Follow Up from NY:MIEG Event — Wireless, Wimax & Mobile 2008 and Beyond: The Future of Communications

Laura and I had a lot of fun talking on the panel at the NY:MIEG event Wireless, Wimax & Mobile 2008 and Beyond: The Future of Communications. We talked about Wi-Fi, WiMax, and Cell networks, as well as devices and content. Laura talked about her research about how people use hotspots. Needless to say, lots of people are interested in wireless technologies, and especially handhelds and Wi-Fi hotspots.

For those of you that missed the panel, it was recorded and will be posted online.

A few people live-blogged the panel, and there was lively discussion for quite some time after the panel was over:

International Summit for Community Wireless Networks Call for Panels

Sascha Meinrath has posted a call for panels for the 2008 IS4CWN. Be sure to send panel proposals to

CALL FOR PANELS — Due March 31, 2008

International Summit for Community Wireless Networks
May 28-30, 2008, Washington, DC
Send panel proposals and questions to:

Since the first National Summit for Community Wireless Networks in 2004, hundreds of community Internet and municipal broadband initiatives have sprung up around the globe. Internet access is increasingly important to all facets of civil society, but many communities are being left out of this communications revolution. “High-speed broadband access is the electricity of the 21st century, yet many rural and poorer urban communities are being left off the grid,” says Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a DC-based policy think-tank. “The innovators and organizers at the International Summit for Community Wireless Networks are blazing the trail to make broadband affordable and available to everyone.”

The 2008 summit will be co-hosted by the world’s largest general scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and continue its tradition of featuring wireless leaders, innovators, activists, and community networking visionaries from around the globe.

The Summit focuses on how wireless networks can better serve their target populations, the policies needed to support broader deployment of community wireless systems, and the latest technological and software innovations in the field. “Wireless networking is about far more than Internet connectivity,” states Sascha Meinrath, Summit Director. “It’s about building next-generation multi-media services for communities, fostering social and economic justice, and facilitating a vibrant arts and cultural scene.”

We invite your panel proposals and participation in this year’s International Summit for Community Wireless Networks to discuss and exchange ideas on how to make universal broadband access a reality. More information will be available soon at:


Interested presenters are encouraged to propose innovative panels focusing on the three themes for the Summit: technology, policy, and implementation. The International Summit for Community Wireless Networks distinguishes itself from typical technical and academic conferences by engaging all participants in an ongoing dialog that encourages a strategic approach to community wireless network development and telecommunications policy reform. Panelists will not simply present their own work and opinions — they will also serve as facilitators of a process that records lessons learned and help produce a comprehensive “to-do list” of action items for the coming months and years.

While three days is not long enough to develop a truly comprehensive strategic plan, panels at the Summit represent a significant opportunity for thinkers, developers, and stakeholders to produce substantial recommendations to support the development of community wireless networks. The Summit is, in essence, a gathering of leaders in the field and an opportunity to shape the future of this movement. Past panels can be reviewed at:

Panel ideas will be accepted on a rolling basis and must be received no later than March 31, 2008. Please send panel proposals of 250 words or less to:

Travel stipends are available for speakers with financial need.

AT&T Going to Provide a Filtered Internet all in the Name of Copyright Protection?

David Isenberg talks on his blog about how AT&T is going to filter all of the internet they provide looking for copyright violations. He importantly teases apart the difference between filtering for copyright violations and general network congestion management:

I nominate the end-user to make the decision. If, as I propose above, Internet access providers were to provide explicitly different tiers of service for different, explicitly laid out throughput plans charged at different rates, the user could make that decision. And it would be a free market decision that even a libertarian would love. The carrier would need to decide whether to (a) eat the cost of upgrading its infrastructure to allay the risk of losing customers to bad performance or (b) implement tiered service to save network upgrade costs but risk losing customers who don’t like paying for tiered service. But, hey, that’s business.

Carriers know all this. But, as it turns out, they don’t want to frame the picture simply because they don’t want to be in the Stupid Network business. They’re addicted to adding value. They’ve convinced one class of customers, music and movie moguls, that they can add value for them. Importantly to the carriers, the value they propose to add is network-resident value; the return of the Intelligent Network. Network-resident value is business as usual, even when it imposes huge costs on the rest of society. This is why they persist in framing the two issues as inter-related.

Harold Feld also has weighed in on David Weinberger’s blog:

Which leads to my final point. The very idea of traffic control is that you have to give the ISP the power to decide what is best. But wouldn’t it actually MAXIMIZE network efficiency to treat capacity as a spot market and let users decide? This does not require any great sophistication (assuming the right software). Furthermore, because we keep hearing that it is a relatively few number of sophisticated “bandwidth hogs” that are causing all the heartburn, altering the incentives of these few highly sophisticated actors to change their behaviors will have a substantial global effect.

But the Telcos and Cable Cos do not like this choice, because they want to own the customer.

CBS MobileZone Usage Report

Our own Klaus Ernst (he’s an active NYCwireless member) reports on some of availability of the CBS MobileZone on Wi-Fi Net News.

The 47th Street Subway entrance has the “CBS mobile ((ZONE)) surf the web here. Free!” orange banner (see picture) but there was no hotspot. Maybe next time.

Well, it’s not hopeless, but CBS is definitely not blanketing the area with Wi-Fi the way they made it sound in the press release.

Craig Plunkett also reports on his blog about the network:

I was in the Big Town yesterday and decided to try getting access through my blackberry from a Wi-Fi node next to a billboard that I could clearly see. 3 bars on the blackberry wifi meter, but no joy. For some reason, my blackberry coughed up a W010 failure to associate message. The node in question is on the southwest corner of 40th and 7th avenue, at a cell site/billboard on top of a 3 story building.

For those not in the business, the business end of this connection is the white box with the three antennae above the all-seeing CBS eye. The two long antennae are the stock dipoles that come with a Tropos 3200 node. That’s what your wifi device connects to. The third white little can in between the two long ones I thought might have been an EV-DO antenna that is commented upon in Glenn’s wifinetnews post here. However, a person connected with the project has quashed that notion adamantly, and upon closer inspection of the picture, it’s just the top of the mounting mast sticking up over the Tropos node. Notice the cell site antennae below the CBS sign. Usually, there’s fiber to these cell sites, and that might be what the site is using for backhaul. I’m not really buying John’s explanation of the connection issues. I haven’t ever had to do the kinds of on/off gyrations he’s describing to get connected, whether it was a blackberry, XP, or Vista laptop, and if you have to screw around that much with your adapter just to get connected, then nobody’s going to use it.

Craig’s right that if the connection isn’t going to work well given the RF interference from all the other Wi-Fi, there’s likely to be little use. Its not clear that CBS has learned from earlier experiences from Verizon’s ill fated Wi-Fi push a few years ago that having Wi-Fi on a street corner means nothing if there’s no easy way to use it with your laptop.

One important aspect of Free Wi-Fi networks is that to be useful, they must be in locations that have seating available, and there’s very little seating available on the streets of midtown Manhattan. Both Klaus and Craig are Wi-Fi early adopters, and happen to have handheld devices, but very few people in the general population are so lucky. In reality, if the connectivity isn’t better than dial-up for any user, there’s little point to using the network on a Wi-Fi equipped phone like the iPhone or Blackberry, since the cell networks are going to be about as fast and the Wi-Fi connection.

The Tropos gear uses 802.11g Wi-Fi gear to distribute internet access to the nodes, but this only makes the problem of Wi-Fi interference worse. In midtown, you can usually see dozens of access points, and that’s just the ones that are broadcasting their SSID. The Tropos backhaul likely experiences lots of radio congestion on the omni-directional antennas it uses, and only serves to increase the amount of Wi-Fi noise broadcast into the area.

Have any other NYCwireless users used the network?

Android Will Open the Mobile Space in 2008

Google’s Android mobile OS is an interesting new technology that will open up the mobile space in 2008. Bill Sobel blogged about the platform in conjunction with our Jan 17th panel “Wireless, Wimax, Mobile and Beyond: A Look at the Future Communications“.

Android will enable a multitude of new mobile applications. Along with the iPhone’s soon to be released open platform, which will enable anyone to build software for the phone, I expect 2008 to bring a number of new types of apps. Yes, we’ll see some tie-ins to OpenSocial and other social network applications, as well as some better implementations of some existing applications like chat, location, and messaging. But we’re also likely to see applications that never existed in a mobile context, because developers will finally be able to create software for handsets just like they create software on desktops.

One of the important aspects of the handset space, which people don’t seem to be talking about, is how its fundamentally different from computing on the desktop. This distinction wasn’t really able to be developed because thus far we’ve had anemic platforms (like JavaME) that restricted what developers could do because of limited APIs. With Android and with the iPhone, such restrictions go away because the OS and API are essentially the same as their desktop counterparts.

The really exciting and innovative applications will only come about if the hardware supports it. With the iPhone, you really have both an OS and a handset that remove the traditional limitations of mobile platforms, and we’re already seeing some novel applications being built. With the iPhone’s official APIs, many more developers will build new types of apps. But with Android, thus far we’ve only seen the traditional phone interfaces (QWERTY keypad and small screen). For Android to really succeed, it will need better and less restrictive hardware as well. Apple caused developers and users to rethink how they interact with a mobile computing device — its not really a phone, but a pocketable computer that can make calls. Android will need to get similar handsets in order to remove the traditional hardware limitations that have restricted phones up until now.