Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Two Jackies

Fifty years ago this summer, two women--Jacqueline Auriol of France and the American Jacqueline Cochran--became the first women in the world to break the sound barrier. Cochran did it first. Flying in a SabreJet, she created her first sonic boom in May of 1953 at the age of 43. Just a few months later, flying a Dassault Mystère II, the 36-year old Auriol bested Cochran's record and became the first European female to fly faster than sound. For the next ten years these pilots would continue to trade world speed records back and forth across the Atlantic in what is perhaps aviation's most impressive rivalry between two solo pilots.
Falconer, Issue 23, 2003

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Off the Deep End: Profile of Tanya Streeter

Tanya Streeter is a woman with a secret. She, and she alone, knows what it feels like to take a breath, ride a weighted sled straight down to 500 feet below the surface of the ocean, and then swim back up, with lungs that have shrunk to the size of fists, and legs that are burning with lactic acid. On her world record-breaking dive (in the Variable Ballast class) in July, she held her breath for 3 minutes, 38 seconds, went 27 meters deeper than the previous women's world record holder, and two meters deeper than the men's. The next day, she broke another world record in a different class of free diving. Streeter now holds five world records in various classes of free diving, a sport most people have never even heard of.

Issue 23, 2003

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MP3 Players For The Holidays: Hot Portable Player Options

It’s no surprise that MP3 players are among the most sought-after CE gifts this holiday season. Even the most tech averse among us are becoming tempted by the ubiquitous (and ever more affordable) portable music devices. Carin Clevidence, a 38-year-old Massachusetts-based mother of two--whose only foray into the world of technology is the laptop she’s writing her novel on--has put one on her Christmas list.

First Glimpse, December 2006
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Fab Four: December 2006

Tis the season for joyful giving and receiving; a time for gathering with friends and family to capture memories and enjoy the company of the people you love. Our Fab Four this month are all gifts that keep on giving. A camera that the whole family can use; an MP3 player that does it all; a super-cool mobile phone; and a high-quality home-theater projector that’s perfect for showing “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and all the other holiday favorites.

First Glimpse, December 2006
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Budget-Friendly MP3 Players: Quality Players that Won't Break the Bank

Whether you like to listen in your car, on the treadmill, or as you’re walking across town, digital music is definitely the way to go. Strapping on your old portable CD player or--gasp!--cassette player looks and feels a lot like toting around a circa-1986, brick-sized mobile phone. But with so many features, forms, prices, and sizes, how do you know which player is right for you (and your budget)?

First Glimpse, October 2006
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You Oughtta Be In Pictures: The Year's Best Digicams

It’s been an especially good year for the digital-imaging crowd. Whether you are a casual shooter who trots out her camera only for birthdays and weddings, a bold adventurer who dreams of capturing big moments from atop mountains and beneath waves, or a serious amateur photographer who shoots everything from portraits to sporting events, we’re willing to bet your world got a little brighter (not to mention a whole lot more fun) if you bought one of this year’s new digicams.

First Glimpse, November 2006
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Fab Four: October 2006

Just in time for Halloween, our October Fab Four includes an old-fashioned favorite masquerading in new clothes, a sweet little MP3 player full of lots of tricks and treats, a smartphone wearing many (many) hats, and a camera that is dressed to impress. This month we’ve gathered the best and newest devices from the affordable and practical (FlashDiscs for only $5 each) to the powerful and professional (Palm Treo 700p) so that you can usher in the fall season with something just right.

October, 2006
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US Internet Sets Sights on New Cities

November 17, 2006

by Naomi Graychase

Last month, Minnesota-based ISP US Internet announced that it had been chosen by the city of Minneapolis to provide citywide Wi-Fi. To win the contract for the 60-square-mile broadband wireless network, the ten-year old company with no previous municipal Wi-Fi experience beat out some heavy hitters, including EarthLink.

The victory, says Joe Caldwell, US Internet co-founder and CEO, came down to the fact that US Internet gave the city what it wanted.

"We really read the RFP," says Caldwell. "We didn't come in with any preconceived notions of what we wanted the city to have. A big part of the city's need was public safety, another was bridging the digital divide, another was a network that could support voice and video. They wanted a network that could support consumers and businesses. They wanted so many different things. We brought them the combination of the best solutions."

Despite being something of a new kid on the block in this particular arena, Caldwell says he and his team never doubted they would emerge victorious. "We did beat out some stiff competition, but I thought we were always the favorite going in," he says. "When we were picked as a finalist, I thought we were way ahead of [EarthLink]. In our mind, what they brought to the table was not what the city asked for in the RFP."

The Minneapolis deployment is just beginning of the roll-out.

"We have a one square mile area up and running right now that was used in the 'bake-off' between us and EarthLink this summer," says Caldwell. "We are only offering 250 accounts in that one square mile, but in one day, we sold all 250 accounts."

So far, Caldwell says the feedback from early users has been positive. However, not inclined to rest on its laurels, the company has partnered with Atlanta-based Charys and is already pursuing contracts in other major metropolitan areas, including Boston and Atlanta. One news report prematurely indicated that the Atlanta contract had been won in early November, but Caldwell is quick to point out that it's too soon to announce any new victories.

"I don't know how that got interpreted," says Caldwell. "We haven't landed contracts. In Boston, they are putting in two one square mile pilot areas, and we are putting in one of those. Then we'll have a bake-off, like here. Then someone will get awarded the contract. In Atlanta, we just had our second big meeting. It's down to two of us. It's us and EarthLink. We have a lot of deals in play right now, but the only thing we've won is Minneapolis."

Caldwell sees municipal Wi-Fi as an area of reliable growth, and he says his company will continue to aggressively seek ways to expand its presence in that market. "As our society becomes more and more mobile, being able to have wireless broadband will be essential, and Wi-Fi is the best delivery method," he says. "There's so many things you can do with Wi-Fi. In Taipei, they have Wi-Fi child-finding devices. In Minneapolis, we're delivering security cameras over Wi-Fi. We can deliver that over the mesh network. That's what we're excited about. It's the next big thing when it comes to Internet."

The company, which currently employs about 100 people, takes an old-fashioned approach to its high-tech business, an approach that helped the company weather the stormy years of the dot-com bubble's burst.

"In the beginning [1995], there were just three of us in the basement of a house running US Robotics modems -- now we have offices in Singapore," says Caldwell. "The big thing we did right was we didn't take on any debt. We didn't have a 'build it and they will come' mentality. Every penny that this made went back into growing it. A lot of companies built these 100,000 square foot data centers. No one gave us the money to do anything that stupid, so we didn't. We always kept our eye on the bottom line, because it's always been our bottom line, not some VC's [venture capitalist’s] bottom line. Our agenda has been, take care of the customer, and the rest will take care of itself, and that's what we found to be successful."

US Internet has come a long way from its days as the dream of three guys in a basement in Minnesota, and it expects to go much, much further. "We want to be a world leader," says Caldwell. "We didn't get into this just to do Minneapolis. Back in 1995, we had about $1.25 to our name. We had about enough to cover the apartment building in which we started. But we named our company 'US Internet.' We're not lacking vision here. When we do Minneapolis right, we're going to have a calling card to go in and do these other cities."

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Staying Connected at Timeshares

As Wi-Fi providers seek new ways to conquer the travel and hospitality markets, one area remains relatively untapped. According to the American Resort Development Association, fewer than 25% of American timeshare locations have installed Wi-Fi networks. The ARDA estimates that this market represents roughly $75 million in potential Wi-Fi services revenue annually.

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November 1, 2006


FON Aims for Ubiquity

October 27, 2006

Wi-Fi Planet

Earlier this month, FON (rhymes with "dawn," not "phone") announced the worldwide release of its new "La Fonera" wireless router. What makes the router unique is its price tag -- $5 -- and its ability to incorporate two SSIDs, one private and one public. It also has the important bonus of being much, much easier to use than the routers FON supported until now, which the company hopes will encourage users to sign up in droves.

La Fonera, which measures just 3" x 3.7" and is less than an inch thick, features Atheros' single-chip 802.11b/g AR5006AP-G chipset, which is also found in routers from Netgear, D-Link and Belkin. The true cost of the router has not been released, but Mike Stauffer, director of business development at Atheros, says, "We are providing a low-cost solution because it’s a single chip."

FON considers its subsidy of the unit for its users (called "Foneros") to be part of the cost of acquiring new customers, just as mobile phone carriers subsidize the cost of new phones to attract new customers.

Joanna Rees, chairman of FON's efforts in the United States, says, "We have been able to develop a router that we can [sell] at a reasonable cost for FON. Where other companies would say, 'I’m going to spend $25–$30 to acquire a customer,' our [cost] is through the router subsidy. We don’t want the router to be the sticking point to someone to share their Wi-Fi. We want to get the network in place."

FON, which launched worldwide in February, claims 97,000 registered users so far, and has been backed by big name investors including Skype (eBay) and Google.

"They are investment partners," says Rees. "They believe in what we’re building."

What FON is building -- or trying to build -- is a global network of freely available Wi-Fi. Home users or small businesses purchase a La Fonera router -- or in some cases, get them for free -- and then agree to share their network 24 hours a day, seven days a week with other Foneros. FON customers who offer up free access to their own hotspots can then use any FON access point anywhere in the world for free. For those looking to charge for access, there is a revenue-sharing model they can subscribe to. Foneros who offer free access are called "Linuses," after Linus Torvalds, inventor of Linux. Those who charge for access are called "Bills," after Bill Gates. Non-Foneros, called Aliens, can also use the hotspots, but they always pay for the privilege.

"For consumers, the benefit is that if you share your Wi-Fi at home, you can do so securely, and you can roam the world for free," says Rees.

Of course, if FON is encouraging users to give away unlimited Wi-Fi access for free, there is the question of how the company will generate enough revenue to stay afloat.

"Our business model comes in when a café or restaurant says, 'I’ll share my Wi-Fi, but I don’t want to roam the world because I'm a café; I’d like to have a lower charge than another Wi-Fi hotspot,'" Rees says. "So we charge $2-$3 a day, and FON shares in the revenue. We share at a price lower than a T-Mobile connection, and the café gets a portion of that and we get a portion of that."

FON is also focusing on forging relationships with other companies, including ISPs, who Rees says stand to benefit from FON's network.

"There are a lot of content companies and product companies where ubiquitous Wi-Fi is important to their model," says Rees. "And we have those relationships as part of our business model."

"We are also working in cooperation with ISPs," says Rees. "We will have several announcements coming out. There are two benefits. One is that the majority of people who sign up for cable get a router [and] don’t lock it down, so people leech off of other people’s Wi-Fi, which keeps others from getting their own broadband. If they plug in a FON router, they can’t leech, they have to be part of the program, so an ISP can monetize. It also encourages people -- it's a value proposition. If I have Wi-Fi at home, I can roam the world for free, so I’m going to get a broadband connection at home and become part of the benefit. We're working on specific agreements."

Rees emphasizes that FON is still early in its rollout.

"We’re early -- we’re just starting our ramp," says Rees. "The U.S. has been our largest market. We’ll start to see tremendous growth in our network in the next three months' time. We are literally just kicking off."

As part of its U.S. campaign, FON is targeting specific markets known for early adopters, including New York and San Francisco. It will conduct grassroots campaigns to recruit new Foneros. The first big event will be a "Freedom Friday" router giveaway at San Francisco's Union Square today, October 27th. Other cities that will likely see FON events come to town include LA, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas.

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Meraki: Making Network Operators

Meraki: Making Network Operators

According to the International Telecommunications Union, hundreds of millions of Internet users worldwide don't have Internet access at home -- not even dial-up. One new company is working to change all that.

September 28, 2006