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Broadband Gets Broader

My interest in this announcement is not for music or video downloads. I frequently up- and download large files and don't want a protracted wait to finish. Will these higher speeds really help?

The Qwest Quantum service offers 20mbps and the Titanium 12mbps service to be rolled out in 23 of the Qwest markets. Qwest is using its Fiber-To-The- Node (FTTN) technology for this expansion. Their press release discusses the residential service. The new services will also improve business access for large files and documents.

Dan Yost, EVP of Qwest stated, "Qwest has committed to spend $300 million to bring the latest in fiber-optic technology closer to the customer than ever before and we're ahead of schedule on our goal to make this service available to 2 million customers by the end the year [2008]." $300 million is modest compared to the Verizon, ATT and cable companies investments that may spend $10 billion on bandwidth improvements. These latter companies are expecting to deliver TV and video services over their expanded networks. Qwest, in contrast, is focusing on the Internet access. Qwest supports TV and video through satellite services, so the investment can be smaller and still be successful.

The 20 mbps Quantum service is priced at $99.99 per month. The 12mbps Titanium service is priced at $46.99 per month. Both prices are fixed by the Qwest Price for Life guarantee and a 30 day satisfaction guarantee. The services will be made available in 10 states. The access is through DSL technology, probably ADSL 2 or VDSL.

AT&T is expected to use DSL technology to deliver 25mbps service through their U-verse triple play service. Most of the other ISP services are offering or will offer symmetrical speed, like Verizon's 20/20mbps up and down speeds as part of their FiOS triple play service. The FiOS service delivery started in 2007 and has expanded to much of the Verizon territory. However, the service is not available in every location. Most of the service is delivered to the urban and suburban areas. The FiOS service is priced at $69.99 per month.

Using fiber optics is the choice of the Telcos, while the Cable Labs-driven DOCSIS 3.0 standard is the choice of cable providers. The initial implementation of DOCSIS 3.0 is to bond (combine) downstream channels to deliver higher speed service. This is not a good long term solution since it does not increase the upstream speed. I use my upstream path quite frequently for large file transfers. My Comcast ISP service is offered at 16mbps downstream. Comcast's CEO Brian Roberts predicted at a cable show last year that 160/120mbps services would be offered later in 2008. Some analysts are suggesting that the higher cable speeds will have to be implemented with pre-DOCSIS 3.0 wideband.

This is all great but hardly as good as overseas speeds. Japan offers up to 1gbps. There are ISPs in Europe delivering 100mbps service. Recently the World Economic Forum published the "The Global Information Technology Report 2007-2008". This report stated that the average advertised broadband speed offered in the U.S. is a slow 8.8mbps.

My interest is the speed I will actually experience. The advertised speeds are the instantaneous rates, not the average. The average speed is always slower, many times noticeably slower. With the traffic shaping forced upon the user, I do not think these higher speeds will be a significant improvement, especially during prime time, 4PM to 2AM. Let's hope that the ISPs also make a measurable improvement to their backbone bandwidth so that traffic shaping becomes less common, rather than the norm.