So Shaw has announced a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network and is preparing to test 1 Gbps service.

That’s a hundred times what most cable subscribers have now, and 10 times what anyone else has publicly announced so far as we know. (Let’s leave aside Google’s plan to announce by year’s end a community in which to test 1 Gbps service.)

Does this kind of speed make sense?

Absolutely, it makes sense. With FTTH—both EPON and GPON—you can do it easily.

Or maybe not

It makes no sense at all. You cannot download that fast to a computer.

Several years ago, we were developing a demo for a customer’s board of directors to show them the beauty of FTTH data speeds. A big frustration was trying to move data into and out of a computer consistently at more than a few tens of Mbps.

Absolutely, it makes sense. Homes have networks with many computers and other data appliances.

It makes no sense at all. It does you no good to deliver that kind of speed in the last mile if you have slower connections to the Internet backbone, and we understand that gigabit connections are still pretty expensive, though coming down.

Absolutely, it makes sense. If you have several businesses with multiple locations on your network, you can accommodate them—for a slight additional fee, of course. And if you cache data or video on your network, you can download it without burning your Internet connection cost.

It makes no sense at all. There are few businesses with that kind of continuous data need that will be willing to pay said “slight additional fee.” And even streaming HDTV, the highest bandwidth hog of them all, only burns about 8 Mbps in MPEG-4.

Absolutely, it makes sense. It gives Shaw bragging rights to really fast connectivity. We just got back from a meeting with an overseas telco who is also a big cable operator. He is offering gigabit service via FTTH for the advertising value. And let’s face it: There is a speed race going on—DOCSIS 3.0 is in the middle of it, despite the fact that it is still an order of magnitude slower than FTTH.

Farmer’s Law

Absolutely, it makes sense. It supports Farmer’s law.

For years, I have been trying, without the first shred of success, to establish my place in history and to gain fame and fortune with Farmer’s Law: “No matter how much bandwidth you provide, some clown is going to come along with an application that demands more.”

Gigabit connectivity gets you way, way out in front of this important law. (Now, if I could just get anyone else to see its importance!)

So what is the bottom line to this two-headed analysis? A gigabit per second is probably is more than any one subscriber can use today.

Think back to the waning years of the last century—scarcely more than a decade ago—when we were using dial-up Internet at around 50 kbps. Then they came out with first-generation cable modem service at 1.5 Mbps. That was a 30-fold increase in speed, and today we regard that as slow.

Compare 1,000 Mbps FTTH to today’s 10 Mbps (YMMV*) DOCSIS, a 100-times increase. It should give you many years respite from needing to increase speed again. And the fiber is using an infinitesimal portion of its capacity.

Already, the IEEE has amended its standard to incorporate 10 Gbps, and the ITU is well-into the process, both using the same network you would build today.

*Your mileage may vary

Jim Farmer was co-founder and CTO of Wave7 Optics, which Enablence Networks acquired in 2008.

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