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A U.S. District judge has provided Broadcom with broad wins: The judge provided a permanent injunction against Qualcomm’s ability to sell cellular data chips that were deemed to infringe on Broadcom’s patents. Qualcomm must immediately stop selling WCDMA chips—that’s the technology used in UMTS and HSPA, 3G extensions of GSM—and can continue to sell EVDO chips through Jan. 2009 to customers they were selling products to as of May 29, when the infringement case was decided by jury. Qualcomm faces a mandatory set of royalties for those continued chip sales, and must negotiate with Broadcom for one set of royalties that the judge didn’t proscribe.
Qualcomm will be able to design around this injunction by producing new chips that don’t use the same processes that were found to violate Broadcom’s patents, but it will take a number of months, and leaves them out of the rising HSPA market that AT&T and T-Mobile will be pushing harder on as AT&T completes its faster 3G network and T-Mobile starts its real 3G buildout using frequency purchase at auction several months ago.
Sprint Nextel offers a free 30-day trial of its EVDO modem included in a Sony Vaio model—if you can get them honor that: James Martin of PC World spent an inordinate amount of time getting Sprint to honor a coupon expiring Dec. 30 of this year for a 30-day free trial of Sprint Mobile Broadband. He had to make multiple calls and visit a Sprint store to get the deal in the first place, and make two calls and send two faxes to get the service canceled without him being charged. Unacceptable.
That’s a strategy, not an accident, or Sprint’s internal customer support systems are incredibly poorly designed. The latter is more likely. While Sprint told Martin regarding the free sign up that representatives are being trained and should follow procedures, in the latter provided no real explanation for the charge and his problems in getting it removed.
Any decent support system shows account details when a customer’s account is pulled up, including things like any special promotions, and when they expire. The conclusion is that Sprint has terrible back-end systems, not an unusual state of things.
Qualcomm takes a step in the interests of worldwide 3G compatibility: The company will release Gobi, a chipset that would allow a laptop computer to connect over either EVDO or HSPA, providing worldwide compatibility, as well as interoperability with both standards within the U.S. This could drive 3G into laptops in high quantities, with manufacturers no longer needing to secure a deal with a particular operator, or have extensive explanations about service issues for their users. Nearly 9m laptop cell modems will ship in 2007, with 2/3rds supporting GSM standards.
Connected with this, carriers need to band together to offer better international roaming. If you’re an AT&T customer, for instance, you can roam to many other countries through partner agreements while using GPRS up to HSPA, but even with monthly subscription plans, you pay a high rate relative to domestic costs, and have low limits on throughput. Carriers like to eke out the maximum dollars from roaming, but with the potential of millions of laptop owners traveling who could use a network but avoid it due to cost, and who have Wi-Fi available at a generally lower cost, operators might need to rethink this high-margin strategy in favor of higher revenues.
HP will integrate an EVDO Rev. A modem tied to Sprint service into business notebooks: Models with starting prices ranging from $929 to $2,049 will include the modem. A free month’s service is included for computer buyers who sign up for one or two years. Embedding a cell modem dramatically reduces the cost of customer acquisition, even though it means that many laptops are sold with modems that are never used. It’s still a worthwhile tradeoff for HP and Sprint, clearly, given the $720 to $960 yearly fees paid by EVDO subscribers coupled with the lack of needing subsidize $100 to $200 for a PC Card or USB adapter for those who sign up for two-year subscription. This is almost certainly substantially cheaper overall, and improves reception quality by allowing an antenna to be designed into the laptop.
Kyocera made a very early announcement about a new cell router, the KR2: The new model, no pricing announced, will ship in early 2008, and features 802.11n, and support for EVDO Rev. 0 and Rev. A through a PC Card, ExpressCard, or USB cell modem. No existing cell router offers 802.11n for wireless LAN networking, nor do any competitors yet support ExpressCard, and Kyocera current $150 KR1 is the only one to handle tethered USB connections via supported phones.
The router has the usual four Ethernet ports, supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), and can fail over to cell from broadband wired networks.
I suspect they’re trying to get the leap on the competition by preannouncing something at least three months and perhaps six months before it’s ready to ship.
Sprint and Verizon are both carrying the Ovation U727: It’s got a microSD slot, too, that can handle up to 4GB of storage. Kind of a neat addition as the device can work with handhelds that use USB as well, but might lack storage or could use an extra storage device. Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X are supported by Novatel Wireless; carriers vary on platforms they support natively. It also has GPS built in.
Sprint will charge from $80 with a two-year commitment to $280 without for the device; Verizon, $150 (including a $50 rebate) for a two-year commitment. Monthly charges are, as always, $60 or $80 with each carrier, depending on voice plans and term of commitment.
In time to kick sand in Apple and AT&T’s face, Verizon has the country’s fastest 3G network rolled out: EVDO Rev. A is substantially faster than Rev. 0, and reviewers testing the early upgrades months ago found that speeds were in reported ranges. Downstream rates now average as high as 850 Kbps, with peaks of a couple Mbps. Upstream rates are much higher than the 50 to 150 Kbps averages seen with Rev. 0; rates can top 250 Kbps. These are still slow rates compared to broadband, but a good notch on the path to faster networks. (The downstream/upstream rates cited in this IDG News Service article are 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps downstream and 500 to 800 Kbps upstream; I’ve never seen rates in range that high cited for Rev. A.)
Helio’s Hybrid offering is dead: Hybrid was a single PC Card combining 3G and Wi-Fi access via Boingo’s network, in which Wi-Fi would automatically be selected when available via software installed on the host computer. The offering has been discontinued. Helio has mostly focused on phones, so a PC Card may have wound up too far outside its target audience’s needs.
Ars Technica writes up the coming specs for EVDO Rev. B: We won’t see it until for a couple of years at least—EVDO Rev. A is just really rolling out right now on Verizon and Sprint Nextel’s networks—but Rev. B will scorch Rev. A speeds. Rev. A might top 3 Mbps in ideal circumstances, but Rev. B showed 9.3 Mbps on average using a 5 MHz channel (3xEVDO, I believe, versus 1xEVDO today) in testing.
A fact that doesn’t get the same kind of attention as these speeds is how the backbone serves the cell sites that produce such high numbers. I have been told many times in the past by industry insiders that the U.S. cellular network only has a subset of its site served by more than T-1 lines or the equivalent. This is changing, but it’s a huge cost, and many locations can’t easily support fiber lines or faster service. This is where fixed WiMax and other wireless backhaul may come into effect, using licensed bandwidth on a point-to-multipoint basis to drive data to the cell sites which then distribute in a cloud around themselves.
Because of the slow pace of broadband speed improvements in the U.S., it’s likely that Rev. B could outstrip wireline broadband in many parts of the country and parts of many cities. While fiber to the home or node will be widespread by 2009, it’s predicted to be available to perhaps a quarter of the US population, of which only a portion will subscribe. Thus Sprint and its mobile WiMax and Verizon and its Rev. B could give wireline a run for its money. Except that Verizon’s current position is that cellular data isn’t a replacement for wireline; Sprint’s mobile WiMax rollout has a very different attitude, closer to Clearwire’s.
The Novatel 740 is now available: The ExpressCard works in Windows and Macs using Verizon’s upgraded EVDO Rev. A network, as well as the parts of its network that still run at EVDO Rev. 0 and with 1xRTT. The claimed rates are 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps downstream and 500 to 800 Kbps upstream. The card is $180 with a two-year commitment and $230 with a one-year commitment. Monthly rates are the same as with earlier data plans: $60 with a voice plan and two-year commitment; $80 without.
Their unlimited service remains “unmetered,” as I term it. You can use all the bandwidth you want as long as it’s limited to 5 GB per month and falls into Web surfing, email, and intranet application categories.
Tim Higgins notes that it might not be smart to connect for cell data to your smartphone via Bluetooth: Bluetooth 1.2, the version most likely found in any given smartphone, tops out at a little above 700 Kbps, well below the top download burst rates available with EVDO and HSDPA. Higgins found in testing that connecting a smartphone via USB provided substantially improved throughput—in one case a best rate three times higher than with Bluetooth.
Bluetooth 2.0+EDR closes in on 3 Mbps, but as a newer flavor, it’s less available due to chip expense. It’ll eventually become the standard, even as EVDO Rev. A moves to over 3 Mbps of burst download speed and HSDPA hits similar marks. (Power usage, may be less of a constraint, because 2.0+EDR “talks” less to achieve the same throughput, thus being more efficient per bit.) [via JiWire]
Another day, another EVDO Rev. A modem announcement: Verizon Wireless will sell the USB modem that supports 1xRTT, EVDO Rev. 0 and EVDO Rev. A with both Windows and Mac OS X support. It’ll cost $150 with a two-year commitment; $200 with a one-year contract. Verizon is the only US carrier to offer full support for Mac OS X users, but this appears to be changing in the near term.
Sprint brings EVDO Rev A to Mac and Windows laptops through Novatel Wireless ExpressCard modem: The EX720 will run $180 with a two-year commitment. The announcement explicitly states support for Mac OS X and Windows. Sprint’s monthly service is $60 per month for unmetered usage with a two-year commitment, but no voice plan is required. The ExpressCard is found in most new laptops sold to professionals, and Apple’s single MacBook Pro high-end laptop model. (I write unmetered because it’s not unlimited: there are limits to use.) Sprint already offers a Novatel USB modem, and three PC Card modems.
The EVDO Rev. A network operates at substantially higher upload speeds than Rev. 0 and somewhat better download speeds—average speeds tend to be reported as 200 to 350 Kbps up and 450 to 800 Kbps down. Sprint is claiming in a release 350 to 500 Kbps up and 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps down!
The card, like all EVDO Rev. A modems, works with Rev. A and Rev. 0 networks, as well as 1xRTT, a modem-speed standard.
JiWire gives the Sprint Nextel release of the Novatel Wireless U720 USB modem for EVDO Rev. A high marks: The USB device works on computers that lack PC Card and ExpressCard slots, including desktop machines. In testing, JiWire found that the modem worked well on both Windows PCs and Macs, despite any official support yet for Mac OS X. (A modem script can be downloaded from EVDOInfo Forums.)
On Rev. A networks in San Francisco, the reviewer saw average speeds above 800 Kbps downstream; they topped 1 Mbps consistently with a five-bar signal strength. Upstream speeds were more modest, averaging 150 Kbps with no speeds above 180 Kbps, far below the top end of the range that’s expected with Rev. A. The modem works with the more prevalent Rev. 0 networks, too, which run somewhat slower.
The modem’s downside is a bit of awkwardness in its form factor. JiWire writes that it’s three times thicker than a PC Card with nearly the same width and length. It’s quite large to plug into a USB jack. A supplied Y-cable, with two USB plugs, can draw more power and locate the modem further from the computer. But it doesn’t work with a MacBook Pro, which has one USB port on either side of the computer.
Sprint offers the modem for $50 with a two-year contract, and, as with other EVDO plans, charges $60 per month for unmetered use when coupled with a Sprint voice plan and a two-year commitment, or $80 per month without.
GigaOm reports that Verizon Wireless has started selling the Sierra Wireless AirCard 595 PC Card: This card will be the first on the market to handle EVDO Rev. A, which offers nominal rates of 3.1 Mbps down and 1.8 Mbps up, but more realistic rates of up to 800 Kbps down and 350 Kbps up. Average rates may be lower; peak rates will be higher on the downstream side than the upstream side due to provisioning that doesn’t emphasize the uplink. Sprint also offers the card.
No word on the ExpressCard equivalent.
From Verizon, the card will run $100 after a $50 rebate and with a two-year commitment. Interestingly, Katie Fehrenbacher notes that platform support noted by Sierra Wireless includes popular Windows platforms, including Vista, and will offer Mac OS X support by year’s end. Mac support will be more generally available for cell data adapters into 2007 based on reports that have come in over the last six months.
Ultra Mobile Broadband will apparently supercede EVDO’s name and standards: The CDMA Development Group, a trade association, is looking to the simpler name to brand faster speeds coming in future standards. While EVDO Rev. A is rolling out now with much higher rates and Rev. B is on the horizon with about 50 Mbps of downstream peak service, Rev. C will be rebranded as UMB—and achieve 280 Mbps downstream in about 2009. UMB will use both MIMO (multiple receive/transmit antennas for beamforming and multiple spatial streams) and SDMA, which allows datastreams to be steered to particular clients, reusing the same frequencies over space.
This BetaNews article also notes that there are 44.4m EVDO subscribers worldwide and 83.6m UMTS users. 1xRTT + EVDO totals 267.2m, however.
Just coincidentally, San Diego is the home of Qualcomm: There are no coincidences, and San Diego has long been the proving ground on new Qualcomm-based cell technologies. Sprint will also turn on EVDO Rev. A, which they conservatively peg at 450 to 800 Kbps downstream and 300 to 400 Kbps upstream, in nearly two dozen other cities, including L.A., San Francisco, and New York. [link via TechDirt]
Verizon Wireless gets dinged at the Washington Post for its restrictive metered use policy: I refuse to call Verizon’s EVDO “Unlimited” BroadbandAccess service by the unlimited label. It’s unmetered. That is, they don’t meter you for use, but they don’t give you unlimited service. In today’s account, a normal user is told that he “abused and damaged” Verizon’s network by the security department at VZW. They also charged him a $175 termination fee. I suspect that he can go to his state attorney general’s office and file a complaint and have that fee waived. He might be able to go to small claims court, too, and win a summary judgment because Verizon certainly won’t show up.
A Verizon spokesperson told the Post columnist that customers using the service for its accepted activities—email, Web surfing, and intranet applications—wouldn’t be considered excessive users. This, of course, contradicts the internal documents that have been scattered all over the Web and even letters from Verizon to its customers canceling their service. The Post writer notes that on Verizon’s site that they state if usage is “more than 5[gigabytes]/line/month, we presume use is for non-permitted uses and will terminate service.”
Now, I don’t want to be irritating and state that Verizon should allow every use in every case. It’s their network; they can set their unreasonable parameters. Neither they nor any other operator currently has enough spectrum to offer 3G services on a truly unlimited basis. You might get public pronouncements that there’s enough spectrum for that, but privately, and I’ve seen some of those documents, it’s not the case. That’s why Sprint Nextel is launching its mobile WiMax network in an entirely different set of spectrum, just for instance.
Fundamentally, Verizon should be consistent. I expect that if they annoy enough people with public statements, statements in writing, and contract statements that are at odds with one another, some legal beagles will launch a class-action lawsuit over the wording. This could be forestalled by simply stating there’s a 5 GB/month limit on all services, and that you are charged some enormous rate when you cross it, but you’ll be instant messaged repeatedly as you near the limit.
Personal tech columnist finds Cingular, Verizon versions of ExpressCard cell modems work well, but Cingular’s network not so much: Walt Mossberg tested both EVDO and HSDPA ExpressCard adapters from Novatel that use the new PCI Express adapter for laptops. He thought both cards worked just fine, and had no complaints about setting them up. However, he did find in his testing in two cities and an Amtrak route that Cingular just couldn’t compete with Verizon. Cingular is still building out their network, but Mossberg’s review shows how far behind they are in performance in two major east coast cities likely to find subscribers.
Novatel ships the S720 for Sprint: The card supports the much faster revision to CDMA-based EVDO service, which both Verizon and Sprint will start lighting up by year’s end. Rev. A offers good upload speeds—several hundred K on average—and has higher peak download speeds (above 2 Mbps) and better average speeds, running up as high as over 800 Kbps. The cards need to be available for corporate folks to test them out, and they’re backward compatible to the current Rev. 0, of course. Getting these out in the marketplace makes a lot of sense for those who want to be ready for the higher speeds as soon as they’re available. The Rev. A network plans won’t cost more than Rev. 0 plans, just as current EVDO includes 1xRTT (low-speed) for areas without EVDO Rev. 0.
Novatel says that Sprint will charge $250 for the card without a plan and $100 with a two-year service agreement. Rates vary from metered use at $40 per month to unmetered (but not unlimited) use at $60 or $80. The $60 rate will now be available for a two-year commitment without a voice plan, which was previously a requirement for Sprint and Verizon.
The company adds Novatel Wireless model: Dell was able to get these cards ahead of Verizon, which seemed a little odd. Verizon is calling the ExpressCard by the moniker V640. It has an external flip-up antenna. No word on Mac compatibility yet; Verizon is unique in offering a connection manager package and full support for two models of PC Cards for Mac PowerBook users.
Perhaps in response to Verizon Wireless’s plan, Sprint moves faster: Verizon Wireless recently committed to the faster 3G flavor of EVDO Rev. A, which offers a peak rate of 3.1 Mbps versus Rev. 0’s 2 Mbps, and an enormously faster upload rate. The expected numbers are 450 to 800 Kbps of downstream speed with faster peak rates, and 300 to 400 Kbps of upload speed.
Sprint had previously committed to a rollout by about spring 2007, but Verizon’s plan must have pushed some buttons at their competitor. Sprint says an area comprising 40m people will be covered with Rev. A by year’s end, and they reiterated a plan to reach 200m people with Rev. 0 and Rev. A by year’s end. The entire network will be at Rev. A by third quarter of 2007, they say.
The press release also confirms that they will offer more form factors for their adapters, including USB and ExpressCard. It makes sense that these adapters have lagged given the coming Rev. A rollout. Shipping newer Rev. 0 adapters might not have conformed to Verizon or Sprint’s plans.
The folks at Consumer Affairs received a nastygram from Verizon Wireless, and serve them, sucka: Verizon cancels Consumer Affairs EVDO account! This is just too good. I and many others have written over the last year about how Verizon Wireless’s Unlmited BroadbandAccess is not equal to unlimited broadband access. Rather, they define legitimate use of their service as email, Web browsing, and intranet applications. Everything else is expressly forbidden in their contract. I call this metered service. They’ve also had a variety of documents leaked and letters posted by recipients that show that 10 gigabytes (GB) of usage per month is considered highly excessive no matter what you’re doing.
Consumer Affairs was told in a “terse” letter something we’ve read elsewhere before: “We … found that your usage over the past 30 days exceeded 10 Gigabytes. … This level of usage is so extraordinarily high that it could only have been attained by activities, such as streaming and/or downloading movies and video, prohibited by the terms and conditions.”
As TechDirt points out, Verizon Wireless spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson delivers the money shot: “It’s very clear in all the legal materials we put out…It’s unlimited amounts of data for certain types of data,” he said.
Woo! Consumer Affairs, you have now been served! Woo!
And they bust some moves. They maintained an access log using Verizon’s own software that showed 2 GB of usage over the last year. And they do the math. 10 GB over 30 days being 40 times average use means that an average user downloads 8.3 MB per day, “less than 12 seconds of constant downloading at the service’s average speed.” They did get that wrong. It’s actually two minutes. (If you average 400 to 700 Kbps you get 550 Kbps—kilobits per second. 8.3 MB times eight bits per byte divided by 550 Kbps gets you 120 seconds.)
Further, a second Consumer Affairs EVDO card has seen quite high use during business travel, and that account was not canceled.
Verizon Wireless gets the last shot. “Nelson said the service, which Verizon introduced in Fall 2003, can be hindered if one person downloads too much….’The wireless spectrum is a limited and finite service,’ he said.”
Fascinating. I don’t recall seeing that phrase in the ads that tell us why EVDO is better than Wi-Fi. (Some Wi-Fi hotspot operators impose monthly limits, too, and when they do, they’re often in the 10 GB range!)
I’m not alone in laughing at this situation. Not because I take delight in tweaking Verizon Wireless. They’ve built a good and reliable service that whenever I’ve tested it has worked extremely well. And they get rave reviews for the ubiquity, the consistent speed, and the cost relative to utility.
No, the reason I and others point fingers and say, “HAW haw” is that Verizon Wireless oversells this service in its marketing, as TechDIrt also notes. Of course, spectrum is finite. Of course, they have to limit usage. Of course, some users could spoil it for everyone. But that only comes out in the pinch.
The inroads that Clearwire might make in part of this market may have to do with not supporting legacy applications, and being able to use the aspect of OFDMA in mobile WiMax that allows per-user provisioning on dynamic basis (offering dedicated capacity over short periods of time). I know that Clearwire has limited coverage area and limited bandwidth; I know that Sprint Nextel has a whole lot more. There’s nothing specifically superior in mobile WiMax than EVDO or UMTS/HSDPA. Rather, it’s unencumbered, and will be built with robust backhaul and robust expectations.
Everyone knew the day would come: Verizon is testing Nortel ‘s EVDO Rev. A equipment, which would be a relatively simple upgrade from the Rev. 0 gear that they and Sprint Nextel use today. Rev. A dramatically boosts total and expected individual user uplink rates from what is often 50 to 150 Kbps today to a raw rate of 1.8 Mbps that’s expected to offer 150 to 250 Kbps on a typical basis to each user. Downlink speeds jump, too, from about 2 Mbps to 3.1 Mbps peak rate, which should translate to 500 to 800 Kbps for an individual user routinely.
Sprint had said they would start the move to Rev. A next year. Nortel stated that Verizon would begin the upgrade in third quarter of 2006! Yes, uplink speeds matter, and this is another clear sign of the consumer-as-producer economy, in which people creating—taking digital photographs, for one—need more upstream bandwidth.
Dell adds new EVDO in new form factor for its own, other Windows XP laptops: ExpressCard is a substantially faster replacement for PC Card/CardBus technology. Dell is offering a private-branded version of the Novatel Wireless XV620 which provides EVDO service for Verizon’s network. The card runs $179 and includes 30 days of Verizon service, after which normal plan rates apply.
The card should work in laptops from other makers, but Dell isn’t supporting that. Likewise, while Apple’s new MacBook Pro features an ExpressCard slot, drivers aren’t expected from Novatel until later this year; they have released Mac drivers in the past. A Mac with Boot Camp installed, the beta release of a bootable Windows partition for Intel-based Macs, should be able to run an EVDO ExpressCard just fine. One site tested this earlier this year with no problems.
No timetable in place: Lucent said that Verizon Wireless will purchase Rev. A equipment from them to upgrade their cell data network. Rev. A offers a nominal speed of 3.1 Mbps downstream and 1.8 Mbps upstream; in practice that means a peak rate above 2 Mbps for downstream traffic and expected rates of 400 to 600 Kbps upstream.
My officemate Jeff Carlson offers this review of the Palm Treo 700p in Macworld magazine: He likes the speed, the EVDO service, the better camera, and the form factor. But the cost and inability to connect via a USB cable—Bluetooth is required—to use the phone as a modem are problems. Jeff and I tested the Palm 700p with him on EVDO and me on a DSL line for videoconferencing using AOL Instant Messaging on his end and Apple iChat AV on mine. It wasn’t fantastic, but what a portent of things to come.
IDG News Service reports on nervousness at cell operators on their all-you-can eat data plans: The article notes a fact that I am aware of and have seen little reporting on elsewhere—that most cell towers wee designed for 2G or 2.5G networks and have T-1 (1.544 Mbps) or broadband wireless connections for backhaul. Because each 3G channel can use up to several Mbps, a tower handling multiple channels and users would be overwhelmed. This is where fixed WiMax (802.15-2004 flavor) may become extremely important to carriers as a relatively inexpensive way to add capacity.
Of all the carriers, Sprint sounds least concerned, and they say their terms only restrict the use of their service as a server. A Gartner analyst, Michael King, notes that Verizon and Cingular will find it hard going to back off from their current plans. He’s quoted in the article noting, Never in the history of wireless and mobile communications has a carrier succeeded in bringing prices back up.”
If you wondered what a Dear John letter from Verizon for loving their EVDO data service too much looks like, here you go: A member of SOCALWUG, a community wireless group in Southern California, links to an EVDOForums.com post showing part of the kiss-off letter from Verizon. Verizon reiterates the restrictions on its unlimited BroadbandAccess service—Internet browsing, email, and intranet access—and then says that the user exceeded 10 GB over 30 days, or 40 times average user activity.
This isn’t unreasonable. They can set limits and have expectations that most customers will follow them. But it does raise the question: how much usage can Verizon stand?
Increase the number of users tenfold on their network, and does that strain the system? Increase the average user’s use 10fold and increase users fourfold—same question.
That’s probably why MediaFLO is appealing for offloading streaming media entirely from the cellular spectrum. When MediaFLO is available, I could see even more restrictions on the regular cell data part.
PC Magazine’s testing labs are working with a Novatel prototype: The new ExpressCard adapter will ship later this year with Windows drivers; Mac drivers to follow. While companies were discussing ExpressCard at CTIA a week ago, I’m surprised to see a unit already in testing at a magazine. The photo on the linked article shows a MacBook Pro, Apple’s latest laptop model, running Windows XP using the Boot Camp software Apple released for dual booting.
JiWire reports that cellular data adapters for a new laptop card slot will be coming later this year: The ExpressCard form factor relies on the faster PCI Express bus found in newer laptops and desktops. The slot is shaped differently from CardBus and supports as much as four times the speed. The ExpressCard/34 slot is what you’ll find in laptops (34mm wide along its insertion point), while some servers can take the ExpressCard/54 (34mm at insertion point, 54mm on external portion). While a /54 card fits into the same /34 slot, there are different requirements for support. A laptop that supports /34 cards will probably also support only 1.5 volts of power output, too; a higher-voltage option is 3.3V.
Dell, Apple, and other companies are already pushing many laptops out the door that combine the Intel Core chip series, PCI Express bus, and and an ExpressCard/34 slot. Which means that you’re sunk if you want to use advanced Wi-Fi instead of built-in or use a 3G cellular data card for EVDO or HSDPA.
Fortunately, JiWire determined at last week’s cellular trade industry convention, the ExpressCards are coming. There was no doubt as to “if,” just “when.” Dell says EVDO in May or June for its laptop line, largely transitioned, and HSDPA in August or September. Dell sells laptops with either standard embedded using mini-PCI adapters.
Interestingly, Mac drivers appear to be on the agenda for adapter makers. Because Apple’s ExpressCard-bearing MacBook Pro models use Intel chips, this might make driver development simpler, and thus a more front-of-the-line proposition than for CardBus-based adapters.
JiWire also noted that cards that handle EVDO Rev. A—a 30% faster version of EVDO—are due later in the year. Sprint plans to introduce Rev. A widely by early 2007. They also point to a USB-based EVDO modem (supporting Rev. A) that Novatel hasn’t officially announced but was being flashed at Sprint’s booth; that operator will sell it. A USB form factor with Mac and Windows drivers means almost any computer could handle EVDO.
The device that Sprint will resell on its network announced by Linksys: The WRT54G3G-NA works much like several other devices on the market, with a CardBus slot, Wi-Fi gateway, and 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch. Unlike the Junxion box, an early entrant in this category, the Linksys device accepts only EVDO cards, which restricts its usage to Verizon Wireless and Sprint’s networks.
Verizon Wireless has repeatedly stated that they don’t want their network to be used in this fashion, will enforce the contract provisions that don’t allow this use, and are apparently starting to charge higher-bandwidth BroadbandAccess (EVDO) users, although this device doesn’t necessarily promote the use of lots of data.
Linksys has priced their box at $199, and it’s scheduled to ship this summer.
Qualcomm may have adapters ready for EVDO Rev. B in late 2007: The current deployed CDMA2000 1xEVDO Rev. 0 (zero) standard runs at about 400 to 700 Kbps (rated) downstream and 50 to 70 Kbps up. The Rev. A improvement increases downlink speeds by 30 percent and could double uploads. This starts to move EVDO into the DSL range, and ubiquitously. (There are still issues of latency, operator limits on service and bandwidth, and other factors, of course.)
Rev. B, Qualcomm said last week according to News.com, will further increase speeds, offering download rates of 1.3 to 2.4 Mbps and upload rates of 210 to 432 Kbps. Now we’re talking something approaching real broadband. The PC cards and stand-alone modems to use Rev. B may be available in late 2007.
While the article maintains “The increase in speed puts wireless broadband on equal footing with DSL services, which offer similar speeds” that’s only with a moderate to slow version of today’s DSL. Cable modem speeds typically start much higher than Rev. B, with double to triple the upload speed as a starting point, while DSL, cable, fiber to the home, fiber to the node, broadband over powerline, fixed WiMax (16d and 16e), and even new flavors of metro-scale Wi-Fi based on 802.11n and MIMO technologies will deliver speeds 5 to 10 times faster than Rev. B by the end of 2007, passing by at least tens of millions of homes.
Of course, with EVDO, Rev. B transceivers could reach hundreds of millions of potential users, making it an interesting option. The notion that standalone modems will be part of the reference designs released for Rev. B means that the vision of Monet Wireless could finally be fulfilled on a large-scale: rural areas with fewer broadband access methods could turn to licensed 3G cellular as a means of having broadband. This is the same sub-market that 802.16e (fixed/nomadic/mobile) WiMax is after, and that may be where big battles are fought—not in the cities, but in the suburbs, exurbs, and countryside.
News.com speculates that Sprint’s near-term release of a Linksys cell-to-LAN bridge is a play for DSL subscribers: They bury the real answer to their analysis, though, which is that even with the slow DSL speeds possible with EVDO Rev. A, which Sprint expects to roll out in early 2007, the current pricing is $14.95 for similarly fast Verizon DSL and $80 per month for Sprint. The News.com article says “$60” per month for Sprint, but that rate is only available for a two-year commitment to existing voice subscribers. I keep seeing articles cite $60/month as the base rate for EVDO, and that’s just not the case, even though many users may choose to grab the bundle.
Axesstel, Sprint show new cell bridges at CTIA: At the cell industry trade show, it’s not all about the cellular network. Sprint demonstrated a Linksys router that accepts any Sprint EVDO card and bridges it to an 802.11g Wi-Fi network. The device will run less than $200 and will work with existing service plans ($60/month for voice subscribers with two-year commitment; $80/month otherwise). Sprint will also offer a USB EVDO dongle later this year.
Axesstel, an equipment maker, announced a series of EVDO gateways designed for various frequencies and purposes. The gateways accept an EVDO card on the one hand to work with basic 1xRTT and EVDO networks. RJ11 phone jacks allow up to four regular landline phones and one fax machine to connect to place analog-style calls. A Wi-Fi gateway and four-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch is also built in. There’s also GPS and E911 service. Pricing isn’t noted as this a product cell operators would resell to their customers.
Verizon has added pay-as-you-go service for Dell, Lenovo, HP laptops with embedded EVDO: If you’ve bought a laptop that has the EVDO card included, you can try before you buy by purchasing a one-day pass at $15 for 24 hours. No limits are data transfer are noted. It’s an interesting idea, because $15 is a bit pricey for one day, but it’s a painless way to test before ponying up $60 to $80 per month for unlimited monthly service. [link via TechDirt]
Cingular becomes first US carrier to offer worldwide card, plan: The insanely named Option GlobeTrotter GT Max LaptopConnect card handles 850, 900, 1800, 1900, and 2100 megahertz (MHz) spectrum bands, covering GSM, GPRS, UMTS, and HSDPA worldwide. The card will be $100 with a two-year domestic or one-year GlobalConnect commitment. The card also includes Wi-Fi.
The service is priced by countries included in a particular plan. A North American plan includes the US, Canada, and Mexico for $110 per month; for $140 per month you get two dozen countries including North America and Australia, China, France, Germany, England, Japan, and others. These two plans include unlimited data in the US and 100 MB of data transfer in the selected other countries.
Data above the 100 MB is $5 per MB in GlobalConnect countries and $19.50 per MB in about 80 other countries. These overages may appear quite expensive in some ways, but having a defined and consistent rate has its benefits, and should allow control.
Other carriers with worldwide plans require two separate PC Cards. The antenna on this card retracts, allowing it to remain in the laptop while in storage or travel.
Bowing to the inevitable, Verizon Wireless lets users access EVDO via certain phones: This PC Magazine article notes the LG VX9800 (an overfeatured but interesting phone I reviewed last year), the Motorola RAZR V3c, Motorola E815, and LG VX8100 can be used as 3G modems with a USB cable. The article notes that Verizon has ostensibly stilled disabled the Bluetooth dial-up networking (DUN) feature, but there are hacks to make it work.
Unlimited usage is $60 per month, not as Verizon says in this article, “in addition to their voice plans,” but rather only if a two-year commitment to EVDO service is made in addition to their voice plan. Quite a difference—nearly $240 per year if you choose to keep your options open. (The article also says EVDO average 700 Kbps; more like peak. The rates I’ve seen in most tests are 200 to 400 Kbps with much higher consistent rates on occasion.)
Sprint Nextel has been offering EVDO for weeks in tethered and PC Card options, which has put the pressure on Verizon for parity.
Alltel launches EVDO in Richmond, Va.: The company is now number five after the really big top four (Cingular, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile). They’ve added a competitive EVDO offering in Richmond (and soon elsewhere), even as Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless provide 3G there now and Cingular will add HSDPA (incorrectly called EDGE) in the future. Although they overlap in this city, Alltel’s cellular coverage area is practically the negative image of where big cities are in the U.S.
Alltel launched EVDO elsewhere in the country earlier this year. They have a somewhat hard to find page that shows their Axcess Broadband service’s regional areas: Akron, Cleveland, Lansing, Little Rock, Norfolk (and Richmond), Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and Tampa.
“Unlimited” is more of a catchphrase that’s combined with particular service plans for Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon: In this story I filed for Mobile Pipeline, I examine the terms and conditions of 3G (EVDO and UMTS/HSDPA) for the three U.S. carriers now providing high-speed cellular data. (T-Mobile offers just GPRS with EDGE to come, and seems to have few restrictions.)
The three carriers vary from hiding terms to making them crystal clear, but all three want usage relatively limited in their unlimited plans. You can browse the Web, read email, and use intranet services on Cingular and Verizon, while Sprint has looser terms. All three don’t want fill-the-pipes activity going on for whatever reason, and Verizon explicitly prohibits VoIP.