Wednesday, April 02
Monday’s move by the Federal Communications Commission to open up the 5GHz band for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses has the potential to kickstart the expansion of new, faster Wi-Fi technology. That’s a win — for consumers, for innovation, and for America’s digital infrastructure.
But even as those of us who have long pushed for expanded high-speed Internet access pop champagne corks, it’s worth noting that the FCC’s action is just a step in what should really be a sprint by the Commission when it comes to making more spectrum available for mobile broadband. As Commissioner Ajit Pai said in his statement:
“If we’re to keep pace with consumers expectations, we need more 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum, not just better use of existing 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. We must redouble our efforts on making an additional 195MHz of spectrum available for unlicensed use.”
Commissioner Pai is right on the money, but that quote only tells half the story. In order to a) keep up with consumer demand, and b) truly advance mobile broadband deployment and speeds across the country, the FCC must also make more licensed spectrum available for commercial use. Or, as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel succinctly put it, “Good spectrum policy requires a balance of licensed and unlicensed [spectrum].”
Again, the FCC’s 5GHz Wi-Fi move is worth celebrating. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. To quote Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, “We need to be ambitious in finding more ways to provide licensed and unlicensed spectrum for commercial services.” And with consumer demand for mobile broadband not likely to diminish anytime soon, the clock is ticking.
Friday, March 21
President Obama’s ConnectED initiative aims to provide high-speed broadband (as in, 100 Mbps) to every school in America within five years. It’s a worthy — and necessary — goal, but like most major initiatives, it faces the daunting question of funding.
Enter a new proposal from the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology (CBIT), which, the organization believes, provides a path for making ConnectED a reality. This article from Telecompetitor does a good job of digging into the details of the proposal, but in a nutshell it goes something like this:
Currently, wireless provider Sprint leases 2.5Ghz Educational Broadcast Spectrum (EBS) from numerous educational institutions that hold this resource around the nation. Under the Center’s proposal, that spectrum — which, according to CBIT, is going unused in 800 counties across America — should be made available through an incentive auction and its proceeds made available to compensate the educational spectrum licensees and fund the President’s ConnectEd initiative.
It’s rare these days when a proposal can appeal to both the left and the right, yet CBIT’s auction idea has the potential to hit that sweet spot where public good and the free market meet. Even Sprint stands to benefit since, as Telecompetitor’s Joan Engebretson writes in her article. Citing an argument from CBIT Executive Director Fred Campbell:
“Sprint and other wireless carriers would benefit from this proposal because assigning the EBS spectrum for purely commercial use and assigning the 2.5 GHz white spaces would enhance the value of existing commercial spectrum in the band. In addition, it would give the carriers the opportunity to acquire additional 2.5 GHz spectrum that would be free of educational obligations…”
Whether Sprint would be open to CBIT’s idea remains to be seen — Engebretson’s story doesn’t make it seem very likely — but it’s encouraging that innovative ideas are being floated to fund ConnectED. Bringing high-speed Internet access to every student is too important, so policymakers should weigh the costs and benefits of every creative proposal that offers the hope of bringing the tools of the 21st century digital economy one step closer to America’s students.
Wednesday, March 19
Mobile broadband has already revolutionized the cellphone, and now the dash is on for so-called “wearable devices.” Enter Google, which has announced software for “smart watches” powered by the company’s Android operating system. As Alexei Oreskovic of Reuters reports:
Google on Tuesday unveiled plans to help develop the watches and other wearable computers based on its Android mobile operating system, which already runs more than three out of four smartphones sold worldwide.
The Android Wear project is open to software makers to create apps for the watches, putting Google at the forefront of efforts to jumpstart the nascent wearable computing market.
The news comes as speculation swirls around iPhone-maker Apple Inc’s plans for wearable computers, including a smartwatch of its own. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has promised new “product categories” later this year.
Google also released a concept video:
Friday, January 10
With this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (also known as CES) now in the rearview mirror, Dan Rowinski of Read Write Web explores a major takeaway from this year’s show:
The first phase of mobile was about turning our cellphones into what are essentially powerful pockets PCs. This posed unique challenges because of the size of the device and data connectivity issues. Over the past seven years (dating from the launch of the first iPhone), engineers worked to make everything smaller and faster while software developers created apps and systems to turn a cellphone into an “everything” device. The second phase will be to take that concept of everything and spread it everywhere. The connected home, the smart car, the television and commerce are all being informed by the advances that have been made in mobile.
“We are in the middle of the inflection point from developing the technology to deploying it,” said CEO of Ericsson Hans Vestberg when describing what he called the second phase of mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
With mobility increasingly dominating our lives, Rowinski’s takeaway from CES dovetails nicely with two major policy topics at this year’s show: spectrum allocation and the transition to all-IP networks, both of which will be critical for the always-connected future on display at CES to work.
Monday, December 09
In more FCC news, late last week the Commission announced it was delaying its incentive spectrum auction. As Alina Selyukh of Reuters reports:
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, as long predicted, now plans to hold the so-called incentive auction of broadcast airwaves in mid-2015, a year later than originally intended, the agency chairman said on Friday.
The FCC is now drafting rules for the auction that would reshuffle the ownership of valuable frequencies among TV stations, as well as wireless carriers, which are clamoring for faster speeds and better services for their devices.
Recently, the FCC made waves when it announced it was easing restrictions on the use of electronics onboard flights. Over at the Commission’s blog, two members of the FCC explain what they’re after:
Today, technology has evolved to allow the provision of mobile wireless service onboard aircraft without causing harmful interference to terrestrial networks. This has been done internationally for years, and we are confident it can be done here at home – we will develop a full technical record on the proposal to make sure that’s the case.
To be absolutely clear, the FCC is not proposing to mandate that cell phone use be permitted aboard aircraft. Many are concerned that adoption of this proposal will result in a less-enjoyable travel experience caused by other passengers engaging in unreasonably loud phone conversations during flight. As frequent flyers ourselves, we understand and empathize with these concerns, but it is important to keep in mind that it is not within the FCC’s jurisdiction to set rules governing concerns about passenger behavior aboard aircraft. That role is properly left to the FAA and the airlines after consultation with their customers.
Sounds reasonable, as does this line from the same blog post:
The FCC’s proposal reflects its obligation to review and eliminate or modify rules that are no longer justified. As the expert agency charged with overseeing technology policy and interference issues, we believe it is appropriate for the Commission to consider this matter fully.
Here’s hoping the FCC continues to “review and eliminate or modify rules that are no longer justified” as network providers fully upgrade to all-Internet networks.
Wednesday, November 20
Earlier today, we held a Twitterview with innovative mobile video sharing service Ferris. You can check out the condensed version of our interview via our respective Twitter handles (@iiabroadband, @seeferris). Here’s the extended interview. — IIA
What is Ferris and how does it work?
Ferris is a mobile video sharing service which aggregates content based on a number of metrics in order to provide a continuous relevant viewing experience. Videos are organized and searched via tag, location, channel, user, etc. allowing users of the Ferris service to explore the ecosystem quickly and efficiently. Ferris allows users to capture, organize, and view content in a simple manor, with stunning results. Users may organize their videos into collections of their own, or add to a larger pool of content by contributing to a particular tag, or by filming at a location where other Ferris users are filming. Once the content is captured and tagged by the user, the Ferris service uses all available metrics to aggregate the content automatically. This aggregated content is available as an interactive, seamlessly stream-able collection of videos requiring little to no user interaction.
Who uses Ferris?
Ferris is meant for anyone who needs a platform for sharing mobile video. There are hundreds of use cases. Beyond the obvious personal and family related uses (birthdays, graduations, weddings etc.), the chronological arrangement of videos in the Ferris ecosystem is favored among journalists trying to keep the hottest breaking news “above the fold,” while the automatic aggregation of individual videos into a continuous streaming experience is a major selling point for business owners and Realtors who use Ferris as a conduit for advertising and showcasing their products and properties. Ferris is simply the canvas, the user creates the masterpiece.
How does high-speed broadband relate to Ferris?
While Ferris is fairly efficient, it of course uses networks to complete its tasks, making HS broadband very relevant. Whether uploading/consuming content at home over a cable network, or at your favorite pub using the newest LTE technologies, HS broadband is increasingly important for a positive user experience. The faster the network, the faster content is delivered to the user, which improves the overall experience greatly.
Will Ferris be dependent on mobile broadband for helping to build, develop, transform and/or grow? Explain.
While using Ferris on the best and fastest networks is advantageous, Ferris is comfortable even on the slowest networks. As networks become more robust and as speeds increase, Ferris will leverage this technology to provide the absolute best user experience. However, Ferris scales well with available resources by allowing users to upload content at a time and place where solid broadband service is available, even if the content was captured in an area without any mobile broadband at all. Ferris does not “rely” per se on mobile broadband networks to grow, but will scale to take full advantage of mobile broadband offerings going forward. Existing mobile broadband networks already provide a solid user experience and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Does Ferris rely on high-speed wireless networks being reliable and widely-available for consumers? If so, in what capacity?
As stated in the previous paragraph, Ferris does rely on wireless networks, and of course high availability and reliability is beneficial. It would be great if every user could always experience Ferris on a true high-speed network, but that is simply not a reality in this country. Whether “3G,” “4G,” LTE, or WiFi, Ferris provides a great user experience.
Do you foresee more spectrum, the invisible airwaves that carry voice and data signals to and from electronic devices, being needed to support the app economy?
The question should not only be total spectrum, but how efficiently that spectrum is utilized by the government and the private sector. The move away from analog television is a perfect case in point. DTV utilizes less spectrum while delivering better content, faster. As technology progresses, spectrum will be used more efficiently through advanced compression algorithms etc., which should help mitigate the need for an ever expanding spectrum requirement. More spectrum is great and could prove necessary in the long term, but efficient use of allocated spectrum is absolutely paramount.
How would a ‘spectrum crunch’ impact Ferris?
Obviously a spectrum crunch would impact the average mobile device user in a number of ways. Users of Ferris are no exception. If mobile broadband networks fail, the user experience of most any app relying on communication with the cloud will decrease significantly. Mobile devices do have WiFi, and because of this the Ferris platform could still be utilized in its entirety, however the accessibility of the service would certainly decrease as fewer devices would encounter a robust data connection.
Our thanks to Ferris for participating. You can download their app at the Apple App Store.
Thursday, September 26
At a technology conference in London this month, a BMW official gave a remarkable account of the speed at which his company is adopting wireless technologies to improve its cars’ performance.
Last year, according to Vice President of IT Infrastructure Mario Mueller, there were about one million BMWs wirelessly connecting to the web. This year, that number has grown to 2.5 million vehicles, and by 2018 he expects 10 million vehicles wirelessly feeding and receiving data.
Here’s another way of quantifying this remarkable growth: In 2012, BMW had about the same number of wirelessly connected vehicles as are registered in Suffolk County, a leafy suburb of New York City. By 2018, the company expects to have a million more wirelessly connected vehicles than are registered in the entire state of New York.
In terms of mobile data, BMW’s vehicles currently use 40 gigabytes per day. By 2018, the company expects this will grow to a terabyte per day, which is enough data to stream 366 hours of high-definition video, according to Netflix.
BMW’s mobile transformation is one more example of the increasingly urgent need for officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to hold its upcoming spectrum incentive auction, tentatively planned for late next year. This will be the first major auction of airwaves necessary to handle Americans’ growing mobile data demands since early 2008, when Apple didn’t even have a public App Store.
With more than 20% of all adult cell phone owners doing most of their web browsing on their mobile phones and more than 750,000 jobs that depend on the mobile app economy, there’s immense pressure on the FCC to move quickly.
This is why it is vital that the FCC structure this spectrum auction in a way that promotes the best possible use of this spectrum and generates the most revenue. Above all, the Commission should soundly reject the concept of favoring some bidders over others. An attempt to artificially favor or hinder bidders would be terribly unfair to tens of millions of wireless users who might see degraded service as a result of wireless providers not getting the spectrum they need to serve their customers.
Beyond that, artificial restrictions could cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $12 billion in lost revenue, according to a Georgetown study, much of which would go to fund a nationwide public safety system for first responders. This network will help police and other emergency response personnel to coordinate rescue efforts during emergencies.
The FCC has every reason — sustaining jobs, protecting taxpayers, fostering economic growth — to hold fair and unrestricted auctions. Such an auction is the best way to promote economic vibrancy and the benefits of our wireless marketplace.
For the FCC to do anything less would put our mobile economy on a road to nowhere.
Tuesday, September 24
9 million, which is the number of new iPhones — both the 5S and 5C versions — that Apple sold in just three days. From the company’s press release announcing their windfall:
“This is our best iPhone launch yet―more than nine million new iPhones sold―a new record for first weekend sales,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The demand for the new iPhones has been incredible, and while we’ve sold out of our initial supply of iPhone 5s, stores continue to receive new iPhone shipments regularly. We appreciate everyone’s patience and are working hard to build enough new iPhones for everyone.”
Call me crazy, but this whole smartphone thing might be taking off.
Monday, September 16
The latest study from Pew examines the current state of mobile Internet usage. As you’d expect, it’s growing at a good clip:
63% of adult cell owners now use their phones to go online, a figure that has doubled since we first started tracking internet usage on cell phones in 2009. In addition, 34% of these cell internet users say that they mostly go online using their cell phone. That means that 21% of all adult cell owners now do most of their online browsing using their mobile phone—and not some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.
Other findings from the report, which you can read here:
• Young adults: Cell owners ages 18-29 are the most likely of any demographic group to use their phone to go online: 85% of them do so, compared with 73% of cell owners ages 30-49, and 51% of those ages 50-64. Just 22% of cell owners ages 65 and older go online from their phones, making seniors the least likely demographic group to go online from a cell phone.
• Non-whites: Three-quarters (74%) of African-American cell phone owners are cell internet users, as are 68% of Hispanic cell owners.
• The college-educated: Three-quarters (74%) of cell owners with a college degree or higher are cell internet users, along with two-thirds (67%) of those who have attended (but not graduated) college.
Via Sue Marek of Fierce Wireless, people in rural areas are increasingly embracing mobile:
A new study from Current Analysis and commissioned by the Competitive Carriers’ Association found that more than 80 percent of rural subscribers plan to purchase a smartphone in the next three months. The study also found that 34 percent of those who own a smartphone use wireless exclusively for their telecommunications needs.
While coverage in rural areas continues to be a concern, the fact that “cord-cutting” is making its way into rural communities is just more evidence that the transition to next-generation, all-IP networks is well underway.
Wednesday, September 11
At Valleywag, Sam Biddle highlights a vision of the future put forward at the annual TechCrunch Disrupt conference:
Imagine it’s a few years in the future, and you are driving down the road in an Uber, built by Tesla and auto-driven by Google software. You are in a hurry, so you decide to accelerate and pass the other cars. Your vehicle could then interface with the other cars, and pay them a sliver of Bitcoin to let you pass. You get where you are going faster, and everyone is happy. Programmable currency.
Obviously, mobile broadband has the power to take us in amazing new directions. But this scenario is a wee bit creepy.
Monday, September 09
Earlier today, we held a Twitterview with Chris Seline, founder of Twicsy. Here’s the extended interview. — IIA
What type of business do you run?
Twicsy is a Twitter picture search engine. Think of Google dedicated to Twitter pictures.
Does your business impact consumers? If so, how?
We give consumers a way to see what’s going on in the world in pictures. Twitter is an incredible source for firsthand accounts of everything from small parties to major world events, and Twicsy captures the public pictures to show you what’s happening right now.
How does broadband relate to your business?
Displaying numerous high resolution photos on a webpage requires lots of bandwidth and we are always trying to push the limits of what the users can download quickly. The faster the user’s connection the better their experience will be.
How has high-speed broadband or wireless broadband helped build, develop, transform or grow your business?
Prior to broadband, displaying multiple high resolution images on a web page would result in page load times in the minutes. That is not a good user experience! I believe Google Images was the first image search engine back in 2001. Back then all they displayed were tiny low resolution pictures.
Is spectrum, the invisible airwaves that carry voice and data signals to and from electronic devices, critical to the future of your business? If so, how?
I believe it is. As more people use the web on their mobile devices, the need for faster broadband accessible from anywhere becomes more and more important. In order for us to deliver a consistent user experience across all devices it is critical that the mobile broadband infrastructure improve to the level of the wired. We currently have over 30% of users access Twicsy from their mobile device, and that number is only going to go up.
How would a ‘spectrum crunch’ impact your business?
It would greatly affect our ability to deliver our service to an increasing number of mobile users. As cell phones rapidly replace desktops as consumers’ primary internet devices they will put larger demands on our mobile broadband infrastructure. A spectrum crunch would affect just about everybody!
Friday, September 06
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Sparshott looks at how Americans are abandoning traditional landlines in droves:
More than a quarter of U.S. households have ditched landline phones, a trend driven by younger Americans relying on their cellphones, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday.
Just 71% of households had landlines in 2011, down from a little more than 96% 15 years ago. Cellphone ownership reached 89%, up from about 36% in 1998, the first year the survey asked about the devices.
The youngest households are abandoning landlines in droves. About two-thirds of households led by people ages 15 to 29 relied only on cellphones in 2011, compared with 28% for the broader population.
This fundamental shift in how people connect is one of the big drivers of the so-called “IP Transition.” As providers watch their customers change the way they communicate, they’re upgrading their networks to be powered solely by Internet Protocol. And it’s not just providers who see where things are going. As FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai wrote in the National Journal last April:
America is in the midst of a technological revolution, what some call the IP Transition (“IP” stands for the Internet Protocol, which is the technical foundation for all these changes). IP-based networks are different from the copper-based networks of yesteryear in a fundamental way: They were not designed for voice service alone. Instead, IP-based technologies break down every kind of communication (voice, video, e-mail and more) into digital bits and transport those bits more efficiently and cheaply than ever before.
Despite these vast changes in the communications marketplace, the Federal Communications Commission hasn’t caught up. We still view the world as if consumers were at Ma Bell’s mercy, relying on copper lines to get basic voice service. As a result, we have a lot of obsolete rules on our books. (Just two months ago, the FCC finally repealed a rule first adopted by its Telegraph Division during the Great Depression!) These old rules aren’t just harmlessly yellowing with age. They are affirmatively discouraging companies from investing in next-generation networks.
Commissioner Pai’s focus on “obsolete rules” was important then and even more important today. As the Wall Street Journal article shows, Americans are plowing forward into the all-IP future. Providers are working to build out the infrastructure necessary to keep up with them. We simply can’t risk having dusty regulations slow things down.
Wednesday, August 28
Over at GigaOm, Om Malik reports that Facebook seems to have the whole advertising thing down:
Facebook will nearly triple its share of global mobile advertising in 2013 compared to 2012, according to research firm eMarketer. They forecast that Facebook will have about 15.8 percent of the total global ad market, ahead of Pandora, Twitter and others. Google, however, is still the big kahuna with 53.17 percent of the overall market, up from 2012.
Malik also reports that mobile ads across the board are set to reach $16 billion this year, a jump of close to 90% from 2012. Not too shabby for a market that was struggling just seven years ago. That’s the power of mobile broadband for you.
Monday, August 26
Is online retail giant Amazon prepping a new wireless network? According to Olga Kharif and Danielle Kucera at Bloomberg, the answer appears to be yes:
Amazon.com Inc. has tested a new wireless network that would allow customers to connect its devices to the Internet, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The wireless network, which was tested in Cupertino, California, used spectrum controlled by satellite communications company Globalstar Inc., said the people who asked not to be identified because the test was private.
Amazon already has its own network, WhisperNet, which delivers books to customer Kindles. But with a more robust network, Amazon could conceivably deliver much more than books.
4G LTE technology is relatively new on the scene, but as Dan Jones of Light Reading reports, it’s picking up steam:
There are now more than 1,000 4G LTE devices available, with more than 200 live networks deployed using the new 4G technology.
The latest report from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) finds that there are now 202 live LTE networks globally with 1,064 LTE devices available.
Leading the charge among devices is, of course, smartphones.
Friday, August 23
New numbers from Pew show that home broadband access continues to rise, with only a handful of Americans still choosing lower dial-up search speeds (and, unfortunately in some areas, high-speed broadband may not yet be a choice due to policymakers requiring legacy carriers to maintain outdated copper networks):
In June 2000, when about half of adults were online, only 3% of American households had broadband access. Now, as of December 2012, the tables have turned: 3% of Americans connect to the internet at home via dial-up.
Interestingly, Hispanics are most likely to have dial-up access at home, despite the fact that they lead in mobile broadband adoption.
Wednesday, August 21
At Read Write Web, Devanshi Garg examines why mobile apps are on the rise while traditional software is in steep decline:
Prior to the proliferation of mobile devices, downloading software and experimenting with new programs was left primarily to tech-savvy individuals. Consider the painstaking process of finding a free video editor, a music-sharing program prior to iTunes, or a task-management application. Not many people bothered.
With the emergence of app stores, everyday people are constantly interacting with software, judging its value, and installing and deleting apps on their devices at a rapid pace.
Another key factor is the proliferation — and unprecedented adoption by consumers — of mobile broadband. All the more reason for regulators to do everything they can to keep investment in wireless networks happening at a blistering pace.
While the FCC continues to design its critical spectrum auctions, there’s grumbling from some corners of the broadcasting world that many broadcasters won’t be voluntarily coughing up their airwaves. As Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports:
Television stations affiliated with the major networks have no interest in selling their broadcast licenses back to the Federal Communications Commission, according to Preston Padden, the director of a coalition of broadcasters who want to sell their licenses.
“To the best of my knowledge, the commission is extremely unlikely to attract affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox to this auction,” Padden said during a panel discussion at a Technology Policy Institute conference. “I am not personally aware of any affiliate of a major network who is planning to participate in the auction.”
Hopefully the FCC figures out a way to incentivize affiliates to put their spectrum up for auctions, otherwise it will be hard for the entire auction to succeed.