Electronic Design

Fiber: Friend Or Foe To DSL?

Some critics have said that DSL is just an interim technology until the carriers finally get smart and install fiber-optic cable to each home. The industry has dreamed of doing this for years, but the cost is astronomical. Industry estimates of $1500 to $3400 per installation make fiber prohibitive. Investment is beyond what even the multibillion-dollar carriers like AT&T and Verizon can handle—and what subscribers are willing to pay. For now, it's just not in the cards.

However, we're getting fiber to the homes (FTTH). In many new developments, it's cost-justifiable to install fiber directly to the home. Verizon is doing it with its FiOS system in selected parts of the country. The new passive optical networks (PONs) have few components and are very affordable. Digging up the ground is what drives up the cost. PONs take a sizable step toward giving every subscriber up to 100 Mbits/s of broadband service, which is more than enough for TV, VoIP, Internet access, and anything else you may pile on later.

With FTTH so expensive, many carriers are taking a hybrid approach. They run the fiber to the neighborhood, much like DSL. Then, they use the shorter and already installed local loops using VDSL2 to bring the signal into the home. AT&T's U-verse system employs this technique successfully to provide about 30 to 50 Mbits/s of bandwidth to each home, which is more than enough for several channels of IPTV.

Developments in fiber-optic technology will continue to make fiber more affordable, so the potential remains for full FTTH. While that could give DSL a fit, it isn't likely to happen in the short term. DSL is more than safe. In fact, future fiber systems will more likely be hybrids, making DSL an essential part of most systems.

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