Utility-Backed Gigabit is Going to Jackson
A Tennessee utility is helping to continue the state's pioneering role in bringing gigabit services to residents with the upgrade of its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network to gigabit-level speeds.
Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), the municipal utility in Jackson, Tenn., is itself an FTTH pioneer, having deployed its network there in 2002. Now, with an additional $8 million to $10 million investment from cash flow over three years and GPON infrastructure from Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), the company is upgrading that network to be able to provide symmetrical 1Gbit/s services and eventually 10Gbit/s service and beyond. Earlier this year, JEA upgraded its billing system to be able to bundle triple-play services with its utility offerings. (See Jackson Energy Enhances FTTH Billing.)
The state of Tennessee is, in some ways, the unofficial birthplace of the US Gigabit Cities movement. EPB Fiber Optics , the broadband unit of another municipal utility, became the first US entity to offer gigabit service when it launched its Chattanooga network in 2010.
To JEA and the City of Jackson, a gigabit network means more opportunities for economic development and better quality of life, Ben Lovins, senior VP of JEA's telecommunications division, told Light Reading. The city has built a data center site that's pre-certified by the Tennessee Valley Authority in hopes of attracting a developer, will be partnering with application enablers such as US Ignite and is working with state government to create a test bed in the city that will attract developers of gigabit-ready applications, he says.
"Instead of testing products and applications across the desk from one another, they can come to Jackson and test on a live network with thousands of customers," Lovins says.
Those initiatives, combined with cost of living, availability of land and its location between Memphis and Nashville, make Jackson attractive for businesses, he says. "There are a lot of very positive reasons for industry to come here. This type of thing can happen in a community our size."
JEA's FTTH network currently has 18,000 customers, so the utility plans to upgrade in phases based on customers that request it, Lovins says.
"We have to swap out every [customer premises] unit... and then all the gear that's in the central office, so it's going to be very labor-intensive," Lovins says. "Eventually we'll get through all the endpoints."
The company will start with "friendlies," Lovins says, and won't begin actively marketing the gigabit service until the GPON deployment is further along. Pricing hasn't been set in stone yet and JEA is still working out plans for bundling, but Lovins says the symmetrical gigabit service will be priced under $100.
With new offerings like gigabit services, managing customers' expectations and educating them about limiting factors -- such as older devices that may not support gigabit throughput -- is critical. To that end, JEA and Adtran are installing residential gateways that will give the provider visibility into service performance all the way into homes and the ability to demonstrate speeds to customers.
"It's very important to be able to show the customer you're giving them full gig services -- they may be operating on something that's a limiting factor," says Kevin Morgan, director of marketing and communication for Adtran. "But you get the right equipment out there and full throughput is visible to them. That does take some customer education."
— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading