When much of today’s copper network infrastructure was upgraded to broadband, downstream was the only consideration and bandwidth demand at the home was a mere fraction of what it is today. Using the copper plant originally installed to deliver essential voice services was enough to satisfy the initial bandwidth demand – and it made sense financially at the time, especially in areas where there was little competition.
Consumer connectivity expectations are vastly different today than they were during the first upgrades to broadband, with the number of connected devices steadily climbing and applications enabled by the “internet of things” (IoT) increasingly gaining traction. Even from my own perspective as a consumer, 2 megabyte service is not capable of handling both me and my wife working from home at the same time, so several months ago we reconsidered our options in pursuit of faster broadband.
Network operators are following suit, taking a closer look at the capabilities of fiber to reliably deliver the high-speed connected possibilities that are becoming integral to daily work and life. Widely accepted as the clear choice to get ahead of the bandwidth demands of the IoT and 5G trends, an overbuild of optical fiber infrastructure is the answer to aging, copper networks.
Completely overbuilding a network comes with known, straightforward costs summarized through project planning: How many homes is the network operator passing? What are the distances, material costs, and local labor rates? Perhaps not as clear to many network operators are the considerable costs associated with delaying the eventual fiber overbuild and continuing to operate legacy copper networks in the near term – especially in light of investments by their competitors.
Maintaining a copper broadband network comes with operating costs not borne by passive optical networks. They are manifold, from maintaining batteries in the field and dealing with water and salt intrusion, to the service issues that negatively affect the subscriber experience. In my conversations with network operators, a recurring theme I hear is, “when customers are connected with fiber, the service works and delivers consistently.” On the other hand, copper-based broadband service can be less reliable and often requires several repeat truck rolls with technicians of various skill sets to carry out the frequent repairs needed to maintain service speeds.
As consumers become more dependent on their broadband connection to enable their daily lives, reliability of a robust broadband connection is becoming an essential service, as important as land line phone connections where speed-to-repair is all the more crucial in emergency restoration scenarios. Recently, several network operators shared restoration stories during extreme weather events and clearly illustrated the advantages of fiber-based networks.