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The New Age, Millennium diet — High in fiber

Thu, 12/31/1998 - 7:00pm
Thomas G. Robinson, Director of Regulatory Affairs and Technology Development, River Oaks Communications Corp.
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By Thomas G. Robinson, Director of Regulatory Affairs and Technology Development, River Oaks Communications Corp.

Well, here we are, marching inexorably to the final days before Y2K and, for better or worse, to see if we really are "fully compliant." I wonder if these same questions will be pondered right before Y3K, or better yet, Y10K (the potential "five-digit" problem). Perhaps if we begin working on it now, the human race will survive.

In the meantime, as I've been pondering away, there are a number of issues which deserve attention, both this year and when the lights come back on next January.

Specifically, those issues include:

The "Less is More" doctrine - With advances in dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), many in the industry I've talked to continue to see a downward pressure on the number of fibers needed in the bundle.

While I think this is true to a point, there is a danger in not putting enough in the ground to handle new service markets and new services that may not even have been envisioned yet. The old adage of "whatever you can do with one, you can do twice as much with two," will apply in some critical cases.

Additionally, at roughly 2.5 cents per incremental foot, it makes good economic sense to add enough extra capacity during initial construction. From a capacity planning standpoint, the "up to 25 percent excess capacity" rule-of-thumb also still makes good sense.

The "Home Sweet Home" doctrine - The residential market is, and potentially always will be, the big market for the cable industry's services. There are, however, real opportunities in the next several years to capture an ever-increasing share of the business market. Especially considering the backbone transport infrastructure that many operators are putting into systems as part of an overall HFC upgrade, the potential is high for competing favorably with Competitive Access Providers (CAPs) and Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs), which have similar backbone infrastructures. Areas of service competition include high-speed data, MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) connectivity and local loop bypass. Several other pieces of the puzzle could contribute to success in the business market, if operators are willing to build such components into their architectures, including:

Redundant paths: From the backbone out to the ends of the system employing some critical node-to-node connections, rim trunks and other diverse path methods could win over some business customers. Because four or five "nines" is not always what it seems (depending on the fine print), a number of businesses currently look to separate carriers to provide redundancy. If, however, they could get truly redundant links for critical services from one provider, as well as get such services cost-effectively packaged with other needed video, voice and data communications, businesses have indicated that this type of service would have real value to them.

Service to business parks: Up to this point, I've noticed many operators will pass right by a bevy of potential high-dollar customers on the way from one subdivision to the next. To continue to bypass such infrastructure development, especially when business and industrial parks are first under construction and the cost of installation can be minimized, could shut an operator out of important, lucrative markets in the future. Some operators in the past have tried to lure potential business customers into paying large up-front installation costs with the promise of big savings on circuit costs down the road. That marketing method has largely not worked and, with phone companies already pushing Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services to such customers, operators will increasingly need to adopt a plug-and-play strategy to succeed in such markets.

The advantage for the cable industry in business markets is currently several-fold. First, operators can provide cost-effective, symmetrical bandwidth enabling both high-speed Internet access and LAN-to-LAN and LAN-to-WAN interconnection. Additionally, as described below, with the right deployment of equipment and infrastructure, the cable industry can potentially offer better migration strategies to businesses concerning higher capacity circuit needs.

Migration strategies - One of the concerns businesses and institutions continue to indicate in surveys regarding telecommunications technology and services is the need to meet increasing demands for network connections for additional users, development of new applications and employment of higher transfer rates without "breaking the bank." Accordingly, if operators can help organizations increase their capabilities over time with cost-effective migration from one form of transmission technology to another, they may both increase their current business market share and help retain it over time in the face of competition.

For example, several vendors provide, or are pursuing development of optronics in the form of "business nodes," "small nodes" or "mini nodes." These can be employed to terminate fiber that is brought all the way into a facility for initial use with cost-effective data-over-cable equipment. Then, as an organization's data (and voice and video) communications needs expand; as the cost of fiber multiplexing, transceiver and other transport technologies continues to decline; and as an organization's budget allows, migration to an all fiber-based topology can be as simple as changing the termination/transmission device.

This type of migration concept has significant implications for institutional networks (I-Nets) which are increasingly being developed to provide both baseline franchise-provided services and additional market opportunities.

Wireline vs. wireless

Next, we could delve into the wireline vs. wireless debate (limited viable over-the-air spectrum vs. limitless number of viable wires), but I think we'll leave that for another time in the New Year. Until then, I have more Y2K compliance certifications to do, and, from all indications, not a '99 moment to spare.

e-mail: ctrobinson@worldnet.att.net

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