Gigabit Cities

Indiana Carrier Takes Fiber to the Farm

Northwestern Indiana Telephone Company (NITCO) has set its gigabit network sights on a seemingly unlikely target: The first taker of gigabit-level service on the carrier's ultra-high-speed fiber network is a farm.

The farm in question, however, is not quite as rural as it might sound. Fair Oaks Farms seems as much agrarian amusement park as working farm, complete with exhibits like The Pig Adventure, Making Milk and even a Birthing Barn where visitors can watch cows being born [ed. note: ewwww]. According to NITCO, Fair Oaks Farms will use gigabit broadband to remotely monitor milk production and processing, as well as to support video-enabled dairy, pork and crop learning centers to share knowledge and expertise with other farms and educate school children.

"It was a good opportunity for us to grow," says Gary Gray, CO supervisor for NITCO, presumably with no agricultural pun intended. "That's why we decided to go there."

For the latest on urban, suburban and rural network innovation, visit Light Reading's dedicated Gigabit Cities content channel. And be sure to register to attend Light Reading's Gigabit Cities Live event on May 13-14 in Atlanta.

Providing gigabit connectivity to Fair Oaks Farms is part of NITCO's effort to deliver 75 Mbit/s to 100 Mbit/s broadband service to residential customers and gigabit-speed service to businesses in its region, leveraging a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) platform from Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN). The carrier plans to extend that FTTH network to 200 to 300 homes per year of the 15,000 total in its territory, Gray says, quickening the pace as more fiber is deployed and demand ramps up. Any interested businesses, meanwhile, will get gigabit fiber connections as long as they are close enough to the carrier's central offices, says Dan Odle, Level 3 technical engineer for NITCO.

Whey to go! Florence and friends celebrate the arrival of gigabit broadband.
Whey to go! Florence and friends celebrate the arrival of gigabit broadband.

NITCO's pragmatic FTTH and gigabit-to-the-business rollout strategy offers a good example of how regional carriers can leverage the advantages of ultra-high-speed network capabilities in areas where demand for ultra-high-speed broadband may not be ubiquitous without, well, betting the farm. (See 1-Gig: Coming to a Small Town Near You and Sugar Beet Town Gets a Sweet Gig.)

Many of NITCO's business targets, for example, are currently tied up in contracts with other broadband providers. "Right now it's a waiting game," Odle says. "Once some of those contracts are ending, we expect to see more accelerated take rates."

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading

smkinoshita 1/25/2015 | 9:02:52 PM
Re: The Connected Farm I think what you're doing is great -- I actually have a famer in-law and they're very interested in what technology can do to help.  A lot has changed in a relatively short period of time.  

I think it's ironic that rual areas -- typically with poor Internet -- can make better use of I.T. tech than many businesses.
NITCO - Dan 1/22/2015 | 7:46:35 PM
Re: The Connected Farm Thank you for the article Jason.

I wanted to take a moment to reply to some of the comments here and give some more information about what we are doing.

I wanted to start by saying that the connections that we are providing to this company won't be used by kids to be distracted while visiting this business. The only Wi-Fi locations open to the public are in their cafe and steak house buildings. Most of the data that we are providing to them is being used for tasks such as monitoring equipment, steaming video, office work, access to their servers for online orders and things along those lines. The various learning areas are void of public Wi-Fi. It is an udderly amazing place for a family to go for a day out.

As for our OSP, that is something we are constantly expanding and upgrading, we are putting as much as we can into electronics and fiber a year with the man power we have. We found our limit last year was not having enough man power to keep up with our dreams of the projects we wanted to complete, so for this year we are going to bring in more guys for our construction crew and spin off a second group to try to meet all of our goals for the year. We currently have 17 Adtran TA5000 shelves in the field and will be adding at least another 9 nodes this year to replace aging ATM DSLAMs that we have out in the field now. From these boxes we evaluate where our existing fiber is located to know where we can easily build off from for business customers to try to limit ourselves to only having to go maybe a few blocks instead of going a few miles for a single customer's service. However we do still look into other request to see when it is feasible to build away from any of our existing fiber paths instead of waiting for when we get fiber closer to those areas. On the residential side, we will be over building a few subdivisions this year to do GPON to every home and will continue doing a few more every year. That is done more by looking at what areas are we under serving right now and deciding to replace all of their current plant by building out fiber to them. While other areas closer to our nodes are just being given the option of up to 50Mbps VDSL off of the TA5000 units until we build from the outside out our network in toward these people to give them options of moving up to fiber.

So yes we are looking at a radius but we have multiple points where these areas start from and are adding more points constantly to increase who we can reach with fiber within one of our circles. That is what I meant by being close enough to the central office, is a customer located somewhere that they are near our existing fiber plant to allow easy build out to them where we only need to a few spans of fiber connected to our existing mesh instead of being something that will require 10 miles of new buried fiber just to service them.
Phil_Britt 1/22/2015 | 1:37:24 PM
Re: The Connected Farm Ouch,

I just think the experience of this farm, one I've been to with my kids (now adults), needs to be without connected distractions.
brooks7 1/22/2015 | 12:56:04 PM
Re: The Connected Farm Sounds like they don't want to put to much in the OSP for businesses.  My guess is 80%+ are within the radius,  

I think one of the things really misunderstood about this whole thing for rural networks is the reduction in OSP maintenance by making it passive.  If you have to drive 1/2 a day to get to the job site, it makes things really hard to get any work done.  Battery maintenance alone is a pain in the butt.

jasonmeyers 1/22/2015 | 12:53:45 PM
Re: The Connected Farm Good question. I'll find out what the limiting factors are. 
mendyk 1/22/2015 | 12:28:15 PM
Re: The Connected Farm Is it weird that service will be available only to businesses that are "close enough" to central offices? You'd think that an operator in a rural or semi-rural area would need to deal with distance issues on a regular basis.
jasonmeyers 1/22/2015 | 12:01:12 PM
Re: The Connected Farm So Phil, you think the kids will milk the opportunity to be on their devices? 

Sorry, cant stop myself. 
Phil_Britt 1/22/2015 | 11:38:22 AM
Re: The Connected Farm While it may be good for the farm, any public access may make the visits that much less enjoyable for parents wanting to show children about milking a cow, only to have them on video games on their phones. 
PaulERainford 1/22/2015 | 10:59:02 AM
Re: The Connected Farm Is this the Moo IP in action? It sure takes broadband to an udder level.
jasonmeyers 1/22/2015 | 10:52:57 AM
The Connected Farm I think we can all agree that this is a good mooooooove for both gigabit broadband and the agricultural industry. 
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