Introduction to Open Access Fiber Broadband Networks

A fiber broadband network is comprised of the physical fiber-optic infrastructure and the internet service.

You can think about the physical infrastructure like the pipes that are required to deliver an internet connection into your home and office. The internet service travels down these pipes and is provided by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Verizon, Charter, etc.

Right now, it is common for ISPs to own the backbone infrastructure in addition to providing the service.

In an open access model, the infrastructure ownership is separated from the provision of services, so multiple service providers can use the infrastructure, and compete on price and service to secure internet subscribers.

It’s also worth noting that there is no agreement on what internet speed is required to be considered a “broadband” connection. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as connection speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps but most ISPs argue that broadband is anything from 10/1 Mbps (this translates to 10 megabits of data per second download, and 1 megabit per second upload). 10 Mbps is generally good enough to stream a 1080p (high-def) video, but 10–20 Mbps is a more reliable speed to stream content and/or make fast downloads, and often an even better connection is required to run multiple applications at once.

Fiber networks offer far superior speeds: made of fiber threads instead of copper cable, these networks transmit data at near the speed of light. They also provide symmetrical speeds — in other words, the same speed for download (e.g. video steaming) and upload (e.g. putting a video on youtube or sending a large file to friends).

What are the benefits of fiber?

The super-fast transmission of data will give home-based workers fast, reliable, and clear connections to work most effectively; large files can be downloaded in seconds. Students will be able to use the best resources on the internet to carry-out research and complete their homework. Medical personnel can monitor patient health remotely and in real-time. At home, this translates to a fast connection for everything from video chatting with friends, to smart home uses like security cameras.

How does the fiber “network” relate to the wifi in your home?

Your WiFi is the wireless internet service provided by your ISP. ISPs “lease” the right to use the network to deliver the internet into your home and you pay them for that service.

How does the open access system work?

Open access networks allow multiple services and service providers to operate on the network. This arrangement gives customers the ability to pick and choose services, from varying providers, according to their needs and budget.

How does the revenue model work?

Revenue can be generated through user subscriptions to the network and leasing fees from ISPs who also pay for the right to use the infrastructure.

GLOSSARY

Open access: An open system where all service providers can use the central network infrastructure to offer their services.

Fiber-optic network: The network of fiber-optic cables required to deliver an internet connection into your home, office, local cafe etc. This system uses glass (or plastic) to carry light which is used to transmit information. A critical replacement for copper wires or cable, this is the dominant method of transmitting information for the foreseeable future.

Fiber-to-the-home: A high capacity fiber-optic line that is connected directly to the home.

Dark conduit / dark fiber: Unused fiber-optic cable, usually installed to expand the system capacity. Some ISPs lease these dark fibers to other companies that add equipment in order to transmit signals through them.

Mesh network: Network connections that are spread over multiple nodes that “talk” to each other to help share the connection over a large area.

Internet speed: Internet speed is your allocated bandwidth. Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be sent to you, usually measured in seconds. For example, 10 Mbps would mean that you can receive up to 10 megabits of data per second.

Bandwidth: Bandwidth is like a road. All cars (data) travel at the same speed, so to receive more data faster, the road needs to be wider.

SDN: SDN stands for Software Defined Network or Software Defined Networking. Historically, networks relied on hardware devices like routers to move traffic across network infrastructure. SDN removes control from individual devices and centralizes it in a software application called a controller. This system promises better network management and more precise control over traffic flow because it enables prioritizing, de-prioritizing or even blocking of specific types of information packets. This system is usually installed right outside or right inside the home, and is the responsibility of the infrastructure owner.

Take-rate: The percentage of residents in a defined community who are subscribers to a broadband network.

Special District: Special districts are independent, special-purpose governmental units that exist separately from local governments. They are set-up with substantial administrative independence, and can also be approved for bonding authority. They are often formed to perform a single function and have been used to finance infrastructure projects like public transport, water and sewer systems and electricity grids. For example, a rural community can create its own special district and then, once approved, can issue bonds to finance its own broadband network. Special districts can be created by legislative action, court action, or public referendum and are authorized by state law; if you’re interested in formation, check out the rules in your state.

LID: LID stands for Local Improvement District and is a type of special district.

Last Mile (sometimes known as First Mile): Last-mile technology carries signals from the main infrastructure system the short, final distance (hence, the “last mile”) to and from your home or business. Or to put it another way: the last mile is the infrastructure at the neighborhood level — this is the community broadband network!

Middle Mile: Middle mile refers to the network connection between the last mile and central internet infrastructure. For instance, in a rural area, the middle mile would connect the town’s network to a larger metropolitan area where it interconnects with major carriers.