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Wireless Networking Hardware

Cringely: Wi-Fi in the Sky 158

Posted by michael
from the blackhawk-down dept.
Boiled Frog writes "In Cringely's latest article, he describes his plan to test a wi-fi connection between his house and his plane using two LinkSys 802.11g routers. He plans to experiment with various antennas to see which works the best."
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Cringely: Wi-Fi in the Sky

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  • Cringe-ly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LostCluster (625375) * on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:26AM (#9715895)
    Sometimes, this Cringely guy just makes me cringe...

    He takes a rather quick review of the geek-unfriendly regulations in the sky, and then simply says that because he doesn't believe in them he's going to openly ignore them.

    At least he'll be using his own plane, so the only life he's risking in this situation is his own and maybe one or two willing others. Part of the reason why the FAA is over-sensative over what's going on within commerical airplanes is because if the unthinkable random frequency collision were to happen, it might cause an instrument to give a wrong reading to the pilot and the result would be hundreds of people being killed. That's rather high stakes to be guessing...
    • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:3, Insightful)

      by garcia (6573) *
      At least he'll be using his own plane, so the only life he's risking in this situation is his own and maybe one or two willing others. Part of the reason why the FAA is over-sensative over what's going on within commerical airplanes is because if the unthinkable random frequency collision were to happen, it might cause an instrument to give a wrong reading to the pilot and the result would be hundreds of people being killed. That's rather high stakes to be guessing...

      Yeah, I agree, but I think that we hav
      • Since he built the plane, the FAA considers this mod to be original equipment.

        But really, who cares if the guy uses a wifi antenna that high? To planes refuse to fly near ground-based radio station towers because they are afraid of interference? Didn't think so.

        --
        Oreck Reviews [generalhouseware.com]
    • by SatanicPuppy (611928) <Satanicpuppy@MOSCOWgmail.com minus city> on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:35AM (#9715992) Journal
      The first thing that leapt to my mind was, "If he doesn't get a signal, is he going to turn around and try it again...only lower?"

      And lower...

      And lower...

      And his next article is going to deal with how he pulled a wifi equipped plane out of his roof, using a common lawn tractor.
    • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PD (9577) * <slashdotlinux@pdrap.org> on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:35AM (#9715996) Homepage Journal
      Wrong instruments shouldn't cause crashes any more than a broken speedometer in your car will cause a crash. Competent pilots can fly with their backups, or their eyes.
      • Unless they are flying IFR in IMC conditions.
        • Somehow I seriously doubt that cringer is going to fly his plane in zero vis with a broken deck at 200 feet, or during a thunderstorm.

          PS: Cringer was the name of the normal cat state of battlecat on He-Man. I think it's a good nickname for Cringley.
      • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LostCluster (625375) *
        What if the broken instrument was the gas tank... leading the pilot/driver to think they have gas when they're really about to be out. That's a formula for a crash right there...
        • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:5, Informative)

          by jcleland (566420) on Friday July 16, 2004 @10:55AM (#9717058)
          FYI: Pilots, especially those of light aircraft, don't use their fuel guages the way you use the one in your car. My fuel guage could read just about anything and I wouldnt' be freaking out because I knew, before I took off, how much fuel I had on board and how much I burn per hour. This is just basic PPL stuff. Most GA fuel guages don't read accurately anyway. Mine read 1/4 when the tanks are about 1/2. Most instruments critical to flight aren't subject to this kind of interference anyway:

          Altimiter: barometric pressure
          Attitude Indicator: Vac/gyro
          Directional Gyro: Vac/gyro
          Turn coordinator: Electric gyro
          Airspeed: Pitot/static pressure
          VSI: static pressure

          These are all mechanical in nature. GPS and nav radios are another story, but it's not likely that a malfunction of either is going to cause an accident in VFR conditions. Besides, IFR certified GPS are required to have RAIM which would most likely be out if your phone were interfering with your GPS. My Apollo CNX80 used to report RAIM outages over Quantico, VA until a recent software update. They are VERY picky about signal integrity and the slightest disagreement between sats will cause them to flag.

          Just as a disclaimer, YMMV in an A330. I'm sure that large commercial aircraft with integrated flight directors/fms/etc are subject to more problems from interference. Plus, it's not as easy for a pilot to understand the systems of a more complex aircraft/avionics suite and determine what's safe and what's not. I wouldn't hop in even a Malibu Meridian and casually allow my passengers to use a cell phone when I was expecting enroute IMC either.

          I doubt that we are talking about a terribly complex set of radios. Don't worry about Cringely, I'm sure he'll be fine.
        • Why would a radio signal cause problems with a fuel indicator?
          • In a pure fly-by-wire aircraft, all of the instruments are pure digital data, and an induction into the wires carrying that data could possibly create a false report.

            It's a longshot, yes. But remember, the penality for losing this bet is a crashed passenger jet... we don't take chances with that happening, now, do we?
          • Why would a radio signal cause problems with a fuel indicator?

            Because the radio signal has set the fuel on fire?

    • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RPI Geek (640282) on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:42AM (#9716069) Journal
      At least he'll be using his own plane, so the only life he's risking in this situation is his own and maybe one or two willing others. Part of the reason why the FAA is over-sensative over what's going on within commerical airplanes is because if the unthinkable random frequency collision were to happen, it might cause an instrument to give a wrong reading to the pilot and the result would be hundreds of people being killed. That's rather high stakes to be guessing...

      Being a student pilot myself (35 hrs cumulative flight time), I really doubt that he's taking any significant risk at all. As it says in the article, it is up to the PIC (pilot-in-command) to decide whether or not to allow the use of personal electronic devices, and just looking over at his laptop while flying poses just about no risk. On a cross-country flights (100+mi), there's maps to be examined, air traffic controllers to contact, radio stations to tune into to verify your location, a flight computer to use (think complicated slide rule), passengers to talk to, and increasingly, GPS units to play with. He's been a pilot for 35 or so years, so I'm sure he'll set up everything on the ground and get it working before he ever starts the plane's engine, so just looking over to the laptop to check signal strength and connect to the internet shouldn't take any more concentration than looking at a sectional chart to make sure he's outside the local airspace.

      As to the equipment interfering with the instruments, small aircraft have instruments based mostly on mechanical parts. Heck, some of them don't even use electricity to spin the gyroscopes. Additionally, I'm sure he's flown in this area before and therefore is familiar witht he terrain - every pilot I know has flown over his/her home numerous times :-) Commercial aircraft use more sensitive electronic gauges, but my opinion is that they're robust enough to handle the interference from PED's; even if there's a problem, though, teh pilots are trained to fly using much less equipment than the plane actually has. Most people don't realize how much redundancy is build right into the regulations.

      Bottom line, I agree that the FAA is being oversensitive, and I'm very curious about how this all turns out.

      Anywho, back to work.
    • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:5, Interesting)

      by delcielo (217760) on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:43AM (#9716078) Journal
      For the most part, I agree with you.

      He's poo-pooing research into the matter by saying that it doesn't prove anything; and yet he's not giving any evidence that it's not true.

      He does have the priviledge under Part 91 to do this in his own plane, though. The thing is, his homebuilt small plane probably has better insulation on the wiring than a mid-80's airliner. Also, he probably doesn't fly his little homebuilt on autopilot much (if it's even equipped with one) whereas an airliner spends most of its time being flown by the flight director (fancy autopilot), which is the component that we're really worried about, as it will follow a failed instrument without question, as opposed to analyzing whether or not the indications make sense. So, in the end, he won't really have proven anything regarding the RF interference issue on aircraft.

      Finally, I'm not going to spend $1000 having an A&P mechanic install my $100 wifi router in my airplane. If I could just slap it in myself, that would be one thing; but with an airplane you're going to need a Form 337 approval at least, if not an STC (Supplemental Type Certificate). No big deal on the 337. It just takes time and thus money. That's money I'll be spending just help the wifi cloud when I happen to be flying? Uhh, I'll pass.

      • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:3, Informative)

        by mirio (225059)

        Finally, I'm not going to spend $1000 having an A&P mechanic install my $100 wifi router in my airplane. If I could just slap it in myself, that would be one thing; but with an airplane you're going to need a Form 337 approval at least, if not an STC (Supplemental Type Certificate). No big deal on the 337. It just takes time and thus money. That's money I'll be spending just help the wifi cloud when I happen to be flying? Uhh, I'll pass.


        Sorry, this isn't true. This is not required for homebuilt airp
        • Sorry, it is true.

          My point is that I don't fly a homebuilt airplane. My airplane does require a 337.

          Cringely noted that there were 1000 GA aircraft currently on ifr flights. How many do you think were homebuilt? I doubt even a dozen. His idea works only if production GA aircraft carry these things.

          • Do you need a license to carry portable equipment on the thing with you? I know lots of pilots take laptops (and they even have leg saddles and shit for them) up to do navigation, logging, computing, or what have you. You can take a wifi ap up that way too. You could even just buy one of the preconfigured mesh routers and bingo.
            • You could certainly take it with you. But I don't know how effective it would be without an external antenna.

              It's a great idea. I'm just not sure how well the whole things works from a practical standpoint.

              But we are talking about Cringely. :-)


          • Cringely noted that there were 1000 GA aircraft currently on ifr flights. How many do you think were homebuilt? I doubt even a dozen. His idea works only if production GA aircraft carry these things.


            You care to explain why? He was just nothing the number of IFR flights because they are more easily tracked. There is no reason this system could not be implemented in homebuilts or spam cans on VFR flights. The only possible downside to putting them in VFR ships is that the mesh would obviously lose nodes
            • Well, you sort of answered it yourself.

              You certainly could use these in VFR operations. I would think that it would even work better in those conditions as there would likely be less other electromagnetic activity to get in the way.

              However, you stated yourself that 15% of the single-engine piston fleet is homebuilt. How many of that 15% are aloft at any given time, and for how long? I don't think the homebuilt crowd by itself is enough to sustain this idea. I believe you need to do this with productio
    • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CatLord42 (657659) <catlord42@NoSPaM.yahoo.com> on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:45AM (#9716099) Journal
      ... Part of the reason why the FAA is over-sensative over what's going on within commerical airplanes is because if the unthinkable random frequency collision were to happen, it might cause an instrument to give a wrong reading to the pilot and the result would be hundreds of people being killed.

      I'm sorry, I don't buy this. If planes are so reliant on all these telemetry signals that a bunch of electronic devices in the cabin could cause them to crash because the pilots cannot possibly look at the instruments, look out the window, and figure out something's wrong, I don't know how any airline managed to stay in business or keep any sort of plane in the air before, say, 1995. Without GPS and the (incredibly consistent) global air-traffic radar systems, why, you couldn't so much as fly a plane over a country with whom your at war to drop a bomb.

      Oh, wait, they did, and radar hadn't even become useful or reliable, in the early 1940s.

      One of my favorite "West Wing" quotes is from the opening scene of the pilot (I think...), where Toby gets a page and calls into the whitehouse, and the flight attendant tells him he has to turn off his cell phone because the plane is approaching the airport. Paraphrasing, his response went something like, "This aircraft is equipped with a $60,000 telemetry system hooked into a multi-million dollar national air traffic control system, and you're telling me that I can cause the plane to crash with something I bought from Radio Shack for less than $30.00? Do you know how stupid you sound?"

      I don't know, but something just doesn't seem right.
      • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:5, Interesting)

        by div_2n (525075) on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:56AM (#9716200)
        It isn't too hard to figure out:

        1) There are in-plane phones that charge your out the ass to use them. Cell phones kind of bypass that. It isn't surprising that they don't allow cell phones in-flight.

        2) I have read that cell companies say that the phones would confuse the cell network due to being able to "see" so many towers. I don't buy that as I have used my cell on top of a 250ft tower on top of a tall mountain well within the range of at least 10 cell towers. No problem as far as I could see.

        3) When the terrorists took over the planes in 2001, passengers were using cell phones to make calls while the planes were going. The pilots were NOT professionals. They had enough training to steer them into buildings and that is about it. They didn't crash because of cell phones being used. Hmmmm.

        You can bet that cell phones are not a danger to make planes crash. That isn't the reason they are banned. You can bet on that.
        • They had enough training to steer them into buildings and that is about it. They didn't crash because of cell phones being used. Hmmmm.

          First of all, they didn't crash because cell phones were being used, they crashed because they pointed the planes at the buildings as part of their mission. Case closed.

          Second, the pilots attended flight schools in the U.S. and probably knew enough to take off and run the plane into the building. Just running it into a building can literally be done by anyone who ha

        • You can bet that cell phones are not a danger to make planes crash. That isn't the reason they are banned. You can bet on that.

          I try to leave your (correct) conclusion as an "exercise for the reader" and you go off and do all the work for everyone! Maybe next time I shouldn't be so subtle... ;-)
        • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:5, Informative)

          by Jott42 (702470) on Friday July 16, 2004 @10:19AM (#9716510)
          There is a difference between banning something because it is sure to make the plane crash, and banning something because it might make a plane crash. You assume that mobile phones are banned because of the first, but it might be the latter.

          Ask yourself: If it were the case that mobile phone use would crash a plane every 10.000 landing, would you allow it to be used? Or every 100.000 landing? Especially in the US with the system of suing people for negligence?

          (AFAIK, one reason for not being allowed to use anything during takeoff and landing is because mobile phones, electronic games and laptops are too good at playing projectiles if the plane has to make an emergency stop...)
        • There is a world of difference between 250ft and 25000ft.

          At 250ft, you might be able to see 10 cell towers, but each of them will have a different Digital Color Code - a code used to differentiate between adjacent cell sites on the same frequency.

          Also, those 10 cells will each have their own frequency assignements - cells are laid out in a more or less hexagonal pattern with no adjacent cells sharing the same channel assignments.

          So hanging off your tower, you might see 10 cells, but you are not likely to
        • The general concern about using electronic devices while in-flight has to do with the potential for a device to cause electromagnetic interference that would result in the pilot not being able to control the plane. This is particularly a concern on newer, fly-by-wire aircraft. The device's proximity to a control wire might be a factor, meaning that there might only be one location on the plane where a device would cause an interference.

          Who's going to fund the tests to determine if a given device is safe

        • Fact 1. There are about ~900miles of electric cable on a regular Boeing.

          Fact 2. Cell phones (esp. GSM) are some of the noisiest devices. If you don't believe me listen to radio and start dialing a number. Although they don't work on the same band, the distortion will be pretty obvious.

          Fact 3. The vast majority of planes still use analog signaling between sensors and board (as opposed to digital), which is particularly susceptible to noise.

          I'm just wondering - if a crash happens because of electromagne


        • 2) I have read that cell companies say that the phones would confuse the cell network due to being able to "see" so many towers. I don't buy that as I have used my cell on top of a 250ft tower on top of a tall mountain well within the range of at least 10 cell towers. No problem as far as I could see.


          Were you going 500 miles an hour at the time? The problem with cell phones and airplanes is that they can see multiple towers, and are switching between them at a very high rate. The switching between tow
        • I have read that cell companies say that the phones would confuse the cell network due to being able to "see" so many towers. I don't buy that as I have used my cell on top of a 250ft tower on top of a tall mountain well within the range of at least 10 cell towers. No problem as far as I could see.

          It's not the fact that there are 10 towers nearby, it's that cell towers are designed for you to be traveling at 1/10th the speed of a 747. At 600MPH, you hand off to a new cell every 30 seconds or so. Each h

      • I'm sorry, I don't buy this. If planes are so reliant on all these telemetry signals that a bunch of electronic devices in the cabin could cause them to crash because the pilots cannot possibly look at the instruments, look out the window, and figure out something's wrong, I don't know how any airline managed to stay in business or keep any sort of plane in the air before, say, 1995. Without GPS and the (incredibly consistent) global air-traffic radar systems, why, you couldn't so much as fly a plane over a
      • The FAA is very strict about the stuff giving the pilot false indications, causing a crash. You should be glad they are anal about this stuff!

        The big worry everybody has is during the final parts of an instrument approach. There are lots of things that can interfere with the glideslope and localizer. Vehicles parked too close to the glide slope antenna, for instance. The FAA takes steps to minimize the chance that something unlikely like a vehicle parked next to the antenna could screw up the signal in a

    • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cecil (37810) on Friday July 16, 2004 @10:32AM (#9716725) Homepage
      Also being a private pilot, I suggest you stick to what you know.

      There are hundreds of thousands of reasons an instrument could give a wrong reading. That's why there are multi-purpose instruments and backup panels. You check one instrument against another, against how the plane feels, and if possible against what you see out the window. If they don't make sense, there are procedures you follow to figure out which to trust. All the instruments use different methods of operation to basically guarantee that you have at least some working instrumentation no matter what fails. Some run on the engine vacuum pump, some run on an electric vacuum pump, some use gyros, some are mechanical, some use atmospheric pressure, some are electric, some are radio. This is all covered in basic ground school training and every half-trained pilot could tell you that.

      Electric and radio instrumentation is still, and likely always will be, the least trusted instrumentation on an aircraft not because pilots are luddites (we are, in some ways) but because it's the newest and most complex, and so much can go wrong with it. With something running on pitot static pressure, short of the linkages to the control seizing up, it's absolutely bulletproof. If you have come to trust GPS on cross-country flights to the point that you don't think it can be wrong and don't bother to set in a VOR or use your compass and map, then you're a bad pilot and shouldn't be flying. Those things need to be kept up to date and current so that if your GPS system fails, you can shrug it off and look down at your map and everything is just fine.

      Oh, and finally: He's not breaking any regulations. Like most other things, the FAA says that the decision of whether to allow portable electronic devices to be turned on is left up to the operator of the aircraft. It even says this in his article. Cringley is clearly the operator of his own aircraft. He can choose to do whatever he wants. The FAA has some extremely important rules that all pilots MUST follow. But they have nothing to do with electronic devices.
    • The FAA restriction is only for IFR flight (flying by instruments, which is what most commercial flights are doing). It does NOT cover VFR flight (flying by looking out the window, which is most small airplanes just flying around). What he's proposing doesn't even come close to violating any regulations.
      • Right, but nor will it prove any reglations to be needless. Getting a WiFi link from a small plane in VFR has nothing to do with having a cell phone on a commerical airliner.
    • Re:Cringe-ly (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ba_hiker (590565)
      I am a private pilot and HAVE had a tape recorder/player in the cockpit cause significant interference on a navigation insturment in the cockpit. Durring a flight from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara the navi reciever indicated an errror when homing to the Gaviota VOR. The error was about 15 deg. The conditions were vfr and there was no safty-of-flight problem.

      the real issue, i suspect, is RFI and the amount of intercell interference.

      There are only 329 frequencies in the low (VHF) cell band and some 500
  • by Cavio (217880) <cavio@hotmail.com> on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:26AM (#9715896) Homepage
    In sad but related news, Robert Cringely passed away today in a private plane crash. Investigators blame bad weather and the fact that Mr. Cringely was Surfing The Damn Internet while aloft.
    • The scariest part is that I LIVE IN CHARLESTON TOO!

      Now I need to find him, or atleast take a picture of him flying like that.

      It does explain that Cessna 172 (182?) flying low around Charleston.
    • ...you've never played with a flight simulator. They'll show you that 99% of flight time consists of just sitting there, waiting for the plane to get where you're going, not touching any controls at all.
      • ...you've never played with a flight simulator. They'll show you that 99% of flight time consists of just sitting there, waiting for the plane to get where you're going, not touching any controls at all.

        99% of Visual Flight Rules flying requires you to have your eyes outside looking for other air traffic. It's "see and avoid." When you're going 150MPH, seeing and avoiding is enough of a challenge without having a laptop and router to diddle with.

        The War Flyers so far have had the passenger(s) doing t

  • Nobody needs p0rn that badly... I hope
  • Ignoring other physics aspects of this that would probably make my ass bleed, wouldn't the curvature of the earth become an issue at some point? How far from his home is he planning on taking his plane?

    It seems unlikely that antennas would be sufficient from any significant distances, but it sounds like we're talking satellites here.

    • How much time will he be connected to the network? Assuming he's flying at 90mph, and the wifi router has a range of 1/2 mile, there will be a circle of 1 mile in which a signal can be found. That means he'll get a signal for 2/3 sec.

      Assuming he manages to get a serious antennae to broadcast his signal, to a range of maybe 10 miles, he'll have a circle of 20 miles. That will be give him a signal for just over 13 minutes.

      This might be nice and useful if there were several of these wifi points, then people
    • Curvature of the earth? What heresy is that? The Flat Earth Society will come down on you like a ton of bricks!

      Actually, you don't have to get up very high to have a line-of-sight to a house in a city. Probably most safe flying heights would be okay for your average cruise-around flight that lands at the same airport.
    • Line of Sight Calculator [qsl.net]

      At 5,000 feet, your line of sight to a ground-based station is 100 miles.
  • "Oh! I can PING my house!"
  • I say he uses a pringles can with a GPS that tracks him and points the pringles can in the right direction.
  • Wi-Fi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rethcir (680121) on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:29AM (#9715928)
    Someday somebody's going to have to explain the whole war-driving/war-flying type thing to me... I really don't see the appeal in doing all this seemingly pointless stuff with wireless just to watch a few numbers fluctuate on a laptop. (I'm sure a lot of you think I should be banned from slashdot for saying that though). (Also, who names their kid "channing?" or "cole" for that matter? The quality of child naming has really gone down of late...)
    • Re:Wi-Fi (Score:5, Funny)

      by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:32AM (#9715963) Homepage
      "I really don't see the appeal in doing all this seemingly pointless stuff..."

      You're new here, aren't you?

    • Think of WarDriving not as a useful activity, but more as a recreational activity. Likewise for WarBicycling, WarWalking, WarFlying, or any other activity where what you are doing ammounts to either documenting WiFi coverage, or simply counting the number of AP's between two points on a path.

      Yes, you and I both know of people who plot APs and their coverage on maps. Some even document the SSIDs there, and sometimes what the cost associated with each AP is, as well as other information.

      At the same time you
    • by Smallest (26153)
      think "cole" and "channing" are bad? then you ain't see this [notwithoutmyhandbag.com].
  • by Bob Cat - NYMPHS (313647) on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:30AM (#9715935) Homepage
    What an insensitive thing to say.

    Learn some manners, michael.

    • So how long DO we have to wait until Black Hawk Down becomes funny? I think 10 years and being covered by a major motion picture is just about on the edge....
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:30AM (#9715942)
    Right now, many aviation headsets come equipped to work with your regular mobile phone, suggesting that at this moment there are probably hundreds or thousands of people flying around in little planes and yacking their heads off. Yet for some reason the mobile phone companies don't seem to be complaining. Have you heard any complaints?

    A few rare rulebreakers won't have as much affect on the network as if the rule was repealed and everybody on the plane was doing it. If 200 people on a plane flying overhead are on their cell phones, that'll be a much different situation than what's never really been tested.
    • There are differences between 2 people in a turbo-prop, all manual control, no-radar Cessna at 5000 feet and 400 people in a fly-by-wire, autopiloted, fully electronic jet at 35000 feet.

      The problem is two fold - the serious problem is of potential interefernce from the handset to the plane's own systems. A light aircraft typically doesn't have any systems to speak of, so no problem. The other problem is that of spread (i.e. hitting many cells at once). That gets worse with altitude (of course) as well as w
  • There is a european program called ATENAA which is trying to implement (amongst other things) a wireless connection with atm and adhoc networks.

    See this link for more... Eurocontrol [eurocontrol.int]

  • Mesh in the Air (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bromoseltzer (23292) * on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:32AM (#9715964) Homepage Journal
    The interesting point here is that there are a lot of aircraft in the sky at any time. With a small WiFi-like box in each one, you've got a dandy mesh network. It is independent of land lines and satellites, so it is a new kind of connectivity. Whether there's any application other than aviation support isn't clear to me. The bandwidth wouldn't give you much video for the passengers, etc.

    -mse

    • Re:Mesh in the Air (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR (28044)
      Actually not there is not a lot of airplanes in the sky at any one time.
      Find someplace away from an Airport and just look up. Odds are pretty good that you will not see any planes. No planes no signal no mesh.

      I really like the idea of inexpensive datalinks to aircraft. It would be great if you could just add an 802.11b/g to each VOR station. Light aircraft could have the advantage of weather radar, voip, and even a display showing every other aircraft near them.
      The idea of using them as an ad hoc mesh ju
      • Re:Mesh in the Air (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TheSync (5291) on Friday July 16, 2004 @11:15AM (#9717364) Journal
        At 5,000 feet, air-to-gound line of sight is 100 miles, aircraft-to-aircraft line of sight is 200 miles. Most urban areas will probably have at least one aircraft within 100 miles at any point!

        As proof-of-concept, listen to VHF air frequencies, you will hear 20-30 planes over a few minutes.

        I have worked space station MIR with a 5 watt handheld VHF transmitter, which is about 100 miles away.

        My impression is that if all commercial airline planes carried mesh network devices that could emit a few watts, urban areas could probably have near 100% mobile digital coverage, the question being just how much bandwidth would be available, which would be a cost/benefit ratio based on how complex the devices in the planes need to be.

        It also would stress the mesh routing algorithms!
        • 100 mile LOS at 5,000ft? Um, no. At 50,000ft maybe, not 5,000. At 5,000, you're looking at maybe 20-25 miles in each direction, assuming no hills, high trees, etc.
        • But 802.11b is limited to 100mw. I am not a a HAM but if I rember correctly the lower the wavelenght the farther it will reach for a given power. So VHF which is a much longer wavelength than 802.11b/g. So with standard 802.11b you will without a shadow of a doubt get less than two miles. Not if you added say a yagi or even better a dish at each end then you could get a longer reach.
    • I have one word (well, four words, one acronym) for you: VoIP. A few mesh APs on the ground with sky-facing antennas and you should be able to get a good megabit or two if you have a sufficiently high-gain antenna as well. The only problem then is going to be running out of channels.
  • And I thought that people talking on the cell phone while driving were bad!

    -Peter
  • I have been sitting at home using my hands free with my phone by my monitor and it totally jacks my display. It also tends to interfere with my speakers. A lot of the time I can see the interference on my monitor before the phone even starts to ring, although I think a lot of the time it ends up just being the phone checking to see if I have messages or anything. In any event, I really find it annoying when my monitor has sync problems, but if the navigational equipment on a plane starts acting up there
    • I've seen interference on CRT monitors from cell phones, but to my mind that's to be expected. After all, these are electromagnetic-wave-emitting devices, and cathode rays are directly affected by the resultant magnetic field.

    • A guy in my band has an amp that buzzes several seconds before someone's cell phone rings. It does this for many different brands and phone companies. of course, it is a tube amp, and not hardened against RF like aircraft components.
  • Warflying... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by taubman (61645) on Friday July 16, 2004 @09:43AM (#9716075) Homepage
    Sorry Bob, someone beat you to it. [airshare.org]

    But i'd still be interested to see the results of a bi-directional test..
  • Would you call this technique HiWiFi or HighWiFi?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm not sure about anyone else, but when I'm flying between Chicago and Boston I never have any cell reception on my phone when we're in the air.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The crude, fast, and suprisingly useful approximation for line-of-sight as a function of height: range=(sqrt(2*height)) where range is in miles and height is in feet. Inverse-square losses will eat into your link budget, but you'd be suprised... 2 watt satellites in orbits @ 300Km can be heard with handheld scanners. I suspect he'll want to use an antenna with modest gain and a hemispherical pattern... a K5OE patch feed for 2.4GHz ought to be good enough, but just don't expose that thing to 100 KIA+ airsp
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "... symbiotic relationship where aircraft owners benefit from volunteering the use of their planes by getting free airborne Internet service"

    As a proof of concept, sure ... but the cheese has slid off his cracker if he thinks pilots are going to volunteer their plane and/or their time to fly around so those below can surf.
  • by daves (23318) on Friday July 16, 2004 @10:03AM (#9716277) Journal
    ... wants to deduct his flying expenses.
    • Imagine if this works, and catches on with airlines? They suddenly have a way to get more $ per flight, but charging ISPs. They could either use the extra income to hold ticket prices steady against rising costs (right) or just take extra profit.
  • When those opposed to the FAA restrictions talk about potential interference it is always limited to a particular device. The odds of one device crashing an aircraft are I would agree, incredibly minute.

    But on a commercial flight where you have the potential of 300+ people all using cell phones, PDA's, CD players, and computers I think the potential for disastrous consequences increases dramatically. That is why so rules are still in place.

  • by william_lorenz (703263) on Friday July 16, 2004 @10:05AM (#9716292) Homepage
    Towards the end of his article, Cringley seems to suggest that it might be possible to use ground stations aimed upwards, like AirCell, to provide airplanes with wireless network connectivity. Those airplanes, in exchange for the use of the network connectivity, could then bounce signals back down to earth from a much higher altitude to cover a much wider area. Something like an FM repeater [roars.net].

    I must say, this sounds like an excellent idea, but what about those rural areas where planes don't always fly, and what about if an airport grounds flights for any length of time, such as happened on 9/11? It seems to me that a better solution must be found if we're to obtain reliable network connectivity from such a system, as opposed to just cheap spotty access. But if nothing else, I give credit to Cringley for some very interesting ideas about the possibilities!

    • Eventually just about every device will be able to function as a repeater due to the use of mesh networking, like cellular phones, game devices (imagine if your PSP had enough battery life to leave it on all the time), cars, planes, trains, buses, every personal computer, every cellular telephone tower could all use the same form of wireless network, or at least some of them could support multiple forms. Controlling how the traffic gets from point A to point B across a network like that will be complicated
    • There have been several orbiting digipeaters using VHF & UHF AX.25 amateur packet radio (including a payload I was involved with, SPRE [hamradio-online.com]). TCP/IP is possible over AX.25

      There are WiFi range extenders [wifinetnews.com] that might be interesting to test at altitutde.
  • by southpolesammy (150094) on Friday July 16, 2004 @10:10AM (#9716352) Journal
    plan to test a wi-fi connection between his house and his plane...

    Yes, and I'm about to test my wi-fi roaming capability from my rocket car in the Bonneville flats. Next week, I'm going to test the reception distance of my Pringle's can antenna from the deck of my 75' yacht on my way to the Bahamas to my other beach house....
  • Great idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DanielMarkham (765899)
    Some guy in his own homebuilt plane, flying in unrestrcited airspace VFR trying to work out answers to questions a lot of pilots have.

    If the Wright brothers were alive today, they'd still be completing the paperwork to build an airplane.

    Seems like I remember Boeing taking up one of their planes loaded with electronics equipment, trying to test out this interference issue. They got zero interference. But it is always possible. Somebody needs to put this whole line of fear-mongering to rest. Godspeed to the
  • by eggboard (315140) * on Friday July 16, 2004 @10:11AM (#9716368) Homepage
    Cringely consistently discusses radio with inaccurate technical descriptions. I've been on email threads in which he responds to critics who try to get him to be more accurate with statements about how he's trying to popularize technology and that people should just try interesting, weird things. From his never-again-discussed passive billboard antenna -- against the laws of physics and he never provided promised details to the Bay Area Wireless User's Group -- to his Why-Fi proposal (completely prima facie unrealistic and contradictory) to his "stick an antenna up at maximum gain and serve a neighborhood" essays a few weeks ago...

    Well, why does he get Slashdot's attention any more?

    Oh, I forget. As he said in that string of email I mention, he has 200,000 readers, thus making him an expert.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Virtually every article he has written in the last two years has been 99% B.S.

      He writes stupid things just to get people talking about how stupid he is in order to maintain readership, (Or go so far over some readers heads that they think he's God) and /. is piggybacking on him to generate their own readership based on his stupidity.

      In the end though Cringly IS an idiot and /. debases itself for even mentioning anything he says. :(
  • B34t|L35 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) on Friday July 16, 2004 @10:16AM (#9716451)

    Picture yourself as a packet on a signal,

    With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

    Somebody SYNS you, you ACK quite slowly,

    A Port with kaleidoscope eyes.

    LCD flowers of yellow and green,

    Towering over your head.

    Look for the Port with the sun in her eyes,

    And she's gone.

    WIFI in the sky with diamonds.

    WIFI in the sky with diamonds.


  • . . . . Of course, I'm still trying to cool my overclocked Pentium 4 with a Nissan Sentra radiator - - but THAT'S worthwhile.
  • mesh network range (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    He mentions that there are up to 1000 small IFR aircraft in the air in the USA at any one time and that these could have a mesh network between them and this could provide a cellular network for planes. I think not somehow, as he states in the article mesh networks only work effecitvely with 3 hops or less and that a reasonable range is 10km using directional antennas.

    Firstly all 1000 planes aren't going to carry signals and the ones that do will need to be in range of a base station on the ground. In orde

  • Didn't Tom's Hardware [tomshardware.com] already do a story on this?

  • Handoff (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ozmanjusri (601766)
    A few years ago, I was doing some contract work for a company that does the installs for some of the GSM base stations here in Australia.

    During a conversation with one of the techs the subject of the ban on mobile phones came up. His comment was that the phone transmitters are too low powered to affect the plane's systems, but that if 300 passengers on a plane travelling at 400kmh+ all had phones on, the handover process from cell to cell would be swamped and there would be a trail of crashed cellular ba
  • Why do I suddenly hear "WiFi in the Sky with Diamonds" playing in my head? Perhaps I've been listening to too much Beatles.

A committee is a life form with six or more legs and no brain. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough For Love"

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