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Be on the wave or under it™

The News – 04/16/02

In this Issue:

Recommended Reading

I realize this is the only newsletter you’ll ever need, but if you want more in-depth detail, check out:

Stan Hustad’s The Coaching Connection

Broadband in the Sky Wars
(part 2 of the Broadband Content Wars series)

Way back last July, I ran an article about alternative broadband solutions – solutions that don’t involve wires coming into your home. I was bemused by the fact that most of them were coming in 2002. Well, 2002 is here. Where are these solutions?

WildBlue, you’ll recall, plans to offer 3Mbps bi-directional service (400Kbps upstream) to your rooftop using a 26" satellite dish and a small modem sold through 23,000 retailers that offer partner EchoStar's DISH Network service. Once targeted at 2002, WildBlue is now looking at deployment in 2003.
The Halostar Network from Angel Technologies and Raytheon plans to offer a blistering 52Mbps via HALO-Proteus aircraft that will fly fixed patterns in the stratosphere (51,000 feet and higher). It’s hard to say if this is still a going deal, as the companies’ Web sites haven’t been updated in a long while and a query to their PR person yields no response.

Sky Station, Alexander “I’m in charge” Haig’s effort, uses an unmanned, lighter-than-air platform (AKA a blimp) to deliver broadband access speeds up to 2Mbps uplink and 10Mbps downlink. According to their latest FAQ, they’ll go live not in 2002 as originally planned, but in 2004. Slippage happens. Bigtime.

Coming down to earth, Sprint’s terrestrial Broadband Direct service uses a roof-mounted 13.5" diamond-shaped transceiver to deliver typical download speeds ranging from 512Kbps to 1.5Mbps, with a maximum upload speed of 256Kbps. It’s available now, but they’re not taking any more customers, because, “The limitations of the current generation of fixed wireless technology do not allow for an optimum cost structure.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they sold this business and concentrated on a next-generation system. Since the future is always a year away, wouldn’t it make sense if it were available next year?

WorldCom, noted in an SNS from last December, is offering fixed terrestrial wireless services today in 13 markets, including Minneapolis/St. Paul. The service is based on MMDS (Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service) spectrum that was divested by the Baby Bells, who had planned to use it to compete, in-region, with incumbent cable TV providers. WorldCom claims, “The longer wavelengths of MMDS frequencies at 2.5 - 2.7 GHz are more power efficient and less susceptible to the effects of weather than the shorter wavelengths of LMDS.”

R.U. Sirius?

But wait a minute. The MMDS bandwidth is pretty close to the 2.4GHz spectrum used by 802.11b and Bluetooth devices. And the whole 802.11 movement is pretty cheesed off right now about an FCC petition filed by satellite radio vendor
Sirius Satellite Radio.

Sirius paid big bucks for a frequency adjacent to the unlicensed radio band used by 802.11b (Wi-Fi). Sirius’ bandwidth is at 2.32 to 2.34GHz, while Wi-Fi and Bluetooth both use 2.4-2.483GHz, only 55MHz away from the upper end of the licensed band. When you’re talking gigahertz, 55MHz may seem rather close. However, to give you some perspective, the entire FM radio band is only 20MHz wide.

Sirius officials say the unlicensed devices could possibly overlap and interfere, and the company is asking the FCC to reduce the wattage of those unlicensed devices, to 8.6 µV/m at 3 meters. Wi-Fi proponents say this is, first of all, hard to do without recalling all the existing equipment, and second, represents an unacceptable decrease in power. The petition will force 2.4GHz equipment to reduce out-of-band emissions (radio waves broadcast on frequencies other than the target frequency) by one-third.

The story gets complicated by the fact that Sirius applied for, and received, special “interim” clearance from the FCC to operate radio repeaters on the ground to boost the strength of their signal. The order requires Sirius to work with other terrestrial radio services and to reduce their signal level if they are found to interfere with them.

Many Wi-Fi manufacturers take issue with the science behind Sirius’ claims of potential interference. Radio device maker Motorola comments on the Sirius petition:

Sirius requests that the emissions from Part 15 and 18 devices be reduced in order to protect SDARS receivers from a proliferation of unlicensed devices, specifically devices that are based on the Bluetooth and 802.11b standards. It proposes that the aggregate free space field strength of co-polarized out-of-band, radiated emissions from these devices into the 2320-2345 MHz band not exceed 8.6 µV/m at 3 meters, as measured in a 1 MHz bandwidth, for devices that are placed on the market 18 months after the a final rule is published.

802.11b devices have penetrated a significant market, yet no real data has been provided that interference from these devices will cause interference, in fact measurements performed on behalf of XM indicate other sources are more likely to cause interference. Interestingly enough in the filing by XM the main source of interference is not the equipment operating in the 2.4 GHz band but interference from vehicle ignition noise.

The impact on these devices on meeting the lower emissions requirements is not as minimal as expressed by XM. Requiring manufacturers to include additional filters to meet these proposed levels is non-trivial. Designs would have to be modified, additional parts would be required that can impact the system power requirements, and current manufacturing processes would have to be changed, all at a non-trivial cost to manufactures.

Whatever happens with the Sirius petition, it represents a serious challenge to the use of the unlicensed 2.4GHz band. Indeed, it’s possible that a major motive behind the action is to hamper the growth of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services.

As reported in a previous SNS, publicly accessible Wi-Fi networks are becoming so dense and overlapping in some cities that they can be knitted into a mesh network. What if someone wanted to use this ad hoc network to deliver CD-quality radio services that compete with Sirius? The cost of the infrastructure would be minimal compared with launching satellites and installing terrestrial repeaters.

The growing Wi-Fi mesh could put a dent in Third Generation (3G) cell phone networks as well. With Wi-Fi delivering up to 11Mbps throughput, and it’s brother 802.11a delivering five times that, 3G cell networks’ pokey 2Mbps maximum (which won’t be available for at least a year) will seem quite slow in comparison. Plus, consider the impact of the various other broadband schemes in the works:

  • If Halostar gets its act together, delivering 52Mbps from high above a metro area, it’s possible it could supply that bandwidth to mobile devices. This is possible for the other ISP-in-the-sky solutions as well.

  • In the US, Qwest is installing a new phone line technology called VDSL (Very high bit-rate DSL) – with download speeds of up to 14Mbps – although at the moment they’re only offering 1Mbps.

  • Cable modems have a theoretical upper limit of 1Gbps.

Although phone line and cable solutions are obviously not practical for wireless access, if adopted, they will up the ante for wireless services. People will get used to multi-megabit-per-second access and demand more from their wireless solutions than 3G is likely to deliver.

The wildcard in the mix is a bill, H.R.1542, recently passed by the US House and now in committee in the Senate. Called the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001 (Mom & Apple Pie alert!), the bill would allow the Baby Bells to offer broadband services outside their local phone service areas. This bill perplexes me. I assume it was introduced at the instigation of the Bells, known as Regional Bell Operating Companies or RBOCs. But the RBOCs haven’t been so keen on introducing DSL that you’d notice, viewing it as competition for their lucrative T-1 services.

If this bill passes the Senate, we may see a more aggressive push by the RBOCs to install broadband.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, You’re Always a Year Away

Anyway, back to next year. Market researcher the ARC Group predicts that by 2003, there will be 21 million broadband households worldwide and the broadband market will be worth $88 billion by 2007. A study from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found that there were roughly 9.6 million high-speed lines in the US in June 2001 – a 250 percent increase since August 2000.

The big question is: Is the Internet enough to drive high broadband adoption, or will new content services need to be developed? Telecom companies don’t think so, and have commenced whining about the need for government subsidies.

Cisco senior VP Mike Volpi said recently that the only way to get a significant number of homes wired with broadband Internet access is to "subsidize the cost either through content or the government. Something else has to pay for that connectivity."

ADC Communications CEO Rick Roscitt contributed to the whining chorus in a recent Minneapolis StarTribune opinion piece: “The United States should encourage new investment in broadband networks through tax incentives, especially for deployment of broadband to under-served communities and to accelerate development of next-generation services.”

Should governments subsidize broadband deployment? Is the Internet enough? I’ll take a look at these questions in the next SNS.

Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: CTOMentor has just released a new wireless white paper, the first in The Wireless Future series: You Can Take It With You: Business Applications of Personal Wireless Devices. This first paper in the series is free; others that will be available for a nominal fee will include:

    • Islands Make the Net: Wireless Networking and the Evolving Mesh

    • Taking Your Business On the Road: The Car As Wireless Office

    • Standards, Standards Everywhere: A Business Guide to Wireless Standards

    • M-Commerce: Are We There Yet?

    • Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mobile Location-Based Wireless Services

    • The Wireless Last Mile: Fixed Wireless Broadband Services

    • Beyond Keyboards, Beyond Wires: Voice Activated Wireless Services

    • Information, Entertainment, and Access At Your Fingertips: Interactive Wireless Information Services

    These white papers will be released over the coming months. To be notified when a new white paper is released, send an email to or check

    You also may want to check out the article I wrote on Instant Messaging in the latest issue of the TaylorHarkins Insights to Action newsletter.
  • Email That Hottie in the Convertible: Here’s a service that could cut both ways:, sponsored by online auto site, offers an email service based on your license plate number. With all the information access technologies being built into cars and portable wireless devices these days, real time email mash notes have now become a possibility. Of course, the downside is the guy you just cut off can vent his wrath via email as well. You can reach me at, but only if you’ve got something nice to say.

  • Scamming Online? Stop Now! Consumers in the UK now have a way to report online scams. The Stop Now Regulations went into effect last year, giving consumer protection authorities the power to stop a business from selling goods on-line if it is not complying with the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. The regulations got their first use late last year, after a reconditioned computer mail-order company generated more than 900 complaints in less than three months. Consumers can use a website now to report rogue traders.

  • GPRS Coming to Minneapolis: OK, you may not care, but I do. ATT is planning on bringing high(er)-speed cell phone data access based on General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) to the Twin Cities this summer. They even implied we could expect cool phones (perhaps the new Siemens phone or, dare we hope, the Nokia Communicator) to go along with the service. ATT plans to roll out GPRS in all major markets within the next year.

·        Modern Medieval Siege Warfare: Prospective SNS Reader Bill Dietrick sent along an article about Carnegie Mellon University's Parallel Data Lab (PDL). The PDL is taking a new approach to computer security by using siege warfare concepts employed in medieval castles. The lab’s gotten a $4.5 million grant from the Department of Defense, and Professor Greg Ganger is working on devices that he hopes will protect computer data even after intruders have penetrated traditional perimeters, such as firewalls. So-called “self-securing devices” will defend themselves in a manner similar to the way parts of medieval castles formed distinct protective barriers, such as moats, inner sanctums, and strategically placed guard towers.
PDL Packet

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In the unlikely event that you want more of my opinions, I’ve started a Weblog. It’s the fashionable thing for pundits to do, and I’m doing it too. A Weblog is a datestamped collection of somewhat random thoughts and ideas assembled on a Web page. If you’d like to subject the world to your thoughts, as I do, you can create your own Weblog. You need to have a Web site that allows you FTP access, and the free software from This allows you to right click on a Web page and append your pithy thoughts to your Weblog.

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In Memoriam

Gerald M. Ellsworth

March 14, 1928 - July 5, 2003

In Memoriam

Jane C. Ellsworth

July 20, 1928 - July 20, 2003