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AT&T Preps for Big Fiber Build

Alan Breznick
5/31/2016
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Getting into shape to wire millions of US homes and businesses for speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s over the next few years, AT&T has placed itself on a heavy fiber diet.

As it gears up to roll out its GigaPower service to at least another 35 metro areas, bringing the total to 56, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is installing fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections at an unprecedented pace. Working plans call for extending fiber and ultra-fast speeds to 14 million residential and business customers by the end of 2019, exceeding its commitment of 12.5 million customer locations under the conditions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when it approved AT&T's purchase of DirecTV last year. (See AT&T Expands GigaPower to 38 New Metros.)

"Our team is focused on building fiber-to-the premises," said Veronica Bloodworth, senior vice president of construction and engineering for AT&T, in a recent interview with Light Reading. "We are hockey-sticking our fiber deployment."

As of the end of 2015, AT&T served more than 1.6 million homes and businesses with FTTP lines capable of delivering GigaPower speeds. Under the conditions imposed by the FCC, the company is supposed to offer FTTP-enabled services to 2.6 million customer locations by the close of this year and 12.5 million by the close of the decade.

Bloodworth said AT&T, which formerly focused on building fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) networks to deliver its slower U-verse broadband service over a mix of fiber and copper, "made the pivot" to FTTP construction last year after starting its major deployment of GigaPower. But it still has a long way to go to catch up with its FTTN networks, which now reach about 30 million homes and businesses with last-mile copper connections.

"Today we do very little FTTN," she said, noting that almost all of the company's new builds are now FTTP. "We only do it [FTTN] now on a case-by-case basis."

With its new focus on building FTTP networks across its 21-state region, AT&T is digging up many streets, roads and byways to bury the fiber lines under the ground. "We like to play in the dirt right now," Bloodworth cracked. "It's very much an engineering-intensive endeavor and process."

It's also a regulatory-intensive process at the local level. In fact, perhaps the biggest challenge that AT&T is encountering so far is gaining municipal approvals and utility clearances for its new fiber builds across the US, according to Bloodworth.

"What really slows us down is the ecosystem around it," she said. "They're not necessarily ready for a massive fiber build. That will be the long pole in the tent."

As it makes the shift over to an all-fiber architecture, AT&T is also switching from installing large video-ready access devices (VRADs), or bulky equipment cabinets, to installing smaller, more agile primary flexibility fiber points (PFPs) in residential subdivisions. In turn, these PFP boxes then connect to much smaller, lighter fiber terminals that can hang off utility poles and serve up to four homes apiece. "It's a completely different approach and completely different engineering," Bloodworth said.

In one more operational shift and challenge, AT&T is now digging up homeowners' lawns and driveways much more than before to run the new fiber lines all the way to the customer premises. While customers may crave the much higher speeds that GigaPower offers, they cringe when they see the construction crews approaching with their big picks and shovels. Acknowledging the problem, AT&T is making heavy use of door hangers, social media and even personal home visits to smooth the path for the necessary installation work.

"People still don't like their lawns dug up," Bloodworth noted. "But we're doing everything we can to make it easy on them."

Sponsored by AT&T, this blog is the third part of a ten-part series examining next-generation broadband technologies.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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OngoingR65125
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OngoingR65125,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/2/2016 | 6:27:29 AM
Re: Maybe It's TIme for FTTp
Hmmm...not sure as AT&T surelt ridiclued it at the time!   The "financial community" seems skeptical of anything they don't understand and much of that may have been based on the difficulty FiOS has obtaining the individual "licences".  My personal feeling was that THAT was what slowed them...stopped them  Too much of a hassle.

It's just odd that AT&T would jump in...that is my feeling.   I do not imagine that this will be "mandated"...well...that alreadyt happened in the "hinterlands" to a certain extent.  We "poor slobs in the suburbs" seem to get the dregs!!

Thanks for your insights,  ed 
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/2/2016 | 12:58:40 AM
Re: Maybe It's TIme for FTTp
Your post called FiOS ridiculed.  The only place that I know of that it is ridiculed was in the financial sector.  That sector was unhappy with Verizon spending a penny on the Wireline Network.

From a technology standpoint, they could have offered 1G service anytime they wanted once they rolled out GPON.

From a deployment standpoint, it is one of the largest deployments of Fiber to the Home in the World.  People here used to criticize how many lines they said they were going to deploy, but that talk died almost 10 years ago.

And Verizon stopped exactly where they told us they would in the JPC RFP in 2003.  For those who have been around here quite awhile, know that I was a senior guy at AFC when FiOS first got deployed.  I know exactly how many ONTs were deployed.  We built essentially all of them for the first few years.  Now there are many more Alcatel-Lucent Nokia GPON ONTs out there.  

AT&T has gone very slow and in an odd way (especially if you are in Atlanta) gone a bit backwards.  BellSouth had spent a lot of time deploying FTTC with really short loops (the old Reltec/Marconi product) but struggled to get a replacement from one of several vendors.  The number of failed attempts at that was staggering (just ask Adtran).  They eventually went with longer copper loops and U-verse, because at least it worked.

But the reason people don't roll out more?  There is better stuff to spend money on.  Wireless, Enterprise and SMBs all come first.  The only way we are going to get really high quality BB residential infrastructure is to make it a Universal Service and Mandate its deployment.

seven

 
OngoingR65125
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OngoingR65125,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/1/2016 | 7:55:20 PM
Re: Maybe It's TIme for FTTp
7...

Not sure about your sentiments.  

From where I was, the "battle lines" were in the city council chambers of the communities Verizon wanted to enter.  CableVision and Comcast had long relatoinships...and now comes Verizon.   TimeWarner has less of a struggle...but they were in Texas and North Carolina.   In Tampa, Brighhouse and even Knology responded to FiOS.   It was a fun time...

I think it stopped dead because the consumer cost was at parody...and "fast enough" was "good-enough".   Right now I struggle with a uVerse upload time...and downloading on a nice 2016 computer should not take this long! 

The mass-market consumer is still a little baby...not an offensive comment...just a little reality dose of "saavy-level"!!

We worked in garages to train...and Verizon was eager and capable.   They seemed to receive much "negative press"...but...it's unclear to me if this was not coming from the incumbents who did not want to have to compete.

Here were are now, 10 years later and DOCSIS has evolved...still not "fiber-fast" but fast enough for most consumers.   It will be interesting to see where AT&T lands.  For us in Atlanta even the "ultra-fast" uVerse is "heart stopping"...in cost per month.  Comcast is not much better...

It seems that Google-Fiber is the one who is a little too slow to deploy.  Yes, FTTp is expensive...for all sides.  One day you will look back and say "remember when". The only thing unsure...is what are we going to remember!!

 

Ed Forrest
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/1/2016 | 6:09:39 PM
Re: Maybe It's TIme for FTTp
Yeah the Millions of lines that FiOS has deployed....uep it was a joke.

And to make it successful, probably easiest to copy FiOS.

This will have changed a lot since the sale of lines from Frontier, but the last time I saw hard numbers quoted was last summer.

"In total, it has a base of 6.8 million Fios Internet customers and 5.8 million Fios video customers."

Multple Sources...this one was

http://www.cnet.com/news/verizon-subscriber-growth-cools-as-rivals-turn-up-the-heat/

seven

 

 
OngoingR65125
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OngoingR65125,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/1/2016 | 4:43:01 PM
Maybe It's TIme for FTTp
Verizon started this in what, 2004?   At the time FIOs was ridiculed and, sure enough it almost died as AT&T slogged forward with FTTn...claiming all sorts of "goodness and light" for it.

Then came along...of all things...Google Fiber.  Then companies like Cincy Bell and even CenturyLink started the push out of the "dark ages".

Yes, I am skeptical as others.  I am also skeptical that AT&T will do the things to make the deployment successful.   So far, as what I see here in Atlanta...not so much!  However, they will find the "weakest links"...either trial and error, likely with more error!   Not convinced their technical awareness at the "nitty gritty" levels of splicing, end face cleaning, and inspection are up to FTTp video/giga+++ levels.   We shall see...this may work out. 

I hope so.   Category Cable is pushing very hard...and their "audience" has been a thorn in the side of the "Telco" for a long, long time.  CATV-MSO is no longer the "wild card"...in some instances...they are the trump-card!  

It's interesting, now that the cellular business is suffering from over-satruration..."they" gotta go somewhere!  Verizon is trying an automotive product...of all things.  Gotta give them all credit...they are Thinking!

 
KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/31/2016 | 3:54:38 PM
Fiddling with math...
I've seen them fiddle with the deployment projection numbers so many times I simply refuse to take that 14 million home target as gospel. Pretty consistently they've tried to claim that existing fiber to the home locations (of which there were more othan a million even back in 2007) are new builds. Other instances they've tricked regulators into thinking old or underway development community or college dorm builds are somehow new.

Meanwhile they're only really interested in ultra-low CAPEX locations where fiber's already connected or is trivial to do so. With only a few exceptions (Dallas, LA, portions of North Carolina).

And the company's fixed-line CAPEX investment numbers have dropped, something that doesn't happen when you're working on a "big fiber build." 

That still leaves the vast, vast majority of AT&T customers stuck on speeds that DOCSIS 3.1 is going to make look embarrassing. 
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/31/2016 | 12:05:31 PM
Build build build
These fiber build outs area always exciting, yet never anywhere near my home town. May the speeds be ever reliable for these lucky folks!
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