Fiber optics are bound to be the next big thing in broadband, and there are countless reasons why fiber optic cables are vastly superior to traditional metal wires in terms of broadband applications. A general summary is simply: fiber optics allow for faster data transmissions and greater distances due to using light instead of electricity to transfer data, but there are many additional benefits to opting for a fiber optic network from the standpoint of a network architect. Some providers, such as Verizon, have gone to great lengths to deploy their fiber networks all the way to the property lines of customers, while others use fiber optics to form network backbones.
This leave a big question for those evaluating potential service providers: how close is a fiber optic connection? Answering this question is key to understanding performance limitations in many ways, as copper wires are far more constrained by basic physics than fiber optic cables are. This constraint ultimately means not only speed limitations, but also finite limitations on how many consumers can use network street cabinets and hardware found in various sub-stations along any network without creating a serious network traffic jam.
FTTH: An Acronym to Love
FTTH is one of many acronyms that are collectively known as FTTx, or Fiber To The x. in this case the x is replaced by H, which is short for home. FTTH services are defined as data networks that transmit data all the way into the property of customers using fiber optics, though the name is slightly misleading as small and even medium sized businesses can also use FTTH. Verizon has a fiber optic network that it refers to as FiOS, and it offers simply stunning speeds as well as the ability to carry top-notch digital cable and digital telephone services on the same cable that is used for broadband. While broadband speeds are constantly escalating, it is possible to buy consumer grade plans with downstream speeds of up to 50 Mbps from Verizon’s amazingly fast FiOS system. Add in another 10 to 15 Mbps downstream speed worth of overhead to handle the digital video and digital telephone transmissions, and it is easy to see why FTTH is so popular.
There are a handful of consumer-grade regional and local FTTH providers, but Verizon stands out amongst the crowd. Additionally, FTTH may go by other names as well. FTTP or FTTB may stand for Fiber To The Premises or Business, though the second acronym may also be interpreted as Fiber To The Basement. In the latter case, a complex of multiple residential or commercial units shares a single high-speed fiber optic connection. While not quite as ideal as FTTH in most cases, such an arrangement may ultimately prove better than alternative forms of broadband from may perspectives.
How Close is Fiber?
Believe it or not, fiber can be very close to a home or business, even if FTTH solutions are not available. Another acronym is used to describe the next-closest type of fiber optic deployment, but there is a slight problem: the acronym can be used to mean multiple things that are only somewhat similar. FTTC can be used to mean Fiber To The Curb or Fiber To The (street) Cabinet, and sometimes these two things are very similar, but there are some times when they are not. In most cases, FTTC means that fiber optics run to the small boxes used by networks to service neighborhoods and office parks, though some providers may take it a step further and run the fiber into smaller nodes closer to the curb or property line where a converter will then connect to an existing copper wire arrangement and take over. This is still highly desirable, as is the other form of FTTC, as it means that data is only traveling a very short distance over metal wiring, probably less than 100 meters. In many cases, the distance is probably less than half of that.
Short wire-distances are important for several reasons, but prime amongst them is the fact that high-frequency signals degrade quickly over metal wires. The higher the frequency, the quicker the degradation of a signal. In addition to the frequency limitations imposed by wire-distance, there is also the problem of sharing. That is to say that the greater the distance from any given property to the nearest fiber-connected network component, the more likely it is that multiple users will be sharing that same access. The worst case scenario involves multiple users sharing copper-wire broadband for long wire-lengths, backed by multiplexing devices. The best case scenario involves very limited wire usage and no sharing of metal-wires for data transmission amongst multiple broadband clients.
What to Ask Broadband Providers
Just like knowing a little bit about automobiles can help one get a better deal when shopping for a new car, knowing a bit about networks can help consumers save money while getting what they want. While most broadband providers are not yet offering affordable FTTH solutions, many may be preparing such networks. This means that the very first question to ask any current or potential broadband provider would be when they plan on deploying a FTTH solution.
Not all providers will be interested in disclosing future plans, which is unfortunate as such secrecy limits intelligent purchasing decisions. While there are certainly reasons for secrecy, especially amongst publicly traded companies, the fact is that not knowing what is coming next may be problematic for those who want the best deal on fiber-optic-powered broadband. An alternative question to ask a tech or sales person would be something along the lines of where their fiber terminates. Does it terminate at a street cabinet, or at some node that might be a mile or more away from a residence or place of business? The closer the fiber, the better the performance is likely to be in most cases, and the greater the likelihood of future upgrades based on the same type of broadband technologies is.
Of course, if fiber is already close, perhaps in a local street cabinet, it also bodes well for the future prospects of FTTH regardless of whether the broadband provider is willing to disclose such plans. In some cases, fiber is a lot closer than many might think, and that ultimately bodes well for broadband in general as shorter wire distances and less sharing of metal wires is involved whenever fiber is close to a given property. Consumers who understand why asking where fiber optic network components are in relation to their property are likely to find the best deals and experience fewer upgrade-related hassles as time goes on.