Cable, Bells Vie for Last Mile
In most neighborhoods, no one comes closer to delivering fiber to the home than cable companies, although the regional Bells are mounting some competition.
After committing $3.4 billion to upgrade its networks for telephone, Internet service and video-on-demand, AT&T Broadband is using fiber to carry signals to neighborhood nodes. From there, services flow over coaxial cable, a broadband pipeline that is considered easier to manage than the phone companies DSL over copper wire.
"An upgraded cable system with fiber to the neighborhood has abundant bandwidth to serve customer needs today and in the future," said AT&T Broadband spokesman Steve Lang. "And the bandwidth can expand as you move the fiber deeper into the neighborhood and reduce the number of people served by the node."
While cable executives tout the ease of connecting to cables high-speed pipeline, their chief competitors, the regional Bells, are also bringing more bandwidth to customers.
BellSouth got started years ago and is way ahead in bringing optical fiber near homes.
After laying fiber to new homes in Orlando, Fla., and its suburbs, BellSouth decided that strategy was too expensive. In 1995, the company started laying fiber to the curb in new neighborhoods in which eight homes share one fiber node. Currently, there are 620,000 homes throughout the nine-state BellSouth region that have access to fiber to the curb, and 160,000 of those get video and data in addition to voice services. The company plans to continue deploying the fiber in certain new neighborhoods.
Mega-Bell SBC Communications is focused on its Project Pronto effort, which entails bringing fiber into neighborhoods in order to extend the reach of its DSL service. The company plans to make DSL available to more than 80 percent of its territory.
"Fiber to the home is something that were testing, but right now, were very focused on Project Pronto," said SBC spokesman Kevin Belgrade.
Qwest Communications International has deployed fiber to neighborhoods in much of the Phoenix metro area. From there, the company has connected homes using Very-high-speed DSL (VDSL). However, those deployments have stalled, and Qwest would not comment on its corporate philosophy on fiber directly to homes.
The fourth of the mega Bells, Verizon Communications, has not deployed fiber directly to homes and does not plan to do so, according to Brian Whitton, Verizons executive director of service and platform design. Verizon is focusing on VDSL, which can provide enough bandwidth to supply voice, video and data.
Verizon expects to announce international trials of VDSL in Europe in the next six to eight months, Whitton said. Similar U.S. trials are expected in 18 months, with deployment two to four years away.