NPR Planet Money explores our preferences, specifically the difference between what people say and what people do. Economists call this “stated preferences” (What they say they want) vs “revealed preferences” (what people actually choose). Bargain basement airlines are a perfect example as heard in this podcast.
Do we need it now? No. This question deflects from the true purpose of this infrastructure upgrade. A plant cannot grow without first planting the seed. So let me explain why the world needs fiber and gigabit.
The main issue is about an end-of-life asset (copper) versus a 100-year or more asset (single mode fiber, SMF). There is no theoretical speed limit for SMF (at least not yet). Therefore, once installed, there will not be a need to dig it up or do anything special other than replace the fiber transceivers on each end. Copper, on the other hand, is at the end of its useful life. Small incremental improvements are being made but we can see the end of copper in our lifetime. New cable installations are now almost exclusively SMF.
Here’s the bandwidth side; the side everyone seems to focus on. Don’t think of technology as it is known today. And remember that when companies put fiber in the ground, they are thinking very long term. First off, think video. Don’t think about anything else. None of it generates traffic like video does. Video killed the internet star. (thanks Netflix, thanks YouTube)
Here’s the best example of the future. Think “telepresence”. Telepresence is immersive video calls – not the un-immersive video calls we’re all used to now. You actually feel like you are there with the person. I’ve personally experienced telepresence. And since then I experience intense disappointment at launching typical internet video. I’m spoiled now. The question is, will telepresence become inexpensive enough to be used in everyday contexts? Does the earth revolve around the sun?
Think of what telepresence might mean for medicine (“house calls”) or business meetings (way less airline travel) or the environment (with so many less flights!).
What does telepresence mean in terms of bandwidth? Telepresence is 20mbps per session for HD (1080p). Ultra HD (4K) is something like 6x that requirement or 120mbps. Compare that to today’s video streams for Netflix which is 2Mbps HD & 12Mbps for UltraHD (4K).
Now think about multiple people in a household launching simultaneous telepresence sessions. The gigabit threshold is now being pushed! Now think about aggregate “highway” for just the block you live in. How much will multiple households push? LOTS! How much will the city generate? (expletive amount!) How much will the country generate? (GAH!) How much will the world generate!? (Ahhhhh!!!!)
Should we start preparing for this now? Or wait until this happens and then wait another 5-10 years while every road and sidewalk to be dug up at the same time? And complain about it the whole time? (how we can’t move with so much construction)
I know what I prefer. I prefer telecom companies to start being proactive right now. And it would be great if my house has access to fiber. Even if I don’t need it right now.
And let’s put the internet in context. The internet and bandwidth to that internet is the “railroad” of our era. Our very way of life now depends on it. The UN has recognized that democracy depends on internet speed and has started a commission on broadband. Every single first world nation and many hundreds of nations have federal funding to build broadband infrastructure. The technology that rides on top the internet has the ability to help catapult so many game changers that many unsolvable world problems might become solvable.
And all this technology rides on a nation’s, a household’s ability to access it (broadband).
There, does that put Gigabit and fiber in context?
More on telepresence: