June 7, 2004
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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New, though narrow, concerns surfaced recently about the security of 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless LANs:

In an effort to create a regulatory environment favorable to the widespread global deployment of WiMax wide-area hot-spot systems, the WiMax Forum industry association has established a regulatory working group to lobby regulators in various nations to ensure availability and global harmonization of WiMax-friendly spectrum worldwide.

Meanwhile, more attention is being paid to a competing broadband wireless technology called Flash OFDM, developed by Alvarion Technologies. Craig McCaw, a cellular pioneer and serial entrepreneur, is launching OFDM-based broadband wireless access this summer in Jacksonville, Fla., and St. Cloud, Minn., under the Clearwire label. Several telecomm firms, such as Vodafone and Nextel, are running Flash ODM trials in various parts of the world, which likely signals that so-called third-generation (3G) wireless data technology will end up being killed off with little actual deployment and after several hundred billion dollars in industry investment. However, for carriers to use Flash ODFM instead of 3G technologies such as WCDMA/UMTS or CDMA2000, they will need to get spectrum, since the 3G spectrum, especially in Europe, that they received for 3G also requires its use for voice transmissions. Flash ODFM is a data-only technology, which to be a realistic replacement for 3G would require the use of Voice-over Internet-Protocol (VoIP) technology that in turn would require huge changes to premise and customer equipment. The trick for the carriers will be to find the spectrum for data-only Flash ODFM service while eating the costs of their 3G deployments, hoping its fourfold carrying capacity for voice traffic will eventually pay for itself.

Product News

In a blow to PalmSource, Sony has decided to stop selling Clié wireless and cradle-based handhelds using the Palm OS in most of the world. Sony will now offer Cliés only in Japan. Sony had been the second-largest vendor of Palm OS devices after PalmOne, the hardware-making sister company of PalmSource. In various news reports, Palm officials regretted the decision but said they expected cell phones to become a significant new platform for the operating system, as such phones gain some computing and gaming functions.

Airespace has updated its line of access points to support radiofrequency switching. The company's smart antenna technology takes advantage of the fact that RF signals propagate in multiple directions when they come in contact with common obstacles, such as walls and people. This can debilitate the performance of wireless LAN systems by presenting numerous, inefficient path options to clients. Airespace's Intelligent RF Access Point samples all available paths and then switches among the paths that are most optimal for communications with each wireless user at any given time, creating an optimal path to each individual wireless client, enabling consistent bidirectional throughput, even as clients move. The Airespace access points also improve wireless LAN performance by reducing the amount of interference between access points and clients. By filtering out unnecessary paths, Airespace claims that these devices do not waste cycles processing superfluous information. Airespace has also released its Wireless Location Services suite, which combines location services with active 802.11 RFID tagging to enable IT staff to track mobile devices for comprehensive asset management and resource accounting. In addition, the location suite enhances wireless LAN security by letting IT managers take physical location into account when giving access control.

SAP has developed a mobile sales application that lets sales forces connect to SAP customer relationship management (CRM) applications via Research in Motion BlackBerry handhelds. SAP expects to ship the BlackBerry-compatible MySAP software later this year. Meanwhile, NetMotion has released software that lets some wireless PDAs access Siebel Systems' CRM systems without having to upgrade the Siebel applications themselves.

Research in Motion plans to release an updated version of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server later this year. Version 4.0 will add several security protocols — including Triple DES, S/MIME, and FIPS — as well as cradle-less provisioning (using the wireless connection) and enhancements to the user interface, asset tracking, and software development functions. Meanwhile, Diversinet has brought to market a server and software combination to simplify S/MIME email security on existing BlackBerry systems.

Avocent has released AutoView Wireless, a switch that connects keyboards, video, and mice over encrypted 802.11a connections to multiple devices. As a switch, the AutoView Wireless lets two simultaneous users to wirelessly connect two to 16 servers, all from 100 feet away. The same transmitter/receiver also provides for video broadcasting from one computer VGA source to up to eight displays.

In other product news, security-oriented offerings dominate:

Hot-Spot News

Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to news@it-wireless.com.

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Cometa's Shutdown: Danger for Hot Spots?

A couple weeks ago, Cometa Networks announced that it is going out of business, unable to secure additional venture capital. Formed 18 months ago by IBM, AT&T, and Intel, the company sought to develop a hot-spot backbone system throughout the country, leasing bandwidth to both local and nationally branded Wi-Fi hot-spot providers. However, the company deployments remained limited, mainly in Seattle, while many other providers — including STSN, T-Mobile, iPass, Boingo Wireless, and several national telephone carriers including Sprint and AT&T Wireless — blanketed the country with hundreds of branded hot spots. These competing networks have also increasingly permitted roaming among the major operators, reducing the need for a brand-neutral backbone network. such as Cometa's.

Some news reports suggest that Cometa's failure indicates that the hot-spot concept is fatally flawed. But Cometa's failure has more to do with arrogance and poor execution. When Cometa first launched, the message was clear: The big boys are in the market, and everyone else had better get out of the way. While Cometa then focused on building an infrastructure it could then lease out to potential clients, from coffee shops to national food chains, its competitors quickly rolled out their hot-spot networks, with Wi-Fi zones quickly appearing at Starbucks cafés, major airports, major hotels, some Schlotzky's Deli and McDonald's restaurants, and conference centers bearing highly promoted brands such as T-Mobile and AT&T. In addition, Boingo Wireless stitched together a network of hot spots that it linked through reciprocal roaming. Pretty soon, despite initial resistance from T-Mobile, reciprocal roaming became common, so hot-spot users could now travel to most hot spots and be assured of access. But Cometa stayed out of such roaming partnerships and never made the major push to promote its service. After all, its business model was to provide the infrastructure, not to sell a branded hot-spot service.

And that was Cometa's mistake. While several of the branded hot-spot providers were initially foolish in resisting roaming partnerships, they quickly realized that an island network is no network at all, just as cell phone service providers realized many years ago, and so they corrected that flaw in their business plan. Cometa failed because it wasn't putting itself in the market that had actually developed. Furthermore, Cometa decided to be an island in a sea of interconnectedness. If anything should be clear to technology companies, customers hate having all their eggs in one basket. While they don't want to deal with many providers, they'll choose multiple providers if their primary ones won't support interoperability that gives the enterprise a fallback.

None of this is to say that the hot-spot market is a sure win for providers. It runs the same danger of extreme commoditization that struck Internet service providers, wireline phone service providers, and network equipment providers. (For more on this, see our earlier story.) Demand is certainly increasing, but the revenue may not be there for huge, if any, profits. That too happened to the telecomm industry, where the first victims were the hardware providers. So you could argue that Cometa's failure is simply a repeat of the telecomm experience: low margins on service reduce investment in equipment. But that's not the case. Cometa's failure is an unrelated failure. The jury is still out on whether there's money to be made providing Wi-Fi- hot-spot access, and it's clear that providers understand this issue as they look at bundling and other arrangements that make Wi-Fi access part of a greater product portfolio.

ABI: Enterprises to Drive Wi-Fi Cell Phones

Shipments of dual-mode cellular/voice-over-Wi-Fi–enabled handsets will top 50 million by 2009, predicts ABI Research. Although products are not expected to be available until later this year, ABI predicts that dual-mode cellular/voice-over-Wi-Fi handsets will represent about 7% of all handsets shipped by 2009. Driving the near term, interest in these devices comes from the enterprise user and by the need for data-intensive applications.

Ease of use, the convenience of mobility, and access to information stored on cell phones has made it more practical for office users to continue to use their cell phones versus switching to the enterprise telephone system when at the office. But with near 30% of cell phones being purchased by commercial concerns, enterprises will likely be prime target buyers for voice over Wi-Fi cell phones. "Many enterprises now have established Wi-Fi networks and integrating voice-over-Wi-Fi functionality is a natural progression," says Phil Solis, senior Wi-Fi analyst at ABI. "As Wi-Fi networks proliferate, it only makes sense to give users the ability to switch from the cellular carrier's network to the enterprise Wi-Fi network."

Manufacturers are also working on the issues of integrating the Wi-Fi network with the company PBX, a requirement for voice-over-Wi-Fi–enabled handsets to remain useful as a voice device outside the enterprise Wi-Fi data network. Currently, the voice-over-Wi-Fi market is limited to niche verticals such as health care, warehouse, manufacturing, and education. But with larger scale availability by way of integration into existing mobile devices, this market will gradually become mainstream, ABI predicts.

Many questions remain about whether cellular carriers are going to accommodate this market, but as most cellular standards are open and interoperable, carriers cannot prevent handset makers from producing handsets with voice-over-Wi-Fi integration. "Initially, of course, carriers may see this as a threat for fear of losing service revenue when these handsets are used on the Wi-Fi network," says Solis, "but long-term, as with most new developments, carriers will likely see dual mode cellular/voice-over-Wi-Fi handsets as a means to differentiate their offerings."


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