- General, Slider, Technology

Are you in the race for faster internet speeds?

34 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet service.
A federal court ruled in June that broadband is considered a utility that can be regulated by the FCC.
Fixed broadband download speeds have improved 42 percent in the U.S. over the last year.
It’s easy to take fast internet speed for granted and leaves us wondering how we ever survived without it. Unfortunately, there are many Americans who don’t have easy access to the web, let alone at high speeds.

The upside is there’s still plenty of room for the industry to grow, which may be beneficial for investors. Let’s look at what’s happening in the industry today.

Millions of Americans can’t access high-speed internet

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a 2016 Broadband Progress Report earlier this year that revealed there are 34 million Americans who lack access to high speed internet service, defined as 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload or greater. That’s equivalent to 10 percent of Americans who are located in rural areas, on tribal lands or in U.S. territories.[1]

While 34 million Americans is certainly a large number, it’s an improvement from the previous year, when 55 million Americans didn’t have access to high speed internet. Unfortunately, about 47 percent of U.S. students today still don’t have access to the FCC’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students in schools, however. This accessibility gap puts many students at a disadvantage as assignments and studying are assigned with the assumption that students have internet access at home.[2]

So what’s being done about the gaps in the market? Competition continues between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide faster speeds to more customers and the government is also trying to step in.

Net neutrality is making headway

Net neutrality, also known as open internet, is a principle backed by the government, many tech companies, startups and consumers that would require ISPs to provide all lawful content to consumers without blocking or throttling.

Net neutrality would prevent ISPs from creating fast lanes and slow lanes for one source of content over another. For example, without net neutrality an ISP could push its own video content to consumers at super fast speeds and restrict Netflix or Youtube content to stream at a snail’s pace.[3]

Without net neutrality, ISPs could control how fast or slow content is delivered to customers based on the source. Source: BitsNBytes

The Obama Administration passed the Open Internet Act passed in early 2015 which re-classified broadband providers as common carriers. Since common carriers fall under government supervision, it wasn’t a surprise that the U.S. Telecom Association and ISPs such as AT&T filed a lawsuit against the FCC shortly thereafter to try and block the regulatory changes.[4]

The U.S. Court of Appeals’ District of Columbia Circuit rejected the telco industry’s claims this June. Now high-speed internet service on both fixed and mobile networks is defined as a utility, making it as essential and no longer allowing a luxury service exempt from government supervision.

Opponents including AT&T plan to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, politicians are actively trying to cut the FCC’s funding by $69 million and prohibit the agency from enforcing net neutrality rules until all legal challenges and appeals are resolved. [5]

Just how fast is the internet in the U.S.?

A recent study released by Ookla reports sizeable improvements in both fixed broadband and mobile internet speeds in the U.S. Here are some notable stats from their August 3rd Speedtest Market Report.[6]

Average fixed broadband download speeds surpassed 50 Mbps for the first time in 1H 2016, an improvement of 42 percent since July 2015.
Upload speeds for fixed broadband improved 51 percent over the last year, reaching 18.88 Mbps.
The fastest ISP for download speeds was Comcast’s XFINITY at 125.53 Mbps. Cox Communications came in a close second at 117.85 Mbps
Verizon Fios was the fastest ISP for upload speeds at 97.71 Mbps. Spectrum ranked in second place at a much slower 23.37 Mbps.
Mobile download speeds increased to an average 19.27 Mbps, an increase of more than 30 percent since last year.
Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are competing aggressively for the fastest download speeds and pricing to grow their subscriber base.
The fastest U.S. Mobile carriers were Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile with download speeds above 21 Mbps and T-Mobile for upload speeds over 11 Mbps.

While these improvements may appear impressive, the U.S. still lags behind on an international benchmark. The U.S ranks the 20th country in fixed broadband speeds and 42nd in mobile internet performance.

The top 10 countries for average internet connection speed in Q1 2016 according to Statisa were South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Latvia, Japan, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Finland.[7]

- Slider, Technology

Connecting The Dots Between AR, VR and MR

A number of technologies attempt to change the way we spot our reality whether it involves in penetrating into the virtual world or augmenting a prevailing one in an interactive and realistic way. The IT sector is growing at a fast pace with upcoming technologies transfiguring various businesses and acting as an impetus for transformation and acceleration.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality apps have been in the limelight for a spell, but there has been a new lad known by the name ‘Mixed Reality’ that has been gaining a lot of attention recently from tech enthusiasts, market analyst and alike. This new technology is menacing to turn the gaming industry upside down.

1. The dedicated augmented reality device market is expected to reach $659.98 million by 2018.

2. The dedicated immersive virtual reality device market is expected to reach $407.51 million by 2018. (Source: Markets and Markets)

3. AR/VR could hit $150bn in revenue by 2020, with AR taking around $120 billion and VR $30 billion. (Source: Digi-Capital)

4. 24 million virtual reality and augmented reality devices are expected to be sold in 2018.

5. More than 12 million virtual reality headsets will be sold in 2017, with sales of augmented reality smart glasses expected to be worth $1.2 billion in the same year. (Source: CCS Insight)

6. By 2018 the virtual reality market could reach $7 billion, with $2.3 billion from the VR hardware market and $4.7 billion from software.

7. Sales of virtual head-mounted displays (HMDs) could grow from 200,000 to “about 39 million in 5 years”. (Source: Sophic Capital)

8. Blippar is one of the world’s best-known augmented reality companies. Earlier this year it confirmed a $45 million funding round. Source: Blippar(Source: Blippar)

Before getting into the depths about the differences between Virtual (VR), Augmented (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) we need to know the fact that these three are actually interconnected and not different. Among the three, VR is the most well-known but last year with the launch of Pokémon Go, AR has gained its popularity. Since VR deals only with the virtual world AR is actually an admixture of the real and virtual world. As the name suggests, AR is the ‘enhancement’ or ‘augmentation’ of the real world with an inclusion of digital elements something that a Pokémon Go player will know too well.

To simplify, it is a blend of Real and Virtual surroundings to build new visualizations where people and real-life objects coexist and interact with creatures, devices and landscapes in the digital world. It is also known as Hybrid Reality. A unique feature of Mixed Reality is that it allows its users to move through the real and virtual world both at the same time and with ease.

Mixed Reality is expected to be pitched as a gaming podium in its early days. However, it has not limited itself to the gaming podium but has also been integrated into various applications in a large variety of industries including entertainment, healthcare, aviation and education, manufacturing and similar others. It is also being tested by military authorities for combat training by various nations.

MR vs VR:
VR had been promoted as the next big thing in consumer tech which somehow failed to capture the imagination of consumers the way smartphones have been doing over the past decades. The giant key players of VR are Facebook, HTC, Sony, who have highly invested in new technology with devices like PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift.

So, what exactly is VR and how is it different from its two cousins?

Virtual Reality – A technology that uses computer-generated images to create a realistic virtual environment, which can be experienced and interacted with by people in the real world thereby making them feel that they are actually a part of the virtual setup. Specialized equipment is required to experience VR. Once you get the set up you will be able to look around the artificial world generated by the software, move about in it and interact with virtual elements giving you the feel like as if you really were a part of the virtual world.

VR creates an environment or surrounding that is entirely artificial while MR unifies real objects with virtual elements. Part or bits of Mixed Reality is actually ‘real’ while Virtual Reality has nothing connected to reality.

MR vs AR:
Now that we are aware of the difference between Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality let’s have a look at the difference between Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality.

About two years ago Milgram and Kishino defined Mixed Reality: “MR lies anywhere between the extrema Virtuality Continuum” To simplify the tech jargons we can say that Mixed Reality encircles everything from Augmented Virtuality to Augmented Reality which are the two terminuses of the tech world.

As the name suggests Augmented Reality is one end of the Mixed reality spectrum. It includes more of ‘reality’ than ‘virtuality’ whereas ‘Augmented Virtuality’ is all about the virtual world that is ‘augmented’ by the inclusion of real world objects.

Healthcare: Ranging from 3-D operating theatre to decentralized mental health treatments, AR and VR are thought to have widespread applications. Virtual organ models help surgeons prepare well for delicate surgeries.

Branding & Marketing: VR and AR are known to save time and money in zones like design reviews, client presentations, collaborations etc. Marketing and branding communication expressed through a VR or AR headset is likely to be highly effectual. This is because the experience is highly engaging, personalized and devoid of any distractions.

Entertainment: VR headsets have been a blessing for the inventors of video games. The reason for this is because they provide new opportunities for hypnotic content.

Education: VR and AR could transfigure the education market through hypnotic learning in both primary and higher education.

Mixed Reality promises to bring the best of Virtual and Augmented reality by blending advanced optics, motion sensors and cutting-edge software. It will open a whole new world of possibilities by bringing games, apps and interactions that we are yet to experience.

- General, Technology

AT&T/Time Warner deal flexes content’s muscle

AT&T sees an advantage to owning more of the programming it distributes
Content brands could be important as consumers use a variety of digital platforms
Motifs mentioned: Content is King
Stocks mentioned: AT&T’s (NYSE:T), Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB), Apple (NASDAQ;AAPL), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX)
Being a distributor of entertainment programs isn’t a bad business. But distributing and owning the shows people want to watch is even better.

That appears to be a big part of the motivation behind AT&T’s (NYSE:T) recently announced deal to purchase Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) in a transaction valued at more than $85 billion.

Time Warner, of course, is one of the country’s principal media conglomerates, owning HBO, CNN and Warner Bros. studios. AT&T, on the other hand, is a communication titan that runs a major telecommunications network but up to this point owns none of the programming that it pipes through its telephone and cable networks.

News of the deal quickly boosted shares of Time Warner, which have remained about 10 percent higher despite concerns that the deal will face heavy regulatory scrutiny. Time Warner’s stock also comprises about a 20 percent weight in the Content is King motif, which has gained 2.9 percent in the past month. In that same time frame, the S&P 500 has fallen 1.9 percent.

Over the past 12 months, the motif has decreased 3.4 percent; the S&P 500 is up 2.3 percent.

For investors of other content providers, the deal immediately prompted the question as to whether similar deals involving telecom and media firms would eventually come to fruition, possibly including such kings of the industry as Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB) or Apple (NASDAQ;AAPL), as major players try to create entertainment empires to stay relevant as consumers increasingly choose cheaper, digital alternatives.1

Indeed, as Bloomberg recently pointed out, both sides of this big merger had already been separately working to make it easier for consumers to watch more movies and TV shows online.2 Just last week, AT&T set a price of $35 a month for a web-streaming TV service, DirecTV Now, that will include more than 100 channels when it debuts in November. And Time Warner’s HBO rolled out an online version of its service last year for people who don’t pay for cable.

But this isn’t the first foray for a cable provider scooping up a major media company. In 2009, Comcast bought NBC Universal, while Verizon (NYSE:VZ) bought AOL last year and signed a deal earlier this year to purchase Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO).

Outside of those vertical acquisitions, pay-TV distributors have been merging to increase their negotiating leverage over the price increases media companies were charging for content. Earlier this year, Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR) bought Time Warner Cable for $55 billion. Last year, AT&T bought DirecTV for $48 billion, creating the biggest pay-TV service in the country.

This moving and shaking has grown out of the changes in how we now consume content – which is pretty much everywhere. Increasingly, the lines between smartphones, TVs and computers is murky with every device simply existing as a different platform for our choices.

AT&T’s bet is that physical cables will matter less amid ubiquity of wireless devices, and that individual brands will be more important for media distributors in this era of cord-cutting and cable subscription unbundling.