Archives For Broadband

Can’t Trust The Cloud?

Dave Zatz —  July 6, 2011

As we increasingly construct virtual identities and migrate our digital possessions into the cloud, it’s a worthwhile exercise to periodically reflect on these increasingly amorphous services. And my top two concerns are security and dependability.

On the security front, my guiding principle is an assumption that just about any host can and will be hacked. Which is why we turn to encryption for additional layers of defense. Unfortunately, some companies offer insufficient protection or overstate their capabilities. For example, it now appears that cloud file storage and sharing provider Dropbox embodies both. Whereas the company originally claimed user files were encrypted in such a way that even employees couldn’t access the data, it turns out encryption is handled on Dropbox servers and they maintain the encryption keys. Meaning, yes, employees can and have accessed user data… leading to a FTC complaint. Additionally, a recent service update inadvertently left all Dropbox accounts without password protection for about 4 hours – a startling development. Is Dropbox unique in their shortcomings? Continue Reading…

I’ve always been wary of rooting any phone with a two-year contract, but the appeal of being able to tether my smartphone wirelessly to get an Internet connection on other devices has been tough to resist. Luckily, Verizon has solved the problem for me. At least until next Wednesday. Back in March, Verizon started offering a free Mobile Hotspot app on new 4G phones, and a couple weeks ago, the telco extended the limited-time promotion through July 6th.

The good news? Verizon’s Mobile Hotspot is ridiculously easy to use, and it worked flawlessly for me. One click turns the hotspot on. Then it’s just a matter of selecting the (WPA2-protected) network on your secondary device and typing in a short password. I used the hotspot on the DC metro to extend network access to my Wi-Fi-only iPad. My mobile broadband speed was limited in the subway, but it was enough to download a new iPad app, and it would be enough to publish a blog post from my netbook if needed.

The bad news? When Verizon’s promotional period ends next Wednesday, the Mobile Hotspot isn’t going to be cheap. We don’t know the pricing details yet, but current guesses hover around $30 a month, or possibly $20 a month with a 2GB data cap. Given how often I’m likely to need tethering, either price is way above my comfort zone. It took years for me to suck it up and get a $30-per-month data plan. I’m not going to double that just to be able to share an existing wireless connection. Usually I either have access to Wi-Fi or can make do with my smartphone. If I had to share my mobile broadband connection, I’d certainly be willing to pay a fee if I went over my monthly data allowance. However, just paying for the privilege to share an existing connection? That’s a bit much. Verizon could sucker me in for a small fee, say $5 a month, but at $20 or $30, forget it. I’ll enjoy my hotspot for a few more days, and go back to a sad, but affordable tether-free existence on July 6th.

tivo-preview-front

While 2011 marks the first year in ages we failed to hit The Cable Show, we’ve fortunately got friends with boots on the ground. Who kindly went on a TiVo booth recon mission to bring us photographs of the brand new TiVo Premiere Q four tuner DVR and non-DVR TiVo Preview. Sadly, TiVo’s rep clearly stated that they have “no plans” to make this whole-home DVR hardware available to anyone but cable company partners (with RCN up first). However, I’ll continue to hold out hope that the Preview makes it to retail in some fashion later this year.

Word surfaced this week over on DSLReports that some Comcast subscribers are starting to see evidence of upstream channel bonding trials. Just like in the downstream, upstream bonding promises faster Internet speeds, this time for users who are uploading content online rather than downloading. (Think photo/video sharing and data back-ups.) After doing some investigating on my own, I dug out a few more details on the latest deployments. Here’s what I learned on the Comcast grapevine.

Comcast is aiming to bond four channels for better upstream speeds, but trials at the moment range from two, to three, to four channels bonded depending on network conditions. In theory, each extra channel increases throughput proportionally, so two bonded channels give roughly twice the throughput of one, three give roughly three times the throughput, etc., etc. According to what I’ve heard, Comcast is trying to deploy upstream channel bonding in as many places as it can in an effort to stay competitive over the next twelve months. The cable operator is planning to increase its standard upstream speeds from the 2-5 Mbps range today, to a range of 10-15 Mbps in the next year. Naturally, capacity is an issue as Comcast is also spending its bandwidth wealth on things like HD and VOD content. The MSO is going to have to do a lot of bandwidth balancing going forward.

According to DSLReports, users in Comcast trial areas today aren’t seeing significant speed increases in the upstream yet, but they are seeing more consistent speeds.

On a related note, Comcast is also demoing a 1 Gbps downstream connection out in Chicago at The Cable Show this week. Not that we’ll see that kind of speed from most of our home broadband connections any time soon, but at least Comcast can keep up with Google on the marketing front. It’s a flashback to the downstream speed wars of 2009.

Much has been made of Comcast Xcalibur, the code-named IP-based service designed to feed consumers their Internet access and video content all through a single fat pipe. In fact, the term Xcalibur has been whispered in back rooms for years, with some of us afraid to speak it out loud for fear of karmic retribution. It’s only recently, however, that Comcast has started to leak some of the details around Xcalibur for public consumption. Here’s what we know today. Consider it an advance tutorial for whatever more we may learn tomorrow when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts speaks at The Cable Show. (Live stream available tomorrow morning starting at 10:00 ET)

The Box
Comcast Xcalibur Pace set-top
I first started hearing at the SCTE show last fall that Comcast was testing a Pace set-top box in the Augusta Georgia area designed to support both MPEG- and IP-based video. Since then, several sources have confirmed the information and offered further details. In addition to supporting IP video, the hardware (variously called the “Parker box” and the “Xfinity Spectrum box”) has a CableCARD slot, USB 2.0 port, IEEE 1394 connection, tru2way middleware, an Intel processor, four tuners, and between 500GB and 1TB of storage. The box is an HD DVR, which suggests use as a primary living room set-top, but its hybrid MPEG/IP nature also raises interesting possibilities related to the FCC’s AllVid initiative. Continue Reading…

Netflix Shipping Center

GigaOm has proclaimed that Netflix streaming and the cable industry are clearly in competition – vying for the same eyeballs and the same dollars. Yet, I’m not seeing it. Sure, there’s some overlap… of on-demand television content and back catalog films. But amongst the vast majority of my peers, and within my household, Netflix provides suplemental entertainment. And most of us choose to carry on with pay television services. We may bitch and moan about price hikes, billing problems, or customer service letdowns. But premium television remains quite compelling. Without live news, sports, or current, first run movies Netflix will remain largely a supplemental service. Netflix knows this. In fact, the GigaOm crew cites CEO Reed Hastings regarding the cord cutting mythos, “It’s not happening, it’s not anything we are causing, cable and Netflix are complementary.”

As evidence, GigaOm suggests that cable companies RCN and Suddenlink neutered their TiVo deployments by removing the Netflix app: “The logic? Netflix could get people to ditch their premium channels and ignore cable VOD.” However, RCN is very clearly on the record in its desire to offer Netflix streaming and Suddenlink is would “gladly” consider it. This is purely a licensing issue involving Netflix, TiVo, distributors, and studios. Rather than threatened MSOs blocking the (perceived) competition. Amazon Video on Demand, of course, is another story entirely.

As for me, I’m streaming very little Netflix these days. I’ve either already seen the content or just don’t find it compelling. In fact, between Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and HBOGo, I’m considering dropping Netflix altogether. Unless, I upgrade to more (Blu-ray) discs per month – reverting back to physical media to catch newer releases at bargain prices.


TiVo’s pushed out a press release that expands upon earlier news of a new four tuner TiVo Premiere Q and non-DVR TiVo Preview (pictured). An excerpt:

Consistent with TiVo’s mission to bring the TiVo experience to every screen in the house, these new products enable TiVo’s operator partners to provide a superior advanced television experience to non-DVR households, single DVR households, as well as multi-room DVR households. With its four tuners and support for broad range of video on demand content over IP, the TiVo Premiere Q serves as an advanced video gateway, while TiVo Preview provides the full TiVo user experience for non-DVR households and also functions as a thin client complement to those using a TiVo DVR, creating a fantastic multi-room viewing experience. Both set-top boxes support the full integration of operator services such as Video on Demand, PPV, CallerID on the TV and linear programming, plus access to broadband applications and services.

Unfortunately, for at least the moment, these products will only be available through MSOs… as the announcement goes on to say:

TiVo plans to make both new products available to its cable operator partners later this year.

Further, I reached out to TiVo this AM for clarification. Their response:

Premiere will continue as our primary retail offering. Premiere Q is digital-only, built specifically for distribution by cable operators.

So that answers the tuner question. And for the time being, those of us who prefer purchasing home entertainment gear without involving our cable provider are out of luck. However, a “primary” retail offering doesn’t necessarily preclude a “secondary” retail offering… online or via Magnolia. And I did confirm the Preview contains a CableCARD slot.

I’m preparing follow-up questions for TiVo, Inc. Get yours in below and I’ll report back with anything notable.