Germans See Economy Hurt by Slow Internet

Originally Appearing in The Wall Street Journal
Author: Sara Germano, August 6, 2019

The country ranks 33rd in the world by one measure of broadband connection speed; ‘too unstable, too slow’

BERLIN—Germany is looking for new ways to power its economy as the traditional growth engines of manufacturing and exports falter. But the country’s outdated internet is acting as a bottleneck.

The sorry state of the online network has become a national joke and an economic liability. Germany ranks 33rd in the world in average monthly fixed broadband connection speeds, and 47th for mobile, according to Speedtest Global Index. By comparison, the U.S. ranks 7th and 37th, respectively.

The slow speeds are hampering the digitization of swaths of industry and the delivery of products and services to consumers, causing pain for German companies such as media conglomerate Bertelsmann SE, whose portfolio includes online video producer RTL Group, music group BMG and a controlling stake in publisher Penguin Random House.

“Our business is about content and reach, and monetizing the reach,” said Chief Executive Thomas Rabe. “And if the reach is reduced by the lack of technical infrastructure, that is, of course, a problem.”

In Germany, for example, gigabyte connections—which handle more than 1,000 megabits per second—are rare. As a result, streaming ultra-high-definition video can be hit-or-miss outside big cities, with the images sometimes appearing choppy.

Playing Catch-Up
Germany’s internet infrastructure is outdated, forcing consumers to deal with download speeds that are far slower than in many other wealthy nations.

Broadband connections that are typically on average half as fast as in the U.S. can also turn a multiplayer video game into an unresponsive ordeal and limit software companies’ ability to offer cloud computing services, especially remote hosting of applications, where lag can be a significant issue.

Germany largely missed the upgrade to fiber broadband that neighboring countries deployed a decade ago, which is making a swift rollout of next-generation 5G mobile internet especially urgent, according to business leaders, economists and politicians.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that the government is committed to improving digital infrastructure over the next decade. “It will be a long time, but we have devoted ourselves to this question,” she said.

In the meantime, the consequences are felt everywhere from the German countryside, where many companies in the highly decentralized economy have their headquarters, to Berlin’s startup scene.

“Almost every one of us has had bad experiences with the internet connection…too unstable, too slow, not available everywhere,” said Thilo Grösch, a spokesman for an insurance startup who has worked at various firms in the capital for seven years. Mr. Grösch said he often had to work from home at a previous job because the office internet wouldn’t function.

Germany’s internet woes are rooted in a range of factors, according to network operators, regulators, business executives, and industry analysts.

Among them are the country’s large geographic area; an evenly spread population; decades of subdued private-sector investment; and strict fiscal rules that discourage government investment in infrastructure.

But one technical factor stands out: the reliance on copper rather than glass fiber to link end users to the fixed-line network.

“The whole problem in Germany is the lack of fiber-to-the-home strategy by Deutsche Telekom and other carriers,” said Guy Peddy, a telecommunications analyst for Macquarie Research.

Telecom giants in France and Portugal were already rolling out all-fiber networks early in the decade, in keeping with a 2010 European Union report that recommended that national carriers invest in fiber.

But Deutsche Telekom, Germany’s dominant operator, took a less costly route in 2012, upgrading its existing copper network through a technology called vectoring. The idea was to improve speed on copper cables to up to 100 megabits per second by cutting down on interference, a relatively inexpensive way to get faster internet to consumers.

At the time, Deutsche Telekom acknowledged that it would eventually have to build a fiber-based network. But Henrik Schmitz, a spokesman for the company, said it needed to rely on vectoring in order to meet a government target of 80% of households having access to download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second by the end of 2018, a target that Telekom says it will hit a year late.

Fiber would have enabled faster speeds but would have been available to just 10-to-20% of households, Mr. Schmitz said.

Many commercial customers say the vectoring approach has left them frustrated. Holger Ehrhardt, a graphic designer and IT consultant for a print media company in the state of Lower Saxony, said the firm decided to invest in its own server because fiber isn’t available and Deutsche Telekom has only been able to connect them with 25-megabit internet. “It must have something to do with the ‘antique’ lines,” he said.

In 2017, the German Federal Network Agency said vectoring wasn’t enough, and that further glass fiber cable investments were needed to hit government targets. That same year, the German ministry for transportation called for gigabit internet—download speeds ten to twenty times faster than those generated through vectoring—to be broadly available by 2025.

Deutsche Telekom responded by pledging to add up to 60,000 kilometers (37,200 miles) of fiber cable per year and to connect 90% of Germany’s surface area with 5G by 2025, offering high-speed data traffic to those places that fiber couldn’t reach in time.

Critics say Germany still isn’t moving fast enough. “It’s too slow,” Hubert Barth, the chief executive of Ernst & Young Germany, said of the gigabit internet initiative. “If you’re really world class in production, having a ranking of, say, [33rd] in working internet does not fit together with that image.”

Wi-Fi 6 is barely here, but Wi-Fi 7 is already on the way

Originally Appearing in
Author: Stephen Shankland, September 3, 2019

With improvements to Wi-Fi 6 and its successor, Qualcomm is working to boost speeds and overcome congestion on wireless networks.

Wi-Fi 6 is just now arriving in phones, laptops and network equipment. But engineers are already turning their attention to what’ll come next: Wi-Fi 7. With speeds as high as 30 gigabits per second, the next generation of Wi-Fi promises better streaming video, longer range and fewer problems with traffic congestion.

The change will come in a series of steps, beginning with improvements to Wi-Fi 6, that lay the groundwork for the expected arrival of Wi-Fi 7 in 2024.

“I’m excited about delivering a gigabit everywhere in your house, every nook and cranny,” said V.K. Jones, Qualcomm’s vice president of technology. “You’ll be at the point where wireless is faster than wired.”

In a talk and subsequent interview at Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi Day in August, Jones shared some details on how Wi-Fi 7 will work. He expects three phases of improvements over today’s Wi-Fi 6, which in technical circles is called 802.11ax.

The first expected improvement will give Wi-Fi 6 more capacity, with new airwaves that US and European governments are likely to open up for radio transmission as soon as next year. Second, an update to Wi-Fi 6 in 2022 should improve its speeds, especially for people uploading data like videos from phones or PCs. Third, and perhaps most interesting, is a collection of Wi-Fi upgrades expected in 2024 and still known only by its technical name of 802.11be.

Nobody’s quite ready to officially call that new version Wi-Fi 7. That includes the Wi-Fi Alliance, the consortium that comes up with the numbers and bestows its Wi-Fi logo on products that pass its certification tests. Heck, its program to certify Wi-Fi 6 products only begins later this year.

Still, you don’t have to be a soothsayer to see this future. The last three Wi-Fi engineering standards — IEEE 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax — have been certified as Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6, respectively. So 802.11be is a strong candidate to receive the Wi-Fi 7 label.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which develops the 802.11 standards that the Wi-Fi Alliance later certifies, is already at work on 802.11be. It’s the IEEE working group that proposed the 30Gbps speed in its project authorization request. For comparison, CNET’s tests so far have shown Wi-Fi 6 delivering a maximum of 1.3Gbps. The working group also seeks to reduce communication delays to improve performance for latency-sensitive activities like gaming.

First Wi-Fi improvement: 6GHz airwaves

The first big change is likely to come from governmental largesse. Today’s Wi-Fi uses two radio frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The US and Europe, though, are working on releasing a huge new swath at 6GHz.

“This is very juicy real estate,” Jones said of the new spectrum, predicting that it’ll quadruple speeds when you’re at work or watching a game in a stadium.

The only way devices will be allowed to use this frequency band is through Wi-Fi 6 and later versions of the technology. That means older devices won’t gum up the works. “You don’t have all these crap legacy devices hanging around that don’t really know how to share,” said Kevin Krewell, an analyst at Tirias Research.

One problem: Some telecommunications companies already use parts of the 6GHz band in specific locations. Fortunately, network engineers know where those beams run and can work around that with what amounts to a fancy map called the Automated Frequency Coordinator, or AFC.

Convincing the government this system works will be the biggest challenge for opening up the 6GHz band, says Rishi Grover, a senior director at network equipment maker CommScope.

But Jones is confident it’s a solvable problem. “We’re used to dealing with sharing spectrum,” he said. “It’s up to us to convince ourselves and the rest of the world we can protect these incumbents.”

Of course, the 6GHz spectrum will eventually fill up with traffic, too, Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay predicted. “They all talk about 6GHz as the wide open spaces: ‘You can just let your cattle run wild out there.’ The reality is that contention will fill the channel just like every other one over time,” Kay said. “Still, it’ll be nice for a while.”

Phase two: Wi-Fi’s uplink upgrade

In 2022, another change should come to today’s Wi-Fi 6, delivering promised features of 802.11ax. Specifically, expect a triple-whammy acronym, UL MU-MIMO. That stands for uplink multiuser multiple-input multiple-output. Whew!

MIMO, already built into Wi-Fi 4 and 5, takes advantage of the fact that radio transmissions sent from one device to another often take multiple paths, bouncing in different ways off things like walls, furniture and cars. By sending different data over different paths, you can get more out of the existing airwaves.

Wi-Fi 6’s first phase, arriving now, brings the multiuser upgrade, MU-MIMO, which means an access point can beam MIMO data to several devices at once. The second uplink phase will speed devices uploading data to the network.

At Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi Day, the company demonstrated UL MU-MIMO with 10 phones livestreaming a woman painting a colorful landscape. The three phones that supported UL MU-MIMO sent an uninterrupted video of her brush strokes, while the video from the other seven phones often paused for seconds at a time.

Phase Three: Wi-Fi’s better beams

That brings us to 802.11be, the Wi-Fi 7 contender likely to arrive in 2024 with another improvement to MIMO.

It’s called coordinated multiuser MIMO, or CMU-MIMO. “It’s very hard to get it to work, and it may not even make it,” Jones said, but if it does, expect another boost to Wi-Fi speed, range and traffic decongestion.

Wi-Fi 6’s MU-MIMO lets network equipment makers build access points with an eight-antenna arrangement, but 802.11be will handle 16. And that opens the door for CMU-MIMO.

The “cooperative” part of CMU-MIMO comes because all those antennas need not necessarily be on a single access point, Jones said. To improve coverage across bigger houses and businesses, the Wi-Fi industry is moving toward mesh networks with multiple access points.

Dividing those antennas among different devices would mean a better ability to send different data in different devices — “spatial resolution,” in network parlance — and thereby increasing the overall network performance, Jones said. You could imagine two access points with eight antennas each, or four access points with four each.

“When they work together they can get more out of the spectrum,” Jones said. “Spectrum is the lifeblood of all wireless systems.”

Other 802.11be changes

Also on tap for 802.11be is the ability to send data on multiple frequencies at the same time.

Today’s networks send data to devices using either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands. 802.11be will be able to use two bands at once and maybe all three, Jones said. That’s like holding three phone conversations at once — hard for a human, but not such a big deal for computers.

Then there’s an upgrade that squeezes more information into a radio signal. It’s called 4096-QAM, an improvement in quadrature amplitude modulation, a signal-handling technology. Wi-Fi 6 uses 1024-QAM. Bigger is better.

But speeding up Wi-Fi by pushing the limits of physics and engineering is tough, and Jones isn’t making any promises about what’ll actually arrive.

“We all have been through this rodeo many times,” Jones said. “We know how hard it is to get this stuff to work.”

5G can’t fix America’s broadband problems

Originally Appearing in The Verge (
Author: Karl Bode February 6 2019

Don’t expect the new generation of wireless tech to replace fiber, no matter what AT&T says

Speaking on the company’s earnings call last week, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he sees fifth-generation wireless (5G) becoming a “fixed broadband replacement product” within the next three to five years, providing consumers with faster speeds than most existing cable and DSL connections.

AT&T’s marketing department insists that the public will see “unforeseen innovation” as these networks come online. Both AT&T and Verizon have spent several years portraying 5G as an almost utopian solution to the slow speeds and sporadic availability of traditional broadband, heralding 5G as an essential cornerstone of the smart cities of tomorrow.

If 5G really could stand in for broadband, it would be filling a serious gap in American internet access. Federal Communications Commission data shows that fiber broadband remains unavailable for the majority of Americans, and there’s virtually no broadband competition at faster speeds. Both Verizon and AT&T have been repeatedly criticized (and occasionally sued) for promising fiber they don’t deliver, something often obscured by the government’s failure to adequately map broadband availability.

But experts say there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the hype surrounding 5G, especially given these same companies’ long history of unfulfilled broadband promises. While 5G will most definitely provide faster, lower-latency networks, it shouldn’t be seen as a magical cure-all for the numerous problems that plague the US broadband sector, they argue.
Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have argued in government filings that 5G hype overshadows these same companies’ long-standing failures to deploy real fiber broadband to rural and less affluent urban markets (despite billions in tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory favors), and 5G shouldn’t be seen as synonymous with the fast, reliable fiber connections these same companies should have deployed years ago.

“Absolutely no way is wireless service ever going to be competitive with high-speed wireline services,” Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the EFF, told The Verge. “The fastest speeds the industry is boasting about for the future of wireless has already been surpassed by fiber to the home years ago.”

Rural carriers have long accused companies like AT&T and Verizon of overstating 4G availability, and researchers have shown that early 5G availability is already being aggressively overstated by carrier marketing departments. History suggests that consumers should believe carrier promises of ubiquitous 5G availability only once they’ve actually seen it.

Meanwhile, most 5G marketing and press coverage tends to omit the biggest reason why 5G isn’t likely to be a perfect replacement for fixed-line broadband: price.

US consumers already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for 4G LTE access, and so far, 5G is no better. AT&T’s initial foray into 5G is not only barely available at $500 for a hot spot and $70 for just 15 gigabytes of usage (plus access fees just to connect to the network), but it’s also certainly no fixed-line replacement, especially as 4K gaming and next-generation game streaming go mainstream.

The shift to 5G also won’t address one of the biggest — but largely overlooked — reasons for high wireless prices in the United States. Large ISPs enjoy a de facto monopoly over the business data services (BDS) market, which adds a huge cost to providing wireless service. This “special access” market connects everything from cell towers to ATMs to the larger internet, and FCC data indicates that in 73 percent of geographical areas, this market is dominated by just one ISP (usually AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink).

Smaller cellular carriers have complained for years that incumbents use this monopoly power to charge egregious rates to connect their towers to the internet backbone, putting them at a competitive disadvantage and driving up rates for carriers and consumers alike.

Incompas, a trade group representing these smaller carriers, told The Verge that 5G isn’t likely to change this dynamic. “The incumbents have already raised prices on business customers via BDS lines,” the group said, “and allowing them to burn the bridge to broadband would leave millions of customers with higher bills, slower speeds and without a 5G future.”

Other experts argue that your wireless connection may soon come packed with arbitrary restrictions that have never been a problem on wireline connections. The EFF, for example, told The Verge that industry attacks on net neutrality and FCC authority open the door to all manner of aggressive pricing and network restrictions that will not only drive up your monthly bill, but profoundly change the way we use the internet for the worse.

Verizon, for example, already charges its unlimited data customers notably more money just to view content in full HD. Sprint has similarly toyed with charging users additional money to avoid the throttling of games, video, and music. And both AT&T and Verizon have explored using arbitrary usage caps and overage fees to unfairly hamstring streaming competitors.
“If the carriers adopt aggressive zero-rating plans in the 5G market as a means to charge ever higher prices, it will directly stifle the promise of faster wireless service and allow them to engage in anti-competitive practices against alternatives on the Internet,” Falcon said.

None of this is to say that 5G won’t be a generally good thing when it finally arrives at scale, something that’s not expected to happen until 2020 or later.
Early trials have resulted in speeds as high as 1.7 Gbps in the labs, and the virtualization technology accompanying the standard will make wireless networks more resilient and easier to manage. The lower latency 5G provides will make mobile network-reliant technologies simply function better. There’s no debate that 5G is a modest but important evolution.

But if there’s anything to be taken from the telecom industry’s long history of unfulfilled promises, caveats, head fakes, and outright falsehoods, it’s that sector promises should always be taken with several grains of salt. Those waiting for 5G to magically fix the worst aspects of a troubled US broadband sector — particularly, high prices — probably shouldn’t hold their breath.

Wi-Fi 6 enters steep growth phase far outpacing 5G, says IDC

Originally Appearing in Wi-Fi Now, Author: Claus Hetting (Wi-Fi NOW Chairman & CEO), May 30, 2019

The commercialisation of Wi-Fi 6 is entering a phase of steep growth and will reach more than 4.5 billion chipset shipments in 2023, said IDC Research Director Phil Solis at Wi-Fi NOW USA earlier this month. In comparison the number of 5G systems shipped will be only a few hundred million during the same period. Wi-Fi 6 chipset revenues will also exceed those of 5G, Solis said.

How will the new Wi-Fi 6 standard fare during the next few years? According to Phil Solis, Research Director at IDC, Wi-Fi 6 will replace legacy Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) systems at a record pace, completely superseding Wi-Fi 5 by 2023. “Wi-Fi 6 is the most flexible Wi-Fi standard ever, spanning from simpler, low-cost chips to more complex, high-end solutions,” Phil Solis said.

Phil Solis revealed fresh Wi-Fi market data at this year’s Wi-Fi NOW USA conference and expo in Washington DC earlier this month. Solis also said the overall Wi-Fi chipset market is expected to continue on a growth trajectory of 5-7% a year while Wi-Fi 6 proceeds to chew big bites out of the legacy Wi-Fi 5 market. The Wi-Fi 6 replacement of 802.11n will proceed more slowly, he said.

Wi-Fi 6 is of course already widely recognised as a big market opportunity. But what may come as a surprise to many is that Wi-Fi 6 chipset revenues are expected to exceed even 5G chipset revenues towards 2023, Solis said. Meanwhile IDC projects that system shipments for all cellular technologies will exhibit a growth rate of close to zero during the next four years.

Phil Solis also said another new Wi-Fi standard – presumably (but unofficially) to be named Wi-Fi 7 – will enter the markets at around 2023. Wi-Fi 7 will support the use of any spectrum from zero to 7 GHz, include full duplex transmit & receive, expand channel sizes, and introduce massive MIMO.

Wi-Fi chipset shipment forecast by IDC towards 2023.

Six Steps to a Successful Smart Building IoT Device Deployment

Originally Appearing in Connected Magazine, Author: Urvashi Verma, May 9, 2019

The Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics are rapidly transforming the commercial real estate industry. Advancements in IoT technology are enabling an unprecedented level of device connectivity.

Today, everything from our smartphones, HVAC and lighting systems, appliances, elevators, and access control are linked together using IoT to create truly intelligent buildings. By 2022, more than $82 billion will be spent on IoT-based sensors and devices designed for industrial, retail and office buildings, according to Memoori research firm.

As IoT technology plays an increasingly significant role in the commercial real estate sector, building owners and landlords will need to consider adopting these technologies if they want to remain competitive with peers.

However, with the plethora of options available today, vetting these technologies can be confusing. Here are the top five things that property managers should to do prepare their buildings for IoT technology-enabled smart building devices and sensors.

1. Outsource to an expert.
Hire the most experienced, well-recommended contractor, consultant, integrator or IoT vendor to guide you through this process.

2. Double down on optical fiber infrastructure.
The performance of any device or building system depends on the underlying network of optical fiber. A robust optical fiber backbone enables all the systems installed in the building — including cellular, Wi-Fi and networks of wireless systems, IoT devices and sensors — to communicate and operate efficiently.

Ample optical fiber and CAT6 cabling are the two most important requirements to ensure that your building is truly future proof. In response to the increasing demand for smart building devices and sensors, more developers of smart buildings are doubling the availability of optical fiber.

Developers of Miami’s Panorama Tower, the tallest building on the East Coast south of Manhattan, has tripled their optical fiber cabling and installed separate fiber networks to the tower’s security and building automation systems to manage anticipated demand for smart building devices and sensors in the future.

Without ample fiber, it’s impossible to future proof your property to meet the future demand from occupants and smart building devices for speed, data transmission and capacity.

3. Assess your existing building systems.
It’s essential to assess your building’s existing HVAC, lighting, security, fire control, building automation, plumbing, and in-building cellular systems to identify which ones need to be updated first. Determine which areas are most dated and will yield the greatest tenant satisfaction while giving you the highest return on investment. It’s important to consider how IoT technology can add to the experience of your customers, both tenants and occupants.

4. Create a comprehensive smart building automation plan.
Building owners who want to adopt smart building technology should make a comprehensive plan which includes both their short-term outcomes and long-term goals, according to Darlene Pope, Global Head of Smart Buildings and Digital Workplace Experience at WeWork. While it may not be feasible to implement the entire project at one time, it is important to lay out all your objectives and goals.

Having a plan to ensure what you are putting in today will work within the long-term, and knowing where you want to be three to five years down the line will help you better vet solutions, Pope says.

It’s also important to make sure that your internal IT team and key stakeholders from human resources, finance, facilities management, leasing/sales, and other departments are a part of the planning process from day one and remain actively involved in the vetting process for solutions. It’s through their feedback that you will be able to better understand the kinds of solutions which will work best for both your tenants and your building.

5. Look for IoT platforms that demonstrate real value.
As the number of The Internet of Things (IoT) platforms continues to multiply, it’s important to think about how you are going to get and use the data from these platforms and applications. Make sure that your IoT platforms are fully configurable with a software platform architecture that can simultaneously and asynchronously act on any type of information from any device, storage, or streaming source.

It’s useless to put in an IoT smart building solution if you can’t pull or process the data in real-time. It’s also important to ensure that the platforms can easily integrate with other systems if needed so you can add on other solutions and applications as needed over time. One thing to keep in mind is whether the platform uses a connectivity solution which offers a path towards migration to 5G. If not, it may not be the best choice for your building in the long-run.

6. Experiment with one system at a time.
It’s best to start small and install one system at a time. Start with one large conference room or auditorium, install sensors for activation of lights in the parking garage, or update your HVAC systems. Once you have deployed a few small-scale solutions, you will be able to determine the return on investment and you will also have feedback from occupants and tenant regarding the technology. This way, if you need to tweak a solution or add something, you can do so without having to completely rip and replace everything, saving both money and time.