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UTOPIA, Perfection or Fantasy: Partnering public-private sectors with broadband

in Expert Opinion/Smart Grid/Transparency by
Utopia
Image by Felipe Venâncio via Flickr

Utopia: the definition brings about visions of an “ideal place or state”, or “a system of political and social perfection.” Thus became the name chosen for a consortium of sixteen Utah cities building their own broadband infrastructure with a fiber-to-the-premise architecture, while offering residents a clear and alternative choice to incumbent operators, including Quest and Comcast.  Is it perfection or fantasy?

UTOPIA, billed as providing light-speed to your door while connecting you with friends, family, entertainment, businesses, healthcare, and education, highlights itself as being part of your home, not owned by any network provider. It is unique in that UTOPIA is part of a combined network owned by connected cities, and therefore citizens of each community. It allows any network provider to use the infrastructure to offer related consumers services in an effort to create more competition within the broadband universe, and to provide rural residents state of the art fiber connections to their homes.

Overview:

  • Maintained by city employees, UTOPIA requires a deposit to participate just as citizens would pay for a sewer connection to their home
  • A monthly service fee is charged to maintain the system which includes maintenance, and billing just as with electric, water & sewer services
  • Open Access Network – open to various service providers which have access to the network

 UTOPIA  Service Providers:

Brigham.net: Prime Time Communications Connected Lyfe
 Nuvont Communications FIBERNET Veracity Communications
FUZECORE integra TELECOM Telesphere
XMISSION VOONAMI  

Currently with eleven listed service providers using the network, UTOPIA is offering a variety of services to residents within its service area. In the past two years since hiring new management, subscriber growth has doubled from previous levels beginning from 2002. UTOPIA indicates a need to add another twenty thousand customers quickly to ensure the long-term viability of the consortiums investment. 

This venture is similar to what Google has committed to accomplish with its advertised foray into the broadband infrastructure arena touting network speeds one-hundred times faster than those typically offered today. Goggle will also operate an (open access network) allowing multiple service providers to offer subscribers a wide variety of enhanced applications and services. See (Think big with a gig: Our experimental fiber network)    

Divergent Industry Infrastructures

Historically, Cable operators have chosen the hybrid-fiber coax architecture to build out their networks, with Docsis 3, and GPON to gain efficiencies in bandwidth. Others like Verizon, UTOPIA, and now Google have opted to use fiber-to-the-premise, a total fiber network to connect customers to a true high-powered and hefty bandwidth architecture, which can offer deep access to both existing and future applications.

While the hybrid-fiber-coax construction is less expensive on the front end, it is not considered the long-term or end game solution. Total fiber construction is more expensive on the front end, but as costs continue to come down more service providers will opt to consider this solution.

Perfection or Fantasy

UTOPIA, Verizon, and Google’s networks will have to be proven profitable both in the short and long-term to be considered viable alternatives in private industry adoption. The heavy capital expenditures on the front end for fiber-to-the-premise construction must be coupled with robust adoption by customers to not only reach a break-even cash flow standpoint, but go on to make a reasonable profit.

This will be critical in obtaining needed capital for companies going forward, where UTOPIA is using bond issues along with pre-paid deposits and long-term subscription agreements to fund its venture. There is no doubt that fiber-to-the-premise is robust alternative from an operational standpoint with its high speeds, hefty bandwidth, and future applications potential.

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Len Grace is a technology industry veteran with over 18 years experience with Comcast Corporation. His insights into pertinent and relevant issues within the Broadband/Telecom/Cable/Wireless and Mobile sectors both inform and enlighten readers on current industry trends, analysis, business strategy, competitive landscape and legislative agendas. Len is the founder & editor of The Cable Pipeline, a technology blog who contributes to various technology websites including Light Reading, BroadbandBreakfast.com (Expert Opinion), SiliconAngle, Cisco Community: Service Provider Mobility, Amdocs: InTouch Community Portal, Bloomberg's bx Business Exchange, CircleID, and Sys-Con Media/Utilizer. Also see his reporting.

4 Comments

  1. The article indicates that GPON is a hybrid fiber/coax solution. It’s really fiber to the premises, often deployed by traditional as well as non-traditional telcos. The “O” means “optical”. Consider FIOS from Verizon.

    For a current view of the economic viability of UTOPIA, use your favorite search engine to find recent news articles.

  2. Geoffrey, thanks for the clarification!
    Maybe I should have referenced just PON, OR D-PON/DPON, HFC-PON. Anyway, the following info was taken from WIKIPEDIA, under the topic PON.

    DOCSIS over EPON or DPON
    Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) PON, or D-PON/DPON, is a type of passive optical networking, being proposed by several companies, that implements the DOCSIS service layer interface on existing Ethernet PON (EPON, GEPON or 10G-EPON) Media Access Control (MAC) and Physical layer (PHY) standards. In short it implements the DOCSIS Operations Administration Maintenance and Provisioning (OAMP) functionality on existing EPON equipment. It makes the EPON OLT look and act like a DOCSIS Cable Modem Termination Systems (CMTS) platform. Some DPON systems may optionally support the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) 9 and 14 specifications for the delivery of Ethernet Transport services including Ethernet LANs (ELAN), Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL), and point to point Ethernet Transport (ELINE) services. In these instances the DPON system also acts as an IP/MPLS Provider Edge (PE) Router.

    RF-PON or RFoG
    Radio Frequency PON (RF-PON) or Radio Frequency over Glass (RFOG) or Hybrid-Fiber-Coax PON (HFC-PON) or Cable PON, is a type of passive optical networking, that proposes to transport RF signals that are now transported over copper (principally over a hybrid fiber and coaxial cable) over PON. In the forward direction RF-PON is either a stand alone P2MP system or an optical overlay for existing PON such as GPON or GEPON/EPON. The overlay for RF-PON works in the same way that some CWDM PON or potential WDM-PON overlays work. Reverse RF support is provided by transporting the upstream or return RF into on a separate lamda from the PON return wavelength. Implementations vary by vendor there because the standard is not yet complete. The Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Interface Practices Subcomittee (IPS) Work Group 5, is currently working on IPS 910 RF over Glass. RF-PON offers backwards compatibility with existing RF modulation technology, but offers no additional bandwidth for RF based services. It offers a means to support RF technologies in locations where only fiber is available or where copper is not permitted or feasible. This technology is targeted towards Cable TV operators and their existing HFC networks.

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