Fiber Optic Buggy Whips?

August 6, 2012 |  by

Spools of Fiber Optic CableOver the past few months, I’ve developed market data for several network infrastructure projects. It’s made me wonder where all this is going.

  • The market for business broadband connectivity is very robust. In recent interviews I learned that network fiber and cabling equipment and services are a growing market despite the hype around mobile. 
  • Ethernet/fiber upgrades are big business. Cablecos are quick to tell me that coax isn’t the only game in town…many offer high-capacity Ethernet/fiber solutions with aggressive pricing vis-a-vis telcos.
  • Nearly all kinds of devices with embedded micro-controllers (telematics, smart home meters, industrial control systems) either now have or will have network interfaces. Many are mobile and wireless.
  • Mobile apps for smartphones and tablets (Android, iOS, etc.) are exploding. Just like most businesses and organizations now have web sites, they will soon have to have a mobile app and QR code.
  • Enterprise IT is struggling with the BYOD (bring your own device/data) trend: workers increasingly want to connect with enterprise private networks using their own smartphone or tablet.
  • Industry players tell me the that IP convergence is but one key driver for  data infrastructure solutions: “many touches in lots of places” is the new mantra.

It seems like the wired/wireless trends are pulling in opposite directions. By any measure, the mobile app space is growing exponentially and displacing enterprise desktops – IDC predicts that mobile will surpass wireline by 2015.  At the same time, worldwide demand for wired broadband and cabling plant upgrades is also strong despite a weak global economy.  There are even reports of spot shortages of fiber cable.

The wired side reflects corporate cap ex, which suggests corporate planners see a continued need for copper and fiber plant, despite a paradigm shift at the edges. The user side is driven by consumer trends, including a new generation of workers who use smartphones and feature-phones more like appendages than accessories.

While BYOD has a lot of headaches, notably security, it offers enterprise IT a potential bonanza. The total cost to provision, support, and maintain a fleet of tens of thousands of PCs can be staggering. With BYOD, much of this can be shifted to the users.

Mobile apps are increasingly content-rich and location-aware, driving increased demand for high capacity infrastructure to service a burgeoning number of users. If BYOD adds to this trend, demand for wireless infrastructure, especially at the edge, will ramp up sharply.

But what stands behind the wireless access points? Fast and high capacity cabled networks, which in turn must connect to broadband backbone provided by regional and national carriers.

The only weak spot in all of this seems to be in the demand for traditional desktop computers and software. In my work, I use a lot of spreadsheets on a Windows workstation with two wide screen monitors to bring it all together. Although I love my iPhone, I don’t see any way that I could do my research analysis with it. I’m sure millions of other desktop users wouldn’t be able to get their work done on a smartphone or a tablet. Extrapolating from this completely unscientific sample, my guess is that PCs will be a stable market (the classic BCG “cash cow”) and the mobile side will grow rapidly (the BCG “star”).

In any case, the future of network infrastructure space looks well-lit. It will be a long time before fiber cable spools are the 21st century’s buggy whips.


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