Exploring the impact of broadband and technology on our lives, our businesses, and our communities.

Is the metaverse a dud?

I have paid about as much attention to the metaverse as I have to the price of Xbox games, which is to say, none at all. This is an interesting story about what is described as "a sandbox environment that allows users to buy and sell virtual real estate." Whoa! Be still my beating heart! Why just yesterday I was thinking, "I don't have enough to do in real life, so I'd like to go into a virtual world and pretend to buy and sell fake real estate."

Who came up with that idea? And the proof that it is, well, stupid, is that the article indicates only 38 "active users" bought and sold fake real estate in a 24 hour period. Aside from the fact that I have no idea who would pay to "play" that kind of game, and I use the word "play" somewhat ironically, how do you make money with an app like that? Virtual bill boards running ads in your virtual real estate world?

The future is stupid, and getting stupider.

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How a dial telephone works

Someone dredged up a video from my old employer AT&T about how to use the new-fangled dial telephone. Made in 1940, it is quite entertaining. You can skip to the 10 minute mark to get to the instructions on how to dial a phone. It's quite a statement to think that AT&T thought this was needed. On the other hand, in 1993, as we rolled out the ground-breaking Blacksburg Electronic Village, we spent a lot of time instructing people on how to use a mouse. We should have videotaped some of those sessions for posterity.

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Starlink speeds slow down

As many of us expected, Starlink speeds have slowed over the past several months. As the service has added more users, the Starlink network is starting to show traffic congestion.

There are two parts to the Starlink network: satellites and ground stations. The low earth orbit satellites connect to customer dishes, and also connect to Starlink ground stations, where customer traffic gets placed onto the terrestial Internet. Network performance can be improved by adding more satellites (each satellite can handle only so much traffic) and/or adding more ground stations.

Starlink says it is adding both satellites and ground stations, but the popularity of the network has created the slow downs. How bad is it? Starlink is still an excellent alternative to DSL, dial up, and most terrestial wireless, with current users indicating average download speeds of 62 Meg and average upload speeds of about 7 Meg.

I got an upload upgrade!

Our cable provider for our home Internet just sent us a notice telling us we were getting a free upgrade upload speed. It will be going from "...up to 5 Meg" to a whopping "...up to 10 Meg!"

Wow! Color me excited!

Meanwhile, I have to drive back and forth to the office for evening videoconferences because I can't trust the cable Internet service at home if there are more than a couple of people on the conference call. I really don't think doubling it to "up to 10 Meg" is going to make much difference.

And notice that they are not promising 10 Meg. It's the old "up to..." mantra, meaning you might get the max speed if you get up at 2AM in the morning when none of your neighbors are doing anything.

Meanwhile, our Blacksburg fiber to the home project (wideopenblacksburg.net) is offering 250/250 Meg SYMMETRIC service for $65/month.

Why don't I have that service? We live outside of town on the side of very rocky hill, and it is going to take us a while to get fiber out there. The cable Internet was installed almost 30 years ago.

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A business gets fiber and the customers love it

We recently hooked up a rural bed and breakfast just outside of Blacksburg. The B&B is in a beautiful setting but also happens to be on a rural leg of our Gig fiber network. They had formerly struggled with sub-standard DSL Internet connectivity for residents. Once they had the Gig fiber installed, they found that people were staying longer because they could actually enjoy the getaway and get some work done while they were there.

Even more interesting was the fact that their mid-week bookings increased. Formerly they had trouble getting people to book stays during the week because of the poor connectivity, but with our very fast fiber Internet, business videoconferencing works great there, as well as file uploads and downloads.

Fiber can be a real game changer.

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Starlink is not a replacement for fiber and terrestial wireless broadband

We get calls every week asking if Starlink is going to eliminate the need for terrestrial broadband solutions like rural fiber and fixed point wireless broadband.

The short answer is, "No."

Starlink is a substantial improvement over traditional geosynchronous orbit satellite Internet (e.g. Hughesnet, Viasat), but it is still going to have much higher latency than terrestial wireless, and its bandwidth will never get close to Gig fiber.

This article indicates that Starlink performance (still in beta testing) is highly variable. Starlink promises that latency and bandwidth will improve as it adds more satellites. But more satellites will also mean more users, and that bandwidth is shared.

This article discusses problems the Starlink customer equipment is having with overheating in Arizona--and perhaps other places. The article also estimates that Starlink will likly only be able to service a maximum of about 1% of the U.S. Internet market.

For rural residents that are stuck with slow DSL or low performance geosynchronous satellite services, Starlink is going to be a big improvement. Here at Design Nine and WideOpen Networks, we see Starlink as part of a toolkit of solutions. But it is not "the solution."

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Symmetric Gig Internet is an economic development tool

It is interesting how many press releases I have seen recently from incumbent providers explaining that nobody needs symmetric Internet, and that highly asymmetric service (e.g. 100 Meg down, 10 Meg up) is just fine. Both the cable and the phone companies are trying to get us to drink this Kool-Aid, but economic developers are finding out something different.

This news item indicates that towns and cities are finding out that symmetric, high performance FIBER-delivered Internet is just what they need to attract new businesses and retain existing businesses.

What a surprise.....cable TV subscriptions are tanking, and while the cable companies are trying to tell us that DOCSIS 4.x is going to compete with fiber (no), the communities that are working with competitive fiber providers and/or building their own telecom infrastructure are revving up their local economy.\

Symmetric Gigabit Internet networks are the only kind of networks that Design Nine and WideOpen Networks designs, builds and operates. Our Blacksburg, Virginia fiber to the home project is WideOpen Blacksburg well underway, with construction going on right now in several neighborhoods, bringing symmetric Gig Internet to homes and businesses weary of Comcast.

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Apple charts a bold new course for Mac OS, office apps

Apri 1, 2021

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, announced a new direction for the MacOS and the Mac-based office apps that are provided with the Macintosh operating system (Pages, Numbers, Keynote).

"We have realized that providing high quality software with carefully tested user interfaces is not returning enough value to shareholders. We took a long careful look at our software development process and realized we are spending entirely too much time and money on producing a quality product."

"When we looked around, we realized that Bill Gates became a multi-billionaire by simply having Microsoft shovel out poorly designed, half finished software to users, and letting them find all the bugs, mistakes, and errors in the code."

"It really gave us pause, and we realized the brilliance of the Microsoft strategy--instead of spending time and money on internal software design and quality assurance teams, outsource a huge chunk of that effort to our loyal and unsuspecting customers."

Cook went on to indicate that in fact, Apple has been pursuing this approach for some time, but that it has been so successful that the company is now making a public announcement. Cook noted that the company's most recent OS release, Big Sur, has incorporated many of the ideas that have emerged from the company's new approach to software development.

"With Big Sur, we decided that our thoughtful use of color and other visual interface features could be removed. The Big Sur interface is so much more like something from Microsoft: a bland grey color imposed on everything so that it is really hard to identify individual items that a user might want to click on. We stopped using interface design elements like drop shadows because those make it easier to find icons and interface elements. Everything is now just one amorphous gray blob. And we hid lots of stuff that used to be easy to find, because nothing spells frustrating like hidden interface elements. Now customers have to spend lots of time just mousing around their screens, hoping hidden interface elements magically appear."

Cook also noted that they have applied the new philosophy to the Mac office apps that compete with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. "Over the past several years, we decided we could make more money by simply removing handy features and interface elements from Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. It saves us a lot of money not to have support useful software. And we have stopped trying to fix bugs, which also saves a lot of money. For example, users have complained for years that in Pages, tables and images randomly jump around from page to page for no good reason. We have not bothered to fix that problem because we re-assigned all our experienced software engineers to other project years ago. Now we just get some job shop in Bangalore to do maintenance. It saves tons of money."

Cook, when questioned about customer loyalty and the possibility of declining sales, had an answer for that as well. "Look, our apps and OS are still waaaay better than Windows and Microsoft Office. As long as Pages is slightly better than Word, we will be fine."

When Cook was questioned about the billions and billions of dollars of cash that Apple has stashed away and why a tiny fraction of that could not be used to produce better software, the Apple CEO had an answer for that as well. "Our job is keep the stock price high and the dividends low, and sitting on a literal mountain of cash is the way we do that." Cook ended the interview on an upbeat note about the Macintosh platform. "Sure, we admit it, we don't really care that much about the Mac platform, but let's get real, when we can get people to pay two hundred dollars for ear buds that cost twelve dollars and forty cents to make in a Chinese gulag factory, why waste time on Mac software?"

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Who needs a Gig?

The incumbent telephone and cable companies must be really scared of competition from new fiber networks, because they are still peddling the old, tired "Who needs a Gig?" baloney to elected officials and regulators.

It is really a red herring argument, for two reasons:

If you are building a modern fiber network, Gig service as the standard or base offering is the cheapest way to go. I'm not even sure you could buy slower gear, like 100 Meg equipment, because I have not bothered to look in many years. The way the question is framed, it pre-supposes that there is a less expensive alternative out there. But again, Gig fiber equipment is the least expensive way to go.

Second, the only other reason to float this question is because you can't compete with symmetric Gig/Gig networks, so you try to argue that "nobody needs it." The idea they are trying to plant is that their ancient, wheezing copper networks, much slower and highly asymmetric, are just fine.

It would be laughable if they were not so successful in convincing decisionmakers that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Fiber can be an economic development powerhouse

Chattanooga's city-owned fiber network (via the City electric utility) is now ten years old, and they have published some results. The Gigabit fiber network delivered, on average, $261 Million PER YEAR in new jobs, retained jobs, lower unemployment, and reduced electric outages. Read the whole article for all the benefits.

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