Earlier this week, Jason Purdy, Affiliated Analyst with market research firmMobileTrax and also Director of Digital Products for Sports Illustrated, published the below opinion piece. We feel it’s worth highlighting (and are publishing it in full with MobileTrax’s permission) because Purdy’s recent challenge in finding an Internet connection to meet his needs helps illustrate that consumers have several options to connect, but that there is still a great need for ongoing private investment in broadband infrastructure — especially wireless networks — in order to keep up with current and growing demand for data. It also offers a good example of how important it is to create a regulatory environment that allows providers to transition away from outdated technologies and move to faster, next-generation IP networks. — IIA
New Home, New ISP - Is Mobile Broadband Ready for Prime Time?
by Jason Purdy
After my wife and I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan in 2011, the number one priority was to get internet set up. I loved Verizon FIOS, but our Brooklyn pre-war building didn’t have fiber connections, surprise surprise.
In Manhattan, we had a dedicated 50M bps downlink and 5M bps uplink that never returned a Speedtest.net result lower than 45/4. Instead, our options in our new place were DSL or Time Warner cable. I’ve heard horrific things about Time Warner’s customer service, and DSL’s bandwidth is too slow, but if those were my only two wired connections, what were my wireless options?
I have been creating a wireless connection from my 3G iPhone for several years, and it has provided decent wireless connectivity for general internet usage, but it is simply not fast enough nor affordable for an entire home’s Internet usage and downloading rich media like TV shows and movies. Although “4G LTE” is all the hype lately, they cap your bandwidth to 10GB a month. I easily go through that in two days.
Being that I work in the mobile space, I remember reading reports 5+ years ago about how WiMax was going to change everything. The main company implementing WiMax, Clearwire, had to file bankruptcy shorty after launching and investors, including Sprint, Time Warner and Comcast, stepped up to give the company the cash it needed to move into the 4G LTE space.
Today, Clearwire, which markets under the “Clear” brand, is marketed as “mobile 4G broadband”, offering a 3M bps-5M bps downlink. Not exactly the speeds I had before with Fios, but Time Warner’s wait time for installation was at least 10 days, so I took the plunge. I called Clear and they sent the router overnight and waived the activation fee. I only had to buy (not rent) the router for about $100. Amazingly, Internet was up and running from initial call to actually being online in less than 12 hours.
Besides usual internet usage like emails and browsing, I also download a lot of large files like the Apple iOS SDK. So how fast was Clear in reality? The first hour went remarkably well. I downloaded the iOS 6.0 SDK very quickly, averaging over 1.5M bps. After that finished, I tried Netflix which had some initial buffering time, but then seemed to play ok. Unfortunately, half way through a Breaking Bad episode, it started buffering again. This became a common occurrence until I noticed what caused it – any concurrent traffic on the same network. If I received a new email or I checked Twitter on my phone, the entire network was hosed. I ran a few speed tests and bandwidth went from 5.72M bps to less than 1MB bps (0.12M bps). For a frame of reference, Gmail took over a minute to load.
I tried emailing Clear to see if this was common or if I could pay $5 or $10 a month to have preferential access. Their response was “I’m sorry. You may not be a good fit for Clear.” Well, at least they were honest. At this point, it was pretty Clear (sorry) that this wasn’t going to work out, so I ordered Time Warner. I did have to wait a few days to get my Time Warner order processed and installed. This has turned out to be a great solution, and certainly better than trying to run my entire house off my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot, but simply not a long-term solution.
When I cancelled Clear they were very nice about it, asked why and what they could do, and ultimately gave me a full refund. When I called to cancel, I assumed I’d get the $100 back from the router I returned, but I tried to tell them they could keep the $54 monthly fee. I did use their service quite a bit for almost two weeks and was happy to have internet at my new home while we were moving in, but they wouldn’t accept it. Thanks, Clear! Can you imagine if this launched in 2005? Everyone would have switched from DSL and the mobile space would have completely changed.
Scheduling Time Warner wasn’t ideal, with the only times they would show up at our place were between 9-5, but that said, check out my new speeds! Single connection: 28.7M bps, which is amazing, but then I tried what I could not do with Clear: four connections at once including 1) My iPhone streaming Pandora, 2) My AppleTV streaming Netflix, 3) My MacbookPro downloading an update to Photoshop and 4) my iPad uploading a video to YouTube. The result: 25.17M bps.
Realize here that we’re only using Time Warner for internet access. They tried to sell me a cable TV package, but we just didn’t need it. If we watched more TV, it might have been worth it, but I don’t mind paying Time Warner so I can get over the top (OTT) access to movies and some TV shows via sources like Netflix, iTunes and Hulu.
Although wireless speeds are faster than they’ve ever been (remember trying to load a website on your Motorola Razr?), and in theory speeds are faster than any average user would use, in practice wired (cable) internet access is the only option right now. I’ll switch back to Verizon’s FIOS at 10G bps (drool) if they offer it in my area, but Time Warner is working out just fine for now.
You can read this post, along with much more about the current state of mobile broadband, at Mobiletrax.
Over the holiday weekend, FOX News published an op-ed from our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman on the important roll wireless technology is playing in the lives of America’s soliders at home and abroad. Here’s a taste:
As the Internet continues to transform military activities, wireless technology in particular is enabling better, real-time communications with members of our armed forces abroad. For example, the time difference between the United States and Afghanistan means that many communications take place during the morning and afternoon hours in the US, when many are at work. Being able to use a video or voice call app, such as Skype, e-mail, or a chat service, such as Google Talk, on a smartphone enables couples and families to connect in real-time.
As the tech patent war continues to rage, Alexel Oreskovic and Poornima Gupta of Reuters report two heavy hitters in the tech space are tentatively talking:
Google Inc Chief Executive Larry Page and Apple CEO Tim Cook have been conducting behind-the-scenes talks about a range of intellectual property matters, including the mobile patent disputes between the companies, people familiar with the matter said.
The two executives had a phone conversation last week, the sources said. Discussions involving lower-level officials of the two companies are also ongoing.
If the Reuters report is correct, any conversations that keep the smartphone revolution from being mired in patent disputes are cause for celebration.
The FCC appears set to vote on a proposed rulemaking implementing the “incentive auctions” authorized by Congress in legislation signed into law earlier this year. An FCC spokesman would not confirm whether the incentive auction item will be on the agenda for September’s meeting, but several industry sources said they expect the commission will take up the issue at the meeting.
Ryan Kim of GigaOm points to a new report that shows while the future of the Internet may be mobile, advertising in the mobile space still faces some challenges:
Wonder why mobile monetization is still lagging as Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker helpfully pointed out earlier this year? Well, one reason may be that many of the clicks on mobile ads are useless, the product of an increasing amount of fraud as well as a lot of inadvertent actions, said Trademob, a German mobile app marketing platform.
The company, which is in the midst of opening offices in San Francisco and New York, shared some new research with GigaOM, finding that 40 percent of clicks are essentially worthless, creating a conversion rate to install an app from an app store of less than 0.1 percent. Trademob found that 22 percent of clicks are accidental, while 18 percent are fraudulent. That could be one thing holding back mobile advertising as some advertisers question how effective their spend is on mobile.
As an advocate for the Asian American community, I aim to advance policies that benefit not only my community but all Americans. One great example is promoting the wireless revolution that is creating enormous opportunities for minority communities to flourish. As our networks grow faster and more reliable and our devices become more powerful, these opportunities will continue to expand.
Every day, more and more Asian Americans are using mobile devices to access the Internet. Recent studies show that Asian Americans, followed by other communities of color, are leading the way in smartphone adoption. While these studies do not take into account that certain Asian American subgroups likely have lower adoption rates, it is clear that no one should be denied access to this technology that improves our lives. Major barriers to Internet adoption, such as limited English proficiency, lack of digital literacy skills, and affordability need to be addressed. Yet limited deployment to low-income and rural communities also continues to negatively affect Asian Americans and other communities of color. That’s why I agree with President Obama’s goal of delivering next generation wireless broadband services to 98 percent of Americans by 2016.
But it’s going to take a couple of things to make that happen.
First, we have to make sure the private sector continues to invest in wireless networks and the devices and apps that use them. Last year, wireless service providers spent about $26 billion on building and maintaining the mobile infrastructure needed for wireless connectivity. These expenditures translate into jobs and economic opportunities for our communities. We need that investment to continue, and even increase, if we are to reach the President’s goal. The government must have policies in place that encourage this investment.
Second, more spectrum — the invisible airwaves that carry wireless signals — is required. As the wireless revolution continues to boom, we’ll need more spectrum to meet our growing demand. While recently passed legislation will free up a limited amount of spectrum, the government is the largest holder of spectrum. The government should quickly move to use its spectrum more efficiently and make spectrum available for consumer use. If we can do this, all Americans will be major beneficiaries.
Jason T. Lagria is the Telecommunications and Broadband Policy Staff Attorney at the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. AAJC works to promote universal access and reduce barriers to critical technology and services for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities.
Via Janki Roettgers of GigaOm comes some startling new information about how people viewed the recently concluded Olympic games:
The average [Comcast] Xfinity customer who viewed live streams of the the games online authenticated 2.4 devices. It’s worth noting that this is in addition to millions of TV screens used to watch the London games; those 2.4 devices are just mobile phones, tablets and PCs. In other words: Millions of people used not one or two, but three to four screens to watch the Olympics!
Roettgers goes on to compile other stats, such as 1/3 of the BBC’s online coverage was watched on mobile phones; 60% of visits to the official website of the games were from smartphones; and close to 500 million people in China watched the games online.
More proof that we’re truly turning into a mobile world.
Bret Swanson of Maximum Entropy (he’s also one of our Broadband Ambassadors) has written a blog post on wireless competition and misconceptions about America’s mobile ecosystem:
Mobile communications and computing are among the most innovative and competitive markets in the world. They have created a new world of software and offer dramatic opportunities to improve productivity and creativity across the industrial spectrum.
Last week we published a tech note documenting the rapid growth of mobile and the importance of expanding wireless spectrum availability. More clean spectrum is necessary both to accommodate fast-rising demand and drive future innovations. Expanding spectrum availability might seem uncontroversial. In the report, however, we noted that one obstacle to expanding spectrum availability has been a cramped notion of what constitutes competition in the Internet era.
In a post on their website, the organization Women Impacting Public Policy (which is also one of our members) has applauded recent comments on spectrum from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowki:
The Chairman made clear he still favors clearing spectrum for auction, where appropriate, while an effort continues to explore new sharing ideas that have been developed. He correctly noted that it’s not “an either/or choice” - we will likely need to rely on both models to unlock the full value of our nation’s scarce spectrum resources.
WIPP agrees and supports the FCC’s direction on spectrum policy. The Commission has long led the way in acknowledging the spectrum challenges our nation faces.
This Friday, IIA is hosting a webinar along with education organization iNACOL on the effect broadband has on education. Particpating is Kawme Simmons, principal of the Kramer Middle School in Washington, D.C. Simmons is implementing a blended learning – a mix of online and traditional instruction – to engage students with interactive lessons and achieve a 40-point turnaround in test scores by 2017. For some background on Simmons’ plan for Kramer Middle School, see this report from the Washington Post‘s Bill Turque from last May:
Educators are hoping that the interactive lessons will engage students below grade level, helping them to make up ground while teachers work personally with more advanced students. Dashboards will keep students updated on their progress and what they need to do to improve. It will also allow teachers to give more timely feedback and support in areas where kids are struggling.
About 70 percent of Kramer students are a year or more behind their grade level, according to DCPS. But principal Kwame Simmons said he believes students can gain 13 to 15 points a year under the new system.
D.C.‘s WJLA also aired this report on Kramer’s shift to blended learning. Check it out:
This Friday, August 10, IIA will be hosting a webinar along with iNACOL exploring the real-life example of Washington D.C.‘s Kramer Middle School in utilizing broadband to drastically improve test scores over a five year period.
This discussion will shed light on the ever-more important role that high-speed Internet — including wireless broadband — is playing in today’s education system, such as in determining the level of achievement that students are able to obtain. Participating in the discussion will be Kwame Simmons, principal of D.C.’s Kramer Middle School, one of the city’s 40 lowest performing schools, and David Teeter, director of policy at iNACOL, a non-profit organization that promotes collaboration, advocacy, and research to enhance quality K-12 online teaching and learning, will address digital divide issues, including the importance of equality in access to broadband. Our own Co-Chair Jamal Simmons will host.
The webinar happens at 11am ET/8amPT. To join the discussion, visit here.
It’s not secret that the explosive growth of mobile broadband has forced wireless providers to search for more spectrum due to looming capacity constraints. For Verizon, that search has led to a proposed deal with cable companies, but as Diane Bartz of Reuters reports, the company’s road to regulatory approval is a rocky one:
Verizon Wireless may need to agree to tough conditions to win approval for its deals to buy spectrum from cable companies and market each others’ products, according to three sources knowledgeable about the negotiations.
The Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission are reviewing plans by Verizon Wireless, the biggest U.S. mobile provider, to buy spectrum from a consortium of cable providers, including Comcast (CMCSA.O) and Time Warner Cable (TWC.N), for about $3.9 billion. The transactions were proposed in December.
While the Justice Department and FCC appear prepared to approve the spectrum portion of the deals with minor adjustments, antitrust regulators have sought strict limits on controversial side deals.
At the Next Web, Jon Russell reports the airwaves around London during the Olympics are getting crowded:
There was further controversy around television coverage of the 2012 Olympics Games in London this weekend after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) asked spectators in London to “take it easy” and avoid sending large numbers of text messages, tweets and other communication through their mobile phones.
The broadcast of the men’s road cycling race — which enjoyed considerable attention from the British public thanks to its medal prospects — had a number of issues, which the International Olympic Commission (IOC) put down to users overloading mobile networks.
The IOC is currently working with UK mobile providers to fix the issues.
Bret Swanson of Entropy Economics (he’s also one of our Broadband Ambassadors) has released a new paper on mobile expansion and spectrum policies. From the paper:
Unleashing spectrum through auctions and allowing greater flexibility to use, buy, and sell existing private spectrum is important to accomodate existing demand for new data services and to drive future wireless innovation. Spectrum policy and politics, however, has been deteriorating.
You can read Swanson’s full paper, “Can Spectrum Policy Match Speed of Mobile Expansion?” at the Entropy Economics website (PDF).
At Bloomberg, Kelly Blessing and Amy Thomson highlight the major steps being taken to ensure mobile networks in London stay up and running during the major influx of people from the Olympics:
British telecommunications companies serving London’s Olympic Park say they have created a wireless system capable of handling a large city. Legions of iPhone-toting visitors are about to put them to the test.
Annual smartphone purchases have risen almost fivefold worldwide since the Beijing Olympics four years ago, according to researcher IDC, and many fans and athletes in the 2.5-square kilometer (0.97-square mile) park in east London will be watching video on iPads, chatting with friends and e-mailing photos as they take in the games that kick off with today’s opening ceremony.
Case in point: the telecommunications industry, which just half a decade ago was mainly focused on providing customers with voice calls and texting capabilities. Then Steve Jobs took the stage one afternoon and held up a product he called the iPhone, and since that day the telecom industry — and the computer industry as a whole, really — has been witness to disruption after disruption. Voice minutes are being replaced by data plans. Texting is receiving major competition from Twitter.
While the past five years have been amazing to watch, they’ve also created challenges. And right now, there’s perhaps no bigger challenge — no bigger threat to the continued health and success of the mobile broadband revolution — than a lack of spectrum.
If you’ve followed mobile technology at all over the past year or so, chances are you’ve heard of America’s looming “spectrum crunch.” The very real problem of a shortage of airwaves for the wireless industry — a shortage that will make it extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, for wireless providers to keep up with demand. Congress and the FCC have been working to address this shortage via so-called “incentive auctions,” a process where spectrum holders such as broadcasters are encouraged — and well-compensated — for giving up some of their spectrum holdings for wireless use.
While it’s doubtful the spectrum obtained through these auctions alone will be enough for wireless providers to keep up with skyrocketing demand, they’re still vital for the health of the industry and our economy as a whole. But as with most things in government, the process has been painfully slow, which is why two statements from recently appointed FCC Commissioners this week have been encouraging.
The first came from Commissioner Ajit Pai while he was delivering a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. While laying out his vision for the FCC going forward,Pai said:
[T]he FCC must act with the same alacrity as the industry we oversee. That’s not to say we should rush to regulate, but delays at the Commission have substantial real-world consequences: new technologies remain on the shelves; capital lies fallow; and entrepreneurs stop hiring or, even worse, reduce their workforce as they wait for regulatory uncertainty to work itself out.
Pai then went on to talk about the incentive auctions, stating:
[T]he Commission should kick-off the rule-making process for implementing incentive auctions this fall and set a deadline to conduct those auctions no later than June 30, 2014.
Whether such a deadline for auctions is feasible remains to be seen, but it’s a positive sign that a Commissioner of the FCC — a government body even Pai admits has “long had a reputation in Washington as an agency that moves too slowly” — is speaking so strongly about speeding up the process.
Also encouraging were statements from Pai’s fellow recent appointee to the Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, who just a few days later hit on the need to speed things up — especially for freeing up more spectrum — in a statement of her own. As she said during a FCC meeting yesterday:
We all know that the President has called for 500 megahertz of spectrum to be cleared for commercial use within ten years. We are making progress at the Commission, including in our review of how to provide for more flexible use of the 2 GHz band currently assigned to Mobile Satellite Service. Plus, we have a series of auctions, including incentive auctions, on the near-term horizon. To bring certainty to the marketplace, I believe we should put these auctions on a clear timeline.
So there you have it. Two FCC Commissioners, one a Republican and one a Democrat, agreeing that in order to address America’s spectrum needs the Commission start turning words intoaction. It’s another positive example of the Commission under Chairman Julius Genachowski working to keep pace with the speed of technology, and while the FCC may not be there yet, here’s hoping it happens soon.
Because who knows what things will be like five years from now?
New numbers from Nielsen show how mobile broadband is increasingly playing a role in our lives. Via Phil Goldstein of FierceWireless:
In the first quarter of 2012 the average U.S. mobile subscriber used 450 MB of data per month, according to research firm Nielsen. That figure is more than double the average of 208 MB per month for all U.S. mobile subscribers in the first quarter of 2011.
While this is definitely good news — mobile broadband is a driving force in closing the digital divide — it also highlights the critical importance of freeing up more airwaves for wireless use.
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