free).
AT&T enabled the Wi-Fi part of this equation by belatedly offering free Wi-Fi for iPhone users to any of the nearly 20,000 in-network hotspots the company operates. AT&T acquired Wayport, its managed services provider for Wi-Fi hotspots, last year. This puts McDonald's, Starbucks, a number of hotels, and some chains under one plan, all free to iPhone users. (iPhone users should download and use Easy Wi-Fi for AT&T iPhones, a currently free app from Devicescape for automating your hotspot login.)
Why does this benefit AT&T? Every minute that you use over Skype over Wi-Fi is a minute that AT&T doesn't have to pay cellular transit costs for. Sure, AT&T makes money from selling you outside-plan minutes at about 25 to 50 cents a minute. But savvy user now buy unlimited plans or have pools large enough or use prepaid plans. I believe the fees from the overage charges are trending into place. Which means that AT&T would prefer you use less minutes, loading its network less.
Skype charges for calling to the public switched telephone network, a couple cents a minute to North America and many other countries or fixed monthly plans, but the margins are very thin there.
Let's say a billion minutes are siphoned from AT&T cell calls using the iPhone and now are made over Skype. Skype relies on peer-to-peer infrastructure for the most part (with some central authentication) for its Skype-to-Skype calling, so that's no skin off its nose. For AT&T, that's a billion minutes it doesn't have to carry with a commensurate drop in termination fees, carrying costs, and infrastructure buildout. Further, this encourage more use over Wi-Fi instead of over 3G, freeing 3G service by having people seek out Wi-Fi hotspots.
If you're like my wife and I, we already have the cheapest possible plan from AT&T: a family plan with two lines, the lowest number of minutes, and two iPhones (first generation). This still costs us $130 per month including taxes and we haven't been able to drop any lower with our current offering.
If we start calling a bunch over Skype for iPhone, then we're still paying that same $130 to AT&T, and yet we're using it less and less. It's all about margins. Skype still requires that someone else operate the network and the broadband, so even while Skype sucks minutes from the telecom infrastructure, it's hard to see how AT&T loses in this case because of the high fixed cost of obtaining a minimum cellular data plan.
iPod touch reaches out: The mobile Skype application works on the iPod touch, too, bringing such users access to a high-quality worldwide network of existing users and cheap calling. This device needs an external mike or headset (there's no microphone built in), but Apple revealed recently that 13 million iPod touch models have been sold. That's a big audience.
iPod touch owners don't have automatic free Wi-Fi hotspot access, but that's easy to solve. Hotspot operators and aggregators already offer mobile pricing. Boingo Wireless, for instance, has an $8 per month plan for mobile devices for which the iPod touch already qualifies. Get Boingo's iPhone/iPod touch application and you get automatic login, too.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:28 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Hot Spot, Voice | 1 Comment
Leaks reported from some reasonably accurate sources say that 802.11n might be built into the next model of iPhone, along with chips to support the 7.2 Mbps HSPA flavor to which AT&T is currently upgrading its 3G network.
Could it be? Sure. But is it useful? Not so much yet.
802.11n was developed as a range and speed booster, employing multiple antennas and two or more radios to work over greater distances (sending a stronger signal, having better receiver sensitivity) and at greater speeds (improved encoding, multiple spatial paths, double-wide channels).
That's fine for laptops, desktops, and routers, but it's hard to cram that much radio technology into a battery-powered mobile device without making the time between charges unusably brief.
Meanwhile, chipmakers keep shipping hundreds of millions of commodity 802.11g chips, which they make no real money from, and which they have no interest in improving processes for.
That's where single-stream 802.11n comes in. With single-stream 802.11n, only a single radio and single antenna are used. This may seem odd to cut out most of the advantages of the standard - lurching its way to a 2010 ratification, by the way - but single stream still offers quite a lot.
Read the rest of "Does the iPhone Need 802.11n?"
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:13 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Cellular | 3 Comments
Asset-tracking software firm Ekahau releases tool to discover, map signal strength of Wi-Fi networks: HeatMapper, a free Windows XP/Vista application, performs the neat trick of letting you walk around your office or home while it continuously scans for Wi-Fi networks. When you stop warwalking and inform the program of such, you're presented with a heatmap of every network found. This lets you survey interference and see how your network deployment "looks."
You can start with a raw grid or a digital image of your office or home floorplan. As you walk, you click at key points. The software does the rest.
Hover over an access point on the heatmap--routers are neatly represented by a generic icon from the manufacturer, identified by its MAC address prefix--and you see the corresponding heatmap. (The graphic is a fancy icon; it's really only a 2D mapping package.)
A list at left shows a live scan of networks and their characteristics.
When I spoke to the program's product manager a few weeks ago for this article in Ars Technica, he said that the intent was partly to provide an up-to-date scanning package to replace NetStumbler, which has been out of development for years.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:39 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Monitoring and Testing, SOHO, Small-Medium Sized Business
It seems like a no-brainer, putting Internet service on commuter and long-distance trains: But there are plenty of difficulties in making this happen. Frequent Seattle-to-Portland Cascade Talgo rider Vaughn Aldredge alerted the Seattlest to his experience, and shared some technical detail with me; that led me to Vickie Sheehan, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) spokesperson for rail and marine issues.
Sheehan explained that a trial is underway for the high-speed Seattle-to-Portland Amtrak run in which the WSDOT and Talgo, the manufacturer of the fleet trains, are collaborating. Sheehan said the current trial replaces a previous effort in which continuity of service was problem along the approximately 180-mile route. "We don't want to put someting out there that's inferior and would have spotty coverage," she said.
The service will likely be free, an amenity to encourage more riders on the line that takes 4 four hours to traverse the route, which can be under 3 by car. Sheehan said that stimulus funds coupled with an effort in the state legislature could provide the money to complete further track upgrades, move to 8 instead of 6 round trips a day, and drop the trip to below 3 hours.
Aldredge's experience with the trial was that the service was slow and intermittent, but he said there was no way to be sure another user wasn't engaged in a high-bandwidth activity, like downloading a video. (That's about the first thing everyone does these days when they encounter Wi-Fi in odd locations.) Sheehan said that in generally comment cards were coming back with positive responses.
The trial service is backed by a cellular connection, which works reasonably well as the route parallels I-5, the major north/south highway between Seattle and Portland.
There have been rumors for five years that Amtrak was considering testing systems on its trains, and there's apparently a public request for proposals out there, but I can't find it, and an Amtrak spokesperson didn't answer the question as to where to find it.
Amtrak's fiscal 2009 business plan notes only, "Eticketing and the addition of Wi-Fi technology on trains, on-board point of sale and credit card automation sales are a few important projects planned to either start in FY09 or continue a multi-year effort."
One could imagine that with the additional funds allotted to Amtrak nationwide by the Obama Administration, that the train operator might be able to work harder to find private contractors to build a service.
Trains are a particular problem for providing Internet access. In some commuter lines, you might have a straight shot along existing rights of way with no tunnels and can simply use existing 3G cellular infrastructure, with an eye to the upcoming 4G rollouts of WiMax and LTE. That's a good 5-year plan, right?
But for Amtrak, there are now high-speed trains on certain routes for which standard cell technology might not be appropriate (Cascades with Talgo in the Northwest, Acela Express in the Northeast); extremely complicated terrain with tunnels, mountains obstructions, and so forth; and a varied ridership that might not provide the consistent revenue needed. A combination of satellite and cellular could work, except that getting satellite line of site to, say, Ku-band (way down in geostationary orbit over the equator) could be just as difficult as reaching a cell tower.
Likely, some combination of relay towers in difficult spots and varied backhaul would be needed to ensure consistent access.
Tests a few years ago on the Capitol Corridor line down in California that runs from around Sacramento to the south bay produced decidedly mixed results. Of four finalists who were supposed to test networks, not much got off the ground (as it were), and the tests produced no conclusive results. Amtrak and the CCJPA (CC Joint Powers Authority) have a shared interest in the CC line, and more work is absolutely planned there.
Finally, as with a lot of Wi-Fi being installed now in the air, across cities, and elsewhere, the combination of operational utility (remote surveillance, homeland security, communications, logistics, remote train operation, and telemetry) with public access often makes the budget work were a little bit of back office combined with a little passenger use doesn't sell the offering.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:24 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | 1 Comment
Cadillac gets in-car hotspot option: General Motors will offer a dealer-installable version of Autonet Mobile's cellular gateway for its CTS line of cars under the Cadillac WiFi by Autonet Mobile label. The $500 device offers Wi-Fi access to a $30-$60/month cellular backhaul (1 GB or 5 GB). Most of the reporting is quoting a $30/month for service, omitting the 1 GB limit.
The new model is a little slicker than what Autonet has previously offered: it's smaller, which is great, but it's designed to dock making it transportable among cars. It's unclear whether there's a proprietary charger or dock in place; if it's truly mobile with an AC adapter, then this becomes a far better deal for a business traveler than Autonet's apparent current family market.
Security might be an issue: Autonet Mobile's FAQ says the device supports only WEP encryption, which no one should be seriously relying on since 2004. I don't suspect a legion of cracker-drivers, scanning for Autonet systems to penetrate, but WEP provides no level of reliable security, and shouldn't have been engineered into any device designed after 2003.
I do question the utility of this for folks other than road warriors, but Autonet Mobile has said (and I have heard through other sources and other articles) that families apparently are so Internet-bound that paying $500 plus $360 or $720 per year for continuous access is a worthwhile household expense.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:49 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Transportation and Lodging | 1 Comment
A hilarious exegesis of the trouble with wires: From Christoph Niemann in the New York Times. Oddly, I just received an iPod shuffle for review (the new, tiny model), and the earbuds that come with it are nearly impossible to tangle--I tried. A special coating plus a sliding wire untangler that's built in seems to defeat the monster.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Humor
If you need more proof that AT&T gets Wi-Fi, just read this quote: "You can think of Wi-Fi as a giant offload point for wireless data traffic. Look at the growth in smartphones and data traffic, and it's pretty clear that Wi-Fi can be a real plus to AT&T." That's from Greg Williams, a VP at AT&T who was brought over from his role as COO at Wayport when that firm was acquired. Williams was at Wayport since 2003 during which time it had explosive native and managed location growth. None of the other carriers understands this simple statement that Williams made.
iPhone 3.0 software: Apple showed off features in its iPhone 3.0 software, due out this summer as a free update for all iPhone owners of any vintage phone. Two features related to wireless include the ability for developers to embed map interaction into their applications, including the use of Wi-Fi positioning for location finding; and an auto-login option for Wi-Fi hotspots, not explained in any fashion. One colleague suggests wISPr, a somewhat de facto and erratic standard for a hotspot publishing its login characteristics, will be employed. As long experience with aggregators has revealed, Apple is 100-percent naive if it thinks that will work in isolation. It might be a tool to automate logins for AT&T and other iPhone carriers' Wi-Fi networks. Another colleague noted that EAP-SIM appeared in small print on one slide Apple showed today; that EAP flavor is used to allow a phone's SIM authentication card to perform a network login. Nokia was testing a kind of EAP-SIM long, long, long ago as a way to avoid hotspot login typing.
A hacker (the good kind) figured out how to use an Eye-Fi card with his own server: Eye-Fi transmits data back to a computer or the Eye-Fi servers (from whence it goes to photo-sharing and other sites you've chosen), using a computer-hosted Web server to manage a card's settings. Jeff Tchang wrote a python server script to allow substituting a different software package for the Eye-Fi Manager. Not sure if this violates the company's terms of service, but it's always neat to see constructive and unintended extensions of useful technology.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:18 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi
Portland, Ore., will get Comcast-branded WiMax courtesy of Clearwire's network: The cable companies have had increasingly strong ties with Sprint Nextel over the years in order to deliver a quadruple play (video, voice, data via coax plus wireless via Sprint). Comcast and others invested heavily in the new Clearwire; Comcast's share so far is $1b. Comcast's data speeds aren't challenged by what Clearwire has, but Comcast can't offer mobile high-speed data, especially with national roaming, and that's what Clearwire + Sprint can do.
The Oregonian reports that Comcast's COO made the announcement in a Portland visit this morning. Comcast will likely offer a multiple-play bundle. For Clearwire it's a win, even though it'll only get a wholesale price for service Comcast sells, because the company doesn't have to spend the money marketing and retaining the customer, nor presenting a bill to the household, nor dealing with collections. Further, Clearwire benefits by every additional customer in spreading out its overhead, even if it only recoups cost plus a bit off the wholesale price.
Comcast is testing some limited Wi-Fi in the Northeast in conjunction with Cablevision, which has is spending $300m to bring Wi-Fi to its tri-state customers with cable broadband subscriptions.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:13 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 4G, Broadband Wireless, Industry
The folks at Aircell have a coupon: If you're flying on America, Delta, or Virgin America on a plane with Wi-Fi, use the coupon code 124cmtw225 to get 25 percent off between now and 31-March-2009. Service via Gogo is $6 (red eye on Virgin America), $8 (mobile device), $10 (flights under 3 hours), or $13 (flights over 3 hours). Limitations may apply: Read the usage policy.
This is not a sponsored message--just a way for Wi-Fi Networking News readers to save a few bucks if you're flying the Wi-Fi skies. I discovered the coupon via Gogo's Twitter feed.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:02 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel
I spoke about in-flight Internet service with Jon Gordon: Listen to Future Tense, an MPR program, in which I spend a few minutes reviewing the current state of in-flight Internet.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:25 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel
The ultrawideband (UWB) standard groups WiMedia Alliance will disband: The group is spinning off its technology to the Bluetooth SIG and the USB Implementers Forum, and then, in its words, "cease operations."
The state of UWB has gotten progressively worse over the last year with the shuttering of several firms, most recently Tzero, which ceased most day-to-day operations without formally closing up shop.
UWB's original promise was for extremely fast, extremely simple short-range networking connections as a UWB cable replacement and enhancement for synchronization among gadgets and handsets. Despite years of "almost there" product introductions, no UWB aspect--whether video, PAN, wireless USB, or more exotic uses--has taken root.
UWB isn't down and out, but without a trade group behind it, the notion of it becoming an industry standard instead of something used for niche purposes seems highly unlikely. The WiMedia Alliance still believes in the promise of UWB, and says that decreased chip costs and other factors should allow UWB technology to take its place at last.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:41 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: UWB
A nifty little summary of the strain on 3G networks: Carriers want the additional revenue, but networks are performing inconsistently around the country, as capacity in some markets hits the limits, Matt Richtel reports in the New York Times. Just putting in more cell base stations doesn't help, as it increase interference. Chips have to be smarter, carriers have to tune their networks, and, apparently, users just have to put up with it.
Not mentioned in the article, which focuses largely on AT&T's network, is that AT&T pushes Wi-Fi to its iPhone customers, which in turn provides a more predictable experience in urban areas indoors, while offloading traffic from the 3G network and reducing interference among active devices.
AT&T has foolishly opted to require iPhone users to request access at an AT&T hotspot through a cumbersome process. Instead, AT&T should push data from iPhones onto its Wi-Fi whenever possible, because the experience will certainly be comparable, and generally superior, given the backhaul AT&T has in its Wayport-acquired locations.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:34 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G | 3 Comments
Report from IPI not surprisingly gets its facts all wrong: It's been a long, long time since I had to apply the "sock puppet" tag to a post, but it's been a while since telecom-funded thinktanks that don't disclose their funding have written reports that allege to explain why municipal ownership of telecom services are always mismanaged. I came to be a fan of public/private operations, in which cities and towns figured out their needs, and worked with private contractors who would own and operate networks that would serve many purposes (public, academic, digital divide, public safety, and municipal). Networks built along these lines have been completed and get good marks; those that were built entirely by municipalities or for entirely public access purposes seem to have faded away, except for a few restricted to relatively small towns.
The latest report, by Barry Aarons, is called "We Told You So! Continue to Say 'No' to Municipal Broadband Networks." I suppose his next report will be title, "Cars Are So Much Better Than Horses," and "DC Power: Work of Satan."
In any case, Aarons, formerly associated with major telecoms and who works as industry consultant, appears to be trying to forestall putting stimulus broadband dollars into municipal hands. I tend to agree: I'd rather see non-profits and local telecom groups use existing expertise and knowledge of underserved audiences to built out infrastructure. Cities, towns, and counties likely have a role in establishing and leasing rights of way and facilitating access for others putting services in.
However, I have to take issue with the facts. There are essentially no municipal Wi-Fi networks of the type that Aarons wants to use as a strawman. Over and over, this report cites private efforts, and misstates facts.
Page 1: "For example, in Tempe, Arizona there were three times as many antennas required at a cost of over $1 million or twice the original cost." True, but that network was built by what became Kite Networks, and which wasn't well designed. The city didn't buy any services from the network, but was supposed to receive free roaming accounts in exchange for the quasi-franchise.
Page 2: "And now that analog television broadcasting has been eliminated it is likely that portions of that spectrum may become available for expanded wireless competition." That spectrum was already auctioned off for $20 billion to AT&T, Verizon, and others.
"...some communities’ municipal wireless projects are, in fact, alive and well. And there still appears to be an appetite for such programs as evidenced by the estimated $900 million invested to this point." Invested, almost entirely, by private entities.
On Philadelphia: "...city officials thought they could get existing companies to let them use refurbished gear and could build the entire project with 'non-city' financial resources." In the very early stages of the plan, there was no mention of refurbished gear; "non-city" would mean that it wouldn't be paid for by the city?
Subsequent paragraphs cite the failure of the Philadelphia network, but that was built entirely with private dollars. The city put in some funds for initial studies and such, but the money spent on the network was from EarthLink. Further, Aarons writes that EarthLink "closed down this project on June 12, 2008." EarthLink exited the effort, but the network is still running, with a private firm having assumed the assets and operation.
Page 3: "Philadelphia’s experience was considered the flagship of government projects covering huge amounts of area with a system that was considered in 2005 to be the cutting edge." Well...no. It was the flagship of privately funded metro-scale networks that cities requested would be built with no public money, ownership, nor control. And because the network started being built in 2006, it's not that odd that it used 2005 technology.
On Portland: "And then there is Portland, Oregon, a system that crashed and burned from the start. The city hired a start up company to construct and install its municipal Wi-Fi system." Bzzzt! Sorry! MetroFi paid all its own costs. The city spent a tiny, tiny sum in services, never contracting for its offerings, even. (Had it, Portland would have been using MetroFi as a service provider, much like a telecom.)
"So MetroFi is in default and millions of dollars are yet to be spent to finish a system that is at best 20 to 30 percent completed. The probability is that the project will not be completed at all." Did Aarons write this report in mid-2008? The footnotes aren't from any later than May 2008. The network will never be finished and no one is interested in that.
"So what in Portland went wrong? MetroFi found that municipal government ultimately was unwilling to provide the subsidy that would be necessary to support the system." Uh...wait...so...doesn't that indicate that a privately funded network that attempted and failed to seek public service contracts can't succeed?
On Ashland, Ore.: Ashland isn't Wi-Fi. And it's only mentioned here because it's an ongoing strawman for thinktanks. Note that the figures here date back to 2001: "Begun in 2000....after only one year." Aarons may be using a 2001 report, that I found largely inaccurate, to pull this example in.
On Lompoc, Calif.: This small-town network had a lot of problems, and, in fact, was the poster child of bad network planning and spending. However, it's a) small time and b) nearly sui generis. Only Saint Paul Park, Minn., a similarly small town, had an equally bad blowout after spending city money for a municipally owned network. I don't know of a similar third example in which public funds were used. (Hey, see this is how you write something that accepts contrary examples to one's thesis! What a concept.)
Page 4: On Orlando, Flor.: I don't know anybody who ever cited Orlando, which Aarons note had a short-lived and very inexpensive hotzone in 2004 to 2005.
I can't make heads or tails of this report follow-up. If you read this accurately, fixing Aarons's errors, he's saying that private companies attempting to build large-scale Wi-Fi networks all fail. In the intro, he writes, "We noted in particular that the expense to the cities and counties would likely make these government owned projects expensive failures." Yet the only example that involved significant city dollars is Lompoc; the rest were private efforts, with private risks (and losses).
Of course, Aarons doesn't point to San Francisco, where a private company, Meraki, is building a ground-up Wi-Fi network; to Minneapolis, where a private firm contracted for city services and built a network at its own expense that appears to have enough customers to make a go of it; at Cablevision's huge system, funded by private dollars for its own customers; and so forth.
I don't quite know how or why this "report" came into being, but it's specious from beginning to end. I would have enjoyed seeing a report that attempted to explain from the regulatory and competitive angle why EarthLink, MetroFi, and Kite failed in their efforts (among those of others), as it might teach something to future businesses launching efforts.
In a bit of not quite irony, Aarons praises WiMax in passing. But Clearwire's WiMax service (and all the independent WiMax companies that might come into being for niche markets) has the same constraints and properties as the private firms that failed to make Wi-Fi work on a large scale. WiMax has superior technical characteristics, but it's still a metro-scale network of a type that hasn't been built before.
With WiMax, however, cities didn't issue RFPs. Perhaps, in the ideological world in which these reports are written, that makes all the difference.
Aarons is like a cold warrior, long after the Soviet Union fell. (Perhaps a bad example given the current leadership in Russia.) Long ago, cities and private firms seemed to have mostly decided that cities won't build wireless networks. The battle was lost with private funds.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:49 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Municipal, Sock Puppets | 5 Comments
Virgin America shows which planes have Wi-Fi when planning a trip: The airline is about halfway to equipping all its craft with Aircell’s Gogo Inflight Internet service, and, as a company spokesperson told me to expect, you can now see which flights are expected to have Wi-Fi when planning a trip.
There’s a long footnote explaining that “we intend to use a Wi-Fi equipped aircraft for this flight” but the airline can’t yet guarantee that. When all airplanes have Wi-Fi, the spokesperson explained that the Wi-Fi column would disappear replaced with more general information.
Delta, with what should be 60 planes equipped with Wi-Fi by this week, doesn’t yet offer such an option, which may be because with about 20 percent of the fleet hooked up, the firm doesn’t yet have a fixed schedule for which flights will have service, and may be swapping planes in regularly on various routes.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:39 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel
My opus on in-flight Internet's state of the industry: I wrote this quite long (5,000-word) article for Ars Technica, where I contribute pieces on wireless technology among other subjects. I examine the past (Connexion), the present (airlines with about 70 to 90 planes equipped with Internet service in the air), and the future (higher speeds, more entertainment).
The article features a rundown on the technology used by the three firms offering some kind of data in the air (Aircell, OnAir, and Row 44), as well as an airline-by-airline description, including interviews with most of the carriers.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:49 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel
Green Wi-Fi gets Voice of America write-up: The folks at Green Wi-Fi are leveraging solar power as a way to bring networking to the developed world. With little or no electrical infrastructure, the wider world of the Internet was unavailable to rural schools. Baikie set out to make a system that was appropriate to the infrastructure as well as affordable. A Sun Microsystems engineer, Baikie helped develop a system that's smart enough to save energy by powering down at night when there are no users. Voice of America discusses Green Wi-Fi's projects in Senegal and Panama, as well as future efforts.
Gogo quietly offers mobile pricing option for in-flight Internet: Aircell's Gogo Internet service on Delta, Virgin America, and American airlines has quietly released an $8-per-flight mobile option, a discount off its $10-$13 (under 3 hours/over 3 hours) pricing model. The soft launch lets people with iPhones, Blackberrys, and other mobile hardware get a cheaper connection, justified because such users typically consume much less data than a laptop toter.
Ruckus Wireless releases enterprise-oriented 802.11n gear: ZoneFlex enterprise is part of Ruckus's move into corporate headquarters. The company started with MIMO devices for the home, expanded into IPTV, hotzones, and small businesses. This latest release includes a simultaneous dual-band 802.11n access point, an upscaled WLAN controller, and enterprise policy management including elements such as virtual LANs and virtual SSIDs. Ruckus gear uses mesh networking, which always functions better with multiple radios to avoid duplicating traffic over the same channels. Ruckus has a bit of secret sauce, à la Meraki, that segments same-channel mesh into dynamic clusters without breaking client Wi-Fi access.
Apple ships firmware updates for older 802.11n base stations: Apple last week released updated firmware, with security and bug fixes, to enable remote file-sharing and configuration for Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) users. This feature, the only backward-compatible item that's part of the company's new 802.11n base station models, allows a MobileMe subscriber to use Back to My Mac to access hard drives and base station configuration when using a computer with the same MobileMe credentials. The software can be downloaded through this link, or via Check for Updates in the AirPort Utility menu with that program launched and a base station selected.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:17 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi
Clearwire will roll out WiMax service in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Seattle, and elsewhere in 2009: Then Boston, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. are slated for 2010, along with other cities not yet announced. The planned footprint passes 120 million people in 80 markets by 2010, the company said.
Clearwire released these details in an earnings announcement today. The company had a net loss of $432m in 2008 and just 475,000 customers, although the firm raised $3.2b in financing for its massive expansion.
Clearwire also announced two products designed to integrate WiMax with existing gear. One is what it calls a "personal hot spot," a device that has both a WiMax gateway and a Wi-Fi router built in. Pricing wasn't mentioned; it will be available in March.
The second is an expected 3G/4G cellular modem due mid-year that will roam between Sprint's 3G network footprint and Clearwire's 4G WiMax network. This device is absolutely critical for business travelers.
Still to come are Intel Centrino-2 based laptops with an integrated WiMax/Wi-Fi chipset, which Clearwire says 26 models of which have already been certified by the WiMax Forum. That's the other component for business use: When these ship, and businesses in cities with near-term deployment decide that it's worth the price or not, we'll see how WiMax fares against existing 3G networks.
As a Seattle resident, I expected to see Seattle's unwiring in 2009. It would have to be embarrassing for an operator like Clearwire to have executives and others visit its Kirkland, Wash., headquarters--and not be able to use the company's service.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:37 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 4G, WiMAX
I know you all think I'm completely obsessed by in-flight Internet: So, how about another story. This one is about how your faithful editor managed to miss the fact that on 19-February, RyanAir put 20 planes into action with OnAir's mobile voice and data service.
This comes about 2 1/2 years after the announcement that RyanAir would equip its entire fleet of over 170 Boeing 737-800s with chattering class service. The airline expects to equip 50 planes within 6 months. Most of the initial 20 planes fly from Dublin.
OnAir doesn't offer Internet service; the satellite costs are far too high for that. However, you can make voice calls, send text messages, and mobile-based emails. Rates are crazily high, which is typical for Europe. Phone calls are charged at international roaming rates of from €2 to €3; emails are €1 to €2 each; and text messages €0.50 each.
These are estimated prices. OnAir acts in some ways as a separate carrier and must negotiate deals individually or through clearinghouses with the mobile operators for any passenger who wants to make a call. At launch, it appears that O2 and Vodafone are on board, but not Orange or 3. OnAir says 50 carriers are signed up. Carriers choose the precise price their subscribers pay, and present the charges to them on their normal mobile bill.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:31 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel
Apple released simultaneous 2.4/5 GHz base station upgrades today to its two full-featured products: Apple's AirPort Extreme is in its sixth revision with the same name, by my count, and its third featuring 802.11n. The latest release moves from either 2.4 or 5 GHz 802.11n networking to supporting both bands at the same time. This is a hardware update, requiring a new unit, as Apple added a radio to the mix.
Apple also updated its Time Capsule model, an Extreme base station that comes with an internal 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive for backups and networked file sharing. Prices are the same as the previous one-band-at-a-time models: $179 for Extreme; $299 for a 500 GB Time Capsule; and a ludicrous $499 for a 1 TB Time Capsule.
Both units have four gigabit Ethernet ports, configured as 1 WAN and 3 switched LAN ports or as a 4-port switched LAN in bridged mode. Both models have a USB port that allows a printer or hard drive to be attached, or, using a USB hub, multiple devices of each kind.
Apple ships configuration software for both Mac OS X and Windows, and the system is fully compatible with Windows.
The company told me it incorporated small changes to its Mac OS X adapter hardware that allows a Mac to select the faster network if both 2.4 and 5 GHz networks are named identically. This change doesn't break Wi-Fi interoperability, but goes beyond the process that adapters use to select among available networks today. The 2.4 and 5 GHz networks may be named uniquely.
New features were added as well. Guest networking is a neat addition, using a virtual SSID and virtual LAN to create a network for guests that's got a separate encryption key and cannot see the traffic of the main network nor its Ethernet portion.
Apple also added remote secure file-sharing access to any internal or external drive on either base station model using its Back to My Mac service, which debuted in Leopard. The service requires MobileMe, a $100/year email and file-storage subscription service. Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard can initiate a strongly encrypted tunneled connection with any other Leopard system or, now, new base station that's configured with the same MobileMe account.
Those interested in deeper detail should consult my Macworld article.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:15 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Hardware | 1 Comment
You might have noticed some missing buttons: As whizzing data wirelessly has become so hopelessly quotidian, the need for six separate sites covering the field has also become something too much. When I launched Wi-Fi Networking News (as 802.11b Networking News!) nearly 8 years ago, there was an explosion of information about and interest in all things to do with wireless data.
When WiMax started to percolate as something interesting, I added WiMax Networking News, as it seemed the news from that field might overwhelm home, office, and metro-scale Wi-Fi stories. Later, I separated things out further into MIMO + N, Cell Data, Public Safety, and VoWLAN (VoIP over wireless LAN).
Turned out I may have been, shall we say, optimistic? I'm no empire builder, but trends seemed to indicate in 2006 that there would be ever more news in these areas that warranted closer coverage. Instead, as wireless data is routinely expected to be available everywhere, and as technology simply works better, there's less variety to report. Enterprise tech retreated into trade publications; municipal Wi-Fi shrunk and changed; and Wi-Fi home gateways mostly differentiate on price, brand, and a few unique features.
In rebuilding the site around Movable Type 4, an upgrade to the publishing platform I've been using for years, it also made sense to remove the row of buttons linking to sites that haven't been updated in months or longer. Those sites will remain live and can be found through Google, but they'll no longer be updated.
Instead, you can find all the news about wireless data of all stripes right here.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:07 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail
Eye-Fi has revised its line-up of Secure Digital Wi-Fi/memory cards that work with any camera to include higher capacities, video upload: The new video upload feature is included on two new 4 GB cards that will ship in March, and allow direct uploads to YouTube and Flickr. The two models are $80 for the 4 GB Share Video and $100 for the 4 GB Explore Video. The 4 GB models require a camera compatible with SDHC, the revision to SD that supports capacities larger than 2 GB.
The product line remains divided into three segments, all with new pricing. The 2 GB Home model ($50) uploads just over a local network. The 2 GB Share and 4 GB Share Video models ($60 and $80) work over any configured network with no encryption, WEP, or WPA/WPA2 Personal. The 4 GB Explore ($100) offers geotagging based on Wi-Fi positioning provided by Skyhook Wireless, and one year of uploads at Wayport hotspots.
All Eye-Fi cards are designed to upload JPEG files, and can be used as conventional memory cards, too. Eye-Fi cards can't handle other formats, such as RAW, at this point.
Eye-Fi is releasing a free iPhoto program tomorrow designed for Eye-Fi users that will support iPhoto photo uploading and organization on a local computer. It's a nice idea, as I find myself managing Eye-Fi and iPhoto uploads in a confusing and separate manner currently.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:02 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Photography
With the new publishing platform, it's easier to comment using any of your credentials: Wi-Fi Networking News is now using the Movable Type 4 platform, the only point of which might be interesting is that you can sign in to leave comments using existing accounts at other services beyond TypePad (formerly TypeKey). I've enabled commenting via Open ID, a cross-system standard, as well as LiveJournal and Vox (services owned by Movable Type and TypePad's parent firm, Six Apart). You can also comment anonymously using an email-confirmation step.
Movable Type 4 also supports comment threading, where you can click a Reply button to respond to someone's comment.
Feel free to try this out on this post.
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:04 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail | 4 Comments
So claims a Verizon spokesperson: In an article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Comcast's possible plans to follow Cablevision's lead in pairing Wi-Fi with cable broadband are examined. But you have to read the last paragraph first to get the full impact. Verizon thinks it's a marketing stunt for Cablevision to spend $300m to cover the tri-state area of its franchises with Wi-Fi.
Let's start on the telco side. DSL from the central office into people's homes is dead, more or less, despite tens of millions of deployed lines. It's last century's technology. AT&T and Verizon have put their future into rolling out two different methods of fiber: AT&T prefers fiber to the node (FTTN), where they use very high speed DSL from a neighborhood termination point. DSL works extremely well over very short distances. Verizon has chosen the more expensive option of bringing fiber directly to the home (FTTH).
Read the rest of "Cablevision's Wi-Fi a Stunt?"
Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:19 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Future, Home, Hot Spot