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iPods, iPhones, iPads – and the Wired and Wireless Broadband Connections That Feed Them

in Broadband and Democratization/Broadband's Impact/Expert Opinion/National Broadband Plan/Wireless by

January 12, 2012 – The Broadband Economy has always been about three things: wired and wireless connections; the iPods, iPhones, and iPads that we got in our Christmas stockings; and the content that makes it fun and useful to “connect” your device to the internet.

Some of us talk about the internet and broadband but think only about content – Netflix, social networking, necessary e-mail traffic. Hardware geeks may think only about the fiber-optic cables, or the new cellular towers that are providing faster fiber-optic connectivity or fourth-generation wireless (4G) connectivity.

In general, the beauty of the internet has been about the openness of each layer. There are always have been concerns about monopolistic behavior. Consider the potential for “natural monopoly” in infrastructure. Or how a once-dominant player like Microsoft was able, for a time, to serve as a choke-point on the “desktop” of the personal computer.

Today’s concerns about competition are just as likely to be had where Google, Facebook and Twitter spar over the integration of their respective social networks, as within Google’s newly revamped search engine features.

But as the International Consumer Electronic Show meets in Las Vegas, it’s worth taking stock of the digital devices – not the broadband, and not the content – that are the heart of the ecosystem.

Indeed, I want to focus on the Apple platform – iPods, iPhones and iPads – that have shaken up the digital landscape in the post-PC world.

Breaking Boundaries on Digital Devices

Apple, the biggest name in the consumer electronics landscape, has done more than any company to keep gadgetry simple. They keep enticing more and more of our nation’s population, and our world’s population, into the digital economy. Ironically, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company doesn’t even have official presence at CES. The roots of CES stem from high-definition television and home stereo, growing into the all-purpose digital monolith when COMDEX, the legendary Vegas dot-com conference, went bust in 2003.

But Apple has hewed toward a go-it-alone venue for publicizing and promoting its products. That’s very much unlike Microsoft, the former king of COMDEX and, until this year, of CES. In the post-PC world, Apple’s strategy seems to have worked.

Indeed, Apple’s extraordinary rebirth from computer-maker into the must-have consumer electronics company goes back to the category-creating iPod (the genre-defining music player introduced in 2001), the iPhone (a smart phone for the rest of us, in 2007), and the iPad (creating a long-elusive market for “tablet” computer, in 2010). I’m not going to count the Newton, the not-ready-for-prime-time device from the 1980s.

Apple has integrated the new versions of each of these post-PC devices to make interchanging them seemless. But any member of the iApple platform underscores how dated it is to view our digital world as if telephones, computers, and televisions were separate objects. My iPhone is as much my computer – and my television – as it is my telephone.

So what does this say for the other layers in the broadband ecosystem? Everything.

Bringing Broadband Adoption to the 21st Century

Many of our country’s leading broadband policy-makers have lamented the inability to get all Americans online, or excited about engaging in the broadband economy. The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan found that only 65 percent of the population had adopted broadband technology. Consider the argument that’s taken place over the last several weeks, following the publication of a piece by Susan Crawford, “The New Digital Divide,” in The New York Times.

Crawford, a former special assistant to the Obama Administration White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, argued that the

While we still talk about “the” Internet, we increasingly have two separate access marketplaces: high-speed wired and second-class wireless. High-speed access is a superhighway for those who can afford it, while racial minorities and poorer and rural Americans must make do with a bike path.

Crawford acknowledged the breakneck adoption of smartphones, the policy-wonk’s label for an iPhone or an Android device, but insisted that “smartphone access is not a substitute for wired” because job applications require typing, or because distance learning or small business connections require more than just a wireless connection. Further, she scores the leading wireless providers for fixing rigid monthly data caps on wireless downloads.

Ivan Seidenberg, the recently-departed CEO of Verizon Communications, took issue with Crawford’s dour conclusion about a two-track internet. He claimed that U.S. fiber subscriptions were double those of Europe. There’s an important argument here – for another day – about the state of the speeds and prices of American broadband. But let’s keep our focus on the broadband “adoption” problem, and what it has to do with an iPhone.

An iPhone is a Phone… and a Camera and a Televisions and a Calculator and a Computer

The paradox of broadband adoption is really the same as the paradox of the broadband ecosystem: there’s no point in laying fiber-optic lines, or building tower, or in building the best search engine or social network, if you don’t have lots of  devices on which to consume data.

While it is true that the fastest wireless connections are unlikely to ever match the capacity and speed of the fastest wired linkages, new 4G technologies being rolled out by each of the major providers are considerably pumping up wireless broadband speeds. The simple fact of the matter is that the heart of the Crawford’s digital divide is a dearth about usage. And usage will rise as more and more of our nation, and our world, experience, understand and use the digital tools of today.

Consider my own “magic box,” my iPhone. Everyone’s “top 10” lists are certain to be different. Here are the 10 most recent apps I’ve used on my iPhone:

  1. Phone
  2. C-SPAN Radio
  3. Mormon Channel
  4. Facebook
  5. Clock
  6. Calendar
  7. App Store
  8. Messages
  9. Safari
  10. Contacts

All of these applications, with the possible exception of “Clock,” rely upon the 3G broadband network for which I subscribe to use my iPhone. Consider this value for the network.

Many of them, like “C-SPAN Radio,” a simple-to-use app that enables web-streaming as if I were on the C-SPAN web site, rely upon the web sites of the wide open web. Consider this value for the content.

Some of them, like the Facebook app, may well compete to work better on my iPhone platform than on another platform, like the Galaxy Nexus. Consider this value for the device, my iPhone.

This sort of ecosystem – broadband network, internet content and digital device – has the potential to gradually bring more and more, and ultimately everyone, into the digital world.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on and Twitter. He founded BroadbandCensus.com, and he brings experts and practicioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss the discussion, “The Wired Home and Wireless Policy,” at the Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday, January 17, 2012, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Register now.

Analysis: Consumers Still Confused About New 4G LTE Systems

in Broadband Data/Media ownership/Mobile Broadband/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2011- Both AT&T and Verizon taken steps to to deploy their 4G LTE networks in recent months, with Sprint and T-Mobile heavily advertising their existing 4G technologies. With rampant speculation regarding the iPhone 5 industry watchers have predicted that consumers would be clamoring for the faster speeds promised by LTE.

“Not so,” says consumer research firm Retrevo.

In fact, a third of iPhone owners already think they have the technology despite the lack of a 4G-capable iPhone on the market. Maybe it’s the fact that the latest iPhone is called the iPhone 4, but the Retrevo study indicates a quarter of  Blackberry owners are also confused and believe they have 4G, despite Blackberry not currently producing a 4G handset. Similarly, many Android owners believe they have 4G despite the number of 4G-capable devices being much smaller than the percentage that believe they have devices with this technology.

Retrvo’s research also shows that consumers are in no rush to adopt the new data technology. Both Verizon and AT&T have indicated that smartphones, such as the iPhone, are data hogs and tax their networks. The companies’ solutions have been to build faster networks based around LTE and to expand their spectrum -the prime reason AT&T cites for its acquisition of T-Mobile.

Of the consumers surveyed, thirty percent said that they did not share the feeling that faster networks were the solution and that the higher cost of the faster network is the high hurdle for consumers to adopt it. Others cited  the the minimal increase in performance over 3G networks as a prominent factor and nineteen percent were confused about what exactly a 4G network was.  Another factor might be that both Verizon and AT&T’s shift from unlimited to tiered data plans earlier this year which put consumers on their guards. Despite the research the companies cited showing that most users don’t use much data and would save money buy selecting a cheaper data plan, the specter of costly overage charges from their wireless providers seem to come to the front of most consumers minds when selecting data plans.

The slower technologies also extend battery life as Apple’s tech specs list more than double the talk time for 2G over 3G on the current iPhone 4. This is further illustrated by T-Mobile’s recent claim that close to a million iPhones are currently used on its network despite the iPhone not supporting T-Mobile’s 3G band -meaning those subscribers are using T-Mobile’s 2G data service at a significantly slower speed. For these consumers the functionality of the devices and the network and cheaper price trump the network’s speed.

As for the new iPhone, many consumers say they don’t care if the iPhone 5 has 4G LTE, with sixty-one percent saying that they will consider the new iPhone regardless of it’s 4G LTE capability according to Retrevo’s survey.  Good news for Apple as it’s been rumored that a 4G LTE capable iPhone won’t be introduced until 2012.

Barton, Markey Release Draft of ‘Do Not Track’ Bill for Kids

in Congress/House of Representatives/Privacy/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2011 – Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Ed Markey (D-MD) released a discussion draft of to-be-introduced legislation that would update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act to reflect changes in current technology.

The Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011 would make several changes to the existing law, which dates back to 1998.  Since then, says Rep. Barton, the Internet landscape has changed dramatically.

“The Internet has transformed into an invaluable educational, research and entertainment tool, but with the good comes the bad,” said Barton. “We have reached a troubling point in the state of business when companies that conduct business online are so eager to make a buck, they resort to targeting our children. I strongly believe that information should not be collected on children and used for commercial purposes.

The proposed legislation would make stronger the disclosures required by companies about what sort of information they collect, require parental consent before collecting minors’ personal information, and prohibit the use of information that is collected for marketing purposes.  Additionally, the measure would create “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Teens” and require companies, where feasible, to erase collected minors’ data upon request by parents.

The legislation would also bring the current law into the mobile age by addressing not only personal information, but geolocation data as well.  Rep. Markey recently called on Congress to address media reports that Apple and Android phones track users personal location data, sometimes for months.

“For millions of kids today, the Internet is their new 21st century playground – they learn, play, and connect with others every day,” said Markey. “The Internet presents a wide array of opportunities to communicate and access entertainment that were unimaginable only a few years ago. But kids growing up in this online environment also need protection from the dangers that can lurk in cyberspace.”

 

A copy of the Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011 discussion draft is available here.

Las Vegas: Ground Zero For the Battle of 4G Wireless Technologies

in Mobile Broadband/Wireless by

LAS VEGAS, January 10, 2011 – After last week’s slew of press conferences and unveilings, the latest new products at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) left little doubt: 2011 will be “The Year of 4G.”

In fact, CES 2011 was as much about the networks as it was about the devices themselves.  As the Tech Industry’s leaders rolled out a host of new offerings, nearly every big announcement boasted 4G-ready or 4G-upgradable devices.

The term “4G” refers to “Fourth Generation” wireless standards, which provide higher mobile broadband upload and download speeds than Third Generation (or “3G”) and rival speeds currently associated with wired connections such as cable or DSL.

Both AT&T and Verizon competed for the attention of show-goers and the media with the strength of their networks and the products coming available for them.  On Wednesday’s Press Day, AT&T took the opportunity to announce it planned to move up its 4G network rollout by a year to the middle of 2011, and by December would offer 20 4G-capable devices. 

The next morning, Verizon’s CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, delivered the kickoff keynote address boasting a handful of new 4G devices in advance of the company’s afternoon press conference, which, as widely anticipated by industry watchers, rolled out a larger selection of soon-to-be-released 4G devices.  While it currently has a 35-city 4G LTE network in place, Verizon has yet to bring any 4G devices to market.

In his keynote, Seidenberg focused on the potential of an integrated Internet experience on a 4G network through partnerships with, among others, Time Warner, Motorola, and Google.  He portended a seamless, simplified delivery of internet content, including on-demand television, mobile applications, and traditional web surfing to users on the device of their choosing over the company’s new, high-speed network.

Hardware manufacturers also got in on the action, with Motorola and LG both announcing the upcoming release of Android-based 4G tablets to compete with Apple’s highly successful iPad.

Verizon President and COO Lowell McAdam commented on the possibilities of 4G networks during Thursday morning’s keynote: “the full-blown mobile broadband experience we’ve been predicting for years is now coming true.”

Apple Files Patent Infringement Lawsuit Against HTC

in Patents by

SAN FRANCISCO, June 28, 2010 – Apple fired another volley against HTC, the the Taiwainese smart phone hardware makers last week when it accused the firm of infringing four of its patents covering the iPhone.

HTC makes the smartphones that use Google’s Android operating system.

The suit, filed in federal district court in Delaware, accuses HTC of infringing patents that cover the way a user interacts with a device, and that cover the way the device conserves power.

Apple is asking the court to block the sale of the phones, for damages and attorneys’ fees.

Apple also sued HTC at the International Trade Commission this March, charging that the company had violated 20 of its patents.

FCC Launches Consumer Tool to Test Broadband Connections

in Broadband Data/Broadband Updates/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2010 – The FCC launched its consumer broadband test today, enabling consumers to test the speed and other performance measurements of their broadband connections.

Users will randomly be assigned to one of two speed and measurement test when they visit www.broadband.gov. One of the tests will utilize the open source Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) developed by Internet2, a consortium of researchers. BroadbandCensus.com has been using the NDT speed test since February 2008.

The other test, uses Ookla, Inc.’s Speedtest.net, has been used by Communications Workers of America’s SpeedMatters.org web site since 2007.

“Transparency empowers consumers, promotes innovation and investment, and encourages competition,” said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.

“The FCC’s new digital tools will arm users with real-time information about their broadband connection and the agency with useful data about service across the country,” he said. “By informing consumers about their broadband service quality, these tools help eliminate confusion and make the market work more effectively.”

The FCC also said that it did not endorse any specific testing application.

In addition to the “Consumer Broadband Test,” the FCC on Thursday also launched a mobile application — a first for the agency — that is available through the Apple and Android app stores.  Called the “Broadband Dead Zone Report,” the mobile tool enables Americans to submit the street address location of a broadband “Dead Zone” where broadband is unavailable for purchase.

On the Consumer Broadband Test, the FCC is asking users to submit their address for internal purposes. BroadbandCensus.com links NDT speed test data to self-reported data about consumers’ broadband carriers, their ZIP+4 code, and the consumers’ ratings of their provider’s perfomance.

The FCC said that it would utilize the NDT speed test as further developed by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative. Open Technology Initiative, together with Google and Princeton University’s PlanetLab Consortium, launched Measurement Lab, or M-Lab, in January 2009. M-Lab uses an open, distributed server infrastructure.

As with BroadbandCensus.com and the FCC, among M-Lab’s core goals is to advance network research by actively promoting openness and transparency: research tools on M-Lab must publicly publish their source code. Further, the NDT data collected is being made publicly available on the Measurement Lab Data Repository under a Creative Commons license.  More than 2.8 million NDT tests have already been run, and M-Lab publicly released the first 500 Gigabytes of data earlier this year.

BroadbandCensus.com also posts all the broadband data sets — the NDT results, as well as user-generated comments and ratings — under a Creative Commons license.

“The Network Diagnostic Tool released by the FCC will collect important information about the true state of broadband in the United States,” said Sascha Meinrath, Director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative.

“Through using M-Lab’s NDT tool, not only is the Commission empowering consumers with vital information regarding actual performance of their broadband connections versus unrealistic ‘up to’ speeds currently utilized by providers, but also contributing to research that is essential to informing good public policy,” said Benjamin Lennett, Policy Analyst for the Open Technology Initiative.

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