Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fiber upgrade

Most telecom in the united states was built in the 19th century for telegraphs, and later telephones. A massive network of copper wire enables Americans to call anywhere in the country, and getting a new telephone line is trivial even in rather rural regions. (It may be difficult far out in Alaska due to the remoteness...it's hard to get anything there, really.) This is the backbone of our internet access too now.
However, in much of the rest of the world, the telecom infrastructure was completely destroyed by wars. World War 2 basically burned the vast majority of Europe, and coastal Asia, completely to the ground, and everything was rebuilt from scratch. With much of these regions managing to maintain a high population density, it was profitable to rebuild this infrastructure with what was then the best technology available. And a difference shows.
In America, a $40/mo broadband connection willl give you maybe 1mb (megabit) per second, but a compare this to, say, a Swedish connection gives you 4mb per second for 25 euros ($32 USD?), and people are outraged because they think they should have 6mb/s. And that they should only have to pay 20 euros instead.
Part of the difference is population density. The denser people live, the more people can be connected with less wire, and the more profitable it is to serve them. Sweden's people mostly live in the southern portion of their country, where it's cheap to keep them connected, while America's population is deeply scattered across the entire continent, and the four largest cities are practically at opposite extremes of the country. (New York, America's most populous city, is practically in the northeast corner of the continental United States, and Los Angeles, the second most populous, is practically in the southwestern corner.) South Korea has a great telecom system....because it has a huge population in a smallish area. Koreans get on the Internet for super cheap because it's not too expensive for companies to provide this for them.
I think that the cost might go down quite a lot if we replaced a lot of our old copper installations with fiber optic. Fiber optic cables are mirrored glass strands that can transmit information by shining colored light down its length, and the light bounces down the strand to the destination. By using many colors, outrageous bandwidth can be achieved. Fiber optic is also very cheap once installed, as it requires very little maintenance. Glass, unlike copper, doesn't corrode.
I think this upgrade to our infrastructure would make Internet access cheaper and faster, but I don't see it happening on the grounds that people tend not to like to fix things that aren't broken.

2 comments:

KaiWen said...

I live on Long Island in the suburbs of New York. Most of our communication lines are well over 50 years old. At most I get 5 mb/s download speed for $30 a month. Japan meanwhile, with its high, dense population and technologically superior infrastructure has the best internet in the world and gets 60 mb/s on average! Oh the things I could do with that speed. The only other ISP in my area is Verizon FiOs and they offer 25 mb/s which would be awesome but I can't afford it :(

Whats your internet speed Mr.Mad?

Mad Engineering said...

Not sure what it ranks officially, but I get about 700kilobytes/second, for $25/mo. Kinda lame, but better than the ISDN days.

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