Wither or Whither DSL?

Carl Weinschenk

The media is built on describing what is new. In the case of telecommunications, the main body of news generally details innovations in how signals are carried. The key is to do so in a faster and more efficient manner.

No matter how much new technology there is, however, there still is far, far more old infrastructure in the ground, hanging off poles and strewn throughout other nooks and crannies of the network. It's not glitzy and exciting, but the real winners often are those who do the best job of squeezing everyone out of the old stuff.

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology is a good example of this. DSL was a technology originally developed by the phone companies to provide video over copper lines and to take market share away from cable operators. That plan didn't work out, and DSL sat on the shelf for a few years. When the Internet exploded, the telcos resurrected DSL as a way to use its twisted pair of copper to provide services. Thus, DSL was developed as a reuse technology able to boost copper. Now, a way is needed to re-reinvigorate the copper/DSL combo.

It's vital, since there is a massive universe of copper in the field, some of it has been carrying calls for 100 years. GigaOm describes a technique called vectoring. According to the story, it is theoretically capable of boosting DSL to 100 megabits per second (Mbps). The immediate topic is testing gear from Telebyte, a Long Island, N.Y.-based company. The firm said that it has developed the first equipment for testing vectoring on a flavor of DSL called very-high-speed digital subscriber line 2 (VDSL2).

It's clear that DSL providers need to do something. DSL Reports' story on the last findings by The Leichtman Group show that the DSL camp better come up with something pretty quickly:

Things got even worse for DSL in the fourth quarter, when cable companies added 82% of total net subscribers. While this may bother some smaller telcos (Fairpoint, Frontier, Windstream), larger phone companies like AT&T and Verizon appear to be welcoming these defections as they focus their attentions on more profitable wireless services.

The truth is that the industry should be on the verge of making decisions about DSL. LTE provides services that rival it in speed at a fraction of the capital expense. Verizon Wireless recently took a step in making LTE an access technology with the launch of HomeFusion Broadband. AT&T, which relies on DSL for the last mile of its u-verse platform, almost certainly is looking at moving to a hybrid wired/wireless solution.

The emergence of 4G could be the death knell of copper. DSL and LTE run at about the same speed. Assuming that nothing will emerge to juice up the wired technology, it likely will slowly be marginalized. Is vectorization that game changer? The industry will stay tuned, both on wired and wireless networks.

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