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XGS-PON has a lot of legs, Frontier exec says

Future-proofing the network well beyond 10-Gig is one of the reasons Frontier Communications is bullish on XGS-PON as the company pursues a major, multi-year fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) upgrade initiative.

Frontier announced this week that it has tapped Nokia to connect about 100,000 homes to XGS-PON technology. While that figure represents the number of customers that are live and connected to XGS-PON, it's also important to point out that all of Frontier's fiber deployments are enabled with XGS-PON today as the company moves well beyond legacy GPON technology, explained Scott Mispagel, Frontier's senior vice president of national architecture and engineering.

"We'll see how the advancement towards other PON technologies evolves, but it is going to be all XGS-PON at this point," he said.

The shift to XGS-PON puts Frontier in position for a planned introduction of symmetrical 2Gbit/s services in early 2022, and perhaps 10-Gig in upcoming years. But it also prepares the company to support much higher capacities.

"The platform we selected from Nokia is upgradable to 25-Gig PON with basically an optics change," Mispagel explained. "It's a very low-cost, low-level effort to upgrade. Our existing investment in infrastructure will scale well into the future with much higher speed capabilities."

He said 50-Gig PON could be another stop along that path as that technology gets solidified a bit further down the road. "We feel like we have a cost and capability advantage today, and that will persist in the future."

After emerging from bankruptcy in April, Frontier is now in hot pursuit of that future.

Frontier's current, accelerated plan calls for the company to reach 600,000 new locations with fiber by the end of this year, setting it on a path toward a total of 4 million passings by the end of 2022 for a "Wave 1" buildout. Its "Wave 2" buildout targets 10 million locations by the end of 2025.

Frontier is still mulling a "Wave 3" buildout that covers another third of Frontier's footprint that would still lack fiber upgrades following the completion of the second wave. Speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference earlier this week, Frontier Executive Chairman John Stratton explained that Wave 3 is a bit more complex, as it includes some areas that are uneconomic to build fiber to today because of low customer densities and other factors.

But Stratton acknowledged that government subsidy programs and other initiatives such as the proposed US infrastructure bill could alter and improve the upgrade economics of the Wave 3 areas. In the meantime, Frontier is exploring multiple scenarios for Wave 3 – it might use funds generated from the Wave 2 build to help fuel Wave 3 upgrades, pursue joint ventures, secure private equity funding, or even pursue asset swaps.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

A version of this story first appeared on Broadband World News.

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