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MWC: Where Cutting Through the Wireless Noise is Hard for Even the Most Advanced Devices

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No doubt, LTE is among the hottest topics at the Mobile World Congress this year. For the Congress, Spanish wireless carrier Telefonica expanded its network to 64 cell sectors across the conference center and at strategic points around the city. Our friends at Alcate Lucent just gave a chance to test out a Quanta MiFi hotspot on this network. Sadly, though, the fact that there are probably more wireless devices per square foot here than anywhere else in the world right now makes for an interesting experience that ranges somewhere from amazing to absolutely frustrating.

While there are a number of dedicated small LTE base stations around the conference center, the sheer number of other devices, including at least one phone and laptop for every attendee, combined with the presence of numerous untested wireless devices on the conference grounds (many of which currently operate under a special license), makes for some interesting results.

At best, we got a nice 16 megabits of download speed and around 5 megabits for our uploads. That rivals what many of us get from our broadband connections and in combination with some of the iPad and iPhone apps that Telefonica and its partner Alcatel Lucent are showcasing here in Barcelona (including augmented reality apps and video conferencing), it is obvious that this shows the way of where mobile networking is going.

In this noisy environment, though, we often got very low results as well, though, which at times barely got to 0.2 megabits. The Mobile World Congress, though, is a special place. Even though it's the world's largest conference focused on mobile technology, it's actually surprisingly hard to get a decent WiFi connection over the conference network. Even the dedicated network for the press room here is often barely working…



4:37 am


London Gets “Europe’s Largest Free WiFi Zone” Ahead of 2012 Olympics

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Not too long ago, a number of cities in the U.S. were experimenting with offering free WiFi to its citizens. Most of these projects were launched just as the recession was about to hit and quite a few of them were quickly abandoned as the money well dried up. While we haven't heard much about new city-wide projects in the U.S. since then, London is about to get what its backers call "Europe's biggest WiFi zone."

This network will cover central London and will be provided by mobile carrier O2. Timed to coincide with the 2012 Olympics in the city and the Diamond Jubilee, O2 plans to cover "Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea."

Installation of the hardware has already started and the roll-out should be complete by March.

Olympic Class WiFi?

It'll be interesting to see if this network will be able to handle the traffic generated by millions of visitors when the 2012 Olympics start. Given that many of them will try to offload their data connections to WiFi instead of paying for roaming costs (and maybe even attempt to make the odd Skype call now and then), it's hard to imagine that the network will be able to hold up.



5:23 pm


Skype WiFi Comes to iOS: Get Online for $0.06 Per Minute

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If you’re a frequent traveller, you know how much of a hassle paid WiFi networks can be. For a while now, recent Microsoft acquisition Skype has been trying to make things a bit easier by giving its users the ability to pay for WiFi access with the money they already have on their Skype accounts. Even better, Skype WiFi access is metered by the minute, so you don’t have to pay for an expensive hourly or daily pass just because you need to send an email from your laptop. Prices start at $0.06 per minute, though may be higher depending on the provider. Until now, Skype Wifi was only available for Windows machines and Macs, but starting today, you will also be able to use Skype’s new Wifi app for iOS to get online.

Once opened, the Skype WiFi app simply recognizes that you are on a network that supports payment with Skype credits (there are about a million of these worldwide). Once you sign in, you simply click the “Go Online” button and start using the Internet. Just remember to also go back to the app and click “Disconnect” before you get on your plane or leave that coffee shop in Rome.

Skype ios app wifi

For travellers who don’t want to pay roaming costs while abroad and who just want to get online quickly at the airport to download a book or magazine before a flight, this app could come in very handy. There are no caps on data usage while you are online and you only pay for the time you were actually using the WiFi. Once online, you can also use Skype to make phone calls.

For most people, this is probably a cheaper option than paying for a daily pass, though frequent travellers are probably still better off with monthly data plans from Boingo and similar companies. In order to give people a chance to try Skype WiFi, access will be free anywhere Skype credit is accepted “from Saturday 20th August 00:00 till Sunday 21st August 23:59 BST for a maximum of 60 minutes.”

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3:41 pm


Delta Now Offers WiFi on All Flights

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Until today, there were only two airlines in the U.S. that offered WiFi Internet access on all of their planes: Virgin America and Southwest Airlines subsidiary AirTran. Today, Delta is joining this group. Delta itself apparently didn’t think that this was enough of an accomplishment to warrant its own press release, so the news is actually somewhat hidden in the announcement of its new Business Class menu.

Given that it’s often hard to predict whether your flight will have WiFi on board or not, this announcement is a big deal for frequent Delta fliers who can now rest assured that they will be able to get online and check their email at 37,000 feet.

Exception: Regional Jets

Delta uses Gogo’s in-flight across its mainline fleet. The exception, though, are regional jets. These flights are generally outsourced to smaller companies and while they feature the mainline logo, are actually flown by crews from other organizations like Pinnacle Airlines, Mesaba or Comair.

Free for August

As our friends at Jaunted note, Delta will also offer free WiFi for the month of August, sponsored by Diet Coke. Just use the code DIETCOKEGOGO when you are on a Delta flight and get online for free.



8:57 pm


Boingo Extends its Roaming Network into the Air – But Doesn’t Go Far Enough

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Given the airline industry’s penchant for pay-as-you-go services, we won’t see “free” WiFi on planes anytime soon. Thanks to a new agreement between WiFi-hotspot provider Boingo and in-flight Wifi provider Gogo, getting online in a WiFi-enabled plane will soon get a little bit easier. The two companies just announced a new roaming agreement, which allows Boingo users to sign in to Gogo’s network by either using their Boingo credentials on Gogo’s homepage or by using Boingo’s mobile apps.

At first, this sounds great, but sadly this agreement doesn’t mean you won’t have to pay extra for in-flight WiFi if you have already have a Boingo subscription or just paid for a daily or hourly WiFi pass in the terminal. You will still have to pay $4.95, $9.95 or $12.95 per flight for laptop access, depending on the length of the flight. Smartphone users will pay $4.95 or $7.95.

If you are a current Gogo user, you will recognize these prices, as Boingo doesn’t offer any discounts or other deals for Boingo users. As it stands, this agreement feels like a missed opportunity for both companies, but hopefully we will see new plans that offer a deeper integration (and discounts) soon.

 



5:24 pm


Free Internet: 32% of Internet Users Regularly "Borrow" WiFi Access

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Do you ever log on to an open WiFi network that isn’t yours? You’re not alone. While in late 2008, only about 18% of U.S. Internet users admitted to borrowing WiFi from open networks, that number has now grown to 32%. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit trade organization, far too few consumers take the necessary steps to protect their networks today. At the same time, though, the organization’s research also found that “40 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to trust someone with their house key than with their Wi-Fi network password. More than one quarter of those surveyed said sharing their Wi-Fi network password feels more personal than sharing their toothbrush.”

netgear routerClearly, though, not everybody feels the same way and open hotspots are generally plentiful in most neighborhoods. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though. For most mainstream users, setting up a secure network isn’t easy and acronyms like WPA2, WEP, 802.1x and SSID mean nothing to most people and the majority of hardware manufacturers have done little to make setting up secure networks easier for consumers.

Undoubtedly, using open and unencrypted WiFi hotspots comes with a risk for both owners and users. Firesheep has turned the previously difficult art of eavesdropping on WiFi networks as easy as installing a Firefox plugin, after all. Those who own an open network can also never be sure if somebody isn’t using it for some malevolent activity either. In a USA Today article about this study, Chet Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at network security firm Sophos, argues that pedophiles could use the open network to download child pornography and that terrorists in Southeast Asia have used open WiFi networks to “communicate and to remotely trigger bombs.”



10:54 pm


Using WiFi to Create Smarter, Safer Cars and Intersections

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A few weeks ago, I wrote that your next car might just have its own IP address. Besides talking to the Internet, though, there is also a lot of utility in using short-range networks that can link multiple cars together into a single, ad-hoc network and alert drivers of potential hazards. Today, Ford announced a new initiative that will rely on short-range WiFi signals to enable cars to create local networks to exchange data about their positions and speeds to avoid accidents.

Of course, this system only works once a lot of cars and manufacturers offer this feature and agree on a standard, but as the video below shows, there is a lot of potential for this. Cars that can talk to each other (and maybe even get traffic information from local “smart” intersections or highway on-ramps) don’t have to rely on expensive systems like radar. Instead, just basic GPS information, coupled with an ad-hoc WiFi network and some smart software could, as Ford puts it, “warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes, approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.”

Not Just Smart Cars, But Smart Intersections, Too

Ford is also proposing “smart intersections” that would be able to talk to cars and be able to “monitor traffic signal status, GPS data and digital maps to assess potential hazards, and then transmit the information to vehicles.”

The company is working with other car makers and the U.S. government to create standards for bringing this technology to deployment. In addition to all of this, the company also announced that it is doubling its intelligent vehicle investment in 2011 and plans to have demonstration vehicles that offer this WiFi-based technology on the road in the next few months.



10:28 am