Wired vs wireless home connections – 20 percent use wireless

Telecompetitor recently ran an article on home broadband access and wireless…

Although the majority of households still access the Internet via fixed connections (cable, telco, fiber, etc.), nearly 4 in 10 said they usually use mobile for home Internet access, according to new research from ReportLinker.

ReportLinker points to Census Bureau data as further evidence of broadband cord cutting. According to the Dept. of Commerce agency’s report, the number of U.S. households that rely solely on mobile devices and wireless network connectivity for Internet access doubled to 20 percent between 2013 and 2015.

The shift is particularly strong among young adults. Thirty-nine percent of Americans ReportLinker surveyed said they “usually use” mobile devices to connect to the Internet at home. That rose to 55 percent among Millennials and 60 percent of respondents aged 18-24. But an important and interesting observation regarding these findings – how many of those millennials are actually connected via a home fixed broadband connection using Wi-Fi on that mobile device, and don’t even make or understand the distinction?

Their last line gets to an essential point. The world of “wireless” is confusing. When we talk about wireless are we talking about cellular, fixed wireless, wifi. If you asked my kids how they connected to the internet they would say wireless – despite the fact that at home and at school they are actually on wifi that connects to a wireline connection. It’s all the same to them – unless or until a password gets changed. Maybe they’ll know the difference when they are paying the bill – and going on a limb here I think most millennials and a good chunk of 18-24 year-olds are still not paying the bill.

BUT I think that gets at a larger view – it’s not an either/or solution. Most folks want the speed, reliability and limitless use of a wired solution. Most folks want the mobility of a wired (cellular) connection. The following are reasons that customers went one choice over another – most of the reasons come down to bad experience with the choice they didn’t make…

Those who rely on mobile broadband offered various reasons why they don’t have a home broadband connection:

  • 27 percent said they could do everything they want with a smartphone
  • 15 percent said it’s cheaper to have just one connection
  • 15 percent said wireless network access is faster than a home broadband connection
  • 8 percent said home broadband connections aren’t reliable

On the flip side:

  • 22 percent said they use fixed broadband at home because it came as part of a package deal

  • 21 percent said cable broadband is much faster

  • 17 percent said their home broadband data limit is much higher than their mobile data plan limit

  • 5 percent said that not everyone in their household has a good mobile data plan

Industry view of MN small cell legislation

The St Cloud Times recently ran an editorial from Barry Umansky, Ball State University Digital Policy Institute…

The question on the table is how to expedite the process of deploying the infrastructure needed to power 5G, the most advanced wireless broadband network technology to come to market in the history of mobile networking. Engineers are reporting that 5G will deliver data and video at speeds once unimaginable, making the technology a realistic and affordable economic development tool for localities as much as it will be for businesses and citizens. But how fast citizens of any state can realize the benefits of 5G will depend on which state can most quickly and effectively clear the regulatory underbrush slowing down deployment of the network equipment needed to make 5G a reality. Minnesota’s small cell legislation (House File 739 and Senate File 561) is intended to do just that. This legislation should be applauded and supported.

In many localities, installing a communications antenna smaller than a pizza box typically requires approval from local zoning authorities, town councils and other public agencies — and under rules that tend to differ from city to city and town to town. And because permission for small cells is usually negotiated separately with each service provider, there’s a chance that one service provider gets a green light while another runs into roadblocks — meaning that the latter’s customers simply lose out.

Umansky recently presented at the Minnesota Broadband Networks Conference hosted by Minnesota Cable Communications Association, MN Telecom Alliance, AT&T, Comcast and others. (The counter of his view comes from the League of Minnesota Cities and Cable industry.)

I posted notes on the conversation in a Senate Committee meeting. Clearly the wireless provider and League of Minnesota Cities were trying to come to a compromise that would work for all sides. That is where the committee meeting left it more or less.

A tricky part of this is that 5G is a great solution for urban areas, downtown areas but not for rural areas – in part because it requires so much equipment and in part because of the distance limitations for the signal. And the local governments are reticent to relinquish control over the public right of way. Another tricky factor is that this topic is also being discussed at a national level.

WiFi on School Buses – vendor details

I wrote about the Minnesota state grants to support wifi on buses and other ways to get hotspots to students without access at home when they announced the awards. I thought it might be valuable to other school districts or even community centers to share this press release from a vendor who is providing service to some of the grant recipients…

Districts Receive State Funding to Connect Students Outside the Classroom

MCLEAN, Virginia (PRWEB) February 27, 2017

Kajeet, the industry leader for safe, mobile student Internet connectivity, announces its most recent partnerships as a result of money allocated by the Minnesota Department of Education. Minnesota appropriated $500,000 to fund broadband connectivity to students without Internet outside the classroom. Up to $50,000 was available for each recipient. Of the 12 school districts awarded the Internet Broadband Expansion for Minnesota Students grant, six have already partnered with Kajeet to provide Internet access to their rural students.

“Part of our district has high-speed fiber, and part has nothing. But, with high poverty rates, people can’t always afford Internet,” said Matt Grose, superintendent for Deer River Public Schools. “Now we provide Internet connectivity for homework to kids in our district who didn’t have access at home.”

All applicants applied for the first grant, “Broadband Expansion and Off-Campus Learning,” which aims to enable student access to learning materials available on the Internet through a mobile broadband connection, such as a Wi-Fi hotspot. If eligible, applicants could apply to a second grant, “School Bus Internet Access,” designed to make Internet access available on school buses, enabling students to complete homework while commuting.

Deer River also connected their entire bus fleet, as some students spend over an hour commuting to and from school. “It’s a long time to be on the bus, which breeds trouble and wasted time. This [Kajeet] program is a natural extension of our student device initiatives,” said Grose. “We’re taking advantage of student time spent on the bus.”

Kajeet Education Broadband™ met the criteria for both grants with its Kajeet SmartSpot® and SmartBus™ solutions.

Is the hotspot check out at the St Paul Public Library in jeopardy?

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune outlines the trials and tribulations of the mobile hotspot checkout at the St Paul Public Library…highland

The metro area so far appears slow to embrace a trend described as “huge” by the president of the American Library Association (ALA) [lending portable hot spots to library patrons ]. The firm recommended by the ALA as a source of steeply discounted portable hot spots to libraries reports that about 360 systems across the country have taken up its offer, but only one in Minnesota.

And that one, the St. Paul Public Library, is warning it may have to withdraw its units unless it can find a sustainable funding source.

The difficult debate is how to handle a resource that’s so popular…

At a time when some library systems are seeing a decline in conventional services, libraries that do offer hot spots say they are the hottest item they lend. Those libraries still on the sidelines, however, say they are leery for a number of reasons.

First, library patrons commonly endure long waits for the units. With 130 units available through the St. Paul libraries, holds can last months even though most units can be retained for only a week.

And then there’s the issue of finding a reliable funding source to buy them. Many systems offering hot spots get grants to do so, but librarians worry about being forced to yank the popular option for lack of funding after users get accustomed to it.

It’s a difficult situation. Free wifi is a good way to get broadband into low income homes – to level the playing field in the same way computers in the library does. Maybe there’s an opportunity to send the hotspot home with a brochure on local options for low cost broadband subscriptions and Lifeline support. There may be some patrons who are able and willing to pay for a connection with support. Otherwise I hope they find ways to make it work. It’s sad to have to abandon or not try a program that is so popular. Good news for St Paul Public…

The prospect of St. Paul residents continuing to borrow hot spots has improved just in the past few weeks. Funds have been found to allow the library to offer hot spots for the rest of the school year for sure, and perhaps through the end of 2017.

Legislation introduced on Small Cell Technology in Public Right of Way

According to the League of Minnesota Cities

Legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would restrict local authority to regulate companies seeking to install small cell wireless technology in public rights of way. The bill is being pushed by wireless carriers.

The bill, HF 739 (Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska) and SF 561 (Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound), would allow equipment to be placed on utility poles and “any other property a local government unit has an interest in and has made available for commercial purposes.” Additionally, it prevents cities from negotiating zoning, rates, permit timelines, and maintenance as it relates to the installation of emerging wireless infrastructure.

I didn’t attend that session, but I heard the folks at AT&T talk a lot about the need to deploy small cells when the industry spoke to the Minnesota House Commerce Regulatory and Reform committee. From an industry perspective, it makes sense to want to smooth the road for deploying equipment. The League offers the perspective of the local governments…

Wireless companies, including AT&T and Verizon, are lobbying for similar legislation state by state as they and other carriers prepare to install infrastructure to create a new 5G cellular network. Standards and a timeline for 5G implementation have not been set.

“Small cell facilities” is a broad term for the types of cell sites that support antennas plus other equipment to add data capacity. Small cell equipment and distributed antenna systems (DAS) transmit wireless signals to and from a defined area. They need to be powered continuously and require fiber backhaul.

The bill would allow for wireless equipment up to 28 cubic feet in size in the public right of way. Right now, there are cities that have negotiated agreements with providers, mainly in dense urban developments.

The House bill was referred to the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. In the Senate, the bill’s first stop will be in the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee.

House co-sponsors include Reps. Pat Garofalo (R- Farmington), Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), Paul Thissen (D-Minneapolis), Linda Slocum (D-Richfield), Nolan West (R-Blaine), Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove), and Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville). Senate co-authors include Sens. David Senjem (R-Rochester), John Hoffman (D-Champlin), Dan Sparks (D-Austin), and Dan Hall (R-Burnsville).

5G Wireless as Rural Solution: Not any time soon.

bill rightA guest post by Bill Coleman
(Download as White Paper)

5G Wireless as Rural Solution: Not any time soon.

Minnesota legislators are now hearing that a market-based broadband solution is near. 5G wireless to the rescue!  Learning that public dollars would not be necessary for rural broadband development would be soothing music to elected officials’ ears as other groups line up for funds– roads, schools, health care, tax cuts; the list is endless.

After all, many counties and regional entities are growing desperate for broadband and are actively studying the options for spurring broadband delivery to meet at least minimum FCC broadband standards.  Alternatives range from subsidizing incumbents to partnering with new or existing broadband cooperatives.  While the State of Minnesota is seen as the major finance partner, even townships are writing checks for broadband!

So the question “Is 5G coming to rural America anytime soon?” is critical for policy leaders and elected officials.  They wonder, “If we wait, will our future pass us by?” Conversely, they question “Will our investment in fiber be a waste of money as wireless becomes the preferred and available technology?”

After doing a lot of reading and talking with technologists, it is clear that 5G wireless is coming to the marketplace, but it is not coming to rural America anytime soon.  5G wireless does offer promise, but only to high density population centers such as  campuses, large office buildings and apartment buildings.  5G’s chief feature is very high bandwidth– 1 Gigabit or more!  Once established, 5G promises to have the ability to connect many devices with very quick responses, especially applicable for self-driving vehicles or many smart devices in a factory, on urban streets and so on.  5G would also be great for large file sharing applications like HD movies.

So why not 5G in rural areas?  That answer is easy and indisputable.  Deployment of 5G wireless services will require significant fiber deployment, more than either the current 4G wireless cellular network or the new CAF2 Fiber to the Node (FTTN) installations by large incumbent providers.

Rural 5G wireless services would require installing radios every 1,000 – 3,000 feet on towers and poles.  These small cells would require direct fiber connections and all of them would require electricity to power the radios.  The radios would connect to wireless devices in customers’ homes and to other devices on the network and, of course, back to the network backbone.

For comparison, today’s fiber-fed 4G towers might be four to fifteen miles apart depending on terrain and the number of customers.  We know that 4G services have yet to reach many rural customers at their homes since these services are often focused down state and federal highway corridors in tandem with existing fiber routes leaving those in the bulk of the rural countryside without modern service.

In today’s CAF2 environment, providers are making significant investments to deploy FTTN, shortening copper loops to approximately 7,500 feet.  These shorter loop lengths will allow some customers to exceed the 25 Mb download and 3Mb upload FCC broadband standard while others at the end of the line will more likely receive 10 Mb/1 Mb. While this may be a significant improvement from current services, it lags far below the Minnesota broadband goal of 100 Mb/20 Mb by 2026.  Optimists view these CAF2 improvements as an interim step to future FTTH deployment; others view these improvements as the last incumbent investment for a generation.

There are many questions yet unanswered on 5G wireless technical standards and final standards may be years in the making. There are just as many questions on the different business models that will drive deployment in urban, suburban and rural markets.  These deployment strategies will likely vary by location and provider mix.

For example, ATT and Verizon are dominant wireless carriers seeking to use more wireless in their old wired local exchange areas.  They could relatively easily transition their landline customer base to the new 5G networks adding to their existing wireless customer base.  In Minnesota, these wireless companies use a combination of their own networks and leased facilities from a variety of providers to reach large customers, but primarily to reach cell towers.

In Minnesota, incumbent providers CenturyLink and Frontier are just one year into a five-year process to deploy their CAF2 FTTN networks.  Once completed in 2020-21, likely to coincide with 5G technology and devices entry into the marketplace, will they be willing to open these deep fiber networks to competitive 5G wireless providers?  Or will they offer their own 5G wireless services on enhanced CAF2 networks?  Or, will these companies decline to sell access to their networks to wireless providers to preserve their own customer base.  In that scenario one has to wonder if there would ever be a business case for wireless carriers like ATT and Verizon to install duplicate fiber networks to reach rural customers?

So 5G is coming, definitely and soon, but only to metro areas, just as new technologies always seem to hit metro markets first.  But will and when will 5G reach rural?  For those rural residents and businesses still waiting for 4G wireless services, the answer is clearly not any time soon.  Fiber networks, to the home or to the node with very short loop lengths, will be a requirement to support future 5G wireless services.  First fiber, then 5G.  Not the other way around.

My advice: keep pursuing local fiber deployment so that all innovative broadband services – wired and wireless – can be offered in your community.

Steven Senne of Finley Engineering reviewed this article for technical accuracy.


MN House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Broadband Industry Intro: VoIP, 5G,growth and frustration

Yesterday industry folks had an opportunity to provide updates to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. Speakers included representative from Minnesota Cable Communications Association, Minnesota Telecom Alliance and AT&T  Wireless. The presentations were similar to those given (by the same folks) to the Senate last week. The speakers were kind enough to share those with me last week – you can see them here. All three groups mentioned a desire to get fiber closer to the home/premise.

I tried something new for this meeting – I used Facebook Live to livestream the event. Here’s the archive:

I also took notes, which I’ll include below. It seems like there were more questions yesterday. Several Representatives were concerned about changing regulation for phone calls (landline versus VoIP) at the expense of consumer protection. One of the big concerns seems to be that VoIP requires power – so when the power goes out, the VoIP phone doesn’t work. (They have some power generators, but it’s a risk.) The push back is that VoIP is much more cost effective for the provider, especially since many customers are “cutting the cord” and going with cell phone options.

With wireless, there were questions about timeline for 5G and distance limitations. The standards for 5G have not been set yet. But AT&T wants to hit the ground running so they are currently working on small cell deployment. (Small cells make 5G work – they also improve 4G access.) Increased small cell deployment should help with distance issues – because there are distance limitations on 5G, which does make it a better solution for urban markets. Representation Hoppe remarked that they can’t legislate faster than technology can change.

While this committee doesn’t deal with the Broadband Funds, the State broadband grants did come up. One Representative had a customer in CenturyLink territory who was frustrated with his service. Apparently he has 1.5 Mbps (so I’m guessing DSL) and he runs a business. He wondered why/how a community upgrade could be so tied to a provider’s decision to upgrade or not. Panelists remarked that the grant had been a good opportunity for partnerships between provider, community and the State. But clearly that 3-legged stool only stands when all three legs are working together. Continue reading