Last summer, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed new rules on carriers that intend to turn off copper networks and replace them with fiber but said that carriers should feel free to make the switch as long as they keep providing the same service to customers.
“Changing technology does not change responsibility,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. “Fiber brings great cost savings, great efficiencies, and great opportunities for new services. But it does not bring the opportunity to walk away from the responsibilities that govern the relationship between those who build and those who use the facilities.”
Deploying fiber services require an obvious capital expenditure, but operators can recuperate their investments with the savings offered by this faster access technology. Verizon reported 60% savings after transforming seven of its central offices from copper to fiber due to savings in real estate requirements, energy consumption, and network reliability.
In the USA, there is at least one fiber provider in every mainland state. Broadband Communities estimates that 1 in 5 households in the US have access to FTTH services, and 46% of those sign up for fiber services.
So what are the major driving forces for moving to FTTx? Here are some key considerations:
- FTTx offers far more bandwidth, reliability, flexibility, security and longer economic life than alternative technologies. It is more expensive to build but cheaper to operate and maintain than copper.
- Fiber capacity is growing at a much faster rate than copper, doubling the throughput every nine months.
- Unlike fiber connections, copper and wireless last-mile connections have inherently limited capacity which may restrict operators from fulfilling the increasing bandwidth demands of their subscribers in the long term. To cut costs of implementing new fiber lines, many cable providers use fiber to get close to homes and then employ copper for the last 100 to 1,000 feet. Many phone companies also bring fiber to within a few thousand feet of the homes and use copper for the rest of the trip.
- Although DOCSIS 3.1 and G.fast are able to deliver Gbps speeds, the real advantages come when backhauling fiber, particularly FTTdp for G.fast. There are many encapsulation methods which also allow operators to keep much of the existing B/OSS stack such as Cable providers using DPoX or RFOG. This allows operators to blend multiple access technologies while maintaining a consistent back-office.
- FTTx subscribers often spend 30-40% more per month than DSL subscribers because there are greater options and premium services available. For example, multiple simultaneous HD changes is difficult to implement in reliable service quality over any medium besides fiber; and the new 4K OTT and Unified Communications will make this even more challenging.
- Fourth generation wireless broadband, LTE, which is widely deployed today, usually requires a fiber connection at cell sites. In 2014, Broadband Communities estimated that more than 98% of cellular calls are carried partially on fiber in America. As our data consumption on mobile devices continues to grow, this backhaul means that fiber can no longer be ignored.
The immediate future of network access technologies is undoubtedly fiber optics, and any operators denying this will quickly lose their competitive edge. However, even pro-fiber providers must prepare for the implications of a fiber deployment.