Posts tagged Cheaper
If the lack of broadband competition in your state is keeping your community down, President Obama has your back. On Tuesday, he called on the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on state laws that prevent cities and towns from building their own networks, and thus providing citizens potentially faster and less expensive alternatives to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.
“Laws in 19 states—some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors—have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity,” reads a White House statement announcing a new report on community-based broadband solutions. “President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband, formally opposing measures that limit the range of options available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure, including ownership of networks.”
Obama will outline his plan Wednesday in Cedar Falls, Iowa, one of the cities that built its own broadband network offering Internet speeds nearly 100 times faster than the national average. This is the second time since November that the president has called on the FCC to make major changes in rules regarding the Internet. Last year, he strongly advised in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service.
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With one hand, Google cuts. And with the other, it connects.
That’s the ongoing story of Google Cloud Platform, the company’s set of products and services for developers looking to host and run apps over Google’s sprawling Web infrastructure.
On Tuesday, Google executive Joerg Heilig kicked off its second Google Cloud Platform Live event with more price cuts across a range of services from computing to storage. (Last month, Google cut prices on Google Compute Engine, a flagship cloud-computing service, by 10 percent.)
ReadWrite predicted that 2014 would be a year of cloud price cuts, and Google and archrivals Microsoft and Amazon have delivered. The bottom line for consumers and businesses: cheaper computing, faster creation of new services by startups and big companies alike, and more migration to the cloud.
Google’s Head In The Cloud
Google has the advantage of spreading its costs across the same infrastructure that runs Google search, YouTube, and other staggeringly large Web services. But it has another key advantage over Microsoft and Amazon: its network.
Google is now allowing customers to connect directly to its network or connect through carriers like Verizon and Level 3 and data-center operators like Equinix, and will introduce access over virtual private networks next month. GigaOm’s Barb Darrow points out that that will help Google win over “risk-averse business customers” who might otherwise prefer services from Amazon or IBM.
Add to that Andromeda, the networking software ReadWrite has called “Google’s secret weapon” in the war against Amazon and Microsoft. Andromeda simplifies the management of the often-complex networking configurations of cloud servers—and thus improving their performance. Google updated Andromeda in October to make it even faster.
Amazon, long the leader in cloud computing thanks to its early start in the business, is unlikely to stand still. Expect more Amazon price cuts and service updates next week at Re:Invent, its annual conference for Amazon Web Services customers.
Lead photo of Google executive Joerg Heilig by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite
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Pebble announced Tuesday that its smartwatch has officially become a bona fide activity tracker—and an affordable one at that.
Last year, its PebbleKit software developer kit gave app makers access to the device’s accelerometer. Now that effort has born fruit with a new breed of more robust fitness-tracking watch apps from partners Swim.com and Jawbone, as well as a new watch app update from Misfit.
This news alone might appeal to fitness buffs, but Pebble—the little Kickstarter startup that sparked the recent smartwatch trend—had another announcement that could give this news a major boost: a steep price cut, starting at just $99.
So for a starting price that costs less than many standalone fitness trackers or smartwatches, customers can have both in one device
Track This, Quantified Selfers
Several existing Pebble apps promise some fitness-tracking features, but they’ve been a bit half-baked. Some merely channel and display details from a companion smartphone app. Others use the accelerometer, but are roughed out and can only run when the relevant Pebble app has been launched.
Not so with the new Pebble-sanctioned troika of quantified fitness. They can—and in some cases, must—run in the background continuously to work optimally.
As the name suggests, the Swim.com app tracks swim workouts, including distance, pace, times, strokes and efficiency while people swim with their Pebble watches (which are water-resistant up to 5 atmospheres). The watch app can then sync the data to the phone and over to the cloud.
Jawbone has been very busy, opening its API (see our API explainer) so developers can work with its system, launching a new wristband-free mobile app, and developing for the Pebble platform.
Now it’s ready to launch its new activity-tracking watch face. In some ways, it manages to do what its full-blown step-tracking bracelet can’t: It puts the data directly on your wrist. The physical Jawbone wristband has no display.
Misfit’s watch app, which first debuted in June, now gets an update that takes advantage of round-the-clock tracking to reveal steps, show weekly activity and log sleep.
These are likely only the first waves of this new class of Pebble apps. Earlier this month, the company issued an iPhone update that let loose some handy features, like iOS 8 compatibility and the ability to dismiss notifications right from the wrist. But for activity tracking, the more interesting tidbit is the new support for the watch’s built-in compass.
Not only can users download the company’s free, basic Compass app now, but developers can also support it for geo-caching features or even full-fledged mapping. Those could come in very handy for runners, bicyclists, hikers and other outdoor sports enthusiasts.
If you don’t want those watch apps to sync to your phone or the cloud, they don’t have to, since they don’t require companion smartphone apps. So if you only want Jawbone on your watch, but not your phone, you have that option. According to a company rep, Pebble can hold about a day’s worth of data, should you choose to record the numbers elsewhere.
Stepping Things Up
All that background tracking makes the device more useful, but it will also affect battery life. However, according to Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky, the hit isn’t as bad as you might think. “The average Pebble user gets a six-day battery life,” he said. Part of the secret to that sauce is the low-power, non-touch e-paper. “When you run activity tracking in the background, the power implications are roughly half a day.”
If that holds true, it should result in four-to-five day battery life, which seems average for dedicated fitness trackers. My Jawbone UP24 lasts for at least 5 to 7 days; the Basis fitness watch offers three to five days. (The next-generation Basis Peak heart rate monitor, tracker and watch promises to improve on that.) The Fitbit One claims to offer at least 10 days.
Even with full-fledged activity-tracking enabled on the Pebble, though, it should still fare far better than what smartwatch competitors like Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony have managed to achieve. I’ve tested several of those devices, and while those beautiful color touchscreens are far more beautiful than Pebble’s, they contribute to downright depressing battery life.
By all accounts, Apple’s upcoming wearable won’t improve on that experience either. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, his Watch will require daily charging. So it will only last one day, at best. Possibly even less.
Migicovsky considers the Apple Watch interesting, but as “an expensive, high-quality luxury watch made of high-class materials,” it’s a different category of device than his Pebble. He’s not wrong. Smartwatches from major companies run roughly $250 to $350, with Apple hitting the high end of that range. Pebble—in its new fruity colors—is what he deems a “fast fashion” wearable, with a fast price set to move units.
The classic plastic model takes off about a third of its $149 retail price, landing at $99. The more grown-up steel version chopped about $50 off, for a $199 price tag. For the money, users get new activity-tracking features (with more on the way), longer battery life, a bustling watch app store and dual-platform support for Android and iOS.
For a while there, it looked like Pebble was getting eclipsed by far bigger tech companies’ smartwatch initiatives and their ambitious health and fitness ambitions. Android Wear gadgets have Google Fit, and the Apple Watch will boast its homegrown Health app and HealthKit system for health and fitness monitoring. Now Pebble rolls in, armed with a new round of fitness watch apps and boasting a few things even the big boys can’t touch.
It’s great timing. How apropos for a smartwatch company.
Photos and Pebble watch images by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite. Actual Swim.com, Jawbone and Misfit screenshots courtesy of Pebble.
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How much do you really know about 4G data service on your smartphone? Did you know that it not only provides you with faster data, but is also cheaper for cellular carriers to deliver? And yet it still costs you the same or more as slower 3G service?
Probably not. Here’s why.
The average user doesn’t have much of an idea what 3G or 4G means beside “one is newer and faster.” And why should they? Carriers use 3G and 4G more as marketing terms than technical ones, and basically all of them have lied (with official blessing from the International Telecommunications Union) about what a 4G phone actually gets you. The “real” definition of 4G, something that worldwide carriers have not yet accomplished, are download speeds of 1 gigabit per second in a fixed location and 100 megabits per second while in motion.
See also: Meet The “Real” 4G
However, the technical infrastructure of how efficient 3G works is compared to 4G is where it gets really interesting. The ITU—a branch of the United Nations that acts as the wireless global standards body—shows that as each generation of cellular technology is developed, it’s not just a better, faster experience for users. It’s also easier and cheaper for carriers to deliver.
How Carriers Drink Your Milkshake
The simplest technical definition of cellular speeds refer to how much data you can transfer per second. With the updated technology that carriers are equipped with in the fourth generation, known as Long Term Evolution (LTE), they’re able to deliver significantly more bits per second, which means a better experience at half the effort.
For a metaphorical example, imagine you’re drinking a milkshake. With a thin straw, it’ll take a long time to drink a thick, ice-cream based beverage. But with a thicker straw, you can drink it much more quickly. 4G is kind of like having a thicker straw.
The ability to move more bits of data faster is measured by something called spectral efficiency (also known as spectrum efficiency or bandwidth efficiency). Spectral efficiency is a measure of the rate at which information flow and improves with every successive cellular generation.
Steven Stravitz, founder of Spectrum Management Consulting, is a former engineer who studies emerging technology trends with a focus on wireless and mobile. Here’s how he explains the nuts and bolts.
“Let’s say that a cell site operator allocates a 10 megabyte channel of wireless spectrum. In a 3G network, you should be able to download 10 megabits per second. In a 4G network, since it’s more efficient, you should be able to get 15, which is a 50 percent increase in efficiency,” Stravitz said.
In other words, advances in cellular technology mean that carriers can get 50 percent more capability while using the same amount of bandwidth already allocated to them.
That all makes sense from a technical perspective, but in reality, 4G LTE speeds are more difficult to define. LTE speeds vary based on the amount of spectrum available to a particular carrier, the type of LTE being deployed and how the carrier handles spectrum between downlink and uplink from cellphone to cellular towers.
Cellular carriers also have varying degrees of strength when it comes to backhaul, the infrastructure that moves data between cell towers and the Internet. Some carriers have excellent backhaul on 4G networks (AT&T and Verizon, notably) while others are still building it out (Sprint).
Yes, They Drink It All Up
Users don’t know about the technical side of cellular spectrum efficiency. So they’re content paying just as much for 4G phones as they did for 3G. In some cases, like with Republic Wireless, they actually pay more—the company has a $25 3G plan and a $40 4G plan.
From a business perspective, 4G services and technology are very profitable for carriers. Foremost, the ability to slap “4G LTE” onto devices helps sell smartphones and make fun television commercials. Second, consumers want “4G,” even if they don’t actually know quite what that means. The carriers are delivering faster service with higher margins, and pocketing the rest of the money from users who think it’s a deal. After all, doesn’t it just make sense to you to pay as much or more for better service than you were getting?
In the U.S., carrier profits are bigger than ever for a variety of reasons, but better margins on its core cellular product don’t hurt. For instance, Verizon’s profits in the first quarter were nearly twice what they were in the first quarter of 2013, up to $3.95 billion from $2 billion.
Of course, in a competitive market, rival carriers would try to siphon off each other’s customers by offering cheaper service until they bled away all that extra profit. That this doesn’t seem to be happening tells us something interesting about the U.S. cellular market.
The Economist had an interesting chart in October 2013 showing that consumers in the U.S. pay far more for cellular plans with just 500MB of data than almost every other country. Cellular plans in the U.S. with 500MB of data cost about $85. Our friendly neighbors to the north, by contrast, pay $40.60 for the same plans. The U.S. has much deeper penetration of LTE than Canada, yet Americans still pay more for that data.
Steve Shaw from Juniper Networks put it in perspective to cellular-focused publication RCR Wireless last year: “Today a gigabit of traffic on Verizon’s network is something on the order of $7.00, $7.50 a gig, in some markets it’s as low as $1.00 or less, and so in those particular cases just pricing based on bandwidth isn’t enough,” Shaw said.
Essentially, the U.S. carriers are able to gouge consumers even though the cost per bit on their networks is technically going down over time. The carriers will contend that they need to charge what they do because they investing in the infrastructure of the country. But once all the base stations are built, all the backhaul is optimized, will prices actually go down?
Will consumer knowledge of the way the technical side works change the way carriers charge for 3G and 4G? Probably not, said Stravitz.
“I think something that doesn’t get discussed much is the elasticity curve,” he said. “What price points people pay dictate the usage, so there’s a tie between the two. They haven’t dropped it down because they really don’t need to. The tie between how people react and what they pay is extremely strong, so operators can meter usage in essence, by the rate plans they offer.”
However, it’s something to consider in the upcoming decade, when the next generation of becomes a reality. Our phones will be faster, cheaper, and easier to produce, but carriers will only get richer.
Lead photo: The Wardenclyffe Tower, an early wireless transmission tower designed by Nikola Tesla, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
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