Boston Goes Non-Profit

Boston will tap a nonprofit corporation to provide their city-wide WiFi Cloud, reports The Boston Globe. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino unveiled the plan (pdf), hatched by the Mayor’s Task Force on Wireless in Boston. Boston is proposing a wholesale network, built by the city and sold to retailers who will deliver a variety of services.

“We believe the non-profit route may be the best way to bring low-cost service to every neighborhood while providing a platform for innovation unlike any in the nation,”Mayor Menino said. “By keeping the network open, we believe we can create a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, which will spur economic growth and job creation.”

Wi-Fi service in Boston is expected be offered at $15 per month, but the non-profit entity running the network will not sell retail access — it wholesales bandwidth to other companies. Competing companies are expected to offer end users a variety of high speed or free (ad-supported) wireless access. The network will span 49 square miles and serve some 590,000 residents,

The plan envisions raising $16 million to $20 million from local businesses and foundations. It is a departure from the business models used by other cities, including Philadelphia, San Francisco and Portland, which turned over responsibility for their wireless data networks to outside companies such as Earthlink, Google and MetroFi.

The cover letter from the Task Force (pdf), says:

The Task Force has identified a new and highly disruptive business model that addresses a key bottleneck in the value chain for the delivery of broadband. Therefore, we recommend that the City facilitate the deployment of a carrier-neutral, wholesale network that is open to all broadband providers, entrepreneurs, and researchers alike. This network will be ubiquitous, with customizable bit plans that facilitate the development of innovative applications.

According to the Boston Globe:

By empowering an independent organization to own and operate the city’s WiFi, or wireless fidelity, network, Boston is hoping to keep control of the technology deployment and use it to spur innovation, improve city services, and extend wireless Internet access into low-income neighborhoods across the so-called digital divide.

It was crafted by the mayor’s Wireless Task Force and cochaired by Joyce Plotkin , president of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council; Rick Burnes , cofounder of the venture capital firm Charles River Ventures; and retired Harvard Business School professor James Cash.

The mayor created the task force in February to enable Boston to catch up to the dozens of other US cities working to spread wireless Internet access.

Michael Oh, of,co-founder of BostonWAG, was a member of the task force. The task force expects Boston will take up to two years to blanket the city with radio transmitters, or routers, and wireless Internet access points.

A Verizon spokesman made it clear last winter that the company would view any new entrant into the high-speed Internet broadband market as competition.

According to the Task Force Report:

The proposed non-profit model seeks to drastically increase competition in this segment by operating a wholesale network that provides retail ISPs with a connection between Internet “backhaul” operators and customers at very low cost. The non-profit would enable entrepreneurs, researchers, and companies large and small to offer uniquely specialized and highly localized Internet services to end users. With this new competition, prices would decline and variety increase.

“We’ve identified a highly disruptive business model,” said Rick Burnes. “By harnessing new technologies and implementing a unique network model, we can eliminate much of the cost of delivering broadband, thus providing an inexpensive platform for entrepreneurs while also bringing cheaper service to underserved populations.”

While Internet broadband is currently available to nearly 90% of Boston residents, according to the report, only 40% of Boston households subscribe, with 30% still using dial-up, and the remaining 30% doing without home Internet.

“What we’re trying to do is bring Internet access to as many people across the City as possible,” said Menino. “We believe this model could be the best way to bridge the so-called ‘Digital Divide.’ The student in Mattapan should have the same access to the knowledge available from the Web as the student living on Beacon Hill.”

Meanwhile, Berkeley voted 5:1 to find a municipal partner for fiber, reports The Register. “A successful economic model for running municipal Wi-Fi networks has yet to emerge,” says the city’s director of IT, Chris Mead.

The city also noted that while subscription models for Wi-Fi have been a flop, advertising-based revenue “cannot be taken for granted”, either. “It may be that municipal Wi-Fi is a passing fad that will be left behind by economic reality and new technology,” advised Mead.

The idea is simple, says Bob Cringely — run Fiber To The Home (FTTH) and run it as a cooperative. The cost per fiber drop, is estimated at $1,000-$1,500 if 40 percent of homes participate. Using the higher $1,500 figure, the cost to finance the system over 10 years at today’s prime rate would be $17.42 per month.

Cheap PC Roundup

Advanced Micro Device announced nationwide availability of the Telmex Internet Box Personal Internet Communicator (PIC) for citizens across Mexico.

Available from AMD since October 2004, The Telmex Internet Box provides Internet hardware, software, Internet service and support. It is available for purchase in Telmex shops all over Mexico and contains the PIC, a monitor, mouse and keyboard. The device comes preloaded with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation viewer, e-mail, media player (photos, music and video), and instant messaging software.

AMD’s 50×15 Initiative includes several PC devices targeted to provide affordable connectivity options around the globe. The PIC is being used by schools, universities, small businesses and consumers worldwide including the Caribbean, India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Russia.

EE Times lists low cost personal computers designed for underserved regions in the world. We updated their list with some of the newer proposals from Intel, Microsoft, Inveneo and One Laptop Per Child.

  • Personal Internet Communicator (PIC), by Advanced Micro Devices, is a Standalone PC sold to service providers in Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Russia.Specs:

    • GeodeGX 500@1-W processor
    • 128 Mbytes of DRAM
    • 10-Gbyte, 3.5-inch hard disk
    • 56k v.92 fax/modem
    • AC’97 Audio
    • Four USB 1.1 ports
    • One VGA port
    • Streamlined version of Windows CE, word processing, spreadsheet, e-mail and browser apps and Acrobat, Flash and image viewers
    • Cost: $185 without monitor
    • Availability: since October 2004
  • Terra PC By Via TechnologiesThree branded PCs and thin clients defined initially for China and India. All use existing Via silicon and support Ethernet and/or 802.11 wireless ad hoc mesh networkingSpecs:

    • Full-fledged PC based on GHz Celeron-class Via processor with MPEG-2 decoding and graphics
    • Cost: $250 without monitor
    • Media Station: Thin client with multimedia capabilities
    • Availability: June 2005
  • $100 MIT One Laptop Per Child led by Nicholas Negroponte. Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina, and Thailand have each tendered commitments to purchase 1 million Linux laptops through the U.S.-based program.Specs:

    • AMD CPU
    • 7.5-inch diagonal screen with pull string for power
    • flash-memory disk
    • multiple USB ports
    • 802.11 wireless ad hoc mesh networking and GPRS
    • Cost: $130
    • Availability: Late this year
  • Microsoft’s FlexGo enables a pay-as-you-go model using prepaid cards or a subscription model with monthly payments.Specs:

    • Standard Windows machine
    • System components within the hardware allow for tracking computer use time, based on minutes of use or a specific end-date.
    • Anti-tampering Measures: Include hardware security technologies that make it inconvenient or costly for an individual to tamper with the components
    • Interfaces to the Provisioning Server System. New interfaces have been created to connect the operating system to the Microsoft FlexGo provisioning server system.
    • Cost: Subscription computing fees vary
    • Availability: Unclear

  • Intel’s Affordable PC: A small, energy efficient system with “full-featured” PC technologies. It will use a low-power Intel processor running either the Linux operating system or Microsoft’s XP Starter Edition, a stripped down version of the Microsoft OS for poorer countries. Intel also plans to extend teacher training to 400,000 teachers in Mexico through the Intel Teach to the Future program by 2010.Specs:

    • Windows XP Starter Edition or Linux
    • Hard drive as well as built-in graphics, audio, and networking capabilities.
    • Four USB 2.0 ports, two PS/2 ports, and a parallel port.
    • Cost: around $200
    • Availability: Unclear
  • HP 441 Custom Linux system, part of HP’s E-inclusion program, it’s designed for education and supports four simultaneous users.Specs:

    • Celeron or Pentium CPU
    • 512 Mbytes to 1 Gbyte of RAM
    • 40-Gbyte Sata drive
    • 48x CD-ROM drive
    • Nvidia Quadro NVS 100 graphics
    • Gigabit Ethernet
    • Supports four keyboards, mice and 15-inch CRT monitors
    • Includes custom version of Mandrake Linux for four users, 70 open-source educational apps, HP educational software
    • Cost: ~$1,600
    • Availability: since 2004 in South Africa
  • Inveneo, a non-profit social enterprise, recently announced the availability of its new Inveneo Communications System, designed to provide computing, Internet Access and VoIP telephony for places with little or no access to electricity or affordable communications.Recently, AMD, Wyse, and NGOs Inveneo and ActionAid united to bring solar-powered thin client computing capability and Internet access into several villages in Uganda. These highly reliable, low energy consumption devices are maintained by ActionAid trained local community members.Specs:

    • Linux-based Wyse S50 computer
    • 64 flash / 128MB RAM
    • Works on 12-V dc power source, consuming less than 25 Watts. Can be run on a bicycle-powered generator.
    • In standby mode, where only the phone and WiFi link are active, the system uses only 5 Watts of power.
    • Outdoor WiFi access points are encased in all-weather coverings for protection against water and dust.
    • No fan or moving parts.
  • Refurbished donated systems From Digital-Links International (London) and others.Specs:

    • Pentuim-2 and -3 processors, 233 MHz to 1 GHz
    • 64 to 128 Mbytes of DRAM
    • 4- to 6-Gbyte hard drive
    • Some include CD-ROM drive
    • Cost: $75 with monitor and shipping
    • Available: now
  • Jhai PC; Low-power PC delivering VoIP and data service originally developed by non-profits for villages in Laos.Specs:

    • ZF Micro 128-MHz 486-class CPU, upgraded to 300-MHz Geode CPU
    • 64 Mbytes of RAM
    • Works on 12-V dc power source, consuming 20 W average. Can be run on a bicycle-powered generator.
    • 802.11b, 96-Mbyte flash-memory storage on PCMCIA cards
    • Lao version of Debian Linux; Lao versions of KDE office apps and VoIP program
    • 12-inch XVGA LCD
    • Dot-matrix printer
    • Includes optional moisture-sealed 802.11b radio station and parabolic high-gain antenna
    • Separate gateway links VoIP 802.11b net into phone system
    • Cost: $2,000 for prototypes designed with volunteered labor and parts; production systems expected to be much cheaper; prototypes cost $2,000 but could reduce to a fraction of that with subsequent generations and volume sales.
    • Availability: Systems being tested in Arizona, China and perhaps India this quarter. Final open-source spec expected by yearend.

In other news, The AT&T Foundation today announced a $1 million grant to provide new technology resources for people with all types of disabilities.

The grant to the Community Technology Centers’ Network (CTCNet) is part of a three-year AccessAll initiative by AT&T to provide technology access to underserved communities. It will be used to fund training for community technology center staff on universal design and assistive technology that can be used to accommodate multiple learning styles and abilities.

CTCNet will make the AT&T funds available to regional centers through a competitive application process.

AWS Auction Details

Katie Fehrenbacher at GigOm says:

The FCC just released a list of 168 qualified bidders for the AWS spectrum auction coming up on August 9th, and also announced that the process will not involve the controversial blind bidding. We’ve been following the companies interested in bidding pretty closely, and there were a few surprises in the FCC filings, including a group tied to Rupert Murdoch, DirecTV and Echostar, which put down almost a billion dollars that it can use to bid on spectrum.

Wireless DBS, the consortium tied to Echostar, DirecTV, News Corp, News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch and Echostar’s Charles Ergen, qualified to bid and paid one of the largest upfront payments out of the list of interested bidders, of $972.55 million. The group’s auction plans might involve WiMAX, and prove to be crucial to these companies future as triple play becomes common place. (The upfront payment is refundable if the company doesn’t win the specturm it desires, but could be an indicator of how much the companies are willing to spend.)

The cable consortium SpectrumCo, tied to cable companies Comcast, Cox, and Time Warner Cable and Comcast CEO and Chairman Brian Roberts, among others, qualified to bid and put down another large upfront payment of $637.71 million. Other cable groups like the Washington Post’s Cable One qualified and paid an upfront payment of $3.5 million. The Dolan Family, tied to Charles Dolan, Cablevision’s Chairman, qualified and paid an upfront fee of $149.98 million.

The FCC’s pdf list is here. T-Mobile paid $583.52 million, Cingular paid $500 million, and a Verizon affiliated company paid $383.34 million in upfront fees.

But why would Echostar/DirecTV pour almost a $1 billion into AWS when all the talk is over a Clearwire/DirecTV deal for Mobile WiMAX? Juniper predicts an initial adoption of 1.7m Mobile WiMAX subs by 2007, reaching 21.3m subscribers by 2012.

Maybe it’s all about phones.

Murdoch’s MySpace is Mobilizing with Helio (a virtual cell phone operator). The SK/Earthlink partnership (now called Helio) could be moving from being a “virtual” operator to “real” status — with the help of SK and Earthlink. Murdoch also seems destined to get into MobileTV. It’s just a matter of time.

The AWS auction is for 1,122 licenses in the 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2155 MHz bands. It’s reportedly the largest-ever sale of wireless licenses and is expected to generate between $8 billion and $15 billion for the U.S. Treasury. The auction is scheduled to start Aug. 9.

DailyWireless has more on AWS Auction: Does it Suck?, AWS Auction Delayed, The AWS & 700MHz Dance and 3G Band Scam?

Ruckus Home Gateway

Ruckus Wireless today announced the commercial availability of a wireless bridge for connection to city-wide Wi-Fi networks.

The Ruckus MetroFlex is an 802.11b/g wireless access gateway that uses the company’s “smart” antenna array technology. Four horizontally and two vertically polarized arrays connect through a high-power amplifier. The integrated smart-MIMO antenna technology can “beam” a signal dynamically, enhancing range and reducing interference.

System software automatically selects the combination of antennas to yield the “best possible RF path” at any given time. Other features include WPA PSK wireless security, 802.1x authentication, dynamic channel selection and Tropos Networks’ Metro Compatible Extensions Specification (TMCX) program. TMCX specifies use of WPA2/802.11i for security as a minimum, and implementation of WME or WMM services for QoS.

The company claims that the Ruckus MetroFlex system is “the most sensitive and reliable in-home Wi-Fi receiver in the world

Ruckus Wireless claims it has demonstrated the ability in rural environments to sustain “above 5 Mbps at 1 km [0.62 miles] away from the nearest Wi-Fi node”. According to the company, the device is capable of receiving signals down to -100 dBm.

The MetroFlex system is being deployed by several metro-scale Wi-Fi providers throughout the U.S., and will be resold by Expressnets, a customer premise equipment (CPE) supplier and systems integrator. The Ruckus MetroFlex is priced at US $129.00.

Neff Leaving Philly

Dianah Neff will leave her Philadelphia job overseeing Wireless Philadelphia, and return to a private-sector job in early fall, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer and Om Malik.

News of her pending departure began circulating inside City Hall on Friday. An official announcement could come this week.

Neff’s deputy, Terry Phillis, is being courted as her replacement by top officials, including city Managing Director Pedro Ramos, who lunched with Phillis on Friday.

Officially titled the city’s chief information officer, Neff, 57, is the driver of a trailblazing plan to turn the city into the nation’s largest municipal wireless hot spot. Wireless Philadelphia is one of the biggest legacy projects for Street, who has 18 months left in office.

But now Neff will be gone before the project is complete.

The city awarded a contract to the Atlanta-based EarthLink company a few months ago, but Wireless Philadelphia – which entails putting thousands of transmitters on light poles – isn’t expected to be up and running until sometime next year.

Neff, who spent 14 years working for high-tech firms in California’s Silicon Valley, was specially recruited at the start of Street’s first mayoral term from a job she then held with the City of San Diego.

Mayor Street – a known technology junkie – appointed her to his cabinet, and made her the highest-paid member of his administration, with a salary that is now $193,800 a year.

Mayor Street defends tech czar Dianah Neff being his highest paid cabinet member and getting flown to 56 conferences since 2001, according to City Paper. “Well,” says Street, “we tried to cut costs by sending her in a truck. But then she told us the Internets are not a big truck. It’s tubes!”

Siggraph 2006

As many as 25,000 people will gather in Boston over the next five days for the ACM’s annual SIGGRAPH conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques.

There will be live acts, including a performance by a robotic percussionist, a computer animation festival, and a fashion show along with Panels, Keynotes, Exhibitors and Emerging Technologies and news releases. Game-related Emerging Technologies (blog) have their own exhibit hall.

New versions of every major professional 3D software application were being shown, including Maya 7, Softimage 5, MotionBuilder 7, Cinema 4D 9.5, 3ds Max 8, LightWave 9 & Houdini 8.

Several packages are now 64-bit compatible, including Softimage v.5, Cinema 4D 9.5 and LightWave 8.5, while Houdini already supports 64-bit Windows and Linux. Technology previews were also shown of 64-bit versions of Maya and 3ds Max.

Animated movies from the Big Three animation studios (Pixar, DreamWorks Animation & Fox’s Blue Sky Studios), tend to sport price tags north of $75 million.

New challengers intend to make movies for $50 million or less — in some cases, much less, says the Hollywood Reporter. Technology is the enabler.

NaturalMotion is said to be the first company to create 3D character animation software based on Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS), a technology that utilizes Adaptive Behaviors and artificial intelligence. NaturalMotion synthesizes 3D character animation in real time on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

Steve Perlman, who led Apple’s development of QuickTime and later started WebTV, is expected to premiere a new system that could change how Hollywood films are created, says SF Gate.

Perlman’s invention, called Contour, developed by his San Francisco company, Mova, will make animated human characters more lifelike than ever, nearly indistinguishable from how real humans look on the big screen.

With Contour, actors wear glow-in-the-dark makeup and costumes in a dark, enclosed studio. As a panel of fluorescent lightbulbs flashes on and off — so quickly it’s imperceptible — the cameras record the details, later processed on a computer.

“An entire movie could be filmed on a sound stage,” he said. “You don’t have to go on location. You don’t have to worry if the actor has a zit on his nose. You don’t have to compromise the energy, the humanness and subtlety of their expression.”

Contour captures any surface with a phosphorescent pattern. Phosphorescent makeup is applied to skin. Phosphorescent dye is applied to cloth.

Currently, movies like Polar Express and Monster House use Motion Capture equipment from companies like Vicon.

Columbia Pictures’ MONSTER HOUSE 3D exceeded industry expectations, grossing $2.4 million opening weekend on only 178, 3D screens. The combined earnings for the 2D and 3D also surpassed box-office expectations, grossing $22 million opening weekend. More than 11% of the gross for MONSTER HOUSE came out of the 178 screens that were playing the film in the REAL D Digital 3D format.

For Monster House, each performer wore 60-80 markers for the body, and between 40-70 markers for the face. Each set of facial markers were specifically placed on each performer, so that his/her particular range of motion and muscle structure was captured with best fidelity.

By using 200 capture cameras, the crew was able to shoot with six performers at a time, capturing both face and body data simultaneously.

“Polar Express” earned roughly 10 times as much in Imax 3-D as it did in 2-D, a big catalyst, for digital cinemas. Eighteen months after Polar Express, Sony Pictures Imageworks has followed up with Monster House.

REAL D Cinema is the entertainment industry’s preferred standard for the delivery of premium 3-D cinema experiences and is the exclusive provider of Disney’s ‘Chicken Little’ in 3-D.

REAL D Cinema systems are comprised of several components, including a specially-treated movie screen; REAL D Cinema glasses; and, a REAL D Cinema Z-Screen lens that mounts in front of the digital projector, enabling the projector to show 3-D.

Real D uses a single projector, but because the projector is digital, it can project images far faster than 24 frames per second. “Chicken Little” will be shown at 144 frames per second, alternating left- and right-eye images faster than the eye can detect.

The IMAX 3D projector simultaneously projects two strips of 15/70 film, one for each eye, onto a special silver IMAX 3D screen. Each member of the audience must wear IMAX 3D glasses, which channel the right-eye image to the right eye and the left-eye image to the left eye.
Some IMAX theatres use P3D glasses, which have polarized lenses that separate the left- and right- eye images. Other theatres use E3D glasses, which utilize electronic liquid crystal shutter technology. The 15/70 film format used by IMAX is ten times larger than a conventional 35mm film and three times larger than a standard 70mm film.Alex Lindsay’s This Week in Media a great weekly podcast on movie production and entertainment technology. DailyWireless has more on Theaters Go 3-D.