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Puerto Rico, home of the great unserved
Friday, 24 February 2012 01:02
Puerto_RicoPerhaps 600,000 unserved homes, nearly all cheap to reach. Julius promised that CAF “will bring broadband to more than 600,000 Americans who wouldn’t have it otherwise” by November 2012. That’s about 200,000 homes. Windstream, Frontier and other big telcos are boycotting his program, demanding to be paid without building to the unserved. The obvious answer is “Go south, Jules.”
43% of Puerto Rico can’t get DSL or cable according to the official National Broadband Map, ten times the national rate. It’s a small, densely populated island with an extensive wireline phone network easy to upgrade to DSL. PRTC doesn’t release data, but probably 200,000 of those homes could be offered service within months for less than ~$200 home because they are within reach of an exchange or large remote terminal. Almost certainly, 400,000 of those homes can be reached for under $500/home, generally at 25 megabits or more, using remote terminals like AT&T’s U-Verse. U-Verse, according to AT&T comments to Wall Street, cost $300-400/home and is video grade.
     Big telcos like Frontier and Windstream are demanding subsidies well into the thousands per line, even though many of the lines can be upgraded for a few hundred. Some excellent FCC staff work by Steve Rosenberg and others determined there are plenty of lines needing upgrading that require a subsidy of $775 or less. 
Last Updated on Friday, 24 February 2012 01:32
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Frontier's down 40%, Century, Windstream not
Thursday, 02 February 2012 22:39
Frontier_price_drop
Stock moves should be similar. Frontier, Century, and Windstream are U.S. mostly landline carriers in very similar businesses. They all have declining landlines, very modest broadband growth, and the problems of a wireline carrier in a world gone wireless. Until recently, their stocks mostly moved in similar directions. Over the last five months, Frontier's stock price has gone down 40% ($4.36) while the other two are flat. Goldman Sachs has now downgraded the stock. Something is wrong in this picture. The blue line in the chart is Frontier, and ordinarily it would be moving similarly to the red and green lines. 
    I haven't done enough research to determine whether Frontier is relatively underpriced now or was relatively overpriced previously. None of these companies have had leadership changes or obvious business changes that offer an easy explanation. The difference, I believe, is the market perception of the stocks, not the underlying businesses.
Last Updated on Friday, 03 February 2012 00:52
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Everyone on Earth Connected by 2018: The 550 Challenge
Monday, 30 January 2012 21:58
gutenberg500Phone or net, wired or wireless. Kicking off Friday Feb 3 in DC, the 550 Challenge has a goal of connecting all 7.5B people by 2018, the 550th anniversary of the death of Gutenberg. While that seems ambitious, both China and India are approaching 1B connections. A revolution is sweeping Africa, with countries like Nigeria almost 70% connected. "The challenge of connecting everyone on earth to the Internet requires overcoming a long list of issues already engaging public and private sector initiatives. While there is no shortage of obstacles, it is not impossible." The Friday event oti.newamerica.net/events/2012/550_challenge. I'm honored to be one of the initial signers, alongside Vint Cerf and many others. http://vcxc.org/550/ 
 
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China Telecom promises 35% price drop, (no - see correction) tens of million fiber lines
Sunday, 04 December 2011 18:48
china_telecom_logochina_unicomCorrection 12/15 China Telecom promised a 35% increase in speed without raising prices, not a drop in price. Since speeds go up almost everywhere over time, this is a symbolic gesture, not a significant price drop. Facing $100’s of millions in antitrust fines. Monopoly fighter Li Qing of NDRC November 9 promised broadband prices would come down 38% if China Telecom and China Unicom/Netcom faced more competition. This was historic; Government agency NDRC had never before taken on major state owned companies
     The telcos have decided not to fight and offered intense self-criticism. Xinhua reports “China Unicom said that it found improper price charges from Internet service providers … [and] has submitted a plan to correct its practices to the NDRC. … China Telecom also said in an online statement that it found improper charges.” They probably will accept a fine at a level insignificant for companies with annual sales of $60B. China Telecom controls most of the southern two thirds of the nation and China Unicom/Netcom most of the northern third.
   China has 150M broadband subscribers and adds 30M or more per year. That’s 50M more than the U.S. and as many as the combined total of Japan, Germany, France, Britain, South Korea, Brazil and Italy, the next seven broadband leaders. Fiber home is now the standard for new buildings and the two companies are upgrading 10’s of millions more to fiber every year now. That’s a remarkable achievement for a country where even the most developed areas have family incomes less than half the U.S. or Western Europe.
     The press speculates that SARFT and China Mobile, working with selected academics, inspired the NDRC plan. Government at the Politburo level remains unsatisfied with broadband pricing, speeds, and growth. National policy is “convergence” on “tripleplay.” Cable competition led by SARFT would be the broadband driver while telcos would create television competition in turn. Cable could go from very few modems to 50M in a few years if unleashed. China Mobile has a broadband subsidiary, China Railcom/Tietong, which is a potential third player. SARFT just banned advertisements during prime time TV dramas, a very popular move that should give them some political leverage.
    If the 35% price cut comes through, Li Qing joins the short list of regulators who have made a difference.
    
(Thanks to Xinhua, Caixin, and People’s Daily/Global Time for reporting.)
Last Updated on Friday, 16 December 2011 15:17
 
Telco Supplier Reality: With Capex Down, a Tough Market
Tuesday, 15 November 2011 19:09
“Growth Still A Challenge” Nikos Theodosopoulos writes about Tellabs, but he could be writing about almost any supplier to telcos or cablecos. The total market is limited by the carriers cutting investment. Nearly all suppliers will be flat to down for the foreseeable future. Even being just slightly down is doing well on the wireline side, where so many carriers are dis-investing.
     High expectation hit particularly hard at Calix, down 20% in a day when sales disappointed and 60% in three months. Actually, Calix is doing fairly  well, sweeping most of the contracts in the U.S. independents. They lost a large contract to Adtran when Adtran cut the price so low it noticeably reduced overall corporate margins, but is winning far more than they are losing. Now it’s been announced, I can report that Calix was the winner for CPE at Vermont Tel where I’ve done some consulting. Because it was part of a $100M stimulus project, the Vermont contract was intensely contested. A careful staff review decided Calix was their best choice. Calix had provided good support to VTEL in the past and has a good reputation for support among independent carriers. They have a substantial engineering department that can modify equipment for the customer’s needs.
    Europe is currently far ahead of the U.S. in gateway capability. Among other thing, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom now provide high definition voice and 3x3 high-speed MIMO 802.11n in standard gateways. Calix assured me that if VTEL wanted that capability they could design it.
 
Future Internet Architecture: A First Look
Tuesday, 25 October 2011 23:14

The net isn't perfect, but ... Anyone who has been spammed, hacked, or DDOS'd knows the Internet isn't perfect, inspiring some to think an entirely new architecture is needed. With video being the strong majority of traffic, TCP-IP has some disadvantages. I'm skeptical any proposed alternative doesn't have as many problems in turn, but it's certainly worth investigating.

    A comment of mine at an Internet Society event was misinterpreted as endorsing RINA (Recursive Inter-Network Architecture,) a proposal by John Day and colleagues. Actually, I didn't know anything about it. I read Day's recent paper and sent for a copy of his book. A professor friend said I should also look at the somewhat similar Named Data Networking project funded by the National Science Foundation. (Below: the summaries of the four NSF Future Internet Architecture projects.)

    I quickly discovered a vast literature, much of it over my head. Saif Abdullah, an engineering graduate student doing some work with me, jumped in and is well along on an article on RINA. Readers with the expertise to help us, please let me know.

   It's fun to think how to design new networks, whether of not practical.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 00:28
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EC Competition Chief: Standards must be fair, transparent, and reasonable
Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:52

Varney webJohn Donovan could have been sued for $100M. ITU, ETSI, ATIS look out. Joaquín Almunia, EC vice-president, wants to enforce "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" clauses. Everyone involved in standards knows some companies look only to take advantage. Almunia wants to make sure standards "are not in the hands of established firms willing to impose their technologies."

     Apple's lawyer Bruce Watrous leaned on Luis Jorge Romero Saro at ETSI to reduce Motorola's patent claims and Microsoft piled on. Headline making lawsuits abound. Apple would prevent anyone else from making a good smartphone, if they could, and Microsoft is throwing around patents to kill Android. 

      Christine Varney, recently U.S. antitrust chief, told Silicon Flatirons the "biggest issue facing the Internet is the intersection of intellectual property and anti-trust." The problem isn't new. Nearly a decade ago, Houlin Zhou, now ITU Deputy-General, told me the best standards were royalty free. Since then, demands for royalties have gone up. Motorola wants $1B a year for a small fraction of the design of the iPhone.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2012 23:37
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Frontier's profitable Unbonded second line for $20
Thursday, 02 February 2012 21:43
doublemint_twinsThink one line for downloading teenager, one for adults watching Netflix. Frontier has found a very lucrative niche product: a second DSL line to the same household, without bonding. Bonding of 2 three megabit lines yields six megabit service to the home. Unbonded second lines max out at 3 megabits each, but the TV watchers on one line aren’t affected by the TV downloads on the other line.

 

   It costs something like $8/month, all in, to add a new connection to an existing broadband network. So at a price of $20, this is a very profitable. Bonding the two lines is now a routine offering at many carriers but the bonded offering does add a moderate extra complexity to the network. An additional modem type needs to be stocked and the OSS needs to have an additional offering. Today’s DSLAMs are designed to bond easily, but a company like Frontier has many 10 year old obsolete units in the field. 
    I don't think the feds would accept two 2 megabit lines, unbonded, as 4 megabit service, the minimum for the federal CAF program. But my reading of the CAF rules would suggest that the upgrade of customers currently getting 2-3 megabits so that they now can get 4 megabits would be subsidized. Probably 100,000-200,000 of the 1.8M broadband lines are in this category. They include many outliers, so that many of them are not served by cable. Frontier would have to do a careful survey to be sure, but I'd guess there are 30,000-50,000 "unserved" lines that if bonded would meet the new 4 megabit threshold. This could be accomplished for under $300 each, well under the $775 maximum in the CAF regulations that Frontier is having trouble meeting. 
    Only a limited number of customers are paying for the bonded speeds where available, so even modest cost savings from simpler unbonded operation may be worthwhile. For those companies that aren’t offering bonding, this may be a way to offer higher speeds and keep the regulator happy. 
Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 September 2012 22:46
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HD Voice Live in Germany, France and coming to Comcast
Sunday, 29 January 2012 22:43
Orange_HD_VoiceGateways without HD already obsolete. Jeff Lewis of Comcast speaks on HD voice in Amsterdam February 14th. I don’t think he’s ready to announce HD voice for millions of homes but his CTO Tony Werner has told me HD is on the way at Comcast. http://bit.ly/xjT2D4 Ulrich Grote of Deutsche Telekom, also there, is shipping millions of HD gateways. Also speaking will be Philippe Calvet and Alain Orsot of France Telecom which has already launched HD on mobile in a dozen countries. 
      They aren’t going to the DECT Conference as an excuse to gaze at Rembrandts or enjoy the special pleasures of Amsterdam cafes. HD is a major product, sweeping Western Europe. Verizon Wireless and several cable companies in the U.S. are only 6-18 months away.
     HD with today’s codecs sounds dramatically better than regular telco voice, although most people are so used to mediocre sound they have to hear both side by side. People aren’t running to pay more, but it’s a clear advantage most competitors will need to meet. 
    My friends at Lantiq sent me one of DT’s new Speedport W 921V gateways, the kind of device that’s rapidly becoming standard. Besides the HD voice, DT has included “300 megabit” WiFi, 802.11n with 3x3 MIMO. That’s fast enough that DT, following the lead of Swisscom, is sending HD TV around the home wirelessly for many customers. AT&T and Verizon are planning wireless HD homes in the near future. 
    It’s perhaps $3 more expensive to add HD to your gateway. The new phones - CAT-IQ, the upgraded DECT home wireless standard - remain few but that will change rapidly. On wireless and cable, better HD codecs add almost nothing to the cost while better microphones/speakers are inexpensive. The new version of the LTE standard, 3GPP Release 12, includes HD codecs with even greater range.
    Most companies are still using obsolete last-generation gateways, without MIMO and HD voice. Smart carriers are already upgrading. 
 
Last Updated on Sunday, 29 January 2012 23:08
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Benoit: Data Caps Not the Right Congestion Solution
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 04:33
crockett_coonskin_capCaps don’t correspond sufficiently to peak usage. “Congestion pricing” would be a far more effective tool than data caps, according to an analysis of actual carrier traffic by Benoit Felten’s new consulting outfit, Diffraction Analysis. It breaks the actual data from a U.S. ISP into five minute intervals and isolates three hours of highest traffic, the only time the issue arises.
    The heaviest users accounted for a much smaller percentage of the traffic in those peaks. Many of the heavy users had very little impact during peaks, presumably being polite and downloading primarily overnight. During peaks, the top 10% of users varied dramatically at different times; 40% of all users were in the top 10% during at least one of the intervals.
     Economist Scott Wallsten has suggested that use of data caps, rather than some form of congestion pricing, implies that congestion is not driving the rules. Most people, but not necessarily Scott, believe that caps at current levels are about blocking competitive video, not dealing with actual congestion problems. 150-250 gigabyte caps have little effect on either revenue or congestion because remarkably few go over them.
Last Updated on Friday, 02 December 2011 02:01
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Aware's DSL Patents for Sale
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 00:59
Avoid war. Reasonable and non-discriminatory, please. Aware did pioneering work in DSL, including design work crucial to several chipmakers. As DSL chipmakers dwindled to the current four, demand for independent design dried up and Aware sold the business to Lantiq. They’ve retained the Dr. DSL diagnostic business and some royalties from earlier work, but revenues are declining. Their board now is “reviewing its strategic options, including a potential spin-off, sale, or licensing of patents.”
     Aware’s patents have long been difficult to monetize. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of patents related to DSL, making the value of any individual patent hard to prove. In addition, the total value of DSL chip sales is dramatically down and likely to continue dropping over time as such a large proportion of phone lines are already equipped.
     Texas Instruments won a large judgment against Globespan that was so questionable they settled at a major discount. Otherwise, patent lawsuits have primarily been tactics to tie up competitors, an abuse of the system.
     The standards bodies have been incredibly negligent about enforcing the “reasonable and non-discriminatory” clauses in the standards.
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Big Telcos Go From 2M to 4.8M
Friday, 21 October 2011 23:00
If delivered ~60-80% of unserved will get 4 megabit DSL. Two days before the Sunshine deadline, ten top telco lawyers met with the top ten FCC officials offering a deal: actually bringing DSL to many of the unserved. Their previous “ABC” plan discussed virtually nothing at AT&T or Verizon except for LTE that already was planned. The earlier proposal only projected 2M lines, less than half the figure now on the table. The difference appears to be many “unserved” homes that are less expensive to reach.          
      This is essentially the build recommended by the Broadband Plan analysis. In some of the most careful work ever done, Steve Rosenberg and Rob Curtis discovered that only a small fraction of the “unserved” - about half of one percent of total homes - were brutally expensive to reach because of distance/density/other problems. Most unserved homes could be reached with 4 megabits for under $3,000.
      My guess is that the cost to reach half of the 4.8M will be closer to $500/home than $1,500/home. The total cost for 4.8M will almost certainly be closer to $6B than to $16B if the government watches costs effectively. The Broadband plan data confirm that. It will be a tough challenge to make sure the subsidies correspond to the real costs.
      Everyone knows that current USF system far too often amounted to handing out blank checks. Some companies took advantage. There’s a seriously uninformed view in D.C. that auctions are a solution.Perhaps 80-90% of the time auctions are helpful but they will do little for most of the unserved territories. Unfortunately, the 5% or so unserved homes are in territories where no one but the incumbent has facilities. Most unserved homes are in clusters of a few dozen or few hundred at most, too few for anyone without local facilities to make an attractive bid. Result: for most of the unserved, there are only one or two logical bidders and auctions will totally fail at getting a good price. Direct cost controls - based on an accurate model of the actual costs for large carriers with fiber and facilities in place - are absolutely required.
     Apportioning the 4.8M roughly by market share, AT&T would have to reach 2M unserved homes; Verizon, 1.3M; Century-Qwest .9M; and Frontier 200K. I wouldn’t sign off on any deal without a map of homes to be newly served and a firm schedule. There’s no reason this should take longer than 2-3 years. It’s all standard equipment in good supply and there are a surfeit of contractors looking for this work.
     The data in the filing suggests the companies put engineering teams to work to find the least expensive way to get 4 megabit service widely available. AT&T’s “fiber to the node/DSL” is designed for nearly all homes to be within 5,000 feet and get 25 megabits (with bonding if necessary.) This proposal puts only 34% within 6,000 feet and the majority will get less than 6 megabits. It’s almost certainly the slightly cheaper ADSL rather the VDSL in AT&T U-verse. That’s a false economy.
Last Updated on Saturday, 22 October 2011 17:22
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