Taking care of their own, finding and nurturing local talent and giving back to the community sets the San Francisco Giants apart from other professional sports organizations, to paraphrase one of the many speakers at the boisterous parade held for the improbable 2014 World Series Champions. It was also said that this sort of event is one of those rare things that can bridge barriers and bring people together in a megalopolis like the 7M+, Bay Area. Hearing these words made me think of my friends with rural broadband telecommunications’ companies and how they do these sorts of things every day; they are world champions in my eyes.
It was nice to see someone from the FCC who seems to get the importance of a local presence in developing broadband’ networks and the associated ecosystems. At last week’s Calix User Group, the FCC’s Jonathan Chambers suggested that local telecommunications providers understand the needs and are important parts of their respective communities. He reminded attendees that, “What all of you do makes a difference in people’s lives.” Stay tuned for interviews from the Calix User Group with some of the folks who are finding ways to make a difference in their respective communities.
Google is well-known for its unique philosophy, culture and innovative spirit. From Android smart phones/tablets, wearable devices to self-driving cars, Google continues to push the boundaries of what is possible with technology. On October 2, 2014, Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman and Former CEO, joined co-author and Google Advisor Jonathan Rosenberg to discuss “How Google Works“- the title of their new book.
Click here to read this exclusive and excellent report on this discussion of one of Silicon Valley’s most important companies.
Reinforced by its long-running and successful “Intel-Inside” marketing campaign, Intel has long been the heart of personal computers. In this video, filmed at the 2014 International CES Conference, Intel’s Lindsay Sech explains how their technology is now turning the automobile into effectively a mobile computer. In addition to providing safety features like lane departure prevention, adding brains results in personalization of the automobile experience like never before.
An after-market, four-camera system coupled with an in-dash display effectively turns an old car into a smart car. Rob Haynes demonstrates Rydeen Mobile’s RDV360 and explains how this system works and how it can provide warnings for drivers of objects that are in their blind spots. This could be an especially valuable add-on for commercial entities with poor visibility, fleet vehicles. Additionally, the video recording capability could be invaluable in determining the cause of an accident.
Messages abound these days about the perils of texting while driving. Peer pressure and the associated legal ramifications are not enough, however, to prevent many people from using their smart device while driving. Cell Control solves the problem with a technology that disables the cell phone while a vehicle is in motion. Beyond the obvious application of preventing teenage members of the family, this could have huge applications for entities with fleet vehicles.
Riding my bike yesterday in a neighborhood bypassed by the relatively new wealth generated by the tech companies of Silicon Valley, I spotted an elderly woman standing (no benches) at a bus stop. It was in a somewhat isolated, industrial area that hasn’t changed much in 50 years. From wherever she came from, it had to have been a hike, particularly for someone who looked like she was in her eighties. For people like her, autonomous vehicles that provide near on-demand service and point-to-point delivery from home to destination cannot get here fast enough.
Click here to read some recent articles on this potentially disruptive technology.
Former FCC Chairman and current NCTA president and CEO, Michael Powell points out that competition is the best way to ensure that consumers get the best deal in this op-ed piece. Current FCC Chairman Wheeler has said the same thing. It will be interesting to see whether Wheeler’s latest proposals have the desired effect. Of course, tomorrow could change everything and maybe Congress will get involved.
I wish I would have run that drill when coaching youth baseball. There is a good lesson for anyone in the workforce as well.
The challenges and opportunities surrounding local content were discussed on a panel I moderated last week at the Calix User Group. Joining me was Kurt Gruendling of WCVT, Edward Hinson of Skyline Membership Corporation and Ryan Tupper of Innovative Systems. The panel went beyond the traditional concept of local content, as we looked at the idea of managed over-the-top video and how it could be combined with local sources of video to provide an offering that is complementary to traditional video packages. Some tips and ideas of what works to leverage the talent that is in an operator’s midst were also given.
Still, even with local talent, it is just too much for most small operators to fill up a line-up with home-grown content. Edward Hinson indicated that Skyline Membership Corporation’s CEO, Jimmy Blevens, started The Video Exchange to help all operators acquire relevent content for their local channels. At the same time, this exchanges allows operators to take content that is on the shelf and repurpose it, helping their fellow local content producers.
To better prepare myself for the panel, I tried The Video Exchange. The interface is easy-to-use, particularly given that is a 1.0 release. The folks at the video exchange have been very responsive to suggestions and have a strong incentive to make it work for both sellers and buyers.
Viodi’sfirst collection at The Video Exchange is now online. This collection features videos from International CES 2014 dealing with automotive and vehicle technology. At 24 minutes and 15 seconds, it is just about the right length for a 30 minute filler program. Of course, the seven episodes could be split up into a multi-part series that could complement a local tech show program.
Viodi is exploring some ideas as to how to help bring CES and its excitement to the operators and the aforementioned collection is the first baby step. Operators, let me know if you are interested in learning more about how Viodi’s CES plans might be able to help you with your local content offering.
Google is well-known for its unique philosophy, culture and innovative spirit. From Android smart phones/tablets, wearable devices to self-driving cars, Google continues to push the boundaries of what is possible with technology.
On October 2, 2014, Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman and Former CEO, joined co-author and Google Advisor Jonathan Rosenberg to discuss “How Google Works“- the title of their new book. The two Google executives engaged in conversation with Sal Khan, Founder of the Khan Academy. The dialog took place at a Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley event in Santa Clara, CA, in front of a full room of approximately 400 attendees.
Discussion then Q &A:
For sure, Google is a very different kind of company. Schmidt said he recognized that his first day on the job. Rosenberg took a bit longer- within his first 90 days at the company.
Hired as the new CEO, Eric knew he couldn’t teach Google employees how to think, as they were already very bright. But he could teach them how to manage the work environment.
“It’s important to know who the owners are. Founder led companies (e.g. Google, Apple, Facebook, etc) are a great strength of Silicon Valley,” Eric opined. Schmidt believed he was in a partnership with Google founders (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) to help them achieve their vision for the company.
“If you’re helping someone else to achieve their vision, it’s going to be a great partnership,” Eric said. “Manage to what’s possible is a better way to lead,” he added.
What is a “smart creative” and how is that different from what we imagined the Silicon Valley tech worker in the past?
The “How Google Works“ book was started after Eric told Jonathan “there’s some kind of a problem here.”
“People coming out of universities are ready to work for creative organizations that could possibly change the world. Yet almost everyone who comes out of undergraduate and graduate school finds the organizations they’re joining to be sclerotic, unchanging, and poorly led. It’s a huge wack to our young professionals. Moreover, it’s a big disconnect between the training/inspiration of our young people and the institutions/organizations they’re joining.”
“Smart creative,” a term coined by Jonathan, starts with a person who’s highly technical, but has some level of business savvy with an interest in the business. They’re also passionately curious and savvy with the tools of manipulating data and creating prototypes. “Unlike most technical people, they quickly produce and show you a prototype,” Jonathan said.
How to give the employee autonomy to make them feel they have a voice in decision making and guiding the organization?
Eric: “We don’t want random things occurring at random places.” A review process was needed. “So we instituted a set of Tuesday Google product strategy meetings, which were brutal.” In the early years, there were a list of top 100 (or 300) things the company was working on. It was maintained by Marissa Mayer- now CEO of Yahoo.
More on Schmidt’s partnerships with Google founders Larry and Sergei and triumvirate of leadership:
“You should judge leadership teams by their accomplishments, not by their rhetoric… The most successful companies – in tech and (suspect) world-wide were more than one person. Even though the media often lionizes a single individual, there are always a few people who collectively have the same incentives.”
Eric mentioned Steve Wozniak complementing Steve Jobs at Apple, even though the latter got almost all of the credit for Apple’s success.
Schmidt continued, “We all knew we were fighting to win. We may have disagreed on a tactic, but it’s a wonderful thing…We knew roughly what the other cared about and we agreed not to surprise the other on something important.” That partnership model is a good one and scales to three or four people.
“Google X (their research organization) is a great business and will change people’s lives,” according to Eric. It’s creation (about five years ago) was a decision of Google’s two founders. The first Google X project was to work on autonomous cars. Contact lenses that help monitor blood sugar is another research area.
The importance of automating the behavior of a refrigerator was a joke by the founders, but the decision to launch Google balloons wasn’t. It was to facilitate Internet access using existing handsets in third world countries. Many of those people don’t even have access to newspapers, libraries or any printed publications.
The secret to continuing growth at Google was said to be the company’s ability to recruit new leaders, starting with 22 or 23-year-old tech graduates who became product managers. Over a 5 or 10 year period they became executives.
Flexibility to move (to different jobs or assignments within the company) and espouse a model of innovation by proto-typing and experimentation was also key, Jonathan said. If management stays out-of-the-way, you get a Darwinian process of successful projects, he added.
Medical device monitoring and transdermal patches using mobile phones were said to be a start-up area that’s being well-funded today. The cell phone is used to automatically call a doctor, if the transdermal patch comes off or there’s another type of warning sign.
What will surpise us about Google in the next 10 years?
Jonathan: It may be platforms that other companies will create using Android. For example, there are psychology apps being developed for teenagers to gauge depression tendencies. Other Android based health care applications will be very promising too.
Eric said he has “consistently underestimated the use of software to redo systems.” The ability to mix and match software modules together are going to produce products/services that are very useful. Uber is a great example. It uses Google maps and Google is an investor in this taxi alternative. Getting education right for kids will produce a quantum change in learning we’ve never seen before, Schmidt added.
Asked by an audience member who his personal heroes are — in the tech industry and outside it — Schmidt quickly replied: “For me, it’s easy. Steve Jobs…Considering the impact he had on society, we could all aspire to be a small percentage of Steve,” he said of Apple’s late co-founder. “Exceptional people are worth hanging out with, because there’s a good chance they’ll change the world,” he added. Steve Jobs certainly did that by starting the PC revolution and re-inventing the music and cell phone business, not to mention creating the media tablet.
While Jonathan said he greatly respected Steve Jobs, he selected a personal hero – Milo Medin – who hired him to work @Home- the original ISP to the cable companies – where he worked before joining Google in 2002. Rosenberg’s boss there drew a vision of what broadband access could look like someday. “Jonathan, with enough thrust, anything could fly,” Medin said. Today, there are 70M people who have cable based broadband Internet access. Comcast is the largest ISP in the U.S.
Are we in a tech bubble or should we be in one? What advice do you have for start-ups to survive the bust?
Jonathan: “Look at the Mary Meeker (Kleiner – Perkins) slides and compare the valuations we have now vs what we had then (1998-2000 tech bubble).” People are buying everything online today and soon they’ll be doing that on their mobile phones. When much of e-commerce moves to mobile phones, the valuations (of the e-commerce/web software companies) will be even more justified.
Eric doesn’t believe there’s a tech bubble even though valuations are high:
“There’s always an argument that ‘it’s different this time.’ If you want to make that argument it goes something like this:…First, the NASDAQ isn’t as high as it was in 2000.
Valuations have been going up, because if you have an Internet-based product (or service) you can achieve global distribution (scale) very quickly…The market is rewarding those companies that get scale with higher valuations.” [Presumably, the higher valuations apply to both publicly traded and private/start-up companies]
What was the challenge of building Google and its culture? Could it have been done in another country (i.e. other than the U.S.)?
Eric: “The culture of the company is set at the top (presumably by the founders and chief executives).” Sometimes it misses the mark, like Enron.
Jonathan: “Enron had a famous slogan: ‘to build unrivaled partnerships, perseverance, and hard work, etc…to generate shareholder value for their investors.'”
Eric: “That was not real (and neither was Enron). Companies have real cultures and the employees will tell you what it really is….” If you are a new hire, ask existing employees what the corporate culture is and then try to make it better. “Today, you have an opportunity to change the corporate culture, person by person, by changing your hiring practices and tell people who your company expects something different.” Evidently, that was one way Google maintained its culture of tech innovation.
For more details and to hear Schmidt and Rosenberg address more questions from the audience, please play the audio at:
On occasion I write things I really have no interest in publishing. The following article and video interview fall into that category. Over the past month, it has been reviewed by numerous parties for accuracy and I am still surprised no one else in the press or activist group has picked up on this story, as there are many interesting angles.
A recent decision by Google that unilaterally changes the way it deals with ISP partnerships jeopardizes that trust, while putting up new barriers to broadband and have some suggesting that Google’s actions are at the heart of the issues that have been brought forward in the Senate Judiciary Committee Net Neutrality hearings. Assuming the ISPs can continue with some variation of the existing program, the approximate ten times cost increase cost makes cable programming price hikes trivial by comparison.
What is Google’s motivation for discontinuing its Google Apps for Partners (TM) program? In this video interview, filmed at the 2014 NTCA Annual Meeting, WCVT’s Kurt Gruendling asks that question of Google. This is a question that many operators want to know, as none that I have spoken to want to disrupt their customers’ broadband experience; particularly when there isn’t necessarily a good replacement.
Helping with economic development for the communities they serve is part of Paul Bunyan Communications’ mission statement. Economic development is one of the motivations for PBC’s restructuring of its offering to one that is centered around an all-fiber, broadband vision. Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone, announced last Thursday, made a big splash in the news (featured on the front page of the Minnesota Star Tribune, for instance), as it is one of the first all-fiber networks to encompass such a wide area (5,000 square miles).
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, VC/hedge fund manager and author of Zero to One, was interviewed by NY Times’ Quentin Hardy on Sept 30, 2014 at the Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley event in Santa Clara, CA. While I agreed with several things Mr. Thiel said, he seems to be a man of many contradictions. Hardy said that Thiel “very richly embraces intellectual curiosity and combat.” But who is he fighting- himself?
The telco data center¹(DC) is likely to be the first place network operators deploy Network Virtualization/Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). That was the opening statement at the Light Reading conference on NFV and the Data Center, held Sept 16, 2014 in Santa Clara, CA. A network virtualized data center was defined by the conference host as a “cloudified” DC which integrates virtualized telecom network functions utilizing Virtual Network Functions (VNF) or Distributed VNFs.
This second article on Light Reading’s NFV-Data Center conference summarizes telco keynote speeches from Orange and NTT-America. We then look at security challenges and wrap up with our summary and conclusions….Christos Kolias, Sr. Research Scientist, Orange – Silicon Valley stated,“NFV can propel the move to the telco cloud. When this happens we will have succeeded as an NFV community! NFV removes the boundaries and constraints in your infrastructure. It breaks the barriers and opens up unlimited opportunities.”
ITS Fiber announced their Gigabit, symmetric Fiber to the Home offering, which they call ITS Fiber Zymmetric. Several things make this significant, including, this might be the first Gig deployment in the Sunshine State and it uses the new provisions embodied in the just modified NECA Tariff that makes it financially possible for an independent operator, like ITS Fiber, to provide the full capabilities of their FTTH infrastructure.
LA mayor wants his city to be the leader in the rollout of autonomous vehicles and has some interesting ideas to make it happen. Meanwhile, economic development officials in Iowa’s tech corridor has some ideas as to how to use its assets to become a test bed for companies wishing to get real-world testing results for autonomous vehicles. A former Environmental Defense Fund Fellow suggests autonomous vehicles will yield greater environmental benefits than electrification of the automobile. Finally, what do you get when you cross Google and Uber.
The Korner – Internet of Things, Virtualization & Efficiency
Attending three major shows and two video shoots in less than two weeks, the mind becomes clogged in a jumble of thoughts from the many presentations, sessions and hallway conversations. The NTCA Fall Conference, the SCTE Expo and the BroadbandVision conference each brought a unique perspective as to how telecom providers can stay relevant in a world where their traditional products are in turmoil.
Some common threads running through these conferences include:
The importance of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the impact of billions of sensors and control points will impact networks and bring new opportunities and challenges.
Somewhat related, is the idea of virtualization, which will allow for more efficient use of compute resources, changing the role of the headend and, of course, changing how data centers and networks are configured.
IoT and virtualization will allow businesses of all types and sizes to to do more with less. And telecom operators have the opportunity to help their customers realize the benefits of these technologies and will also be able to apply these same technologies to their businesses to improve their operations.
As Bernie Arnason, of Telecompetitor and co-producer of BroadbandVision, succinctly said, “It is going to take smart people to make smart communities.” Fortunately for the operators, there are a lot of smart people coming up with solutions that even the smallest of carriers can implement.
And fortunately for me, my trusty video camera captured many of those thoughts of these smart people. So stay tuned for videos from these events over the next few months in this publication, as well as other telecom publications.
[Note: This is a biweekly round-up of some of the articles on autonomous vehicles that elicited commentary from this author. Note, with all the buzz about autonomous vehicles, this list isn’t comprehensive.]
Los Angeles, the city that grew up around the automobile, may be the first major city to embrace the autonomous automobile. This article summarizes some of the ideas that Eric Garcetti, the mayor of the nation’s 2nd largest city, has for making his burg the capital of the autonomous transport. He suggests that the autonomous vehicle could provide a good public transportation alternative, particularly in LA’s urban core. Silicon Valley leaders, are you listening?
Meanwhile, in the heartland, the Iowa City Area Development Group, is inviting those involved in the development of autonomous vehicles to do their testing in this seven county of East Iowa known as Iowa’s creative corridor. Viewers of ViodiTV should be familiar with this area, as this region features South Slope Cooperative Communications, a Communications Service Provider with an extensive Fiber to the Home network serving much of this area (click here to watch a video about they work with the town of North Liberty, IA to spur economic development). This region is also home to the University of Iowa and the National Advanced Driving Simulator. In addition, ICAD president, Mark Nolte, points to favorable state regulation and local community proclamations that welcome the testing of autonomous vehicles as signs that this part of Iowa is a good fit for companies wishing to prove their technology in real-world conditions.
This is the first I heard of the term “Goober” to describe the resulting product that would come from a Google/Uber integration. A subscription “Transport as a Service” seems viable and would make it easy for a Google to take care of the insurance questions by “self-insuring”. Simple modeling I outlined here suggests a net savings in transport for consumers across the board, as well as a revenue significant revenue opportunity; the losers, today’s automotive ecosystem.
This article summarizes the views of a Michigan research professor and former Environmental Defense Fund Fellow regarding how autonomous vehicles have the potential to provide great environmental benefits than automobile electrification. Not that the autonomy and electrification are mutually exclusive, but things like reduction in traffic, number of cars required per capita (from a Transport as a Service model, where sharing is the norm) offer the potential for a greater reduction in total resources required to move a given number of people.
Lack of relevant content, affordability and digital literacy are the three dominant barriers to the adoption of broadband, according to the World Bank Broadband Strategies Toolkit. The Google Apps Partner Edition™ platform addresses these barriers as it is a relatively low-cost, email/communications/productivity/device management platform. The Google platform has become a platform trusted by tens of millions to manage the cyber aspects of their businesses and their lives, including this publication which has used variations of it since late 2006.
A recent decision by Google that unilaterally changes the way it deals with ISP partnerships jeopardizes that trust, while putting up new barriers to broadband and have some suggesting that Google’s actions are at the heart of the issues that have been brought forward in the Senate Judiciary Committee Net Neutrality hearings. Assuming the ISPs can continue with some variation of the existing program, the approximate ten times cost increase cost makes cable programming price hikes trivial by comparison.
A Brilliant Partnership Strategy
To help drive adoption of its platform, Google engaged ISPs and Communications Service Providers, many of which are non-profit, member-owned entities, to be value-added resellers of their Google Apps platform. These operators transitioned their customers from self-hosted or third-party email solutions to the Google Apps platform.
This approach of working with local partners allowed Google to focus on creating and keeping the platform relevant, as indicated in this post from this 2007 Google Blog post by Google product manager, Hunter Middleton:
“From the beginning, we envisioned making Google Apps available to any organization that might want to offer this innovative set of services to its employees, customers, students, members, or any other associates of the organization. Today, we’re excited to take another step in that direction by releasing a version of Google Apps specifically designed for ISPs, portals, and other service providers, whether you have a few thousand subscribers or over a million. This new version, which we’re calling the Partner Edition, makes it easy for large and small service providers to offer your subscribers the latest versions of powerful tools, like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs & Spreadsheets, without having to worry about hosting, updating, or maintaining any of the services yourself. All you have to do is point and click in the easy admin control panel and figure out what branding you’d like to layer on top of the products in order to create a customized look and feel. You can quit spending your resources and time on applications like webmail — and leave the work to our busy bees at the Googleplex.”
And the strategy worked, as hundreds of ISPs, representing what some estimate to be approximately one million subscribers signed up. By being able to private label the service, the ISPs could offer their customers state-of-the-art, ad-free email, contacts, chat, calendars, online documents, photos and more at an affordable price without having to maintain a costly infrastructure. BEVCOMM”s CEO Bill Eckles stated how it made a difference to his company and community:
“BEVCOMM has been using their [Google’s] platform through a 3rd party integrator for a couple of years. We switched from managing our email platform in-house to Google’s platform because of their reputation for being incredibly reliable. As a very small company we simply didn’t have the resources to manage a platform ourselves with the reliability people demand from email.”
With Google focusing on software, the ISP’s could focus on educating customers on how to use the many features inherent in the Google Apps products. These customers included not only residential, but schools and small businesses who appreciated the assistance that only an operator with local presence can provide. These ISPs essentially serve as the local, outsourced IT staff, freeing up resources of the small businesses to focus on their services and products.
In an email exchange, Kurt Gruendling, VP of Marketing for WCVT, a family owned, Vermont rural communications company explained how he and his colleague taught classes to more than 1,000 customers:
“I’m a big advocate for the platform and I think the Google Apps platform is very powerful and have spent a considerable amount of time teaching “Google School” classes to our customers many of whom would have never used Google Apps. We have taught over 50 on site classes and webinars throughout our territory over the past 18 months with more than 1,000 customers attending and leading them to the value of the core services in the platform that go way beyond mail.”
In addition to its investment in marketing and training, the ISP pays Google for the ongoing cost to maintain the service. The costs are variable, which is a benefit to the ISP, as they don’t have to make large upfront investments in servers and software. This allows the ISP to focus on providing higher-speed and more reliable bandwidth to their customers by bringing fiber deeper into the last-mile network, which is important for the cloud-based, Google Apps platform. Ironically, many of these rural operators deployed Fiber to the Home (FTTH) bef ore Google’s move into that business in certain urban markets, such as Kansas City, Austin and Provo.
For those operators that were too small to deal directly with Google, at least two Google Apps Partner Edition™ integrators emerged to help; Ikano and NeoNova, a subsidiary of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative. These aggregators not only helped the operators, but they helped get the word out about the Google Apps Partner Edition™ and aggressively marketed it and successfully signed up ISPs throughout the country, such as the aforementioned WCVT
10X Increase in Cost – If You Can Get It
Things were going swimmingly for the operators and their customers, then, in early 2014, operators found out that Google has plans to significantly alter its relationship with ISPs in 2015. This was a surprise and is causing operators to scramble to come up with alternative solutions. The solutions aren’t going to be simple or inexpensive, however.
Audit our email accounts to reduce the number as much as possible. Migrate the accounts to Google Apps for Business, which would be about 10 times the cost [from $0.35 to approx. $3-$4 per month that this operator is currently paying Google] per email account. Pass this cost on to consumers and prepare for a backlash.
Migrate to another solution
Based on comments from operators both in private exchanges with this author and on the aforementioned Google Forum, it is unclear whether Google Apps for Business will even be available to all ISPs.
The increased cost cited above actually is much higher on a per household basis, as the costs are on a per email account basis, so the cost to the ISP for a typical residential broadband account with 5 included email accounts would jump to $16.50 per month.
The other alternative is to switch providers. There are rumblings that some providers are looking at alternatives, such as Atmail (which interestingly just opened a U.S. office), [added 10/16/14] Hyperoffice, Microsoft Office 365, [Added 10/17/14] OX, Zimbra or Zoho. Still, there are concerns about the migration and, as WCVT’s Gruendling points out, it isn’t clear whether all of a customers “paid for” content will successfully transition, as there isn’t a one-for-one replacement for Google’s excellent product.
“There is a date when Google will delete end-user data, including documents, pictures, videos and paid-for content.”
In addition to the higher direct ongoing costs that, in the end, will be passed on to the consumer, there will also be the costs associated with making the transition. One forum commenter suggesting it could take 1 to 2 staff to focus on the transition. This is a real opportunity cost for operators with a small staffs and it means they have fewer resources for helping customers and building their broadband networks.
Bill Eckles, CEO of MN-based, rural telecommunications provider, BEVCOMM, suggested that experience suggests the transition will be challenging:
“Now that Google has decided they don’t want to maintain this program we are going to be forced to move all of our customers. The markets BEVCOMM serves are generally more rural and less affluent than [those served by] larger companies. Every time we switch email platforms it is a major undertaking trying to support our customers through the move. The last time we switched platforms 3,000 email customers opted to switch to another option not offered by BEVCOMM.”
It will be a hassle for the consumers, as it will mean reconfiguration of mail clients on PCs, phones and tablets. Special care will be necessary for the ISP’s business customers who are dealing with confidential information and regulatory compliance issues (e.g. HIPAA).
And since this transition includes documents, photos and paid-for content, it will be even more complex than the transition that the ISPs made to move their existing email systems to Google’s platforms. And many of these providers are still recovering from that move, which, for some, occurred less than a year ago.
Google – Rural America Is Calling
In a letter to Senator Leahy, WCVT characterized this as an issue of rural/urban and big/small and that the conversation will cause a multi-million dollar support issue that will affect the operators, as well as Google.
Bill Eckles of Bevcomm reinforced WCVT’s comments when he stated in an email:
“Switching email platforms is a major disruption for our customers, who really at the end of the day are Google’s customers. As far as I know Google didn’t even bother asking for input from any of the companies who are offering their email. This experience has really shown Google doesn’t seem to care about rural consumers.”
One of the big frustrations for the ISPs is that they haven’t been given a reason the program, which these ISPs want to keep, is being unilaterally changed by Google. They have made suggestions for compromise solutions, but have been unable to discuss with any of the Google staff responsible for the offering.
This action also seemingly runs counter to Google’s initiatives to make broadband ubiquitous, as its ISP partners are deploying Fiber to the Home in rural markets where Google will not be able to reach with its last-mile, fiber network.
WCVT, in its letter to Senator Leahy, provides a voice to its rural ISP brethren with its desire to meet with Google.
“We are requesting a meeting with Google decision-makers with authority and vision to establish a reasonable course of action. We need the chance, on behalf of our consumers, to sit down and discuss the impacts of this decision and to seek to work with Google to find alternative solutions rather than just having the plug pulled on us.”
These providers want to work with Google and one service provider holds out hope that those who came to rely on Google to provide critical content for their broadband networks will be able to come up with a solution that works for all parties:
“There has to be a better solution. We are committed to working with Google and hope that they don’t turn their back on rural America.”
[Editor’s Note: At the time of publication, Google has not yet provided an official response to this article, explaining why they changed the Google Apps Partner Edition™ program.]
[Added 03/25/15 & 10/16/14] Links to exclusive ViodiTV interviews with operators discussing the impact of Google’s actions on their operations and their customers:
Amin Vahdat, PhD & Distinguished Engineer and Lead Network Architect at Google, delivered the opening keynote at 2014 Hot Interconnects, held August 26-27 in Mt View, CA. His talk presented an overview of the design and architectural requirements to bring Google’s shared infrastructure services to external customers with the Google Cloud Platform.
The wide area network underpins storage, distributed computing, and security in the Cloud, which is appealing for a variety of reasons:
On demand access to compute servers and storage
Easier operational model than premises based networks
Much greater up-time, i.e. five 9’s reliability; fast failure recovery without human intervention, etc
State of the art infrastructure services, e.g. DDoS prevention, load balancing, storage, complex event & stream processing, specialised data aggregation, etc
Different programming models unavailable elsewhere, e.g. low latency, massive IOPS, etc
New capabilities; not just delivering old/legacy applications cheaper
Andromeda- more than a galaxy in space:
Andromeda – Google’s code name for their managed virtual network infrastructure- is the enabler of Google’s cloud platform which provides many services to simultaneous end users. Andromeda provides Google’s customers/end users with robust performance, low latency and security services that are as good or better than private, premises based networks. Google has long focused on shared infrastructure among multiple internal customers and services, and in delivering scalable, highly efficient services to a global population.
“Google’s (network) infra-structure services run on a shared network,” Vahdat said. “They provide the illusion of individual customers/end users running their own network, with high-speed interconnections, their own IP address space and Virtual Machines (VMs),” he added. [Google has been running shared infrastructure since at least 2002 and it has been the basis for many commonly used scalable open-source technologies.]
“Andromeda’s goal is to expose the raw performance of the underlying network while simultaneously exposing network function virtualization (NFV). We expose the same in-network processing that enables our internal services to scale while remaining extensible and isolated to end users. This functionality includes distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection, transparent service load balancing, access control lists, and firewalls. We do this all while improving performance, with more enhancements coming. Hence, Andromeda itself is not a Cloud Platform networking product; rather, it is the basis for delivering Cloud Platform networking services with high performance, availability, isolation, and security.”
Google uses its own versions of SDN and NFV to orchestrate provisioning, high availability, and to meet or exceed application performance requirements for Andromeda. The technology must be distributed throughout the network, which is only as strong as its weakest link, according to Amin. “SDN” (Software Defined Networking) is the underlying mechanism for Andromeda. “It controls the entire hardware/software stack, QoS, latency, fault tolerance, etc.”
“SDN’s” fundamental premise is the separation of the control plane from the data plane, Google and everyone else agrees on that. But not much else! Amin said the role of “SDN” is overall co-ordination and orchestration of network functions. It permits independent evolution of the control and data planes. Functions identified under SDN supervision were the following:
High performance IT and network elements: NICs, packet processors, fabric switches, top of rack switches, software, storage, etc.
Audit correctness (of all network and compute functions performed)
Provisioning with end to end QoS and SLA’s
Insuring high availability (and reliability)
“SDN” in Andromeda–Observations and Explanations:
“A logically centralized hierarchical control plane beats peer-to-peer (control plane) every time,” Amin said. Packet/frame forwarding in the data plane can run at network link speed, while the control plane can be implemented in commodity hardware (servers or bare metal switches), with scaling as needed. The control plane requires 1% of the overhead of the entire network, he added.
As expected, Vahdat did not reveal any of the APIs/ protocols/ interface specs that Google uses for its version of “SDN.” In particular, the API between the control and data plane (Google has never endorsed the ONF specified Open Flow v1.3). Also, he didn’t detail how the logically centralized, but likely geographically distributed control plane works.
Amin said that Google was making “extensive use of NFV (Network Function Virtualization) to virtualize SDN.” Andromeda NFV functions, illustrated in the above block diagram, include: Load balancing, DoS, ACLs, and VPN. New challenges for NFV include: fault isolation, security, DoS, virtual IP networks, mapping external services into name spaces and balanced virtual systems.
Managing the Andromeda infrastructure requires new tools and skills, Vahdat noted. “It turns out that running a hundred or a thousand servers is a very difficult operation. You can’t hire people out of college who know how to operate a hundred or a thousand servers,” Amin said. Tools are often designed for homogeneous environments and individual systems. Human reaction time is too slow to deliver “five nines” of uptime, maintenance outages are unacceptable, and the network becomes a bottleneck and source of outages.
Power and cooling are the major costs of a global data center and networking infrastructure like Google’s. “That’s true of even your laptop at home if you’re running it 24/7. At Google’s mammoth scale, that’s very apparent,” Vahdat said.
Applications require real-time high performance and low-latency communications to virtual machines. Google delivers those capabilities via its own Content Delivery Network (CDN). Google uses the term “cluster networking” to describe huge switch/routers which are purpose-built out of cost efficient building blocks.
In addition to high performance and low latency, users may also require service chaining and load-balancing, along with extensibility (the capability to increase or reduce the number of servers available to applications as demand requires). Security is also a huge requirement. “Large companies are constantly under attack. It’s not a question of whether you’re under attack but how big is the attack,” Vahdat said.
[“Security will never be the same again. It’s a losing battle,” said Martin Casado, PhD during his Cloud Innovation Summit keynote on March 27, 2014]
Google has a global infrastructure, with data centers and points of presence worldwide to provide low-latency access to services locally, rather than requiring customers to access a single point of presence. Google’s software defined WAN (backbone private network) was one of the first networks to use “SDN”. In operation for almost three years, it is larger and growing faster than Google’s customer facing Internet Connectivity between Google’s cloud resident data centers and is comparable to the data traffic within a premises based data center, according to Vahdat.
Logically centralized network management- a shift from fully decentralized, box to box communications
High performance and reliable distributed control
Eliminate one-off protocols (not explained)
Definition of an API that will deliver NFV as a service
While Vahdat believes in the potential and power of cloud computing, he says that moving to the cloud (from premises based data centers) still poses all the challenges of running an IT infrastructure. “Most cloud customers, if you poll them, say the operational overhead of running on the cloud is as hard or harder today than running on your own infrastructure,” Vahdat said.
“In the future, cloud computing will require high bandwidth, low latency pipes.” Amin cited a “law” this author never heard of: “1M bit/sec of I/O is required for every 1MHz of CPU processing (computations).” In addition, the cloud must provide rapid network provisioning and very high availability, he added.
Network switch silicon and NPUs should focus on:
Hardware/software support for more efficient read/write of switch state
Increasing port density
Higher bandwidth per chip
NPUs must provide much greater than twice the performance for the same functionality as general purpose microprocessors and switch silicon.
Google is leveraging its decade plus experience in delivering high performance shared IT infrastructure in its Andromeda network. Logically centralized “SDN” is used to control and orchestrate all network and computing elements, including: VMs, virtual (soft) switches, NICs, switch fabrics, packet processors, cluster routers, etc. Elements of NFV are also being used with more expected in the future.
Both essentially argue that for modern parallel computation, we need a fair amount of network I/O to keep the CPU busy (rather than stalled waiting for I/O to complete).
Most distributed computations today substantially under provision IO, largely because of significant inefficiency in the network software stack (RPC, TCP, IP, etc.) as well as the expense/complexity of building high performance network interconnects. Cloud infrastructure has the potential to deliver balanced system infrastructure even for large-scale distributed computation.
[/dropshadowbox]It’s 8:07 am and my next door neighbor, cheapskate Charlie, has been waiting outside his door for a few minutes for his ride, which is guaranteed to be at his house within a 10 minute window. He looks at his garage and is reminded that he will soon be renting it as storage space to his neighbor, Rich.
As the electric Gee-Auto arrives, Charlie notes that another neighbor, tightwad Tom, is joining him today and on their journey they will pick up parsimonious Paula. Despite sharing a vehicle with two to three people each day, the efficiency of a packet network of autonomous vehicles has reduced his average commute time from 30 minutes to 23 minutes, eliminated the need for auto insurance and given Charlie the opportunity to play his virtual piano on his morning commute, instead of focusing on the car in front of him.
Parsimonious Paula likes the Gee-Mobile service as she no longer has to rely on the discontinued and obsolete county transit. Her monthly subscription to the Gee-Mobile service is comparable to what she used to pay for a monthly transit pass and she doesn’t have to walk half-a-mile in the rain to catch a bus. It would make bringing groceries home easier, but Gee-Autos have been delivering goods directly to homes for decades.
It’s 8:15 am and across the street, just like every workday, a Gee-Auto meets my spendthrift neighbor, Rich, at his doorstep exactly as he opens his front door. He hops in the Gee-Auto and waiting for him is a morning latte, a freshly toasted bagel, along with morning news, entertainment and education tuned especially for his viewing, listening and olfactory pleasure.
Rich has a tinge of disappointment that his 15 minute commute (which used to be 30 minutes before the arrival of self-driving, always-connected vehicles) couldn’t be just a little longer, as he really enjoys this daily ritual of breakfast and relaxation in a moving pod. That disappointment is soon forgotten, as he realizes today is the day when a contractor and his team of droids will begin the conversion of his garage into a tricked-out, man-cave.
Along the way, the Gee-Auto’s speed is constantly and automatically adjusted to traffic conditions. The queuing algorithms are working especially well these days and intersections that were formerly regulated by stoplights are now sophisticated roundabouts and it will be a non-stop trip for Rich. There is one stop for the Gee-Auto transporting Charlie and that is to drop off Paula at her banana stand.
Like most days, Rich and Charlie arrive within a few minutes of each other at the Acme Anvil Company (Charlie is the CFO and Rich is in marketing). They wave adieu to Tom, who works about a half-mile away, and go about their day. In the meantime, the Gee-Auto that had transported Rich to work slips into the median, where an embedded wireless charging pod rapidly recharges the hybrid super capacitor-graphene battery system, before receiving its next assignment to pick up groceries for delivery to another Gee-Mobile subscriber.
[Note: The above scenario of an automated people mover seems ridiculous, but it wasn’t too long ago that the idea of talking to one’s phone to get directions would be absolute lunacy. The idea of an on-demand transit system providing door-to-door transport goes back to at least the mid-1970s, as the first major expansion for Silicon Valley’s public transit system was such a service, Dial-a-ride (dial-a-ride used the old school telephone to beckon a mini-bus directly to one’s residence). Dial-a-ride didn’t scale, however, as the staffing and equipment costs were greater than the traditional public transit approach of aggregating people at transit stops.]
Technology to Make the Science Fiction, Fact
Although fictional, the above story isn’t science fiction, as the technology now exists to make the above scenario real. Many companies could potentially implement such a people transport system, including car manufacturers, auto-rental and logistic companies, but it is likely to be outsiders (Amazon, Walmart, Google, etc.) that disrupt this multi-trillion dollar industry.
The focus of this article is Google and how the elements it already has in place could be stitched together to create an end-to-end, subscription (as well as Pay Per Ride) people transport service that generates tens of billions of new revenue, while building upon its existing businesses.
One of the oft-cited barriers to the autonomous car is the question of who is liable in the case of an accident (e.g., the manufacturer, the driver, etc.)? A subscription model doesn’t remove liability factor, but by taking a holistic view of the driving experience and owning the “last mile” transport method, Google could greatly reduce its exposure.
Like its cloud services, Google would have complete control over the design (ensure no single points of failure), the maintenance (no mechanical error by ensuring equipment is always up-to-date) and the software (e.g. secure it from hacking).
Further, removing the constraint of having to accommodate a driver would allow for a rethinking of a vehicle’s design (see the above video). There is no need for a steering wheel, which could change the form factor, while improving the safety of the passenger who occupies the driver seat.
The need for windows goes away and could be replaced with electronic screens, such that one could choose the environment that he wants to see (think advertising space for Google). Without windows, presumably the vehicle’s body could be made stronger (e.g. more cross-members where the windows would have been). Additionally, the seats could be placed backwards as there is no longer a need to face forward.
[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”150px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]With a 5% market share, the annual revenues could exceed $32B.[/dropshadowbox]Last week’s announcement that they have designed their own prototype car is consistent with other initiatives, like Google Fiber, where they want to control the entire experience. A custom design also reduces vehicle cost by eliminating overhead that an individual consumer normally pays when she buys a car from a dealer (which passes on the sales, marketing, engineering and other overhead costs of the manufacturer, along with the dealer costs, etc.).
Google, along with other entities, have a number of initiatives that set the stage for a subscription-based, autonomous transport system, including:
Google has proven it can create an autonomous vehicle that can drive hundreds of thousands of miles without an accident.
Google’s Waze application, coupled with their Google Maps already provides a real-time view of traffic allowing drivers to select the best route. Having a vehicle automatically make the decisions as to the best route is the next step (and safer). The more vehicles that are directed in this manner, the better, in terms of route optimization (i.e. traffic reduction); the Gee-Auto and their control become more and more like the Internet, as the underlying signaling improves the throughput of the overall transportation network.
Google, as well as Amazon and others, are investing heavily in on-demand delivery of goods. This effort is a great testing ground to understand the best routing of vehicles. As Google is wont to do, they are also building the associated apps and signaling technology via the broadband network to ensure orders are relayed through the delivery chain. If Google can prove this model with a driver, then eliminating the driver via an autonomous car makes the model work that much better.
The idea of a subscription service for a car rental isn’t new, as evidenced by the rise of ZipCarin urban areas. The autonomous car would allow this concept to spread into suburban areas, as the cars would automatically appear at the subscriber’s house [Added 12/23/14 – the idea of an on-demand, shared, last-mile car service may become reality in 2015, as Singapore is looking to open up one of its neighborhoods to such an experiment].
The concept of a relatively low-cost ($24k), electronically controlled electric pod car is close to reality with the soon to be released vehicle from LIT Motors; a small San Francisco start-up that promises to disrupt the auto industry with its Silicon Valley business model.
Building a car with screens, instead of windows, provides Google with an opportunity for more “ad-space”. This is ad-space that is not only location-aware, but location-directed (e.g. sensing the rider might be hungry for a certain food item, it would be easy to automatically reroute to one’s favorite restaurant and provide incentives for stopping at said restaurant).
A Google Fiber/Wireless backbone, although not necessary, could be tuned to off-load signaling information emanating from the vehicles peer-to-peer communications systems. These two networks (P2P vehicle and the Fiber backbone) could become an integrated central nervous system for the network of vehicles. [Added 6/6/2014] Google’s request for a Statutory Temporary Authority from the FCC for the nationwide testing of millimeter frequencies (77 GHz) looks to be part of an effort to detect objects around a car. [Added 8/25/2014] Further, the conversation on Vehicle to Vehicle communications continues with the NHSTA’s release of it’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
Tens of Billions of New Revenue – It Moves the Needle
Why would Google ever want to jump into such a seemingly tangential business model of being a Subscription Vehicle on Demand service provider? Simply, a project of this sort could move their revenue needle, produce great margins and augment their advertising business. As importantly, the notion of organizing the world’s atoms is akin to its initial mission of organizing the world’s information.
For simple modeling purposes, let’s assume the IRS reimbursement rate of 55.5 cents per mile (gas, maintenance, amortized car payments, etc.) and that the average person drives 10k miles per year (AAA estimates 59.5 to 97.5 cents per mile for 10k miles/year for a small to large sedan, respectively). That would mean $5,550 a year in transport costs per car or approximately $460 per month.
It isn’t too difficult to imagine a 3 tier subscription offering, similar to what Google is doing with their broadband offering to meet the needs of the various customer profiles:
The Parsimonious Paula Offer – $125/month – Gee-Auto guaranteed within 10 minutes – have to share with others, advertisements, plus goods delivery within 8 hours – 500 miles per month (overages apply).
The Mainstream Mary Offer – $300/month – Gee-Auto guaranteed within 5 minutes, sometimes have to share depending upon demand, limited advertisements, plus goods delivery within 4 hours – 1,000 miles/month limit (overages apply).
The Regal Rich Offer – $1,000/month – Gee-Auto is ready when the person opens their door, no sharing with others and no advertisements, plus goods delivery within 1 hour – Unlimited distance per month
Further, assume take rates of 10% for the Regal Rich offer, 40% for the Parsimonious Paula offer and 50% for the Mainstream Mary offer, the weighted average would be $300 per month per subscriber (33% less than the assumed conservative average of $460/month in transportation costs).
Assuming a 5% market share of today’s 18+ population, this would mean approximately 9 million subscribers or about $2.7B monthly or > $32B annual business, not counting any uplift to existing businesses (e.g. advertising, broadband, etc.), on-demand business (taxi-replacement business) or fleet/logistic replacement.
Because of the sharing nature of the business, Google’s costs would be lower than the IRS reimbursement rate of 55 cents/mile. Even the most expensive option in the above scenario would be shared (e.g. once a Gee-Auto pod drops off one person, it could pick up another nearby person). Assuming a sharing ratio of 1/3 (one Gee-Auto for every 3 people [8/19/2014 update – When I wrote this, the 1/3 ratio was a gut-feel guess. As it turns out, some MIT scientists using mathematical algorithms and real-data from Singapore determined that a 1/3 ratio is about right as summarized here about their white paper]), the costs, based on the IRS figures would be $153/subscriber/month (1/3 of the single driver’s cost of $460) or almost 50% gross margin ($153 costs versus $300 in revenue/subscriber); not a bad business and with $30B+ in revenue, a business that is approximately 50% of Google’s current business.
Granted, there would be significant capital costs to such an endeavor, but, because electronics and software are the significant cost components associated with the above scenario, cost reductions would more closely follow Moore’s Law than the traditional cost for building automobiles. There are also costs associated with upgrading roads, etc. that would need to be factored in as part of a capital build. Still, by building this on a city-by-city basis over time, much like Google Fiber, the capital costs would drop with each deployment. Even at $20k per vehicle, the capital costs to create 3 million vehicles would be $60B; not insignificant, but within the realm of possibility given current costs for low-end electric cars.
There are several upsides, both the aforementioned uplift to their existing businesses, as well as opportunities to reduce expenses relative to traditional transportation systems, as well as find new revenues:
Lower Insurance Costs: Google would probably self-insure, given the sheer volume of business, as well as the confidence they would have in their technology and the indemnification clauses their attorneys would include in their subscription agreements. Self insuring would remove the costs of the insurance company middleman. Additionally, given the potential improvements in safety from autonomous vehicles (Google suggests that human error causes 90% of the 1.2 million vehicle deaths each year), the effective cost of insurance would be lower than the costs for insuring human-driven autos.
Lower Operational Costs: Being all-electric, the operational costs from maintenance and fuel would be less than traditional hydrocarbon vehicles. Additionally, it wouldn’t be a stretch for Google to create a network of its own power stations (which, as alluded to in the above story, could be in medians and other non-usable areas).
Local Subsidies: At $125 per month, the Parsimonious Paula tier is more than 10% cheaper than the existing Silicon Valley public transportation option (a monthly pass on Silicon Valley’s VTA is $140). Given that public transit authorities operate bus systems at a loss, it might be cheaper for a transit authority to pay Google on a variable cost basis and retire the bus systems (particularly in suburban areas). Google probably would run the transit system without subsidies, as the political benefits of saving the local taxpayers money would outweigh the marginal revenue.
Policy Implications at the Local Level – From First Mover Advantage to Must-Have
One of the brilliant insights from the Google Fiber management team is its understanding of the importance of speed; not just speed in broadband access, but speed to market. The longer it takes to deploy Google Fiber, the higher the costs of make-ready and the more opportunity competitors have to thwart its efforts. As such, one of the most important factors in determining where they deploy Google Fiber is the willingness of local cities and agencies to work with them to smooth out the barriers to deployment (e.g. obtaining permits, rights-of-way, etc.).
The Google Fiber project has forged the sort of local relations that would be necessary to implement such a revolutionary approach to transportation. A project of this scale would require working with local government to support infrastructure improvements, such as distributed power charging stations (or some equivalent, such as solar roadways), improvements in traffic light signaling (making it more dynamic, based on real-time traffic demands or [link added 8/17/14] eliminating it as seen in this video) and other road improvements (e.g. roundabouts).
It’s not too difficult to imagine Google pursuing a nationwide competition like it did when it introduced the Google Fiber concept. If Google were to target a community with a population of 100,000 adults and assuming a 5% subscription rate, with a 1/3 ratio of vehicle per subscriber, they would be looking at 1,700 vehicles and assuming a near-term cost of $100k per vehicle, this would be a $170M investment; an amount that is pricey, but would provide a good field test and refine the commercial project, just like Kansas City did for Google Fiber (this is in the realm of possibility, as Google recently announced that they will be building 100 prototype vehiclesfor testing purposes).
Like the Google Fiber project, which received over 1,000 applications from communities of all sizes, a Gee-Auto contest would grab the attention of forward-looking cities and Google would probably have its choice of cities to pilot such a project. By staying on a city or regional basis, Google might be able to avoid the regulatory reach of some federal and state agencies. As they cross beyond county or state lines, however, the regulatory environment would become more complicated.
Assuming the above tack where Google starts local, policy makers would have many things to ponder over such an application including:
How to create an open network, such that vehicles from multiple operators can traverse the same roadway and still communicate in such a way that all operate in a seamless fashion, regardless of the underlying transport technology?
Who controls the signaling system and should that entity be a private operator (e.g. Google), a quasi-private entity or a municipal entity?
Should the entity that controls the signaling system be able to prioritize traffic, based on subscription tier, (e.g. public safety vehicles would still get first priority), etc.?
How to charge operators for the use of the roadways (e.g. pay per mile) and pay for ongoing infrastructure upgrades as well as upgrades that such a transportation system would entail?
What are the privacy implications of knowing a person’s movement at such a micro-level?
A shared vehicle society has long-term implications for local planning officials and could change how they plan for parking, design roads and the economic implications of the hollowing out of the traditional automobile trade.
The Gee-Mobile service could potentially reduce the number of parking spots at a given building. Garages in single family residences might no longer be necessary in the autonomous auto world. At night or other times of slack demand, the Gee-Auto would park itself in unoccupied locations, which wouldn’t have to be near a residence. Further, because a Gee-Auto is dynamically assigned, parking lots could be structured to eliminate the space between cars (Last-In, First-Out). Additionally, parking lots and charging stations could be located in what are currently unusable spaces (e.g. in a median).
The roads could be optimized for the autonomous vehicle. For instance, because it would be possible to create a narrower vehicle (LIT Motors, as an example), as well as pack the vehicles closer together, it might be possible to effectively create, say 3 lanes where there are two. These high density lanes could dispense with painted lines, as electronics would keep the autonomous vehicles in place. These virtual lanes would only be for the higher speed, autonomous traffic and not traditional motorists [Added 8/25/2014 – similarly the number of lanes for a given direction could be dynamically assigned, depending upon time of day – e.g. a 4 lane road might use 3 lanes for one direction in the morning and change the direction of those lanes when the traffic pattern changes in the afternoon).
The local economic impact of the reduction of traditional automobiles will be huge. Of course, gasoline taxes to pay for infrastructure go away (an issue with electric cars that need to be addressed, regardless). The bigger impact might be on the restructuring of local economies. From the local auto shop to the gas station to the car dealer to the insurance agent, the traditional automobile has a huge economic impact on a community and the lost revenue would have to be made up with new opportunities from existing and new employers.
One aspect that a local economic agency could tout when trying to get those new jobs is the superior quality of life (e.g. not having to fight traffic, lower cost of transport, freedom for senior citizens and those with physical disabilities to leave their domicile without depending upon others, etc.) Like with gigabit broadband there will be a first-mover advantage for those communities that successfully implement an autonomous vehicle network. Eventually, however, being a “Smart Transport Community” will become a must-have.
The Big Question
Although all the technological elements of the so-called Gee-Mobile service exist today and the pricing is even within striking range, the bigger barriers will probably be business model and regulatory. It looks like there is a path to a business model (particularly as autonomous vehicle costs fall). Google has proven that it can work with local governments with its Google Fiber initiative, which would be helpful in getting past regulatory concerns. The biggest question in the above story is what jobs will cheapskate Charlie, parsimonious Paula, tightwad Tom and regal Rich will be driven to in 2040?
Meanwhile – Back in the Year 2040
It’s 8:30 a.m. and, at the same time Rich and Charlie arrive at their office, I am sitting down to work from home in a virtual environment via my 10 terabit connection. Just as I am about to start, I am pleasantly surprised by the appearance of a Gee-Air, the flying drone that whisked my 113 year old mother from her engagement residence (the term retirement home was retired from the vernacular decades before), located some 60 miles away. She had decided to surprise me with freshly made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. But that’s a story for another time.
Are Google’s fiber networking efforts a small part of something that is much bigger; something that even Google may not be able to envision? That’s the impression I got from listening to a recent presentation from Google’s Milo Medin. Perhaps the network becomes a central nervous system for the sensors and machines that become part of Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity.
A step function improvement in capability is how Milo Medin described Google’s Kansas City fiber project at the February 13th IEEE ComSoc meeting in Santa Clara. That huge improvement in customer experience is in contrast to the incremental gains of MSO [Multiple System Operator] and telco broadband networks, which have much lower access speeds. Click here to read more.
The rumors that Austin will be Google’s next fiber city makes sense, given Austin’s high-tech culture and workforce. What might not be so obvious is the role their municipal utility could play in facilitating a gigabit network. Austin Energy has been an innovative; being one of the first to deploy smart meters and the associated data network. Marketing and showing the value of smart energy is one of the topics discussed with Debbie Kimberly of Austin Energy. Click here to view.
This is the second of a 2 part article on the 2013 OTTCON. The first article looked at how Pay TV providers could offer OTT content on second screen devices and also how OTT and local providers (Pay TV or ISPs) could partner together to offer OTT content to subscribers. This second article examines how video network infrastructures need to evolve to support both Pay TV and OTT content.
[Note: This article and the associated comments, which features coverage of a joint Alcatel-Lucent/Microsoft presentation, becomes particularly relevant given Ericsson’s announcement of its acquisition of Microsoft’s Mediaroom software.] Click here to read more.
Barbara Esbin of the law firm of Cinnamon Mueller provides an overview of the Aereo court case. Aereo just won a major decision last week in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. She suggests that there is a good chance that this case could go to the Supreme Court, given the Second Circuit’s split with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In December, the Ninth Circuit Court granted broadcasters’ motion for a preliminary injunction against a similar service, FilmOn (also known as Aereokiller).
Out of this seeming chaos, Esbin indicates there could be opportunities for operators to fashion various hybrid services that respect copyright laws, while providing broadband providers another way to offer their customers a video solution. Click here to view.
Congress is beginning to hear the message of the challenges small operators and their customers face with regards to retransmission consent, sports programming, program access and broadband regulation, according to Ross Lieberman of the ACA. Filmed at the 2013 ACA Summit, Lieberman gives a preview of a panel he was part of at the MTA 2013 Convention. Click here to view.
It may look like a fashion statement, but the Muse brain-sensing headband from Interaxon, allows one to control games with their thoughts; no hands or voice required. As Ariel Garten, Interaxon CEO and founder, says, it allows one to, “See inside your brain in action.”
Gartner describes how this product was built on technology developments that began a decade ago. This will be their first foray into the consumer market and is due out in September packaged with multiple brain fitness apps. A Software Development Kit is available, so as Garten suggests, “You can build whatever you can dream of,” or think of.
Couple the sort of technology produced by Interaxon with Google Glass or the Innovega’s contact lenses and one could receive information through a private screen and control things by merely thinking. This is the man-machine interaction that Kurzweil describes. Click here to view the view interview with Garten of Interaxon.
A step function improvement in capability is how Milo Medin described Google’s Kansas City fiber project at the February 13th IEEE ComSoc meeting in Santa Clara. That huge improvement in customer experience is in contrast to the incremental gains of MSO [Multiple System Operator] and telco broadband networks, which have much lower access speeds.
Medin, who is VP of Access for Google, described a Gigabit/second fiber network that eliminates the bottleneck between home and the cloud, unleashing new applications and devices both in the home and, by implication, throughout a city. Google’s incremental improvements in its construction and operations, its relatively simple offering and its grass-root marketing are as important to its success as its innovative fiber and home networking technologies.
The story of Google Fiber is pretty well-known by now; Google issued an RFI a couple of years ago to which 1,100 cities responded to be the test bed for Google’s fiber to the home project. What isn’t so well-known is that the motivation for this was the middling price/bandwidth performance of the U.S. as compared to other countries. Medin, who was a key figure in the early success of cable modems through his affiliation with @Home, suggested that, instead of complaining to government, Google decided to solve the problem. The unexpected response of so many communities was a surprise to Google and, according to Medin, an indicator of a pent-up demand.
Interestingly, government turns out to be part of the reason for their success, but not in the form of subsidies or tax breaks. The techniques Google and the local city are using to streamline the permit process and literally work together is saving an estimated 2% of the build cost. Similarly, attachment of fiber to the poles is made somewhat easier because the local utility is municipally owned.
Thanks a Bunch CEQA, No Google Fiber for California
Medin explained that anyone can use CEQA to initiate a lawsuit to block a development. He cited the example of the use of CEQA to delay the rollout of Uverse in San Francisco for years. A linchpin of Google’s approach is achieving scale at a fast-rate and the uncertainty caused by CEQA sinks their business case. And there is a business case, as Medin pointed out that the margins on broadband are as high as 95% for incumbent providers in urban areas.
To critics who suggest an infrastructure play is far afield for a “search” company, they should think again:
With YouTube and their other Google properties, Google already operates one of the world’s largest Content Delivery Networks
With a Fiber to the Home network, outside plant maintenance is almost zero, as compared to a traditional cable or telephone network.
With a gigabit connection and customized hardware, the home becomes an extension of their data centers. Although it wasn’t said in his talk, they are sure to have TR-069 or equivalent technology to allow the monitoring of devices within the home. Additionally, network managed WiFi routers integrated into each set-top will deliver a better experience than the home WiFi networks cobbled together by consumers.
Google is taking an approach that, in some ways, is reminiscent of the old Ma Bell, whereby Google designs their own equipment. From Optical Network Terminals [ONTs] to set-top boxes, Google has created devices that maximize the customer experience [a DVR that records 8 programs at once] and minimizes operational cost. Medin indicated that Google has some of the world’s best optic engineers on staff.
Unlike the days of Ma Bell, Google can work with third-party manufacturers to build what they need, allowing them to introduce devices without the overhead burden of owning factories.
Keep It Simple Marketing
As with Google’s other offerings, they are taking a brand follows product approach to their fiber product. That is, the end service is the focus on creating an offer that provides great value and a high customer loyalty/buzz factor that will essentially market and sell itself. Like Google’s approach to their search home page, Google is keeping their offer simple. Unlike the Chinese food menu of a seemingly infinite number of tiers that traditional video and broadband operators offer, Google has only three tiers:
5 Mb/s with $300 construction charge (may be amortized at $25/month for 12 months) & no recurring charges for 7 years
1 Gb/s broadband with 1 Terabyte storage For $70 per month
1 Gb/s broadband with video for $120 per month with a Nexus 7 as a remote control
These three offerings probably cover 95% of the market. Amortized over 7 years, the 5 Mb/s tier exceeds the National Broadband Plan’s minimum at a very affordable rate of less than $4 per month and serves those who can least afford broadband. The $120 per month tier includes a basic level of video that many people would like. On a dollar per bit basis, the $70 provides great value to cord-cutters, while providing a superior broadband option for those who do not want to switch their existing video providers.
Further simplifying their offering is the decision they made not to offer telephone as part of their bundle. Although this decision was made for regulatory reasons, this reduces the operational complexity of their network and minimizes the staff required to run their network. With one less complex feature to offer, their network implementation is faster. They probably don’t lose much of their Total Addressable Market, given the number of people who are either wireless only or can easily pick a VoIP service (including Google Voice, which works great with a Obihai VoIP adapter).
Like what so many independent, rural operators have done with their Fiber to the Home deployments, Google is taking a grass-roots approach to marketing. Google uses a crowd-sourcing technique to determine where to build. Instead of taking a top-down approach that focus on demographics, Google split the Kansas City market into neighborhoods. When a critical mass of people commit to service in a given neighborhood, Google builds out that area creating what they call a “Fiberhood”.
Where they build is thus dependent upon the citizens of a given neighborhood. Like the way it has marketed its other Internet businesses, Google is betting on and seeding efforts to create a viral buzz about their network. One of the more interesting developments is their retail store. Although not mentioned in a recent Wall Street Journal article about Google’s rumored jump into retail, this point of presence offers a physical location to educate potential customers and the local influencers who will help sell their neighbors on the service.
And this approach seems to be working as Medin reported that in some neighborhoods 50% of the residents are committing to Google Fiber prior to build.
Just the Beginning
A gigabit to the home with its low latency and high-speed brings the compute power of the cloud to the home; particularly when much of the content is cached locally within Kansas City. In a sense, this extends Google’s cloud platform to the home and business, such that the performance at the end point is virtually the same as what it would be in the data center. Medin hinted that 1 Gb/s is just a start. It is not too difficult to imagine the types of things that could be enabled with this sort of bandwidth, such as:
City-wide WiFi or some other wireless solution (Google has been received FCC authorization to experiment with various wireless approaches for access). City-wide wireless could offer a low-cost mobile/nomadic solution for its customers. It could also be important for autonomous transit options.
Distributed data centers – with 1 Gb/s connections, a Peer to Peer compute network (think connection of those DVRs) becomes a possibility. Why not use the computing power as well and create a virtual data center spread over hundreds of thousands of residences.
Like what Google has done with its Android and Chrome operating systems, the fiber network has the potential to enable applications from third-parties. It is possible that some of these apps might even come from existing telecom providers.
The Google fiber project in Kansas City is on its way to meeting its goal as a showcase of how low latency, Gigabit per second bandwidth can transform a city one neighborhood at a time. The fiber is really serving as a last mile nervous system that connects the seemingly disparate pieces to an ever-expanding Google ecosystem, which is where the change will really take place. Unfortunately for California residents, and particularly ironic for Silicon Valley residents, new Google Fiberhoods won’t be making their way to the Golden State anytime soon.
[Author’s Note: Thank you IEEE for the facilitating the excellent program that featured Medin as one of the speakers and thank you Alan Weissberger for your editing assistance].
Shedding light on the unique stories of the rural carriers and their impact on the heartland has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the Viodi View and ViodiTV. This month marks 10 years since the Viodi View’s inaugural issue. The articles that seem to resonate the most are those about the people of the industry. Hopefully, in some small way, we are preserving the memories those people make and the lives they touch.
Kevin Larson, of CTC in rural northern Minnesota, suggests that communities may need to form their own broadband networks, much like cooperatives were formed decades ago to bring telephone service to rural areas. In the final segment of this 4-part interview, Larson suggests that this could be an opportunity for existing telecom operators to lend management and operational experience that would help these communities in their quest for broadband. Click here to view.
Congratulations to Diane Kruse of NEO fiber for her appointment as the chairperson for the 2013 Broadband Communities Summit. In this interview, filmed at the 2010 Broadband Communities Summit, Kruse discusses the federal government stimulus and the fears some had surrounding the stimulus. She also discusses the Google fiber project which, at that point, was still a contest to see which community would be the winner. It truly is amazing that only two years later the first Google fiber customers are being activated, as this type of outside plant project often gets way-laid by non-technological considerations. Click here to read more and to view.
Alan Norman, Principal of Google’s Access Strategy group, presented the company’s plans for wireless broadband using white spaces at a Nov 2nd Wireless Symposium sponsored by Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Google wants to demonstrate that over-the- air TV and wireless broadband using white spaces can co-exist with licensed spectrum. In this article, a summary of Google’s efforts in this are given, including its trial in Capetown, South Africa, its proposal to share infrastructure among carriers and its muni-WiFi effort in Kansas City (where they are also deploying fiber to the home). Click here to read more.
In the most significant announcement since SBC acquired the old AT&T and became “the new” AT&T, the telco giant announced it will spend $14B over the next three years to expand its wireline and wireless networks under its newly coined “Project Velocity” initiative. The company wants to move to an all IP network platform, which means they’ll be phasing out TDM transmission and the PSTN. Click here to read Weissberger’s unique take and the ensuing comments on this well publicized announcement.
From multi-screen and over-the-top video to media consolidation, the technological and business landscapes have changed significantly since retransmission and must-carry rules were created by Congress almost 20 years ago. Retransmission consent and must-carry rules have remained among the most contentious and challenging for operators offering video services.
It is an honor to be moderating a webinar panel on this topic in two weeks with Chris Cinnamon of Cinnamon-Mueller, John Hane of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and Matt Polka of the American Cable Association. Email me with any questions you would like asked of these esteemed panelists. Click here for registration information.
I know this story is anecdotal at this point, but this could be significant for smart phone users and wireless carriers if a link is established between cancer and where a cell phone is carried on a person’s body.
As was alluded to in this earlier article, Olympusat announced a strategic partnership with Kit digital and Akamai,to offer Content Delivery Network (CDN), Enhanced Storage Capabilities, video transcoding and digital media players to its customers for multi-screen applications.
We all make a difference. This thought comes to mind with the unexpected and untimely passing of Warren Lee from stroke at age 50. The former CEO of NeoNova, Lee and his team spun off the DSL service from Nortel. This team had developed the multi-megabit modem service; allowing independent telcos to offer DSL services for the first time. NeoNova continued to be a pioneer in that space, becoming a managed services provider for telcos throughout the country.
Click here to read this brief memorial and associated comments about Warren and the many people he touched in the rural telecom industry.