Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tech Notes...What is a VRAD and why should you care?

One factor that might make the decision about whether to choose Sunflower, U-Verse, or any other provider easy is whether you can actually get the service at your home, business, spider-hole, bunker, or other place of dwelling.

Sunflower Broadband is the clear leader in Lawrence availability as of this writing. You can get cable-based broadband basically everywhere within the city limits of Lawrence, and even a few areas outside Lawrence. Coaxial cable has been a part of the Lawrence infrastructure for a while, and Sunflower enhanced their network earlier this decade with an improved fiber network backbone serving all of Lawrence. So, if you live in Lawrence, you can count on getting Sunflower Broadband service at your location.

It is more difficult for AT&T. They have access to a community-wide network as well, but it is the old copper phone network, which as I mentioned in an earlier post, doesn't have the bandwidth for broadband cable and internet services like coaxial cable does. AT&T's solution is to run a fiber optic cable backbone to specific termination points located in individual neighborhoods, and from these termination points (which are called VRADs), they then have the ability to push broadband services to individual homes. VRADs look like large beige cabinets, and you can see them being installed around Lawrence if you have a sharp eye. This is an example of what a VRAD looks like.

As an aside, in some parts of the country, AT&T (and competitors like Verizon) actually run fiber lines to each house. This gives amazing amounts of bandwidth, dwarfing anything else around, but it is also much more expensive for the service provider. Eventually, though, fiber to the home will probably become as common as electricity and water to the home.

Anyway, because AT&T has to install the VRADs in a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, it is taking them a while to roll U-Verse out to our entire city. AT&T needs to find a spot in each neighborhood to place the VRAD, then arrange to have electricity and a fiber cable run to it. Once a VRAD is in your neighborhood, and AT&T's own testing is complete, they can provide service. Whether you can get service depends on how close you are to the VRAD, as measured in the actual feet the phone wires travel between the VRAD and your house (not a straight line either, as phone wires may zag around). You are usually in good shape if you are within a few thousand feet of the VRAD. I don't know for sure, but I would expect AT&T will be spacing them out so that eventually all of Lawrence will be within a service area.

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