The price of broadband for rural telcos

Thanks to Ann Higgins for the heads up on an article on squeezing more broadband out of copper infrastructure. The article pitches two specific solutions for improving service through copper, which could be good solutions, but it was really the question of what does a rural telco do to move forward that interested me. How do you makes the business case for major versus minor upgrades and what’s the final end game for most rural providers? This article offers more iterative approaches to better broadband.

There’s DSL Management Solution…

ASSIA proposes using its DSL Management Solution to accomplish the task of delivering a maximum of 100 Mbps of downstream throughput over a single copper pair, he said.

There’s vectoring…

Keith Russell, product manager of Alcatel-Lucent, thinks VDSL2 vectoring will do the job of pushing higher throughputs because its noise cancellation capabilities normalize all lines for smooth transport of IPTV signals.

Keith Russell, product manager of Alcatel-Lucent, thinks VDSL2 vectoring will do the job of pushing higher throughputs because its noise cancellation capabilities normalize all lines for smooth transport of IPTV signals.

Vectoring, though, has its drawbacks, Russell admitted.

There’s the Broadband Accelerator…

The B.A. is basically an “analog broadband amplifier” that is spliced into the line between the DSLAM and the residence to boost network performance, he said. It can–or should–deliver 15 to 30 megabits of bandwidth per household which would minimally feed a triple play offer.
The goal, Auer said, is “to keep those customers happy with something you can deploy today.”

Again – three interesting approaches – but what does it mean in the trenches – for the providers and ultimately for folks in rural area? Brent Christensen, President of Minnesota Telecom Alliance was kind enough to help put some perspective on it for me…

This article hits the broadband deployment argument squarely on the head. What we have known for years as providers, who actually serve customers, is that they want broadband. If you ask the common person on the street how they get their broadband they probably couldn’t tell you, they just know they have it. They may not even know they have broadband, they just know they can get on the Internet. There are business cases where it makes sense to continue to use existing copper plant, while at the same time increasing broadband speed offerings. This is done two ways, either by shortening copper loop lengths by deploying Digital Loop Cabinets (fiber from the CO to the cabinet and using existing copper to the customer) or electronics like those suggested in the article to expand bandwidth capabilities from the existing copper (or both).

In my mind, fiber is the ultimate “end state”. There are many in the wireless world that would seriously disagree. Regardless, there is no way you can successfully build a fiber network and supporting infrastructure from scratch with no existing revenue. You start out so far in the hole you can never dig out to operate the new network, say nothing of repaying the borrowed money. That is why you no longer see private CLEC’s starting up the way they did after the 1996 act.

Both wired and wireless networks have their place. It isn’t just one or the other. Several MTA member companies have both and use both to provide broadband to their customers. My family’s company, for instance, is deploying unlicensed wireless broadband to CLEC customers they cannot reach today with fiber or copper. The goal is to develop the customer base and deploy wired services to them as it becomes necessary/feasible. That new revenue will pay for the upgrades and keep the company from having to service debt. This is one strategy of keeping the eye on the target….get broadband to customers who want it, and don’t have it today. Other MTA members have operations where that strategy doesn’t make sense for them. Those companies have existing customers and are using the revenues from those existing customers to re-build their infrastructure from copper to fiber.

The trick to being a successful provider (public or private) is that you have to be at the cutting edge of technology, not the bleeding edge. You have to always be one step ahead of the customer’s needs. If you are even with their needs you are too late. If you are more than one step ahead you will fail because you don’t have the resources to pay the necessary administrative and operational expenses.

This entry was posted in FTTH, MN, Vendors, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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