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Optical/IP Networks

Frontier plows ahead with XGS-PON

Frontier Communications has hooked up with Nokia to connect about 100,000 homes to XGS-PON technology, a move that puts the telco on a path to eventually deliver symmetrical 10Gbit/s broadband services.

Nokia noted that the deployment uses products powered by Quillion, the company's family of in-house silicon that's focused on multiple generations of broadband technology, including low-latency 5G transport.

Frontier currently offers a symmetrical 1-Gig service and has announced that it intends to introduce a 2-Gig service over FTTP in early 2022.

"We've got the capacity to go beyond that, if we needed to," Frontier CEO Nick Jeffery said at this week's Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference.

Though this XGS-PON piece of the deployment represents just a sliver of Frontier's current and planned fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) footprint, it also represents where the company is heading.

"This is a big step forward for our fiber expansion plan, which will reach 600,000 new locations by the end of this year and a targeted 10 million locations by the end of 2025," Veronica Bloodworth, Frontier's chief network officer, said in a statement.

Bloodworth, the former SVP of construction and engineering at AT&T, joined Frontier earlier this year to help spearhead the company's big fiber network upgrade plans. Her role at the company was touted by Jeffery at the Goldman Sachs event.

Bloodworth, Jeffery said, gives Frontier critical expertise with suppliers, supply chains, labor and permitting as it proceeds with its FTTP upgrade/buildout. He credited her with conducting a "root and branch review" of how Frontier is operating and for introducing best practices, adding talent and forging relationships with key suppliers.

Frontier's fiber frenzy

Frontier, which exited bankruptcy on April 30, has accelerated its plan to deploy FTTP to about 600,000 homes this year. The company intends to deploy FTTP to about 10 million homes by 2025.

Riding Multiple Fiber Waves
Frontier has announced rollout plans for its 'Wave 1' and 'Wave 2' buildout, and is currently exploring options for its remaining footprint, dubbed 'Wave 3.' 
 

Click here for a larger version of this image.  
(Source: Frontier)
Frontier has announced rollout plans for its 'Wave 1' and 'Wave 2' buildout, and is currently exploring options for its remaining footprint, dubbed 'Wave 3.'
Click here for a larger version of this image.
(Source: Frontier)

Though many network operators, including AT&T, have been challenged by ongoing supply chain constraints, Jeffery believes that Frontier is in a good spot because it sped up the pace of its fiber build and locked in multi-year agreements with suppliers ahead of many other players.

"That gives us a very high degree of confidence about our future costs and also to manage the inevitable supply constraints that will hit the industry," he said. "We feel well-insulated from those."

Frontier's planned 600,000-home buildout is part of a "Wave 1" buildout that will be complete by the end of 2021. That will expand the company's total fiber passings to 4 million homes, a figure that includes Fios properties that Frontier acquired from Verizon in 2016. A Wave 2 buildout will cover an additional 6 million fiber passings between 2022-2025, getting Frontier to its 10 million-home goal.

Frontier believes it can achieve penetration rates in the new-build areas of 15% to 20% by the end of the first year, and as high as 40% at the end of its FTTP build program. Jeffery, who joined Frontier from Vodafone UK, said customers will come out of a set of buckets – existing copper subs converting to fiber, DSL- and fiber-never customers, and cable competitors.

Even after Wave 2, about a third of Frontier's footprint will still be in need of fiber upgrades. How Frontier might proceed with that piece, dubbed Wave 3, is still being determined.

John Stratton, a former Verizon exec who now serves as Frontier's executive chairman, noted at this week's investor event that Wave 3 is a bit more complex, as it includes some areas that are uneconomic to build fiber to because of low customer densities and other factors.

Stratton said the effects of government subsidies and funding initiatives such as the proposed US infrastructure bill could change the math in a way that makes the economics of the Wave 3 areas more favorable for fiber upgrades.

But, for now, Frontier is looking into multiple scenarios for Wave 3. The company might harvest money from the Wave 2 build to facilitate Wave 3 upgrades, pursue joint ventures with outside parties, secure private equity money or explore asset swaps.

"All of that is under consideration now. It's being worked in real time," Stratton said, adding that more details will be revealed in coming quarters. "We are very anxious to ... get very specific on what's going to happen in the remaining territories," he added.

Frontier is also exploring a brand change as it pushes ahead with fiber upgrades. The board is pulling together data and deciding which direction it might go in the coming months, Jeffery said. That could result in Frontier doubling down on its current brand, reenergizing or modernizing it, or perhaps even looking at an actual brand change and possibly the introduction of a "sub-brand," he said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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