India IT a Limited Supply


Before founding my current company, I was on the technical staff for a large telecom provider.  In the early 1990’s about half of our tech team were hired on the H-1 visa’s  from India, all very sharp and good engineers.  As the tech economy heated up, the quality of our Engineers from India dropped off significantly, to the point where many were actually let go after trial periods, at a time when we desperately needed technical help.

The unlimited supply of offshore engineering talent evidently had its limits.  To illustrate I share the following experience.

Around the year 2000, in the height of the tech boom, my manager, also from India, sent me on a recruiting trip to look for grad students at a US job fair hosted for UCLA students.

In my pre-trip briefing we went over a list of ten technology universities in India, as he handed me the list he said,  “Don’t worry about a candidates technical ability, if they come from any one of these ten universities they are already vetted for competency, just make sure they have a good attitude, and can think out-of-the-box.”

He also said if they did not attend one of the 10 schools on the list then don’t even consider them, as there is a big drop off in talent at the second tier schools in India.

Upon some further conversations I learned that India’s top tech schools are on par with the  best US undergrad engineering schools.  In India there is extreme competition and vetting to get into these schools.  The dirty little secret was that there were only a limited number of graduates from these universities.  Initially, US companies were only seeing the cream of the Indian Education system.  As the tech demand grew, the second tier engineers were well-enough trained to “talk the talk” in an interview, but in the real world they often did not have that extra gear to do demanding engineering work and so projects suffered.

In the following years, many US-based engineers in the trenches saw some of this incompetence and were able to convince their management to put a halt to offshoring R&D projects when the warning signs were evident.  These companies seemed to be in the minority.  Since many large companies treated their IT staff, and to some extent their R&D staff, like commodities, they continued to offshore based on lower costs and the false stereotype that these Indian companies could perform on par with their in-house R&D teams.  The old adage you get what you pay for held true here once again.

This is not to say there were not some very successful cost savings made possible by Inidan engineers,  but the companies that benefited were the ones that got in early and had strong local Indian management, like my boss, who knew the limits of Indian engineering resources.

The Exploitation of the American Tech Worker


Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 10.07.59 AM

By Art Reisman
CTO http://www.netequalizer.com
I know what you might be thinking ,”Really? High tech workers being exploited?” And my answer is yes.  I’ll concede that this exploitation is not like the indentured servitude of the rubber barons of the late 19th century.  The players are more sophisticated, but the motives are the same.  Get a bunch of naive, young, impressionable people and waive a carrot with the possibility of riches and game on. Here is how it works.

Many top tech companies of today have started as more or less small unfunded garage shops, such as Google, Facebook, etc.  Venture capitalists have taken note of this, and they have also noticed how some of these young engineers will work day and night once they get sucked into thinking that their idea is the next Facebook.

The odds of any company growing into a valuation of a billion or more is quite small. What products will take off, what idea will get picked up on social media?  You just can’t predict this, but you can improve your odds by spreading your investment across a large number of infant startups.

From the investor standpoint, the equation makes sense. If you have a million dollars, you could perhaps fund one marginal existing company and hope they blossom; or you could take 50k and waive it front of 20 early stage startups who have not accomplished anything yet and are most likely running on fumes.

I see the articles 2 or 3 times a year in the local papers.  Boston alone has 50 start up incubators.  A typical investment company trolls these incubators, often sponsoring them, looking for promising, hard-working tech people with an idea and a prototype.  They offer them a small amount of cash, perhaps a nicer work space, advice, and so forth in return for a percentage of the fledgling company. Is this evil or wrong?  No, of course not. But there is the concept of subtle but very real exploitation going on here.  I’ll get to that part shortly.

A typical deal works something like this. Come to our incubator for the summer, we will give you office space, advice, and 50k for the three month period.  You’ll also get your company featured in a few newspapers and journals.  Local newspapers love giving free publicity to these incubators, especially if some big name VC is behind them.

Most likely 18 of these startups are going to fail through no fault of their own, it’s just their idea/product will go nowhere. One out of twenty might struggle along and create a small viable company with a niche market. And perhaps, just one will return 1000 fold or more on their 50k investment. That is the game.  Even that is a long shot, and you may have to play this game for several years before you hit that jackpot.

So now let’s take the 50k investment. Divide it by 3, for 3 months of summer and divide it again by 4, assuming the start up has four employees.  That breaks down to about 4k per person for three months, and most of these blokes are working 80+ hour weeks minimum, because they are chasing a dream. That is the culture of a tech startup.  Somehow, if you beat yourself into a tired frenzy, you are more likely to succeed, right?

Not really.  There are some people who do these insane hours, but the good ones are knocking off at 40 and are much more productive. But that is another article for another time.

Conservatively,  I can assign 300 hours a month per employee. That breaks down to about $4.50 an hour. Now granted, many of these tech startup people were working for free anyway before they struck a deal. So is this exploitation?

I don’t know, but take this into account – many of these investors are worth 100’s of millions or more and have multiple houses, boats, planes, etc. Essentially, when they buy a big stake in these start-ups, the engineers working for them now become their indentured servants.  Yes, the company employees are also driven by the potential of a big payout, but the odds are stacked against them.  Most will end up with a pile of credit card debt, and an old newspaper clipping for their resume.  I would hope that if I were the investor in this scheme I would make sure the people in the trenches made a living wage, perhaps $20 per hour?

How to Make Your Own Speed Test Tool


Most speed test sites measure the download speed of a large file from a server to your computer. There are two potential problems with using this metric.

  1. ISPs can design their networks so these tests show best case results
  2. Humans are much more sensitive to the load time of interactive sites.

A better test of your perceived speed is how long it takes to load up a new web page.

 

If you have a MAC/ Linux server in your house (or windows with Perl installed)  you can use this simple tool to measure and chart  the time it takes to load a random Web page.

The code below is a Perl script which samples the CNN home page every 5 seconds and records the time it takes to load. The data is stored away in a file called /tmp/xlog.

#! /usr/bin/perl -w
$julian=`date +\”%s\”`;
print $julian;
$verbose=0;
open ($LOGF , ‘>’, “/tmp/xlog”);
for ($i=0; $i < 60 ; $i=$i+1)
{
sleep 5;
$julian=`date +\”%s\”`;
print $julian;
system(“{ time -p curl -o output.txt http://www.cnn.com 2>/dev/null; } 2> x”);
system ( “cat x | grep real > x2″);
$line= `cat x2`;
chomp($line);
@specials=split(” “,$line);
print “$specials[0] $specials[1] “;
print $LOGF “$specials[1] , $julian”;
}

 

I then took the raw data from my file and charted it using google docs.

Note: I had to use another tool to get the link saturation , and match that up in the chart separately,  but even if you don’t have your raw link saturation metrics available, you can see the actual load time it takes to bring up the CNN page using the data generated by the script below.

Notice, my load time was pretty quick at first, but then I started a big download from Knoppix and with my link saturated you can see this severely degraded the CNN load time , peaking out at 9 seconds.

 

chart

An Entrepreneurs Guide to The Headwinds of Change


By Art Reisman

For anybody who has ever done something innovative you’ll find most technology advances require some sort of change in behavior on the part of the target customer  (consumer or business).  The larger the organization,  the less likely they are to embrace that change, many times they are downright hostile toward change.

I attended an entrepreneur group last month where a company is going to market with a smart Window that changes reflectivity with outside temperature. The demand and value for this product clearly distinguish it as cost-savings winner, and yet, because entrenched ideas about smart windows, it has been a 12 year battle of sacrifice and pain for founder Wil McCarthy to get his product to market.

Like eating an unknown berry when you have other food sources, the human resistance reflex is perhaps deep-seated and evolutionary.  On the other hand, people will react to perceived threats almost immediately, a topic I wrote about previously.

Here are some of the governing factors that limit the ability of  a new product to change or enhance a market space.

1) Cash. Most businesses have already spent their spare cash before they have accumulated it.  They don’t keep a kitty around for a new  idea. Typically they  have a long list of existing ideas politically competing for a limited amount of investment.

  • The sports bar could use new big screen TV’s
  • The factory needs new automated robots
  • The office building could save money with new thermal windows

Barring some rare financial good times, like the stock bubble of 2000, all new products must face the reality of “cash flow politics”.

The list of productivity enhancements for any business is endless, so when an entrepreneur comes along with a newfangled idea to help a business, the newcomer must compete with cash needs within the organization. The new product/idea must be either superior to the existing list, or you must politically work your way to the top of the list.   Barring some rare financial good times, like the stock bubble of 2000, all new products must face the reality of “cash flow politics”.

2) Credibility

Perhaps this line item should have come before cash, but realistically none of these are optional.

I am normally not a big supporter of using your friends and relatives as market validators, (they will never give you honest feedback if your idea has a flaw) but you’ll need some friendly reviews of some kind to vouch for your product as a reference. So get a few people to try your product or service and write a review. Don’t be bashful about aggressively pursuing your references to say something. There are no rules here other than the references must be verifiable – as long as you know your product works and are willing to stand behind it.  Don’t worry about how prestigious your reviewers are – just get someone to agree, get a quote or two, and then set up a professional looking web page with the contact information for your references.

Note: When you set up a Web Page, you’ll likely use a template. Make sure to fill out every aspect of the template, there is nothing worse than going to a business web site and finding templates that have not been filled out with thoughtful content.

3) Market Research, will they buy?

This does tie back to the Cash question.

Most young, first-time entrepreneurs assume that since they like their idea, and all their friends like the idea, then people will buy their product or service.

The best thing you can do to get real honest feedback is to sell your product early based on a description. Call it a pre-order, or a promise to purchase. Figure out some way to find out if a real customer is willing to pay any amount for your product, before you spend 1000’s of hours building your product.

The level of commitment could be something as simple as a registration form for a discount on your website. If somebody takes the time to fill out a form on your web site, they are likely to buy later… I don’t have the cycles to explain all the ways to do this type of validation, but I can tell you the narrow audience of talking to your friends and family about your product as your conclusive market research is very misleading.  Sure, they may buy it, but you need to engage a stranger and get them to commit to something. The registration for a discount is just one simple way to confirm a higher level of commitment of interest before you invest too heavily in the idea.

4) Best if your product returns something $.

People and business like things that make money for them. This scheme is exploited to the hilt with vertical marketing, (e.g. Amway  Corporation and such…).  I am no fan of vertical marketing, but my point was that you need to offer your customer a way to make money and then you’ll get their attention. A better example would be the ATM business, banks pay convenience stores to place their ATMs in their stores. Another example is pay-per-view TV in hotels. Lodgenet grew to a multi-billion dollar company by offering small hotels a share of the revenue for their pay-per-view. What do you think works better when approaching a hotel operator? 1) selling pool cleaning supplies, or 2) a pay-per-view movie system that creates revenue to their bottom line.

Although these types of revenue generating ideas may require a change in your entrepreneurial thought process, they will greatly increase your chances of financial success.

Guest Article From a WISP Owner in the Trenches


Editors Note:  A great read if you are thinking of starting a WISP and need a little inspiration.  Re-posted with permission from Rory Conaway, Triad WirelessRory is president and CEO of Triad Wireless, an engineering and design firm in Phoenix. Triad Wireless specializes in unique RF data and network designs for municipalities, public safety and educational campuses. E-mail comments to rory@triadwireless.net.

Tales from the Towers – Chapter 50: CRY ‘HAVOC!’, AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR

Interesting fellow that Shakespeare because not only did he write plays, he also acted in them.  And although Tales from the Towers doesn’t hold a candle (pre-electric times, you can groan now) to Mr. William’s contributions to culture, I have a double life too.  If you haven’t guessed it yet, writing articles really isn’t my full-time job (my wife is giving me the look that says I should find another hobby), I actually run a WISP, do installs, and handle tech support calls.  After 10 years though, and many mistakes and successes, I’ve decided to rethink my network from the ground up as if I was starting tomorrow and share that.  The idea is to help lay out a simplified road map that will bring forth thousands of new WISPs into the market that can start breaking down the digital divide without taxpayer money and creating a new business.  Since a thousand bee stings can take out the biggest animal, the more companies that jump into the industry, the better the chances of competing against the incumbents.  It’s time to open the floodgates of small business entrepreneurs and begin the war for last mile bandwidth delivery everywhere.  And although few outside Star Trek fans will recognize one of Shakespeare’s most famous sayings, they will recognize this modern variation, “Who let the dogs out”!  Hopefully it’s the WISP industry.

Triad_WirelessWhy would anyone want to start a WISP you ask?  Although many of us in the industry would say because we don’t have a life, the reality is that it can be a profitable small business model.  How about this, a typical WISP gross profit margin is about 90% (this varies depending on where you live).  Yes, you have read that correctly.  In the U.S., bandwidth costs average about $5-$20 per Mbps to a tower or some other demarcation point.  In some areas, it’s as little as 40 cents and others as much as $300 but in the 90% of the country that I believe WISPs have the greatest opportunities, bandwidth is inexpensive.  Even if it’s $20 per Mbps, that’s still a profit margin of 80%.  Wal-Mart would go apoplectic if they get half that and they squeeze suppliers like ripe lemons.  And my razor has more margin between the blade and my face than Amazon has on their products.  For any small business operator to find a product that he can buy for $5-$20 and resell for $100, legally I might add, is like printing money if you have the technical and marketing skills.

Between the FCC and the federal government being in the pocket of the incumbent cellular operators, tax-payer subsidized DSL providers, and all the FTTH zealots whose business plans are more like a lobbyists guide to squeeze taxpayers instead of a real business plan based on profit, it seems like being a WISP would be a huge challenge.  Ubiquiti, Cambium, and a few other companies now have second generation 802.11N inexpensive and broad product lines that are simple enough for even beginners to install and manage.  Throw in Mimosa with new 802.11ac product lines  (Ubiquiti is already shipping UniFi with 802.11ac) in the near future, and the wireless providers will be able to deliver speeds that will make DSL operators cry.  With those resources and lower costs, a wireless provider can provide bandwidth at wireline speeds and undercut the pricing or provide faster bandwidth at the same price.  Either way it’s a win-win situation and a golden opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of an industry that is only going to grow.  I’m not going to get into the triple-play option even though right now it’s the best model to fund FTTH.  I personally believe it’s a dying model as Voice-over-IP and Video-on-Demand will force everyone to a pure IP play in the future.

If you don’t think a WISP business model is a good idea, let’s analyze what the government thinks it costs CenturyLink (or what CenturyLink tells them it costs, boy do I want to send that invoice.  Yea, yea, it costs me $775, that’s the ticket ) to deploy a single customer with DSL with a speed of 3Mbps down.  The Connect America Fund was paying $775 per customer for deployment for these pathetic speeds plus subsidizing the monthly bills.  A WISP can do it for about $250 on-site and another $100 for the backhaul infrastructure per customer and probably make a profit on the install (hey FTTH guys, it really can be done without subsidies).  And even better, a WISP can charge less.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t expect anyone from the FCC to do the research necessary to save the taxpayers from this CAF boondoggle.  They are very, very, very, proud of it but hey, ignorance is bliss (here is where you should get sick to your stomach).  Private enterprise really can succeed without small business killing government intervention.

Before jumping into any business though, we need to analyze the competitive environment,   DSL and Cable, since they provide most of the population bandwidth.  What’s interesting here is that while DSL is on the decline due to limitations and age of copper wire, it’s not really being replaced by better DSL.  In some CenturyLink areas for example, they are pulling fiber closer to the homes to get their DSL speeds up to 40Mbps.  However, unless another wireless technology comes along though, that’s probably their swan song until they upgrade to FTTH (don’t hold your breath waiting for it though).

DSL providers have 2 basic areas, cruddy service in low-density areas where they are the only provider and reasonably decent service in areas where they probably compete against cable providers.  There are opportunities in both areas although the cruddy areas are where I would start first.  Those are typically pocket or peripheral areas but if you can get about 20 customers or more, it’s a profit center.  It’s also a place to build from and test the local zoning code in cases those are issues.

In areas where they are delivering far more bandwidth, they are also charging more.  And since they also try to bundle with either their service or satellite providers, they have to add taxes (another reason to avoid triple-play since it also adds more office infrastructure and accounting requirements).  In Arizona for example, a phone/internet bundle CenturyLink package delivering 1.5 to 40Mbps with bundle is about $30-$65 plus taxes (almost $10 worth if it’s bundled).  They also have a package with Direct TV and then the costs start climbing well about $100.  And all those packages come with contracts of at least 1-2 years.

Cable providers aren’t much different though. They are not only all about bundling; they have constant price increases and fees along with higher prices to start with.  Although cable providers can provide some great speeds, up to 150Mbps, it’s still more expensive to deliver than wireless.  Triple play providers like cable are also under a huge amount of financial pressure from content providers.  When they have to pass that cost along to customers, the customers don’t differentiate the services, they just know their bills have gone berserk and start looking elsewhere.  I’ve had customers call me with cable bills that hit $200 and we just tell them about Ooma (don’t even mention MagicJack unless your idea of a good time is slamming your head in your refrigerator door), Roku, and local TV.  Amazing how much people will adjust their viewing and phone habits to save $100 per month.

Cable providers are getting hammered by the FTTH zealots who simply don’t understand that almost NOBODY really needs 100Mbps to their house today and NOBODY in the investment community is willing to fund it unless they also happen to own a Senator.  Just to make the FTTH subsidized fiber supporters have a conniption, the cable providers should publish the percentage of their users that have 10Mbps, 20Mbps, etc…  Then publish their average use and peak numbers.  Selling 50Mbps circuits and above is one of the biggest scams in our industry today.  It’s all about the latency, baby!

There is no FTTH business plan on this planet that was taxpayer subsidized that I’m aware of as a stand-alone business that is profitable that I’ve ever heard of.  I’m still waiting to see one, but please feel free to send your financials if you think you have one.  I’ll stand by and hold my breath.  LinkedIn is a great place to see examples of that. If you take the WISP position or even suggest that FTTH is not financially viable today to the “Experts” when the government gets involved, you learn that you should be committed because you dare to point that out.  Apparently stating facts is redefined as zealotry when you ask for the financial results of these projects.  The best excuse I have heard about getting me off a FTTH discussion when I kept insisting on actual facts was where I was banned from the group, not because of my view but because my picture wasn’t professional enough (apparently it wasn’t my good side).  What I really want to do is follow the money to see how much these consultants and companies are making from the taxpayers while fully knowing the plan will fail.  In this case, it’s all about the money baby!

The end result of this is if you start a WISP, don’t worry about the FTTH providers unless you think some clueless bureaucrat in California or the CAF/FCC gets the idea it’s a great place to waste more taxpayer money.  Even if they come into your area, they will be selling something that is more expensive that what a WISP can provide and few people will pay for.  The FTTH boys think everyone should pay at least $50 for 10Mbps or more if you want faster.  The good part is that they will provide middle –mile backhaul for you to undercut them and will probably get bought out by Google for $1 when it loses so much money, even the politicians get tired of funding it.

Privately funded FTTH systems that have triple play products are actually bigger threat to wireless systems and natural migration paths for triple-play WISPS although they are generally in more rural areas or urban areas.  Many of the companies currently doing fiber started out as WISPs meaning they are generally more efficient, and usually already profitable.  They are playing for the long-haul and have the resources and experience to do it the right way with little or no taxpayer subsidies.  The bad thing for them is as they get closer to higher density population centers, unless they are Google and the local government bends over to help them, government regulations make it difficult for them to expand into cities or suburbs.  It always amazes me that the local bureaucrats would rather ignore local business for years or just make life miserable for them to justify their jobs, rather than reach out and see how the can actually help them be successful.  Then when things aren’t going to so rosy for the municipality, they fall all over themselves looking for a savior like Google who doesn’t give flying donut about them.  Here’s a clue zoning department, cold call every WISP and ISP anywhere near your and see what you can do for them in terms of making the regulations easier to work with them instead of just writing new ones.   They you won’t have to sell your soul to a Google because you screwed up for years and are now trying to fix the mess you created.

Now that we know the general competitive landscape, the next question is where to start your business.  Although our country is wonderfully diverse in terms of density, intelligent guys like Brian Webster have analyzed some states down to how many driveway basketball nets per square mile.  Other resources like www.wispa.org, the FCC, and www.goubiquiti.com, have coverage maps of WISP service areas among many other services that we will cover later.  Without getting overlay complicated, I define the areas into rural, suburban, and city areas.  Most rural areas already have at least 1 WISP covering them and some rural areas have multiple WISPS.  My personal preference and where the articles will be focused on (Okay, I detour when it comes to government intervention in the private industry), is between suburban fringes through to the city fringes.  This is the most opportune areas for WISPS that have the biggest investment bang for the buck.  It’s also the easiest way to get inexpensive bandwidth. Next article we will focus on the RF environment, planning, and budgeting since those are going to be very closely tied together (and I’ll probably make some other political comment there also).  Time to go, the Big Dog is scratching at the back door to get out and he’s got some business to take care of, as do we all.

How much on-line advertising revenue is fraudulent ?


Today the Wall Street Journal broke an article describing how professionals are scamming on-line advertising revenue.  The scam is pretty simple.

  • First create a web site of some kind.
  • Second hijack personal computers all over the world, or contract with a third party that does this for you.
  • Third have those computers visit your site en mass to drive up the popularity
  • Fourth sell advertisement space on your Website based on the fake heavy traffic

The big loser in this game is the advertising sponsor.

Our Experience

I have been scratching my head for years about the patterns and hit ratios of our own pay-per-click advertisements that we have placed through third parties such as Google  . The Google advertising network for Content Ad placement is a black hole of blind faith.  No matter how hard you examine your results, you cannot figure out who is clicking our advertisements and why.  I do know that Google on one hand takes fraud seriously, but I also know in the past we have been scammed.

Early on in our business, before we had any Web presence, we were putting a large portion of our very limited advertising budget into on-line advertising. Initially we did see a very strong correlation of clicks to inquiries. It was on the order of 100 to 1. One hundred paid clicks per one follow through inquiry. And then one day, we jumped to 1500 clicks. A whopping 15 fold increase in clicks, but there was no increase in corresponding inquiries, not even a tiny blip.  What are the chances of that ?  As you can imagine we had very little re-course other than to pay our bill for the phony clicks. We then removed our content placement advertisements and switched over to search engine only . Search engine clicks  are not likely scammed as Google does not split this revenue with third parties.

I honestly have no idea how big the scamming business on content advertisement is, but I do suspect it is enormous.  In the wall street journal article , the companies that have investigated and prosecuted scammers are large companies with resources to detect and do something about the fraud, the average small business placing content advertisements is running blind.

Who is Your Customer?


By Art Reisman

CTO – netequalizer.com

My morning ritual involves stopping in at my Local Grocery Store for  a cup of coffee at their branded coffee stand. Sometimes I also pick up a few grocery items before heading into the office. At this particular King Soopers, before 7:00 am, they don’t have any checkout lanes open. My only option is the automated line. The automated lanes are great when you have  one or two standard coded items, but every once in a while I forget the rules, and make the mistake. Never buy an un-coded bakery item, or some produce that the scanner does not know how to handle, doing so can make you the laughing stock of the store. The employees will huddle in the back room giggling at you on the security camera as you paw through endless menu options for a muffin that does not exist in the system.

This morning my first clue that something was amiss was that there were two check lanes open with attendants and baggers. All this at 6:45 in the morning. I also noticed somebody under the fresh flowers scrubbing the crud off the wood floor where the moisture seeps, two people organizing carts, and some strange men in suits huddling around the demo food vendors. Wait a second, demo food vendors at 6:45 in the morning?

“So is the CEO coming into the store today”, I asked the attendant who was dressed in some newly printed shirt, scrawled with a Dilbert slogan about customer service.” No not the CEO – he was here last week – today, we have the Vice President of sales visiting,” she replied.

I guess the VP of sales must bring them a ton of business because they were rolling out the red carpet like he was a Vegas high roller.

This reminded me of my early days as an engineer in Eagan Minnesota, at Sperry Corporation, when I had to break down all my experimental circuit boards in my Lab, and sit there, politely acting intelligent for two full days, because the VP of engineering was coming for a visit and might tour our lab at some point.

Sperry went under shortly after that incident. King Sooper’s parent company is healthy right now, and perhaps my experience is isolated and unfair.

I still ask the question, who is your customer?

Five Things to Consider When Building a Commercial Wireless Network


By Art Reisman, CTO, APconnections,  www.netequalizer.com

with help from Sam Beskur, CTO Global Gossip North America, http://hsia.globalgossip.com/

Over the past several years we have provided our Bandwidth Controllers as a key component in many wireless networks.  Along the way we have seen many successes, and some not so successful deployments.  What follows are some key learnings  from our experiences with wireless deployment,

1) Commercial Grade Access Points versus Consumer Grade

Commercial grade access points use intelligent collision avoidance in densely packed areas. Basically, what this means is that they make sure that a user with access to multiple access points is only being serviced by one AP at a time. Without this intelligence, you get signal interference and confusion. An analogy would be if  you asked a sales rep for help in a store, and two sales reps start talking back to you at the same time; it would be confusing as to which one to listen to. Commercial grade access points follow a courtesy protocol, so you do not get two responses, or possibly even 3, in a densely packed network.

Consumer grade access points are meant to service a single household.  If there are two in close proximity to each other, they do not communicate. The end result is interference during busy times, as they will both respond at the same time to the same user without any awareness.  Due to this, users will have trouble staying connected. Sometimes the performance problems show up long after the installation. When pricing out a solution for a building or hotel be sure and ask the contractor if they are bidding in commercial grade (intelligent) access points.

2) Antenna Quality

There are a limited number of frequencies (channels) open to public WiFi.  If you can make sure the transmission is broadcast in a limited direction, this allows for more simultaneous conversations, and thus better quality.  Higher quality access points can actually figure out the direction of the users connected to them, such that, when they broadcast they cancel out the signal going out in directions not intended for the end-user.  In tight spaces with multiple access points, signal canceling antennas will greatly improve service for all users.

3) Installation Sophistication and Site Surveys

When installing a wireless network, there are many things a good installer must account for. For example,  the attenuation between access points.  In a perfect world  you want your access points to be far enough apart so they are not getting blasted by their neighbor’s signal. It is okay to hear your neighbor in the background a little bit, you must have some overlap otherwise you would have gaps in coverage,  but you do not want them competing with high energy signals close together.   If you were installing your network in a giant farm field with no objects in between access points, you could just set them up in a grid with the prescribed distance between nodes. In the real world you have walls, trees, windows, and all sorts of objects in and around buildings. A good installer will actually go out and measure the signal loss from these objects in order to place the correct number of access points. This is not a trivial task, but without an extensive site survey the resultant network will have quality problems.

4) Know What is Possible

Despite all the advances in wireless networks, they still have density limitations. I am not quite sure how to quantify this statement other than to say that wireless does not do well in an extremely crowded space (stadium, concert venue, etc.) with many devices all trying to get access at the same time. It is a big jump from designing coverage for a hotel with 1,000 guests spread out over the hotel grounds, to a packed stadium of people sitting shoulder to shoulder. The other compounding issue with density is that it is almost impossible to simulate before building out the network and going live.  I did find a reference to a company that claims to have done a successful build out in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.  It might be worth looking into this further for other large venues.

5) Old Devices

Old 802.11b devices on your network will actually cause your access points to back off to slower speeds. Most exclusively-b devices were discontinued in the mid 2000’s, but they are still around. The best practice here is to just block these devices, as they are rare and not worth bringing the speed of your overall network down.

We hope these five (5) practical tips help you to build out a solid commercial wireless network. If you have questions, feel free to contact APconnections or Global Gossip to discuss.

Related Article:  Wireless Site Survey With Free tools

Imagine Unlimited Bandwidth


By Art Reisman – CTO – www.netequalizer.com

Art Reisman CTO www.netequalizer.com

I was feeling a bit idealistic today about the future of bandwidth, so I jotted these words down. I hope it brightens your day

Imagine there’s no congestion
 It’s easy if you try
No hidden fees surprise us
Above us high speed guy
Imagine all providers, giving bandwidth away

Imagine there’s no Quota’s
It isn’t hard to use
 No killer apps that die for
A lack of bandwidth too
Imagine all the gamers living layer 7 free

You may say, I’m a streamer
But I’m just gonna download one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And your speed concerns will be done

Is the Reseller Channel for Network Equipment Declining?


Back in 2008, TMCnet posed an interesting question about traditional PBX vendors. Has VOIP outgrown traditional business service channels? And that got me wondering, what is going on in the traditional network equipment channel? Is it starting to erode in favor of direct sales?

We are seeing a split in buying patterns.

1) Companies that do not have an in house staff generally make their equipment purchases based on the advice of their Network Consultants, VARs or local reseller.

The line between Network Consultants and VARs has always been a bit muddy.  Most network consultants tend to dabble in reselling.  Hence this relationship behaves like the traditional channel where consultants and VARs represent specific manufactures, and  mark up equipment to make margins. Customers benefit because the true cost of the consulting, to design and deploy their  networks, is subsidized by the margins the VARs make on their equipment sales.

2) On the other hand, companies and institutions with  in house IT staffs are starting to get away from the traditional equipment reseller.  They are more likely to do their research on line, and are more than willing to buy outside of a traditional channel.  This creates a strange double edged sword for OEMs,  as they are heavily dependent on the relationships of their channel partners to move equipment. For the same reason that those factory outlet stores are located outside of town, OEMs do not want to shoot themselves in the foot by selling direct and competing with their resellers.

Even though there is some degradation in the traditional channel, I don’t think we will see its demise any time soon for a couple of reasons.

1) Network solutions remain labor intensive, and expertise will always be at a minimum. Even with cloud based computing there is still a good bit of infrastructure required at the enterprise and this bodes well for the VARs and reseller who offer their expertise while acting as the conduit to move equipment with mark-up from the OEMs

2) Network equipment itself resists becoming a commodity. Yes home routers and such have gone that route, but with advanced features such as bandwidth optimization and security driving the market , network equipment remains complex enough to justify the value added channel.

What are you seeing?

Related Article:  Us channel sales flat for third straight year.

Deja Vu, IVR, and the Online Shopper’s Bill of Rights


By Art Reisman
CTO
www.apconnections.net
www.netequalizer.com

My Bill of Rights for how the online shopping experience should be in a perfect world.

1) Ship to multiple addresses. This means specifically the ability to ship any item in an order to any address.

2) On the confirmation page, always let the user edit their order right there, delete, change quantity, ship to address, shipping options, etc. All buttons should be available for each item.

3) Never force the user to hit the back button for any mistake, assume they need to edit everything from every page, as if in a fully connected matrix. Let them navigate to anywhere from anywhere.

4) Don’t show items out of stock or on back order UNLESS the customer requests to see that garbage.

5) You had better know what is out of stock. :)

6) The submit button should immediately disappear when it is hit, it is either hit or not hit, and there should be no way for a customer to order something twice by accident or to be left wondering if they have ordered twice. The system should also display the appropriate status messages while an order is being processed.

7) If there is a problem on any page in the ordering process, a detailed message on what the problem was should appear at the top of page, along with highlighting the problem field, leaving a customer to wonder what they did wrong is just bad.

8) Gift wrap available or not when selecting an item, not at the end of the ordering process.

9) If the item or order is not under your inventory control then don’t sell it or pretend to sell it without a disclaimer.

10) Remember all the fields when navigating between options. For example, a user should never have to fill out an address twice unless it is a new address.

Why is it so hard to solve these problems ?

Long before the days of Internet, I was a system architect charged with designing an Integrated Voice Response product called Conversant (Conversant was one of the predecessors to Avaya IP Office). Although not nearly as wide-spread as the Internet of today, most large companies provided automated services over the phone throughout the 1990’s. Perhaps you are familiar with a typical IVR – Press 1 for sales, press 2 for support, etc. In an effort to reduce labor costs, companies also used the phone touch tone interface for more complex operations such as tracking your package or placing an order on a stock. It turns out that most of the quality factors associated with designing an IVR application of yesterday are now reflected in many of the issues facing the online shopping experience of today.

Most small companies really don’t have the resources to use anything more than a templated application. Sometimes the pre-built application is flawed, but more often than not, the application needs integration into the merchants back-end and business processes. The pre-built applications come with programming stubs for error conditions which must be handled. For small businesses, even the simplest customizations to an on-line application will run a minimum of 10k in programmer costs, and to hire a reputable company that specializes in customer integration is more like 50k.

Related Internet users bill of rights

Is Your Data Really Secure?


By Zack Sanders

Most businesses, if asked, would tell you they do care about the security of their customers. The controversial part of security comes to a head when you ask the question in a different way. Does your business care enough about security to make an investment in protecting customer data? There are a few companies that proactively invest in security for security’s sake, but they are largely in the minority.

The two key driving factors that determine a business’s commitment to security investment are:

1) Government or Industry Standard Compliance – This is what drives businesses like your credit card company, your local bank, and your healthcare provider to care about security. In order to operate, they are forced to care. Standards like HIPAA and PCI require them to go through security audits and checkups. Note: And just because they invest in meeting a compliance standard,  it may not translate to secure data, as we will point out below.

2) A Breach Occurs – Nothing will change an organization’s attitude toward security like a massive, embarrassing security breach. Sadly, it usually takes something like this happening to drive home the point that security is important for everyone.

The fact is, most businesses are running on very thin margins and other operating operating costs come before security spending. Human nature is such that we prioritize by what is in front of us now. What we don’t know can’t hurt us. It is easy for a business to assume that their minimum firewall configuration is good enough for now. Unfortunately they cannot easily see the holes in their firewall. Most firewall security can easily be breached through advertised public interfaces.

How do we know? Because we often do complimentary spot checks on company web servers. It is a rare case when we  have not been able to break in, attaining access to all customer records. Even though our sample set is small, our breach rate is so high, we can reliably extrapolate that most companies can easily be broken into.

As we eluded to above, even some of the companies that follow a standard are still vulnerable. Many large corporations  just go through the motions to comply with a standard, so they might typically seek out “trusted,” large professional services firms to do their audits. Often, these companies will conduct boiler plate assessments where auditors run down a checklist with the sole goal of certifying the application or organization as compliant.

Hiring a huge firm to do an audit makes it much easier to deflect blame in the case of an incident. The employee responsible for hiring the audit firm can say, “Well, I hired XXX – what more could I have done?” If they had hired a small firm to do the audit, and a breach occurred, their judgement and job might come into question – however unfair that might be.

As a professional web application security analyst that has personally handled the aftermath of many serious security breaches, I would advocate that if you take your security seriously, start with an assessment challenge using a firm that will work to expose your real world vulnerabilities.

How to Put a Value on IT Consulting


By Art Reisman

This post was inspired after a conversation with one of our IT resellers.  My commentary is based on thousands of  experiences I have had helping solve client network IT  issues over the past 20 years.

There is a wide range of ability in the network consulting world, and the right IT consultant is just as important as choosing a reliable car or plane. Short changing yourself on a shiny new paint job with a low price can lead to disaster.

The problem clients must overcome when picking a consultant is that often the person doing the hiring is not an experienced IT professional, hence it is hard to  judge IT competency. A person who has not had to solve real world networking problems may have no good reference point to judge an IT consultant. It would be like me auditioning pianists for admission to the Julliard School (also a past customer of ours).  I could not ever hope to choose between the nuances of great pianist versus a bar hack playing pop songs. In the world of IT, on face value, the talent of an IT person is also hard to differentiate. A nice guy with good people skills is important but does not prove IT competency. Certifications are fine, but are also not a guarantee of competency. Going back to my Julliard example, perhaps with a few tips from an expert I could narrow the field a bit ?

Below are some ideas that should provide some guidance when narrowing your choice of IT consultant.

The basic difference in competency, as measured by results, will come down to  those professionals that can solve new problems as presented and those that can’t. For example, a consultant without unique problem solving skills will always try to map a new problem as a variation of an old problem, and thus will tend to go down a trial an error check list in sequential order. This will work for solving very basic problems based on their knowledge base of known problems, but it can really rack up the hours and downtime when this person is presented with a new issue not previously encountered.  I would ask this question of a potential consultant. Even if you are non technical ask the question, and listen for enthusiasm in the answer not so much details.

“Can you run me through an example of any unique networking problem you have encountered, and what method you used to solve it?” A good networking person will be full and proud of their war stories, and should actually enjoy talking about them.

The other obvious place to find a networking consultant is from a reference, but be careful. I would only value the reference if the party giving it has had severe IT failures for comparison.

There are plenty of competent IT people that can do the standard stuff, the person giving a reference will only be valuable if they have gone from bad to good, or vice versa. If they start with good, they will assume all IT people are like this, and not appreciate what they have stumbled into.  If they start with average, they will not know it is average, until they experience good. The  average IT person will be busy all the time,  and eventually solve problems via the brute force method. In their processes they will sound intelligent and always have an issue to solve (often of their own bumbling)   Until a reference experiences the efficiency of somebody really good as a comparison  a good IT person is hardly ever noticed) they won’t have the reference point.

Nine Tips for Organic Technology Start Ups


By Art Reisman

Art is CTO and Co-Founder of APconnections – makers of the NetEqualizer. NetEqualizer is used by thousands of ISPs worldwide to arbitrate bandwidth. He is also the principal engineer and inventor of the Kent Moore EVA, a product used to trouble shoot millions of vehicle vibration issues since 1992.

1) Find somebody who has built at least two businesses on their own, and better yet, somebody that has done it more than once from scratch.

For example, a Harvard MBA that went to work for Goldman-Sachs right out of school has no idea what you are up against. They may be brilliant, but without experience specifically in the field of growing a start up, their education and experience is not as good as somebody who had done it on their own.

2) Be leery of late 1990’s dot com moguls.

Many good people got lucky during those years. It was a rare time that will likely never happen again. Yes, there are as some true stars from that era, but most were just people who were in the right place at the right time. Their experiences generally don’t translate to a market place where money is tight and you must bite and scratch for every inch of success.

3) Be careful not to give too much credence to the advice of current and former executives at large companies.

They are great if you are looking for connections and introductions within those companies, but rarely do they understand bootstrapping a start up. These executives most likely operated in a company with large resources and rampant bueracracy that required a completely different set of skills than a start up.

4) Amazingly, I have found Real Estate Broker(s) are a great source for marketing ideas.

Not the agents, but the founders of the companies that built real estate companies up from scratch. I can assure you they have some creative ideas that will translate to your tech business.

5) Product companies must avoid the consulting trap.

If you produce a software product and (or any product for that matter), you will always be inundated for specialty, one-off, requests from customers. These requests are well intentioned, but you can’t let your time and direction of a single customer drive your feature set. The exception to this rule is obviously if you are getting similar requests from multiple customers. If you start building special features for single customers, ultimately you will barely break even, and may go broke trying to please them. At some point (now), you have to say this is our product, and this is our price, and these are the features, and if a customer needs specialty features, you will need to politely decline. If your competition takes up your account on promises of customization, you can be sure they are spreading their resources thin.

6) Validate your product see if you can sell to strangers.

Early on, you need to sell what you have to somebody that is not a friend. Friends are great for testing a product, or making you feel good, or talking up your company, but for real honest feedback on whether your product will be a commercial success you need to find somebody that buys your product. I don’t really care if it is a $10 sale or a $10,000 sale, it is important to establish that somebody is willing to purchase your product. From there, you can work on pricing models. Perfection is great but don’t stay in development for years making things better and perfecting your support channel, or whatever. The reality is you have to sell something to build momentum and delay to market is your enemy. If you do not find customers willing to commit their hard earned money for your product at some early stage you do not have a product.

You should be able to take early deposits on the concept if nothing else.

7) Don’t spend precious cash on patents and lawyers to defend non existing value.

As an organic or unfunded start up, the last thing you need to worry about is somebody stealing your idea, and yet this is the first piece of advice you are going to get from everybody you know. The fact is, there are millions of patents out there for failed products protecting nothing. I suppose it could happen, somebody steals your idea and profits before you get off the ground, but it is much more likely you will waste 6 months mortgage on a patent that you’ll never get a chance to defend. Even if you have a patent, you won’t be able to defend yourself with a large pocketed rival. The good news is if you have a good growing idea, investors will take care of the protection of your idea when they buy you.

8) Become an expert in your field. Maybe you are already? Sounds obvious, but make sure you know every detail of your technology and how it can help your customers.

9) Test the market like Billy Mays (may he rest in peace).

Before he passed away, Billy and his partner had a show where they took you through the test market phase of the products they introduced. The plan was simple, build a cheesy commercial to demo the cheesy product. Then run your advertisements in a small market metro area on late night TV. Although your audience may be insomniacs watching re-runs of old movies late at night, you need to find a way to test market your idea and get honest feedback (people calling trying to buy your product is a good indicator). You might even want to run some teasers to your market before you launch, but do so with limited resources. If you get a representative sample, you can then decide to ramp up from there with some confidence.

10) Need verses buy. The only measure of success is from somebody buying your product. Just because people “need” your product is not an indicator of if they are willing to pay for it. People “need” lots of things and only actually buy a small percentage. I need a bigger house , a nice car, a vacation to Hawaii. I also need a sprinkler system, faster computer, but I bought none of these things this past year.

In the last four years from 2008 and to 2012 hot selling items have been very basic services, such as telephone systems, heat, advertising.  Very few businesses are buying anything beyond the essentials in any quantity. This could change if the economy goes back into a growth phase, but the point here is to build something that is a necessity with clear value and you must test that value by selling product, an open wallet is the only to validate need verses buy Marketing surveys of intentions will not tell the truth. Don’t get me wrong there is always opportunity out there, but you constantly need to validate your threshold of value by selling something.

 

 

Related Business Advice Articles.

Tips to make your WISP more profitable

Terry Gold’s blog has a good bit of Advice Sprinkled throughout

How I got my start the story of NetEqualizer

Building a software company from Scratch

Wired Bandwidth Prices, and What to Expect in the Future


By Art Reisman

CTO – http://www.netequalizer.com

Art Reisman CTO www.netequalizer.com

Editor’s note: Art Reisman is the CTO of APconnections. APconnections designs and manufactures the popular NetEqualizer bandwidth shaper.

Bandwidth prices traditionally have a very regional component, and your experience may vary, but in the US there is a really good chance you can get quite a bit more bandwidth for a much lower price than what it would have cost you a few years ago. To site one example, we have a customer that contracts Internet services to supply several large residential housing units. Currently, commercial class business Internet service for 50 megabits runs $120 per month, which is the same price they were paying for 10 megabits 3 years ago. Essentially, they are getting five times as much bandwidth for the same price they signed up for 3 years ago. And they are not an anomaly. I am hearing the same story in almost every market in the US. We can conclude from our empirical data that bandwidth prices have dropped 80 percent in 3 years!

To answer the question on the future of bandwidth prices, we need to get a handle on what is driving them lower today.

Here are some of the factors:

1) The rise of Wave Division Multiplexing.

This has  most likely been the biggest factor in the recent reduction of prices. Although the technology has been around for a while, many businesses were locked into 3 and 4 year contracts. Now in 2012 , most carriers have  upgraded their networks to use WDM. The ability to greatly increase bandwidth  capacity without the cost of laying new cables, is now being passed onto the wholesale market.

2) The recession.

There is very little expansion of the customer base for demand of wired bandwidth. Yes, there is a huge space for wireless phones and such, and I’ll deal with those separately, but for the wired home or business there just are no new customers and there has not been for the past 8 years or so.

3) Broadband Initiative.

In some areas there have been subsidies to bring in higher speed lines where private business would have otherwise not made the investment.

4) Less infrastructure spending by traditional wired providers.

This seems a bit counter intuitive, but in the past few years, established providers have slowed laying out fiber to the home, and now they are free to charge a bit lower prices on their existing infrastructure because it is paid for. An analogy would be a rental car company that was able to go 3 or 4 years without investing in new cars, their expenses would drop and thus could lower their prices.

5) Competition.

This is somewhat related to the recession. Multiple providers in a market fighting for a flat or shrinking supply of new customers. Many of the contracts we see dropping to retain existing customers. Most of the sunk cost occurs in acquiring a new customer. Once you have a line in place with equipment at the customer premise, the last thing you want to have happen is to get outbid by an upstart, and you have room to move down in price so you discount heavily to retain the customer.

This may surprise you, but we believe the future (2013) holds higher prices.

Here are the reasons:

1) End of subsidies.

The government subsidies have worked but they have also been a huge embarrassment of waste and fraud, hence we won’t see any more of that for a little while.

2) Consolidation.

There will be consolidation in markets where there is competition, and the discounts will end. People love their wireless 4g, but those prices will never be competitive with wired to the business or home bandwidth. So once a region is down to a single wired supplier, they will be able to raise prices or at least stop discounting.

3) Expansion.

At some point, the real estate and business economy will begin to expand, at which time backbone and switching resources will become tighter from demand (this may happen just from video demand already). In other words, once providers have to start investing in more infrastructure, they will also need to raise prices to subsidize their new investments.

Related Articles and links

Business Phone News has a nice guide to purchasing bandwidth that explains the value of bandwidth management. This excerpt is take from their recent article on usage based billing.

Many business owners think, “I don’t need to worry about that as my IT director, IT department or IT contractor has got that covered.” Maybe yes, but maybe no! To double-check just how well your business bandwidth is being managed, download and take the “Business Bandwidth Management Self-Analysis Survey” in our Bandwidth Management Buyers Guide.

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