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Recent Entries

Skyhook Wireless Handles 250M Requests per Day
SkyPilot Bought by Trilliant
Hunk of Network Upgrade News from AT&T
Virgin America Provides In-Flight Usage Statistics
Skyhook Unveils Loads of Browser Location Partner Sites
Virgin America Now All Wi-Fi
Power Outlets on Planes
NY Times on Fly-Fi
Wi-Fi Alliance Bumps Features, Enterprise Support
McDonald's Free Service in Australia Fills Restaurants

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May 2009 Archives

May 31, 2009

Skyhook Wireless Handles 250M Requests per Day

By Glenn Fleishman

The Wi-Fi positioning firm Skyhook Wireless gets a nice snapshot in the New York Times: I've been following and talking to Skyhook for many years, and the Times nailed the salient points quite well in a non-technical and useful way. The interesting figure is that Skyhook says it handles 250m requests per day for positioning data. There's a terrific video embedded in the article that shows a heatmap of location requests in Manhattan over a 24-hour period.

Most of the requests come from iPhones, Skyhook says. Apple has sold approaching 20m iPhones worldwide, and that means it's likely that the average iPhone users is pushing out several requests a day. I know I do! The iPod touch can also tap into Skyhook's system, but because the touch lacks a second channel to request information it must be connected to a Wi-Fi network in order to retrieve positioning data.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:40 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location, Mainstream Media

May 28, 2009

SkyPilot Bought by Trilliant

By Glenn Fleishman

Metro-scale Wi-Fi gear maker purchased by firm focused on smart-grid technology: Trilliant claims that SkyPilot's backhaul tech--an awfully clever solution to frequency reuse-is perfect for handling metering and other data collection. Trilliant might be right. SkyPilot's backhaul/distribution tech involves using sectorized antennas operated in a scheduled manner to avoid interference. This bought them some of the best aspects of time division and power limit rules.

The FCC had granted a ruling years ago to Vivato that allowed extremely high signal output (the maximum legal limit) in quasi point-to-point scenarios; previously, the limits were much lower unless you had a very specific P2P setup. SkyPilot used that exception to push out tens of watts of power in 5 GHz, allowing extremely long-distance links from a single backhaul device. By rotating among several antennas, one device could serve 8 feeders on a scheduled, GPS-time linked basis.

Trilliant's business is in smart meters, and earth2tech reports that the company has worked with a variety of backhaul options and firms. But with the federal government plowing billions into electrical grid and utility development, everyone with some action in smart grids and meters now needs a network technology. Metro-scale Wi-Fi equipment maker Tropos has gone into that space, although it also seems to have a significant public-safety wireless business, too. Smart-metering firm SmartSynch is an early AT&T partner for cellular backhaul under a new arrangement that makes mobile broadband sensibly priced for metering.

Of the other early companies that were making mesh or metro Wi-Fi gear, only BelAir is still pumping out real news. BelAir is the equipment provider for Cablevision and USI Wireless in Minneapolis, which are both reasonably big networks. BelAir may have some other cable firms up its sleeve, too; Comcast may decide to roll out subscriber-only Wi-Fi, too. Strix Systems is active, but it hasn't had any big contract wins for some time.

In the early days, Tropos was aligned with EarthLink, SkyPilot with MetroFi, and Strix with Kite Networks for municipal Wi-Fi rollouts. BelAir had no specific alignment, although it was tapped by Toronto and other networks more on a case-by-case basis. EarthLink exited muni-Fi, MetroFi shut down, and Kite went out in a blaze of confusion.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:37 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks, Power Line

May 27, 2009

Hunk of Network Upgrade News from AT&T

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T releases a pile of news about how it plans to deal with current, future 3G bandwidth needs: I have to credit AT&T for its comprehensive announcement about what it's up to today to improve its network, and its plans over the next few years as 3G use will likely increase dramatically, and it starts to roll out LTE, a 4G network technology.

There's a lot of geekiness in this press release. The company provided some updates on its 7.2 Mbps upgrade plan. The HSPA (high speed packet access) technology it uses, part of the GSM roadmap, is currently limited to 3.6 Mbps. The 7.2 Mbps flavor isn't in wide use worldwide, but it's starting to kick in as demand from smartphones and mobile broadband users with netbooks and laptops steps up.

The timing is clear: Apple is about to release a revised iPhone, one that various usually reliable sites report will record video, take larger pictures, and have a faster processor. It will also almost certainly contain a 7.2 Mbps HSPA chipset, and thus be a huge and immediate drain on 3G resources across AT&T's territory. (Apple's developers conference is in two weeks, at which time the company will likely announced that the iPhone 3G+ and its iPhone 3.0 software will be released in July.)

AT&T's CEO said at the All Things D conference run by the Wall Street Journal this morning, in reference to Wi-Fi that there's a growing "bandwidth requirement," and that mobile broadband has to meet what fixed-line (fiber/DSL/cable) services can provide. Wi-Fi is a "bridge," he said, and AT&T can back its 20,000+ Wi-Fi hotspots with fixed-line services. But obviously the company also has to beef up mobile broadband, too. (The 20,000 count is new; it was about 17,000 not too long ago.)

In order to support the 7.2 Mbps HSPA service and future LTE, AT&T says it's doubling the amount of bandwidth devoted to 3G in many metropolitan markets, and bringing more backhaul to "thousands of cell sites." The company couches its backhaul statement by saying "fiber-optic connectivity and additional capacity," meaning it's not bringing fiber to thousands of cell sites, but to some of them.

The company will also add 2,100 cell sites to improve density. The greater the density, the smaller the cells, and thus the fewer devices that connect to each cell, increasing frequency reuse over a given area.

AT&T is also expanding its use of 850 MHz, which has better penetration to interior spaces, and can cover more area from a single base station. That's a smart move to counter some of the CDMA advantage in the U.S., where Sprint and Verizon seemingly have better network coverage. (AT&T's network was built up as more of a patchwork in many ways, and AT&T still lacks its own coverage in some small but significant parts of the country.)

On the Wi-Fi side, AT&T says it will offer seamless Wi-Fi/3G switching on "many" smartphones. That might be a reference to a capability that could be part of the iPhone 3.0 software due out perhaps as soon as July. AT&T currently has a very silly SMS-based notification system to get a code that allows free access, although Devicescape's Easy Wi-Fi for AT&T (99¢) automates the process. (It's a mystery that AT&T didn't either license and distribute that software from Devicescape or develop its own similar approach.)

A bit buried at the end of the paragraph is rather fascinating: "AT&T also can create permanent or temporary extended Wi-Fi zones in areas with high 3G network use, like a grouping of hotels or a festival." Fascinating. This is an interesting admission of scarcity coupled with AT&T's fixed prices for smartphone 3G use (as opposed to 5GB/mo limits on laptop 3G connections).

Wi-Fi's key advantage and problem is its low power, which both allows and requires a honeycomb of tiny radius cells. In a dense area with lots of usage, AT&T could push in dozens of Wi-Fi access points tied into a fiber network and overlay gigabits per second of additional capacity without stressing the 3G infrastructure. I've never heard of a carrier suggesting that they might do this before, however.

AT&T also said in this release that it's working towards releasings its 3G MicroCell, a femtocell product that's been talked about widely and is in some test customers' hands. It's still not clear whether AT&T will follow the Sprint model of adding a fee for unlimited monthly incoming calls and U.S. outgoing calls, or the Verizon model of paying a large fee for the femtocell, and gaining only indoor coverage improvement. AT&T is unique at this point is having a 3G femtocell for voice and data; Verizon and Sprint's system's are 2G and voice only.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:33 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, Hot Spot

May 26, 2009

Virgin America Provides In-Flight Usage Statistics

By Glenn Fleishman

Virgin America's CEO says airline sees 12 to 15 percent of passengers using in-flight Internet access across airline: As I keep saying, VA has just 28 aircraft (all Airbus A319 and A320s) and flies just 100 scheduled routes per day. However, this number reported by Joe Sharkey in his New York Times travel column is quite useful.

Virgin America's passenger traffic isn't available; it ranks below the top 10 airlines' by passengers that the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports on monthly. The airline's two Airbus types can carry either 125 or 150 passengers, although configurations can reduce those counts. The airline did report an 81 percent load factor in the fourth quarter of 2008.

If I take a lot of variables into account, let us assume that VA flies roughly 110 people on average on each flight each day given the capacity and load factor. That's about 330,000 per month or 4m per year. (In contrast, No. 10 carrier SkyWest put about 1.4m passengers on its aircraft in each of January and February of this year.)

With average use of 12 to 15 percent across the airline (about double that on San Francisco routes), that should mean on an average day between about 1,300 and 1,700 people use the Aircell Gogo Inflight Internet service. Virgin America has the full current range of pricing: $10 for flights under 3 hours, $13 for three hours or more, $8 for handheld devices, and $6 for red-eye flights. Let's put the average price at about $9, given that Virgin flies a number of shorter flights on the Western seaboard.

So: $9 times 1,300 to 1,700 users equals $12,000 to $15,000 per day, or $4.4m to $5.5m in gross revenue per year. Assuming $100,000 per plane for installation costs and a variety of minor ongoing maintenance costs, that's not a bad ROI. It's unknown what the airline/Aircell split is. Even if the split is 50 to 75 percent to Aircell, the deal isn't bad for VA, which--if this rate of usage persists, and ostensibly increases--has a fast payback, an additional revenue stream, and a customer stickiness tool.

The real question will be, of course, if Delta with over 300 aircraft planned to be equipped by third quarter would see a similar usage rate across the fleet. The numbers wouldn't be bad. Let's assume Delta, with a broader passenger base, might have 8 percent usage, a third to a half less use than VA.

Delta carries about 5m passengers per month (although this includes travelers on some smaller planes that aren't scheduled to get Internet service). 5m times 8 percent gets you about 400,000 users each month or $3.6m in gross revenue per month or $43 million per year. This offsets what should be $30m in installation costs (300 planes times $100,000).

In comparison, Delta brought in $177 million 2008 from baggage fees, although the airline added a $15 fee for the first checked bag late in 2008, which will push revenue up quite a bit.

These numbers are based on a lot of supposition, I'll allow. Still, it's the first time the veil has slipped on anything to do with actual usage rates.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:58 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Financial | 2 Comments

May 21, 2009

Skyhook Unveils Loads of Browser Location Partner Sites

By Glenn Fleishman

Skyhook's Loki location-finding service for browsers has a pile of sites enabled to use the technology: Skyhook Wireless has been developing its Loki plug-in and related service for some time, but this is the first big rollout of major partners that have adopted the location-finding approach into their sites. Flickr (click Find My Location), MapQuest, and WeatherBug (click Locate Me) are the marquee partners, but there's a long list of other interesting sites, too.

Skyhook's approach in the browser relies on Wi-Fi, while in smartphones Skyhook (depending on OS and implementation) can tap into Wi-Fi, cellular signals, and a GPS receiver. Skyhook uses the Wi-Fi snapshots sent by client software along with brute force driving of trucks with big antennas and highly accurate GPS to update its databases constantly.

Coordinates can be used for mapping, path finding, tracking (see where you went), pushing location to others (friends, family, colleagues), geotagging photographs, and finding nearby businesses. It's one reason why Sprint pushed so heavily to put GPS in all its data products in order to get the stickiness that comes from people getting used to being able to easily get their location.

There's a lot of interest in location-in-the-browser, where a browser (via plug ins or innate capability) can use one or more network sources to derive a set of coordinates and a degree of confidence. The browser is queried for this data via JavaScript or other methods, and then present the numbers to the Web page or via AJAX or normal form submission to a server--but only with the browser user's permission.

Google, Mozilla, and the W3C are all working on this issue. Google's Gears-based Geolocation API, which works in any browser that supports Gears, was turned into an "informal" W3C proposal that's in active revision; Mozilla will support the API in Firefox 3.5 and later. Google has a non-disclosed way of collecting Wi-Fi access point data, and this data is being used by the Gears Geolocation plug-in, as well as Firefox in 3.5. Firefox will support multiple providers of location data.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:08 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location

May 20, 2009

Virgin America Now All Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

The plucky carrier Virgin America is first airline with full-fleet Internet access: Virgin America said today that all its aircraft have Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet service installed. That's marvelous, because you can now book and expect (short equipment problems) to have Wi-Fi on any flight. This is a key moment, despite the size of VA's fleet, as I have been saying for years and years that without an airline offering the expectation that every mainline (non-regional) plane they fly having Internet service, passengers won't adjust their expectations and plans to work (or play) with net access onboard.

On the fleet size issue, VA has 28 planes in service according to a couple of sources I checked, and fly 100 routes a day. This makes them one of the smallest national carriers. Delta, by contrast, has over 300 mainline planes in its Delta contingent, and hundreds more under the Northwest banner. Delta says its about halfway through its efforts, and will be finished in a few months with its deployment.

What will be more interesting to me is when the airlines and Aircell start opening up the service to roaming. It's clear that there will be nothing like fee-free roaming, but I can't see mass usage of this service without business customers and casual travelers that already have Wi-Fi plans being able to get a highly discounted price and have a single login, single bill to their existing plan provider.

(Note that in the linked press release, that's me in the photo from the VA launch in November holding the white laptop up in the middle wearing glasses. I didn't mean to look so grim! I already had a cocktail in me at that point; sleepy is more like it. You can see a rare videocast/TV report I filed from that flight for Boing Boing TV.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:32 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

May 19, 2009

Power Outlets on Planes

By Glenn Fleishman

Wi-Fi will soon be on one-third of US mainline aircraft, but what about power? My colleague Fabio M. Zambelli (of setteB.IT, an Italian language tech site) wrote to remind me after my last item on the New York Times article on in-flight Internet that Virgin America has power plugs at every seat on every plane. True enough. I've flown VA a couple of times, and liked the experience a lot. There's Ethernet, USB, and a regular power outlet between every seat in coach (so two sets per three seats), and one set of the same in every first class seat.

VA has just 28 planes, or less than 1 percent of the domestic mainline fleet. How are other airlines equipping their planes, given 15 years of people toting laptops onto planes? And, now, with folks carrying smartphones that suck power but which can be driven by a trickle of USB energy?

It varies, that's for sure. I always make sure to consult SeatGuru, which has vast amounts of information about the configuration of every minor variant to every plane in service. The site's page on in-seat laptop power ports is a great starting point to figure out what seats to try for when booking a flight, and what extra gear you might need to plug in for planes that don't have standard outlets (which an increasing number do).

Depending on the aircraft, in-seat power may provide enough current and wattage to keep your battery from draining as fast, to keep it at a neutral setting (sometimes not charging the battery but powering the laptop directly), or to charge it when in use or in sleep mode. It's more likely you drain the battery very slowly than that the plane charges the battery, however.

When American Airlines started testing Aircell's Gogo last summer, I asked immediately about power, and the airline said that on the 767-200s in question, there was power at every first class and business class seat, and a scatter pattern throughout coach. I called up SeatGuru's page on the 767-200, and you can easily see which seats and rows you might want to try to get into in order to get a charge or trickle during flight.

American seems to have made an effort to get at least some power to coach in all its Boeing and Airbus models, but its smaller jets, like the Embraers, have no power anywhere in the planes.

By contrast, checking through Delta's fleet, it seems like quite a few models lack any power in coach, although some newer Boeing models have power at every seat in the front half of coach but not the back.

The whole point of Wi-Fi is to avoid pulling wire to every seat and having people mess with Ethernet, right? So the idea that airlines would now...pull wire to every seat with power attached, given the current state of the airline industry, seems pretty poor. Whenever possible a second battery is probably the best investment, and consulting SeatGuru the right plan if you need to work with or without an Internet signal.

(By the way, SeatGuru isn't an advertiser and didn't suggest I write about this. I just like the site.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:17 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Road Warrior

NY Times on Fly-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Joe Sharkey, the New York Times's air travel writer, files a weak report on Wi-Fi in planes: I'm a big fan of Sharkey, a terrific reporter and industry appraiser, but I don't think he focused on the little details here. He's right that it's hard to use a laptop comfortably in coach and that most planes lack outlets in coach.

But I'm afraid he disregards the evidence I see on every flights I'm on of any duration in the last year: people are using laptops all the time, no matter the discomfort. And many regular business travelers still score upgrades into business or first class where there are generally outlets and more room. Battery life is also less an issue with modern laptops. Any laptop sold in the last 3 to 4 years can usually eke out 3 to 5 hours of use on a charge, and extra batteries carried by road warriors extend that, of course.

I'm on the same page with Sharkey, as he quotes Aircell's CEO, about the use of smartphones with Wi-Fi, where it's $8 per flight instead of $10 to $13 for a session on a laptop.

Sharkey gets some of the facts wrong about pricing, too, which is unfortunate. Aircell is currently setting prices for its Gogo Inflight Internet service network wide, while Sharkey attributes all the pricing levels and decisions to AirTran. At some point, airlines may choose to get Aircell to price packages differently, and Aircell has been straightforward with me and others about its plans to introduce more kinds of pricing (like monthly subscriptions), and integrate billing and service with aggregators like iPass (with what I'm sure will be reduced pricing based on per-company usage).

Sharkey also says that AirTran will be the first domestic carrier with fleet-wide Wi-Fi, which simply won't be correct. Virgin America, while not a major carrier with 28 planes, is a national airline (not a regional one), and is a week or two away from full fleet coverage, as I track it.

On the demand side, Sharkey picks up from his buddy Joe Brancatelli, another writer I admire and follow. Brancatelli has been beating the drum "zero proof" of interest in these services for years, and I am afraid that until the airlines and Aircell choose to release actual numbers about usage--instead of just "exceeded expectations"--his argument carries water.

I have no idea whether a million paid sessions on Gogo have happened so far or 10,000. I can't imagine Delta would proceed with its fleet-wide rollout (ready by around third quarter, the company is saying) without significant usage so far, nor would American and AirTran commit without having seen session numbers that were compelling.

As far as the price being too high for the various audiences on planes, I still don't buy into that argument. If you're an executive whose time is worth $100s per hour, $10 to $13 for a session (less than 3 hours and 3 or more hours, respectively) seems like a number too low to even think about. For more general business travelers, gaining back mid-day connectivity and productivity is certainly worth the price.

But I think the big sign-on will come when corporations via direct deals with Aircell and via iPass, Boingo, and others, negotiate substantially lower session rates that are part of bulk or minimum deals. Use 1,000 sessions or more a month and pay $5, for instance. In those kinds of arrangements, the individual user isn't making a purchase decision, the company is, and the business traveler never whips out his or her credit card. They fire up the connection software, click the login button, and are connected.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:45 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

Wi-Fi Alliance Bumps Features, Enterprise Support

By Glenn Fleishman

Wi-Fi will expand to include new authentication methods, more enterprise support: The Wi-Fi Alliance, responsible for the brand name Wi-Fi and the certification and testing that stand behind it, will add two new authentication methods to the suite supported as part of WPA2: EAP-FAST and EAP-AKA. EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) is a generic method of sending messages between parties.

EAP-FAST (Flexible Authentication through Secure Tunneling) is a Cisco replacement for the long-deprecated LEAP (Lightweight EAP), which was broken back in 2004. Unlike PEAP and EAP-TTLS, popular ways of validating a WPA2 Enterprise session with server certificates and tunneling credentials, FAST uses certificates only as an option. (EAP-FAST is itself vulnerable, although those vulnerabilities can be avoided in a deployment.)

EAP-AKA (Authentication and Key Agreement) is the more critical of the two, an authentication system designed for use on 3G networks--both GMS and CDMA evolved system--with a lot of flexibility about the kind of credential that's used to authenticate a device to a network.

The alliance has long included testing of five other EAP methods, including TLS (per-device certificate), TTLS, PEAPv0 and PEAPv1, and SIM. EAP-SIM is used with 2G GSM devices.

Edgar Figueroa, the executive director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, said in an interview that EAP-AKA testing and certification goes along with the group's interest in Wi-Fi in handsets. "It's very much in alignment with our intent to continue to support convergence," he said.

Handsets need to be more capable of easily logging into Wi-Fi networks because of the constant increase in the scale of data being sent to handheld devices, coupled with the cost and limits of 3G data to subscribers. "Users may be cognizant they are paying for that data traffic really quickly if they don't get on that Wi-Fi network," Figueroa said.

I asked Figueroa about a related issue: the coming deluge of single-stream 802.11n devices which are aimed at handsets as a replacement for 802.11g. Single-stream N will use single antennas and a single radio chain, which means that the encoding speed could be much faster than 802.11g, but can't approach the 100 to 150 Mbps top rates possible with two-radio, wide-channel multi-stream 802.11n devices in laptops and base stations. (You can read more background about this in my article, "Does the iPhone Need 802.11n?", 26 March 2009.)

The potential for consumer confusion could be high, with two bands, multiple streams, and other options. "Simpler is better," he said. The alliance is discussing "how information is needed, and how much may be superfluous, and how much do we want to complicate our brand."

One item in the group's favor is that all the 802.11n devices I'm aware of that support the 5 GHz band also support 2.4 GHz. This could make 2.4 GHz the default mode for compatibility. An increasing number of consumer base stations are simultaneous dual band, too, which alleviates issues on the client side. (There may be some specialized enterprise gear that's 5 GHz 802.11a or 802.11n only.)

Unrelated to today's announcement, a minor security update is planned in the future for WPA2 to add 802.11w, which provides integrity for management frames. These specialized frames are used by access points to report various data or communicate messages without user data between an access point and client.

But, most critically, disassociation and deauthentication frames are sent in this fashion without any protection. A network attacker can disrupt a network by forging these requests, which aren't checked for validity. 802.11w uses an encryption method that prevents invalid requests from being carried out.

The minor flaw in the TKIP encryption method discovered last year won't have any impact on the security protocols or tests by the alliance, Figueroa said. "We have consistently advocated WPA2 as the protocol that people should be using"--a message echoed by all sensible security consultants, writers, and researchers.

On the enterprise side, Figueroa said the Wi-Fi Alliance had a few enterprise-oriented projects in the works with a timetable of about two years for reaching fruition.

One is WMM-Admission Control, which enhances the WMM (Wireless Multimedia) quality of service provisioning protocol (from 802.11e) with resource availability. WMM by itself allows data to be assigned one of several priority queues to ensure, for instance, that voice packets make it through.

The admission control addition would let a set of managed devices restrict a device from joining a given base station channel if the resources to support an additional call or stream weren't available. "If you allow that to happen otherwise, you end up having a non-elegant degradation for all who are using the network," Figueroa noted.

The ultimate protocol might include a form of "advice," in which a device was told a different channel to join that had resources free for what the device was intending to do.

A related future improvement is Voice-Enterprise, which will provide more robust testing of VoIP over Wi-Fi at the scale used in large networks. Currently VoIP testing by the alliance simulates a loaded network with four calls being placed; the enterprise flavor will test in a simulation of dozens of calls along with many access points in use and fast roaming among them.

Finally, Wireless Network Management will one day extend detailed network status information that's required for network monitoring and troubleshooting to network administrators. While Wi-Fi access points can report a fair amount of information today--and that varies by vendor and network design--the testing program would establish a baseline and interoperability parameters.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:01 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Enterprise, Standards | 1 Comment

May 13, 2009

McDonald's Free Service in Australia Fills Restaurants

By Glenn Fleishman

The Australian wing of McDonald's is wrestling with the price of free: The company started offering free Wi-Fi to all comers--no purchase required--last November, and has exceed 1m user sessions since then, CeBIT09 reports, with 300K sessions in the month since installing free service in a majority of its outlets. Users spend an average of 35 minutes, instead of the 10 that a diner dwells. Usage is capped at 50 MB per session, but isn't limited by time.

McDonald's in the U.S. charges for service, although offers some promotions. AT&T, which operates the U.S. McDonald's locations as part of its AT&T WiFi hotspot network, includes free access to Mickey D and over 7,000 other hotspots to the telecom giant's broadband, iPhone, and many BlackBerry subscribers.

In Australia, the long dwell time is leading the company to think about variations, such as ghettoized Wi-Fi seating. The company might offer greater session bandwidth for a fee.

I regularly read accounts of a coffeeshop or chain changing Wi-Fi usage policies or adding purchase or other requirements because they feel that paying customers are walking in and out because they can't find seating, or low turnover results in the wrong atmosphere for the location.

I first wrote in detail about what seemed to me some kind of gap between one-off anecdotes and a minor trend four years ago (Victrola Cafe here in Seattle). Since then, I haven't seen an acceleration, just a regular ticking over of owners or managers of venues that get tired of behavior or dwell time.

It's fascinating how you can have cafes, especially, in the same part of town in which one cafe finds Wi-Fi users nearly intolerable and another who finds it critical for business.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:53 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot, International | 1 Comment

May 11, 2009

AirTran Signs On for Full-Fleet Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Aircell racks up its latest airline win with AirTran: AirTran will equip all 136 of its Boeing 737 and 717 craft with Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet over the next few months. It's claiming bragging rights of being the first major carrier to go full-fleet. Delta said just yesterday that it's nearly at the halfway mark--although about 140 of "more than 300" doesn't seem quite close to halfway. Virgin America is almost done with its fleetwide unwiring, but the carrier has fewer than 30 planes, and couldn't be called a major airline by any stretch of the imagination.

Let's do the count: In 2009, Delta should tally up at least 300, AirTrans 136, Northwest a handful (25 to 50, let's say), United a handful (13 in the second half of the year), American about 150 this year, and Virgin at 28. Air Canada is an unknown, as the carrier will likely have some planes ready for U.S. portions of routes, but the Canadian regulatory process will clearly delay until 2010 any domestic Canadian rollout, according to an earlier conversation with Aircell.

In 2010, the rest of Northwest's fleet and American's will unwire, adding perhaps 250 to 300 more craft, and United could commit, bringing a few hundred planes with it.

That gives me roughly 650 planes for 2009, and a total of perhaps 1,000 from known partners by the end of 2010. American has about 300 planes not committed to get Wi-Fi, and United (with 370 craft) hasn't made any statements beyond its trial this year.

The FAA believes about 3,500 mainline aircraft will be in use in 2009 (a drop of 10 percent over 2008 numbers). When I look through major U.S. carriers, I see that there are still plums to be plucked: Continental with 350 aircraft and US Airways with 360 haven't made announcements.

Southwest (540) and Alaska (110) are both aligned with Row 44 for a test and seem to be making positive noises about proceeding. That would wrap up all the U.S. planes.

Aircell said just a few days ago that it expected to have 1,000 planes equipped with its service in 2009, which means that the firm must have a deal in progress with either Continental or US Airways--or both--for a rapid rollout.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:42 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel

UK Regulator Examines 2.4 GHz Band's Usage, Weaknesses

By Glenn Fleishman

Marvelous report from Ofcom detailing how 2.4 GHz is used in England, and how 2.4 GHz is broken: The detailed report contains a lot of interesting observations, raw data, and charts that demonstrate how competing uses of the 2.4 GHz band stack up against each other. One fascinating chart compares the number of Wi-Fi frames used to carry data versus management and beaconing. Only about 10 percent of frames carry actual user data; about half, beaconing. The report doesn't break this out into bytes (the beacon frames are much smaller than a full loaded Wi-Fi packet, of course), but it's part of the report's examination of inefficiencies.

In the most dense areas the report authors tested, namely parts of London, interference among competing networks wasn't the issue, but rather devices of all sorts--seemingly dominated by video cameras and baby monitors--that tromp all over 2.4 GHz without any interest in co-existence. That's not precisely how the band is licensed; devices must not create unnecessary interference and cope with the presence of interference. But in practice, working within the power limits and rules is all you have to do.

The report suggests that better harmony among manufacturers of devices for the band would vastly alleviate the problems seen, even with a lot of legacy devices in the field.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:29 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Regulation, Spectrum | 2 Comments

Capitol Corridor Wants Internet-Equipped Trains

By Glenn Fleishman

A call for vendors to propose how to offer Internet access to passengers and an array of operational services is out: The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), which operates the Capitol Corridor line from Auburn (northeast of the state capital of Sacramento) to San Jose, has issued a request for qualifications for vendors to tell them how Internet service robust enough for railroad security and operational purposes, coupled with free access for passengers, could be built.

The vendor with the best plan will move forward to develop a comprehensive bid for both the C.C. line and the Caltrans San Joaquin Intercity Rail service, which runs from Oakland to Bakersfield and Sacramento to Bakersfield. The two lines intersect at Stockton, and run on the same track from there to and from Bakersfield.

This would be a fairly massive undertaking, involving 171 miles on the C.C. route and a total of 365 miles on the San Joaquin route. Multiple other firms are involved in train, track, and right-of-way ownership, including Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Amtrak. Service would need to be high speed and consistent on trains; stations would need to be equipped as well.

The RFQ is agnostic about technology, looking to vendors to provide details about how they might use an array of cellular, WiMax, and other services on a variety of licensed and unlicensed bands, although the proposal requires the use of the 4.9 GHz band for public safety purposes. A single contractor would be preferable, but many sub-contractors could be hired on.

Internet access and general services would be provided over Wi-Fi in the trains. A vendor that's chosen will be paid to provide the free Internet service to passengers; that will need to be part of the bid. The vendor could contract this out, and could optionally display advertising to offset some costs. User accounts will be required for access.

The goal is to have a single unified network that provides all the operational functions needed for trains, including communications, video surveillance, ticketing, remote telemetry, and public access. The expectation is that backhaul will be pieced together from several kinds of services because the both the routes in question have rural and urban, flat and hilly, and bare and leafy areas. Some cameras will be placed in fixed positions; others will be on trains, some even carried by conductors.

Another consideration is that the system must be built with upgrades in mind: better, faster backhaul (like LTE in 700 MHz or other technologies) have to be anticipated so that modules can be added or swapped out without a system redesign.

Those with relatively long memories will recall that Capitol Corridor had four vendors lined up to test approaches to Internet service on trains in 2006. That didn't pan out: EarthLink exited the business; another vendor had impractically large equipment; and so on. Three years later, a lot was learned and Caltrans signed on, while there are now several technology contenders in shipping equipment that could work, likely in some combination.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:13 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails

HotelChatter's Best, Worst Hotel Wi-Fi in 2009

By Glenn Fleishman

The latest report on the state of Wi-Fi in hotels from HotelChatter: The site rounds up information each year, focusing both on cost and availability, although cost is the main criterion. HotelChatter writes up its best and worst hotels chains, as well as summarizing which properties offer free service and which offer paid Wi-Fi or Internet access. There's also detail about whether hotels have Wi-Fi in rooms or in lobbies.

There's a telling quote in the worst list, topped by Thompson Hotels ($10 or more per day for Internet access in lobbies or rooms), from the COO:

"This is an a la carte service that not every guest was using and we were paying for it whether they used it or not. That's why we have started charging guests for internet."

That's a terribly silly thing to say. If the service is contracted out, the hotel should only be paying for actual sessions, and shouldn't be paying much these days unless the chain wrote a terrible contract. If the service is run in house, then the hotel firm has largely fixed expenses that it should be dividing out by more users.

Some hotel executives have said they have to build the $10 a night into every room rate, even if the service isn't used, and that's ridiculous, too.

The hard cost of a day's access by a guest is likely well under a dollar for a venue in which there's no cost to access. Charge, and you have vastly less usage, and thus your per-guest cost goes up. If hotels work with aggregators, they're already getting pennies per session, not dollars, so that reality already exists. Sell an extra room night per night or having the ability to bump rates up slightly for everyone because access easily offsets the cost of the service.

Ultimately, the balance will tip and most hotels will offer Internet service at no cost, at which point all remaining hotels will be at a competitive and loyalty disadvantage.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:35 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hotels

Succumb to Twitter

By Glenn Fleishman

Wi-Fi Networking News now tweets: Find me, follow me, at Twitter for all your wireless data networking needs.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:25 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail

May 7, 2009

Qwest Gives Subscribers Free AT&T Hotspot Access

By Glenn Fleishman

It's an interesting mash-up: Qwest is no threat to AT&T, occupying no overlapping territory both being former Baby Bells, and Qwest has no wireless cellular division. This lack of conflict probably makes it an ideal customer to buy access from AT&T to 17,000 U.S. hotspots and offer those at no cost to its broadband subscribers. With Boingo now down to $10 per month, one could say this value is about $6 worth, since Boingo is a superset of all AT&T locations with many thousands of others on top.

With Verizon perhaps nearing a deal to offer regional or national access to Boingo's network; AT&T with its extensive system in place; T-Mobile with a network of home and roaming partners available cheaply; and Qwest now part of the gang--Sprint Nextel appears rather the odd one out.

Of course, Qwest, Verizon, and AT&T are focused on their wired broadband customers, and AT&T is the only carrier to also offer free Wi-Fi to some of its mobile subscribers. Sprint has no wired broadband any more, and Verizon is entirely 3G oriented for mobile broadband. Cablevision is the only multiple systems operator (MSO) that's offering free Wi-Fi, and in its case that's the network it's building out in its home area at great expense.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:14 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Aggregators, Roaming

May 6, 2009

NY Times Review of MiFi Cellular/Wi-Fi Gateway

By Glenn Fleishman

David Pogue adores the Novatel MiFi 2200: The tiny cellular gateway, which has a built-in Verizon EVDO Rev. A modem, sports a swappable battery and a tiny form factor. Pogue loves the notion that he can have a Wi-Fi hotspot on demand without any fuss of swapping in cards or hauling a large-format device. He found the device had about 4 hours of battery life in active use, but turning it on and off as needed can stretch it to a day. Standby is rated at 40 hours.

Verizon's pricing is its usual awful level: $15 for 24 hours, $40/mo. for 250 MB per mo (10 cents/MB or $100/GB thereafter), or $60/mo. for 5 GB. Two-year contracts for subscriptions are required, but that discounts the MiFi to $100 with a rebate. A no-contract purchase is $270.

I'll be more excited about the MiFi when it's bundled with WiMax or Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint get more realistic about the data people consume on 3G. Heck, the MiFi could be a multi-mode device and connect and extend Wi-Fi devices to your own private, encrypted Wi-Fi network when available, using 3G only when needed.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:45 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Road Warrior | 2 Comments

WiGig Unites 60 GHz Wireless Development

By Glenn Fleishman

The Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig) brings together 17 tech firms for 60 GHz streaming video, LAN standards: The 60 GHz unlicensed band, available for use in various forms worldwide, can carry Gbps of data, but there hasn't been unity about how to proceed. The new WiGig group will focus on streaming video (SiBeam is the leader in this band already), wireless LAN (the IEEE already has a 60 GHz working group underway), and docking/synchronization--a replacement for UWB, which hasn't lit up the market yet, but is at least available right now.

Multi-Gbps wireless LAN networking would be a hoot in the home, especially as we push data to networked storage devices and move ever-larger video and photo files around, but the standard's real potential is in providing for lossless high-definition streaming alongside these other purposes.

The group has been working together for a year, and chose this moment to makes its public debut. A standard is due out in fourth quarter, with testing to follow. WiGig intends to bring its work to the IEEE group on 60 GHz wireless LAN (802.11ad), and many WiGig members are also Wi-Fi Alliance members and IEEE participants. It's possible that 802.11ad will look a lot or entirely like WiGig. WiGig will also create a testing plan and carry out certification.

Bill McFarland, chief technical officer at Atheros, said in an interview today that it's clear consumers will wind up moving increasingly more data around the home. "People will end up with large files and high data rate streams. They're going to want to be able to move it flexibly," he said. Rather than have multiple chips dedicated to different purposes, WiGig is trying to unite it all under one banner.

McFarland noted that 60 GHz has a big advantage: 7 GHz of available in the U.S. and much of the world. "This very broad piece of bandwidth that we can use without licenses, without paying, and it allows us to use it in kind of big chunks, where we can get to very high data rates"--multiple gigabits per second.

The high data rates allow uncompressed HD video--roughly 3 Gbps--which avoids the current expense, possible image degradation, and latency of adding H.264 chips or other compression hardware between the transmitter and receiver.

The WiGig group isn't intending its standard as a Wi-Fi competitor; 60 GHz attenuates rapidly and doesn't penetrate objects well. This limits it to mostly in-room purposes. Wi-Fi in 802.11n can work well throughout a house. The idea of tri-band (2.4/5/60 GHz) chips seems like a reasonable path to take.

I asked McFarland how this 60 GHz effort would avoid the pitfalls of ultrawideband's rocky 7-year road to potential oblivion. He noted that there's no other spectrum available that enables multiple Gbps, and that by bringing together a set of companies involved through the development and marketing chain they can avoid the strife that delayed and may have doomed UWB.

When UWB was initially proposed, the FCC hadn't approved it. Ultimately, regulators worldwide allow UWB, but some have highly restricted the spectrum range, which reduces the number of simultaneous networks and devices, and requires more flexibility in product design. The 60 GHz effort starts with worldwide regulation already in place.

Ultimately, UWB took so long from design to market that "the data rates that UWB offered were not significantly higher than what could be achieved using 11n technology, so there was no strong, compulsive drive" to put UWB in hardware. (UWB started to make noise when Wi-Fi's highest rate was 11 Mbps, remember.)

Mark Grodzinsky, the marketing vice president of startup Wilocity, a firm that will develop chips and reference (and someone who was deeply involved in reconciling 802.11n into a viable standard), said of the 13 firms on the board of directors, "This is a group of companies that really knows how to do this and has done it before very well." Combined, they sell billions of wireless chips each year.

The intent with WiGig is to have several key differentiators that make the technology have multiple factors that can't be achieved with anything today, and that aren't likely to be achieved by any other technology the drawing board. This includes the high speed, but also the notion of multiple applications using a single radio. (This is how Bluetooth has managed to thrive, and it was one of the intents of the WiMedia Alliance for UWB.)

Grodzinsky described wireless docking and wireless display as two capabilities that are highly limited with any technology today. If you have a device capable of eSATA, gigabit Ethernet, and multiple USB streams, but the dock connection is 480 Mbps USB 2.0 or even wireless USB, performance is highly throttled down. A wireless display isn't really possible.

WiGig was also conceived with handheld devices front and center: characteristics that keep power use low are part of the spec from the get-go. Grodzinsky said, for instance, that error correction schemes are only used if errors need to be corrected; other wireless burn cycles on fixing errors when they don't exist.

WiGig's board of directors includes major chipmakers in the wireless space (Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell), handset firms (LG, Nokia, and Samsung), PC-focused companies (Dell, Intel, and Microsoft), and consumer electronics manufacturers (NEC, Panasonic, and Samsung). Note there's some overlap among those firms' markets, too. Notably absent is Apple, which rarely joins standards groups at their inception, but is often an early adopter and later board member. Sony is also missing from this list. (Four other firms are "contributors" and not on the board, including more chipmakers.)

SiBeam is also not on the list, although its backers Panasonic and Samsung are. SiBeam is part of the WirelessHD Consortium, which is backed by six firms in the WiGig group, plus Sony and Toshiba. There will have to be a merger or some kind of close association between WirelessHD and WiGig because no TV set or computer will have two sets of chips, and WirelessHD doesn't have a data-transfer focus.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:35 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Future, Video | 1 Comment

May 5, 2009

Wee-Fi: iPass, Eye-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

iPass extends its hotspot aggregation client for iPhone for enterprise users: The company works largely with corporations to provide roaming Wi-Fi, Ethernet, 3G, and dial-up for mobile workforces along with end-point security. Last year, iPass added individual subscription options, and in January added an iPhone application for those subscribers. Today's update allows corporate users to use the iPhone app, too. iPass is also wrapping in use of multiple devices by a single user into the same fee structure, as ever more people have a laptop, a smartphone, and other gear with Wi-Fi built in.

Eye-Fi adds more video upload sites: The latest Eye-Fi memory card that uploads pictures and video ($80 or $100, depending on features) now transfers moving images to Picasa Web Albums, Photobucket, and SmugMug. The card models launched earlier this year with YouTube and Flickr uploads. I tested the Eye-Fi Explore Video a few weeks ago, and found that it worked just as fluently in uploading videos and photos as the previous models (a couple of which I own) handled photo-only uploads.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:03 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi

May 4, 2009

Can Sprint Last Long Enough to Build WiMax Network?

By Glenn Fleishman

Or will Clearwire remain standing while the Sprint 2G/3G firm goes under? Sprint's latest revenue and earnings are pretty horrifically bad. The company has been shedding operations and divisions for years like a rapidly falling balloon trying to heave off ballast to stay aloft. The company spun off its wireline division as Embarq; its 4G network portfolio and operations to the new Clearwire, of which it owns 51 percent; and now may throw 5,000 to 7,000 workers an Ericsson group to handle cellular network management.

You don't take your core operational responsibility and outsource it and expect to survive, I'm afraid. Sprint runs a perfectly fine network, but by outsourcing to Ericsson, it shifts the objective to Ericsson producing a profit at a specific quality level rather than having operational quality be a core company mandate. (This is no knock on Ericsson, which could be a firm of superstars. It's just that Ericsson's interests aren't aligned with Sprint's.)

The Associated Press, as most accounts do, ignores Sprint Nextel's continued failed migration of public safety networks to new frequencies, a multi-year failure allowed by the FCC, and for which Sprint still has billions in reserve to pay for--but also an uncapped liability. At some point, it's possible that the number of remaining networks and the cost for buying new gear and moving public-safety systems will swamp the company more than its negative earnings and drop in postpaid subscribers. I'm always stunned when I don't see this mentioned, because it's a constant weight on the company's future.

It's possible that Sprint could disappear or be absorbed into Verizon, the only company with compatible CDMA network technology, and that would leave the WiMax division potentially on its own, or with a new majority owner that wouldn't allow it to thrive.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:03 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 4G, Financial, Public Safety, WiMAX | 1 Comment

UWB Obituary Written

By Glenn Fleishman

In-Stat says UWB will disappear by 2013: EE Times writes about In-Stat's latest report on ultrawideband, in which the analysis firm says the short-range technology, best suited for personal area networking (PAN), will fade from consumer electronics by 2012 and PCs by 2013. In-Stat believes that Wi-Fi will win out, with newer wireless solutions gradually phasing in, such as the 60 GHz SiBeam approach.

Most of the UWB startups, including all those devoted to video streaming over UWB, have folded or halted normal operations; just Alereon, Staccato, and Wisair remain. (Sigma Designs remains in businesses offers RF and coax UWB flavors for home networking, but isn't focused solely on UWB, nor did it develop a specific video streaming technology, although it works with Fujitsu on one approach.)

Stephen Wood, the long-time head of the now-dissolving WiMedia Alliance (a trade group devoted to UWB standards), spent some time convincing me in March (as I reported in this Ars Technica article) that UWB had a future because separate trade groups were still in interested in pursuing UWB as a fundamental part of their evolution.

Wood's multi-pronged argument is that the cost of UWB chips and integration is finally dropping to the widespread adoption point; the USB Implementors Forum is committed to UWB for its Certified Wireless USB flavor; and that only relatively recently were worldwide regulatory standards put in place that could spur the use of UWB on a truly worldwide basis.

Thus it seems to me that the real question about UWB is whether manufacturers who are members of the USB forum, a few of which already ship a limited set of UWB-enabled laptops, get gung-ho about the technology and start embedding it in large swaths of products when the price hits the critical $5 threshold.

For that to happen, printer and digital camera makers along with mobile handset developers would also need the religion. All the desktop and laptop PCs in the world could come with UWB "free" (the cost hidden in the overall price), but without peripherals it makes little sense.

With many entry-level printers and nearly all portable gadgets--smartphones or otherwise--having Wi-Fi built in, I have a hard time seeing where UWB gets a foothold. Further, with the coming wave of faster, battery-saving single-stream 802.11n devices hitting the market this year, and the Bluetooth SIG having released its 3.0 spec with an 802.11 data-transfer mode for large files, it's just hard to see where UWB can fit in.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:35 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, UWB

May 1, 2009

Boingo Wireless Now $10 per Month

By Glenn Fleishman

Boingo's unlimited North American hotspot access plan is now $10/mo: The hotspot aggregator has long offered access for $22/mo, often with 1 month free or $10/mo for three months promotion. Now, the price is simply $10/mo (a nickel shy to be precise, but I prefer round numbers). That number undercuts my long-standing argument that hotspot service would either be free or cost $20 per month. AT&T fulfilled the free part; Boingo and others were roughly around $20 per month.

Boingo has a huge advantage in cost containment on this $10/mo rate. After acquiring the Washington State Ferry system Wi-Fi operations from Parsons six months ago and then the Opti-Fi airports late last year, the company keeps costs in house for nearly every airport in North America with Wi-Fi (SFO and a few others excepted), as well as what I expect is relatively heavy use on the ferries, which carry many thousands of business commuters every day. (The WSF runs half the passenger ferry trips in the U.S., and a smaller but large number of car trips.) Airport sessions are likely the majority of Boingo usage, although I have nothing but intuition to back that up.

Because Boingo runs Wi-Fi at dozens of airports, this certainly gives them roaming network negotiation advantages with AT&T and others that want their home network users to have airport access. Of course, Boingo has to pay some session fee for the 10,000s of other N.A. hotspots included in this deal, but it would have to be pennies per use for it to work out on its balance sheet. (Boingo's global plan has a 2,000-minute limit at $59/mo.)

My argument for free or $20/mo was that once hotspot service was essentially ubiquitous--in nearly all hotels, cafes, airports, and so on--that networks would be vitally interested in having a large number of users to offset operational expenses.

In some cases, venues have chosen to go free. They decided that the process of extracting any money reduced the interest and excitement of a visitor or customer, and removing the friction produced a better relationship that meant more repeat business and/or higher per-person revenue. If a Best Western location can charge $79 per night instead of $69, or sells an extra room or two every few nights as a result of free Internet service, there's no real incremental cost.

Many second-tier airports--referring to traffic, not quality--such as Sacramento, Phoenix, and Las Vegas have gone for free, and some hotel chains are either all-free (mid-range, typically), or free to members of their usually free affinity clubs. Denver bucked the big-airport trend and has an ad deal with a firm that offers free, filtered Wi-Fi and downloadable movies.

Denver isn't competing for travelers, I wouldn't think--trains and driving aren't that appealing to the majority of cities someone might fly to from Denver. But second-tier airports are looking to stress their convenience and extra features, like cheaper parking, less congestion, free Internet, to get people to drive to them instead of a super-giant airport.

On the flip side, with a relatively low rate like $20–30/mo, business travelers (whether individuals or larger firms) can justify the expense in lieu of a 3G plan or as a complement to one depending on how much time a given person or employee spends on the road. Someone who bills $50 to $500 an hour can eat $20 or $30 for a month's access.

This pairs best with business venues that have opted to continue charging, and where walk-up rates are $4 to $12 per day. Many higher-end hotels are part of Boingo's aggregated footprint and charge significant fees each night.

Boingo's move to $10/mo certainly lowers the bar to ordinary consumers subscribing. While many free venues offer perfectly fine or superior service, and AT&T's free access to classes of subscribers is top-notch, I hear endless stories from people who find the up/down/no-one-around free Wi-Fi in a lot of establishments as too frustrating to use.

Myself, rather pecuniary, I finally succumbed and subscribed to Boingo several months ago when I realized I was spending more time trying to get connected in hotspots and making it work than getting work done. I also found myself passing through airports much more frequently than in the last several years--I've had four flights in the last year, which doesn't seem like a lot, but that's about 10 sessions in airports where having a connection I was already paying a fixed amount for made it easier to handle the trip.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:22 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Aggregators, Hot Spot | 2 Comments

Verizon Broadband Subscribers Get Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Hey, Cablevision made Verizon blink: The Wall Street Journal reports that Verizon will offers its broadband customers free Wi-Fi hotspot access, partnering with Boingo Wireless to do so. The Journal notes the deal isn't set, and Verizon could offer just regional access instead of national hotspot service. The service could launch by summer. Boingo typically charges $22/mo for unlimited North American access with a 3-month introductory price of $10/mo. Update: Boingo has changed its unlimited North American price to a $10/mo on an ongoing basis; it's no longer just a promotional price.

A Boingo spokesperson declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal's account, but noted that the company works with many networks to grow its aggregated footprint, and, in turn, provides access to its footprint to some of those networks.

It's not just Cablevision pushing on Wi-Fi, of course, as Cablevision and Verizon overlap just in a (lucrative) part of Verizon's market in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Cablevision has been receiving high marks for its $300m project to put outdoor Wi-Fi all over its subscriber area, with exclusive and free access to its cable broadband customers. The company just flipped the switch on its connection promise from 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps.

No, it's also AT&T, which doesn't overlap Verizon at all for landline and broadband service as former reconstituted Baby Bells with discrete installed wire bases. Rather, AT&T's free Wi-Fi for iPhone and BlackBerry users may be more competition for Verizon Wireless: get an iPhone and you have the still-coolest phone coupled with free Wi-Fi. Buy the best Verizon smartphone, and you're still hunting for third-party, for-fee Wi-Fi service. (AT&T also offers pretty much all its broadband subscribers free Wi-Fi, too, from those subscribing to the cheapest DSL package up to the fastest U-Verse fiber-backed option, as well as its 3G LaptopConnect customers. For 3G customers, Wi-Fi has no limits where 3G is 5 GB/mo, so it's a good pairing.)

And Cablevision put some pressure on Verizon's broadband pricing by offering 101 Mbps/15 Mbps cable broadband for a hair under $100 per month, where Verizon charges $140/mo for half that speed. Verizon said that Cablevision's high data rate is a "parlor trick," and claims that a single 101 Mbps DOCSIS 3.0 customer would suck performance out of all other subscribers in the same neighborhood. Om Malik does a nice job analyzing the truth and fiction of Cablevision's offer and Verizon's slap.

Nonetheless, Verizon now seems to be behind the times, even if the company's fiber-to-the-home architecture should allow speeds far greater than cable's without any slowdown among service in the same neighborhood. (DOCSIS 3.0 allows multi-channel bonding, and there will certainly be issues about how many channels are available in a given cluster of broadband users in a neighborhood. Fiber to the home's issue is entirely about how much backhaul is available, which should be a non-issue with the GPON architecture back to the network core.)

And Cablevision puts pricing pressure on Verizon for the early adopters/high bandwidth eaters in the market. Verizon's next tier down from 50 Mpbs/20 Mbps at $150 per month is $65/month for 20 Mbps/20 Mbps. Cablevision's pricing for cheaper tiers is hard to figure out--the company offers promotional prices and bundles that disguise the price after the first 12 months. It appears to be $30 per month for 12 months for up to 20 Mbps.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:04 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Aggregators, Hot Spot | 1 Comment

Campuses Trim Ethernet in Favor of 802.11n

By Glenn Fleishman

John Cox has an interesting rundown on large installations picking 802.11n for client use instead of upgrading or adding more Ethernet: Cox, in a Network World story, starts with the observation that some companies and many colleges are finding huge numbers of unused Ethernet ports, which means they're paying depreciation and operating expenses on gear they're not using.

One school he speaks to has 80 to 90 percent of its Ethernet switch capacity unused. The CalState system performed careful analysis of current use and opted to cut 2,500 switches, which will save $30m in hardware-related spending, exclusive of HVAC/electricity savings.

At colleges, this is a simpler matter, because campuses can simply eliminate new spending for Ethernet in dorms and elsewhere and pull switch plates and switches, or reduce the number of jacks by a large number without impairing functions. While some students might have desktop computers, surveys keep finding that most arrive at campus with laptops or purchase them on arrival. Businesses may still need to have Ethernet active because of their heavier desktop use.

For instance, in a 2008 survey of incoming students at the University of Virginia, with 95 percent of students surveyed, a single person in the 3,071 asked did not own a computer. That number was as high as 26 percent (634 of 2,437) in 1997, but has dropped to a negligible amount since 2003 (30, 10, 18, 4, and 4 in successive years had no computer).

Now out of those 3,070 computer owners in 2008, only 36 had desktops. That's a lot of spending on Ethernet for 1 percent of students. And those desktop systems might have had Wi-Fi built in if they were Macs (Mac Pros are the only model that requires an add-on build-to-order Wi-Fi adapter) and most student/entry-level oriented Wintel systems.

802.11n found its way into colleges quite early, but enterprises now have a wide range of affordable options from major and minor vendors alike that are proving more cost effective than 802.11g or a/g was because of the greater capacity and range of 802.11n. Everything I hear from companies and read in reports shows that dual-band 802.11n overcomes almost ally of the gating factors that made 802.11g useful but not strictly a wired replacement for clients.

Most clients don't need anything like the 100 to 150 Mbps throughput that 802.11n can offer in ideal cases. Rather, each client may need from 1 to 10 Mbps in a more or less reliable and guaranteed fashion, and with a multi-channel switched WLAN, enterprises can easily deliver that.

College campuses have lower requirements, seemingly, with Cox noting that 1 Mbps is a reasonable threshold for common activities. In those cases, you need networks that can support massive concurrent users in relatively small areas, like classrooms or quadrangles, a very different requirement from the business network.

No one's suggesting Ethernet will be pulled out. It's still the only way to run critical services, and you need quite a lot of it to backhaul all the WLAN systems that are being put in. But there's a growing divide between client Ethernet and server/backhaul Ethernet that can let companies and colleges trim their IT budgets without reducing utility for their users.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:53 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Academia, Enterprise, WLAN Switches

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