How Fiber-to-the-home Broadband Works

New technology such as fiber-to-the-home broadband connections allow for easier use of features such as videoconferencing. See more Internet connection pictures.
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Stop and think how your Internet usage has evolved during the last few years. If you’re like most people, you’re doing -- and expecting -- a lot more of your Internet like increased interactivity, rich media and uploading and downloading pictures and video.

More large files are moving across the cyberspace network these days, and experts expect that trend will only increase. A January 2008 study by the Discovery Institute estimates new technologies will drive Internet traffic up by 50 times its current rate within the next 10 years.

The pressure for better connectivity is one of the main reasons providers and users are looking at fiber-to-the-home broadband connections as a potential solution.

Fiber-to-the-home broadband connections, or FTTH broadband connections, refer to fiber optic cable connections for individual residences. Such optics-based systems can deliver a multitude of digital information -- telephone, video, data, et cetera -- more efficiently than traditional copper coaxial cable for about the same price. FTTH premises depend on both active and passive optical networks to function.

FTTH broadband connections already are a reality for more than 1 million consumers in the United States, while more than 6 million in Japan and 10 million worldwide enjoy its benefits, according to Broadband Properties Magazine. Many believe making FTTH technology the standard in connectivity will solve the forecasted Web traffic jam.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to FTTH broadband connections? How do these connections work? Go to the next page to learn about the advantages.

 

The Benefits of Fiber to the Home Broadband Connections

Fiber-to-the-home broadband connections offer faster connection speeds.
Fiber-to-the-home broadband connections offer faster connection speeds.
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More than 10 million homes worldwide already have fiber-to-the-home broadband connections because the technology holds many advantages over current technologies.

A key benefit to FTTH -- also called FTTP, for "fiber-to-the-premises" broadband -- is that it provides for far faster connection speeds and carrying capacity than twisted pair conductors, DSL or coaxial cable. For example, a single copper pair conductor can carry six phone calls. A single fiber pair can carry more than 2.5 million phone calls simultaneously [source: Federal Communications Commission].

Experts at the FTTH Council say fiber-to-the-home connections are the only technology with enough bandwidth to handle projected consumer demands during the next decade reliably and cost effectively. The technology is already, affordable, as businesses around the world are demonstrating by getting into the business as they speculate on consumer demand.

Fiber has a virtually unlimited bandwidth coupled with a long reach, making it "future safe," or a standard medium that will be in place for a long time to come [source: ICT Regulation Toolkit].

The greatly enhanced bandwidth, however, costs about the same as current technologies. According to the FTTH Council, cable companies spent about $84 billion to wire households a decade ago, but it costs even less in today's dollars to wire those houses with FTTH technology.

FTTH will be able to handle even the futuristic Internet uses some experts see coming. Technologies such as 3D holographic high definition television and games will someday be everyday items in households around the world. FTTH will be able to handle the estimated 30-gigabyte-per-second needs of such equipment. Current technologies can't come close.

The FTTH broadband connection will spark the creation of products not yet dreamed of as they open new possibilities for data transmission rate. Using the past as a guide, think what items that now seem commonplace were not even on the drawing board five or 10 years ago. FTTH broadband connections will inspire new products and services and could open entire new sectors in the business world, experts at the FTTH Council say.

FTTH broadband connections also will allow consumers to "bundle" their communications services. For instance, a consumer could receive telephone, video, audio, television and just about any other kind of digital data stream using a simple FTTH broadband connection. Such an arrangement would be more cost effective and simpler than receiving those services via different lines, as is often the case today.

What is the technology that makes FTTH broadband connections possible? Read on to find out.

Active and Passive Optical Networks

Fiber-to-the-home broadband travels through cables.
Fiber-to-the-home broadband travels through cables.
© Paul Eekhoff/Getty Images

Fiber optics uses light signals to transmit data. As this data moves across a fiber, there needs to be a way to separate it so that it gets to the proper destination.

There are two important types of systems that make fiber-to-the-home broadband connections possible. These are active optical networks and passive optical networks. Each offers ways to separate data and route it to the proper place, and each has advantages and disadvantages as compared to the other [source: Ftth Council].

An active optical system uses electrically powered switching equipment, such as a router or a switch aggregator, to manage signal distribution and direct signals to specific customers. This switch opens and closes in various ways to direct the incoming and outgoing signals to the proper place. In such a system, a customer may have a dedicated fiber running to his or her house.

A passive optical network, on the other hand, does not include electrically powered switching equipment and instead uses optical splitters to separate and collect optical signals as they move through the network. A passive optical network shares fiber optic strands for portions of the network. Powered equipment is required only at the source and receiving ends of the signal.

In some cases, FTTH systems may combine elements of both passive and active architectures to form a hybrid system.

Passive optical networks, or PONs, have some distinct advantages. They're efficient, in that each fiber optic strand can serve up to 32 users. PONs have a low building cost relative to active optical networks along with lower maintenance costs. Because there are few moving or electrical parts, there's simply less that can go wrong in a PON.

Passive optical networks also have some disadvantages. They have less range than an active optical network, meaning subscribers must be geographically closer to the central source of the data. PONs also make it difficult to isolate a failure when they occur. Also, because the bandwidth in a PON is not dedicated to individual subscribers, data transmission speed may slow down during peak usage times in an effect known as latency. Latency quickly degrades services such as audio and video, which need a smooth rate to maintain quality.

Active optical networks offer certain advantages, as well. Their reliance on Ethernet technology makes interoperability among vendors easy. Subscribers can select hardware that delivers an appropriate data transmission rate and scale up as their needs increase without having to restructure the network.

Active optical networks, however, also have their weaknesses. They require at least one switch aggregator for every 48 subscribers. Because it requires power, an active optical network inherently is less reliable than a passive optical network.

What does this mean for the international fiber-to-the-home broadband connection? Check out the next page to find out.

International Fiber-to-the-home Broadband Connection Development

The use of fiber-to-the-home broadband connections is growing faster internationally.
The use of fiber-to-the-home broadband connections is growing faster internationally.
Serge Krouglikoff/Taxi/Getty Images

While fiber-to-the-home broadband is growing in the United States, many countries around the world are far more advanced in building their FTTH broadband connections network.

Asian countries tend to outpace the rest of the world in FTTH market penetration, according to a report released in February 2008 by the FTTH Council, which summarized the findings of Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America. Governments of Asia Pacific countries have made FTTH broadband connections an important strategic consideration in building their infrastructure, according to the report.

South Korea, in particular, is a world leader with more than 31 percent of its households boasting FTTH broadband connections. Hong Kong is second globally, with more than 23 percent penetration, while Japan is a close third with more than 21 percent of its households FTTH ready.

Western countries are making gains but still lag the Asian world. Sweden has little more than 7 percent of its homes supplied with FTTH broadband connections with Norway at 6 percent and Denmark at 2.5 percent, the council said.

The United States ranks about eighth in the world, with close to 2.3 percent of its households. The number, however, does represent a doubling of the percent of U.S. households with FTTH broadband connections year over year.

The technology continues to grow worldwide, the FTTH Council reported. The number of countries where FTTH broadband connections were making big gains continued to grow in number. The report listed 14 countries in which more than 1 percent of households had FTTH connections, up from 11 the year before. The group reported that 2007 was the best year in terms of new FTTH subscribers worldwide. Japan, China and the United States led the way with almost 6 million new FTTH households between them.

As demand for broadband capacity continues to grow, it's likely governments and private developers will do more to bring FTTH broadband connections to more homes.

For more information about fiber-to-the-home broadband connections and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

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