While it was only a few short years ago that fiber optic seemed to be poised to take over the broadband world, a few stumbles along the way have let the competition catch up. There are new technologies here and on the horizon that might breathe life into metal wire-based broadband for at least another round or two until big fiber optic proponents like Google, Verizon, and Centurylink can start pushing fiber to the premises.
Dual Channel and Beyond
Bonding, or the process of adding additional cable between the local terminal and each consumer requires significant network upgrades and perhaps even trenching to the home in some cases, but it provides tangible benefits. With individual consumers able to pay a fee in some areas to have the line put in plus a monthly service charge for the additional bandwidth, multi-channel bonding is certainly in the cards.
Both cable networks and DSL systems are capable of using bonded lines with multiple channels, and in fact AT&T does just that with many segments of its U-verse network in order to offer greater performance at a greater range. Would quadrupling that performance increase speed in the urban centers while simultaneously expanding high speed services to a significant new body of rural and suburban customers? It would certainly seem possible and practical, and thus one thing we can say is that bonding multiple lines could be in the cards regardless of how underlying broadband technologies evolve.
Next Generation Cable Speeds
Cable modems are already bursting at 200 Mbps in commercial locations and over 100 Mbps to consumers in many markets. Thus, the next generation DOCSIS specification is probably the furthest off as bonding channels still provides the most immediate headroom. The next generation standards that are talked about include the possibility of multiple shaped waves of technology that allow terminals to adapt to the lines between the end users and networking components. The result is like fine tuning a set of speakers to better carry a signal over a great distance. The net result should be stronger, more reliable signals, as well as the ability to operate multi-spectrum with or without staggering for differentiation. In English that essentially means that data will come in waves large and small and instead of trying to stack multiple waves one atop another, the data will be coming in several waves along a much wider beach at almost the same time. The net result will be dramatically improved bandwidth and substantial gains in ping times that rely on large data packets.
Next Generation DSL Speeds
There have been think tanks and even physical experiments that show the use of multi-spectrum frequencies to achieve 200 Mbps downstream speeds with DSL on existing or only slightly modified architecture. Just how controlled these experiments are versus how practical they would be to implement in the field is a very difficult
With DSL speeds already hitting 40+ Mbps through bonding (20 Mbps per line) or more, it looks like this is the technology most in need of replacement. The truth is that the wires carrying telephone data can be both old and thin, and were not meant for the heavy-duty lifting that digital cable lines were intended for before they were even re-purposed for digital work. With so many neighborhoods with older wiring, DSL carriers are at an interesting intersection known as: dig or invent.
If digging is required to get new technology in place, they may as well start going in the fiber optic direction. On the other hand, inventing new technologies that use the existing wiring in new ways has been the norm for telecoms, and they are looking to do it all again with even more advanced multi-frequency systems. These systems will likely require new DSL modems which may be branded as MIMO modems despite their wireless technology as the next DSL technology will almost certainly be talking on multiple frequency levels at the same time. Whether or not QoS (Quality of Service) technology will use that to route and prioritize traffic remains to be seen, but it is certainly something that is discussed frequently.
A Future Without Distinction?
Verizon has already dropped the term DSL from much of their marketing, and seeming to do something similar with FiOS. Centurylink is doing something similar with its Qwest branded services in that it simply refers to high performance broadband as HD broadband. Could the future be one where the actual underlying technology is immaterial and thus not part of the title? Will the journey to broadband utopia be done anonymously in terms of the underlying technology? It could very well, which may be the ultimate factor that could blunt the advance of novel approaches such as fiber optics.