Archives For Broadband

The latest incarnation of the Samsung Galaxy Tab will go on sale this Thursday, marking the launch of the first 4G LTE tablet in the US. Part of me wants to run out and buy it. It’s Android with a 10-inch screen, which matches my personal tablet requirements, and I live in an area with great LTE coverage. Unfortunately, as much as the idea is tempting, the data plans aren’t. I’d be paying $30/month for a measly 2GB plan (even though I already pay that amount for 4G data on my phone), and it would go up to $50 and $80 for 5GB and 10GB respectively. That’s just not in my budget. And I’m not alone.

IDG analyst Bob O’Donnell told Computerworld earlier this month that 3G tablet sales are suffering. According to O’Donnell, “hundreds of thousands” of the devices are still sitting unsold. Research also shows that the large majority of traffic from tablets is over a Wi-Fi connection. I gained access to stats from Limelight Networks recently (disclosure: I do contract work for Limelight) showing that when users watch video on tablets, they access the highest bit-rate streams more often than not. Higher bit rates mean Wi-Fi, not mobile broadband.

The latest Galaxy Tab sounds great on paper, but unless carriers lower their data pricing, or at least let users share data plans across multiple devices, I don’t know how much demand there can possibly be. Mobile broadband is just too expensive.

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance website, there are now 230 products certified for Wi-Fi Direct support. And yet, despite tracking the standard’s progress for more than 18 months, I’ve seen virtually zero traction at the consumer level. I can think of three reasons for this. First, some of the products certified likely haven’t been released yet. LG’s got a list of products a mile long, but many were only certified in the last six weeks. Second, as a reporter at Wired noted last October, different Wi-Fi Direct devices support different types of connections. This is odd because the new standard is supposed to be compatible even with regular Wi-Fi products. However, apparently depending on how a new product is designed, it might for example, support Wi-Fi Direct printing, but, not a Wi-Fi Direct connection to an external display.

Third and finally, nobody’s made a good case to consumers yet on the benefits of Wi-Fi Direct. The simplest use case for the new standard might be the one for easy wireless printing. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen one printer listed as supporting Wi-Fi Direct, and it turns out the HP LaserJet Pro 100 will require a firmware upgrade in the future to get the additional wireless feature. It would seem that a Wi-Fi Direct connection for a TV or monitor would also be an easy sell, but I’ve seen nobody market it well. Think about it. How nice would it be to be able to throw a video up on the TV from a laptop without having to connect to the Internet? No router configuration, and no worry about bandwidth caps.

I assume it’s only a matter of time before Wi-Fi Direct takes off, but with the first products certified last October, I thought we’d be a little further along in the process by now. Where’s the marketing machine?


As a proud resident of Montgomery County Maryland (again), and a new FiOS subscriber, I’m happy to report that Verizon is rolling out IMG 1.9 in the DC metro area. We had FiOS installed yesterday with the 25/25 Mbps Internet tier, and one DVR – complete with the latest software update – for our living room. Unfortunately, I won’t have a chance to test out IMG 1.9’s enhanced multi-room streaming capabilities, but I do get the new guide as part of the update, and the ability to add an external hard drive. Somewhat ironically, I was presented with a Cisco set-top box, unlike Dave who got the much sleeker Motorola QIP7232. It does have the 500GB hard drive, however, which sure beats the 160GB box we had with Comcast before.

Dave noted last night that Tampa and Pittsburgh received their FiOS software updates earlier this week. A national rollout should be complete within the next two months.

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.


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…