Commercial Property Owners – Site Amenities – Do you know all of them and use that information in your marketing?

In many of my consulting jobs over the years, I have been asked about location and access to various services and features as they relate to commercial properties a client may be considering for purchase or lease. This got me to thinking, why don’t the property owners know a lot of this information and list this data when selling or leasing their facilities? In residential real estate this is common practice. Information such as distance to local schools, crime rates, proximity to shopping, bus routes or major highways are usually listed as selling points. Why isn’t this type of information more prevalent in commercial property offerings?

The type of data that would be listed is quite different from residential real estate. The cost per square foot for property is not the only deciding factor for a business to make when deciding where they should locate. Depending on the industry and anticipated use for the property, many other details need to be known. These details can make a big difference in the total cost of doing business for a potential buyer or tenant.

Here are some of the things that commercial buyers and tenants look for when considering a new location:

Electric and Gas Company Provider – This seems like it’s a take it or leave it item for a property but if you live in a state where those items have be deregulated, there is the ability to shop around for their suppliers and rates. Other key factors such as the property being in an area that might have access to other cost saving utility measures such as being in an area serviced by an Co-Op or municipal power company can make a big difference in rates. That alone can sway a decision on the property because it could effect the overhead costs for the business.

Incumbent Phone Company – This has become less of an issue in recent years with the changes in phone technology and the rise in VOIP phone services, but it can still be a factor depending on the broadband data and internet connectivity available to the facility. These details and advantages can be very technical in nature. As the property owner listing the basics helps the prospective buyer filter out properties that can’t meet their needs.

Municipality and Zoning District – This saves a client a lot of time researching. They may have a planned used for the property that may not be allowed in certain areas based on the local zoning laws. If this information is available up front it helps the selection process and could move your property in to a more favorable category. Knowing the municipality can speed the research on taxes or other regulatory issues that may have an impact on a particular kind of business or type of use.

Traffic and Popularity – If a business is more retail focused then they have an interest in the popularity of that location. How much exposure does the location provide, foot and highway traffic are major factors. Knowing how many homes and businesses are within a given distance of the location makes a difference. If a property owner has this level of information, the buyer can make a better informed decision.

Internet Providers Available – Every business needs data connectivity. The quality and capacity needs vary. Knowing who the providers are and if there are more than one or two choices is a big factor in the costs and services available. Distance from fiber connectivity can big a big item for some industries. Being able to provide this level of detail for your property speeds the decision process for the buyer and can also allow you to get a higher price if those conditions are favorable over other properties being considered.

Cell Phone Provider Coverage – An often overlooked amenity that can be very aggravating after the fact. This has an impact on both employees and customers. We live in an age where phones are an indispensable part of our daily life. Not having coverage by one of the major carriers at the location can make the property less desirable.

Building Facilities – This information relates to items such as power availability and in what capacity (three phase and such), existing communications wiring, or ease to install new. There can be huge costs to locating in a building if the tenant is not able to cost effectively run fiber, data, and phone cables from the basement to the area being leased or purchased. Also, knowing ownership of existing communication wiring and the ability to use it can be key. Sometimes the cable and phone company owns the wiring and other times the building owner does. Control over that asset makes a difference to the new tenant and their costs to move in. Access to roof rights can also be a plus along with ease of cabling to same. Some industries rely on various wireless technologies such as satellite terminals that need the antenna mounted on the roof. In a multi-tenant building this can be a highly desirable feature.

Creature Comforts and Environmental – Does your property provide for heating and air conditioning? What type is it? Are there bathroom facilities in the space or is that provided in common areas? Elevator access, freight elevator? On site food and/or cafeteria available? These are all additional benefits your property can have available that you should make note of in your marketing materials. Proximity to local restaurants and other facilities can be nice to list as well. Maybe even go so far as to publish typical commute times to various airports, hotels or communities that exist in your region.

Transportation Accessibility – This has different meaning for different industries. Easy access for employees to commute by car or mass transit can help the value of the property. Just as important though can be truck, train, and freight accessibility. Some businesses are logistics intensive. Easy access for trucks is key. On site overnight parking for delivery trucks can be a benefit. Truck drivers have specific appointments for delivery of cargo but usually arrive early. If they have facilities to be able to park and get some sleep, that can be a plus for some businesses. Proximity to rail facilities is also another factor for some. Rail is an efficient mode of transport for bulk products and can help lower costs for a business. If your property can allow them to take advantage of that mode, your value to them increases. Logistics is huge today and being able to highlight those advantages is a good way to increase your property value.

Local Housing Availability – If a business is new to the area and relocating employees or hiring new employees that move in from out of the area, local housing conditions may help promote your property. Data on homes available for sale and rental  would be something useful. Knowing costs for the same can help swing the value of your property if those numbers are more desirable than comparative locations. Smart employers want to have happy employees and if they relocate to an area where the housing is expensive, hard to find or makes the commute long, that hurts the quality of life and makes it difficult to attract good talent for that employer.

Other Demographic and Economic Data – This may become attractive information to a company that would have a large employee base. Listing data points like the average median household income, housing costs, taxes and such makes a difference in what their employees may get to keep of their personal income. It may make their salary look more attractive even if the salary numbers seem to be below national averages. If the employee has more buying power or can keep more of their paycheck , that can make your property look more attractive. Other key items in the economic information can be things like low or free college tuition costs, access to great training or education facilities and employment opportunities for their other family members.

Quality of Life Data – This can be many things but still important to showcase. Proximity to schools, colleges, outdoor activities, hospital and medical facilities are all factors that weigh in on lives that could be affected by living in the area of your property. Different industries will see these items in a different light but why make them have to do all that research on their own? Why take the chance that some other property owner has this information listed and is easily available to help a buyer make their decisions.

The more the property owner can provide this information to a potential buyer or tenant, the more likely they are able to command a better price for the location. The old adage of location is key in real estate still rings true. The amount of detail that can make a property better for any given situation is complex. Make it as easy as possible to make that decision to buy or lease your facility.

I can help compile and provide a lot of this information if the data is not already known. The software tools allow for processing a large number of properties at the same time. If you have a large portfolio and want to update the information on those properties, feel free to make contact.

If you are in the market considering properties for purchase or lease, I can assist in providing this level of detail for the locations under consideration. If you have more complex criteria I can provide those services as well. Examples would be showing potential locations within a 15 minute drive time of a given point, or ideal locations if you want to expand to three new facilities. This research can get in to great detail such as examining the types of mobile internet users in a given area or location and their travel habits. Contact me with your requirements.

Posted in Broadband Internet, Commercial Real Estate, High Speed Internet, Telecommunications | Leave a comment

Gigabit internet speeds? Does your business need that speed to the Internet or just between locations?

Let’s seriously talk about a companies broadband , internet and connection needs. This topic is specifically for business and commercial accounts that are not serving residential uses. Most people from a personal or home level consume or download more internet content and don’t produce or upload a lot of data. A large majority of the download content they consume is video related. Business class users are a lot different. Video content consumed at the commercial level is small because people are usually busy working and do not use the video for entertainment. Companies will always consume some video content but that is typically work related and not watching TV shows for hours at a time. What businesses do need is stable connectivity and usually just as much upload speed as they use in the download direction. Various industries produce data and transmit that information via email, to cloud servers, or to other branches of their company not within the same local campus. Many times they also have their own web sites, on line commerce solutions, inventory databases, and order fulfillment connectivity requirements. This creates upload just as much as download traffic. Residential classes of broadband internet connections do not suit these purposes well.

Business class connectivity needs vary and the increased connectivity speeds are required more between locations and not to the internet itself. While everyone needs the internet to function, those speed and capacity requirements are not necessarily as much as you might think. The problem is, most people think of data connectivity and the “Internet” as one and the same thing. A company may have internal network requirements that are different from their internet requirements. An example of an industry that would have these types of needs is a regional healthcare system that has started to embrace digital medial records, remote clinics, Tele-Medicine, and imaging tools. These are all great technologies and they do require a lot of connectivity speed and capacity. If these connections are always between the same locations such as clinics, doctors offices, hospitals and other medical facilities, that speed and capacity needs to be between them and not necessarily over the internet. Many use the internet because it is an easy way to make these connections without building a complex network to meet one’s needs.

The problem with using the internet as your network between business locations is that you are paying twice to have that speed and capacity. By that I mean each location you are paying for an internet connection that delivers the speed you need without data caps. Each end point location is buying an internet connection for data that most of the time will never have a need to be on the public internet. Server to server traffic, file storage,  data backups, interoffice emails and such should not have to pay to transit the internet most of the time. Let’s not forget about the security and privacy issues and risks of using the public internet as your transport network.

In the last 10 years there have been huge advances in technology with microwave radios and regulatory rules to allow a private company to build their own data networks. This technology allows you to build what becomes an internal wide area network that interconnects your in building LAN networks together, without using the internet. There are costs in building these networks but they are typically one time capital investments. Depending on what each of your locations is paying for their current data connectivity, the payback period for that capital investment could be quite fast.

Microwave radios for high speed networks is nothing new. Our original national long distance telephone network was built in the 1950’s using the technology . It was upgraded to fiber eventually due to the volume of traffic. Most companies will never exceed this volume on their own.

AT&T Microwave routes 1960

AT&T Long Lines Phone Network over microwave radios 1960

It is now possible to build a private gigabit or faster network of your own. The radio technology, speeds and costs vary based on the distances between locations. The design challenges are many and it may not always be cost effective to interconnect each of your locations, but there are many benefits of these types of networks. One obvious reason is cost savings, another is the increase speeds and capacity of internal systems. This can lead to increased productivity for employees. From an IT perspective it can lead to easier management of remote site systems. This could lead to a possible reduction in the amount of technical staff. Physical off site redundant data backups are now possible in an automated fashion without having to store on commercial servers. Company systems like voice over IP phones, gotomeetings and video conferences would work better. Diverse internet backup systems would now be possible. If the internet is down at one location, the traffic can be routed to another company location where the internet is still functional. How much does a company lose when internet is out? In the hospitality industry I would imagine a lot because they cannot process credit cards or take reservations through on line systems or apps.

Gigabit Chicago network design

Private gigabit data network possibility in the Chicago area.

What would it take to build your own network? A few pieces of information are required to look at a design. First the address data for each location that needs to be interconnected. Second would be a data speed and capacity review for each of those locations. In this review one should look at the data needs for internal systems as compared to general internet needs. Third would be the costs being paid for the current network connectivity solution within the company. This will go a long way towards a cost benefit analysis of building your own vs. staying with what you have. Other great data to compile in the analysis is the tech support and lost productivity for inefficiently working systems that run remotely over the current network. Other cost savings may be in software and hardware reductions. If remote locations run their own servers and hardware with costly software licenses, a more centralized system becomes a reality with your own wide area private network.

Microwave network possibilities

High speed data network possibility in a suburb of Detroit

If you believe your company should look at the possibility of building your own private high capacity data network, please contact me.

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Posted in Broadband Internet, High Speed Internet, Telecommunications | 2 Comments

Wireless ISP’s (WISP) – the other white meat of the broadband world.

I have been providing RF Engineering services to the Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) for a number of years now and watched this segment of the broadband industry grow and mature. Today this industry is made up of mostly small business owners who can reach over 75 million households! That is over 71% of the homes in the US.

Combined service area for the fixed wireless ISP industry.

WISPs do this without subsidy from USF, and mostly without other public funds. They started from small humble beginnings and grew using money generated from the actual business. They don’t have 6 figure base salaries and they don’t burn through stockholder money to create their golden parachute. It’s a novel approach to the Telecom business model. Most of them have used a super secret accounting formula:
Income – Expenses = Profit
Most do not hold any special status at the state level such as designated telecommunications providers giving them special status for zoning or pole rights. They have serious struggles.

Being small business owners they also have a keen sense of the market space and they can react quickly to changes. Their equipment has advanced much more rapidly than other broadband technologies. Today they are capable of delivering 5, 10, 15 and even 20 meg connections to the consumer. They have the lowest cost per home passed of any broadband technology. They prefer to do it all without help from the taxpayer or the Universal Service Fund. The one thing they do lack for future growth is spectrum. There is a need for more frequencies or channels to satisfy the consumer demand for bandwidth. Congress has created a serious roadblock to getting this spectrum. They are called auctions. Below you will find a very nice write up from one of the founding members of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA). He has explained spectrum auctions in terms better than anyone I know. Take a moment to read this and then decide if auctions do the public a real service.

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Congress – Stop Selling Our Airwaves!

by John Scrivner

Do you have little or no access to broadband (high speed) Internet? Then forward this note to your Congressman to get this fixed.

 

Broadband is something most Americans take for granted. That is unless they live in remote rural areas where cable modems and DSL are rarely available. For rural Americans real access to broadband is limited at best and often is non-existent. Thousands of small companies called WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers) have been working for over a decade to bring people broadband in the harder to reach areas of the United States. Thousands of United States WISPs use radio airwaves , also known as spectrum, to transmit broadband through the air from central locations to customers throughout rural parts of America.

 

WISPs are usually started up by a local person with technical knowledge who is an entrepreneur and has decided to take on the effort to bring broadband to their neighborhood, their town or even their whole county.  WISPs transmit from existing small towers, water towers, tall building roofs, grain silos, whatever it takes to deliver broadband through the air. They fund their operations using all they have, they borrow against all assets they own, they spend all their savings. There is at least one WISP who was a family farmer and actually “sold the farm” to build the WISP he started in rural Indiana. WISPs are a growing part of our economy employing tens of thousands of Americans to help them serve broadband to rural America.

 

WISPs work against many obstacles to build broadband into areas where the population is so small that a business case would not normally work. By being frugal and doing much of the work themselves WISPs have found a way to make this a thriving business by solving the “digital divide” for their neighbors while earning a good living and often hiring others in their area to help them. There is one obstacle that all WISPs face that is not only preventing millions of Americans from having access to broadband now but is threatening to kill their industry completely.

 

SPECTRUM AUCTIONS ARE KILLING WISPS AND ARE PREVENTING AMERICANS FROM HAVING BROADBAND.

 

There is a dirty little secret hidden in plain sight in the United States. If big businesses were bribing the government to prevent competing small businesses from having access to government owned assets and reserving these assets for themselves one would think we would see people calling to have these people tried for corruption. Instead we are seeing it happening regularly with practically nobody giving it a second thought. It may be a much more formal and open process than bribes but the net effect of Spectrum Auctions is exactly the same. Big Businesses are the only winners of these spectrum auctions and WISPs are left with no access to good spectrum.

 

Spectrum is to a WISP what good land is to a farmer. Without good land a farmer would not be able to deliver much food to market. At this time there is no practical way for a WISP to reach all homes and businesses within what should be the coverage area of their tower locations. The reason is that WISPs have ZERO access to good quality spectrum. WISPs have to use uinlicensed spectrum which has no protections against interference. It is shared by other users of the frequencies. This spectrum is only barely usable for the delivery of broadband when there are trees or other obsructions blocking clear line of sight to the WISP tower locations. Low power restrictions, noise and higher frequencies of the unlicensed spectrum mean that only a portion of potential customers can be served within WISP tower locations. Depsite these limitations WISPs have built their entire business on using these unlicesned frequencies to bring broadband to where it never was before. If WISPs had access to good spectrum then they would be able to build higher quality wireless broadband which would be available to all rural Americans. Plentiful access to good quality spectrum would also mean that prices would lower as more people per tower would be buying the service which would allow for a better return on investment for each tower built.

 

Spectrum Auctions happen now because Congress tells the FCC they have to sell off the all-important spectrum licenses at auction as opposed to allowing WISPs and others to pay for licenses with monthly fees or register them for free if they prove they are serving the public good with broadband. Congress and the FCC tell the public that auctions are good because they raise billions of dollars in auction revenues.

 

If Spectrum Auctions are so good for America then why do we still have large areas where services are not available after 20 years of selling off spectrum to the highest bidder?

 

Why are we selling off the airwaves to the highest bidders and then turning around and giving away tax money for people to build broadband (aka broadband stimulus and USDA grants)? I have a novel idea for Congress and the FCC. Stop selling off the airwaves to big business and stop paying us to build broadband. Let’s just cut to the chase and get the spectrum out to the people who need it. Let’s stop pretending that selling off spectrum is the in America’s best interest. It is quite the opposite.

 

On the surface raising money from spectrum acutions looks like the government is being responsible but auctions are causing great harm.

 

To put this into perspective please imagine for a moment that a US “Farm and Crop Commission” (FCC for short) suddenly held property rights to all farm ground outside of the big cities in the United States. The only exceptions would be ground that was rocky or otherwise was not capable of real agriculture. Now imagine that Congress tells the FCC that the only access to this ground by family farmers or anyone else would be to buy it at auction. Now imagine that only a small portion of all the farm ground is made available at auction once every 5 to 10 years. Now imagine that the smallest parcel of ground would be millions of acres in 12 county wide sized blocks of ground with no ability to buy smaller parcels.  Next the FCC sets minimum auction price for a parcel of the ground at $5 Million dollars. There would be ZERO chance of a single farmer having access to even 1 acre of good quality farm ground in this scenario. How many family farmers do you think would survive trying to grow crops on the few rocky outcroppings on hillsides with no property rights of any kind? How much do you think food would cost if there were only 5 mega-farmers in the United States who grew all the food? Do you think we could get enough food to live if we only had 5 farmers who held a monopoly position on the only farm ground available to be farmed in the United States?

 

To a WISP and to all American citizens, spectrum is just like farm land and broadband is just like food.

 

This is a travesty. I think once you really read the FCC / farm land metaphor above and understand what is going on then you will understand why the number one obstacle to Americans having access to cheap and plentiful broadband across the entire country is that WISPs (aka your broadband family farmers) are being deinied access to good quality spectrum under reasonable terms. WISPs do not expect a free ride. WISPs will pay good money for access to good spectrum. WISPs will pay license fees over time or raise enough money to buy a license for each tower as they build these locations. What we CANNOT do is pay millions or billions of dollars for access to good quality spectrum and try to compete at these spectrum auctions with the likes of at&t, Verzon, Sprint, etc.. We will lose every time in that scenario.

 

So we need Congress to act now today. We need them to tell the FCC to give us access to unused spectrum now. The auctions need to end now. The way to simulate the economy and give everyone broadband is one simple solution and it does not cost us a penny. We need to make spectrum available for broadband use in the US for free. Once a WISP, cable company, phone company, municipality or other organization uses this spectrum to serve up broadband to a significant portion of an area the FCC needs to grant an exclusive license to the entitiy serving the broadband at that location.

 

Think of it as homesteading. In the past the US needed to grow into the land westward so they allowed people free access to land if they settled it and lived on it and made it their own. That is how we quickly expanded our great country. We need to do the same thing now with broadband. We need to let people homestead the spectrum to grow our access to broadband. Spectrum Homesteading will do just that.

 

Congress – we plead with you now – stop auctioning off our spectrum and let us homestead it now. Pass a Spectrum Homesteading Act and let the free market flourish in building broadband access to 100% of Americans without a single penny of government subsidies.

Posted in Broadband Internet, Broadband Stimulus, High Speed Internet, Internet Adoption Rates, Mesh Network, Muni Wi-Fi, Municipal Wi-Fi, Telecommunications, Universal Service Fund | 3 Comments

Smart Grid Operators and Fixed Wireless ISP’s – They should be like peanut butter and chocolate.

So the stimulus program had two major initiatives that seemed separate but really should have been put together. Smart Grid and Broadband Internet.

Smart grid technology is supposed to help us better manage the power systems and keep closer tabs and the usage patterns by the consumers of the energy. This is good because if we can better understand the real electricity usage patterns, we can make the best use of the existing power grid system and eventually use less energy. Wireless automated meter reading systems are a part of the smart grid concepts. A big benefit for the consumer is the ability to have actual metered use reports every month or on demand if desired for more real time monitoring. The utility company benefits because they don’t have to have all the manual meter reader employees and the fleets of vehicles. Remote controlled meters and devices at the consumer locations can help avoid rolling blackouts in high demand areas. If a neighborhood is hitting peak demand, less critical circuits can be shut down for short periods of time to bring the total demand for electricity down. A consumer would not notice their water heater being shut down for 15 to 30 minutes and would certainly prefer that to an actual blackout. Reducing peak demand also reduces the need to build more power grid systems that people hate to see come through their neighborhood. For those who live on Rural Electric Co-Op systems, this can also help keep their monthly bills down. Co-Ops buy power based on peak demand per quarter. The rate they pay for electricity is based on the single highest spike in demand, even if it is for a minute or two. If the Co-Op can remotely turn off devices to keep that spike down, everyone benefits with their bills because they pay the lowest possible prices for the wholesale electricity.

So what does that have to do with Fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP’s)? Well the general designs I have seen for smart grid systems try to sell the need for super high speed data circuits to accomplish these goals. In reality these smart systems could work very effectively over dial up speeds. Now there is some need for video feeds in places like power substations, but they don’t need that amount of data capacity to every home. I see most smart grid systems being overbuilt with excess data delivery capacity. Why? Because the utility companies don’t know any better in my estimation. They are listening to the smart grid equipment manufacturers, who want nothing more than to sell  a boatload of expensive equipment to an organization who has plenty of money and can amortize the investment over 10 or 15 years. The big problem is the manufacturers are deploying these systems in the unlicensed radio spectrum that these WISP’s are also using for high speed fixed wireless internet services, to provide internet service to areas that are unserved by cable or DSL.

These channels or radio spectrum are fair game for use by smart grid systems as much as they are for WISP’s. The FCC rules clearly state this. The problems are really more of a practical matter. Smart grid is deployed, from a spectrum management standpoint, in a very inefficient manor which has little to no consideration for other users of this spectrum. There are stories of utilities deploying new smart meter systems and totally taking WISP’s off the air. An action that leaves them unable to service their existing customers. This has happened over huge geographical areas. For the WISP’s, it is very frustrating because they know ways to mitigate these types of problems and let both systems coexist. The mammoth utility companies take their monopolistic and eminent domain type mentality,  and care less about these small business operators, or the consumers that use this as their only access to high speed internet services. All for data needs that are less than a 10th of the capacity they build these smart grid systems for.

The solution to these problems is really quite simple. Smart grid operators could create partnerships with Fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers. This could serve multiple uses. WISP’s would like easier access to utility rights of way, skills, equipment and construction knowledge, to run fiber and high capacity data backhaul networks to locations where they can deploy wireless base stations. These in turn service last mile high speed internet connections to the end users. The same end users where the smart grid operators need to install devices like smart meters. The smart grid needs could easily be combined with the consumer broadband internet connections. Data protocols exist to keep the grid data separate from the internet use. This would maximize the use of the wireless spectrum for all interested parties. Bringing in the WISP’s would also alleviate the need for the utility company to either contract or train staff in the operations of these wireless networks. That could be left up to the WISP’s. Arrangements could be as simple as the Utility company maintaining access to a certain percentage of the data capacity at the customer locations in exchange for pole and easement access. WISP’s have discovered ways to deliver these types of services for pennies on the dollar as compared to the prices utility companies are paying for smart meter and smart grid systems.

Smart grid technology has some people extremely scared of connecting important infrastructure to the internet. Fears of hacking and cyber attacks are well founded. While many would make the argument that smart grid should not be combined with consumer internet connections, I don’t buy that. There are plenty of good computer security experts who can design safeguards in to these types of systems. If the utilities are so concerned with security in the first place, why are they deploying these systems in the unlicensed consumer grade radio spectrum!? It’s ironic that the utility industry has access to licensed spectrum that could serve their data purposes, but they refuse to implement that. The biggest reason is that the smart grid equipment manufacturers have taken the easy way out in their equipment design and built them the most generic way possible, using the consumer grade radio channels. This same generic design could be the security pitfall that is feared. There are major equipment players with a lot at stake who would prefer utility executives, who make these purchasing decisions, not to become educated on these issues. While they may claim they have good security in place with their systems, they are still vulnerable to simple interference problems and/or attacks. With a plethora of off the shelf consumer devices operating in that same frequency space, it would not take much effort to bring down these systems by simply interfering with the signals using devices available for under $100, enough to render the system ineffective.

Just because a system is expensive and comes from a well known company, that does not make it a good overall design……… Spectrum sharing, cooperation and planning would do well for all. It would also help get broadband internet to these unserved areas. Wireless is the cheapest way to do that, and if it was with the cooperation of the local utility companies, it would be even cheaper.

Bottom line is, there is no real need to build separate data networks just to satisfy smart grid needs, and the utility companies don’t need to get in to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) business. Most of them discovered that fact when examining Broadband over Power Line (BPL) systems. It was not their core business. It’s time to think outside the box and maximize this wireless spectrum for all to use.

Posted in Broadband Internet, Broadband Stimulus, High Speed Internet, Internet Adoption Rates, Mesh Network, Muni Wi-Fi, Municipal Wi-Fi, Telecommunications, Uncategorized, Universal Service Fund | 3 Comments

TV White Spaces can be used for fixed wireless in large metro markets…but only if the manufacturers change equipment design convention.

I have been reading through the new TV White Spaces rules and it occurred to me that if the wireless radio manufacturers could get away from half duplex radios running on the same frequency,  fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP’s) could actually use the first adjacent TV channels for outdoor wireless broadband systems.  How is this you ask? Well in the first adjacent channel you can run up to 40 mw with a 0 db non detachable antenna. If a person were to use a separate receiver with a commonly available 15 db TV style antenna, you would be surprised how far a 40 milliwatt signal will travel on these unused TV channels. You would have a separate transmitter/receiver combination on each end of the link. Unlicensed devices can operate in the first adjacent channels under the mobile power level rules using channels 21 and up (with the usual exceptions like channel 37 and the reserved channels for wireless mics). If you do not transmit through the 15 dbi antenna there is nothing in the rules against using a high gain receive only antenna. A manufacturer could produce a radio that has a separate transmitter and receiver in the same box. One for transmit at the 40 mw level with no external antenna and another that receives only with an external antenna port. On this port you could attach a common bow tie TV antenna that has up to 15 dBi gain. Kind of like a full duplex radio. This would create a balanced path plus it would have the effect of 12 MHz bandwidth because you could use separate transmit and receive frequencies. It would also make it easier to deal with the problem of non adjacent channel availability in any given market. For example you could transmit on channel 21 and set the receiver to listen on channel 39.

Low Power TV Whitespaces equipment design for fixed wireless use.

One of the big advantages to TVWS spectrum is ability of these signals to travel farther through space than a Wi-Fi signal can. The lower free space loss and attenuation through trees creates a perceived gain between 15 and 20 db compared to the unlicensed 2.4 and 5.7 GHz bands! Add a 15 dBi gain antenna and you can see where a 40 mw signal can propagate just as far as fixed wireless internet systems in use today on the higher frequencies.

Bowtie UHF TV antenna that could be used for TVWS receivers. This type covers all the UHF channels allowed for mobile TVWS equipment.

There are other advantages to a split transmit receive architecture. Since it would be able to legally operate in the more populated metro service areas, there is a much larger potential market. This would give manufacturers more opportunities to sell radios creating a larger economy of scale. With the flexibility of choosing various TV channels for either uplink or downlink there would be much less of a requirement to stock specialized radio systems for various channels. The flexibility in channel selection will also give network operators more options to work around other users and interference sources. Using broadband TV antennas would require the manufactures to adapt the antenna port to 75 Ohms but that is a minor change. TV antennas would be something consumers are more accustomed to seeing and they would also fall under the OTARD rules for zoning exemptions. Radios operating at the mobile power levels are also exempt from the height above average terrain (HAAT) rules. For those operators who were concerned about this limitation under fixed wireless systems rules, this is one way to make use of TVWS spectrum. Using this type of configuration, radio signals can easily travel 2 to 4 miles with the 40 mw power levels. In areas where non first adjacent channels are available for use, the power levels can be set to 100 mw.

These are but a few of the options that could be employed. The key point to understand is that the mold needs to be broken as to what types of radio configurations should be put to market. Half duplex single channel radios will stifle the opportunities to maximize the use of this great spectrum. We have a clean slate where we don’t have to fit in with other consumer electronics devices. This band was specifically set aside for wireless broadband systems. Employing the most spectrum efficient equipment arrangements will leave the maximum number of opportunities for the greatest number of uses in these bands. The effects of repacking the TV bands remains to be seen but it stands to reason that the equipment with the most flexible configurations will continue to allow viable unlicensed use of the band.

Posted in Broadband Internet, Broadband Stimulus, High Speed Internet, Internet Adoption Rates, Mesh Network, Muni Wi-Fi, Municipal Wi-Fi, Telecommunications | 1 Comment

Should USF Funds be used for broadband in areas that already support private sector investment?

I am the type of person that likes to see things done based on facts and hard data. Emotional pleas, feel good efforts and programs that don’t produce any measurable results frustrate me to say the least. Right now there is a lot of effort being put in the the Universal Service Fund (USF) to figure out how it could be used to fund broadband deployments. This on the surface seems very logical. The USF was originally created to make sure everyone had equal access to phone service. In rural areas it was just not profitable to run phone lines to locations that were a great distance from the telephone switching offices when there might only be one person on this line. I am not an expert in current USF regulations and uses, but understand it to basically be a fund where all telecommunications providers contribute by a means of assessing a per line fee to existing customers. These funds are then distributed to the companies providing phone service to areas that are deemed unprofitable in their own right. The USF reimbursements are paid per line every month to sustain phone service in the high cost low/no profit situations. Now I am probably over simplifying the program, but you get the general idea. Apparently there are formulas calculated state by state that determine these high cost lines and therefore who would be eligible to receive USF funds. I have heard that some of the monthly subsidies can be over $100 per line per month (that’s in addition to what the customer pays for phone service). There are many phone companies that have come to rely on this fund and their respective reimbursements to maintain their profit margins and bottom line. Any attempt to reorganize the USF fund is going to meet with great resistance from the entrenched phone companies. Any erosion to their current draw from this fund will be a battle to say the least. The telecom lobby has a lot of power inside the beltway. Keep that in mind. Also keep in mind the USF fund is used for other purposes of which I won’t pretend to know much about nor try to address. These are things like adoption, E-Rate for schools and libraries, and free cell phones for people who are eligible for certain social programs (yes welfare people can get free cell phones now and companies are able to make a profit from it as well).

So how does this apply to broadband you ask? Most people believe there will be some sort of shift away from funding unprofitable voice phone lines to funding unprofitable broadband services. The idea is to get high speed Internet to those pesky unserved areas of the US. If it were just up to the phone companies, they could shift their focus from voice to data and keep collecting the funds. The problem with this thought process is that the phone companies are not the only people who can provide broadband Internet services. The cable companies, fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP’s), Satellite Internet companies, cellular providers and private fiber companies offering broadband services can also offer broadband Internet services, and they want their fair shake at these funds too.

Why do I care?

Last year I purchased a data set that shows which census blocks have active broadband subscribers for all the United States. This is based on real live user reported data compiled from various sources and represents about a 15% statistical sample of broadband subscribers as compared to the total number of occupied households. It also indicates if this broadband service is Cable or DSL where applicable. The data set has the number of occupied households (based on live mailing addresses) in each census block along with the land area for each. All information on high speed internet activity was compiled for the first two quarters of 2009. In a nutshell it tells where the cable and DSL services are deployed over the whole country at the census block level (oh and it did not cost me 351 million dollars to get this data).

Alabama broadband deployment map.

This map shows by census block where broadband technologies have been deployed.

Why is this important? Well if you think about it, this gives a snapshot of where the private sector has been able to deploy broadband profitably without any subsidy. Now in some rural areas the DSL is probably being somewhat subsidized by USF on the voice line, but that would only be to those DSL providers that have lines that qualify for USF now. Since we know where the profitable systems are deployed without USF funds and without stimulus money, we can determine the thresholds that private industry will support in their deployment of broadband services! This can be expressed in households per square mile and is determined on a very granular level of study, the census block. Furthermore it can be studied state by state and not have to be averaged over the whole country. The data points to the household densities in areas with broadband and those without. It is further analyzed for cable and DSL household density figures to investigate if either industry has a major difference in their deployment strategies.

My feelings have always been that the USF reform should be structured somehow to allow any broadband provider access to the funds. How that final structure works out, I have no idea. I do know that whoever gets input to the final process should not be allowed to deceive the decision makers with slanted or bogus data thus gaining their industry favor to these funds over another. Now I may put a target on my back for putting this idea and thought process out there, and even more so with the data that I compiled. I am not saying that I have all the answers. I am saying that there is data available to tell where private sector has been able to sustain broadband without financial help. Any re-purposing of the USF fund should not allow the money to be spent in areas that meet the criteria that shows private sector can already do it without these funds. The money should be spent to get broadband to those who have none. If that can be done successfully and there is money left over, then it can be considered for other purposes, OR, here’s a crazy idea…. We lower the required contributions to the USF fund so that the consumer can pay a lower fee!

Here is a sample of  household density data for various states:

state broadband deployment statistics

Household density figures for various states.

Posted in Broadband Internet, Broadband Stimulus, High Speed Internet, Internet Adoption Rates, Mesh Network, Muni Wi-Fi, Municipal Wi-Fi, Telecommunications, Universal Service Fund | Leave a comment

Broadband Internet – If you build it and GIVE IT AWAY, will they come?

Last summer I had the chance to help different companies apply for grants under the first round of the Broadband Stimulus program. One of my clients was The Knight Center of Digital Excellence (http://www.knightfoundation.org/home/), they contracted with me to map demographic data in various cities where they were applying for funding under the adoption portion of the stimulus program. My job was to create static map images by census block group showing data points such as age, sex, education level, income and internet adoption rates. The raw data covered various cities for the project. One of these was Philadelphia, a city of which I have an interesting level of experience. I worked for EarthLink as a Chief Wireless Engineer for their Municipal Wi-Fi projects and Philadelphia was my responsibility. I had overall charge for the wireless design and implementation, supervising the junior engineers and approving their work. This gave me a unique perspective on the data that I was mapping for the Knight Center. As I created these maps, I noticed something strange when looking at the levels of broadband adoption. The Knight Center wanted me to clearly show the areas of the city that had adoption rates below 40% of the households. As I placed the raw data in map form, a very alarming pattern showed up. The less than 40% rate census block groups were in exactly the same places as the live EarthLink network! I am but one of a handful of people who could have ever noticed this. The odds of someone mapping an adoption rate for this city who would have also known the actual deployment area of the EarthLink live network are very slim.

Broadband Adoption Rate for Philadelphia

Philadelphia Broadband Adoption Rates by Census Block Group

If you examine the areas of red and orange on the map they correlate almost exactly to the areas of the city that EarthLink had the actual live Wi-Fi network. What makes this even more interesting is that when EarthLink sold the system to NAC (Network Acquisition Company) in June of 2008, the network was left wide open with no restrictions for access. In many locations you could pull a 6 meg connection over Wi-Fi. I had spoken to NAC after they pruchased the system as they were discussing the option of hiring me as a consultant. They admitted they had not done anything to secure the network from free use nor limit the connectivity speeds. So the very next year, the reported broadband adoption rate in these areas where there was free Wi-Fi high speed internet access, was still below 40%!

This raises a couple of key questions. The first one I considered, was to how the data gathering was conducted. Did they survey people and ask them if they subscribed (meaning paid) to any high speed internet service? If that was indeed the question, I can see how this might show low adoption. These people did not have to subscribe to high speed internet service because they could get it for free. The second question to consider is, if you have high speed internet available FOR FREE, without the need for any special equipment, why aren’t more people on the internet?

Now these areas that did get built by EarthLink were high on the priority list for Wireless Philadelphia. They were identified early on as low areas of broadband internet adoption. So after almost 2 years of access to free internet service, why is the adoption rate still so low? One must consider the possibility that it is not lack of access to the technology, but some other factor(s). Obviously cost of the service was not a issue, it was free. These neighborhoods are not out in rural America where you cannot get high speed internet (outside of satellite) no matter what. They have access to cable internet and DSL along with cellular data networks. There are even other Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP’s) offering service in these same neighborhoods. We had to deal with them and EarthLink went to Federal Court with one over interference issues. There may very well be other issues to adoption. Do these people just not want to be on line? Can they not afford a computer? Are they of the age where they are intimidated by computers and therefore won’t try to use them? Is it an education or literacy related issue? Is there no clear cut answer?

These are key questions that need to be answered. The stimulus program laid out a large amount of money for projects that were specifically for adoption in cities and areas that already had access to broadband services. Many people are still guessing at these issues and will use those monies as an experiment to find out why. Personally I think they should have looked at this specific situation first before going after all these large scale adoption projects in large cities. Philadelphia offers a good place to start looking as you could not get a better experiment to see what would happen. Heck they gave it away and still we have low adoption. Lets put the efforts in to looking at this area first. Once the answers are known, money can be better spent on adoption.

These issues and answers are very important especially as the FCC is considering changing the rules for the Universal Service Fund (USF). They are working on opening up the fund for broadband internet services and part of that is being considered for adoption. If we don’t understand why there are low adoption rates in areas with access, then why are we inviting rule changes that don’t offer proper solutions and will just become more waste for those funds?

My next blog – “Where should USF be allocated when considering broadband service?” I have hard and fast data that can determine this today. I know the threshold private industry will support without subsidies based on household densities and can break it down state by state.

Posted in Broadband Internet, Broadband Stimulus, High Speed Internet, Internet Adoption Rates, Mesh Network, Muni Wi-Fi, Municipal Wi-Fi, Telecommunications, Universal Service Fund | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments