HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Adtran is launching a national initiative around gigabit services, targeting municipalities, utility companies, and cable operators, in addition to the telco audience it has traditionally served. Focusing on the economic development benefits of high-speed Internet access and the benefits to schools and hospitals, the networking equipment maker is pledging to have 50 gigabit communities up and running this year and 200 in 2015.
One of its Gig Communities customers, C Spire , is hoping to raise the economic profile of much of Mississippi, in an ambitious effort that is directly copying Google Fiber Inc. 's approach to creating "fiberhoods" and getting local municipal engagement. (See C-Spire, Adtran Team on Mississippi Gig Network.)
Speaking to a group of analysts and press assembled here at Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN)'s headquarters on Tuesday, Adtran VP of Global Marketing Gary Bolton said the effort would include a Gigabit Communities website with resources and case studies for interested parties to use in planning their own gigabit network effort.
Jay Wilson, SVP and general manager of Adtran's Carrier Networks Division, said the company is already working with hundreds of entities, including many of its traditional smaller telco customers, on targeted efforts to bring gigabit services via fiber-to-the-premises into communities that otherwise might struggle economically, in hopes of attracting and retaining new businesses.
The Adtran effort is not without risk. Bolton cited the positive impact that the gigabit network in Chattanooga, Tenn., has had on that area, attracting new businesses to the area and prompting concern even in Huntsville itself about the loss of potential business. The EPB Fiber Optics effort has been controversial politically, however, as larger carriers such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) have fought to get laws in place in Tennessee and other states to prohibit or severely limit the ability of municipalities to build fiber networks using public money or bonds. (See Muni Utilities Take Gigabit Fight to FCC.)
"We're technology guys and that's a policy issue," Bolton said in response to a question on the possible negative response from Adtran's telco customers. "We are not weighing in on whether municipalities should be broadband providers. We believe people that have experience -- the guys who know what they are doing and are going to be in business for a long time -- should be the ones building the networks."
In many cases, he added, communities know what they are doing and shouldn't have to wait for gigabit services to come to them, but the better scenario is for communities and service providers to work together.
C Spire is one model of how that can work. The carrier, known mostly for its wireless services, is leveraging its statewide fiber optic network -- built mostly for backhaul -- to support the FTTP networks it is building in selected cities based on a competition modeled after Google Fiber's "Fiberhood" approach.
The "Get Fiber First" campaign is succeeding best in areas where the local mayors and town governments are engaged in promoting the effort, said Suzy Hays, SVP, consumer marketing, for C Spire. The campaign's goals are lofty -- no less than a statewide economic push that also intends to improve the state's oft-maligned education system and serve its hospitals and other community institutions as well.
The upside for Adtran to its Gig Communities initiative is an obvious one: The company hopes to sell much more of its networking gear, and particularly its GPON equipment, and gain some advantage over rivals such as Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX), which has been doing its own promotion on the economic benefits of FTTP, and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). By expanding its reach to munis, utilities and cable companies, Adtran is also hoping to create a larger customer base for the full range of its equipment. As Bolton pointed out, Adtran already sells its enterprise networking gear to the cable industry, which is rapidly growing its small business broadband services.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading