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FTTx — Bottleneck for Wireless as Well

Some see wireless as the best way to overcome Internet access bottlenecks. Perhaps. Unfortunately, the cost and availability of dark fiber also limits what can be done with wireless networks.

Today we argue about the status of broadband Internet access in the U.S. and our expectations for optical fiber deployment, be it fiber to the home (FTTH), fiber to the premises (FTTP) or fiber to the curb (FTTC). Where broadband is slow, wireless technologies like WiFi, WiMAX (News - Alert), HSPA, EVDO and LTE are bandied about, sometimes in combination with wireless meshes, as an alternate solution for both fixed and mobile Internet access.

Wireless meshes do have the potential to help a neighborhood share multiple slow speed fixed access connections, were it not for other “terms and conditions” on those slow speed links.

But increasingly, the bottleneck in wireless Internet access is not wireless technology but rather the fixed backhaul links from radio basestations to the Internet. 3G radio technologies support several Mbps to the mobile user and several hundred Kbps from the mobile user. Basestation capacities are 10-15 Mbps per sector with 3 or more sectors per cellsite. Unfortunately most mobile cellsites are connected to the operator’s core network with just one or two T1 lines, i.e. with 1-3 Mbps.

Whether 3G or WiMAX, cellsites are at fixed locations in mostly urban or suburban neighborhoods. Their bandwidth requirements will continue to grow as radio technology evolves. In a rational world, operators would purchase dark fiber to most of these sites. But in the U.S. today, dark fiber is only available on long haul routes. It is extremely hard to come by in populated areas where most cell sites are located.

The root problem is we have given Verizon (News - Alert) and AT&T privileged access to the public right-of-way, without requiring them to sell or lease dark fiber, or offer any connectivity other than T1 services.

What would it cost to construct dark fiber to most of these sites, if it were done as part of a community-wide dark fiber build, like those being planned in Singapore or already completed throughout greater Stockholm (and most of Sweden)? Point-to-point construction costs are roughly 20 percent above those of passive optical networks (PON). Verizon has directly and indirectly reported various costs for FiOS (News - Alert) (a PON network) construction, but all current estimates are below $1K per home passed. Even at $5K per cellsite, the payback for a mobile operator would be measured in months.

Of course it’s possible to backhaul wireless traffic with point-to-point microware links, but this typically costs more to install. In the end, a new approach to first mile and middle mile fiber deployments seems in order. IT

Brough Turner (News - Alert) is Senior VP of Technology, CTO and Co-Founder of NMS Communications. For more information, please visit the company online at

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