Seattle’s Talking Signs


Seattle’s Sound Transit is trying out a new gizmo; Talking Signs. It’s a system of infrared transmitters and receivers that announce directions and locations for the sight-impaired who can’t read signs.

Talking Signs transmitters provide labels and directions such as “Reception Desk”, “Conference Rooms Ahead”, “Public Telephone”, or “6th & Main”. The messages are spoken by a Talking Signs receiver which is held in your hand. About the size of a cell phone you point them at the small transmitters mounted at key points in and around a transit center. The receiver plays the announcement.

Elevators, stairs, passageways, crosswalks, bridges and the like are popular places to put talking signs..

At a test last week in Seattle, Rebecca Bell, a University District artist who has partial sight, also tried the devices. “I thought they were fantastic,” Bell said of the Talking Signs. “It makes you feel a lot more assured about what’s around you. It gives you such a feeling of independence. You don’t have to ask anybody.”

For the $135,000 pilot program, Sound Transit has mounted 35 transmitters at locations such as the International District station, the Sounder platform at the King Street Station and on the Weller Street bridge on Fourth Avenue South, which a person would take to get between the two stations.

Each transmitter costs $2,700 and each of the 10 battery-powered receivers Sound Transit has bought so far costs $260, Miller said.

Each Talking sign transmitter can give out up to six messages, so the system could be used to give directions in different languages or give different types of information. Locations in San Francisco include transit facilities, the art museum, and lots of city buildings. They’re also used extensively in Norway, Sweden and Japan.

Toward the end of the year, Sound Transit expects to decide whether to buy a full system of transmitters for all its transit centers and Seattle’s light rail stations. That would cost about $600,000.

I first heard about talking signs when I was listening to a piece of music on the radio. It was that tune, “Better Than Anything”.


Better than elephants dancing or clowns on parade,
Better than peanuts and popcorn, or fresh lemonade
Better than rides on the Midway, better than seals blowing horns
Better than men shot from cannons, better than fresh ears of corn
Better than balancing on wire, or having tigers leap through fire
Better than anything except being in love…

Better than sailing at midnight, better than diving for pearls
Better than skiing at Aspen, better than feeding the squirrels
Better than finding a horseshoe, better than loosing your head
Better than anything thought of, better than anything said
Better than shouting right out loud, or being spotted in a crowd
Better than anything except being in love…

I was so taken by the tune, I looked it up on the Internet. I discovered that the composer of the tune, Bill Loughborough, lives in Goldendale, Washington, just up the river from me and is an activitst for the blind. He helped Talking Signs come to be.

How about that!

Here’s more on Bill Loughborough and Natural Languange Input.

Sharing Community Satellite Networks


A small community in Alaska is sharing satellite access and has funded a wireless ISP to provide access to it. Coffman Cove, with about 200 inhabitants, share a Starband satellite internet access through SkyFrames who installed it along with a community LAN connection to provide local access to it.

SkyFrames combines a StarBand VSAT terminal with a WISP-Out-of-Box from Raylink. Raylink’s wireless access connection uses frequency hopping rather than straight 802.11b and flat-panel transceivers at each subscriber’s home.

SkyFrames is a satellite internet provider for businesses, educational, and government. The Company offers two satellite solutions; a low cost proprietary VSAT system that delivers internet broadband at low prices and the proprietary VOS system that transmits broadband in a highly secure, self-healing and survivable manner including applications like Voice over IP (VoIP) for first responders and government agencies.

Both the SkyFrames VSAT gear and the Raylink wireless system make it possible for much of the network monitoring and maintenance to be done remotely from SkyFrames office in Costa Mesa, California. When the company comes in June to install the network it will also train the town’s three part-time employees on how to operate the network and the business.

StarBand’s small business package, for example, can share a five-seat service for $169.95 which guarantees 1 Mbps during office hours and no less than 150 Kbps in consumer prime time. One of StarBand’s wholesale distributors is US Online, a Wenatchee, Washington-based meta-ISP. US Online has over 100 ISP affiliates, serving 400,000-plus subscribers. Affiliates can market the StarBand service, do the installs and continue to manage the accounts through US Online.

The Coffman Cove WISP will be able to deliver subscribers an asynchronous connection of 128 Kbps upstream and up to 1 Mbps downstream. The price to subscribers will likely be $35-$45 a month. Thirty-four residents have already signed up. Another 11 probably will, and more are considering buying computers and hooking up.

Satellite service has high latency due to the 46,000 miles round-trip time, making voice over Internet and online gaming virtually impossible with a 2 second delay or more.

Other wireless LAN access solutions to a single two-way satellite dish might include Proxim’s Tsunami, D-Link’s outdoor access points, Aperto and Alveron gear, Trango Systems and a Vivato outdoor bridge.

There are several approaches to provide satellite access:

  • The new StarBand 480 Pro modem is said to provide peak download speeds of more than 1Mbps and upload speeds two to three times faster than current StarBand service. A four-port Ethernet router enables instant networking of multiple personal computers. Starband Users Group says the new 480 modem is a re-labeled 360E modem. Gilat’s Skystar 360E, can provide an always-on connection with downstream rates up to 52.5 Mbps and uplink rates up to 307.2 kbps but satellite providers using the Ku band have only a limited amount of spectrum they must share with thousands of subscribers. That limits the practical speeds of Ku. You can get more speed – but it will cost you a significant premium.

  • Hughes provides a self-contained Skycaster satellite Internet data service with their 4020 box providing VPN connections to PC’s and LANs. Skycaster costs $100-$400/month, provides more than 384 kbps and is bundled with multiple static-public IP addresses and firewall support. It’s based upon the Hughes DIRECWAY a 2-way satellite Internet service. The last mile can use Broadstorm’s 802.16a, the first commercial deployment of non-line-of-sight (NLOS) self-install customer units.

  • The KVH TracNet 2.0 system ($6,000) can be mounted on an SUV and uses DirecPC receiving Internet-via-satellite at speeds as fast as 400 kilobits per second (Kbps). Full, two-way Internet access is available as far as Alaska and the Caribbean. The server-based TracNet 2.0 includes Ethernet connections and 802.11b (Wi-Fi) access permitting as many as 5 users to surf the Internet from anywhere in, on, or around a boat or vehicle.

  • MotoSat’s mobile 2-way dish (FAQ) $6,000, can be mounted on a truck for mobile satellite access.

  • Tachyon’s transportable satellite dish is a larger transportable dish that can be setup in a few hours and provides higher speeds.

  • Gilat’s Skystar terminal (in the Ku band) supports a wide range of network protocols, including IP, with up to 8 Mbps and 153.6 kbps down and up in the Ku band. Hollywood Video uses them for credit checks. Gilat’s VSAT Ka dish should increase speeds.

  • ViaSat also builds many of the small consumer 20/30Ghz satellite terminals. They have a $30 million ground terminal contract with WildBlue and will incorporate DOCSIS cable modems. The dish is likely to sell for $200-$300, subsidized by a service contract like other satellite tv operators.

  • Mentat, the leading supplier of TCP/IP to the computer industry, has developed its SkyX Gateway products to overcome the limitations of the Internet protocols when used over satellite networks.

  • Immeon users do not need to maintain dedicated circuits, but rather can pay for broadband connections as needed. Immeon service plans include both always on and on-demand capacity that enables customers to pay for data and voice bandwidth based on monthly usage and data rate requirements. Cost is independent of distance and can provide emergency backup or capacity augmentation, which automatically transmits any overflow when terrestrial lines are full. Immeon Networks is a joint-venture by ViaSat and Loral Skynet.

  • Connexstar by Spacenet is designed for multi-location businesses in the continental U.S. and/or Canada. This includes retail, restaurant and hospitality chains, as well as franchise owners. It is not available to consumer or small-office/home-office users. Additionally, Connexstar is not designed for providing ISP services or for hosting Web sites.

Satellite-based internet provider Starband declared chapter 11 last year but is still operational. Meanwhile the Hughes-backed DirecPC plans to continue operation although neither Starband or DirecPC are making money.

Spot Beam Satellites may change everything. Spot beams on the Ka band promise fast, economical, nationwide service because the limited, shared bandwidth can be re-used. They offer VSAT point-to-point and multi-point distribution.

  • SpaceWay will provide up to 1.5Mbps up and 5Mbps down using spot beams which should make a better business model since spectrum can be shared by more users.

  • Wild Blue: The Canadian-built Anik F2, is expected to launch soon with 52 Ka-band (30 Ghz) transponders at 111.1 degrees allowing consumers with mini dishes to receive both broadband Internet access and satellite television from DirecTV or EchoStar’s DISH Network. Wild Blue will reportedly lease 30 of the 45 Ka band transponders on F-2 for 2-way internet access. When they get their own satellite launched, WildBlue will use F-2 as a back-up.

A Seattle to Portland Link might use 2-way satellite links for a “virtual fire lookout”. Wi-Fi could save lives battling forest fires and save money.

Mount Washington Observatory, on the highest peak in the northeast United States, has some of the worst weather imaginable. The non-profit weather research station installed a five-mile point-to-point webcam using ORiNOCO gear to connect a remote Web cam to the Observatory’s wired link to the Internet. Solar power from SunWize Technologies powers it.

Inexpensive Ka band satellite dishes like WildBlue and SPACEWAY on 4-5 relay points could provide redundancy and a “virtual lookout” for the Forest Service. Scheduled to launch service in 2004, SPACEWAY incorporates packet switching, spot beams, and bandwidth-on-demand, operating in the Ka-band. Spaceway will provide full-mesh connectivity for efficient delivery of high-bandwidth services and peer-to-peer architecture. The Hughes Broadband Alliance qualifies equipment for satellite use like D-Link’s video cameras, Amnis remote controlled cameras or a IQEye digital zoom Netcam.

Satellites can Tie Regional WISP Networks Together. Perhaps remote managment of small, 100-200 subscriber ISPs could be made more practical with a satellite backbone and shared 802.11/802.16a community LANs.

Matt Peterson Profile


Matt Peterson, who might be consided the “father of Community LANs”, is profiled in a recent newspaper article. Peterson founded the Bay Area Wireless Users Group (archives from 2000), which now boasts over 2,000 members and is a leading force behind the Bay Area Research Wireless Network (BARWN), a “free” community LAN backbone network in the Bay Area.

Burning Man’s PlayaNet (archives), was arguably the first practical “community lan” back in the fall of 2000. Peterson pioneered many techniques now considered routine for community lans. He went on to develop Surf and Sip, arguably the first Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop, a concept later cloned by Boingo, T-Mobile, CoMeta Networks and Verizon.

Peterson’s insight and leadership showed how the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band could be effectively harnessed to deliver low-cost internet access to many. Other visionaries, both in the commercial and non-commercial sector, expanded upon the concept.

Matt Peterson’s technical skill and gregarious manner as well as the natural talent pool found in the Bay Area, have enabled the Bay Area Wireless Users Group to become an effective force, nationally and internationally. His leadership has been an inspiration to many.

Matt Peterson has made a difference. In the world.

[Via WiFiNetNews]

Fiber to the Premises


The three largest U.S. local telephone companies, Verizon, SBC Communications and BellSouth, on Thursday announced they have agreed on a common set of technical standards to improve development of fiber-optic networks and speed the introduction of new services.

The standards involve technology known as “fiber to the premises,” or the extension of high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic network directly to business and homes. BellSouth, SBC, and Verizon will independently finalize their FTTP deployment plans for 2004 and beyond, based on the evaluation of these proposals, ongoing internal studies, and on the resolution of related regulatory issues

Local telephone companies have been encouraged to build fiber networks by recent FCC rules that allow them to exclude competitors.

It’s still not clear exactly which Fiber to the Premises standard they will use. One guess might be a Passive Optical Networking with Ethernet in the First Mile providing the backhaul.

PONs lets RBOCs build a network not unlike cable’s hybrid fiber/coax and deliver fiber closer to the customer (but not inside the house). Using the PONs system, a box outside the premises converts the fiber signal to coax for distribution inside the house.

A CO can run a single fiber stand to a cluster of end users. A passive optical splitter directs traffic to the customer’s premises without active optical components, lowering cost. The residential terminal, however, must have a box that converts the optical signals to twisted pair or coax for the last 100 feet.

PON gear at the head end uses lasers strong enough to handle the attenuation that takes place at each splice point. When traffic moves upstream, towards the CO, branch traffic can collide with other users so ATM has been used. Ethernet in the First Mile, with new QOS standards, could lower costs dramatically for the backhaul.

Meanwhile regional fiber coops are forming and operating in both large cities and small across the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service provides 4 percent interest rate loans at anywhere from 15 to 30 years for broadband services in smaller communities. The loan money can be used for fiber-to-home programs, “last mile” wireless or both. They are not without incident. Results of an independent investigation into expenses of the fiber program of the Grant County PUD will be available at the end of June. DSL Reports follows municipal fiber networks while Light Reading follows fiber networking news.

5G Municipal Wi-Fi


5G Wireless announced today that it has begun beta testing Mobile Wi-Fi in the City of Garden Grove, California.

The Mobile Wi-Fi capability is an extension of 5G recently announced WiFi HotZone. 5G’s will provide coverage over a mile away using strategically placed repeaters. 5G claims it is possible to provide the entire fleet of police cars and emergency vehicles total coverage within the 7-square-mile city limits.

“Given the success of the City’s existing Wi-Fi network, which seamlessly connects City Hall, Courthouse, Public Works, Fire and Police Stations, the next logical step is to bring high-speed broadband to police cars and other emergency vehicles,” stated Brian Corty, Chief Technology Officer for 5G Wireless Communications.

“We’re in the field testing, mapping and demonstrating speeds upward of 1 Mbps, while traveling at 35 MPH and we are in the process of proving that the vehicle units would remain connected as they move between multiple 5G Access Points for seamless roaming capabilities,” stated Jerry Dix, President and CEO of 5G Wireless.

The 5G technology claims to be able to penetrate both manmade and natural obstacles while delivering speeds consistent with line-of-sight locations. The technical nature of the 5G system, based on 802.11b, is not explained in much detail on their web site.

They will have competition from other “city cloud” competitors:

  • Tropos in Half Moon Bay, near San Francisco. Tropos has deployed 8 to 10 Wi-Fi hot spots. Two of the hot spots have land-line connections to carry the data to the Internet backbone, the rest use mesh-like interconnections. Tropos intends to target municipal users like police and fire departments.

  • Tech Dirt reports NIST is developing a wireless LAN system that would let first responders exchange messages and data.

  • Vivato’s outdoor Wi-Fi switch might also utilized in “city clouds” since it delivers 1 Mbps to ordinary Wi-Fi clients in PDAs and laptops, a mile or more away.

  • Wi-Fi plans from Boingo, CoMeta, Verizon and T-Mobile are focused on providing individual services.


Turnkey community “hot spot” providers that could offer “city cloud” services include:

Regional Wireless ISPs could conceivably provide turnkey municipal service packages:

  • Broadband Central is building wireless networks in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Individuals within each “Blue Zone” can sign up with Broadband Central for month-to-month Internet access packages starting as low as $19.95 per month for synchronous connectivity at 128 kilobits per second (Kbps).

  • National Broadband is rolling out a nation-wide wireless network along WilTel’s Fiber Routes. Wireless broadband services will be available to communities along the fiber network footprint.

City clouds might save money and deliver faster speeds than cellular. Portland, for example, currently spends over $500,000 on cellular phone services which provide ubiquitous service but slow internet speeds. That doesn’t count CDPD cellular data services which is used for relaying GPS positioning information, police data terminals, and parking meter machines. CDPD data services, using analog cellular service, will be shut down in the next year or two. That will require a move to GPRS (GSM) or 1XRTT (CDMA) data services.

Are city clouds based on 802.11a/b/g premature? An argument could be made that without a centralized polling mechanism, increasing interference and reduced throughput would result. Because there’s no standardized 802.11b method (yet) for polling, all clients must be “flashed” with a mechanism like KarlNet. So why not wait for the 802.16a/e standard? It has polling built-in. The 802.16 standard can use narrower channels on the same 2.4 and 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum (as well as licensed spectrum) and enables longer reach.

Roger Marks, head of the 802.16 standards group, says 802.16e has the capacity to be adapted for individual computers. “One of the reasons that might happen is that we have QOS support,” Marks said. “The nice thing about 802.16 is it can handle time sensitive information like voice. Intel has been very active in the process”.

Installing hundreds of Wi-Fi “hot spots” all over a city would be expensive and difficult to manage. Longer distance 802.16a/e, could be installed on cell towers and rooftops while phased array antennas (like Vivato’s) might cover large sections of a city at less cost. Roaming and handoff will be incorporated into the 802.16e standard and radio clients might be inexpensive. And interoperable. The 802.16a/e backbone could also feed ubiquitous Wi-Fi “hot spots”.

A package combining Sony’s $250 PSX with a $150 “last mile” device similar to the Linksys WET-54 Ethernet Bridge might offer VOD, games, voice and internet access for half the cost of DSL or Cable Modems – and with better upstream capacity.

Meanwhile Navini Networks and Korea Telecom, the world’s largest broadband service provider, has announced plans to trial a 2.3 GHz system in Seoul. Using Navini’s “smart antennas” and its new PCMCIA modem, KT’s trial participants will experience multi-megabit network speeds, a zero-install plug-and-play experience, and untethered wide-area wireless broadband access anywhere within the coverage area expected to be 3-5 miles. The field trial is being conducted in Seoul, starting in May 2003.

Palm VoIP


Palm Computer announced an integrated Voice over IP solution for their Tungsten C handheld today. Agreements with five companies will provide voice over IP (VoIP), Wi-Fi, and authentication software based on protocol developed by Cisco.

The Tungsten C handheld ($499), features a 400MHz of ARM; 64MB of memory; a built-in keyboard; and a 320 x 320 transflective TFT display. Agreements with VLI, Linksys, Wayport, WiFinder and Meetinghouse Data Communications were announced. The products, services and special offers deliver an integrated Wi-Fi solution for Palm’s Tungsten C in Wi-Fi campus networks and (SOHO) professionals.

VLI’s VoIP technology supplies the SIP (session initiation protocol) VoIP software, called Gphone for Palm handhelds. With Gphone, Tungsten C handheld users will be able to connect to online directory services and SIP compatible IP devices, including personal computers and Internet phones, as well as make calls over the switched public telephone network. Tungsten C owners can communicate with other Palm handhelds using corporate wireless networks, public hotspots or wireless home networks.

By inserting the Palm Hands Free Headset in the Tungsten C headphone jack, users will be able to pick up calls forwarded from their desk phone to their Tungsten C handheld and make calls to colleagues on the company network. A PocketPC version of VLI’s VoIP software is also available.

Linksys, Wayport and WiFinder will offer discounts and free trials. With the purchase of a Tungsten C handheld, customers can take advantage of discount offers on hardware or Wi-Fi service.

Meetinghouse’s AEGIS security solution is used. It supports LEAP (Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol), a standards-based authentication method for Palm Tungsten C handhelds. LEAP, developed by Cisco, requires mutual authentication, which means both the user and access point to which the user is attempting to connect must authenticate one to the other before network access is granted.

In addition to LEAP security, an IPSec VPN (virtual private network) client will be available to address the remote access security needs of many Wi-Fi networked professionals. The VPN will provide secure access to corporate networks from hotspot locations such as restaurants, hotels and airports.

Gphone for Palm handhelds from VLI is scheduled to be available in June with Linksys discounts and Wayport free trial available today with the purchase of a Palm Tungsten C handheld.