Receive new posts as email.
This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator.
Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2009 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.
European wholesale prices for Wi-Fi require Boingo to move global plan higher, restrict minutes: Boingo has a few tweaks in the works for its worldwide hotspot plans. The good news first: Their subscriptionless option, Boingo As You Go, will now include all the Americas at $8 per session. Central and South America used to have a higher charge. In neutral news, their unlimited US and Canada offering (Boingo Unlimited) remains $22 per month. Asia-Pacific As You Go pricing also remains the same, at $10 per day pass.
Now for the bad news: Boingo Global shoots up from $39 to $59 per month with a drop in minutes from 3,000 to 2,000; a 24-hour As You Go pass in Europe rises from $10 to $20. Boingo head David Hagan explained to me that the pricing in Europe has required this charge, because European operators charge by the minute for wholesale time. Hagan said that retail prices in European hotels and airports tend to be about 25 to 30 euros a day, far higher than most of the rest of the world.
"Ninety percent of our usage is less than 2,000 minutes per customer," Hagan noted, but that last 10 percent can be a killer. In hotels, "people get connected in a hotel and leave it up all night," which the hotel's Wi-Fi operators passes on as minutes used to Boingo.
As a transitional move, existing Global subscribers will get a year free of Boingo Mobile (normally $8 per month, and thus $96 for a year). They've started to send mailings to their Global customer base.
The Global plan launched about a year ago, and Boingo says that usage has been "extremely high," but that they're upside down in terms of what they're charging. Compared to other in-network plans in Europe, such as that offered by BT, Hagan says Boingo remains highly competitive for cross-network access. iPass, which has a similarly large worldwide footprint, although a broader business model, offers individual global plans for $45 per month, which also includes dial-up and some Ethernet connections.
On other fronts, Boingo software is now available for the top five handset makers' platforms worldwide. The firm is playing a bit of a waiting game with the iPhone, as they see whether Apple makes the necessary hooks available in its developer toolkit for Boingo to build the software package they'd like. Boingo's airport division continues to grow, too, Hagan says, where it provides both direct revenue and a conduit to distribute their software to business travelers.
Whisher has relaunched itself with both free and metered fee options for connecting: Whisher is a network. No, it's a buddy list. No, it's a hotspot aggregator. Okay, it's all three in one, now. The company launched as a way to pull together buddies and free locations into a single connection package for Mac and Windows that would prevent people from having to remember or distribute passwords to join. The first software release included a standalone client that had instant messaging and file transfer built in.
Whisher's new release, a few weeks old, strips down the client, embedding it into the Wireless Networks manager in Windows and into the AirPort menu under Mac OS X. Under Windows, account details are embedded into the Wireless Network window; in Mac OS X, Whisher uses a lightweight System Preferences pane to handle account information. The IM and file transfer features are missing, but company head Ferran Moreno said the options may return in the future when people are more accustomed to the basic functionality of their client.
The biggest change beyond form factor, however, is the addition of WiFi Out, a name that sounds patterned after Skype's SkypeOut. WiFi Out is a per-minute roaming service that uses the WeRoam aggregation footprint as well as separate agreements with major European hotspot providers. They're claiming about 60,000 hotspots across 400 networks.
WiFi Out works differently from most of the other aggregators out there today, which have mostly switched to flat monthly pricing for unlimited access. That includes Boingo Wireless, iPass, and Trustive, among others.
Whisher, instead, requires a minimum prepaid deposit of either $10 or €10 via credit card or PayPal. Metered service runs about US 10 cents per minute, although it varies widely among providers; a given hotspot's price is shown in the network selection interface.
In my current experience, there is no provider offering a combination of prepaid metered rates and broad access. There might be a niche for this for the occasional traveler. Boingo charges $39 or €29 per month for global, which would translate in Whisher's pricing system to about 6 1/2 hours of service at 10 cents a minute. That's a reasonable benchmark for figuring out whether an aggregator with unlimited access makes more sense to you (since Boingo's footprint encompasses all of Whisher's) than a pay-as-you-go service.
The company continues to list tens of thousands of free locations identified by their users, and free access shared by their users from their own locations.
In a deal that's been years in coming, Boingo's aggregated hotspot service now includes 9,000 McDonald's stores: Coming on the heels of Starbucks's switch from T-Mobile to AT&T, this is a very good week indeed for Boingo Wireless--they'll be adding the two biggest chain networks in the U.S., both of which dwarf the next largest network.
Boingo sells aggregated access to roughly 100,000 hotspots worldwide: unlimited U.S. access is $22 per month, while worldwide is $39. A mobile device service is $8 per month worldwide.
Christian Gunning, Boingo's marketing director, noted that McDonald's may have a reputation for bringing in local people and consumers, but, "The McDonald's [addition] also helps you with a subset of the business traveler group, the windshield warriors, the regional sales guys, who go from town to town to town."
McDonald's locations are operated by Wayport under an arrangement that they first secured in 2004 where resellers of the service pay a flat rate per location in the network rather than a per-session fee, which is otherwise common in the industry to this day. (Read "Wayport's Wi-Fi World Switches from Per-Connection to Per-Venue Fees," 2004-05-24, for historical background.)
AT&T's new contract with Starbucks also puts the coffee giant's 7,000 stores into Boingo's roaming arena as the telecom firm takes over management during 2008. Starbucks and AT&T said a schedule hadn't yet been set for the first market to switch to AT&T, nor which markets would switch first; just that it would start in second quarter 2008.
(Industry trivia contest: By the end of 2008, AT&T will have the largest network in the U.S., with over 17,000 hotspots directly under contract; who is #2? Panera has over 1,000 locations with free access, and I'm not sure any hotspot network is larger than that.)
Boingo also announced today that it had joined the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a several-year-old international group that facilitates roaming agreements among its members, T-Mobile's U.S. operations being the only American component. Boingo operates 28 airports in the U.S. and UK, and that gives them some leverage.
Devicescape has its first operator partner for its seamless login system for mobile devices and laptops: Devicescape's approach is to remove the necessity for a device's owner to have to sign in: no tedious entry (and memorization) of account details for your camera, iPhone, or what have you to get online. The operator deal puts their software front and center in the plans of the carrier as it rolls equipment and services out to its customers, driving more use in this case of the 8,000 hotspots offered across Europe by DT. Reducing friction in getting a device on a network almost by necessity increases a network's use. The company also announced its operator service.
Devicescape recently released its 2.0 software--see "Devicescape Releases New Connection Software: No Computer Required to Configure, Gain Hotspot Access," 2008-02-05--which allows properly equipped devices to connect to a hotspot network without any prior configuration or Web site account setup.
Devicescape released version 2 of their connection software designed for mobile devices today, making the initial setup even more frictionless: Devicescape Connect allows mobile devices to log into hotspot and home networks without the user entering a single password or using a micro-browser to navigate through usage agreements. The latest revision allows a mobile device to sign up for Devicescape's service without first setting up an account on Devicescape's servers. This dramatically reduces the overhead for someone wanting to connect immediately to Wi-Fi networks.
Company head Dave Fraser said in an interview yesterday, "Without registering or going to our Web site or anything, as soon as you install the client, or power on a device with the client in it, you get immediate access to any hotspot we can get you into." Fraser noted that's any of the tens of thousands of free hotspots that are part of their system now, including Google in Mountain View or McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. Fraser said, "There's lots and lots of them in our database now. We'll automate those. You don't have to plan in advance, and register, and populate My Wi-Fi," the part of a My Devicescape account in which you list networks you're a member of.
Devicescape currently has software available for Mac OS X and Windows, as well as certain Nokia phones and tablets, Windows Mobile, and jailbroken iPhones and iPod touches (iPods touch?). Prior to its current incarnation, the company focused exclusively on providing Wi-Fi and networking software for mobile devices, and that's still a big chunk of their business; this means we can expect to see a host of devices with Devicescape software built in, ready to go. The company had no announcements about built-in device support today, however.
I hope manufacturers will be delighted with this new release, because it means that someone who buys a piece of Wi-Fi-equipped hardware can immediately use it on an open or free network, or on a hotspot network for which they are a member, such as T-Mobile HotSpot or AT&T's Wi-Fi network. CEO Fraser said, "A manufacturer can ship the device, and if you switch it on for the first time in Starbucks, it'll say, 'hey, do you have a user name and password on this device?'" (Devicescape said they set a goal to be set up to work with 100 hotspot networks by the end of 2007; instead, they hit 1,000.)
That's a far cry from my usual experience with handheld devices that have Wi-Fi, where I'm tediously entering data in a micro-browser, if it's even usable, or unable to get past an Accept button that I can't see because the device lacks any browser at all. Even the iPhone's superior Mobile Safari browser doesn't store passwords or form field entries, which means re-entering the same data every time, and it doesn't work consistently on free networks that require a button or box to be checked to accept terms. (It's getting better; it was far worse when the iPhone was first released, but Apple and hotspot operators are clearly improving compatibility with one another's offerings.)
It's a great demo in, say, a camera store or a phone store, where with a store network all ready to go, a salesperson could help the buyer unpack their new gadget, fire it up, show them how to enable Devicescape, and then get on the Internet. That's a pretty powerful sales tool.
The 2.0 software has a feature that I expect will provoke criticism: By default, a device will automatically look for all unsecured networks in its vicinity if no preferred hotspot is found, and then connect to each open network and try to reach the Internet. In some states and countries, I believe this could constitute unauthorized use of computer networks; passively scanning doesn't typically ring any legal bells. In Germany and Singapore, I believe the law is quite clear: without advance permission, any access is infringing. I think it's a bad idea for this feature to be turned on by default for that reason regardless of its positive aspects.
Fraser noted, "You can switch it off, if you don't like it, because it can be controversial." They expect to leave this feature on only for a certain period of time as they gather more information about the open networks out in the wild, and work out a way to allow folks with intentionally open networks to register with them or signal their openness. In the next release, Fraser said, "You'll have the option of saying connect me only to intentionally open unsecured networks."
Fraser said that there are benefits to register on the Web site after initially using a device. If you have multiple Wi-Fi devices, including computers that use their connection software, you can consolidate it all into a single account. The Web site is necessary for registering personal networks that use encryption keys, and for using their buddy network to allow other people access to your networks or gain access to theirs without sharing encryption keys.
But the frictionless process is designed to let people who otherwise won't be paying for Wi-Fi to gain immediate access to free locations, or to use bundled services that their operator--like AT&T--might offer. Fraser said, "We wanted something that was going to work for the majority of people out there for which Wi-Fi is really a free or bundled thing."
The software isn't yet set up to serve ads to users in exchange for access, something that's proving efficacious in some networks, and has gained some traction through a recent deal between JiWire and Boingo Wireless that gives iPhone and iPod touch users free access in many airports in exchange for viewing ads. (Disclosure: I own a small number of shares in privately held JiWire.)
Devicescape also announced a change in their developer licensing terms to make their software easier for potential partners and free software developers to use. The new license isn't open source, but they provide the source code at no cost, and deployment for non-commercial projects carries no fee.
Hey, Fon and Whisher, move over: there's another house being built in your neighborhood: WeFi allows you to map your own and other Wi-Fi locations, and share that information via their service, which puts the spots on a map with a key. You can set up buddy lists, and see who is online and where they are relative to your connection.
There's no clear explanation of how a router gets added to the network, but the notes say that the service supports WEP and WPA (but not WPA2) encryption, which means the keys must be distributed through the application, like Whisher. The first release covers Windows XP only, but Vista and Mac OS X are coming. (A download key is needed at this stage of the beta: 07ApM81D3.)
Esme Vos--on WeFi's advisory board--thinks that WeFi is distinct from Fon and Whisher because the former requires specific hardware and a network membership, while the latter isn't as good at finding free locations as it's an opt-in system. I tend to agree that it's distinct in this fashion, but that could be a problem. With more people being arrested around the U.S. and worldwide (Singapore, notably) for using open Wi-Fi access points without proper authorization, having an army of users mapping unprotected locations could be problematic even with an option for the operators of those locations to opt out. Some kind of accommodation must be made to avoid misuse of other people's networks in a systematic fashion.
I have a hard time seeing that without a reliance on extra features, how WeFi improves on JiWire's offline hotspot directory. The mapping is nice, but JiWire only lists purposely public hotspots. And the mapping would require a live Internet connection, in which case you could use JiWire online or any other hotspot directory to locate service. (Disclosure: I have a tiny number of shares in JiWire.)
Looking at the troika of Fon, Whisher, and WeFi makes me think back a few years to another group of three: Joltage, SOHOWireless, and Sputnik--not because I predict any particular failure, but rather because of some resonances. Those former companies were each founded with the idea that grass-roots installation of hotspots would lead to the creation of massive networks that each had their own sets of users. Joltage went under, SOHOWireless disappeared (its Web site is still alive, with an old copyright date), and Sputnik turned into a Wi-Fi network management firm that sells a combination of controller software and inexpensive manageable devices. Each had a revenue model behind them, and at least Sputnik had a free option.
The reason those three firms didn't succeed in their original mission was that the technology was too expensive and slow, and the range too short to build an affordable, effective network. Sharing an Internet connection was problematic, too, and broadband wasn't yet widespread back in 2002 when they launched. Today, Fon can ship a $40/€40 router that's more powerful than most 2002-era PCs, and broadband is widespread enough, coupled with their deals with Time-Warner and BT to make that a non-issue at least in the U.S. and U.K. Whisher and WeFi aren't dependent on routers. The three older firms had no chance of reaching any kind of critical mass.
However, it's probably worthwhile to read my response to a Robert X. Cringely column written in 2004 in which he proposed a WhyFi network. As I related what Cringely was suggesting: "He expects that every participant in the project who offers free Wi-Fi will eat the bandwidth bill in exchange for free equipment, which will be loaned not given to them. Only those providing hotspots get free access to the network." (Sounds quite like Fon in some ways, no?)
My conclusion was that WhyFi wasn't needed: "Free commercially funded Wi-Fi is an idea that’s spreading, but it’s going to spread in the vernacular: not with a centralized database and huge funding. Each business or group of businesses will make their decisions and roll it out, and eventually it’s going to be trivial for someone to find free, commercially supported access (not to mention free community and free municipal) in any business district." I thought scattered hotspots in unpredictable and off well-traveled paths by tourists and locals would have little value.
Three and a half years later, this is mostly true, but I don't think my argument refutes the merit of Fon for mobile handheld roaming--though the density they still need to achieve is much higher than what they have today--nor Whisher and WeFi for linking hotspots socially. Fon pays almost nothing beyond its router subsidy for building its network; Whisher and WeFi pay just for software development. The former does require someone swap out or install a Wi-Fi gateway; the latter two firms work with existing ones. The cost and complexity isn't high for any of the three networks.
The part I missed in 2004, however, was confederation: Fon, Whisher, and WeFi are all building separate grassroots networks which will have distinct user bases. Whisher noted at its launch that Fon users could also belong to Whisher; Whisher shares private Wi-Fi, while Fon manages public Wi-Fi. A La Fonera router has both a public and private network, and thus that could work.
But it's unlikely you'll find one user that chooses to run more than one of these networks, which restricts possibilities if the networks offer complementary purposes. Confederation would allow some kind of common set of user parameters and some kind of roaming across networks, or at least an exchange of information. That might allows a Whisher user to include a WeFi buddy. Or a Fon "Linus" user who shares his or her access point for free to other Linus users to roam onto open Whisher or WeFi access points that have been programmed into that system. (Whisher and Fon have bad blood due to conflicts among the founders, however.)
A lack of confederation is why some people use five different instant messaging clients, and others (like myself) are resident on one network and can't IM with people using other systems. The growth of confederation among text messaging systems in the US led to an explosion in the use of SMS, an area in which the U.S. once lagged other cell-phone heavy countries.
In a situation where we could have multiplying social and other grassroots networks, either the biggest pockets win and the other fade away, or the best idea that requires the least effort waxes while the others wane. Confederation and roaming among these networks could be a good long-term strategy to ensure unique characteristics of each network without making users choose.
Boingo will allow its mobile and laptop subscribers to roam onto the Fon network: This is part of the mobile play. Boingo Mobile offers voice service for $8 per month worldwide, and that will now include the 130,000 locations Fon currently claims at no additional charge. This sort of roaming arrangement validates Fon's model in a way that nothing to date has seen, because it involves no additional per-session cost. Laptop users can also roam, but I see less potential there as when I survey Fon locations, they tend to be in places where, to gain access, you're unlikely to use a laptop. (Fon locations that are ideal for laptops tend to be the same kinds of locations that may already be part of Boingo's network, like cafes and retail establishments.)
A spokesperson for Fon confirmed that "Bills," Foneros who receive payment when their Fon access points are used, will get 50 percent of the revenue Fon receives from Boingo. What that revenue is, however, hasn't been revealed. In the past, Boingo paid 50 cents to a dollar per session to its hotspot partners. That can add up with a $22 per month unlimited use subscription, and I suspect Boingo pays much less per session now. Their Boingo Mobile deal with hotspot operators required new contracts, and works worldwide with a single rate--and thus likely to have substantially lower rates of session payment.
The device-centric firm and service launches its release version at the DEMO 07 Conference: Devicescape wants to have each piece of Wi-Fi-equipped gear you carry wear a unique identifier, and use lightweight software to allow those devices to log in to hotspot networks, home networks, and, potentially, enterprise networks. Rather than work to cut deals or build software that lets a given VoIP handset connect to a given network, Devicescape is device and network agnostic, working to build as many connections between devices and Wi-Fi networks as possible. I wrote a long article on their goals last year.
Their 1.0 release supports one Linksys phone, the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, Windows XP SP2, and Windows Mobile 5. However, they added or are near adding several hotspot networks to their system--these connections don't indicate partnerships, but the technical ability for their supported devices to log in. AT&T FreedomLink is now missing from their list, but T-Mobile is still there. (See comment below.) They're working on getting Wayport and Boingo, among other networks, added.
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.
Divine Wireless charges 8p per minute for access to The Cloud, BT OpenZone, and Surf and Sip: The company is aggregated 15,000 locations across the UK into a metered network. The tariff runs £4.80 per hour in intervals of 8p per minute; this is still cheaper than OpenZone's £6 per hour walk-up rate, which is also the minimum time you can purchase from OpenZone.
Devicescape launches new service, software, to reduce friction: The company opened its public beta to enable portable Wi-Fi-equipped devices to attach themselves to hotspots without the tedium--when it's even possible--of logging in. Devicescape, until now, has been known as an embedded Wi-Fi driver developer, making network software that runs on devices that have very little space and very little battery power to carry out that task. They're leveraging their knowledge and experience in launching this new service.
The service couples a small software program that gets installed on a portable device, like an IP phone with Wi-Fi, and an account you set up on Devicescape's servers to enter your various Wi-Fi logins. In the beta, only a few devices are supported, but the company said in a briefing that more are on the way. They also support just four hotspot networks in this beta: AT&T FreedomLink, Fon, Google's Mountain View Wi-Fi network, and T-Mobile HotSpot (USA). More are on the way, as well as the ability to enter WEP/WPA network keys for your own networks.
Devicescape's approach bypasses having to have an embedded browser in devices, some of which will have no screen or the level of input controls that, say, a camera has today. The browser has been seen as necessary to allow data entry and interaction--clicking the I Agree button on free networks that require you to commit to acceptable uses of a network.
It also means that you won't buy a device like the Nikon S7c and be limited to using only the hotspot networks with which Nikon has struck deals to build firmware controls into their camera to manage a connection as long as the device maker has either a software platform that supports other programs being installed, like a PDA, or Devicescape strikes a deal to have their system preinstalled. (T-Mobile has done a great job of being the network of choice for many Wi-Fi-based device launches, like the Kodak EasyShare-One and the Nikon S7c. And Nintendo signed up with Wayport in the US and other networks internationally to pre-program access into its DS game console.)
The company's CEO Dave Fraser said in an interview that Devicescape expects billions of portable devices that have Wi-Fi radios to be in people's hands over the next few years. "Most of them are going to be the low-cost devices that just can't afford to have a browser anyway," said Fraser. "Our goal is to make the sign-on to these proliferating Wi-Fi networks completley seamless. So you don't need a browser--you don't need a clumsy user experience." Fraser suggested that this lack of frictionless authentication limits hotspot utility. "If you had to do that on your cell phone every time you had to make a call," he said, cell phones would never have gained an audience.
When you take one of the supported devices, like the Linksys WIP300 Wireless-G IP Phone, the lightweight on-board Devicescape application connects to the Devicescape server. It does this by bypassing normal hotspot port-based access controls and gateway authentication pages using DNS (domain name system). DNS allows the encapsulation of certain information in special record types beyond IP address records and mail exchange details. Devicescape encrypts your authentication information, so it doesn't pass in the clear; the phone's software decrypts the login details and carries out the connection process automatically. (Yes, they have a patent in progress on this.)
This DNS approach could be blocked by hotspot operators, but blocking DNS in general would disrupt network functions, and blocking Devicescape in particular could prove difficult. In any case, Devicescape sees hotspot networks as partners with which they want to develop roaming and billing relationships.
The portable device doesn't need to store much in the way of how to log in and your authentication details aren't stored, either. Cryptographic protections enable each device to be uniquely identified, too, so anything stored on the portable phone, camera, etc., can't simply be copied to another device to enable it. This ensures that devices are uniquely registered and that they are not cloned through over-the-air interception, hacking, or physical access to the device.
It also means that it could provide the tools to allow different fees for different kinds of devices, and a way to avoid a one-account, one-login problem. In testing, Devicescape execs said they hit login limits with accounts on AT&T FreedomLink and T-Mobile HotSpot, which assumes that a single account is being used on, say, a laptop or a PDA by one person. But one person with many devices needs a unique way to have those devices simultaneously connect. If I walk into an airport with a camera, phone, and laptop, and want to use all three at the same time, no current system supports this. And if your device is stolen and pops up on a network--you could alert the cops! (Mash up of Google Maps, Skyhook Wireless, and Devicescape.)
Devicescape expects to become a sort of aggregator of access, leveraging the fact that you have an account set up with details that could include credit card information in order to use your various devices. (Confusingly, Devicescape is calling a set of devices you use your...devicescape. Ok.) Imagine walking into a hotspot you've never used before, and seeing a dialog box appear on your limited-input device that says, "Would you like to use this hotspot for $2 for 24 hours access?" Click OK, and the billing and authentication happens behind the scenes.
The company said that they aren't looking to displace firms like Boingo Wireless and iPass, with which they could be partners, too, by leveraging those authentication and billing systems with their lightweight software approach.
For more relationship-based use of Wi-Fi in homes and offices, Devicescape will offer in a future release a buddy list feature so that people who trust each other can allow devices to share network encryption keys. This is a very interesting option, because it not only bypasses entering WPA Personal passphrases, for instance--I have spent a lot of time lately cursing interfaces for this on Wi-Fi-equipped phones--but it also means you don't have to provide a "buddy" with the actual key. If you change the key at any time, you just update your Devicescape account's profile, and your buddies don't have make any changes to connect the next time they are at your location.
For now, this public beta offers a limited set of devices and networks to test to show what the potential is. Over time, the company will add networks, equipment, and additional services like the buddy list feature to flesh out the bones of their offering. The marching orders for this service is to bring the coming universe of Wi-Fi-enabled portables into the hotspot world. "Devices today are second class citizens," said Fraser, and he's trying to advance their status to full members of society.
Some ISPs think it's better to share and share alike: Remember the kerfuffle a few months ago when Fon was announced, and said that part of its business model relied on people sharing a broadband connection--typically wireline--over Wi-Fi for allcomers to use? And recall that they had a short list of ISPs that supported the practice at the time, and created a bit of confusion by including Speakeasy, a Seattle-based broadband company that I use for DSL at home and work, in that list.
The confusion made sense in retrospect. Speakeasy is one of the few ISPs that allows any subscriber to share any connection at no additional cost. It also charges nothing for "excess bandwidth," preferring instead to have a slightly premium price for their DSL and other services in exchange for top-notch technical support, extra features, and uncapped bandwidth. This has worked for me for many a year.
When I was writing about Fon and at other times in the past, I've noted that there are now very few ISPs that encourage or even allow sharing. I just received a note from UK provider Fondoo.net's Alan Bell, who had come across one of these older articles, and wanted to share the fact that they support Fon's form of sharing. Fon's list of ISPs that support using their service seems to be out of date as Fondoo.net isn't listed. (Be sure to fill out Fondoo.net's site survey on stuff you dunk in a fondue pot.) The Wikipedia entry for Fon has a long list of ISPs that allow Fon or forbid it, but it's unclear whether it's authoritative, as, you know, it's Wikipedia. (EFF started a list years ago, but it hasn't been updated since about 2003.)
Fon's founder, Martin Varsavsky, knows that for Fon to succeed, it has to attract more broadband usage among the ISPs that will allow it to persist. While Fon could be used without ISP's cooperation, it's more likely to find the toehold if there's financial benefit for an ISP and its customers and Foneros.
I don't cover all the news emerging from Fon, partly because I disagree with how they characterize the growth of their network. They like to put out press releases or public comments about how they are the size of so many T-Mobile networks. But their Web site puts it better than their PR: "FON is the largest Wi-Fi community in the world."
For instance, I missed writing a few weeks ago about the Skype/Fon/Accton deal that provides a US$160 phone/Skype service/Fonera router package that can place free calls over the Fon network, partly because it's an interesting idea but not that much more interesting than a Skype phone--yet. (Skype is a Fon investor.) I try to cover news that reaches a certain threshold of general importance or interest, and it's not always clear whether general Fon announcements hit that mark. Some clearly do.
While I still think the jury will be out for quite a while as to whether Fon achieves the specific initial objectives of blanketing cities with enough access to serve roaming and resident Foneros needs, it's clear that interest hasn't ebbed from the first announcement. I also expect Fon to be more useful in particular cities, in the way that the Google-supported Orkut social network is weirdly popular in Brazil, than to be the universal solution or tool for expanding connectivity and mobility.
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.
The Boingo aggregated hotspot network encompasses whole city: It's the beginning of things to come, in which entire metropolitan-scale networks are added to the roaming networks of hotspot aggregators, or are part of peering arrangements among like partners, city to city. Taipei's Wifly network, which spans most of the town with Wi-Fi, will be available through a single account using Boingo's software. This isn't free roaming; most of Boingo's roaming outside of the U.S. involves prenegotiated, discounted fees. All Boingo's locations in Taipei, for instance, are currently tagged as Premium Locations with per-minute charges.
AT&T FreedomLink users can pay an extra fee to watch a package of 15 TV channels from MobiTV: The live streaming video service will be available for $11.99 per month or $5.99 for 24 hours at the 7,000 locations that AT&T operates or resells in their home or "Basic" network, mostly UPS Store/Mailboxes Etc., a couple coffee chains, McDonald's, and Barnes & Noble; a number of airports are also included, which seems like a more likely place for people to use the service occasionally. AT&T resells access in their Premier network (which includes hotels and roaming partners) at an additional fee for Wi-Fi service.
The press release says that MobiTV is available from the Wi-Fi portal page, which implies that you can purchase MobiTV service separately from Internet access. I'll try to get a clarification.
MobiTV provides service from MSNBC, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, Fox Sports, ESPN, The Weather Channel, NBC Mobile, TLC, and The Discovery Channel among others.
The corporate aggregator and end-point security provider partners with T-Mobile International across Europe: By the end of second quarter, iPass will add another 8,000 hotspot locations from T-Mobile's European operations. While iPass secured a relationship to resell access to U.S.-based T-Mobile points well over two years ago, the European partnership was more complex, said Rick Bilodeau, an iPass director. "This was a long time coming in terms of negotiations because we had to negotiate and get agreement from all the different T-Mobile subsidiaries and the T-Com subsidiary," he said.
The deal offers metered service up to a daily cap, similar to the T-Mobile USA arrangement. The partnership adds 3,500 hotels, 2,700 food establishments, and a number of Continental and UK airports. The company estimates it will top 60,000 hotspot locations worldwide when these locations are certified and added into their network in a few months. (This includes both wireline-only hotels and primarily Wi-Fi in other locations.)
While T-Mobile International and T-Mobile USA are part of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a group of hotspot operators worldwide that have negotiated standardized roaming and authentication agreements, iPass isn't an operator, and has had to pursue these relationships separately.
Bilodeau spoke of the next frontier as mobile data, given the remarkably high charges for roaming access to 2.5G and 3G services while outside of a home country area. "We have EVDO in the US as a service that we bundle into the fold: one bill that covers your 3G and Wi-Fi and your dial, if you're still using dial. Our goal is to grow that internationally," he said.
iPass member companies use software provided and customized by the firm to offer a single unified login tied into a corporate authentication system, along with end-point security options that can require a virtual private network, up-to-date anti-virus software definitions, and/or an active firewall to connect to the Internet while outside of the office. iPass aggregates metered charges across a company's employees obviating the need for individual accounts with multiple providers for dial-up, wireline, and Wi-Fi access.
Just in time for the cell industry conference, Boing announces a slew of partnerships: The hotspot aggregator pushed out three announcements today in advance of next week's CTIA trade show in Las Vegas. Most significantly, Boingo Wireless now has a roaming relationship in place for seven additional North American airports, adding Chicago's O'Hare and Midway (Concourse Communications), Montreal-Trudeau (Opti-Fi), and Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, and Indianapolis (all AT&T Wi-Fi). The seventh isn't noted. San Francisco remains one gaping hole in Boingo and some other networks due to T-Mobile operating the airport and not providing what must be an otherwise standard roaming arrangement.
The partnership with Telenet N.V. brings 1,000 hotspots in Belgium and Luxemberg (no Netherlands, so I guess it's BeLux) into the aggregated pool. This includes airports, rail stations, and filing stations. The Asian deal primarily offers four airports in Indonesia and Thailand, important for the traveling business customer that Boingo appeals to: Jakarta (Ind.), and Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai (Thai.). There are a few dozen other locations in the roaming deal.
While Boingo offers an all-you-can-eat $21.95 per month rate for some locations, these are largely within the U.S. The charges for non-American locations vary by venue but are billed through the same account and use the same software and login for one-account experience. For instance, Chiang Mai is billed at 12 cents a minute ($7.20 per hour).
Months after a deal was rumored, Fiberlink adds T-Mobile's hotspots to its aggregated roaming system: The company announced the deal yesterday, which brings 6,700 hotspots to the mumble-mumble total that Fiberlink offers. A company representative said the firm declined to get into the raw numbers game, partly because many hotspots in the largest networks--such as Sprint, Boingo, or iPass--tend to mass in specific countries like South Korea and Japan.
Fiberlink uses Boingo's aggregation software platform, the spokesperson confirmed. The deal was first rumored last September. iPass, a key competitor of Fiberlink with its recently completed acquisition of GoRemote, signed their deal with T-Mobile over two years ago.
Pronto Networks invests in a slick idea for municipal networks: roaming: The horribly named UniFi Digital Communities Grid would allow roaming across municipal networks by government employees and residents with special options for public safety and emergency workers.
One idea behind this platform is that applications can be developed against the platform and then sold to many towns and cities almost as a shrinkwrapped item. The press release notes services like automated meter reading and even Amber alerts.
Several entities are participating in the initial rollout--Corpus Christi, Texas, and Nantucket, Mass., to note two--and have all agreed to provide reciprocal access for governmental workers, with options for free for for-fee roaming for other municipalities' citizens and visitors from anywhere. The platform would also allow resale to aggregators.
Boingo users will roam onto 1,588 BT OpenZone hotspots: The BT service operates throughout the UK and Ireland, including dozens of airport terminals and lounges. These locations aren't included in Boingo's unlimited usage monthly flat-rate plan, but are charged per minute; they are included in the unlimited SkypeZones calling plan, though.