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

VPNs, Coronavirus, and symmetric bandwidth

I have been writing for years (decades, at this point) about how important symmetric bandwidth is to the business from home, work from home segment of the economy. It would appear that the lockdown we are currently experiencing and the huge surge in work from home needs has been illustrating just how important symmetric bandwidth is. Related to symmetric bandwidth is Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology, which provides end to end encryption of an Internet connection between two points (e.g. a home based worker and their corporate network). Atlas VPN reports that Internet searches for "What is VPN" has nearly doubled in the past several weeks.

VPNs work best with symmetric bandwidth so that files and services on the corporate network operate smoothly. And fiber and well-designed fixed point wireless can deliver that symmetric bandwidth.

Coronavirus and bandwidth shortages

With the huge increase in people working from home, bandwidth has become an issue. There are numerous stories about Netflix and other streaming services degrading picture quality to ease the burden on networks. But it is not really a problem that Netflix is having. Netflix is reducing bandwidth to help local cable, DSL, and wireless networks cope. Netflix long ago pushed most of their content to locations directly connected to local networks--the problem is getting from the Netflix server already attached to a Comcast or Spectrum or Verizon network to the local customers.

As I have been writing about for years, the cable Internet technology was not designed to provide symmetric bandwidth, but that's what you need if you are going to be work from home for long periods of time. The corporate VPN and the company videoconferencing all work better with symmetric bandwidth.

The current crisis is made worse because K12 and college students are also at home, trying to access school materials, online classes, and/or just watching movies.

It is a perfect storm of bandwidth needs. We need more fiber in more communities; fiber is designed specifically to deliver symmetric bandwidth--it's baked into the technology, unlike cable Internet, which was essentially a hack of the coaxial copper network that was designed to deliver broadband TV and nothing else.

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Comcast is doing a good thing

I'll give credit where credit is due: Comcast has announced that it will not disconnect any customers for late payment or non-payment for the next sixty days. They will also not charge late fees for small business customers who fall behind on payment. This latter offer could be very important for small retailers, especially those in the restaurant business. Comcast is doing a good thing.

Can the network handle work from home?

The news is filling up with stories about office workers trying to work from home. The most interesting thing I have seen is a report from the Utopia network out in the Salt Lake City area, which said that they have had a 20% increase in requests for fiber service in the last week.

No one is going to call for a new network connection in the middle of a crisis like this one unless their current network connection is not meeting their needs.

Cable Internet networks have not been designed to support massive data traffic during the day, and with schools sending kids home at the same time, if you are trying to work from home right now and have a cable connection, then every day is going to be a snow day--meaning your cable Internet service is going to slow to a crawl.

Well-designed, modern fiber networks do not have the same capacity limitations as the old fashioned copper-based coaxial cable systems. Improvements in the DOCSIS software that the cable companies use to manage their networks have enabled them to increase the download speeds to support video streaming, but they have to steal bandwidth from the upload side. Upload speeds on cable networks have become so embarrassing that the cable companies won't even publish them any more. We noticed this starting about a year ago, when we could no longer get any information on upload speeds from any of the cable companies. Formerly, they did publish this.

The corona virus may finally be a tipping point for a switch to fiber networks. Want fiber in your community? Give us a call (www.wideopennetworks.us).

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Death of TV: Part LXXXII: Google says "no" to TV

Google announced earlier this month that it will no longer offer a package of traditional TV. Instead, it is going to let customers sign up for FuboTV, which carries lots of sports-related programming.

This makes sense, because FuboTV does not really compete with the YouTube TV paid subscription service, which currently costs $45. I'm meeting more and more cord cutters who are entirely happy with their YouTube TV service, supplemented by a couple of other streaming services like Netflix or Hulu.

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Remote control cars may be a really bad idea

Hard to believe this story: a rental car provided by an app-based car sharing service called GIG Car Share stopped working when the car was driven into a rural part of northern California.

The car lost cell phone service and would not start. Fortunately, the driver's cell phone continued to work and after twenty calls to customer service, two tow trucks, and a six hour wait, the car was finally towed to a spot where cell phone service was better and the car started. The car service blamed it on a software problem that was fixed by a "reboot" of the car. So it's not clear if lack of cell service was a problem or not.

In both a hilarious and pathetic piece of advice from the customer service folks, they told the poor woman to sleep in the car overnight and see if it started in the morning. Really.

Vintage cars with nothing but good old analog engines and controls are becoming more valuable by the day.

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Phone zombies require sidewalk traffic lights

Smartphone zombies are such a hazard to themselves and others that in Warsaw, Poland the city is installing "sidewalk traffic lights," which project large red or green swatches of light onto the pavement at street crossings. The smartphone zombies have their heads down and don't look up before crossing the street.

We may not have reached maximum stupidity, but we seem to be getting closer, as it appears we have people more interested in their smartphone than actually staying alive.

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Who needs fiber?

Apple TV+, according to MacRumors, has the highest quality streaming service available, with the average streaming speed (bandwidth required) reaching 29 Megabits/second. So if you have two people in a household watching two Apple TV+ programs on two different devices, you need somewhere north of 60 Meg of bandwidth. Add in a HD video doorbell streaming 24/7, a "smart" refrigerator, and a few other "Internet of Things" devices and you are bumping up against 100 Meg of combined upload/download bandwidth. This is going to put a lot of stress on cable Internet systems, which don't do well with their highly asymmetric service (large download speeds, very low upload speeds).

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Everything old is new again

Microsoft is developing a new glass-based storage technology that can hold many gigs of data on a small glass plate. We need something like this because all of the magnetic-based storage (e.g. hard drives) and DVD/CD disks eventually degrade and fail.

What is interesting is that this general concept dates back at least to the early eighties. Exxon, of all companies, had an office products division that was manufacturing a glass disk storage system that actually burned pits into the disk to create the ones and zeros of digital data. This was different from the slightly later 12" videodisks, which were the precursor of CDs and DVDs. That technology uses a thin aluminum substrate that has the data burned into it. The problem is that the aluminum substrate can degrade over time to the point of becoming unreadable.

Paper is still superior to any other storage medium, as it is long-lived if stored properly and does not require any hardware or software to access its data. Paper's bulk is its shortcoming.

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AT&T: We are losing customers, so let's raise prices!

Are Technica reports that AT&T is hiking prices for its TV service--formerly DirecTV--as much as 50%, depending on what package a customer has. The company has lost about 10% of its customer base for TV services in the past year, which reflects the continued growth in "cord cutting" of cable and satellite TV service.

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