Wireline and a Sea of Orange

My neighborhood has been awash in a sea of orange fencing for the past several months. Apparently, U-verse is coming to town as part of AT&T’s Project Lightspeed. The company has hired local electrical contractors to dig up yards and roll out huge spools of conduit. The contractors spent a whole day in my backyard (without so much as a courtesy knock on the front door, much less advance notice) and dug up the corner near AT&T’s existing pedestal. To their credit, except for a 3’x2′ sinkhole that will be easy to fill, they did a decent job of replacing the dirt and reseeding that has resulted in a healthy crop of bright new grass growth, even in these hot, dry days of summer.

But what amazes me is the amount of investment in this one neighborhood. The orange construction fences have moved from yard to yard over the passing weeks, but they are still here, and as I drive around town, it’s obvious that my neighborhood isn’t the only one where AT&T is dropping a boatload of cash.

The most amazing aspect of the whole project has been the company’s challenges installing the main neighborhood node. This new big box is going in about as non-obtrusive location as they could find. It’s just outside the fence on the side of a house, so it’s not in front of anyone’s house and not even an eyesore for the residents looking out their window. (Well done, AT&T).

Here’s what’s amazing. It appears that perhaps AT&T (or perhaps their contractors) are having challenges getting power to this new node. It looks like there’s an existing node of some kind on the other side of the street. I’m sure there’s also some duct tape and baling wire involved, but what is most apparent is the cord (which looks just like my orange outdoor extension cords) running from the old cabinet, strung up on a tree branch to drape “safely” overhead of folks walking on the sidewalk, then down into a street sewer, under the road, out another street sewer, up over the sidewalk again, and over to the new cabinet.

I could see such an approach being a decent way to perform a short term test of the new node. But this arrangement has literally been in place for well over a month. Over the past few days, I’ve noticed an increasing number of AT&T and contractor vans parking all day near the new node (it was four on Friday), so apparently this challenge has gotten the company’s attention.

Bottom line, wireline broadband deployments may deliver incredible bandwidth and entertainment options, but they involve incredible levels of investment and pain to all involved (including folks like me that don’t and won’t subscribe to their services). We consumers, communities, and investors were willing to put up with this once, when the cable companies built and upgraded their networks. But can we justify it a second time, especially when wireless technologies are advancing so rapidly and can deployed more quickly, more cost effectively, and offer the added value of mobility!

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One Response to “Wireline and a Sea of Orange”

  1. Pat Hurley says:

    Hey Russ,

    In my neighborhood, AT&T has moved into the full on “knock on doors and pitch the service” mode. They’ve hired a whole army of young door-to-door sales folks and are pushing it hard — and from the view out my door they’ve had some fair amount of success converting people over as there’s an AT&T van doing an install somewhere nearby every single day.

    But the costs they’re incurring have to be huge — I had an install done, and for $0 cost to me i had two installers in my house for several hours plus a follow-up visit from an “expert” to show me how to use the remote control (REALLY!). Probably 7 man hours on my install (and I didn’t even have them bother with the upstairs box), and some of my neighbors were well over 10 hours.

    The sad thing here is that (at least for my needs) the service isn’t really ready for prime-time — it’ll be at least until next year until they can offer two simultaneous HD channels (in the whole HOUSE not just at the set top level), and trust me, you don’t want to be in the middle of a show when the DVR starts recording in HD and the screen goes black and a msg pops up saying “another TV in the house is using your HD channel”.

    AT&T is doing a “no obligation, no contract, try it free for 2 months” here in san diego — I’m going to be very curious to see how many of these expensive installs actually stick with the service given the limitations — my gut feel is that anybody who has an HDTV and is used to the 2 tuner set tops cable offers is not going to make AT&T’s investment worth the while.

    So I’d have to agree with your premise — especially when the landline investment isn’t offering any major improvement over what the cablecos are offering.

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