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Internet speeds are getting faster and faster every year, and many of us are lucky enough to experience it. With gigabit speeds being offered in more communities, there's no telling what the future holds, except that technology will only continue to keep pace with consumer demands even in the most remote areas. But what goes on behind the scenes that make our high-speed broadband service seamlessly connect us to the world? We caught up with CommScope, a global telecommunications company and an NCTA member, to find out a little bit about their work in the field and how they are providing the solutions needed for high-speed network implementation.
For context, CommScope provides telecom equipment to service providers and network managers covering wireline and wireless networks around the world--from the largest to the very smallest of enterprises. The services they provide range from coax cabling, fiber to the home, wireless dock solutions to microwave antenna products. "We don't necessarily make the stuff that processes the signal on either end. We build everything in between," explained Erik Gronvall, vice president of network strategy. CommScope's clients span Fortune 500 companies down to rural telecommunications firms, real estate markets, financial companies, as well as some of NCTA's members.
When it comes to the gigabit space, Gronvall says CommScope has been "on the end of the leading edge," meaning the telecom giant has been there with companies when they deployed some of the first gigabit networks that are out there. Whether it's the cable or the closures, the panels and frames or other pieces of equipment, there's a good chance CommScope was involved.
So what are the challenges involved in deploying a gigabit service? The majority of it lies in the labor, according to Gronvall. In deploying a fiber to the home network, for example, you have to get the fiber from point a to point b.
In an urban setting, getting gigabit services to homes is still labor intensive because sidewalks are paved and there are often other obstructions to deployment, but it's easier to get the service running due to the density of the environment. There are more people, and therefore easier to pass more customers per foot. "Getting fiber from one point to another is one of the most expensive parts of the project, whether you are deploying from telephone pole to telephone pole, or microtrenching. The more cable footage you have to pull, the more expensive it is," explained Gronvall.
And there lies one of the biggest challenges in connecting rural environments, when there's much more distance involved in between customers.
For every inch of fiber that's laid out, you are only serving one person in those cases. Costs also factor in when high speciality labor--like fiber optics--is thrown into the equation. Fiber optics requires a set of skills that's rare to find in the field.
But CommScope works to find innovative ways to reduce costs, whether they're working with providers in rural or low-density suburban areas. In North Carolina, CommScope supplied an all-fiber project to help increase the size of the state’s public broadband infrastructure. The North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), which is the state's broadband infrastructure for education, research and economic development and operated by the private non-profit MCNC, only had 10 out of 115 public school districts that could access the resources on its network. [The expansion of the network was funded through the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, with matching funds from private donations and investments. ] As the supplier, CommScope was also able to save the initiative significant construction time and money because of its ability to leverage in-house trucking fleets in the state. CommScope distributed materials to multiple job sites across North Carolina. It had the capacity to produce 1,300 miles of conduit and fiber, manufactured at its facilities in state, with conduits capable of delivering more than 100 Gigabits of data per second. The end result translated to bringing broadband to parts of North Carolina that really needed it, granting individuals, businesses and public facilities with high-speed access.
As far as trends to look for in the market, Gronvall shared that we can expect to see more deep fiber initiatives in the near future. "More companies are interested in deploying fiber to the home, and the deployment seems to be picking up. There's also governmental interest in helping to stimulate more deployment of fiber out to people's homes," he said.
"The FCC's new rules weaken - or reverse - decades of minimal regulation, during which the Internet flourished. As often as not, economic regulation has adverse, unintended side effects. That was true of the railroads, and it may be true of the Internet."