The Gradual, Meandering Progress Toward Fiber

Carl Weinschenk

The variables controlling the deployment of wired telecommunications infrastructure to businesses and homes are cost, throughput and, ultimately, best guesses on demand. The candidates are fiber, coaxial cable and copper, which is putting up a good fight before being relegated to the dust bin of telecom history.


There are lots of shades of gray among those simple options. AT&T, for instance, stops fiber in the street and uses DSL-enhanced copper to serve small groups of homes. Verizon's FiOS, meanwhile, brings fiber right to the premises. That's a more expensive approach, since each home must be provisioned with gear to convert the signals from light to electricity.


One of the key variables in determining what works and what doesn't is the density of users. The story can be very different in suburban, exurban and rural areas. In rural areas, demand is driven by the need to attract and keep businesses, the relative ease of deployment and, in many cases, a lack of competition.


In Clarksville, Tenn., the energy utility expects to flip the switch next month on a system that will provide video, voice and data services to about 50,000 residences and 5,000 businesses. This Telephony story says this will make it one of the largest municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) builds in the country. Utilities getting into the telecom game have an ulterior motive: A big driver is eliminating costly meter reading. One thousand customers now are connected, with the balance to be hooked up in a year and a half.


The $55 million project works out to $1,000 for each premises passed by the fiber. The utility will use equipment from World Wide Packets to offer symmetrical 10 Mbps Internet access, VoIP, digital television (200 channels), high-definition television (16 channels) and video-on-demand. Clarksville appears to have more competition than many rural areas: Charter Communications and AT&T both have a presence.


Fiber seems to be progressing in fits and starts around the globe. Fatpipe looks at the UK market, where regulators and the major carrier, BT, are working through issues centering on the uncertainty about the eventual use of the broadband network. The heart of the piece, though, is a Yankee Group graphic detailing the ways in which consumers reach the Internet in different regions of the world. Cable modems lead in North America and Latin America and DSL in China and India. Fiber is highest in China, where it only has 6.81 percent of the connections.


This post by Om Malik at GigaOm was written in anticipation of a FTTH conference in mid autumn. Products to be introduced at the conference -- from Corning and Neophotonics -- aim to reduce the cost of FTTH. The comments go off in a decidedly different direction: The respondents get into a debate over the need for the great capacity FTTH will provide. The feeling is that the capacity is not needed now, but valuable applications demanding such bandwidth won't be developed if such expansive amounts of capacity aren't made available.


AT&T said this week it is kicking in another $500 million to its hybrid fiber/DSL U-Verse initiative. That follows an investment of $1.4 billion in late spring. That, according to xchange, puts spending for this year and next between $4.5 and $5 billion. In addition to the extra cash, the company is cutting its homes passed figure from 18 million to 17 million for the year.


A look inside the numbers suggests that increased spending and reduced footprint expansion may actually be good news from fiber proponents' point of view. The changes seem to reflect an emphasis on the area controlled by recently acquired BellSouth. The story says it had been unclear how the telco would provide services in these areas, and an option was via satellite. The move is suggestive of startup costs, and implies that AT&T feels confident enough about fiber to roll it out in rural areas of which it originally may have been unsure.


There are a variety of ways in which fiber can be leveraged. Ethernet passive optical networks (EPONs) will predominate early in the near future, according to ABI Research. The study says active Ethernet (AE) will gain market share over the forecast period against EPON, broadband passive optical networks (BPONs) and Gigabit passive optical networks (GPONs).


The nature of the telecommunications infrastructure is fascinating because it involves several variables that all constantly change. However, the biggest variable, demand, seems certain to grow.

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