No single vendor can now drive architectural change in the same way that ATT was able to do in the past. Telecommunications vendors are able to make incremental improvements within existing frameworks, but major advances in system architecture or services may be more difficult, and innovation in services and applications may become constrained by continued reliance on obsolete network architectures. Also, what solutions are developed and deployed may be unnecessarily complex, fragile, and vulnerable because of too little investment in architectural work.
Cable television’s recent architectural transformation shows how an industry can create a new entity (in this case, CableLabs) to help drive change at least within a particular sector of the telecommunications industry. Cable systems were transformed from one-way, broadcast-only systems into two-way, multilayer systems that migrated fiber much further into the infrastructure while retaining coaxial cable as the final link to the customer. This new architecture positioned the cable industry to deliver video, voice, and data services. The nonprofit CableLabs consortium (described in greater detail in was established to address end-to-end issues for the cable industry through activities to identify and develop new technologies, write specifications, certify products, and disseminate information to the cable industry. Its activities are supported by subscription and testing fees paid by its members. CableLabs helped foster the introduction of digital transmission and the hybrid fiber co-axial cable architecture found in modern cable systems and developed a series of specifications for cable modems known as the Data Over Cable System Interface Specification.
Physical connectivity is the foundation for telecommunications networks. Imagine that the United States had never deployed copper wires and coaxial cable to connect its homes and businesses and now wanted to design the best possible telecommunications infrastructure. There is little doubt about the best design choice—optical fiber for high bandwidth complemented by wireless for mobility and flexibility. Optical communications would give everyone the greatest possible amount of bandwidth, would be useful for essentially all applications that have been imagined, and would be future proof—it is known how to continually get more and more bandwidth out of each fiber. The cost of installing the fiber would be no greater than the cost of a new installation of any other medium.
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