Saturday, June 17, 2006

Verizon FiOS Finally Brings Fiber to the Home

The long anticipated move to provision fiber to the premises, otherwise known as FTTP, has begun in earnest with Verizon's FiOS consumer fiber optic service.

So what does FiOS mean. The letters might stand for Fiber Optic Service, but FiOS is not an acronym. According to Wikipedia, FiOS is a Gaelic word for knowledge. Verizon pronounces it "FIE-ohs."

Fee-FiOS-Foe-Fum, I smell the next revolution in telecom.

Make no mistake about it, this IS the next telecom revolution. Why? Someone is finally moving beyond Alexander Graham Bell's copper wire based telephone system that is so two centuries ago. While the majority of telcos and Cable TV companies furiously struggle to wring a few more Megahertz of performance from metallic conductors, Verizon is biting the bullet to start over with fiber optic cabling. In fact, if you sign-up for Verizon FiOS service, they decommission your old copper telephone line and there's no going back.

Fiber is to copper what broadband is to dial-up Internet service. Compare today's Pentium IV to your first Apple II or TRS-80 personal computer and you get a feel for the scale of the increase. Verizon's system uses three Lambdas or separate wavelengths of light on single strand of optical fiber. The downstream data speed is 622 Mbps on 1490 nm (nanometers). The upstream data speed is 155 Mbps 1310 nm. A 1550 nm optical wavelength supports Cable Television from 55 to 870 MHz.

You read correctly. The Verizon PON (Passive Optical Network) system being provisioned to homes currently in 16 states is designed to provide directly competing CATV signals that duplicate the signal characteristics of the Cable TV companies. That's in addition to high speed data for telephone and broadband Internet. It makes Verizon's FiOS a "triple play." If not at first, you'll eventually get a bundle of telephone, Internet and television from one company. Include Verizon Wireless cellular service and the company has a "quadruple play."

This is no small undertaking. Verizon is investing an estimated $500 per home to install an ONT or Optical Network Terminal. A typical unit made by Tellabs (1600 series) looks like a big version of the Network Interface box that the phone company installs on the outside of your home. The ONT accepts the fiber optic cable drop and provides the electronics to convert the fiber optic signals to the more familiar electrical signals. Each ONT provides a 10/100 BaseT Ethernet port, 4 standard telephone ports, and an RF video port with the CATV signal.

One difference between the passive network interface used for copper telephone wires and the ONT is that the optical terminal needs to be powered. While the big terminal box mounts outside your home, an AC power supply and backup battery are mounted inside. This arrangement effectively mimics the "lifeline" feature of the classic phone service. In this age of wireless handsets and VoIP phones, a lot of people don't know that the phone line is always powered by a 48 volt battery at the central office. Those old heavy phones that you leased or bought from your local phone company didn't have batteries inside and they didn't need to be plugged into AC power. Even in areas far from electrical service, your phone would still ring and you'd still have dial tone.

While Verizon FiOS is engineered to provide bandwidth 1000x that of most phone lines, much of that capacity won't be tapped for quite awhile. If you happen to live in the areas of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia or Washington where Verizon is deploying FTTP, you'll be able to get the broadband data service in 3 speed options as of this writing. The basic service is 5 Mbps upload, 2 Mbps download or 5 Mbps / 2 Mbps. It's priced at $34.95 to $39.95. You can upgrade that to get up to 15 Mbps / 2 Mbps for $44.95 to $49.95. The highest service is up to 30 Mbps / 5 Mbps for $179.95 to $199.95. Broadband service includes an Ethernet / WiFi router selected to work with the service.

The exact price you pay for each level of service depends on whether you make a 1 year commitment or pay month to month, and whether you want to also bundle your telephone service with your broadband.

The television service called FiOS TV is rolling out more slowly, starting in New York where Verizon has local franchises to provide TV as well as telephone and broadband service. A bill that just passed in the House of Representatives last week will let phone companies such as Verizon apply directly to the FCC to offer TV service rather than get city by city franchises, if it becomes law. Such a law will hasten the rollout of FTTP and likely spur an arms race between the incumbent phone companies and the current Cable TV franchisees. The winner will be consumers, who will get much higher bandwidth and more content at lower prices that they ever would if copper lines remained the dominant transmission medium.

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