Tag Archives: itu

G.fast means fiber speeds over copper, up to a point

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The point where the infrastructure collapses.

A short range, high speed technology standard for broadband over copper phone lines has been approved by the International Telecommunications Union. The G.fast standard is intended to make fiber-class speeds possible over legacy lines, with a maximum distance of 400 meters between the customer and the nearest fiber node.

Practical distances, though, are much shorter. “Service rate performance targets” – total bandwidth which can be split between up and down loads – are…

500-1000 Mb/s for FTTB deployments at less than 100m, straight loops
500 Mb/s at 100m
200 Mb/s at 200m
150 Mb/s at 250m

Bell Labs has succeeded in pushing a gigabit over 70 meters of pristine plant and 500 Mbps over 100 meters of lousy copper, using its implementation of an earlier version of the G.fast standard.

But it’s not just a transportation protocol. The G.fast standard is intended to fit typical telco provisioning processes, enabling consumer installation with shrink wrapped kit, just like DSL. It makes it easy for telcos to upgrade service levels.

With one big if.

Telcos have to be willing to extend fiber further into neighborhoods and install more nodes. In urban business districts and affluent suburbs – high potential areas, as AT&T puts it – that’s not such a big deal. Either the fiber is already built or the revenue is there for the taking, or both. With the typical AT&T node feeding 600 to 900 meters of copper, doubling fiber distances and quadrupling the number of nodes requires a very sweet business case, if AT&T is to make the investment.

Mass market deployment of G.fast technology is still a few years out. It’ll eventually be a boon to those on the high potential side of the digital divide: places where incumbents have already decided to invest. For people living where telcos let copper rot on the poles, it’s not much help.

Developing countries take the lead in global broadband adoption

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By the end of the year, 3 billion people will be on the Internet, according to the latest projections by the International Telecommunications Union. Of those, three-quarters will be getting broadband access via mobile networks (with or without wireline access, too), a five-fold jump since the end of 2008. The majority of Internet users will be in the developing world, according to the report

The new figures show that, by the end of 2014, there will be almost 3 billion Internet users, two-thirds of them coming from the developing world, and that the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions will reach 2.3 billion globally. Fifty-five per cent of these subscriptions are expected to be in the developing world.

Growth in fixed broadband subscriptions is slowing, particularly in the developed world, where the growth rate is expected to slip to 3.5% in 2014, versus 4.8% in 2011. Growth is expected to fall back in the developing world, too, from 18% in 2011 to 6% in 2014.

Regionally, Europe is doing great: 75% of Europeans are using the Internet and 78% of homes have access. Africa is lagging far behind with only 19% of people online and 11% of homes having access.

In terms of speed, the top 19 countries are all in Europe or Asia, with the U.S. coming 20th. The ITU has not released country-by-country projections for broadband penetration in 2014, but in 2012, the last year for which data is available, the U.S. ranked 32nd in households with Internet access.

The ITU is the “United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies”, and collects telecoms statistics from governments and carriers worldwide.

Bullies and nannies alike threaten Internet freedoms

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“Everything we’re talking about are threats to authoritarian regimes, and they have the votes”, said Robert McDowell, formerly an FCC commissioner and currently a thinker (or would that be a tanker?) at the Hudson Institute think tank. He was speaking at CES earlier in January. His concern is maintaining the vitality of an open Internet and everyone’s freedom to use it as they please. “A big threat to this is international regulation and governance”, he said, renewing his warning that some governments – via international organisations as well as their own efforts – want to bring online activists and entrepreneurs to heel.

It’s not just thuggish regimes clinging to power that threaten the continued prosperity of cyberspace. “Are we going to embrace the ethos that made the first digital revolution great?” asked Adan Thierer from George Mason University and a fellow think tanker, during the same panel session. “Or are we going to take a precautionary approach”, an approach, he said, that has haunted European technology and stifled its growth for years.

The next opportunity for interventionist governments of either sort to impose their own sort of order on the entrepreneurial chaos of the Internet comes in South Korea in October, when member nations of the International Telecommunications Union resume negotiations over Internet regulation. A lot depends on Tom Wheeler, the current chairman of the FCC. On the one hand, he made it clear during a wide ranging conversation at CES that he intends to play Internet referee within the domestic U.S. market. On the other, he doesn’t like the idea of governing the Internet via international treaties.

“We are strong believers in the open Internet”, Wheeler said. “Inter-governmental control of the Internet is a bad idea. Full stop”.

The world is getting smarter

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Out of 157 countries rated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 154 had a better information and communication technology (ICT) environment in 2012 than in 2011. Although some countries saw fluctuations in the usage and penetration of one technology or another, taken as a whole international and domestic connectivity is growing virtually everywhere.

The ITU publishes statistics on a range of telecoms and information technology metrics, from plain old telephone lines to home Internet subscriptions to adult literacy. Its ICT Development Index tries to blend it all together to produce annual benchmarks assessing growth in technology and information resources in countries and regions, and across the globe.

Korea topped the chart in 2012 and 2011, but unlike rankings based solely on Internet speeds and penetration, which tend to favor Asian countries, Europe dominated the top ten, with Scandinavia taking the next five places: Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway, in descending order. The Netherlands, the UK and Luxembourg came next, with Hong Kong ranking tenth. The U.S. ranked 17th, behind 11th place Australia and 16th place New Zealand, two countries that have embarked on national fiber buildout programs.

The bottom twenty countries are all in Africa. South Africa had the best rating on the continent, 84th overall but its index score of 3.95 (on a ten point scale) was well below the worldwide average. Scores for two countries in Africa – Madagascar and the Central African Republic – did not change at all from 2011 to 2012.

But only one country saw its score fall: Serbia slipped from 5.38 to 5.34, because it reported drops in both landline and mobile telephone penetration. The report did note that the decline in mobile subscribers was likely because Serbia cleaned up its numbers.

The rest of the world improved in 2012. The global average of 4.35 was five percent better than the 2011 score of 4.11. We’re heading in the right direction.

Surprisingly, UN broadband report advocates free speech and competitive markets

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Best interests. Common good. Benign intentions. And all that.

The United Nations, in particular its education, science and cultural organisation (UNESCO), has often been criticised for kowtowing to authoritarian, repressive and socialist regimes when media, markets and speech are on the table. At best, it tends to offer up meaningless generalities that offend no one.

So it was a pleasant surprise to read The State Of Broadband 2013: Universalizing Broadband, a report prepared by two UN offshoots, the International Telecommunications Union and UNESCO. Besides being a useful summary of the state of wireline and mobile broadband deployment and adoption around the world, it recommends telecommunications market liberalisation as the best way to improve infrastructure and, crucially, bring down costs for impoverished users in the developing world.

The report also delivers an unambiguous slap to governments that use their control over infrastructure to infringe on basic human rights, particularly freedom of speech…

Freedom is not the inevitable by-product of technological innovation and change. In parallel to the growth of the Internet, more controls and regulations have been applied in many countries. In many cases, these controls do not conform to international standards for justifiable limits on freedom of expression. Too often, they are not transparent, not intended for legitimate purposes, and not proportional to the types of speech they seek to limit.

The authors make a distinction between illegitimate controls on content and expression, and justifiable ones, such as those intended to safeguard children, fight spam or protect consumers. In doing so, they leave a familiar and conventionally diplomatic loophole for oppressive regimes.

But it was published by UN staff, not WikiLeaks or the Cato Institute. For an organisation where effective voting control rests with traditional surveillance states like China and Russia and born again ones like the U.S.A., it’s a remarkable document.

The Internet faces the dark side of the Force

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International telecommunications diplomacy isn't a pretty business.

“It was a little bit like the Star Wars bar scene,” said FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, as he described his experience as a U.S. representative at last month's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai.

He was part of a delegation that included private sector companies, like Google, as well as a boat load of diplomats and policy wonks. They were up against a solid wall of countries that wanted the International Telecommunications Union – a United Nations organization – to get into the business of regulating the Internet.

Despite promises that the conference wouldn't try to impose international oversight of Internet content or network infrastructure, WCIT turned into a fight over Internet governance. It pitted a handful of countries, including the U.S., that want to keep current freedoms intact, and most of the rest of the world's governments, which, for one reason or another, don't.

He was speaking on a all-star panel of WCIT participants at CES this afternoon. The group included Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virgina, congressional staffers John Branscome and David Redl, Eric Loeb from AT&T and Google's Pablo Chavez. Earlier in the day, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski weighed in.

“I think we're seeing two dangerous trends coming together. We're seeing a censorship trend as countries around the world that don't believe in freedom recognize that open communications networks are a challenge to them,” Genachowski said. “We're seeing Internet providers outside of the U.S., including in Europe, that want to solve their business model problems by changing the Internet.”

That unholy alliance almost led to a near unanimous agreement to impose internationally sanctioned government control over Internet content and networks. A last minute overreach by the Iranian government pushed several dozen countries back in the unregulated camp.

They'll try again at the next major ITU treaty meeting, scheduled for October 2014 in South Korea. McDowell calls it a “constitutional convention of the ITU” that could result in a complete re-write of the international telecommunications regulatory structure, for good or ill. The panelists agreed that the battle will continue.

“We have to be in the room, even if we're outvoted,” concluded congressman Goodlatte. “Some people will learn the hard way, but eventually they will learn.”