Looks like someone ordered a barbeque.
Amazon’s PR people deserve a hearty round of applause. They dropped the perfect Cyber Monday story this Sunday evening when Jeff Bezos teased plans to build a fleet of drone helicopters that will deliver five pound packages in half an hour.
But assuming it has some remote connection to reality, the real news is what it implies about Amazon’s roadmap for expansion. Those drones are not supersonic. Even with zero time to process and pick an order, a half hour service radius of 50 kilometers would probably be an overly optimistic guess – Bezos talked about a 10 mile range. To cover a metro area, you’d need several large, well stocked, centrally located distribution centers. Which Amazon can build whether or not it resorts to drones.
In other words, Amazon is pushing its bricks and mortar presence closer to its customers, creating a physical version of a content delivery network. It’s a way of moving big box retailing into communities that have so far resisted it. Walmart has to locate its stores in places that shoppers can easily reach. Amazon, on the other hand, can put a distribution center in an industrial area where it would attract little, if any, opposition.
Such a facility would be powered by broadband. Orders, inventory, stock picking and delivery would all be managed and controlled electronically, of course. To attract a 21st century retail logistics center, industrial areas need the raw materials of the Internet: dark fiber and access to Tier 1 network nodes. That’s why California cities like San Leandro and Benicia are putting a particular emphasis on lighting up brownfield industrial properties.
Google might not be far behind, by the way. There’s already speculation that it will tie its robotic development program to its driverless car project, creating a fully automated ground delivery system. Chances of either drones or robots showing up at your door and asking you to sign for a package any time soon are slim, but slim is a huge improvement over none at all.
Kish Rajan, the head of California governor Jerry Brown’s business and economic development office, met with Monterey County officials this afternoon in Gonzales, to talk about broadband and high tech help for attracting new businesses and jobs to the area.
Peter Koht, the CEO of Santa Cruz start-up OpenCounter, gave an update on the rapid adoption by local governments of the e-government platform developed by his company. The OpenCounter concept is that integrating dozens of separate permit procedures for new businesses into a single platform can be a competitive advantage for cities. The simpler it is to start a new business, the more likely it is that new jobs will be created.
I updated the group on progress made by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) in helping to develop broadband infrastructure in the region, which includes Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. My presentation is here. One of the CCBC’s major efforts this year is to develop a set of model policies promoting broadband improvement that local agencies can consider. Koht and Joel Staker, CCBC chair and network administrator for the City of Watsonville, talked about their experience with some of the policies, including mapping broadband assets and taking advantage of opportunities to install conduit whenever street construction work is done.
Rajan seemed impressed by the progress that’s been made, and expressed support for the initiative, particularly the idea of using technology to cut red tape and make it easier to start a business, as OpenCounter does.
The event was organised by the Monterey County Business Council, and sponsored in part by the CCBC. City managers and economic development officers from Gonzales, Salinas, King City, Marina and Monterey, and the County of Monterey, attended.
If the City of Santa Clara had promised residents a free all singing, all dancing WiFi broadband service, it would be getting slammed as a failure right about now. The service it launched earlier this year has trouble with throughput to mobile devices and it really doesn’t do a very good job with streaming video.
Instead, the city is trumpeting its success. And deservedly so. According to its recent press release…
“The system is getting over a thousand more users per day than we expected during peak periods,” said John Roukema. “Even on weekends, we’re seeing around 5,000 logins a day. Santa Clara’s residents, workers and visitors have embraced the service, which is made possible by our upgrade to smart grid technology.”
Roukema is the head of Silicon Valley Power, which is what the city’s municipal electric utility is called. The free, more or less citywide WiFi system is cobbled together with SVP assets, including a fiber optic backbone that runs through much of the city, a recently upgraded WiFi-based smart meter network and the tattered remains of the failed MetroFi system, a leftover from the go-go muni WiFi days eight years ago.
When it launched, Santa Clara positioned the service as a light duty convenience when it happens to be available, and not as a lifeline utility for daily use. Check your email or take a quick look at a couple of websites: yes. Watch Netflix: no.
The average weekday user is consuming somewhere between 75 and 100 megabytes a day. If the distribution of user volume is anything like typical, there’s probably a relative handful that have figured out how to score free gigabytes, with the vast majority doing as expected and tapping the system for quick and convenient hits.
Set realistic expectations for service and deliver. Santa Clara is making muni broadband success look easy.
Assume perfect information.
The richer the country, the greater the impact and accessibility of the web, but the more intrusive governments become. The annual Web Index, compiled by the World Wide Web foundation, shows a strong correlation between high GDP and high scores on the attributes it measures. Even amid warnings from Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and the man behind the foundation, that “a growing tide of
surveillance and censorship now threatens the future of democracy”, it’s people in rich countries that are better able to improve their lives and affect the course of government via the Internet. That’s not necessarily true, though, of online freedom.
The rankings include surveillance and censorship together in a “freedom and openness” category. Although those are two different things, the effect can be the same and it’s rich countries where the latter is the greater threat, according to the report…
While developing countries, as discussed below, are most likely to resort to blocking and filtering to control online communication, thanks to Edward Snowden we now know that the developed world is far more likely to spy on such communications. It has been suggested that the knowledge that someone is tracking what you say and do online may be more likely to produce self-censorship than overt banning of certain websites.
Despite scoring high in general terms, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and South Korea are well down the list when it comes to the Index’s freedom and openness criteria. Tops in that category are Norway, Finland, Iceland, Holland and France, in that order. At the bottom are Qatar, Yemen, China and Vietnam, with Saudi Arabia coming 81st and dead last in online freedom.
New Zealand does well on all counts, ranking 5th overall and 8th in freedom and openness. It’s also reckoned as the second greatest overachiever, with its 5th place Web Index score outpacing its 23rd place GDP standing by 18 slots. Only the Philippines – 38th on the Web Index and 59th in GDP for a 21 point gap – does better.
A poor country is less likely to abuse surveillance technology because it lacks the resources. But absent legal, social and political constraints, the WWW Foundation’s report shows that rich countries will.
Puppies for a while longer.
The Firefox OS is built to run thin client HTML5 applications, which depend heavily on network connections to store data and offload processing. So far, the available applications are a promising mixed bag, at least judging by performance on the first readily available Firefox phone, the ZTE Open.
Both the Facebook and, particularly, the Twitter apps are consumer-ready, but most of the other available apps are little more than browser bookmarks that take you to a website. The included email and calendar apps work well with both Google and Apple services, and deliver a smooth user experience. The address book, though, needs a lot of help. It’ll only sync with Google contacts and it’s not well integrated with the phone – dialling directly from a contact is a clunky chore and it’s difficult to, for example, reply quickly to a phone call with a text message.
Mozilla is just one of the companies betting that HTML5 will fullfil its promise of “write once, run everywhere” apps. Tizen and Sailfish are also counting on a spontaneous wellspring of developer support as the language matures, although both of these Nokia MeeGo-descended OSes are also hoping to grow proprietary ecosystems. Jolla released its SDK for the Sailfish OS earlier this week, with a heavy emphasis on its support for Android applications.
The challenge for HTML5 developers is to find a proper balance of on-board functions and network services. Achieving acceptable performance depends on the speed of mobile broadband connections, so the speed of development will be governed, to a large degree, by the upgrade plans of carriers. With other alternative OSes available, developers might not want to wait.
Twitter top pick on Firefox app store.
The Firefox mobile operating system is clearly a work in progress, but that said, it works well enough already. I’ve been using a ZTE Open Firefox phone for three months, and can do most of the things I need to do and, as time goes on and software is released, more of the things I’d like to do.
The OS performs better than Bada, which I used for about a year on a Samsung handset. There’s more software available and it’s a snappier, less frustrating experience. On the other hand, it’s not as smooth or well stocked with apps as my two-year old LG Android phone. All three are in the same, low end price range.
The phone itself is well worth the $80 I paid for it. In its current form, it’s effectively a software developers’ kit rather than a consumer product, but even so it performs well. It also sold well – the first thousand phones were gone in hours. ZTE has been following up with purchasers, as it irons out bugs and extends the platform’s capabilities.
The Open lacks LTE connectivity, as did the unlocked Android phones that ZTE previewed at the Pepcom Holiday Spectacular in San Francisco last month. Which is a problem for developers, since the Firefox OS is built on HTML5, which in turn depends on fast connections between tiny apps and big servers.
On the consumer side, a ZTE product manager said that he didn’t think users would notice the lack of LTE on unlocked phones. Or maybe he’s just hoping they won’t. His argument was that since LTE networks are getting slammed by heavy traffic from high end phones, value conscious buyers will be happier with what he considered to be less crowded 3G bands. By that logic, though, they should be overjoyed using 2G Edge networks. Good luck with that.
Tylt Powerplant doubles up.
One of the bennies of going to events like Pepcom’s Holiday Spectacular is that people give you free stuff to review. I walked out with a Tylt Powerplant rechargeable battery pack, a simple device which turned out to perform pretty much as claimed.
About the size of a computer mouse, it stores enough juice to recharge a mobile phone, at least once and probably a couple of times depending on the size of your battery. You can use either the attached USB connector or plug in your own, or do both at once. It put out enough current to recharge my iPad 2 from flat to half full.
It doesn’t come with a wall charger, so you have to use one of your own. That requires some attention to detail – it needs a minimum of 1 amp (5 watts) to fully charge up, and it seemed to be happier with a full 2 amps (10 watts). I tried the 700 milliamp charger that came with my phone and only got about half a charge in. But it works fine at 1 amp or better. Be careful, though, plugging it into USB ports on computers or hubs – I had mixed results.
On the downside, the rubber dust cover doesn’t fit quite right, raising questions of quality control. For some unfathomable reason, the Powerplant comes with a USB cable marked “this is not a data cable”. Which earned it a quick toss into the trash – the last thing I need is to grab a connector that’s only half wired.
It’s proved useful, rescuing my phone after I forgot to plug it in one evening. With all the USB chargeable things I carry, it’s worth the additional weight. Whether it’s worth its $70 street price depends on how mission critical your gizmos are. For an event like CES where my iPad, keyboard, phone and camera have to make it through 16 hour days, I can see a payback. For every day use it might be overkill but, as I discovered, it makes a fondly remembered gift.
The FCC’s mobile broadband speed test app for Android is a hit. In its first two days, it was downloaded and installed on 30,000 devices. It’s been out now for two weeks, and its getting a 4.4 out of 5 rating on the Google Play store.
Those first two days produced 40,000 reports from all over the country. The FCC says that all 50 states and all the major carriers are represented in the data received so far. It’s proving popular with Californians. 3,500 tests were run in and around Los Angeles and 2,700 in the San Francisco Bay Area, the top two reporting regions in the country.
The free app runs in the background, periodically testing cellular and WiFi broadband connections and reporting the information – completely anonymously, the FCC claims – back to a central server. It can also be triggered and viewed manually. The app tests download speed, upload speed, latency and packet loss, then bundles the results together with location, signal strength and device characteristics and ships it all off. By default, it limits itself to using no more than 100 MB of data in a month. Users can change that setting.
So far, the FCC is not releasing either the raw data or compiled results, but at least some of that will come in time. As with the California Public Utilities Commission’s CalSpeed app, (rated 4.8 on Google Play) it should provide useful ground truth about mobile carriers’ coverage claims. So far, CalSpeed test results have shown that actual performance rarely comes close to what’s promised.
If you’re interested in the details, the source code is available on GitHub.
Hitting the road Wednesday morning turns this long Thanksgivukkah weekend into a short, 5-day week’s vacation. To help you and your co-workers make the great escape, TDA_Boulder, a small Colorado ad agency, has built a perfect online resource: the Happy Hour Virus.
You’re free. As in speech. And maybe soon as in beer!
You can select from three different screens that will make your computer look like it’s so dead that you have no choice but to duck out the door. For us Mac users, there’s an authentic kernel panic screen that includes restart instructions in English, French, Polish and German…
Sie müssen Ihren Computer neu starten. Halten Sie dazu die Einschalttaste einige Sekunden gedrückt oder drücken Sie die Neustart-Taste.
To better make your point, read the German version aloud to your co-workers. It sounds more authoritative as you’re marching out to your car.
If you have a second display, open up another browser window and click “Broken Monitor” to get a thoroughly discouraging hash of video noise. Those of you still using Windows can get the classic Blue Screen of Death…
A problem has been detected and your computer has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer.
If you click to the TDA_Boulder website instead, you’ll find they have helpful links to tools that will protect you from the dangers of combining a festive drink with social media posting, and give you a way to gauge exactly how much holiday cheer you’ve consumed.
There’s no love for Linux users, but face it, there’s little need. If you’re rocking a Linux box, you’re smart enough to break your computer yourself.
The small southern California city of Loma Linda is a company town. Its major business is health care, with five major medical facilities and as many hospital beds as homes, they say with maybe a touch of exaggeration. The bandwidth consumed by the medical sector made building a municipal dark fiber network an economic development slam dunk for the city. It then successfully took the next step of selling Internet bandwidth to homes and businesses.
The financial side of extending fiber to homes, though, is mixed. There was a significant positive return on investment for developers, but the city has yet to make the business case for fronting the money needed to retrofit existing homes.
In 2004, fiber connections and structured wiring were required in any home newly built or significantly remodelled in the city. Since 2005, 600 new homes were built and all are connected to the muni fiber network, with half choosing to buy Internet bandwidth from the city. The service is pricy by current fiber-to-the-home standards: $30 per month for 5 Mbps service, going up to $100 for 15 Mbps.
The structured wiring and fiber connection added $3,000 to the cost of a new home, according to Konrad Bolowich, Loma Linda’s IT director and fiber guru, speaking at the Inland Empire Regional Broadband Consortium’s annual meeting in Riverside last week. He said that KB Homes built two essentially identical new developments, one in the city and one a few miles away. Wired Loma Linda homes sold for $10,000 to $12,000 more than the unwired, but otherwise identical, models nearby. On top of that, sales people were able to up-sell buyers into as much as $20,000 in electronic upgrades.
On the other hand, Bolowich said the city is still trying to come up with a cost effective solution for hooking up pre–2004 homes. A pilot project cost the city between $1,200 and $1,500 each for the 36 homes connected, too much to be paid back by the additional cash flow from those customers.
It’s an interesting case study, and supports the idea that 1. home builders and, presumably but not certainly, follow-on home owners can realise a substantial return on their investment in FTTH infrastructure and 2. small-scale FTTH operators, such as cities, cannot. Even with a 50% market share.
Turn the cost of residential connections into a profitable capital investment for homeowners, and move it from public operating budgets to private balance sheets. Simple enough when you’re talking to financially sophisticated real estate developers. It’ll be tougher – sometimes impossible – to make a legitimate financial case to individual homeowners. But it’s the best hope of finding a path to muni-scale FTTH success.