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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)

Google Paying $3.84 Million to Louisville to Clean Up Its Aborted Fiber Build

Google’s fiber cables were buried at little as two inches deep in Louisville. Many have resurfaced, as this reporter from WDRB-TV showed in a recent report.

Google Fiber will pay $3.84 million to the city of Louisville to restore roads and damaged public rights-of-way as Google Fiber exits the Louisville market.

Installment payments made over the next 20 months will be spent on:

  • Removing fiber cables and sealant from roads
  • Milling and paving activities where needed
  • Removal of above-ground infrastructure

“Infrastructure in neighborhoods and public properties affected by Google Fiber will look as good or better than they did before the company began construction, just as our franchise agreement stipulated,” said Grace Simrall, the city’s chief of civic innovation & technology.

In addition, Google Fiber is making a $150,000 cash donation to the Community Foundation of Louisville’s Digital Inclusion Fund to support the community’s digital inclusion efforts, which include refurbishing used computers for low-income individuals and the enrollment of public housing residents in low-cost internet access through other companies providing service in Louisville. The company is also planning to make a donation of 275 refurbished computers to the Louisville Metro Housing Authority.

Last summer, Google Fiber discovered its newest underground installation method of “shallow trenching” — laying optical fiber cable just two inches below ground along the sides of roadways and covered with sealant — was ineffective. In short order, the sealant rose above the surface, often exposing fiber cables to damage from the freeze-thaw cycle, road maintenance crews, plows, or just ordinary traffic. An effort to remove and replace the sealant with ordinary asphalt and re-bury the cables appeared to fail as well. That left Google Fiber with a choice between replacing all of its fiber infrastructure, or deciding to give up and leave. It announced the latter in February, and Google Fiber was officially switched off at 11:59pm on April 15.

Simrall suggests it isn’t all bad news.

“It’s clear that Google Fiber’s presence in Louisville led other providers to step up and increase investment in Louisville, and that was good news for consumers everywhere,” Simrall said. “Moreover, we appreciate Google Fiber’s donation to our digital inclusion work, because improving equity in access to technology and digital skills is essential for Louisville’s economy today and tomorrow.”

WDRB-TV in Louisville reports former Google Fiber customers are angry about losing their internet service from the fiber provider. (2:15)

WHAS-TV in Louisville talked to residents concerned about whether the costs to repair the roads damaged by Google Fiber will be adequately covered. (1:57)

Cable War: Ohio Man Allegedly Cuts AT&T Lines That Cross His Property

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2019 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

The phone line was allegedly cut by a neighbor. (Image: WEWS-TV)

A suburban Cleveland, Ohio man allegedly cut an AT&T line that crossed his property and refused to allow repair crews to repair the damage, claiming they were disrespectful and “didn’t have no class.”

The cable cut left Newburgh Heights resident and AT&T customer Willie Griffin without phone, internet, or cable service for over a week, and set the stage for a neighborhood dispute that eventually brought police to the scene.

A reporter from WEWS-TV in Cleveland achieved a breakthrough after calm negotiations with Ron Quinones, who eventually allowed AT&T crews to restore phone and internet service.

“I never ever, ever experienced anything like this, I just can’t believe that this happening,” Griffin told News 5. “He told the AT&T guy, that yes he cut the line, and that he’s going to cut my neighbor’s line, and any line that’s running though his yard.”

A police report claimed Quinones admitted to officers he intentionally caused the damage, and told police he was advised to do it by an unidentified utility worker.

“[Quinones] said that he complained to another worker about the [leaning utility pole] and all the wires coming off of it and hanging too low to the ground,” the police report states. “The utility worker said that the fastest way to get it fixed would be if [Quinones] cut them because then they would have to come fix them.”

When AT&T crews initially arrived to repair the lines instead of replacing the utility pole, Quinones would not allow them on his property, claiming he feared for their safety and the safety of his garage. The utility pole owner, FirstEnergy, later conducted a full inspection and denied the pole was unsafe.

The cut cable was located at Griffin’s home where AT&T’s network interface box connected the overhead line with the home’s inside wiring. AT&T crews sought to replace the overhead drop line from the utility pole to Griffin’s home, which initially caused Quinones to object because the utility pole serving her home is behind his. After the dispute attracted coverage from Cleveland’s ABC affiliate, Quinones relented.

“If the cable goes through and he can get it up there without damaging my property, I don’t have a problem with it,” Quinones told the station.

No charges appeared to be filed and the only formal rebuke seems to be a warning from both Newburgh Heights police and FirstEnergy advising residents that tampering with utility lines was unsafe and could result in criminal charges.

WEWS in Cleveland found itself mediating a neighborhood dispute over a cut AT&T line. (1:52)

Fox Nation Streaming Video Service Convinces 85% of Free Trial Users to Subscribe

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2019 Consumer News, Online Video, Video No Comments

The CEO of Fox News told Variety in an exclusive story that 85% of consumers who sign up for a free one-week trial of Fox Nation, the company’s new paid streaming video service, convert to a paid subscription by the end of the trial.

The streaming service Fox News launched last fall claims to offer thousands of hours of video, including live shows, documentaries, short-form video, and commentaries designed to appeal to the average Fox News viewing fan. Current Fox News personalities are also on hand with additional material. Sean Hannity, the network’s biggest star, is contributing the opening monologue from his weekday radio show as well as other features.

“Media is changing fast,” Hannity told Variety, “and I especially think that traditional television viewing has changed forever. Netflix and Amazon and all of these other options that people are offering – there are so many choices now. The safest two businesses to be in are live sports and live news, and I really think they are the ones people will go to for appointment viewing. Otherwise, you can just watch on demand any time you want, and people will just choose that.”

The service is priced at $5.99 a month or $64.99 annually.

‘UN-PC’ co-hosts Tyrus and Britt McHenry interview Fox Nation hosts about their new streaming shows. (3:38)

‘Frontier is a Black Hole’ – Customers Left With Unreliable Service for Weeks in Rochester

Phillip Dampier March 28, 2019 Consumer News, Frontier, Video 3 Comments

One of Frontier Communication’s largest legacy service areas is suffering from some of the same bad service reported by rural communities in states like California, Minnesota, and Florida.

News10NBC reports that some customers in Rochester, N.Y. have spent “weeks without reliable telephone service and very few answers.”

Frontier landline customer Andy Melnyk says the problems with his phone service began six weeks ago. The line frequently goes dead with no dial tone, and customers calling the Rochester family get nothing but a busy signal.

“I thought okay, they fixed it, let it go and then it happened again,” Melnyk reports. Despite the service problems, Frontier has not offered any bill credits, or a satisfactory explanation for the problem.

“[It’s] just like a black hole, you can’t find anything out,” Melnyk’s wife Kay told the station. “They’re not being very transparent about what the problem is, [and] what they’re doing to solve it.”

The Melnyk family is not alone. Other Frontier customers in the neighborhood are dealing with the same issue.

It took News10NBC to get involved to get a statement from Frontier, claiming the problem is a wet copper cable.

“Frontier technicians are working to repair a large-diameter copper cable damaged when recent rainstorms flooded an underground vault,” Frontier said in a statement. “Services were restored for affected customers by March 7, however, the permanent repair process needed to splice new cable is complex and takes time. We expect to finish the work this weekend. We thank our customers and the communities we serve for their patience as Frontier crews work safely and diligently to maintain our network and keep communities connected.”

Maintaining deteriorating copper wire infrastructure that other phone companies discarded years ago in favor of fiber optics can be complex and time-consuming. But other companies have found upgrading to fiber has given their networks more reliability and happier customers. But Frontier has shown no signs of launching fiber upgrades for customers in their legacy copper wire service areas.

Meanwhile, when asked if Frontier customers will receive bill credits for the problems, a Frontier spokesperson told the station they will consider that on a “case by case basis.”

WHEC in Rochester reports Frontier customers in parts of Rochester, N.Y. have experienced weeks of bad service and are not getting any answers why. (2:36)

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  • 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 ...
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  • 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....
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