By Mari Silbey
Posting in Technology
How can we fuel the race for broadband innovation? With three critical network developments.
We’re just beginning to imagine what the next wave of broadband applications will look like and how they’ll change our world – from automated and personalized service to augmented intelligence. However, none of these new applications are going to come to light if we don’t provide the infrastructure support they need. Here are three critical elements for the future of broadband.
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but there are still skeptics who argue we could end up in other another situation of over-supply like the one we had in the late nineties. There’s also an odd concern that possible new regulations around high-frequency trading – an application that chews up bandwidth like cookie monster used to gobble up cookies – could dampen fiber demand.
However, the reality is we have plenty of reasons to continue investing in fiber build-outs. Bigger broadband enables greater innovation. Plus we need fiber backhaul to support growing mobile networks. And, it turns out that old fiber may not cut it for the new broadband needs we have today. In a fascinating article on TMCnet, Rich Tehrani details a conversation he had with executives of Allied Fiber who explained to him that older fiber isn’t as efficient as the new stuff available today. If you think about it, your computer and mobile phone need regular upgrades. So do fiber networks.
Seamless network transitions
The advent of broadband gave us always-on connectivity, but it didn’t give us the inherent ability to switch easily from one always-on network to another. The more we expect to be always connected, the more those seamless network handoffs will become important. Mobile carriers are focused heavily on network transitions, particularly as they upgrade 2G and 3G networks to new 4G. However, transitions between Wi-Fi networks are also getting more attention today.
The Wi-Fi Alliance announced the Passpoint program in February, which will start certifying devices later this year to activate Wi-Fi connections automatically in public hotspots. I spoke to Kelly Davis-Felner from the Wi-Fi Alliance last week, and she said that with Passpoint, Wi-Fi connectivity could literally emulate a cellular experience in areas where hotspot density is high. The experience wouldn’t initially be high-performance enough to continue a phone call or a video stream across Wi-Fi network hops, but we could get to that point in another three or four years. Then imagine what the new always-on world could look like.
Big fat pipes are great, but they’re a lot better when they come with low-latency Internet service. Stacey Higginbotham posted at GigaOM today on the advantages of low-latency broadband, not just for the financial markets, but for consumers as well. Low latency makes connections more instantaneous. It can give us video chats that don’t stutter, get us faster information when we’re deciding which nearby restaurant to choose, and trigger new personalized services when we come within range of a business, doctor’s office, or vending machine.
The bottom line with all of these network elements is that they will make the broadband we have today better, while without them, the road to the future will be slower, more indirect, and far less satisfying.
And who wants that?
Image credit: dsearls on Flickr
Apr 6, 2012
My advocacy for 'fiber everywhere' is a bit parochial in that the company that invented it (and still supplies much of it) is a mere 12 miles due west of where I sit at the moment. Ironically, my rural location was the first of 4 test markets for cable broadband, I had cable literally before it was 'available.' But we are just now getting basic fiber infrastructure in the area. The local fortune 500 company of course had their own fiber network, including connections to trunk lines buried along railroad tracks, but local ISPs took years to get off their T3's. Local demand didn't justify any investment. That's changed in the last 5 or so years at the hub, and in just the last few weeks we finally have the contractors out hitting the poles, running fiber throughout the network. Apparently it's coming up my road, they set up the "men at work" sign in front of my home yesterday, yea! I live 4 miles from the center of town, yet I'm squarely in the middle of farmland. Hardly a thriving metropolis. So I imagine it'll still be a long while before we get the fiber into the home. I would guess recent fiber deployment is aimed more at that wireless haul back. It's rather mountainous around here, it takes a lot of towers to provide even basic coverage. And forget 4G... unless that's why the fiber is going up now. (one can hope)
I moved back to the DC area in the last year. There are at least three ISPs competing for my business (including Verizon with FTTH) and the 4G coverage is fantastic. Yet, I'm aware of how unusual that is. Part of the reason Google's fiber project is so great is because it's aspirational. This is what everybody should want.
What do we do, out here where not even one carrier has much incentive to do more than cover the interstate highway passing through the region? The two "cities" (30,000 or so people) in the area have cable and Verizon dsl competing for internet traffic. Nobody provides reliable enough wireless access to realistically use as an internet portal. It's mountainous enough here that even a few upscale areas of the city have no wireless coverage at all. There's no question we are not the targeted audience of the local infrastructure; coverage maps make it clear seamless access along the interstate has been the goal up to now. Hopefully someone is addressing the dearth of service with the present fiber deployment. I do suspect this is for at expansion of cell coverage and perhaps even 4G in some locations. (along the highway no doubt) So what are we to do to get everyone hooked up with low latency broadband in a commercial dead zone like this? As it happens, the small (and flat broke) rural county to the north of here is looking to invest in 100% broadband coverage across their territory. So what should they be looking at? A municipal fiber network supported by taxes? Partnering with a carrier to subsidize covering the area with lte? I'm at a loss as to what would be most viable and cost effective approach, and apparently so are the proponents of this project. They've suggested nothing beyond the wishful thinking. Whatever the outcome it's certain the $$$ are going to be the bottleneck. It's time for someone to get creative. We're probably more representative of the rule than exception as to the state or broadband coverage on this continent.