A recent conversation about Fiber to the Home with a friend outside of the telecoms industry revealed an interesting point of view. He honestly didn't know the differences between copper and fiber, and quite frankly he didn't care as long as he had speeds that could allow him to watch movies and play online games at a reasonable cost. For a person whose broadband speed averages 2 megs, or perhaps 4 megs on a good day, his perception of 40 megs was "it’s great"; therein lies the problem. It is easy to justify fiber to the cabinet, particularly from established incumbents currently operating copper based platforms, when the customers have not had all the facts and are happy with the upgraded service.
In the UK the major incumbent operator owns the copper infrastructure and is currently rolling out Fiber to the Cabinet (FTTC) and utilizing the copper network to deliver a hybrid solution. Statements about cost of deploying a full fiber network are dictating the hybrid solution as far as they are concerned. However, challengers to their dominance in the market have recently announced a £3 billion investment to deliver true FTTH to 4 million homes. This becomes an interesting dilemma for the incumbent; should they continue in the short term with a near sighted programme or do they need to re-adjust their thinking? If they don’t they could be left behind with an old technology that will need upgrading sooner rather than later. Add to that the potential for a decline in its customer base as new providers enter the market, it leaves me wondering if hybrid networks are really the way forward.
Clearly, money will always be the driving factor in any decision to deploy a fiber network. It is becoming generally accepted that most fiber components are already commoditized and the true savings on these materials have already occurred. Labor rates in general will always increase over time, therefore, there isn't much to be saved in this area. Regulations, traffic management and disruption caused by equipment all add to the challenges faced by entities trying to finance a network.
How quickly will 40 or even 70 megs become the 256 k/bit of the future? Technology is advancing far faster than in any other period, and the need for bandwidth is increasing exponentially. Can any company or city really afford to install ‘old’ technology that they will have to replace in 5-10 years? (or maybe even sooner).
So how are we going to overcome this short-sighted approach and move towards delivering a true fiber network? What is often overlooked is the existing infrastructure already in place; be it sewers, overhead lines or water systems. Each one has its merits and no one solution will fit all the requirements of a fiber deployment.
Let’s look at the clean water infrastructure for a moment. The majority of the developed world has a water connection that is linked to either a local water supplier via a well or, in the majority of cases, connected to the cities mains water infrastructure. Oh! I hear you say “putting glass in water now that's a bad idea” - really! Most people drink water from a glass or a bottle and I don't see them complaining about it, rather the opposite, they would rather drink from a glass than a plastic cup.
So let’s consider a technology that utilizes the potable water infrastructure. There is an innovative ‘pipe-within-a-pipe-solution’ which is simple to install, quick to deploy, minimizes disruption, conforms to the green agenda and reduces the overall costs by at least 30%, if not more. Broadband is being touted as the fourth utility, so why not use one of the other utility networks to deploy it.
No one methodology will provide the whole architecture, however, by having all the tools in the tool box there is a chance that everyone will benefit from high speed fiber - not just the ones in the prime target areas.