Category Archives: Dodd on the Line

Broadband: A Key to Innovation

Robust broadband networks are key enablers of innovation. Without these ubiquitous networks entrepreneurs cannot instantly reach customers. The electronics that power modern fiber optic networks enable them to carry hundreds of simultaneous streams of voice, video and data under oceans and across countries. High-speed networks are a major factor in lowering the cost of entry for entrepreneurs developing innovative services.

The biggest change in broadband networks is the development of resilient, high-capacity 4th generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile networks. LTE networks are designed for data and enable the transmission of video, and data streams that transmit health-monitoring applications that remotely monitor blood pressure and diabetes data. Imaging data on broadband networks allow physicians to analyze x-ray and MRI images from health care facilities in remote locations.  Mobile networks transmit banking and money transfer applications to developing countries in Asia and Africa that foster commerce.

The increased availability, capacity and speed of broadband and mobile networks enable social networks, cloud computing and video innovators including Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix to offer pioneering services to smartphones, tablet computers and set-top boxes via Wi-Fi and mobile networks.

Without the availability of home Wi-Fi and broadband Internet access, it would not be feasible for start-ups to launch innovative services for social networks. Mapping, online video games, and travel applications used with Google, Apple, and TenCent in China are a direct result of the availability of broadband.

Netflix is an over-the-top video provider that streams movies and television over the Internet to mobile devices and TVs. They have more customers than any other cable TV provider in the United States and are expanding into Europe and Latin America. Other over-the-top providers benefiting from high-capacity broadband include Amazon’s Lovefilm in Germany and the UK; and Rakuten Inc.’s Wuaki.tv in Spain. It’s economically feasible to offer low cost video streaming to millions of customers without building costly cable TV networks.

Worldwide connectivity is a double-edged sword with challenges as well as opportunities. When everyone can be connected to everyone else, thorny Issues of privacy, hacker attacks, and cyber terrorism emerge.

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Wi-Fi: Traffic Spikes Driving Improvements

January 2014

When educational institutions, hospitals, and enterprises first installed Wi-Fi, wireless was seen as a convenience to staff and frequently as “nice to have”. Smartphones and tablet computers are now ubiquitous in organizations and Wi-Fi is regularly viewed as a critical service. It’s common for organizations’ networks to have more wireless devices than desktop computers. This has created congestion in Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi support for high-definition video

Increases in video traffic streamed over home networks to high-definition TVs via Apple TV and Roku type set-top boxes and game consoles are congesting Wi-Fi home networks. It’s not unusual for home networks to have multiple TVs streaming Internet based movies and TV in contention with wireless traffic to smart phones and tablet computers. Moreover, schools are starting to give students tablet computers such as Chromebooks for homework assignments. Chromebooks require an Internet connection to operate.

What is 802.11ac Wi-Fi?

802.11ac is the proposed Wi-Fi standard that has been developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE). It will eventually transmit signals at gigabit speeds and thus has been informally dubbed Gigabit Ethernet. Although, the IEEE expects the standard to be approved in early 2014, first generation 802.11ac gear is now available that meets the proposed standard.

Will Gigabit Wi-Fi interoperate with older Wi-Fi equipment?

Yes, 802.11ac will interoperate with Wi-Fi equipment based on earlier protocols. The non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance certifies interoperability between Wi-Fi equipment that is based on IEEE standards. The 802.11ac gear certified by the Alliance has been tested to interoperate with older Wi-Fi equipment as well as other manufacturers’ 80211ac access points and handheld devices.

How is 802.11ac different than older Wi-Fi protocols?

802.11ac gear operates on the higher, less crowded, 5-gigahertz frequency. 802.11b and 802.11g, operate on the 2.4-gigahertz. 802.11a and 802.11n also operate at 5-gigahertz. In addition, 802.11ac uses beamforming and wider channels that are discussed below.

What about interoperability between portable devices and access points with 802.11ac?

To take advantage of capacity increases, both user devices and Wi-Fi access points must be equipped with 802.11ac chips.

Is 802.11ac equipment available?

Some new smartphones such as Samsung and HTC models include chips for 802.11ac first generation Wi-Fi. Most manufacturers including Apple, Linksys, Cisco, and Aerohive offer routers with built in 802.11ac capability. Interestingly, Apple equips its Wi-Fi router and Air laptop with 802.11ac, but not its new iPhone 5S.

Which technologies enable 802.11ac’s capacity?

Beamforming, the ability to transmit concentrated streams of data to single devices is a key element. Beamforming is analogous to a hose whose nozzle concentrates water into multiple single streams rather than spreading the stream of water over a wide area. 802.11ac routers are equipped with multiple antennas each with beamforming capability.

Another key element is Gigabit Wi-Fi’s wider channels. Wider channels carry more bits per second on each wireless channel. Importantly, 802.11ac gear is equipped with powerful computer chips able to process more data, faster.

What are some installation tips?

802.11ac access points should be installed in areas with high concentrations of traffic. It’s critical to check with vendors that supply wireless security services such as wireless intrusion protection systems to make sure they can decipher 802.11ac’s signals.

Are there any infrastructure upgrades required when installing 802.11ac access points?

Data grade cabling that supports Gigabit speeds is required in business networks to support gigabit access points. Enterprises without this cabling may need costly cable between each 802.11ac access point and switches in wiring closets. Enterprises may also need additional power for each of the 802.11ac access points.

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What can be salvaged in natural disasters?

December 2012

 

Given that it is not realistic for most organizations to assume that their facilities are safe during natural disasters that are occurring with greater frequency and ferocity, it is critical that plans be made to salvage key computer files. If key data can be recovered after the disaster, it is more likely that the organization can survive.

Cloud based backup for enterprises and schools

The advent of virtualization, where many files can be stored on powerful servers, and cloud-based storage has made backing up data at geographically dispersed sites affordable for small and medium size organizations.

Cloud services take advantage of economies of scale by enabling many organizations to share servers at large data centers and access their files via the Internet. Mozy.com and Amazon are just two of the many organizations offering cloud-based backup.

Mobile access to files during weather emergencies

Mobile access to data is attractive because it is more likely that mobile service rather wired broadband will be available during not quite so dire conditions such as storms that knock out power or instances where outside cabling to the public network is cut.

Cellular modems

Using a cellular modem integrated into routers is an option for organizations that want a low-cost back-up plan in the event that their wired broadband is not available. This is feasible in areas where 4th generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile service is available.

While LTE does not have as much capacity as wired broadband, it is adequate for limited service for key applications or staff during outages. Thus, cellular modems installed in the organization’s router can be used to access remote files and email.

The backup decision

Telephone companies and mobile carriers as well as commercial organizations are faced with the dilemma of how much money to invest in back-up systems to protect their network during natural disasters such as hurricanes. These back-up systems don’t add revenue, as do investments in new technologies that enable new features. No organization likes to use valuable resources on technologies that don’t improve the bottom line.

Vulnerabilities during Sandy Flooding & high winds

Network equipment located in the basement is vulnerable to flooding. This happened to Verizon’s switching and network equipment located in their facility adjacent to the World Trade Center, despite precautions Verizon had taken to prevent flooding. Many other telephone companies in the same area of lower Manhattan lost equipment damaged by flooding, which led to widespread outages.

Repairing cell sites was a challenge because high winds knocked down trees as well as towers, blocking roads for repair trucks trying to reach cell towers in these areas.

Power losses 

Power losses were the largest challenge during Hurricane Sandy. Cell sites with generators had enough gas for only 8 to 12 hours. To add to the problem, supplying additional fuel to the generators was difficult because New York and New Jersey were hit by gas shortages. Even more problematic is the fact that not all mobile networks had back-up generators at their cell sites.

The FCC’s steps

The federal government has an interest in sustainable networks to assure access to 911. They also see reliable infrastructure as critical to communications in the event of a terrorist attack. In April 2011, The FCC began an inquiry into the public networks’ reliability. One concern is that back-up generators only operate for up to 12 hours. Another is that not all cell sites have power backup. 

 

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Saving Money on Network Costs

In a similar fashion to airlines, and hotels, carriers and Internet service providers are tacking on more fees, which are consuming increasingly higher percentages of bills. Decreasing revenue for long distance, and Internet access have spurred carriers to add fees that they list at the end of bills along with taxes.

Up until a few years ago, customers saved money on long distance by selecting carriers with the lowest cost per minute and T-1 or T-3 rates. This strategy is no longer adequate. Organizations that are vigilant about checking accuracy of fees on data and voice bills, analyzing capacity on broadband Internet access, and bill accuracy to avoid waste can often save money monthly.

Internet Access
Requirements for additional Internet access are skyrocketing, spurred by growth in video on internal networks, employees’ remote access to files and email, and customers’ connections to online information, such as schools’ calendars, lunch menus, course content, and, product updates. In addition, organizations are increasingly using video and multi-media applications.

How can institutions manage Internet access requirements?
Organizations that monitor traffic levels on Internet connections can ensure that their networks are not overbuilt, but have inadequate capacity during traffic peaks. Most carriers, if requested, provide traffic reports indicating percentage of utilization in peak and average periods. These statistics should be checked to ensure that new capacity is in fact needed, and to understand how often circuits are at capacity.

What about voice and fax lines?
Traffic on voice trunks, while perhaps not growing, should be monitored. No traffic may indicate a repair problem or excess capacity

The most efficient way to design voice networks is to put all voice calls on one large group of trunks. Rather than for example, separate groups of trunks for incoming, and outgoing traffic, or particular departments. This is because one large group of trunks can carry more traffic than an equal number dispersed among multiple groups

Telephone numbers billed individually should be checked to make sure they’re in service. If there’s a doubt, equipment vendors can trace them to their location to determine if the lines are in fact working. It often makes sense to check with groups using these lines to verify that they’re still needed.

Add on fees, disguised as taxes
Organizations evaluating a new carrier should request a list of all fees. Some fees on bills are government taxes passed on by carriers to customers. Others are carriers’ attempts to offset lower margins due to lower costs per minute, and competition. Examples of fees passed on as government charges are: Property Tax Surcharge, Cost Recovery Fees, and FCC Common Carrier Regulatory Fee.

Universal Service Fees
The Universal Service Fee on voice and cellular telephone bills is used to subsidize telephone service for rural areas, income eligible subscribers, rural health care facilities, and schools and libraries. It is based on the percentage of revenue each carrier derives from long distance voice revenues.

USF Errors
Although, the FCC has mandated that carriers access USF fees on voice services only, I’ve run into carriers who charge these 12% of cost fees on data lines. Customers who object to these USF charge can protest with their provider. If the carrier refuses to issue a credit and remove the USF fee from bills, organizations can file a complaint by filling out a form on the FCC’s Web site.

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The Transition to Digital Television

Currently, approximately 84% of households receive television service either from cable companies such as Comcast, Charter, RCN, or Verizon, or from satellite television providers.

All providers offer some digital TV service. Some transmit a combination of analog and digital signals, and others transmit only digital service. For example, satellite TV is already all digital.

Why transition to digital television?
Digital service offers many improvements in capacity, picture quality, and features. People with high-definition digital television sets and digital TV service often receive crisper, clearer programs. In addition, digital signals enable television providers to carry more movies on demand, additional channels, and new services. Capacity is particularly critical because high-definition programs require many times the bandwidth of analog shows.

When will Cable TV providers change to digital?
Verizon already transmits all programs digitally. Comcast now provides both analog and digital TV service, and has not announced when they will convert to an all digital format. RCN is in the process of converting all of its Massachusetts service to digital.

How will the digital conversion impact customers?
Only customers that do not currently have set-top boxes for each television will need to change anything. For example, according to RCN, 20% of their customers don’t have a set-top box. Almost all of these customers will need a set-top box for every television they wish to connect to cable television.

Why do customers with high-definition digital TVs need set-top boxes for digital cable service?
Set-top boxes make cable carriers’ service compatible with customers’ TVs. Cable providers use a different scheme, QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) than terrestrial broadcasters such as PBS, and ABC, which use ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) to transmit digital signals. Also, cable providers scramble signals on most of channels.

Which cable customers do not need a set-top box?
Only those customers that both:

  • Subscribe to a basic cable TV package of only terrestrial channels. (These comprise national broadcasters such as ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and Fox plus local access channels, which broadcast for example, town meeting sessions, public school shows, and local town programs.) These channels are not scrambled.
  • Have advanced high-definition televisions with QAM tuners. Customers can either check their TV documentation or contact their TV manufacturer to find out if they have QAM tuners. Not all high-definition televisions have QAM tuners.

What about the 14% of people without cable TV or satellite television?
These folks’ service is called “over the air” or terrestrial television because TV signals are transmitted over the air from TV towers to televisions. The federal government has mandated that these television signals be transitioned to an all-digital format after February 17, 2009.

How will the change to digital “over the air” TV impact these viewers?
After June 12, 2009, people with older, non-high definition or non-digital televisions will need converters and antennas to receive “over the air” TV signals. For information on coupons to subsidize the cost of converters call 1-888-388-2009 or 1-888-835-5322 (TTY). For instructions on hooking up converters and antennas go to www.dtv2009.gov -888-225-5322 or 1-888-835-5322 (TTY) or www.Dtv.gov. Consumers who subscribe to cable or satellite TV will not be affected by the February 17th transition to digital television.

Extension of the Feb. 17th date
In early February 2009, the federal government extended the deadline for which over-the-air television broadcasters must switch to all digital broadcasts. The new date is June 12th 2009. However, stations have the option to change to digital earlier than June 12th. Many have done so.

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