Tag Archives: broadband

The Weak Link

Sophisticated IP cloud app’s work only as good as the network supporting them. The greater the reliability on cloud services, the more attention your network connection should receive.

Hosted VoIP is an excellent example. By hosted VoIP, we’re referring to an IP-cloud phone service where PBX functionality resides on an application server maintained by your service provider and is usually sold on a per-user-seat basis. Typically, with hosted phone applications, your provider also bundles the network call paths over which VoIP is carried. With the refinement of VoIP core-network technology over the past decade by the likes of Cisco, Argent, BroadSoft and Sonus,  the quality of VoIP has increased substantially. For that matter, the core of major IP networks, wherein transport, signaling and hosted functions  are provided, now operates at  levels of performance  comparable to traditional TDM networks. So why is VoIP still perceived to be inferior to traditional TDM services?

One major issue with hosted VoIP is often in the local network transport   – the Internet broadband connection –  and it’s usually the easiest part of the problem to solve. The problem may be as simple as insufficient bandwidth on your connection. With voice and data converged over the same facility, it stands to reason that your bandwidth, once used just for Internet data transport, must be increased to accommodate your hosted voice traffic. Yet, even if the bandwidth is sized correctly, there will be occasion when prioritizing voice packets will be necessary when they compete with your data packets for the same broadband pipe. A split second delay in a data download is usually more tolerable (and less noticed) than a disconnected phone call, which could occur with hosted VoIP with the exact same packet delay. Packet prioritization is usually accomplished by your LAN router.

In addition to pipe size and packet priority, the type of Internet broadband that you use will also affect your hosted VoIP quality. DSL, for example, is the most popular type of high speed Internet used by small businesses. DSL, however, is supported by a contention-based network. That means your packets, prioritized and sent successfully from you LAN over your DSL connection, still have to “contend” for transport onto the Internet once they reach the other side of the local DSL facility. If the DSL aggregation point (DSLAM) is experiencing a high load of your provider’s traffic, your packets will be delayed, and your hosted VoIP call degraded. It’s often that simple.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Your network connection may be it!

The Digital Divide – A Social Problem

While Internet broadband has become a necessity for both businesses and consumers alike, for thousands of rural communities throughout the US, it’s either nonexistent or available at unaffordable rates. Government stimulus funding is helping…but not enough.

The popular media tag for the gap in broadband availability, generally between rural America and its cities, is “the digital divide.” While this divide may not be widening, it is deepening due to the proliferation of web applications in “life line” areas, such as online education, banking and investing, employment search and job application placement, phone communications via VoIP, e-commerce, and health care, all of which have transformed Internet broadband into a social necessity. And every day that goes by, rural communities are feeling the void.

The problem creating the digital divide of today is the same as ten years ago: low population density makes it economically difficult for service providers to justify building broadband networks into rural areas; the supply/demand equation is simply out of whack. And with capital being tight, the risks are too great, even with a long term optimistic model.

In response to these factors, a compelling argument can be made for federal subsidization of rural broadband, with the same economic basis as the on-going federal subsidy of rural phone lines. However, Ray Baum of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission  recently suggested that such a subsidy will not likely happen any time soon.  At the 2010 Oregon Connections Telecommunications Conference held on October 21 and 22, he reminded attendees that all government subsidies are being scrutinized and a phone-line-like subsidy for broadband would be unlikely. Later in the conference, Thomas Brown of the FCC mentioned that a recommendation has recently been made to transition universal service funds to support rural broadband, but nothing was mentioned in terms of its probability or timing.

At the same conference, a panel of telecom leaders seemed to agree that the digital divide is a “social problem” and must be addressed as such. In other words, the federal government alone will not provide the solution. The key lies largely in rural community leadership. Someone needs to take ownership and accountability within each rural community and make broadband a goal with high priority. Collaboration with telecom carriers, economic development groups, local “anchor tenants” and town residents will help to create a win/win model that mitigates the risk in broadband network investment. The panel also warned that the worst thing a rural municipality could do is place its own interests before its residents in an attempt to profit from a broadband network with the objective of a “trickle-down” effect – a model which has failed among several small and large municipalities around the country.