There are various timing disconnects in telecommunications. The most obvious is that marketers usually are way ahead of engineers and developers. For instance, they describe a 5G future in which a smartphone is massively more powerful than it is today. That day will come, but first 5G will be put to work in the far less exciting world of fixed wireless.
Another timing mismatch, which is also related to wireless, is the inherent advantage of wireless over wired technology. That superiority of wireless appears to be leading carriers to run from one to the other, even before there truly is equality between the two.
Reluctance to build any more fiber networks because the technology is fading is not the stated reason that Verizon and New York City have been involved in a long-standing battle over the telco’s obligation to wire the city’s households for its FiOS service. CNET says that the nine-year battle centers over whether the wording of the contract gives Verizon the right to wiggle out of fulfillment. That battle has culminated in a lawsuit.
The bigger question is precisely why Verizon would want to get out of fulfilling the contract. It clearly could be that technology has advanced so far since the contract was signed that the carrier sees wireless as a cheaper and easier way to serve the Big Apple.
The notion that the heart of Verizon’s strategy may be the desire to emphasize wireless is validated, to some extent, by the fact that it is exactly what Google is doing. Last fall, Google drew back on its wired plans. The company has reset its agenda with wireless in mind. It remains to be seen what the fiber/wireless mix will be, though it is clear it will use the latter wherever possible.
Not every company is abandoning fiber. Angie Communications, a startup, plans deploy fiber in cities abandoned by Google Fiber and 87 other markets. The company, which bills itself as the world’s largest telecommunications startup, will use a mix of wired and wireless technology. The approach doesn’t push back against the thesis that wired is going out of style, since the company will rely on dark fiber built by other providers now lying fallow.
There is no definitive thread connecting the lawsuit between New York City and Verizon, Google Fiber’s change in business plan and Angie Communications’ strategy. But, at a higher level, a pattern is clear: Companies are moving methodically away from wired communications to wireless.
The movement won’t be uniform because 5G is not yet quite the equivalent of fiber optics. At the end of the day, though, the industry is clearly entering a transitional period.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.