Why the Focus on Streaming Services During the Coronavirus (covid-19) Crisis

Video StreamingThe internet cannot crash. Like a highway, it is built to handle separate discrete “vehicles”. The problem with the internet is that it will get congested and become slow. As my rural users say “This is worse than dial-up!!”. It can become so slow that you’ll move the mouse and wait 10 seconds for the screen to update where it went.

However, there is a tool to help manage congestion; it’s called “Quality of Service” (QoS) which can recognize and prioritize critical packets (e.g. critical vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances). QoS is usually only implemented on private networks but during a crisis, it could theoretically be enabled on the internet.

I use QoS at home to ensure my work computer gets priority to the house’s internet connection (the “last mile”). Here’s what it looks like to setup on my home router:

QoS on a Home Router

 

Let’s be honest though, streaming services are not “critical” and will not get QoS priority.  That is, no one is going to die, the economy will not suffer if someone’s television isn’t optimal. So this is the situation that video streaming is in:

Roughly 60% of internet traffic is video streaming which is why the focus is on reducing video quality which will reduce traffic loads.

How can video quality be reduced? Via compression, frames per second (fps) and/or resolution.  How much benefit is there from reducing this? Consider the “Standard Definition” digital equivalent is about 480p resolution. As portrayed in the bandwidth usage charts here,  Netflix bandwidth usage of 480p @ 23.976 fps versus 4K @ 59.940 fps is staggering! ~792 MB per hour vs ~7 GB per hour for a factor of over 7 times (700%)!

The impact may be annoying to some or some people might not even notice. I run all my video services at SD digital equivalent quality even pre-crisis because I don’t care and don’t really notice. I like that the videos load faster when they are smaller. Users may notice more so these differences on larger screens.

Compared to analog television, it doesn’t matter what the streaming services cut, it will still be better!

Preparing Your Home for Remote Working During the Coronavirus (covid-19)

Remote WorkingAs Telecom networks deal with “unprecedented” pressure it may feel like there isn’t much you can do to prepare yourself for working remotely from home. While that’s somewhat true, it isn’t entirely true. Here are some things you can likely do:

  1. Plug directly into your internet service modem/router. If you think you don’t have a cable, try looking in your original computer/modem/router boxes if you still have them. They usually come with a cable and you may have collected some unwittingly over time.
  2. If online stores are still open, invest in a good router. I talk more about this in my article: “Forget a bandwidth upgrade! Try these 4 things to make the home internet experience better“.
  3. If your router has a Quality of Service (QoS) feature, use it. Assign your work computer to the “highest” setting while making sure junior is watching TV on a lower QoS setting. Break out your router’s manual to find out if you can do this.
  4. Set any video, including video for a teleconference, to its lowest quality setting. Most video streaming services have a “download to device” feature which can make sure the device is not streaming while you’re trying to teleconference. Switching from HD to SD can save up to 25% of your bandwidth – article: “Netflix And YouTube Switch To SD To Ease Pressure On European Networks
  5. Think you’re ready for your work teleconference? Test your changes to see how well you did. The Cisco Spark WebEx Network Test measures all pieces of your internet service to make sure you’re ready; it’s not just about bandwidth!
  6. While you might not need a webcam, you’re going to need a really good headset (again, if you can still order one online). I talk more about this in my “PMI-SAC Remote Working Tips” article. Don’t forget to mute if you’re not talking while on a teleconference!
  7. Make sure your workspace is ready:
    • Have a room with a door that can be closed and that is quiet.
    • Have a proper desk and chair setup. Do your best to make it ergonomic.
  8. Wear something that makes you feel productive. For many people this means not wearing pajamas but if that’s not you, then you’re good!
  9. Keep consistent work hours as much as possible.
  10. Go outside at least once during the day; especially important for those who live in areas where vitamin D supplements are necessary.
  11. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  12. Get used to thinking about what is the best way to communicate to your team members depending on your needs. For instance, if you need to discuss something right away and at length, instant messaging might not be the right forum. Know when to pick up the phone or start a teleconference.
  13. You’re going to have to develop your ability to pick up on tones people are using. You may have heard that if you lose one of your senses, another sense goes into “overdrive”. Well, the same with remote working. You don’t have the luxury of a physical presence. More on this subject and more via the article “These are the 7 reasons why working from home can make you a better communicator“.
  14. If you need 1-1 check-ins, schedule them. Don’t assume someone is going to stop by regularly; make that happen.

I hope it’s clear that being good at working remotely doesn’t just “happen”. It takes preparation and some skills development. Don’t beat yourself up though, it takes time. Try to make the changes gradually if you can.

For more remote working suggestions see them here: https://www.inc.com/lindsey-pollak-eileen-coombes/remote-work-home-productivity-communication-self-care-morale-team.html

A Poorly Understood Challenge of Building Rural Internet in First World Countries

Passive Infrastructure Tower

We all want more internet in more places. A logical person would assume that the stage is set to make this happen. Well, it’s not. As an internet builder myself, I can say yes, funding is an issue but that a bigger issue is there is no market to help build the internet. What do I mean?

I’ll use an analogy because it simplifies things and takes the industry specific terminology off the table. We want to build a house. We have nails but where do we find the wood? There is no equivalent of a home hardware store to go to. Instead what we have are wood piles placed all over the country sitting unused. How do we find the wood piles? Who owns them? What kind of lumber is it specifically? (2×4? 2×6? Length? etc.)

Most first world governments do supply funding but it is typically for building more of these hidden wood piles.

What exactly are these “wood piles”? They are “passive infrastructure” needed to build the internet. Things like towers and cables (like fiber). And this infrastructure is shareable; meaning they are more like a 40-story office tower than a single-family home. The nails are active infrastructure like radio and cable transceivers which are readily available. But where do you install these things if you don’t have any passive infrastructure to install them on? That is the challenge of rural internet builders.

There is TONS of empty infrastructure across the nation but it is hard to find, figure out who owns it and then to strike a deal in which to share it. Canada has a partial database of passive infrastructure for towers called “Spectrum Direct” but adding information about the towers is an afterthought. That is, it’s intended use is to track wireless (spectrum) licenses and only collects data on where the radio is as an afterthought. This doesn’t track any unlicensed wireless or “free” wireless (which would you use?). Which means it doesn’t have data on towers for 10s of thousands of towers. Further, the database doesn’t validate the passive infrastructure information and does not indicate ownership. 

Sure, we could drive around aimlessly in rural Canada but not all infrastructure is located along roads. And even if you do find something, often times the infrastructure is physically unmarked with ownership information.

I’ve located a partial commercial database, but again, it doesn’t capture everything and plus, it costs money. Consumers and businesses do not want to spend a lot of money on internet, so there isn’t a lot of money to pay for extras like this when building rural internet.

USA has a bit better database but it only tracks towers above 100’, nothing about smaller infrastructure, private infrastructure or accessing cable. So I’ve come to the conclusion that the situation is similar in most first world countries (with 2nd and 3rd just having bigger problems to solve).  

What we need is a marketplace for passive infrastructure and policy to make sure everyone registers. Like a “rentfaster” site for building the internet.

Some sort of sharing policy that would apply to private passive infrastructure would also be nice but I’d settle for a marketplace. Beggars can’t be choosers.

“Bandwidth” and “Speed” – not the same thing

It’s terribly confusing that these terms are used interchangeably. Unfortunately, they don’t have much to do with each other. Bandwidth is the number of “lanes” available to your computer. It is typically measured in Megabits/second of Mbps or Gigabits/second or Gbps. Do the number of lanes affect the speed of your car? Typically no, unless it’s rush hour.

What matters is how fast you can drive right? That’s “latency” in the internet/networking world. It is dependent on a lot of different factors, including but not limited to, the speed of your computer, the speed of your network card, the speed/how busy your local modem/router is, the speed/how busy your local internet provider’s infrastructure is and then all these factors on the other end of the connection as well. The “bottleneck” in the equation defines your latency at that particular time to whatever particular service.

So how do your measure your internet connection? Well, take those “bandwidth” sites with a grain of salt – they are best for measuring the bandwidth received to match up with the internet plan your paying for. The best measurement test I’ve found to determine “quality of experience” is the Cisco Webex Network test: https://mediatest.webex.com.

It measures a bunch of different things for a video call, which is the most demanding application for most people. If you get all green, then you’re in good shape. It means you could run all applications from that location without issues (as long as the opposite party doesn’t have a bad connection of course).

Check out my own article on how to improve “speeds”: https://textor.ca/2015/03/forget-a-bandwidth-upgrade-try-these-4-things-to-make-the-home-internet-experience-better/

Others have written on this subject – try here for another spin on this subject: https://accucode.com/bandwidth-vs-speed-which-is-more-important-2/

Published in Reader’s Digest “11 Hidden Reasons Your Internet Is So Slow”

Yes, the Reader’s Digest. Access their article here:

11 Hidden Reasons Your Internet Is So Slow (Oct 1, 2018)

They quoted a popular post I wrote in 2015:

Forget a bandwidth upgrade! Try these 4 things to make the home internet experience better

Note: Reader’s Digest is owned by “Trusted Media Brands, Inc.” and the article may also be displayed on other sister sites such as Family Handyman: https://www.familyhandyman.com/smart-homeowner/diy-home-improvement/hidden-reasons-your-internet-is-so-slow/

How North American Energy Can Compete – Enablement of a Digital Oilfield with a “Connected Field”

Did you know that accountants were hesitant to adopt spreadsheet programs like excel? Or that it took us decades to fully adopt trains, automobiles and computers? Do you think these things changed our lives? Of course! How could we conceive where we are today without them? But it took a while for them to gain “steam” (pun intended).

The situation with the Digital Oilfield in North America follows these familiar lines. It is a transformation that I cannot adequately explain since I only know how to build the enabling technology. How it’s going to be used is up to each person acting individually and resulting in a collective connected effect. Sure, I can give some examples or find people who have done this or that. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. The “killer example” is going to be different for every team in an energy company.

The enabling technology for the Digital Oilfield is called a “Connected Field”. It takes the Oilfield improvement areas listed below and binds them together. It’s the enablement of seamless intercommunication and coordination that truly leverages a Digital Oilfield. Without it, it’s an Oilfield that uses new Oilfield technology – not the exciting “Digital Oilfield” that truly propels the energy business to the next level.

There are so many ways to get a Connected Field wrong for a Digital Oilfield. Even with the right telecom vendors, it’s so easy to say “we don’t need QoS (Quality of Service)” – simply because the decision maker doesn’t know what it is. The fallacy is that there is a belief we already have a Digital Oilfield. There are already real world examples of a true Digital Oilfield using a Connected Field. And they are all in the Middle East; lowering their costs and increasing their supply. I cover a real world example later, so it will be easy to see the difference.

But let’s go back to the beginning. What is a “Digital Oilfield”?  The concept was first presented in the seminal study: “The Digital Oilfield of the Future: Enabling Next Generation Reservoir Performance”, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Inc., 2003.

A Digital Oilfield makes the following improvements to the Oil & Gas business – and a Connected Field enables most of them; that is, you need a connected field to truly leverage the benefit to the full extent.

DigitalOilfieldImprovements

So what is a “connected field”? It is a data communications system that has these characteristics:

  • Completely and seamlessly covers the area of interest (like cellular data might cover all of the downtown of a city). This allows users to just turn on a device (sensor, video, etc.) reducing or eliminating the need to involve IT to justify a business case to obtain capital to expand the network. It just works. Technicians are not required to tune antennas at the user level. A rig can just move itself and still have full connectivity to all its services while it is moving and when it reaches its destination.
  • It is a committed That is, it is not a “best effort” network, shared with other companies and people in the area (like cellular data).
  • It allows full control – that is, it has quality of service (QoS) capabilities to prioritize business critical applications or applications requiring better service to function correctly (voice, video).

Let’s examine what is not a connected field:

  • Cellular data from any major telco. The reason why it is not is that it has no QoS and is best effort (no committed bandwidth) and may not cover the entire field without boosters (which are technically illegal according to the Telecommunications Act).
  • MPLS networks – in themselves, they would help if the purchaser buys QoS. If the cost of buying the right networks with QoS was used to price the rent option, it is likely that the system could be built from scratch less expensively. That is, a Digital Oilfield should consider the “rent vs buy” options like any procurement decision.
  • Satellite – the price per Mbps with QoS and dedicated bandwidth is horrendously expensive. Unless the company (including all teams and phases that work in the area) only expects to operate in the area for 6 months or less, it’s frequently the case that it is cheaper to build.
  • SCADA (legacy 450 & 900Mhz) – really this is only for “tin can on a string” SCADA data – that is monitoring / telemetry. There are now new SCADA radios that can supply QoS and bandwidth rates at 18Mbps or above but most Oil & Gas companies, especially in North America are not using them. Most of the SCADA radios in use today use technology that was developed during World War II and they have not been updated. We’re talking punch card era technology.

And of course, I hear all the skeptics. So what does a Digital Oilfield do  in practice? Here’s an example:

Petroleum Development Oman (PDO)

  • Connected field coverage: 45,000 sq. km (17,000 sq. miles)
  • Increased a mature (brownfield) oilfield’s production by 100K barrels/day. At $90/barrel this is $3.2 Billion/year in additional revenue within one year. (Ok, yes, price of oil… but this was done in 2012 – even at $30 that’s $1 Billion)
  • Reduced drilling & completion days to online from 39 days to 14 days ($1M per drill saved). Including completions, saved $5M per well.
  • 10 month payback.

What does the Connected Field network look like for PDO?

As of the end of 2013, Petroleum Development Oman field has:

  • 6600 broadband connection points
  • 52 base stations
  • 13 Gbps total capacity, the equivalent of 500 connected homes or the bandwidth provided to a 4000 person office building
  • 130,000 end devices

Compare this to a field of that size in North America; there are maybe 10 cellular base stations covering the entire thing. Everything overloaded to the point that it does not work that well (e.g. “worse than dialup” is what I frequently hear).

Together the Connected Field collects 36 times more data enabling more accurate and improved decisions. It delivers 4 Mbps anywhere within the field of coverage (compared to less than 300kbps in some fields available today). You can drive around in a truck all day long and everything just works.

No messing with devices, changing networks, etc. Need to talk to the engineer in head office and start a video chat about a valve to show him/her the valve? Done! No problems. Want to implement an intelligent video system to monitor the flare stack, look for pipeline leaks, identify personnel not wearing PPE, etc.? Want a “mobile worker”? (Please do not confuse it with a “mobile OS” which is simply an operating system built to enable mobile workers that have a network.) With a Connected Field, you just do it! No need to price in a brand new network to enable the business case.

The cost of all this? Less than 1% of the total injected capital into a greenfield area. And if a true connected field is implemented that is multi-use and multi-team capable, the expenditure is less than what they spend today.

Despite the impressive track record how many Digital Oilfields are there in North America? None. Some are close with partial implementations but it’s localised and not well championed at the executive and board levels. How many in the Middle East? Quite a few. Middle East operations have the direct support of the board of directors/families and executives. Would this situation have any bearing on the current supply / demand and geopolitical climate? Hmm….