Broadband Speeds, Issues, Stimulus and Prospects

Lack of competition is the reason why broadband speeds in the United States are not faster and at lower price. Other cable operators are concerned that not only will prices fall, but that the super-fast service will encourage customers to watch video on the Web and drop their cable service.

Pretty much the fastest consumer broadband in the world is the 160-megabit-per-second service offered by J:Com, the largest cable company in Japan. Here’s how much the company had to invest to upgrade its network to provide that speed: $20 per home passed.

The cable modem needed for that speed costs about $60, compared with about $30 for the current generation.

By contrast, Verizon is spending an average of $817 per home passed to wire neighborhoods for its FiOS fiber optic network and another $716 for equipment and labor in each home that subscribes, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Company.

The experience in Japan suggests that the major cable systems in the United States might be able to increase the speed of their broadband service by five to 10 times right away. They might not need to charge much more for it than they do now and they’d still make as much money.

The cable industry here uses the same technology as J:Com. And several vendors said that while the prices Mr. Fries quoted were on the low side, most systems can be upgraded for no more than about $100 per home, including a new modem.

The OECD broadband statistics portal.

Broadband Stimulus
There is $7.2 billion in the stimulus bill to boost rural broadband.

Other countries are also investing in broadband. Australia recently said it would spend $31 billion laying fiber and other networks to get ahead in an emerging high-tech global economy.

There is more broadband loans and money in the stimulus package.

* Applications for the first wave of funding requests are going to be released by June 30, 2009 and to be awarded in December 2009.
* The second wave of funding requests will be from October to December, 2009.
* The third wave will take place from April to June 2010.
* All awards must be made by September 2010.
* $350 million will be available for broadband mapping.
* $250 million will be avialable to encourage sustainable broadband adoption.
* $200 million will be available to increase public computer center capacity.
* The key metrics for measuring success (and thus, evaluating the competitiveness of each grant application) look to be:
Jobs created
Census tracks served
Homes/businesses passed
Investment funding ARRA leverages
New equipment/capacity/users of the network

A 4 page pdf with details on the $4.7 billion broadband technology opportunities program

Speeches and workshops on the broadband stimulus

Jim Kohlenberger, Chief of Staff in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology, speaking at the Thursday’s Broadband Stimulus National Town Hall webcast, highlighted the efforts of the Obama administration in increasing broadband access in the United States.

Register for free and view a video of the last townhall on broadband.

White Space Broadband [80+mbps] Seems to Be Moving Forward

After raffling off a great percentage of the 700 MHz spectrum used for analog TV broadcasts that is in the process of being vacated, the FCC in November designated anything left over, including the buffer zone between channels (the white spaces), as restrictively free for use by wireless players.

The government’s position was that the valuable spectrum would be useful for innovative broadband connectivity schemes, and all the better if used in rural areas. That spectrum has potential for becoming a more potent Wi-Fi in-home networking play.

Of course, the feds attached more strings than the violin section of The Philadelphia Orchestra to the deal. The tightest of them is a requirement that a working white space database be set up and deployed for consumer devices to access in order to determine available channels in the vicinity before sending or receiving signals – an additional precaution against interference.

The NCTA commissioned Carl T. Jones Corp. (CTJ) to look at spectrum interference issues and, based on CTJ’s report, concluded that “the 100 mW power output level adopted for personal/portable devices will interfere with cable television viewing … and could adversely impact cable modem Internet access and other cable services in the home.” The filing added that the FCC’s “cable headend protections are inadequate, and some provisions need further clarification.”

Cable’s quick-draw attack on white space might be a little shortsighted, argued Miguel Myhrer, senior executive and lead of the North America Wireless Network practice at Accenture, because the spectrum might actually prove useful to cable operators.

“The first significant jumpstart will be the security applications, which will have more money behind them and have solutions that the cable guys are already providing for commercial customers,” Myhrer said. “I think this will be a natural fit for them to look at white space in that context.”

In the long term, cable’s opposition is probably just a speed bump compared with all of the other issues surrounding the path to making white space a broadband reality.

Filtered down to its essence, white space appears to have two very real deployment possibilities. First, broadband solutions making use of white space spectrum could be especially practical in rural spaces where there’s no broadband of any kind now, and where in many cases there were no television stations to begin with.

The fact that the spectrum is in the potent 700 MHz range is another boost, because that means it can go long distances, leap tall buildings and penetrate short ones. Developing this spectrum is “about lowering the collective cost of extending the network out to people who currently are not on the network. White space offers the opportunity to extend coverage into areas where there is none – at a low cost – and the opportunity to make a low-cost offer available to people who might not be able to afford 50 bucks a month,” Berejka continued.

“It’s an excellent band because it has a long reach,” said Mohammad Shakouri, vice president of the WiMAX Forum. “We believe 700 MHz would be a band that we eventually can build WiMAX technology. The question has to do with regulation – how much power you can have. The biggest question on the white space is more regulation and policy to be defined so that a different ecosystem as an industry could leverage it.”
White space use and deployment isn’t going to happen overnight.

“Ultimately, down the line, five or 10 years out, it provides a great spectrum, but it still needs development and an ecos behind it,” said Accenture’s Myhrer.

Wimax and Advanced Cellular Broadband
Clearwire plans to launch its WiMax wireless broadband service in 80 markets and reach as many as 120 million people by the end of 2010, the company said Thursday, as it disclosed its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2008.

Verizon Wireless said that it would commercially launch a competing mobile broadband technology, LTE (Long-Term Evolution), in 2010 cut down a head start that many WiMax proponents have emphasized as a competitive advantage.