01 Sep Broadband blues: Don't fall for Lightspeed hype
Strip back all the hype, all the emotional arguments, and all the IP-driven features, and what broadband speeds are you really getting?
In the “great race” for global competitiveness, economic development equals broadband connectivity and broadband connectivity equals jobs. The fuel for broadband connectivity is the need for speed. That’s all the consumer needs to know. In fact, that’s all politicians need to know.
AT&T’s Project Lightspeed offers data speeds that are nothing out of the ordinary and are not being well received by those in the know. Staying with copper to the door (CTTD) instead of upgrading to fiber to the premise (FTTP, which is also referred to as fiber to the home or FTTH) is like saying you’re going to put in a stagecoach to run a 500-mile NASCAR race.
They may slap all the fancy decals on your wagon, and even give you a silver buggy whip, but in the long run, you will be far behind the competition – if you finish the race at all.
The misconceptions out there are rampant. Take, for example, one blog that talks about “switching to high-speed, fiber-optic DSL.”
DSL is a copper-based technology, and saying it is a “high-speed” solution is not true. A fiber backbone does not give you fiber speeds at the premise. In fact, 6 Mbps (megabits per second) is not that fast compared to 1 Gbps (gigabit per second).
A six-horse hitch is not going to compare with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s supercharged horsepower. It sure isn’t going to keep up in a race. Copper “giddy up” just doesn’t cut it.
As asked in an earlier column this spring: “After all the fuss, is 6 Mbps enough bandwidth?” Most of this Project Lightspeed architecture is not even deployed yet, and 6 Mbps speeds are starting to look like a far cry from state-of-the-art.
The need for speed
In another example, this is the concern: “What if the demand for speed overcomes the limitation of Project Lightspeed’s hardware?” This is a valid concern about customers outgrowing the max speed of 25 Mbps to 30 Mbps. This apprehension is very real. The maximum will probably be hit faster than the anticipated lifespan of the network infrastructure.
Some would argue that we are already surpassing that as states like California set objectives like “1 gigabit or bust by 2010.” If any state is looking at establishing a broadband initiative at this point, it should be setting the bar at 1 gigabit like California. Take note, Illinois, Wisconsin, and others. There are no concessions for anything less.
For all the hype and fanfare, as well as the proposed magnitude of capital expenditures on Project Lightspeed, I truly expected the three levels of speed to be more like 500 Mbps, 1 Gbps, and 2 Gbps to the premise. If this were the case, AT&T would have blown the doors off its competition as well as its global rivals in this great race.
To me, this is where AT&T should be today. Instead, the three service levels of speed are:
• Express at 1.5 Mbps.
• Pro at 3 Mbps.
• Elite at 6 Mbps.
These are all the downstream speeds with a common upstream speed of 1 Mbps or less. You can get that and more on cable today and do better with some wireless services.
None of these “elite” services provide premium fuel for futuristic speeds. More important, the physical connection to your house is still copper. CTTD is not only your father’s copper connection, but it was also your great grandfather’s connection.
Disappointingly, Project Lightspeed does nothing to push the global competitiveness of the U.S. network infrastructure. In fact, it puts us farther behind other countries.
Korea just announced plans to build 60 ubiquitous cities by 2015. This approach includes high-speed networks as well as integrating RFID tags and smart cards that will impact the integration of supply-chain management within that country. This sounds more substantial than replicating cable and delivering 200 TV channels.
Setting the standard is the sign of an industry leader. Playing catch up or providing mediocrity is the sign of a member of the trailing pack.
This lack of leadership does not adhere with the basic principle I established in 1984 for all organizations applying technology: “Leading-edge organizations do not maintain their positions using trailing-edge technology.” That statement still rings very true some two decades later. We are in a much bigger race today as global pressure has upped the stakes for everyone.
Is Project Lightspeed really Project SCHMOE in disguise?
Fiber to the node (FTTN) might as well be called “fiber that touches nothing” because it doesn’t even come close to being FTTH or FTTP. The node could be 3,000 feet away from your house. That means you still have more than a half mile of copper in the last mile. That can’t be just any copper.
A huge issue that doesn’t get much press is that the copper “must be pristine,” according to an installation expert. If Project Lightspeed is to work, the copper connecting to your house has to be really good. That, in itself, should be a red flag. Will they have to replace old copper with new copper?
They might as well go with new fiber because copper, as a commodity, has shot up in price. Is it still a cost-effective solution? I don’t think so. Project Lightspeed just perpetuates Project SCHMOE, which stands for stagecoach-era communications that hinder municipalities, organizations, and employees.
For the sake of global competitiveness, some municipalities and industrial parks already understand that they need gigabit infrastructures. For example, look at the 800-acre DuPage National Technology Park, where they have 10 Gbps connectivity. Project Lightspeed does not promise that at all. The limitation is in the last mile of copper wire.
Why doesn’t AT&T want to spend the money to build the infrastructure right? This is the same company that, when it was a monopoly and had locked-in profits, would specify platinum connections instead of copper in central offices in order to ensure the highest quality connectivity – and quality returns to themselves.
There is also the issue of jobs. How many more jobs could be created if AT&T took the right approach and made Project Lightspeed a full FTTH initiative? If you look at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Illinois, they have lost more than 3,000 jobs since 2001. Making Project Lightspeed an FTTH or FTTP project would help create more jobs.
Will AT&T pressure Illinois for concessions by dangling a couple hundred jobs they could transfer out of state? Maybe Illinois should play hardball and say FTTP is a stipulation before any concessions are even considered. That way, everyone wins. Illinois gets a commitment for a real broadband infrastructure, more jobs get created to implement it, and AT&T gets its concessions.
I doubt they’ll go for that that, though. AT&T Vice President Mike Tye clearly stated in a recent city council meeting in Naperville, Ill. that “full build out is a deal killer for AT&T.”
Let’s cut through all the marketing hype, the industry expert analyses, and the bleating of company shills at municipal meetings and go directly to the last mile. In any race, this is very important to winning or losing.
This is telecom 101. No matter what people pitch, copper does not come close to fiber in delivering bandwidth to the door. Twisted pair does not even match coaxial cable. Any new construction should be looking at FTTP. If they are cabling areas again, they should be pulling fiber – not copper – as fiber has a much longer useful life as a basic component of the network infrastructure of the future.
The average consumer doesn’t care about the physical wire that comes to the house until it becomes the deciding factor in terms of speed. The average consumer has gotten to be fairly sophisticated in knowing that copper DSL is better than dial-up, but not as good as broadband. People back winners. They don’t back whiners.
If you want to lead the pack, you have to offer a winning car with heavy horsepower. In this case, it’s heavy bandwidth rather than a stagecoach with flashy decals.
Carlinism: There’s no such thing as a turbo stagecoach on the information superhighway.
Other articles by James Carlini
• James Carlini: Technology cycles from advantage to necessity to disadvantage
• James Carlini: Fiber-optic infrastructure spurring city economic development
• Jim Carlini: Security goes beyond technology into common-sense practices
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.