Fiber Optics: A Safe, Stable Technology
Now more than twenty years old, fiber optic technology does the mission-critical heavy lifting for global, national, and corporate telecom networks today. It is safe and stable -- clearly the main path communication utilities will follow into the future. The laws of physics assure us that light beams on fiber optic cables can carry our growing information demands for decades to come.
Healthy Fiber Opens Channels at Home and Office
The modern Palo Alto working couple or a family of four deserves a "no-hassle" connection to information sources and destinations -- for example: a modern HDTV channel, a second HDTV receiver to record the competing show they can't watch at the moment, a high-speed 2-way Internet session in the home office or teen's room, a sudden 4-way videophone call to resolve an after school pickup problem or family emergency, and a fax line to receive old-fashioned business messages. "No-hassle" means a home that has instant 2-way access to 20-50-100 Mbps of data service, not the video-impaired down-only 3-6 Mbps links incumbents offer. Remember: the other twenty homes on your block have similar needs. Only fiber optics can deliver that range of different signals safely, securely, and simultaneously to residents. Old fashioned cable TV and telco DSL wires choke on that demand. Serving big screen video on wireless doesn't work. Notice that wireless device and cell phone pictures are about the size of a postage stamp. That’s what small bandwidth and small file sizes can deliver. Healthy fiber relieves file size restrictions...GO BIG, HD big screen TV (as many as you want), big photo uploads, big email file attachments up and down, all with fiber.
Wireless/Cellular Complements Fiber
Fiber serves fixed applications; wireless/cellular is mobile. Fiber is dedicated; wireless/cellular is shared. Fiber does the heavy lifting; wireless/cellular best handles quick bursts of data. Fiber is secure; wireless/cellular is open to hacking and jamming.
Palo Alto’s Seth Fearey is the project manager leading the Joint Venture Silicon Valley effort to vastly improve cell phone coverage in Silicon Valley. A 16-page report outlines the current situation and what may be done to improve it.
A November 2006 agreement signing indicated Wireless Silicon Valley was planning to begin serving all the outdoor populated parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, about 1,500 square miles worth. It was to include pedestrian traffic in all retail business areas to enhance shopping and dining experiences, and high traffic corridors to improve commutes. The consortium included Cisco Systems and IBM, but the ink was hardly dry on the announced plan when the proposed project was termed “behind schedule (May 2007)”to “Wireless Silicon Valley sinking (Sept 2007)”, done in by the “free Wi-Fi model” EarthLink couldn’t make work either. When the dust from the implosion of this first regional effort settled, a few communities in the Bay Area emerged with active wireless networks, notably East Palo Alto. And Covad is conducting wireless mesh test in San Carlos using Cisco gear.
Low power wireless mobility and cellular services are wonderful complementary services to high powered fiber. We’d like to see it all happen; Palo Alto FTTP may be able to help.
Fiber is Safer and More Reliable than Unlicensed WiFi and WiMAX
Wireless transmitters operating in unlicensed spectrum share "free" microwave radio channels to make short-range connections. Most require line-of-sight between the radiation source and the home receiver. Microwave ovens and portable phones share channels with WiFi and WiMAX causing interference which slows or breaks your service. And you'd need 100 Mbps fiber optic cable anyway to connect microwave base stations every 500 feet throughout Palo Alto to build a broadband wireless network. Early versions of WiMAX are working now, thanks to Intel, who has invested a ton in it. WiMAX applications in Canada using the Alberta SuperNet in sparsely populated areas with virtually no Internet access before now deliver DSL-like performance. But WiMAX is a one-way broadcast technology, and might require cutting down trees to clear radiation pathways to suburban customers. Palo Alto may have too many neighborhood trees for WiMAX.
Fiber is Free of the Physics Limits on DSL/Copper Cable -- “Up To” Speeds
Cable modems share 27 Mbps downstream among 200 to 500 homes, that’s a lot of splitters, and multiply the chances you’ll get a degraded signal. That’s why they quote “up to” speeds (for downloads only); rarely do their speeds get up to their quoted levels. Notice you still pay full price. They turn “up to” into “up yours.” You may wish to keep that in mind when open fiber services are offered. DSL provides 6 Mbps service today (and then only in some parts of Palo Alto) and is expected to grow to 10 Mbps by 2010, well below the 20 to 40 Mbps required to give Palo Altans "no-hassle" "choke-free" information.
Fiber Lasts Long Enough to Repay the Investment
Nationwide, telecommunication network architecture is designed to last 30 to 50 years. Physical connections should last about 20 years. The electronics should last about 10 years. Fiber meets the test. The network of pathways to the home will last at least until 2050 (they've already been here 50 to 100 years). If they were installed today, the physical fiber cables will last 30 to 50 years. The fiber cable itself will not need an upgrade for decades. That’s good, because the FTTP proposal before us makes it possible for the City to acquire the entire citywide FTTP network when the agreements mature years from now for $1.
Fiber Trumps Broadband over Power Lines (BPL)
Broadband over power lines (BPL) is a technology the FCC recently approved. It has encountered noise problems during test; interest in this technology seems to be waning. The FCC approved only its barely acceptable levels of interference with nearby appliances, not any recommendation that the technology makes sense. BPL has never been proven in widespread use, or proven at all commercially. At best, BPL might provide shared service slower than today's cable modems. City of Palo Alto Utilities might consider using a proven version of BPL on its electric wires, but only as an emergency back-up for the fiber optic system.
Fiber is More Cost-Effective than Modern Copper
New "Category 6" twisted-pair copper wires, or point-to-point coax, could provide single-home capacities approaching fiber for a citywide buildout. But since most of the cost is labor, it does not make economic sense to cable with anything but fiber. Every other city considering this matter in the 21st century has come to the same conclusion.
City Encouraged Fiber is More Trustworthy than Out-of-Town Fiber
In July 2004 AT&T announced a $4-billion plan to spread fiber in their closed network -- but the plan brings a single fiber strand to a cabinet to be shared among 500 homes which are still blocks away. Their “last mile” wire is “old copper”, of course, so their network remains predominantly copper, “a network built on the cheap.” As one wag said, “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.” It has quietly come to town as AT&T U-verse. This provides AT&T another opportunity for their “up to” marketing campaign. Nationally, U-verse is getting a tepid reception from prospective customers; investors aren’t happy with the AT&T U-verse product, strategy, or cost to implement. When the time comes, incumbent providers will be invited to move their Palo Alto customers to the open fiber network built by a special purpose entity (SPE) encouraged by the City, thus reducing investment risks. As a customer, you may encourage Comcast and AT&T to join Palo Alto FTTP when you are moving over to it yourself. That will get their attention. The City has operated a successful 41-mile dark fiber ring since 1997 and successfully operated the fiber trial neighborhood network from 2001 to 2005. These two City fiber networks will form part of the proposed new citywide Palo Alto FTTP network. Because of this cooperative arrangement, the City will hold an option to acquire the entire citywide Palo Alto FTTP network when the agreements mature years from now for $1. Clearly, the open Palo Alto FTTP network will be our community’s network right from the start. The faster we join, the stronger we make it.