PANs are used for gadgets and syncing: cameras, keyboards, printers, and such; LANs are used for network connections for file transfer, Internet access, and applications. Combining PAN and LAN into Wi-Fi without making a tradeoff is an interesting strategy, but it assumes that everything you’ll want to use in a PAN has Wi-Fi built in. Bluetooth still has an advantage of both chip size and power usage over even the most efficient Wi-Fi, and most compact Wi-Fi chipsets are now being sold as integrated packages with Bluetooth on board.
Eye-Fi to offer iPhone application: Eye-Fi will offer a free application that lets owners of its Secure Digital (SD) format Wi-Fi memory card to upload pictures from the iPhone to computers and online sharing services. Eye-Fi is also working on direct video-to-YouTube uploads from its memory card.
Skype has released a beta test version of its Mac OS X that offers per-minute hotspot access: The 2.8 beta, released today, works with Boingo Wireless’s worldwide aggregated hotspot footprint to allow metered access with no setup fee or monthly commitment.
Skype told me that they’re charging 19 U.S. cents or 14 euro cents per minute. That’s quite steep, except that they’re pitching this to people who need a few minutes at a time. Boingo likely hopes to sell a lot of subscriptions to people who find access addictive, and don’t want to pay over $10 per hour on a minute-by-minute basis.
It’s been a slow few weeks in Wi-Fi and wireless land; that should change this week: The holidays were quiet, but both the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Macworld Conference & Expo happen this week, and we’ll see some action. I’ll be at Macworld starting tomorrow evening; Apple might pull out a surprise. At CES, we’re likely to see quite a lot of gadgets and home-networking servers.
I was always dubious about Wi-Fi Salon due to the surreal technical explanations made by its founder, its small size and lack of real-world experience, and the extensive delays in every step of the project. Ultimately, something closer to kiosks than coverage were erected, and I’ve never seen any usage numbers.
Community Wi-Fi organizers in New York City had a variety of other ideas about how to offer free Wi-Fi, but parks had its own agenda. Let’s see if they approach this differently this time around.
Update: Marshall Brown, Wi-Fi Salon’s founder, takes issue with my characterization of his operations. No one–especially me–ever claimed that building outdoor networks was easy. From all that’s happened in the last few years, it’s clear that building large, sustainable, free (sponsored or otherwise) networks requires many stakeholders, a diverse revenue stream, and real purposes for a network beyond public access.
Crain’s reports on the issue: Possibly prompted by my post (or by Brown’s outrage), Crain’s New York Business writes about the shut down and Brown’s new project, which has put Wi-Fi into Union Square. Brown’s new venture, Wired Towns, is talking to business improvement districts about outdoor Wi-Fi across New York City.
Yet another update: Sewell Chan of the New York Times provides more details about the timeline involved.
Let’s look back and forward: It’s traditional to wrap up the year, during a quiet news period, by looking at what just went by. This is the one time of year that I also prognosticate, and I got lucky: My forecast for 2008 made a year ago turns out to be weirdly accurate. I don’t mean to take too much credit, though: I was expecting big news from things in 2008 that were much quieter affairs.
In-flight Internet (over Wi-Fi). It took almost until the end of the year, but this expectation finally became fulfilled not quite in the form or extent I envisioned. Several companies are separately pursuing offering in-flight Internet, but only Aircell managed to put the service into planes. American Airlines, Virgin America, and Delta Airlines all lofted flights in 2008 with broadband on board.
Of course, the expectation was that between 300 and 500 planes would be equipped with one vendor or another’s flavor of in-flight Internet in 2008. Instead, the total is about 25 to 30 across those three airlines. Ryan Air’s multi-year promise to put OnAir service on its European routes hasn’t yet gone into public trials. Southwest and Alaska’s promised tests of Wi-Fi appear to be invisible.
Still, Alaska and JetBlue both told me that there’s work ahead in 2009, and Delta said it would equip over 300 planes in 2009 in its fleet, and start equipping its merger partner Northwestern Airlines with Internet service in 2009 as well.
We can count 2008 as the year in-flight Internet taxied down the runway; 2009 will likely be the year that it takes off. Whether it’s financially viable is a different story; but it appears that service will be available on perhaps 20 to 30 percent of wide-body jetsfor routes within the U.S. in 2009.
Wi-Fi in every smartphone. Here, I feel I nailed it. It wasn’t too much to call this, but Research in Motion and other established phone makers still seemed to have a slight resistence to including Wi-Fi. Now, it’s de rigeur. The iPhone 3G and first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, shipped in 2009 with Wi-Fi along with Bluetooth, 2G and 3G radios, and GPS. Wireless all around. The BlackBerry Storm was widely criticized for being an iPhone me-too without the quality, but also because it lacked Wi-Fi; most other new BlackBerrys are fully Wi-Fi’d.
Tens of millions of smartphones now have Wi-Fi built in–about 10 million of those are iPhones alone. I’m not sure if the industry tracks this, but the mark of 100 million Wi-Fi equipped smartphones will certainly hit in the first quarter of 2009.
The new trend I call for 2009 is the inclusion of Wi-Fi in so-called feature phones, the inexpensive phones that offer far more limited capabilities than smartphones. Talking to chipmakers and handset makers in 2008 made it clear that Wi-Fi chips will be available in early 2009 with low-enough power at an inexpensive price with better integration for multiple wireless standards. This makes it affordable and keeps batteries from being drained.
Carriers want Wi-Fi as a way to offload usage from celluar networks, especially in people’s home, and putting Wi-Fi into feature phones gives carriers an advantage in stretching scarce spectrum even further.
Wi-Fi everywhere. With municipal Wi-Fi in its 2004-2006 form dead in 2007 and buried in the first half of 2008, we’ve seen a resurgence in efforts to put a plan in place first (why do we need Wi-Fi or some other wireless technology?) and then build a network.
In a round-up for Ars Technica six weeks ago, I highlighted several cities that have working large-scale networks all built for slightly different purposes. These networks are all successful in the sense that they have been built and appear to be working for the purpose for which they were intended. Only time will tell–another year or even two–as to whether the long-term benefits or sustainability are there.
I also said a year ago that 2008 would be the year of hotspot saturation. I think I was right on that. It’s hard to find any venue in North America and Europe that lacks Wi-Fi. Boingo’s acquisition of Opti-Fi airports and Parsons’s Washington State Ferry operations, along with AT&T’s purchase of Wayport demonstrated that consolidation had arrived, too. (Wayport operated Wi-Fi in U.S. McDonald’s locations, and managed AT&T’s Wi-Fi hotspots.)
Starbucks switching to AT&T and offering loyalty-based free service to customers, as well as AT&T radically expanding free access to its hotspot network, dramatically expanded the ability to get Wi-Fi for nothing.
Years ago, I was somewhat excoriated for saying that Wi-Fi hotspot access will either be free or cost you $20. Some people insisted Wi-Fi would trend to zero–some even cite Starbucks 2-hours-a-day loyalty reward as proof, even though you need to make a regular purchase to get the “free” service. Others insisted that you would need several subscriptions, each at $20 to $40 per month, to have a national or international personal footprint.
I wasn’t too far off, in the end. If you want, there are now extensive networks in the U.S. and Europe of free hotspots and AT&T gives free Wi-Fi to about 15 to 20 million customers. The Fon network, however you count it, seemingly offers reciprocal free Wi-Fi to as many as hundreds of thousands of its Foneros.
If you want a larger pool of access at premium venues, especially airports and hotels, you can pay a bit more than $20 per month–maybe I should give myself the benefit of inflation, since I’ve been saying $20 for a few years? Boingo offers unlimited Wi-Fi for North America for $21.95 per month; iPass includes dial-up and Ethernet service as well for $29.95 per month. (Internationally, aggregators meter service because of the exceedingly high cost in some markets. You can get a few thousand minutes a month for about $45 with iPass or $60 with Boingo.)
WiMax arrives. Again, slipping in towards the 11th hour, my prediction that WiMax would be deployed widely enough to see whether it works wasn’t precisely what happened. WiMax is commercially available in one market–Baltimore–although reports from reviewers and residents seem to all be positive.
The new Clearwire, a product of the old Clearwire firm and the WiMax division and spectrum portfolio of Sprint Nextel, will launch its first market under the Clear product name in Portland, Ore., on Jan. 6 (badly timed before CES and Macworld Expo). Then they’ll start rolling out cities on a regular basis.
Gadget-Fi a go-go. I’m now going on about 3 years of saying that next year, Wi-Fi will be in everything. It’s getting there. I’m still waiting for a good implementation of Wi-Fi in a camera, but at least the Eye-Fi adapter–which debuted in 2007 and expanded options in 2008–provides a good substitute.
Apple apparently shipped a jillion iPod touch players; they don’t reveal specific model unit shipments, but it’s possible that several million iPod touch models are in people’s hands.
What’s Coming in 2009?
A real security meltdown for some version of WPA. I hate to say this, because it sounds like fear mongering, but after the clever but not significant WPA exploit revealed a few weeks ago, it’s clear to me that worse is to come. We will likely see the death of the TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) flavor of 802.11i (supported in WAP and WPA2), at least in the pre-shared key/Personal flavor in 2009 due to additional weaknesses that relate to backwards compatibility with the long-depreated WEP.
Whatever attack results, it will likely still require a lot of effort on the part of the attacker, but will have a chilling effect, and move more people to the AES-CCMP flavor of encryption available only in WPA2.
LTE. Long Term Evolution, the GSM-evolved fourth-generation (4G) cell data standard, should appear in commercial form in 2010, but we’re going to hear a lot about it in 2009. We may even see some test markets. Verizon sounds like they promised at least one production market for regular use.
LTE and WiMax convergence. There’s apparently enough interest in converging the mismatched elements of LTE and WiMax that we may see a full-fledged convergence effort in 2009. This would mean that nearly all 4G efforts worldwide could come together around two intercompatible standards.
Train Fi. Yes, I’ve been writing about Internet access in trains for a few years. It’s finally arrived. The faster cellular data speeds, the brief huge spike in oil prices, and lengthy tests that have concluded successfully are finally leading to Wi-Fi-based access being installed on commuter and long-haul trains worldwide. In the U.S., the BART system in the San Francisco Bay Area could wind up being the largest such deployment in 2009. But train-Fi has broken out all over.
SMS Fi. Twitter or a firm like it will move to supplant the ridiculous cost of SMS, especially for smartphone owners with unlimited data plans, by offering an SMS-like service for a pittance with gateway service to existing SMS offerings. Wi-Fi and 3G will be the preferred method. With carriers pursuing predatory pricing on SMS, the only universal messaging format, an alternative will be formed out of the pressure. Coal becomes diamond.
Very high speed Wi-Fi’s first steps. In 2008, representatives most from chipmakers worked through the formation of two new 802.11 task groups for Very High Throughput wireless LANs: one, formed late in the year, 802.11ac will cover frequencies below 6 GHz; the other, likely to be 802.11ad, will cover the 60 GHz band, used for millimeter-band radar and with SiBeam’s video streaming approach. The goal is for 1 Gbps or faster raw throughput rates. A timeline isn’t yet set; given how the group and manufacturers work, it might be 2010 before we see 802.11ac devices and longer for 802.11ad.
Japanese bullet trains will gain the Internet service originally promised in 2006: The service wasn’t delayed, but tied to new trains arriving for the Tokyo to Osaka line. The 270 km/hr line will offer Internet access over Wi-Fi, and will use leaky coax for its backhaul. Leaky coax is a kind of purposely undershielded wiring used to create a linear antenna for train lines and subway lines. WiFi Rail plans to use leaky coax to deliver Wi-Fi directly to passengers on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in California. NTT is handling the bullet-train service, which is expected to offer 2 Mbps downstream for from ¥500 (about US$5.50) for day pass to ¥1,680 (about $19) for monthly access.
AT&T will sell BlackBerry Curve with EDGE, Wi-Fi, no 3G: The Curve 8320’s reliance on EDGE (2.5G) allows AT&T to offer a sort of bargain BlackBerry. It’s just $150 with a two-year commitment, and the data contracts for EDGE are usually $20 per month (or less with corporate deals) instead of the $30 for 3G. AT&T will bundle its free access to its domestic hotspot footprint, as well.
Minneapolis stuck at 82 percent coverage: The city network that’s the poster child for privately owned, anchor tenanted, public access Wi-Fi can’t seem to get to its full footprint. The Minn. Star Tribune reports that the city and US Internet, which operates the network, failed to consult the park board about putting transmitters and poles on park grounds. Input is also needed from the state’s historic preservation office and local groups about the visual impact.