Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wi-Fi – “the toy that grew up”

Reprinted from the Wireless Broadband Association: Industry News Roundup
Wi-Fi – “the toy that grew up”
Historically, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) looked at Wi-Fi as a toy, a low-end technology that was great to off-load data from networks. Now Wi-Fi is having a strategic impact on MNOs across the globe. Now the question is LTE or Wi-Fi: remind me which one’s for off-load?
Yet, as with many technical innovations, the low-end always wins. Wi-Fi is a classic example of this theory. Through a combination of Moore’s Law, economies of scale, R&D investments and free market dynamics Wi-Fi is king of the hill. In most developed countries people and things can access a Wi-Fi network in 80% of locations. Companies, such as Devicescape, have created virtual networks based on “ambient’ Wi-Fi networks. Hotspots are so ubiquitous that Opensignal launched an application to find the best one out of the many available.
Wi-Fi and Hotspots are becoming strategic to all carriers (fixed and mobile) as they have realized the importance of keeping traffic on their network for quality of experience and billing purposes. The market for carrier Wi-Fi gear continues to grow as carriers look to exploit these opportunities.
Today, high- speed access to the Internet is as fundamental as indoor plumbing. People expect it and city and national governments view it as mandatory for many economic development and quality of life issues. With the ubiquity of Wi-Fi enabled devices and the simplicity of Wi-Fi deployments it is no surprise that Wi-Fi is a leading candidate to achieve this. Even in remote,rural and under-developed regions, Wi-Fi leads the ways.
Even with fierce competition from ZigBee and other alternatives Wi-Fi is also a leading network technology for applications using IoT technologies. Wearables are no exception. LG smart watches use Wi-Fi and researchers are looking to Wi-Fi for an entire body network. We could all become Wi-Fi access points.
Yet success breeds challenges. Wi-Fi uses attractive unlicensed frequency bands and the licensed crowd wants in as the LTE community is looking to use the same 5 Ghz frequency band. Trying to head off a battle royale, the U.S. FCC has already entered the fray.
Wi-Fi, the toy that grew up, continues its momentum to solve real problems for consumers, businesses, service providers and governments. It was often said never to bet against Ethernet, I’d like to add never bet against Wi-Fi.
Greg Whelan, ACG Research
To discuss this and other strategic technology issues impacting the global service provider market please contact me

Friday, June 26, 2015

Access Insights™ At the Intersection of Service Provider Business Drivers and Emerging Technologies

What is “access”?  Simply put, it’s people and things accessing the cloud and each other. 
Access is no longer Fixed or Wireless.  Access is about connecting people and things to each other and to applications and service in “the cloud”.   Thus, access is about Fixed and Wireless.  It’s about having the right combined architecture on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.  This “combo” trend is having, and will continue to have, major impacts and disruptions in the access market and in the entire service provider ecosystem.  New technologies, architectures and business models will emerge. Market realities are forcing carriers to offer (up to) gigabit speeds and incumbents have billions of dollars in deployed assets and architectures.  All this makes Access challenging for both technical/architectural and business decision making.    
I’ve determined that attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.) is a truly global phenomenon.  Therefore, I will present my points in terse salient bullets :-)
Top Access Insights to Ponder
  1. The future of Access is Fixed and Wireless… not “or”
    1. SPs need to adapt organizations, so do vendors!
  2. Gigabit Deployment Strategy
    1. Is timing everything? Plus...real strategic implications to the @$# Speed Test.
  3. Next Gen Broadband CPE architecture and business models are being disrupted...
    1. Big risk to incumbent service providers and Vendors
  4. Wi-Fi: The “toy” that grew up: Strategic implications abound
    1. Wi-Fi: Further proof that the “low end always wins”
  5. Voice over Wi-Fi
    1. Nothing but upside to Cable Companies. Nothing but threats to MNOs.
  6. LTE vs. Wi-Fi
    1. Remind me which one is for off-load?
  7. Next Gen Cable Access Networks …
    1. PON Greenfield is redundant, DOCSIS Greenfield is an oxymoron
  8. CPE vs. Carrier Gear (Plastic vs. Metal)
    1. Plastic companies building metal?
  9. SDN-NFV in Access
    1. It’s coming… contemplations begin…
  10. What’s the value of vendor incumbency at inflection points?
    1. Is Access different from any other industry?
There’s, hopefully obviously to the reader, a lot of thought behind each of these points.  I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss them in more detail.  Please contact me if you’d like to schedule some time explore how these insights impact your strategies and how we can create actionable plans to address and exploit them.
Greg Whelan gwhelan@greywale.com

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Broadband Regulations: Be Careful What You Wish For!

Regulations are a critical factor in the access network. Unlike the “rest of the network” the access network is burdened with federal, state and local regulations and this is only getting worse. I’ve written extensively in the past that net neutrality is a bad idea and that Title II is a gigabit killer.

Why is regulation bad for everyone, including Google? The regulated monopoly “phone companies” depreciated equipment over 30 years. With asset-based pricing regulations you want to keep your asset base as high as possible. Thus, the innovation cycle of the regulated voice industry was 30 years. In the unregulated data networking industry the desired depreciation cycle is five to seven years with three to five years being a more common life span of equipment. Thus, the innovation cycle is three to five years. Today, service providers want to accelerate their innovation cycle to less than one year and ideally three to four months to be more competitive with the “web companies” such as Google and Facebook.
Until recently the net neutrality debate was focused on adverse traffic impacts such a throttling P2P traffic. It’s widely reported that as few as 10 percent of users consume upwards of 80 percent of capacity. The numbers have changed with the proliferation of streaming video but the issue remains. Mobile network operators have solved this problem with data caps. They also have program where web companies can pay so their traffic doesn’t count against subscribers’ data caps. (This may be illegal soon as well.) When an analogous program (for example, paid fast lane) was implemented in the broadband access market there was outrage.
Traditional content delivery networks (CDNs) can bypass much of the public Internet to improve quality of service. Companies that want to provide a better user experience can use CDNs and cache their content in select Tier 1 locations across the country. This helps; however, from the Tier 1 cache to the user is best-effort delivery. Once the traffic enters the local exchange carriers’ (LEC) network in a large metropolitan area the “last 50” miles are best effort.
With this model OTT companies cannot ensure the quality of their service. Why shouldn’t they be able to pay the LEC for better traffic treatment? The argument is that this benefits the large companies at the detriment of start-up companies. It’s just another challenge innovative start-ups must overcome. This actually benefits consumers as only those companies with a compelling offering will make it over the hurdle. Marginal companies with a marginal offering won’t flood the market and the network with garbage. This is a good thing. Isn’t the FCC all about protecting the consumer?
Can capitalism and the free market address the issue of a “digital divide”? Yes, a case in point is Comcast in the Boston area. The company offers $10/month broadband service to any family that has children on the free or subsidized school lunch program in the city of Boston. No laws, no regulations just a solid business driven move by Comcast.
Service providers have invested billions of dollars deploying and managing broadband networks. Data rates have continuously increased. Gigabit networks are being deployed around the world by a range of companies and organizations. The free market is driving them. It’s counter intuitive to expect them to spend limited CAPEX if their return on investment is regulated or uncertain. Today, regulators are faced with conflicting priorities. On one hand they want to spur gigabit investments but on the other hand they want to regulate broadband access. It’s obvious that you can’t get both.To repeat: Title II is a gigabit killer.