Monday, March 30, 2009

Time for a new term?

I've been struggling to keep my head above water, which is a suitably vague explanation for the dearth of posts recently. One project I've been working on has me pondering broadband in the broadest sense. There's certainly no shortage of data to ponder, what with the newly released Akamai report, and last week's WEF Networked Readiness report and updated analysis from Point Topic

One thing I have been thinking about is the long-term viability of the word "broadband." As SamKnows has demonstrated in the UK, one man's "broadband" is another man's "dial-up" in practice. When we talk about a global average access speed of 1.5Mbps, as observed by Akamai, we're clearly a long, long way from ubiquitous broadband Nirvana for all. Still, it's faster than dial-up, so technically it's broadband. However, when I see Korea with an average speed of 15Mbps, 69% of all connections at more than 5Mbps, and 94% of all connections at more than 2Mbps, the term seems to be almost meaningless. 

"Broadband", as with terms to describe other previous technology innovations, such as the "horseless carriage" and "wireless telegraphy", currently seems to be defined more by what it isn't, rather than what it is. In a market like Korea, where virtually no narrowband exists anymore, what does broadband mean, exactly? Connected, basically. And more broadly, when a single term can be used in various markets to indicate a range of >256kbps to 1Gbps and above, isn't it essentially a nonsense? And don't even get me started on the asymmetrical vs. symmetrical connection issue. 

The video industry has been extremely successful in carving out a brand identity for HD as separate from SD TV - no one would claim that an analogue broadcast and 1080p are the same experience, though both are broadly defined as TV (okay, I know there's been a lot of marketing fudge in practice, but the standards say either it's HD or it ain't). My sense is that we need to start looking for a new term (or terms) to use in place of "broadband", both because it doesn't mean much today, and is likely to mean even less in future. 

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear any suggestions out there as to long-term alternative descriptors. Now it's time to crank up my broadband, get on the Infobahn and download some "talkies".  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Greetings from Hong Kong

This jet lag is a mo-fo, but what a place! Looking forward to catching up with my friends from HKBN this evening. Meanwhile, their ad campaign continues to deliver hilarious, but pointed, messages.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Let's peel that onion

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation and discussion with the team from SamKnows, hosted by the Broadband Stakeholder Group. In case you weren't aware of it, it's the SamKnows database which powers availability checkers on broadband consumer comparison sites and some of the sites of individual ISPs in the UK. The discussion mainly focused on the outcome of its study of broadband speeds which form the basis for OFCOM's recent report.

This involved installing Linksys WRT54G routers between the routers and modems of over 2,000 volunteer panel members. Each Linksys router was modified with a client which would run a pre-scheduled routine of diagnostic tests on a number of performance indicators at times when the panelists' networks were judged to be idle, and report this data back to home base for analysis.

The results, as seen in the OFCOM report, show a wide range of variation in maximum and average speeds beyond what could be attributed solely to loop length (pages 30 - 32). Possible explanations include everything from poor customer network configuration and wiring problems, to contention, throttling, and insuffucient backhaul provisioning.

Some of the causes could probably be inferred from the data collected by the Linksys devices, but the mandate from OFCOM was to focus on speed. I find this ironic, in that I have heard members of the OFCOM consumer panel advocating incorporating other KPIs, such as latency, in ISP performance claims and marketing.

Sadly, there was no discussion of individual ISP performance in the session, despite the fact that SamKnows obviously has a high level of insight in this regard. My reading was that OFCOM is keen to avoid this sort of disclosure, because it might somehow distort the market.

I'm intrigued by how the outputs from SamKnows' data could be married with data from other sources, such as the Measurement Lab, Akamai, Level3, and the Internet Storm Center, to build a better-rounded real-time picture of what is actually driving the quality of the customer experience. I'm sure a number of telcos and broadband service providers wouldn't want to subject themselves to that sort of scrutiny for obvious reasons.

On the other hand, if exposed to the end user community, it could also be a powerful marketing and customer care tool. Transparency of performance claims, backed up by hard evidence from a number of sources, would be a great selling point, and if customers have some visibility on what's behind their service problems, presumably they will be less inclined to bombard call centers, especially if they can see that the problem likely lies either in their own CPE/network, or on the other side of the local access network.

Anyway, the thing that really excited me was that the SamKnows team clearly wants to expand their study methodology beyond the UK. I can think of a number of readers of this humble bloglet in various markets around Europe and elsewhere who would make great local partners, so don't be shy.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Not there, but definitely not square

I unfortunately missed eComm again this year, though I remain optimistic that I will make the trek one day. Looks like my friend Martin Geddes was also unable to attend, but sent an impressive video talk, which is definitely worth your time.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A modest proposal

I have a candidate for a new question on the "Life in the UK" test:

"Identify the defining characteristic essential to survival in the UK."

The answer, among the multiple choice options, is, "An enduring and inexhaustible capacity for absorbing disappointment."