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Recent Entries

Sprint Buys Virgin Mobile, the Last MVNO
Verizon Limits Free Wi-Fi to Laptops
AT&T's Wi-Fi Stats
Barnes & Nobles Switches to Free Wi-Fi
Verizon Adds Free Hotspots for DSL, Fiber Customers
Unbranded Starbucks Has Free Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi Alliance Confirms No Changes to Its Draft N Tests
US Airways Trials In-Flight Internet
We-Fi: Skype Access, Google Asks, Police Patrols, Toyota Flowers, Cablevision Expands
Plastic Logic Puts Wi-Fi in Reader

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July 2009 Archives

July 28, 2009

Sprint Buys Virgin Mobile, the Last MVNO

By Glenn Fleishman

Sprint Nextel will acquire the majority stake in Virgin Mobile USA that it doesn't own: Virgin Mobile was the last major mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), a cellular company type that owns customers not cell towers. While there have been attempts to create large MVNOs, only Virgin Mobile has remained viable, although not wildly profitable. Sprint was an investor in Virgin Mobile, and many said that was what gave the MVNO staying power. Most recently Virgin Mobile absorbed Helio, an MVNO started by SK Telecom and EarthLink to bring advanced phones from South Korea to the U.S. market and target services at younger folk.

Virgin Mobile concentrates on prepaid phone service, which is distinct from the postpaid contract offerings that require long commitments. With prepaid service, you pay in advance for minutes or no-contract subscriptions, and wind up paying substantially less. Virgin Mobile has a $50/mo unlimited talk plan, which contrasts with postpaid plans that are twice as much. (Virgin Mobile requires 2-year commitments on smartphones under the Helio brand, however.)

The company also has the only pay-as-you-go mobile broadband service. You have to pay upfront for a $150 USB 3G modem--sold exclusively by Best Buy for Virgin Mobile--and then service has no commitment. You buy pools of expiring bandwidth. $10 gets you 100 MB over 10 days; $20, $40, and $60 get you 250 MB, 600 MB, and 1 GB over 30 days. If you need more bandwidth, you buy another pool--no sneaky $50/MB overage fees.

While the broadband prices are high compared to Wi-Fi (Boingo with $10/mo unlimited North American hotspot access, for instance), they are extremely favorable when looking at major carrier 3G plans, which are $60 per month with a required 2-year commitment. Those plans, however, top out at 5 GB of use per month.

The biggest segment of growth for Sprint is prepaid plans, but it's sold such plans on its iDEN network, the old Nextel technology that will some day fade away. Virgin Mobile uses regular old CDMA, and brings over 5 million customers.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:09 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular | No Comments | No TrackBacks

Verizon Limits Free Wi-Fi to Laptops

By Glenn Fleishman

The fine print is now available on Verizon's free Wi-Fi deal for its broadband customers: Only laptop Windows XP/Vista (32-bit only) users need apply. Which seems insane to me, but it's also in line with Verizon's remarkable micro-management of its users and usage. The "how to get it" page explaining how to obtain free Wi-Fi notes, "Verizon Wi-Fi is not available for PDAs, phones, desktop PCs or Macs."

I can reason that the PDA and phone issue is that the company hasn't figured out which smartphones and others to add the service to and whether to charge for it. AT&T offers iPhone and some BlackBerry owners free Wi-Fi on its home network of 20,000 hotspots (mostly McDonald's and Starbucks locations); Verizon, however, operates no Wi-Fi network, so additional users mean additional costs. Smartphone users are extremely heavy Wi-Fi data consumers, and if Verizon's deal with Boingo isn't flat-rate per user, then that might explain the hesitation.

The limit to laptops is sort of ridiculous. Desktop PC owners won't easily be able to access laptops, and you have to do be a broadband Verizon customer already, so it's not like you'd be using a Wi-Fi hotspot as your primary Internet connection, would you? There's a story here that's not being told.

The lack of Mac support is simply absurd. Boingo supports Windows and Mac OS X, and Verizon has long had excellent software and tech support for its 3G hardware for Mac OS X.

But wait! There's more. As I noted in a revised version of the story yesterday, IDG News Service noted and a spot check reveals that Verizon isn't offering McDonald's stores, which Boingo resells from AT&T's network. The reason there might be that the McDonald's contract is organized differently. Wayport signed up McD years ago, and structured its arrangement to offer flat-rate resale fees per user in a network, instead of session fees. With that ostensibly still in place even after AT&T's acquisition of Wayport, Verizon might not want to pay the associated fees to offer McDonald's access. This plus Verizon's awful hotspot finder rips some of the heart out of the ubiquity of Boingo's U.S. network.

Finally, Verizon limits this free offer to higher-tiered DSL and fiber (FiOS) subscribers. Existing 3 Mbps DSL or faster and 20 Mbps FiOS or faster customers are the only ones who qualify. Further, only new FiOS customers who buy 25 Mbps or faster connections will qualify.

This is all shooting itself in the foot; penny wise, pound foolish. If you're going to make an extra add-on attractive, you can't dangle a bright shiny ball at all your customers, and then snatch it away from what's likely 25 to 40 percent of them, based on market research.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:46 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Free | 1 Comment

AT&T's Wi-Fi Stats

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T shared some numbers about its Wi-Fi network usage: AT&T wants to trumpet its Wi-Fi network partly because its included free to what I'd estimate is north of 20m subscribers--a combination of DSL, fiber (U-Verse), business, and smartphone clients. The company said that it saw 15m Wi-Fi connections during Q2 2009 alone and 26m in the first half of 2009; that compares to 20m connections across all of 2008.

Certainly, millions of iPhone users are partly responsible for that, because the iPhone is a peripatetic device, making connections somewhat willy-nilly wherever they're available. AT&T said that smartphone connections accounted for just under half of all Q2 2009 connections, a 41 percent jump from the first quarter this year.

The iPhone 3.0 software will accelerate that trend, because it automatically recognizes and connects to any AT&T hotspot without any additional effort on the part of an iPhone user. That's a neat trick by AT&T to offload 3G data to a Wi-Fi network, reducing congestion in the intersection of heavy availability of Wi-Fi hotspots and heavy 3G usage--city and neighborhood centers.

AT&T said that iPhone usage tripled in June over May, which it attributed to that seamless auto-connection addition to the operating system.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hot Spot | No Comments

Barnes & Nobles Switches to Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Barnes & Noble becomes the latest chain to see the benefit of free: Times are tough, and what better way to bring more people in than to offer an amenity that's relatively cheap for you to provide, and which seems like a high value to your potential customers? B&N sees the light, and switches its AT&T Wi-Fi service from fee to free. At last count, B&N says it has 777 stores across all U.S. states.

Wi-Fi was once seen as a revenue opportunity by many kinds of venues, and I have long argued that Wi-Fi would simply become the air we breath. You don't pay for oxygen (except at oxygen bars; do those still exist?), and people just want service. The idea of ubiquitous free or flat-rate offerings is what's driven the growth of 3G, despite low monthly bandwidth caps on laptop-based service.

Part of my notion is that service becomes so cheap to offer and so necessary, that either venues charge nothing, or they primarily have as customers those who have low or corporate-paid flat-rate plans. For a business traveler paying $10 per month to Boingo Wireless, or whose corporate parent is paying tens of dollars per month to iPass, using a fee location is a free transaction.

B&N attracts mostly consumers, and thus free needs to be totally free. Given that B&N makes a good margin on anything it sells in the store, from a latte at an in-store cafe to a magazine or newspaper to a bestselling book, a single purchase of more than about $2 pays for the cost of that customer quite easily.

The mega bookstore chain has had a slightly rocky road with Wi-Fi. In the early days, it wasn't convinced of the utility, and then ultimately signed up with the ill-fated Cometa in 2004. When Cometa imploded shortly thereafter, what was then SBC (and now AT&T) signed up B&N.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:12 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments

July 27, 2009

Verizon Adds Free Hotspots for DSL, Fiber Customers

By Glenn Fleishman

Verizon will provide its medium-and-faster-speed DSL and fiber (FiOS) customers with free national Wi-Fi hotspot access: The service, provided by Boingo and rumored to be in the works earlier this year, allows Verizon to match some of Cablevision's offer in overlapping territory, but to also compete with cable operators and future competitive services elsewhere. The directory is available, but lame.

Cablevision has committed $300m to a tri-state (NY, NJ, and Conn.) buildout of outdoor Wi-Fi to its broadband customers in those same states. Verizon, in contrast, has turned to Boingo Wireless to provide service. Boingo couldn't comment on particulars, but said the deal applied to all Verizon business units; Boingo's previous contract was just with Verizon's business group.

Software is required to access the network. Verizon customers have to log in at to download the package. It's likely a private label version of Go Boingo, the lightweight software that the aggregator switched to that automatically recognizes and offers to log in to Boingo-affiliated hotspots. It's available for Mac OS X and Windows. Update: Correction! Boingo's software is Mac and Windows compatible; Verizon's private-label software is currently available for Windows XP (32-bit) and Vista (via @siracusa).

Verizon customers with the cheapest flavors of DSL (slower than 3 Mbps) and FiOS (slower than 20 Mbps) don't get the service. AT&T once divided its customers for free Wi-Fi, too, but eventually (and quite a while ago) simply gave it away. It wasn't an incentive for upgrades, clearly, so why bogart it.

(There's a sideshow going on about an Apple tablet that would be exclusively introduced by Verizon late this year or early next that would have 3G and Wi-Fi access. I don't buy it. I can't see a tablet with 3G, because that would limit sales to those willing to pay a large monthly fee. It's much more likely Apple would release a large iPod touch with Wi-Fi only.)

Now in a bit of what you could call a business conflict, Boingo resells AT&T's Wi-Fi service. IDG News Service noted that Boingo had 30,000 hotspots in the US, and that only 7,500 of those were from AT&T's network, which doesn't make sense. AT&T operates nearly 20,000 locations; 7,500 would represent all the Starbucks outlets. JiWire shows 65,000 hotspots in the U.S., but that includes free locations, such as libraries and chains that aren't incorporated into roaming deals.

IDG was told by Boingo and Verizon that some locations wouldn't be available, but wouldn't specify how many. When I check Verizon's hotspot locator, Starbucks locations are included, as well as Barnes & Noble, also operated by AT&T. In fact, in Washington State, I had trouble finding anything but B&N and Starbucks.

Since the announcement was made, we assume that all is well, but there has to be some chafing at AT&T, since it wouldn't want to enable its biggest cellular competitor.

This initial announcement only covers Verizon broadband, not Verizon Wireless phones and customers. That might be in part because of this conflict, but I don't know anything concrete. Offering free national Wi-Fi coupled with 3G service (whether laptop or smartphone) would be a good move for Verizon, even as the company requires that all future smartphones include Wi-Fi.

While Wi-Fi is a cheap way to offload data use from expensive and sometimes congested 3G networks, Verizon has long been a doubter. It's late to the game here, with no investment of its own, and thus has to bleed money out to offer the service, beholden to other firms and even AT&T nearly directly. Cablevision and AT&T have their operations in house, facing capital and operating expenses, but being able to adjust and conserve those. AT&T even further collects revenue from walk-up customers and non-landline/3G subscribers, too.

GigaOm's Om Malik makes the reasonable suggestion here: maybe Verizon should buy Boingo? In fact, when I was briefed by Boingo, my first comment was, "You're calling to tell me that you were bought by Verizon?"

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Hot Spot | 4 Comments

July 24, 2009

Unbranded Starbucks Has Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks has opened a store without its name in the title with free Wi-Fi: In Seattle, the home of that is right and good (and trendy) about hot and cold beverage consumption made by the hands of humans, Starbucks opened 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. The Starbucks name is relatively hidden, apparently in small type here and there. The store doesn't sell frappucinos, it has a manual espresso machine, and it focuses on specialty tastes and custom tweaking of coffee. There's a Clover there, of course. You can read about the store in greater detail via the link above (Seattle Post Intelligencer) or in this story at the Seattle Times.

And it has free Wi-Fi. My colleague Brian Chin tweets that there's an attwifi network name, but there's no password required for access. Because the store apes independent and small-chain coffee shops in the vicinity, Starbucks is echoing the free Wi-Fi in those stores as well.

The store is near Victrola Coffee and Art, a store I wrote about in 2005 for this site and the New York Times when the owners at that time chose to turn off Wi-Fi on the weekends. (The WNN story was the most-commented article I've ever had on the site, except for a thread complaining about Linksys firmware.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:06 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Culture, Free, Hot Spot | No Comments

July 23, 2009

Wi-Fi Alliance Confirms No Changes to Its Draft N Tests

By Glenn Fleishman

The Wi-Fi Alliance won't modify its certification tests for the ratified version of 802.11n: Changes aren't needed, the group says. This was completely expected, but glad to put yet another check in a box. The 802.11n standard will finally move from draft to completed status in September, although a vote taken recently has already formally closed the process.

PC World notes, from a briefing with the alliance, that there are four optional elements to 802.11n that will be certified in the future. Those optional parts were where changes took place after the mandatory elements were settled more or less in January 2007.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:38 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Standards | No Comments | No TrackBacks

US Airways Trials In-Flight Internet

By Glenn Fleishman

US Airways becomes the latest airline to add Wi-Fi: The airline has over 300 mainline aircraft, but will start in early 2010 with just a few dozen, all Airbus A321s, to see how it goes.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:04 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments | No TrackBacks

July 22, 2009

We-Fi: Skype Access, Google Asks, Police Patrols, Toyota Flowers, Cablevision Expands

By Glenn Fleishman

Skype 2.8 for Mac adds per-minute hotspot access: Skype calls this feature "still in beta," and it's been available for months in pre-release versions. The Skype Access feature ties into 100,000 hotspots worldwide, and requires a per minute fee of €0.16 or US 22¢ (including tax/VAT). While that's high, it's cheaper than an international call from a cell phone in most markets, and cheaper than paying $4 to $12 for a daypass when you need a few minutes. At $13.20/hr, it's egregiously high for routine use, even in expensive Wi-Fi markets, so I'm not confident this will catch on. It seems more of a nifty demo. Boingo's mobile price is just US$7.95/mo with no contract, although it works only with mobile phones; the global plan (with 2,000 minutes per month) is $59. The Skype Access feature is Mac only at present.

Google asks public about its Mountain View service: The Los Altos, Calif., paper says that Google will have a public forum tonight at 7 pm to discuss what it's learned from a running a Wi-Fi network across Mountain View, and ask for feedback. The service has been in operation since 2006. Punters speculated back then that this was part of a national free Wi-Fi network Google would built out; I was mostly skeptical. About 19,000 users access the network, which consists of 500 access points, each month.

Australian police patrol for open hotspots: Should some volunteer wardrivers do this work, instead? The Queensland police will patrol for open hotspots and then advise residents. The police are concerned about crime happening over open Wi-Fi networks. A detective superintendent says "crooks were now sharing information on satellite maps showing vulnerable areas with large numbers of unsecured networks." Remember a decade or so ago, when police were convinced that millions of Satanists were conducting secret rituals? Community education forums and an explanation of how to notice and report network misuse would probably be time better spent.

Wi-Flowers from Toyota: The car firm has giant flowers--apparently solar powered--that have power outlets and Wi-Fi signals. Toyota is touring the 18-foot-tall "flowers" in Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles from July to October. Pictures.

Cablevision expands Wi-Fi in parts of New York: The service, only available and at no cost to its cable broadband subscribers, is now active in Orange and Rockland counties in New York.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:49 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | 1 Comment

Plastic Logic Puts Wi-Fi in Reader

By Glenn Fleishman

Plastic Logic equips book reader with 3G, Wi-Fi: Some sense at last from Plastic Logic, a future competitor to Sony and Amazon for electronic book reading. The company's reader is due out next year, and AT&T will be the backend for a 3G connection. But the device will also have a Wi-Fi radio, which may reveal something of the business model. Amazon built a Sprint modem into each Kindle, and apparently bundles Sprint's download fee into the price of each book.

With Plastic Logic, the inclusion of Wi-Fi implies that delivery fees may vary depending on method. And Plastic Logic's partners will likely offer tons of free books, which doesn't make sense for the company to subsidize by paying AT&T something. Barnes & Noble just unveiled its ebook library and reading software (Mac, Windows, iPhone, and BlackBerry), and said it will sell books for Plastic Logic, but potentially other devices, too.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:19 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Consumer Electronics | No Comments

July 21, 2009

When It's Too Good To Be True: Zer01

By Glenn Fleishman

My pal Nancy Gohring wrote a long feature exploring the unlimited cell offering from Zer01: Is investigative technology journalism dead? Not at IDG News Service, at least. Zer01 has been on my radar since last year, when the firm started talking about an unlimited flat-rate cellular voice and data plan. Each time I heard more about the service, the details had changed, and the offer had expanded to sweep in more and more features, like text messaging.

Let's just be straightforward here. Even before Nancy had run down the specifics of Zer01, its CEO, and its affiliates and partners' history, it was clear that there was no way for the firm to be able to do what it claims. Nancy ran down a lot of other warning flags, too. (I don't link to Zer01 because I don't want to add to its link score on Google.)

The company has said all along it was using GSM. Only two operators, T-Mobile and AT&T, have substantial enough U.S. footprints to provide the roaming Zer01 would need. Neither firm could possibly wholesale enough bytes at a low-enough cost to Zer01 to allow unlimited service. Zer01 keeps claiming that it is not a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), like Virgin Mobile (one of the last standing), but every aspect of how it works requires that it acts as an MVNO.

The firm told Nancy that it had its own fiber-optic network terminated at cell operator equipment so that the cost of transit charged by the carriers would be nil. But it also said outright that carriers' cost for the wireless component of the network was essentially nothing, which is simply ridiculous.

Nancy was able to get AT&T and T-Mobile to state on the record that they have no business relationship with Zer01, which puts the icing on the cake.

There's no such thing as unlimited, except when the cost to a user to obtain unlimited is high enough to restrain use, or the cost to a carrier averages out to low enough that it can make a buck. If you read the fine print on VoIP contracts, almost all have a "fair use" or "reasonable use" number that's high (thousands of minutes), but not infinite.

The bandwidth caps that ISPs are putting on their networks, like Comcast's 250 GB/mo limit, are too low (1 TB would be more reasonable), but it's an attempt to block the 99th percentile users that turn a profitable service into a loss.

Given that the three major 3G carriers have 5 GB/mo caps on usage (T-Mobile doesn't yet have national coverage for 3G), it's impossible to see how their networks could be used by a reseller for unlimited data.

Add to that the promise of unlimited voice minutes and text messages. Even with VoIP, calls to another network require settlement fees, typically per-minute termination fees for landlines, and other rates for cell connections. Text messaging is settled across networks as well using peering contracts or clearinghouse services.

If the major carriers are paying per minute and per message to each other, how can a startup relying on their networks have no cap?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:23 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular | 1 Comment

802.11n Moves Closer to Ratification

By Glenn Fleishman

The 802.11n spec celebrates its seventh anniversary without ratification: The gears at the IEEE grind but slowly, and 802.11n is still not actually a ratified and published standard even though its been built (in "draft" form) into tens of millions of devices, and has a certification standard (Draft N, natch) at the Wi-Fi Alliance. (The alliance is separate from the IEEE, developing standards for testing interoperability of commercially produced devices using the IEEE standards as the basis.)

Wi-Fi guru Matthew Gast, author of 802.11 Wireless Networks: the Definitive Guide (foreword by yours truly), writes on his marvelously named blog that 802.11n has moved up a few rungs of the IEEE hierarchical process towards shedding its draft label.

draftn_pop.jpgThe 802.11n spec was developed in a process that started with the High Throughput Study Group, which was turned into Task Group N within the 802.11 Working Group, which specializes in wireless LAN protocols. Matthew writes that the working group has now passed the spec upwards to higher-level groups, starting with the IEEE review committee, which meets 11-September-2009. Matthew notes that's exactly 7 years after the first meeting of the high-throughput group.

In practical terms, this is all institutional process, rather than anything that will result in changes. As far as I can tell, there have been no substantive changes to 802.11n in years, and the less-important changes occur on the driver side, Matthew said via email. It's also important to note that no device has appeared that implements all the optional parts of 802.11n, and some monkeying around has occurred in those areas.

The draft label should come off in September.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 802.11n, Standards | No Comments

Wee-Fi: New York Public Library Glory, Cape Cod Unescape

By Glenn Fleishman

The New York Public Library opens a room for technology users: The grand anchor of the city's public library system has opened its special-occasion room, the Edna Barnes Salomon Room, as a "wireless Internet reading and study room." Starting yesterday, the Beaux-Arts style room will offer seating for 128 patrons. The library will also loan out laptops. The room is 4,500 sq ft, and gorgeous. It sports "16 custom made, solid black walnut tables and dark brown leather chairs that will match the rooms' dark maple wood floor." Wi-Fi is free, as it has been at the library and adjoining Bryant park (operated separately) for some time.

Cape Cod vacationers can't unplug, un-unwire: The Boston Globe writes of the plight of those have jobs, take vacations, and aren't able to stop working on Cape Cod. Okay, let's not cry too much for those that get Cape vacations; it's a marvelous place. But it is sad that a function of modern life and the economy is that people are hunting out free Wi-Fi at 10 pm at night in the parking lots of libraries.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:16 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | No Comments

July 15, 2009

Lufthansa Will Bring Back Broadband in Air

By Glenn Fleishman

A Lufthansa exec said the airline will reintroduce in-flight broadband using Connection by Boeing antennas still installed: The executive made these remarks today at an airline association meeting near a Boeing assembly plant in Washington state. Lufthansa will have an announcement about specifics next month. FlightGlobal's Air Transport Intelligence news service says that talks between Lufthansa and a consortium including T-Mobile have ended, and Lufthansa may be pairing with Panasonic Avionics.

Back in 2006, Panasonic tried to get enough planes on board to transition Connexion customers to a new offering. The group wanted 500 aircraft committed to launch its own Ku-band service, using geostationary satellites like Boeing, but with a far lower cost structure and lighter-weight antennas and interior gear. (Here's my interview with a Panasonic exec back in Sept. 2006.)

Lufthansa equipped about 60 of its long-haul planes, and reportedly had high uptake by its passengers, who could expect that every long flight would include the service. Lufthansa had at least three times as many planes equipped with Connexion as the next airline before Boeing shut the wildly unprofitable service down in 2006.

For its part, ATI reports that Panasonic says it has five airlines signed for eXConnect, its branded Internet service.

Row 44, the only Ku-band provider currently offering service--trials with Alaska and Southwest airlines, with an Alaska rollout seemingly confirmed--is operating only over the US and over sea in its current phase. Aircell, which has air-to-ground operations in the U.S. with an exclusive license, has been talking for months about extending its market via Ku-band service, but that could be through a partner, like Panasonic.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments

Atlanta Airport Considers Free Wi-Fi, But Can't Yet Afford It

By Glenn Fleishman

Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport (ATL) would like to offer its passengers free Wi-Fi: Economic conditions don't allow that switchover, however. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says the airport sees 25,000 to 40,000 connections each month, which brings in $1m. If that were the airport's share, that's $2-$3 per connection, which seems rather high since many travelers are using roaming systems based on other numbers I've seen. Some percentage is paying $8 for a daypass, sure, but that shouldn't be half.

ATL renewed contracts until 1-August-2011 with three providers, which include Boingo and T-Mobile based on the network's splash page. A hybrid system is under consideration, where service would be free to casual users, but corporate users would have access to for-fee networks to which they had plan access. The free network would display ads.

Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world, and would be only the second very-large airport, following Denver, that opened its network for ad-supported, free use. Most other free airport networks are in second- and third-tier markets that carry plenty of passengers, but use free Wi-Fi as an amenity to attract travelers away from first-tier hubs.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:36 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Free, Roaming | No Comments | No TrackBacks

iPhone in China Gets Wi-Fi-ectomy?

By Glenn Fleishman

Widespread rumors say that Apple's release of an iPhone in China will strip out Wi-Fi. Why? I've already received emails from colleagues and reporters on this, and was even cited in a Slashdot story that I had nothing to do with because of my previous comments about WAPI, a Chinese-controlled proprietary security standard.

Why would Apple strip out Wi-Fi, which is the heart of the ubiquitous-access iPhone, which seamlessly moves among 2G, 2.5G, 3G, and Wi-Fi? It can't be cost. The Wi-Fi components are a few bucks of the total, and the engineering is already done. Removing Wi-Fi could cost more initially than including it. (For all I know, Apple will include the chip and disable functionality in firmware.)

The overt explanation appears to be that the Chinese government, which has highly intertwined interests with major corporations, wants to protect call revenue from VoIP. An iPhone with Wi-Fi could be used with a VoIP app like Skype, or, if restricted, could be jailbroken and used with VoIP programs over both Wi-Fi and 2G/3G systems. (China is far behind on 3G deployment due to years of conflict over homegrown standards and those used internationally.)

What's likely another contributing factor is that there's no way in the lord's little green valley that Steve Jobs and Apple will incorporate the WAPI spec into an iPhone. China tried to get WAPI made into an ISO standard, but was rejected because of the fundamental problem that the China Broadband Wireless IP Standard Group (the representative at ISO at the time) won't actually publish the full standard, and none of the cryptographic part. (You can read more that I've written about WAPI over the years.)

As long-time readers of this site know, I don't buy into security through obscurity. Nor do any credible security researchers that I know or follow. There's a good reason for this. Working in isolation is a great way to leave vectors for exploitation that exposure to light finds. But that's not really what's at work with WAPI.

WAPI is controlled by a number of companies that are controlled by and/or have investments in them by the military and government. This is typical in China, in which private firms aren't quite private. The military have extensive, separate investments and ownership separate from the main government, too.

A closed spec tied to firms tied to the government and military means only one thing: WAPI has backdoors designed to allow authorities to tap into datastreams when they please. The 802.11i spec as labeled WPA and WPA2 have no known backdoors nor vulnerabilities that would allow this. (There's one TKIP vulnerability for inserting a small number of short packets in particular circumstances that doesn't allow key recovery.)

The reason Apple won't buy into this, is that any company outside China that wants to conform to WAPI in order to release products with Wi-Fi--I'm unclear whether it's a strict requirement now, as that's come and gone--must partner with a Chinese firm which maintains control. As all firms outside China know, if you reveal your intellectual property to a Chinese firm, a few months or a year later, that firm now makes your product or incorporates your IP, and IP rights in China are extremely poorly enforced. Especially when a government or military controlled firm has just lifted your property.

By removing Wi-Fi, Apple gets to avoid a whole army of mess. The Chinese government gets to snoop on its easily monitored cell networks and maintain additional control--and preserve profit margins, too.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:27 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: International, Politics, Security | No Comments

Gogo Adds Day Pass, Short Hop, Monthly Prices for In-Flight Broadband

By Glenn Fleishman

Gogo goes baroque with additional pricing options on its Internet offering: Aircell has long told me that it expected to have a variety of pricing options, including subscriptions, for its in-flight Internet service, Gogo. The firm added three new options today, although availability varies by airline.

For short hops, about 1.5 hours or less, Gogo now charges $6 on all its affiliated airlines (American, AirTran, Delta, and Virgin America); previously, you would have paid the $10 3-hour-or-shorter fee. Flight of more than 3 hours remain priced at $13.

Gogo has also added a 24-Hour Pass, allowing multiple sessions during that period for fliers making multiple hops or a roundtrip. Initially, this option is only available for Delta and AirTran.

Finally, a 30-Day Pass runs just $50, and works on a single airline; only American has opted out of this, possibly because it doesn't yet have enough planes unwired to make it something that they want to offer to customers.

$50 for someone who takes a flight a week starts to approach a very reasonable deal. Next, Aircell needs to get corporate rates and iPass/Boingo roaming rates to tie in a larger universe of customers that are heavy users, but also expect something better than what everyone else gets because of ease of billing and collection.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:57 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments

July 14, 2009

AirTran Finishes Internet Install

By Glenn Fleishman

Remarkably, AirTran is already unwired: The small national airline said today that it's got all 136 of its craft set up with Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet service. AirTran has just two models of Boeing aircraft, which makes the unwiring simpler. The airline joins Virgin America (with about 28 planes) in having full-flight Internet.

AirTran announced its plan just two months ago.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:12 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments | No TrackBacks

July 13, 2009

Summer Time, and Wireless Fear Mongering Is in the Air

By Glenn Fleishman

Vacation hacking, a new term invented in this article to scare folks: It's Fox News, yes, but this article needs to be stopped dead in its tracks. The article claims that you're going to be hacked because of "phony Wi-Fi hot spots" all over the place--"in airports, in hotels, and even aboard airliners."

This article recycles what is now a pretty dismantled myth that the Free Wi-Fi networks you see around are havens of hackers. They're not. Instead, it's Windows XP broadcasting a peer-to-peer network by that name that the user of the system once connected to in order to get free Wi-Fi (which didn't exist). Ad hoc networking in Wi-Fi under XP spreads names like viruses by advertising the names when the peer-to-peer networks aren't active. You can easily test this yourself if you have an XP box by creating an ad hoc network named Free Wi-Fi, turning it off, and leaving your XP system not associated with a regular (infrastructure) Wi-Fi network.

Here's a nice summary with details at an Aruba Networks blog. Note that Aruba sells technology infrastructure to corporations, which includes security elements, but doesn't sell security as a separate piece. Thus, the firm has a good place on which to dispel such a myth.

The folks from security companies are offering quite broad-stroked statements here that I don't buy as well. For instance, Symantec's "Internet safety advocate" is putting out the line that "hackers" are setting up shop in hotels, airplanes, and airports because there are Wi-Fi networks available. Think about that for a moment. Most people who use airports and hotels are passing through. It's hard to linger for too long without being a guest or passenger. So what this is really saying is that there are hackers traveling around who turn on scamming software whenever they're in a public place with lots of people. That's not an unreasonable speculation for some small number of people, but I also doubt this is happening on a large scale. I also think that thieves are exposing themselves to detection in places where they could be easily detained, which makes it less likely.

Now, I always maintain you should use public Wi-Fi networks as if there were always someone sniffing and recording signals around you, but that's more of general advice. I don't believe that there are always hackers around, just that if there's a small statistical chance you should act as if the opportunity for loss of passwords or other data is 100 percent. I may be paranoid, but I'm not crazy, as the saying goes.

The Fox News article then dredges up a 2008 AirTight survey that looked into security at airports, both in airport operations and in user behavior and settings. The article gets it mostly wrong, including stating that "fake Wi-FI hots spots" had been set up by hackers. I found the original AirTight report, and it talks about the "Free Wi-Fi" locations in the same manner I do above. (I wrote about this report back in March 2008. You can disable this in XP by using wireless settings to turn off the ability to join ad hoc networks entirely. That's a great start.)

What AirTight actually discovered was a very low rate of use of VPNs by users (under 3 percent in its testing), and extremely poor operations security, with closed networks and WEP being used to prevent outside access to private networks. The Fox news article conflates VPNs and secure networks together, making a muddle.

I've talked to Rick Farina of AirTight before, I believe, and his quote in the Fox News article is too absurd to believe without it being taken out of context. He notes that people engage in "all sort[sic] of dangerous activity," but he includes banking and buying stock in that list. So long as you're not working with a bank or stock-trading firm that's stupid enough to not deploy extended-validation (EV) SSL/TLS security--the green bar in most browsers that shows a verified identity--your risk of being taken advantage of is essentially nil.

However, I do heavily recommend the use of VPNs, because it prevents two separate problems: first, if you're using a system that has a history of vulnerabilities to viruses (yes, I'm talking about Windows XP), being on a public network with other local users seeing you as an available node is a terrible increase in risk. If you have firewall software installed, it's possible that joining a wireless network will make the software think you're on a safe LAN if the local Wi-Fi network uses the same private IP address space, which is highly likely.

If your company doesn't offer (and require!) a VPN, you can use services from Witopia, AnchorFree, and others on subscription or ad-funded basis, depending on the firm. With a VPN active, if you connect to an evil twin (a malicious double of a real network) or an accidental ad hoc network, the VPN either won't connect properly (but won't reveal your login password or credentials either), letting you know something is wrong; or, it will connect securely, meaning that even if your traffic is being intercepted, it can't be deciphered!

The last part of this article has five tips for security from Symantec that aren't bad, but most don't relate to Wi-Fi security.

My advice? Don't join ad hoc networking, disabling that capability if you can, or using cues in Mac OS X or Vista to avoid them. Use a VPN.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:54 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Hotels, Security | No Comments

July 7, 2009

Venice Unwires

By Glenn Fleishman

Venice, Italy, installs Wi-Fi free for those who live and work there, and for-fee for visitors: The city of canals has launched one of the largest outdoor Wi-Fi networks in continental Europe. (The UK has a number of outdoor networks that may be as large.) The network is free for residents, and in September will be opened at no cost to people who work or study in the city. Also in September, visitors can pay €5 per day for access, although advance-purchase discounted passes are also available as part of a visitors' program.

Fabio Zambelli has an extensive photo gallery (and coverage in Italian) at

Service initially covers downtown, the Lido, and public parks in Mestre. Additional islands and parks will be added by the fall.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:12 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: International, Municipal | No Comments

July 1, 2009

Firefox 3.5 Brings Geolocation to Mass Users

By Glenn Fleishman

Firefox 3.5 has shipped with location finding turned on: The latest release of Firefox includes by default the option to use a computer's IP address and, if available, a scan of nearby wireless networks to provide a location to Web sites that use appropriate JavaScript to request a position. Users can opt out when asked, disable location requests for a site, or disable location requests entirely. However, "ask for permission" is on by default.

Firefox is using Google Location Services, which is a combination of cellular tower data that the company has assembled along with some unknown method of collecting and locating Wi-Fi hotspots, much as Skyhook Wireless has been doing for years. Likely, Google gathers this information as it drives the streets for Google Maps.

Mozilla's location mascot

With several tens of millions of smartphones (iPhone and Android-based models mostly) and handhelds (almost entirely the iPod touch) providing location data through various combinations of Wi-Fi, cellular trilateration, and built-in GPS, getting a location instantly may not seem that interesting any more on the desktop or laptop.

But it still seems to have a place. Location has two purposes. One is to find oneself, an existential proposition if I ever heard of one, because you don't know where you are. But the other is to identify your location to someone else because you want them to know where you are for some purpose: personal, commercial, or otherwise.

In the latter category, having location built into a browser lets Web sites offer rich location data even when you're at home. Aren't you frustrated about having to type in repeatedly your street address for work or home to find something in proximity, such as with a store locator? Wouldn't you like to have Web applications that automatically took advantage of your location by providing relevant data you didn't need to look up separately? (There are already plenty of utilities for Mac OS X and Windows that can use location to change system-wide settings, such as backlighting, r to launch or quit programs, or change your instant messaging status.)

Smartphones work best at giving you instant proximity data when you're out and about, because there's zero startup time. You take the phone out, hit the wake button, and run a program. I've become addicted nearly instantly to Urbanspoon after installing it on my iPhone because it tells me with incredibly little fuss what's near me. I needed to find a place to take my older son for lunch, and his appetite doesn't mesh well with restaurants. He agreed to eat a hot dog. I punched hot dog into Urbanspoon and within a few seconds found a suitable place. (He did eat the hot dog, and about a million fries. We went to Schultzy's.)

A laptop is a much more tedious operation for a spur-of-the-moment check. You have to dig it out, find a surface on which to balance it or hold it in your hand, wake it or power it up, find a network connection (unless you have a cell data card), find the Web site you want, and so forth.

The flip side is that when your desktop or laptop is already running, and you need a location-based piece of information, it's far more convenient to get a full, fast browser experience, with a real keyboard you can use to type in what you're looking for.

We'll see how it pans out. Sites have to enable location services, which should work identically in Firefox 3.5 and Chrome, and which will likely spread to other browsers over time if there's interest. (I suspect indexing software can identify if the JavaScript used on sites contains location calls, and smart people will use that to quantify geolocation-aware sites.)

There has to be a pull from sites to make people interested in and expecting to use location services. If all that sites do is enable store locators via this option, I can't see much interest developing over time. But if sites can find unique ways to let the browser plus location combination provide the social networking or sheer utility of many smartphone apps, then the uptake could be large.

Part of this could happen through making laptops act more like smartphones, too, trickling technology back up. While Sprint includes GPS technology in all its 3G networking cards and dongles--and an API for developers--that's about the extent of GPS in most mainstream products.

Netbooks already have many of the attributes of smartphones (small, fast turn-on time), and are starting to gain ubiquitous networking via built-in 3G cell cards. This makes Dell's decision to put a GPS chip in its Mini 10 quite fascinating. The company has also paired with Skyhook Wireless, which will integrate Wi-Fi and GPS data for a location result. The GPS-equipped model ships next week. Pricing is still unknown, but a reputable gadget site puts the cost at $70 above the current $300 to $350 price tag.

This turns a cheap netbook into a potentially fabulous turn-by-turn navigation system--although you certainly want to have a passenger holding it or figure out a mounting system. The Dell Wireless 700 option, as the company labels it, comes with CoPilot software as part of the cost. But it also means that people with netbooks and without smartphones will have fast and accurate location data.

Is this part of a revolution? Location-based services (LBS) have been discussed as the next big thing for targeting advertising, coupons, and, well, information of use for several years. The stars (and satellites) may finally be aligning.

Mozilla Configuration

Location preferences are a bit obscure. By default, permission-based location access is enabled in Firefox 3.5. If you click a link where a site is attempting to use the Geolocation API's JavaScript, you're presented with a prompt along the top bar of the browser, much as with pop-up windows and certain security alerts. On the left you see a message, with the site requesting location data:


On the right, a set of options, which let you set a once-only share (Share Location by itself) or a site-based share (check Remember for This Site and then Share Location). You can also click Don't Share or click the X to close the bar.


If you set site-wide location permissions, then you have to be on a page at the site in order to disable this permission. Select Page Info from the Tools menu, click the Permissions tab, and then you can modify the options for Share Location. You can use a combination of options, such as unchecking Always Ask and setting the radio button to Block or Allow. Or check Always Ask to re-enable that behavior.

To disable geolocation for the browser, type about:config in the Location bar, then type geo.enabled, and finally double click the geo.enabled preference. Repeat these steps (or double click the preference again while displayed) to turn location back on.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Location, Road Warrior | 1 Comment

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