Compiled by Brian Milligan
Optical fiber and fiber-to-the-home may have a lot of promise, but few telecommunications professionals believe it will be the dominant means when it comes to the future of broadband.
And even as broadband technology becomes more widespread, many telecommunication professionals say DSL will overcome cable as the largest broadband provider.
These are the conclusions from a recent survey conducted by PRIMEDIA's www.primedia.com) Telephony magazine. The survey, titled "The Future of Broadband Access Technology," found that only 3% of about 280 survey respondents believe optical fiber or fiber-to-the-home will be the dominant access provider for broadband.
"I think fiber will definitely be involved in the access space for broadband services. But whether it will go all the way to the home remains to be seen," says Pat Hart, a consultant with San Francisco-based Patco Consulting.
The survey, which was distributed to telecom professionals, also found that 75% of the respondents believe it will take at least two years for broadband technology to reach widespread availability.
Some cabling professionals say the survey results are right on the mark, and that optical fiber/fiber-to-the-home won't be popular with the residential market in the United States because of high installation costs.
These are costs that some installers argue will always be better shouldered by commercial users. In fact, the survey respondents believe 60% of broadband access will be directed toward commercial users, while 40% will be allocated to consumers.
"Business people will pay the price to bring broadband to them if they need it. But the consumer won't pay the price for broadband until there is screaming desire for it," says Dave Engebretson, president of the Chicago-based Slayton Solutions Inc., LTD (www.slaytonsolutions.com). The company conducts training in optical-fiber installation.
"I'd say fiber is the biggest bandwidth you can get in any known technology," says Engebretson. "It's got a much bigger bandwidth than copper cable, and will do a better job than the radio frequency stuff out there."
But Engebretson argues that the expense of optical-fiber cabling will probably remain prohibitive for the residential market. He also says carrier companies will be slow to make the changeover from copper.
"That last mile (of cable) is owned by your local phone company. And the phone companies are driven to make a profit and pay dividends, not to change the technological landscape," says Engebretson. "That would be a cash drain on them."
Hart says that's not the only wild card when it comes to bringing optical fiber to the residential market. He says there are still lingering questions about what carrier service would bring the fiber in.
"There is the power issue," Hart says. "Who will provide it? What is the definition of universal service? It makes it difficult."
But power issues aside, not everyone agrees that the high price of optical fiber will remain prohibitive. Some, in fact, say the exact opposite-pointing to dropping costs in components-that it's only a matter of time before the technology makes more financial sense to the residential market.
Ron Shaver, a master instructor for BICSI (www.bicsi.org), says the price of installing optical fiber is already coming down, along with the costs of the actual fiber itself and the connectors necessary for the job. "The fact that it's very expensive is not true any more," says Shaver.
Shaver also says cable carrier companies are starting to provide optical fiber cabling for some communities. Or, at least, they are attempting to make inroads.
"Even though houses are not ready for it, the cable providers are getting out there," says Shaver. "It will be one of those things. Like everything else, the more people buy it, the more the price will come down."
Nearly half of those who participated in the survey (44%) don't believe one technology will become the dominant provider of broadband. And Shaver says that's not surprising.
"I've got my satellite disc sitting outside, and I've got everything I need," says Shaver. "But there are different people who want the latest and greatest, people who have money and just say, 'Give it to me and make it work.' I don't think there will be one dominant technology."
Only 7% of respondents believed fixed wireless will dominate if the technology becomes a leading medium. Four percent believe satellite will become the dominant broadband access technology.