Sunday, March 19, 2006

How To Think About Building Fiber Networks

Mike recently forwarded a link to an article that makes a pretty good Sunday read. It's a readable, sensible story that can fill in some background that readers may want to have in order to understand the decisions that will go into building a fiber-optic network like Lafayette's. Most material on network construction is pretty academic or technical. It either abstractly about describing different options or about the virtues of building a particular type of network (usually a vendor's).

It's rare to find an article that puts the academic and technical choices in a realistic enough context that the reader can see how real decisions are made. The piece "Fiber at any price" is set in Asia but the choices faced by Asian Telecom companies are largely the same choices we face here. What you can learn from an article like this is what factors it is important to pay attention to...factors like what drives companies to build out fiber (Video) and why backhaul expenses are an issue in big bandwidth deployments.

The story focuses on the factors that go into deciding 1) whether to build a fiber-optic based communications network and 2) what type of network --not all fiber-optic networks are the same--you build once you've decided you need one. A few teasers:

The catch is that fiber does not come cheap. The cost of the equipment itself isn't a problem so much as the cost of running the network, particularly in the backhaul, where bandwidth costs grow as traffic increases.

Interestingly, how big a barrier this is varies from market to market and carrier to carrier. Some carriers find FTTx very cost-effective to deploy, while others find it tremendously expensive. The regulatory environment is a factor in some cases, but it's also a matter of choosing the right technology and the right FTTx architecture for the job, as well as the right business model to cover the opex costs.

If you mull over this one for a bit you'll have a better appreciation of the decisions being made in Lafayette. Not a bad read for a reflective moment.


Anonymous said...

Explain the term "backhaul".

John said...

Sorry, the term "backhaul" has a number of related different uses and the way it is used here is pretty specialized.

The sense I am using it here is that backhaul refers to data transport beyond the local network. So data transport around LUS' network will be "local" but sending information outside the local area to New York, or Tokoyo, or Breaux Bridge will involve backhaul.

The main distinction, for our purposes, involves cost. Increasing the bandwidth offered consumers increases the bandwidth they use and, for any of the additional traffic that originates or terminates outside the local network, it increases the "backhaul costs."

In a situation like the one LUS will be in once our fiber is built there will be no scarcity of bandwidth in-system. Out-system, "backhaul" costs are the chief reason that LUS won't be able to give us a very cheap big pipe to the internet beyond our borders: they can't afford it. (Conversely, they can afford to do so in-system.)


Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks.