||Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Nationwide 802.11 venture explored by Intel, IBM, AT&T Wireless, Verizon, Cingular
The New York Times today reports that a group of large telecommunications and computing companies is discussing the possibilities of creating a nationwide 802.11 network. The group includes Intel, IBM, AT&T Wireless, Verizon Communications and Cingular, the article says.
No primary source would speak on the record, but the article notes the discussions -- code-named Project Rainbow -- have been going on for eight months. No decision will be reached for a few months since the companies are still trying to decide whether there is a "workable business model." What a surprise (!) -- a workable business model for nationwide 802.11 is what lots of companies have been struggling with!
Intel has been one of the companies leading the discussions, as well as leading the charge to incorporate 802.11 into computers. IBM's Global Services Division would provide access points and develop software for nationwide integration of the hotspots, according to the article.
[CNET News wrote an article on July 12 about IBM incorporating 802.11 capabilities into its "EveryPlace Wireless Gateway."]
Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing's view
John Markoff, the New York Times reporter, and one of the country's premier computer writers, spoke to me about Project Rainbow and quoted me in the article. Here's my expanded view....
A nationwide 802.11 network run efficiently, with thousands of hotspots, efficient billing and the right pricing certainly would be a great service. But this is easier said than done, and time and time again the wireless industry has tried to create nationwide or worldwide wireless data ventures and has gotten into serious trouble. Think Cellular Digital Packet Data (a story I was the first to uncover many years ago), think Wireless Application Protocol, think Bluetooth.
The problem is when you get a room filled with major corporations with entrenched interests it takes a long, long time to reach a conclusion. Then, when a conclusion is reached, these corporations establish an organization to "promote" the effort. "Promotion" typically results in misleading statements and lies. What misleading statements and lies?
Misleading statements and lies
Typically, wireless groups mislead or lie about the state of the technology (when will it be ready for commercial deployment?), the ease of deployment (is it really just "plug-and-play"?), the capabilities of the technology (such as the theoretical maximum data rates -- that no one achieves) and the availability of hardware (how long will it take to develop bug-free network equipment and consumer devices?).
If you look at the history of CDPD, WAP and Bluetooth, as examples, you will see that most -- if not all -- these efforts were disgusting in how they misled or lied to the public. The wireless data industry seems to feel it must "evangelize" -- i.e., mercilessly promote without paying attention to the facts -- virtually every new development. This is really sad because all these efforts I mentioned -- CDPD, WAP and Bluetooth -- have merit.
As I have said and will continue to say, the top management of wireless companies has been incompetent in advertising and marketing wireless data products because of the hype. The wireless industry has itself to blame (in large part, but certainly not completely) for the public's reaction -- or lack thereof -- to wireless data products and services.
Now we have another big-name group that has a good concept. But I can't emphasize enough the importance of ensuring that all the components of the value chain are sufficiently strong! 802.11 actually has some significant advantages over 3G cellular in this regard.
For example, the hardware already is ready for prime time. There are 802.11 PC Cards, Compact Flash Cards, USB transceivers and PCI Cards. There are access points for home and business use.
The "application" is, in great part, the Internet itself and access to your corporate network. The cellular industry, in contrast, has been struggling to find new applications that would be appropriate for relatively slow speeds and relatively expensive airtime.
In addition, 802.11 uses the "right" devices: a laptop computer or a PDA, which have good entry mechanisms and screens.
In some ways, 802.11's advantage is it isn't a "disruptive technology." If you can do it from home or from your office, you probably can do it via an 802.11 connection.
Compare 802.11, for example, with 2.5G (GSM GPRS) and 3G (CDMA 1x) technology. The handsets are slow to arrive, and some have buggy software. The data rates, especially for GPRS, are far slower than anticipated (i.e., hyped by GPRS vendors, cellular operators and other entrenched interests).
Typical cellular handsets, with their tiny monochrome screens and keypads, are awful devices for wireless data, except for SMS. Would you want to read a long message or type a long message on a handset even if you could get a data rates of 1G bps?!
Beware the 802.11 value chain!
Although 802.11 does have advantages over cellular, there are significant problems. For example, you still have to create a nationwide billing system. If the cellular operators want to offer 802.11 + cellular, you need the network and client software. You also need 802.11 + cellular user devices. (Nokia has a multimode PC Card, but other types are needed.)
One huge part of the value chain: the hotspots! Project Rainbow participants still have to negotiate with the "landlords" to get hotspots into hotels, conference centers, airports, coffee shops, etc. Of course, it is possible to buy your way into coverage -- but only to a certain extent.
T-Mobile Broadband (VoiceStream) purchased MobileStar and now has hundreds of locations, primarily in Starbucks and American Airlines Admirals Clubs.
But even if Project Rainbow could purchase every public hotspot in the U.S., it still wouldn't be enough.
Another point: Negotiating to purchase hotspot locations is sometimes like climbing up a mountain, one step at a time. Yes, you could negotiate with a major hotel chain, for example, which could deliver many properties. But could even a hotel chain deliver all its properties? Some hotels are owned by the corporation while others are franchisees that do not necessarily have to follow all the dictates of the parent company.
As for airports, you need to negotiate with them one-on-one, and it's very, very tough going. Airports are not just concerned with the aftermath of 9/11, but they also are "concerned" with ringing every last dollar from wireless operators. Airports are playing hardball, and negotiations are not pleasant or quick.
How about convention centers? The situation is similar to airports. There are companies that provide communications infrastructure to convention centers, but every convention center has to decide whether it wants 802.11. Of course, just like every other potential hotspot location, convention centers need their own justifiable business model.
The bottom line
So, what's the conclusion?
Project Rainbow could be good news. It could provide valuable 802.11 services across the country. It could be a big boon to travelers.
It could also take a long, long time to implement, and that implementation process could be stymied by hype.
Media Reports on Project Rainbow
John Markoff broke the story, but the trade publications haven't lost any time following up. None of the articles add anything new from the main players since no one seems to be commenting. Reporters are left with getting comments from analysts, like yours truly.
Computerworld's article quoted me, but one of the quotes doesn't have quite the implication I meant. Quite possibly I'm to blame for not being clearer.
I'm quoted as saying that Project Rainbow seems like a good idea but there are lots of good ideas in wireless that haven't made it, such as WAP and Bluetooth. WAP has indeed been a terrible disappointment. Although proponents are plugging the latest WAP 2.0 standard, I think WAP is considered and will be considered a failure.
The final chapter of Bluetooth, however, certainly hasn't been written. Bluetooth is not dead and it does have some merit. Certainly the initial products have been late, there are interference problems and serious compatibility issues. But there's still life in Bluetooth.
For more Bluetooth information, read Glenn Fleishman's recent entry in 802.11b Networking News. Also, check out Scott Loftesness' Bluetooth Weblog.
||Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Korea: World Cup technology, wireless and WLANs
Few activities are less interesting than watching sporting events. Indeed, the mind-numbing devotion by human beings to watching illiterates [many, though not all] kicking, batting, throwing, putting, carrying, etc. balls and similar objects is one indication of the sad state of human intelligence. (And don't get me started on the intellect of people who enjoy boxing or hunting.)
I realize this view not only places me in a tiny minority but also leaves me open to criticism by the drooling masses. Can hundreds of millions (billions?) of people be wrong? Well, yes, they certainly can and often are.
However, I do look at sports from a technology perspective. For xample, while I use the occasion of the Super Bowl to go to movies and restaurants (which are uncrowded), I am interested in the new commercials for high-tech products. I can see view commercials on the Internet or use something like Tivo to fast-forward through the program.
World Cup and wireless
The World Cup (men running back and forth across a field trying to kick a ball into a net; how terribly exciting) is interesting to me because of the focus on technology. Many cellular operators began promoting World Cup scores and action transmitted via SMS.
The Koreans have used the World Cup to promote its technological expertise. The Koreans are far ahead of most of the world in Internet penetration, broadband penetration, cellular penetration and higher-speed (70K bps) CDMA 1xRTT service. Indeed, Korea is the world's showcase for 1xRTT service. CNN has an article about the cellular competition between Japan and Korea.
The Korea Times published an article about Korea's plans to promote technology.
Korea and WiFi
Korea also will have one of the largest numbers of 802.11 hotspots in the world. Two telecom carriers will be installing a total of 25,000 hotspots in Korea -- one installing 10,000 and the other installing 25,000. Nespot already offers WLAN service in Korea.
If you'd like to read an overview of Korean telecom during the World Cup -- with a focusing on Internet cafes -- but also with information about cellular and wireless LANs, check out a recent article from The Korea Times. The article discusses how Korea is promoting its technology to journalists.
AsiaBizTech [thank you Glenn Fleishman for the pointer some days ago] wrote about the International Media Center's telecommunications capabilities, including information about wireless LANs.
Avaya has been a major sponsor and telecommunications at the World Cup and has a lot of information about its efforts. Avaya has provided the WiFi infrastructure to journalists and photographers at thje World Cup, but it's not a free for all.
According to an article from IDG News Service -- which was filed from Tokyo, not Seoul -- WiFi at the World Cup costs $80 per day or $1,010 for the month (converted from Japanese yen). The article mentions Avaya renting or selling its WiFi card, so I'm not sure if those prices are just for the airtime (which I believe is the case) or also include the purchase or the rental of the PC Card.
I have been looking at WiFi prices around the world and they really do wander all over the place.
Avaya has the exclusive rights to establish and sell 802.11 service, and journalists need a "permit" in the form of a red plastic badge to show they have been approved. According to the article, officials check if everyone using 802.11 has a permit. Also, the system uses 128-bit encryption.
Yawn vs. excitement
The silly games notwithstanding, the technology is interesting! Indeed, the best thing about the World Cup is it encourages technology companies to offer state-of-the-art telecommunications services.
If I can find airfares from Washington, D.C. to Korea that aren't ridiculously high, I'll be there next month. Watching a soccer match will not be on my schedule, but using CDMA and WiFi services certainly will be.
||Sunday, June 09, 2002
Got an interesting use of WiFi at a conference?
Want to share it at 802.11 Planet?
As I wrote on Friday, I am going to be participating at the 802.11 Planet Conference and Expo in Philadelphia, Monday - Wednesday. On Monday, 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m., I'm going to be discussing how 802.11 is changing the dynamics of conferences and meetings (speaker and audience dynamics) and journalism. The use of Weblogs certainly will be discussed.
If you are attending the conference and have an interesting story to share or want to add your comments about using 802.11 at conferences or corporate meetings, please drop by.
||Friday, June 07, 2002
WiFi, Weblogs, Conferences and Journalism
I'm heading out on Sunday to attend the 802.11 Planet Conference and Expo in Philadelphia where I'll be doing two presentations. One presentation will be on June 10, 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m., discussing how the combination of 802.11 and Weblogs are changing the dynamics of conferences and journalism.
I was a journalist -- focusing on wireless -- for a long time until I became a full-time wireless data consultant in 1996. There is simply no doubt that 802.11 is changing the dynamics of conferences and journalism. At computer and wireless conferences, conference organizers are already getting grief from attendees if they don't have WiFi access. Indeed, at the first 802.11 Planet conference in Santa Clara last year, some attendees were complaining because WiFi was available only in the exhibit hall, not in the meeting room.
Many hotels and conference centers are looking at installing 802.11 in these facilities, but the business models can be difficult. I'm involved in evaluating this and it's more difficult to craft the right business models than you might suspect. I can't/won't reveal confidential information, but it's easy to discuss installing WiFi everywhere when you're not the one having to pay for it and generate revenues! There are many business issues to consider and there aren't quick or assured solutions for some of them.
For a preview of what I'll be discussing, check out today's article about "WiFi Changes Meeting Dynamics," at 80211-planet.
WiFi and cellular
At last year's 802.11 Planet conference I did a two-hour presentation about the new realities of wireless in light of the September 11 attacks and also discussed in detail the entry -- potential entry -- of the cellular industry into the WiFi business. I got good reviews, I believe, for the presentation, but some people wondered whether it was appropriate for me to discuss the mindset and strategies of cellular operators at an 802.11 conference.
Well, times have changed and no one anymore is wondering about the appropriateness! Sprint PCS has invested in Boingo Wireless. VoiceStream has purchased MobileStar. BT [formerly British Telecom] is putting in hotspots around the U.K. In Korea, two carriers are installing a total of 25,000 hotspots. In Scandinavia there are hundreds of hotspots. In Japan, NTT Communications, NTT DoCoMo and Softbank, among others, are installing hotspots. There are many more examples.
My second presentation for 802.11 Planet on June 12, 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m., is entitled "Carriers Get Into 802.11: Will They Catalyze Your Business Or Crush It?" The roundtable discussion will feature experts in the cellular industry who will discuss the impact of cellular operators on the WiFi business. Representations from T-Mobile Wireless Broadband (MobileStar under VoiceStream), Telia HomeRun and GoAmerica will be participating.
If you're going to be at the 802.11 Planet event, please stop by to say hello.
||Saturday, May 25, 2002
More hyperlinks via WiFi in PowerPoint!
Love it or hate it (and I'm closer to the former than the latter), there's a better than even chance you use Microsoft PowerPoint when you need to do a presentation. Now that 802.11 is becoming increasingly available, you need to think about how to leverage the power of wireless. (You don't need PowerPoint to take advantage of this.)
I have written before and will continue to write about the value of WiFi at conferences. I will also continue to write how most conference organizers (with a few notable exceptions) are clueless about how to take advantage of wireless-Internet-at-your-seat. Speakers, even those who are experts in WiFi, aren't taking advantage of wireless Internet access when they're speaking.
One of my recommendations: Hyperlinks!
* Want to show a company's products without filling up your PowerPoint slide with tiny photos? Hyperlink to the products page on a Web site.
* Want to show an animated demo from another company? Hyperlink to the demo and add some pizzazz to your presentation.
* Want to show the audience the original article where you read some information? Hyperlink to the publication's site.
* Did you forget to send in your bio in time for it to be included in the workbook? Hyperlink to your bio on your site.
Taking my own advice
As I was completing my PowerPoint slides for a WiFi conference in Hong Kong next week where I'm chairing a day and speaking about ways to create WiFi businesses, I added hyperlinks to text and graphics in my presentation. I included links to my company's main Web site, to Weblogs, to information about mesh networks and to an audio/video presentation on Sony's site about the Vaio laptop computer and WiFi.
I tested the links with my own WiFi network to see if switching back and forth would be disruptive. Clicking to a Web page is slower than clicking on the next slide, but with a fast enough broadband connection, it's no big deal. And, it adds a lot to your presentation.
[I just purchased a Pentium 4 ThinkPad, 1.6 GHz, with Windows XP Pro. It does make a difference in calling up Web pages faster. Whether it's the faster microprocessor, the 400 MHz bus, the faster graphics chip and RAM -- whatever -- it beats my 700 MHz ThinkPad.]
If you're doing a presentation at a conference where WiFi is available, you really should begin including hyperlinks -- if only to show people your company's Web page...and your Weblog! Hyperlinks can add to your presentation's value.
||Thursday, May 23, 2002
Yeah, right: Verizon and Microsoft announce "ground-breaking" alliance for wireless data
Verizon Wireless and Microsoft today announced a "ground-breaking alliance to offer superior wireless data services and applications to consumers and enterprise customers. I'll believe it when it happens. History has not been kind to companies that hype wireless data ventures.
[By-the-way, as of 9:30 a.m. EDT, Verizon Wireless didn't have this release posted on its Web site. Microsoft does. It was embargoed until May 23 at 12:01 a.m. PST (does Microsoft, Verizon or the PR flacks realize the entire U.S. is on Daylight Savings Time? Here's a story about the announcement from CNET News.]
The press release says the offerings will be launched tomorrow (Friday) and include MSN services and content. "As a result of the agreement, MSN and Verizon Wireless will deliver the most compelling wireless data services in the U.S." Oh puh-lease!
You have to wonder about the intelligence of PR people who write this sort of crap. Haven't they learned from experience? Unfortunately, many participants in the wireless data arena continue to hype their wares, as if the consumer didn't realize what was going on.
There will be a "multi-million dollar joint marketing and branding program" to promote all these incredibly compelling products and services. What will these exciting services be? MSN Hotmail, MSN Messenger, MSN information services and .NET alerts. The CNET News article says the service will include such incredibly compelling [my sarcastic phrase] offerings as news, stocks, sports and weather. CNET says these bountiful and ground-breaking services [my sarcastic characterizations] will cost $6.95 a month.
Dead On Arrival
Years ago, before Microsoft entered the wireless space (Gates didn't seem to "get it" -- either the importance of wireless or the difficulty of the market), all the analysts (myself included) believed Microsoft's entry into wireless was not only critical to creating successful wireless data businesses but also would help -- significantly -- to jump-start this moribund sector.
Well, Microsoft has entered the wireless space, and wireless data still is in bad shape in the U.S. consumer markets. (There are many successful consumer wireless data services overseas, typically using SMS, and many successful vertical market wireless data services in the U.S.)
I predict these "most compelling wireless data services" will be a bust. None of the consumer services is new or exciting. Wireless e-mail, instant messaging, sports, weather? Phooey.
Not all bad
That's not to say this venture (called in the press release as "VZW with MSN") should be dismissed. Firstly, if Microsoft and Verizon do a good job of advertising, marketing -- and customer education -- this will create more awareness of wireless data services. (Of course, like the insipid AT&T Wireless mLife services, it also could highlight how mundane these offerings really are.)
Secondly, wireless e-mail and instant messaging are extremely useful wireless data services for consumers and business people, regardless of your opinion of Hotmail or MSN Messenger.
Thirdly, the more attention Microsoft pays to creating viable wireless data products for enterprises, the better it will be for Microsoft and enterprises. Wireless-enabling corporate information makes a great deal of sense, and Microsoft can be of tremendous value.
The press release says "users will be able to take their Outlook functionality on the road." They've been able to do that for years. Can you spell "B-L-A-C-K-B-E-R-R-Y"?
Ha! The only choice
The press release concludes with quotes by John Stratton, the chief marketing officer at Verizon Wireless. "As consumers increasingly rely on their wireless devices to manage their life, the services beginning tomorrow, as well as those products and services available to them in the future through this alliance, make Verizon Wireless and Microsoft the only choice."
The "only choice" for what John? Hyped services that aren't worth what you're charging?
I truly wish Verizon and Microsoft well. Verizon is my cellular carrier of choice for the U.S. because it offers good coverage and good enough rates, and I'm more of a fan, so far at least, of CDMA data than GPRS data. (I use multiple phones and carriers around the world.) Microsoft XP and Office applications certainly are good enough for me and, frankly, often are just plain good. I use and recommend products from both these companies.
I would very much like them to succeed. I wish they are able to provide great services for consumers, corporate users or any target market.
Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprise when the service launches. However, I have learned from 24 years of wireless experience that these sorts of announcements almost always are harbingers of disappointing offerings. Wireless data is a tough, tough business.
By-the-way, it's 10:50 a.m. EDT (that means " Eastern Daylight Time" for you PR genuises) and Verizon Wireless has finally posted the press release. Slow and steady does it, eh Verizon?
News flash, well kind of
Just got the logo for the new service. It is "VZW with MSN" and it includes the MSN butterfly.
||Thursday, May 16, 2002
Holy mackerel! Capturing other people's browser images via WiFi
This ought to make WiFi users feel really secure! Bob Flickenger, O'Reilly Network's systems adminstrator, was attending his company's Emerging Technology conference when he began viewing, capturing -- and posting -- the browser images from WiFi users in the audience.
Flickenger used a Mac program called EtherPEG which, he says, "combines all of the modern conveniences of a packet sniffer with the good old-fashioned friendliness of a graphics rendering library, to show you whatever GIFs and JPEGs are flying around on your network. It's sort of a real-time meta browser that dynamically builds a view of other people's browsers, built up as other people look around online."
With EtherPEG, Flickenger was able to see what WiFi users were viewing and he posted collages of those images in an article on the O'Reilly Network Weblogs section. The collages contain images that range from run-of-the-mill to those you wouldn't want young children to see. He could easily determine what people were viewing and the traffic volume as each speaker was presenting.
He concludes, "I have stared at the sun, and for the sake of my sanity, will never again look directly at the consciousness of the online ueber-geek collective. Unless I really want to..."
The conference, by-the-way, is still going on. I wonder if people are taking a closer look at what Flickenger is doing with his laptop.
I first learned of this article from a posting to Prof. Dave Farber's "Interesting People" newsgroup.
© Copyright 2002 Alan A. Reiter.