Bottleneck Blowout

Next-gen DSL technologies like ADSL2+ and VDSL can help operators bypass access bottlenecks – on the cheap

September 16, 2004

3 Min Read
Bottleneck Blowout

People often forget about the true purpose of technology: to solve old problems in a new, economical way.

It sounds kind of silly or obvious, yes. But not as many folks pay attention to this as you think. Remember MEMS – those tiny tilting mirrors? MEMS-based optical switches were supposed to replace those klodgy old electronic crossconnects (see Optical Crossconnects). No dice – MEMS was simply too expensive to manufacture, and the next generation of electronic switches packed more features and bandwidth into a smaller price tag. MEMS technology was impressive, yes, but it didn't yet have the economical edge. (It turns out that MEMS is now finding other applications, including for HDTV projectors – but that's another story.)

Today's big problems in the telecom industry? Access bottlenecks, old copper wiring, and a lack of funds.

Enter next-generation DSL, including ADSL2+ and VDSL. These technologies are starting to grab the attention of the service provider community because they provide more bandwidth over the same old smelly copper wire. Service providers love mature technologies that are faster and cheaper than the expensive alternatives – especially when they solve big problems.

The current Light Reading InsiderNext-Gen DSL Deluge – examines the arrival of next-generation DSL technologies such as ADSL2+ and VDSL. We interviewed dozens of service providers and asked them what they intend to do with higher-speed (upwards of 20 Mbit/s) DSL. It turns out that the economics are such that it can support most of the forthcoming broadband applications – including IP video – that carriers would like to offer, providing the foundation for the next round of broadband deployments.

The DSL story has always been one about bucking expectations, and this time isn't any different. When DSL emerged in the mid-nineties, we (including yours truly) scoffed at it because of its ridiculous limitations in reach and its pathetic need for spotlessly clean wiring. Well, the engineers worked on that. Then when PON and FTTP popped up in recent years, everybody was prepared to write off DSL as a dead-end technology: broadband for geezers. But here it comes again, with another generation that can ramp as high as 100 Mbit/s.

The main problem for FTTP – and thus the advantage of DSL – is that new fiber access networks still require the service providers to dig long, expensive trenches through Aunt Mamie's petunias (let's call it the COTP, or the "Cost of Trenching Petunias"). Operators are allergic to anything that requires large numbers of trucks, machinery, and humans. In the next few years, it's hard to envision a way to engineer out this cost. DSL, on the other hand, uses copper wiring – long since installed and amortized out of their network cost. Let's face it: It's much easier for service providers to upgrade your bandwidth by sending you a new $100 CPE device and transmitting some software over that old copper wire than it is for them to send a crew of union workers out to the neighborhood (see Fiber's Sticky Wicket).

You see this over and over again in technology – just as one impressive, young star gets all the ink, the old geezer technology makes a comeback with a refurbished look. It's like Kurt Warner stealing Eli Manning's thunder. After all those years of abuse, he's still got a few touchdowns left in him.

Here we are in 2004, and DSL is not only alive and well, but it appears to be hitting its stride. The reason? The same reasons it took hold – the engineers have succeeded in improving the economics by stretching out the reach and adding more speed. It's become a mature and economical technology, just right for the times.

The end result: It looks like Eli Manning may have to sit on the bench for another couple of years.

— R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading

This report, Next-Gen DSL Deluge, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Light Reading Insider, priced at $1,350. Individual reports are available for $900.

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