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Google Fiber’s CEO Out of a Job; Fiber Expansion on Hold Indefinitely in Many Cities

Down the rabbit hole

Down the rabbit hole

Google has quietly announced an indefinite suspension of further fiber expansion as it prepares to downsize fiber division employees and re-evaluate its fiber business model.

In a blog post tonight from Craig Barratt, senior vice president of Alphabet and CEO of Google’s Access division, it becomes clear Google is rethinking its entire fiber strategy and is likely moving towards fixed wireless technology going forward:

Now, just as any competitive business must, we have to continue not only to grow, but also stay ahead of the curve — pushing the boundaries of technology, business, and policy — to remain a leader in delivering superfast Internet. We have refined our plan going forward to achieve these objectives. It entails us making changes to focus our business and product strategy. Importantly, the plan enhances our focus on new technology and deployment methods to make superfast Internet more abundant than it is today.

Barratt outlines the immediate implications of Google’s dramatic shift:

  • In the cities where we’ve launched or are under construction, our work will continue;
  • For most of our “potential Fiber cities” — those where we’ve been in exploratory discussions — we’re going to pause our operations and offices while we refine our approaches. In this handful of cities that are still in an exploratory stage, and in certain related areas of our supporting operations, we’ll be reducing our employee base.
Barratt

Barratt

Barratt himself is jumping ship (or was pushed). He announced in his blog entry he is “stepping away” from his CEO role, but will remain as an “adviser.”

Observing Google’s recent fiber efforts and acquisitions, it seems clear Google no longer thinks fiber-to-the-home service is an economically viable solution in light of competitors like AT&T rolling out increasing amounts of fiber and the cable industry is on the cusp of launching DOCSIS 3.1, which will dramatically boost internet speeds without a substantial capital investment.

Google’s investors have been lukewarm about the company’s economic commitments relating to its fiber broadband networks. Often built from the ground up, Google’s fiber construction complexities also include trying to navigate costly roadblocks established by their competitors (notably Comcast and AT&T), dealing with bureaucracies and red tape even in states where near-total-deregulation was supposed to make competition easy. Google Fiber has also not proved to be a runaway economic success, and now faces more challenges in light of upgrades from their competitors. Cable companies have slashed prices for customers threatening to cancel and have added free services or upgrades to persuade customers to stay, and Google’s proposition of selling consumers $70 gigabit access has proved tougher than expected.

It is highly likely the future of Google’s Access business will be deploying wireless broadband solutions powered by Webpass, a company Google acquired earlier this year. Webpass uses a high-speed point to point wireless transmission system the company claims can deliver gigabit broadband access to customers in multi-dwelling buildings and other urban areas. Webpass sells access for $60 a month (discounted to $550/yr if paid in advance) for 100Mbps-1,000Mbps speed depending on network density and capacity in the customer’s building. So far, Webpass has not been able to guarantee speed levels, and some customers report significant variability depending on their location and network demand.

Webpass’ wireless infrastructure costs a fraction of what Google has coped with building fiber to the home networks, and the installation of point-to-point wireless antennas on participating buildings has been less of a regulatory nightmare than digging up streets and yards to lay optical fiber.

webpassBut despite Webpass’ claim its performance is comparable to fiber, its inability to guarantee customers a certain speed level and its tremendous performance variability from 100 to 1,000Mbps exposes one of the weaknesses of fixed wireless networks. At a time when capacity is king, only fiber optic networks have shown a consistent ability to deliver synchronous broadband speeds that do not suffer the variability of shared networks, poor antenna placement/signal levels, or harmful interference.

There is room for wireless technology to grow and develop, as evidenced by the wireless industry’s excitement surrounding future 5G networks and their ability to offer a home broadband replacement. The emergence of 5G competition is almost certainly also a factor in Google’s decision. But even AT&T and Verizon acknowledge a robust 5G network will require a robust fiber backhaul network to support both speed and user demand. The more users sharing a network, the slower the speed for all users. No doubt Webpass has made the same assumption that cable operators did in the early days of DOCSIS 1 — current internet applications won’t tax a network enough to create a traffic logjam that would be noticed by most customers. The phone companies also learned a similar lesson trying to serve too many DSL customers from inadequate middle mile networks or traffic concentration points. (Some phone companies are still learning.)

Whether it was yesterday’s peer-to-peer file sharing or today’s online video, capacity matters. That is why fiber broadband remains the gold standard of broadband technology. Fiber is infinitely upgradable, reliable, and robust. Wireless is not, at least not yet. But technology arguments rarely matter at publicly-traded corporations that answer to Wall Street and investors, and it appears Google’s backers have had enough of Google Fiber.

Stop the Cap!’s View

tollAt Stop the Cap!, we believe these developments further the argument broadband is an essential utility best administered for the public good and not solely as a profit-motivated venture. The path to fiber to the home service in rural, suburban, and urban communities has and will continue to come from a mix of private and public utilities, just as local public and private gas and electric companies have served this country for the last century. Where there is a business model for fiber to the home service that investors support, there is a for-profit fiber provider. Where there isn’t, now there is often no service at all. So far, the FCC in conjunction with Congress has seen fit to solve broadband availability problems by bribing private providers into offering service (usually low-speed DSL that does not even meet the FCC’s definition of broadband) with cash subsidies, tax write-offs, or occasional tax abatement schemes. Imagine if we followed that model with the nation’s public roads and highways. We would today be paying tolls or a subscription to travel down roads built and owned by a private company often financed by tax dollars.

Not every product or service needs to earn Wall Street-sized profits. Nobody needs to get rich selling water, gas, and electricity… or broadband. Public broadband networks can and should be established wherever they are needed, and they should be priced to recover their costs as well as expenses that come from support, billing, and ongoing upgrades. Naysayers like to claim municipal broadband is socialism run wild or an instant economic failure, yet the same model has provided Americans with reliable and affordable gas, electricity, and clean water for over 100 years.

Maine was made for municipal broadband.

Maine was made for municipal broadband.

In New York, publicly owned/municipal utilities often charge a fraction of the price charged by investor-owned utilities. In Rochester, where Stop the Cap! is headquartered, one need only ask a utility customer if they would prefer to pay the prices charged by for-profit Rochester Gas & Electric or live in a suburb where a municipal provider like Fairport Electric or Spencerport Electric offers service. RG&E has charged customers well over 10¢ a kilowatt-hour when demand peaks (along with a minimum connection charge of over $21/mo and a “bill issuance charge” of 72¢/mo). Spencerport Electric charges 2.9¢ a kilowatt-hour and a connection charge of $2.66 a month, and they issue their bills for free. There is a reason real estate listings entice potential buyers by promoting the availability of municipal utility service. The same has proven true with fiber-to-the-home broadband service.

The economic arguments predicting doom and gloom are far more wrong than right. Municipal utilities are often best positioned to offer broadband because they already have experience providing reliable service and billing and answer to the needs of their local communities. Incompetence is not an option when providing reliable clean water or electricity to millions of homes and customers have rated their public utilities far superior to private phone or cable companies.

Google’s wireless future may prove a success, but probably only in densely populated urban areas where a point-to-point wireless network can run efficiently and profitably. It offers no solution to suburban, exurban, or rural Americans still waiting for passable internet access. Clearly, Google is not the “free market” solution to America’s pervasive rural broadband problem. It’s time to redouble our efforts for public broadband solutions that don’t need a seal of approval from J.P. Morgan or Goldman Sachs.

Cox Upgrading to Fiber-to-the-Node, DOCSIS 3.1 Broadband Platform

COX_RES_RGBCox Communications will push broadband speed upgrades as high as a gigabit to customers over an upgraded network heavy on fiber and much lighter on copper coaxial cable.

In an effort to stay competitive and reduce operational and maintenance costs, Cox will begin major upgrades of its cable plant, removing as much copper and as many signal amplifiers as possible to simplify upkeep and make future upgrades simpler.

Cox chief technology officer Kevin Hart told Light Reading he wants to push fiber optics deeper into Cox’s network, bringing optical fiber closer to the neighborhoods where customers live and work. This will allow Cox to reduce the number of customers sharing the same bandwidth. It also eases Cox’s forthcoming upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 technology.

“We’re […] taking fiber deeper as a part of our multi-year network transformation plan, working towards a node-plus-zero architecture that allows us to take fiber to the home, and allows us to bring gigabit speeds on demand. And of course we’re aligning around DOCSIS 3.1,” Hart said.

Cox is planning its first rollout of DOCSIS 3.1, which gives cable companies to ability to offer gigabit download speeds, in the fourth quarter of this year. It will choose one of the smaller communities it serves as a test market. If all goes well, Cox will push DOCSIS 3.1 across all of its markets between 2017-2020, likely focusing on Phoenix and San Diego first.

Cox is evaluating DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems from a number of vendors, with Arris and Technicolor likely contenders.

Cox continues to support data caps and usage-based billing in some of its markets and has become one of the stingiest with data allowances:

Package Usage Cap Speeds
Download / Upload
Starter 150 GB 5 Mbps / 1 Mbps
Essential 250 GB 15 Mbps / 2 Mbps
Preferred 350 GB 50 Mbps / 5 Mbps
Premier 700 GB 100 Mbps / 10 Mbps
Ultimate 2000 GB 200 Mbps / 20 Mbps
Gigablast (Where Available) 2000 GB 1 Gbps / 1 Gbps

Customers in Cleveland, Ohio are the unluckiest of all, because they also face an overlimit fee when they exceed their allowance: $10 for each additional 50GB block of data. Some customers in Cleveland’s downtown area have found a loophole around the data cap, however. If they access the Internet over Cox WiFi and Cable WiFi hotspots, it does not count against one’s allowance at this time.

Popular Motorola/Arris SurfBoard Cable Modems Have Annoying Security Flaw

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2016 Consumer News 1 Comment

arrisIf you own or lease a Motorola/Arris SurfBoard 5100, 6121, or 6141 cable modem, security researchers have uncovered an annoying vulnerability that could expose you to a denial of service attack.

David Longenecker first discovered the flaw with the world’s most popular cable modem — the SB-6141, a highly recommended DOCSIS 3 model. The firmware does not password protect access to the cable modem’s configuration menu, accessible by visiting 192.168.100.1 in a web browser.

In addition to technical information about the modem and the cable system’s current cable broadband configuration, there are two user accessible reset buttons, one to reboot the modem and another to reset it to its original factory settings. Rebooting the modem will disrupt your Internet connection for under a minute, but doing a factory reset could bring the modem offline until someone reaches the cable company to request the modem be reauthorized. An individual with nefarious intent can repeatedly reset the modem, bringing the user offline again and again.

arris config

SB6141 is a DOCSIS 3 modem

SB6141 is a DOCSIS 3 modem

The Houston Chronicle explains how this could become a widespread problem:

Included within this interface is the ability to reset the modem. A user can be tricked into clicking on a simple link that will reboot the SB6141, and you can see a proof of concept here. Note that if you have one of these modems with this flaw, and you click the link, your modem WILL reboot.

Normally, you’d have to be sitting at a computer on the same network as the modem to trigger a reboot. But the link above takes advantage of the fact that you can mask a local Web page address as an image file. As Longenecker describes it:

Did you know that a web browser doesn’t really care whether an “image” file is really an image? Causing a modem to reboot is as simple as including an “image” in any other webpage you might happen to open – which is exactly the approach taken on the RebootMyModem.net proof of concept:

<img src=”http://192.168.100.1/reset.htm”>

Of course it’s not a real image, but the web browser doesn’t know that until it requests the file from the modem IP address – which of course causes the modem to reboot. Imagine creating an advertisement with that line of code, and submitting it to a widely-used ad network…

Advanced users can go into their router’s configuration page and block access to the IP address 192.168.100.1 (the modem’s configuration page) for anyone inside their network. That step prevents you or anyone else on your network from accidentally clicking a link that tricks your modem into rebooting. But most users will probably wait until Arris has distributed firmware updates that cable operators will eventually apply to correct this vulnerability. The upgrade will occur in the background and most users will never notice it.

Germany Getting 400/20Mbps Unlimited Cable Broadband Starting at $40/Month

Phillip Dampier January 27, 2016 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Liberty/UPC No Comments

unitymediaWhile Comcast, Cox, Suddenlink, and a handful of other cable companies play games with usage caps and expensive broadband, Germany is getting some massive broadband speed improvements with no data caps, speed throttling, or rate increases.

Unitymedia, owned by Liberty Global (related to Liberty Broadband, Charter’s largest single investor), is giving Germans a broadband upgrade you wish you had. Starting Feb. 1, 3.2 million cable homes in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia  will see their broadband speeds double to 400/20Mbps at prices starting at just $40 a month, which includes a flat-rate landline with unlimited free calls across the German landline network, and a free combination wireless/Wi-Fi router and cable modem.

200 germany

Unitymedia’s current offer is for 200/10Mbps. Starting Feb. 1, those speeds will double.

Unitymedia, which also serves customers in the German states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg, will still be using DOCSIS 3.0 technology for the speed upgrade. DOCSIS 3.1 is expected to bring even faster speeds and better service beginning later in 2016. The company also offers subscribers access to more than 1,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots across all three states, helping give DSL service serious competition.

While U.S. cable operators have dragged their feet on upgrades while raising broadband prices, Unitymedia CEO Lutz Schüler said his company would make the necessary investments to drive network upgrades forward without delay. Schüler may not have much choice. Telephone company Internet providers have benefited from increased speeds of up to 100Mbps that come from deployment of vectoring technology, which can dramatically boost DSL speeds.

The investment also intends to send a message to the telecommunications marketplace that hybrid fiber-coaxial cable systems can deliver dramatically faster and affordable broadband speeds than they often do today, all without usage caps or usage billing.

The Stage Is Set to Kill Telco ADSL: Cable Operators Prepare for DOCSIS 3.1 Competitive Assault

docsis 30 31

Next year’s upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 will support cable broadband speeds up to one gigabit shortly after introduction.

Telephone companies relying on traditional ADSL service to power their broadband offering will likely face a renewed competitive assault in 2016 that will further reduce their already-challenged market share in areas where cable companies compete.

Cable operators are hungry for profitable broadband customers and the best place to find new prospects is at the phone company, where DSL is still a common technology to deliver Internet access. But while cable Internet speeds have risen, significant DSL speed hikes have proven more modest in the residential market.

In 2016, the cable industry intends to poach some of the remaining price-sensitive holdouts still clinging to DSL with revised broadband offers promising more speed for the dollar.

Cable broadband has already proven itself a runaway success when matched against telephone company DSL service. Over the last year, Strategy Analytics found Comcast and Time Warner Cable alone signed up a combined 71 percent of the three million new broadband customers in the U.S.

“Cable operators continue to increase market share in U.S. broadband,” said Jason Blackwell, a director at Strategy Analytics. “Over the past twelve months, Comcast has accounted for 42 percent of new subscribers among the operators that we track.  Fiber growth is still strong, but the telco operators haven’t been able to shake off the losses of DSL subscribers.  In 2016, we expect to see a real battle in broadband, as cable operators begin to roll out DOCSIS 3.1 for even higher speed offers, placing additional pressure on telcos.”

That battle will come in the form of upgraded economy broadband plans, many arriving shortly after providers upgrade to the DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband platform. Currently those plans offer speeds ranging from 2-6Mbps. Starting next year, customers can expect economy plan prices to stay generally comparable to DSL, with promises of faster and more consistent speeds. A source tells Stop the Cap! at least two significant cable operators are considering 10Mbps to be an appropriate entry-level broadband speed for 2016, in keeping with FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler’s dislike of Internet speeds below 10Mbps.

slowJust a few years earlier, most providers wouldn’t think of offering discounted 10Mbps service, fearing it would cannibalize revenue as customers downgraded to get lower priced service. Increasing demands on bandwidth from online video and multiple in-home users have gradually raised consumer expectations, and their need for speed.

Unfortunately for many phone companies that have neglected significant investment in their aging wireline networks, the costs to keep up with cable will become unmanageable unless investors are willing to tolerate significant growth in capital expenses to pay for network upgrades. Frontier Communications still claims most of their customers are satisfied with 6Mbps DSL, neglecting to mention many of those customers live in areas where cable competition (or faster service from Frontier) is not available.

Where competition does exist, it’s especially bad news for phone companies that still rely on DSL. Earlier this year, Frontier’s former CEO Maggie Wilderotter admitted Frontier’s share of the residential broadband market had dropped to less than 25% in 26 of the 27 states where it provides service. In Connecticut, the one state where Frontier was doing better, its acquired AT&T U-verse system has enabled the phone company to deliver broadband speeds up to 100Mbps. But even those speeds do not satisfy state officials who are seeking proposals from providers to build a gigabit fiber network in a public-private partnership.

DSL speed upgrades have been spotty and more modest.

DSL speed upgrades have been spotty and more modest.

Frontier’s recent experiments with fiber to the home service in a small part of Durham, N.C., and the unintentional revelation of a gigabit broadband inquiry page on Frontier’s website suggests the company may be exploring at least a limited rollout of gigabit fiber service in the state. But company officials have also repeatedly stressed in quarterly results conference calls there were no significant plans to embark on a major spending program to deliver major upgrades across their service areas.

Some phone companies may have little choice except to offer upgrades where cable operators are continuing to rob them of customers. In the northeast, where Frontier has a substantial presence, cable operators including Charter, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are committing to additional speed upgrades. Time Warner Cable’s current standard speed of 15Mbps will rise to 50-60Mbps in 2016, up to ten times faster than Frontier’s most popular “up to” 6Mbps DSL plan.

Most of the broadband customer gains won by Comcast and Time Warner Cable come as a result of DSL disconnects. AT&T said goodbye to 106,000 customers during the third quarter. Verizon managed to pick up 2,000 new subscribers overall, almost all signing up for FiOS fiber to the home service. No cable operator lost broadband market share, reported analyst firm Evercore. Leichtman Research offered additional insight, finding AT&T and Verizon were successful adding 305,000 U-verse and FiOS broadband customers, while losing 432,000 DSL customers during the same quarter.

The message to phone companies couldn’t be clearer: upgrade your networks or else.

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  • Bob: Shame it's not in Lynchburg, va. I just dumped Verizon's fixed location service called Homefusion (lte installed). It was $90 a month for a 20 gigs of...
  • Lori Palmer: I just called time warner/spectrum and was specifically told $69.99 is the lowest tier package available. I live in NYS. They did confirm you only nee...
  • L Nova: Verizon is waiting for Frontier to recover from the bungled CTF acquisition to sell off the remaining unwanted wireline in the remaining states the te...
  • Paul Houle: Upstate NY has cities that are too far apart for everyone to be covered, but close enough that the stations argue over who has what turf. Utica is l...
  • Willie: Yep. I was just thinking. Thanks Google, for screwing over Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester. The other streaming services seemed to be ignoring upstate...
  • FredH: So - what's the matter with New York state?...
  • xnappo: Man. Really starting to wish we hadn't complained about Comcast buying TWC. Charter/Spectrum are so so so much worse....
  • L. Nova: That's the point. Verizon & AT&T want OUT of the landline business by 2020. That's why they are waiting for Frontier to recover from the mass...
  • BobInIllinois: This incident goes to show that even Manhattan hipsters cannot get Verizon to care about fixing POTS/DSL/Copper problems....
  • L Nova: Frontier's stock has remained stable the last few weeks since their 15-to-1 reverse stock split. I see another wireline buyout from Verizon coming in ...
  • Shaun: I think it is more like, "Are they going to expand Fios?" Here, they just plainly flat out refused to do it, so, velocity said, if they won't, we will...
  • Phillip Dampier: From the looks of it, they vastly oversell their broadband service and lack adequate capacity to support their advertised speeds. So you buy 150Mbps w...

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