Tag: "Wireless"

Posted February 16, 2013 by christopher

Remember that Washington Post story about bigger, free Wi-Fi networks? It went hugely viral with all manner of outlets picking the story up, unintentionally distorting it, and amplifying it.

Some good has come of it. For one thing, I was reminded that Ars Technica does a really good job of tech reporting, better than anyone else in my estimation. Cecilia Kang offered a follow-up story to clarify the original that should help more people to understand what is at stake.

But more importantly, we saw a lot of media coverage about something really important, whether we allocate future spectrum for everyone to use (much like Wi-Fi) or will we reserve it just for AT&T, Verizon, or another big corporation?

Harold Feld has a strong opinion on the matter:

This past week, we’ve had quite the discussion around Cecilia Kang’s WashPo piece describing a plan by the FCC to create a national WiFi network by making the right decisions about how to allocate spectrum between licenses for auction and what to leave available for the unlicensed TV white spaces (“TVWS” aka “Super WiFi” aka “Wifi on steroids”). As Kang describes, the FCC’s opening of sufficient spectrum for TVWS could lead to “super WiFi networks (emphasis added) around the nation so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.”

Needless to say, the article faced much pushback, despite a subsequent Washpo clarification to indicate the FCC was not, actually, planing to build a network. Amidst the various critics, there were some general defenders of the concept. My colleagues at EFF noted that increasing the availability of open spectrum for WiFi-type uses , and my friends at Free Press argued that such a free public wifi network (or, more accurately, series of...

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Posted January 29, 2013 by christopher

The Wired Road is an ambitious fiber optic and wireless project offering Internet access to several underserved areas in rural Virginia. For the 31st episode of our Community Broadband Bits Bits podcast, Scarlett McGrady joins me to discuss its history and impact on the region.

McGrady is the Director of the Grant Community Computing Center [link to Facebook page], which providers a variety of services including computer literacy courses.

The Wired Road has long had gigabit capacity for those who are within range of the fiber optic connections. Anyone who can take a service from the network has to choose a service provider as the network is a pure open access approach: the community-owned network does not offer any services directly to subscribers. Instead, the Wired Road builds the infrastructure to enable independent service providers to offer services.

We discuss the Wired Road and the many ways that rural residents enjoy using the Internet to improve themselves and their businesses. You can find our previous stories about the Wired Road here.

Read the transcript from this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can download this Mp3 file directly here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted January 24, 2013 by christopher

Given the frequent claims of lobbyists for the cable companies regarding how incredibly competitive the broadband market is in the United States, I thought we might want to hear what John Malone, one of the most aggressive cable CEOs ever (TCI) has to say on the subject. He is now with Liberty, a media company among other things. Last year, in an investor call, he said,

Really, I think the cable business in the U.S. looks very attractive. It looks like the telcos are not going to aggressively overbuild cable with fiber and so, cable has a definite advantage when comes to high speed broadband, which seems to be something the public is totally in love with.

...

But no, I think cable is very strong on the broadband side and I think the threat of wireless broadband taking away high speed connectivity is way overblown. There just is not enough bandwidth on the wireless side to substantially damage cable's unique ability to delivery very high speed connectivity. So I think everybody is going to do well in this mix.

I excised some middle comments that were also interesting - suggesting that cable may lose video customers but will do very well by continuing to grow broadband subscribers (a much higher profit margin service).

For years, we have been saying that wireless is not a competitor to wired (specifically cable) and that there is no danger of competition when it comes to cable. Nice to see the insiders agree. Now if the we could just get the FCC to listen to those comments rather than the those of lobbyists...

Credit to Susan Crawford's new book, Captive Audience, where I read it first.

Photo courtesy of JSquish via Wikipedia Commons

Posted January 22, 2013 by christopher

I think cable is very strong on the broadband side and I think the threat of wireless broadband taking away high speed connectivity is way overblown. There just is not enough bandwidth on the wireless side to substantially damage cable's unique ability to delivery very high speed connectivity.

Posted January 17, 2013 by lgonzalez

In 2007, the City of Amherst, Massachusetts received a $150,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a wireless mesh network. DARPA and NSF have long been interested in developing mesh networks that are more resilient than traditional hub and spoke type networks.

The City IT Department, UMass Amherst Office of Information Technology Department, DARPA and NSF collaborated to deploy the network that now covers much of the city.

According to GazetteNet.com, the city is now investing another $50,000 to upgrade the system which now extends a mile through downtown. From the article:

“We definitely have the fastest and largest outdoor Wi-Fi network in the state,” said Information Technology Director Kristopher Pacunas.

The new system, which replaces aging equipment that was part of a smaller municipal Wi-Fi system, will be a boon to those who live, work and shop in downtown Amherst, said Pacunas, who anticipates as many as 2,000 different people will use the system daily.

“We’ve seen data in the short time we’ve had this (that) people will come to downtown areas with free Wi-Fi,” Pacunas said.

While the new upgrades were not officially launched until the start of 2013, Pacunas said that over 10,400 people used the system in the weeks leading up to the new year. Pacunas also notes that the network has limited functionality indoors, being designed mostly for public outdoor spaces downtown.

 The Town of Amherst Public WiFi website describes how the design was meant to blend in with the look of the city and the light and utility poles that house the access points. There are 30 wireless mesh access points and burst speeds up to 80 Mbps. This is another example of how a municipal network can create direct benefits AND indirect benefits simply through its implementation. Also from the article:

Alex Krogh-Grabbe, director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said he sees the benefits of the system.

“The new downtown Wi-Fi put downtown Amherst and its business district way ahead of most communities in...

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Posted December 11, 2012 by christopher

Dewayne Hendricks has returned for his second appearance on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, continuing our discussion about the potential for wireless technologies to improve how we access the Internet. We recommend listening to his first appearance in episode 18 before this one.

Here, we take up the old wired vs. wireless debate, but quickly determine that such a framing is useless. Wires and radios are actually complementary, not substitutes. In fact, Dewayne explains how he and other entrepreneurs cannot build the great wireless networks they want to because most communities lack the robust wired infrastructure necessary to support a strong wireless network.

The lack of competition among last mile providers like Comcast and AT&T leave too few options for innovators to build better networks -- which is, of course, the aim of existing providers that do not want to encourage any competition that would eat into their profits.

Read the transcript from this discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can download the Mp3 file of this episode directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted December 3, 2012 by christopher

In yet another reminder that fiber optics and wireless are complementary, not substitutes, we just read about rural California farms needing better telecommunications that the big companies have refused to provide.

This article offers a good introduction to why farms need access to the Internet. Modern farming takes advantage of gains in communications technology -- when it can and is not hobbled by a lack of modern infrastructure. For example:

An even more efficient use of water, said Bryon Horn, is to put moisture sensors into the soil beneath individual trees, like olives and almonds, so that each tree gets exactly the right amount of moisture. But that requires something that the valley lacks: wireless connectivity. In fact, even commercial cellphone coverage in the area is spotty.

...

But doing so has been difficult. The larger telcos, she said, are not interested, and a consultant representing smaller telecommunications companies told Hogg and other officials that the large telcos make it almost impossible to expand to underserved areas. To buy wholesale Internet access from AT&T in the Salinas area, the consultant said, costs $136 per megabit per month compared to 50 cents per megabit per month in the city of Sunnyvale. [emphasis ours]

Wireless works best where it has access to abundant wired connectivity. Just like plants need water, wireless towers need fiber to backhaul the data. Having AT&T as your only option is bad news. AT&T exists to make profits, not provide essential services at affordable rates. This is precisely why we argue that residents and businesses must have some voice in the telecom networks upon which they depend -- they are too important to entrust to massive corporations like AT&T or Comcast.

The public built the roads that allow these farmers to get their crops to market and it ensured that they were connected to the electric grid. Despite entirely too many subsidies, the large providers have not only failed to offer a modern connection but are actually hindering others from doing it. It is time to stop subsidizing those companies and embrace the benefits of ownership by cooperatives or local governments that are locally accountable.

From what we can tell, some in the San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium get it and...

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Posted December 1, 2012 by lgonzalez

Why can Wi-Fi be so great in some places but so awful in others? (Ahem... Hotels.) Time to stop imagining Wi-Fi as magic and instead think of it just as a means of taking one connection and sharing it among many people without wires.

If you take a ho-hum connection and share it with 10 people, it becomes a bad connection. On the other hand, if you take a great connection and share it with those same 10 people, they will be very happy surfers. As Benoit Felten recently told us, the best wireless networks have been built in cities with the best wired infrastructure.

Wi-Fi still has hiccups but they are well worth it for convenience, mobility, and ubiquity. In a recent GigaOm article, Stacey Higgenbotham detailed additional reasons that not all Wi-fi is created equal.

Higgenbotham lays out the limitations of Wi-fi and breaks down the technology's touchiness into four main factors. She addresses the issue specifically for travelers. From the article:

Backhaul: For most Wi-Fi is their access to the internet, but it’s actually just a radio technology that moves information over the air.

Density:…the more people you add to a network — even if those people are just checking their Facebook page — the worse the network will perform.

Movement: Wi-Fi connectivity is designed for fixed access, meaning the radios stay put...when you try to jump from hot spot to hot spot problems occur.
...
Device: Newer phones and tablets are supporting a dual-mode Wi-Fi radio, which means they can hop from the 2.4 Ghz band to the 5 GHz band….now with phones like the latest iPhone that have dual-band support, you may hop to another band only to find a bunch of other users.

Higgenbotham doesn't have the answers on how to improve service, but she offers practical advice:

Given these constraints, it hopefully makes a little more sense when you can’t download a movie while on Amtrak or your Facebook video keeps buffering as you surf on the jetway. Unfortunately, with so many variables, there’s not a lot that the Wi-Fi Alliance or even the hot spot provider can always do. If there’s a business case for faster...

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Posted November 2, 2012 by lgonzalez

Poulsbo, Washington, home to around 9,200 residents of Kitsap County, recently became the location of an "exercise in democracy" pilot project. Amy Phan of the Kitsap Sun, reports that the town is now home to a superfast wireless hotspot made possible by a new antenna installation courtesy of the the Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD). According to the article:

The wireless hot spot on Fourth Avenue taps into Poulsbo's existing fiber-optic cables, which have been installed for more than a decade, and far exceeds most standard broadband speeds available to consumers.

[Stephen Perry, superintendent of telecommunication of Kitsap Public Utility District] said the antenna can output 300 megabytes per second — compared to standard speeds of three to 50 megabytes per second — with an estimated wireless range within a half-mile of the antenna. 

120 miles of fiber already weave through Kitsap County and installation of 100 more are planned, thanks to stimulus funding. The KPUD will manage and pay for the program.

The PUD hopes to also determine how users take advantage of the temporary free service with no filtering and no limits:

"If people had access to unfettered Internet, how would they use it? No one's really collected that data before. You really don't know about the antenna until you try it," said Perry, adding data collected is meant to track usage patterns and won't identify computer owners.

Dave Siburg of Kitsap PUD called the pilot program an "exercise in democracy."

The data collected may be used to determine an economic model for expansion of the KPUD's current telecommunications offerings. Also from the article:

Councilman Ed Stern, who pushed for the city to explore high-speed broadband earlier this year, said expanding broadband capabilities could mean a strengthened economy for the area.

With a large amount of employees in Poulsbo commuting to King, Pierce or Snohomish counties for work, he said, having reliable and fast broadband could allow those employees to work from home, and spend more money locally.

Posted October 29, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have long argued that smart antitrust policy promotes investment and competition in the market. Allowing a few firms to consolidate too much power allows them to ignore our needs because we lack alternative service providers. In economic terms, they can use their market power to prevent market entry from innovative new firms.

Harold Feld recented provided more empirical evidence for our view by comparing the present cellular wireless market against that of 20 months ago. He notes new investment from abroad in T-Mobile and Sprint and that U.S. Cellular plans to expand its footprint; AT&T is planning upgrades in its spectrum holdings. Bottom line - investment is starting to happen, which was not the case a year ago. 

Feld breaks out details in FCC and DoJ activities to show the relationship. In addition to the DoJ and FCC mutual block of the AT&T/T-Mobile deal, Feld notes the FCC's new attitude regarding regulatory reform. From the Feld blog:

On top of this, the FCC sudden[ly] started getting all serious about regulatory reforms designed to keep carriers other than AT&T and Verizon in the game as serious players. This included not just the long-awaited data roaming order (which now looks like it will probably survive review by the D.C. Circuit after all), but also revisiting special access, 700 MHz Interoperability, and renewed interest in clarifying the spectrum screen/possibly reviving the spectrum cap. While the last three are still in progress, the fact that the FCC is even talking about them in a serious way is so radically different from what folks expected at the beginning of 2011 that it puts heart into investors and competitors who were looking for some sign that anyone in DC gave a crap or if competitive wireless would end up going the way of competitive telecom and competitive ISPs.

Feld acknowledges that there will be those that jump to conclusions and discourages an all-or-nothing viewpoint in favor of a more measured approach. Also from his blog post:

The actual lesson is: “the argument that antitrust enforcement and/or other types of regulation always  discourage investment and cannot possibly create jobs or...

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