EFM is Your Best ROI
The first xDSL services deployed over a decade ago were regarded by some pundits as the last stand for copper access infrastructure, bringing just a temporary resistance against the coming onslaught from FTTx. But it simply hasn’t worked out that way, mainly because continual advances in copper transmission technology have led to significant improvements in the rate, reach and reliability of copper, making it impossible to justify the cost of deploying fiber.
In both the LAN and the first mile, these technical advances have ensured that copper retained its traditional advantage in terms of cost and ROI. In fact, these advantages are greatest in the first mile, because the copper infrastructure already is lying in the ground waiting to be turned up to provide high-quality, high-bandwidth broadband services. Furthermore, many of the potential customers — some residential but mostly business —already are using their copper connections for both voice and data, although rarely to their maximum potential. Indeed, the huge potential of copper for high-bandwidth next-generation services had been swept under the rug until recently, partly due to the rise and understanding of Carrier Ethernet for a number of applications, but also because of the economic downturn. Analysts are estimating that carrier spending will be flat or down in 2009, meaning service providers need pragmatic, cost-effective field-proven solutions that will leverage their existing infrastructure for next-generation applications but without breaking the bank.
A key move lies in the development of Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) over copper technology, defined by the IEEE and the ITU, coupled with spectral management extensions from some vendors. This has boosted bit rates of copper pairs by more than 10 times, compared with legacy systems such as T1/E1, without sacrificing reliability. These advances are allowing copper to exploit its huge cost advantage over fiber and deliver a much faster ROI, which is persuading many operators to utilize EFM over copper in wide scale deployments. These include Ethernet services to SMBs, educational campus security networks, and backhaul to both DSLAMs and mobile base stations.
In many of these situations, the copper infrastructure already has been deployed for T1/E1 services, with more than half of all remote DSLAMs and mobile base stations in the United States fed by T1s. In such instances, the ROI case for swapping the T1 lines for EFM circuits is particularly compelling. Taking the latest data from both Europe and the United States, ROI for fiber is often as long as five years, given the high cost of digging trenches for fiber to be dropped to each required location. By contrast, our old reliable friend, copper, already is deployed and just needs turning up with an EFM platform. By leveraging these existing copper facilities, the ROI time is brought down to just two to three months. Given these figures, coupled with the current economic conditions, justifying an EFM solution over copper to your CFO and board of directors becomes a no-brainer.
In the past, the extra cost of deploying fiber has been justified on the basis of future-proofing, and this certainly holds true for core networks and where ultra-high-bandwidth is required. But for the vast majority of access networks, copper has all the future-proofing needed, since innovative algorithms for optimizing spectral performance across multiple copper pairs enable bit rates over copper to continue increasing. Put another way, in areas where copper can deliver more than sufficient performance today, it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Already, circuits to run at up to 100 Mbps by bonding eight copper pairs, and more significant improvements, are in the pipeline. Furthermore, with repeater technology, these high bit rates can be sustained over many miles. So, it is no longer the case that high data rates over copper can be attained only at the expense of distance. Now it is possible to have both within the context of the access network, and at a price that delivers a highly attractive ROI.