Saturday, December 01, 2007

50 Mbit/s Internet on UTOPIA

A few weeks ago Mstar announced their 50 Mbit/s symmetrical Internet access service for $39.95 per month over the UTOPIA network.  Although I e-mailed the press release all around, I did not discuss the service here.

Mstar promotion There is not really much to say about it because the press release speaks for itself.  Service provider competition provides better services at a better price for consumers.  UTOPIA is an open-access network where several service providers compete for the 250,000 households and 35,000 businesses within reach of the network.  Qwest and Comcast are there too.  This price is $4 per month less and more than 6x faster on downloads than Comcast offers.

This is what happens when competition breaks out in a market.  Consumers have choice and better prices.  Watch how quickly Comcast breaks out the DOCSIS 3.0 modems in this area.  The best way for the U.S. to get back on top of the broadband penetration list is good 'ole capitalism.

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Comcast Does Block BitTorrent

BitTorrent logo I have attempted to stay out of the discussion of whether Comcast blocks BitTorrent because it has been thoroughly discussed in many other forums.  This blog is about insight into the industry not jumping onto the  bandwagon slamming Comcast for disrupting BitTorrent traffic.  This evening I have chosen to reverse my decision because I believe that Comcast has overreacted in restricting BitTorrent and can do a better job implementing traffic shaping that can benefit all users.

There is no question that Comcast is blocking my BitTorrent downloads in Boulder.  Comcast logo At home I am a Comcast High Speed Internet subscriber dutifully paying $44 per month while complying with their Terms of Service agreement.  The video programs I am trying to download with BitTorrent are freely available in MPEG-2, MPEG-4, QuickTime, and Windows Media without DRM or copyright restrictions.  I just want to Miro to use the BitTorrent protocol to download the streams that I am subscribed.  For a couple of months, I have not been able to download these programs legally through the Comcast network.  I had no problem last week on Verizon's FiOS network downloading anything I wanted with BitTorrent.

I decided to call Comcast's technical support line to hear the "official" version of the story.  I expected to hear that they don't block BitTorrent but a technician stated that they block BitTorrent transfers because of copyright issues.  Apparently that person did not read the "official" company position on BitTorrent blocking.  I asked whether downloading up to 1 GB per day was considered excessive and they said no.  So I am not excessively downloading too much content and I have the right by the copyright holder to download the material.  Why is Comcast blocking BitTorrent?

Comcast believes that P2P consumes too much bandwidth and prevents other user from a satisfactory experience.  By preventing BitTorrent traffic, they have crudely implemented traffic shaping on their Internet service.  Personally I believe traffic shaping has its place in managing network performance.  In private networks managing applications and setting QoS parameters are legitimate tools to tune the network for optimum performance.  The use of traffic shaping and QoS on Internet services is a bit trickier.

Users of Internet access services expect that they can run any application that they desire over their connection, and they expect that they will always get adequate performance.  The two expectations can be mutually exclusive at times.  Whether you are on a DOCSIS or DSL connection, it is a shared medium.  ISP oversubscribe their networks to maximize utilization of the resources and keep costs down.  If everyone continuously floods the network with traffic doing anything they want, then everyone will not get the performance that they expect. 

This situation is why ISP utilize traffic shaping.  We cannot expect everyone on the Internet to behave as we expect so we need some policing to ensure that all users receive a consistent experience.  Just like in society, it is a question of how much policing is necessary.

Comcast has chosen to take the heavy hand and block all BitTorrent traffic.  Apparently they believe that any P2P traffic is too much.  I disagree with their conclusion.  I appreciate the fact that they are keeping my neighbors from running servers and excessively file sharing so I cannot stream decent video, but they do not need to block all legal P2P traffic.  If managed correctly P2P, like BitTorrent, can actually decrease traffic on their network.  P2P protocols have legitimate and practical uses.

Comcast should set their policies to limit the amount of bandwidth given to P2P protocols during times of congestion.  The Sandvine system has very granular controls to prioritize and manage protocols and applications based on available bandwidth, time-of-day, user, individual usage, and other parameters.  They can easily implement a policy that slows down the amount of available bandwidth for P2P traffic during peak times and let it fly at night when usage is low. 

Most P2P applications are working in the background sharing a file while the user is doing something else.  For instance, Miro could easily wait until network usage is low to start downloading the 700 MB "GigaOm Show."  Most of the time I watch it a day or two after it is first released.  Likewise, it could seed to other computers during quiet times at night.  Comcast could easily set policies to achieve the benefits of P2P protocols like BitTorrent without negatively impacting other customers.

Comcast's situation gets at the heart of the Net Neutrality discussion, and gives ammunition to those that believe that the Internet should be free of any QoS or traffic shaping.  When implemented appropriately, traffic shaping and QoS mechanisms should actually improve the performance of applications running on the network not impede it. 

This situation is a public relations nightmare for Comcast, but it will not hurt them financially because of our duopoly in the U.S.  The worst outcome will be some class action law suits and/or FCC fines.  If users had more of a choice, such as what open-access municipal networks bring, then you would see customers leaving Comcast.  Then again I would not be paying $44 per month for only 8 Mbit/s down and 768 kbit/s up.  Hopefully Comcast will change their policy on P2P protocols and implement more sophisticated traffic shaping through the Sandvine equipment before any wild eyed Congressmen or more lawyers get involved.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Verizon Wireless Punches Hole in Walled Garden

image Verizon Wireless (VZW) was all over the news yesterday with its announcement to open its network to third-party devices and applications.  While the media was focused on the ability to unlock handsets and use other CDMA compatible phones from Sprint and global carriers, the real news was that they were punching a hole in the walled garden of the Verizon Wireless network by allowing third-party applications to run on their network.  Previously only Verizon approved applications designed with Qualcomm's BREW ran on their phones.  This situation allowed Verizon to charge and control the content that ran through their network.  You could not listen to streaming audio from Pandora because it was not a Verizon approved BREW application.  Coincidentally, Verizon and Qualcomm received a piece of the action for every approved BREW application.  It worked out well for everyone except the consumer.

According to the VZW announcement, early in 2008 third party application developers will be able to submit their applications for approval to Verizon to ensure compatibility and security.   Verizon is not being altruistic with this "Any Apps, Any Device" initiative.  They read the writing on the wall from Apple, Google, and the FCC towards open access networks and phones.  As Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T become part of the Open Handset Alliance, Verizon Wireless stood to be the only major U.S. wireless carrier with a completely closed network; not a good P.R. move.  They are trying to give the impression that they are being forward thinking while in reality it is just another "me too" move.  Remember that in September they filed a law suit against the FCC's decision to open up a third of the 700 MHz spectrum to be auctioned in January.  Last month they chose to drop the law suit only to let the CTIA continue the pursuit.

In general, opening up their network increases the value of the network because more devices can be connected through more applications.  On the other hand, third-party applications could eat into some of Verizon's revenue for voice, music, and video.  Content and service providers can offer VZW customers competing services.  Voice over mobile allows subscribers to make voice calls over the flat-rate data network without using plan minutes.  International calls can be made at a fraction of the cost VZW charges for them.  Skype users now have their buddy lists to communicate with other Skype users or use SkypeOut.  Wi-Fi enabled phones can jump between Wi-Fi hot-spots and the Verizon network minimizing the cost to the subscriber and improving coverage while inside buildings and the home.  In the short-term there are significant opportunities for Skype and other similar companies to take advantage of mobile bypass to reduce international toll charges.

Video services are fairly costly through Verizon.  Open source video streamers will quickly come on the scene that can play video podcasts and other programming.  How long would it take before iTunes videos are available on Treos, Blackberrys, and J2ME capable devices?  Video will be the test of how open the network is because of its extreme bandwidth requirements.  Expect tiered pricing for different bandwidth levels.

In the short-term, the loss of revenue will drive down ARPU for VZW subscribers.  Competition will cause subscribers to seek content from alternate providers, and VZW will have to respond by lowering prices of their content.  New companies will sprout up around this new opportunity. The Net Neutrality argument will also arise just as it has on broadband access because the new content entrants will feel that they are being slighted.  In the long-term as applications and devices proliferate, VZW will see greater usage of their network; therefore, driving up revenue overall.  Also, it will drive them to develop unique and compelling content to woo customers back.

The complexion of the wireless market in the U.S. is beginning to change.  The inertia to open mobile networks has begun which will have profound implications on we communicate and digest our content.   When fully implemented, our mobile devices will be just another form factor for how we communicate.  Applications will allow seamless movement of data and content between devices.  Imagine watching a football game while on the train from work, pausing it to drive home.  Picking it up on the HDTV in the living room and finishing it on the computer in the bedroom while finishing up some late e-mails.  This is just one example of the new services we have in store via open-access networks.  In the end, wireless service providers and consumers will be better off.

Note:  There are several excellent articles that detail the VZW announcement.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Consumers Fall for "Cyber Monday"

Well, consumers were sucked into the marketing of "Cyber Monday" by retailers marketing arm  It seems that a record of single day retail sales was set at $733 million up 21% from last year according to Comscore.  It probably didn't hurt that Amazon, Apple,, Dell, Overstock and many other on-line retailers offered pretty good deals on Monday.  Once again the herd mentality proves accurate.  Consumers flocked to the Internet to avoid the rush of the crowd.  It seems that the crowd caught Yahoo! off guard when their merchant solution servers crashed for a while.  Personally I saw some great deals, but I'll probably wait until the last minute to buy anything...after all I am a man.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

80% of Americans Use the Web Daily

Happy Thanksgiving readers.

A Harris Interactive poll finds that 80% of all adult US citizens regularly use the Internet.  Almost 200 million Americans spend an average of 11 hours a week online.  The demographics of online Americans are beginning to mirror our population in general.  With broadband penetration nearing 50% of the population, a little over 30% are still using dial-up and mobile phones as a way to access the Internet.

This upward trend demonstrates the pervasiveness of the Internet in American life.  As more people have access to the Internet from multiple rooms in their homes, office, and even on-the-go, this number will increase further;  thereby, driving the need for greater bandwidth and innovative applications. 

I am writing this article from my over 65 year old mother-in-laws home connected to FiOS.  Nine percent of people in this age group are regular Internet users representing 16% of the total population.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bye, Bye Sprint Airave

A month ago, I was excited to install Sprint's Airave to boost my signal strength in and around my house.  I was excited about its potential to further eat into traditional POTS sales.  This type of service is ideal for T-Mobile and Sprint to increase ARPU since their companies do not own any wireline networks in North America.

After a little over a month of using the Airave, I had to take it back.  Once the unit was activated, it worked well except for the occasional dropped call.  Airave technical support in Fort Worth, Orlando, and Overland Park diligently worked to determine why the unit kept dropping calls.  They determined that the IPSec tunnel was restarting every several minutes which caused the unit to restart.  This was the source of my problems.  I was delighted that Sprint was actually securing my connection, but why was my VPN tunnel dropping?  The technician confirmed with Samsung that my Netgear WGT-624v2 router was not handling the computation/translation of the IKE key correctly with NAT.

During the course of troubleshooting, I could no longer receive any incoming any calls or text messages.  I could still make outgoing calls though.  Sprint could not explained what changed to make my unit worthless.  My solution was to buy a new router or take the Airave back.  I am perfectly happy with my router and do not plan on replacing it for another couple of years.  I suppose that I could put a Ethernet switch on my cable modem as long as I could get another IP address from Comcast, but I really do not want to keep troubleshooting the problem.

In the mean time, I received my second bill since activating the Airave.  The charges were almost incomprehensible.  I was charged a $26 activation fee that was supposed to be waved plus double charged for a month of service.  I took back the unit last weekend and tried to have the retail store give me credit.  They pushed me off to Customer Service.  My first call to customer service was a failure and the second was not much better.  I still have not been completely credited for my one month plus experiment with Airave.  It is not hard to see why 337,000 customers fled Sprint last quarter.

Sprint's Airave initiative is a bold move to capitalize on the trend for younger people to exclusively use their cell phones whether at home or on the go.  At the moment it is superior to T-Mobile's service because users do not need a new cell phone.  Once again their execution of the service is lacking and customer service makes the experience a nightmare.  I know that the purpose of the limited introduction is to work out the kinks.  I just hope that they can work out all of them before the mass market launch.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

IEEE Denver Section Awards Banquet

Earlier this evening, the Denver Section of the IEEE held its annual awards banquet at the Boulder Marriott.  The picture is of the evening's speaker Howard Lieberman, Chairman and CEO of the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to him during the dinner for a lively discussion of the IEEE and state of Electrical Engineering.

Howard has a very accomplished career in the audio and computer industries, and now he leads the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute.  In his current role he tries to help companies learn how to innovate.  A real challenge in a company where they do not already have a culture of innovation.  Innovation is not something that can be institutionalized.

The discussion at our table centered around the state of Electrical Engineering and the IEEE.  Electrical Engineers since WWII had always felt a sense of security in their careers until the bubble burst in 2001.  Now we are generally a depressed lot because many career tracks have been derailed and job security is a thing of the past.  Outsourcing has also impacted our sense of well being. 

The EE that have survived and even thrived have realized that they are essentially free agents.  They know that there is no such thing as job security whether in a big or small company.  The only security that they know is what they can create for themselves.  We constantly must assess our career to protect ourselves and our families.  As Engineers we still have an ethical obligation to our employers to continually produce value. 

The IEEE at a juncture.  It is struggling to be relevant to mid-career electrical engineers.  Membership numbers indicate that they loose graduates after a few years into their careers.  This is the group most affected by the current shifting career market.  The Institute is not doing an adequate job meeting the needs of these members.  Sure it has career workshops, webinars, seminars, on-line forums, career site, and lobbying by the IEEE USA.  These are all valuable services, but they are missing the most valuable service of all:  the redefinition of what it means to be an Electrical Engineer and assisting these members through the transition.

The IEEE has as many members as the AMA, but the average person cannot tell you what an EE contributes to society;  they sure can for doctors.  The reason is that the IEEE is filled full of academicians and institutionalized employees.  Although the are a valuable resource to the Institute, they do not fully represent the membership at large.  There should be more entrepreneurs, small and mid-size company employees, consultants, and the self-employed.  They should be elected to office, placed on committees, and used as volunteers to shape the future of our profession.  Headquarters should utilize them to understand what education, services, and legislative positions are important.  These actions would not only build a stronger Institute, but make membership of the IEEE a life-long endeavor.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Future of User Generated Content

image On October 10, Silicon Flatirons held a forum entitled "The Future of User Generated Content."  The three panels contained some very intelligent speakers from mostly traditional media outlets.  There were a couple of "new" media representatives like ManiaTV.  As expected issues such as copyright law, fair use, DRM, network neutrality, and business models were discussed.  Although I was hoping for a lively discussions about how "new" media was going to disrupt "traditional" media, the panelists focused on how their company understood "new" media and would capitalize on it. 

I would have preferred to hear a more lively discussion on where the future of user generated content is going and how it would change the models for content creation, distribution, and revenue generation.  How would "traditional" media be impacted by this disruption?  They really needed some panelists like Jeff Pulver, Adam Curry, or Mark Zuckerberg to stir up the pot.

I like Silicon Flatiron functions, but they often reinforce the status quo instead of introducing innovation or dealing with controversy.  How about a panel between Comcast and the EFF for the next one?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Know Your Presidential Candidates

Although the purpose of this blog is discuss communications industry issues, I am going to deviate this one article to the presidential election. Americans should have as many facts as possible so they can choose a candidate that they feel will be best for the job. Too often we rely on sound bites provided by the media to form our opinions instead of taking the time to research the candidates. As the government increasingly permeates every facet of our lives, we should devote sufficient time to choosing the candidates that we will feel will reflect our beliefs and mores. People spend more time choosing a cell phone and carrier than they to a presidential candidate. No wonder why the presidential race has turned into a popularity contest and we have one of the lowest voter turnouts than most other democracies. Our government is not truly representative since less than half of Americans vote. Enough lecturing for the evening.

Minnesota Public Radio created a quiz that scores answers against presidential candidates stances on many of the vital issues of the day. It is far from scientific, but it is a good way to see how your beliefs and opinions stack up against the candidates. Some of the questions are worded to narrowly for me which I knew would skew my results. I was still surprised at the outcome. The candidate I thought was closest to me ranked forth. I had no idea that the three above him had views closer to me. The quiz prompted me to look deeper at a few candidates and their positions. The result of my research changed my candidate choice for the primary.

Take the quiz below and spend some time researching the candidates. You may be as surprised as I was at the result. You owe it to a country that has given you so much.

Quiz: Select a Candidate 2008

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why Don't You Have an OpenID?

OpenID logo The OpenID initiative took a big step forward this week at the Digital ID World Conference in San Francisco when France Telecom's Orange announced that it will adopt the OpenID standard for user authentication.  Orange will provide an OpenID for all of its 40 million subscribers, and they are the first major telecom service provider to implement OpenID.  Above and beyond significantly adding to the 200 million of current OpenID users, every Orange subscriber that uses their OpenID will have their identity validated by Orange as a result of their business relationship.  Merchants, financial institutions, and government entities that require an authenticated identity can rely on OpenID from Orange to authenticate and verify their customers for access to information and transactions.

For those of you unfamiliar with OpenID, probably most of you, OpenID was created to provide a single login mechanism for all of those web sites you login to use.  If you are like me, you have almost a hundred different accounts on various web sites.  You create a user ID and most likely use the same password for all of them.  That is not very secure, but are you going to generate and remember a 12 character password like 8D[xr#pm5UW>a for each web site?  I didn't think so.  OpenID users can create different personas to use when registering with web sites.  Who wants to take the time to fill out those darn registration forms just to occasionally read an article?  Besides I don't like giving out my personal information all over the place.  I have an OpenID persona with minimal information that I am willing to provide sites like the Washington Post. 

Users can obtain an OpenID from several different identity providers so there is not a dependence on a single company to store all of your identity information like Microsoft with Passport.  If you don't like your provider, just terminate your account and move to a different provider.  You can even use the delegate feature to create OpenID URL that does not change if you change identity providers.  For instance I use as my OpenID instead of  That way if I change providers, I don't have to update sites where I may share my OpenID.

Companies like and are just two of many OpenID providers.  Larger companies like VeriSign, Yahoo!, and Microsoft support OpenID.  Microsoft has incorporated OpenID support into its CardSpace initiative.  CardSpace's goal is to authenticate a user's identity and information to CardSpace enabled web sites and applications.  A site supporting CardSpace will pop up the CardSpace application so the user can select an identity.  The application will send a token and information to the requesting web site or application.  Once OpenID enabled, CardSpace will provide the same function to OpenID enabled web sites.

I would like to see financial institutions and Internet service providers be identity providers.  That way a user's identity can be verified and validated for important applications.  Users can still remain anonymous when they want by creating another OpenID account.  For instance I could use my validated Chase OpenID to purchase books from Amazon or music from iTunes or select a different persona with limited information while reading articles on USA Today.  I can create an entirely new OpenID from myOpenID if I want to be completely anonymous on MySpace.

OpenID has many other interesting features relating to social networking.  For instance I can share one of my OpenID personas with work colleagues so they can see the publications I read or subscribe.  Technorati, Plaxo and Basecamp are the two sites I use most frequently that support OpenID.  I go in and out of Basecamp several times a day and I only have to authenticate with them once in the morning if I haven't already logged into another OpenID site.  Now if only Google, Sprint, Chase, E*Trade, Comcast, Pandora, and other sites I use would utilize it.  Expect to see greater adoption over the rest of the year as more people buy, trade, seek healthcare, and live over the Internet.  Identity will increasingly be in the spotlight as it was this week at the Digital ID World conference.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

When Net Neutrality Goes Away

David Isenberg posted a rather humorous picture on his blog portraying a possible pricing plan of a tiered Internet. Although I find the graphic humorous, it is inaccurate. More over it creates more FUD about Net Neutrality.

Click on the link and have a chuckle, as I did, remembering that access to any and every non-malicious web site should be a basic tenant of every Internet service. It does not preclude the ability to prioritize real-time and near real-time traffic for the delivery of voice, audio, and video services that can provide true competition to out-of-band competing services provided by the incumbent suppliers.

Supporting municipal open access broadband networks is another way to guarantee Net Neutrality.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sprint's Airave: A VoIP Alternative

Being on the bleeding edge is not all that it is cracked up to be. Monday I wrote about Sprint's Airave femtocell where they provide unlimited calling to and from the same CDMA phone as long as callers are in range of the cell. My personal attraction to the device was to cover the poor reception that I receive around my home. The Sprint Customer Retention department suggested solving the problem by roaming since Verizon's coverage is much better. Although their remedy would have solved my voice reception problems, I would still have limited to no EV-DO access. My response back to the representative was, "Why would I maintain an account with Sprint for a crippled service when I could switch to Verizon and have it all?" They were dumbfounded, and I gave up.

Installation of Sprint's Airave

A picture of my fully functional Airave taken by my Sprint phone and posted directly to my blog through the femtocell.

Moments later Sprint's Technical Support group (Tier 1) called back and was appalled at Customer Retention's suggestion to roam on the Verizon network. "What kind of retention plan is that?" the technician muttered. She recommended picking up an Airave at my local Sprint retail outlet. A few hours later, I drove to the Longmont Sprint store to pick up a free Airave adapter. The store manager and a salesman struggled for 30 minutes to just scan the ESN and add the service to my account. Finally they gave up and just handed me the box with the instructions to dial *2.

I thought I would activate the product during my drive to Denver Wednesday evening. Of course the activation representative had no clue about the Airave, so they transferred me to EMBARQ's customer service line. Fortunately, I knew how to reach the only group in Sprint currently supporting Airave from my previous adventures with them. After almost an hour on the phone with an advanced technician, she admitted that she could not activate the device. She escalated a trouble ticket to the project manager that would get back to me within 53 hours. Does anyone know why they always say 53 hours?

Finally Friday, after many calls and hours spent with Sprint, my Airave was should start working around 3 P.M. I waited...and waited...and waited for the 4 blue lights to illuminate. I was about to put the device back in its box when shortly after 5 P.M. the GPS light turned blue followed by the System light turning blue. They stayed illuminated for a few minutes before reverting to their typical red state. I powered down my phone and powered it up again. The lights all turned blue and I could actually make calls through it. Valhalla!

For the next hour, I wandered around the house making calls, receiving calls, and testing the 1xRTT data service. I must say that the device works as advertised. My calls are clear and steady as I roam through half of my house. I can send and receive text messages plus roam the web. Sprint calls directed through the Airave remain of toll quality even when I load down my Internet connection. I wish I could say the same for my VoIP service. Funny too since the Airave is at the end of a chain of devices from cable modem, ATA, router, then Airave. My biggest complaint is that the signal falls off quicker than my Wi-Fi router. Sprint advertises an approximate coverage area of 5,000 square feet that equates to a 40 feet radius around the Airave in free space. Forty feet reaches just to the edge of our living room; not enough to cover the whole house unless I can figure a way to install it in the middle of my house. The supervisor that activated my device and set up my account informed me that they are considering increasing power levels to increase coverage.

After a few days playing with Airave, it really has the potential of replacing land lines especially for twentysomethings that have never purchased a POTS line. It offers the simplicity of a single number per person on a single device, and the cost is comparable to most VoIP or digital phone services. Families will benefit because they can each be on their phone simultaneously. No more shouting, "I'm on the phone," or purchasing multiple lines. Around our house we are always looking for the cordless phone that is ringing in the sofa cushions. E911 is supported through the built-in GPS receiver. The only reason I see why I should keep my VoIP service is the inexpensive international calling and slightly higher voice quality . I will be curious to note how our calling patterns shift over the next couple of months. Kudos to Sprint for embracing this technology instead of resisting it.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Sprint Releases AIRAVE to Enhance In-Home Coverage

Sprint announced today that it is releasing AIRAVE to select customers in the Denver and Indianapolis markets.  The device is intended to replace a customer's landline by offering unlimited incoming, outgoing, and long distance calls with enhanced coverage inside the home.  Sprint customers can use the same CDMA phone that they currently use on the Sprint network.  The AIRAVE is a femtocell that utilizes customers' broadband service to communicate with the Sprint network. 

image The Samsung manufactured device covers approximately 5,000 square feet overlaying coverage of the CDMA network.  Up to three Sprint subscribers can use the AIRAVE simultaneously as long as they are registered with the device.  If users are within the reach of the device, calls are initiated and received through it without utilizing any of the subscriber's plan minutes.  A subscriber can initiate a call on the femtocell then continue it outside its range on the Sprint network.  They will be charged for the time on the Sprint Nationwide network.  If they originate the call outside the femtocell, then come within range, they will have to re-establish the call to stop being charged for it. 

The AIRAVE is available in Sprint stores today (my local store had 8 of them) for $49.99.  A single line costs $15 per month for unlimited calling, and $30 per month for a family plan.  AIRAVE does not work with the iDEN system or EV-DO as far as I can tell.  AIRAVE is only available in Denver and Indianapolis for the moment with Nashville later this year.  Nationwide rollout is planned for 2008.

AIRAVE is Sprint's answer to T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home without requiring a new phone.  T-Mobile utilizes Wi-Fi for its in home wireless coverage while Sprint relies on the CDMA standard which is superior because customers can keep their same devices.  Both systems require a broadband connection.

Every six months Sprint adjusts my local cell site to move a minor null away from U.S. 36 west of my house.  Sprint ends up moving the null to our development preventing adequate coverage in my neighborhood (outside buildings).  They do not really have a choice since the antennas are fixed to a building.  The phone registers with the HLR, but calls go to voicemail.  I open trouble tickets and eventually service is restored.  Sprint's coverage maps show great coverage in my neighborhood if you think that receiving voicemail notifications qualifies as great coverage. 

AIRAVE would be an answer to my voice service problems if only Sprint would waive the charges for the device and service.  So far they refuse to do anything about it.  I hoped that they would at least offer to split the bill with me.  What I really want is a repeater to boost voice and data signals.  Too bad I cannot find anyone in Sprint that knows that they offer one for such situations.  My next step is to call customer retention to see if they can help live up to their advertising that they have coverage in my neighborhood.  I am going to call customer retention tomorrow to see if they will offer an AIRAVE to augment their poor coverage in my neighborhood.

Time will tell if AIRAVE will actually accelerate the replacement of the landline.  At $30 per month, it is a cost-effective replacement to a landline with unlimited long distance.  The femtocell will certainly boost the performance and use of cell phones in home and probably reduce calls to customer service complaining about coverage.  Hopefully a future version will support EV-DO.  This service may actually reduce churn from the Sprint network.


Additional articles:  Engadget, Phone Scoop, Washington Post

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Save the Cradle of Radio Astronomy

Several weeks ago I wrote about the passing of an era with closing of the Bell Labs' Holmdel facility. While I highlighted the innovation and invention that I was exposed, I failed to mention many of the historically significant events that occurred in and around the facility. One of those events was the birth of radio astronomy.

The striking mirrored glass building with its cooling pond and transistor shaped water tower sits on 472 acres of land required at the time to meet occupancy density requirements. The land was put to good use beyond the soccer field and baseball diamonds. In 1931, before the land was developed, Karl Guthe Jansky set up the world's first radio telescope to measure and characterize the noise from space that may interfere with microwave communications signals that transported long-distance phone calls. The spot where Jansky set up the antennas is considered to be the cradle of radio astronomy. The exact site is commemorated with a sculpture and plaque. His pioneering work let to the discovery of quasars, pulsars, and black holes, as well as the formulation of the big bang theory (at a site just up the street).

Now that the building and land have been sold to a real estate developer, the fate of the Jansky Memorial remains unknown. The developer plans to demolish the building and erect office buildings and homes. Holmdel is a very upscale township in Monmouth county were office space and homes are sold at a premium. I am sure that the developers plan on developing that land to its fullest potential. The developer and current owner of the property realizes the significance of the site and Jansky Monument, but there are no guarantees what may happen to it once the property is developed and sold.

Three former Bell Labs astrophysics researchers are trying to preserve the site and have it designated a historical landmark. Their web site, Save the Cradle of Radio Astronomy, is devoted to the task of obtaining that historical designation. For more information on Jansky or the effort to preserve the monument read the excellent article in "The Institute" of the IEEE that Willie D. Jones wrote. If you are interested in preserving this historical landmark, visit the site to see what you can do.

Engadget Story Link

Friday, September 14, 2007

TerraNet Wireless P2P Is Disruptive

From the land of Skype, Kazaa, and other innovations come another potential market disrupting technology:  peer-to-peer wireless networks.  TerraNet in Lund, Sweden built a system for free local wireless calls, free texting, and long distance VoIP calls.  The disruptive part is that the system does not rely on relaying each call through a carrier's base station.  They utilize a peer-to-peer protocol over a wireless medium to communicate directly with another phone up to two kilometers away.  We use to call these systems walkie-talkies. 


The difference with the TerraNet system is that they can use other phones as relay stations to reach their destination without going through a base station.  Each call can travel up to 7 hops to reach its destination giving a maximum reach of about 20 kilometers.  If there is a TerraNet USB dongle within that 20 km diameter, callers can make phone calls to phones on the PSTN.  The dongle plugs into a computer or router that has Internet access creating a self-organizing mesh network with wireline connectivity.

The fact that users do not rely on a carrier's radio access network is a disruptive concept that traditional carriers will likely have a hard time embracing.  Traditional wireless carriers typically have every call or datagram travel through one of their base stations so they can charge for the service.  Peer-to-peer calls would be free, but that is not different than the plans that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile offer now for calling phones on their network.  My plan with Sprint includes unlimited calling to other Sprint users.

I recently took a road trip in two cars with my family.  My wife and I brought our cell phones and two-way radios to handle our drive through that wireless wasteland in western Nebraska.  We made extensive use of the two-way radios the whole trip because of the reliability and convenience.  We had a range of about 2 km just like the TerraNet system.  With wireless peer-to-peer built into our cell phones, we would have not needed the walkie-talkies especially with at PTT feature.  If there were other users in range maybe we could have reached the PSTN on occasion; thereby, generating revenue for Sprint.  I see great value to traditional and non-traditional wireless carriers with this technology.

The benefit to a traditional wireless carrier is increased coverage in areas with marginal signal strength.  The big 4 wireless carriers all show excellent coverage at my home, but the reality is marginal coverage at best. I frequently miss and drop calls while receiving text messages and voicemail notifications.  I always return them by land line because I cannot rely on sufficient call quality or even a connection.  Just think if I could leverage the better coverage of other nearby Sprint customers.  My cell phone would almost always work at home.  If they allowed me to install a dongle in my home network, then I would always have excellent coverage.  T-Mobile is already doing this for their customers.

Bidders in the 700 MHz C-block of spectrum could differentiate their service with this technology and get a deployment boost.  First it would allow them to quickly increase coverage without a massive radio access network deployment.  They could offer customers a phone and USB dongle to augment their radio access network.  Secondly they could reduce the cost of operating the network by relying on customer's Internet connections for completing calls to the PSTN or distant users.  Finally, Apple could include the technology in their iPhones to share chat sessions, music and video between other iPhones without relying on Wi-Fi connectivity.  My guess is that integrating iChat with iTunes would go over better than Zune's implementation.  Imagine distributing movies to Apple TV users by copying pieces from your neighbors' boxes.  Multi-player role playing games can be organized into teams from only point-to-point connections.  The applications are endless.

TerraNet has not announced any partners or customers yet, so their traction remains to be seen.  As long as wireless carriers are open-minded about the peer-to-peer aspect of the technology, this company has an extremely bright future.  In Europe and other places where handsets are unlocked, TerraNet does not need to rely on the carriers just the handset manufacturers.  In the U.S. market, carrier acceptance is a must.  There is still the opportunity to work with bidders of the 700 MHz spectrum to provide a truly disruptive wireless service.  Let's see who has the vision.

TelecomTV article

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ITU-T Recommendations Free On-Line

The International Telecommunications Union Telecommunications Standardization Sector (ITU-T) has decided to offer over 3,000 of its standards for free in PDF version only.  The ITU came to its senses when it realized that they can better serve their mission when they offer the standards to people for free instead of charging moderate fees.  Beginning in January of this year, they allowed web site visitors to download standards free of charge.  Over 300,000 standards were downloaded during the first three quarters of this year compared to 500 purchased last year.  I guess that they realized that selling standards is not a money making proposition.  It is better to make them freely available to anyone who wants them so they can be widely implemented; otherwise, they are not of much value to the industry.

Let's hope that other standards organizations catch on to this move and begin providing their standards free on-line.  With the exception of IEEE, Telcordia and CableLabs, most standards organizations worldwide are supported by governments, and the standards are created and edited by industry volunteers.  The cost of providing free on-line copies is negligible.  If the purpose of a standard is to promote multi-vendor interoperability and safety, shouldn't they be widely available?  The ITU has made a great step in promoting the use of their standards globally and spurring innovation.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Is Apple Going to Become a Wireless Carrier?

imageRumors were abound all day about the possibility of Apple bidding on the 700 MHz C block spectrum that the FCC will auction off on January 16th of next year. Articles appeared in BusinessWeek, Wired, C|Net, and TelecomTV about a possible bid by Apple. Up to now, all of the rumors and discussion have been about Google bidding on this spectrum. Google's successful play to have some of the spectrum open to any device or application opens up the rumor mill beyond the usual suspects of carriers. With the launch of the iPhone and complaints about the AT&T network it was only time before Apple was identified as having ambitions in acquiring this chunk of coveted spectrum. Although the rumor is plausible, does it have any legs to it or is it just hopeful speculation?

Apple can certainly afford the minimum bid of $4.6 billion required to participate, but does it make business sense for them? The short answer is yes and no. The obvious application is to use this spectrum for access to the iTunes Store to sell music, TV programs, and movies without sharing revenue with wireless carriers. Also, Apple can retain control over the complete user experience which is why the iPod has been so successful. Breaking the connection to the PC will allow the Apple to create an iPod Touch and iPhone that can access content over-the-air without depending on cutting in another carrier to use their network. Even iTV could benefit from access at 700 MHz.

What does not make sense is for them to get into the business of operating a voice network. Creating a voice network is an expensive proposition beyond building a radio access network. Voice services are best left to the ones that already have a network.

Remember that the C block is a 22 MHz slice of spectrum that is to be open to devices and applications. This means that Apple could invite a selection of voice and application providers to resell their services over the network. Apple could partner with a carrier like T-Mobile or Sprint to provide voice service in this or another frequency block. Sprint is very comfortable selling capacity to MVNO, and they could certainly use a boost.

Another option would be for Apple to partner with Google to provide a collection of applications. Google could provide Internet and voice services to the iPhone while Apple retains control of the entertainment services. Apple could even create a version of iTunes to run on the Google phone. I am sure that Eric Schmidt and Steve Jobs have had discussions on the topic since Schmidt sits on Apple's board.

The wildest option would be for Apple to work with eBay to provide Skype's voice service over this network. Skype has the user base and network to deliver a quality voice service.

image The most likely scenario appears to be a consortium with Apple, Google, and eBay to bid on the spectrum block with an experienced network operator not already in the business; maybe DirectTV or Echo Star. The satellite provider will not only run the network but offer services to their customers over it. Skype/eBay can sell voice services to the other partners while Apple sells devices, music, and video and Google sells ads through all outlets. It is much easier to share the cost of this multibillion dollar network across four or more partners than go it alone.

I am sure that in the months to come that many more rumors will surface as the bidding gets closer. I like the idea of these companies getting together to create new and exciting mobility opportunities. Their success could open even more spectrum to innovators.

Note to Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt: Feel free to call me if you need leadership with this venture.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Truth About PowerBoost

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Tim Sprinkle of The Bridge for an article on high-speed Internet access marketing techniques.  The author wanted to know if there was any value to the cable companies' on-demand bandwidth services.  I provided some rather blunt quotes about how the telcos and cablecos market only bandwidth.  It is like buying video services and getting a snowy picture with the cable company saying that they did their part by providing you any picture.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The End of an Era II: Elvis Has Left HO

 There is an e-mail circulating around to alumni of Bell Laboratories marking the end of an era and one of industry's great institutions.  Alcatel-Lucent announced the sale of the Holmdel (HO was our internal facility code) facility almost two years ago.  With the disintegration of Bell Laboratories and AT&T, the occupancy of HO decreased year after year.  Lucent Technologies (formerly Western Electric and AT&T Network Systems) ended up with the building during the trivestiture.  With Alcatel's purchase of Lucent, HO had maybe 1,000 occupants of the 5,000 it could hold.

imageFor those of use who roamed the halls of a vibrant HO under the Bell System, AT&T, or Lucent,  The Hofmann Gallery provides a stark reminder of how the mighty can fall.  The 180,000 square meter facility is an empty shell where many great innovations and products emanated.  I have many fond memories of my time there after graduate school.  I mingled with some of the industry's smartest minds while charting a course for Network Systems' entry into the global equipment marketplace.  HO was a post-graduate school as much as a place of employment for me.  I continued to learn and be nurtured by mentors with several decades of experience.  I learned not only about the telephone system and optical communications, but UNIX, data communications, undersea systems, and many other intellectual curiosities.  HO was our social gathering place in a time before My Space.  We gathered there to play softball and tag football in the evenings.  During the winter it was the meeting place for ski trips to Killington and Stowe.  Bob Lucky wrote an early eulogy on HO two years ago.  Shortly after that article we lamented on HO's and Lucent's fate. 

While HO's passing and that of Bell Laboratories in general (I know that it still exists) is sad to those of us associated with them, other writers use this event as evidence in the passing of the great industrial research laboratories built at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Although Bell Labs, RCA Labs, GE, IBM, Westinghouse, Xerox, and others have faded, we now have companies like Google resurrecting the idea of a corporate lab.  Google reminds me in many ways of the Bell Labs of old.  The companies of the old research labs failed to stay relevant as the technology industry changed.  They were immersed in developing products based on perpetuating their dominance in the industry while nimble upstarts developed disruptive technologies that made the old guard obsolete.  What once took a whole department and a multimillion dollar budget to do at Bell Labs now can be done with a few people working out of their homes.

While the site of that stately glass and steel building sitting empty saddens its alumni, it is a reminder of the cyclical nature of business and the necessity for constant disruption.  Innovation alone cannot guarantee survival. 

Sunday, August 12, 2007

CrossLoop - Simple Secure Screen Sharing

I know that I haven't been directly addressing telecom technology related issues lately, and I promise that my next article will be on a telecom network related item.  While relaxing yesterday to a couple of podcasts, I found a very handy product for those of us that have to help our parents manage their computers from afar.  I heard about it while watching the Scoble Show during an interview with Silicon Valley legend Tom Rolander.  The program is the latest brainchild of Tom and his company CrossLoop.

How many of us end up as tech support for our close friends and family, and how many of these people have trouble articulating what they see on the screen?  I can't even count the times I just wanted to reach through my screen and grab the mouse on the other end.  That elusive goal was only a dream until now.  CrossLoop was developed with this simple task in mind: allow a techie to remotely control a non-techie's computer in as few steps as possible.

Of course we have tried Remote Assistance in WindowsXP, instant messengers, and other programs designed for remote access, but firewalls and the complex instructions to get them running on the other end prevented them from ever working or working more than once.  CrossLoop aims to make it easy for the tech savvy to help the tech challenged. 

The CrossLoop developers eliminated the multiple steps of connecting to a remote computer and configuring firewalls.  The steps to remote support bliss are few:

  1. Download a small (~2 MB) file from CrossLoop.
  2. Run the installation program and "trust" program if your anti-virus software prompts you.
  3. Run the CrossLoop application.
  4. Have the person on the other end complete the first three steps.
  5. The person on the other end has to click on the "host" tab and read to you the 12 digit access code and click connect.
  6. Type the access code in the box on the "join" tab and click connect.
  7. Now you are connected!!!

CroosLoop screen shot

CrossLoop handles all of the mysteries of the connection behind the scenes.  The truth is that they use HTTP to a proxy that punches through any firewall to initiate a peer-to-peer connection between the two machines.  There are few configuration options to confuse users.  It just works.  The connection is secure because it uses 128-bit encryption with a key generated from the 12-digit access code.

My parents always have questions on how to do things on their computer.  I am delighted to offer assistance, but they have trouble understanding what I tell them no matter how simple I make it.  They use AOL as their ISP which I have no clue how to do anything through their user interface.  For years I have struggled with explaining how to send attachments, load printer drivers, find files, and edit documents.  On occasion I have set up Remote Access on their computer when I visited them, but firewalls have blocked the traffic.  Application sharing through IM programs failed since they have been moved or removed since my visit.  I am always resorting to describing the steps of a process over the phone.

Today I had my parents download CrossLoop and install it.  Once installed, I had them read me the 12-digit access code and click connect.  Moments later a window opened displaying their desktop.  Actually it was several moments because they are still on a dial-up line.  In any case, I was able to navigate around their desktop and show them what to do.  Now I can install new programs, repair shortcuts, and show them how to use IM and other useful programs.  Bliss is near!

CrossLoop is free right now while they are trying to figure out how to monetize their business.  In the future expect to possibly see ads inserted into a corner of the screen or possibly charge for a premium service with more features.  Right now, it does just fine simply connecting me to my parents' computer.  Sometimes simple is better.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"Super V-Chip" Has Nothing to Do with Violence

 The new "Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007" aims to expand the presence of the "V-chip" technology to other media like the Internet and mobile phones.  This new legislation, if passed, has the potential of placing additional costs on the delivery of broadband services and stifle innovation.  In addition, it may not even be practical to implement on the Internet.  Did I mention that the act that the legislation never mentions violence?  The act's intent is to limit children's exposure to "indecent" content.  TelecomTV has a good article on yet another step to limit our freedoms.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Big Bubba/Brother Extends Eavesdropping

Bush has your mail! I did not create this blog to express political opinions, but I cannot help comment on President Bush's signing into law new legislation that allows the federal government to monitor communications to and from U.S. citizens without a warrant.  This anti-American legislation brings us one step closer to entering a totalitarian regime.

This onerous law increases liability for U.S. telcos that are already facing numerous lawsuits from consumers because they complied with the NSA's illegal warrantless eavesdropping program.  Telco lobbies have had little impact at sidelining the law.  It increases the financial burden on telcos, MSO, and ISP to comply with CALEA regulations and could stifle innovation of new communications technologies.

Who would have ever thought that a country that gave its citizens fundamental freedoms such as those in the Forth Amendment would allow its government to snoop into their lives at will.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

It is funny that a Brit (TelecomTV - TelecomTV One - News) is more up-in-arms about the intrusion than most American citizens.  Americans have been placated by Bush's statements that we must give up a little freedom for security at home against terrorists.  His statements remind me of the statements of a true statesman.

Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty. -Benjamin Franklin

Before you start bashing me as a Bush hater, I can only imagine how much worse the situation could get under Clinton or Obama.  My point is that as Americans and leaders in the industry we must be ever vigilant to preserve the freedoms our forefathers gave us.  Technology should be used to enable freedom not suppress it.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Can You Hype Me Now?

Picture of iPhone 6:00 P.M. CDT and I am no where near an AT&T or Apple Store.  I am sure that there the Apple Fan Boys in Boulder are going crazy right now with their new iPhones.  Other bloggers are going nuts right now with live reports (link and link) from the lines at these stores.  What is sadder is the thousands of people watching the streaming video of people standing in the lines.

I will be so glad when the hype dies down next week and the tech news returns to normal.  Maybe CNET's Buzz Out Loud can go an episode without mentioning the iPhone.  I love gadgets and bleeding edge technology as much as any geek, but the hysteria and hype surrounding the iPhone is more than a Grateful Dead reunion.

I have to extend my admiration to Apple for their marketing and design efforts.  These guys understand the concept of the whole product.  The iPhone builds on the lessons learned from iPod to redefine what we consider a cell phone. I just received my first iPod a few months ago so I can wait until the second generation of iPhone.  The iPhone has some limitations that need to be addressed before I will buy one:

  1. The price needs to come down considerably.
  2. The battery should be user replaceable.
  3. Open access for third party developers including Javascript.
  4. Greater memory for programs and data.
  5. MMS support.
  6. Better voice quality.
  7. Available on other networks like Sprint and Verizon with EV-DO support.

Until they fix these issues, I'll stick with my Samsung A900.  I may have a long wait.

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Finally...Some Common Sense Out of Our Government

Wednesday the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report called "Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy" recommending that policy makers take a hands-off approach to regulating the Internet.   The report states that the Internet is becoming more competitive, not less; therefore, Congress should let it flourish by not attempting to regulate it.  It cautions lawmakers that their legislation could cause unintended consequences no matter how well intentioned that the legislation may be.

Although it took them 169 pages to say, "No new laws," they came up with the right conclusion.  I have stated in previous blogs that most laws end up plagued by the Law of Unintended Consequences.  So why draft new laws to regulate something that is working well for our economy.  Now the FTC confirmed it.

I would actually like to see a communications company add a differentiated service just to see if the market accepts it.  My assumption would be that third-party VoIP providers would jump at the chance to guarantee a specific quality of service.  If the service fails to catch on, then capitalism works.  It is a non-issue and the Internet survives.

My fear is Congress will ignore this report and take up net neutrality again in the fall session.  Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) is the likely candidate to propose such legislation with the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).  They always think that they know what is best for us and firmly believe that capitalism is flawed.  Let's hope that cooler heads in Congress will heed the FTC's cautionary tale and leave the Internet alone.

TelecomTV - TelecomTV One - News News Blog

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Google To Acquire GrandCentral

TechCrunch reports that Google is in acquisition discussions with GrandCentral.   You may recall that GrandCentral is the company that provides one number with find me/follow me capabilities.  I switched my business number to it several months ago and I have seldom missed a call as a result of it.  I have been tempted to start using it for my personal number as well because of its rule-based engine.

In my last blog article about them, I suggested that GrandCentral integrate with Skype.  A combined product would detect presence, execute a rule, and ring the appropriate phone(s) and/or computer.  Contacts are easily integrated from Outlook without time consuming importing.  You can even decide whether you will let someone chat instead of calling.  Apparently Google saw the value in GrandCentral to add value to Google Talk.

GTalk suffers from the me too syndrome.  There is no compelling reason to use them other than integration with Gmail.  GrandCentral could give GTalk the value to cause users to switch.  Google can add features to detect presence or availablity from Gcal before deciding which phone to ring or send the caller to voice mail.  Voice mail could be played on any phone or in Gmail.  Users could even optionally publish their number with Goog411. 

Purchasing GrandCentral is a great move on Google's part, but bad news for Skype users.  Is there a chance of EBay coming to the rescue?

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Is Enough, Enough When It Comes To Bandwidth AT&T?

Time to get back to telecom issues and leave content and services alone for a few articles.

Ah, the glory days when we proclaimed at AT&T that 56 Kbit/s was all the bandwidth a business would ever need.  A few years later we updated that cap to a T1 or 1.544 Mbit/s.  Lately, The New AT&T proclaims that 35 Mbit/s is enough bandwidth for your TV, phone, and Internet access.  Is it?

Comcast does not think so.  Earlier this week, Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, demonstrated Internet access speeds of 150 Mbit/s at The Cable Show in Las Vegas.  The demonstration utilized the DOCSIS 3.0 standard to bond together the equivalent of 4 analog TV channels to obtain the desired bandwidth for the demonstration.  They plan on reclaiming bandwidth on the plant to offer 100 Mbit/s Internet access to homes by moving to an all digital plant, utilizing switched digital video, reclaiming bandwidth from legacy applications, and implementing MPEG-4 compression according to Tony Werner, Comcast's CTO.  Comcast is not resting on its laurels in the triple-play arms race.

Additionally, Comcast will have to incorporate node splits to ensure enough bandwidth to each home.  Splitting a node costs between $3.35 to $26 per home passed depending on they way that they actually split a node.  About 65% of those splits are of the "logical" type that cost $3.35.  A small cost compared with some of the telcos upgrade plans.

Let's compare these figures to the cost of AT&T's Project Lightspeed.  Also this week, AT&T announced that the capital expenditure of Project Lightspeed would increase from $4.6B to $6.5B and the number of homes passed to 18 million; down a million homes.  That announcement increased price per home passed to $361 which is now about half the cost per home passed of Verizon's FiOS project that is delivering 50 Mbit/s Internet access alone.  To reduce capital expenditures, AT&T relies on a fiber to the curb approach and existing copper cable for the last thousand feet which limits bandwidth to the home.

In addition to the cost, AT&T depends on a completely switched digital video network to squeeze the most out of the limited bandwidth over their aging copper plant.  The Microsoft software that powers their IP-TV network has proven to be less than reliable to date.  Add this up:  a totally new switched digital video network, the limitations of a copper infrastructure, and a multi-billion dollar build-out for a network that is barely sufficient to meet today's triple-play needs. 

Contrast this risky strategy with Comcast's low cost, high bandwidth network and you would think that the market would be going crazy for Comcast stock.  The opposite is true.  AT&T's stock keeps rising while Comcast's is holding steady after a setback in January.  The market is fixated on short-term numbers instead of the long-term picture.

In the triple-play arms race, Comcast is better suited to capture a greater market share with faster Internet access, a greater selection of HDTV programming, more responsive VOD, cheaper voice services, and an integrated suite of packages ala Zimbra.  Despite of what Om Malik says, Comcast is delivering the innovation to make it a triple-play market leader.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Lawsuits Gone Wild

So you think that concept patents and intellectual property law suits have not gone far enough?  On Thursday, I read in Forbes and heard on a Wall Street Journal podcast that Adobe Systems, Microsoft, Apple, and Real Networks have received cease and desist letters by Media Right Technologies (MRT) for "actively avoiding their X1 SeCure Recording Control."  MRT believes that because these companies do not use their DRM product that they are in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). 

Talk about stretching application of the law.  Although the DMCA is overreaching in its objective, I am sure that Congress or the music industry (i.e. RIAA) did not intend for it to be convoluted in this fashion.  Who who is next?  EMI for selling non-DRM music through the iTunes Music Store.

Apparently MRT has developed a new business development technique that I am unaware.  If you cannot get a company to purchase your technology, threaten to sue them.  I see this move as a last ditch effort by a struggling company to coerce the big guys into keeping them afloat.  Hopefully the federal judge that ends up with this case, if they even file one, will not waste taxpayer dollars and throw it out.  Maybe MRT should consider hiring a good marketing and business development professional.

CNET article

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Comcast Acknowledges Upstream Powerboost

In the battle between cablecos and telcos, Comcast seems to be advancing the arms race nicely.  For months I have noticed that most downloads have been zippier at boosts up to 8 Mbit/s, but lately I have seen jumps over 10 Mbit/s.  This note on Broadband Reports prompted me to test my speed again.

Bandwidth results for Comcast HSI

As noted in the graphic above, I receive Ethernet speeds for short periods of time for downloads and almost a T1 in the upstream direction.  With DOCSIS 3.0 on the way, how long will it be before we see 100 Mbit/s?  No wonder why cable has captured over 70% of the VoIP business and is a serious threat to the telcos.  A common inbox for e-mail, voicemail, and IM may win me over from my VoIP provider that has not introduced anything new since E911.  Although it may be a duopoloy in most communities, the cable companies are serious about being your triple-play provider.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tired of Crummy YouTube Videos

Everyday someone forwards me a link to another pixilated and grainy video on YouTube.  Most of the content are clips from previously copyrighted material, but the most annoying feature is the quality of the Flash-based video displayed.  In this day in age of high-definition video, why must we accept postage stamped size, poor quality video?  Because Adobe's Flash video leads the market in Internet-based video over Microsoft, Apple, Real, and DivX

This market lead has led Adobe to believe that they can launch yet another media player to compete against all of the other leading players and new ones like Joost and Democracy.  The Adobe Media Player is yet another video RSS aggregator that will include DRM and advertising.  So how will Adobe differentiate it from all of those other players?

Their only differentiator is the huge amount of web sites already using Flash video.  With the Adobe Media Player, web sites using Flash video can advertise through the player providing other outlet to their sites.  Adobe will line up all of the usual content providers to seed the player/aggregator with content.  But the question remains; do we really need yet another media player?

I have all of the above mentioned players on my machine and I use all of them because not one of them can satisfy all of my needs.  iTunes manages my podcasts and some of my music.  RealPlayer is my primary music library manager.  Democracy Player is my video podcast aggregator.  The only time I use Windows Media Player is when I download WMP-formatted content; otherwise, most web content is played from the web site with the embedded QuickTime player.  I would really like a single player that can do all of those functions so I would not have to chew up all of my disk space and CPU cycles running all of those separate players.

So that brings me back to the Adobe Media player.  How can Adobe differentiate their player from the rest of the fray?  From the announcement last week, I see no features or capabilities that would cause me to download and install yet another media player, and I believe that most users out there will feel the same.  The Adobe loyalists that use CS3 including Flash to design web sites will be the ones to use it.

Download DivX

Adobe has promised high-definition Flash video in its media player, but why bother when there is DivX.  DivX is the clear winner in high quality video over even MPEG-4.  I try to view and download content in DivX format whenever possible.  DivX produced high-definition Internet video before all of the others started jumping on the bandwagon.  This little San Diego company has a great underground following with some mainstream content that they publish through their Stage6 web site.  Visit Stage6 and you will see large, high-definition videos that are worthy of display on your computer or your $7000 plasma TV.  I often use their CODEC's with the RealPlayer to play and manage video.  I create home videos for playing on my computer, web site, or DVD with the DivX codec in Roxio's Easy Media Creator.

The problem with DivX is that it is not as ubiquitous on the web or in DVD as other media formats although many DVD players, TV, recorders, and cameras now support the DivX format.  DivX is challenged not by technology, but by a sound marketing strategy.  They have made great inroads in the consumer electronics market, but they failed to make significant penetrations in consumer content, web video, mobility, and IP-TV/Internet TV.

What markets are left for DivX?  They missed the boat to be the format for high-definition DVD.  Microsoft is leading in IP-TV deployments, and Adobe's Flash dominates the Internet.  That leaves them relegated to yet another video format to fight out a niche content creation market for those people that want exceptional quality video in a small package.  There is a long-shot that they could be utilized as a next generation mobile content format should they seek partnership with their neighbor Qualcomm.  As displays on mobile devices grow and have greater resolution, customers are not going to be content with the graininess from the 3GPP format currently in use.  DivX certainly has a shot to position themselves as a next generation mobile content format. 

Although a mobile strategy has the potential to propel them beyond the $100 million revenue chasm, I do not see the talent within the company to achieve that goal.  DivX will continue on their respectable revenue growth trajectory from software sales and licensing revenue and remain under the $100 million mark for the next few years.  Consumers will have to settle with poor quality Flash video with islands of DivX clarity and portability.

Disclosure: This article is linked to the DivX site where they offered to send a serial number for a copy of DivX Pro although I already have these capabilities through Roxio Easy Media Creator.

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