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Starbucks Clashes With WiFi Hobbyists Over Airwaves 329

Posted by timothy
from the dr-evil-at-play dept.
fobbman writes: "Portland Oregon's Pioneer Square (the heart of downtown) has had free WiFi access provided since February by Personal Telco, which is a local group of computer hobbyists. Now Starbuck's is planning on offering the same service on the same band in the same area for $29.95 a month, according to this story in the local fishwrap. Without regulation or licensing, and with WiFi growing, this could become a common problem."
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Starbucks Clashes With WiFi Hobbyists Over Airwaves

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  • Starbucks T-Shirt (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mark4ST (249650) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:34AM (#4102760) Homepage
    Here's something for ya:

    How to change a Starbucks T-Shirt into something filthy [everything2.com]

  • Can't do that? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by marcushnk (90744)
    Isn't there a law in the US of A that basicly (very basicly) says "If your charging for it/running it as a part of company infrustructure, then you need to change to fit in with the public free users" ??

    I'm fairly sure that I've seen that somewhere...
    • Re:Can't do that? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sconeu (64226) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:38AM (#4102776) Homepage Journal
      Isn't there a law in the US of A that basicly (very basicly) says "If your charging for it/running it as a part of company infrustructure, then you need to change to fit in with the public free users" ??

      Of course not. Those public free users are obviously Evil Terrorist Commie Content Pirates(tm), and should be kicked off in favor of the Good American Patriotic Capitalist(tm) company!
    • Re:Can't do that? (Score:4, Informative)

      by tanveer1979 (530624) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:26AM (#4102890) Homepage Journal
      Wi Fi is unregulated in most countries.. including US
      And currently most chipsets support frequency hopping to aviod cluttering.
      The problems are coming in becuase Telco's are trying to make it east for themseleves by sticking to one channel. This saves on equipment costs and stuff.
      In the long run this causes problems.. but remember thats how most people operate.... Find a solution only when problem comes... if preplanning was the norm the level of chaos would be much less.
      The 802.11b standard is beautifuly designed but most people do not implement all the features to cut costs
  • Who was there first? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tokerat (150341) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:35AM (#4102766) Journal
    Why does Starbucks get priority? The other network is there FREE as a PUBLIC SERVICE, plus it was there before the Starbucks (or at least their network). Sounds to me like the city should tell them to limit it to inside their shop or make them shut down.
    • by Jetson (176002) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:56AM (#4102818) Homepage
      Why does Starbucks get priority? The other network is there FREE as a PUBLIC SERVICE

      Free vs. commercial shouldn't even enter into it. The real issue here is that companies are flooding a portion of the radio spectrum that has been set aside for general use and then clamouring for regulation after the fact in order to prop up their business model and turn "users" into "customers".

      • companies are flooding a portion of the radio spectrum that has been set aside for general use and then clamouring for regulation after the fact

        No one is clamoring for regulation. Read the article. Starbucks doesn't even know about the Personal Telco link. If anyone is clamoring for regulation it's the Personal Telco people and posters like you.
        • by amlutias (24318)
          T-mobile was made aware of the free access both during site survey and installation (we happened to be around both times).

          Nobody, especially personal telco, wants regulation, and nobody's saying that they chose channel 1 maliciously. But, there's a problem. Staying on channel 1 will hurt their quality of service just as much as ours, if not more, since people expect more when they're paying for it.
  • More links (Score:5, Informative)

    by countach (534280) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:35AM (#4102767)
    Here is a link [weblogger.com] about using wireless mobile at Starbucks. Here is a Wall Street [wallstreetandtech.com] article about it, and a brief intro [nycwireless.net]. Here's an article [weblogger.com] praising the idea.
  • by Cryptnotic (154382) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:38AM (#4102778) Homepage
    I wonder to what degree this article is an actual documentation of a dispute. According to the article, Starbucks didn't even know there was a conflict. The Personal Telco people just don't want to be forced off "their channel". It seems like this whole "news" article is just a sly advertisment for T-Mobile and Starbucks and their new partnership.

    • by Omega Hacker (6676) <omega.omegacs@net> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:08AM (#4102844)
      No, this is a legitimate story. I'm a PTP member fairly involved in quite a number of projects (though I wasn't involved in this particular node), and here's what I know:

      The T-mobile installers talked to several PTP members in Starbucks as they were installing the hardware. They were made aware of the PTP node, and which channel it was on, as well as how long it had been installed (since February 2001).

      T-mobile uses channel 1 on all their sites, so this is actually not an intentional act on their part, but either laziness or "corporate policy".

      Channel 1 is used by these companies because software searches for an AP from channel 1 upwards. Obviously, they want to be found first.

      A TV news spot (link can probably be found on the PTP site soon, I captured/encoded it and let others mirror on faster machines) was also shot today at the square, with a half-dozen PTP members sitting there trying to surf. The clip shows the tmobile and www.personaltelco.net AP's flashing in and out, as they stomped on each other. Performance of both network (we presume, no one has wasted $30/mo on a T-mobile account) sucked badly.

      And for the curious, the Pioneer Courthouse Square Starbucks node is fed by a *satellite* connection, meaning horrendous latencies. The PersonalTelco node at the same location is fed by dual T1's. Do the math on bandwidth and latency, and tell me if you want to spend $30/mo for T-mobile....

    • by guttentag (313541) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:10AM (#4102851) Journal
      It seems like this whole "news" article is just a sly advertisment for T-Mobile and Starbucks and their new partnership.
      Hardly. Before the article even mentions T-Mobile, it points out that Starbucks is trying to promote a pay-service where a free service already exists. How does informing readers of the free-alternative promote the $30/month service?
      • Perhaps following the 'any publicity is good publicity' rule. While you and I may see this as negative, there are those out there who will see the article and think to themselves "Hey, I had no idea Starbucks offered a service like that!"

        I wouldn't go so far as to say that the news article was an intentional advertisement -- but it may serve as one nonetheless.

        -Sou|cuttr
    • "According to the article, Starbucks didn't even know there was a conflict..."

      This is probable. Virtually nobody is aware of the service down at Pioneer Square. The only reason I found out about it was a short blurb on the news a few months ago.
    • According to the article, Starbucks didn't even know there was a conflict.

      You'd think the installers would check when they did the install. The other possibility is to have a system designed with tranciever stations which attempt to avoid frequency conflicts automatically.
  • Typical Starbucks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by checkitout (546879) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:40AM (#4102781)
    Their whole business model is based on running out the competition and clustering their stores.

    Generally they buy out old coffee houses, or promise the landlord of these existing cafes higher rent. Get an entire area filled with starbucks, then once the area is associated with coffee, they start closing up their shops, until they only need one in the area.

    So it's only logical that they would take the same approach with WiFi.
  • I think you mean Pioneer Courthouse Square. At least, that's how Portlanders generally refer to it.

    Now, what we really need is free WiFi on the Max and the Portland Streetcar.

  • by Ezubaric (464724) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:47AM (#4102796) Homepage
  • This reminds me a lot of the way people used to step on each other during the CB radio boom of the mid seventies.

    I wonder how long it will be before someone starts selling 100W 802.11 amplifiers ;-}

  • by RumGunner (457733) <rumgunner@hotmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @03:55AM (#4102814) Homepage
    In fact, I have a friend who is trying to set up a similar friendly wifi network in my town, and when he approached the local University network administrator he was told flat out that if he "interfered" in "University network space" that he would be speaking to the University lawyers.

    I know that Big Brother is our enemy in Slashdot, but it's hard to do anything constructive in unregulated space. Imagine the chaos if FM wasn't regulated.
    • by Omega Hacker (6676) <omega.omegacs@net> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:11AM (#4102855)
      The University, of course, would be laughed out of court by the FCC, as unregulated means unregulated. No lawyer would have to be hired, no money or significant time expended, just read the relevant sections out of the FCC regulations to the judge and go home.
    • A little off topic but relevant to above post....

      When you have people using FM spectrum for free you get a much wider variety of music played by people who really care. No ads, and no endless soft rock (unless the DJ wants to play soft rock...)

      check out Pirate Radio [dmoz.org] for more.
      • When people can do whatever they damn well please with the FM spectrum then he with the biggest transmitter wins, regardless of who *wants* to listen to which station. Don't like your competitor? Just stomp all over his signal by broadcasting your station more powerfully on the same frequency. Preventing that sort of abuse was originally the sole reason why the FCC was created in the first place. Now, I agree that since that time the FCC has waaay overstepped thier charter, especially with regards to content-control, and that that's a bad thing. But to take the extreme opposite stance that no regulation at all would lead to free use of the spectrum by "the people" is hogwash. He with the biggest transmitter would win. That's the way it used to be *before* regulation.

        • It's easy to have lightweight regulation around that. One company, one frequency. Or, no more than one frequency for each distinct (= prepared separately, if at the same location) broadcast. No hopping frequencies once you're set up, unless you negotiate with the person whose frequency you're hopping onto. Lightweight, low-maintenance, easy to stop abuse.

          -Rob
        • But to take the extreme opposite stance that no regulation at all would lead to free use of the spectrum by "the people" is hogwash. He with the biggest transmitter would win.

          Isn't this the sort if thing Starbucks are up to. Even if they don't have the "biggest transmitter" in terms of RF power they are trying for this in terms of publicity.
    • In fact, I have a friend who is trying to set up a similar friendly wifi network in my town, and when he approached the local University network administrator he was told flat out that if he "interfered" in "University network space" that he would be speaking to the University lawyers.

      It says a lot for some people's attitudes that they would make threats rather than work out ways to coexist. Especially since it would probably cost the university far more money to pay lawyers, for a case which would probably get laughed out of court, than to have the university's techies work out solutions.
    • I bet within 48 months wireless access will require a license and that the cost will mean only for profits can afford to provide service.

      Its what the enterntainment and phone companies want. So its what we'll get.
  • My sister is a Portland Starbucks manager, and a couple days before they rolled out their WiFi access, I had the opportunity to snoop through some of the papers and documents for training the employees and managers.

    The short of it is, Starbucks has practically nothing to do with TMobile [tmobile.com]'s WiFi access. The managers and employees know next to nothing about the Internet access except for the fact that it exists, and that if customers want to use the access they should call up Tmobile. That's it, so don't jump down Starbucks throat over this.

    Why Tmobile can't simply change their channel is beyond me; I imagine that nobody at Tmobile with any technical knowledge has been alerted to this yet.

  • I worked for a wireless ISP, and we had to deal with this all the time. The 11 channels of 802.11b are all there is to work with, and we would constantly have to dance around existing systems. At least, the players here know who they are up against.

    If they can't resolve the frequency coordination, and it devolves into a shouting match, Starbuck's is gonna win. They will have access points located within their premeses (sp?) and will no doubt have the maxium legal power and antenna structures allowed by the FCC. If the private guys can punch thru that signal, they're doing it using illegal power levels or antennas.

    Also, a corporate sponsored setup would have the potential to have a higher speed backbone in and out of the shop, and ultimately be able to provide better service than the free guys.
    • Re:Common Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Omega Hacker (6676)

      Also, a corporate sponsored setup would have the potential to have a higher speed backbone in and out of the shop, and ultimately be able to provide better service than the free guys.

      Not really. T-mobile has hooked up this node (and quite a few others from what I've heard, for cost reasons) to the 'Net with a satellite connection. That means ~400Kbps downstream and horrible latency.

      The PTP node on the other hand is directly connected to two almost entirely idle load-balanced T1's.

      • Well, that's why I said "potential". At first they may try to save money with cheapo connections. If it gets down to a dirty fight, the corporate types will have the $$ on their side, and they would be able to afford a Frac/T1 or Biz DSL into the shop if they thought it would be profitable to win the war.

        They'll have to provide superior service for pay than their customers can get for free already. In areas where there is no existing free service, they can probably get away with the service class you mentioned, because no one there knows better or has an alternative.

        Also, somwhere it was mentioned there was no difference in QOS between the free service and the corporate one, so if that's not an issue, then signal strength (read: throughput speed) becomes the only one - which do you get better? Most likely, the closest local signal (i.e. the one originating inside the shop).

    • by wowbagger (69688) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @08:02AM (#4103356) Homepage Journal
      First of all, among equal level licencees, he who is first wins - since both parties are operating under part 15 rules, the Personal T. folks would win in an FCC action as they were on frequency first, and can prove it.

      Second, he with the better license wins. Since 802.11b is FCC part 15 in a band that Hams occupy, get a licensed amateur to set up a station in that band, running max legal, and simply STOMP Starbucks out. Since a ham operates under FCC part 97, which trumps part 15, when Starbucks complains the ham can say "Sorry, but you have to ACCEPT all interference from my system - you are part 15, look at your license. Also, you are CAUSING interference in my system - stop immediately, as you are in violation of part 15."

      While this sort of thing is frowned upon by the Amateur Radio Relay League, this may be what is needed to drive the message home to the companies that CASH does not make RIGHT.

      • That's the PROBLEM. Starbucks and the free guys are using the same frequency. You can't stomp out one without stomping out the other. If they were using separate frequencies so you could stomp out just Starbucks, there wouldn't be a problem.
        • You miss the point. The point is to convice Starbucks to "play nice", by demonstrating the consiquences of not playing nice.

          You jam them off the air, accepting that you won't be able to use the frequency either. You then demonstrate to them that this is the classical Prisoner's Dilemma - if we both are nice, we both win. If we both are nasty, we both lose. If one is nasty and one is nice, nasty wins.

          The long-term winning strategy is "Nice first, the whatever the other guy does." PT started out nice, Starbucks started out nasty. So PT goes REALLY nasty. If Starbucks goes nice (by moving to a different channel), then PT goes nice.

          Of course, since PT is providing a better service than Starbucks, Starbuck's cannot win playing nice UNLESS they shift their paradigm - perhaps co-operating wit PT in this one area to provide better coverage (e.g. Starbucks pays PT for a share of their T1 bandwidth in exchange for allowing Starbucks users in. Sure, in that locatilty you can get in free, but in other areas you cannot - so if you are a traveler you are better off subscribing.)

          This just goes to show the flaw in all business thinking now-a-days - everybody treats the world as a zero-sum game ("For me to win, others must lose") rather than looking for non-zero-sum solutions ("Here's how we can ALL win"). Starbucks could have easily made this a win-win situation ("We'll kick in for bandwidth, you let our customers in, but also let anybody else in too.").
      • by Mister Transistor (259842) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @11:19AM (#4104864) Journal
        Absolute nonsense. I'm an Amateur Radio Operator, and I can assure you there are no "squatters rights" on ANY frequency by ANY uncoordinated entity (i.e. Part 15).

        Further any Ham operator causing willful interference can be ticketed by the FCC. Even if they are interfering with secondary services, if it can be proved they are doing it just to cause harmful interference, they can be fined heavily for this.

        And finally if you can find a Ham low enough to try this, you've found the exception, not the rule. Most hams would be outraged (as I am) at the mere suggestion we use MIGHT to make RIGHT.

        If you modd'ers want to find a good Troll, check the parent of this message. Bah.

  • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Have Blue (616) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:02AM (#4102832) Homepage
    Someone explain why this is a problem... If both parties use modern wireless technology, can't they just co-exist? Users will be free to connect to the free access point or buy a login for the Starbucks point. And they shouldn't render each other unusable no matter how close they are.
  • by jukal (523582) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:05AM (#4102836) Journal
    If you operate on unlicensed spectrum and charge for it, you'd better be in a very isolated area or focus your service based on something else than just offering the spectrum.

    "These community-based wireless networks are wonderful, but these will never take the place of actual wireless systems deployed by carriers or companies such as T-Mobile," Ameri said.

    They will exactly TAKE THE PLACE. What's left, is providing something special on that SHARED place. It will not take very long, when there's an international network of open gateways, and services that are provided commercially now (such as easiness to log-on anywhere you are). The share of the commercial companies will get smaller. IMHO, the commercial companies cannot provide much extra - they can do it first, but if it's useful these free services will adopt it.

    Once they can license or otherwise guarantee the bandwidth, the situation changes. Like, if they can provide GPRS or some other means when the quality of the WiFi goes below certain limit (although I don't see any reasons why this could not be done by anyone else than the GPRS provider too) :)

    (*note* this might be partly a troll, but I would still like to have comments on these :)

  • by verbal (24849)
    Why not use the standards that are available. IEEE 802.11 [ieee.org] uses frequency hopping to eliminate this problem. I thought most of the wireless ethernet cards used this protocol anyway. Oh, well, I don't care. We don't even have Starbucks, we have to make our own coffee.
    • um. we're using 802.11b. the industry standard.

      the problem is that the IEEE defined 14 channels, or sequences of frequency hops, 11 of which are legal to use in the US. only 3 channels don't overlap at some point. Those channels are 1, 6, and 11. In Pioneer Courthouse Square, before t-mobile, there was a weak AP on channel 11, and personaltelco on channel 1. Logically, you would assume a for-pay service interested in providing quality would use channel 6. Even the most cursory of site surveys would've detected these competing signals.
      • Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) is a direct sequence spread spectrum system--not a frequency-hopping system. The signal is spread, then placed on a fixed channel--one of the 14 available. As mentioned above, however, only 11 are legal to use in the U.S. and, of these, only three don't overlap.

        The confusion probably arises from the original 1 Mb/s IEEE 802.11 WLAN standard, which actually had three physical layers--Direct sequence spread spectrum (on the same channels as Wi-Fi), frequency hop spread spectrum (on 79 channels between 2402 and 2480 MHz in the U.S.), and infrared (IR).

        The value in using Channel 1 for a direct sequence system is entirely due to the law of unintended consequences--most WLAN software does a simple channel scan from the bottom to the top of the band, and T-mobile wants to be discovered first. Had the software designers realized the built-in marketing advantage they were giving to Channel 1, and the ensuing free-for-all that would result, they might have randomized the search, to give all channels equal access.

        Interesting how much economic effect can result from a computer language syntax feature like "ChanNum++".
  • For those whining about no regulation... just how the heck would having to pay $200 million to get a spectrum licence help out people providing free wireless access? How are you going to recoup license fees, if you don't charge for service? I guess everyone should charge for service? I can't wait to set up my "toll sidewalk" outside your building, if there should be no such thing as free public access to resources...

    I can see how it would help the people who want a barrier to entry against free competition in an area where they'd like to charge money... well "boo hoo". The air waves belong to the public, and the free service was there first, and all your paid customers can get service from the free service anyway. So Go Away, Please.

    The way I see it escalating is this: the free service doesn't move and the paid service doesn't move and both services suck, so they both lose users, only the paid service loses money because of that, and the free service doesn't. Upshot: If you are the paid service, and you don't want to lose money... move. Case closed.

    -- Terry
  • by Adam J. Richter (17693) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:15AM (#4102868)
    802.11b supports independent physically overlapping networks. Each network has a name (an "essid"). For example, if you had a network name "starbucks" and another named "free", and were using GNU/Linux, you could do:

    iwconfig wlan0 mode Managed essid starbucks
    udhcpc --interface wlan0
    or
    iwconfig wlan0 mode Managed essid free
    udhcpc --interface wlan0

    For more efficient transmission, you can even program your access points to use different frequencies. There are twelve overlapping frequency bands used 802.11b, which provide for three or four completely independent networks.

    Attempting to associate with a network named "Any" or "" will usually result in associating the network with the strongest signal, depending on your driver and card. This is also true in other operating systems.

    Perhaps it's more of a plug than a disclaimer, but I should mention I'm involved in LANRoamer [lanroamer.net], an open source system that you can use to sell passers-by access to your wireless network and other participating networks.

    • by BlueUnderwear (73957) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:25AM (#4102888)
      For more efficient transmission, you can even program your access points to use different frequencies.

      Yes, but the point of the story is that Starbucks (deliberately ?) chose to use the same frequency as the free guys.

      And yes, the networks do manage to coexist, but with significant performance drops due to them sharing the same frequency.

      • It seems that they didn't choose to use the same frequency out of spite or anticompetitiveness, but they use the same frequency everywhere on their network, and in this location, another wireless provider happens to use the same frequency. Is it T-Mobile's fault that their corporate policy is inflexible when the channel they use in a certain area is already being used by another service? Only in as much as it degrades performance for both parties, benefitting neither.
        The way I see it, if Personal Telco refuses to change frequencies, as the FCC puts it, they must accept any interference... I don't see anybody being at fault here, except maybe Personal Telco being a bit standoffish. I don't see 11 wireless channels filling up any time soon, and even if there's that possibility, why make a stand at channel 1? C'mon, guys, give a little!

        PS: You don't see news articles about Starbucks complaining about how their performance is degraded by Personal Telco, do you? Y'all are hypocrites. You drink their coffee, get all hyped up with caffeine pumping through your blood, and then go typing all willy-nilly about how evil they are! :)
      • I imagine that Starbucks is trying to keep identical settings for its entire network. This is very understandable as many of the people using their service won't be technically literate. The idea is you can just sit down and any connected Starbucks and start surfing with your laptop.

        I'm not saying it is right to do since the other group was there first but their policy does make sense.
  • by NanoGator (522640) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:28AM (#4102900) Homepage Journal
    I know most of you are gonna go on about how Starbucks is evil and a bunch of other irrational bullshit, I thought I'd inject some common sense from somebody who lives by Pioneer Square:

    "Representatives of Starbucks and T-Mobile owner VoiceStream said they were unaware of any other wireless Internet presence in the square and had no comment on Personal Telco's objection."

    Let me tell you something about Pioneer Square: Nobody's walking around with wireless devices screwing around on the web. To tell you the truth, the only way you could have found out this service was even availble was a quick blurb on the news. It doesn't surprise me at all that Starbuck's didn't even know it was there. Heck, it was sheer chance that I even found out about it. I go by Pioneer Square nearly ever day, I can honestly say I have never ever seen anybody doing wireless stuff there. (Not saying they don't do it, just saying that it's not visible.) I don't think more than a handful of people are aware of the 802.11 cloud present there.

    Now, Starbuck's is right there on the square. They could set up a nice little antenna (heck, they could probably just use a $150 gateway, serious.) and it'd work just fine. This has nothing to do with trying to wipe out another service like it, it's just geography, it's just a coincidence.
    • by Omega Hacker (6676) <omega.omegacs@net> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:53AM (#4102952)

      It doesn't surprise me at all that Starbuck's didn't even know it was there.

      Except for the part where several PTP members happened to be at Starbucks the day the T-mobile installers came. As I mention in my comment above, they talked for quite a while, with the T-mobile installers being made aware of a) the PTP node, b) how long it had been installed (some 6+ months by then, longer in testing), and c) what channel it was on.

      As far as people not knowing about it, that is a problem we're trying to solve. If you saw the noon or 6:30 KGW news today you saw a piece about the node at the square and T-mobile's arrival. A week or two ago a half-dozen PTP members spent several hours handing out freshly-printed full-color trifolds explaining how to get online. Stickers are quite frequently placed at various locations, and promptly removed by Starbucks employees, but since it's not actually a public square, there's a limit to how much we can do legally.

      • As far as people not knowing about it, that is a problem we're trying to solve.

        Time to break out the chalk, dude!
      • by Skapare (16644) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @06:29AM (#4103138) Homepage

        I see no problem with Starbucks wanting to offer a service. This isn't ham radio they are using, so they can certainly charge money for it. The issue is whether they should use the same channel as a previously existing service. Before they were aware of it, they could have planned to use a particular channel. But, a prudent planner would have checked to see what was active in the area by simply checking out the RF in the area using WiFi equipment.

        But Starbucks/T-mobile knows about it now. So they have to decide whether they want to continue to share the channel and have degraded service and impose degraded service on others, or whether they move to another channel and have good service without bothering others (until there are more services than channels available to accomodate). Even if they decide to stay, I won't call Starbucks as evil, because channel sharing is inevitable. However, if they demand that others move off the channel, then they are evil. We'll see.

      • Except for the part where several PTP members happened to be at Starbucks the day the T-mobile installers came. As I mention in my comment above, they talked for quite a while, with the T-mobile installers being made aware of a) the PTP node, b) how long it had been installed (some 6+ months by then, longer in testing), and c) what channel it was on.

        Not to point out the obvious, but just because Joe Installer chatted with some PTP members doesn't mean anyone knew anything about the network. The average installer doesn;t know anything about corporate policy, doesn't care about corporate policy, and doesn't want to get involved in corporate policy. This guy was hired to install everything on channel one, and that's what he did. He didn't worry about who else was on channel one, because he doesn't get paid to do that.
    • I know most of you are gonna go on about how Starbucks is evil and a bunch of other irrational bullshit...

      Oh common. Starbucks is not going to be happy if someone is offering free wireless service that could undermine the Starbucks for-profit service. According to one of the posts above yours (and posted earlier), Starbucks knew there was already wireless equipment in the area, and they chose to ignore it. Sure, they're just trying to make a profit, and while "evil" is probably too strong a word, they are being jerks about it.

      This has nothing to do with trying to wipe out another service like it, it's just geography, it's just a coincidence.

      This has everything to do with trying to wipe out another service like it, of course it's geography, and it can't be coincidence if they were aware of the other service before they put in their own.

  • by spartan (30665) <[joe] [at] [samolian.com]> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:32AM (#4102907)
    Starbucks main interest in this is merely to prevent people from sitting around their retail stores and using their computers for free. This way, they get to charge everyone for the space, inside the retail stores that they will occupy during the time they are using their computers. Of course, the cup of overpriced, high-margin, beverages made with over-roasted beans, to me should be considered fair charge for rent/use of the space.

    Of course, Starbucks has gotten used to making a very, ahem - overly generous share of the profits for a beverage - what is it, something like 1200% gross margins? - so, now, they're just doing what comes natural, taking another market segment over in which they can jack us all up for the convenience of using our own property, our computers, while inside their location.

    It will probably become the case that they will use some sort of technology to over-ride the ability of Personal Telco to provide free access anywhere near a Starbucks location. Then, those who want to even go near the place will be forced to pay Starbucks a damn subscription fee just to try and use what they once where able to use for free. Starbucks will, essentially, highjack the air in and near their retail locations.

    So, seems to me that if everyone who was smart about this and committed to maintaining free access, they would cluster as many free access points around every Starbucks as they can.
  • A local community service group gives away free home-made lemonade on a busy street corner. A mammoth international corporation observes this, realizes that there is a "market opportunity" in people who are interested in drinking lemonade in that area, spends months putting together a business plan to sell their own lemonade at $5 a glass, and drives their lemonade-trailer over the the community service group's card-table lemonade stand.

    The next morning, the trailer manager arrives at work to discover the community service group has pushed the trailer down the street. So he runs them over again. This goes on for an extended period of time, during which no one is getting lemonade because the corporate jugs tipped over as the trailer ran over the card table which held the free jugs. Yet this goes on day after day with no end in sight.

    It seems to me that the company is so bent on profit (from a market where the product to be sold is already free) it is willing to engage in a spending race with the non-profit, betting that the cash-strapped non-profit will go home if it can't distribute its product. Most non-profits would rather spend their money on something else if their efforts are for naught.

    In this situation, I see one of two things happening:

    1. The non-profit makes use of its local connections to inform the local populace of the situation, and ask them to stop patronizing the corporation's other businesses until it stops trying to take away their free lemonade. The non-profit needs to make a point of explaining that the corporation wants to force consumers to pay for something that's already free.

    2. The international corporation lobbies Congress for a new law which effectively gives for-profit corporations sovereign squatting rights over non-profit entities. That's best for the economy, they will claim, because it creates jobs and keeps money circulating instead of stuffed under mattresses.
    My money's on Starbucks paying a political action committee to lobby Congress to "do the right thing for the economy in these troubled times" and "bring order to the wild Wi-Fi frontier."
  • Does it matter? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:46AM (#4102938) Journal
    At my last place of residence, I had WiFi net access (though, we called it 802.11b at that time...).

    The company [comwavz.com] providing this service had constructed a rather large (several hundred feet large, dwarfing an AT&T microwave relay station a few hundred yards down the road from it) tower near my house.

    I guess I should mention that the landscape around here is flat. Like a ruler. And completely devoid of obstructions.

    I had no trouble at all getting 500 kBps downloads using the Aironet 350 AP and Pringles can-looking antenna they provided and installed from this massive tower 2.1 miles away.

    The point of this text? They cover, probably with some degree of success, a very significant portion of Northwest Ohio with just ten of these towers.

    Cell phones don't get that kind of range.

    And even -handheld- cell phones are good for up to for 600mW of output (in the US, per FCC rules). The Aironet is about half of that.

    Old-school bag phones had output of up to 3W. Which -might- have been as good as Comwavz -appears- to be doing with plain old 802.11b.

    I never got rain fade, or snow fade, or any fade at all while I used it, even when conditions rendered visibility to zero. My microwave didn't phase it, and waving my 2.4GHz spread spectrum Uniden cordless phone directly in front of the antenna didn't make any measurable dent in latency. An arc welder used directly below the antenna didn't make a difference, either.

    Things worked almost as well after an hour or two of sustained 50-70MPH winds kicked the loosely-mounted antenna so that it was at 90 degrees to the aforementioned towering wonder of bandwidth - the least efficient way I can imagine for that type of antenna to work.

    I was able to also communicate -directly- with a few other of their customers. Those which I was able to identify were often several miles away, none with antennas pointed at mine (nor mine at theirs). Speeds were slow in this ad-hoc arrangement, sometimes in the range of 30kBps, but often were on par with my (current) 2Mbit cable modem.

    I am led to wonder, thus, precisely what the problem is. It seems to be a remarkably durable way to communicate, and I have difficulty believing that Starbucks, of all places, can put a dent in anything controlled by people with motivation to make it continue working.

    (I did have some downtime, once or twice, but each time that happened I was able to use binoculars to spot a guy wearing a toolbelt, jacking his way up that towering steel phalus. I attributed the temporary loss of bandwidth to safety of his (obviously brass) balls, not to any enviromental or interferance issues.)
    • Re:Does it matter? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by amlutias (24318) <[drew] [at] [aramchek.net]> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:11AM (#4102996) Homepage
      the problem is rather simple. imagine another wireless isp, building a similar tower 10 feet away, and trying to use exactly the same segment of the RF band to serve its customers.

      you get an insane loss of reliability and signal.

      personaltelco would be fine with moving our AP to another channel, but we're loathe to establish a precendent.
    • Northeast Indiana is pretty well covered by these folks [onlyinternet.net] too. I wonder what other ISPs throughout the US have antennas on large towers to provide wireless access. It seems to be a pretty good alternative in rural areas like Ohio and Indiana, especially since it is so flat.
  • by Goonie (8651) <robert.merkel@benamb r a . org> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:26AM (#4103023) Homepage
    I read the article, and I'm wondering how Personal Telco can afford to provide access to two T1's for free. Last I heard, that kind of high-quality bandwidth still doesn't come cheap.
    • by Andy Dodd (701)
      It sounds like it's sited at an ISP that uses those dual T1s for other purposes.

      At the moment, the 802.11 traffic likely isn't much of a negative impact on whatever they're doing up there.
    • by llywrch (9023) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @01:14PM (#4105838) Homepage Journal
      > I'm wondering how Personal Telco can afford to provide access to two T1's for free.

      It's donated by local ISPs. This is how all of the PersonalTelco sites in Portland are set up. The only exceptions are folks who set up a wireless node to share the bandwidth they pay for. And according to Adam Shand, one of the founders of PersonalTelco, the extra traffic acquired by doing this is negligible to the sharer.

      However, PersonalTelco has taken the position that if your provider forbids sharing your connection, you shouldn't either. In other words, if you get your internet conenction from someone like AT&T Cable, you shouldn't set up a wireless node.

      Everything PersonalTelco has been doing so far is on the up-&-up.

      Geoff
  • This is stupid. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon.gmail@com> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:34AM (#4103041)
    Everyone is saying no I was there first. You know T-Mobile is not going to do anything. Personal Telco should do the friendly thing and just move to a different channel. What channel your on makes no difference in how long it takes to get a link anyway. At leastr that's been my experience.
    • by Skapare (16644)

      Will Personal Telco have to move again after the next commercial service comes along? How many times do they have to move until there are no more channels to move to?

      Channels are finite and this is an unlicensed spectrum anyone can use. Both parties have to live with that. Starbucks/T-Mobile was just stupid by not planning better. It isn't hard for a planning engineer to whip out the WiFi and just check to see what's there on what channel.

      It would be smart for Starbucks to move over to another channel. Surely there will be fewer users of their service than of the free one, so they can certainly offer a service based on better bandwidth availability.

      But this won't last long. The spectrum is limited, and there is no licensing or frequency coordinators to manage it. Part 15 rules [gpo.gov] include the fact that users are subject to interference from other legal users, including microwave ovens. Basing a paid service on such rules is foolhardy. But one direction is that it's success could be used to get the FCC to open more spectrum, and a licensing structure, for just such kinds of services. It will probably have to be on all new spectrum, perhaps up at 10 or 24 GHz.

    • For the users of Personal Telco, anyway.

      If it's true that Starbucks wants to capitalize on the presence of WiFi users in Pioneer Square and is doing so by jamming the incumbent channel (as well as degrading the access of their own users), Personal Telco's moving to a different channel may not help.

      Starbucks could simply migrate their services or, more likely, establish presence on that channel as well. Starbucks, it would seem, is intent not on occupying Personal Telco's space as much as assimilating Personal Telco's users

      No?

      • I don't think it's really that insidious but it does raise a good point. What stops other companies or private individuals the same thing?

        In this case though I just think some clueless guy with some skills (not a CCNE by any means) who gets paid 8 bucks an hour got told to install this and had a printed list with all of the settings. Once installed, he fires up a laptop or handheld, verifies connectivity and leaves. It's probably their standard install that the home office folks at T-Mobile came up with. The guy probably didn't know or care about others already operating there. Personally, if I was the guy doing the setup I would at least give the guy a copy of Net Stumbler so he can see if there was someone already there. That way the instructions can say pick another channel or SSID if someone is already there on that channel or SSID.
  • and the statement on the bottom of the unit says it all... 1. You may not cause interference to licensed services. 2. You must accept any interference received including that which causes undesired operation. Trust me... you don't want the FCC getting involved with licensing this spectrum! That would mean that 99% of the units currently in service would be off the air....
  • T-Mobile owner Voicestream

    Err... no. T-Mobile is the cellular branch of Deutsche Telekom, which bought Voicestream last year. So T-mobile owns Voicestream.

  • Do you know what CB (Citizen's band) is? If not, tune into the lower half of 27 Mhz AM. Wifi is CB for data Get it? Short range, unlicensed data transmission. Would I use it for anything mission critical? No way. Let me give you an example: When CB first arrived in the 60's, taxi services bought it for dispatching. They abandoned it after a few years because the interference made it unreliable. Is it a waste of spectrum? I don't think so, even though as a ham I lost the 11 meter ham band to CB. Same with wifi.
  • I am consistantly amazed (im easily entertained) by the popularity of WiFi. 11mbit seems relatively slow, the distance seems limited, the spectrum limited, and the security also seems limited (although, it doesn't have to be). Despite these setbacks, I hear WiFi storys day in and day out. Now, if I can just get a super booster antena, stick it out my 6th floor door window, and have campus wide coverage, ill be happy :P

    What is making WiFi so popular? Incredible price reduction?
    • Simple really. How fast is the average *INTERNET* connection? 1Mbps? 2Mbps?

      While WiFi at 11Mbps isn't suitable for connection multiple machines on a network, transfering large files, it's more than suitable for connecting to an internet connection on. Even at 11Mbps the bandwidth limitation will be the speed of the internet connection.

  • Here in Austin, almost all of the Starbucks stores have the WiFi subscription service. Because I live within 1 mile of 3 of them, my home network keeps getting tied up with surfers at Starbucks making queries. I've had to set up my LinkSys wireless hub/router to give out IP's based on the card address, lest the folks at Starbucks use MY internet connection, which I am paying for.

    Even after doing that, I've run into a couple of cases where people have had cards with the same address as one or both of mine, and I've been locked out of my own personal wireless network due to conflicts. And with Wireless, there's no easy way to resolve the issue as long as the boneheads at Starbucks keeps his laptop/PDA on. And before you say "Imposssible!", let me tell you that it's more than possible, it has happened at least a half dozen times.

    Any experienced IT guy will have run into a case or three where they've gotten a batch of NICs, all with the same MAC address...

    OTOH, it's fun to take my spare LinkSys router down to Starbucks set up to give IP addresses, and just plug it in. Just into the wall, with no WAN connection. Most of the time, people there will harvest an IP address from my router intead of the one at Starbucks, and be unable to surf the web.
    • by topham (32406)
      If someone has the same hardware address as your card, either: You've changed yours and your the one causing the conflict, or...

      They are doing it on PURPOSE.

      THe hardware address of all network cars are unique when they leave the factory. If there is a conflict it is likely someone changed theirs intentionally.

      As for the 'batch of NICs', I know it happens, but it does NOT happen often any more. It is likely they are snooping yours. Do yourself a favour and enable encryption.
  • by peatbakke (52079) <peat@peat.oCOMMArg minus punct> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @08:01AM (#4103351) Homepage
    I used to spend a whole lot of time on that node before I moved, and not fifteen minutes would go by without someone remarking on how neat it was. My buddies who worked at Starbucks would stop by on their breaks and check their e-mail on my machine. I'm sure the management knew about it, because the management told me that it was cool for me to hang out and surf the 'net, so long as I bought a cup of coffee. Fair enough!

    Starbucks can't do anything about it -- the antenna is located in a privately owned building across the street, and it's been there for a while. It's just bad luck for Starbucks, in my opinion. If they can open a shop across the street from a local coffee house, why can't a few well intentioned geeks set up a public wireless node in a nearby building?

    My only beef is that I didn't get comp'd to sit there and show off the goods. I still keep in touch two people who went out and bought Airport enabled iBooks after talking with me about how great it was to surf the 'net while sipping a latte on a rainy Portland day.

    Sadly, there isn't the same sort of presence here in Christchurch, New Zealand. Or at least, one that I can find. There's some projects in Dunedin, Wellington, and Auckland, but nothing that I can find in my home town. If anyone's heard rumors, please let me know! Thanks.
  • by PMuse (320639)
    Unlike cell phones, [WiFi] operates on an unlicensed spectrum, so experts expect such disputes will become more common as demand grows.

    In cell phones, TV, AM and FM radio -- all regulated markets -- corporations dominate like pavement on a road. Only in the unregulated areas can amateur and non-profit efforts spring up like grass in the cracks. We are better off where there is no recourse mechanism through which corporations can direct their monetary clout to stamp out everyone smaller than them.

    In a regulated space, Starbucks would be the least of our worries.
  • I smell a lawsuit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by glh (14273) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @08:24AM (#4103414) Homepage Journal
    because of this line (from article):

    Now, they can inadvertently connect to the Starbucks paid service.

    I predict that starbucks will go to the courts about how people are "stealing" their service... It's probably only a matter of time before the lawyers will be on this. If this does end up happening, imagine the precedent. That means no more free WiFi. Although, on the other hand, perhaps Personal Telco could start charging a donation of $5/year or something so they can claim the same from Starbucks customers.
  • If they really annoy you, then find a constructive use for that band that happens to interfere with 802.11 and they'll go away. It's the ISM band, and it's unregulated other than power limits (although, that's not exactly difficult to cheat on). You could be even more malicious and do some driver hacking to malform 802.11 control signals. The 802.11 protocol from my preliminary investigations appears to be very vulnerable to such attacks.

    I'm not advocating any of this, but jessums, it's one of the few unregulated bands because it's largely too noisy for much useful stuff. If you want to have a band all to your self, there are plenty of ways to go about that.

    This is a non issue.

  • If a bunch of people on /. each sent $5-10 to the PersonalTelco people, they could buy a 1-watt SmartAmp.

    *splat* Goodbye Starbucks, unless they move off-channel.
  • Have a section of this band be licensed for commercial, for-profit use. Let the big guys play with the big guys and let the little guys alone.

    My answer is: if you want to sell service or do any for profit commerce at all, buy a license and use your allocated spot. The rest of us are free to use the other area of the band freely (as in beer AND speech).

    The catch here is that the FCC would need to allocate only a couple channels for commercial use and leave the rest open. I suppose they'd probably get greedy and sell all but one channel to the highest bidders... which is why I have a rather large thorn in my side when it comes to the FCC.

    Vortran out
  • I think if I were the free network guys, I'd switch to another channel, but be sure to leave at least one access point broadcasting on channel 1. That way informed people could get decent free access on the alternate channel, and Starbucks gets to keep the crappy congested airwaves that they decided to co-op.
  • "These community-based wireless networks are wonderful, but these will never take the place of
    actual wireless systems deployed by carriers or companies such as T-Mobile," Ameri said. (Emphasis added)
    Gee, I'll run right out and shut off this non-"actual" system I've actually been using, so that I can start paying for your new "actual" system. For future reference, the definition of "actual" now includes "costs money"?

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