Q. What is FTTH fiber to the home ?
A. FTTH (Fiber to the home) is the delivery of a communications signal via optical fiber from the operator’s central office all the way to a home or business, thereby replacing existing copper infrastructure such as telephone wires or coaxial cable. Fiber to the home is a relatively fast growing method of providing vastly higher bandwidth to consumers and businesses, and thereby enabling HDTV, IPTV, internet and voice services.
Q. What is optical fiber and optical fiber cable?
A. Optical fiber is a hair-thin strand of glass, specially designed to trap and transmit laser pulse. The fiber uses light instead of electricity to carry a signal. It is unique because it can carry high bandwidth signals over long distances without signal degradation, and it can provide those signals simultaneously in both directions – upload and download. Copper media can also carry high bandwidth, but only for a few hundred yards – after which the signal begins to degrade and bandwidth narrows. Optical fiber has been used in communications networks for more than 35 years, mostly to carry core telecom traffic from city to city or country to country.
An optical fiber cable is a cable containing one or more optical fiber cores that are used to carry light. The optical fiber elements are typically individually coated with plastic layers and contained in a protective tube suitable for the environment where the cable will be deployed. Different types of cable are used for different applications, for example long distance telecommunication, or providing a high-speed data connection between different parts of a building.
Q. Why is fiber optic cable now being connected directly to homes?
A. Connecting homes directly to fiber optic cable enables enormous improvements in the bandwidth that can be provided to consumers, both now and for many more decades of accelerating bandwidth demand. While cable modems generally provide transmission speeds of anywhere between five and 50 megabits per second on the download (and are generally much slower when uploading), current fiber optic technology can provide two-way transmission speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, with 10 gig systems now coming to market and even higher bandwidth fiber networks now being developed. Further, while cable and DSL providers are struggling to squeeze small increments of higher bandwidth out of their technologies, ongoing improvements in fiber optic equipment are constantly increasing available bandwidth without having to change the fiber. That’s why fiber networks are said to be “future proof.”
Q. Why do we need all that bandwidth? Aren’t cable and DSL systems good enough for what most people want to do?
A. This is the age of video over Internet. Increasingly, consumers are using their Internet connections to view television programs from content providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, in addition to the growing number of websites that provide video in some form. Over the past several years, since in the introduction of the video sharing site YouTube, video has grabbed an ever-larger share of total IP traffic and is now the Internet’s leading application. One high definition movie takes up as much bandwidth as 35,000 web pages. In the meantime, a growing number of companies are offering “software as service” – meaning you subscribe to applications on the net rather than install them on your own computer. These “cloud computing” applications are now available for word processing, emailing, automated remote file backup, and a host of business and personal services. All of these applications – and many others we haven’t even dreamed of yet – are going to require much greater bandwidth than what is generally available today, even from “broadband” providers. While many cable modem services have thus far kept up with steadily growing consumer demand for more bandwidth, DSL services have struggled to do so. And it remains to be seen how much longer cable modems, which use copper in the last-mile, are going to be able to keep pace – especially given Cisco’s forecast that IP traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34 percent in the years to come.
Q. But is a 100% fiber network really necessary?
A. We have no reason to believe that innovation in Internet applications and services will ever slow down – in fact, all signs point toward their acceleration as high-definition video, telemedicine, distance learning, telecommuting and many other broadband applications come to market. Only fiber to the home is going to be able to deliver the bandwidth we are going to need far into the future.
Q. Are fiber to the home services more expensive than those that are available over cable modem and DSL?
A. Our surveys have shown that FTTH subscribers pay approximately the same for their Internet, voice and video services as do customers of DSL and cable providers, and that FTTH subscribers actually pay less per megabit of bandwidth that they receive. In addition, surveys of broadband consumers conducted by Consumer Reports magazine and by the FTTH Council have shown that subscribers of FTTH services show considerably higher satisfaction rates than subscribers of other broadband services.
Q. I’ve heard that wireless technologies like WiFi and WiMAX can deliver the same kind of service as fiber to the home without having to go through the trouble of installing new wires into homes. Is this true?
A. No. Wireless broadband is subject to spectrum availability – the cost of which limits the bandwidth, and hence the applications it can provide. These wireless technologies cannot deliver high definition television – and, in fact, they have trouble delivering standard television. And HDTV is only one of the many high-broadband applications now being developed for our broadband future. Wireless will always be a useful mobile application adjunct to FTTH.
Q. What about satellite? Most people have that choice, don’t they?
A. Satellite offers video, of course, but it cannot offer robust broadband Internet service because the subscriber can only download the signal. Upload is normally provided through the subscriber’s telephone lines, which limits transmission speeds for user generated content.