Saturday, September 28, 2019

"Prices Only Go Down, Not Up"

Among the key business challenges identified at PTC Academy were prices and share of wallet. As Grant Kirkwood, Unitas Global founder pointed out, “prices always go down; they never go up.” Up to a point, the traditional management response has been to grow volume. But that becomes a harder exercise if prices fall rapidly, and consistently. 

The other problem is that demand for legacy products is falling, with demand for new products rising. In the past, that has not been too difficult to manage. Data products sold to enterprises, for example, have gradually evolved over time, and continue to do so. But that is not an existential threat. 

Obviously, it is a bigger danger if markets evolve in the direction of rivals elsewhere in the value chain being able to supply the functions telcos traditionally have provided, themselves. And that was among the points made by Sean Bergin, AP Telecom co-founder. New markets like the internet of things will grow, but the value and share of revenue earned by connectivity providers is expected to decline from perhaps 23 percent of total ecosystem revenue to as little as five percent by 2025.
Source: GSMA

In part, that is because platform and application revenue will inevitably drive more of the total value of using IoT, as most of the economic value of electricity availability is driven by products using electricity; as most of the economic value of internal combustion engines is reaped by firms supplying products that use gasoline. 

Still, that issue of competition from over the top apps and services can be an opportunity or a threat, said Tony Mosley of Ocean Specialists. Partnering with an OTT sometimes can work, he said. Or, firms can move into other areas of the value chain beyond connectivity services. 

The PTC Academy provides management training to rising industry leaders across the Asia Pacific region and is held at various locales yearly, including the annual Septermber event in Bangkok.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Non-Ionizing Radiation Affect on Skin?

People are exposed to all sorts of electromagnetic signals every day, including sunlight, cell phone signals, over-the-air radio, over-the-air TV, televisions, kitchen appliances and so forth. Power lines, and visible light also are sources of non-ionizing radiation. 

Put simply, the risk from non-ionizing radiation is tissue heating, but all consumer appliances and safety standards for cell tower radios are set at levels so low tissue heating does not occur, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Some may worry about non-thermal effects, but nothing has been shown to be conclusive on that score. 

That is not to say no hazards might exist, simply that we have not yet seen clear evidence of such harm to humans who are exposed to normal amounts of non-ionizing signals in daily life. More care has to be taken for workers who are around microwave radios, as radio frequency signal strength is stronger, the closer one is to the source of the signal. 

I’ve already talked about non-ionizing radiation. But here is one more study, looking at RF and skin issues. 

“Overall evaluations showed that the effects of mobile phone radiation on skin diseases are weak and have no statistical significance,” a team of researchers in Iran has found. The key phrase is “no statistical significance.” In other words, observed differences are no different than a random distribution would show. 

The problem with all such studies, even long-term studies, is that we cannot isolate mobile phone use from all other environmental sources of possible skin damage. Even if correlation were shown to exist, it is not clear that there is causation at work. 

This latest study is in that category of inconclusive results.

Malaysian Regulators Cap Prices, Investment Falls

Malaysian regulators are taking credit for lower connectivity prices, according to a report by Mobile World Live. In the three quarters to end-June, fibre access prices fell 48 per cent, uptake increased 21 per cent, and operators introduced higher-speed mobile and fixed broadband packages, according to Al-Ishsal Ishak, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission chairman.

What is not reported is that prices are down because of price reductions required by MCMC. 

And, as always, when the financial return from a given investment is reduced, investment simply is reduced as well. 

“Actually, given that wholesale carrier prices have been capped, the opposite situation has happened,” says Richard Then, of SACOFA SDN BHD. “Fiber operators have ceased to invest in greenfield builds unless a property developer or the regulator was subsidizing the build.”

It's become an "on-net or no-net" situation, Then says. 

Among the investment barriers are “unprecedented hikes in deposit/bank guarantee requirements, recurring easement lease fees, and the need to award work to designated surveyors or contractors before they can bury the first metre of glass into the ground, often imposed by state, district or city authorities,” says Then. 

“The ecosystem would benefit much more if the legislators worked on these factors rather than squeezing the operators' top line directly,” he says. “Likewise by introducing a ceiling rate for how much landlords can charge operators for putting a tower on their land or rooftops.”

It long has been the case that regulators can choose to emphasize competition and lower prices, or get much more investment. They cannot emphasize both, at the same time. This appears to be another example of that.

Why Advertised Prices are Not Transparent

It actually should not come as a surprise to anyone that final, all-in costs for products ranging from clothing to airline tickets to consumer mobile and telecom services are higher than the “advertised” prices. That is what happens when the internet allows easy price comparisons between alternatives.

If consumers sort by “lowest price,” then any supplier that shows “all-in” costs including taxes, additional fees and options is going to suffer, in comparison to rivals who only show the basic charge, without the upgrades, add-ons or taxes. 

The reason many airlines advertise one base price, without the taxes or various upgrades, is that they do not wish to disadvantage themselves in search engine results. Yes, this means less price transparency. But it is rational behavior, not an attempt to deceive. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Is 5G a Health Risk? And Even if Not, What Reduces Potential Risk?

Is 5G a health risk? You will hear that 5G is dangerous. But, “to date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use,” says the World Health Organization. 

A separate recommendation by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, sometimes cited as arguing that mobile signals are “possibly carcinogenic” actually says only that “there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch.”

The key words are “could be” and ten “some” risk. The U.S Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration,, looking at worker exposure to radio frequency signals (people who work on the cell towers, for example), says “for normal environmental conditions and for incident electromagnetic energy of frequencies from 10 MHz to 100 GHz, the radiation protection guide is 10 mW/cm.2 (milliwatt per square centimeter) as averaged over any possible 0.1-hour period. 

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission notes that “even though no scientific evidence currently establishes a definite link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses, and even though all cell phones must meet established federal standards for exposure to RF energy, some consumers are skeptical of the science and/or the analysis that underlies the FCC’s RF exposure guidelines.”

“Accordingly, some parties recommend taking measures to further reduce exposure to RF energy ,” says the FCC. “The FCC does not endorse the need for these practices, but provides information on some simple steps that you can take to reduce your exposure to RF energy from cell phones.”

Some measures to reduce your RF exposure include:
  • Use a speakerphone, earpiece or headset to reduce proximity to the head (and thus exposure). While wired earpieces may conduct some energy to the head and wireless earpieces also emit a small amount of RF energy, both wired and wireless earpieces remove the greatest source of RF energy (the cell phone) from proximity to the head and thus can greatly reduce total exposure to the head.
  • Increase the distance between wireless devices and your body.
  • Consider texting rather than talking 

Also, keep in mind that power levels for cell phones and even cell towers are quite low.

Consider that a cell tower radio emits energy 100 to 5,000 times lower than a TV transmitter, for example. Some liken the power level to that of a light bulb.

Still, if you really are concerned about the possible health effects of using mobile phones, use them less. Text instead of holding the phone against your head and talking.

Radio signals weaken (attenuate) logarithmically, by powers of 10, so the power levels decay quite rapidly.

Basically, doubling the distance of a receiver from a transmitter means that the strength of the signal at that new location is 50 percent  of its previous value. Just three meters from the antenna, a cell tower radio’s power density has dropped by an order of magnitude (10 times).

At 10 meters--perhaps to the base of the tower, power density is down two orders of magnitude. At 500 meters, a distance a human is using the signals, power density has dropped six orders of magnitude.

And that is for macrocell towers that transmit at higher powers.  Small 5G cells will have lower output powers, and have to be characterized as well. But the general rule of thumb is that output power really matters: high power is of more concern than low power. 

Are cell phones and cell towers “safe?” Yes, but It is a question that seems to recur. The issue is non-ionizing radiation, electromagnetic energy in the radio regions used by AM and FM radio, TV broadcasts, generated around power lines, Wi-Fi, cable TV, which uses radio waves in the copper portions of plant, and cell phones.

Non-ionizing radiation differs from ionizing radiation in the way it acts on materials like air, water, and living tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Unlike x-rays and other forms of ionizing radiation, non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to remove electrons from atoms and molecules,” CDC says. Non-ionizing radiation can heat substances, as does a microwave oven. 

So it is perhaps understandable that people instinctively worry about millimeter waves for wireless communications that are in frequencies similar to those used by microwave ovens. The word “radiation” is likely the biggest cause of fear, since we do not normally refer to light as radiation; over-the-air TV or radio signals; electricity or Wi-Fi as involving “radiation.”

Still, some insist that all or some of these forms of signal can cause human maladies. Scientists have been studying non-ionizing radiation for many decades, without being able to find conclusive proof that such signals cause harm to humans, as we encounter such signals in real life, many claims notwithstanding. 

Hazard is not the same thing as risk; correlation is not the same thing as causation; questions are not the same as answers. Driving in autos poses some risk of hazard (accidents), but people take the risk of injury because the benefits outweigh the hazards. 

It is possible to correlate many things in life (there is a non-random and positive correlation of things) without necessarily being able to say there is any causation at all. One might correlate sales of ice cream cones and sunglasses, but there is not a causal relationship. A might be found with B, but A does not cause B. But people easily make the cognitive leap that correlated items and events must be causally related. 

We might speculate about some as-yet-undefined harm that might happen from any number of present issues, without being able to state, on the basis of good science, that there is, so far, any evidence of harm. 

Warranted or not, there has been public concern about a great many things such as “toxins in baby bottles, food, and cosmetics; carcinogenic radiation from power lines and cell phones; and harm from vaccines and genetically modified foods,” notes Harriet Hall, a doctor who writes about pseudo-science issues. “When looked at even the least bit critically, many of the scares that get high-profile attention turn out to be based on weak or erroneous findings that were hardly ready for prime time.”

All that is worth keeping in mind about the curious--possibly spurious--concern over the effects of 5G cell towers. Some worry about humans using cell phones as well, a related but separate matter from cell towers and their possible ill effects. 

Sometimes the generalized concern is electromagnetic radiation in general. EMF includes many types of invisible electrical or magnetic fields. No known health effects are expected if your exposure to EMF falls below the levels in the following guidelines, according to the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection

More specifically, the debate about 5G signals is the effects of non-ionizing radiation, any form of electrical or magnetic energy that can cause tissue to heat. Here are some common sources of non-ionizing radiation, and energy levels. Note that EMF from the sun is two orders of magnitude (100 times greater) greater than EMF from a mobile phone base station, for starters. 

natural electromagnetic fields (like those created by the sun): 200 V/m
power mains (not close to power lines): 100 V/m
power mains (close to power lines): 10,000 V/m
electric trains and trams: 300 V/m
TV and computer screens: 10 V/m
TV and radio transmitters: 6 V/m
mobile phone base stations: 6 V/m
radars: 9 V/m
microwave ovens: 14 V/m

“Power” is one issue; distance the other really important issue, as radio waves used by cell towers and mobile phones decay (get weaker) according to an inverse square law.

 For every doubling of distance away from the source that is emitting a signal, the signal decays to 25 percent of the original quantity. That means the strength of the EMF signal, decays very rapidly. Inverse square laws apply to many forms of energy, including sound and radio signals. 

In fact, radio signals decay so rapidly that the actual cell tower, transmitting at full power, when a user is 50 feet away from the tower, is exposed to two orders of magnitude more power density from the smartphone than from the cell tower. But all the levels are very small, millionth of watts per square centimeter. 

While cellular towers emit much higher power levels than cell phones, due to the inverse square law the amount of energy a person can absorb from them can be quite low. 

“At ten meters, about as close as a person can get to a cellular antenna, the specific absorption rate of a 50 Watt GSM transmitter is .365, or just around the level of one of the lowest radiation cell phones on the market,” according to one test by Cnet

Proponents of the “5G is dangerous” view do point out some matters of relatively uncontested physics. Everyone agrees that the decay rate of cell tower signals decays very rapidly with distance. And we might all agree that, generally, it is the phone itself, rather than the cell tower radios, that produces the highest signal levels, as humans live their normal lives. 

With the caveat that I do not agree about the potential danger, here is a look at non-ionizing radiation from cell towers and phones, as viewed by a proponent of the view that such signals are dangerous. As you recall from the earlier graph, 50 meters away from a macrocell tower the signal really has decayed to levels even those who worry believe is “safe.”

The chart suggests exposure levels of 1 mW per square meter are a risk. But the University of Washington notes that “power densities on the order of 100 mW/cm2 can result in the heating of biological tissue.”  

In other words, the Brightsandz standard is 10,000 times the level others believe is the point where tissue heating is a concern. Of course, the issue is avoid any tissue heating. 

Recall the Department of Labor safety recommendation of no more than 10 mW per square centimeter squared, again signal about 1,000 times stronger than what Brightsandz believes is dangerous. 

Again, with the caveat that I believe the science from controlled experiments to be correct, for most people, the phone itself will generally be the device that tends to represent the non-ionizing radiation issue, even if the power levels are quite low. If you believe there are areas of concern, it is the phones, not the towers. 

The bottom line is that after decades of research, there still is no clear evidence that people using cell phones face health risks.  That is not to say there is no risk: no technology has zero risk.

But as with any technology, people have to choose using technology with some risk because the benefits are deemed high.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Divesting DirecTV Might Cost AT&T 13% or So of Free Cash Flow

A possible move by AT&T to divest DirecTV--a move favored by many financial analysts--could have huge consequences for AT&T’s free cash flow. 

Consider that since the third quarter of 2015, the video business has produced 66 percent to 72 percent of AT&T’s fixed network consumer revenue, and possibly $8 billion to $9 billion of free cash flow. 

Granted, AT&T’s total cash flow contributor is the mobility business, at about 48 percent. DirecTV and the consumer internet access business represent about 15 percent of free cash flow. 

DirecTV contributes perhaps half of AT&T’s total free cash flow of perhaps $15 billion to $16 billion. 

Why 8K TVs Will Not--Unless Very Large--Improve Your Experience of Resolution

There is a simple rule for TV screens: bigger is better, for most people. That is true no matter what the resolution. That is similar to HDTV: the screen aspect ratio is considered better by most people, irrespective of the higher resolution. That said, most people, watching a TV from a standard viewing distance, can perceive the difference between HDTV and NTSC, for example.

But it is possible to argue that, for many viewers, 4K will not bring benefits as obvious as did HDTV, unless screen sizes get much bigger, or people are willing to move their furniture much closer to the TV sets.

But higher-definition display formats always face a chicken-and-egg problem, in that, until content production catches up with the new higher-resolution formats, consumers might find only limited content available that actually takes advantage of the higher resolution. Think about older film or video content shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio, when modern displays use a 16:9 format. 

Add to that the fact that linear or streaming video providers also have choices. They can deliver signals in standard or HDTV formats. Layer on 4K content and delivery formats and there is another layer of decisions to be made by video subscription services. 

But even assuming there eventually is much more 4K content available to view, there will be other nuances for buyers of 4K and 8K displays. Human eyes and video resolution is a matter of physics. 

Beyond a certain viewing distance, the human eye is unable to discriminate between content with 4K and HDTV resolution. A person with 20/20 vision sitting two feet from a screen (a PC screen, typically) can perceive the 4K resolution on a screen of 28 inches diagonal. 

Ideal maximum monitor size
for 24" viewing distance
1080p (1920x1080)
2K (2560x1440)
4K (3840x2160)
5K (5120x2880)

That should immediately tip you off to something important about TV screens. People do not sit two feet from their TVs. Six to eight feet is probably typical. When it comes to televisions touting new 4K technology, "a regular human isn't going to see a difference," said Raymond Soneira, head of display-testing firm DisplayMate Technologies.

To be sure, a 4K screen is capable of displaying four times the number of pixels as a 1080p screen. But the human eye is capable of seeing that many pixels depending on the size of the screen and where a person is sitting. 

From a distance, it is virtually impossible for someone to tell the difference in quality between a 1080p and 4K screen. The advantage arguably is most clear on the largest TV screens, as those allow people to sit at a normal distance and still be close enough so that a person with good vision can perceive the improved resolution. 

As a practical matter, recommends Sony, viewers should sit 1.5 times the vertical screen size of the TV, which is twice as close as people tend to sit when watching a standard HDTV screen. Buyers of the largest screens will have an easier time of the transition. But people buying smaller 4K TVs will have to scoot their couches up uncomfortably close to a 4K screen to perceive the enhanced definition. 

People looking at a 55-inch screen must sit no further away than 3.3 feet to perceive the resolution, Sony says. 

TV Size
Viewing Distance Range (Approx.)
55 inch
39 inches (3.29 feet)
65 inch
47 inches (3.92 feet)
75 inch
55 inches (4.58 feet)
85 inch
63 inches (5.25 feet)

Others suggest an appropriate viewing distance for an HDTV screen of 55 inches is seven to 11.5 feet away. For a 4K screen, that distance drops to 4.5 to seven feet, according to electronic product retailer Crutchfield. Me, I’d go with Sony’s recommendations. 

The point is that many buyers of 4K TVs will discover they really cannot perceive the difference from an HDTV screen, unless they are willing to move their furniture much closer to the TV than they are used to.

Sales Friction Creates Barriers to Buying Behavior

Sales friction occurs when a sales process is: too long (the line at the grocery store) too complicated (working with real estate agents) a...