With broadband front and center these days, thanks in large part to policy debates surrounding a national broadband plan and the regulations that will govern it, one method of transmission that get’s the least amount of respect these days is DSL. It’s not as sexy as FTTH and 4G wireless, and quite frankly, cable modem broadband appears to be favored by the broadband buying public over the past year, at least in larger markets.

But there’s no denying that DSL is still the workhorse of telco broadband and will be for many years, maybe even decades, to come. It’s not just small rural telcos that depend on DSL as their main broadband option, its companies with global reach like AT&T and Qwest as well. Tier 2 providers like CenturyLink, TDS, FairPoint, and Frontier also have huge copper/DSL infrastructure to contend with. I fully admit that all things being equal, FTTH is the better option, and when possible, should be selected over DSL. I also fully admit that, generally speaking, a Mercedes is better than a Toyota (especially these days).  But everyone can’t afford (or necessarily needs) a Mercedes.

Despite all the rhetoric and desire to get FTTH to every home in America, to be blunt, it ‘ain’t gonna happen.’ It’s just simply too expensive, and for a nation that continually runs a structural deficit, there are probably other priorities to consider first. I chuckle at analysts and reporters who can’t understand why every service provider doesn’t just buckle down and do FTTH to their entire footprint. That’s easy to say when you don’t have to worry about bankrupting your company in the process. The reality is, DSL is here to stay and prolonging its life is paramount.

To that end, there’s a lot of recent activity afoot. We’ve already explored past lab experiments by both Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson that significantly increase bandwidth speeds for DSL. As BroadbandReports.com outlines, there’s been some recent chatter about AT&T exploring the capability of offering 80 Mb/s over their DSL footprint.

Heavy Reading analyst Graham Finnie outlines some of the technologies being used to achieve these faster speeds, including copper pair vectoring and DSL phantom mode. These are not silver bullet solutions and they have their challenges. For one, they involve bonding, which requires at least two available copper pairs. Additionally, there’s that pesky issue of distance, or lack thereof, which more acutely impacts rural carriers.

But there is activity and recognition that DSL and copper will continue to play a critical role in achieving universal broadband. Even a recent FCC report suggests DSL, not FTTH, is the answer to get broadband more widely deployed. All this activity leads me to believe there is an ongoing renaissance for DSL and copper facilities – one that is welcomed by many.

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8 thoughts on “Copper/DSL Renaissance Underway?

  1. Isn't it ironic that in the same issue you praise the future of DSL AND outline how Suddenlink is offering 107 megabit service

  2. you hit this right on the head, I don’t think many folks truely understand the cost to get FTTN to each household…. It is just not practical, you can talk about it, but to actually do it would be so oostly that you would have to charge a fortune for it, which gets back to basically what do folks actually need for speed vs how much you want to pay for it. For my mom and dad, emailis about all they use the computer for and they would not be willing to spend the extra money for something they may never use.

  3. I hear that Xtendwave also has a patented backhaul solution as well. Does anyone have any info on them other than what is posted on their website?

  4. Just a point of clarification on this post. Been getting some feedback (outside these comments) that makes me think some readers feel I'm picking sides here – DSL over FTTH. I'm not. As I stated in the post, all things being equal, I believe FTTH is the way to go and would advocate companies to pursue that strategy whenever possible. But I also realize its not always possible. But that doesn't mean you wave the white flag and surrender. I just wanted to outline that there is ongoing R&D for those companies that for whatever reason, have to leverage copper and DSL, and that's a good thing.

  5. Fine, bring it on. Still waiting for DSL service where I live. I've lived in New York for 27 years. In those 4 residences, (not including a lake house – lucky to get dial tone there), one (three blocks from the CO) has DSL available. On the other hand, I've had cable modem service since 1997; it is available in every place I've lived in New York. I know one person with DSL service; almost everyone I know here has cable modem. I accept everything you said in your article, but where is the beef?

  6. What is disconcerting to me is that there seems to be a willingness to tolerate the status quo when it comes to bandwidth. While I appreciate the clarification, my point is that we need to look ahead.

    The FCC has displayed no leadership with this "plan" and is satisfied with keeping 56K for rural and 128K for everyone else by 2010. We should be focused on terabit bandwidth ten years on.

    By expanding the contribution base to USF, we can build the big pipes over time and retain world leadership in technology; otherwise, we will fall woefully behind. We owe it to the generations after us to reform USF to build these networks for their competitiveness.

    Copper/DSL Renaissance? Perish the thought. No copper based technology will ever meet the increasing demand for bandwidth. My company is building FTTP and selling 100Mb service to real customers. Yes, only a handful right now but give it time.

    To accept the FCC's Plan as it is now is to accept mediocrity. That is not the America I grew up in nor the one that I want my child to grow up in. We are better than the scraps the FCC wants to give us.

    Besides that, congress writes policy not appointed bureaucrats. The FCC has overstepped their jurisdictional authority.

  7. As it stands, DSL is likely to be the only real broadband option I’ll have in my area, which I’m hoping to get really soon now. Ha! I’m a Verizon, soon to be Frontier, customer at the moment. While I can’t get DSL right now, they’ve been expanding service in my area recently. I have absolutely no hope for getting cable broadband anytime soon. Why? The cable lines here are owned by Charter, who installed them in the early 1990s. However, Charter never bothered to upgrade their cable past the old analog version 1. People around here got tired of paying $50/month for 35 fuzzy channels, so we all switched to satellite. So instead of upgrading their lines, Charter completely abandoned their cable lines. Yes, we have cable lines running throughout our community that are completely turned off and abandoned. Charter cares so little about the lines that during the last major ice storm, they never even touched the lines snapped by branches, so there are multiple places where the cable line is just dangling off the poles. So yeah… No hope for cable broadband here.

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