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RE: The Many Paradoxes of Broadband | Andrew Odlyzko [PDF]


RE: The Many Paradoxes of Broadband | Andrew Odlyzko [PDF]
by flynn23 at 10:48 am EDT, Sep 3, 2003

Decius wrote:
] There is much dismay and even despair over the slow pace at
] which broadband is advancing in the United States. This slow
] pace is often claimed to be fatally retarding the recovery of
] the entire IT industry. As a result there are increasing calls
] for government action, through regulation or even through
] outright subsidies.
] A careful examination shows that broadband is full of puzzles
] and paradoxes, which suggests caution before taking any
] drastic action. As one simple example, the basic meaning of
] broadband is almost universally misunderstood, since by the
] official definition, we all have broadband courtesy of the
] postal system. Also, broadband penetration, while generally
] regarded as disappointingly slow, is actually extremely fast
] by most standards, faster than cell phone diffusion at a
] comparable stage. Furthermore, many of the policies proposed
] for advancing broadband are likely to have perverse effects.
] There are many opportunities for narrowband services that are
] not being exploited, some of which might speed up broadband
] adoption.
] There are interesting dynamics to the financial and
] technological scenes that suggest broadband access may arrive
] sooner than generally expected. It may also arrive through
] unexpected channels. On the other hand, fiber-to-the-home,
] widely regarded as the Holy Grail of residential broadband,
] might never become widespread. In any case, there is likely to
] be considerable turmoil in the telecom industry over
] the next few years. Robust growth in demand is likely
] to be combined with a restructuring of the
] industry.

] This paper also appears in the September 2003 issue of First
] Monday. You'll want to print it to read it, so I've linked
] directly to the PDF version.

I haven't had a chance to read all 26 pages of this text, but I can tell you that Odlyzko does uncover a lot of rocks. However, some of his assumptions are arguable. For example, the assumption that the expansion of fixed wireless could preclude FTTH deployment is probably erroneous.

For one, wireless will never have the capability or capacity of wireline communications. Particularly when we're talking about optical technologies, wireless is simply not able to scale in a fasion necessary to accomodate the often order of magnitude increases in bandwidth and transmission quality. With DWDM, I can practically carry unlimited OC-192 transmissions over one strand. Wireless has no equivalent.

Secondly, the economics of wireless deployment work against it just as much as a FTTH rollout. Even if you had 10mi radii fixed wireless POPs, you'd still have the issue that you need backhaul from each POP (almost requiring wireline transmission) and your infrastructure costs rise to meet the same dollars as a FTTH rollout. Today and in the foreseeable future, there does not appear to be a wireless technology that will enable 10's of thousands of subscribers (the norm in a 10mi radius deployment), each with 10Mbit+ speeds (nay, 20Mbit if you want to stream HDTV) from one central fixed wireless POP. That's just not going to happen. Satellite might be the one exception, but it's not a feasible 2 way medium.

And this is just the technology and economics of one deterrent to broadband deployment. We haven't begun to talk about the political and societal ramifications. Which I'll talk about when I have a chance to finish Odlyzko's paper.

RE: The Many Paradoxes of Broadband | Andrew Odlyzko [PDF]

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