Feature Article

January 02, 2013

Eventually, it's All Comes Back to the Optics

On the ride home from our Incentive Auction virtual event a few weeks back, Barlow Keener and I discussed how the spectrum would be used. The archive is still available and I would love to hear if you agree with Barlow or me. Rebecca Hanson did a great job explaining the commissions desire to create an efficient market. The goal of having the spectrum repacked can in theory create another nationwide spectrum range. However, even the spectrum opens up specific regions if its value is over $32 billion.  

Now comes the next question, what would you do with this spectrum? Quickly this became a discussion about how plentiful the glass and the cost of optics are.

I admit it I am a bit ancient when it comes to optics. My SONET history is past generation as opposed to next generation. The OTN solutions and CDNs have changed the backbone tremendously, at least when it comes to the data. On the voice side it still resembles what I knew (but VoLTE is coming). 

Barlow’s perspective (and it’s based on a network he had scoped out) is that glass is ubiquitous and separate strands can be found anywhere. (I suspected he was only considering an urban area, but he insisted I was incorrect.) 

It’s hard sometimes to get the complete picture here. RF engineers are normally all about cell range and outside plant engineers are all about right of ways. Then of course, these days much of what is bought is done in procurement. Network planning is being managed based on municipal restrictions.   In other words, it’s rare that we can point to an optimized network plan.

Outside of the engineering community most people think wireless stays on the radio frequencies end to end. In reality, within the first three miles of a given cell it normally comes back to wireline. In some footprints like Verizon’s territory, the commitment to fiber is now in the loop. In other territories it’s a mix.   I sat with one network planner who drew me a backhaul strategy that was clearly not ready for the data surge. The use of pseudowire to keep the timing right for T1s is essential even when the base stations are connected to optics because the voice mentality still dominates the network planners’ view.

In the future the answer at the core is Ethernet. As a matter of fact, it’s about Ethernet everywhere.  RF Ethernet is Wi-Fi and while RF is a single path strategy my expectation is that eventually TDD LTE will start showing some performance benefits when blended with Ethernet that will help it win. FDD in LTE is the current winner. 

I have decided that this year, I am going to be bring in my friends who are experts on network planning and discuss how to optimize for the next generation networks of the future. 

Stay tuned and happy New Year!

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