The Battle for the MDU


AT&T has finally articulated a huge broadband plan for the whole of America – taking a combination of copper broadband and fiber toMulti Dwelling Units (MDU), some in territories which are traditionally within the Verizon footprint. It is also offering the full DirecTV main TV service over broadband, with no satellite dish to MDUs. This is the broadband/TV equivalent of thermonuclear war as US telcos move out of the dark ages of broadband in to the gigabit era.

It sure does take a long time for major tier 1 US telcos to embrace a new technology, and October 2012 was our first mention of, but AT&T has turned US broadband on its head today embracing, jumping from fastest copper speeds of 50 Mbps to new copper speeds all the way up to 500 Mbps, and leapfrogging all US cable services in a heartbeat. Only Comcast has 500 Mbps DOCSIS3.1 service on offer, in a handful of territories.

For so long in the US, cable has had the lead in headline fixed broadband speeds but no longer. Comcast offers 1 Gbps services, but with the exception of a few markets where it has DOCSIS 3.1, these are all enterprise services, expensive and based on fiber to the door, using the same technology that AT&T is now embracing.

Back in 2007 Verizon grasped the nettle and invested heavily in passing 18 million homes with fiber, while AT&T stuck with cop-per, That decision by AT&T has now paid off as fiber install prices have plummeted, and once again the MDU opportunity – taken entirely by cable in the past – is now within technical reach at least for copper delivery. Verizon and AT&T have more or less left their ADSL installed based to atrophy until now.

US MDUs have stubbornly resisted the shift to fiber, as all copper connections were laid when the buildings were put up, often both coax and twisted pair, and pulling fiber through existing ducts is seen as impractical and expensive, although it is happening on some greenfield sites.

About 19% of US homes are considered MDUs, but as many as 35% (National Multi-Family Housing Council) could be counted as such because the basement and external facilities are a shared resource, supporting more than one family. Outside of the US, major Asian cities house as many as 50% of residents in apart-ment buildings, with slightly less (42%) in Western Europe. Get-ting ten times faster broadband to these millions of homes has been the subject of a silent technology war upon which telcos and especially US telcos, have pinned their broadband renaissance.

In the US, cable broadband landed almost every MDU deal in long-term, multi-decade deals, mostly in the mid-1990s. At that time telcos had little to offer across twisted pair wiring. But cable will now have to fight to defend those relationships as they come up for grabs once again, just as telcos begin to seriously address them. And equipment suppliers who win in the battle to supply AT&T will have the potential to drive down pricing and establish themselves as global entities with proven track records in MDU broadband.

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Peter has been involved in technology for 35 years, and is now the Lead Analyst at Faultline, a digital media research service offered by Rethink Technology Research. In his work at Faultline Peter has built an understanding of wired and wireless Triple Play and Quad Play models including multiscreen video delivery, taking in all aspects of delivering video files including IPTV. This includes all the various content protection, conditional access and digital rights management, encoding, set tops and VoD server technologies. Peter writes about all forms of video delivery is fascinated with the impact IP is having on all of the entertainment fields, and calls his service Faultline because of the deep faults which can devastate large established companies operating in the fields of consumer electronics, broadcasting, content delivery, content creation, and all forms of telecommunications operators, as content begins to be delivered digitally. Peter is currently advising major players and start up ventures in this field, and has both written and validated business plans in the area.


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