Three considerations for fiber deployment planning

Tom Nolle, CIMI Corp
24 Mar 2009

Einstein supposedly said, 'Everything is relative,' but he never did. If he had known about the questions swirling around 'FTTx,' he might have been tempted to use the expression. Because in a strict sense, all FTTx means is 'fiber to somewhere,' and where that might be is, well, 'relative.'

Fiber is the most effective way of delivering bandwidth ever devised. A single fiber strand can carry 200 or more wavelengths of 40 gigabits each, enough to feed a whole community.

But while fiber proves quite economical for city-wide demand, it's harder to make it cost-effective when you apply it to smaller collections of users, especially down to individual households. A trunk fiber may have 200,000 people paying their share, but fiber to the home (FTTH) goes to only one residence. Obviously, fiber deployment is a trade-off driven by the cost of the service relative to the potential revenue per subscriber.

Three factors help determine fiber options

When service providers plan how far to take fiber into their geographies, the answer is largely determined by three specific factors:

The economic density of the service area. A mile of fiber passes a specific number of houses and businesses, which translates to a specific number of potential revenue dollars, based on a combination of population and wealth. Geographies that are economically dense include many major Asian markets. These locations can get substantial return from any access investment and thus tend to support fiber very close to the home -- FTTH or fiber to the curb (FTTC).

The extent of existing current fiber/copper wiring. Wiring junctions are fixed -- you can't move them around without pulling up all the copper and fiber again. Therefore, it is easiest to serve a given area by following the current conduits and loops and staying with the rough topology of the old installation. If you can't run fiber close to -- or directly to -- the home, the most logical place to take it is to the node where the loops currently collect (which is fiber to the node, or FTTN).

The total value of the services you're offering over fiber. The more money you can make, the faster the payback on the investment. Because television is the most lucrative residential application, offering TV service is critical to creating the largest average revenue per user (ARPU).

Overall economic density is hard to change, so network operators need to understand the intrinsic limits of their own service area in their initial planning.

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