WTF, Comcast?

First off, I’m going to start posting technical articles here again. I’ve been on hiatus doing a web curation project over on Tumblr. That was good fun and all, but I started tailoring the content more to what the audience wanted to see than what I was interested in. A brief example is that an image post would ALWAYS do better than a quote or text post. I like writing, so here I am.

Ok, Comcast and Level 3. I know a thing or two about peering, I wrote a graduate level economic analysis of the practice when WorldCom was set to take over everything, but I’m not going to go into any details because I’ll probably get something wrong. Almost every article bouncing around the echochamber has glaring flaws in it, but I’m not going to go into that either.

Here is what I want to know and that nobody is telling me. Level 3 is a backbone provider getting into the CDN business. As a backbone provider, it is capable of entering into a peering arrangement as traffic flows on/off of their network. Level 3 has many CDN competitors: Akamai, Limelight, etc. These guys don’t run networks, so peering is not an option. This leaves them having to pay Comcast and the various ISP it delivers traffic to and thus gives Level 3 a pricing advantage.

Now Comcast is stating that Level 3 is a CDN and must pay. This is all well and good, but Level 3 is BOTH a network provider and a CDN. The fees the other guys pay generally have to do with colocation at the ISP peering points and not some much (or if at all, with network traffic)… and Level 3 does not have to pay the colo fees as they own equipment in these same facilities. So the question is, how much is Comcast charging regular CDNs for colo services vs. how much are they charging for network traffic?

If the charge for network traffic is non-zero (or pretty damn close), I’m at a loss. The CDNs seem to be doing the ISPs a favor by bringing the content closer to their customers and removing unnecessary traffic costs. I can understand a traffic charge for content flowing over a pure transit network (as opposed to a peered network), but I doubt such traffic would cost the ISP anything as they are on peered connections.

If anyone can point me to a sane explanation of the above and why Comcast feels it can charge a hybrid CDN/Network to deliver traffic to its own customers, the ones that made the request in the first place, it’d greatly appreciate it.

This post is intentionally light on technical detail.

A US iPhone 4 In Japan

This post originally appeared on my Tumblr.

There seems to be a super elite club that understands how to turn a US iPhone 4 Japanese. This is an unfathomable concept to 99.9% of the people you’ll talk to, but it is indeed possible and there are several solutions. I’ll run through the options I know of, but first let me explain my situation. I have an iPhone 4 through AT&T on Reduced Rate Suspension. I don’t mind unlocking my phone if I have to and I’m only here for a couple months. My options:

  1. Get a SIM card.
    There are several ways to do this: SoftbankJapan Communications or a disposable prepaid phone from the airport.
    Many caveats here. Softbank only supplies SIM cards for the iPhone 3GS, which is not micro so will not fit into the 4. You’ll run into the same situation with the airport disposables. Grab some scissors and trim it down to size.
    Japan Communications runs on the Docomo network but is a second class citizen. You’ll get a max 300Kbps up/down unless you are using one of the whitelisted applications. This is the theoretical rate, so you’re gonna go through hell at these speeds. Also, the Softbank Sucks site has a lot of good info.
  2. Get a portable wifi device.
    There are tons out there, but most are going to require a two year contract. Softbank offers the Pocket WiFi with a “contractless” option, but you basically pay for a year in advance. I was able to snap a pic of these prices while the sales guy told me I couldn’t take any pictures. eMobile and other companies offer the same Pocket WiFi for various prices. Instead of sending you off to various pages in Japanese, take a look at w00kie’s iPad 3G and Pocket WiFi alternatives in Japan. There are even pricing charts.
  3. Get on a wifi hotspot network.
    People are very paranoid about wireless here, so you won’t see very many open wifi networks. I’m constantly searching, but it’s ridiculous how locked down it is. In the US, I have access to g/n fiber networks left and right. Here, nothing.
    But you can pay to join a national network like Boingo. There are a ton of options which I won’t go over here, but this is a good link for a run down on the more common services - WiFi service in Japan. There is also a site dedicated to free wifi locations (Japanese only).

So what did I choose? Nothing, yet. I’m hoping to get feedback on this post about the magic fourth option I haven’t discovered. If you have ANY ideas, please comment. If you think you know someone that might have ANY ideas, please reblog retweet this.

I’m genuinely looking for info here.

H.264 vs. WebM

Update: At the end, I spell out why Apple “has a brain”.

In my post yesterday, I asked the question: Why is Apple promoting H.264 so heavily when they have only 1 patent in the pool?

The answer is: They have a brain. Well more importantly, they have money.

Google bought On2 Technologies and acquired the technology behind the VP[X] codecs. An open source branch of VP3 became Ogg Theora and was used as a free, but crummy video codec. VP8 is the foundation of WebM, the unencumbered, royalty free codec.

So HTML 5 has a video tag and people are fighting over what standard to use: WebM or H.264. MPEG-LA previously announced that H.264 would be royalty-free within free applications until the end of 2015 (PDF Press Release). Yesterday, they announced H.264 would be royalty-free forever (PDF Press Release).

Mozilla’s Vice President of Engineering, Mike Shaver says this doesn’t go far enough. I thought he was an idiot momentarily until I thought it through. His take:

The MPEG-LA announcement doesn’t change anything for the next four years, since this promise was already made through 2014…Given that IEC [International Electrotechnical Commission] has already started accepting submissions for patents in the replacement H.265 standard, and the rise of unencumbered formats like WebM, it is not clear if H.264 will still be relevant in 2014.

The big piece missing from the MPEG-LA announcements are the patent encumberence of H.264 and by extension H.265. Beltzer Shaver believes that by 2015, H.264 may not be relevant as H.265 will take its place (and he’s probably right). But what he may not be right about is the unencumberence of WebM.

Steve Jobs weighs in on the encumberence issue stating via email:

All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents. An open standard is different from being royalty free or open source.

x264 developer Jason Garrett-Glaser has an excellent piece on VP8. For the tl;dr crowd, he states (emphasis, his):

Overall, VP8 appears to be significantly weaker than H.264 compression-wise.

And more importantly:

Finally, the problem of patents appears to be rearing its ugly head again. VP8 is simply way too similar to H.264: a pithy, if slightly inaccurate, description of VP8 would be “H.264 Baseline Profile with a better entropy coder”. Even VC-1 differed more from H.264 than VP8 does, and even VC-1 didn’t manage to escape the clutches of software patents.

And finally:

It’s quite possible that VP8 has no patent issues, but until we get some hard evidence that VP8 is safe, I would be cautious. Since Google is not indemnifying users of VP8 from patent lawsuits, this is even more of a potential problem.

Next, as far as that patent pool Jobs was talking about, Larry Horn, CEO of MPEG-LA, and John Paczkowski of Daily Digital discuss

John Paczkowski: Let me ask you this: Are you creating a patent pool license for VP8 and WebM? Have you been approached about creating one?

Larry Horn: Yes, in view of the marketplace uncertainties regarding patent licensing needs for such technologies, there have been expressions of interest from the market urging us to facilitate formation of licenses that would address the market’s need for a convenient one-stop marketplace alternative to negotiating separate licenses with individual patent holders in accessing essential patent rights for VP8 as well as other codecs, and we are looking into the prospects of doing so.

Rock and hard place. I understand where Mike Shaver is coming from now, but I don’t think his options are very favorable either way.

So back to Apple and its smarts. By not dealing with WebM and paying royalties for H.264, Apple avoids the potential legal mess it could get into over patents. They pay the royalty anyway for OS X, so adding it to Safari is a no-brainer.

Tumblr Integration

TumblrI’m looking for a plugin that will

  1. Pull the Tumblr feed format.
  2. Parse into WP importable xml.
  3. Create new WP posts for new Tumblr items.

What I’ve found so far are Tumblr exporters/WP importers, javascript to embed tumblr, Ping.fm, other miscellaneous useless plugins. I’m not moving platforms so I want something that will pull out the new Tumblr items and post them here.

Do I need to code this or has it already been solved? (I admit my search for a solution was pretty feeble).

Advice appreciated!

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Right now I’m more active on clatko.tumblr.com.