Archives For Broadband

Our growing appetite for high-def video is putting a serious strain on operator networks, and the result is an enemy we all love to hate: bandwidth caps. So bearing that in mind, it’s good news to hear there’s continued progress on the development of a new video compression standard, the High Efficiency Video Coding specification, or H.265. According to Multichannel News, an initial draft of the new spec should be ready in February, with a completed standard due in January 2013.

The H.265 codec is expected to decrease the bandwidth needed to deliver video by 25% to 50%. The bandwidth savings come at a cost of increased processing complexity, but the benefits, particularly for mobile operators, make the cost worthwhile. GigaOM reported not long ago that data delivery will stop being profitable for mobile carriers in about a year and a half. Without increases in efficiency, you can bet your bottom dollar that carriers will raise data rates as a counter-measure. On the other hand, with a combination of network improvements and compression advances, perhaps we can stave off that outcome and continue to enjoy our mobile streaming services.

New video compression techniques will also be put to the test with the advent of Ultra High-Definition Television. UHDTV is said to increase the number of pixels crammed into a video picture by 400% to 1,600%. The ITU settled on an agreement for the basic tech specs in a UHDTV standard with an announcement last week.

4G and the Whispernet Model

Mari Silbey —  October 5, 2011

We’re still in the early days of 4G deployments and adoption, and while I’m loving LTE access on my HTC Thunderbolt, the real impact of next-gen mobile broadband won’t be felt for another year or two. When it does hit, we’re likely to see a lot of changes in how mobile devices and applications are developed, managed and priced. According to Tellabs (via GigaOM), carriers are about to lose their data cash cow, and will actually be in the red with mobile data delivery by 2013 if nothing changes. Of course “if nothing changes” is the key clause here. Things will change because no carrier is going to offer a service that can’t ultimately deliver a profit.

One of the more intriguing possibilities for future mobile pricing models is a move toward Amazon’s Whispernet model. The pricier Kindle Touch version is still bundled with free 3G mobile broadband services, but it’s now limited to Kindle store and Wikipedia access. I expect we’ll see a lot more of this – hardware providers bundling mobile broadband with devices, and even app providers bundling access with certain types of applications. There are many mobile activities that can wait for Wi-Fi, but instant gratification can be a powerful draw , and it’s a feature that many are willing to pay for.

For example, the vast majority of my mobile data usage comes from streaming Slacker or NPR. In the future, I could see Slacker bundling mobile data access with my monthly subscription to give me unlimited music streaming. I get that now, but only through a grandfathered unlimited data plan with Verizon, which I don’t expect to last forever. I wouldn’t want to pay an unlimited “tax” on every application, but if there are only one or two that threaten to put me over my monthly limit, I would seriously consider an application-specific broadband fee.

You can see how this would work for video and other services too. Netflix could bundle access with its video service. So could Amazon, either with its Kindle Fire, or with its video streaming service delivered on somebody else’s hardware. When Apple brings its iPhone 5 to market with 4G, it could bundle access to iTunes. Or it could bake mobile broadband access into its new Nano for fitness applications. The possibilities are limitless.

If delivered well, the Whispernet model is something people would pay for. And in a world of 4G speeds, it would make mobile broadband feel unlimited again, albeit in a limited way.

A different day, a different story. Experts are now predicting that connected TVs will be hot this holiday season. Jonathan Weitz, a partner at IBB Consulting says that consumers will buy up smart TVs this winter and beyond, and Parks Associates expects more than a tenth of broadband households to purchase a connected TV in the second half of 2011. That’s a pretty big shift from just a few years ago when the focus was still on upgrading to HD, and even from last year when most people were still asking me if they should buy a 3D TV. However, I have to question how radical the change really is from a consumer perspective. For example, when I spoke to Jonathan Weitz late last month, he pointed out that the vast majority of TVs sold in the next three years will be connected TVs. If connected TVs become the default for manufacturers, then sure, that’s what consumers will buy. It’s kind of like having said in the late 1990s that most people would start buying PCs with embedded modems. Yup, pretty good bet.

So let’s turn instead to the impact of connected TVs on consumer viewing habits. The two assumptions I’ve heard most frequently are that smart TVs will push more people to cut the cord on cable, and that smart TVs will lead to more interactive TV app use. On the cord-cutting front, I don’t think the impact is going to be dramatic. There does seem to be a slow drain on pay-TV subs, but for consumers who want a good selection of TV and movies, there’s still no better option than a cable or telco subscription. Just because you can access a Netflix app on your TV doesn’t mean you don’t want to be able to watch FX, or Discovery, or ESPN too.

Which brings me to the second point. What is it people want to do with their TVs? I’m still convinced that people mostly want to watch television. The apps that are likely to prove most popular on connected TVs? I’m guessing Netflix, YouTube, and other apps that offer more content rather than new functionality. I’ll caveat that by saying I do acknowledge some behaviors are changing. Parks Associates has found that one of the features consumers say they’d prefer to have on connected devices (including smart TVs) is access to Facebook. So maybe consumers do want some interactivity with their TV watching, in which case, advertisers should be all over that opportunity. However, given how many devices we can interact with, I have to question how far the pendulum is really going to swing. When I crash at night, I don’t want to tweet on my TV. I want to turn off my brain and just watch a show.

T-Mobile Is All About 4G

Mari Silbey —  September 27, 2011

You’d never know T-Mobile was in the process of possibly being acquired by AT&T from hearing CMO Cole Brodman speak. Today at the GigaOM Mobilize conference, Brodman talked about T-Mobile’s growing handset portfolio and the strength of its 4G HSPA+ network. In fact, Brodman used the conference as a platform to launch officially two new 4G phones – the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Amaze – along with the Sonic 4G mobile hotspot. T-Mobile wants to be known for 4G, whether there’s an AT&T acquisition on the horizon or not.

Brodman also had some interesting stats to cite on subscriber behavior and network traffic trends. A full 75 percent of T-Mobile phones sold today are smartphones, compared to about 60 percent of US phones as a whole. 4G data already takes up about half the traffic on the network, and about half of 4G traffic is video. Mobile data traffic is doubling every six months.

So what does all this mean for the potential acquisition? Not a whole lot, except it highlights the network footprint that AT&T would really like to have as it battles against Verizon 4G. More speed and more bars in more places.

Now here’s a surprise. Using Speedtest.net as a monitor, I can get better downstream results from my mobile broadband connection than I can from my Wi-Fi connection delivered over a FiOS-driven home network. I’m a Verizon 4G LTE subscriber for mobile broadband, and a Verizon FiOS Extreme customer (25/25 package) for Internet at home. I tested both networks using my HTC Thunderbolt to avoid any device-specific issues, and the tests took place in Takoma Park Maryland, just outside of Washington DC.

As you can see above, I got throughput of more than 35 Mbps downstream in the 4G test, while the Wi-Fi test rang in at just under 30 Mbps downstream. (still more than my promised FiOS speed) These tests took place one minute apart, though later tests showed 4G coming in as high as 39 Mbps.

I’m feeling pretty lucky with my mobile broadband coverage at the moment. An unofficial test on AT&T’s brand new LTE network now live in Chicago brought back a downstream result of just over 12 Mbps. DSLReports covered the AT&T news (original source: Boy Genius Report), and a reader shot back in the comment thread with his own result of more than 16 Mbps downstream using T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. Verizon’s results in my area put both those numbers to shame. Yes, wireless caps and data sharing are a problem, but for speed alone, I’ve got nothing to complain about with Verizon’s 4G service.

On Motorola and Google TV

Mari Silbey —  August 15, 2011

There are a thousand and one ways Google could move forward with today’s announced acquisition of Motorola Mobility. Certainly Google will use Motorola’s mobile assets to further its Android ambitions, and this is a big shift in the landscape for mobile players including Samsung, HTC, and Apple. However, I’m far more curious about what this means for Google on the IP video front. Last year I posted my skepticism about the Google TV launch over on the Motorola blog. Read the excerpt:

I believe that Google may have a chance at being successful in TV, but not ultimately by offering only an over-the-top solution… On the other hand, could Google make a go of it in TV by working within the cable and telecom model? It’s certainly possible. Particularly since that model is moving toward IP (not Internet) delivery. In my very personal opinion, Google is experimenting on the retail front, but that doesn’t mean that’s where it will stay.

Google has a fascinating opportunity now to become a serious player on the pay TV front if it so chooses. Motorola’s cable/telco network technology, consumer hardware base, and software solutions all give Google a working platform in the TV biz. Perhaps even more importantly, Motorola’s relationships in the traditionally insular cable industry give Google a new place at the table. Throw in Google’ Gigabit network experiments, and you’ve got a tantalizing combination of assets. It’s certainly a far different picture today than Google presented just last year. Talk about a Google TV reboot.

WiMAX-deployments-worldwide

Sprint added 1.7 million WiMAX subscribers in Q2 (mostly wholesaled from Clearwire), while Verizon added 1.2 million LTE subscribers in the same time period. Long-time analyst Paul Kapustka tracked the WiMAX win over at Sidecut Reports, but he’s the only person I’ve seen report the comparison. Instead, most of the press has focused solely on Clearwire’s announcement that it’s planning to add LTE services to its portfolio. That’s great. Fantastic. But reporters have been using it to pit LTE against WiMAX, and to extend the odd “WiMAX is dead” narrative. WiMAX is not dead. And not only is it not dead, but there are several reasons to applaud the technology’s success.

  1. WiMAX was first out of the gate in the US. I started using it in Philly back in 2009.
  2. Competition is good. Even though Clearwire is shifting away from retail sales, it pioneered the no-contract 4G service, which was enough to get me to give 4G a trial run. And Sprint maintains an unlimited data plan with its WiMAX service, something other carriers have refused to do.
  3. The Sprint/Clearwire push for WiMAX deployments has sped up network upgrades across all US carriers, bringing us more 4G access on a faster timeline than we would have had otherwise.
  4. Although we focus on mobile WiMAX here in the States, fixed WiMAX technology has been a boon in numerous emerging markets around the world, particularly in areas where wireline broadband connectivity isn’t available. (The WiMAX Forum reports there are currently WiMAX deployments in 150 different countries.)
  5. There is overlap in WiMAX and LTE technology, which means lessons learned in WiMAX development can be applied in further LTE rollouts. Even as Clearwire starts adding LTE services, it will rely on much of the technology it’s already deployed with WiMAX.

So why all the WiMAX haters? I don’t know. LTE is great, but WiMAX continues to play an important role in American and global network upgrades to 4G. And that’s worth a little recognition.