Connections for the Future

  • Posted on: 15 August 2022
  • By: djoyce

Connections for the Future

Blacksburg, Virginia, 08/15/2022

Speed Test

Things have changed a lot since the original iMac® introduced “simple” Internet connections. Steve Jobs also introduced USB to us in with the iMac 1998. It was a technology developed at Intel and popularized by Apple. USB replaced a myriad of other connections because it was better, faster, more reliable and easier to use.

Today the number of USB devices on my desk surprises even me and I feel like I was there for USB’s birth. USB provides connections for all sorts of devices to Macs, Windows and Linux computers. They all work.

Most of us in 1998 ending up using the modem to get to the Internet and not the Ethernet port. Connecting to the Internet was often not as easy or simple as the marketing brochures promised. Fortunately, technology changes and those changes have made it much easier to connect and stay connected to today’s Internet.

WideOpen Blacksburg offers symmetric fiber Internet connectivity to its customers. Almost everyone living in Blacksburg today has a home Internet connection but not everyone has fiber. Fiber is better, faster, more secure, and easier on users. It is also competitively priced. Fiber, just like USB, will replace less technologically advanced Internet connections over the next ten years or so. If you do not have or understand fiber, maybe you are wondering why our symmetric fiber is such a big deal?

For lots of good reasons, fiber is often called the gold standard for home Internet connections. Technology adoption moves in stages. Most people are familiar with the technology adoption curve. We all know about the innovators and early adopters but just where do fiber to the home users fit in that curve?

We will get that answer but first let’s get some basic understanding of how to evaluate home Internet connections by looking at concepts that are familiar to everyone. When the first Interstate highways were built in the fifties they were a huge technological advance over two lane highways.

The one thing that was quickly discovered about Interstate highways is that the communities that had immediate access prospered. Also businesses and people who quickly figured out how to take advantage of them did exceptionally well. Interstate highways had the capacity to move huge amounts of traffic much more easily than two-lane roads which were often clogged with slow traffic.

Fiber is an even more capable technological advance than Interstate highways. While you have to build more lanes to increase the capacity of Interstate highways, with fiber you increase capacity by changing the electronics at the ends. It would be like putting a bigger entrance and a larger exit on a stretch of highway and magically more lanes appearing in the road between them. Fiber is technologically advanced because it moves information with light.

Fiber is also proven technology. Fiber has been the Internet backbone for decades. TAT-8, a transatlantic fiber optic cable, was built in 1988 and linked the United Kingdom, France and the US. Fiber is also a well-tested commercial technology which has become a cost effective way to deliver Internet connectivity to homes. WideOpen was involved in the design and construction of nDanville, the Danville, Virginia fiber network. Their fiber network by all measures contributed to their economic revitalization. Amazingly, Danville’s fiber network has been in operation since 2008. Since FTTH (fiber to the home) was being offered in 2008 in Danville, we are well past the early adopter phase. In the fall of 2011, Danville became the home of a Cray Super Computer. Their fiber infrastructure played a role in bringing it to town. Since FTTH (fiber to the home) was being offered in 2008, we are well past the early adopter phase.

Fiber is superior technology because it moves information faster. The best way to understand the advantage fiber is to look at the fiber speeds that are already available. Chattanooga, Tennessee’s fiber provider, ECB, deployed 10 Gbps residential connections in 2015. In August 2022, they announced the availability of symmetric 25 Gbps for residences and business. It is unlikely that there are many people who need that much bandwidth today, but it does mean the fiber that we build to your house today will be more than capable of meeting your full connectivity needs now and far in the future.

Looking at the big picture of Internet connectivity from an individual homeowner’s perspective is easy if you have recently gotten a fiber connection like I did. When we moved to Mocksville, North Carolina, eighteen months ago, we evaluated a number of things from the perspective of how will it meet our needs five or even ten years from now? Our Internet connectivity was one of our prime concerns and having been on the Internet since 1993, my understanding of the technology gave me the tools that I needed to make a decision.

I am in my eleventh year working for WideOpen and like my previous years in technology at Apple, it has been as a remote worker with a home office and an Internet connection. It did not take a lot of math to figure out that the coax-cable technology we had been using for years was not improving fast enough to meet my business and personal needs. Beyond work, I take thousands of photographs a year and store some big files from my books in the cloud. I am not unusual in today’s world.

In fact even if you are an average US household, you likely use more data than you think. The data we use is growing rapidly and that growth has shown no real signs of slowing as our economy is reshaped by new pandemic-driven work habits.

“Consumer broadband consumption in North America reached a milestone in the fourth quarter of 2021 as averages hit 536.3 gigabytes (GB) – surpassing half a terabyte (TB) – according to a new study from OpenVault.”

“That figure represents an increase of 165% when compared to the average of 203GB per month OpenVault found in its Q4 2017 study.”

As you read the balance of this article keep in mind that your bandwidth needs are going to grow a lot over the next few years. Your broadband connection should be able to handle that growth.

Almost nine years ago in 2013, when I wrote an article, “ Just How Bad Is Your Internet Connection ,” our cable connection delivered 32.24 Mbps down and 5.49 Mbps up. When we moved in Feb. 2021, we were getting 484 down and 24 Mbps up. While it looks fast (and the download speed is except my network ping reading was at 27 milliseconds- ping is a good measure of the responsiveness or delay in your connection), what it really shows is that our download speed was fifteen times what it had been nine years earlier but our upload speed had NOT even gotten to five times what it was. My needs as a video conference user/content provider were not being met.

It is obvious to heavier users of the “Cloud,” that coax speeds have focused on downloads and not successfully pushed ahead with faster upload speeds that we need. In their defense, the technology to increase upload speeds with coax cable is difficult and sometimes requires a lot of tuning. As is often the case with a technology like coax that is pushing its limits, users’ needs are growing faster in different directions (uploads) than coax cable technology can easily deliver today. The recording industry tried a number of things before iTunes® and similar services driven by new more scalable technology won the day.

As many people learned during the pandemic, upload speeds matter and if you are sharing a connection with people in your own household and your household is also on shared bandwidth with your neighborhood instead of using fiber which provides more individual bandwidth, you can get frustrated. Work does not get completed on time, video conferences don’t go as planned and files, including homework ones might not get where they need to hit those all important deadlines.

The questions we asked ourselves when deciding to jump from one technology to another one were pretty simple. Is the new technology proven technology? Is it better technology? Is it reasonably priced? Will it provide my family with a better experience and will it have the capability to grow with our needs over the years?

I answered all of those questions in the affirmative so I went with fiber. The only thing cable had going for it was a low priced introductory offer but I remember well how the rates rapidly went up at the end of the second year when I signed up the last time.

While I am living in rural Davie County, North Carolina, across the road from a twenty acre soybean field, I have Gig fiber with speed regularly exceeding 900 Mbps up and down. My ping has dropped from 27 ms to 1 or 2 ms so I have a much more responsive connection. I could have chosen any of at least three other technologies. On July 31, our power flickered out for a couple of minutes during a thunderstorm. As the Internet and our WiFi came back up a minute or so later, I was reminded of all the similar times that I had spent staring at cable modem lights for what seemed like ages as I waited for all the signals to sync so the Internet could return.

If you decide to not to go with fiber, remember cable companies are still working to commercialize the technology that will allow them to theoretically compete with the fastest upload speeds that we are offering today to our customers in Blacksburg. Are you willing to wait the years that it will take them to get DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications) 4.0 finalized, out of the labs, debugged and deployed in the field? You will also be gambling on the cost that they will eventually charge you.

Fiber is a proven technology, now available at a competitive price. To quote the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Meanwhile, fiber systems have at least a 10,000 (yes ten…thousand) fold advantage over cable systems in terms of raw bandwidth.” What that means for an individual homeowner is that there is plenty of proven technology already in place to make your fiber connection even better next year and five or ten years down the road.

I mentioned fiber is the “gold standard”of Internet connectivity. With ever more photos and videos being produced in your home along with all the other always-on digital services that are rapidly becoming essential to our lives, why wouldn’t you go for the gold and snatch a great fiber connection with symmetrical upload speeds?

I cannot think of a single reason. There are video solutions out there for streaming that mimic the cable experience. There is someone in our house, my wife, who was convinced that streaming would be impossible to learn. That turned out not to be the case. She now owns our Amazon Fire remote. Remember the first self-serve gas pumps and ATMs? When they came out, we were all surprised that we mastered them without very much angst.

Wherever you are in the broadband world and whatever technology you have, take a close look at local companies providing fiber . It is likely they will be committed to providing great service because they are your neighbors.

iMac® and iTunes® are registered trademarks of Apple Inc.

1. Light Reading- Average data consumption eclipses half a terabyte per month

- David Sobotta, Vice President, WideOpen Networks

How a Router Switch Sped Things Up

  • Posted on: 10 June 2022
  • By: djoyce

Blacksburg, Virginia, 06/10/2022

Speed Test

The Internet and I got to be friends almost 30 years ago and as I wrote in the article, Connecting Electronically Wasn’t Always So Easy, my Internet speeds and connectivity have struggled to keep up with my business needs.

In the fall of 2013, I was getting 22.51 Mbps down and 5.26 Mbps up. By 2020, the best cable service I could get managed 481 Mbps down and 22.8 Mbps up.

That might look fast but those highly asymmetric cable speeds just did not allow for easy, consistent video conferencing or the quick transfer of very large files to and from the cloud. Those two things define my business life.

Fortunately a move to a not so remote area and buying a new home in a subdivision with fiber (which I like to call a Fiberhood) changed everything. Having symmetrical fiber made a huge difference in what I can do from my home desk.

We got  our symmetrical 500 Mbps service the day after we moved in the house. We never even bothered to sign up for cable at our new house  but we have gotten very good at streaming very good at streaming so television has not been a problem. An inexpensive VOIP service gave us another phone line besides our smartphones.

However, technology marches on and as I got more bandwidth, I wondered if I would notice even faster speeds as we seem to be generating ever larger reports- a recent one was 139.6 MB.  I happened to find out that my service provider (I am not on a network with any involvement from our company, WideOpen Networks) had lowered their pricing. I called and found out that I could could get symmetric Gig service for less than I had been paying for symmetric 500 Mbps service - which proves there is nothing like competition to drive down prices.

I quickly signed up for symmetric Gig service and within a couple of days I was disappointed with the speeds that I was getting. This is not my first time around the Internet block and I have a good idea of what speeds the networks that we build deliver. I had been getting close to 480 Mbps up and down with my 500 Mbps hard-wired connection via our Gig Ethernet switch. With my new Gig services, my hard-wired speeds were rarely above 680 Mbps up and down. I called customer service and got the  suggestion that it was just overhead from my network. She told me switching to a different router would have little impact.

Luckily, I have a son who is a system administrator and network architect. I called him and he explained to me that the advice of a few years ago to buy your own router was outdated. He said new inexpensive chips allow fiber service providers to lease to customers excellent high-end routers that are more than capable of providing great speeds and reliability for home users.

I was initially skeptical since my very reliable Google router with mesh network was only two or three years old, but I did some research. I found out that my provider was using Calix Gigasphere routers which I knew were on the short list for ones that we are planning on offering for own WideOpen Networks’ customers.

That sealed the deal.  I called up and arranged to get one of the Calix routers. A few days later the technician arrived and just as I hope our technicians are, he was even five minutes early. I had the name and password of my old WiFi network ready. That was important since we have twenty-five devices on our network, many of them wireless, ranging from my original Kindle Fire to our garage door opener. The technician unplugged the old Google router and plugged in the new Calix one. I downloaded the CommandIQ app from the Google Play store to my smartphone, created a new account, logged into it, gave the new WiFi network the exact same name and password as the old one. Next we tested the wired connection on one of my hard-wired computers. Even at noon the speeds were a huge improvement.

Then I did wireless tests that mostly involved me running the network speed test on the Calix CommandIQ app in every room. The wireless tested fine. Even better than the speeds, there seems to be no need for a mesh network. All our devices worked fine, including our LG television, the iPads, the Chromebooks, all our Macs, Windows computers, even my Linux computer and the WiFi on both our smartphones. I did not get locked out because I still able to open our WiFi-enabled garage door using my smartphone. Our speeds are now regularly in the high 800 Mbps even during busy times of the day. In the not so busy times, we hit over 900 Mbps.

You can go crazy running speed tests especially if you are trying to do it wirelessly with computers and have no idea what kind of WiFi connectivity that the computer has. I easily ran over half a dozen different speed tests and never got the same result twice. As my son likes to say, at speeds of anything over 500 Mbps per second, there is either something between you and the test server impacting performance or the server cannot handle higher data rates. In any case with a new router it is more than likely something beyond your network keeping your from hitting over 900 Mbps.

Good advice is sometimes hard to come by but I think that I am safe in saying that if you have fiber and your speeds are not where they should be, maybe it is time to look at one of the routers supported by your service provider. If they are good fiber provider, you will likely be pleased with the results and there will be no pointing fingers at equipment since it came from the service provider.

- David Sobotta, VP of Sales

How To Be A Sensible Streamer

  • Posted on: 21 February 2022
  • By: djoyce

Streaming your choice of video channels is what the future holds. I spend a good chunk of my day job looking at the prices of Internet services across the country.

Blacksburg, Virginia, 02/21/2022

Streaming Prices

I studied cable, DSL, and fiber services in dozens of counties and communities last year. That along with my personal experience with prices and as an early streamer starting several years ago has helped our family to continue to save money after switching from cable and its expensive packages to fiber and streaming services.

However, it is easy to go overboard with streaming. The grandchildren show up and their favorite shows are on Disney+, so you subscribe. An older child comes home and wants some Apple TV channels. It only takes three or four spur of moment decisions added to your regular streaming services and you will be paying more than you would be for a cable package.

The way we handle our streaming services is to keep them on a budget. We budget $40 monthly for streaming services. We are Amazon Prime members so I am not sure we would allocate the full $8.99 (stand-alone cost) for Prime video but as you will see, even when we do that, we are still well under budget.

Our four current services for a fee are Prime Video at $8.99 monthly, Paramount+ $5.99 monthly, Britbox $6.99 monthly, and PBS Masterpiece $5.99 monthly for a total of $32.96 for all our streaming services. We also subscribe to the free version of Peacock. I recently canceled Netflix and Acorn while adding Masterpiece and Britbox.

We stream so much that it is easy to run out of new, watchable programs in two to three months. I manage all but one of our channels on Amazon prime so it is easy to see them and the costs all in one place. You also have the advantage of being able to snare some Amazon specials like HBO Max or Starz for $1.99 a month for two months. You just have to remember to cancel them. The picture at the top of the post is what you see in Amazon’s Video channels management console.

My studies across the country along the current Hulu and YouTube pricing I see tell me that about $70 a month will get you a full range of video services. So if you are paying $70 or more for your streaming services, you are not saving money and it is time to go on a streaming budget.

- David Sobotta, VP of Sales

Happy #SaferInternetDay!

  • Posted on: 8 February 2022
  • By: djoyce

100+ countries are together for a better internet and world. For home & school programs in the US #SID2022

Blacksburg, Virginia, 02/08/2022

Safer Online

Tuesday, Feb. 8 is Safer Internet Day, which will be celebrated this year in over 100 countries. ConnectSafely, the official US host, spoke to parents, educators and young people across the country to find out what’s on their minds when it comes to online safety and wellbeing in 2022. They took the questions and concerns — and a few of their own — to experts in online safety, parenting, bullying prevention, security, and executives at popular apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Roblox. The results were some great conversations with a wealth of advice and insights.

Visit https://saferinternetday.us/ for details, programs and additional resources for parents, guardians, teachers and students.

Multi-Room Wi-Fi Audio: Meet Sonos

  • Posted on: 3 February 2022
  • By: djoyce

When you're connected to WideOpen's super-fast and reliable fiber network, what's stopping you from listening to music anywhere in the house? Meet Sonos.

Blacksburg, Virginia, 02/03/2022

Sonos One

Long gone are the days where you can only hear your favorite music in the living room in front of the stereo. Sure, you could wear headphones around the house, or carry around a bluetooth speaker with you from room to room. But what if you want a seamless experience, no matter what room you're in (or, not inside the house at all)? That's where Sonos comes in, the brand of Wi-Fi speakers that has recently been gaining popularity in households across the US.

Sonos has a wide range of products. Their most popular product, labeled "One", is a simple stand alone speaker that you can add to any room of your house. They also sell two different types of soundbars, a subwoofer; outdoor, and even in-wall/in-ceiling speakers, for ultimate space saving.

The best thing about all of these products? They can all sync up to play the same audio, anywhere you have a Sonos speaker in your home. From cleaning around the house, doing laundry, working in the home office, cooking, working in the garage, or just lounging inside or outside, the same music will be playing perfectly synced up wherever there's a Sonos speaker.

The speakers sync up over WiFi, so as long as there's a connection, you can have music. You can control all aspects of your speakers through a smart home device such as Alexa, Siri, or Google Home, and there's also an app available for download to your smartphone. Sonos plays your music from whatever source you might have, including Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music (plus many more).

Other accessories sold by Sonos include a record player, network extender, an amplifier - anything that will make listening easier around your house.

And when you're on WideOpen's fiber network, you can be sure that your Sonos system will always work quickly, and reliably.

To learn more about Sonos and to purchase, visit https://www.sonos.com/en-us/home

Happy listening,

- The WideOpen Team

Your Local Connection

  • Posted on: 19 January 2022
  • By: djoyce

Blacksburg, Virginia, 01/19/2022

People are always asking, "What makes WideOpen Blacksburg's fiber connection better?" We just talked to a Comcast customer who was trying to edit some photos over the weekend and upload them to their cloud storage. They said it literally took two days to upload the edited photos. They did a speed test, and while they had 300 Meg down, they were only getting 6 Meg uploads.

Our fiber network is fully symmetric, which means our upload and download speeds are equal. If you order our 250/250 service you have 250 Meg down and 250 Meg up. Ditto for our 500 Meg and Gig service: 500 down, 500 up; Gig down, Gig up.

And unlike those "other" companies, we are your local network provider. Our headquarters are right here in Blacksburg, and our staff are all local. Stop by and see us if you have questions.

Adding Some Fiber to Your Life

  • Posted on: 17 December 2021
  • By: djoyce

Blacksburg, Virginia, 12/17/2021

Many folks in Blacksburg have cable services in their home and wonder how life with fiber to their home might be.

Our Vice President of Sales, David Sobotta. moved in February 2021, from the North Carolina coast back to Piedmont where he grew up. He also went from copper-cable-modem service to a fiber to the home (FTTH) neighborhood.

Below is an excerpt from his blog on the changes he noticed. He has a long history in the technology industry including twenty years at Apple

"Like many people who have been on a cable modem for decades, my experience has been a roller-coaster with some very frustrating experiences. By the time we moved in February 2021, our speeds had increased to 488 Mbps down and 24 Mbps up. Because of bundling, our phone service also was delivered by cable modem. The numbers looked impressive on the surface.

However, with a job that involves clients in over twenty states and a home office over seven hours driving away from our corporate office, experience had taught me that I could still expect problems with video conferencing which had become critical to meeting the needs of our clients since the pandemic.

Video conferencing with a cable modem, even with the best speeds that my cable modem company could deliver, involved using both the phone and my computer to establish a video-conference link. Collaborative tools just did not have reliable connectivity and even worse, sharing large files was anything but instant.

Our move let us subscribe to a symmetric 500 Mbps fiber connection provided by our local telephone company. Now joining a video conference whether through Zoom, Teams, or GoToMeeting no longer ties up our home phone line for audio. A simple click of a link delivers both video and audio that are crystal clear.

As our move cut the cable cord, I initially worried about how my wife would take to streaming. While she cannot see all of her favorite shows live, she has not had to give up any shows and she has found a far broader choice of shows. We get local live television through Paramount+. We rotate through a number of streaming services, cancelling them sometimes for several months until their content has been refreshed. My wife who is somewhat reluctant with technology changes has learned how to stream the shows that she wants without any help from me.

We are saving close to $500 per year and every service that we have is far better than what we had."

David’s full post is available at Adding Fiber To Your Life.

Having Trouble Finding Those Last Minute Gifts?

  • Posted on: 9 December 2021
  • By: djoyce

Blacksburg, Virginia, 12/09/2021

Protected

Shopping for certain people can be stressful, but especially when Christmas is right around the corner. Whether it's members of your family, coworkers or friends, there are so many options. Luckily, we've found a great guide of gift giving from The Verge! They have a wide variety of tech, gaming, and even fitness & wellness options. You can even narrow down your search by choosing a specific price range. Check out the guide in the link below:

https://www.theverge.com/22759813/holiday-gift-guide-best-tech-gadget-un...

The Home Security Series: SimpliSafe

  • Posted on: 15 November 2021
  • By: djoyce

In this 3-part series, we'll be checking out the best home security systems on sale today.

Blacksburg, Virginia, 11/15/2021

Protected

The final home security brand we're covering in this series is SimpliSafe. SimpliSafe is great for people who want a system that's the easiest and most straightforward to set-up and use.

SimpliSafe has a wide range of products, including indoor and outdoor cameras, motion sensors, smoke & carbon monoxide detectors, and temperature & water sensors. You can choose to build your own security system, or pick from one of their tailored bundles. SimpliSafe has multiple packages to choose from, depending on how secure you want your home to be.

Another perk of SimpliSafe's system is their 24/7 monitoring center. SimpliSafe's monitoring specialists use video footage to give authorities eyewitness evidence. That means if you're busy and can't get to your phone, SimpliSafe's team will review data and video evidence from the devices around your home to confirm that something actually happened, and can alert local authorities.

With WideOpen's quick and reliable fiber network, you can be sure your security system will never miss a thing.

To learn more about SimpliSafe and their products, visit https://simplisafe.com

- The WideOpen Team

A Local Airbnb Host Shares How WideOpen Blacksburg's Network Was a Game Changer for Their Home & Business

  • Posted on: 8 November 2021
  • By: djoyce

We asked Warren Neily how things were going after his first year on WideOpen Blacksburg's fiber network. Warren’s property is the last house at the far end of our rural fiber network:

"Wide Open Blacksburg was a game-changer for us in Ellett Valley! We struggled forever with slow speeds from Verizon, including paying extra for “band-width boosters” that throttled down mid-month after the allotted megs were consumed. Forget Netflix—we couldn’t stream anything.

BUT Adding Wide Open Blacksburg changed things for us overnight.

Overall better EASE OF LIVING. Finally, we have speeds to allow today’s family to function. Now we ARE able to work remotely--which was not possible before due to speeds / buffering. Plus, the kids stream content all they wish—no fear of throttling or monitoring controls to “save it” for work hours.

VALUE – cost-effective AND better. We could see value immediately in what we paid, vs what we got/ or didn’t get before. The math was simple.

BONUS to Business… adding new Wide Open Blacksburg service helped increase our AirBnB revenues. WIFI, if listed as an amenity, requires a documented speed making mid-week bookings harder. We regularly received critical reviews about slow internet—but no more! Now it’s mostly 5-Star reviews mentioning “great farm-experience paired with a week of Zoom Calls”—that’s what it takes to support today’s working professional traveler!

Kudos to Wide Open Blacksburg—we are getting great service for a price we never thought possible on our rural, remote hillside."

You can check out Warren's beautiful Airbnb by visiting the link here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/24334209?source_impression_id=p3_1636385601...

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