Fiber Construction Will Continue Fast and Furious in 2021. Carriers of all shapes and sizes are still building fiber. There is a bidding war going on to get the best construction crews and fiber labor rates are rising in some markets.
The Supply Chain Still has Issues. The huge demand for building new fiber already had already put stress on the supply chain at the beginning of 2020. The pandemic increased the delays as big buyers reacted to the pandemic by re-sourcing some of the supply chain outside of China. By the end of 2021, there is a historically long waiting time to buy fiber for new and smaller buyers as the biggest fiber builders have pre-ordered huge quantities of fiber cable. Going into 2021 the delays for electronics have lessened, but there will be issues with buying fiber for much of 2021. By the end of the year, this ought to return to normal. Any new fiber builder needs to plan ahead and order fiber early.
Next-Generation PON Prices Dropping. The prices for 10- gigabit PON technologies continue to drop and is now perhaps 15% more expensive than GPON technology which supports speeds up to a symmetrical gigabit. Anybody building a new network needs to consider the next-generation technology, or at least choose equipment that will fit into a future overlay of the faster technology.
Biggest ISPs are Developing Proprietary Technology. In a trend that should worry smaller ISPs, most of the biggest ISPs are developing proprietary technology. The cable companies have always done this through CableLabs, but now companies like Comcast are striking out with their own versions of gear. Verizon is probably leading the pack and has developed proprietary technology for fiber-to-the-curb technology using millimeter wave spectrum as well as proprietary 5G equipment. The large ISPs collectively are pursuing open-source routers, switches, and FTTP electronics that each company will then control with proprietary versions of software. The danger in this trend for smaller ISPs is that a lot of routinely available technology may become hard to find or very expensive when the big ISPs are no longer participating in the market.
Fixed Wireless Gear Improving. The electronics used for rural fixed wireless is improving rapidly as vendors react to the multiple new bands of spectrum approved by the FCC over the last year. The best gear now seamlessly integrates multiple bands of spectrum, and also meets the requirements to notify other carriers when shared spectrum bands are being used.
Big Telcos Walking Away from Copper. AT&T formally announced in October 2020 that it will no longer add new DSL customers. This is likely the first step for the company to phase out copper service altogether. The company has been claiming for years that it loses money on maintaining old technology. Verizon has been even more aggressive and has been phasing out copper service at the local telephone exchange level for the last few years throughout the northeast. DSL budgets will be slashed and DSL techs let go and as bad as DSL is today, it’s going to go downhill fast from here.
Ban on Chinese Electronics. The US ban on Chinese electronics is now in full force. Not only are US carriers forbidden from buying new Chinese electronics, but Congress has approved funding to rip out and replace several billion dollars of currently deployed Chinese electronics. This ostensibly is being done for network security because of fears that Chinese equipment includes a backdoor that can be hacked, but this is also tied up in a variety of trade disputes between the US and China. I’m amazed that we can find $2 billion to replace electronics that likely pose no threat but can’t find money to properly fund broadband.
5G Still Not Here. In 2021 there is still no actual 5G technology being deployed. Instead, what is being marketed today as 5G is really 4G delivered over new bands of spectrum. We are still 3 – 5 years away from seeing any significant deployment of the new features that define 5G. This won’t stop the cellular carriers from crowing about the 5G revolution for another year. But maybe we’ve turned the corner and there will be less than the current twenty 5G ads during a single football game.