7 Wacky Wi-Fi Gadgets

Saturday, October 25, 2008 | 0 comments »

I’m a big believer that Wi-Fi will come to dominate the home networking environment because of its ubiquity and familiarity to consumers. If I needed more proof, I got it earlier this week while chatting with Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, about the more than 1,000 gadgets her organization has certified this past year. The Alliance shared with me some of the more outlandish gadgets they’ve seen. I know they aren’t all new, but taken together they make clear that Wi-Fi is moving way beyond computing equipment and even kitschy nerd wear (but I included the Think Geek T-shirt anyway).

First up is a Kohler bathtub available with Wi-Fi connectivity that allows music to be piped from a computer to the bath without dragging electrical goods in or near the water. At $10,000, this tub isn’t for the faint of wallet, but in addition to the Wi-Fi speakers it also offers four original compositions whose beats the tub will vibrate in conjunction with — totally surrounding your body in music. I can do this in my car with the volume turned up and a sub-woofer, so I personally think this is pretty silly.

Second on the list is another high-end purchase, a Chrysler car with uConnect service, which uses a combined 3G data connection and Wi-Fi to turn your vehicle into a hotspot. Pricing for the uConnect service isn’t out yet, but as cool as such an offering might be, I’m not sure it’s any different than firing up a 3G modem attached to your laptop in order to check email or write blogs during a car trip (only when you’re not driving, of course.)

Third up is the Spark solar-powered lamp, which uses Wi-Fi to notify homeowners if they’ve exceeded daily energy consumption limit. The lamp was conceived by industrial designer Beverly Ng in response to efforts by the Swedish government to reduce energy consumption in Swedish homes. The Wi-Fi in the lamp taps into an energy-monitoring system on a computer, and makes the lamp flash different colors depending on how much energy has been used up.

Then there is the WiFi-detection category, which includes a pair of sneakers, a watch and the aforementioned shirt. The sneakers are still a concept item, but the shirt is available for $29.99, and the watch is ?19.99 ($32). Beyond Wi-Fi detection, I think there are some obvious options for actual reception or transmission of data with these objects. You could track your steps to meet a fitness goal, or have your watch start flashing when you get a VoIP call or have a meeting. For folks who keep their WiFi-enabled phones in a bag, that’d be awesome.

Speaking of bags, our final item is a series of WiFi-sniffing bags that range from backpacks to briefcases, and can tell you where you might find the best locale for sitting down for some intense computing. This is useful if you forgot your WiFi-detecting watch, your WiFi-detecting T-shirt is in the wash and you’re wearing penny loafers instead of your Wi-Fi sneakers. It’s also useful for outgeeking those folks wandering around with solar-powered backpacks. Yeah, Liz and Katie, I’m talking to you.


Wee-Fi: Quantenna In Depth, WalkingHotSpot, T-Mobile's 3G Footprint, Devicescape's Easy Wi-Fi. Boingo on Moto Q 11


In-depth on Quantenna: For Ars Technica, a great technology site for which I recently started a regular writing relationship, I wrote up a long interview with Quantenna’s founder, in which I examine more detail about how they achieve 1 Gbps with standard Wi-Fi. The secret? Lots of radios, lots of antennas, deployed in what they say will be an inexpensive fashion. Could shake up the market, even if Quantenna isn’t the winner, but they appear to have a real lead over established chipmakers.

Taproot releases WalkingHotSpot: Yet another software package for turning certain smartphones into Wi-Fi hotspots using the built-in cell data service as backhaul. The $7 per month or $25 per day software license turns on the service on Symbian S60 or Windows Mobile phones. There’s a 7-day trial, too. Only WEP security is supported because ad hoc mode is used; infrastructure mode isn’t available.

T-Mobile clarifies 3G availability: T-Mobile must have gotten tired of explaining that 21 markets doesn’t mean 21 cities. For instance, in Los Angeles, they note via email, that market includes Anaheim, Irvine, Long Beach, and Pasadena. For clarity’s sake, they’re now saying 92 major cities across 21 markets now; Wednesday, with the G1 with Google smartphone launches, they’ll be up to 95 cities. They say by the end of November, 120 major cities.

Devicescape expands platforms, renames software: Devicescape announced its availability on HTC phones, dominate in the Windows Mobile market worldwide; on a Fujitsu phone sold in Japan by DoCoMo; and as part of DeFi, a global VoIP over Wi-Fi calling service that’s soft launching. The company also said that it’s software will now be named Easy Wi-Fi across the board, and they’ve split their platform approach into devices, laptops, and handsets, to make it simpler for development and licensing by partners. Easy Wi-Fi is now available on a pretty large selection of smartphones, including those made by Palm, running Windows Mobile or the Nokia E60 platform, the iPhone and iPod touch, among others.

Boingo adds Moto Q 11: Boingo’s software for connecting to its aggregated worldwide hotspot network is now available on the Moto Q 11 phone in the Boingo Mobile flavor ($8/month worldwide). All owners of this model can get a free month of service to test it out.

By Glenn Fleishman

Lightbulbs Could Replace Wi-Fi Hotpsots


Boston University's College of Engineering is launching a program, under a National Science Foundation grant, to develop the next generation of wireless communications technology based on visible light instead of radio waves. Researchers expect to piggyback data communications capabilities on low-power light emitting diodes, or LEDs, to create "Smart Lighting" that would be faster and more secure than current network technology.

This initiative aims to develop an optical communication technology that would make an LED light the equivalent of a Wi-Fi access point.

"Imagine if your computer, iPhone, TV, radio and thermostat could all communicate with you when you walked in a room just by flipping the wall light switch and without the usual cluster of wires," said BU Engineering Professor Thomas Little. "This could be done with an LED-based communications network that also provides light - all over existing power lines with low power consumption, high reliability and no electromagnetic interference. Ultimately, the system is expected to be applicable from existing illumination devices, like swapping light bulbs for LEDs."

Boston University researches will focus on developing computer networking applications, notably the solid state optical technology that will form the network's backbone.

"This is a unique opportunity to create a transcendent technology that not only enables energy efficient lighting, but also creates the next generation of secure wireless communications," Little added. "As we switch from incandescent and compact florescent lighting to LEDs in the coming years, we can simultaneously build a faster and more secure communications infrastructure at a modest cost along with new and unexpected applications."

Little envisions indoor optical wireless communications systems that use white LED lighting within a room - akin to the television remote control device - to provide Internet connections to computers, personal digital assistants, television and radio reception, telephone connections and thermostat temperature control.

With widespread LED lighting, a vast network of light-based communication is possible, Little noted. A wireless device within sight of an enabled LED could send and receive data though the air - initially at speeds in the 1 to 10 megabit per second range - with each LED serving as an access point to the network. Such a network would have the potential to offer users greater bandwidth than current RF technology.

Moreover, since this white light does not penetrate opaque surfaces such as walls, there is a higher level of security, as eavesdropping is not possible. LED lights also consume far less energy than RF technology, offering the opportunity to build a communication network without added energy costs and reducing carbon emissions over the long term.

The ability to rapidly turn LED lights on and off - so fast the change is imperceptible to the human eye - is key to the technology. Flickering light in patterns enables data transmission without any noticeable change in room lighting. And the technology is not limited to indoor lights; its first real test may very well come outdoors, in the automotive industry.

"This technology has many implications for automobile safety," Little said. "Brake lights already use LEDs, so it's not a stretch to outfit an automobile with a sensor that detects the brake lights of the car in front of it and either alerts an inattentive driver or actively slows the car."


Delta to filter Wi-Fi sites


Delta Air Lines plans to block inappropriate Web sites from its in-flight Wi-Fi service to be launched this year.

Delta previously said it planned to rely on flight attendants to handle inappropriate situations, such as pornography surfing. But after feedback from customers and attendants, the airline changed its policy and is working with Wi-Fi provider Aircell to use a system to block inappropriate content.

“Blocking will be limited in scope and will be for sites that few, if any, would question are inappropriate to be viewed on an aircraft,” Delta spokesman Kent Landers said Thursday. “Our focus is to achieve a balanced approach.”

While other systems have been criticized for blocking relatively non-racy sites such as Vanity Fair magazine, Landers said Delta’s system would work differently.

Delta’s move comes after American’s attendants expressed concerns about passengers’ ability to “potentially go to inappropriate sites,” said David Roscow of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. American said it is examining options.

By Kelly Yamanouchi
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

IMS Research: Mobile WiMAX will be a niche technology


Despite the fact that mobile WiMAX has a time-to-market advantage over LTE by at least two years, analysts at IMS Research believe the technology at best will remain a niche mobile technology. That's because network operators are just now beginning to see a return on their 3G networks and won't be ready to upgrade to an OFDM-based technology until about the time LTE is ready.

The fact that LTE won't be ready for another two to three years may actually turn out to be a boon for LTE as the time frame will allow mobile operators to get as much life as possible out of their existing 3G networks, says a new report from IMS Research. Incremental upgrades to enhanced 3G technologies such as HSPA+ and EV-DO Rev B will allow for almost the same data rates as the initial LTE deployments, which will effectively set the stage for large-scale LTE commercial rollouts in three to four years.

LTE has a further advantage because the majority of cellular operators around the world will choose LTE as their migration path given the fact that 3GPP has tabbed LTE as the next-generation standard for the GSM community.

"The truth is that WiMAX is a very robust technology that has been quite successful in many parts of the world as a fixed broadband solution and will continue to do so, especially in under-served markets," said IMS Research analyst Bob Perez. "Although mobile WiMAX networks are already going live thanks to Sprint/Clearwire and Korea Telecom, the prospect of additional mobile WiMAX networks from Tier 1 operators are looking pretty grim."

Lynnette Luna

Sierra Wireless announces plans for HSPA+ modems


Sierra Wireless announced it is working with Australia's Telstra, Qualcomm and Ericsson to deliver the first HSPA+ devices capable of peak download speeds of 21 mbps, which is three times faster than currently available HSPA modems. Sierra said shipments for customer trials are expected to begin in the coming months with a commercial launch to follow. Telstra will be the first to get its hands on the devices. The Australian operator recently confirmed it is on track to begin rolling out the new technology to its Next G wireless network by the end of this year.

Lynnette Luna

Ubiquiti Networks Stays Focused on Wi-Fi


Ubiquiti Networks was founded in 2005 to develop embedded radios for OEMs and the military. "We've since expanded from there—and we've taken it to a very broad offering," says Ben Moore, Ubiquiti's vice president of business development.

Ubiquiti's product categories include embedded radios with a range of output power and frequency options, embedded systems for a variety of applications, mobile and portable products—and, specifically for WISPs, complete CPE solutions, including the PowerStation and the smaller, lower-priced NanoStation, both of which are available at 2.4 GHz and at 5 GHz. "What sets us apart there is the ease of use: the software is very easy to work with," Moore says.

The company's newest offering is a range of high performance embedded 802.11n MIMO products: the 2.4/5 GHz SR71-A, the 2.4 GHz SR71-2, and the 5 GHz SR71-5. "We're just releasing those products now, and we're very excited about the performance that's we're going to be able to get out of them," Moore says.

Price and performance

For WISPs, Moore says, the products' balance of price and performance makes them particularly attractive. "The PowerStation has an MSRP of $159 for the 2.4 model, and there's an MSRP of $79 for the 2.4 NanoStation," he says. "We feel like we're bridging the digital divide with the performance and the price points that we're able to put the product out to the market in."

The point, Moore says, is that while Ubiquiti's pricing is attractive, that's really not the company's main focus. "Price is definitely a key differentiator, but you're also looking at the innovative software," he says. "It's very easy to use, very user friendly, yet at the same time very powerful. And we've built some key features into the product—dual polarity, an external connector being offered in the same unit so you can extend the range of the product—and we've also come out with innovative accessories: we've got a window/wall mount available for the NanoStation that really makes it easy to install."

For support, in addition to phone and e-mail contact with the company itself, Moore says Ubiquiti's online forum is a popular source of information and advice on the products—as well as a good indicator of the products' global reach. "We actually provide a free t-shirt to anyone that signs up on our forum, because we want to drive people to our website and to increase the visibility of Ubiquiti," he says. "We have many support people that follow that forum on a daily basis to provide feedback and support for different applications."

Sticking with Wi-Fi

Looking ahead, Moore says Ubiquiti's current focus on Wi-Fi products (rather than WiMAX) is likely to continue. "That's our bread and butter right now, and at this point, we're probably going to continue on with that," he says. "We've got a lot of new products that we're working on that will also be tailored towards that environment."

That said, Moore also says the company remains open to all possibilities. "There is the opportunity for OEM work that will be done on the WiMAX side… as requests come in for us to build products for OEMs, we will look into doing that," he says. "But right now, our focus is on Wi-Fi, on the 802.11b/g/a/n networks… the performance that we're able to get out of our products, with the price points, is really hitting home with our customer base. And we see that demand continuing."

In fact, Moore says many of Ubiquiti's Wi-Fi products are able to give WiMAX a run for its money. "The capacity that our products offer really rival even the highest end WiMAX networks at this point in the game, in terms of performance, reliability, throughput, things like that… and it really enables WISPs to be free to use different access points, different base station products," he says.

And Moore says the company will continue to develop new solutions in the space. "We see there's a lot of opportunity for additional growth and additional products that will hit the market similarly to what we've done with the NanoStation… and with the MIMO product," he says. "The throughput that we're able to get on a product like that really opens up additional doors for our WISP customers."

By Jeff Goldman

Positive Response to WiMax Launch in Baltimore


The New York Times and BusinessWeek are bullish on the Sprint Xohm launch in Baltimore: Two veteran tech reporters, who have had time to see it all and be cynical about it all, are fairly positive about the Sprint launch of WiMax. This is the first city-wide launch in the U.S. for regular signups, and one of the largest networks now operating in the world. (As far as I can tell, Seoul’s WiMax-compatible WiBro network is still not designed for 100-percent city coverage, but is boutique.)

Bob Tedeschi at the Times found solid performance wherever he tested, but he notes the caveat that the network is nearly empty at the moment. While comparing Sprint’s promised up to 4 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up, he uses an outdated number for AT&T’s 3G network. AT&T used to give out the numbers he states, but as of their HSUPA upgrade a few months ago, they claim 700 Kbps to 1.7 Mbps downstream and 500 Kbps to 1.2 Mbps upstream. I haven’t had the opportunity to test these rates, but this is their current claim, not what Tedeschi reported.

Tedeschi checked out various adapters and devices, including the Nokia N810 WiMax Edition ($500) that just went on sale. He had problems with video playback, but that could have been the network or the phone’s operating system or the site he was accessing. He did like the quality of VoIP calls.

BusinessWeek’s Stephen Wildstrom was more enthusiastic, seeing rates of 3 Mbps down and 500 Kbps to 1 Mbps up, and was able to watch Hulu.com streaming content as a passenger in a moving vehicle.

Both reporters note that WiMax seems to improve on Wi-Fi and cell data service in both speed (as 3 Mbps is faster than most Wi-Fi hotspots, and much faster than the average of most 3G networks), availability (for Wi-Fi), and cost (for 3G).

Subscriptions are a little complicated: $30 for roaming, $35 for home, $45 for a combined plan, and $60 for multiple devices, if I have all that right. Subscribers also need to buy a dongle, card, adapter, or CPE (home bridge), which seem to run under $100. Adapters will eventually be built into Intel-designed laptops.

By Glenn Fleishman

WIFI access in Corpus Christi is being enhanced by local companies and quality equipment


As most of you already have experienced EarthLink has taken advertising to the next level as you have received bright orange flyers every two weeks for the last few months. EarthLink is doing a great job at advertising the City’s WIFI Network and adding users to the network. It has been a few months since I have sat down with EarthLink to talk about their plans and progress. When I last met with EarthLink they expressed plans to expand and re-arrange the many wireless nodes thought the city. Their goal is to create more substantial and consistent coverage for the users of the network. So be aware that the coverage and the quality of signals will likely increase over the next few months. EarthLink has established an office in Corpus Christi with local individuals managing the office. EarthLink is currently distributing PepLink BG-200 access point to any users that need to increase their WIFI reception capabilities. The down side is that EarthLink will be charging a monthly fee to use this device. Here is the actual post from EarthLink.

EarthLink brings Corpus Christi residents a ‘landline free’ way to access the Internet throughout the 55 square mile network. Consumers who sign up for EarthLink Wi-FiSM will enjoy download and upload speeds up to 1 Mbps for a limited time promotional rate of $6.95 a month for the first six months, returning to the recurring rate of $19.95 a month thereafter. For consumers that want even more speed, EarthLink is offering an “extreme” product at 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload service for only $9.95 for the first six months, returning to the recurring rate of $21.95 a month thereafter.

Residential customers can also receive a Wi-Fi modem, which strengthens the Wi-Fi signal indoors, at no additional charge, if they sign up for a one-year commitment. The modem can also be purchased through EarthLink without the contract for $69.95 and monthly rental fees will be available in early June. Customers will also receive all the products and support they have come to expect from EarthLink, including eight mailboxes and the ISP’s powerful protection tools, such as spamBlocker and the EarthLink Protection Control Center™.

I do believe that PepLink is a good product but over the last few months I have been able to test many different devices with the Corpus Christi Network. I will refer to a press release from Ruckus Wireless some time last year. There is a local WIFI provider that is reselling many of the wireless devices that can be used to effectively connect to the city’s network. I borrowed a PepLink, EnGenius, and Ruckus device from Rightway Online, a local wireless service provider. After using the devices the past few months I am going to recommend purchasing the Ruckus MetroFlex equipment because of the ease of installation and the consistent quality of service that I have been able to obtain.

Getting Subscribers Reliably Connected at Home

The Ruckus MetroFlex system provides reliable wireless broadband connections into homes and offices, delivering better than DSL speeds.

Designed to work with any standard metro-scale Wi-Fi mesh network, the Ruckus MetroFlex system is the most sensitive and reliable in-home Wi-Fi receiver in the world. It has demonstrated the ability in rural environments to sustain above 5 Mbps at one kilometer away from the nearest Wi-Fi node. Additionally, unique software developed by Ruckus Wireless specifically for its MetroFlex product determines the fastest Wi-Fi node with which to associate, based on the best data rates and strongest Wi-Fi signal.

Rightway Online in Corpus Christi, TX is among the first to start deploying the Ruckus MetroFlex to extend outdoor Wi-Fi signals indoors.

You may remember the above information from an article from last year but with I think the ruckus wireless equipment and EarthLink service is a winning combination.