Technologies used to support communications services are influx and that is a constructive sign for consumers. Copper-based networks installed in the late 1800s and early 1900s are being replaced by coaxial, fiber and wireless networks. The marketplace has coached consumers to expect useful applications at ultra-fast speeds, and to deliver on that expectation, communications services providers are removing old networks and refreshing their investment through better technologies.
Since the mid-1980s, computer access speeds have progressed through dialup, DSL (Digital Subscriber Loop) and DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification), mobile wireless standards (UMTS, CDMA and Wi-Fi), fiber optics, and soon 5th generation wireless (5G) technologies. Through these technologies, data speeds progressed from a dowdy teletype speed of 10 characters per second to PC speeds of 0.75 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 5 Mbps, to 100 Mbps, and now 1 Gigabit per second, and soon higher.
It was only in the mid-1990s, that DSL and DOCSIS boosted transmission speed enough for graphics and video to arrive on PC screens before consumers’ patience expired. Before that the Internet seemed painfully slow. With high impact video and graphics available, advertisers funded interesting web sites and services, attracting more customers and supporting useful applications. Internet speeds of 25 Mbps or higher have made possible today’s “streaming era” where video programs are delivered over the Internet (e.g. Netflix, Acorn and Amazon) can compete with broadcast and cable TV.
Just before 2020, the “Internet of Things” (IoT) era will seize on the vast capacity of 5G mobile service and support billions of semi-autonomous devices (surveillance cameras, medical devices, environmental monitors, home appliances, automobiles and manufacturing controls) that will communicate among themselves, often without human intervention.
Plain old voice telephone service has progressed from dependence on analog twisted pair to a digital service to carriage as voice-over-Internet-protocol, to mobile wireless, and soon as an app over 5G. On properly conditioned lines, voice gained little in quality as the underlying speed of the carrier increased. As voice transitioned to digital, ancillary services such as interactive voice response and voice messages became more affordable. Today, many households use mobile phones for most of their voice calls. About 51% of households do not regularly use a land line and one-third of homes do not have landline.
Some legacy data services such as telegraph no longer have a viable customer base. AT&T notified the Federal Communications Commission that it lacks customers for those services and they will be discontinued. Earlier this year, AT&T asked for permission to discontinue “collect calling, person-to-person calling, billed to third-party, busy line verification, busy line interrupt and international directory assistance.” People can get those from mobile wireless or as an app through their Internet access. Windstream offered a small and medium business DSL service that serves only 300 customers and the equipment it uses is no longer made by the original manufacturer. Windstream has notified the FCC that it intends to discontinue it’s the DSL offering in certain CLEC-served areas. The FCC seems determined to resist discontinuation of Business Data Services, in many cases.
Anticipating a massive wave of demand for IoT applications, Verizon is running trials of 5G infrastructure with mobile frequencies in the 5G cell reaching out to IoT devices inside the cell and fiber for “backhaul” to connect the 5G cells back to switching and Internet hubs. The fiber will be deployed initially as “dark” — i.e. fiber whose optics will be installed at a later time, when the level of demand becomes known. That approach to 5G implementation is flexible and cost-conscious. To get a head start on dark fiber deployment, Verizon purchased XO Communications.
The Internet access industry has an enviable and lengthy track record of serving consumers with affordable, reliable and advanced applications. Its role in enabling the eras of streaming and IoT are of high importance to American consumers and workers. The FCC must resist its own inclination to slow the technology removal and replacement cycle.