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Editorial: I'm Getting Sick as AT&T Lies Again
Written by Dave Burstein   
Saturday, 30 July 2011 17:38
I urge Randall, Ralph or Jim to remind their people staying reasonably close to the truth is company policy. It's getting absurd.
"We're going to be able to bring 4G . . . to 750,000 more residents of West Virginia than we would otherwise," said Mike Schweder, president of AT&T's Mid-Atlantic region, if allowed to buy T-Mobile. That almost certainly isn't true, and no reporter should print claims like that without checking with an independent source. What AT&T has said, I believe truthfully, is that they will build to 80% of the country in 2013, "which is as fast as we possibly can" according to CEO Randall Stephenson. If the T-Mobile deals closes, they will build to 97% by around 2017. The 750,000 is the difference between the two figures. It's nonsense unless AT&T intends to totally freeze the network in 2013, prohibitively unlikely.
verizon_vs_AT&T_coverage     It's almost certain that AT&T would reach most or all of those 750,000 even without the T-Mobile deal. Otherwise, AT&T's President Ralph de la Vega was lying when he recently said says AT&T will match Verizon's LTE network, which is going to 97-99% of the country. I've known Ralph for more than a decade; he's one of the two dozen or so people I listen to at every opportunity, because I learn so much from him. I believe he's never lied to me in public or private. It's highly likely the West Virginia guy was the liar, not Ralph, because it's ridiculous to think AT&T would eliminate wireless upgrades in 2014. Verizon and even Sprint would kill them. (I have insight into Sprint's coming network. It will be good, looking very much like Verizon's and AT&T.)
     It would be incredibly stupid not to upgrade 90-97% of AT&T's network to LTE over time. Randall Stephenson and Ralph de la Vega are not stupid.
Common Sense: Uncertainty, But Little Evidence on Brain Tumors From Mobile
Written by Dave Burstein   
Wednesday, 06 July 2011 15:06

Dr. Nora Volkow, a world class neuroscientist, uses a headpiece for her mobile phone. I don't because I believe the evidence of harm is very weak. A team of epidemiologists in a review article concludes "Although there remains some uncertainty, the trend in the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phone use can cause brain tumours in adults."

Which seems sensible to me, although I second AT&T's Ralph de la Vega's call to do the research to come closer to certainty. The pictures at left, from JAMA and the New York Times, make clear cellphones do have an effect on the brain. It may well be totally benign. 
Spectrum for LTE Advanced: Crucial for Rural Broadband
Written by Dave Burstein   
Saturday, 25 June 2011 23:58
The current average U.S. home draws about 20 gigabytes/month, already 2 to 10 times what carriers with LTE offer. So raising the wireless capacity is a high priority for wireless to be a real alternative. In rural areas, there are typically 10cow0's of MHz unused, enough spectrum to offer far more robust wireless service. Today's best technology, LTE, can only use 20 MHz; the 2013 version, LTE Advanced, can use 40 or even 100 MHz. That will be great, iff the politicians find a way to make it practical. Today's licensing rules get in the way and it's time to change them. 
    There's massive unused spectrum in most low density areas, far more than LTE knows how to handle. LTE is designed for up to 20 MHz, which limits the total capacity to 30-70 megabits per second. (More right by the transmitter, less if many are on the outskirts.) 
     Germany's leading the way to near 100% coverage with LTE, with Vodafone already covering 1,000 small towns. The speeds go "up to 50 megabits" although few homes get that speed. The problem is the capacity. Even the 70 euro (~$100) service is capped at 30 gigabytes, not enough for families that want to watch much video.
      Chris Neisinger of Verizon intends to actively deploy LTE Advanced in 2013. We are not talking science fiction here but a near term product. The standard is complete and leading manufacturers are promising the base stations today they are shipping today will only require a software upgrade. 
House Spectrum Bill: Must Carry (Yes), Rural Broadband Limits (Needs Revising)
Written by Dave Burstein   
Friday, 15 July 2011 18:28

Extending cable must-carry rules when stations give up spectrum for auction will make obtaining spectrum easier. Today's technology, especially switched digital video (SDV), means the cost is minimal. But one section potentially cripples the effective use of spectrum for rural broadband, likely significantly raises the future cost of wireless, and leads to very inefficient spectrum use.  That's my plain reading of section 18, although the memo explainingthe implies something totally different. The Republicans want to prohibit net neutrality and unbundling requirements, but the draft is so general a court might throw out crucial requirements.

    Germany will be close to 100% LTE coverage in 2013 when the U.S. will be far behind. Kurth in the last auction required the winning bidders first deploy to the unserved areas. Deutsche Telekom has connected 1,000 small towns previsously not reached. The cost was remarkably little and far less than proposed USF subsidies. Vodafone explained that they found efficient ways to reach everywhere they were spending their own money. It was a requirement of their license, so their best engineers found affordable solutions. The bids in the auction were only slightly lower, and Germany will get almost 100% wireless coverage without future subsidies.

     Every regulator in the world watched Germany's success in rural areas, and that's the obvious choice in the U.S. as well. It will save many $billions. But the general prohibition on auction rules in the proposed bill might prevent the FCC requiring a buildout to most of the last 2-3%. That would be a mistake that would add $billions to the universal service requirement in future years.

     The second important step for rural broadband is to make sure all the spectrum is efficiently used. That will become practical with second generation LTE Advanced, soon to be an exciting alternative in rural areas. LTE Advanced is crucial to good wireless broadband, I've learned from engineers at Verizon and the FCC. The current first generation LTE has severe capacity limits, demonstrated by low caps and high prices. That can improve, but the real breakthrough comes when LTE Advanced breaks the current barrier of 20 MHz. See Spectrum for LTE Advanced: Crucial for Rural Broadband. Putting together 40 MHz and even 100 MHz will allow raising the capacity 3-10 times. For the last 5%, that will bring wireless offerings much closer to what the rest of us take for granted today. This isn't science fiction. Verizon has announced deployments for 2013.

    Unlike crowded cities, there's plenty of spectrum in these extreme rural areas. But much of it belongs to Verizon and AT&T, who typically will have 40 MHz+ of spectrum they don't need for their own service in such low density areas. The last thing they want to do is release it to competitors for a dedicated high-capacity rural offering. The FCC needs creative rules, including use it or lose it on spectrum, is it is serious about reaching rural areas with affordable broadband.

    Bravo to Neil Fried and House colleagues for making the discussion draft public.

Germany: 50 Gigabytes of LTE 89.95 euro
Written by Dave Burstein   
Saturday, 02 July 2011 19:41

DT is selling "up to 40 megabit" LTE, 50 gigabyte cap, beginning in Cologne and soon in 100 other cities. Verizon has essentially the same network - 20 MHz LTE - but is conservatively setting speeds of 5-12 megabits. With decent latency and likely good reliability, DT's offering is clearly a decent substitute for many with DSL. 80+% of DSL users draw less than 50 gigabytes each month. The average user in the U.S. draws about 20 gigabytes, but that's a mean and the median is lower. 

     89.95 euro (~$125) is a very steep price, three times as much as similar DSL and perhaps four times as much as German cable. Vodafone's LTE service starts at €39.99 ($51.) "Up to" 50 meg down with a 30 gig cap costs €69.99. 30 gig is less than 90 minutes a day. LTE is great fast wireless, but the early German offerings are very expensive as an alternative to landlines. Some people who buy LTE because they need mobility will find they no longer need a landline, but at these prices Im guessing we'll only see a modest amount of substitution. 

    LTE Advanced, coming soon, offers easily triple the capacity at about the same cost. LTE tops out at 20 MHz; LTE Advanced can use 100. Deutsche Telekom recently added 95 MHz from the German auctions, currently unused. As they move to LTE Advanced (2013-2015) they will be able to offer deals that match what most people are getting from DSL. 

   Germany is rapidly approaching 100% LTE coverage. The buyers in the last auction, including DT and Vodafone, were required first to offer service in the "white spaces," the "unserved" areas. Vodafone in a few months connected 1,000 small towns. The net cost, including the slightly reduced auction bids, was remarkably little and far less than the estimates in other countries for near 100% coverage. Radios, microwave backhaul, and everything else required is much cheaper than the subsidies the lobbies claim. Every regulator who cares about broadband is closely watching the German auction rules, including the most recent chief of the FCC wireless bureau. 

   Remarkable things are practical If a regulator is smart and tough.

U.S. Wireless: 75% Fewer Basestations Than Comparable Europe
Written by Dave Burstein   
Saturday, 25 June 2011 17:04

U.S._versus_Spain_towersRobin Bienenstock of Bernstein makes clear why the U.S. has wireless issues: less investment. “Let's take California and Spain as an example. Telefonica has some 33,000 base stations in Spain (yes, miserable, economically imploding Spain). Conveniently, California is a similar size, has a similar topography, and has very similar population density. In California, AT&T has just over 6,000 base stations. The spectrum allocation per pop in these two operators (TEF in Spain and AT&T in California) is remarkably similar. A similar analysis looking at New Jersey and Massachusetts vs the Netherlands shows similar results.

Why are European networks so much denser than American networks? In large part the answer lies (again) in regulation. In Europe, the spectrum auctions of last decade came with 'use it or lose it clauses' that obliged operators to build a minimum of base stations or face sanctions from fines to loss of spectrum. The result is clear to any American visiting Europe… and more frustratingly obvious to any European visiting the States.”

A few years ago, Americans could claim this was acceptable because our prices were lower. That's no longer true, as the gap (by many measures) has been eliminated since the elimination of AT&T Wireless and Nextel, reducing the U.S. from six to four national carriers. If Julius had any courage, he'd raise American standards closer to European ones.

“European spectrum auctions scheduled for 2011 and 2012 will further increase the relative network density of European operators by increasing available spectrum to operators (in some cases by 75%). These auctions will also often require operators to build LTE in rural places before rolling it out in urban settings.”

Femto Failure Frustrating AT&T at DSLR http://bit.ly/rhViaZ
Written by Dave Burstein   
Wednesday, 06 July 2011 22:07

AT&T has indefinitely postponed their plan of 10M femtocells, Ralph de la Vega comments. The femtos are causing interference except at the further reaches of the cell sites. Ralph reports great results where the signal is weak. WiFi offload will therefore be their obvious spectrum strategy. Femto engineers think the problems have been solved and point to other carriers like Vodafone who are happy. I've invited them to follow up with articles here. But Ralph one of the most respected folks in the industry so I take this seriously. More in an article I wrote at DSL Reports, http://bit.ly/rhViaZ


How Much Did AT&T Pay the New FCC Chief Economist?
Written by Dave Burstein   
Thursday, 30 June 2011 20:20
Googling new FCC Chief Economist Marius Schwartz, I immediately discovered he had been paid by AT&T for papers he wrote about NN. Everyone knows about the confluence of money and influence in DC, where most people think AT&T's lobbyist Jim Cicconi owns the FCC. (He doesn't. In my dozen years on this beat I haven't seen anything that smelled like people being paid off at the FCC, unlike Congress.)
     I sent a note asking "In the last three years, approximately how much have you been paid by which parties with financial interests in policy results?" I figured people around the FCC would make a point of disclosure these days. All the papers condemned Commissioner Meredith Baker for taking a multi-million dollar job with Comcast a few months after voting for the Comcast-NBCU merger.
    The response: "I was told by the relevant people at the FCC that the appropriate course for me is to file the disclosure forms with the agency." He has no obligation to answer my question. Maybe one of the D.C. reporters can find the answer. Several reported he took the job from the press release without noticing a problem. The Chairman could request Schwartz reveal how much he's been paid.
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