With an architecture based entirely on IP, the growth of LTE could result in a major shake up of the infrastructure vendor market. Data from the Telecoms.com Intelligence Industry Survey 2013, revealed that more than two-thirds of telecoms professionals (67.5 per cent) believe that the move to LTE will change the relative standings of equipment suppliers. Just 0.9 per cent strongly disagreed with this statement.
Network infrastructure vendors with a background in circuit switched deployments, such as NSN, Huawei and Ericsson, will need to expand their knowledge base. It has been noted however that NSN is still the market leader in terms of LTE contracts.
According to our survey of more than 2,000 industry professionals, 59.2 per cent of respondents believe that the market is ripe for new entrants, and relative newcomers such as Samsung, have a reasonable chance of success.
Ericsson is also a leading LTE equipment vendor. The world’s largest telecom vendor recently demonstrated LTE Advanced for TDD (Time Division Duplexing) to China Mobile, using carrier aggregation and reaching a peak downlink speed of over 220Mbps.
Verizon Wireless Expands LTE Coverage; Still #1 LTE telco in US
On January 29, 2013, Verizon Wireless (VZW) rolled out its 4G LTE coverage to the Pennsylvania counties around Philadelphia; the New Jersey and Delaware shores; and the Lehigh Valley, among other places. Verizon Wireless said its 4G LTE network covers 94 percent of the population in what it calls its Philadelphia Tri-State Region and 89 percent of the population of the country. Verizon Wireless also activated new 4G LTE coverage on three sites in Sullivan County, expanding and filling in coverage on the high-speed data network it launched locally in November 2011. On January 28, 2013, Verizon Wireless reported to expand 4G LTE network in Schoharie County, Greene County, Utica-Rome Area, and Elmira Area. Verizon Wireless continues to be the operator of the nation’s largest 4G LTE network.
Editors Note: A lot of wireless carriers are calling their HSPDA+ networks 4G. They aren’t. Technically, LTE isn’t true 4G either. Only LTE Advanced qualifies for that distinction according to the ITU-R. However, the ITU has backed off their strict criteria for 4G so now any carrier can call their 3G+ network “4G.”
AT&T Inc. says it has restored U-verse services following sporadic outages that hit multiple states starting Monday morning. All customers should be back online now or very soon.
To the frustration of the affected customers, AT&T didn’t disclose the cause of the outage or exactly how many of its U-Verse customers were out of service as a result. Based on customer accounts on outlets such as DSL Reports and the IEEE members discussion group, most of the problems were in the southern and eastern U.S., including parts of Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas. Customers as far north as Detroit, MI also reported U-verse service problems this week.
AT&T said that less than 1 percent of U-verse customers were affected by the outage. The company’s statement said, that’s still “too many.” The cause of the outage was “related to a software upgrade.” Here’s the official AT&T report:
“AT&T customers in some of our markets are experiencing issues with U-verse service. This issue currently affects less than 1 percent of our U-verse subscribers, but that is too many and we are working hard to fix this. We are making progress in resolving the issue which is related to a server complex, and are working to determine when service will be completely restored. We apologize for this inconvenience.”
The Houston Chronicle reported, “Earlier statements by AT&T indicated “a server” was to blame, and now it’s a whole server complex, but again, there are no technical details being shared.”
“”U-verse service has been restored for all customers affected by the outage.,” AT&T spokeswoman Emily Edmonds told CNN on Thursday January 24th. “”We expect any remaining customer issues will be resolved this morning. We will provide a credit to customers who were affected. We know our customers count on their U-verse service and we apologize for the inconvenience.”
Ms. Edmonds said the outage hit “a limited number of customers” in the South, some of whom were without service since Monday. AT&Ts U-Verse service has roughly 7.4 million subscribers, including this author!
Personal Note: While this author and SF Bay area residents in the IEEE discussion group did NOT report any U-Verse outages or even service interruption, many of us have serious issues with AT&T’s sports programming. In particular,
1. Not offering NHL Network or Pac 12 Sports Network and
2. Blacking out of sports programs (which are NOT live pro games or replays) on regional sports networks in the U-Verse HD Premium Tier which costs $17 per month extra!
For more on this, please see the comments at
AT&T still needs more spectrum, despite industry claims there’s enough to go around (please see this post: http://techblog.comsoc.org/2012/12/13/spectrum-crunch-or-not-do-wireless-network-operators-really-need-more-spectrum).
The telco giant has reached a deal to buy remnants of the Alltel (ATN) wireless network for about $780 million to boost its spectrum holdings in rural areas. AT&T is buying the licenses, retail stores and network assets, along with about 585,000 subscribers, from Atlantic Tele-Network Inc. The acquisition includes spectrum in the 700 MHz, 850 MHz and 1900 MHz bands and is largely complementary to AT&T’s existing network.
The Alltel wireless network covers about 4.6 million people in mainly rural areas across six states – Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio and South Carolina. It generated revenue of about $350 million for the first nine months of 2012. Alltel was a wireless network that operated in 34 states until it was bought by Verizon Wireless in 2009. Federal regulators made Verizon sell off parts of the network to AT&T and ATN.
Analyst Christopher King at Stifel Nicolaus observed that ATN bought its six-state holdings for $223 million in 2010, meaning it more than tripled its money in three years.
AT&T said it expects that as it upgrades the network in the acquired areas, mobile Internet service will improve for both Alltel and AT&T customers. However, it will need to convert the cell towers from the “CDMA” technology Alltel uses to the “GSM” technology AT&T’s network uses. That means Alltel subscribers will need new phones.
The deal remains subject to approval by the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice. The companies said they expect the deal to close in the second half of the year. For more info, see this press release:
Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless (VZW) is evidently content with the spectrum they already own. The Verizon Communications-Vodafone joint venture sold a record 9.9m smartphones in the fourth quarter, including 6.2m iPhones. Both figures were slightly higher than analysts had expected. About 65 per cent of the smartphones Verizon Wireless sold in the quarter, and about half of the iPhones, were LTE devices. Overall, Verizon Wireless sold 12.5m LTE devices in the quarter, and 58 per cent of its subscribers were using a smartphone at the end of December, up from 44 per cent a year earlier.
During the quarter VZW added a net 2.1m monthly contract subscribers, bringing its total number of subscribers, including pre-paid, to 98.2m.
“We made a stragic decision to take advantage of our 4G LTE lead and invest in growth which resulted in record high postpaid (monthly contract) gross and net adds in the quarter,” said Fran Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer.
Mr Shammo said LTE is also about five times more efficient to operate than the older 3G technology, helping the company to offset the impact on margins of higher sales of heavily subsidised smartphones.
AW Comment: We think that both AT&T and VZW control too much spectrum in the U.S. and have formed a wireless telco duopoly. Would like to see more competition from a re-energized Sprint (with Softbank’s financial backing) and a merged T-Mobile-Metro PCS. Will that happen? Only time will tell.
Market research firm Infonetics Research released excerpts from its Small Cell and LTE Backhaul Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey, which provides insights into operators’ current and future plans for outdoor small cells and backhaul. Contrary to popular belief, it won’t be a cake walk for small cell operators, according to Infonetics.
SMALL CELL AND LTE BACKHAUL SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS:
For its 36-page small cell and LTE backhaul survey, Infonetics interviewed purchase decision makers at 22 independent wireless, incumbent, competitive, and cable operators from EMEA, North America, and Asia Pacific about their current and future plans for small cell and macrocell backhaul. The study provides insights into mobile traffic handling and specific backhaul issues related to outdoor small cells, in-building small cells, and macrocells.
“The challenge is on for small cell operators. They’ve been scrambling to test and trial a large number of technologies, products, and topologies for outdoor small cells, and they’re under growing pressure to make the rubber meet the road—not only from their technology and operations people, but even their business planners,” notes Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst for carrier networks at Infonetics Research.
“But it won’t be easy,” continues Howard. “These operators face some daunting challenges: outdoor small cell gear isn’t small enough or cheap enough yet, and there are problems backhauling in dense urban areas, not to mention municipal regulations regarding the look, size, and color of the equipment and who can mount equipment on streetlights, utility poles and building sides. Even if they managed to solve all these issues, they’re still going to have to pass the fiscal test. Outdoor small cells won’t fly without a viable business model.”
To buy the report, contact Infonetics: http://www.infonetics.com/contact.asp
Meanwhile, Alcatel-Lucent is a huge supporter of small cells:
Small cells could solve the mobile broadband capacity crunch, By Paul Golden
A combination of more data-hungry devices and higher service expectations on the part of users has created
a ‘perfect storm’ for mobile broadband providers, who are likely to look to small cells to address some of their
network coverage and congestion issues. According to the International Telecommunication Union, there were 872 million active mobile broadband subscriptions last year. Based on growth rates for the previous 12 months it is reasonable to assume that there are now more than one billion users worldwide.
The pressure this growth is placing on networks has been well documented. A survey conducted by YouGov found
that 77% of mobile broadband users in the UK encountered some form of quality of experience issue over the last 12
months. More than half complained of slow speeds and 42% reported connection problems. The survey suggests that the availability of time sensitive, data-heavy applications and services has created a generation of more demanding users, but this does not mean that coverage and broadband speeds are not a legitimate cause for concern. UK regulator Ofcom’s research into mobile broadband speeds published earlier this year found that network availability and performance varied significantly – even within small geographic areas.
AT&T will OEM Polycom made equipment to market video collaboration tools for businesses by integrating their respective telepresence products. Under the agreement, enterprise users of AT&T’s Telepresence Solution in 40 nations will have access to expanded features offered by Polycom RealPresence — including on-demand virtual meeting rooms and enhanced video collaboration — as part of a managed service bundle.
AT&T will incorporate the Polycom RealPresence platform as part of the AT&T Telepresence solution video infrastructure in the AT&T Business Exchange, leading to on-demand virtual meeting room capabilities that increase customer choice through expanded interoperability, more flexible and user-friendly video collaboration experiences and new forms of collaboration with business customers, partners and suppliers on the AT&T Business Exchange.
“AT&T and Polycom’s announcement is a big win for customer choice and interoperability, and it will help accelerate video collaboration as businesses increasingly look to cloud-delivered options,” Zeus Kerravala, ZKResearch principal analyst, said. “In addition, this agreement opens new revenue streams and business opportunities for AT&T, and demonstrates the momentum Polycom is having with service providers and in the video cloud market.”
For several years now, Cisco has increased their telepresence market penetration and will offer stiff competition for AT&T. Cisco remains the clear market leader and now holds 50.6% of the market, which is an improvement over its 44.3% share in 1Q11 but a decrease from its 54.3% market share in 4Q11.
Market research firm RVA LLC forecasts that direct investment in North American fiber to the home (FTTH) deployment will reach $4.7 billion annually by 2017. Altogether, the market will be worth $18 billion across the next five years, RVA asserts. Meanwhile, operators will see FTTH services revenues grow to $4 billion by 2017, almost half of the cumulative $9 billion North American service providers will see over the same fiber-year period.
North American Fiber to the Home and Advanced Broadband Review and Forecast to 2017, tracks both FTTH deployments and consumer demand for high-bandwidth services. The report states that deployment growth will continue over the next five years despite the wrap-up of the ARRA broadband stimulus program, the evolution of the FCC’s Universal Service program to the Connect America Fund, and potential continuation of past economic uncertainties. Market expansion will come via what an RVA press release described as “a diverse group of small to large providers” who will supplant Verizon as the primary market catalysts. Meanwhile, the deployment focus will shift from overbuilds to greenfield applications over the five-year forecast period, RVA says.
RVA also expects the number of subscribers for high-bandwidth services ranging to the 1-Gbps will increase rapidly. These high-bandwidth users will create an important market for for application, software, and programming developers.
A great example of this trend is the Google FTTH project in Kansas City, KS and MO. A new study from media and technology marketing consultancy Ideas & Solutions! Inc. suggests that while Google’s brand recognition played a large role in the initial success of Google Fiber, the company’s marketing campaign also helped get its Kansas City fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project off to a good start.
The Ideas & Solutions! “Google Fiber Matters: Consumer Demand Study” is based on 1,303 interviews about the Google Fiber project. The company conducted 532 online interviews among Kansas City “fiberhoods” with adults 18-74 years of age from October 19 to November 4, 2012, a few weeks just prior to Google Fiber’s initial customer installations. The remaining interviews were conducted during roughly the same timeframe from among 18- to 74-year old adults nationwide for benchmarking purposes. The study measured respondents’ perceptions of Google, its competition, and the Google Fiber project itself.
In addition to those Google successfully pre-registered for the Google Fiber – about 30% of the target market – another 30% of survey respondents expressed interest in the FTTH services.
IEEE ComSocSCV Feb 13, 2013 meeting: Fiber Deployments for Broadband Wired and Wireless Access
This decade will see unprecedented growth in broadband networks, both mobile as well as fixed (to the home). On the home access side, new fiber optic deployments are enabling a quantum leap in the access rates that are available to consumers. On the mobile side, one of the key bottlenecks has been in backhaul to the cellular base stations, and the growth of small cells providing high-speed 4G and WiFi access has exacerbated this issue. This session will deal with these two market drivers and the resulting growth in fiber-based deployments.
Milo Medin will discuss the Gigabit access networks that Google is currently building out in Kansas City and elsewhere, and John Georges will talk about the rapid growth of small cells and the capacity needs which are driving the fiber build-out to provide the necessary backhaul.
Our two speakers have been instrumental in creating access networks over the past couple of decades. Milo Medin was founder and CTO of @Home, which enabled millions of homes gain access to high-speed cable Internet service through the television cable infrastructure. In his current role running access services at Google he is responsible for deploying Gigabit access networks for residential use. John Georges is a pioneer of RF-over-fiber technology. Prior to his current position at Vodafone USA, John founded and ran NextG Networks (acquired by Crown Castle International) which built out a fiber network to connect cellular base stations.
· Milo Medin, Moving the Web forward: Moving the access network to Gigabit
· John Georges, Wireless Access and Fiber Backhaul for Small Cells
The Feb 2013 meeting description, along with logistics, will be published at: http://comsocscv.org
Via the IEEE ComSocSCV discussion group, I’ve surveyed several hundred IEEE members on their double and triple play experiences with Comcast and U-Verse over the past several months for high speed Internet, pay TV service, and digital voice (mostly VoIP). Verizon FiOS is not available in the SF Bay Area, so it was not included in the survey.
Almost all the responses were related to U-Verse customer experiences- probably because it’s only been available in the SF Bay Area for a couple of years now (less than one year in the city of Santa Clara where I live).
I have also received a comparison chart from Comcast comparing their Xfinity service to AT&T’s U-Verse (see Table 1. and 2. below). AT&T was invited to provide an equivalent chart or feedback from their customers, but chose not to do so. Hence, there is no input from AT&T in this report.
We report the conclusions below along with selected anonymous comments related to our findings.
a] The Good
User experience is overwhelmingly positive with respect to the qualtiy and reliability of U Verse TV and high speed Internet services. Here are a few selected anonymous comments that support that finding:
“We’ve had ATT Uverse since it was offered in our neighborhood (West San Jose area) about 1 year ago. I’ve been very pleased with the service. The install was straightforward, the service just worked out of the box. We’ve had virtually no interruption of TV or internet (we have both delivered over UVerse). Upload and download speeds work as advertised.”
“U-Verse has been completely satisfactory! I have had it for about two years and have only had to reset the modem (power off) once in that time. The internet speed is superb at MAX (12 Mbit). The TV service has also been great – four receivers including a DVR and a wireless receiver on my home network. I do not have AT&T VOIP. Instead I use Vonage which was subscribed to prior to U-Verse and has also been completely satisfactory including the features. I have only called AT&T tech support once which led to resetting the modem which, in turn, corrected the problem. There have been no other outages, TV or internet, that I am aware of. The on screen TV guide has been useful using the Favorites feature which has eliminated much of the guide scanning and going to the “station” produces a useful listing of programs for that station only.”
“I have had a great experience with UVerse (voice, internet and TV bundle) so far. Some specifics:
– Installation was completed successfully in one day. I was aware that my drop-wire was rather old and was likely contributing to increased noise on the line. I explained that to the installer, and they sent a second technician late on the same afternoon to replace it (with zero cost to me, and even though there was no observable issue at the time). All DSL statistics and metrics have been solid ever since. The installation was very “clean”, because they ran an entirely new line from the NID (the box outside the house) to the location inside the house where I wanted the gateway.
– I discovered a small voice problem a few days after installation. After talking on the phone for a few minutes, an AM signal could be heard. A technician came to check within a couple of days. He immediately knew what was happening: The internal wiring for the phones included a number of bridged taps. Given that I was not really using those bridged taps, he recommended that I connect my (only) phone directly to the gateway, and eliminate the bridged taps. (My explanation for this is that there is a hardware design issue with the impedance matching of the SLIC of the gateway, and that the unterminated bridged taps were just acting as receiver antennas.) Everything has worked perfectly ever since.
– TV signal quality has been outstanding the whole time.
– Voice quality is exceptional – better than “old” POTS, and of course miles better than cellular.
– Internet speed is very good. AT&T currently “reserves” a portion of the available bandwidth for the TV signal. I wish that portion could be made available to the internet connection, when the TV set-top-box is not in use (no TV viewing and no recording).
– The DVR is fantastic. I think I barely watch any live TV any more.
– AT&T eliminates some discounts after the first 12 months, and I had to call to ask for a better deal. I think that this is just too common with all communications service providers. I wish there was a way to avoid that.
– On the other hand, the AT&T customer service staff have been very willing to give me various upgrade offers, and I am now enjoying an internet speed two tiers higher than the one that I originally ordered (but for the same price).
Based on my experience, I would recommend UVerse to SF Bay Area residents.”
“Regarding uVerse, after some early startup issues related to getting the pair bonding to work, the service has been solid and I am a happy customer. I was comped for the service during the “start up” issues time. My only current complaint is that as of today uVerse had not cut a deal with the Pac12 sports network.”
b] The Bad
However, there were several complaints that were mainly related to tech support, pricing after promotion period ends, and lack of customer retention effort:
-When there is a technical issue with service, e.g. outage, frozen image/channel, Internet problems, etc, AT&Ts tech support is very bad/deficient and needs to be improved. The customer is transferred to either India or the Philippines where personnel can not effectively trouble shoot the problem.
“The only issue I’ve had was with very poor customer service from the U-Verse phone reps I spoke with. They don’t seem to understand the services- especially U-Verse TV. Also, the very long time it takes to reach a live person to answer your specific question is quite frustrating.”
-Prices rise sharply after the promo price period ends. Subscribers must threaten to cancel and go to a competitor to get reduced prices which they say is a major hassle.
-AT&T makes little or no effort to retain customers that threaten to switch to another double or triple play service provider. (A friend of this author recently switched back to Comcast from U-Verse due to lower entry prices. AT&T made no effort to retain her as a U-Verse customer, despite several calls and emails).
-Navigation and search need to be greatly improved using existing remote/Set Top Box (not via a third party mobile app running on a second screen).
-Start up time after power on takes too long. [That might be due to IPTV processing and synchronization vs Comcast’s RF broadcasting of TV channels].
There was one complaint about U-Verse high speed Internet speed being too slow (compared to Xfinity and other broadband Internet providers):
“In Netflix’s monthly speed rankings, AT&T was called out for poor performance on both U-verse home broadband. AT&T U-Verse was in 11th place for Netflix average speed per video stream as per the table in this post (URL below):”
That same individual switched from AT&T U-Verse to Comcast Xfinity:
“After re-evaluating AT&T U-Verse, I decided to switch back to Comcast (Xfinity). Originally, I came to U-Verse from Comcast and I immediately noticed the difference, some pixelation in video and the longer zapping time. Within two years perhaps pixelation improved but the zapping time was annoyingly long, especially with the bad lineup. The deal breaker is that the basic package I needed was mostly kiddie programming with U-Verse, whilst with Comcast I even get ESPN (with MNF and I can watch Sports Center as often as I feel like). Also, I was surprised that when I lost like 5 days of service when the battery died. AT&T had to ship me one from Arizona. How can that happen?”
“Comcast has gone through a lot of challenges in transforming itself from an old style cable company to a credible telco & satellite competitor, while AT&T is still in the business of milking copper (Ok, maybe a wireless provider too, with the lowest ranked customer service there as well).”
One final anonymous comment on AT&T making false promises regarding the availability of U-Verse (San Jose, CA):
“We still can’t get U-Verse! Our home is 12kft from the C.O., but we’re only a block away from a U-verse node (confirmed this the other day, that this is still the case). A few years ago, I got so tired of receiving advertisements from AT&T suggesting that I could upgrade my 1.5 Mb/s service (actually only 300kbs) to U-Verse, which still isn’t available in my neighborhood. I switched to Comcast and vowed never to go back to AT&T. I even opted out of their phone calls and direct mail (which would tease me with impossible upgrades).”
Personal Observation: This author had AT&T “DSL Pro” from 2008-mid 2012, which provided 2.5Mb/sec downstream (before that I had DSL at 1.5Mb/sec downstream). To get a higher Internet access speed I had to switch to U-Verse, which only became available in my neighborhood this summer.
I am very satisfied with the U-Verse quality and reliability of both high speed Internet and TV service. There has not been a single outage of either one since July 28th when U-Verse was installed! The TV picture quality is terrific, which was quite a surprise as I expected IPTV quality to be inferior to RF broadcast.
In contrasts to the results of our survey, the on line postings of U-Verse customer service experiences seems to be quite negative. Here’s an example:
“Thomas estimates he’s spent five fruitless hours on the phone with AT&T trying to simply keep the service he’s had for the last four years.”
“After 8 months, WHY can’t Uverse get my bill correct? After 8 months and HOURS AND HOURS on the phone and online chat, we STILL cannot get a correct bill. I have been assured each time it will get handled and STILL NOT RIGHT! HELP!!!!! Does anyone have a direct corporate or executive email I can contact? Or other suggestions?”
a] The Good
Xfinity offers much faster downstream and upstream Internet speeds then AT&T U-Verse. For example, 105Mb/sec downstream vs a maximum of 24 Mb/sec with U-Verse (see Table 1. below). This is a powerful reason for heavy duty Internet users to chose Comcast over AT&T.
b] The Bad
Price for a given bundle is generally higher and their are often extra charges, such as for a DVR or multiple TVs/STBs.
“We have Comcast Xfinity triple play. Comcast is charging us an extra $18/month to get an HD DVR and converter box.”
Meanwhile, a San Jose Mercury reporter wrote that he was switching from Comcast Xfinity to AT&T U-Verse. You can read why here:
It’s somewhat amazing that Comcast apparently made no effort to retain the SJ Mercury journalist, considering he might and did write a negative article about Comcast that could conceivably damage their reputation. I had the same experience and switched from Xfinity to U-Verse- Comcast made no effort to keep me as a customer, despite me reaching out to them in several emails.
In the June 2012 issue of Consumer Reports gave Verizon FiOS a score of 77, AT&T U-verse a rating of 72 and Comcast Xfinity a grade of 65 (near the bottom of the list of triple-play providers)
Tables 1. and 2. Comparison Charts (provided by Comcast):
AW Comment: The above charts seem to be a fair comparison of service offerings and promotions. However, they don’t address the critical issues of customer service and support. From my personal experience, both AT&T and Comcast are severely lacking in these areas and need to improve. We’ve heard that Verizon provides much better support for FiOS (one reason for their higher consumer reports ranking), while other MSO’s offering triple play services provide reasonable good customer support, especially for problem isolation and resolution.
Steady growth in broadband revenue has helped cable operators offset a stagnant pay-TV market in recent years. But now, the industry is resisting pressure from local governments, businesses and universities to offer ultrafast Internet service, opening the door to new competitors.
Google Inc. and a host of smaller companies working in partnership with cities like Seattle and Urbana, Ill., are building fiber-optic networks that offer speeds of a gigabit per second. That’s more than three times as fast as the maximum speeds available to residential subscribers of major cable or phone companies. Cable operators are resisting pressure from governments, businesses and universities to offer ultrafast Internet, opening the door to competitors.
Other Broadband Internet services, such as Verizon Communications Inc.’s FiOS, which already bring fiber lines all the way to customers’ premises, could be boosted to gigabit speeds relatively easily by upgrading the equipment in central offices and consumers’ homes, experts say.
Cable companies, meanwhile, are holding back. To offer the faster speeds across their service areas alongside other services like television, cable operators would have to spend billions more on their networks. Unlike fully fiber Internet service providers, cable companies typically run fiber to neighborhood “nodes.” Less-efficient coaxial cables connect those nodes to what can be hundreds of subscribers, who effectively share bandwidth.
About half the nation’s cable systems would need more fiber before they could deliver gigabit speeds to all customers and continue offering television, says John Dahlquist, vice president of marketing for Aurora Networks Inc., a company that sells network infrastructure to both fiber and cable operators.
Pat Esser, chief executive of Cox Communications Inc., the nation’s third-biggest cable company by subscribers, said it would cost him “multiple billions” to upgrade Cox’s network to offer gigabit speeds to all its customers. Cable executives acknowledge that demand for fast speeds is growing. Time Warner Cable Inc., the second-largest cable operator, said in November that more than 22% of broadband subscribers are opting for faster, costlier Internet speeds, up from 10% in 2009. While many cities view affordable gigabit broadband as an economic-development tool, cable executives say consumer demand is lacking, and there are too few applications requiring such speeds to justify more investment in fiber. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt told investors at a recent conference that fiber “ends up being more about publicity and bragging.”
For years cable companies were criticized by investors for their heavy capital spending as they improved their networks to offer additional services. A new round of upgrades could jeopardize big stock buybacks and dividends now in place in the industry. “The pressure is on” for cable operators to exploit their current infrastructure first, says Jeff Heynen, a cable analyst at Infonetics.
CableLabs, the industry’s research consortium, says cable “has a lot of tools to increase [its] bandwidth” to deliver gigabit speeds if the demand materializes. These include shifting to more efficient ways to deliver TV channels, something many operators are already working toward.
Comcast Corp. said it is “confident” it can “continue to return the majority of cable free cash flow to shareholders in the form of dividends and buybacks” even with future investment in its network.
Deciding not to upgrade carries risks. Wall Street views broadband as cable’s hedge against the threat of consumers dropping their costly pay-TV packages for online alternatives.
“We’re at a very early stage, but I do think the incumbents have some long-term risk” if they let other companies develop a reputation for leading innovation, said Blair Levin, a former chief of staff at the Federal Communications Commission who now leads Gig.U, an alliance of universities that are helping build gigabit fiber networks in university towns across the country.
The gigabit market remains tiny. Fewer than 30 companies offer such speeds today, reaching about 400,000 customers, according to RVA Market Research. Aside from Google, which has started offering service on its gigabit network in the Kansas City area, they are mostly smaller companies, such as Minnesota-based Hiawatha Broadband Communications Inc. and California-based Paxio Inc.; municipal operators like LUS Fiber, Lafayette, La.; and public utilities like Chattanooga, Tenn.’s EPB fiber network.
But the number of companies whose fiber-only networks are capable of relatively easy upgrades is much larger and growing. In addition to Verizon FiOS, which is available to 17 million people, primarily in the Northeast, more than 700 rural telephone companies that used to provide slow-speed Internet over copper wires have reinvested in building fiber-to-the-home networks, according to the Fiber to the Home Council, a trade group, and Calix Inc., which sells broadband equipment to both cable and fiber operators.
Cities including Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, as well as the state of Hawaii, have set goals of more access to gigabit broadband. John Tolva, Chicago’s chief technology officer, said he would bring a gigabit fiber network to Chicago whether the incumbent operators want to build it or not, though he would prefer their cooperation.
Several cities and Hawaii have said they would sweeten the deal to offset the cost of laying fiber, such as by expediting permits and, in some cases, even helping with marketing—as Kansas City is doing for Google. In Seattle, the city is opening up unused fiber lines it laid over the years to Gigabit Squared, a startup that plans to bring fiber to 50,000 homes and businesses.
City officials and Gig.U’s Mr. Levin say that these public-private partnerships are more attractive and “replicable” than the municipal fiber networks that several cities funded more than a decade ago. Many of those networks ran into financial troubles as they battled lawsuits and aggressive marketing from big incumbents.
Some cable operators are extending fiber lines selectively to office parks and businesses that will pay for the bigger, pricier bandwidth. St. Louis-based Charter Communications Inc. CHTR +2.44%says requests for gigabit and multigigabit speeds from businesses have doubled in the past six months. But Charter and other operators say they aren’t seeing enough demand to warrant extending fiber to small and medium-size businesses—and certainly not to every household. Cox says only 15% of its business customers are larger clients whose demands would require fiber.
Mr. Tolva in Chicago says business services offered by cable operators are far too expensive for “the kind of growing companies that we’re trying to foster.” He estimates it would cost businesses about $3,500 a month for a dedicated fiber line with gigabit-speed Internet from a cable operator.
By contrast, gigabit speeds in Chattanooga, where the public utility started offering fiber Internet in 2009, cost $300 a month. Some residential gigabit services are even cheaper: Google charges $70 a month for its Kansas City service, as does Sonic.net in California.
Some cable operators have ramped up their marketing and discounting aggressively to combat such newcomers. Vermont-based VTel, which plans to offer gigabit service to about 18,000 subscribers at $30 a month by the end of 2013, says that since it started laying fiber in Vermont more than a year ago, it has faced fierce competition from Comcast. Michel Guite, VTel’s president, says Comcast has sent salesmen door to door to sign people up ahead of VTel’s new service.
“Why bang on doors? Why not improve service and speeds?” he says.
About the author:
Shalini Ramachandran is a reporter at The Wall Street Journal covering the pay TV industry.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org; 212-416-3764
Many of the cutting-edge companies referenced in the WSJ article have been interviewed by ViodiTV over the past few years. Despite the premise of the article, it would be premature to count the cable industry out of the bandwidth game. As alluded to in the article, they can continue to improve bandwidth efficiency by implementing DOCSIS 3.0 and bringing fiber deeper in the network by adding fiber nodes. As the article states it would cost multiple billions to instantly upgrade cable networks to offer each of their subscribers dedicated gigabit speeds, but the reality is that, in most places, forklift upgrades are not necessary to remain competitive. Thus, depending upon a given market, their network investment can continue to be incremental.
Comment from IEEE Member:
DOCSIS 3.0 isn’t the only tool the cable operators have. There is a project in 802.3 that involves most of the big players to generate a spec for a coax PHY to allow the EPON protocol to be used with a hybrid cable plant where the final run to the subscriber is over coax.
Question from this Author:
We wonder how AT&T U-Verse will respond to the “need for speed?” Not only for faster Internet access, but for multiple HD TV channels in the home. Currently, U-Verse topology is Fiber to the Node (FTTN) and VDSL2 to the customer premises. Only in greenfield markets, where there is no copper to the home/building, will AT&T install fiber all the way and NOT in all cases. An AT&T splicing technician told me that there was a greenfield buildout in Sonora, CA where AT&T did NOT install fiber, even though the local government was willing to pay for it!
We’ve just published a survey of IEEE Discussion list members on their experience with U-Verse, and Comcast Xfintiy related to their double & triple play services. Here’s the url: http://techblog.comsoc.org/2013/01/04/double-and-triple-play-broadband-provider-comparison-att-u-verse-vs-comcast-xfinity