A Business Technology Place

Data usage wants to be free

How much data do you use each month from your mobile and home internet providers?

Is it just me or do you find data caps both annoying and confusing? How much is a gigabyte of data? How do I know how much data I’m using when I check email, when I stream music, or when I watch a movie? Do I really have to keep checking my provider’s site to see how much data I’ve already used?DataUsage

I don’t even control all the data that is used by my account. What about all those pesky internet hackers that probe my home network? What about all those videos and ads that play automatically when I open a web page to read news?

I’m all for free enterprise and businesses making profits for the services they provide, but….

Unfortunately it has become the norm for cellular providers and a few home internet service providers to cap data because it is the key metric for how they price subscription plans in the market. To be fair, if every subscriber started streaming movies endlessly then it would overwhelm the capacity of the network and no one would be happy. But I wonder just how realistic that argument is from actually happening.

Right now the world of digital content is expanding and changing rapidly and both content providers and bandwidth providers are grabbing for their share of the profit pie. Consumers are rapidly moving to subscriptions for the content they want to consume from providers like Netflix, Amazon, and Sling.  But the cost of getting to that content is more than the subscription price when you have to pay additional fees for the bandwidth usage.  The price of the content subscription is customer friendly because it’s easy to understand. I pay a fixed amount each month and I can watch as much or little content from the provider that I want to. But the price from the bandwidth providers is fuzzy. I get a set amount of gigabytes from provider each month but I have no way to really know how much data I’m using and the measurement requires continual work on my part. Yuck.

Data usage wants to be free.

Stewart Brand said in 1984:

“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life.

On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.

So you have these two fighting against each other.”

We are in a similar place now with data content and data usage. Data content wants to be expensive because it holds a value to the consumer. But data usage wants to be free because providers will start to lower the price and provide higher data allowances to compete with each other.  Data usage also wants to be free because the consumer can’t easily meter it and in reality the usage is not what the consumer really wants to buy. Without the attractive content there would be no usage!

Solutions will evolve.

A few solutions in the right direction already exist. Rather than charge data overage fees some providers reduce the speed/bandwidth when a subscriber reaches a set threshold. This is a decent compromise for not financially penalizing a customer for overages but yet keeping a limit on overall capacity of the network.

But I believe to get to the best solution that the data providers need to be judged differently. Today, the providers are judged based on new subscribers each quarter. This is what drives all the discounts for new subscribers that last for a 12-month promotional period. What’s perplexing about this is that new subscribers are the least profitable! They have a high cost of acquisition and haven’t spent enough money with the provider to cover their cost. Why does the system reward providers for having more of the least profitable customers?

What would happen if the all the providers offered their best pricing to loyal customers? What if the price for loyal subscribers was tiered such that it dropped the longer the customer subscribed? What if the system judged the providers on customer loyalty and total subscriptions instead of new subscriptions? A system like that rewards the most profitable customers and allows the providers to focus more on quality service rather than eye-catching promotions.  Data usage fits into customer loyalty when the data service is reliable, fast, and available. More profits come from customer loyalty, not confusing customers with complex data metering plans.

There is a better way.

Onward and upward!

 

How to get HDTV from an Antenna to every outlet in the house

A few months ago I cut the cord on cable TV. I still use the cable company for internet, but I traded the cable television for subscriptions to Netflix, Sling, and Hulu.

For local TV stations I recently installed a HD antenna in the attic and I have the signal running to six outlets in the house from the single antenna. Essentially the HD antenna replaced the cable company feed to the TVs. Crystal clear reception of all the major networks. Nice!

Setup is not overly complicated if you understand that you are sending a single antenna feed into the main feed of the house. Here’s how I did it:

Supplies you’ll need to purchase (see steps for explanation and guidance):

  • HD Antenna
  • Coaxial cable long enough to go from your mount point to the entry point of the cable/satellite feed on the side of the house.
  • Optional: Cable TV power booster / amplifier
  • Optional: HDTV Digital Converter Box

Note: The details of your house will vary slightly. I include in these steps decision points so that you can make sure your installation is working before making a final installation.

  1. Check the distance of your home to nearest HD transmitters. I used http://www.antennapoint.com/. This is important because it will determine if you need an antenna rated for long distances.
  2. While on the site, also note the direction of the HD transmitters from your house because you’ll want to point your antenna in that direction.
  3. Buy a HD Antenna that is designed for mounting in the attic or outside. If you are beyond 50 miles from the nearest transmitters make sure to find an antenna with extended distance strength. If you are less than 50 miles then standard antennas should work as long as you have a good mount point. But research the specs and customer reviews for this point. I purchased this attic mount antenna from GE.  I’m about 25 miles from the station transmitters in my area.antenna
  4. Buy a coaxial cable (This is the same type of cable that runs from the wall to the back of your cable/satellite box) that is long enough to reach from where you intend to mount the antenna to the location where the cable/satellite enters the house. This is usually on the side of the house. I purchased a 100 foot cable because my entry point was in the basement. I probably only needed about 65-70 feet, but I didn’t want to be short and I thought the extra length could be used if I have to move the mount location in the future.
  5. Setup the Antenna on a single TV first to make sure it has the strength for reception and works.  I chose to test on a television in an upstairs bedroom because it was the highest point inside the house.
  6. Choose a location for mounting the antenna. The higher you mount an antenna the better as it will increase the chances of avoiding trees or other objects that could degrade the signal quality. Remember, you’ll want to aim the antenna in the direction of the transmitter stations for best quality.HD-Attic-Antenna-1
  7. Mount the antenna in the attic or outside. If possible run the long coaxial cord you purchased to a single TV as a temporary test of the mount location. Since I was in the attic, I ran the cable through the attic ladder opening to an upstairs TV for the test. This will allow you to adjust the antenna positioning if needed for more optimal reception.
  8. Run the coaxial cable from the antenna to the place where the cable/satellite line enters the house. Depending on your house and mount point, this could be the most difficult step of the process. Since I was in the attic I used a drill bit to make a small hole in the soffit very close to the downspout on the corner of the house. I then pushed the coaxial cable through the soffit hole into the attic so that I could grab it from the inside and secure it. Inside the attic I secured the cable along the wood beams for protection. I then used the downspout to hide the cable from visibility in the front of the house.
  9. Secure the other end of the coaxial cable to the place where the old cable line/satellite line entered the house and terminated.  It will look something like this.CableService Box
  10. There is probably a splitter of some kind as the main feed from the cable company splits to lines running to each outlet. This is the picture of what it may look like. If you use the cable company for your cable modem then you you’ll want to split it out separately from the TV feeds.Cable Splitter
  11. Reference the picture above and replace the feed going to the splitter with the new cable that is connected to your antenna.  The connection from the antenna should go to the splitter that has all the other cables going to the outlets in the house.
  12. Once you have made this connection then go to each TV in the house and make sure the cable line is connected from the outlet to the TV. You will want to go to the menu of your TV set and the antenna section to let it scan for stations.  Enjoy crystal clear HDTV!

 

Optional Items:

  1. Power/signal booster. Depending on the length of your cable coaxial runs and the number of splits at the splitter, you may need a signal booster. If you notice blurring or digital pixilation you can try to strengthen the signal.  I used this Motorola signal booster.  Install the signal booster between the antenna input and the coaxial splitter going to all the outlets in the house.motorola power boosterViewtv AT-163 ATSC
  2. HD converter box. Much like the cable/satellite set top box you can buy a HD converter box for the antenna signal. This device will show you information about the current content on the TV such as name of show. Most of the devices available for purchase also allow you to insert a USB data stick to act as a digital video recorder. I ordered one of these digital TV from ViewTV to go with the main TV in home theater. The other TVs have a direct connection to the back of the TV from the wall outlet.

 

Rewarding switching over loyalty

A fast marketing engine.

It took about 8 weeks for the marketing department at Charter Communications to catch-up with my decision to cut the cable TV cord. Considering the size of Charter, I’m impressed with the turn around time to add me to the prospective customer list mailings. New subscriptions are up for Charter and the company is doing well in spite of serious market pressures from alternative forms of media content and broadband services. But wait, what just happened here?

Rewarding switching and quitting over loyalty.

The offer that marketers make to prospective customers for reduced rate services during the first 12 months of service continues to add friction for customer loyalty. Consider the madness. I received an offer in the mailer equivalent to the pricing I had with Charter before I cancelled my service. When Charter notified me that my special pricing was over and that my rates were increasing I called to cancel service. During that call, no one tried to retain my business. 20+ years of cable service loyalty gone in a flash.

 

Cable and cellular providers are judged by Wall Street on the metric of number of new subscribers. So we are left with a system where the guy who has paid for cable service for 20+ years is paying a higher rate than the guy who just switched from somewhere else. We have a system where a customer can quit and then wait 8 weeks to be offered a better rate of service than he had when he was an existing customer.

Who is the winner?

The winner is the guy who quits the game altogether or jumps from one provider to another. But this isn’t how companies known for customer service do business is it? This isn’t what they teach in MBA class. This type of behaviour isn’t even really logical either. What customer likes to be treated like this?

“Profit in business comes from repeat customers; customers that boast about your product and service, and that bring friends with them.” ~ W. Edwards Deming

There has to be a better system. What say you?

Onward and upward!

I cut the cord on cable TV

I cut the cord (cable TV).

Yes! Whoo hoo!Cut the Cord2

I’ve been thinking about this since 2009 when I first wrote about online alternatives  and mail order alternatives to TV.  I didn’t cut the cord back then because the alternatives for live TV were not compelling enough to replace live sports and didn’t present a strong enough case to get my family away from TV. Then last year we added a Roku stick to a couple of TVs and Netflix.  This week I added a subscription to Sling TV and validated a HD antenna could pull local TV stations.

Then the final event that I needed happened. My cable TV company sent me a letter that the “promotional pricing” from last year was ending and that my monthly bill would be $55 higher. They were increasing the price of the cable TV, Internet, and charging an additional monthly fee for a HD converter.  (I should note that the HD converter is required to have cable now but they also charge a monthly fee for it above the TV content cost).

The surprising part of all this.

When I called the cable company to cancel the TV service they did not try to retain my business.  I’ve done this in the past to see how they could help lower the overall cable bill. That’s when they put me on the promotional plan. But this week I told them I was ready to cancel because the availability of alternatives had reached a point that I could find content to watch easily and that it didn’t make sense to pay over $100/month for cable TV.

That was it. I’ve been paying this company for cable TV for 25 years. It ended with a 3 minute phone call.

The economics of it.

For basic cable TV and three HD converter boxes I would be paying about $110/month for what they call the basic package. In my current setup with Netflix, Sling, and MLB.tv I have a monthly outlay of about $40/month.

To be fair, I still have a few one-time costs to add because I will purchase a few more Roku boxes and do something to make the HD antenna signal available to more TVs.  But I like those numbers.

The better win.

The way we watch content on TV has changed. With cable TV, I was confined to a screen in a location of my house.  I was limited to watching programmed content that someone else chose for me. I could record a few shows and change the time if I wanted. I paid for hundreds of channels that I never watched.

The new model is streaming the content to a number of devices including PC, tablet, and a traditional television. I choose the stations I want to pay for and for the most part the content I want to see. If I don’t use a service, I can cancel at any time.  Additionally, much of the content I watch is streamed commercial free.  I can flex add and delete services as needed or as my viewing habits change. CBS and HBO are two examples of content providers offering monthly subscriptions. Expect to see more of that from other providers.

A great example of this new flexibility happened just this week. I am writing this post from a hotel room while on a business trip. I haven’t turned on the TV in my room. Instead, I was able to stream a baseball game for my team through mlb.tv to my computer. I could not watch that game from the TV in my room because it’s not local market. Then I was able watch a movie that I chose on my tablet.

We’ll see how this progresses over the next few months. But I bet, I’m not going back to traditional cable TV.

Onward and upward!

Roku Streaming Stick

I had a television content problem.

Charter Communications went to a digital only network a few months ago and started requiring set top digital converters to unscramble program content. I’m not bashing Charter in this post for their decision, but when they did this, the two small TVs in my basement became unusable. I have a wall mounted TV in a workout room another one in a game room. Both have a cable coax drop next to them. But I don’t use them enough to warrant paying $20/month for two set top boxes and they don’t have a place to mount a set top box unless I created a stand or somehow mounted them on the back of the TV.

In a perfect world, I would not have cable TV service at all. I previously wrote about my obsession with dropping cable TV and cable TV online alternatives. But I also don’t want to create a family revolt. For right now, it simply is what it is.

HD Antenna Trials.

I tried a couple of different HD antennas for local programming and because I could mount the antenna behind the TV. I’m about 35 miles away from many of the major network broadcast antennas. The antennas provided limited success. The problem is that both of my TVs are in a basement and not near a window. Even with a power booster, the reception was spotty at best.

Enter Roku Streaming Stick.

My next thought was to buy a Chromecast HDMI stick to put in the TVs and then simulcast from a tablet near the TV. That would work for some content and provide an alternative to cable. As fate would have it though, when my wife was shopping at a local retailer they didn’t carry Chromecast. They had a Roku streaming stick and after some preliminary research we decided to give it a try.Roku_Streaming_Stick-20

The Roku streaming model was a closer fit for what I wanted. In the Roku system the device streams content directly to the connected screen and not as a simulcast. Since my display device is a wall mounted TV, I didn’t want to have to bring a tablet with me to view the content.

Roku Experience.

The installation of the Roku was simple. Plug the stick into a HDMI slot and the AC adapter to wall for power. Then change the source on the TV to HDMI and follow the onscreen setup. The process asks questions about language and wifi connectivity. Once configured an installation key is displayed on the screen with a URL and you simply go to a website to register the device.

After installation, the Roku menu presents applications much like a phone or tablet. There is a base set of applications or you can add more through the on screen Roku menu or via a computer hooked to your account.

Roku solved my television content problem.

It streams Netflix. It streams news channels with clips of recent news. It streams ESPN with live sports. It streams live music through Pandora. Let’s just say it has options. There are over 1000 app channels. Some of the channels do require separate subscriptions (like Netflix), but the Roku service is a one-time fee for the price of the stick. There is no recurring fee for the roku service. This is the type of solution I was looking for on those basement TVs that don’t get used everyday.

Oh and it still fits within my dreams to dump cable TV service. One day I’ll get there!