By BUILDER Magazine Staff Will fiber-to-the-home like that on Daniel Island, S.C. really benefit homeowners? We asked David Waks, president of System Dynamics, a Morris Plains, N.J. consultancy that helps companies take advantage of broadband home technologies. His answer was that it will, but not right away.
Today, nearly all developers install hybrid networks, lay fiber beneath the street, and make the final link to the home with copper--coax for cable TV and twisted pair wiring for telephone. Copper is designed for analog signals, which are still most of what the cable and phone companies transmit (though they use a digital "overlay" for cable modems and DSL lines).
But Waks insists that analog's days are numbered, that all data, voice, and video will soon be digital. It's already happening: Digital audio CDs are replacing analog cassette tapes, and digital DVDs are replacing analog VHS video. And he adds that the FCC has required broadcasters to stop broadcasting analog television by 2007. This makes fiber-to-the-home a wise future-proofing strategy. Not only is fiber designed for digital data, but it can carry data faster and further than copper. Fiber can deliver speeds of 1 gigabit per second, while cable modems and DSL transfer data at 1.5 megabit per second (mbs)--about 600 times slower.
Of course 1.5 mbs is more than enough for today's services, but it may not be in 2005 or 2010. Fiber-to-the-home will be better suited to the high-bandwidth digital services--many delivered over the Internet--that should become available within the next few years: video sharing with neighbors and friends, video telephony, video conferencing, and high-definition television.
Waks admits that an all-fiber network is more expensive than a hybrid one. And while such a network is cost-effective for apartment buildings, the economics are less favorable for suburban developments. But costs should drop fast as installations proliferate, making it a long-term winner.