More on whether you’re ready to cut the copper cord

* Living without copper

In the last newsletter, we discussed Verizon’s migration to a fiber network and the implications that could have for corporate networks. Ultimately, the question is whether it’s time to start retiring the copper wiring in the telephony access network and replace it with fiber.

Fundamentally, this makes sense. Copper is intrinsically unreliable in that if the insulation has faults, the pair can fail. And a lot of the copper has significant age on it. A new fiber network would be more reliable and ultimately less expensive for the service providers to maintain. So this raises the question of whether we’re ready to live without copper.

The first problem of living without copper is that copper provides power for “lifeline” telephony service. This was critical at one point, but one could also argue that the proliferation of cell phones and backup power supplies for phone systems makes it much less of an issue. After all, the historical basis for powering the telephony network via the copper wiring is that both the telephony network and the electrical power grid were deployed at about the same time. Consequently, there was no reasonable assumption that electrical power would be available at a location that had a telephone.

At this point, there are additional options for telephony backup that did not exist several years ago. Use of the cable television networks (which are also transitioning from copper to fiber) is becoming increasingly available. Wireless services – such as WiMAX - are also becoming more widespread as a viable option.

And there’s one more option that just *might* come to fruition. It’s a pretty safe bet that copper will be used for the foreseeable future for electrical power distribution. Glass is an electrical insulator, not a conductor so this may open the door for the electrical power grid to be used for copper-based communications – an idea that has been kicked around for several years.

So what do you think? Do we still need all that 26-gauge copper (and other wiring) that’s been around for decades? Let us know, and we’ll share your thoughts.

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