Wifi performance is the service provider’s problem whether they like it or not

At the Cable Next-Gen Europe event in London a panel discussed the lessons learned from offering 1 Gbps domestic broadband.

It seems like the only way the ISP industry thinks it can persuade consumers to hand over more of their hard-earned cash is to promise ever-better performance. But consumers can be an awkward bunch and have a nasty habit of expecting that promised boost to be delivered. To make things worse they’re not shy about voicing their displeasure to expensive customer service departments.

They just won’t listen to reason. You can try explaining the problem is at their end thanks to rubbish routers, decrepit devices and unhelpful walls but it falls on deaf ears. As far as they’re concerned they’ve been promised 1 Gbps, they’re not getting it and they want to know what the company that took their money is going to do about it.

The consensus among the panel, which featured ISPs, specialist wifi vendors and a big kit vendor, was that wifi is the ISP’s problem whether they like it or not. A big reason for this is that regular punters aren’t even interested in the various technical challenges involved in delivering the promised bandwidth; they only care about the end result.

Having said that there are a lot of technological solutions to this problem, such as mesh wifi as offered by companies like Plume, which was represented on the panel. Mesh looks like a good answer to coverage problems resulting from the limited range of wifi routers, physical obstructions, etc. It’s quite a trending buzzword in the industry right now but even the mesh vendors were careful not to position it as a panacea.

Similarly successive generations of wifi technology, now belatedly using a more consumer-friendly naming scheme, only address part of the problem. Even if you have a 1 Gbps service and the latest Wi-Fi 6 router, of all your devices still have 802.11g wifi chips, which is apparently still commonplace, then you’re still going to get rubbish performance.

According to a straw poll among the panel it’s not uncommon for there to be 20+ wifi connected devices in a given home, through which CSP customers will assess the quality of their service. For this reason there was a consensus that there will be an explosion in managed wifi services offered by CSPs in the near future.

T-Mobile US declares war on cable incumbents with Layer3 TV acquisition

In a characteristic move, T-Mobile US has announced it intends to disrupt the UK cable market in same way it has the mobile one.

As ever the narrative focuses on what is described as an uncompetitive market that serves is customers poorly. Apparently cablecos are even more despised in the US than mobile operators and TMUS wants to inject a bit of competition into that space by offering its own OTT video service.

The Layer3 acquisition seems to be a relatively small one (the price wasn’t revealed) more about technology than content. As a consequence TMUS expects the deal to go through quickly and to be able to start messing with the likes of Comcast and Cox next year.

“People love their TV, but they hate their TV providers,” said TMUS CEO John Legere. “And worse, they have no real choice but to simply take it – the crappy customer service, clunky technology and outrageous bills loaded with fees! That’s where we come in. We’re gonna fix the pain points and bring real choice to consumers across the country.”

Most of the rest of the announcement is more of this sort of thing, complete with exclamation marks, profanity and hysterical hyperbole. We’re never shy about taking the piss out of the self-parody that is Legere but, to be fair, he seems to have played a blinder here. Anyone who values competition should approve of this move, which you can learn more about in the sometimes hilarious video below.


Microsoft and Facebook lay some serious cable

The laying of the ‘highest-capacity’ transatlantic cable by Microsoft and Facebook has been completed in just over a year.

The two tech giants started work on Marea in May 2016 in partnership with Telefónica cable subsidiary Telxius and have completed the work pretty quickly. Marea goes from Virginia Beach on the east coast of the US to Bilbao in northern Spain. It claims to be the highest capacity trans-Atlantic cable – shifting 160 terabits per second.

“Marea comes at a critical time,” said Brad Smith, President of Microsoft. “Submarine cables in the Atlantic already carry 55 percent more data than trans-Pacific routes and 40 percent more data than between the U.S. and Latin America. There is no question that the demand for data flows across the Atlantic will continue to increase and Marea will provide a critical connection for the United States, Spain, and beyond.”

Someone from Facebook pontificated about bringing people together and someone from Telxius said all this extra bandwidth might come in handy, what with streaming video, etc. The cable is also a fair bit further south than many others, which provides a potential connectivity safeguard in the case of natural disasters or other mishaps.

Unstated but presumably critical to their involvement in the project is the fact that both Microsoft and Facebook have major datacenters in Virginia. This is yet another example of tech companies trying to take more ownership of the connectivity challenge.

Elsewhere Ericsson, Telstra and Ciena have successfully encrypted in-transit data travelling at 100Gbps over multi-vendor networks on a trans-pacific cable between LA and Melbourne (or transatlantic if you believe the amusing typo in the email press release).

“This demonstration shows that customer services with large bandwidth requirements can be secured and data transported across virtually any distance and over an underlying network that uses multiple vendors,” said Darrin Webb, Executive Director of International Operations and Services at Telstra. “This means we can provide service consistency regardless of the cable system used. Customers will also be able to protect their data not only at the application layer, but also at the network layer without any reduction in quality.”

Verizon CEO: fixed line is so last year, we’re all about mobile now

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said he’s no longer interested in big cable M&A.

As recently as the beginning of this year there was talk of a merger between Verizon and cable giant Charter but that came to nought. Verizon is all about 5G now, according to McAdam, who cited the Straight Path acquisition (not to mention taking on former Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg) as evidence of its seriousness in that respect.

The enhanced mobile broadband that comes with 5G will, of course, require some pretty hefty backhaul. But McAdam seems to think that you can’t beat laying your own fibre cable, as opposed to acquiring pre-built networks, when it comes to getting that sort of thing just right, and flagged up Verizon’s commitment to blow a ton of dough on fibre with Corning to substantiate that point.

“I don’t think there is any debate any more that more and more things are going mobile and less and less things are going fixed line,” said McAdam (as transcribed by Seeking Alpha). “And so we’re positioning the company to what I call skate where the puck is going, to be that digital media company that provides mobility services and high bandwidth speeds to customers, no matter where they are.”

On the topic of 5G McAdam had some interesting things to say regarding the ongoing trials we’re constantly hearing about, specifically on the matter of millimetre wave propagation. “We have seen that the foliage doesn’t impact as much as we thought, we can penetrate more building structures than we thought, we can go higher in buildings than we thought,” he said. “We assume six floors, we’re seeing over 20 floors of elevation in the signal. So we’re encouraged by it.”

On the M&A side McAdam also thinks there’s more value in investing in 5G than in cable. I think right now a lot of the fiber companies; their values are a little fluffy compared to what you can build it for yourself and so that’s the path that we’re on,” he said. “…if you look at the amount of capital that’s moving into mobile; if you look at how every internet company is trying to get deeper ties to mobile, that is going to be the center going forward.”