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Overview of Broadband Technologies

Overview of Broadband Technologies
A Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group Technical Working Group Report.

Please direct comments on the substance of the report to

Executive Summary

Broadband internet access is central to our society and economy. Tens of billions of dollars are now being allocated for construction of new last mile connections - to connect the un-served and under-served - as well as to subsidize consumers’ subscription to broadband. But these construction grants and subscription subsidies may not always be informed by up-to-date information concerning the technical capabilities of various last mile network technologies.

Indeed, while some stakeholders may believe there is only one best network technology - fiber to the premises (FTTP) via passive optical networking (PON) - there is actually no one single best last mile technology, given the varied climate, terrain, time needs, and budgets for broadband construction and subsidization. This report aims to inform stakeholders about the various current and near-term capabilities of various network technologies so that they can make better-informed decisions about funding to support more and better broadband, given limited time, limited funds, and other factors and constraints.

The report covers in detail Hybrid Fiber Coaxial (HFC) networks, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), Fiber to the Premises (FTTP), Licensed and Unlicensed Fixed Wireless Access, Mobile, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellite, and Wi-Fi. Home network technology is also briefly explored, since the home network is such a significant factor aecting end user performance.

Bottom line: there is not one “best” technology - as factors like mobility, terrain, installed base, population density, local regulation, time needs, available construction labor and materials, cost, and so on mean that the answer is “it depends”. Across a wide geography of a state or the country, that “best” answer is often a technology-neutral approach that selects a mix of technologies that matches the geography, population density, cost constraints, time constraints, and other factors. For example, a state broadband oce may find that for a low number of passings in a very remote state forest can rapidly be served with LEO satellite service, while a small town can be served with a mix of Fixed Wireless, and new FTTP construction in the downtown core. Further, passings directly adjacent to or near existing FTTP and HFC networks may be met by these networks edging out with FTTP (for FTTP and HFC) or HFC.

In addition, last mile broadband internet access network technologies cannot be considered on their own, when the goal is to deliver good performance to users, the middle mile and backbone networks’ performance is equally important. They determine how well-connected an ISP network is to destination networks that host popular sites and applications (such as video streaming), content delivery networks (CDNs), cloud providers, gaming networks, and others. It is worth noting that there continues to be a trend where content is moving closer to the last mile and that there are opportunities for innovation in these parts of the network that directly and significantly impact the quality of broadband for users.

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that speed (throughput) and (idle) latency are not the sole factors that aect broadband quality - working latency (network responsiveness) is emerging as a key performance factor. BITAG explored that topic extensively in our recent Latency Explained paper [1]. Reliability, consistency, and security are also emerging as key factors - such as routing security as explored recently by the BITAG [2].