This situation is reminiscent of the early days of the personal computer. For several decades you just couldn’t get enough processor speed, RAM memory or hard disk capacity. Cheap RAM, huge disks and multi-core processors have pretty much eliminated this bottleneck. Well, not completely. You still find yourself having to upgrade your machines every few years to keep up with the demands of applications, especially video. But today’s limitations on progress are more related to the size of the pipe than the size of the machine.
Seems like the solution is pretty obvious. All we need to do is replace our outmoded copper infrastructure with fiber optic bundles and we’ll have all the bandwidth we can use.
In a sense, that’s what’s happening. Nearly all carriers have embraced fiber optic IP networks and are expanding their fiber footprints as fast as they can. But to think that we’re going to completely retrofit a century and a half’s worth of copper build-out with fiber optics on a one to one basis is just fanciful. Even today there’s no standard that mandates fiber optic service for new homes and businesses as a utility. You can bet that every building gets universal phone service delivered over twisted pair copper. But how many have a multi-fiber bundle terminated on the premises?
Someday fiber optics will be the default for voice, data and video. Copper will be for power. But today’s reality is that most bandwidth will be delivered to homes and businesses over standard copper telco wiring. Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue with new modulation techniques to squeeze higher and higher bandwidths from already installed copper wiring.
For businesses, the hottest bandwidth service right now is called Ethernet over Copper. It is becoming the upgrade of choice by companies who have tapped out the capacity of their T1 lines but can’t afford the construction costs to bring in fiber connections. The new terminal equipment combines the capacity of multiple copper pair to create a single wide bandwidth Ethernet service from carrier to user. The bandwidth is anywhere from 1 to 50 Mbps over a distance of a few blocks to a few miles.
That’s a considerable increase for many small businesses, although medium and larger companies still need to pony up for fiber to get the 100 Mbps to Gigabit Ethernet connections they need. But what about the consumer and companies that have a crying need for higher bandwidth but don’t have the budgets yet for fiber?
AT&T is pursuing a solution for residential users called FTTN or Fiber To The Node. This is a hybrid arrangement that uses the high bandwidth of fiber to get close to a neighborhood and then leverages the value of the already-installed telephone wiring to carry the signals into the home. It’s a way to jack up the speed of DSL way beyond what copper can carry all the way from the central office. How fast? AT&T is reportedly going to start trial service at 80 Mbps next year. That’s faster than the speedy 50 Mbps broadband service offered by Cable’s upgrade to DOCSIS 3.0 modems and even Verizon’s FiOS. Of course, both fiber and Cable have room to increase their speeds as competition demands. But perhaps AT&T can also push the envelope to 100 Mbps and beyond.
FTTN advances can benefit business, too. In metropolitan and suburban areas, carriers establish POPs or Points of Presence where they can connect to their fiber networks. From there they can “light” buildings with fiber service or provide EoC or Ethernet over Copper. The more fiber services there are in a particular area, the more options you have for both fiber and copper bandwidth at reasonable prices with minimal or no construction costs. Knowing where the high bandwidth services are already installed can also be a strategic advantage. If you are looking to relocate anyway, it just makes sense to find a location that already has the network services you’ll be needing. Use the Lit Building Finder to see what fiber optic bandwidth services are nearby.