Tag Archives: Mobile

NYCwireless Testimony for NY City Council Hearing: The Regulation and Use of the Unallocated Portion of the Radio Spectrum, Also Known as White Spaces

This is the testimony that I gave and submitted to the NY City Council:

NYCwireless New York City Council Testimony on White Spaces (pdf)

NYCwireless Testimony to the New York City Council
Regulation and Use of the Unallocated Portion of the Radio Spectrum, Also Known as White Spaces

Ladies and Gentlemen of the New York City Council and friends and guests, thank you for inviting me to speak. My name is Dana Spiegel, and I am the Executive Director of the non-profit NYCwireless, which builds free, public Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces throughout New York City.

I come today not to talk about the FCC’s plans or the facts about white space devices. I also will not speak about Broadway and Off-Broadway, which is an important cultural resource for this great city. Nor will I speak about the company Shure and other wireless microphone manufacturers, who have admitted to spreading false information about the impact of white space devices on existing equipment. Other presenters here today will speak extensively about these subjects.

I wish to speak solely about the value of such white space devices for all of New York City, and draw some parallels to a similar technology, Wi-Fi, and its history. I believe there are enough similarities between white space devices and Wi-Fi that we can draw some realistic conclusions about what might actually happen when white space spectrum becomes available.

Wi-Fi uses radio frequency spectrum covered under the FCC’s Part 15, which allows companies to manufacture and sell certified devices that operate in the 2.4Ghz frequency range, and allows anyone to purchase such devices and operate them without applying for an FCC broadcast license. If you use Wi-Fi in your home, office or park, you are using a Part 15 device. The same goes for bluetooth headsets used with mobile phones, and baby monitors, garage door openers, and some cordless phones.

The precursor to 802.11 technology was invented in 1991, and since then has enjoyed tremendous success. You’d be hard pressed to find a computer user today who hasn’t used Wi-Fi at some point. But it was never imagined to be such a ubiquitous or widely used technology. It was always originally expected that Wi-Fi devices would be used in large office buildings only, and consumer use was never considered.

In 2000, in New York and a few other cities like Boston and Seattle, technologists started to use the Wi-Fi devices to do the unimaginable: share the internet with their neighbors. NYCwireless was founded in 2001 with the pioneering purpose of using this technology to broadcast internet access to local neighborhoods. One of the first public hotspots in the world was in our own Tompkins Square Park.

Back then, devices were neither easy to use nor cheap to purchase for consumers. If you had a laptop, you could buy a Wi-Fi card and access point each for a few hundred dollars. But if you went to Tompkins Square Park or Bryant Park, you could do something that no one else in the world could do: sit under a tree and surf the internet.

Since 2000, New York City has seen dozens of parks lit up by NYCwireless and others, and each year more parks and public spaces are brought online. New York City was host to the first ever wireless arts festival, called Spectropolis, in 2003 and 2004, held in City Hall Park. NYCwireless and others have lit up dozens of affordable housing residences, providing residents the ability to get online and have a critically important lifeline. None of these achievements would have been possible without the FCC enabling the free, unlicensed use of the 2.4Ghz spectrum range.

But even more impressive than these achievements has been the explosion of Wi-Fi usage throughout New York City. Just about every business, both big and small, makes use of Wi-Fi. Cafés, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops offer Wi-Fi to their customers, and a significant percentage of the over 8 million residents in this city use Wi-Fi in their homes.

With all of these people using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, you don’t often hear about interference issues. Just about everyone makes use of Wi-Fi in their homes and businesses without issue. Bluetooth headsets work everywhere you walk. Baby monitors and cordless phones, devices that use the same tiny sliver of 2.4Ghz spectrum, work just fine too.

With all of its success, its surprising that Wi-Fi is in part utterly unlike the types of devices that the FCC is considering for use of white space frequencies. The biggest difference is that the proposed FCC rules for white space devices ensure they won’t interfere with existing spectrum users, and that devices will contain technology to move around the white space spectrum to ensure that they never interfere. These tested devices have successfully proved that such technology is achievable, as have Bluetooth devices which contain similar intelligence.

In discussing this history of Wi-Fi, and highlighting its achievements, I hope to paint a picture for the Council about what white space devices may mean for New York City. Such devices have the possibility of enabling larger scale internet broadcast, providing inexpensive or free access to whole neighborhoods from the central anchor of a park. More buildings will be able to be retrofitted with internet access, a current challenge for a number of older NYCHA buildings. Schools and libraries will become internet hubs for their neighbors. In short, the amazing things we’ve done with Wi-Fi will be amplified with the availability of white space devices.

The FCC already has proposed white space device rules in place that ensure non-interference. Indeed, New York City, and Broadway (who makes use of Wi-Fi in their theaters to provide internet access to stage and production staff), stand to benefit enormously from white space devices, even while continuing to use their existing technology. Imagine if, instead of just using wireless microphones for audio, we could have videos of performances could be broadcast and entire neighborhoods could participate in such events.

Additional Reading
New America Foundation Wireless Future Program
Free Press, White Spaces: Bringing the Internet to Everyone
GigaOm: 1 and 2
People’s Production House

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:

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.

Special Event — Wireless, Wimax & Mobile 2008 and Beyond: The future of Communications

Bill Sobel, founder of NY:MIEG (New York: Media Information Exchange Group), has organized a very exciting and informative event on looking at where we are and where we are going with wireless communications technologies. The event, Wireless, Wimax, Mobile and Beyond: A Look at the Future of Communications, will take place on January 17 at SobelMedia World Headquarters, 4 West 43rd Street/Main Ballroom (West of 5th Avenue).

Event Website
Registration Required ($30 for NY:MIEG members, $50 for non-members)

Both I and Laura Forlano will be on the panel at the breakfast, along with Eric Bader, formerly the top digital executive at MediaVest, and Ari Zoldan, CEO and Founder of Launch 3 Communications, and will be moderated by Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Students at the Columbia School of Journalism.