2011 was a great year for technology innovation.  The science of data center design and operations continued to improve, the move away from mixed-use buildings used as data centers continued, the watts/sqft metric took a second seat to overall kilowatts available to a facility or customer, and the idea of compute capacity and broadband as a utility began to take its place as a basic right of citizens.

However, there are 5 areas where we will see additional significant advances in 2012.

1.  Data Center Consolidation.  The US Government admits it is using only 27% of its overall available compute power.  With 2094 data centers supporting the federal government (from the CIO’s 25 Point Plan to Reform Fed IT Mgt), the government is required to close at least 800 of those data centers by 2015.

Data Center ConstructionThe lesson is not lost on state and local governments, private industry, or even internet content providers.  The economics of operating a data center or server closet, whether in costs of real estate, power, hardware, in addition to service and licensing agreements, are compelling enough to make even the most fervent server-hugger reconsider their religion.

2.  Cloud Computing.  Who doesn’t believe cloud computing will eventually replace the need for a server closets, cabinets, or even small cages in data centers?  The move to cloud computing is as certain as the move to email was in the 1980s.

Some IT managers and data owners hate the idea of cloud computing, enterprise service busses, and consolidated data.  Not so much an issue of losing control, but in many cases because it brings transparency to their operation.  If you are the owner of data in a developing country, and suddenly everything you do can be audited by a central authority – well it might make you uncomfortable…

A lesson learned while attending a  fast pitch contest during late 2009 in Irvine, CA…  An enterprising entrepreneur gave his “pitch” to a panel of investment bankers and venture capital representatives.  He stated he was looking for a $5 million investment in his startup company.

A panelist asked what the money was for, and the entrepreneur stated “.. and $2 million to build out a data center…”  The panelist responded that 90% of new companies fail within 2 years.  Why would he want to be stuck with the liability of a data center and hardware if the company failed? The gentleman further stated, “don’t waste my money on a data center – do the smart thing, use the Amazon cloud.”

3.  Virtual Desktops and Hosted Office Automation.  How many times have we lost data and files due to a failed hard drive, stolen laptop, or virus disrupting our computer?  What is the cost or burden of keeping licenses updated, versions updated, and security patches current in an organization with potentially hundreds of users?  What is the lead time when a user needs a new application loaded on a computer?

From applications as simple as Google Docs, to Microsoft 365, and other desktop replacement applications suites, users will become free from the burden of carrying a heavy laptop computer everywhere they travel.  Imagine being able to connect your 4G/LTE phone’s HDMI port to a hotel widescreen television monitor, and be able to access all the applications normally used at a desktop.  You can give a presentation off your phone, update company documents, or nearly any other IT function with the only limitation being a requirement to access broadband Internet connections (See # 5 below).

Your phone can already connect to Google Docs and Microsoft Live Office, and the flexibility of access will only improve as iPads and other mobile devices mature.

The other obvious benefit is files will be maintained on servers, much more likely to be backed up and included in a disaster recovery plan.

4.  The Science of Data Centers. It has only been a few years since small hosting companies were satisfied to go into a data center carved out of a mixed-use building, happy to have access to electricity, cooling, and a menu of available Internet network providers.  Most rooms were Data Center Power Requirementsdesigned to accommodate 2~3kW per cabinet, and users installed servers, switches, NAS boxes, and routers without regard to alignment or power usage.

That has changed.  No business or organization can survive without a 24x7x265 presence on the Internet, and most small enterprises – and large enterprises, are either consolidating their IT into professionally managed data centers, or have already washed their hands of servers and other IT infrastructure.

The Uptime Institute, BICSI, TIA, and government agencies have begun publishing guidelines on data center construction providing best practices, quality standards, design standards, and even standards for evaluation.  Power efficiency using metrics such as the PUE/DCiE provide additional guidance on power management, data center management, and design.

The days of small business technicians running into a data center at 2 a.m. to install new servers, repair broken servers, and pile their empty boxes or garbage in their cabinet or cage on the way out are gone.  The new data center religion is discipline, standards, discipline, and security.  Electricity is as valuable as platinum, just as cooling and heat are managed more closely than inmates at San Quentin.  While every other standards organization is now offering certification in cabling, data center design, and data center management, we can soon expect universities to offer an MS or Ph.D in data center sciences.

5.  The 4th Utility Gains Traction.  Orwell’s “1984” painted a picture of pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control (Wikipedia).  Many people believe the Internet is the source of all evil, including identity theft, pornography, crime, over-socialization of cultures and thoughts, and a huge intellectual time sink that sucks us into the need to be wired or connected 24 hours a day.

Yes, that is pretty much true, and if we do not consider the 1000 good things about the Internet vs. each 1 negative aspect, it might be a pretty scary place to consider all future generations being exposed and indoctrinated.  The alternative is to live in a intellectual Brazilian or Papuan rain forest, one step out of the evolutionary stone age.

The Internet is not going away, unless some global repressive government, fundamentalist religion, or dictator manages to dismantle civilization as we know it.

The 4th utility identifies broadband access to the ‘net as a basic right of all citizens, with the same status as roads, water, and electricity.  All governments with a desire to have their nation survive and thrive in the next millennium will find a way to cooperate with network infrastructure providers to build out their national information infrastructure (haven’t heard that term since Al Gore, eh?).

Without a robust 4th utility, our children and their children will produce a global generation of intellectual migrant workers, intellectual refugees from a failed national information sciences vision and policy.

2012 should be a great year.  All the above predictions are positive, and if proved true, will leave the United States and other countries with stronger capacities to improve their national quality of life, and bring us all another step closer.

Happy New Year!

During his October 6th speech on Universal Service Fund (USF) and InterCarrier Compensation (ICC) reform, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski admitted the United States has not adequately fulfilled our obligation to deliver broadband Internet and communications services to all areas of the country.   Genachowski noted “harm from not having (access to) broadband – the costs of digital exclusion – already high, are growing every day.” He continued “The broadband divide means economic opportunities denied for ordinary consumers who lack broadband access; educational opportunities diminished; health care access reduced; and public safety
compromised.”

The deficiencies in broadband deployment within the United States are well known, and widely discussed on media and blogs.  The Organization of Economic  Co-operation and Development (OECD) dropped the US to 14th place on the global broadband penetration list, with Western European countries and South Korea leading the world in delivering high speed Internet and broadband services to their citizens.

In a global economy moving ahead at Internet speed, can the United States afford to allow ourselves to continue sliding our ability to deliver the basic tool of communications, this “Fourth Utility” of broadband communications to our citizens?  our young people and students?  our businesses and entrepreneurs?

The FCC of course publically claims they have “harnessing the power of broadband Internet to benefit every American” at the core of their mission, however Genachowski also admits there are cities, with the example of Liberty, Nebraska, as examples of small towns which as of summer 2011 still had no access to broadband internet services.

Let’s consider a model that bypasses the political hype of projects such as the FCC’s Connect America Fund, and turn the responsibility back to private companies, entrepreneurs, and other Americans who given the opportunity may be able to use creativity, energy, and a desire to bring the US back in front of the world’s broadband penetration ratings.

Its All About Fiber and Wireless

In a 2010 article on wireless Internet access in Moldova, Pacific-Tier Communications wrote an article describing wireless access in Chisinau.  In that article we reported wireless internet access in Moldova, up to 50Mbps, was available for about $45 USD.  Testing between Chisinau and Burbank (CA) indicated throughput of more than 10Mbps.

Subject: End of the world/Fin del Mundo – Telefonica performs excellently!

Hi guys,

I’m in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. On vacation – not work. Except … I had to work for an hour, or at least have a Skype video call from my iPad yesterday. I was at a hotel with Telefonica Argentina xDSL.

It worked perfectly into northern Europe. No problems! Now the point is not the wonders of Skype; but the quality of the network down here at “Fin del Mundo”. Quite excellent! (Email from Martin Levy, Hurricane Electric)

Subsequent testing from hotels and hotspots within the United States showed a fraction of that performance, putting the US in a category somewhat less than Moldova.  The problem in many cases is the local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) simply cannot provide, or afford the broadband “bandwidth” needed to connect users to other locations throughout the global Internet-connected community, resulting in restricted services for many local users – even in large cities such as Los Angeles.

“Just as there is a need for new roads, sewers and power infrastructure, there is a need for new communications infrastructure” explains Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber.  “Can anyone imagine driving a 10 year old car, or using a 10 year old cell phone with no ability to upgrade. This is the sad state of our National fiber infrastructure. New investment is critically necessary in order for the USA to be competitive.”

It is, all about, fiber.  While smaller countries like Moldova or South Korea may find construction and delivery of fiber optic and wireless infrastructure manageable, North America is a huge land mass, and interconnecting major population areas requires hundreds, if not thousands of miles of infrastructure to deliver broadband communications services to each population center and rural area.

While wireless technologies such as 4G, LTE, and WiMAX are becoming very effective at delivering broadband to mobile users and even local loops (end users and consumers), the issue is more how to get content and real-time communications interconnecting the wireless towers and local loops located throughout the 50 states.  A tremendous amount of capital is required to “sew” all the end distribution points together, and that thread is fiber.

While Allied Fiber is focusing on building new infrastructure on the long distance routes, other independent and neutral fiber optic infrastructure companies are now scrambling to build “metro” fiber infrastructure needed to deliver high capacity infrastructure to distribution points closer to end users.

“The independents (fiber carriers) are the only way our country will remain competitive, innovative, and offer value” advises Glenn Russo, President of Zayo Networks, an independent provider of fiber optic network services.  “The incumbent ILECs and CLECs cannot offer the agility and innovation required to move ahead.”

Speaking of Zayo’s contribution to the US market, Russo continues “our infrastructure helps promote innovation within a variety of industries and enterprises.   We (Americans) are impatient, we hear of things technologically possible, of things being done in other countries, and we want it (those services) delivered now.  The other companies (ILECs and CLECs) cannot respond to a rapidly developing and changing market.”

John Schmitt, VP of Business development at Fiberlight would agree.  “That’s when the business gets enjoyable, when you are forging ahead and opening new territories” says Schmitt.  “Fiberlight is completely neutral in delivering a high capacity product to (telecom) carriers, networks, and even private enterprise. “

Fiberlight, a metro fiber optic infrastructure provider,  is committed to delivering “super high fiber counts” within their metro networks, providing high capacity fiber to buildings, towers, and carriers.  That infrastructure can serve not only any building within their own metro infrastructure, but also “building up to interconnection points, carrier hotels, data centers, as well as serving the needs of private networks within the metro” informs Schmitt.

“While we are in the metro space, and can deliver to end points within the metro not possible for long distance and backbone companies, we are a good match for companies like Allied Fiber who need to provide their customers access to the local loop, as well as allowing our customers access other markets throughout the US with other metro providers connected to the long haul guys.”

What is Means to Americans and Global Competitiveness

The World Bank has published reports that indicate “Broadband networks can support long-term innovation-led economic growth. Recent research by the World Bank finds that for every 10 percentage-point increase in the penetration of broadband services, developing countries can see an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points.”

There is a clear correlation between giving citizens access to broadband communications and Internet access with economic growth.  The United States, falling further behind the world each year in broadband penetration and access, is not providing sufficient resources to Americans to allow the country to remain competitive in an aggressive global Internet-enabled market.

Russo is optimistic.  “We need to keep a sharp eye on the stimulus networks.  Many of the new networks are middle mile (connecting metro areas), and offer many synergies to our (Zayo’s) business model.  If all the networks proposed are actually built, I have to believe we will catch up to the rest of the world pretty fast.”

And while the Broadband.Gov website (FCC’s official website) has not been updated much in the past year, aside from a few blog entries and event videos, the materials published outlining the US Government’s broadband vision and plan are sound.

A Call to Broadband Action

For Americans the main task is to ensure broadband infrastructure is built.  No more excuses from ILEC/CLECs finding excuses to throttle down broadband, rather than enable hyper-growth of broadband.  No more franchises given to telecom providers who lacking competition have little or no incentive to rapidly expand broadband access throughout the country.

High capacity fiber backbones and metro networks, high capacity tower and wireless infrastructure, regulation to support construction, rather than over regulate or establish restrictive licensing requirements.

It does not make any difference if the network will deliver social media, movies, voice, video, support for enterprise information and communications technology, education, intelligent grids, research, or processing “Seti at Home” processing packets.  The fourth utility is essential to our economic survival and national security.

Companies such as Allied Fiber, Zayo, Fiberlight, and dozens of other startup and independent telecom providers must be given our support as a nation and government to build and deliver the tools needed for current and future generations of Americans to retain and extend our leadership in the global network-connected community.

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This is Part 1 in a series highlighting Hunter Newby’s thoughts and visions of communications in America.  Part 1 will highlight Newby’s impressions of America’s competitiveness in the global telecom-enabled community.  Additional articles will touch on net neutrality, the “ying and yang” of the telecom industry, as well as  the dilemma of supporting telecom “end points.”
HunterNewbyMembers and guests of the Internet Society gathered at Sentry Center in New York on 14 June for the regional INET Conference.  The topic, “It’s your call, What kind of Internet do you want?” attracted Internet legends including Vint Cerf and Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, as well as a number of distinguished speakers and panelists representing a wide range of industry sectors.
Hunter Newby, Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber, joined the panel “Pushing Technology Boundaries” to discuss the future of Internet-enabled innovation.  The panel had robust discussions on many topics including net neutrality, infrastructure, telecom law, regulation, and the role of service providers.
Pacific-Tier Communications caught up with Newby on 22 June to learn more about his views on communications in America.
Are We Competitive?
Newby believes America lags behind other nations in developing the infrastructure needed to compete in a rapidly developing global community.  Much of the shortfall is related to physical telecommunications infrastructure needed to connect networks, people, content, and machines at the same level as other countries in Asia and Europe.
“The US lacks an appreciation for the need to understand physical (telecom) infrastructure” said Newby.  He went on to describe the lack of standard terms in the US, such as “Broadband Communications.” Newby continued “In some locations, such as North Carolina, broadband communications are considered anything over 128Kbps (Kilobits per second).”
Newby note there is considerable disinformation in the media related to the US communications infrastructure.  Although the US does have a national broadband plan, in reality the infrastructure is being built by companies with a priority to meet the needs of shareholders. Those priorities do not necessarily reflect the overall needs the American people.
While some companies have made great progress bringing high performance telecom and Internet access to individual cities and towns, Newby is quick to remind us that “we cannot solve telecom problems in a single  city or location, and (use that success) to declare victory as a country.”  Without having a national high performance broadband and network infrastructure, the US will find it difficult to continue attracting the best talent to our research labs and companies, eroding our competitiveness not only in communications, but also as a country and economy.
Newby returns to a recurring theme in his discussions on communications.  There are no connectivity “clouds” as commonly shown in presentations and documents related to the space between end points in the Internet (an end point being users, servers, applications, etc.).  The connectivity between end points happens on physical “patch panels,” telecom switches, and routers.  This happens in the street, at the data center, carrier hotel, central office, or exchange point.
Bringing it All Down to Layer 1 – Optical Fiber
Newby believes the basis of all discussions related to communications infrastructure starts at the right of way.  When access to a ground or aerial right of way (or easement) is secured, then install fiber optic cable.  Lots of fiber optic cable.  Long haul fiber, metro fiber, and transoceanic submarine fiber.  Fiber optic cable allows tremendous amounts of information to travel from end points to other end points, whether in a local area, or across wide geographies.
Long distance and submarine fiber optic cable are essential in providing the infrastructure needed to move massive amounts of information and data throughout the US and the world.  While there is still a large amount of communications provided via satellite and microwave, only fiber optic cable has the resources and capacity needed to move data supporting communications within the network or Internet-enabled community.
Newby makes a point that in the US, very few companies operate long haul fiber networks, and those companies control access to their communications infrastructure with tariffs based on location, distance, traffic volumes (bandwidth/ports), and types of traffic.  Much of the existing fiber optic infrastructure crossing the US is old, and cannot support emerging communication transmission rates and technologies, limiting choices and competitiveness to a handful of companies – none of which provide fiber as a utility or as a neutral tariffed product.
As the cost of long distance or long haul fiber is extremely high, most carriers do not want to carry the expense of building their own new fiber optic infrastructure, and prefer to lease capacity from other carriers.  However, the carriers owning long haul fiber do not want to lease or sell their capacity to potentially competitive communications carriers.
Most US communications carriers operating their own long haul fiber optic networks also provide additional value-added services to their markets.  This might include voice services, cable or IP television, virtual private networks, and Internet access.  Thus the carrier is reluctant to lease their capacity to other competitive or virtual carriers who may compete with them in individual or global  markets.
Thus a dilemma – how do we build the American fiber backbone infrastructure to a level needed to provide a competitive, high capacity national infrastructure without aggressive investment in new fiber routes?
Newby has responded to the dilemma and challenge with his company Allied Fiber, and advises “the only way to properly build the physical infrastructure required to support all of this (infrastructure need) is to have a unique model at the fiber layer similar to what Allied (Allied Fiber) has, but not solely look at fiber as the only source of revenue.”
For example, Newby advises revenue can be supplemented by offering interconnecting carriers and other network or content providers space in facilities adjacent to the backbone fiber traditionally used for only in-line-amplifiers (ILAs) and fiber optic signal regeneration.  The ILA facility itself “could be an additional source of recurring revenue,” while allowing the fiber provider to remain a neutral utility.
Or in short, Newby explains “we need to put a 60 Hudson or One Wilshire every 60 miles” to allow unrestricted interconnection between carriers, networks, and content providers at a location closest to the infrastructure supporting end points.
The Backbone
America can compete, and break the long distance dilemma.  Newby is certain this is possible, and has a plan to bring the US infrastructure up to his highest standards.  The idea is really pretty simple.
  1. Build a high capacity fiber optic backbone passing through all major markets within the US.
  2. Connect the backbone to local metro fiber networks (reference the Dark Fiber Community)
  3. Connect the backbone to wireless networks and towers (and provide the access location)
  4. Connect the backbone to all major physical interconnection points, carrier hotels, and Internet Exchange Points (IXPs)
  5. Make access to the backbone available to all as a neutral, infrastructure utility
Newby strongly advises “If you do not understand the root of the issue, you are not solving the real problems.”
And the root of the issue is to ensure everybody in America has unrestricted access to unrestricted communications resources.

Hunter Newby, a 15-year veteran of the telecom networking industry, is the Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber.

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In the early 1990s TWICS, a commercial bulletin board service provider in Tokyo, jumped on the Internet. Access was very poor based on modern Internet speeds, however at the time 128kbps over frame relay (provided by Sprint international) was unique, and in fact represented the first truly commercial Internet access point in Japan.

The good old boys of the Japanese academic community were appalled, and did everything in their power to intimidate TWICS into disconnecting their connection, to the point of sending envelopes filled with razor blades to TWICS staff and the late Roger Boisvert (*), who through Intercon International KK acted as their project manager. The traditional academic community did not believe anybody outside of the academic community should ever have the right to access the Internet, and were determined to never let that happen in Japan.

Since the beginning, the Internet has been a dichotomy of those who wish to control or profit from the Internet, and those who envision potential and future of the Internet. Internet “peering” originally came about when academic networks needed to interconnect their own “Internets” to allow interchange of traffic and information between separately operated and managed networks. In the Internet academic “stone age” of the NSFNet, peering was a normal and required method of participating in the community. But,… if you were planning to send any level of public or commercial traffic through the network you would violate the NSFNET’s “acceptable use policy/AUP” preventing use of publically-funded networks for non-academic or government use.

Commercial internet Exchange Points such as the CIX, and eventually the NSF supported network access points/NAPs popped up to accommodate the growing interest in public access and commercial Internet. Face it, if you went through university or the military with access to the Internet or Milnet, and then jumped into the commercial world, it would be pretty difficult to give up the obvious power of interconnected networks bringing you close to nearly every point on the globe.

The Tier 1 Subsidy

To help privatize the untenable growth of the NSFNet (due to “utility” academic network access), the US Government helped pump up American telecom carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, and MCI by handing out contracts to take over control and management of the world’s largest Internet networks, which included the NSFNet and the NSF’s international Connection Managers bringing the international community into the NSFNet backbone.

This allowed Sprint, AT&T, and MCI to gain visibility into the entire Internet community of the day, as well as take advantage of their own national fiber/transmission networks to continue building up the NSFNet community on long term contracts. With that infrastructure in place, those networks were clear leaders in the development of large commercial internet networks. The Tier 1 Internet provider community is born.

Interconnection and Peering in the Rest of the World

In the Internet world Tier1 networks are required (today…), as they “see” and connect with all other available routes to individual networks and content providers scattered around the world. Millions and millions of them. The Tier 1 networks are also generally facility-based network providers (they own and operate metro and long distance fiber optic infrastructure) which in addition to offering a global directory for users and content to find each other, but also allows traffic to transit their network on a global or continental scale.

Thus a web hosting company based in San Diego can eventually provide content to a user located in Jakarta, with a larger network maintaining the Internet “directory” and long distance transmission capacity to make the connection either directly or with another interconnected network located in the “distant end” country.

Of course, if you are a content provider, local internet access provider, regional network, or global second tier network, this makes you somewhat dependant on one or more “Tier 1s” to make the connection. That, as in all supply/demand relationships, may get expensive depending on the nature of your business relationship with the “transit” network provider.

Thus, content providers and smaller networks (something less than a Tier 1 network) try to find places to interconnect that will allow them to “peer” with other networks and content providers, and wherever possible avoid the expense of relying on a larger network to make the connection. Internet “Peering.”

Peering Defined (Wikipedia)

Peering is a voluntary interconnection of administratively separate Internet networks for the purpose of exchanging traffic between the customers of each network. The pure definition of peering is settlement-free or “sender keeps all,” meaning that neither party pays the other for the exchanged traffic; instead, each derives revenue from its own customers. Marketing and commercial pressures have led to the word peering routinely being used when there is some settlement involved, even though that is not the accurate technical use of the word. The phrase “settlement-free peering” is sometimes used to reflect this reality and unambiguously describe the pure cost-free peering situation.

That is a very “friendly definition of peering. In reality, peering has become a very complicated process, with a constant struggle between the need to increase efficiency and performance on networks, to gaining business advantage over competition.

Bill Norton, long time Internet personality and evangelist has a new web site called “DR Peering,” which is dedicated to helping Internet engineers and managers sift through the maze of relationships and complications surrounding Internet peering. Not only the business of peering, but also in many cases the psychology of peering.

Peering Realities

In a perfect world peering allows networks to interconnect, reducing the number of transit “hops” along the route from points “A” to “B,” where either side may represent users, networks, applications, content, telephony, or anything else that can be chopped up into packets, 1s and 0s, and sent over a network, giving those end points the best possible performance.

Dr Peering provides an “Intro to Peering 101~204,” reference materials, blogs, and even advice columns on the topic of peering. Bill helps “newbies” understand the best ways to peer, the finances and business of peering, and the difficulties newbies will encounter on the route to a better environment for their customers.

And once you have navigated the peering scene, you realize we are back to the world of who wants to control, and who wants to provide vision. While on one level peering is determined by which vendor provides the best booze and most exciting party at a NANOG “Beer and Gear” or after party, there is another level you have to deal with as the Tier 1s, Tier 1 “wanna-be networks,” and global content providers jockey for dominance in their defined environment.

At that point it becomes a game, where personalities often take precedence over business requirements, and the ultimate loser will be the end user.

Another reality. Large networks would like to eliminate smaller networks wherever possible, as well as control content within their networks. Understandable, it is a natural business objective to gain advantage in your market and increase profits by rubbing out your competition. In the Internet world that means a small access network, or content provider, will budget their cost of global “eyeball or content” access based on the availability of peering within their community.

The greater the peering opportunity, the greater the potential of reducing operational expenses. Less peering, more power to the larger Tier 1 or regional networks, and eventually the law of supply and demand will result in the big networks increasing their pricing, diluting the supply of peers, and increasing operational expenses. Today transit pricing for small networks and content providers is on a downswing, but only because competition is fierce in the network and peering community supported by exchanges such as PAIX, LINX, AMS-IX, Equinix, DE-CIX, and Any2.

At the most basic level, eyeballs (users) need content, and content has no value without users. As the Internet becomes an essential component of everybody on the planet’s life, and in fact becomes (as the US Government has stated) a “basic right of every citizen,” then the existing struggle for internet control and dominance among individual players becomes a hindrance or roadblock in the development of network access and compute/storage capacity as a utility.

The large networks want to act as a value-added service, rather than a basic utility, forcing network-enabled content into a tiered, premium, or controlled commodity. Thus the network neutrality debates and controversy surrounding freedom of access to applications and content.

This Does Not Help the Right to Broadband and Content

There are analogies provided for just about everything. Carr builds a great analogy between cloud computing and the electrical grid in his book the “Big Switch.” The Internet itself is often referred to as the “Information Highway.” The marriage of cloud computing and broadband access can be referred to as the “4th Utility.”

Internet protocols and technologies have become, and will continue to be reinforced as a part of the future every person on our planet will engage over the next generations. This is the time we should be laying serious infrastructure pipe, and not worrying about whose content should be preferred, settlements between networks, and who gives the best beer head at a NANOG party.

At this point in the global development of Internet infrastructure, much of the debate surrounding peering – paid or unpaid, amounts to noise. It is simply retarding the development of global Internet infrastructure, and may eventually prevent the velocity of innovation in all things Internet the world craves to bring us into a new generation of many-to-many and individual communications.

The Road Ahead

All is not lost. There are visionaries such as Hunter Newby aggressively pushing development of infrastructure to “address America’s need to eliminate obstacles for broadband access, wireless backhaul and lower latency through new, next generation long haul dark fiber construction with sound principles and an open access philosophy.”

Oddly, as a lifelong “anti-establishment” evangelist, I tend to think we need better controls by government over the future of Internet and Internet vision. Not by the extreme right wing nuts who want to ensure the Internet is monitored, regulated, and restricted to those who meet their niche religions or political cults, but rather on the level of pushing an agenda to build infrastructure as a utility with sufficient capacity to meet all future needs.

The government should subsidize research and development, and push deployment of infrastructure much as the Interstate Highway System and electrical and water utilities. You will have to pay for the utility, but you will – as a user – not be held hostage to the utility. And have competition on utility access.

In the Internet world, we will only meet our objectives if peering is made a necessary requirement, and is a planned utility at each potential geographic or logical interconnection point. In some countries such as Mongolia, an ISP must connect to the Mongolia Internet Exchange as a requirement of receiving an ISP license. Why? Mongolia needs both high performance access to the global Internet – as well as high performance access to national resources. It makes a lot of sense. Why give an American, Chinese, or Singaporean money to send an email from one Mongolian user to another Mongolian user (while in the same country)? Peering is an essential component of a healthy Internet.

The same applies to Los Angeles, Chicago, Omaha, or any other location where there is proximity between the content and user, or user and user. And peering as close to the end users as technically possible supports all the performance and economic benefits needed to support a schoolhouse in Baudette (Minn), without placing an undue financial burden on the local access provider based on predatory network or peering policies mandated by regional or Tier 1 networks.

We’ve come a long way, but are still taking baby steps in the evolution of the Internet. Let’s move ahead with a passion and vision.

(*)  Roger Boisvert was a friend for many years, both during my tensure as  US Air Force officer and telecom manager with Sprint based in Tokyo (I met him while he was still with McKinsey and a leader in the Tokyo PC User’s Group), and afterwards through different companies, groups, functions, and conferences in Japan and the US.  Roger was murdered in Los Angeles nine years ago, and is a true loss to the internet community, not only in Japan but throughout the world.

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A new telecom paradigm is on the verge of becoming reality. Not a disruptive technology, not the right brain flash of a new radical idea – rather it is a logical development of existing infrastructure using better operational execution. It is an acknowledgement of fiber optic infrastructure as an inherent requirement in the development of the 4th utility – broadband Internet, compute capacity, and storage as a basic right for all Americans.

The “utility” label has merit. Just as we need roads, water, and electricity to function in the modern world, we need communications. Much like the roads, electrical distribution, and water distribution systems crossing North America, the communications infrastructure follows a similar matrix of hubs, spokes, loops, and major exchange points interconnecting every square mile of the continent. The matrix includes a well-interconnected mixture of fiber optic cable, wireless, cable TV, copper telephone lines, and even satellite connections.

However, the arteries of this telecom circulatory system remain fiber optic cable. Fiber optic cable allows tremendous densities of communication, information, and data to travel across the street, or across the continent. Fiber goes north and south, east and west, connecting everything from wireless towers, satellite earth stations, collocation and hosting centers, communication carriers, Internet Service Providers, and end users to each other on a global scale.

Geography of the 4th Utility

Let’s take a deeper look at this circulatory system in geographic terms. When looking at a US map, latitude lines run horizontally, parallel to each other based on degrees north or south of the equator. The northern 40th parallel runs from Northern California to New Jersey, hitting parts of 12 states along its path. If we look at the US Interstate Highway system you will see some of the longer “arteries” stretch from the West Coast to the East Coast, such as interstate highway 10, running 2460 miles, hitting 8 states from California to Florida, and 35 major cities.

In addition, I-10 intersects with 45 other interstate highway junctions, and has several thousand entry and exit points serving both major cities and rural locations along the route. If you dig into the electrical grid you will find a similar mesh of interconnections, nodes, and relationships originating at power plants, and ending at the utility outlet in a bedroom or office.

The fiber optic system follows a similar model. The east-west and north-south routes follow the interstate highway system, rail system, and electrical grid – taking advantage of rights-of-way and interconnect nodes all along the route. The routes are generally shared by several different fiber optic providers and carriers, further extending their reach by collocating fiber at major carrier hotels along the coast, such as 60 Hudson in New York, the Westin Building in Seattle, NAP (network access point) of the Americas in Miami, and One Wilshire in Los Angeles, where they splice their fiber with major intercontinental submarine fiber optic systems.

Within North America further domestic interconnections are provided at each major city junction point throughout the country reinforcing the mesh of fiber networks in cities such as Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Dallas, Omaha, and Minneapolis.

The Local Value of a Global Fiber Optic Circulatory System

All this fiber is of little value if its utility does not reach every potential end user in America, or around the world. Much like the interstate highway system sporting several thousand access points and exits, the new fiber optic backbone will support fiber optic connections to every end user in the country, or push wireless broadband to every other addressable mobile and rural user. In the new world, the utility does not end at a wall outlet, but ends wherever the user is located. And that mobility is a local challenge.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber, an emerging fiber utility provider in the United States, advises that “It’s all about fiber…to the tower. For that component the long haul (fiber routes) is just how we get out there and back.” So while we may be able to analogize fiber routes with cities and interconnection points with the idea of a system starting at the driveway in a house to the East Los Angeles interchange and I-10, the wireless towers provide an undefined end point to the telecom grid that is unique.

The main difference discriminating the road system and electrical grid from the fiber grid are that in the telecom industry each route has many competing commercial providers. By definition, competition is not neutral. And if not neutral, it is not a utility, and cannot be expected to provide service in a location (or market) that will not be of financial advantage to the service provider – resulting in locations potentially stranded from the infrastructure.

Is this Really Different than the Existing Telecom Infrastructure?

Newby continues “The truth is that it’s the fiber that binds. Our route and its design is unique to today’s needs, unlike the design and needs of the cables from 10+ years ago. There are no neutral colos on those cables every 60 miles. There are also no FTTT (fiber to the tower) ducts (supporting) a separate fiber cable with handholes every 3000 ft on those systems.”

Following telecom deregulation in the United States, companies such as AT&T are no longer monopolies, with infrastructure development based on economic factors. If Carp, Minnesota (population ~100) does not offer sufficient economic incentive for AT&T to build broadband infrastructure, then it is unlikely to happen. Unless broadband is available through wireless networks, connecting to a broadband fiber backbone, and the rest of the world.

With companies such as Allied Fiber entering the market, access to the east-west, north-south routes will include a truly neutral alternative to the private road system of the existing telecom carriers. The long haul fiber routes will connect to regional neutral fiber routes, such as provided by companies such as Fiberlight in the eastern United States, and even more importantly provide both access to towers and interconnections at least every 60 miles (or more often) along the route.

That is because the long haul utility cable system will need to regenerate their signals at 60 miles points, offering a location for towers and regional fiber providers additional local access to supplement the carrier hotels and collocation facilities located at major junction or interconnection points. And financial incentives are available to companies through programs such as the Rural Development Telecommunications Program (RDTA) supporting the US government’s 4th utility Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP).

Hunter Newby brings evangelism to his vision.   

“Add to that the neutral colos allow the rural wireline and wireless carriers to colocate locally – in their county, or closeby by using the short haul duct to get to the closest AF colo – and in those locations they can buy high capacity transport and transit at wholesale rates from the large US and international carriers coming through. Right there! Wholesale! The rural carriers don’t even have to lease dark from us to get to the big cities/carrier hotels if they don’t want to or can’t afford to yet.

The ability to gain access to the power of the major US carrier hotels, but not have to actually get to them is the next frontier in the US.”

The 4th Utility is an American Entitlement
Newby concludes “The fiber laterals will all be built to us (the long haul neutral fiber providers). The tower companies won’t build them, but there are several transport providers that will. The mobile operators want their Ethernet over fiber.” Fiber that connects them to the content and people available on a global network-connected community. Broadband access that allows Americans to function in a global community.

Those wireless companies, whether mobile operators offering LTE/4G services, or WiFi providers offering a local competitive service, will pay the same tariff to connect to the neutral towers and fiber systems without prejudice. Just like an electrical utility doesn’t care if the outlet is supporting a private individual’s television set, a small storefront business’s display case, or an aircraft assembly plant, the only discriminating issue is in volume and required capacity.

A utility. Broadband access is now an expected utility – not a value-added service, available to all, but rather as an entitlement to living in America.

Of all the memories the telecom community has of the 80s and 90s, one of the most vivid is the sight of long haul fiber optic cable systems being buried throughout the United States. A product of deregulation, competition, and the birth of the Internet, American telecom companies saw a desperate need for greatly increasing transmission capacity, and responded with investments in long haul fiber, metro fiber, and digital switching needed to meet all visions of what we knew in those wonderful days of innovation.

Globally, broadband Internet, 3G + wireless, and the convergence of everything from entertainment to telephony into digital formats is driving not only Internet technologies, but also physical telecom transmission systems to the threshold of existing capacity. This explosive growth in information and communications technologies creates an interesting dilemma for telecom companies.

Do you spend your efforts finding ways to control the use of existing capacity? Or do we acknowledge the fact our network-enabled global community is not likely to get any smaller, and the world now needs our telecom thought leadership to both greatly expand what we already have, while aggressively investing in developing transmission technology that will enable, not restrict, growth in all things digital.

Not a US-Only Challenge

When a child in South Africa, Hanoi, or Denpasar has equal access to Hulu TV, Skype video chats, and eLearning systems from either a fixed workstation or mobile phone, it can be argued technology is serving the purpose of enabling and providing a new generation with the intellectual tools they need to flatten the geographic and political barriers we have lived with since the beginning of time.

All great, benevolent thoughts. Our children may need the tools to correct the problems we’ve created through irresponsible use of fossil fuels, exploitation of natural resources, human transmitted disease, war, and creation of toxic “stuff” that continues to restrict our planet’s ability to create an acceptable quality of life for all.

Face it, educated people in general do not make as many BIG mistakes as those who blindly follow others due to ignorance or lack of exposure to a wide variety of knowledge. Internet and telecom-enabled technologies may facilitate some people who thrive on physical or ideological control, however that is also diluted as the percentages bring their own knowledge of fact, and exposure to a liberal dosage or prism of different perspectives.

Or in other words, we can hope primary school students from different countries and cultures who meet each other through chatting or cooperative educational projects will be more likely to collaborate on useful endeavors in later life than those who are only exposed to a narrow view of society, culture, ideologies, and leadership.

Getting to the Vision

All this is great. An altruistic, warm, and fuzzy view of the future. Getting our vision to reality requires a tremendous amount of work. The current caretakers of industry and leadership do not have all the intellectual tools needed to keep up with a developing generation of children who were birthed in the Internet Age.

However we (the current caretakers) are pretty good at building things. Among those things are fiber optic transmission systems spanning oceans, continents, cities, and now even homes. We are good at building wireless transmission towers, and are still pretty good at building devices that can connect all this fiber, tower, and wireless infrastructure together.

And the younger generation is beginning to envision ways to exploit the transmission “matrix” that is beyond the comprehension of our current caretaker generation.

“The world is becoming one, big, ubiquitous, homogeneous system because of “the network” and the network exists and needs to exist because it exists (in other places) already. This is the justification to build. It is a self-fulfilling chain reaction.” (Hunter Newby, CEO Allied Fiber)

The Republicans in the US like to scream the need for Americans to “Drill Baby Drill,” exploiting domestic sources of fossil fuels, reducing our dependence on foreign sources for energy. In the telecom industry we are beginning to feel the need to “Dig Baby Dig.”

We need to increase our ability to continue delivering the network transmission capacity required to give our next generation the tools needed to really make a “Matrix-enabled” future, rather than spend our efforts scrambling, as in the energy analogy, to control or reduce our dependence on existing sources of telecom capacity.

How it is Going to Happen

In the US, for the past 30 years deregulation has allowed the telecom industry to build their infrastructure without any oversight other than what local or state governments impose for licensing and access to rights of way. Most debates have surrounded topics such as net neutrality, control over markets, or conduct of both content and users connecting to the Internet.

The US National Science Foundation inadvertently created the current, sometimes restrictive environment within the US Internet community by passing control of the NSFNet backbone to a select few commercial providers (AT&T, MCI, and Sprint). This award increased incentives for carriers to control their part of the US Internet space, and reduce incentives to aggressively build out physical capacity needed to meet the exponentially increasing demands for bandwidth and capacity.

It did not greatly meet infrastructure requirements needed to support the convergence of everything that can, does, should, and will travel over Internet Protocol (IP) networks over the next 25 or 30 years. While there are some positive developments in the local loop (FiOS, LTE, WiMAX, Uverse, etc), Newby cautions in the US there is a dearth of long haul and metro capacity needed to string all the local initiatives together.

The answer is to dig. Dig more conduits around the United States and Canada, drop the highest existing capacity fiber cabling within the conduits, connect wireless towers supporting LTE/4G+ to the high capacity backbone, connect buildings and homes, and develop new even higher capacity transmission technologies to parallel or exceed similar models of growth such as Moore’s Law and Metcalf’s Law.

But to give us the space needed to develop those technologies, for now, dig baby dig. Give fiber optic long haul, metro, and local digs the same tolerance we give to filling potholes and expanding lanes on a freeway system – while in the background we hope our leadership designs high speed rail, better road construction materials, and better ways to move from point “A” to point “B.”

Consider broadband, hyper-band, and uber-band development the true 4th Utility justifying extreme social priority, without which we will suffer the same fate as losing electricity, water, and roads. As with roads, everything we do going into the future will ride the broadband “matrix,” and without enough available lanes we will reduce ourselves to a frustrating gridlock of intellectual, business, and social development.

Dig baby dig…

NOTE: I was first introduced to the concept of the “Matrix” in the early 1990s, when a friend of mine suggested I read a book by John S. Quarterman entitled “The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide.” 20 years after, and it is still the most enlightening view of the Internet, what the internet cloud and should be, as well as look into the future as anything I have ever read on the topic. It takes William Gibson, Neal Stephensen, and translates their fiction into a reality which continues to become part of our day to day lives. Or maybe it gave both authors additional ideas needed for them to develop fiction…

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In the mid-1990s, as an operations manager with Sprint International, I worked in Jakarta to deliver a direct X.25 expansion to PT Indosat from the old SprintNet packet switching network. 15 years ago walking around the streets of Jakarta gave the impression of despair among much of the population, with large groups of unemployed men hanging around street corners. As a relatively well-off foreigner, I drew stares of both wonder and contempt. Internet access was possible through dial-up connections through the X.25 network and a gateway to SprintLink, Sprint’s Internet network.

Returning to Jakarta in 2010 is a shock. While there is still a visible dichotomy of wealth vs. low income population, the changes in Jakarta today are stark. Aside from the rapidly rising skyline, bringing back memories of Shanghai in the 1990s, the other most obvious change is the people. Everybody is going someplace or doing something. Nobody hanging around the street corners (at least from the areas of Jakarta I have traveled over the past few days), and high end shopping malls are everywhere.

An Internet Connection on Every Corner

Advertisement for BizNet IndonesiaJakarta is wired. Sitting in my hotel room I count not less than 20 visible WiFi connections. Along the main routes and shopping malls coffee shops are a standard fixture on just about every main street, and nearly every restaurant boasts a free WiFi connection for patrons. If you do not have the money to pay for an Internet services account, but do have a laptop computer, there is really no reason you would ever be without WiFi access within the downtown area.

And throughput is very good. The World Bank reports that average access speeds for Internet connections within Jakarta hang around 1Mbps. My experience sitting in a WiFi-enabled coffee shop at the City Walk shopping center (near the Jakarta Intercontinental Hotel) gives me around 3.5Mbps on test downloads.

And sitting here I could have run the same test on about 10 available WiFi networks, all serving nearby coffee shops and cafes.

Wiring Indonesia

Indonesia’s National
ICT Vision is
to bring into reality a
modern information society, prosperous and highly competitive, strongly supported by ICT

(Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Republic of Indonesia)

While you would expect the best Internet access within Jakarta, the capital city, Indonesia is aggressively working to overcome national shortfalls in Internet access around the country. As the world’s fourth most populace nation, and a geography covering nearly 2 million square kilometers, with more than 10,000 populated islands, Indonesia does face challenges.

Mobile phones have shown the greatest success. With more than 140,000 mobile subscriptions, and a quarterly growth rate of 14%, Indonesians are getting connected. However, national broadband access does not share the success of mobile, with only 1.5 million people of a population exceeding 200 million having direct access to broadband – and the majority of those users are in Jakarta.

The government does understand the connection between having broadband access and the potential growth of Indonesia’s economy. Tim Kelly, a policy expert at the World Bank stated in his Digital Africa 2010 speech that for every 10% increase in a nation’s broadband access, the country will experience a 1.3% increase in their economic growth. And of course those countries not hitting that number will continue to fall further behind the rest of world – a statistic that the world’s fourth most populace nation might not find attractive.

The good news is that Indonesia has a very open telecom market, with several companies including Telkom, BizNet, Telkomsel, Indosat, Excelcomindo, Bakrie, and XL making huge infrastructure investments. This includes developing high capacity backbone fiber systems throughout the country, which will allow even better development of wireless and cabled communications infrastructure in rural areas underserved today.

The government is also considering releasing more spectrum to wireless companies that can be used for WiMAX development, primarily in the 700Mhz and 1900/2100Mhz range. In addition, the government will also encourage mobile operators to share common infrastructure such as towers and backbone capacity to reduce the capital expense requirements for building into rural areas.

This includes development of the “Palapa Rings” that will expand existing fiber plant all the way to Papua, although admittedly this will still not meet the needs of most islands, which will still need to use a combination of microwave and VSAT access to interconnect with the rest of the nation and world.

Indonesia also supports use of Internet exchange points (IXPs), including the nation’s largest IXP, the Indonesia Internet Exchange (IIX) to retain most domestic Internet traffic within the country. There are several smaller Internet exchange points located in larger cities throughout the country, including a private IXP operated by a large domestic fiber and Internet provider BizNet.

The Bottom Line

It is easy to look at a country like Indonesia with a critical eye, and come up with lots of suggestions on how the country may more rapidly develop Internet broadband infrastructure. That is until you travel within the country and learn the true meaning of “rural.” Indonesia’s government understands the value of integrating eLearning, eGovernment, eBusiness, and eEverything into the Indonesian socio-cultural DNA. And the government is encouraging Indonesia’s private sector to invest.

As foreigners looking in, we should step back and remember the Jakarta and Indonesia of the mid-1990s, and consider the remarkable development that has occurred over the past decade, and congratulate the government in its current success, while encouraging further growth. A well-educated, well-wired, and productive Indonesia is both important and valuable to the international community, and from what I have seen over the past few days the country is making great progress in meeting their goals.

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Broadband communications access is rapidly gaining traction as a “4th Utility” in countries around the world. Recently, at Digital Africa 2010 in Kampala, several ministry-level delegates referenced their national initiatives building the “4th Utility” as among their highest priorities. On March 16th, FCC Chairman Genachowski stated “…broadband is essential for opportunity in America – for all Americans, from all communities and backgrounds, living in rural towns, inner cities, or in between.”

This means that broadband communications should be considered a basic right for all Americans, and persons from all countries, at the same level of other utilities including:

  1. Heating
  2. Water
  3. Electricity

None of the above utilities are free, all require major infrastructure development, and all are basic requirements for survival in the 21st century.

Genachoski went on to set some ambitious goals for the United States, as included in the “National Broadband Plan,” that include:

  • 1 gigabit to every community
  • affordable 100 megabits to 100 million households
  • raising adoption (of broadband access) from 65% to 90% adoption, heading to 100%

Consumer Network Test at FCC WebsiteNot a Bad Start

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn stated in a March 10th release that 93 million Americans still do not access broadband communications at home. 36% of those indicating they are not using broadband cite the high cost of access as their major reason for not gaining access, or terms of broadband access are unattractive.

While it would be easy for us to say Internet and broadband providers should be regulated on pricing and terms of service, we should also, if we want to consider broadband a 4th utility, compare the terms of access with other utilities provided to citizens of the United States. The cost of broadband will no doubt change based on:

  • Location – rural vs. urban
  • Number of providers in a community or market – including wireless
  • Distance from Internet interconnection and exchange points
  • Subscriber density in a specific geography (sparsely populated areas will have a higher cost of service)

The National Broadband Plan adds additional goals and action items that further reinforce the idea of broadband as a 4th utility, including:

  • Goal No. 1: At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second
  • Goal No. 2: The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation
  • Goal No. 3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose
  • Goal No. 4: Every community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and government buildings
  • Goal No. 5: To ensure the safety of American communities, every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network
  • Goal No. 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

This is a pretty comprehensive framework, adding additional forward thinking such as using broadband to support the “intelligent grid,” and wireless communications. And there is still a lot of work to accomplish. The broadband.gov website now includes several utilities used to both give consumers an idea of their current broadband performance, as well as show a very good map on the best places in the United States for accessing Internet services, and the worst.

The best states, which give an average data download speed of greater than 10Mbps, include:

  • Massachusetts
  • Delaware
  • New Jersey
  • Maryland
  • Virginia

And the worst averaging less than 2Mbps downloads including:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Wyoming
  • New Mexico

Even the best locations in the United States are a fraction of the average Internet and broadband access speeds enjoyed in countries like South Korea, with average home access throughout the country nearing 50Mbps today and plans to increase that to 1Gbps by 2012 (Brookings Institution).

The Overall Framework

The National Broadband Plan correctly looks at more than just home access to the Internet. As a utility, the broadband plan must cover all aspects of society and life that require communications, and includes reference to broadband categories such as:

  • Broadband and US economic opportunity (global economy)
  • Education
  • Health Care
  • Energy
  • Environment
  • eGovernment
  • Civic Engagement
  • Public Safety
  • Entertainment

Next Steps in Broadband

Powerpoint slides and MS Word documents are fine, however we need to focus on tangible results that are measured by meeting our goals. Those goals start with digging holes in the ground, constructing towers, and pulling cable into houses and offices. Everything else is cute, but noise.

“This plan is in beta, and always will be

Like the Internet itself, this plan will always be changing—adjusting to new developments in technologies and markets, reflecting new realities and evolving to realize previously unforeseen opportunities” (From National Broadband Plan)

The National Broadband Plan was delivered to the American people on 17 March, 2010. The goals (as above) are mandated to be in place by 2020. It is an aggressive plan, however Chairman Genachowski appears to have the sense of urgency needed to get it done – unless of course American politics create barriers preventing success.

Americans, and people of all nations should take a close look at the US National Broadband Plan, and those of other nations. If the US and other nations around the world truly consider broadband access as a 4th utility, those who do not have that utility will not be functional in the mid-21st century.

The US plan and strategy is available to all at broadband.gov

The Europeans mock us. The Koreans boast a claim they are the world’s most wired country. Finland is bringing broadband to reindeer. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published in their 2009 statistics the U.S. now ranks 15th among the group’s 30 member countries for broadband subscriptions. This is down from 12th in their previous study. No way!

Is the United States actually that far behind the world in broadband deployment? Should the home of Cisco Systems, Brocade, IBM, and HP hang our heads in shame at our inability to deliver a world class communications infrastructure?

Geography and Statistics

Well, we shouldn’t hang our heads in shame, however there is ample opportunity to further develop our national broadband infrastructure.

Looking at the following table you can easily see the US has a huge landmass, with much lower than Euro-Asian average population density. Kudos to Canada and the Nordic countries, although let’s be honest – 90% of Canada’s population is within 100km of the US border, and most of that is in cities. Same for the Nordics, and Iceland is not what you would normally refer to as a large landmass.

The US is big, and other countries with a similar landmass such as Russia and China did not even qualify for the top 35 countries in the study

Broadband Access in OECD Countries(From OECD Study dated June 2009)

Taking Inventory of the US Telecom Toolkit

Now let’s brush off the “feel good” paragraph and get back to the real issue. Making broadband accessible to every person in the United States who wants or needs access to network-enabled applications and resources.

We have a fairly robust toolkit of telecom resources available to deliver our bits:

  • ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers)
  • CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers)
  • Long Distance Carriers
  • Cable Television Service Providers
  • Cable (fiber optic) wholesale infrastructure providers (may also provide other services)
  • Wireless Broadband providers (including mobile telephone operators)
  • Utility operators (such as power companies and water companies)

In a country as large as the US, the long distance carriers and wholesale cable providers deliver infrastructure that connects New York to Los Angeles, and all others in between with high performance cable infrastructure. All other service providers deliver either a specific service to regional markets or end users. Some may contribute to “overlay” networks which provide a higher level of product or service to users throughout the market, such as Internet services, telephone services, television and “triple-play” (video, voice, Internet).

Sounds Easy? Just connect all this stuff together and the USA will be back on top of the broadband podium with a gold medal.

But…. The US is an open, competitive market. As all the US carriers (with the exception of some utilities) are privately (not government) owned, the objective is to make money for shareholders. This means cooperation with other companies is a mere short-term convenience, with no incentive for investing in any infrastructure that does not meet a business plan for satisfying the demands of investors. Altruism or working for the common good is reduced to marketing hype – and has very little basis in the reality of America’s communications infrastructure.

Maybe stimulus money or additional tax credits for companies to cooperate and meet national objectives? Unlikely, as most states are already suffering a great deal from the loss of telephone tax revenues (you’ve got to love VoIP), and to get into the stimulus business you will need to means to hire a legion of lawyers, lobbyists, and prepare for a long time horizon to see any support. That narrows it down to the ILECs, long distance carriers, and wholesalers. Same applies for money available through the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

Thus, my favorite little town of Baudette(Minnesota) is not likely to be a really high priority for any serious infrastructure development. Yes, companies like Time Warner have delivered cable TV and cable modems to the market, however if you do not have access to the cable (which pretty much follows the state highways, and does not venture too far off the asphalt), chances are you will not be receiving multiple streams of HD video any time soon.

There are many people in Northern Minnesota who don’t spend any more time online than they have to. They would rather be in a boat with their line in the water. If broadband could help them catch fish, they would be all for it. (from Minnesota Brown)

This also begs the question – if people really want to be wired, maybe they will migrate closer to cities which offer much more robust urban Map of Baudette Minnesotainfrastructure, and those who want to spend their life fishing can do so in peace?

Good, as long as they do not choose to reproduce, in which case the children deserve to have the same access to global information ands communications technology needed to ensure they are competitive with children in Korea and Amsterdam.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber reminds us that “We here in the USA are destined for a major change in our communications infrastructure.  An entirely new physical layer design needs to be rolled out in the USA if we are ever to reach broadband speeds and penetration like that of the other civilized and advanced countries in the world.”

Allied Fiber was created to “address America’s need to eliminate obstacles for broadband access, wireless backhaul and lower latency through new, next generation long haul dark fiber construction with sound principles and an open access philosophy.”

Newby continues “The USA is much larger than South Korea, or Japan, yet we are always stacked against those “countries” and others that are equally as small in geography. We will never reach the speeds, services, applications, or processing power of the people if we do not match their National physical layer network designs – designs that have incorporated wireless and fiber for backhaul for many years.”

Big, Fat, Dumb Pipes

In the 1990s companies such as Level 3 Communications used marketing taglines with the theme “bandwidth is like water,” and fiber infrastructure should be considered “big, fat, dumb pipes.” If the philosophy had survived investors, Wall Street analysts, and the desire to increase cash flow by adding higher level value added services (such as voice, Internet, TV, etc), the US might have a very high performance Allied Fiber's Network Philosophyphysical infrastructure in place that served as a neutral conduit for regional and local carriers and service providers to deliver broadband closer to the edge – or end users.

Companies such as Allied Fiber hope to bring that idea back to reality, providing the United States and Canada a very high performance, cost-effective trans-continental backbone allowing regional and local service providers and easy way to bring their edge resources to the North American “cloud.” Wireless companies can focus on delivering transmission to end users from the tower, and Allied Fiber will connect towers, regional networks, access networks, and value-added service networks (such as Internet providers) on a national scale.

A Happy Broadband Ending

One bright spot in the discussion is broadband wireless. The US carriers are pushing deployment of LTE and 4G, further incorporating broadband support via emerging technologies such as MIMO (Multiple In – Multiple Out) antennas which bring wireless up to the Gigabit/second level on individual end-user devices. This will reduce the need for fiber optic or high speed cable infrastructure deployment into both rural and urban areas with obsolete or decrepit building/street infrastructure.

“(This) isn’t about technology, (this) is about preserving small town communities by using technology to allow them to survive in a world that is changing. It’s about allowing kids to build careers in their local community, not just find a job. (Ross Williams – Minnesota Brown)

All new communications technologies being delivered by Verizon use Internet Protocols, including wireless telephone service, and incorporating IPv6 into the basic network. A combination of their FiOS (fiber optic to the home) product and high performance LTE=>4G wireless deployments will make up a lot of ground in the US.

Add a national high performance backbone network connecting the whole North American mess via Allied Fiber, and the US has a pretty good chance at jumping into the top 5 in OECDs broadband deployment listing. And Baudette’s culture and global presence is preserved.

Hunter Newby is on a mission. A mission to tear down the shroud of confusion preventing Americans from being wired into global Looking into the telecom futurecommunications at the same level as our neighbors in Asia or Europe. It is all about delivering broadband communications to every addressable device or person wired into the global communications matrix.

Hunter, CEO of Allied Fiber, is on a mission to build and deliver high capacity utility fiber optic infrastructure around the United States, connecting every possible carrier hotel, metro fiber provider, wireless tower, and international cable landing station into a nation-wide, neutral communications resource that will push the United States to achieve our economic, social, and academic goals.

“Fiber as a term is very over-used and misunderstood. Defining what “fiber” means in the context of a conversation, business opportunity, route, or all of the above is essential, or else you can totally miss the point.” (Hunter Newby)

Allied Fiber is Not Alone

Kaufman Brothers (KBRO), a New York investment banking company is sponsoring an event on January 12th in New York entitled “Technology Trends 2010.” One session within the conference is “Bandwidth: The Increasing Value of Fiber.”

Bringing together thought leaders from broadband companies, who would normally compete with the national carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, QWEST, and Level 3, the conference will address and debate the misconceptions of delivering broadband telecom access to the country, as well as establish a framework of how the emerging fiber industry may help the US meet its broadband objectives.

During this panel we will help define the differences between various forms of fiber and their consequent value, including routes (metro vs. regional vs. long-haul), locations (residential vs. enterprise vs. data center), and services (dark fiber vs. private line vs. Ethernet). We will also more broadly discuss some of the drivers for bandwidth growth including increasing low latency requirements, use of online video and storage/SaaS/cloud computing, as well as the necessary requirements to provide fiber-to-the-tower backhaul. (TMC/KBRO)

If you listen to the marketing story of large carriers, the issue with broadband and emerging applications, such as video over Internet, is that carriers cannot afford to build and deliver the infrastructure needed to support the applications without creating a new model of internet traffic shaping and pricing.

In short, this means that carriers are currently concerned with controlling and managing application development and growth – and not as concerned with the vision of how our communications infrastructure should be designed and prepared to meet the “wired” needs of our next generations of users.

Or in even shorter and simpler terms, an 8 year old school girl in Bemidji has an expectation that we (as an industry) will deliver her a physical platform that gives her the tools to diffuse 21st century technology into her life at a rate which exceeds her counterparts in Seoul.

The Role of Thought Leaders and Investment Bankers

Industry leaders such as Hunter Newby and Dan Caruso (another panel member at the KBRO conference) have been digging up the ground, laying fiber, building data centers, and supporting the telecom and Internet community for a couple decades.

Offended by hype, these guys have earned their tacit knowledge and tacit experience campaign ribbons through many years of living and designing the telecom infrastructure we are using today. They have worked alongside, and even directed, much of the laundry list of industry pundits who grace the media with dazzling visions of the future.

Once the dazzle settles, the thought leaders and investment bankers role up their sleeves and start planting development milestones on paper.

And for a country the size of the United States, those milestones depend on both building, and understanding the dynamics of fiber optic infrastructure. Lots of fiber optic infrastructure. And questions…

For example, is the fiber “dark, or lit”? If it is dark, is it available for lease? What is the age of the fiber? What type of fiber is it (NZDSF, or SMF)? Where can it be accessed along the route – only in the regen colos (regeneration sites with adjacent collocation)? Are they carrier-neutral colo’s? What are the terms and costs associated with the lease, or IRU? What route does the fiber take? Is it diverse from other routes? Is the route shorter than other routes thus producing a lower latency between the endpoints than other longer routes? Are there wireless towers that can be easily accessed by the fiber? And so on… (Hunter Newby)

Americans Can Sleep Well Tonight

Knowing there is a growing movement within our senior telecommunications industry through leadership should give us some “peace of mind.” While day-to-day we may worry about job loss, inflation, mortgages, and clawing our way ahead, it is easy to lose track of what infrastructure is needed to keep our country competitive.

While the average person may read about Hunter Newby, Dan Caruso, and other soldiers in the infrastructure army thinking “well, that is nice – not sure how it applies to me…,” the reality is your 8 year old daughter depends on them to get it right.

Your 8 year old daughter in Bemidji, Minnesota, is growing up in a global community and economy. She is no longer competing with a girl in Thief River Falls or Baudette, she is competing with an 8 year old girl in Seoul, Ramallah, or Singapore.

To compete she will need access to all the broadband access and available network-enabled applications that will be available to other 8 year old girls throughout the world.

Hunter knows this, the investment banking community is waking up to both the opportunity and responsibility, the fiber companies are energized, and now we need to be thankful the telecom thought leadership community has prioritized our personal and national interests.

The new generations will have Gigabit access to wireless networks, home access to fiber networks, business access to broadband networks – as a country the United States will get wired. We will be competitive in the global wired world, and the 8 year old girl in Bemidji will have access to every possible utility and intellectual tool she needs.

Take no prisoners guys…