Google’s Project Fi now offers data coverage in 170 countries


Project Fi, Google’s multi-network cell service, now provides you with data coverage in 170 countries.

That’s up from the 135 countries the company has long offered service in. New countries where service is now available include the likes of Belize and Myanmar.

The good thing here is that Project Fi still doesn’t charge you extra for your data usage in these countries. You’ll still pay the usual $10/GB, no matter where you are and SMS usage is unlimited, too. Voice calls to the U.S. from all supported countries cost $0.20/minute.

T-Mobile, which offers unlimited international data for most of its post-paid plans, says it covers “140+ countries.”

Depending on how you count, there’s just under 200 countries in the world. Chances are that Project Fi now has you covered in most of them. As far as I can see, neither Google’s nor T-Mobile’s plans cover Nauru, though, so if you’re looking to see some depleted phosphate reserves in the middle of the Pacific, you are out of luck.

If you’re not sure if you’re covered because you are flying to an extra-exotic locale, Google also wants to help you there. If your Gmail account includes messages (maybe from your airline) about an upcoming international trip, it’ll now automatically notify you if your Fi account will work at your destination.

Google also recently introduced its own version of an unlimited plan for Project Fi. The so-called Bill Protection feature always caps your data bills at a maximum of $60 per month (for individual accounts). This applies to international data, too.

Orbi Outdoor Satellite adds Wi-Fi coverage to your back yard


I’m a big fan of the Netgear Orbi line of mesh access points and now there’s more to love. Netgear is now shipping the RBS50Y, a new satellite that is weatherproof and allows you to add coverage to your back yard or garage without worrying that your access point will short out in the rain.

The new device requires an Orbi Router – the RBR50, RBR40, RBR20 or SRR60, specifically – and connects to your home network via an easy-to-use app. The outdoor router adds up to 2,500 square feet of extra coverage and it increased my Wi-Fi coverage in the back of my house from about -80 dBm to -51 dBm, a marked improvement. This means we have better access to the Sonos indoors as well as to the camera in the back yard.

Overall the Orbi is an excellent hardware solution for whole-home Wi-Fi and I’m pleased to note that the app has been improved since my first foray into the product. Now the app supports granular device control – you can kick folks off the network – and it now supports Disney’s Circle for parental controls. This lets you filter the Internet automatically and even pause the Internet to keep the kids from browsing for a few hours.

The outdoor Satellite costs $329 while a router and two satellites costs $291. This is a bit pricey for a home router setup but it did improve my Wi-Fi speed considerably throughout my old brick Brooklyn home and it it now lets me switch songs and keep an eye on things from the back yard. It’s a small price to pay for complete and total wireless domination of your domain.

  1. IMG_0455

  2. IMG_0456

  3. IMG_0457

Orbi Outdoor Satellite adds Wi-Fi coverage to your back yard


I’m a big fan of the Netgear Orbi line of mesh access points and now there’s more to love. Netgear is now shipping the RBS50Y, a new satellite that is weatherproof and allows you to add coverage to your back yard or garage without worrying that your access point will short out in the rain.

The new device requires an Orbi Router – the RBR50, RBR40, RBR20 or SRR60, specifically – and connects to your home network via an easy-to-use app. The outdoor router adds up to 2,500 square feet of extra coverage and it increased my Wi-Fi coverage in the back of my house from about -80 dBm to -51 dBm, a marked improvement. This means we have better access to the Sonos indoors as well as to the camera in the back yard.

Overall the Orbi is an excellent hardware solution for whole-home Wi-Fi and I’m pleased to note that the app has been improved since my first foray into the product. Now the app supports granular device control – you can kick folks off the network – and it now supports Disney’s Circle for parental controls. This lets you filter the Internet automatically and even pause the Internet to keep the kids from browsing for a few hours.

The outdoor Satellite costs $329 while a router and two satellites costs $291. This is a bit pricey for a home router setup but it did improve my Wi-Fi speed considerably throughout my old brick Brooklyn home and it it now lets me switch songs and keep an eye on things from the back yard. It’s a small price to pay for complete and total wireless domination of your domain.

  1. IMG_0455

  2. IMG_0456

  3. IMG_0457

Particle announces the Mesh board, an easy way to make your DIY talk to itself


Particle – which used to be called Spark – has released the third generation of their tiny, networked computing boards. Their new product, called Mesh, allows you to connect wither to a Wi-Fi or cellular network but also allows you to create a mesh network between multiple Mesh devices. This lets you create a mesh network similar to popular IoT devices from Nest and Netgear. The system, called Thread, lets you select which network you’d like to use – Wi-Fi, LTE, or even Bluetooth Low Energy – and then offers programming via OpenThread technology.

There are three models, the Argon, the Boron, and the Xenon. The Boron, $29, supports LTE while the Argon, $15, connects to Wi-Fi and the $9 Xenon connects only via Bluetooth.

The Particle Mesh essentially allows you to create large mesh networks of sensors, letting you connect multiple disparate devices together wirelessly in order to collect a wider range of data. You could, for example, connect to a pressure sensor to control gas or water valves or put it on a farm to sense soil moisture.

It is shipping in July and is available for pre-sale now.

“In the five years since we launched our first Wi-Fi and cellular connected hardware, more than 140,000 developers have brought their devices online with Particle,” said Zach Supalla, co-founder, in a release. “From the front lines of bringing IoT to life, our developer community uncovered challenges with building local networks, so we designed Mesh to better connect those spaces in between. We’re excited to see the next wave of real IoT take hold by solving real problems with connected products.”

[embedded content]

Particle Mesh from Particle on Vimeo.

Open Garden wants to give you tokens for sharing your Internet connection


Open Garden launched its mesh networking platform at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2012. Since then, the company has gone through a few iterations and found unexpected success in its Firechat offline messaging service. Now, it’s ready for the next step in its evolution. The company now wants to make it easier for anybody with an Android phone to share their WiFi connections with anyone who is nearby. And to incentivize people to do so, the company plans to launch its own Ethereum token (called OG…) in early 2018.

The company bills this as the launch of a “decentralized Internet Service Provider (ISP).” You still need a regular ISP to become an Open Garden ISP, so I admit that the whole concept doesn’t quite seem right to me. Unsurprisingly, Open Garden CEO Paul Hainsworth (who took over from the company’s founded CEO in early 2016) doesn’t see it that way. “The concept of a decentralized ISP is entirely new,” he told me. “The traditional, centralized ISP is a one-to-many relationship between provider and customer. A decentralized ISP is the combination of millions of individual people, companies and products creating a new kind of network. These millions of people sharing their Internet are ISPs, tiny or large, and in aggregate they form a decentralized ISP.”

The argument here is that most people only use a small amount of their broadband connection’s bandwidth cap. So why not share this access with others and earn some OG in the process? While Open Garden argues that this is a totally new concept, the likes of Fon and others have long enabled WiFi sharing without the need for Ethereum tokens and mesh networks. Most have done so with mixed success, likely because few people actually want to share their Internet access.

A decentralized network like this can also only work if enough people participate. Open Garden is trying to jumpstart this process by using its FireChat app to bootstrap this process. The company says its messaging service has over 5 million registered users and they will form the basis for seeding this network. Over time, Open Garden also plans to add apps for iOS, Mac, Windows and set-top streaming boxes. “Project Open Garden, our open source project, will enable developers to build OG into their own apps and hardware solutions,” the company argues. “OG can be used by existing WiFi infrastructure owners – such as municipal WiFi, shopping malls, stadiums, airports, restaurants, and small businesses – to monetize their existing capital investment.”

And why use tokens (besides, I assume, that this is obviously a hip thing to do right now)? “Our intent is to enable regular consumers to buy Internet access without having to understand anything about crypto, blockchains or anything technical,” Hainsworth told me. He also argues that tokens are a good way to incentivize growth. “By issuing our own token, instead of just using Bitcoin or Ethereum, we can give away a very large percentage of the total tokens (or coins) in our economy to participants,” he noted. “We do this to incentivize network growth, user acquisition and retention. Incentives work at an individual level. Early adopters can earn additional bonus OG for being first to market, for example.”

So if all the incentive you ever needed to share your Internet connection with random strangers was a bit of Ethereum OG, then your dreams have come true. The Open Garden app is now available for download in the Google Play store.

Researchers discover aluminum foil actually does improve your wireless speed


Researchers at Dartmouth University have found that a 3D printed shape covered in aluminum foil can improve wireless range and increase Wi-Fi security. The project, which appeared on Eurekalert, involves placing a reflector on and around a Wi-Fi router’s antennae to shape the beam, increasing range and preventing it from passing through to unwanted spaces.

“With a simple investment of about $35 and specifying coverage requirements, a wireless reflector can be custom-built to outperform antennae that cost thousands of dollars,” said Xia Zhou, a Dartmouth assistant professor.

In their paper, Zhou and his colleagues tested multiple styles of directional antennas and also tested an “anecdotal” solution that involved sticking a soda can behind a router to shape the radio waves towards a target. After a few iterations, they were able to create specific shapes to increase Wi-Fi reception in specific rooms. They then created a program called WiPrint that 3D prints the exact shape needed to form the beams for better coverage and security. Once printed all you have to do is cover them in aluminum foil.

The team found that their reflectors could accurately shape Wi-Fi beams to avoid some spaces and favor others, thereby increasing security and coverage. For example, you could shape your beam to avoid going out a window into the street but be stronger in a room nearby.

They haven’t yet released the software but rest assured that your grandpa was right: aluminum foil and antennas do mix.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KVBFtSuCm0?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=390]