AT&T’s extreme-weather drone provides new LTE coverage option in difficult environments

AT&T announces a tethered drone that is designed to operate as a cell on wings (COW) that can provide broadband coverage in extreme weather conditions—a capability that promises to be valuable to AT&T, enterprise customers and first responders, according to an AT&T official.

AT&T recently announced a tethered drone that is designed to operate as a cell on wings (COW) that can provide broadband coverage in extreme weather conditions—a capability that promises to be valuable to AT&T, enterprise customers and first responders, according to an AT&T official.

Art Pregler, AT&T’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program director, said that AT&T previously has used drones to provide surveillance video of cell tower and deliver LTE coverage to remote areas, but the new drone has been designed to operate in rain, snow and winds up to 50 miles per hour.

“With most drones, the manufacturer designs the drone and then—kind of as an afterthought—they figure out how it can fly in various weather conditions,” Pregler said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Whereas, with this drone, from its initial concept, it was designed for harsh weather.

“For example, the motors are pointed down instead of up. The arms are hollow tubes that channels air through the tubes to cool the engines while it’s running. We put a cybersecurity system on our drone, as well, so that if anyone tries to hack it, jam it or spoof it, the drone autonomously detects what’s going on and will switch frequencies, and it will mitigate the threat. We’ve done quite a few things to it to ensure that it’s robust, so it can operate not only in harsh environments but in threatening environments, as well.”

AT&T’s all-weather drone has a 550-tether that provides power and two strands of fiber-optic connectivity—one to support data transmission and one for drone telemetry—from the LTE equipment on the drone to a ground station, where myriad backhaul options can be employed, Pregler said.

“If there’s no backhaul at all, then we’ll default to satellite,” he said. “But, if there’s Ethernet available, we’ll tap into that. If there’s microwave, we’ll go with that. We can also go with free-space optical, we can tie into aerostats, and we can even tie into AirGig, which is an AT&T technology using power lines. So, there are a lot of options for backhaul.”

From a power standpoint, the AT&T all-weather drone can use power from the commercial grid, generators, batteries or even a solar-panel array, Pregler said. As long as power is available, the new drone can remain in flight “theoretically forever,” but AT&T is still conducting tests to determine limits. Currently, AT&T is not using a drone for more than 24 hours at a time without maintenance, although manufacturers have stated that they believe the drone can remain operational for several weeks at a time.

Such power versatility and the 550-foot tether let the new AT&T drone provide LTE coverage for a significant area—potentially much more range that AT&T realized via LTE coverage during disaster-recovery efforts in Puerto Rico during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Pregler said.

“The value of the drone with LTE technology is that LTE is line of sight, so the higher you go in altitude, the wider the coverage area,” Pregler said. “If you fly the drone at 550 feet, that’s taller than any tower in our network, so we’re able to put out a very large coverage area.

“In Puerto Rico, we only flew it at 200 feet, and even there, we had a 14-square-mile coverage area for each drone. And the real value there is that we’re able to get over trees, ridges and rough terrain, over buildings and over other structures, so it has a lot of value in the coverage capability.”

Pregler said AT&T’s experience in Puerto Rico using drone technology to provide temporary LTE coverage was valuable.

“We took our program from something that we believed could be done to putting it into practice and proved that is something that is viable, it does provide value, and it works,” he said. “It validated a lot of assumptions for us. We feel much more confident. Not that we weren’t confident to begin with, but having proven it in the field, we know our solution works.”


ATS Successfully Completes Annual ISO Audit

Advanced Technical Services has successfully completed a re-certification audit by NSF in May of 2018.

The certification verifies that the Quality Management System implemented and maintained by ATS meets the requirements of the ISO 9001-2015 standard for our repair processes.

ATS has been ISO certified since 2007 and is proud of the ongoing commitment from our entire team.

M&A: Comcast eyes Fox buy

May 23, 2018    By BTR Staff

Comcast  is considering an all-cash offer to acquire portions of Fox. Disney has already made an all-stock offer for those same assets. Comcast issued the following statement:

"In view of the recent filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by The Walt Disney Company ('Disney') and Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc. ('Fox') in preparation for their upcoming shareholder meetings to consider the acquisition of Fox by Disney, Comcast Corporation ('Comcast') confirms that it is considering, and is in advanced stages of preparing, an offer for the businesses that Fox has agreed to sell to Disney (which do not include the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox Broadcasting Company and certain other assets). Any offer for Fox would be all-cash and at a premium to the value of the current all-share offer from Disney. The structure and terms of any offer by Comcast, including with respect to both the spin-off of 'New Fox' and the regulatory risk provisions and the related termination fee, would be at least as favorable to Fox shareholders as the Disney offer."

"While no final decision has been made, at this point the work to finance the all-cash offer and make the key regulatory filings is well advanced."

In February, Comcast announced a proposed cash offer for UK-based Sky. Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2011.


Drones May Need ‘License Plates’ in the Near Future

May 24, 2018 | FAA
By Michael Pehel

A new rule proposed will require drones registered with the FAA to display a unique identifier assigned externally on the craft. Currently, owners are required to enclose the ID on the inside of the drone with the suggestion of utilizing the battery department. The precise method or form this external ID would take was not stated in the initial rule proposal, but would be determined through the rule making process.

The change was recently listed as part of the semiannual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, but the actual proposal happened over a month ago. The increase of small UAVs within the NAS has drawn the concern of regulators for years with the registration requirement for non-commercial drones going back and forth between the FAA and the courts. In May of last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the requirement was no longer necessary for hobbyist drones. By December, that ruling was rendered null by the National Defense Authorization Act, which required every drone weighing more than .55 pounds to go through the registration process.

In a recent forum hosted by Bloomberg, Acting Administrator of the FAA Daniel K. Elwell stressed the importance of tracking drones in the United States.“We need assurances that any drone, any unmanned aircraft, operating in controlled airspace is identifiable and trackable,” Elwell said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Calls for IDs on all drones are coming from both the defense and security side of things as well as the commercial market, whose vendors see digital IDs as a path to safe beyond visual line of sight operations.


Ford Will Stop Selling Fiesta, Focus, Fusion In North America

Ford's North American car lineup will soon be just the Mustang and the upcoming Focus Active crossover.

If you live in North America, say goodbye to the lovely Fiesta ST and Focus RS (pictured above). In its 2018 quarter-one earnings call today, Ford announced that it's going all in on SUVs and trucks here, and it plans to kill most of its car lineup within the next few years. At that point, the only cars it'll sell in North America are the Mustang, and the Focus Active crossover-esque hatch.

A Ford spokesperson confirmed to us that the current Taurus will end production in March 2019, while North American-market Fiesta production will cease in May 2019. There isn't a specific timeline for the end of Fusion production. The conventional Focus hatchback that just debuted for Europe last week won't come to the US at all.

All these cars are disappearing in favor of the SUVs and trucks customers demand, which are more profitable than Ford's cars anyway. Ford says that by 2020, 90 percent of its offerings will be "trucks, utilities, and commercial vehicles." The Dearborn company also says it's exploring potential new models that "combine the best attributes of cars and utilities, such as higher ride height, space and versatility."

In a statement, Ford CEO Jim Hackett explained the move away from sedans and hatchbacks.

"We are committed to taking the appropriate actions to drive profitable growth and maximize the returns of our business over the long term," Hackett said. "Where we can raise the returns of underperforming parts of our business by making them more fit, we will. If appropriate returns are not on the horizon, we will shift that capital to where we can play and win."

In layman's terms, Hackett is saying that Ford isn't really making money off cars like the Fiesta, Focus and Fusion, so it's shifting its focus to trucks and SUVs.

All of this is part of a plan to cut $5 billion in planned spending from 2019 to 2022. It makes sense, but enthusiasts who've grown to love Ford's hot-hatches like the Fiesta and Focus ST, plus the Focus RS won't like this news. Oh well, at least we're getting the Edge STand upcoming Explorer ST here. And we'd throw a fit if the Mustang died.


Google Said to Be In Talks With Nokia for In-Flight WiFi Technology

Google is reportedly in talks with Nokia to buy Nokia Oyj’s aircraft broadband division as part of its plans to build an in-flight broadband internet service. Bloomberg reports the companies are in talks about the issue and could agree on a deal soon. Neither company is commenting.

Nokia has been developing its LTE air-to-ground (A2G) cellular-based system for five years, however it’s a lesser priority for the company than 5G deployment, according to the account. Nokia’s system creates an airborne WiFi connection by communicating with cell networks on the ground, rather than a satellite.

“Passengers expect 24/7 internet connectivity that’s equal to their experience with terrestrial WiFi hotspots,” says Nokia on its website. “Current short-haul and medium-haul continental flights use satellite-to-ground internet communications systems that are bulky, expensive, and have limited capacity, as well as high latency.”

The telco says it’s A2G architecture eliminates “the delay hop to a satellite,” and is more affordable than satellite-based systems.

Nokia’s technology could help Google offer a faster WiFi service than what is currently offered on planes, according to the sources. Current in-flight connectivity is spotty with weak bandwidth, reports Bloomberg. A Nokia deal is a business opportunity for Google that would give it a chance to expand its services.

Indeed, Nokia says its LTE A2G technology will provide a better in-flight experience, with business travelers able to use video conferencing while leisure travelers can watch live TV. The telco boasts to potential technology buyers in a white paper, that its onboard equipment is modular and versatile, including one or two small antennas along with a “compact and low weight on board unit with a transceiver that acts as a hub and ground interface.” It says its secure IP architecture allows operators to build a “complete, cost effective end-to-end network, including core, backhaul, LTE Radio Access Network and modem or end-user devices”.





Exporting hurricane damaged “total loss” cars

Exporting hurricane damaged “total loss” cars

Posted on April 6, 2018 by aviyer2010

An article in the Wall Street Journal (April 5, 2018) titled “Hurricane-Damaged Cars Moving Again as U.S. Exports”, describes the disposition of over 600,000 cars declared a “total loss” i.e., whose repair cost would exceed their replacement cost. These cars are sold by insurance companies at auctions and then exported. The result is a 12% increase in export volume of cars shipped via twenty foot containers (at 5 cars per container). These repaired cars then find a new life in overseas markets where they are either salvaged for parts or refurbished for use. The continued weather challenges suggests that this export increase may continue as the supply of damaged cars continues at a rapid pace. Should manufacturers of these vehicles intervene to salvage these vehicles in the US, or let them find their appropriate demand locations ? Should vehicle designs be expected to change to respond to the nature of the weather patterns in coastal regions ?

Mediacom: Subs Flocking to 1 Gig Speeds

Who knew 1 Gig services might turn out to be popular even when priced fairly high? Mediacom certainly didn't.

In a pleasant surprise, the fifth-largest US cable operator is enjoying strong early subscriber interest in its new 1 Gig service powered by DOCSIS 3.1 over HFC lines. And that interest is there even though the cableco does not heavily discount the service nor offer any extra benefits. So go figure.

Speaking at Light Reading's Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies conference in Denver two weeks ago, Mediacom Communications Corp. CTO JR Walden said somewhere between 10% and 20% of new broadband subscribers are flocking to the cableco's new 1 Gig service, which it promotes as the fastest of its five speed tiers following a 16-month rollout throughout its 3-million-home footprint. Calling this early take rate unusually high, Walden said it compares quite favorably with the operator's initial penetration rate for DOCSIS 3.0 and the earlier DOCSIS specs. The 1 Gig service costs about $140 a month on a standalone basis and about $125 a month when bundled with other cable products like video and voice.

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"It's working great," Walden said. "It's also doing really well… far better than we thought it would do." Customers "are buying it at a really significant rate and we're happy to fill that need."

Mediacom, the fifth-largest cable operator in the US, has been one of the most aggressive US MSOs in rolling out DOCSIS 3.1, which can enable speeds as high as 10 Gbit/s downstream and 2 Gbit/s upstream. After upgrading its 22-state HFC plant for the new spec, the operator has been busy installing D3.1 cable modems in the homes of its data customers, covering 30% to 45% of its 1.2 million data households so far.

Notably, Walden said, Mediacom's early 1 Gig customers don't appear to be using the faster speeds in any new ways. For more on this story, please turn to our sister site, Broadband World News.




Cable capex still peaking with major network investments

by Daniel Frankel | 

fter major network infrastructure investments in technologies like DOCSIS 3.1, as well as a series of ambitious postmerger integrations, cable operator capital expenditures are still peaking. However, capex is set to decline over the next five years.

According to New Street Research, capex as a percentage of revenue will drop from a current level of 15% in the cable industry to around 10% over that five-year span. Meanwhile, capex per home passed will fall from $140 to $120.

Top U.S. operator Comcast, which is in the closing phases of its DOCSIS 3.1 network upgrade, as well as the national rollouts of its X1 video platform and advanced gateways, is already on the downslope. According to MoffettNathanson, the operator had capex of $9.404 billion in 2017, while also factoring intangibles such as software expenses. In 2018, the research company forecasts Comcast capex to decline 2.4% to $9.177 billion.


“For 2018, spending on customer premise equipment is expected to continue to decline. With X1 now deployed to nearly 60% of our residential video base, the pace of our rollout has started to slow,” noted Comcast CFO Michael Cavanaugh during Comcast’s fourth-quarter earnings call in January.

Conversely, at Altice USA, which is still early in an ambitious five-year plan to upgrade its entire Northeastern Optimum footprint to FTTH, capex is still trending upward. After incurring capex of $991 million in 2017, MoffettNathanson expects Altice to increase spending to $1.352 billion in 2018.

Indeed, while long-term projections point to cable industry capex trending downwward, the near term is a bit nuanced for the time being, with each large operator telling a different story.

Here’s a snapshot of publicly traded operators:


According to capex data provided directly by Comcast, which doesn’t include the “intangibles” added by MoffettNathanson, as well as NBCU capex, Comcast capex related just to cable operations increased from $7.596 billion in 2016 to $7.952 billion in 2017. Capex as a percentage of revenue, however, fell from 15.2% to 15.1% over that span.

Despite analyst projections of a narrow capex decline, Cavanaugh said during January’s fourth-quarter earnings call that “Our spending on our network will continue to increase. As a result, we expect cable capital expenditures overall to increase in 2018, although we believe our capital intensity could be favorable relative to 2017 by as much as 50 basis points.”

Here's the capex chart that Comcast included in its fourth-quarter earnings report:

Charter Communications

During Charter’s fourth-quarter earnings call in early February, CFO Christopher Winfrey said the company's 2018 capex "should be driven by many of the same factors as last year, including customer growth, Spectrum migration, all-digital, and in-sourcing and integration." He did say, however, that capital intensity would decline.

Charter reported capex of $8.681 billion for 2017, with MoffettNathanson predicting a rise to $8.822 billion in 2018.

“Next year, 2019 that is, should deliver a meaningful decline in capital intensity and dollars,” Winfrey added, with Charter finishing up its all-digital push, as well as its integrations of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks operations. The deployments of Charter’s Spectrum Guide video system and DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades will also be wrapping up.

"And even with video unit growth, the dollars of video CPE should also dramatically drop with a fully deployed base of modern two-way set-top boxes with the DOCSIS modem inside,” Winfrey added.

Here’s the capex chart Charter included with its fourth-quarter report:

Altice USA

Altice USA reported a 3.6% bump in capex last year to $991 million, as the company began its ambitious FTTH project in the Northeast, as well as the rollout of its new Altice One CPE package.

MoffettNathanson predicts a capex spike to $1.352 billion for Altice USA in 2018, while Morgan Stanley analyst Ben Swinburne forecasts a $3 billion rise in spending over the next five to six years as the cable operator completes its fiber rollout.

Also factoring into Altice’s capex growth: the deployment of a wireless service based on an MVNO agreement with Sprint made last year.

Here’s the capex chart Altice included with its fourth-quarter report last week:

Cable One

Other operators of greater size might look more symmetrical when placed on a capex analysis alongside much bigger cable companies like Comcast, Charter and Altice. Cox Communications and Mediacom come to mind, but they are both privately held.

WideOpenWest, meanwhile, is bigger than Cable One, but it didn’t report earnings until Thursday.

So that leaves Phoenix, Arizona-based Cable One to deliver a snapshot of the medium-sized cable operator spectrum. Cable One has familiar expenses: It’s still integrating 2017 acquisition New Wave Communications into its fold; and it’s still rolling out its DOCSIS 3.0-powered gigabit-speed product across its footprint.

MoffettNathanson predicts Cable One capex to rise from $179 million in 2017 to $193 million next year.


Comcast Outbids Fox for Sky

By Amy Maclean | February 27, 2018

Comcast has made a $31bln offer for Europe’s satellite operator Sky, 16% more than what 21st Century Fox has offered for the 61% of the company it doesn’t own.

If successful, it would be Comcast’s first entry into the European distribution market. It already has a strong presence in the UK on the programming side. The company projects the deal would increase Comcast international revenue from 9% to 25%.

“We think Sky is an outstanding company. It has 23 million customers and leading positions in the UK, Italy, and Germany. Sky has been a consistent innovator in its use of technology to deliver a fantastic viewing experience and has a proud record of investment in news and programming. It has great people and a very strong and capable management team,” Comcast CEO Brian Robert said in a statement.

The deal will nearly double Comcast’s direct-to-consumer relationships, jumping from 29 million to 52 million. If the deal were to happen, Comcast would also gain a multi-national OTT presence with Now TV, which just launched a new streaming stick for the contract-free service.

MoffettNathanson said the bad outweighs the good for Comcast shareholders because Sky is primarily a satellite company. “Comcast will have to twist themselves into knots to explain why satellite distribution won’t be just as obsolete in Europe as it already is in the US. Notably, the word ‘satellite; never even appears in the investor presentation that accompanies this morning’s conference call, almost as if they are hoping no one notices,” said a research note.

On the good side though, analyst Craig Moffett wrote that the deal will boost distribution of NBCU in Europe and the nature of the all-cash transaction would boost Comcast’s leverage to 3.0x EBITDA pro forma.

Now all eyes turn to Rupert Murdoch to see where this battle for Sky goes.