Friday, September 30, 2016

NCTA Kills its National Convention (Name Change Notwithstanding)

As someone who has spent about 30 years in and around telecom and cable TV industry events and media, I can attest that when events come and go, or media come and go, it tells you something about change in the industry.

For 65 years, U.S. cable TV executives have met annually at an event formerly known colloquially as “the national show.” That event in recent years was renamed INTX. But INTX now is going away, cancelled by the NCTA.

“We believe large trade show floors, dotted with exhibit booths and stilted schedules have become an anachronism,” said NCTA CEO Michael Powell.

Contemporary venues emphasize conversation, dialog, and more intimate opportunities to explore and interact with technology,” said Powell.

Left unsaid was that, over the past decade or two, it had become less important for buyers or sellers to be there. There simply were fewer buyers, so sellers could work with them directly. And anything of any importance already was known before any particular edition of a trade show. There was, in the colloquial, increasingly no news of any consequence.

Also, with the maturation of the business model, a convention once driven by programmers had become a venue mostly driven by technology firms. But there are other venues for technology.

Also, at a time when every part of the telecom business has become more competitive, and every segment is trying to wring costs out of its business, executives had to question whether the outcomes from spending money to attend that annual event were producing outcomes commensurate with investment.

At the same time, though it continues to use a technology platform that is specialized and distinct, cable TV operators now are part of the broader communications business. And there are lots of venues for that industry, nationally and globally.

As the global industry continues to consolidate, other segments of the industry are going to rationalize as well.

Effort, time and money spent “intra-industry” are less important than investments inter-industry, given the loosely-coupled nature of the communications ecosystem, which in turn has become part of the broader Internet ecosystem.

It has been a good 65-year run. But too many things have changed.

Korea Telecom Sees New Value from Fixed Network

Korea Telecom, like Verizon, now sees different strategic value for the fixed network. AT&T likely agrees, up to a point.

The stated upside for Korea Telecom fixed transport network capacity upgrades is said to be “home video, mobile broadband, and VIP leased lines.”

Consumer video includes support for bandwidth-intensive 4K video formats, but telco upgrades to fiber-to-home or fiber-to-node long have been premised on incremental video entertainment revenues. That is not especially new.

Nor would anyone find trunking network support for business and enterprise customers too surprising.

What is different is the use of the fixed network as backhaul for mobile broadband. Again, while mobile backhaul always has been key revenue driver for cell tower connections, coming small cell requirements represent a qualitative change.

It is one thing to support networks of macrocells. That fiber-to-tower market has been important for many service providers for some years.

Up to this point, in the U.S. market, there has been a need for backhaul to perhaps 300,000 macro cell sites in the United States and 200,000 towers. All that will change with new small cell overlay networks to support capacity upgrades for 4G and 5G networks.

Ignore for the moment potentially millions of enterprise small cells. Public networks in urban areas might be built out more extensively than anything seen before.

If in some urban areas the density is roughly “fiber to every other light pole,” That implies potentially millions of new backhaul sites to be supported.

That in turn will require dense fiber backhaul networks. So the new strategic value of the fixed network will extend beyond consumer video/broadband and enterprise/business connections to mobile small cell backhaul.

The additional incremental change is backhaul for fixed wireless small cells.

Cord Stackers More Satisfied Than Cord Cutters (No Surprise)

Almost by definition, consumers who like a product will buy more of it than consumers who do not like a particular product. So it is with entertainment video.

Overall satisfaction with paid streaming video service is highest among cord stackers who buy both linear and over the top video, and lowest among cord cutters, who, by definition, have abandoned linear video.

The latest J.D. Power study finds that although the number of customers who cut the cord on pay TV is growing, the majority of streaming video customers still purchase a linear TV service in addition to a streaming video service.

About 60 percent of streaming customers are cord stackers; 23 percent are cord shavers (those who still subscribe to TV but have downgraded their service package); 13 percent are cord cutters (those who have recently canceled TV service); and four percent are cord nevers (those who have never subscribed to pay TV and only subscribe to streaming video service).

Overall satisfaction is lowest among cord cutters, followed closely by cord nevers, while satisfaction is highest among cord stackers and cord shavers.

Connected Car Benefits for Insurers

Though some desired business outcomes from Internet of Things advances will reduce the cost of inputs such as energy, arguably the biggest benefits will come from direct impact on business models or policy outcomes (lower air pollution, less traffic, accidents avoided, equipment protected, lives saved).

IoT sensors, for example, could help insurance companies better assess risk, and therefore premiums, charged to its customers. That is one direct benefit of connected air applications.

Since the basis of the insurance model is risk arbitrage, IoT sensors would help in several ways, allowing companies to safely provide “safe driver” discounts, while better matching premiums to risk in other cases.

That is one reason connected car applications are seen as early adopters: there are advantages for drivers (safe drivers, at any rate) and insurance companies. When an innovation had tangible benefits for both buyers and sellers, adoption can occur faster, because there is less friction (inertia or resistance).

source: Business Insider

"Fiber to Home" Not Setting U.S. Internet Access Speed Agenda

With the caveat that the U.S. market is somewhat unusual in having robust fixed network competition on a facilities basis, it is hard to deny that cable TV operators now are setting the agenda for Internet speed upgrades.

A few years ago, one might have argued that Google Fiber was setting the agenda. A decade ago, you might have argued that Verizon’s FiOS was setting the bandwidth agenda.

These days, it is multi-gigabit services enabled by DOCSIS 3.1 that will likely set the commercial deployment agenda, given the ubiquity of cable TV networks across the country.

It is hard to tell at this point how important--or when--symmetrical bandwidth will become important for cable operators. At the moment, with some caveats, downstream bandwidth likely remains the key driver of marketplace positioning.

Downstream speed tends to be--with price--the way consumers evaluate offers, and downstream capacity grows at a 50 percent to 60 percent compound annual growth rate.

In the next wave of platform development, it seems likely that dramatic leaps in mobile (perhaps in small cell or fixed applications) will complement and possibly compete with fixed networks, to some extent. The new competition will center on multi-gigabit speeds, at a headline level.

Perhaps the more-important development is that mass-deployed bandwidth in the hundreds of megabits range will be widely available, from fixed and mobile networks.

For many veterans of the telecom industry, the notion that “fiber to the home” no longer sets the speed agenda will be shocking. The importance of physical media periodically shifts, so we might yet see another shift back to fiber access as protocols continue to advance.

RCN to Launch Gigabit Internet Access in Chicago Market

RCN, a provider of triple-play services to some 377,000 customers, will sell gigabit Internet access services in its Chicago market, including the communities of Skokie and Lincolnwood, using DOCSIS 3.1 technology. Pricing will start at $70 a month.

RCN began life as a supplier of triple-play services primarily to high-rise and other multiple dwelling units in a few Northeast U.S. cities, and now is owned by TPG, a private equity firm.

TPG also acquired the assets of Grande Communications, an overbuilder operating in Texas.

Like privately-held WOW, TPG operates as an overbuilder, competing against both other cable operators and telcos in the consumer and business customer segments. WOW has something more than 700,000 customers.

Though both WOW and TPG have accounts two orders of magnitude behind the top-tier service providers, WOW now ranks about 10th on a list of largest triple-play providers, while TPG ranks 12th.

After a recent wave of mergers, the leader board is vastly changed. Perhaps most surprising, for many observers, is the fact that AT&T now is the biggest supplier of consumer video services.

By way of comparison, AT&T has 26 million video accounts, Comcast has 22.4 million, Charter Communications 18.4 million, Dish Network 13.9 million, Verizon 4.7 million accounts.

The other possible surprise is that an overbuilder (typically a service provider competing against both telco and cable) now is in the top-10 rankings.

Total Subscribers
WOW! (f.k.a. WideOpenWest)

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Someday 100 Mbps Will Not Qualify as "Broadband"

easonable people will differ about the value of changing the definition of broadband from time to time. When definitions are changed, though, it becomes more difficult to track progress, even if higher minimum definitions are indirect proof that speeds are increasing, across the board.

Three decades ago, in the U.S. market, “broadband” was, by definition, any speed faster than 1.5 Mbps. A decade and a half ago, fiber to the home meant symmetrical 10 Mbps speeds. These days, anything below 25 Mbps is not even “broadband.”

Someday, even 100 Mbps might not be considered “broadband.” It just depends on adoption of speeds in the gigabit range, on both fixed and mobile networks.

Latency Becoming a Bigger Issue than Speed

Despite the fact that consumer Internet access speeds have increased about two orders of magnitude over the last 15 years or so, how much bandwidth any single user “needs” is less clear, with some studies suggesting that, beyond about 10 Mbps to 15 Mbps, users get negligible incremental value.

Eventually that will change as apps are crafted to take advantage of nearly-universal higher speeds. Still, for the moment, gigabit really is about marketing, not end user requirements.

There is one clear exception: multiple users at a single location. As always has been clear for business Internet access connections, the number of users at any single location makes a huge difference, as it is not the amount of typical bandwidth, but the amount of bandwidth per user, on average, that is key.

Some might still argue that advertised headline speeds are a chimera, but studies by the Federal Communications Commission find claims and peak hour speeds are highly correlated, reaching about 97 percent of advertised speeds during peak hours.

The point is that “gigabit” Internet access is, at the moment, more about marketing than it is actual end user requirements. In fact, end user usage limits might now start to be the key issue, not access speed, for many users.

For many other users, latency likely now is becoming the key issue for gaming, 3D video and even web surfing.

Cablevision Launching 200 Mbps, 300 Mbps Internet Access Services?

Despite the big push to launch gigabit Internet access services in the U.S. market, that is only part of the story. Just as important is the boost in speeds at levels below 1,000 Mbps, at price points that many consumers will find compelling, compared to a gigabit offer.

The “101-Mbps” tier presently costs $55 a month, down from about $100 a month in 2009.

Cablevision, for example, appears to be launching new consumer Internet access tiers at 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps, up from the 100-Mbps tier it already offers. Services for business will be launched at 250 Mbps and 350 Mbps.

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