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.
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