Archive for March, 2005

As quoted from this study,

“According to a report by Technology Futures Inc. (TFI), by 2006, one-half of U.S. households will subscribe to broadband access, and a shift to much higher data rates in the range of 24 Mb/s to 100 Mb/s will have begun. By 2010, U.S. broadband penetration of 75% is likely, and 10% to 20% of U.S. households will subscribe to very high-speed-broadband. In the process, most of the local exchange carriers current investment in copper cable will be made obsolete.”

In that one paragraph (above) there is a mountain of information critical to every single person that reads this blog. The first and probably most crucial point is that somewhere around the end of this year 50% of the US households will have adopted broadband. (as defined by 200Kbps or higher)

We also are informed that we will also see a dramatic shift towards “much higher data rates” as described as 6Mbps, then 24Mbps and later 100Mbps. In the study (linked above) there is an estimated timetable as to when this is projected to happen but the incredible thing is that within the next 4 1/2 years we will only have connected approximately 75% of US households to broadband while somewhere between 10% and 20% will be connected to speeds as high as 100Mbps!

This is truly the redefinition of the term Digital Divide!

The final sentence in this amazing paragraph states that in that same timeframe the current copper infrastructure will be made largely obsolete! Even the most optimistic estimates I have read seem to indicate that we will be nowhere close to a 100% fiber deployment by that time.

Of course, this forecast (like any other forecast) can be easily dismissed as a best guess estimate, only as good as the quality of information it is based on and the quality of the person reading the information through their crystal ball. We all need to filter what we can accept in our view of reality and disallow that which might cause us to have to re-examine how we look at the world around us. I look at it as my job to ferret out these articles, examine their credibility and bring them to you for your enrichment.

A rather interesting discussion has been taking place in a couple of the WISP/ISP professional forums I belong to. The issue has been brought to a head because of the charges recently leveled by Vonage claiming that their service is being blocked. Alternately there is also discussion about their service being prioritized last in the queue making it unusable for all intensive purposes.

I am puzzled by some of the comments that have surfaced, many along the lines of, “It’s my network and nobody should be able to tell me how to run it or what services I need to allow.”

This amuses me as I have to wonder if there is any minimum requirement for being an ISP. Would it be allowable for me to block all traffic that I felt isn’t suitable for my network like, web surfing, email, P2P, download videos, streaming video, on-line gaming, etc? Why not? All of these services (except email) require me to use a measurable amount of bandwidth.

There is also the idea that “nobody” has the right to tell us what to do. Last I checked, the FCC has every right to tell us what to do as this is exactly what they are their for – to protect the American public from inadequate communications infrastructure. I would have to think that if the FCC didn’t feel as though an ISP was providing true “Internet service” they would have a lot of options.

We seem to forget that we WISPs operate by the good grace of the FCC and should they deem we are not operating in the public’s best interest they can pull the plug on us any time they decide to.

It is readily apparent that the FCC is solidly behind VoIP. Many of their recent decisions and public speeches have made that clear. What kind of businessperson would risk the angst of the FCC blocking a service that the FCC has championed? What sense would it make to force the FCC to take measures ensuring that the American public will get the necessary access to use a service that they have paid for?

This leads to another set of questions. Why would a business knowingly make it impossible for one of their customers to use a service that the customer wanted enough to take some of their hard earned money and pay for it? This defies every law of business known to man.

One thing for certain, when the service doesn’t work the customer will call the tech support number at the VoIP company and be told that they need to switch Internet Service Providers. When the customer leaves their current ISP and signs up with the competition finding that the service works beautifully, what are they going to think about their previous ISP? What will happen to that initial ISP’s reputation when word gets out that you need to switch from Company A to Company B because Company A’s network can’t provide adequate service to use VoIP?

The same argument could be presented that VoIP is similar to P2P but even that comparison begs to ask why any business would deny a customer any service they might want to avail themselves of. To be successful we need to provide the customer with the very best service available. This is not something that is limited to answering the telephone or dealing with hardware issues, this means that the customer never experiences anything that would disappoint them.

To do anything less is to have already made the decision you are leaving the business but you don’t know exactly what day that will be.

In this world, the only thing we have to worry about is our incompetence being leveraged by the competition.

Try not to forget that!

This morning I decided to take a close look at the spam folder in my GMail account. I had purposely been letting it grow so as to gather inspiration for this piece. Incredibly, in a three-week period I have managed to collect 374 pieces of some of the funniest email solicitations I can imagine.

Three members of the Douglas family (mike34 douglas, mike02 douglas and mike08 douglas – I guess this is like the naming convention of the George Foreman family) emailed me to tell me that their father, Paul Douglas, had been murdered and that they would like to have me help them get the money into a different back account. He tells me he trusts me and that he is willing to give me 20% of the money (just over $2 million dollars) for my trouble. I guess he is anticipating I am going to have a lot of trouble.

Katie Cody emailed me (along with roughly a dozen other nice folks) to tell me about her picks for the stock market. I thought this was nice of all of those busy stock brokers because if they knew me they would know I don’t invest in the stock market, I own my own company and place all of my gambling money there effectively cutting out the middleman (or in this case the middlewoman)

Several people (actually, too many to quickly count) emailed me with fantastic deals on software. I am reliably told that I can buy software packages that retail for several hundred dollars for pennies on the dollar because these nice people apparently are not interested in making all that profit for themselves.

I was also nothing less than amazed that I could grow some appendages bigger, wider and firmer while at the same time losing weight! I would have thought this a scientific impossibility but I am amazed what I learn everyday on the Internet so why should this be any different?

The winner, hands down, had to be all of the nice people who want to lower my mortgage, something I find amazing because I don’t have a mortgage. Apparently, that isn’t a problem as these people can also perform what I though was scientifically impossible by lowering zero!

ENOUGH!

My GMail account is less than a year old and already the spammers have found me to the tune of 100 plus emails per week. The funny thing is I don’t blame them; I blame the idiots that click on these solicitation and BUY from them. Let’s face it, the spammers do this because there is a payback – and a large payback it is.

Congress decided to take some action on this problem by passing what is affectionately known as the “can spam” act. Has this really done anything worth mentioning? Well, if my inbox is any indication, I am going to have to say no. Why? Because Congress targeted the wrong end of the transaction, the spammer. If they wanted to really have some effect on this problem they would have made it illegal for anyone to buy from these jackasses. Of course, if you are stupid enough to believe that some pills are going to make your appendage longer, or someone you don’t know can prescribe medications for you, you probably deserve what you get. How many people have been taken for large sums of money (some even killed) by answering an ad to help some soul remove millions of dollars from their country? Are these idiots really so gullible as to believe there is someone they don’t know out there trying to give them several million dollars?

I guess this might actually be a Dawinism because if these people are willing to buy medicines from disreputable establishments and swallow them, this will certainly become a self-correcting problem.

Now, let’s assume that did pass just such a law in conjunction with the can spam act. It would now be easy to find out the financial information of every spammer out there and seize it. Let’s face it, spam is driven by greed and if there were no money in the business we would also see very little spam in short order.

However, this doesn’t really address the entire problem. The real culprit is that the email system we all are used to isn’t capable of handling many of the challenges we face today. In my collection of spam I had several phishing experiments, including a couple “from” Ebay, one from Paypal and several from banks that aren’t in my area not to mention that I don’t have accounts with. Once again, people click on these messages (because they instinctively trust email?) and provide their personal information to very realistic looking sites. I suppose if we want to discourage that we would allow these people to lose their money. After a few idiots have their story about losing their life’s savings in the media I would think the American public would take this seriously. We can give them their money back after the story gets out; I’m not that heartless.

What we really need is a new mechanism for delivering messaging. Many people now use Instant Messaging as their preferred method of choice for text but this medium is now seeing spam infiltrating it in a very pronounced way.

How can we effectively out this to an end, once and for all? I think we probably could do this quite easily if we wanted to. This is what I suggest, we offer a large reward (say $10 million) to any credible entity to develop and release the next generation of text messaging that is completely secure. Where does this money come from? I would guess that the ISP industry would be thrilled to put this money up considering the very real cost in both bandwidth and the expense involved in trying to filter out spam from their customer’s inboxes.

To make this interesting, we need to structure the contest in such a way that the new program get introduced and set up on a testing ground while another reward (like $1 million is offered to anyone that can crack into the applicant’s security) If after a reasonable time period the software resists all attempts at being cracked we release it to the public for free. The world will quickly adopt this if it is released as a free program.

Do I think this will happen? To be honest with you, I don’t. There is too much money being made here for anyone to really want to change this. We have the spammers along with the companies that are working to stop spam, we have the consumers who seem to want to receive these messages or they wouldn’t be buying this stuff and last of all we have the criminals who are making a living off of these scams – even though I am not sure how much of an influence they have on the entire process.

One thing we could do that I am sure would work quite well, let’s start hacking into spammer’s databases and publishing the names of everyone who buys enlargement medication. I would be willing to bet once that makes it to mainstream media nobody would want to risk being “outed” even if the claims did live up to their promise.

Let’s start off by clearing the slate and understanding that I am not bashing the WiMAX Forum in this discussion. I think the WiMAX Forum has done nothing short of an amazing job – not perfect by any stretch of the imagination – but any group that can manage to get most of the active players in an industry to work together deserves some applause in my book. I am not directly addressing the technology even though the concept is not what I would have done – but then I am not always right either. What I am concerned about is the vision – or lack thereof.

In my daily jog around the Internet (I have to keep in shape somehow) I ran across an article that projected the shift in population from rural to metropolitan as reaching a critical point in the next five years. I had heard about this some years ago so I decided to do a little more reading on the subject and become more familiar with these projections.

In study after study the realization is that people in droves are abandoning the rural areas to move to the urban areas in search of jobs, infrastructure, culture with probably each individual having their own reasons. This holds true everywhere I could find credible data.

The world is steadily becoming more urban, as people move to cities and towns in search of employment, educational opportunities and higher standards of living. Some are driven away from land that, for whatever reason, can no longer support them. By the year 2005, urban areas are expected to be home to more than half of the world’s people.

Already 74 per cent of Latin American and Caribbean populations live in urban areas, as do 73 per cent of people in Europe, and more than 75 per cent of people in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. In both Africa and Asia, urban dwellers represent about a third of the total populations. However, there are significant variations between individual countries. In Africa, for example, more than 50 per cent of the populations of Algeria, South Africa and Tunisia reside in urban areas.

The above quotation was taken from an article located here:

The challenges this will present are enormous. Leaving aside everything else, I thought this would impact how communications will be served to this steadily increasing group.

If we take any large city, New York, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, etc we find that the density per square mile mandates that an enormous amounts of connectivity needs to be provides to a relatively small area. We can also be assured that this demand will significantly increase for the foreseeable future. At the same time the demand seems to be rising at a faster rate than the necessary infrastructure can be built.

Take New York City as an example. It is my understanding that it is a minimum of three years from concept to finished deployment for a fiber project of any size to be completed there. From the initial proposal, through the planning, budgeting, engineering studies, permitting process and continuing right through the actual construction this is a very expensive and time consuming effort. During that same three-year period the demand for more communications infrastructure have increased and the local population is not being adequately serviced.

What does this have to do with WiMAX? The reality is that the WiMAX standard has been designed to provide relatively small amounts of data for reasonably long distances – exactly what we don’t need in the above areas. As metropolitan populations increase their demand for connectivity and should the trend toward urbanization continues who the heck is the WiMAX Forum targeting as their intended market, the rural areas? I would suggest that based on the migration patterns presented above that is a losing proposition.

Instead, what is needed is a MAN standard that allows for huge amounts of data to be transported across relatively short distances coupled with the ability to be put in place very quickly. In addition, this infrastructure needs to be able to support a nearly infinite amount of radios with next to no degradation from interference.

The reality is that this is the overwhelming portion of the market, the one segment that seems to be being ignored by the wireless manufacturers and the one that presents the biggest challenge along with the biggest rewards.

To put this in perspective, the city of Sao Paulo has an estimated population of 27 million people and growing. The needs of a population base this size for a reliable communication infrastructure is astronomical. The ability of any traditional telecommunications provider to keep up with this ever-increasing demand has reached a point where the copper/fiber deployments cannot be deployed in a time frame consistent with the level of population growth as I mentioned in my example citing New York City above.

There is one more factor that enters into this discussion, cost. If we look at the real cost, including labor, to deploy a fiber network we find that cost to range anywhere from a low of roughly $3K/mile for rural areas that have extremely low labors rates to a high of $400K/mile in Manhattan.

That’s one heck of a range.

At what point does it become economically feasible to deploy wireless technology instead of fiber? Certainly this number would depend on the location, labor rates, demand along with a number of other factors. However, we can easily see if these ultra high-speed radios had a retail sale price of $10/each the adoption would be astronomical.

So, what are the applicable technologies we might apply to this need? Certainly the millimeter wave bands could be employed and show some serious promise as does Ultra Wide Band. In locations where the weather conditions permit Free Space Optics could allow for even more capacity to be added as radio and FSO could coexist in the same environment without degrading each other’s performance.

Amazingly, these technologies are reasonably inexpensive to produce once a critical mass is reached.

If we take millimeter wave as an example we find that if the production demands exceeded 10,000 radios per month we would see a drop in prices that would bring these radios in line with the least expensive fiber deployments we can cite. If the number was then raised to 100,000 radios per month we would see prices that would near the cost of telephone cable per mile. Continuing forward at the production levels of 1,000,000 per month we would now see prices not quite as low as the current WiFi levels but close enough that nobody would care.

How about UWB as a comparison? The projections are that the first generation of UWB to be released to the public will initially be mass-produced in such quantities for use in PAN (Personal Area Networks) so as to make the introductory price in the sub-$20 range. These devices have extremely low power output (as mandated by the FCC) but with the use of relatively high gain external antennas we might expect to see their range increased to levels that would allow metropolitan deployments in a mesh style configuration without adding too much self interference into the area. Imagine, we could quite easily produce near 1GHz mesh nodes for a under $200/each!

Finally, we look at Free Space Optics as a potential technology. Some of the early attempts to harness this technology produced some rather awkward devices that were capable of gigabit speeds across reasonable distances. One of the drawbacks to this technology was the incredibly high cost coupled with restrictions mandated by weather patterns that prevented the large scale adoption of this technology. Airfiber was one of the companies that manufactured this equipment and had refined their designs to a point where the equipment was both reliable along with desirable. But from a personal perspective the design used by them were much too large and expensive to be of practical use.

Things have come a long way in the last few years. I am in regular contact with someone who is now ramping up a manufacturing base to produce modified 10Mbps full duplex Ronja FSO equipment inexpensively. There is also a design currently on the test bench that can deliver 100Mbps full duplex connectivity but this is still a long way from production.

I believe this will be one of the technology adopted especially in areas that make wireless (RF) illegal. If the invisible spectrum was employed as opposed to visible light this technology becomes almost impossible to trace making it nearly invulnerable to restriction. I can also see this as being used to cross international borders skirting the insane regulations that tend to crop up.

The question isn’t if this will happen but when. The realization is that one of these days a group of savvy investors are going to embrace the right group of engineers and realize that this vision is necessary to make the future of communications come together. I look forward to that day as being the day when the current telecommunications industry gets put out to pasture and becomes looked upon as the dinosaur that it is. That day is coming probably much faster than many of us expect but as sure as the demand is outstripping the supply innovation will answer the need.