Q. Why Fiber? Why not DSL, cable, satellite or wireless?

A. A fiber-to-the-home network involves the communications signal being delivered over fiber optic cable to the home or business. Fiber is the fastest known technology, transmitting information at the speed of light and using one of the world’s most stable materials – glass. This technology is the most reliable method to provide vastly higher bandwidth to households and businesses, supporting modern applications. With rates of bandwidth use skyrocketing, sufficient bandwidth has become critical to education, health care, government, competitiveness of existing business, and attraction of new businesses to the region. It is as critical to the future of economic growth as access to a telephone line.

Fiber means phone, cable television, and very fast Internet over just one line. One strand of fiber has thousands of times more bandwidth capacity than any of the last generation technologies like DSL, cable, satellite and wireless, and thus is the only one considered “future proof.” These last generation technologies have limited bandwidth that will not meet emerging and future needs, like video-streaming, video conferencing, remote medical care, file sharing and cloud computing. Currently the FCC is predicting an order of magnitude increase in bandwidth requirements every two years, based on recent history. Why build a highway based on past traffic volumes?

Unlike last generation technologies, fiber is also highly scalable to accommodate enormous future increases in bandwidth. Today’s fiber capacity is limited only by the end-point optics and electronics. As better equipment becomes available or more bandwidth is needed, upgrades providing orders of magnitude increases are relatively simple, without changing the fiber infrastructure.

Compared to copper-based DSL and cable systems, fiber is also cost-effective to install and maintain. It’s the cheapest way to bring universal, reliable high-bandwidth service to rural America. It is, in fact, cheaper than the copper wires we extended to American homes 100 years ago, on a cost-adjusted basis. Also, because fiber is lashed to a high-tensile cable, it is less susceptible to breakage and weather events. As a hard-wired solution, it is not vulnerable to the shortcomings of wireless technologies. The fiber itself is installed on existing pole or conduit infrastructure and most of the cost is in labor, providing good regional economic stimulus in the deployment phase, and a critical foundation for future regional commerce.

Fiber-optics also makes environmental sense. Fiber users report doing more work from home. On average, fiber customers work about one more day a month from home because of their connectivity. If everyone worked at home just one day a month we would see annually:

* 5% reduction in gasoline use
* 4% reduction in C02 emissions
* $5 billion in lower road expenditures
* $1.5 billion commute hours recaptured
* Direct savings to business

Reduced carbon emissions observed in installing and maintaining a fiber-optic networks results in an annual savings of about 700 pounds of greenhouse gases for the first 15 years of a given network implementation, or the equivalent of a European car travelling 1200 miles. After that, the annual savings more than double because the network is depreciated and only a small part of the infrastructure needs to be renewed each year. For comparison, voice-grade copper systems require electric signal repeaters every mile or so for satisfactory performance; while optical systems can go 60 miles with no electric power input required.

In the late 20th century, copper wire technologies were tweaked to increase the amount of data they could carry. However, despite these improvements, the fundamental physical properties and limitations of the medium are no different today than when the first telephone exchange was opened in 1877 by the Bell Telephone Company. Our bandwidth needs are now increasing 40 to 50% per year, and they are beginning to dramatically slow the flow of information over this “suped-up” copper, the same way increasing the number of homes served by one small water pipe would reduce the flow to each home.

Like the other last generation technologies, wireless has similar bandwidth limitations, making it slow and ill-equipped for modern applications. It’s also subject to the interference from weather and signal obstacles including foliage. Of particular challenge to our area is the requirement of a clear line of sight between the transmitting tower and the receiver at the residence.

Wireless is extremely useful where mobility is the top priority, but is not nearly as robust or secure as optical fiber for the “heavy lifting” telecommunications requirements – nor is it economically feasible in our region if universal coverage is the goal. The best way to use wireless is as an addition to a foundation of universal fiber through centrally located hotspots.

In much of the rest of the world, and urban/suburban areas of the U.S., fiber networks to the home have become the deployed medium of choice. It is important that our rural businesses, students, medical professionals and citizens can live and operate on a level playing field with the rest of the world. Just like the rural electrification initiative of the early 20th century, without the next generation fiber infrastructure, our community will be left behind as the rest of the world moves rapidly to develop and use it. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

For more information on fiber-based networks, please see the following links:

Q. Is there any technology beyond fiber?

A. Fiber has such high capacity that it is a future proof network infrastructure.. Very conservatively, fiber has a useful life of thirty to forty years, and fiber installed by the telephone companies in the 1970s is still in use today. While wireless will be very important for mobility access to services like phone, messaging, email, and the Web, we believe Wired West needs to focus on infrastructure that enables new kinds of work and job opportunities, and in particular, infrastructure that will attract new businesses to the region and help retain the ones that are already here. Fiber is critical for that.

Q. What happens to the cabling within the home?

A. If you already have Category 5 or Category 6 Ethernet cabling in your home or business, you can continue to use that when you get a Wired West fiber connection. The fiber will be connected to a small box very similar to a cable modem or DSL modem, and you can plug your existing computers and household network into that box.

Q. Can fiber be run through existing conduit?

A. In some cases, if there is adequate space in an electric conduit, it may be possible to run a fiber cable. Towns that have empty conduit should share the location of that conduit with WiredWest, as that may help get fiber into the community more quickly and at less cost. If towns are planning road, sidewalk, or water/sewer improvements, please coordinate that work with WiredWest, as telecom duct can often be included in these “open ditch” efforts at very low cost.