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Next–Gen Broadband – Optimizing Your Current Broadband Connection (Part 2)

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Fiber

Some of the more recent, ultra-high-speed broadband services being offered to US consumers consist of newer fiber to the home deployments. Although fiber to home, or FTTH, is the most common term end users are likely to hear, there are numerous types of fiber deployments currently in flight across the country. Fiber to the neighborhood (FTTN), and fiber to the building (FTTB), fiber to the premises (FTTP), and fiber to the desk (FTTD) are all terms you may hear bandied about. They’re all fairy self-explanatory; the significance of each deployment type is the peak performance that can be achieved by each architecture.

Fiber-optic cables can carry more data, over much longer distances, than copper wire

Fiber-optic cables can carry more data, over much longer distances, than copper wire

To put it simply, the closer the optical fiber cable is brought to end users, the faster the broadband connection can be. Whereas DSL providers typically offer 10Mbps-20Mbps and cable providers up to 100Mbps or so, fiber to home providers can offer hundreds of megabits or even full gigabit connections. Verizon’s FiOS service, for example, offers a 300Mbps plan in some parts of the country. Google Fiber, which is currently being built out in Kansas City, will offer speeds up to 1Gbps, and Sonic.net offers fiber services in parts of California where users can choose up to 1Gbps services, as well.

Prices for these exotic broadband services vary significantly from more than $200 a month for FiOS’s 300Mbps plan, to only $69 a month for Sonic.net’ s offering. These services, however, are available to only a small fraction of Americans at this time, so competition among the various provides is essentially nonexistent. When asked about current fiber to home offerings, Sonic.net CEO Dane Japers said, “None of these competitive efforts have any substantial national market share at this time, and I don’t believe they have much influence on the incumbents except on very small regional pockets.” He also said, “Telcos will push fiber closer to the home (or, in the case of Verizon, all of the way)”, however, which means some very good things are on the horizon. Because fiber-optic cables offer much more bandwidth than copper wine, over longer distances, it is the most future-proof of the broadband technologies we mention here. Rest assured, it will continually be brought closer and closer to end users, and more bandwidth will be available as a results.

Unfortunately, as the most recent data available on the National Broadband Map, direct fiber Internet services are only available to 17.8 percent of potential broadband subscribers in the United States. For fiber Internet service to have a more meaningful impact on the broadband market, it’s going to have to reach a much larger audience. That should happen in time, though.

Wireless broadband

Wireless broadband encompasses a handful of technologies, including Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and the various cellular networks, among a few others. By far, the most pervasive of these technologies as a service is the cellar network, which thanks to recent LTE build-outs, can offer relatively high peak bandwidth under certain conditions, at affordable rates,

Wireless broadband encompasses a handful of technologies, including Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and the various cellular networks, among a few others.

Wireless broadband encompasses a handful of technologies, including Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and the various cellular networks, among a few others.

We’re all familiar with Wi-Fi, which is designed to cover relatively small areas and not really sold as a service, except for temporary hot-spot applications. WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a longer range technology designed to deliver last-mile wireless broadband access to end users at multi-megabit speeds, as an alternative to wireless technologies like DSL or cable. WiMAX is available from providers in about 80 US markets, and a large number of additional markets around the world, but it isn’t very popular as a residential solution. The 3G and 4G cellular networks, however, account for a huge portion of Internet traffic, mostly due to the popularity of smartphones and other mobile devices. 4G LTE networks in particular have been rapidly expanding in recent years and offer relatively high bandwidth. In real-world situations, in markets like New York, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas, 4G LTE broadband can offer upwards of 35Mbps down and 15Mbps up, with much higher theoretical numbers possible.

Taken as a whole, broadband wireless Internet access is the most widely available connection type in the country. According to the National Broadband Map, wireless internet is an option for 98.7 percent of consumers living areas where broadband connections are available.

As useful as wireless Internet can be, it has some major drawbacks. For one, it is relatively expensive. Wireless data plans typically fall in the $20-$100-a-month range and offer limited amounts of data usage. For example, Verizon Wireless offers a 4GB per month shared data plan for $30 and a 12GB plan for $70. Exceed those limits, and you’ll have to pay additional fees and/or contend with data throttling. Wireless Internet is also more susceptible to interference than other connection types, and network performance varies wildly depending on a number of factors, including distance from the tower and network congestion. As such, wireless services are best suited to mobile devices, as backup to Wireline solutions, or for casual users than aren’t likely to hit the imposed data limits.

What comes after 4G LTE is still up in the air. A 5G standard has yet to be finalized and the 4G build-out is still far from complete. We can reasonably expect lower latency and more bandwidth at longer ranges, but we won’t know for sure until a spec is finalized.

Satellite Internet

Satellite Internet is more of a last resort than a viable solution for most in need of broadband. The technology is a godsend for people who live in rural or remote areas where Wireline broadband solutions are not available, but residential satellite broadband speeds simply can’t match those of xDSL or cable and costs are usually higher, too.

Satellite Internet access may be worth considering. It's ideal for rural Internet users who want broadband access.

Satellite Internet access may be worth considering. It's ideal for rural Internet users who want broadband access.

Typical satellite Internet speeds hover in the 1Mbps to 2Mbps (download) range, through some of the latest technology from providers like HughesNet offer up to 15Mbps down and 2Mbps up. There are monthly bandwidth caps in the 20GB - 40GB per month range, however, and costs for even the more entry level plans are somewhat higher than more common wired solutions.

Advancements in satellite Internet will come as compression and bandwidth technologies are improved, but the most significant gains can only come as newer, more advanced satellite, with higher total capacities, are but into orbit.

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