Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH?

Even if Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) are successful in building their nationwide WiMax network, they won't pose an immediate threat to wireline broadband service growth, according to some experts at Light Reading’s The Future of Broadband conference yesterday. (See Sprint, Clearwire Create $14.5B WiMax Giant and Mobile WiMax.)

It might be tempting to think about a mobile network displacing wireline broadband, but the idea is “a combination of speculation and reality,” said Arun Bhikshesvaran, CTO of Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) North America, during an interview with Light Reading. “Mobility is becoming an increasingly important part of our lifestyle. But the convenience of fixed broadband in terms of raw data rates is always going to be an advantage over what you can get with wireless.”

Consumer behavior, too, will ensure that both types of broadband access remain important.

“There is a different kind of premium associated with high speed access at home versus on the road,” Bhikshesvaran said. “At home you get rich communication and entertainment experiences, whereas mobile is completely different. It is going to be complementary; I don’t think it’ll be one versus the other.”

During one panel discussion about making the transition to fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) in the U.S., an audience member asked whether wireless broadband deployments would present a challenge to FTTH.

“Looking around the world, it’s quite feasible that a multi-megabit service that is reasonably priced could provide an interesting alternative to wireline,” said Heavy Reading chief analyst Graham Finnie. “My view, though, is that it could challenge wireline broadband in general, but not FTTH specifically.”

Bhikshesvaran elaborated further on the issue saying that wireless broadband is too limited and can’t run the services necessary to challenge FTTH. “There is a physical limit. You need the spectrum. In order to deliver 100 Mbit/s to 150 Mbit/s, you need 20 MHz, and there are hardly any carriers with a significant amount of that. So FTTH offers compelling advantages.”

So does that mean AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and its slower fiber-to-the-node network could be vulnerable? "I think we're at the start of a two to three year test period for AT&T," said Joe Savage, president of the FTTH Council to Light Reading. "They'll have over a million subscribers by years end, so we'll find out if they become permanent subscribers or if they become churn."

Even if wireless broadband can match FTTH's bandwidth someday, wireline fiber could still serve a useful purpose in wireless backhaul. “A number of the folks deploying FTTH are also anticipating fiber-to-the-cell site," said Savage.

Carriers aren’t alone in anticipating deploying fiber to cell towers. Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX), which just released a line of MDU ONTs, says that one of the implementations it expects from the new product line is at cell towers for delivering GPON-based wireless backhaul. (See Calix Joins MDU ONT Party.)

— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading

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rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:40:53 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH? I think this question would be like my kids asking me if the Easter Bunny will take over Santa's role of vouchsafing gifts to them.

Didn't Earthlink's wifi just go belly up? Aren't the last mile networks consolidating back to application specific monopolies? Despite the 10 reasons to love Sprint isn't the one big reason not to love them due to their T1 lease expenses going directly into the pockets of their primary competitors? Hasn't the myth of facilities based competition by anybody making observations of the real world (which precludes those that live in academia and political thought experiments) been disproved? Aren't LR message boards losing significant traffic as innovation decays due to lack of investment in access infrastructure?

Sorry to sound like a cynic but the lack of realism gets a bit silly sometimes. Maybe we should start talking about using carbon credits to pay for things? Or sewer robots to peform the physical work? Wait.. that's already going on too. Shucks.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:40:52 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH?
Dear Lightreading,

Congrats on breaking through to other universes. This achievement is historical. You have a poster that has a universe where millions of voice subscribers are not moving to cable and wireless. In this universe, telcos and satellite are not competing for video. Finally, 2/3rds of US broadband subscribers are not on cable and that service does not compete with DSL nor 3G wireless.

It is either that or that the shifting of market share of these services from one of these facilities based companies to another does not count as competition.

sgan201 12/5/2012 | 3:40:50 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH? All,

Isn't this the same question as cellphone replace POTS?? Some people still have POTS at home while others live by cellphone.

At certain wireless broadband price and performance level, some people MAY no longer use wire based broadband. I no longer connect my laptop to wired Ethernet at home. It is not worth the trouble. 802.11g is fast enough.

alandal 12/5/2012 | 3:40:50 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH? We should not even ask this question if we all think the radio spectrum as shared scarce resource.
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:40:50 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH? Seven,

It's extremely common for people to distort reality in order to maintain their beliefs. The beliefs in last mile competition and that unions are hindering FTTH progress are distorted beliefs.

"Belief can alter observations; those with a particular belief will often see things as reinforcing their belief, even if they do not."

I suggest that a search for truth, while it may cause some suffering for those hoping PON equipment sales will pay their debts, would be an approach that endears respect and displays integrity.


Statement of belief:"...the local loop last mile is one of the most competitive areas in all global commerce, with satellite, wireless, cellphone, cable, microwave and other players.

Response:That is a very misguided--but common--analysis. The belief that there is effective intermodal competition (satellite, wireless, cable, DSL, etc) is a mirage. It exists on paper, but is highly ineffective in practice.

Ignoring the fact that very few end-users even have multiple options available, no one (regulators, policy makers) is asking the customer (i.e. the REAL customer...the end user) what they want. Instead they are misguided in believing the incumbent monopolies are the customer, and asking them what form of competition is effective.

Of course, those vested-interest parties are going to claim intermodal competition is effective precisely because they know it's not, so they want to keep it as-is. The regulators (unfortunately) also ask, and listen to, the equipment vendors (who are also NOT the customer). They have all just become mouthpieces for the incumbent monopolies because they have the misguided belief that all their current financial woes will be cured by throwing all their support behind the monopolies. This will prove to be a devastating belief.
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:40:49 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH? re: "If one can justify a mobile application, then the fixed comes along for free."

Tell that to sprint, i.e. that their backhaul is now free for their mobile networks. Also, why was it the ILECs who ruled up the wireless and long distance networks and not vice-versa? Could it be that the fixed line access networks are a natural monopoly and the outcomes prove this?
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:40:49 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH? re: "At certain wireless broadband price and performance level, some people MAY no longer use wire based broadband. I no longer connect my laptop to wired Ethernet at home. It is not worth the trouble. 802.11g is fast enough."

Agreed that this is the case for most people because 802.11g is faster than their fraudband internet access speeds. Fix that with real broadband and 802.11g won't be fast enough for long.

Personally, my families machines are use gig links and all data is on low cost NAS. Not much on local hard drives. I probably wouldn't do this over wireless. Not mainstream though but much easier to maintain, archive, index, etc.
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:40:49 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH? re: "Isn't this the same question as cellphone replace POTS??"

Not really. POTS existed long before cellular infrastructure was deployed. For all practical purposes FTTH doesn't exist at all.

What's happening is folks are confused in their belief that competition is the end goal. So charlatans equate the promise of yet another substandard broadband infrastructure with a real one and then turn around and claim we're on the way to meeting the goal.

It's like telling a cancer patient the goal isn't to cure the disease but rather to have competition amongst the providers and their "cures." So a quack shows up with some snake oil and claims to have one cure. Next comes a priest who says God will cure the cancer if you tithe to the Church. Then comes a government funded doctor, strapped for cash and knowing that he doesn't have the resources, he prescribes a placebo.

Now the goal is met, right? Competition for a cure exists so that's all that needs to be done, right? No need to train any oncologists, right? If someone notices the patient dies, oh well, we'll have to overlook that and be happy that the principle of competition was upheld!

A society that buys into this last mile competition ideology seems to me to have had a popular procedure practiced in the 50's and 60's.


Freeman decided to access the frontal lobes through the eye sockets, instead of through drilled holes in the scalp. In 1945, he took an icepick from his own kitchen and began to test the new surgical technique on cadavers. The technique was called "transorbital lobotomy," and it involved lifting the upper eyelid and placing the point of a thin surgical instrument (often called a leucotome or orbitoclast) under the eyelid and against the top of the eyesocket. A hammer or mallet was then used to drive the leucotome through the thin layer of bone and into the brain. The leucotome was then moved from side to side, to sever the nerve fibers connecting the frontal lobes to the thalamus. In selected patients, the butt of the leucotome was pulled upward, sending the tip farther back into the brain and producing a "deep frontal cut," a more radical form of lobotomy. The leucotome was then withdrawn, and the procedure was repeated on the other side. Walter Freeman first performed a transorbital lobotomy on a live patient in 1946. This new form of psychosurgery was intended for use in State mental hospitals that often did not have the facilities for anesthesia, so Freeman suggested using electroconvulsive therapy to render the patient unconscious.

Future generations will look back on our current broadband mythologies like we now do for those revolutionary leucotomies.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:40:49 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH?

The difference is reach and rate.

Just remember these are all (wireless, wireline and optical) driven by Shannon and Nyquist.

What that means is the lowest common denominator is SNR creates a maximum bits per second. SNR can be changed by improved noise immunity in the coding, increased transmit power, better filtering on the receiver, forward error correction, etc. But at the end of the day optics > coax > twisted pair > air from an SNR standpoint.

To be specific, remember there are rumblings around 200Mb/s in perfect conditions with NLOS wireless. At the same time, one can run 40Gb/s over very long haul on optics.

So, the question is does that 200Mb/s system (divided by all the subscribers served) create good economics for an access model for fixed access?

If one can justify a mobile application, then the fixed comes along for free. But I want to remind everyone why carriers are pushing UMA and Femtocells so hard. To offload their networks and lower their costs. So unless there is a big uptick in revenue associated with these buildouts, it is hard to see how they are going to be justified economically.

sgan201 12/5/2012 | 3:40:49 PM
re: Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH? brookseven,

Isn't this the same argument about 20 years ago when cellphone came out?? Reach,quality and so on.

For some people, X Mbps is fast enough. They neither use or willing to pay more. As per reach, cellphone still have coverage problem. But, for some people as long they use the phone 90% of where they work, stay, and live. It is good enough.

At certain point, X Mbps and certain Y reach/coverage, to certain group of people, Wireless broadband will replace wire based broadband. The ONLY question is what is X and Y for each country and region,

As usual, this will probably happen first in Asia since the density of population is 100 times more than North America.

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