Many of us got our first taste of high-speed Internet via a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). Typically operating around 1 Mbps at the time of its early adoption, this technology was a huge advance over 56k modems, and because DSL operates over existing phone line networks, the infrastructure was already in place. This fact made DSL much easier for consumers to adopt than other, faster technology that required a dedicated network. Though now overtaken in popularity by fiber optic and cable TV networks, DSL remains a popular choice for many consumers, particularly in rural areas.
But while DSL is convenient, it has its limits and drawbacks just like any other technology. Speeds actually decrease based on the physical distance of the connection between your DSL modem and your Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) central office, a term used to describe a kind of network hub. In addition, the relatively small diameter of the copper phone wire limits the speed of data transfer. Compared to newer fiber networks, DSL isn’t as speedy as it once seemed. For most users, today’s downstream DSL speeds can reach a respectable 45 Mbps, but even that figure is still a long way from the gigabit speeds possible on fiber.
At the recent Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam, several companies announced the use of a new technology, G.Fast, to build new components that will make DSL technology capable of gigabit speeds. That would put DSL on par with the fastest fiber networks in the country, and without the investment of actually building a fiber network.
There are a couple small caveats to G.Fast, though. Speeds will still erode with distance, so ISPs will have to move some equipment closer to their subscribers to be able to deliver on the technology’s potential. That will require investment, though not as much as creating fiber networks from scratch. It also requires use of vectoring, a method of overcoming problems of interference within copper wiring, though vectoring is already in use in faster DSL networks. And the three companies pioneering this advance – Broadcom, Triductor Technology, and Sckipio – say it probably won’t be ready for consumer use until 2016.
But don’t let that wait convince you G.Fast is vaporware. For the past two years, more subscribers have chosen cable providers for high-speed Internet over phone providers. You can bet that the phone companies will do everything in their power to regain market share, especially as other revenue streams – like landline phone service – continue to decline. It seems a fair assumption that G.Fast will have backers with the desire and ability to make sure the technology actually reaches consumers within a reasonable time frame.
So don’t give up hope for gigabit Internet just because fiber isn’t available where you live. And if you’re considering a move to an area without fiber, you don’t have to give up any of the streaming video, gaming, or other online entertainment options you currently enjoy. Even if your current Internet connection is “fast enough,” remember that content will always find a way to take advantage of faster speeds. By the time gigabit DSL becomes available, content providers will be ready to take advantage as well.