Leading Lights 2018 Finalists: Most Innovative Gigabit/FTTx Service

Over the past year, service providers have become increasingly aggressive and innovative in their fiber deployment strategies, recognizing high-speed connectivity is required to meet consumers' current and future needs.

It is, therefore, not surprising to see a number of contenders enter the Leading Lights Most Innovative Gigabit/FTTx Service category; next year, no doubt, competition will be even deeper, as more providers share their successes and strategies to vie for the top spot.

There may not yet be one gigabit-hungry killer app that mandates users upgrade from 100Mbit/s or 400Mbit/s, but by laying the foundation these future-thinking operators are prepared for the inevitable onslaught of bandwidth-hungry, Wi-Fi-hogging solutions such as smart home, telehealth and 4K (and 8K) televisions already entering households.

By the end of September 2017, fiber passed 35 million US homes, representing a 4.4 million (or 15%) increase over the prior year, according to research conducted by RVA LLC for Fiber Broadband Association. Canada realized 45% growth in homes where fiber was available and marketed last year. In total, 15.4 million North American residences use all-fiber for connectivity, the study found.

That growth comes not only from Tier 1 providers, but the aggressive stance many regional and smaller operators have taken in deploying fiber to their regions. Tier 3 service providers often are owned by residents or compete with utilities, co-ops, and municipalities, propelling high-speed Internet to the top of the competitive to-do list. Indeed, the largest providers' fiber deployment growth increased 14.1%; smaller operators' fiber rollouts grew 16.5%, the Fiber Broadband Association research determined.

This year's finalists bring color to the numbers. A mix of tier one and regional operators, each finalist chose to make gigabit fiber a central theme of its offerings. The finalists are Comcast Business, Mediacom Communications, Sonic and Ting.

Discover the winner of each of the 24 Leading Lights awards categories, plus the three Women in Comms awards and the 2018 inductees into Light Reading's Hall of Fame, during the annual Leading Lights dinner party. Held on the evening of Monday, May 14 at the Brazos Hall in Austin, Texas, it's the ideal end to a day full of pre-BCE workshops and a tremendous way to segue into Tuesday, May 15's official door-opening of #BCE2018 at the Austin Convention Center.

Want to learn which companies made the shortlist across all this year's Leading Light categories? Then please check out Leading Lights 2018: The Finalists and Congrats to 2018's WiC Leading Lights Finalists. Hope your company is in there!

Here's a look at each finalist in the Most Innovative Gigabit/FTTx Service, in alphabetical order.

CityFibre FTTP partnership with Vodafone

UK alternative access network builder CityFibre has been shaking up the broadband access market in the UK with its wholesale network rollouts for several years and took that a step further in November last year when it announced plans to build a GPON-based FTTP network infrastructure to a minimum of 1 million premises in 12 cities across the UK in partnership with Vodafone. In time, the network, which will deliver Gigabit broadband services for multiple applications, could expand to cover 5 million UK homes. (See Eurobites: Vodafone Goes Hand in Glove With CityFibre, Lays Down the Gauntlet to BT.)

As a wholesale, open access infrastructure operator, CityFibre is focused on enabling multi-tenancy and has show in trials that it is able to service up to five different service providers with their own 10 Gbit/s wavelength over the same passive optical connections. "This level of scalability is only possible with a network that’s been designed for the future," the operator notes. It also brings to market the possibility that service providers will be able to mix and match broadband service offerings and applications over a secure, shared infrastructure at economies of scale certainly not realized before in the UK. Vodafone looks set to be the first beneficiary of these developments.

Comcast Business - Comcast Business Internet 1 Gig

Comcast continues to invest in DOCSIS 3.1, but its growing expenditures on fiber deployments are paying off in profitability and new opportunities as it expands fiber across its vast footprint. During its most recent quarter (ended March 31), Comcast's connectivity business -- which includes broadband -- grew more than 9% to almost $24 billion.

"We are confident in our outlook for high-speed Internet subscribers as the total market continues to grow our homes and businesses past steadily increase and our focus on product innovation and differentiation through speed, coverage and control elements enables us to continue to grow and take share," said Brian Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO, in an earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

Mediacom Communications - Open Road Gigabit Expansion

Started last year as part of Mediacom's $1 billion capital investment, Project Open Road identified and partnered with property owners of un- and under-served buildings in 15 markets to provide them with gigabit and beyond Internet speeds, without costly construction or time delays. So far, Open Road has expanded Mediacom Business' network infrastructure reach, increased build-out to more than 700 multi-tenant buildings and brought gigabit speeds to the doorsteps of over 2,000 small and enterprise businesses. The project is partly responsible for Mediacom Business 8% year-over-year growth for 2017.

Open Road allows Mediacom Business to deliver immediate services of 1Gbp/s and up to 10Gbp/s for anchor institutions and enterprises, the provider said.

Sonic - Sonic Gigabit Fiber

At $40 per month, residential customers get symmetric gigabit Internet, along with unlimited home phone, making Sonic a price and performance competitor. At a time when net neutrality rules have swept away and many consumers are confused about their data's privacy, stalwart privacy advocates the Electronic Frontier Foundation has awarded Sonic full marks for many years in a row.

Sonic's combination of uncapped and unlimited gigabit fiber, coupled with local customer service and a focus on consumer privacy, are the company's secret sauce. The unlimited home calling -- perhaps less of an attraction in a mobile world -- includes not only the United States but also more than 60 countries. Originally operating only in San Francisco, Brentwood and Sebastopol, Calif., in late 2017 Sonic expanded into the East Bay area and communities such as Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, El Cerrito and Kensington.

Ting - MAGIC Smart Homes Deployment

The Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC) Smart Home project was designed to combine telehealth and patient data to reduce patients' emergency room visits, unplanned medical appointments and staff time spent on unscheduled care for fragile-health patients. MAGIC Smart Homes use sensors to connect to an intelligent integration platform, which then collects, analyzes, reports and alerts in real time to help specialists improve patients' quality of life and safety.

Ting Internet worked with partner ADTRAN to deliver gigabit connectivity via a scalable, fiber network. The highly secure network also needed to be reliable and instantaneous with broadband access ample enough to support vast numbers of connected devices and sensors. Ting Internet's MAGIC Smart Homes support the growing number of people with chronic conditions or those who wish to age in place, giving peace to families and safety to patients.

— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow her @alisoncdiana.

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