Fiber Optic Cable vs LEO Satellites
By Joe Ashcraft
August 16, 2019
At the Coffman Cove Seaside event last weekend several people stopped by to inquire on the status of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites which will begin to deliver high speed low latency internet connectivity in Alaska in 2020. With latency always as good or better than fiber and as much or more speed and bandwidth capability, and the fact that Alaska will be first to have that service delivered from Starlink Space X, Oneweb, Amazon, Norsat, Telesat and some others,; it would seem that return on investment in fiber optic rollout might become very minimal. While last mile fiber may become more important as satellite connectivity is dependent on line of sight from tops of buildings, middle mile fiber from undersea cable or requiring runs over difficult terrain will be very cost ineffective. Fiber that has been in place for years is not at capacity normally, but companies do add to their networks to provide “ring” capability and the consequent redundancy as GCI has done in SE Alaska. A single fiber line, as ACS found out in Juneau and SE a couple years ago, is easily compromised by earthquakes.
The management of KPU refused a fiber spur from GCI before the turn of the century and blocked APT from landing fiber about the same time. Then, intentionally did not put fiber along the power lines to the 4 dam pool sites which would have made a ring redundancy with GCI in Wrangell and here, with management saying to me in person that the fiber would make the power lines too heavy for the towers. When KPU partnered with Prince Rupert and Canadian companies to run a pieced together system around 2000 or so which barely worked and was disbanded shortly, Marty West made the statement at a council meeting: “I don’t know a thing about it, but I’m voting yes anyway.”
Now this missive is not designed to discourage the investment in a fiber optic cable by the city of Ketchikan. We at Seaport Telecom lobbied more than 20 years ago for just such. Our business of internet cafes and payphones and money transfer was dependent on good connections; and in our office in Ketchikan today we only have about 20M down as compared with 45M/5M on the two thousand or so of Hughesnet Gen 5 sat dishes we’ve installed in rural areas.. And even today if the Kessler effect results in all those LEOs destroying themselves, fiber becomes important again.. But suggesting that KPU management show their projections for the ROI with the projected LEO influence represented in the business plan seems a logical request. Perhaps all who will have a vote on this project will “know a thing about it.”
Received August 16, 2019 - Published August 16, 2019
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