Sunday, August 17, 2008

Expert says municipalities should facilitate fiber builds versus wireless

Tim Nulty, a name that has appeared on this blog before, is once again sharing his sagacity on the future of U.S. broadband. Nulty, who until recently served as director of Burlington Telecom, a publicly owned broadband system serving the city of Burlington, Vermont and who now runs ValleyFiber, a nonprofit organization focused on bringing municipal fiber to Vermont towns, suggests municipal wireless broadband isn't going to hack it because it doesn't have sufficient bandwidth.

Nulty uses a transportation metaphor to illustrate that while wireless systems may offer mobility, a fiber-optic network connected directly to homes boasts nearly unlimited capacity. "Think about 747s and helicopters,” Nulty told The Progressive magazine. “Helicopters are marvelous when they’re used for what they’re good at. But you don’t use them to fly thousands of people between Boston and Chicago. For that you need 747s.”

Nulty makes a valid point that has been missed by most industry observers. Exploding demand for bandwidth could make even wireless broadband technologies with 20Mbs throughput such as WiMAX and 4G LTE cellular obsolete not long after they are projected to hit the market by 2010-12. (Indeed, existing wireless broadband infrastructure is arguably already obsolete, typically unable to deliver even speeds matching DSL and hamstrung by 1970s era copper T-1 technology used for backhaul)

Only wireline-based fiber has the capacity to handle the booming demand for bandwidth. Local governments should encourage fiber optic infrastructure investments, particularly since their residents and business owners cannot necessarily count on telcos and cable companies to step into the gap.

1 comment:

John said...

There is a way to have the best of both the worlds of fiber capacity and wireless mobility.

First build a muni fiber-optic network down every street in town and then hang a nice wi-fi system directly off the fiber. That way you've got no backhaul bottleneck.

The muni network would provide massive bandwidth to every citizen's home that cared to subscribe and the wireless could be a very low cost monthly surcharge on your network bill. (Like call forwarding on your phone bill.)

That, roughly speaking, is the downstream plan for Lafayette, LA's municipal network, as I understand it.

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