Advantages of fiber optic Internet reach few users

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Can you imagine having an Internet service that gives you a data download speed greater than 1 GBps? Fiber optics allow this due to its high capacity to transmit information. In Costa Rica, however, only 25% of connections in homes and businesses use this technology, which was introduced 16 years ago.

It was in March 2006 when the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) contracted, for $59 million, a first fiber optic network of 1,092 km for “border-to-border” interconnection. The growth of the network accelerated with the opening in telecommunications, but even so, in so many years, there are only 262,000 clients who enjoy it within the total of 1,044,000 fixed connections (96% of them in homes).

The remaining 782,000 (75%) operate with slower media or unstable speeds. This last group is divided into 636,000 (61% of the total) mounted on cable-modem (coaxial) and 140,000 (13.5%) on digital subscriber lines (known as xDSL) that carry the service over copper cable (very desirable by thieves).

The cable-modem, the most popular, has the disadvantage that the more people are connected to the transmission line, the more the speed of the users will be affected. Fiber optics, on the other hand, use glass or plastic filaments to transmit data through light pulses. This makes it immune to power losses in the signal, which allows links of many kilometers without any problem. It is also not affected by electromagnetic interference.

Due to these advantages, the Costa Rican Chamber of Information and Communication Technologies (Camtic), calls for accelerating the development of the network as it contributes to the country’s productivity. “The needs of homes and companies have increased without being 100% covered throughout the territory. This indicates that the need is present, therefore, the country and the new administration should strive to expand the coverage of fiber optics. It should not be lost sight of that this is the most efficient means of transport for data traffic”, said Elizabeth Arroyave Rojas, vice president of the organization.

For her, the difficulties of growing fiber optics – apart from the paperwork with municipal permits – include the saturation in the use of poles to lay the cable and the scarcity of alternative means.

In fact, Costa Rica is one of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with the greatest lag in the percentage of fiber connections with respect to the total broadband: it occupies the 27th position among the 38 assigned to that group.

Mario Montero, president of the Chamber of Infocommunication and Technology (Infocom), also urged the expansion of this technology given that Internet consumption is increasing rapidly.

“The changes in the consumption of Costa Ricans entail an accelerated transition to fiber optics, which in turn translates into a greater need to expand networks and optimize existing deployments. It is essential to take into account that more broadband is closely related to access to infrastructure and that is where the country is dragging its feet”, he assured.

According to Montero, it is necessary to enable the construction of more pipelines and Internet infrastructure on national and municipal roads, for which the new authorities of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT) are required to prepare the necessary regulations.

In addition, it ensures that the group of operators requires agility in the management of permits before the National Environmental Technical Secretariat, greater clarity and homogeneity in the regulations and promote the progressive burial of aerial Internet networks.

“In this context of increased demand and the need to connect more Costa Ricans, pressure is growing to have a robust infrastructure of poles and ducts for use by suppliers, especially in view of the eventual deployment of state-of-the-art technologies such as 5G”, says Montero.

While fiber optics slowly enters homes, the National Telecommunications Fund (Fonatel) has woven some 2,500 kilometers of networks of this technology in rural areas with which it provides free Internet in 400 parks and squares, 28 train stations, 61 libraries and seven Civic Centers for Peace.

However, in 500,000 households located in quintiles 1 and 2 (with less ability to pay due to lower income) there is not even an Internet connection, said Mauricio Rojas, Telecommunications Manager of the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE).

Jose Pablo Ibarra, spokesman for Liberty Latin America (Cabletica-Movistar) agreed with Mauricio Rojas on the historical backwardness of the country. “It is necessary to insist on reducing the barriers to the installation of our infrastructure and address the bottlenecks,” he said.

Rojas attributed this slower progress to restrictions suffered by all companies in the market to build and install more infrastructure because, he said, each municipality has its own rules and response times.

Another admitted barrier is the cost, since, on average, a kilometer of optical fiber is around $8,000.

“Investments are onerous at the network level and have the capacity to access the Internet internationally. Everything must be executed under a principle of return on investment and in particular in the case of ICE as a public company. These conditions influence the evaluation of feasibility and profitability. In addition, we suffered losses due to cable theft in our copper network, which generates an additional limitation,” Rojas said.

Another point is that ICE still has a network based on copper wiring throughout the country, which has been operating since 1963 when it began providing conventional telephone service.

“Investing in fiber to replace that copper network is high and unmanageable in the short term. The change implies providing a solution to the voice service that is not very profitable since many of its users today only consume the basic telephone service; not so those of the Internet or television. This limits our margin of action when expanding the fiber network”, explained Rojas.

Advantages of fiber opticsGreater bandwidth. Copper cables were originally designed for voice transmission and have limited bandwidth. Instead, fiber optic strands give more room to carry data. Faster speeds. Fiber cables use pulses of light to move information. This allows you to provide signals at speeds 20 times higher than other fixed Internet technologies. There is also less signal degradation. Stability. Fiber is immune to changes in temperature, inclement weather, and moisture, all of which can make copper or xDSL cable difficult to connect. In addition, it does not use electricity so it is not affected by electromagnetic interference that can interrupt data transmission. Thinner and more resistant. Compared to other types of cabling, fiber optic cables are thinner and lighter, which allows them to withstand more traction pressure, which is why they are less likely to break.

Source: Consultation with supplier companies