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Verizon’s Rush to Mobile 5G Was Mostly About Bragging Rights and Beating South Korea

Verizon’s not-quite-ready-for-prime-time mobile 5G network hurriedly held a public launch event April 3rd using a small network of 5G millimeter wave small cells installed in downtown Chicago and Minneapolis, despite employee admissions there were significant issues with the network’s reliability, coverage, and stability.

Driving Verizon was a chance to win bragging rights by claiming ownership of the world’s first, publicly available, mobile 5G network. In a company-produced video intended for employees, it quickly becomes apparent Verizon was preoccupied by South Korea’s own race to launch mobile 5G, and daily meetings at Verizon’s offices in New Jersey hinted at pressure to announce Verizon’s own 5G launch day as soon as possible.

It was also clearly a priority for Verizon’s new CEO, Hans Vestberg.

“Since I came into Verizon, this is the first thing I wanted to do,” Vestberg said. “I want to be first on 5G in the world.”

But was the network ready for launch and fit for purpose? As of April 1, there were still coverage, latency, and speed issues. Garima Garg, from Verizon’s Network Performance, said the 5G network was “very unstable” early in the first week of April. Attempts to test every smart cell in Chicago were unsuccessful. Garg said the team couldn’t connect to several of them.

Besides beating South Korea, Verizon’s goal was to launch 5G with speeds better than its 4G LTE network and AT&T’s enhanced 4G LTE service it calls “5Ge.” To test network performance, Verizon employees ran countless speed tests, often just across the street from light pole-mounted smart cells around 100 feet away. Just a day or so from launch, Verizon testers were still trying to address network problems, including packet loss and delayed acknowledgments on the TCP side of the uplink, which ‘really hurt speed.’ Verizon claims it resolved some of these problems in the final hours before launch with a custom software build.

Verizon’s efforts almost came to naught, because SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest wireless operator, suddenly surprised the public with a star-studded “5G Launching Showcase” the morning of the 3rd. SK Telecom technically beat Verizon’s attempt to be first to launch, but Verizon pointed out only a handful of celebrities, social media influencers and so-called “brand promoters” were given smartphones capable of connecting to SK Telecom’s 5G network. Verizon’s spin was that South Korea’s launch was effectively a publicity stunt, as no consumer could walk into a store and buy 5G capable devices on that date. Verizon’s launch, however, would be different. Any customer could immediately walk into a Verizon store in the two launch cities and walk out with a smartphone capable of connecting to 5G on the first day the network was switched on. Just in case SK Telecom had any other surprises planned, Verizon decided to move up its official launch date.

Garg (Image courtesy of: Verizon)

On the morning of April 3, Vestberg appeared in a friendly and exclusive CNBC interview announcing the launch of Verizon’s 5G mobile network. By the following day, tech reporters in Chicago gave the network its first thorough test, and found many of the same issues that had concerned Verizon engineers earlier that week. Not only was Verizon’s 5G service area miniscule, several small cells appeared not to be working at all (or at least were not available for connections), and after a day using Verizon’s 5G network, the service was deemed “unreliable” by PC.

Reporters used Moto Z3 phones with the new 5G Moto Mod back panel, which snaps on the back of the phone and delivers 5G connectivity to the Z3. The Mod concept is neither an elegant or inexpensive solution, turning the Z3 into a bulky and heavy handset. The Moto Mod also has its own battery, and not a high-capacity one at that. Testers reported it was dead after five hours of significant use. It cannot be recharged by the phone either. At some locations, reporters were able to verify Verizon’s 5G network did deliver a significant improvement in speed — up to 600 Mbps peaks on small cells that likely had few, if any other customers connected at the time. But the densest parts of Chicago’s downtown were already well-served by Verizon’s 4G LTE network, which capably peaked at 400 Mbps.

Verizon’s mobile 5G network relies on millimeter wave frequencies, which are very short-range and sensitive to solid objects, which can block or degrade the signal. Despite Verizon’s earlier claim that it saw better than anticipated range and performance from the company’s millimeter wave fixed wireless service running in a few other cities, real world testing showed the effective range of Verizon’s smart cells was less than expected for mobile users. Verizon claimed up to 800 feet of range from each 5G small cell, but testing found that claim wildly optimistic.

“I saw more like 300 feet of effective range, with speeds dropping below LTE levels beyond that, even though my 5G indicator would dutifully flicker on until about 450 feet,” reported PC’s
Sascha Segan. “The Mod seems unable to judge when a 4G connection would be better than a 5G one, so it hangs on to 5G for dear life even if it’s just eking out a few megabits. A phone should probably prefer a good lower-gen connection over a poor higher-gen one.”

Real world testing also revealed the expected shortcomings of mobile 5G — it can be downright terrible indoors.

“Stand under the cell site, you get 600 Mbps down. Go into the Starbucks, through glass, and that’s cut to 218 Mbps,” Segan wrote. “Go around the corner and duck into the lobby of a stone building that doesn’t face onto the site, and you’re down to 41.5 Mbps. Lower frequency bands do not have this behavior.”

Of course, it is early days for Verizon’s 5G and network and software improvements are likely to significantly improve service. But Verizon’s experience strengthens the theory that small cells are likely to thrive only in dense population areas where there is already a high traffic demand. It seems unlikely that Verizon’s 5G network will make economic sense to deploy in outer suburbs and rural areas. It may not even play well in the suburbs.

Verizon produced this video covering the challenges launching their mobile 5G network in Chicago and Minneapolis in early April. (12:34)

Stop the Cap! Analysis: Charter Spectrum and New York State Reach Tentative Deal

Charter Communications and the New York Department of Public Service announced a tentative settlement Friday that would allow Spectrum to continue providing cable TV, phone, and internet service in New York in return for a renewed commitment from the cable company to meet its 145,000 new passings rural broadband buildout agreement, commit to an expansion of that rural buildout, and in lieu of fines, pay $12 million in funds deposited in two escrow accounts to be used to help defray the costs of further broadband service extensions apart from Charter’s original commitments.

“Today the New York Department of Public Service jointly filed a proposed agreement with Charter Communications to resolve disputes over the network expansion conditions imposed by the Public Service Commission,” said Department of Public Service CEO John B. Rhodes in a statement issued Friday. “This proposed agreement will now be issued for a 60-day public comment period and remains subject to review and final action by the Public Service Commission.”

The agreement reinforces the state’s desire that Charter’s broadband expansion commitment be met by expanding service to homes and businesses in areas unlikely to get cable service otherwise, namely areas in Upstate New York. The state originally objected when Charter tried to count new passings in the highly populated New York City area as part of its expansion commitment. The new agreement requires the 145,000 homes and businesses newly passed be entirely Upstate, and completed no later than Sept. 30, 2021.

Only 64,827 new passings have been recognized by both parties as “completed” as of December, 2018

The proposed settlement gives insight into just how badly Charter failed to meet its original broadband expansion commitments, noting “Charter shall be deemed successfully to have completed 64,827 passings qualifying towards the Total Passings requirements of the Settlement Agreement and the 2019 Settlement Order, as of December 16, 2018.”

Charter’s record of failure on its rural expansion commitment is stark.

The original 2016 Merger Order required Charter to expand service to:

  • 36,250 premises by May 18, 2017
  • 72,500 by May 18, 2018
  • 108,750 by May 18, 2019
  • 145,000 by May 18, 2020

Charter did not even come close. Department Interim CEO Gregg C. Sayre said in 2017 that as of May 18 of that year, Charter had only extended its network to pass 15,164 of the 36,250 premises it was required to pass in just the first year after the merger.

In June 2017, New York fined Charter and required a $13 million ($12 million refundable to Charter if it complied) deposit be placed in escrow in an effort to get the company to comply with its buildout commitments. But Charter also failed to meet its commitments under that settlement as well:

  • 36,771 premises by Feb. 16, 2017
  • 58,417 by June 18, 2018
  • 80,063 by Dec. 16, 2018
  • 101,708 by May 18, 2019
  • 123,354 by Nov. 16, 2019
  • 145,000 by May 18, 2020

With just shy of 65,000 premises recognized as completed as of December, 2018 — almost three years after the merger — Charter was 15,236 premises short, based on the December 16, 2018 deadline. Within a few weeks from today, the company should have completed its 101,708th new passing. That seems extremely unlikely to actually happen.

Charter itself claimed in July, 2018, “Spectrum has extended the reach of our advanced broadband network to more than 86,000 New York homes and businesses since our merger agreement with the PSC.” That number is also suspect.

The company did not say if the expansion numbers it reported met the terms of the 2016 Merger Order, but Charter obviously thought those should be counted as legitimate new passings for the purpose of meeting its merger obligations. New York regulators clearly thought many of those expansions did not, and were infuriated when Charter began airing advertisements promoting its rural expansion in New York with what the state believed to be inflated numbers.

The Settlement

A review of the proposed legal settlement shows the Commission accepted many of the recommendations made by Stop the Cap! regarding the terms of any deal that would rescind last summer’s order revoking approval for the merger of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications in New York State. We recommended the settlement focus on requiring an even greater expansion of rural broadband than originally envisioned, particularly in areas the state designated for HughesNet satellite internet access. We also recommended that any monetary fines be directed to further expansion of rural broadband, instead of being sent on to Albany to be added to the state’s general fund.

We noted that although Charter flagrantly violated the terms of the 2016 Merger Order, successfully removing the company from New York would likely result in years of litigation, and the likely entry of Comcast, which in our view is anti-consumer, and a much worse choice in terms of pricing and the quality of customer service. Comcast also imposes data caps in many of its service areas, a concept which Stop the Cap! obviously fiercely opposes. In our view, given a choice between Charter and Comcast, which would be the highly likely outcome, New York consumers would benefit (slightly) by keeping Spectrum service.

The terms

Reach 145,000 unserved/underserved New Yorkers with at least 100 Mbps internet access

  • Charter is recommitted to expand rural internet service to 145,000 New Yorkers qualified as unserved (download speeds less than 25 Mbps available) or underserved (download speeds of 25-99.9 Mbps) entirely within Upstate New York.

Schoharie, NY

To ensure Charter does not simply choose “low-hanging fruit” to wire, such as new housing starts or urban business parks, the agreement limits Charter expansions to no more than 9,500 addresses in the urban and suburban areas adjacent to Albany, Buffalo, Mt. Vernon, Rochester, Schenectady, and Syracuse.

Additionally, Charter is restricted from expanding service to no more than 9,400 addresses that are scheduled to get (or already have) access to another wired provider because of a grant from the New NY Broadband Program.

But Charter is allowed to expand service to reach not more than 30,000 customers stuck on New York’s list of addresses designated to get HughesNet satellite internet. Stop the Cap! strongly recommended the Commission do all it can to require or encourage Charter to reach as many satellite-designated New Yorkers as economically feasible. The proposed agreement takes our recommendation into account, but we will urge the Commission to strike the 30,000 cap and allow Charter to reach as many of these disadvantaged customers as possible, and have it count towards their broadband expansion commitment. Those addresses designated to receive satellite service are the least likely to be reached by any commercial provider because of the costs to reach them, and they are too scattered across the state to make a public broadband alternative feasible.

Charter gets to include some ‘already-in-progress new passings’ towards its 145,000 new passings commitment: 5,993 passings located within Upstate Cities Charter would likely have serviced anyway; 4,388 wired overlap passings (where an existing telco or cable provider already offers service), and 9,397 addresses where wireless or satellite service was the only option.

A new “milestones” schedule is included for new buildouts, which partly explains why so many rural New Yorkers expecting to receive service by now are complaining about delays:

  • 76,521 new premises by Sept. 30, 2019
  • 87,934 by Jan. 31, 2020
  • 99,347 by May 31, 2020
  • 110,760 by Sept. 30, 2020
  • 122,173 by Jan. 31, 2021
  • 133,586 by May 31, 2021
  • 145,000 by Sept. 30, 2021

If Charter again fails to stay on schedule, it must pay $2,800 for each designated-as-missed passing address into an escrow fund. If it chooses not to appeal that decision, or loses an appeal, those funds will be added to an Incremental Build Commitment fund described below.

Rural Broadband Expansion Fund #1 ($6 million) — Incremental Build Commitment

The first rural broadband expansion fund will contain $6 million dollars that Charter will pay into escrow and will be dedicated to defray Charter’s costs of constructing additional broadband passings above and beyond the 145,000 noted above. Charter itself or the state can designate the unserved addresses either want serviced, and Charter will be permitted to withdraw funds to pay for materials, construction, labor, licensing, and any permits required for these incremental expansion efforts. This money will be reserved for Charter to use for its own projects.

Rural Broadband Expansion Fund #2 ($6 million) — Incremental Broadband Fund

Although New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised broadband service for any New Yorker that wants it, his New NY Broadband Program left more than 80,000 New York homes and businesses behind because the program relied on private companies to bid to serve each unserved/underserved New York address. In especially rural areas, no company ultimately bid to reach those addresses because the subsidy funding offered by the state was too little to make the expansion investment worthwhile. In the end, those addresses were designated to be served by HughesNet, a satellite internet service provider. But HughesNet cannot guarantee its internet speeds, has draconian usage caps, and is very expensive. Customer satisfaction scores are also generally poor. For most, a wired internet solution is far preferable. To get one, New York would need to launch a new round of broadband funding, with a more generous subsidy to make construction costs to reach those unserved customers financially worthwhile.

The second $6 million rural expansion fund is more or less exactly that — an additional source of funds to try to reach those missed by earlier funding rounds. Most of the money in this fund would be awarded after a bidding process starting on or after Sept. 30, 2021. Any provider capable of offering customers at least 100 Mbps service will be qualified to participate in the first round of bidding to receive a portion of this money. The areas under consideration would be in existing Charter franchise areas or outside of a Charter-franchised area if both Charter and New York’s Broadband Program Office (BPO) agree. In most cases, for reasons of simplicity, we expect most this money will end up financing expansion projects just outside of Charter’s existing service area. So if you happened to live within a mile or two of an existing Charter customer, this money could be used by Charter to extend its network in your direction. Charter also enjoys the right of first refusal, an important advantage for the cable company. Charter could agree to service a designated address before it becomes open to a competitive bidding process.

The terms are generous to providers, who only have to agree to pay 20% of their own money to submit a cost-sharing bid. The fund would cover the remaining 80%, which would be particularly useful where the cost to extend a fiber connection to a rural neighborhood or development would run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The downside is that $6 million will not go very far in these high cost areas, where a single project could easily exhaust $50,000-100,000 just to reach a handful of homes and businesses. Assuming there are any funds left, the BPO will entertain bids in later rounds from wireless providers delivering at least 25 Mbps service, assuming no wired provider submits a bid. But it is just as likely the funds will be long gone before that happens. The state needs to choose the wording of its terms carefully. Charter could easily apply for funds to buildout new housing tracts or large development projects and business parks the company would have reached anyway. We recommend restricting these funds exclusively to projects that would otherwise fail a bidder’s own Return On Investment formula.

Stop the Cap! intends to be a participant in the comment round and we will share with readers our formal comments as they are submitted.

Potential Optical Fiber Breakthrough: New Spin Lasers Might Deliver 240 Gigabits Per Second

Phillip Dampier April 18, 2019 Broadband Speed 1 Comment

Circular polarization (Image courtesy of: Dave3457)

German researchers are testing a new way of transferring data over optical fiber using a new laser polarization method that could boost the capacity of a single strand of fiber from 25 gigabits per second to as fast as 240 gigabits per second, while greatly reducing power consumption and heat.

The technique relies on oscillating polarization in the light beam instead of more traditional methods that rely on light intensity to transmit data. Current methods differentiate between digital “1s” and “0s” by using different light intensity.

“Normally, you make the throughput faster by pumping the laser harder, which automatically means you consume a lot of power and produce a lot of heat,” said Nils Gerhardt, chair of photonics and terahertz technology at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. “Which is actually a big problem for today’s server farms. But the bandwidth in our concept does not depend on the power consumption. We have the same bandwidth even [at] low currents.”

Using lower current means a less expensive power bill, particularly to remove excess heat generated from the high intensity beams of light sent across fiber cables in places like data centers. The new technique encodes a “1” as a burst of circularly polarized light that corkscrews to the left, while a “0” is represented by a burst of the same polarized light, only it corkscrews to the right. Right now, the technology is at the “proof of concept” stage in the lab, but the idea of light spinning has been around since at least 1997. The goal is to efficiently boost transmission capacity across optical fiber strands, which currently tops out at between 40-50 gigabits per second.

One of the benefits of optical fiber in fiber to the home applications is that it is considered almost infinitely upgradable, depending on laser transmission technology improvements. Currently, multiple strands of fiber are used in dedicated, very high-speed applications. If a provider uses all of its fiber strand capacity, it may have to divert excess traffic or lay down more fiber. Gerhardt’s technology could eventually expand existing fiber strand capacity by five times or more if it proves workable. But Gerhardt warns there is much research to complete, and he envisions the technology would be most useful initially in server farms and data centers, where cable lengths are shorter and heat concerns are greater. The technology would have to prove itself before being considered for internet backbone applications.

Competing technologies that could come to market before Gerhardt’s method include “mode-locked semiconductor laser diodes” and “quantum cascade lasers,” but neither have been successful much above 100 gigabits per second.

Amazon Planning to Launch Satellite Internet for Rural Communities Worldwide

Amazon is planning to finance the launch of a new global satellite internet service, powered by a fleet of more than 3,000 low Earth-orbiting satellites that will deliver high-speed internet service to rural underserved and unserved communities, opening up the possibility of millions of potential new Amazon.com customers.

Known as Project Kuiper, named after a famous Dutch-American astronomer, the project is enthusiastically backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and will require billions of dollars in investment. The proposal claims Amazon will launch 3,236 small satellites into space in about a decade, which experts claim is plenty of time for the ambitious project to either flourish, be changed, or scrapped under pressure from Wall Street.

“Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet. We look forward to partnering on this initiative with companies that share this common vision.”

Although the marketing focus of the project will be on reaching rural and unserved areas, the satellite broadband network would deliver data coverage anywhere within a range of 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south latitude, which would cover virtually every continent, except extreme South America, Antarctica, parts of far northern Russia, Alaska, and Canada. About 95 percent of the world’s population would be reached by Amazon’s satellite project. Most similar ventures promise much faster and more responsive service than traditional satellite internet service, at a much lower cost.

Kuiper

But CNBC reported the road to the next generation of satellite internet access “is littered with companies that tried, and failed, to pull off a coup in space-based internet.”

  • 2015: Facebook scrapped plants to spend up to $1 billion on satellite internet access for Africa and other under-covered continents.
  • 2002: Teledesic closed its doors after spending $9 billion on a similar low Earth-orbiting satellite project backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Amazon could have competition if any of the projects still in progress actually begin offering service.

Amazon has very deep pockets and has the financial capacity to fully fund the project, but not without likely protests from investors concerned about the cost and history of earlier flopped ventures. Additional details can be found in these three sets of filings made with the International Telecommunications Union last month by the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of the Amazon-backed venture.

Charter Spectrum Sending Scare Letters Over Google Fiber’s Demise in Louisville

Charter Communications is sending letters to consumers in some Google Fiber cities warning that the hotly anticipated fiber to the home provider is “canceling internet service in Louisville — don’t wait to be the next city.”

But no worries, Charter adds. “Spectrum is here for you.”

Spectrum is offering consumers in cities like Raleigh 400/20 Mbps internet $29.99 a month, price-locked for three years. (Image courtesy: News & Observer)

The letter includes an offer for Spectrum’s best internet deal, available only to addresses identified as already getting high-speed internet competition from at least two other providers — 400/20 Mbps internet service for $29.99 a month, price-locked for three years. In contrast, Google Fiber customers in the Triangle region of North Carolina pay $50 a month for 100 Mbps or $70 a month for 1,000 Mbps. That makes Spectrum’s offer a better deal, with for four times the download speed Google offers on its lower-priced plan.

Raleigh’s News & Observer spoke with Joe Mancini, head of sales for Google Fiber’s Triangle region. Mancini called Spectrum’s letter a “scare tactic.” Spectrum had no comment.

The letter could connect with would-be Google Fiber customers still waiting for service. Since being announced in the area in September 2006, Google Fiber’s first target was the community of Morrisville. As of today, the service is available in selected areas as far east as downtown Raleigh, and in Chapel Hill, southern and downtown Durham, and adjacent areas. But Google Fiber still has a long way to go to reach the entire region.

Google Fiber announced it was pulling out of Louisville, Ky., after a failed experiment microtrenching its fiber optic cables just a few inches underground. That proved disastrous, with cables emerging above ground as a result of incidental digging, erosion, road construction, freeze-thaw cycles, and in some cases, pets. Realizing it would have to scrap the entire project and start anew, Google instead decided to abandon the city, switching off existing customers on April 15.

Google has significantly slowed expansion of its fiber network over the last few years, and at one point signaled its future attention would focus on urban wireless mesh technology that would work like high-speed Wi-Fi. But that project seems to be dragging as well. As a result, some consumers may worry if Google is in the broadband business for the long haul. Mancini says the company is, and has continued expansion into new parts of the region earlier this year.

“I would encourage folks to disregard this obvious scare tactic. Google Fiber is here to stay,” he said in a phone interview with the newspaper. “We love it here, and we are working harder every day to bring faster internet coverage. I am knocking on doors to talk to potential customers right now, and our customer base and the network is growing every month. We served our first customers in Chapel Hill earlier this year and downtown Durham, as well.”

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Recent Comments:

  • Ed: On the money that was just bragging rights. Later this year when 5G home equipment is released and in Q1 2020 when they roll out dynamic spectrum sha...
  • TJ: I called on 4/22/19 to cancel services because my bill was too high. They sent me to the cancellation department and the guy just said ok the service ...
  • Michelle D Loewy: No internet service at the home all day Tuesday and still none today. No reason given just that the Western North Carolina area is down. Has anything ...
  • william carter: got my spectrum bill yesterday. It went up $16 per month. I called CS and they said my 1 yr promotion is gone on my internet and i have to pay full ...
  • New Yorker: Sold a penny puppet-show to appease us (We The People) and then sold out for millions/billions. F**k this country already....
  • Dorairaj Isaac: I would like to return the products for a refund...
  • EJ: I hope they are ready to do this all over again when Charter does basically nothing again. Hopefully they will use this extension to come up with a Pl...
  • Phillip Dampier: Public Comments: http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/Comments/PublicComments.aspx?MatterCaseNo=15-M-0388...
  • Phillip Dampier: The reason they are lumping the two together at this point is because there are not a lot of attractive territories left to bid on. Even when the stat...
  • Paul Houle: For me the $60,000 question is this: how do I submit comments to NYS about this plan? I went looking on the PSC web site and it wasn't clear at all....
  • Phillip Dampier: ELP is still being left intact by Spectrum, but they keep raising the price to discourage people from using it. Unfortunately, since the violations pe...
  • Wayne Martin: From the beginning I have disagreed with the lumping together the "underserved" with those of us who have nothing. The underserved already have speeds...

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