Why Flawed Broadband Speed Tests Have Devastating Consequences

If government policy is based on faulty data, everyone loses.

C/Net has the details:

The stakes are high. The FCC uses data it collects to produce reports, such as the Measuring Broadband America and the Broadband Deployment reports, to set policy and determine where to deploy resources to promote broadband adoption. Much of the data the FCC gets to populate these reports is supplied by the broadband and wireless companies themselves, or in the case of the speed test, a third party that also contracts with these companies. The result is information that often paints a rosy picture of wireless and broadband in the US.

Though The Wall Street Journal article singled out the broadband speed test, there have long been complaints that the information collected to show where fixed and mobile broadband service is located is flawed. The issue around flawed mapping data has come to a head in the last several months in Congress, where Republicans and Democrats alike from rural regions of the US have lashed out at the FCC, demanding the issue be fixed.

Some of the problems can be attributed to the methodologies used to collect the data. For instance, in mapping fixed broadband the FCC has been criticized for asking carriers to provide more granular data. But critics also charge that relying on carriers to self-report information can lead to problems. Earlier this month, the FCC found that three major US wireless carriers, Verizon, T-Mobile and US Cellular, had misstated their wireless coverage in several rural areas.

“So we’ve got carriers exaggerating coverage for mobile broadband, flawed methodology producing bad maps for fixed broadband, and unreliable numbers on the speed of broadband. What’s left?” said Gigi Sohn, an advisor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy. “If there is no cop on the beat, the carriers will just make it like they’re doing awesome and no need for any regulation or oversight.”

Continue reading HERE

Money Quote: The FCC is still working on getting a clearer picture of where broadband and wireless service exists today and where it doesn’t.

A speed test has no value if you do not have a broadband connection to test. The FCC can not test broadband if it does not know where it is! The real issue with the FCC map is not just speed it is accuracy.

FCC Finally Discovers Coverage Maps are Broken

The FCC discovered they can not fix something if they do not know where it is broken. The nation’s broadband maps are truly broken, as any rural cell phone user can attest.

Through the investigation, staff discovered that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground performance in many instances. Only 62.3% of staff drive tests achieved at least the minimum download speed predicted by the coverage maps—with U.S. Cellular achieving that speed in only 45.0% of such tests, T-Mobile in 63.2% of tests, and Verizon in 64.3% of tests. Similarly, staff stationary tests showed that each provider achieved sufficient download speeds meeting the minimum cell edge probability in fewer than half of all test locations (20 of 42 locations). In addition, staff was unable to obtain any 4G LTE signal for 38% of drive tests on U.S. Cellular’s network, 21.3% of drive tests on T-Mobile’s network, and 16.2% of drive tests on Verizon’s network, despite each provider reporting coverage in the relevant area.

The Full FCC Staff report is HERE.

 

Rural Telcom De-regulation — Prompts Competition from Space

Doug Dawson has an excellent post in Pots and Pans on the impact regulators had on the lack of rural broadband.

Rural America should never have been deregulated. Shame on every regulator in every state that voted to deregulate the big telcos in rural America. Shame on every regulator that allowed companies like Verizon palm off their rural copper to companies like Frontier – a company that cannot succeed, almost by definition.

In rural America the telcos have a physical network monopoly and the regulators should have found ways to support rural copper rather than letting the telcos walk away from it. We know this can be done by looking at the different approaches taken by the smaller independent telephone companies. These small companies took care of their copper and most have now taken the next step to upgrade to fiber to be ready for the next century.

The full post is HERE.

Doug writes: “The big telcos started abandoning rural America as much as thirty years ago. They’ve stopped maintaining copper and have not voluntarily made any investments in rural America for a long time. There was a burst of rural construction recently when the FCC gave them $11 billion to improve rural broadband to 10/1 Mbps – but that doesn’t seem to be drawing many rural subscribers.”

The launch of the low earth-orbiting satellite broadband networks by SpaceX, OneWeb, and Amazon are going to provide rural users alternatives to the poor service and slow speeds offered by the telcos. The LEO ISPs are promising “fiber-like services” to rural customers starting in 2020, with full service by 2021.

One of the challenges will be the start-up costs, which are forecast to be in the $300 to 500 dollar range. The monthly fee of those services is presently an unknown but is expected to be competitive with existing fiber services.

SpaceX is expecting a high demand for their “fiber-like services” from space. They have requested permission to launch up to 42,000 Starlink satellites, 12,000 that are already approved plus 30,000 more to meet the expected global demand. This YouTube video has some details and attractive graphics:

https://youtu.be/z93a9OUJfOA

5G Won’t Solve the Digital Divide

ILSR: Community Networks Fact Sheet

Since 5G connectivity relies on fiber optics that aren’t available in many rural areas, these communities won’t receive 5G access anytime soon. The same market reality discouraging investment in rural broadband will also discourage 5G investment. Even in urban areas, companies like AT&T and Verizon are unlikely to start investing in the low-income neighborhoods they have neglected for years.

This just one insight provided in the Pocket Guild to 5G Hype

Download HERE.

 

Nevada County Supervisors Approves Last-mile Broadband Grant

YubaNet has some details:

At Tuesday’s July 23rd Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board unanimously approved a contract with the Sierra Business Council (SBC) for the administration of the Last-Mile Broadband Grant program, a grant for the development and expansion of Broadband in Nevada County. The grant will be funded by what the County receives for transient occupancy tax (TOT), a tourism-related tax charged to travelers when they rent accommodations for less than 30 days.

[ . . . ]

“The $225,000 Last-Mile Broadband Grant is a pilot program to leverage County funds to support the development of Last-Mile Broadband infrastructure in the unincorporated areas of the County to promote economic development. Last-Mile refers to connecting the enduser or customer’s home or business to a local network provider. The development of Last-Mile transmission networks is the most cost prohibitive component of broadband expansion in Nevada County.

[ . . . ]

It is a 2019 Board Priority to support job-enhancing economic development with an emphasis on creating infrastructure and community partnerships with organizations such as SBC. During the meeting, the Board approved a total of $250,000 investment into economic development and broadband. Of that funding, $25,000 going towards SBC’s administration of the pilot grant program and $225,000 that will be available for the grant.

The full report is HERE.
It will be interesting to see how the Sierra Business Council leverages this one time grant of $225,000. The last mile is like apple pie, as everyone supports it. However, fiber to the home is bloody expensive, like Google and Verizon found out and shut down their fiber to the home programs as too costly.

Fiber to the home is expensive costing between $1200 to $1500 per household, excluding any electronics needed to make the connection. That is the cost per connection when the fiber is in the street, in rural neighborhoods, the driveways can be quarter of a mile long. The primary cost component is labor to dig the trenches and lay the fiber. Or, hang the fiber on existing poles, which introduces another cost, rent for the use the poles which belong to other companies.

An alternative approach is to use wireless technology for the last mile connection. Wireless technology was used by the Beckville Network to tap the VAST middle mile network. The estimate network cost for ten homes was $10,000. That is $1,000 per connection. More here. As it turns out, the tall trees are limiting the expansion of the network to cover more of the neighborhood, requiring major network upgrades and more cost. The final cost per home is still unknown.

The Sierra Business Council was preparing a Broadband Strategic Plan for Nevada County to be published in August according to Peter Brown, the project developer. It will be interesting to see how symbiotic the Strategic Plan and the Nevada County Economic Development Grant are.

It is not clear how SBC should spend the broadband economic development grant, nor what the success criteria will be? How will citizens know the $225,000 resulted in economic development? How many last-mile connections, and at what cost? And, what wireless technology will best serve the community, as there are last-mile technologies in the market that cannot provide, the FCC minimum speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

Many of these questions could be answered when the Nevada County Broadband Strategic Plan is published. Stay Tuned.

Rural America Could be Left Behind in 5G Global Race

“The United States is making choices that will leave rural America behind,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel writes in WIRED.

So far the United States 5G focus has been on mmWave high-band service, which is not a good technology for rural applications.

This means that high-band 5G service is unlikely outside of the most populated urban areas. The sheer volume of antenna facilities needed make this service viable makes it too costly to deploy in rural areas. So if we want to serve everywhere—and not create communities of 5G haves and have-nots—we are going to need a mix of airwaves that provide both coverage and capacity. That means we need mid-band spectrum. For rural America to see competitive 5G in the near future, we cannot count on high-band spectrum to get the job done.

It should be noted the T-Mobile/Sprint strategy is to focus on the low-bands, and AT&T is claiming a multi-band approach, while Verizon is using a high-band mmWave approach.

 

Comstocks: Slow Progress for Fast Speeds

 

Two years after partnering with Verizon, few Sacramento neighborhoods have 5G availability

Russell Nichols has the details in the June issue of Comstock’s magazine.

In December, Earl Lum spent the holiday season snooping around Sacramento’s eight city council districts, snapping pictures of city-owned street lights for evidence. The wireless analyst was on a mission to assess the status of Verizon’s 5G Home network, which launched in the capital in October 2018.

He came bearing questions: How many poles had the shoe-boxed sized 5G radios mounted on them? Were these fixed wireless sites only in wealthier neighborhoods? Did they target businesses? It took him three trips to map every pole. Each time, he scouted for two to three days from dawn to dusk. For an official launch of a network like this, Lum believes at least 2,000 sites with about 50 percent service coverage would be respectable. But what he found was some 200 small cells attached to street lights with broadband signals reaching less than 10 percent of Sacramento’s population.

“The network was extremely limited,” says Lum, founder of EJL Wireless Research in Half Moon Bay, who has analyzed wireless and mobile radio access markets for over 20 years. “There was clearly not enough sites to even do what I would call a real launch for a network.”

There are 40,000 city-owned poles in Sacramento with about 9,000 being suitable for wireless development, according to city officials. But Lum argues that those suitable poles only cover the main streets, and the distance of the signals from each site fails to fill the gaps. Another issue he points out is the millimeter wave technology, which is line of sight, meaning trees and rain can disrupt signals.

Two years after the city’s partnership with Verizon was announced, Lum’s findings – published in the report United States 5G Fixed Wireless Access Case Study, Verizon Wireless and the City of Sacramento, CA – paint a sobering picture. The city boasted of being one of the first four test cities for the telecom giant’s 5G network. Officials called the move a major step toward a future of lightning-fast speeds, smart meters and wearable technology, and, down the line, industrial automation and self-driving cars. They called it a “game-changer.” But if the game has any hope of changing, Lum says the city would need as many as 4,000 sites to provide full coverage, an undertaking that could take up to 10 years.

“Everyone did a lot of field trials prior to the launch,” Lum says. “[Verizon wasn’t] going into this whole thing blind. Part of this survey was to do a fact check on the reality.”

Continue reading HERE.

Russell Nicholes captures the struggle that Sacramento is going through to implement 5G.  Think about the struggle that your community would go through to implement mmWave 5G with the need to maintain the line of sight connections and the antenna spacing needed to provide full coverage. Does your community have unique street lighting infrastructure that would inhibit the use of standard mini-cell tower installations, such as these in historic downtown Nevada City?

Screen Shot 2019-06-08 at 6.32.17 AM
Nevada City Street Lights on Main Street

Here is a Chicago Mini-Cell Tower

Chicago_Verizon 5G minitower
Verizon Minoi-Town in Chicago 

“Deployment of 5G services using microwave and millimeter wave frequency bands is critical to the success of 5G in the United States. However, the limitations we have uncovered using these frequency bands should cause the industry to take a serious look at the return on investment for these types of 5G networks.” 

— Earl Lum Microwave Journal.

Today: FCC 5G Infrastructure Push

— Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) are today bringing back their STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, a measure aimed at speeding up 5G wireless buildout. The proposal drew fierce pushback during the last Congress from local governments that viewed it as federal overreach. Although the two sponsors had suggested they would take those concerns into account, the new version is no different than what they unveiled last summer. “Making 5G technology a reality has been a priority for me since I began serving on the Commerce Committee,” Thune said

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

This has implication for all rural communities, especially those communities trying to preserve their historical charm. Experience has shown that mmWave 5G needs to have a small cell site on every block, see details HERE and HERE.

Chicago_Verizon 5G minitower
Ugly Chicago Mini-Cell Tower

Those providers that are using low band (600-800MHz) 5G will be more welcome in rural communities as fewer cell sites are needed, reducing line of site requirements. The downside is low band 5G cannot provide the mind-blowing speeds that mmWave 5G does. Will rural towns, cities, and neighborhoods get to pick their provider and the technology used to provide 5G under the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, or do they get whoever shows up? Verizon is using a mmWave strategy, AT&T a mixed approach, while T-Mobile/Sprint is planning to use low band and existing 4G frequencies for their 5G services. More decisions will depend on the spectrum the FCC is offering for 5G services, both mobile and fixed.

This is going to be an ugly fight to keep ugly technology out of rural towns and villages. If I were responsible for 5G implementation, I would be working with designers to develop a classic mini-cell enclosure, to hide the ugly electronics and wire bundles.  Your thoughts?