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Verizon-Boston fiber optic deal means more than faster Internet service

Matt Hamblen | April 18, 2016
Smart city project and small cell wireless on utility poles are part of 'platform' deal.

"I don't think we know yet what technology we're including in the pilot and that's why it's a pilot," Franklin-Hodge said. "Are there changes to signal timing? Are there ways to measure cyclists to improve safety? If we make a section of the corridor safer, does it increase its use? Another piece is if we prioritize the use of transit and find a way to put a bus through an intersection 30 seconds faster, even if that's at the expense of single occupant cars, that could be an incredible benefit."

In contrast to some other cities, such as Atlanta, Franklin-Hodge said the pilot along Massachusetts Avenue won't focus on installing video surveillance technology.

"In some parts of Boston, people have asked for more video surveillance for public safety and traffic, but there's a balance between privacy and public safety," he said.

In addition to the Massachusetts Avenue project, Verizon officials said the city may choose Verizon's Thingspace app development platform to centralize management of the city's apps for 311 information, parking meters and others in the future. Thingspace, which was launched last year, allows organizations to create and manage Internet of Things applications.

Fourth, Verizon's introduction of fiber optic cable in the city will bring the potential for innovations not realized today. The uses of fiber in terms of data throughput and speed are practically "infinite, as the electronics gets more sophisticated," Franklin-Hodge said. He noted that 10 years ago, 10Gbps speeds over fiber were touted, "but now are at a terabit per second."

With fiber, data travels over light waves. Part of what gives a fiber optic cable so much capacity is that many different colors of light can be used to carry the data.

"Just by the sheer laws of physics, fiber has a far longer useful life than copper, and we've already hit the limit on DSL," he said.

From Verizon's viewpoint, converting copper to fiber is "much cheaper to run and maintain, and on a bandwidth-available basis, there is no comparison," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

Google Fiber, AT&T and many others have seen the benefits and have launched fast Internet services over fiber in other cities. Some analysts said that Verizon is somewhat late to the game, at least in Boston, even though it has installed its Fios service in many locations around the country, but not in most of Boston.

Part of what drove Verizon to the fiber deal with Boston is a nationwide race by Internet service providers to find cities that want to work with them closely.

"Verizon has to compete with the aggressive AT&T and Comcast initiatives," Gold said. "Verizon really wants you to be able to buy all of your services in one basket — wireless, Fios, and add-on services like burglar, fire and security monitoring."


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