Long Term Challenges Ahead for Broadband Technologies

by Mielle Sullivan, Janus Networks

As consumer demand for broadband Internet has grown exponentially, a few different technologies have risen up to meet the need. Each of these technologies has their own unique set of advantages and challenges. Consequently, there is no all-encompassing solution for the future of broadband.

Let’s examine each of the current technologies:

VDSL2–Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line 2. The newest and most advanced standard of DSL broadband over-the-wire communications. This standard supports wide-scale “Triple Play” services such as voice, video, data, high definition television (HDTV) and interactive gaming. It uses existing copper phone wires to make the connection. The supporters of this technology are AT&T with its U-verse offering and Qwest.

Advantages: Because it uses existing copper telephone wires as the back bone of the infrastructure, there less to build out than the other technologies.

Challenges: In terms of reliability, VDSL2 is sometimes more haphazard than to DOCSYS and FiOS, in part because it relies on older infrastructure. Also, VDSL2 speeds degrade over long distances.

In order to make the system faster, AT&T has created a hybrid of fiber optics and copper wires for it’s U-verse offering. The company uses a fiber optic cable connection to a city, then copper wires within a city. However, this hybrid system relies on huge cabinet-like hubs to be installed underground in each city. AT&T has had to battle officials over taxes in many cities for permition to install these hubs. Stalled negotiations have limited deployment.

FiOS–Fiber optic communications network and technology designed for bundled communication services including Internet telephone and television. Fiber optics are the newest technology and infrastructure, offering the highest potential speeds with the least amount of loss.

Challenges: When FiOS enters any new territory, the entire infrastructure needs to be built out from scratch.

Verizon is the only company currently building out its own all fiber optic network (FiOS). In more densely populated areas, the company must install cables under often-decaying city structures and negotiate with apartment building owners individually, making implementation very slow in old cities.

DOCSIS 3–the latest in Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. DOCSIS is a standard that allows high speed data transfer over existing cable television system.

Advantages: DOCSIS uses existing cable infrastructure, so there is not nearly as much to build out as FiOS. This system also has less speed loss over distance than VDSL2.

Disadvantages: Ultimately, DOCSIS is inferior to FiOS for speed potential. Currently, FiOS does not need to operate near capacity to be competitive. As the market demands higher speeds, DOCSIS may not compete with FiOS. Also, despite having much of the existing infrastructure, there are still growing pains associated with this DOCSIS. Providers like Comcast and Cox have been unable to keep up with demand, slowing installations and causing services outages in some areas.

The challenges in implementing these technologies are likely to continue for years. Ironically, densely populated old cities and very remote sparsely populate areas simialr cost to benefit challenge for installation. The future is likely to be patchwork of all three technologies depending on different installation challenges in each area. Cities may need to depend on VDSL and DOCSIS for several years, while newer suburban developments in some states will have FiOS. Very remote areas may rely on broadband built out to a local tower which would then connect to users wirelessly Eventually, Verizon may be able build out FiOS in most areas and ultimately it may be the clear winner if very high speed becomes the deciding factor in consumer choice. But price is also a consideration and the market may never widely demand speeds that only FiOS can provide. Within several years, it is even possible mobile broadband advancements could make it a competitor to all of these over-the-wire technologies, causing further disruption to the marketplace.

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