Archive for the ‘FirstSpot’ Category

Another milestone we reach for FirstSpot. We thanks our customers for committing their precious resource (time and money) for our product.  We are committed to make FirstSpot a even better product in the future.

* Figure based on license tracking system for FirstSpot v4 or later only. Actual real-life installations should be higher.

Our FirstSpot forum has been online since 2003.  A milestone has been reached as the number of postings has exceed 10,000. You can experience the progress we made on FirstSpot by viewing the old postings. Please visit our forum at

Always intrigued by the varieties of FirstSpot usage. Here is an article written by our FirstSpot partner Triad Wireless about WISP deployment:

Triad Wireless is one of our active FirstSpot partner. They are based in Phoenix, Arizona.

By nature, hotspot management is a problem with great variety. Even with FirstSpot is in its sixth major version (v6), we continue to hear new requirements that we can add to FirstSpot as enhancements. The popularity of smartphone devices and the need to push message/advertisement to client devices further add complexity to the hotspot environment. Every customer seems to have their own unique requirement (login page look-and-feel, tracking model, etc…) for managing their hotspots. Based on our experience, a lot of customers value flexibility in their hotspot solution.

The hardware upgrade path is another important consideration. Due to hotspot growth, hardware failure or even server consolidation (e.g. VM), customers need to change hardware periodically. We believe the above two needs favor a software (rather than a hardware box) approach for most of the hotspot management scenario.

One of a more casual (but accurate) way to evaluate a new OS is the adaptation rate for our staffs. Using this measurement, Windows 7 is a clear winner especially comparing to Vista. Instead of dragging out the deployment like Vista, most of our staffs switch to Windows 7 (for their personal PCs) soon after the late November release. While there are numerous “pre-downgrade” options for new PC after the Vista release, almost none can be found this time around for Windows 7.

There are many articles and comparisons in the Internet about Windows 7 so we won’t bother to do a detailed analysis. But the single most important advantage in our experience for Windows 7 is that it is less intrusive. By loading faster, less icon on the desktop, fewer UAC prompts, etc… Windows 7 is doing what a good OS supposed to do : perform solid function in the background without bothering the end users.

BTW, considering the popularity of Windows 7. FirstSpot will support Windows 7 in a timely fashion. FirstSpot v6.0.5 update will be fully compatible with Windows 7 (which should be available by the time you see this post).

One of the key question that concerns our customers is that how do we decide FirstSpot new features. The key thing to note that FirstSpot is a product, rather than a project (like building a web site based on customer requirements). So apart from hearing from our customers, we also “invent” features that customers do not necessary ask for. At the present moment, we use a 7:3 ratio (7 customers feedback, 3 our own invention) and we find that this fits the current stage of FirstSpot product cycle quite well. We feel obligated to provide a certain leadership in the product direction. This is especially important as the hotspot market keeps evolving. We are not afraid of innovating and taking some chances on some of the new FirstSpot features.

In addition, among the different customer feedback, we use two criteria to decide which feature gets in. First, the feedback need to come from more than one customer (or at least should be useful for another customer). In the past, we implement some features that are useful for one customer only! So we need ensure the feature is not a just a “special case”. Also, the customer requirements need to fit FirstSpot current architecture. We need to balance the customer requirements with the amount of effort that needs to implement a particular feature. For enhancements that are useful to many customers but require major architecture change, we will usually try to implement it during major version change (e.g. v5 -> v6).

In the past (before FirstSpot v6), the only way to communicate from Hotspot operator to client is through our InfoBox popup which utilizes browser popup technology (in a nutshell it uses JavaScript method named . We include a way to push message to the client within InfoBox popup (we can this feature “Announcement”).

Due to the increase popularity of browser anti-popup and smartphone client like iPhone/Windows Mobile (which usually doesn’t offer complete JavaScript support), we feel the need to invent a new way for this kind of communication. Our solution is In-Browser Message which is included in the latest v6. In essence, FirstSpot inserts a small overlay at the top of the browsing page. Extreme care has been taken to ensure that it will not affect the normal browsing experience. In fact, FirstSpot only turns on In-Browser Message -> disconnect reminder as default. FirstSpot operators are encourage to experiment with other types of In-Browser Message (We will include a new type called “Top Banner Mode” in the upcoming v6.0.2 update).

Continuing from the previous post, please consider:

Rethinking the iPhone’s Role in Computing,2817,2348658,00.asp

Is the iPhone a personal computer that just happens to make phone calls, or a phone that just happens to run apps? And if it’s really a PC that fits in your pocket, does that change how you use it?

Several subtle design decisions that makes iPhone Internet surfing experience much better:

  1. By not including a keypad/keyboard altogether, the screen can be larger and phone be lighter

  2. The touch-screen design (which acts like a mouse in PC) with nice UI. Since iPhone isn’t designed to work with a stylus, user can operate using one hand. Also, UI focuses more on “swipe” or “gesture” (i.e. multi-touch) action instead of pinpoint button clicking (current Windows Mobile version still does that a lot), it feels more native to a small-screen phone and greatly improves the Internet surfing experience

  3. accelerometer makes it easier to surf the Internet in landscape mode

In a sense, iPhone innovates a lot in the Internet experience but gives up a bit on the normal phone experience (by giving up a keypad). After the pioneering work of iPhone, lots of smartphones borrow the design ideas and really make the smartphone a viable platform for Internet surfing. In fact, we are seeing smartphone becoming more important in the Wi-Fi Hotspot market.

With the increase popularity of smartphone in the hotspot segment, it creates both opportunity and technical challenge for hotspot management solution vendor like FirstSpot. The main technical challenge for us is the delivery of message to the hotspot users (which we will discuss in future posting).

There are probably many statistics in the Internet to confirm this. But based on our experience from FirstSpot, iPhone is really the first smartphone widely used in Wi-Fi Hotspot. In fact, before iPhone, we rarely encounter any technical issues/requests from smartphone “client”. Most of the FirstSpot-powered Hotspot serves client devices originating from PC and PDA. So the old version (like FirstSpot v4), apart from PC browser, we mainly test Windows Mobile (which powered most of the PDA in the “past”).

BTW,  we see the decline in PDA usage and in fact Windows Mobile is moving more to smartphone too.

Interesting article from New York Times about Wi-Fi plan at hotels :

From the feedback from our FirstSpot customers , many budget and midscale hotels uses Wi-Fi service as a way to differentiate from bigger hotel. While some of the them offers free Wi-Fi, they use FirstSpot for various control and tracking mechanism like bandwidth throttling and logging.The key is that Wi-Fi is a necessity for all level of hotels. Also, our new In-Browser Message feature can provide a additional channel for hotel to commnuiicate with their customers.