Tag Archives: microsoft

FCC proposes new map-based collection method for broadband availability reports

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The ever increasing volume of complaints about the accuracy of broadband availability data published by the Federal Communications Commission is producing results. In August, the FCC will vote on a proposal to require Internet service providers to submit electronic map data that shows where they offer service, at what speeds it’s offered and which technology it uses.

The current data sets are based on census block reports, with a census block reckoned as served at a given speed level if one home or business within it can get that level. As a result, estimates of how many people have access to acceptable broadband service are overstated and communities that should be eligible for broadband infrastructure and service subsidies are shortchanged. Sometimes the overestimates are substantial. When taken at face value, the result can be highly embarrassing to a public agency, as the FCC learned earlier this year when it blindly accepted inflated reports of fiber to the home service in the northeast U.S.

The FCC’s proposed new method should improve the accuracy of the data, but it’s an open question as to whether it will be more (or less) useful for detailed broadband availability analysis. One advantage of census block-based reporting is that it matches up cleanly with the wealth of data collected by the federal census bureau. New methods will have to be developed to estimate the number of people and households within a reported service area, as well as all the other data the census bureau offers to broadband analysts, such as household income and education levels.

Another question is how long the transition will take. The FCC didn’t set a deadline for development of the internal systems needed to submit and process the data, although it did say that the new data would have to be submitted six months after it’s ready to accept it. That’s just the first step, though. Once the new data is in hand, it has to be evaluated and published by the FCC, and then assessed by other agencies that use it to make broadband infrastructure subsidy decisions, such as the California Public Utilities Commission and the federal agriculture department.

In the meantime, ISPs will have to continue submitting broadband availability data the old way.

FCC doesn’t swallow broadband map spam, but still does an availability victory dance

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Carmen miranda 625

The Federal Communications Commission re-did its annual analysis of broadband availability in the U.S., after a broadband advocacy group and Microsoft separately called bullshit on the first version. But it’s not backing away from its claim that “significant progress has been made in closing the digital divide in America”.

Free Press is the broadband advocacy group that spotted a truckload of map spam when the FCC pushed out a press release in February, claiming broadband “is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis”. That claim was based on availability data submitted by Internet service providers, including one – BarrierFree – that smeared gigabit service claims over 100% of the census blocks in eight states.

Those reports were apparently removed – the latest press release only said that “a company submitted drastically overstated deployment data” – and that did change the numbers. But it didn’t change the FCC chair Ajit Pai’s conclusion that “we are closing the digital divide”, based on analysis that apparently shows an increase of nearly five million households with access to the federal agriculture department’s benchmark broadband speed standard of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. That’s also the minimum that the FCC says is needed for access to what it says are “advanced services” and everyone else calls plain, old service.

There is still reason to doubt this new conclusion. The FCC’s data submission specifications inherently result in over reporting: if one customer in a census block can get a broadband connection at, say, 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up, then the entire census block is flagged as having access to that level of service. The reality, though, is often dramatically different, as Microsoft demonstrated with actual usage data it collects.

The FCC hasn’t addressed that problem yet. It’s probably too much to expect anything other than mindless boosterism from this FCC’s publicity machine. But we might get a clearer picture when the full report is finally approved by commissioners and released publicly.

Microsoft’s rural broadband gamble might have millions of winners

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The rural/urban broadband divide is deep, according to a report by Microsoft. For people living and working in rural areas, it’s confirmation of what they already know, but it’s valuable nonetheless. Microsoft’s critique of the available data – and the 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speed standard – is a useful corporate counterweight to the claims made by AT&T and Frontier, which are the telcos receiving the lion’s share of federal broadband subsidies for 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up service in rural California.

The report highlights the annual coverage data submitted to the Federal Communications Commission by Internet service providers. The latest numbers show that 25 million people in the U.S. lack access to what Microsoft calls “a broadband-speed connection to the internet”, i.e. 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up. Of those, 19 million people live in rural communities – 31% of the U.S. rural population.

California has 1.2 million unserved rural residents, representing 54% of our rural population, according to Microsoft.

But the FCC data probably overstates broadband availability, Microsoft says…

Data that Microsoft collects as part of our ongoing work to improve the performance and security of our software and services for customers provides additional evidence that the FCC overestimates broadband usage in the United States. While the FCC reports that 92 percent of Americans have access to broadband, our data indicates that the number of people who connect to the internet at 25 Mbps is probably closer to 49 percent. Largely rural states including West Virginia, Alaska, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Mississippi that rank among the lowest for broadband access according to the FCC are also among the lowest in our data.

Microsoft’s solution is its “Airband Initiative” which, the company says, is aimed at “harnessing unassigned broadcast spectrum known as TV white spaces to bring broadband connectivity to 2 million unserved rural Americans”.

That spectrum is in the 700 MHz range, which is better able to propagate over rural distances and cut through foliage and other obstructions, but also carries less data than more finicky higher frequency bands. That’s the reality of wireless engineering trade offs: there are no magic solutions, only different – and valuable – tools in the kit.

So far, Microsoft has invested in eight companies – including Cal.net in California – that plan to eventually reach about 1.1 million unserved people via fixed wireless service. Microsoft is not releasing actual subscriber or availability data, or disclosing how much it’s investing, though.

The initiative is not philanthropy on Microsoft’s part (nor should it be). The investments might or might not generate a direct return, but the “royalty-free access to…patents and sample source code related to TV white spaces technology” that Microsoft is also contributing could be significant. Using white spaces without interfering with TV broadcasts requires a central frequency coordinator, such as Microsoft or Google, another contender for that role.

The more rural households that Microsoft’s partners serve, then the greater the adoption of Microsoft’s core technology and the better the chance it has of cornering the top spot in that market. If that strategy works, everyone wins. If it doesn’t, Microsoft loses.

Just so.

Windows mobile suffers the Blue Screen of Death, Microsoft moves on

by Steve Blum • , ,

Microsoft is done with the mobile operating system business. The man in charge of Windows 10, Joe Belfiore, announced the end of the mobile version in a tweet. Like Bill Gates, Belfiore switched to Android.

Current Windows mobile users – both of them – will continue to get security updates and other tweaks, but development of the system has ended. The market just wasn’t there, Belfiore tweeted…

We have tried VERY HARD to incent app devs. Paid money.. wrote apps 4 them.. but volume of users is too low for most companies to invest.

According to IDC, a research company, it was a very small volume indeed – three one-thousandths of a percent – 0.03% – of the global market in the second quarter of 2017. Put another way, out of every 100,000 phones sold from April through June, only three shipped with Windows mobile installed. That’s despite Microsoft’s best efforts and megabucks. Even buying Nokia and making its own phones didn’t help.

Android and Apple’s iOS own the market. Blackberry is making Android phones. Sailfish and Tizen are barely handing on. Tizen is making a place for itself as an embedded operating system for consumer electronics devices; Sailfish is struggling to find a niche as a super-secure platform for the terminally paranoid.

There’s a good article by Vlad Savov in The Verge that tells of all the things Microsoft did right – not least, the tiled, flat user interface it introduced was picked up by web developers and became a design staple.

But the one thing it couldn’t shake was the perception that Windows is your grandfather’s operating system and Microsoft is the Ninth Circle of cubicle hell. Developers preferred to live under Apple’s ultra cool fascism or jump in the Android mosh pit dug by Google. Likewise, handset makers found a comfortable home in the relatively open Android environment.

Microsoft already turned down the path of becoming a platform-agnostic service provider. Now it can accelerate the pace, and push ahead in the mobile market without the distraction of Windows.

Microsoft discovers Google’s business model in spectral gaps

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Me too.

Microsoft’s TV white space broadband initiative is many things – a worthy effort to expand Internet access, a way of squeezing more useable bandwidth out of finite radio spectrum, a call to action for rural economic development and, as willingly acknowledged, a business opportunity.

It is also a foray into the market economics of free software. White space is the gaps between active television channels, which vary according to where you are in relation to whatever TV stations might be around. The proposed solution to this spectrum management problem is active management via databases run by private companies. Like Microsoft.

Or like Google. Which opened up its database to all comers four years ago. Microsoft’s answer, which is wrapped in a well articulated but completely ordinary white paper about rural broadband access, is to offer up its intellectual property in a similar manner…

Our Rural Airband Technology Program will make our U.S. patents available under a royalty-free license to all comers, including to our competitors, for any work they undertake to stimulate broadband access through TV white spaces. These patents help tackle common problems associated with TV white spaces in a variety of ways…

Microsoft’s database-driven TV white spaces technology has continuously been improved through the use of machine learning that populates, maintains, and improves the content of the database, and cloud-based analytics to respond to database queries that, for example, leverages prior spectrum assignments for particular devices.

Google went from a Silicon Valley garage start up to being (at times) the world’s most valuable company by amassing vast quantities of data, giving away software that can make efficient use of it and then making gigabucks as the resulting traffic passed through – and made detours into – its servers.

In that context, its open access white space venture was nothing remarkable. And from that perspective, neither is Microsoft’s. Except that, well, it’s Microsoft. Welcome to club.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft follow Ford’s vertical integration path

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Another big, transpacific fiber cable is now lit. Less than two years after it was announced, the FASTER consortium has completed construction of a link between Bandon, Oregon and two landing sites in Japan, with a further extension to Taiwan. The group’s membership includes Google as well as several Asian telecoms companies, including China Mobile International, China Telecom Global, Global Transit, KDDI and Singtel. NEC built it.

Google is taking one-sixth of the capacity, 10 terabits per second out of a total of 60 Tbps.

Ten terabits per second is a lot of bandwidth, but it’s consistent with Google’s current consumption. Companies with major web platforms are investing in transoceanic cables, as well as domestic middle fiber capacity, because their internal data transport needs are on the same scale as the big, common carrier telecoms players. Facebook, Microsoft and Telefonica are investors in the planned Marea cable between Spain and Virginia, which will have nearly three times the capacity of the FASTER link. Construction on that project is expected to begin in August.

The distinction between a web platform and a traditional telecoms company is becoming increasingly irrelevant – when you send a message via Gmail or respond to a Facebook post from the other side of the world, it’s transported primarily on internal networks.

It’s simple vertical integration. When a company’s needs scale up to a certain point, it makes economic sense to own a resource rather than buy it. It’s no different than car companies, like Ford, that jumped into the steel business a hundred years ago.

Microsoft doesn’t offer a plausible proposition to the mobile world

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The’s more to mobility than moving around the conference room.

This week’s coming out party for Windows 10 confirmed Microsoft’s slow shift from a shrink wrapped products company to a service provider.

The company will not execute that strategy quickly enough or effectively. To be a universal platform for desktop and mobile computing means mobile telecoms carriers and manufacturers will have to make a major shift away Android and adopt the Windows operating system and all the cloud services that surround it.

It’s true that there’s grumbling about Android. Samsung continues to develop the open source Tizen operating system and is introducing it into product categories that are still in the early adopter stage and lack a market consensus on standards – smart TVs are a good example. But that discontent is driven by Google’s role in managing the open source Android platform, and not particularly by defects in the system.

If smart phone manufacturers or carriers are queasy about Google’s arm’s length control of Android, do you honestly believe they’re going to rush into Microsoft’s embrace? Even if Windows was the ultimate mobile operating system – and it’s not by a long shot – it’s still a closed, proprietary system owned and developed by a company with a poor record of playing well with others.

One of the (relative) innovations announced on Wednesday was a plan to provide Windows as a service – manage the operating system on user devices in real time, at least to the extent of pushing out updates. There’s no reason it would stop there, though. The concept works great for a vertically integrated company like Apple, but would be a nightmare for third party manufacturers.

Tying a world of cloud services to the OS is even more problematic. The pitch to carriers and manufacturers becomes: hey, if you put Windows on your phones, you won’t have to worry about the hassle of selling all those pesky add on services and upgrades. Right.

One stop shopping for computing services might appeal to the corporate and institutional IT managers with whom Microsoft already has a relationship. The Samsungs and T-Mobiles of the world won’t be interested.

The Blue Screen of Death is still deadly, but only for Microsoft

by Steve Blum • ,

Microsoft’s cloud platform – Azure – had a stormy week, but the silver lining is that the company isn’t shying away from the necessary pain involved in transforming itself from a shrink wrapped software hawker to a computing services provider.

The 11 hour outage was the result of a poorly done system update. At the risk of taking a cheap shot, that’s the kind of glitch that the Windows operating system – and its predecessors – have routinely experienced for more than 30 years. To a large extent, those past problems were unavoidable – information technology grew so explosively that every day was a step into the unknown. Like everyone else, Microsoft engineers had no choice but to make it up on the fly.

But Microsoft’s near-monopoly in the desk top world also played a role. There was nowhere else for system administrators to go and no choice but to plow through whatever problems came with the updates.

It’s a different world now. Cloud computing is, in most respects, a commodity service. The cost of switching from one platform to another isn’t zero, but it isn’t an insurmountable barrier, either. If Amazon and Google are up and running, Microsoft can’t afford to simply shrug its shoulders when the Blue Screen of Death stares out at millions of users all at once.

Slowly but surely, Microsoft is learning how to live in a competitive marketplace. Another encouraging sign is the decision to let Microsoft Garage – a semi-independent corporate hacker space – develop apps for any platform. If Microsoft wants to remain relevant, R&D has to respond to the demands of a competitive and heterogenous market, not serve the demands of Windows and Office. The message seems to be getting through.

Microsoft won’t win consumer hearts by appealing to IT minds

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Suit, check. Hair cut, check. Mojo, oops.

You have to give Microsoft credit for trying. It was a distant third (or fourth or fifth or worse, depending on how you count) in the mobile operating system and smart phone races coming into the CTIA trade show in Las Vegas. No matter what happened, it wouldn’t narrow the gap significantly leaving it.

But if it ever wants to matter in the mobile world it has to start changing perceptions, and CTIA is a good place to begin. So when Stephen Elop took the keynote stage yesterday, a few short hours after Apple’s iPhone 6/Apple Watch extravaganza, he needed to demonstrate, by example, that Microsoft can make and sell things consumers or, indeed, anyone other than an IT professional, want.

He failed.

It’s hard not to look like a dweeb by comparison when you come on stage after an Apple mega-event, but Elop – Microsoft’s executive vice president in charge of devices, including Nokia products – would’ve done no better if he’d followed a Caterpillar tractor roll out.

His biggest clunker came while trying to explain Microsoft’s Digital Life positioning. The idea is to convince consumers to integrate Microsoft products and services into their daily, non-working lives like they have with iTunes and iPhones. The best example he could come up with was using Microsoft technology to have a “meeting” with a daughter who’s just gone off to college. At least he had the grace to look a little embarrassed and do the “air quotes” thing when he said “meeting”.

Microsoft has good products that fit well in an enterprise environment. Elop needed to explain why that’s a competitive advantage in the consumer world. He might have simply misread his audience: assumed he was talking to fellow IT guys rather than mobile execs who weave together phones, apps, content, services and networks into mass market selling propositions. Or it might just be the best Microsoft can do.

Job cuts show Microsoft CEO is serious about new direction

by Steve Blum • , ,

Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has gotten it right. His 10 July 2014 email to Microsoft employees set out a clear path forward for the struggling giant and this week’s announced layoffs of 18,000 employees turned that vision from clear into ruthless. Which is the only way the company will survive as a major tech player in the 21st century.

Star legacy businesses – Windows OS, Office productivity software, Xbox – will survive, but primarily as stepping stones to cloud and mobile services, which are intended to reach customers regardless of whether they’re using Microsoft products…

All of these apps will be explicitly engineered so anybody can find, try and then buy them in friction-free ways. They will be built for other ecosystems so as people move from device to device, so will their content and the richness of their services – it’s one way we keep people, not devices, at the center. This transformation is well underway as we moved Office from the desktop to a service with Office 365 and our solutions from individual productivity to group productivity tools – both to the delight of our customers.

He seems to have adopted a two-pronged strategy: keep making Windows phones and tablets, and Xbox consoles, but ensure that any significant software, service or content that works on them will perform seamlessly and equally well on Apple, Android and other devices. He put his finger right on the key problem he’s faced with, which is that the scarcest resource is a customer’s attention span.

Apple’s strength is an ethos that says make it elegant, but first make it work. Nadella might or might not get around to making Microsoft elegant – a tall job, to put it most mildly – but he grasps that the “stuff” he sells has to work. Which means delivering maximum satisfaction with minimum differences and learning curves across a universe of platforms, devices and operating systems.

The Microsoft of 20 and 30 years ago had the youthful fire to take on a job like that. If Nadella can rekindle it, he will succeed. The job cuts he’s making shows that he intends to.