04.04.2023 Musings

Sometimes, when sitting quietly, enjoying a cooling cup of perfectly crafted pour-over coffee, I find myself staring at the back of my hand. In front of my eyes lies a landscape akin to the red sand of the American Southwest that lay baking under the scorching sun after a week of rain. You can see … Continue reading 04.04.2023 Musings

About 30 years ago this month, some boffins at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Lab at Stanford University decided to set up a website — they wanted to improve how information was exchanged between many international physicists. And that is how the first website in North America was born. We have come a long way since.

87% of U.S. households get an Internet service at home, compared to 83% in 2016 and 69% in 2006 Reports Leichtman Research Group  Broadband accounts for 98% of households with an Internet service at home, and 85% of all households get a broadband Internet service – an increase from 81% in 2016 and 42% in 2006. 

These numbers roughly mirror the data shared by Pew Research earlier in the year. And no matter how you look at it, this is good news. And what’s even better is that according to the latest data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), estimates that 4.9 billion people use the Internet, though not all of them go online frequently and are using the network in drips and drabs. Nevertheless, a ‘COVID connectivity boost’ added 782 million additional people to the total since 2019.

What’s not such good news is the cost of broadband in the United States. According to The Cost of Connectivity, a research report from the Open Technology Institute, the average cost of broadband in the US is about $68.38. That is higher than average prices in large parts of the world.

Blame it on lack of any real competition — cable and phone guys are our only broadband option. And they hate competition, especially from independent or municipal networks. Incumbents do their best to thwart progress.

I am fortunate to have been a customer of Webpass, an independent provider who offered me a gigabit-per-second for about $50 a month. It was acquired by Google Fiber and has started charging more – $59 a month. Considering what I would have either paid Comcast or AT&T, it is still cheaper. The average monthly cost of broadband in San Francisco — $84 a month.

Now, if we could work up plans to replicate the likes of Webpass and Sonic.net across the nation, we might see some serious competition.

December 30, 2021. San Francisco

About a month ago, I wrote about the state of Starlink, the satellite broadband division of SpaceX, and speculated that I won’t be surprised if “the Starlink network evolves into Tesla’s very own broadband backbone, connecting all Tesla vehicles.” Elon Musk, the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, threw cold water on that theory in a tweet. 

However, a new FCC filing shows that Starlink wants to offer connectivity to aircraft, ships, large trucks, and RVs. They picked the right target market for sure — the broadband choices on ships and aircraft are pretty meager. Mobile broadband is non-existent when you are using those modes of transportation.

However, I wouldn’t dismiss the Tesla vehicle network that quickly, despite what Elon said. In a January 2020 call, he said that in some years. Tesla could have Starlink terminals. Anyway, since Tesla has concrete plans to make trucks, so that would be a good start of Tesla’s backbone. Connecting its future big-boy trucks (Cybertruck) and moving trucks could help Tesla finetune the hardware for Starlink. 

And if the trajectory of all silicon has shown us anything, it is that miniaturization happens quickly. And capabilities increase even faster. I still remember the roof-sized dishes we needed to get satellite television. Those dishes are much smaller now. 

I am one of the fortunate ones — I have enjoyed the fiber-connected life for nearly 11 years, four of which have been blessed by a gigabit/second connection. The bi-directional gigabit speed has been a blessing. That speed has come in handy during the pandemic — I am nearly always on Zoom and using the network for staying connected, entertained, and informed. This need for speed and stability has seen the demand go up. 

According to OpenVault, a market research firm, nearly 4.9% of the US households have a gigabit/second connection, versus 2.81 percent of all US households at the end of 2019. If we end 2020 with over 7 million gigabit households, it would be a pretty big deal. To give it context, China added 10.3 million fiber connections in Q2 alone. Still, I hope this encourages more small fiber networks to be spun-up to compete with the dominant incumbents, especially in what FastCompany calls: the Zoom Towns.

 “We are finally getting to the point when it’s reasonable to talk about developing giant bandwidth applications,” writes Doug Dawson. “The most obvious candidate product for using giant bandwidth is telepresence.” My best guess is that it would be something more prosaic and basic.

For cues, I looked at high-bandwidth countries like South Korea and China. Just like in Asia, streaming influencers will become huge in the US, and many, if not most, will be on Twitch. And their focus will be on commerce — rather, e-commerce. And that is good news for Amazon, which is becoming even more entrenched in retail-oriented commerce. Now you understand why Walmart wants a piece of TikTok.