Opinion: A broader look at broadband

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By Elizabeth Cook

Broadband industry consultant Craig Settles says municipalities like Salisbury that are developing fiber-to-the-home networks need to plan for the future with business customers in mind, not consumers with limited personal needs.

Settles, 54, of Oakland, Calif., spoke Feb. 11 at a luncheon that was part of Salisbury City Council’s annual planning retreat.

In a Q&A interview afterwards with the Salisbury Post, Settles discussed Salisbury’s Fibrant network, the need for speed, white space technology, the role of wireless communications and other topics.

Settles, who attended the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkley, served in 1999 as director of electronic commerce for Metricom, which marketed Ricochet wireless Internet access service, the precursor to municipal wireless networks.

He has written two books, “Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless” in 2005 and “Fighting the Next Good Fight: Bringing True Broadband to Your Community.”

In recent years he has consulted with several cities on municipal broadband strategy.

Interview Continued on Salisbury Post…

Craig is now getting on the open-access infrastructure “boat.”  Cities do not have the expertise to provide, operate, maintain, and market voice, video, and data services; the carriers do.  Alternatively, cities do know how build infrastructure.  Utilizing industry experts that have designed, built, operated, and sold capacity on networks will help ensure a municipality’s success.  The planning stage is vital because it determines cash-flow for the operation.  The initial objective of the build-out should be to provide bandwidth where there is the highest concentration of business, wireless, and other anchor customers.  Cash from these operations continue to finance operations and subsequent build-outs.  Eventually residential areas can afford to be covered.  Just as Craig stated in this interview, cities should not initially focus on residential customers.

The other item that needs to be addressed is how much is enough bandwidth.  What may be enough bandwidth today, will not be enough for tomorrow.  Again, look at the target customer for the initial build-out.  If cities want to sell capacity to wireless providers they are looking for at least 88 Mbit/s to each tower for their LTE -based services increasing to 200-300 Mbit/s over 5 years.  Business users such as call centers, hospitals, or other health-care providers could easily utilize 100 Mbit/s of symmetrical bandwidth.  Home users today consume 30 Mbit/s for 3 HD video streams, Internet access, gaming, and telephony.  Then you have to look to the future.  Cities are building an asset that will have a life expectancy of at least 20 years.  They must plan for the future but be prudent with today’s capital.  Looking at providing 100 Mbit/s to a majority of subscribers in 5 years is not unreasonable.  After that a city should plan for a capacity upgrade.  If they are providing fiber infrastructure only then the service provider is responsible for capacity planning.

Skeptics of fiber ‘s cost keep bringing up the issue of wireless technologies.  Wireless has its place but it is not the answer for true broadband services like video and image intensive applications.  Today’s 4G technology, that is yet to be deployed, will not support the bandwidth needs of business and residential subscribers with the reliability required.  Future technologies like software defined radios that take advantage of white-space are still a decade or more off from being commercially feasible.  Even when they are ready, fiber is still required to transport the service back to the service provider.

Communities that are serious about making their broadband project a success need to have experts on the project all the time, not just pay a consultant to come in for occasional council meetings .  Craig provided good advice, but full-time guidance and direction is required to ensure the project’s success.  Inphotonics Research develops long-term relationships with communities to guarantee the network meets the community’s needs and performs to the required financial objectives.

About Mark Milliman

Mark Milliman is a Principal Consultant at Inphotonics Research driving the adoption and assisting local governments to plan, build, operate, and lease access open-access municipal broadband networks. Additionally, he works with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to increase the value of their intellectual capital through the creation of strategic product plans and execution of innovative marketing strategies. With more than 22 years of experience in the telecommunications industry that began at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Mark has built fiber, cable, and wireless networks around the world to deliver voice, video, and data services. His thorough knowledge of all aspects of service delivery from content creation to the design, operation, and management of the network is utilized by carriers and equipment manufacturers. Mark conceived and developed one of the industry's first multi-service provisioning platform and is multiple patent holder. He is active in the IEEE as a senior member. Mark received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.
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