Portland Cuts the Cord Tuesday

MetroFi, which is building a $15 million, 134 square mile “free” WiFi network in Portland, Oregon (pop: 560,000) is scheduled to launch their initial network next Tuesday, reports The Oregonian.

MetroFi plans to introduce its service at a “wire cutting” at 11:30 Tuesday morning in Pioneer Courthouse Square. The company will be joined by Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioner Dan Saltzman, whose office shepherded the project through its final stages.

Three years in the planning, the project won unanimous approval from the Portland City Council in July. MetroFi’s contract with the city requires the network to provide downloads at 1 megabit per second, several times faster than dial-up but a fifth the speed of cable modems and some DSL Internet access.

MetroFi has been quietly setting up the network’s initial phase for several weeks, mounting 18-inch-tall Wi-Fi antennas atop traffic signals around downtown and in Southeast Portland. The company says service will be available Tuesday in parts of the city near Pioneer Courthouse Square and in the Buckman, Lloyd and Kerns neighborhoods.

MetroFi, offers two tiers; a “free” tier (with integrated advertising) and a pay tier for $19.95/month (without ads). MetroFi service is also available in Cupertino, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, California. Portland will be MetroFi’s largest city cloud to date.

To access the network outdoors, an ordinary Wi-Fi card in a laptop may do. Indoors, and in areas more than a few hundred feet from a Wi-Fi antenna, an external client and antenna, costing between $50-$150, may be required.

MetroFi looks to have about 50 SkyPilot nodes currently installed. The SkyPilot nodes use a 400 mW, 2.4 GHz omnidirectional WiFi radio for public access. A second, 5.8 GHz radio provides the mesh backhaul (using switchable 5.8Ghz directional antennas).

Related DailyWireless articles on MetroFi include; Portland MetroFi + Microsoft Ads, Testing Municipal Networks, MetroFi Backers Confident, Portland MetroFi Antennas, Power for Portland WiFi, Google WiFi SitRep, Portland WiFi Glitch, WiFi Ad Nets, AT&T + MetroFi, Portland Votes for MetroFi, and Portland Chooses MetroFi for 134 Mile Cloud.

Nike + iPod = Stalking?

A report from four University of Washington researchers says Nike’s RFID-embedded shoe that links to an Apple iPod, using the $29 Nike + iPod Sport Kit, makes it easy for tech-savvy stalkers to track your movements, even plot your running routes on a Google map without your knowledge.

Wired explains the Nike+ iPod gives runners real-time updates about the speed and length of their workouts. A small transmitter in the soles of Nike shoes broadcasts workout data to a small receiver plugged into an iPod Nano.

The RFID in the shoe sensor contains its own on-board power source, essentially turning your running shoe into a small radio station capable of being received from up to 60 feet away, with a signal powerful enough to be picked up from a passing car.

Compare this with the roughly 3-centimeter to 10-inch read range of a typical consumer-grade RFID, such as the kind you find in smart tags in Gap clothing or in credit cards, which is passively powered by the reader.

In their report, the researchers detail a scenario in which a stalker who wants to know when his ex-girlfriend is at home taps into her Nike+ iPod system. He simply hides the gumstix device next to her door, and it registers her presence as she passes by in her Nike shoes.

If he adds a small “wifistix” antenna to the device, it can transmit this information to any nearby Wi-Fi access point and alert him to her presence via SMS or by plotting her location on Google Maps.

Nike begs to differ (see comment below), saying the security on their product is no different than that on millions of PCs and cellphones.

NextHop Raises Dough

Startup NextHop Technologies, which makes software for wired and wireless local area networks, announced it scored $4.8 million in its third round of venture financing. The company has raised a total of $41.8 million over the course of its three VC funding rounds.

NextHop says they’ve got the world’s first turnkey, enterprise-class software solutions for unified wired and wireless LAN switching. NextHop’s wireless controller switching software, was the first 3rd party wireless switch stack to be certified for WPA by WiFi Alliance. It supports layer 3 connectivity between switch and access points. Their GateD NGC is a complete control-plane solution, with all requisite protocols packaged together for next-generation carriers.

Their Access Point provides translation between the radio domain (IEEE 802.11) and the wired network domain (IEEE 802.3). In effect, says Nexthop, it provides a bridging function. The AP can also enforce policies such as QoS and Fast Roaming.

What does it mean for users? We’re not sure. But $41 million seems like a lot of dough.

XScale Devices: A Marvell

Marvell, which bought Intel’s XScale processor business earlier this year for $600 million, has launched its first family of application processors based on that technology. The PXA3xx series are aimed at handsets, GPS navigation systems, wireless handhelds and other consumer electronic devices. Connectivity to technologies like Wi-Fi, WiBro, WiMAX, and Bluetooth v2.0, are featured.

The first processor in the family to ship in volume is the Marvell PXA320, scalable to 806MHz. OEMs are expected to introduce devices based on it in the first quarter of 2007.

The Marvell PXA300 (Monahans-L) offers performance and cost optimization for high volume handheld devices while the Marvell PXA 310 (Monahan-LV) provides high-resolution VGA multimedia performance with extended battery life for demanding 3G video and audio use.

The PXA310 delivers 30fps H.264 playback performance at VGA resolutions along with general purpose processing. Both products deliver “Scalable to 624MHz” performance and are software compatible with Marvell PXA320 processors so that a single software development effort scales across a wide range of devices segments.

All products in the family are either shipping in volume or available in samples now, and will be shipping in volume in the first half of 2007.

MuniFi USB Clients

TRENDnet today announced a high powered WiFi USB adapter, the TEW-445UB. The 108Mbps TEW-445UB 802.11b/g USB 2.0 adapter (right) has a detachable antenna and can operate at greater distances.

The adapter supports high output power up to 23dBM and uses Atheros eXtended Range (XR) Technology. Users can place computers in previously out of range locations. Unlike a PCI adapter, which is in a fixed location and is more difficult to install, the TEW-445UB has a simple user setup and can be flexibly placed around a desktop area for optimal signal reception.

The adapter’s detachable antenna can be replaced with a higher gain antenna for an even farther wireless reach if necessary.

The TEW-445UB will begin shipping at a U.S. Average Selling Price (ASP) of $72.00 (USD).

Tim Higgins checks out the EnGenius EUB-362 EXT High Power 802.11b/g /Adapter (below) which looks to be identical to Trendware’s high power USB client.

I guessing that’s an Atheros AR5005UG USB 2.0 chipset – since AR5523 drivers (the MAC / Baseband part of the AR5005UG chipset) are supplied. The 362’s maximum transmit power is spec’d at 25 dBm (320 mW) EIRP, but I suspect that is taken care of by an external power amp vs. the AR2112 2.4 GHz Radio-on-a-chip.

I’ve tested a number of “high power” or “high gain” solutions for wireless LAN improvement over the years, but I keep coming back to the same conclusion: high power alone doesn’t solve WLAN connectivity problems. Using a ” high power” adapter or AP/router without a similarly-powered partner at the other end of a connection won’t provide reliable WLAN improvement because of the mismatch in power. “Shouting louder” also increases the chances of your WLAN interfering with someone else’s. And while you may think “tough nuts” to the other guy, all I can say is that Karma will get you eventually.

I’ve always been a fan of “listening better”, either by using WLAN gear with superior receive sensitivity or using higher-gain antennas. The better antenna approach has an additional benefit of providing more gain on both receive and transmit, which is exactly what’s needed for improved two-way performance. While EnGenius appears to take the “high power” approach to WLAN range improvement, their use of an Atheros chipset in the 362 shows that they also understand the value of having good receive sensitivity.

All things considered, the 362 has a good combination of elements (higher-than-normal transmit power, good receive sensitivity and the ability to add a higher-gain antenna) that can improve your chances of getting better WLAN performance under low signal conditions. And, unlike the hField Technologies Wi-Fire device, it does it at a price of only 2-3X the going rate of an 802.11b/g USB adapter instead of 4-5X.

The WiFi Link client (below) features a transmit power of 15dBm with a SMA screw connector for attaching external antennas. It costs from $42 to $18.55 (in quantities of 100).

A package bundling SMC’s Wi-Fi Phone and FON’s WiFi Router (right) runs $160. It has everything you need to make Skype calls without a computer.

You must plug the FON WiFi router into a DSL line from an obliging ISP, however.

The Wifi package includes:

DailyWireless has more inexpensive WiFi clients & bridges for municipal networks.

Google Invests in Meraki

GigOm reports that Google is investing in Meraki, the $50 wireless mesh client based on the MIT’s Roofnet project.

Meraki’s co-founder Sanjit Biswas tells us that the company completed a bridge round of funding last week, which included Google and “a few Silicon Valley angels.” Biswas wouldn’t specify the amount but said the round was under a million dollars. “We’d bootstrapped the company so far, so this cash is really just for growth/acceleration . . .and for the development of some products we plan to launch next year,” says Biswas.

At a San Francisco WiFi community meeting Google showed off a Meraki router as a good, inexpensive way for residents to extend San Francisco’s planned city-wide WiFi network indoors.

Google’s Chris Sacca told us last month that Google was partly interested in Meraki to help the company keep its products running on an open platform. Meraki’s current product, the Meraki Minis, use an open platform and the company is encouraging users to tinker around and install their own software.

Meraki says their goal is to enable a grassroots movement of small wireless ISPs by providing them everything they need to get started.

Google is said to have made a “relatively small” six-figure investment in the Mountain View, Calif., startup. “They’re devloping an in-house customer premises equipment unit that can also mesh,” an industry source told Unstrung. Google may test the box with businesses that are within its Mountain View WiFi mesh coverage area.

MIT’s RoofNet software is also embedded in the $150 computer developed by One Laptop Per Child (wikipedia).

The project received its first shipment of the low-cost Linux laptops this week, project member Chris Blizzard reports on his blog.

Related DailyWireless open source articles include; CUWiN + Meraki Client, Solar RoofNet Wiki, and Open Source Routers.