Understanding Fibre-Optic Broadband

There has been recent talk about the idea of providing the National Broadband Network, a super-fast broadband Internet service, either with Telstra or Terria (an Optus-led consortium) providing the infrastructure. One idea, proposed by Terria (who was OPEL) was to provide a fibre-optic service to urban locations and use a WiMAX radio link for rural and regional locations and the other idea, proposed by Telstra was to use fibre-optic in all towns and a DSL service optimised for long distance for rural areas. This issue even ended up being one of the platform issues for the Australian Labor Party during their campaign for Election 2007.

There are some “greenfield” (newly-released land) housing developments in Australia where this kind of fibre-optic broadband service is being deployed. This has been made easier due to the development not having telecommunications or other infrastructure and is used as a promotion tool by the developers in showing how “switched on” the location is.

Some other population-dense countries such as France and the USA are deploying a commercial fibre-optic broadband service into various neighbourhoods.

 

Infrastructure Types

FTTN (Fibre To The Node) – fibre optic link to a cabinet deployed in the neighbourhood with intentions to cover a number of streets

FTTC (Fibre To The Curb / Kerb) – fibre optic link to a cabinet deployed in a street with intentions to cover that street and perhaps “courts” and other cul-de-sacs running off that street.

FTTB (Fibre To The Building) – fibre-optic link deployed to the wiring closets of multiple-tenancy buildings (blocks of flats, office blocks, etc). Single-occupancy buildings may be served in a manner similar to fibre to the curb or may be served using fibre to the premises.

FTTP (Fibre To The Premises) / FTTH (Fibre To The Home) – fibre optic link deployed to the customer’s premises. A strict interpretation would require that multiple-tenancy buildings have optical fibre running to each unit (flat, office, shop) in the building.

Setup at the customer’s location

Systems other than FTTP / FTTH will have a copper-wire link running from the system cabinet or wiring closet to the customer’s door. This will be deployment-dependent and may be a high-speed variant of DSL piggybacked on the telephone lines; a coaxial link similar to cable TV and cable Internet; or simply a twisted-pair Ethernet cable run similar to what is implemented for wired networks in the home or workplace.

In the case of an FTTP / FTTH service, there will be an “optical network terminal” device that is deployed at the customer’s premises. It is simply a fibre-optic – Ethernet bridge that links the fibre-optic cable to the home network. The device would either be fixed outside the house with an Ethernet cable run to a room nominated by the customer; or be a box the same size as a typical cable modem and is installed in a similar manner to cable-based broadband Internet.

Typical standard of service

The typical fibre-optic service that is being provided would be a “single-pipe triple-play” service with broadband “hot and cold running” Internet, multi-channel pay-TV and landline telephony provided over the same “pipe”. Due to the “fat pipe” provided by the fibre-optic infrastructure, the level of service would be beyond the average telephony, pay-TV and broadband Internet service.

This would usually be represented by the TV service carrying a large number of high-definition channels, the IP-based landline telephony service being capable of handling “high-band” telephony services like FM-grade or better audio and / or videophone services with smooth pictures The Internet service would be able to offer a level of service that is beyond what the typical broadband Internet service can provide, which would be a high throughput service with a very low latency.

This kind of service would typically be provisioned using an Internet gateway device equipped with an “analogue telephony adaptor” interface so the customer can continue to use existing telephony devices. If the customer subscribes to pay-TV service, they would be supplied with an IP-TV set-top box that is connected to the Internet gateway device via a high-speed network connection like HomePlug AV, Ethernet or 802.11n WPA wireless.

Some installations have used a “single-box” solution for the network-Internet “edge” with the Internet gateway, analogue telephony interface and IP-TV set-top box function built in to the one box but such installations are unpopular because of the desire by most households to keep TV viewing and computer use in appropriately-comfortable areas.

Competitive Delivery

Issues that are currently being raised mainly in France are the provisioning of fibre-optic broadband on a competitive footing where competing service providers have access to the same customer base.

One of them is a competitive delivery scenario where one or mor competing service providers use their own infrastructure to provide their own service. The issues that are raised are primarily focused on multi-occupancy buildings like blocks of flats, office blocks or shopping centres which France has many of. It concerns whether multple operators should or shouldn’t share the same wiring closet and infrastructure for the cabling to the occupant’s premises and what happens when an occupant changes service providers.

Ultimately, the issue of competitive delivery in all kinds of locations will need to be worked out, especially for the good of the customers.

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