Broadband

Death of TV: Part LXXXI: Cord cutting continues to increase

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/05/2018 - 13:58

Fed up customers are continuing to "cut the cord" to their cable and satellite TV providers. The article I have linked to says that 23% of households with wireline broadband have ditched their traditional TV package. As improved fixed wireless broadband continues to become more widely available in rural areas (i.e. no bandwidth caps, more bandwidth), the trend will accelerate even more.

Our studies show that the average household can save at least $35-$55 per month by getting rid of cable/satellite service and just paying for some over the top (OTT) services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.

Alexa, please open the door

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/15/2018 - 10:01

More than twenty years ago, as the Internet became more common, some prognosticators began talking about the "smart house," where lots of household devices would be interconnected and make our lives one of ease.

At that time, I wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek article for a professional newsletter about a "smart house" gone wild, somewhat in the fashion of the Hall 9000 problem in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At the time, the few smart house attempts did not catch on, because the technology was immature and expensive. But now we find the Internet of Things is exploding, because the chips and software needed to put so-called "intelligent" into common household appliances is just a couple of dollars.

This article provides a good summary of the issues, and one example cited is a microwave that can be controlled by Amazon's Alexa. I've never had any issues "controlling" my microwave simply by punching a couple of buttons, and the idea that it is somehow "better" to have Alexa get involved strikes me as bizarre.

The core problem for me is that devices like the Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google's Home Hub, and Apple's Home Pod (Siri) are constantly listening to everything that goes on in your home and sending that information back to an unaccountable multi-national company that is monetizing that information, although Apple says they are not doing that...but they still have the data.

A secondary problem is that many "smart" home devices that use WiFi lack any meaningful security, so malicious hackers thousands of miles away can do things like use your security cameras to spy on you, turn household devices on and off, and could conceivably use video recorded on your own cameras to gain information on what you are doing for purposes of blackmail.

Many homes already have these always-listening devices installed, but there won't ever be one in my home.

Amazon and remote work driving Millenials to the Rust Belt

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/25/2018 - 08:25

This is one of the most interesting articles I have read in a long time.

Millenials are moving to smaller "Rust Belt" towns and small cities to escape the high cost of living in the larger metro areas. Heavy student debt loads, combined with skyrocketing rents and home costs, are part of the appeal to live in a place where housing is affordable.

But there is also this:

"There is a community-mindedness with millennials that attracts them to the smaller Rust Belt towns," said Peter Haring, president of Haring Realty in Mansfield, Ohio.

"We are seeing an intense interest in participating in the revitalization of our towns and being a part of the community. It's palpable, and it's exciting," he added."

Millenials want affordable housing, but they also want to belong to a place, and to be involved in the life of the community....a major shift from a long trend of community disengagement in America.

Finally, there is also this:

"More and more people are now working virtually, which means they do not need to be in their office and can work from almost anywhere," said Ralph DiBugnara, senior vice president at Residential Home Funding. "So why not find somewhere to live where your city dollars can go a lot further?"

Home-based work AND the ability to shop online has diminished the need to a)Live close to your employer, and b)Live close to stores and essential shopping needs.

What ties all this together? Millenials, no matter where they live, are heavy users of the Internet and want and expect to be connected 24/7. Affordable, high performance broadband is the essential ingredient in this major shift in community and economic development.

Smaller towns and cities that do not have a strategy for ensuring that they have the necessary broadband infrastructure to attract and keep Millenials are not going to be able to benefit from this trend.

Neighborhoods are business districts

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/21/2018 - 09:53

Here is confirmation of what I have been saying for twenty years: Neighborhoods have become business districts.

This article cites a study showing that more workers telecommute than take public transportation (e.g. buses, subways) to work.

This is why fiber to the home is so important: it is an economic development imperative. Home-based workers and home-based businesses need affordably priced, business class Internet services.

5G, with data caps, speed throttling, overage charges, and security problems, is not going to be an ideal solution. And in the long term, fiber is less expensive.

For as long as there has been wireless data and broadband service, the wireless boosters have been promoting the idea that wireless is "cheaper" than fiber. But that premise is based on a false comparison of the first year cost of wireless with the forty year cost of fiber.

Wireless equipment typically has to be upgraded or replace every four or five years because of obsolescence and/or environmental deterioration. But put fiber in the ground or on utility poles and you have created, at a minimum, a forty year asset.

Take the forty year total life cycle cost of wireless and compare that to the forty year life cycle cost of fiber. Fiber is going to win...every time.

The word is starting to leak out

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/13/2018 - 16:04

When Wired magazine starts writing about small community-owned broadband, something has changed.

For twenty-plus years, the incumbents have tried their best to get everyone to believe that community-owned telecom infrastructure is a waste of time and money, and that the technology is soooooo complicated that only big multi-nationals can do the job. This while those same big companies abandon whole states and leave small towns unable to attract the businesses and jobs they need to thrive.

The Wired article mentions only a few of the more than 300 communities that have community-owned infrastructure. Some efforts are quite modest, but many of them are offering Gigabit fiber and/or high performance fixed-point wireless successfully. And in doing some, creating local jobs, driving down the cost of broadband for businesses and residents, and attracting entrepreneurs and work from home businesses and jobs.

Facebook gives up on its drones

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/28/2018 - 09:40

Facebook has given up trying to build its own drones. The idea was that the high altitude unmanned aircraft would beam Internet access down to the ground in remote areas where Internet was not available via conventional terrestrial delivery.

Facebook's drone only had two flights, and the second one incurred "substantial damage." The company indicates it will continue to work with companies like Airbus deliver Internet "to the masses...." I'm not sure if the author of the article used the term "masses" or if Facebook did, but we're not "masses" down here.

When "unlimited" does not mean what you think it means

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/18/2018 - 10:15

Gizmodo has a very detailed analysis of cellular "unlimited" plans that is a great example of why wireless broadband is never going to be a complete substitute for fiber service.

The carriers would not carry out this wordsmithed subterfuge if they did not have to, but the problem is very simple. We all keep using more bandwidth, and the bandwidth available from free space wireless in any given frequency range (e.g. 3G, 4G, 5G, LTE, etc.) is strictly limited by physics.

Fiber, on the other hand, can have its capacity upgraded easily without having to replace it.

Hat tip to Eldo Telecom.

The myth that wireless will replace fiber

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/07/2018 - 09:25

AT&T has just announced another price increase for their cellular data services. They have increased the cost of their unlimited data plan from $40/month to $45/month.

But here is the most interesting thing in the announcement: "Consumers are using mobile data at record levels and the trend is expected to continue."

"...expected to continue" is the statement that indicates the folly of thinking homes and businesses don't need fiber and that the every distant "next generation wireless" is going to eliminate the need for fiber.

Applications and content continue to use ever-increasing amounts of data, and roughly every five years, the cellular providers have to replace all of their radios for the "next generation" just to keep up with demand. By contrast, off the shelf consumer grade Gigabit fiber equipment has massive capacity, and the fiber itself never requires an upgrade.

And all that mobile wireless access we want and need is powered by....fiber.

Why deploying broadband takes so long: Part I

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/01/2018 - 09:31

There is a huge fight looming that is already begun in many localities, which involves the deployment of 5G cellular radio equipment. Both residents and localities are wary of the dramatic increase in the number of poles and towers that are needed.

There are various numbers floating around about the spacing for 5G cellular equipment, and they range from a low of around 500 feet apart to a thousand feet apart. Compare that to the current typical separation distance of 3G/4G towers of 1-2 miles.

The 5G equipment is smaller and can be mounted on existing light and traffic signal poles, and new poles can be shorter: thirty to forty feet, because the poles are closer together. But in urban and many suburban neighborhoods, that means a 40' foot pole with a bunch of boxes and antennas hanging off in the right of way, or what most people consider their front yard.

Visually, some of the deployments are just plain ugly, and there are concerns about radiation exposure with the microwave antennas so close to homes and businesses.

The cellular providers do not want to have to go through the traditional permitting process for what could be hundreds of poles in a single locality, with special use permits, engineering studies, and public hearings for every pole.

The localities, quite correctly want some say in what goes in community right of way. Hence the looming fight. The dilemma for all parties is the insatiable thirst for more mobile bandwidth, conflicted with the proliferation of infrastructure in undesirable areas. It's not going to be easy to solve this.

As an example of the often arcane permitting process, we recently had to place an eight foot wooden post in the ground to hold a small radio. The post was proclaimed a "tower" by the local planning department, which led to more than a year of challenges to get the eight foot wooden post approved. We eventually got it installed, but the process included an inspection of "tower footers," which was just about one bag of gravel in the bottom of the hole, and then a "hole inspection," and we were never really certain what they were looking for, but we could not drop the eight foot wooden post in the hole until the hole was inspected.

Local governments need to try to meet broadband providers half way, or we are going to see a continued push for state level regulations that remove all right of way authority from local communities. Everyone, public and private, wants improved broadband access, but how we get there is going to require an openness to compromise on some issues.

5G needs fiber

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/07/2018 - 15:50

There is a tremendous opportunity for community-owned networks to leverage spare fiber by working with 5G cellular providers to identify where 5G small cell poles are going to place and getting fiber to them.

Eldo Telecom: Rural copper won't be replaced by small cells

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/07/2017 - 13:10

Eldo Telecom points to an article that suggests that small cell cellular access points won't be the cure-all for rural residents.

The tragic state of the telecom industry

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/22/2017 - 07:25

This article has a lot of inside baseball and makes for dense reading, but the bottom line is that telecom industry has learned nothing in the past twenty years.

The article discusses how the cellular carriers are in a race to build more fiber to cell towers, and in doing so are putting price pressure on the independent fiber carriers large and small.

One way to understand this is to go back to the roads analogy. Verizon wants to build private (fiber) roads to all its cell towers. AT&T wants to build a fully duplicated set of (fiber) roads to its cell towers. Sprint wants to build private (fiber) roads to its cell towers. And so on.

If local governments recognized that fiber is just another form of roads, they could build a shared (fiber) road system past ALL cell towers and reap some very interesting revenue.

Work from home continues to increase

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/28/2017 - 08:37

In our work, we are seeing steadily rising numbers of people trying to work from home part or full time. In both the public and private sector, many businesses and agencies now routinely allow employees to work from home one or two days per week, which can have a huge impact on transportation spending. If most commuters stayed home to work just one day a week, you are looking at taking 15% or more of cars off the road, reducing road wear/maintenance, reducing traffic congestion, and shortening commutes.

One rarely discussed challenge is that few homes have the kind of "business class" broadband needed to work efficiently from home. The most common complaint we hear is "I can't use my company VPN from home." The low bandwidth DSL connections don't provide enough capacity, and the highly asymmetric cable Internet services and their highly variable bandwidth play havoc with VPNs.

We're designing and building new, modern networks designed specifically to support work from home and business from home activities. Our work in communities like Bozeman, Montana (www.bozemanfiber.com) is bringing world class, business class networks with true competition to areas of the country that have been largely ignored by the incumbents. Bozeman's community-owned network has five (5) service providers competing for customers.

WiFimobile is the new bookmobile

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/30/2016 - 13:54

Google has helped to fund some middle school buses in Caldwell County, North Carolina with WiFi so that the kids can get some school work done while traveling back and forth to school.

While this is an interesting experiment, the reason behind it is the abysmal state of broadband access in rural America, where whole families have to drive to McDonalds or the local library so mom and pop can get their email and shop, and so the kids can do their homework.

Everywhere I go these days in rural areas, the number one complaint is coming from the mothers of K12 children. Mom is dead tired from trying to manage access to Internet for her children. Stop in a rural McDonalds after 3 PM, and I can almost guarantee you will spot some vans in the parking lot with mom in the drivers seat and two or three kids bent over laptops or tablets trying to get their homework done.

Rural libraries are groaning under the strain of demand for Internet access, and they have to strictly manage time limits on the use of library computers. As the school systems put more and more textbooks and resources online, the problem becomes more acute for families with poor Internet access.

The horror of ordering Internet service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/10/2016 - 09:13

I just spent 40 minutes trying to help a friend order Internet service for a new home in rural North Carolina. They knew that there was no cable service, but did not know who the telephone company was for the area.

I thought this would be easy.

I tried four different companies: Windstream, AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink. Verizon's site was the worst, as they make it very clear that they don't want to sell you any copper-based services. I spent many minutes clicking around on their site trying to figure out how to order DSL, without much luck. When you do finally find the DSL page, the only "order" button is for FiOS. No matter what page you land on on the Verizon site, it's all FiOS, all the time, along with lots of add-on services they want you to buy to fluff up your bill.

One thing that was interesting: on one of the pages I landed on trying to get to the DSL information, the first thing you see is a full page of information about cellular data plans. So Verizon wants to sell you a cellular data plan or FiOS, and anything else....not so much. I did eventually find the link to check an address for service, and of course, they had none for my friend's home.

The other three providers were pretty much the same. AT&T winds some sort of prize for the most obscure service names: You can order U-verse or Gigapower. Snap quiz: Which one is fiber and which one is DSL? Answer: Good luck figuring that out. Finally found the "check address" dialog, and of course, no service. But great news! AT&T is happy to sell you satellite TV and a cellular data plan.

When you go to Windstream, you get a really bad version of Yahoo! News as their front page. CenturyLink actually easily had the best site, with a well-designed front page that made it relatively easy to figure out what plans are available and their cost. But no service in my friend's area.

Despite record profits and high prices, all four companies seem determined to clutter up their own site with ads and "up sell" items, which are probably enormously profitable. But trying to order plain old telephone or Internet service is an exercise in frustration. If I have trouble, I can only imagine the teeth-grinding and keyboard pounding that a typical potential customer goes through to just get some very simple information.

Next step for my friend: She is going to contact some neighbors to find out who the telephone company is. So much for the power of the Internet.

The myth of meet-me boxes and expensive drops

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/18/2016 - 15:30

We are working with a medium-sized city to design a new open access Gigabit fiber network, and the local telephone company is claiming that the connection from the street to the office building (in the downtown area) is "the most expensive part of reaching the customer."

So they are pushing for "meet-me" boxes outside of the downtown buildings, which would terminate fiber from the buildings into a fiber patch panel, and calling this open access.

Well, it is, after a fashion, but meet-me boxes favor the companies that already have fiber in the street or the alley. Any competitive provider that does not already have that advantage would have to spend a lot more money to get their fiber to the meet-me box. So the phone company cleverly "supports" open access by touting a solution that gives them a huge competitive advantage and effectively locks out most competition.

In fact, it is worse than that, because in this city there is a second provider that also has some fiber downtown, and they also like the meet-me box solution. Of course they do. The two companies would get an effective lock on the business market downtown and would be able to maintain their existing cartel-like pricing.

So this brings us to the notion that the fiber cable between the street and the building is the "most expensive part" of the network. It is not. As a general rule of thumb, it represents between 20% and 35% of the cost of a new build, and could be even less than 20% if the drop is made from a pole in the right of way to the side of the building (could be as low as 5% to 10% of the total build cost).

The incumbents are really stuck on "owning the customer." But the world is changing.

How about G.Fast for the rest of us?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/02/2016 - 08:54

Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent are touting improvements in G.Fast, claiming 11 Gig speeds on copper. But when you read the fine print, that's on pristine brand new copper cable in the lab.....and....wait for it....over a distance of 150 feet.

Rural local loop copper is measured in tens of thousands of feet. Call me when they are getting 100 Meg speeds over ten thousand feet of fifty year old rural local loop copper with cracked, worn insulation that is letting water in every time it rains, and I'll get a bit more excited.

Colorado communities strike back at the Empire

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 11/08/2015 - 09:14

Forty-four Colorado communities passed referendums that give those the communities the right to build their own broadband infrastructure.

Colorado is one of those states that had a legislature pass a law forbidding local community investment in broadband unless a public referendum was voted on. At the time (ten years ago) the incumbents probably figured that was a bar too high for those towns and counties to jump over.

But after a decade of poor and slow service, the referendums passed easily. As < a href="http://eldotelecom.blogspot.com/2015/09/fccs-sohn-forget-incumbents-build-your.html">Gigi Sohn of the FCC noted recently, communities are going to have to build their own modern networks. And so they are.

Why wireless won't replace fiber...

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/19/2015 - 14:12

All wireless "unlimited data" plans come with an expiration date. Once a cellular company's sales targets for new customer has been met, they change the "unlimited data" plan.

In this example, it is Sprint which has announced that once you use your monthly "unlimited" allotment of 23 Gig of data, you get throttled.

Exhibit Number One in the Museum of Why Wireless Won't Replace Fiber is data caps. If wireless was so wonderful, the cellular companies would not have to put data caps on their service. But the data caps PROVE that the wireless infrastructure can't handle the demand. If it could, they would not be doing this bait and switch.

Network shaping

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/09/2015 - 10:05

I had a call recently from a vendor trying to sell us "user controlled network shaping." I asked him who would want to do that, and he really could not answer the question. He just kept repeating how great it would be when users could configure the network to meet their needs.

I have seen a number of articles recently about "network shaping," and many of them make the pitch that this will be great for customers. I've never thought, "My copper-based phone service would be so much better if I could shape and control the bandwidth allocated for dial tone to my premises."

Very few telecom users care about the network...they care about the service. No one ever called the phone company and ordered three hundred feet of twisted pair, or called the cable company and asked for five hundred and twenty-five feet of coax with a DOCSIS 3 interface.

Users want to be able to choose among a variety of competitively-priced services. Users want to customize and select their services, but they don't want to customize the network. The future is in complete separation of transport and services. All the problems we have now are because transport and services are bundled together, so we get inferior transport (inferior bandwidth) because that's the only way to get the service.

As the Local Transport Provider (LTP) model becomes more common, the benefits will become more apparent. And for those that continue to insist that this is some esoteric and untested approach, it might be worth actually talking to LTP networks that have been in operation in the U.S. for years, like nDanville and The WiredRoad.

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