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Wireless Networking Businesses Communications Hardware

The Assassination of Wi-Fi 258

Posted by Zonk
from the sniper-has-range-on-the-target dept.
justelite writes "John C. Dvorak from PC Magazine has up an article looking at the new strategy of American cell-phone-service companies. From article: 'There is mounting evidence that the cellular service companies are going to do whatever they can to kill Wi-Fi. After all, it is a huge long-term threat to them. We've seen that the route to success in America today is via public gullibility and general ignorance. And these cell-phone-service companies are no dummies.'"
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The Assassination of Wi-Fi

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  • by canuck57 (662392) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:55PM (#18231388)

    They might actually kill WiFi provided they can get their prices down to $49 worth of hardware and the cost of a land line, supply at least 2 computers and more bandwidth, enough for video, or at least as much as WiFi.

    So when I can use 3 computers for $29/mo I am game... but forgive me if I don't hold my breath waiting. Oh, and skip the roaming and by the minute charges. And can I share videos with the neighbors for free...without being monitored?

  • toronto and rogers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BRUTICUS (325520) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:00PM (#18231452)
    Interesting....as soon as Rogers telecommunications here in toronto learned that the city announced they would be offering free wifi internet for a year and then paid.... Rogers retorted and announced their own wi-fi service... as if they had to pull it out of their ass
  • by Bastian (66383) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:06PM (#18231536)
    It's really not that simple. I used to live in a fairly small town (Galesburg, IL) where there was really only one provider for high-speed internet access. As a result, the price of broadband was very high, prohibitively so for most the residents in the town, which had a relatively depressed economy.

    Several years back, the local government tried to set up a municipal ISP to provide cheap broadband for no profit. The final decision of whether or not to go for it was left to a referendum. In the months leading up to it, the local cable company (who would lose a lot of money if this went through) ran a massive campaign to turn public opinion against the municipal broadband project. At the same time, the law did not allow the city to run a similar campaign in favor of the plan. So the only information being disseminated to most voters was completely anti (FUD, mostly), and few of them got much of a chance to hear the other side of the story, let alone a reasoned and balanced overview of the pros and cons of municipal broadband.

    Naturally, it got voted down. And it wasn't because the electorate was dumb. Due to the nature of the law and the fact that money is speech and the cable company had all the money, most voters simply were not informed on the issue - and it's a blue collar town, so most the people simply didn't have enough knowledge of technology to really be able to inform themselves. Maybe the plan still would have broken down had the whole situation not been a complete failure of democracy, but saying it's as simple as the electorate being able to ask for it if they're smart enough is a gross oversimplifcation of reality.
  • by Nooface (526234) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:19PM (#18231676) Homepage
    This editorial in Forbes entitled "Wireless Shootout: Suits vs. Cowboys" [forbes.com] points out that cellular carriers and next-generation WiFi technology may be replaying the past competition between mainframes ("suits") and PCs ("cowboys"). The cellular carriers are inherently limited in their ability to adapt to modern wireless requirements because they operate under three fundamental constraints: a build-out mentality, vertical integration, and complicated pricing. The author points out that this same mindset ultimately caused mainframe suppliers to lose their dominance to the more nimble PCs in mainstream computing, and predicts that for the same reasons, more adaptable next-generation wireless technology such as WiMAX [wikipedia.org] and ZigBee [wikipedia.org] will ultimately prevail over cellular infrastructure in the future.
  • WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cowtamer (311087) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:34PM (#18231838) Journal
    I'm sorry, but this article says nothing more than it's title.

    There are no:

    1) Facts
    2) Specific instances of any wireless company activity
    3) Conspiracy theories about how they might be going about this...

    While it may be true that widespread wi-fi may threaten a part of the cell phone provider business model, the article makes no mention of any company doing anything about it (save the introduction of a couple data access cards).

    The article also does not address the common-sense fact that Wi-Fi (as it currently exists) can't replace the type of coverage that the cell phone company can give you.

    It seems that Dvorak's editors have even lower standards than those of Slashdot!!

  • by AusIV (950840) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:46PM (#18231952)

    By definition, PEOPLE alect muicipal governments. If they want wifi they can ask for it. If they're too dumb to ask for it, they're too dumb to deserve it. Same goes for sewers and drinkable water.

    There is nothing about election in the definition of municipal governments, and neither muicipal nor alect even have definitions.

    Drinkable water isn't generally provided by municipal governments, it's treated and provided by private water companies. I'm not sure who provides sewage services, but it's something of a necessity - without it health risks sky rocket. If someone doesn't want to pay for sewage, they don't get that option because of the health risks it imposes on those around them. If someone doesn't want to pay for drinkable water, they simply don't get it.

    Wifi is another matter entirely. People can survive just fine without it, and there's no reason someone who doesn't want it should be forced to pay for everyone to have it.

    Just because the government provides something doesn't make it free, it just means everyone pays for it in taxes instead of the people who use it paying for the service. In some cases this is necessary, but in the case of WiFi it most certainly isn't.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2007 @09:06PM (#18232130)
    I did a survey of my home town last thursday. To my surprise I found only 5% open wireless networks. Last year's survey showed 40% open access points. People are either learning about WiFi security or they are beginning to have a knowledgeable friend set up the home router.
  • Re:Security. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by troll -1 (956834) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @09:07PM (#18232148)
    If Dvorak had taken about ten minutes to learn something about the differences in infrastructure between cell services and WiFi (hint, it has something to do with frequencies) ...

    Yes, that's right.

    In physics there's measurement called "skin depth" which is the distance a wave travels before it's power level drops by 1/e or about 1/3. IIRC from my old physics 110A-B at Berkeley, it's something like wavelength/2*pi. So for higher frequencies (wavelength*freq=constant) the power drop of is greater. 802.x devices don't have much of a range because the FCC limits their frequencies in the GHz range.

    A way to overcome this problem (partly) is to increase the power, but FCC uses the old 'inteference' argument to prevent this. The FCC allows 802.x devices only about 1mW/channel.

    Cell phone companies on the other hand pay the FCC billions for the privilege of having exclusive rights (in the form of licenses) to low frequency 'prime' prime parts of the spectrum and with permission to use orders of magnitude more power than than 802.x devices.

    Although there's the problem for bandwidth (think baud) of being inversely proportional to frequency (the lower the freqency the longer the range but the less Mbytes/second you get), there are some techniques to overcome this and which the cell phone companies themselves use.

    Now, if the FCC would only set aside a small part of that 'prime' spectrum for experimental devices and allow those devices to use the same power as cell phone networks, then perhaps we could begin to experiment with a new kind of network.

    When you look at what some folks are doing with mesh networking [wikipedia.org] and you combine that with higher power, lower frequency for 802.x-type devices, you begin to realize the potential of having a different kind of network, one that is neutral, one were you pay a wireless ISP for 'bandwidth' (just like you do for the wired Internet) and you access that network, with a device of your own choosing and use the bandwith you buy for voice, Internet, email, messages, video streaming, etc.. without any restrictions from the provider (unlike cell phone networks).

    Of course, the cell phone companies are so influencial in Congress and pay so much money to government, it's difficult to see how this could become a reaility any time soon.

  • by gomiam (587421) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @09:24PM (#18232286)
    Does that tower at 2 miles provide you with 3G already? At speeds near 384Kbps (3G maximum for mobile systems)?

    On roaming experience, YMMV, of course. But I know it can work, since I'm taking advantage of it daily. You talk about handovers at the administrative limits, but forget that those handovers have been sorted time and time again (see standard cellular handovers between different commercial providers). Why shouldn't they now? And consider, also, that such handovers are less important when you get a city council to wire(?) a whole city. About range, please read again what I said about the 3G band range.

    You'll take working service instead of spotty one. Good. But don't assume that, because current WiFi access is spotty, it will always be so. If I can get good WiFi access here in Spain for free, so can you in the US.

    3G coverage, seamless? Methinks not, out of big cities at least. And yes, the 5GHz band allows for unlicenced use, so it's not exclusive (I'm starting to wonder if you really read my post): I can't fathom how 802.11a would be allowed otherwise.

    I admit the current state of 2.4GHz WiFi leaves much to be desired, but in the US you already have 8002.11a, which works in the same band as 3G does, is already implemented and has less interference problems. And I still can't see how, suffering the same technical limitations, you can still say they are different products. Is IPv6 over 3G different from IPv6 over 802.11a WiFi? I just don't see it.

  • Silly John C. Dvorak (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dopenkly (1071658) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @09:41PM (#18232418)
    Are cell phone companies powerful?
    Yes, of course

    Do other companies, with political pull, have an interest in more global wifi access?
    Yes, of course...

    Will more global wifi access be free?

    Not likely, but it probably will be available. Cell phone networks surely can profit from this and they already do. Isn't it lucrative to offer a cellular connection to the internet and then provide wifi from that location (shouldn't this be obvious to John)? I do believe that AT&T offered to provide me with overpriced wi-fi access the last time I walked into Barnes and Noble. I'm failing to find anything relevant in the entire article.
  • Law and Order (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MikeFM (12491) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @10:12PM (#18232700) Homepage Journal
    What we need is laws to protect private users who share their bandwidth and standards in APs to make it easy for them to do so and to create a standard way for people to connect. An open wirless AP in every home and business should just be expected. Let the users create the network themselves if you really want what is best for the consumer. Of course businesses will cry foul over their lost chance to squeeze every penny out of the consumer and government will cry foul because it'd make it much harder to control and spy on the consumer.

    Eventually it will happen though. There are just to many benefits to the consumer and to few downsides for it not to eventually. Someone just needs to release a killer app for the system and people will flock to it. Consumers don't understand technical reasons something will be ebtter but if they lust for a product that users it then they'll demand it.
  • Some minor details (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LinearBob (258695) on Monday March 05, 2007 @12:05AM (#18233548)
    You make an interesting technical argument, but there are a few details I think you missed. The 2.4 GHz and the 5.6 GHz bands are license free ISM bands. They allow ANY device to operate, within reason, provided the device conforms to certain power radiation limits and stays within the ISM band limits. There are many different kinds of RF devices operating in ISM bands including (but not limited to) diathermy machines, induction heaters, cordless telephones, and microwave ovens.

    There is a physical chemistry reason why certain frequencies were designated for the ISM bands; they happen to be frequencies that are not as useful as other (similar) frequencies for communication purposes because those frequencies represent electrical resonances in commonly occurring atmospheric gas molecules. These resonances cause excessive path loss in what would otherwise be usable free space paths. Water is one molecule that causes excessive path loss, but only at certain frequencies. The fact some of the ISM bands coincide with water molecule resonances is not an accident. Ever wonder why your microwave oven operates at 2.4 GHz in the ISM band and not some other frequency? The radio frequency energy absorbed by all those water molecules has to go somewhere....and the conversion of RF energy into molecular vibration (heat) is a good candidate for the cause of the excessive path loss at 2.4 GHz compared to path losses at 2.3 GHz or 2.5GHz.

    The cellular companies all operate on licensed frequencies for which they have paid "Big Bucks" to the Federal Government and they need to make a return on their "Investment" for their shareholders. BTW, the fees the cellular companies pay to the FCC have been used by Congress to balance the Federal budget. There is a long story here that I won't go into now about spectrum use, but suffice it to say, the creation of the Cellular telephone" bands was not the first time, nor the last time, that Congress has "auctioned" off parts of the RF spectrum to the highest bidder, spectrum previously used for other purposes.

    The cellular phone companies routinely disable features built into the hardware and software in many of the newer cell phones because they hope to force their customers into paying exorbitant prices for "enabling" those features, even if these are features that actually have almost no inherent cost. SMS is one example. SMS stands for "Short Message Service" and is actually the use of a very small portion of the bit rate available to cell phone users. SMS bits are like "space available" seats on airliners, they are used to fill otherwise partly empty data packets, so SMS should cost users almost nothing, but SMS users pay a higher price for SMS bits than they do for voice data bits when they talk.

    I think the reason for this is consumer ignorance. Kids frequently "texting" each other have no idea how SMS works, nor do they know how much bandwidth they are NOT using when they send SMS messages to each other. SMS does not even have guaranteed delivery, unlike some other wireless messaging protocols. But don't forget that a corporation is legally obligated to make as much money as possible for its stockholders.

    The infrastructure cost of an ad hoc 802.11x mesh network is "unfair competition" as far as the cellular operators are concerned because 802.11x access point costs only a few hundred dollars each. Site rent for them is also low because they usually are located on top of streetlight poles. But the cellular phone operators must pay rent for their sites on the order of $1500 each per month, on top of hardware investments in the many thousands of dollars. This "overhead" cost for the cellular operators must come from somewhere, or they will go out of business.
  • by Mr. Picklesworth (931427) on Monday March 05, 2007 @12:11AM (#18233604) Homepage
    Unfortunately, with the advent of Hardware Version 5 which provides an adventurous 50% the quality -- and I mean this literally: it has half the RAM, half the memory and a weaker processor -- for a quarter the value thanks to their A-mazing VxWorks firmware... that service will not last much longer either.

    I phoned them to ask why my router kept having to be reset and the answer was, essentially, "You are using it too much." Yes, that's right: The other two ports on the back of that router, and both of those antennas, are just there for decoration. After all, it is such a nice looking router!
  • Re:Security. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arivanov (12034) on Monday March 05, 2007 @03:09AM (#18234756) Homepage
    No. Wide adoption will kill wifi. In fact it is already killing it.

    Wifi has a very bad frequency reuse capability. The 12 (13 in EU) channels overlap so you in fact you have 3-4 useable frequencies when dealing with wifi-to-wifi interference. On the average, in a suburbian residential neighbourhood you have more than 4 neighbours within the high interference range (higher distances in the US are compensated by the higher default power). There are up to 16 more which provide extra background noise. City deployments are even worse.

    So in the current form of the protocol wifi is selfregulating. The more people use it the more it sucks. As a result its adoption will level off at some point and people will stop buying it. This will be long before it reaches universal adoption.

    So in fact, wifi is not a threat for operators. Their marketing depts may jump up and down from time to time. The jumping stops once they ask their own frequency planning and modelling departments (and every cellco has these, deploying cellular is quite math heavy). It stops because every time they get an answer "Due to bad frequency reuse it is bound to become useless long before ubiquity".

    The only way to change it is to completely redesign the MAC for frequency reuse while on the same channel. Either "speak only spoken-to" strategy or some CDMA-like coding strategy where interference on the same channel is considerably less relevant. Unfortunately the industry groups doing the IEEE work are not doing any of that. They are hell bent on pushing the bandwith and do not want to deal with what will become the ultimate protocol killer in the long run.

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