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Will Wireless Broadband Supplant FTTH?

A wireless broadband network might challenge wireline, but most feel it still won't touch fiber-to-the-home

Raymond McConville

May 14, 2008

2 Min Read
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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