Fiber optic broadband vs. wireless broadband
CLOUT's position is that the federal government's national broadband initiative
should ensure that fiber optic broadband be deployed to provide the highest-quality
service to all Americans, including those in lower-income and other underserved
communities in both rural an urban areas. Such communities should not be accorded
second-class status by means a relatively cheap and quick wireless solution when
a far superior fiber optic broadband solution is readily available. While installing
fiber optic broadband is initially more expensive than wireless, due largely to
the excavation costs involved in laying fiber optic cable underground, the jobs
such a national effort would create and the long-term benefits that result from
building this infrastructure now far surpass any short-term gains from a reliance
on wireless to close the "digital divide."
Wireless technologies are constrained by inherent performance limitations that do
not apply to fiber optic broadband. Wireless broadband networks, whether licensed
by the Federal Communications Commission (e.g., Verizon, AT&T, SprintNextel/Clearwire
and T-Mobile) or unlicensed by the FCC (e.g., WiFi), use microwave radiation to
transmit and receive their signals. Radio signals can be blocked by buildings, trees
and other objects, and transmission quality is even subject to atmospheric conditions.
Many WiFi networks operate in unlicensed bands of the spectrum and use the same
carrier frequency as cordless phones, microwave ovens, and other consumer devices,
and are therefore even more subject to interference problems than licensed wireless
Fiber optic technology presents none of these problems. In fact, network traffic
moves across fiber optic cables in a manner that makes it even less susceptible
to interference from other data traveling along the same fiber cables than other
wired technologies (e.g., copper or co-axial cables).
Speed and Capacity
Wireless broadband network speeds are significantly slower than fiber optic networks.
In addition, the greater the number of users accessing a wireless access point at
a given time, the greater is the degradation of service experienced by those users.
The current industry standard for fiber optic broadband is 10 Gigabits per second
(GB/s or billion bits per second) per fiber optic pair. Bonding multiple 10 GB/s
fiber pairs is possible to produce even faster channels. By contrast, the present
theoretical maximum speed for an 802.11n dedicated wireless access point is 150
Megabits per second (MB/s or million bits per second). In other words, the standard
fiber optic connection for current commercial desktop usage is over 66 times faster
than its wireless counterpart.
Wireless networks are more expensive and difficult to secure than wired fiber optic
networks and are therefore vulnerable to hacking, identity theft, national security
threats, and unauthorized surveillance of users. Unlike wired fiber optic networks,
wireless networks can be subject to attack wherever a signal is present. Although
encryption makes such attacks more difficult, encryption methods do not eliminate
this problem. For those with the interest and technical ability (e.g., individual
hackers, criminal organizations, and national governments, both foreign and domestic),
wireless signals are easily intercepted, tapped, eavesdropped upon, and used as
platforms to launch malicious attacks on users.
Wireless networks entail the installation of unsightly cell tower and intrusive
wireless facilities in residential neighborhoods and scenic areas. Concerns that
arise when these types of facilities are proposed for communities include reduction
in property values, destruction of views, and adverse impacts on human health and
the environment. Installing a high capacity fiber-to-the-premises broadband network
throughout the U.S. is an investment in superior technology for the long-term benefit
of all Americans that moves away from a relatively short-term, disposable wireless
infrastructure that must be continually upgraded and modified.
"Building big broadband networks is not just a matter of international competition;
it is also economically efficient. Because of the limited dollars available, it
is more economically efficient to invest these resources into networks with unlimited
potential (such as fiber-optic cable) than to invest in the deployment of a multitude
of interim technologies whose bandwidth could be overwhelmed by Internet traffic
in a few years. American policy should thus focus on future-proof networks – networks
employing technologies that are scalable and adaptable to future growth in demand.
Several existing technologies are limited by physics and geography and will be obsolete
in three to five years. Our resources will be better spent on technologies that
have a long shelf life."
"Some states are admirably developing programs to fill the gaps in small broadband
deployment and availability. Certain municipalities are building fiber networks
on a case-by-case basis, but many more municipalities have been bogged down on wireless
networks that will not satisfy consumers' hunger for much greater capacity."
"Big Broadband: U.S. broadband policy should focus on the future. Cable modem,
DSL, and wireless technologies are unlikely to meet our future needs."