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“Refreshed” Verizon Home 5G Will Launch In 30 Cities This Year; Improved Reception Promised

After learning from the experiences of providing a wireless 5G home broadband alternative in a handful of U.S. cities, Verizon is preparing to launch a refreshed 5G Home fixed wireless product in all 30 cities where it intends to provide mobile 5G service this year.

The biggest change will be a new emphasis on self-installs. Verizon estimates about 80% of customers pre-screened online as qualified for the service can install it themselves with an indoor antenna. That is a big change for Verizon, which used to rely on technicians installing a fixed antenna on the side of a customer’s home. A new receiver expected to be introduced in 2020 is also expected to boost reception through the use of a new high-powered chipset, likely including Qualcomm’s new QTM527 mmWave antenna module that was custom designed to enhance and extend the range of 5G fixed wireless services. Verizon’s current 5G Home equipment uses a chipset originally designed for 5G smartphones.

Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, said Verizon Home 5G will be sold as a companion product wherever Verizon’s 5G millimeter wave network debuts.

“We’re now ready to go mass market,” Dunne told a group of investors.

U.S. cities with Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Houston*
  • Indianapolis*
  • Los Angeles*
  • Minneapolis
  • Providence
  • Sacramento*
  • St. Paul
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Phoenix

(*-These cities, except for Indianapolis, only have fixed wireless 5G Home broadband at this time.)

U.S. cities planned for Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband deployment in 2019

  • Boston
  • Charlotte
  • Cincinnati
  • Cleveland
  • Columbus
  • Dallas
  • Des Moines
  • Houston
  • Indianapolis
  • Kansas City
  • Little Rock
  • Memphis
  • San Diego
  • Salt Lake City

But where that market will exactly be is hard to tell. Verizon relies heavily on its service address qualification tool, which shows if a prospective customer can obtain the service. That tool is refined enough to ensure that over 90% of Verizon’s fixed wireless traffic stays on its 5G network, with only around 10% falling back to Verizon’s existing 4G LTE network.

Verizon uses its tool to assure “qualified” customers are well inside the radius of its 5G coverage area. An analysis found Verizon’s millimeter wave network, which operates in the 28 GHz band, has a limited range. Although Verizon predicted its network could reach 1,000 feet from each small cell location, the website only qualified those in Sacramento living within around 500 feet of each small cell. Verizon is also heavily reliant on using light poles for smart cells, and these were not always suitable for the widest coverage.

Earl Lum of EJL Wireless Research explored Verizon’s 5G network in Sacramento and found it primarily targeting 5G Home customers. If Verizon is intending to cover entire cities with millimeter wave 5G, Lum said “you’re talking about a crapload of poles.” Some analysts expect Verizon will introduce lower band 5G service to increase and compliment its millimeter wave coverage areas. The impact traffic from Verizon’s 5G Home service will have on lower band 5G networks is not known. The home broadband replacement currently markets speeds of around 300 Mbps with no monthly data cap for as low as $50, if one also subscribes to Verizon Wireless mobile service. Any low band 5G service running from traditional macro cell towers will be shared with a much larger number of customers than those sharing a small cell, potentially creating capacity problems down the road.

One other change to report: Verizon’s newest 5G Home cities will launch using the official 5G NR standard, not the unofficial 5G TF standard Verizon used in the four early launch cities.

It is too early to tell whether incumbent phone and cable companies will perceive a significant competitive threat from Verizon’s high speed fixed wireless proposition. Early reports of the service’s limited coverage in the four launch cities and fears about the high cost of expanding 5G service seemed to calm operator fears of a new competitor. But Verizon has also said for months that it purposely limited its 5G Home network rollout until the official 5G standard emerged. The wireless operator has also used this past spring and summer to learn from its early experiences with fixed 5G service and cut expenses like required truck rolls for installation out of the business. The money saved could be plowed into a more robust network of 5G small cells covering larger areas.

India Getting 100 Mbps Fiber-to-the-Home Service for Under $10/Month

Jio founder Mukesh Ambani formally announces the launch of Jio Fiber.

Starting Thursday, the first 500,000 of over 15 million Indians pre-registered for service will begin receiving fiber to the home broadband at speeds starting at 100 Mbps, bundled with free unlimited voice calling for under $10 per month.

Jio Giga Fiber will eventually serve more than 20 million Indian homes and businesses in over 1,600 communities, charging a fraction of the prices charged by North American cable and phone companies, and expects to remain profitable by selling extra services, including unlimited global calling plans and television service, to Indian consumers. To sweeten the deal, customers that commit to a year of service will receive a 4K LED TV and set-top box for free.

Jio has already laid over 186,000 miles of optical fiber and has an existing base of 500,000 trial customers across India that have been testing the service.

Jio is India’s largest wireless provider, with over 323 million subscribers, making it the third largest mobile operator in the world. It is also one the newest, having launched wireless service in late 2015 over an expansive 4G LTE network. The company was founded by Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani, one of Asia’s wealthiest men. His vision is to make telecommunications services affordable and available to the largest number of people possible, with an emphasis on making entry-level plans usable and affordable. His presence in the Indian telecom market has caused the same marketplace disruption T-Mobile has caused in the U.S.

Jio’s chief competitor, the state-owned BSNL telephone company, is rumored to be negotiating with several of India’s independent cable and internet providers to offer a competing joint bundle of TV, landline, and broadband services over optical fiber at prices under $9.75/month.

If both companies are successful, Indians will have access to some of the cheapest internet service in the world. 

Jio Fiber is designed to provide India with fiber broadband service as good or better than what is available in the United States and Canada, for a much cheaper price. Ambani noted the average broadband speed in the U.S. is now 90 Mbps, but Jio Fiber will beat that with plans starting at 100 Mbps. He has successfully navigated around skeptical investors by putting up more than $30 billion of his firm’s own money to back the telecom venture, instead of returning that money to shareholders in the form of dividend payouts and share buybacks. He can raise even more cash by selling and leasing back Jio’s extensive network of wireless cell sites.

Ambani sees Jio’s fiber network as a foundation for marketing additional products and services. Wealthier Indians will be invited to spend up to $139 a month on gigabit internet, a deluxe TV package with over 600 TV channels, a landline with unlimited international calling, and access to popular movies on the same day titles are released in Indian theaters. Customers with premium level service will also get free subscriptions to “most” popular video streaming services available in India (excluding Netflix and Amazon Prime Video). One downside to Jio’s plan — it comes with a 100 GB monthly data cap. Those exceeding it will see their speeds reduced to 1 Mbps for the rest of the current billing period. There is no word yet about the availability of unlimited use plans at an additional cost.

Jio has been strategically planning to introduce fiber service for several years and has purchased several Indian cable companies to help manage infrastructure, installation, and a network of retail stores that will act as a sales point for Jio’s wireless and fiber services.

Jio’s Mukesh Ambani introduces India to Jio’s new fiber to the home service, which will cost under $10 a month. (6:59)

AT&T TV Launches In 10 Cities; New Streaming Service Resembles DirecTV

Phillip Dampier August 19, 2019 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Online Video 1 Comment

AT&T TV launched today in 10 U.S. cities — all within AT&T’s U-verse/fiber service areas, providing a comparable TV lineup to the DirecTV satellite service with discounts for bundling internet access.

Customers can begin signing up today for the service in Orange and Riverside, Calif., West Palm Peach, Fla., Topeka and Wichita, Kan., Springfield and St. Louis, Mo., and Corpus Christi, El Paso, and Odessa, Tex.

The service’s television lineup is closely comparable to the DirecTV satellite lineup, and AT&T intends its new streaming TV service to offer an alternative to those who do not want to install a satellite dish or deal with AT&T’s own U-verse TV. The biggest bundle discounts go to consumers who bundle internet and television service together. Video packages start at $59.99 and include a much larger lineup than AT&T’s streaming-only service targeting cord cutters — AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now).

These plans bundle television and internet from AT&T.

Customers bundling internet and TV service will find a deeply discounted 300 Mbps internet plan for $40 a month for the first year ($70 for gigabit service) and AT&T will include unlimited internet in any package bundling TV service (a $30/mo value). Installation fees are waived, but there is a $19.95 activation fee and an early termination fee of $15/mo for TV and $15/mo for internet for each month remaining on a two-year contract. AT&T TV requires a set-top box for each television and the first one is free. Each additional box is $120, payable up front or in 12 equal monthly installments of $10. The box is powered by Android TV and supports various apps and comes with a voice remote control.

Features include a 500-hour cloud DVR package, with recordings stored up to 90 days. You can record as many channels as you want at the same time, but we suspect premium movie channels may be excluded. The full lineup is available for streaming outside of your home and includes local major network affiliates in most markets. AT&T TV supports 4K streaming as well, and since AT&T is waiving its data cap for TV and broadband customers, you will not have to worry about any data caps. Up to three people can stream your TV lineup simultaneously. Keep in mind each television represents one stream.

AT&T makes life complicated for would-be customers with a panoply of confusing discounts, rebates, and savings that often expire after one year into a two-year contract. Customers should pay careful attention to the breakdown of the charges AT&T provides and mark your calendar so you are not surprised by the gradually rising bill.

Stop the Cap! put together a package to give you an idea of what to expect. We selected the “Ultimate” TV package, which includes just about every English language channel on the lineup. Mysteriously, the biggest exception is Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. Like AT&T TV Now, this channel is only available on the cheapest package, which makes no sense to us.

Let’s start with the TV package:

Note that the TV package is discounted significantly, but only for the first 12 months of your 24 month commitment. Also note the “Regional Sports Fee” which varies depending on the city. In this case, we chose Topeka, Kan. to build this package.

Premium movie channels are provided free for the first 90 days. The prices shown represent à la carte pricing. If you want these channels going forward, ask if a package price is available and bundle them for additional savings.

AT&T’s mini set-top box has been tested by DirecTV Now customers for almost a year. It earned mixed reviews and can be cumbersome. Keep in mind the first box is free, but each additional box costs $120, payable up front or in installments.

AT&T’s pricing for the first three months is very low, then higher prices kick in for the next 12 months unless you cancel those four premium movie channels, with still higher pricing during the second year of the two-year contract. AT&T makes things needlessly complicated and this explains the subscriber confusion about billing issues that is common with AT&T. But AT&T cannot be accused of not letting you know what to expect. In 2020, you could be paying $188.37 just for your TV lineup:

Next up is the internet portion of our order:

Note you get a $20 discount, but only during the first year. The fact you seem to owe nothing when placing the order does not mean the first month is free. AT&T is not sure what they will charge you because: “The monthly total on your bill may vary depending on your billing date and prorated monthly fees, based on the date of installation, that are applied to your account. Quoted prices don’t include taxes, fees, surcharges, shipping, or other charges including city video cost-recovery and Universal Services Fund fees, where applicable.” AT&T wouldn’t tell us exactly what those charges were.

Finally, AT&T includes some additional savings from various promotions, including an odd double gift card promotion awarding a total of $100 in Visa gift cards for signing up online:

The gift card promotion ends September 15, 2019 but will likely reappear. Customers have to submit their rebate request soon after service is ordered and spend the gift card(s) within six months to avoid forfeiture.

AT&T plans to roll out AT&T TV nationwide during 2020. But the company seems to be favoring markets where it already offers broadband service. It is not known if or when AT&T will introduce this streaming alternative to DirecTV in areas where other phone companies dominate. Customers do not have to use AT&T for internet access to subscribe.

What’s Eating Your Comcast Data Cap?

Comcast has put its proverbial finger to the wind to define an “appropriate” data cap it declares “generous,” regardless of how subjectively random that cap happens to be. Although 1,000 GB — a terabyte — usage allowance represents a lot of internet traffic, more and more customers are finding they are flirting with exceeding that cap, and Comcast has never been proactive about regularly adjusting it to reflect the reality of rapidly growing internet traffic. That means customers must protect themselves by checking their usage and take steps if they are nearing the 1 TB limit.

If you do exceed your allowance, Comcast will provide two “grace periods” that will protect you from overlimit fees, currently $10 for each extra 50 GB allotment of data you use. Another alternative Comcast will happily sell you is an insurance policy to prevent any risk of overlimit fees. For an extra $50 a month, they will take the cap off your internet plan allowing unlimited usage. But $50 a month is close to paying for your internet service twice and is indefensible considering how little Comcast pays for its customers’ internet traffic. It is just one more way Comcast can pick up extra revenue without doing much of anything.

Customers that do regularly break through the 1 TB data cap often have a guilt complex, believing they have no right to complain about data caps and should pay more because they must cost Comcast a lot more money to service. In fact, Time Warner Cable executives broadly considered internet traffic expenses as little more than a “rounding error” to their bottom line, according to internal emails obtained by the New York Attorney General’s office. Managing customers’ data usage is far less costly than network plant upkeep, the regularly increasing costs of video content, and expenses related to expanding service to new locations.

One VentureBeat reader investigated what chewed through Comcast’s data allowance the most, and it wasn’t easy:

Xfinity pretends to make this easier for you, but that’s a load of horsesh*t. Its X-Fi app claims to give you usage stats for your connected devices — only nothing appears up-to-date. The phone I was using to look at the X-Fi app doesn’t even appear on the connected-devices list. You also have to look at each device individually. I saw no way to sort a list of devices by data usage, which would obviously help a lot.

Some of the biggest data users are connected households, where multiple family members use a range of devices, often at the same time. Customers with multiple internet-connected computers, video game consoles, and streaming devices are most at risk of exceeding their cap.

Video Games Consoles/PCs

The biggest data consumption does not come from gameplay itself. It comes from frequent software updates, some exceeding 50 GB. If you play a number of games, updates can come frequently. In the case of the VentureBeat author, 17% of daily usage came from the home’s primary desktop PC. Another 12% was traced to the family’s Xbox One. An in-home media server that also runs Steam and auto-updates frequently was also suspect.

Streaming Devices

If you are not into video games and do not depend on cloud storage or large file transfers to move data back and forth, streaming set-top boxes and devices are almost certainly going to be the primary source of your biggest monthly data usage. Video resolution can make a difference in how much data is consumed. If you are regularly approaching or exceeding your monthly cap, consider locking down maximum video resolution for streaming on large televisions to 720p, and 480p for smartphones. Some streaming services offer customized resolution options in their settings menu.

Autoplay, also known as the ‘binge’ option can also consume a lot of video when a service automatically starts playback of the next episode in a series. Some people switch off their televisions without stopping video playback, which can mean you watched one episode but actually streamed six or more. Check the streaming software for an option to not autoplay videos.

Remember that cable TV replacements like DirecTV Now and YouTube TV will continue streaming live broadcasts until you stop them. Do not just switch off the television. Many live/linear TV apps will prompt you every few hours if you have not changed channels to make sure there is someone still watching. If you do not respond, streaming will stop automatically.

Cloud Storage Backups

When customers report staggering data usage during a month, cloud storage backup software is often the culprit. If you are new to cloud storage backup services like Dropbox or Carbonite, your PC may be uploading a significant part of your hard drive to create a full backup of your computer. This alone can consume terabytes of data. Fortunately, most backup services throttle uploads and do not automatically assume you need to backup your entire hard drive. Many offer options to limit upload speed, the total amount of data that can be uploaded each month, and options to selectively backup certain files and folders. 

Your Wi-Fi Network is Insecure

In areas where data caps are pervasive, those who want to use a lot more data and do not want to pay for it may quietly hop on your home Wi-Fi network and effectively bill that usage to you. This is most common in large multi-dwelling units where lots of neighbors are within range of your home Wi-Fi. The best way to reduce the risk of a Wi-Fi intrusion is to create a password that is exceptionally difficult to guess, using a mixture of special characters (!, ^, %, etc.) and mixed case random letters and numbers. Although this can be inconvenient for guests, it will probably keep intruders out and prevent them from running up your bill.

It is unfortunate customers have to jump through these kinds of hoops and compromise their online experience. But where cable and phone companies lack competition, they can charge a small fortune for internet access and still feel it is appropriate to cap usage and ask for even more money when customers “use too much.”

Deutsche Telekom Loses All-You-Can-Watch StreamOn Dispute in Germany Over Net Neutrality Violation

While net neutrality in the United States has been neutered by the Republican-controlled FCC, the concept of an online level playing field is alive and well in Germany, and T-Mobile’s parent company Deutsche Telekom (DT) just got called out for a foul ball.

The German telecom giant has lost its legal battle with Germany’s telecom regulator, the Federal Network Agency (Regulator Bundesnetzagentur) over StreamOn, its all-you-can-stream mobile video product that does not count against customer usage allowances. The company introduced the unlimited video streaming service in Germany in 2017, emulating a similar service available in the United States that offers zero rated mobile video content at a reduced video resolution. An appeals court in Münster this week ruled that the German regulator was correct to forbid DT from continuing to offer StreamOn to customers in its present form for two reasons:

  • StreamOn was only available to T-Mobile customers inside Germany or those who visited the country, violating Europe’s “roam like at home” rules that require carriers to not restrict or charge more for mobile services or features when traveling between member states of the European Union.
  • StreamOn violates German net neutrality rules by delivering only T-Mobile approved, speed-throttled, low resolution video content that won’t count against a customer’s usage cap.

“StreamOn must conform to the ‘roam like at home’ principle and customers must have video streaming available in an unthrottled bandwidth,” said Federal Network Agency president Jochen Homann. “The rule of equal treatment is a cornerstone of European net neutrality regulations. The principle of equal treatment has made the internet a driver of innovation, and the diversity of applications and services benefits all consumers.”

Hohmann

DT immediately contested the regulator’s decision and sued. The case has been drifting through German courts since December 2017, with the most recent ruling in favor of the regulator issued by an appeals court, which declared its ruling to be final.

DT has claimed it finds the regulator’s objections “very puzzling indeed,” claiming StreamOn has been wildly popular in the United States and Germany. Two years ago, it warned that if the courts upheld the regulator’s ruling, it would force the company to stop offering it.

“The Bonn-based regulatory authority is ordering us to also offer StreamOn in other EU countries. It bases this order on the EU Roaming Regulation,” DT said in a statement in 2017. “Fulfilling the order would mean the end of our free service, because we would not be able to offer it cost-effectively in other countries.”

Despite its threat to shutter StreamOn in Germany, the company claimed this week it would continue offering the service for the time being, without increasing prices.

“We are delighted that the court has confirmed our interpretation of the law,” a Federal Network Agency spokesman said after the decision was announced. “We will take quick action to ensure that Telekom adjusts its product accordingly.”

“We expect the [Federal Network Agency] to allow an appropriate amount of time to make the necessary adjustments,” a DT spokesman said. “We are convinced that StreamOn is a legal product and will explore all our legal options.”

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