Broadband

Verizon moves to symmetric service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 08:48

Back in the nineties, some crackpot (okay, me) claimed that symmetric broadband connections were going to be essential because content creation was going to occur everywhere, not just at the office or in denizens like Hollywood. And for the last twenty years, just about everyone who works at a cable or telephone company has outright scoffed at the notion and/or patted me on the head and told me to go back to the wilds of the Appalachians.

Verizon has just announced that they are rolling out symmetric FiOS connections.

....kinda brings a tear to my eye....

And I think the Washington Post, where the article appeared, is exactly right: it is community broadband efforts, where symmetric connections are readily available, that are creating pressure on the incumbents.

Try canceling your cable service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 14:04

A technology reporter got Comcast's attention after he posted a recording of his attempt to cancel his service with the cable giant. As a Comcast customer, I would say that their customer service has improved somewhat over the past fifteen years, especially if there is an outage issue, but yea, some of my interactions over pricing and billing are similar to this guy's experience.

Gigabit: The word is changing telecom

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:39

Fred Pilot over at Eldo Telecom has made a good point: that Gigabit fiber is changing the telecom landscape. More and more communities are making investments to bring Gig fiber to downtown areas, business parks, and schools, and a wave of CLECs are also making similar private sector investments. The Google Fiber initiative's primary contribution has been to legitimize Gig fiber. Prior to the Google project in Kansas City, those of us talking about Gigabit connectivity were often just looked at as kooks. Now Gig fiber is mainstream, as it should be. The focus on Gigabit services is putting pressure on the copper-based incumbents and creating new opportunities in both the private and public sector for new modern networks. And that is a good thing.

One Soap to rule them all

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/19/2014 - 08:41

For many households, the WiFi router is probably an item regarded with a mixture of dread and fear. Once you get the thing configured properly, you generally tend to forget about it...except when the Internet stops working. Then the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) takes over the lizard part of your brain...and your first step is stare at the wretched device, hoping that somehow, the gods of the Internet will just magically get the Internet back on so you can continue sorting your Netflix DVD list and posting what you just ate to Facebook.

A new wireless home router called Soap started out as an Internet filtering device ("cleaning" the Internet for families), but as the product was developed, more features were added to provide a higher level of integration.

Unlike every other wireless router on the planet, Soap has a touchscreen interface to help simplify configuring it--no more really bad Web-based control screens that only a Unix geek could love. Soap also understands a wide variety of wireless protocols that allows it to talk to the rapidly expanding market of home automation devices. This may turn out to be its best feature if it works well.

I have been interested in the home automation market for a long time, and have always thought that the biggest challenge is integration and interface. If every device manufacturer makes buyers use a poorly designed one-off interface, homeowners will be quickly overwhelmed and frustrated at the effort involved in configuring and managing many different "smart" (or dumb) devices. If Soap delivers on the interface and configuration features, it will force massive changes in the wireless router market.

What does this have to do with fiber? Some Fiber To The Home equipment manufacturers are integrating WiFi routers into the fiber interface equipment. But the utility of a device like Soap far out-strips anything that can be built into a fiber interface.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler argues for community-owned broadband

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/12/2014 - 08:48

The FCC has posted an article by Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chair. In it, Wheeler discusses the benefits that Chattanooga's municipal Gigabit fiber network has brought to the region, especially with respect to dramatic improvements in economic development and jobs creation. If you take the time to read it, the comments are just as interesting, as some folks local to Chattanooga argue with an ISP about the role of local government in telecom.

"U-verse stinks"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/24/2014 - 13:08

"U-verse stinks." That's not me, that's Netflix, according an article from Lightwave. Here's the interesting quote from Netflix:


"The surprising news is that AT&T fiber-based U-verse has lower performance than many DSL ISPs, such as Frontier, CenturyLink & Windstream..."

This was in a letter from the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, to stockholders. While this little spat between AT&T and Netflix is amusing, it highlights the vast divide between incumbent attitudes about what constitutes good service and what the customers of those incumbents regard as good service. The incumbents believe that good service is whatever they decide they want to give their monopoly-captive customers, while the customers think good service is being able to use Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix without constant stuttering, re-buffering, and stalling out.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I was recently in a community that told me no one wants to live there anymore because of poor Internet service from the incumbent phone and cable companies. It's created an economic development crisis, because senior business managers that are being brought by existing companies in the town are choosing to live hours south of the community. And to make things worse, those same existing businesses are saying they can't expand and add jobs because their business Internet service won't support expansion.

Communities are at a crossroads: You can let the incumbent providers decide your economic development growth potential, or you can take control of your future and make some basic investments in competitive broadband infrastructure.

Death of TV: Part LXIII: Amazon announces Amazon Fire TV

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 09:27

Amazon announced yesterday their "Fire TV" product, which is a $99 Internet to TV box that follows in the footsteps of Apple TV, Roku boxes, and Google Chromecast. All of these products connect directly to a late model TV and give you easy access to a wide variety of Internet-based content. The Amazon Fire offers Netflix, Hulu, NBA, AOL, Showtime, iHeart radio, Amazon Prime shows and movies, and Pandora, among other offerings. The box also gives you access to Amazon cloud storage for your own pictures and videos.

In terms of competing boxes, the Fire TV probably comes closest to the Apple TV box, which offers direct access to the iTunes store (movies, TV, music) and Apple's iCloud personal storage service.

I remain kind of ho-hum about all these devices, because I can access all the same stuff right on my computer at home, and simply watch the content on a large screen monitor. I have a hard time getting excited about a box that duplicates what I already have. But these boxes can deliver higher quality video, and if you have a large screen TV that you want to use for entertainment, these boxes deliver a lot of value. I dumped my cable subscription years ago, but even with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscriptions, I just don't watch much TV...perhaps a couple of hours a week at most.

I see two significant things with this announcement. First, Amazon continues to deliver incredible value to its customers, and this box really ties together their other services like Prime video and cloud storage. This puts pressure on Apple, Google, and Microsoft to offer more and better products--always a very good thing. Second, it is getting easier and easier to cut the cable/satellite TV subscription. Comcast seems to have finally begun to agree with me that the old cable TV model is about dead, and is more focused on delivering improved Internet access to its customers. But a monopoly is a monopoly, and even if you save money in the short term by dumping your TV subscription, expect the cable companies to keep increasing their fees for Internet...because they can.

Comcast wants to buy Time Warner

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:39

Comcast and Time Warner have agreed to merge, with Comcast buying Time Warner. Although this merger has to be approved by Federal regulators, the article suggests that since the two companies don't have overlapping territories, it may well be approved.

The merger would combine Comcast's 22 million subscribers with Time Warner's 11 million subs, and Comcast has said it would sell off 3 million subscribers to keep the new company below 30 million customers. Supposedly that is some threshold that determines if the company will have too big an influence on the market.

This smells of desperation to me. Cable TV is dead, dead, dead, with Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu killing off cable and satellite TV. I was in a rural community for a week recently. There were three complaints:

  • The lack of bandwidth is killing our Main Street businesses.
  • No one can work from home because the bandwidth available is too limited.
  • We are having a hard time attracting families because services like Netflix and Hulu are unusuable, and the kids are revolting.

    Aside from the fact that copper-based coaxial cable is grossly inferior to fiber, the cable companies simply can't provide business class symmetric services over their "entertainment" networks in any sort of consistent way, and they know it. So they are going to merge to give them market clout on the content side, and they are going to continue to try to buy laws at the state level, like they just tried in Kansas.

    In less than ten years, most American homes will have fiber. It is as inevitable as flush toilets, which were once considered a luxury. And when the dust settles, the communities that introduced competition by creating shared digital road systems are going to be doing much better economically.

  • Health applications are going to be the killer app

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/12/2014 - 10:18

    In the nineties, as the Internet became more popular, there was a long-running and often tedious discussion of what the "killer app" was going to be that would make everyone get Internet access. I always thought the whole discussion was a waste of time, because it was obvious to me that at that time, email WAS the killer app. People signed up for Internet access because they recognized the value of email for business use, personal use, or both.

    There is a similar discussion underway for broadband and particularly broadband over fiber (i.e. fiber to the home). I think it will be health services and applications. The Internet has already begun to disrupt the way health services are delivered, but we have barely begun to see what is possible. Today, services like Fitnet provide personalized interactive work out sessions, along with related products like the Nike collaboration with Apple that tracks runners and joggers. Apple watchers suspect that the company is going to roll out sophisticated new apps for both iPhones and Macs.

    Other companies are preparing to offer doctor visits via HD webcam-enabled software, and if companies like Apple lower the cost of sensors that monitor your health (e.g. blood oxygen levels, heart rate, blood sugar and insulin levels) we could see significant changes in the way health care is provided.

    The most potential is for improvements in the management of chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease, where the ability of low cost sensor to provide hourly and daily monitoring of key information could lead to early diagnosis and better treatment.

    Most of these services are going to require a broadband connection, and cutting out just one $80 copay for a doctor visit per month will easily cover the cost of a fiber connection to the residence. Communities with aging populations and/or are desirable retirement locations will want fiber everywhere to deliver health care services where they are needed.

    FCC net neutrality rules overturned....the Internet is not going to fill with tollgates

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/15/2014 - 17:17

    This CNet article is one of the best summaries of the foofaraw over the FCC net neutrality reversal.

    I have always been a contrarian on this issue. The big fear is that if the incumbents are free to charge differential pricing for different kinds of content, content will get more expensive. The classic example, which is used in the article, is that Comcast or Verizon will charge subscribers $10 a month more to access Netflix or Youtube because those services use so much bandwidth.

    My response is "So? They are running a business. They should be able to charge whatever they want. If they price their service too high, a truly open market will introduce competition and they will a) lose customers, or b) lower prices."

    Now this is where some people will start grumbling about incumbent use of public right of way and the obligation of right of way users to be "fair."

    If Comcast raises their prices on their old-fashioned copper infrastructure, it might create the right market conditions for a new company to lay fiber...in the right of way...and provide a better service at lower cost. Net Neutrality, as currently conceived, benefits the incumbents more than it hurts them by discouraging "true" pricing and thereby limiting competition. I suspect that the incumbents find it useful street theatre to complain about net neutrality but actually like it. It keeps the riff-raff start ups out of their markets.

    Palm Coast FiberNET providing big benefits

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/10/2013 - 13:48

    MuniNetworks reports on the success of the City of Palm Coast's FiberNET project. The all fiber City-owned network is operated as a multi-service, multi-provider open network, and is delivering substantial savings to both public and private entities and businesses connected to the network. The project is in the black, and FiberNET is expected to pay back all of the initial City investment in less than six years. Design Nine provided the network design, the financial planning, and the project management for the City of Palm Coast.

    nDanville has a waiting list for fiber connections

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/26/2013 - 13:58

    nDanville, the first muni multi-service open network in the U.S., has waiting list for fiber connections, and a growing list of new jobs and businesses that are being drawn to the community because of the low cost, high performance fiber infrastructure. Design Nine helped the City plan and design the network, and the investment is beginning to pay off as manufacturers keep moving to the fiber-connected business parks.

    New Hampshire FastRoads adding customers

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/26/2013 - 13:51

    FastRoads is a Gigabit network designed and built by Design Nine for New Hampshire FastRoads LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Monadnock Economic Development Corporation. One of the surprises, as we add more customers, is the unexpected demand for the 50 Meg Internet service, which is turning out to be higher than expected. On the FastRoads network, every connection is a Gigabit circuit capable of delivering multiple services from several different providers.

    Death of TV: Part LXII: Video uses half of Internet bandwidth

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/13/2013 - 08:29

    A new report illustrates just how dire the situation is for the cable companies; Netflix and YouTube use half of all the bandwidth on the Internet. Cable TV is brain dead, but the body is still on life support. There is no future in cable, and satellite will be the next to go as more fiber is deployed into areas unserved by cable. This is not a matter of "if" anymore, it's all about the "when." I think it is safe to say that most of the country will have fiber connections by 2025.

    Fiber makes neighborhoods business districts

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/11/2013 - 11:01

    I've been talking about this for fifteen years. New data, from an article at Forbes, suggests that demand for office space may have peaked in the U.S, and that what may be the trend in the future is work from home and business from home activities. According to the article, the number of people working from home as self-employed has risen 14% in the past decade.

    Neighborhoods are business districts, and need to be treated as such by economic developers.

    This means that you want to be able to deliver business class high performance affordable broadband into your neighborhoods, and that generally means you want fiber, with business class symmetric service available. Places like FastRoads in rural New Hampshire are already doing this (a Design Nine project), and not surprisingly, a lot of homes (er, business locations) are signing up for 50 meg service--well beyond what cable and DSL is able to offer in most places.

    It's not that communities should stop paying attention to downtowns and business parks....just the opposite. But if your community's economic development strategy does not have goals and objectives focused on supporting neighborhoods as business districts, you are missing some business attraction and job creation opportunities.

    Who cares about bandwidth?

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/21/2013 - 07:47

    On LinkedIn, the question was raised (yet again): "Does anyone really need a Gig of bandwidth?" Someone wrote, "Just remember, services have to be available to be adopted." Now we get to the meat of the issue. It's not about the number....i.e. 100 meg, 1 Gig, etc. The real question is, "Do you have enough bandwidth to do what you want to do?"

    From an economic development perspective, the question is critical: "Does your community have the bandwidth needed to support your existing businesses and to attract new businesses?"

    For a community, you want the answer to that question to be, "Yes!" Arguing that some number (some amount) of bandwidth is "good enough," as the incumbents do, is to put the community's future in the hands of a third party. It is extremely risky.

    The availability of services also reaches deep into the argument about "broadband adoption." The push for "broadband adoption" by the incumbents is a thinly veiled statement that says, "We think our customers are too stupid to use the bandwidth we have, so we want taxpayers to fund training at the local library." It cleverly shifts responsibility for durable, high performance networks from the incumbents to the taxpayers..."....if only those pesky taxpayers would fund lots of training, everything would be fine."

    I started doing "broadband adoption" in 1993, when the number of connected households in the country was zero, as in 0% had Internet access. I never observed a problem getting anyone to use as much bandwidth as they could afford if the content and services they were interested in was available.

    So as we keep peeling away a few layers of this onion, we get to the problem of the current incumbent "walled garden" business model. While some of the incumbents are now realizing triple play is dead, they are grudgingly moving toward the multi-service model, but still want to retain the walled garden..."No one gets to our customers without our say-so." So the walled garden has a few more services, but they are all branded and re-sold by the incumbent...meaning no competition, and limited choice of pricing and services.

    The most important thing, to me, about delivering a Gig of bandwidth to every customer is that you can then stop worrying about bandwidth, because you have plenty. You know that you can deliver any service, at any level of priority and support, to any customer. And that lets the marketplace determine what is popular and what pays the bills. If you have a network where bandwidth is a scarce commodity (i.e. DSL and cable networks), then you have to punish your customers if they use too much bandwidth.

    I prefer the Doritos model: "Use all the bandwidth you want....we'll make more"

    Design Nine helping with regional DWDM network

    Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/27/2013 - 09:06

    For a client located in Canada, we're assisting with the design, specification, and procurement of a very large regional DWDM backbone network that will bring Gigabit services to more than twenty rural and remote communities.

    Design Nine brings up 10Gig backbone network in six weeks

    Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/27/2013 - 09:04

    For one of our clients located in the Caribbean, we designed, engineered, built, configured, and lit a 10Gig backbone network in just six weeks. Working under a very tight deadline to get the first customer on the network, Design Nine staff developed the network architecture, coordinated the fiber construction, ordered and shipped equipment, procured pre-fab shelters, had the shelters shipped by boat, got all the network equipment shipped, racked and configured the equipment, and brought the network up in time to meet the customer deadline.

    When you need a network designed and built on time and within budget, give us a call.

    Who needs a Gig of bandwidth?

    Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/29/2013 - 15:03

    Over on LinkedIn, someone wrote, "....Netflix and video-conferencing do not require more than 6 to 10 Mbps. Outside of IPTV, I have no idea how the target of 25 to 50 Mbps can be justified for the average household or business."

    Let's not confuse the bandwidth needed for Internet access with the bandwidth needed for other services and applications. The incumbents do this intentionally all the time with sarcastic "Nobody needs a Gig of Internet" remarks that are designed to belittle anyone that criticizes them.

    Here is a real life example to demonstrate my point. On one of our multi-service network construction projects, we met with a major local employer (5000+ employees) who was aggressively trying to offer as much as 20% of their workforce the chance to work from home, as a quality of life issue.

    They wanted 50 megabit symmetric connections between each home-based worker and the local corporate network. The math for them was simple. They wanted every home-based worker to have HD video meetings with as many as three or four co-workers at a time, with each HD 1080p video stream using 8 to 10 megabits. So you very quickly get to 40 or 50 meg just to take part in the morning staff meeting. To make the video work, you also have to have symmetric circuits. And if those folks start doing some screen sharing with more video, you are quickly maxing out a 50 meg connection.

    This was all going to be done on the local multi-service network that we have now built, so no IP (Internet) was needed.

    But we also just had a conversation with a start up IP-TV provider, who told us that two major cable channels (I can't name them, but you would recognize them instantly) are already talking about wanting 15-18 meg PER CHANNEL for very high def live video and 3D movies. So you have four people in the house, and they are all watching a different channel using an average of 15 meg per channel...you are already at 60 meg. This is where we will be in just two or three years.

    So I still hear, "But you haven't made the case for a Gig." The technology cost of provisioning Gig fiber connections is now just about the same as 100 meg connections. So it is simple economics to deploy Gig...it's just as cheap as 100 meg, and you don't have to worry about running out of bandwidth. Gig is not some exotic connection anymore...it's the industry standard for new active Ethernet connections for FTTH.

    Again....let's not mix up the bandwidth requirements for Internet access with the bandwidth for local services...two different things entirely.

    Internet of Things: When creeps hack the baby monitor

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/14/2013 - 07:37

    Color me skeptical about the buzz around "The Internet of Things." This is getting a lot of attention, because there is a lot of money to be made getting people to throw out their perfectly adequate $12 toaster and replacing it with a $60 WiFi-enabled toaster that you can control from your smartphone. But adding electronics to analog devices does not automatically make them a)more secure, or b)more reliable. The industry and government push to replace top-loading analog washers and dryers with energy-efficient front loading machines has had speed bumps, as the new machines have very expensive to replace electronics that don't always hold up well in a humid, wet environment. A mechanical control that cost twenty bucks has been replaced by a circuit board that costs $200.

    And now let us consider this story, in which horrified parents discovered a complete stranger using their WiFi baby cam monitor to talk their child in the middle of the night. Cheap off the shelf WiFi chips and poorly tested network cards are being thrown into these devices as they are rushed to market, and few people are considering or can really even understand the security issues. It's a crazy world we are rushing into.

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