Part II: Who needs a Gig?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 11/21/2014 - 09:12

The incumbents love to ridicule Gig connections. AT&T sneered at the whole concept until Google announced they were going to do Gig fiber in Austin. About eight minutes later AT&T announced they had found a sudden need for Gig service in the Austin area (but nowhere else in the country...apparently Austin is "special" in AT&T's mind).

A colleague just sent me a screen shot that illuminates perfectly why a Gig of bandwidth might be occasionally useful. He had a hard drive crash, and being a smart guy, had everything backed up to offsite storage. The screen shot showed the time remaining to restore about 10% of his total file structure: one and a half days. If we multiply that by ten and assume that everything runs perfectly throughout the restore cycle (in my experience, a big IF), we are looking at about two weeks just to get your files back. Yea....AT&T is right...who needs a Gig?

The folly of avoiding shared broadband infrastructure

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/19/2014 - 09:22

The main four lane road near my home has been getting Yet Another Fiber Cable (YAFC). By my count, there are now five, count'em, five cables installed in the right of way on one side of the road or the other. All placed there within the past fifteen years, and includes the phone company, the cable company, and three private fiber providers. Why three private providers? The county has built three schools in a row, and they all want the school business. It is so profitable that three different companies are building private fiber and fighting for the business.

I am writing about this now because last week, the fiber contractors installing the conduit cut the electric power main cables not once but twice in two successive days, cutting off electric service to the grocery store and the bank, as well as several other businesses on the route. The grocery store was closed for two days, which has to be painful with respect to lost sales.

The tragedy here is that a single shared broadband infrastructure, built years ago, would have given the schools much more competitive pricing at much lower cost (in large part because only one set of conduit/fiber is installed instead of three). And on that shared fiber, the schools could have bid out their needs to a five or ten companies instead of just the three with enough spare cash to build completely duplicated fiber infrastructure.

But there's more. By having the schools put their business on the community-owned shared infrastructure, the whole community would benefit because the schools would have sharply expanded the total market, and the cost of telecom services would have come down for everyone. Instead, we have public right of way ruined by overbuilding (see the cut electric cables--at least in part because the right of way is crowded), schools paying too much for bandwidth and Internet, and everyone else along that route still stuck with poor service--despite hundreds of homes like mine near this route, there is no fiber to the home available.

Internet coffee maker Bruvelo: I want one

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:12

The great Hunter S. Thompson said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." I wrote a couple of days ago about an Internet-enabled Mr. Coffee. But already, that coffee maker seems old and tired. It seems like the Internet coffee maker market just turned pro. Look at the features of the Kickstarter Bruvelo. It not only makes coffee, but it grinds the beans, pre-rinses the coffee filter, adjusts the water temperature, weigh the grounds for each cup, and will adjust the brew time. But wait, there's more! It will store recipes for individual beans....so if you want your French Roast brewed differently than your Breakfast Columbian, the machine will remember how you want each bean to be brewed. But wait, there's more! You can store all these coffee recipes in an iPhone app so you can tell the machine what to do in the morning.

Things I never knew I needed....

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/12/2014 - 08:53

The venerable "Mr. Coffee" coffee maker has received an upgrade, and is now "smart," according to the Mr. Coffee company. You can now buy a "Mr. Coffee Smart Coffee Maker" that can be controlled from your smartphone. You still have to load up the machine with water and coffee grounds manually, but you can hit the Start button while still in bed...or something. What's next? A "smart" vacuum cleaner? A "smart" Swiffer mop? Is the Internet is making us stupid and lazy? Wait, don't answer that question...I'm afraid of the answer.

HealthTap is a good example of what is coming

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/23/2014 - 08:19

HealthTap for the iPhone and iPad provide a good glimpse of why bandwidth is important and how healthcare is going to be changed by the Internet. The service provides access to tens of thousands of doctors and health care specialists, both on a pay as you go basis and a "concierge" subscription service. For $99/month you may be able to get HealthTap access to your own doctor, as well as other specialists.

It remains to be seen how successful HealthTap is in recruiting doctors, as the scheduling could be complex. But one way of looking at HealthTap and other software like it is to see it as the healthcare equivalent of Uber and Lyft, which have completely disrupted the taxi and limo business, to the dismay of the taxi/politician cartel, who like limited access, high licenses fees, and the revolving door of campaign contributions that keep competitors like Uber and Lyft out of major metro cities.

Intelligent Community Forum announces 2015 Smart21 candidates

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/22/2014 - 07:35

The Intelligent Community Forum has announced the twenty-one community candidates for 2015. This year's submissions come from diverse locations ranging from Kazakhstan to Kenya and Taiwan to the United States. The Smart21 represent a cross section of the world with five communities from the United States, four from Australia and four from Taiwan as well as three Canadian cities. Plus one each from Kazakhstan, Brazil, Japan, Kenya and New Zealand. More than 300 communities submitted nominations.

I have been a juror for the final seven for several years now, and it has been interesting to read about these communities, as they validate what I have observed in my own work reaching back into the early nineties.

The communities that are successful with their broadband initiatives are almost always the ones that have taken the time to answer the question, "What do we want to be in ten years?" "What do we want to offer as a community to keep people here and to attract families and businesses?"

Answering these questions is hard work, takes time, and requires developing a consensus in the community about where to invest time and energy. But it pays off with often dramatic results. Another thing I have observed about the top ICF candidates is that they plan and execute for the long haul--that is, they don't think that there are silver bullets out there that will solve all their problems magically. ICF communities succeed because they work at being successful.

Brain Gain: Worth a read

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:48

I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of Brain Gain: How Innovative cities create job growth in an age of disruption. The book does something which is too often overlooked: Making the case that broadband investments have to be thoughtfully linked to broader community and economic development goals. The book is written by the founders of the Intelligent Community Forum, Robert Bell, Louis Zacharilla, and John Jung. I have known these guys for years, and have served as a juror for the annual ICF "Intelligent Community" awards (Note: I don't get paid for that work).

In my experience, the communities that take the time to set a vision for the community are much more likely to see their broadband investments have a long term impact. If a community cannot answer the question, "What do we want the community to look like in ten or fifteen years?" then throwing some fiber in the ground is not likely to help much.

The book provides an insightful analysis of eighteen communities that have taken the time to ask the right questions about the future, have allocated the right funding and human resources to put the right infrastructure in place, and have given their efforts time to mature. There are a lot of good ideas and concepts in this book.

Put the Google glasses down and join real life

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/15/2014 - 07:03

How about this for a future trend? Being treated for Google Glass addiction...A patient who checked into a rehab facility was experiencing involuntary physical tics (constantly tapping his temple to turn the glasses on), and among other issues, was experiencing dreams in which the dream itself was being viewed in Google Glass. There were other psychological issues with the patient, so it is not clear which came first. But dreaming in Google Glass "view" is creepy and worrisome.

Apple is playing the long game

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/09/2014 - 14:42

Apple stock continues to bounce around a bit. Apple's mis-steps with a botched iOS 8 release and the supposed "bendable" iPhone 6 triggered a predictable round of Apple-hating pundits writing articles proclaiming that Apple is doomed! Doomed! Meanwhile, Apple is selling phones as fast as they can make them....sure proof the company is doomed.

But if you look at HealthKit and HomeKit software that is being included in iOS 8 and in the next version of OS X (likely to be released later this fall), Apple has big plans for the future. This article provides a peek into that future--Apple wants you to control all sorts of devices in your home from your iPhone. Or maybe your TV. Your Apple TV, to be more specific. Apple has apparently added HomeKit and HealthKit hooks into the Apple TV software so you can sit on the couch and turn the lights on and off, set the room temperature, and check the weather outside (among many other things you will be able to do) via your Apple TV box.

Everyone is fixated on the phone. It's not about the phone. And Samsung may be headed down the long slow road to nowhere that Sony picked years ago. Copying what you think your competitors are doing, rather than thinking about the future and charting your own course rarely turns out well. Samsung thinks it can be Apple by selling cheap phones. Good luck with that. There is undeniably a market for cheap phones, but that does not make you an Apple competitor.

All I want for Christmas is a 3D printer

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 09/21/2014 - 12:22

I get asked all the time a variant of the same question: "Isn't this whole Internet thing just about done?" What they are trying to ask is if most of the interesting stuff has already happened. If we were talking about the impact of the automobile, then we are only at about 1920, when Henry Ford began mass producing cars and they really started to become affordable.

Another things people ask me is, "What can you do with all that bandwidth?"

Well, how about making things? Dremel, a major manufacturer of hobby and consumer power tools, has announced it will be releasing a 3D printer in time for Christmas. For $1000, you get a small, well-packaged 3D printer with the software you need to start making stuff. And you will want that fast Internet connection to start downloading and uploading the CAD files that are used to drive the 3D printer.

I first became interested in 3D printing twenty years ago when I read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson, in that novel, predicted very accurately a world where nearly anything could be made on the spot in your home by a device no larger than a refrigerator. In the book, carbon, which is basically clean, cheap dirt, was used as the raw product, so most finished "printed" items were made of diamond.

The fun is just beginning....onward to infinity and beyond!

Broadband has to be available and affordable, and competition is the only way to get both.

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 09/14/2014 - 12:20

The Motley Fool connects the dots on the FCC community broadband debate correctly by noting that while a majority of Americans do indeed have "little broadband" via cable or phone companies, a much smaller number actually have the luxury of competitive choices. And how you define "competition" narrows most choices significantly. In Blacksburg, we would probably be listed as have a choice of two carriers for broadband: the phone company and the cable company. The problem is that even in "wired" Blacksburg, the phone company has made little effort to improve DSL service, since they know they can't really provide the same level of bandwidth as the cable company....so they don't even try. So, practically speaking, we have no choice in Blacksburg....yet.

Over the next two to three years, expect to see some revolutionary new approaches to deploying Gigabit fiber in communities like Blacksburg, and Design Nine and WideOpen Networks leading the way.

WideOpen(tm) is a trademark of WideOpen Networks, Inc.

I'm not convinced I need a smart home

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 12:38

Following on the ridiculously over-priced acquisition of the smart thermostat company (Nest) by Google--they spent BILLIONS on a thermostat, we are now seeing . If you read the language about the ZEN thermostat, they are taking a direct swipe at the over-priced and over-rated Nest thermostat.

Good for them. Competition is a wonderful thing, and Google will never, ever get their money back because competing products like ZEN are going to crush Nest.

The ZEN appears to support heat pumps, which are widely used in the southeast and the south...but here's the thing....heat pumps don't do well if you are constantly changing the temperature. They are most efficient if you set the temperature to one thing and leave it. That's what I do, and I have very modest heating and cooling bills. During the heating season, if you start monkeying with the temperature, the "auxiliary" heat kicks in, which is just an electric heater built into the heat exchanger. And that electric heat makes your electric meter spin like an out of control merry go round.

So the ZEN thermostat is attractive, but I cannot come up with a single reason to buy one, other than the cool factor. And I'm way beyond cool.

I don't want smart dishwashers and smart-aleck dryers and obesity-checking snitch refrigerators sending everything I eat to my doctor whether I want it to or not. Just because those things CAN be done does not mean they should be done. And it makes everything cost more.

Why fiber? One business experience tells the whole story....

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 12:29

If you are an elected official or an economic developer, everything you wanted to know about why high performance, affordable fiber networks are important is contained in this one story:


Brandon Schatz, CEO of SportsPhotos.com Inc., said he moved his business from Springfield, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas, in February 2013 to take advantage of Google Fiber.
“It was a very easy decision,” he said. “We’re trying to grow to hundreds and thousands of events. You can’t scale if your whole city isn’t fast enough.”
The service also is cheaper. In Springfield, he was paying $400 a month for 100-megabyte download speeds. Now, he pays $70 a month for Google Fiber’s 1-gigabit speeds, which are 100 times faster. He added the service is more reliable.

Here is the whole article.

G.fast: Not coming quickly to a neighborhood near you

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 10:11

Here is a short article on the technical characteristics of G.fast, the "solution" that is supposedly going to allow the telephone companies to compete with the cable companies.

Don't want to click through and read it? Here is the short summary:

The article talks a lot about how great its working in Europe, but Europe is not the U.S. Cities are much denser generally in Europe, so more residences are going to be closer to the DSL switches. G.fast sounds good, but it does absolutely nothing for rural broadband, where distances from the DSL cabinet are measured in miles, not feet, and where the ancient copper cable plant can barely handle existing "little broadband" DSL, much less the very demanding G.fast. To get speeds of hundreds of megabits out of G.fast, you not only have to be close to the switch, the copper cable between your home and the switch has to be perfect, meaning brand new.

Hilariously, the article touts a test in Britain where they got 700 meg speed.....woohoo....wait for it....with a wopping 57 feet between the switch and the user. Fifty-seven feet.

That's all you have to remember about G.fast: 57 feet.

Death of TV, Part LXVII: Tablet TV, Aereo, and cutting the cable

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:58

Tablet TV is a new venture that takes us back to the fifties, when everyone had a TV antenna on top of the house. Perhaps taking a hint from Aereo and its problems, Tablet TV has localized the Aereo concept. Where Aereo had thousands of centralized antennas that grabbed over the air digital TV signals in major markets, Tablet TV gives users an inexpensive, small box and antenna that grabs local over the air signals. The Tablet TV box then lets you watch your local TV stations on any WiFi-connected device in your house. It's a neat solution that will make it even easier to dump your cable or satellite subscription, because now you can buy the Tablet TV box and get all your local channels--including local and national news and live sporting events--the stuff that you can't get easily via online services like Hulu and Netflix.

Death of TV: Part LXV: The end of the beginning

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/07/2014 - 12:33

This is my sixty-fifth article about the death of TV, and I see now that we are at the end of the beginning. Why? ABC News recently began broadcasting a news channel on Apple TV, which is significant in its own right, but ABC has just announced that they are now including local news from Boston, Honolulu, and Albuquerque on that channel. One of the two things that keeps most people tied to their hideously antiquated cable and satellite subscriptions is access to local news (the other is live sports). With this new access to local news via the Apple/ABC partnership, it is going to be easier than ever for households to ditch the over-priced "TV" subscriptions.

Fiber and Economic Development: Yes, there are positive impacts

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:39

WideOpen Networks has a nice piece out about the impact of fiber on community economic development.

Slow news day in KC: Breaking!!! Eleventy! Google fiber crews mark utilities before digging!

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:25

It must have been a really slow news day in Kansas City, where Google Fiber crews continue to install fiber in neighborhoods and install underground drops to homes. In what teeters perilously on the verge of parody, local TV station KMBC breathlessly reports on the horror of utility marking done by fiber crews prior to digging.


"....spraypaint markings--what sounds like the work of vandals...."

Oh, the horror of identifying utilities before actually, you know, digging things up. It sounds like Google crews are doing a terrific job, as the article cites more than 7,000 miles of installed fiber and a very small number of broken utilities. There were two gas lines hit, which caused some inconvenience, but if you put a shovel in the ground in public right of way for 7,000 miles, it is inevitable that occasionally something gets hit. What the news story fails to do is to really look at how well our Miss Utility really works. Like I say...it had to be a slow news day in Kansas City.

Apple, Amazon dominate tablet usage

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:11

This report from Chitika Insights shows Apple tablets utterly dominate the Web use space, with 78% of the traffic coming from Apple tablets. Amazon is in second place with a little over 7%. Samsung is third, but Amazon's Kindle tablet traffic is growing while Samsung's traffic is shrinking.

The disparity between Apple users and every other tablet combined is a testament to Apple's tightly integrated hardware and software and the company's attention to the user experience.

The Cloud: Pay a fortune and own nothing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:06

More and more "stuff" is moving to the cloud. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and Amazon are just four of the biggest companies that are trying to get us to put everything in the cloud so we can pay a monthly fee to get to our "stuff." The problem with this is that from a customer perspective, the "cloud" does not scale up well from a pricing perspective.

In the "old days," by which I mean about three years ago, you made a one time purchase of a desktop or laptop computer, cobbled together some kind of local network for your business or home, and if you were really smart, bought one or two extra hard drives for backups and file sharing. A relatively substantial capital expenditure, but you had no recurring costs to use and to store you data and files.

Enter the cloud: You still get to buy a bunch of computers, laptops, and smartphones, but now you pay every month to use your own data. The revenue already being generated by cloud services is staggering, and will continue to grow for a while. But uncontrolled growth is, in the biological world, cancer. It eventually kills you...or in this case, wrecks your budget. All these $5, $10, and $20 per month cloud services add up. Small businesses that have to pay for cloud services on a per seat basis (or some other incremental use charges) can quickly max out their limited IT budgets.

The cloud is immensely useful, and like anyone else, I like being able to access my "stuff" wherever I am in the world. But it comes with a price, and one day the market growth is going to fall of a cliff. When that happens, expect many cloud services to go belly up--for anything in the cloud, you should be able to answer this question: "What happens if your cloud provider disappears?"

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