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Recent Entries

Femtocells In Depth
Canadian Starbucks Stores Also Offer Free Wi-Fi
Russian Spies Remarkably Incompetent
Researchers Can Force Mixed-Mode Cisco Routers to Spit Up WEP
Virgin Offers MiFi without Contract
Barnes & Noble Offers Wi-Fi Only Nook
Google Experiments with Sponsored Airport Wi-Fi in Orlando
SFO Goes Free
Say Goodbye to WEP and TKIP
Clearwire Adds Integrated Mobile Hotspots, New 3G/4G Modem for Macs

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June 2010 Archives

June 30, 2010

Femtocells In Depth

By Glenn Fleishman

At Ars Technica, I explain femtocells: In a long article at Ars Technica, I explain what makes femtocells tick, and whether they wind up as a good deal or not for consumers. I've been skeptical for years about femtocells because they are a tricky value proposition for carriers to explain.

"Our network is great, but because it's not, pay us extra money for this thing that we've advertised we can already do."

Not a great sale. Verizon, with the best network for voice in the US, sells its femto for $250, and it's just intended for improving reception. I don't hear complaints about it. People who live in places with poor coverage know that they get great coverage elsewhere, I suppose, and suck it up.

Sprint splits the difference, selling it ($100) for both unlimited calling (with a monthly fee of $10-$20/mo) and pure coverage ($5/mo). Its deal is best.

AT&T charges a relatively low price ($150), but because of complaints about its network coverage and quality in some urban areas, gets the most criticism as it's not precisely what people want. If AT&T coupled the femto with a decent calling plan, it would be more of a sell. AT&T wants $20/mo for unlimited North American family plan calling, which is only slightly cheaper than unlimited calling without being tethered to a femto.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:26 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Residential | No Comments

Canadian Starbucks Stores Also Offer Free Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks will give away Wi-Fi at nearly 800 outlets in Canada: Starbucks announced today that it would provide free Wi-Fi service at its company-owned stores in Canada, in addition to the nearly 7,000 US locations gaining no-fee Internet access. The service becomes completely free in both countries starting tomorrow, 1 July 2010.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free | No Comments

June 29, 2010

Russian Spies Remarkably Incompetent

By Glenn Fleishman

The alleged Russian covert agents uncovered in the suburbs used ridiculous communications methods: I'm flabbergasted by the techniques described in the FBI complaint about how the soi-disant spies communicated. In at least a couple of cases, the FBI states, a Russian official and one of the accused covert agents used ad hoc Wi-Fi to communicate over short ranges.

I suppose this seemed like a sensible a six year old, although I wouldn't want to accuse a six year old of such simplemindedness. Perhaps spycraft for Russians hasn't caught up to, say, 1999, but needing close physical proximity is a simply bizarre requirement for passing information.

Ad hoc networking broadcasts information about the senders all over the place, which the FBI captured. The communicators clearly didn't even change the MAC address (the unique Wi-Fi adapter number) or the ad hoc BSSID.

I won't be surprised to learn that they were using WEP encryption, which the FBI broke, and lacked a layer of encryption on top of that.

Without jeopardizing national security, because I don't know anything that every attendee at DEFCON isn't better aware of than I am, I would have used one of the following methods.

Ultrawideband (UWB). While UWB hasn't caught on, there's plenty of gear out there. Indistinguishable from noise without special equipment, two relatively close devices could shift tons of information rapidly via UWB without creating overt attention.

Public Wi-Fi. Creating an ad hoc network is suspicious. Instead, the two parties communicating could log into a cafe network and use local network discovery to create an encrypted tunnel. That could be spotted, too, but it would appear potentially more innocuous.

Public Wi-Fi in freaking different locations. Explain to me again why, what with the Internet and plausibly unbreakable strong encryption, VPNs, and other obscuring tools, why spies would use close proximity to exchange data? Log in 100 miles away at separate cafes, create a tunnel between the two machines that doesn't betray origin, destination, or contents, and there would be vastly less to make a case on.

Now, I suggest these methods not to encourage spies, but because every goshdarned techie with any slight knowledge of encryption and wireless communication would think of them first.

(I also like the alleged spies leaving one-time pads lying around, and writing down a critical 27-letter password.)

The former Soviet spy agency is clearly not recruiting from its elite Internet hacker division for wet ops.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:15 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Security | No Comments

June 28, 2010

Researchers Can Force Mixed-Mode Cisco Routers to Spit Up WEP

By Glenn Fleishman

WEP continues to rear its ugly head: Researchers from Core Security Technologies have found a way to force Cisco Aironet 1200 Series access points to use WEP for broadcast communications if a mixed-mode WEP/WPA security model is set.

I'm not surprised. Devices in mixed mode behave in peculiar ways, and being able to force a WEP broadcast means that the entire network is susceptible to that weak method.

The only good WEP is dead WEP. Companies that have been weaning themselves off WEP need to do an audit, figure out if they have any mixed-mode networks operating, and why in god's name any piece of gear on the network has a need for WEP a this point.

WEP should be dead, but legacy gear that would be expensive to operate provides holes in retail and corporate networks. Companies should have taken the pain to upgrade, rather than face multi-million-dollar risks.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:13 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security | No Comments | No TrackBacks

Virgin Offers MiFi without Contract

By Glenn Fleishman

Virgin Mobile will sell you a MiFi for $150 to use with pay-as-you-need mobile broadband: Virgin is pairing the MiFi with its existing Broadband2Go plan in which you pay for time-limited pools of broadband as you need them. The plans range from $10 for 100 MB used within 10 days to $60 for 5 GB used within 30 days.

Because there's no plan commitment for the MiFi or recurring fees for broadband usage, and because the rate charged by Virgin is as low as its competitors (and lower when you consider overage fees of $50 per GB from Verizon Wireless and Sprint), Virgin has an insanely competitive offering.

The MiFi from Virgin suddenly also becomes an effective competitor to AT&T's iPad plans. AT&T is charging $25 for each 2 GB unit of broadband over a 30-day period. Virgin charges $20 for 300 MB or $40 for 1 GB, which is far higher, of course. But if you want to pay out for 5 GB and allow multiple devices access, $60 for 5 GB is cheaper than the $75 you'd pay for 6 GB (three 2 GB units) from AT&T.

It's a very interesting set of tradeoffs.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:44 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Road Warrior, Roaming | 2 Comments

June 21, 2010

Barnes & Noble Offers Wi-Fi Only Nook

By Glenn Fleishman

Barnes & Noble pushes pressure on ereader market with $149 Wi-Fi Nook: The Nook is a ebook reader that's gotten mixed reviews. Although B&N keeps upgrading the firmware, the device hasn't reached the maturity of a Kindle or Sony Reader. However, B&N made a number of interesting choices about the device and its software features that may bear fruit.

In the latest twist, B&N has released a $149 Wi-Fi–only Nook, $50 less than the repriced 3G flavor (formerly $259). The Kindle omits Wi-Fi, which would make the Nook's service an advantage, except that B&N will only be enabling AT&T hotspot automatic logins in the 1.4 firmware release, several months after the device's introduction. That's obviously a more critical feature in a device that only connects via USB or Wi-Fi.

Like Amazon, B&N is building an ecosystem of ereading that allows the same content to be read on proprietary hardware devices, and mobile and desktop operating systems using reader software. B&N's Reader app for the iPad is quite marvelous, better for reading (and formatting to your liking) than Amazon's Kindle app or Apple's iBooks program.

Later in the day, Amazon dropped its Kindle reader price to $189 (down from $259).

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:56 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Gadgets | No Comments

Google Experiments with Sponsored Airport Wi-Fi in Orlando

By Glenn Fleishman

Google is underwriting Orlando's existing free airport Wi-Fi: Google will pay Orlando International Airport $155,000 per year for two years, plus a split of advertising revenue in what Google describes as "in the spirit of experimentation." Orlando already offers free Wi-Fi, so this pilot project--so called to avoid bidding requirements during the test--supplements existing budgets rather than replaces paid session fees.

It's a neat partnership. Google will scatter "as many as" 50 kiosks for free Internet access around the airport, and put what the Orlando Sentinel describes as "faux-British telephone booths" for free international long-distance calls using Google Voice (with some limits).

The Wi-Fi service's splash page would promote and link to Google services focused on the airport. Google told the newspaper it's also developing mobile apps for airport information.

The fee structure is a guarantee of $125,000 per year for the first two years to cover session-based access, and Google advertising of at least $30,000 per year. Income from ads shown on pages over the Wi-Fi network and kiosks would be split with the airport as well. (Thanks to reader Herbert for the tip!)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:07 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments

June 20, 2010

SFO Goes Free

By Glenn Fleishman

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) will stop charging for Wi-Fi: On 1 Sept 2010, SFO will offer free Wi-Fi as T-Mobile's contract expires. It's increasingly common for airports of all sizes to go free; Seattle-Tacoma dropped charges in January, for instance, and Atlanta is considering the move.

The Bay Area is a unique case, in that San Jose and Oakland had already chosen to remove fees; those two relatively small airports that have non-stop flights to long-haul destinations can provide Wi-Fi at likely a fraction the cost of the massive and sprawling SFO. But SFO may want to compete effectively against its two alternatives. Sacramento clearly chose to offer free Wi-Fi years ago to attract some travelers inland north instead of south to the bay.

I spoke to Boingo Wireless recently about the trend of free airport Wi-Fi, and Christian Gunning explained that while there's ongoing interest in operating Internet service by airports without charging passengers, the fiscal realities of a down economy and the costs of operations put this out of reach of most authorities.

Coupled with that, Gunning noted, free Wi-Fi brings with it substantially higher levels of usage that mean either increased spending for the necessary backhaul or disappointment in the quality of congested service.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:58 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Free | No Comments | No TrackBacks

June 18, 2010

Say Goodbye to WEP and TKIP

By Glenn Fleishman

The Wi-Fi Alliance has a timetable for eliminating outdated WEP and TKIP security from certified Wi-Fi devices: A couple of news sites ran unsourced stories yesterday and today about a roadmap from the Wi-Fi Alliance for eliminating older encryption methods from the certification process for new hardware.

I picked up the phone (yes, crazy, I know!), and confirmed it: TKIP and WEP won't be allowed in new devices with the Wi-Fi stamp in a staged elimination over three years starting in 2011.

Anyone reading this site should be well aware that WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), the original local-link encryption standard in 802.11b, has been broken since 2001, and horribly so since 2003.

TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) was a backwards compatible replacement introduced in 2003, and intended to work with older silicon that didn't have either the circuits or computational muster to handle WEP's real replacement, AES-CCMP (you don't want to know what that stands for, honestly). AES (also from 2003) is often called WPA2 encryption, although it's more particularly an encryption type that's part of WPA2.

While TKIP hasn't been broken, it has known vulnerabilities, such as a susceptibility to dictionary-based attacks for short keys (eight characters), and some very clever ways to insert packets through manipulating a flaw in the packet integrity protocol. (See my 2008 Ars Technica article, "Battered, but not broken: understanding the WPA crack," and my article on this site, "Another, Better TKIP Attack That's Still Limited" from Feb. 2010. It's likely more will be found.)

The 802.11n standard only allows the use of AES keys, which sometimes provokes confusing statements about its capabilities. Apple updated a support note on 3 June 2010 which stated that 802.11n with WEP or TKIP could only operate at 54 Mbps, when it's perhaps more accurate to state that 802.11n drops down to 802.11g to handle these older security types.

Kelly Davis-Felner, the Wi-Fi Alliance's marketing director, said, "We had a process within our membership to say we have a few aging security mechanisms, one of which is known to be obsolete - and that would be WEP, of course - and we wanted to define what the roadmap would look like to get the whole industry to end of life" the technology.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is a membership trade group that sets certification standards for products that bear the Wi-Fi seal. As such, its efforts are driven by what the members want, and the group allows a typically consistent approach across the entire industry.

The alliance's product manager for putting WEP and TKIP out of their misery, Sarah Morris, said that TKIP and WEP will be phased out in stages starting 1 January 2011 until 1 January 2014. Changes affect only new devices seeking certification. Companies can also release 802.11 equipment without the Wi-Fi imprimatur, although that's extremely rare, and essentially unheard of among any major equipment maker.

At the start of 2011, access points will no longer be certified with TKIP as an option by itself, commonly revealed as WPA-PSK, WPA-TKIP, or WPA Personal. Mixed modes, in which an AP can accept either TKIP or AES keys, will still be allowed.

But also starting in 2011, manufacturers can opt to ship Wi-Fi hardware preset to use WPA2 out of the box. Currently, Wi-Fi-certified access points have to be set to open, and a purchaser configures it to use security. This is an interesting change, and part of what Davis-Felner said will be greater efforts in the coming year to promote security.

In 2012, new Wi-Fi adapters (so-called stations in 802.11 parlance) won't be allowed to support TKIP.

In 2013, WEP is finally disallowed for APs. While that seems incredibly late, its inclusion is there only for certain categories of legacy devices for which no other option is available. WEP is used by point of sale systems and older hardware that can't be upgraded. It's perhaps too kind to leave it as an option for that long, but it's also a membership decision, so clearly justified by a remaining installed base.

In 2014, the mixed TKIP/AES mode for access points can no longer be included in certified devices, and WEP cannot be available to new client devices.

The move to an all-AES world is long in coming. "You've heard us say for a long, long time that WPA2 is the recommended configuration for any Wi-Fi network or enterprise," said Davis-Felner. "This is a strong expression of that position."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:15 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Security, Standards | 3 Comments

June 17, 2010

Clearwire Adds Integrated Mobile Hotspots, New 3G/4G Modem for Macs

By Glenn Fleishman

Clearwire adds three products, including integrated mobile hotspots: The new Clear Spot 4G and 4G+ are mobile hotspots that don't require a separate USB modem, as with their predecessors. This increased cost, but also flexibility, as you could use the USB modem either with a laptop or the router.

The Spot 4G is $100 or $5/mo on lease, and connects up to eight devices over Wi-Fi. It works only in WiMax coverage areas. The 4G+ is $225 or $6/mo on lease, shares itself with up to five Wi-Fi devices, and works over Sprint's 3G EVDO and 4G WiMax networks. Both routers will ship in July.

Clearwire also improves options for Mac users with a new 3G/4G hybrid modem, the 4G+ Mobile USB Series S ($115 or $6/mo on lease), which works with Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6, as well as Windows XP SP2, Vista, and Windows 7. It ships 1 July 2010.

4G usage is unlimited. 3G usage has the usual restrictions: 5 GB per month, overage fees above that, and no more than 300 MB per month on roaming (read: Verizon Wireless) networks.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:03 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 4G, Hardware, WiMAX | No Comments

June 16, 2010

Northwest Trains To Get Wi-Fi on Talgo Routes

By Glenn Fleishman

Nomad Digital was signed by Talgo to install and operate Internet service on the high-speed Pacific Northwest Amtrak route: Talgo are high-speed trains (high speed for the United States) that operate between Vancouver, B.C., through Seattle and Portland, down to Eugene, Ore.

Nomad will install a system that aggregates multiple back-end 3G network connections as available, which includes Canadian carriers north of the border. Timing wasn't announced.

I wrote about a test of such service back in March 2009.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:26 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | 1 Comment

June 15, 2010

T-Mobile Expands HSPA+ Markets

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile now covers 75m people in 25 U.S. markets with 21 Mbps HSPA+: T-Mobile said this morning it's pushed its faster HSPA+ 3G network into a number of metro areas, large and small. L.A., Dallas, Seattle, Houston, Atlanta are notably large additions.

HSPA+ in T-Mobile's flavor has a raw data rate of 21 Mbps, and can deliver something like 5 to 8 Mbps (with 10 Mbps peaks) in third-party testing.

The webConnect Rocket USB modem is the only mobile broadband laptop connection device so far, and is available for purchase in all of these HSPA+ markets. T-Mobile says it has 15 HSPA 7.2 Mbps devices, with one smartphone able to use a 10 Mbps flavor. HSPA+ networks are backwards compatible down to the slowest HSPA speeds.

The firm has pushed aggressively on 3G data pricing, and currently lets you purchase a mobile broadband modem at full cost and then pay $40 per month for 5 GB of usage, including the ability to cancel without penalty. The 5 GB plan has no limits, but can be throttled by T-Mobile when you exceed 5 GB in a given month.

T-Mobile says it will cover 185m people with HSPA+ by the end of 2010, and has 210m people covered today with its HSPA 7.2 service. That's close on the heels of Sprint and AT&T, which claims slightly larger footprints, but still far shy of Verizon's dominance of 2G and 3G service coverage in the US.

The only comparable service alleging raw rates this high is Sprint/Clearwire's Clear offering, which plans to reach 120m people in the US during 2010.

[Note: This article originally stated HSPA+ 2010 coverage (185m people) as T-Mobile's current U.S. 3G coverage. It's been fixed.]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:01 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G | No Comments

June 14, 2010

With Starbuck's Move and Widespread 3G, Who Pays for Wi-Fi at Hotspots?

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks switch on July 1st to all-free service in the US leaves paltry few American users to pay at a dwindling number of fee-based destinations: Starbucks is the latest entry to the free party, deciding the Wi-Fi is an expected amenity to attract customers, rather than an exceptional service for which the coffee chain should be expected to receive some benefit.

Although free Wi-Fi took a long time to ignite, the drop in price for 3G cellular data along with cheaper smartphones and the 3G model of the iPad likely mean free will ultimately trump fee. AT&T's been a big help in that direction, both in decreasing 3G costs and in making Wi-Fi freely available to its customers.

That trend really started in 2008, when Starbucks moved to AT&T's network, and started offering limited free service with a Starbucks Card. That represented a significant expansion of AT&T hotspot network. AT&T purchased Wayport, which operated McDonald's network and well over 1,000 hotel properties and a few airports, in late 2008.

AT&T has over 32 million qualifying broadband, business, and smartphone subscribers who get free access. But with about 20,000 of AT&T 21,000 locations now free with the Starbucks transition--Starbucks 6,700 locations joining McDonald's roughly 12,000 and Barnes & Noble's 700-plus--what value does AT&T still offer?

The value is in AT&T's seamless integration on smartphones and laptops. It's in AT&T's interest to move 3G subscribers to Wi-Fi hotspots to offload use from the cell network--even when 3G users are paying by the megabyte or gigabyte. An uncongested network is worth more than the overage revenue. AT&T's experiment with a Times Square hotspot network solely for its own subscribers is part of that offload effort.

Beyond AT&T, who is left paying? There is still plenty of for-fee Wi-Fi if you look for it--or are caught in the wrong place. Most premium hotels still charge for Internet service, whether wired or Wi-Fi, while budget and mid-range hotels went free years ago. Yes: pay less for a hotel, and you get a $10-$15/night service at a luxury inn thrown in for free. (In Europe, hotels may charge remarkable amounts, such as $30 to $40 per day for access.)

It's not universal, of course. My family stayed at an Embassy Suites in Portland, Ore., a few weeks ago that wanted $10/night for Wi-Fi. I had brought my 3G iPad, and my wife and I had iPhones, so, no thank 'ee.

Convention centers and hotel conference centers also typically charge for Wi-Fi unless a conference organizer has paid truly insane amounts of money (often thousands of dollars per day for T-1-like--1.5 Mbps--access) to provide it free to attendees.

Airports used to be a reliable place in which you would have no choice but to pay for Wi-Fi unless you had a service plan, but several of the nation's largest airports have now switched to a free-with-ads model, with many second-tier but still bustling airports leading the way over the last few years. Seattle's Seatac went free in January after a holiday promotion by Google that provided free Wi-Fi at dozens of airports; Denver's been free for years.

Atlanta and some other larger airports have considered removing the fees, too, although most are trying to figure out how to pay for the cost. The biggest airports won't see an increase in passengers choosing them as a hub, but having happier passengers promotes more flying, I'm sure, as well as more spending at concessionaires who pay percentages to the airport authority.

I would imagine that all regular business travelers with the least bit of savvy have a 3G laptop modem, or rely on tethering or mobile hotspot service from a 3G phone.

Hotels saw exorbitant call, fax, and Internet fees dry up when guests began carrying cell phones and then cell data cards and 3G phones. The same pattern is likely to emerge in other venues.

Rather than give up a relationship with the customer or passenger altogether, opening up free service lets a restaurant, hotel, airport, or convention center engage with that person by providing captive portal information and advertising.

AT&T's recent switch away from unlimited iPhone and iPad plans means travelers will be more likely to want to offload data usage, and thus willing to accept advertising as a necessary component when on the road.

Starbucks is also trying to provide a specific value beyond free: this fall, when it launches its content network, you'll be able to read the Wall Street Journal for free (along with unspecified other downloads and services from other firms) when you're at a Starbucks.

In the not-too-distant future, the only place you need to pay for access will be in the friendly skies: there's little chance airborne Wi-Fi will go free, because it's the last captive venue.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:15 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Future, Hot Spot, Industry | 2 Comments

Starbucks Goes All-In: Free, Unlimited Wi-Fi Starting July 1st

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks CEO tells Wired conference the chain will offer unlimited free Wi-Fi in all its US stores starting 1 July 2010: This isn't surprising, given that Starbucks is now in direct competition with a facet of McDonald's business. McDonald's switched from a paid service to free in January 2010, while Starbucks overhauled its free-with-regular-purchase option a month earlier. As with current Wi-Fi, company-owned stores are the ones covered by the announcement; that's about 6,700 now.

With Starbucks switching to free, roughly 20,000 of AT&T's 21,000-plus hotspot locations in the United States are now fee-free. AT&T also runs free Barnes & Noble's network, as well as operating the for-fee service in a few airports, and a number of hotel properties.

When Starbucks announced it would move to AT&T from T-Mobile as its service provider for in-store Wi-Fi in February 2008 (see "Starbucks Switches to AT&T, the Next Day"), it paired two continuous hours of free service each day with its stored-value card. You had to put an initial balance on the card of $5 or more to gain 30 days' access. Each purchase or additional value started a new 30-day clock.

In December 2009, Starbucks revised its card program, and then revised it again. It initially switched to some confusing new levels of service, and required five purchases or value adds by customers new to the card to activate Wi-Fi service, and stuck with its plan of 30 days for each card action. (Older card users were grandfathered, but still had to make regular purchases.)

After piles of complaints, however, Starbucks simplified the offering. Get a Starbucks Card, register it, and put $5 or more on it, and you get two hours of service a day forever.

(AT&T customers, by the way, have free unlimited Wi-Fi service at Starbucks and other typically paid locations as part of DSL, fiber, business, smartphone, and laptop service plans, and have since 2008.)

This latest change removes even the card (and associated login) barrier. You will have to click through an accept screen to gain access.

Along with free Wi-Fi, Starbucks will also launch free content this fall from partners in a Starbucks Digital Network. Yahoo will have some privileged position in this network. The initial launch includes free access to the Wall Street Journal, and "uniquely valuable customer experience" (err...they're marketing to us?) from Apple's iTunes, The New York Times, Zagat, USA Today, and Patch.

I wrote the scoop back on 30 May 2001 when Starbucks and its then-partner MobileStar turned on Wi-Fi at one of the first locations in the US ("Wired but wireless," in the Seattle Weekly). The Starbucks story still has legs.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:23 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | 1 Comment

June 11, 2010

Finland Legalizes Open Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

I was unaware it was illegal there: I haven't seen anything but machine translation of the original article, but TechDirt provides the detail that the normally open and sane Finns criminalized open Wi-Fi networks after a theft of money that had barely anything to do with open Wi-Fi and everything to do with normal insider embezzlement.

The Justice Ministry is working on a change in rules to allow open Wi-Fi networks without penalty, as there's been little enforcement, and it's just an ugly law.

Does that mean public Wi-Fi without a WEP or WPA key has been unavailable in Finland all this time?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:15 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: International, Legal | 1 Comment

Don't Blame It on the MiFi, After All

By Glenn Fleishman

My detailed Ars Technica account of what may have been the trouble at Apple's WWDC keynote: It seemed at first that the problem Steve Jobs had on stage in getting the just-announced iPhone 4 to load a Web page were related to the congestion of hundreds of mobile hotspots, largely MiFi units, in the room.

But after examining video from the event and talking to two Wi-Fi gurus, it's more likely that the congestion triggered a Wi-Fi driver bug in the iPhone 4 that the company, if it can replicate it, is surely racing to fix before release.

Congestion of this scale will likely become a given at any technology conference in the future, and perhaps in more casual environments. Mobile hotspots are becoming a standard feature on new smartphones, and each hotspot creates its own Wi-Fi network, uncoordinated with all those around it.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:57 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Unique | No Comments

June 7, 2010

MiFi Causes Wi-Fi Failure at Apple iPhone 4 Launch

By Glenn Fleishman

I don't blame the MiFi: At Apple's flagship Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote this morning, Steve Jobs had to more or less demand that attendees disable their MiFis and similar devices, because the sheer volume of unique Wi-Fi networks was preventing the proper functioning of the iPhone 4 for demonstration purposes.

The new iPhone 4 has dual-band 802.11n, so it's beyond me why Apple didn't prepare to use a 5 GHz network channel, since the MiFi and similar devices nearly all only create a 2.4 GHz base station either by design or default.

Update! The iPhone 4 specs are posted, and it's 802.11n in 2.4 GHz only. There apparently wasn't room for a chip with two bands and the necessary antenna. (Thanks to Micheal in the comments.)

InfoWorld has the count: 527 Wi-Fi hotspots were in operation in the keynote address, most of them MiFi, and over 1,100 devices connected among those and other shared Wi-Fi networks.

A few weeks ago, Google suffered a similar embarrassment in demonstrating Android 2.2, a new release of its smartphone software, in which the audience's heavy use of the Wi-Fi network required presenters to ask (more nicely) for people to stop using the Google-provided network.

At the iPad launch in January, Apple offered its own Wi-Fi network, which worked just fine for me, and likely reduced the use of 3G cards and MiFis. [Update! Apple did have its own public Wi-Fi network at the keynote, but everyone I spoke to did not trust it (they thought it might be a spoof network) and did not use it.]

Clearly, Apple needs to make its iPhone OS (renamed iOS this morning for its next release) better able to handle a truly ridiculous RF environment.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:17 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Hardware, Industry | 6 Comments

Sick of Google Wi-Fi Scanning Story? Me, Too

By Glenn Fleishman

Yawn: I don't know about you all, but I'm sick to death of the endless detailed reporting of every move in the case of Google's capture of scattered publicly unprotected Wi-Fi network packets. It was a colossal blunder on Google's part, and the firm hasn't handled its negotiations with various governments, local and national, as adeptly as it should.

But I expect it's actually as it seems. Bad program management that led to useless information being collected that wasn't acted on. Google will spend millions in defending itself against lawsuits and settling with governments. The company will agree to outside monitoring of certain behaviors in the future. It will be required to be less aggressive and arrogant in its assertion of rights on the public thoroughfares for Street View in many countries.

It's just not that big of a deal to most people unless an actual privacy breach is demonstrated in which Google was gathering data and associating in its systems in such a way as to render it better able to pinpoint individuals and then target advertisements or other information to them.

I have various news alerts set to trigger for Wi-Fi, and the thousands of stories filed and reprinted around the world have added nearly no information to the topic. Put Google, privacy, and wireless snooping into one story, and I guess it gets traffic. (See what I did just now?)

Ultimately, it was an interesting story, but it's not now unless new information appears; you won't be reading all the daily developments in it here.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:36 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness | 2 Comments

June 2, 2010

Acela Keeps Wi-Fi and At No Charge

By Glenn Fleishman

Amtrak has opted to keep Wi-Fi operating and free on its Northeast Corridor Acela trains: A three-month trial has convinced the rail operator to keep the service active and continue to offer it at no charge. Usage is high: 115,000 passengers per month, or 39 percent of riders, of which 76 percent rated the service favorably, the Providence Business News reports.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:26 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments

June 1, 2010

Wee-Fi: CSIRO's Billions, Spokane's Decline, SF Boating Network

By Glenn Fleishman

The folks at Australia's science and technology agency could reap a billion AU$ for the country's coffers: CSIRO, a government agency devoted to promoting and advancing research, patented some of the fundamental aspects of OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), which is used in all Wi-Fi flavors except 802.11b, as part of WiMax's OFDMA, and in other wireless networking technologies. An analyst expects the agency to collect AU$1 billion in royalties, based on recent settlements with computer hardware makers and current suits against mobile carriers in the U.S.

I've read CSIRO's patent and its amended form that covers 802.11 specifications, and I would have thought it couldn't have survived a challenge. CSIRO has won battles in the East Texas district (a patentholder's venue of choice), but most firms have settled without testing the patent's strength in court and on appeal. CSIRO reportedly collects only pennies per adapter, and manufacturers may have simply decided to eat the cost instead of losing costly judgments.

As a consumer tax, CSIRO's fees likely have taken a buck or two out of your pocket for all the Wi-Fi gear you own that's covered.

Spokane's long-running hotzone is crawling to a close: In 2004, Vivato set up a large hotzone across downtown Spokane using its then-revolutionary phased-array antenna gear. Vivato could never make its system work in production, and the hotzone has gone through multiple operators and partners.

The network hardly works any more and has nearly no usage: only 204 KB (not MB!) were used in March, apparently. The network will likely disappear soon

The company behind Washington's ferry system launches San Francisco Bay Wi-Fi and WiMax: I'm a little confused by why Milt Gregoy spent $2m and risked life and limb to build a network without a specific business plan in mind. He favors the large audience available, but it seems like boaters are likely to also have 3G cards and phones, and thus be less interested in a monthly fee unless the speed and reliably are substantially better than 3G.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:42 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Wee-Fi | No Comments

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