Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution and Why America Might Miss It

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  1. Susan Crawford goes into why fiber is superior to copper and cable and why it becoming ubiquitous in the US is so important.

Key Takeaways

  1. What China, Singapore, the Nordic countries, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong have that other developed countries don’t is last mile fiber going into the home of residents. If copper wire is a 2 inch wide pipe, the fiber being used in these countries is like a 15 mile wide river – that is how superior the data transmission on fiber is compared to copper
  2. The US is falling behind in this instantaneous connectivity which could hurt us as other countries such as China move ahead and are able to iterate and innovate faster with nearly 0 latency connectivity. Just like the installation of electric lightbulbs was a wedge for other electric appliances and innovations, this instant connectivity will open up huge markets
  3. The problem with fiber is not capacity or longevity (electricity, water or hardly anything else can mess with it) but distribution. Everybody who wants access to the fiber has to be directly coupled into it or close enough so that they can propel wireless signals
  4. Only about 14% of connections in the US are fiber based whereas it is the norm in Singapore. In addition, they’re extremely expensive and difficult to come by unless you live in a very rich area. The US was the global leader when it came to copper but is falling far behind in fiber compared to other developed nations. The problem lies in latency and scarcity.
  5. Copper has to be close to the central source and is subject to interference. Cable will never be as frictionless as glass. Glass doesn’t have to be amplified and can pump way more data than copper or cable, it is more flexible and easier to upgrade
  6. The world is going wireless but fiber is still vital. Wireless needs wires to travel any distance whatsoever. They are complementary, mutually beneficial. Only fiber will be able to handle the flood of data that comes when everyone is connected, mobile and able to access constant and fast connectivity
  7. 5G is hoping to use multipass encoding over the 10 MHz wavelength which will helps bypass the Shannon Limit and encode more information on the same frequency wavelength. However, this requires a huge investment in towers or base stations. For example, 30,000 base stations to amplify, encode, and send out the signals were needed for AT&T to roll out 4G, but it is estimated that 10 million base stations would be needed for full coverage of 5G. Only fiber can handle the capacity needed to make this happen. It may sound paradoxical, but the future of wireless depends on fiber
  8. Stockholm is leading the way and creating ubiquitous, cheap, and fast connectivity. The city considers connectivity as a basic right and the government paid for laying down the infrastructure and then leased it out the fiber to companies to recap their investment. This has been immensely profitable – throwing off nearly $30 million in free cash flow per year which is being used to expand the service and to subsidize other city goals
  9. The cities and countries who are able to make fiber utility-like will have a leg up in terms of economic growth and innovation
  10. The great capital investment needed to install fiber is sometimes the choking point and often for the return is not directly measurable. Like electricity did for electrical innovations, constant connectivity from fiber spurs creativity, innovation, and growth which is the backbone of a healthy and growing economy
  11. Although laying down fiber is capital intensive, 80% of the cost is from labor which means a lot of jobs would be created. Also, although it typically takes close to 10 years to repay the initial investment, the returns after that are quite healthy as additional investment islimited it is mostly straight cash flow after that
  12. Upfront capital costs are big negatives as are current state laws and regulations 
  13. The author ends with a good analogy between how railroads, and later the highways, served to opened up the country and spur growth. Fiber is the next highway we need to build

What I got out of it

  1. Thought the author was a bit dramatic and repeated points but the central point is important. Ubiquity of fast connectivity spurs innovation and creativity, the backbone of a healthy economy