Infrastructure

It is all about power

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 11:51

After Hurricane Sandy, cell phone networks in the affected areas were, by and large, not working. Like the situation after Hurricane Katrina, many cell tower sites had no long term back up power source (i.e. a generator), fuel to keep generators running was not available, or generators were flooded out because they were installed on the ground. In the New Orleans area, it was not the storm that took out networks, it was the flooding. As flood waters rose, the high water drowned the generators, power failed, and the networks went down.

This is not rocket science. Fiber and wireless networks can be engineered to be as reliable in a natural disaster as the old telephone network, but it requires spending money in the right places at the right time (i.e. before the disaster).

iPhone 4S breaks sales records again

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/10/2011 - 09:07

CNet reports that the new iPhone 4S has broken sales records again, with more than a million pre-orders on the first day. The previous best was 600,000 iPhone 4 orders on day one. This is a bit amusing, because when Apple unveiled the new phone last week, a lot of pundits panned the device, complaining that Apple had fumbled, that it should have been an iPhone 5, that the 4S model did not have enough new features, and basically, that Apple had screwed up. Uh huh. No company has ever sold one million phones in one day. Ever. Some screw up.

Copper prices make fiber interesting

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/15/2011 - 09:19

With the price for copper hitting $4/pound, the biggest copper mine in the world is hanging on poles in the U.S. Copper thieves are actually knocking over poles to steal the copper cable in Antioch, California, but copper theft is a problem all over the U.S. The high price of copper and the steadily decreasing price of fiber makes fiber less expensive in new construction, and of course, with fiber, you have the added benefit of being able to expand capacity as needed.

Competition works in the fiber market

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 13:58

Fiberevolution has a short article with a damning slide, showing what Verizon charges for a fiber connection in downtown Boston and what a start up firm is charging for a fiber connection. The start up is offering ten times the bandwidth (100 meg vs Verizon's 10 meg) for a measly 97% reduction in cost on a per megabit basis. Put another way, you can buy ten times the bandwidth for almost 75% less cost ($2700 vs $700). What's wrong with this picture? Well, two things. First, why is Verizon charging so much in the first place, with what has to be a nearly fully depreciated infrastructure? And second, rural parts of the U.S. can't get this kind of rate reduction unless the community itself gets involved. A start up in Boston can go head to head with Verizon because there is enough business in the city to justify the high cost of building new infrastructure. But rural communities don't have the kind of density that justifies overbuilding new completely private networks. The solution for rural communities and smaller cities is to build a single, high performance open access network and let any service provider use it--a shared business model.

Don't put your back-up power in the basement

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 14:47

Dallas County, Texas lost its IT systems for three days when a broken water main flooded the basement of the building where all the county's servers are housed. The servers were fine--they are located on the fifth floor. But the UPS and other electrical equipment supplying power to those fifty floor servers were located in the basement, where water flooded in from the broken main.

This was a huge problem in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Many data centers were on upper floors of the flood-prone area, so the data equipment was fine. But what knocked out a lot of telecom centers was the fact that the back-up generators were all on the ground, or in other words, under water. When the power went off, the generators were not able to keep things running because they were flooded. Some may remember that one small ISP with its generators on an upper floor kept its Internet connection up during the entire flood. The intrepid group had spouses and wives bringing food in, and other friends and helpers were bringing diesel fuel to their building in fifty-five gallon drums.

Blackberry outage highlights need for network diversity

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/24/2009 - 10:03

The recent outage that took down the RIM Blackberry network highlights the need for network diversity. The Internet has, in part, been such a fantastic success because there is no central controlling authority. In fact, there really is no "Internet." It just does not exist. What exists are hundreds of thousands of individual, physically separate networks that use a common set of protocols (rules) to exchange information like email, Web pages, and YouTube videos, among other types of information.

Any one of these networks can down without affecting any other network. Many of these networks can down without affecting the rest of the Internet. But it is even better than that. If major chunks of the Internet (i.e. individual networks) go down, these Internet protocols (rules) allow routing around the damage and most users on all those other networks do not even realize some portion of the Internet is temporarily down.

The Internet just works. To keep it working, we need more independent networks, not fewer, larger networks. We need private sector networks. We need community-owned networks. We need neighborhood networks. More networks, more independent networks equals more reliability, more competition, more choice, more robustness.

The IPSO Alliance is mapping the future of appliances

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/22/2008 - 07:38

The IPSO Alliance (IP for Smart Objects) is mapping the future of appliances and gadgets. Many common household and industrial items will have an IP address in the near future, enabling them to connect to the Internet and perform functions like system diagnostics, power management, transmission of environmental information (temperature, light, motion, health status), and software upgrades.

Telehealth applications will benefit from the new functions enabled by IP connectivity. As robust and reliable broadband connections to the home become more common, more older citizens will be able to enjoy a higher quality of life and will be able to live independently much longer because of relatively low cost telehealth diagnostic and monitoring devices in the home.

In-home and industrial power management and control will save homeowners and businesses lots of money because power hungry devices like water heaters, furnaces, heat pumps, air conditioners, and dryers will be able to talk to the electric and gas utilities, which in turn will be able to turn those devices on and off (with the permission of the owner) to help smooth demand for energy.

What is the essential ingredient? Residences and businesses have to high reliability broadband connections--fiber everywhere.

Ownership has advantages

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/17/2007 - 08:24

Even as some municipal wireless projects are falling apart, many other communities are still pursuing the risky "direct to vendor" approach. Instead of identifying broader community goals and needs first and then selecting systems and technology that support those goals, community leaders are going straight to a vendor and letting the vendor specify what the community should buy.

These "solutions" are typically expensive wireless systems, offered to the community in some kind of bundled business deal. There are two common approaches. The first is that the local government buys an expensive wireless system, usually with a combination of public safety wireless and data wireless (WiFi) for residential and business use. The second model is that the wireless firm builds the network but obtains a lucrative long term contract from the local government for public safety wireless and usually some WiFi services for government agencies.

There are two problems with this direct to vendor model. The first is that what a single vendor offers may or may not be well aligned with the long term community and economic development goals of the town or county. As an example, wireless (WiFi) is not a business class service and does little to help with economic development.

The second problem is that the vendor ends up deciding the economic future of the community, not the community itself. It is as if water and sewer were managed privately, and the water and sewer vendor gets to decide when and where water and sewer lines will be be upgraded or added. If the company decides it is not profitable to make such upgrades, the community is out of luck if said upgrades are needed to retain existing businesses or to attract new ones.

Local leaders are handing the keys to their community's economic future to a third party; they are doing so in part because they don't feel competent to make technology decisions. But the solution is to educate local leaders on how to make wise decisions, rather than avoiding them altogether. In fact, communitywide fiber and wireless systems are less expensive and less complicated than your average community sewer system.

Design Nine provides seminars designed specifically for community leaders and economic developers, and provides technology advice for communities that is technology neutral.

World standard for blown fiber and microduct

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/07/2007 - 08:48

An Emtelle press release notes that the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) has released a worldwide standard for microduct and blown fiber, including a standard for testing.

This is important because it will improve the ability to deploy products from different manufacturers in the same network and improve overall reliability of blown fiber and microduct products.

Microduct is especially well-suited for many community broadband fiber projects because it can be installed without the need for fiber-certified installers (the fiber is added later by a trained crew), its affordability, and its ease of repair.

Fiber to the home through sewers

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/05/2007 - 08:08

Getting fiber to the premise (FTTP) is always a challenge. In many communities, there is not space available on aging telephone poles, or the incumbents try to charge exorbitant make-ready fees to hang a thin fiber cable. Trenching is an alternative, but that can be more expensive and disruptive. CableRunner now offers an interesting alternative, which is to use existing sewer and stormwater drain infrastructure to run fiber through neighborhoods and into homes.

CableRunner's highly automated technology to mount fiber cables and junction boxes to the sides of sewer and drain pipes was pioneered in Vienna, Austria, where they have been doing this successfully for fifteen years. Vienna has a major project underway right now to provide fiber to every home and business in the city, and many of the cable routes are through existing infrastructure. Paris is also beginning to do the same thing

And there is one more thing. Vienna's project is an Open Service Provider Network (OSPN) that will offer the city's residents and businesses a wide choice of services with multiple providers in most service categories. It is just one more reminder of the global competition today: a city taking fiber to every home and business using an open access model. Vienna's goal is to be the best connected city in the world.

What is your community's telecommunications goals?

Poles and right of way

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/08/2006 - 08:25

I'm on location this week, planning a major fiber build for a region of eight communities that have decided they can't wait any longer for world class connectivity and services. It's a rural area with lots of two lane roads. One of the things Design Nine is doing is surveying right of way and existing pole infrastructure.

It's a gloomy picture. The phone company has not invested much here, ever, and as new capacity was needed, they just lashed more copper cables to the poles, rather than running fiber closer to customers and using remote switches to provide better services, like DSL. In many locations, we have picture of poles with 4 phone cables lashed to them, meaning there is no pole space left for community fiber. We also have pictures where the phone cable sag is more than three feet, meaning that even if there is space on the pole itself to add another cable, the sag would have to be corrected first. That is very costly.

A bill called COPE (HR 5252) is currently being debated in Congress, and it is a mixed bag for communities, with mostly negative consequences. COPE would allow video providers to obtain national franchises for video services, which would open up competition; basically, it would enable the phone companies to quickly get start offering the equivalent of CATV/satellite TV in many places, and would provide alternatives in both rural and urban areas. That's the good part of the bill.

The bad part of the bill is that communities would lost most control over their own rights of way. The FCC would become the arbiter, and the big companies could come into any community and demand right of way access. Some of the national franchise fees would be returned to the community, but arbitration and disputes would be handled by the FCC, which would be a nightmare for smaller communities that don't have big budgets for extended legal battles in Washington, D.C.

Local elected and appointed officials need to get on the phone and talk to their Federal congressmen and Senators and tell them to protect the rights of communities before giving the store to the phone companies. In the next 3 to 5 years, the telecom battle, as I have been warning communities since the late nineties, is going to be over real estate (right of way), and not whether WiMax is going to be better than fiber. Don't let hardware vendors sell your community a bill of goods (literally) while ignoring the more important and broader telecom planning issues like right of way and economic development strategies.

Do it yourself fiber

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/03/2006 - 06:32

Skip Skinner, the forward-thinking administrator of Wise County, Virginia, suggested do it yourself fiber to me three years ago. I've proposed it to many other groups since then, and everyone thought I was crazy.

So I was gratified to hear from Matt Wenger of Packetfront about a wildly sucessful do it yourself fiber project at the Digital Cities conference last week. A rural community in Sweden got potential broadband customers to dig a trench across their own property and install conduit (cheap plastic pipe) to the rural road, where the fiber was then blown in using compressed gas.

It worked extremely well. The effort was started and led by a single determined community member who observed, correctly, that most rural folks have or have easy access to tractors, plows, and trenching equipment, and know how to use it.

A major cost of installing fiber in rural communities is getting the fiber from the paved road up to the house, which in this Swedish community was as much as 3/4 of a mile from the road. By sharing costs across a large number of users, the cost of getting the fiber installed was greatly reduced, and the primary focus of the effort was centered on just getting the fiber down the main back roads--a much simpler problem than dealing with the logistics of installing duct to every household.

The local credit union also pitched in by agreeing to add the average $600/household cost of duct and parts to the property owner's mortgage, which increased the take rate for fiber by 25% to 40%. The credit union realized that fiber infrastructure increased the property value by several times the cost of the materials, and worked with their customers to develop a simple, streamlined process for providing the funds. A U.S. study last year showed fiber to the home adds $7,000 to $14,000 of value to a home.

The combination of shared investment, self help installation, and new forms of financing minimized the capital risk on this project and got state of the art fiber into a rural community.

So my question today is this: Are the Swedes smarter than the rural residents of the U.S.? Why not do this in your rural community? We are talking about digging shallow holes in the ground and dropping plastic pipe in the hole, then covering the hole up with dirt. I'm pretty sure we can handle that.

How does $15/month broadband sound?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/27/2006 - 09:27

While at the Digital Cities conference in Reston, Virginia earlier this week, I was able to get some detailed information about Vasteras, Sweden, where they have implemented the kind of open service provider communitywide broadband I advocate for communities in this country. Vasteras is a medium-sized city of about 80,000 people. In past eighteen months, they have run fiber to 7000 homes, 23,000 apartments, and 2000 businesses.

The system is run as a completely open access network--any qualified service provider may offer services over the network, and they have eighty-six (86) service providers. There are several options for Internet access, starting at a full 3 megabit (symmetric--3 meg up and 3 meg down--not offered by any cable or DSL provider in the U.S.) for $15/month. You can get a full, symmetric 100 megabit service for $45/month (about what most of us pay for 1-2 megabit cable or DSL service).

The open access system uses a single community infrastructure that offers freedom of choice for subscribers (pick from 86 different services), increased competition, and much lower costs because service providers can sell services at lower prices because the cost of the infrastructure is shared across the entire community.

Robert Kjellberg, the Managing Director of the effort, said the system has created many new work at home opportunities, helped improve the delivery of local government services, provided new opportunities for distance learning, and that local schools have been able to make much greater use of the Internet for teaching. He said that every K12 student now has their own online portfolio of school projects.

The take rate for the network has been 50% among homeowners and 50% among businesses, and demand has been very strong. They continue to hook up new customers on a weekly basis.

Service providers have been very enthusiastic, and Telia, one of the incumbent providers, sells Internet access over the network for half the price that they charge for DSL in other communities. Kjellberg emphasized that the city does not sell any services and does not compete with the private sector--all services offered over the network come from private sector providers. The service providers pay a small portion of their revenue to the city, which is used to finance debt, expansion, and operations.

Here are some links to the project. Note that as of this day, a Swedish kronor (SEK) is worth about 13 cents USD, so you can take the Swedish service prices and divide by 7.4 to get the equivalent in US dollars.

Vasteras has won numerous awards for its network and has attracted worldwide attention because it has world class broadband at affordable prices. How about your community? Instead of just one or two highly restrictive and expensive broadband offerings, would it not be better to have homes and businesses choosing from 17 plans starting at $16/month?

Fiber or Wireless--It's both!

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/28/2006 - 14:01

This article notes that the only working telecom infrastructure left in New Orleans after the storm was cheap wireless. And even today, WiFi is playing a big role in the city's recovery. In areas prone to flooding, WiFi has an advantage because it is usually installed on something that is above the flood levels. If you can get power to it, it works. And there are some WiFi hotspots powered by batteries and solar power, making them even more resistant to power outages.

I was on the phone today talking with some folks about the direction of infrastructure in rural communities, and the consensus was that no matter how good wireless gets (in terms of bandwidth), you will still need fiber to provide a backbone. Paradoxically, as wireless bandwidth capacity increases, you need fiber more, not less.

All that wireless bandwidth eventually has to hop back onto the wired Internet, and so you will need a fiber backbone, not something lashed together using copper T1 and DSL lines (which is common today).

Every community is different, so there is no one way to start investing in broadband infrastructure, but one rule of thumb does hold true everywhere: don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Cleveland gets connected

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/27/2006 - 13:12

I had the good fortune to hear Mark Ansboury, the COO of One Cleveland, talk about what he and other leaders in Cleveland have been doing to build what is probably the best planned community broadband infrastructure in the country.

The project has leveraged an initial contribution of dark fiber into a regional Gigabit Ethernet network that connects schools, government offices, museums and arts venues, social service agencies, and healthcare facilities. One Cleveland does not provide any services to individual homes and does not provide any services to businesses. The project feels that is best left to the private sector.

Ansboury had an interesting statistic that did not surprise me but caught other people in the room off-guard--Adelphia's commercial business in the area has increased by 60% since the start of the project. The goal of One Cleveland is to make the broadband pie bigger, and it appears to be working very well.

St. Louis builds an MSAP

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/23/2006 - 08:02

For years, I've recommended that communities and regions build MSAPs (Multimedia Service Access Points). From our experiences operating one in Blacksburg as far back as 1999, we found that these local data exchange points save everyone in the community money. St. Louis is building a regional MSAP, which I call an RNAP, or Regional Network Access Point.

The Internet was originally designed to connect local networks that were generally far apart, so there was little need for local data exchange points. But as the Internet has grown, a lot of local traffic now gets carried across large parts of the country just to reach the other side of town. An MSAP reduces or eliminates that totally unnecessary and expensive transit route.

It's not expensive, especially if you already have a community or regional public colocation facility. Internet access providers and other large Internet users (e.g. local government, schools, colleges, hospitals) run a connection to the MSAP and adjust their network routing rules. Once you have at least two MSAP users, all traffic between those two networks stays local instead of being hauled, typically, to bigger cities and often to Washington, D.C. and/or San Francisco.

MSAPs not only save broadband costs, they improve network performance, often by an order of magnitude or more. This is particularly important for local, high performance services like file sharing, healthcare applications, and videoconferencing.

MSAPs work best when they are managed by a neutral third party, like a community broadband project.

Iceland, Greenland, and redundancy

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/29/2005 - 08:43

This short Register article highlights the urgency of dealing with the cable redundancy issue. Communities that do not have a plan to ensure at least two separate broaband cable paths (also referred to as backhaul or Internet feeds) in and out of a community are at risk of losing local businesses to places that do provide cable redundancy. High tech companies are leaving Iceland because the tiny country has only one primary fiber cable serving the entire island, and the cable has been damaged several times, leaving local companies high and dry, so to speak.

Also in the article is a note that residents of Greenland, with a population lower than many U.S. counties and rural regions, will be getting "super fast" ADSL2+, which runs at 24 megabits. According to my arithmetic, this is much faster than the "super fast" 7 megabit DSL that Verizon is touting here in the States.

Okay, here's my updated economic development slogan; feel free to use it in your region.

Our region--broadband almost as good as Greenland!

Amsterdam gets it on community fiber

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/07/2005 - 12:08

EuroTelcoBlog has a story on Amsterdam's community fiber initiative.

The Dutch city has committed to running fiber to every home and business, and is starting with 40,000 homes, or about 10% of the city. So over the next seven to ten years, everyone in the city will have access to community-managed fiber and a wide variety of private sector services--in other words, competition and choice. This citation from the city-issued report shows how serious the city leaders are:

"This enables our city to compete with other European cities. The fiber network delivers to Amsterdam an innovative and freely accessible infrastructure, suitable to support growth in demand for the next 30 years or more. In this way we ensure a wide open marketplace for innovative service-providers and economic growth, as well as a fast track for the smarter and cheaper delivery of care, education and other public services."

The project is particularly interesting because of its organizational component. A stock corporation has been formed (something I've argued for for years), and the city holds one third of the stock, local housing corporations hold one third (probably the equivalent of our HUD-style housing efforts), and private investors hold one third. It is a public private partnership, and telcos and other telecom players could invest in and profit from the shared infrastructure. The private sector ownwership componenent neatly sidesteps the "unfair competition" issue tossed around so casually in the U.S.

For American towns, cities, and regions, this is the competition. And there is another message here as well. There is a lot of DSL in Europe, and Amsterdam has said, with this initiative, "We don't think DSL is good enough."

Funding fiber: A simple solution

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/31/2005 - 10:02

There is much handwringing by local and state governments and the Feds about the "lack of money" to spend on broadband infrastructure. But it is pretty hard to take all that seriously. When politicians say, "There is no money for that," what they are really saying is that there are other things they would rather spend it on, and often for no good reason.

This report on the ever expanding oil well style gusher of gas taxes is a perfect example.

Governments are collecting more than $58 billion a year in gas taxes, and spending it on all kinds of dubious "transportation" projects, many of which are pork, pure and simple.

And communities are in on it. So it is really us that are making bad choices. A community, cannot, on the one hand, complain about disappearing jobs and lack of economic growth, and then on the other hand, encourage their elected reps to throw gas tax dollars at old economy projects or, worse, civic projects that have only a slight relationship to jobs and Knowledge Economy economic development.

Let's take 10% of our gas taxes and build fiber roads with the money. What we need is the equivalent, at the Federal level, of the Interstate highway system, where the Feds, in cooperation with the States, built interstate highways. We need that again. The natural role of the Federal government is interstate fiber highways, with exit ramps in major towns and cities. States and local governments can use their own 10% portion of gas taxes to build middle mile connections to local communities.

With that kind of middle mile and backbone infrastructure being built, the private sector will, in most places, be happy to provide local (first mile) connectivity.

$5 billion dollars, at an average of $10,000/mile for fiber construction (I'm taking advantage of volume to drive the average cost down), we could build 500,000 miles of backbone and middle mile fiber.

That's not just a start, it is what we need to do, and right now. And we would not even notice that little 10% shift in transportation spending...it's pocket change for state and Federal government.

Why fiber is a safe investment

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/31/2005 - 08:11

The Kansai Electric company in Japan has deployed new equipment that enables them to transmit 1 terabit of data per second over their company fiber lines.

That is 100 times faster than most of the fiber transmission electronics currently in use, and shows why fiber, while somewhat more expensive on the front end, is such a safe bet. Research in laboratories has actually achieved even higher speeds, but the Kansai equipment has actually been deployed in the field. Fiber can be upgraded without replacing the fiber and duct lines in the ground or on poles, which is a big advantage, and it makes fiber future proof.

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