Growing Broadband - Future Challenges and Opportunities for Service Providers

By Brian Peterson, Regional VP Engineering, Frontier Communication

Brian Peterson, Regional VP Engineering, Frontier Communication

I remember the early days of broadband clearly. It was around Y2K, as every network provider was rapidly moving customers from dial-up to a newly designed A synchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) network providing dedicated Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) to each and every customer. Dial-up speeds were replaced by 256Kbits, and then 384. It’s easy to look at these speeds and laugh at how primitive they sound, but back then, they were considered downright revolutionary. If we could get a couple T1’s to a broadband device, we were up and running. At the time, I couldn’t believe we were providing that much bandwidth to individual customers. Little did I—or the rest of the industry—know what was on the horizon.

"Delivering sufficient bandwidth for demanding customers will continue to be a challenge for our industry"

As soon as broadband providers offered increased speeds new programs and applications were created that required even more bandwidth. A few e-mails and some text based surfing quickly changed to photo sharing, music streaming and the graphic based online experience we are familiar with today. The 384Kbps speed had to be upgraded to 1–3 Mbps. In 2010, video streaming services were introduced. Text and photos would no longer suffice—everything had to be viewed as a video. Frontier and other service providers worked to increase customer speeds again to 6 –10Mbps. In addition to download demands skyrocketing, upload speeds were in high demand too, as YouTube, Vine and other social media started capturing everyone’s attention. It was not uncommon to see network usage double every 12 – 18 months.

That was then, and most of it continues to be true now. The direction broadband is headed is infinitely more complex than it was in those early days, but the historic pattern of new applications being introduced—which consume exponentially increasing amounts of bandwidth—has continued.

For example, take the “Internet of Things,” (IoT), which is on the upswing of its growth curve in today’s commercial and personal broadband markets. With IoT, everything from thermostats to laundry machines to light switches to security systems can be controlled remotely using a Wi-Fi connection. A wonderful development with endless possibilities for sure, but with estimates that the IoT universe will consist of 50 billion devices by 2020, broadband providers are going to have to work hard to keep up.

The IoT is just one technology demanding more bandwidth. Modern broadband networks are nothing more than a LAN, MAN, or WAN (Local, Metropolitan, or Wide Area Network). All built utilizing IP switches and routers with the transport between these devices utilizing optical fiber with bandwidths ranging from 1 Gbps to multiple 10 Gbps and soon to be multiple 100 Gbps.

The real benefit to this new IP network is the bandwidth capabilities and the services offered. In Frontier’s case, we use this network to aggregate and transport our High Speed Internet, thus moving off the old ATM network, relieving congestion which allows more effective planning for future bandwidth needs. The second benefit is the introduction and sale of native Ethernet to our commercial customers. With an Ethernet access network it becomes relatively easy to provide Ethernet handoff at the customer premise and deliver bandwidth from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps. Running a layer-2 Ethernet network beyond the core, we can more easily provision Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities for all types of real time traffic including packetized voice, and video.

Delivering sufficient bandwidth for demanding customers will continue to be a challenge for our industry. Ten years ago, I could not have predicted that in 2015, Netflix alone would consume over 30 percent of all public internet traffic. The next decade’s popular application likely hasn’t been invented yet, but we can safely say it will require even more bandwidth. For years we have heard the term “the biggest pipe wins;” to a large extent that will continue to be true. This presents a daunting challenge for service providers as pressure for more bandwidth at cheaper prices continues. The key will be using equipment that will grow and transition easily and quickly without the cost of a complete migration.

For instance, Frontier utilizes Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL)—technology that allows more data to be sent over existing copper telephone lines and Very High Bit Rate Digital Subscriber Line(VDSL)which provides data transmission at much higher speeds than ADSL, which enable speeds up to 24Mbps in most areas with copper network. In recent years Frontier has moved on to bonding copper pairs helping double those speed offerings. In addition, FiOS and Fiber Optics to the Home (FTTH) have enabled speeds up to 1 Gig in neighborhoods with fiber network.

When we’re talking about growing broadband and bandwidth we can definitely say, “look how far we’ve come.” But we also need to “look how far we still have to go.” There’s an amazing challenge ahead of us, but an equally amazing opportunity as well.