DSL: Still Not Dead

    Over the years, the two most overused phrases are events driven by “a perfect storm” and various uses of the Mark Twain comment that the news of his death were exaggerated. (A close third, especially in the technology game, is of a new platform representing a “paradigm shift.”)

    It would be great if I could use the Twain quote for this post on the tenacious survival instincts of digital subscriber line (DSL) technology, but I refuse to directly. (This is sort of a clever way of working it in there though, if I do say so myself.) It wouldn’t be entirely accurate, in any case. Nobody had suggested that DSL was going to disappear. It is too deeply ingrained in the telco infrastructure. But, by the same token, the assumption was that it would be gradually moved out of the mainstream to niche uses. The general thought was that technology was a lifesaver for the telcos, but it would eventually be put on the sidelines — at least to a great extent — as elegant fiber-based solutions take over.

    Instead, it would be better to describe a post by Bernie Arnason at Telecompetitor describing the technology’s staying power. While fiber indeed has made great progress, DSL has not given much ground. Copper is ubiquitous, and can be moved into a support position for fiber. AT&T’s U-verse, for instance, uses copper and DSL from the street into the premises.

    And things are looking up for DSL. Arnason points out that FiOS — the huge Verizon project that doesn’t use copper or DSL — is coming to an end and that universal service reform and the government’s Connect America Fund may investment in fiber, though he doesn’t elaborate.

    ABI suggests up and down DSL uptake. The figures prove one thing, however: It still is a player. This is how ABI puts it in a report on the worldwide state of fixed broadband services:

    The growth has come from all the fixed broadband platforms: DSL, cable, and fiber-optic broadband.  In 2Q-2012, DSL broadband subscription grew 1.2% from 1Q-2012, adding 4.3 million subscribers. The Quarter-on-Quarter (QoQ) growth rate was 1.5% in the first quarter. A slower QoQ growth rate indicates that DSL subscribers are shifting to other alternative platforms such as fiber optic.

    The other part of the equation is that those who suggested that DSL’s days were numbered didn’t take into account that it, too, could be made more efficient and faster via research. Arnason mentions advancements from a number of companies, including Alcatel-Lucent, Genesis Technical Systems, Lantiq and Ikanos. A company not mentioned in the post is ASSIA. Last week, the company introduced Expresse 3.1, a DSL management system that simultaneously manages vectored and non-vectored lines.

    The overall point is that a lot of companies are paying attention to DSL. It is far from a forgotten stepchild or the Cinderella of the telecommunications sector.

    Vendors are not the only group that see value in DSL. Hackers, seeing it as a living and breathing part of the network, are paying attention as well. Ars Technica describes a “sustained attack” in Brazil that infected more than 4.5 DSL modems, according to Kaspersky Lab’s Fabio Assolini:

    Millions of Internet users in Brazil have fallen victim to a sustained attack that exploited vulnerabilities in DSL modems, forcing people visiting sites such as Google or Facebook to reach imposter sites that installed malicious software and stole online banking credentials, a security researcher said.

    The lesson is simple: DSL may be yesterday’s technology, but it still plays an important role and must be protected against today’s threats. 

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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