Archives For Broadband

The Traveling Internet

Mari Silbey —  October 18, 2010 — 4 Comments

Looking for free or cheap Wi-Fi while traveling? Thankfully there are a number of ways to get it now. And while cheap wireless Internet isn’t available everywhere, it is easier than ever to plan ahead for your connectivity needs.

Let’s start with airports. Several airports offer free Wi-Fi some or all of the time. (Just don’t be fooled by, or sign in to, a network with the SSID “Free Public WiFi”) The site Wi-Fi FreeSpot offers a directory showing airports with free access around the country. Don’t see your airport on there? Remember that last year Google and others sponsored free airport Wi-Fi at several locations for the holiday season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen again this year starting some time in November.

What about on the plane? A ZNF friend recently posted on the travel site Upgrd about a deal from Gogo on in-flight Internet access. While Gogo normally charges a fee of $12.95, if you’re heading across the country on a red-eye, the company offers a “FlightNite Pass” for only $5.95. You know, in case you’re not planning to sleep anyway.

Once you’re grounded, there are the standard free hotspot locations to look for, and the options are expanding all the time. Starbucks is always a good bet. You can also cozy up to a Cosi, a Panera, or even (in many cases) a McDonalds. Several ISPs also offer free access to their own hotspots while you’re on the go. On the east coast, Comcast just radically expanded available Xfinity hotspots in the New Jersey and Philadelphia regions.

If all else fails, and you still need connectivity, there’s always that credit card in your wallet and a hotel lobby nearby. Or you can plan ahead and get a USB modem with a 3G or WiMAX subscription. Clearwire is launching 4G WiMAX service in several new cities (New York, LA, San Francisco) before the end of the year. I loved my service when I had it, but I’ll admit, I dropped the subscription recently. Why? There’s a lot of free Wi-Fi out there.

Thanks to Hulu, an obvious studio pawn acting on Fox’s direction, we got a brief glimpse into what a non-neutral network future might look like. As you’ve probably read (or possibly experienced) Cablevision and Fox-parent News Corp are renegotiating retransmission terms. And, as Mari suggested last week, these battles have gotten nasty. With the current dust up resulting in a total Fox television blackout for New York Cablevision customers. To exert additional leverage, Fox/News Corp took the battle to a different medium by presumably, selectively blocking regional Cablevision network addresses from accessing Fox content on Hulu.com.

Some choice quotes from Multichannel News

Public Knowledge: “Blocking Web sites is totally out of bounds in a dispute like this.”

Free Press: “This discrimination against Cablevision high-speed Internet customers is particularly egregious because all other online viewers who do not purchase any cable television service currently have unfettered access to Hulu and Fox.com content.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve called Hulu out on these sorts of practices. Although, when I wondered where Hulu would draw the line, we went ’round and ’round the comments discussing what exactly ‘net neutrality‘ is… and how it might be abused. I’m not sure we’ve found that line yet, but some at Hulu or News Corp apparently decided they weren’t quite ready to open this particular can of worms, as online access was restored within a few hours yesterday. However, I give them credit for mentally preparing us for the possible dynamics of a non-neutral network future.

Apparently we should have all eyes glued to the home management space over the next year. Verizon is the latest to jump on the bandwagon saying it will launch a “connected home service” in the near future for controlling functions like lighting, temperature, and home security automatically. Details are scarce, which makes me wonder if Verizon will initially just throw some IP cameras and machine sensors together as a solution, but certainly the operator already has a management portal for controlling other aspects of your FiOS broadband home.

Meanwhile, Verizon is far from the only company investing in home management. Dave wrote about Blake Krikorian’s Crestron app only yesterday, and several big guys (Microsoft, Google, etc.) have already come at the problem from an energy management standpoint. As a veteran of home automation attempts earlier in the decade, I’m still a skeptic on how quickly consumers will jump on board with industry efforts. But hey, it’s gotta happen some time, right?

Shark Week Clear Week continues… the 4G WiMax service provider got an early start yesterday by announcing their new Apple-centric mobile hotspot, which was followed later in the day with reports of solid subscriber growth and LTE trials. The iSpot’s low monthly fee ($25) combined with access restrictions tempted me to make a purchase — and the fine folks at Clear delivered my new gadget posthaste.

As you can see from the pics, the elongated puck is attractive in a shiny white minimalist way and relatively small, covering about the same surface area as my iPhone 3GS. With zero configuration, I was able to immediately connect my iPhone to the iSpot over WiFi, using the default SSID and WPA encryption key, and start pulling webpages down over the ethereal 4G network – despite marginal WiMax coverage at my home location. (Don’t worry, I’ll hit some speed tests while on the road at a later date.)

As far as device restrictions go and based on conversations with Clear’s press rep, it appears they enforce their ‘mobile Apple device only’ policy via MAC address. Which is presumably a relatively trivial barrier. Of course, using the iSpot in ways it was not intended could be a violation of your terms of service, and I offer this info merely as a technical backgrounder. Having said that, I’ll conduct some testing in the next day or so and provide a definitive answer.

Click to enlarge:

The Clearwire LTE Trials

Mari Silbey —  August 5, 2010 — 1 Comment

Yesterday was big for Clearwire news. First came the launch of the Clear iSpot bundled with $25-per-month mobile broadband service. Then came news of massive subscriber additions for Clearwire in Q2. And finally, perhaps the biggest news of all, Clearwire announced it will start running serious LTE trials this fall.

The timing of the LTE announcement has to be in response to Verizon’s recent LTE marketing push, including the news that CEO Ivan Seidenberg will be keynoting at CES on the topic. However, the strategy shift would be significant no matter when Clearwire put out the press release. I personally do not subscribe to the belief that we have to pit WiMAX against LTE, but plenty of folks do. And since Clearwire has been WiMAX’s greatest advocate in the US, the fact that it’s now making noise over LTE is a big deal.

For the uninitiated (i.e. anyone not directly in the business of wireless networks), LTE has the potential to enable greater mobile broadband speeds than its WiMAX counterpart. However, WiMAX has had a couple of years now to build up network capacity in the US, whereas LTE is not yet commercially available. There’s another important distinction too. WiMAX and LTE typically operate on different frequencies, at least at the moment. Which operators (cable and telco) deploy which technology depends a lot on what spectrum they have access too. The WiMAX Forum has standardized around 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, and 3.5 GHz. Whereas LTE, as far as I’m aware, is focused on 700 MHz, 900 MHz, and 2.6 GHz frequencies. In today’s announcement, Clearwire notes that it will use its 2.5 GHz spectrum for both WiMAX and LTE. I don’t know what the implications are there, but I’ll be interested to read more as industry experts dig deeper into the technical details.