It seems that the UK government is not a fan of you enjoying free Wi-Fi access with your morning cup of coffee.

According to ZD Net UK, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) issued an explanatory document (Word Doc download) that explains why free & open Internet access should be more closely monitored for potential copyright infringement.  It boils down to that coffee shops, libraries, universities and any other business or establishment that offers free Internet access  could be held responsible for any copyright infringement done over their connection as if they had done it themselves.

Through out the UK and the European Union, there has been a lot of talk of “three strikes” laws which would have people losing their Internet connections if they were found to be repeatedly be violating copyright by downloading illegal files.  This new advice offered by the BIS, if included in the upcoming Digital Economy Bill, would see your local coffee shop being treated no differently.

Each establishment would have the option of choosing to be classified as an “ISP” (Internet Service Provider) or a “Subscriber.”  If they should choose the former, this means they would have to keep records of every person that accessed their connection, just like any other ISP.  This would be a daunting task for any business, and could quickly kill any interest they have in maintaining a connection.  If they should choose to be a “subscriber”, they wouldn’t have to keep the records, but if three copyright infringements were found to becoming from their connection, they could be shut down.

Lilian Edwards, professor of internet law at Sheffield University, told ZDNet UK, “”This is going to be a very unfortunate measure for small businesses, particularly in a recession, many of whom are using open free Wi-Fi very effectively as a way to get the [customers] in.”

Prof. Edwards is correct, and this is another unfortunate example of how the copyright holders are becoming the de facto lords of the Internet.  It seems every new law passed in regards to the Web has become about protecting copyrights, and each time you can trace it back to the film and music industries.  They are so concerned about their bottom lines, and have enough money to woo politicians, that they are stifling the expansion and innovation that the Internet should bring with it.

There is no doubt that copyrights are being infringed on the Net, we aren’t so naive to believe otherwise, but considering the fact that 1.73 billion people are on the Internet, the number engaging in piracy is just a drop in the bucket.  The entertainment industry is helping to punish the Internet as a whole for the actions of a relative few.

Businesses have indeed started to use free Wi-Fi as a way to attract customers, and considering how lousy the connections usually are, they aren’t good enough for anything beyond e-mail.  Now you want to use scare tactics to stop them from even offering that?  Where are the statistics to show how much piracy is conducted in a Starbucks?  My bet would be it’s about as close to zero as you can get, but they won’t stop copyright holders from insisting that one guy who downloaded a Lady Gaga song is enough reason to shut down the whole lot.

The people need to start fighting back and reminding their governments we far outnumber the copyright holders.  This isn’t to say we should be downloading copyrighted materials as we see fit, but that the copyright holders should have a lot less say in how and where we get to  use the Internet.

Categories: News, Wi-Fi   
 

It seems that Continental is getting the idea that it is e-mail that matters the most to travelers, and not all of the other bells and whistles of the Internet.

Many airlines have been playing around with offering Wi-Fi for a fee on their planers, but according to The New York Times, Continental is testing a system where they will provide you with free e-mail access, but if you want to do more than that it’ll cost you.

Personally I think this is a fantastic idea.  As I’m 6’3″, the idea of trying to take up some of my cramped seating in coach with my laptop has never appealed to me, but getting out my iPod Touch to just work on cleaning up my e-mail would thrill me.  The Continental flights will be offering both the e-mail only solution and the full Wi-Fi for a while so that they can see which service people seem to prefer.

Considering the length of most domestic flights, I would say the e-mail only solution is going to be the over-whelming winner … that, and it’s free.

Categories: Travel, Wi-Fi   
 

Ford Motor Company has announced that it is adding Wi-Fi networks to some of its models in 2010. We’re just curious when the first accident will be caused by this.

It was announced today that Ford will be adding the ability to plug a mobile broadband modem into some of its cars next year, and that this will create an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot.  “While you’re driving to grandma’s house, your spouse can be finishing the holiday shopping and the kids can be chatting with friends and updating their Facebook profiles,” said Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas. “And you’re not paying for yet another mobile subscription or piece of hardware because Ford will let you use technology you already have.”

While Ford is promoting this as others in the car beyond the driver using it, you know perfectly well what is going to happen.  Some idiot is going to set up his laptop in his passenger seat and go on a site like Facebook or Twitter while trying to drive at the same time.  They’re going to try to read the screen and drive at the same time.  And, in short, someone is going to end up dead.

According to a new study reported by MSNBC, people who send text messages while driving are six times more likely to have an accident.  What will the number be while sending a message to Twitter via a laptop?

This certainly won’t be Ford’s fault as they have no control over what a person does with a car once they buy it, but it is something I wonder if we really need.  There are already ways to have Wi-Fi in your car and no accidents have been caused by it that I know, but once you build something into a vehicle and make it easier to use, all bets are off.

All this being said, I would love to have a car with Wi-Fi in it, but I also know I would be smart enough not to use it while I was behind the wheel.  Can you say the same for other people on the road?

Categories: Wi-Fi   
 

google2Google seems to be in a real giving mood when it comes to Wi-Fi this holiday season.

As we reported earlier this month, Google has a program in place through Jan. 15th, 2010 to provide free Wi-Fi in dozens of airports around the United States.  While we all thought the list was complete, it seems it wasn’t.

The new cities added to the list are:

  • Albany, NY
  • Asheville, NC
  • Boise, ID
  • Columbus, OH
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Washington-Dulles Washington-Reagan National

You can visit FreeHolidayWiFi.com for full details on the program, and you can see a map and list of all the airports below.

airportwifi

Categories: Google, Wi-Fi   
 

Wi-FiIt would seem that numerous major technology companies want to give you the gift of free Wi-Fi for this holiday season.

Travelling through airports is never fun, and since you never know exactly how long you will be stuck in some of them due to delays, there is always a temptation to pay the excessive fees for a few hours of Wi-Fi to pass the time.  Well, Google has heard your cries, and now through Jan. 15th, 2010, the search giant will be providing free Wi-Fi for the taking in 47 major airports across the United States.

Google announced today that it is partnering up with airport Wi-Fi providers Boingo Wireless, Advanced Wireless Group, Airport Marketing Income and others to provide free Wi-Fi in airports such as Las Vegas, San Jose, Boston, Baltimore, Burbank, Houston, Indianapolis, Seattle, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, St. Louis and Charlotte.

Also, while using any of these free airport connections, you will be asked if you would like to make a donation to the charities Engineers Without Borders, the One Economy Corporation or the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.  Google will match donations made up to $250,000.  As an added incentive, the airport with the highest per passenger donation rate by Jan. 1st, 2010 will be awarded $15,000 from Google to be donated to the non-profit charity of their choosing.

If you happen to be flying on Virgin America this holiday season, Google will also be providing free in-flight Wi-Fi on their routes.  You can read details on all of the airports, flights, charity donations and more at FreeHolidayWiFi.com.

So, great, all of those people in airports are getting all of that free Wi-Fi, but what are you going to do if you’re in Times Square in New York City?  Well, that’s where Yahoo comes in!  According to paidContent, starting today, Yahoo will provide free Wi-Fi in Times Square for one year.  While this may seem like an odd place to whip out your laptop, think of the tourist factor as they get out their iPhones, iPod Touches and other Wi-Fi enabled devices to make dinner reservations, try to find tickets to Broadway shows and so on.  And New Year’s Eve?  Forget about it.  More pictures than ever will probably be uploaded live from the celebration.

As for Microsoft, it has partnered with mobile advertising firm JiWire according to MediaPost to offer users free Wi-Fi in exchange for doing one search on Microsoft’s Bing search engine.  This will be done at selected hotspots in places such as hotels and airports.

It seems the air is going to be filled with free Wi-Fi for some time to come, why not take advantage of it?

Categories: Wi-Fi   
 

Wi-FiWhen you are out of your office or house, usually the first place you think to visit for Internet connectivity is a coffee shop. However, are you sure they really want you there?

Back on August 6th, The Wall Street Journal ran a story on how smaller coffee shops have begun placing all sorts of new rules on laptop users in their establishments.  Some are banning users during certain hours, others won’t allow you to plug in your powers cord and some others are just banning them all together unless you are eating at the same type you are typing.

In short, it appears that coffee shops are no longer going to throw their doors open to the legions of computer users who like to stay mobile.  While it has been a mutually beneficial relationship between customers and coffee shops for years, but it seems that may be destined to go the way of the dinosaurs.

Well, CNET News is reporting that Starbucks wants to remind their customers that laptop users are still welcome in their locations and that they can stay as long as they like.  The official statement from the company makes this very clear:

We strive to create a welcoming environment for all of our customers. We do not have any time limits for being in our stores, and continue to focus on making the Third Place experience for every Starbucks customer.

While it is easy to see both sides to this situation, I have personally been a big believer that Wi-Fi is going to become mandatory in all bars, coffee shops, restaurants and so on if the business wishes to stay competitive. Whenever I am going on the road, I will not stay in a hotel if they do not at least offer me some sort of Internet option.

Will this extend to coffee shops?  Well… you can have a latte with Wi-Fi or a latte without Wi-Fi, which are you going to go for?

Categories: Wi-Fi   
 

Wi-FiIf you’re going on vacation, do you know that Wi-fi hotspots you use to check your email may not be who they say they are?

I am always leery of studies released by parties with a vested interests in the results (i.e. a group of wine makers releasing a study about wine being good for you), but sometimes they still bring up good points.  While I think the basis of this Fox News story on Wi-Fi security is a little suspect, it still raises good points for Wi-Fi security any time you are away from your home.

Multiple security firms issued warnings about your information security while in places such as an airport (again, notice the warning was issued by security firms…) or a hotel, and to make sure that the network you are connected to is legitimate.  Yes, this is good advice, and is something you should pay attention to, but the reason I find this whole thing suspect is that the original study was issued by AirTight Networks, a company that specializes in wireless security measures.  They sent out experts to 27 airports around the world to test their Wi-Fi and claim to have found unsecured networks in baggage claim, ticketing areas, passangers connecting to hacker Wi-Fi hotspots and more.

The reason I find this whole thing a bit “off” is:

  • Are the hackers buying tickets every day to get past security, and then setting up in waiting areas with Wi-Fi sniffers?  No one notices the people then not getting on flights?
  • Are they run by employees in the secured areas of the airport?  Those people are searched each day also.
  • No one notices stray, unexplained equipment in a storage room?

If all this is to be believed, I’m more worried about my physical safety if hackers can get this Wi-Fi equipment in with no one noticing.

No matter how cynical I may be, Symantec still offered five good pointers in the article:

— Pay attention to your surroundings. Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you’re not in public. Don’t look at important documents when sitting in a waiting area for a plane or a train — wait until you’re alone and in private for that.

— Beware of “Evil Twins.” Some Wi-Fi networks look legitimate but are actually dummy networks created by criminals. Even if they contain the name of your airport, airline or hotel, they will directly link your computer to the hacker’s. If you always use the official access keys provided by the establishment, then you should be safe.

— Always assume Wi-Fi connections are being eavesdropped on. Never enter sensitive data — Social Security numbers, bank account information, etc. — when browsing the Web via a Wi-Fi network.

— Set all Bluetooth devices to “hidden,” not to “discoverable.” Better yet, if you don’t use Bluetooth, just shut off the function altogether.

— Keep your security software current and active. Mobile PCs are just as vulnerable to viruses, worms and Trojan horses as are desktops, so make sure you have the latest protection installed.

I would say don’t live your life in constant fear, but do try to use common sense and your own good judgement in what networks you connect to.

 

mifiNovatel is looking to release a new gadget that maysolve one of the biggest headache for mobile computing fanatics: Where to find a WiFi hotspot.

Releasing sometime during the first half of 2009, the MiFi is essentially a 3G modem that will bring in the cellular network signal, convert it, and release it back in to the general vicinity as a WiFi signal.  Imagine being on a train, bus or other form of mass transit, and you will be able to get our your laptop or iPod Touch and get right to work.

While the device has no official price yet, they are saying “under $200″, you will of course need to pay some sort of monthly fee for a data plan.  While these vary wildly in price from carrier to carrier, this could easily become an essential piece of equipment for any one that works outside of their office more then they do in it.  No mare hunting for a coffee shop, now you can work on the go, where and when you want.

Categories: Gadgets, Mobile Computing, Wi-Fi   
 

What is “Smart Lighting”, and why might it be the future of wireless communications?

Boston University’s College of Engineering is working on a way to replace your normal “dumb lights” with “smart lights” that would be capable of transmitting data.  The bulbs would flicker at a rate imperceptible to the human eye and would initially be able to transmit data around 1 to 10 mbps (mega-bits per second), not blistering fast, but it shows promise.

This whole technology would be based on light transmitting the data, and that is where this whole concept gets interesting.  As we mentioned in 2.4 GHz vs 5.8 GHz Cordless Phones, the radio bands are filling up with devices, especially the 2.4 GHzband, and this would free up things considerably.  The problem is, the majority of devices currently run on the 802.11g Wi-Fi standard which transmits at 54 mbps.  The Smart Lighting would be considerably slower when it is first released, but that is sure to change with time.

The most exciting part is that it should remove some of the problems inherent with traditional Wi-Fi inside of buildings where it has trouble passing through walls and over distance. Essentially this set up would make sure that is light is shining on a device, you are receiving a broadband signal.  While I’m not sure how the lights connect to the central router, but depending on how it would do so, every light in an office would become a transmitter, making the entire building into a connected hotspot.

No word on how long, if ever, before this technology comes out, but it is a very promising concept.

Categories: Wi-Fi   
 

fon routerWe’ve discussed Wi-Fi before, and we’ve discussed routers, and though we told you to lock down your router so people couldn’t use your connection, there are times when sharing your connection can be a good thing.

A company named Fon has come up with a system where you purchase a router from them for $53, a reasonable price for a Wi-Fi router, the encourages you to let others share in your connection.  While this may seem like a scary concept security wise, the device is built to handle this by offering two channels of connectivity.

The private channel, the one you will use, is secured by you entering the router’s serial number as the password, so it is fairly unlikely that anyone will hack it.  The second channel is a public one that is unable to access any traffic on the private channel.

The public channel can be used in two different ways, either from people willing to pay to use your connection, if you so choose to do that, or by other people who own a Fon router.  That’s one of the side benefits of owning one of these is that it gives you the right to use other Fon routers anywhere in the world, which can be located by using this handy Google Maps mashup.  So if you’re traveling any where in the world, you can have free access to the Internet.

It is certainly not a perfect system, but if you are in the market to add Wi-Fi to your home or office, this is a handy way to do it with a lot of potential side benefits.

Categories: What Is, Wi-Fi   
 
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