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Fiber Optics Generally a Better Option Than Wireless, Even in Rural Areas, Says Municipal Broadband Advocate

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Photo of fiber optic cable installation by MTA Construction & Development used with permission

May 5, 2020 ­– As internet connectivity grows increasingly essential, fiber optics may prove to be a better option than wireless internet connection, the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Christopher Mitchell said Tuesday at a webinar hosted by the nonprofit Merit Network.

Mitchell, who directs the Community Broadband Networks initiative, praised the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to open the 6 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi use, calling it “one of the best decisions any FCC has ever made.”

However, he highlighted several problems with wireless connections in rural areas, such as bandwidth caps and limited coverage for those living on the edge of a signal. “There’s just a real challenge with wireless,” he said.

About a year ago, the FCC found that providers were significantly overestimating their coverage in the maps they provided to the commission, Mitchell said, adding that “these technologies are simply not good enough to be a replacement yet.”

Mitchell also claimed that much of the promise of 5G has been overhyped.

“When you talk about 5G, there’s a sense that all of the world’s problems are about to be solved by 5G,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think that’s true.”

Much of the marketing surrounding 5G is focused on offering very high capacity connections over short distances, he explained, but this is not being rolled out nearly as fast as the advertising would make it appear.

The rollout of 5G will not necessarily lead to widespread affordable access, Mitchell said, but it will be “a decent bridge or a part of a bridge to get it to a point where everyone has high quality connectivity.”

Mitchell highlighted fiber optic connections as the gold standard, saying that “if we had unlimited money, everyone would have this immediately.”

People often underestimate how many people in rural areas already have access to fiber optic networks, in part due to the work of local cooperatives and community focused networks, he said.

“There are some predictions that if the next FCC auction goes well, we will see fiber optics almost entirely across Arkansas, Missouri, large swaths of Mississippi. It is not true that we can’t bring fiber optics across the country,” Mitchell said. “The question is, what programs are we going to use and how are we going to do this?”

A common argument in the debate over wireless verses fiber optics is that “we should be just figuring out how to get everyone a Chevy before we get some people a Cadillac,” he said.

But what this argument misses is the cost of operations over time, which is much higher for wireless than fiber optic infrastructure in spite of the latter’s high initial cost.

“This is something that you’ll find people who are very enthusiastic about wireless will disagree with me on…but I believe we will have high quality connections [and] continue to see fiber optics expanding in rural areas,” he said.

Mitchell also talked favorably about the open access business model, which is most commonly used for fiber networks. One such network, UTOPIA Fiber in Utah, dealt with a series of financial struggles before becoming successful.

“You may hear people making overheated claims about failures,” Mitchell said. “When you’re talking about technology that has a life of multiple decades, what can be a failure in five years can be a real success in 10.”

 

Development Associate Emily McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

Open Access

British Telecoms Are Aligning with Emerging U.S. Position on Open RAN Adoption

Open RAN adoption is said to save telecoms money and boost security, as providers are forced to move off Huawei.

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Howard Watson, chief technology officer of BT Group

October 18, 2021 – Howard Watson, chief technology officer of telecommunications company BT Group, spoke on Wednesday at the Broadband World Forum about the future of the UK’s network infrastructure, including removing Huawei’s equipment from their networks and developing open radio access networks for wider use.

Speaking at the opening session titled “Building an innovative converged network infrastructure for the UK,” Watson discussed the challenges and possibilities for offering fast, secure broadband and offered O-RAN as a solution for wider connectivity.

Watson discussed utilizing open RAN to facilitate greater interoperability between vendors’ equipment, as it opens the market to more technologies due to its open configuration. The concept advocates for a more open radio access network than provided today, which is held by fewer vendors.

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for ways to develop open RAN to minimize network security risk, as the movement has gained significant momentum since Huawei was banned over the past 18 months. FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has described open RAN as having “extraordinary potential for our economy and national security.”

“When customers go back into the office, the infrastructure they left behind must have key growth” Watson said, referencing the shift in office culture toward remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Expectations of customers change,” Watson said, adding that “they expect broadband to be always on, they expect high bandwidth.” Above all, “they expect investment no matter the cost.”

BT is seeking to deploy to 90 percent coverage in the UK by 2028.

On the sidelines of his keynote address, Watson noted BT’s progress in limiting Huawei products to 35 percent of an operator’s fiber access footprint by 2023. The UK government requires that Huawei’s equipment must be removed entirely by the end of 2027. The UK considers Huawei a “high risk” vendor for its network infrastructure.

However, BT is waiting for Huawei’s equipment to grow old before replacing it, Watson said. “Our intention is to ensure that we get the full economic life out of the Huawei [products] that we have deployed,” he said. He said BT believes the products can be used until 2031 or later.

“We’re in talks with government about that timeline” Watson said.

Panel discussion about European fiber investment

Watson said that “densification” happens in areas that are fiber rich, so “providing fiber to smaller cell sites is naturally an evolution.”

He said that BT is looking at a range of alternatives including Wi-Fi solutions to getting 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) capability to household through open architecture-based solutions.

In addition to Watson, a panel focused on the investment parameters for fiber investment featuring officials from Macquarie Group and Eurofiber.

The panel focused on investment challenges and strategies for broadband infrastructure investment and  discussed an opportunistic vision for broadband deployment. Speaking of more mature market with a history of broadband adoption, Macquarie Managing Director Oliver Bradley asked how providers could transition to more efficiency and maximizing the value of an existing network.

Among the principal drivers for investment include co-investing and deregulation, he said.

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Open Access

UTOPIA Fiber Goes to Court in Utah Over American Fork’s Build Permit Refusals

Fiber builder says it has been denied permits that have harmed it and its customers, despite an existing city agreement.

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Photo of Twin Peaks in American Fork, Utah, by Bryant Olsen used with permission

October 13, 2021 – UTOPIA Fiber filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of American Fork in Utah for breach of contract after the city allegedly denied build permits to the fiber builder despite there being an existing contract between the two parties.

The fiber provider, which runs an open network on which private telecoms rent space on to provide services, alleges the city had approved some permits that only allowed it to construct backbone transport lines through the city connecting other cities, but denied it key permits that would have allowed it to extend services to UTOPIA Fiber customers inside the city. Those services include connections to American Fork’s public schools.

In July 2020, the city allegedly terminated the 2018 rights-of-way agreement with no explanation, the lawsuit claims. It also alleges that the city specifically discriminated against UTOPIA Fiber by adding additional scrutiny to its permit requests when it believed no such scrutiny existed for other providers.

Broadband Breakfast attempted to make contact with the city, but a phone call was not answered and a voicemail message was not returned by the time of publication.

“American Fork’s refusal to approve permit requests by or for UTOPIA for service laterals for customers within American Fork has harmed UTOPIA, its customers, and the private ISPs who wish to offer services within American Fork using UTOPIA’s Network,” the lawsuit said. “In some cases, UTOPIA has been forced to buy capacity from other network providers that are allowed to install infrastructure in American Fork, so that UTOPIA can fulfill existing contracts with its customers.

“In other cases, UTOPIA has been forced to cancel existing customer orders for connections within American Fork and has lost significant revenues as a result,” the suit added. “UTOPIA has also recently been forced to cancel or reject over a dozen additional customer orders because UTOPIA is unable, due to American Fork’s conduct, to obtain the permits needed to fulfill those orders, and again lost significant revenues as a result.”

In a press release, UTOPIA’s executive director Roger Timmerman said the lawsuit was a “last resort and not an easy decision to make.

“It is our hope that with judicial review, American Fork City will reverse its policies, work within the boundaries of the law, and ultimately, act in the best interest of the people and businesses in American Fork City by allowing them access to the increased options UTOPIA Fiber provides,” Timmerman added.

UTOPIA Fiber is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah to force the city to pay the company damages sustained as a result of the alleged actions, to find the city violated the law with respect to its actions, and to force the city to cease the alleged “discriminatory and preferential actions” against the company.

UTOPIA Fiber, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, has designed, built, and operated more than $330 million worth of fiber projects in the state since 2009.

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Fiber

Comcast Business Says It’s Expanding Into Fiber Builds in Greater Washington Area

The company is putting millions more into fiber infrastructure in the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia areas.

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William Stemper, president of Comcast Business

WASHINGTON, October 6, 2021 – Comcast’s business division announced a two-year, $28-million investment to expand fiber through the beltway region of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C., and West Virginia.

The company said in a press release Wednesday that $13 million of that was invested last year and $15 million have gone into projects that are underway or planned for this year. It is expected to connect nearly 7,000 additional businesses to speeds of up to 100 Gigabits per second for large businesses, it said, adding it’s all part of the $110 million Comcast Business has spent in the area since 2015.

The expansion is part of a larger effort by telecommunications companies in this country to drive fiber to the premises, and to get ahead of the next generation 5G networks. As this is happening, more federal and state dollars are being plowed into broadband infrastructure as President Joe Biden sets his sights on providing access to high-speed internet to 100 percent of the country by the end of the decade.

“The ability to offer both diversity of network and carrier is becoming increasingly important to help drive economic development and transformation,” Ed Rowan, senior director of Comcast Business sales operations in the region, said in the release.

“Connectivity is at the core of this and, more than ever, is an integral factor as businesses expand and prepare for what’s next. Our network expansions across Comcast’s Beltway Region are the latest example of the significant technology investments we’ve made to increase the availability of our multi-Gigabit Ethernet services,” he added. “These investments will help foster economic development, transform our local communities, and better meet next-generation capacity needs across the region.”

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