Last Mile Fibre is the Future
The passage of three Category 5 hurricanes in the Caribbean region and the devastation caused to the telecommunications infrastructure in a few islands has raised concern by many, why must landlines fail when there is no power. It is an old argument that questions the transition from copper to fibre. Fortunately or unfortunately there is the global reality the trend is to fibre to the home- or what the techies refer to as “last mile” connection. From all the reports fibre adds more capability to the distribution chain and is less expensive to deploy than copper. There is therefore no turning back!
The point the market – telcos, regulators and vested actors – should address is the need to educate the consuming public. The current state is that if customer telephones, Internet and video that is delivered via Internet cannot receive power from the fibre cable this translates to no service in a power outage. There is a popular position that the telephony provider should provide some sort of Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) device to each customer for this reason. And in some other markets USPs are sold as part of the product.
BU is expected to be highlight any issue, however, this is a specialise area and we abstain from advocating a nailed down position. BU consulted with a member of the BU family member who is knowledgeable in the telecommunications field and this is the feedback on whether telecommunications providers should include a UPS in the package to consumers:-
- The world-wide trend is towards “cord cutting” i.e. wireless telephony and Internet. Read: cellphones.
- It would increase the cost to the provider to provide such equipment, which would of course have to be passed onto the consumer.
- The UPSs provisioned by those service providers overseas who do so only provide about six hours of backup.
- In the case of a serious hurricane which caused wide-spread power outages, the damage would probably also bring down the cables (both fibre and copper) which provides the last-mile connectivity. Not much use having the CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) powered if the cable back to the provider is broken.
- The same situation exists for copper provisioned POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service); if the cable is down so is the service.
- Further to point 4, in the case of wide-spread damage a cell tower is going to be easier and quicker to repair than all the poles and the mounted cables needed to restore power and telephony to an area.
- Also, if a cell tower is damaged, a cell phone is likely going to be able to reach another operational tower further away.
- In the case of the complete destruction of all cellular infrastructure, emergency temporary access points can quickly be deployed. Also, in the near future (a few years) cellular and WiFi provisioning will be commercially available using balloons (e.g. Google’s “Project Loon”), drones (e.g. Facebook’s “Aquila”) and LEO satellites (e.g Iridium (available now, but expensive), et al).
The feedback from the BU subject matter expert is what people should be more concerned about being able to recharge their mobile devices in an emergency. For example, a small UPS (e.g. an APC 600VA UPS estimated at $200 BDS kept charged but turn off except when charging would work for a while. There are USB charging dongles which plug into a car’s cigarette lighter for about $10 BDS. And there are battery and solar USB charging devices available.
Barbadians have to get use to last mile fibre and take relevant decisions to mitigate in the event of a protracted power outage cause by disaster or some other catastrophic event.