"The only thing that stands between a man and what he wants from life is often merely the will to try it and the faith to believe that it is possible."

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Disagreements continue in Menlo Park over high speed rail

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An afternoon community meeting in Menlo Park with California High-Speed Rail Authority officials became heated after residents decided they weren't getting clear answers about the bullet train's proposed route through their city. About 100 residents gathered in council chambers to discuss the feasibility of different alignments for the Peninsula portion of the planned $45 billion San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line. But after rail authority representatives displayed barely visible slides of possible elevated, at-grade and below-ground options for routes through Menlo Park and Atherton, many residents became incensed and angrily peppered the officials with questions.

The San Jose-to-San Francisco portion must win environmental approval by fall 2011 to be eligible for a slice of the $2.25 billion in federal stimulus funding for the project.

Several audience members urged listeners to consider stopping the bullet trains in San Jose, an issue that became a hot topic at a similar meeting in Palo Alto last week. Opting to stop the trains in San Jose would probably end the entire project because the voter-approved $9.9 billion bond measure passed in November 2008 spoke of a station in downtown San Francisco.

That alternative "really means no high-speed train at all statewide.

Via Inside Bay Area

The New Business Model for Carriers: Pay-As-You-Surf

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega has said that it is inevitable that high-bandwidth users will be charged for what they use. Rumors have been swirling for a while that AT&T has mulled tiered data plans for the iPhone, but the carrier has denied such speculation.

The average iPhone user consumers 10 times the bandwidth of a typical smartphone user. 40% of AT&T's network capacity is consumed by just 3% of the smartphone users.

With the amount of strain the current level demand puts on networks, Research in Motion co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said a global "capacity crunch" would emerge, and it has already begun in the U.S.

While one can see where the carriers are coming from, it is still their responsibility to provide a network that can sustain the bandwidth demands. Carriers make investments based on subscription fees. It’s not like they’re losing money by offering a public service. By telling customers that their need to think about 'conserving bandwidth,' it also antagonizes them and suggests the company is out of touch with the mobile reality.

CEO of Vodafone Vittorio Colao said at MWC that Google should not be allowed to control the flow of money through dominating the search and advertising market. To get their fair share, Colao said, carriers could charge customers more for greater bandwidth, or guaranteed high speeds. They could also charge content providers, and guarantee them bandwidth speeds as well.

“Manufacturers had better start building more efficient applications and more efficient services. There is no real way to get around this.” -- Ralph de la Vega

This is only part of the solution. Of course developers need to create applications that are efficient. Carriers could give top developers incentives for light-weight applications. But further infrastructure expansion, pipeline consolidation, and other forms of general efficiency on behalf of carriers are just some of the other initiatives that need to be considered when determining the forces that are responsible for constrained networks. As broadband speeds become faster and carriers are able to cover larger areas,  users are naturally going to consider consume more bandwidth and do it more often. Carriers have to consider these potential trends with the roll-out of next-generation (4G) networks and consider new usage models.

The transition to LTE is expected to cost U.S. carriers an estimated $1.78 billion each in the first year alone.

Google is already up for the challenge. The company has announced that it is working to build a 1 GB/sec test network for 50k-500k people in select regions of the U.S. Their motivation besides wanting to provide customers with network speeds 100 times faster than the average American household is to demonstrate that a carrier could easily manage complex applications that use a lot of bandwidth without sacrificing performance.

Not long after Google’s announcement, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski declared the agency will propose in an upcoming report a minimum Internet speed for American households.
Dubbed the "100 Squared Initiative," Genachowski said that he hopes to bring speeds of 100 megabits per second to 100 million households, a speed that is significantly higher than what many households receive. The chairman did not provide details on the timelime of the initiative or how the FCC would encourage private sector providers to reach the minimum speeds.

"We need others to drive competition to invent the future," – FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski

I am not sure how carriers are going to be able to handle to pressure of continuing to expand and provide high-speed broadband while sending the message that they want both their developers and their customers to think about conserving bandwidth.

Via AppleInsider, TechCrunch, Boy Genius Report, Reuters

Nielsen Online User Trends

85% continue to prefer that content remain free

52% of respondents favor micropayments

43% say an easy payment method would make them more likely to pay for online content

47% of respondents are willing to accept more advertising to subsidize free content

64% believe that if they must pay for content, there should be no ads

79% would no longer use a Web site that charges them

78% of respondents said they should get free online access if they already subscribe to a newspaper, magazine, radio or TV service

71% say online content must be considerably better, but only 34% believe the quality of content would suffer if companies couldn't charge for it

62% said if they pay for content, they should be free to copy and share it with whomever they want

Via Hollywood Reporter

Flat-Rate Mobile Broadband Pricing Is Dead, Thanks to YouTube and Apple

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's no secret that video consumption is driving the projected increase in both mobile and wired broadband. Unfortunately, this proliferation of video is creating a major problem for mobile operators. As strange as is sounds, consumers will soon find trouble accessing video with ease. Mobile operators have long faced traffic congestion thanks to forces such as the growth of P2P traffic and the widespread availability of video (and recently high-quality video) in a variety formats that the average consumer can watch. This natural phenomenon is causing mobile operators to rethink their pricing plans. In short, YouTube and Apple may be the death of unlimited mobile broadband.
YouTube can be accessed by anyone on a number of different devices in just a few clicks. As such, YouTube traffic accounts for 10 percent of all the traffic on mobile broadband networks, and 32 percent of all HTTP streaming traffic. And it rose 90 percent between the first half and second half of 2009.
Streaming traffic is more difficult for operators to manage simply because, as opposed to a video download, streaming is also an ongoing process. Such real-time consumption of video during streaming has big implications for mobile operators’ networks, notably in that it can cause problems during periods of the day when other people want to use the same mobile network to surf the web, make phone calls or check email.

Carriers will keep racing to keep margins high for mobile broadband as usage increases. But according to a forecast from Cisco, the average amount of data consumed on mobile devices will rise to 7 GB per month by 2014 from just 1.3 GB per month today — a 438 percent increase.

Another contributor to this trend of increasing bandwidth consumption is thanks to Apple and the iPhone. Never before have users been able to access such a large amount of rich content on a mobile device, anywhere, at anytime. AT&T was not prepared for such a high demand for bandwidth. Combine this with the fact that AT&T has the largest number of iPhone subscribers worldwide (thanks to their initial exclusivity of the the device), and the result is an incredibly constrained network with poor service for all AT&T customers.

Apple's most recently launched product, the iPad, came with the stunning announcement that customers would be able to purchase bandwidth bundles by the month rather than be forced to lock themselves into a 2-year contract. Although it is nice to not have to worry about early termination fees (Google initially charged a ridiculous $350 for those who voided their T-Mobile contracts, but has since dropped it down to a tolerable $150), the pricing change will have subtle effects on the way mobile and wired broadband customers will pay for bandwidth in the future. Who knows how constrained AT&T's network (and other networks woldwide) will become with the introduction of more and more connected devices for accessing rich media. It wouldn't surprise me to see 'brown-outs' in the near future....days in which the internet is not accessible thanks to clogged bandwidth pipes.

Hopefully the development and deployment of 4th generation networks such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) can help ease some of the congestion woes carriers and customers are experiencing with the current 3rd generation variety. Sadly, widespread coverage and adoption of 4G networks are still at least a year away, and when that time comes, there is still no guarantee that operators drive the cost of bits. Given that mobile resources are constrained by a variety of things, including the spectrum allotted to carriers, it’s likely that mobile broadband providers will eliminate flat-rate pricing for mobile broadband as away to keep profits and network quality up while data use expands. When that happens should we blame YouTube and Apple — or profiteering mobile operators?

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