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We are often told that we’re living in the information age – but it may be more accurate to say that we live in the content age.  More than any time in human history, we’re inundated from every side by content, in multiple forms – music, advertising, social media – and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the new frontier of streaming internet television.

For years, as consumers, we’ve had to pay more than we wanted for more channels than we needed.  Now finally, the almighty “bundles” are being broken and it’s become much more possible to pay for what we want, when we want it.

Cutting the Cord

There was a time, not long ago, when changing your television provider was a big hassle.  You had to coordinate it with the termination of your previous service, you probably had to be on the phone with 2 different companies, you might have to pay an installation fee, and there was a high probability you’d be out of service for at least a small window of time.  That’s not even to mention learning the ins and outs of a new remote control device!

Those days are over, and more and more people are “cutting the cord” to traditional cable television companies.  Switching television providers now is as easy as downloading a new app to your smart TV or hitting a few links on your phone, and the competition for your business means that companies are incentivized to lower your barrier for entry by eliminating up-front costs and allowing you unprecedented control over your content.

Viewing Habits

For many people, their choice of television provider depends on what channels or shows they like to watch.  In the current climate, many channels or shows are becoming exclusive to certain streaming services.  For example, as you’ve probably seen in the news, AT&T-owned WarnerMedia recently spent $425 million for the exclusive streaming rights to the popular 90’s sit-com “Friends” (it will be part of the upcoming “HBO Max” service set to debut in 2020).  With many viewers’ habits changing from so-called “appointment viewing” to “binge watching,” it has also become much more palatable for them to switch platforms as they switch shows.

“But can I get local news and sports?”

Many viewers still enjoy the content on their local channels, which is often still available on some online platforms.  Local sports, too, is another popular target of television watchers, and is similarly often available depending on the service.

Many streaming services offer free trial periods and promotional rates in the first few months.  There are even a few totally free streaming services with robust channel lineups, the most popular of which is called Pluto TV (purchased by Viacom in March for $340 million).  Most of the services offer a “TV Guide” type channel along with varying amounts of “DVR” functionality and storage space.  A few popular cable-like services with local channels are YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, and Sling, but a Google search for “streaming internet television” should reveal multiple options.

Competition is good for the consumer, everyone knows that.  But in the world of internet TV, it can also create confusion and obfuscation.  With so many options, how can anyone possibly know what to choose?  The good news is, you don’t have to choose.  Since it’s so easy to switch, you can essentially try them all.

Here is a rundown of a few of the currently popular streaming internet television options.

Caveat: These services are changing all the time.  All pictures and pricing are from Sept.-Oct. 2019.  These are the opinions of one writer.  Services were chosen somewhat randomly based on awareness of the service, user reviews, and accessibility.   This is not an attempt to review all streaming services out there. 

YouTube TV

Cost: $49.99/month and up

Considered by many to be the best current streaming internet television service, YouTube TV has the advantage of being owned by Google, which A) has a lot of money and B) knows what you like.  It offers probably the best combination of local channels, sports, news, and regular programming.  In addition, it offers unlimited “DVR” space, and allows you to keep recordings for 9 months, whereas many services only allow 30 days.  It is also among the pricier options, at $49.99/month.  Unlike many of the other services, there is only one level of service, with limited add-on channels.  In many ways it is the most “Cable TV-like” of the streaming internet television services.

A snapshot of add-on channels and pricing
Incredibly, YouTube TV offers unlimited “DVR” space.

Their “Guide” looks good and is easy to navigate on both PC and mobile.

YouTubeTV also offers the ability to “Pause” your membership for 8 weeks, allowing you to keep your recordings for a time without paying the monthly service bill, which is a nice feature.

Hulu + Live TV

$45/month and up

If YouTube TV, is #1 in the streaming television world, then the matter-of-factly named “Hulu + Live TV” is probably currently #2.  Offering a similar quality of service, Hulu also has the advantage of offering exclusive original content such as popular shows “The Handmaids Tale” and “Letterkenny.”

Unfortunately, their Guide interface could use a little work.  Instead of clicking on a show and having it immediately go to that show on full-screen, which is what you might expect, and what YouTube TV does, clicking on a show brings up a box with a play button, which if you press then brings up a tiny picture-in-picture version of the show in the corner of your screen which you then have to click AGAIN to get it to full-screen.  Not ideal!  Also, their Guide channel, with its lack of color or thumbnail videos, doesn’t look as good as YouTube TV’s.

“Oh, you wanted to watch this show? Too bad, you have to mouse around and click two more times.”

Hulu with Live TV offers 50 hours of DVR storage space, as opposed to YouTube TV’s unlimited.  There is an option to upgrade to 200 hours for an additional charge.  However, their DVR does not allow you to fast-forward through commercials, which is a large part of the appeal of DVR.  All things considered, Hulu with Live TV is a good service at a decent price, and YouTube’s advantages over it are somewhat mitigated by its good original content.

Sling

$25/month and up

Sling is the plan with the lowest base cost and the most add-on channels.  Their base plan is split between their “Orange” and “Blue” plans, at $25.00/month and $24.99/month, respectively, with many add-on channels available.

The differences between the two plans are somewhat complicated.

Some of Sling’s ordering options

Again, depending on what channels you like to watch, this could be a solid budget-conscious option.  (Sling recently lost all Fox channels to a fees dispute, but have since re-added them.) For example, Sling Orange is currently the cheapest way to get ESPN.  If you start adding a lot of extra channels to your base plan, the price could start to become prohibitive.  But the ability to edit your subscription at any time means that you probably don’t need to have them all at once.

Unlike many other services, DVR is not included.  You can however pay $5 a month for the ability to record 50 hours, although you can’t record Disney or ESPN channels.

Their menu and guide are fairly intuitive and along the lines of the others.  The black interface gives it a bit of different look.

Netflix

$8.99-$12.99/month

Netflix is different than most of the others on this list, for many reasons.  They are the only one to not offer a Live TV component, being purely a Streaming Video on Demand (SVOD) service.  They are also the only one without ads, although the convenient DVR functionality of most of the other services reduces the need to watch commercials.

Netflix is thought to be one of the only streaming providers to have “spent years and untold millions building out its own global CDN Network” [source].

They also correctly predicted the future importance of owning their own content, as they continue to spend billions of dollars on original content.  Literally!

CuriosityStream

$2.99/month

Another outlier on this list, the documentary-only video-on-demand service CuriosityStream is available on its own, as a website or app, or as an add-on channel for some of the other services.  At only $2.99/month, it has a huge catalog of documentary and educational viewing.  If your favorite part of Netflix is the David Attenborough-narrated nature shows, this is the channel for you!

Playstation Vue*

$45/month and up

Honorable mention to Playstation Vue.  Contrary to what is probably popular belief, you do not need to own a Playstation to watch Vue.  It is a streaming over-the-internet service, not tied to a device.  It gets generally good reviews, but this writer has not tried it.  Unlike many of the other services, it is offered in bundles, although they do also offer a variety of add-on channels.

*UPDATE:

In an illustration of this sometimes volatile market, Playstation Vue recently announced that they are “going dark” in January of 2020, leaving their estimated 500,000 subscribers in need of a new streaming service.

In our last blog, we talked about internet speed tests, and the many factors that can influence them.  One of those factors which we did not discuss is called a “content delivery network.”

 

A Content Delivery Network, or CDN, is a term for a particular way of distributing internet content.  Traditionally, when you browse to a website from your computer, the information is pulled from the website, carried over the internet, sent through an unknown amount of Internet Exchange Points to your local network, and then translated by your browsing software.

Physical Proximity

In a CDN, content providers (e.g. Netflix) place servers with the most accessed content in strategically placed locations at the very edge of where the Internet meets your local network (often in the central office of your ISP).

 

 

The benefit of a CDN structure for the end user is that the information is able to be delivered much more quickly and efficiently.  The closer to the edge the content resides, the less devices it has to pass through, and the less likely it is to encounter some form of resistance or traffic.

Flying  Vs. Driving

Internet traffic is very similar to actual traffic in that the amount of it that is sustainable is dependent on how wide the road is and how many other people are traveling on it at the same time.  If a typical internet connection is like driving a car down the information superhighway, a CDN is more like flying to an airport close to your destination, and then renting a car to drive the last 20 miles.

 

 

The benefit of a CDN structure for the ISP includes increased reliability, reduced costs, and improved security.  Most ISPs purchase bandwidth from one of the Tier 1 internet providers, so by decreasing their need to download information from the internet-at-large, they can reduce costs.

 

CDN servers, by storing the content users are accessing most often in a local server, is one of the easiest ways to decrease that need.  They also make it possible to download content even when that content provider’s website might be down.  Finally, since less information is being transmitted from the Internet, there is less of a security risk since all routing is done locally.

Net neutrality concerns

CDN servers are usually obtained by the ISP directly from the content provider.  This business arrangement can take many forms.  Typically, the server is provided at no cost, as the content provider wants the end user to have the best experience with their content possible.  However, the FCC’s removal of net neutrality rules in 2017 opened the doors to the possibility of ISPs favoring some traffic over others, which could take the form of “pay to play” CDN situations.  More on that in a future blog on the topic of net neutrality.

You may have noticed that there are many websites that test your internet speed – otherwise known as internet speed tests.  You might also have noticed that different sites will give you different results.  Why is that?  Today we’ll discuss how internet speed tests work, and delineate the many factors that influence them.

How do they work?

On the most basic level, the mechanics of an internet speed test are easy to understand.  To test your download speed, the test site sends a file of a known size to your computer, and measures how long it takes for your computer to download it.   Similarly, your upload speed is measured by how long it takes your computer to upload a file of a known size to the test site.

 

Simple, right?  Well unfortunately, there are a host of variables between your home router and the test site that complicate matters considerably.  Not only that, but conflation of the terms speed and bandwidth complicate the issue even further.

 

Most consumers assume that the number from their speed test should match, or at least approach, the number on their internet bill.  But in actuality, their internet service provider is selling them bandwidth, not speed.  The speed is impacted by many factors out of your ISPs control.  It is important to note that speed and bandwidth are two different things, although they are closely related and the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Bandwidth Vs. Speed

 

Bandwidth is a measurement of the connection, not the speed going over that connection. 

 

In other words, your bandwidth is your maximum speed. Internet service providers typically offer several tiers of service options, and they are usually differentiated mainly by download bandwidth, with cheaper options offering less download bandwidth and vice versa.  The average download speed in the United States in Q2-Q3 of 2018 was 96.25 Mbps.  (Download and upload speeds are typically measured in Megabits per second (Mbps)).

 

But again, bandwidth is a measurement of the connection, not the speed going over that connection.  Your bandwidth is your maximum speed.  So, an internet user with a service plan offering 100 Mbps of download bandwidth will not necessarily get a reading of 100 Mbps download speed from an internet speed test.

Leaving Your House, Entering the Internet

Once Internet traffic leaves your house through your router (which can itself limit throughput), depending on where it is routed, it may not have access to that same level of bandwidth.  If it does encounter a lessening of bandwidth, at that point the speed gets choked down to whatever that connection is.

 

The analogy of car traffic is often used to illustrate this idea.  If traffic is humming along on an 8-lane highway, and suddenly there are only 2 lanes, traffic is going to slow considerably.  The same thing happens on the Internet when a 1 Gbps  connection gets sent over a 100 Mbps connection.  In the context of this analogy, bandwidth is your vehicle’s maximum speed on an open road, under perfect conditions, with no other traffic.

This bandwidth bottlenecking is often a result of physical network cabling.  While you may be lucky enough to have an internet service provider build a fiber-optic connection right to your home, the internet-at-large is still constructed largely on the backbone of shared coaxial cable, which stands like Ozymandias over the desert of the cable TV industry.

Many Factors

In other words, despite information on the internet being transferred at a rate difficult to comprehend by the human mind, there are still constraints that are based on physical realities of how the internet is constructed.  Among these are the amount of bandwidth physically able to be carried by different cable technologies, the processing speed and the amount of routers and/or firewalls along the path of the information, the distance between them, and the amount of other homes or devices hooked up to the same internet connection.  Even your browser and operating system can place limits on your available bandwidth.

 

With all these factors at play, hopefully you can begin to see how the number on your internet speed test will not be the same number as the one on your internet plan.  However, there are a few things you can do to achieve the most accurate possibly speed test.

 

  1. Disable any non-essential processes running on your computer
  2. Use the speed test site recommended by your ISP (CTS Telecom recommends http://www.speedtest.net)
  3. Run the test at a low-traffic time of day (this may vary based on your location).

 

Although the entire Internet is not equipped to handle speeds up to 1 Gbps, CTS Telecom offers that amount of bandwidth because we are on the leading edge of Internet technology, and we believe the Internet will eventually catch up to our level of service.  In the meantime, regardless of the number on a speed test, we can confidently state that we are offering the fastest, most reliable Internet connections in our area.

Despite its somewhat whimsical name, the Internet of Things (often abbreviated IoT)  is a complex topic of global significance.  Its impact will be felt not only economically, in the form of new products and services, but socially, as the new generation of Internet-connected devices changes the way we live.

So what is the Internet of Things?  It’s the generally agreed-upon term for devices that connect to the Internet in one way or another, usually for a limited purpose.  For example, one of the most common IoT devices is a “smart thermostat.” A smart thermostat is one that you can control remotely, via an app on your phone for example, so that you can monitor and alter your home’s temperature from afar (in the context of internet devices, “smart” is just another way of saying “connected to the internet”).   “Smart home” hub devices like Alexa are also becoming increasingly popular.

EXPONENTIAL GROWTH

Believe it or not, research firm Gartner estimates that around 8.4 billion(!) such “smart” devices were in use in 2017 (this includes smart TVs), up 31% from 2016, and that this number will reach approximately 20.4 billion by 2020.  With this kind of incredible growth, it’s no surprise that the Internet of Things is a topic of great interest to the business sector.

Healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing are 3 of the fields expected to benefit most from the potential of IoT, but security and energy companies are also expected to invest heavily in IoT infrastructures, as remote-access cameras and the aforementioned smart thermostats become more widely available.  Cities and municipalities, too, will benefit from the power of the IoT to seamlessly integrate data to facilitate management of traffic flow, environmental issues, and safety concerns.

THE PERFECT STORM

There are a variety of factors, a “perfect storm” if you will, which has allowed for this proliferation of Internet-connected “Things.”  Widespread availability of wireless networks, cheaper processors, and the arrival of IPv6, which dramatically increased the number of IP numbers available for use, were all essential prerequisites for the opportunities for simple household items to be connected to the world at large via the Internet.

The world, too, has become more connected.  In 1995, less than 1% of the world’s population had internet access.  As of January 2018, that number was 55% and growing.  Bandwidth, too, is ever increasing, with some forward-thinking internet service providers already offering 1 Gbps download speeds as a standard internet service.  So as the ability of “Things” to be connected to the internet has increased, so too has the ability of people to be connected to those Things from the other side.

SECURITY & PRIVACY

One of the foremost concerns with all of this convenient internet access is security.  Bringing the internet closer to the world also brings it closer to malevolent forces who would use it for their own benefit.  One can easily imagine a hacker gaining access to a device remotely and using it to cause harm (for example, turning off industrial-scale smart refrigerators or other electronic devices), to say nothing of self-replicating viruses that could spread from one device to another.  Privacy, too, is wrapped up in the IoT, as cameras, remote monitoring, and smart homes become more and more prevalent.  Despite these challenges, the predicted success of the future IoT economy is easy to envision.

THE FUTURE

With once fantastical-sounding inventions like driverless cars on the foreseeable horizon, the potential applications of the Internet of Things are virtually limitless.  Past technological developments have led us to a present time where smart homes are becoming a reality.  With smart cities expected to appear by 2025, can a fully connected planet be far behind?

You may have seen the term “Colocation” and wondered what it meant.  Simply put, colocation is the renting of space in a provider’s data center.  Usually, this space is used to house important electronic equipment and hardware.  There are many reasons companies do this, from simply saving space to fulfilling one part of a complex disaster recovery plan.

24x7x365

Possibly the most important thing data centers offer is reliable constant operation.  Data centers by design offer 24x7x365 uptime.  Specialized cooling systems and redundant power options ensure that all equipment within the data center remains functional and at optimal temperature for efficient and long-lasting operation.

Data centers can also often offer speeds unattainable at a customer’s location.  Their proximity to the ISP as well as peering partners allows for the highest speeds available.

Disaster Recovery

A solid disaster recovery plan demands that you store some important equipment offsite, but what if you occasionally need to access or update that equipment?  Keeping it somewhere that’s far from your location, but not TOO far, can make such access quick and easy.  A data center’s redundant power, in addition to exceptional fire suppression and alarms, ensures that even in a local disaster situation it would remain much safer than most business sites.

Security

In addition to alleviating proximity concerns, data centers offer enhanced security.  Cameras, key card entry, written guest logs, sometimes even physical security are all often employed to keep unauthorized parties from entering the facility.  Once inside, guests are escorted to their own separately locked space.  Every data center has their own combination of security layers, but any will have security that far exceeds that of your average office building or data room.  In fact, most data centers undergo external audits to ensure they’re compliant with privacy and safety laws.

So why not just build your own data center?  Well, building a data center can be extremely costly.  Economies of scale allow colocation providers to offer the benefits of a data center at a fraction of the cost.

Managed Services

Another popular reason to take advantage of a data center is managed services.  Many administrative IT functions can be extremely time-consuming, but colocation allows an IT department to offload many of those functions, thereby freeing up staff to work on projects that directly contribute to their company’s bottom line.  IT departments who work in virtual systems can replicate those systems on their colocated machines, offering an enhanced layer of safety.  Additionally, again due to economies of scale many data centers offer the highest quality malware software solutions.

CTS Telecom does offer private colocation space.  The CTS data center has maintained 100% power and network uptime since inception for 3 years straight.  If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, CTS also offers voice, internet, IT solutions, and data transport. We invite you to discover how CTS Telecom can take care of your business’s needs. To get started, contact us today.

We’ve all heard the old saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  The unspoken part of that advice, of course, is that if you drop the basket, all of the eggs will break.  In the fast-moving world of business, you won’t be making any omelets from your broken eggs – you’ll be crying in your cereal.  Cloud storage services can help keep your precious data eggs safe and sound, ensuring you won’t lose time and money repeating work or even worse, having to shut down for a period of time.

So backing up your data is definitely important, and we recommend that anybody who cares about their data have at least some sort of backup plan in place.  We’re not going to take the route of this blog and invoke one of the biggest U.S. tragedies of all time, but we do think you should be at least a little bit frightened at the prospect of losing all of your data in some kind of catastrophic event.

The 3-2-1 Rule

Security standards in technology are changing all the time, but most experts in data storage services still recommend what’s known as the 3-2-1 Rule.  This rule, simply stated, is that you should have 3 copies of your data, on 2 different types of media, with 1 of them being offsite.  So, you have your “production” data, or the data on your computer or network that you use every day.  Then, you have a regular backup copy, usually made daily, on an external hard drive or other network external to your regular network.  Finally, you have one more copy, ideally also made daily, which is located offsite.

The reason to have this offsite backup is obvious – in case of physical damage like fire or flood, both of your local copies could be at risk.  Storing the data offsite is the only way to protect against data loss associated with physical damage to your premises.

The Cloud

Now when it comes to storing your data offsite, we’re not talking about an external hard drive at your friend Bob’s house.  We’re sure Bob is a standup guy, don’t get us wrong, it’s just that his house is susceptible to the same dangers as your business location – flood, fire, temperature fluctuation, possible humidity, and more.  So really, when you’re looking for the “1” in “3-2-1,” it’s a good idea to leverage cloud storage services to work for you.

While it’s not exactly true that “the Cloud is just someone else’s computer,” as a popular meme would have you believe, for the purposes of the 3-2-1 Rule we can look at it that way.  However, unlike most computers, Cloud copies are backed up regularly and there is almost no way to lose the data permanently.

Your Local Cloud Services Provider

Probably the easiest way to take advantage of cloud technology services is to hire a provider like CTS Telecom to set them up for you.  Many of these solutions come with their own software that make the backup process easy.  Once they are in place, running backups can be a simple automated process, ensuring that you’ll always have the “1” in 3-2-1.  And if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, CTS also offers colocation, voice, internet, IT services, and data transport. We invite you to discover how CTS Telecom can take care of your business’s needs. To get started, contact us today.

Has this ever happened to you?  You’re talking about the internet with your techy friends and you realize: a) “I don’t know what tiered ISPs are,” and b) “I don’t really know how the internet is structured.” Well, it isn’t just “a series of tubes” as one politician put it. No, a hierarchy of infrastructure exists, which many different commercial, community-owned, non-profit, and privately-owned organizations control.

Think of the vast, interconnected highway system that connects cities large and small across the United States. That complexity is similar to the information highway that makes up the backbone of the internet, except that instead of the government owning all of it, many entities are left to sort out all of the rules. They’re called internet service providers.

This type of multi-faceted system means negotiation is key. So, let’s go over how these ISPs decide to organize themselves.

Each tier corresponds to the level of IP Network Access.

Not sure what that means? Well, an ISP simply provides access for using the internet. Most ISPs own part of the physical network – think fiber, cables lines, etc. – while some do not. And those that do can leverage the size of their network to strike up deals with other ISPs. There are various arrangements for exchanging user traffic, but the three most critical categories are known as transit, peer, and customer.

Any ISP may have a number of these types of arrangements at a given point. These relationships decide which tier they are categorized under.

Tier-1 carriers are the movers and shakers of the industry.

Carriers with Tier-1 networks can reach every other network on the internet via settlement-free peering. Basically, they own enough of the physical network lines to carry most traffic themselves, and negotiate with other Tier-1 networks to get free access to their networks, and vice versa.

You may wonder why they don’t charge each other money, as in a transit relationship. Well, the actual transit cost incurred by a particular provider is often roughly equal to that of another provider, and as a result, exchanging financial information is redundant. Some ISPs have a network peering policy that list other desired qualifications, e.g. similar geographic reach, or monetary stability.

Some world-renowned Tier-1 carriers include:

Tier-2 carriers peer with other networks, but also purchase IP transit for full access to the internet.

Carriers with Tier-2 networks are the most common internet service providers. They peer with other comparably-sized Tier-2 networks, but they’re obligated to purchase access to larger Tier-1 networks.

Just because an ISP is Tier-2 doesn’t mean that their internet service is less effective. In fact, most Tier-1 networks prefer to deal with larger clients, leaving Tier-2 networks to focus on regional consumer and commercial internet access. CTS Telecom is a Tier-2 internet provider offering reliable internet access across Southwest Michigan. You can bet we stack up to the competition.

Popular Tier-2 Carriers include:

Tier-3 carriers strictly purchase IP transit.

When you hear people talk about net neutrality, this is why. Tier-3 carriers are usually last mile providers, meaning they connect consumers to the internet without a network of their own, servicing only the connection leading into your home or office. Content providers have little control over this part. As such, tier 3 ISP networks can be artificial congested, poorly maintained, or throttled.

To Find the Perfect Internet Solution for Your Business, Contact CTS Telecom Today.

Curious about what Tier-2 Internet Service Provider can do for you?  Schedule a free demonstration courtesy of CTS Telecom. We have an array of business internet services for all applications and budgets. And if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, we offer colocation, voice, internet, IT services, and data transport. We invite you to discover how CTS Telecom can take care of your business’s needs. To get started, contact us today.