Implications of "Pervasive" High Speed Access

Though some might focus on findings related to typical high speed access speeds, use of smartphones, cost per delivered megabyte or investment in next generation networks, some might say the key strategic point raised in a new study of G7 high speed access is the movement to “pervasive” access.

And that point is that high speed access evolves over time to a stage where “most end-user connections are wireless, at speeds produced only by wired systems in earlier stages,” the study argues.

Note the prediction: untethered access speeds eventually approach wired network speeds. That has potential implications for the ability to substitute mobile or untethered access for fixed access, as well as for the strategic value of all fixed networks.

Obviously, the speed match will be highest for optical-to-Wi-Fi connections than for optical-to-mobile connections, partly because of distance effects, partly because of spectrum constraints and partly because for reasons of network architecture.

Basically, bandwidth and speed are inversely related, so short Wi-Fi links will supply faster access than mobile macrocells spanning distances of miles. Additionally, local Wi-Fi has access to more spectrum than any single mobile service provider.

Also, mobile networks reuse spectrum in ways that mean all the available spectrum cannot be used at any single location. Wi-Fi networks can use all available spectrum, at every location, subject to interference issues.

The shift to “pervasive” networking also is significant because it points to the future evolution of the high speed access business: from fixed to mobile and untethered, with a key role played by the fixed infrastructure as a way of extending core network access close to network edges, allowing a high degree of untethered access.

Prior high speed access networks featured a high-performance wide area network optical core, a regional distribution network and then a mid-speed copper access network extending core network transport for distances of perhaps 3.5 miles, in suburban areas.

Increasingly, the optical network core extends deep into the metro-area distribution network, and in the case of optical fiber access networks, to a neighborhood or single location, with copper or radio distribution on a local basis.

That is the case for “fiber to neighborhood” networks that use optical media to an area of a score, or perhaps several hundred homes, with copper media for a kilometer to perhaps a mile, and then local distribution typically using Wi-Fi within a location.

Mobile networks have been built with optical cores connecting to microwave, fiber or copper distribution, and then radio access for towers reaching a few to several miles. More heterogeneous networks now are appearing in dense urban areas, in some cases using small localized cells that cover small areas.

Fiber to home networks extend optical media to actual end user locations, with local distribution typically using Wi-Fi rather than the older Ethernet cable interfaces.  

The study argues that high speed access develops in three distinct phases. At the “basic” stage  
wired telephone, cellular telephone, and cable TV networks are coupled with broadband electronics to provide a basic level of connectivity 10 to 100 times greater than voice networks.

At an “advanced” stage, after more optical fiber deployment, better modulation techniques, more sensitive radios, better signal compression and signal processing, as well as additional spectrum allocation for untethered and mobile use, speed improves another 10 to
100 times.

At the “pervasive” stage, most user connections are mobile or untethered and access speeds better approach fixed network speeds.

Beyond the matter of access speed for untethered and mobile devices, the "pervasive" access also points to expected changes in "fifth generation" mobile networks and application development. When access is pervasive, mobile devices will increasingly represent the way people use the Internet and applications.

And that suggests app development increasingly will revolve around "mobile" interfaces, form factors and input-output methods. Also, as increasingly is the case, apps will shift in the direction of location-specific, activity-aware and sensor-assisted app features.
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