Email amongst Friends leads to Musings about Telecoms

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A graphic designer/illustrator friend of mine emailed to ask of my thoughts were regarding the new branding for Sportsnet due to my interest in the Canadian telecom sector. Thought I’d make some additions and edits, and turn my reply into a post.

James brought up it’s positioning vis-à-vis TSN, Canada’s leader in sports broadcasting, and some potential latent Americanization with the red, white[-ish] and blue colour scheme. I wasn’t actually aware of the re-brand being busy with school and not having TV. And as I primarily play attention to the distribution side of things instead of content, my regular news feeds didn’t have anything on it. Googling brought up a Globe & Mail article that stated it was a Hollywood firm that did the new logo but they also did SportsCentre on TSN.

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Fragmented markets, higher costs

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You would be hard pressed to find anyone unwilling to acknowledge telecoms importance in supporting economic, political and social development in both advanced and emerging countries. Shifts to knowledge-based economies and greater global integration of newly industrialized states — even agricultural economies — all benefit from increased broadband (both wired and wireless) penetration and available bandwidth, even if that benefit is currently uneven. The impacts of globalization allows for immense economies of scale that can help drive down infrastructure costs.

With LTE’s emergence as the de facto 4G infrastructure of choice over WiMax, benefits should be able to pass along to consumers but one of the remaining challenges for international travellers will be the variation of frequencies for technologies. Another, related, will be the amount of networks phones will need to support over the next little while. 2G, various 3G technologies and the new LTE-Lite (and eventually LTE-Advanced).

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Spectrum, how ‘scarce’ is it?

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With the ongoing AT&T-T-Mobile proposed merger continuing to attract a lot of attention, I’m using it as a good comparative analysis case study for spectrum politics in Canada. Especially when seen as a proxy for the assumed spectrum crunch coming due to an explosion in the usage of wireless broadband for smartphones and other devices.

The problem is, of course, while there’s definitely evidence of increased data consumption, the spectrum crunch is less clear and straightforward.

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Reflections on ‘Navigating Convergence II’

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Going through my feed reader, Mark Goldberg had pointed out that the CRTC has released a 2011 edition of the ‘Charting Canadian Communications Change and Regulatory Implications: Navigating Convergence II’ [PDF / HTML]. I’m making my way through the document and thought I’d note a couple quick observations.

According to Media Technology Monitor (MTM), 27 percent of Anglophones and 14 percent of Francophones in Canada own smartphones, up from 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively, in 2007. (pg. 14-15)

What accounts for such a growing discrepency between Anglo- and Francophone adoption of smartphones? Even amongst feature phones there seems to be quite a divide in usage patterns. One table (Figure 7, Cellphone activities of Canadian cellphone owners 18+) indicates that approximately 65% of Anglophones texted in 2010 while only around 45% of Francophones did.

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One way to speed up advanced network deployments

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While I haven’t had much chance to start on another book, I’ve been increasing the amount of telecommunications feeds to my information stream. It’s stimulating questions and areas of inquiry for me to be thinking about as I look to start classes in the fall. I’ve requested CC8940 – The Political Economy of Communication and Culture and should be joined by at least one friendly face.

While reading, I came across this story from Engadget, noting Ericsson is testing an LTE-Advanced network achieving mobile 1Gbps downloads in trials.

Not only is Ericsson cranking up the speed, it’s also endeavoring to make the new network more efficient by offering 8×8 MIMO (Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output) functionality, which enables data to be retrieved and sent faster regardless of network congestion.

Of course, these test results are taking advantage of 60MHz available bandwidth, as opposed to the global max of 20MHz and the US standard of 10.

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Spectrum Wirless Crunch

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FCC commissioner Julius Genachowski’s comments on the spectrum wireless crunch were interesting to me, if in part because Canada seems to be about 5 years behind the US in recent spectrum auctions. While we in Canada are currently preparing for a likely 2012 auction in the 700 MHz band, the US is starting to increase discussions of even more allotment as part of their National Broadband Plan, identifying 500 MHz by 2020 as necessary to meet connectivity demand.

It’ll be interesting to see how Industry Canada determines to set up our next auction rules and whether they plan to hold any aside for new market entrants, current small market share providers or retain any portion as unlicensed for innovation generation.

WiFi and community development

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Just finished reading ‘Building WiFi Networks for Communities’, [PDF] an article by Catherine Middleton and Barbara Crow. It was useful in looking at alternative models for offering mobile Internet connectivity for local communities, especially for reviewing efforts this past summer by my own municipality of New Westminster to provide WiFi hotspots.

The Fredericton eZone model is an interesting build out from municipal infrastructure.  Middleton and Crow state, “What makes this situation unique is that the municipality owns and manages the network and that these three [city employees] continue to play a key role in advocating and developing the Wi-Fi network.” It makes me curious about my hometown’s efforts with Q-Net, a dark-fibre network built to drive improved broadband Internet.

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When a standard isn’t a standard

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When I first came across this article about the roast of AT&T in a commercial for T-Mobile’s launch of the an HSPA+ “4G” network, it made me consider differences between the American and Canadian telecom industries.

The Wall Street Journal says that T-Mobile and Sprint are creating confusion with the use of 4G as a marketing term for the upgrades to their current 3G networks. According to the Journal, “T-Mobile defends its decision to brand its network as 4G, claiming it is faster—downloading data at five to eight megabits a second versus three to six megabits a second for Sprint and Clearwire.” 5-8 Mbps is supposed to be 4G?

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Questions about spectrum governance

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With the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction, I’m looking to start doing more of a critical reading on governance issues and how that impacts policy. I picked up Toward an Evolutionary Regime for Spectrum Governance – Licensing or Unrestricted Entry? [PDF] from the library. The work is put out by American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and The Brookings Institution, co-authered by William J. Baumol and Dorothy Robyn.

The text has Baumol and Robyn evaluating governance models for spectrum, comparing a market-based approach with an unlicensed commons regime. They offer pros and cons to each model and suggest a modified market approach brings the most amount of gain while minimizing negative outcomes. While the book is specifically examining the FCC, I found overall the book was helpful in thinking about the underlying models of governance that inform the Canadian policy debates that are taking place in my feed reader around ICT development.

Being economists, Baumol and Robyn present their argument largely as theoretical models with selected references to major policies to demonstrate points. Coming from a political scientist framework, I find the models to be too clean and they don’t take into account enough pragmatism. I also find some of the examples they use tend to be a bit disingenuous, employing a straw man quality.

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Security concerns with Chinese telecom companies

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This post by Andy Greenberg over at Forbes got me thinking about the intersection of legitimate security concerns and trade protectionism in the globalized nature of ICT equipment and networks. Greenberg is commenting on a Washington Post story of US Senator’s investigating a proposed sale of telecommunications networking gear sale by Shenzhen, China-based Huawei to Sprint Nextel.

Concerns about Huawei include a range of topics, “everything from close ties to Iran to IP theft, but focus on the relationship between Huawei and China’s People’s Liberation Army. Huawei chief executive Ren Zhengfei is a former Chinese military officer, and his company is often said to receive preferential treatment from the Communist Party- run government.”

Yet the movement from government/military is very common within Western countries. Mike McConnell, a retired US Navy vice admiral served as Director of the NSA in the 90s before retiring from service the first time. After a decade as Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, he returned to government service as Director of National Intelligence in the George W. Bush Administration before returning to Booz Allen.

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