Got community WiFi? Facebook help promote that in the future!

According to VentureBeat, Facebook is testing a feature that will highlight nearby public WiFi hotspots…

Facebook has begun early testing of a feature designed to highlight places where you can access free and public Wi-Fi near you. The social networking company confirmed that its Wi-Fi discovery feature is being rolled out now, though it appears to only be in select countries.

“To help people stay connected to the friends and experiences they care about, we are rolling out a new feature that surfaces open Wi-Fi networks associated with nearby places,” a Facebook spokesperson shared with VentureBeat.

It seems like a feature that would be useful enough (and a way to hone advertising, so profitable to Facebook) to get traction. It also seems like easy marketing for businesses and communities that have hotspots.

Several of the Blandin Broadband Communities have built public hot spots for the community to help people without broadband at home to get access. Many have done clever advertising locally to promote the WiFi and the businesses that host it – this might be a way to spread the word to travelers who might choose to stop based on access.

Maybe it seems like a great idea because tomorrow I’ll be driving home from Chicago – but all things being equal I will always choose a pit stop with WiFi so that my kids can quickly download whatever videos they want and I can upload whatever work I’m doing without pushing our data cap fee to four digits. And part what I save on the data cap gets spent on lunch or treat or headphones or other road trip emergencies.

mmWave from AT&T brings Gig access to MDUs in Uptown Minneapolis

att-0What would make me climb out on the roof in Minneapolis in November? Unseasonably warm weather and the chance to see the dishes for AT&T’s fixed-wireless millimeter wave service for apartment buildings.

It’s a slick way to bring real broadband speeds to apartment buildings (well any building) faster, cheaper and with less construction than deploying fiber. The idea is to bring fiber to a basecamp building – then use line of sight, licensed spectrum wireless connection to share that capacity with neighboring buildings. It’s point to point so the basecamp needs a separate dish to serve each remote building but the speeds apparently maintain up to two miles.

The demonstration I saw was in Uptown Minneapolis, which is a sea of apartment buildings. The idea is that once installed the wireless broadband connects to the building network and is distributed to the individual apartments (or businesses). It makes the case for good wiring for any new buildings.

They are running the test in Minneapolis at Gig access – but could easily upgrade to faster speeds should demand increase. There is the base camp building and two remote buildings. Currently the peak speeds are closer to half of capacity and they provide service to about 350 apartments.

For the end user, the solution is pretty plug and play and the speeds I saw on the test laptop were more than 700Mbps up and down. And in the model apartment, they had the choice of several plug and play broadband providers.

So again, it’s slick but with a two-mile limit, it’s really an urban or densely-populated suburban solution. Great news for those areas and it’s good to see people get good broadband and better competition (they bundle with video from Direct TV and have mobile options) but it really makes the point that as urban options get faster and faster, the divide between urban and rural gets deeper.

AT&T launches fixed wireless trial, targets apartment complexes

Good news for Minneapolis as I’ve heard from local AT&T folks that they are testing in Minneapolis too…

AT&T has begun a hybrid millimeter wave (mmWave) wireless and wireline technology trial, targeting apartment complexes outside of its wireline service area to deliver up to 100 Mbps in areas where it has not been able to reach potential broadband users.

But 100 Mbps is just the start of its bandwidth ambitions. AT&T indicated that it plans to make faster speeds available, including a possible 500 Mbps tier that it will test through this fixed-wireless solution.

To deliver the service to each user, AT&T is using mmWave wireless technology to send a multi-gigabit signal from a central building connected to fiber to neighboring locations, and then is connecting each unit over the existing in-building wiring. When a neighboring building receives the multi-gigabit mmWave wireless signal, AT&T converts it to a wired internet connection. The telco then uses existing or new wiring in the property to offer internet access directly to each unit.

When customers that reside in these properties sign up for service, they can plug their Wi-Fi router into an existing wall outlet to get internet service in their apartment.

AT&T did not specify what millimeter wave spectrum band it is using for this trial.

Perhaps not surprisingly, AT&T is keen on being able to offer a bundle of internet, DirecTV and wireless services to apartment complexes and multifamily communities in a variety of metro areas.

AT&T said residents in these trial properties will be able to access its DirecTV service. By using a single satellite dish on the building to send a video signal to a centralized distribution system for the property, AT&T can offer DirecTV service in every unit without satellite dishes on balconies.

While the service provider did not specify exactly the first market that could get the service, AT&T did cite some large cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., as potential candidates.

“We’re evaluating the expansion of this fixed-wireless millimeter wave solution to connect additional properties outside of our traditional wireline service area,” AT&T said in a statement. “Additional areas under consideration where we might connect more properties include, but are not limited to, Boston, Denver, New Jersey, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington D.C.”

AT&T’s mmWave goals aren’t just relegated to apartment buildings.

In September, the service provider unveiled Project AirGig, an initiative to extend gigabit wireless internet speeds over existing power lines.

The telco plans to use the technology to potentially deliver multi-gigabit speeds in urban, rural and underserved markets by distributing bandwidth over low-cost plastic antennas and devices located along or near the power line to regenerate mmWave signals that can be used for 4G LTE and 5G multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments. But there’s no direct electrical connection to the power line that’s required.

Does CAF 2 extend or upgrade the network? Are we investing for the future?

Doug Dawson (POTs and PANs) recently wrote about AT&T’s plans to spend CAF 2 funding on extending its current network. I nearly said “upgrading” but the point is that they aren’t upgrading, they are extending the network to areas that didn’t have it before but not upgrading…

So it looks like AT&T will use the CAF II money to upgrade cell sites to LTE (something they were certainly going to do anyway). They also might build a few new rural cell sites and build some fiber to feed them. Finally, they will buy the customers the LTE receivers. My guess is that they are going to have a very hard time showing that they spent all of the CAF II money and so I expect some overinflated reporting of CAF II costs to the FCC. But these upgrades are far less costly than the rural DSL upgrades being contemplated by CenturyLink and Frontier.

AT&T promises that the bandwidth will meet the 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up speeds required by the FCC’s CAF II order. They also promise that there will be no monthly data caps smaller than 150 gigabits, also a threshold set by the CAF II rules. They have not yet specified specific prices, but say that prices will be at ‘market rate’ for broadband.

Even though we’ve seen this coming, this is a giant disappointment. Already today a 10/1 Mbps connection is inadequate for a large percentage of households. Cisco recently published statistics showing that the average home in the US today wants 24 Mbps to meet their needs, just a hair under the FCC definition of broadband. Cisco predicts that by 2020 that the average household demand is going to grow to 54 Mbps. That means the 10/1 speeds are going to feel really slow even by the end of the CAF II period ending in 2021.

I’ve heard worry about this sort of incremental improvement in communities. People in the impacted areas are happy to see better speeds than they have – but for how long? Doug points out that these changes may stick around for a long time…

These upgrades will improve broadband in the affected areas, but only by a small amount. Some residents in these areas today can get very slow DSL, under 1 Mbps. There are also numerous WISPs operating in the area offering speeds under 5 Mbps. And everybody always has the option of satellite broadband, which is universally disliked due to the latency and data caps.

The really bad news for these areas is that this upgrade is going to be in place for a long time. The FCC is probably not going to think about the CAF II areas again until well past the end of the CAF timeline, perhaps not until 2025.

It’s kind of like buying the crappy dishwasher for the home you thought you were going to leave and then having to use it for 10 years. It seems better than washing by hand, except after a while you really have to wash the dishes pretty well before you run the cycle. So it’s really not that much better.

FCC decision on Business Data Services impacts pricing for rural wireless

Sometimes rural broadband policy gets a little wonky. So I find it’s helpful to start with the consequences policy or the why should I care. Telecompetitor recently ran a story on the potential impact of the FCC’s ruling on business data services. Here’s a glimpse of why you might care based on comments from others…

  • The Ad Hoc Telecommunications Users Committee estimates that BDS prices would have been 22% lower in markets that were de-regulated prematurely if de-regulation had not occurred. A compromise proposal from Verizon and competitive carrier association Incompass calls for a 15% reduction in BDS costs in those areas.

  • Colleen Boothby, a representative for The Ad Hoc Telecommunications Users Committee, cited what she called a “stunning” study of the e-rate program that covers some of a school’s broadband costs. The study, conducted by an e-rate consulting firm, found that often schools received only one very high bid in response to broadband proposals and that those bids often came from competitive carriers. Digging into it, however, the study found that prices sometimes were high because the competitive carrier was buying the underlying access from the incumbent which represented 95% of the total price quoted.

And here’s a little bit on the question at hand…

The FCC is considering whether to impose price controls on BDS providers in areas that the commission previously deemed to be competitive, but which BDS purchasers say are not competitive. BDS purchasers include business and government users of data services, including schools and libraries, as well as carriers and others. The FCC business data services decision could call for decreasing BDS pricing in markets where costs have increased since the markets were deregulated.

And the details…

Although wireless carriers sometimes build their own backhaul networks, Katz estimates that at least 50% of the time they lease connectivity from another carrier – and in the majority of cases, it’s the incumbent local carrier. According to an analysis of BDS data collected by the FCC, 73% of locations are served by a monopoly BDS provider and 97% by no more than two providers, Katz said. When there are only two providers, the cost of BDS services drops only about 10%, according to Katz.

Backhaul costs represent almost 30% of a rural wireless carrier’s total network costs and 6% of a wireless carrier’s opex, according to the Telecom Advisory Services study. Analyzing historical data, the Telecom Advisory Services study found that 85% of regulator-mandated cost reduction in carrier operational expenditures (opex) could instead be used for capital expenditures (capex).

The study looked at the impact of various levels of price reduction under three different scenarios – one in which a carrier spends 2.25% of opex on backhaul, another in which that number is 4.3% and another in which that number is 6%. Levels of price reduction studied included 10%, 20% and 30%. Results showed that a carrier spending a relatively low 2.25% of its opex on backhaul and getting just a 10% reduction in BDS costs could have an additional $40,000 for its capex budget.

Wireless is a good interim solution (and constant requirement) for rural communities

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a few articles pushing wireless as a good solution for rural areas. It comes up a lot – especially around legislative season and inevitably the question comes up – Can wireless replace fiber?

It comes up so often I thought I’d ask my friendly experts before I wrote anything. Here’s what I learned:

You need fiber to support wireless. Still one of the best explanations I’ve heard of the need for fiber to support wireless is from a conference a few years ago when Kevin Beyer at Farmer’s/Federated explained costs to pull fiber to towers to accommodate wireless. Wireless is good for last mile, but won’t cover the whole connection.

Wireless is more affordable to deploy and cheaper for the end customer. (Assuming no data-caps!) So it can be a good interim solution as you build fiber. One of the recent article details how this can play out with long term plans and has with RS Fiber…

RS Fiber decided, based on the recommendation of their Internet service provider (ISP), Hiawatha Broadband Communications, that they would build a hybrid network.

“It was going to take three years to build out fiber to the larger towns and another two to three to build fiber to farms in the two counties,” says Erickson. “Hiawatha said they could build a 25 Mbps symmetrical wireless network that they would complete in six months while the fiber buildout takes place. This strategy was a stroke of genius.”

This easily could become the norm in both rural and urban U.S. communities.

Rather than have constituents continue to suffer with bad – or no – broadband for years, RS Fiber’s wireless infrastructure has been lit for several months and users are reaping the benefits. All RS Fiber had to do was requisition space for transmitters and receivers on water towers and grain legs, tall structures that protrude above grain bins. Then they integrated the fiber into transmission hubs that deliver wireless signals to homes and businesses. Once customers get data receivers in their homes, they’re ready to go. The wireless services enabled quick cash flow, plus RS Fiber now has a loyal customer base for fiber before that buildout is complete.

Wireless is getting faster but the range is still limited. With advances such as millimeter wave technology, top broadband speeds are available but only at very close range

This week, a new startup, Starry, announced it would bring gigabit-speed internet access to consumers, without data caps, at a price that is equal or less than your average broadband plan.  …

The only difficulty is that you have to locate the transmitter suitably close,” says Sundeep Rangan, an associate professor of electrical engineering at New York University who specializes in wireless communications. As part of the NYU Wireless project, a team of academics made a number of extensive measurements in a dense urban environment trying to emulate transmission for cellular type applications with millimeter waves, similar to those proposed by Starry. “We could serve people up to 200 meters away at high speeds, even without direct line of sight. It was quite remarkable.”

And even the vendors seem a little shaky about that detail…

The problem is that 200 meters is just a fraction of the range promised by Starry, which is claiming its technology can deliver a fast, reliable signal to homes up to 2 kilometers away.

There will always be room for both. Wireless may build customer loyalty and customer fees may build cash to deploy fiber and people will always want the mobility of wireless. I’ve written before about which is better in an emergency. (Depends on the emergency.) And I’m sure anyone reading this (especially if on your smartphone while waiting in line for something – or maybe as you’re on your tractor monitoring precision ag apps) can think of dozens of reasons wireless is essential.

AT&T Expands 4G LTE Network in Babbitt and Tower

Good news for Babbitt and Tower…

AT&T* is improving service for customers in northeast Minnesota. We have expanded our super-fast 4G LTE wireless service at 2 sites, bringing faster speeds for customers and businesses:

  • A new 4G LTE site in Babbitt;
  • A new 4G LTE site in Tower near the Fortune Bay Resort and Casino.

“Customers are doing more with their wireless devices than ever before,” said Paul Weirtz, president of AT&T Minnesota. “Our goal is to give them an effortless network experience. These network investments in northeast Minnesota will help us do that.”

The AT&T 4G LTE wireless service is the latest high-speed mobile broadband technology, with mobile speeds 10x faster than 4G.

That means customers can do many of the same tasks on their tablet and smartphone that they do on their wired computer.

“This is good news for residents and businesses in Babbitt and Tower,” said State Senator Thomas Bakk. “If we want northeast Minnesota to compete in today’s global economy, it’s critical we have access to the latest mobile Internet technologies that are driving innovation and investment.”

“Fast and reliable mobile data is not only vital for economic development, but also for advancements in everything from education to health care to tourism,” said State Representative Rob Ecklund. “This investment will help Babbitt and Tower residents stay connected and businesses stay competitive in a mobile economy.”

From 2013 through 2015, AT&T invested more than $350 million in its networks in Minnesota, and these positions are part of AT&T’s continued investment in 2016.

We’re constantly investing in our network to give customers the high-quality services they need to stay connected. This helps people across Minnesota get the best possible experience over the AT&T network, whether at home, at work or on the go.

For more information about the AT&T service in Minnesota, visit the AT&T Coverage Viewer.