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Femtocells arrive: Femtocells are cellular base stations the size of typical home broadband modems and gateways, one step below office-building picocells, designed to enhance a mobile carrier's network in interior spaces. I've been skeptical of femtocells for the several years in which they've been discussed as the Next Big Thing Next Year.
Apparently, 2009 is next year. Sprint introduced its Airave last year, Verizon just released its Network Extender, and AT&T slipped up and revealed plans for its 3G MicroCell, which is apparently 2 to 5 months away.
Femtocells vary from VoIP over Wi-Fi (whether via T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home or Skype over Wi-Fi using a USB headset) in that they use licensed frequencies for the area in which the femtocell operates. There's no chance of collision with other users, which makes voice calls for all three operators and data calls for AT&T (the only one of the three to support 3G data) consistent.
Sprint and Verizon's base stations allow up to 3 simultaneous voice calls. AT&T allows up to 4 simultaneous 3G voice calls or data connections. Sprint and Verizon's femtocells work with all existing 2G-compatible handsets, which is pretty much everything; AT&T is restricting its femtocell to 3G for a lot of sensible reasons.
I've written extensively about femtocell announcements and some of the carriers' strategy over in my general tech reporting gig at Ars Technica, but let me run down how this fits into the wireless data world.
Novatel Wireless has introduced a sleek mobile 3G router that's seemingly far more than its competition: The MiFi is a cellular router due out in the first quarter of 2009, with pricing not yet disclosed. While there are several competitors on the market, notably from Junxion, a firm acquired by Sierra Wireless earlier this year, Novatel claims some unique qualities. The MiFi will have an internal battery that can offer 3G to Wi-Fi bridging for up to 4 hours of use and 40 hours of standby.
The slim unit appears to be designed around an integral card that's not removable, which is a departure from most similar designs, which allow interchangeable cards supplied by an integrator or an end-user. Novatel hasn't yet said what technology will be inside, but it's easier to see both EVDO Rev. A and HSPA versions with slots for inserting the necessary authentication card.
Novatel also says it will differentiate the MiFi by allowing third-party applications to run on the system, and supporting external storage with a microSD slot that can handle formats up to 8 GB. That means that the MiFi could act as a caching Web server, a store-and-forward mail server, a VPN end point, and other purposes as well.
What happens when everyone is running around with smartphones that are easy to use? The iPhone 3G is part of a leading trend: phones that have accessible, usable functions. Apple may be first and best, but the rest of the pack will eventually catch up. (If you'd like to refute me, launch the BlackBerry Web browser first, compare it with Safari on the iPhone, and now try to make a case for RIM surfing.)
AT&T extends its free Basic Wi-Fi package to laptop-based mobile broadband subscribers, but not to smartphone users, including iPhones: This is a logical move, vastly overdue, because it's a better experience for a laptop user to have access in a Wi-Fi hotspot, while simultaneously removing load from AT&T's 3G network. This was predicted many years ago--as early as 2001 by EarthLink, Boingo Wireless, and Helio founder Sky Dayton--that 3G spectrum was scarce enough and expensive enough to operate that using Wi-Fi like a local heat sink to bleed usage off would keep 3G usable.
The other advantage, of course, is that 3G laptop users that find themselves out of the HSPA coverage area offered by AT&T don't fall back to EDGE or GPRS as long as they can find an AT&T-included hotspots. No hotspot operator likes to guarantee a particular local network speed, but I know that Wayport--which has or will build nearly all of the 17,000 locations in question here--aims for T-1 speed (1.5 Mbps each way) and quality (guaranteed uptime), depending on availability.
Windows laptop users with AT&T's Communication Manager software (version 6.8) installed will be automatically logged onto hotspots--and, I would guess, logged off 3G whether the user wants that or not! I'll be curious about reports from the field.
A 5G/month ($60/month or greater) plan is requierd for free Wi-Fi service.
The Boy Genius Report quotes what appears to be an internal AT&T memo about today's launch that free Wi-Fi for smartphones is coming later in 2008. Boy Genius has a remarkably good track record for a rumor/leak site, so I'm inclined to believe their report.
I'm trying to wrap my head around the series of announcements and developments this last week that will change the face of cell service, and notably wireless broadband in the U.S.: In short succession, you have:
Yes, it's Google, Google, Google all over. While Google's Android platform might not take off, it's pretty clear that the disruptive influence of Google combined with the WiMax direction chosen by Sprint Nextel are reforming the future of the industry. But WiMax might get left out of the dance.
You see, with Forsee out of Sprint and Zander out of Motorola, you have two major firms that were committed to WiMax looking for leaders who will come in and not continue doing precisely what lead to their predecessors being forced out. Which means WiMax will be on the chopping block. Motorola could write down its Clearwire investment and spin off its Expedience division bought from that company, while refocusing on 3G and 4G cell. Sprint could decide to deploy something entirely different in 2.5 GHz, even if that delayed network buildout, rather than investing billions in something that they're now not clear they want to move on.
On the consumer side, things are brighter. It's likely that by 2009, we will see substantial competition among devices--think about the diversity of digital cameras available in sizes, formats, and features--where we might pick a device first and then choose a carrier. Android could be part of that mix, but the FCC's pressure combined with market changes seem to be leading to cell networks in which you won't have the same kind of lock-in and commitment--it'll be more like Europe is but with greater competition reducing the cost of devices.
This openness could, in turn, supplant some of Wi-Fi's forward momentum as the de facto wireless technology to build into portable devices. Wi-Fi is a best effort technology, which means that it's not reliable. It's a contention medium and there's no company offering ubiquitous coverage--aggregators offer national and international subscriptions, but that's not the same thing. If the cost of making and certifying devices to use on a cellular network drops precipitously, and volume of chips sold would be one of those factors, it wouldn't be weird to buy a really good camera that has a 3G or 4G cell chip installed that you could use on a pay-as-you-go basis or as an add-on to an existing cell account you might have.
None of the cell carriers is particularly eager to allow more competition as that reduces margin, increases customer churn, and makes their returns more dependent on their short-term actions as people migrate around. But the fact that so many carriers are now promoting actions that will make life harder on them and their shareholders means clearly that the momentum is there for this change to sink in.
Google could sit back and do nothing, and they've already forced change. Sprint can't sit back and do nothing--but there's speculation Google might simply purchase them to pursue its goals. I doubt it, but Sprint will be a very different company within a year.
The Bush Administration declined to use its veto to overturn a trade ruling that will prohibit the import of cell phones and devices that use Qualcomm third-generation (3G) chipsets: The ruling, in which Broadcom's claims of patent violation were found to have merit, prohibits the importation of any model of device that wasn't already being imported before June 7.
Verizon sidestepped the matter by agreeing on a fee schedule with Broadcom, that included Verizon withdrawing its support for Qualcomm's lobbying and legal efforts. Verizon will pay Broadcom $6 per phone with the infringing chips, up to $40m per quarter and up to $200m overall. A drop in the bucket if they have advanced phones that their competitors don't, such as the new Blackberry with Wi-Fi that AT&T planned to introduce this month. I do not know if that Blackberry model would be covered under the ban, but it's possible. (GSM 3G chips have a number of suppliers, as opposed to Qualcomm's control of CDMA, a standard they invented.)
Qualcomm has another tool, however; it immediately announced that it would ask a federal court for an injunction now that the US Trade Representative, to whom Pres. Bush had delegated this particular veto power, has opted against intervening. A previous attempt at an injunction was turned down by the Federal District Court on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction until that decision had been made.
They threw in the kitchen sink: AT&T will gain another exclusive phone, launching the Blackberry 8820, a fully converged cell/Wi-Fi smartphone with support for cell networks as fast as EDGE and Wi-Fi. Will RIM now be criticized for "only" supporting EDGE? Unlikely. The iPhone is designed to be a rich multimedia computer platform, where EDGE makes using network-intensive features beyond email and widgets tedious. Blackberrys are messaging devices, for which EDGE makes perfect sense, even as RIM moves to make richer devices. Reuters reported that AT&T will launch the phone, but the exclusivity period wasn't mentioned. The phone launches later this summer.
The phone can also handle unlicensed mobile access (UMA), in which voice calls are placed from either cell or Wi-Fi networks and seamlessly shift between the two network types. T-Mobile launched the first such service with national ability in the U.S. in late June with HotSpot@Home. The phone is also quad-band for worldwide use and deployment. T-Mobile has to be jonesing for this model, because the consistent complaint about HotSpot@Home was the bare-bones quality of the two offered handsets; the network and service was often praised.
Wi-Fi support includes 802.11a, b, and g. 802.11a is important in the enterprise, where it's often used to segregate VoIP for better performance. RIM included WEP, WPA, WPA2, and Cisco Compatible Extensions. One presumes there's an 802.1X supplicant, too, but it's not separately mentioned. The Blackberry offers IPsec-based VPN service; PPTP is considered very strong, so it's not unusual RIM wouldn't opt to include it.
In the inevitable additional description of how the 8820 is unlike an iPhone, it includes fully enabled GPS technology that works with an existing mapping application; has a micro SD/SDHC support slot for up to 2 GB (SD) and 32 GB (SDHC), although only 4 GB SDHC is available now; voice calling, in which you speak a name to call it; and Bluetooth 2.0, although no mention of stereo output or external keyboard support. The 8800 series, not just the 8820, includes Yahoo Messenger and Google Talk for true instant messaging alongside both SMS text messaging and MMS multimedia messaging; the iPhone handles only SMS.
The 8820 also comes with new music and media creation tools for Windows from Roxio that organizes songs and videos, and creates versions of media optimized for this Blackberry model. With better support for creating media and playing media, the Blackberry now competes with a host of other phones and organizers, not just the iPhone.
The iPhone, on the other hand, has multi-touch navigation, a sleek interface, rich HTML email, a real browser, and visual voicemail. The Blackberry 8820 can handle third-party applications, of which a large number exist, including in-house software developed by corporations for their Blackberry-toting employees; Apple has yet to detail when such software will be allowed to be installed on an iPhone.
Oh, yeah: the Blackberry 8820 has a keyboard--a one-letter-per-key keyboard, unlike its Pearl model. The iPhone has a "glass" keyboard that makes my hand tired and I still haven't mastered, 28 years after becoming a touch typist on full-sized keyboards.
The U.S. International Trade Commission bars imports of newer handsets containing Qualcomm 3G cell data chips: This ban stems from a patent dispute with Broadcom, in which the commission found that Qualcomm infringed on Broadcom patents. Handset models previously imported may continue to be brought into the country from overseas manufacture. However, no chips or modules containing these chips, nor any device released after June 7 that contains Qualcomm chips may be imported. Qualcomm also must halt some domestic activities, too.
This should not affect Apple's iPhone, which uses so-called 2.5G EDGE technology that doesn't appear to be affected by this decision. Apple may have, in retrospect, had a stroke of luck by not including UMTS or HSDPA, GSM flavors of third-generation (3G) cellular data networks that might have wound up using Qualcomm chips. (W-CDMA, while a GSM standard, contains technology patented by Qualcomm; Qualcomm also makes UMTS and HSDPA chips.)
While Qualcomm has little impact currently on the Wi-Fi market, they have patents and technology that cover all major third-generation (3G) cell phones data networks and handsets. Disputes have arisen in the US and Europe over Qualcomm's extent of claims of what technology they control through patents, and their licensing fees. Broadcom and a number of handset makers have a variety of lawsuits against Qualcomm and Qualcomm against them.
Qualcomm purchased Wi-Fi chipmaker Airgo, the earliest mass developer of multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) antenna technology to supplement 802.11 specifications; and has staked out contrary positions around mobile WiMax, initially completely opposed to it and waging a propaganda war against it, and later purchasing a firm that had WiMax equipment in its portfolio.
President Bush can overturn this order.
A small spate of announcements from remote access firm iPass: The company resells access to 75,000 hotspots worldwide and countless dial-up lines, and has added EVDO Rev. A access and satellite roaming via Inmarsat's BGAN service. EVDO Rev. A reportedly runs at 450 to 800 Kbps downstream and 300 to 400 Kbps upstream; testers have found much higher downstream rates but often much lower upstream rates. iPass also said they will support Windows Vista in the second quarter.
While they don't identify which EVDO provider is which, it's easy to guess that iPass is offering service from both Verizon and Sprint, since there are two networks they offer and two providers of such in the U.S. They call them Network A and Network B, and require separate subscriptions for each network. It's likely that the EVDO Rev. A addition is from Sprint. The new offering costs $60 per month for unlimited use and volume discounts can reduce that further. Adapters are extra. This is one of the few cases in which iPass has a recurring per user fee, and I imagine that if the cell operators ever offer a pay-as-you-go system, iPass will be one of the first to provide it. They were T-Mobile's first roaming partner, too.
Inmarsat hasn't to date offered a simplified access structure for their fourth-generation satellite network known as the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN). Various companies resell terminals and access, but iPass will have the clearest and most transparent model for a company that may deploy a few terminals and have various employees using the network. BGAN can operate up to 492 Kbps, and charges are levied per megabyte.
Via email, an iPass spokesperson explained that the satellite service will come with two pricing models. A usage-based model will cost $60 per month per user and $7 per megabyte. This can be canceled at any time. More favorable to large corporations is a pooled model which carries a 1-year commitment and must include at least 10 users. The pricing is per user per month with 10 users at 20 MB each costing $120 per month up to 750 MB each for $3,000 per month. Terminals are sold separately and range from $2,000 to $4,500 with most falling in the $2,400 to $2,800 range, iPass said.
(Recall that OnAir and Aeromobile are planning to launch in-flight data services using BGAN eventually--in-flight cell may launch any day now on limited airlines in Europe and Asia--but you can see that the per MB cost on a corporate level makes it impossible for unlimited in-flight satellite-based Internet use. Connexion by Boeing relied on a different set of satellites that carried largely fixed costs, but those costs required millions of sessions a year to produce enough revenue to break even.)
iPass sells mostly to the corporate market where rather than have each roaming employee set up their own accounts with recurring fees, iPass can meter access or provide negotiated monthly rates across an entire organization.
Helio says 160 MB of usage per month is "excessive or abusive": The new 3G/Wi-Fi combo plan from Helio, called Hybrid, offers "unlimited" Wi-Fi and EVDO service. Except that their definition of unlimited 3G is the most restrictive I've seen. I asked the company days ago for their terms and services so I could compare what they considered reasonable use.
They first sent me back this statement:
"The Helio Hybrid is meant to be a roaming service and we expect our members to utilize the product in that way. This is not meant as a source to run a web commerce site over the 3G network, that's not an efficient or optimal use of that network. Also, as the Helio Hybrid mixes Wi-Fi and 3G access, we expect consumers to have a more optimal user experience as they are able to seamlessly move between Wi-Fi and 3G access to best performance route - this is a new case study for wireless access utilizing a new category of converged services."
I replied that this is a marketing position, not their terms and services, and a very nice PR person has been trying to get me the specifics since. I had looked on their site, but not in the right place. A colleague pointed out a paragraph in the online T&S that's titled "Chapter 10: Unlimited Does Not Mean Unreasonable." (All the titles in their T&S are friendly ones, at least, like "Chapter 12: The Other Legal Stuff.")
They start with Verizon Wireless language on approved uses of their "unlimited" 3G service: Internet browsing, e-mail, and intranet applications. They then proceed into more Sprint/Cingular language which defines specifically excluded applications as those that turn computers into servers or drive heavy traffic. They exclude computer-to-computer applications wholesale, which is tricky because servers are computers, too, and their definition is overly broad.
But read the last line for the kicker. As the Washington Post pointed out in a column a few days ago, Verizon Wireless says that using more than 5 GB of data transfer (1 hour a day at 400 Kbps downstream) is unreasonable usage. A spokesperson tried to tell the Post reporter that the approved uses (email, Web, intranet) didn't count, so 5 GB wasn't a limit for those purposes. However, the Post reporter noted that Verizon's sign-up conditions state that using more than 5 GB a month was de facto proof of the use of unauthorized applications.
Helio's goes much, much farther. "Generally, excessive or abuse usage is characterized by monthly data usage of 160 megabytes or more." 160 MB. That's about 1/30th, oddly, of Verizon's acceptable use. One might suspect a typo. (While this appears to refer to all data usage, Helio told me it's 3G only that's restricted, not Wi-Fi. Some readers have suggested these limits apply just to 3G phones; Helio confirmed they apply to the Hybrid 3G service as well.)
But I also reject the tortured logic of Helio and Verizon. If you're going to put 5 GB in place as a hard and fast limit, do so. Charge excess fees above it. Warn users and allow an account setting that disables usage if the user doesn't want to pay overages. Stop playing games. If you're going to accuse people of abuse, you can't do it by implication. You need proof. And if you're not going to establish proof, then set reasonable limits and enforce them with good policies that make approaching the limit transparent.
And, by the way, stop advertising these services as unlimited.
Update: Helio doesn't advertise Hybrid as unlimited. In fact, nowhere on the site does it mention how much service you're allowed with Hybrid, except in the terms and services--where it uses the phrase unlimited. That's almost reverse marketing, isn't it?
EarthLink/SK Telecom joint venture Helio releases EVDO card, software with one-rate plan: The company, which was founded to bring fancy handsets from South Korea into the hands of hip youngsters, has released a product that should appeal to we old-timers, too. The Helio Hybird package includes a 3G EVDO PC Card and a software package that enables access to unlimited EVDO and unlimited Wi-Fi for $85 per month. The package costs nothing if you commit to two years' service. (Windows only at this point.)
Helio is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), which means that they buy their cell minutes and cell data from established operators. Those operators tend to charge $60 per month for unmetered EVDO with a voice plan and a two-year commitment. (That's changing to just a two-year commitment and no voice plan.) Boingo Wireless, which is the enabler of the Wi-Fi part of Helio Hybrid, charges $22 per month for unlimited North American Wi-Fi and a combination of unlimited and metered worldwide Wi-Fi. So combine those two plans, and you get $82 per month, right?
But you can't get a single bill at that rate from any cellular operator. If you sign up with Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel for EVDO or Cingular for UMTS/HSDPA, you don't get a good Wi-Fi plan along with it. T-Mobile does offer a great plan--$30 per month as a voice package add-on for unlimited Wi-Fi and GPRS/EDGE--but even EDGE runs at just-above-modem speeds, and at a fraction of EVDO/HSDPA downstream.
Helio Hybrid thus does have the advantage of giving you everything in one place with one bill and one price. And the fact that they throw in the 3G card, that's just another cost advantage, along with the integrated software package designed by Tartara Systems.
Because these folks are an MVNO, they pay for every bit or minute to their operator partners. Because this is an EVDO service, only Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless can be the partners on the network. Verizon has onerous restrictions on usage, sending out nastygrams and cancellation notices to customers who exceed what they now define as five gigabytes of data transfer per month (an hour a day at 400 Kbps!). Sprint Nextel has not been quite as heavy handed.
The point, though, is that Wi-Fi should be the preferred connection method whenever it's available, because Wi-Fi on Boingo's aggregated network should be universally faster than EVDO whenever Wi-Fi is available. That motivation is coupled with what appears to be a setting to alert the user that there's a better wireless network available--meaning that Helio should be pushing users to swap over onto Wi-Fi whenever they can.
There's no terms of service online yet for the Hybrid plan; I'll be curious what they define as legitimate usage.
T-Mobile garners 120 licenses for $4.2b, many in key markets, in just-closed auction: Cingular and Verizon Wireless also spent heaps to buy more coverage. T-Mobile is a big winner, though, given its lack of spectrum portfolio. These wins gives them more space in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. A consortium of four cable operators spent $42.b for 137 licenses covering a chunk of the Northeast, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Atlanta, and a number of other cities. Part of the joy in owning licenses is trading them with other firms and using them as chips to leverage roaming deals and other partnerships. Cingular and T-Mobile initially built out the GSM infrastructure in the US; neither could afford to do it on its own. I'll be curious whether Cingular and T-Mobile now collaborate on HSDPA buildouts, with Cingular falling behind Verizon and Sprint's footprint.
Pinocchio gets its 3G spectrum, probably: T-Mobile looks likely to win 119 licenses for advanced wireless service (AWS) spectrum, paying about $4.2b (at the moment) for a portfolio that includes New York City and Chicago. T-Mobile has two problems in the US: It's the No. 4 carrier with a significant gap below No. 3, and it lacks 3G spectrum that would allow it to compete for next-generation streaming audio and video as well as data services. T-Mobile uses GSM, so they'd deploy HSDPA for 3G data, and that might allow them to do a deal with Cingular to more rapidly share and expand coverage. Sprint and Verizon have substantially more exclusive EVDO coverage in the US; they don't offer EVDO roaming.
A cable group aligned with Sprint has high bids on 137 licenses; there's some speculation that this could tie in with Sprint Nextel's mobile WiMax plans, in that Sprint says their 2.5 GHz licenses for mobile WiMax only pass 100m people in the US, or 1/3rd the country's population.
Update: A commenter says that Sprint's 2.5 GHz licenses cover 85% of the US population, and that 100m people is just their initial launch plan. Does anyone have a reference for that?
The folks at Network Computing have delivered a mammoth, superb overview of mobile wireless data: The article by Peter Rysavy--a wireless consultant that I had a great interview with last winter--and Jameson Blandford covers the history of wireless data; the current market of cell data and pricing, Wi-Fi mesh and municipal networks, and mobile WiMax; and looks at the long-term disruption that's to come. While the article is focused on how companies can manage their data needs and deal with costs associated with services, the technology and market explanations are universal. This is a must-read.
Intel's $600m investment in Clearwire had an impact? Sprint picks their next-generation network technology: Mobile WiMax. They'll use this to reach 85 percent of the U.S.'s top 200 markets by 2008 using their 2.5 GHz licenses. While they have deployed EVDO extensively with plans to upgrade it in the 4th quarter to a faster version, they've also made it clear they were looking for more ways to deliver more data than their cell spectrum holdings allowed.
Read my full analysis on our WiMax Networking News site.
The Wall Street Journal reported last night that they've decided on WiMax (confirmed in their news conference on Tuesday), which allows both fixed and mobile deployments in its newer flavor. Building a national network would cost $1b to $4b, the Journal reports. A Sprint VP told the Journal that the firm wants to be a conduit for media, and only this kind of network--not the current roadmap for 3G cellular--can deliver the bandwidth.
Qualcomm is left out of the dance on this one. They offered their subsidiary Flarion's technology to Sprint. The Journal says that, according to analysts, Sprint didn't want to be stuck with a single vendor that controlled the technology. WiMax is already too big to be controlled by any one firm, although Intel has set much of the mobility direction through heavy investments.
Sprint could even buy equipment from Motorola, which then starts to make sense about how Clearwire spun off their adapter and hardware division in exchange for cash and investments. Motorola can be a vendor to Sprint without Sprint feeling like they're directly funding their competition, and without Clearwire holding back key technology or driving it in directions Sprint is uninterested in. Update: Motorola was part of the announcement; they will be a partner in some fashion.
The latest Palm Treo continues its phone orientation by adding the cell data EVDO standard, but omitting Wi-Fi: The 700p is more phone like, apparently, with send end call buttons. It also includes Bluetooth 1.2, which is a shame as that standard tops out at about 700 Kbps of real throughput. EVDO networks currently peak at over 1 Mbps, although 200 to 400 Kbps is a more consistently found speed. EVDO networks deploying next year using the Rev. A standard will peak at over 2 Mbps, however. (More product information at Palm's site.)
While the Palm 700p has an SDIO slot, it doesn't yet support Wi-Fi via SD, which means that an external "sled" would be needed to use Wi-FI. This coupled with the slow Bluetooth speed means that it will be hard to move files on and off without resorting to sneakernet + SD cards or a USB cable.
There's no announcement yet about a UMTS/HSDPA Treo 700p, but this makes some sense when you consider there are no HSDPA phones available yet; UMTS is roughly 50 percent slower than HSDPA. Why release a device that can use the fastest network available? It would be a little odd on the marketing side. UMTS and HSDPA work worldwide, where EVDO is more of a South Korea/United States standard, which makes it clear that Palm needs to release a UMTS/HSDPA Treo eventually, but they might wait until they can have one that includes all the worldwide radio bands for those standards.
Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless will sell the handheld/phone, but pricing and availability aren't yet announced.
T-Mobile now bundles unlimited Wi-Fi and unlimited GPRS/EDGE for just $29.99 per month for voice subscribers: I don't know when these charges changed, but my friend and colleague Steve Manes, Forbes Magazine's technology columnist, mentioned this in passing in a phone call today. He'd been trying to renew his Treo service with T-Mobile when his old unit died and was told about this new deal.
I tried to find any announcement about this or any coverage, and bupkes. It's possible it flew under the radar. But it's a great deal. While GPRS runs at modem speeds downstream and usually less upstream, EDGE can provide a consistent rate of over 100 Kbps down and about half up. Coupled with Wi-Fi, for the right kind of business traveler or college student, this is a very inexpensive alternative for ubiquitous access.
The T-Mobile Internet plan requires a phone purchase, so make sure you get an EDGE capable phone through which to use the 2.5G service.
Verizon cuts off big 3G users: Last November, I wrote an article about the terms of service for Cingular, Sprint Nextel, and Verizon's 3G service. All three restrict what you can do, with Verizon having the strictest policies requiring you to only surf, read email, and use intranet applications. All other uses strictly prohibited.
The Wall Street Journal covers this issue today because the three domestic 3G carriers--T-Mobile isn't up to their speeds yet--are starting to cancel 3G subscriptions (Verizon) or bill heavy users (the other two). Verizon has apparently killed 100 user accounts for people using "thousands of times the average" network usage. And, holy net neutrality, Batman, Verizon will eventually detect protocol types so it can ban specific kinds. Of course, this means that virtual private network (VPN) users will be able to hide their particular habits, but not overall usage. The Journal notes that wireless data hasn't yet been part of the neutrality discussions.
Fundamentally, we all know the dirty little secret is that not that carriers have per-megabyte costs that they need to recover, but that they have extremely limited spectrum for these services, and that heavy users dampen the availability of 3G services for adjacent users. Heavy users also tax the cell backhaul connections, which, I have been told my multiple sources, is generally a relatively low-speed digital service line, like a T-1 or equivalent. Carriers have been eyeing fixed WiMax as a way to reduce their backhaul bottleneck.
David Pogue writes about three of the increasingly large number of cellular data to Wi-Fi gateways: He praises the notion of pairing the ubiquitousness of 2.5G and 3G cell data networks in the US with the affordability and utility of Wi-Fi adapters found in every device. He notes how a mobile router that combines WWAN and WLAN (and Ethernet LAN in Junxion and Top Global's boxes) is ideal for traveling workgroups. The Kyocera gateway works with just Verizon and Sprint's cards; the other two handle a wide range.
Pogue notes that despite protestations from companies like Verizon over the inadvisability of violating one's terms of service by sharing a 3G connection, it's inevitable that this kind of sharing will simply be part of the contract. He writes a propos of DSL and cable firms wanting to charge per computer on a home broadband network, "In the end, of course, common sense won, the cable companies lost, and now just about every home D.S.L. or cable modem signal is shared among two or more computers."