I was just wondering....

I was just wondering....

Stephen M. Hardy

Editor in Chief

stephenh@pennwell.com

The end of the year always seems like a good time to take stock of your life, your job, your values, and perspectives. You review what you have accomplished this year and what you hope to do in the coming 12 months.

It`s also an excellent time to write editorials that do the same thing: review what`s happened during that past year in fiber or predict what next year`s trends will be. I`m not going to fall prey to this temptation, however. Our Special Report section this month provides all the prognostication one could want, while looking back seems a rather cheap way of filling this space.

Instead, I`ll slip into the contemplative mode this season inspires to ponder some of life`s eternal mysteries--those questions that just seem to defy easy resolution. Here are some of the things I just can`t figure out. If you have an answer for any of these conundrums (or wish to share other examples), let me know:

Why is it that every time I look at one of those near-vertical bandwidth de- mand growth curves, I think of Wall Street in the era of junk bonds? At some point bandwidth is going to catch up to demand, at least tem- porarily. For readers on the manufac- turing side of the fence, what is your company doing to survive that eventu- ality?

What are the odds that we`re all going to be working for either Microsoft or Walt Disney by the end of the century? And whom would you rather have as your boss: Bill Gates or Mickey Mouse?

Or will we be bought by WorldCom first?

If enthusiasm can have any impact on market acceptance, is there any doubt that the proponents of plastic optical fiber will successfully establish their technology in communications applica- tions?

Is there an Internet user anywhere who can read an online story more than three screens in length without having his or her eyes cross? As happy as Internet popularity is making the fiber-optics industry, I sometimes think that no one is rooting harder for expanded use of the Web than opti- cians.

I realize that the area`s population density isn`t tremendous, but why don`t people talk about the Middle East when they discuss hot new mar- kets? As fast as countries in that re- gion are spending money in other areas, it seems like a good fit for de- veloping technologies such as fiber-to- the-home.

While we`re on the topic of fiber-to- the-home, will the Full-Service Access Initiative finally provide the impetus necessary to push fiber-to-the-home to the next level of acceptance? And why do I have a gut feeling that an overall unwillingness to "invest" in the technology for its obvious far-term benefits before it`s clearly cheaper than copper will lead the United States to becoming the last major market to jump on the resulting bandwagon?

And speaking of copper, how much of Gigabit Ethernet`s market penetration to the desktop level (once there`s a de- mand for that kind of bandwidth) will be driven by its unshielded-twisted-pair version--even though a fiber pipeline makes infinitely more sense?

Finally, if we lay enough submarine fiber-optic cables across the Atlantic and Pacific, and tether them to enough landing points, will we arrest the effects of continental drift?

These are just some of the questions that keep me up at night. (All right, perhaps that`s a bit of an overstatement, but you get my meaning.) As I`ve said, I`d be interested in hearing what it is about our technology and its application, and the industry that surrounds these areas, that makes you scratch your head in bewilderment. Who knows--if I collect enough of these brainteasers, I might publish them in this space a few months down the road. (Which will answer for one month, at least, our managing editor`s most vexing question: Will I ever write this column on time?)

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