Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Will Verizon Offer A Fiber To The Node Product In 2009?

Yesterday, AT&T president and chief executive of telecom operations John Stankey announced the company was on track to add its one millionth U-Verse TV subscriber sometime next week. Stankey also announced plans to make the service available to 17 million homes by the end of 2009. AT&T's U-verse Fiber To The Node (FTTN) implementation involves running fiber out to a neighborhood node and then completing the connection over a copper connection to provide voice, video and data services.

AT&T has spent considerably to develop FTTN technology and along the way has had a few false starts. Launched in 2006, Project Lightspeed (as U-verse was first called) was a $4.6 billion investment aimed to reach 19 million homes in 13 US states by 2008 using a combination of fiber optic and copper network technologies.

FTTN relies heavily on set-top box techology - you can't get the same amount of bandwidth out of a piece of copper that you can out of a piece of fiber. Bandwidth limitations are made up for using caching. Early boxes had low end 386-based processors and limited memory and storage capacity. Trials in Europe were not favorable and the company had to go back to the drawing board a few times. Costs rose - in May 2007 AT&T announced the capital expenditure of Project Lightspeed would increase from $4.6B to $6.5B and the number of homes passed would decrease to 18 million; down a million homes.

Fast forward to today - the company hung in there with the technology it looks like the bugs have been worked and they've got it scaling!

Around the same time in 2006 and in technical competition (not market since the telcom footprints do not overlap) Verizon decided to go with a Fiber To The Home (FTTH) implementation - what we know as FiOS. FiOS runs an optical fiber directly to a subscribers home to deliver voice, video and data services and I've seen total Verizon investment estimates for the product anywhere between $18 and $23 billion. Initial Verizon plans were to pass 3 million homes per year starting in 2006 until they reached approximately 60 percent of their 2006 customer footprint. Estimates have changed slightly with the Verizon sell-off of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to Fairpoint Communications but you get the idea.

Why only 60% of the Verizon customer footprint? It's too expensive to run fiber to every home. I'm a perfect example - I live in a rural small town in Western Massachusetts. My house is on a private 1.5 mile road with copper from Verizon buried down the road along with another 300 plus feet buried under my driveway. There are only 7 homes on my road, all with at least 150 feet of buried copper between the road and the house. I'm guessing but I would say my neighborhood is pretty low on the FiOS list. As an alternative, Verizon is offering me ADSL but..... I'd like a little more data bandwidth and what about video services - you can't do that over ADSL.

My only real option - cable service from Comcast (which I love and probably not give up even if I had a choice). Verizon does not have a voice/video/data product they can even try to sell me unless I go with a Verizon/DirecTV option and put a satellite dish on my house. I don't really want to do that.

Back in June of this year I wrote an entry titled Will Verizon Put More Gas In The Fiber Engine? In that piece I questioned whether Verizon was considering FTTN technology to reach out into the more difficult areas and better compete with the cable companies and their aggressive DOCSIS 3.0 rollout plans. With this recent announcement by AT&T showing FTTN technology works and scales I don't see how Verizon can ignore an FTTN option in neighborhoods like mine.

I'm gonna stick my neck out on this one with my first prediction for 2009 - Verizon will announce an FTTN product sometime next year.


Anonymous said...

I don't see how a FTTN network would help verizon in buried developments, considering the wires that go to your house are owned by Comcast. Verizon could not use these, therefore would have to dig anyway.

Gordon F Snyder Jr said...

Actually Verizon would use the existing PSTN copper pair coming into my home. It's already buried and connected. This is exactly what AT&T is doing with their FTTN roll-out. No new wires to the home.

charlie3333 said...

It's ridiculous how these big telecommunications companies won't go into more rural areas because it's not "lucrative" enough for them. America's brand of capitalism is too out of control - I live in Evergreen, CO, and the "high speed internet providers in my area" (look at the webpage and you'll see what I mean) is like the pirates of the carribean ride at disneyland. You wait for forever and then once you're finally on you get kicked off after about 5 minutes.