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.

The Kindle review

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/27/2013 - 08:55

My kids gave me a Kindle a year ago for Father's Day. It was not a gadget I had lusted after, and it was a bit of a surprise. It's the cheapest one, with ads. After using it for a year, you'd have to fight me to take it away from me.

What I really like is the ability to walk around with twenty or thirty books in my reading queue, without the weight or the bulk. I've always been a voracious reader, and the Kindle lets me stack up what I want to read at less cost and with much greater convenience. My one gripe is not really about the Kindle itself, but that the airlines won't let us use it (or any other small device) during take off and landing. That is the one big advantage retained by paper books.

I'm skeptical about the whole interference thing. Somebody is pulling our legs on this, as I read these hair-raising reports that the plane's instruments all went haywire but stopped when the person in row 4 turned off their iPhone. Meanwhile, the airlines have replaced many pounds of paper flight documents that the pilots always had to lug around with iPads. Huh? Are our planes really so fragile that the tiny amount of RF energy emitted by a phone or a Kindle can cause a plane to crash? Really? Really?

Laptops are another matter, and there is a different safety issue with them, as they are heavy enough to become a missile if there was severe turbulence or a sudden stop during take off or landing. But it peeves me that I can't read with my Kindle during a large part of many short flights.

The Balkanization of telecom

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/24/2013 - 12:46

In a discussion on LinkedIn, Michael Elling wrote, "Supply follows demand not the other way around." Exactly. I've been making this argument for years. Too many communities get tied up debating how to improve backhaul in and out of the community when they should be pumping intra-community demand by adding shared infrastructure and driving up demand. That local demand will attract investment to build more capacity to the community. It's not a guaranteed strategy in all cases, but it's already happening all over the country--but not in a good way.

The problem right now, and Blacksburg is an excellent example, is that we are seeing micro-monopolies developing as fiber providers target low hanging fruit in a community, sign up unsuspecting businesses and institutions onto long term contracts, then use the contracts to finance a fiber build. Presto...wherever that fiber goes, the odds of any other fiber provider adding more fiber is driven close to zero. So instead of having the community under the thumb of one monopoly provider, we now have portions of the community divided up, each under the thumb of smaller providers, each provider fat and happy in their own little monopoly zone.

Shared infrastructure mitigates this once and for all.

Frontier signs on the City of Eagan open access network

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/23/2013 - 13:14

Frontier Communications has signed a master network agreement with the City of Eagan, making Frontier the first service provider on the City's AccessEagan fiber network. Design Nine has worked closely with the City over the past several years to help plan, design, build, and manage the high performance network. Eagan is now a "Gigabit City," with a Gigabit standard fiber connection on the network. The nearly seventeen miles of Metro Ethernet, carrier class fiber passes thousands of businesses, including companies like Blue Cross and Delta.

The Creative Class is flunking out

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/22/2013 - 12:46

Robert Bell of the Intelligent Community Foundation has a must read article on how the Creative Class (Richard Florida's brainchild) is not delivering the results many cities were expecting. To the extent that a city is able to recruit Creative Class residents and workers, those upscale residents tend to displace blue collar workers and raise the cost of living in the area, which cancels out some or all of the positive effects. Bell points out that technology can make cities more efficient, but that the real potential for technology to have transformational effects is in rural areas. I agree, and the digital divide in the U.S. has been and still is largely between urban/suburban areas with generally available moderate broadband speeds, and rural areas with no or grossly inadequate broadband.

FCC can enforce cell tower site approvals

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/22/2013 - 09:04

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the FCC can enforce "reasonable" approval times for cell tower site applications, meaning that local governments can't stall applications. The FCC has wanted 90 day and 150 day deadlines for approval of cell tower site applications. As I read the article, it does not mean all tower site applications have to be approved by local government, but the local government has to approve or reject the application within the FCC "reasonable time" definition.

Google+ fixes and misses

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/21/2013 - 13:06

Google+ was recently updated with an improved interface, but this article points out that Google+ still has a big problem with the way it handles your identify. Currently, Google ties your Google+ account to a single Google email account, which is not the way most of the other big social network sites do it--they typically let you assign a primary email account, have secondary accounts, and don't force you to sign in or use your email address as your userid.

As Facebook has slowly ruined what little interface consistency it had, I'd really like to see Google+ become a viable alternative, particularly for business use--Facebook is wretched in that regard. But Google+ still has some growing up to do.

"Now is no time to claim we can't get real Internet...."

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/29/2013 - 12:48

Chris Mitchell at MuniNetworks has a great point, and one I've argued for a long time: If most houses in America already have two cables (electric and phone), how is it that it is just too darn hard to run a third tiny cable, much smaller than an electric cable, to most homes? And from the business side, if the phone company and the electric company can make money from providing one service on their respective cables, how is it that the incumbents claim they can't make money from a cable that can deliver several services to a home or business? Something is not quite right with that argument--and we know, as we do financial and business plans for multi-service networks all the time...there is plenty of money for broadband. It's just a matter of knowing how to put the business plan together....and picking the right business plan.

Death of TV: Part XXXVIII: The Zero TV households

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/09/2013 - 08:00

All is coming to pass as I have predicted...this is my 38th posting about the Death of TV, and the mainstream media is finally beginning to notice. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about what is being called "Zero TV" households, meaning that there is neither a cable TV nor a satellite TV subscription at that address. Instead, as I've been writing about for years, people are watching "TV" on their Internet feed instead, using services like Hulu and Netflix to get access to far more content than is available on the traditional cable/satellite feeds, and in a much more convenient fashion.

For communities stuck with "little broadband," the math is pretty grim. With several computers, tablets, and smartphones in the average home, every single device is now a "TV," and so you have to think about the aggregate bandwidth needed to deliver good quality video to several devices in the home at the same time. This eliminates DSL completely, despite the every present claims that DSL/copper twisted pair will get faster "Real Soon Now." It is possible to push 20 or 30 megabits over copper twisted pair, but the unspoken assumption is that you are a relatively short distance from the DSLAM and you have brand new, very high quality copper cable connecting you to that switch. But that's not the case in most rural areas of the U.S. still stuck with DSL. Their copper cable is often decades old.

Wireless broadband is also problematic. Despite the grand claims for 4G/5G/6G/UmpteenG cellular data, the bandwidth caps make it prohibitively expensive to sit at home and watch TV over your cellular data connection. Fixed point broadband wireless (i.w. WiFi, WiMax, etc.) requires line of site, which is difficult and/or expensive in most areas of the country. While fixed point wireless is going to be a very important bridge technology in many rural areas, fiber is and will remain the goal for the U.S.

Skeptics who claim it is too expensive to run fiber to most homes and businesses forget that A) it was possible to run telephone and electric service to homes and businesses decades ago and that was the old One Service--One Cable business model; B) the new fiber cable can deliver many services simultaneously, which changes the business model and makes it financially viable.

The cable and telephone companies have chosen not to compete; instead they are going to state legislatures to get laws passed forbidding municipal and county networks from getting started.

But don't paraphrase Yoda from Star Wars..."There is...another way." Restrictive legislation is nothing but a speed bump, and it's nothing to worry about....even in North Carolina.

What Good are Libraries?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/04/2013 - 12:38

An interesting article reporting on Lou Zacharilla's comments from his attendance at a conference on the future of libraries. Zacharilla is the co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Zacharilla noted that....

a 2012 survey of more than 7,000 libraries in the U.S. revealed that key library services now include computer training, electronic job search skills, how to access online databases and how to deal with e-government. In addition, in more than 60 percent of communities, libraries are the only source of free public access to computers, according to the survey.

Still time to register for Broadband Communities Summit 2013

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/04/2013 - 10:13

Broadband Communities Summit ’13 covers the top broadband issues – with outstanding content and top-notch speakers.

There is a new track on Revenue Opportunities that includes a session on Telemedicine, and one on Revenue Opportunities for Networks that will demonstrate how generate the cash flow needed to make networks financially successful.

Design Nine will be there as an exhibitor--stop by and say hello, and I am speaking in a couple of sessions. Last year's conference was terrific--the Broadband Communities folks really work hard to deliver solid content at every session; this is not just a lot of corporate sales presentations.

Hotel rooms are still available at the conference price until Friday--don't wait.

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