Hopefully our readers have not been sleeping. While much of the world has been watching WiMax deploys stall. (Bad economy, bad decisions, bad deploys.) Another tech has creped up next to WiMax — Super WiFi.
Background. sWiFi is WiFi with longer range and newer frequencies. The FCC granted approval to use the `white spaces` between the old analog TV channels now that the TV industry has transitioned to digital on different frequencies.
On the equipment front the first moves by most of the WiFi providers has been a boost in wattage in the current 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. Thats the same frequencies that the a/b/g/n ranges use today. The extra power has been able to boost range from a practical limit of a few miles to 25 miles in some cases. Longer term, the equipment providers will come to the front with devices that will utilize the longer distance TV frequencies. With multi antenna polar installs ranges of 50+ miles could be entertained.
This still on the drawing board stuff? Nope. Rice university has already trialed a deploy here in Texas. More here. Fact this could be something any average ham or electronic hobbyist should be able to do. An existing WiFi AP fed to a 1-5w power RF amp on existing frequencies could be utilized. The trick is to select an appropriate amp for the frequencies.
Upsides. Everything you know about WiFi is the same. The usual tools, tricks, and security schemes apply. That is a large savings in educational ramp up.
Downsides. All the problems associated with security on WiFi still apply too. Be cognizant of that fact. The other of course, with the longer ranges it is quite possible for ad hoc set ups to step all over each other.
Futures. For rural, low density locations this may well be the solution for them. Permitting is not an issue. With WiMax stalled, sWiFi may take over. When it is possible for a community of people to erect their own community AP’s and buy high gain receivers off the shelf it will take off.
What triggered the creation of this Blog may well be at hand in the next couple of years.
Douglas Rushkoff has championed the idea that the current corporate-controlled internet is far from the open commons we pretend it is.
“If we have a dream of how social media could restore peer-to-peer commerce, culture, and government, and if the current Internet is too tightly controlled to allow for it, why not build the kind of network and mechanisms to realize it?” Rushkoff asks.
Sounds daunting. And expensive, right? Wrong.
Funded primarily by the personal savings of group members and a grant from the National Science Foundation, residents of Jalalabad have built the FabFi network: an open-source system that uses common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles.
They are building a node in war torn Afganistan for $60 + cost of electronics and the electronics are nothing but COTS stuff. Linksys 54WGRT type stuff, nothing exotic. Same thing is happening in several cities in Kenya. Its about high time we here in the US get off our duff and simply accomplish the same thing.
The tools are not lacking either –
While we like to give the impression that building fabfi consists of simply pointing a couple wifi routers at each other and calling it a day, there’s an enormous amount of development that goes into creating that illusion. The current fabfi system does first-order integration with dozens of open-source projects, including:
And with every day we’re adding new tweaks to improve stability and performance that require testing in the UoN Fablab development network.
So the question is, what is our excuse? We don’t even need to stick with b or g class transmission. Most could afford to pay for a class n node for electronics. That provides a several order of magnitude increase in transmission rates. The essential need would be one of proper access for line of sight presence and a backhaul point to get on the Web.
Notable links –
It’s no secret that AT&T’s under investment in infrastructure has become a major liability for the company that now wears the once proud technology leader’s logo. The iPhone has rewarded the company with steady wireless growth, enough to cover for its land based Uverse disaster. While is has been beefing up it’s wireless infrastructure recently, it has not kept pace with demand created by growth created by internet capable handsets. This could be a real chill on revenue growth as AT&T loses it’s iPhone exclusive. Needing a quick fix, the company is beefing up its WiFi network in the most congested locations.
“We’re excited to start the next phase of our hotzone program with additional Wi-Fi coverage areas in New York City and, soon, in San Francisco,” said Angie Wiskocil, senior vice president, AT&T Wi-Fi Services. “AT&T Wi-Fi will be available across a wider area for Manhattan residents, visitors and New Year’s Eve revelers during the busy holiday season and beyond. Plus, San Francisco residents are expected to soon be able to enjoy a Wi-Fi hotzone in the Embarcadero Center area as they shop, dine and work.” (ATT.com Press Release)
AT&T may have tripped over a broader wireless solution without trying. The company has hap hazzardly established a WiFi presence that nearly rivals some carriers 3G coverage. This gives the smart phone user access to decent bandwidth in select locations without burning precious monthly plan bits. Fixed line customers stuck with a slow connection at home may be enticed to stay with free access to a robust WiFi network when out and about. AT&T skates by big investments by deploying commodity, off the shelf hardware that does not need expensive tower leases and permits that can use existing infrastructure for back haul. Customers can access the network with commodity devices and use it as they please.
Switching to a broader view, I think that this calls into question how we’re managing spectrum. Using a tiny sliver of shared spectrum, AT&T is providing service to the masses quickly and cheaply. ANYONE can use that spectrum quickly and easily by plugging in an approved device. The FCC pre-certifies the devices we use and polices any bad behavior. Thanks to the chaos of an open market, new bandwidth goes on online in the blink of any eye.
Meanwhile back in Washington, carrier lobbyists are beating the drum for more exclusive spectrum to enable the chosen few to keep consumers on their exclusive plantations. I think it’s for a reboot. No more exclusive licenses to spectrum. We’ve tried the other way and it’s kept American technology behind the curve and forced us to pay the highest prices in the developed world for service. I’m not suggesting that we put the existing carriers out of business, I’m only suggesting that we stop protecting them from competition. Yes, I know the rest of the world is still doing it the old way. Staying with that model has turned us into lagging followers. It’s time to lead.
For Starbucks to open up their WiFi network for free to their customers? Their biggest competitor, Micky D’s, did this about 6 months ago. D’s is not totally open, but if all you want to do is surf, well then it is. But still, ‘Bucks usually moves faster than this —
Starting July 1st, Starbucks will finally begin to offer free and unrestricted Internet access over Wi-Fi in its stores. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz made this announced at Wired’s Disruptive by Design conference today. With this, Starbucks finally joins the ranks of neighborhood coffee stores all over the world that have long offered free and easy access to Wi-Fi. By Fall 2010, Starbucks also plans to give Internet users in its stores free access to paid sites, including the Wall Street Journal.
Until now, Starbucks customers were restricted to two hours of Wi-Fi access and needed to register for a Starbucks Card in order to access the Internet. Starbucks already offered free Wi-Fi access to AT&T customers.
Free Access to Paid Content
The free access to paid content sites, however, is the big news here. According to Starbucks, this new service, called the “Starbucks Digital Network,” will give users who surf the Internet from U.S. company owned stores access to “various paid sites and services such as wsj.com, exclusive content and previews, free downloads, local community news and activities, on their laptops, tablets or smart phones.” Besides the Wall Street Journal, Starbucks’ partners include Apple’s iTunes, The New York Times, Patch, USA TODAY, Yahoo and ZAGAT.
The free paid access sweeter I guess makes up for the delay?
As any connected adult will tell you, the availability of Wifi can make wait time much less annoying and more productive.
Kids will be kids. If you pack them into a yellow box, 100 or so at at time, it’s a given that they will get rowdy out of boredom. It’s been that way since the day these transport vehicles began rolling. While they can get unruly, kids are also inquisitive. Give them Wifi on the ride and they may even add a little study time to their online gaming a socializing.
….as bus No. 92 rolls down a mountain highway just before dawn, high school students are quiet, typing on laptops.
Morning routines have been like this since the fall, when school officials mounted a mobile Internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the Web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.
“It’s made a big difference,” said J. J. Johnson, the bus’s driver. “Boys aren’t hitting each other, girls are busy, and there’s not so much jumping around.” (New York Times)
With the billions our government has poured down the rat hole for silly ideas to improve education, how about doing something that make sense instead? Something like putting Wifi in buses. At $200 per, it makes sense and will probably even pay its own way in less time spent trying to keep the kids in line.
For those of the geeky variety, and not so, starting today McDonalds open up its WiFi to all comers. Free. With some catches.
Access is free. So general surfing will be available. According to McD’s web page (here) certain services and particular access needs may still require paying for the privilege. But I am fine with that. It is a step in the right direction.
McD’s being altruistic? Not totally. Their heart is in the right place, but their core reason is profit of course. You see McD’s has been in a battle Royale with StarBucks in the morning fast food segment going on 5 years now. Both players have toyed with the idea of going free on WiFi. Fact in some segments I believe StarBucks has already done so. Why do it? Draw customers in. Once they have you inside you might just buy a cup of coffee at a minimum or pop for a whole meal in the best of cases. Least thats the thinking.
This won’t go unnoticed of course. Figure StarBucks to counter across the board very quickly.
The real question becomes does WiFi stay viable for very long? In a strong parallel, WiFi hotspots are the 21st Century equivalent of the pay phone. Useful sure. But you are ‘parked’ till you finish your communications. Yet the growth of smartphones are anathema to that model as the CPE are tied to metrowide cellular/3g/4g services unrelated to specific locale. So WiFi services that McD’s is providing will fade just like the wall payphone at the local tavern did.