Archive for February, 2005

As WISPs based in industrialize countries we tend to think in terms of what we are doing, the progress we are making and the applications we are employing our technologies for. There is certainly nothing wrong with that other than we can sometimes lose focus on the bigger picture – you know – what the rest of the world is doing and this is nothing short of an embarrassment.

The explosion in wireless technology has hit just about every corner of our planet. This is pretty spectacular considering that many countries have prohibited this modernization in an attempt to keep their telecommunications industry intact. This is, of course, providing they even have a functioning telecommunications industry.

Let’s take a look at some of these deployments, the changes they are making and what this might very well mean to us.

Bhutan – To be quite honest with you I didn’t even know where Bhutan was on the map. I had to look it up on Google. This little country decided they were going to put an infrastructure in place and leapfrog the telecommunications industry right into this millennium. If you take the time to read about what was accomplished in such a short time and for so little money I think you’ll agree that wireless isn’t just a way of delivering Internet content – it is an incredibly powerful technology that is slowly tipping over the giants of yesteryear.

Laos – As we all go through life I would like to think we try to leave this world a little better than we found it. Lee Thorne is doing just that. Lee set up the Jhai Foundation as a personal attempt to make right a wrong he didn’t create yet he felt responsible for. Whether or not this was something he needed to do really isn’t important – he did it and many people are benefiting from this project. You need to know that the benefit is not only felt in Laos but also right here at home where people like me sit in amazement and wonder how it might be possible to contribute in such a scale as Lee and his organization are doing.

Mali – Here’s another country I had to look up on Google. I felt relieved when I found out that Mali is located in Africa. I have always considered myself excused from learning the names of all the countries in Africa as they seem to change just as soon as you learn them. Once again we see people bringing useful technology to far away and pretty desolate places for next to nothing. This project has been nicknamed “BottleNet” because they build WiFi antennas out of empty plastic bottles that cost roughly about one dollar. This is a story you really need to read as aside from talking about all these projects and the good they are doing it also conveys exactly how big a potential market we could (and should) be working in.

All of this pales in comparison to the sleeping giant that just arose and will probably dwarf every other market we now play in. India has recently set a new policy that includes outdoor wireless. To put this in perspective India is a country that is poised to become the second largest economy in the world. Conversely, India’s telecommunications infrastructure are in a shambles. Currently, as I understand it, India has a telephone base of .02% of its total population. Estimates suggest that India will add 40 million subscribers to their Internet backbone in the next five years! While I am not going to predict how many of these subscribers will be connected wirelessly I can tell you that if even 10% buy WiMAX CPEs we are going to see a successful launch of the WiMAX standard – one that will make even the biggest critics eat their words.

I have had the pleasure of watching this field blossom from a very few people largely discussing a passing hobby to an international industry that could very realistically change the world. The best part is that we haven’t even begun to see the fruits of this labor. What benefits we will see when most (or all) of the world finally becomes connected? What new services will be offered? Will we be able to perfect real-time language translation? If we do will this help to ease international misunderstandings? Will we now be able to seamlessly do business all over the world, taking advantage of different skill sets and labor markets wherever they might be located? The even bigger question is will this be an entirely good thing?

I don’t pretend to have any of these answers but I do know that this revolution in the way we communicate is going to have massive ramifications in ways I don’t think we can even begin to anticipate.

One of the technologies I see radically changing our lives is Grid Computing. Many of us are familiar with SETI and some of the other applications that are now taking shape. What will happen when we can connect a million computers, ten million or even 100 million computers to tackle our most complex problems? While I won’t pretend to put forth a guess on that front I will acknowledge what Alvin Toffler said in his famous book over 30 years go. We are moving faster, much faster than we ever have before and the rate of acceleration is ever increasing. To those who are not keeping up this world will rapidly become a very complex and somewhat frightening place, I believe. It is time we all commit to working a little harder, a little longer and a little more diligently to understand what we are building. It probably wouldn’t hurt for us to take a page from Lee Thorne’s book and try to make an improvement whenever we can, God knows this world could sure use the help.

Let’s take a look at one of the predominant reasons broadband isn’t being deployed at a much faster rate and at far greater speeds. If you were to ask any ISP what the biggest single deterrent to deploying broadband is, I believe you would receive a near uniform reply – the cost of upstream connectivity.

This brings up an interesting point, why does the cost to connect to the Internet seem so expensive? The obvious reply would be that the cost to purchase, deploy and maintain the necessary infrastructure is astronomical. There is certainly something to be said for that. A quick look at pricing for a high-end router or 10 miles of fiber (let alone the labor involved in hanging it) shows the cost to be not for the faint of heart. Verizon plans to invest $800 million in 2005 alone just in deploying fiber for the Fios project. Verizon claims that this investment will deploy this service to 1 million homes. If we can believe these numbers, Verizon will connect these 1 million homes for $800/each. Not too bad considering that this will allow Verizon to supply not only telephone and high speed Internet but also TV along with a bunch of other services I am sure they are looking forward to billing us for.

Along these lines, we need to look at what Verizon provides us with and at what price. Verizon’s DSL offering provides a 1.5Mbps connection for $29.95/month plus a pile of additional fees. I also get my T1 from Verizon at a cost of well over $1K/month based on the longest term contract they offer. I have to admit my uptime has been exceptional (certainly as compared to what I am hearing about Verizon’s DSL in this area) but the cost has stayed the same for over a decade even though the cost of the equipment has dropped to a fraction of what it was even when I ordered my T1 over five years ago.

Now, we are being told that Fios will provide 30Mbps down with 5Mbps up for $199/month yet Verizon’s T1s will still remain at the same price.

I guess the real question is whether or not Verizon (and the rest of the remaining ILECs) are really acting in the “public good” as their charter mandates. The next question we need to ask ourselves is whether we consider Internet service to be an “essential service” as we do telecommunications.

If we consider Internet to be an essential service and we also mandate that the ILECs continue to act in the public good, how do we reconcile the ILECs charging such high prices for independent companies to connect to the Internet. Let’s face it, a fair portion of the independent ISPs are the only choice for most of the country – especially in rural areas. To allow the ILECs to create this level of pricing, in effect, stifling the deployment of new Internet infrastructure certainly cannot be construed as working in the public’s best interest.

As a comparison, I thought it might be interesting to look at the way the incumbents run their business model and apply it to another public utility, the water company. Would we allow the access to our drinking water to be “rationed” so as to create wealth for an entity that is supposed to be working for us? What kind of impact would this kind of management system have had on the independent farmer? Would this model have worked well for our country or the world as a whole?

I see the parallel as being quite apt in this case. The stranglehold the ILECs have on our connectivity is largely preventing the wholesale deployment of broadband from happening in this country. If T1 lines were to cost $100/month there would be no limit to the amount of independent companies, neighborhood organizations or informal groups sharing all levels of service. The explosion would happen so fast that I think it would be hard for the ILECs to handle all of the business – profitable business – I would submit.

So, why isn’t this happening?

In a word – control. What we are talking about here is a huge industry, a powerful force that isn’t really interested in public good. In fact, as anyone who remembers the Ma Bell era, public good was the last thing Ma Bell seemed to be concerned with. Many of us that are old enough to remember that time in history are now beginning to become deathly afraid that those days are rapidly returning. With the recent spate of mergers and buyouts we are now beginning to see the rebirth of Ma Bell in all her former glory – a frightful sight indeed.

Perhaps we should all be looking into whether or not the ILECs are serving the public good. This is the key point here. The ILECs are a regulated monopoly that is protected so they can serve the public. If we believe the ILECs are working for their own good (as a for profit company should be doing) we need to ask ourselves if we should continue giving the ILECs the protected status they currently enjoy. I have no problem with Ma Bell acting in her own best interest – in fact, I encourage it. However, if this is the way the monopoly wishes to go forward then they need to understand there is a very different set of laws they will need to conform to.

It is time we look at the ILECs monopoly status, their ability to manipulate numbers to show that they can sell DSL circuits wholesale for just about the same price the sell to the end user. The fact is that the ILECs have somehow managed to become the center of the net. This is a curious thing from my perspective as I don’t remember anyone appointing them the guardian of the net nor do I think they should be allowed to continue.

This bring up the question of where should the center of the net be located and who should have control? More to the point, should anyone have control? Alternately, should we create more than one “Internet” that allows for interconnection as people might want. This would allow for the segregation of many of the undesirable sites from those who would like a squeaky clean Internet while still allowing for a “wild west” style Internet that many of us are used to and enjoy.

If I had to speculate, we will slowly start to see a second “net” begin to form. I suspect this is already happening in places as people are forming small networks to enjoy network gaming, file sharing, etc. Personally, if this happened we would lose some of the potential that make the Internet great. The promise of entire world being able to communicate freely, to teach and to learn, to share experiences along with our emotions is the potential we could lose.

It’s time that we are a people demand the return of the Internet to us, the people who it was created for and by. We conceived it, we spent the money to build it and it is ours – not some evangelical who knows better than we do about how we should live our lives and certainly not some antiquated company that is having trouble finding relevance in today’s world. I look forward to a time when the sound of a dialtone evokes memories similar to the ones I get every time I here a modem connect.

And that day is coming, perhaps not fast enough for some people like me but all too fast for those who are having a difficult time adapting to this rapidly changing world.

I’m sure Charles Darwin would wish them all the luck in the world – they will most certainly need it.

What is the definition of broadband?

Technically, the FCC defines broadband as 200Kbps. I am not sure when this number was first introduced but I don’t think anyone at the FCC has considered revisiting the number or ever thought about revising it.

This brings up the question of whether the numbers the FCC are providing us concerning broadband penetration are realistic. Leaving aside the question of how the FCC decides if an area has broadband (Alex Goldman did an outstanding job of providing us with the details behind that in this article.) I have to wonder what the numbers would look like if we were to raise the bar to 1.5Mbps as the accepted definition of broadband.

Let’s step back a minute and take a look at what the different service levels actually provide. To illustrate this point I am going to use the Microsoft XP Service Pack 2 upgrade that was released recently. This upgrade was critical for any user of XP that is connected to the net to provide protection for serious security flaws and other bug fixes that the original version of XP contained. As you can see from this link, the total size of this Service Pack was 266 MB!

At the current definition of broadband (200Kbps) it would take just over three hours to complete this download. During this time the user would not be able to use the internet for anything else to speak of as the entire connection would be in use.

Imagine a small company that has 20 computers running XP. Assuming the IT manager decided to download and install every computer at one time from their 200Kbps broadband connection it would take well over 60 hours to update the entire office. I do understand that it is possible to obtain a CD from Microsoft and that there are a variety of ways that could also be employed to perform this task but I would counter that these methods were only created because we do not have adequate infrastructure in place to get this job done in a timely manner using the existing broadband infrastructure.

Let’s move forward a step to the 1.5Mbps connection. Based on the link provided above, it would take roughly 45 minutes at T1 speeds to download this Service Pack for each computer. So, to do our fictitious office of 20 computers we would be looking at 15 hours or so at T1 speeds. Don’t forget, this is utilizing 100% of the connection.

As many of you know, a fair percentage of WISPs use T1s as their upstream connection. Using a business model that I know is commonly used, let’s take the scenario I created above and move our fictitious company into a medium sized industrial park that is lit up by a WISP using a T1 for their upstream connection. In our fictitious industrial park we have a total of 60 companies of which according to national averages only half have subscribed to the high-speed Internet service provided by our WISP. These companies range in size from one to two computer offices, through our twenty computer company, all the way up to one company that has 40 computers all running Microsoft XP.

Again, since I made up this little industrial park I am going to claim the average amount of computers per company is 15 and just to keep things simple we are going to say that all 450 of these computers run Microsoft’s XP operating system. We are also going to simplify this example by having all of these computers set up to download updates from Microsoft automatically and we are going to further mandate that every computer attached to our network is left on 24 hours per day. I do fully understand that this list of suppositions will probably never happen in the real world but I am going to state that given the fact this is a relatively small industrial park it is very likely that in a large park 450 computers running XP could very well be attached to a WISP deployment that is backed by a T1.

What does the math look like when each one of these computers decides to connect to Microsoft and download Service Pack 2? Here’s the math and I will tell you right now it isn’t pretty.

We have 450 computers all trying to download Service Pack 2 (all 266 Megabytes of it) at a 1.5Mbps connection. As you remember from the discussion above, it takes roughly 45 minutes for each computer to download the Service Pack. That gives us 45 minutes times 450 computers or 20250 minutes (337.5 hours) to complete the download! Ouch! To put that in perspective, that’s just over 14 days of continuous downloading at full speed to complete the job.

Well, I guess we need to look at a better connection than a T1, don’t we?

At 5 Mbps this download would take a four days to fully accomplish this task.

At 10Mbps (and let’s face it, not many WISPs provide this level of service) we would still be looking at a full weekend of downloading to get this one job done.

If that is the case, what would be the next level of practical service?

Verizon is in the process of rolling out Fios, which is their fiber to the premise service. According to Verizon’s sales literature Fios will deliver different levels of service ranging from 5Mbps all the way up to 30Mbps, priced at $199/month.

Let’s return to our company in the industrial park and their 20 computers. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that Fios has already been installed in their office. In this particular instance (XP Service Pack 2) this job would take approximately 2.5 hours to complete – not too shabby given the alternatives. If our little company had the premium service offered by Fios (the 30Mbps level of service) the entire task would only take a total of 40 minutes!

Pretty good, right? No, not actually. In some areas of the world GigE service is available very inexpensively. My twelve year old son chats with a teenager in Germany who has GigE service. For the equivalent of $139/month, they get telephone, TV and high speed Internet! Compare that to the US model where we get TV, 3Mbps connection and telephone for quite a bit more than the $139/month it costs my son’s friend. I understand there are people out there that don’t believe this will effect our competitiveness, economically speaking. I wonder what color the sky is in their world? Having seen pictures of lower GI examinations, I am going to assume it is always dark in their world.

What does GigE connectivity mean to our twenty computer company in this Service Pack 2 scenario? The math works out to be the entire job would take a little under 2 minutes for the entire job to be completed.

I wonder if the statement, “Where do you want to go from here?” was really asking if we wanted to go faster.