Tech Tuesday

LightSquared Saga Winding Down?

As the CEO leaves and a major partner may bow out, that doesn't mean other networks won't spring up offering faster ways to the Web.

It's been awhile since I visited the LightSquared issue here in Tech Tuesday. And if you look at a review of the news over the issues swirling around this potential business venture that might have benefited your farm, the reading can be exciting. From observations that the Obama Administration may have gotten a few donations from major investors (who had never given to the the Democrat party in the past), to word that a Department of Defense move may have been underway to collaborate with GPS firms to sink the venture and you get a sense of the gossip surrounding this high-tech venture.

Since the FCC pulled the plug on LightSquared's ability to operate in the spectrum it had provisionally granted just a year before, the company has seen its CEO Sanjiv Ahuja resign. Word also came down recently that Sprint, an early partner with LightSquared, has decided to walk away from the deal. The partnership had been operating under an extension as LightSquared tried to work its way through the regulatory GPS testing process in hopes of moving forward.

At the end of the day, however, farm areas may have lost a shot at a new way to get high-speed Internet communications - a service that will be essential in the future in helping all kinds of farmers run their businesses. This industry, from the small farm that self-markets products over the Web, to the larger operation that has to track a host of data points across a few thousand acres, will rely more heavily on high-speed Web access.

There are still satellite networks out there and they're investing in new services to enhance speed and delivery. For some remote areas, using a dish to get to the Web may still be the only choice. And it is more efficient than dropping thousands of towers on the ground (which was LightSquared's plan).

While there may be lawsuits ahead from LightSquared in a move to preserve its idea of creating a ground-based 4G network operating in a satellite band, the ruling by FCC so far will stand - it interferes with GPS and can't be allowed to operate.

Yet you'll be hearing about other services. A rising number of farm readers are getting faster Internet service for their farms, realizing the need to boost communications for enhanced efficiency. Add in the need to move and manage more data, and this effort becomes imperative. USDA's Rural Development folks have invested plenty in efforts to get lines out to each home, and enhance the infrastructure you use, and more of that kind of investment is on the way.

Bridging the Digital Divide is still a priority for many, and a lot of farmers remain stuck in the divide until more services are offered. Whether that's an enhanced satellite network (that doesn't interfere with GPS) or more land-based services remains to be seen.

Cellular brouhaha

So when is unlimited unlimited? When you stay below 2 gigabytes a month apparently. AT&T is taking a lot of heat from high-speed users of its data network who have "unlimited' plans (I have one) that the company apparently slows down when you cross some magic threshold. For your $30 per month you have that high-speed data available up to 2 gigabytes of service, then it slows down - which stinks for heavy users.

Cellular companies are facing a data bottleneck and this is one company's way of handling it. Others are making waves with their "true unlimited" packages, but data shows customers aren't jumping ship yet. AT&T says it's the top 5% of users that will be impacted, and your high-speed resets each month, it's not a permanent slow down. AT&T is especially impacted since government regulators ganged up on its merger with T-Mobile to defeat the corporate marriage, hindering AT&T's initial effort to ramp up network services.

By throttling back "unlimited" users to slower speeds, the aim is to get them to pay more for a higher level plan - say $50 per month for 5 gigabytes. Not great news for phone users who rely on those devices based on all the super services offered. AT&T was first with the iPhone and has built up a lot of customers with it even with Verizon and Sprint now carrying the phone.

I've never hit the 2 gig data use level so I haven't gotten the infamous AT&T warning, but I can see how it would upset some data users. It's a trend we should all watch as more of us rely on our smart phones.

Homeless hotspots

Latest controversy this week? The folks at the forward thinking South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas (SXSW to those in the know) got a new service this week. Homeless people who offered roaming high-speed data access. BBH labs has outfitted 20 homeless folks as wi-fi hotspots and given them tee shirts that offer a password to access to their personal wifi hotspot. BBH pays the homeless person $20 per day to wear the shirt and carry the gear. The program - which was for a limited time - allows the homeless person to keep the money they earn as a hotspot, and the aim was to call attention to the plight of the homeless in the shadows of a conference that draws a lot of high-paid CEOs and celebreties.

No matter what you think about the idea, at least one hotspot - Clarence - is getting his share of the news coverage. You can get the lowdown on the program HERE.

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