Be on the wave or under it
The News – 04/16/02
Broadband in the Sky Wars
(part 2 of the Broadband Content
Way back last July, I ran an article about alternative
broadband solutions – solutions that don’t involve wires coming
into your home. I was bemused by the fact that most of them
were coming in 2002. Well, 2002 is here. Where are these solutions?
you’ll recall, plans to offer 3Mbps
bi-directional service (400Kbps upstream) to your rooftop using
a 26" satellite dish and a small modem sold through 23,000
retailers that offer partner EchoStar's DISH Network service.
Once targeted at 2002, WildBlue is now looking at deployment
The Halostar Network from Angel
Technologies and Raytheon plans to offer a blistering 52Mbps
via HALO-Proteus aircraft that will fly fixed patterns in the
stratosphere (51,000 feet and higher). It’s hard to say if this
is still a going deal, as the companies’ Web sites haven’t been
updated in a long while and a query to their PR person yields
Alexander “I’m in charge” Haig’s effort, uses an unmanned, lighter-than-air
platform (AKA a blimp) to deliver broadband access speeds up
to 2Mbps uplink and 10Mbps downlink. According to their latest
FAQ, they’ll go live not
in 2002 as originally planned, but in 2004. Slippage happens.
Coming down to
earth, Sprint’s terrestrial Broadband
Direct service uses a roof-mounted 13.5" diamond-shaped
transceiver to deliver typical download speeds ranging from
512Kbps to 1.5Mbps, with a maximum upload speed of 256Kbps.
It’s available now, but they’re not taking any more customers,
because, “The limitations of the current generation of fixed
wireless technology do not allow for an optimum cost structure.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if they sold this business and concentrated
on a next-generation system. Since the future is always a year
away, wouldn’t it make sense if it were available next year?
WorldCom, noted in an SNS
from last December, is offering fixed terrestrial wireless services
today in 13 markets,
including Minneapolis/St. Paul. The service is based on MMDS
(Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service) spectrum that
was divested by the Baby Bells, who had planned to use it to
compete, in-region, with incumbent cable TV providers. WorldCom
claims, “The longer wavelengths of MMDS frequencies at 2.5 -
2.7 GHz are more power efficient and less susceptible to the
effects of weather than the shorter wavelengths of LMDS.”
But wait a minute. The MMDS bandwidth is pretty close to the
2.4GHz spectrum used by 802.11b and Bluetooth devices. And the
whole 802.11 movement is pretty cheesed off right now about
an FCC petition filed by satellite radio vendor Sirius
paid big bucks for a frequency adjacent to the unlicensed radio
band used by 802.11b (Wi-Fi). Sirius’ bandwidth is at 2.32 to
2.34GHz, while Wi-Fi and Bluetooth both use 2.4-2.483GHz, only
55MHz away from the upper end of the licensed band. When you’re
talking gigahertz, 55MHz may seem rather close. However, to
give you some perspective, the entire FM radio band is only
Sirius officials say the unlicensed devices could possibly
overlap and interfere, and the company is asking the FCC to
reduce the wattage of those unlicensed devices, to 8.6
at 3 meters. Wi-Fi proponents say this is, first of all,
hard to do without recalling all the existing equipment, and
second, represents an unacceptable decrease in power. The petition
will force 2.4GHz equipment to reduce out-of-band emissions
(radio waves broadcast on frequencies other than the target
frequency) by one-third.
The story gets complicated by the fact that Sirius applied
for, and received, special “interim” clearance from the FCC
to operate radio repeaters on the ground to boost the strength
of their signal. The order
requires Sirius to work with other terrestrial radio services
and to reduce their signal level if they are found to interfere
Many Wi-Fi manufacturers take issue with the science behind
Sirius’ claims of potential interference. Radio device maker
on the Sirius petition:
Sirius requests that the emissions
from Part 15 and 18 devices be reduced in order to protect SDARS
receivers from a proliferation of unlicensed devices, specifically
devices that are based on the Bluetooth and 802.11b standards.
It proposes that the aggregate free space field strength of
co-polarized out-of-band, radiated emissions from these devices
into the 2320-2345 MHz band not exceed 8.6 µV/m
at 3 meters, as measured in a 1 MHz bandwidth, for devices that
are placed on the market 18 months after the a final rule is
802.11b devices have penetrated a
significant market, yet no real data has been provided that
interference from these devices will cause interference, in
fact measurements performed on behalf of XM indicate other sources
are more likely to cause interference. Interestingly enough
in the filing by XM the main source of interference is not the
equipment operating in the 2.4 GHz band but interference from
vehicle ignition noise.
The impact on these devices on meeting
the lower emissions requirements is not as minimal as expressed
by XM. Requiring manufacturers to include additional filters
to meet these proposed levels is non-trivial. Designs would
have to be modified, additional parts would be required that
can impact the system power requirements, and current manufacturing
processes would have to be changed, all at a non-trivial cost
Whatever happens with
the Sirius petition, it represents a serious challenge to the
use of the unlicensed 2.4GHz band. Indeed, it’s possible that
a major motive behind the action is to hamper the growth of
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services.
As reported in a previous SNS, publicly
accessible Wi-Fi networks are becoming so dense and overlapping
in some cities that they can be knitted into a mesh network.
What if someone wanted to use this ad hoc network to deliver
CD-quality radio services that compete with Sirius? The cost
of the infrastructure would be minimal compared with launching
satellites and installing terrestrial repeaters.
The growing Wi-Fi
mesh could put a dent in Third Generation (3G) cell phone networks
as well. With Wi-Fi delivering up to 11Mbps throughput, and
it’s brother 802.11a delivering five times that, 3G cell networks’
pokey 2Mbps maximum (which won’t be available for at least a
year) will seem quite slow in comparison. Plus, consider the
impact of the various other broadband schemes in the works:
If Halostar gets
its act together, delivering 52Mbps from high above a metro
area, it’s possible it could supply that bandwidth to mobile
devices. This is possible for the other ISP-in-the-sky solutions
the US, Qwest is installing
a new phone line technology called VDSL (Very high bit-rate
DSL) – with download speeds of up to 14Mbps – although at
the moment they’re only offering 1Mbps.
modems have a theoretical upper limit of 1Gbps.
Although phone line and cable solutions are obviously not practical
for wireless access, if adopted, they will up the ante for wireless
services. People will get used to multi-megabit-per-second access
and demand more from their wireless solutions than 3G is likely
The wildcard in the mix is a bill, H.R.1542, recently
passed by the US House and now in committee in the Senate. Called
the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001 (Mom
& Apple Pie alert!), the bill would allow the Baby Bells to
offer broadband services outside their local phone service areas.
This bill perplexes me. I assume it was introduced at the instigation
of the Bells, known as Regional Bell Operating Companies or RBOCs.
But the RBOCs haven’t been so keen on introducing DSL that you’d
notice, viewing it as competition for their lucrative T-1 services.
If this bill passes the Senate, we may see a more aggressive
push by the RBOCs to install broadband.
Tomorrow, Tomorrow, You’re Always a Year Away
Anyway, back to next year. Market researcher the ARC Group predicts that by 2003, there
will be 21 million broadband households worldwide and the broadband
market will be worth $88 billion by 2007. A study
from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found that
there were roughly 9.6 million high-speed lines in the US in June
2001 – a 250 percent increase since August 2000.
The big question is: Is the Internet enough to drive high broadband
adoption, or will new content services need to be developed? Telecom
companies don’t think so, and have commenced whining about the
need for government subsidies.
Cisco senior VP Mike Volpi said recently
that the only way to get a significant number of homes wired with
broadband Internet access is to "subsidize the cost either
through content or the government. Something else has to pay for
ADC Communications CEO Rick Roscitt contributed to the whining
chorus in a recent Minneapolis StarTribune opinion piece:
“The United States should encourage new investment in broadband
networks through tax incentives, especially for deployment of
broadband to under-served communities and to accelerate development
of next-generation services.”
Should governments subsidize broadband deployment? Is the Internet
enough? I’ll take a look at these questions in the next SNS.
- Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: CTOMentor
has just released a new wireless white paper, the first in The
Wireless Future series: You Can Take It With You: Business
Applications of Personal Wireless Devices. This first paper
in the series is free; others that will be available for a nominal
fee will include:
- Islands Make the Net: Wireless Networking and the Evolving
- Taking Your Business On the Road: The Car As Wireless
- Standards, Standards Everywhere: A Business Guide to Wireless
- M-Commerce: Are We There Yet?
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mobile Location-Based
- The Wireless Last Mile: Fixed Wireless Broadband Services
- Beyond Keyboards, Beyond Wires: Voice Activated Wireless
- Information, Entertainment, and Access At Your Fingertips:
Interactive Wireless Information Services
These white papers will be released over the coming months.
To be notified when a new white paper is released, send an email
or check www.CTOMentor.com/wireless/.
You also may want to check out the article I wrote on Instant
Messaging in the latest issue of the TaylorHarkins Insights
to Action newsletter.
- Email That Hottie in the Convertible:
Here’s a service that could cut both ways: Driver2Driver.com,
sponsored by online auto site Stoneage.com, offers an email
service based on your license plate number. With all the information
access technologies being built into cars and portable wireless
devices these days, real time email mash notes have now become
a possibility. Of course, the downside is the guy you just
cut off can vent his wrath via email as well. You can reach
me at MNBMJemail@example.com,
but only if you’ve got something nice to say.
- Scamming Online? Stop Now! Consumers
in the UK now have a way to report online scams. The Stop
Now Regulations went into effect last year, giving consumer
protection authorities the power to stop a business from selling
goods on-line if it is not complying with the Consumer Protection
(Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. The regulations got their
first use late last year, after a reconditioned computer mail-order
company generated more than 900 complaints in less than three
months. Consumers can use a website now to report rogue traders.
- GPRS Coming to Minneapolis: OK, you
may not care, but I do. ATT is planning on bringing high(er)-speed
cell phone data access based on General Packet Radio Service
(GPRS) to the Twin Cities this summer. They even implied we
could expect cool phones (perhaps the new Siemens phone or,
dare we hope, the Nokia Communicator) to go along with the
service. ATT plans to roll out GPRS in all major markets within
the next year.
Modern Medieval Siege
Warfare: Prospective SNS Reader Bill Dietrick
sent along an article about Carnegie Mellon University's Parallel
Data Lab (PDL). The PDL is taking a new approach to computer
security by using siege warfare concepts employed in medieval
castles. The lab’s gotten a $4.5 million grant from the Department
of Defense, and Professor Greg Ganger is working on devices
that he hopes will protect computer data even after intruders
have penetrated traditional perimeters, such as firewalls. So-called
“self-securing devices” will defend themselves in a manner similar
to the way parts of medieval castles formed distinct protective
barriers, such as moats, inner sanctums, and strategically placed
Return to Mike’s
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