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Will cost cause telecom carriers to abandon fiber in their networks?

I keep hearing that telecom carriers are going to abandon deploying fiber in their networks in favor of copper. Are we going back to relying on copper pair because of cost?

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No, I don't believe that carriers will be abandoning their fiber. I'm not sure copper's resurgence, per se, has any effect on fiber to the curb (FTTC), since fiber in the backbone was and continues to be a good idea. It was originally justified purely on network maintenance costs, not additional bandwidth. The challenges have always been in the last mile and in what to do with facilities already in the ground, most notably the drop to the house. Fiber is still appropriate for greenfield developments, but digging up the ground to each home remains an expensive proposition for any overbuild scenarios.

Voice tends to be going wireless. TV already is, with direct broadcast satellites. Internet access and IP-based services like IPTV and VoIP are the real issues -- specifically, whether they will be delivered most cost-effectively via wireless, copper or fiber to the home in the near future.

The carriers' IP strategy is becoming increasingly important as bandwidth-intensive multimedia applications continue to penetrate the residential marketplace. From entertainment services like interactive gaming and Internet-based movies/TV to small office/home office (SOHO) technologies for high-definition telepresence and telemedicine, new media-rich solutions are driving the need for higher IP bandwidth to the home.

For business customers, the strategy is already fiber to the building (FTTB), which is now being adopted for high-rise condo/apartment buildings, as well. The most likely residential single-family home scenario is a continued push of FTTC, with the fiber moving closer and closer to the home over time. This gives carriers the most options and allows them to leverage their backbone fiber. From the last fiber node, they can distribute IP services to homes by whatever technology satisfies the bandwidth requirements and makes the most economic sense at the time, whether that is wireless, fiber or copper.

This was first published in October 2010

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