Old networks not the best way to feed new devices or IPTV services

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVI recently came across a 39-year-old tape recording of an interview I conducted with the Amazing Kreskin. I was eager to listen to this relic, not just because it would feed my monstrous ego by bringing back a momentous interview between an up-and-coming young reporter and a top-of-his-game entertainer, but because AK is coming to my local theater next month and I wanted to see how amazing he actually is by learning whether he remembered me at all.

Anyway, short story long, I plopped the relic from the past into my present-day cassette player and heard a faint, barely discernible conversation overlaying a previously recorded football game, evidencing the fact that even then I was cheap and re-used an existing tape for this momentous recording.

Obviously, the tape did not produce the recording it had 39 years ago and to make matters worse, it got tangled in the machine and ruined.

So much for that trip down memory lane.

It would have been so much better if I'd had a digital tape recorder so I could transfer the file to a thumb drive, put it on my hard drive, store it in the cloud and, just to be safe, burn it onto a CD and a DVD.

And all that got me to thinking about the plight of telcos stuck with state-of-the-art 20th Century copper infrastructure trying to serve consumers with state-of-the-art 21st Century devices. The prospects are about as pretty as shoving that decades-old tape into today's tape player.

It's a conundrum that AT&T (NYSE: T) is facing even as it tries to boost broadband speeds by using the latest copper bonding technology over top of the not-so-latest copper infrastructure. The bonding technology, like my tape player, is new; the copper, like my tape, is old.

The alternative, of course, is to abandon what's there and start fresh. Verizon (NYSE: VZ) took that approach with FiOS (I think, even though I can't get it despite the FiOS trucks I see rolling about my community and the fact that I live in a new development with fiber). It's also an approach that Verizon not-quite-quickly but soon enough determined is not economically viable on a grand scale. Cable companies, with their newer coaxial infrastructure, have a better chance of using old infrastructure for new purposes—especially with DOCSIS--but even they are somewhat limited and probably will have to turn their hybrid fiber/coax networks into all-fiber networks someday.

It seems apparent that the only true way to guarantee that today's networks will work with today's devices is to make certain that today's networks are built for today; you know, what Google Fiber (Nasdaq: GOOG) is trying to do in Kansas City. It's also the most expensive and time-consuming way to accomplish this.

There is another possibility, of course: lower consumer expectations. There is no way I should have expected that 39-year-old tape to deliver the same quality it did when it was new and there should be no reason for consumers to expect devices to work like Jack Bauer loading a thumb drive in two seconds on "24." Building these kinds of expectations with advertising and marketing is just flat out unfair to the consumer. And, in the end, it's not good for the service provider image.

By the way, I still expect to put Kreskin to the test. I'll be carrying a somewhat frayed, somewhat yellowed, but still quite legibly 39-year-old autographed copy of his book with me. As a writer, it's somehow satisfying that things in print last longer than electronics.--Jim