Electronic Design

Rewiring The World Again, And Again, And Again, And...

Let's see, how many times have we actually wired and rewired the world for some electrical or electronic application? The first real wiring effort occurred in the mid-1800s after the birth of the telegraph. Morse invented it in 1843, but it took us a while to extend this device across the country. The telephone came along in 1876, and within a few years we had wired the whole Eastern part of the United States for phones.

Yes, telegraph and telephone wiring actually pre-date electrical wiring. I'm not making this up. Edison and Swan of England didn't give us the light bulb until 1880. So even though we could generate electrical power and distribute it, there wasn't a whole lot that we could do with it. Once the light bulb became widely available, though, all hell broke loose and we rewired the world again, this time in a big way. Before the end of the 19th century, we had in effect already wired the world three times.

During the first part of the 20th century, the wiring for electrical power, telephone, and telegraph continued to expand. But about mid-century, TV came along and some remote communities were wired to a community antenna high up on a hill to get the TV signals. Thus began the cable TV industry. Now, virtually all of the United States is wired for cable TV.

Currently, the world is undergoing rewiring with fiber-optic cable. We have actually had fiber cables for quite a few years, as they're part of the large-scale long-distance telephone network and the backbone of the Internet. Plus, the cable TV companies have already switched to a hybrid fiber cable system with a fiber-optic backbone and coax drops to the homes. We will soon have more fiber-optic cable to provide us with the bandwidth that we crave.

What's next? Well, given the insatiable demand for more bandwidth, it doesn't take a psychic to predict the continuation of rewiring for more broadband access to give us voice-over-Internet (VoIP) telephone service, videoconferencing, movies on demand, real-time games, and who knows what else. But that brings up the big question: what happens to "the last mile" of telephone cable that everyone still counts on? Despite our progress with fast modems and the roll out of asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology, we are still stuck with a plain old telephone service (POTS) wiring, which most of us believe isn't the ultimate solution. But, there is a great solution to the problem. Rewire one more time, this time with fiber to every home and business.

Of course, this isn't a new idea. It has been proposed and re-proposed year after year. The answer has always been that it's just too expensive, but not any more. The fiber-optic industry has finally reached the critical mass in volume and developments to make fiber to the home or to the desktop a reality. So why don't we?

Business issues have prevented the advancement of technology. Rewiring for fiber would mean a massive infrastructure change in which most telecommunications companies wouldn't invest. It would upset business models, revenue streams, the competitive environment, and heaven knows what else.

But we can dream, can't we? Just think what we could do with even one puny 50-µm fiber. It would supply us with more bandwidth than we could ever use, including telephone, high-definition TV, videoconferencing, and blazing Internet access.

Fiber is truly the ultimate solution. But we won't get it, at least not in our lifetime. So that leaves us with only one realistic alternative. If we aren't going to rewire the world again with fiber to everywhere, then we might as well give up this tedious business of rewiring and just go totally wireless. Yeah....

Let me have your thoughts.

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