A Few Thoughts About the Current 5G Hype Machine

As some of you know, I wrote about microwave and millimeter wave carriers back in the mid-’00s. Carriers that used largely the same network that will be used for 5G. I’ve followed new technology rollouts, wrote early reports about the competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) markets, and penned research about the expansion of cable television and its evolution into “triple-play” triple-threats. It is with the same level of interest that I’ve been following 5G, with a report about the industry being one of a few possible next-steps for me. So I thought I’d get some high-level thoughts out there. Those of you deeply involved in the industry will see this overview as incomplete, and I could add links to articles about some of the cool things 5G is already doing (and please feel free to share more detailed info and links in the comments, if you’d like – active participation in the comments section will only make this article more useful [with my advance apologies for any delay “approving” the comments, since that’s how I’ve set up this blog]), but I hope it will be a great introduction for those who haven’t yet thought about 5G from this angle before.

I simultaneously appreciate and roll my eyes at the 5G hype machine. It is the future. It is going to help us do great things. Mostly things we can’t do or haven’t thought of right now. Aside from robots and cars, most of the examples I hear are things that could already be done with 4G. Or are things we were already doing with microwave systems more than two decades ago just packaged as “5G” to make them seem new. Or are merely the same things we occasionally do but done faster. But nothing we do very often. Why do you think the most common example given for consumer 5G is that you can download a movie (or app) in 10 seconds rather than 2 minutes? Because that’s one of the few things we do for which 5G would provide a noticeable difference. And we don’t do it that often – certainly not often enough to warrant rolling out an entire global network.

Some of the industrial applications are more intriguing and more immediately useful. While the past wireless generations were driven largely by consumer needs, businesses demands may very well drive 5G. Perhaps spurred on by the consumer revenue generated by this buzz. So from that perspective, I’m tolerant of the consumer 5G hype. Early adopters will be excited. Others who buy 5G devices too early may be disappointed. Personally, I’ll likely be my usual late-tech-adopter self, following it closely but not spending my own paycheck on it unless and until it fills a need for me. I can imagine a 5G connection to my work device that would vastly improve my ability to work with large data files. Faster access to powerful processing will allow me to perform complex analysis not currently available from a PC. I can think of some great work-life uses for 5G. And I have faith that personal and business uses I haven’t even dreamed of yet will follow. But only when 5G coverage nears ubiquity, including the necessary indoor antennas enabling 5G inside buildings.

Here, by the way, is a good CNN article about 5G. Very hype-filled but a worthwhile read. The title says, “I tried 5G. It will change your life — if you can find it.” Yes, 5G is coming. And yes, it will change your life. Just probably not for a few years.

Some Favorite Telecom Resources

Hello, telecom industry friends, former colleagues and contacts, and other readers.

As you know, it’s been a decade since I was last firmly ensconced in the telecom industry, at least to the extent it doesn’t overlap with the tech/IT industry, but it still represents a majority of my career, and I devour the latest news about it to stay abreast of developments. I don’t, however, blog about it consistently – as this is a side-project labor-of-love for me, I don’t blog about any telecom or tech concept consistently – so while I do hope you subscribe to this blog to allow my thoughts on topics of shared interest to find their way into your inbox, I thought it only fair to share a few of my favorite resources and encourage you to partake of them, too. To keep this short, I’ll start with three. Perhaps I’ll write a few sequels to this post in the future to help spread the wealth.

POTs and PANs

First up is POTs and PANs, the cleverly-named blog from CCG Consulting. With thoughts that seem to flow straight off the top of Doug Dawson’s head, this blog contains a wide range of telecom insights, thoughts on news events, and other well-considered, detailed musings of interest to telecom folks. A lot of them focusing on rural telecom, given Doug’s background. I met Doug early in my telecom career, at my very first job after grad school, and he was already an all-knowing telecom industry guru, a consultant widely revered in the industry with a seeming grasp of every nuance of the rural telecom industry in which I worked at the time.

In any case, POTs and PANs is always a fascinating read, at least if you’re interested in thinking deeply about the issues surrounding the telecom industry. And, of course, I am. Whether he’s writing about what’s happening at the FCC (“FCC to Tackle Rural Call Completion”), consumer trends in the industry (“Prices are Driving Cord Cutting”), wireless developments (“5G Cellular for Home Broadband?”), or more philosophical issues (“Public Networks and Privacy”), Doug’s writing in POTs and PANs is always a good read. It’s always time well-spent.

CommScope Blog

There aren’t a lot of large product vendor blogs that regularly hold my interest, but CommScope‘s blog is a rare exception. The topics span a broad range of tech and telecom, but it’s more than once that I’ve set aside one of CommScope’s articles to read later. (This is an advantage of subscribing to blogs via e-mail – they’re easier to time-shift. I find I return more often to a blog I’ve left in my inbox than to a link I’ve bookmarked.) Some of the definitional posts, for example, have remained set aside in an Outlook folder I return to periodically for years because they allow me to review the basics of topics I commonly encounter, particularly helpful to use as a starting point for discussions with those less familiar, but also useful in reviewing subject I circle back to infrequently. Articles I’ve set aside include “What is PON?” and “What is NFV?” Also helpful has been “Getting to Know Our Fiber Acronyms.” In addition, the CommScope Blog touches upon current trends, from technological trends, as covered in this post about 400 GbE, “The Next Big Thing in Cloud Data Center Networking”, to geographic technology trends, as noted in “How the MEA Can Embrace the Status Quo.”

Indeed, this blog uses many authors to cover a broad range of topics of interest to telecom and technology, from fiberoptics to wireless to satellite, often focused on the technology, serving up both the basics (because telecom is a big industry, and while we’re all experts in one or a few fiefdoms, we all benefit from some exposure to the other areas via articles written simply enough for us to understand) and the more detailed analysis. I subscribe to several vendor blogs, but I frequently notice how many of the posts that hold my interest come from CommScope’s.

Stephen Hardy’s Friday 5

If you know me, you know I don’t like streaming videos. The information is never provided at the pace or level of detail I want. They’re impossible to skim. I always prefer my information in text format, and if a website insists on auto-starting videos, since I surf with the sound off, I only notice if those videos cause the pages to load slowly or periodically freeze, and when that happens I find my information on a different website.

With all that lead-in, surprisingly, I actually enjoy Stephen Hardy’s Friday 5. It probably helps that I know Stephen. For my last couple years at KMI, it was owned by the same parent company as Lightwave. Of course, he’s still with Lightwave, currently serving as its Editorial Director and Associate Publisher.

Then again, that’s not really the point. Personal acquaintance can hardly overcome my disdain for receiving my information via video, but the Friday 5 is quick, to-the-point, and summarizes five stories that are actually interesting from the previous week. And the stories are fiberoptics-focused, which is one of my personal sweet spots within the telecom industry, so there’s that. The videos are about 5 minutes long, meaning there’s an average of a minute devoted to each story.

A recent Friday 5, the one from June 22nd, using the 5‘s countdown format, covered: 5) a cloud infrastructure spending market report, 4) a change in Fiber Broadband Association leadership, 3) Huawei faces national security concerns in Australia, 2) a change in ONF strategy, and 1) a research report predicting a decline in transceiver sales revenue as a result of ZTE issues. And that’s a typical weekly range of issues covered.

I don’t go to the Friday 5 web home, to which I’ve linked above, every week “unprovoked,” as it were. No, one of the Lightwave e-newsletters I receive directs me to it. But I do enjoy it… the once or twice a month I decide I’m in the mood for information via video. Given my predisposition toward text, that’s pretty darn good.

Conclusion

Those are three of my favorite telecom industry news sources. And as I was writing this, I thought of at least three more. Maybe I will provide a second installment later this year. For now, hopefully I’ve helped you find some new, interesting informational resources. I would recommend subscribing to those other sources if you’re a telecom industry geek like me. I’m sure you already receive my blog in your inboxes… don’t you?

A Look Back at Aereo’s Interesting Final Year

The Source of My Policy Geekdom…

I wrote a couple times this past year about Aereo. This is mostly because I’m a bit of a telecom policy geek. My telecom policy geekdom all started decades ago, thanks to a class I took while studying for my B.A. in Telecommunications.  Telecommunications Law, I think it was called. The key thing I took away from that class, taught by the exceptional Professor Thomas Muth, was that it was often possible to credibly, honestly argue either side of a policy debate simply by interpreting the Communications Act of 1934 differently. I was working for telcos when that was replaced by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. What makes telecom law so interesting is that it is often up to interpretation, with case history sometimes providing a window into expected FCC and court decisions, but the Telecom Act often allows for changes in policy direction, if desired. And in the case of Aereo, there was even case history supporting opposing potential decisions.

…and How It Led to My Aereo Posts

So that’s what made Aereo so interesting to me; that’s what prompted two posts, first on April 8th and again on April 20th.  This was a situation in which both sides could find support in telecom laws and case histories; the main question was how those laws would be interpreted in this particular case.

The Unraveling of Aereo Since June, and the Beginning of Its Final Dismantling

I wasn’t blogging much, and therefore failed to publish any posts about Aereo, during the time period that Aereo was “deemed illegal” by the Supreme Court in June (as noted in this TechCrunch article) or when it lost its appeal to be consider a cable company in August (see this c|net article). Nor did I post in November when Aereo’s Chet Kanojia penned a final farewell to the company’s customers (which, at least for now, can still be seen on Aereo’s website).

Most recently, the company was in the news a couple weeks ago for a court decision allowing it to auction off its equipment (as detailed in this telecompaper article).

This seems to be the end for Aereo, but for the telecom policy geek in me, at least, it was interesting following the ups and downs of this potentially disruptive telecom business.

Potential for Telecom Provider Consolidation in Europe & Beyond

I don’t really have much to add to Tim Poulus’ Communications Breakdown blog post I’m about to cite.  Thanks to Rob Powell’s tweet this morning, I stumbled across this great Communications Breakdown blog post summarizing the potential for consolidation in the telecom industry (with most of his examples in Europe, it appears), featuring carriers as “hunters,” “the hunted,” and “undecided.”

Indeed, it’s such a good post, I won’t add anything, but on the heels of my mostly U.S.-focused (well, at least half U.S.-focused) post from a couple weeks ago, I thought this might be an interesting international follow-up.

Oh, and the Communications Breakdown post contains this interesting graphic from a biology text, too.  (Bonus points for being clever.)

Comparison of Prey and Predators’ Populations

 

Carrier Ethernet Quick Hits: Price Declines Accelerate; Allstream Gets Certified, So Does Cox

Carrier Ethernet has been in the news a bit lately.  Here are a few quick hits:

1) In its CommsUpdate, TeleGeography noted that Ethernet pricing isn’t just declining; rather, it’s decline has accelerated in the past year:

New data from TeleGeography’sEthernet Pricing Service reveal that as Ethernet service availability has grown around the world, price declines have accelerated. Between H1 2013 and H1 2014, median monthly lease prices for 100Mbps point-to-point Ethernet over MPLS (EoMPLS) pseudowires declined an average of 44%, compared to 26% annually since H1 2011.

You can see the acceleration very clearly in TeleGeography’s graphic:

2) Canadian competitive carrier Allstream is trying to differentiate itself via MEF CE 2.0 certification:

“I am proud that Allstream is the first among Canada’s major national carriers to achieve this significant milestone,” said Allstream President Michael Strople. “The MEF CE 2.0 certification reinforces Allstream’s reputation for innovation and provides assurance to our customers that the products and services they are buying are the best in Canada and the world.”

3) CED reported that, in the U.S., Cox Business became the fourth cableco to earn MEF CE 2.0 certification, joining Time Warner Cable Business Class, RCN Business, and Comcast.

4) So, how many MEF CE 2.0 carriers are there?  Yes, I was wondering, too, so I went to the Metro Ethernet Forum website, where I found this Services Certification Registry.  As of this writing, 74 services, offered by 26 companies in 12 countries, are MEF CE 2.0 certified.  (A lot more companies — 72 in 27 countries– are MEF CE 1.0 certified.)

So that’s today’s tour around the Carrier Ethernet space.  I had noticed a flurry of mentions in the last couple of weeks and was curious what was going on in the space.  Perhaps this summary has satisfied your curiosity, as well.  If I missed any other interesting recent Metro Ethernet news, please do share links in the comment section (or you can send it to me and I’ll share it, if you’re one of my industry friends and contacts who doesn’t want to comment yourself).

Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Juniper maintain carrier router/switch lead, but SDN causes carrier pause – FierceTelecom

Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Juniper maintain carrier router/switch lead, but SDN causes carrier pause – FierceTelecom.

Yes, this article is a couple months old, but I’m sure a lot of my friends and contacts who work for telecom carriers don’t follow news items like this particularly closely (you know who you are) but would still be interested in the results of the Infonetics study quoted in the article.

As the article notes (and here’s the link to Sean Buckley’s FierceTelecom article one more time, just for good measure, before I quote it):

While the top four router/switching vendors Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR) maintained their dominant market positions in 2013, fourth-quarter carrier router/switch revenue declined 4 percent from the same period a year ago.

The article's accompanying graphic

Nothing much to see here, though revenue is slightly down.  Cisco, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent, and Juniper still dominate.

Carrier router/switch data may not keep us yawning for long, though, as Infonetics analyst Michael Howard says “change is in the air.” You can read more about that here, in the Infonetics press release about the report featured in the FierceTelecom article.

Yeah, not my sexiest post, but I had this article squirreled away in hopes I’d get the blog up and running so I could share it.  Indeed, you can trace my interest in switch vendors back to my years working with ILECs.  If you’ve read this far, perhaps that’s where you developed your interest, too.

Retransmission Fees, Antenna Service, and Aereo

Not much grabbing my attention lately in telecom headlines, but going over the last few days of headlines, this FierceCable article about Aereo founder Chet Kanojia’s interview with Katie Couric brings up a few interesting points. To quote an interesting segment of the interview:

“There’s a market imbalance,” Kanojia said. “Nobody loves their cable company.”

While primarily concerned with his company’s rocky relationship with broadcasters and Aereo’s April 22 date with the Supreme Court to justify an over-the-air-for-a-fee TV service model, Kanojia also said that cable companies are “absolutely” pricing themselves out of the market.

For the most part, he said, this is because cable is caught in a web being spun by broadcasters that link their “crown jewel” over-the-air programming with cable channels.

“If you get these people (Aereo customers) an antenna, you would have half the value proposition in front of them–for a lot less money (than a pay TV service),” he told Couric. Broadcasters, he added, only want “to preserve the old business model.”

There are some valid points here, though the establishment of the legaility of retransmission fees as established U.S. law in 1992 cause Aereo’s arguments to be a delicate balancing act.  (Of note, retransmission fees are not legal in Canada, assuming nothing has changed since 2012.  But I digress…)  This is why Aereo must rely on the argument that it is merely an antenna service.  Ironically, that’s what cable TV started out as.  (As I learned in my intro class while getting my BA in Telecommunications, CATV originally stood for “Community Antenna Television.”)

So the first question is whether you can put access to an antenna in the cloud.  But the second question is whether that antenna in the cloud is any different from the cable company’s antenna.  Aereo is arguing that it’s a personal antenna.  (Note the apparent similarities to cable TV I point out in the previous paragraph.)  Balancing act, indeed.

Of course, Kanojia had some thoughts about retransmission fees in general and the extent to which antenna service simply expands a TV station’s local market (both to those who can’t pick up signals due to obstructions and to those who simply find it more convenient to access local stations via an antenna service alongside satellite signals and other aggregating programming [cable TV]).  Though as someone who has worked in the telecom business, I can see the advantages of maintaining that revenue stream for local programmers to continue ensuring the viability of over-the-air television, I can also make a strong philosophical case for siding with the Canadian Supreme Court.

A little digging also brought up this interesting quote in an Adweek article, a snippet from the Wall Street Journal opinion piece written by TV industry veteran Barry Diller, who is current Chairman at one of Aereo’s financial backers.  Diller makes an interesting point about retransmission fees, a battle that, from Diller’s position, may have been lost more than 20 years ago:

“Broadcasters make more money when consumers are steered away from over-the-air program delivery and toward cable and satellite systems that pay the broadcasters retransmission fees. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it seems rich for them to forget the agreement they made to provide television to the consumer in return for the spectrum that enables their business,” wrote Diller in the Wall Street Journal.

But his reminder that broadcasters use the public airwaves is interesting to consider alongside Kanojia’s quote about how broadcast TV derives a significant portion of its revenue from retransmission fees.  Not sure either of those points, however, matters to the decision of this case; they’re more likely to simply good PR that could score points with a public that would like cheaper over-the-air television.  Of course, if Aereo loses this case and has to discontinue its service, public opinion won’t matter.

Though the outcome of this case will certainly impact the general public, the philosophical arguments behind it are likely only of interest to telecom policy geeks.  If you’ve read this far, though, that probably includes you.