Beehive: We’re gonna rock fiber into The Avenues (and maybe take it further)

Beehive Broadband logoBeehive Broadband has big broadband dreams. After rolling fiber in their native service areas in Tooele County (even into the spec of nothingness that is Grouse Creek) and hitting downtown SLC with fiber rings, they’re now making a push to bring gigabit fiber into The Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Pricing is targeted around $40-50/mo for 100Mbps and $70 or so for gigabit with an install fee in the $100-200 range. They’ll also be offering up phone and TV service for those so inclined.

The strategy is simple: build fiber to commercial buildings, then target neighborhoods nearby to bring it to the home. If this sounds familiar, it’s because CenturyLink said they would do the same thing, yet they seem to be very slow to follow up on it. Beehive is also evaluating using this plan in many other cities including Draper, Herriman, Holladay, Riverton, and Lehi. Right now, they’re looking primarily at areas that are being ignored by Comcast and CenturyLink.

So what about Google Fiber’s entry into SLC? Beehive is taking a “first to market” approach and plans to start hooking people up as early as mid-January, well before Google will turn over a single shovel of dirt. They’re also planning to make service available to all addresses in the footprint, something Google hasn’t done once their initial “fiberhood” signup period closes outside of a few exceptions in Provo. My take is that this is going to be a more successful strategy that could stymie Google’s efforts to break into that neighborhood.

If you get signed up on this service, let us know in the comments how it works out.

Why a gigabit?

More and more often, I keep hearing this question. “Why would I need a gigabit? There’s nothing I could possibly do to need that kind of bandwidth.” On the surface, I can see the point. There are precious few home applications that, on their own, would consume this kind of bandwidth. Let’s take at how you could use that kind of bandwidth.

I’d like to offer a real-world scenario of my own usage. We have two streaming TVs, two laptops, a desktop, two smartphones, and a Kindle tablet. Our phone service is Google Voice with a ObiHai box with a microcell from Sprint to boost our cell coverage. We use a fair amount of Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming. I have all of the systems backing up to CrashPlan (currently 100GB or so worth) and sync files with ownCloud. I also work from home full-time, so I spend a good chunk of my week (45+ hours) connected to the VPN doing large file transfers, Webex sessions, and VoIP.

I also have a 5.3TB NAS sitting in my closet. It holds backups of all of our software installers, our entire ripped CD/DVD/Blu-ray collection, and a huge library of TV shows (currently 2.2TB and counting). It currently runs Plex for media streaming, and I’m planning on adding both ownCloud and CrashPlan to it for file sync and backups, respectively.¬†Ideally, I’ve love for friends and family to be able to use it too.

The outgoing HD streams would be about 20Mbps a pop. Backups and sync would probably be around 10Mbps per user, if they have a good connection. I also occasionally host a Minecraft server and download multi-gigabit games over Steam. When I add it all up, it’s not hard to see peak usage of over 200Mbps both ways.

Granted, you’re probably not looking at usage as intense as what I’m doing. But what happens in a few years when a few data-hungry teenagers are uploading their 50M-pixel photographs when you try to watch a 4K video? How about when you need to backup 100GB worth of movies and pictures from your latest family vacation? What happens when your hard drive fails and you need to restore over 500GB worth of backups to be back on track? Those aren’t far-fetched ideas, and they certainly aren’t going to be outside of the norm for long. Can you do it with a slower connection? Maybe, but the experience won’t be any good.

And really, this is what gigabit is about: removing the barrier between what you’d do on your local network versus what you’d do over the Internet with remote networks. There’s not much in the way of a single application that would use a gigabit connection. There’s lots of individual applications that, when added up, can saturate even 100Mbps. Would you prefer to carefully plan and ration your usage so that too many episodes of Dora the Explorer doesn’t bog down your marathon Left4Dead 2 session? Or should the bandwidth flow so freely that, like electricity, you don’t worry about which straw will break the camel’s back?

UTOPIA Goes for Cheap Gigabit

Remember the rumblings about UTOPIA’s upcoming announcement last week? Well, it’s here, and its’ huge. Starting today, seven providers will be offering gigabit service for as low as $64.95/mo. If you’ve already paid off the connection fee, this makes it the same or less than Google Fiber in Provo on six of them. Here’s the full price list:

Of note is that UTOPIA has added another provider, WebWave. They’ve been using UTOPIA for backhaul to wireless towers in Davis County since May and are now going to be a full-fledged ISP on the network. With nine total providers to choose from, UTOPIA’s offering more competition for your business than ever.

If you’re content on the lower-priced tiers, SumoFiber and XMission have already switched all customers to 100Mbps. Are you planning to pony up a little more for 10x the speed? I know I would.

Brace Yourselves: Gigabit is Coming

Earlier today, UTOPIA posted a cryptic message on Facebook and Twitter that they’d be announcing something on Monday September 16. Obviously, such a vague message has sent the speculation engine into overdrive, but a little birdie told me it has something to do with gigabit.

The likely possibility is that gigabit plans are likely to get a whole lot cheaper. Right now, they’re in the $300/mo price range. Google Fiber is planning to do gigabit for $70 in Provo. It’s possible that we may see a large price cut to make gigabit a much more appealing product in UTOPIA areas. I’d be surprised if it dropped to the same price as Google Fiber, but a price at or under $100/mo would be quite appealing.

Of course, we’ll have to wait until Monday to know for sure and get the details.

Is CenturyLink doing fiber-to-the-home or fiber-to-the-press release?

Before I could publish this, Chris Mitchell at MuniNetworks.org did a much more in-depth version of what I wrote here. I highly recommend reading his article for the nitty gritty details. Unsurprisingly, we both reached the same conclusion.

When Google announced they would be building a gigabit network in Austin, AT&T wasted no time trying to jump on that bandwagon for damage control. Of course, nobody believed it. How could a company who has shown no interest in network investment suddenly decide that they might want to get on that? I find myself in the same position with CenturyLink’s announcement of an FTTH testbed in Omaha. Moreso, they’re not even equipped to do it.

Bear in mind that this is going to be a very small deployment, just 48,000 homes. It’s focused on an area where CenturyLink provides TV service, a product they haven’t even put into trial in most markets after shutting it down and starting it back up again. This makes some sense as most fiber networks need multiple product offerings to make the network achieve the desired revenue goals. That also means that areas without TV trials are probably not likely to see the service anytime soon.

Then there’s the matter of money. CenturyLink is a cash-poor, debt-heavy behemoth that’s been shedding voice customers to cell carriers and broadband customers to anything that isn’t them. When was the last time they did a new ADSL2+ footprint anywhere in Utah? It’s been several years now with not a red cent of network improvement. Omaha is a testbed not because they don’t sorely need to upgrade their entire network, but because that’s likely all the money they can afford to spend. Without a highly profitable wireless business or a lead against their cable competitors, it doesn’t look like the picture is going to improve anytime soon either. Investors don’t seem to think so.

I’m sure CenturyLink will build out their “testbed” in Omaha. Heck, they’ll probably even expand it to the surrounding suburbs. But will they pick up enough steam to push it nationwide? I wouldn’t put money on it.