Internet Nutrition Labels for Broadband Shoppers

The myriad of information to sift through by customers shopping for Internet service can seem daunting at times. Download speeds, upload speeds, and those dreaded data caps all combine to confuse some consumers, especially when also considering bundles, two-year contracts, and early termination fees. Could the equivalent of a food nutrition label for the Internet make things simpler?

Internet Nutrition labels

Here at Bandwidth Place, we offer an easy to use web page where you merely enter your ZIP code to see deals from Internet providers in your area. Now the FCC hopes to make parsing through ISP information easier with voluntary labels similar to what you see on food products on a daily basis. Let’s take a closer look at these new Internet nutrition labels.

Internet Shopping Labels Still a Complex Read

A glance at a sample Internet shopping label from the following article reveals a relatively complex listing of information. The design of the label, including the font, reminds one of the nutrition label seen at the grocery store with about ten times the amount of information. The format is the result of a committee made up of consumer advocates and broadband industry groups, in addition to the FCC itself.

Under a top heading of “Broadband Facts,” similar to the “Nutrition Facts” heading on food products, the shopper is confronted with a range of information starting with monthly prices for the service, both month-to-month and two-year plans listed if relevant. Also included is the presence of a cap on monthly data and any associated overage charges or speed throttling. Other optional information can include modem and wireless router leases, installation and activation charges, as well as the presence of an early termination fee.

The “Performance” subheading contains information of interest for folks who like to run Internet speed tests before enjoying streaming rich media content using their broadband connection. Typical upload and download speeds, latency, and packet loss are detailed within. The rest of the label includes network management and privacy information as well as a number to call to complain about less than promised service levels.

New Labels Part of the FCC’s Transparency Requirement

The new labels are part of the transparency requirement instituted by the FCC in concert with their recent Net Neutrality ruling. Even though the Internet labels are voluntary, ISPs providing the labels are immune from regulatory action related to those transparency rules. The FCC noted it receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers frustrated with unexpected charges on their Internet service bills.

If it all sounds confusing Bandwidth Place is always a reliable source of information. But FCC head, Tom Wheeler, hopes the new labels help to mitigate customer complaints. “It is very straightforward. It’s very clear-cut. Hidden fees have no place to hide,” said Wheeler. Even with a large amount of information contained on the new label, the standardized look hopefully provides customers a more-informed ISP shopping experience.

Google Fiber Phone Now Part of Alphabet’s Gigabit Service

As the nationwide expansion of Google Fiber continues at a deliberate pace, the technology giant recently introduced Fiber Phone, a digital phone service option. While Google’s reasons for Fiber seem as much altruistic as competitive, enabling customers to bundle digital phone service along with Internet and TV makes perfect sense. Look no further than AT&T and Comcast, two companies also expanding their gigabit networks that typically offer bundles of the three major service offerings (Internet, TV, and Phone) to attract customers.

If your location is on the shortlist for Google Fiber, perhaps bundling Fiber Phone makes sense for your monthly budget.

Google Fiber phone

A Closer Look at Fiber Phone

Although Google hasn’t announced specific rollout plans yet, once “Phone” is added to existing Fiber markets, customers will be able to tack on the phone service to their existing package for an additional $10 per month. A glance at the feature list reveals a service not too different from Google Voice. Most importantly, you will be able to use your current landline phone (no rotaries!) and phone number, although you can get a new number if you want.

Other features include unlimited nationwide calling paired with inexpensive international rates, caller ID, call waiting, 911 service, and voicemail. The latter feature comes with transcription functionality that sends you a text or email of your messages. In short, it is a feature set typical of most digital phone services.

You are also able to use Fiber Phone both at home and when you are out, as it is able to either ring your landline or mobile phone per your request. The Cloud-based service can even call your laptop or tablet if desired. This added connectivity is a boon for those always on the go.

The Fiber Phone service comes with a small box-shaped device that resides next to your landline handset, similar to what’s provided by the digital phone over IP provider, Vonage.

How to Get in Line for Fiber Phone

As noted earlier, Fiber Phone won’t automatically become available in current Fiber cities. If you want to be notified by Google when their phone service is available in your location, simply fill out this online form. The company also promises a simple and seamless installation process whenever you subscribe.

Considering Fiber Phone shares many of same features as Google Voice, customers with the most interest in the service are probably current Fiber customers who get their landline service from another provider. Maybe Google is in it to win after all.

San Francisco Considering Municipal Gigabit Service

As many municipalities wait to be chosen as a Google Fiber city or get AT&T’s GigaPower service, some are actually going into the ISP business themselves. We talked about Chattanooga’s public gigabit service a while back, and now a similar initiative is on the drawing board in San Francisco.

San Fran

Local governments increasingly feel fiber-optic Internet service is a public utility offering many advantages to both residents and the business community. In short, they aren’t going to wait years for private sector providers to install fiber in their city. Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s Hope for City Government Gigabit

Earlier in March, San Francisco announced the creation of a government panel charged with exploring the creation of a private-public partnership to build a gigabit fiber optic Internet network in the city by the bay. This announcement is hot on the heels of the February news of a potential Google Fiber installation built in partnership with the city. San Francisco remains one of the more conspicuous absences from the “Fiber City” listing.

City supervisor, Mark Farrell, commented on the gigabit network plans. “Low-cost, high-speed Internet is the utility of the 21st century, and as the innovation capital of the world, San Francisco’s leadership on this issue should be a no-brainer,” said Farrell. “When you turn on the faucet, clean water comes out. When you turn on the light switch, the lights come on. And when you open your laptop, everyone should have access to a fast Internet connection.”

At the heart of the municipal network question is whether Internet service is a utility or an on-demand service offered by a private company. Farrell believes the former to be true and hopes to create a private-public model to build the network in the city, with an expected baseline cost to residents of $26 per month. A partnership with Google Fiber makes a lot of sense in this scenario.

The Bay Area city is using Chattanooga, whose gigabit network is run by the city’s Electric Power Board, and Kansas City’s Google Fiber installation as models for its own service. Google is also entering into partnerships with local governments in Atlanta and Huntsville, Alabama. Expect these partnerships to be a growing trend, as municipalities forego waiting on the private companies to build gigabit networks on their own.

Tennessee Government Blocking Chattanooga’s Gigabit Expansion

Recently, Chattanooga began to offer a 10 Gbps Internet service to customers for a monthly price of $299. A plan to expand the city’s gigabit service to its suburbs was blocked by a law recently passed in the Tennessee state legislature. That law was overturned by a FCC ruling, which was then appealed by the state government.

A federal court is currently hearing arguments on the case. Tennessee feels these public Internet networks make it difficult for private ISPs to compete. Ultimately, maybe the private-public partnership model works best for everyone concerned.

Stay tuned to Bandwidth Place for more news about the expansion of gigabit Internet service across the country.

The HTC 10 Smartphone — Android Finally Supporting Apple

Given the dominance of Samsung when it comes to Android smartphones, it’s hard for any other manufacturers to stand out. There’s no denying that Samsung and the iPhone are the preeminent mobile devices on their respective platforms. But the latest iteration of HTC’s smartphone line — the HTC 10 — is earning accolades for its innovation, especially from music fans.

HTC 10

Most surprisingly, the HTC 10 supports Apple’s AirPlay standard for the wireless streaming of rich media at your home. This is a first for an Android smartphone. Let’s take a look at some of its other features to see if this is a smartphone worthy of your wish list.

“The Ideal Phone for Music Lovers”

The HTC 10 offers many intriguing features aimed at attracting consumers away from their iPhones and other Android smartphones. The support for Apple’s AirPlay definitely intrigues for Apple fans less than thrilled with recent models in the iPhone line. They are now able to stream content from their Apple TV box over AirPlay with nary an issue. Performing a quick speed test before streaming video always makes sense.

Support for high-end audio also brings the potential to win the HTC 10 new consumers. This smartphone is able to record 4K video along with simultaneous 24-bit audio, something that may attract musicians looking to record gigs or in-studio performances, in addition to regular users hoping to capture their favorite band’s live set.

The built-in speaker sports both a tweeter and woofer, and the headphone amp and included earbuds are all audiophile quality. These high-end audio features all lead to PC Magazine’s hands-on review calling the HTC 10, “the ideal phone for music lovers.” AirPlay support means Apple-certified wireless speakers are also compatible with the smartphone.

Other HTC 10 Features

Like most modern high-end smartphones, the HTC 10 is a well-powered device. The 5.3-inch touchscreen is capable of resolutions up to 2560 x 1440 and 4K video support as previously noted. The HTC’s 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor also runs Samsung’s top of the line S7 smartphone. 4GB of RAM enhances the HTC 10’s performance.

A fingerprint scanner, USB-C jack, and two high-end cameras — including a 5 megapixel one for taking “selfies” — round out the feature set. Ultimately, its audio capabilities are what sets the HTC 10 apart from other smartphones with the first ever Android support for Apple AirPlay.

If you are an audio fan looking for a state of the art smartphone, the HTC 10 is a strong call. The same rule applies for those with an investment in Apple accessories, but wanting a change from the iPhone. Expect the smartphone to become available from your favorite wireless career later in April.

5G Wireless — Latency vs. Speed

The mainstream introduction of 5G wireless service looks to be around two years away. Many of the top players in technology — both from a mobile device and networking equipment standpoint — are involved in research and testing of new 5G product designs. We’ve been talking about this latest tier in mobile communications for nearly three years.

5G Wireless future

Wireless Internet service with a speed nearly rivaling the Holy Grail of “One Gig” brings with it the potential to revolutionize the industry even more than 4G. But will speed actually be the most relevant metric in this new era of mobile? Some technology experts feel latency might ultimately be as important in the 5G equation. Fortunately it is a simple process to test your latency today.

Here is a look at some of the details behind this interesting question.

What is Networking Latency?

Using its most basic definition, latency is the time between any stimulation and its subsequent response. In networking, simply consider it to be the time between making a request for data and receiving the data on your computer or mobile device. Smaller latencies give the perception of a more responsive connection.

Latencies less than 25 milliseconds are considered optimal for most applications.

Latency Can Be More Important than Speed

In a 5G wireless networking scenario — or even a fiber Internet connection — latency is very important for applications where you need to quickly see a response to your input. Home automation use-cases are one area where latency is arguably more important than Internet speed. You turn on a light using an app on your smartphone, and you don’t want to wait in the dark an extra second or two.

As AT&T continues in its 5G research, company President, Ralph de la Vega, notes the importance of latency for Internet of Things applications, especially when they involve driverless vehicles. “Autonomous cars, for example, are going to be big, but a lot of decisions that a car, or a machine has to make, are real time based. When a car has to turn it has to do it instantly, and having the network capability that allows that to happen will make this much safer in the future.”

The technology giant hopes to begin field trials of their nascent 5G technology later this summer. While the consumer applications for this technology are numerous, industrial IoT applications are also in AT&T’s future plans. The company feels low latency 5G networking offers many opportunities for innovations in areas from factories to home automation tin addition to automated vehicles.

Once 5G networking reaches the consumer mainstream in a 2018 to 2019 timeframe, it will be interesting to see if the continued rollout of fiber starts to become an afterthought. It will undoubtedly be a trend to watch from now until the end of the decade.

Can YouTube Accelerator Lessen Video Buffering?

The leading Internet video company, YouTube is testing a new product, called Accelerator, which hopes to improve the performance of their website. YouTube Accelerator recently began a testing period in the Philippines before a potential worldwide rollout with hopes of improving everyone’s streaming experience.

YouTube Acceerator

When you are traveling outside of the friendly confines of your home Internet account, trying to stream videos can be a difficult process. You perform a quick HTML5 speed test to check your bandwidth, and even with decent results, you still encounter too much buffering during video playback. Let’s see if YouTube Accelerator will come to the rescue.

YouTube Accelerator Depends on Local Caching

Accelerator’s technology concept involves caching the website’s most popular video content onto local hotspots. Any airport, popular local watering hole, or even a larger sports facility, with their own WiFi network, would benefit from this YouTube product to improve their customers’ Internet experience. Accelerator currently supports hotspots in malls and hospitals as well.

The fact the Google company only caches “popular” videos means fans of obscure 70s Lithuanian prog rock are probably out of luck when it comes to superior streaming performance. Still, caching the most viewed content should improve the performance of the rest of YouTube’s content, if only slightly.

When a user accesses YouTube from a hotspot supporting Accelerator, they are able to filter their video search results to return only the cached content. These special videos are also marked with a logo, so you know are viewing the right video. YouTube says to expect over 100,000 videos to be cached when the service goes live on an expanded basis.

Only Android App for Now

YouTube Accelerator is only available on the Android mobile operating system for the time-being. This is one of the advantages of Google owning both YouTube and Android. The company expects iOS and Windows versions of the technology to be available shortly. Here’s hoping it’s before the worldwide rollout, when and if that happens.

Check out YouTube’s website for Accelerator, where you can search for nearby hotspots and learn additional information about the service. At the time of this writing, most of the hotspot locations are in and around the Manila metropolitan area. Google promises excellent security with Accelerator, including support for the HTTPS protocol.

If Accelerator is successful once the service expands its footprint, expect other content providers to offer a similar service working with local hotspot providers. Whether or not this passes FCC muster considering the principles of Net Neutrality is unclear at this point. Expect more news on Accelerator once Google’s latest product exits its testing phase.

The Eero Internet Router Hits the Market

We talked about mesh network routers previously at Bandwidth Place. At the time, examples of this nascent technology weren’t yet available for purchase. Now the Eero Internet router has hit the market, and early reviews are trending positive.

Eero Internet Router

In short, if you live in a large house or typically have a lot of devices connected to your home network, especially in an Internet of Things scenario, wireless mesh routers help expand the range of your network. If you are interested in a state of the art wireless router to optimize your home network performance, you need to take a closer look at the Eero Internet router. It just might be the perfect companion to your Internet usage.

Eero Internet Router Features

It is important to note that Eero makes a premium mesh network router system. Individual routers cost $200 each, and the company offers a three-pack for $500. At least two routers are recommended for an extended network range, without the loss in speed typical of many older range extenders currently on the market.

One Eero router is connected to your modem, while the other units are placed throughout your residence. Locating one in the room with your entertainment center and one in your bedroom is a smart strategy for optimal wireless performance. Be sure to test your Internet speed to ensure you are getting enough bandwidth for HD video streaming, around five Mbps at a minimum.

You will also need a smartphone or tablet to run the Eero setup app, which is one of the easiest in the industry, according to reviews. A setup wizard walks you through the entire process. You’ll be online and streaming in no time.

The app lets you see at a glance all devices connected to the network and easily share login information — using a token instead of an easy to forget password — with your family and guests. It also makes it a breeze to add new routers to your network to get rid of any dead spots inside your house.

A Router with a Sleek Modern Look

The Eero routers feature a modern design philosophy, with a sleek looking white pod-like exterior. They aren’t something you want to hide in your utility room. The company recommends keeping each unit within 40 feet of each other for the best performance.

Considering its high price, the Eero isn’t for everybody. On the other hand, if you made a big investment in a home automation setup or regularly stream 4K video, spending extra for a pack of Eero routers is a smart call. As more mesh network routers become available, like the less expensive Luna, here’s hoping the overall prices will drop across the board.

A Closer Look at the Amazon Tap

Last year’s introduction of the Amazon Echo garnered some buzz in the consumer tech industry. Essentially a voice-activated, Internet-connected wireless speaker, the Echo tries to create its own niche as a net appliance suitable for your kitchen or bedroom. The increasing availability of voice-activated smart TVs lessens the need for the device in your home’s entertainment center.

Now the technology giant recently introduced the Echo’s little brother, known as the Amazon Tap. With a smaller footprint, the Tap is aimed at a mobile audience.

Amazon Tap and Sling

Will you need to worry about it consuming too much bandwidth from your wireless account? Let’s take a closer look.

A Handheld Voice-Activated Portable Speaker Set

Amazon is marketing Tap as a device for folks when on the go. As it doesn’t come with its own cellular service, Amazon expects owners to use the Tap by accessing a mobile hotspot, your own wireless account, or your home’s Internet service over WiFi. When on the go, it will be important to periodically check your Internet speed to ensure the hotspot in question provides enough bandwidth to stream music without extra buffering.

Unlike the Echo, you actually have to press a button to turn on the Tap’s voice control, thus the name of the product. This design feature was probably added to conserve battery power. Amazon promises nine hours of operation after charging it on the included docking station.

You also need to use the Alexa app to connect to the Internet. This is available for the iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire mobile operating systems. Most mobile users will also opt for the Tap Sling, available in six colors, to protect the device and enhance its portability. Additionally, the device supports Bluetooth connectivity.

Amazon Tap Delivers Sound from Dolby

The Tap houses two stereo speakers oriented opposite from each other to provide omni-directional sound with extra bass response. Dolby processing is also used to enhance the overall sound quality.

Since playing music is the device’s most obvious use-case, support for Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Pandora, and other Internet radio services is included. The Bluetooth feature means you can stream music from a mobile device. Like the Echo, the Tap’s Alexa service answers questions, similar to the iPhone’s Siri, and you can even order a pizza from Domino’s.

Is the Amazon Tap a truly revolutionary niche-busting device? Since you still need to use a mobile app to connect to the Internet, maybe a cheaper Bluetooth speaker combined with a voice-controlled iPhone or Android smartphone works better for some users. It remains to be seen if the Tap will be sold in retail stores where you can actually compare the speaker sound quality with similarly priced models from Bose or JBL.

However, if you already own a Kindle Fire and subscribe to Amazon Prime Music, the Tap is definitely something worth exploring.

Verizon Wireless Buying XO Communications’ Fiber Optic Network

While many technology pundits feel future Internet access will be primarily delivered over wireless networks, there’s no denying the extra bandwidth provided by fiber optic cable. It remains the primary reason why many cities hope Google Fiber and AT&T GigaPower come to their town soon. One gig Internet service is simply the current gold standard for home customers.

One Gbps

One company largely left out of the residential Fiber game so far is Verizon. Their FiOS service hasn’t seen significant expansion in a few years. But it looks like things may be changing as Verizon announced plans to buy the fiber optic network of XO Communications. Read further for more details on Verizon’s strategy and how it may affect the Internet providers in your city.

XO Purchase Gives Verizon More Than Fiber

Diving more deeply into the details of Verizon’s XO fiber optic network purchase reveals the move doesn’t necessarily mean Big Red is planning on increasing its residential fiber footprint. In fact, most of XO Communication’s fiber network serve businesses.

With the wireless market becoming increasingly saturated, Verizon is simply looking at other revenue sources to better compete in all markets. The existing XO network gives Verizon valuable fiber and Ethernet connectivity it can now market to business, as noted in Fierce Telecom. But there is another reason behind this XO acquisition.

Verizon Gains Access to Wireless Spectrum for 5G Testing

Part of Verizon’s XO Communications deal gives them the ability to lease LMDS wireless spectrum in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands with an option to buy. LDMS stands for Local Multipoint Distribution Service. If that seems overly technical, simply understand that Verizon wants access to those bands to facilitate testing of its 5G wireless network technology.

In fact, this is arguably the news from Verizon’s XO purchase with the greatest potential to affect how you get your Internet access. The company plans to ramp up testing of 5G with an eye at getting the technology into customers’ hands within the next 2-3 years. Verizon’s Vice President of Network Technology and Planning, Adam Koeppe commented on Big Red’s big plans.

“We see enough innovation today that’s occurring that’s going to turn into 5G to act now, and to act fast. Personally, we don’t want to wait for 2020, or even 2018. And we don’t think we need to,” said Koepp. “We don’t think we’re going out on some crazy limb here.”

In short, Verizon expects to be the first major carrier with 5G service. Needless to say, both T-Mobile and AT&T raise doubts about Verizon’s claims, worrying about network fragmentation and other issues. Stay tuned to this battle over a new wireless standard for the next two years. Maybe you will be able to test your Internet speed over a 5G network isomer than you think.

Smaller iPad Pro and iPhone SE Highlight Latest Apple Event

The big theme from March’s Apple marketing and press event focused on going smaller. A new 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the shrunken-sized iPhone SE were the highlights from Cupertino’s latest shindig.

iPad and iPhone

Technology early adopters will have to wait for news about the upcoming iPhone 7. This time out Apple focused on more evolutionary changes to their product line instead of anything truly revolutionary. Will you soon be performing Internet speed tests on a new iPhone SE? Let’s take a closer look at some of the important takeaways from the latest Apple event.

Apple Positions iPad Pro Line to Compete with Microsoft Surface Pro

Introducing a new iPad Pro with a smaller footprint is an obvious choice for Apple as it tries to bolster slowing sales of its tablet line. Increased competition from Android tablets, as well as the Microsoft Surface Pro, continues to cut into the iPad’s market share. The iPad Pro’s extra features, including a detachable keyboard and the Apple Pencil, position the tablet as a laptop replacement.

A 256GB memory option is the first time an Apple mobile device sported that much storage. The larger iPad Pro gets the same memory boost. The new iPad Pro also includes four speakers, which should please those using the tablet to stream music. An enhanced camera courtesy of the iPhone 6s rounds out the major new features.

Prices for the new iPad Pro range from $599 to $899 depending on the storage options — 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB. The keyboard is priced at $149, while the Apple Pencil costs $99.

The iPhone Gets Smaller Too

Apple’s reasoning for adding smaller devices to its product line is all about giving the customer a choice. The iPhone SE essentially packages most of the iPhone 6s functionality into a smaller phone. A 12 megapixel camera supporting 4K video, Apple Pay, and a processor with two times the horsepower of the iPhone 5S are all major features of the new Apple smartphone.

Cupertino hopes the smaller, more inexpensive phone attracts new customers to its product line and keeps current users from exploring an Android smartphone option. Both the iPhone SE and the new iPad Pro hit the market on March 31.

Other Fresh Apple News

Cutting the price of the Apple Watch to $299 and enhanced Apple TV features (Siri voice control and Bluetooth keyboard support) are two of the other major takeaways from the latest Apple Event. The newest version of iOS (9.3) is now available for download, with a Night Shift capability that changes the screen color of a device based on the time of day.

Expect the bigger Apple news to hit later this year, with the reported announcement of the new iPhone 7 smartphone.