Thinking Tech

3 things we need for the next wave of broadband innovation

3 things we need for the next wave of broadband innovation

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.

More fiber

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.

Lower latency

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

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure