Sunday, June 29, 2008

Finally..... FCC Ups Broadband Definition..... Is It Enough?

On June 12, 2008, the FCC released it's Fifth Section 706 Report, examining the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans, as required by section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 706 directs the Commission to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans by using measures that “promote competition in the local telecommunications market.” Further, it requires the Commission to conduct a regular inquiry to determine“ whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.The fourth report was published in 2004 so this report was due.

I've written here frequently about the definition of broadband in our country - here's a quote from the FCC website:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) generally defines broadband service as data transmission speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second (Kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, in at least one direction: downstream (from the Internet to your computer) or upstream (from your computer to the Internet)."

According to the FCC report, the Commission will start measuring broadband in the U.S. using the following tiers of service:

First Generation data: 200 Kbps up to 768 Kbps
Basic Broadband : 768 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps
1.5 Mbps to 3.0 Mbps
3.0 Mbps to 6.0 Mbps
6.0 Mbps and above

So, according to the FCC, broadband in the United States is now defined as 768 Kbps or greater.

I've also written in the past about how broadband is mapped in the United States:

Currently, the FCC counts a single broadband subscriber in a 5-digit zip code as indicating the entire zip code has broadband availability, even if the sole subscriber is a business and not a residential consumer. This can lead to highly inaccurate and overly generous notions of actual broadband availability and use, particularly in rural areas where zip codes are quite large."

According to the new Section 706 report, the FCC will obtain and map additional information about broadband service availability to better direct resources toward unserved and underserved areas. Armed with this additional broadband data, the Commission will be better able to assess and promote the deployment of broadband across the nation.

To answer my post title question "Is it Enough?" - in my opinion no way. I'll pick the 76 page FCC report apart, focusing on the highlights, in my next few blog entries.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

OCN (オーシーエヌ) Capping Bandwidth in Japan

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) owned Open Computer Networks (OCN, オーシーエヌ), one of the biggest Internet service providers in Japan has announced they will begin capping daily upload bandwidth at 30 G Bytes starting August 1. In an OCN press release dated 6/25/08, Tei Gordon, an NTT spokesman in Tokyo is quoted saying the 30 G Byte limit corresponds to about 7 full-length movies per day. Here's another quote from that same press release:

Although OCN has continued to expand its network bandwidth to accommodate increasing data traffic, a small number of individual users have been monopolizing substantial network resources by uploading massive amounts of data, which can slow the speed of the network and lower communication quality for other users.

The provider, which has about 7 million customers in Japan, will first warn customers who exceed the 30 GB upload daily limit. If warned customers do not back off, network access will be cutoff and the company may terminate their service contract.

I find it interesting that OCN is not capping download traffic - but - if you think about it they really cannot if they want to start selling things like movies and other large file products and services. I also cannot imagine what 100 MB must be like and cannot believe customers are only paying a $46 a month for the service. We've got a ways to go in the U.S.

You can bet all providers in the United States will be watching this closely.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Some Great E-book Newspaper Questions

Mark Viquesney from MATEC Networks and the TechSpectives Blog posted some interesting questions in response to my blog post Electronic Newspapers Save Time, Money, Gasoline and Excess Calories. I decided to answer his questions with a new entry. His questions and my answers follow.

Question 1: Is the cost per year for a Kindle version of the paper cheaper than the normal paper?

On the newsstand the Boston Globe costs $2.50 for the Sunday edition and $.75 for the Monday-Saturday editions. In a 30 day month figure there are 4 Sundays per month and 26 other days. Doing a quick calculation:

(4 Sundays/month)*($2.50/Sunday) + (26 other days/month)*($.75/other day) = $29.50 per month

We also have to figure on the cost of mileage/wear and tear when I’m away on vacation and have to drive to pick up the paper. The federal travel reimbursement rate just went up to 58 cents per mile and it’s a 14 mile round trip to the store:

($.58/mile)*(14 miles/day) = $8.12 per day

In a 30 day month:

($8.12/day)*(30 days/month) = $243.60 per month

Adding things up for the month we’re looking at:

($29.50 per month for the paper) + ($243.60/month for gas and wear and tear on the car) = $273.10 per month buying the paper the old fashioned way.

The electronic version of the Globe for the Kindle sells for $9.99 per month and there is no driving required.

Question 2
: How many pounds of paper have you saved by not buying papers?

I'm making a rough estimate here but let's figure the Monday-Saturday editions weigh .5 lbs and the Sunday editions weigh 2 lbs - I don't have printed edition papers here because I now get them electronically!

(.5 lbs/Non-Sunday copy)*(26 days) + (2 lbs/Sunday copy)*(4 days) = 21 lbs of newspaper per month that I am not consuming

Question 3: Would you buy a Kindle paper that was cheaper if it had the ads in it like a normal paper? Or would you rather just skip all the ads all the time and pay more up front?

I'm not a fan of ads so I don't miss them at all. $9.99 per month is reasonable for me so I would not be interested in a cheaper version with ads. If it was free - well - that would be pretty tempting!

Once I got used to the smaller screen, I find the reading experience much better on the Kindle. For example, I'm not starting an article on one page and being directed to another page to finish reading it. I've also got a built in dictionary if I get stuck on a word and I can highlight and export text if I find something interesting. And....... (this is my favorite) nothing gets thrown away. Daily copies are archived on my Kindle in a search-able format. Have you ever wanted to refer back to something you read in a paper maybe 2 weeks or a month ago? That paper is likely long gone and using newspaper websites commonly requires paying to access older content. I've got it all on my 10 ounce Kindle.

Thanks Mark V. for these great questions!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Electronic Newspapers Save Time, Money, Gasoline and Excess Calories

The past week I was out in North Truro on Cape Cod, MA. On the Cape I have my usual morning routine that, in the past, has involved getting up early, jumping in my car and driving 14 miles round trip to Provincetown for a newspaper and usually..... donuts!

This year, instead of driving for the paper (and donuts) I was waking wake up and downloading the Boston Globe to my Kindle. I currently subscribe to an electronic version of the Globe for $9.99 per month - I get an electronic copy of the paper 7 days a week without the ads. $9.99 is a pretty good deal for a full month of the Globe - just the Sunday edition costs $2.50. I also don't get stuck with stacks of read newspapers that I have to eventually bring to the dump (Truro Transfer Station).

In addition to the Globe I also like to read the Boston Herald - especially when it comes to reading about New England sports teams. On Friday the Celtics got to be too much for me - the Herald is not available electronically so...... i got in my car and drove to Provincetown to get the paper. Guess what else I got.
By Saturday morning I was back on the Kindle and off the donuts.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Will Verizon Put More Gas In The Fiber Engine?

Reuters posted an interesting article yesterday titled Verizon mulls alternatives to all-fiber FiOS. The article describes how Verizon will continue to roll FiOS out through 2010 passing 18 million customers at a cost of over $20 billion. The article also hints at some plans for beyond 2010.

In an interview yesterday at the NXTcomm telecommunications industry conference in Las Vegas, Verizon Chief Technology Officer Mark Wegleitner told Reuters the company is looking at continued expansion after 2010. Here’s a few quotes from the article:

Wegleitner said "What we'd look for is another approach to Fiber to the Premise (FTTP)."

He sees room to expand FiOS after 2010 to another 18 million users, but shifting away from FTTP could help expand high-speed Internet and video into sparsely populated areas where it is too expensive to build out an all-fiber network.

"I'm not sure what the trigger point would be. There still could be more gas in the engine for FTTP," he said.

I’ve always found the 18 million customer number disturbing because it only covers about 60% of Verizon’s original footprint. With Verizon's sell-off of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to Fairpoint Communications the 60% figure goes up a little bit but not by much.

It looks like the company may be considering Fiber to the Node (FTTN) technology to reach out into the more difficult areas. FiOS is selling extremely well so it makes sense to expand beyond the original plan. I also suspect Verizon is feeling some pressure from the cable companies and their aggressive DOCSIS 3.0 rollout plans.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Do E-books Smell Like Burned Fuel?

BookExpo America ran their annual conference a couple of weeks ago in New York City with some interesting, and controversial, presentations and statements. Here's some highlights from various sources. Let's start with some industry eco-footprint stats from Business Week:

- 8.9 pounds of emissions per book.
- 30 million trees consumed per year by the industry.
- Recycled paper is now used for 13% of book pages.

There was a lot of discussion about increasing the use of recycled paper and cutting back on the number of trees consumed for book and then things shifted to electronic-books (e-books). Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos got some discussion going with a talk about the Kindle but, according to Yahoo News, his talk disappointed many attendees, who had hoped that he would announce some major news, but it did continue the ongoing discussion of the e-future.

Publisher Simon & Schuster did announce they would make thousands of additional titles available on the Kindle, including "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury, who was at the Expo, is quoted in the Yahoo News piece saying "There is no future for e-books because they are not books....... E-books smell like burned fuel."

Also according to Yahoo News, the industry is in transition - new annual releases keep increasing (more than 276,000, according to researchers R.R. Bowker), while the number of books purchased is expected to drop, according to a report by the Book Industry Study Group, an industry-supported organization. In addition, core American Booksellers Association (ABA) membership dropped to 1,524 as of this spring, 56 fewer than the year before, and booksellers filled less than half of the roughly 500 chairs set up for a meeting at the Expo.

I wonder what Guy Montag would have to say about all this!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Video Delivery and MPEG (Moving Pictures Experts Group) Podcast

Mike Q and I recorded the 26 minute and 30 second podcast "Video Delivery and MPEG (Moving Pictures Experts Group)" today. Below are the show note questions and some diagrams referred to in the podcast. You can listen directly by turning up your speakers and clicking here.

If you have iTunes installed you can get this one, listen to others, and subscribe to our podcasts by following this link. If you don't have iTunes and want to listen to other podcasts and read full sets of shownotes using your web browser, follow this link.

: The Moving Picture Experts Group or MPEG, is a working group of ISO/IEC charged with the development of video and audio encoding standards. In this podcast we look at the MPEG standards and video delivery systems.

Mike: Gordon, what sources are we referring to here?

Wikipedia and white paper from the MPEG Industry Forum at we've also got a couple of diagrams from the Verizon website.

Mike: What's the history of MPEG?

Mike: Are these open standards?

Mike: What's the history? Can you tell us about MPEG-1?

Mike: How about MPEG-2?

Mike: We don't hear much about MPEG-3 - what's up with that?

Mike: Let's talk about MPEG-4 now.

Mike: What are some of the advantages of MPEG-4?

Mike: Let's switch gears and talk about carried video delivery systems - specifically the telcos and cable companies. How is this technology used?

It's different for broadcast and video on demand (VOD) content. Let's discuss broadcast systems and look at how Verizon (as an example) is setup.
Two National Super Head Ends (SHE) - one in Tampa and the other in Bloomington, IL:
- Diversely located - Satellites collect video feeds
- Video is converted to digital MPEG-2 and packaged in a 10-GigE payload
- SHE servers “pitch” data to the Video Hub Office (VHO)
- Three OC-192 SONET (long haul) rings that drop and continue GigE to VHOs

Mike: What is OC-192?
Mike: OK, these video hub offices are distributed over Verizon's footprint - what happens when they get the video?
Video Hub Office (VHO) ex. Burlington MA Combines:
- National Channels
- Servers “catch” data from the SHE servers
- Off-Air, program guide, public, education, and government (PEG) channels, and local ads are injected
- Encrypts all content
- Content sent over several 1-GigE links to local Video Serving Offices (VSO, ex. CO) over SONET (medium haul)
- VSO then sends it to the OLT and then to the PON network for delivery to customer.

Mike: Broadcast is still done using traditional RF modulation methods - correct?

Yes - that will change - rumor has it Verizon will be trialing IP Broadcasting this summer in Pennsylvania - just a rumor!

Mike: Now - Video on Demand (VOD) does things a little differently - correct?
Yes - VOD delivers IP content to the customer - it is not in RF format:
- Content is requested by user via the IP network (private subnet)
- Content is then streamed from the video pumps to the Video Distribution Routers (VDR) in the VHO (ex. Burlington)
- VDR then sends 10-GigE links to a Video Aggregation Router (VAR)
- The Video Aggregation Router (VAR) then sends it to the Gateway Router (GWR) in the VSO (ex. CO)
- GWR then sends it to the OLT and then to the PON network

Mike: So - Verizon is combining Voice, Video and Data services on the same fiber?
Yes - Here's another nice diagram from the Verizon website:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy Birthday and Happy Father's Day

I've had a busy week of Verizon presentations and NSF meetings - early starts and late evenings with no real time to write here. I did want to take a few minutes though to wish my Mom a Happy Birthday and every Dad a Happy Father's Day - especially my Dad. We don't have a lot of pictures of my family so the ones we do have are special. Here's my all time favorite of my Dad, my two brothers and I.

The print was developed in July 1961 so I'm guessing it was taken in early June by my Mom.

From left to right - I'm the first one and was 4 years old - as you can see I had a receding hairline even as a kid...... Second is my brother Michael who was 2.75 years old at the time and is now an aerospace engineer. Next is my Dad, Gordon Senior, holding my brother John who was 1.5 years old at the time and is now a retired Army Colonel working in Washington, DC. Missing is my sister Jane who hadn't been born yet and is now a Math and Physics professor.

The picture was taken on Maguire's Landing Beach in South Wellfleet, MA which is out on Cape Cod. That's the Atlantic Ocean in the background and we're surf fishing for one of our favorite fishies - the "whiley" striped bass.

My Mom worked as an eighth grade English teacher and my Dad worked for the telephone company as a lineman / installer repair technician. They both worked very hard to bring us four kids up and many of our favorite memories are centered around times like the one in this picture. We still do get out on the water and we're all looking forward to fishing together on Cape Cod this summer.

Happy Birthday Mom and Happy Fathers Day Dad!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bandwidth Hogs and the iPhone 3G

A couple of weeks ago I purchased an AT&T USBCONNECT 881 3G card and have been doing spot bandwidth tests where 3G is available. The 3G iPhone will use the same network so these spot tests will be a good indicator of the kinds of bandwidths we can expect. You can see my speed test results by location linked here. Coverage and bandwidth has been good so far in areas where I spend time including out on Cape Cod in North Truro, MA.
On the left is a screen shot (click to enlarge) sample - 1324 Kbps downstream and 334 Kbps upstream in the wilds of the Cape Cod National Seashore - pretty good for a PC and would be very nice on a new 3G iPhone!

A recent piece on Gigaom titled Is 3G Ready for the iPhone Stress Test? is an interesting read. Here's a quote from the post:

The original iPhone runs on the 2G networks using a technology called EDGE. Despite the slower speeds, the data usage on AT&T’s mobile network ballooned due to the original iPhone. According to Chetan Sharma, our favorite mobile data guru, iPhone users used nearly five times the data used by average AT&T subscribers, and nearly twice as much as other smart phone owners. About 55 percent of the data was carried on Wi-Fi networks, while the rest was on EDGE.

3G bandwidth on a small handheld device..... sounds very nice especially for YouTube and other mobile video applications. YouTube does run on the original iPhone over the EDGE network but it is slow. As a result, most are only watching YouTube videos on their iPhones when they are within WiFi range. If users can now watch elsewhere - will mobile video become a 3G bandwidth hog? I think so.

I'm also interested in how AT&T will handle the inevitable BitTorrent iPhone file-sharing applications (these are much bigger bandwidth hogs) that will be rolling out this summer. The AT&T 3G service I purchased for my PC card has a monthly 5 Giga-Byte (GB) data "soft cap". Will users get cutoff for the month when the 5 GB cap is hit?

It's not just AT&T that's going to have to deal with these issues - they'll just likely have to face them first with the 3G iPhone.....Verizon and Sprint also have similar caps in their 3G wireless contracts.

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Thoughts on the Verizon Wireless / Alltel Deal

Over the past couple of days I received some email asking for my thoughts on the Verizon Wireless / Alltel deal. At the time the Verizon Wireless purchase of Alltel had not been agreed to by the companies - it was "under discussion". Well.... late yesterday the two companies agreed. Here's some details on the deal from an Alltel press release and Alltel's Wikipedia entry:

- Alltel is the fifth largest wireless carrier in the United States.

- Alltel serves more than 13 million customers in markets in 34 states. This is
the largest wireless coverage area in the United States and includes 57 primarily rural markets that Verizon Wireless does not serve.

- Alltel focuses on small to medium size cities but provides wireless services to residential and business customers in all 50 states through low-cost roaming agreements with the major national CDMA carriers including Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel. These agreements give Alltel customers access to nationwide service while providing those carriers coverage in rural areas.

- Verizon Wireless currently serves approximately 67.2 million customers. The deal will bump Verizon's customer numbers to over 80 million, placing Verizon ahead of AT&T in the number of wireless customers served.

- The deal is valued at $28.1 billion. Verizon Wireless will acquire Alltel's equity for $5.9 billion and assume Alltel's outstanding $22.2 billion in debt.

When compared to the big companies Alltel, with its 13 million customers, is a small player. Being small has provided some advantages though. Here's an interesting quote from a Washington Post piece titled Is Verizon Wireless Buying Alltel For Its Assets Or For Its Culture Of Innovation?:

[being relatively small] gives the company a level of comfort and flexibility to quickly roll out new services without the constraints larger carriers face. It doesn't worry that millions of users will start using a new service overnight that crash the network, and it doesn't have to train as many customer service and retail representatives every time it launches a new phone or application. So, the concern is that once a part of Verizon this attitude will fade.

My thoughts:

Will Verizon Wireless maintain a level of separation and use Alltel as a wireless "skunk works"? I don't see how it can.

Are Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile next? I would not be surprised to see AT&T take a shot at one of them.

What do these kinds of mergers usually mean for consumers? Less competition and fewer choices commonly lead to higher prices.

The Verizon Wireless / Alltel deal still needs regulatory approval and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cable Companies Moving Fast With DOSCIS 3.0 Products and Services

There's been a lot of DOCSIS 3.0 activity recently as the cable companies move rapidly towards bandwidths of 100 Mbps and greater. In April 2007, CableLabs, the cable modem certification consortium, accelerated their certification plan time-line and we're now seeing certified products at deployable levels. Earlier time-lines did not have product reaching deployable levels until late 2008 or early 2009.

Key to this accelerated certification plan was CableLabs decision to "tier" feature availability for product manufactures with the following qualification levels:

Bronze Qualification: Supports IPv6 and Downstream Channel Bonding

Silver Qualification: Adds Advanced Encryption System (AES) and Upstream Channel Bonding

Full Qualification
: All DOCSIS 3.0 Features

This tiered level of certification is expected to be dropped in early 2009, when all cable modems will need to have "Full" qualification.

Today (a little over a year later) we're seeing nice results from the accelerated time-line. Here's a couple of quotes from a recent Cable Digital News interview with Time Warner Cable president and CEO Glenn Britt:

Time Warner Cable conducted some Wideband tests in Austin, Texas, last year, "and it works fine."

While 100 Mbit/s seems to be the early sought-after speed benchmark for DOCSIS 3.0, Britt said he's seen it deliver speeds up to 200 Mbit/s, albeit in a lab setting.

Britt also said Time Warner will begin testing Docsis 3.0 in New York "later this year" and roll out DOCSIS 3.0 more widely in 2009 and 2010, "in response to demand." We'll see if Time Warner accelerates the New York City roll-out in direct competition with Verizon's New York City FiOS roll-out.

Comcast is also moving fast with DOCSIS 3.0, having launched the service in the Minneapolis area and working to have as much as 20 percent of its footprint DOCSIS 3.0 ready by year's end.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Could Colleges Sell Courses the Way Amazon Sells Kindle Books?

[I continue to be impressed with the Amazon Kindle and will be writing more this week about my Going Paperless Experiment. Today I wanted to walk through the way Kindle users purchase books using an example. And.... I've been asking myself.... could we start selling courses this way? Perhaps some colleges already are? See what you think.]

I'll admit I'm caught up in the hype and have been wanting to take a look at Scott McClellan's What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception. We live in the woods and buying anything (unless it is delivered) involves jumping in the car and driving. Last night I did not feel like driving so I figured - what the heck - I'll go to Amazon, pull down a free sample of the preface and first chapter of McClellan's book on my Kindle and go from there. Here's what I did:

Step 1
: On my PC I went to the Kindle section and found that the book was available. Here's a partial screen shot of the website:

Over on the right you can see I could either buy the book with one click or I could sample the beginning of the book for free. I decided to request the no cost sample. With a single click of the "Send Sample now" button the beginning of the book was ready for me - waiting in a queue for my Kindle to download the next time I turned it on and connected wirelessly.

Step 2 (30 seconds later)
: I power up my Kindle and turned wireless on. It took maybe 20 seconds for the content to download. Once downloaded to my Kindle it appears on my Home screen as a "sample". Here's a screen shot of my Kindle home screen showing the sample:

The book sample listed at the top - notice I've got a couple other samples I'm checking out!

Step 3
: I took the time last night to read the sample preface and first chapter. I was not standing in the isle of a bookstore skimming the beginning of the book - I was sitting comfortably at home - relaxed and able to focus. I decided I'd sleep on whether I wanted to pay the $9.99 for the book. Here's a screen shot of the last page of the sample with the purchase option:
I had the option of doing nothing, buying or seeing details.

Step 4
: I woke up early this morning and gave the sample another read (this time much quicker) and decided I wanted a little more detail before making a decision. On the last page of the sample I selected "See details for this book in the Kindle Store". Here's a screen shot:
I looked at the reviews, was hooked and decided to buy.

Step 5
: I selected "Buy" and got the following message:
I was given the option to cancel the order if the purchase was buy accident. I also received an email (withing about 15 seconds) with my order summary from Amazon.

Step 6
: The entire book took less that a minute to download wirelessly to my Kindle. Here's a screen shot of my Home screen showing both the entire book and the sample at the top.
Notice the entire book is tagged "new".

That's it - easy, simple, fast and efficient. It's not just Kindle selling this way - Apple has always sold music on iTunes by providing a free sample of the first 20 seconds of a song.

So.... could a college sell courses this way? Could the first week of a 15 week course be offered as a no-cost sample? I'm not talking about a pay up front, money back if not satisfied arrangement - I'm talking no money down, no credit card required first week free. Most will probably say no - it's impossible with billing, enrollment, scheduling, etc issues - right? But.... people are getting used to buying this way - especially young people. Someone somewhere at some college is going to figure out how to make this work - maybe somebody already has.

[I am in no way affiliated with Amazon and receive no compensation from Amazon. I purchased my Kindle and all content using personal funds.]