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Kevin Ross: The Time is Now to Expand Internet Access with Fixed Wireless Broadband at Gigabit Speeds

New approaches must leapfrog the slow pace of extending fiber to the home and high costs of 5G and satellite.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Kevin Ross, founder and CEO of WeLink

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our behaviors in bandwidth consumption and driven enormous demand for reliable, high-speed internet access. Even before the pandemic spiked, high school and college students nationwide experienced this need for speed and continue to face this challenge today.

Broadband access also remains a critical need for millions of employees seeking to increase their productivity while working from home. According to ABI Research, “many business are allowing remote working for some of their employees after the pandemic, which will boost the need for home broadband services even further.” Fast, reliable broadband access is critical for file sharing, Zoom meetings, streaming content and other bandwidth-intensive applications. This business imperative will continue in the post-COVID-19 era as the home is now the new office.

High-speed uplink connectivity is another growing concern for at-home workers, not only for web-based conferencing applications but also for sharing large files and rapid uploads. This need puts increasing pressure on upload links.

The solution?

Symmetrical broadband connections, enabling equally fast uplink and download speeds.

With symmetrical access, there is no “speed discrimination” based on the direction of data traffic. End users receive the same network speed for both uploads and downloads. Businesses and work-at-home employees who rely on cloud applications, fast data transfers and non-stop, high-speed connectivity ultimately will benefit from balanced, symmetrical internet connections.

However, a major issue with most broadband services is the prevalence of asymmetrical internet access speeds, reaching hundreds of megabits per second on the downlink but much slower on the uplink. As a result, upload speeds are significantly slower than download speeds, throttling business operations and employee productivity with unnecessarily slow upload speeds. According to Speedtest, the median download speed for fixed U.S. fixed broadband subscribers in October 2021 was 131.16 Mbps, while median upload speed was 19.18 Mbps.

To help close the digital divide, we need innovative, new approaches to broadband deployment that leapfrog the slow pace of extending fiber to the home or the high cost of current conventional 5G wireless and satellite internet options.

Fixed wireless access networks, enabled by new mmWave based FWA technologies, provide an ultra-high-speed alternative to fixed-line broadband service. Although wireless internet service providers have traditionally focused on rural areas, some are deploying services in metro areas using next-generation FWA networks based on ultra-fast millimeter wave technology. FWA has been around for years but with the rollout of mmWave alternatives, FWA networks are commercially viable and speed-competitive with traditional fiber deployments.

In fact, mmWave networks are so fast they are dubbed wireless fiber, bypassing miles of underground fiber and cable infrastructure with faster, easier deployment while delivering multi-gigabit uplink and downlink speeds. The rapid rise of mmWave networks is a game-changer for WISPs and FWA networks, enabling ultra-high-speed broadband services at symmetrical gigabit speeds to residential subscribers and enterprise customers and providing a competitive alternative to fixed-line DSL, cable and fiber as well as emerging satellite broadband access.

Given the complexities of America’s broadband access needs, we’ll see an optimal mix of fiber, mmWave FWA wireless and satellite deployments based on infrastructure requirements. FWA service, for example, makes sense for denser urban and suburban environments where it can provide high-speed wireless broadband to homes and businesses at up to gigabit speeds, connecting the unconnected and expanding and improving broadband access.

This alternate FWA approach is much quicker and less expensive to deploy than traditional fiber-to-the-home or conventional 5G, and unlike Low earth orbit satellite, it has sufficient capacity to deliver gigabit service with significant penetration in densely populated areas. With the steady expansion of mmWave wireless networks, gigabit-speed FWA service will also make symmetrical connectivity a must-have feature and market imperative.

Now and in the future, mmWave-based FWA networks will help drive digital transformation in homes and offices and give at-home workers greater freedom of choice. This trend is even more important today as the COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the balance of work and school from home.

Kevin Ross is founder and CEO of WeLink, a rapidly-growing, next-generation broadband provider. Kevin is pioneering the use of mmWave technologies and small cell micro-pop network architectures, combined with a crowdsourced site acquisition model, that reduces small cell deployment costs and time to market by greater than a magnitude of order. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Jeremy Jurick and Paul Schneid: Preparing Data for the FCC’s Broadband Filing

The new FCC requirements in the broadband data collection program are important to meet the nation’s connectivity goals.

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The authors of this Expert Opinion are Jeremy Jurick (left) and Paul Schneid of Michael Baker International.

The recent emphasis on the expansion of broadband access across the country, coupled with the requirements of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Broadband Equity and Deployment program, has prompted the Federal Communications Commission to review and update its collection of data. Accurate data pinpointing where broadband service is – and is not – available is critically important. Broadband maps are used by Internet Service Providers and governments to identify locations that need service, as well as how to fund broadband expansion.

The FCC has recently established an important initiative called the Broadband Data Collection Program to ensure the collection of accurate, vital broadband availability data, implementing new requirements. Among other requirements of the BDC, ISPs must submit their serviceable location data and align that data with the FCC’s serviceable location fabric, which will require new methodologies from ISPs, resulting in additional hours spent and more resources allocated to address this upcoming task.

At Michael Baker International, our team is at the forefront of data collection and broadband expansion services. This article provides details on the requirement and filing process for ISPs.

Recognizing the challenges

The BDC filing process may be unfamiliar and challenging to some service providers due to the novelty of the program and the list of requirements it encompasses. Moreover, ISPs may be delayed in the processing and submission of their data, either due to limited resources or bandwidth to support these new tasks and responsibilities or experience to immediately and effectively tackle and complete this complex data collection/submittal process. With the extent of the data expected to be collected and submitted, which involves technical elements and resources, proceeding may seem daunting. Sifting through newly published materials and resources takes away valuable time and issues can arise before or after submittal with incomplete data or the ability to process the data into the appropriate standards, recently specified for fabric comparison by the FCC.

Getting started according to the timeline

To begin the BDC Filing process, ISPs should first become familiar with the timeline, federal regulations and data requirements surrounding the submission period.

Due to be submitted for the first time on September 1, 2022, and semi-annually going forward, specific data must be provided by all facilities-based providers of fixed and mobile broadband internet access who had one or more end user connections in service on June 30, 2022. Each filing will be based on the same schedule as the Form 477 filings (June 30th through September 1st and December 31st through March 1st).

Fulfilling the prerequisites ad the data requirements

As prerequisite to filing data in the BDC portal, the FCC requires ISPs or government entities to first complete the registration process within the FCC’s Commission Registrations System (CORES). Users will be assigned a 10-digit FCC Registration Number that will be used for verification purposes by the FCC.  Additionally, filers are also required by the FCC to show proof that they are indeed an organization that is responsible for tracking broadband coverage.  Each filer must provide documentation from the highest-ranking executive within their company confirming that the organization tracks broadband data.

Each BDC filing must include detailed information about the filer, broadband availability data (including supporting data) and Form 477 broadband subscription data. In addition, specific requirements are mandated for various ISPs:

  • Fixed wireline and satellite broadband service providers: Submit either polygon shapefiles or a list of locations constituting the provider’s service area.
  • Fixed wireless broadband service providers: Submit either propagation maps and propagation model details or a list of locations constituting the provider’s service area.
  • Mobile wireless broadband service providers: Submit propagation maps and propagation model details for each network technology, as well as for both outdoor stationary and in-vehicle mobile network coverage. Additionally, these ISPs must submit data for their signal strength heat map.

Finalizing for submission

Finally, ISPs must gain access to the serviceable location fabric, format the data to requirements for accurate comparison against the fabric and identify the addresses that meet requirements of serviceable areas. When the necessary data has been compiled and reviewed, the filing entity must navigate to the BDC system and submit its data onward to the FCC. The FCC gives the option to file submit data as an upload/web-based file or alternatively submit using an Application Programming Interface.

Partnering with a broadband expert

It is recommended that ISPs looking to both save time and ensure accuracy throughout the submission process partner with broadband experts that will ensure that all BDC requirements are met before submitting any data. Michael Baker International has thoroughly researched the BDC requirements and created a streamlined solution. ISPs simply provide the initial information, and our team then determines the appropriate data to be submitted, along with our translation of that data into the proper format. Once ISPs receive the data, they need only create a login and finally, upload the submission data.

Today, there is increased focus on an existing but growing need to close gaps in the digital divide. The new FCC requirements in the BDC program are an important part of ensuring the nation’s connectivity goals are met by collecting accurate data that will be necessary to provide services where they are most needed.

Jeremy Jurick is Michael Baker’s National Broadband Services Director and oversees Michael Baker International’s broadband planning, mapping and program management initiatives. His broadband experience includes roadmap development, planning, data collection and analysis, stakeholder engagement, broadband provider engagement, branding, multimedia design, GIS services, and software design, and he has provided testimony during several government hearings to inform policymakers on broadband policy and expansion, including advocating for high speed thresholds for the definition of broadband and allowing government entities to be eligible subgrantees for broadband funding.

Paul Schneid is a program manager at Michael Baker with nearly a decade of experience in broadband wireless equipment operation, customer service, and process improvement. Most recently, Schneid interfaced with vendors and clients to manage all implementation project phases from inception to completion across a citywide wireless broadband expansion in New York City. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Bryan Darr: An Order of Fiber, Please, with Wireless on the Side

Wireless is essential because for truly remote properties, a physical connection may never be practical.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Bryan Darr, vice president of Smart Communities at Ookla.

Over the next five to ten years we will see an explosion of projects bringing high-speed connectivity to underserved communities in the United States. Although fiber infrastructure rightly gets most of the attention and funding, wireless networks should also be part of this planning process. Wireless networks can deploy faster, serve remote locations more economically, and provide some capabilities that fixed networks can’t. Failure to consider the comprehensive needs of the mobile broadband environment will hobble efforts in the next phase of this technology revolution.

How we got here

As federal broadband infrastructure funding is ramping up, state broadband offices are preparing to prove their need for a larger slice of the pie. This is detailed in the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, which is a part of the infrastructure bill (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) passed into law in the fall of 2021. Although every state is guaranteed $100 million, that leaves about $37 billion yet to be divided up.

Assuredly, this pie won’t be sliced into equal portions across states, tribal areas, and U.S. territories. Differences in population, geographic area, household density, and income levels will impact the funding eligibility of individual jurisdictions. Preparedness to verify underserved areas will ensure that state and local governments can maximize their chances of securing adequate funding. The first step is to identify these communities and estimate the cost of covering each household. With a desire to help as many people as possible, there will be a tendency to prioritize areas with the lowest cost per connection.

State governments have been focused primarily on fiber access. However, as big a pot of money as the IIJA may be, it won’t be big enough to connect every household to fiber. Continued supply chain issues, inflation, and labor shortages (particularly with needed expertise) will expand the cost of projects in the coming years.

The race to compete for these billions of dollars has had a very uneven start. Some state broadband offices are fully staffed, have hired consultants, have obtained and collected network performance data, and already have mapping projects launched. Other states are just now funding their broadband offices and beginning to hire their first employees. States that cannot successfully challenge both the mapping fabric (think number of service addresses) and confidently identify unserved households will be disappointed with the size of their slice.

The recipe may require adjustment

Recently, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called for the commission to reset its definition of broadband from 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed to 100 down and 20 up. Many would agree that a reset is long overdue. The IIJA legislation is already requiring that new infrastructure builds meet this criteria. We should all recognize that this metric reset could make millions of additional households eligible for funding. Some policy organizations, including the Fiber Broadband Association, are voicing their opinions that those numbers are already dated and that the new target will not be enough for future needs such as the much-anticipated metaverse.

The specific benefits of wireless

Wireless connectivity can be broken down into three basic types of last-mile providers:

  1. Cellular service providers, offering traditional mobile and new fixed wireless access services
  2. Wireless internet service providers (WISPs), offering fixed point-to-point service
  3. Satellite companies (more on them later)

Wi-Fi is also wireless, but provides a final hop for only the last few feet of a network connection.

Wireless is essential because there is broad recognition that for truly remote properties, a physical connection may never be practical. As subsidies flow, that fact may be applicable to fewer locations, but there is certainly a point of diminishing return. As state and federal officials plan their networks to connect as many communities as they can, they should be factoring in where the wireless networks need bolstering as well. This is applicable for both mobile and WISP infrastructure.

Additional wireless investment could serve multiple needs. Poor wireless coverage is a common complaint even in densely populated areas. If you spend any significant time in rural areas, you know that there are locations where service is so spotty that the local population knows when to not risk initiating a call. Even if you get a signal, throughput can vary greatly. Just because you can receive a text in a particular location doesn’t mean you can download a video. These rural areas have weak wireless signals for the same reason that they lack good terrestrial broadband — the population density does not provide enough return on the investment.

Fiber is still a necessary ingredient

Today’s higher data usage demands the capacity that fiber provides. Mobile service providers are not going to build a new 5G tower without access to fiber backhaul. Sites that require long, dedicated fiber deployments can cost far more and lead to an unreasonable dent in the CapEx budget.

As new middle-mile networks are being designed, network planners should consider where wireless networks are weak and new towers are needed for improvement. Strategically adding splice points in poor service areas can significantly lower the barrier to attracting new wireless infrastructure. A lower cost of deployment will be a big incentive to wireless networks to bring improved service to rural communities.

We all depend on wireless services

Mobile connectivity has moved beyond a luxury and has become an expectation. Even if we could practically and affordably connect every house with fiber, there are many reasons to include wireless in your overall design plans.

  • Public safety – If you have ever had a flat tire or an overheated radiator, you know how important wireless coverage can be. Just try calling a rescue service with no bars. FirstNet wants to improve coverage as well, and incentivising new towers can provide a big assist.
  • Precision agriculture – Fiber-to-the-home can connect the farm house, the barn, and even the chicken houses, but it won’t connect the tractor or the combine. Livestock now wear devices that monitor animal well-being. Wireless is the only way to keep the whole farm connected and competitive in a global marketplace.
  • Healthcare – Devices to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels, and more are revolutionizing patient care. Many can now automatically notify a care facility when a patient is in distress. Mobile networks keep these devices connected if the patient’s residence lacks fixed broadband and when they are away from the home.
  • Economic development – Picking the best location for a new factory, business park, or neighborhood is about more than adequate roads and water resources. Good connectivity for both wireless and fixed telecom services has become a standard amenity for site selection.
  • 5G, part 1 – These new networks are quickly overlaying the 4G footprint. You don’t have to experience the lightning speeds of inner city millimeter wave service to see huge improvements in network performance. Wireless carriers are now introducing Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) to directly compete with traditional fixed providers. Competition means pressure in the market to keep services more affordable.
  • 5G, part 2 – Just over the horizon is the Rural 5G Fund, established by the FCC in October 2020. Over $9 billion dollars will be made available to improve 5G coverage. However, the Competitive Carriers Association, which represents many rural mobile service providers, estimates the need at well over $30 billion. Without some advance planning and dialogue with the wireless providers in your state, you may see very little of those investments.

WISPs have brought first-time service to millions 

According to WISPA (the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association), over 2,800 WISPs are now serving more than seven million customers in portions of all 50 states, bringing internet to many rural households that had previously relied on aging satellite services. Although some subscribers are seeing median speeds below the current 25/3 broadband definition, new technologies are improving user experiences as equipment is modernized. Of course, better access to fiber is also needed to increase capacity and link to internet backbones.

All radio signals degrade with distance. Some of the largest WISPs cover sparsely populated regions, often with rugged terrain, making physical household connections particularly expensive to build. Commonly, customers who experience slower than advertised speeds are living at the practical edge of these coverage areas. Providing fiber to just a handful of locations can attract new towers that could substantially expand network services. This would also save much of the cost compared to direct-to-home routes and reduce the time needed for these subscribers to see significant improvements.

The IIJA is written to be technology-neutral, but some broadband officials seem to be paying little attention to proven solutions that could have immediate impact. Even if the eventual goal is to offer direct-to-home fiber for everyone, we may go well beyond this decade without realizing that dream.

Aren’t satellites wireless, too?

Modern and improved satellite services are already fulfilling broadband needs for some households and businesses. Availability is limited to certain geographies but is expanding, and new competitors plan to enter the mix soon.

Throughput speeds and latency have improved dramatically, but waitlists are long, and initial equipment costs of more than $500 (that’s for do-it-yourself) and subscription fees of $100 or more per month will make this a difficult purchase decision for low-income households. There’s also limited capacity for any given geographic area, so even if there is satellite service available in your location, it may be that your neighbors have already maxed out the service and you will be waiting for additional capacity to be made available.

Without wireless, a broadband plan is just half-baked

We are many years away from realizing the full impact of the IIJA and the other recent funding sources that will deliver new fiber connections across the country. The FCC’s map is already delayed. There are early grumblings about uncertain challenge processes and many states are just now getting their planning efforts underway. The federal government has promised millions of Americans better broadband and they are expecting action soon, not in five to ten years.

Regulators and policymakers will ultimately be held accountable by voters and Congress for how the BEAD funds are spent. Two key metrics will matter most: the number of households gaining a new or improved connection and how quickly this progress is being made. Monitoring compliance will become more important as projects hit milestones and contractors get paid.

For some rural communities, wireless may be the best option right now and, perhaps, for the foreseeable future. Some households can already experience better service from their wireless provider than from DSL or satellite options. Reports are surfacing of DSL providers refusing to reconnect service to households where an interruption of service has occurred — whether for late payment or change of ownership — leaving families cut off from the digital economy.

Because satellite service is expensive and hard to acquire, wireless services are the only logical solution to get some rural households (particularly those in low-income brackets) connected before these communities wither past the point of no return. WISPs and mobile providers can fill some of this gap today and, if given the opportunity, will provide competitive options for families unhappy with their service. FWA from the traditional mobile operators is gaining public acceptance quickly in select markets and where signal levels are strong.

Think of anticipating wireless needs while planning fixed networks like an extension of a “dig once” policy. You don’t want to look back years from now and ask why wireless wasn’t considered in your planning process. Across the country, economic and community development departments spend millions of dollars every year to attract new citizens and businesses. Reliable mobile coverage is an amenity everyone – and every thing – wants.

Data from Ookla can highlight areas of need for both fixed and wireless networks. Leveraging coverage data to spotlight deficiencies can serve as an additional assessment in your middle-mile fiber planning, which can ultimately improve public safety, agricultural competitiveness, and overall quality of life.

Prepare for all the broadband needs ahead of you. It’s smart business. It’s smart government.

Bryan Darr is the Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla. He coordinates Ookla’s outreach to local, state and federal governments and serves on CTIA’s Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Group. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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5G

David Flower: 5G and Hyper-Personalization: Too Much of a Good Thing?

5G, IoT and edge computing are giving companies the opportunity to make hyper-personalization even more ‘hyper’.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is David Flower, CEO of Volt Active Data

It’s very easy for personalization to backfire and subtract value instead of add it.

Consider the troubling fact that we may be arriving at a moment in hyper-personalization’s journey where the most hyper-personalized offer is no offer at all. Nobody likes to be constantly bombarded by content, personalized or not.

And that’s the paradox of hyper-personalization: if everyone’s doing it, then, in a sense, nobody is.

5G and related technologies such as IoT and edge computing are giving companies the opportunity to make hyper-personalization even more “hyper” via broader bandwidths and the faster processing of higher volumes of data.

This means we’re at a very interesting inflection point: where do we stop? If the promise of 5G is more data, better data, and faster data, and the result is knowing our customers even better to bug them even more, albeit in a “personal” way, when, where, and why do we say, “hold on—maybe this is going too far.”?

How do you do hyper-personalization well in a world where everyone else is doing it and where customers are becoming increasingly jaded about it and worried about how companies are using their data?

Let’s first look at what’s going wrong.

Hyper-personalization and bad data

Hyper-personalization is very easy to mess up, and when you do mess it up it has the exact opposite of its intended effect: it drives customers away instead of keeping them there.

Consider an online ad for a product that pops up for you on a website a couple days after you already bought the thing being advertised for. This is what I call “noise”. It’s simply a nuisance, and the company placing that ad—or rather, the data platform they’re using to generate the algorithms for the ads—should already know that the person has already bought this item and hence present not a “repeat offer” but an upsell or cross-sell offer.

This sounds rudimentary in the year 2022 but it’s still all too common, and you’re probably nodding your head right now because you’ve experienced this issue.

Noise usually comes from what’s known as bad data, or dirty data. Whatever you want to call it—it pretty much ruins the customer experience.

Hyper-personalization and slow data

The second major issue is slow data, which is any data being used way too slowly to be valuable, which usually includes data that has to the trip to the data warehouse before it can be incorporated into any decisions.

Slow data is one of the main reasons edge computing was invented: to be able to process data as closely to where it’s ingested as possible in order to use it before it loses any value.

Slow data produces not-so-fun customer experiences such as walking half a mile to your departure gate at the airport, only to find that the gate has been changed, and then, after you’ve walked the half mile back to where you came from, getting a text message on your phone from the airline saying your gate has been changed.

Again, whatever you want to call it—latency, slow data, annoying—the end result is a bad customer experience.

How to fix the hyper-personalization paradox

I have no doubt that the people who invented hyper-personalization had great intentions: make things as personal as possible so that your customers pay attention, stay happy, and stay loyal.

And for a lot of companies, for a long time, it worked. Then came the data deluge. And the regulations. And the jaded customers. We’re now at a stage where we need to rethink how we do personalization because the old ways are no longer effective.

It’s easy—and correct—to blame legacy technology for all of this. But the solution goes deeper than just ripping and replacing. Companies need to think holistically about all sides of their tech stacks to figure out the simplest way to get as much data as possible from A to B.

The faster you can process your data the better. But it’s not all just about speed. You also need to be able to provide quick contextual intelligence to your data so that every packet is informed by all of the packets that came before it. In this sense, your tech stack should be a little like a great storyteller: someone who knows what the customer needs and is feeling at any given moment, because it knows what’s happened up to this point and how it will affect customer decisions moving forward.

Let’s start thinking of our customer experiences as stories and our tech stacks as the storytellers—or maybe, story generators. Maybe then our personalization efforts will become truly ‘hyper-personal’— i.e., relevant, in-the-moment experiences that are a source of delight instead of annoyance.

David Flower brings more than 28 years of experience within the IT industry to the role of CEO of Volt Active Data. Flower has a track record of building significant shareholder value across multiple software sectors on a global scale through the development and execution of focused strategic plans, organizational development and product leadership. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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