Alternative Broadband Technologies
Technologies such as VOIP and IPTV are getting talked about a lot giving people the potential of worldwide free phone calls, and an infinite amount television programming. But for many of those who live in small towns, rural and remote areas that potential might be a world away. Living beyond the reach of cable companies and telephone companies can’t feasibly provide DSL service to, their only way of getting online is the dial-up modems that most others left behind years ago. Existing and emerging technologies that are coming to market promise to close the gap to bring Internet access that big city subscribers enjoy to the traditionally underserved.
Satellite technology has been used to provide Internet access for several years now, but the costs have been too high for households mainly businesses have jumped onboard. While satellite provides high speed downstream bandwidth, upstream bandwidth or the speed of the data transmission from somebody’s computer to the Internet is not much better than dial up because the modem and dish have to send a signal 22,300 miles to the satellite. This means there is a lot of latency which makes satellite Internet connections useless for online gaming and VOIP.
Another technology that has been around for more than a few years is fixed point wireless. This is a system where an antenna is installed on the roof of the subscriber’s home and is connected to a modem. While fixed point wireless was designed specifically to bring broadband connections to people who live in the country, there are no technical standards which have made fixed point wireless expensive. Being wireless, the issues of government regulatory red tape adds to the expense incurred by service providers and ultimately subscribers.
Cell phone carriers are quickly positioning themselves as Internet providers for the mobile professional. Cell phone companies advertise cards inserted into notebook computers and the guy in the business suit is surfing the Internet in the middle of nowhere. This may appear to be useless to users of desktop computers but 3G data over cellular networks are available by connecting a compatible cell phone to a computer with a USB cable. CDMA carriers are implementing a system called EV-DO which has speeds of around 2 Mbps and GSM carriers are rolling out a system called HSDPA with speeds in excess of 5.0 Mbps. With these technologies in the implementation stage, they are not yet available in most rural areas, but for many areas with larger towns high speed over cell networks may be available. One caveat if the subscriber doesn’t get the unlimited data plan from their cell carrier the bill will be huge.
A new technology that is talked about a lot that promises to remedy the cost issues that stifled fixed point wireless is called WiMax. WiMax is an extension of WiFi that can cover several hundred square miles from a tower. There is a standard for equipment for both the service provider and the subscriber which by itself will provide lower costs over existing fixed point wireless systems. WiMax is an emerging technology so companies providing broadband service are very few, but given a few well financed start-ups and/or co-operative organizations broadband providers using WiMax will start popping up nationwide.
One idea that didn’t make it past the prototype was to push high speed Internet down the wires that bring power into homes. When pilot projects started broadband over power lines caused interference with two way radio communication systems. While some claims that broadband over powerline is being reworked to not cause any kind of interference, but research and development funding has been pulled out. Despite the ubiquitous presence of power transmission lines the only thing they will deliver is electricity.
With these technologies coming into the mainstream within the next couple of years they will also provide more competition to telephone and cable companies in the already well served areas, it won’t too long that everybody will be living in a future without dial up.