WiFi and wireless

U.S. broadband: "Slowest, most expensive in the world"

With a hat tip to Chris Miller, this article underscores the seriousness of the broadband crisis in the United States. We're paying more than anybody else in the developed world for "broadband," while getting a lot less, performance-wise (50 to 100 times slower in most cases).

New superfast WiFi system clobbers older WiFi

The whole Internet wireless system marketplace has become increasingly complex and confusing. This short article from the Register points to several other articles that discuss the new MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) wireless gear. MIMO systems, which use multiple antennas at each end, promise speeds as high as 100 megabits per second, so in theory they could replace fiber as a first mile option for services like IP television.

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Maybe cellphones are not as risky as we thought

I have been following news on the health effects of radio frequency radiation for twenty-five years, and I remain concerned about the possible effects of being bathed in microwave frequency radiation from cellphones, portable phones, and wireless Internet adapters. Keep in mind that all those devices use the same frequencies that a microwave oven uses to turn hot dogs into charcoal, albeit at lower energy levels.

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Taiwan plans whole country wireless broadband

Taiwan joins the growing list of countries that have nationwide strategies for providing some kind of broadband everywhere. The government has inked a $209 million dollar agreement with Intel to build an island-wide WiMax network.

Taiwan is much smaller than many U.S. states, but nonetheless, can you point to a single U.S. state that has put any significant funds behind a statewide broadband initiative?

Neither can I.

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Rural Oregon county has biggest WiFi system

The WiFi system that covers the biggest area in the country is not in a major city like New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco. It is in rural Oregon, in a county of just 11,000 people. Not only that, the system is generating substantial revenue, suggesting that there is plenty of money to be made in broadband in rural areas when the whole community gets on board.

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15 megabit mobile VoIP in Japan

Japan has announced a plan to roll out mobile Voice over IP services nationwide in less than two years, leaving the U.S. in dust. The new system will handle data speeds of 15 megabits/second, or 15-25 times faster than typical wired DSL and cable servie in the United States and nearly a thousand times faster than typical 3G cellphone data services.

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A Tech Council making a difference

The Region 2000 Technology Council, which serves Lynchburg, Virginia and the surrounding area, is really beginning to make a difference. A year ago, they found that too many people in the area still did not understand the value of broadband, in part because they had never had a chance to try it.

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Google, fiber, and WiFi

The tech world is abuzz with the announcement by Google that they are:

1) Rolling out a national fiber backbone

2) Offering Google Secure Access WiFi services

Throw a rock and you'll hit someone with an opinion, but on SlashDot, which usually has pretty sharp insight into these things, the consensus is as follows:

1) Google's network initiatives will allow it to know even more about its customers, making advertising on Google even more valuable (and it is the advertising that is paying the bills).

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The cellular empire strikes back

Just a year ago, a lot of people, including me, were predicting that the cellular phone companies would implode as Voice over IP and broadband wireless stole customers.

I'm not so sure anymore. What's different is that the cellphone industry has begun offering a broader range of services that are more likely to be popular. As basic cellphone service has become a commodity with cut-throat pricing, it's add-on services that help pay the bills.

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Vermont gets WiFi at rest stops

The state of Vermont is installing WiFi at every rest stop in the state. A grant is helping to fund the initial equipment expenditure, but fees will pay for the management and ongoing expense.

It looks like it has been well-thought out. Government is providing the initial infrastructure, the private sector manages it, which creates jobs, and the public that want to use it pay a modest fee.

This is a great example of a public/private partnership, and this is not "competing" with the private sector; it is creating private sector business opportunities. And tax dollars are not funding it; user fees are. And it is modest in scope. I'm very wary of big wireless projects that don't have well-identified markets. Rest stops have a ready and willing supply of truckers, tourists, and businesspeople who I think will be happy to pay a few bucks for access.

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Philadelphia and broadband aggregation

Philadelphia's plan to deploy WiFi throughout the city has never made sense to me. I am never in favor of massive system deployments in advance of understanding the marketplace and making sure that you are offering something users want and will use. If a community is going to do WiFi, better to start with some modest hotspot deployments, watch usage, and adjust your plans accordingly. If the system is jammed with users--great! That is success. Now you have real justification for expanding your telecom investment.

But back to Philadelphia. This Wall Street Journal article reveals that there is method to the City's madness. What Philadelphia plans to do is to aggregate all their individual Internet connections and buy one large, "fat pipe" that will serve the entire set of city agencies, at a much reduced cost. And the wireless network will help distribute all that bandwidth to the appropriate city facilities.

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Another WiMax delay

The Register reports on more delays certifying WiMax equipment. New wireless equipment has to be tested to ensure that it meets the specifications of the 802.16 standard before it can be sold.

It is just one more sign of the danger of spending too much, too fast on wireless "solutions" if you don't have a technology master plan in place. An example of this is Philadelphia's plan to cover most of the city in a WiFi blanket.

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WiMax vs. EVDO: Who will win?

WiMac boosters like Intel think the new wireless technology is just the thing to solve everyone's broadband connectivity problems. Of course, the firm makes WiMax equipment, so you have to take their marketing hype with a grain of salt.

But WiMax and it's little brother, WiFi, offer a unified wireless model that says, "Let's use the Internet to transport everything, including voice phone calls (via VoIP)."

On the other side of the ring, we have the cellular companies, who know that VoIP and wireless have the potential to make their old-fashioned wireless systems obsolete.

The Internet crowd have technological superiority and simplicity on their side. The wireless Internet model is just a better way of doing things. The problem is that virtually no infrastructure is in place to offer those services, and it will cost billions to get enough service in enough places to create markets of paying customers.

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Emerging monopolies

There was an article in yesterday's USA Today about the cellphone companies and their race to push advanced wireless services. They have to do this because basic cellphone service is not very profitable, and they also know that VoIP, enabled by WiFi and other open standard wireless systems, will inevitably eat away at cellphone use.

Sprint/Nextel, the recently merged cellphone companies, are trying to leverage 2.5 gigahertz licensed spectrum that the company owns. They bought it years ago when no one thought it was worth anything, but today, the firm thinks they have a competitor to WiMax. Sprint/Nextel owns the licenses for the spectrum in 80% of the major U.S. markets, which sounds uncomfortably like a monopoly.

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Cable companies want to sell you wireless

The cable companies, according to a Wired article, have decided to add wireless services to their current mix of wired offerings, which include TV, Internet access, and voice telephony.

It makes sense, and the cable companies are more likely to get it right than companies like Verizon, which are betting on hybrid systems like EVDO to deliver data to cellphones.

But I'm skeptical about how fast this "new" concept will move. The cable company vision of a very capable PDA/phone/TV thingie is where things are going, but to sell them, you have to have a compelling mix of services and content AND a wireless delivery system that covers whole markets.

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WiFi poaching and the law

CNet has a great FAQ-style article on the current kerfuffle surrounding WiFi signal poaching. It's worth a read if you have a WiFi network in your home or business. There are two points worth considering. Most service contracts from DSL and cable providers prohibit sharing your bandwidth with other locations. So if you keep an open access point so the little old lady across the street can download some songs from iTunes once in a while, it's most likely a violation of your service agreement.

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WiFi theft

A Florida man has been arrested and charged with theft of a WiFi signal. Ben Smith was apparently parking outside someone's home regularly to "borrow" the broadband signal.

This may sound inoccuous, but suppose someone stopped by your flower garden every day and cut a few of your roses for their own use? Or if they walked into your yard twice a week in the winter and took wood off your woodpile?

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Will EVDO save cellular?

EVDO, or broadband for cellular telephones, may be the one chance cellular has to beat back the VoIP onslaught, which makes cellular irrelevant if you have access to a wireless Internet signal. Verizon, like most phone companies, likes to bet on technologies that are expensive and thereby easy to control--you can't just go out and start an EVDO business the same way you can start a wireless Internet business.

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Orlando pulls plug on free WiFi

The City of Orlando has pulled the plug on its ambitious free WiFi program. It was costing the city almost $2000/month, and only an average of 27 people a day were using the system. There are several things we can learn from this.

  • As I've been saying for a long time, start small and make sure something works before pouring a lot of money into it. Orlando should have tried a few hotspots and kept the cost down to a few hundred dollars. If they had done this and monitored usage, it would have been a clue that usage was not what they expected.
  • IT folks love big projects because it allows them to justify bigger budgets and more staff. Higher level managers (read elected officials, in this case) often allow themselves to get railroaded by their IT staff as IT folks throw around a lot of buzzwords and make everyone feel ignorant and behind the times. I don't know if this happened in this case, but think about the Philadelphia project, led by the city's IT director, that wanted to build a massive, multi-million dollar citywide WiFi system. It never made much sense to me--I don't ever recommend spending that much money in advance of understanding the market direction. And the market direction for WiFi has always been muddy.
  • Beware of vendors promising big benefits. Vendors love muni projects because they can usually get muni IT staffs excited about buying a lot of stuff, and it is usually then easy to wow city leaders who are feeling some pressure to "do something about broadband." WiFi is only part of a comprehensive approach to broadband. Despite what vendors say, it does not solve the broadband "problem."

So what should communities be doing about WiFi? I think that muni WiFi makes sense only when you understand what the bigger community goals are. Are you trying to get tourists to pull off the interstate and visit your community? Then a free WiFi hotspot at the tourist center makes a lot of sense, and is easily justified.

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Nine seconds to crack a home wireless network

You should take a look at this article [link no longer available] if you operate a home or small business wireless network. It details how easy it is to crack the encryption, which then gives the hacker access to all your computer files. What is even more alarming is how many people don't configure the low cost wireless routers correctly and often leave the encryption turned off completely.

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