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If you have a mobile phone, and it claims you have Internet service on it, you may not.
Mobile service providers have become increasingly aggressive in stopping access to services and sites they don't like, writes DeWayne Hendrick.
This is especially true for Vodafone, which owns half of Verizon Wireless of the U.S. (Verizon, in turn, has been the most aggressive in pursuing the "Walled Garden" approach here.)
According to DeWayne, Vodafone has summarily blocked access to all Voice over IP services, and even the main page of Skype, a VOIP procider. In the UK Vodafone is blocking access to all content that isn't "Vodafone-approved." (Translation: anything that might lose money for Vodafone.)
Every decade of computing technology can be summarized fairly simply. (That's an Apple ad to the right.)
The 2000s are the decade of wireless.
It's now clear that wireless technology defines this decade. Mobile phones are opening up Africa as never before. WiFi is making networking truly ubiquitous.
Walk or drive down any street, practically anywhere in the world, and you will find people obsessed by the use of wireless. Behaviors that in previous decades were shocking -- walking around chatting animatedly to the air for instance -- are now commonplace.
What's amazing, as we pass the halfway point, is how far this evolution has to go, and how easy it is to see where it can go:
Who do we have to thank for this?
Krystal restaurants (think White Castle with mustard, Kumar) have finished a full year with their free WiFi hotspot program, and have decided to extend it to all 243 company-owned restaurants (as well as recommend it to their 180 franchises.)
The evidence of increased sales are anecdotal, but CIO David Reid told CMO Magazine he has already tracked a bottom-line advantage.
Intel holds the telecommunications balance of power in its hand.
Here's how The Register puts it, with its usual hyperbole:
Intel is throwing its financial, technical and lobbying weight behind the rising tide of municipally run broadband wireless networks, seeing these as a way to stimulate uptake of Wi-Fi and WiMAX and so sell more of its chips and increase its influence over the communications world.
And Intel is not going to back down. As ZDNet notes today, there's money to be made.
The question of Wi-Fi and real estate is about to come to a head, at Boston's Logan Airport. (Picture from MIT.)
Declan McCullagh reports that the Airport is trying to close Continental Air's free WiFi service, based in its Frequent Flyer lounge, in favor of a paid service on which it gets a 20% cut of revenue.
Continental has appealed to the FCC under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Massport, which runs the airport, is making bogus arguments about security (its paid service uses the same spectrum as Continental so if one goes under its argument, both go).
If this thing goes to trial it will be a very important case. Here's why.
It's nice when "real" (paid) market analysts agree with one of your premises. Especially when it's a key premise to you, as Always On is to me. (This is advertised as an Always On Server, from Virtual Access.)
So I was pleased to read Chris Jablonski's recent piece at ZDNet, Forget P2P, M2M is where the next party is.
M2M stands for Machine to Machine (ironically this sits right below an item about how poor most tech nicknames are) but we're talking about the same thing, intelligent sensors linked to wireless networks. Programming the sensors to deliver some result, then automating delivery of the result in some way (sending an alarm, telling the user, etc.) is what I mean by an Always-On application.
As I have said here many times the tools are already at hand, and cheap. We're talking here about RFID chips, WiFi and cellular networks, along with standards like Zigbee that let these things run for years on a single battery charge.
There are problems with every application space, however:
The Supreme Court has decided that cable networks, created under government franchises, under monopoly conditions, are entirely the property of their corporate owners who don't have to wholesale. (That's the BrandX rocket ship -- they lost the case. What follows is directed to them as much as anyone else.)
Some ISPs bemoaned this bitterly. In the near term it means most of us have two choices for broadband service, the local Bell and the local Cable Head-End, both known for poor service, high prices, and loaded with equipment it will take decades to write off.
Smart folks, however, should be celebrating.
I spent last week in Texas, dependent on free WiFi hotspots, and I learned a powerful lesson.
There is no such thing as free WiFi.
When "free" WiFi is provided by a bar, coffee shop or restaurant, there is a quid pro quo. You're going to eat. You're going to drink. And when you're no longer eating and/or drinking (and ordering) you're going to get nasty looks until you leave.
There is a cost to a shop's WiFi that goes beyond the cost of the set-up. That is the cost of the real estate, the cost of the table, and the cost to a shop's ambience when a bunch of hosers come in and spend all day staring at laptops.
Now here's an even-more controversial point.
Despite what the snarky set may say, medical applications for Always On technologies are starting to get real interest from people with money.
An outfit called Wirelesshealthcare in the UK has come out with a report called "101 Things To Do With A Mobile Phone In Healthcare."
The only unfortunate thing here is that the writers of the release on this interesting report call the area eHealth.
My problem is not with their intent. A rose by any other name and all that. My problem is that the term eHealth is stifling, limiting. It minimizes what is actually happening, and isolates wireless network applications to one small field.
The story is about how some coffee houses are turning off the WiFi because they don't like the fact that their shops become offices. People shut up around WiFi. They bring in their PCs, turn on, and tune out the world around them. They may buy a coffee (increasingly they don't) but that's all you're going to get out of them.
Coffee shops and restaurants have beren the leaders in the WiFi "hotspot" movement based on the assumption they will be good for business, that people who WiFi also eat and drink.
Turns out we don't. Not that much, anyway. And we don't leave the table, either.
All of which leaves these shops without a valid business model. Would those using free WiFi object too much if they grabbed a piece of your browser's real estate and forced ads on you while you worked? How about if they put in a WiFi tip jar? I'm open to suggestions here.
One reason I (unreasonably) went off on Jamais Cascio is because I'm sickened at how the press generally treats Always On solutions. They only see the threats to civil liberties and tend to demean the potential user base.
After Jamais (rightfully) went after me I began looking for an article illustrating this point. It didn't take long to find one. (And the picture at right is from that very story.)
Here it is. It's a piece by Thomas Ricker of EnGadget on what are some really nifty Always On applications in the medical field.
He gets it all down, the fear of "Big Brother watching you" and the outright contempt for the infants, parents and older folks who might need this stuff.
Given all the deaths from SIDS I would think parents would love a mattress that could warn you before your child dies. Given the ravages caregivers face with Alzheimers (not to mention patients), a network of motion sensors telling you when you really need to help grandma (and when you don't) sounds like a very, very good thing indeed.
The 1990s were all about the Internet. (The picture is from a great site called i-Learnt, for teachers interested in technology.)
This decade is all about gadgets.
Digital cameras, musical phones, PSPs, iPods -- these are the things that define our time. While they can be connected to networks their functions are mainly those of clients.
In some ways it's a "back to the future" time for technology. We haven't had such a client-driven decade since the 1970s, when it was all about the PC.
In some ways this was inevitable. The major network trend is wireless, so we need a new class of unwired clients.
But in some ways this was not inevitable. If we had more robust local connectivities than the present 1.5 Mbps downloads (that's the normal local speed limit) we would have many more opportunities to create networked applications.
One of my continuing themes is the World of Always On, with wireless networking as a platform, running applications that use data from your daily life.
But before we get there we all have to become network managers. In today's issue I consider that question.
I'm a network manager. (MG-Soft of Slovenia makes products for network managers. That's their mascot, Mr. Monet, at left.)
It's not that I want to be. I'm a homeowner. My kids have PCs. My wife and I have PCs. Some years ago a friend ran wires among the rooms so everyone could share my DSL line.
There are now millions of us network managers. Recently I sat on my porch, opened my laptop, and learned that three of my five immediate neighbors now have WiFi networking in their homes. The signals were faint, but my copy of Windows found them all as soon as I booted-up. And the nearest of the three was totally unsecured. If I had larceny in my heart I could have entered my neighbor's network, used their bandwidth, even prowled around in their PCs looking for porn, passwords or blackmail material. (Fortunately for them, I'm a very nice person.)
The other two neighbors had nets which, like mine, are protected by long identifiers, input once, which validate valid PCs. One even had encryption on their system (very nice). The neighbors on the unprotected net insisted later they had the same system I do, but I suspect they haven't taken time to activate the security features.
The point is that wireless networks make many of us network managers, and Always On applications will make most of us network managers. We're not qualified for the work. We may never be qualified. Those who do become qualified become that way as I did recently, in extremis.
Why hasn't the World of Always On arrived?
The ingredients are all here, and they're cheap-as-chips: (An example is this nifty little camera, from yoursecurity.us.)
I'm convinced the hurdles facing Always On applications aren't technical, and aren't artifacts of the market.
Let's run them down, shall we?
I didn't blog much yesterday because I was researching the state of play in Always On. (The illustration is from Georgia Tech.)
I had a book proposal before Wiley rejected out of hand. But when I then suggested to step back and do a book on RFID for the home, I got real interest. Just make it a hands-on book, I was told.
Thus, the research.
As regular readers here know well there are many Always On application spaces, that is, functions fit for wireless networking applications.
Absent this understanding that a unified platform already exists so that all these applications can be created together, what is the state of play specifically regarding Radio Frequency Identification? (Or, if you prefer, spychips, although since I'm talking about home applications you're spying on yourself.)
One thing I got my first crack at over the weekend was the actual practice of Wi-Fi-in'. (The picture comes from a Free WiFi hotspot list site.)
While I have had WiFi in my home for years now I only recently got a laptop that can truly take advantage of it on the road. I brought it to Nashville with me.
Wi-Fi'-in means opening up the box, booting up, and hoping for an unsecured 802.11 connection you can log into. It's best done in a city, preferably close to a University campus. But don't expect to do this on the campus itself -- most college systems these days are secured, at least by passwords.
It was amazing to me how lost and alone I felt when I couldn't find a free spot around me. My hotel advertised the service, but during the day the radio waves couldn't reach my room. (This is a fact of life with radio -- the bands are all more crowded during the day.) As I noted the campus where I was hanging on Friday had their access password-protected, and I'm not into breaking-and-surfing (yet).
But all was not lost. I was about to learn a powerful lesson.
The political battle over WiFi shapes up as a classic match between private interests and the commons.
But it is in fact a battle over real estate. (Thus, the balloon, which is the logo of a very innovative real estate brokerage.)
Verizon pulled a bait-and-switch on New York phone booths. It installed 802.11 equipment based on the promise of free WiFi service on adjoining streets, then pulled them all back into its paid network.
Politically this makes no sense. In real estate terms it makes perfect sense.
The challenge to this looks technological, but it's really political. You can see this challenge by simply turning on your WiFi equipped laptop.
That's because, on most issues, there is no majority view. Most people don't care.
Learning an issue, and becoming committed to it, teaches you the source code of politics.
If your organization is tightly-knit, if your issues are driven by corporate interests, then your politics is closed source. On issues that mainly interest businesses this is determinative. Lobbyists and financial contributions fight and often come to settlements that aren't half bad. Traditionally most issues before regulators, from the EPA and FTC to the FDA and FCC, have been closed-source arguments.
If your organization is loosely knit, and if your issues are driven by personal feeling, then your politics is open source. Open source politics defines social issues, and the numbers involved in turn drive American politics as a whole. Politicians can win with only committed minorities on their side, if those minorities stand united.
What happens when closed source and open source politics collide? It depends on how much real interest those on the open source end can manage.
This collision is now apparent in telecommunications.
The hole is the whole U.S.
Intel plans on mass producing WiMax chips and going into rapid deployment, offering end-user speeds far in excess of what U.S. phone outfits provide with DSL.
The problem is that's the speed limit for most backhauls. Go to most WiFi hotspots, or most home networks, and DSL is the backhaul platform. We're talking 1.5 Mbps, max.
There are two types of chips key to the Always On world.
These are sensor chips and RFID chips.
Both contain tiny radios. The two can also be combined.
A sensor chip, as its name implies, tests specific conditions, and is reporting back with data on those conditions. A motion sensor is an example. A heart monitor is an example.
An RFID chip merely identifies the item its on. The chips that will go onto passports will be RFID chips, and RFID identification is at the heart of efforts by retailers by Wal-Mart, as well as service providers like Grantex.
Ive also written, recently, about applications that combine RFID and sensor ships. Bulldog Technologies is rolling out a line of these chips that not only identify containers in transit, but monitor their condition and shippers know the contents are safe.
Always On applications will use all these types of chips as clients on WiFi or cellular networks, with applications located on gateways that run at low power, with battery back-up, and have constant connections to the Internet.
The coming issue of Business Week features a short story on the Internet of Things, or Machine to Machine (M2) applications, which this blog calls Always On.
The story focuses on cheap cellular radios and industrial applications.
The story misses the opportunity and the market.
It's a good example of the Intel failure noted below because if no one is going to tell the story a reporter can't write it.
Cellular can enhance an Always On application, making it mobile and ubiquitous. If you have a heart monitor in your shirt you don't want to die just because you walked outside the reach of your Local Area Network.
But these are enhancements. And the industrial market is just the tip of the Always On iceberg.
The big money, as I've said, is based on the wireless broadband platform.
It's true that wireless broadband isn't seen as a platform now. It's seen as an end-point. It's seen as a way for you to link your PC to broadband resources. It is seen as an extension of an existing IP protocol. And a lot of people are waiting for IPv6 to tag every device with a unique number before getting excited over linking such devices.
This is very misguided. You can build true PC functionality into something that runs on rechargeable batteries for just a few hundred dollars. Instead of placing the processing of applications on a desktop PC that's turned off, or a laptop that might be taken away, this puts processing for these new applications on the network itself.
Last month Intel's mobility chief Sean Maloney was in the hunt to head H-P, a job that eventually went to Mark Hurd of NCR. (Watch out. Dana is about to criticize a fellow Truly Handsome Man.)
But how well is Maloney doing his current job?
Intel's role in the development of Always On is crucial, and its strategy today seems muddled. It's not just its support for two different WiMax standards, and its delay in delivering fixed backhaul silicon while it prepares truly mobile solutions.
I'm more concerned with Maloney's failure to articulate a near-and-medium-term wireless platform story, one that tells vendors what they should sell today that will be useful tomorrow.
Intel seems more interested in desktops and today's applications than it is in the wireless networking platform and tomorrow's applications.
Incoming CEO Paul Otellini says Intel is going to sell a platforms story, not a pure technology story. Platforms are things you build on.
Lenin named his small movement the Bolsheviks, a word meaning majority. He called his majority opponents Mensheviks, a word meaning minority.
The point is that if one side is large and undisciplined while the other side is smaller but tightly disciplined, the smaller group can win a political struggle.
That seems to be the case with municipal wifi. It's an undeniable good everyone wants. It's relatively cheap to install and maintain. It should be a no-brainer.
But it's losing to telephone monopolies because of lax discipline.
Glenn Fleischman and I disagree so seldom, we both get confused when it happens.
Long story short I thought it would help if I described what might be a better plan for citywide WiFi. Apologies to those of you who have read this before.
The short answer is WiMax. The long version follows the break.
I am a big supporter of free WiFi. But Philadelphia's project will go down in history as a failure.
Those are the obvious problems. But wait, there's more:
The war against 802.11 hotspots, which I predicted last week, has already begun.
I don't expect free access to survive it.
The fact is that a hotspot without registration allows hackers to insert viruses undetected, allows criminals to hack into databases undetected, and allows spammers to spam undetected.
The New York Times had a feature this weekend , picked up by the Financial Express, alleging half the crooks caught in a recent sweep dubbed Operation Firewall were using public hotspots.
A recent piece from the Medill News Service (my j-school alma mater), picked up by PC Advisor, suggested that people should never conduct personal business through a hotspot, for fear it is actually an "evil twin" set up by a hacker to grab passwords from the unwary. An IBM spokesman also detailed this scam for Newsfactor.
Here are the facts:
This summer will be the peak of the Voice Over IP (VOIP) boom. (The illustration, by the way, is from Poland. No, he doesn't look Polish.)
It's an easy prediction because Philips announced at CTIA a reference design for "converged handsets," with 802.11 and GSM or GPRS cellular in the same package.
We've seen the success of Vonage and Skype. We've seen the growth of 802.11 "hot spots" in hotels, airports, and on campuses. We've now seen the cellular industry adopt to VOIP. It's happy days.
So why am I predicting it's all going to end?
Look, there he is on the cover of People. ROKR-Roker, get it? Since much of Roker the host has in fact disappeared recently, thanks to surgery that made his stomach the size of a chicken egg, the irony is even richer. There are laughs a-plenty. Tears are literally rolling down some journalists' faces. (Not.)
Anyway, the real story here is much more important and much, much nastier.
There is a move afoot among the world's mobile (or cellular) carriers to keep absolute control over all the money to be made with cellular (or mobile) broadband. It's not just the users they seek to control, and not just the phones.
If you download a bit, even megabits, the mobile (cellular) carriers figure they should look at what you're accessing, decide whether you should get it at all, and take a cut of the revenue as well. (A pre-operation Roker-sized cut.)
This is not Internet service they're offering. These are private networks.
When John W. Berresford speaks, the Bush Administration listens.
Berresford is the FCC's senior antitrust lawyer and a professor at the right's favorite school, George Mason. He has power and the connections to turn his statements into policy.
So when he came out with a paper today about spectrum policy, it was bound to be read avidly.
In his paper Berresford favorably compares the law of land property to that of spectrum. He notes how property rights and spectrum rights are limited under the law, often in the same ways, and states that "efficiency" should be the watchword in spectrum policy.
We should know what we're in for when, in his first paragraph, he mischaracterizes the debate:
Debate rages about whether the allocation and management of the radio frequency spectrum should be mostly a political process, treating it as The Peoples Airwaves, or mostly market-driven, treating it as private property.
That's not the debate. The debate boils down to science and markets. What treatment of spectrum best serves the market, that of a government-owned monopoly or a carefully-managed resource?
We haven't just "discovered" how to use vast new areas of spectrum in the last 20 years. We've learned a lot about how such spectrum can be re-used, again-and-again.
Thus the argument of property vs. commons isn't a left-right argument (as Berresford supposes in his introduction). It's an argument over science and efficiency.
And the plain fact is that the spectrum which is most efficiently used in this country, which makes the most money per hertz, by far, is the unlicensed spectrum.
Berresford ignores both the science and market forces behind this fact.
Wind River is continuing its slow march toward the computing mainstream. (The illustration, from the Wind River site, shows the engagement model the company follows with its customers in producing products. It's careful and complicated.)
It's easy for someone to criticize Wind River's strategy as an attempt to maintain proprietary control in a world of open source, but the fact is there are opportunities here for the Always On world that need to be explained, and then seized.
Fact is Wind River's VxWorks is the leading RTOS out there. RTOS stands for Real Time Operating System, folks. An RTOS is used to make a device, not a system. You find RTOS's in things like your stereo, and your TV remote. What the device can do is strictly defined, and strictly limited. Your interaction with the device is also defined and limited.
An RTOS is not a robust, scalable, modular operating system like, say, Linux. And over the last few years, Wind River has been creeping into your world. VxWorks is used in most of your common WiFi gateways. This limits what they can do. They become "point" solutions. You can't run applications directly off a gateway, only off one of the PCs it's attached to.
Now, slowly, this is changing.
Should WiFi cover every inch of ground or should it be concentrated where people congregate.
Today we have two designs in the news, one meeting each need.
"There are many, many service providers that have very profitably deployed such a hybrid infrastructure - use Wi-Fi where it makes sense - where it can be highly localized and you can take advantage of higher power, more sensitive receiver, and directional antennas on an outdoor Access Point."
But there's another way, too.
Failure to define a single standard for Ultrawideband is killing the technology. So say the experts.
This could be the week that tells the tale on that, as the FCC weighs in.
First, Rupert Goodwins of ZDNet reports that one-half of the UWB conflict, the WiMedia Alliance and the Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA), agreed to merge. An Intel executive, Stephen Wood, heads WiMedia.
Sounds cool, but there's still a rival out there, Direct Sequance-Ultrawideband, pushed by the UWB Forum. The latter group has demonstrated things like home networks, while the former has pushed a Firewire replacement over a distance of 2 meters. (The illustration to the left is from Intel.)
So this is more than just a technical argument. The WiMedia folks see the technology as a Bluetooth replacement. The UWB Forum is aiming at the heart of local networking.
But let's put it more simply
It's faster, has less interference, and it's just better.
Uh-huh. Maybe that's all true. But even if it is, that will take time.
Bluetooth has taken over a half-decade to reach its present level of prominence, and many mobile phones still don't have the capability -- despite cool applicationsl like Hypertag being written for it. (Thanks to point-n-click and Billboard for that link.)
I have headlined this Moores Law of Market Acceptance because, again, there is none. (It's like Moore's Law of Training.) Market acceptance is a human process, involving many actors.
The rate at which a new technology is accepted and replaces an old one depends on how revolutionary it is, how nimble its sponsors, and how rapid is the replacement within the older market.
I used to like Intel chairman Craig Barrett.
Now, as he prepares for his May exit from the job he's had for seven years, I love Craig Barrett. (Image from ComputerWorld's Heroes page.)
I wish I had been able to say this:
"I believe in the Hippocratic Oath for government: first do no harm. That means sorting out spectrum allocation, fostering R&D and creating an environment to let business function," he said.
"[WiMax] is the solution to the 'last mile' broadband issue. It will get us out of the half-assed broadband situation we're in today. 1 Mbps to 2 Mbps is not broadband; 50 Mbps is."
Tell it, brother Barrett. Amen. More on what this means after the jump.
As it prepares for its developer forum this week, Intel faces an audience of bankers who have not lost faith in it, but who don't understand what it means by "platform."
Credit Suisse First Boston, for instance, looks at the word "platform" and sees only desktop or server. It figures Intel is waiting for Microsoft's Longhorn to demand more processing power of computers and bail it out.
If that's the strategy Intel describes, then it is Clueless. But that's not the strategy Intel is pursuing under new CEO Paul Otellini (right).
Many different types of solutions go into creating an Always On world.
Ive talked here often of medical applications for Always On, where you wear a monitor (or have it implanted) that connects to the network and can alert you (or others) to dangerous changes in your physical condition, thus saving your life.
I have also talked of inventory applications for Always On, in which RFID tags or bar codes give you a ready inventory of your stuff. This lets you, for instance, find your keys, or check the fridge to see what you need for tonights dinner.
But the low-hanging fruit lies in automation applications. CABA (it stands for Continental Automated Buildings Association) is one of the trade groups involved here. They work mainly with landlords who want to save money on utilities, provide security, and keep track of whats happening in lots of space so as to minimize labor costs.
Former Corante blogger (and FOD) Steve Stroh has the goods this month on Aloha Networks, which is aiming to provide wireless broadband service in the 700 MHz spectrum area. (That's the high 50s on your UHF dial.)
Apparently, they've gotten FCC approval to test their services in Tucson. The real test is whether this lives-and-plays with existing users, and Tucson currently has TV at Channel 58.
What exactly does this mean? (FOD means Friend Of Dana, of course.)
Let Steve explain:
Since the collapse of Lernout & Hauspie, voice has been diminished as a computer interface.
But it makes sense. It's hands-free. It requires training, meaning it brings some security with it by default. I continue to believe in it.
So does IBM.
Igor Jablatov is the man behind IBM's voice strategy. He's based in Charlotte, and has a blog, which mainly prints and links to stories and news release relating to VoiceXML. (Jablatov now heads the VoiceXML Forum.)
The Voice Extensible Markup Language brings voice into the Web standards area, and it's important for that reason. But what's more important is the extension of voice into specific vertical markets. IBM has started with things like cars and consumer electronics, and next plans a move into CRM.
These aren't the markets I would have chosen, but for now voice needs to choose markets based on their money making potential, nothing else. And I trust that IBM has done that kind of analysis here.
Where do we go from here?
With Bluetooth viruses causing all kinds of havoc, and forcing millions to close the open ports on their phones, it seems strange to be writing about a "Bluetooth Network" connection.
But that's Wideray.
Here's the deal. Wideray customers put kiosks in the stores, and when someone comes over with a Bluetooth device they can feed whatever they want -- games, demos, product details. (It also works with Infrared or WiFi.)
I have used the system at trade shows, and its effectiveness is limited by the client device. If the device has limited power and storage, the effect of the download is minimal.
From Medgadget comes word that Always On was a theme of the Demo conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, last week, even if they didn't use the name.
It's all quite wonderful, but there is one big problem.
Lusora's medical gadget uses Zigbee, and its hub, on the surface, looks proprietary, even though it's based on industry standards like WiFi and TCP/IP.
I could be wrong. I hope so. I've contacted their PR folks to see if they can be helpful. And I'm certain they can be.
A new InStat report on WiMax is drawing attention for the wrong reasons.
It's drawing attention based on the idea that it calls 802.16 competitive. Other analysts have said it will die stillborn unless questions about the standard, and real products implementing it, get here soon.
But it's the reason for InStat's conclusion that is the real news here. WiMax will succeed, the firm believes, because WiMax can leapfrog western broadband, delivering fast data to the developing world.
It's nice when someone in the "major media" gets the Always On vision, no matter how they get there.
The vision is simple. It's a wireless Internet platform. You get there by combining robust scalable PC applications with Internet connectivity and WiFi.
The BBC's Ian Hardy gets it, but he approaches it backwards, from the media side.
However you get there is fine with me.
They lost the Super Bowl, but Philly remains as feisty as ever (and God love 'em for that).
In a well-written article on News.Com today, Philly CIO Dianah Neff defends her city against a Verizon attack that caused state legislators to try and stop her city from installing a Wi-Fi network.
"For all the money they've spent lobbying against municipal participation, they could have built the network themselves," she writes. "The truth, of course, is that the incumbent local exchange carriers want unregulated monopolies over all telecommunications."
Neff then quotes Dr. Mark N. Cooper, research director at the Consumer Federation of America, which to a Bell is a bit like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
More after the break.
Perhaps no technology today splits analysts to the degree that WiMax does.
Which is it?
Maybe both. Maybe neither.
This is because WiMax is still vapor. The delivery of a final standard has been delayed until summer, which means products won't come out until late this year.
There's also Intel's move to make WiMax mobile to consider. Making the 802.16 standard mobile will take more time, mobile operators are building 3G networks as fast as possible, and purchases of the coming standard may be delayed by people waiting for the better one.
Unlike the situation with 802.11 we have no guarantee that 802.16 implementations will be fully backward-compatible. The gear out there now isn't even guaranteed to be compatible with itself.
So what will WiMax become?
The glue Sky Dayton will use to stitch together a network is called Unlicensed Mobile Access.
UMA is a set of specifications allowing roaming between WiFi and cellular networks. (JoeJava showed me how it works.)
The problem for Dayton is that the current specification only works with GSM and GPRS networks. Dayton's two cellular partners use a competing system, CDMA.
Qualcomm, which created CDMA, should now be under enormous pressure to do something like UMA. How much you want to bet they announce that something very, very soon?
Many companies re-sell cellular capacity. It's a simple branding exercise.
Earthlink is the first to enter this business with a vision. The vision comes from founder Sky Dayton, who kept the chairman title for years after leaving for Boingo, but has now relinquished it to run this new joint venture, SK-Earthlink. (Glenn Fleishman interviewed Dayton and has a great story on him.)
Dayton's vision, since the beginning, has been based on the idea that spectrum is plentiful, that WiFi can be connected, and that a telecom firm doesn't consist of wires and switches but software and marketing.
Earthlink itself is based on the idea of re-sale. Its dial-up service rides on top of the existing phone network. Its DSL offerings are based on the same networks. It's not a stretch.
So, what's the vision? Jump over there with me and I'll tell you.
Word that mobile phone makers (and some networks) want to embed WiFi and VOIP into phones brings up a crucial point about the VOIP market, and about how technology works in general.
There are two major threads of VOIP software out there. Most, like Vonage, work along a standard. Then there's one who doesn't.
But that one is Skype.
Guess which of these two "standards" leads?
Skype. By a bunch. This puts another twist into the whole discussion of VOIP, and VOIP-cellular in general. Because there are multiple models to choose from:
The Elliott Wave people ask, "Is the Greater Fool Era Ending?"
Here is proof. Strategy Analytics has recently published another of those truly loony market studies, this one claiming that mobile phone operators will lose $12 billion from broadband wireless over the next several years.
It's nonsense because its premise is false, namely that those profits are out there to lose.
Yes, it's possible that if WiFi and WiMax didn't exist that all broadband revenues would go to cellular. It's also true that if freeways didn't exist all inter-city traffic would be by railroad. But that does not mean I impute a loss of billions to the railroads.
It seems that Barlow was recently jolted by a random Skype phone call from Vietnam. He got to know the caller well because she shared a wireless broadband connection with some neighbors. Thus he was able to talk with her, see her work, see her photos, to learn all about her, without leaving his desk in New York. Then he got a similar call from China, and later one from Australia.
Here's the bottom line:
One doesn't get random phone calls from Viet Nam or China, or at least one never could before.Skype changes all that. Now anybody can talk to anybody, anywhere. At zero cost. This changes everything. When we can talk, really talk, to one another, we can connect at the heart.
And there's more after the break.
The significance of WiFi-cellular roaming doesn't lie in cutting voice costs. (The picture, by the way, comes from Novinky, a Czech online magazine, a story about DSL.)
The significance of WiFi-cellular roaming lies in Always On applications.
Think about it. Cellular channels are relatively low in bandwidth, WiFi channels are high in bandwidth.
Now, you're wearing an application, like a heart monitor. When you're at home, or in your office, this thing can be generating, and immediately disgorging, tons and tons of data, detailed stuff that may be fun for your doctor to analyze later.
I have talked about this before, but now everyone else is talking, too. So we will, again. (The picture, by the way, is of a single-chip radio from two years ago, a "mote" from Cal Berkeley. The link is very worthwhile.)
What does it mean for TI to make, and Nokia to sell, a complete cellular phone on a single chip? For one thing, it means phones can be one-chip cheap.
Right, cheap as chips.
I've been re-reading the last in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, called Homeward Bound, and I'm once again struck by the similarities between the U.S. military in Iraq and the Lizards of the story.
The Lizards (not to give the story away) invade Earth i 1942, at the height of World War II. They have the weapons of 2000, Earth has what it had. The overall theme of the piece (which has now run into its seventh 500-page book) is human ingenuity vs. reliance on technology.
I don't know what they're thinking with this latest battle robot. (The picture, which I'm confident betrays no military secrets, is from the BBC.) But I'm pretty certain we're going to have some captured, disabled electronically and then grabbed under covering fire. The wireless link between the operator and the bot is the weak link.
And what happens then?
This is an 802.11 base station put in by a crook aiming to steal your cookies, and your money.
I don't want to minimize the potential threat. The scam is pretty easy to install. Just put in your own log-on screen in front of all access and throw all the malware you want in return -- a keylogger, or a program that grabs saved password files from the browser. It could work.
But not for long. Here's how you can keep yourself from being victimized, and how the cops (if they have half a brain) can catch this creative garbage in-the-act:
Intel has apparently decided the market opportunity for Wi-Max as a backhaul to 802.11 is too small for its taste, and thus a "mobile WiMax" aimed at displacing 3G mobile networks is necessary.
Uh, necessary for who?
Necessary for Intel to get out its WiMax investment, maybe. But a mobile DSL replacement faces some enormous hurdles:
I recently wrote in high praise of Motorola for the MS1000, calling them The Kings of Always On.
The following does not detract from that call. Motorola has come closer to building an Always On platform (as I envision one) than anyone else.
But there are still a few things they could easily add:
Along with all their other implications, the mass adoption of mobile phones represents the first step in the single-chip era.
If you look inside the guts of your phone you are unlikely to find a big honking circuit board. (The circuit board illustration is from Sciencetechnologyresources.com.) Instead you will find one, two or three single chips performing major functions in an integrated way.
This is happening across-the-board in technology. We've gone from circuit boards in the 1980s to modules in the 1990s, to single chips. Just as early IBM PC add-in board producers created "multi-function cards" to assure a price worthy of retail distribution 20 years ago, so chip makers today put multiple functions on many chips, creating entire systems no bigger than a finger-nail.
Motorola has launched a very Clued-in strategy to push Always-On applications.
The idea is that you sync the phone to your home using a verison of the old Palm cradle, then control home automation applications remotely using the phone.
This is clever in many different ways:
For the last year I've been harping here on the subject of Always On.
The idea is that you have a wireless network based on a scalable, robust operating system that can power real, extensible applications for home automation, security, medical monitoring, home inventory, and more.
As I wrote I often came back to Motorola and its CEO, Ed Zander. They would be the perfect outfit to do this, I wrote.
Little did I know (until now) but they did. A year ago.
It's called the MS1000.
The product was introduced at last year's CES, and re-introduced at various vertical market shows during the year. It's based on Linux, responds to OSGi standards, and creates an 802.11g network on which applications can then be built.
At this year's CES show, Motorola is pushing a home security solution based on the device, with 10 new peripherals like cameras and motion sensors that can be easily set-up with the network in place, along with a service offering called ShellGenie.
Previously the company bought Premise, which has been involved in IP-based home control since 1999, and pushed a version of the same thing called the Media Station for moving entertainment around the home.
What should Motorola do now? Well, the platform is pretty dependent on having a home PC. The MS1000 could use space for slots so needed programs could be added as program modules. They need to look at medical and home inventory markets, not just entertainment and security.
But they've made an excellent start. And from here on out everyone else is playing catch-up.
Oh, and one more thing...
In a great little piece about Kodak's coming WiFi camera, the EasyShare One, Glenn Fleischman delivers a Clue about T-Mobile's coming strategy.
When UTStarcom announced it had a "WiFi Phone" (right) no one noticed.
Now that Vonage says it's putting its name on the thing, the carrier world is up in arms.
As usual the press is being plain silly. This is not a threat to mobile carriers because WiFi, as yet, offers no real mobility. And that's just not likely to happen because most WiFi connections are not networked.
Chris Davies offers a fine dissent on open source spectrum today.
If you look at his example it even looks compelling.
There are problems with power management, with computing requirements, and with wave attenuation in the open spectrum idea. But the problem isn't inherent in the spectrum proposal of Kevin Werbach (left), and the solution isn't to sell spectrum to the highest bidder. That doesn't really deal with the problem.
The problem is two words: real estate.
For those of you who miss Steve Stroh, have no fear. He's just gone back on his own, the way he likes it.
You'll find him regularly at Broadband Wireless Internet Access news. Thanks to his experience here he's an even better, faster reporter than he was before.
Good luck, Steve...and stay in touch.
Give a carrier a great idea like WiFi, let them tinker with it a while, and you're always going to get the same thing back.
How crippled is it? It will only work with the user's own WiFi network. It won't find public hotspots, although DoCoMo says it is "considering" support for its own paid hotspots, called M-Zone.
People in Japan (that's the only market it's at so far) are going to be paying hundreds of dollars for a phone they think bypasses the mobile network, and they're not going to get it. How do you think they will feel?
I can't wait until Verizon tries to import this business model...
Cities should not be building WiFi networks.
They don't need to. There are plenty of people willing to supply the capability. WiFi is a local networking technology, not a wide-area networking technology.
Instead, cities should be building WiMax (802.16) networks.
The big problem for 802.11 remains backhaul. If Bells control backhaul, they determine the price of Internet service. We found this in the CLEC business. This monopoly must be broken.
WiMax can do that.
A city can provide WiMax links between police stations, schools, and other municipally-owned locations and competitive fiber nodes. This saves money for the city by providing an alternate route for its backhaul. Cities can tap into this backhaul, via WiFi, and provide a host of public safety services, from cameras on crime-ridden public streets and in parks to red light cameras on busy corners.
The excess capacity can then be sold, at a reasonable price, to any WiFi operator who wants to pay for it. The money earned in this way helps pay the city's upfront cost. The city's own Internet connectivity then becomes essentially free.
And anyone with a WiFi hotspot gets the cheap backhaul they need to make either a free or paid model work.
Intel is pushing WiMax hard. They would love to get involved in projects like this.
The Bells and cable operators will fight it like they've fought nothing before. Hopefully they will over-reach, their greed will become obvious to voters, and any legislator who tries to prevent cities from going to WiMax will be collecting unemployment after the next election.
Atlanta, where I live, has this funny habit of turning the public good into private perks.
Back in the 1990s the city transformed the public streets around Olympic visitors into the private good of one Munson Steed. We still haven't lived it down.
Now, with WiFi we're at it again, this time on behalf of one Jeff Levy (right, from the Atlanta Jewish Times newspaper.)
The result, the city thinks, is a great citywide WiFi network called FastPass. In fact what they're getting is the theft of the unlicensed spectrum on behalf of Levy and other, uh-hem, "entrepreneurs."
The idea is that the city will install WiFi hotspots in public buildings --- City Hall, the Airport, local colleges -- and the network will be accessible for, uh, whatever any other property holder attached to the network can hold you up for. Visitors to Georgia Tech, for instance, will pay $7.95/day. Those to City Hall will pay $4. God only knows what the Airport will nick people for.
This is supposed to be a public benefit? Ri-i-i-i-i-gh-gh-t. Actually what it does is extend the reach of paid Wi-Fi networks into the public sphere, through a citywide roaming agreement.
If someone had asked me, of course, I could have told them how to make this work for everyone.
With many companies now substituting WiFi for wired networks, it's natural that those with multiple locations would want to tie them all together.
Bluesocket Inc. of Burlington, Mass. (right, from their home page) is among those getting into this game. Their home page describes them as "building an enterprise-class WLAN" and they claim their new WG-400 Wireless Gateway can handle as many as 50 users at the same time, which is pretty nifty.
But is there a general problem here? Perhaps there is.
There are hazards to both the free and paid hotspot model.
The BBC has a piece today showing how the World of Always On could be invisible, worn instead of held.
We've already seen undershirts embedded with medical sensors. But Ian Pearson predicts we're going to move, over the next 10 years, to a world of devices imprinted on the skin.
Glenn Fleishman drew a lot of admiring attention over the weekend for his experiment in frugality, trying to see just how little he could pay for the telecom service he needs. (The picture is the thumbnail from Glenn's blog.)
Basically he moved calls to his mobile phone and DSL line, using Vonage and SkypeOut. He also spent $3/month for a Cingular service called FastForward that moves all calls to his DSL when he hits the limits on his calling plan.
Glenn figures he's saving $130/month. (Your mileage may vary.) I wish I could do as well.
I was shocked last night when, watching TV, I caught an infomercial for "WiFi franchises."
It came from a company called Transnet Wireless in Florida, which is offering a kit that lets "franchisees" get into the business of providing hotspot connectivity for $13,000. The kit includes a gateway, software, and some terminals that take cash. The commercial is filled with scenes of people sticking bills and credit cards into the terminals' slots for Internet access.
The idea is that you find places to put these devices, and maintain them, in exchange for a cut of the revenue. The real estate owner where you set them up also gets a cut. Of course, Transnet gets a cut, too.
The more I read the company's stuff the more my Spidey-sense got tingly. They make it seem like easy money, and I don't think it is.
Philadelphians are celebrating an agreement with Verizon which, they say, allows them to offer a citywide Wi-Fi network despite a law, signed (shamefully) by Governor Ed Rendell yesterday, aimed at stopping the municipal WiFi movement.
But they need to read the fine print.
Wetmachine has the story:
HB 30 prohibits the state or any municipality (or any municipally owned or operated entity) from providing any sort of telecom or broadband service for any kind of remuneration. The bill grandfathers any existing systems, tho, so no one will get cut off.
Sound good? Read on:
One of my problems with most business journalism is we tend to write about companies the way we do sports teams, and it's not that simple.
But mid-way through John Markoff's latest torching of Intel I got a Clue that the company has finally figured things out and is going to turn around.
It was one word, from incoming CEO Paul Otellini.
I have avoided comment on the municipal broadband issue because, frankly, it's depressing. (That's Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, now under enormous pressure from Verizon to prevent Philadelphia from going ahead with a WiFi project, at the right.)
Once more, wired monopolies and the politicians they own are stamping out competition. As they did with competitive Local Exchange Carriers, so they do with municipal WiFi. They change the law to prevent real competition, moaning about the money they spend and promising to do better next time. Then they don't deliver.
It's Third World stuff.
Back in the 80s and 90s this is precisely what local monopolists did in the Third World, and with precisely the same result. Prices were high, service was lousy, innovation was against the law.
The only force that can spur change is competition. Monopolies won't do it. Duopolies won't do it.
In the Third World local monopolies conspired with government until a combination of obvious opportunities, western pressure and internal restiveness finally poked holes in the tent and the money came pouring out. Today, thanks to cellular competition, Internet cafes and VOIP, the remotest villages can connect with the world.
Is it going to take lectures from Botswana before we get it?
Now that same cozy, fascist system has come to the United States of America. All our leaders lack are the braided uniforms, and I hear they're coming.
But this won't last.
A new survey from the UK shows the home LAN market retains high potential, even if you're still doing the same old things. (The picture is from this year's production of A Christmas Carol in East Brunswick, NJ.)
The MORI survey showed 90% of home PC owners were getting into arguments over who would use the PC, and when. The kids nearly all say they're doing homework (90% of them), but 43% of users admit they're playing games. (Hey, games can be educational.)
The survey struck me because, at the Blankenhorn house, everyone has their own PC and the TV spent much of Thanksgiving turned off.
We all have our own obsessions. I write, my wife works, my daughter reads and my son plays historical games. It's a far more productive use of our down-time than would be any shared experience before the "boob tube."
The chip is due in the second half of 2005. A lot of people are very excited about it.
I'm not one of them.
I failed to take proper notice yesterday of Motorola's recent purchase of Mesh Networks. (That's Motorola CEO Ed Zander to the left. As you can see from the high forehead, a truly handsome man.)
Mesh has found itself roped into the government's orbit in order to stay alive. That is, most of its money has recently come from military or Homeland Security contracts.
But Motorola can do so much more.
One of the most frustrating aspects of our time, in America, is how government has become the enemy of innovation, in the name of big business. (The image, from Taipei, is taken from the work of writer-photographer Dennis Flood. And the meaning for this image will become clear to those who click below.)
Exhibit A. Philadelphia's efforts to build an urban Wi-Fi grid may be stymied by the state's efforts to protect the Verizon-Comcast duopoly.
All the benefits of Always-On applications, not to mention the convenience of sitting in a park and working, are to be tossed until the owners of the wires decide they want to take control of the wireless spectrum?
Idiocy. But the rest of the world doesn't look at things that way, which means the rest of the world will march toward the future while America, in its desire to protect private monopoly, continues to march backward.
Want an example of that?
There's a big paradox at the heart of the 802.11 or Wi-Fi market. (Escher print from anyarchitect.org.)
Shipments are rising fast, and high-end (802.11g) gear is dominating. But the industry's revenues aren't growing very fast at all.
As fast as Wi-Fi moves ahead, it's becoming a commodity even faster. Even when an access point is bundled with, say, a DSL modem as a "residential gateway," you're essentially getting it from your phone company free, as part of a service agreement.
This can't continue. Here's why:
The physics folks at UT-Dallas have won nearly $1 million to study the idea of making every radio part of a giant "mesh network." (That's the UT-Dallas seal over there, with its motto of discipline, civilization, and absolute rule by a self-appointed elite.)
The idea is that mobile phones and laptops could act as relay points for other users' transmissions, creating what the physicists call "cooperative wireless networks" but which might best be termed a "giant mesh."
The problem with Wi-Fi is it exists in small islands. You can't depend on it. (Actually if you want this magazine, click here.)
But if you could depend on it, would you be willing to pay for it?
Carriers think you will, or at least that a lot of people will. But in order to make you pay they know they need critical mass.
And, through alliances, that's what they're going for.
My vision of Always-On has always been based on the idea that applications would live on the wireless network in your home. A Wi-Fi set-up has both the bandwidth and computing power needed to handle several such applications.
But early medical applications move with you. And thus they ride on the mobile network.
The Mobile-Technology Weblog (the picture is taken from that blog) has an example today from Korea. (It's a small world. The author lives in Munich, he's represented for ads by a British firm, and here I am blogging about it from Atlanta, Georgia.)
The hook is "here's the fat police," but the story is that there's a Samsung SPH-E3330 mobile that can measure your body fat level.
One point often missed in the rush to Voice Over IP is how it leaves us all at the mercy of software companies playing games with standards.
For instance. Most Voice Over IP products are fairly standard. The telephone industry's VoIP efforts will all be fairly interoperable.
The exception is Skype. And guess who dominates the market.
Right now this is no big deal. It's trivial to load two VoIP programs on a PC, and to use the one the person you're calling prefers.
But this is about to change.
A reporter (not this guy -- him I found in Estonia ) called the other day to praise my recent work on Voice over Wi-Fi. He wanted to write an analysis calling mobile carriers Clueless for letting people get out of their pay-per-minute world and make "free" long distance calls on their mobiles.
Naturally, I confused the heck out of him by playing devil's advocate with myself.
Here (as best as I can remember it) is what I said:
Here's an issue I want more attention paid to, framing a wireless network so that it fits the geographic space used by its owner.
This is literally putting a square peg in a round hole.
VoWi-Fi, for those who don't know, means Voice Over Wi-Fi.
The movement not only intends to enable you to make calls over a Wireless Internet connection (big deal) but to enable hand-offs between Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular networks (bigger deal).
Folks are real excited. Maybe they should be.
And maybe they shouldn't.
One thing VoIP godfather Jeff Pulver (above, right, from the bio on his Web site) preaches constantly is that VoIP is about more than voice. This is something most folks still don't get.
It was inevitable that, with Intel describing 802.16 or Wi-Max as a technology that could easily make its way into clients, a la Wi-Fi, that folks start getting confused and dismissive.
Cisco CTO Charles Giancarlo (left, image from Cisco) was the latter this week, calling it overhyped, and saying his company wasn't interested. He even compared it to MMDS and LMDS.
It's OK if a company isn't ready for Wi-Max, and thus more ready to pile on some FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) than actually deal with it. But that is, to my mind, Clueless.
Intel is trying to buy a wireless Clue.
That's the story it's telling by investing in Craig McCaw's Clearwire.
The deal, announced at the CTIA's San Francisco conference, is that Clearwire will use Intel WiMax gear and, in exchange, Intel will invest in Clearwire. Essentially Clearwire gets the gear for stock.
Of course there's more to it than that.
SBC has taken another step in its plan to have Wi-Fi "embrace and extend" its monopoly.
The next step, assuming this deal brings in big bucks, is to extend the "bargain" to all Cingular customers.
Of course you are wondering, I'm certain, why the tone here sounds cynical?
The Wi-Fi Alliance certified some dual-band Wi-Fi and cellular product, but also issued an interesting warning to unnamed vendors. (I'll name one -- Broadcom.)
The press release is specific. "The Wi-Fi Alliance will revoke the Wi-Fi certification of any product with claims of IEEE 802.11n capabilities if that product is proven to adversely impact the interoperability of other Wi-Fi CERTIFIED products."
But you may have already seen the loophole...
There's a lot of talk, around the world, about combining Wi-Fi and mobile on a single handset.
Hewlett-Packard is just one of many companies working on hardware that works on such converged networks.
But what about the networks these new devices will run on?
The Register has an interesting story today pointing toward an audacious strategy by two Bell companeis, SBC and BellSouth, to dominate the wireless future through their jointly-owned Cingular unit.
The strategy combines current efforts by SBC, AT&T Wireless and BellSouth's MMDS spectrum, which is close to the unlicensed 2.4 GHz 802.11 frequency range but was sold by the government in the 1990s, originally for wireless cable.
Here are the elements:
The folks at SBC (and T-Mobile) continue to make happy talk about linking Wi-Fi to mobile.
I think it's just that, talk. SBC thinks that, by grabbing commercial real estate for paid Wi-Fi it can negate the technology's big advantage. By claiming user benefits for it, the company may also pick up a bit of market share from Verizon Wireless.
But if you're just talking voice, the advantages of a Wi-Fi-mobile link are nonsense. And they're especially nonsensical for a phone company.
The technology has been around for years. The commissioners are now patting themselves on the back, telling each other how pro-competitive they are.
No. They are not.
UPDATE: One more favor department. The FCC today also let phone companies keep competitors entirely out of "fiber-to-the-curb" systems, reversing years of previous precedent. Competition? Public interest? Pfah!
But back to the powerline decision.
Wireless broadband, defined under the 802.11 Wi-Fi and 802.16 Wi-Max standards, is at a crossroads.
Will it become ubiquitous or will it remain, as it was intended to be, a Local Area Networking technology? (That's a Wi-Fi LAN access point to the right.)
SBC sees Wi-Fi as a route toward dominance over its cellular competitors (like Verizon). It wants to combine its paid FreedomLink hotspots with its Cingular cellular service. (T-Mobile has the same idea.) But the actual cost of setting up a hotspot continues moving toward zero, and the financial value of a hotspot seems to be limited to a meal or a cup of coffee. Given a choice between free and paid hotspots, people will choose free.
WanderPort sees Wi-Fi as fill-in capacity, something you can put on a truck to deliver broadband where it's needed. Agere is moving away from stand-alone Wi-Fi toward Wi-Fi as a voice service, integrated with cellular into one seamless whole.
They've got one Clue right, but there are many steps yet to come before they come close to a profit. The price needs to come down (way down), the service area has to grow (roaming agreements) and (most important) sign-up must become virtually automatic. Until that happens this will be a money pit for anyone who gets into it.
The big problem for 802.11 is backhaul, always backhaul. Even an 802.16 Wi-Max backhaul takes time to set up, especially if you're hundreds of miles away from a fiber and need multiple hops.
It's a trailer with a generator, a satellite dish, and an 802.11 access point. Drive it up to your location (say, a volcano), point the antenna toward your satellite backhaul, and everyone in the area can now get broadband Internet service from your location.
Personally I don't know why those who build Wi-Fi networks automatically think of voice as an application. Voice, after all, uses very little bandwidth.
But they do. And they're going to think of it a lot more, with news that Broadcom is releasing a voice chipset for Wi-Fi. (Pictured is a WiFi phone I found on a German site.)
This is important for two reasons:
It seems unnecessary, but 802.11n gear is already coming out. (Image from CompUSA.Com.)
Belkin has apparently jumped the gun this time, recognizing that those companies which used Broadcom chips to jump the 802.11g standard's finalization grabbed big chunks of the market, while those who waited for the standard to come final were left fighting for crumbs.
The 802.11n specification will allow wireless local networking speeds of 100 Mbps or more, and while that sounds cool remember that few people have backhauls running faster than 1.5 Mbps.
In a previous life I did some work for Intel's mobile and wireless folks. One thing I learned is they were inherited from Motorola and are based in Chandler, Arizona, rather than in San Jose.
They're pretty easy to scam.
Rather than insisting on the Intel way, which is to define a robust, modular scalable standard that can handle multiple generations of product, these guys follow their competitors' rules. They essentially beg manufacturers to take their products, then trumpet the announcement like it's a big deal when, in fact, it's not. Just beause the maker of a mobile product decides they'll try your stuff doesn't mean they're committing to it -- they commit to what sells.
What are the true facts?
Nate, an American-turned-Australian, frets that they're doing that "in hopes of using the technology to fend off threats from others."
UPDATE: Nate insists he's not fretting. "I'm just linking to an article," he writes. "I'm not "fretting" anything."
OK. But someone'e fretting. Must be someone in Silicon Valley, then. It's full of fretful folk. Here's why there's no reason neither Nate nor I think you should fret:
Sometimes I get ahead of myself.
When I read about speech recognition I take it as a given. I really had no idea it wasn't already chip-based.
Well, it isn't. (The big ear is from the ACM.)
Carnegie-Mellon and Cal-Berkeley are going to spend $1 million in the government's money over the next three years trying to create a general speech recognition chip for the market.
When they succeed, and I have no doubt they will succeed, it will be a true revolution.
The 802.11 market is stalling.
I know because Broadcom has warned that its sales are flat.
Broadcom absolutely rocks in the Wi-Fi chip market. It is constantly ahead of the curve. It has great relationships with OEMs and product marketers. TI and Intel look good, but no one plays the inside game as well as Broadcom, trust me.
And if Broadcom is catching a cold, then everyone else has pneumonia.
Why is this?
Amsterdam, Portland, New York, now Philly?
What is up with all this city-wide WiFi work?
I really do want to cheer, but the cynic in me holds back.
If you're adding 802.11 to your home it's straightforward. You plug in a home gateway or WiFi router as your central access point, and all your network traffic goes into that hub. I don't happen to agree with that approach (you get too many dead spots, or signals that run across the street), but there you are.
For corporate campuses the issues are different. They already have wired networks. What they're trying to do is extend those networks to more users, and put it in the air for PDAs or workers on break.
Right now you have two contradictory issues -- cost and security.
Cost (you're going to buying dozens or hundreds of Access Points) means you want a thin client, like the new Aruba which plugs into the wall along with your Ethernet. Security indicates an entirely new layer of expense, and an entirely new host of problems.
The 802.11 standards are moving far ahead of Moore's Law. (Image from Linksys.Com.)
The first 802.11 standard ran at 1 Mbps. The second, 802.11b, ran at 11 Mbps. The third, 802.11a, ran at 54 Mbps. And now we have the 802.11n proposal, which promises service at up to 100 mbps.
While all these standards are backward-compatible, your speed will be that of the slowest component. Thus, the current moves to embed 802.11 into PC motherboards may be premature.
When people say "I Got Wi-Fi" they're not used to asking "what kind."
You read that right, kids.
This isn't some funky, proprietary, phony Wi-Fi, either. The 802.11n standard is being proposed by chip-makers Texas Instruments, STMElectrtonics and Broadcom, along with Airgo Networks, Bermai, and Conexant Systems Inc.
The group calls itself WWISE, and plans to submit this as a proposed standard to the IEEE. (WWISE is where the image came from. It's cute.)
The standard can go to 540 Mbps, but the group says it's really only going to claim 100 Mbps because, as they say, your mileage may vary.
One of our big problems today is that we can't really "mold" our local networks. (Image from CNN.)
You set up an 802.11 (WiFi) system in your home and the signal goes anywhere it can. You push out enough amps to get it through internal walls and, when it hits an external wall, it flies -- far and wide.
Sure, you can encrypt your whole network. You can add security. But that doesn't solve the whole problem. It doesn't address the fact that your network now interferes with that of your neighbor. When he gets WiFi, his signals are coming your way.
Fortunately, solutions are coming.
There are two ways to go. One way is to broaden network coverage in order to make it valuable, as David Haskins says SBC is doing. Another way is to let your pastries do the talking, as Panera Bread is doing.
Which way works best?
Alvarion (the logo is from their Web site) has always intrigued me, because the company's strategy is to maintain good, sound business relationships with Wireless ISPs, even if that means charging relatively high prices for product.
What professional WISPs want, more than anything, is service. Alvarion delivers service. Alvarion charges for service.
In contrast, Proxim has worked to build a complete product line, spanning the LAN and WAN sides of the 802.11 area, and vertically integrating from the chip to the board to the device. Compared to Alvarion gear, Proxim gear is usually a bargain.
Guess which company has won the war?
A very important political story snuck by us last week. I blame John Kerry for it.
The story is the new push by Intel for 802.16 WiMax spectrum.
While there are lots of high frequency bands in which WiMax could live, the inescapable fact is that the lower your frequency the farther your waves can travel. That's why AM stations can be heard across the country (when conditions are right) while FM stations have trouble being heard across town.
Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney (above, from the Intel site) is lobbying China, the UK and the U.S. to open up space in the 700 MHz band, frequencies UHF TV stations will be abandoning as they move to digital broadcasting, for unlicensed use as WiMax transmission bands.
I've written before that, when all is said and done, the most valuable asset phone companies have today are their rights of way, and the poles that now hold their wires.
But it turns out even this can be replaced.
This won't work in cities like Atlanta, where not every corner has a light. But there's nothing to stop cities from erecting "unused" poles and renting them out, or leasing that space to private companies who can erect the poles.
So long as the phone and cable operators don't buy those companies, even this last mile of their monopoly can be replaced.
I am embarrassed to note that I missed a big story.
Canada will commercialize the huge Ka band to deliver the service. This will be shared bandwidth, with fairly high latency, which is why U.S. attempts to commercialize the service have failed. But Telesat Canada, a Bell Canada Enterprises unit, says roughly 20% of Canadians cannot access broadband speeds with DSL, cable, or even 802.11. Now the whole country is within reach.
And that is very cool.
The Wi-Fi Alliance has gotten into the middle of a year-old dispute between chipmakers Broadcom and Atheros.
Broadcom jumped into new, faster versions of the standard, like 802.11g, long before those standards were approved and finalized. They kept these innovations off their Web sites, sampling them to equipment makers.
Essentially Broadcom jumped the gun and defined the standard in the market. When Atheros finally came out with its chip sets, there was interference, due to technical differences. This hampered performance, eliminated interoperability, and had the effect of slowing the overall growth of the home networking market.
One of the dirty secrets of 802.11, I have found, is that your home network doesn't always reach throughout your home. (This is Linksys' 802.11g router, from its Web site.)
Radio waves are slowed by walls and what's in them. Once they reach your outer perimeter, however, they tend to run until they hit a tree or your neighbor's wall. If his PC is set up near a window he might be on your network right now.
The permanent solution for this will involve mesh networks and cognitive radios, giving you alternative routes around the house when someone turns on a device using the same frequency space, and keeping the radio power tuned down to just what's necessary for moving data.
The quick, dirty fix is to either turn up the radio or get a fancy antenna. Both are now being tried.
Steve Stroh is a highly-recommended stop for anyone interested in wireless technology. He has the sources, the background, and the writing skills to make it come alive.
So I was honored when he chose to respond to my recent piece on Wi-LAN. As usual, he has the facts nailed.
I'm tired of writing this story. (The illustration is from another version of it, put online in Germany.)
Smart people get together and create a standard. It's a universal standard, a free standard, non-proprietary.
Then, years later, after everyone has committed to this free standard, some hoser comes up with a patent claim and decides to shake everyone down.
Until this kind of legal abuse is halted, technology's dog days will continue. Companies like Microsoft need to understand that no matter how hard they work to patent and copyright their stuff, they will never get on top of it.
Patent reform, copyright reform, NOW. You have nothing to lose but your unemployment.
802.11s is a version of the standard for mesh networks. Mesh networks are important because they let a network owner get rid of dead spots, and limit network leakage, while also controlling power output.
Instead of having a single antenna serving your home, in other words, you have multiple antennae, maybe one in each room. These antennae form a "mesh" in which a signal can reach the home antenna using a variety of paths.
This means redundancy, so if your cordless phone rings in the front room your wireless Internet signal can go around the back.
You should too.
I happen to think 802.16, or WiMax, is one of the world's great inventions.
WiMax describes a system for "wireless cable," sending high-volume digital signals across miles of open country, linking 802.11 wireless customers to high volume fiber, and bypassing copper networks entirely.
Bell and cable companies can stall the move here, through their control of government. But in places where there is no copper infrastructure, all that's stopping Wi-Max is a unified worldwide standard, agreed to by regulators anxious to serve their rural constituents. (Hint: India has tons of rural constituents capable of throwing governments out.)
News Corp. has dropped plans to resurrect satellite data, ending its participation in Spaceway at one satellite, which will be used for TV.
What killed satellite data? High latency and competition from 802.11 wireless. The 802.16 Wi-Max standard, which will allow rural areas to be served through repeaters from fiber access points, was probably the last nail in the coffin.
But in the end it will do them no good.
SBC is taking this strike to reduce its labor costs. It thinks that will save it.
But the problem at SBC isn't labor costs. It's that the value of its installed plant, its capital, is depreciating in line with Moore's Law, while much of it was bought on 30-year assumptions.
The impact of Moore's Law accelerates with time. It doesn't decelerate.
Labor costs can only decline arithmetically, in other words, while the impact of what's happening is growing geometrically -- downward.
This, to me, is very good news indeed.
The fact is 802.11, like blogging, has no viable business model. Just offering access for a fee is not going to work. To be useful access has to do something, it has to provide a real service.
Coffee shops offer this access, for the price of a cup (and maybe a roll on the side). But there are many, many other ways to get value from that access. You can create services, within a shop, which use that access for useful work. (I'm not going to tell you what those things are because I haven't totally figured them out myself.)
Until recently I had no idea Microsoft made hardware (other than mice and keyboards), let alone that they were in the Wi-Fi business. (Image from GeekTimes.)
While I think the company did the right thing by killing the unit they're missing a Key Clue that would let them make a ton of money in this space.
Are you listening, Redmond?
I'm a little suspicious of this Slashdot piece on gas plasma antennae.
In theory, it sounds nifty, and not just for security. If you have an antenna that can fix the field in which it operates precisely, then you can build 802.11 home networks whose range doesn't extend off the porch, that don't go into the next yard.
However, as one Anonymous Coward wrote at Slashdot, "Oh wait. I see. It's a press release from a startup company. Never mind." Exactly.
As previously mentioned I have been engaged in a study of residential gateways.
These are products that combine a DSL modem, a wireless router, and software so ISPs can customize their services and consumers can build home networks.
The early foot in this business went to 2Wire, a relatively small California company that practically defined the space with their HomePortal gateway. (This image of their HomePortal, by the way, comes from GCN. The 2Wire site itself relies heavily on Flash, which makes images hard to link.)
The folks at 2Wire have been fairly quiet lately, although most observers believe they still hold the confidence of SBC, their biggest ISP customer. If SBC stays committed to the company, 2Wire could even become profitable and go public.
But they're not resting on their laurels. In fact they're about to launch the industry's biggest challenge to date.
The best source of inside skinny on wireless product plans may be Guy Kewney's Newswirelessnet. And his latest, on coming changes in the notebook arena, is a very good one. (That's Guy at last year's Mobius 2003 show, courtesey MSMobiles.Com)
What's new in notebooks? Smaller hard drives, for one thing, "only" 40 gigabytes, but with better shock absorption. And 802.11g, instead of 802.11b, wireless LAN access. Guy also expects DVD read-write drives to become standard features.
Everything else goes on sale, cheap. So if you need a fat hard drive on your notebook, and can stand 802.11b for some time to come, get to the store now.
One great irony in the early Wireless ISP market is that everyone jumped the gun on it.
The 802.11 standards define local networking. WISPs managed to jury-rig tomato cans and stretch the power limits to do wide-area networking with it. But it was never meant for that.
The 802.16 standard, or Wi-Max, offers the chance for a total solution. The 802.16 standard defines a standard way in which great heaps of bandwidth can be sent through the air, across many miles. It allows you to create "virtual wires," on very high frequencies, which can link a small network of 802.11 nodes with competitive fiber backhauls.
And now the necessary equipment is starting to flood into the market.
Despite the hype, despite the sales, despite the promise, these are still the CP/M days of wireless broadband. (The screen shot of Visicalc for CP/M is from a great computer history site, Zorz.Net.)
I mean this in two ways. First, I'm referring to the old CP/M operating system. It was great, it worked for hobbyists and geeks, but it never reached mass acceptance and every dollar spent on CP/M gear, in the end, was wasted. I also mean this in the advertising term of "cost per thousand," which is how ISPs and carriers (cable or phone) will evaluate things. You've got to get over both the usability hurdles and the cost hurdles to reach the mass market.
It may surprise you to see me write this, since I'm such a big booster of the technology but the fact is that Wireless LANs aren't easy. A close friend, very clued-in, recently gave-up trying to use one in his home. If you go to the Broadband Reports forums, you're going to read a host of notes complaining about equipment, even from the very best equipment makers.
It's not their fault, I say. While the capability of WLAN equipment may be jumping with Moores Law (when you combine 802.11a+g standards you can supposedly run at 108 Mbps) other, slower curves can't be rushed.
So I'm sitting here with my morning coffee looking for news, when what comes over the e-mail but another note from Tee Emm, my Karachi correspondent.
And the news he has for me is right up my street -- literally.