SPEED on the Ground, in the Air and in the Home

Fri, 09/30/2005 - 8:00pm
Compiled by Jeff Baumgartner, Editor

Several technologies are making leaps of speed on the ground and in the air.
Some are here today; others are still on the horizon. Here is a quick snapshot
of these different broadband access technologies, the capabilities they
purport to provide, and the timelines in which they should appear

Several technologies are making leaps of speed on the ground and in the air. Some are here today; others are still on the horizon. Here is a quick snapshot of these different broadband access technologies, the capabilities they purport to provide, and the timelines in which they should appear. Turn the page for a similar rundown on home networking technologies.

While current- and next-generation access technologies will pipe content from the network to the home, a variety of wired and wireless home networking technologies have emerged (or are evolving) that will enable consumers to shuttle, share and even stream digital photos, music and video.


The concept: Rather than building fiber all the way to the premises, VDSL2 will give telcos (with advanced compression) the ability to support multiple SD and HD video streams via copper.

Capabilities: A theoretical maximum of 100 Mbps upstream and down. Ideal speeds will be reached in loops that are less than 2,000 feet. One advantage for VDSL is its ability to bond multiple copper pairs together and create one logically larger pipe.

Status: As the newest kid on the block, VDSL2 is also the least mature when it comes to reaching full consent and interoperability with stable silicon.

Other notes: Business decisions (i.e. is it cheaper to extend fiber or to shorten copper loops for performance gains?) could be the driving factor for VDSL2.


The concept: HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) is an advanced cellular technology that enhances GSM UMTS-based networks.

Capabilities: UMTS/HSDPA networks initially will support data speeds of up to 3.6 Mbps, and average between 550 kbps and 1.1 Mbps. Cellular operators will leverage those speeds to provide high-quality video applications, interactive gaming and music services, and enterprise applications.

Status: HSDPA deployments are expected to take place with most GSM UMTS-based cellular operators. Cingular plans to roll it out in 15 to 20 markets by year-end 2005.


The concept: EV-DO, for Evolution Data Optimized or Evolution Data Only, is a high-speed next-gen cellular technology for CDMA-based technology. It overlays existing 1XRTT cellular networks.

Capabilities: An advertised rate of 1.5 Mbps, with burst capabilities in the neighborhood of 2 Mbps. Average speeds will be 400 kbps to 700 kbps.

Status: In July, Verizon reported coverage in 50 major metros, and 57 airports nationwide, with expectations of expanding it to half the U.S. population by year-end. Sprint launched EV-DO support in July in 34 markets, and expects to increase coverage to 60 metros by early 2006.


The concept: Taking several steps beyond "garden variety" ADSL, the "2+" version essentially doubles the use of the spectrum on the copper pair to 2.2 MHz.

Capabilities: Under ideal conditions, ADSL2+ can pump out 24–25 Mbps in the downstream. Under most practical scenarios, speeds will be in the 15–20 Mbps range when delivered 4,000 or 5,000 feet from the central office.

Status: ADSL2+ is an approved standard, silicon is considered plentiful, but equipment for multiple vendor set-ups still requires interoperability testing. Some telcos are already beginning to use it today to support IPTV services, with an eye toward HDTV.


The concept: As cable's answer to FTTP, DOCSIS 3.0 leverages the power of the hybrid fiber/coax network by "bonding" several 6 MHz or 8 MHz channels.

Capabilities: Early 3.0 implementations look to combine four channels and a downstream of roughly 160 Mbps. Some pre-3.0 "wideband" implementations can fuse up to 16 channels and create a pipe capable of downstream speeds of greater than 600 Mbps. In addition to providing a faster pipe, cable will also leverage 3.0 in DVRs.

Status: CableLabs is in the process of finalizing the DOCSIS 3.0 specification. The final spec should come out sometime in the first half of 2006. In Asia, where many telcos with densely populated service areas are pushing the speed envelope well beyond DOCSIS 2.0 capabilities, cable operators are clamoring for interim or pre-3.0 channel bonding technologies. J:COM of Japan, for example, is delivering a 100 Mbps (shared) service to multiple dwelling units using a specialized system from Entropic Communications that taps a 50 MHz-wide out-of-band channel.


The concept: WiMAX 802.16 is a fixed wireless technology based on OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing). The 802.16e version of WiMAX, still under development and well behind schedule, will support mobile devices such as laptops or personal digital assistants.

Capabilities: The base 10 MHz technology will support high raw data rates of 30 Mbps per channel, in a cell radius of 3–8 kilometers. Shared speed could go as high as 100 Mbps in a 30 MHz implementation. With overhead taken out, the technology should handle 22 Mbps to 24 Mbps.

Status: A revised fixed wireless version won approval last year, with publication in October 2004. Conformance tests were set to begin, following multiple delays, by October 2005. Certified gear is expected in early 2006. In the meantime, several vendors are marketing pre-WiMAX technology, including some that will coexist with approved WiMAX base stations.

Satellite broadband

The concept: High-speed data via satellite, particularly in areas untouched by DSL and high-speed cable lines.

Capabilities: WildBlue Communications, a Ka-band-based service provider, caps its fastest service at 1.5 Mbps down. Direcway recently increased its residential speed cap to 1 Mbps down, and 2 Mbps down for its small business service.

Status: The technology platform has had a slow go. WildBlue, following a string of delays, signed on its first customer in June. Direcway, despite having years invested in the business, has signed up just north of 250,000 subscribers on its Ku-band platform. DirecTV has redirected its Spaceway project to support high-definition television services, although those satellites are also outfitted for data offerings.


The concept: Pushing fiber all the way to the residence and business.

Capabilities: In the PON (passive optical network) world, speed varies depending on the type of technology employed.

  • BPON/APON offers about 622 Mbps up and 155 Mbps down, and uses traditional ATM technology. It also requires a separate wavelength to carry analog RF video.
  • GPON, a newer architecture, can support about 2.5 Gbps. Per user deployment costs have come down, but GPON optics are still more expensive. However, the platform can deliver IPTV services.
  • EPON. Used more extensively in parts of Asia, expectations are that it won't be deployed much in the U.S. It can deliver video over RF and IP, however.

Some operators also use "active" FTTP technology, with service capabilities of upwards of 100 Mbps.

Status: Growing quickly. According to Render Vanderslice and Associates LLC, almost 400 communities in 43 states were being served by FTTP as of May 2005, with 213,000 homes connected to a fiber-fed service, and 1.62 million homes passed with the technology.

BPL—Broadband over Powerline

The concept: Like the name says, it's the distribution of IP-based services over powerline infrastructures. Today, there are three types of architectures: Medium Voltage (pole-to-pole), Medium Voltage (wireless access from the pole to the subscriber), and Low Voltage (transformer to the home).

Capabilities: Recent deployments have been offering up to 3 Mbps upstream and down. Some reports note that future versions of the technologies will push the 100 Mbps barrier.

Status: The technology has yet to make mainstream roots, but it is seeing some early deployments and trials. To comply with FCC rules and to ensure it does not interfere with ham radio, the technology can "notch," or filter out, the spectrum used by ham radio operators. The ARRL (American Radio Relay League) is not completely convinced that notching is the final answer to that problem, however.


The concept: An offshoot of Ultrawideband, the WiMedia Alliance is targeting rich media distribution initially over the 1.5 GHz spectrum band.

Capabilities: 100 Mbps at 10 meters, 480 Mbps for desktop applications (1 to 2 meters), thus complementing the speeds offered by USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed mode).

Status: At last check, the Alliance has targeted year-end 2005 for the initial release of products based on the WiMedia convergence layer and compliant with the interop specs.

HPNA 3.0

The concept: Pipe data and IP services and applications over existing in-home copper telephone wires.

Capabilities: The spec calls for a PHY throughput of 128 Mbps, though "optional extensions" could increase that to 240 Mbps.

Status: HPNA 3.0 is already an ITU standard, and silicon has been in the market since mid-2004.

The cable connection: HPNA 3.0 can bridge between phoneline and coax lines via a $3 combiner/passive device.


The concept: A wireless platform that transmits data in short pulses, but spread over a wide spectrum range.

Capabilities: Up to 200 Mbps over distances as far as 20 feet. It also has the added benefit of penetrating walls.

Status: The effort (as an evolving IEEE standard) presently appears to be log-jammed by two competing technical approaches: Direct Sequence UWB and MB-OFDM (Multiband Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing). Several companies backing MB-OFDM are pushing ahead with a branch-off organization called the WiMedia Alliance.

HomePlug AV

The concept: Following up on the early, data-centric 1.0 platform, the AV version is designed to route data and multiple streams of HD video over a home's powerline network.

Capabilities: A raw PHY rate of 200 Mbps, with expectations of 100 Mbps at the application layer.

Status: Ratified in August. Expectations are that silicon will become available in early Q4, followed by some adapter-based products in Q2 2006.

The cable connection: HomePlug AV is also designed to run on less noisy coax home networks, and could play a role in multi-room DVRs.

Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA)

The concept: Pipe advanced applications, including multiple streams of high-definition video and VoIP, over the home's coaxial network.

Capabilities: A PHY rate of 270 Mbps, and a theoretical MAC throughput of 135 Mbps.

Status: MoCA recently completed a set of field trials in 246 homes in the U.S. that found 97 percent of all paths in all homes achieved equal to or greater throughputs of 100 Mbps, with all homes achieving greater than 120 Mbps on at least one path.

The cable connection: Networking over coax is in cable's technology wheelhouse for multi-room DVRs and other rich-media sharing applications.

Other notes: Like HPNA, MoCA has just one member from the silicon community (Entropic Communications). That could change soon as the Alliance moves ahead on a membership drive. MoCA has competition from proprietary players such as Coaxsys Inc., which has entered the market with a 100 Mbps (PHY rate) system called "TVnet."

802.11n (Wi-Fi)

The concept: This developing version of Wi-Fi will step beyond simple data-based application sharing to a standardized platform capable of distributing high-end video applications wirelessly.

Capabilities: A theoretical throughput of 100 Mbps, with application layer throughput of 50 Mbps-70 Mbps. It also aims to provide broader and expanded coverage of WiFi networks using an array of antennas under a technique called MIMO (multiple input/multiple output).

Status: Well delayed in its process of becoming an IEEE standard. Dueling proposals (WWiSE and TGn Sync) have slowed its progress considerably, but recent news about yet a third—led by Broadcom, Intel, Atheros and Marvell—could bog things down further, with ratification delayed perhaps until mid-2007, according to ABI Research.



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