Gigabit Cities

Carolina Town Becomes First US 10-Gig City

Move over, gigabit. America's first 10-Gig city is here.

The small town of Salisbury, N.C. has just announced that it is making Internet service with speeds up to 10 Gbit/s available to every business and residential location in the city. Commercial deployment has already started, with local Catawba College in place as the first paying customer. Further access to the 10-Gig service opens today to all anchor institutions and businesses. Residential availability will follow in 2016.

Just 30 minutes north of Charlotte, Salisbury is much less well known than its much bigger, more urban cousin. But the city has had a robust fiber network deployed since 2010, and has been offering gigabit Internet service, albeit quietly, since last year. According to Kent Winrich, director of broadband and infrastructure for municipally owned service provider Fibrant , the city approached local incumbent providers -- which include AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Windstream Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: WIN) -- years ago about increasing Internet speeds. However, even when the city offered to pay for the upgrade, no one was interested.

Without a service provider willing to invest in improvements, Salisbury decided to strike out on its own. The city started Fibrant and built out a fiber network offering Internet, video and phone services, as well as a local data center. Powered by equipment from Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX), the Fibrant network delivers service over point-to-point Ethernet today. But there are already plans to move to next-generation PON technologies, including XGS-PON and NG-PON2, starting next year.

North Carolina is known as one of the battleground states where the state government has fought back against municipal broadband deployments in favor of private ISPs. Fibrant, however, was already grandfathered in as a municipal provider when the state passed a law prohibiting municipalities from building and operating broadband networks. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has since ruled that states can't prohibit municipal deployments, but that ruling is now being challenged in court. (See FCC Clears Way for Muni Network Expansion.)

Not many customers use Fibrant's gigabit service today, which is priced at $105 per month for residents, and $1,700 per month for businesses that buy a dedicated gigabit Internet connection with enterprise-grade customer support. So far, only about ten commercial and 30 residential customers have signed up. However, Winrich is the first to admit that the gigabit service hasn't been marketed well. "We have a lot of education to do," he acknowledges.

That education starts with a full-bore promotional effort that will kick off in a press conference this afternoon at Catawba College's Ketner School of Business. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory -- who was not in office when the state's anti-municipal-broadband laws were passed -- will speak at the event, along with leaders of Fibrant and Catawba College, and Geoff Burke, senior director of corporate marketing at Calix.

Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks, the local economic development organization, notes that the 10-Gig rollout is also the "tip of the spear" in Salisbury's economic development strategy. The group is seeing interest from data security, software design and content companies, among others, that are looking at the advantages of locating in a city with one of the most advanced broadband networks in the nation.

The rollout of gigabit broadband access networks is spreading. Find out what's happening where in our dedicated Gigabit Cities content channel here on Light Reading.

Additionally, in its role as a community member of US Ignite , Salisbury is looking at connecting its infrastructure to other high-speed networks, which would expand its capability to act as a test bed for new technologies.

Van Geons explains the test-bed idea as one where companies working on products that need significant bandwidth could use people in cities like Salisbury to test those products out. "It's a complete laboratory, but it goes beyond that, it's real world," he says.

Fibrant's Winrich adds that connecting Fibrant's fiber network to the city's privately owned water utility is also "very high on our list" of priorities. And Van Geons says that the city is looking at partnering with local school systems to use the network for state-of-the-art video conferencing.

The nice thing for Salisbury is that the fiber infrastructure it put in place five years ago remains largely the same even as service is upgraded to 10 Gbit/s. Calix has to install new line cards in its headend equipment, and as subscribers upgrade their broadband service next year, anyone who wants 10-Gig service will need a new optical network terminal (ONT) outside the home. But next-gen PON standards allow for heterogeneous service deployments, which means Fibrant won't have to carry out any wholesale rip-and-replace effort to make higher-speed services available on the same network that supports standard GPON delivery.

Burke from Calix notes that Salisbury is the first community to take advantage of next-generation PON with a live deployment. "But," he says, "this sort of transition we expect both around the country and around the world as people take advantage of the natural positive aspects of the standard."

Just last month, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) announced that it had completed a field test of NG-PON2 in Massachusetts, and that it plans to issue a request for proposals later this year for vendors that can help it upgrade its nationwide fiber network. (See Verizon Revs Up Wireline Race With NG-PON2.)

Municipally owned EPB Fiber Optics in Chattanooga, Tenn. has also said it will be able to upgrade to next-gen PON equipment and make 10 Gig service available within a year. (See EPB: 10Gbit/s Service Feasible Within a Year.)

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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dcollins291 9/8/2015 | 10:39:38 AM
Municipal 10G comes at a high price !!! I work for a service provider who delivers high speed internet, voice, & video services into the Salisbury, NC area and I fully support competition for all consumers. I did some research on municipal networks and noted the high cost to build out a 10G fiber network for cities who want to deploy their own infrastructure. The City of Salisbury has successfully built out a 10G capable network but will that huge investment be properly managed and actually pay off for residents who live and work there? Does it make sound economic sense for tax payers to subsidize municipal networks when multiple service providers already exist in Salisbury?

Read this interesting article about Fibrant and decide for yourself:

danielcawrey 9/5/2015 | 5:05:54 PM
Re: Time to level up the home network This sounds like a really great infrastructure investment. I don't think that technology has quite caught up to what this would be used for, but there will be a need for a lot of bandwidth in the near future. 

Videoconferencing is somehting that will probably become more prevalent. And virtual reality is just around the corner. So this will be very useful soon. 
Ariella 9/4/2015 | 11:13:21 AM
Re: Time to level up the home network Exactly so, @mendyK!
mendyk 9/4/2015 | 10:50:21 AM
Re: Time to level up the home network Kind of like the eight-figure set who inch along Route 101 in their high-performance vehicles.
Ariella 9/4/2015 | 10:31:28 AM
Re: Time to level up the home network @MendyK yes, that reminds me of what my husband observed of all the features on a computer somoene bought for my mother (who basically uses it for email and some games). It's like giving a race car to someone who only driver 30 m.p.h. But the race car still givesyou bragging rights. 
mendyk 9/4/2015 | 10:02:27 AM
Re: Time to level up the home network We (meaning human beings in general) are all about the more, regardless of whether it's practical or necessary. As others have pointed out, there's really no need for this kind of wretched excess in individual bandwidth rates. It's the equivalent of a 256-ounce Big Gulp. Or maybe a 512-ouncer.
Ariella 9/3/2015 | 4:08:50 PM
Re: Time to level up the home network
With 10 gig to the house, we'll need adoption of better networking in the home. The home network is now the bottleneck for throughput. >

@msilbey, yes, I was thinking that. If the receiving end can't process that speed, it doesn't help you as much as it could. 
Pete_S4 9/3/2015 | 2:44:50 PM
Why? We can give you a private autobahn to your driveway that then ends in a rural highway and all you own is a moped. I work fo a major mobile phone company. We use just two 10gig pairs to back haul all of the data from the extended urban core of a major U.S. City. Mind you that is considering 40% utilization on the the 20 gig LAG.
jabailo 9/3/2015 | 1:31:29 PM
Re: Find Myself A City To Live In You can always have an Amazon Drone or Uber Cab ferry in pizza and Thai food from the nearest urban area.

Well, for a price.

mendyk 9/3/2015 | 12:07:47 PM
Re: Find Myself A City To Live In Plus, Salisbury has a Cracker Barrel, an Applebee's AND an IHOP. House prices are shooting up already.
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