GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/High speed ahead
Setting up a community-run broadband network may sound like a straightforward project. Regulatory, financing, operational, civil engineering, political and other issues, however, can quickly engulf project leaders. Settling on a technology can be especially difficult.
Discussing the merits of one technology over another can be replete with emotion, hyperbole, anticipation and passion. To determine which broadband network technology would best meet each community’s needs, project leaders should answer five questions.
What services will be supported?
A community network will require a minimum bandwidth to deliver services to subscribers. For a typical household with two standard TVs (one with picture-in-picture), a third high-definition set and a personal video recorder, the bandwidth required to deliver the voice, high-speed data and MPEG2 compressed video services would be between 55 megabits per second (Mbps) and 60 Mbps. Even with emerging MPEG4 video compression, 25 Mbps to 30 Mbps would be required.
Will the technology meet expectations now and in 10 years?
When a crumbling bridge is rebuilt to support a municipal road, it is usually designed to accommodate another lane or two of traffic in case the road is eventually widened. The same applies to broadband networks. Project leaders should consider the needs of businesses, schools and medical centers that may emerge.
Will the technology protect content?
Studios and distributors will not provide video programming to carriers that cannot prevent unauthorized access, content theft or pirating. The broadband network should enhance protection.
Can the technology minimize the ongoing costs of running the network?
Municipal bonds or other financing may help in initial network provisioning, but costly operations could drive up rates. A May 2004 study by Piscataway, N.J.-based Telcordia Technologies and New York-based Sanford Bernstein found that the single biggest contributor to a local broadband provider’s profitability was not the revenue from selling bundles of voice, data and video services but, rather, operating-expense reductions resulting from network technology. Deploying fiber-to-the-premise (optical fiber directly from the network to homes) not just fiber-to-the-node technology (optical fiber to a hub from which copper wire connects to homes) can minimize the number of times a service representative is dispatched when a subscriber calls in a service problem.
Can the technology guarantee high-quality service?
Video should not flicker when someone else in the home or neighborhood downloads a large file. Businesses require the highest levels of service reliability.
Dozens more questions can be raised: How can the operator best accommodate the churn of customers turning on and off broadband services? What happens as new areas develop more quickly than others? How will broadband service reach those few remote community members who are miles away from the main concentration of subscribers? Project leaders should start with the five questions discussed, add others specific to their communities and then prioritize expectations before — not after — settling on a technology.
The author is vice president of marketing and business strategy for Holmdel, N.J.-based Amedia Networks.