Consider Network Upgrade News Carefully

Carl Weinschenk
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Five Predictions for the Connected Enterprise in 2014

In recent months, there has been a great increase in the buzz around the idea of making 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) networks the norm. Each piece of news should be carefully considered, however.

One example is an announcement by C Spire. The firm said that it is upgrading an entire state, Mississippi, to 1 Gbps, which it said was a first. The Wireless Week story says that the first phase will consist of nine cities and involve laying 4,600 miles of fiber and millions of dollars in capex. Interest is high: Residents in 80 of 81 neighborhoods have paid the required $10 pre-registration fee.

The biggest obvious takeaway is the state-wide nature of the project. The question, however, is whether saying that an entire state is being upgraded means much. Such a project obviously will roll out incrementally over time and, if it falters financially, slow down or stop. Thus, the statement rings a bit hollow. C Spire will wire all of Mississippi, if it makes sense to do so.

Another possibility is that AT&T is stretching the truth in what it is offering. Last month, the carrier got a good deal of press with the announcement that it is upgrading a group of geographies. The release was vague and seemed to indicate as many as 100 cities would be targeted.

DSL Report’s Karl Bode clearly wasn’t impressed:

Ever since Google Fiber came on the scene, AT&T's response has been highly theatrical in nature. What AT&T would have the press and public believe is that they're engaged in a massive new deployment of fiber to the home service. What’s actually happening is that AT&T is upgrading a few high-end developments where fiber was already in the ground (these users were previously capped at DSL speeds) and pretending it's a serious expansion of fixed-line broadband.

Bode points out that the company even tacitly acknowledged that the announcement was more smoke than fire by noting that it doesn’t expect the initiative to change its capital expenditure plans for 2014. A project that doesn’t increase capex, he noted, is “either very tiny, or simply doesn't exist.”

Cox Cable also says that it plans to join the 1Gbps club. An interview CEO Pat Esser had with Bloomberg TV at the Cable Show in Los Angeles two weeks ago actually gave very few specifics. Esser said that an announcement on the target markets will be made during the subsequent two or three weeks. If so, information should be available in very short order. Clearly, journalists and others should, and no doubt will, take a close look at those details.

Speed is the name of the game. Cellular has moved from 3G to 4G during the past few years and is starting to look at the next step. 802.11ac is pushing the needle on the wireless side. On wired networks, 1Gbps clearly is the next big target. Folks should take news with a grain of salt, though, and carefully consider whether announcements are all that they seem.

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