What is Fiber to the Home?
Fiber to the Home is the delivery of a communications signal over optical fiber from the operator’s switching equipment all the way to a home or business, thereby replacing existing copper infrastructure such as telephone wires or coaxial cable. Fiber to the premise provides vastly higher bandwidth, thereby enabling more robust video, Internet and voice services.
Optical fiber is a hair-thin strand of glass, specially designed to trap and transmit light pulses. The fiber uses light instead of electricity to carry signals for television, telephone, and Internet applications. Fiber is unique because it can carry high bandwidth signals over long distances without signal degradation, and it can provide those signals simultaneously in both directions – upload and download. Copper media can also carry high bandwidth, but only for a few hundred yards – after which the signal begins to degrade and bandwidth narrows. Fiber is better able to support up-stream bandwidth – that is, from the user out to the network. High upstream bandwidth is important for video communication and for many business applications. Cable and DSL systems can download much faster than they can upload information. Optical fiber has long been the backbone of worldwide networks. It’s decreasing cost, together with increasing demand for bandwidth, make fiber the most advantageous, cost effective medium for telecommunication services at all levels, including directly to the end user. There are no known disadvantages to fiber optic networks. While cable modems generally provide transmission speeds of anywhere between five and 50 megabits per second on the download (and are generally much slower when uploading), fiber optic technology can provide two-way transmission speeds of 1 gigabit or more per second.
What is the impact of broadband Fiber to the Home internet on home values and rental properties?
Fiber to the Home adds value to properties. Fiber connections make homes easier to sell and to rent. In 2010, two national surveys of broadband subscribers compared usage patterns and attitudes among and between Fiber to the Home subscribers and those who receive their broadband access services over other technologies. Respondents were given a list of five real estate amenities and asked to rate their perception of the importance of those amenities in a housing development. Internet from a direct fiber optic line beat other amenities such as green spaces, security patrols, community parks and fitness centers. 71% of non-fiber users and 82% of current fiber users said Internet from a fiber optic line would be an important factor in purchasing a new home. Reports from local rental agencies and landlords in Leverett say similar market advantages accrue to rental properties. Homes without broadband access are increasingly harder to sell or rent.
Why do we need all that bandwidth? Aren’t Ayacht and DSL systems good enough for what most people want to do?
This is the age of video over Internet. Increasingly, consumers are using their Internet connections to view television programs from content providers like Netflix, Hulu, AppleTV, and Amazon, in addition to the growing number of websites that provide video in some form. Over the past several years, since the introduction of YouTube, video has taken the largest share of total Internet traffic. One high definition movie takes up as much bandwidth as 35,000 web pages.
In the meantime, a growing number of companies are offering “software as service” – meaning you subscribe to applications on the network rather than install them on your own computer. These “cloud computing” applications are now available for word processing, emailing, automated remote file backup, and a host of business and personal services. All of these applications—and others in development, such as telemedicine, distance learning, and telecommuting—require much greater bandwidth than what is generally available from DSL, WIMAX (PMLDnet), and even cable providers. Moreover, there is no indication that cable and DSL will ever be able to match Fiber to the Home capabilities with regard to symmetrical bandwidth –upload speeds that match download speeds. In user-generated content (such as remote monitoring, video uploading, and ‘cloud computing’), upload capabilities are critical. DSL and WIMAX services have struggled to keep with growing demand for bandwidth.
What is the cost for services over a Fiber to the Home network?
National surveys have shown that Fiber to the Home subscribers pay providers approximately the same for Internet, voice and video services as do customers of DSL, WIMAX, and cable providers, but that Fiber to the Home subscribers pay less per megabit of bandwidth. In addition, surveys conducted by Consumer Reports magazine and by the Fiber-to-the-Home Council have shown that subscribers of fiber services show considerably higher satisfaction rates than subscribers of DSL and cable services.
I’ve heard that wireless technologies like satellite, WiFi and WiMAX (Ayacht) can deliver the same kind of service as fiber to the premise without having to go through the trouble of installing new wires into homes. Is this true?
No. Wireless broadband is subject to spectrum availability—the cost of which limits the bandwidth, and hence the applications it can provide. A number of subscribers share a wireless spectrum allocation, and the data transfer rate decreases with distance and obstructions between the transmitter and receiver. Moreover, the average available bandwidth of the shared channel is considerably lower than the peak rate available to subscribers near the base station. These wireless technologies cannot deliver high definition television—in fact, they have trouble delivering standard television. And HDTV is only one of many high-broadband applications. Wireless is, however, a useful mobile technology adjunct to Fiber to the Home. In fact, given that wireless access points and cell sites require fiber connections for ‘next generation’ uses, wireless service can be considered an application on a fiber network rather than a separate type of network. A local fiber network that provides FTTP may also provide bandwidth to local wireless providers.
What’s more, satellite offers video, but it cannot offer robust broadband Internet service because of the delay (‘latency’) involved in transmitting signals between the ground and the satellite. If all other signaling delays could be eliminated, it still takes a radio signal about 250 milliseconds (ms), or about a quarter of a second, to travel to the satellite and back to the ground. For an Internet packet, that delay is doubled before a reply is received. That is the theoretical minimum. Factoring in other normal delays from weather and network sources gives a typical connection latency of about 1,000–1,400 ms for the total round-trip. This is far longer than even a dial-up connection, which typically involves 150-200 ms latency. Satellite Internet is not suitable for applications requiring real-time response.
What environmental benefits are provided by Fiber to the Home?
Fiber to the Home users in two 2010 national surveys reported working on average one additional day from home each week because of a fiber-based connection to the Internet. According to the respondents, this is based on the speed and reliability of Fiber to the Home. More work from home has implications for environmental sustainability, particularly with regard to the impact of telecommuting on energy consumption, CO₂ emissions, and transportation infrastructure. A 2008 study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted that upgrading America’s telecommunications networks to all fiber would deliver environmental benefits that outweigh the costs of deployment in as little as six years. A European network sustainability analysis indicated that telecommuting represents 99% of the main environmental indicators favoring Fiber to the Home. Moreover, the greenhouse gases produced in manufacturing fiber equipment and deploying networks are far lower than for copper networks. And the amount of power needed to run a fiber network is far less than that needed to run a coaxial or copper network. This aids reliability and contributes to sustainability as well.
Will Princeton’s broadband internet support telemedicine applications?
Yes. Fiber to the Home enables telemedicine applications offering instantaneous contact between health professionals and patients, providing remote monitoring, chronic disease management, and responses to emergencies. These technologies can enable the ill and elderly to live safely and independently at home for longer periods of time and save considerable money. For example, a 2008 pilot project by a Philadelphia senior services provider used a fiber network for remote monitoring. The project enabled 33 residents to move from traditional nursing home care, realizing an annual savings of more than $1.8 million.