Verizon Policy Blog

Share
Feb6

What Broadband Speed Can Do - and Can’t

At the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called for the creation of at least one Gigabit community in all 50 states by 2015. This “Gigabit City Challenge” is intended to create a critical mass of “innovation hubs” where the ultra-fast networks will be used to develop tomorrow’s applications. As we migrate to a world with ultra high definition video, 3-D printing, tele-everything, multiple Internet devices per person and app stores with a million apps in them, broadband is the link that enables all of these capabilities. Verizon is supporting pilots and innovation challenges such as the U.S. Ignite project, Wireless Innovation Centers in Massachusetts and California, and App Challenges, to see what new services tomorrow’s technology will enable. Our new “Powerful Answers” campaign provides even more examples of the potential we see in the future.  

A decade ago, Verizon laid the groundwork for gigabit networks when we first started architecting FiOS, our top-rated fiber-to-the-home service.  We committed over $23 billion to deploy a fiber network that would one day deliver Gigabit speeds.  At the time, 10 Mbps was considered ridiculously fast, and when we introduced FiOS with a top speed of 30 Mbps (much faster than anything available at the time), our technicians actually had to tweak customer PCs to make sure they could handle that speed. 

From 30 Mbps then to 300 Mbps now, we've been ahead of the game in offering cutting edge speeds to large numbers of customers (17.6 million homes are now passed by FiOS as of January, 2013).  We've already demonstrated we can deliver 1Gbps and even 10 Gbps speeds over the same fiber to a home.  As consumer demands and needs grow, we can increase our speeds.  But offering a high speed connection to the home does not tell the full story when it comes to delivering the best possible and most capable broadband service.  A high number of bits-per-second-connection alone isn't sufficient, because other factors aside from speed affect the quality and capability of a connection.  Internet traffic usually has to “hop” through many points in the “network of networks” to reach its final destination.  As a result, latency (or the lag in how long it takes for packets to reach a destination) and jitter (how “smoothly” packets arrive at their destination) matter a lot when it comes to quality and performance. So do a number of network architecture issues, like the development and adoption of video delivery protocols. Bandwidth doesn’t cure all problems, and sometimes even with lots of bandwidth, other factors can significantly affect how well services work. We are boosters of high speed services, as our investments demonstrate, but the utility of broadband networks and their ability to help support new applications and services is affected by many factors, not capacity alone. (Christopher Yoo of the University of Pennsylvania has written an excellent book that details some of these challenges).  

Additionally, the level of demand for more bandwidth applications and services is an integral part of making deployment successful and adding real value for consumers. When we started our FiOS deployment, most people did little more than email, web browsing and the like. If we offered 300 Mbps in 2005, we'd have had few takers - no devices could handle that speed, nor were there Internet services or servers that could use it. While we’ve made a lot of progress in creating new applications and services that can take advantage of ultra-high speeds, it remains true that our fastest FiOS services have far more capability than has been tapped. We know homes now often have multiple devices connected to the Internet via our broadband service and capacity demanding devices and services – like big-screen Internet-connected TVs and streaming HD video – are a growing part of the mix. The FiOS project raised some eyebrows a decade ago, but few would question the need for what our network can offer now. 

The point is that it is not as simple as expanding bandwidth. That said, we are leaders in providing the highest quality, fastest networks and we believe in the value they provide. More work is needed on a number of fronts to make all of the promise these networks can deliver as widely available and useful as possible.

Watch one Verizon team demonstrate a 10 Gbps connection: