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TI VDSL Class H Line Driver Claims 47% Power Savings
Wednesday, 16 March 2011 21:16
TI illustration
I've been hearing for a long time about the potential of Class H amplifiers to reduce power, so I'm reproducing below TI's announcement. I have not researched this and am not pretending this is an article from me rather than pr. However, since the product is already shipping and potentially important, I wanted to report it. In remote terminals such as AT&T U-Verse, power is a serious system limit. If this works as TI claims, it's an important advance. Readers - help me here with perspective, presumably off the record.
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 March 2011 13:08
Wireline Costs and Caps: A Few Facts
Sunday, 06 March 2011 20:27
one_dollarBandwidth costs in the U.S. are between 2% and 5% of what we pay for broadband, a very minor part of the cost. So when the Washington Post suggested "It's expensive to run a broadband network," as a legitimate reason to block Netflix and other video I thought to revisit the actual numbers. 
    Broadband is an extraordinarily profitable service. Top Wall Street analysts John Hodulik of UBS and Craig Moffett of Bernstein both report broadband margins of 90% based on official company filings. My own figure is more like a 75% margin because I allocate additional costs, but either implies running a broadband network is actually inexpensive in relation to the price charged. 
     Bandwidth isn't free. I startled my neutrality friends by writing in 2008 that Comcast's 250 gigabyte cap was fair. Three years later, Moore's Law has brought Comcast's costs down by half, so it's time for them to honor their promise to raise the cap. But even 250 gig is 10-15 hours a day of digital cable quality TV, 10 times more than even active Netflix customers.  Cable networks can inexpensively handle any likely load Netflix users will present. 
     Large European carriers have similar costs to the Americans. Smaller ones, without their own fiber backbone, are sometimes squeezed. Most of Europe has significantly more competition than the U.S. duopoly, including 4-5 carriers in most of France and Britain. The prices therefore lower, often by 30-50%, so margins are not as extreme. Broadband is a highly profitable service at almost all large telcos and cablecos.
    High backhaul and bandwidth costs in some parts of the world are important issues. Africa is just getting fiber connectivity and prices still have a long way to fall. Fewer than 10% of U.S. broadband provided by smaller and rural carriers but some of those face monopoly-like backhaul pricing. Several times at the U.S. broadband workshops carriers reported paying 10 and even 20 times more for bandwidth in some rural areas. The plan recommended solving those problems but so far the FCC hasn't taken action.
Here are some numbers:
2 cents to 5 cents per gigabyte. The actual bandwidth cost to a large carrier like Time Warner or AT&T, depending on how you do the accounting.
$1/month/customer. The industry standard figure for the cost of bandwidth. Fortunately, Moore's Law has been bringing down the cost per bit of bandwidth at 25-40% per year, allowing the industry to thrive as video drives usage. When fiber is in place, the main cost for additional bandwidth is upgrading routers, switches, wave division multiplexers and the like. They've become much cheaper at a predictable rate. Result: the cost per customer of bandwidth has been about $1/month since 2004 or so. Since broadband prices are $20-$50, that's 2-5% of the price charged.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 21:43
Bellheads 22-23 March Best US Telco Event of the Year
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 20:34
Some people thought Matt Bross of BT was a madman for wanting to "turn off the phone network" and convert everything to IP as quickly as possible for huge savings. I became a believer at SUPERCOMM years back when Bill Smith of BellSouth led a discussion of four Bell CTOs that concluded Bross 21st Century Network was the way to go. Ross Ireland of AT&T agreed and was plainly unhappy that his CFO Randall was holding back the funding that would need.
    All this was at the special once a year event where the  top engineers of the Bells would come together for a public discussion. The official speeches came from the pr department, covered policy and were predictably boring. But when the engineers started answering questions and exchanging ideas sparks would fly, especially in the informal press conference that traditionally followed.
red_book      ATIS at CTIA Orlando is reviving the tradition.John Donovan, AT&T CTO, is joined by his peers from Qwest, Verizon, Clearwire, Spring, T-Mobile, Metro PCS, Telus, and more. Matt Bross is back, now CTO of Huawei. Key suppliers like Bob McIntyre of Cisco join in. I learn from people like this who solve problems every day.
     Where do correct ideas come from? Social practice.
Last Updated on Saturday, 05 March 2011 09:59
iSuppli: VDSL Taking Share At Last
Thursday, 24 February 2011 11:40

isuppliLee Ratliff of iSuppli/IHS estimates new VDSL subscriptions were up 7.9M in 2010 to 23.3M. That figure strikes me as high but not impossible. The total net  DSL subscriptions were only about 30M, but a reasonable number of current subscribers at AT&T, DT, and BT were upgraded from ADSL to VDSL. In addition, as many as half the "fiber" subscribers in Japan are fiber to the basement and VDSL to the apartment.

    The trend is clear, as nearly all new builds today are "VDSL."  Ikanos is the lead vendor, with Lantiq and Broadcom finding market. Now, the remarkable RALINK/Trendchip has announced a VDSL chip. They've been the price leaders in the huge Chinese market,  building what they estimate is a 23% share of the worldwide market. Ratliff expects "a new level of cost competitiveness to the VDSL market," removing one of the obstacles to using VDSL. 

   Builds such as the 25M ports of AT&T U-Verse were VDSL from the start. Qwest, Century, Bell Canada, BT and others now are moving to VDSL from field cabinets at 25-50 megabits down. They need the speed for IPTV.  AT&T has startled everyone by proving that Microsoft IPTV + 6-10 meg data is competing well against the overpriced U.S. cablecos. The other carriers are hoping that works for them as well. 

     VDSL2 by design falls back to ADSL over longer distances or when connected to an ADSL modem. That now works with only a minor performance penalty. Back around 2005, industry leaders like Behrooz Rezvani believed the industry would rapidly shift from ADSL to VDSL. It would work fine with existing ADSL modems and offer improved performance with VDSL modems at short reaches. I had that wrong as well. All the early VDSL2 modems had serious performance shortfalls at the longer ADSL distances. When Deutsche Telecom tried VDSL2 DSLAMs, the homes with ADSL modem saw an unacceptable drop in performance. Since VDSL2 DSLAMs ran hot and had fewer ports per rack, few converted, especially with a large price gap. 


Last Updated on Saturday, 26 February 2011 20:31
Many "Unserved" Apparently Missed on Map
Thursday, 17 February 2011 15:47

Something like 1/3rd of the homes that can't get broadband were ignored by the Broadband Map. At least a million homes and possibly three million have very local problems that prevent them getting service such as out of date remote terminals. NTIA recognized this and the NOFA required bidders "to gather data at the address-level on broadband availability, technology, speed, infrastructure, ARPU, and, in the case of wireless broadband, the spectrum used, across the project areas."


    Everyone involved in broadband mapping realizes that specific data by address is required for accuracy. The major carriers have fairly accurate data in their "pre-qualification" database based on actual line tests. Somehow in the NTIA process this was lost and instead they worked with aggregated data known to have serious errors. 

    The giveway was how many areas on the map showed 100% coverageThere are almost no areas in the U.S. where 100% can get broadband. For example, Verizon couldn't offer DSL to about 10% of New York and AT&T had to say no to about 10% of Chicago. New York and Chicago are older, dense cities where nearly all homes are within DSL reach of a central office. If you make a DSL map based on distance/block data, nearly everyone would be served. It turns out a meaningful number of apartments in both cities are served by remote terminals that block DSL unless upgraded. The same is true in many suburban and rural pockets developed between 1975 and 1995. Other technical issues (pairgain equipment, bad copper) similarly prevent serving selected homes.

     Similarly, the cablecos do not offer service in the parts of their territory that have fewer homes. Residences within business and industrial areas also often aren't served. There's no way to accurately know the overlap without the data by address. 

     This was an obvious problem in the early maps such as Connect Kentucky. CK told me the prequal data wasn't available for their early efforts but they would get it from the carriers from then on. Because they clearly understood the problem and said it was solved I backed away from my criticism of CK's mapping.  Every expert in broadband mapping knows the issue well. 

    When you buy a computer from Dell or Best Buy, the seller's computer checks with the carriers prequal to see whether they can earn a commission by selling broadband as well. It's awkward and expensive to find out later that a customer sold service can't be reached, so the carriers make sure to have that data available. I'm guessing how many homes are involved. It's shared daily with thousands of resellers, but they've never provided an aggregate number of how many homes are involved. 

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 March 2011 11:19
"Teenage Octopus" TalkTalk UK Down 25k to 4.224m; Sky +204K, BT +188K
Sunday, 13 February 2011 23:17

mid-Moving_Octopus_Vulgaris_2005-01-14.oggAs DSL growth ends in developed nations there are losers as well as winners. Sky, on the other hand, had a record quarter with 204K net adds and BT added 188K.  CEO Dido Harding has a colorful description of what went wrong. TalkTalk, she said, resembles a “teenage octopus. Like companies that have grown very fast . . . we don’t have control of our arms and legs, like a gangly teenager. And we have a lot of arms and legs. The teenage octopus will take a while to grow up.” (FT) 

    One primary problem was severe customer service problems after they took over Tiscali UK. "Customers ... have had a pretty rotten experience," Harding says. "We have described buying Tiscali as being like a snake that has eaten a goat. We are busy digesting an enormously complicated business." 

    One promising fact is that they have 85% of customers on their unbundled network. They are well along on a plan to unbundle 93% of the British population. Their network is now dark fiber and Gig-E, dramatically lowering their cost per bit. That allows them to include "unlimited" bandwidth in their $25/month service, which typically is 8-15 megabits (up to 24 megabits max.) Voice line required.

   The problems at TalkTalk have been pretty bad. They achieved "the dubious distinction of receiving the Daily Mail's wooden spoon as Britain's worst organisation for customer service. Our readers complained of rude, insensitive staff, calls not being returned and emai ls unanswered. Some TalkTalk customers were even pestered by debt collectors  -  after bills had been settled or contracts cancelled." Dow Jones adds OFCOM has launched a second investigation into their customer service. Harding insists it will get better, but that won't be easy after she just fired 590 people. 

Last Updated on Friday, 18 February 2011 17:36
AT&T's Siegal: Our DSL Network Sucks. He's Lying, I Believe
Sunday, 13 March 2011 17:55
Randall does what Ed wouldn't dareMark Siegal, AT&T's top flack, hung up the phone on me when I said his comment to the Wall Street Journal was apparently a lie. It's prohibitively unlikely their DSL cap "is to ensure the quality of the customer experience" necessary to solve "congestion in certain points of the network and interfering with other people's access." I'm certain that far less than 1% of the time do AT&T DSL customers have any impact from congestion. I'm pretty confident it's less than 1/10th of 1% and probably less than 1/100th of 1%. My sources that wireline congestion on AT&T is minimal include statements from two CTOs of the company. Cheng, now a veteran in D.C., knew the comment was misleading at best. A mantra in D.C. is "wireline may not have congestion but wireless is different." It was Sunday and perhaps hard to factcheck, but he'll easily confirm the problem on Monday.

      AT&T has long maintained they have a more robust network and cable is the one with "bandwidth hog" problems. But Comcast's cap was 60% higher than AT&T and Comcast has said they will raise it. T has gone 13 years without caps on their DSL network because they said they didn't need them. Traffic growth is actually down slightly (Cisco, Odlyzko) so there's only one reason to impose caps now: their video service, U-Verse, has become a $5B business. They don't want people to be able to cut the cord and watch all their video over the net. 150 gigabytes is 40-80 hours of U-Verse quality TV, far less than the average U-Verse user watches.

    Mike Powell, conservative Republican deregulator, hit the ceiling when AT&T (then called SBC) wanted to limit user's video choices. Here's how I reported it then:

"SBC does not plan to give meaningful preference (in terms of bandwidth allocation) to any particular video service or video content provider. We don't plan to limit access from computers or give bandwidth preference to content."—Michael Coe, speaking for SBC on the record.

SBC's commitment to an open network, above, may prove the most important two sentences ever published in DSL Prime. This story goes beyond business and technology, to the heart of freedom of speech. Mike Powell's finest moment was when he affirmed, "consumers should have access to their choice of legal content." I pressed SBC for a clear statement, because the WSJ reported, "SBC and EchoStar plan to restrict the box's Internet access to just a few movie and music sites." Almar Latour, Andy Pasztor, and Peter Grant made the issue clear "Giving subscribers broad access to the Web could make it less likely they would pay extra for premium channels such as HBO and Showtime sold by Dish Network." The same Journal article infuriated the highest levels of the FCC, I learned at the PFF Aspen conference.
Last Updated on Monday, 21 March 2011 21:58
Ikanos Cuts Modem Power, Promises Vectoring
Friday, 04 March 2011 00:13
Ikanos_power_claimsBy going to 65 nanometer chips and improving algorithms, Ikanos' new chips for home gateways reduce power required significantly compared to their previous generation. European carriers are required to adhere to a "Code of Conduct" that reduces power usage. Ikanos's new generation also minimizes power when particular functions on the chip are not being called.  Samples are in customer hands today and volume available very soon.

     Vectoring, which in certain circumstances can double effective speed on shorter loops, is the hottest topic in DSL.  The new Ikanos chips were designed to be fully G.Vector compliant, but I am limiting my reporting anyone's claims of vectoring performance until independently confirmed in the field. Except in certain new builds - think Deutsche Telekom, Bell Canada and British Telecom - vectoring will take years to reach large volumes. However, I've been recommending anyone buying equipment from around now make sure the hardware will support vectoring when the time comes. It will be surprisingly cheap and already is in carriers' long range contingency plans. In particular, AT&T knows they will be facing 50 and 100 megabit DOCSIS with a system designed for 16 megabits and less. So far, U-Verse is holding its own surprisingly well. If cable starts pulling away, T's plan is DSL bonding + vectoring, bringing many lines to 50 meg and better.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 March 2011 00:16
Germany's #1 Provider: Government-Owned NetCologne
Sunday, 27 February 2011 16:35

Cologne_14115,300 readers of Computer Bild voted NetCologne the best ISP in Germany, outpolling DT, several large competitors, and the many emerging cablecos. Across Germany, Bild reports, "DSL customers are still angry about lousy service. Not even one in two customers would recommend their provider." (Google translation) NetCologne, with 500,000 customers, was an exception, leading in both speed and service. 

    NetCologne is rapidly transitioning customers to their own fiber network. Their current lead offer is 35 euro - about $50 - for 50 megabit down and voice calls. That includes the much-liked Fritzbox from AVM for the home  network. They are offering service to other carriers and recently struck a deal with Vodafone. 

     Other cities on the Cologne Bonn region are clamoring to join because they want a great Internet. There's a myth in some circles, especially in the U.S., that government broadband is inevitably a failure.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 March 2011 19:29
U.S. State Broadband Data Implies 4-5% Can't Get 3 Meg, 2% Not Even 1.5
Thursday, 17 February 2011 17:46
States_worst_broadbandFrom the Broadband Map, some state data [added 2/18] that calculates to 4% of the U.S. not able to get 3-6 meg advertised.  From another NTIA chart http://bit.ly/eEaLRp, I see that about half of those can get 1.5 meg and that by the NTIA data about 98% of the U.S. can get 1.5 meg. There are anomalies in the data that need explaining before any of this is used for policy about the unserved.
   I put this together trying to understand the data and there are some surprise. In particular, in 2007, California did a fairly careful study and found 96% broadband coverage. The NTIA map shows 91.7% in 2010. While some of that may be that the federal map has a 3 megabit cutoff, there are very few broadband providers that offer less than 3 megabits. Cable is listed as not serving 18% but that figure is almost certainly too high. If it were accurate, some major cable operators submitted fraudulent SEC reports. I'm researching more.
    Indiana, with 6M people, seems the worst served of the larger states at a measured 72%. Wisconsin at 88% and Virginia at 93% are the other two large state with issues. Puerto Rico at 46.5% is below much of Latin America and other countries far poorer than the island.
    Below, the states and territories from broadbandmap.gov, both total coverage and cable modem only. It's clear from the low percentages they believe have cable coverage in many states that the figures are simply in error.
Last Updated on Friday, 25 February 2011 14:53
Extraordinary Access to the Broadband Data
Thursday, 17 February 2011 14:52

The FCC and NTIA have done a remarkable job making most of the data available, whether you're a consumer just looking for your neighborhood or an analyst extracting trends. At broadbandmap.gov, you can see your county, state, metropolitan areas or even local census tract. Just input your address. You can add demographic data for analysis. You can get answers on a map or a web page. You can download the data in several common formats, including to take right into a spreadsheet. You can even send it via Facebook, Twitter and more. 

I extracted a state-by-state chart which is turning out to be interesting. http://bit.ly/fRAvNE


The overall project is a model of how to present data. They offer three dozen "RESTful" APIs at http://www.broadbandmap.gov/developer so you can extract almost anything you want. The raw dataset has 25,000,000 records and you can download the whole thing if you want it. Michael Bryne of the FCC was very proud they had done all the work with open source tools. Everything is running on Wordpress. Computech deserves kudos for the programming.


If only the politicians weren't spinning the conclusions.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 February 2011 15:50
British Telecom Ordered to: Cut Rural Prices 10%-14%
Sunday, 13 February 2011 20:44
rural_BritainEd Richards of OFCOM required BT to lower wholesale prices an average of 12% in the rural areas where they have no competition. Across most of the UK, three providers offer DSL from the exchange. TalkTalk is on the way to 93% unbundled and Sky not far behind.  The result is broadband prices 20-50% lower than the U.S. duopoly. But prices are higher in rural areas not yet unbundled. Competition is strong enough most of the savings are likely to be passed on to consumers.

    Richards has allowed BT to raise the line rental to about $19, more than a complete voice service in much of the U.S. Virgin Cable only covers about half the country, leaving the other half no choice but to pay the line rental. The result is that British prices, while better than the U.S. or Canada, are typically about $10 more than France. The 12% cut is after an "inflation adjustment," which as far as I can tell is based on the overall price index. That's a naive mistake, because telecom inflation is usually much less. Many costs in telecom go down with Moore's Law, so any price increases should be based on the telecom inflation rate. 

    Richards, perhaps the best paid regulator in Europe, runs OFCOM as a "quasi-nongovernmental organization" or quango. David Cameron campaigned on a platform to cut back on quangos and singled out RIchards $500K salary as an obvious abuse. Some thought OFCOM would be incorporated into a government agency, but Richards proved how fine a politician he is by keeping OFCOM independent. 
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 February 2011 03:52
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