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Recent Entries

Signal Fade
Taco Bell Refries Wi-FI
Boingo Adds Gogo Support
Cablevision Bumps Wi-Fi Speed Significantly
AT&T Gives Free Wi-Fi to 20 New York Parks
Free Wi-Fi in New York's DUMBO Neighborhood
Alaska Airlines Completes Wi-Fi Install
Tempe Wins Suit over Wi-Fi Hardware
Towerstream's Plan for Manhattan-Fi
T-Mobile Adds Free Wi-Fi Calling

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August 11, 2011

Signal Fade

By Glenn Fleishman

This blog has run its course: Thank you, loyal readers, many of whom still read this site regularly and have been following the blog for most of the decade it's operated. Even less-regular readers may have noticed that posts to Wi-Fi Networking News have become fewer and farther between.

There are a few reasons, discussed here before. First, Wi-Fi has become embedded in everything, and it generally works. When it does not, the reasons tend to be specific and technical enough that broad advice doesn't help. Second, Wi-Fi is now like oxygen, found everywhere, and often free in the United States. Third, cellular or mobile broadband has become much more important, and while I've covered that issue here, it's never been a perfect fit. (I once had a Cell Net News site, but it didn't generate enough traffic to keep operational, and had too narrow a focus.)

Fourth, the many, many gadget and tech sites that fill the zone with coverage of every last little issue deal well enough with much of what I blogged about—short items and links, rather than full-blown articles—that it seemed futile to write 100 words here when 1,000 articles were all over Google News and the rest of the Internet.

And, finally, many of the issues I formerly wrote about here, I'm now paid to write about elsewhere, where I receive a bigger readership as well. For instance, I wrote an item about closing up this blog for BoingBoing, which makes sense as it's one of the places I contribute on a routine basis. I also have a regular gig for the Economist, writing technology items each week for the Babbage blog. Ars Technica, Macworld, and TidBITS have also been more targeted and appropriate places for me to write at length about issues that involve wireless and mobile networking.

I've loved writing this blog, but as traffic plummeted after 802.11n was finalized and municipal networks started falling apart, it's been difficult to make the time to keep this site useful. I'm bowing to reality: I have too much on my plate, not enough readers (and thus, not enough ad revenue) here, and better fora in which to write more broadly about the topics that interest me.

There are so many people to thank over the years for their help with this blog. First and foremost is my good pal Nancy Gohring, who now writes for IDG News Service, who spent a couple of years working as a freelancer for me during our heyday, and has been a supporter of the blog from beginning to end. Also, the many, many community wireless folks with whom I spent inordinate amounts of time speaking and visiting, primarily from 2001 to 2005, when that movement was at its peak. Esme Vos of was a key and helpful friend and colleague during the municipal wireless phase, and we exchanged tons of information. Klaus Ernst has been a long-time correspondent and a great friend of the site, filing reports about his first-hand experiences with so many ostensibly launched and working Wi-Fi networks in Manhattan—that never seem to measure up to snuff.

I so appreciate the support everyone has given me over the decade in running this site. The blog will stay up forever. I have no plans to pull down archives. But I doubt there will be a new post here unless the market shifts again and there's a need for it.

Best to you all,


Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:29 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail | 5 Comments

July 4, 2011

Taco Bell Refries Wi-FI

By Glenn Fleishman

Taco Bell will add free Wi-Fi and entertainment systems to its 5,600 US stores: I've been wondering for years, as loyal readers know, why McDonald's was the only of the large quick-service restaurants to do a full-chain adoption of Wi-Fi. The system will be part of adding damned television sets to the "dining rooms." Because if there's one thing better than eating a taco comprised of the cheapest possible ingredients, it's having programming and advertising blaring at you at all possible moments.

I also know there's a cost involved in all this, but the rollout will take four years. Which means that when complete in 2015, McDonald's will have had a full-chain US deployment for something like 7 or 8 years longer.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:38 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

June 27, 2011

Boingo Adds Gogo Support

By Glenn Fleishman

There's no discount, but you can use your Boingo account to pay for in-flight Internet: This is a nice move, long expected, which links up two popular offerings for business travelers. Boingo has a variety of service offerings which may include either unlimited or high-usage access to various parts of the globe. In North American, their $10-per-month plan provides unlimited use of terrestrial hotspots in the network.

The Gogo connection lets you use the same Boingo software, account, and linked credit card to pay for in-flight Internet access at the same retail rate as other passengers. One would hope Boingo could negotiate a better rate by reducing Gogo's marketing burden to bring customers in the future.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:57 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Roaming | No Comments

June 14, 2011

Cablevision Bumps Wi-Fi Speed Significantly

By Glenn Fleishman

Cablevision's member-only Optimum WiFi service now offers up to 15 Mpbs down and 4 Mbps up: The network is free to Cablevision's broadband subscribers, and restricted to them, although the firm also allows some roaming from other cable providers' customers, and has free and open hotspots here and there.

The company tells me it has 10,000s of access points in place across its New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut markets, along with 7,000 hotspots in business locations that are Cablevision customers. Over 500,000 Cablevision customers have used the network so far.

Wi-Fi networks, even at 802.11g speeds, can easily handle 15 Mbps over short distances. With 802.11n, 15 Mbps should be achievable over longer ranges.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:24 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Home, Hot Spot | No Comments

June 9, 2011

AT&T Gives Free Wi-Fi to 20 New York Parks

By Glenn Fleishman

This comes years after varying plans and bidding proposals that didn't work: AT&T is paying for the cost of installing and operating Wi-Fi in 20 parts in the five boroughs of New York City, including the High Line, the park converted from old elevated rail lines, long abandoned. It's a several-year deal, apparently. Right not, three parks (Battery Bosque in Battery Park, part of Joyce Kilmer Park, and the rec center at Thomas Jefferson Park) have service. The rest are coming this summer.

Update: Please read the comments. Parks didn't bid this out or have an open process.

Bryant Park has long had free Wi-Fi, delivered through a series of hands, and it's been an apparent success as part of the terrific revitalization of a public space that was once abandoned to drug deals.

Karl Bode at DSLReports reminds us that last September, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision were planning to install Wi-Fi in 32 parks as part of their cable franchise extension, offering just 10-minute sessions up to three times a month before charging 99¢ a day. It's unclear where these two plans intersect.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:11 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Municipal | 3 Comments

June 2, 2011

Free Wi-Fi in New York's DUMBO Neighborhood

By Glenn Fleishman

An area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, nicknamed DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), gets free Wi-Fi: New York has precious little free Wi-Fi, even though non-profit groups like NYCWireless and private firms have worked at times with business districts and parks to get some action going. A number of different parties worked together to make the Dumbo Wi-Fi zone happen: the neighborhood improvement district, the Two Trees Management Company (for site placement and funding), and NYCwireless.

More details are available at the Dumbo NYC site for that neighborhood.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:39 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Metro-Scale Networks | No Comments

Alaska Airlines Completes Wi-Fi Install

By Glenn Fleishman

Alaska Airlines says its Gogo Inflight Internet installation on most planes: A handful of aircraft won't feature service, mostly those carrying freight. Facebook access will be free through June, and the airline has a game promotion as well. Alaska charges the same access fees for service as the rest of Aircell's partner airlines, with most users paying $10 or $13 for laptop service for short and long flights, and a few dollars less for handheld (not tablet) service.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:57 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel | No Comments

June 1, 2011

Tempe Wins Suit over Wi-Fi Hardware

By Glenn Fleishman

Ah, this brings back memories: Cast your mind way way back to 2006, when Tempe, Ariz., was on the cutting edge of municipal wireless systems. The city, which already had its own wireless ring for city backhaul, put out a tender for a firm to provide a combination of public and private services. Neoreach won the bid, and built some of the network out as it shifted through names and subsidiaries, winding up with Gobility as the ultimate owner when the network failed. (Gobility had oceans of issues unrelated to this network.)

While the network hasn't been operational even in part since 2007, the gear was left all over town. Two-thirds of the access points were owned by a leasing firm, Commonwealth Capital Corporation (CCC). If the nodes were abandoned, Tempe alleged, then Tempe would be granted ownership. CCC disagreed, because it hoped to sell the system with the nodes still in place.

CCC sued to have the nodes returned to it after ridiculous attempts were made by it to sell the network. The case ran from Feb. 2009 to March 2011, when the company dismissed its own lawsuit. Tempe, meanwhile, had sued CCC for the rent due on pole usage for the period when CCC was trying to sell the gear. Tempe prevailed in court for $1.8m and ownership of the hardware.

The money assuages the fact that the 4–5-year-old hardware is likely nearly unusable. It should be mostly Strix Systems gear, which appears to still be a going concern, even though its "news spotlight" page refers only to events in 2007. There's likely some backhaul equipment from other makers.

This is the last gear hanging that I'm aware of from the olden days of 2006–2008 that isn't in active use, such as the network in Minneapolis.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:02 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Legal, Municipal | 1 Comment

May 26, 2011

Towerstream's Plan for Manhattan-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

The wireless backbone provider Towerstream will flip on a dense Manhattan Wi-Fi network: Towerstream built a wireless network in the skyline, paying for prime locations on the top of buildings to point high-speed service at line-of-sight locations where conventional wired or even fiber broadband wasn't available, would take too long, or wasn't competitive or reliable enough. Now it's taking aim at Wi-Fi.

But it's not trying to be a metro-scale Wi-Fi operator. That would be foolish. Rather, Towerstream is building out a dense Wi-Fi zone, described by BusinessWeek as seven square miles of Manhattan. The firm is deploying 1,000 routers, and the backhaul is clearly its own building-top network. Being able to leverage its own backhaul is a distinct financial advantage, as it already has a business model that works for the point-to-multi-point service it offers today. This is icing on the cake.

Towerstream will sell access to the network to carriers looking to offload mobile 3G and 4G traffic from congested, expensive cellular networks to Wi-Fi. AT&T has built similar zones itself, although I doubt quite as dense or extensive. Towerstream could become a vendor-neutral cost-effective alternative to carriers building these "heat sinks" for high bandwidth usage themselves.

Phone users benefit from this offloading as well as carriers. You get a much faster rate of service from a dense, high-speed Wi-Fi network than the comparable 3G or even 4G service, and no carrier in the US bills by the byte for Wi-Fi: if it's included, it's free. Thus, you can use much more data without hitting limits or paying overages.

The BusinessWeek article has a serious flaw, however. It misstates the nature and reason for failure of municipally backed Wi-Fi networks. The writer, Peter Burrows, makes a variety of historical errors, including stating, "While most of the failed experiments of yore were based on taxpayer-funded municipal projects, this time there's a clear business need for wireless carriers." In fact, there wound up being built no taxpayer-funded municipal networks. All of the deals involved cities or counties bidding out the right to build a network, with access to public facilities (conduits, towers, building tops, etc.) as part of the carrot. Very little municipal money was spent, while private firms went through tens of millions in never-completed network buildouts. Minneapolis stands as a shining example of the only network that was completed and thrived. (The city purchases services from the network operator, but the network was funded and is run by US Internet.)

Burrows also describes the router that Towerstream will use somewhat incompletely. He talks about it being an antenna, for starters, and claiming the units run $800 each. That might be the unit cost, but installation and providing an electrical feed will run the installed price much higher. He notes, though, that Towerstream will pay $50 to $1,000 per month to the owner of the property at which a router is installed. Nice fees if you can get them.

There's a great capper to this story: Towerstream's quiet 3-month test of 200 routers in Manhattan: "Last year, Towerstream conducted a three-month test of a 200-device Wi-Fi network in Manhattan. Without any promotion, the network handled 20 million Web sessions by consumers who happened to spot Towerstream when trolling for a Wi-Fi connection." That's the kind of data that might get carriers to sign up.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:58 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Metro-Scale Networks | 4 Comments | No TrackBacks

May 16, 2011

T-Mobile Adds Free Wi-Fi Calling

By Glenn Fleishman

GigaOm confirms T-Mobile will add free Wi-Fi calls to its UMA-capable phones: T-Mobile tried an alternative to femtocell and unlimited calling plans several years ago, allowing unlimited domestic calls over Wi-Fi for handsets with unlicensed mobile access (UMA) technology built in. UMA allows seamless roaming between Wi-Fi networks and the cell network, handling the billing and call details on the back end.

After a few years, however, even after making the add-on price as low as $10/mo for a family plan for unlimited calls that started on Wi-Fi (either placed or received on a Wi-Fi network at home or a hotspot), T-Mobile stopped offering the service to new customers. Apparently, it continued to be available as a calling option, with Wi-Fi calls being deducted from general minute pools.

Now, T-Mobile is making Wi-Fi calling free to postpaid Even More and Even More Plus customers (those that have had a credit check and pay at the end of a billing cycle). These customers need a UMA handset, which includes many BlackBerry models, and have to opt in to the free service.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:22 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Voice | 1 Comment

May 3, 2011

American Airlines Trials In-Plane Streaming

By Glenn Fleishman

Finally: I've been asking the question for several years: when will media servers on planes be used to provide in-flight entertainment over Wi-Fi? The answer is now. Aircell told me years ago that they had provisioned the ability to put media servers on planes, and were waiting for pieces to fall into place. Its public trial with American Airlines on a couple of 767-200s will start this summer.

It's a logical connection that when you have people on a local, high-speed wireless network that you could deliver content to them for free and for a fee. Given that the majority (sometimes entirety) of people on a flight have some kind of device with a screen, why build in miles of wire and clunky seatback entertainment systems?

One of the best, Virgin American's Red, is still slow, hard to navigate, and of poor quality relative to even the worst tablet or netbook. Alaska Airlines never installed such systems for reasons of cost, and rents its digEplayer instead—a portable tablet preloaded and precharged.

An airline that moves away from seatback systems and into passenger-provided hardware could also stock tablets for rental, now that there will be ready availability of a variety of sizes and capabilities that handle video playback well, and which cost relatively little compared to custom systems like the digEplayer.

This could also eliminate live satellite feeds by providing time-delayed playback on demand. Imagine that when a plane comes to a halt and the doors are opened that a system at each gate starts a high-speed 802.11n transfer of several hours of news and other recent sports, talk shows, and network programs. There's something nice about "live," but there's also the reality of operational cost and antenna drag.

Aircell and American haven't announced which programs and movies will be available nor the cost or other particulars.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:31 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Media | No Comments

April 24, 2011

False Kid Porno Raid Gets Media Play

By Glenn Fleishman

A Buffalo, NY, man gets an early morning visit (and alleged contusions) from the ICE: His left his Wi-Fi network open, and extremely poor FBI work (according to this AP report) led to a raid on his home because that's where the IP address led. While it's no crime in the US—it is in some other countries—to leave your network open for anyone to access, this isn't the first time this has happened. I've written up a few previous similar incidents that led to police or federal agents breaking down the doors for criminal acts conducted over the network at the physical address. In most cases, a neighbor is the guilty party.

You'd think the FBI would be briefing agents on this issue, so that they don't face multi-million-dollar lawsuits for faulty work that pinpoints the wrong person. The Buffalo man isn't suing, even though his attorney alleges he was thrown down the stairs by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He says they didn't properly identify who they were after breaking down the door and brandishing weapons. (Who knows from ICE?)

Even on an open network, it's possible to track identifiers that would allow relatively easy confirmation of which machine was the case, or to stake out the area for a few nights, tracking signals and locations. Then agents could enlist the homeowner with the open network to ensure the Wi-Fi signal remained available and could be used to track at which exact moment that a perpetrator was engaged in an illegal act and then raided at the same time. (We're talking child pornography here, not file swapping.)

The AP article says that US-CERT recommends "closing" a Wi-Fi network among other security measures. This option, labeled differently on each maker's router software, disables default beaconing, and thus the network name and availability isn't broadcast. However, whenever the network is use by a party that knows the name and has associated with it (encryption or otherwise), traffic can be snooped and connection information extracted. I don't recommend closing a network as it provides no effective security, and neither does limiting an network to specific MAC addresses (the Wi-Fi adapter's unique hardware number).

US-CERT has six recommendations for best home practices on its Securing Wireless Networks page, which include these two. Closing a network is noted as "Protect Your SSID."

Really, using a nine-letter/digit WPA password is the simplest way to protect a network in a reliable and secure way no matter what other restrictions are in place.

I choose to password protect my network in part because I don't want to be indirectly responsible for anyone's actions on my network (whether in a raid or just because someone commits a nefarious act using my router), and because Comcast caps my use at 250 GB per month.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:13 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Legal, Security | No Comments | No TrackBacks

April 12, 2011

Eye-Fi's Direct Mode Turns Card into Hotspot for Mobile Transfers

By Glenn Fleishman

A new mode in Eye-Fi X2 cards let you rely images through a smartphone using a neat trick: I'm a long-time fan of the Eye-Fi digital camera cards that pack a CPU, a Wi-Fi radio, and now up to 8 GB of storage into an SD or SDHC form factor. The Eye-Fi line is regularly updated to add features like transfer of RAW images or video files, or endless storage, in which images already wirelessly transferred to another location can be deleted when storage is needed. (I haven't erased my Eye-Fi camera card since that feature came out. I simply don't need to know what's on the card any more.)

Direct Mode is another in that array of improvements, and it requires a little explanation. Eye-Fi may be a bit breezy in describing the feature, which requires you to think a bit differently about how the card works.

In regular operation, an Eye-Fi card looks to a camera precisely like any memory card. Whenever the Eye-Fi recognizes a Wi-Fi network it knows about, it connects, and starts to carry out whatever operations were waiting for access, such as uploading files to a computer or sharing service. This works whether the network in question is a home network for which you've stored a password, a public network to which you have access through an Eye-Fi subscription, or a free network tied in via Eye-Fi's relationship with Devicescape's Easy WiFi service.

But in Direct Mode, the card will transform from a Wi-Fi client into a Wi-Fi hotspot, but not for just any device to connect. Rather, if you have a smartphone or tablet with the Eye-Fi software running (available for iOS and Android initially), the app connects to the card over Wi-Fi, and images are transferred over. You can use a 3G-equipped device to relay and upload images and movies, or transfer media and then connect via Wi-Fi to a network to upload that data from the app. The mobile app can copy media over the Internet to whatever computer with which you paired the Eye-Fi—the one to which over a local network the card sends files—as well as an online sharing or social-networking site you've picked from Eye-Fi's partners.

Direct Mode was announced with more details alongside the release of the Mobile X2, part of a reshuffling of the Eye-Fi line up, which now comprises Connect X2, Mobile X2, and Pro X2. The Connect has 4 GB and costs $50, while the Mobile has 8 GB and costs $80. That's their only difference. The Pro at $150 and with 8 GB of storage adds RAW file handling, and including a geotagging and a 1-year hotspot subscription. While RAW is restricted to the Pro model, you can add geotagging to Connect or Mobile for $30 (one-time fee), and hotspot access for $30/yr.

Direct Mode will be a firmware upgrade for all current and past X2 models in a few weeks, according to Eye-Fi.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:40 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Photography | No Comments

April 10, 2011

Metro-North Has Secret Wi-Fi Train

By Glenn Fleishman

The train line from New York to Connecticut is testing service: The Internet service would be used to drive passenger access, as well as live information on screens in cars coupled with advertising. For now, the MTA isn't revealing which train is equipped during this trial so as not to disappoint riders.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:35 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

April 7, 2011

US Airways Sees Low Internet Usage

By Glenn Fleishman

Some palpable numbers: Air Transport World quotes US Airways president saying that usage averages below 5 percent of passengers on flights, and breakeven is above 20 percent. They only have the service on about 50 planes (their Airbus A321s), which lack power outlets. By only covering part of their fleet, as opposed to Delta which has full coverage on mainline planes, they may undermine patterns of usage that build up over time.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:19 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Financial | No Comments | No TrackBacks

April 5, 2011

Ten Years Old Today

By Glenn Fleishman

Wi-Fi Networking News celebrates its tenth anniversary: Thank you all for sticking with me all of these years! There's less news that relevant as Wi-Fi hit the mainstream, routers are simpler to configure, and the industry matured. I'll keep reporting for as long as there are topics of interest—and you all are still reading.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:42 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Administrative Detail | 6 Comments

March 23, 2011

Starbucks Pumps Digital Content in Stores

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks Digital Network adds The Economist, ESPN site, Marvel, and Mediabistro: It's an interesting potpourri of additions to the free content you can access on Starbucks in-store Wi-Fi network. Starbucks took its network entirely free without time limits last year, and started up the SDN. I certainly commend them for including The Economist, which has a pricey but reasonable annual fee for digital or print/digital access. (I write regularly for The Economist's Babbage blog, which you can read at no cost anywhere.)

As a comics fan, I may wind up spending too much time reading through the digital library, which the press release says is available without restrictions starting 23 April 2011. 'Nuff said.

Starbucks has quietly amassed a fairly huge array of publications and resources, including the New York Times (via its special eReader edition),, USA Today, and Rodale fitness and health titles.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:16 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments

Cafe Cuts Power for Pennies

By Glenn Fleishman

Coffee Culture's cents-less argument: I sympathize with Yvonne Johnston, the owner of Cofee Culture in London, Ontario, Canada. She is tired of table campers who occupy a four-top, blocking other customers, and have the temerity to bring in coffee from another shop and not make a purchase while using the free Wi-Fi.

I sympathize because I've been writing stories about such concerns for at least seven years, if not longer. But her argument is unique. She's telling customers that she can't afford the power, and she tells patrons they can't use the outlets.

She says she knows her hydro (Canadian for power, even when it's nuclear or otherwise) bills keep rising, but I'm afraid she hasn't done the math. A large, modern 90-watt laptop drawing full power consumes 1/10th of a kilowatt-hour (kWh). Toronto Hydro says its time-of-use pricing ranges from 5 to 10 Canadian cents per kWh.

A laptop user whose machine is pulling the full draw for battery charging or active use thus costs her one-half to one Cdn cent per hour of use. Given what I can tell of her shop's size, even 12 hours a day with 10 laptops in use should cost her no more than a Looney a day. More likely it's less than 25¢.

While her electrical argument doesn't hold water (and we shouldn't mix electricity with water), her business one is perfectly sensible. She needs customers who treat her shop like a shop, and not a library. She needs customers more respectful of the notion that taking a table for four and using it for hours on end takes real dollars—many tens of dollars of a day—out of her pocket.

I've heard all manner of approaches to stop table camping. Signs, barista enforcement (employees don't love that much), turning off the Wi-Fi during busy hours or on weekends, and so forth. What it amounts to, unfortunately, is that some subset of people will always do what's convenient to them rather than to the venue in which they plop themselves. They won't be shamed. You have to cut them off.

Starbucks lacks this problem because the vast majority of its customers pass through, and in busy areas it tends to have a greater density of store locations or more seating in stores.

Ms Johnston might revise her sign. Drop the hydro argument. Instead: "We don't allow use of the hydro because we find we cannot keep in business and provide power, too."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:11 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Hot Spot | 1 Comment

March 22, 2011

Boingo Wireless Updates Client, Adds Free Networks

By Glenn Fleishman

Boingo Wireless's new client software identifies and connects to free networks, too: I've been testing for several days Boingo's new Wi-Finder software, a lightweight client for Mac OS X and Windows that identifies and can automatically connect to 325,000 paid locations in Boingo's network or hundreds of thousands free locations. The app is also available with slightly different features for Android and iOS. A subscription is not required, and it's available now at no cost. The software also includes a Wi-Fi search function.

Boingo Wireless now offers three levels of membership with the new client. A free membership allows use of the client to connect to locations that allow access without a fee. The previous pay-as-you-go and subscriber levels remain the same. Pay-as-you-go users need to provide a credit card number, and receive a week of service. The client provides details about cost before a connection is made. For subscribers, the client automatically connects to in-plan hotspots, and provides details about costs associated if you're outside a home network. For subscribers in the Americas to the unlimited plan, fees are only required outside of the Americas.

For free networks, Wi-Finder interprets any splash or terms and services screen and allows a user to accept whatever restrictions are necessary automatically, or manually agree each time. Boingo learns adds new free locations based on subscribers' experiences, thus allowing subsequent visitors to the same connection the chance to autoconnect. I used Wi-Finder on a trip by Amtrak from Seattle to Portland last week, and after "teaching" it by clicking the Agree the first time, the software appeared able to connect on demand thereafter. (Which was useful, as Amtrak's service provider doesn't appear to retain MAC addresses for reauthentication after a device is put to sleep.)

The requirement of a membership confirmed via email for free accounts allows Boingo to meet requirements in many countries for a basic level of accountability and tracking.

From the security standpoint, the client prevents accidental connections to ad hoc networks so that you won't get bit by the "Free Wi-Fi" network phenomenon, in which unconnected Windows XP systems accidentally broadcast that network name.

Boingo is mimicking and expanding on a strategy first developed by Devicescape, which offers Easy WiFi connection software for Mac OS X, Windows, Android, iOS, and Nokia platforms, and is integrated into consumer devices, including the Eye-Fi camera card. Devicescape doesn't have a reseller network, but allows its users to enter credentials at individual networks (like AT&T or BT OpenZone) or aggregators (like Boingo) and automatically log in. Devicescape also manages connections to free networks.

Prices vary with pay as you go for hourly and daily service depending on region, but start at $4.95 for 1 hour or $7.95 for 24 hours in the Americas. Boingo's monthly subscription plans start at $9.95/mo for unlimited service in the Americas and mobile/tablet plans are all $7.95/mo. Prices are higher outside the Americas and may include limits. Many bundled plans (like mobile and laptop) are also available.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:05 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot, Road Warrior, Roaming | No Comments

New Standard Eases Carrier Wi-Fi Access and Roaming

By Glenn Fleishman

The Wi-Fi Alliance, mobile operators, and hardware makers have agreed on a standard for secure and greatly simplified cell-to-Wi-Fi handoffs and cross-networking roaming: The various parties have worked together to create a certifiable method of allowing handsets to access carrier Wi-Fi networks with much less fuss. The standard will also allow simple roaming across carrier networks without the current necessity of creating an account or entering account details. The whole thing is backed by WPA2 security for the Wi-Fi connection, obviating Firesheep, sidejacking, and other compromises on the wireless connection.

For carriers, this means avoiding re-inventing the wheel for every handset or platform. Carriers can buy and integrate gear from companies that have achieved this certification, and that should take them a long way towards allowing every device a carrier offers with Wi-Fi to be able to offload traffic from mobile broadband to Wi-Fi as efficiently as possible.

The Wi-Fi Alliance cites research group Informa as predicting 4.6 yottabytes (4.6 million terabytes) of data will be consumed on cellular networks in 2012 worldwide. The Wi-Fi Alliance predicts its current count of 750,000 hotspots worldwide (which must be measuring only paid and managed locations) will double by 2014. There are millions of less formal hotspots available which won't be affected by today's announcement.

One of the tidbits in the announcement, not particularly emphasized as a pair, is that certified devices will connect to appropriate networks "in many cases" using cellular credentials like SIM cards, and using WPA2 security. What that says to me in big flashing letters is WPA2 Enterprise with EAP-SIM. That's just how geeky I am about Wi-Fi.

WPA2 Enterprise is a Wi-Fi version of the 802.1X port-based access control that limits access to a network quite effectively until proper credentials are presented. In WPA2 Enterprise, only WPA2 (AES-CCMP) encryption is allowed. EAP is a simple communications language that's used by 802.1X to send messages back and forth. It's not secured by default, and must be, because the messages contain credentials. PEAP, EAP-FAST, and EAP-TLS are all popular corporate methods of securing the handshake for logging in.

EAP-SIM is one of the required methods for any approved Wi-Fi device for several years, and uses the SIM (or, I believe, similar modules on other networks) to provide the identity wrapped in a secure method.

Using EAP-SIM with WPA2 Enterprise would allow a feature phone, smartphone, or other cell-embedded device or modem to create a secure connection across the local Wi-Fi connection without a user being involved in any part of the login procedure.

The financial side of roaming across carrier networks wasn't discussed today. I confirmed with the Wi-Fi Alliance that that's a separate discussion as any kind of mobile and data roaming is today. I fear for that particular area. Cellular carriers outside of the same home country charge unjustifiably high rates for roaming: the carrier allowing a non-native customer to roam marks up its service enormously, and the roaming customer's provider adds on top of that. In the modern world, the cost is fairly tiny on the back-end to allow roaming. It's simply a high-margin profit center, and one that European Union regulators have slashed away at. Regulators in other countries lack the cross-border controls or the regulatory interest to get involved.

My fear therefore is that carriers will act like carriers do, and charge extremely high amounts of money for something that benefits from greater use rather than higher prices. Carriers should be encouraging the roaming use of Wi-Fi, a resource that's much cheaper to operate and has vastly more bandwidth in small areas than a cellular network can more expensively provide.

It will probably be more of the same, no matter how technically elegant.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:23 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cellular, Roaming, Security | No Comments