Frontier Pursues Broader Business Footprint
Frontier Communications may be best known as the independent telco which has purchased major local telco assets from both Verizon and AT&T, but the company is leveraging its new, broader footprint to roll out next-gen business services on a national basis.
Most recently, Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR) introduced a cloud-based voice solution, Frontier AnyWare, which replaces business voice systems, and soon to come is Frontier Business Edge, taking advantage of investments the company has made in its local access facilities.
And with the addition of the AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) Connecticut footprint, a deal expected to close by the fall of this year, Frontier will have a significant presence in the densely populated Northeast US corridor. (See AT&T-Frontier Deal: A Sign of Things to Come?)
The company didn't get to this point without some pain, admits CEO Dan McCarthy, especially in the aftermath of its 2010 acquisition of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) properties in 14 states for $8.6 billion in stock. While that acquisition included a smattering of FiOS fiber-to-the-home deployments in Fort Wayne, Ind., North Myrtle Beach, S.C. and in the Pacific Northwest, it also included many rural areas where broadband was barely available or non-existent. (See A Brave New Frontier – in an RV.)
Frontier embarked on a major investment in upgrading its local loop facilities, deploying IP-based DSLAMs from Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) and Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX) and pushing fiber deeper into its network to support both broadband for consumers and Ethernet services for businesses or wholesale customers, McCarthy says. (See Adtran Upgrades FTTH & VDSL Products.)
"The investment was done around creating an ecosystem for broadband customers, commercial or residential," he tells Light Reading. "We used gigabit Ethernet links and 10-gigabit links to replace old DSLAMs fed by OC-3 fiber, and put in Adtran and Calix systems that are essentially Swiss Army knives for serving a lot of different types of customers."
The replacement of the many existing access systems by newer technology and the integration of multiple back-office systems did slow things down for Frontier, McCarthy admits, for a 12- to 18-month period. The company found itself the brunt of complaints from former Verizon customers who were unhappy with what they had and impatient for improvement. (See The Brave Old Frontier, Frontier Goes All-Adtran – For Now, and Calix Pushing CE 2.0 Solutions.)
The advantage now is that Frontier has more ubiquitous reach for MPLS-based switching systems on a unified IP network that McCarthy sees as the formula for future success serving small to mid-sized businesses, and even those multi-location operations with major facilities in its footprint.
Frontier continues to invest in deploying fiber where it makes sense -- in its green-field builds and to wireless towers where the bandwidth is required, but is being judicious in that effort.
"People are looking for pure fiber, but for most services, copper is just fine -- we can get up to 50 Mbit/s and with bonding, get even higher and that works well for small to mid-sized business space," McCarthy says. "We are using a disciplined approach where mobile backhaul is concerned, we are very strategic."
That means Frontier won't spend $250,000 to run fiber to a wireless tower in the middle of a corn field that isn't showing signs of needing greater capacity than the multiple T-1s it has today.
Absorbing Connecticut won't require the same kind of investment that the Verizon properties did because AT&T has already deployed its U-verse fiber-to-the-node system in many parts of the state. Frontier will have to integrate the back office for U-verse and is already at work obtaining content rights so consumers won't notice a change in channel line-up with the sale's completion, targeted for October. The company is working with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) on the integration process, as it now owns the Media Room middleware developed by Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT).
And where AT&T hasn't rolled out better broadband, Frontier will, using its substantial experience in upgrading less densely populated areas.
"One of the most attractive things to us was that Connecticut is already 96% broadband and the U-verse platform passes 50 percent of the homes," McCarthy says. "It's a very well-invested state. We will bring our focus to the rural areas, and we will be pushing pretty hard to get speeds higher in those areas using our distribution strategy."
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading