Thursday, December 16, 2010

Untangling Wireless and Wired Services

Some of the (technologically) innocent bystanders are confused.  They can't make sense of the technical and political discussions about broadband internet access in Maine.  Herewith I offer a bit of "disambiguation", as the folks at Wikipedia call it.  It is my attempt to simplify by categorizing the players and their promotional messages:

The Maine broadband problem lies in connecting a business or home user to information systems and services of his/her choice with sufficient speed and stability and at an affordable cost.  Not that the user has a choice of devices and the place(s) from which those devices must be usable.

In my view, this is really two problems:

Fixed location connectivity -- Internet access for homes, businesses and institutions.

Mobile device connectivity -- Network access for plain cell phones, ever-smarter smartphones, and netbooks, tablets, and laptops with 3G  and 4G modems.

The long-term answer to broadband service at fixed locations is wire.  This may be copper in the midterm, as long as optical fiber continues to be used in upgrading links to neighborhoods.  In a decade, however, fiber to the premises will make sense for a large number of customers.  High-bandwidth applications involving video are driving the evolution of internet services globally.  Only fiber can economically provide the capacity needed to meet business and home services expectations into the future.   Even though  mobile broadband technologies like 3G and 4G offer high nominal speed, the mushrooming demand for these services on mobile devices will certainly "outbid" fixed location used for new capacity as it comes available.

Fixed wireless service will remain as a fall-back for truly isolated sites fixed locations.  However, the economic viability of this service will decline as wired broadband fills in the gaps in lesser populated areas and current fixed wireless users switch over.

Localities that lack broadband now are more likely to get new DSL service from a phone company than new cable internet service, I think.  DSL requires high quality linkage from a phone company central office facility to the remote distribution nodes that serve neighborhoods (Remote Terminals).  This may mean running new fiber to that single location.  However, cable TV expansion requires new cable on every street and to the premises of every subscriber.  The difference in deployment cost has to be enormous.  While cable companies may derive additional revenue in return for the television services they are also able to sell to new customers, this too is likely to be dependent on customer demographics -- number of households per mile of new wire and disposable income of those customer. 

Of course, the situation may be reversed in special situations where an existing cable infrastructure can be easily extended to cover immediately contiguous streets without running new backhaul capacity.

Mobile devices require one of the mobile broadband technologies broadly categorized as 3G (faster, higher capacity) or 4G (even faster and higher capacity).  Because of the higher price of services based on these technologies, as well as low usage caps, they offer at most a stopgap, last-resort answer to the fixed location problem. 

What Maine needs is more broadband transponders on existing cell towers, more cell towers in areas with poor mobile coverage, and probably increased backhaul capacity that will allow cell providers to avoid local bottlenecks in getting to the Internet.  It could really use more competition in the hinterlands where Verizon and/or U. S. Cellular are the only vendors.

In short, Maine needs two robust service networks for two distinct sets of needs.  And it needs them everywhere there are people attempting to live and thrive, economically and personally in Maine.


  1. concerning the mandated 2010 YEAR ENDING goals of a certain percentage of "HIGH SPEED INTERNET SERVICE" that is required of FAIRPOINT.

    I have had high speed internet service provided by SUSCOM, then purchased by COMCAST for the past 5 years. I recieved in the US Mail an offer from FAIRPOINT to buy a "BUNDLE" package ,that consisted of nation wide free calling, caller I,Caller waiting, and HIGH SPEED INTERNET for a very attractive price per month for an introductory price, then a regular fee schedule. EVEN with the REGULAR fees,the price was attractive. So, I called them and asked if this was available in Woolwich. They said yes, but they had very,very few slots remaining,and I should act fast, and I had a 30 day trial period anyway. I "bought " into it. Eerything was grand.... on the exact date they said , a nice service repairman, known as ''MARK '' came to the door and installed the HIGH SPEED modem, wires, and set everything up and on line, including my wife's laptop. EXCELLENT !!

    Then the bad news download speed was painfully, painfully S-L-O-W.
    and my upload speed was EVEN MORE S*LO*W...So slow if Iwere to go back to AOL, or CC NET,
    ISP their "DIAL UP" speeds are FASTER than what I currently have as HIGH SPEED FIBER OPTICS.

    A call to Fairpoint, and the truth comes out: FairPoint has only ONE Speed in Woolwich, because it is " OVER THE KENNEBEC RIVER" and furthermore, I was 'lucky' to have the connection speed that Fairpoint delivered .They offered, and I accepted to have my name / account to be placed on a WAITING to upgrade list, with no forecasted date available.FAIRPOINT rushed service to Woolwich, and made a very slow cable connection available, and labeled it ''HIGH SPEED" internet service,so they could include this service in their 2010 ,mandated high speedinternet service. In fact it is as slow as ''dial up'' from AOL.

    The numbers :

    my Fairpoint DOWNLOAD speed ................1.54 mb/s
    my Fairpoint UP LOAD speed...................0.32 mb/3


  2. Those are indeed pitiful numbers.

    "The first one now will later be last..." From the Bible or Dylan, whichever you prefer.

    It is probably the case that some of the first DSL sites in the FairPoint, formerly Verizon network are burdened with now-obsolete facilities. Even as folks with no broadband connectivity options plead for service there are others who could really use a modernized service.

    You are fortunate to have a Comcast option at least.

    In the long run, FP will need to modernize in order survive in more populous areas like yours. Irksome as they can be, I am rooting for them to get ahead of the technological and financial tide that is threatening them.

  3. It is very useful to have Fixed location connectivity -- Internet access for homes, businesses and institutions.


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