Friday, June 20, 2008

Moving On Up To The Fast Side

You've heard the one about what a snail says while riding on the back of a turtle? "Wheeeeeee!"

Well, that turtle is the current state of broadband deployment in the world. We in the United States are that snail. If we could actually take the ride, the sheer velocity would be breathtaking. So far behind the bandwidth leaders are we.

But now comes a glimmer of hope. The FCC has upped the ante of broadband definitions in its recent report and order regarding broadband data collection. The existing standard that defined broadband as 200 Kbps and above is being replaced by a new set of broadband tiers. The set of service speeds from 200 Kbps to 768 Kbps will be known as First Generation data. That's another way of saying legacy or antique broadband service. Kinda like the way those early 300 and 1200 baud modems seem so quaint now.

Basic broadband is being stepped up to include speeds of 768K to 1.5 Mbps. That includes such services as entry level DSL and Satellite Internet service, EVDO cellular data, and business T1 lines. Nothing wrong with basic broadband. It's just right for things like email, general Web browsing, and video clips on the go. Looks like Apple just scooted under the wire with their 3G iPhone upgrade. The old EDGE service doesn't make the basic broadband definition.

The next tier up is 1.5 to 3.0 Mbps, followed by 3.0 to 6.0 Mbps, and then 6.0 Mbps and above. While that probably covers the vast majority of residential and small business users, it also says something about the status quo of broadband in America. You might think that anything above 6 Mbps is so outrageously fast that there is no need for further definition until technology advances to challenge the great frontier beyond.

Ironically, that day is already here. The lucky few consumers (potentially few millions) who have access to Verizon's fiber optic service called FiOS start with a download speed of 5 Mbps, with upgrades to as fast as 30 Mbps, and soon 50 Mbps. Even 100 Mbps is in the testing phase.

Corporations, who have been primarily served by 1.5 Mbps T1 lines, now have the option of upgrading to Ethernet service in the 10 to 100 Mbps range from competitive carriers. That's just for those who are limited to delivery on copper wire. If lit for fiber optic service, available speeds go to at least Gigabit Ethernet at 1,000 Mbps.

The rest of the world will probably continue to point and laugh at our pitiful excuse for Internet access. The Japanese and South Koreans can afford to yuck it up. Their broadband speeds average 61 and 45.5 Mbps respectively. They also make a lot of electronic devices that we've forgotten how to build. Sigh!

It's nice to see that the broadband snail is starting to make its move. But if we are going to regain our place as a technology leader in the world, we're going to have to go beyond turtle and start thinking about rabbit speeds. How about GigE as a baseline service to every home and business? That would get things moving, wouldn't it? Then Internet users from other countries could come over here and say: "Wheeeeee!"

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