Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Case For Telecom Copper

There is a move afoot by some of the largest telephone companies to decommission or get rid of their copper wire assets. Some of this is an attempt to foil competition. Some is simply a technology upgrade as fiber optic cables move in to replace century-old twisted pair copper bundles. Should the FCC embrace the retirement of the copper assets already in the ground and strung on poles, or is this copper a national treasure that needs to be preserved?

Copper based telecom services offer bandwidth and cost advantages.It may seem odd to think of copper as a national treasure. We tend to think of gold and silver when it comes to treasure. But this copper has very high value. You might say it is worth its weight in gold. That value, above the intrinsic value of the metal, is the from the time, effort and cost of stringing the copper wire from user to provider. The telephone companies, protected by a mandated monopoly for nearly a century, are the ones that made this investment and reaped the rewards. But that government monopoly was, in a sense, an investment by all of us to get that copper installed.

Now, in the 21st century, there are copper wire telecom cables running into nearly every home and business. They range from a couple of twisted pair for residences to dozens of pairs in large binder cables running into the back rooms of businesses. The fact that all this copper is in place and all conforms to a set of standards offers the opportunity to press it into service for more than just plain old analog telephony.

Indeed, the telephone companies themselves were first to use two copper pair to deliver T1 line and ISDN PRI services. T1 is most often used to provided dedicated broadband Internet access or point to point connections between two business locations. ISDN PRI carries 23 separate telephone conversations plus Caller ID and is popular for PBX telephone systems.

In recent years, competitive service providers have entered the telecom marketplace to compete with the incumbent local phone companies. The incumbents have an advantage in that they are the legal owners of the copper that runs from their offices to the residence or building being serviced. That’s called the local loop or last mile connection. Competitors have to lease the local loop from the incumbent telco. Of course, they could choose to bring in their own copper cables, but that would be cost prohibitive.

Savvy competitors have also figured out how to just lease the copper wires themselves, with no signals at all from the phone company. They then use newer terminal equipment to send non-traditonal format digital signals down the line. The most popular of these is Ethernet over Copper service. EoC offers higher bandwidths at lower costs than traditional telco services such as T1 or DS3.

Perhaps this is what’s stuck in the incumbent telephone company’s craw. Some meet the competition head to head and offer their own Ethernet over Copper services. Others figure the way to get rid of the competition is to get rid of the copper.

That’s just plain wrong. Until the government has enough stimulus money to fund universal fiber optic service the way that universal telephone service was mandated, taking copper options off the market only hurts the business community. It’s an especially bad move during a time of economic recession when most companies need the highest bandwidth they can get at the lowest cost. In another hundred years, hopefully a fraction of that, the entire interconnection infrastructure will have been upgraded to fiber optics or perhaps something even more advanced. But until that time there is no justification for retiring perfectly good copper wiring that has already been bought and paid for. Better to list it in a register of historic technologies and make sure that it is protected from degradation until no longer needed.

Could your company benefit from lower cost copper or fiber bandwidth options? Check prices and availability for your location. You may be surprised by how much you can save.

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