Nine lives of copper


With all the talk about fiber to the home, fiber to the curb and fiber everywhere, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. reminds us that copper is the cockroach of telecom industry – just when you think its dead, you find that the bells have found a new use for it. In the mid 1990s, when everyone started talking about broadband, copper got a chance to thrive as DSL. Subsequent generations of chips from companies like Texas Instruments and Broadcom made sending high-speed data down copper easier, cheaper and of course faster. Still, no one thought it would be one day used to send television signals down this aging pipe.

Now Bells think they can use the copper loops and fiber in combination to stream digital television down to your living room. The article, which appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (talk about being caught up in merger frenzy), compares Verizon’s all fiber strategy with the copper-hybrid strategies of SBC and BellSouth. I think in the long run, Verizon might have a better game plan, but SBC and BellSouth have a more budget option.

SBC figures 5,000 feet is sufficient to deliver next-generation services. Both a speedier rollout and keeping a lid on costs are obvious considerations here, but also the fact that rapid improvements in DSL are turning the copper “last mile” into a more valuable and useful asset than even the FCC seems to understand. Happily, the fine print in the commission’s ruling suggests to SBC that its investment will still be safe from confiscation by state regulators, who might otherwise use it to subsidize the company’s would-be competitors.

Jenkins has an interesting article, but he also makes some points, I wish he had gone into more details. And was not that reliant on a single company project – like SBC LightSpeed.

SBC is also betting on Microsoft to deliver a non-buggy software product (dubbed IPTV) on the first try. Don’t doubt that this is a big deal for Bill Gates too.

It would have been nice to see him write about the success or lack there off of IP-TV over copper in the US. We know its a hit in Korea and Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

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