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Connections for the Future

  • Posted on: 15 August 2022
  • By: djoyce

Connections for the Future

Blacksburg, Virginia, 08/15/2022

Things have changed a lot since the original iMac® introduced “simple” Internet connections. 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. If you do not have our 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 the nDanville fiber network in Danville, Virginia. It is the fiber network which has become a cornerstone in Danville’s revitalization. Amazingly, Danville’s fiber network has been in operation since 2008. 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 of thinking about the speed of fiber is that commercially available technology already exists for 10 Gbps residential connections and for 100 Gbps business connections. It is unlikely that there are many people who need connections that fast today but it does mean the fiber that we build to your house now will be more than capable of meeting your full connectivity needs today 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.

I have been working for WideOpen for eleven years, and like my previous years in technology, 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 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 in the cloud. I am not unusual in today’s world.

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), 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.

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 cables 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 as quickly as possible. That is why we went with fiber and the coax cables for our house have never been connected.

When deciding to jump from one technology to another one, the questions are 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?

I answered all of those questions in the affirmative so I went with fiber. While I am living in rural Davie County, North Carolina, across the road from a twenty acre soybean field, I have Gig fiber. 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 waiting 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, 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 digital services that are rapidly becoming essential to our lives why wouldn’t you go for the gold and snatch some symmetrical fiber upload speeds. Look for fiber from a local company or a community owned fiber company, both are likely committed to providing great service to their neighbors?

The iMac with its USB ports started a revolution. None of us connect things to our computers with serial ports. Those of us who can use fiber should not be connecting to the Internet with coax cables.

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

- David Sobotta, VP of Marketing

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

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