Systems and methods for accessing wireless networks

Methods and systems provide access to a wireless network. A request is received from a wireless client device at a public access point located at a customer premises. Access to the public network is authorized. An account associated with the customer premises is credited as compensation for the access.

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Description

CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/370,938, entitled “SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR CREATING A WIRELESS NETWORK,” filed Feb. 21, 2003 by Charles I. Cook, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference for all purposes.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

This application relates generally to wireless networks. More specifically, this application relates to methods and systems for accessing wireless networks.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (“IEEE”) promulgated the wireless local area network (“LAN”) standard in the IEEE 802.11 Working Group. Promulgation of the standard has generated various activities related to the development and implementation of small scale wireless networks and discussions of large scale wireless networks. In typical implementations, wireless access points are provided at various locations that allow a user with a wireless client device to access a network. These wireless access points may include functionality designed to authorize access to the network. Thus, when accessing the network, a wireless client device is authorized at the wireless access point, and then allowed to access various points of the network. Other common appoaches to authorizing access into the network through an access point include having the access point redirect the authentication request to a radius authentication server. Alternatively, the access point may act simply as a passthrough device, with a router or switch on the network side of the access point filtering or redirecting traffic pass according to a set of rules. Thus, much like the front door to a home, existing networks intuitively provide limited gateway functionality at the entrance point to the network, or the wireless access point. However, such an approach is often either costly, limited in functionality, or both.

Wireless networks can utilize a number of access points 102 depicted in FIG. 1A. As illustrated, access point 102 can include a central point 101 where the access point is implemented, and a radius 103. Radius 103 is the maximum distance at which information can be transferred using access point 102. A typical access point will provide a radius of about 900 feet for outdoor transmission and approximately 300 feet for indoor transmission. The IEEE 802.11n standard currently in the process of standardization may increase the typical range by about a factor of three. Thus, providing coverage for a large metropolitan area could require thousands, or even tens of thousands of access points arranged as depicted in FIG. 1B. The cost structure for access points makes such an endeavor commercially possible, however, the costs for servicing such a system and obtaining rights to install such a system are prohibitive.

In part to address this significant cost burden, some companies have experimented with high power, point-to-point access points. Such access points, through use of high-gain directional antennas, have been reported to allow transfers from wireless client devices operating as much as twenty miles away. To comply with FCC regulations, such access points are designed to operate as a point-to-point device for one period, then move the direction of the point-to-point beam to a second direction for another period. An example of a high power, point-to-point access point 202 is depicted in FIG. 2. As illustrated, transfers are facilitated over a direction 204a, then a few milliseconds later, the beam is pointed in a direction 204b. As depicted by arc 205, this process is repeated again and again until a three-hundred, sixty degree radius around a central point 201 is completed at direction 204n. Then, the process begins again at direction 204a. It is not necessary that the process be sequential to provide 360° coverage; intelligence can be added to the scheduling algorithm based on a variety of parameters, including priority. As will be appreciated, while the approach reduces the number of access points that must be implemented and serviced, the approach is complex and costly.

Thus, there exists a need in the art for systems and methods that address the aforementioned problems, as well as other limitations of the existing art.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the invention thus provide methods and systems for providing access to a wireless network. A model may be implemented in which public access points for the wireless network are located at customer premises, with credits being given to accounts associated with the customer premises when access through those public access points is authorized.

Thus, in specific embodiments of the invention, a request is received from a wireless client device at a public access point located at a customer premises. Access to the public network is authorized. An account associated with the customer premises is credited as compensation for the access.

In some such embodiments, the public access point is comprised by an integrated access point that includes a private access point for networking devices at the customer premises. The account may additionally be debited by a subscription amount for access to the public and private networks from the customer premises. In other embodiments, access to the public network is performed a plurality of times in response to receipt of a plurality of requests at the public access point. The account may then be credited with an amount that depends on the number of times access was authorized. In one embodiment, the amount credited is equal to a subscription amount for access to the public network from the customer premises; this effectively means that access to the public network from the customer premises is provided free in exchange for access by others through the public access point. In some instances, rate shaping may be provided based at least in part on requests received at the public access point.

Methods of the invention may also be embodied in a system for providing access to a wireless network. The system comprises a plurality of public access points, each of which is located at a respective customer premises. A data store defines a plurality of account, each of which is associated with one of the respective customer premises and includes an account balance. A processor is interfaced with the data store and has processing instructions to implement methods of the invention as described above.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

A further understanding of the nature and advantages of the present invention may be realized by reference to the figures which are described in remaining portions of the specification. In the figures, like reference numerals are used throughout several figures to refer to similar components. In some instances, a sub-label consisting of a lower-case latin letter is associated with a reference numeral to denote one of multiple similar components. When reference is made to a reference numeral without specification to an existing sub-label, it is intended to refer to all such multiple similar components.

FIGS. 1A and 1B illustrate prior-art wireless access points, as well as implementations of multiple such access points;

FIG. 2 illustrates a high-power, point-to-point access point operating in a 360° arc;

FIG. 3 illustrates a network in accordance with embodiments of the invention that includes wireless access points and a central gateway;

FIGS. 4 and 5 illustrate customer premises equipment in accordance with embodiments of the present invention, and associated with a network such as that depicted in FIG. 3;

FIG. 6 provides a schematic illustration of an arrangement that may be used in some embodiments of the invention to monitor access to an integrated public/private access point; and

FIG. 7 is a flow diagram that summarizes certain methods of the invention for accessing wireless networks.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

1. Access Points

In various cases, embodiments of the present invention make use of installation and operation of wireless access points at a customer premises, or at another location within an existing network, by a carrier. Thus, for example, a customer with existing wireline access (e.g., a copper or fiber optic connection) to a network can install a wireless access point, allowing wireless client devices of the customer and others to access the network via the wireless access point. By installing the wireless access point at the customer premises, costs involved with obtaining rights to install access points can be reduced. As used herein, the term “customer premises” is intended to refer to physical structures or open real property adjacent to a physical structure that is under the control of a customer through ownership, leasehold, or any other property right. Such a definition reflects the attribute that by functioning at a customer premises, the carrier does not need an additional easement to place equipment at the location. As an example, in the case of a residential customer, the customer premises may correspond to the customer's home and/or yard surrounding the home. Further, for the purposes of this document, a “wireless access point” can be any type of wireless receiver, transmitter, and/or transceiver that provides network access to client devices.

Consistent with the definition used herein, a wireless access point can include any device that provides a wireless interface to a network. Similarly, a wireless or roaming client device can include any device that can access a network via a wireless access point. A special subset of both wireless access points and wireless client devices are “Wi-Fi devices.” Such Wi-Fi devices can include any wireless client device, or wireless access point that complies with the wireless standards developed in association with IEEE 802.11, including, but not limited to IEEE 802.11(a), IEEE 802.11(b), IEEE 802.11(g), and IEEE 802.11n, which is currently under development. Thus, for example, a specific Wi-Fi device could be a compliant modem, a personal digital assistant (“PDA”), cellular telephone, laptop computer, pager, commercially available access point, or the like. As will be appreciated, these devices can be Wi-Fi enabled meaning that they may have Wi-Fi technology embedded in them. However, it should also be appreciated that the present invention is not limited to Wi-Fi technology, but can also be applied to other wireless access technologies including, but not limited to, WiMax (IEEE 802.16), MMDS, LMDS, UWB, and the like.

In some cases, wireless access points used in embodiments of the present invention exhibit reduced functionality from others that are commercially available. For example, in some cases, the gateway functionality associated with an access point is eliminated, or reduced. As used herein, “gateway functionality” includes a number of functions associated with accessing and/or using a network. For example, gateway functions can include authentication and/or authorization. In addition, gateway functionality can include billing and rate shaping functions, as well as updating or modifying various equipment associated with the network. For example, gateway functionality can include programming one or more wireless access points attached to the network from a central location. Based on the disclosure provided herein, one of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate a number of other gateway functions in addition to the aforementioned examples.

In the cases where gateway functionality is reduced or eliminated at the wireless access point, the gateway functionality can be implemented in a “central gateway,” which is used herein to refer to a gateway responsible for providing gateway functions in relation to multiple access points on a network. In some cases, a central gateway is implemented at the home office, or other generally accessible location of a carrier. In part because of the central location of the gateway, enhanced gateway services can be implemented, and costs associated with maintaining the gateway services can be greatly reduced. The function of the access point can be substantially reduced, thus limiting the cost of such devices. As such, servicing the access point can be done by simply replacing the access point. Accordingly, such embodiments of the present invention limit the need for a carrier to go to the location of an access point. In addition, such embodiments provide a central gateway that can scale to service a large number of access points.

Further, various embodiments of the present invention provide systems and methods to manage the number of devices that an end user connects to the network. By using the central gateway, devices accessing the network can be authorized in a central location. This avoids the situation where a neighbor installs a wireless access point and resells access to the network to those living in surround homes. Further, various embodiments eliminate the possibility that a wireless access point is left without security features, thus allowing anyone to access the network resulting in congestion and loss of revenues.

In some cases, where an unauthorized access is detected, a user can be redirected to a web page that includes directions on how to register for and purchase network services. Further, some embodiments allow a carrier to rate shape the data such that shared access to a single bandwidth source is maintained. This can be done while adhering to service agreements guaranteeing a specific level of bandwidth. In addition, some embodiments of the present invention allow a carrier to create a community of interest by enabling both wireline and wireless subscribers to roam to other points in the network and gain access at various points using their own passwords and service plans.

Turning to FIG. 3, a system 300 in accordance with some embodiments of the present invention is illustrated. System 300 includes one or more customer premises equipment (“CPE”) 360 that are coupled to a network 310 via some sort of a modem 340, 350 or other communication device. For the purposes of this document, a “modem” is any network access device including, but not limited to, a V.91 modem, an xDSL modem, a point-to-point wireless link, a cable modem, a fiber optic optical network termination, a fiber optic network unit, and the like. In various cases, the modems 340, 350 can comprise wireline modems connected to network 310, while in other cases, modems 340, 350 can be wirelessly coupled to network 310. One or more of CPEs 360 can be attached to a wireless access point 370, such as a Wi-Fi wireless access point. A Wi-Fi access point can also be directly connected to modem 340, 350 and/or integrated as part of modem 340, 350. In addition, system 300 includes a central gateway 320 that interacts with transfers entering network 310 via wireless access points 370, and/or other devices including CPEs 360 and modems 340, 350. In addition, an Internet service provider (“ISP”) 330 is coupled to network 310 and is capable of providing access to Internet services via CPEs 360.

CPEs 360 and/or wireless access points 370 can be implemented in relation to or as part of a network interface device as is more fully described in each of the following commonly assigned applications: U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/356,364, entitled “PACKET NETWORK INTERFACE DEVICE AND SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR ITS USE,” filed Jan. 31, 2003 by Bruce A. Phillips et al.; U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/356,622, entitled “SYSTEMS, METHODS AND APPARATUS FOR PROVIDING A PLURALITY OF TELECOMMUNICATION SERVICES,” filed Jan. 31, 2003 by Bruce A. Phillips et al.; U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/356,688, entitled “CONFIGURABLE NETWORK INTERFACE DEVICE AND SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR ITS USE,” filed Jan. 31, 2003 by Bruce A. Phillips; U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/367,596, entitled “SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR DELIVERING A DATA STREAM TO A VIDEO APPLIANCE,” filed Feb. 14, 2003 by Steven M. Casey et al.; and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/367,597 entitled “SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR PROVIDING APPLICATION SERVICES,” filed Feb. 14, 2003 by Steven M. Casey et al. The entirety of each of the aforementioned applications is incorporated herein by reference for all purposes.

FIGS. 4 and 5 illustrate various configurations of CPEs 360 and various devices accessing network 310. Referring to FIG. 4, network 310 is accessible via a wireless access point 370 coupled to the network via a modem 340. As illustrated, four wireless client devices 440 are capable of accessing network 310 via wireless access point 370. In the existing art, the gateway functionality is implemented at wireless access point 370. Thus, wireless access point 370 is positioned for limiting the number of wireless client devices 440 that can access network 310. This can be problematic as implementing significant gateway functionality at wireless access point 370 can involve maintenance and support that may involve visiting the customer premises, and may further increase the cost of the gateway. Such an approach is often costly.

Additionally, there is often no incentive to implement gateway functionality, or only very limited gateway functionality at wireless access point 370. For example, a customer coupled to network 310 via modem 340 may decide to resell access to network 310. In this case, it is to the customer's advantage to limit the amount of gateway functionality. In this scenario, the carrier implementing and maintaining network 310 would not realize revenues from this reselling process, but would end up supporting significantly more traffic from wireless client devices 440. It is conceivable that a large number of unauthorized devices and/or user could be accessing network 310.

In part to address one or both of the aforementioned scenarios, various embodiments of the present invention provide central gateway 320 that can be used to restrict access to the network and provide serviceability at a less costly, central location. Central gateway 320 can maintain a list of authorized devices. Thus, when an authorized wireless client device 440 accesses network 310 via wireless access point 370, the device can be authenticated and/or authorized using the list. In the situation where the wireless client device is not authorized, access can be denied, or the access can be redirected to a web page with directions on how to register and/or purchase service. In this way, a carrier has the incentives to install and maintain network 310, and also has incentives to allow and even encourage wireless access to network 310.

Turning to FIG. 5, another CPE 360 is illustrated and shows the multiplicity of access points 370 (or other CPE 520, 530, 540) that can be supported. More specifically, a hub, switch, or router 510 couples a number of computers 520, 530, 540 and wireless access points 370 to modem 340, and in turn to network 310. Further, hub, switch, or router 510 can be another device registered with the network. Aspects of the present invention address such a situation where excessive bandwidth, or an excessive number client devices (wireless client devices 440, and wireline client devices 520, 530, 540) are accessing network 310.

While FIGS. 4 and 5 show particular configurations, it will be appreciated that one or more components may sometimes be combined into a single pysical device. For example, a single device could comprise an xDSL modem, an Ethernet Router, a Firewall, and a WiFi access point.

The schematic diagram of FIG. 6 provides an overview of how financial aspects of using the access points described in connection with FIGS. 3-5 may be implemented in some embodiments. The access point is shown as an integrated access point 600 that includes a public access point 604 for accessing a public network 616 and that includes a private access point 608 for accessing a private network 612 as described above. The integrated access point 600 is provided at a customer premises, which permits the public access point 604 to be used in accessing the public network 616 by those living or working on the customer premises, as well as by those who are proximate the customer premises. In addition such an arrangement permits the private access point 608 to be used in providing a connection of devices like a personal computer, a printer, etc. with the private network 612 at the customer premises.

Access to the public network 616 through the public access point 604 is controlled by a service provider 620, who maintains records for a plurality of customer accounts 632. The information stored for each of the customer accounts 632 may vary depending on the billing model that is used, and in some instances may vary from customer to customer, such as when different billing models are used for each of the customers. For example, each customer account will usually identify a name and address for a customer, as well as a source of funds for the network-access services and a current balance. Periodically, a billing authority 624 may generate and send statements to customers. Such statements might take the form of bills requesting payment for past or future services, as in cases where no automatic payment arrangements have been established; in other instances, the statements may memorialize payments that have been collected in accordance with established automatic-payment arrangements and services that have been provided.

Some customers may be reluctant to have an integrated access point 600 at their premises, notwithstanding the convenient advantage of having easy access to a public access point 604 with such an arrangement. Such reluctance may arise from security concerns related to the proximity of the public access point 604 with the private access point 608, even when reliable mechanisms are used to prevent unauthorized public access to the private access point 608. There may even be simple reluctance on the part of a customer to have a public access site located at that customer's premises. This reluctance is mitigated in some embodiments by providing a further benefit to the customer when the public access point is used, in particular by providing a financial credit to the customer's account. This financial credit may be provided according to a number of different models, such as where a credit is provided every time the public access point 604 is successfully used to access the public network 616. The credited amounts may vary depending on such factors as how long access is maintained, the time of day or week that access is obtained, and the like. In other instances, the credit may be applied in a binned fashion, with specific values being credited in accordance with the number of successful accesses in a defined period. For instance, the customer might be credited with a certain amount if there are 1-10 accesses in a month, with a greater amount if there are 11-100 accesses in a month, an even greater amount if there are 101-1000 accesses in a month, or with a maximum amount if there are more than 1000 accesses in a month. In some cases, a maximum credit amount may be defined, such as an amount equal to the customer's monthly subscription fee so that the customer effectively receives free access in exchange. Still other rebate models will be evident to those of skill in the art to compensate the customer for permitting a public access site at his premises.

An overview of certain methods for providing access to wireless networks in accordance with such embodiments of the invention is thus provided with the flow diagram of FIG. 7. At block 704, a service provider installs an integrated access point at a customer premises, the integrated access point comprising a public access point and a private access point, such as illustrated with the examples described in detail above. The service provider maintains a customer account as indicated at block 708. In response to receipt of a wireless communication as indicated at block 712, the integrated access point passes the wireless communication at block 716 to a central gateway. The central gateway may authorize the communication at block 720 in accordance with a number of different protocols to ensure that the originator of the communication is entitled to access to the wireless network, some of which have been described in detail above. Once the gateway has authorized the communication, the originator of the communication is provided with wireless access to the public network.

The service provider is accordingly notified at block 724 that access was successfully granted through the integrated access point located at the customer premises. The balance in the customer account is thus credited at block 728 in accordance with the pricing and crediting model applicable to that account. This activity is generally reflected on a statement provided to the customer, as indicated at block 732 of the drawing.

There are a number aspects that may be included in different embodiments of the invention, some of which are discussed in further detail in the parent application. Such aspects include variations in billing schemes, methods for accommodating holes in wireless coverage resulting from a distribution of customer premises, mechanisms for providing and enhancing security, and the like. Each of the different aspects described in the parent application is intended to be included in different embodiments of the invention.

Having described several embodiments, it will be recognized by those of skill in the art that various modifications, alternative constructions, and equivalents may be used without departing from the spirit of the invention. Accordingly, the above description should not be taken as limiting the scope of the invention, which is defined in the following claims.

Claims

1. A method for providing access to a wireless network, the method comprising:

receiving a request from a wireless client device at a public access point located at a customer premises;
authorizing access to the public network; and
crediting an account associated with the customer premises as compensation for the access.

2. The method recited in claim 1 wherein the public access point is comprised by an integrated access point that includes a private access point for networking devices at the customer premises.

3. The method recited in claim 2 further comprising debiting the account by a subscription amount for access to the public and private networks from the customer premises.

4. The method recited in claim 1 wherein:

authorizing access to the public network is performed a plurality of times in response to receipt of a plurality of requests at the public access point; and
the account is credited with an amount that depends on the number of times access was authorized.

5. The method recited in claim 4 wherein the amount credited is equal to a subscription amount for access to the public network from the customer premises, whereby access to the public network from the customer premises is provided free in exchange for access by others through the public access point.

6. The method recited in claim 1 further comprising providing rate shaping based at least in part on requests received at the public access point.

7. A method for providing access to a wireless network, the method comprising:

maintaining a plurality of accounts for access to the wireless network, wherein the accounts are associated with respective customer premises;
receiving notification that access to the wireless network has been granted through an identified public access point;
determining a respective customer premises at which the identified public access point is located; and
crediting the account associated with the respective customer premises.

8. The method recited in claim 7 wherein the identified public access point is comprised by an integrated access point that includes a private access point for networking devices at the respective customer premises.

9. The method recited in claim 8 further comprising debiting the account associated with the respective customer premises by a subscription amount for access to the public and private networks from the respective customer premises.

10. The method recited in claim 7 wherein:

receiving notification that access to the wireless network has been granted through the identified public access point comprises receiving a plurality of notifications that access to the wireless network has been granted through the identified public access point; and
the account is credited with an amount that depends on the number of times access was authorized.

11. The method recited in claim 10 wherein the amount credited is equal to a subscription amount for access to the public network from the customer premises, whereby access to the public network from the customer premises is provided free in exchange for access by others through the identified public access point.

12. The method recited in claim 7 further comprising providing rate shaping based at least in part on requests received at the identified public access point.

13. A system for providing access to a wireless network, the system comprising:

a plurality of public access points, each such public access point located at a respective customer premises;
a data store defining a plurality of accounts, each such account being associated with one of the respective customer premises and including an account balance; and
a processor interfaced with the data store and having processing instructions to: receive notification that access to the wireless network has been granted through an identified one of the public access points; determine the respective customer premises at which the identified one of the public access points is located; and credit the account balance of the account associated with the determined respective customer premises.

14. The system recited in claim 13 wherein each of the public access points is comprised by an integrated access point that includes a private access point for networking devices at the respective customer premises.

15. The system recited in claim 14 wherein the processor further has processing instructions to debit the account balance of the account associated with the determined respective customer premises by a subscription amount for access to the public and private networks from the determined respective customer premises.

16. The system recited in claim 13 wherein:

the processing instructions to receive notification that access to the wireless network has been granted through an identified one of the public access points comprise instructions to receive a plurality of notifications that access to the wireless network has been granted through the identified one of the public access points; and
the processing instructions to credit the account balance of the account associated with the determined respective customer premises comprise instructions to credit the account balance with an amount that depends on the number of times access was authorized.

17. The system recited in claim 16 wherein the amount credited is equal to a subscription amount for access to the public network from the customer premises, whereby access to the public network from the customer premises is provided free in exchange for access by others through the identified one of the public access points.

18. The system recited in claim 13 wherein the public network comprises a Wi-Fi network and each of the plurality of public access points comprises a Wi-Fi access point.

Patent History

Publication number: 20050270998
Type: Application
Filed: Jun 3, 2005
Publication Date: Dec 8, 2005
Applicant: Qwest Communications International Inc. (Denver, CO)
Inventors: Kenneth Rambo (Denver, CO), Charles Cook (Louisville, CO)
Application Number: 11/145,521

Classifications

Current U.S. Class: 370/315.000