Four reasons to stay optimistic about the future of DSL

DSL service provider NorthPoint Communications Group Inc.’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last month may not seem like the right occasion for DSL enthusiasts to break out the champagne. Or maybe it’s exactly the right time to review why DSL is far from doomed.

Remember that there’s a lot more to DSL than the basic service of high-speed copper loops fed out of traditional central offices with collocated DSL access multiplexers. And service provider woes can’t erase user demand for high-speed access over copper.

Yankee Group research shows 64 per cent of all PC users want broadband Internet access of one type or another. The market is finding new ways to address this demand, and most of them involve DSL in some fashion:

– In-building telecom providers are bringing network connections to common wiring closets, then running DSL to apartments and office suites. Intermedia, the nation’s largest shared-tenant provider, just committed to this kind of enormous DSL buildout.

– National carriers in the U.S. are developing “access choice” programs to help enterprises establish hundreds or thousands of broadband end-points for telecommuter, extranet and VPN sites. These programs address the entire range of access methods, invariably including DSL. WorldCom emphasized this point at an executive forum it held last month at its big new campus in Ashburn, Va., near Washington’s Dulles Airport.

– New optical fibre service providers, usually running metro-area Ethernet connections, will come under pressure to accommodate copper-based extensions if they want to increase their addressable market. VDSL equipment potentially matching Ethernet’s base 10Mbps throughput is due on the market this year, and is aimed squarely at these providers. Look for upcoming announcements from Telco Systems and others.

– Makers of passive optical networking gear – the new generation of fiber-to-the-neighborhood or fiber-to-the-curb – are pairing up with integrated-access device makers for DSL user interfaces into their broadband aggregation gear (

These are the kinds of inescapable DSL trends that will likely be on display at all the major trade shows this year. We’ll continue keeping an eye out for them, and so should you.

Rohde is managing editor of The Edge section of Network World (U.S.). He can be reached at