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Fixed Wireless Not a Good Solution for Rural Areas; Usage Demand Outstrips Capacity

Morrow

Australia is learning a costly lesson finding ways to extend broadband service to rural areas in the country, choosing fixed wireless and satellite networks that will ultimately cost more than extending fiber optic broadband to rural customers.

Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is tasked with supplying virtually all of Australia with internet access, using fiber/wired broadband in urban and suburban areas and fixed wireless and satellite internet access in the country’s most remote locations.

But just a few years after debuting satellite broadband and fixed LTE 4G wireless service in many parts of the country, demand has quickly begun to overwhelm capacity, forcing costly upgrades and punitive measures against so-called “heavy superusers.” The NBN has also scrapped plans to introduce higher-speed fixed wireless services, fearing it will only create additional demands on a network that was not envisioned to manage heavy broadband usage from video streaming.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has elected to place most of the blame on his customers, specifically “superusers” that he characterized as “online gamers” who spend hours during the day and peak usage periods consuming large parts of the fixed wireless network’s available capacity.

“In the fixed wireless, there’s a large portion [of end users] that are using terabytes of data,” Morrow said. “We’re evaluating a form of fair use policy to say, ‘We would groom these extreme users.’ Now the grooming could be that, during the busy period of the day when these heavy users are impacting the majority, that they actually get throttled back to where they’re taking down what everybody else is taking down.”

Under the current NBN fair use policy, monthly downloads per household are capped at 400 GB, with maximum usage during peak usage periods limited to 150 GB a month, which is already significantly less than what most average American households consume each month. With expensive and unexpected early upgrades to more than 3,100 cell towers to manage rapidly growing usage, the cost of service is starting to rise substantially, even as usage limits and speed reductions make these networks less useful for consumers.

In areas where the NBN extends a fiber optic network, the fixed wholesale price for a 50/20 Mbps connection is $32.00 (U.S.) per month. (A 100/40 Mbps connection costs $46.25). For fixed wireless, prices are rising. A 50/20 Mbps fixed wireless connection (with usage cap) will now cost $46.25 a month.

Morrow took heat from members of Parliament over his claim that online gamers were chiefly responsible for slowing down the NBN’s fixed wireless network.

“With great respect to everything you said over the last 15 minutes, you have been saying to us the problem here is gamers,” said MP Stephen Jones (Whitlam).

Morrow clarified that online gamers were not the principal cause of congestion. The main issue is concurrency, which drags down network speeds when multiple family members unexpectedly use an internet connection at the same time. The worst congestion results when several family members launch internet video streams at the same time. Online video not only leads average users’ traffic, it can also quickly outstrip available cell tower capacity. High quality video streaming can quickly impact 4G LTE service during peak usage periods, driving speeds down for all users. The NBN now considers these newly revealed capacity constraints a limit on the feasibility of using wireless technology like LTE to supply internet access.

The current mitigation strategy includes limiting video bandwidth, discouraging video streaming with usage caps or speed throttles, capacity upgrades at cell towers, and public education requesting responsible usage during peak usage times. With capacity issues becoming more serious, Morrow canceled plans to upgrade fixed wireless to 100 Mbps speeds because of costs. The proposed upgrades would have cost “exponentially” more than wired internet access.

Hype vs. Reality: Most Australians reject fixed wireless and satellite internet as woefully inadequate. (Source: BIRRR)

Actual Fixed Wireless speeds

Actual Satellite Internet speeds

The concept of supplying fixed wireless or satellite internet access to rural areas may have made sense a decade ago, but there are growing questions about the suitability of this technology based on growth in consumer usage patterns, which increasingly includes streaming video. The cost to provide a sufficiently robust wireless network could easily rival or even outpace the costs of extending traditional fiber optic wired service to many rural properties currently considered cost prohibitive to serve. In Australia, fixed wireless and satellite has delivered sub-standard access for rural consumers, and requires the imposition of “fair usage” caps and speed throttles that inconvenience customers. For now, Morrow believes that is still the best solution, given that Australia’s national broadband plan relies heavily on wireless access in rural communities.

“[The benefit of a fair usage policy is] big enough to where if we did groom them during the busy time of the day, it would be a substantial [speed] lift for people,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet in any of this – this is going to require us to think through a number of different areas.”

Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Rural Australia (a volunteer consumer group) shares horror stories about relying on satellite to solve rural broadband problems. (7:50)

 

Rochester, N.Y. Based GoNetspeed Delivers $90 Gigabit Broadband to Pittsburgh and Connecticut

A Rochester, N.Y.-based broadband company founded by an ex-president of Time Warner Cable and a former top executive at Rochester Telephone is bringing broadband competition to thousands of residents in Connecticut and Pennsylvania through its fiber-to-the-home network.

GoNetspeed has been aggressively expanding its service in Comcast, Verizon, and Frontier Communications service areas in suburban Pittsburgh and several cities in Connecticut. According to chief operating officer Tom Perrone, GoNetspeed has managed to buildout 100 network miles of fiber across 13 towns in two different states in just the first six months of 2018, providing a new choice for broadband service to over 30,000 homes and businesses.

Most recently, the company completed expansion in the New Haven, Conn. neighborhoods of Beaver Hills, Edgewood, and West River, adding an additional 3,000-5,000 homes to its network service area.

GoNetspeed prioritizes expansion in areas where there is little competition and where neighborhood density makes it financially feasible to bring fiber optic cables into an area. The company markets its service with simplified, lifetime pricing:

  • $50 for 100/100 Mbps
  • $70 for 500/500 Mbps
  • $90 for 1,000/1,000 Mbps

In areas when service is first offered, the $100 installation fee is traditionally waived. There are no data caps. Static IPs and inside wiring are available at an additional cost.

GoNetspeed has received positive reviews from customers in parts of Bridgeport and West Hartford, where service is already available in Connecticut. In suburban Pittsburgh, GoNetspeed is available in parts of Ambridge, Beaver Falls, Baden, Conway, Beaver, Monaca, and Rochester. Over the summer, it announced it would soon also service New Brighton and Aliquippa. In general, the company wires neighborhoods where at least 10% of residents are committed to signing up for service. In Pennsylvania, it faces competition primarily from Comcast and Verizon. In Connecticut, competition will come from incumbents Comcast, Altice USA, and Frontier.

GoNetspeed’s headquarters are in suburban Rochester, N.Y. Ironically, it does not offer residential service in New York.

A GoNetspeed truck

The company originally behind GoNetspeed was Fibertech Networks (since sold to Crown Castle, a cell tower owner/operator). The founding partners were John K. Purcell, a former vice president at Rochester Telephone Corporation (now Frontier Communications) and Frank Chiano, the former head of Time Warner Cable in Rochester.

Fibertech was founded in 2000 as a fiber optic network operator. Purcell passed away in 2017, but Fibertech continued, eventually amassing a valuable 14,000 mile metro fiber network serving cities around the northeast. Fibertech served commercial customers like corporations, institutions, and wireless network operators seeking fiber connections to buildings or cell tower sites.

In the last several years, fiber network operators have started to enter the retail broadband marketplace as fiber overbuilders — providing fiber to the home service to areas where demand warrants investment. Most overbuilders target areas where no existing fiber competitor exists, which makes the northeast a viable target.

Verizon dropped its FiOS fiber to the home network expansion project eight years ago and incumbent telephone companies including Verizon, Frontier, Consolidated (formerly FairPoint), Windstream, and CenturyLink have shown little interest in investing in significant fiber upgrades in medium-sized cities in New England, the Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic region. That has given Comcast and Charter Communications — the two largest cable operators, a substantial and growing market share. But customers often loathe both cable operators, and there is built-in demand for new competition.

New Haven. Conn.

Local officials are also happy to see another competitive option. New Haven officials, like many others in Connecticut, have embarked on an effort during the last few years to attract new players to the state, especially after Frontier Communications acquired the assets of AT&T Connecticut. Many communities in Connecticut report a significant digital divide, particularly over the cost of internet access. New Haven, which has a significant low-income population, is happy to see GoNetspeed be part of the solution, but has wondered if GoNetspeed will expand service into lower-income areas of the city.

Connecticut Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz, whose office manages broadband expansion in Connecticut, told the New Haven Register GoNetspeed’s expansion in New Haven “is just another strong indicator that Connecticut consumers are interested in having different options for broadband Internet service.”

“The more competition there is for consumers, for them to have choices, the better off we are,” Katz said. “It’s really important for our state to have ubiquitous access to affordable high-speed broadband that is reliable and that touches every corner of out state.”

C-Spire Introduces Unlimited 120 Mbps Fixed Wireless for $50/Month in Mississippi

For residents of 10 Mississippi communities, an alternative broadband option is now available delivering up to 120/50 Mbps speed with no data caps or throttling for a flat $50 a month, taxes and fees included.

C Spire 5G Internet” is as described, except it doesn’t use the official 5G standard and will require the installation of a “dinner plate”-sized antenna on one’s home to get the service.

C Spire is using an 802.11 variant with equipment developed by Mimosa and Siklu, leveraging C Spire’s existing 8,400 route miles of fiber infrastructure to extend service wirelessly to each customer without the cost of wiring a fiber optic cable to the home.

Siklu’s EtherHaul products work in conjunction with its point-to-point and point-to-multipoint radios that operate in the 60 and 70-80 GHz millimeter wave bands. Because of the vast amount of spectrum available on these uncongested frequencies, C Spire can provide connections up to 10 Gbps from each small cell site.

C Spire is using Siklu’s EH-600 mmWave backhaul equipment for its fixed wireless internet service in Mississippi.

Mimosa supplies short-range MicroPoP architectures and in limited tower deployments including Mimosa A5 and A5c access devices, Mimosa C5 client devices, and Mimosa N5-360 beamforming antennas.

“Our service is backhauled by Siklu’s carrier grade solutions enabling us to deliver high-speed internet access without the arbitrary data caps usually associated with LTE or satellite services,” said C Spire president Stephen Bye.  “With a flat rate of $50 a month, which includes taxes and fees, our customers can now easily get all of the content they want and need.”

C Spire said it is quickly working to introduce the service in “dozens” of markets in Mississippi, in addition to its earlier plans to offer fixed wireless to over 90,000 locations across its service area. The “5G” fixed wireless service being introduced in Mississippi is not the same as C Spire’s earlier fixed wireless initiative.

Customers report wireless speeds are within a reasonable range of what is advertised, but antenna placement can be critical to get the best speed. It isn’t known how many customers are currently sharing each small cell site, and C Spire has protected itself with a contract clause allowing it to begin data caps, usage based billing, or targeted suspensions for customers deemed to be consuming too much data if network congestion becomes a problem.

Mississippi is broadband-challenged because many of its rural locations are populated with some of the country’s poorest citizens. AT&T, the state’s largest phone company, has shown little interest expanding fiber into many of these areas, especially in northern Mississippi, and the state’s cable companies include Cable One, notorious for being expensive and data-capped. As a result, the state is ranked 49th out of 50 for broadband availability.

C Spire is a regional mobile provider — the sixth largest in the country — and directly provides its own cell service in Memphis, Tenn., Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.

C Spire introduces 120 Mbps fixed wireless internet access for a flat $50 a month in Mississippi. No data caps or throttling. This company produced video introduces the service. (1:23)

Data Cap Vendor Shows Off “Revenue Accelerator,” Helping Cable Companies Monetize Usage

Phillip Dampier July 24, 2018 Consumer News, Data Caps, Net Neutrality No Comments

OpenVault’s technology can automatically slow down “abusers” who use too much internet service.

Cable companies looking for ways to raise prices for their broadband services without spending money on network upgrades may be interested in OpenVault’s “Revenue Accelerator” — a cloud based internet usage measurement system that can help push subscribers into higher priced tiers or warn them when they are about to face punitive overlimit fees for exceeding their monthly usage allowance.

OpenVault’s goal is to monetize customers’ internet usage, making cable operators certain each customer is paying as much as possible for internet service without facing customer-displeasing overlimit fees from exceeding their monthly usage allowance.

“All these solutions are designed really to do of a couple things,” said OpenVault CEO and founder Mark Trudeau, in an interview with FierceTelecom. “One is to drive incremental revenues, and two is to drive costs [for cable operators] down, all with the idea of increasing profit for cable operators.”

OpenVault will collect customers’ usage behaviors, reporting back every 15 minutes how much bandwidth each customer is using, as well as enforcing cable company policies to automatically slow down “abusers” who are sending and receiving more than their fair share of data. Enforced network management, built into the platform, can automatically punish customers based on violations of the ISP’s Acceptable Use Policies. Usage violators are then reported to the cable operator, targeted for future marketing campaigns to upgrade their service to a more expensive tier to avoid further time-outs on the internet slow lane.

The technology is cheap to deploy, relying on a set of command lines inserted into cable modem termination systems that collect Internet Protocol Detail Record data and send it on to OpenVault.

“We measure all that for the operators and then what our Revenue Accelerator product does is it helps them micro-target their upgrade candidates,” Trudeau said. “This can have just really massive impacts on their revenues, to be able to truly not just micro-target the upgrade candidates, but also provide their reps with the ammunition they need and the visibility they need into their customer’s behavior and into their homes so they can intelligently talk to a subscriber.”

OpenVault claims the implementation of usage based billing and data caps are immediate money-makers for operators, both from current customers forced to upgrade to avoid the cap and from overall usage billing that delivers an immediate payday to cable operators without having to invest in expensive upgrades or service improvements.

“In real-number terms, evidence shows an immediate return as some OpenVault customers have enjoyed as much as seven percent of subscribers upgrading their service within 90 days of usage based billing deployment,” the company wrote on its blog. “For some operators, this translates into increased ARPU (average revenue per unit) of over $5 per subscriber per month. OpenVault customers that have deployed usage based billing have experienced increased ARPU ranging from $1.50 up to $12 per subscriber per month.”

Australia’s National Broadband Network Looking for Scapegoats Over Maddening Slowdowns

Australia’s speed-challenged NBN is looking for scapegoats and finds video game players an easy target.

In 2009, Australia’s Labor Party proposed scrapping the country’s copper wire networks and replacing virtually all of it with a state-of-the-art, public fiber to the home service in cities from Perth to the west to Brisbane in the east, with the sparsely populated north and central portions of the country served by satellite-based or wireless internet.

It was a revolutionary transformation of the country’s challenged broadband networks, which had been heavily usage capped and speed throttled for years, and for large sections of the country stuck using Telstra’s DSL service, terribly slow.

The National Broadband Network concept was immediately attacked by the political opposition as too expensive and unnecessary. Conservative demagogues in the media and in Parliament dismissed the concept as a Cadillac network delivering unnecessarily fast 100 Mbps connections to 90% of Australians that would, in reality, mostly benefit internet addicts while leaving older taxpayers to foot the estimated $43AUS billion dollar bill for the network.

The leaders of the center-right Liberal Party of Australia promised in 2010 to “demolish” the NBN if elected, claiming the network was too costly and would take too long to build. As network construction got underway, the organized attacks on the NBN intensified, and it was a significant issue in the 2013 election that defeated the Labor government and put the conservative government of Tony Abbott into power. Almost immediately, most of the governing board of the NBN was asked to resign and in a series of cost-saving maneuvers, the government canceled plans for a nationwide fiber-to-the-home network. In its place, Abbott and his colleagues promoted a cheaper fiber to the neighborhood network similar to AT&T’s U-verse. Fiber would be run to neighborhood cabinets, where it would connect with the country’s existing copper wire telephone service to each customer’s home.

Abbott

Unfortunately, the revised NBN implemented by the Abbott government appears to be delivering a network that is already increasingly obsolete. Long gone is the goal for ubiquitous 100 Mbps. For Senator Mitch Fifield, who also happens to be the minister for communications in the Liberal government, 25 Mbps is all the speed Australians will ever need.

“Given the choice, Australians have shown that 100 Mbps speeds are not as important to them as keeping monthly internet bills affordable, when the services they are using typically don’t require those speeds,” Fifield wrote in an opinion piece in response to an American journalist complaining about how slow Australian broadband was while reporting from the country.

The standard of “fast enough” for Senator Fifield also seems to be the minimum speed at which Netflix performs well, an important distinction for the growing number of Australians watching streaming television shows and movies.

Unfortunately for Fifield, network speeds are declining as Australians use the NBN as it was intended. While perhaps adequate for a network designed and built for 2010 internet users, data usage has grown considerably over the last eight years, and the government’s effort to keep the network’s costs down are coming back to haunt all involved. Several design changes have erased much of the savings the Abbott government envisioned would come from dumping a straight fiber network in favor of cheaper alternatives.

Right now, depending on one’s address, urban Australians will get one of four different fiber flavors the revised NBN depends on to deliver service:

  • Fiber to the Home (FTTH): the most capable network that delivers a fiber connection straight into your home.
  • Fiber to the Neighborhood (FTTN): a less capable network using fiber into neighborhoods which connects with your existing copper wire phone line to deliver service to your home.
  • Fiber to the Basement (FTTB): Fiber is installed in multi-dwelling units like apartments or condos, which connects to the building’s existing copper wire or ethernet network to your unit.
  • Fiber to the Distribution Point (FTTDP): Fiber is strung all the way to your front or back yard, where it connects with the existing copper wire drop line into your home.

In suburban and rural areas, the NBN is depending on tremendously over-hyped satellite internet access or fixed wireless internet. Customers were told wireless speeds from either technology would be comparable to some flavors of fiber, which turned out to be true assuming only one or two users were connected at a time. Instead, speeds dramatically drop in the evenings and on weekends when customers attempt to share the neighborhood’s wireless internet connection.

Instead of improving the wireless network, or scrapping it in favor of a wired/fiber alternative, the government has set on so-called “heavy users” and blamed them for effectively sabotaging the network.

Morrow

NBN CEO Bill Morrow recently appeared before a parliamentary committee to discuss reported problems with how the NBN was being rolled out in regional Australia. Morrow blamed increasing data usage for the wireless network’s difficulties, singling out slacker video game addicts for most of the trouble, and was considering implementing speed throttles on “extreme users” during peak usage periods.

Stephen Jones, Labor’s spokesperson for regional communications, questioned Morrow on what exactly an “extreme user” was.

“It’s gamers predominantly, on fixed wireless,” said Morrow. “While people are gaming it is a high bandwidth requirement that is a steady streaming process,” he said.

Morrow suggested a “fair-use policy” of speed throttles might be effective at stopping the gamers from allegedly hogging the network.

“I said there were super-users out there consuming terabytes of data and the question is should we actually groom those down? It’s a consideration,” he said. “This is where you can do things, to where you can traffic shape – where you say, ‘no, no, no, we can only offer you service when you’re not impacting somebody else’.”

The NBN itself has regularly dismissed claims that online gamers are data hogs. In an article written by the NBN itself, it stressed gameplay was not a significant stress on broadband networks.

“Believe it or not, some of the biggest online games use very little data while you’re playing compared to streaming HD video or even high-fidelity audio,” the article stated. “Where streaming 4K video can use as much as 7 gigabytes per hour and high-quality audio streaming gets up to around 125 megabytes per hour, (but usually sits at around half that) certain online games use as little as 10MB per hour.”

The article admits a very small percentage of games are exceptions, capable of chewing through up to 1 GB per hour, but that is still seven times less than a typical 4K streaming video.

In fact, the NBN’s own data acknowledged in March 2017 that high-definition streaming video was solely responsible for the biggest spike in demand. NBN data showed the average household connected to the NBN used 32% more data than the year before. When Netflix Australia premiered in March 2015, overall usage grew 22% in the first month.

So why did Morrow scapegoat gamers for network slowdowns? It’s politically palatable.

“They always have someone to blame for why the NBN doesn’t deliver, they have every excuse except the one that really matters, which is the flawed technology,” said the former CEO of Internet Australia Laurie Patton. “In this case for some reason shooting from the hip [Bill Morrow] had a go at gamers and gamers are not the problem.”

As long as Australia continues to embrace a network platform that is not adequate robust to cope with increasing demands from users, slow speeds and internet traffic jams will only increase over time. In retrospect, the decision to scrap the original fiber to the home network to save money appears to be penny wise, pound foolish.

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Recent Comments:

  • Dylan: Look at their prices. Absolutely ludicrous compared to many companies, especially Charter Spectrum. I pay $60 a month for 100/10 with unlimited data. ...
  • Paul Houle: For a long time communities have been frustrated in that they don't have any power to negotiate with cable companies. This town refused to enter into...
  • Ian S Littman: To be fair, you aren't wrong. Spectrum likely knows it won't have any competition for years in Lamar, so they'll quickly get take rates of >70% (re...
  • Ian S Littman: Are you in an area that can even get Spectrum service? Because in areas where they actually have to compete, they're actually pretty decent now. Yes,...
  • Ian S Littman: A more odd entry in that list is Chattanooga. The entire area has FTTH via EPB. Yet apparently folks can't swing the $57/mo starting price for 100 Mbp...
  • Ian S Littman: The issue here is that the NY PSC's threats have no teeth because, well, who will take over the cable systems if Spectrum is forced to sell? Either Al...
  • Bill Callahan: Phil, National Digital Inclusion Alliance just published interactive Census tract maps for the entire US based on the same ACS data. Two datapoints a...
  • Carl Moore: The idiots that run the cable companies must be also using drugs...a lot of people are cutting their cable services because of the higher rate and inc...
  • EJ: This will require a New Deal approach. Municipals need the ability to either be granted money or loaned money for broadband expansion. Until this is d...
  • Bob: I also got $1 increase for my 100/10 internet from Spectrum. A rep said it's for the speed increase that's coming in 2019. I complained that I was pro...
  • EJ: It makes sense to focus on wireless considering the government contract they have. The strange thing is they referenced fixed wireless in this article...
  • nick: Interesting how they conveniently leave out (Spectrum TV Choice) streaming service which is also $30/mo ($25/mo for the first 2 years)....

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