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Lure of Consumer Market Will Benefit Pro Users of Fiber

Fiber connectivity may become the next high-end service to become a mainstream business tool as providers find a way to latch on to audiences much larger than their business customer base

Lure of Consumer Market Will Benefit Pro Users of Fiber

Jun 13, 2007 8:00 AM

A high-end, specialized product or service, initially limited to well-heeled users, becomes a mainstream business tool when its providers find a way to latch on to audiences much larger than their business customer base—that’s the familiar pattern that may well be repeated in the next few years as fiber connectivity spreads across the country.

Many AV professionals remember the introduction of Digital Light Processing in 1996, and its slow entry into the market in the form of projectors for specialized purposes like digital cinema and traveling business presenters. Today, every time we see that DLP commercial in which the young girl whispers, “It’s the mirrors!” we have a chance to reflect on how business users can profit from hitching a ride on a consumer product revolution.

Where does this trend point? Ubiquitous fiber-optic connections, with more than ample bandwidth to carry uncompressed high-definition video to and from offices, retail sites, universities, restaurants, and other venues all over the country.

Professional-level AV applications may not be the main intended beneficiaries, but they will definitely profit from a proliferation of fiber-optic networks designed chiefly to serve consumers.

The Fiber-to-the-Home Council has recently called for a national policy of extending 100Mb bandwidth across the country by 2015. “Telephone and cable providers are deploying deep-fiber networks delivering far more bandwidth than before, often multimegabits in both directions,” says FTTH Council President Joe Savage. He notes that leading telcos are rapidly expanding the next-generation networks available to American businesses and homes, but as he says, “The present rate of buildout is not going to be enough to keep up with America’s growing demand for higher-bandwidth applications such as teleconferencing, telemedicine, video sharing, and a whole range of information and entertainment services that will be developed over the next few years.”

AT&T has been promoting its fiber-to-the-node strategy, and Verizon has attacked both the consumer and business markets with its FiOS networks, which offer the in-demand “triple play” of voice, data, and video to users.

Video, and particularly HD video in both directions, will be the major driver for this expansion, AV industry experts say. While home users may chiefly want to download moves in high def, business clients often want uncompressed HD moving in both directions over videoconference connections, an application that cries out for fiber.

Recently, VBrick CEO Rich Mavrogeanes commented to AV Over Fiber, “We are at an inflection point right now. There now is sufficiently good compression technology at this magic, confluent moment when there is sufficient bandwidth to utilize that new compression technology, and that’s why you’re seeing digital video really, really take off now.”

Could this mean the very distinction between business and home connectivity will disappear? Remember, DLP isn’t the only product that has gone from esoteric to everywhere in the last decade. Once upon a time, an LCD video screen was a professional-grade product that had to be obtained from and installed by a qualified systems integrator. Once, plasmas were exotic. And who had heard of a rear-projection TV 10 years ago?

The lure of a huge consumer market has been the driving force behind many of the social transformations that have profoundly changed the pro AV landscape in the last decade or so. It has justified big investments in manufacturing, streamlined distribution channels, driven down prices, and brought once-revolutionary tools into everyday use.

A growing number of influential players are betting fiber nets are next.

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