In the world of FTTH (Fibre To The Home) technology, from trenching to downloading, we seem to be falling into the same old techno-speak trap. Fortunately there is an organisation out there that is trying to protect the benefits that FTTH represents and to ensure that all sides of the market remain fair, comply with the rules and offer best practice.
The Fibre to the Home Council is a non-profit body consisting of companies, organisations and municipalities engaged in advancing FTTH solutions. Its members include operators, manufacturers and installers. It also welcomes government institutions and representatives of the property industry. Among the council’s activities are providing ways for members to share their knowledge and build industry consensus on FTTH.
Here are some frequently asked questions that will help shed light (pun intended) on the fibre issue:
Q: What is fibre to the home (FTTH)?
A: FTTH is the delivery of a communications signal over optical fibre from the operator’s switching equipment all the way to a home or business, replacing existing copper infrastructure such as telephone wires and coaxial cable. FTTH is a relatively new and fast-growing method of providing vastly higher bandwidth (read: speed and capacity) to consumers, thereby enabling more robust video, internet and voice services.
Q: Why is fibre optic cable now being connected directly to homes?
A: Connecting homes directly to fibre optic cable enables enormous improvements in the bandwidth that can be provided to consumers. While the traditional technologies (using ADSL and cable modems) generally provide transmission speeds of up to five megabits per second for downloading (and generally less for uploading), current fibre optic technology can provide two-way transmission speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. Furthermore, while it is a struggle to squeeze small increments of bandwidth out of the older technologies, ongoing improvements in fibre optic equipment are constantly increasing the available bandwidth without requiring any change in the fibre infrastructure. That’s why fibre networks are said to be ‘future proof’.
Q: But it was only a few years ago that I upgraded from dial-up to ADSL. Are you telling me I’m going to have to upgrade again?
A: Think about it. A little more than 10 years ago, the internet video service YouTube didn’t even exist. Today, YouTube viewers watch billions of video clips a day. It was the advance from dialup to ADSL that made YouTube possible. And now a growing number of people are watching their favourite television programmes, news and sporting events over the internet. We have no reason to believe these innovations will stop. This trend will continue into high-definition video, telemedicine, distance learning, telecommuting and many other broadband applications that have thus far been limited only by the restricted number of high-bandwidth connections into people’s homes. Only FTTH can deliver the bandwidth we are going to need in the future, and FTTH providers are now providing this higher capacity at competitive prices.
Q: Why can’t I get these high-bandwidth applications on existing infrastructure?
A: The old technology relies on copper wire to deliver signals to your home or business – and copper can deliver high bandwidth only over very short distances. That’s fine if you happen to live a few hundred metres from your provider’s switching station, but most people don’t. Fibre optics does not have this limitation and thus is able to carry high bandwidth signals over great distances to homes and businesses. Only FTTH can deliver the immense bandwidth that the applications of the future will require.
Q: Is FTTH affordable?
A: FTTH services are being rolled out nationwide at competitive prices, with voice and data services being delivered by incumbent carriers. In places where consumers have previously had little or no choice in their internet services, the addition of FTTH providers has helped keep prices down and service quality up.
Q: The last time telecommunication lines were installed in my city, the streets were being dug up for months. Is that going to happen again as FTTH networks are built?
A: The technology for drilling and burying cable has changed a lot over the years. Contractors can now use horizontal drilling techniques, where underground conduits are installed at a single entry point and special equipment runs the cables to their destinations without the need to dig open trenches. Sometimes fibre can be put in existing ducts, water pipes and sewers. You may still suffer some inconvenience for a short period of time, but the benefits last a lifetime.
Q: Is FTTH primarily a technology for getting high-definition movies on demand?
A: Not at all. While the vastly higher bandwidth and transmission speeds offered by FTTH certainly enable video providers to offer a wider range of products and services, users of other applications will benefit as well. Home automation relies on high bandwidth. Gamers will get access to more powerful multiplayer applications. Avenues will open for distance learning and telemedicine. Opportunities for telecommuting and working at home will increase. And, just as internet applications and solutions have grown more sophisticated with the expansion of available bandwidth to current levels, you can be sure that this leap into next-generation broadband will inspire further innovations that we cannot even imagine at this point.
Q: Why don’t I get the full speed using Wi-Fi in my house?
A: Wi-Fi and the internet are two different things. Wi-Fi is simply an alternative to network cables as a way to connect devices to a local area network (LAN). Before Wi-Fi, the only way to connect devices together was to run physical network cables between them, which could be inconvenient. Wi-Fi allows devices to connect to one another the same way as when network cables are used, just without the actual cables. A Wi-Fi network allows you to connect your device from anywhere in your home. BUT signal strength is also hindered by physical objects like walls, doors, floors, furniture − even people. Other common radiobased devices, like microwave ovens and baby monitors, also hog your home’s wireless spectrum. So the speed you get out of your Wi-Fi network depends on all these things, and on how it is configured.
Q: What are the advantages of fibre?
A: Fibre is a future-proof technology because it has the capacity to transmit vast amounts of data at high speeds. Therefore, as our data requirements grow, the technology should not require upgrading for the next 20 years. Fibre is fast. The technology has the ability to transmit data at the speed of light. The only constraints on this are the routers and other equipment used at either end of the fibre infrastructure.
Q: Why should I switch to FTTH?
A: It is significantly faster than ADSL. It is more stable. It gives you access to high-definition television (HDTV). As a futureproof medium, it will support new services. The increased bandwidth is sufficient to support growing demand. If you switch your home phone to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) on fibre, you will save on call costs.
Q: What FTTH speed will I require?
A: We give the available speeds here in megabits or gigabits per second (Mbps or Gbps): 4 Mbps – Light use: emails and light browsing 10 Mbps – Light use: emails and light browsing 20 Mbps – Medium to light use: streaming TV and music 40 Mbps – Medium to light use: streaming TV and music 100 Mbps – Heavy to medium use: security and entertainment 1 Gbps – Heavy to medium use: large downloads and uploads, home automation