Last updated: February 28, 2010 - 4:17pm
[Commentary] It's difficult to criticize any effort to boost the capacity of broadband networks here in the U.S. But forgive us for feeling that high-profile demo deployments, attention-grabbing announcements and even over-arching national plans are unlikely to truly drive broadband deployments.
1. Test networks aren't exactly a new idea. From Time Warner's Full Service Network demo in Orlando to university Internet2 test beds, there have always been demonstration networks stretching the leading edge. Such deployments are good at some things, such as showing what's possible or helping vendors sort out interoperability and other issues on next-generation products. But what they are not good at, and have never done in the past, is truly act as a driver to real-world, mass-scale deployments.
2. Scale matters. It's one thing for Google to build broadband networks in a few communities. It's quite another thing to scale those networks over metropolitan areas across the country. Demo networks are limited in reach, and what truly matters is a nation's baseline level of broadband, not the outlier peak levels.
3. You can't fake capital expenditures spending. Throwing a few ten or hundreds of million of dollars into some community networks is one thing. Managing the financial/capex challenges of delivering fiber-fed broadband across the U.S. is quite another. Just ask Verizon, which even as it rolls out its FiOS broadband service across cherry-picked markets faces tough scrutiny from financial analysts who want to see revenue growth and margin optimization that matches such massive investment. Service providers today are driving greater levels of bandwidth where they can monetize it at the fiber cell to support mobile broadband, in the transport and access networks to support higher-speed, enterprise-focused carrier Ethernet services; in the local loop where it makes sense to deliver IPTV and faster home broadband. That's how networks get upgraded; not all at once, big-bang style.
4. It goes against the principles that drove the Internet and the Web. It's important to learn from mistakes, but also successes. The Internet and the Web grew, from both a network and applications perspective, in a very pragmatic way. The Web didn't wait for broadband speeds to deliver useful applications; it worked with the speeds available. Certainly, higher network speeds could enable better video applications including two-way solutions like telepresence. But it's not only bandwidth that drives the next generation of apps. Social media required little bandwidth at all, yet has delivered a communications revolution. Early mobility apps are proving just as impactful, even as they operate over today's mid-bandwidth mobile networks. Higher speeds aren't a panacea in and of themselves. If bigger pipes just end up getting eaten up by HD, rather than regular resolution, video, have we really gained that much?
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