Railroads and fiber: Part II: The Incumbents

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/27/2015 - 08:58

As I continue to read "A Great and Shining Road" about the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, I continue to be amazed at the number of parallels between that project and the effort to get fiber to homes and businesses today.

While the scale of the two projects is different (the railroad was going to span the continent, while fiber needs to be built within towns and cities), the *resistance* to the project is the same.

Some of the fiercest opposition to the proposed transcontinental railroad came from the incumbent railroads, who saw competition as a bad thing. The incumbents got newspapers to print mis-leading articles and they wined and dined legislators and told them there was no need for another railroad. One railroad magnate even grandly pronounced that there was no need for a transcontinental railroad because hardly anyone traveled between the East Coast and the West Coast.

Of course, there were few travelers because there was no easy way to get across the country--sailing around the tip of South America or traversing the Isthmus of Panama (death from yellow fever was common), or braving Indian attach going cross country were the only three options. Today, we have incumbent telecom providers saying the same thing: "No needs a Gig of bandwidth because no one is using a Gig of bandwidth."

Well, you can't use it if you don't have it.

Here we are, more than 150 years later, repeating history, fighting the naysayers and entrenching interests.

Of course, we know how things turned out for the "crazy" concept of a transcontinental railroad: it transformed the nation and unleashed decades of economic growth across the entire country.

Internet of Things, Part III: Encryption slows down HomeKit use

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:52

Vendors who want to roll out home security devices using Apple's HomeKit are complaining. Using the HomeKit API allows customers to control the devices (with many more applications than home security) from their iPhone or iPad.

Apple is requiring a very high level of encryption for HomeKit-enabled devices to prevent hackers from taking over these devices. If the HomeKit-enabled device controls your front door lock or the entire house alarm system, a complex encryption algorithm is a good idea.

The problem is that the very low power "smart" devices have limited processing power to handle the complex encryption, so there is a time lag between the time you send a command or query from your iPhone and the time you get a response. These things are normal developmental problems, but I find it ironic (though not surprising) that home security vendors are blaming Apple for making sure the vendor devices are safe and secure.

Internet of Things, Part II: Hacked vehicles

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/22/2015 - 09:29

The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to roll along merrily, with manufacturers sticking a WiFi chip and a poorly designed single purpose Web server into anything with electricity. That is not so bad. What is bad is the complete and utter disregard for testing for security.

Wired has an article about two guys who showed the magazine that they could remotely take control of a Jeep Cherokee, while it was being driven at highway speed, and do things like honk the horn, turn the wipers on and off, or disable the transmission, among many other functions. In the demonstration, the hackers nearly caused an accident when they disabled the transmission, as the Jeep was no longer in control of the driver, who was barely able to steer it onto the side of the highway without power.

Is this unique to Jeeps? Apparently not, as the article mentions similar shortcomings with Fords and Toyotas.

With the Chinese hack of Federal personnel records (millions of them), it is not a stretch to imagine that taking control of just a few thousand automobiles in the U.S., on major highways during rush hour, could cripple the entire transportation system. But hey! Your iPhone syncs nicely with the car music system, so we got that going for us.

Railroads and fiber: Repeating history

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/21/2015 - 10:09

I've been reading "A Great and Shining Road," by John Williams. It tells the story of the development of the transcontinental railroad, and has much detail in the beginning about the development of rail transportation in the U.S., as it started on the east coast.

The parallels to the last decade of development of fiber networks is remarkable. There was fierce opposition to the railroads from the entrenched canal and toll road owners and operators. It was difficult to get financing for the newfangled railroads because wealthy investors did not want to take any risks; they wanted to stick with the tried and true "old" transportation systems.

Fiber is the transportation system of the 21st century, but it is still seen as a risky investment by many. How is it a transportation system? Here is just one example: music. Music used to require physical roads to deliver records/CDs to customers. Today, music is *transported* by fiber networks directly to customers.

If you substitute the cable and phone companies for the toll road/canal owners of the railroad era, there is an amazing overlap in the issues of economic development, entrenched interests, investment capital, and community infrastructure.

In the end, railroads unleashed a long period of rapid economic growth, but the railroad visionaries had to overcome resistance from many sectors of the government and the economy.

Nest releases home security camera

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/19/2015 - 08:39

Nest, the thermostat people, have been busy branching out by developing (or buying) other home gadgets like smoke detectors and security cameras. The company recently announced the Nest Cam, an Internet of Things (IoT) security camera.

Home security services used to be an expensive service that required steep monthly fees and a landline (and these days, the landline probably costs more than the security service). But lately, every geek with a couple of friends is hoping to catch fire in a bottle with an Internet-based security camera.

I think there is a lot of growth in this area, largely because you can now buy a good security camera with a live Internet feed for under $100. But what caught my eye in the article linked above was at the bottom of the story. Nest is owned by Google, and Nest's user agreement specifies that Nest will share data with Google. Nice. That Internet camera that seems so cool will be sending a video feed to Google, where AI software will be analyzing everything you do so Google can better target ads for you.

And don't even get me started on the hacking implications of having third party access to devices that show you what is going on in your house. There are going to be some spectacular hacks of Internet of Things devices before most people start paying attention and asking themselves if they really want to put a bunch of Internet gadgets in their home.

Popular papers are available on the WideOpen site

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/18/2015 - 10:50

I have put some of my most popular papers over on the WideOpen Networks site. You can access them here.

Shark jumping Part III: The wearable cloud

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/19/2015 - 09:32

If you needed still more evidence that the Internet of Things (IoT) has become silly, here is another data point: ReVault, the wearable cloud.

It is a watch thingy that you can strap to your arm and it uses Bluetooth and/or WiFi to automatically back up your smartphone and tablet. Your whole backup plan is based on something that sets off the metal detectors at the airport, so you have to take it off and risk leaving it behind at the security checkpoint.

I have a personal cloud. It is in the basement of my house, and I'm duplicating everything on a second "cloud" device at a friend's house 250 miles away. That's the way you do a personal cloud. What am I using? It's from Transporter, and it works well--no glitches or burps with more than a year of use. And I have no financial connection to the company....just a satisfied customer.

Is everything going to look like Facebook?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/19/2015 - 09:01

LinkedIn has been slowly adjusting its interface to look and behave more like Facebook, and when I checked it this morning, it had changed again. It now looks almost exactly like Facebook.

On the one had, Facebook is a familiar interface, and I had always found LinkedIn features to be obscure (and I'm trying to be generous). LinkedIn started out as a kind of professional address book, and they just kept adding more stuff willy-nilly. At least they have now tried to bring some sanity to the design.

But do we really want everything everywhere to look like Facebook? Facebook has its own interface problems, starting with the infuriating "mouse around until some hidden feature appears" approach that Apple is in love with.

There is some strange and accelerating devolution of software going on that is being driven by the design constraints of smartphone and tablets. Desktop software, even Web-based software, is steadily being dumbed down (stupified?) so that it works on a 4" screen. I have two 23" monitors on my desktop here in the office, and Apple tells me to be happy with an interface designed to work well on the iPhone.

No thanks. But I fear that things are going to get much much worse.

Internet of things: more shark jumping

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/18/2015 - 08:37

The Internet of Things continues to be more hype than substance, and the whole Internet industry is starting to feel like 1998 again, when any Red Bull-addled idea seemed to be able to attract millions in venture capital.

The latest IoT gadget nobody needs is GasWatch, a device that lets you check how much propane is left in your BBQ propane tank.....from your phone.

What?

The device costs $35, and I can buy a tank gauge that requires no batteries, wires, or any other electronics for $15, and it gives me the same information.

If you want to know how much gas is left in your propane tank, I would guess most people do what I do...lift it an inch off the ground and shake it. I don't need an app for that.

Social media and hiring

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/13/2015 - 07:56

The always interesting David Strom has a great piece here about the dangers of social media in the business world. He recounts a recent incident where a job applicant who received two job offers decided to ask the whole world which one she should take.

Needless to say, it did not turn out well for the young woman. One of the companies, after seeing her "pros and cons" post about each company, took offense and rescinded their offer. Which might sound sensible, but left the company looking thin-skinned and defensive.

Read the whole thing....there are lessons for both job applicants and companies.

There is still an AOL? Who knew?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/12/2015 - 09:23

I was surprised to hear that Verizon has purchased AOL. I occasionally get a message from someone who still has an AOL email account, but I can't remember the last time I actually went to aol.com...sometime in 1999?

Verizon seems to be trying to imitate the Comcast/NBC merger. Verizon says they are after the AOL OTT (Over The Top) content. Really? I have not met or heard anyone say, "Wow, that show on AOL was really great!"

Vertical integration may work in markets where Verizon/AT&T/Google/Comcast already have a de facto monopoly via their copper or fiber infrastructure, but I remain convinced that the future of entertainment is complete separation of content from infrastructure, which is the WideOpen Networks model.

The incumbents are still stuck on the notion that entertainment is the only thing their customers want, but on open networks, entertainment will be one of hundreds of services available. And on an open network, there will be many entertainment options, including lots of entertainment bundles from new content companies that are building packages specifically to meet consumer interests as opposed to building packages to tie consumers to a monopoly network.

The Apple Watch jumps the shark

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/05/2015 - 07:56

The Washington Post is running online ads touting that you can read the newspaper on the Apple Watch. Really? Really? If there is ONE THING that I have never ever wished for, it has to be this: "I wish I could read a newspaper on my watch."

Does it work something like this?

Today in

(scroll)

Washington

(scroll)

the

(scroll)

President

(scroll)

announced

(scroll)

that he

(scroll)

was.....

Have we completely lost our minds over these gadgets?

Why fiber? The work from home problem

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/27/2015 - 11:00

We get asked all the time, "Why do I need a fiber connection at home? My Netflix works fine."

I was trying to do some work from home over the weekend, and I needed to move some relatively small files back and forth between my computer at home and a remote server. I was getting dial up speeds consistently for several hours. File transfers that would finish in a second or two at the office were taking many minutes--long enough that I had time to go do other things and then become more and more annoyed as I would check back and see the file transfer was still not complete.

Why so slow? I have a theory. It rained all weekend, and I think of lot of people (kids?) were streaming video, which can drag down the overall bandwidth and network responsiveness. Or it could be throttling of file transfers by the cable company in an effort to get me to pay extra for "business class" service.

Want to work from home? Want to run a business from home? We're designing and building networks that can deliver real business class services anywhere, making everyone more productive.

Apple Watch strap is ugly

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2015 - 08:04

It's Friday, and I am delinquent in writing about hardware and gadgets. I am mildly interested in the Apple Watch, but I do wonder if anyone besides me thinks that the cheesy plastic strap provided with the entry level models is not only ugly but unpleasant. I have worn watches with a plastic strap, and have found them profoundly uncomfortable, especially in the summer or when exercising. Perspiration builds up under the plastic and the band and watch gets hot and, and how do I put it....sweaty.

I just watched a couple of Apple videos about the Watch, and most of the people depicted in the ads are exercising. I really have trouble with the idea that I have spend hundreds of dollars more just to get a more comfortable leather band. It does appear that it is possible to buy a third party watch strap for the Watch, and maybe this whole cheap strap thing is similar to Apple's similarly inexplicable strategy of providing the world's worst earbuds with iPods. Who knows?

Comcast-TimeWarner merger is over

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2015 - 07:53

Comcast has announced that it will give up trying to merge with TimeWarner Cable. The company has said that scrutiny from the Feds was a factor.

I never thought this was going to be important no matter how it turned out, because cable TV is dead. The body is still warm, but the rapid acceleration of Over The Top (OTT) alternatives to cable makes cable TV irrelevant. The cable giants already seem to understand this, and have been switching revenue streams to their Internet service for several years. Just like how my cable TV fees went up year after year by a few dollars, now my cable-delivered Internet goes up by a few dollars every year, even while the cost per Meg for Internet goes down (a primary expense for cable-delivered Internet).

TV is getting ever more interesting, and Netflix is leading the way. While HBO plowed new ground with non-network TV shows many years ago, Netflix is now producing some of the most interesting shows--Lillyhammer is just one example of the success of Netflix in producing high quality programming.

But despite the efforts of the cable network operators to increase Internet download bandwidth to their customers, their Achilles heel is the highly asymmetric service they offer that makes their "entertainment" service profoundly unsuitable for work from home and business from home activities.

The single biggest complaint we hear now is that "I can't work from home with my cable Internet connection." Whether we like the "always connected" business culture or not, the reality is that many of us are trying to get some work done from home at least part of the time, and the trend is accelerating. Meaningful business work from home requires symmetric bandwidth, and it is fiber that can deliver business class services. WideOpen Networks, our sister company, is now rolling out true community-owned Gigabit networks in the U.S. Want more information? Give Dave Sobotta a call at WideOpen: (540-552-2150).

Is home-based work over-rated?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:52

There is a conversation over on LinkedIn about whether or not home-based tele-commuting is a real thing or not. I don't think the concept of working from home is "wrong," but I would agree that it is over-hyped.

We are not all going to work from home in the future. I first started using IP-based videoconferencing in 1994, and use it now on a daily basis. It is a tool, and nothing more than that. It is not some magic device that eliminates the need for face to face interaction.

Having said that, we have done more than two dozen county-wide and city-wide surveys in the past six or seven years involving thousands of respondents, and it is very clear that there is a floor of ten percent for full time home-based workers and businesses. If you add in respondents who are working part time from home, we see as many as 40% trying to work from home part time--while most of this is routine nights/weekends type stuff, on top of that 10% full time workers, there is another 5-10% who actually work one day or more from home. So there is a baseline of around 15-20% of workers who are trying to be productive from home.

We interviewed a Fortune 50 company recently who had a goal of giving 20% of their workforce the option of working full time from home as a quality of life issue (e.g. young children at home, an elderly relative who needs care, etc.). They wanted a symmetric, non-blocking 50 meg connection between every home-based worker and the corporate network. They wanted to be able to support a minimum of 4-way uncompressed HD videoconferencing for each home-based worker.

I've been saying for fifteen years now that neighborhoods are business districts, and from a broadband infrastructure perspective, you need to design and build networks that can deliver business class services anywhere. The concept that you can put inferior fiber networks in neighborhoods to shove entertainment down a largely one way pipe is an antiquated business model

Apple Watch reviews starting to appear

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/08/2015 - 12:45

Some early reviews of the new Apple Watch are starting to appear. This review discusses battery life. I had to chuckle at this comment:


Geoffrey Fowler, The Wall Street Journal:
"The battery lives up to its all-day billing, but sometimes just barely. It’s often nearly drained at bedtime, especially if I’ve used the watch for exercise. There’s a power-reserve mode that can make it last a few hours longer, but then it only shows the time."

Oh, no! "...it only shows the time..." Goodness...imagine that. A watch that only shows the time....oh, the horror!

No broadband = No tourist dollars

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/27/2015 - 09:22

The "slow or non-existent" broadband service in and around Loch Ness in Scotland is driving tourists away, who flee in horror, not from Nessie, the once and future Loch Ness Monster, but from un-usable broadband.

Broadband is basic infrastructure for community and economic development.

No broadband? I'm selling the house!

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/27/2015 - 09:00

This is a hair-raising story that highlights how broadband is changing economic development....no one wants to live in an area with poor broadband.

Just months after buying a new home, the owner is putting the house on the market because everyone told him he could get broadband service once he moved in, and that just turned out not to be true.

If you want to keep young people in your community and you want to attract businesses and entrepreneurs, broadband--not "little broadband," but "big broadband" is now essential economic development infrastructure.

The Local Transport Provider: A new way of talking about open access

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/26/2015 - 13:15

I wrote this paper to help clarify what local open access networks actually do.

I have found that people continually confuse the local open access network with “service provider,” and thought that coming up with a new term might help.

Design Nine and WideOpen Networks will be at the Broadband Communities Annual Summit in Austin, Texas in April. Be sure to stop by our booth and say hello.

Best regards,
Andrew

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