Friday, September 20, 2013

A Family Without A Phone

I probably should be writing something about iOS7 but.... just a minute..... I gave this assignment the first week in a telecom class I'm teaching this semester. The short student essays (I know, not really technically an essay at 200 words) have just blown me away. It's so different today compared to growing up in the 60/70's. Here's what I asked them to do:
Growing up I had a friend who’s family did not have a telephone. His Mom used to whistle (really distinctively and loudly) when she wanted him to come home. When he was over our house or we were out in the woods playing we were all tuned in, listening for her whistle. Everyone knew what it meant and she was good - to this day I’ve never heard anyone who could whistle like her. 
Times have certainly changed. I’ve had almost instant contact with my two children with text and voice over the past ten years. Most recently we’ve all got smart phones and we’ve been able to add email and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) to our mobile communications tool list along with video applications like Skype and FaceTime. Although some may disagree, the ability to connect or be connected with them no matter where they are in the world has a level of assurance I know my friend’s whistling Mom did not have 45-50 years ago. 
This week, prepare a 200 word (plus or minus 10 words) essay describing how mobile technology has impacted your life.
My friend's family did not have a television either!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

FCC Connect America Fund Phase I Round Two

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted an interactive map (embedded below) showing the locations where new higher-speed broadband may be deployed as the result of the second round of Connect America Phase 1 funding.

Back in 2011, the FCC launched the Connect America Fund (CAF) and it has had limited success. Round one of funding only dispensed $115 million of $300 million in available funds. I'm not sure why the FCC has had difficulty giving this money out - currently the FCC defines broadband as 768 Kbps downstream and 200 Kbps upstream. In this next round the FCC has decided to offer two levels of subsidy in the current round - $775 per location to bring broadband into underserved locations (where broadband does not exist) and an additional $550 per location (where lower speed broadband does exist) to bring broadband speeds up to 3Mbps downstream and 768 Kbps upstream.

Coverage includes over 600,000 homes and businesses in the United States and the map shows the number of homes and businesses along with the amount of subsidy ($775 or $550) for each location.

Four rural telcos are receiving most of the funds:

CenturyLink - $54 million
Frontier Communications - $72 million
AT&T - $100 million
Windstream - $124 million

Interesting that Verizon Landline (with regional sell-offs over past few years) does not appear to be a rural player any more.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Verizon Trimming Some Wireline Limbs

I've been teaching Verizon technicians in a program called NextStep since the mid 1990's. The Next Step Program allows contract qualified Verizon associates who are members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to earn an Associate in Applied Science degree in Telecommunications Technology from a participating college. It's been a great opportunity for everyone involved to keep up and learn as the industry has transitioned.

This morning I taught my first class of the fall semester and we had some interesting discussion on where copper based landline services like DSL are going. The other night on Jim Cramer's show, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam opened up a bit on the companies plans. Here's some back and forth from the show posted at  Stop the Cap!:

Jm Cramer, CNBC: “[Under former Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon] took areas that really weren’t growth areas and sold them to Frontier and other players. Would you be able to get rid of some of your underperforming landline businesses to be able to increase [Verizon's] growth even further?”

Lowell McAdam, Verizon
: “That is a possibility. [...] If you talk about opportunities here, now that we have One Verizon, [...] we are going to trim some limbs around the tree here. Things that aren’t performing will not be a part of our portfolio so we can invest in things that will drive the kind of growth we are excited to be able to tap here.”
In New Jersey and New York, Verizon is moving on a wireless landline replacement called Voice Link. It's optional for some customers but many are thinking it will replace copper services in there is approval from the states regulators. Verizon is calling Voice Link an improvement for voice customers dealing with repeated service calls.

Bloomberg estimates the Verizon wireless net worth is around $289 billion while Verizon wireline (landlines, FiOS and business broadband) is worth just $24 billion. Looking at revenue, Bloomberg says Verizon wireline totaled $39.8 billion last year which is down from $50.3 billion in 2007. During the same period, Verizon wireless revenue was up 73% to $75.9 billion.

It's pretty clear where this is all going - at least when it comes to Verizon wireline.

You can read a transcript of the complete McAdam interview linked here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Crowdfunding a Super-Smartphone

Well..... it's been a while since I posted here. I like to think I took a little sabbatical for the past four months. Most of my summer was spent on the road so it feels pretty good to be back at home for at least a little while. Even though I was not posting here I was still keeping up with technology and the business of technology.

Today I wanted to write a bit about a company called Canonical that's run by Mark Shuttleworth. You may not have heard of Mark or Canonical but you probably have heard of a version of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu that Canonical makes. Ubuntu is used on millions of servers around the world - basically big high horsepower computers used to host websites, etc.

Mark has this idea to launch what many call a super-smartphone - basically a tablet computer that has all the functionality of a PC called the Ubuntu Edge.  Now, Mark happens to be a billionaire but decided back in July he wanted to crowdfund the project to the tune on $32 million using the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. Well long story short, Mark failed - at least with the crowdfunding idea. Canonical raised a little under $13 million ($12,813,501 to be exact) of the $32 million Mark was looking for.

The phone that was spec'd sounded pretty nice - a multi-core processor (fastest on the market), at least 4GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, a sapphire crystal screen (only a diamond can scratch it), a high capacity silicon anode battery, GPS, gyro, accelerometer, proximity sensor, compass, barometer, HDMI interface for TVs and monitors, dual-LTE, dual band 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4, and near field communications.

I found Mark's crowdfunding approach interesting because with Indiegogo there are two options - an all or nothing approach (that's the one Mark picked) or the second option where the company keeps everything pledged whether the stated goal is met or not.

Why did it fail? Mark may have been asking for too much. Donors that wanted to get one of the first phones made were required to pledge at least $725. Initially the campaign set crowdfunding speed records but in the end stalled once the buzz wore off.

Is it over? For Canonical it may be for now. Mark has said he will not use his own funds for the project. But Mark is not the only one with  super-smartphone desires - on July 16 (when I was in Poland right next door) Alexey Miller, chief executive officer of a Russian natural gas exporter called Gazprom offered to pay $3.7 million to anyone who could come up with one.