Stirring the Pot: April 2012

As originally posted in Blandin Foundation’s Broadband eNews:

Stirring the Pot

Last week in his MPR Blog, Dave Peters took an interesting look at the ever-evolving fiber vs. wireless question. It is a question that I get at every community broadband meeting that I facilitate.

On one hand, you have fiber. You know what you are getting with fiber – high capacity, extremely reliable, triple play services and more, and quite expensive to deploy in the rural countryside.

When people talk about wireless, confusion abounds. People use a combination of marketing and technical terms interchangeably. When bandwidth caps are discussed, people want to know “just how much is 2 Gb?” Wireless technologies may or may not be influenced by weather, trees and/or terrain. Frequencies may or may not be licensed. Accuracy of provider coverage maps is debated.

Peters’ blog also raised this important question – If an area is served first by a wireless broadband provider, will that kill the market for investment in upgraded FTTH or FTTN services? Will rural residents be generally satisfied enough with a lower capacity wireless service that there will not be the groundswell of support and commitment to motivate a significant investment in fiber, thereby causing an area to be underserved long into the future? I tend to think probably so.

Yet we would never argue the opposite case – that a new fiber network would dissuade investment in wireless technologies. Mobile connectivity is now an expectation and people have proven that they are willing to pay for it. The large wireless carriers have announced aggressive plans to extend 3G and 4G coverage areas to more rural areas.

I was quoted in the blog as stating that people need both wired and wireless services. I also think that the bar for fiber advocates continues to rise. More than ever, they need to demonstrate the value of large bandwidth applications, especially those that have been or could be deployed by local institutions like schools and health care providers.

More than ever, communities need to have a technology plan that ensures both fiber-based and wireless services coupled with an application deployment plan. Communities lacking any of the three – wired, wireless and applications – will struggle to compete for talented people and business investment.