Jim's Pond - Exploring the Universe of Ideas
"Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end." --Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thursday, April 15, 2004

Introduction: Future of Fiber to the Home

Let me just say that I don't have all of the answers. I'm not the brightest knife in the drawer. In fact, many people, far smarter than me, have influenced my thinking. There are many good technical solutions that can be used to create our fiber-to-the-home future. Again, more gifted technologist could run circles around my understanding. I have no doubts that a more sophisticated solution than the one I will outline here, can be developed. But that is just my point. It doesn't have to be over-engineered. In fact, I argue that whatever we do should be based on the most simple model possible. Because whatever we do, it will become more complex as time goes on.

I'm not writing this to furnish all answers. My purpose is to generate thought, explore options, and provide a call to action. I've been amazed over the past 4 years about how much can be accomplished when a group of talented people, armed with a few good ideas and a little bit of cash, set out to change their world. Just think how much we'll accomplish by working together.

Oh, and don't let the nay sayers get to you. Sure, there is a tendency to play the world as a zero sum game. And heaven knows that there is too much "poverty conscience" in the world and not enough abundance mentality. There really is plenty to go around and enough for everyone. Non of this can happen if we don't work together.

So, following is my first installment, Embracing Change. I originally intended to publish this two weeks ago. Things happened and I was delayed. I plan to publish two more articles. These will be completed over the next two weeks to a month, as time permits. Please feel free to get back to me with comments and suggestions. There is a lot more to this than I can include in one brief article. But it is food for thought, so, enjoy...........

Part One: Embracing Change

There are a few points that we need to agree on. First, fiber is the future. Not just in the backbone. Not just to business complexes and industrial parks. It is the future to each home, each business, each government building.

Wireless has a bright future, in the LAN environment. Perhaps WIFI will make sense as a good intermediate solution in some neighborhoods. Eventually, perhaps sooner than later, wireless will not be able to meet our needs. There are several good reasons for its shortcomings. First, there is a spectrum issue. Some small Utah towns are already suffering from this problem. Second, it is inherently insecure and will remain so. Advances in wireless security will not benefit the average user. They will be too complicated or too expensive. The real promise of wireless is cheap, fast access. Any changes that compromise this dynamic will compromise the viability of wireless. WIFI security inside a building will be tough enough. Out in the wild it will be nearly impossible.

Don't get me wrong. WIFI is the future in the LAN environment. But it is exactly this point that strengthens the argument for fiber to the home. Wireless will enable the average user to generate much more traffic, and more interesting traffic. Imagine the possibilities. I have. Here is my short list.

1. Narrow band

a. E-mail
b. Instant Messaging
c. Voice over IP
d. General Web surfing

2. Broadband

a. Security (Including remote video surveillance and monitoring)
b. Home appliance and device management.
c. Network Security
d. Peer-to-Peer file sharing
e. Personal Digital Asset Management and Sharing
f. Web Server Hosting
g. High Definition Video and Television

I agree that there is probably no need for broadband access for the bulk of narrowband usage today. But things are changing. A new generation of consumers is arising. And these new consumers will not be satisfied with the old technology. They will not be content with narrow band access.

New technologies will also drive the need for broadband, and therefore, fiber to the home. A few years ago my home was broken into, while I was there. As I slept thieves lifted about $8000 worth of computer and camping equipment from my garage. It gave me the creeps and still gives me an unsettled feeling to this day. I believe many of us feel the same way. Crime will not decline. So we need better property security solutions. Imagine a wireless network that can monitor all of your doors and windows. Further, imagine being able to view your entire property from any location around the world. And imagine a system that would alert you whenever anything suspicious happens. This type of sophistication already exists. Now we only need companies to tie everything together and offer this as a reasonably priced, high-value service.

And while we are dreaming, think of the other possibilities. We[base ']ve all heard the horror stories of the family that goes away for an extended vacation and returns only to find that the refrigerator broke on the second day of a two-week absence. Or the water line to the washer broke and flooded the house. And we[base ']ve all walked away from the house only to wonder later if the oven was still on. The ability to manage these devices and receive notification of trouble would be fantastic. Even more fantastic will be the ability to shut off, turn on and adjust settings from any remote network connection.

Sharing digital assets is becoming big. Most of us have our own camcorders or digital cameras. Or we[base ']ve purchased a scanner and have the ability to digitize all our old photographs. Storage space is incredibly cheap. And the desire to make these precious memories available to family and friends is strong. So I think that a major, until now untapped, potential usage of broadband is in the sharing of these personal digital assets. Our ability to create the digital assets is nearly limitless. Our desire to provide access to these will grow proportionally.

This week I've tapped into the Masters tournament. There is a new feature this year. Masters TV. I can view flybys of all eighteen holes. Watch interviews. Recap highlights. Or, instead of watching on my network station I can simply see all the action as it unfolds. I can do all of this on my computer screen. There will come a day, very soon, when I won[base ']t have a restrictive television in my house. All of my monitors will be connected to computers. All of these computers will be connected to a wireless LAN and my wireless LAN will be connected to a fiber. That fiber will connect me to the world. It is as simple as that.

Many people argue that government shouldn't provide fiber. To this argument I have only one thing to say. BARRIERS TO ENTRY. It is an economic term. In short it means that there is now way for the average company to provide fiber to homes. Any small company that would try certainly would run out of capital far before reaching a profitable number of homes.

That is why I believe the municipality should and must be involved in providing the fiber. It has taken me a long time to reach this conclusion. I generally want government to stay away from the private sector. And in this case I want them to only provide the physical fiber. That[base ']s were government involvement should end.

Being realistic we would all agree that there is only enough money to build one fiber plant. If we leave it to an ILEC or cable company to build the fiber plant guess who would derive the greatest benefit. The builder. And government would spend a lot of time and effort in the attempt to set up rules to force these builders to allow others to use this new fiber infrastructure. With only one shot at building the fiber plant, we ought to do it right. And to me right means providing an infrastructure that can be equally shared among all potential players. Oh, and just by the way, with a fiber plant in place and equal access to all competitors there will be greater choice and better service for the consumer. Sure, this will force big, dominant companies to compete on services. That scares some and makes others worry.

It is interesting, though. Last summer I had the opportunity to spend the day with a prominent member of the executive management team of a large telecommunication carrier. We had business to attend to. At lunch we took some time for pleasant conversation. I commented about how great it would be to have fiber to my home. He agreed and expressed a desire for that, too. So, from a human level it seems that we all agree just how great it would be to have fiber available at our homes.

Here's my advice to the big carriers. Embrace change. Develop business opportunities based on the model explained in this article. Someone needs to package these broadband opportunities into service packages that can be purchased and used by the average customer. That will take a great deal of planning and commitment. It will be worth it in the end. Instead of trying to defend a decades old profit model, look to the future. Find profits in providing new services and in organizing your companies to capitalize on these new opportunities.


    1. Fiber to the home is the future.

    2. Wireless has a place in the home.

    3. A new generation of consumers is coming and they will not settle for narrowband access.

    4. New opportunities abound and will generate new profits.

    5. The old model will not work and will only frustrate both the consumers and the service providers.

    6. There will likely only be enough capital to build one fiber infrastructure. It should not be left to one company to do this. However, all companies should be allowed to benefit.

    7. Competition should be differentiated on services, not infrastructure.

    9:46:20 PM    comment []

© 2005 Jim Stewart
Last Update: 2/8/05; 4:53:30 PM

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