IEEE Southern Alberta Speaking Engagement – Calgary February 4, 2016

Spectrum IllustrationI’m delighted to be delivering two presentations again but for the first time, in tandem:

“Broadband Internet – The “Railroad” of Our Era”, a general view of broadband internet, followed by:

“Understanding the Remote Field Data Communications Challenge”, rural telecom for Oil & Gas “in a nutshell”.

Non-IEEE members are welcome. Registration opens at 5:15pm, presentations start at 6pm.

More about the presentation here:

Robocall Spam – Finally some movement in 2015

phoneHow come robocalls (telephone spam) is not being significantly curtailed?

The big telecom companies have been hiding behind excuses for years but those excuses are no longer holding water. With email systems doing it regularly, we know better; These excuses do not hold water anymore.

Consumers Union has taken a stand and is making progress. An update email from Consumers Union USA dated Dec 22, 2015:

“Last year at this time, hardly anyone believed robocalls could be stopped.

The Do Not Call list wasn’t working. Scammers quickly disappeared and reopened shop before the cops could find them. And your phone company just ignored you when you asked for help.

But together, with you, we changed all that.

After our campaign launched in February, the FCC and nearly every state Attorney General followed Consumers Union’s lead and told the phone companies to block these calls. Members of Congress introduced legislation. And presidential candidates even talk about this on the campaign trail.

Now, we are bringing Verizon, AT&T and Century Link to the negotiating table in the New Year. We will be representing your demands for free tools to block robocalls before they reach your phone – and we won’t back down!

When we started this campaign, everyone thought we were nuts. It was such a perplexing problem that regulators, who tried for years to stop robocalls, even held a contest looking for solutions. And the giant phone companies didn’t want to act, hiding behind the claim that they didn’t have the legal authority to block these calls.

But you told us robocalls were ruining your quality of life. And for others, your bank accounts. Some $350 million is stolen each year from consumers – mainly the elderly who take these calls and are quickly duped.

It’s been a long haul, but together we’ve made huge progress. Once thought an impossible problem, our research has found several solutions that will dramatically reduce robocalls. Now we’re headed to the major phone companies demanding they implement these solutions for you!

Thank you,
Tim Marvin, Consumers Union
Policy and Action from Consumer Reports”

What does a TowerCo “look like”? (introduction to Real Estate for Telecom)

When I mention “TowerCos” (Tower Companies), real estate companies that are like an apartment building landlord… but for towers, I can see the confusion in people’s eyes. Essentially, the tenants (renters) are antennas that get mounted to the tower (apartment building). What’s the best way to visualize what one looks like? Well, just look at their advertising – they have towers for rent! Here’s an advertisement showing that they have acquired new towers in the following USA geographic locations.

American Tower Advertisement (click to enlarge)

The TowerCo industry itself comprises many companies across the globe. TowerCos already own 2/3rds of the world’s 3 Million towers. In the USA TowerCos own ~61% of the ~270K towers. In Canada, that figure is less than 5%.

TowerCo ownership, or companies that are exclusively real estate (do not sell telecom services), are a key indicator for broadband costs (e.g. cell phone data plans) since they offer a business model that promotes sharing and reduces costs. More about how the TowerCo business model reduces costs on my slideshare presentation entitled “Broadband Internet – The ‘Railroad of Our Era'”.

In the USA the top 3 tower companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange are:

  • SBA Communications
  • American Tower
  • Crown Castle

All three operate as “Real Estate Investment Trusts” (REITs), further confirming that they are real estate companies. Collectively they own, lease and manage 95,000 towers and are worth $69 Billion. One of these top 3 companies, SBA, has moved into Canada with a subsidiary called SBA Canada. (@ early 2014) The other major TowerCo in Canada is Turris Corp.

Major data source for this post:

Aug 9, 2019 update: From “Tower Talks with Inside Towers: #15 – TowerXchange CEO Kieron Osmotherly” I felt I should include this text from this podcast as it provides some important updates on the TowerCo market since I originally wrote this article Nov 12, 2015. On talking about the common fundamentals of the Tower market TowerXchange serves, no matter the geography/nations involved…  (@9:17) “That basic driver that a telecom tower on a mobile network operator’s balance sheet is a depreciating asset built to serve the needs of one customer. You take that tower and you put it on a Tower company’s balance sheet and it becomes a potential source of long term recurring revenue from multiple credit worthy tenants.

We’re correcting a flaw in the original design of wireless communications which created this overlapping infrastructure and we’re correcting that to a more efficient colocation driven model. The capital markets recognize that. It’s reflected in the valuation performance of tower companies. It aggregates up to a 330B dollar global infrastructure asset class which is out performing most relevant comparisons.

As we mentioned before between them the tower companies now have 69% of the world’s investable assets which is a pretty good proportion. Most tower companies stick to that blueprint.

There is significant variation when you look at the difference between a pure play independent tower company like American Tower, SBA, Cellnex, HBS. These guys are fantastic at shareholder value creation and generating efficiencies. They typically trade at EBITA margins between 60-80% valued 15-25x.

And then we’ve got a relatively recent variant on the business model which we call the operator lead tower company; a slightly different animal. It’s at least 50.01% owned by the original parent mobile network operator(s). In comparison, to a pure play independent tower company you often see slightly lower EBITA margins of perhaps 40-60% and valuations of 10-15x are still significantly greater than the valuations of mobile network operators.

I think we’ve arrived at the day and age where pretty much everyone understands that a tower that’s trapped on a mobile network operator’s balance sheet is uh, it’s difficult to defend that position to shareholders these days. Whether you’re going to carve it out or sell it, it should be shared.”

UofC Alumni Speaking Engagement – Calgary Oct 22, 2015

I am honored to be speaking to my Alumni association, Computer Science Chapter, on October 22, 2015 from 6-8:30pm (6pm food, 7pm I start talking).

If anyone is interested in coming and is not an Alumni, please let me know and I’ll check if it is open to non-Alumni.


Trevor Textor thinks a lot about broadband internet and sometimes cell phone plans. You know, it hurts, but sometimes you have to. He has pivot tabled these subjects to death and has come to some conclusions. For instance, he discovered why cell phone plans are so expensive in Canada and why that’s unlikely to change much without Canada having an Open Access Network business model for telecommunications. While trying to convince businesses to use broadband internet services that actually work, and pay the corresponding price, he stumbled over some other really interesting things. These things brought him to the conclusion that broadband is the “railroad” of our era and how it critically impacts democracy.


Why are cell phone plans so expensive in Canada?
The cost of service has little to do with the radio services themselves, it’s all about infrastructure. In Canada the big 3 telecommunications companies maintain a monopoly on this infrastructure and this monopoly is regulated via the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). But even with regulation, it is not encouraging the right behaviour with respect to infrastructure so that savings can trickle down to consumers. Trevor will explain how an “Open Access Network” (OAN) business model benefits Canadians and how an infrastructure marketplace could scale it.

Broadband is the “railroad” of our era and is critical to democracy.
The United Nations says it best: “… [A]ffordable broadband connectivity to the Internet is a foundation stone of modern society…Broadband does not just comprise infrastructure; today, widespread broadband connectivity offers the prospects of new services and an information revolution to change – and challenge – our very approach to development.” Trevor will walk through the socioeconomics of broadband and the future technologies that will drive broadband growth.

Do we need gigabit broadband? Do we need fiber?

Do we need it now? No. This question deflects from the true purpose of this infrastructure upgrade. A plant cannot grow without first planting the seed. So let me explain why the world needs fiber and gigabit.

The main issue is about an end-of-life asset (copper) versus a 100-year or more asset (single mode fiber, SMF). There is no theoretical speed limit for SMF (at least not yet). Therefore, once installed, there will not be a need to dig it up or do anything special other than replace the fiber transceivers on each end. Copper, on the other hand, is at the end of its useful life. Small incremental improvements are being made but we can see the end of copper in our lifetime. New cable installations are now almost exclusively SMF.

Here’s the bandwidth side; the side everyone seems to focus on. Don’t think of technology as it is known today. And remember that when companies put fiber in the ground, they are thinking very long term. First off, think video. Don’t think about anything else. None of it generates traffic like video does. Video killed the internet star. (thanks Netflix, thanks YouTube)

Here’s the best example of the future. Think “telepresence”. Telepresence is immersive video calls – not the un-immersive video calls we’re all used to now. You actually feel like you are there with the person. I’ve personally experienced telepresence. And since then I experience intense disappointment at launching typical internet video. I’m spoiled now.  The question is, will telepresence become inexpensive enough to be used in everyday contexts? Does the earth revolve around the sun?

Think of what telepresence might mean for medicine (“house calls”) or business meetings (way less airline travel) or the environment (with so many less flights!).

What does telepresence mean in terms of bandwidth? Telepresence is 20mbps per session for HD (1080p). Ultra HD (4K) is something like 6x that requirement or 120mbps. Compare that to today’s video streams for Netflix which is 2Mbps HD & 12Mbps for UltraHD (4K).

Now think about multiple people in a household launching simultaneous telepresence sessions. The gigabit threshold is now being pushed! Now think about aggregate “highway” for just the block you live in. How much will multiple households push? LOTS!  How much will the city generate? (expletive amount!)  How much will the country generate? (GAH!) How much will the world generate!? (Ahhhhh!!!!)

Should we start preparing for this now? Or wait until this happens and then wait another 5-10 years while every road and sidewalk to be dug up at the same time? And complain about it the whole time? (how we can’t move with so much construction)

I know what I prefer. I prefer telecom companies to start being proactive right now. And it would be great if my house has access to fiber. Even if I don’t need it right now.

And let’s put the internet in context. The internet and bandwidth to that internet is the “railroad” of our era. Our very way of life now depends on it. The UN has recognized that democracy depends on internet speed and has started a commission on broadband. Every single first world nation and many hundreds of nations have federal funding to build broadband infrastructure. The technology that rides on top the internet has the ability to help catapult so many game changers that many unsolvable world problems might become solvable.

And all this technology rides on a nation’s, a household’s ability to access it (broadband).

There, does that put Gigabit and fiber in context?

More on telepresence:

The End of Emergency Broadcasts – Now a Pull, Not a Push

One would think an emergency broadcast makes sense for everyone. What I noticed today was that my shortwave weather radio has a weekly test so you know you’re getting broadcasts. Then I noticed that I receive emergency alerts via twitter & email; neither of which have test messages. Presumably because we are all so afraid of “spam”?  Never mind that in the modern age, you can use filters to put the test messages in a folder you don’t see unless you want to confirm your getting emergency messages.

I think I’m on to something profound here but not exactly sure what it is… Hopefully twitter and email work in the Zombie Apocalypse.

Is Canada Moving to an Open Access Network?

By the CRTC mandating that telecom companies must share their passive broadband infrastructure might mean that Canada is moving toward an OAN. That means companies might actually need to show a return on investment for their passive infrastructure assets (fiber, conduit, towers) rather than using them to block competition. I’m all for the Telecom companies making a profit (I’m a shareholder of many of them) but I’d rather they do it on the service side in open, honest competition. We know from experience that competition drives companies to be innovative. I would like all the Telecom companies I own to be around for a long, long time and the “we’ve always done it this way” (no innovation) is going to kill them.

Who says satellite is the only option for offshore?

Tampnet owns the largest offshore 4G network (which is its deployment in the UK’s North Sea – a significant Oil & Gas area similar to the Gulf of Mexico).

Tampnet just acquired Broadpoint (July 21, 2015) who owned 50 2G base stations in the GoM – and has plans to upgrade them to 4G.

North Sea Coverage map:

GoM Coverage map:

There is no “Spectrum Crisis”

Licensing of spectrum may be used to form monopolies, not serve customers. Instead, this article suggests spectrum should be license exempt and that Telecom companies should adopt new RF technology that better delivers signals without interference. Interestingly, not even the inventor of the cellphone, Martin Cooper, believes there is a spectrum crisis.