Web-enabled Washing Machine

IBM and USA Technologies today announced they will Web-enable 9,000 washing machines and dryers at U.S. colleges and universities. e-Suds-enabled machines will replace traditional coin-operated machines in colleges with a new method that allows students to pay with the swipe of an ID card or the push of a few buttons on a cell phone.

The machines will be linked to an intelligent back-end hosted by IBM. Using the system, students will be able to visit a Website to find out when a machine will be available. They’ll be able to select various functions, such as the dispensing of soap and fabric softener — choosing from a range of products in storage bins attached to each machine. When the wash is done, they’ll be notified via an email sent to their pagers or PCs.

Pop machines and washing machines — that’s the ticket — and they have coin slots! IBM’s Intelligent Vending initiative is already making Wi-Fi Vending Machines a reality.

Web-enabled vending or washing machines might be linked via HomePlug AC connectors to DSL in another room. Intellon’s Homeplug might network via AC power outlets. Vendors in the HomePlug Powerline Alliance are compatible and can link different devices to remote DSL or cable modems.

Channel 54: Where are You?

The FCC’s UHF auction is on. Winners get 12 MHz on a pair on 6 MHz channels at 710-716 MHz (on UHF channel 54) and 740-746 MHz (on UHF channel 59). These dual (duplex) channels can be used for “3G” cell phones and are called the “C” block by the FCC. Another option is to buy a single 6 MHz channel (the “D” block). But you better have a fat wallet…you have to buy an entire time zone. Only six (“D”) channels are available in the entire United States. They’re at 716 MHz-722 MHz (on UHF channel 55).

So far the FCC has raised about $85 million. No big cellular bidders are participating. Why? Nobody is really sure if broadcasters will be vacating these frequencies by 2007. Plus nobody has any money. 3G bombed in Europe. It bombed in Asia.

While 12 MHz doesn’t seem like much compared to the 85 MHz available over 802.11b (at 2.4GHz), the UHF band CAN penetrate walls and leap tall buildings. Flarion and other “4G” providers say they can deliver 2-way voice using VoIP. But the FCC is only selling single 6 MHz channels in “bulk”. You have to buy an entire time zone if you only want a simplex channel. Nobody’s buying.

By population, my hometown of Portland, Oregon is 30th on the list of cities. Portland’s “C” block channel is WZ-CMA030-C. So far the new owner of channel 54 & channel 59 is Aloha Partners, L.P. who has bid $843,000 for it (so far). Other Oregon UHF bids include Clatsop County (VCOM U.S. Inc. – $47,000); Hood River (Eastern Oregon Telecom, LLC – $19,000); Umatilla (Banks Broadcasting, Inc. – $84,000); Lincoln County (no bidders yet) and Coos County (no bidders yet).

These UHF channels could be bargains (even waiting until 2007). A 5000 watt AM radio station in Portland costs about $1.5 million, considerably less than the $845,000 Aloha Partners paid for their 12MHz of UHF spectrum. A Flarion “4G” system on the KGON Tower could deliver mobile broadband (256Kbps and up) for 5-7 miles in a 100-square-mile area. With 12 MHz you might serve 5,000-20,000 subs. Hot spot backbone service might cost $20/mo, mobile 256kbps might cost $40/mo. PocketPCs with Flarion cards deliver interoperable voice and video. Do the math (5K X $30/mo = $150K/month). Portland’s CommNet is about 5 years behind user needs so the year 2007 looks like a practical target.

“D” channels cover an entire time zone. Aloha Partners paid $6,216,000 for the West Coast. Nobody else has bid on other regional “D” licenses covering the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Great Lakes and Central / Mountain. Why? Perhaps “4G” operators (who could provide voice and data on a single 6 MHZ channel, are really angling for Worldcom and Sprint MMDS frequencies. MMDS has 200 Mhz available in the 2.5-2.7 GHz band.

Sprint halted MMDS deployment, and AT&T shut down its service entirely, cutting off 47,000 customers in January 2002. Sprint’s service is still going, but hasn’t been taking new orders since November 2001. About 200 MHz of spectrum (between 2.5 GHz and 2.7 GHz) is allocated for MMDS use. That’s lots more than 12MHz. Somebody’s going to pick up Worldcom’s licenses for a song. Who needs to spend big bucks on the auction? Both Sprint and Worldcom owned about 2/3rds the MMDS licenses in the US.

It appears the low UHF band does not matter much for “3G” telephony. The real action may be the 200 MHZ of sleeper MMDS band at 2.5 GHz. Besides, licensed MMDS might make a great feeder for hot spots. Variations of COFDM modulation such as ArrayComm, BeamReach, Flarion, IPWireless, and Navini are said to deliver “3G” services for about 1/10th the cost. Soon, 802.16a could coalese these different approaches into a Wide Area Networking standard, delivering economical and reliable “backbone” service to laptops, PDAs and hot spots. Many industry observers now believe that 802.16a “4G” IP telephony is a better bet than circuit-switched “3G”.

So far the high bidders on the low UHF band are:

  1. Aloha Partners, L.P. 29 $31,839,000
  2. Cavalier Group, LLC 5 $9,911,000
  3. Vulcan Spectrum LLC 3 $5,733,000
  4. Harbor Wireless, LLC 4 $3,442,000
  5. DataCom Wireless, L. 3 $3,252,000

Radio Free Portland

At last night’s Personal Telco meeting, an individual who works at the City’s Media Services Bureau encoding city hall meetings, told me they are planning to move to MPEG-4. The City uses Real’s Helix servers.

Another tidbit: the Portland Police may install MPEG-4 video cameras inside the Light Bars on cruiser rooftops. When the lights are turned on, an mpeg-4 camera would be activated. Video would be stored in a hard drive. At the end of a shift the video would be uploaded to the Police Bureau using 802.11g WiFi. The daily video recordings would archived for one year.

The City of Portland has fiber optic maps and PortlandMaps.com, which puts all sorts of property data on-line. Other innovative mapping projects include PortlandGreenmap, blogmapper.com and Evil Bunny’s NodeDb.com, used by Personal Telco’s Wireless Maps.

But I digress…

Portland’s progressive attitude towards information access made me re-think City-Run Community LAN Partnerships. Here are a couple of points:

  • Nextel’s frequency interference might be worked out if Nextel and Flarion provide a “4G” system for mobile broadband and voice. Nextel is trialing Flarion. So use it. A “4G” system like that might provide ubiquitous, long range broadband.
  • Perhaps a segment of Nextel’s new 2 Ghz band (mere speculation on my part) could be alloted to provide “wireless DSL”.
  • That could provide the backbone for FatPort-type, WiFi boxes on public areas like WaterFront Park, Convention Center, PGE Park, or even hot spots on Utility Poles. Running twisted pair or coax up utility poles is costly.
  • An inexpensive gateway on a chip could provide secure VPN services for priority police and fire communications as well as “open” public internet access. The Nomadix HotSpot Gateway – HSG-25 (FAQ), provides transparent and secure mobile user connectivity for Public-access networks
  • Other licensed carriers (like MMDS from Sprint), might also deliver the backbone for “free” hot spots.
  • Community Centers could be linked together through the I-Net with Gig-E. Each could have iSCSC storage for redundancy and a WiFi antenna for local wireless connectivity. With your choice of ISP.

Free Community LANs could save money. Instead of printing and distributing (outdated) materials, the City of Portland could supply them free. City workers like meter readers, inspectors, police and fire could save millions by avoiding costly cellular data links. Broadband interoperability would be another plus.

As Editor & Publisher states:

“The wireless Internet will be ubiquitous in a few years — especially in the major metro areas in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Writing for CNET’s News.com recently, former IBM executive John Patrick said: ‘When people go downtown, they naturally expect the local infrastructure to include streetlights, fire hydrants, and parking spaces. Soon, I believe, they also will expect Wi-Fi connectivity. Sitting on a city park bench and checking e-mail will not seem so strange; in fact, it will be something people demand.'”

Kiosks on train stations or public places could provide local (& wireless) access to:

  1. Live traffic information like Smarttrek maps current traffic congestion by color
  2. Live Bus, Train and Streetcar Maps (with real-time postion)
  3. Thematic maps of the city – find restaurants, hotels, parks, tourist spots
  4. City Information (meetings, city codes, licenses, traffic tickets, etc.)
  5. Visitor Information like PortlandWalkingTours and electronic guides to the Oregon Zoo , OMSI, Oregon Convention Center, EXPO Center, Art Museums, Hotels, Restaurants, etc.
  6. Flash-enable entertainment and information
  7. Video email is one click away with an inexpensive camera like Logitech’s IM Video Companion providing live video with MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. Yahoo’s Super Webcam uses enhanced compression for 20 fps, 320×240 videoconferencing. Meetingbywire could link schools, state-wide.
  8. Display Advertising – Location-specific and cycled automatically, webpad advertising could be transactional and generate a profit for the city
  9. Location Based Services could be fee or free
  10. Optional Premium Content – RealOne, FoxSports, live sports, or downloaded music, games, videos, etc.
  11. Virtual Private Networks for city and emergency services provide secure, broadband, interoperable communications.

The idea is that WiFi is free and ubiquitous. The city provides the backbone and the hotspot hardware. Next generation wireless broadband equipment doesn’t need line of sight to operate. Companies like ArrayComm, BeamReach, Broadstorm, IPWireless, and Navini all seem promising. Flarion and Nextel might be a particularly good fit since Nextel is already involved in public service communications and Flarion’s “WiFi handoff” might deliver WiFi in Max trains, for example. Ideally a “standard” like 802.16a (Mobility draft) could coalese the different technical approaches to the wireless Wide Area Network, delivering economical and reliable “backbone” service to local 802.11b hot spots.

Pole-mounted, solid-state, hot-spot boxes like Pronto Networks and FatPort boxes could be linked by a Linksys Wi-Fi bridge ($95) and panel antenna ($35) to nearby feeders on cell towers. Weather-proof Tablet PC kiosks could be installed at train stops or in vending machines and supply “Portland Radio Free Network” branded services. A Toshiba appliance server (with iPass roaming), can provide 802.11b internet access at convention centers, transit malls, government buildings and dozens of public spaces. iPass will work with Toshiba to ensure that their Wi-Fi hotspot are interoperable with Virtual Private Network (VPN) and other security policy management systems. Their global virtual network is accessed via iPassConnect, a mobile access smart client. Different ISPs could host it.

The Nomadix Gateway ($1999), enables Global Roaming so users can transparently move between different networks while retaining one billing relationship with their chosen provider. Placed on dozens of train stops, they could combine public and private net access with end-to-end security.

Portland wouldn’t have to provide leadership. Jacksonville Florida’s WIZ (Wireless Internet Zones) provide community kiosks throughout the city for both tourists and low-income residents.

The wireless backbone service could be self-supporting with advertising and content fees.

There would be many legal and operational issues to overcome, of course. But “free” community LANs just might be practical.

Electronic Gas Station

In the distant past, I once thought Telidon Videotext was the cat’s meow. I saw myself becoming an “electronic gas station” attendant. I imagined people would pull up on the information superhighway and I could supply them with maps and other handy local information. This was in 1981. The Web was a decade away, not even a gleam in the eye of Tim Berners-Lee.

I am reminded of that dream by Toyota’s G-Book.

Toyota plans an on-board G-BOOK terminal this fall. The automotive PDA will feature a Data Communications Module and a Secure Digital card, enabling customers to take advantage of the latest network services as easily as they would operate a car radio.

These network services will be provided by numerous and varied industries and businesses, giving G-BOOK a wide range of content. Also, G-BOOK’s information core, known as the G-BOOK Center, will provide “user-customized servers”, or UCSs, for each customer to tailor services to his or her individual needs.

Navigational maps and the on-board terminal’s basic software are stored in a Secure Digital (SD) card. The card can be inserted into “E-TOWER” terminals at convenience stores and other locations to download local or new maps or to upgrade the on-board terminal’s basic software. Music and games can also be downloaded, and the SD card is compatible with commercially available audio players, digital cameras and PDAs that use SD cards, making it possible to share content such as music files, images and games.

What will be available? You name it: Insurance information,Sightseeing information, Safety services, Live navigation service, Electronic booksm Travel information, Local information, Travel Magazine, Gas station Information, Sports news, Games, Security services , nline karaoke service/game contents, Golf course information, Sound data distribution for SD, Maps, Business news, Hobbies/entertainment, Security services, Business/economy articles , arking area information, Weather/climate forecast , Business/stock market information, Insurance Information, and Music from various labels.

Fill ‘er up?

Intel Dev Forum

Intel’s Developer Forum (preview), beginning September 9th, will likely include the announcement of a new Digital Home Working Group focusing on networking and interoperabilty issues. Intel hopes to gather support for a home networking initiative that combines Microsoft’s Universal Plug and Play with WiFi and 1394 wired networks. Intel’s pitch is likely to be: run embedded WiFi software on Intel processors for lower costs and easier implementation. We’ll see.

Intel’s Settop Media Center will use Tuxia Linux, a Maxtor hard drive, Sigma Designs and Focus Enhancements for graphics. Intel hopes to embed 802.11 software in its processors for “Plug and Play”.

Other media gateways that may go wireless in the following months include the Moxi Home Gateway, Panasonic’s Mediabolic, Motorola’s Media Center and Wireless Cable Modem Gateway and the Pace Di4000 Digital Cable Home Gateway with built-in DOCSIS cable modem.

Mo Burning Man

Missing out on Burning Man? Today’s Calendar of Events shows what you’re missing. Burning Man’s Theme Camps and Art Installations are always inspirational as are the Art Cars. The bbs.burningman.com/ connects live.

Matt Peterson helps organize the August Playanet. Matt doesn’t have photos of BM yet but here are some from Defcon 2002, archive.org and Google.

Some interesting BM sites include burningsilicon.com, Black Rock Gazette, burningmanopera.org, 3dculture.com/bm3d and sky-dyes.com.

A live webcast is scheduled for Saturday, August 31 hosted entirely at BurningMan.com.

The Oregon Country Fair Embassy camp and Tachyon satellite delivers 2 Mbit/sec downstream and 300 Kbit/sec upstream via WiFi-enabled Playanet to the entire Playa area from roaming laptops.