Bandwidth caps: One hundred and one distractions

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When Cablevision of New York announced this week it would begin offering broadband Internet service of 101 megabits per second for $99 per month, lots of people took notice. Which was the point.

Maybe the 101-megabit product is a good experiment. Maybe it will be successful. Maybe not. One hundred megabits per second is a lot, given today’s applications (and especially given cable’s broadcast tree-and-branch shared network topology). A hundred megabits, for example, could accommodate more than five fully uncompressed high-definition TV channels, or 10+ compressed HD streams. It’s difficult to imagine too many households finding a way today to consume that much bandwidth. Tomorrow is another question. The bottom line is that in addition to making a statement, Cablevision is probably mostly targeting the small business market with this product.

Far more perplexing than Cablevision’s strategy, however, was the reaction from groups like the reflexively critical Free Press:

We are encouraged by Cablevision’s plan to set a new high-speed bar of service for the cable industry. . . . this is a long overdue step in the right direction.

Free Press usually blasts any decision whatever by any network or media company. But by praising the 101-megabit experiment, Free Press is acknowledging the perfect legitimacy of charging variable prices for variable products. Pay more, get more. Pay less, get more affordably the type of service that will meet your needs the vast majority of the time.Read More

Bandwidth and QoS: Much ado about something

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The supposed top finding of a new report commissioned by the British telecom regulator Ofcom is that we won’t need any QoS (quality of service) or traffic management to accommodate next generation video services, which are driving Internet traffic at consistently high annual growth rates of between 50% and 60%. TelecomTV One headlined, “Much ado about nothing: Internet CAN take video strain says UK study.” 

But the content of the Analysys Mason (AM) study, entitled “Delivering High Quality Video Services Online,” does not support either (1) the media headline — “Much ado about nothing,” which implies next generation services and brisk traffic growth don’t require much in the way of new technology or new investment to accommodate them — or (2) its own “finding” that QoS and traffic management aren’t needed to deliver these next generation content and services.

For example, AM acknowledges in one of its five key findings in the Executive Summary:

innovative business models might be limited by regulation: if the ability to develop and deploy novel approaches was limited by new regulation, this might limit the potential for growth in online video services.

In fact, the very first key finding says:

A delay in the migration to [British Telecom’s next generation] 21CN-based bitstream products may have a negative impact on service providers that use current bitstream products, as growth in consumption of video services could be held back due to the prohibitive costs of backhaul capacity to support them on the legacy core network. We believe that the timely migration to 21CN will be important in enabling significant take-up of online video services at prices that are reasonable for consumers.

So very large investments in new technologies and platforms are needed, and new regulations that discourage this investment could delay crucial innovations on the edge. Sounds like much ado about something, something very big. Read the rest of this entry »

Understanding leverage, volatility, and the crash

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One can critique Nobel laureate Robert C. Merton’s work on a number of fronts, from the CAPM model to his involvement with the 1998 failure of Long Term Capital Management. And he still doesn’t get to the true source of the current crisis — monetary policy and an erratic U.S. dollar. But I found this MIT lecture useful in explaining how changes in asset prices can drive both instability and volatility in a highly non-linear, pro-cyclical way and confound all the risk and economic models. Merton also offers a simple method to swap risk and improve returns using right-way contracts. (Hat tip: Gordon Crovitz.)