Speed, universal access, latency. Unlike telephone and cable television networks now, it will serve everyone, it will be fast enough for all future applications, and it will have the low round trip delays required for many new applications. It is the network of the future.
Our current networks from television and telephone companies were designed and built decades ago; they are on their dying legs. Each has been adapted to create digital networks that share lines with legacy telephone and television channels. Each has been augmented by installing fiber optic nodes in the “last mile” to shrink the length of copper lines and the number of users sharing them. But they are the past, helpless really before the needs of the future. But none of the incumbents can afford to upgrade their networks to fiber optics nor can they afford to connect everyone. The only way we are getting the network of the future that connects everyone, like roads and electricity, is municipal participation in their construction and management.
The network future is about more than just speed. Speed of course is critical. Twenty years ago the only way most people reached the Internet was through dial-up modems running at 56 kbps or less; today the average Internet access rate is 26 mbps, reflecting the circumstance that more than half of current Internet connections go over CATV networks. Things in the pipeline such as 4K and 8K television, the Internet of Things, and Virtual Reality will continue to push speed requirement up, soon pushing CATV networks into the dust bin. But the network future also requires universal access and very low latencies.
Universal access means passing every home and business with a new network to which anyone can subscribe at affordable rates. This is the way we think about roads and electricity. In the present regulatory landscape in telecommunications our incumbent carriers are not obliged to connect everyone, and competitive pressures render the prospect all but impossible from a commercial point of view. Communities will have to take charge of their own network destiny.
Latency, or round trip delay, looms large on the horizon of some new applications. Remote Virtual Reality requires latency below 10 ms; most networks today do well to be under 50 ms, and many mobile connections are around 150 ms. Latency comes down by increasing speed and decreasing the distance to a data center. Neither are coming from legacy carriers; a new network is required.