Why build a Gigabit City?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/08/2013 - 09:58

I see two things driving bandwidth demand in the business sector: VPNs and videoconferencing.

We talked to a large corporation that has a plan to move 20% of its workforce to the home--an option its wants to make to employees as work life quality issue (e.g. young children to take care of, time shifted work hours, etc.). They want a 50 meg, symmetric, low latency connection between every home based worker and the corporate network. Their math for that amount of bandwidth was simple. They intended to put an HD video camera and large screen monitor on every home-based worker's desk to support ubiquitous and convenient videoconferencing with supervisors and co-workers, and they wanted to support minimum of four people on a call simultaneously, meaning 8-10 Meg x four video streams, or as much as 40 meg just to stay connected.

I was in a branch office of a software firm with an interesting set up. They had two very high resolution HD cameras and two very large HD monitors with four large easy chairs facing the equipment. An identical set up was in the main office. They left all four cameras running 10-12 hours a day so that there was a full time HD video connection between both locations, and so it was very easy to have casual and spontaneous conversations with folks in either location. Both offices had affordable fiber connections, so they could "waste" the 40 to 50 meg of bandwidth that these four cameras used continuously for ten hours a day. But this becomes easy AND useful when you have an affordable Gigabit symmetric connection.

Communities that want to attract (or retain) companies using bandwidth this way need to be building a "Gigabit City," and doing it now.

Forward thinking vs. keeping everything as it was

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/08/2013 - 09:46

I ran across this quote from Steve Jobs, and while he was talking about technology devices, I think it applies to broadband and the eternal bandwidth debate as well:

“For something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

"....people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Exactly. Asking people what they intend to do with a Gig of bandwidth sometime in the future is not likely to produce a lot of insight, and it will almost certainly "prove" a community does not need to be a "Gigabit City." If asked, most people today will say they are reasonably satisfied with the bandwidth they have TODAY, because that is the only context of their experience.

Jobs' comment reminded me of one of my favorite all time quotes that illustrates perfectly that nothing really changes. Asked about he came up with the concept of the "car," Henry Ford said:

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses.'"

We do broadband surveys regularly, and they can provide some very useful information, but they are just a momentary snapshot that tells you what people and businesses are doing NOW. They tell you very little about what those people and businesses may need in the future, because as both Jobs and Ford recognized, people are not very good at describing something they have never seen or used before.

I hear constantly now, "Why does anyone need a Gig of bandwidth?" The value of a Gig fiber connection is about the future, not the present. It is about preparing citizens, businesses, and the community to be able to compete for jobs and businesses over the next five to thirty years, with future-proof infrastructure that will support FUTURE needs.

If a community wants to stand still economically, then it can stay with its current copper-based telecom infrastructure, effectively freezing economic development at where it is today. But if the community wants to grow economically, retain businesses, create jobs, attract entrepreneurs, and bring new businesses, the Gigabit connection becomes a critical part of a forward-thinking economic development strategy.

Ready for the phablet?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/08/2013 - 09:30

So I just ran across a word I had never seen before: phablet. It was in this article about a new Android phone that is allegedly going to be released soon by HTC. You can see from the picture that it is much bigger than current smartphones, but not quite as big as "mini" tablets. I don't know how you could lug this thing around; my pants and jacket pockets just are not that big. You would need a man bag or a purse, and you would look ridiculous talking on your phablet, with your side of your head nearly covered by it.

The Internet of Things: When toilets attack

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/05/2013 - 14:00

"When Toilets Attack" would make a great name for a B-grade movie, but this is a true story. We hear constantly now about "the Internet of Things," and Cisco is promoting this idea among many other companies. It's the idea that we will have many devices in our homes and businesses that are IP-addressable (and hence the need for IPv6, but that's another story). A Japanese toilet has an accompanying Android app that lets you "control" toilet functions like flushing, bidet faucet, and odor control fans, among other options. But the Bluetooth enabled commode can be controlled by any nearby Android device with the app, not just the owner of the flush-a-tronic crapper.

While this is mainly funny, the marketing hype of "the Internet of Things" is outstripping adequate software design and testing, as evidenced by this article about how cars can be hacked easily to create dangerous or deadly driving situations. While a computer has to be attached to the cars input port, this could be done easily without the owner of the vehicle even knowing, and then the rogue computer could control the throttle and brakes.

The researchers that demonstrated the car hacking noted that, "There's no authentication." In other words, the car designers and engineers never bothered to think about data security. It's a scary world out there.....

The Gigabit Community attracts young people

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/05/2013 - 13:50

This Chicago Business article demonstrates perfectly why communities need to be able to offer affordable Gigabit access in residential homes and apartments. If you want young people, business from home entrepreneurs, and work from home employees (almost everyone works part time from home now), Gigabit services gets you noticed.

Google changes terms of service

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/05/2013 - 13:28

Wired reports that Google has changed its position on net neutrality. The search giant has apparently told the FCC that it may not allow residential customers on its Google Fiber networks to attach servers to their home fiber connection. The company is suggesting that instead, customers that want to run a server will be encouraged to purchase a "business class" service that costs more.

It makes sense to charge more for the symmetric bandwidth that is usually required to run a server efficiently, but on our open access, multi-service networks, we don't find it useful to try to control what customers do; it turns both the service providers and the network owner (typically a community enterprise) into bandwidth police, and forces the network owner to be judge and jury about what might constitute "business" use of a fiber connection.

Instead, we develop pricing models that focus on user needs, which lets the customers choose if they want a residential service or a business class service, and takes providers and the network owner off the hook for judging what their customers are doing. And not incidentally, that policy approach encourages innovation and entrepreneurship in the community by keeping the cost of starting an Internet-based business very low.

Death of TV: Part XXXIX:70% of those under 35 are using online video

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/05/2013 - 13:18

This short article from Fiber to the Home Council pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why communities need Gigabit broadband. In a survey of 2000 households in North America, 70% of those under 35 years of age are using over the top (OTT) video services like Netflix and Hulu, just two of the rapidly proliferating companies providing OTT video.

Even more interesting is that the survey shows the average broadband household has at least FIVE Internet connected devices...and so you have to design the network to support the possibility that all five devices are having video streamed to them at the same time.

Finally, half of the group under 35 have never bought any traditional package of cable/satellite TV.

Repeat and rinse as often as necessary...

TV is dead.
TV is dead.
TV is dead.
TV is dead....you get the idea.

What communities risk by putting off broadband investments

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 07/14/2013 - 10:35

Fred Pilot excerpts two key points from a speech by Milo Medin, the head of the Google fiber initiative.

Read Pilot's summary, and he also links to Medin's full speech.

Design Nine's New Hampshire FastRoads project is coming online

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/12/2013 - 09:50

Design Nine's FastRoads project is about to come online. We are currently expecting this community-owned Gigabit fiber network to start with four service providers. Design Nine has been working with the 43 FastRoads towns for more than six years, and we did the early planning, the financial modeling, helped write the grant, designed and built the network, and through our new subsidiary, WideOpen Networks<, we will also be managing the network.

The initial FastRoads network brings makes twenty-two New Hampshire towns "Gigabit Cities," with Gig services available in every community. Two of the twenty-two towns are getting fiber to the home services to more than a thousand premises. Planning to add more communities is already underway.

For more information on FastRoads, check out this article:

For more information on WideOpen Networks, visit our Web site:

How to work from home (or remotely)

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/12/2013 - 09:42

Here is a great article on how to manage people working remotely. This article has very specific and useful tips on what you need to do, what software tools you should use, and provides links to some of the recommended tools. We have been using this approach very successfully for years, and the two most important things we have found are:

  1. Videoconferencing that is easy to use and can be "always on" or nearly always on. This means Skype or some other one-click video tool, rather than something like Webex or GoToMeeting. We use GTM all the time, but you have to go through a dialogue to set up a videoconference with Webex and GTM, and the overhead is too high for remote collaboration.
  2. Good symmetric bandwidth at every worker's location. This means if you have someone working remotely from their home, they need business class broadband with a minimum of several meg of upload bandwidth. You need symmetric bandwidth to support the videoconferencing.

There are a variety of collaboration and project management tools, and you need something, but the minimum requirement will be a tool that can be accessed remotely so that all employees can easily keep project activities up to date.

Creative Destruction: The end of the cash register

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/08/2013 - 09:22

The Square Stand converts an iPad into a full-featured cash register and credit card scanner. The cash register business started dying in the eighties, and I've been to the site of the National Cash Register company in Dayton, Ohio. The massive complex that built cash registers for most of the twentieth century is mostly gone. Where huge warehouses and assembly lines stood, the University of Dayton marching band (the Pride of Dayton) now rehearses their half time routines. And the last NCR building is now a classroom complex for the University of Dayton.

We so often hear about the jobs lost through "automation" and "computers," but the news media usually fails to point out all the new businesses being created. Apple is now a major supplier of "cash registers," along with companies like Square. NCR failed to adapt, and the free market rewarded the companies that did change and adjust to new technology with growth and new jobs. The "record" business, including CDs, is nearly dead, but the "iPod" business has spawned thousands of new businesses and hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Privacy: It's all gone

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/08/2013 - 07:57

Facebook and LinkedIn now appear to be exchanging subscriber information, as I just received a Facebook email suggesting that I friend two business associates. The only way Facebook could know I have any relationship with these people is if Facebook had access to LinkedIn subscribers. I only use Facebook for close family and a few friends, so Facebook could not have made the connection with these people (one of whom is in Asia) by doing a second and third degree of separation search. While the NSA data collection is troubling, we need to keep in mind that all the "free" services like Facebook and LinkedIn are "free" only because we give them permission to sell/give away/distribute our personal information. Anyone who complains that Facebook is giving personal information to the NSA is forgetting that you already gave them permission to do that when you asked for a "free" subscription.

Disturb your neighbors!

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/27/2013 - 13:12

U.S. Broadband: Almost as good as Russia!

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/27/2013 - 11:02

Long time readers will recognize a running joke in the title of this post. Here is a very brief note indicating that fiber is being aggressively deployed in Russia. Meanwhile, in the U.S., we're being told:

So take your choice, and if you need more bandwidth, maybe moving to Russia could be just the ticket.

Netflix: One third of the Internet, and incumbents don't like it

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/20/2013 - 09:12

Gigaom has an interesting and detailed article explaining why the incumbents hate Netflix. The popular movie and TV streaming service is an Over The Top (OTT) service that rides on top of (over) a customer's base Internet connection. Verizon is having a peering spat with Cogent, a long haul carrier that moves a huge chunk of Netflix's streaming data around the country, and it appears that Verizon is deliberately throttling Cogent's ability to push Verizon customer video streams onto the Verizon network, with the result that watching Netflix on a Verizon network may not always work well, with stuttering, rebuffering, and/or degraded picture quality.

Verizon's beef is that they have to haul the traffic but they don't get any of the revenue paid by Verizon customers to Netflix. One solution would be to do a deal with Netflix, which would offer Netflix better bandwidth in return for a cut of revenue, or to change the Verizon business model to stop trying to punish their customers for actually using bandwidth.

But we're in a very strange time, when the incumbent phone companies are trying to cut out their copper landlines completely in a transparent attempt to get everyone to buy their Internet access via the cellular network. But this will never work, as the bandwidth isn't there, even with LTE to support services like Netflix...hence the ubiquitous bandwidth caps on cellular service. If we could wave a magic wand and move all the Netflix traffic to the cellular network, the entire North American cellular network would stop working, as it simply has nowhere near the capacity (and never will) to take a third of all the Internet traffic that is being generated just by Netflix. We have not even added in the myriad of other streaming services like Hulu, AppleTV, SimulTV, and many others.

As always, part of the solution is to deploy fiber everywhere to break the bandwidth bottleneck, and you pay for the fiber deployment by changing to a business model that gives the bandwidth away and charges for the service. When you do that, and have dozens of providers offering hundreds of services, you have the cash flow to pay for the high performance, high capacity, AFFORDABLE fiber network.

Design Nine is building those networks today....and in both urban and rural areas, turning communities around the country into Gigabit Cities. It's just not that hard.


The sad situation for rural "broadband"

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/12/2013 - 09:33

I like to distinguish between "little broadband" (i.e. DSL and cable modem) and "big broadband." What's the difference? "Little broadband" is typically able to consistently deliver only a few megabits per second down. In Blacksburg, as one example, DSL download speed is advertised as 1 megabit. The cable company here sells 20 meg and 30 meg packages, which work pretty well if there are not too many of your neighbors online at the same time. Performance degrades noticeably after 3 PM, when schools let out and kids come home and hit the computer, their tablets, and their smartphones. And don't try to work at home on a snow day. Little broadband also has constricted upload speeds, which makes working from home very difficult, as videoconferencing may not work when there is neighborhood network congestion, and the asymmetric bandwidth makes moving large files back and forth between home and the office very difficult if not impossible.

"Big broadband" is a minimum 100 megabit symmetric pipe, and the networks that Design Nine builds all start on day one with Gigabit pipes to every home and business. The only thing we design and build is Gigabit networks.

So what about rural broadband. The Daily Yonder has a great article on the sad state of broadband connectivity in rural areas, which still lags behind the rest of the country. The graphs show the disparity clearly, but rural areas still lag far behind more populous parts of the country. The good news is that it is possible to build Gigabit networks in rural areas and make them financially sustainable...we know, because we're doing it. Give us a call or drop us a note if you want to make your area a Gigabit community.

Creating jobs, helping entrepreneurs: Space is a big deal

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/11/2013 - 15:51

Read this short but detailed discussion of the space problem for start-ups and entrepreneurs by Melissa Thompson. Finding the right office space at an affordable price is a huge issue for small, entrepreneurial businesses. Many of them start in the home, but if they grow beyond a couple of employees, they will usually be looking for office space, and in my experience, many local and regional economic development organizations are not well prepared to help with this. The traditional business incubator may does not have the right size offices or facilities for start ups (many do, but not all of them that I have visited), and location is everything: entrepreneurs want to be in town, where good coffee and business-oriented restaurants are used as adjunct meeting space and brainstorming locations. And of course, affordable high speed broadband is essential because I can guarantee any new start up is going to make heavy use of videoconferencing.

New technique continues to increase the bandwidth of fiber

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/11/2013 - 14:59

Researchers at Bell Labs have developed a "phase conjugation" approach to increasing the capacity of fiber cable, and were able to send a 400 Gigabit/second signal across 12,800 kilometers (7,680 miles) of fiber. This capacity and distance are significant because the length of the test cable is longer than the longest undersea fiber cable.

It also demonstrates what I have been saying for a long time: fiber future-proofs your community. A fiber construction project creates a new long term asset with a useful life well in excess of thirty years, unlike wireless, which is primarily electronic equipment with a life span of only 3-5 years.

Apple's new interface for iOS 7

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/11/2013 - 13:26

Wired has an interesting article about how Apple's new look for iOS 7 (the iPhone operating system) was developed. The new software was announced yesterday (June 10th), and few people have actually been able to use it hands-on yet. Developers were given beta copies of the new software, but the rest of us won't get to try it out until later this fall.

Google Glass: A safety hazard?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/27/2013 - 09:16

This article raises an interesting question that seems like an idea topic for a Master's thesis in ergonomics: Is wearing a pair of Google Glass spectacles a safety hazard? Based on my background in ergonomics, I'm going to say that "yes" is a safe bet. Google says they came up with the googly glasses so we don't have to look down at our phones, but is it any safer to be walking down the street reading a text on a virtual screen? Or driving while reading a text that appears to be on the road in front of you? We're about to enter an era with a whole new way to drive and walk distracted, and expect fatalities, unfortunately.

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