The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.
In the world of telecommunications, we have seen many capable technologies come and go. There are long forgotten telecom services such as SONET, DS-3, ATM, ISDN, T-1, Switched-56, and Centrex that are no longer offered. All of these connection types had their day, but most have seen the sun set on them, one by one.
Now, it is the end of the road for Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and all of its variants – ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), ADSL 2+ (ADSL Extension), SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line), and VDSL (Very High DSL).
On October 1, 2020, AT&T in the USA announced the formal end of DSL.
AT&T will stop selling digital-subscriber-line connections, stranding many existing subscribers on those low-speed links and leaving new residents of DSL-only areas without any wired broadband.
“We’re beginning to phase out outdated services like DSL and new orders for the service will no longer be supported after October 1,” a corporate statement sent beforehand read. “Current DSL customers will be able to continue their existing service or where possible upgrade to our 100% fiber network.”
DSL – a broadband connection delivered over old copper telephone lines – is no prize at AT&T. The company doesn’t sell downloads faster than 6 Mbps, less than a fourth of the 25 Mbps minimum definition of the Federal Communications Commission and further cramps their utility with stringent data caps of just 150 gigabytes.
So, I must wonder, “Is Canada far behind the USA with the sunset of DSL?”
DSL was frequently referred to as an “always on” connection because it uses existing 2-wire copper telephone line connected to the premise so service is delivered simultaneously with wired telephone service – it will not tie up your phone line as an analog dial-up connection did. The two main categories of DSL for home subscribers are called ADSL and SDSL. All types of DSL technologies are collectively referred to as xDSL. xDSL connection speeds range from 128 Kbps to 9 Mbps.
So why are these DSL variants all being sunset? Because they run on copper wire connections and most North American carriers are replacing copper connections with optical fibre connections. So, as glass takes over the terrestrial landline technology of choice, it is time to upgrade.
My Switch to G-PON
Earlier this year when COVID first hit and we were all staying home and working from home offices, our ten year old DSL connection was lacking in performance when my wife and I both had web video conferencing calls simultaneously. We experienced freezing and lost connections. Our home is far less burdened with numerous connections compared to my friends and neighbours since we do not have any school age children doing online learning. Two or three school age kids can really bottleneck an older DSL link with their learning management platforms, iPads, smartphones, online games, and various social media and numerous chat programs. Sure, we use VoIP and even have a smart television with three streaming services, but for the past decade, our older DSL worked fine for us. Sadly, we have now overrun its 15 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload capabilities.
Initially when I talked to Bell Canada in March, I asked the customer service agent about other DSL options. Could I move from my older DSL to some new, better version of DSL? She shared with me that while Bell had not sunset DSL yet, it is clear that the writing was on the wall and I really should be considering an optical fibre connection to our home. I heard her well. But I was still hesitant to switch to the latest Gigabit – Passive Optical Network (G-PON) offering. I had heard it was good; but it was more expensive too? Was it more than we needed?
I spent the summer worrying about costs and unnecessary expenditures and was concerned that optical fibre would be prohibitively expensive during these challenging coronavirus times.
Finally, in September, it became too frustrating to continue the way we were and I called back to Bell to discuss my options for optical fibre. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that we could move to a 150 Mbps up by 150 Mbps down service over glass for the same costs per month as the older DSL cost. This was a ten fold improvement in the download speeds and a 50x improvement in the upload speeds. It was the restrictive upload speeds that were degrading our Zoom, Teams, and WebEx calls due to our older DSL package, so the performance improvement was fantastic and more than we needed by my calculations.
Bell offered us promotion deals too. They agreed to not charge us for the installation, nor the fancy new modem / access point. The older Bell access point was IEEE 802.11n and the new model was IEEE 802.11AX. It offered a dramatic speed improvement for Wi-Fi to go along with the optical connection. So, I booked the installation date and it was all converted two days later in less then two hours. Impressive.
In fact, I took advantage of another promotion and upgraded the connection to the best performing link. Now with symmetrical gigabit services, we could do anything that we could ever dream of doing online. We were lavishly rich with stunning data rates and ultra low latency to power our internet work and play activities.
One downside of the conversion was the mandatory change of our telephone landline service. Since the twisted pair copper connection would be disconnected, we had to convert the landline to glass too.
Why do we still have a landline? We need it for the home alarm monitoring system. With the landline transformed to glass too, we lost the Bell powered telephone line feature. The telephone is now only powered by our house AC circuits. If we lost power at the house, then the telephone was dead too. I was not too worried as I imagined that we were one of the last holdouts with a landline anyway. My spouse and I both have smartphones so if it was not for the alarm system, the landline would be gone already. We have used Vonage VoIP for over 21 years for its fixed long distance costs and for my home business consulting services.
With new internet service competitors on the near horizon, I see crews from the telephone company and the cable company in our neighbourhood every day installing optical connections. The carriers are smart to lock us all in with optical fibre before high-speed 5G cellular and 1 Tbps satellite internet hit in a meaningful way next year and beyond.
It is expected that with the new and improved speeds from 5G and Starlink, they both make serious competitors that can quickly erode the customer base for traditional copper-based terrestrial connections. By switching to glass connections, the carrier can avoid customer churn once the new Internet Service Providers entrants hit the marketplace.
I see Starlink as a serious threat to terrestrial connections, especially in rural and remote markets. We still have little in the way of the actual Starlink specifications. So, it is hard to appreciate how and if it will actually impact optical fibre competitors. But, I remain hopeful and want to add Starlink to my motorhome some day if that is practical.
The advent of mmWave in 5G will finally deliver meaningful data rates over cellular connections, albeit still only about 300 Mbps to 400 Mbps download. Since 5G is cellular based, it may continue to be asymmetrical and offer lower upload speeds depending upon how it is configured.
The future looks very bright and the opportunity for all of us to have rich and powerful connections to the internet to drive our applications is now a reality.
Pegoraro, R. (2020). AT&T shelving DSL may leave hundreds of thousands hanging by a phone line. USA Today via Yahoo! Retrieved on October 4, 2020 from, https://news.yahoo.com/t-shelving-dsl-may-leave-155331852.html
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.