Changing Face Of The Last Mile
BY TOM CURRAN
How long did it take you to drive to work today? Has this time been increasing as the
traffic worsens? Well, perhaps this situation will be aided by a very unlikely source
the Internet. You may say, what? How? I believe the future will see a significant
increase in home access to online systems to drastically reduce the need for millions of
people to drive to and from the office every day of the week.
Recently, on a trip from the Silicon Valley to Los Angeles, I couldnt help but
notice how much the scenery had changed from open land to houses and development. I was
also amazed at how much traffic was caused by commuters traveling from one place to
another. This was when and where I had a lot of time to think about emerging technologies
and how they will change this situation.
LAST MILE CONNECTIVITY
I work from my home office about 70 percent of the time, with the rest of my time spent at
the corporate office, on planes traveling abroad, or in meetings around the city. I am
able to do this because I have access to the Internet, e-mail, a phone, and information
needed to perform my job. I can discuss (using my regular analog phone connected to a PC
interface device) e-mails, Web sites, customers, documents, spreadsheets, and other data
simultaneously via the same analog, copper, two-wire connection to my home while online to
my ISP. Of course, this connection could also be frame relay, ISDN, or another type, but
this depends on cost issues, and whether the transmission is voice or data.
Like me, federal, state, and local governments will embrace this type of remote access
as they struggle with pollution and the infrastructure costs of road maintenance and other
issues such as quality of life. It is not hard to imagine a mandated phasing in of such
programs for companies that could easily implement this type of activity. Of course, many
jobs can not be performed remotely, such as just about any physical interaction job with
resources. However, many of the jobs that even today may seem stuck at the office, could
be performed at home just as easily with the proper technology and integrated systems.
There will need to be a slight paradigm shift as we tackle the change from face-to-face
communications to face to video, or voice to voice. I was recently discussing this point
with a colleague and we covered many advantages of face-to-face meetings such as nonverbal
communications and the bonding and friendships that take place when all are at the office.
And, of course there are the disadvantages of this the wasted time in physically
getting from one place to another, and then perhaps not having information necessary for
the meeting. It was a fun discussion but did point out the need to study working practices
in greater detail.
THE VOICE/DATA SWITCH
I am not going to go into quality of service issues, since those are many, technical, and
better served in a different, and separate discussion, and more importantly quality
of service will come. Lets start at the office, where most currently work and
interact with others. Most interactions are to prioritize tasks, review, plan, converse on
a specific piece of data, and gather or transmit information. This can be handled via
phone at home, and those on the receiving end can be reached via cell phones, LAN/WAN, or
directly on their desktop phones. Voice/Data switches (aka IP-PBXs) are already here, and
can enable a total IP system at the office as well as connect remote workers via their
These Voice/Data switches support functions such as call forward, call transfer, call
pickup, follow on busy/no answer, call hunting, auto attendant, IVR, ACD, management,
billing (CDR), security, etc. Voice/data switches dont need to have a CTI link
because all "switching" is handled by software IP control. Fault tolerant,
redundant systems with zero downtime can be ensured by the same voice/data switches.
User information is transparent with a voice/data switch, so if the targeted person is
at home for the day, that information is invisible to outside callers. The remote
individual is connected at home via their PCs modem, or another type of technology
such as wireless local loop, a cable modem, a cable TV set-top box, ISDN, or frame relay.
When the user receives a call via the IP system, the phone rings just like normal. This
process takes care of the communication part of the work-at-home scenario.
In a typical day at the office, time is spent performing individual tasks using tools of
the trade which usually involve a computer and various applications these days. The
same type of connections discussed above are used for these implementations
transmitting data, and using a voice/data switch. And it doesnt matter to your ISP
or LAN/WAN if the data is voice, data, video, or a combination. The core of the whole
process is the IP nature of the formatted data packets.
Gigabit data transmission over copper twisted pair (basically the wiring in your home),
is coming later this year. This will enable much broader applications for working at home
like performing tasks on a home PC, then, while viewing the data, being able to call
another person to discuss something. Since the call is over IP, workers can actually
participate in a conference call, and simultaneously view and discuss the same video, Web
page, or other type of data being discussed. In many cases, this type of activity is
actually much more productive, efficient, and effective than collaborating in the office.
Participants dont need to walk around to locate someone for a meeting, and the time
needed to cover many different issues and summon people at a moments notice is
possible in seconds.
Coupled with expected developments for twisted pair wiring, there are many other bandwidth
technologies being developed, and companies are laying pipeline so that the latency issues
associated with the public access Internet will decrease, thereby opening up the
inevitability of this type of working environment.
Security issues surrounding gateways, gatekeepers, and servers are being addressed by
systems that can effectively protect against unwanted access to a PC while permitting
qualified access. Servers working with these gateways and gatekeepers can provide a
centralized form of remote-access authentication and accounting.
This technology is in operation throughout the world today in various forms. Some
companies offer proprietary end-to-end solutions, while others offer open-platform devices
for integration with leading component manufacturers. Many developers of hardware and
software systems are cooperating and partnering to offer a more comprehensive product to
the market. System integrators are collecting the various components and offering whole
products to their customers, and this cooperation is exactly what the market needs. Until
today, the market has been hungry for the potential of this technology, but because the
technology is so new in all the various areas, each vendor has been busy mastering their
specific system component(s). With increased cooperation by these various providers of
applications, hardware devices, and software applications, those located in "The Last
Mile" can benefit and move into the beginning of the next millennium embracing this
exciting technology and all it has to offer.
Tom Curran is vice president of marketing and sales for ShelCad Communications.
ShelCad combines powerful CTI with plug-and-play technologies. The company designs,
develops, and markets client-based products that offer open-system low-density solutions.
ShelCads Hi-Phone, and new Hi-Phone PCMCIA products enable users to place calls via
the Internet, network, or the PSTN using their analog telephones and a desktop or laptop
computer. For more information, visit the companys Web site at www.shelcad.com.
|The Copper Rush Is On
BY JOHN HUDAK
The landmark Telecommunications Act was designed to open the U.S. telecommunications
market to increased competition for long-distance and local exchange voice and data
services. Unfortunately, the act is vaguely written, leaving many sections open to
interpretation. This has led to legal skirmishes among Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers
(ILECs), Inter-exchange Carriers (IXCs), Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs), and
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) with billions of dollars in potential revenues
riding on the outcome.
At the center of the legal battle is a 14-point checklist that the ILECs must satisfy
in order to be granted access to the $75 billion long-distance market they have coveted
since divestiture in 1984. Each of the 14 points requires the ILECs to open up their
network infrastructure, management systems, and operations support systems, so that other
competitive carriers may gain fair access to the local exchange market. Of the 14 points,
unbundled local transport arguably packs the largest financial wallop for the ILECs.
To satisfy the unbundled local transport requirement, ILECs must allow a CLEC/ISP to
buy just the local loop transport circuits and place their own transmission devices on
these circuits. These circuits are usually referred to as "dry copper" pairs
because there is no switching or multiplexing equipment attached to the line. The copper
merely runs from an originating location to the central office, cross-connects with
another pair of wires on a distributing frame, and continues to the destination.
Until recently, dry copper pairs were procured mostly by burglar alarm companies or
customers requiring security and monitoring systems. They were of little value for high
volume data or voice traffic. Today, digital subscriber line (xDSL) technology makes it
possible to drive previously unthinkable amounts of bandwidth across a dry copper pair.
The development of xDSL technology has, practically overnight, transformed the ILECs
embedded base of twisted pair copper from an obsolete, voice-only medium into a
next-generation broadband medium. From the carriers perspective, technological
alchemy has turned dry copper into gold. But the unbundled local transport requirement
would force the ILECs to open their newly-discovered treasure chest to the hungry
CLECs/ISPs who see xDSL technology as their ticket for delivering voice and data
services to the ILEC-dominated local exchange market.
ILECs PETITION THE FCC
Not wanting to lose the long-held local exchange market, the ILECs have petitioned the FCC
for the right to resist sales of dry copper to retail ISPs or other entities for the
provision of xDSL-based services. The outcome of the ILECs petition has significant
ramifications for the telecom industry and consumers alike.
Scenario 1: The ILECs Win Relief
If the ILECs win their petition with the FCC to limit the sale of dry copper, or limit the
amount of unbundling required, there could be many losers. CLECs, ISPs, and equipment
manufacturers not to mention customers desiring high-speed network access
stand to lose: And so do the ILECs.
- CLEC and ISP
target markets would be dramatically reduced because of the financial burdens associated
with the procurement and installation of their own copper or fiber facilities. These types
of carriers would potentially be forced to resell ILEC services a non-starter for
CLECs and ISPs.
- Business and
residential consumers would lose because choice would be eliminated, and with only a few
major players to pick from, pricing would remain artificially inflated. Technical
direction and service mix might remain questions of what the consumer will
"tolerate," as opposed to what the consumer needs or desires.
- Small and
medium-sized equipment manufacturers would be squeezed out because of the short supply of
new customers, and would find it difficult to compete against large equipment
manufacturers. In the end, it would become business as usual: A few large manufacturers
selling to a few huge carriers, thus perpetuating the monopolistic history the
Telecommunications Act was meant to eliminate.
- Finally, the
ILECs would lose in the long run, because awarding short-term relief would lay the
groundwork for blockage of the ILECs entry into the long-distance market.
Scenario 2: The ILECs are Denied Relief
If the ILECs lose their petition with the FCC, there could be many winners, including the
- With access to
unbundled copper pairs, the CLECs and ISPs would win because they could compete with the
ILECs on an equal footing to profitably deploy the latest voice/data technologies. This
competition is what the FCC and Congress had envisioned when the Act was signed into law.
- Business and
residential consumers would win as choices multiplied. Service quality, type, and pricing
would constantly improve as service providers battled to maintain a share of each local
- Small and
medium-sized equipment manufacturers would win because of the continual stream of new
small and medium-sized ISPs and CLECs to sell to. Niche equipment vendors would be able to
profitably supply hardware to niche service providers, and technological innovation would
flourish amidst the flurry of start-ups.
- By unbundling
the local loop, the ILECs would certainly lose local exchange market share. But what about
all the money they could make in the long-distance market? And the ILECs could finally
shed their stodgy "regional" image and move onto the global stage, developing
new and unique services in the process. Will the ILECs opt to forego these exciting
opportunities merely to hang onto a comfortable "cash cow?" Lets hope not.
It is of paramount importance to the entire service provider industry, and to business and
residential consumers, that dry copper pairs become available and affordable. This is also
of great concern to companies that are making innovative last mile solutions available to
ISPs, CLECs, and ILECs. All we can do now is wait and hope for a favorable outcome
the ILECs and the FCC hold the key to the last mile.
John Hudak is vice president of carrier marketing for Patton Electronics
Company.Patton is a U.S. designer and manufacturer of access and connectivity products,
including integrated access devices, xDSL modems, and remote access servers. For more
information, visit Pattons Web site at www.patton.com.