Verizon One Fiber Shows Shift of Possibility in Consumer Access Markets

Some are skeptical about Verizon’s One Fiber plan for Boston, said to be a test of the new economics of FiOS. Skeptics say Verizon really will use One Fiber to provide the transport and distribution network for coming small cell deployments. That much is likely correct. The potential disagreement is what happens once Verizon has made those investments.

Verizon suggests the fiber network, in place and generating value for the small cell network and mobile side of the business, will in turn create better economics for deploying additional fiber to consumer neighborhoods. Some see the announcement Verizon made in April 2016 that it was restarting its optical fiber deployment plan for Boston as a case of “bait and switch,” arguing that Verizon implied full FTTH to the home construction.

To be fair, Verizon execs have talked about building a multi-purpose network supporting any number of uses, from IoT to mobility to consumer access. It might be fair to note that whatever various observers might have read into that One Fiber announcement, what Verizon plans is perhaps not a traditional FiOS  build, but a focus on the distribution network first, to support enterprise apps (fiber to tower and fiber to small cell sites to support mobile communications, IoT communications), also creating new economics for neighborhood deployment of FTTH.

In some ways, Verizon appears to have further adjusted its consumer access strategy using the “neighborhood” model pioneered by Google Fiber. Essentially, that new approach builds FTTH neighborhood by neighborhood, focusing by that means on improved business case outcomes in the early going.

The additional new thinking is that gigabit access (focusing on delivered bandwidth rather than access technology) will be a capability that can be delivered with using fiber to the home. Cable companies already sell gigabit internet access over hybrid fiber coax. Coming 5G mobile networks will, at least at first, also offer opportunity for fixed wireless at gigabit speeds.

So the big mental shift is towards consumer-received speeds and latency, not the access platform as such. Verizon likely believes (and many others tend to agree) that 5G, used to support fixed wireless, can deliver gigabit speeds to consumers. The One Fiber plan creates the infrastructure to do so.

In that sense, One Fiber does represent new investment that speaks directly to gigabit internet access for consumers, even if it does not necessarily always require FTTH construction.

That is among the many potential strategy choices Verizon and others can contemplate, without choosing fiber to home platforms on a ubiquitous basis, in all cases.

To be sure, NG-PON2  (Next-Generation Passive Optical Network 2) might help, as it specifies throughput of 40 Gbps, corresponding to up to 10 Gbps speeds for each subscriber. In a commercial sense, that might be “too much” bandwidth for today’s consumers and business models.

Even 1 Gbps is more bandwidth than most consumers or businesses can meaningfully use, beyond the simple observation that bandwidth-per-user is a real benefit.

One Fiber is the sort of shift in optical fiber deployment and consumer access business model that might escape proper evaluation if we remain fixated on access platform rather than consumer-delivered bandwidth. Bandwidth matters. How we deliver it does not, in the old way. After many decades of arguing over which fixed network access platform is “better,” or has better economics, we are moving into an era when platform choices can be quite varied, while still meeting the internet access business goals: selling more bandwidth, at a profit, to more subscribers.
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